Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 2/17/18

I’m going to fall off the grid for a week, and I don’t have time for a well thought out post before I go… so I decided to do a quick lightning round of short-answer Eberron questions before I go! As always, these are just my personal opinions and might contradict canon material. Let’s go!

Are there any Eberron NPCs that are a Keith Baker avatar, or any that you put more of yourself into?

When we created Eberron, we made a conscious choice not to include NPCs like Drizzt or Elminster. Essentially, I want Eberron to be focused on the stories of YOUR characters… not mine. So I didn’t go into it with the idea of creating a personal avatar. With that said, I had to stop and think if there’s an NPC I’m particularly invested in… but really, I like ALL of them. I’m fond of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but I feel equally attached to Oalian, to Aaren d’Cannith, to Sheshka and Steel. I put a piece of myself into anything I make.

What would it take for Droaam to become a legally recognized entity in Khorvaire?

My novel The Queen of Stone posits a summit in Droaam where representatives of the Thronehold nations convene to discuss exactly this, and that’s what it would take: a majority of the Thronehold nations supporting the idea. You can read the novel to see one way that might turn out…

I can’t seem to find any direct interaction between Darguun and Droaam in the source books. How do they view each other?

I don’t see any particular bond between the two nations. It’s not like they’re somehow united because “We’re all monsters.” Medusas, trolls, harpies, werewolves — all of these things are just as frightening to a goblin as to a human. There ARE goblins in Droaam, but they have no common culture with Darguun… in part because the goblins of Droaam have been oppressed by ogres and trolls and other scary monsters for centuries. Add this to the fact that Droaam has only been around for eleven years. One of the main obstacles to Droaam being recognized is getting anyone to believe that it will actually exist ten years from now. Most of the other nations assume it’s going to collapse any day now… and Darguun is no exception to this.

WITH THAT SAID, as with all things in Eberron, the real question is what do you WANT the answer to be? What works for your story? Darguun is a Thronehold nation, but it is on shaky ground itself. Might Haruuc see an alliance with Droaam as strengthening his position? Or conversely, might he feel that Droaam has nothing to offer his people… and that a perceived relationship will actually tarnish his standing with the other Thronehold nations? Might he actually condemn or dismiss Droaam in an effort to avoid being painted as “another monster nation?” And if that were the case, I could easily see Sora Katra making an arrangement with one of Haruuc’s rivals… perhaps instigating a coup in Darguun to bring Katra’s puppet to power.

Meanwhile, what about the Dhakaani? They’d surely see the goblins of Droaam as a tremendous disappointment, fallen even further than the Ghaal’dar. But I still imagine that the Khesh’dar have agents hidden among the goblins of Greywall… waiting to see how the wind will blow.

So: as it stands, Darguun is a Thronehold nation and Droaam is not. There’s no common culture between their goblin populations and thus no concrete connection. Where do you want it to go next?

Can you talk about the shadow in the flame — Bel Shalor — before he/she was imprisoned during the Age of Demons?

Bel Shalor is covered in detail in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. He has some overlap with Eldrantulku; both turn allies against one another. But in contrast to the Oathbreaker, the Shadow in the Flame is more about corruption… of the good person convinced to do evil, whether they believe it serves a greater good or whether they are convinced to abandon their ideals. One school of thought suggests that Bel Shalor is the inspiration for the legend of the Shadow; if true, this would mean that Bel Shalor might have taught the dragon Ourelonastrix the ways of magic or even revealed the Prophecy to the first loredrake. If THAT is true, then Bel Shalor might have set in motion the events that resulted in the creation of the Silver Flame and the defeat of the Overlords. But there are also those who believe Bel Shalor’s “defeat” at the hands of Tira Miron may have been planned all along; that being intimately connected to the Silver Flame and able to whisper to all who hear it may have been what Bel Shalor wanted all along.

This ties to the idea that the Overlords aren’t HUMAN. They don’t want the things we want. They embody their ideas and derive joy from DOING what they embody. The Rage of War doesn’t drive conflict because he wants territory; what he wants is war, because that is what he IS. As such, Bel Shalor may be exactly where he wants to be — safely hidden where all assume he is harmless, yet in a position to manipulate and corrupt some of the most noble people in Eberron. Again, it’s entirely possible that Tira’s victory was a trick… and that the true victory will be when a new generation of heroes finds a way to separate Bel Shalor from the Silver Flame and somehow restore his original prison. Perhaps that’s a job for your PCs…

Do you have any ideas, in brief, for what immediate events are likely if the timeline were to advance for a few years?

That’s not a good question for a lightning round. There’s LOTS of things that could happen, and they intersect in many ways. To name just a few: King Boranel dies… does a successor take the throne, or does Breland end the monarchy? This intersects with Droaam: is Droaam recognized as a Thronehold nation, or does it go to war with Breland? When Lhesh Haruuc dies, does Darguun fall into chaos? Does a new leader rise from the Ghaal’dar? Or do the Dhakaani take over, and if so, who becomes their Emperor or Empress? The Valenar want a war… does someone take them up on it? Do the Inspired establish a stronger foothold in Q’barra? What happens with the Mourning… does someone find a way to harness its power, or failing that, to prove it’s no longer a threat? That’s just two minutes of thinking. If I had more time I could raise many more possibilities (we haven’t even touched on the Dragonmarked houses), how they intersect, and what seems most likely to me, but I don’t have that time.

