Dark Six: The Shadow

The Shadow was the first of the Dark Six. As Aureon drew the first words of power in the blood of Siberys, his shadow was tracing sigils in the blood of Khyber. As Aureon gained power, the darkness in his heart gained strength and sentience. It was the whispers of the Shadow that led the Mockery down his dark path and stoked the anger of the Devourer. For the Shadow is the maker of monsters. The Shadow gave the harpy a voice that lures innocents to their doom, and gave the medusa her deadly gaze. But the Shadow can make monsters of any of us, tempting us down evil paths. Aureon and Dol Arrah show us the path to the common good, while the Shadow urges us to give in to our own darkness. It is up to you to listen to the light and to take the higher road. 

—Halas Molan, High Priest of Wroat

Eat your vegetables. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t learn that spell, it’s dangerous! Aureon, the king, the judge, the teacher… the world is filled with people telling you what to do, people who want to impose their laws on your life. They say the Shadow urges you to do evil, but who decides what’s evil? The Shadow wants you to achieve your full potential, to live your best life—not to be limited by lesser people and their laws. And if that makes you a ‘monster’ in their eyes, so be it. 

—Thalanna of Sharn

The war between the Shadow and Aureon rages in all of us. Aureon’s voice tells us that we are stronger together, that it’s worth it to suffer for the sake of the common good. The Shadow whispers that there is no common good—that all that matters is what you need and what you can do. Why should you make sacrifices for others instead of doing what’s best for yourself? Why should you give when you can take?

In the common tradition of the Five Nations, the Shadow is broadly responsible for evil within the world. The Sovereigns banished and bound the Overlords of the First Age, but the Shadow is a part of Aureon and couldn’t be destroyed; metaphorically, this reflects the idea that the potential for evil is in everyone. But as with all of the Dark Six, the Shadow has different aspects: the Sovereign of Ambition, the Tempter, the Keeper of Secrets, and the Maker of Monsters.

Ambition and Temptation

The Shadow is the source of ambition. It’s the voice that keeps you from ever being satisfied, that urges you to achieve greater things. A little ambition can be a good thing, but the Shadow is never satisfied. It embodies the hunger to succeed regardless of the cost to yourself or others. Those who revere the Shadow emphasize this as a positive trait: The Shadow will show you the path to power, how to be the best that you can be. But how far will you go? Would you murder your boss if it’s the only way to advance? What if you can simply ruin their reputation with a lie? Would you employ dark magics even if you’ll take a year off an innocent’s life each time you cast a spell? This is how ambition becomes a pathway to temptation.

But what is the purpose of temptation? Why does the Shadow want to lead you astray, and why should his followers care about you? Because Dolurrh isn’t the end of existence. Most Vassals believe that Dolurrh is a place where the soul transitions to a higher level of existence: the realm of the Sovereigns. Some believe that that this is a true afterlife based on the concept of each Sovereign: that Arawai and Balinor govern a realm of perfect nature, while Aureon presides over a grand assembly of courts and libraries. Others believe that Vassals become part of the Sovereign they most resemble—that the soul of the sage becomes one with Aureon. But one led astray by the Shadow becomes part of the Shadow. This might mean dissolution of the soul or it could be an eternity trapped in a formless void; either way it’s not going to be fun. Of course, as with all things related to the Sovereigns, there’s no absolute proof of this… and a devotee of the Shadow will tell you it’s exactly the kind of story followers of Aureon use to control you. Are you going to let fear keep you from achieving your ambitions?

Those who follow this aspect of the Shadow often call themselves mentors, but others refer to them as tempters or Shadowtongues. A tempter specializes in helping others find a path to power… but always driving them towards the darkest path. While this has some overlap with a talon of the Keeper, there are significant differences between the two. A talon negotiates a deal with explicit terms and benefits: your inn will prosper, in exchange for which you will die at the age of forty and the Keeper will take your soul. By contrast, a tempter doesn’t make a specific promise or ask you for anything. A mentor simply offers advice… helping you figure out how to solve your problem or achieve your goal yourself. But in the process, they will urge you to follow darker and darker paths… to become a monster.

A skilled tempter needs to know secret paths to power and to have the charm to convince others to follow them. A mentor could be a cleric, following either the Knowledge or Trickery domain; a warlock, using the Archfey patron to reflect a talent for beguiling others and slipping into the shadows; or a bard using the College of Whispers. Some tempters believe that their powers are a direct gift from the Shadow, and that they hear whispers from the Shadow telling them who to corrupt. Other tempters trust that the Shadow rewards them for their work, but don’t have direct interaction with the Shadow or an immortal emissary.

Another divine option is the Oath of Conquest paladin: a would-be tyrant who believes that the Shadow is giving them the power they need to achieve their ambitions. What separates a paladin of the Shadow from a paladin of the Mockery is the focus on power rather than war. Where a Mockery paladin lives for conflict, the Shadow paladin is only concerned with the end result.

Mentors are typically villains, and they facilitate the evil actions of others. But it’s a possible paths for a player character, albeit a dark one. A tempter emphasizes choice and freedom. They may excel at solving problems, and can help other characters achieve noble goals; the point is that a follower of the Shadow believes that nothing is forbidden. A Shadowtongue bard could even be searching for light in the darkness—tempting in the hopes of finding someone who resists corruption. Alternately, a player character could be haunted by a previous encounter with a tempter, who helped them achieve whatever position or power they hold today. Is this character permanently spiritually tainted by the actions they took to achieve their ambition? Or can they find redemption?

The Keeper of Secrets

Aureon is the Sovereign of Knowledge, who uses science (arcane and otherwise) to build a better world. As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost. This is one of the main things that can draw a Vassal to invoke the Shadow… the desire to gain knowledge they know they shouldn’t seek.

In dealing with a priest of the Shadow—NPC or player character—consider the ideas in my article on Adding Drama to the Divine. A priest of the Shadow may regularly receive revelations—information about the people around them, or the world. But unlike an augury or commune, the priest doesn’t ASK for this knowledge and has no control over it. Sometimes this knowledge will be useful, but just as often it will reveal things you don’t actually want to know… knowledge that will hurt people if you share it. With that said, people with this sort of connection to the Shadow often end up as fixers in the criminal underworld; are you willing to pay the price for their knowledge? Knowledge clerics and Whispers bards are both sound paths, though the College of Lore is also a reasonable option for a follower of the Shadow; the Cutting Words ability of the Lore bard can reflect your knowledge of a weakness, or a whispered secret that causes your victim to stumble.

While this reflects general knowledge, the Shadow is particularly known for arcane secrets—for teaching techniques that good people will shun. At a simple level, this makes the Shadow a standard patron for Warlocks. Because this is about deadly power, the actual “patron” is flexible; Fiend or Hexblade both work, and as noted before an Archfey warlock could reflect powes of coercion and deception as opposed to an actual tie to the Fey. Like all gods of Eberron, the Shadow won’t actually manifest to a warlock. But the warlock may BELIEVE they have a direct channel to the Shadow; and they could have a sinister spirit acting as an emissary of the Shadow, or they might actually be working for the Overlord Sul Khatesh. The main thing is that a Shadow Warlock believes they are making a sacrifice to gain mystical power… and that they are expected to use that power for malevolent purposes.

The Shadow Sorcerer is also a logical servant of the Shadow. In this case, the power may have been given to you involuntarily. Perhaps your parents were Shadow cultists, and you are the result of a a terrible ritual: are you doomed to be consumed by evil, or can you use your power in the service of the light?

Beyond this, any wizard can be presented as having received inspiration from the Shadow. You’d never have mastered necromancy on your own, but you woke from a dream and realized you understood it. This is fine as a general idea, but it’s also possible for a DM to introduce ACTUAL gifts of the Shadow into the game. The whole idea of the Shadow is that it knows secrets of magic people shouldn’t use. The magic of D&D isn’t designed that way. So, as a DM you can ADD forbidden magic. There’s a few ways to do this. One is to introduce new spells that are unusually powerful or have especially horrifying effects. Another is to allow a character to gain a metamagic benefit (as if they were a Sorcerer) by taking on a penalty. Here’s a few thoughts on effects that the magic of the Shadow might have.

  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d4. You permanently lose that many hit points.
  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d6. The DM chooses you or one of your allies, and either inflicts the result as necrotic damage or applies it as a penalty to the victim’s next saving throw.
  • When you cast the spell, an innocent creature dies. You have no control over who will suffer and may never know who it is.
  • Whenever you cast the spell, plants withers and all natural creatures within 15 feet suffer one point of necrotic damage.
  • Any time you cast the spell, there is a chance that a hostile shadow will manifest; if it does, it will try to harm you and your friends.
  • When you cast the spell, choose an ally within sight. The player must reveal a horrifying secret about their character to you. This must be worse than any previous secret they’ve revealed; if they can’t (or if the player chooses not to) the spell fails. Note that this is a choice of the player; the character doesn’t have this choice, and it’s up to the DM if they realize their secret has been shared.

These are all ideas that are at least PLAUSIBLE for player characters. An NPC wielding secrets of the Shadow could have more dramatic effects or costs to their spells. The main point is that when we say “This is power people shouldn’t use,” it’s NOT just Aureon being a jerk; these powers truly are dangerous.

The Maker of Monsters

Through temptation, the Shadow can transform anyone into a monster. But the Shadow is also infamous for unleashing monsters into the world. The definition of “monster” varies by culture, but the essential point is that this is the influence of malevolent magic twisting nature; thus, it usually includes most aberrations and monstrosities, along with giants or humanoids that are seen as evil by the culture in question. Mythologically, the idea is that the Shadow took evil humans (or dwarves, or halflings, etc) and transformed them into harpies, medusas, hags, and the like—and there’s a host of myths that deal with these monstrous origin stories. It should be noted that these are MYTHS and are in many cases provably false; certain creatures are known to be the creations of specific Overlords or daelkyr. But it isn’t always possible to prove the origin of a species; many scholars assert that the daelkyr Orlaask created medusas, while the medusas themselves attribute their powers to the Shadow.

This aspect of the Shadow overlaps with Cults of the Dragon Below and the daelkyr. But it’s another way that you can find wizards or warlocks who are seeking to create monsters. Looking to a warlock, the Pact of the Chain can be reflavored to suggest that the character created their familiar.

The Shadow in Monstrous Cultures

The Dark Six have been called out as having significant support in Droaam and Darguun. It’s important to recognize that these articles generally focus on the Nine and Six as they are presented in the Pyrinean Creed, the common Sovereign faith of the Five Nations. The people of Droaam have their own interpretations of the Nine and Six that are both entirely different from the Five Nations and from one another. Droaam is a tapestry woven together from wildly diverse cultures. The Last Dirge harpies worship the Fury, but they say that she was born from Eberron’s cry in birthing the world. The minotaurs worship the Horned Prince, but interpretation varies by clan and some are effectively worshipping the Mockery, Dol Dorn, Dol Arrah, or Rak Tulkhesh.

Following the unification of Droaam, the traditions of Cazhaak Draal have effectively become the state religion. People still hold to their own traditions, but the Voices of the Shadow—typically medusas or oni—are recognized as spiritual authorities. Here’s a few critical details about the Cazhaak faith.

