IFAQ: Lightning Round!

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters for short questions. Normally I’d spread these out over a lot of short articles, but September kept me busy and I didn’t have a chance. So, here’s an assortment of infrequently asked questions, dealing with dwarves, Dar, the Dark Six, numerology, electrum, and much too much more!

Are the Dark six truly evil? Or are they just misunderstood by the civilized people?

There’s no absolute answer, because the Sovereigns and Six can’t be judged independently of their followers. The Sovereigns and Six are IDEAS. To people who follow the Pyrinean Creed, the Dark Six are literally symbols of evil. The Devourer is the source of the destructive powers of nature. The Shadow creates monsters and lures people down dark paths. While to someone who follows the Cazhaak traditions, the Devourer tests us and weeds out the weak, and the Shadow helps us unlock our true potential. But the whole point of religion in Eberron is that there is no absolute proof that one of these beliefs is right and that the other is wrong. The question is which YOU believe to be true, and what you will do because of those beliefs. So, are the Dark Six truly evil? It depends who you ask. I’ve written a number of articles that talk about how different groups view the Dark Six; these include articles on the Shadow, the Keeper, the Fury, and the Traveler.

How well known is the commonality of the 13-1 in Eberron? Is it common numerology? Does it cause issues with there being 15 member of the Sovereign Host?

People within the setting are aware of the patterns that link certain phenomena. The ones most people know about are the moons, the planes, and the Dragonmarks. Most people believe that this is because there is a relationship between these things—that the moons are linked to the planes or to the dragonmarks in some meaningful way. Most people don’t believe that EVERYTHING is somehow tied to a baker’s dozen, so no one things it’s strange that there’s 15 deities in the Sovereign Host or that there’s only eight beasts in the Race of Eight Winds. And while most people do believe that the numerology of moons, marks, and planes is significant, MOST will say that some of the other baker’s dozens—the number of Mror Holds for example—are surely just a bizarre coincidence, though others will claim that it’s tied to the Prophecy. So people are AWARE of it, but they don’t believe that it does or should apply to every aspect of the world.

You once said “Antus ir’Soldorak recently began minting electrum coins called “Eyes” (due to the stylized eye on one face).” What are the public/private reasons for that eye and what has been the public reaction(s)?

So setting aside the IN-WORD explanation, there’s two explanations for why *I* made those decisions. Electrum pieces have been a weird outlier since AD&D; 4E dropped them completely. I wanted to give them an actual concrete role in the setting, along with a reason why they WEREN’T used in 4E — that they are actually new in the world. As for “Eye”, the MAIN reason for this is to fit the pattern of the coin name matching the letter of the metal: copper crowns, silver sovereigns, gold galifars, electrum eyes. Of course, I chose “Eyes” —rather than, say, “Elephants”—because I liked the idea that perhaps there IS a greater significance to it. The Player’s Guide to Eberron introduces an enchantment spell created by the Aurum that uses a platinum piece as a component; it seemed very in line with Soldorak’s ambitions to create a coin that could be used, perhaps, as a specialized scrying target… that in spreading this new currency across the Five Nations, he’s actually laying the groundwork for a vast spying network.

Is that true? That’s up to you to decide, based on the role of the Aurum in your campaign. Likewise on the reaction to the coins themselves. Personally, I think the reaction would vary from indifference to disdain—with some people seeing it as a publicity stunt and others seeing it as unnecessary. On the other hand, Soldorak could create a publicity campaign suggesting that his electrum coins are more reliable than others—especially if this was combine with a surge in counterfeiting of traditional currencies with base metals.

What’s Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax like? Do the kobolds and goblins have the same culture, or are kobolds as described in Volo’s?

In brief: This article discusses the most widespread kobold culture in Eberron. Droaam in particular has a number of micro-cultures created by the interactions between kobolds, goblins, and the other inhabitants of the regions, so there are isolated kobold clans and bands of goblins that have entirely unique traditions. However, most of the kobolds and goblins of the region have a shared history of being oppressed and dominated by other creatures, which has established a strong bond between the two species and a number of common traditions. This is the foundation of Shaarat Kol: it is a dominion formed from the ground up by kobolds and goblins freed from subjugation and working together to CREATE their own culture. It blends together a number of different micro-cultures, and it’s still finding its identity. Full details on Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax could be a topic for a future Dragonmark article.

Do magebred flowers and plants exist and what uses could they have?

