Eberron Flashback: Under The Sea

While the sahuagin have been touched on in City of StormreachSecrets of Xen’drik and my novel The Shattered Land, the oceans of Eberron remain shrouded in mystery. With this in mind, I wanted to revisit a post from a few years ago. As always, bear in mind that everything I post here is entirely unofficial and may contradict canon information: this is what I do in my home campaign. With that said…

Are there any aquatic races other than the sahuagin that see non-hostile contact with land-dwellers? I may be doing a pulp game that’s heavier on the Sea Stuff™ than expected, and I imagine the political scene is just as busy below the waves as it is above. Especially curious about kuo-toa and aquatic elves, but anything you have helps.

I don’t believe that any of the aquatic races besides the sahuagin have been mentioned in canon Eberron sources. But I did come up with other ideas when I was developing the world, and I suppose I can mention those briefly. In my original draft I asserted that the two primary undersea races were the sahuagin and the merfolk, with a smaller but critical role for aquatic elves.

In this model, the sahuagin are a largely monolithic culture: a widespread ancient empire older than even Aereni civilization. In this you could see the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft as a model; they worship a deity that others fear (the Devourer), and they have an ancient and sophisticated civilization that is almost entirely unknown to the people of the surface world. While I refer to this as an “empire”, my thought is that its borders have been stable for thousands of year; it’s not an especially aggressive power. With that said, if I was to bring in kuo-toa or locathah, one of the first places I’d be likely to put them is as subject states within the Sahuagin empire.

Now, how’s this work if you want savage or uncivilized sahuagin raiders? Well, while the sahuagin empire might be widespread, there’s always room for barbarians who’ve never embraced it. Furthermore, there’s a lot of room for Lords of Dust / Cult of the Dragon Below action among the sahuagin. Note that per City of Stormreach the sahuagin colonized Stormreach long before humans did, but pulled back after a terrible ancient force corrupted the settlement. You can easily introduce savage bands of sahuagin barbarians (literally) who revere the Overlords of the First Age and seek to restore their dominion.

Let’s move on to the Aquatic Elves. My thought here was that around ten thousand years ago, there was a movement among a number of Aereni lines to colonize the ocean around Aerenal. The original aquatic elves were created through mystical rituals, though they are a self-sustaining race. Thus, there is a significant undersea region around Aerenal that is under Aereni dominion. In my original model the populace was largely comprised of sahuagin, but you could add any other aquatic races you wanted; the main point is that these races adhere to Aereni culture, revering the Undying Court. My assertion was that there remained a long-standing bitter enmity between the Sahuagin Empire and the Aereni Territories. The power of the Undying Court makes it nearly impossible for the sahuagin to reclaim the region… but as that power is geographically limited, the elves can’t extend their dominion further. Thus you have the malenti, sahuagin mystically altered to appear to be aquatic elves; these are covert operatives used in acts of espionage and covert aggression within the Aereni Territories.

The rest of the ocean is dominated by the Merfolk. Where the sahuagin have a vast, monolithic and ancient culture, I’ve always considered the merfolk to be as diverse as humanity and less bound to a single ancient tradition. Thus my original model had multiple merfolk territories and a range of cultures.

In my model, the Sahuagin Empire was concentrated in the Thunder Sea, the region between Khorvaire and Xen’drik; thus you would deal with the sahuagin if you were going from Khorvaire to Xen’drik, and with the merfolk if you were going from Khorvaire to Sarlona. The merfolk are also the dominant race in Lhazaar waters. With that said, the merfolk of the western coast are quite different from those of the eastern coast.

Say you wanted to present sahuagin as a viable character option. Would you have any brief roleplaying tips, suggested classes, and what gods they might worship?
As mentioned about, when I look to a literary analogy for the Imperial sahuagin, I think of the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft. Their god is the Devourer, the embodiment of the destructive power of nature; you see the Devourer’s hand in the tempest and the storm. He is a grim patron who strengthens the faithful through harsh trials; but survive and you will be the shark amongst the prey.
So one part of the Deep One analogy is that their god is a harsh and fearful deity who most people fear. The second is the fact that they are both wise and intelligent; per the 3.5 SRD, a typical sahuagin has an Intelligence of 14 and a Wisdom of 13. In my opinion they have an ancient culture, and have their own traditions of arcane and divine magic. So when it comes to classes, any combination of fighter, cleric and wizard make sense. As they have an affinity both for sharks and for hunting, ranger is another logical choice. From a racial perspective, their only weakness is Charisma… so I don’t see a lot of sahuagin bards or sorcerers.
Looking to roleplaying tips, one start is to look at places the sahuagin are mentioned in canon. Their religion is discussed in City of Stormreach
The doctrine of this sect holds that it was the Devourer alone who defeated the fiends of the first age, and that the force of this battle raised the lands above the sea. The faithful are taught to embrace the fury of nature, preparing for the time when the Devourer will scour the earth and draw all back beneath the waves.
A critical point is the description of the relationship between the sahuagin priests and human followers of the sect…


These priests consider humans to be flawed cousins, stripped of scale and weak of lung, but they pity these humans and consider it an act of charity to help them find the right path.

The key points here is that these Imperial sahuagin who regularly interact with the humans of Stormreach approach them with an attitude of condescension and pity. Compare a typical human to a typical sahuagin. Per the SRD, a sahuagin is superior in every ability score save Charisma; they are smarter, faster and stronger than their human counterparts. The sahuagin has significant natural armor (+5 natural AC bonus) and natural weapons… and again, an average 14 Strength and 14 Intelligence. By comparison, humans are weak, slow-witted and woefully unfit for battle. Add to this the idea that the sahuagin have a remarkable and ancient culture under the waves that humans know nothing about (because your poor little lungs are too weak to endure it… while by contrast, a typical sahuagin can at least survive for 6 hours on land without magical assistance).

So personally, if I was playing an Imperial sahuagin character I’d emphasize the intelligence and ancient culture of the sahuagin and be somewhat arrogant and condescending to my soft-skinned, slow-witted mud-cousins… but that’s me.

Now, two more things you might want to consider. City of Stormreach also notes that “The holy texts speak of devouring the strength of fallen foes…” While this is a metaphor, I have always intended that certain significant sahuagin rituals involve the literal consumption of a thing to gain its strength. My idea of both the malenti and the four-armed sahuagin warriors is that these are accomplished through mystical rituals of devouring… that you become a malenti by consuming an aquatic elf.

With that said, following the model I outlined above, there’s two other paths for sahuagin characters. You could be a sahuagin from the Aereni Territories, who has fully embraced Elven culture and is a loyal servant of the Undying Court. Or you could be a savage sahuagin from beyond the Empire; this would be somewhat analogous to playing an orc cultist of the Dragon Below from the Shadow Marches.

Would you be sympathetic to a little more HPL in allowing “half-sahuagin” (or even half-aquatic elves, come to think of it) to emerge from humans who may or may not know of their ancestry a la “Shadow Over Innsmouth”?

Certainly. I think the most logical path for this would be the malenti. By core rules, malenti are sahuagin that are physically indistinguishable from aquatic elves. It seems reasonable to me to suggest that the offspring of a human and a malenti could produce a creature that appears to be a normal half-elf, but who develops sahuagin traits over time… eventually becoming a full sahuagin. I think you could easily place a village like Innsmouth along the southern coast of Breland.

If you fashion Sahuagin culture as imperial, have you ever given thought or description to the Emperor or Empress? Are they ruled by a singular monarch or a dynasty of imperial mutant families?

Personally, I see it as a dynasty with nobles reigning over different provinces. Incorporating the mutants into this is a very logical step; the four-armed sahuagin could be a particular noble bloodline, with other families having similarly distinctive traits that have simply never been seen by surface-dwellers.

And how many of the themes of Eberron do you think are able to be translated into an under-sea environment? Would you put submarines similar to airships under the sea or have things similar to lightning rails on ocean floors? Could there be aquatic versions of the warforged?

Some of these things already exist. Submersible elemental vessels have appeared in a number of sources, from Grasp of the Emerald Claw to my novel The Fading Dream. Warforged are capable of operating underwater, and The Fading Dream has a Cyran aquatic construct still patrolling the waters around the Mournland.

Looking to the lightning rail, I’m not sure whether you’re asking if humans have created such a thing, or if it might already be in use by aquatic nations. Addressing the first point, I don’t see such a thing happening any time soon… in part because the ocean floor is inhabited, and I don’t see the sahuagin being keen on Orien running a rail through their homeland. As the sahuagin are an ancient and sophisticated culture, they should have their own answers to long-distance transportation and communication, but these could take many forms. They could have harnessed or bred special creatures to assist in transportation… or they may have come up with their own techniques for binding water elementals. As it’s not something that was picked up in canon Eberron, it’s not something I ever explored in great detail.

Are there any long lost civilizations, perhaps currently unheard of in Khorvaire, whose remains are underwater? Apart from giants from Xen’drik, that is.

There certainly could be. In the conversion notes for Lords of Madness I suggest that the aboleths were a civilization that existed during the Age of Demons, so you could easily have ancient aboleth ruins holding remnants of powerful magic… essentially, the undersea equivalent of Ashtakala and the Demon Wastes. Aside from that, this could be an interesting path to take with one of the other aquatic races, such as the Kuo-Toa. Perhaps the Kuo-Toa were once even more widespread and powerful than the Sahuagin, until SOMETHING devastated their civilization; now they are savages and subjects of the other races, and their ancient cities are haunted ruins. If you want to get really crazy, you could have undersea explorers discover a region below the sea that is clearly analogous to the Mournland, suggesting that the ancient Kuo-Toa civilization triggered (and was destroyed by) their own Mourning millennia ago.

Eberron has a lot of interesting features on the maps of its *surface* continents. What sort of variation in environment do you think there would be across the seas and oceans of Eberron?

For a start I’d look to all of the interesting ocean environments that exist in our world, such as the Mariana Trench, the Sargasso Sea and the Great Barrier Reef. From there, I’d consider the fact that there are manifest zones below water as well as on the surface, and manifest zones can create both exotic regions and areas that would lend themselves to colonization or adventure. A manifest zone to Fernia could give you fire underwater, while a manifest zone to Lamannia could be a source of unusually massive sea creatures or dramatic growth of vegetation; I could see a Lamannia zone at the heart of an especially dramatic Sargasso region. Zones to Thelanis would produce regions like the Twilight Desmesne in the Eldeen Reaches, with aquatic fey and water spirits. And so on. Beyond this you could have any number of regions affected by the actions of the ocean inhabitants… such as the idea of a Kuo-Toa Mournland.

How do the Inspired feel about the merfolk or do they even realize they’re there?

I think the existence of a quori client state among the merfolk is a great idea. With that said, I wouldn’t actually connect them directly to the Inspired. The point of quori subversion is to work from within and create a structure within the target culture that supports their rule. So if they conquered Khorvaire, they wouldn’t actually try to impose Riedran culture on it; instead, they’d do something like instigate a brutal civil war that devastates the existing order and then have their own (secretly Inspired) saviors rise up to fix it. That’s how they came to rule Riedra to begin with – the Inspired brought the Sundering to an end. If this sounds like the Last War is a quori plot, it would make a lot of sense; the question is who they would use as puppets in Khorvaire.

So in other words, I think a merfolk-quori state makes perfect sense, but I’d have them be merfolk “guided by the Voice of the Ocean” or something like that… and it would take someone familiar with the Quori to say “Hey, they’re using psionics… I think they’re Inspired!”

Could you elaborate on Sauhagin who are part of Aereni culture? With how tied to ancestors many aspects of that culture are, what are some differences in how Sahaugin experience service to the Undying Court? 

As a question of world design, this is a point where you have to decide if you are creating an idealized world — the way we want things to be — or if you’re going to create a flawed world. Typically, a flawed world presents has more need of adventurers, and that’s the path I followed. So in MY Eberron, things aren’t perfect for the sahuagin of the Aereni Territories. It’s a model of colonization — with the elves justifying their actions out of a need to create a buffer zone for Aerenal — as opposed to enlightened integration. As such, the Aereni sahuagin are taught to respect and serve the Undying Court, which protects them from harm and preserves civilization as we know it… but they are not presented with a path to become deathless themselves. Rather, this is one of the principles the aquatic elves use to justify their rule; they are literally envoys of divine power, and the fact that the deathless are all elves is proof of elven superiority.

Essentially, this is a case where I WANT the adventurers to be creeped out by this society and by the fact that Aerenal condones (or at least ignores) this. I want players to potentially find themselves sympathetic to the Imperial sahuagin and their malenti agents. Following Eberron’s general principle that “the bad guys aren’t always monsters and the monsters aren’t always bad guys,” I like this as a situation where the aquatic elves are in many ways more monstrous that the sahuagin.

Having said that, this is my vision of the society as a whole. It’s also the case that I think the surface civilization largely ignores what’s going on underwater as opposed to explicitly condoning it. So there’s an opportunity for player action to set change in motion… and for the issue to create division within the nation, either above or below. I like the idea that there are sahuagin who have embraced the values of this civilization; sahuagin who despise their elven rulers, and who work with Imperial malenti to undermine them; and sahuagin who are working with sympathetic aquatic elves to create a new united society. And I could see that society splintering off – having a new state formed by aquatic elves and sahuagin seeking to build something together, separate from both Aerenal and the Empire. But I’d prefer to explore that as part of a campaign as opposed to presenting it fully formed.

Is there a cadre of Undying who are aquatic, and if so are any of them Sahaugin?

My thought is that there are a few deathless aquatic elves, and that the governors of the region would be deathless, but that they’re a very small percentage of the Undying Court – just as they’re a small population of elves. And as I said above, my thought is that at the moment there are no sahuagin deathless. But the appearance of a sahuagin deathless could be the spark that sets change in motion!

It has been mentioned that the Dhakaani Empire did not have much in the way of a navy. Were there ever any clashes or agreements between goblin and sahuagin empires?

Do you WANT there to have been? The Age of Monsters lasted for tens of thousands of years. All you need is to come up with a logical explanation. Perhaps a crazy Emperor swore to conquer the oceans and bred legions of Koalinth (that’s aquatic hobgoblins for those not in the know), and fought a campaign that failed miserably and is WHY the Dhakaani weren’t a seafaring nation… because following this failed conflict, the sahuagin would sink any goblin vessels that entered their territory.

Of the surface power groups, who do you think is most likely to be the first to reach out to the underwater nations? Who made deals with the Shargon sahuagin? Galifar, House Lyrandar, House Sivis?

All of the above. Anyone who crosses the Thunder Sea on a regular basis has to deal with the sahuagin. Galifar certainly had an arrangement — though that arrangement was largely establishing a system by which individual captains negotiate passage. So it’s not a formal alliance or especially close bond. Currently the Five Nations are coasting on that casual agreement. If any of them were to want to make a new arrangement it would presumably be Breland, as it shares a border and is responsible for the most sea traffic in the region.

Do you think that the merfolk in the Lhazaar Principalities would agree to being part of the Principalities, in their current state or a unified country?

To me, the question is why. What do they have to gain from it? Sahuagin are at least amphibious. Assuming you’re using traditional merfolk as opposed to tritons, they’re aquatic creatures. In the original Setting Search submission I had three different maps. One was a surface map, with the oceans as vast blue. Another was an aquatic map, in which the land masses were undifferentiated black. Because if you’re casual merfolk, it really makes do difference to you what’s up on the land, because you’re never going to go there. Trade certainly makes sense, but why would a merfolk nomad accustomed to the absolute freedom of the waters bind themselves to the customs of surface-dwelling princes? I’m not saying it’s impossible; I’m just saying that’s the question that needs to be answered to have it make sense. How does it benefit the merfolk to form such an arrangement?

If you incorporate tritons from Volo’s Guide it becomes a different story. It could be very interesting to introduce a clan of tritons who have migrated from the deep sea and who are LOOKING to join a principality — what will the princes offer to earn their fealty, and how will this affect the balance of power? To me, the merfolk are less likely to make such an arrangement because they are entirely bound to the water. Alliances, sure… but formally joining a principality seems less likely to me.

Do you think the Sahuagin Empire has a diplomatic presence on land anywhere?

I’ve always seen Sharn as the primary point of contact. As I’ve said before, my original vision of Sharn included a partially submerged spire in the harbor. With that said, the question is how extensive that contact is… which again should be defined by the type of story you want to tell. Personally, I’m more inclined to say that the Empire largely considers the surface a curiosity and a backwater; the Sharn outpost is about negotiating travel rights, not about deep diplomatic negotiations. The post in Stormreach is essentially a distant foreign mission whose priests feel sorry for the soft-skins. The point here is to leave the sahuagin largely shrouded in mystery so that player characters have a lot of room for discovery. I’d rather have the PCs be the first surface-dwellers to ever visit the Imperial Court than to say that Boranel has a direct line to the Empress. But that’s me; you could certainly posit a closer and more active role if you want to tell a different story.

With that said, I’d question how significant a presence it is. It’s a point of contact for Breland (and previously Galifar) to negotiate passage; but the question is whether they are actually interesting in close contact with humanity or whether they essentially consider Breland a backwater populated by softskinned bumpkins.

How do you separate “negotiating travel rights” to the idea of a least basic “diplomatic negotiations”? It seems to me that the very idea of negotiating travel rights implies a sort of “peer to peer” relationship – the acknowledgement that one deals with another political entity.

Certainly. The point is that the current system was put in place by the founders of Galifar and the Dragonmarked Houses and has been operating for centuries. The first step would be establishing corridors of safe passage, which are maintained by some form of tributary payments. This is the equivalent of a canal: softskin ships are left alone as long as they don’t deviate from this approved corridor. So a casual captain doesn’t even have to negotiate; he just knows that you stay on this course. If for some reason you have to deviate from those paths, you visit the sahuagin representative and present your travel plan; they redirect you as necessary, and charge you a few to outfit you with tokens that will ensure safe passage, or tell you where you’ll have to stop along the way to make those arrangements. Looking to The Shattered Land, it’s established that the sahuagin mark certain points on the surface of the water where ships can call for an envoy or guide to ensure passage between especially hazardous regions.

The critical point is that there was a time when this involved first contact between Galifar and the Empire, when this was a point of tense negotiation. But that was centuries ago, and now it’s the province of the third undersecretary of barbarian affairs. The arrangement is simple: pay your tribute and stick to your approved paths and we won’t destroy your ships. Fail to follow established protocol and we will destroy your ships. This is how things are presented in canon: it’s a well-established and currently stable situation. Could something dramatically shake up that arrangement and require more involved negotiations? Certainly. I’m just saying that this is the sort of thing I’d prefer to make part of a campaign — with the player characters at the heart of the upheaval or playing a critical role in the negotiations.

I’ll also note that this current distant status quo exists because WotC wasn’t interested in developing the undersea civilizations in depth. We know they are there, but we know very little about them. Thus, the status quo exists to justify that distant relationship and degree of mystery. For me, forging a closer relationship requires knowing more about the situation under the sea – the factions, politics, goals; the resources they have and the things they want. That’s something I’d like to explore, but again, it wasn’t in the cards initially – and without having things built out, the distant relationship is what makes the most sense with what’s currently available. Once more information IS available, that’s where I’d personally introduce that information by having a group of PCs get entangled in some aquatic shenanigans — so it’s not simple about dropping new exposition on the world, it’s about it impacting the PCs in a meaningful way.

