My Patreon supporters have chosen Arcane Science and Industry as the topic of the month. I’ll be writing a more extensive article on the topic later in the month, but now I want to address questions on a related topic: The role of flight. Before I go any further, I’ll note that you can find more of my thoughts on airships in this article, and that the 3.5 sourcebook Explorer’s Handbook is the primary canonical source. With that said…
Outside of the skycoaches of Sharn, how prevalent are airships in the other nations? Were they used in the last war? Are there nations with growing fleets of them? Do the goblins of Darguun have any?
One of the basic principles of Eberron is that arcane magic is a form of science, and that like any science, it evolves as people unlock its secrets. The idea was always that there should be a sense of evolution. In particular, the Last War drove a number of arcane breakthroughs: warforged, wandslingers, and airships. According to the timeline in the original Eberron Campaign Setting, the first airships went into service for House Lyrandar in 990 YK—less than ten years ago. In addition, Lyrandar airships are the only form of airship currently in mass production and they require a Lyrandar pilot to reliably control the elemental. The point of this is that air travel is a very recent development and it is dominated by House Lyrandar. So at the moment, NATIONS don’t have significant numbers of airships; LYRANDAR has them, and even it doesn’t have very many. Only major cities have the docking towers required by Lyrandar airships; combined with the relatively small fleet, this is why airships haven’t completely overshadowed the lightning rail.
It’s quite possible that the King’s Citadel of Breland has an airship produced in secret and piloted by a Lyrandar excoriate, or that Aundair has been working on an airship that doesn’t require a Lyrandar pilot. But no nation has fleets of airships, definitely not the Darguuls. Likewise, there were a few Lyrandar airships that were designed for military service—the Stormships”—but they played a very small role in the war, appearing only at the very end of it.
So the science behind the airship has been established, and from this point going forward airships will play an increasingly significant role. But for now they are still few in number and rely on House Lyrandar… and House Lyrandar would like to keep it that way. The point is that ongoing developments with airships can be an important plot point of a campaign. IF the Darguuls somehow start producing a fleet of airships, that would be a major mystery—how are they doing it? What do they plan to do with them?—that could be an important plot point.
As the skycoaches of Sharn were mentioned, it’s important to remember that skycoaches are nearly unique to Sharn; they rely on the magical effects of the manifest zone surrounding Sharn, and will crash if they’re taken more than a few miles from the city. You could find skycoaches in other cities in similar manifest zones, but you couldn’t fly a skycoach between those two points.
With all of that said: airships are a new development. Aerial combat is not. Galifar the Dark—the third ruler of the united Galifar—is said to have created the Race of Eight Winds as a way to test various aerial mounts, and the skyblade tournaments of Sharn likewise are a reflection of a traditional of aerial combat. But this is a tradition of mounted combat—not large vessels such as the modern airship. More on that later.
What sort of flying magical items do you see across Khorvaire? Brooms exist as D&D canon, but it seems like different countries would have different sorts of flying apparatuses.
First, let’s review my previous discussion of the broom of flying.
By the rules of Fifth Edition, a broom of flying is an extremely useful item. It’s an uncommon magic item, putting it within the range of Khorvaire’s wide magic. Unlike wings of flying, there’s no time limit on the use of the item, and critically, it doesn’t even require attunement. What’s been suggested is that Aundair used these for elite units and that other nations developed them in smaller quantities—so they aren’t commonplace in civilian life, but they are in the world.
With this in mind, the first question I’d ask is are they brooms? While the core magic item is a broom, I see no logical reason that they should be actual brooms in Eberron; remove the mythology of Earth and there’s no particular reason a broom is associated with flight. So I’d actually call them skystaffs. Keep the same essential shape—a short wooden haft—but remove the bristles, add a seat, and perhaps handles that fold out from the shaft. Essentially, make it a tool clearly designed for its function as opposed to a household item that does something unexpected. I’d then say that while anyone can use one, they require Dexterity checks for tight maneuvers or sustained balance at full speed, unless the rider has proficiency in air vehicles—so anyone CAN use one, but it requires some training to actually use one effectively. As a final element, I’d say that a skystaff is made using soarwood, which is a crucial factor in why there aren’t more of them in service at the moment. The enchantment isn’t that difficult—again, “uncommon” level in terms of its power—but the actual components required to create one are in limited supply, so there aren’t that many around. Having said that, they are most often seen in Aundair, and you’ll certainly see a few in the skies above Fairhaven or darting around Arcanix.
This further reflects the idea that Aundair is the most mystically advanced nation. The aerial cavalry of the Five Nations has relied on hippogriffs for centuries; Aundair’s introduction of the skystaff was an early innovation in the war, and they became more common as the conflict continued. So more on that later, but in my opinion the skystaff was introduced early in the Last War. It predates the airship, but only by a century. The advantages of the skystaff are that it’s very portable. As it doesn’t have to eat or breathe, you can keep a skystaff in a bag of holding indefinitely, making it an excellent tool for covert operatives. But with a top speed of 50 ft, it’s slower than a hippogriff (60 ft) and considerably slower than a pegasus (90 ft).
Another uncommon form of flight is winged boots. In my opinion these predate the skystaff (in Khorvaire) by a few centuries. They were first created in Sharn by artificers experimenting with the property of the manifest zone, and these early models only worked in Sharn. However, by 812 YK an artificer had developed winged boots that could be used beyond the City of Towers. Because the boots are limited to the wearer’s walking speed and can only be used for up to four hours, they are more limited than flying mounts and aren’t widespread. They’re typically found in Breland, as they’re still most often used in Sharn—but all of the spy agencies of Khorvaire make use of them, along with some elite commandos and thieves.
Other magical tools of flight are more exotic. The cloak of the bat and wings of flying are rare items, which means that they CAN be found in the Five Nations but that they’re rare and unusual. A few stories I could see for such items:
The Narathun flesh-crafters of the Mror Holds have created a form of wings of flying with the symbiont quality—a living creature that bonds to the body of the wearer. They’ve only produced a few so far.
The Seeker spy organization known as the Raven Corps had an elite unit outfitted with cloaks of the bat when they served Karrnath during the Last War. A person attuned to such a cloak must expend 1 hit die after completing long rest, as the cloak drains a bit of their blood.
The Church of the Silver Flame has an elite order of templars who wear cloaks of flying that transform into the rainbow wings of a couatl. These are driven by faith as opposed to arcane magic, and only people with great faith in the Flame can attune to them.
Druidic magic can create wings of flying that use the principles of wild shape. Rather than being cloaks, these are often torcs or necklaces; the wings sprout from the back of the bearer. There’s a Tairnadal ancestor whose revenants employ such tools, and a unit of the Wardens of the Wood—the Gray Owls—who use these tools.
Thelanis can be the source of any sort of flight magic, from wings of flying to winged boots. Each such item has its own unique story. One pair of Thelanian boots might be birds turned into boots, that still sing when they’re happy; another might be a pair of boots without wings, that allow the bearer to walk on sunbeams or shadows.
Other forms of flight items could be found that have limitations. House Lyrandar could have cleared a form of wings of flying that harnesses a minor elemental for lift, but that can only be attuned by someone with the Mark of Storm; another cloak might only work in a particular manifest zone, just like the skycoaches of Sharn.
The main point is that these items are rare and unusual but can be found in the Five Nations, and there were a few elite units in the Last War that employed them.
As very rare items, carpets of flying are not commonly found in the Five Nations. When encountered, these may be the product of more advanced civilizations (Aerenal, Argonnessen, the Lords of Dust), or be extraplanar in origin (Syrania, Thelanis).
Keep in mind also that feather tokens are actually common items. Paratroopers weren’t that common for most of the war because hippogriffs can’t carry many people. But Thrane certainly delivered paratroopers by wyvern, and later in the war airships could carry paratroopers with feather tokens.
What sort of air forces did each nation deploy during the Last War?
At the beginning of the war, the standard aerial cavalry of Galifar was the hippogriff rider. There were a few other forces based on local traditions, notably the dragonhawks of Aundair and the wyverns of Thrane, but the hippogriff was the mainstay of aerial combat. Such hippogriffs were primarily used as scouts and skirmishers, and there had never been an effort to field a mass aerial force. Each nation followed different paths during the war.
Aundair had three distinctive elements: dragonhawks, skystaffs, and floating citadels.
Aundair developed skystaffs at the start of the Last War. While other nations replicated them over the course of the war, Aundair has always had the most significant number of them. The skystaff has the advantage of not being alive, thus removing the complications associated with maintaining a living mount.
The dragonhawk is the symbol of Aundair. Larger, faster, and more powerful than hippogriffs, the primary limitation of the dragonhawks is their slow rate of reproduction. However, Aundair employed them to great effect during the Last War, and their dragonhawk cavalry played a key role in defending the nation from Thrane’s wyverns.
Aundair has a few floating towers. The best known of these is Arcanix—though what can easily be forgotten is that Arcanix isn’t ONE floating tower, it’s FOUR. As discussed in this article, the reason you don’t see many of these towers is that the effect is unstable and requires considerable ongoing arcane maintenance—which is easy to do when you stock the citadel with the finest wizards in your nation, as is the case with Arcanix. But the Arcane Congress does have a few other floating towers. While the towers float, they don’t MOVE under their own power; moving them during the Last War required massive teams of dragonhawks.
Breland always had the best hippogriff riders. Due to the Race of Eight Winds and the popularity of skyblades, Breland had the strongest tradition of hippogriff riding and many of the riders in the army of Galifar were Brelish. As such, while Breland’s air force lacked the raw power of Aundair’s dragonhawks and Thrane’s wyverns, its hippogriff forces were known for their daring and their skill. Late in the war, Breland employed a few of House Lyrandar’s stormships.
Cyre was relatively weak in the air. It had a small corps of hippogriff riders, and encouraged House Cannith to work on flying constructs, few of which made it beyond the prototype stage. It largely relied on siege staffs and long rods to deal with enemy fliers.
Karrnath had the weakest air force throughout the war. It relied on its strong evokers to blast enemy fliers, and relied on its dominance on the ground. The Blood of Vol experimented with undead flying units; while dramatic, these were never produced in large numbers. As a result, many of Thrane’s greatest victories involved air superiority, and Korth still bears the scars of Thrane’s aerial bombardment.
Thrane has a strong, versatile air force tied to a number of elements.
Wyverns are to Thrane as dragonhawks are to Aundair. For tens of thousands of years, the cliffs around Flamekeep have been home to wyverns. The least of these are typical wyverns as presented in the 5E Monster Manual… generally Large in size and incapable of speech. But there is an exceptional strain of wyverns—typically known as elder wyverns, regardless of their age—that are both more intelligent than their cousins and grow to far greater sizes; as presented in the 3.5 Monster Manual, these wyverns can grow to Gargantuan size. While they are on average less intelligent than humans, elder wyverns are capable of speech. The early settlers of Daskara made peace with the elder wyverns and the rulers of Daskara always had wyvern “advisors.” During the Year of Blood and Fire the wyverns were also threatened by the forces of Bel Shalor, and Tira Miron rallied the elders to her cause; the wyvern Ashtarax carried her in her final confrontation with the forces of Bel Shalor. Following Tira’s sacrifice, the wyverns themselves adopted the faith of the Silver Flame; they consider the defense of Flamekeep to be a sacred duty. The wyverns have relatively little concept of the wider Five Nations and don’t care to know; they serve the church because they believe it serves the Voice of the Flame, and they say that Tira continues to guide them. So, Thrane can field lesser wyverns in battle, but it is the gargantuan elders who spread terror. An elder wyvern can can carry a crew into battle, and early in the war Thrane pioneered new techniques of aerial combat; their trademark was the use of vast bags of holding to drop massive rocks and divinely-infused explosives on their enemies. While the great wyverns lack the powers of dragons, some of the elders have such deep faith that they can channel the power of the Silver Flame; a wyvern might strike at enemies with sacred flame, or even greater powers.
Angels are templars equipped with wings of flying. This version of this rare item is created through a ritual that draws on the faith of the bearer; only the most devout templars can become angels, and typically the item will lose its power when the character attuned to it dies. These wings typically appear to be the rainbow wings of a couatl. Because of these elite templars, Thrane was often believed to have recruited actual angels to fight for them. While Thrane did occasionally deploy celestials formed from the Flame, the majority of its winged warriors were these mortal templars.
Thrane also employed a corps of hippogriff riders. Often a few hippogriffs would be harnessed to the back of a gargantuan wyvern, released to engage any flying enemies that sought to interfere with bombardment.
How common is/was technological powered flight (blimps, dirigibles, or balloons) in Eberron?
None have ever been mentioned in canon that I’m aware of. If I were to introduce some, I’d consider a magical aspect: a dirigible filled with Thelanian clouds, or an alternative form of elemental binding using a harnessed air elemental, which sacrifices speed but doesn’t need a Lyrandar pilot. I might also consider giving dirigibles to the Dhakaani (perhaps created by the Kech Aar’ar, the Keepers of the Air) as another way to show the Dhakanni pursuing a different path than the arcane science of the Five Nations.
How does House Vadalis relate to dragonhawks and wyverns?
House Vadalis is the primary breeder and trainer of hippogriffs. It supplied Galifar with these mounts and continued to breed hippogriffs for all nations during the war. Other creatures are bred and magebred to serve regional markets. For example, the bear is to Breland as the dragonhawk is to Aundair; so in BRELAND, House Vadalis has long worked to build a better bear, with results seen in the magebred bears unleashed on the battlefields of the Five Nations. It is also the case that Vadalis has long worked with creatures that are actually intelligent, as pegasi and the giant owls of Sharn. Such creatures are actually treated as members of the house. They are raised and trained by Vadalis, and Vadalis doesn’t SELL them; it temporarily places them, and the mounts have to agree to the service.
So that’s background: Vadalis has certain beasts and creatures that it supplies to all of the Five Nations, and others that are regional specialties. Vadalis does breed dragonhawks in Aundair, but it is not involved with the wyverns of Thrane—although it does provide Thrane with hippogriffs.
As an interesting side note, the 3.5 sourcebook Five Nations calls out that in the wake of the Eldeen secession, druids in the Reaches have awakened a number of dragonhawks and sent them east, where they may be a fifth column that can disrupt Aundair’s air forces.
What about griffons?
Griffons reflect the challenge of changing systems. In 3.5, the griffon (flight speed 80) was considerably slower than the hippogriff (flight speed 100). In fifth edition that is reversed; the griffon is both stronger AND faster than the hippogriff. With this in mind, I would consider griffons to be used by most nations as an alternative to Aundair’s dragonhawks. However, I would maintain that the griffon is more difficult to control and requires more maintenance—so hippogriffs remain the common aerial mount, with griffons as heavy support.
With the changes in Fifth Edition, how does the Hippogriff fare in the Race of Eight Winds?
Traditionally, the Hippogriff and the Pegasus are the top competitors in the Race of Eight Winds. The Pegasus remains at the top. With the hippogriff’s dramatic reduction in speed in fifth edition, the question is: do you change the lore to match the mechanics, or do you change the mechanics to match the lore? Personally, I’m going to do the latter and say that while wild hippogriffs have a speed of 60 feet, the magebred hippogriffs of House Vadalis have an air speed of 80 feet—call them zephyr hippogriffs. They are no longer FASTER than the Griffon, but the fact of the matter is that the Griffon is still usually more interested in taking down other competitors than in WINNING the Race, so the Hippogriff usually comes out ahead.
What about Aerenal? It’s the source of soarwood—does it use it for flight?
Yes. Aerenal is the source of soarwood, and it’s also significantly more mystically advanced than the Five Nations. I mentioned that Aerenal is a possible source of carpets of flying; those might be woven in part from fibers from the soarwood trees, and there might be massive carpets used as a form of transit. Brooms of flying are more common in Aerenal than even in Aundair. Here again, I’d make them skystaffs rather than BROOMS, but as is typical of Aerenal I wouldn’t see them as uniform in design and mass produced. Instead, I’d imagine them as being sort of like hobby-horses, with fanciful designs; one might have the carved head of a dragon, other the head of an eagle, with similar engraving along the shaft and a seat designed to resemble the creature’s wings. Despite all of that, we’ve never mentioned the Aereni as using airships or elemental binding, and I don’t think they do.
That’s all for now. Feel free to ask questions, but understand that I may not have time to answer them. In other developments, my latest D&D supplement Eberron Confidential is available now on the DM’s Guild, I’m continuing to work with my Patreon supporters to develop my Threshold campaign, and this Friday (November 20th) at 6 PM Pacific time I’ll be playing my new Adventure Zone game with Griffin McElroy, Laser Malena-Webber and Damion Poitier on my Twitch channel! Thanks for your support!
What are the stories that the people of the Five Nations tell during the nights of Long Shadows? Who are the equivalents of Dracula or Strahd, infamous undead whose tales are told across Khorvaire?
In looking to the bogeymen of Eberron, an immediate answer is the Daughters of Sora Kell. Consider the following exchange from the novel The Queen of Stone:
“It was Zarantyr of 972 when she came to our gate. She was a refugee. She told us that her husband and children had been killed by trolls. I’ll never forget her: Tall and thin, hair as black as a crow’s wing and just as ragged, surrounding her like a shroud woven from the night itself. I could see that her skin was flawless beneath the dirt, and her eyes were as dark as her hair.
“But it was her spirit that impressed me the most—the determination that had carried her out this far from Sharn and Wroat, the courage that kept her going after her family was destroyed. She said she was hungry, and asked if she could stay the night beneath our roof before continuing east. The commander agreed. But I didn’t stay for the evening meal. Cainan and I were sent on a scouting mission, to search for our lady’s village and to track the aggressive trolls.”
“And what did you find?” Thorn said.
Beren studied the cold fire dancing along his enchanted torch. “There was no trail to follow. It was Zarantyr, and it had snowed the day before, but there were no tracks save ours… and the snow was stained with blood. Yet there were no signs of struggle. No smashed doors, no burned buildings. Just the bones of twelve settlers, picked perfectly clean and stacked neatly by the town well. Every bone… except for the skulls. Those were nowhere to be found.”
“And the woman?”
“We returned as quickly as we could, but it was past midnight by the time we arrived. I’d called on Dol Arrah, begged the Sovereigns to let that woman be a ghost, a restless spirit who’d simply wanted her remains to be found. But I knew what we were going to find. We’d left thirty people in that fort, veteran soldiers among them. All that awaited us on our return was bones, picked clean and stacked on the table in the great hall. The skulls were gone. She’d told us the truth: She was hungry.”
This is a story of Sora Maenya. Another section of the book relays a shorter tale about her:
Maenya eats the flesh and drinks the blood, but she saves the soul, binding it forever to the bones of her victim. She sleeps on a bed made from the skulls of children, and their ghostly cries ring through the cavern, now and through the end of time…
Sora Katra is less of a brute, but also the subject of terrifying stories. Typically her tales involve the deadly consequences of making foolish bargains or trying to outwit her. But it’s often said that she weaves curses on her loom, and that she can see the moment of your death when she looks at you—“See it, or set it in stone.”
So the Daughters of Sora Kell are certainly the subject of scary stories and campfire tales. But they aren’t ghost stories. In this article I want to look specifically at the undead. Because of the limits of time and space, I am not going to actually write full stories about these figures, as we have with Sora Maenya; but I want to take a look at some of the major types of undead, with infamous example of each.
The Reality of Undead
One of the first things to keep in mind is that Eberron is not our world. It is a world in which the undead are an absolute, concrete fact. Karrnath fielded LEGIONS of the dead during the Last War. Ghouls are a public menace. There are concrete examples of villages that have been destroyed by wights. This is an important aspect of the Church of the Silver Flame; while it is a religion, it’s also very much a volunteer militia prepared to protect the innocent against the undead and other unnatural threats. Because of the efforts of the templars and the paladins of Dol Arrah, most people hope that they never will be menaced by undead. Most people haven’t actually ever seen a vampire, let alone a lich. But they still know that these things are real—and if someone says a place is haunted, people will take it seriously.
A second thing to keep in mind is the two most common sources of undead: manifest zones related to Dolurrh or Mabar. Exploring Eberron has this to say…
Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh… are still close to the Realm of the Dead and exceptionally haunted, though not blighted, as Mabaran zones typically are. Shadows move in disturbing ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out. The restless spirits of Dolurrh yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in manifest zones. They might manifest as ghosts, or animate the corpses of people buried in the zone, causing them to rise as revenants or zombies.
The key points about Dolurrhi zones and undead is that they don’t share the blighted aspect of Mabaran zones and that Dolurrhi undead aren’t driven to harm the living. Dolurrhi undead are restless, pulled toward Dolurrh and yet somehow kept from it. This can be the classic trope of unfinished business; they can’t rest until they have revenge, or until their fiancee knows the truth, or until their treasure is found. It could be a powerful emotion that keeps them tied to the world. The main thing is that Dolurrhi undead aren’t necessarily hostile or evil, but they also are often incomplete. They don’t possess the full memories or sentience they had in life; they are clinging to one sliver of their life and that utterly defines them. Tied to this is the fact that most Dolurrhi undead don’t realize they’re undead; again, they have a limited form of sentience and can’t necessarily process or retain new information. So the classic ghost-lingering-in-the-house-wanting-the-truth-about-its-murder-to-be-revealed is a Dolurrhi ghost. It doesn’t WANT to hurt anyone (except perhaps the murderer), it’s incapable of making grand schemes, and it has no opinion about, say, the destruction of the Brelish monarchy. It’s defined by the ONE STORY that is holding it from Dolurrh and as soon as that story is resolved it can finally rest. This also ties to a key point in the general discussion of undead: the Aereni believe that Mabaran undead inherently pose a threat to the living. They don’t believe that the same is true of Dolurrhi undead. But the point is that you shouldn’t aspire to become a Dolurrhi undead. A vampire or lich has its full consciousness and memories from its life. A Dolurrhi ghost is just a fragment, trapped between worlds; it’s not a satisfying alternative to life.
As for Mabar, here’s what Exploring Eberron has to say about Mabaran manifest zones…
Mabaran manifest zones are infamous and almost universally shunned, for nearly all are harmful to the flora and fauna of the region. In some zones, life withers and dies. In others, it’s twisted in strange ways; plants may seek the blood of living creatures, or grow unnaturally pale and cold. Rot and decay are often accelerated, and disease can thrive… While Mabaran manifest zones rarely serve as gateways to the plane, they are powerful sources of negative energy and produce undead. Skeletons, zombies, and ghouls can all spontaneously rise in Mabaran manifest zones, and more powerful undead can be created under the proper circumstances.
Mabar is the embodiment of entropy and despair. It seeks to consume light, life, and hope. As such, those undead produced by Mabar are driven to prey on the living. A Dolurrhi zombie may not be hostile, and could just try to complete some lingering task from its life. But barring the influence of some form of necromancer, a zombie spontaneously created by Mabar will be hostile toward living creatures; it can sense their spark of life and mindlessly seeks to extinguish it. Undead raised by necromancers elsewhere won’t automatically have this killer urge, and Seeker communities in Karrnath use zombies and skeletons for manual labor; but those that are spontaneously raised by the power of Mabar are driven by its malevolent hunger.
The major point here is that many ghost stories are likely to be tied to manifest zones to Dolurrh and Mabar. There are definitely other options—independent necromancers, the overlord Katashka—but if you’re looking for an infamously haunted castle, well, perhaps it was unintentionally on a manifest zone tied to Dolurrh. If you consider Pet Semetary where “The ground’s sour” and those buried there return as malevolent undead—that’s a Mabaran manifest zone, for sure.
Why are some undead sensitive to sunlight while others aren’t?
Sunlight is a dilute form of positive energy, and exposure to sunlight can disrupt the negative energy that sustains Mabaran undead. This effect is especially strong in certain undead, especially wraiths and specters (who are essentially pure negative energy) and vampires. Others, like skeletons and zombies, have a weaker connection to Mabar; this is also reflected by the fact that their touch doesn’t drain life energy. Such creatures may not lIKE being exposed to sunlight, but it has no mechanical effect on them. Ghosts typically aren’t actually connected to Mabar.
How does the spell create undead factor into this? Wouldn’t people be used to ghouls?
Create undead is a 6th level spell, which means that it’s beyond the standard limits of everyday life in the Five Nations (under which 1st-3rd level spells are reasonable common and 4th-5th spells are known of but rarely seen). The ability to create ghasts or wights requires an 8th level spell, which is even more rarely seen. So this is not how these creatures are normally encountered in the world.
Skeletons and Zombies
Mindless skeletons and zombies are the workhorses of any necromancer. They CAN be spontaneously animated in Mabaran manifest zones, and such undead are malevolent. However, after a century of war with Karrnath most people are familiar with the concept of skeletons and zombies that are bound to mortal’s will. There’s two factors that a necromancer will have to deal with.
Even though people know skeletons and zombies aren’t necessarily dangerous, few commoners LIKE being around them. Outside of Karrnath, many businesses refused to allow such undead on their premises.
Most people associate skeletons and zombies with Karrnath. Thus, if the townsfolk suffered at the hands of Karrnath during the Last War, they’ll transfer that aggression to the necromancer.
While necromancy isn’t ILLEGAL under the Code of Galifar, grave robbing is. While it’s rarely enacted, an officer of the law could demand that a necromancer present proof of their ownership of the corpses in their entourage. Karrnathi necromancers authorized by the Ministry of the Dead are issued warrants that authorize them to “compel the corpse of any Karrnathi citizen into service” and that will be recognized as legitimate. Likewise, established precedent allows priests of the Blood of Vol to raise the corpses of followers of the faith. But if you kill someone and then raise them as a zombie, the Sharn Watch can prosecute you as a corpse robber; this will usually result in a fine and the confiscation (and destruction) of the zombie.
A typical zombie story is driven by the Dolurrhi zombie, who despite its limited intellect doesn’t realize it’s dead and strives to complete one last task or to reach a loved one. However, there is one popular zombie tale currently in circulation. The Late Count is a comic opera by the bard Kessler; this tale revolves around a Karrnathi count whose servants resurrect him as a zombie, attempting to use the undead noble as a puppet while they have the run of the estate. Thanks to the popularity of The Late Count, zombies currently have some comic appeal in Sharn and Wroat; if a necromancer is accompanied by a single zombie dressed in fancy clothes, they can play it off as a hilarious jest.