Would Tritons (the 5e race) fit anywhere in Eberron? Would you use them instead of your previous ideas for merfolk, or as something else?

Certainly there’s a place for tritons in Eberron. But I’d want to think carefully about what that place should be. In 5E, tritons are fully amphibious and can live on land indefinitely, which isn’t an option for merfolk or sahuagin; if tritons were as widespread or as ancient as those other two races, I’d expect much more interaction between the surface and the water. Given that, I’d either say that tritons are a recent development or that they limited to a particular area. If they’re few in number they could have been created by Mordain the Fleshweaver or even magebred by House Vadalis – a dramatic breakthrough! If they’re tied to a particular area, it could be that they only breed true in manifest zones tied to Risia or Lamannia. Short form: there’s definitely a place for them, but I’d want to think about it carefully, and wouldn’t just use them in place of merfolk.

I feel like there’s not as much about Halflings as there’s been about elves and gnomes, dwarves, orcs and goblins. 

This is true, and I think it’s a good topic for a full post in the future.

What would be a good way for the Emerald Claw (and Lady Vol) to influence Karrnathi politics in the post war?

One option, off the top of my head: To accuse Kaius of embracing peace when Karrnath could have won the war, and of making too many concessions to the other nations to preserve that peace. Beyond that, back some other warlord as the true worthy ruler of the nation — the person who will sweep aside the nation’s decline under the Wynarns and restore Karrnath to greatness. A question is whether they publicly support the Blood of Vol as a tool that can help towards this goal… or if they play down that connection.

How would a Blood of Vol cleric justify an interaction with actually seeing and interacting with spirits of people they know?

They don’t have to “justify” it. The existence of ghosts or preserved spirits doesn’t violate the ideas of the Blood of Vol. The faith is grounded on the concrete fact that after death, souls are naturally drawn to Dolurrh, where they dissipate. Speak with Dead deals with the residual memories of the deceased and doesn’t change the fact that their spirits are lost. Meanwhile, lingering ghosts are no different from vampires or mummies; it’s great that they’ve managed to avoid dissolution in Dolurrh, but they’ve still lost their blood and divine spark. If the spirit has maintained full consciousness, that’s great! If it’s become some sort of predatory wraith, then the Blood of Vol cleric would be first in line to destroy it to protect the living.

Would a Death Domain Cleric fit in with the Aerenal philosophy?

Not easily, no. The Undying Court is fueled by POSITIVE energy and disapproves of channelling negative energy, which appears to be the focus of the Death Domain cleric. The Deathguard are willing to overlook spellcasters occasionally dabbling in negative necromancy, but a cleric who’s entirely about that doesn’t seem to fit in. It’s a far more logical match for the Bloodsail elves, who are the spiritual descendants of the original line of Vol… or someone who’s following the teachings of the ancient Qabalrin.

Do you think 5e’s magic item system fits Eberron as is or it would need changes? And the way they are bought and sold?

That’s a bigger topic than I can cover here. The short form is that Xanathar’s Guide to Everything goes a long way towards resolving these issues, introducing *A* system for creating magic items and introducing common magic items. It’s a question of defining what magic items fall under Eberron’s “wide magic” umbrella and what should be rare.

In several cases you pointed out that true dragonmarks are constructive rather then destructive. In dragonmarked, however, the jorasco prestige class uses the mark of healing for destructive, killing purposes. Do you feel it as a contradiction? Do you like the idea of that prestige class?

I didn’t create the nosomantic chirugeon, but I have no problem with it. I DID create the black dog, the Ghallanda prestige class that specializes in using the Mark of Hospitality to poison people. The whole point of the prestige classes is that they are people who are learning to use their mark in WAYS THEY AREN’T MEANT TO WORK… and most members of their own houses distrust or despise members of those classes. And again, in Eberron player character classes represent a rare and remarkable level of skill… which means that people with prestige classes are EXCEPTIONALLY rare and remarkable. So again, these classes don’t represent the natural evolution of the mark; they represent people taking a tool designed to do something positive and finding a way to use it as a weapon.

Do your gnomes draw more from 3.5 or 4e? Speaking to their physical appearance and the more explicit fey connection. 

Somewhere in between? I’m fine with the idea that there are gnomes in Thelanis and in some of the Feyspires, but that doesn’t somehow change my view of the evolution of the gnomes of Zilargo (who are noted as existing in a less civilized state during the Dhakaani Empire). So I’m fine with the idea that tens of thousands of years ago a group of gnomes were dropped out of Thelanis for some reason and ended up becoming the gnomes of Eberron. So any connection they might have to Thelanis is so far in the distant past that it has no significant impact on them in the present day… and it’s more an interesting curiosity than relevant to the modern gnome.

As for physical appearance, personally I like the 4E take on gnomes. This image above — Fred Hooper’s work from the Eberron Campaign Guide — is one of my favorite Zil images, doubly so because the woman in red is clearly casting a spell behind HER back.