Post questions or what you’ve done with the oceans of Eberron below!

Dragonmarks: The Fighter

It’s 2018, and what better way to start the new year than by continuing the series of articles I began in 2017? I’m currently running a 5E Eberron campaign, and that means I’m digging more deeply into 5E and how it works with Eberron. As a result, I’m going through each class and considering how it fits into the setting, along with the new options from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. So far I’ve looked at the Bard and the Barbarian, and in this article I want to think about the Fighter.

Let’s start with a basic point: just as most priests aren’t clerics, most soldiers aren’t fighters. Eberron is based on the idea that PC classes represent exceptional skill – that even at low levels, a player character is remarkable because of that. In the original 3.5 Campaign Setting, most soldiers were warriors – possessing proficiency with martial weapons and armor, but lacking the unique abilities of a fighter. 5E doesn’t have NPC classes as such; it’s up to the DM to decide what traits to apply to an NPC. The Fighting Style ability is a logical thing for any warrior that has a specialty; if a soldier is called an “archer,” it’s reasonable to give them the benefits of the Archery fighting style. I could also see adding a feat to represent further specialization. As noted in a previous article, many Aundairian soldiers might be Wand Adepts, while a Thrane archer might be a Sharpshooter and a Karrnathi knight could be a Heavy Armor Master.

So what are the unique aspects of the Fighter – the traits not possessed by the common warrior?

  • Second Wind. You can regain hit points in the middle of battle. Is this sheer physical toughness? Mental discipline that lets you ignore pain? Or something else?
  • Action Surge. You can take an extra action when you need it most. Is this due to remarkable reflexes? Combination moves tied to your particular style? A surge of morale?
  • Martial Archetype. Each archetype provides its own set of unique skills, each supporting a different story.
  • Feats and Ability Scores. A warrior might get a single feat to reflect specialization, but a fighter gets more Ability Score Improvements than any other class… which translates to more feats if you’re using them.

So: You’re a fighter, someone possessing exceptional martial skills. Where did you acquire these skills? What did you do with them before you became an adventurer? This is especially important in Eberron because as of 998 YK, the world is barely out of a bitter, all-consuming war. What was your role in the conflict? Consider the following questions.

  • Did you fight in the Last War? 
  • If so, in what capacity? Did you serve in the army of one of the Five Nations, and if so, which one? Were you a mercenary, and if so did you serve House Deneith directly or work with a smaller independent company?
  • If so, why are you no longer serving? If you take the Soldier or Noble background you may have left honorably and still have recognized rank; otherwise, you may have left dishonorably, whether this was justified or not. Perhaps you disobeyed orders to protect innocents – something that cost you your rank, but may have left you as a Folk Hero. Perhaps you discovered corruption in the ranks, and deserted in disgust… or perhaps you were framed by your corrupt commander, blamed for the crimes of others. Or perhaps you were a soldier of Cyre, and no longer have a nation to serve.
  • If you didn’t fight in the Last War, why didn’t you put your remarkable skills to good use? Perhaps you were fighting your own war on the mean streets of Sharn as an enforcer for a gang or as a member of the city watch. Maybe you ignored the war, pursuing opportunities as a settler in Q’barra or Stormreach. Or maybe your duty took you in a different direction, as you trained for a specific mission.

Essentially, if you’re a fighter you likely learned your skills by fighting. What was that conflict, and why have you left it behind for the life of an adventurer? Or are you somehow still pursuing that original path as an adventurer?

Now, let’s take a look at the different Martial Archetypes and different ways you could take them. If you’re starting at first level, of course, you won’t have a Martial Archetype right away. But if you know the archetype you want to take, you can still develop your backstory with that archetype in mind.

Champion

In many ways Champion is the simplest archetype: it simply makes you good at fighting. Combine Soldier and Champion and you might have been an elite warrior on the front lines of the Last War. Blend Criminal and Champion if you want to be a gang enforcer who’s looking to do more with your life.

Generally speaking, the Champion reflects martial skill. But consider a few alternatives.

  • Revenant Blade. If you’re playing a Valenar fighter, your abilities can reflect martial excellence… but they could also reflect the guidance of your patron ancestor. When you take your Second Wind it’s your ancestor giving you strength and encouragement. Your Action Surge is your ancestor guiding you in a perfect action. Your Improved Critical likewise reflects this guidance. This idea could apply to any archetype, and there’s no mechanical difference; it’s just up to you to describe these benefits as the voice of your Ancestor… and it’s up to the DM whether to do more with that, perhaps granting you visions that guide you on the path to adventure.
  • Warforged Champion. Your abilities could be the result of design as opposed to training. When you engage Second Wind, you are triggering swift healing enchantments. Action Surge is a form of overdrive, temporarily pushing beyond your limits. If you take the Heavy Armor Master feat, that could reflect your actually growing thicker armor plates. Again, mechanically there’s no difference here; it’s a matter of how you think about your abilities.

Battle Master

The flavor of Battle Master really depends on the maneuvers you choose. Combine the Noble or Soldier background with Commander’s Strike and Rally and you have a sound basis for serving as an officer in the Last War. On the other hand, you could blend Entertainer with Feinting Attack and Disarming Strike to reflect a career as an swashbuckling duelist, renowned for your showmanship in battle (a path that could also work for a College of Swords bard). Karrnathi soldiers might be known for Menacing Attack, while Aundairians might prefer lighter armor and Evasive Footwork. This is another easy path for a Valenar revenant, with your chosen maneuvers reflecting the specialties of your patron ancestor.

Eldritch Knight

Arcane magic forms the foundation of Aundair’s military strategy, and this is an easy path for the Knights Phantom of Aundair. But they weren’t the only Eldritch Knights in the war. In Karrnath, the knights of the Ebon Skull blended swordplay with necromantic magic. And House Cannith could easily have experimented with warforged designed to supplement martial skill with arcane power. I could also imagine a Greensinger champion who studies the arts of war in Thelanis. For me, a critical question with an Eldritch Knight is who teaches you. Do you suddenly learn the arts of magic spontaneously? Or do you have a mentor – whether an old soldier, a fey knight, or even an elderly artificer who helps your warforged Eldritch Knight unlock its arcane potential?

Arcane Archer

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents this as an Elvish tradition, and it certainly works as a Tairnadal technique. But there’s no reason this archetype has to be Elvish… or even arcane. Archery is a devotional practice of followers of the Silver Flame, and Thrane was renowned for its archers during the Last War. The Silver Bows could be an elite order of templars who infuse their weapons with the power of the Flame. If you take this route, Arcane Archer Lore should provide proficiency with the Religion skill and the Thaumaturgy cantrip. All other abilities remain the same; just bear in mind that the Archer of the Flame is charging their arrows with devotion instead of arcane power, and that their mystical bolts are wreathed in silver flame. If you take the Soldier background, you could be an active agent of the Church, with your Military Rank being recognized by any who follow the Flame.

The Nature/Druidcraft approach is well suited to warriors of the Eldeen Reaches. You could be a serious Warden of the Woods or a carefree Greensinger, blending primal magic and martial skill. It could even be a specialty of the elite hunters of House Tharashk, with the seeking arrow drawing on the power of the Mark of Finding.

What about Aundair? Personally, I prefer to keep “Arcane Archer” as a Thrane archetype, and to have Aundairians focus on the Eldritch Knight. We’ve called out Thrane as the preeminent archers in the Five Nations, and this supports that; meanwhile, I see Aundair as placing a greater emphasis on the use of wands and offensive cantrips than on archery, even arcane archery. But I could see a fighter/rogue tradition using the arcane version… perhaps developed by House Thuranni, perhaps by the Dark Lanterns or Royal Eyes.

Cavalier

The Cavalier is an easy path for the Valenar, who are known as the finest cavalry forces in Khorvaire. But there’s other cavaliers of note. Talenta halflings may not fit the typical image of the knight, but a bold warrior with a close bond with his clawfoot could definitely follow this path. Within the Five Nations I personally see the Karrns as having the strongest chivalric tradition, but I could see cavaliers tied to any of the Five Nations. Setting aside the cavalry aspect and focusing on the Cavalier’s talent for defending others, this is also a plausible path for a champion of House Deneith.

Samurai

There’s no culture in Eberron that is a simple match to feudal Japan. But here again the issue is to ignore the name and look at the mechanical elements that define the archetype: a talent for Persuasion and courtly manners; proficiency with Wisdom saving throws; and most notably, Fighting Spirit – a surge of temporary hit points accompanied by advantage on an attack role. Here’s a few ways I could interpret those abilities…

  • A Karrnathi chivalric order. The “fighting spirit” is a literal spirit conjured to guide and protect the knight.
  • The gift of an Archfey of Thelanis; the warrior who swears allegiance to the Prince of Swords can call on his favor on the battlefield or in the court.
  • As suggested above, a Tairnadal could call on their patron ancestor for guidance and strength.

Random Ideas

Setting aside specific archetypes, here’s a few ideas for fighters I might play…

  • The Fallen Paladin. Once I believed in the righteousness of the Sovereigns. Once I believed I had a calling. Then I discovered the web of lies surrounding the people I’d trusted and realized the terrible things I’d done in Dol Arrah’s name. The Sovereigns and I… we’re not on speaking terms any more.  Mechanically this character is a fighter, probably a Cavalier or warlord-style Battle Master. But in theory he began as a paladin, who lost his divine powers when he lost his faith. Now he’s just trying to find his way on the mean streets. He’s got a good heart; it’s just been shaken by failure and betrayal. Think Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. Can he regain his faith in himself and humanity over the course of the campaign? If so, might return to a divine path? For a background, I’m probably do Criminal or Mercenary Veteran with the idea that he’s been doing grunt work in the underworld… but there’s many backgrounds that could work here.
  • The Survivor. You used to be the sheriff of a small town… a town that was wiped out by war criminals/Droaam raiders/brigands. You’re not going to rest until you’ve avenged your fallen family and friends… and you’re looking for a posse who will help you get the job done. This is a character with a very specific story to tell, and I’d want to run it past the DM before I dove into it. There’s a number of ways it could run. As written, you could be a “Soldier” (a recognized law enforcer) seeking vengeance against a specific villain, something that could potentially drive low-level adventures. On the other hand, the target could be something too powerful to easily face. You’re a Karrnathi Noble/Cavalier, whose family was scapegoated by Kaius and brought down in disgrace; now you’re determined to bring down Kaius himself. You’re a Cyran folk hero whose village was destroyed in the Mourning, and you’re going to find out who was responsible for that devastation. But at the end of the day… you’re a fighter with a mission.

That’s all I have time for now, but share your ideas and questions below! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible.

Dragonmarks: The Bard

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything came out recently. I want to share my thoughts on how to incorporate its new options into Eberron and at the gaming table in general… but as I started working on this, I realized that instead of just talking about the new Xanathar’s subclasses, I want to take a broader look at the classes of Fifth Edition in general and how I’d use them. So without further ado… let’s talk about BARDS.

As presented in 5E, the bard is “an inspiring magician whose power echoes the song of creation.” The PHB entry describes the bard as “a master of song, speech, and all the magic they contain.” There’s many ways to develop the idea of the performer whose work inspires listeners…

  • House Phiarlan’s Five Demesnes are the most formal bardic order in Khorvaire, and fit the structure of colleges quite well. The Demesne of Memory teaches the techniques of the College of Lore. The Demesne of Song is tied to the College of Glamour. The Demesne of Motion can be tied to the College of Swords. And the Demesne of Shadow can be tied to the College of Whispers. Note that members of any race can study with Phiarlan – though they have to have exceptional talent to earn a place in one of the Demesnes.
  • The Dirge Singers of Dhakaan primarily fall under Lore, though battlefield bards might follow Valor. I could see a particular Kech that follows Whispers, but the Duur’kala are primarily leaders; those who whisper instead of sing would be a rare few.
  • The Greensinger druids blend fey bardic traditions with their druidic magic. Glamour is an easy choice for a Greensinger bard, but I could also see Swords as the teachings of Thelanian knights.
  • Tairnadal society revolves around the heroes of the past, and the bards who tell their tales play a vital role among the Valenar. Most take to the battlefield and follow the path of Valor or Swords, inspiring through deed as well as word. It’s possible that a Tairnadal bard bridges the gap between arcane and divine; the spells and Inspiration of a Valenar bard could involve directly channeling the favor or a patron ancestor. For a PC, a critical question is why such a bard would leave their warband… but perhaps the ancestors have laid a strange path before you.

All of these are examples of inspiring entertainers. But a bard doesn’t have to be a BARD. A class is a set of mechanics, allowing a character to do certain things. These mechanics are the bones, but I’ve always believed that the flavor that’s attached to them can and should be adjusted to fit the story of a particular character.

So let’s look at the bare bones of the bard. Mechanically, what defines a bard?

  • Proficiency with light armor, simple weapons, and a few others… the hand crossbow, rapier and longsword. More of a duelist or swashbuckler than a soldier.
  • Excellent skill selection, along with Jack of All Trades and Expertise. A bard can be good at ANYTHING; they don’t have to use their Expertise on skills related to performance.
  • “Bardic Inspiration” – The ability to enhance the rolls of others.
  • Spellcasting – Flexible arcane spellcasting with a focus on enchantment, divination and illusion… along with a touch of healing.

Generally, both inspiration and bardic magic are presented as performance. The PHB says that Bardic Inspiration inspires others “through stirring words or music.” But the critical effect is that the bard can use it on one creature within 60 feet that can hear the bard – and that the benefit must be used in the next ten minutes. As long as those conditions are met, does it matter if cosmetically this benefit involves a song or speech? Or could it be that the character just gives really good advice? Does the magic have to be a performance, or can it just represent training in a particular set of arcane skills? Consider a few different ways to present a bard.

THE SPY

Background: Charlatan

Skills: Deception (B), Insight, Investigation, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand (B)

Important Spells: Friends, Message, Charm Person, Disguise Self, Detect Thoughts

Rogues are often seen as the go-to path for spies, but in a world where arcane magic is a recognized tools, spells can be far more useful than a sneak attack. If you need your spy to stab someone in the back or to dodge a fireball you want a rogue – but if you’re looking for a charming envoy who can pluck secrets from someone’s thoughts and share that information with a whispered message, a bard may be what you’re looking for. This is an excellent path for a PC who’s trained with the Trust or the Royal Eyes of Aundair… and even in the Thorn of Breland novels, we have a Dark Lantern who makes good use of Disguise Self. In these cases, as a DM I might allow the player to exchange the three musical instrument proficiencies that come with being a bard for a single proficiency with Thieves’ Tools (or they could take the Criminal background instead of the Charlatan). On the other hand, a Phiarlan or Thuranni spy USES those performance abilities as part of a cover for their spying. Either the Criminal or Charlatan background has other useful features for a spy – the false identity of the charlatan is a well established cover, while criminal contacts can easily be shifted to reflect contacts with your agency.

For a spy, Bardic Inspiration can reflect secrets – something useful you’ve noticed about a target. The spy/bard provides the beneficiary with a useful piece of information, and within the next ten minutes the target can make use of that secret to gain an advantage. Personally, I wouldn’t specify the secret until it is used… and I’d have the person benefiting from it explain what it was and how it helped. In other words, the spy says “I’m using inspiration on Bob.” Three rounds later Bob is attacking a guard and wants to add the inspiration die to his attack roll. At that point he says “Keith told me about this guy! He’s got a war wound and can’t block properly with his left arm.” Again, not knowing WHAT you’ll use the inspiration for, I can’t define the secret right away – but we establish that I’ve told you SOMETHING useful.

Looking to Colleges, there’s a few options. The College of Lore is an easy choice; a spy can use more skills (say, Stealth, Perception, and a knowledge skill of some sort); Cutting Words reflects your own ability to benefit from the secrets you’ve observed; and the ability to choose a few spells from any class list definitely provides useful options. On the other hand, the College of Whispers is good for a spy with a touch of darker magic… and is something I could definitely use for a disturbing Trust agent or a Thuranni assassin.

THE WANDSLINGER

Background: Criminal

Skills: Acrobatics, Deception (B), Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (B)

Important Spells: Friends, Charm Person, Disguise Self

The Wandslinger is a scoundrel – a gambler and duelist, a literally charming troublemaker. Were I making this character, I’d make them a human from Aundair and use the variant human rules to take the Magic Initiate feat, selecting a pair of offensive cantrips to use in battle… thus justifying the name, as I’d have a few fine wands as arcane foci. A high elf could also do this with their racial cantrip. But the basic point of the character is to be a scoundrel in a society where magic is on the table – someone who can get out of trouble with a smile and a cast of Friends… even if they’ve got an angry mob coming after them when the spell wears off. You could get some of the same mileage with an Arcane Trickster rogue, but you’d have to wait a few levels to get there… and the rogue is defined by that sneak attack. This Wandslinger is about charm and charisma, preferring to talk their way throw a situation and only drawing wands  and unleashing firebolts if there’s no other option. Any College could work, but I do like the flare of the College of Swords for this character. When they use Bardic Inspiration on others, it would be along the lines of general encouragement and charisma; the optimism and confidence of the Wandslinger is infectious, together you can find a way to beat the odds.

THE SUPERSTAR

Background: Entertainer

Skills: Acrobatics (B), Deception, Insight, Performance (B), Persuasion

Important Spells: Prestidigitation, Illusion, Enthrall

In Khorvaire, magic is a tool used for warfare, healing… and entertainment. Phiarlan and Thuranni are well known for weaving illusion into their performances, but you don’t have to be an elf to get in on this act. If you follow this path, you aren’t simply a wandering minstrel; you’re an entertainer who’s built up a reputation for your amazing performances. You may know Dancing Lights, Minor Illusion, Silent Image, Faerie Fire, and Prestidigitation – because you use these spells as part of your performances. You CAN use Faerie Fire to outline an enemy in battle – but you use it to light up yourself during a performance. You might use Disguise Self for quick changes during a show, or Charm Person to deal with troublesome fans. Acrobatics may reflects actual tumbling or a remarkable talent for dance. When it comes to College, you’re all about Xanathar’s College of Glamour. It’s not that you are calling on fey powers… it’s that you are literally that good.

With the Superstar, the question is going to be why are you an adventurer? You could make a decent living on stage, and likely you already have. Do you have a literal quest to pursue – a mystical instrument you’re trying to find, or a family mystery you’re trying to unravel? Is your adventuring career a publicity stunt? Have you tired of the spotlight and you’re trying to do something meaningful with your life? Whatever the answer, you should definitely establish your previous life, as people will definitely recognize you and want you to perform!