  • All members of the Dark Six are worshipped by their common titles (Shadow, Fury, Keeper, Mockery, Devourer, Traveler)… though usually in Goblin.
  • The Shadow is the foremost of the Six. In addition to the traditional spheres of magic and knowledge, the Shadow is generally considered to be a guide and guardian to the monstrous species. As such, a medusa cleric of the Shadow might actually have the Life domain… because she sees the Shadow as being the bringer of life to her people.
  • The Sovereigns are considered to be the cruel and petty gods of the people of the East. The general assertion is that the Sovereigns want to keep their subjects small and weak; that the Shadow rebelled and broke free from Aureon, giving gifts to its creations. Thus, there is some overlap with the way the Seekers of the Divinity Within view the Sovereigns; a Voice of the Shadow feels pity for a human Vassal.
  • A Voice of the Shadow reveres all members of the Six and will invoke all of them when it is appropriate. However, there are priests who are devoted to a single deity and who lead or provide services tied to that god… so, there is a priestess of the Keeper in Graywall who performs funerary services.
  • One question that’s come up is whether the Cazhaak Six are seen in a more positive light than the Pyrinean Six. On the one hand, they definitely are; they are seen as positive forces in civilization. On the other hand, they still embody the same core ideas; part of this is that the values of Droaamite civilization are very different than the Five Nations. Droaam is a place where there is no distinction between vengeance and justice, where victory in battle is more important than honor. It’s a meritocracy where having the talent to take power is more important than following a system of laws. I will say that the Cazhaak Shadow drops the aspect of the tempter. The Voice of the Shadow asserts that knowledge is power, that people should pursue their ambition and that there should be no limits on knowledge. But they scoff at the idea that the Shadow tempts people to do evil; that’s the product of a civilization that’s bound and blinded by its laws and moral codes, that fears ambition and instinct.

It’s been asked before how a human follower of the Sovereign Host would react to a Voice of the Shadow, and vice versa. The short answer is that each will recognize that the other is following a different creed, and each will assert that the other’s interpretation is flawed. The Voice of the Shadow pities the fool who worships Aureon; how good can your god be, when he didn’t even give you eyes that can see in the dark? Meanwhile, the Sovereign priest will dismiss the Shadow-worshipper as a servant of the Tempter, both deceived and deceiver.

The critical point, however, is that the Pyrinean creed presents the Sovereigns and Six and two sides of a coin. The Droaamite faiths either focus on a single entity (such as the harpy faiths) or generally dismiss the Sovereigns as evil entities.

What About The Overlords?

The Shadow has specific overlap with two of the best known Overlords of the First Age. Sul Khatesh is also known as the Keeper of Secrets, and also said to be a source both of arcane knowledge and things best kept hidden. While Bel Shalor is known as the Shadow in the Flame and specializes in temptation.

There are a number of scholars who assert that the myths of the Shadow are actually based on interactions between draconic champions and Overlords… that the story of Aureon learning magic may actually be based on a bargain between the dragon Ourelonastrix and Sul Khatesh. It’s up to a DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales. However, even if these tales are false, the fact remains that Sul Khatesh and Bel Shalor are concrete, very real entities that can serve in the role of the Shadow… and that warlocks or cults that believe they are dealing with the Shadow could easily be working with one of these archfiends.

Using The Shadow

So how can you use the Shadow in a campaign? What would a villain devoted to the Shadow actually want?

As noted above, in many cases a servant of the Shadow may be an instigator as opposed to the primary villain. A mentor drives others to do evil, and helps facilitate their plans. A priest of the Keeper of Secrets may serve as a general fixer in the criminal underworld, but can also set trouble in motion by revealing a secret. Combined with their knowledge of dark magic, such a character could be an interesting frenemy for a group of player characters. Consider Thalanna, a human priestess of the Shadow in Sharn. She’s known as a reliable source of information about the underworld, always willing to share her knowledge… for a price. But she may also approach the players and simply tell them things. Did they know that Ilya Boromar is going to assassinate Saiden Boromar tonight? Did they know that Thora Tarkanan was the one who killed a friend of theirs? Thalanna has nothing personal to gain by sharing this information, but she enjoys setting wheels in motion. And if one of the players is a wizard, Thalanna can offer to teach them a few things they won’t learn in Arcanix… tied to the ideas presented above. These secrets ARE powerful… but is the character willing to pay the price?

Shadow sects can also fill the classic role of the warlock cabal or the infernal bargain… people being granted mystical power in exchange for performing malevolent actions. Often this is about ambition—getting the power you need to fulfill your darkest desires—but it can also be driven by fear. The leader of a warlock coven may play on fears of the Mourning, refugees, or even monsters. Join them and they will teach you the magic you need to protect yourself! As mentioned above, such a cult could be found to have connections to the Lords of Dust, either Sul Khatesh or Bel Shalor.

Another Shadow-driven villain is the wizard who is determined to unlock ultimate arcane power, regardless of cost. Such a character could even have a noble goal; for example, a wizard who believes that they must unlock the power of the Mourning so they can prevent it from spreading, or being harnessed and used by one of the Five Nations. The point is that this character is consumed by their ambition and doesn’t care about who they hurt in pursuit of their goal. Perhaps they need to open a manifest zone to Mabar in the middle of Sharn to complete a ritual or learn a secret… even though doing so will break Sharn’s connection to Syrania and bring down the towers. It doesn’t matter, because the knowledge they acquire will help them save the entire world!

To be clear: these examples are extremes. There are some who offer prayers to the Shadow who aren’t warlocks or wizards, and who don’t seek to tempt others or destroy the world. The ultimate principle of the Shadow is that nothing is forbidden: that you shouldn’t let laws or the dictates of society hinder your ambition. Do you believe that you’d do a better job than your boss, but it’s going to take decades to get there if you follow the system? The Shadow tells you the system is the problem. Beyond this, the Shadow embraces those that society calls “monsters.” The Mockery and the Keeper can both serve as patrons for criminals driven by greed or violence, but the Shadow is a general patron for someone who feels that they stand apart from Boldrei and Aureon; that they don’t have a place in a community, or that the laws only exist to hold them back. In this, there’s some overlap with the Traveler; the net is that the Traveler encourages people to challenge systems and to drive change, while the Shadow is more about pursuing personal ambition.

As for player characters, here to you can have the person pursuing knowledge at any cost; the character shaped by a past bargain who now seeks redemption; the bard who sees the Shadow as the source of knowledge and freedom, who does good but on their own terms. Looking to the paragraph above, you can also have a rogue who’s a casual supporter of the Shadow, asserting that laws are for other people. You can have the Conquest Paladin who is willing to use the power of the Shadow to seize their ambition… will they have a change of heart along the way?

Long Shadows

The Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook calls out a number of “holidays” in Eberron. One of these are the nights of Long Shadows, which takes place from the 26th through the 28th of the month of Vult. It’s said that on these three nights the power of the Shadow is at its peak—that malevolent magics are stronger, and that monsters—either those born monsters, or those who have become monsters—are free to act. It’s up to the DM to decide what truth there is to this superstition. Perhaps people have disadvantage on saving throws against any sort of “dark magic” during this time. Maybe those who act with evil intent will receive advantage to their actions, or other supernatural benefits. Perhaps there are mystic rituals that can only be performed on these nights. In any case, these are three nights when good folk tend to stay in and huddle around the fire, while the forces of evil rise up and take action.

Q&A

Is necromancy associated with the Shadow? Is it forbidden, or is it taught in Arcanix?  

Divine necromancy—such as a cleric with the Death domain—would usually be associated with the Keeper or the Blood of Vol. Arcane necromancy is generally associated with the Shadow. Sharn: City of Towers presents the shrine of the Shadow as a gathering place for necromancers, and Thalanna is presented as a cleric/necromancer. Only Karrnath employed necromancy in the Last War, and that was primarily divine necromancy provided by the Blood of Vol. We’ve never said that it is strictly FORBIDDEN; it’s not like a cleric of the Blood of Vol can be arrested for having a skeleton companion. But it’s definitely seen as a dark path that good people avoid. I suspect that Arcanix has a small necromancy department that primarily focuses on passive necromancy—such as speak with dead—and that is constantly struggling to maintain its funding.

As the Shadow is a creator of monsters, how would you present a Shadow-themed barbarian? 

I could see two paths. One would use the Zealot subclass and be similar to the Conquest paladin; a warrior strengthened by malevolent magic, who has been granted power to achieve their ambition. On the other hand, one could present a barbarian character as actually being physically altered by the power of the Shadow… with the Rage feature reflecting a sort of Jekyll and Hyde physical transformation.

Droaam is a nation where the official religion seems to be the Six, but do its leaders, the Daughters of Sora Kell, truly support it?

If you mean “Do the Daughters attend services and offer prayers to the Six”— No, I don’t think they do. None of the Daughters feel that their fates are in the hands of higher powers, and their mother may have known Ourelonastrix or Bel Shalor. What I’ve said is that the common faith is based on the traditions of Cazhaak Draal. It’s a tradition that’s broad enough to be able to incorporate the beliefs of other subcultures, which allows it to serve as a unifying force, and that’s all the Daughters care about; if a Voice of the Shadow can get a harpy, a minotaur, and a goblin to all attend the same service, mission accomplished. But to the Daughters it’s just a tool, not something they believe in.

HAVING SAID THAT… There’s no absolute answer as to who the fathers of the Daughters are. I could see Sora Maenya asserting that she’s a daughter of the Devourer; this certainly fits her wild nature and insatiable appetite. And asserting that she’s kin to the Fury would be a fun thing to add to her myth and reputation…

When did the Dark Six lose their names? Magic of Eberron reveals the names Shurkaan, Szorawai, Kol Turrant, and Dol Azur; when did the Church of the Sovereign Host decide those names would be forgotten in favor of the titles used today? 

There’s a few points here. The first is that it’s important to recognize that different traditions use different names and titles; the titles given here are the Pyrinean titles, just as Aureon and Boldrei are Pyrinean names. Shurkaan is also known as Shargon (hence Shargon’s Teeth near Xen’drik). The Harpies of Droaam call the Fury The Song of Rage and Fury or more typically The Song; they don’t accept the Arawai/Devourer story or use the name Szorawai. The Cazhaak tradition uses the titles, because they take the Six as embodiments of those ideas; they don’t hold to the Pyrinean myths. So to the priestess of Graywall, the Keeper is the Keeper; that IS his name.

Now, looking to the Pyrinean tradition, it wasn’t the CHURCH that stripped the Six of their names; it was the Sovereigns. Dol Azur was stripped of his name—and his skin—after he betrayed Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn. The Keeper was cast down after making his bargains with Death. So the CORE church has always separated Sovereigns and Six… but you’ve also always had the Three Faces sects and other groups that have preserved the names.

Do the Cazhaak have a unified symbol for the Six like the Octogram or do they just use the Six’s usual symbols?

Have you met the Hexagram? With that said, the Cazhaak tradition is also the main source of the five-bones-and-a-shadow symbol that often is incorrectly assigned to the Devourer. But essentially, any prominent display of six points—or five points and a shadow—is common.

how do the Cazhaak respond to the more aggressive extremes of the non-Cazhaak veneraters of the six?