Do the Quori and/or Dreaming Dark have any fears of the lords of madness or denizens of Xoriat? 

Why wouldn’t they? Immortals don’t necessarily fear death the way mortals do, but anything that can alter their fundamental consciousness or personality is legitimately terrifying. Beyond this, the Quori don’t understand the Daelkyr any more than humanity does… and as Lovecraft says, the greatest fear is fear of the unknown.

How does the Dreaming Dark react to other powerful influences on the world such as the Daelkyr/Cult of Dragon Below or Lords of Dust?

None of the major threats are buddies, which is one of the things that gives players a chance. The Dreaming Dark may not want to directly engage the Daelkyr or the Lords of Dust, but having an Overlord unleashed would certainly wreck al their carefully laid plans. So this is where you could have agents of a villainous force assisting PCs who are fighting against a different villainous force. At the same time, bear in mind that it’s not like they all have perfect awareness of one another. The Dreaming Dark doesn’t have a list of secret agents of the Lords of Dust or vice versa, and generally they WANT to avoid triggering conflict with other great powers when they can.

Would the Swords of Liberty have active campaigns against Cyran refugees in Breland and/or Prince Oargev?

Not defined in canon. It’s definitely a possible storyline for them, but it’s up to you what sort of spin you want to put on them. One possible approach for the Swords of Liberty is that they put democracy first – that they are first and foremost opposed to the feudal system and are interested in toppling monarchies across Khorvaire. In this case they might welcome Cyran refugees to their cause, saying that they are comrades in arms in the struggle to build NEW nations — though they’d definitely be opposed to Oargev, as the last remnant of a corrupt system. On the other hand, you could also choose to make them Brelish supremacists, interested only in perfecting their own nation — in which case they would definitely see Cyran refugees as a threat. Personally I’d do both; say that there’s different cells of the SoL that approach their goals in different ways. Thus you might have players who find they are sympathetic to some of the Swords, while opposing others.

That’s all I have time for! Feel free to post additional questions and thoughts below, but I’ll be off the internet for a week. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going.

Dragonmarks: Warlocks

Given that it’s my Patreon patrons who make it possible for me to spend time on this site, I thought I’d take some time to write about someone else who relies on patrons… Warlocks. With that said, I am working on articles about Phoenix: Dawn Command and the 5E campaign I’m running in Q’barra, and you’ll see these soon. But for now, let’s talk about warlocks.

The basic concept of the warlock is an arcane spellcaster who gets their power from a bargain with some sort of patron. However, at the end of the day this is like the idea that the bard is a musician: it’s a cosmetic detail that doesn’t actually factor into the mechanics of the class. Yes, the warlock gets a “pact boon” and gets different abilities based on the nature of their patron. But there are no hard mechanical effects tied to their relationship with their patron. There’s nothing concrete like “You must perform a service for your patron to regain your spell slots” or any concrete statement that a warlock could lose their powers based on annoying their patron. What’s said instead is that the relationship between the warlock and patron is something that should be established between the player and the DM. It can drive adventures if that’s something you both want, or it could “consist of small favors you can do entirely between adventures.” Your patron could communicate with you directly or very indirectly. And once you accept the possibility of a friendly patron who communicates indirectly and doesn’t require you to do anything in an adventure, it’s a very small step to acknowledging that you don’t actually need a patron at all. A warlock’s patron is an excellent story hook that gives the player and DM something interesting to work with. But it’s possible to come up with an equally interesting story for a warlock that doesn’t involve a patron. In this article I’m going to talk about both approaches… starting by exploring things you can do with patrons, and then looking at warlocks who go it alone.

PATRONAGE

If you embrace the basic story, the warlock is someone who gains their powers through their relationship with an outside source. A warlock doesn’t have to have any understanding of arcane science, and they don’t have to be tied to a mystical bloodline; they can be someone who has stumbled into power or earned it through a clever bargain. And while there’s no mechanical basis for a warlock to be stripped of their abilities or denied new powers when they level, as long as both player and DM agree, you can always add this; the question of what you’re willing to do for your power can be an excellent foundation for roleplaying. And even losing your powers can be a great story… as long as you’re excited about that story and have a clear means to resolve it. Let’s look at a few ways you could handle patrons.

The Classic Patron

The standard story is that you’ve got a patron who provides you with power in exchange for you acting as their agent in the world. Perhaps you’re entirely happy with that concept, and just want a few ideas for forces in Eberron that can fill that role. Here’s a few thoughts.