THE MEDDLING KID

Background: Urchin

Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Sleight of Hand (B), Stealth (B)

Important Spells: Blade Ward, Heroism, Hideous Laughter, True Strike, Vicious Mockery

In the original proposal for Eberron I explored the idea of a class called “the Journeyman.” The idea for this was the character who has no place being an adventurer… who somehow survives dangerous situations through sheer luck. There’s many ways you could go with this. You could take the Guild Artisan background and be a chronicler for the Sharn Inquisitive who wants to report the stories of REAL adventurers. You could go with Folk Hero and be everybody’s favorite bartender who got swept along with the adventurers after your bar burnt down. Or you could go the route I’m suggesting here: A character who is mechanically a halfling bard (small, fearless and lucky), but who for flavor purposes I’m describing as a human child who just has more luck than anyone deserves. They grew up on the streets of Sharn and they know their way around a big city… but they’ve still got no business being an adventurer.

Like the Revenant Blade, this is a case where I’m bending things quite a bit. First of all, while this character’s spells can BE magical effects – which is to say, they won’t work in an antimagic zone, they can be counterspelled, etc – the idea is that the character doesn’t actually KNOW magic. Rather, they are just favored by the Prophecy or similarly touched by a benign force and things just go their way… and they can share this luck with others. When they use an effect like Bardic Inspiration, True Strike or Heroism, they aren’t consciously casting a spell; they’re literally just saying something like “You can do this, Jo! I believe in you!” and it works. When they use Vicious Mockery or Hideous Laughter, they are literally just viciously mocking the target… but that insult really stings! If I was playing this character, I wouldn’t even carry a weapon; I’d rely entirely on cantrips and magic in combat, unleashing stinging insults, being surprisingly charming, and helping my friends with my ridiculous luck.

Meddling Kid or Journeyman, this isn’t a sort of character that works in every campaign. You have to have a group of players willing to bend logic a little, to accept that idea that when Little Billy casts as spell, he isn’t actually casting a spell. You have to figure out why a party of adventurers would let this character tag along. For all these reasons this sort of character often works best in a one-shot. On the other hand, if you do run with this, you have the interesting opportunity for the character to literally grow as the campaign progresses… to start off being represented as a “halfling” bard and then to evolve into a human of another class, losing their crazy luck as they grow into their actual skills.

You get the idea. The mastermind whose “inspiration” is about executing an excellent plan. The Medani detective who uses a little magic to help in their investigations (and Khoravar bards get a lot of skills to work with!), whose inspiration comes from Sherlock-style deductions about an attack or target. The chronicler who adventures to report on the greatest stories in Khorvaire… and whose inspiration comes from things they’ve seen on their journeys or facts they’ve learned. “Trust me, if he tries to charm you, just start humming!”

I could go on, but hopefully this gets the point across while also suggesting ways to use the new colleges from Xanathar’s Guide. Stretch the idea of the class, and think about the story you want it to have.

What have you done with bards in your campaign? Share your thoughts and questions below!

How would you set up an all-bard one shot adventure in Eberron?

It’s easier to do than with most classes because the bard is an inherently flexible class. You can have five bards with different skills sets and specialties – a Swords bard focused on melee combat, a Lore bard who’s got Medicine and healing magic, a Glamour bard who specializes in enchantment and manipulation. Part of the question is how you justify the team, and whether they consider themselves to be “bards” – or if they are spies, meddling kids (Really Stranger Things), or what have you. If I was making a one shot, I’d make the characters an elite Phiarlan team trained in the different demesnes. That way you could combine their artistic talents with the actual mission. They’re performing at an Aundairian diplomatic reception, but the REAL job is to rob Queen Aurala!

Dragonmarks: Orcs and the Ghaash’kala

Last week I wrote about Goblins, Orcs, and the Dhakaani. It turns out that there’s a lot to say about goblins, and the post has grown to an unwieldy size. So for the ease of future generations I’ve decided to separate the orc material into a standalone post. As as long as we’re talking about orcs, I want to takes some time to delve into the Ghaash’kala, a topic that’s received little attention in the main sourcebooks.

As I said in the previous post, my goal in Eberron is always to explore what makes each PC race unique. In what way are orcs not just humans with green (or grey) skin and fangs? How are they different from goblins and other “savage humanoids”? Let’s take a look.

ORCS

While they aren’t as directly animalistic as shifters, I see orcs as a very primal race. They’re extremely passionate and emotional; this can manifest as aggression or rage, but it’s just as strong when it comes to loyalty, affection and faith. They believe in things intensely. This led to them being the first druids on Khorvaire and having one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame – the Ghaash’kala guardians of the Demon Wastes. But they’re also highly individualistic… leaning more towards chaos than law. They are very effective in small tribes or family groups, where they all know each other and are working together… but they aren’t good with faceless authority, blind obedience, or being part of a huge infrastructure. This is one of the main reasons the orcs never dominated Khorvaire. They are barbarians by nature. They have no innate desire to build vast cities or organize huge armies; the small tribe is what they are comfortable with. This led to their being pushed into the fringes of Khorvaire by the Dhakaani goblins, and that’s where this linger to this day. If the goblins are like ants or wasps, orcs are like wolves: fierce, loyal to their pack, but not inclined to form into a massive legion of wolves and conquer the world.

In playing an orc – whether as a player or DM – I’d emphasize this primal and passionate nature. They feel emotions strongly, and are quick to anger but equally quick to celebrate. They believe things deeply, and can be very spiritual. As an orc, you’re loyal to your pack – whether that’s your family or your adventuring companions – and quick to distrust massive, faceless forces and invisible authority. This may seem at odds with the idea of strong faith, but they’re equally distrustful of monolithic organized religions. The Ghaash’kala are one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame, but they operate in small clans and have never formed the sort of political hierarchy that you see in the Church of the Silver Flame. So as an orc, follow your heart; explore your faith; be true to your friends and suspicious of those who would tell you what to do.

Half-orcs blend the traits of orc and human, and it’s up to you to decide which manifest most strongly in your personality. Do you have the quick emotion and deep faith of your orcish ancestor? Or has this been tempered by your human side? Half-orcs are celebrated in much of the Shadow Marches, where they are thought to possess the best qualities of both races. However, the people of the Five Nations don’t generally share this view… and for that matter, most of the people of the Five Nations assume that orcs are brutish.

If the orcs are so chaotic & don’t make big cities, how do we have Zarash’ak and House Tharashk?   

Because of humanity. There are two primary cultures in the Shadow Marches. The tribes are the older culture and continue to live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The clans embraced humanity – and over the generations, they adopted many human customs. House Tharashk is an unprecedented alliance between clans, and one that would never survive if not for the humans and half-orcs that balance the chaotic tendencies of their orcish kin. Tharashk orcs have grown up in this blended culture. While they are used to it, it’s still in their nature to question authority, and most Tharashk orcs are ultimately more loyal to their close kin and enclave than to the overall institution – but that’s enough to keep the house intact. Zarash’ak is the largest city the Marches have ever seen, built by House Tharashk when success demanded it; the orcs had no desire to build such things in the past.

Orcs make up the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. So are they fundamentally good creatures? 

Not at all. Yes, the Ghaash’kala and Gatekeepers are two forces that have protected Eberron for thousands of years. But for every orc in the Ghaash’kala, there’s at least two in the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. For every Gatekeeper, there’s an orc tied to a cult of the Dragon Below. One reason the Daelkyr didn’t create an orcish equivalent of the Dolgaunts and Dolgrims was because many orcs were quick to embrace their cause; they didn’t need to make an orc slave race. So orcs are passionate in their beliefs, but that includes belief in the Overlords just as easily as loyalty to the Silver Flame.

Have you ever imagined a bardic tradition for orcs?

So a critical thing to bear in mind here is that most people in the world don’t use PC classes. In Eberron, most priests are experts or adepts, NOT clerics. The same applies here. Do orcs have traditions of music and dance? Absolutely! They’re passionate, creative and emotional. I can imagine a tradition of ecstatic song and dance, where listeners are exhorted to let go and give themselves to the music; and I can imagine a tradition of song that is more mournful – similar to Portuguese fado – that is about exhorting the listener to feel the pain or anger of the song. And I’d expect specific musical traditions tied to both the Gatekeepers and the Cults of the Dragon Below. As I call out below, the Dhakaani goblins don’t enjoy art for arts sake; their songs educate you about the past, their dancing is a form of combat drill. For the orcs, art is something to experience and enjoy.

But with that said, most entertainers wouldn’t be bardsA bard isn’t just an entertainer. They are arcane spellcasters and highly skilled loremasters. If all you’re looking for is entertainment, all you need is an expert trained in Performance and perhaps Insight and Persuasion. Among the Dhakaani the dirge singers are deeply integrated into their civilization, serving not simply as entertainers but also as healers, diplomats, and spiritual guides. We have not presented a similar critical role for bards in either the Ghaash’kala or Shadow Marches. With that said, do they exist? Sure. Here’s three ideas.

  • Memories. Much of the secret lore of the Gatekeepers has never been committed to writing; it is the task of a Memory to preserve this knowledge, remembering all things that both their modern comrades and future generations will need to know. Memories typically lead public services in Gatekeeper communities, and this is where inspiration comes in; they are master orators who can exhort the people to remember the importance of their cause. So a higher level druid might be the leader of a Gatekeeper sect, but the Memory may be the one who conveys his message to the people. In looking to the wider word, Memories could be sent out beyond the Marches both the confirm that their knowledge is still accurate (for example, checking the locations of Khyber seals to ensure they are still intact) and to update their knowledge base, investigating mysteries and learning new things. Memories generally know spells related to nature (Animal Friendship, Speak With Animals, Animal Messenger), healing spells, and spells that will help them uncover secrets, and they are usually well versed in knowledge-based skills (Arcana, History).
  • Passions. The Cults of the Dragon Below have always had a strong presence in the Shadow Marches. Many cults don’t have traditional priests or clerics; instead, they have Passions, ecstatic speakers who fan the flames of emotion (and often madness) in their communities. At their best, Passions are spiritual guides and mediators; at their worst they are demagogues and firebrands, inflaming dangerous emotions. As such they rarely have skills like History or Arcana; instead they are well-versed in Insight, Intimidation and Persuasion. Their spells likewise tie to emotion, manipulation and madness. Vicious Mockery, Charm Person, Hideous Laughter, and Suggestion are all solid choices for Passions. If you’re playing an edition where bards have a Bardic Knowledge ability, for a Passion this would reflect literal mad insights; they haven’t studied a topic, but they just declare what they believe – and strangely, that’s often the truth. There’s no organization among Passions; they general spring up spontaneously. Generally there’s only one per community. A Passion PC might have developed a passion for travel; they might be following a mad vision, having an idea of a grand quest that might or might not have any basis in reality; or they could even have been driven from their community for causing trouble, and it’s up to the PC to decide if they’re remorseful adn seek redemption, or if they’re out to sow more chaos.
  • Bridge. In the Shadow Marches, half-orcs are called jhorgun’taal, “the bridge of two bloods.” Some exceptional half-orcs embrace this role. They travel from community to community, carrying local news and helping to bind those communities together. They are entertainers and mediators, seeking to spread cheer and resolve feuds. They typically know the ways of both Gatekeepers and the Cults, and seek to bring out the best in followers of both paths. A Bridge bard would be a helpful guide and advisor to strangers coming to the Marches for the first time. It would be unusual for a Bridge to leave the Marches, but one could be driven by sheer curiosity or a desire to help a wider community.

THE GHAASH’KALA

Everyone knows about the Gatekeepers, the orc druids who fought the Daelkyr. But there’s another group of orc champions who’ve been fighting evil for far longer, and whose vigil has never waned: The Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes.

I created the Ghaash’kala in the original ECS. The only canon source that’s expanded on them is the Player’s Guide to Eberron. This is one of those cases where I don’t agree with what was written there – it’s not bad, it’s just not my vision. So to be clear, what you’re about to read contradicts canon and is literally what I do in my Eberron. A few years ago a friend of my ran a 5E Eberron campaign and I played a Ghaash’kala paladin, so I put more thought into the Ghost Guardians, and what follows is the result of that.

HISTORY

In the dawn of time the world belonged to the fiends. The Binding Flame was born from a desperate act of sacrifice. The Overlords cannot be destroyed, merely held at bay; their power yearns to break free from the Flame that binds them, and their servants prey upon those who have inherited the world. The Flame is fueled by courage, and it is only through the vigilance and sacrifice of champions that the light remains strong enough to hold the darkness at bay.

The prisons of the Overlords are scattered across the world, but their power is strongest in the Demon Wastes. Here lies the ruins of Ashtakala, the greatest city of the Age of Demons. Though the Overlords are bound, their power corrupts nature and weak minds. The Wastes are filled with horrors, both mortal and immortal. Left unchecked, these terrors would spread to the south and bathe Khorvaire in blood. But ancient magic and geography have established a barrier: the mountain range known as the Labyrinth. This barrier can’t stop the powerful rakshasa from leaving the Wastes, but it serves as a funnel for the lesser horrors. Bloodthirsty barbarians, minor fiends, twisted creatures… all flow through the Labyrinth seeking release. One force guards the gates of the Labyrinth and protects the innocents to the south: The Ghost Guardians, the Ghaash’kala, sworn to serve the Binding Flame from birth to death and beyond. The life of a Ghost Guardian is one of endless strife. It is a mirror to the Flame itself: it is a battle than can never be truly won, but through sacrifice they can continue to contain the evil and protect the innocent from harm.

The Ghaash’kala have no written records and don’t know exactly how long their ancestors have fought against the darkness. It’s clear that couatl trained and equipped the first Ghaash’kala; it may not have been during the Age of Demons itself, but it was long before humanity came to Khorvaire. As such, the Ghaash’kala may be the first humanoids to channel the power of the Silver Flame… or as they call it, Kalok Shash, the Binding Flame.

STRUCTURE

There are four Ghaash’kala clans spread across the Labyrinth. As far as they are concerned, the world is divided into two sides: the living and the fel (a word that could be translated both as “unliving” or “unnatural”; it is a term that encompasses both undead, fiends and life that has been corrupted). They have no interest in politics or commerce; should the Overlords rise, they will care nothing for trivialities of mortal nations. The Ghaash’kala place most people into the category of “The weak innocents we are protecting,” but they will accept members of any race into their ranks. They feel disdain for anyone strong enough to fight who ignores the greater duty, especially mercenaries who squander their gifts without any conviction whatsoever.

The Kalok Shash is a simple faith, and the Ghaash’kala don’t waste time on the elaborate rituals or titles of the Church of the Silver Flame. There are only a few recognized positions among the faithful.

  • A korta (“Speaker”) is someone who hears the Voice of the Flame more clearly than others. The korta serve as spiritual guides, diplomats and healers, using their connection to the Flame to guide and advise others. A korta’sha is a divine spellcaster. The korta’sha are always on the front lines, leading war parties and battling demonic influences.
  • A kala (“Guardian”) is a warrior who fights in service to the Flame; this includes the bulk of the Ghaash’kala population. A kala’sha is a divine warrior – typically a paladin.
  • A drok (“Hand”) is a non-combatant, either because of infirmity or because of a vital non-combat skill needed to support the fight.

There are no equivalent ranks to bishop, priest, cardinal, or any of that. The Ghaash’kala are few enough in number that the korta and kala are distinguished by their deeds. Everyone knows that the korta’sha Hurok is the greatest of the Speakers; he doesn’t need some special title to indicate that. The Ghaash’kala are also considerably more blase about divine spellcasters than most human cultures. To the Ghaash’kala, these individuals are weapons. A korta’sha isn’t necessarily holier than a non-casting korta… but she has a purpose and a duty. She is a tank, and a tank belongs on the battlefield. While Ghaash’kala despise mercenary soldiers, they are truly baffled by the idea of divine spellcasters who do not use their powers to directly fight evil.

Now: how have the Ghaash’kala survived in the Demon Wastes for tens of thousands of years? Where do they get the supplies they need, from steel for their weapons to the food and water they need to survive? What are their shelters like?

To start with the last: Each of the four clans has a stronghold carved deep into the rock of the Labyrinth, each drawing on the powers of a manifest zone. These were created by dragons and couatl in the first age, and are imbued with powerful magic; it is these fortifications that have served as a final refuge in even the hardest times. Likewise, the Ghaash’kala possess tools and weapons that have been handed down for generations. The Ghaash’kala consider these relics to be sacred gifts, and they might as well be; the most potent of them were crafted by the beings who first kindled the Flame itself. Of course, an artifact is not something to be used lightly; sometimes generations pass before someone successfully bonds with a relic. Some say that Tira Miron’s blade Kloijner came from the Wastes, that the couatl guided her north to claim the weapon she needed to face Bel Shalor. If one of your players is a champion of the Flame, perhaps there is an artifact waiting for them in the vaults of the Ghaash’kala.

Such tools certainly help explain the survival of the Ghaash’kala. But there are only a few such artifacts. The Maruk stronghold has a well that never runs dry, a variation of the Alchemy Jug. But they still need food and any number of basic supplies that can’t be found in this poisoned land. But the very thing that makes the Wastes so dangerous also provides opportunity. The Demon Wastes are peppered with passages to Khyber… not simply the physical underworld, but a host of demiplanes and demonic realms. Fiends emerge from these paths to prey on the weak… and the Ghaash’kala venture into them to find what they need. The Maruk hunt balewolves in the Abyssal Forests of Khar, and wield weapons taken from the corpses of the demon foot soldiers of the Ironlands. These strange realms are alien and deadly, but over the many centuries the Ghaash’kala have learned their secrets. As a result, the Ghaash’kala have resources that can’t be found anywhere in Khorvaire. Their weapons are forged from unknown materials, and they brew salves and unguents that would make Jorasco weep. So the idea is that the Ghaal’dar are essentially barbarians living in an apocalyptic landscape – but by mastering that environment, making the most of the resources available to them, and preserving and using ancient relics, they have found what they need to hold the line in their never-ending war.

KALOK SHASH: THE BINDING FLAME

Overall, the faith of the Binding Flame is harsh, simple and compassionate. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak. It is the duty of the living to fight the fel… whether with the sword, or in the case of the drok by caring for the warriors and producing more warriors. Harsh sacrifice is often necessary, but the loss of any innocent life is a tragedy. With that said, there is a concrete line over which innocence is lost. One of the constant threats faced by the Ghaash’kala are the Carrion Tribe barbarians, mortals who serve the Overlords. The Ghaash’kala call a mortal who chooses to serve evil a fel’gha – “Vile Soul.” They do not waste time or tears on the fel’gha; there are too many threats to the world to worry about redeeming the corrupt. A Ghaash’kala would cast any human who chooses to prey on other humans in this category, and typically one deals with fel’gha with the sword. This can be a difficult challenge for a kala’sha who travels in the south, where many humans seek to take advantage of one another. A greedy innkeeper most likely isn’t a true fel’gha deserving of death… but the Ghaash’kala are disgusted that anyone would seek to harm others for profit.

While they may give it a different name, the Ghaash’kala channel the power of the Silver Flame. They may shout different invocations, but the visible manifestations of their magic are identical to those of an exorcist of the Silver Flame or a silver pyromancer. A paladin from Thrane and a korta’sha who observe each other in battle recognize that they wield the same forces. With that said, if you’re planning to use the Ghaash’kala in a campaign involving divine characters tied to the Flame, it’s an excellent opportunity to shift around spell lists. Perhaps the Ghaash’kala know ways to use the Flame that humans have never discovered… while Tira’s followers have discovered more subtle rituals that the Korta’sha have never imagined. The simplest way to handle this is to give the Ghaash’kala spells found in a new supplement or sourcebook – so you aren’t taking away core spells from a player, but rather providing an interesting path for learning new spells. Rather than having new options magically appear over night, it’s more interesting to make a cleric study with a korta’sha to learn that new spell or channel divinity option. And perhaps they have something to teach in return.