Ghouls and Ghasts
The halflings of the Talenta Plains tell the stories of the Hungry Hunter, Oralasca. The greatest hunter of his age, Oralasca swore to eat every creature that he killed. When he was forced to kill another hafling, his oath compelled him to consume his enemy… and he developed an insatiable appetite for halfling flesh. After he slew his own tribe, Orlashka was finally slain. But so great was his hunger that his spirit lingered, slipping into the forms of weaker creatures and trying to work its way up to halfling form. One of the basic Talenta taboos is never consume the flesh of a creature that eats its own kind—because that allows the spirit of Oralasca to pass into you and transform you into a ghoul.
Ghouls are the most commonly encountered undead threat in the Five Nations. They are especially common in Mabaran manifest zones, but they can spontaneously spawn when Mabar is coterminous, when powerful necrotic forces are unleashed, or seemingly, anywhere where large numbers of people die at once; massive battlefields often spawn ghouls prowling among the corpses. While technically sentient, Mabaran ghouls have no memory of their former lives and are driven by their hunger. The Restful Watch and the templars of the Silver Flame both patrol cemeteries and sewers watching for ghouls, and most cities in the Five Nations have a bounty on ghouls, the value of which varies based on the extent of the threat. After skeletons and zombies, ghouls are the easiest undead to create; it’s largely a matter of binding a corpse to Mabar. However, such ghouls are more aggressive than zombies or skeletons, and unless they are directly controlled they will seek to sate their endless hunger. Karrnath experimented with ghoul forces during the Last War, but the resources required to control them were too great; however, on a few occasions they used bags of holding to drop packs of ghouls behind enemy lines, sowing terror among their enemies.
While Mabaran ghouls are savage, there are other strains of ghoul. There are ghouls in the Talenta Plains that inhabit the forms of beasts, and the Talenta say that all of these creatures are guided by the spirit of Orlasca; this can result in surprising cunning and pack tactics, or a pack of ghouls all speaking with one voice (note that Orlasca ghouls speak Halfling, not Common).
Another strain of ghoul can be found among the cults of Katashka the Gatekeeper. These cults revolve around the idea that the practice of ritual cannibalism will protect the cultists from disease, aging, and death. And it does—but over time, the rituals transform the cultists into ghouls. These ghouls retain their full memories and intellect, but are increasingly consumed and driven by their unnatural appetites. Some of Katashka’s ghouls can maintain their original mortal appearance as long as they are well fed, but if they food supply dwindles, their undead nature becomes increasingly apparent. Such ghouls can potentially form mutually beneficial partnerships with vampires; the vampire needs the blood of the living, and the ghouls consume the flesh that remains.
Ghasts are for the most part old ghouls. The longer a ghoul survives, the deeper the power that animates it sinks into its flesh. Mabaran and Orlasca ghasts have greater intellect than ghouls, and can make more cunning plans. Katashka ghasts retain their mental ability scores from their former life, and also have the ability to control their foul odor; they are typically leaders of ghoul cults.
Wights and Wraiths
The people of the Lhazaar Principalities tell tales of the Ship of Bones, not to mention the haunted vessels of the Bloodsails. But the sailors of Stormreach speak of the Crimson Shadow. It is the name of both a vessel and its captain, a Khoravar pirate with a swift sloop. Rather than taking a vessel in open conflict, the Crimson Shadow would approach a target under cover of darkness. In some tales the Shadow had a crew of swift and silent killers, but most say that the Crimson Shadow would board an enemy vessel on her own and kill its entire crew—taking its most precious cargo aboard her sloop, and abandoning the vessel to drift lifeless. The Crimson Shadow was revealed to be Jola Wylkes, daughter of the Harbor Master of Stormreach. Her lineage couldn’t save her, and she was hanged for her crimes. But two months later another ship was found adrift, its crew butchered. The common tale is that the Keeper recognized talent when he saw it—and that he returned the Crimson Shadow to the seas, for as long as she continues to send him new souls and the treasures he desires.
A wight is a mortal that has made a bargain with a dark power after death. Wights were invariably effective killers in their mortal life; some wights are bandits or serial killers, but over the course of the Last War warrior wights rose in every nation. One of the deadliest wights of the last century is Azael Vadallia, a Valenar wight who’s said to be searching for warriors worthy to join his undead warband.
The typical bargain of a wight is simple: you continue to exist as an undead creature as long as you continue to kill. However, different wights operate under different restrictions, and their powers may vary as a result. The default wight of the Monster Manual reflects a typical warrior or bandit. However, wights retain much of their memories and skills from life, and can be considerably more dangerous. According to the Monster Manual, a wight raises its victims as zombies, and is limited to twelve of them. But historically, Malleon the Reaver is said to have led an army of thousands when he rose as a wight. And Azael Vadallia has only raised a few of his victims, but the members of his warband are also wights, not zombies.
In common folklore, wights are thought to make their bargains with the Keeper. However, most wights actually forge their pacts with the Bone King of Mabar, one of the Dark Powers of the Endless Night. Some wights remain continuously active, but most wights go through periods of torpor that can last for years or decades; during this time, the wight’s body appears to be a corpse, while its spirit resides in the Kingdom of Bones in Mabar. This often leads to wights being dismissed as folktales, because the wight can disappear for a generation before returning to kill again. When the wight is finally destroyed, its spirit remains in the Kingdom of Bones; an exceptionally strong-willed wight may eventually return as a wraith.
One question is what fate befalls those killed by a wight. If the victim is merely allowed to die, its soul travels to Dolurrh. But if the victim’s corpse is raised by the wight, the victim’s soul may be claimed by the wight’s patron—bound in miserable service in the Kingdom of Bones, or perhaps trapped in the Lair of the Keeper. If a DM chooses to enact this rule, then the only way to raise such a victim from the dead is to free its spirit from this bondage.
The defining feature of a wight is that it was a killer in life and continues to kill in undeath. While many wights were soldiers or bandits, a wight could have been a serial killer, a pirate, an assassin—anyone whose achievements draw the attention of a dark power and is willing to bargain with it. It’s possible that there could be a templar wight who is determined to pay its tithe to its patron with the blood of evildoers, but the wight is suffused with the essence of Mabar and bound to its Dark Power, and this tends to erode any compassion or empathy the victim once had.
Wraiths and Specters
A wraith is a spirit that has become deeply intwined with Mabar and that is unable to ever truly find oblivion in Dolurrh. Wraiths are often the end result of other forms of undead; wights, mummies or vampires whose physical forms degrade or are destroyed may linger as wraiths.
A wraith’s behavior and abilities often depend on its original form. Wraiths formed from mummies continue to be bound by the oaths that hold them on Eberron. Wraiths formed from wights likewise continue to be bound by their pacts with their patron. Such wraiths are generally tied to the Bone King or the Queen of All Tears, and like wights they can be pulled into Mabar for extended periods of time; eventually, most are permanently drawn into the Endless Night. This is the classic source of the wraith who only manifests when its tomb is disturbed; at other times, it dwells in Mabar.
The Bloodsail elves of Farlnen have devised rituals that can transform a mortal creature into a wraith. Such wraiths aren’t bound by the oaths and pacts of wights or mummies, but they this means that they sustain their existence with pure will; essentially, the wraith only endures as long as they can remember who they are, and over time many lose cohesion and fade, becoming specters. Lady Illmarrow knows the techniques to create wraiths, and has created a number to serve her in the Emerald Claw. Many of these lack the will to maintain their existence for decades, but they serve her purposes for now. The most infamous wraith of the Bloodsails is the Grim Lord Varonaen, one of the founders of the principality; though his physical form was destroyed in a clash with the Aereni Deathguard, through sheer will he persists as a wraith.
Specters are a lesser form of wraith. As described in the Monster Manual, “A specter is the angry, unfettered spirit of a humanoid that has been prevented from passing to the afterlife. Specters no longer possess connections to who or what they were, yet are condemned to walk the world forever.” Specters possess traces of memory from their mortal life, but unlike a wraith they don’t possess full consciousness or memory, and lack the skills of their mortal life; they can remember just enough to be tormented by what they’ve lost, and they are drawn to consume the life energy of mortals, destroying what they cannot have. Another form of specter is the never-living; these are pure extensions of Mabar, negative energy shaped into a humanoid form. Mechanically identical to those who were once mortal, such specters have no human memories and seek only to feed. Never-living wraiths can be generated by powerful necromancers, and can be found serving Katashka cults or lingering in the domain of the Keeper.
Ghosts, Banshees, and Dawn Specters
Ghosts are typically tied to Dolurrh, as discussed earlier in this article. In Khorvaire, ghost stories are as plentiful as they are in our world, and tell similar tales; souls trapped between Eberron and Dolurrh, driven to complete their unfinished business or held fast by emotions or memories they can’t let go. While they have at least some of their memories from life, most ghosts aren’t fully aware of their condition or the passage of time, and they generally can’t retain new information. They are a remnant of someone who has died, but existence as a ghost isn’t something most people would aspire to; it’s a half-life. Even where there are unusual ghosts with greater consciousness and awareness, most are bound to something—a location, an object, a bloodline—and they can’t roam freely. Ghosts have no connection to Mabar and no innate desire to harm the living. Some may, especially if they are driven by anger or were hateful in life, but being a ghost is driven by the bond that keeps them from Dolurrh, not be a hunger to harm the living.
The typical banshee is a form of ghost, tied to Dolurrh rather than to Mabar. A banshee is bound to Eberron by an intense tragedy. It’s the pain of this tragedy that drives the banshee to lash out at the living (reflected by its typically evil alignment), and it’s this intense, focused pain that empowers the banshee’s wail; it’s not that it drains the life from its victims, but rather that it inflicts such intense emotional trauma that most creatures die of heart attacks or are rendered catatonic. Like most ghosts, banshees are generally trapped in their tragedy and largely unaware of the passage of time, unable to fully process new things.
Dolurrhi banshees can be formed from humanoids of any species or gender; one of the classic Dhakaani ghost stories is of the dirge singer who will not die. In creating a Dolurrhi banshee, replace Elvish with Languages known in life. However, the Dark Power known as the Queen of All Tears has created a strain of Mabaran banshees specifically drawn from elf woman who have suffered great tragedies. These handmaidens of sorrow have more in common with wraiths than with ghosts. They are typically fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, and they split their time between haunting the place of their sorrow and the Court of Tears in Mabar.
Dawn specters are a variety of ghost commonly found in Aereni; they’re a form of deathless. Dawn specters must be bound to something—either a location or a spirit idol. Beyond this, a dawn specter’s ability to manifest is tied to the devotion it receives from the people of a community. So you might find the dawn specter of a bard entertaining patrons in an Aereni tavern; the joy of the patrons is what allows it to maintain its form and interact with world. A dawn specter uses the stat block of a ghost, with the following changes: it has no immunity to necrotic damage and is immune to radiant damage. Its Radiant Touch is similar to the Withering Touch of the ghost, but deals radiant damage rather than necrotic. Instead of Horrifying Visage, its Glorious Visage charms victims rather than frightening them, and there is no threat of aging. A dawn specter can possess a mortal, just like a ghost; however, most dawn specters can’t go more than 10 miles from the object or location they are bound to, even while possessing a mortal. Some Aereni willingly allow dawn specters to possess them, to allow the dead elf to interact directly with its descendants; however, there are limits on how long the spirit can maintain such possession.
Surely you’ve heard of Haldon d’Cannith, the Vampire Prince of Starilaskur? When he took over the post of Cannith viceroy, he began running his factories at all hours to meet the demands of the war. He chained his workers to their stations, and those who challenged him were publicly tortured… and he drank the blood from their wounds. The common folk begged the duke for aid, but he was deeply Haldon’s thrall and turned a deaf ear to their cries. Later, Haldon began using prisoners of war in his factories, and that was when he truly began working his people to death… and who cared what became of their corpses and their delicious blood? Here we are sixty years later, and Haldon is still viceroy. He can’t use prison labor any more, but I hear he’s taken on Cyran refugees…
While most people have never seen a vampire, everyone knows about them. As a result, it’s common for people to see vampires where none exist. Is something especially cruel or bloodthirsty? Have they lived longer than seems plausible? Sounds like a vampire to me! Haldon d’Cannith might well be a vampire, who uses his workers to slake his thirst. On the other hand, he could simply be a ruthless industrialist, and all those stories of his imposing a blood tax on his workers are just sensational rumors. If he truly has held his post for sixty years, it could be that he’s been taking experimental alchemical treatments to extend his life… or it’s possible that the current Haldon d’Cannith is the SON of the man who inspired the tales, and the rumor-mongers just ignore that aspect of the story. Essentially, people SAY Haldon is a vampire… only the DM knows if he actually is.
Vampires don’t occur naturally, which is to say that they aren’t generated spontaneously by Mabaran manifest zones. Creating a vampire is an act of epic necromancy that infuses a humanoid creature with the power of Mabar. The first known vampires were created by the Qabalrin elves in the Age of Giants, and the line of Vol resurrected these techniques to create a number of vampire bloodlines on Aerenal. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol, its allies were allowed to flee; some settled on the island of Farlnen and founded the Bloodsail Principality, while others spread west, helped to establish the Blood of Vol in what’s now Karrnath. These elves brought vampires with them, and most vampires in Khorvaire can ultimately trace their bloodlines back to Aerenal. With that said, there were vampires in the line of Vol for tens of thousands of years, and some came to Khorvaire long before the Mark of Death appeared in Aerenal. One of the oldest vampires on Khorvaire is the hobgoblin dirge singer Iraala of the Kech Nasaar, who became a vampire through dealings with the line of Vol before the Empire fell. So it’s possible that a vampire in western Khorvaire could trace their lineage to the Nasaar bloodline—but ultimately, that too leads back to Aerenal.
Once you have one vampire, it’s easy to make more. So why aren’t vampires more common? The primary reason is that it’s not easy being a vampire. A vampire is bound to Mabar, and Mabar is hungry. It is this that fuels a vampire’s thirst for both the blood and life energy of the living. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult for a vampire not to see all living creatures as prey. A weak-willed vampire will quickly devolve into a feral predator; such creatures use the statistics of vampire spawn, but their Intelligence is more a measure of cunning than of rational thought. It takes strong will to maintain your personality as a vampire, and stronger still to maintain any empathy or compassion for other creatures. This is why vampires are seen as monsters; many do become ghoulish killers that need to be hunted down by templars of the Silver Flame, the knights of Dol Arrah, or the Aereni Deathguard. This is an additional reason most vampires don’t make legions of spawn; all it takes is one spawn going feral and drawing templars to town to lead to a deep purge. Undead have no rights under the Code of Galifar, and destroying a vampire isn’t considered murder; you’d just better be sure your target is a vampire before you kill the mayor.
The Qabalrin are the common source of vampires, but there are other paths…
The Bone King of Mabar can transform a mortal into a vampire. Such vampires cannot spawn other vampires; most instead transform victims into ghouls. When they are destroyed their spirits are drawn to the domain of the Bone King, where the exist as wraiths.
There are a few examples of devotees of the Keeper becoming vampires. Such vampires cannot create spawn at all. Their hunger is a manifestation of the greed of the Keeper, and the souls of creatures they slay may be bound, similar to the effect of a Keeper’s fang.
At the DM’s discretion, these three strains—Bone King, Keeper, Qabalrin—could have different weaknesses. For example, it could be that the vampires of the Bone King aren’t harmed by running water, but are vulnerable to fire; while it may be that the Qabalrin vampires don’t require permission to enter a dwelling, but also can’t assume bat form or control bats. I’m not personally going to assign these things, in my opinion it’s best for the DM to decide and for players do have to discover these using the Arcana or Religion skills of their characters. But it’s definitely reasonable to say that there are unique aspects to different bloodlines, and that things that are commonly accepted as weaknesses may not apply to all vampires—though if I remove a weakness, I’d be sure to add a new one.
Other forms of vampire—such as the penanggalan—are tied to rituals developed by different cultures, and simply aren’t as widespread as the Qabalrin techniques. In adding such variant vampires, consider the source. Are they tied to an overlord, like Katashka the Gatekeeper? Were they created by one of the princes of Ohr Kaluun?
Most people are familiar with the concept of undead guardians bound to protect tombs or temples. The people of Karrnath have more practical experience with these oathbound, as they are the most common form of sentient undead associated with the Blood of Vol; the Crimson Monastery of Atur has been staffed with mummies since before the founding of Galifar. While they may be the most common form of undead, they still aren’t COMMON and even most Karrns have never met one; they just are familiar with the concept of oathbound, and know that they’re generally guardians as opposed to ravening monsters.
Mummies are discussed in more detail in this article. Many different cultures and traditions have produced mummies, and like vampires their abilities could vary based on the culture that produced them and the oaths that bind them to undeath.
Lady Illmarrow is older than bones. Some say she came to Khorvaire with the elves, but the way I’ve heard it, she was a queen of the Forgotten People, the humans who ruled this land before there ever were goblins or orcs. She’s forgotten more about magic than the wizards of Arcanix have ever learned. People say she weaves a grand tapestry made from souls—that when she’s quiet, it’s because she’s got all she needs to keep her busy, but when she runs out of thread it’s time to harvest more. It was Lady Illmarrow who set the Talons of Ice ravaging the north during the reign of Marala ir’Wynarn, and she’s made the boneclaw wyverns that nest in the Icewood. What’s that? Why hasn’t some bold hero faced this villain? Oh, many have, and many are frozen into the walls of her palace. Haryn Stormblade surely did slay Lady Illmarrow, and brought her crown to his king. But you can’t kill a thing that’s already dead, and it was Illmarrow that created the shadow plague that killed the king—and it was her shadow that reclaimed her crown. Illmarrow can’t die, and if she’s stirring again, all we can hope is to wait it out.
Common folk aren’t familiar with the specific abilities of the lich, but people understand the basic concept of ancient undead wizard who can’t die. With that said, liches are among the rarest of all undead, rivaled only by death knights. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the idea is that a necromancer can’t make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And even more so than a vampire, becoming a lich requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction. The oldest member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, began as a lich and has become a demilich over time. But he can’t just make other Seekers into liches; he can teach the rituals, but the aspirant has to be able to perform them.
The default lich in the Monster Manual is presented as an arcane spellcaster, but there is certainly a divine path to lichdom. The people of the north know about Lady Illmarrow, but the Brelish tell stories of Gath. In life, Hogar Gath was the high priest of the Sovereign Host, infamous for his love of luxuries. After his death it was revealed that Gath had also been leading a cult of the Keeper in lower Sharn… and that he was still leading it. Champions of the Silver Flame rallied and destroyed the undead priest. But thieves who sought to pillage his “mausoleum”—effectively a mansion he’d built in Sharn’s City of the Dead—rarely returned. Typically this was attributed to the deadly wards and traps, the finest and most expensive House Kundarak could survive. But stories circulated that Gath himself had risen again, and still dwelled in the mausoleum. This was a pattern that would continue for centuries. Once he was revealed to be behind a new criminal organization that was challenging the Boromar Clan. Another time he was exposed as the force behind a smuggling ring being run out of the Pavilion of the Host itself. Sometimes he’s destroyed, sometimes he flees; whatever happens, he always returns eventually.
The typical lich must be a master of arcane science, and most are consumed by their obsession with eldritch knowledge. Divine liches are rarer and more unique. Gath didn’t become a lich by accident. He prepared for it, which is one reason his mausoleum was so richly appointed and heavily secured. And those preparations required him to perform sacrifices that were both horrific and expensive. His love of luxuries is just a surface manifestation of his absolute and relentless GREED—which is ultimately what makes him such an effective servant of the Keeper. Where the arcane lich is sustained by will, in many ways Gath is sustained by that greed—by the desire to expand his hoard, to have the finest things; in many ways, he is more akin to the classic dragon than any dragon of Argonnessen. He doesn’t care about conquest and has no inherent desire to kill others: but he will do ANYTHING to satisfy his greed, and he will NEVER be satisfied with what he has. He does also continue to serve as a talon of the Keeper, training new priests and serving as an intermediary for those who would bargain with the Sovereign of Death and Decay. And adventurers could be surprised to find that the mysterious patron who funded their expedition wants them to deliver the treasure they recovered to the City of the Dead. He is absolutely EVIL, but his schemes are always driven by greed, and might not actually pose a threat to the world at large… and he can pay his agents VERY well. Gath uses the stat block of a lich, but his spells should be chosen from the cleric spell list (along with those spells available to the Trickery domain).
The Nightwood didn’t always stretch as far north as it does today. Back before Galifar, it was the domain of a family long devoted to the Blood of Vol. The rulers, they were champions of the Blood of Vol, and those around ’em didn’t think much of that. But the lord and lady, they were unmatched on the battlefield. Came a time that they were fighting a plague of warlocks, foul cultists sworn to the Queen of Shadows. The lady, she cuts her way through them, but the last one speaks with the voice of the Queen and curses her: if she says even one word, her children will die. Now, this victory over the warlocks was a glorious thing, and the lord insists that they have a grand celebration. Warlords come from all about, and in the midst of the feast, the lady sees an assassin drawing a knife by her husband. She’s got time to shout a warning, but she puts her children before her lover and holds her tongue, has to watch him die. It’s a massacre; the lord and lady are killed, the castle razed, the land itself shunned and soon overrun by the Nightwood.
Not an uncommon story in old Karrnath. Except for the fact that over the next year, each of the scheming warlords was slain—and no one ever saw or heard them die, even those just on the other side of a door. There’s them that say that it was the lady, risen to take vengeance, and that she still rules over her ruined castle in the Nightwood. But the curse is still on her, that if she speaks her children—or their descendants now—will die. So you’d best not harm any Seeker child that you meet; if you do, the Silent Knight will come for you. Nothing will stand in her way, and no one will hear you die.
The rarest of all undead, a death knight blends aspects of ghost and wraith. A death knight is forged when someone of deep devotion and martial skill—typically, a paladin—suffers intense tragedy leading to their death. This tragedy typically involves the character breaking their own oaths, blending loss with shame. A death knight can’t rest, in part because they won’t allow themselves to forget their shame. The divine power they once channeled is replaced by the pure power of Mabar. Some find brief solace in taking vengeance on mortal enemies, but largely a death knight spends its time meditating on its pain.
The Silent Knight is one known death knight, and she is a member of the Crimson Covenant of the Blood of Vol. She still acts to protect her descendants, but she’s also believed to have killed descendants who have in her eyes brought shame to their house—perhaps by abandoning the Seeker faith, by becoming a warlock, or by forming a romantic attachment to someone of one of the bloodlines that betrayed her. She does not speak and can extend an aura of magical silence at will, though this silence doesn’t prevent her from casting spells.
Another infamous death knight is Prince Moren of the Lhazaar Principalities. Once a bold swashbuckler and beloved prince, he betrayed his beloved and his treachery resulted in the destruction of his principality. Murdered by his own crew, he now he sails the Lhazaar Sea in a ship of bones, hunting treacherous captains and forcing them to serve his vessel.
That’s all for now! I know that this doesn’t cover every possible type of undead, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to go into further detail; if you’ve done something interesting with other undead in your Eberron, tell the story in the comments!
This topic was chosen by my Patreon backers, whose support makes it possible for me to spend the time it takes to write articles like this. The main topic for November will be determined by a poll on Patreon, which I’ll be posting shortly!
Gnomes Beyond Zilargo was the topic my Patreon supporters chose in September, and there’s a lingering question: What would you do with the Svirfneblin in Eberron?
In my personal campaign I tend to limit the number of unique species and subspecies in the world. For example, in my campaign, Hill Dwarves, Mountain Dwarves, Ruinbound Dwarves, and Mark of Warding Dwarves are all just “dwarves”—a character from the Mror Holds could use any of those subraces and I’d just describe the character as a “Mror dwarf”, not a “Mountain dwarf.” Essentially, the Mountain Dwarf subrace represents early military training—it’s a secondary background, not a genetic disposition.
So with that in mind, I have a set of questions I ask when adding any exotic race to Eberron: Why do you want to add this race to the world? Is it simply that you want a character that has its mechanical advantages? Could your character be UNIQUE—perhaps a creation of House Vadalis, Mordain the Fleshweaver, or the daelkyr? Or do you want to add the CULTURE to the world—because you specifically want to be part of the society associated with that species?
With that in mind, the next step is to look at the svirfneblin and identify their defining features in Fifth Edition. As a subrace, they don’t actually have a lot of abilities: they have Superior Darkvision, Stone Camouflage, and speak Undercommon. If we look further to the Monster Manual description, Deep Gnomes have innate spellcasting abilities, and can cast nondetection, disguise self, blur, and blindness. This ties to their existing story: they are a society of subterranean gnomes who have close ties to earth elementals and who largely use their magic to avoid contact with outsiders, hiding themselves away. Keeping both sets of abilities in mind, here’s a few ways I might use them in MY Eberron.
The Gnomes of Lorghalen
Earlier I wrote an article about the Gnomes of Lorghalen, presenting them as a reclusive culture with strong ties to elementals. I wouldn’t say that ALL Lorghalen gnomes are svirfneblin; most dwell on the surface of the island and have no use for Superior Darkvision, the Lorghali work with a wide range of elementals, and I don’t see any reason for the Lorghali to be physically distinct from their Zil ancestors. However, I think it’s entirely plausible to say that there are a number of Lorghali families who took up residence in deep caverns below the island—caves with an especially strong tie to Lamannia, specifically the element of earth. It’s this that drew these families down there—it’s much easier to perform earth magic and work with earth elementals in the depths—and that over the course of generations, the energies of the caverns mutated these families, creating the genetically distinct Deep Gnomes. Essentially, it’s a variation of the genasi. I think these Deep Gnomes would be a fully integrated part of Lorghali society, even if they largely chose to remain in their caves; the Lorghali are a close-knit society, and I don’t see the unusual appearance of the svirfneblin being an issue.
If I went with this approach, I would replace Undercommon with Primordial; the Lorghali have no contact with the daelkyr or their followers, while they use Primordial in their dealings with elementals.