  • Fey Patrons. You have made a bargain with one of the Archfey of Thelanis. I discuss the Fey at length in this post, and the critical point is that each Archfey has a story… and that story will likely tie to the services they expect you to perform. Do they seek revenge? To find a lost lover or a stolen treasure? To be freed from a curse? To spread winter over the land or to save a lost soul? A secondary question is whether your patron is in Thelanis or whether they are actually in Eberron. The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide introduces the idea of the Feyspires, Fey cities that have been trapped in Khorvaire. If your patron rules one of these cities, their needs may be more grounded in the material world.
  • Fiendish Patrons. There’s endless possibilities here. You could have a connection to an Overlord, or one of the powerful Lords of Dust; bear in mind that based on the nature of the Prophecy, a Lord of Dust may want to accomplish things that are actually benevolent in the short term in pursuit of the release of their Overlord. You could have a bargain with a powerful spirit of the outer planes – a fiend of Fernia or Shavarath. Or you could drop the fiendish aspect and say that your patron is an epic dragon; your flames aren’t hellfire, they’re dragon-fire.
  • The Great Old One. The Daelkyr are the easy choice here, but not the only one. The powers of a GOO Warlock are tied to telepathy and madness, and a powerful Quori could serve this role. Perhaps they claim to be a rebel, like those who formed the Kalashtar… do you believe them?
  • The Celestial. The Silver Flame is an easy option, but also a very abstract one. The Silver Flame is a radiant power source, but it’s not generally something you bargain with. If you want to keep that aspect, you could choose a powerful outsider from one of the planes of light. As an elf or even a half-elf, your patron could be a powerful member of the Undying Court – perhaps even a personal ancestor. As a half-elf on this path, it could be interesting to say that you are one of the last of your bloodline; thin as the connection is, you are the only living descendant of this councilor, and this is the foundation of your bond.
  • The Undying. This is an equally valid path for a Deathless Councilor. A stranger option would be Erandis Vol, or an ancient Qabalrin lich entombed in Xen’drik and not yet known in the wider world.
  • Hexblades. If you embrace the idea of a weapon as your patron, Eberron doesn’t have a lot of established options, but it’s easy enough to come up with some. A blade forged in the Age of Demons, infused with the power of a bound fiend. A weapon crafted in the Age of Giants that still holds the soul of an ancient titan. A dagger crafted by Sora Kell that holds a fragment of her spirit. A sword you found in Cyre, infused with the spirits of hundreds who died in the Mourning. The main questions are who created it and what it wants.

Many of these are dark powers. How could you be working for an Overlord or a Daelkyr? In the following sections I’ll talk about the possibility of opposing your patron. But the other point is that you could serve an evil patron with the understanding between you that there are lines you won’t cross. In particular, you could be a weapon in a war between two equally evil forces… a feud between Daelkyr or different prakhutu within the Lords of Dust. I had just such a warlock as a PC in one of my campaigns; he served an Overlord, but with the understanding that give gave him the power to protect the world from the other Overlords… and if one of them was going to end up being released, at least his one would just enslave everyone instead of killing them or driving them mad. Justifying an alliance with an evil force – whether to fight something even worse or because you believe you can use the power for good – can be a very interesting foundation for a character.

The Mysterious Patron

In the 5E Eberron game I’ve just launched, Emmett is a scion of a merchant family with a minor talent for magic (as reflected by the Magic Initiate feat). Bored with his family’s life, he stole a heirloom wand from the vault. Using the wand he found he had access to greater power. When he was injured in a friendly (nonlethal) duel, the wand lashed out and killed his opponent… the first manifestation of his Hellish Rebuke spell. Emmett was forced to flee. He disposed of the wand… and it returned to him. He doesn’t know why the wand has chosen him. He doesn’t know what it wants. But he has begun to master its powers, and he’s going to see where this path leads.

Mechanically, Emmett is a hexblade warlock. His “patron” is the Ebon Wand that he carries. But as the campaign begins, Emmett knows nothing about the wand. So far it hasn’t communicated with him. He doesn’t know what powers he might unlock; he just knows he’s become a better duelist, with a knack for spotting a weakness in his foes (as represented by Hex and Hexblade’s Curse). One thing Emmett’s player and I have agreed upon is that I can choose to trigger his powers involuntarily… that the wand might choose to perform another Hellish Rebuke on someone who harms Emmett, or Hex someone who for some reason vexes the wand, even if Emmett doesn’t choose this action. And the understanding between us is that over time, Emmett will learn more about the wand and what it wants. Maybe it will some day speak to him; maybe not. It could be that he will simply learn it’s purpose, and that things will go better for him if he makes that purpose his own. What we have established is that the wand can’t be stolen from him, that if it is lost it will always return. He knows he can’t lose his powers (even if he wants to); it’s simply that he also doesn’t completely control them.

This is an easy option for a hexblade, but it can work with any patron idea. A warlock may have always had mystical gifts, never knowing their source. Now those powers are growing… and now they may learn that these powers come with a price. Perhaps the warlock’s parents bargained with an archfey or fiend; the PC possesses powers because of this deal, but doesn’t know what their parents promised in exchange. Perhaps the warlock survived the Mourning and now seems to be channeling its power… but what does that mean? In such a campaign, uncovering the identity of the patron and the details of the bargain provide the same sort of story hooks you’d normally get from serving the patron.

The Enemy Patron

Normally a warlock’s abilities are gifts freely given by the patron. But what if this power has been stolen from the patron? As a fiendish warlock you could have found a way to tap the powers of an imprisoned Overlord… and it could even be that by using its power in this way you are delaying its release. Or a Great Old One warlock could have an involuntary connection to a Daelkyr. Belashyrra is using you as one of its eyes in this world, but that connection gives you the ability to draw on its power and visions of other schemes it has afoot. Instead of the Patron giving you tasks to perform, your connection to the patron gives you glimpses of schemes you could foil, if you’re willing to take the time.