As we’ve called out elsewhere, Droaam basis its laws more on the principles of the Fury and Shadow than on Aureon. The most powerful force—the Daughters and their governors—define and enforce the law. But justice and vengeance are still largely synonymous; if someone does you wrong, you don’t take the problem to the Flayer Guard, you handle it yourself. So the short form is anyone whose actions threaten the good of the city or nation will be dealt with by the authorities; otherwise, people can do whatever they can get away with. So a Voice of the Shadow tries to mitigate those extremes—to take the Last Dirge harpy and say “I recognize your devotion to the Song; here in Graywall we know her as the Fury, and let me teach you ways to honor her that won’t get you killed.”

I’m currently in the midst of a series of articles about the Dark Six, the sinister side of the Sovereign Host. You can find my articles about the Fury and the Keeper through these links. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Also, while it has nothing to do with Eberron (Aside from Arawai being the Protector of Puppies), please check out the Kickstarter for my new game: ACTION PUPS! It’s a casual storytelling game about revealing the secret lives of dogs, and we need your dog pictures! If you like dogs or storytelling, take a look! 

Dark Six: Myths and The Fury

There are many myths of the Sovereigns and Six. Dol Arrah battling Death itself. The Mockery’s betrayal of his siblings Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn, only to be stripped of name and skin by his brother. The Keeper bargaining with Death to gain the power to steal souls. The birth of the Fury, Aureon unleashing the Shadow. We’ve only mentioned a few of these myths in canon sources, but there are hundreds within the world. Often these explain natural phenomena; the massive volcano in the Mror Holds is called the Fist of Onatar, because it’s said that Onatar smashed the mountain to create his first forge.

How can this be? Deities don’t physically manifest in Eberron. The Devourer is the storm and the raging sea, not an angry giant who’s going to personally knock your house down. The answer is that the myths are tales of their deeds before they became the Sovereigns. Reality was created by the struggle between the Progenitors. Khyber’s children rose from the darkness and seized control of the world. A band of heroes rose in this time to battle the fiends and establish the foundation for civilization. The myths are the stories of these champions… heroic deeds, vile betrayals, and more. Ultimately these champions defeated the Overlords. This left the world in need of guiding hands: and so these first heroes and villains ascended to become the Sovereigns and Six, merging with reality and rising to a higher form of existence. So there are many tales of Dol Arrah’s heroism, but no one expects her to physically manifest today; vassals know that she is ALWAYS with them, guiding the hand of every virtuous warrior.

There’s no canon list of these myths, in part because there are many different interpretations across different cultures. The common vassal traditions of the Five Nations are based on the Pyrinean Creed, developed in Sarlona before Lhazaar’s journey. But the Talentans say Bally-Nur was a clever halfling hunter, and if you go to Khazaak Draal you’ll hear stories about the Shadow never told in a human temple. The Church of the Wyrm Ascendant is a sect in the Five Nations that claims that the Sovereigns were dragons, and that the myths are based on the actual deeds of draconic champions and villains in the Age of Demons. However, this isn’t a universally accepted belief. Most myths are vague about the nature of the Sovereigns, and it’s common for them to be depicted as members of the dominant culture sharing the story. Pyrinean temples occasionally depict the Sovereigns as dragons, but this is considered to be metaphor, not literal portraits.

The point is that while the Sovereigns and Six don’t manifest in the world and can’t be proven to exist, you CAN have artifacts, locations, or deeds that are attributed to them. You can visit the Lair of the Keeper, or find Dol Arrah’s Sunblade or a cloak said to be made from the flayed skin of the Mockery. That doesn’t mean these things are actually what people say they are—but the idea of finding Dol Arrah’s sword isn’t at odds with her never manifesting today, because this was her sword before her ascension.

Now let’s take a closer look at another member of the Dark Six: the Fury.

THE FURY

When I found my lover murdered, I gave myself to the Fury. I don’t remember the rest of the night. But I regret nothing, and thank the Dark Lady that justice was done. 

The Fury is a silent whisper that can drive you to doubt or despair. She is blind rage and all-consuming passion. Instinct is the voice of the Fury, guiding us when rational thought fails. And she is the Sovereign of Revenge, promising vengeance to those willing to surrender to her. Her father the Devourer embodies the devastating power of the storm; the Fury is the storm that rages within us all, wild emotions that we fight to control.

As with all of the Dark Six, the Fury is acknowledged by the vassals who worship the Sovereign Host. She is the source of any unbalanced emotion. Someone consumed by despair is carrying the Fury on his shoulders, while anyone who lets anger driven them to rash action has given the reins to the Fury. Love is also an emotion, but in the hands of the Fury it is wild and dangerous. Just as there are Three Faces of War, there are Three Faces of Love: Boldrei is the love that binds, Arawai is the love that brings life, and Szorawai—the Fury—is the love that burns.

So typically the Fury is something civilized people guard against, something that must be contained and controlled lest she leave your life in ruins. But she is a part of the world, and there are those who chose to embrace her. While there are priests of the Fury—especially along the path of the Revelers—typically people find the Fury on their own. You don’t need a priest to speak to the Fury; she is part of you, already speaking through your rage and your sorrow. You just need to listen.

THE REVELERS

Civilized societies typically fear the Fury, seeing her influence as disruptive. However, there are those who see her “madness” as a virtue. This path asserts that it’s  only fighting the Fury that brings pain. Aureon’s laws are chains. Break them. Let your instincts guide you, experience your emotions fully, and you will know a freedom others cannot imagine. This path is more common in Droaam than in the Five Nations. Adherents are encouraged to act without thinking, to trust impulse and instinct. Whether you feel sorrow or anger, embrace it and follow where it leads.

Such followers of the Fury often engage in fevered celebrations. Outsiders generally call these frenziesand depict them as a blend of celebration, orgy, and riot; they’re seen as dangerous and immoral. But those who participate call them revels. One aspect of a revel is to experience unbridled joy; all extreme emotions are the touch of the Fury. But the primary purpose of a revel is to shatter Aureon’s chains, to experience a moment unfettered by the expectations of others… and in that moment to find your true self.

This is typically the path of those who publicly identify as followers of the Fury. While any character could follow this philosophy, if you want to reflect a supernatural connection to the Fury there’s a few ways to do it.

  • It’s a plausible path for any barbarian, though Berserker is the most logical choice. You could depict such a character as having been raised as a warrior in a community where the Fury is respected, and having always embraced and cultivated their rage—an outlander or soldier from Droaam, for example. But you could also play such a character as a sage or a guild artisan who’s extremely articulate and civilized except when you give yourself fully to your rage. Such a character could even have a high Strength score that’s not reflected by their physical appearance, because it’s more about your ability to channel adrenaline in the moment you need that strength… so a character that seems like a harmless scholar until you unleash your fury. You could also have a barbarian urchin who grew up nearly feral in the streets, who follows the guidance of the Fury wherever it leads.
  • Depending on the spells that you choose, it’s likewise a plausible path for a sorcerer. You could say that your magic comes from a place of primal instinct; you don’t consciously know how to perform it and might not even be able to cast every spell on your list on demand, but when the time is right the knowledge rises up within you. There’s no particular subclass ideally suited to this, but I’d probably go with Wild Magic to reflect the idea that you don’t fully understand what you’re doing and don’t have absolute control over it.
  • In some ways, a bard makes a better reveler priest than a cleric. Following the College of Glamour, you have the ability to inspire primal emotions; it’s your task to encourage people to fully experience and feel their feelings. You could play such a character like the barbarian mentioned above—only embracing the Fury fully when in the throes of performance. But you could also play this character as a priest who tries to help people understand their feelings at all times… or as someone who fights to bring down any system that seeks to compel or control peoples’ thoughts and emotions. This is different, however, from the priest of the Traveler who inspires chaos and change on a societal level; the Fury is more driven by the storm within each heart. If someone were to follow this path in my campaign, I’d be willing to consider their bard spells as divine magic as opposed to arcane—gifts of devotion as opposed to lore—but this wouldn’t have a mechanical effect.
  • There isn’t an official cleric domain that reflects this path well. Strangely, I would consider the Order domain presented in the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, simply reversing the flavor of the abilities. As written the Order priest compels because people respect their inherent authority; for the Fury, all of the compelling abilities would be about generating raw emotion. A command FEELS so right in the moment that the victim obeys… while hold person could reflect a paralyzing doubt and despair that the victim must shake off before they can act normally.
  • Many of the members of the Dark Pack of Droaam—worgs, lycanthropes, and other predators—view the Fury as a personal guide and patron. This ties to the principle that instinct is more important than reason, and that one should always let instinct guide action. You could play a Moon druid whose powers flow from this idea; rather than being tied to a druidic sect, you are primal predator whose form and actions are shaped by the Fury.

Boldrei is the patron of mediators and therapists, those who help maintain peace within a community and help people overcome negative emotions. However, there is an alternative. When a vassal makes a sacrifice to the Devourer in the face of an oncoming storm, they don’t expect the storm to suddenly stop; they are begging the Devourer to turn his rage to someone else. Sometimes you may find a simple altar to the Fury hidden in a vassal community. The principle is simple: if you are dealing with an emotion you can’t handle, you can make a sacrifice… and if it is accepted, your pain will be given to someone else. This practice is largely reviled because it’s a zero sum game; SOMEONE will suffer your sorrow or despair. But if you’re willing to pass your pain to a stranger, it’s a possibility. Likewise, such an altar could be used to beg the Fury to ignite a spark of passion in an object of affection; but once again, the love of the Fury is wild and uncontrollable, and often leaves ashes in its wake.

THE SOVEREIGN OF REVENGE

The Fury is there whenever you suffer pain or anguish. Aureon’s laws provide a path for order in a civilized society, and Dol Arrah guides the justiciar. But perhaps you feel the forces of the law are corrupt and will never punish your enemy. Perhaps the wrong that’s been done to you isn’t a crime, but you still want the cause of your pain to suffer for what they’ve done. Or perhaps you don’t want justice… you want bitter and bloody REVENGE, to make your enemy suffer and feel the pain they’ve inflicted upon you a thousand times over.

In some cultures—certainly in parts of Droaam and Darguun—revenge and justice are seen as one and the same; it is understood that anyone who’s harmed has the right to revenge, and that the Fury promises that vengeance. With the Five Nations people generally support systems of well defined laws and frown on vigilante justice, but this aspect of the Fury can be seen in two ways.

The first is urban legend as much as it is myth: the idea that if you’ve been wronged, you can engrave the name of the person you seek vengeance upon into a red candle, blend a drop of blood with the wax, and leave the lit candle in your window. This is a symbol that the Fury burns within you, demanding vengeance on the person you have named. In some stories, this is simply a call for the Fury to take vengeance for you, acting through environmental forces; if your target falls from a horse the next day, that’s the Fury answering your prayers. Others say that there’s a hidden order of assassins who roam Khorvaire, who will fulfill the promise of the crimson candle. What’s understood with either option is that once the Fury is invoked, you have no control over what form the vengeance will take or how many people will be hurt in the process. This ties to the point that this isn’t justice, and that while vengeance comes with a price YOU may not be the one who pays it. The Fury doesn’t eliminate pain and suffering; she spreads it and magnifies it. Because of this, the crimson candle isn’t used lightly; placing the candle in your window is a public declaration that you want revenge and you don’t care about the cost or who knows it. If the adventurers come into a village with dozens of crimson candles burning in the windows, it’s a sign that something is terribly wrong. And to the person named on the candle, it’s a question of whether you will try to make amends and convince the victim to extinguish the candle before the Fury takes notice of the plea.

