Dragonmarks: Fens and Marches

Last week I posted my first Imperial Dispatch article, delving more deeply into the world of Phoenix: Dawn Command. While I can’t create new material for Eberron, I want to look at what the Fens have to offer if you’re running an Eberron campaign.

The Fens are a region of deep swamp. The exist on the fringes of Ilona, one of the most civilized regions of the world; while they have cultural ties to Ilona, they are generally thought to be backwards. There are two distinct subcultures within the Fens; the Myrai seek to live in harmony with nature, while the Barochai see the natural world as something to be brought to heel and exploited. The noble families of both subcultures derived power from their House Gods, powerful spirits that took mortal avatars within their houses; many lesser families had bond beasts, animals serving as hosts for spirits. Both types of spirits were banished centuries ago when the first Phoenixes came to power, but their cultural influence remains. Meanwhile, in the present day dark powers are at work. Restless dead rise in the shadows. Corrupted bond-spirits merge with beasts and produce twisted monstrosities. And new creatures never seen before are appearing, as if the world itself is trying to make something that can survive the Dread. The greatest city of the southern Fens has been lost, and the Myrai people of the south seek shelter in the Barochai communities.

The Shadow Marches are the simplest match in Eberron. They too are a swampy region whose inhabitants are often considered backward; a region with two distinct traditions rooted in a past conflict, where cults still cling to those ancient traditions. For purposes of this conversion, I’m going to match the Myrai to tribal orcs that generally adhere to the traditions of the Gatekeepers, while the Barochai are a closer match to the blended clans – and especially to House Tharashk itself, as the Barochai are focused on industry and wringing a profit from nature. So I’ll be referring the Myrai as “the tribes” and Barochai as “the clans.”

We’ve never delved too deeply into the environment of the Marches, beyond “swamp.” As such, you could easily incorporate the most distinct physical feature of the Fens into the Shadow Marches. These are the Titans: trees which once grew up to a mile in height, but which were struck down in some ancient cataclysm. Their wood is infused with magic that prevents decay. So although the trees are long dead, but they form the physical foundation of the swamps. If you embrace this idea, the clans and House Tharashk carve their cities into the stumps and trunks of the Titans, while the tribes generally live atop them or make use of natural cracks and crevasses in the surface of a Titan. Both groups harvest lumber from the Titans, though the tribes approach this in a more industrial manner; this process is more akin to quarrying stone than the work of the traditional lumberjack. In d20 terms, the wood of a Titan would generally be considered to be Densewood, with veins which if harvested and treated properly can yield Bronzewood (both materials described on page 120 of the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting). In canon Eberron these rare woods come from the forests of Aerenal, but it’s not particularly unbalancing to give these resources to the Shadow Marches… and it justifies Gatekeepers having ancient bronzewood weapons and armor dating back to the Xoriat incursion. While you could make this one of House Tharashk’s industries, I’d be inclined to have Tharashk keep its focus on finding rarer things. Densewood-grade lumber could be an industry that the clans focused on before the rise of Tharashk, while Tharashk uses the Mark of Finding to locate the rarer veins of Bronzewood.

Aside from creating an additional industry for the Marches, this has a few effects.

  • The clans live in fortified communities, carved into the natural shelter of the Titans. Tribes or more isolated families will live atop Titan trunks or in natural “caves.”
  • The people of the region use wood for things that would be made from stone or steel in other places. If a building isn’t carved into a trunk or stump, it will be made from wooden blocks. Wooden spears are very common — used both for defense and as walking staffs — and knives and swords are typically made of Bronzewood.
  • The fallen Titans create a network of islands in the swampy morass. In heavily trafficked areas, bridges connect these islands; beyond this people generally use small boats to get from place to place.
  • The Titans add a vertical aspect to the landscape, especially as people generally live atop them or in their trunks. Bear in mind that the Titans fell thousands of years ago, and many have layers of soil and vegetation that have built up on their trunks.
  • In the Marches/Fens, the Titans have all fallen. However, in Eberron it is possible that living Titans can still be found. The most logical location for this would be the so-called Towering Wood in the Eldeen Reaches. You’d have to decide if the trees of the Towering Wood are full-sized Titans, or perhaps a similar but smaller variant. If you do have Titans, the next question is if one could be awakened. A human is essentially an ant to a Titan, which would make interaction with a Titan difficult. Even speak with plants might not bridge that vast difference of scale; if the Titan noticed the druid they could understand them, but they are still a tiny speck with a tiny voice. Given this, it could be interesting to have a single awakened Titan that’s wandering around the Reaches. Humans have no way to speak with it, but if necessarily Oalian himself might be able to communicate with it.

So to begin with, blending the Fens with the Marches adds an interesting physical element to the Marches in the form of the Titans. The city of Baroch is a fortress carved into the trunk of a Titan. You could use this concept to reimagine Zarash’ak, Tharashk’s capital city; or you could imagine Zarash’ak as a city suspended between a number of Titan stumps.

The Fens are defined by their relationship to the House Gods and bond beasts. While these things don’t exist in Eberron, some of the ideas are still relevant. The Myrai have some easy overlap with those who follow the Gatekeeper traditions… while the Cults of the Dragon Below could pick up the idea of the cults of Zaria or Taeloch. Bear in mind that there’s nothing saying that the members of a Cult of the Dragon Below couldn’t be vigilantes who are actually fighting evil people; it’s simply that they’re doing so because they believe a divine force is telling them to act. The Cults aren’t always evil; they’re just crazy. Meanwhile, you could explore the concept of bond beasts in Eberron. This could easily be a tribal tradition involving animals awakened by Gatekeeper druids; having each major tribal family have its own talking beast could add interesting culture for PCs who leave the cities and deal with the tribes.

With all that said, the Fens are shaped by their current troubles. This is tied to The Dread, the supernatural threat that is the foundation of the story of Phoenix: Dawn Command: a pervasive wave of terrors manifesting across the known world, with no clear rhyme or reason. if you wanted to explore this in the Marches, here’s some easy ways to adapt the threats of Phoenix.

  • The Bones are the corpses of dead soldiers, risen to continue the wars they fought long ago. In the Shadow Marches, these could be the corpses of the early Dragon Below cultists who fought for the Daelkyr in the Xoriat incursion. Alternately, you could have the bones of ancient Gatekeepers and Dhakaani goblins; even though they fought the Daelkyr in the past, that was long before humans, half-orcs, or other common races came to the Marches, and the Bones see all such creatures as invaders. Depending on the level of the PCs, you could use stats for Karrnathi undead for these Bones; with that said, the Bones use the tactics and techniques they used in life, and Gatekeeper Bones would employ druidic magic (perhaps twisted to add flavor).
  • The Fens are dealing with creatures warped by corrupted bond-spirits. This is an easy analogue to an increased surge in aberrations manifesting throughout the Marches, and you could decide whether these aberrations are “naturally” occurring, or if this is about mundane creatures being twisted into aberrations… which certainly was the hallmark of the Daelkyr back in the day.

The current situation in the Fens is driven by the mysterious loss of the great city of Myrn and by the idea that the Myrai are being driven north into the Barochai communities, which is causing overcrowding and tension. If you want to explore this idea, the concept would be that a surge in the appearance of undead and aberrations are driving the tribes to seek shelter in the clan communities. While Tharashk has some roots in the tribes and would likely show some sympathy for their plight, most of the clans consider the tribes to be willfully backwards and wouldn’t be happy with this surge of refugees, especially if people are worried about this rising supernatural threat. And what exactly is causing it? It is a resurgent Daelkyr, which is likely what the Gatekeepers would assume? Or could it be an Overlord rising — a twist that the aberration-focused Gatekeepers might not be prepared for? Either way, this could make an interesting saga for the PCs, especially if one of the PCs has roots in the region; cant they figure out what is behind this rising power before the Shadow Marches are consumed by darkness?

Now let’s look at a few questions…

Would the Titans be naturally occurring behemoths in the Marches, or would their growth be the result of Manifest Zones from ages past?

In Phoenix the idea is that the Titans are organic relics of the Old Kingdoms, and were brought down in the cataclysm that ended those civilizations. In Eberron, I’d mirror this with the story that the Titans were created by Eberron herself when the world was first formed and were brought down during the apocalyptic battles of the Age of Demons. Perhaps it’s literally true, or perhaps the first Titans were the product of a particularly powerful coterminous period/manifest zone interaction with Lamannia… or the work of an Overlord or similar benevolent spirit in the first age of the world. But to me, the idea of the Titans is that all that is left are their corpses. If you were to add them to the Towering Woods, I’d still consider the idea that those are smaller cousins, maybe a thousand feet in height – still huge, but leaving the idea of the Titans as something truly primordial.

Do you have any ideas beyond serpents and alligators (crocodiles?) that could be used as bond animals for a particular tribe? Or any animals added to the gleaner list for the Shadow Marches region?

Wolves, deer, raccoons, bears, beavers, muskrats, and various sorts of birds can all be found in swamps, and you can easily adapt such creatures to a fantasy environment (start with crayfish, end with a chuul) and that’s not including creatures that humanity could have brought over from Sarlona. In the Fens I’ve added the idea of the Fen-Cat, and the idea that humanity brought various sorts of dogs into the Fens with them. But there’s a fairly wide range of swamplife to choose from.

There really isn’t a physical border between Droaam and the Shadow Marches. Presumably the Daughters have their reasons for not invading, but I doubt the people of the Marches know what those reasons are. Have any arrangements been made between both nations?

There’s a number of factors here.

  • Droaam has only been a nation for a decade. The work the Daughters have done to unify the warlords and disparate elements is impressive, but they’ve still never fielded a true army and are working on maintaining discipline and order within their own borders.
  • House Tharashk is the greatest single power in the Shadow Marches. They already have close ties with Droaam, and this is important to Droaam because it’s their one channel for peaceful communication and integration with the Thronehold nations; while for Tharashk, Droaam is a source of a unique resource (monstrous mercenaries).
  • The Shadow Marches are an inhospitable environment with a very diffuse population that knows the environment better than anyone in Droaam. And it’s an environment that may be filled with hostile aberrations.

The critical point: What does Droaam have to gain from conquering the Shadow Marches? They’d get control of its resources, but in the process they’d shatter their ties with Tharashk and make an enemy of the Twelve, which would severely curtail any possibility of peaceful expansion of power into the Five Nations. As a side note, the Marcher orcs were never conquered by the Dhakaani Empire because the Marches had nothing that would make the difficulty of the conquest and occupation worth the trouble of doing it.

Are there still Daelkyr ruins in the Shadow Marches? What does Daelkyr architecture look like?

When the Daelkyr first came to Eberron, they established themselves in Khyber. No one knows exactly when they arrived, for they certainly spent a period of time capturing and altering local creatures to create their armies before unleashing those forces on Dhakaan. But from the start, they struck from the depths. One reason they were easily sealed in Khyber is that for the most part they were already there; the Gatekeepers simply bound them in the depths.

So the Daelkyr didn’t build cities on the surface; where they had strongholds above ground, they were existing structures that they captured. As far as “ruins” go, these would generally appear to be ruins from the original culture, and the differences would be things you’d only spot on closer examination (and largely relate to what unpleasant creatures or magical effects might linger in such places, as opposed to physical architecture).

As for what Daelkyr structures in Khyber look like, they are like the Daelkyr themselves: deeply alien and often inexplicable. In my opinion, they would also be extremely unique; there’s no one Daelkyr style. The halls of Dyrrn the Corruptor might have the biomechanical look of HR Giger. Belashyrra’s citadel could be a massive gibbering creature — a living fortress, every surface festooned with eyes. Orlaask’s fortress is inside a massive gargoyle that wanders the depths of Khyber. Whatever the appearance, the design should feel illogical. You might have a spiral corridor that corkscrews into a dead end, stalactite-like structures that project from the walls for no apparent reason, pools of luminescent liquid scattered around. These things may all have practical value – but if so, it shouldn’t be immediately clear to the human observer.

Almost nobody knows of the Daelkyr invasion. Is that right?

The Xoriat incursion predates human arrival on Khorvaire by thousands of years, and as noted above didn’t leave a lot of obvious physical remnants on the surface (aside from fallen Dhakaani cities). When humans arrived, most assumed that the Goblin civilization had collapsed in civil war, which was partially true; others assumed that the Dhakaani ruins were obviously too advanced to be associated with goblins, and were the work of some other advanced race. In the present day, the people of the Shadow Marches are familiar with stories of the Daelkyr and the ancient incursion, and scholars across Khorvaire are familiar with the theory, but most of the people of the Five Nations know nothing about it.

If you have questions or ideas, post them below!

 

Dragonmarks: Drow

These… they aren’t the elves you know from Khorvaire. Thousands of years ago, the elves fought the giants that ruled this land. Giant wizards captured elves and experimented on them, created their own soldiers to go places the giants could not. It’s said that they wove dark magic into the elven form, and that these are the result. The first elves call them the drow. 

Lakashtai, The Shattered Land

The conflict with Dal Quor weakened the giants of Xen’drik. In the centuries that followed, the elves rose up against the giants. In the early days of that conflict, the mages of the Sulat League created a new breed of elf. With perfect darkvision and a natural resistance to magic, the Drow were natural predators indoctrinated from birth to prey upon the rebel elves. At first the Drow were myths, spirits of the night that struck without warning and left no survivors. Even after the truth was revealed, the Drow remained a deadly threat throughout the rebellion. When Argonnessen crushed the civilizations of the giants, the Drow were caught in the destruction. Three primary cultures emerged from this time of chaos.

The bulk of the Drow are Vulkoori. Their ancestors took refuge in the deep jungles of Xen’drik and developed their own traditions. They are a primitive tribal culture; many focus their devotion on the scorpion spirit Vulkoor, while others revere a pantheon of primal spirits. Some tribes pursue an endless vendetta against the giants, taking vengeance against their ancient oppressors. Others are simply concerned with survival.

A smaller faction held to the traditions of their creators. These Sulatar held onto some of the techniques and artifacts of the Sulat giants, notably techniques involving the binding of fire elementals.

A third group fled underground, taking refuge in Khyber. There they found a source of dark power and bound their clan to it, drawing strength from this mysterious Umbra. These Umbragen are the most advanced of the Drow cultures, but they are locked in a conflict with the horrors of Khyber and they are slowly losing that war.

All of these cultures tend towards xenophobia and isolation. Explorers and the settlers of Stormreach have encountered the Vulkoori, but they know little about them. Few know the Sulatar or Umbragen exist… though an early encounter with the Sulatar may have provided the Zil with the inspiration that produced their elemental binding techniques.

Each of the Drow cultures serves a different purpose, both for players and gamemasters.