DITCHING THE PATRON

The idea of a warlock gaining their powers from an ongoing partnership with a powerful being is an option… but you can keep the mechanical abilities of the Warlock and reflavor them in other ways. The point here is that you will pick a patron and pact… but work with your DM to agree on changes to how these cosmetically manifest. In theory you have a Book of Shadows that grants you access to additional cantrips. But in your case it could be a wand, or a charm, or a special toolkit. Consider the following “patrons”.

  • Dragonmarks. Typically, the powers of a Dragonmark are largely constructive instead of destructive. A warlock could have learned to tap this power in a deeper and more aggressive way. Storm is an easy option for this, and you could take the Fiendish patron and shift anything tied to fire to inflict lightning or thunder damage instead as a way to reflect this. There’s many warlock abilities that work well with the Mark of Shadows… deception, illusion, consuming darkness. This could be reflected with a Fey patron, simply reflavored so your abilities to teleport and charm are tied your manipulation of shadow and enchantment. A question is whether you’re an elite agent of your house, or if you’re a rogue who’s discovered ways to tap the mark the House love to unravel.
  • Aberrant Dragonmarks. Even simpler and applicable for almost any “Patron,” as aberrant dragonmarks are generally destructive and don’t follow a particular theme… and it’s beleived that powerful aberrant marks are beginning to appear. You are the heir of Tarkanan and the Lady of the Plague… will you use your powers to help other aberrants, or solely for your own good?
  • Artificer. As a final version of the artificer is still being worked out, in the interim you can actually make an offense-oriented artificer using the warlock. Cosmetically, all of your spells and incantations come from magic items that you create; it’s simply that if it comes to it, you can jury-rig an eldritch blast wand from a piece of wire and some lint. I played a warlock artificer who had a Hawkeye-style hand crossbow with different bolts representing his different cantrips and offensive spells. You’ll want to be proficient in Arcana, and taking the incantation that lets you detect magic at will can help with this
  • Spy. A Fey Warlock is an excellent model for an elite member of the Royal Eyes of Aundair – a spy who uses arcane magic to accomplish their goals. The right invocations can let you disguise self at will and disappear into shadows, and between backgrounds and invocations you can get an excellent set of skills for subterfuge. Between your cantrips and limited spell slots, you can follow the path of the assassin (powerful but limited use offensive magic) or rely more on illusion and enchantment. A Hexblade can be a good model for an Aundairian duelist.
  • Vessel. This is a twist on the enemy patron, with the idea that a spirit has been unwillingly bound to you – that you are a living prison for a powerful rakshasa or Fey. Your powers are a manifestation of the spirit inside you, and the more you use them the more they will grow… but is there the risk that the spirit could escape? Meanwhile, allies of the prisoner could seek you out and try to kill you in order to release the spirit within.

I’m out of time, so I’ll stop here for now. But there are many more ways you could take a ronin warlock. Perhaps you were born in a manifest zone and your powers are tied to your plane. Perhaps they are connected to the Mourning. Maybe you’re a follower of the Blood of Vol, and your powers are the manifestation of your own divine spark (an interesting way to deal with Celestial or Undying). The critical point is not to let the concept hold you back. The patron is a tool for creating a compelling story. But you can always follow a different path!

Q&A

Does it seem reasonable, along the vein of the enemy patron, to form a pact against the will of a patron?

Certainly, and that’s exactly what I was suggesting with the idea of the enemy Overlord. It could be that you are stealing the power; in that case, a question is whether the “Patron” is aware of it, or if you’re doing it covertly and could be in trouble if they figure it out. I also just added a “Vessel” option to the No-Patron section that could work for this.

For those forces like the Undying Court who are capable of “creating” warlocks is the process difficult/draining or does the candidate need to be exceptional in some way?

To me, it’s simply logic; if it’s easy and free, there should be Warlocks everywhere. The fact that there aren’t – at least in my Eberron – means that there are limitations. Personally, I’d be inclined to say that the answer is “both.” There needs to be something exceptional about the candidate, whether it’s bloodline or talent; and there’s a limit to what the patron can support. But that likely depends on the patron.

Sort of a cross question with the sorcerer, would a casting class skinned to a dragonmark represent a stronger or more developed mark?

When I use an expanded dragonmark as an explanation for sorcerer or warlock powers, I say that it reflects a deeper connection to the mark than most people ever develop — not necessarily a larger mark. They have found a way to use the mark as a lens for arcane energy, and most heirs can’t manage it. So if I was using a system that had a concrete progression system I wouldn’t require a Dragonmarked warlock to have a larger mark. However, if I’m using a system that DOESN’T have a clear progression for dragonmarks – such as 4E – then I might say that the dragonmark grows a bit with every level the character gains.

How would you use the Daughters of Sora Kell as a patron, either collectively or individually?