But wait: earlier, I said the korta hear the Voice of the Flame. Isn’t Tira Miron the Voice of the Flame? She is… for the Church of the Silver Flame. A Voice is the anchor of a manifestation of the faith. Tira is the Voice of Flamekeep. But the Ghaash’kala have their own Voice, just as the people of Khalesh did in Sarlona. One can assume that the Voice of Kalok Shash was an orc from long ago, but if so their name has been lost; they are simply known as Korta’Shash. If you use my idea of learning new divine spells by training with the Ghaash’kala, it could be that this isn’t just about learning a new incantation or gesture as it would be for a wizard… but rather realizing that there is more than one Voice of the Flame, and learning how to hear the Voice of Kalok Shash.

USING THE GHAASH’KALA

Here’s a few ideas about ways to bring the Ghaash’kala into your campaign.

  • If your adventurers need to go to the Demon Wastes – perhaps to explore the Lair of the Keeper? Or on a secret mission to Ashtalaka? – they will have to deal with the Ghaash’kala to get through the Labyrinth. The Guardians won’t stop people from going in, but will warn that no one tainted by the influences of the Wastes will be allowed to leave – are you sure this trip is worth it?
  • An adventurer with ties to the Silver Flame may be guided to the Labyrinth. There is an artifact in the Maruk stronghold that they must claim… but can they prove their worthiness to the guardians?
  • The players stumble onto a rakshasa plot to weaken the wards of the Labyrinth. The PCs must work with the Ghaash’kala to stop it – but will distrust or treachery doom this effort and unleash a horde of Carrion barbarians into Aundair?
  • A Ghaash’kala paladin arrives in the PC’s community. She’s tracking an escaped possessing fiend, and will do whatever she must to destroy it. Can the PCs help capture the fiend with minimal collateral damage?

Beyond this, the Ghaash’kala can be an entertaining background for a PC. Have you been sent in pursuit of a particular agenda – Stopping the rise of an overlord? Reclaiming Kloijner? Protecting one of the other PCs, even though neither you nor they know why this is important? Are you pursuing escaped demons or the opposing the Lords of Dust? Were you exiled for a crime (and did you actually commit it)? Or are you an ambassador, sent to learn the ways of the soft southerners and protect them? As someone who played a Ghaash’kala paladin, it can be fun to play a character who is truly a warrior in the cause of light… and yet, completely unfamiliar with the ways of civilization. While most Ghaash’kala are orcs, they accept members of any races. My paladin was a half-orc; his human father was a paladin who had returned Kloijner to the Wastes, and now the blade was guiding my character on a new quest in the south.

Is there a physical manifestation somewhere in the Wastes where the Voice of the Flame can be found, similar to Tira Miron?

You may be confusing Tira Miron – the Voice of the Flame – with Jaela Daran, the Keeper of the Flame. There’s no physical location where Tira Miron can be found. Flamekeep is the site of Tira’s sacrifice and the seat of Jaela’s power, but Tira isn’t physically; anyone who follows this branch of the faith can hear Tira no matter where they are.

The Ghaash’kala have no equivalent of the Keeper of the Flame. Every clan likely has a korta they consider to be closest to the Flame, but that’s based on their actions as opposed to being a special mystical connection; there’s no equivalent to the power boost Jaela gets in Flamekeep.

With that said: there is no canon explanation of what it takes to become a Voice of the Flame. It would certainly be reasonable to say that a mortal can become a Voice of the Flame when they voluntarily bind an Overlord – that in the process, their spirit merges with the Flame, but WITHOUT the usual process of going through Dolurrh, which means that they retain more of their individuality and consciousness. In which case, the Voice of Kalok Shash could have a story similar to Tira. Perhaps long ago a Ghaash’kala champion sacrificed themselves to bind Rak Tulkhesh. Somewhere in the Demon Wastes lies the point where this sacrifice took place; and like Flamekeep, this could be a place of power. Essentially, the Ghaash’kala don’t have a Keeper and don’t know where this point of sacrifice is, because it’s somewhere in the incredibly hostile Wastes. But if they could find it and somehow secure it, perhaps they COULD have a Keeper in the future.

Does the leaders of the Church of the Silver Flame know about the Ghaash’kala? If so, what does the relationship between those in the groups that know of each other look like?

Yes and no. There are a number of scattered sects that worship the Silver Flame. The Ghaash’kala and the Shulassakar are two prominent ones, but there are others. These are often called “Serpent Cults.” So the Church knows about the Ghaash’kala and has studied them. Whether an individual knows would be about a Religion check. It’s not COMMON knowledge, but neither is it entirely unknown. The Ghaash’kala have little interest in the outside world, because they have a war to fight.

So: in the campaign in which I played my Ghaash’kala paladin, there was a cleric of the Silver Flame from Flamekeep (technically a clone of Jaela, long story) and a Silver Pyromancer. I’d had a vision that guided me from the Wastes to protect the Jaela-clone. In their eyes, I was a barbarian – clearly serving the interests of the Silver Flame, but still a savage. In my opinion, they were soft folk who likewise had the right idea but had never fought on the front lines of the eternal war; lucky for them that I was there to protect them. So initially we didn’t UNDERSTAND each other – but we still respected one another as serving the same overall cause.

But here’s the thing. You COULD say that the Ghaash’kala and Church work closely together, that Flamekeep recognizes the importance of what the Ghaash’kala are doing and supports them. But is that a fun story? In my opinion it’s more interesting for YOUR STORY if there’s been fairly little contact between the two and each largely dismisses the other… which means that YOUR ADVENTURERS – whether they are from Thrane or the Wastes – will be the ones who ESTABLISH understanding and alliances. Let your players take an active role in establishing (or destroying the chances of) an alliance – because this is exactly the sort of thing that lets the PCs make a difference within the world.

That’s all I have time to write, but if you have questions or thoughts about the orcs or the Ghaash’kala, share them below!

Dragonmarks: The Mourning and the Dread

Last Friday I wrote about Manifestations of the Dread. That article focuses on my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command, but Eberron players and DMs may find another use for this material, because the effects of the Dread aren’t entirely dissimilar to one of the defining elements of Eberron: The Mourning.

The world of Phoenix: Dawn Command is dealing with an unfolding supernatural threat. The Dread can strike anywhere in the known world, and it takes many forms. The dead rise to prey on the living. The laws of nature are broken. Communities fall prey to mass hysteria, or to malevolent spirits banished long ago that have now returned. Essentially, the entire world of Phoenix is slowly becoming the Mournland… but it’s happening piece by piece.

By contrast, the Mourning happened suddenly and is contained. It consumed the nation of Cyre… and then stopped expanding. Fear of the Mourning is what brought about the end of the Last War. No one knows what caused the Mourning, and until there is an answer, people are afraid to keep fighting… because one possibility is that it was the extensive use of war magic that triggered the Mourning, and that continued conflict could cause it to expand.

Where the Dread is scattered, the effects of the Mourning are contained in a particular region, the Mournland. This area is enclosed by mist: a wall of fog that rises over a hundred feet in height and that covers the entire region from above, preventing direct sunlight and any form of observation. Combined with the considerable danger involved in exploring the Mournland, the result is that very little is known about the region. Everyone knows that it has been transformed, and that living creatures caught in the Mourning were either killed or transformed. Stories say that wounds don’t heal in the Mournland, that dead bodies don’t decompose and that there are battlefields where blood still seeps from the wounds of the fallen. War spells have taken on a life of their own, and massive crabs cover their shells with corpses.

From a design perspective, the Mourning serves a number of purposes. It provides a central mystery. It’s a foundation for the cold war. But beyond that, it takes a region that’s been civilized for centuries and turns it into the world’s biggest dungeon. On some level it’s hard to justify wild monsters and mysteries in Galifar; why weren’t they dealt with by the heroes of previous ages? But the Mourning is a NEW problem. And aside from the things that can be found in its borders, the things that leave the Mournland — both living and otherwise — can be a source of adventure.

With this in mind, my vision of the Mournland was always that it is unpredictable. No one rule should apply to the entire thing. The idea that corpses don’t decay and that wounds won’t heal is an iconic image and may be true in much of the Mournland. But for every village filled with perfectly preserved corpses, you might find another where everything organic has been disintegrated or turned to glass, or a village where animated skeletons carry out a pantomime of their former lives. Some of these things are dangerous, like the shard storm Thorn encounters in the ruins of Ascalin in The Fading Dream. But others may just be strange, and this is where last Friday’s article comes into play. All the things I’ve suggested as manifestations of the Dread could also be symptoms of the Mourning.

For a DM, the value of this variety is the ability to spawn a multitude of unique adventures. The Mournland is the size of an entire nation, filled with cities, villages, fortresses, forgeholds and more… and each one the adventurers visit may present new threats. And rather than having to justify why an ancient ruin is full of treasure, the Mournland holds treasures because until four years ago, it was a prosperous nation. Cyre was the seat of House Cannith, and if you want to find powerful magic, where better to look than a Cannith forgehold? And aside from purely material wealth, the Mournland holds religious relics, sentimental keepsakes, the secret strategic plans of Cyre’s military, and anything else once of value… any of which could be reason for an adventure.

As a player, the Mourning can provide you with a wealth of story hooks. If you’re Cyran, how did you survive the Mourning? Did you just barely escape, or were you away when it struck? Who did you lose to the Mourning, and have you ever wondered if they might still be alive beyond the mists? Is there anything you lost that you’d like to regain, whether of actual value or purely sentimental? Did you lose your extended family, or are they now refugees – and if the latter, where are they? Beyond this, most people lost in the Mourning were killed or lost… but perhaps you were affected by it but survived. Here’s just a few ways you could be affected.

  • Cosmetic Transformation. Your skin or hair might have an unusual color or texture. Perhaps you lost an eye, and your remaining eye glows when you are angry. Maybe your hair is alive; you can’t control it, but is slowly moves of its own accord. These things don’t have any mechanical effect, but can add color to a character. And because they’re so rare and unique, they don’t carry the immediate stigma of an aberrant mark; they’re just strange. 
  • Exotic Race. In one 4E campaign I played a character who was mechanically a deva. But I said he was a normal Cyran peasant who’d been caught in the Mourning, and who was now channeling hundreds of ghosts of others who’d died in the Mourning. The deva is defined by having memories of a thousand lives; in my case, these were the memories of other people, all being channeled through me. You could take a similar approach to any unusual race that you don’t want to fit into the world on a large scale. Tabaxi could have an entire civilization in Xen’drik… or, you might say that Tabaxi are shifters who were caught in the Mourning and transformed, and there’s only around a dozen of you in Khorvaire.
  • Mechanical Powers. My deva character was technically an avenger, but I explained his powers as coming from the spirits he channeled as opposed to divine devotion. City of Stormreach presents the Storm Hammers, a gang made up of Mourning survivors who have manifested unnatural abilities; mechanically they’re sorcerers, warlocks, and barbarians, but the concept is that these are dark gifts of the Mourning as opposed to learned skills. You could similarly explain your class abilities as being tied to the Mourning. Or for a less extreme effect, 5E includes the Magical Initiate feat, which grants use of two cantrips and one spell; this is certainly sufficient to reflect a strange gift of the Mourning. If you go this route, the next question is how this manifests. My deva’s powers were the work of the spirits for which he served as an anchor. The Storm Hammers draw their powers from a dark source, possibly the power of the Mourning itself — and this connection may be driving them mad. Perhaps you were in a Cannith forgehold when the Mourning struck and a bundle of wands fused with your left arm; you channel your magic through the wand-tips protruding from your stump. Or you could have been fused with a demon, an agent of the Lords of Dust that happened to be in the area; as your character level increases you can access to more of the fiend’s powers, but are you also becoming a demon?

SO, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT CAUSED THE MOURNING? 

If I don’t address this, I’m sure someone will ask, so let’s get it out of the way now. I can tell you some things that could have caused the Mourning…

  • The Ashbound and the Children of Winter are on the right track: The Mourning was the natural consequence of the extensive use of magic during the Last War. Ending the war has temporarily stopped it, but the Children of Winter believe that the damage cannot be healed: the only way the world can be restored is to go through the winter to reach the spring that lies beyond. If they are correct, the Mourning will eventually spread until it covers the world. But perhaps they’re mistaken, and there’s a way the damage can be undone… but it would still mean that the people of Khorvaire would have to be careful about overuse of magic in the future.
  • House Cannith was developing a weapon. Something went disastrously wrong. Questions that remain: could this weapon be restored or duplicated? Do any of the current Cannith leaders know about this project? Presuming the forgehold developing it was in Cyre, what happens if the Lord of Blades or someone else discovers it?
  • One of the Overlords of the First Age was bound beneath Cyre. Due to the machinations of the Lords of Dust, the fiend was partially released. The Mourning is a reflection of its influence. At the moment it is building its strength; there is one more step that is required to fully release it. If that occurs, its power – and the Mournland – would spread.
  • The Lord of Blades was behind the Mourning, an attack targeted against the heart of House Cannith. This may have used an epic artifact or eldritch machine — which could potentially still be tied to an Overlord or to the Daelkyr. Generating the Mourning drained the weapon of power… but the Lord of Blades is working to restore its power.
  • The Mourning was actually caused by dragons of the Chamber, as part of a necessary chain of events to prevent the release of an Overlord — for sake of argument, let’s say Tiamat. The Mourning can be reversed, but reversing it will unleash Tiamat, who will corrupt Argonnessen, and set into motion an epic conflict with the dragons.
  • In The Fading Dream, the Eladrin present a theory of what caused the Mourning and how it could be reversed. I won’t spoil it here, but hey, it’s possible.

That’s just off the top of my head. OK, you may say, these things could have caused the Mourning… but what didI don’t know. In MY campaigns I’ve never felt a need to solve the mystery. What I like about the Mourning is the effect it has on the world: driving the cold war between the nations, holding the Last War at bay, creating a giant dungeon in the middle of things. If the mystery of the Mourning is solved, one way or another, it paves the way for the Last War to start anew. That’s not a story I’ve wanted to explore… so I’ve left in unsolved. Which means that I’ve never needed to choose between the host of possibilities. If I decided to tell that story, I’d pick one. But as it stands, I’m happy leaving it as an enigma.

That’s all I have time for, but let me know if you have questions about the Mourning and the Mournland… and share your favorite answers for the Mourning or manifestations of the Mournland!

Worldbuilding 101: Taverns

There’s a lot of exciting things in the World of Keith. Phoenix: Dawn Command is now available on Amazon. The price is the same as getting it at your FLGS or from our website, so if your FLGS carries it that’s your best option. However, if you can’t get it locally, Amazon provides a way to avoid the high shipping costs that have been a problem in the past. I’m writing new Phoenix material right now, so you’ll see more of that in the months ahead!

But on to today’s topic. A few weeks back, someone said It’s easy to make Eberron feel like Eberron in the big cities. How do I do the same when visiting a tavern, or hamlet?” 

I addressed the main question in this Dragonmark article, but taverns are an interesting topic and I wanted to take the subject beyond Eberron.

A tavern can serve many functions in a campaign. Traditionally, it’s a place for adventurers to meet mysterious strangers in order to acquire quests. But there are many other ways to use an inn. In Casablanca, Rick’s Cafe is a neutral ground where people from all walks of life mingle; “Everybody comes to Rick’s.” While also in Casablanca, The Blue Parrot is where you go if you want to make a deal with underworld boss Ferrari. Consider…

  • GOODS AND SERVICES. Are you looking for a pilot? You’ll find the best in the cantina in Mos Eisley. Smugglers, traveling merchants, mercenaries, spies… Anyone without a legitimate storefront may sell their services in their favorite watering hole. And the choice of tavern tells you a little something about that person.
  • ONE NIGHT STAND. Your adventure may be taking you to Mordor, but a night at the Prancing Pony can add color and complications to the journey. It’s easy to gloss over travel, taking the “red line on the map” approach. But a night in an interesting inn can be a memorable scene. How do you spend the evening? Do you hide in your room? Sing an old Brelish song with the captains in the corner? Gamble with those mercenaries? When the tinker offers to sell you a lucky charm, do you take it or do you tell them to get lost?
  • DEN OF THIEVES. A tavern can be a home base for a particular group of people. It could be neutral ground: if you want to negotiate with the Boromar Clan, have a drink in Callestan. Or it may be that you’re taking your life in your hands when you go inside, and you’d better be prepared to fight your way out. The party’s rogue may have a bar where she meets fences or negotiates with higher-ups in the guild. In my last CCD20 adventure, the party is pursuing a war criminal who’s holed up in an inn in Graywall; can they dig him out without angering the locals? Cottonmouth’s club in Luke Cage is a good example of this.
  • HOME FROM HOME. A tavern can be a great base of operations for a group of adventurers, especially if they are freelance agents. This could be a location that develops organically over time, or it could be something you work into the initial backstory. It could be a family business associated with one of the player characters, perhaps operated by a parent or sibling. It could be owned by a friend, perhaps a soldier who fought alongside the adventurers during the war but retired from the adventuring life due to injuries. It might be simple business; the innkeeper provides the adventurers with free room and board in exchange for them dealing with any troubles that arise in the bar while they’re around. It could even be that the inn belongs to one of the PCs… consider Kote in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Having a set base of operations can help the players feel a stronger sense of attachment to the world, and you can work with them to develop details about the inn. What’s their favorite meal? What’s an interesting detail about the server? What’s the most unusual feature about their character’s room? And of course, once the players are attached to the location, it becomes a thing that can be threatened to generate dramatic tension…

SETTING UP SHOP

So you’ve some ideas of what to do with your tavern… now you need to describe it. Start by considering the following elements.

PURPOSE. Typically, the general purpose of a tavern is to provide a comfortable place for people to gather over food and drink; if it’s an inn, add lodging to the lineup. Does your establishment have any other purpose? Is it a casino? A brothel? A recruiting center for mercenaries? Is it operated by a church or other organization, and how does that affect decor and services?

CLIENTELE. Does this establishment serve the general population, or does it serve a more specialized niche? While this could be something like mercenaries or criminals, it could just as easily cater to fans of a particular sport, people who work at a nearby business (a quarry, a mill, a shipyard), or members of a particular faith. This decision can help you envision what sort of people might be around on a typical afternoon. If it serves a particular niche, do they welcome outsiders or drive them away? Will the hrazhak fans teach you the sport, or give you the cold shoulder? If you’re planning to use the place more than once, come up with names and descriptions for three regulars people can usually expect to find here.

STAFF. Who runs this place? Is the innkeeper or bartender the owner, or are these separate? Is there live music? Is there a single weary barmaid? A host of goblin servants? Bound spirits that handle domestic tasks? How does the bartender maintain order… a shotgun or wand behind the bar? A scary bouncer? The general love of the clientele?