  • Vulkoori Drow can be an ally or a threat for characters exploring Xen’drik. They are resistant to the Traveller’s Curse, which makes them valuable guides for adventuring parties; however, most see the people of Khorvaire as outsiders and looters who have no place in Xen’drik. As a player character, a Vulkoori Drow is an opportunity to play an exotic primitive cast into an alien culture. Xu’sasar in The Dreaming Dark novels is a Vulkoori Drow, though from the pantheistic Qaltiar tradition.
  • The Umbragen are in many ways the closest to the Drow people are familiar with from other settings. They are an advanced subterranean culture centered around a dark power, and they are cruel and ruthless. They are driven by their bitter struggle with the Daelkyr, and this can make them a useful enemy-of-my-enemy; alternately, their quest for the power they need to defeat the Daelkyr could make them a threat to the people of the surface, as the Umbragen will sacrifice anything in pursuit of victory. An Umbragen PC could be an exile who turned on the dark traditions of their people, or a hero seeking the power to save them. Where the Vulkoori is a primitive, for the Umbragen Khorvaire is itself a primitive backwater.
  • The Sulatar aren’t as primitive as the Vulkoori, but neither are they as powerful or malevolent as the Umbragen. They can easily be found as the guardians of giant relics or ruins, and they know secrets about the past that have been forgotten by the others.

What would you like to know about the Drow of Eberron?

How would each of the citizens of the Five Nations see a Drow?

The inhabitants of Stormreach are familiar with Drow, and there are a handful of Drow and half-Drow that have been assimilated into the general population. As a result, people in Sharn and to a lesser extent other Brelish port cities will be somewhat familiar with them; even if they’ve never seen one, they’ve possibly heard stories.

Beyond that, I don’t particularly think the reaction is going to vary by nation; a Drow would be equally unusual anywhere in Khorvaire. With that said, Eberron is a world in which people deal with a wide variety of races (Elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and even goblins) casually and are aware that they could bump into a lizardfolk or a gnoll; as unusual as a Drow is, it’s hardly the strangest thing you might see on the street. What I think the most likely reaction would be is the assumption that the Drow is some sort of one-off mutation of a normal elf. Consider the origin of planetouched Tieflings I’ve discussed earlier – perhaps this is what happens to an elf conceived when Mabar is coterminous? Or perhaps they were exposed to the Mourning? Or they’re part of a Vadalis magebreeding experiment? So: a curiosity to be sure, and not immediately seen as representative of a foreign culture. But I think less threatening than a hobgoblin or dragonborn — so more intriguing than shocking. But as always, go with what best fits your story.

Why did you decide to make Eberron Drow focus on scorpion icons instead of the classic spider icons?

The basic principle is that the traditional Drow association with spiders is tied to a specific culture and to Lolth, a fiend not present by default in the cosmology of Eberron. Vulkoor provides an iconic focus for those who wish it. Beyond this, it does speak to a different culture. The spider is defined by its web, and Lolth’s Drow are subtle and treacherous; the Drow of Vulkoor are more direct predators. It also fits their tribal and often nomadic nature, as the mother scorpion carries her young on her back.

With that said: Personally, I’ve never particularly liked a solitary focus on Vulkoor. My first opportunity to deal with the Drow in depth came when I wrote my novel The Shattered Land. Here I introduced the Qaltiar as a culture who respect the Scorpion, but also revere other primal animistic spirits: the Shifting Panther (displacer beast), the Tlixin Bird, and a host of other totems… and the Sulatar, a Drow culture that has nothing to do with arachnids.  So you it’s up to you whether you run with purely scorpion-focused Vulkoori, or the broader primal Qaltiar.

Where is it in canon that you speak of the Umbragen?

The Umbragen are mentioned in almost all canon sources that deal with Drow. They’re covered in most detail in Dragon 330, which included a detailed look at their culture and racial feats. However, they’re also described on page 52 of Secrets of Xen’drik, page 124 of City of Stormreach, and page 198 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. To be clear, while I’ve said that they are the closest analogue to the Drow of other settings – being a culturally “evil” civilization that lives underground – they are a unique culture and due to their bond to the Umbra, not entirely Drow.

I’m a bit surprised, however, when you say that “for the Umbragen Khorvaire is itself a primitive backwater.” Could you please expend your thoughts about what, according to you, make the Umbragen so superior?

I may have chosen my words poorly, but it’s a difficult concept to distill. There are two things that distinctly distinguish the Umbragen from the civilization of the Five Nations. The Umbragen are less industrial than the Five Nations, to be certain. However, they are distinctly more magical. In my opinion, the typical Umbragen – regardless of whether they’re a soldier, a mystic researcher, a mushroom farmer or a smith – is likely to have at least one level of warlock or soulknife. Half of their government – the Vault of Shadows – is dedicated to mystical research for the benefit of their civilization. Combine this with the fact that they live in the shadow of the Qabalrin, an elvish civilization whose mystic advances matched those of the giants of Xen’drik. So they are used to a far greater degree of casual magic in the world, and the idea that the farmer over there is literally just a farmer – that he can’t conjure a blade of shadows or kill an enemy with a thought – makes him seem pathetic. Add to this the fact that the Umbragen have been at war with Khyber for as long as they can remember: a constant struggle with the terrors of the deep. So again, to them Khorvaire feels soft and weak. They whine about their losses in the Last War? They clearly know nothing of loss or struggle.

Again: taken as a whole, the Five Nations are more advanced as a civilization. The Umbragen have nothing on par with the systems of transit, communication or mass production that are part of daily life in the Five Nations. But the Umbragen are also from a smaller civilization and thus an Umbragen visitor wouldn’t immediately appreciate those things; and besides, if you need to communicate with someone far away, just speak to an Umbral sage who can send a message through the shadows.

With that said, something like Sharn should still be impressive to an Umbragen; the question is whether they’d acknowledge that. The Umbragen also tend to be aggressive and predatory, so a general attitude of “Your civilization is weaker than mine” is good for instilling fear in possible rivals.

How do the different elves view the Xen’Drik Drow and Umbragen and vice versa?

Both sides retain the most basic knowledge of the origins of their people — that they were bitter enemies in the ancient war. The elves of Khorvaire know the Drow as evil servants of the giants, while the Drow know the elves as the rebels whose foolish pride led to the destruction of Xen’drik. With that said, that conflict occurred more than twenty thousand years ago, before the modern civilizations of either elves or Drow existed. The Drow are all isolationists and know next to nothing about the modern elves, and the elves are only aware of the Vulkoori, who they consider to be the savage remnants of their ancient foes. So if a Drow came to Aerenal today, they’d be seen more as a curiosity than a bitter enemy.

With that said, the Tairnadal are deeply concerned with the history of their patron ancestors. Many of those ancestors were champions in the uprising against the giants — meaning that they fought the Drow. Such a Tairnadal might be quite excited to have an opportunity to fight one of these ancient foes.

It’s worth noting that the Qaltiar — a Vulkoori subculture — are Drow who themselves rebelled against the giants. They may still blame the elves for starting the apocalypse that destroyed Xen’drik, but they would be less hostile than others.

Are there any undying Drow or Umbragen? COULD there be? 
Are there any? None that we’ve established in canon. Could there be? Sure. Becoming Deathless has nothing to do with being an elf; it requires specific rituals and access to enormous amounts of positive energy, drawn both directly through Irian manifest zones and indirectly through the reverence of descendants. So it’s unlikely that there are any Deathless Drow in Xen’drik, because they don’t have the manifest zones or knowledge of the rituals (which took thousands of years of work in Aerenal to perfect). But if you wanted some renegade Drow (perhaps some of the original progenitors of the Qaltiar) to have joined the Aereni in the exodus, sure, there could be Deathless Drow.

Dragonmarks: Changelings

Long ago there was a woman named Jes, and she had a hundred children. Her rivals conspired against her, and swore to kill her hundred children. These enemies numbered in the thousands and wielded dark magic, and the Children would never prevail against them. Jes begged the Sovereigns for help, but their only answer was the wind and rain. She sought the aid of the Silver Flame, but its keepers would not hear her. In the depths of her despair, a lonely traveler took her hand. ‘I will protect your children if they follow my path. Let them wander the world. None will know them. They will have no kingdom but the road, and no enemy will find them. They may be shunned by all the world, but they will never be destroyed.’ Jes agreed, and the traveler gave her his cloak. When she draped it over her children, their old faces melted away, and they could be whoever they wanted to be. And so it is until this day. Though the Children are shunned by all, the gift of the traveler protects them still, so long as they follow his path.

The changeling tribes refuse to let their stories be bound by the written word. The Taleshapers maintain that writing down a story traps it in a single shape; like a changeling, a story should be free to choose the face that suits the moment and the audience. This makes it difficult to pin down changeling history. Morgrave’s Handon Dal believes that this apocryphal tale suggests that the changelings were born in the Sarlonan nation of Ohr Kaluun, a realm known for its bitter feuds and mystical eugenics; skulks and tieflings are also believed to have emerged from Kaluunan rituals. Dal asserts that “Jes” was likely a clan matriarch in Ohr Kaluun, who sought aid from Pyrine and Khalesh, whose religions form the foundations of the modern Sovereign Host and Silver Flame, before resorting to changeling transformation as a way for her clan to survive a forced exodus.

Whatever the truth of this tale, it is the foundation for the tribal traditions. Each of the tribes traces its roots back to a group of the Hundred, and ‘The Children’ remains a common term for the changelings as a whole. The Taleshapers say that the Children scattered so that they couldn’t be caught in one place and destroyed. Following the precepts of the tale, they say that they will never raise a kingdom, but that it is their place to be forever unknown, to survive in the face of fear and scorn. Their shapeshifting is a divine gift given to them to preserve them against their enemies, and they are entirely justified in using it to fool the single-skins and take what they need to survive.

I didn’t write the changeling chapter of Races of Eberron. I don’t object to the ideas presented in it, but I’ve always had other thoughts. Eberron content is still restricted and I can’t present a version of changelings for 5E or a truly in-depth racial guide. But I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I use changelings at my table.

In my Eberron, there are three primary changeling cultures in Khorvaire.

  • Foundlings are changelings raised by other species. This could be due to interspecies romance, or the child could be orphaned or descended from an outcast… or part of a family of foundlings. Foundlings have no knowledge of changeling cultural traditions, and rarely have contact with changelings outside their own families. Foundlings develop a wide variety of philosophies, including those described in Races of Eberron. Some foundlings hide from their true nature, adopting a single face and never changing. Some are sociopaths who prey on those around them, stealing the faces of those they kill. There’s no predicting the beliefs of a foundling, and they can be found anywhere.  
  • Stable changelings live in changeling communities that are recognized and known to the people around them. They are often comfortable wearing the skins they were born in, feeling no need to hide their changeling nature. In the Five Nations, Breland is the only nation with stable changeling communities (notable Dragoneyes in Sharn); other stable communities include Lost in Droaam (from Dungeon #193) and the Gray Tide principality in Lhazaar. Stable communities were founded by tribal changelings, so some traditions overlap; however, many have been abandoned as the members of the community don’t feel threatened.
  • Tribal changelings cling to traditions stretching back to their origins in Sarlona; they refer to themselves as ‘The Children’. Their culture is defined by the hostility and distrust of outsiders; they hide their communities and their true identities from others, revealing just enough to keep strangers from seeking more. They live in the shadows of the other races, using their wits and their gifts to survive. Most tribal changelings spend their lives in motion, traveling from place to place and never staying long enough to draw unwanted attention. They are seen as tricksters and tinkers, and this reputation is often deserved; tribal changelings don’t consider it a crime to deceive single-skins. The tribes are based in Thrane, Aundair, and Karrnath, but wandering tribals can be found across Khorvaire.

The relationship between changelings and doppelgangers is in the hands of the gamemaster. “Doppelganger” could simply be a term used to describe a changeling sociopath who uses their powers in a predatory fashion. Alternately, doppelgangers could be a parallel species possessing greater telepathic and shapeshifting abilities; they may consider themselves the true heirs of Ohr Kaluun, asserting that changeling bloodlines are the result of interbreeding with other species. Meanwhile, tribal changelings assert the opposite; doppelgangers aren’t the predecessors of the changeling race, rather they are a cursed offshoot of it.  

In the past I never had an opportunity or reason to develop changelings further. Races of Eberron is the canon resource on changelings and it didn’t come up in other projects, until I wrote the article on Lost for Dungeon. However, when 5E started up a friend of mine launched an Eberron campaign and I decided to play a changeling rogue I called Tel, though the name the party knew her by was Max. I decided that Max was a tribal changeling, and so I worked a little more on their culture.

For me, one of the pillars of tribal culture is the idea of Personas: distinct identities that serve a personal and cultural role. I wrote the following as part of my character write-up for Max.

While Max can wear any face that she wants, such a disguise has no depth. A disguise she makes up for a task is a newborn, with no voice or history of its own. These personas have their own history and personality. Each one is a real person, with friends, enemies, and goals of their own. One way to think about it is that each persona is a story … and that while Max is wearing the persona, it’s her duty to further that story. Tel is true neutral. Max is neutral good; it’s important to her to help people, and she wants to make the world a better place. Bronson is a criminal who has survived a hundred streetfights and has a reputation as a ruthless torturer. He’s going to want to see profit in a venture, and won’t hesitate to kill or cause pain. Bronson also doesn’t speak Elvish, even though Tel does; she’d have to shift to another persona to do that.

Personas are tools. They have established identities that can be useful to the changelings who use them; in this example, Bronson has connections in the Boromar Clan established before my character was born, and the persona provides Max with access to those contacts. But it’s also a way for the changeling to focus their thoughts and talents. Personas are more than just faces. Mastering a persona is like learning to think in another language. It’s about being that person. Max is soft hearted and dislikes violence; Bronson is a ruthless killer. So when she knows violence is around the corner, Max will give way to Bronson and let him handle the fight. Likewise, Max knows people and is good at friendly manipulation; she’s the persona Tel uses when she plans to rely on Deception and Insight. While Bronson specializes in Intimidation. From a mechanical perspective, Max the rogue has the rogue’s specialization in different skills. From a story perspective, that specialization reflects her personas. So the raw character has specialties in Intimidation and Insight; but if I’m going to use Intimidation, I’ll switch to Bronson, because that’s his specialty. 

Every changeling can assume any number of faces. As noted above, these are newborns with no history, no fixed behavior; you might use them once and forget about them. Each changeling creates their own personas, creating one or more people they want to be. But they can also inherit personas from other members of their tribe. This involves training, with a living master of the persona teaching the youth how to be that persona. Many personas are unique, with only one member of the tribe being allowed to use the persona at any time; this prevents someone from doing something with the persona that could spoil it for others. However, there are also personas shared by the tribe. These are generally travelers – merchants, bards, tinkers, mercenaries – people no one knows exceptionally well, so it’s easy for different changelings to play the part without getting tripped up by recent events.

Again, to be clear: Not every face a changeling assumes is a persona. A tribal changeling can impersonate a guard for a momentary advantage and then throw the face away, or wear a particular guise for a party. Personas are a deeper part of the culture.