Eberron possesses a host of flora not seen on our world. The most common source of such unusual plant-life is the influence of manifest zones. We’ve already talked about many such plants over time: livewood, Araam’s crown, dawn’s glory. The pommow plant of Riedra is specifically called out as being actively magebred—not merely “naturally” occurring in a manifest zone, but developed by the Inspired. A more detailed exploration of magebred and supernatural plants could be a subject for a future Dragonmark article.

What is the path to citizenship in the Five Nations?

Galifar is based on feudal principles, and most nations retain that basic foundation. To become a citizen of such a nation requires an audience with a local noble. The applicant swears fealty to the nation and its ruler, and also direct allegiance to that local noble; the noble in turn formally accepts them as a subject. This means that the noble is accepting responsibility for that individual, and the individual is promising to obey that noble, pay taxes, and answer any call for conscription, as well as to respect the laws of the land. The noble doesn’t HAVE to accept an offer of fealty, and most won’t unless the potential subject intends to reside within their domain. So it’s entirely valid for a Brelish noble to refuse to accept the fealty of an ogre from Droaam because either they don’t believe the ogre will uphold the laws or they don’t believe that the ogre intends to remain within their domain. Likewise, back before Droaam, the Barrens were considered to be part of Breland but the inhabitants of the region weren’t Brelish citizens, because they’d never sworn fealty to any Brelish lord; legally (from the perspective of Galifar) they were outlaws squatting in Brelish land.

In the modern age, much of this process is handled by bureaucracy, especially in the case of children of existing citizens. In some regions there are annual ceremonies where each child swears an oath to the local lord before being recognized as an adult. But in a populous region like Sharn, the parents will file paperwork when the child is born, and when the child becomes an adult they’ll file their own statement. But the underlying principle remains the same: someone needs to make a decision on behalf of the local lord as to whether to accept the offer of fealty, and this will be based on the applicant’s residence, reputation, family, and other factors.

How do governance and taxation work in the biggest principalities in Lhazaar? Are there any established checks on the princes’ powers, or are they all like little autocracies?

Every principality is unique, and the laws of a principality can dramatically change from prince to prince. As shown by the recent article on Lorghalen, the culture and traditions of the gnome islanders have nothing in common with the Bloodsails. The idea of the Principalities as a truly formalized alliance with a single leader and a more unified set of laws is a very new concept; Ryger ir’Wynarn is striving to bring the Principalities together, but that’s very much a work in progress.

What makes the dwarves of the Realm Below concretely different from the dar of Dhakaan? They’re both subterranean empires. If I want to have adventurers have to deal with daelkyr forces massing in a subterranean ruin, why would I use one instead of the other?

One reason to use one culture instead of the other is the location of the story. Sol Udar occupies a small region, primarily just the land under the Ironroot Mountains. Under most of Khorvaire, the Dhakaani were the only advanced subterranean nation. In Xen’drik you don’t have Dhakaani or Udar; instead you might find the Umbragen drow or Giant ruins. As for cosmetic differences, the appearance of the Realm Below is discussed on page 119 of Exploring Eberron. The civilization of Sol Udar was a highly magical civilization that incorporated cantrip effects into daily life. An Udar ruin will have magical lighting, illustrate music, climate control. The Dhakaani are primarily a martial society: their forge adepts created magical weapons, but they didn’t have arcane air conditioners or magical jukeboxes. Dhakaani structures are stark and brutalist in design, though extremely durable; from the ground up, they were designed for WAR. The Udar weren’t so warlike, and their homes have a lot more cosmetic comforts. The second aspect is the degree to which the Udar specialized in working with demiplanes—meaning that for any Udar ruin you want to establish what demiplane it’s attached to and how those effects manifest in the ruin.

In Exploring Eberron, Jhazaal Dhakaan is said to have created the Ghaal’duur horn, but she’s also described as a bard. How does this fit with the fact that the Dhakaani have a strong tradition of artificers?

It’s not just Exploring Eberron; the Ghaal’duur is first mentioned as a creation of Jhazaal in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting. It’s always been assumed that the duur’klala create magic items, but they create magic items associated with bardic magic. Duur’kala create items associated with enchantment, inspiration, and healing, while the daashor generally create armor and weapons of war. Now, the daashor CAN create any sort of item. Jhazaal created the First Crown, which is an artifact tied to inspiration; but it was a daashor who created the Rod of Kings. Still, the general principle is that the forge adepts create the tools of war, while the dirge singers create items associated with peace.

Do the Dragonmark houses view The Twelve as an authority or an advisory body?