DISTINCTIVE FEATURES. What makes this inn stand out? Why is it in this particular location in the first place? Who founded it? Is the bartender a former celebrity of some sort? Is there something remarkable about the structure? Is there something that serves a particular purpose… a fighting ring? A stage for performances? What about food and drink? In Eberron, there are Zil waterhouses that only serve water flavored with prestidigitation… what does this place serve, and why?

LOCATION. Why is there a tavern here? In a big city it might be one of a dozen, but if it’s out in the wilds it’s a valid question. Is it on a major trade road? Does it cater to pilgrims on their way to a nearby shrine? Is it the last outpost of civilization on the edge of a mystic wasteland?

Here’s a few examples to consider…

  • The Labyrinth. Located in the monstrous city of Graywall, the Labyrinth is built into an old quarry. A vast awning keeps rain from flooding the quarry, and customers descend a spiral ramp to get down to the common room. A medusa manages the bar, and the statues scattered around are a warning to those who might cause trouble. Goblins and gnolls surround the central firepit, cheering for the harpy performing mesmerizing torch songs. The rooms for rent are part of a vast network of caves that stretch below the quarry.
  • The Quill. Known as a refuge for authors and wizards alike, The Quill is named for the writing implement of a legendary mage, which is ensconced above the bar. The Quill serves the students and faculty of the nearby college of magic, and this is reflected in its fixtures; the rooms are lit by continual flames, and there are a number of unseen servants that perform menial tasks. Most of the servers are students themselves, while the bartender is a retired alumni who prefers mixology to magic. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent place to hear gossip or trade for rare components. Brave mages can compete in the creative cantrip competition that occurs every week.
  • The Crooked Tree. This inn is on the only road that runs through the deep forest. It’s built around the trunk of a gnarled tree, and while she lets the innkeeper handle business, the owner is the ancient dryad bound to this tree. It could be that most customers are mortals who use the main road, or it could be that the inn primarily caters to the fey that lurk in the shadows of the wood; if this is the case, you might have to pay for a drink with a secret, or pay for your room with a promise; gold is worth nothing beneath the Crooked Tree.

These details are great for building random scenes. Even if you’re just using the inn as a one night stand, is there an event going on when the players arrive? Is it a competition a player could take part in? Give that bard a chance to do what they do best! Or if it’s on a trade road or pilgrimage route, will a caravan roll up while the player characters are dining, and will it bring trouble?

Should a fight break out, these details can also add a lot of flavor. In games like d20, combat can sometimes feel very clinical… I rolled an 18 and did six points of damage. OK, but what did you DO? Think about bar fights in any movie. Are you hitting someone with a barstool? Tossing them through the window, or back into a rack of bottles? What I like to do in this sort of situation is to provide the players with a 3×5 card with a list of notable things in the bar… A Roaring Fire; A Barstool; A Plate Glass Window; A Chandelier; A Barmaid With A Tray Of Drinks. If the player can explain how they are using one of these elements as useful part of their action, they gain a benefit. In This is a core principle of Phoenix: Dawn Command, but it’s something you can use in any system; for many players this sort of prompt really helps them visualize the environment and get more creative with their actions. In Phoenix, using an environmental element lets you draw a card. In d20, a good use of a prop could provide advantage to a roll… or in the case of the Roaring Fire, shoving someone into the fire might add a little fire damage to the attack instead of advantage to the roll. Using an element doesn’t remove the element from the environment – the fire doesn’t go out, and people can still do things with it – but the advantage only goes to the first person to make use of an element.

PASSING THE TIME

So: the adventurers stops in the Chattering Skull en route to the Mournland. It’s a Karrnathi bar, and the animated skull of the original owner rests on the bar. They’re there for the night. As GM, what can you do to make it interesting?

  • Games. How do the locals pass the time? If you feel so inclined, you could take a pause to actually play a game you feel resembles something people might play in the region. If you prefer to keep things short, you can use a few quick rolls to resolve the outcome. A bluffing game would be a test of Deception and Insight. A game like darts could be a series of opposed attack rolls; the person who makes the three best ranged attacks wins. Armwrestling? Sounds like a Strength/Athletics check. Drinking contest? Constitution/Endurance. With any of these, don’t rely entirely on the die roll; describe the game, and give a player a bonus for an entertaining description. Typically, the amount of money normal people would wager won’t be significant for PCs, but it can still be a good story and help PCs connect with the locals.
  • Entertainment. Is there entertainment at the tavern? A traveling bard could share local news or a stories of the region… either of which could potentially be useful if the actual adventure takes place nearby. if one of the players is an entertainer, they could be asked to fill this role themselves. Or there could be a competition, whether musical or magical!
  • Stranger Danger. You’re enjoying your dinner when a group of loud, arrogant Emerald Claw soldiers show up and start throwing their weight around. They aren’t here for a fight, and technically they aren’t breaking any laws. Are you going to be the one to engage in violence, potentially bringing harm to the innkeeper? If not, this can be a fun opportunity to interact with people who are usually villains in a non-violent context.
  • Mysterious Opportunity. A traveling peddler offers a good luck charm or an ancient map. A stranger approaches and says something that’s clearly a code phrase, and hastily backs away when the PCs don’t know the right response. A smuggler offers rare goods at a low price – the PCs don’t need the goods now, but do they want to miss the opportunity? A fight breaks out between two strangers at the next table… will the PCs interfere? A stranger – secretly a spy – suddenly collapses from poison. Will the PCs get involved? And there’s always the possibility for romance…
  • Ask The Players. A simple answer is to ask your players what happens. They’re spending an evening in a tavern… what do they think should happen? This gives the players an easy opportunity to shape the story… whether to introduce a new plot thread or simply to describe their armwrestling victory.

BUT WHAT ABOUT EBERRON? 

The original question was about taverns in Eberron. The first issue is definitely location; looking at the examples above, The Labyrinth is in Droaam; The Quill is near Arcanix; and The Crooked Tree is in Thelanis, though you could drop it in a manifest zone. Everything that I’ve said up to this point applies, but you want to answer specific questions tied to Eberron. How does magic apply? What impact has the war had? Is there a warforged bouncer? Did the bartender lose his arm during an Aundairian bombardment? Is there a way to involve a magical beast – the hearth is in a gorgon’s skull, or there’s a giant owl who’s taken up residence there? If there’s shifters in the region, are people arguing about the shifter sport hrazhak? Perhaps the bartender is a changeling, who has different faces for different moods… Max is always up for conversation, but when you see Mildred at the bar, just order your drink and don’t ask questions?

And as long as we’re talking about taverns in Eberron, we have to discuss the GOLD DRAGON INN. While Ghallanda licenses inns of all sorts, the Gold Dragon is their primary franchise operation. Just like in our world, the whole point of the Gold Dragon is that people know exactly what to expect when they go into one. So play that up. Add your own details about what defines a Gold Dragon Inn, and make sure to highlight that every time the players stop at one. Here’s a few I’m literally making up right now.

  • The Gold Dragon Inn has a mascot, Goldie the Dragon. Every GDI has a mural inside of Goldie wrapped around the inn, looking down at you with a wink and a grin. Some inns have a Goldie costume – which involves three halflings – that they bring out on special occasions.
  • The Gold Dragon Inn always has a greeter, typically a halfling barmaid who says something along the following lines. “Welcome to the Gold Dragon Inn, where our guests are our greatest treasure! Would you like a tankard of our Copper Egg ale?”

Basically, any time the players are wandering around and happen to stop for the night, what do you know, it’s a Gold Dragon Inn! With the exact same greeter speech! And friendly, helpful staff who are happy to provide you with useful information about the region! The place is amazingly clean, as the staff uses a minor dragonmark focus item that ties to the Mark of Hospitality, using a prestidigitation effect to wipe away dirt and grime with the wave of a wand. And then, once people have gotten used to it, have them end up in a bad part of Karrnath where there’s no Gold Dragon Inn. The tavern they end up in is grimy and there’s holes in the roof from Thranish air raids (“Never had the gold to fix ’em,” the owner says. “Don’t worry, I moved the bed out from under.”). The owner lost a forearm in one of those raids but has a skeletal prosthetic. He’s probably not going to kill you in your sleep. Probably.

JT: Are there any major inns or taverns that operate without Ghallanda’s backing, or as open competition to the House’s industry?

SD: Dragonmarked’ makes it seem like other establishments certainly exist, but if they’re not at least sponsored by the Hosteler’s Guild, they’re regarded in the Five Nations as second-rate or questionable. If an exception existed that posed a serious threat to Ghallanda interests in an area, unsavory repercussions might occur.

I’m including SpoonDragon’s answer because it hits the nail on the head. The Dragonmarked Houses dominate their fields, and have established and maintained that dominance over the course of centuries. But that doesn’t mean every inn is a Gold Dragon Inn. You have three classes of business, as established in Dragonmarked: businesses directly run by the house; businesses bound to the house, which are essentially franchises like the Gold Dragon Inn; and licensed business, which pay a percentage and agree to meet the industry standards established by the house in exchange for being able to use the house seal. MOST inns and taverns are licensed. The critical thing is that this isn’t just a scam run by the houses. They DO establish and enforce industry standards, a role that is usually handled by the government in our world. A tavern has to pay Ghallanda for the license, but it ALSO has to meet the house standards for hygiene and health, and that’s the real VALUE of the license: potential customers know they can trust it. That shabby Karrnathi inn described above COULDN’T be a licensed business, because it doesn’t meet the standards. So a really successful and well-established business – like The Oaks in Sharn – could run without a license, trusting in its established reputation. But it’s sort of like posting a sign on your door saying “We’ve never had a health inspection.”

Generally the houses won’t act against lone businesses that choose to operate outside their scope. However, if someone truly poses a serious threat to their market dominance, they will take steps to deal with it… starting with negotiation, then negative propaganda, then more severe methods. A Ghallanda Black Dog (from Dragonmarked) can poison food or drink just by looking at it; this is a handy person to have in your back pocket when you want to give a rival restaurant a reputation for food poisoning.

I have always wondered about Gold Dragon Inns, starting with the price point. Are we talking Super 8, or Hamton, or Hilton, or Fairmont, or what? How big is the common room (in terms of area or number of patrons)? Is there both a tavern and a restaurant? What sort of food is served? How many rooms? How many of those rooms cater to small creatures like gnomes and halflings? Are there any other services provided? What sort of security is present – for valuables, or common areas, or private rooms?

This was cut for space from Dragonmarked, but addresses this a bit…

Two Ghallanda-licensed taverns in Sharn may have nothing in common beyond the house seal. But the Hostelers Guild maintains a number of bound businesses with outposts across Khorvaire. These strive for uniformity, and a traveler knows exactly what he can expect when he goes to a Gold Dragon Inn. 

          The Gold Dragon Inn. A home away from home for the frequent traveler, the Gold Dragon Inn provides reliable (if not exceptional) services at reasonable rates. Every Gold Dragon Inn possesses a heavy safe secured with arcane lock, and a soundproofed back room that can be rented for private events or important negotiations. House Ghallanda works with House Thuranni and House Phiarlan, and a Gold Dragon Inn will always have some sort of guild-licensed entertainer on hand.

            The Drum and Lyre. These taverns specialize in spicy Talentan cuisine, and serve as venues for music and dance. Three nights of the week are reserved for halflings performing traditional Talentan works; three nights are filled by performers from House Phiarlan or House Thuranni; and one night is held for amateurs and independents, which can be an opportunity for PC bards to hone their skills and make a little silver. Occasionally musical performances are set aside for athletic events, including sporting matches between miniature clawfeet and other Talentan beasts.   

As I’ve said before, the Dragonmarked Houses essentially set the industry standards, which is to say the prices in the rule book. So if you look on page 158 pf the 5E Player’s Handbook, the Gold Dragon Inn generally would be considered Modest accommodations (5 SP/night) while the best suite in a GDI would be Comfortable (8 SP/night). I generally think of the GDI as having a simple tavern attached, but some might have a full restaurant (perhaps a Drum & Lyre!). The size and number of the rooms will be based on the expected clientele; a GDI in Zilargo will have lots of rooms for small guests, while one in Breland will be predominantly designed with medium guests in mind. A GDI could have six rooms or a hundred rooms, based on the logical ability of the region to support it and the needs of your story.

Now, as noted above, the GDI is not the only sort of inn Ghallanda runs. It’s a known quantity, but many Ghallanda heirs prefer to run their own unique licensed business. The house itself runs a number of more luxurious inns, such as the Twilight Palace in Graywall; these would be in the Wealthy to Aristocratic class of lodging, and include services provided by other Dragonmarked houses – a Sivis message station in the hotel, an Orien courier on call, etc.

HOW ABOUT PHOENIX?

I can’t create new material for Eberron, but I can create anything I want for my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. I think this post has gone on long enough, but I’ll do a follow-up next week that highlights the role of the tavern in Phoenix, with a few different locations you could use in your campaign.

Catching Up and the Eldeen Reaches

It’s been over a month since my last post: where have I been?

There’s been quite a few things that kept me off the internet. At Twogether we’ve been hard at work getting Illimat to press. Gloom In Space just came out, and I’ve been working on another game you’ll be seeing later in the year: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game. Beyond this, I’ve been dealing with family issues and helping organize gaming on the JoCo Cruise. And to top it all off, I have the flu.

So: I’ve been busy. And I’m going to continue to be busy for the forseeable future. I’m a Guest of Honor at MidSouthCon later this month; I’m working on a new new game, just recorded an episode of a new podcast, and I’m still planning a range of support for Phoenix: Dawn Command in the next few months.

However, I don’t want to let too much time go by without addressing Eberron questions, so let’s get back to it.

Would people from Varna and other eastern settlements in the Eldeen Reaches reconsider going back under Aundairian sovereignty if the Ashbound and the Children of Winter increase attacks against those “civilized” lands and the Wardens are reluctant or unable to protect them? 

As with most things in Eberron, it’s certainly possible if it’s a story you want to explore. It’s especially plausible in Varna, as House Vadalis maintains strong ties to Aundair and would be happy to see Varna return to Aundair.

The critical thing to understand is that the split between Aundair and the Eldeen wasn’t a spur of the moment decision during the Last War. The bandits were the excuse but not the root cause. Instead, it was the culmination of events that had been brewing for a thousand years. The Wardens of the Wood predate Galifar, and always had ties to the people of the Reaches. Galifar united the Five Nations by conquest. His daughter Aundair was set over the northeast, and she sought to instill her values in the people of the region: her love of education, civilization, and arcane magic. But the further you get from Fairhaven, the more people hold to the old ways. When the Eldeen Reaches seceded from Aundairan, they weren’t suddenly allying with mysterious druids they knew nothing about; they were throwing off centuries of oppression and returning to their ancestral roots.

Varna is an exception. It has always been the seat of House Vadalis. It’s the largest city in the Reaches, a center of industry, and it has the strongest ties to Aundair. It’s the logical place for a pro-Aundairian movement to arise.

With that said: the critical question is why the Wardens wouldn’t take action if the Children of Winter and the Ashbound became increasingly aggressive. Small raids may be overlooked, but large-scale action should draw a response from Oalian and the Wardens; that’s what the Wardens are for. One option is that they simply can’t defend the Reaches — that the Ashbound or Children of Winter have had a sudden surge in numbers and power, perhaps drawing members away from the Wardens. If this is the campaign plan, I’d want to explore WHY the sect in question has suddenly gained such power. What’s behind the surge? Why do they feel expanded aggression is necessary? Alternately, it could be that the Wardens are unwilling to interfere… but again, why is this? If innocents are being hurt, why won’t the Wardens take action? If it were me, the answer to these questions would be a critical part of the story of the campaign.

Are there still any operating shrines to or faithful of the Silver Flame in the Eldeen Reaches since the time of the purge?

Excellent question, and one that hasn’t been explored as deeply as it probably should have been. The Silver Flame gained a foothold in the region when the templars fought the lycanthropic plague. This is an example of a time when the Wardens couldn’t defend the region against a threat, and many placed their faith in the force that saved them. With that said, it’s important to emphasis that this is the stronghold of the so-called “Pure Flame.” These are people who first encountered the Flame as a tool of war. It’s this splinter of the faith that has produced people like Cardinal Dariznu. Charity and compassion aren’t key components of the Flame you’ll find here, and a friar from Thrane may find little common ground with a templar from the Reaches.

I guess those faithful are mistrusted by the local shifters…

That goes both ways. Followers of the Pure Flame generally consider shifters to be tainted by lycanthropy… essentially, that they are werewolves-in-waiting, who could at any time fall prey to the corruption in their blood. And it was the followers of the Pure Flame that instigated the worst of the atrocities in the inquisition that followed the Lycanthropic Purge — driven by an understandable hunger for vengeance on the force that nearly destroyed them. So yeah, local shifters will generally dislike followers of the Flame.

Are purified shifters seen as traitors by others?

I don’t think “traitor” is the right word, but it’s something that would be incredibly rare. The primary faith of the Flame in the region is the Pure Flame, and per the Pure Flame shifters are cursed. So a Shifter follower of the Pure Flame would be someone who in all likelihood distrusts their own kind; it’s sort of like a half-fiend embracing the faith, likely believing that it can help them overcome the evil in their lineage.

With that said, the core beliefs of the Silver Flame aren’t prejudiced against shifters, and a shifter cleric from Flamekeep wouldn’t feel this way; however, most locals don’t know the difference, as the Pure Flame is the only form of the Silver Flame they’ve encountered.

Could a surge in the other sects be perhaps the outcome of a ploy by queen Aurala?

I wouldn’t see that as happening directly, but indirectly, certainly. The Ashbound are deeply opposed to the abuse (or for that matter, the use) of arcane magic. Imagine that Aurala makes a gift of mystical tools to villages in the Reaches – a kindly peace offering. Cleansing stones, everburning lamps, some new system of wards, or especially something that affects the natural order – something that blocks disease, affects the fertility of the region, etc – could push the Children of Winter or Ashbound to aggression removing this unnatural thing. Thus Aurala is doing something generous and the sects blocking it are seen as heartless and cruel. Of course, if you want to keep it interesting, it could be that Aurala’s magic WILL disrupt natural patterns; there’s no reason the Ashbound can’t actually be RIGHT with their concerns.

Or a rogue dragon trying to shape the prophecy by weakening the Wardens or furthering chaos in the Reaches?

Seems more like something that would be tied to the Lords of Dust, and the Lords of Dust would have a more logical basis for having an entrenched network of agents in the region that could help manipulate events.

If it was a Gatekeeper that awakened Oalian (if it was), why did he found a new sect of druid faith?

Why do new religions evolve, or existing religions change? Tira Miron was a paladin of Dol Arrah, and she became the Voice of the Silver Flame. Oalian is a unique individual. He’s bound to the natural world in a way the druid who awakened him never could be. He has a unique perspective and centuries of experience – and in that time, he created the sect he believed the region needed.

How has having Droaam as a new neighbor influenced the Reaches?

Before she joined her sisters as a ruler of Droaam, Sora Maenya was the Terror of the Towering Woods. She’s not a new threat, and the Towering Woods have never been safe. That’s why the Wardens of the Wood exist: to protect outsiders from the wood, and to protect the wood from outsiders. They’ve clashed with the Znir Pact and the Wind Howlers long, long before Droaam ever existed. If anything, hostilities between the Reaches and Droaam have probably DROPPED since Droaam became a nation as the Daughters have tighter control over forces that would have otherwise engaged in random raids and skirmishes.