I suggested Sora Kell as a patron; I’m not sure I’d want to use her daughters. Sora Maenya is too bound to the physical world; I could see her training martial adepts, but I don’t see her granting arcane power. Sora Katra… I could see her doing it, but in my campaign I don’t see her empowering an agent like that and then just letting them roam free; she’s got so many concrete schemes in the works, and I would expect that being her warlock would be a full-time job, not a casual thing you’d do on top of a career as an adventure. On the other hand, Sora Teraza could definitely work. No one knows the extent of her powers. Her motives are mysterious and her actions don’t always benefit Droaam. She could definitely pick an agent and give them occasional directives with no clear explanation for her actions. Personally, I’d make her a Great Old One patron who provides the Book pact.

Given the name of the game, could you see a dragon as a proper patron for a warlock? What would it take for a dragon to empower a humanoid in such a way?

Sure; I suggest this at the end of the “Fiendish Patrons” section above. This isn’t something a normal dragon could do, but if you posit an ancient, epic level dragon from Argonnessen – a deep student of the Prophecy with access to eldritch machines – I think they could definitely serve as a patron. The question is whether the warlock’s power is actually coming directly from the dragon, or whether — and this is the approach I would take — the dragon is simply showing the warlock how to connect to a source of arcane power. This could even be a way to double up on your explanations. Looking to the “Vessel” idea I suggest for “No Patrons”, I could see the idea of an epic dragon binding a demon into a mortal’s body and then teaching the mortal how to tap into its powers. So the dragon is the PC’s patron and mentor, but the POWER comes from within them.

What might be some motivations for an epic level dragon to empower a warlock like that?

Off the top of my head…

  • The Draconic Prophecy is a matrix of if-then statements that can set the path of the future. This dragon could be working to lock in a particular prophetic path – which involves particular actions on the part of the PC.
  • The dragon doesn’t have a specific agenda, but they are concerned about the actions of the Lords of Dust in Khorvaire; they want a human agent who isn’t on the radar of the fiends to investigate and foil their plans.
  • It’s an experiment. Perhaps they just have a fiend they need to bind SOMEWHERE and they want to try their bind-it-to-a-human ritual… and once it’s done, they are curious to watch the warlock and see what happens. or perhaps it’s literally a lab rabbit situation; they ultimately want to use this ritual on dragons, but they’re trying it on humans first to make sure it’s not dangerous.

Are warlocks accepted in the magical colleges like Arcanix and Morgrave, or are they outside of arcane academia?

That would entirely depend on the warlock’s personal story. A warlock doesn’t need magical training. They don’t have to have proficiency/training arcana or spellcraft. If you take the Fiendish Vessel warlock I present above and set them alongside a Fey-bargain warlock, they literally have nothing in common… so it’s not like you’d have a generic “Warlock” class. On the other hand, I’m sure that there are people who study the science of pact magic, and if a warlock has Arcana training they could have worked in such an environment. And taking the idea of the warlock-as-spy as I suggest above, that could definitely be a concrete path of arcane training that you could learn at Arcanix. So in short; could there be warlocks at Arcanix? Sure. Is there a place for EVERY warlock at Arcanix? No.

Do you see the Dhakaani as having a warlock tradition? 

No. We’ve established that arcane magic wasn’t a strength of the empire and that their main traditions were bards and a form of artificer. However, the fact that there wasn’t a tradition doesn’t prevent there from being warlocks, because to my mind warlocks are highly individualistic. If you are using patrons, then the fact that person A can become a warlock doesn’t mean that warlock B could as well. For example: Dhakaani can create artifacts. Perhaps the great dirge singer Jhazaal Dhakaan bound the spirit of the greatest hero of the empire to a greatsword (or spiked chain) and whoever bears the sword can channel his power. This is a foundation for a hexblade warlock… but there can only ever be one at a time because there’s only one sword. So: there’s an example of a Dhakaani warlock – but that doesn’t mean they have an established tradition within the culture.

What about the dwarves of the Mror Holds? 

Same thing. I don’t see an established tradition of warlocks as part of their culture. But I can imagine a hexblade warrior carrying a blade forged in the Lost Kingdom, or a Aurum Concordian willing to pay any price for power who makes deals with fiends.

How about warlocks among the Valenar? …I can envision a case where you have a Valenar warlock whose “patron” is the ancestral spirit. 

It’s certainly an idea a character could explore, but it’s not the direction I’d personally encourage… for the same reason I’d have a Celestial warlock tied to the Sovereign Host have an angel as their patron instead of a Sovereign. I see the relationship between the ancestors and the Valenar as being very similar to the Kalashtar and their quori. The spirit is connected to (and sustained by) multiple hosts. It provides subtle, almost instinctual guidance, but the Valenar has to find their own path towards it; they can’t have a direct conversation and be told what to do. And two Valenar with the same patron can argue about who has done a better job of emulating their ancestor. So wouldn’t have the warlock’s patron be the ancestor; I’d make the patron be in some way tied to emulating the ancestor. For example…

  • A Hexblade warlock carries the sentient blade once wielded by their ancestor. Can they fully master its power and unlock its secrets?
  • A Fey warlock serves the same Archfey their ancestor served. In the course of this service, will they learn secrets about their ancestor that have been lost to history? Or might they discover that the Archfey was responsible for the death of their ancestor – and if so, will they find a way to destroy their patron to avenge their ancestor, even if they risk losing their power?

