Dark Six: The Shadow

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

—Halas Molan, High Priest of Wroat

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

—Thalanna of Sharn

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

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

Ambition and Temptation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Keeper of Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Maker of Monsters

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

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

The Shadow in Monstrous Cultures

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

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

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

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

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

What About The Overlords?

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

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

Using The Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Shadows

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Six: Myths and The Fury

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

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

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

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

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

THE FURY

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

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

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

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

THE REVELERS

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

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

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

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

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

THE SOVEREIGN OF REVENGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Monks in Eberron

There is a simple truth in Eberron: people can channel powers that bend the laws of reality. Artificers and wizards use scientific methods to harness powers of arcane magic. Clerics and paladins rely on faith and a connection to a higher power. A psion uses the power of their mind, often enhanced by a connection to Xoriat or Dal Quor. Other creatures in the world are inherently magical. The blink dog doesn’t cast a spell; it simply steps through space, defying physics through instinct and biology. The medusa’s gaze, the harpy’s voice; creatures can be magical. The monk lives in the intersection of these things. Beginning with a foundation of strict mental and physical discipline, the monk learns how to channel a force that lets them perform impossible actions… from moving with superhuman speed to striking with fists of fire. Ki is a power the monk finds within, but it is magic all the same. The wizard shapes the energy that is all around; the monk focuses the power that is already within, combining this with martial discipline.

Other the course of thousands of years, many cultures have developed monastic traditions. It’s not a common path in Khorvaire; while the Silver Flame has multiple monastic traditions, the common templar is an armored warrior. But most people have at least heard of monks, and won’t be entirely mystified when they see one.

Here’s a few of the monastic traditions of Eberron!

THE ORDER OF THE BROKEN BLADE

Traditions: Way of the Kensei

Typical Skills: Athletics, Religion

Dol Dorn stands between the treacherous Mockery and the honorable Dol Arrah. He is the Sovereign of the simple warrior, of anyone who pits their strength and skill against another in a fair fight. Legend says that when a soldier was set upon by three ogres who sundered his sword, he called on Dol Dorn for guidance and miraculously slew his foes using only his hands, feet, and the hilt of his broken blade. He founded the order that continues to this day.

The Order of the Broken Blade is a religious order. Its devotees respect all the Sovereigns and honor them in their moments, but it is Dol Dorn who they look to for inspiration. While a Monk of the Broken Blade trains to become a weapon, they also honor the Sovereign of Strength and Steel through mastery of the longsword, and thus follow the Kensai path. The order teaches that their Sovereign speaks to them in battle, and while they learn the basics of their tradition in a monastery, it is only in true combat that they can learn directly from Dol Dorn. As such, monks of the Broken Blade wander Khorvaire in search of worthy struggles. Some followers of the Sovereigns welcome the presence of one of the Broken Blades and may ask the monk to help overcome a threat to their community. Others—especially followers of the Three Faces of War—see the Broken Blades as dangerous loners who are unwilling to work within the greater structure of an army. Dol Dorn is the Sovereign of Strength, and while the monks certainly recognize the value of speed, they are more prone to hone their Athletics than their acrobatic abilities, and they rarely rely on Stealth (that being more a tool of the Mockery).

THE SILVER FORGE

Traditions: Way of the Sun Soul

Typical Skills: Religion, Acrobatics

The Silver Flame empowers all those who would fight to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. The Silver Forge draws on the flame to transform the devotee into a weapon, striking with both fists and bolts of radiant flame. Few people can master this discipline. Devotees of the order typically serve the Church as templars and are recognized for that rank. However, those followers of the Silver Flame who know of the order (Religion check DC 14) will show respect to a student of the Forge.

The Silver Forge is a religious order and its members are charged to use their power to protect the innocent from supernatural evil and to inspire common folk towards virtuous behavior. While there is only a single Silver Forge monastery in Khorvaire, this was originally developed by the Shulassakar and could be encountered in that way. Certainly, a Shulassakar will be impressed by any human who has mastered this path.