Did the Greensingers arise from other druidic sects like the case with Oalian founding the Wardens? 

Essentially. The druidic traditions in the Reaches can be ultimately traced back to the Gatekeepers. But like Oalian, the inhabitants of the Reaches — shifters, human settlers, others — learned these traditions after the Xoriat incursion, and weren’t as focused on the Gatekeeper mission. Imagine that a member of the Chamber founds an order of wizards and teaches them arcane magic to use to find a demon. They do, and the members of the circle devote their lives, and those of their descendants, to maintaining the seals. But along the way, a member of the circle teaches some of their magic to someone else – an outsider who hasn’t sworn to maintain the seals, or a child who leaves their family instead of embracing their duty. This person goes north and teaches the magic they’ve learned to someone else. At this point, this third generation wizard knows only the basic principles of the magic and almost none of the history behind it; but they have enough to build upon, to make their own discoveries and create their own traditions.

This is what you have in the Reaches. The basic techniques of druidic magic can be traced back to the Gatekeepers, but we’re talking about thousands of years — more than enough time for new traditions to evolve and arise. The Greensingers are just such a case, shaped when druidic initiates encountered envoys of Thelanis, or found their way into the Faerie Court themselves.

And do you see the majority of the Greensingers as being more loyal to their fey patrons or to the people of the Reaches, considering that they act as intermediaries between the two?

I see the Greensingers as being an intensely individualistic sect, far more so than any of the others. They’re tied to different patrons and inspired by different things. Some of them may be deeply devoted to serving as intermediaries or guides; others may solely be concerned with the agendas of their fey patrons.

What could change if the Wardens decide that Ashbounds are right and arcane magic is driving the world to apocalypse? Could the druid together do something? Would they try something extreme like a war to house cannith, attempting to kill everybody with the mark of making?

Do they have the resources to do anything like that? It’s really up to you as a GM. In my opinion, the Wardens of the Wood are a small force; while they may have access to significant primal power in the Towering Woods, like the Undying Court, that power is concentrated in a specific geographic location; they simply don’t have the capability of threatening House Cannith across the Five Nations. Which is part of the basic premise of Eberron: if they DID decide House Cannith was a threat, they’d need to find some champions – IE PCs – to do something about it. Note that even at the height of their power, the Gatekeepers couldn’t face the Daelkyr on their own; it was the alliance of Gatekeepers and Dhakaani that overcame the incursion.

With that said, if you wanted to use this as something the PCs need to prevent as opposed to enact, there’s any number of plots I could image. Perhaps they work with the Children of Winter and come up with a plague that specifically targets the dragonmarked, killing them or simply sterilizing them. This isn’t an instant effect, but it’s something that is spreading rapidly; can the PCs find a cure before it’s too late? What consequences will losing a big chunk of the dragonmarked have on the world?

Perhaps they enact a massive ritual that separates Eberron from Siberys and completely disrupts arcane magic – which would have widespread ramifications, such as the collapse of Sharn and crashing of airships. The initial ritual might only last for a day – but can the PCs find an answer before a follow-up ritual makes it permanent?

And the real question I’d ask is What if they’re right? What if it IS pushing Eberron closer to the apocalypse? If you reverse this ritual, will it trigger a new and more widespread Mourning?

I explored this concept in greater depth in an Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 418. Here’s an excerpt.

The doctrine of the Children of Winter states that Siberys is the source of arcane and divine magic; Eberron the mother of primal and natural things; and Khyber is the font of aberrations and fiends. The first signs of Eberron’s fury would be a wave of natural disasters. Thousands die as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes shake the world. Once she is fully awake, Eberron asserts her preeminence over her creation, banishing the influence of Khyber and Siberys alike. The Lords of Dust are forced into the depths with other fiends, while the dragons of Argonnessen are wiped out. The magical energies wielded by both wizards and priests are cast back to the Ring of Siberys, and arcane and divine magic fails utterly. The towers of Sharn collapse under their own weight. Airships fall from the sky. Amid this chaos, awakened plants tear down the foundations of cities, newborn primal predators hunt survivors, and plagues ravage the land.

            The loss of magic is the key event of this disaster, but it doesn’t make the world a mundane place. Dragons are hard hit because arcane magic flows through their blood—but there are many natural creatures that have innate supernatural abilities. The ogre still has his strength, and the blink dog can still slip through space. Primal magic is stronger than ever, and the youngsters in the ruined cities will grow up to be barbarians and wardens. But beyond that, only a handful of people can still use arcane and divine magic . . . including the player characters. One of the underlying themes of Eberron is that the PCs are the most important people of the age, and here is where that precept is made manifest. Player character clerics and paladins are the last connection to the divine in a world cut off from the heavens. The PC sorcerer still holds a spark of Siberys in his blood, while the artificer is one of the only people who can harness the residual energy that remains. The characters have powers that no one else can wield. Will they search for a way to restore the old order, or will they use their abilities for personal gain? Will the wizard try to create rituals that anyone can use, or use his powers to carve out a kingdom?

Maybe it’s a too off topic question, but if the plan of the Ashbound was to kill or sterilize every Cannith… what would change in Eberron? How would it be an Eberron without House Cannith?

It’s off topic, but I’ll allow it. Personally, I don’t think the removal of House Cannith alone is a logical goal for the Ashbound. Among other things, House Vadalis and House Jorasco are more obvious offenders when it comes to “twisting the natural order of things” and Vadalis is based in Varna, right on the doorstep of the Ashbound. Beyond that, removing House Cannith WOULDN’T have a dramatic immediate effect on things, because most of what Cannith does can be replicated by independent artificers, alchemists, wizards and blacksmiths; what Cannith does is a) innovate and b) industrialize. Inventions like the warforged – something that can only be created by Cannith – are rare; mostly, they produce everything from potions to mundane tools, and creation forges and schemas allow them to produce these things more efficiently and in larger quantities than other folks. Remove House Cannith and what you’ll get is prices of common items going up, shortages occurring, and quality starting to vary dramatically; right now Cannith defines the “industry standard”.

We’ve always said that Eberron is “widespread magic” as opposed to “high magic”. It’s the industrial aspect of Cannith that allows it to be widespread, producing mundane items like everburning torches and the like. Remove Cannith and those things will still be produced – just by a hundred independents, resulting in that range of quality and availability. It wouldn’t be as dramatic as eliminating arcane magic entirely.

Do you have questions about the Eldeen Reaches? Post them below!

Dragonmarks: Thelanis and the Fey

It’s been a busy few months for me, between IllimatPhoenix, and other projects I can’t discuss at the moment. There’s still no news about Eberron development for 5E, and that limits what I can do here. However, in 2017 I will be launching a Patreon to support more extensive gaming-related content on the site. For now, here’s the long-promised Q&A about the Fey of Eberron. 

What if every story you were told as a child is true? The Sleeping Princess, the Maze of Thorns, the lurkers who wait in the shadows to steal sleeping children. What if all of these things are real, poised just beyond the curtain of the material plane?

This is the case in the Eberron Campaign Setting. The material plane is a blending of substance and ideals. The outer planes are purified ideas, realms that embody particular concepts. Shavarath is the eternal battleground; this conflict began at the dawn of time, and it will continue until the end of creation. Shavarath embodies war. Dolurrh is a place of death. Kythri is chaos and change, while Daanvi is order and stability. Fernia is fire and Risia is ice. But what exactly is Thelanis? Lamannia is the plane of Nature… But Thelanis is home to dryads and similar spirits. What does this mean?

Personally, I focus on Lamannia as a place of primal nature: iconic entities and elemental forms. While the Greensingers would take issue with this, in my opinion the Fey of Thelanis aren’t part of nature… not even the dryad. The Fey are the magic we wish was in the world. The dryad is the spirit we want the tree to have, when we see a slender willow and think of it as a beautiful woman. But there’s nothing natural about a tree having a spirit that resembles a human woman; it’s something magical, a story we want to believe. For me, this is what Thelanis is. The realm of stories. The realm of the magic we want in the world. The Fey reflect hopes, fears, secrets and desires both conscious and unconscious.

But if Thelanis is the realm of stories, how is it different from Dal Quor, the region of dreams? Stories are concrete. They may evolve over time, but a story can hold its general shape for centuries. Stories can hold lessons and morals that ring true across cultures and generations. By contrast, dreams are intensely temporary and personal. Dreams aren’t passed down; they are created anew every night. The quori (the primary spirits of Dal Quor) don’t embody specific dreams; rather, they embody the emotions and forces that shape our dreams, and they themselves have the power to manipulate the content of dreams. By contrast, the immortal Fey are the subjects of stories. This raises the chicken-and-egg question: A powerful Fey resembles the subject of a well-known story. Does the story exist because the Fey exists and has passed her story into the collective unconscious of Eberron? Or has the Fey herself been shaped and ultimately created because of a story mortals began telling on her own? Can a Fey actively change her own story… or could mortals actively change her by purposefully changing the way a particular story is told? There’s no clear answer to this question, and it’s not easily proven either way. You can be certain that it is a subject of debate in the ivory towers of Eberron itself, and in my Eberron novels (notably The Fading Dream) you can see some of the inhabitants of Eberron and Thelanis wrestling with this issue. And looking back to Dal Quor, the Feyspire of Shae Doresh was essentially the bridge between Thelanis and Dal Quor, and may have been a physical reflection of that tie between stories and dreams.

The Geography of Thelanis

It’s easy to think of the planes as being essentially alien worlds. The Feyspires are like cities, so you must be able to walk from city to city, right? This is a dangerous mistake. Thelanis isn’t a planet; it’s a plane. It is potentially infinite in size… and at the same time, it doesn’t follow the physical laws of our reality. The Woodsman lives in a forest beneath the Deepwood Moon, and there is no end to that forest; it is a closed pocket of space, and if you start walking west you’ll eventually find yourself back where you began. If you’re trying to reach the Silver Tree or the domain of the Queen of Dusk, you can’t just get on a horse and ride there; you have to find a path. Inhabitants of Thelanis have gates they can open or slip through, but as a mortal you generally have to follow a story – taking actions that either complete the story of the realm you’re in, or that draw you to a different place.

What does this mean for DMs and players? Thelanis isn’t a mundane world. Every piece of it exists in isolation and is tied around one or more stories. It’s essentially made for adventure. When players go there, it’s up to you to decide what the local story is, and what they need to do to move through it. The realm of the Prince of Frost is forever shrouded in ice and night, while the Queen of Sand lives in a desert where the sun never sets. While each realm has a core story, bear in mind that it’s not the ONLY story that can play out there. In my novel The Gates of Night, the heroes need to deal with the Woodsman to leave the Deepwood Moon; but while in the realm they also have to deal with trouble at the Inn of the Crooked Tree and with the questioning serpent. Essentially, each realm has a ruling entity whose story defines and shapes the region – but many other beings inhabit each region, bringing their own stories with them. Which brings us to the next point…

The Fey

So who are the Fey? What do they want?

First of all, I draw a sharp distinction between “fey creatures” – which I define as “mortal creatures from Thelanis” – and capital-F Fey, by which I mean immortal spirits of Thelanis. Depending on edition, gnomes, elves, and eladrin all have the fey subtype. You can find both gnomes and eladrin in Thelanis, and they make up the bulk of the population of the Feyspires. These mortal creatures aren’t substantially different from their cousins on Eberron; they are the courtiers and serfs of Thelanis. An eladrin knight serving in the feyspire of Shaelas Tiraleth isn’t THAT different from a paladin of the Undying Court; both are proud and long-lived warriors who fight on behalf of immortal rulers. That knight is one of dozens of knights, and he isn’t personally embodying some ancient story. His attitudes are shaped by growing up in Thelanis, and his customs will feel strange to people of Khorvaire, but not THAT strange. And he can grow old, have children, sicken, and eventually die.

Next we have the lesser true fey: immortal spirits, but with relatively limited power and dominion. Dryads, sprites, and similar creatures fall into this category. Such creatures are essentially immortal. They cannot die by natural means, and their numbers always remain static; when one of them dies a new one will eventually manifest to take its place. Most of these beings have a fundamentally different relationship with time than the mortals of Eberron; they escape immortal ennui by living purely in the moment, giving almost no thought to past or future. A sprite could be thousands of years old, but she might not be able to recall something that happened a week ago, because time has essentially just passed through her. The sprite is almost like a flower; it’s a part of the color of Thelanis, but it cannot learn or change; it simply IS. If they harm you, it’s generally with a sort of innocent, childlike malice; poke the rose and the thorn will prick you. By tomorrow they won’t even remember it.

So you can think of these least immortals as “background fey” – they essentially exist as set dressing for stories, and they don’t hold on to many personal details (or feel any loss at this). However, it’s possible that one of these chorus members can get promoted to have a story of their own. In The Gates of Night we encounter two dryads who DO have stories and strong individual identities: Lady Darkheart and the Crooked Tree. As they become part of a story they develop more individual identity and can have goals and desires. But even here, their personalities are only as deep as their story requires. They may be defined by an event that happened centuries ago, and still hold to that tragic romance or bitter vendetta as if there was nothing else in the world. They don’t change in the way mortals do; they can’t simply forgive a slight, unless that in itself fits the shape of their story.

But when I talk about “The Fey”, I’m usually talking about the people at the top of the food chain: what mechanically would be called Archfey. Humanoid Archfey are often (though not always) known as Ghaele Eladrin, but it’s important not to confuse them with the lesser mortal eladrin. In Shaelas Tiraleth you have hundreds of mortal eladrin, but only one Ghaele: the Lady of the Silver Tree. She is the immortal heart of the Feyspire; it is her story. Ghaele are technically immortal, but their stories can evolve and change. Thus the Lady of the Silver Tree has a father, and some day she could die and be replaced by a prince; but that transition would represent the story that defines Shaelas Tiraleth fundamentally changing.

Dragon magazine ran a series called The Court of Stars that profiled Archfey, and I wrote a piece on the Prince of Frost for issue 374 (that’s him on the cover). Here’s a note from that article: “The great powers of the Feywild dance through time unburdened by its chains, leaving their marks in stories and histories. Little can be known for certain about the archfey. Some accounts say that the Maiden of the Moon was once an eladrin who rose to power through passion for the hunt. Others claim that she is a dream of the moon. Perhaps neither tale is the truth. Maybe both are. So it is with the Prince of Frost. It is foolish to seek fact in the Feywild, but one can find stories.” According to his story, the Prince of Frost was originally the Sun Prince and betrothed to one of the three Daughters of Delight. When his lover forsook him for a noble mortal warrior, his heart grew cold… and when she and her lover cast their spirits forward in time to escape him, his heart became ice. Now he waits for his love to be reborn so he can possess her; but in the meantime he takes pleasure in tormenting mortal heroes in memory of the one who stole his beloved.

The Prince of Frost is a perfectly suitable Fey to appear in Thelanis. He has long-term goals – find his beloved when she is reborn, torment mortal heroes – and he will recruit mortal agents (Greensingers, Fey Pact warlocks) to help achieve these goals. The issue is that he is defined by his story. He can’t suddenly meet a new love and drop the whole vengeance thing, or suddenly be convinced to take an interest in the war between Droaam and Breland. He is ancient and powerful, but in some ways he is simpler than most mortal villains; he is, in essence, a storybook villain. He can be subtle and clever in pursuing his goals, but at the same time, he’s going to KEEP PURSUING THOSE GOALS FOREVER until the story somehow finally comes to an end. Like the dryad, he doesn’t really learn or evolve… unless his defining story itself somehow evolves.

The next critical thing about immortal Fey is that they are bound by rules and storybook logic; this is a thing that can limit them despite their power. Most are bound to keep their promises. The Court of Stars article calls out that a player can gain concrete, mechanical benefits if they learn the true name of the Prince (and can say it); if they learn the song Lady Sharaea composed for her beloved; or if they possess the amulet the Prince of Frost gave to Sharaea. So a mortal gnome can give her word and break it a minute later; but a Ghaele is defined by her words, and can be tricked into making a promise that saves a mortal.

All of which brings us back to the question: what do they want? The answer is different for each Archfey. Most of them are simply living out their story and want whatever suits that story. The Prince of Frost wants to torment selfless heroes while searching for his beloved. The Lady of the Silver Tree wants nothing more than the care for her tree. They may be defined by feuds with other Archfey or mortals; essentially, come up with a story and it will tell you what they want.

Another question that sometimes comes up is whose stories do the Fey represent? The answer? Everyone. In The Gates of Night, the drow Xu’sasar encounters the ghost scorpion in Thelanis – an important piece of the stories of her people, but one with no meaning to the other travelers. Likewise, she interprets the entire experience of Thelanis in a different way than the others. The fey we are FAMILIAR with reflect human stories; that doesn’t mean there aren’t OTHER fey in Thelanis who are based around Goblin stories, or a dryad-equivalent based on how a Goblin sees a tree. With that said, some fey concepts are relatively universal; everyone has to deal with Winter sometime. In that case, what you might have is a single spirit that’s perceived in a different form by different beings; so a human sees a Ghaele of Winter as an elf-like human, while a goblin might see a bugbear with ice-crusted fur. The Ghaele might interact with human and goblin in a different way, instinctively adopting the customs they expect from their tales. If you’re familiar with Gaiman’s Sandman comics, it’s the same way beings of different races and cultures all see Dream through their own lens. So as humans, we tend to see the human face of Thelanis… but there are many others.

Now, let me address a few specific questions submitted by you all.

Do the fey courts ever have any interest in the goings on outside their realm, in Eberron proper?

As a general rule, the inhabitants of the outer planes think about Eberron as much or possibly less than the people of Eberron think about the outer planes. They know it exists, and there are some scholars who study it, and a rare few go there, but the vast majority barely ever think about it. With that said, the primary effect of manifest zones to Thelanis is to allow travel between the two realms. In an area with a manifest zone, you could easily have more casual contact between the realms for better or for worse. These are the villages where you could have changelings swapped for human children, or where a villager might leave a gift in exchange for a fey boon. And these are also the places where you could have stories of sinister lurkers who cause mayhem in the dark of the moon, or where the Wild Hunt passes through the woods when the planes are coterminous.

With the Archfey, it depends entirely on their stories. The Prince of Frost has a story that gives him a concrete, specific reasons to meddle in Eberron: he’s watching for his beloved’s return, and in the meantime taking vengeance on mortal heroes. In The Dreaming Dark series, there’s an Archfey plot playing out in the background of the main story. So if you want an Archfey to have an interest in Eberron, come up with a story that explains it.

I’d love you to tell us more about the mischievous personality of the Fey.

I think this mainly applies to the “background Fey” – the immortals who serve as the set dressing of Thelanis. The playful sprite, the raucous satyr, the shy dryad. To me, the key point here is that these Fey live entirely in the moment. There is no tomorrow, there is no past. There is no fear of consequence, only the pure experience of love, joy, or rage. When a dryad curses a traveler who steals fruit from her tree, it’s because in that moment this is the worst thing that could ever happen and he deserves it. While the dancing satyr has no concerns about anything other than the party we are having RIGHT NOW. So if a fey is mischievous – and not all are – it’s very much a childlike thing, pure mischief with little consequence or deep intent.