The Twelve is technically a RESOURCE. It’s an arcane institute devoted to developing tools and techniques that benefit all of the dragonmarked houses. Dragonmarked heirs learn the arcane arts from the Twelve, and many important tools—such as the Kundarak vault network and most dragonmark focus items—were developed by the Twelve. The Council of the Twelve discusses issues of interest to all houses and helps to mediate disputes, but it has no AUTHORITY… though because its work is of great value to all of the houses, no house would want to take actions that would cause it to be cut off from the institute.

What stands out about Eberron’s transitive planes? Or are they just part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality, and a shortcut to the other planes in the Deep Ethereal and the Astral?

They’re primarily a part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality. In the 3.5 ECS the transitive planes were called out as functioning normally, and we’ve never suggested that they were created by the progenitors; instead, they are part of the basic metaphysical framework that the progenitors built upon. So they are largely supposed to fill the same function as they do in other settings.

What was the family of Mordain Fleshweaver inside House Phiarlan?

This is the sort of question I prefer not to answer. The answer has no significance for me. I could make a D6 table of named Phiarlan families and randomly say “Shol”, because hey, that’s a Phiarlan family. But that doesn’t make anyone’s story BETTER. The question is what do you WANT his family to be? If one of your player characters is a Thuranni, you might say that Mordain is also Thuranni, and might take an interest in the character because of that. Or you could say he was Paelion and will have a vendetta against the PC for that reason. But perhaps you’ve got a character who’s a Shol from Phiarlan… well, maybe Mordain is a Shol! Essentially, Mordain’s specific lineage isn’t an important part of his story, so I don’t want to make a choice that has no meaning for me but might get in the way of YOUR story. Since you’re asking the question, you presumably have a situation where it’s going to matter; so what do you WANT the answer to be? What will be the most interesting answer for your campaign?

That’s all for now! I’ll be asking my Patreon supporters for October questions soon, and I have a new Patreon experiment I’ll discuss next week!

IFAQ: Dhakaani Artificers?

While I get certain questions about Eberron all the time, I’ve asked my Patreon supporters to give me some simple infrequently asked questions. Today’s question comes from DMZ:

I have a goblin PC who is an Heir of Dhakaan but I don’t feel confident about his backstory. Are there any Dhakaani clans that are known for their Artificers, that want to preserve knowledge and the past or maybe one that wants to unite goblinoids once again?E

The Empire of Dhakaan was an advanced goblin nation that dominated Khorvaire long before humanity arrived on the continent. It was ultimately destroyed by the daelkyr, but before it fell completely a number of clans retreated into deep vaults. Recently these “Heirs of Dhakaan” have returned to the surface. They are more advanced and disciplined than the Ghaal’dar goblinoids most people are familiar with. You can find more information on the Dar—Dhakaani goblinoids—in this article.

So: are there any Dhakaani clans known for their artificers, their desire to preserve knowledge, and maybe that wants to unite goblinoids once again? In fact, there’s one that fits all three of these categories: the Kech Volaar, the “Keepers of the Word.” The Volaar value knowledge above all else—both the records of history but also, knowledge of the arcane. The Volaar have the finest duur’kala bards of all the clans. But they also have daashor—the forge adepts who serve the Dhakaani as artificers—and they are actively working to perfect the arcane science that produces wizards. All of the Dhakaani clans want to reunite the DAR, but many believe that the modern goblinoids have been corrupted by the daelkyr and cannot be saved. Of all the clans, the Kech Volaar are the most optimistic that it may be possible to reclaim these lost souls and to rebuild the Empire with ALL goblinoids.

There are a number of elements that make the Kech Volaar an excellent choice for PCs who want to be Dhakaani adventurers. The Kech Volaar are eager to learn more about the modern world, and especially to study the arcane science or traditions of other cultures. As such, a Volaar adventurer could simply be out in the world gathering information, with a special interest in investigating anything tied to arcane science. The Volaar are also determined to recover powerful Dhakaani artifacts lost during the fall of the Empire (and quite possibly now in the hands of chaat’oor!), which is another concrete quest for a player character to pursue.

So as a Volaar artificer you could be gathering information, searching for Dhakaani artifacts, or simply trying to improve your own skills by studying the artifice of other cultures.

Exploring Eberron has an extended section about the Kech Dhakaan that describes nine clans and goes deeper into the daashor tradition, so there’s a deeper examination of all of this coming soon!

Q&A: Player Races, Goblins and Overlords

I’ve collected a lot of questions from my Patreon supporters over the last few months — some related to Eberron, some to Phoenix: Dawn CommandIllimat, or other things. I’ll be working through the list as time permits. Here’s the first installment.

I’d love to see a master list of races you would include in a 5E Eberron campaign.