Agents of the Trust
The Trust is known for its secrecy. There’s even rumors of “ghost agents” who use rings of invisibility and sustenance to live their lives entirely unknown. What if evidence surfaced that the Trust wasn’t just training and equipping spies, but that they had magebred a subspecies of gnome, born into the service of the Trust and innately imbued with the ability to evade divination? If you don’t wish to hold on to the culture of the Deep Gnomes, this is a story you could explore. Per the Monster Manual, the svirfneblin can cast nondetection at will—an exceptional tool for a spy. And disguise self and blur are both excellent tools for espionage.
There’s two ways to take this. The first is more benevolent—the process of becoming a Deep Gnome is voluntary, and involves both training and alchemical, arcane treatments—more Captain America than Doctor Moreau. If I went this way, then a player character svirfneblin might be an active agent of the Trust: James Jalius Bonde.
A second approach is to emphasize that the process used to create these Deep Agents is horrifying and that they are forced to serve through lifelong indoctrination and psychological conditioning—that the people of Zilargo don’t know about the svirfneblin and would be horrified if they found out. In this case, I’d emphasize that this is the work of a small sub-branch of the Trust—a semi-rogue agency who has hidden their work from the Triumvirate. The reason for this is to emphasize that if a player character is a svirvneblin who’s broken free, that they aren’t being pursued by the entire Trust, which is a crazy burden to place on a PC; rather, they are dealing with a secret agency WITHIN the Trust, which has limited resources. My inspiration here would be the Bourne Identity series—The hero is hunted by Treadstone, not the entire US government. I’d suggest that the player character is presumed dead, and is trying to stay off the grid. With that in mind, I’d actually be willing to give the Svirfneblin Magic feat, but emphasize that they NEED to stay hidden or they will be targeted by assassins. While it’s a powerful ability, there’s a limited number of scenarios that will actually be broken by nondetection, and I think it’s a fun story to explore.
A third possibility would be to make the svirfneblin a society of gnomes WITHIN Zilargo who managed to magebreed themselves to induce the natural nondetection and other talents, as a way to avoid being watched Trust. Essentially, a secret enclave of brilliant alchemist artificers who believe that the Trust is watching EVERYONE with divination magic ALL THE TIME—sort of a tinfoil hat conspiracy taken to an amazing extreme!
Would these Eberron deep gnomes still be gray and bald?
The Lorghali deep gnomes would. The idea is that it’s a physical mutation similar to a genasi. In the case of the “Captain America” agent of the Trust or the “Tinfoil Hat” gnome, I’d be inclined to give them the abilities of the deep gnome but not the traditional appearance; in which case Stone Camouflage might be a sort of limited invisibility (given that it works regardless of what the character is wearing, it’s presumable not just based on skin color). With the “Bourne Identity” version of the Trust agent, I personally WOULD keep the gray-and-bald appearance to emphasize how dramatic the experiments were—that they largely DO stay hidden (though again, Svirfneblin Magic gives them limited use of disguise self!). Of course, in that storyline almost no one knows what a deep gnome is; they’d be a curiosity, quite possibly mistaken for some sort of goblin.
Have you used svirfneblin in an Eberron campaign? If so, share your approach in the comments! And if you’ve missed any of the previous gnome articles, check out the Gnomes of Lorghalen and the Gnomes of Pylas Pyrial! And if you want to vote on the topic of the next dragonmark article, check out my Patreon!
In September, my Patreon supporters chose “Gnomes Beyond Zilargo” as the topic of the month, and I partially covered the topic with this article on The Gnomes of Lorghalen. It’s no longer September, but I wanted to address the Gnomes of Pylas Pyrial before moving on to the next topic.
The Glamerwind River connects the Zil city of Oskilor to the Thunder Sea. There’s only a few small villages along the banks of the river. But choose the right time to sail down the Glamerwind and you may hear ethereal music coming from the Shimmerwood. At night, you might see swarms of glimmering lights dancing among the trees—flights of pixies creating dazzling displays of illusion. If you abandon your boat and follow the music or the dancing lights, you may find a massive tower rising up in a vast clearing, a spire of glowing white stone entwined with threads of gleaming gold. This is Pylas Pyrial, the Gate of Joy—a citadel of the Faerie Court, a wonder from Thelanis momentarily in the mortal world.
Pylas Pyrial is a feyspire. Most of the time it rests in the Moonlit Vale of Thelanis, at certain times it is drawn into Eberron. Usually this occurs when the moon Rhaan is full, but this alone isn’t the determining factor; according to Shan Pyrial, the ruler of the spire, it is the “tides of joy” that draw it to the material plane. Even when it is present, it can’t always be found; people have wandered in the Shimmerwood for days, trying to follow the music and yet never finding it. Additional information about the feyspires can be found in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. In general, most feyspires remain hidden from the nations that surround them and are known only from stories. Pylas Pyrial has been known to the gnomes since long before Zilargo was founded, and the majority of the inhabitants of the feyspire are gnomes. Many Korranberg scholars believe that the gnomes of Eberron are most likely descended from gnomes who left Pylas Pyrial long ago; this explains the natural talents for illusion and wild speech that many gnomes develop, both of which are common among the gnomes of Pylas Pyrial. The question is why these ancient gnomes would have left Pylas Pyrial in sufficient numbers to create a beachhead for a new species on Eberron… and adding to this mystery is the fact that Shan Pyrial refuses to discuss it.
While Pylas Pyrial is known to the Zil, they haven’t spread the news of its existence widely. It’s generally seen as a family secret shared by the Zil—told as a story that they know is real. But given how sporadically it appears, one can’t ever be sure of finding it. The region of the Shimmerwood surrounding the tower is a powerful Thelanian manifest zone, and those who have tried to clear the forest or build too close to the spire have always suffered disasters; and those who come to the spire driven by greed cannot pass through the gates. There are a few villages along the Glamerwind, whose people maintain ties with the spire and rejoice when it returns… and there are agents of the Trust in these villages, who monitor the tower and make sure the fey don’t pose a threat to the nation. But by and large Pylas Pyrial is allowed to be a wonder. While it’s shown on OUR maps, the Zil don’t mark it on the standard maps they produce; after all, most of the time it’s not there!
THE GNOMES OF JOY
When the Prince of Summer was betrayed by his lover, his heart froze and he became the Prince of Frost. So bitter was he that he tore the sun from the sky, swearing that there should be no light in the vale while there was no light in his heart. None of the lords of the court challenged him. Some remained silent out of fear, but most found that they preferred to live in moonlight, and so the Moon Court found its name. But there was a gnome who loved to dance under the sun and sought a respite from the somber shadows. She went to the prince’s palace of frozen tears, and found the doors frozen shut. She sang a happy song, and caught the notes as they rose to the sky, carrying her to the highest tower. The prince’s servants barred her path, but the gnome danced with them and melted their frozen hearts. She found the prince on his glittering throne, and begged for him to return the sun. The Prince challenged the gnome to dance for him, to maintain her high spirits while he spoke of every tragedy of the past and of those yet to come. The Prince was certain her heart would freeze as his had, but the gnome held fast to her hope and her light. At last the Prince relented, telling her: You shall be the Prince of Joy, keeper of the summer sun. But you must keep it within your own tower until all of the lords of the Moon Court ask for its return. And you must keep joy bright in your heart, for if it ever fades, the sun will fade with it.
Consider the basic attributes of the Forest gnome. They’re quick, they’re clever, they have a talent for illusions and the ability to speak with small beasts. Add to this mix strong curiosity and a general love of life. These are the gnomes of Pylas Pyrial. In dealing with a Pyrial gnome, imagine that they have stepped right out of a folktale—because in a very real sense, they have. They live in a world that is defined by storybook logic, a world where a good heart and noble intent will allow the reckless hero to overcome those who would do them harm. Some Pyrial gnomes are idealistic and naive, easily deceived; however, others are far more clever than their enemies expect, affecting trust to convince an enemy to lower their guard. However, even such cunning gnomes are never cruel or driven by selfish goals. Joy is the defining principle of Pylas Pyrial. The spire and its people celebrate life, embracing the brightest moments and pushing through the dark.
If this sounds extremely optimistic for the noir-touched world of Eberron, it’s because it is. Pylas Pyrial isn’t a mortal city. It’s an idea, a story about the happiest place on Eberron. It’s a place where the sunlight never fades, where there is always music and laughter. It’s a city where everyone looks out for each other, where people give the happiness of a neighbor the same weight as their own. If it’s hard to imagine how this works, the answer is to not look at it too closely. Because again, on a certain level it’s not real. The gardens always produce a surplus. The golden light of the Summer Sunbanishes disease. Most of its people have never experienced hardship or bitter loss. Some are artisans, creating the wonders that are part of everyday life in the Spire. Some are entertainers, tasked to sing and dance, raising the spirits of those who see and hear them. Others tend the gardens and work in the kitchens, for in Pylas Pyrial every day ends with a grand feast and celebration. Regardless of their position, the people of Pylas Pyrial love what they do, and love bringing happiness to those around them.
Pylas Pyrial typically only appears in Zilargo for a few days each year. Its people welcome guests, but those carrying greed or cruelty in their hearts cannot pass through the Gate of Joy. This is a trait of the gates themselves, not something the guards can control; generally, the guards will talk with those who cannot enter, trying to learn what burdens them and help them to find a path to joy. Once within the spire, strangers are celebrated. The people of Pylas Pyrial are always curious to learn more about the “Sunlit World” (their name for Eberron, in contrast to the Moonlit Vale where the spire spends most of its days). Visitors are encouraged to tell stories, and display whatever talents they might possess. Entertainers will find an enthusiastic audience, and the day always ends with a glorious heroes feast.
The people of Pylas Pyrial trade with the local villagers, and it’s possible to obtain wonders here; common magic items truly are commonplace, and more powerful items can be obtained. But the Pyrial gnomes have no need of gold and no interest in profit. They seek things that bring joy, and may be willing to trade a magic item for a fantastic joke or a heirloom that has brought delight to many despite having no real value. They may also trade things in exchange for promises—a promise to spread joy or to help those dwelling in darkness. But bear in mind that those driven by greed cannot pass the gates, and further that as Pylas Pyrial is on the edge of Thelanis, promises made here carry great weight. While the spire can be a source of wonderful magic items, the creations of Pylas Pyrial cannot easily be replicated in the Sunlit World of Eberron; Zil artificers have long tried to reverse-engineer these gifts, but the magic woven into them is tied to Thelanis and defies all logical arcane science.
The spire itself is surprisingly reminiscent of one of the great towers of Sharn; it is a vast hollow cylinder, with people living on ledges around the edges and platforms and bridges crossing it. At a glance, it seems that the sun itself is at the top of the spire, but in fact this is a globe in a golden cage. The Pyrials say that this is the sun the prince plucked from the sky in Thelanis; on closer examination, it seems to be a crystal sphere about the size of a wagon wheel. Flights of pixies and sprites fill the air. There is always music, and yet it can dramatically change from platform to platform. The temperature is perfect, and there are delightful scents in the air… but both those scents and the temperature vary to match what delights you. On some platforms people play games; on others people dance, dine, or contemplate things of beauty. Many visitors might wish to remain forever, but few can. Most creatures of the Sunlit World will find themselves left behind when the spire departs, suddenly standing in the Shimmerwood. Those who do remain within find it easy to be lost in the endless celebration, losing track of time and whatever goals they might have had. However, those who keep their wits about them can venture out into the Moonlit Vale. In this way, Pylas Pyrial can both provide a passage to Thelanis and a safe haven for adventurers who wish to explore it or negotiate with the Moon Court.
Trouble In Paradise
At a glance, Pylas Pyrial is a magical wonderland… A literal embodiment of joy. Those with evil in their hearts can’t cross its threshold. But there are a number of ways to challenge the joy of Pylas Pyrial. Consider the following ideas…
Wounded in War. During the Last War Aundair launched a sneak attack against Zilargo, targeting a production facility in the Shimmerwood creating alchemical weapons for Breland. This force—which included ground troops, siege staffs, and a team of bombardiers on skystaffs—successfully made it up the Glamerwind, but mistook Pylas Pyrial for its target. The spire withstood the fierce siege, but sustained damage before it disappeared, and a number of residents of the spire who’d been wandering in the woods were left behind. Shan Pyrial was injured in this attack and her wound will not heal; some fear that the vision of war has wounded her sense of joy, and should that fade the tower will crumble and perhaps, the sun itself will be extinguished. It may be that the spire has not returned to Eberron since then, or that if it has the inhabitants have refused to open the gates.
Stranded on Eberron. The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide proposed the idea that a number of Feyspires have been trapped on Eberron since the Mourning, and that the cataclysm also stripped the towers of the defenses that have kept them hidden—along with the enchantments that keep those of evil intent from entering the spire. In the past, the people of Pylas Pyrial knew that visitors had to have good intent and that the visit would only last a few days. Now the spire is trapped, possibly forever. And the longer it remains, the more its fairytale magic may also begin to fade. What do they do if their gardens begin to fade and they don’t have enough food for their endless feasts? Can hope sustain the Gate of Joy even if its magic fades? Will they join the Triumvirate, and if so, will they accept the Trust, or will they defy it?
Hidden Serpents. The effect that prevents those with evil intent from entering Pylas Pyrial is powerful magic, but that doesn’t mean it’s impervious. Perhaps some evil force has taken root inside the citadel. One possibility is rival fey: the Prince of Frost may still yearn to see Shan Pyrial thrown into despair, and his agents could try to trick adventurers into being their tools. Or perhaps a rogue dragon has plans for the tower—or the Trust has managed to get a foothold, not realizing that their malign intentions could poison the spire itself. Perhaps someone seeks to steal the Summer Sun; this is a powerful artifact and immense source of power, but its removal could doom the spire.
Magical Mystery Tour. The spire rejects those who come with greed in their hearts, and the Zil don’t spread word of its existence. But the gnomes who dwell on the Glamerwind love the spire, and a Zil might want to bring friends to the Feyspire. Or perhaps House Ghallanda has learned of the spire and begun to arrange a few expeditions for those seeking something truly exotic; the tour guide’s heart may be weighed down by greed, preventing them from entering the spire, but they can still bring others to it! Pylas Pyrial doesn’t follow an entirely reliable schedule, but there are times it’s most LIKELY to appear. So adventurers could be invited to visit the spire by Zil friends or asked to accompany a Ghallanda tour, perhaps to protect high-paying celebrities from across Khorvaire…
The first question with any Pyrial character is why you’ve left the Gate of Joy to walk the decidedly unjoyful world. A few possibilities…
Curiosity. You’re that storybook hero whose curiosity draws them into endless danger. You’ve always been fascinated by the Sunlit World and chose to leave the spire of your own free will. You may have a particular mystery you want to see or solve—Have tea with a dragon! Find a fey artifact stolen long ago! Meet every king or queen!—or you may have no agenda at all, merely trusting that the road will lead you where you need to go.
Agent of Joy. Shan Pyrial has charged you with a mission vital to the safety of the spire. If you’re using the Wounded in War plotline, you could be searching for something that will cure the wounded shan. If you’re using the Stranded on Eberron plotline, you might be searching for a way to return your home to Thelanis… perhaps by unraveling the mystery of the Mourning itself. Alternately, you could be trying to recover a treasure stolen from the spire by some clever mortal. A key question is how urgent this quest is. Is it the driving force of the campaign? Or do you have time to explore the world and pursue other quests—just always making sure to keep your eyes open for something that will help you as you go about other adventures?
War Orphan. Following the Wounded in War plotline, you could have been stranded in Eberron during the siege of Pylas Pyrial. You might have fled from the Aundairian forces, or you could have even been captured and taken back to Aundair as a prisoner. In both of these cases you may hope to return to Pylas Pyrial, though you may have realized that something’s keeping the spire from returning. Can you maintain your optimism even in the face of unrelenting adversity? Alternately, it could be that you were just a child when you were stranded, perhaps growing up as an urchin; you barely remember the Gate of Joy, but you still have the ability to weave its storybook logic into your artifice or spells.
Pyrial gnomes are defined by their optimism and their fey worldview. While they understand that evil and greedy people exist—most stories have a villain, after all—they hold to hope and to the broader belief that the world is a place of wonders and joy. Even when outwittng or battling a foe, a Pyrial gnome is never cruel. Cruel and greedy behavior on the part of those they consider friends will deeply disturb them, though they may try to draw their friends onto a brighter path rather than simply abandoning them. The key element is that Pyrial gnomes are used to living in a world that meets their expectations. The longer a Pyrial gnome dwells in the Sunlit World, the more they will have to come to terms with the cruelty and suffering that is a part of it. The question is whether hope and optimism will prove stronger than despair, or whether the gnome will be broken by the misery of the mortal world. A Pyrial gnome who’s been overcome by despair could serve as an interesting villain, as they seek to steal the hopes of others.
The second important aspect of Pyrial gnomes is that they carry a touch of Thelanis with them. They are used to operating under storybook logic… and often, that continues to work even beyond their spire. This is especially relevant with Pyrial artificers. These characters use the approach that Exploring Eberron calls “Magical Thinking”. A Pyrial Alchemist might use Cook’s Utensils as a spellcasting focus, producing baked goods with magical effects (have you ever seen someone killed by a catapult pie?). A Pyrial artillerist might use painter’s tools to paint bolts of fire that then become real. A Pyrial urchin artificer can use tinker’s tools just like any other artificer, but create things out of garbage—things that logically shouldn’t work, and yet somehow do.
While artificers are an obvious example of this, Pyrial gnomes can follow many other paths. The gnomes of Pylas Pyrial are gifted illusionists, although they generally use their magic to entertain others, not to harm them; but a Pyrial illusionist will happily use their magic to trick those who would harm others. A Pyrial rogue can describe their class abilities as being tied to remarkable luck; Sneak Attack and Evasion could both reflect being in the perfect place, an enemy stumbling, or something else that follows the story of the lucky gnome. While gnomes are naturally suited to being illusionist wizards and artificers, a Pyrial gnome could easily be an archfey warlock—especially if they’re following the path of the Agent of Joy.
Ultimately, the Pyrial gnome provides an opportunity to play a character who’s literally out of this world—a character who’s stepped out of a fairy tale and who expects the world to act like one. It can serve as a beachhead for a campaign that involves exploring Thelanis, allowing the characters to travel to the Faerie Court and serving as a safe haven while they’re there. If you explore the Wounded In War or Stranded On Eberron plots, it can be a tragic location, with its optimistic people being forced to deal with harsh reality.
Characters don’t have to be gnomes to have a connection to Pylas Pyrial. While gnomes make up a significant portion of the population, the spire is also home to eladrin and to a wide range of fey. Beyond that, any bard or archfey warlock could say that they were drawn to the spire and went with it to Thelanis, learning their skills from fey mentors.
So are the Pyrial gnomes just normal gnomes? Or are they fey?
That depends where they are. Part of the idea is that the mortal inhabitants of Thelanis become more mortal when they leave it. Note that the 5E monster stat blocks for eladrin generally count them as fey—but eladrin player characters are simply humanoids. The gnomes of Pylas Pyrial generally use the traits of Forest gnomes, and they are especially adept with their illusions, which they use constantly to entertain; while in Pylas Pyrial, most residents also possess the abilties of prestidigitation. At the DM’s descretion, Pyrial gnomes could be considered as fey while in the spire. But when they are walking in the Sunlit World, their magic fades a little, and they are largely indistinguishable from their Zil cousins.
Has the Trust infiltrated Pylas Pyrial?
Most Zil assume that it has, but ultimately it’s up to the DM. It’s not a simple matter; agents have to be able to get past the gate, which means that they can’t have evil intent. So you could certainly have agents who just want to protect Zilargo by observing the spire—and again, protecting Zilargo is the mission of the Trust—but you couldn’t have people who hoped to somehow steal the power of the spire or profit from it. Second, you can’t be sure that your agents will remain with the spire when it returns to Thelanis; they could easily be left in the Shimmerwood. Third, for those that are taken with the spire there is a very real risk of them going native. The joy of the spire is infectious, and many would-be spies have likely been swept up in it and forgotten their original missions.
Having said that, there’s no question that the Trust MONITORS Pylas Pyrial and that it has agents in the Glamerwind villages. Someone who receives a remarkable magic item or has some sort of unusual dealings with the spire could be intercepted by Trust agents after leaving Pylas Pyrial.
Do the Dragonmarked Houses have dealings with Pylas Pyrial?
Ultimately this is up to the DM. The general idea is no: the Zil haven’t publicized it; the Pyrial gnomes don’t WANT to have a Gold Dragon Inn opening in the spire; and those driven by greed can’t enter. Given that the spire appears sporadically and that its wonders can’t easily be duplicated, it’s not the most logical investment. If I were to pursue this idea in a campaign, I wouldn’t say that the houses already have dealings with the spire—I’d focus on the idea that they have just learned about it and WANT to have dealings with it. Following on the idea of the Magical Mystery Tour, Ghallanda and Sivis could establish a Glamerwind village—a sort of amusement park on the doorstep—while Cannith could be determined to crack the secret of how fey magic works. All of these create possibilities for active interaction NOW that could involve player characters, rather than just saying that the houses have been working with the spire for centuries.
How do you pronounce “Glamerwind”?
As with anything in Eberron, you can be sure that there are people who pronounce it different ways. However, it’s “wind” as in “wind a clock”—because it’s the river that winds down to the Glamer Bay.
The Zil gnomes don’t identify themselves by clanholds like the Mror, but they do maintain deeply connected and widespread familial connections, yes? Are there family names you use when highlighting Pylas ties?
Zil don’t have clanholds, but they do have HOUSES, which are deeply established alliances of families (note that Sivis was a Zil house before it waas a dragonmarked house). However, the Pyrial gnomes don’t have any sort of concept like this, in part because Zil houses are often a foundation for intrigue and competition and the Pyrial gnomes don’t devote their energies to such things. It’s also a very small population, so a Pyrial gnome is more likely to have a name like Big Halan (because there’s only two Halans and he’s the big one) or Jala the Butcher’s Daughter. This adds to the general chicken and egg mystery of whether Zil gnomes were originally Pyrial immigrants, because you don’t have clear family links.
Do Pyrial gnomes speak the gnome language, Elvish, or Sylvan?
I consider Sylvan and Elvish to be dialects; Elvish uses Sylvan as its base, but has drifted and has a number of slang words and new concepts, and has lost other words. So anyone who speaks Elvish can understand Sylvan and vice versa, but there’s a noticeable accent and a few things that don’t perfectly translate. Meanwhile, we’ve said before that the Gnome language is an artificial, intentionally constructed language created by the early gnomes to replace what they considered to be their original, inferior language (presumably Sylvan). So yes, Pyrial gnomes speak Sylvan by default, not Gnome. There could well be some denizens of Pylas Pyrial who speak Sylvan and Gnome but don’t actually speak Common.
Regarding the Gate of Joy barring those with evil in their hearts: given Eberron’s take on alignment, does this apply to all creatures with an evil alignment or is this protection more particular than that?
It’s more particular. Note that when I first mentioned it I didn’t use the word evil, I mentioned greed and cruelty. The Gate rejects anyone who comes to the spire with evil or selfish INTENT, regardless of the alignment written on their character sheet. An evil character who truly means no harm to the spire and has no desire to profit from their visit could be allowed in, while a good character who’s there with a commercial agenda would be kept out, even if they BELIEVED their goal was a good one. You can’t come into the spire if you intend to cause harm, spread sorrow, or to take advantage of the spire or its people; it’s about purity of purpose, not just alignment.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing the topic and keeping the site going. Voting on the next Dragonmark topic is starting now!
In September, my Patreon supporters chose “Gnomes Beyond Zilargo” as the topic of the month. In the next few days, I’ll be discussing the gnomes of Lorghalen and the Feyspires.
Two years after the founding of Zilargo, a pamphlet was distributed explaining the existence of the Trust and the role that it would play in the nation moving forward. This tract concluded with the words To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours. Today, the Trust is universally accepted as part of Zilargo, and it’s estimated that at least a third of the population works for the Trust in some capacity. But despite what the Triumvirate would have you think, not all of the early Zil embraced the Trust with open arms. Some demanded accountability, insisting that this Trust be drawn into the light. Others called it a coup, urging their families to end the experiment of Zilargo and return to their prior independence. But few spoke out against the Trust for long; deadly accidents and unlikely misfortune quickly stilled to voices that challenged this new order. It seemed it was too late for those who opposed the Trust to remove it from their nation… And so, most chose to remove themselves, leaving their new nation behind.
Many of these dissidents immigrated into the Five Nations, and most who did so abandoned their old ways and fully embraced their new nations. A simple indicator of this is name. Zil gnomes use three names: A personal name, family name, and house name. Alina Lorridan Lyrris is Alina of the Lorridan family in House Lyrris. Even if they have distant blood connections to a Zil family, a gnome with no direct ties to Zilargo won’t be part of a Zil house. So if the gnome sage you meet in Aundair calls herself Talia Lorridan Lyrris, you know she considers herself Zil; if she’s just Talia Lorridan, she’s likely Aundairian.
Other dissidents had grander aspirations and took to the sea. The gnomes had long been accomplished sailors, and while they never had a colonizing spirit, they’d explored the coasts and made note of interesting and unclaimed lands. Now these sailors dreamt of creating their own new havens, whose glories might one day outshine the land they left behind. Sadly, most of these rebel colonies came to bad ends. Tolanen was located on the Shadow Marches; some years after its founding, a trading vessel docked to find the town completely depopulated. While the travelers blamed pillaging orcs, accounts later confirmed that there were no signs of conflict—and that the only looting was committed by the merchants themselves. New Zalanberg was established on the coast of Xen’drik, near the modern settlement of Zantashk. Over the course of decades, it prospered and grew. And then, within the span of a week, its people tore the town and one another to pieces—one of the notable examples of what has come to be recognized as the Du’rashka Tul. There were a handful of others, but only one still thrives to this day: the principality of Lorghalen.
Glancing at a map, you might wonder why Lorghalen was uninhabited when the gnomes claimed it. This tropical island seems far more inviting than the icy mountains of Orthoss and Farlnen. But names tell a story. The Tempest Strait is lashed by storms as powerful as any found in the Thunder Sea. The southernmost island is close to Mabar and Dolurrh, and there are strange ghosts and hungry shadows in the depths of the Dreadwood. The northern coastline of Lorghalen is lined with hidden reefs and unusual stone outcoppings. These threats are exacerbated by unpredictable “currents” that can dash a ship against the rocks… actually the work of the many water elementals that dwell along the coast. The safest landing is Hammer Bay, northeast of the small island. But “The Hammer” isn’t a natural island; it’s a massive earth elemental. It never ventures far from its mapped position, but it has no love of ships; any vessel that draws too close may be shattered by a hurled stone or a mighty fist.