If you have additional questions or ideas about warlocks, post them below!

Dragonmarks: The Barbarian

The barbarian is a savage warrior from a primitive culture, who relies on pure rage or primal magic to overwhelm foes. Or so they are generally depicted. But as with all classes, you can use the mechanics of the barbarian to represent a wide variety of stories. In this post I’ll look at how the barbarian fits into Eberron, and present some alternate ideas for barbarian characters that could fit into any campaign.

ACTUAL BARBARIANS

Sometimes you just want to be an actual barbarian, and Eberron has a number of options that fill this need. Bear in mind that just as every priest isn’t a cleric, not ever warrior from a savage culture is a barbarian; classed barbarians would typically be elite warriors and champions.

  • Talenta Halflings. That’s right: our iconic barbarian is a halfling. This Dragonshard calls out the fact that “The Talenta druid believes that her ancestors are all around her, affecting every aspect of life“… which makes Xanathar’s Path of the Ancestral Guardian an easy option for a Talenta halfling. But I can also see a pint-sized Berserker, or a Totem Warrior with the totems renamed… the Eagle becomes the Glidewing, the Wolf becomes the Clawfoot, the Bear can be the Threehorn.
  • The Carrion Tribes. The people of the Demon Wastes are savage killers bound to fiendish Overlords. For a PC, the main question is why you broke with your tribe and left the Wastes. The simple answer is the Drizzt approach: you had a revelation that now sets you in opposition to your ancestors and their demonic patrons. Perhaps you were going to be sacrificed because you have the potential to shift the Prophecy in a way that harms the Lords of Dust – and now you seek to discover how to bring that destiny about. An interesting possibility here is that your “Rage” could actually be drawing on the power of your Overlord. You could be bound to Rak Tulkhesh, and that connection still gives you power in battle… even as you oppose his plans. If your rage has such a supernatural element, it makes a good justification for Xanathar’s Storm Herald path. Strangely, you could also justify the Zealot path with necrotic damage… with the argument that even though you are drawing on the POWER of an Overlord, you don’t revere them.
  • The Ghaash’kala. The orcs of the Demon Wastes use the power of the Silver Flame to fight the Lords of Dust and the Carrion Tribes. Traditionally this is a case where I’d say “You don’t have to take the barbarian class to be a barbarian”; when I played a Ghaash’kala half-orc, he was a straight-up paladin. The Ghaash’kala certainly have paladins and clerics, but Xanathar’s Zealot path for the barbarian is a way to combine these two things together.
  • The Eldeen Reaches. Barbarians are often presented as a primal path, which is entirely in keeping with the Druidic sects of the Eldeen Reaches. You could definitely find barbarian champions protecting the roving tribes of the Towering Woods. I’ll talk more about shifters in general below. The Totem path is an easy match for any of the Eldeen sects, but I could see Storm Herald or Berserker working just as well. And the Zealot path could actually be an interesting one for a warrior of the Children of Winter – not actually worshipping a god, but channeling the power of life itself in their pursuit of undead and others who violate the natural order.
  • The Shadow Marches. The Marches are split into the largely civilized clans and the more savage tribes, and you could definitely have a tribal warrior who follows a barbaric path. Berserker is an easy choice for the typical half-orc barbarian, but Totem is equally logical for someone who follows the ways of the Gatekeepers.

This is an easy few, but there are definitely other options. Xen’drik, Q’barra, Droaam, the tundras or deserts of Sarlona – there are lots of uncivilized regions a character could come from. With that said, a barbarian doesn’t have to BE a barbarian…

A RAGE BY ANY OTHER NAME

As with the bard, let’s take a moment to look at the concrete mechanical definition of a barbarian.

  • d12 hit die – the best hit points of any class.
  • Proficiency with martial weapons, shields, and light and medium armor… essentially everything except heavy armor.
  • A skill set that certainly skews towards nature (Nature, Survival, Animal Handling)… but that includes the more general Athletics, Intimidation and Perception.
  • A barbarian is a survivor – something reflected by Unarmored Defense, Danger Sense, and Feral Instinct.
  • A barbarian is fast – as reflected by Fast Movement and Feral Instinct.
  • A barbarian can choose to take advantage on their attack rolls, at the cost of providing advantage to enemies that attack them. This is called Reckless Attack – but there’s no reason it can’t be presented as a calculated martial technique.

And finally we have Rage – the heart of the barbarian. But what IS Rage? It’s a state the barbarian enters voluntarily and can end voluntarily as a bonus action. It is tied to combat, ending early if the user doesn’t make an attack or suffer an injury. It provides resistance to damage, advantage on strength checks and saves, and a bonus to damage with melee attacks. But does it have to be “Rage”? The character remains in full control of their actions and can end the state voluntarily; they aren’t somehow clouded by a fog of war. “Rage” is a state of heightened combat ability that can only be maintained for a short time; but if you change the name to Battle Trance or something similar, you can have a very different feel. Back in 3.5 we called out the idea that Dhakaani bugbears were trained as barbarians, but that “Dhakaani barbarians are not stereotypical savages; instead, the barbarian class represents a specialized form of combat training, with the Rage ability reflecting a consciously cultivated state of battle fury.” A similar approach is suggested for the Droranath dwarves of the Mror Holds: civilized warriors who cultivate battle-rage as a weapon. Both of these examples still present it as “fury” – but there’s no reason it has to involve anger. It’s a short period where you can do more damage in melee combat and resist physical injury, along with special abilities related to your path. Let’s look at a few more variations of the barbarian.