As a rule, limit the number of races in my campaign. I don’t want Sharn to look like Mos Eisley; I prefer to work with fewer races and to have more room to really delve into their roles in the world and their relationships than to cram as many races into the world as possible. As a result, in my Eberron the Five Nations tend to include the standard Humans, Elves, Halflings, Dwarves, and Gnomes; Shifters, Changelings, Warforged, Kalashtar, Orcs and Goblins; and the various hybrid races, such as Half-Orcs and the Khoravar. On top of this you have the monstrous races (not all of which are available as PCs) that have a place in the world depending where you are… Ogres, Trolls, Minotaurs, Gnolls, Harpies, MedusasLizardfolk, Kobolds, Troglodytes, Dragonborn, SahuaginEladrin are optional if I’m going to work in the Feyspiresand Drow are an option if we’re dealing with Xen’drik.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Now right there we’ve got 26 sentient races — 28 once you add in the different Goblin subspecies — and that’s not even touching the options for subcultures and subraces. For me, that’s enough; left entirely on my own I’m not going to add in Tieflings (for example), because I just don’t need more races. On the other hand, if a player comes to me and wants to play a Tiefling or an Aasimar or a Kenku and has an interesting story in mind, I’ll generally embrace that story — as I’ve discussed in this post. So I can’t give you a true master list, because I CAN include anything, and generally I WILL if there’s a compelling story to be told and not just “I want this particular special ability.” And in the case of wanting that racial ability, I’d look at whether it could be reskinned to an existing race — such as the time I played a character that was mechanically a Deva, but in the story was a human from Cyre possessed by spirits of people who died in the Mourning.

And to be clear: this is a list of what I will use, not what’s out there in canon. Canon sources add Tieflings, Skulks, Aasimar, Eneko, Xephs, Eladrin, Yuan-Ti, and goodness knows how many more… because again, Eberron is designed to have room for almost anything. But that list in the first paragraph is what *I* will generally use when I’m creating a cast of characters for an adventure.

I don’t remember Canon sources speaking of kobolds and troglodytes, may you help me?

Kobolds appear in a number of places. This Dragonshard article is the primary canon source, but they appear in asides in many sourcebooks. Kethelrax the Cunning is a kobold warlord in Darguun, while Hassalac Chaar is the most powerful spellcaster in Stormreach. Troglodytes are covered in far less detail, but are mentioned as being present in Q’barra in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide, and I worked this into the articles I wrote about Q’barra for Dragon.

It appears that in Eberron, Goblin is the name for goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears? 

The Common tongue does have this semantic issue. When using it, I use Goblin to refer to the language or overall species, and goblin for the subsecies. This problem is solved if you use the Goblin language, in which the overall species are the Dar, and the subspecies are golin’dar (goblin), ghaal’dar (hobgoblin) and guul’dar (bugbear).

In 5E would those three be a subraces of goblin rather than listed separately?

If the question is whether I’d mechanically represent “Goblin” as a primary race and have bugbear, hobgoblin and goblin be subraces of that race, no I wouldn’t. There’s significant differences both physically and psychologically and I believe that each of these subspecies deserves it’s own race entry. In fact, since tend to use 5E’s subraces as a form of individual expression and optimization as opposed to true biological divisions (an approach I discuss here) I’d conceivably include subraces FOR each of the Dar.

Does the Church of the Silver Flame have any presence in Darguun?

I don’t believe it’s ever been mentioned in canon. In my Eberron, the Dar are inherently rational and have difficulty accepting things on faith — something I call out in this article. This is stronger with the Dhakaani, which is why Dhakaan is presented as an agnostic civilization that lacks divine magic. It’s something that was likely weakened along with the eusocial bond, and thus you do have goblins pursuing religions after Dhakaan, but I still maintain that it’s not something that has either the width or depth of faith in the Five Nations. So this is why you have the Ghaash’kala among the orcs and no equivalent among the Dar: the Goblin psyche just doesn’t lend itself towards it. And personally, I think you’d need something like the Ghaash’kala. The Church of the Silver Flame as it exists in the Five Nations is based around the sacrifice of a human to save a human nation; I don’t see the concept as being especially appealing to creatures still seen as monsters by many humans, and the CotSF is a militant enough force that I don’t think people looking to establish a local church would be welcomed with open arms in Rhukaan Draal.

Now, if you want to START something — to have a Dar PC (or NPC) who hears the Flame and seeks to start a movement, becoming a new Voice of the Flame — that seems like an excellent thing to drive a campaign. And you could certainly have a friar in Darguun trying to pave the way for something. The fact that it doesn’t exist in canon simply means that it’s a chance for it to be the unique story of one of your characters. But I do think it would be a challenging path to walk.