Beyond the Silver Forge, there are some exceptional templars who follow the Kensai tradition, focusing on the use of the Longbow. There is also the Order of the Argent Fist, an elite force comprised of monks who have also been called as paladins.

SHADOW DANCERS

Traditions: Way of Shadow, Way of the Drunken Master

Typical Skills: Acrobatics, Stealth

House Phiarlan and House Thuranni walk a line between the role of entertainer and covert operative. There is an ancient path among the Phiarlans that brings both of these together, combining physical grace and performance with deadly martial discipline. When the Mark of Shadows evolved, it was incorporated into this tradition; adherents draw more deeply on their marks than their kin, learning to leap between shadows. When playing such a Shadow Dancer, you might work shadow and illusion into descriptions of your mundane techniques. When you deflect missiles, it may be because your enemy is striking at an illusion as opposed to you deflecting the missile with your hand. Your increased unarmed damage could reflect your crafting talons of shadow as opposed to stronger physical blows. Such things don’t change the way that these abilities FUNCTION, but it adds flavor to your descriptions.

Not all heirs of the house possess the Mark of Shadow, and some who do choose not to use it in this way. There is a separate tradition that focuses on disarming foes with performance, a path reflected by the Way of the Drunken Master. This is in many ways a deadly perfection of the art of the clown, a rolling dance that amuses and entertains while allowing a master to outmanuever baffled enemies.

Both of these are traditions as opposed to orders. They are ancient techniques a modern elf might master, but the tradition is all that binds monks of this path together. Some monks may join the Serpentine Table or serve Thuranni as assassins; others simply find their own way in the world.

THE FLAYED HAND

Traditions: Way of Shadow

Typical Skills: Insight, Stealth

The Mockery is the lord of pain and vengeance, the deceiver who destroys. His monks embrace suffering; through ritual torture, they overcome weakness of body and mind. As part of this training, a monk flays strips of her skin, treating the muscle below with an alchemical substance that toughens it. Once an initiate has learned to endure pain, she is taught to inflict it. The monks of the Flayed Hand are master torturers and deadly warriors. A monk of the Mockery seeks communion with her god through violence and treachery. Many members of the order sell their services as mercenaries and assassins. Others cause pain in more subtle ways by destroying hopes and dreams instead of spilling blood.

Monks of the Flayed Hand are most likely to be found as antagonists. However, there is a critical factor here: the Mockery advocates treachery and terror, but nothing says that these tools can’t be deployed for a good cause. A Flayed Hand monk could be a mysterious figure—never seen without her mask and long gloves—who inflicts pain and terror only on vile and evil people. There’s a touch of Dexter or the general idea of “fighting fire with fire.”

OTHER PATHS

There are many other paths a monk can follow in Eberron, and unfortunately I don’t have time to go into such depth for all of them. But here’s a quick overview of some of these traditions.

  • The Path of Shadows is a Kalashtar technique, a martial discipline that helps focus the mind. Despite the name, it is primarily a physical tradition and lends itself first and foremost to the Way of the Open Hand, though practitioners often train in Stealth and Acrobatics.
  • The Quori Nightmare is another Kalashtar technique, which draws on the quori spirit tied to the Kalashtar to strike at an opponent’s mind. If the DM is willing to adjust classes, you can reflect this by adding Intimidate to the list of monk proficiencies and changing the abilities of the Way of the Sun Soul to inflict psychic damage instead of fire or radiant damage. The special attacks of the Quori Nightmare take the form of a ghostly manifestation of the Quori, striking a foe with tendrils of terror.
  • The Shaarat’Khesh goblins are a Dhakaani order of assassins whose techniques transform a goblin into a deadly weapon. The Shaarat’khesh are ascetics devoted to their traditions and their vows. Most follow the Way of the Open Hand, focusing on the physical arts; however, some may have mastered the more mystical technique of the Way of Shadows. Stealth and Acrobatics are also common among this path, as the goblin favors speed over strength.
  • Claws of Eberron. While primarily a shifter technique, this is a path that can be followed by other races; it is known among the shifter communities of the Eldeen Reaches and sometimes used by the Ashbound. A Claw of Eberron draws on primal strength and instinct. When wielded by a shifter, the increasing unarmed damage reflects a minor physical transformation in battle. A monk of another race could still beneift from such a transformation, growing claws or fangs in a shifter-like fashion… or they could just strike with a feral boost to strength or instinctually find vulnerable points. This is most typically reflected by the Way of the Open Hand, and both Acrobatics and Athletics are common skills.
  • The Tairnadal. The Tairnadal elves devote themselves to martial excellence, working to become avatars of their legendary ancestors. Tairnadal techniques often focus on speed, skill, and precision over force, and there are ancestors who have inspired monastic paths. The Way of the Open Hand and the Path of the Kensei are the most common paths, but Shadow, Four Elements, or even Drunken Master could be justified with a logical story about the ancestor in question.