I don’t think “mischievous” is a word that applies to most Archfey, unless you’re creating an Archfey whose story is all about spreading mischief (The Prince of Misrule!). There’s nothing mischievous at all about the Prince of Frost or the Lady of the Silver Tree; they are deadly serious.

How would you use the Greensingers in a campaign? What are they trying to accomplish, and who are they in conflict with?

The Greensingers are the least monolithic or predictable of the Druid sects. Unlike the other sects, they have no leaders or fixed communities. They are tied together by common experiences, by magical traditions, and by a shared love of fey things. But as noted in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, “The lords of Thelanis draw courtiers and entertainers from Eberron, and many Greensingers spend time in the halls of the Faerie Court before returning to Eberron to act as ambassadors, servants, and spies for the fey lords.” The critical point here is that Greensingers work for different Archfey – and that’s what will tell you what they are trying to accomplish. A Greensinger working for the Prince of Frost will watch for his lost love and attempt to lure noble heroes into his traps, and as such could be a villain in a campaign. A Greensinger working for the Lady of the Silver Tree could simply be trying to help protect Shaelas Tiraleth, and serve as an ambassador in the wider world and a guide who could take the adventurers to the tree. So when you’re dealing with a Greensinger all you know is that they have a tie to the Fey; until you learn more about WHICH Fey, you won’t know what they are trying to accomplish. Some Greensingers aren’t tied to specific Fey, but simply seek to live their life in the fey manner – living in the moment while drifting through time.

What is the kind of task an Archfey could ask of players that they can’t do by themselves nor order to Greensingers?

First of all, most Archfey are exceptionally powerful within their own realms. Like the Undying Court, this is a territorial thing. Some can’t ever leave their realms; others put themselves at risk or lose power if they did. So first of all, an Archfey may turn to an adventurer, warlock, or Greensinger to accomplish any task that has to be done in Eberron, because the Archfey quite likely can’t actually go to Eberron to do it. Beyond that, it’s all about the story. Again, the Prince of Winter seeks his reborn beloved and seeks to torment selfless heroes. He’s always looking for information. He might want a player emissary to recover his lost locket, to kidnap someone he thinks might be his beloved, or to engage in a feud against a particular hero. As for “Why pick a player character instead of a Greensinger,” it’s entirely up to you if a particular Archfey has any Greensinger agents.

Beyond this, an easy way to tie an Archfey to a group of adventurers is if you have a Greensinger druid or Fey Pact Warlock as one of the player characters. In which case, you want to define the story of the Archfey patron, which will in turn tell you what they want and ask of their mortal agents. But again, despite their great power, most Archfey are tied to their realms and need mortal help to act in the wider world.

If I want to do a short adventure in Thelanis, like recover an object there, what would make it unique, very different from a normal adventure in savage lands?

The simplest answer I can give is “Read The Gates of Night” which includes what amounts to a short adventure in Thelanis. Bear in mind the following things:

  • It’s a world that doesn’t have to obey any of our physical laws. You can have a forest that never ends, a bottomless well, a land where the Sun never rises.
  • It should feel like a fairy tale. Things don’t have to make sense if they fit the story. Why is the serpent just waiting at the river when the players arrive? Why is it willing to help them cross the river if they each answer a question? Because that’s how the story goes.

I’ll touch on this more in a future post.

How do the fey view the gods? Are there some that claim to be Dol Arrah or the Mockery, or do they claim to be the archetypes that the gods represent in myth?

More the latter. The Fey don’t claim to be things; they are things. So the Prince of Frost doesn’t acknowledge the existence or sovereignty of Arawai or the Devourer; in his story, HE is the Prince of Frost, and that is all the reality he cares about. Those Archfey that pay more attention to cosmology (like Thelania in Gates of Night) would likely acknowledge Sovereigns as powerful spirits, but assert that they are gods of Eberron and have no dominion over Thelanis. With that said, you could have SOME fey who acknowledge one of the main faiths if it fits their story. Surely somewhere there is a forest in Thelanis with an old holy man in the woods; the question is whether he’s devoted to the Sovereigns – which would be perfectly valid – or to some vague, archetypal faith that only really exists in his story.

How do the fey interact with historical stories? For example, Lhazaar has been historically portrayed as an explorer, but modern scholarship is tilting towards a less generous portrayal of her. Does that have an impact on any of the archfey? Likewise, do the Valenar and the Keepers of the Past have a special relationship to Thelanis because of the stories they preserve?

The stories that define the Archfey aren’t history. They are archetype and fable, or more on the nose, faerie tales. There might be a story of a mythical pirate queen that inspired Lhazaar, and that’s the story that would be reflected on the seas of Thelanis. But unless Lhazaar’s actions have somehow fundamentally changed the way people view that fictional character, it wouldn’t impact the Fey. Likewise for the Tairnadal. Their heroes are REAL PEOPLE, and the whole point of what they are doing is that it preserves the spirits of those mortal heroes.

To drill down on this… the stories that are reflected in Thelanis aren’t stories that anyone can concretely track to one origin. It’s not that Stephen d’King wrote a story about a pirate queen and suddenly she was in Thelanis. It’s that the story of the Pirate Queen is a classic tale known across Sarlona and especially beloved in Rhiavhaar… but no one knows exactly where it began. Azhaan’s Voyage is the earliest written version but far more people know Azhaara the Queen. As I said – no one knows if the story inspired the fey or the fey inspired the story.

With that said, I could see an interesting story based around the idea that the Tairnadal ancestors are so old that they’ve created a subset of fictional tall tales, and these have in turn taken form in a realm in Thelanis. But the point is that these stories aren’t actually things the heroes really did; they’re just stories that have somehow creeped into popular consciousness, and no one knows exactly when people started telling the story that Vadallia’s eye was a tear that fell from an angel’s eye. Far from liking this, I think the Keepers of the Past would HATE it; the point would be that these Thelanian fey are sort of like parasites latching onto the story and in the process changing it. The Keepers could be worried that if nothing was done, the story might eventually be twisted to a point where it no longer supports the actual ancestor. But how can they stop it?

Since Thelanis is the realm of stories… When mortals narrate or create passionate, intense or otherwise special stories artistically or with their lives, can they unconsciously give birth to lands or beings in Thelanis? e.g. Is there a ‘Mournland’-related land in Thelanis or a new Archfey?

This is an echo of the preceding question. Thelanis is The Faerie Court; when I say that it’s the realm of stories, I’m specifically talking about faerie stories. First of all, if you read The Fading Dream what you’ll see is that there is an Archfey who HAS incorporated the Mourning into her personal story – but she’s done it in a way that fits the logic and form of faerie tales. The development of a new Archfey is certainly possible, but it’s the sort of thing that would generally take generations as a story becomes part of the culture – and even there the critical question is whether the story would create the Archfey, or if the birth of an Archfey would inspire and define a new story.

What do the Ashbound think of fey? Are they natural, like magical beasts, or arcane?

I don’t think Ashbound are innately opposed to mortal fey creatures like elves or gnomes. Powerful Fey often employ arcane magic, which would draw the ire of Ashbound. You could decide that Ashbound are inherently opposed to dryads and other immortal Fey that impose on our world, if you like the story; I don’t think we’ve called it out in canon.

How did the Mourning impact things? How does the Mournland interact with feyspire(s) within? 

Both of these questions are integral to the plot of The Fading Dream (the third book of the Thorn of Breland series), so if you want to know my thoughts on this, read The Fading Dream!

Are there still werewolves?  if werewolves comes form Thelanis, does it means there are moons there? How much? Could fey become lycanthropes?

Werewolves don’t come from Thelanis. Werewolves are found in Lamannia, but they aren’t natives of that plane: The 3.5 ECS says “Lycanthropes… are common in Lamannia, since many fled to this plane during the crusade that nearly exterminated them from Khorvaire.” As for whether Thelanis has moons, that varies by realm. In The Gates of Night, the moons are a way to determine which realm the protagonists are in. But the point is that those moons may not actually exist in any meaningful way. They might be made of cheese, or might just be a pool of light in the sky. The moon is there because the story calls for it to be there, not because of gravity or science. Given that, it’s POSSIBLE that a moon would affect a lycanthrope normally… or it could be that it has no impact at all, because it’s not real in the same way as the moons of Eberron. As for whether Fey can become lycanthropes, that depends on the mechanics of the system/edition you’re using. Personally, I’d tend to say that immortal fey can’t become lycanthropes by the traditional method, but their personal stories could involve something that resembles lycanthropy if it fits the story.

What manner of fey are Sora Kell and her daughters? It always seemed to me that Sora Kell, at least, must be immortal. 

The Daughters of Sora Kell are an interesting case. Just as rakshasa are native outsiders – immortal spirits native to Eberron itself – the Daughters are essentially native fey. If you check out this Dragonshard it calls out the fact that the Daughters are the subjects of many stories, but the point is that those stories actually happened. When Beren shares a story about Sora Maenya in The Queen of Stone, he’s talking about something that personally happened to him. Whereas many (though not all) of the stories of the Archfey are mythological, metaphorical, or happened in Thelanis. This also means that the Daughters aren’t trapped by their stories the way the Archfey are. You can think of the Archfey a little like the hosts in Westworld; they are very clever and powerful, but they aren’t really in control of their own actions. Sora Katra doesn’t have quite so many strings holding her back, and she’s more invested in modern and mundane affairs.

Beyond that, Sora Kell is a night hag, which have been called out from the start as being native outsiders of Eberron; they served as ambassadors and mediators during the Age of Demons. So Sora Kell is immortal (and mechanically, her Daughters are half-fiends), but she’s a spirit of Eberron as opposed to being an outsider.

Setting the Daughters aside, different editions of the rules have bounced hags back and forth between being fey and just monstrous humanoids, so it’s up to you how to handle other hags. But the Daughters are definitely Eberron natives.

How is it that each of them is a different variety of hag?

Because they have different fathers, of course. No one knows for certain, but at least one tale claims that Maenya’s father was a giant; Katra was sired by a demon; and Teraza emerged from the womb of her own accord after Sora Kell had spent a long time exploring Dal Quor.

It seems that in at least two points you contradict canon Eberron (3.5). First, Thelanis is essentially described as a plane of forests; second, in faith of Eberron is told that greensingers nave a strong organization and a kind of secret plan for melding Thelanis and Eberron. Just asking if you changed your mind (in the first case) or why you disagree (on the second).

I used to put a disclaimer at the start of each of these posts that said “Things I write here may contradict canon.” Everything you read on this site is my version of Eberron, and may not match canon sources – especially because canon sources themselves often contradict themselves. Case in point: *I* wrote the Greensinger entry in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, which predates Faiths of Eberron. Meanwhile, Faiths of Eberron is one of the few Eberron books (including Forge of War, Magic of Eberron, and The Explorer’s Handbook) that I had no involvement in. So if I disagree with it, it would be because someone else took it in a different direction than I originally intended. However, I just glanced over Faiths of Eberron and I don’t particularly agree with your interpretation that they have “a strong order.” Throughout the entry it calls out their fierce individualism and states straight out “The sect is generally reclusive, with no formal organization.” It posits that what unites them is a shared belief that the planes are part of nature and should be made manifest in it, and that they will occasionally work together to help open planar connections. But they aren’t a concrete organization with a concrete goal; they are a very chaotic organization with an extremely loosely defined goal. Meanwhile, they are often more driven by the personal bonds they have made with Archfey and other planar entities.

As for the second point, it’s true: the 3.5 ECS says “Thelanis is a realm of rugged natural beauty—primarily lush forests and crystal-clear waters.” My point is that these places exist and may form the majority of the environmental types in Thelanis… but not all of them. This is what happens when you have a single paragraph to describe an entire layer of reality, and in The Gates of Night the first vision we have of Thelanis is a rocky moor, not a lush forest. It’s not that I changed my mind, as much as there is more to the plane than the 3.5 description could encompass.

Thelanis is the place where we see the magic that we want to be in the world… but isn’t Eberron highly magic? Magic is everywhere there, do they need Thelanis?

There’s magic, and there’s magic. First off, Thelanis is eternal. It existed long before humanity ever mastered arcane or divine magic. But beyond that, Tolkien hits a critical point in his essay On Fairy Stories: “Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician.” The arcane magic that is the cornerstone of Khorvaire is the very definition of the “scientific magician” – while the magic of Thelanis remains mysterious and wild. If you read The Gates of Night or The Fading Dream, you can see people from Eberron bumping into the wild fey magic, and how it differs from the world that they know.

Thelanis is the plane of fairies. But Thelanis is the plane of stories. A lot of stories don’t speak of fairies, but for same of gods. Why don’t we have Auron and the shadow battling in Thelanis? Why don’t we have some great Hero of the last war?

I touch on this in previous answers, but it’s because Thelanis isn’t simply the plane of Faerie or the plane of Stories… it’s the plane of FAERIE STORIES. As noted in Tolkein’s essays, a faerie story doesn’t even have to involve actual faeries; it’s about its tone and style. The stories that define Thelanis aren’t based on concrete events. They aren’t chronicles of history, or stories created by a single mortal mind. They are about archetypes and about wonder. As I said above, you could have a realm in Thelanis inspired by the Tairnadal ancestors, but if you did it WOULDN’T actually depict them accurately or re-enact their actual deeds; it would be about the faerie stories inspired by the truth, the things people want them to have done… even if those deeds are wildly impossible.

Humans see the Prince of Frost as an elfy creature. Bugbears as a bugbear. What about a recenti created warforged, that don’t know and story nor understands love?

It’s a good question. To be clear, my concept is that most Archfey have a default form. It’s not that everyone sees them differently; any human/elf/etc will see the Prince of Frost as “Elfy”, and if the two of us drew a picture of him it would look the same. Because elves fit in our cultural view. A bugbear raised among goblinoids generally isn’t thinking of things in terms of humans or elves, and thus he puts a goblinoid spin on it – but all goblinoids would likely see the same shape. So taking your warforged, as long as the warforged spent its life among humans and elves – which most have – it is logical for it to perceive the default “elfy” shape. If you took a warforged that had never seen humans, then you would say “How would it personify winter?” Perhaps it would be a frost-covered warforged. Perhaps a warforged made out of ice. It’s really up to you.

Tied to this: In The Gates of Night, the warforged Pierce sees Thelania in the same form as the others. But the feast she serves appears to be everyone’s favorite meal. For Pierce, who has no experience with food, this manifests as a flavorless paste.

Add your questions and thoughts about the Fey below!

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you and Eberron? Anything?

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

 

Could you tell us about your dndnext Eberron experience?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

There’s many different layers to this question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How do you keep track of SO many factions?

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

 

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

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

 

Drow – Why scorpions?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

There’s no shortage of rivalries…

Karrnath and Thrane

The Chamber and the Lords of Dust

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

The Kalashtar and the Dreaming Dark

Adar and Riedra

The Blood of Vol and the Sovereign Host

Thuranni and Phiarlan

Cannith and Cannith (and Cannith)

The Aurum and the Twelve

House Tarkanan and the Twelve

Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches

The Ashbound and House Vadalis

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

The Boromar Clan and Daask

The Lhazaar Princes and the Lhazaar Princes

Erandis Vol and the Undying Court

The Swords of Liberty and the Brelish Monarchy

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

 

What is the royal symbol of the kingdom of Galifar?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dragonmarks: The Daelkyr and their Cults

In days to come I’ll be talking about GenCon, Gloom, and Phoenix. But it’s been a few months since I wrote anything about Eberron. When I started the Dragonmarks I focused on specific topics, and I wanted to get back to that. So today I’m talking about the Daelkyr and the Cults of the Dragon Below. As always, everything here is just my opinion. It may contradict present or future canon sources and is not official in any way. With that said…

Eberron has its fair share of apocalyptic villains. The Lords of Dust serve fiendish Overlords who ruled the world in the dawn of time and wait to be released to rule it again. The Dreaming Dark uses our dreams as tools to enslave us. Then there are the Daelkyr. Eight thousand years ago, the Daelkyr came through from the plane of madness, and by the time they were bound in Khyber they’d brought down the Empire of Dhakaan. Unlike the Overlords, the Daelkyr are still active in Khyber. You could go down into the underworld and meet one. Their stats in the 3.5 ECG don’t even seem that impressive, really. So what’s up with the Daelkyr? Why bother with them when you have the more powerful and ancient Lords of Dust around? What do they bring to a story?

First of all, what are the Daelkyr?

The Daelkyr are powerful entities from Xoriat, the plane of Madness. They aren’t the most powerful denizens of Xoriat; they are simply the mightiest to have shown any interest in other planes. They are immortal outsiders, not creatures of flesh and blood. The slightest touch of a daelkyr can sicken or warp organic creatures, and its mere presence can cause temporary madness. Peering into the mind of a Daelkyr can cause permanent insanity. This speaks to the fundamental difference between the Daelkyr and all those other forces: we don’t understand them. The others make sense to us. The Dreaming Dark wants to control the world because that’s the only way they can secure the survival of their culture. The Lords of Dust want to free their masters and restore their primal dominion over the world. The Daelkyr… we just don’t know. At the end of the day we don’t know what they want or how they intend to achieve it. We know what’s keeping them at bay – the seals created by the Gatekeepers – but we don’t know why the Daelkyr haven’t already broken those seals or what would happen if they did. Unlike the Overlords, the Daelkyr are free to move about in Khyber. They have armies of aberrations and cults scattered across the world. Why haven’t they taken more active measures to secure their release? Are the mightiest Daelkyr working together, or are they working at cross purposes? Why is it that their cults often follow completely different creeds and are quite often entirely unaware of one another? Again, at the end of the day, we don’t know. We know they are down in Khyber. We know the power they possess. But we don’t know what they want or what they are doing.

A common theory is that the Daelkyr aren’t actually soldiers or conquerors: they are scientists and artists. They don’t actually have any interest in ruling the world or in destroying it; they are simply interested in changing it. They took the goblins of Dhakaan and created dolgaunts, dolgrims, and dolgarrs from them and then sent those creatures back against the empire. It could be that this conflict was all they wanted… they didn’t actually CARE about who won, they simply wanted to watch the goblins fight these twisted mockeries of their own kind and see what impact that had. And in the end, it wasn’t the military force of the Daelkyr that destroyed the empire; it was the seeds of madness, the rivalries created, the erosion of faith in tradition, the cults, and all the myriad other long-term effects that brought down Dhakaan. The Daelkyr wounded the empire with brute force, but it was the infection over time that killed it… which may have been their goal all along.

Meanwhile, they DIDN’T make any sort of dolgaunt equivalent from orcs; instead they just spawned a host of cults that linger to this day. Yet many of those cults don’t directly revere or serve the Daelkyr themselves. Again, it seems like change was more their goal than destruction.

Part of the point here is that the release of a Daelkyr is not likely to be anywhere near as apocalyptic as the release of an Overlord. It’s something that would have dramatic effects on a region – but it could conceivably go unnoticed by the world at large for years. Heck, there could be a free Daelkyr at large right now.

Let’s look at a few questions.