Gnome explorers chronicled these threats long ago, and the gnomes who sailed east knew what they were heading into. The Lorghalen expedition included a number of sages specializing in elementals and Lamannia… Scholars who hoped they could convince the Hammer to let them land safely. And so they did, establishing the town of Cornerstone on the shore of Hammer Bay.
Exploring the island, the gnomes found that it was poised on the edge of Lamannia. The land was bountiful, fresh water was plentiful, and much of the island was alive. Lorghalen has the most intense concentration of elementals found beyond the wild zones of Sarlona. Stones roll of their own accord. The earth rumbles. What seems to be a peaceful pond might unexpectedly move to a new location. Most of the elementals of Lorghalen are spirits of earth and water, but there are storms that follow paths of their own choosing and pits of endless fire. These elementals are creatures of Lamannia, pure and inhuman; there are no dao or marids here. There are also a number of megafauna beasts in the deep jungle; sailors may occasionally spot rocs hunting whales off the coast of Lorghalen. This is why the island had never been colonized in the past; what city could survive the ravages of an avalanche of earth elementals? But the colonists came prepared. The leaders of the expedition had long studied elementals, convinced that it was possible to reason with these alien creatures. Using these techniques they were able to secure the region around Cornerstone. Over the course of generations, the Lorghalen gnomes developed and honed these techniques, learning how to live in harmony with the elementals and even to convince the spirits and beasts of the land to work with them. This lifestyle has consequences. Cornerstone is the only large city on the island; other gnomes live in family estates along the coast, or on the edge of the jungle. But the deep jungles of Lorghalen are left to the primal forces. The gnomes know what they can harvest without upsetting the balance, but they are careful not to push these limits.
After a few minor clashes in the region, the Lorghalen gnomes were recognized as one of the Lhazaar Principalities. Their small fleet primarily focuses on merchant trade within the Principalities. There are many unusual plants in the jungles of Lorghalen, and the Lorghali produce medicines, drugs, and potent spirits. The wood of Lorghalen is exceptionally strong, rivaling the densewood and bronzewood of Aerenal; the Lorghali don’t export lumber, but they sell fine wooden goods. While there are relatively few ships in the Lorghalen fleet, Lhazaar tread lightly around a Lorghali vessel; not only are the hulls of their ships exceptionally strong, but most vessels are accompanied by one or more water elementals. These friendly spirits help propel the vessel, allowing Lorghalen ships to match the capabilities of Lyrandar elemental galleons. In battle, Lorghalen ships are known for launching small earth elementals at opposing ships, stone missiles that continue to wreak havoc after impact. All together, the Lorghalen gnomes are known and respected within the Principalities, but are largely unknown beyond it. For the most part they do their trading within the islands, allowing others to carry their goods to distant lands.
WHO ARE THE GNOMES OF LORGHALEN?
The gnomes of Lorghalen and share some traits with their Zil cousins. They love clever oratory and prefer to solve their problems with words instead of swords. But where the gnomes of Zilargo dive deep into intrigue, the founders of Lorghalen based their society on principles of freedom and honesty. The founders of Cornerstone swore that there would be no secrets on their island: that all knowledge should be shared, and all problems drawn into the light, not removed in the shadows. Ties to previous Zil houses were dissolved, and all gnomes of the island consider themselves to be one house; so a gnome of the island might introduce themselves as Tara Tan Lorghalen.
Families are still important to the Lorghalen gnomes, and each family maintains an estate—a farming village based around a central long house. Each family is known for specific crops and skills, and Cornerstone is where they all come together. While families maintain funds for dealing with the world beyond Lorghalen, on the island the economy is largely driven by barter and the exchange of favors. All of the families have lodging in Cornerstone, and each family has three representatives on the Cornerstone Council, which governs the island and mediates disputes. The council is led by the Prince of Lorghalen, but this is an unusual position with less power than in other principalities. The Prince of Lorghalen is recognized as the cleverest gnome on the island, and as such someone whose voice should always be heard and opinion considered. But they have no power beyond that. Any Lorghali can claim the title by defeating the current prince in a series of duels of wit and strategy. Sometimes decades go by with no challenges; at other times, challenges have been a weekly or daily occurrence.
The Lorghali produce excellent mediators, apothecaries, and farmers. But what makes them truly remarkable is their tradition of primal magic and their relationship with the elementals of the region. As discussed in this article, the elementals of Lamannia are alien creatures whose thought processes and perception of reality are quite different from those of the humanoids of Eberron. Rather than binding elementals, the Lorghalen stonesingers manipulate elementals and natural forces by communing directly with the spirit and convincing it to help. At its simplest level—producing the sort of effects associated with druidcraft—this is barely more complicated than singing a few words in Primordial. More significant requests require a deeper communion with the spirits, which requires both concentration and an expenditure of will in addition to the song—urging the spirit to comply, impressing the request onto it. These things thus carry all the standard limitations of casting a spell.
The most common and important work of a stonesinger is to work with elementals. On a Lorghalen ship, a stonesinger literally sings to the elemental associated with the ship, encouraging it to move the vessel swiftly. If the stonesingers are killed, the elemental will still recognize the vessel as friendly, but it can’t be compelled to perform any particular action and it may simply wander off. On the island, stonesingers negotiate with the elementals to establish the territories where the gnomes can build, and convince earth elementals to plow their fields and water elementals to provide irrigation. Remarkable stonesingers can manipulate elemental and natural forces in more subtle ways—charming beasts, encouraging plants to grow, even conjuring fire or drawing lightning from a clear sky. Others learn the melodies that define their own bodies, learning how to heal injuries or even change their shape. Almost every Lorghalen gnome knows at least a few simple songs, but those who can work greater magics—those with the powers of bards or druids, discussed in more detail below—are greatly respected. While the stonesingers are a unique tradition that plays a central role in Lorghalen culture, they have nothing against other forms of magic; in particular, Lorghalen alchemists are able to perform wonders using the unusual plants of their island. The original immigrants included a handful of dissidents from the families of House Sivis, and while the Lorghali have made no particular effort to cultivate the Mark of Scribing, there are still a few gnomes in each generation who manifest the mark; such gnomes often become the most gifted wizards of the island.
Overall, the gnomes of Lorghalen have little interest in dealing with the outside world. They consider it to be a dangerous place driven by greed and dishonesty. However, some are drawn beyond the island by sheer curiosity, others by the challenge of matching wits with a dangerous world, and some by a need to obtain resources or techniques unavailable on Lorghalen. Most strive to remain true to the principles of their culture even in hostile lands, solving problems through open discussion rather than treachery and subterfuge. They aren’t fools; a Lorghalen gnome won’t spill every secret to a stranger, and even is a gnome doesn’t want to lie, they don’t have to say anything at all. But they prefer Persuasion to Deception—believing that they can convince an enemy of the proper path. Intimidation is also an acceptable tool, but this is largely a matter of tone—not making ideal threats, but rather making sure an enemy understands just how dangerous the wrong decision could be.
Gnomes make up the vast majority of the population of the island, though there are a few others who have immigrated over the years. Because of the dangers posed by the Hammer, usually the only way to reach Cornerstone is on a Lorghalen ship. The Lorghali are largely gracious hosts and curious gnomes are often eager to talk to outsiders, but the gnomes are aware that outsiders don’t share their traditions of honesty and watch strangers with both eyes. In particular, over the last century a number of Zil have reached out to Lorghalen. The islanders are especially suspicious of their cousins and do not trust the Trust, but there has been a little cultural exchange; notably, a fascination with the Lorghalen stonesinging techniques led to the rise of the Power of Purity movement in Zilargo.
You can play a gnome from Lorghalen using standard rules. However, here’s a few variants you could consider if both DM and player approve. These are as unofficial as can possibly be, and solely reflect what I’d do at my table.
The stonesingers of Lorghalen aren’t druids in the traditional sense. Notably, few have the ability to change shape, and they generally don’t speak the Druidic language. This ties to the idea that the stonesingers are largely channeling the power of Lamannia as opposed to Eberron, and channel this power through song and force of personality rather than faith. You could reflect this in two ways.
The typical stonesinger uses the bard class, but uses the druid spell list instead of the bard spell list. Stonesingers have no particular knack for illusion or enthralling humanoids; they use their songs to charm the elements themselves. The College of Eloquence and the College of Lore are both sound choices for stonesingers.
Lorghalen druids learn the Primordial language instead of Druidic, unless they already speak Primordial. Add Perform to the list of skill proficiencies available to the class. Shapeshifting stonesingers are rare, but the stories of those who can sing new shapes speak of singers who can assume elemental form, so Circle of the Moon is a reasonable choice.
Variant Gnome: Lorghalen
The standard rules for gnomes can be used for Lorghalen gnomes, especially Forest gnomes and those rare few with the Mark of Scribing. However, Lorghalen gnomes are known more for their charisma than their intellect, and for working with nature as opposed to weaving illusions. With this in mind, a DM and player could choose to represent a Lorghalen gnome by making the following changes to the Forest gnome.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1, and your Charisma score increases by 2. This trait replaces the Ability Score Increase traits of both the Gnome and the Forest gnome.
Song of the Elements. You know the Druidcraft cantrip. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it. In addition, you can speak, read, and write Primordial. This trait replaces the Natural Illusionist trait of the Forest gnome.
Any sea-related background can be an appropriate choice for a Lorghalen character. Lorghalen pirates are rare, but sailors, fishers, and shipwrights are all common on the isle. An entertainer could be the first stonesinger to actually perform on the stages of the Five Nations. A Lorghalen hermit’s discovery could involve something about Lamannia or elementals—perhaps a terrible secret about the elemental binding industry! Lorghalen gnomes generally use the forest gnome or Mark of Scribing subrace.
While stonesingers are the most distinct aspect of Lorghalen culture, a Lorghalen gnome could pursue any class. An Alchemist artificer could make their potions using strange herbs and elemental ores brought from the island. The Lorghali aren’t especially religious—they don’t see a divine hand at work in nature, instead interacting with the spirits directly—but a Lorghali paladin could present their Oath of the Ancients as being tied to Lamannia.
Of course, a crucial question for a Lorghalen gnome is why have you left? Most islanders are quite content on their elemental paradise. What’s cause you to travel into the deadlands of Khorvaire? The Reasons For Leaving Lorghalen table can provide some ideas.
As with anything in Eberron, the ultimate question is why does it matter? What can Lorghalen add to your game that you can’t find anywhere else? What could bring adventurers to travel to this isolated island, or to cause a stonesinger to cross their path? Here’s a few ideas.
While Lorghalen’s fleet is small, its ships and fast and powerful. Traditionally it hasn’t been deeply involved with the politics of the Lhazaar Principalities, but in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold the gnomes could play an important role in securing the position of the High Prince.
When adventurers stumble through a manifest zone to Lamannia, they re-emerge in Lorghalen. What will it take to return home?
The Lorghali dislike deception and rarely engage in piracy… until now. A Lorghali warship is terrorizing the region around the Dreadwood, supported by a host of elementals. Who is this pirate, and what are their motives?
There are many wonders in the deep jungles of Lorghalen: megafauna beasts, massive elementals, plants charged with the energies of Lamannia. Adventurers are sent to Lorghalen to retrieve something from the jungles. Perhaps a Cannith alchemist needs a legendary berry, or an Aurum showman wants them to capture a megafauna beast. Can they get past the Hammer? Will the Lorghali interfere with their quest?
The Lorghali have forged an alliance with the Power of Purity and the Ashbound druids and are launching a concerted effort to disrupt Zilargo’s elemental binding industry and sabotage elemental vessels. Is this just a matter of principle, or do they know a terrible secret that could lead to a far worse catastrophe?
A previous article on the Lhazaar Principalities said that the gnomes occupied Lorghalen before Lhazaar arrived, whereas this suggests they claimed the island after Lhazaar.
That’s correct. What I’m now saying is that early gnome explorers discovered Lorghalen long ago, but only settled it after the rise of the Trust.
Do the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts on Lorghalen?
They don’t have a significant presence on the island. I’d rather explore the story of the houses taking an interest in Lorghalen and actively trying to expand their presence there rather than have it be established. So there’s no Orien outpost or Lyrandar docking tower in Cornerstone. I might give them a Gold Dragon Inn that’s just opened in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold. It could also be interesting to have a Sivis outpost that’s recently established and working with Lorghali foundlings with the Mark of Scribing. House Sivis would certainly be interested in tapping a new supply of heirs—but the Council of Cornerstone is suspicious of Sivis and anything that could give the Trust a foothold on their island.
What’s the religion of the Lorghali?
The Lorghali follow a tradition of concrete animism. They live in a land that is literally alive with spirits; they refer to the lands beyond the island as “Deadlands” because of this, finding it depressing to wander in realms where the wind and waves aren’t singing back to them. There are a number of exceptionally powerful entities, including elementals like the Hammer and legendary megafauna beasts. So the Lorghali don’t believe in distant, abstract deities; instead, they focus on concrete, local spirits. They respect nature, but in a much more CONCRETE way that a druid who reveres Eberron as a whole; they have a personal relationship with the well that provides their water and the boulder that roles by every day, and they likely have festivals in which the greater spirits are invoked. But this isn’t about FAITH, it’s a practical, concrete relationship—which is why they tend toward primal magic as opposed to divine.
What are the Lorghali’s beliefs in regards to death and the afterlife then?
They’re largely laid back about it. They’re focused on living their best life, and when it’s over, it’s over; whatever happens next will happen. It’s essentially the opposite of Aerenal and the faiths that are obsessed with avoiding Dolurrh; at the end of the day, the Lorghali don’t care what happens after death, as long as they live a good life. Having said that, they also live right next to the Dreadwood, which is tied to Mabar and Dolurrh; I imagine there’s at least one story cycle that essentially presents Lorghalen as the isle of the living, and Dreadwood as the isle of the dead. But the ultimate point is that the Lorghali don’t care about the afterlife; they care about living their best life now.
How much strong do you see The Hammer in CR terms?
I don’t think you could measure the Hammer in CR terms. You’re talking about an earth elemental so large that it shows up on the map as an island. Imagine trying to destroy a mountain by hitting it with a sword; it’s a crazy concept. If I was to use it in an encounter, I’d be inclined to treat it almost as an environmental effect rather than a creature; every X rounds a boulder will impact, can you get out of range before destroys your ship? Or I’d have adventurer literally fight its hand… if they do enough damage to that, it retreats. But it’s on such a vast scale that I wouldn’t treat the Hammer itself as a standard creature.
That’s all for now. My next article will look at the gnomes of the Feyspires! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing these topics and keeping this site going—I’ll be posting the stat block for the Lorghalen cannonball on Patreon!
A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”
“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337
The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.
As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?
If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.
To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.
Friend or Foe?
The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.
Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.
The Battleground of Prophecy
The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.
One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.
It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to createthe Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.
Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.
Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.
The First War and You
So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.
As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.
Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.
Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.
Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.
Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.
The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.
Characters Bound to the Prophecy
The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…
So, a few examples to consider…
You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.
A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.
A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.
Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!
Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!
This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…
What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?
A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.
A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…
Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”
Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…
Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?
What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.
You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?
Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell.
If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?
There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?
That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.
It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?
There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.
Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.
But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?
One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.
The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.
How could this conflict come to an end?
Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.
You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.
So you’re making a character, and you take the Noble background. What does that actually mean? What are the titles commonly used within the Five Nations? Is a noble title purely hereditary, or can it be purchased? Do nobles have duties, or is it largely symbolic? This article answers these questions and more, exploring the practical impact of noble birth along with the role and form of the nobility in the nations of Khorvaire. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic; I’ll be posting a bonus “deleted scene” to the Inner Circle on Patreon, describing a few notable past rulers of Galifar and the Five Nations. Because of the scope of the topic, this article primarily deals with the Five Nations and other nations that have inherited the traditions of Galifar. If there is interest, a follow-up article could explore those nations of Khorvaire that have quite different approaches to nobility, such as Darguun and the Lhazaar Principalities.
PREFACE: DESIGN INTENT
From the very beginning, one of the goals of Eberron was to make sure that the experience of adventuring in the world still felt like D&D. This is why people still fight using swords and crossbows, why you still have knights in plate armor, and why you have nations ruled by kings and queens. We knew from the start that an important theme of the setting would be the steady rise of industrial power and the shifting balance of power between the dragonmarked houses and the established aristocracy. We knew that Breland in particular would be shifting away from the medieval vision of monarchy. But we wanted both of those things to be relevant in the campaign, in 998 YK. D&D is stereotypically medieval. Our goal was never to completely abandon that flavor, but rather to present a vision of a world that’s actively evolving and straining against it. As I discussed in my previous post, when making history you always want to know why it matters. In creating the setting we wanted adventurers to be caught in the middle of these changes, to have to deal with the Sword of Liberty and overreaching houses, to have to decide whether to challenge tradition or defend it. So while it may seem strange that the Five Nations still have as many medieval trappings as they do, that was always the intent—that Eberron would be a world actively caught between the traditional medievalism associated with D&D and the active pull of social and industrial evolution.
With that said, both Exploring Eberron and my previous article discuss the idea of Untold History. No one’s saying that the semi-feudal status quo of Galifar remained unchallenged for nearly a thousand years. In my opinion, there were many uprisings and social experiments. It’s entirely possible that there was a thirty year period in which Aundair broke away and existed as the Republic of Thaliost before being pulled back into Galifar; this early rebellion might have laid the foundation for the more successful secession of the Eldeen Reaches in the tenth century. So it was always the intent that as of 998 YK there are still traces of medieval flavor to the culture of Galifar; but you can always explore untold moments of history if it makes your campaign more interesting.
And as always: this article is my vision of the setting. While I’ve tried to remain consistent with canon where possible, canon sources aren’t always consistent and there are certain sourcebooks I disagree with. So make of this what you will, and as always, do what’s best for your story.
THE FOUNDATION: POSITION OF PRIVILEGE
What does it mean to be a noble? In most of the nations of Khorvaire, nobles are actively involved in the governance of a region, whether large or small. They collect taxes, maintain lands, manage tenants. Nobles may not administer justice directly within the Five Nations, but they are responsible for ensuring that there is justice within their domains, maintaining the courts and sustaining the forces of the law. In the wake of the Last War, nobles are working to repair the damage to their domains, to reintegrate soldiers into civilian life and deal with the impact of casualties, and to address the needs of refugees seeking shelter in their lands. The short form is that with great power comes great responsibility… and that as such, few landed nobles have the time to go on adventures. It’s not impossible to make the story work, if you and the DM are determined; perhaps you have a younger sibling who’s doing all the work, or a truly remarkable steward. But it’s more likely that a “noble” adventurer will be the scion of a powerful family—the heir, not the holder of the title. Your blood grants you prestige, but you don’t carry the responsibilities of your rank and you don’t have access to the full resources of your domain.
This is reflected by the benefits granted by the noble background. As a noble, you have proficiency with History and Persuasion. You have a set of fine clothes and 25 gp in your pocket. But you don’t have an army at your beck and call. You don’t have a treasury filled with coffers of coin… just as you don’t actually have to do the work of collecting taxes. What you do have is a benefit called Position of Privilege.
Thanks to your noble birth, people are inclined to think the best of you. You are welcome in high society, and people assume you have the right to be wherever you are. The common folk make every effort to accommodate you and avoid your displeasure, and other people of high birth treat you as a member of the same social sphere. You can secure an audience with a local noble if you need to.
So: the precise duties and powers of nobles vary by nation. But the defining, practical benefit of being a noble is respect. Note that this says nothing about “While in your home nation.” The principle is that as a noble—or even as a significant heir of a noble family—you will be recognized as a peer by local aristocrats and generally accommodated by “the common folk.” You’re not above the law. You can’t get away with murder. But people “are inclined to think the best of you,” believing that you are someone who will uphold the honor and dignity of your noble position. Just as in wartime, an enemy might be more inclined to ransom you than to simply kill you; your rank will be recognized even when you hold no actual authority in a region. Within the Five Nations, this is tied to the romantic notion that Galifar may someday be restored; all nobles are treated with respected because someday we’ll all be one kingdom again. Even in Darguun or the Mror Holds, you’re likely to be treated with respect because of your connections.
Having said that: Position of Privilege represents the respect and recognition that come from your position and title. But not all nobles receive that recognition. If you’re a noble from Cyre with this background benefit, it means that people DO still afford you the respect due your title, even though you no longer have your estate or your fortune; presumably your family was so beloved or well-connected that the respect lingers. But most Cyran nobles don’t receive this recognition. If you’re playing such a noble, you could take the variant Retainers benefit instead of Position of Privilege; your estates were lost to the Mourning, but you still have three loyal servants who are sworn to follow you to the bitter end. You could also say that you were an earl of Cyre, but having lost your fortune you were forced to turn to crime, and thus take the criminal background (or anything else) instead of the noble background; from a STORY perspective you were once a noble, but you don’t receive any practical BENEFITS from your lineage. The advantage is that this allows you to actually have BEEN the landed title-holder, as opposed to an heir; you HAD many duties and responsibilities in the past, but they were stripped away with your fortune, and now you are merely an adventurer.
This same principle can apply to a noble who’s lost their lands for any reason. Maybe you were a Lhazaar prince driven from your throne by a treacherous sibling. Perhaps your were the Lord of Stubborn, the Brelish settlement in Droaam now known as Stonejaw. Whatever the circumstances, the impact is the same. If you take the noble background and the Position of Privilege benefit, people still treat you with the respect due your rank. If you take the Retainers benefit, you no longer wield any authority but you still have an entourage sworn to serve you. And if you take any other background, it means that your nobility may be a plot point, but it will rarely have any direct impact in an adventure.
When is a Noble not a Noble?
Just as you can be a noble without the noble background, you can also take the noble background even if you’re not part of the nobility. The Position of Privilege benefit means that you are treated as an equal by nobles, that you can request an audience with local authorities, and that common folk are generally impressed by you. This is often the case with especially wealthy or influential members of dragonmarked houses. As a dragonmarked “noble” you are either close to house leadership or part of an especially wealthy or powerful branch of the family, and critically, people know it; being this sort of “noble” means that you are a recognized celebrity. With that said, your Position of Privilege is a courtesy, not a right… it reflects the fact that people recognize the power of your family and show you respect because of it.
Noble may be a background, but just as adventurers can become soldiers or criminals during a campaign, it’s possible to be raised to the nobility. The traditions associated with this are described in later sections, but a greater question is the practical impact of this elevation. Does a new noble gain the benefits of Position of Privilege? What are their duties and responsibilities?
An adventurer could gain a noble title as a reward for service, or depending on nation, they might win their title through battle. A critical question is whether it is a substantive title—one that is associated with land and subjects, which can be passed down to heirs—or whether the title is simply a courtesy that doesn’t carry lands or duties. Being granted a knighthood may not confer the benefits of Position of Privilege, but it alway won’t get in the way of adventuring. Becoming a Lhazaar Prince might grant that privilege, but it also means that you need to manage your principality… or employ people to do it for you (the Valenar method) and hope they do a good job. Personally, if I grant player characters substantive titles in a campaign I’m running, I’m going to make the management and defense of their domain an integral part of the campaign moving forward. On the other hand, if Boranel grants someone the title of Shield of the East, it’s a symbolic courtesy that will carry significant weight with Brelish nobles (as it reflects the favor of the king) but carries no actual responsibilities and doesn’t have the impact of Position of Privilege in other nations.
… And Losing It
Just as a lowborn adventurer can gain a noble title, a highborn character can lose it. The simplest path to being stripped of a title is to be convicted of treason. However, in the Five Nations nobles have duties, and if the family fails in those duties the sovereign can strip them of their title and property. In the Lhazaar Principalities, a character could lose their title because someone else takes it by force. And, of course, countless Cyran nobles lost their holdings in the Mourning, and the Treaty of Thronehold effectively stripped them of their privileges. Should a player character be stripped of their title, it’s up to the player and DM to decide how this affects their Position of Privilege. If the character is widely known and beloved, it’s possible to say that the benefit lingers based solely on that goodwill, as with a PC Cyran noble who takes the benefit. As a DM, if I was to remove the benefits of Position of Privilege, I would grant a new benefit to replace it, based on the circumstances of its loss. Was the noble convicted of treason because they opposed a tyrant? They might lose Position of Privilege but gain the Rustic Hospitality of a folk hero… or perhaps the infamy of their deeds will earn them the Bad Reputation of a pirate, or a Criminal Contact. Shifting benefits can be an interesting way to have the character’s capabilities reflect the story; the shift from Position of Privilege of Bad Reputation gives real weight to events that may have taken place off-screen. This sort of shift can also be a great way to drive a new arc of the campaign: if their family was unjustly convicted of treason, can the adventurer redeem their honor and restore their title?
THE TRADITIONS OF GALIFAR
The culture of the Five Nation is a blend of the united traditions of Galifar and the preserved traditions of each nation. There are two vital things to bear in mind. The first is that the Last War was fought in an attempt to reunite Galifar; it wasn’t a war of independence, it was a war fought to determine who would rule the united kingdom. With a few notable exceptions (Thranish theocracy, the Code of Kaius) the Five Nations intentionally preserved the traditions of Galifar, because they always hoped that within another year or so their ruler would be the sovereign of the reunited Galifar.
A second important point is that Galifar was a united kingdom, but not a single monolithic culture; the idea of “the Five Nations” was a constant throughout its history, and people thought of themselves as Thranes and Aundairians even while they also considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar. Galifar I began by conquering the neighboring kingdom of Metrol, and Metrol was almost entirely transformed in its transition to Cyre. Galifar displaced existing nobles and instituted new systems, making Cyre the heart of Galifar. But the other three nations were ultimately brought into Galifar by diplomacy, not by absolute conquest (though Galifar’s clear military superiority was the iron fist that drove these negotiations). Galifar instituted changes at the highest levels of society, appointing his children as the rulers of each nation; but he largely did this by marrying them into the families of the existing rulers, building upon the existing structures of authority. So Galifar redirected the existing feudal structures of the Five Nations, making clear that all power ultimately flowed from the sovereign of Galifar. Over time, he streamlined systems and added new universal concepts—the Galifar Code of Justice, expanded education—while also nationalizing and expanding the role of institutions such as the Arcane Congress, the King’s Citadel, and Rekkenmark. He instituted a standardized currency—the crown-sovereign-galifar-dragon values still used today—and established the Karrnathi dialect as the Common tongue used today. So all the nations of Galifar were united by a vital set of shared customs and laws, but they also still maintained their own unique traditions and quirks, some of which will be discussed later in this article.