The crimson candle is an invocation of the Fury, a request that someone or something else could grant vengeance. But there’s also the belief that someone who has been terribly wronged can surrender entirely to the Fury, abandoning moral principles and personal responsibility until vengeance is obtained. According to the stories, a vengeful hand is a vessel for the Fury, capable of superhuman feats; however, it’s entirely up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales or if it’s simply a form of temporary psychosis. Either way, this isn’t a common thing. Anyone can say that it was the voice of the Fury who drove them to rash action; but the vengeful hand is someone gripped by focused madness, whether divine or otherwise. And while people may sympathize with a vengeful hand, while it’s understood that they would never commit such horrific crimes under other circumstances, this doesn’t excuse the crimes they commit in pursuit of revenge.

There’s a number of ways this could be reflected in a player character. As before, any character could be driven by vengeance regardless of their class abilities. In developing the character idea, the question is what fuels your need for vengeance and if it’s a quest that can ever be completed. For example, someone could be driven by a desire for vengeance against Erandis Vol… but they have no idea where Vol is and know they don’t have the personal power to bring her down, so they’ll devote themselves to fighting the entire Emerald Claw until the path to Vol is made clear. Or if a criminal killed your parents, you could devote yourself to vengeance upon all criminals. The critical point is that someone driven by the Fury doesn’t care about the cost of revenge, and that this isn’t about fair punishment; it is about raining down pain and suffering upon those who have wronged you. Can you ever come to the end of that dark path? Or is your need for vengeance an all consuming flame? Here’s a few specific character ideas.

  • The Oath of Vengeance is an obvious choice for a paladin of the Fury, a warrior infused with divine power to me used in pursuit of revenge. This path works just as well for a Zealot barbarian, or potentially a cleric with the War or Death domains. This could fit the idea of the vengeful hand: you were a peaceful civilized person until you swore your oath of vengeance, and you have been filled with the power you need to see it through. On the other hand, you could also have been granted your powers to help others take vengeance; you are the one who answers the call of the crimson candle. In either case, I again call out this difference between this and the path of Dol Arrah. The hands of the Fury don’t pursue justice; they seek vengeance, regardless of how much new pain and suffering is generated in the course of revenge.
  • A warlock could be presented as someone who has made their vow to the Fury, gaining power to be used in the quest for revenge. As above, this could be a pact made in pursuit of personal vengeance, or the warlock could be assigned to help others obtain revenge. In regards to how this relates to the idea that the gods can’t be proven to exist, there’s a few ways to handle it. The first is that the warlock doesn’t directly interact with their patron; the warlock swore an oath and knows what they have to do. Another option is that the warlock’s patron is a fiend who considers themselves to be a voice of the Fury: perhaps a spirit of Mabar who enjoys the pain and death that accompanies these quests. Alternately, the warlock could have visions they believe are coming directly from the Fury… but is there a way to truly prove that these aren’t just delusions?
  • A bard of the College of Whispers is skilled at manipulating emotions and fears, both weapons in the arsenal of the Fury. This ties to the idea that vengeance need not always be bloody. A Whispers bard devoted to the Fury could be a character assassin, carrying out missions of vengeance like any other vengeful hands but focusing on destroying the lives of their victims as opposed to simply ending them.

Overall, the point here is that the people of the Five Nations don’t revere the Fury: but they certainly acknowledge her presence and her power. Typically she’s seen as something you should fight against: bite back your anger, overcome your despair, trust in the law to see that justice is done. So in general, you won’t find a priest of the Fury on the streets of the Five Nations… and paladin who acts as a vengeful hand may not ANNOUNCE that, as again, acting in the name of the Fury doesn’t let you get away with murder. But people don’t need a priest of the Fury to hear her voice. And putting a crimson candle in your window is usually seen as a cry for help or an act of protest, not heresy that needs to be punished.

Q&A

The myths mentioned above seem to imply that Death is a separate entity. Is it something a cleric could worship?

In the myth, “Death” is something that Dol Arrah defeats and binds. Most of the myths are about the champions battling hostile aspects of reality, which is what ultimately leds to their ascension. So technically “Death” is something that exists—which is why people still die—but it’s not free to act wantonly or maliciously. Mythologically Death is a subject of the Keeper… tied to the previous article that notes that the Keeper can target people with illness and misfortune in order to kill them.

An arcane scholar who believes that the Sovereign myths are legends of ascended dragons would assert that “Dol Arrah’s battle with death” is an account of a draconic champion fighting the Overlord Katashka, who embodies our fears of death and the undead… a battle depicted on page 6 of Dragons of Eberron.

Could someone worship it? Sure, just as someone could worship Katashka the Gatekeeper. But again, bear in mind that by the myths, Death is now a vassal of the Keeper—just as the Overlords themselves are bound. It’s possible such an individual would be able to channel divine magic, but a Vassal would assert that this power COMES from the Keeper; that whatever they call it, “Death” is the Keeper.

Are the “true/previous” names of the Dark Six common knowledge? Dol Azur and Szorawai and the like? Is it considered heretical to refer to them by that name? Or simply esoteric/academic?

The general idea is that stripping the Six of their names is a way to strip them of power. When Dol Azur betrayed his comrades, they took his skin and his name. Because they aren’t commonly used, most people only know them by their titles. Many people feel that addressing one of the Six by its original name can draw its attention, and thus it’s superstitiously avoided. However, in sects such as the Three Faces of War or Love where the member of the Six is acknowledged as part of the core faith, it’s more common to use the name. So if you say “Szorawai” to a group of common vassals, probably a third of them won’t recognize it, another third will gasp in horror, and the final third will nod sagely… and followers of the Three Faces of Love will roll their eyes at the people of gasp and urge them to get over it.

Are the Devourer (Shurkaan) and Keeper’s (Kol Turrant) names in other sources canonical?

The names of the Dark Six—Shurkaan the Devourer, Kol Turrant the Keeper, Dol Azur the Mockery, and Szorawai the Fury—were presented in Faiths of Eberron, which is a canon source. However, like the Sovereigns, different cultures and sects will also have their own names. Shurkaan is also known as “Shargon,” though some people who use that name just think it refers to a legendary sea monster. So yes, these are canonical names, but you can also come up with others.

Would it be true to say that the Dark Six are ultimately opposed to Khyber and the Overlords—that even if they are evil and dark, they are on the side of dragons and mortals? 

Largely, yes. The relationship between the Overlords and the Nine and Six is somewhat analogous to the Titans and Olympians of Greek mythology. The Dark Six are themselves Sovereigns, though most Vassals don’t acknowledge that… but the Sovereigns gained their sovereignty by overthrowing the Overlords. So the Dark Six may PREY upon good people, but none of them want to return the world to the chaotic rule of the Overlords.

With that said, mythologically some of the Six had DEALINGS with the Overlords. The Mockery and the Keeper both made bargains with Overlords, and some scholars say that the myth of the Shadow could actually refer to Aureon making a deal with Bel Shalor or Sul Khatesh. But even in those cases, the Mockery and the Keeper continued to oppose the Overlords overall.

Likewise, we’ve suggested that there are fiends who count themselves as agents of the Dark Six; such fiends wouldn’t be loyal to Overlords.

Do the Dark Six’s followers acknowledge the Traveler as an equal part of the Six or is it a separate entity even within the Six? 

“The Dark Six” is largely a mortal construct. It’s not like it’s the Justice League and the Legion of Doom, and that they each have headquarters and membership cards. What makes someone a member of the Dark Six is that they are seen as holding dominion over dark powers… not that they are supposedly friends. So the Traveler is unquestionably part of the Dark Six. But the Traveler has also always been a mystery. They have no established name and appear in a different form in each myth. looking to the previous questions, mythologically the Traveler stood with the host against the Overlords, but it was still never known and understood as the others were.

Do most followers of the Dark Six worship the pantheon as a whole, or are they generally devoted to individual deities?

Like the Sovereign Host, I’d say that most acknowledge the entire pantheon (and that typically also means that they acknowledge the existence of the Sovereigns) but they choose to offer their greatest devotion to the deity that holds the most influence over their life. The changelings of Lost are first and foremost devoted to the Traveler. This doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in the Shadow or the Fury; they just don’t particularly care about them.

So looking to Droaam as a whole, most of them do acknowledge all of the Six and at least respect them all; but they may have a particular deity they see as their personal guide and patron. There are variants that ONLY acknowledge a specific deity—tied to variant myths, such as the harpy assertion that the Fury was born from Eberron’s cry of pain—but those are less common.

Would you say those who approach the Six with the intention of getting something from a deity they believe to be evil tend to be worse than those who viewed them as less or not evil?

With many of the Six, this is less about Good and Evil and more about Law and Chaos. The Sovereigns largely embody the values that support civilization. When you are wronged, DON’T seek bloody revenge; follow the established system that will provide justice. When you’re making a bargain or fighting on the battlefield, don’t engage in treacherous behavior. Think of others, don’t just pursue your own greed or ambition. The Five Nations value the rule of law and consider these to be virtues. By contrast, Droaam is a very chaotic nation where people are expected to solve their own problems and look out for themselves. There’s no difference between vengeance and justice. You’re not expected to rein in your emotions for the benefit of others; if someone angers you, they need to deal with the consequences of your anger; you’re not expected to harness your fury and let the insult go.

So the main point is that in a chaotic culture the ideas embodied by the Six may not be seen as negative concepts… whereas in a lawful culture they often are. In Droaam there’s nothing wrong with embracing the Fury; restraining emotions is the strange and artificial thing. On the other hand, if you’re a citizen of the Five Nations and you light a crimson candle, you’re asking the Fury to circumvent the system of justice and grant you revenge, regardless of who may be hurt in the process. So you are definitely making a SELFISH choice, a choice in which your pain matters more than the potential consequences of revenge. You are making a choice you know goes against the moral and legal values of your society.

The same is true of a wizard who seeks forbidden arcane lore. The Shadow asserts that there should be no limits on the pursuit of knowledge. The fact that you’re choosing to violate Aureon’s laws doesn’t necessarily make you evil; that’s a question of what you’re willing to do to get the knowledge and what you’ll do with the power once you’ll have it. But it certainly means that you’re placing your personal desires over the laws of your society… so again, Law versus Chaos more than Good versus Evil.

Similarly, how do Vassals and other devout reconcile the different views of the Six? If a vassal heard that Medusa talking about the Shadow would they think that both descriptions were true or that one of the two was wrong?

Vassals know that many cultures have skewed ideas of the Sovereigns and Six. The Talenta halflings say Bally-Norr was a halfling hunter, and everyone knows that’s not true. So first of all you’ll have the indulgent “You’re just a savage who doesn’t understand the truth of the faith.” So in part it depends how it’s presented. The Fury as she’s revered in Droaam is largely the same concept as the Fury in the Pyrinean Creed; it’s simply that the Droaamite believes that embracing your instincts and emotions is a virtue, while the Vassal believes that it’s weakness. Likewise, the Vassal sees the Shadow as malevolent because it creates monsters; the medusa sees the Shadow in the same light, but sees “creating monsters” as a positive thing as opposed to a negative.