There are many more possibilities. Aereni monks drawing on the power and techniques of Deathless ancestors. Monks devoted to the Blood of Vol, who draw their Ki from their divinity within. Changeling mourners, who adopt the form of their victims for a day, giving the fallen’s spirit time to peacefully transition. Warforged monks who physically transform their body into weaponry. Beyond this, some of the Dark Lanterns learn the based skills of the monk—rarely harnessing the potential of Ki, but learning the skills that provide a deadly unarmed strike.

That’s all I have time for now, but share your thoughts and questions below! My thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going.

Q&A

What would you say defines the monk mechanically and what sort monks that aren’t MONKS might you pitch with that mechanical chassis?

Physical abilities—Armor class, unarmed strike damage, speed—that build over time; abilities restricted by use of armor. Different traditions can push the class in different directions; a Kensei uses weapons, a Sun Soul has a ranged attack. Over time, you gain immunity to disease, poison, and age.

The focus on unarmed combat is a pretty specific thing, and it would be weird to ignore it. But that doesn’t have to reflect being part of a martial or monastic tradition. I mentioned a few ideas above, and just didn’t call out that they didn’t have to be tied to monastic traditions. Expanding on these….

  • A warforged whose enhanced abilities reflect physical evolution. Increasing unarmed strike damage would be reflected by evolving weaponry. Ki would reflect internal reserves of energy allowing the warforged to push beyond its limits or to activate embedded enchantments (for Element, Sun Soul, Shadow monks).
  • A follower of the Blood of Vol who’s drawing on their own Divinity Within—reflected by their Ki—to boost their physical abilities. This isn’t about monastic tradition; it’s enhanced speed and reflexes combined with skill at unarmed combat.
  • A Vadalis experiment: a magebred human whose class abilities reflect the ongoing manifestation of their physical evolution. If you’re using the lore from 4E, this character could be part of the program that developed the Mournland Magebred.
  • A creation of the Daelkyr or Mordain the Fleshweaver. Your evolving physical abilities could reflect physical mutation. Your Unarmored Defense could be armored skin, and your increased damage some form of symbiont-like grafted weapon.
  • A gladiator who focuses on martial arts, but isn’t part of a monastic tradition.

Essentially you have someone who can kill with their bare hands and possesses exceptional speed and a limited ability to boost their physical abilities or generate supernatural effects. You simply need something that explains those concepts, but as noted with the magebred human, this doesn’t have to be something that someone else could replicate.

Would Sora Maenya be aware of any ancient or primal paths that might be passed on to her war trolls?

In the past I’ve suggested that Sora Maenya might be the master of the Tiger Claw discipline from the Book of Nine Swords. She could thus be a master of a monastic discipline, but I would likely make it AN ENTIRELY UNIQUE TRADITION — not simply saying she’s an Open Hand monk, but designing a new tradition that someone can ONLY LEARN FROM HER. This could also be reflected by a feat that a monk could only get from training with her.

With that said, I personally WOULDN’T have her war trolls know these techniques. The war trolls are exceptionally disciplined for trolls, but to me the point of Sora Maenya knowing a secret technique is that IT’S SECRET AND AWESOME and that most people just don’t have the talent to master it; if you convince her to train you, you might be the first person in centuries to learn this technique. War trolls are heavily armored and talented for trolls, but I don’t think I’d make them THAT special.