Sovereigns and Sovereigns
The faith of the Sovereign Host played a crucial role in the foundation of the united kingdom. Galifar I believed that he was guided by Aureon, and was fulfilling a destiny laid out by the Sovereign; given his remarkable successes, it’s entirely possible that Galifar I was a paladin of host, possibly even a subtle aasimar. This is a vital cornerstone of the Galifar monarchy: the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon. It’s this bedrock principle that prevents a consort from claiming the crown and that has stood against uprisings and would-be usurpers. This is not something that’s called out often in the present day, and the modern monarchs vary in their piety, but the belief underlies the traditions of Galifar. The Galifar Code of Justice invokes Aureon, and there are other aspects of law where a casual faith in the Sovereigns is assumed. The faith of the Sovereign Host has never been a monolithic or powerful institution in the same way as the Church of the Silver Flame, but just as nobles are required to maintain courts, collect taxes, and levy troops within their domains, they’re required to sustain the Vassal faith. Based on the size of a community, this could involve maintaining a grand temple; a small temple with a single priest; or just a small shrine. For most nobles of Galifar this wasn’t seen as a hardship, but rather as an opportunity to display piety; especially zealous nobles would lavish resources on their favored temples, or raise monuments or shrines to a particular Sovereign. Vassal dukes often competed to lure the most accomplished scholars to their seminaries. Within the Sovereign faith anyone seen as guided by the Nine can fill the role of priest, and there are have been a number of renowned nobles who have also acted as priests of the Sovereign Host.
Despite his deep faith, Galifar never sought to FORCE his beliefs on others. The principles of Galifar presume simple faith in the Sovereigns, and nobles must support the faith, but they aren’t actually required to practice it and Galifar never sought to stamp out divergent sects. Throughout the untold history of Galifar, there have been pious nobles who have gone further—hunting down and publicly executing followers of the Dark Six (real or imagined), or persecuting “heretical” sects; historically this has included the Three Faces sects, which are why these tend to operate as mystery cults. So today the Five Nations are largely tolerant and many of the monarchs aren’t especially devout, but the principle of Aureon’s Blessing remains at the heart of the myth of Galifar.
The Role of the Nobility
When Galifar was founded, the Five Nations all employed forms of medieval feudalism. Nobles governed lands tended by tenant farmers in exchange for providing taxes and military service to the leader of the nation. In many nations, the nobility was also responsible for the administration of justice. Galifar was built on this framework. It was acknowledged that all power and authority flowed from the sovereign, through the princes and princesses that governed the land, and then down through local nobles and administrators. Throughout Galifar, the nobility remained the foundation of the united kingdom. Nobles were responsible for maintaining their territory, including collecting taxes and raising levies for military and national service. Under the Galifar Code of Justice, the nobles didn’t administer justice, but it was their duty to maintain the system, appointing justices and maintaining the local courts. As the kingdom expanded and as life became increasingly more complicated, this produced a class of dedicated civil servants and landowners—initially ennobled viscounts and crown reeves, but ultimately expanding into gentry and merchant classes. But at the start of the Last War, it remained the case that the majority of property was associated with a noble’s domain, and that it was the local lord who appointed justices, mayors, and other officials. A crown reeve was responsible to the count, the count to their duke, the duke to the prince, the prince to the king.
As noted earlier, there has always been a distinction between courtesy titles—titles that carry respect and prestige, but nothing more—and substantive titles, which are associated with land and the duties of maintaining it. The eldest child of a duke or duchess is allowed to use the title of count or countess, the second heir has the title of viscount, and other children are lords or ladies… but these titles are merely courtesies, and the heir has no actual authority over the domain. Likewise, an important administrator might be granted a courtesy title to reflect their service, but no land would be tied to that title. Typically courtesy titles are tied to the holder and cannot be transferred to heirs. Courtesy titles allow an adventurer to be a count or shield of the realm without having to make sure that roads are being maintained and taxes collected in their domain.
Noble Ranks and Titles
The following titles were instituted by Galifar I, and remain the common ranks of nobility to this day, listed in descending order of status. This also reflects the practical reality of land ownership and chain of command. A crown reeve holds territory within a county, and is responsible to a count. Counties are tied to duchies, and counts are bound to dukes. Anyone holding one of the ranks given below is allowed to use the ir’ prefix with their surname.
King / Queen. The ruler of the united kingdom of Galifar.
Prince/Princess. A child of the king or queen. As a governor of a nation, uses the title “Prince/ss of (nation).”
Archduke/Archduchess. A duke or duchess married to a prince or princess.
Grand Duke/Duchess. A duke or duchess governing a palatine region.
Duke/Duchess. The ruler of a duchy. Originally synonymous with “Warlord.”
Shield. Ruler of a county seen as a dangerous border. Such a noble typically uses count/ess as a courtesy, but is styled Shield of (county) in formal address.
Count/Countess. Ruler of a county.
Viscount/Viscountess. This is an appointed, nonhereditary title, typically granted by a count or duke to someone performing important administrative duties within their domains.
Crown Reeve. This is the lowest rank of nobility, roughly equivalent to the traditional use of baron. Crown reeves typically administer lands within a county, but this title was also given to members of the gentry who purchased lands from the crown. In common speech, a crown reeve is addressed as “lord” or “lady.” This rank can be hereditary (as in the case of the landed gentry) but is often tied to service.
Knighthood is an honor, not a title of nobility. Traditionally, a duke or higher noble can appoint a knight; this carries status as it reflects service to the nation, but it isn’t hereditary and it isn’t associated with land. So while there were Karrnathi nobles among the original Order of the Emerald Claw, many members of the order came from the gentry; among the Karrnathi chivalric orders, the Order of the Inviolate Way is noted as only accepting members who are also of noble blood. Many other titles fall into the category of honor or office: for example, in Aundair Darro ir’Lain is the Duke of Passage and Second Warlord of the Realm. That second title is an office he holds, not something he carries for life. If he falls out of favor with Queen Aurala, there would soon be a new Second Warlord. Likewise, “Minister of Magic” is an office, not a noble rank.
Princes, Archdukes, and Grand Dukes
The succession traditions of Galifar are a tangled web, and it’s a miracle that the united kingdom endured as long as did. The principle is this.
Each of the Five Nations was divided into duchies.
Each of the Five Nations was governed by one of the five eldest children of the Wynarn ruler of Galifar. When this child came of age, they would be married into one of the duchies of that nation. They would be acknowledged prince/ss of that nation, and the previous prince/ss would become a duke or duchess. If the reigning monarch didn’t produce five heirs, the title would remain with the current prince/ss and their heirs; there were certainly cases where a governing prince survived multiple kings.
The leader of the duchy the prince/ss married into became the archduke of that nation, taking this title from its previous holder. Should death create a vacancy with no Wynarn heir of age to rule as prince/ss, the archduke would reign until a prince/ss came of age.
The net result of this is that the balance of power between duchies would regularly shift, with the rise of a new king or queen ultimately displacing the current prince and often the current archduke or archduchess as well. As we’ve noted, the Last War wasn’t the first time a nation or duchy resisted this change. The current Archdukes are thus those duchies associated with the princes who governed when the Last War begin; there are archdukes of Fairhaven, Korth, Wroat, and Sigilstar.
Grand dukes are rulers of palatinates, more typically referred to as grand duchies. These are regions recognized as holding a degree of independence from the surrounding nation and having a direct relationship with the sovereign, thus having the right to enforce local laws and practice customs that might be at odds with those of the surrounding nation. The first palatinate was the Grand Duchy of Atur in Karrnath, but the most significant palatinate was Zilargo. When the armies of Galifar passed the Howling Peaks, they were met by Zil diplomats. These envoys negotiated the incorporation of the region into the overall mantle of Breland, but as three grand duchies—with the net result that the Zil became part of Galifar while still maintaining nearly complete autonomy. The three grand duchies of Zilargo were Zolanberg, Trolanport, and Korranberg; further impact of this is discussed in the Zilargo section below. It is up to the DM to decide if there are any other grand duchies in Khorvaire.
Gaining a Title: Elevation, Inheritance, and Marriage
Under the traditions of Galifar, a hereditary title passes to the oldest child of the title-holder regardless of gender. If there is no living heir, it passes to the siblings of the noble or their heirs; failing that, it falls to the noble who oversees the domain to reassign it. A number of royal lines were lost in the Last War (or convicted of treason and stripped of rank) so there are dukes with counties to dispense and counts in need of qualified crown reeves. While the local noble has the power to make such appointments, they must always be ratified by the sovereign.
In most of the Five Nations, marriage doesn’t convey title. This stems from the principle that only a Wynarn can rule; when the Wynarn monarch dies, their consort has no claim to the throne. Often, a noble consort is granted a courtesy title, as seen with Queen Etrigani of Karrnath; but if Kaius III were to die, the crown of Karrnath would immediately pass to his eldest heir, not to Etrigani. This principle generally holds throughout the ranks. Someone who marries into a royal family is a consort. They may be granted a courtesy title, but they are not the equal of their noble spouse and it is up to the DM to decide if their status is sufficient to justify gaining Position of Privilege. This would largely depend on public perception: do the nobles and common folk respect the consort? While many nobles limit themselves to a single consort, this isn’t enforced by law. A monarch could have multiple consorts, and the child of any official consort would be considered an heir. There was a lengthy period in which it was accepted tradition for a reigning sovereign to have a consort from each of the Five Nations, in part to spread out the burden of producing five heirs. In the wake of the Last War, some of the nobles have continued this tradition—Kaius III of Karrnath maintains harem, though only Etrigani carries the title of queen. On the other side of things, Queen Aurala of Aurala has a single consort, but has not granted him any title.
In most of the nations of Khorvaire, only the sovereign can create a new title. Lesser nobles can assign vacant titles within their domains, though this requires the approval of the sovereign. Many domains are associated with a specific set of courtesy titles that can be dispensed at the discretion of the local noble. For example, the Count of Threeshadows may have the authority to appoint a Viscount Threeshadows and two knights… though again, these are honors that aren’t passed on to heirs.
In most nations, it is illegal for anyone to sell a title, whether it is their own or a domain within their jurisdiction; Breland is a notable exception to this rule.
What About Dragonmarks?
The Korth Edicts prevent members of dragonmarked houses from owning land or holding titles. A noble can marry a dragonmarked heir, but one of them must completely sever all legal ties to their family. A noble who marries into House Deneith must renounce their title and rights, while for a Deneith heir to marry into a noble family they must cut all ties to their house, including their family name. Of course, this doesn’t prevent such a union from having important diplomatic implications. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting observes…
Some tension exists between the houses and the crown since the marriage of Queen Aurala to Sasik of House Vadalis. Traditionally, the dragonmarked houses and the royal families have avoided mixing to maintain a division between rulership and commerce. Even though Sasik, as the royal consort, has severed his claims to the House Vadalis fortune, he nevertheless maintains ties that make the other houses nervous about what advantages Vadalis might be gaining in its dealings with Aundair.
It’s also the case that not all nations care about the Korth Edicts. The elves of Valenar are effectively appointing Lyrandar viscounts, though they aren’t using that title; these Lyrandar administrators don’t severe ties to their houses. To date this has gone unchallenged, in part because it’s not entirely clear who would challenge it and in what forum; this is touched on in this article. Even though dragonmarked heirs had to abandon their house ties to marry into noble families, they brought their blood, and this means that there have been nobles who carried dragonmarks. However, the frequency with which dragonmarks appear in the houses reflect the intentional mingling of strong dragonmarked bloodlines. We’ve noted before that foundling marks are quite rare, to the point that someone who develops a mark may not even realize that they had a connection to a house in their history. So the dragonmarked nobles are possible, but by no means common.
The Wynarn Family
Galifar Wynarn believed that he has been blessed by Aureon, and this belief underlies the united kingdom that he built. Only someone of the Wynarn bloodline could hold the throne. An underlying question is what defines the Wynarn bloodline? There are nobles of all races, and there have been a few Khoravar reigns; however, these have often ended poorly, with rival heirs using this as a basis to say that the sovereign isn’t truly of Wynarn blood. Following a short but brutal civil war in the seventh century, all Wynarn sovereigns have been human. Kaius III has declared the elf Etrigani to be his queen, but he has yet to produce an heir with her. Kaius III maintains a harem, and it’s largely assumed that this is to ensure that he has a human heir, though he has yet to either produce an heir or appoint an official consort within this harem.
Under the traditions of Galifar, every duchy was obliged to contribute a certain number of soldiers to the Army of Galifar. Soldiers were paid a wage, and often this quota could be met with volunteer forces. If not, it was the responsibility of the duke/duchess (who might delegate to counts) to make up the shortfall, by whatever methods they deemed necessary. While conscription occurred in the earliest days, in time it became common practice for nobles in peaceful regions to pay for Karrnathi troops to enlist in their name; as Karrnathi had a tradition of mandatory military service, this worked out well for all sides.
With the outbreak of the Last War, sovereigns continued to rely on nobles to levy troops. Thrane and Karrnath had little trouble meeting quotas, but other nations did fall back on conscription when necessary. In the present day, most nations are reducing their current forces. Nobles are responsible for maintaining the local watch in their domains, and are entitled to maintain a household guard, though numbers are limited (with the amount varying by nation).
Why Does This Matter?
As with any element of lore, a key question remains: why does any of this matter? Why should player characters care about the laws of inheritance or the difference between a grand duke and an archduke? Here’s a few possibilities.
If an adventurer is from the Five Nations and isn’t a noble themselves, they grew up in the domain of a noble. Who was their lord? What’s their relationship with them? Were they a fair ruler the adventurer might try to help, or who might serve as a patron for the party? Or does the adventurer want to expose the lord’s cruelties or crimes?
Perhaps an adventurer’s family use to hold title or land within a nation, but lost it due to treason, war, or treachery. The How Did You Lose Your Title table provides ideas. Does the character want to reclaim their title? If so, what would it take?
An adventurer who follows the Blood of Vol could have ties to the Grand Duchy of Atur. The grand duke fears that the warlords are preparing to formally conquer the duchy and assimilate it into Karrnath. Can the adventurers prevent this conflict from occurring?
When a noble character comes into their inheritance, they’re suddenly responsible for the maintenance of the domain. How will they balance this with their adventuring life? Will they find a steward to administer the lands in their name… and if so, can the steward be trusted? Will they abdicate the title in favor of a younger sibling?
For service to the crown, an adventure is granted a title and domain… but the domain is land seized during the war, and the adventurer is expected to quell unrest. How will they handle this? Can they justify and enforce their sovereign’s claim to the region?
The adventurer is involved in a romance or business affair that can’t proceed unless the character acquires a title (even if it’s just a courtesy title). What can they do to gain status?
THE FIVE NATIONS
What’s been described is the standard traditions of Galifar. However, even while Galifar was united the nations had their own unique customs, and there have been further changes over the course of the last century. What’s the different between nobles of Breland and Karrnath? Find out below.
Aundair has held closely to the old traditions of Galifar, and its people have a romantic view of the nobility. Perhaps it’s due the influence of Thelanis; whatever the reason, Aundairians have always entertained the notions of noblesse oblige and chivalry. The common folk value self-reliance and ambition, but most believe that the nobility is noble in all senses of the word, that their leaders will do what’s best for the country and for their people. This idealism doesn’t extend to all nobles; Aundairians have long believed that their people—both nobles and commoners—possess a dignity and decency beyond their neighbors. With that said, over the last two centuries a rift formed between the farmers of the west and the grand cities of the east; this led first to the embrace of the Pure Flame, and eventually culminated in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. Nonetheless, most remaining Aundairians are proud of their rulers and feel a bond to their local lords.
Noble Ranks. Aundair uses the standard ranks of Galifar. Accomplished arcane spellcasters will also often add a title that describes their primary school of magic, along with a designator indicating the highest level spell they can cast; so a noble might be introduced as Alara ir’Lain, Countess of Askelios, Diviner of the Fourth Circle. Bear in mind that NPC spellcasters may not have the full capabilities of a PC class. Countess Alara is capable of casting at least one 4th level divination spell, but that doesn’t mean she has all the versatility of a 9th level wizard; it’s also possible that she casts her spells as rituals, like a magewright.
Playing an Aundairian Noble. Aundairians have high expectations of their nobles. Aundair is a land that values wit, knowledge, and arcane talent, and a noble is expected to possess all of these. Nobles may not be accomplished spellcasters, but if you can’t at least perform a cantrip your peers will chuckle and your parents will push you to study harder. Likewise, Aundairian nobles have high standards of honor and duty, and crass or selfish behavior will reflect poorly on your family.
Noble is a logical background, but if you’re a second child or further down the line, both soldier and sage are good choices for Aundairian nobles; many Aundairian officers were drawn from noble families. You could also be one of the “Lost Lords,” nobles whose domains were lost in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. While a few of the Lost Lords still have enough influence to justify a Position of Privilege, this is a sound basis for taking the Retainers benefit instead; if your retainers are members of long-lived species, they might have served your family long before the Eldeen rebellion.
Aundair has a significant population of elves and Khoravar, and these are folded into its noble families; there are also a few noble families of comprised of gnomes. A significant number of noble estates are close to manifest zones tied to Thelanis, and many of the oldest families claim to have ancient agreements with fey (which could range from a formal pact with an archfey to a simple understanding with a dryad who dwells in the local wood). It’s also the case that Sul Khatesh is bound beneath Aundair, and some families have secret ties to the Queen of Shadows. In creating an Aundairian noble, consider whether your family has any ancient compacts in their history, and if so if this is a point of public pride or a secret.
The kingdom of Wroat was founded by reavers and bandits, and its rulers held their power through a blend of charisma, cunning, and force. Wroat was a collection of city-states, loosely aligned under Wroat as the greatest power in the region. It was clear from the start that Wroat would ultimately fall to Galifar’s disciplined forces; those leaders who wisely chose to ally with the invader became the nobles of the newly-forged Breland.
While Breland accepted the feudal structure of Galifar, its people never fully embraced the nobility. It’s always been said that a Brelish farmer sees themselves as the equal of any king; they accepted that the nobles had the power, but never bought into romantic ideals of divine bloodlines. This was tied to the fact that Breland was an active frontier. When Galifar was formed, the lands west of the Dagger were still home to ogres and gnolls, and goblins and gnomes held the lands to the east. Zilargo was quickly incorporated into the united kingdom, but it took centuries for Breland to achieve its current borders. The shield lords of the west were far more practical than the grand lords of Aundair. The common folk relied on the nobles to direct military action and to bring the resources of the crown to bear, while the lords relied on the people to be more self-directed than in other nations; Brelish communities chose their own reeves and lesser officials, and even simple matters of justice would be resolved by the people instead of going to the courts.
Throughout the history of Breland it was vital for the nobles to maintain the respect of their subjects, not merely to rely on tradition to keep them in place. As long as they respect their leaders, Brelish are proud and loyal; but Breland has also seen more minor uprisings than any of the other Five Nations. The Brelish Parliament existed before the Last War, and was established as a representative body that advised the Prince of Breland. At the outbreak of the Last War, Princess Wroaan ir’Wynarn promised to make Breland a place where “People would be judged by word and deed instead of social class.” In 895 YK Wroaan granted greater powers to the Brelish Parliament, granting it the authority it has today; the parliament makes the laws, and the crown enforces them—as well as conducting all business related to foreign affairs and national security. As noted throughout the canon sources, King Boranel is an exceptionally popular ruler, but there is a strong movement that believes that the Brelish monarchy should come to an end with Boranel’s reign—or at least be relegated to a purely symbolic position.
The sourcebook Five Nations has this to say about the modern Brelish:
The people of Breland have a strong tradition of independence and free thought. They are fiercely loyal to the kingdom and to the Brelish crown, but at the same time they don’t want the laws interfering with their daily lives. The Brelish always speak their minds, and while they treat aristocrats and officers with the respect due to rank, they still consider themselves to be the equal of any other person. While the Brelish expect their voices to be heard, they also take the time to listen to others, and they are known for their tolerance. There is also a strong strain of skeptical pragmatism in the Brelish character; the Brelish always try to find the catch in every deal, question what others take on faith, and look for a personal advantage in any situation. This attitude has its dark side, and the major cities of Breland have the highest crime rates in Khorvaire.
Noble Ranks. Breland uses the traditional ranks of Galifar, but there are a significant number of shields, especially west of the Dagger. Even though most of these counties have been secure for centuries, the shield lords still take pride in their titles and the deeds of their ancestors. Most cities and large communities have a council that manages local affairs, and in many counties these councils actually appoint viscounts, rather than the noble lord; a canon example of this is the Lord Mayor of Sharn, a viscount appointed by the city council.
Breland is the only one of the Five Nations that allows nobles to sell their titles and domains. Any such transaction must be approved by the sovereign, and the crown takes a cut of the proceedings. The new noble is required to fulfill the duties of their position and it can be stripped away should they fail. Notably, this is how Antus ir’Soldorak of the Aurum obtained his ‘ir’.
Playing a Brelish Noble. Brelish nobles need to be popular with their people to rule effectively. If you’re a noble with Position of Privilege, what’s the foundation of your popularity? Are you charismatic, or have you or your family performed great deeds that ensure the love of your people? Is there a song the local bards sing about you? Are you from a core county that’s always been part of the realm, or are you a shield lord whose ancestors took your lands from the monsters of the west? Is your domain secure now, or are you along the edge of the border with Droaam—in which case, why are you adventuring instead of standing with them? Can your family trace its roots back to the foundation of Galifar, or did they buy their title?
If you don’t want to take the noble background, one possibility is that your lands were west of the Graywall mountains and was lost in the rise of Droaam; perhaps Graywall itself was your family’s domain! As a minor Brelish noble popular with the people, you might take the folk hero background instead of noble; your deeds supporting the common folk are so well known that you’re celebrated even in other nations. Alternatively, if you’re from a small county with relatively little influence, you might take the criminal background instead of noble. Is this because your noble family has deep dealings with the criminal community? Or are your family criminals who’ve bought a minor title?
The conquest of Metrol was Galifar’s first step in establishing his united kingdom. It was his bitterest enemy, and the realm that was most completely transformed in defeat. Hand-picked by Galifar I, the nobles of central Cyre were devoted to the ideals of the united kingdom and believed that they embodied those ideals—and that “What our dreams imagine, our hands create.” While some will argue that these dreamers were decadent and soft, they were devoted to arts, sciences, philosophy—though not to challenging the concept of the monarchy itself. To the Cyrans, the crown was the bedrock foundation of Galifar, and all of their dreams were built on that foundation.
Of course, things were quite different for the nobles of southern and eastern Cyre. To realize his dreams for central Cyre, Galifar claimed the lands to the south and east to resettle the nobles. The lands to the south were inhabited by goblins, and the distant region across the Blade Desert by farmers who traced their roots back to the Khunan region of Sarlona. Neither of these forces were organized into nations, and neither had the power to resist Galifar, but both regions were claimed by conquest. While outright slavery was forbidden, Galifar was willing to overlook the excesses of feudal serfdom. Central Cyre may have embodied the ideals of Galifar, but eastern Cyre was its antitheses. Due to its isolation, it was simply ignored by the rest of the united kingdom, its nobles allowed to rule their petty fiefdoms as they wished.
Following the outbreak of the Last War, the Cyrans continued to hold to the traditions of Galifar; after all, they were the rightful heirs of the true kingdom, and were fighting to defend it. Eastern and Southern Cyre were lost in the uprisings that formed Valenar and Darguun, and then central Cyre fell in the Mourning. As a result, most Cyran nobles now have little but their pride. The Treaty of Thronehold established Cyre as a fallen nation, and its nobles had no voice in shaping the treaty. While Boranel has granted Prince Oargev the land now known as New Cyre, the only power Cyran nobles now wield is what others choose to give them.
Noble Ranks. Cyran used the standard ranks of Galifar. Nobles of southern Cyre were often shields, as the land was taken from the goblins and there were ongoing conflicts over the centuries.
Playing a Cyran Noble. Position of Privilege is extremely rare among Cyran nobles. If you take the noble background, the Retainer benefit makes more sense. If you have a Position of Privilege, it means that your family is so well known and liked that people grant you respect even though your family has lost its privilege; why is that? If you’ve fought to help the refugees, you might instead be a folk hero who can find shelter in any refugee community. Otherwise, with the approval of your DM, you could take any background and add a lost Cyran title to your story; you should be the Count of Woodbridge, but instead you were forced to become a criminal. In developing the story of a Cyran noble, an important question is whether your domain is within central Cyre (the Mournland) or whether it was in southern Cyre (Darguun) or east Cyre (Valenar). Valenar and Darguun were lost almost four decades ago, and if you’re human you may have never known these lands. On the other hand, if you’re from one of these regions your lands still exist and are in enemy hands; do you yearn to reclaim them from the elves or goblins?
Where I normally suggest that adventurers should be heirs as opposed to actively holding a title—explaining why you’re not bound by the duties of your rank and why you don’t have access to its resources—Cyre provides another answer to this. It could be that you were the Duchess of Eston, that you were part of Dannel’s councils—and now, you’re a refugee with only three loyal retainers left to show for it. Again, unless you have Position of Privilege, your title doesn’t mean much; once you may have been Duchess of Eston, but now you’re just a woman with a well-worn sword and the skills to use it.
While first settled by raiders from Rhiavhaar, the seeds that blossomed to form Karrnath can be traced back to the ancient nation of Nulakesh. The Karrns are a hard people who have always valued martial discipline and strict order. It was Karrn the Conqueror whose deeds secured human dominance over Khorvaire, even though he failed to hold that power himself; and Galifar himself was a son of Karrnath. The Cyrans believe that they are the rightful heirs of Galifar because of the traditions of succession; but the Karrns know that it was their people who created Galifar, their language that is now the common tongue. And if Kaius III can’t reclaim the throne of the united kingdom, perhaps another capable Karrnathi warlord will be the next Galifar and start the cycle anew.