Do the harpies of Droaam adhere to any aspects of the faith that most other Fury followers don’t?

Many of the harpy wings of Droaam say that the harpy sings with the Fury’s voice. For these harpies, song is an act of prayer, and they frequently engage in ecstatic choruses. Many consider their ability to throw the emotions of others out of balance as a sign that they are truly the children of the Fury. However, in this they tend to focus on the emotional aspects of the Fury; by contrast, the Dark Pack is also strongly devoted to the Fury, but more in her role as the source of instinct.

I’ve always found it tonally inappropriate that the Fury was born of rape — it’s the only mention of sexual assault in an Eberron book, and while I get that it *happens* in real-world myths, it’s never been something I’ve particularly cared for… Are there other myths of the Fury’s origin?

There’s certainly other myths. The harpies say that Eberron cried out in pain when she brought life into being, and the Fury is her cry (note that by this story, the Fury is actually older than the other Sovereigns and Six). Another myth says that the Devourer was bound by his enemies; his rage gave him the strength to break his bonds, but it was so powerful that it burst forth as the Fury.

With that said, the Pyrinean myth is largely metaphorical. The prosperous farm is the bounty of Arawai, and the storm and fire that threaten to destroy it are the Devourer. So to the farmer, the Devourer is constantly attacking Arawai. The farmer whose field has been laid waste feels rage and despair… and so, the Fury is born of the Devourer’s attack on Arawai.

The Fury and The Cults of the Dragon Below appear similar since they both encompass the Madness Domain. What are the ways Revelers might be distinguished from the Cultists of the Dragon Below?

It’s an interesting question. First of all, the Cults of the Dragon Below are incredibly diverse. But I’d say the crucial difference is that the Cults of the Dragon Below don’t worship a personification of insanity; rather, they are themselves insane. Meanwhile, the priests of the Fury don’t worship the idea of madness; they worship the Fury as a source of passion and powerful emotions that can push someone into madness. So if a priest of the Fury casts feeblemind on you, they are consciously making a decision to drive you insane, overwhelming you with sorrow or doubt. If a cleric of the Dragon Below casts the same spell, they may actually describe it as if it’s dominate: “Let me show you the truth of our cause and you will see we’re correct!”… and then they’ll be disappointed when this “revelation” breaks your brain. This article on the Cults of the Dragon Below might help.

If you have questions about the Fury, post them below! And thanks as always to my Patreon backers for making this blog possible!

The Dark Six: The Keeper

The Mockery is the lord of treachery and terror. The Devourer commands the destructive powers of nature. The Keeper will strike you down with disease and then snatch your soul so he can continue to torment you for eternity. Everything that we fear—poverty, disease, betrayal, madness, monsters—all of these fall under the sway of the Dark Six. What could drive people to worship these malevolent deities? What sort of player characters would follow them?

In the days ahead I’ll be delving into each of the Dark Six and their followers, starting here with an overview of the Six and a deeper look at the Keeper. Bear in mind that this is my personal take on the Dark Six and the Sovereign Host. It’s not canon material, and it may contradict canon sources.

NINE AND SIX AND ONE

Sourcebooks generally present the Dark Six and the Sovereign Host as if they’re two different faiths, but they’re closely intertwined. The world holds good and evil, joy and tragedy. The Sovereigns need the Dark Six to explain injustice and suffering. When there’s a bountiful harvest, farmers praise Arawai; when there’s a drought, they curse the Devourer. When magic is used for the greater good, it’s a blessing of Aureon; when magic causes suffering, it’s the work of the Shadow. The vassals (devotees) of the Sovereign Host don’t praise the Dark Six, but they acknowledge their existence and power. Prayers refer to the Nine and Six and One, but the point is that the Nine and Six ARE one. A few places where this can be seen…

  • When faced with a deadly storm, a vassal sailor may toss something precious into the water—making a sacrifice to placate the Devourer.
  • The Three Faces of War is a vassal cult found across the armies of the Five Nations. Initiates honor Dol Arrah, Dol Azur, and Dol Dorn—acknowledging that all three have a place on the battlefield, and that each warrior must choose a path between them.
  • The Restful Watch believe that the Keeper and Aureon occasionally work together; at Aureon’s direction, the Keeper catches the souls of heroes so that they aren’t lost to Dolurrh and can be returned when they are needed. The Restful Watch still acknowledge the Keeper as generally malevolent, but willing to bargain with Aureon to serve the greater good.

None of these three examples challenge the basic depiction of the Six. The Mockery, Devourer, and Keeper are still seen as dangerous and dark; it’s simply understood that they are part of the world and that there are times where it’s better to acknowledge them or even work with them than to ignore or entirely deny them. This same principle flows in reverse. A medusa of Khazaak Draal who reveres the Shadow doesn’t deny the existence of Aureon; she accepts them both and CHOOSES the path of the Shadow over that of Aureon. The choice is more meaningful because it is a choice; the medusa doesn’t deny that Aureon may exist, but says that if he does, his laws and attempt to impose morals on magic are misguided and tyrannical.

WHO FOLLOWS THE DARKNESS?

While most vassals acknowledge the existence of the Dark Six, most choose to live their lives according to the principles of the Nine. The ideas represented by the Nine form the foundation of civilization: knowledge, community, industry, commerce, honor, prosperity. The farmer depends on Arawai’s goodwill, and the hunter needs Balinor’s guidance; for both of them, the wrath of the Devourer is something to be feared. Any vassal can choose to bargain with the Six; the common practice of burying a corpse with valuables to distract the Keeper is an example of this. But this is a matter of placating one of the Six when you enter their domain as opposed to revering them.

The question is what drives someone to offer their first devotion to the Six: not simply placating them in desperate times, but idolizing one of these dark powers. In future articles I’ll explore each of the Dark Six, but let’s begin with the Sovereign of Death and Decay: The Keeper.

The Keeper

Sovereign over: Greed, death, hoarded wealth, unfair bargains

Common Subclasses: Death, Trickery (Cleric), Oathbreaker (Paladin), Fiend, Hexblade (Warlock)

Never flaunt good fortune. Avoid arrogance or pride. Those who crow too loudly may catch the jealous eye of the Keeper. Even the mightiest hero can be laid low by disease or ill fortune; the Keeper has a vast arsenal to bring down those that he desires. Once he pulls you down into the darkness, he will snatch your soul before it can reach Dolurrh and and you to his endless hoard, where he can toy with you and torment you until the end of time.

On first reading, this might not sound so bad. Isn’t Dolurrh a place where the soul fades and memories are lost? Aren’t those taken by the Keeper being spared from oblivion? Yes and no. The fading of Dolurrh is an observable effect. But the Vassals maintain that souls that fade in Dolurrh aren’t lost; rather, the fading of memory reflects the transition of the soul to a higher level of reality, where it joins the Sovereigns. So first of all, you’re losing a chance at paradise; second, even if you don’t accept that idea, it’s a choice of oblivion versus eternal torment. So, most people prefer to avoid the Keeper’s grasp. Initiates of the Restful Watch specialize in setting a price on the soul, establishing what must be buried or burned with the corpse to placate the Keeper.

The Keeper is the brother of Kol Korran and reflects the darker aspects of commerce, inspiring avarice, conspicuous consumption, and insatiable greed that can lead to murder or theft.Greed and hoarding are defining aspects of the Keeper; death is simply the tool that he uses to add souls to his hoard. This introduces an often overlooked aspect of the Keeper: bargaining. The Keeper is always searching for new treasures to add to his hoard… and these treasures can include souls, memories, and even more abstract things. A bargain with the Keeper can get you wealth, magic items, the powers of a warlock, or more. While the gifts of the Traveler often have unexpected consequences, the goods of the Keeper are generally exactly what they appear to be: but the Keeper never makes a deal unless the price is in his favor. Whatever you get from the Keeper, you’ll have to give up something of even greater value.

Followers of the Keeper

Out of the Six, the Keeper is the deity most commonly acknowledged by vassals—every funeral acknowledges his presence—but revered by few. Here’s a few ways you might encounter followers of the Keeper in the world.

The Greedy and Devious. Kol Korran is the patron of commerce and honest trade. The Keeper guides those who put their own personal gain above all else. The Keeper helps the liar and the cheat. The Mockery guides those who use deception to spill blood, but those who use guile to gain gold rely on the guidance of the Keeper. Criminals and rogues who see themselves as heroes may look to Olladra for good fortune in their endeavors. But those willing to acknowledge their own greed may offer prayers to the Keeper.

This sort of worship is typically a personal thing. Many members of the Boromar Clan offer prayers to the Keeper, but the clan doesn’t maintain a shrine to him. Individuals who are especially skilled at separating people from their riches may be considered to be blessed by the Keeper, just as a skilled blacksmith may be thought to be favored by Onatar; they may not have the trappings of a priest, but others may still ask for (and pay for) their blessing. On the other hand, you could also have a priest of the Keeper who runs their own guild of thieves; the critical point is that such a priest would typically see their congregation as tools to further their own greed. A cleric following this aspect of the Keeper would have the Trickery domain, but it’s just as appropriate for any rogue, criminal, or charlatan.

While a player character could follow this path, there’s little heroic about it. The Keeper is the lord of greed. Kol Korran governs the positive aspects of trade, and Olladra guides the playful trickster and bard. The Keeper is the patron of those concerned solely with their own personal gain regardless of the cost to others. However, it’s still possible for a mercenary character to begin their career as a cold-hearted devotee of the Keeper—fighting solely for gold—and to perhaps discover that there are things more important than simple acquisition along the way.

The Restful Watch. Priests of the Restful Watch specialize in embalming, funerals, and maintaining cemeteries. They can be found in every major city in the Five Nations, and even smaller towns may have a devotee of the Watch tending the boneyard. The doctrine of the Restful Watch is based on the idea that most spirits pass through Dolurrh and into the realm of the Sovereigns, but that once someone has entered the realm of the Sovereigns they can never return. As a result, if Aureon knows that a dead hero will be needed in the future, he has the Keeper snatch the soul before it reaches Dolurrh, so it can be restored when the time is right. Thus, initiates of the Restful Watch present themselves first and foremost as servants of Aureon, but they understand the Keeper. One of their most important duties is helping the bereaved choose appropriate grave goods or a sacrifice sufficient to distract the Keeper and ensure that the soul reaches Dolurrh. For a simple person with few achievements, a single coin might suffice; but the more remarkable the deceased, the greater interest the Keeper will have… requiring a more significant sacrifice to distract him.

While the Restful Watch can be found in any major city, they maintain a low profile; unless you’re planning a funeral, there’s little reason to interact with them. However, there’s a few ways that they could intersect with adventurers or serve as the foundation for a player character. Clerics of the Restful Watch typically take the Grave domain, reflecting their balance between the light of Aureon and the darkness of the Keeper. However, both the Knowledge domain and the Death domain are options. Likewise, Watch paladins typically embrace the Oaths of Devotion or Redemption, but those especially close to the Keeper could take the darker path of the Oathbreaker. With that in mind, here’s a few options for the Watch.