A second concept for tribal changelings is the ideas of skin cant. This is the concept that tribes employ cosmetic details – tattoos, birthmarks, scars, patterns of freckles – that have specific meaning to other members of their tribe. A particular facial scar (which could be added to any guise) might tell other members of the tribe I need help or everything I’m saying is a lie. It’s a simple way for a changeling to share information that also allows members of a tribe of identify one another even if they are wearing unknown faces.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY CHARACTER: TEL & MAX

So, now you’ve seen my ideas for tribal changelings… here’s an example of how I put these into action. At the start of the campaign, I developed four distinct personas for Tel. Here’s my notes on each one.

  • Max (female Karrnathi human) is Tel’s first face, the first persona she created on her own. She’s a freelance inquisitive (licensed by Tharashk). This fits, as she is extremely inquisitive by nature. If she sees someone in distress, she’ll ask what’s wrong… and if she can easily help, she will. She likes to make friends and help people when she can do it without personal cost. As a result of this, she has a lot of friends in a lot of places both people she’s done favors for, and people who she owes favors to. While she is an inquisitive, Max’s specialty is people. She’s as much a con artist as she is a detective, though she tries to use these talents to help rather than hurt. She has the changeling knack for seeing beyond the surface and an exceptional talent for sincerity and disguise. Max generally refers to herself as “Max” even when she’s using temporary faces simply because the things she’s doing are Max things; Tel is about helping the tribe, and if she’s just helping her friends, it’s Max doing it. As a Karrn who grew up near the Ironroots, she speaks (and curses in) fluent Dwarvish; she understands Elvish and Goblin but doesn’t speak either well. She’s prepared to fight, but doesn’t enjoy it, especially if it comes to killing; she prefers to leave bloodletting to Bronson and Meriwether.

 

  • Bronson Droranath (male Brelish dwarf) is a freelancer with the Boromar Clan… sometimes a fixer, sometimes a legbreaker, but he’s best known as an interrogater. He has a reputation in the Clan as someone who specializes in causing pain – not the deadliest dwarf in Dura, but if you get into a fight with him, he’ll leave a scar. Bronson has endured a great deal of pain, both physical and emotional, and he enjoys sharing it with others. He believes that the world is a cesspool and feels no remorse for his actions. Technically, he believes in the Sovereigns, but he also believes that they are cruel bastards. He despises Dassk and has a few enemies among the monsters. Tel inherited Bronson from her mother, Galiandrya. He’s been active in Sharn for seventy years, with long leaves of absence; once Garrow rose to power, Gal didn’t use him often. Bronson was the primary tool Gal used to teach Tel the intricacies of shapechanging. While he’s very familiar to her, Tel doesn’t like Bronson much, and she’s actually a little afraid of him… but there are certain jobs he’s good at and many of her useful Sharn contacts will only deal with him. He speaks Common and Dwarvish.

 

  • Rael Hess D’Medani (male Brelish Khoravar) is a foundling, a dragonmarked heir who had to earn his way back into his house after his grandparents were excoriated. He was taken in by the Hesses, who have always been noted for eccentricity; Rael lives up to that reputation. He’s a brilliant inquisitive, but has little patience for working within house protocols, and he’s never bound himself to the Guild. He shows up when he wants and disappears just as quickly. He’s helped the Sharn Watch, and worked with the King’s Guard during the war; as he had a distant connection with his house, he could provide direct assistance without the house taking sides. As such, he has a few distant acquaintances in the Guard and Watch who might call on his talents. Rael knows many trivial details, and can pontificate for hours on how a particular clue relates to a story. With that said, he’s astonishingly perceptive and intuitive. Rael is an heirloom persona created by Tel’s uncle Hol, who was a brilliant inquisitive in his own right. Hol groomed Tel to assume Rael, and this is the source of her inquisitive talents; Max still sees Rael as a wise mentor. Hol was eventually murdered; Rael still hopes to solve that case. Rael was sponsored by Uther Hess d’Medani, who knows his true nature but considers Rael a friend; Uther has also been a good friend to Max. While Rael doesn’t actually have a dragonmark, he often uses his mark as a form of meditation. He speaks all the languages Tel knows.

 

  • Meriwether (female Lhazaar elf) is a Phiarlan excoriate; technically she was Thuranni, but she left the house before the Shadow Schism. Before she was cut off from the house, she was a member of the Serpentine Table and a professional killer. Max saved Meriwether when the assassin was on the run, shortly after Max had begun wandering the world. Meriwether took in the changeling girl and taught her many things, honing her natural instincts for stealth, teaching her to spot a threat, and showing her how to use a rapier and blow and the trick to striking a lethal blow. Eventually, Meriwether died (a story that will need to be told at some point), and Max chose to continue her memory. Max knows a great deal about Meriwether and can get by fairly well even when dealing with her acquaintances (and she had very few friends). However, she certainly doesn’t know EVERYTHING about Meriwether. There also exists the possibility that Meriwether herself planned for Max to carry on in her name… that there’s some long game at work, and that Max could have suppressed memories or magic tattoos that won’t reveal themselves until the time is right. In connection with this: Meriwether was a storyteller as well as an assassin. She often told Max stories of the Valeus Tairn, who preserve the spirits of their ancestors by emulating their deeds. Following Tairnadal tradition, Max has kept a silk scarf of Meriwether’s and pulls it up to cover her lower face when she’s on a “Meri mission.” Is she actually preserving Meri’s spirit? Who knows. Meri wants her to become an assassin; Rael wants her to be an inquisitive.

So Max is entirely Tel’s creation. Bronson and Rael are inherited personas. And Meriwether is a real person who played an influential role in Tel’s life, who she adopted as a persona after the real Meriwether died. At the table, I’d switch between personas as best suited the current scenario. In addition to that, each persona provided different hooks the GM could play with. Did Meriwether have plans for Tel/Max? Could an old rival of Bronson’s show up with a grudge?

In addition to all this, there was one more twist. This campaign was a follow-up to a previous Eberron campaign that had lasted for years. In that campaign, the changeling Garrow – introduced in Shadows of the Last War as an agent of the Emerald Claw – ended up overthrowing Kaius and ruling Karrnath on behalf of Erandis Vol, until finally being brought down by the player characters. This new campaign was set a decade after the original, and I wrote up the following as part of Max’s background.

Max’s true name is Teliandyri, painted in blue and gold. She is a changeling of the true lineage of the Dawn Wanderers, a tribe of the Children based in Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities. Long ago, the Dawn Wanderers integrated the faith of the Blood of Vol into their beliefs, maintaining that the lesson of the Traveler is that every changeling has the potential to become the Traveler. The first Wanderer to present this faith spoke with the voice of Garrow, and Garrow has remained in her line as a champion of both Blood and Children. This proud tradition came to an end when Max’s mother Galiandyra (Gal) assumed the role of Garrow. GarrowGal betrayed her people and her faith for the promise of power, joining Erandis Vol’s corrupt Order of the Emerald Claw and ultimately seizing power in Karrnath. GarrowGal was defeated by Queen Bellandra ir’Wynarn, and her death sparked a backlash against both Children and Seekers.

Max comes from a proud line. Her ancestors created heroes, stories, and priests. Her people have always provided leadership and inspiration for the Dawn Wanderers, and the same things are expected of her. Garrow is hers by right of blood. But Galiandyra’s actions have cast a shadow on her blood, both in the eyes of the tribe and Tel herself. She has vowed to wander until she finds a way to redeem Garrow and undo the harm her mother has done to both Seekers and Children.

She left Karrnath when she was twelve — young for a wanderer, but changelings mature more quickly than humans. She has spent the last eight years roaming the Five Nations, drawing on the faces she has inherited and making names of her own. Max is her favorite face; she’s curious and always searching for mysteries. She has friends, enemies, and contacts in many places, and has many safe havens… but nothing she’d call a home. There is always a place for her among the Dawn Wanderers, but neither she nor they will rest until she has resolved her vow.

So Max also had a fifth Persona: Garrow. But the idea was that she’d never use Garrow until she had an opportunity to redeem him. And, of course, while they were playing different characters, all the other players in the group had been in that game where Garrow was a recurring villain… and I was looking forward to bringing him back and playing out that story.

As it turned out, the campaign didn’t last as long as the one before; people moved and life interfered. But I’ve always liked Max’s story.

Let me know what you’ve done with changelings in your campaign! Meanwhile, here’s a few questions that have come up.

A rogue has a wide variety of skills that can easily be adapted to several personas, what about ideas for some of the other classes?

Personas can be tied to skills – as the example of Max, where Bronson was used for Intimidation and Rael was the expert in Perception. But personas can also be about different approaches to the same thing. A changeling fighter could have a one persona for each of the three faces of war – a monster-hunting champion sworn to spread the light of Dol Arrah, a stoic soldier who fought for Breland during the Last War, and a ruthless mercenary who will use any dirty trick to achieve victory (and who has ties to House Deneith). As a player, it’s the question of whether this situation calls for a hero, a stoic, or a pragmatist – and each of these personas further has different connections in the world that could play a role in an adventure.

Beyond this, personas can have roles within the tribe or community that go beyond skills. The same changeling fighter could have a persona that’s a martial champion of the tribe, a hero who defends them from their enemies. Like Max and Garrow, it’s not a question of when it’s useful for the PC to assume this role; it’s a question of when they are prepared to live up to it and have the skills necessary to take on that mantle. For Max, becoming Garrow was a long term goal.

The same principle could apply to any class. A changeling wizard could have different personas for different schools of magic; if he primarily memorizes illusion spells, he’ll use his sly illusionist persona, while he uses a fiery dwarf when focusing on evocation. Or he might have an elderly sage for scholarly work and lore, along with a young battle mage persona who handles combat.

Like the Valeus Tairn, do you think changelings have a certain standard of reputation a persona needs to gain before they’d pass it on or is it more abstract along the lines of this persona still has a story to tell?

There’s a few issues to consider…

  • Does this persona have a strong enough identity that it can be passed on? Can you teach someone else to be this person?
  • Does this persona have any value to the tribe? Is there a REASON to keep this persona alive? Bronson provides valuable underworld connections in Sharn and as a dwarf, we could keep him going for another century.
  • In some cases a persona is essentially an office. Garrow is a spiritual leader within the Dawn Wanderers, and for Tel to assume the role is like becoming the Dalai Lama; she wouldn’t become Garrow until she can both redeem the identity and until she believes she can live up to the duties of being Garrow.

Looking to Garrow specifically, with the Tairnadal they keep the spirit of their heroes alive; here the point is that the changeling who takes on the persona of a hero has to be prepared to actually be that hero.

Would it be safe to say that most major “political” roles in a stable settlement may have personas attached? For example, you don’t go to Grey Tide healer, you go to Vim. There might be two or three changelings who could be Vim at any given time, but the healer is Vim. 

It would vary from community to community. And unlike Tairnadal, inherited personas don’t have to be legendary figures. In one village, the healer develops a persona for his healing work – Vim, a kindly, knowledgable man who puts patients at ease. As this is a persona, he can set it aside when he goes home to his family; Vim is the healer. People react well to Vim, and his apprentices learn the persona, so that way everyone who deals with “Vim” has that same sense of confidence and comfort (even though they know they may not be dealing with the original Vim). Over time Vim becomes the job, outliving the originator.

If there’s a major plague or something, would it be odd to see all three of these in the Vim persona at the same time?

Well, the apprentices have the skills whether they’re Vim or not, so they could heal without being Vim. On the other hand, they’ll be at their best when they’re Vim, because that persona is entirely focused on being the best healer. In a stable community, I think you could see this – three Vims at once – because the persona isn’t a deception; again, it’s basically an office and a focusing tool. It would certainly be rare among tribal changelings, where it’s generally important to maintain the illusion that the personas are real people.

So when they need leadership, they find Prince Kel, when they need healing, they find Vim, though these both may be assumed by a changeling named Rhett who makes his living as a farmer. More or less correct?

Close. Rhett may have been a farmer as a child. But being Vim requires significant training, and having mastered the form it’s unlikely those skills would be wasted on farming; if Rhett doesn’t serve as Vim full time, he’s probably apprentice to the primary Vim. Skill doesn’t come with the shape; rather, the shape serves both as a mnemonic focus for the changeling and as an identifying factor to those coming for service. Max’s mother taught her to be Bronson, and that work included learning to fight and to intimidate. Hol taught her the art of detection, and Rael was the focus for those skills. Rhett would be taught to be Vim, learning the art of medicine at the same time that he learns the mannerisms and features of the old healer.

And looking again to Max, she possesses all her skills in all her forms. The idea is simply that she is most comfortable using the skills in the persona associated with them. When she’s Bronson, she thinks like Bronson, ruthless and cruel; this is the best match for close combat. But she can still use a rapier as Rael without mechanical penalty. So going back to Rhett, assuming Vim’s form doesn’t make him a healer; training makes him a healer. It’s just that his training in medicine went hand in hand with being Vim, and people know to look for Vim when they need healing – trusting that someone who’s learned to mimic his form has also learned his skills.

How do you deal with Changling characters who have met and spent time with humanoids with wings, or who can breath underwater, like Aarikocra or Tritons?

Per the Eberron Campaign Setting book, the Changeling ability mimics Disguise Self, which specifically DOES NOT provide the abilities of the assumed form; this is in contrast to Alter Self, which does allow the user to create functional wings. Per the ECS, a changeling can LOOK like a Triton or an Aarikocra, but they can’t breathe water or fly.

How do the wandering tribals wander? Do they do so as individuals or as communities? If as communities, how do they travel without being immediately spotted?

Generally, individually or in small groups. A small group would have a nondescript wagon designed so it can easily be converted to appear to fill a number of different roles; it could be a merchant wagon, a coach of tourists, an entertainer and their entourage, and so on. this would be customized based on the region, the relevant personas they have with ties to the area, and what they plan to do in the area. If they have something to sell, they’re merchants. If they’re flush with cash, they’re tourists. If they’ve got a bard, they’re entertainers. And bear in mind, the changeling entertainer could have a legitimate Phiarlan license and be ready to put on a show. Beyond this, they are generally traveling through regions they know. So they know village X is strongly religious but has no priest and always responds well to a traveling preacher, while town Y has a soft spot for soldiers.

Beyond this, you also have individual tribals who remain stationary for periods in larger communities. They serve as anchors, passing messages between groups of wanderers, helping to gather resources, and filling wanderers in on local news or important changes in the community (along with things like “Jal was publicly killed while using his Old Barmy identity, so Barmy is dead in this region.”). When the anchor gets tired of the post, they can trade places with a wanderer familiar with the anchor persona. Typically, an anchor is someone who sees a fair amount without drawing a lot of attention or having too much responsibility – beggars, barmaids, etc – but some anchors hold more significant positions. For example, a changeling with healing skills may serve as a healer in a small village. That village is a central hub for the migration patterns of wanderers of that tribe, and they all know that the village is a safe place for an injured member of the tribe to go for healing and recovery without having to worry about being exposed and drawing hostility.