I was wondering if you could touch on the Order of the Radiant Flame, the Brotherhood of the Mystic Fist, and the Long Arm school (and why the Long Arms were persecuted). Or is Long Arm one of the Phiarlan/Thuranni traditions mentioned above?

To be clear: many authors have worked on Eberron and added their own sects and ideas. None of these are things I created, so I can’t tell you what the creator intended. I’m actually embarrassed to say that I DIDN’T think to check the Player’s Guide to Eberron before I wrote this; as I usually say, what I write in these articles is what *I* do, not necessarily canon. I can add a few thoughts:

  • Order of the Radiant Flame. Faiths of Eberron states that the OotRF is a contemplative order that seeks spiritual union with the flame. In mentions that they “ponder the mysteries of the cosmos from their monasteries and shrines” but I don’t feel that this necessarily means they are PC-classed monks; I see “monastaries” in this case as simply being the abode of a community of cloistered faithful. So I would personally say that the Order of the Radiant Flame could involve characters of ANY class — including “classless” NPCs trained in Religion and Arcana, who are contemplating mysteries. I could IMAGINE a PC-class-monk of this order, but I could also see a cleric tied to this order.
  • Brotherhood of the Mystic Fist. The idea of this school is that it focuses on multiclassed sorcerer-monks. It’s mentioned in the PGtE, but they give no indication of its history or location. The idea of a school that seeks to develop “physical skill and arcane potential” suggests Aundair to me, but Aundair leans more towards wizardry than sorcery. So if I were to use this, I might go WAY exotic and say that it’s an old Sarlona technique from pre-Sundering kingdoms, and give them a lone monastery in the Lhazaar Principalities. They’ve preserved their tradition ever since the Sundering; they could be waiting to take vengeance on the Inspired, or for some chosen student to arrive.
  • The Long Arms. Again, this isn’t mine, so I don’t know the original intent. It’s said that they have close ties to Phiarlan, which to me says that it’s either a direct Phiarlan tradition, or that they were licensed performers, which allows this to be a human (or other race) tradition developed more recently. As for why they were persecuted, to me this reads more like a local issue —bandits or a vendetta with a local lord (perhaps a local tyrant being mocked by the troupe) than some sort of massive large-scale persecution. But you can certainly add more depth and scope if you’d like!

In the ECS is there’s is the image of a monk follower of the Mockery… That looks a bit strange thinking that monks have to be lawful. Any thought on that?

We’ve never been too fixated on alignment in Eberron. The order in question is The Flayed Handand I’ve added an entry for them in the main article. But looking to alignment in this case: as I discussed when talking about good and evil, personal alignment is primarily about the manner in which you conduct your affairs, not the end goal. A lawful person can pursue an unlawful act; but they will do so in a disciplined, organized way. Lawful doesn’t mean “obeys the laws” — laws are a cultural construct and one nation’s laws may be abhorrent to someone from another culture. It means that they value structure, tradition, order, discipline, strategy — while a chaotic person is more driven to innovation, personal expression, acting without thinking of the consequences.

In 3.5 monks are lawful because their lives and traditions are extremely structured. They are entirely about mastering an ancient tradition and following an established path. In 5E I’d be happy to abandon this and present a monastic order connected to the Fury that is driven by ecstatic motion and spontaneous action. But I don’t mind the limit on the 3.5 monk. In the case of the Flayed Hand, again, the monks revere a god who encourages treacherous behavior on the battlefield… but that doesn’t mean chaotic behavior. That betrayal will be carefully planned and calculated.. and again, this is tied to tradition and extreme discipline.

What about pacifist monks? I like Mohists and I want to explore moral dilemmas (they are inherent when you teach pacifism during the time of war), counter-siege techniques and the like. Where would you put the Way of Tranquility in Eberron? 