  • The Restful Watch believes that Aureon has preserved the souls of heroes so they may return for an apocalyptic conflict that lies ahead. Many scholars believe this cataclysm predicts the collapse of the Silver Flame and the unleashing of the Overlords of the First Age. As a Watchful Eye, you have been sent out into the world to search for signs that this cataclysm is drawing nigh. You may have a specific set of things you’re supposed to look for or investigate (such as the Mournland), or you could be largely given a free rein.
  • Occasionally the Watch identifies individuals who they’re sure have been marked by Aureon for preservation. You may have been assigned to such an individual—one of the other player characters—with the task of chronicling this person’s life and performing the proper rituals when they die. Whether or not the person appreciates or wants your companionship is irrelevant. “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to follow you around until your heroic death. Trust me, I think you’re going to accomplish some big things!”
  • Especially gifted priests of the Restful Watch serve as exorcists and mediums. As a cleric with the Grave domain, you may consider it your holy purpose to seek out the undead and lay their troubled spirits to rest.

Keeper’s Hands. Dedicated priests of the Keeper can be found in Droaam, Darguun, and even in Zilargo or the Lhazaar Principalities. These priests generally take the place of the Restful Watch, though they lack the benevolent aspect of Aureon. They still perform funerals and tend cemeteries, but they have no qualms about presenting themselves as servants of the the Keeper as opposed to being tied to some greater good. Like the Restful Watch, they will set a price for a soul’s passage; however, this will definitely include profit for the priest. In such places it’s generally accepted that one can gain the Keeper’s favor by sending him choice souls, either by simple dedication (which anyone can try—”Keeper take your soul!”) or more thorough ritual… so if you don’t pay the Keeper’s Hand to ensure the soul’s passage to Dolurrh, they’ll sell the soul to the Keeper themselves. Necromancy is also a common path for Keeper’s Hands, whether they are adepts, clerics (Death domain) or Oathbreaker paladins. They see necromancy as an earned gift from the Keeper and consider it the necromancer’s right to compel the dead to service… so, a far cry from the Restful Watch seeking to lay the dead to rest.

A Keeper’s Hand doesn’t see any of this as evil. It’s just the way the universe works. Life and death are business transactions, and a Keeper’s Hand is a merchant who expects to profit from them. Keeper’s Hands may also serve as talons (see Bargaining With The Keeper). As a path for a PC, you may have been raised in one of these dark cultures and simply be trying to use your gifts for your own benefit. Working with a mercenary band of violent adventurers is an excellent way to be around death—and you’re happy to dedicate those deaths to the Keeper in hope for favor.

While this focuses on the DEATH aspect of the Keeper, Keeper’s Hands are also often shrewd negotiators. Especially in more civilized regions, a Keeper’s Hand may be involved with smuggling or managing other criminal enterprises in addition to their religious duties. As a lone wolf adventurer, you could likewise be focused on all things that could bring you profit. There’s no reason you can’t be willing to share these profits with your friends, as long as you get what you want—so again, a Keeper’s Hand can be an excellent match for mercenary adventurers driven primarily by profit.

Keeper’s Fangs. The Keeper’s Hand simply pursues general profit, dedicating any deaths they can to the Keeper and hoping that this earns them favor. However, a few individuals feel a closer connection to the Keeper—they hear his voice or know what he wants most of all. Known as Keeper’s Fangs, these assassins hunt down and slay anyone marked by the Keeper. They may also be charged to find treasures the Keeper wants to add to his hoard. It’s up to the DM to decide if such a treasure must be immediately sacrificed upon acquisition, or if the Fang can make use of the relic before it is claimed by the Keeper.

In the ancient Sarlonan nation of Pyrine, Keeper’s Fangs were assassins who would sell death for gold. Assassination isn’t sanctioned in the Five Nations, but there is an order of Keeper’s Fangs who follows these old traditions. They are few enough in number that House Thuranni generally doesn’t see them as a threat to business. While this order exists, there are just as many Keeper’s Fangs who have an entirely personal relationship with the Keeper: they see what he wants in visions, and act in the hopes of personal reward. This is a logical path for a Hexblade warlock, whose shadow-infused weapons are a gift from the Keeper. However, it’s just as plausible for a Death cleric, Oathbreaker paladin, or rogue assassin.

Others. As noted above, these are a FEW ways to encounter followers of the Keeper. These ideas follow the traditional Pyrinean interpretation of the Six; but the Sovereigns and Six have been interpreted in many ways in various cultures. Among the giants of Rusheme, the Keeper is known as Karaak the Final Guardian, and considered to save the souls of the worthy from dissolution—similar to the beliefs of the Restful Watch, but without adding Aureon into the equation. The Keeper is always associated with death and greed, but the exact interpretation can vary considerably.

Bargaining With The Keeper

How do bargains with the Keeper work? The Six don’t walk the world, so you have to find an intermediary who can make a bargain. This could be a devoted outsider, or it could be a mortal with a strong connection to the Keeper. This could fall into any of the categories described above—a priest of the Restful Watch, a criminal considered to be blessed by the Keeper, a Keeper’s Hand or Fang. Someone operating in this capacity is referred to as a talon. Despite all of these options, talons are exceptionally rare—and those with established track records even more so. This is because working with a talon is entirely a matter of faith. The petitioner comes with a request. The talon establishes the exact terms. Payment is often abstract: the most common fee is the assurance that the Keeper will claim the petitioner’s soul after death, often with an added limitation on maximum lifespan (“Should you live to be forty years of age, the Keeper will end your life and claim his rightful prize”). But payment could be something unique that the petitioner possesses, whether physical or metaphysical. The only constant is that the Keeper never makes a bargain unless the price is in his favor; the cost will always be dear.

If a bargain has a material cost, the talon takes the goods on behalf of the Keeper. But the talon doesn’t provide the reward, and there’s no guarantee as to when the Keeper will uphold his end of the bargain. So an aspiring merchant could make a deal to acquire wealth and success in exchange for a 40-year lifespan and the only picture of her mother. The talon takes the picture and the merchant goes on her way. Within the year, she has a run of good fortune, or finds a wealthy investor, or stumbles upon buried treasure that allows her to set up her business. Is this the result of the bargain, or just coincidence? WILL she die when she’s forty, or is that also just superstition? An established talon is defined by having a string of successes; people have to BELIEVE that the talon can speak for the Keeper. But the Keeper acts in his own time and in his own way, and there’s nothing about a talon’s bargain that can’t be questioned by a skeptic.

A Keeper’s bargain is an excellent way to establish a character’s backstory. Player characters possess remarkable talent; did a character bargain for that talent, and if so, what was the cost? Perhaps the terms of the agreement only give the character one year to live: can they find a way to break the bargain before time runs out? This is also a possible explanation for the powers of a warlock, especially if the warlock specializes in conjuration and necromancy. In this case the warlock may not have an active and ongoing relationship with their patron (though the following section presents alternatives) but what were the terms of the deal? If a player character wants to make a bargain with a talon during a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide what terms the Keeper will offer and what the practical effects will be. If someone offers to give up their musical talent in exchange for a silver tongue, the DM could allow them to swap a proficiency with Performance for Deception… but again, it’s up to the DM to decide if such a thing is possible and how to implement it. If someone bargains for “skill at arms” the DM could rule that this skill will be acquired over time as they gain levels; again, the benefit doesn’t have to come instantly, and most people can’t gain levels as PCs do. It’s also possible that a talon could approach the player characters with an offer. Perhaps they’ve acquired the Book of Vile Darkness and no one actually wants to read it. But a talon approaches them; the Keeper has spoken to them and wants the book, and is offering a different artifact in exchange. Are they interested? And again, such a bargain doesn’t mean that the talon possesses the other artifact; it’s simply assured that should the PCs give the book to the talon, the other artifact will come to them. Metaphysically, the theory is that most of the gifts the Keeper can bestow come from imbuing the beneficiary with an element of one of the souls in his hoard; the Keeper grants musical talent by imbuing the seeker with the soul of a renowned bard. As such, there are certainly things the Keeper CAN’T grant. The Keeper can’t granted arcane knowledge that no mortal has discovered; that would be the domain of the Shadow.

The Keeper and the Afterlife

DOES the Keeper snatch souls on their way to Dolurrh? As with anything tied to the divine, there’s no absolute proof. But from the preponderance of myths to the concrete fact of soul-trapping Keeper’s fang weapons, it’s POSSIBLE for souls to be lost in this way. There are tales told of heroes finding the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes and negotiating with a skeletal dragon to recover souls lost to Keeper’s Fangs. Perhaps these stories are literally true. Or perhaps the “Lair of the Keeper” is a portal to a demiplane ruled by the first and most powerful dracolich… and this mighty creature created the Keeper’s fangs. Ultimately it’s up to the DM to decide. Is there anything to a talon’s bargains beyond superstition and coincidence? Can souls be taken by the Keeper, and if so, how can they be recovered?

In this article I discuss the cost of resurrection—whether cast as a spell, or offered to a slain hero by supernatural forces. In Eberron, this is one more opportunity to bargain with the Keeper. Should a player character die early in their career, the Keeper (or something posing as him) could offer resurrection—but at what cost? Alternately, if the player characters have the ability to raise the dead, the Keeper can add an unexpected obstacle. If the Keeper claims a soul, Raise Dead won’t work unless the Keeper chooses to release the soul… which will require a bargain. See the linked article for ideas about what such bargains could entail!

This adds one more interesting background for a player character: the REVENANT. Even as a first level character, you could have died and been released by the Keeper… what bargain did you make? Is this tied to your class abilities? Did you die recently, or did you linger in limbo for centuries before returning—exactly what the Restful Watch describes? This could allow you to play an elf from the age of Aeren; a human who fought along Lhazaar, Galifar, or Tira Miron; a Goblin who fought the daelkyr; or any other hero from the past. This could have required a bargain with the Keeper (or something claiming to be the Keeper)… or perhaps there is something to the beliefs of the Restful Watch and you’ve been returned without strings—but if so, why were you preserved and why have you been restored now? What’s your purpose in the present day?

Q&A

I love the idea of people burying treasures with the dead to distract the Keeper. If this is a common practice for everyone in Eberron, would you think it would lead to extensive grave robbing by non-believers? Is there some “curse” rumored to go with grave robbing?

Good question. It’s definitely seen as a bad idea to steal grave goods—even if the Keeper doesn’t physically take them, his eye has been on them and by taking them you’re drawing his eye to you. However, that’s only going to deter vassals; if someone doesn’t believe in the Keeper, they won’t believe in the curse. With that said, bear in mind that for MOST people we aren’t talking about things of tremendous value—a few copper crowns, something that was valuable to the deceased but doesn’t necessarily have high market value. if the thing that was most valuable to the deceased was a portrait of their lost child, that might suffice… even though you couldn’t get a great price for it. Beyond that, this is one of the specific duties of the Restful Watch—maintaining and protecting cemeteries.  And in the case of someone who would be buried with things of considerable value—a noble, a hero—you would have crypts with actual security.

All of which leads to possible adventure: You need to get into the crypt of first King of Metrol to recover the sword that was buried with him… but is its power intact, or is it now cursed?

If you were to create a 3.5 lawful good paladin of the Keeper, what positive aspects of the Keeper would you emphasize? Or would you prefer they be a Paladin of the Restful Watch instead?