However, with personae which are deliberately passed from one changeling to another (at last the question!), are magical or psionic means ever used to transfer actual memories from one to the next?

It’s possible. Part of this depends on your view of the relationship between changelings and doppelgangers. Traditional doppegangers are fully telepathic and can detect thoughts at will. You could assert that changelings and doppelgangers are different species, or you could say that they are the same species; that the telepathic talent is something that exists in the race but must be honed; and thus, that doppelgangers have mastered this particular gift but that all changelings possess it on some level. When I first created the setting, my idea was that they WERE the same species and that there would be a “monster class” (this was just after Savage Species had been released) allowing a PC changeling to hone those doppelganger abilities. The racial skill bonuses of a changeling – Insight, Intimidation, and Bluff – are based on the idea that all changelings have some innate, instinctive telepathy, even if it’s not consciously controlled. One of the things I always liked about this is the idea that changelings essentially judge people by their thoughts/body language more than by their appearance.

If you embrace this idea, you can say that there are some tribes that have harnessed this ability and use telepathy in this manner. However, even if you don’t go this far, you could also say that a changeling persona teacher does develop a strong psychic bond with their student – that while this isn’t mechanically represented by a general telepathic ability, for story purposes it is possible for them to telepathically share memories through a process of meditation (a sort of mind meld).

As a side note, back in 3E I wrote the setting-neutral Complete Guide To Doppelgangers for Goodman Games. In that, doppelganger communites do have living “memory wells” where they can essentially download memories so that other doppelgangers in their community can catch up on the latest memories for a particular persona.

When a changeling has multiple strong personae, is the root identity always in total control? Do personae ever “fight” for dominance? Or slip out suddenly? Say Max is performing normal duties, when she spots one of Bronson’s arch-enemies. Could Bronson suddenly take over? Or would that only happen in a changeling who is somehow mentally damaged?

There’s some fine lines to define here. First of all, as *I* run them, the core personality is always in control of which personas are assumed. When Tel is being Max, the only personas involved are Tel and Max, and Bronson can’t suddenly jump in and take over. If a fight breaks out, it’s a question as to whether Tel WANTS to shift to Bronson.

Now, when Tel is Bronson, she is entirely in control in the sense that Tel’s desires and long-term goals drive Bronson’s actions. He’s not going to suddenly murder her friends. But she is embracing Bronson’s feelings and instincts, and letting those guide her response to a situation. So I describe Tel as being “afraid of Bronson” because she’s more likely to be ruthless or cruel when she’s Bronson. But she’s never ENTIRELY out of control, and she can always switch out of Bronson. Part of this means that if you have three changelings who have the Vim persona, they are still shaped by their own unique motives – they aren’t the EXACT SAME PERSON when they are Vim. But Vim will be a lens that filters that core personality.

Now, you could certainly present a mentally unstable changeling whose personas have fully taken on their own lives, but that’s not the standard.

Manifest Zone: The Last War

The second episode of the Manifest Zone podcast is up! The subject is the Last War. As the podcast is a stream of consciousness discussion, I’m going to do a follow-up post after each episode… think of it as my commentary track.

The Last War is a critical part of the story of Eberron. By default, an Eberron campaign begins in the year 998 YK. YK means “Year of the Kingdom” — specifically, the Kingdom of Galifar, which brought together the disparate nations of Khorvaire almost a thousand years ago. Galifar was prosperous and generally peaceful for centuries. However, when King Jarot ir’Wynarn died in 894 YK, his heirs refused to follow the standard practice of sucession. The five provinces of Galifar — Aundair, Breland, Cyre, Karrnath and Thrane — split apart, forming what are now known as the Five Nations. A century of war followed as each heir attempted to rebuild Galifar under their rule. The war finally came to an end following the Mourning, a mystical cataclysm that completely destroyed the nation of Cyre, transforming it into the warped region known as the Mournland. No one knows the cause of the Mourning. Was it a weapon, and if so, are its creators developing a second one? Was it the result of using too much war magic, in which case continued conflict could result in further destruction? The Mourning occurred in 994 YK, and within two years the war formally ended with the Treaty of Thronehold in 998 YK. But no one WON the war, and few people are happy with its outcome. The mystery of the Mourning is holding further conflict at bay, but sooner or later that mystery will be solved… and most believe that when it is, war will be inevitable. Some rulers are actively pursuing the cause of peace, while others are already preparing for the next battle.

The Last War serves a number of important functions. First and foremost, it shatters the established order and creates an era that is filled with conflict and uncertainty. Thanks to the war, we see a number of critical developments:

  • New Nations. Darguun, Valenar, Q’barra and Droaam were all born from the conflict, as new forces seized land once claimed by Galifar. The Eldeen Reaches expanded into Aundair, while the Mror Holds and Zilargo asserted their independence. Some of these shifts were more dramatic than others; for Zilargo it’s virtually a semantic change, while Darguun and Valenar represent violent upheavals of the previous order.
  • Balance of Power. As a single market, Galifar had the power to dictate terms to the Dragonmarked Houses – something it did with the Korth Edicts, which established that dragonmarked house can’t hold land, titles, or maintain military forces (with exceptions made for House Deneith). Now the nations need the houses more than the houses need any one nation. If the houses do decide to violate the Korth Edicts, who would have the power to enforce them?
  • Innovation. The Last War drove innovation, and within the last century there have been many critical developments. First there were warforged titans, and this led to fully sentient warforged. The eternal wand is a critical advance in the science of wands, being both more accessible and reusable; the next step could be a wand that anyone can use. The airship was developed during the war, which is a critical point: air travel is still very new in Khorvaire! These are a few major examples, but in my opinion this is representative of a broader range of advances, as both houses and nations struggled gain an edge in the conflict.
  • Opportunity for Adventure. The Mournland is the world’s largest dungeon, and it’s sitting right in the middle of the continent. Cyre was the richest of the Five Nations, and all its treasures are lost in a twisted wasteland filled with monsters. If you prefer espionage, the Five Nations are all vying for power and position as they prepare for whatever happens next. This can even extend to straight pulp adventure. You’re searching for the Orb of Dol Azur in Xen’drik? Well, so’s the Order of the Emerald Claw… and if they get ahold of it, you can be sure they’ll use its power against Breland in the Next War!

Beyond this, the Last War is a source of infinite character hooks. The war ended two years ago. The typical soldier in the last war was a first level warrior (that’s an NPC class from 3.5 – a crappy version of the fighter – if you don’t know the term). As even a first level PC classed character, you are more talented than the typical soldier. So, if you’re a fighter… did you fight in the war? If so, were you a mercenary, or did you fight for one of the nations… and if so, which one? Are you still loyal to your nation, or are you disillusioned by what you’ve been through? And if you didn’t fight in the war even though you clearly had the skills to do so, why didn’t you fight?

This is something you can develop as deeply as you wish. For some people, this is a way to really add depth to a character. What happened to you during the war? What were your greatest victories, and what did you lose? Were you a war hero, or were you just a grunt in the trenches? Did you spend any time in a POW camp, and if so, what did you endure? How about your family – how did the war affect them? If your character is religious, how did the war and the Mourning affect your faith – was it a solace to you in difficult times, or has it forced you to question your faith?

This can easily form the foundation for a story that unites an entire party of adventurers. One of my go-to ways to start a campaign is to establish that the players were all part of a unit of soldiers during the last war. With that in mind, I’ll ask each character to figure out how their concept fits within that mold. You want to play a warforged fighter? Easy, you were made for the war. You’re playing a warlord? Congratulations, you’re the captain of the unit. Wizard? OK, you were the arcane support. My standard nation of choice is Cyre, because while no one won the war, Cyre definitely lost it. As a Cyran soldier, you have no homeland; you’ve lost everything; and yet, you still have a particular set of skills. Why WOULDN’T you become an adventurer? It’s essentially Mal and Zoe from Firefly. And like Firefly, what I like to do with this set up is to actually set the first adventure (or two) during the war: so we get to see your group working together as a unit, and we get to see some of the things they went through. You’ve got to hold an undersupplied post against an advancing army of Karrnathi undead. It’s a fight that can’t be won, and in the process you’ll have to make difficult decisions, and you’ll deal with a Karrnathi commander who you will surely come to hate. Once we resolve that, we’re going to talk through the next two years: how you moved from being soldiers to adventurers. But you’ve got a foundation to work with. You’re not strangers brought together by an old man at a bar. You’re comrades in arms. You’ve faced the undead together. And when that Karrnathi bastard shows up again working for the Emerald Claw, you’ve got a real reason to take him down.

In the episode of Manifest Zone, we talk about how war can leave fairly intense scars. You don’t have to dig that deeply if you don’t want to. You can establish that your fighter fought for Breland and leave it at that. You may not want to burden your character with a crisis of faith or PTSD. You could very well ask how it benefits YOU to damage your character, or to hand the GM tools to make your life difficult. For me, it’s not about given the GM “things to use against you”, because as the GM I’m not your enemy. At my table, what we are trying to do is to build a story together… and for that story to be as dramatic and compelling as possible. These sorts of scars give your character depth. They give you trauma that you can overcome, and they give you things to fight FOR beyond simply getting a better magical sword. Just looking at, for example, The Force Awakens: Finn is a former conscript who’s fled war and ultimately works up the courage to fight the people he once fought for – even though this pits him against people he once served with. Rey is an orphan who’s avoided the conflict and lived as a scavenger. And Poe is the soldier who believes in his cause. In Firefly, Mal is an officer who was deeply devoted to his cause, only to have that faith crushed in defeat; but it’s still there, underneath his mercenary cynicism. Having flaws gives your character depth. In 5E D&D, these elements can be worked into Backgrounds; at some point I may post something that explores backgrounds particularly well suited to Eberron.

So: the Last War is a source of upheaval and change that creates opportunity for adventure and adventurers. It provides a wealth of hooks for character development. It can also provide a host of possibilities for adventures. Setting aside the Mournland, you can have to deal with mystical weapons gone terribly wrong, from a rampaging titan to a secret program that sought to create magebred supersoldiers. You can have “dungeons” anywhere, because rather than having to rely on ancient ruins you can have NEW ruins created during the war. You can track down war criminals or delve into espionage. Whether you care about a country or are just looking for opportunities, the shadow of the Last War creates many possibilities.

THE SHAPE OF THE WAR

With all that said, many people want a better sense of the actual nature of the war. Was it more like World War I, with grueling trench warfare and soldiers being ground up on a relatively static front line? Was it a time of constant change, with cities being seized and lost? Was it like modern warfare, with air strikes and similar attacks inflicting damage far beyond the front lines?

The sourcebook The Forge of War provides the canon answer to these things and is your best source for in-depth information, since I don’t have time (or permission) to write a sourcebook on the Last War. With that said, I didn’t work on The Forge of War and it is the canon source I have the most issues with. It doesn’t delve as deeply into the concept of innovation as I’d like, and doesn’t explore the question of what new weapons and tools were developed in the war. It ignores many other canon sources; one of the most infamous examples is its statement that Thrane lacked any decent archery support, when archery is a devotional practice of the Church of the Silver Flame and should be one of the greatest strengths of Thrane. With that said, FoW provides a POSSIBLE overview of the course of the war.

As for my answer: The Last War was all of these things. It lasted for a century, and that wasn’t a century of constant, unending total war. It had its slow periods, with soldiers glaring at one another across the static front lines. And these were punctuated by periods of intense conflict, of shifting alliances and changing borders. And while it was largely concentrated on the fronts, there certainly were magical attacks that pushed beyond the front to cause indiscriminate damage further back. Often this would be triggered by a new magical development. When Karrnath first incorporated undead into its armies; when Cyre fielded the first warforged titans; when Aundair pioneered new long-range war magic. One issue to me is that I feel that we haven’t established the primary weapons used in the warThe magic items and spells that PCs use are geared towards squad-level combat with small groups of powerful individuals, because that’s what PCs are. But a fireball that inflicts 6d6 damage over a thirty foot radius is both overkill and too small an area to have much impact on a group of a thousand first level warriors. So what spells did war mages rely on? Do you take the principle of cloudkill to make a larger-scale gas attack… and if so, did someone invent the equivalent of a gas mask? One advantage of this approach — the idea that most spells used in the war were lower damage but larger area — means that faced with such things, PCs get to shine on the battlefield. A 6d6 fireball may be a grave threat to a third level PC. But if the magical bombardment inflicts 1d6 fire damage over a hundred foot radius, it’s still a serious threat to the common soldiers – but the PCs can miraculously survive a few blasts, which is after all how we want this movie to go.

The basic principle of Eberron is that it’s a world in which arcane magic has been used to solve the problems we’ve solved with technology. So if you look to the common tools of modern warfare — mines, tanks, artillery — I feel all of these should have their parallels in Eberron, but based on arcane principles. The warforged titan is one answer to the tank; I could imagine a variation on the apparatus of Kwalish as another. In my novels, we see a variation of mines (based on the principle of a glyph of warding) and artillery — specifically the siege staff. Following the idea that a wand is a form of mystical sidearm and that the staff is physically larger and more powerful, a siege staff is a staff made from a tree trunk — thus capable of holding even more energy and projecting it farther. Neither of these things were ever given mechanics, but it’s the sort of thing I’d like to see addressed some day.

Tied to this, in a previous post Zeno asks: It is said that Titan Warforged was created for war. That sometime devils has been released on opponents. I wonder why 1st level commoners should be thrown in a war like that. A single titan Worforged could kill a whole army.

It’s true: the typical soldier in Eberron has no chance against a warforged titan. Just as common soldiers in our world have trouble when faced with tanks, chemical weapons, or incendiary bombs. It sucks to be a typical soldier when you have to charge up a hill against an entrenched machine gun. War has never been fair, and it’s not fair here.

With that said: the typical person in Eberron is a first level commoner, but the typical soldier would be a first level warrior; a veteran might be second level. Small difference, but a difference nonetheless. Nonetheless, a second level warrior wouldn’t stand a chance against a warforged titan. Why would they be thrown into that war? Because that’s all they had to work with… and because it’s what also forms the bulk of the opposing forces. Infantry is the best tool to hold ground. Meanwhile, the warforged titan is a specialized and very expensive piece of military equipment that serves a specific role on the battlefield. Think of the warforged titan as a tank. If you’ve got a squad of soldiers armed with machetes or even standard smallarms, they simply aren’t equipped to deal with a tank. If they try, they’ll get killed. The same thing is true of a squad of warriors facing a warforged titan. In both cases, what you won’t see is the soldiers charging in and trying to hack the overpowering enemy apart with machetes. Instead, you’re going to have the following questions:

  • Do we have access to equipment that allows us to overcome this threat? Do we have an arcane specialist with a wand or staff with a spell that can defeat this? Do we have a siege staff? Can we summon a planar ally? Essentially, do we have anti-tank weaponry in our unit? You see this in City of Towers, where the unit is faced with a military airship and requires a specialist to bring it down.
  • If not, can we take advantage of the terrain? Can we lure it into swampy terrain where it will sink? Is there a minefield? Can we get it onto a bridge and collapse the bridge?