In Karrnath, the Galifar Code of Justice has been supplanted by the harsh Code of Kaius, a form of harsh martial law. This met little resistance and remains in place even today, in part because it reflects the overall character of the Karrns and the culture they had in place before Galifar I crafted a more enticing foundation for his united kingdom. While there are certainly exceptions, most Karrns are proud of their strict laws and view the other nations as soft and corrupt. This tendency is reinforced by the fact that all Karrns serve a term in the military and are thus used to operating within a chain of command. One might ask what Karrnath needed with such a sizable army, especially during the most peaceful years of Galifar; the answer is that the Karrnathi army is used for many purposes within the nation. Local law enforcement is largely provided by soldiers, with a small corps of career officers who maintain continuity of service. Soldiers perform public works. A term in the army is a term of service to the nation, where you are prepared to go in harm’s way for the good of your people; but the precise form of that service is up to your sovereign and the warlord.
Karrnath is notable for the Grand Duchy of Atur. This region’s independence was negotiated long ago in recognition for the work it does in containing the dangerous influence of the powerful Mabaran manifest zone at the heart of the region, and was reinforced in agreements with Kaius I in exchange for the support of Atur’s elite necromancers. This is why Atur remains a public stronghold of the Blood of Vol even after Regent Moranna and Kaius III turned against the faith. Atur is still home to the finest necromancers in the nation, and most of Karrnath’s undead troops are stored in its vaults. There are warlords who despise the Blood of Vol or who fears that the undead it maintains could be turned against Karrnath. But these nobles know that seizing Atur would prove disastrous unless they had the knowledge necessary to contain the power of the manifest zone, and so the City of Night remains inviolate.
Noble Ranks. Karrnath uses the standard ranks of Galifar. It’s common for dukes to use the title of warlord, but both titles are valid. Counts along the new borders of the nation take pride in the title of shield. Nobles are expected to levy a specific number of troops for the service of the crown, but they may maintain additional forces as they see fit within their realms; likewise, it’s understood that they are lending soldiers to the crown, and that those troops retain their loyalty to their duke.
Playing a Karrnathi Noble. As a Karrnathi noble, consider carefully whether you want the noble background or the soldier background. All Karrns serve in the military, and nobles were often officers (though only if they actually possessed the skills required to lead). The Position of Privilege benefit of the noble background reflects greater diplomatic influence; the Military Rank benefit of the soldier background reflects respect earned on the battlefield, deeds that will be respected even by enemy soldiers. Which is a better fit for your noble Karrn?
A second question for any Karrnathi noble is where you stand on the Blood of Vol and the use of undead. The faith has always had deep roots in Karrnathi. It spread when it was embraced by the crown earlier in the war, adn then withered when Regent Moranna turned against it. Are you from a proud Seeker family, perhaps tied to the Grand Duchy of Atur, and if so, how has the turn against the faith affected your family? Did your embrace the faith only to abandon it—and if so, are you still a believer in spite of your faithless forbears? Or are you a true vassal devoted to Dol Dorn and the Sovereigns, who believes that the use of undead in battle was a crutch proud Karrnath never needed?
Another question is where you stand on Kaius III and his efforts to strengthen peace. Do you believe that the current peace is best for all? Do you trust that your king is doing what’s best for the nation, even if you hope this is merely a stratagem in a longer game? Or do you believe that Kaius is squandering Karrnathi might, and hope that a new warlord will lead your nation to greatness? Do you think you could be that warlord, given time?
Daskara was a nation devoted to the Sovereign Host, reflecting the influence of ancient Pyrine and to a lesser extent, Irian. Just as Karrnath has a number of powerful manifest zones tied to Mabar, Daskara (now Thrane) has a few noteworthy zones tied to Irian, notably the region where Flamekeep now stands. Like Galifar I, the people of Daskara believed their rulers were blessed by the Sovereigns and governed with divine right. This faith was shaken by their defeats at the hands of Galifar’s forces, but Galifar I was able to convince most that his united kingdom was part of the divine plan, that their blessed lords were meant to kneel to the Wynarn king; Galifar further strengthened this by establishing Daskara as the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host, the greatest temple in the lands. However, this new pillar was broken when the dragon Sarmondelaryx ravaged the newly christened Thrane, killing its prince and burning the Grand Temple.
These challenges didn’t shatter the faith of the Thranes, but they strained them. It took the overlord Bel Shalor to change everything. It wasn’t a prince who saved the nation from terror, nor the Sovereigns; it was a warrior of lowly birth strengthened by courage and the power of the Silver Flame. In the years and centuries that followed, the people of Thrane largely abandoned the Sovereign Host and embraced the Silver Flame. The Grand Temple of the Host had been destroyed by the forces of Bel Shalor, and the people chose to replace it with the citadel of Flamekeep; the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host in Metrol became the new seat of the Vassal faith.
This shift left the nobles of Thrane in an odd position. They had long touted their supposed divine blessing… but now the people were shifting away from the faith that supported it. Many nobles responded to this by embracing the Silver Flame—sharing the faith of the people and further, acknowledging the power that saved their nation. Others sought to balance both traditions; even if the Grand Temple was never rebuilt, the faith of the Silver Flame didn’t deny the possibility that the Sovereigns might exist and might have blessed the noble lines. And a few clung bitterly to the old ways and refused to acknowledge the new faith, struggling to limit the power of the church within their domains.
Following the death of King Thalin in 914 YK, Thrane officially became a theocracy led by the Keeper of the Silver Flame and the Council of Cardinals. The lands once held through the crown were now considered the property of the church, and both civil and military administration were taken over by the church. The roles of viscounts and blood regents were dissolved and taken over by church functionaries. Higher nobles were allowed to retain a single manor and estate, but no more. Many chose to work with the church, helping with the transition and earning rank within the theocracy through faith and service. Others were willing to remain in a decorative, ceremonial role. This is the position that Queen Diani ir’Wynarn finds herself in today. In theory, she is the Blood Regent and serves as adviser to the Keeper and the Cardinals. In practice, she is largely ignored. While she smiles at the services she attends, Diani believes that Aureon and Dol Arrah have plans for her, and there are loyalists—known as Throneholders—who dream of restoring the monarchy to its rightful place.
Noble Ranks. The nobility of Thrane uses the standard ranks, but there are no viscounts or crown reeves. Only the eldest heir of a Thrane noble receives a courtesy title. Thrane nobles cannot create titles or take any action that would require the approval of the sovereign. and most have no authority beyond their estates unless they also serve in the church.
Playing a Thrane Noble. If you want to play someone of influence in Thrane, the best choice is to take the acolyte or soldier background. An acolyte is the equivalent of a civil servant, and Shelter of the Faithful gives you the same sort of influence among the faithful and within the church that Position of Privilege gives with nobles. As a soldier, Military Rank reflects your role either with the templars or the general army of Thrane; either way, your deeds were significant enough that you are respected even by the soldiers of other nations. What did you do to earn this respect? What was your most noteworthy battle?
Should you wish to plan a disenfranchised noble, the Retainer benefit makes more sense than Position of Privilege. Beyond your retainers, your family still has an estate you can return to, but they have little influence or resources to spare. As a noble of Thrane, are you devoted to the Silver Flame, supporting the new direction of the nation? Or are you a bitter Throneholder determined to restore the old order? For a more dramatic twist, you might believe that you have been chosen by one or more of the Sovereigns for some divine purpose; is this the restoration of the nobility, or do the Sovereigns have a purpose for you that doesn’t actually place you at odds with the church?
While most of the other nations of Khorvaire have their own unique traditions of nobility, a few have inherited some elements from Galifar, and these are briefly addressed below. A critical point to consider with any of the other nations is that the Position of Privilege benefit reflects a broad recognition of your authority. If you wield great power within a Lhazaar principality but don’t have any influence beyond it, you don’t need to take the noble background; you can be a sailor or a pirate, and work out the other elements of your backstory with your DM. Your background benefit reflects the aspect of your background that will regularly come into play. If you want to have an interesting story hook that may well never actually come up in the campaign, that comes down to the approval of your DM.
The Eldeen Reaches
The Eldeen Reaches seceded from Aundair in 958 YK, and its people swore their allegiance to the Great Druid Oalian. The Eldeen Charter affirmed that the land now belong to the Eldeen people and that the titles and claims of the nobility of Aundair were no longer recognized. Many nobles weren’t in residence at the time (which was part of the reason for the secession). Others fled to Aundair, becoming the Lost Lords mentioned earlier. But a few chose to stay with the people and to start a new life, working to be good community leaders even without the titles and privileges of their former lives.
Because of the timeframe, a human adventurer likely wouldn’t have actually held power in the Eldeen Reaches before the uprising. But as an elf or Khoravar, you could easily have been a noble in the Reaches. Are you a Lost Lord hoping to reclaim your birthright? Or have you embraced your new nation and worked to strengthen it?
Q’barra: New Galifar
The nation of Q’barra was founded by Ven ir’Kesslan of Cyre, once duke of the Dollen region. Ven named his settlement New Galifar, and claimed his intention to recreate the noble model of Galifar in this untamed land. The former duke thus became the first king of New Galifar, despite not being tied to the Wynarn bloodline. Those few counts that had supported his cause became dukes, and wealthy donors who had funded the expedition became counts. Having said that, New Galifar is small and still actively expanding. Newthrone is the royal seat, and the only two actual “duchies” are Whitecliff and Adderport. Q’barran counts rule over villages that would barely justify a crown reeve in the Five Nations. Most nobles are “claim lords”—they’ve been granted titles and parcels of land by the King of Q’barra, but they haven’t actually claimed or cultivated those lands. Adderport and Newthrone together have a kingdom’s worth of dukes and counts, but most only over a handful of retainers and a small city estate.
A Q’barran title currently means little in the wider world, and it’s unlikely that a Q’barran noble would have a Position of Privilege unless they were tied to some other office, such as being an appointed ambassador. With your DM’s approval, your character could be a claim lord, regardless of your actual background; as such you have a title and some influence when you’re actually in Newthrone, but it has no real significance elsewhere. While this would not provide you with the benefits of a Position of Privilege, your king could charge you to perform services in the name of New Galifar.
As far as the outside world can tell, the Host of Valenar seized the lands of eastern Cyre, drove out the Cyran nobility, and replaced them as feudal overlords. High King Vadallia granted the fiefs to his war leaders, so there is a Count of Moonshadow and a Duke of Pylas Maradal. However, this was largely a show for the rest of the world; the Valenar have never cared about holding land or titles, as the ancestors they emulate didn’t rule petty fiefdoms. The Valenar nobles are rarely found in their supposed domains, and it is Khoravar immigrants who make up the civil service and administer justice in their names.
There’s little logical basis for using the noble background for a character from Valenar. Being the Count of Moonshadow won’t get you the benefits of a Position of Privilege in the wider world. If you want to be a person of influence within the Host of Valenar, use the Soldier background; among the Tairnadal, Military Rank is more important than some noble’s title. If you want to be a former Cyran lord yearning to reclaim your lands, you could take the noble background with the Retainer feature (bearing in mind that Valenar was seized 42 years ago)… or almost any background and simply say that your family has claim to a title in Valenar, if your DM supports the idea.
As described earlier in this article, when the forces of Galifar advanced to conquer the lands beyond the Howling Peaks, they were met by gnome negotiators. After lengthy discussions and a wide array of offers and enticements (many of which turned out to favor the gnomes more than they originally appeared), the region of Zilargo was recognized as the Grand Duchies of Korranberg, Trolanport, and Zolanberg, with the region being governed by triumvirate with a representative from each duchy. While ostensibly part of Breland, their status as a grand duchies allowed them to largely remain autonomous. To this day, there are three noble families in Zilargo—the ir’Korrans, the ir’Trolans, and the ir’Zolans—and heirs happily compete for the title of grand duke and hold elaborate coronations. But grand duke is a symbolic role that was largely only brought out for special interactions with nobles of Galifar, while the Triumvirate, the Councils of Nine, and of course the Trust actually maintain the nation.
In the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold, the Grand Dukes are even more toothless than they were before. The three ducal families are among the most powerful families in Zilargo, but the title of Grand Duke is more of a toy than an actual position of significance; these families often hold elabroate duels or games, with the victor claiming the title for a year. The actual positions of authority within Zilargo are elected offices—though these elections are often decided by vast webs of intrigue.
That’s all for now! As this article is already 11,000 words, I’m going to post answers to questions about it in a follow-up article as opposed to adding them to the end of this one. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and keeping this site going, and I’ll be posting a Patreon exclusive article about a few notable nobles of Galifar soon for the Inner Circle. And if you’d like to know more about Cyre and the ruling clans of the Mror Holds, check out Exploring Eberron on the DM’s Guild!
The last few articles have dealt with Riedra in 5E, the provinces of Riedra, and the Inspired. Before we leave the region, I want to address a few questions about the cities of Riedra. In describing the city of Dar Jin, Secrets of Sarlona says that “the people… go about their business silently, speaking only when it is absolutely necessary.”
In light of this, people have asked: What is life like in the cities of Riedra? Is it like being in a city of zombies? Why does Riedra even HAVE cities?
Cities and Villages
Riedra is largely split into two types of communities: small villages that serve a specific function (typically agriculture or mining), which are spread out around a central massive city, known as a bastion. The bastion serves as a military garrison and houses the Inspired who govern the region. Crucially, every bastion has a teleportation circle, typically connected to Durat Tal. So if you’re on official business for the Inspired and need to travel quickly, you’ll travel to the nearest bastion, use the circles to reach the bastion closest to your destination, and then go from there.
What’s the purpose of Riedran cities?
Bastions serve as military strongholds and transportation hubs. They are also the centers of industry. Most villages gather raw materials, while the bastions contain the factories that produce goods. Wait, factories? Riedra has factories? Yes. Reidra doesn’t have the wide magic of Khorvaire, and its factories are more primitive than their Cannith counterparts in Khorvaire; work is done by hand, without the aid of constructs or arcane tools. But you don’t have a lot of individual blacksmiths; instead, the bastion has a massive foundry, with a hundred smiths all working together. Assembly lines are common, with each individual focused on a single task. And while you don’t see the magecraft or arcane tools of Cannith, there are psionic tools at play. Riedran factories employ background telepathic projection. In some cases, this is simply a tool that helps the workers clear their minds and focus on a task. In others, the projection actually guides the hands of the worker, operating as a constant form of magecraft.
The most unusual form of factory are the sentira production facilities. Sentira is a form of solidified ectoplasm formed from intense emotion. Where tools of crysteel and steel can be created by mundane workers, sentira can only be worked by shaper psions, using a powerful psionic form of fabricate. The role of the common worker in a sentira factory isn’t to produce the finished goods, but rather to feel; the Inspired need concentrated emotion to create raw sentira. Different emotions create different forms of sentira, and factories that focus on hatred or sorrow are usually also prisons; the Inspired have no desire to force loyal citizens to feel miserable, but this is a perfect use for dissidents. So if a group of adventurers is looking for a force of possible allies, they should find a sentira factory with an unpleasant aura…
In addition to being centers of industry, military fortresses, and transport hubs, the bastion cities are administrative centers. Chosen and Inspired monitor events in the Bastion sphere, tracking production, transport of supplies, dissident activities, and other critical information. While paper is used to some degree, information is primarily stored in crystal form, a system similar to spellshards. Administrative centers have large crystal repositories that are managed by psychic figments created by the Inspired—simple personalities (not unlike the 3.5 psicrystals or the spirits associated with the UA archivist artificer) that assist and manage data access, as well as performing other minor administrative functions. Each center has a figment capable of moving between Dal Quor and Riedra, and all records are also stored in a central repository in Dal Quor; if an Inspired in Dar Jin needs to know about troop requisitions in Dar Ulatesh, the figment clerk can quickly retrieve that information from Dal Quor.
Life in a Riedran City
Dar Jin is larger than any city in Khorvaire. It is composed of five spherical wards, each a metropolis in its own right. Four of the wards are almost identical. The streets are paved with smooth black cobblestones, interspersed with squares of clear crysteel. When darkness falls, the crysteel blocks glow with a soft light. Workhouses, dormitories, and storehouses are made of blocks of black and white stone; crysteel panels serve as skylights during the day and glowing lanterns at night. Most buildings are curved or whorled; hard angles are few and far between. The city is beautiful in its way, but is extremely repetitive; every dormitory looks exactly the same.
Secrets of Sarlona, Page 72
As mentioned in the previous article, casual psionic projection is used to identify streets and buildings. At a glance, it seems like it could be impossible to find your way. But if you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that you know where you are. It’s an alien memory nestled in your subconscious, but one you’re aware of it this casual projection makes it easy to find your way around. Likewise, the dormitories look exactly the same, but you know which one is Jhora Hall and which is Ula Hall.
Secrets of Sarlona calls out the fact that Riedrans go about their business silently, speaking only when necessary. This doesn’t mean they act like zombies! Riedrans are focused on their tasks. They know exactly what they need to do, and they are determined to do the best job they can; they don’t have time for small talk. But this doesn’t mean that they’re emotionless robots. Riedrans may smile or nod to each other in passing. If someone drops what they are carrying, the people around them will likely stop to help pick it up. They may not SAY anything, because nothing needs to be said; it is understood that we are all working together, we are here to help you. The key point is that the silence of Riedra isn’t OPPRESSIVE; it occurs because most of the time, nothing needs to be said. Most Riedrans are comfortable with their lives. They feel that they share a common cause with the people around them. So they aren’t shuffling, emotionless zombies; most are content, determined to work as hard as they can and to earn their advancement on the Path of Inspiration.
A key part of this is that for a Riedran citizen, daily life is very predictable. You work with the same people in the same building following the same general schedule. You all dream the same dreams; you all receive the same messages from the Voice. Again, this doesn’t make Riedrans zombies, it just means that they have safe, reliable patterns. This is a critical reason that adventurers make most Riedrans uncomfortable: they are disrupting that pattern. Riedrans know what to expect from one another. They have no idea what to expect from a warforged, an elf, and a dragonmarked human—all the worse if these three appear to be armed and prepared for violence!
So what is life like in a Bastion city? As called out in Secrets of Sarlona, there are many people but little conversation. People aren’t standing around, they aren’t shopping or killing time. They act with a sense of purpose. They know where they are going, they know what they have to do, and they are always moving toward that goal. They rarely speak, but that doesn’t mean they won’t acknowledge one another; and again, if someone stumbles or if there’s an accident, the closest people will provide assistance. When adventurers enter the picture, they will find that people keep their distance. Civilians will typically avoid eye contact; soldiers will watch adventurers closely, clearly concerned that these outsders may be up to something dangerous. If forced to interact, most Riedrans will be polite to adventurers but seek to end the conversation as quickly as possible; they have somewhere they need to be.
A secondary point is that Riedran cities aren’t designed for tourists or consumers. There are no shops or restaurants; Riedrans eat in their dormitories or garrisons. There are no theatres, no gambling. There are gardens of reflection and memorials that share memories of tragic events or grand triumphs. There are statues of the Inspired that radiate awe, plazas where priests of the Path of Inspiration inspire the crowds, spaces where soldiers drill or people engage in group exercise. But there’s no luxuries, nothing that’s designed for pure leisure; everything serves a purpose.
But what about the Jhodra?
So, life in a Riedran city is stable and predictable. The people are quietly devoted to their work. They largely ignore outsiders, and adventurers are seen as a curiosity at best and as threats at worst. Which is why Dar Jin and Dar Ulatesh—the two major ports where foreigners are welcome—have foreign quarters that cater to the needs of outsiders. The Jhodra is the foreign quarter of Dar Jin. It has dragonmarked enclaves and embassies of a number of nations of Khorvaire. There are theatres, shops, and taverns; however, most of these are actually run by the dragonmarked houses. So the good news is that after your long journey across the sea to the mysterious empire of the Inspired, you can still get a bowl of tribex stew at the Gold Dragon Inn (Disclaimer: The tribex stew served at the Jhodra Gold Dragon Inn is not actual tribex, but rather a pomow-based meat substitute being tested by House Ghallanda).
Most Riedrans are forbidden from entering the Jhodra. Those who work in the foreign quarter are trained and prepared to deal with foreigners, and thus don’t display the discomfort seen elsewhere. There are many guides, always watching for travelers who seem lost or confused, always ready to provide assistance; there are even some who are only guides, as opposed to agents of the Thousand Eyes!
So in imagining a scene in the Jhodra, keep that cosmopolitan population in mind. Walking through the Jhodra, you’ll have that odd sensation of knowing where you are—of remembering the name of the street even though you’ve never read it. Most Riedrans are going about their business: sailors headed for the docks, envoys headed to an embassy, all moving quietly and with purpose. Dragonmarked heirs share jokes with embassy staffers. An expat grabs you—Did you just get off the Sharn boat? You don’t have any of Mazo’s shaat’aar, do you?—and perhaps they have a story to share, or a risky opportunity for a few capable people. You see a statue of the Inspired, and you can’t help but be impressed… but is that your actual feeling, or just a projection of the statue? And perhaps… though it’s unlikely… one of those silent, hardworking Riedran gives you a look or makes an odd gesture. What are they trying to convey? Do they want to find a way to speak to you alone? Is there something going on? Or is it an agent of the Thousand Eyes, testing you to see if you are searching for dissidents?
Crime is almost unheard of in Riedran communities—in part because most people have little to steal. There are criminals in the Jhodra, but they’re mostly from Khorvaire and focus their attentions on fellow travelers. However, the Jhodra is well defended, both by soldiers of the Harmonious Shield and the imposing oni of the Horned Guard. The Jhodra also has an unusual number of Inspired, who help monitor the area and support the soldiers if needed. In most places, the priest in a garden of reflection will be an unoccupied Chosen or even a mundane human. In the Jhodra, it will be a hashalaq Inspired with significant powers of coercion and empathy.
Secrets of Sarlona discusses Dar Jin and the Jhodra in more detail, including the mercantile center, the tower of the Thousand Eyes, and the exotic Song of Skin—a talhouse catering to changelings.
How do you LEAVE the Jhodra?
Previous articles have discussed secret ways to enter Riedra: traveling through Khyber, passing through another plane, working with the Dream Merchants or other smugglers. But if you truly have a good reason to explore another part of Dar Jin or to travel across Riedra, all you have to do is ask. Secrets of Sarlona says the following…
In order to explore Riedra, a traveler must acquire a transit visa from the Iron Gate, the foreign relations office, in Dar Jin or Dar Ulatesh. This scroll provides a description of the travelers, states the nature of their business, and delineates any restrictions on travel. A bearer might be limited to traveling in specific provinces or spheres, and the visa usually has a set expiration date… The Iron Gate does not charge for transit visas, but it rarely grants them. Riedra isn’t for tourists. Travelers must provide a valid reason for entry and show that they have no criminal tendencies or intent, as well as enough knowledge to avoid accidentally breaking Riedran laws. A successful DC 30 Diplomacy check is sufficient to get an entry request considered, but even then the reason must stand on its own. Finally, mind probe (EPH 119) is often brought into play to ensure that the travelers have no hidden motives. If the request is especially intriguing or risky, the Iron Gate might allow travel but send a member of the Thousand Eyes along as a chaperone and observer. Unless the party is deemed a serious risk, this observer is a Chosen; the controlling spirit only takes possession of the vessel every few hours to check on the situation.
Secrets of Sarlona, pages 45-46
Do the planes play into the sentira factories? I imagine it’s hard to have a prison-factory of despair in Khalesh.
Absolutely! Most sentira factories only focus on a single emotion. Part of the point of having a mass teleportation network is that factories can specialize like this, because it’s easy enough to transport such specialized goods across the Unity. So certainly, you don’t put your despair factory near a wild zone to Irian.
Sentira is a MASSIVELY cool material. Would you see it made and used in Adar, too? Or is it something that you need psions on the level of the Inspired to create, and thus it’s harder to make useful quantities in Adar?
Secrets of Sarlona calls out that Adaran kalashtar also work with sentira, but they don’t have the facilities or resources to produce it in the same quantities as the Inspired. So you can fine sentira items in Adar — notably, the horned headdresses kalashtar are often shown wearing are supposed to be sculpted from sentira — but you don’t see buildings made of it.
Is loving/adoration sentira a genuine reflection of emotion or artificially sustained?
That’s a good question. With any sort of sentira factory, can the emotion be artificially induced? Can you create love with a charm effect, or generate fear with psychic power? The simple answer is yes, but I think it’s more INTERESTING if the answer is NO: if the emotion has to be sustained and natural. This makes a factory that deals in fear more horrifying, because they can’t simply cast fear; they have to truly make you terrified for an extended period of time. And this would also lean toward certain emotions being much harder to produce. It could be that Love sentira is quite rare in Riedra—but that it can be found in Adar, whereas Adarans are almost never found using fear or hate sentira.
Could you elaborate on Riedran families? Riedrans seem to live in various communal housings by what you say. If people are silent much of the time, when do they converse and get to know each other?
This is covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Here’s two relevant passages; SoS elaborates on both of these topics, as well as describing a day in the life of a Riedran villager.
Time away from work is usually spent with other members of the community. Riedrans dine together in central halls, participate in group athletic exercises, and gather in the evenings for storytelling and religious instruction. They are allowed a brief amount of unstructured time each day, ostensibly for meditation on the day’s events; however, many prefer to remain among friends even during this private time. Privacy is not something the Riedrans treasure—solitude can be a painful and disturbing experience for a Riedran. Young Riedrans are raised communally. They are often transported to new villages as soon as they are old enough to travel, to prevent birth parents from forming an unhealthy bond with the child. Youths live in segregated dormitories, tended by dedicated caregivers (part of the Guiding Path). As they grow, children serve as apprentices to other members of the community, allowing the caregivers and priest to determine their aptitudes. A youth is usually set on his path in his thirteenth year and moves into an adult dormitory at this time.
Riedrans are largely silent while they are focused on their work, unless that work requires conversation. But they talk with one another when they don’t have other tasks that demand their attention. As noted above, they enjoy the company of others; but often being around friends is sufficient, even if there’s nothing you need to talk about.