Worshipping the Silver Flame still requires faith, which the Dar find difficult, but would it be easier for them to have faith in something that can be shown to be real?

Not really, no. Channeling divine magic is about more than simply believing that the power source exists. Note that in Eberron, most priests aren’t divine spellcasters. Those priests believe in their faith, but even they can’t truly touch the divine itself. I talk about transcendental faith in this post and about the question of divine purpose in this one. The net is that it’s more than just believing in a thing. It’s not rational. It’s about having an absolute faith both in the force; in its divine purpose; and that you yourself are a part of that, that YOU have a higher purpose and role to play. The typical Dar can believe that the Silver Flame exists. As established in canon, some among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul DO worship variants of the Sovereign Host or Dark Six. And yet when it comes down to the ultimate surrender of self — the belief that there is a purpose to the universe and that you and this force are part of it — something in the subconscious of the Dar freezes up. To me, the logical explanation would be that it’s tied to the eusocial bond, which essentially defined a Dar’s place in the universe. Biologically, they weren’t designed to question their place in the universe; they fundamentally knew it. As such, their brains simply aren’t wired for the sort of abstract and transcendental faith that produces divine magic. On the other hand, they have a natural bent towards organization and discipline. Orcs on the other hand are passionate and primal and have a far easier time embracing abstract ideas… in small groups. But this also leads to an independent nature that makes it difficult for them to form large rigid hierarchies. Which is why even though the Ghaash’kala have been around far longer than the Church of the Silver Flame, they are far fewer in number and don’t have anywhere near the degree of hierarchy or ritual that the CotSF has developed.

Of course, none of this should stop YOU from having a Dar character or NPC who has found that transcendental faith. It’s simply an explanation for why the Dar as a whole have few divine casters and few prominent religious institutions.

How much is known, in general, about the demonic overlords? Is it generally accepted fact that the world was once ruled by demons and they’re imprisoned underground or is that considered a fairytale to frighten children or is it something only the most learned of scholars would know?
The Overlords are part of the core creed of the Church of the Silver Flame. The modern Church was founded because of the partial escape of an Overlord, which wreaked havoc on Thrane; so the people of Thrane, at least, take the threat quite seriously and are certain it’s based in fact. Any follower of the Silver Flame will know of the Shadow in the Flame and be aware of the fact that there are many other Overlords bound by the Flame, even if they don’t know deep details about them.
Meanwhile, I’m sure the Sovereign Host has myths about how the Sovereigns fought and defeated demons in the dawn of time. Bear in mind that there were dragons who had names and attributes similar to the Sovereigns; some believe they were the Sovereigns, but it’s just as simple to say that they were avatars for the true Sovereigns. Either way, we’ve already established that their deeds are the basis for myths, and hence you’d definitely have myths of their battles with demons (likely omitting the important role of the Silver Flame). And those myths could certainly include variations of their names and attributes. In Dragons of Eberron we present a battle between Dularahnak and Katashka the Gatekeeper, and there could easily be a related myth about a battle between Dol Arrah and the Lord of Death (though most versions of this might identify Katashka as the Keeper of the Dark Six).
So I think that followers of the Silver Flame consider the Overlords to be fact, and followers of the Sovereigns know them from myth – and the question is whether they believe the myths or just think of them as stories. Either way: common knowledge may include vague and possibly inaccurate details as you’d get from myths, but only a scholar is going to reliably know names and attributes of specific Overlords.

Did the Dreambreaker intend to betray Halas Tarkanan during the War of the Mark?

That’s a pretty deep cut. The Dreambreaker is one of the aberrant commanders from the War of the Mark. He first appeared in the module The Delirium Stone, and was further described in places like this Dragonmark.

In my opinion, the Dreambreaker was a true champion and loyal to the cause. However, he was also insane. Along with the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker represents the fact that aberrant marks often come with a terrible price. The Lady of the Plague destroyed her village before she mastered her mark, and had to exercise constant control to keep from harming the people around her. The Dreambreaker had the power to cause madness… but this also affected his mind. The Delirium Stone gives this advice to the DM playing the Dreambreaker: “He sees visions no one else can see, and he believes the true battle is with the gods, with time and space, and that the people around him are merely manifestations of patterns. When playing the Dreambreaker, always act as if you know terrible things others can’t imagine. Take care of the Aberrants in your charge – but treat them as children, because that’s what they are to you.”

So the Dreambreaker wouldn’t intentionally betray Halas… but he’s not entirely predictable.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters! Share your thoughts on these or other questions below!