If the answer to these things is no, then they won’t engage it. They’d retreat and regroup. So IN THEORY a warforged titan could kill a whole army; in practice, the army would disengage.

On top of this, consider that military command would be tracking these things. Units with warforged titans, the capability to summon planar allies, and the like are exceptional; that’s exactly the sorts of units that would be tracked. So when that titan shows up and you have nothing to handle it, you get out of there and hope that command already has forces en route with anti-titan capabilities.

So yes: the warforged titan can slaughter a squad of typical soldiers, as can a summoned fiend or any number of other threats. Which means once the titan exists, people immediately began finding ways to deal with it — just as people in our world invented anti-tank weaponry. And this is great for House Cannith, which sells you the weapons, and then sells you the thing you need to counter the latest weapon, and then sells you the thing you need to counter the counter, and so on.

Could we get a brief overview of each of the Five Nations’ general tactics in the Last War?

Certainly. If they were a party of adventurers, Karrnath was the fighter. Aundair was the wizard. Thrane was the paladin. Breland was the rogue. And Cyre was the bard. This is a gross simplification – not addressing Breland’s industrial capacity or Cyre’s wealth – but it’s a good place to start as a mental image.

With that said, this could be the subject of a sourcebook. I’d refer you to Forge of War, but I don’t think they actually got this correct. So first of all: Galifar was a united kingdom, but its resources were spread throughout the five provinces. This is generally reflected in the culture of that province. So for example, Karrnath was the seat of Galifar’s military and the home of Rekkenmark, its premier military academy. Soldiers from across Galifar trained at Rekkenmark, and when the war began most returned to fight for their own nations. Likewise, wizards from all countries trained at the Arcane Congress in Aundair. So all sides benefitted from these resources initially. But the people of that province were the most committed to the concept embodied by those institutions; had the MOST people trained at those institutions; and held onto the institutions themselves and their resources as the war continued. So at the start of the war, every nation had spies trained by the King’s Citadel. But Breland had the most of them, and had the facilities, records, and resources of the Citadel itself. With that in mind…

Karrnath was the seat of Rekkenmark and the Royal Army. Karrnath has always had a harsh, martial culture. In general, they had the most disciplined and best-trained soldiers, and had exceptional heavy infantry and cavalry. I’ve always felt that they had decent war magic, though obviously inferior to Aundair and extremely focused (primarily evocation). Karrnath was further distinguished as the war went on by the use of undead in battle. So in Karrnath you have stoicism, discipline, and general martial excellence… with a side dish of undead.

Aundair was the seat of Arcanix and the Arcane Congress, and has always had the edge in arcane magic. It is the smallest of the Five Nations, and has always relied on magic to make up for that. So Aundair would have the best mystical artillery, both using things like siege staffs and in terms of having the most actual wizards on the battlefield. They lacked the industrial capacity of Breland or House Cannith, but were always the leaders in arcane innovation… so to make a modern analogy, they didn’t have the MOST missiles and bombs, but they had the BEST missiles and bombs, and were the most likely to surprise you with something you hadn’t seen before.

Breland was the industrial heart of Galifar, and further was the seat of the King’s Citadel… which includes the intelligence agency of Galifar. So from the start they had the greatest numbers of spies, assassins, and other covert operatives. This was further enhanced by a strong relationship with Zilargo and House Deneith. So intelligence was always a strength of Breland. Beyond that, they had numbers and resources, and what they lacked in discipline they often made up for in spirit and charisma; so your rank and file soldiers weren’t as exceptional as you’d get in Karrnath, but they’d be more likely to have truly inspiring leaders, and to break the rules of war to try something new. I still think the rogue is a good analogy: Not as good in a straight up fight, but clever and unpredictable, and very dangerous if they can catch you off guard.

Thrane was the seat of Flamekeep and the heart of the Silver Flame. This shouldn’t be underestimated. While the Silver Flame is revered across Galifar, Thrane was its heart, and Flamekeep is where paladins and clerics would received their training. And this is critical, because the Silver Flame is a martial faith. The Silver Flame is about being prepared to defend the innocent from supernatural evil. Archery is a devotional practice, and every Thrane villager trains with the bow. Beyond that, the Silver Flame maintained its own army of Templars. The Lycanthropic Purge was the biggest example of templars at war, but on a smaller scale the templars were constantly hunting down and eliminating supernatural threats. Karrnath was the seat of the army; but the Thranes had if anything more soldiers who’d actually SEEN BATTLE, even if they hadn’t been fighting other humans. This also meant they had more hands-on experience supplying and supporting their forces than most nations.

In summary, Thrane’s greatest strengths were peasant militias, exceptional archers, morale enhanced by a shared creed, an experienced and disciplined force in the Templars, and beyond that, the greatest ability to bring divine magic to the battlefield. PC class characters are exceptional, but to the degree that there were clerics and paladins on the battlefield, Thrane had the lion’s share of them… and just as Aundair was most likely to produce a dramatic new arcane technique, Thrane was most likely to suddenly summon plaanr allies or otherwise turn the tide through use of divine magic.

Which leaves Cyre. Cyre was known as the center of art and culture, and in some way it wasn’t the best at anything… but at the same time, it also had a little bit of everything. Hence the bard — jack of all trades, not tied to any one path. Cyre also had the fact that according the the laws of Galifar, they were in the right — so back to the bard, strong morale. Finally, Cyre’s greatest asset was holding the wealth of the kingdom… which in turn meant that they could field the most mercenaries and draw the greatest amount of support from the Dragonmarked Houses. And it certainly didn’t hurt that House Cannith was based in Cyre. So Aundair had the BEST arcane magic; Cyre had considerably more of what could be bought from House Cannith. Cyran forces involved a lot of mercenaries (Deneith, Valenar, Darguul) and more warforged than any other nation… and like Breland, what leaders lacked in discipline and experience, they would attempt to make up for with charisma. As we all know, the heavy use of mercenaries had some pretty disastrous consequences down the line… but there you are.

That’s all I have time for now, but I will continue to answer questions over the course of the week. Let me know how you’ve used the Last War in your campaign and what you’d like to know about it! And check out the latest episode of Manifest Zone!

FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS

I seem to recall that Aundair took Arcanix from Thrane. If so, did they possess the arcane advantage they were known for at the beginning of the war? And if so, where did it come from?

This is from The Forge of War and is one of those the elements I strongly disapprove of. With that said, here’s my answer. The Arcane Congress has always been part of Aundair. It was founded by Aundair herself if the early days of Galifar, and respect for magic and education have both been engrained into the Aundairian character in a way no Thrane can understand. Arcanix — the greatest university and the seat of the Arcane Congress – is a floating citadel. It is also a mystical stronghold; Aundair’s greatest military asset its its arcane prowess, and Arcanix is, if you will, its Death Star. And like the Death Star, it’s mobile. It’s a floating institution, and when they seized a particularly desired stretch of land from Thrane and laid claim to it in the war, they moved Arcanix to that region. So it is true, Aundair took what is now Arcanix from Thrane during the war… but it wasn’t Arcanix when they took it.

You’ve established that the Keeper of Secrets is bound at Arcanix’s location. Would you say that she is tied to the town, the mobile fortress, or both?

As a GM, I’d definitely say she’s bound to the location. From a story perspective, this helps justify new developments at Arcanix tied to the presence of Sul Khatesh. I’d probably say that Hektula is manipulating Aundair and that shifting the location of Arcanix is part of the puzzle that will eventually free the Keeper of Secrets. But it could also simply be that Minister Adar learned of the location of Sul Khatesh on his own and has a team of sages seeking to tap into her knowledge and power… and we all know that will go well.

Why did the Five Nations refuse to recognize Droaam in the Treaty of Thronehold, when they recognized Darguun and Valenar? 

On the surface, it’s easy to see all these things as being equals. Darguun and Droaam are both nations of monsters, right? Kind of. First there’s the issue of timing. Valenar rose over forty years before the end of the war; Darguun almost thirty years before the Treaty. Both fielded large armies during the course of the war. Both represented recognized civilizations. Essentially, both had proven that they weren’t going anywhere, and they had sufficient military forces that it was vital to get them to the table in the interests of establishing a general peace.

By contrast, at the time of the treaty Droaam had been around for a decade. It was an assembly of creatures whose cultures were largely unknown in the east; no one had really considered the idea that harpies or medusas we in any way civilized. And while Droaam brokered mercenaries through House Tharashk, it never fielded a true army during the war. It’s the closest thing Eberron has to a terrorist state. It’s something the people of the east didn’t believe would last and something they don’t WANT to last. They settled with Darguun and Valenar because they had to. Droaam wasn’t seen as a civilization deserving of respect or as such a significant threat that it needed to be placated. My novel The Queen of Stone explores the ongoing relationship between the Thronehold nations and some of these issues.

When suggesting your players to be war comrades, did you ever had problems in finding a place for druids and barbarians?

It’s generally an approach I’d use when I’ve got a group of players who don’t have character ideas they’re dead-set on — so it’s something where the players would build characters with the war story in mind, and I’d challenge THEM to figure out how the character fits.

Primal characters don’t have a strong role in any of the Five Nations, so it’s not an easy match. The first and most important question is whether they are driven by the mechanics of the class, or by its specific role in the setting. Do they want to be a barbarian because they want to be a savage outsider, or because they like the mechanical abilities of the barbarian class? If they want to be an outsider — a druid from one of the Eldeen Sects or a barbarian from the Demon Wastes — they need to think of what could cause a character with that background to serve with your nation. They could be a mercenary. In the case of a druid, they might not actually be part of the army; they could simply be a mysterious ally who’s chosen to help the squad. If your soldiers are Brelish, the druid could be one of the Shadows of the Forest who’s chosen to help against their enemies. In the case of the barbarian, I’ll note that among the Dhakaani, the barbarian class represents a martial art that involves a cultivated state of battle fury; they aren’t savages, they are specialized warriors. Your PC barbarian could follow this same path — having the abilities of a barbarian but not the flavor. Worst case scenario, say that the barbarian and druid don’t join the party until after the war… and if you do initial adventures set during the war, it’s a great time to have these players put on red shirts and play the warriors or experts who likely won’t make it through the adventure… and their tragic deaths can help bond the rest of the squad.

But the point of doing that “squad scenario” is to say “Make a character who would be in this squad.” If your players won’t be happy with that limitation, I wouldn’t follow this path.

About Karrnath: do you think people there had already a different relationship with undead and/or death? Were they more ready to accept undead soldiers than others?

Absolutely. It’s not always been presented clearly, but Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities have always been the stronghold of the Blood of Vol. The faith was well-anchored in Karrnath long before the war, and in Seeker communities you’d already have undead performing basic labor; they’d just never been harnessed and organized for war, and the Odakyr Rites (which produce the distinctive Karrnathi Undead) hadn’t been developed. In part this is tied to the idea that Karrnath is the harshest of the Five Nations in terms of environment, and its people were generally more receptive to the bleak outlook of the Blood of Vol. It’s not like the Silver Flame and Thrane; the number of Seekers is small enough that Kaius could choose to use them as scapegoats in the present day. But the faith has always been around in Karrnath and thus its people had more casual contact with undead than any of the other Five Nations.

Would a Karrnathi Silver Flame or Sovereign cleric, or maybe even a bard be DIFFERENT in his approach to the topic?

Mechanically or philosophically? Mechanically, no. If you want a different approach to undead, make a Blood of Vol cleric. Philosophically they’ve be more used to having them in mundane roles and thus less likely to see ALL UNDEAD AS ABOMINATIONS then their counterparts in other nations. The focus of the Silver Flame is protecting the innocent from supernatural evil; a templar raised in Karrnath knows that the skeleton working in the fields in that Seeker community ISN’T suddenly going to turn on the villagers. With that said, the Silver Flame has never had a strong foothold in Karrnath, precisely because its culture leans more towards the bleak pragmatism of the Blood of Vol; in my opinion, Seekers have always outnumbered the followers of the Flame in Karrnath.

Five Nations says Thrane was the nation Breland feared the most… I thought Breland was much stronger than all.

If Breland was “stronger than all” the war wouldn’t have lasted a century. Breland had more people and stronger industry. But Aundair had better magic and Karrnath had better soldiers. As for Thrane, I didn’t write Five Nations so I can’t tell you what they were thinking. But let’s look at a few key factors.

  • Thrane and Breland share a significant border.
  • Along with Karrnath, Thrane has the most militant culture among the Five Nations. Its people stand ready to fight supernatual evil… but that still means that they are combat ready and prepared to make sacrifices for their faith. Again, in my mind the peasant militias are one of Thrane’s greatest assets.
  • Tied to this, I feel Thrane had a morale advantage over the other nations because its people are united by common belief, and by a faith that taught them to be ready to fight and to make sacrifices to protect the innocent.
  • Thrane has the greatest access to divine magic on the battlefield. Unlike arcane magic, divine magic isn’t a science. As a result, it’s more mysterious, and mystery isn’t something you want in an enemy.
  • Most of all: Thrane abandoned the monarchy to become a theocracy. That was undoubtedly terrifying to the leaders of all of the Five Nations — especially to Breland, where the monarchy is on thin ice.

Was Talenta pulled into the Last War at all, or was their relative distance and the influence of Ghallanda and Jorasco enough to spare them from most of the fighting?

The Talenta Plains are a large undeveloped stretch of relatively barren land; it’s got little that anyone actually WANTS, and virtually no cities or fortresses that could be claimed as strategic assets. The tribes have never assembled into what the Five Nations would consider an army. Thus they primarily are a path that Karrnath and Cyre passed through while fighting each other. If I was developing a full history of the war, I could certainly come up with some interesting events involving the Plains: interactions with the Q’barran colonists; interactions with Karrnathi forces planning a surprise offensive against the heart of Cyre; general interactions with supply lines, or the time Cyre decided to establish a fort there. But generally actions in the war would have involved raids, mercenary service (uncommon but possible), or defensive actions.

Forge of War indicates that of all the nations, only Karrnath didn’t ally with one of the other five at any point during the war. Do you agree with this?

It’s not my idea, to be sure. With that said, the Karrnathi character includes both deep confidence in the superiority of their own martial skills — a conviction that they are the greatest power in Khorvaire — and a bitter stoicism, they’ll have to kill us before we back down and even then our bones will rise and fight until they are ground to dust. So it seems unlikely to me that they wouldn’t have at least negotiated with Aundair regarding joint operations against Cyre, or the like (and I feel this has even been discussed in some other source), but I’m willing to accept the idea that Karrnath never engaged in a full if-the-war-ends-we-share-power alliance — that they always believed that they would either win the war and rule Galifar on their terms, or fight to the bitter, bitter end. This still can be seen in the present day, where many of the warlords consider Kaius’s strong support of peace initiatives to be a betrayal, a belief that drives many Emerald Claw recruits.