First of all, I do just want to note that when people in Eberron use the term “monk”, they are generally referring to cloistered ascetics associated with a religious or philosophical tradition—but that very few of these individuals actually have levels in the monk class. It’s the same way that the vast majority of priests in Eberron are not clerics. There are surely monasteries tied to every religion in Eberron and every deity in the host. Aureon has monasteries where monks transcribe ancient tomes of law and contemplate mysteries of arcane law. But these monks AREN’T martial artists who can kill people with their bare hands. So my first point is that there are SURELY pacifist monks in Eberron… but most of those pacifist monks, being pacifists, aren’t actually trained in deadly arts of unarmed combat.

With that said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the idea that some ARE. Eberron has been through a century of war, and I think it’s highly plausible to have an order that uses the traditions of the Way of Tranquility to try to intervene and bring an end to conflict when they can. Boldrei is an option for this, as suggested online. But I’d personally call them Syraniansan order that has long contemplated the mysteries of Syrania, which as I note in this article is fundamentally the Plane of Peace. Rather than acting on behalf of a deity, they draw on the power of Syrania (reflected by their supernatural abilities) to enhance their efforts at mediation and conflict resolution.

 My players are about to pass Angwar Keep, which Five Nations (I know you didn’t write it) suggests is inhabited by warforged monks who defected from Cyre, and now serve the Church of the Silver Flame. Any thoughts on what a big group of war-veteran warforged monks would do close to the border of the Mournland?

They’re defending Thrane from threats that emerge from the Mournland, for starters. I’d imagine that they patrol the border of the mists, as well as occupying the fort.

Beyond that, they are contemplating the Flame and their connection. Do they have souls as mortals do? If not, does serving as a vessel of the Flame essentially fill them with a soul? Could they become vessels for couatl spirits or other spirits that have joined with the Flame? Plus, given the whole “no sleep” thing you’ve got 24 hour chants, etc.

How would you deal with a small town in Q’barra where a monk of the Mockery is the spiritual leader of the community? 

This is tied to my idea for a Q’barra Campaign. The point of having a character as the Faith of a town is that the majority of the people in the town share that faith and look to the spiritual leader for guidance. So this is a town founded by people who revere the Mockery. Which means they don’t have to hide their faith… but also, that the way the faith is enacted needs to take the overall good of the community into consideration. So, something like this.

Betrayal is a small mining town on the edge of Hope. It was founded by followers of the Mockery disgusted with the Last War; had one of Jarot’s children simply assassinated the others, Galifar would still stand and innocents would have been spared the losses of the war. This is a faith that has lingered in the shadows in the Five Nations, but in founded their own community in Q’barra the faithful finally had a chance to build a town openly driven by their faith. While many assume that Betrayal is a chaotic place where the strong dominate the weak, Dol Dorn is the Sovereign of Strength; the Mockery teaches how cunning and terror can overcome strength. The leaders of Betrayal have to earn the respect and fear of the community. The Sheriff of Betrayal is there to enforce order… and if anyone thinks they could do a better job, they’re welcome to assassinate the sheriff and take his place. But with that said, the sheriff DOES enforce order. The principle the town was founded on is that *assassination could have prevented the needless death of innocents* in the Last War. This isn’t a place where random violence is encouraged or accepted; if someone does get rowdy in the bar, the bartender will poison their next drink. It’s a place where people are expected to use their cunning to succeed — but to also consider the overall strength of the community. If a miner can salt a claim and trick someone else into paying a foolish price for it, so be it: that’s a legitimately victory of cunning, a lesson taught to the loser. And it can be expected that the loser will take vengeance on the person who tricked them, if they can find a way to do it; but that vengeance should only target the person who harmed them, not bring harm to innocents.

It’s understood that a wronged party will seek vengeance in Betrayal, and as long as that vengeance only targets the wrongdoer that’s accepted. So deception and trickery is accepted, and if you’re smart enough to get away with something, congratulations; if you’re not smart enough to pull it off without the other person realizing what you’ve done, now they are entitled to pursue vengeance. So haggling is a fine art in Betrayal, but no one will BLATANTLY take advantage of others… because such obvious predatory behavior invites retaliation from those who’ve been wronged, and as long as it’s legitimate vengeance, the sheriff will allow it.

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!