It’s a tough sell. I personally define the good alignments as reflecting empathy and altruism, and altruism is literally the antithesis of the Keeper. Even the Restful Watch doesn’t present the Keeper as an altruist; he’s just willing to work with Aureon, presumably profiting from the deal in some way. To me, the people who worship one of the Six above the Sovereigns don’t try to change the basic message of the Six, they simply embrace the darkness. The merchant who follows the Keeper is a mirror of the “Greed is Good” stockbroker, or the con artist who believes that if they can fool you, they’ve earned your gold. So personally, I’d go with the Restful Watch.

HOWEVER, if I absolutely had to make an LG paladin of the Keeper who wasn’t associated with the Restful Watch, I’d emphasize the role of the Talon. They help people make bargains with the Keeper. They don’t seek personal profit, and they offer the best advice they can to the prospective client. It could be that the paladin then acts to make the deal come true; if the Keeper has promised someone wealth, it’s up to the paladin to actual get it for them. So essentially, even though the Keeper always gets the best of the bargain, the paladin sees themselves as doing good by helping people make the deals to get what they need.

A general question about the Dark Six: How do you present them as being worshipped as a pantheon? Usually things focus on cults dedicated to individual members of the Six. 

I lean towards the Nine and Six and One. Rather than say “There is a group that explicitly worships all six of the Dark Six and denies the Sovereigns,” I lean towards “There is a pantheon of fifteen deities, which ones appeal to the individual?” For example, a gnoll hunter in Droaam might respect the Keeper and the Shadow, but as a hunter they could also offer thanks to the Lord of Hunt and Horn—which is to say, Balinor. While Balinor is traditionally part of the Nine, if you’re a hunter, he’s your patron. The Devourer doesn’t guide the hunter; he resides in the storm and the wildfire. The gnoll might RESPECT the Devourer, but if he’s looking for guidance in the hunt, that’s not what the Devourer does.

Essentially, with any of the Sovereigns and Six, there will be members of the pantheon who are more relevant to your life than others. If you’re not a soldier you don’t have a lot of reasons to invoke the Three Faces of War. If you’re not an artisan you may never have a need to ask Onatar for guidance. The same holds true with the Six. The Keeper is relevant to everyone, because we all die. The Shadow is generally seen as the patron of monsters and thus is broadly relevant to all of the denizens of Droaam. But the Devourer and the Fury are more specialized and typically only invoked when needed.

With that said, there are certainly cults in the Five Nations who take it as a point of pride that they follow the Six instead of the Nine. Typically this is seen as a statement of freedom and independence. The Nine are tied to the typical rules of civilization; law, honor, duty, commerce. The Six embody the things we fear, the forces that defy civilization. Someone who embraces the Six is stating that they choose to stand with these forces… even if they may never actually invoke the Devourer directly.

How do followers of the Blood of Vol feel about the Keeper? 

This is a case where people say “They both use necromancy, so they must be allies, right?” WRONG. Many followers of the Blood of Vol maintains that mortality is a curse set on the world by cruel gods… and the Keeper is a cruel god who inflicts death and suffering. The Keeper grants power over the dead, but the Blood of Vol sees the entire idea of the Keeper and any who would revere him as abominations.

What makes The Keeper and Katashka: the Gatekeeper definitely different beings and sources of power to the dragons?

Katashka the Gatekeeper is one of the Overlords of the First Age, an archfiend embodying the fears of death and undeath. There’s certainly some overlap, and one of the common theories is that the inspiration for the Keeper was a draconic champion of the First Age who bargained with Katashka and became the first dracolich—and that this entity could be the inhabitant of the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes. But there are critical differences between the two. Again, Katashka is a fiend who embodies our fears of death and undeath. If freed from his bonds, Katashka would create a blighted realm in which undead prey upon the living. Katashka is in essence a predator who strikes indiscriminately, spreading the influence of the dead across his domain. He is a source of necromantic power, certainly, but he’s an immortal fiend—not something a dragon could aspire to become.

By contrast, the Keeper is the embodiment of greed… it just happens that one of the things he covets is souls, and he uses death and disease as a way to acquire them. The Thir archetype tied to the Keeper is the Master of the Hoard; dragons who emulate the Keeper “treat life and death as simple negotiations and collect actual souls.” As a general rule, Katashka isn’t interested in bargaining or acquiring PARTICULAR souls; he’s all-consuming. The Keeper is a connoisseur who relishes his hoard and who’s always interested in a bargain. And of course, dragons believe that it’s possible for an exceptional Master of the Hoard to BECOME the new Keeper.

My question would be what kind of monsters or monstrous humanoids would have an association with the Keeper? 

It’s not generally a strict racial connection. There are Keeper’s Hands in Droaam and Darguun, but they aren’t tied to a particular species. Medusas revere the Shadow, but in Graywall the primary priestess of the Keeper is a medusa. Essentially, it’s the same principle as anyone worshipping the Sovereign Host; offer devotion to the deities you feel govern your situation or whose guidance you seek. Culturally many of the inhabitants of Droaam are more comfortable with death and with open greed than people of the Five Nations. Humans usually embrace Kol Korran over the Keeper because they want to feel that they are the hero of the story—clever, certainly, but not rapacious or cruel. Following the Keeper acknowledges that you put your own desires ahead of all others. And again, while there are Keeper’s Hands in Droaam, there’s also Keeper’s Hands in Zilargo or Lhazaar.

With all that said, a monstrous race that lives on the edge of life and death or is closely aligned with negative energy could see themselves as children of the Keeper. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but maybe I’m missing one.

Post your questions and comments about the Keeper below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this possible!

Dragonmarks 5/30/14: Vol, the Dark Six, and the Trouble With Aundair

Spring has been a busy time, and I haven’t had much time for the site. I’m working on a lot of exciting things, and I look forward to being able to discuss them in more detail in the future. I also have a backlog of Stories & Dice to get to. But for now, here’s a few Eberron questions. As always, bear in mind that these are only my personal opinions and that my answers may contradict canon material.

Chris Perkins said that Eberron will have 5e/DNDnext support and your input. Is this true?

Yes. It’s far too early to talk about details as to what form support will take, how extensive it will be, or anything like that, but I have been talking with Mike Mearls and Chris Perkins about Eberron in D&D Next, and I will be working with WotC on future Eberron support. More details to follow in days to come.

What makes Aundair interesting? It seems like idyllic farm land except for Aurala’s ambitions.

This question came in at the last minute, and it can easily be the subject of an entire post. So I’m just going to give you a very high level overview, and explore all these points in more detail in the future.

What makes Aundair interesting?

  • A land divided. Aundair USED to be idyllic farm land… until a big chunk of its idyllic farmers seceded to form the Eldeen Reaches. That’s huge ongoing rift with serious impact on daily life in both Eldeen and Aundair. Then to the west, you have Thaliost – a major Aundairian city now in the hands of Thrane. Of all the surviving Five Nations (we’ll leave Cyre out of this) Aundair carries the worst wounds from the war… which is one of the reasons Aundair HAS ambitions.
  • Mystical sophistication. Aundair is the seat of the Arcane Congress. It’s the smallest of the Five Nations, and during the war, Aundair relied on its arcane superiority to survive. Out of all the Five Nations, Aundair is the one where arcane magic is the most integrated into daily life. If you want to explore that aspect of Eberron, Aundair is the place to do it.
  • Ambition. Aundair dares! The bitter wounds of the war give Aundair a motive to fight – the belief (perhaps foolish) that only renewed war could settle these injustices and turn the fortunes of the nation. Combine this with the belief that Aundair’s mystical edge could let it win that war – that it’s just one super-weapon away from ultimate power. The King’s Citadel is basically working to preserve the status quo… while the Royal Eyes want to destroy it. If you want to be a spy who’s out to CAUSE trouble instead of stopping trouble, it’s the place for you.
  • A nation of dreamers. Karrnath is stoic and grim. Thrane is tied to the church. Breland is industrial and grimy. Aundair is all about magical thinking, figuratively and literally. Its people have the most romantic – and unrealistic – outlook on things, in part because as the nation of magic, they know life can BE unrealistic. Aundairians love duels. They love grand gestures. Life in Aundair is full of flair and color. This ties to the fact that most of the zealots of the Silver Flame are actually from Aundair – because they are more passionate and, if you will, magical in their beliefs, while Thranes tend to be moderate and compassionate.

I’d love to go into more detail on all of these points, but I don’t have time. But to me, the high degree of magical integration combined with the tensions of Thaliost and Eldeen can give birth to a host of interesting stories.

I notice that, in relation to Aundair, you did not mention that, according to the maps published in Forge of War, the entire of southern Aundair (including Arcanix) was actually part of Thrane before the Last War, and a good chunk of northern Thrane (not just Thaliost) used to be part of Aundair. Do you use those border changes in your home game? If so, how does that impact the nation?

This is why I always say “My answers may contradict canon material.” I have no problem with borders having shifter, but I don’t accept the idea that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane. As I said above, the whole idea of Aundair is that it’s the nation most driven by arcane magic… that Aundair herself was one of the earliest wizards and made her nation the seat of the Arcane Congress, and that this is an integral part of Aundair’s character and culture. Conversely, Thrane has nothing arcane in its culture at all (yes, Silver Pyromancers, but that’s the key – even wizardry is tied to the church). Having Thaliost or other significant cities have changed hands is interesting, but having Arcanix have been part of Thrane weakens both nations, because it doesn’t play into the character of either.

Why the Dark Six? By this I mean: What is the function of the Dark Six and their worshippers from a plot perspective? If I’m looking to run an evil cult, why the Dark Six? Or is there some completely different function that they’re serving that I am missing?

First off, it’s a mistake to separate the Dark Six from the Sovereign Host. The Shadow is cast by Aureon. The Mockery puts Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah in perspective… as shown by the Three Faces of War, which is devoted to all three of them. We’ve mentioned a number of cults that blend the worship of Host and Six – for example, the Restful Watch, who revere both Aureon and the Keeper. The Host and the Six are all part of the same big picture, and you should always consider how your cult walks the line between the two.

Looking to one simple example: Onatar is the divine patron of House Cannith. However, the house has always been a haven for Traveler Cults. Canniths who follow the Traveler typically do so because the Traveler drives innovation. Onatar guides the hands of the smith when he makes a sword, but is the Traveler who gives him the idea for a gun or a bomb – something that could utterly change the face of warfare (for better or for worse). The Traveler encourages dangerous risks and paradigm shifts. These things are dangerous, and that’s what puts the Traveler in the Dark Six. But Cannith Traveler cultists have made some of the largest breakthroughs in the history of the house. Sometimes dangerous risks pay off.

The Three Faces of War maintain that all the Dols have a place on the battlefield. Dol Arrah is the patron of honor and strategy, and there’s a time for that. Dol Dorn is the rough-and-tumble patron of the career soldier. But war can get ugly… and that’s where Dol Azur comes in. The Mockery pursues victory at any cost. He shows you the path to defeat the undefeatable foe. He’s not honorable. He’s not strong. But he will win, and so will you… if you’re willing to follow his path.