How common were sending stones and other Sivis communications equipment on the battlefield?

We’ve established that communications in Eberron are more akin to telegraph that to radio or phone. It wasn’t a modern battlefield where squads come be in direct real-time communication with one another. With that said, Sivis communication was a vital tool for long-term coordination. Speaking Stones are BIG and expensive; you’re talking about a wagon, and something Sivis wouldn’t want to put at risk in active battle. So you’d have such a thing with a major army, but not a unit. I can imagine a smaller focus device allowing a Sivis heir to send a message to or receive a message from the nearest speaking stone, but how I’d see it would be something requiring a ritual – maybe ten minutes, maybe more, along with expenditure of ground dragonshards – to activate, and likely that ritual has to be active to receive messages. So an heir could send an emergency message to the nearest stone if he had ten minutes to do it; but receiving messages is something he’d do at a specific time – check messages at noon – and not something that could be done in the midst of active combat. Of course, if you’re in a HUGE hurry, sending is an option – but there’s very few heirs who can do that.

So it was a vital tool for coordinating strategies and getting updates, but not real-time communication and not something the smallest units would have. With that said, I think you’d also see the Five Nations exploring other options – experimenting with Kalashtar psions, Aundair developing an alternate method of arcane communication, Vadalis messenger birds – but Sivis would be the gold standard.

Someone mentioned Karrnath doing necromantic experiments on living prisoners? That seems…beyond the pale for a salvageable nation state, to me. I don’t want to go that dark with Karrnath, but I’m curious about your take on that? 

That someone was me. It’s part of the plot for an adventure I wrote for the ChariD20 event; the PCs are former Cyran prisoners of war who were used as fodder in necromantic experiments. A critical point here is that the adventure is about hunting the camp commander down in Droaam, because he’s a war criminal who’s fled the Five Nations. It’s not that Karrnath as a whole encouraged or engaged in such behavior; it’s that there’s ONE GUY (and his soldiers) who did so, and if he remained in Karrnath, KAIUS would have had him tried for war crimes. This ties to the difference between the Blood of Vol – a faith that uses necromancy, but generally as a positive tool that serves the needs of a community – and the Order of the Emerald Claw, which is about over-the-top pulp villainy and routinely engages in horrific actions. This commander is a pulp villain: a scenery-chewing mad necromancer that we all agree is a deplorable human and deserves to be brought to justice (whatever that ends up meaning).

So it’s not about KARRNATH being that dark. This is an example of what the Order of the Emerald Claw is capable of, and it’s WHY the Order of the Emerald Claw is considered a terrorist organization; again, if the villain here remained in Karrnath, he’d have been brought to justice for his crimes.

My player is under the impression that Karrnath was not doing as well as they had, toward the end of the war, and may have started experimenting on people out of a bit of desperation. My impression was that… they were still in a strong position when the war ended, other than the famines.

Karrnath has always been struggling due to famine and plagues. They turned to use of undead in the first place as a way to offset this. However, Kaius chose to break ties with the Blood of Vol and limit the use of necromancy towards the end of the war, as opposed to embracing desperate measures. The main issue is that at full strength one would have expected Karrnath to steamroll Cyre; instead, because of their troubles, it’s been more even. But it’s still a force to be reckoned with, and many warlords are angry at Kaius for pursuing peace because they believe Karrnath is still strong enough for war. As a side note, in my Eberron Kaius blames the famines and plagues on the Blood of Vol, giving him a populist platform to strengthen his position; thus Karrnathi Seekers are dealing with prejudice and anger, which is further exacerbated by the actions of the Order of the Emerald Claw.

Dragonmarks: Rural Eberron

I’m working on a lot of projects right now. Over the next few months I’m going to be putting most of my energy into Phoenix: Dawn Command. Part of the point of developing a new setting and system is that I’m free to develop it in a way I can’t currently develop Eberron. However, my intention is to include conversion notes and to develop ideas that could fit into Eberron or another world, so you can get the most out of whatever I’m doing.

I’m also part of a new Eberron podcast called Manifest Zone. We recently sent out a call for questions. Many of the questions we received are too narrow or specific for what we want to do with the podcast… but they’re still some great questions that I wanted to address. Here’s on that stood out for me.

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?

It’s an excellent question. I’m going to start with the general topic of rural Eberron, and deal with taverns in a second post – because I actually have a surprising amount to say about taverns. But starting with the general issue: What makes a farm in Breland different from one in the Dalelands of the Forgotten Realms? What is it that makes that small Aundairian village different from a generic Tolkien scene? As a gamemaster, what can you do to draw people into the setting? Well, let’s look at a few of the pillars of the setting.

Magic is a part of everyday life.

Remember: Eberron isn’t about high magic and the works of epic wizards. It’s about wide magic – the widespread use of low-level magic to solve problems that we’ve solved with technology. Everyone needs light. Farmers might not people able to afford everbright lanterns in every room, but I’d still imagine a farm would have at least two. Of course, rural magic depends on where you are. In Karrnath, a Seeker community will have skeletons performing menial tasks. In Aundair, a farm might have a floating disk that serves some of the same purposes as a tractor. In the Eldeen, you might have gleaners – the druidic equivalent of magewrights, with farmers knowing a simple druidic ritual or two to help with the crop. And consider that even one level of magewright gives access to the magecraft spell, which provides a +5 to Craft checks. From the ECS:

Every magewright worthy of the name knows the magecraft spell (see page 113). Truly expert coopers recite the magecraft  spell over their barrels, the best blacksmiths chant it as they hammer hot iron, and the finest potters cast it while they spin their clay. 

Magewrights aren’t limited to the big city; it’s an NPC class for a reason. So again, in describing a blacksmith, mention the magical gestures he makes over his forge and the sigils engraved in the anvil (designed to effectively channel the magecraft effect).

Beyond this, communities will be built around useful magical resources. Any thriving community will have a central well enchanted with a purify water effect. One of the most useful spells is a cantrip: prestidigitation. With this spell you can clean, heat, cool, flavor. Given that these principles exist, it’s easy to envision minor magic items that do just one of these things… and now you have mystical refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, washing machines, and more. In a small town people may not own personal magic items, but a large farm may still have an ice room. We’ve mentioned before that Aundairian villages often have cleansing stones, a central fountain-like structure where you can bring laundry to have it instantly cleaned.

Even where people aren’t using magic themselves, consider manifest zones. Sharn exists because it’s built on a manifest zone that makes the towers possible. Dreadhold is built on a manifest zone that strengthens its stone, while it’s the zones to Irian that make the Undying Court possible in Aerenal. Manifest zones are natural resources, and where there are manifest zones with beneficial effects people will take advantage of them. A manifest zone to Fernia could be unnaturally temperate, or it could be that within the stone, basalt grows unusually warm – so the people in the zone heat their houses and foods with these stones. Use your imagination: what could be a beneficial manifestation of a particular plane, and how would people harness it?

Finally, consider the ambient impact of the greater magical economy. Mention the airship this passes overhead; perhaps the old farmer hates the damn things (remember that airships haven’t been around that long!). Perhaps a House Orien representative is in town negotiating a new lightning rail that’s going to pass through the area.

If it’s in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron.

Khorvaire isn’t our world. It’s a world where ogres and griffons and medusas are part of nature, and that’s before you get into the possibilities of magebreeding (Cows that produce chocolate milk? Hens that lay hardboiled eggs?). That Aundairian ranch might be breeding dragonhawks instead of horses. When you pass by a field in Breland you might see an ogre pulling a plow on his own. His name’s Bargh; he was a mercenary with Tharashk during the war, and liked the area so much he just stayed behind afterwards and was taken in by the local farm. Which leads to…

Consider the impact of the war.

We’re two years out from a devastating century of war, which involved a wide range of magical weapons. You could have the equivalent of a magical minefield – a stretch of land that’s been abandoned because of explosive wards still scattered across the countryside. You could come to a place where a bridge is being rebuilt and you have to take ferries across; the Brelish ferryman curses the damn Cyrans, and complains about how they ruined his town and now Boranel is buying them dinner. You might find craters from powerful war magics, ruins that have never been rebuilt, a hamlet that was once a prosperous town before the war took most of its population… or another town that’s home to a large refugee population, and tensions are high.

Consider Religion. 

In a village in Thrane, you might find the townsfolk practicing archery on the green while a cantor sings praises to Tira. Next door in Breland you may have a village that has no priest, but everyone believes the oldest farmer is blessed by Arawai, and he speaks on her behalf at village gatherings. Shrines to Sovereigns can take many forms. Daca sits on a pillar in Sharn, but you could just as easily find a pillar saint in a small town.The central square in a Karrnathi hamlet contains a bloodstained stone basin, used for the ritual sharing of blood. In western Breland you might find a cairn made from shards of shattered statues; this dates back to a time when the Znir gnolls lived in the region, but the locals have continued to add stones to it.

Presumably, small villages are less diverse than great cities like Sharn, but how much so? Do non-humans tend to have their own communities in rural areas, or are they integrated with the majority human population?

I believe that most communities are integrated in the Five Nations. It varies by nation – Humans make up 70% of the population in Thrane, while they are less than half of the populace of Breland. Tied to this, through the Dragonmarked Houses every common race has a critical role in the economy that helps their position in society. There’s surely racisim in Khorvaire, and you can play that up from any angle you like; but it’s still the case that I’m used to having halflings running the inn the hospital, and gnomes sending messages. And this has been true for a thousand years. Dwarves built the towers of Sharn. So in my opinion, while racism is definitely out there, in the Five Nations nationalism is stronger. If I’m from Breland, I care more about the fact that you’re Brelish than that you’re a dwarf; that piece of things will come second.

So for the most part, I believe you see diversity in communities. In Breland, if there’s ten families in a village, you can expect at least two of them to be dwarves or gnomes. With that said, you’re likely to see SOME concentration simply because it’s necessary to sustain a community. Which is to say, if each village was a perfect microcosm you’d have one gnome family, one dwarf family, one halfling family… and what happens when the children are looking for mates? So I suspect you have village A that’s blended dwarves and humans, village B that’s gnomes and humans, etc… but people aren’t going to freak out if a halfling moves in. Probably.

You certainly could have entire villages of a particular race, but I don’t think it’s the norm.

Are there any significant numbers of warforged outside of the cities, e.g. the village with the warforged named Smith who was welcomed because the former village smith died in the War?

I’d expect warforged to congregate in the cities. Lacking clear direction and purpose and owning no property, it’s easier for them to make a start around others of their kind. And warforged are both new and created as weapons of war – so it’s far more logical to see prejudice against warforged than against the races that have been part of your civilization for centuries. With that said, I think you see warforged in small communities where they have attachments to people who live there. When the soldier came home to his farm after the war, his warforged companion came with him and works on the farm. In the local tavern, a warforged remains as the bouncer. And I think an entire village of warforged – a gift of land from a noble grateful for their service – is an intriguing story idea. As for your smith (and I played a warforged artificer named Smith for a while), some villages would welcome him and others might drive him away; again, prejudice against warforged is more common than any of the demihumans.

Could a kalashar thrive in a hamet where she is the only psion for miles, or would she feel the need to conceal her talents? Similar question for changelings?

I think a kalashtar could do just fine. It’s easy for kalashtar to disguise themselves as humans if they want, but I also don’t think we’ve established fear of psionics as a big thing in the Five Nations; most people would just assume it’s some sort of mind magic. Changelings are another question and one I’ll address at more length at some places. Breland is fairly accepting of changelings and they may live openly. In other places you’ll oftn see changelings concealing their true nature; bear in mind, the reason they are called “changelings” dates from people having children with a disguised shapeshifter, and when the child is born a changeling, believing that their actual baby has been stolen away. And you also have small communities that are entirely changelings – though you won’t know it passing through. So it depends on the place: changelings will often hide, but a trusted changling whose family has been part of the community for a while may just live out in the open.

These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are endless, especially when you get into the different nations and their own unique elements, but that’s all I have time for now. Feel free to share ways you’ve presented the flavor of the world below!

Dragonmarks: Tieflings

In a previous Dragonmark I wrote about my general approach to adding exotic races to Eberron. Since then there’s been a fair amount of interest in a race that already has a vaguely defined role in canon Eberron: The Tiefling. While tieflings have come up in canon sources — the Venomous Demesne is mentioned in the 4E sourcebooks — as always, this is what I’d do in my personal campaign and it may contradict canon material.

The basic concept of the tiefling is a humanoid touched by infernal powers. Some interpretations present the concept of an empire whose lords bargained with dark forces; in others, tieflings are loners without a clear culture or path. As always, my goal in adding a new race is to find out what the players are looking for. If I have a player asking to be a tiefling, do they want to be part of an ancient tradition of warlocks? Would they rather play a loner who feels cursed by their infernal blood? Here’s two different approaches, each of which provides a very different story for a player to build on.

THE VENOMOUS DEMESNE

The Sarlonan nation of Ohr Kaluun was infamous for delving into dark magics. In the depths of their war labyrinths, the mage-lords of Ohr Kaluun forged pacts with infernal spirits and tapped into the powers of the planes. Over generations this twisted the blood of the nobles, producing the first tieflings. This corruption didn’t go unnoticed. Khaleshite crusaders fought bitterly against Ohr Kaluun, and fear of the demonic taint of Ohr Kaluun spreading across Sarlona was a cornerstone of the civil strife that resulted in the Sundering. The civilization of Ohr Kaluun was wiped out during the Sundering, but a small force of nobles and their retainers escaped across the sea. These refugees created a hidden enclave on the west coast of Khorvaire. Over the course of centuries, they regained a portion of their pride and power. They inspired fear in the savage creatures that lived around them, and their realm became known as the Venomous Demesne. The tiefling lords were largely content in their isolation until the Daughters of Sora Kell rose to power in the region and sought to unify the wilds into the nation of Droaam. Sora Teraza herself came to the Venomous Demesne, bypassing the mystical concealment as if it didn’t exist. She spoke to the Council of Four, and none know what she said. But in the days that followed, the noble lines sent representatives to the Great Crag and joined in the grand experiment of Droaam.

The Venomous Demesne is a tiefling community and culture. It is a small hidden city, whose population includes both humans and tieflings… though many of the humans have minor signs of infernal heritage, even if they don’t have the full racial mechanics. The Demense is ruled by an alliance of four tiefling families, and the members of these families are powerful casters delving into many paths of magic: there are warlocks, clerics, and wizards of all schools. Their powers are vast, but grounded in dark bargains made in the past. To most outsiders, their traditions seem arbitrary and cruel. The price of magic is often paid for in pain and blood. Duels are an important part of their culture – never to the death, as they are still too few in number to squander noble blood so casually, but always with a painful cost for the loser.