Can you talk about subversive activities in a city of Riedra? I am not asking about big things like spies or revolutionaries, but small things as places to do things not encouraged by Inspired (maybe play a game, buy a book, etc…). On what level do you think that this happens, is there is races with more probability of do this kind of thing, graduation of the punishment, etc…
First of all, consider that most Riedrans don’t have any frame of reference to understand these concepts. The majority of Riedrans are illiterate and most villagers have never seen a book. They have assigned activities; why would they “play a game?” Part of the challenge of driving revolution in Riedra is that the people don’t see why they’d WANT all the freedoms the people of Khorvaire take for granted.
Hard as these things are in general, they are exceptionally difficult to perform in a Riedran city. There ARE no private spaces. Almost all activities are group activities. There are people everywhere, and it’s generally believed that the Thousand Eyes are always watching.
Does this mean these things are impossible or never occur? Of course not. Secrets of Sarlona presents many groups that tie into these things. The Broken Throne is a faction that seeks to recover the knowledge of pre-Sundering Sarlona; they specifically teach members to read, and might treasure ancient games. The Dream Merchants are a network of smugglers, and they will happily sell books to members of the Broken Throne… though, of course, Riedrans have no money, so they’ll have to find something of value they can trade. But it’s still exceptionally difficult to find a safe space in a Riedran city. Perhaps, if the city is built on an old foundation, there’s an ancient chamber hidden below (… but can you be sure the Thousand Eyes don’t know about it? That they haven’t left it intact specifically to lure such dissidents?). Perhaps there’s a part of a factory that was abandoned after an accident. There’s nothing RELIABLE or safe; every cell has to find its own sanctuaries. A more unusual resistance movement is that of the Unchained, a group that practices free dreaming and communicates using the dreamspace. But again, if you want more information about any of these organizations or Sarlona in general, refer to Secrets of Sarlona.
Now it’s time to leave Riedra! My Patreon supporters have chosen the Nobility of Khorvaire as my next major topic; as with Riedra, I will likely post some Patreon-exclusive content as part of this. Thanks to those supporters for keeping this site going!
In June, my Patreon supporters called for an article about Sarlona. The first part dealt with the role of Riedra and how to bring it into fifth edition. To conclude, I’m delving deeper in a subject that is only touched on in Secrets of Sarlona: the history and unique elements of the eight provinces of Riedra. I am posting the full article for inner circle patrons on my Patreon, but here’s the introduction and the first two provinces: Borunan and Corvagura.
The Unity of Riedra is a single political entity. It’s one nation. But it’s made up of eight provinces, and each of these provinces were once unique nations. Those nations were shaped by environmental factors, by religions, arcane discoveries, and most of all, by planar influences. While they are now unified—and while the Inspired work to discourage any strong sense of provincial nationalism in modern Riedra—understanding these fallen nations is crucial both to understanding the landscape of Riedra, the history of the Five Nations, and the secrets or wonders that adventurers might travel to Riedra to uncover. RIEDRA may be one nation, but you’ll have very different adventures in Borunan and Ohr Kaluun.
Secrets of Sarlona implies that the old kingdoms were fairly advanced—that they had wizards, sorcerers, divine champions. If so, why did these techniques not travel to Khorvaire? And in general, why don’t the Five Nations show their Sarlonan roots more strongly? We’ve said that while most followers of the Sovereign Host in the Five Nations know that their faith is “the Pyrinean Creed,” very few actually know that this means it originated in the Sarlonan nation of Pyrine. Why have these nations been forgotten?
There’s two important factors. The first is that the Sarlonan “settlers” of Khorvaire weren’t the paragons and pride of their nations. We’ve called out that Lhazaar was a pirate, and it’s no accident that her lieutenant Malleon was known as “The Reaver.” Many of those who followed Lhazaar were outlaws, renegades, or rebels of one brand or another. Later waves of colonization were largely driven by refugees. These weren’t organized efforts to preserve the culture and achievements of the old kingdoms. Equally important is the fact that they couldn’t transport many of their greatest achievements, which is another reason why there weren’t more active programs driving colonization. Because one thing Sarlona has in greater amounts than any other continent is planar influence. Manifest zones, wild zones, reality storms, and more—Sarlona is closer to the planes than Khorvaire. This creates both threats and opportunities. Depending on their traits, manifest zones and wild zones can be extremely dangerous—but as seen in Sharn, Shae Mordai, and Dreadhold, they can also enable wonders that can’t be replicated in the mundane world. Manifest zones can be a source of unusual flora, fauna, or other resources. The drug known as absentia is created using a root that grows in certain Xoriat manifest zones, while the pomow plant—the mainstay of the Riedran diet—was developed in Lamannian zones. Beyond this, the more powerful zones leak planar energies into the surrounding region. This can be tapped to produce magical effects, and can also subtly shape the personality of mortals. Creatures that live in the vicinity of a Shavarath wild zone are more likely to be aggressive—and to have an instinctive knack for developing martial skills. So the wizards of Khunan and the sorcerers of Corvagura were channeling planar magic… and when Khunan wizards fled to what’s now Valenar, they found that their magic didn’t work there. So the reason the Five Nations don’t seem to be that much more advanced than the fallen kingdoms of Sarlona is because they had to rebuild their arcane science… in the process, creating forms of magic that are more reliable and versatile. Nonetheless, it is possible that adventurers sifting through the ruins of the old kingdoms may find rituals, relics, or spells that are a match or even superior to modern techniques… though it might take the skill of an exceptional arcanist—or a player character—to adapt these techniques to the modern style! (Side note for the Arcana-proficient: the old Sarlonan style of magic—drawing on planar energies—is referred to as “Externalist” or “wielding external forces.” The most common form of arcane science employed by the Five Nations is “Siberyan,” and manipulates energies exuded by the Ring of Siberys.)
So what follows focuses on aspects not covered in Secrets of Sarlona: the impact of the planes and interesting aspects of the old cultures. But always remember that the Inspired have worked to suppress the old traditions. In particular, the Edgewalkers are an elite order tasked to protect innocents from extraplanar threats, and one of their major duties is patrolling the borders of wild zones. Many zones do contain deadly threats; but in other cases the Inspired don’t want the locals to find ways to use the zones as their ancestors did, or to be influenced by the zone.
Note that manifest zones to all planes (save Dal Quor) can be found anywhere in Riedra. What are called out in these sections are the most common and powerful planar influences in a region, and the common wild zones. But manifest zones to Thelanis can be found in any province, for example; in the novel The Gates of Night, the protagonists travel between Xen’drik and Sarlona using manifest zones tied to Thelanis.
In Borunan, you might…
Be drawn into the schemes of oni and ogres plotting rebellion.
Find an ancient forge where oni crafted weapons for ogre champions.
Be forced into an extension of Shavarath, where celestials and fiends fight an endless war.
Use a passage from Khyber to enter Riedra.
In the days of the old kingdoms, the ogres of Borunan were peerless warriors. The champions of Borunan possessed inhuman strength, martial discipline, unshakeable courage, and weapons forged in Fernian flame. Time and again, they repelled the legions of Nulakesh and the crusaders of Khalesh, and yet Borunan never sought to conquer any of its neighbors. Some might wonder why this was. Borunan is a harsh land; did the ogres never consider claiming the more fertile fields of Nulakesh? What kept their population so low that they never needed to expand?
It’s commonly known that the people of Borunan considered their neighbors to be “unworthy foes” and the common assumption was that the ogres were cruel brutes who constantly fought one another. In fact, the ogres were waging a truly divine war—fighting alongside angels in an endless struggle against devils. The center of Borunan contains a wild zone to Shavarath where a fragment of the Eternal Battleground extends directly into the material plane, and the ancient ogres devoted their might not to conquest, but to defending this keep against the forces of tyranny.
Borunan contains multiple wild zones tied to Fernia and Shavarath, along with multiple passages into Khyber. The forerunners of the ogres emerged from a demiplane within Khyber; tectonic activity destroyed this passage, leaving them stranded in this barren region of rocky desert and hills. Of the Shavaran wild zones, only the one—known to the ogres as Gul Dol, the Gate of War—is a direct passage to the Eternal Battleground. But the ogres built their fortresses in the other Shavaran zones, and over generations the influence of Shavarath helped shape them into fierce warriors. The origin of the oni is a secret long forgotten, but one possibility is this: just like the rakshasa and the overlords, the immortals of Shavarath cannot be permanently bound. But during their service in Gul Dol, the champions of Borunan found a way to bind defeated fiends to their own bodies—sort of an involuntary version of the process that created the kalashtar, trapping a fiend within a bloodline of ogres. Thus the supernatural powers of the oni may be tied to the essence of devils bound to the bloodlines. This could be why many oni are drawn toward evil; but the oni of Borunan resisted those sinister instincts, using the power of their defeated foes to fight alongside celestials.
In addition to being fierce warriors, the oni of Borunan forged their weapons in the Cauldron, a wild zone tied to Fernia. Their weapons weren’t as well-crafted as the arms and armor of the Dhakaani, but the oni spell-smiths were able to channel the energies of Shavarath and Fernia to imbue their creations with powerful magic. While most of these weapons were destroyed long ago—not to mention being designed to be wielded by ogres and oni—legendary items or even artifacts could remain in Gul Dol, the Cauldron, or other ancient ruins.
The ogres of ancient Borunan cared nothing for the Sovereigns or the Silver Flame. They were entirely devoted to the battle for Gul Dol. The angels of the Legion of Freedom battle the devils of the Legion of Tyranny for control of this massive fortress, which is broken into multiple rings and wings. The angels believe that the balance of this war reflects the balance between tyranny and freedom across the multiverse. Of course, this is only one of countless fronts in the eternal war between these forces, but the ogres embraced this idea and believed that in fighting alongside the angels they were fighting for freedom for all people.
The Fall of Borunan. Despite the might of its champions, Borunan was easily laid low by the Dreaming Dark. The humans of the surrounding regions had long feared the ogres, and it was easy for the quori to fan these flames. Within Borunan itself, the quori sowed doubts and created feuds, shattering centuries of unity. Were the oni secretly in league with devils? Was the battle for Gul Dol a pointless sacrifice? Civil strife decimated Borunan and left it vulnerable to outside attack.
Borunan Today. In the present day, the ogres of Borunan are kept from the wild zones that served as the strongholds of their ancestors, and largely kept from any form of war; they use their strength for manual labor as opposed to battle. The oni are raised to believe in a twisted form of their actual history. Riedran oni are taught that their gifts are the result of being living prisons for fiends; it is the duty of the oni to redeem the fiend within them through their own devoted service to the Inspired. Largely, this has proven successful, and the Horned Guard—an elite corps of oni soldiers—is one of the most powerful weapons in the Riedran arsenal. However, over the course of the last two decades a group of Borunan rebels has been forming a resistance movement, the Horned Shadow, that seeks to protect the ogre-kin (ogres, oni, eneko). This is still a young movement, struggling to build power while avoiding the gaze of the Thousand Eyes. It’s up to the DM to decide if the Horned Shadow is entirely heroic—a throwback to the champions of ancient Borunan, who devoted their lives to defending freedom from tyranny—or if the oni leaders are driven by fiendish impulses and have malevolent goals.
Keep in Mind. Borunan has many passages to Khyber. These could provide ways for adventurers to cross from Khorvaire into Riedra, intentionally or by accident. This could also be a vector that could bring the minions of a daelkyr into Riedra. The Edgewalkers monitor these passages, and have sealed those that can be sealed. The public is kept away from the wild zones that hold the ancient ruins of Borunan, and believe them to be the domain of foul altavars (the Riedran term for fiends). The two most powerful zones are the Cauldron (a Fernian zone in the Broken Blade Mountains and the seat of old Borunan’s oni spell-smiths) and Gul Dol. Today, the majority of the Gate of War is in the hands of the Legion of Tyranny, but the angels still hold an isolated keep. Their forces include a number of Borunan sword wraiths—the spectral vestiges of the ogrekin champions that fought and died alongside them.
The ogres of Borunan are generally more intelligent than their cousins in Droaam, with an average Intelligence of 9. It’s likely that the ancestors of the ogres and oni of Khorvaire were transported by a planar anomaly; this might explain their reduced Intelligence and the lack of any Borunan traditions. Another possibility is that the ogres of Khorvaire are a separate branch of the species—that they came from the same demiplane but emerged in Khorvaire instead of Sarlona, and were untouched by the influence of Shavarath.
In Corvagura, you might…
Seek to sabotage the teleportation network of Durat Tal.
Explore a mysterious magebreeding facility in a Lamannian wild zone.
Try to save a youth who’s manifested sorcerous powers.
Explore the tomb of a forgotten sorcerer-king.
Corvagura is a tropical region marked by deep jungles and lush fields. It has long been the most densely populated region of Sarlona, and it was one of the most powerful and influential of the old kingdoms. Corvagura includes manifest zones and wild zones tied to Lamannia, Mabar, and Thelanis. It’s the influence of Lamannia that lends unnatural fertility to the region and its inhabitants. The influences of the other planes were made manifest in two powerful lines of sorcerers. Anyone born within the sphere of influence could potentially develop sorcerous powers; Corvagura was born when leaders rallied these sorcerers into two noble houses, and used their powers to conquer the city-states in the region.
The House of the Sun drew its power from Thelanis. Its members had the Wild Magic origin. Their magic tended towards glamour and glory, twisting the thoughts and emotions of others or striking down foes with bolts of flame. Though biologically human, members of the House of the Sun often had fey features and could be mistaken for Khoravar. The sorcerers of the House of the Sun were taught to be proud and glorious, demanding adoration from their subjects.
The House of the Moon drew its power from Mabar. Its members had the Shadow origin, and their magic drew on darkness and inspired fear. They never animated the dead, but they could command shadows and summon specters. The sorcerers of the House of the Moon were taught to be calm and cruel, instilling terror in any who might challenge them.
While these houses were presented as families, position was based entirely on sorcerous power. Anyone who manifested such powers would be adopted into the appropriate house, while any heir who failed to show sorcerous talent by their 18th birthday was cast out. The majority of the sorcerers of Corvagura were convinced that their powers elevated them above the common people, and were infamous for their casual cruelty and tyrannical rule. But they did protect the common people from a number of deadly threats, from the colossal beasts that emerged from Lamannian wild zones to the restless dead and capricious fey unleashed by the other wild zones.
The Fall of Corvagura. The quori attacked Corvagura on three fronts. They encouraged the cruelty and narcissism of the worst of the sorcerers, pushing their subjects past the limit of what they would endure. They created a deep, paranoid rift between the houses, leading to destructive vendettas. And they encouraged the spirit of revolution among the people—culminating in the appearance of early Inspired, commoners wielding supernatural powers capable of defeating the sorcerers.
Corvagura Today. Today Corvagura is the heart of Riedra, both in terms of population and administration. It’s home to both the capital city of Durat Tal and the primary eastern port, Dar Jin, along with a number of other important bastion cities. The influence of wild zones tied to Mabar and Thelanis are largely contained by the Edgewalkers; the Shanjueed Jungle has been called out as the largest Mabaran manifest zone in Eberron, dwarfing even the Gloaming of the Eldeen Reaches. Lamannian wild zones and manifest zones have been tapped to contribute to the agricultural programs of Riedra; this includes the creation of unusual hybrids, such as the pomow plant. As the Inspired keep people out of the wild zones and work to contain their influence, plane-touched sorcerers are rarely born in Corvagura. People know what to watch for and know that such sorcerers are vessels for Altavars, responsible for chaos and bloodshed in the days before the Unity, and sorcerers identified by the Thousand Eyes will either be killed or forced into service with the Edgewalkers. However, as with other provinces, there may well be a few who have managed to conceal their powers or who managed to flee into wild zones and survive there—rebels who could assist player characters. On the other hand, some such sorcerers have internalized the teachings that these powers are the gifts of fiends, and believe that the path to greater power lies in performing vile acts; such criminals are exceedingly dangerous. It’s worth noting that while the sorcerer-princes of ancient Corvagura were human, there’s nothing stopping a Corvaguran changeling, shifter, or member of another species from developing such powers.
Keep in Mind. Corvagura is the heart of Riedra. Dar Jin is a center for trade and diplomacy. Durat Tal is the administrative center of the Unity, and it is also the hub for the network of teleportation circles that allow the Inspired to swiftly move troops and supplies across the length of their realm. Because of this, Corvagura has the largest number of hanbalani monoliths and the greatest effort made to ensure the loyalty of its people; while there could be a few rogue sorcerers, Corvagura is a difficult place to find support for any sort of rebellion.
The manifest and wild zones tied to Mabar and Thelanis provide all sorts of potential for adventures. These zones may contain ruins associated with the Houses of the Sun and Moon, along with the forgotten treasures of the sorcerer-kings. Mabar zones may yet be haunted by the specters of ancient tyrants or by newly animated undead. The Edgewalkers are dedicated to keeping fey and undead contained, and the Thousand Eyes ensure that no one tells the stories of the fey. But this can still be another way to enter Riedra; Thelanian zones often allow passage to the Faerie Court under the right circumstances, and adventurers exploring the Twilight Demesne in Khorvaire could accidentally end up facing Edgewalkers on the edge of a forest in Corvagura.
That’s all for now! The full article—covering Dor Maleer, Khalesh, Nulakesh, Ohr Kaluun, Pyrine, and Rhiavhaar—is available to inner circle Patreon supporters. I’ve spent far more time on the last two articles than on anything I’ve ever written for the site, and it’s only the support of my patrons that makes that possible. Thanks to all of you who have shown your support!
Rising From The Last War focuses on the continent of Khorvaire. Humanity thrives on Khorvaire, but it didn’t begin there; humanity came from the continent of Sarlona. Today, Sarlona is largely a mystery to the people of the Five Nations. It is dominated by the Unity of Riedra, and while this nation isn’t hostile to the Five Nations—indeed, it provided humanitarian aid and assistance to many nations during the Last War—its borders are largely closed, with outsiders only welcome in the port cities of Dar Jin on the east coast and Dar Ulatesh to the west. Most people know that Riedra is ruled by the Inspired, nobles said to be be bound to celestial spirits; and many have heard stories of the strange forms of magic used in Riedra. But most commoners know nothing more about the realm of the Inspired.
Sarlona is described in detail in the 3.5 sourcebook Secrets of Sarlona. I personally wrote the Riedra section of that sourcebook, and my vision of the rest of Sarlona doesn’t perfectly match the canon depiction. My current goal is to expand on Secrets of Sarlona rather than to rewrite it. I may present my approach to Adar, Syrkarn, and Tashana in future articles, but these articles focus on Riedra. This article explores the narrative role of Riedra and the Inspired, and how to approach both of these in fifth edition given the limitations of the current mechanics.
THE PURPOSE OF RIEDRA
What does Riedra add to the world of Eberron? Why did we create it in the first place, and what does it offer to a campaign? Before we consider what it is, let’s take a moment call out what it isn’t. Riedra is not intended to reflect any nation or culture on Earth. It’s home to psychic warriors and soulknives, not to samurai and ninja. It’s not supposed to be some sort of version of the Soviet Union—in Eberron, the cold war is being fought between the Five Nations, not between Khorvaire and Riedra. From the beginning Riedra was always supposed to be unique and alien. It’s a culture shaped by overlords from the Realm of Dreams. It’s a realm where people craft tools and towers out of solidified emotions and where the rulers weave dreams for their subjects. It fills the pulp trope of “mysterious, isolated nation with exotic traditions.” But in looking for inspiration, don’t look to our world or our history. Look to your imagination; this is a realm that should feel as if it’s shaped from dreams and nightmares.
The core idea of Khorvaire and the Five Nations was civilizations where arcane magic has been incorporated as part of society. The most basic, core idea of Riedra was a civilization where psionics are the foundation of society. With Eberron we wanted to look at the logical consequences of magic existing; with Riedra, we wanted to do the same for psionics. At the same time, knowing that many DMs don’t LIKE psionics and feel that they clash with classical fantasy, it felt appropriate to make Riedra isolated and mysterious. DMs who WANTED to delve into psionics could either take adventures to Sarlona or simply have more contact with Riedran and Adaran characters. But that core idea was simple. Psionics are a well-established part of D&D that feel out of place directly alongside arcane magic. Let’s create a place where psionics BELONG—where they are a key tool of civilization.
The second purpose of Sarlona and Riedra is as the birthplace of humanity. We decided from the start that humans weren’t native to Khorvaire; that while they are the dominant species on Khorvaire, they are colonizers and on a fundamental level they are on the wrong side of history. But while humanity came from Sarlona, it’s no longer the land they left behind. In Riedra we have a new nation built upon the bones of those ancient realms, with many forgotten secrets waiting to be found.
Riedra is a dystopia where tyrants even control the dreams of their subjects. Or is it a utopia without crime, hunger, or doubt? We as players and DMs know that it’s an oppressive dictatorship, and yet it’s not the enemy of Khorvaire and many nations want its aid, which is again part of its story role: what do you do when your country allies with an oppressive nation? One of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that things aren’t supposed to be simple. WE know that the quori have stolen the freedom of the people of Riedra, but the greatest trick of the Dreaming Dark was convincing the people to build their own chains; the Riedrans don’t WANT your freedom. So we look at Riedra and feel that they SHOULD be the enemy; they are an oppressive dystopia, a vast and alien empire. But by default, they aren’t the enemy. So how do you deal with them? It’s the base of the Dreaming Dark, but the common people of Riedra don’t even know the Dreaming Dark exists.
So from a design perspective, here are the things Riedra brings to the world and to a campaign.
It’s a source for psionic content. Characters with psionic classes or abilities can be from Sarlona or have learned from a Sarlonan teacher. It provides an opportunity to introduce psionic villains and it’s a source for psionic artifacts. If you want a deep psionic campaign, it’s a place to run it. While that’s currently complicated by the lack of deep psionic rules, those rules are under development. I suggest alternatives later in this article, but if you do want to use the psi knight fighter or the soulknife rogue, this is where they belong.
It’s a dystopian tyranny, more inspired by 1984 or The Giver than any nation in our history. If you want to play out an underdogs-against-the-empire campaign, it’s better suited to that than any nation in Khorvaire… whether on the Adaran front, as a band of Akiak commandos, or a group of unchained dreamers hiding in the heart of the empire. Yet Riedra is also a place to explore what would we give up for security? Riedra has no crime, no hunger, no doubt. Are we so sure Khorvaire is better, with its greedy Houses, warring Wynarns, and Boromar Clan?
It holds the hidden bones of the nations that gave birth to humanity. Which means that it may hold many secrets lost in the Sundering. What did Khalesh know about the Silver Flame that the people of Thrane have yet to discover? Did the Pyrineans have ways to invoke the Sovereigns—new divine spells—that never made it to Khorvaire? What wonders and terrors are hidden in the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun?
It’s closer to the planes than any other continent. In addition to massive manifest zones, it has wild zones—regions where a plane essentially projects into the material—and reality storms. This is a point that will be explored in greater detail in the upcoming article on the provinces.
Tied to a number of these points, Riedra is alien. It is shaped by spirits from another plane. It uses a supernatural science that’s all but unknown in Khorvaire, and it’s built on a foundation of nations that tapped the planes in strange ways. After a thousand years of Galifar, Khorvaire is known; Riedra is home to thriving civilizations, yet still unknown.
So in bringing Riedra into a campaign, you have a number of choices. If you have no interest in psionics you can ignore it completely. You can use it in the background, as a source for psychic characters and tools—the home of a single recurring villain or PC. You can highlight its role as an enigmatic ally—highlighting its presence in Q’barra, dealing with the Inspired ambassador at the Tain Gala—noting that it is a force that is technically helping and that the Five Nations want good relationships within, while also invoking its alien nature and dystopian aspects; if the Inspired ambassador offers aid, do the adventurers take it? If you choose to make the Dreaming Dark a major foe in the campaign, Riedra can become far more important, as diplomatic immunity and embassies serve as shields for Riedran villains. You could take the campaign to Riedra; perhaps the adventurers are fighting the Dreaming Dark or working with the Adarans, or perhaps they need to find a relic lost in a ruined temple in Khalesh or hidden in a war-maze in Ohr Kaluun. Or you could set your entire campaign in Riedra, focusing on the struggle against an all-powerful alien dictatorship that holds the common people in its thrall.
A RIEDRAN INVASION?
Riedra is a massive, tyrannical empire. The Dreaming Dark yearns to control all mortal lives. On the surface, this seems like it’s a set-up for a vast invasion. And if that’s a story you really want to tell in your campaign, your ally is Lord Zoratesh, the kalaraq quori who commands Riedra’s armies. However, in canon Eberron, it’s not a scenario that’s likely to occur. Secrets of Sarlona says…
Both the Devourer of Dreams (leader of the Dreaming Dark) and Lady Sharadhuna (leader of the Thousand Eyes) believe that (open war with Khorvaire) would be disastrous, providing a common enemy to unite the people of Khorvaire, destabilizing Riedra, and risking the ire of the dragons, the Lords of Dust, and other conspiracies currently watching from the shadows.
Lady Sharadhuna believes that the quori don’t need Khorvaire—that dominating Sarlona is sufficient for their needs. The Devourer of Dreams does plan to conquer Khorvaire, but not through brute force. Secrets of Sarlona notes that “The unity of Riedra succeeds because the people believe that the Inspired are saviors, not conquerors.” The quori created Riedra through manipulation. They tricked the old kingdoms of Sarlona into fighting each other, eroded faith in the old religions, played on prejudices and fears. And then they created the Inspired as champions who rose up from among the common people, uniting the people to fix the disasters the quori had carefully engineered. So the PEOPLE believe that the Inspired are heroes—legends who guided them through a terrible age of darkness and into a golden age.
The Devourer of Dreams plans to use the same script in Khorvaire… and most likely is already doing it. Over the last century, a stable kingdom collapsed into chaos and civil war. This war was driven by the paranoia of the last king and by the ambitions of the heirs—exactly the sorts of emotional states that could be engineered or enhanced by quori manipulation. We’ve never said conclusively that the Dreaming Dark DID cause the Last War, because ultimately we want each DM to make that decision themselves. But it certainly fits their style. They don’t conquer with invading armies; they conquer by tricking people into tearing their own nations apart. The trick here is that if the quori DID ignite the Last War, they surely DIDN’T cause the Mourning. It’s the Mourning that has brought a sudden and immutable end to the war, as the nations are afraid to continue their battles until the mystery is solved. So if the Dreaming Dark caused the war, the Mourning is surely a deep source of frustration for them… and they are likely trying to solve this mystery themselves!