Was the daelkyr’s humanoid appearance always part of the concept?

The Daelkyr are often depicted as attractive, androgynous humanoids clad in organic armor. Some wonder “why do they look human, when they originally fought goblins?” In my opinion, this appearance doesn’t remotely reflect the true nature of the Daelkyr; it is simply something the human brain puts together to make some sort of sense of what it’s facing. As such, a goblin might see some sort of handsome goblinoid wearing the skins of its enemies, and a warforged might see an imposing construct clad in the rusting remnants of other warforged. I’m inspired by this image of Galactus from back in the day…

Bear in mind that a Daelkyr can cause confusion at will – which is to say, it can break your mind just by thinking about you. Given that, the idea that different people may see Daelkyr differently is a fairly minor thing.

With that said, I also believe that different named Daelkyr will have unique appearances. We’ve shown Kyrzin (Prince of Slime) as a vaguely humanoid slime with human limbs embedded in it. I’d expect Belashyrra (Lord of Eyes) to be associated with eyes. With that said, I WOULD be more inclined to make Belashyrra some sort of humanoid as opposed to, say, a giant beholder. Daelkyr do carry symbionts designed to be used by humanoids. They may not look HUMAN, but I think they manifest in a humanoid shape.

How high is the Daelkyr threat level compared to the overlords?

As described above, I don’t consider the Daelkyr to be as IMMEDIATE an apocalyptic threat as the Overlords. The release of the Daelkyr won’t mean instant devastation; the main thing is that once those seals are broken, you may never be able to fix them again. The conflict between the Dhakaani and the Daelkyr lasted for centuries, and I wouldn’t expect things to be different now. A released Daelkyr wouldn’t destroy the world… but it WOULD start changing the region around it, and might eventually fling an army of aberrations at the country next door, spread plagues or waves of madness, or otherwise do things that could harm tens of thousands of people or break the existing balance of power.

(The Daelkyr) are a little difficult to use in a campaign as the main villains because they are not as strong, manipulative, or great in number as the overlords…

I’ll touch on influence in a moment, but speaking to “strength”, there’s a few things. First, bear in mind that a Daelkyr should never be found alone. They create monsters, madness, and bizarre diseases as a hobby, and have had eight thousand years to indulge in this. Belashyrra has a battalion of beholders, not to mention dolgaunts, mind flayers, and anything else you care to create. And if you want to say that Belashyrra has bred an army of 100,000 beholders and has it sitting under Sharn right now… than he does.

Second: Don’t be limited by the stats that are presented. First of all, Daelkyr are like demon princes. All of the major ones – Belashyrra, Kyrzin, Dyrrn the Corruptor, Orlassk – should be unique individuals with their own powers. Second, more than any other creature in D&D, Daelkyr should break the rules. The fundamental rule of the Daelkyr is that we don’t understand them. As powerful as the Overlords are, they are part of Eberron. They are embodiments of concepts that shape our world. The Daelkyr are something else entirely. They don’t belong here. Having magic or other fundamental rules warp around them is entirely in keeping with them as a concept.

Aside from the fact that direct magical effects may not work as you expect, feel free to assign powers to Daelkyr that simply have no grounding in standard mechanics. For example, it’s said that Belashyrra can see through anyone’s eyes. Maybe that’s exaggerated; maybe it’s the literal truth. Maybe he can blind anyone he wants – anywhere, anytime – or swap your sight with someone else, so suddenly you’re seeing the world through the eyes of an orc shaman in the Shadow Marches. Meanwhile, the Marchers say that Kyrzin has influence over anyone who’s suffering from excessive mucus. Maybe a faerie tale… maybe not. Again, the key with the Daelkyr is that we DON’T KNOW. This is enhanced by their alien attitude and uncertain goals. If the Dreaming Dark could see through everyone’s eyes, they would use it to further their known agenda. Belashyrra COULD do lots of useful things with this gift, and simply chooses not to. Why?

How much day-to-day influence do the Daelkyr actually have, and why? As opposed to mere personal might?

This ties to the question above: We don’t know, because we don’t know what they want, and we don’t know what they are capable of. It’s possible that anyone who’s got a cold is an unwitting agent of Kyrzin, and that anyone who’s got eyes is an unwitting spy for Belashyrra. Beyond this, ANYONE WHO’S CRAZY MAY BE CRAZY BECAUSE OF THEM. And “crazy” is a very broad term, as I’ll discuss when we get to the cults.

Furthermore, the Daelkyr can always create new things we’ve never seen before. Someone asked if the Daelkyr could actually be responsible for Dragonmarks. Why not? The Daelkyr specialize in creating and modifying lifeforms. They get to break the rules. They could have created the dragonmarks as a weird living way of embodying the Prophecy that the dragons and fiends still can’t really understand… and the aberrant dragonmarks are a weird variant of that experiment. This could relate to the Cult project in my City of Towers novel… and could mean that they could create new dragonmarks, move them onto new races, etc.

So the short form is “How much influence do they have? Well, how much influence do you WANT them to have?” The key here is that a campaign in which the Daelkyr are the villains should feel entirely different from one dealing with the Dreaming Dark or the Lords of Dust. it doesn’t HAVE to revolve around the release of a Daelkyr; it could revolve around the emergence of a new sort of dragonmark, an attack by an army of previously unknown aberrations, the killing spree of a single bizarre serial killer, the spread of a horrible plague… or all of these things stitched together in a strange and unexpected tapestry.

I find that horror is difficult to pull off without visual aid.

This needs to be the subject of its own blog post, but the trick here is that the gooey symbionts are really the least frightening thing about the Daelkyr. What’s far more frightening is the fact that you don’t know what they are, what they want, or what they can do to you. Say you are looking in the mirror one morning, and just for a moment you see Belashyrra looking back at you. What does it mean? Perhaps a small eye-shaped dragonmark-like tattoo then appears on your hand. What does it mean? Perhaps you start having telepathic intuitions about the motives of people around you. They save you from an ambush, but… what does it mean? Then you hear about another fellow who had the same mark, and who ended up killing his friends and family and disappearing… and no one knows why. The fear here isn’t VISUAL at all; it’s the fact that you are touched by something you don’t understand, you don’t know why, you don’t know what to do about it, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Similarly, when dealing with the powers of the Daelkyr, think about what they actually are and what can make them horrifying. A Daelkyr can use confusion at will. But what does it mean to be “confused”? Does it take you back to the most horrible time in your life when you were surrounded by enemies? Does it make you watch helplessly while your body blunders around on its own? When it uses Feeblemind, it is stripping away your ability to speak, to understand language, to do anything you once could do… the idea of that, of being conscious but unable to communicate, unable to remember how to use a sword or cast a spell… that’s more horrifying to me than any gooey monster. The horror of the Daelkyr is the things you CAN’T fight with a sword… and the fear of what might be coming next.

Why don’t the Daelkyr team up and free themselves, like, right now?

I’ve answered this above, but I’ll reiterate it here… THIS IS A QUESTION DAELKYR SCHOLARS HAVE BEEN ASKING FOR CENTURIES. It may be because they don’t care about being imprisoned. Perhaps it’s because they are immortal and know that the seals will all break in 999 YK when Xoriat finally becomes coterminous again, and they don’t mind waiting. Perhaps it’s because they can do everything they want to do WHILE being imprisoned. Or perhaps it’s because they are engaged in a series of feuds so esoteric and strange that we don’t even know they are going on!

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

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

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

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

Are there Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr?

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

The question about the Undying Court’s reaction (or absence thereof) to the Daelkyr invasion of the Dhakaani Empire reminds me of one that’s been bugging me for some time. Did the Daelkyr only target Khorvaire for their invasion – and within Khorvaire, only the south-west in and around the Shadow Marches and some of the border areas? I’ve read that the chokers may have been formed from halflings, so strikes into the Talenta Plains may have happened – but what of Xen’drik, Argonessen, or Sarlona – who, in the absence of Gatekeepers, would have been defenseless?

As far as has been mentioned in canon, the Xoriat incursion was limited to Khorvaire; notably, there’s no mention of it having targeted Sarlona at all, and even the problems of the Umbragen came after the Daelkyr were trapped in Khyber. They struck across Khorvaire; in addition to the Talenta Plains example, they also wiped out the Dwarven civilization that once existed below the Ironroot Mountains. Looking to the question of why they’d do this when there were other, easier targets… the Shadow Marches has an unusually large number of manifest zones to Xoriat, and this is part of what made the incursion possible in the first place. Bear in mind that there were no Gatekeepers in Khrovaire when the Daelkyr attacked; they were formed in response to the incursion, and if the Daelkyr had attacked Sarlona Vvaraak would have gone there. But most of all, bear in mind that the Daelkyr weren’t looking for a defenseless place. They weren’t trying to claim territory; they were (as best as we can tell) interested in transforming the world. Today, Dhakaan has fallen, and we have dolgaunts and dolgrims, derro beneath the mountains, cults of the Dragon Below, chokers in the shadows… it’s not clear that they are unsatisfied with the outcome. As noted in the other Dragonmark, they don’t seem to be working very hard to break the seals. Having dropped seeds of madness into Eberron, they may simply be watching as those seeds spread, waiting until the time is right for the next phase.

 

Now let’s move from the Daelkyr to the Cults of the Dragon Below. A few people asked variations of the same question…

“Why would anyone find the Cults attractive, given their obviously ‘wrong’ nature?”

Because if you’re in the cult, it doesn’t seem “wrong.” Imagine that you wake up one morning with the sudden realization that you are the reincarnated soul of King Arthur, and that you have to save the world from the new Modred. You have the ability to see the auras of the other Knights of the Round Table, and so you start gathering them together – and they in turn see you as their king. You even find Merlin dwelling in the sewers, and he whispers to you of your missions. This is a perfect model for a Cult of the Dragon Below. The cultists don’t see that “Merlin” is a mind flayer, or that “Excalibur” is a bizarre sword formed from muscle and bone; they see it as the most perfect sword ever formed. Because they are insane. It may be a extremely subtle madness, and “King Arthur” may be a brilliant and charismatic leader. But he’s still convinced that he IS King Arthur, when in fact he’s just some random soldier holding a gooey sword and talking with a mind flayer. To you as an outsider it seems “wrong.” For him, it is his destiny and a quest that will determine the fate of the world.

This is why Cults rarely work together. They are driven by delusions and don’t necessarily share any sort of common creed. One cult embraces the aberration and sees symbionts as a way to improve on weak flesh; another doesn’t even see symbionts AS symbionts, instead seeing them as amazing glittering treasures.

The Cults seem to be an avenue for the desperate and insane, why would a rational person of means who join the Cults?

See above. “King Arthur” could be one of the greatest generals of the Five Nations, in charge of thousands of troops. He could also be an amazing strategist and extremely rational person… except for the part where he thinks he’s King Arthur. Just because you’re insane doesn’t mean you’re desperate, and “insane” can mean MANY different things. Poor and desperate people might turn to a cult willingly because they see it as a source of power or a means of survival. But madness can strike anyone, anywhere. And that’s not even getting into the fact that Kyrzin could technically spread a cult by using the common cold.

Why do people join the Cults? It seems like their core tenet is that everyone’s going to die, but the faithful die faster.

Game mechanics sort of imply all cults are some what uniform. How much variation is there? Can they hate each other?

Blood of Vol seems like a morally-ambiguous church (at least in terms of followers) -Why was Dragon Below not written similar?

I want to address these together. I’ve already talked about the fact that a Cult can appear anywhere, anytime, and that their creeds can vary dramatically. However, we also have the established, long-term cults that you find in places like the Shadow Marches. There’s a few sources on these:

Touched By Madness” is an article in Dragon Magazine (back when it was a magazine) that discusses a variety of cults.

The Gibbering Cults are described in this article on the Daelkyr Kyrzin. Gibbering Cults cultivate gibbering beasts, and when a member of the cult grows sick or elderly, they feed them to the family beast. They believe that the soul lives on in the beast, and that they can hear its wisdom when they listen to the beast. Beyond this, they aren’t innately evil. They aren’t going to feed YOU to the family beast, because you don’t deserve it. Some gibbering families may be crazed killers; others might seem just like you and me – provided you stay out of the basement. Really, it’s not that different from the Undying Court.

The Inner Sun cults are mentioned in this Eye on Eberron article. Here’s a quote:

Collectively, the Cults of the Dragon Below are anything but monolithic. Creeds vary wildly from one group to another, and cults spring up spontaneously; sometimes a madman has a vision that infects the minds of those around him. A few common threads of thought, however, appear in similar forms across cult lines. One shared precept is that the world is an imperfect place. Khyber sought to perfect it—to eliminate pain, suffering, death and all other woes—but the other dragons turned on her, and when Eberron couldn’t defeat Khyber, she trapped her.

The second element of this credo concerns the realm of the Inner Sun. It is the belief that a paradise exists within Khyber, a place where people can escape the suffering of everyday life. Most of the cults that subscribe to this belief consider the Vale of the Inner Sun to be a place that can be reached only after death, often coupled with the requirement that one must earn passage to the vale by spilling the blood of worthy enemies. This perceived duty has been the motivation behind the acts of many murderers and vicious Marcher clans.

Many of these hereditary cults aren’t LOOKING for new members. You join one by being born into it, and it makes sense to you because that’s how life has always been. But you could certainly play a half-orc barbarian raised in an Inner Sun cult who’s joined the party looking to kill enough worthy foes to earn his way to the Vale… and he could end up being a great and noble hero, despite this belief.

How do cults operate in Sharn, and what arm of law enforcement rides herd on them?

The point of the Cults is that it’s hard to monitor them because a new one can pop up anywhere and the lack of a common creed makes it difficult to identify. So the Blackened Book is investigating the weird summonings going on in Ashblack, while the Citadel is looking into this whole King Arthur thing, and none of them have noticed the gibbering family living in Fallen.

How would you suggest using a Cult of the Dragon Below as allies to the PCs instead of antagonists?

Don’t make it obvious that they ARE a Cult of the Dragon Below. Again, that Gibbering family may be fine, decent, helpful people who just happen to be getting ready to feed grandma to the gibbering mouther in the basement. Or try this: there’s a cult that is convinced that they must steel their minds and souls to face a terrible threat. They believe that there are CREATURES LIVING IN OUR DREAMS and trying to control us. They are actually going around assassinating people because “Their minds have been consumed by dream-monsters”; they also have some awesome monk disciplines tied to this training. The leader of the cult is, in fact, a mind flayer, but he doesn’t eat anyone’s brains; instead, he “consumes their fears”, a process that does actually seem to strengthen will without harmful side effects; he also helps them operate without sleeping, to avoid the dream monsters, and it’s his training that helps them spot the “corrupted”. He tells the adventurers that he bears their kind no ill will and simply seeks to keep the dream-monsters from consuming the mind of the world. SO… is this all on the level? Is the mind flayer actually training people to oppose the Quori? Are they actually assassinating mind seeds? Or are they in fact just totally misled and crazy, assassinating entirely innocent people?

When did the cults start to take hold? Were there giants and elves/drow that venerated the Dragon Below or did worship of the horrors get footing only after the Xen’drik cataclysm?

Well, cults that literally worship KHYBER have existed long before the Xoriat Incursion. as for Xoriat-inspired cults, we haven’t mentioned any specifically, but there’s no reason some couldn’t have existed before the arrival of the Daelkyr; in fact, it would be logical for there to have been a cult in the Dhakaani era that laid the groundwork for the arrival of the Daelkyr in the first place.

If the Gatekeepers didn’t stop the Daelkyr invasion, how would it have changed Eberron as a game system? Would it have been akin to, say something like Dark Sun or Ravenloft?

Sure, or Gamma World. The ultimate goal of the Daelkyr is to reshape the world, and once they are done they’d likely move on to another world (as noted in the suggestion that the Gith are survivors from another world claimed by the Daelkyr). It would be a world filled with aberrations, madness, strange powers, and the like – both flora and fauna would definitely be affected.

Dolgrim, Dolgaunts, etc, are obviously the goblinoid aberrations – if I wanted to create other races’ aberrations, what is the guiding principle regarding a “corrupt” race? Dolgrims and Dolgaunts don’t seem much like goblins and hobgoblins except in size.

There is no “guiding principle”. It’s going to depend entirely on what daelkyr you’re dealing with. Kyrzin likes slimes and disease. Belashyrra has a fondness for eyes. Orlassk likes stone and petrification. Dyrrn just likes corruption in any form, mental or physical. As noted above, DRAGONMARKS could be the result of Daelkyr “corruption”. A Daelkyr may choose to create something designed to inspire fear or horror in others… or it may design something strange and bizarre that it simply finds pleasing or necessary for its goals. The Dols were created to serve as soldiers and unleashed on the Dhakaani. They were designed to horrify the Dhakaani and to be effective soldiers. Dragonmarked humans could have been engineered as a way to control the Prophecy (or they could have nothing to do with the Daelkyr – don’t get me wrong). Any form of manipulation is appropriate.

What part, if any, do the Lords Of Dust play in the formation of the cults?

What part do you want them to play? If it furthers the goals of their Overlord, a Lord of Dust might well set a cult in motion. The Daelkyr are weaker than the Overlords, and certain Overlords (such as the Voice in the Darkness) don’t see the Daelkyr’s actions as any sort of threat to their goals. Beyond this, of course, there are some “Cults of the Dragon Below” that are entirely dedicated to the Overlords as opposed to being influenced by the Daelkyr.

Why did Vvaraak teach the orcs to fight the daelkyr? Wasn’t Darguun militarily the more capable power? Will of the Prophecy?

It could have been driven by the Prophecy. it could be that the Daelkyr already had too much influence over the Dhakaani for Vvaraak to reach them. I’m inclined to say that the Dhakaani were simply too entrenched in their own cultural traditions to abandon them and embrace some bizarre tree-hugging dragon’s weird religion. The Dhakaani knew exactly how to handle the situation: steel, military discipline, and the magic of the Duur’kala. If some barbarian orc wants to go pray to moss or the “great earth dragon” – frankly, that sounds like the exact sort of madness our enemy is spreading.

Since the Silver Flame opposes supernatural threats, does the Church of the SF have alliances with gatekeepers against Daelkyr?

The Gatekeepers are almost entirely unknown outside of the Shadow Marches, and given some of the CotSF’s issues with Droaam aren’t entirely trusting of the Church; overzealous followers of the Pure Flame might well see orc mystics as a problem, not a solution. With that said, the Church of the Silver Flame seeks to protect the innocent from all supernatural threats, and the Daelkyr are certainly a supernatural threat. So I think that Jaela would find common ground with Maagrim’Torrn if they ever met, and I think most true followers of the Flame would help Gatekeepers if they faced aberrations together, but Thrane and the Shadow Marches are far away.

Can an exorcist of the SF repel the Daelkyr and Xoriat beings?

An exorcist’s Flame of Censure affects “outsiders with the evil subtype”. As a result, it WILL work against a Daelkyr – an evil outsider – but won’t work against a dolgaunt. Aberrations aren’t really the province of the Flame; it’s used to dealing with fiends, undead, and the like, and the point of aberrations is that they are fundamentally more alien than even a demon; aberrations are the things we don’t understand, things that don’t follow natural law.