If you are a full-blooded tiefling of the Venomous Demense, you are a scion of a noble line – a line that made bargains with malefic powers in the past. Your people have long been extremely insular, shunning all contact with the outside world. Now that they are expanding into Droaam, some are interested in knowing more about Khorvaire and the opportunities it presents. Consider the following options…

  • Your noble house is the weakest of the four lines. You are searching for allies or powers that will allow your house to gain dominance over the Venomous Demesne.
  • You are a lesser heir of your house and will never achieve status in the Demesne. You are seeking personal power that will let you take control of your house. You’re especially interested in the Mourning; it reminds you of stories you’ve heard about the magics of Ohr Kaluun, and you wonder if you could unlock and master its powers.
  • You have discovered a terrible secret about your ancestors and the bargains that they made… a pact that is about to come due. It may be that the cost affects you personally; that it could destroy your house; or that it is a threat to Eberron itself. Perhaps an Overlord is due to be released, or a planar incursion will occur if you can’t stop it. The Council of Four won’t listen to you – so you’re on your own.
  • You have been exiled from the Demesne. This could be because of a duel you lost, a crime you committed, or a crime you WOULDN’T commit. Perhaps you were ordered to participate in a pact that would damn your soul, or to murder someone you cared about. You can never return: what destiny can you find in the outer world?

You are from a hidden city of dark wonders, and the Five Nations seem hopelessly primitive and savage to you. Where is the blood wine? Where is the music of the spheres? Imagine you’re an alien from an advanced civilization, forced to deal with savages.

PLANETOUCHED TIEFLINGS

The tieflings of the Venomous Demesne were mystically engineered. Their ancestors chose to become tieflings by binding dark powers to their blood. But those same dark powers can leak into the world uncalled for. During coterminous periods, planar influences can shape an unborn child; this is especially true in a manifest zone. In this way, a Tiefling can be born into a human family. This occurs most frequently in the Demon Wastes, and among the Carrion Tribes Tieflings are seen as blessed, often rising to positions of power in a tribe. Within the Five Nations such births are more often viewed with fear and concern. This is often justified. A planetouched Tiefling isn’t the result of a bargain or pact. They are touched by planar power, and this shapes them in both body and mind.

When making a planetouched tiefling, the first question is which plane you’re tied to and how that manifests physically and mentally.

  • Fernia is an obvious choice, as its residents include devils and demons and many Tiefling racial abilities are tied to fire. A Fernian tiefling fits the classic appearance. Skin could be fiery red or orange, and warm to the touch. Eyes could be glowing embers, and when the tiefling grows angry the ambient temperature could rise. A Fernian tiefling would be fiery and passionate, with an innate love for seeing things destroyed by flame.
  • Shavarath is also a good choice, as it is home to the majority of fiends that resemble tieflings. A tiefling tied to Shavararath might have horns of steel, and their skin could seem to be made of leather or iron, though this would be a cosmetic effect only. A fiend of Shavarath could keep the standard flame-based powers, but would have a martial nature and strong instinct for aggression, conquest, or bloodshed.
  • Risia also works as the counterpoint to Fernia. A Risian tiefling would have pale white or silvery skin and hair. Their horns might actually be made of ice, staying frozen even in the warmest temperatures, and they might draw heat from their surroundings. A Risian tiefling should have resistance to cold instead of fire, and their Hellish Rebuke would inflict cold damage. Emotionally, Risian tieflings tend to be cold and distant, rarely showing emotion or compassion.
  • Mabar is home to succubi, and a Mabaran tiefling takes after these fiends. A Mabaran tiefling replaces fire resistance with resistance to necrotic damage, and replaces Hellish Rebuke with Arms of Hadar. Mabaran tieflings are often extremely attractive; some have natural skin tones, while others have unnaturally dark skin. Mabaran tieflings are predators by nature and often sociopaths or narcissists.
  • Sakah are tieflings of the Demon Wastes who are touched by the power of the rakshasa. Instead of the horns and tail of the typical tiefling they have feline traits – cat’s eyes, fangs, skin with tiger-stripe patterns, often in unnatural colors. Sakah can use the exact same racial traits as the traditional tiefling, though with the DM’s permission you can exchange Hellish Rebuke (at 3rd level) for the ability to use Alter Self once per day. Sakah are inherently deceptive and manipulative; like the Mabaran tieflings, they are almost exclusively sociopath who have difficulty empathizing with humans.

A critical point here: you aren’t simply touched by the plane, you are touched by its fiendish influences. The fiends of Fernia don’t simply represent fire: Fernian demons reflect the chaotic, terrifying destructive power of fire, while Fernia devils embody the use of fire as a tool for destruction and torment. A genasi is an individual tied to neutral elemental forces: as a tiefling, you are a malevolent embodiment of the planar concept. If you’re a tiefling from Shavarath, you’ve innately got a strong bond to the Mockery – you might want to follow the path of Dol Arrah, but it will definitely be a struggle as your instincts push you towards treachery and cruelty.

Unlike the tieflings of the Venomous Demesne, planetouched tieflings aren’t a true-breeding race; they have no communities or culture. Were you abandoned by your parents who considered you a freakish mutation? Did they instead embrace you and try to help you find a place in the world? Are you a bitter lone wolf, or someone who has fought to find acceptance in public society? Were you born in the Demon Wastes and considered to be blessed… and if so, why did you ever leave? Most of all, do you consider the touch of the plane a curse or a blessing?

PUBLIC REACTION

So the question that comes up most often is how do people in (place) react to tieflings? People in Thrane must hate them, because they’re like demons, right?

Well, sort of. The point I’ve made before is that WE look at the tiefling and see a demon: but the demons the people of Eberron know best are rakshasa, so “horns and red skin” doesn’t automatically mean “evil.” Consider the vast number of monstrous humanoids that exist in the world: if you live in Sharn you’ve encountered harpies, gargoyles, ogres, goblins, shifters, changlings, warforged, and potentially even medusa just doing everyday stuff in town. There’s a creature with living snakes for hair, and while people are definitely UNCOMFORTABLE around medusas, they are still a part of the world.

So the first question is: does the person in question actually know what a tiefling is? By default, tieflings are extremely rare. The tieflings of the Venomous Demesne have always been in hiding. Planetouched tieflings are most common in the Demon Wastes and rarely ever leave it. If you don’t know that a tiefling is connected to fiendish powers, then they are just a person with strange skin and horns. My point in the previous article wasn’t that anyone could mistake a tiefling for a minotaur, but rather that to the casual observer there’s nothing more inherently threatening about a tiefling than there is about a minotaur; both are horned humanoids, and frankly the tiefling is closer to being human. So by default a tiefling won’t produce a reaction of “BURN IT! IT’S A DEMON!” because it’s not the right sort of demon. It’s just some sort of monster, and there are lots of monsters in the world.

With that said, if you WANT the story of persecution and fear, it’s a trivial thing to say that people do know what tieflings are and why they should fear them. Looking to my explanation for planetouched tieflings, I suggested that this is a thing that happens when the destructive planes are coterminous. In this case, as rare as they are, it could be understood that tieflings care the touch of evil – that there is a fiendish taint in their blood, and that most are dangerous and destructive. In this case, I’d look at the treatment of the aberrant dragonmarked as a guideline. Like a tiefling, an aberrant didn’t choose to be cursed – but they possess a dangerous power, and superstition states that they are inclined to be evil. People may not call a priest when a tiefling shows up, but they could certainly treat the tiefling – and any who associate with them – with fear and suspicion, and want nothing to do with them. Followers of the Silver Flame or Dol Arrah could assert that through no fault of their own, the tiefling is inherently inclined to be evil; it might not be a matter of shoot-on-site, but a templar could easily be looking for an excuse to take the twisted thing down.

Now, if this is the path you use, the critical thing would be that if you have BOTH planetouched tieflings and the Venomous Demesne, people will assume the tiefling from the demense is planetouched. Because again, the Demesne has always been hidden and planetouched tieflings aren’t true-breeding; so the idea of a city of tieflings is definitely beyond anyone’s imagining.

RELLEKOR

In a previous post, I mentioned the idea that the village of Rellekor in Thrane has had a large Tiefling community for centuries. How does this tie into these two models? Recall that the Church of the Silver Flame is founded on principles of compassion. It seeks to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. A tiefling has the potential to be a supernatural threat, but it can also be innocent; a tiefling can even become a champion of the Flame.

With this in mind, Rellekor was established as a haven for planetouched tieflings. When Thrane families give birth to a tiefling (due to planar influences), they will usually turn the child over to the church, who will in turn deliver it to Rellekor. Thus, the population of Rellekor is made up of planetouched tieflings with ties to many different planes. It’s not a prison; it’s a place where tieflings can be with their own kind without dealing with the fear of others. Priests of the Flame seek to help tieflings come to terms with their planetouched nature and any gifts or powers associated with it, and help them find a path to the light… while Templars stand ready to deal with those who prove dangerous or irredeemably sociopathic. Note that most of these priests and templars are themselves tieflings.

People of Thrane thus have some concept of tieflings, but bear in mind that part of the point of Rellekor is to keep tieflings from mingling with the general population. The basic attitude is thus that tieflings are dangerous, much like people with aberrant dragonmarks.

If you want to play a tiefling devoted to the Silver Flame, it makes sense that you would have been raised and trained in Rellekor. Otherwise, it can be an interesting location to visit. There are a number of tiefling sages and priests with great wisdom in this place, and it’s also a center for study of the planes tied to the tieflings; if you need insight into Mabar, speak to the Mabarn tiefling monks of Rellekor.

I’m going to leave things there, but hopefully that’s given you some ideas if you’re looking to bring tieflings into 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 and influenced the Reaches?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Exotic Races in Eberron

The original Eberron Campaign Setting promises “If it exists in D&D, then it has a place in Eberron.” Over the years, one of the most common questions I’ve heard is “How do I use (insert unusual race) in Eberron?” How would people react to an Illumian in Sharn? Where would you put a Goliath? Recently I’ve been talking with Ruty Rutenberg of Eberron livestream Maze Arcana about tieflings and aasimars; over in Facebook’s Eberron Enthusiast group, someone was asking about playing an imp. In the weeks ahead I may look more closely at specific races and how I’d use them. But let’s start with a general discussion about introducing new races to the setting.

As a general rule, I prefer to avoid adding too many new races to the common tapestry of the world. In my mind, the streets of Fairhaven don’t look like a Mos Eisley cantina. I prefer to focus on fewer races but to make sure each one has a strong place. Warforged are defined by their role in the Last War and the chaos caused by their emancipation. Shifters are haunted by the Lycanthropic Purge and tensions with the Silver Flame. When we made dragonborn a common race in Fourth Edition, we did so by co-opting the existing story of lizardfolk in Q’barra, explaining that most humans couldn’t tell the difference between them. For the Eladrin we introduced the concept of the Feyspires, explaining that while the Eladrin were an ancient race they had always remained hidden in the shadows – until the current disaster that brought the Feyspires into the light. In this way, each race had a place in the world deep enough to generate story, without radically rewriting the setting. So that’s a starting point. If a new race exists as a true race – with a significant population and established culture – I want to think about how it fits in and the impact it should’ve had on history.

With that said, part of point of “If it exists in D&D, then it has a place in Eberron” is that there is plenty of room for unique entities. As a member of an unusual race, you could be…

  • A strange effect of the Mourning. You were once human, but you were caught in the Mourning and it transformed you.
  • A unique creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver, or one of the Daelkyr. Perhaps you escaped your creator, or perhaps you were released as part of an experiment.
  • A mutation caused due to your being conceived and born in a manifest zone/during a coterminous phase; your inhuman nature is a reflection of the influence of one or more of the planes. You could be unique, or this could be a mutation known to occur in this place at coterminous phases – so you could potentially encounter others of your kind.
  • A member of a hidden community. Your people could have a secret city in Xen’drik never seen by human eyes. You might come from a demiplane in Khyber that only touches on Eberron in a few places. You could even come from another plane, like the Eladrin; the Kenku could easily be from Lamannia or Thelanis, depending how you want to depict them. Or you could be hidden among a better known race, just as the dragonborn of Q’barra are confused with lizardfolk.
  • You might not be a member of a new race at all. If the player is primarily interested in the MECHANICS of the race as opposed to the story behind it, you have the power as DM to simply reskin that race as something else. In a 4E Eberron campaign, I played a character who was mechanically a Deva avenger with shaman subclass. However, my STORY was that I was a human peasant from Cyre who had become a host for the vengeful spirits of thousands of Cyrans who died in the Mourning. The Deva race is about having “memories of a thousand lives”; in my case, those were thousands of lives of the ghosts haunting me. The Shaman subclass gave me the ability to summon a spirit – one of my haunting spirits temporarily manifesting through me. The idea wasn’t that I was a trained warrior, but rather that the ghosts infused me with the powers of an avenger. The point being that I had all the abilities of a Deva, but we didn’t actually add a new race into the setting; we said that I was a human modified by magic.

All of this comes to the most critical question: WHY does the player want to be a member of this race? Roleplaying is collaborative storytelling, and as DM you are working with the player to create a story you’ll both enjoy. Rather than you deciding unilaterally how a race fits into the world, the critical first step is to identify the story the player is trying to create. Is the player only interested in the mechanics of the race, in which case reskinning is an option? Are they tied to the exact appearance of the race, or could you reimagine it to better fit the setting? Is it important to them to be part of a community of their own kind, or are they OK with the concept of being the only member of this species that exists in the world? Are there other elements that define the character they want to play?

For example, looking to the question “How would people feel about a tiefling in Sharn?” In my opinion, the people of Sharn would have very little reaction to a tiefling. Devils play a minor role in the world, so common folk would be more likely to consider the tiefling to be a shaved minotaur than touched by infernal power… and in Sharn in particular, the locals are used to seeing gargoyles, harpies, goblins, warforged, and even medusas. The guy with red skin and horns is exotic, sure, but I’m not going to get a mob together. But if the player specified that she wanted to be persecuted and feared – that the whole concept was that her infernal blood was a curse that made life difficulty for her – then I’d find a way to make it work. My first question would be if she was set on the general devil-horns appearance of the Tiefling, or if we might reskin it to have more of a rakshasa flavor, given that rakshasa are the most common fiends of Eberron; if so, it would be easy to play up the idea of stories of these rakshasa halfbreeds and persecution by the Church of the Silver Flame. If the devil-appearance was important, then I could easily run with it and say that people in this campaign are familiar with devils… because it’s an easy change for me to make to give the player the story she’s looking for, and I’m comfortable doing it. With that said, tieflings DO have a few defined roles in the setting, and I’ll talk about them in more detail in a future post… but you get the idea.