But if you want to explore the quori conquest, there’s a crucial second piece of the puzzle. The quori don’t need the people of Khorvaire to adopt Riedran customs. The Dreaming Dark wants to create a stable civilization where it controls the dreams of the public, using a system similar to the hanbalani monoliths in Riedra. But they don’t NEED people to worship the Inspired or to follow the Path of Inspiration. They created the Inspired because it fit the situation they’d created—because they were saviors who rose from within to solve the problem. If they’re using the same script in Khorvaire, they will create something local and new—a force that the people of Khorvaire will accept as their saviors. Consider a few possibilities…
The Sovereign Swords. Presented in Dragon 412, the Sovereign Swords are an order of selfless heroes guided by the Sovereigns and strengthened by their angels. Or are they? The Swords truly are devout champions who seek to aid those in need. But are their powers and visions coming from the Sovereigns? Or are their “angels” actually quori, and their visions carefully scripted by the Dreaming Dark? The original Inspired were heroes who rose up within the common people, guided and strengthened by celestial powers. The Sovereign Swords could be unwitting tools of the quori, following the same script… but how can adventurers be sure?
The Dragonmarked Houses. Again, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t need Khorvaire to resemble Riedra; it just needs the situation to be stable and it needs people to accept their quori-designed monolithic dreams. One of the basic themes of Eberron is the balance of power between the old monarchies and the dragonmarked houses. Perhaps the quori are working within one or more houses to drive this—pushing for a future in which the common people accept that the old nations are irrelevant and that the houses are the future—creating a functional dictatorship run not by godlike Inspired, but simply by gold. In such a future, the monolithic dreams could be presented as a SERVICE: House Cannith and House House Sivis working together to provide you with OneDream™, the latest in somnambulant entertainment! Tasker’s Dream is a House Sivis think tank working on the potential of telepathy; could it be a quori front?
The Once and Future King. Alternately, the Dreaming Dark could have helped to tear down Galifar in order to rebuild it… to its own design. The Dreaming Dark could choose one of the existing candidates and work to present them as the true, destined savior who will restore Galifar. Queen Aurala is a possibility since she is known to want to restore Galifar, but an exotic option would be Prince Oargev of Cyre—if the Dreaming Dark helps to create a narrative of how the prince who lost everything is the one destined to save us all. This option is a way to have a LITTLE bit of a Riedran invasion, since Riedra could lend troops to support Oargev’s claim—but again, the goal of the Dreaming Dark would be to convince the common people to support Oargev; they don’t want to CONQUER, they want the people to build their own cage. So using dreams and agents, they’d work to convince people that Oargev IS blessed, that the Sovereigns are behind him, that he’s the one who can sweep away the corruption and terrors of the war and restore a golden age, where even dreams are always happy.
The net point is that Riedra is a looming and powerful force, but it doesn’t want outright war with Khorvaire; instead, the Dreaming Dark seeks to rebuild from within. But who will be their figureheads and catspaws?
RIEDRA AND THE INSPIRED IN FIFTH EDITION
The basic concept of Riedra is that it’s a society built on a foundation of everyday psionics… and there’s no system for psionics in fifth edition. What’s the answer? How can you make a Dreaming Dark assassin feel suitably different from a mundane rogue? How do you make Riedra feel truly alien?
Psionic Characters and NPCs
While the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t have finalized rules for D&D, Unearthed Arcana has explored a number of different approaches to psionics. Here’s the latest version, which includes a Soulknife archetype for rogues, a Psi-knight fighter, and a Psionic Soul archetype for sorcerers. The article also calls out that the Great Old One warlock has always had “psi-themed powers”—its class features grant telepathy, a thought shield, and the ability to mentally dominate a thrall.
So you can work with the options in Unearthed Arcana. If you want a psionics system that’s as entirely unique as the third edition system, there are third party options available on the DM’s Guild. But my personal approach is simpler. If you separate class mechanics from the default flavor associated with them, you have the tools to create a wide assortment of characters. A barbarian doesn’t have to be angry. A bard doesn’t have to be an entertainer. Consider the following ideas, which could be agents of the Dreaming Dark or heroic PCs.
Tactile Telekinetic. This is a human child—an urchin living in a bad part of Sharn, ignored by the world. Despite their childlike appearance, they display surprising strength—because they are channeling telekinetic ability through their body. When they are forced into battle, they’re surrounded by a translucent field of energy—a force field that reduces damage from physical attack and increases the damage of their melee attacks. As long as they are aware of threats, they can try to use their gift to shield them from threats that require a Dexterity save. That’s the STORY. Mechanically, this character is a halfling urchin barbarian. The halfling race is used to represent “young human”—small and quick. Mechanically, the character has a high strength, but they don’t LOOK like it; nothing says that a strong character has to have big muscles! The telekinetic shield is reflected by Unarmored Defense, temporarily supercharged when the character activates “Rage.” They describe “Danger Sense” as being able to deflect threats with their shield. Fast Movement? Kinetic enhancement. The point is that what Rage DOES is provide you with a temporary boost to melee damage, resistance to physical attacks, and advantage on Strength checks. It’s up to you what that looks like—whether it’s primal fury that allows you to only take half damage from physical attacks, or if you’re generating a telekinetic shield.
Thoughtstealer. This clever agent blends exceptional training with coercive telepathic power. They carry no weapons, preferring to strike their enemies with disorienting psychic blasts. They can use their telepathic gifts to guide the actions of their allies or to disable their enemies. And above all, they excel at beguiling their foes. This is a bard of the College of Lore, who fights with vicious mockery and describes Bardic Inspiration and Cutting Words as telepathic guidance or interference. Friends, charm person, and suggestion round out their powers of mental coercion; they could add sleep as the power to shut down enemy minds, and detect thoughts is an obvious choice. Bardic Inspiration and vicious mockery are limited by the fact that the victim has to be able to hear the target, but in MY campaign, if the bard is a kalashtar, I’d allow this to combine with their racial Mind Link power; the caster doesn’t have to speak aloud if the target is within range of their Mind Link.
Mindbreaker. Perhaps I want a more aggressive psion. Though they carry no weapons and wear no armor, this Inspired commando can shield themself with a kinetic shield, blast enemies with telekinetic force, and unleash devastating blasts of psychic power. When an enemy strikes them, empathic feedback causes the attacker to share their pain. This is a warlock, flavoring eldritch blast as telekinetic force bolts and mage armor as a kinetic shield. To add some flavor I’ve changed some damage types; the “empathic feedback” is armor of Agathys but dealing psychic damage instead of frost damage. The character is a Fiend pact warlock, but I’m changing the damage type on all their fire spells—burning hands, scorching ray, fireball—to psychic damage and saying that they don’t cause any damage to nonliving creatures… so the Mindbreaker can unleash a psychic blast that devastates a crowd (psychic fireball) but doesn’t burn down the building.
You can apply this principle to any character, PC or NPC. Mage armor or stoneskin? Wall of force or Bigby’s hand? Telekinesis. Detect thoughts or enthrall? Telepathy. Even disguise self could be described as planting a telepathic image in the minds of viewers; to add flavor, a DM could say that this spell won’t affect someone protected by a ring of mind shielding or creatures immune to being charmed. A fighter could describe Second Wind as psychometabolic healing, and Action Surge as momentarily altering their perception of time. A monk can easily present their qi-related abilities as being psionic disciplines, and for this reason we’ve always presented monks as being more common in Sarlona. Sometimes it makes sense to change a damage type or a detail of an effect; perhaps a Kalashtar quori-hunting paladin deals psionic damage instead of radiant damage with their smite, and Divine Sense and Divine Smite are effective against aberrations instead of undead. On some levels, this is a question of balance; radiant damage is a powerful tool against undead, and if my campaign was going to be all about fighting the Emerald Claw, I wouldn’t make that change to a PC. But if DM and player approve, there’s nothing wrong with having a “paladin” who smites with the power of their mind and lays on hands using a psychometabolic discipline. The EFFECT is extra-damage-on-melee-attack and heal-on-touch; nothing says it HAS to come from a divine power.
The default with this approach is that “psionic spells” are still treated as magic for purposes of detect magic, antimagic field, etc. The essential principle is that all forms of supernatural power—divine, arcane, primal, psionic—are different ways of manipulating energy, but that the results are similar enough to overlap. On the other hand, if a DM chooses, they could change the rules. Perhaps psionic spells can’t be countered with counterspell or negated with an antimagic field—in which case I’d likewise say that a psionic version of counterspell would only work on other psionic spells. This is a way to emphasize the alien nature of psionics—the diviner can’t even sense them!—but can raise balance issues.
So the primary question is what do you want from psionics in your game? If you WANT them to be entirely unique and to have nothing in common with other forms of magic, the best bet will be a third party approach. If what you are looking for is unique flavor, you can add that directly. So personally, I don’t have any problem using the Dreaming Dark in the current system; I just make a few changes to the creatures and characters I use as a base.
An Inspired as a PC? It’s possible someone could be set on playing an Inspired as a player character. While the obvious answer is to have them be a rogue Chosen who’s wearing a charm that protects them from being possessed by their quori spirit, perhaps they WANT to play an active Inspired. This isn’t as impossible as it sounds. There are factions within the Dreaming Dark; Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes believes that the Inspired don’t NEED to conquer Khorvaire and that the Devourer of Dreams is chasing their own personal ambition, not working for the good of all quori. A PC could easily be a Chosen vessel of Sharadhuna or one of her top lieutenants, sent to Khorvaire to monitor and potentially interfere with the Devourer’s schemes. They’d be entirely loyal to Riedra and to their Quori spirit, but that doesn’t mean they are evil or intend any harm to the people of Khorvaire. Personally, I’d design this character as a kalashtar warlock—either using the Fiend patron and the Mindbreaker model I suggest above, or the Great Old One patron and more of a telepath/manipulation spell set. The point of the Inspired is that the powerful spirits have multiple Chosen hosts, intentionally spread around; so the character’s patron might BE Sharadhuna, but she very rarely actively possesses the character aside from to give them direction; she’s got far more important things to take care of in Riedra. As with any warlock patron, they teach the character to use their supernatural abiolities and give them direction; and the DM has the OPTION to have the character be fully possessed (temporarily gaining a boost in power) if it serves the needs of the story, but the character can’t trigger this.
Here we run into a more basic problem. If we are using reflavored spell effects to represent psionics, than how is the psionic society of Riedra any different from the wide magic society of the Five Nations? And wasn’t that the whole point of Riedra?
The saving point here is that unlike Khorvaire, the economy and society of Riedra isn’t based on the widespread presence of low-level casters. Sarlona doesn’t rely on the psionic equivalent of magewrights. Psionic training and power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of extremely powerful people—the Inspired. Essentially, we always say that Khorvaire is “wide magic” instead of “high magic,” because it’s about a vast number of people employing low level magic, while high level spellcasters are very rare. Riedra is the opposite. It’s high psionic—a nation where a privileged corps of extremely powerful immortals have used their powers to create the infrastructure. Under 3.5 rules, there are 20th level psions among the Inspired; by comparison, Merrix d’Cannith is a 12th level character. Because of this, it’s less about what effects are used on a daily basis? What psionic powers might a local merchant use? and more what massive wondrous systems have been put in place by the metaconcert of the Inspired? This ties to the point that most dragonmarked tools require a dragonmarked heir to operate them. In Riedra, the infrastructure systems are powered by the psychic energy gathered by the monoliths; they don’t NEED the common people to do anything. Again, rather than widespread low-level casters, Riedra relies on the small corps of extremely powerful individuals creating self-sustaining systems.
The main point is that the infrastructure systems described in Secrets of Sarlona can be used as described even if we don’t have a perfect psionics system underlying them—because most of their effects are story effects as opposed to magewrights actively casting spells. Let’s take a quick look at the psionic infrastructure in place in Riedra.
The Hanbalani Altas. The most iconic element of Riedra is the massive ovoid monoliths spread across the landscape. These monoliths draw on the thoughts and emotions of the surrounding populace and convert this into psychic energy, which is used to power most of the effects described below. They are also planar anchors, slowly helping to bring Dal Quor back into alignment with the material plane. Where most of the services in Khorvaire are provided through individual dragonmarked enclaves and different focuses, the hanbalani represent a chokepoint for the Inspired; disabling a hanbalan is a way to essentially “cut power” to a region. This ties back to the basic point that the Inspired have great power in their SYSTEMS, but that power isn’t spread throughout the populace.
Nondetection. Each hanbalan is the center of a massive nondetection effect that prevents outsiders from scrying on Riedra. Once people are within the field, scrying and divination work normally, and people within the field can scry on those beyond it. But this field prevents diviners in Khorvaire from spying on the Inspired.
Dreamshaping. The quori believe that by stabilizing the dreams of mortals they can stabilize Dal Quor itself, preventing the prophesied turning of the edge that will end il-Lashtavar and reshape all quori. One of the most important functions of the monoliths is to broadcast the dream programming that is shared by all the people of Riedra. From Secrets of Sarlona: “The typical Riedran dream is soothing and vague, blending images to project the wonder of Riedra, the joys of being part of a greater whole, and the celestial benevolence of the Inspired. Every so often, these soothing visions are interspersed with flashes of the dark horrors that lurk outside the borders of Riedra.” These dreams can be fine-tuned, targeting a region or village with a specific village, but the purpose is to have a single dream whenever possible.
The Voice of Riedra. Just as they broadcast dreams, the hanbalani allow the Inspired to broadcast telepathic messages over a wide area. Through the network, a message can be broadcast across the entire Unity. However, messages are usually tailored to a specific region or even a particular village. The Voice provides news, instructions, and encouragement throughout the day. It allows the Inspired to mobilize a region against a problem—for example, sharing a description of a dangerous group of rogue adventurers. It also provides the sense that the Inspired are always watching, even though the Voice is just an outward projection.
Teleportation. Swift transit is an important area in which Riedra has a significant advantage over Khorvaire. Riedra has a network of massive teleportation circles that connect points in space. There are two very important distinctions between the psionic circles of Riedra and the teleportation circle network House Orien is developing in Khorvaire. The Riedran circles connect two specific gates. The circle in the fortress of Kintam Lar connects to the city of Durat Tal and that’s all; it can’t be adjusted to teleport to Dar Jin. While that’s inherently more limited than the typical teleportation circle, where it has an enormous advantage is that it’s always on. As long as the portal can draw power from the hanbalani, it is always active. The Inspired can move entire armies across the continent, or transport vast quantities of food and supplies. Durat Tal is the central hub for this network—so in moving that army, it will march through the gate at Kintam Lar, arrive in Durat Tal, and then enter another gate to, say, reinforce Kintam Keera in Borunan. The kintam fortresses and bastion cities are thus connected by teleportation networks, and caravans deliver goods or troops from these hubs to surrounding villages. By contrast, House Orien is developing a system that works using the teleportation circle spell. This allows one Orien circle to connected to any other Orien circle, but an heir must have the ability to cast the spell to open the circle and it only remains open for one round. So currently the system is a novelty—a way for wealthy clients to move swiftly, but not a system that can be used to move armies or replace the lightning rail as a means of transporting goods. A key point of the Riedran system is that the gates are all heavily guarded and that this service isn’t available to the general public; Riedrans aren’t SUPPOSED to travel. But this ability to swiftly move forces across the length of Riedra is one of the most powerful tools of the Inspired.
Light and Heat. In Khorvaire, light is provided by individually enchanted everbright lanterns. In Riedra, the energy of the hanbalani flows into specially treated crysteel (a substance that has properties of both crystal and metal) and causes it to glow. In villages light comes from mounted crystal globes, while in larger communities the buildings themselves shed light; seen from afar, a bastion city is a stunning vision of glowing domes and spires. This same system can provide climate control, heating buildings in the chill north or cooling them in the tropical regions of the south. As such, fire is rarely seen in a Riedran community; light and heat are gifts of the Inspired.
These are systems that are immediately obvious, even to outsiders. Other systems are more subtle; the Thousand Eyes has a network of remote viewing (psionic scrying) that dwarfs the capabilities of even House Phiarlan or the Trust. The Inspired also have an interesting advantage in terms of communication, which is that any Inspired can leave its current vessel and return to Dal Quor at any time. There are Inspired whose sole role is to deliver messages; they have host Chosen in every major city and fortress, and can move between them to get news where it needs to go within seconds.
So in comparing Riedra to the Five Nations, the INSPIRED have capabilities that far outstrip the nobles of Khorvaire. They have a system of swift communication, a vast network of observation, the ability to transport forces across the continent in a brief time. But the common people don’t have access to any of these services, and daily life is more limited than life in the Five Nations. There’s no casual equivalent to the widespread magewrights and wandslingers of Khorvaire. While there are humans trained in psionics or magic, they are devoted to very specific roles—notably the Edgewalkers who protect the people from supernatural threats. The people benefit from crystal illumination, the guiding Voice, the unifying dreams. But they are dependent on the Inspired for these services… and if a hanbalani is deactivated, these services will be lost.
Casual Telepathy. One more point to consider when working to present the alien flavor of Riedra and the everyday role of psionics is the casual, institutional use of telepathy. Street signs don’t bother with names (and many Riedrans are illiterate); instead, a subtle telepathic signal means that you always know where you are in a Riedran city, if you stop to think about it. Riedran monuments project feelings or images; in studying a statue of a hero you may feel a swell of pride at their achievements, and when you visit a memorial you may find that you remember the tragedy that it commemorates, as if you were there. All of this is perfectly normal to a Riedran, but it can feel intrusive or unsettling to people from Khorvaire.
While Riedrans make use of wood, metal, leather, and other materials commonly found in Khorvaire. However, they use a few materials that are less common. Crystal is a useful medium for psionic energies; as noted, crystal spheres provide illumination in most Riedran villages. Crysteel is a substance that has the appearance of crystal, but the durability and flexibility of metal; it is an excellent channel for psionic power and is used both to make buildings, tools, and weapons. Sentira is a substance that has the appearance of polished shell; it is actually a form of ectoplasm, created from pure, solidified emotions. Sentira is a critical part of Reidran tools, as it is an excellent channel for psionic effects tied to its associated emotion.
Should you use a unique psionic system, Riedra is the logical source for psionic tools. But as with character abilities, you can create things that feel like psionic tools but that use the rules for traditional magic items… perhaps with a twist or two. Consider the following…
A flame tongue sword that inflicts psychic damage instead of fire damage; it channels the rage of the bearer and directs it at the target.
A crystal that serves as a wand of fireballs, but deals psychic damage instead of fire damage and causes no damage to nonliving targets.
A shard of crystal that serves as a psionic equivalent of a scroll, holding a single charge of a psionic spell effect.
A psionic tattoo. This can be transferred to a willing creature by touch, and triggered as a bonus action; it duplicates the effects of a potion, and vanishes when its power is used.
A crystal figurine of wondrous power. When activated, the statue doesn’t grow or animate; instead, it projects an ectoplasmic construct of the associated creature around the crystal core.
… And so on. Effects that can be easily identified as telepathy, telekinesis, or teleportation are logical. It makes sense for a Dreaming Dark spy to have a cape of the mountebank, a ring of mind shielding, and perhaps a sword of life stealing that deals psychic damage instead of necrotic damage. Riedran wings of flying might work through telekinetic force rather than by becoming actual wings. An important limitation is that many “psionic magic items” can only be attuned or activated by people with some degree of psionic talent. Depending on how the DM decides to implement psionics, this could be a negligible issue; on the other hand, it could be a way to provide agents of the Dreaming Dark with powerful tools that can’t be immediately used by the adventurers (even if they can surely find people in House Cannith or Sivis who will be happy to pay for them!).
Speaking to the overall alien aesthetic of Riedra, most structures are built from stone, sentira, and crysteel. Structures are often shaped through metacreative techniques; spheres are more common than sharp angles, and sentira tools have the look of horn or shell—more grown than built.
This covers the most basic issues, but there’s certainly other questions one might ask regarding Riedra in fifth edition…
What about elans and dromites?
Elans and dromites are races that were added in the 3.5 Psionics Handbook and given a place in Sarlona. Immortal elans were described as being living prisons for exiled quori, while the insectoid dromites leave deep below Sarlona and fight an ongoing war with the Inspired. Elans play such a trivial role in the setting that it’s not something I’ve personally taken steps to correct. For dromites, the simplest answer at the moment is to use the psionic version of the thri-kreen to represent them. It’s not perfect (among other things, dromites are a small race) but if you don’t want to design a new version of the dromites or use a third party resource, thrikreen are an existing option. I’d love to write more about my vision of dromite culture in Sarlona, but that’s another topic.
Do you see a way for PCs of Khorvaire to enter Riedra without being sneaky? A more lawful or proper way?
Sure, this is discussed on page 46 of Secrets of Sarlona.
The Iron Gate does not charge for transit visas, but it rarely grants them. Riedra isn’t for tourists. Travelers must provide a valid reason for entry and show that they have no criminal tendencies or intent, as well as enough knowledge to avoid accidentally breaking Riedran laws. A successful DC 30 Diplomacy check is sufficient to get an entry request considered, but even then the reason must stand on its own. Finally, mind probe (EPH 119) is often brought into play to ensure that the travelers have no hidden motives. If the request is especially intriguing or risky, the Iron Gate might allow travel but send a member of the Thousand Eyes along as a chaperone and observer. Unless the party is deemed a serious risk, this observer is a Chosen; the controlling spirit only takes possession of the vessel every few hours to check on the situation.
I would also be interested in finding out more about means for PCs or other characters to being able to lay low in Riedra after becoming targets. It sounds like they can be scryed up pretty easily.
Remote viewing essentially functions like scrying. So using the 5E rules, first the viewer must know SOMETHING about the target; they can’t just say “There’s some foreigners somewhere.” If the scrying force is simply working off a description of the character, the target gets a +5 saving throw versus the attempt and if they succeed, it can’t be repeated for another day. So I’d start with that; they’d have to deal with a daily scrying attempt.
If they can find allies among the Unchained or the Dream Merchants, they could potentially either acquire the equivalent of a Ring of Mind Shielding or something else that could help them hide. Perhaps a sentira ring with a strong resonance can essentially mask the wearer’s personality signature—not making them IMMUNE to divination, but providing a large bonus to saving throws against scrying. I could also see manifest zones as interfering. Scrying can only target creatures on the same plane of existence, and wild zones are described as essentially a chunk of the plane intruding into Eberron; I think it’s reasonable to say that the Thousand Eyes cannot scry into wild zones, so those become sanctuaries for rogues and rebels alike.
The kalashtar believe that by doing good works and promoting peace through the Path of Light, they will bring about the turning of the Age and create Il-Yannah, the Great Light. By that logic, one would think that the way to preserve Il-Lashtavar would be to spread war and suffering.
That’s not actually how it works. If that’s what the kalashtar believed, they’d be wandering across the world trying to spread peace and goodwill, and they notably ARE NOT DOING THAT. The Adaran kalashtar have remained in isolation for centuries, and even the Kalashtar in Khorvaire are called out as largely remaining in their isolated communities, not actually traveling around spreading goodwill. Those few who DO take this sort of direct action are the shadow watchers, and are called out as being few in number.
Here’s the idea. All quori believe that the Quor Tarai — the spirit of the age — has a natural lifecycle. It WILL change, regardless of what mortals do. It gets thirty or forty thousand years (as Eberron measures time) and then it changes. That’s just a scientific fact of how Dal Quor works, just like how the planes orbiting. So there is a clock counting down to the turn of the age. The kalashtar want to keep that clock counting down or, if possible, to speed it up. The Inspired want to break the clock – to freeze it and stop the hands from moving.
Here’s a crucial piece from Races of Eberron: The majority of kalashtar devote themselves to spiritual warfare. These kalashtar, called lightbringers, believe that the only way to truly destroy the Dreaming Dark is through spiritual change, that through their religious rituals they are slowly turning the wheel of the age, banishing the dark and bringing in the light. Thus, most kalashtar appear to be peaceful mystics, but in their minds, they are soldiers in the midst of a war.
A second point: The kalashtar want to reshape Dal Quor, and they believe that with their continued devotions they are doing so.
The Path of Light embodies the values of il-Yannah, so those who follow it actively seek to embody those values. But they aren’t trying to impose them on others, because that’s not necessary. THROUGH THEIR MEDITATIONS they continue to turn the wheel; and when it finally changes, the world will BECOME a better place.
Likewise, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t believe that they NEED to spread darkness. This is an age of darkness. What they need to do is to stop the clock. The Inspired are trying to cheat and freeze time by essentially freezing mortal dreams—creating a shared, static dream and simply stopping change. But they are still AFRAID that the kalashtar, through their meditations, are moving it forward — and so, they seek to destroy the kalashtar.
The point being that to US it seems like the Adaran kalashtar are trapped in their mountains and accomplishing nothing. But THEY believe that they are winning their war, because every day they continue their devotions moves us closer to il-Yannah.
How does this affect the two sides in their ongoing war? Do either have some kind of proof or evidence that their way is working? What else could this mean?
No, they have no way to measure success. Like all the religions of Eberron, this is entirely a question of faith. This is the point of the disagreement between the quori leadership. Lady Sharadhuna doesn’t think the Inspired NEED to conquer Khorvaire; she thinks they’ve already won the war. Zulatar thinks they must conquer Khorvaire. And the Devourer of Dreams may be pursuing its own agenda.
It’s possible that the idea that the Kalashtar believe they need to promote peace comes from Faiths of Eberron. I didn’t work on that book and I don’t actually recall what it says about the Path of Light. But by other canon sources, the kalashtar who actively meddle in the world are the shadow watchers, and they are a minority; the majority of the kalashtar believe that they are fighting the war by meditating in their monasteries.
Obviously this only scratches the surface of Riedra, but that’s what I have time to address here. This isn’t intended to invalidate Secrets of Sarlona, so you can find more information there. My next article will dive into the provinces of Riedra. Because of the length of that article (which is considerably longer than this one), I’ll be posting an excerpt of it here on the site, and posting the full text to the Inner Circle of my Patreon. Thanks to the Patreon supporters who keep this site going and who chose this topic!