In Droaam, the Six are revered as positive forces. Humans see the Shadow as the corrupting force that creates monsters. Well, monsters see the Shadow as the Prometheus who gave them their gifts, powers Aureon won’t share with humanity. For wizards, the Shadow/Aureon divide is much like Traveler/Onatar or Mockery/Dol Arrah. Do you follow the rules, or do you follow the path others are afraid of?

In short, don’t just think about one of the Six in isolation. Think of them alongside their counterparts in the Host, and think about what it says about a person that they embrace the aspect represented by the Six.

Could some way the cultists of the Dark Six and the Lord of Dust cooperate? Maybe could a rakshasa impersonate a god?

Certainly! In my opinion, both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber have posed as deities to manipulate mortal cults. Of course, I wouldn’t really call this “cooperation”; the cultists don’t realize they’re working with a fake god, after all. But yes, the Lords of Dust may manipulate cults of the Dragon Below, the Dark Six, or for that matter the Sovereign Host (though that’s usually the dragons’ department).

Why is the Order of the Emerald Claw not shown to have grey morality too? It can have tragic figures.

I have a different answer to each of these sentences. Taking the last one first: It’s very easy for the Emerald Claw to have tragic figures associated with it. Its members can be driven by tragic past, misguided patriotism or religious zeal, or an understandable desire for vengeance for crimes inflicted during the war. Erandis Vol herself is a very tragic figure, with many valid reasons for doing what she is trying to do.

But that’s where we come to grey morality. Erandis is a tragic figure with understandable motives for doing what she is trying to do. But when what she is trying to do is suck out the life force of everyone in Sharn so she can power her necrotic resonator and become Queen of the Dead, there’s no question that your PCs are doing the right thing when they try to stop her. And that’s the purpose of the Emerald Claw. It’s like Cobra in GI Joe or the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark; these are PULP villains, enemies that the PCs KNOW they should oppose whenever they are encountered.

If you want more shades of grey, just pick a different order. Personally, I use the Order of the Ebon Skull as my go-to Blood of Vol chivalric order with a complex moral agenda. But from a storytelling perspective, there is a value to having a particular force that the players KNOW they don’t need to think about; if the Emerald Claw is up to something, stopping it is the right thing to do.

So the key point: You can do anything you want with the Emerald Claw. YOU can make them more complex. But their role within the setting as designed is specifically to BE a black-and-white pulp enemy as opposed to a shades of gray noir faction.

How are Outsiders, native and otherwise, seen in Blood of Vol theology?  They have blood, and they have immortality. Do Outsiders have the divine spark?  If so, why aren’t they getting divinity and deific status with the massive amounts of time at *their* disposal?

First: The Blood of Vol maintains that Eberron and its inhabitants are special, a belief shared by others. The planes are isolated aspects of reality: War, peace, light, darkness, order, chaos. Eberron (well, the material plane in general) is where all these things come together. Mortals know war AND peace, order AND chaos. They dream, they have inspiration, and at times this can drive them to madness. The pit fiend of Fernia and the angel of Syrnia each possess tremendous power, but both are limited by their fundamental nature. An embodiment of war can’t become a force for peace. In a sense, it’s about free will. Ultimately, very few immortal outsiders actually have it. They are incarnate ideas, but that means that they are bound by their nature. Changing their fundamental nature literally means a physical transformation; a fallen angel becomes a devil or a radiant idol or what have you. And it’s very rare that this can happen in the first place.

So: an angel has vast power to begin with, but it’s limited by its nature. You don’t get to be a hashalaq quori by starting out as a tsucora and working your way up; you either are a hashalaq or you’re not.

The mortals of Eberron have nothing BUT potential. A baby has no power at all, but he can grow up and become an amazing sorcerer or a mighty cleric. If he can do all that in a single century while also suffering the daily trials of mortal life, what could he achieve with eternity at his disposal?

Looking at it another way: the basic premise of the BoV is that mortals have a divine spark and the potential to achieve divinity… and that because of this the gods afflicted them with mortality. The fact that outsiders are immortal is, essentially, a sign that they have no spark… because the gods don’t see them as threats or rivals. Which makes them tools, weapons, slaves, servants… call it what you will. The key point is that for all its power, a pit fiend (or a lich, for that matter) lacks the raw potential of a mortal human.

As a side note, I personally don’t think that immortals DO have blood in the same sense as mortals. If you want to get purely mechanically, if a creature doesn’t specifically say it can’t be killed by stirges then it theoretically has some form of circulatory fluid that can be drained with a negative effect. But even if that’s true, I don’t think that an angel’s blood or demon ichor is going to resemble the blood of a human or an elf. I might say that an angel’s blood is light, while the blood of a demon might be a foul black substance that slowly eats away at mortal matter… and I’d probably change this based on the nature of the angel or demon. Really, that’s a DM’s call – but I don’t think immortal blood resembles mortal blood, and that’s enough for a BoV priest to call it a mockery or imitation.

Are there any particularly handy resources already floating around where you’ve commented on the Blood of Vol history or philosophy, particularly the role of its undead champions (when they’re not just being used as a corny “eeevil” death cult), the nature of House Vol before its fall, or the history of the Blood of Vol dating back to before Galifar such as Aerenal or the Qabalrin?

I don’t know about “handy.” One of these days I’ll have to consolidate some of these into a single coherent entry. But here’s a few scattered pieces and discussions across the web. The RPG.Net links are discussion threads, but ones where I’ve posted at some length.

Eberron Expanded: Libris Mortis

Dragonmark: The Mark of Death

Dragonmark: Erandis Vol – Hot or Not?

RPG.Net: What’s Erandis Been Doing For 3,000 Years?

RPG.Net: The Blood of Vol

On this one, I particularly recommend pages 2 and 3, which discuss what makes it an attractive religion to followers and what a paladin of the BoV can do to “fight death”.

Is there a dark side of house Ghallanda? Hosting illegal parties with dangerous substances and activities I would guess…

Anything can have a dark side, if you want it to.  House Ghallanda doesn’t just run inns and restaurants; they are the masters of the urban social arena. They know what to do to make their clients comfortable. A Ghallanda fixer is the person who can get you anything. He may employ members of other houses to accomplish that – turning to Sivis, Medani, or Tharashk, among others – but the point is, the concierge at the Gold Dragon Inn can get you anything. You can just as easily have crisis managers and cleaners – the branch of Ghallanda who takes care of things when there’s a dead body in the prince’s room or when the Countess overdoses on the dreamlily the concierge obtained for her. Ghallanda also has its promoters who build up celebrities to help as draw to Ghallanda events and locations.

Beyond that… are you familiar with the Black Dogs, from Eberron? These are Ghallanda assassins, who among other things are experts at mystically poisoning food and drink.

Do you have any thoughts on what place Vestiges and Pact Magic might have in Eberron? 

Personally, I say that Vestiges are immortal entities that linger in Dal Quor. Not exactly gods, they are beings who have become legends, and their spirits draw power and sustenance from that. I’ve called out titans of Xen’drik and ancient dragons as possible Vestiges. It’s entirely possible the Daughters of Sora Kell are trying to become Vestiges, or that Sora Kell is one.

If you could add a new continent to Eberron, what would you put on it?

Drawing on past answers, the simplest is that I wouldn’t add a new continent; I’d add more depth (get it?) to the undersea civilizations. At the moment, I don’t feel a need to add something completely new to the surface world, in part because it’s so easy to add an entirely new race/civilization/whatever to Xen’drik.

You once mentioned how the future of Eberron may be (warriors with many magical weapons, etc) Have you played in a future era?

I’ve played in some very near-future scenarios, but not in a future where the level of magic has changed significantly.

If warforged have no souls, which is an option, could Canniths somehow force/program them to do something against their will?

People in the world argue about whether or not warforged have souls. Speaking personally, the question to me isn’t whether warforged have souls; the fact that they can be raised from the dead is basically proof of that. Instead the question is how can they have souls, and where those souls come from. Whatever your stance on this, whether or not warforged have souls doesn’t affect Cannith’s ability to manipulate them. You can’t “program” a warforged; if you could, Cannith would have done it to all of them. There are quite a few aspects of sentience Cannith would love to have selectively removed from the warforged, but sentience came fully formed. Cannith can provide basic direction to the warforged – producing a model with an inherent aptitude for combat or recon, for example – and it is this that suggests that they might actually be using recycled souls. The reason Warforged X pops out with an innate aptitude for combat is because he has the soul of a soldier.

In any case, the key point is that by canon there is no way for an artificer to “program” a warforged. You could always introduce something – say that Merrix has a secret network of Warforged Manchurian candidates – but it’s not the default.

I must admit, though, that I prefer the possession of souls by warforged to not be settled under canon but to be left to each DM…

Even if it is established under canon, it’s ALWAYS up to each DM to change canon as they see fit. The main issue is that warforged BEHAVE as if they have souls for purposes of magic that directly affects a soul – resurrection, trap the soul, magic jar, etc. The DM could certainly come up with an explanation for why this is possible when they don’t actually have souls – but MECHANICALLY they are treated like creatures that do have souls.

I wonder if perhaps Cannith artificers do not at the very least have the capacity to “charm” warforged in a very powerful way, being their creators, or of removing their souls from their bodies -temporarily or not- if they do have souls.

Again, it’s always up to you as a DM. But from a world design standpoint, the concept has always been that Cannith itself doesn’t fully understand or control the warforged. If every aspect of the warforged was under their control, there are many aspects of humanity they would probably eliminate. The idea is that they didn’t CHOOSE to give the warforged the capability to feel love, or sorrow, or fear; these things simply came with the package when they found a way to imbue them with sentience. Again, the key is that warforged aren’t robots; they are living beings who were created through artificial means.

Thus, a typical Cannith has no means to control the thoughts of a warforged, even one he created. However, what he does have are many, many ways to DESTROY a warforged… disable construct, inflict damage, etc. We see this in the Dreaming Dark novels with Lei; she can’t take control of a warforged, but she can certainly shut one down.They can’t manipulate their thoughts any more than they can manipulate the thoughts of any other living being. But they can take apart their bodies, because that’s the part of the warforged the Cannith understand perfectly.

With that said, you can do anything with the right Eldritch Machine; this is presumably the foundation of the soul-stripping plotline in DDO.

I’m sure it’s been asked before, but… name one new technology you’d like to see replicated Eberron-style. Smartphones?

In the original proposal I had “crystal theaters.” Essentially, the theater has a GIANT CRYSTAL BALL, with a number of preset “channels” – Phiarlan and Thuranni stages where major events are performed. At showtime, the screen is tuned to the proper location. It’s an example of magic accomplishing the same function as technology, but using the existing mechanics of magic. Rather that the event being broadcast to the screen, the screen is scrying on the stage. I use these in my campaign, but I don’t think they made it into any official source.

Bear in mind that Eberron’s key principle is finding ways to use D&D magic to accomplish the things we do with technology. So in thinking about something like a smartphone, the question is how you create a smartphone using existing D&D principles. Is it a sentient magic item with decent knowledge skills combined with a form of sending that can only connect with someone carrying another smartphone? That sort of thing would work, but of course, a sentient magic item is SENTIENT… so you might have to worry about whether your smartphone is smarter than you.

That’s all for today. A late question is “Why do the Dragonmarked Houses use the animal symbols they do” and I’ll see about addressing that as a bonus tomorrow.