With that said, it’s also OK to conclude that a particular concept just doesn’t work in a campaign. Given that it’s collaborative storytelling, it’s OK for you to conclude that YOU aren’t happy with the direction the story would have to go… in which case hopefully you and the player can work together to come up with something that works for both of you. As I mentioned above, I was recently in a discussion with a DM putting together a shades-of-grey campaign set at Rekkenmark Academy, and one of the players wanted to be an imp dedicated to Dol Arrah. Through discussion, the idea was worked out that the character could be an imp-like entity tied to the Three Faces of War (since the player really wanted the ABILITIES of the imp, which were more in line with the Mockery than Dol Arrah) conjured to serve as a sort of spiritual mascot for the mortal characters. But ultimately, the player was deeply attached to the character being a pure embodiment of LAW and GOOD, and that character just didn’t belong in the noir environment the DM was creating with this Rekkenmark story; even if the DM allowed the player to use the character, the player wouldn’t get the EXPERIENCE they wanted… so ultimately, better to come up with an idea better suited to the campaign.

All of which is to say: you CAN find a place for any concept in Eberron, but that doesn’t always mean you should. Make sure that you understand the experience the player is looking for, and that the interpretation you’re using will actually provide that experience.

SUBRACES IN 5E

One point that’s come up in the comments discussion is how to incorporate the subraces of Fifth Edition into Eberron. Are Tairnadal High Elves or Wood Elves?

In my opinion, most subraces in 5E are designed for character optimization as opposed to story impact. If you’re going to play a wizard, you want to be a High Elf; if you’re going to be a ranger, play a Wood Elf. The system isn’t tied to any setting and there’s no built in reason that you HAVE to make Wood Elves and High Elves culturally distinct… so in my campaign, my answer is that all the common Elves of Eberron – Tairnadal, Aereni, Phiarlan, Thuranni – can be either Wood Elves or High Elves, as the player chooses. Essentially, subrace is a reflection of individual aptitude and specialization. WITHIN EBERRON, no one will ever use the terms “high elf” or “wood elf”; it’s simply a question of whether your Tairnadal elf is more attuned to arcane magic or to the wilds.

I’d take the same approach to most of the common subraces in the 5E handbook. A Mror Dwarf can be Hill or Mountain; a Talenta halfling can be Lightfoot or Stout. The only place where I’d separate subrace is where the subrace has a unique story, place in the world, or abilities that should have a notable cultural impact. So Wood/High Elves are simply personal aptitudes within the general “elf” race… while Drow and Eladrin are unique races/cultures with their own societies and stories. Mror dwarves can be Hill or Mountain, but Duergar are something else entirely.

As always, this is a personal choice. But to me it’s a case of most subraces serving the purpose of class specialization – and there being no compelling reason to force a player who wants to be a Valenar wizard (and there are many mighty wizards in Tairnadal legend) to be a wood elf when they’d rather have the mechanical benefits of the high elf.

In future posts I’ll talk about ways I might work particular unusual races into the setting. What races would you like to see me discuss? What unusual races have you used in your campaign?

Dragonmarks: The Evolving Artificer

The latest Unearthed Arcana presents a new version of the Artificer for 5E D&D.  Right from the start, there’s a few things to note.

  • This is a work in progress. They say at the outset that it’s a rough concept that hasn’t been refined or fully tested. They’re presenting it because they want feedback, not because they think it’s perfect.
  • This isn’t designed for Eberron. The word “Eberron” never comes up in the article or introduction. The existence of an artificer class is obviously useful for Eberron, but this isn’t specifically designed with Eberron in mind; it’s an artificer that could exist in any setting, and that thus works with the general “magic items are rare” assumption of 5E D&D.
  • I haven’t tried it out. I’m juggling a lot of projects right now, and I haven’t had a chance to review the class in depth.

Having said all of that, I’m not going to go into a detailed analysis of mechanics and balance. They aren’t claiming that it’s balanced; that’s the point of pushing it out into the world. What I’m concerned with is how it fits into Eberron and how it lines up with the original Eberron artificer.

THE GOOD

This is a big step forward from the last version of the artificer we saw in Unearthed Arcana, where it was a wizard subclass. We have a d8 hit die, light and medium armor proficiency, and proficiency with thieves tools… all things missing from the wizard and more in line with the original artificer. Just having it as a standalone class is important, because it allows for subclasses, unique spells, and similar features. I like the Tool Specialist and Magic Item Analysis features. So I like the foundation.

Wondrous Invention and Superior Attunement seem like a reasonable step at blending one of the core concepts of the artificer — being able to create magic items — with the low-magic foundation of 5E. You can’t make ANY item as a 3.5 Artificer could… but it still provides the artificer with the ability to say “Good thing I made these goggles of night!” I haven’t had time to review the item lists and really think about the impact on character balance, but it seems like a good start.

THE BAD

In Eberron, the artificer is presented as a magical engineer — someone who approaches magic in the same way a technician approaches technology. The artificer’s spells are all infusions, and all reflect the artificer’s ability to temporarily cobble together short-term magic items. This is most strongly represented by the infusions Armor Augmentation, Weapon Augmentation and Spell-Storing Item. The Augmentations allow the artificer to temporarily infuse weapon or armor with an enchantment — making your hammer Undead Bane when the vampire shows up, or adding some fire resistance to your armor when things get hot. Spell-Storing Item is the cornerstone of the artificer for me: it allows you to attempt to create a one-shot wand of almost any low-level spell, but with a chance of catastrophic failure. To me, this ties to the concept of the artificer as a magical hacker. The artificer doesn’t know the rituals and formulas a wizard uses to reliable create a fireball over and over. But she understands the principles of generating magical fire, and if you give her a moment she can put something together; just hope it doesn’t blow up in her face.

The critical point is that this emphasizes the idea of the artificer as someone who works with magic; again, spell-storing item is essentially about creating one-shot wands. One of the protagonists in my Dreaming Dark novels, Lei d’Cannith, is an artificer and I frequently represent her as weaving tapestries of magic to create her tools. She also makes regular use of spell-storing item and the augmentation spells.

By contrast, the foundation of the UA artificer is about magic… but the specialties are not. The alchemist specialty seems like it could be fun at low levels, and I love it as a way to represent a Zil alchemist. We’ve always said that the Zil were the masters of alchemy and that they manufacture alchemical weapons, and I love the concept of the gnome alchemist darting around and blowing things up. But that’s an alchemist, not an artificer. The focus here seems to be as much on science (chemistry) as on magic. Yes, the inexhaustible alchemist’s satchel is clearly magical, but the general effect is that the character is running around throwing flasks of acid and fire; it is more mundane than using spell-storing item to create a one-shot wand of fireball.

So: I like the alchemist, but it doesn’t feel like a classic artificer to me. On the other hand, for Eberron specifically, I have bigger issues with the gunsmith. Because the gunsmith is presented as USING A GUN: an alchemical device that explicitly fires lead bullets. I’ve never liked firearms in Eberron because I’ve always emphasized that people in Eberron solve their problems with magic instead of technology: make a wand of magic missiles or enchant a crossbow, don’t invent gunpowder. Next we have the obvious question: If this is a technological device, why is the artificer the only one who can use it? How is it that the Thunder Cannon becomes inert the moment the artificer hands it to a friend? If that’s the intent – that it is magical, and that’s why the artificer is the only one who can use it – then in my opinion, don’t make it a gun. Make it a literal boomstick, a staff that functions as a gun in the hands of the artificer, but which is clearly a magical tool. Or make it about elemental binding – it’s a rod with a fire elemental bound into it. In Eberron, I posited the existed of siege staffs instead of gunpowder artillery – essentially, magical staffs the size of tree trunks, enchanted for maximum range and area of effect. They serve the same FUNCTION as cannons, but they are tied to the existing wand/staff “technology” of the world, as opposed to introducing an entirely different paradigm.

Essentially, in Eberron the artificer is a magical engineer who manipulates magic as if it’s technology. Both of the UA specialties bring in a degree of mundane science – gunpowder or chemistry – that push them away from the vision of the artificer as the person who understands the principles of MAGIC. It becomes a blending of magic and ACTUAL technology, which is something I generally sought to avoid in Eberron. Warforged aren’t steam-powered; they are golems, operating on entirely magical principles.

WITH ALL THAT SAID: I still think that this is a very good start, and I can see that both these specialties work for the idea of the artificer-as-technological-tinker, which might be exactly what you want in most settings. And I think that in Eberron, many problems could be solved by adding additional infusions to the artificer spell and a specialty path that is specifically tied to Eberron. Spell-Storing Item was an infusion, not a class feature; it’s something that could easily be added to the artificer spell list in an Eberron sourcebook.

So overall, I’m happy with the article. It creates a general-purpose artificer that I can see fitting into a range of settings, and it’s a big step forward from the last version. It creates a foundation that could be adapted to Eberron. I think I’d have fun with an alchemist, at least at low levels. And as for the gunsmith, in MY campaign I’d shift the Thunder Cannon to be an entirely magical tool, but that doesn’t invalidate the concept… and I know there are many people who DO like gunpowder in their chocolate, who I’m sure will love it as is.

Update

On consideration, most of my issues are cosmetic. If you shift the appearance of the Gunsmith and Alchemist to a more magical interpretation, I’m happy to give them a try. Rather than having the Alchemist hurl flasks of oil, his “Alchemist’s satchel” could be a bandolier of components that he uses to assemble one-use charms and wands. The effects he can produce are identical, it’s just a different tone. Likewise, if the Thunder Cannon is a mystical tool – perhaps a weird variant of wand and staff that’s the size and weight of a log – I’m happy with the “Wandsmith.”

There’s still things I’d change. I’m not thrilled about every artificer having a construct companion, and I’m REALLY not thrilled about that companion being a Large creature; I might have a construct owl, but I don’t want to be followed around by something the size of a horse. I like the idea that the Mechanical Servant could be a path feature or swapped out for another Wondrous invention. I’d add a few new infusions for Eberron. But I’m certainly interested in playing around with it.

What are your thoughts on the latest UA Artificer?

Thelanis in Play: Curses

Last week I wrote about Thelanis and the Fey. This week I’m posting a few shorter pieces about how to use Thelanis in an Eberron campaign. Today’s topic: Curses!

Curses often figure prominently in Faerie stories. The search for a cure may be a driving force in a campaign, or the curse could simply be a burden a character has to bear, something that marks them as an extraordinary individual. Consider a few ways that a curse can work into a story.

  • Ancestral Guilt. A character could be born cursed due to the fault of an ancestor. In Sleeping Beauty the princess is cursed because her parents insult a faerie patron. In the Ulster Cycle Macha curses all the men of Ulster for the actions of their king.
  • Personal Backstory. A curse could be something a character has earned through their own misdeeds, while still being something that is part of a backstory as opposed to happening in play. Your rogue stole from the Tomb of the Forgotten King and the curse has haunted you ever since.
  • A Fey WrongedOne aspect of faerie stories is that power isn’t always consistent. A nymph might have the standard statistics provided by the Monster Manual – being a relatively minor spirit, not an archfey – and still have the power to curse someone who scorns her love. This is especially true if adventurers travel into Thelanis itself. The plane itself is a magical place, and the people who break its rules can suffer consequences.
  • The Price. A curse that afflicts a player character could be the consequence of a negotiated bargain: the character willingly accepts a curse in exchange for a service or goods. This could be part of a backstory – the price of a warlock’s Fey Pact – or it could be part of a campaign, where an archfey offers her assistance provided someone will give up their fame, their heart or their voice. More often than not, fey are more interested in intangible things than in material goods, and it’s part of the unnatural logic of Thelanis that the nymph can offer you something in exchange for your ability to love.

Choosing to have a player character cursed from the start of the game may seem like a strange decision, but it’s something that can give an adventurer immediate purpose: What do you need to do to lift this curse of poverty? The best curses don’t affect combat or prevent the character from being an effective adventurer; instead, they shape story, which is what Thelanis is about. Beyond this, a GM might choose to provide a corresponding benefit to a character who willingly takes on a curse. Perhaps the Forgotten King has cursed you with poverty… but you still have the mysterious key you took from his tomb, and some day you may find the door that it opens. Or perhaps your line has ties to two fey sisters; one has always favored you, while the other cursed you out of jealousy. You have to bear the curse, but your patron may come to you in your darkest times to offer advice or assistance.

The spell Bestow Curse gives examples of curses with concrete effects, and you can certainly have a wronged fey lay such a curse on an enemy. However, those curses are severe mechanical penalties and not something you’d casually take as a ongoing handicap. As I said above, the best fey curses don’t prevent a character from being effective at what they do: instead, they shape story. They are extremely meaningful to the individual, but not crippling. Consider the following…

  • Upcoming Doom. The character will sicken and die when they reach a certain age. Three generations of their ancestors have fallen prey to the curse, and they only have one year to find the answer.
  • Infamy. No one remembers any heroic deeds the character accomplishes. They will be held responsible for all of their misdeeds, but anything good they do will be attributed to someone else (quite possibly other members of the adventuring party).
  • Poverty. All gold, platinum, or gems the character touches disappears within one hour, transported away to fill the coffers of the wronged fey.
  • Loneliness. The character will never find love. The more they love someone, the less the target of their affection will feel for them.
  • Suspicion. A more severe take on Infamy, the character will by default be blamed when things go wrong. People can’t explain it – that character just seems like the kind of person who would be up to something.
  • Cloud of Misfortune. The character themselves doesn’t suffer, but bad things happen to the people they care about. This is primarily aimed at NPCs. If they start to frequent a tavern, it will burn down. Their horse breaks its leg. Their family farm suffers a bad harvest. They should always feel concerned about getting too attached to anyone… because what will happen if they do?

Looking to Infamy or Poverty, as described other PCs can mitigate the effects; the cursed character can’t touch gold, so someone else has to handle all transactions. It’s not the end of the world, as long as the other players aren’t jerks about it. But if the cursed character is a rogue who longs for personal wealth, it’s a curse to them. Likewise, shifted fame or lost love is only an issue if love and fame are things the character wants. They won’t stop you from saving a village from marauders; you’ll just have to heave a sigh when the grateful villagers heap their gratitude on everyone but you.

In any case, the usual purpose of having a curse is to drive the story in a direction: How can the curse be broken? Is it about righting a wrong committed by an ancestor? Earning the gratitude of the fey you angered? Simply finding a holy person whose power is great enough to override the will of the Fey? Or if it’s the price of your warlock pact, can you find a patron willing to grant you power on better terms?

As with many of the previous topics, the primary purpose of curses is to enhance a story. Yes, you defeated that evil dryad… but now you have to deal with her dying curse. Not all players will enjoy such things, but with the right group a curse can be a great way to explore how characters deal with adversity.

Share your thoughts, questions, and ideas below. And check out the previous posts on artifacts and manifest zones!