HACKING THE SHIFTER

At the moment there isn’t a strong conversion of the Shifter in 5E. But what defined the Shifter of 3.5? Well, depending on your subtype, you got a temporary boost to your abilities that could only be maintained for a short period of time, along with traits like fast movement and tough hide. If you’re willing to simply ignore defined race and class and to call your rage “shifting”, you can make characters that FEEL like shifter champions by combining different base races with the barbarian.

Beasthide Shifter: Combine half-orc and Bear Totem barbarian. You’re strong, durable, and when you shift you’re extremely resistant to damage.

Longstrider Shifter: Combine wood elf and Eagle Totem barbarian. You’re extremely fast, and when you shift you’re faster still. You can slip into the shadows of the forest with ease. And yes, there’s some elf traits that don’t make sense – but you can interpret elven trance as “light sleeper”, saying that the shifter does sleep but will always awaken should there be any threat.

Certainly, this isn’t a long-term solution to the lack of shifter statistics… but in the short term, it works surprisingly well. We used this approach in the first 5E Eberron campaign I played in, and over the course of seven levels of play it held up just fine.

THE REVENANT BLADE

The Tairnadal believe that their ancestors work through them. The Revenant Blade specializes in channeling the spirit of their patron ancestor. Set aside all the preconceptions of the barbarian and consider it as an elite Tairnadal soldier: lightly armored, blindingly fast and comfortable in the wilds (with a wood elf base and fast movement, a base speed of 45 and able to hide in natural environs). Their high hit points reflect exceptional skill as opposed to sheer physical durability. And their “rage” is about channeling the spirit of their ancestor and letting it guide them; let’s call it Revenant Trance. For such a warrior, their resistance to damage while “raging” doesn’t reflect physical durability, but rather a preternatural ability to avoid damage. The additional damage while raging reflects absolute precision. While Ancestral Guardian might seem like a logical path for such a barbarian, that path deals with spirits that manifest BEYOND the character. Personally I think the Berserker path is a good one, just with all the effects recolored. Frenzy reflects the amazing martial abilities of the guiding spirit, with the exhaustion that follows reflecting the difficulty of channeling the spirit; Mindless Rage – which simply protects from charm and fear – reflects the patron ancestor shielding the Revenant.

One could reasonably ask “If the damage bonus from rage is about precision rather than force, shouldn’t they be able to use it with a bow?” It’s a reasonable question. But the whole point of the ancestral guidance is that it only lets you do what the ANCESTOR excelled at. This idea is based on the premise that the ancestor in question was an exceptional melee combatant with a fighting style that placed offense ahead of their own safety (explaining the “Reckless Attack” ability). The character can USE a bow… but it’s not what their patron specialized in, and thus, they gain no special benefit when they use it during their Revenant Trance.

WARFORGED JUGGERNAUT

Barbarian can also be an interesting choice for a warforged… a skirmisher designed to hit fast and hard, who can temporarily go into an overdrive mode when things are at their worst. Given the concept of a warforged as an innately magical being, I can imagine the warforged physically transforming in “rage” mode – with the resistance to damage being reflected either by ablative plating generated on the spot or by a temporary hardening of all surfaces. Personally I lean towards the Berserker model for this style of warforged, but you could reflavor Totem to reflect design as opposed to spiritual interaction. Another interesting option is to take the warforged Zealot Barbarian as a warforged built to channel the power of the Silver Flame. As a side note, in the Shadows of Stormreach story I wrote for D&D Online, I envisioned the warforged Spike as a barbarian.

HAUNTED

I just made a barbarian for a charity livestream I’m on this weekend. Max is an orphaned urchin who grew up in a bad part of a big city. His father was a blacksmith, and Max believes that his father’s spirit is still with him, strengthening and advising him. To start off, this justifies a scrawny teenager with a Strength of 16; he doesn’t LOOK strong, but something gives him the strength to wield his giant maul. His Danger Sense reflects the guidance of the spirit… and his “Rage” is about letting the spirit take over and guide his actions. I went with Berserker as my path for the simplicity of it, and because I like leaving it as a mystery whether he actually IS haunted; perhaps he’s just crazy, or perhaps he’ll discover that the spirit he thinks is his father is something else. However, if I fully embraced this idea I could see running with Ancestral Guardian and having the spirits in question be the spirits of his immediate family; nothing says that Ancestral Guardian has to be an ancient tradition.

LYRANDAR LIGHTNING BLADE

The barbarian shuns heavy armor, and has excellent unarmored defense. Combine this with the speed and reflexes of the barbarian – Fast Movement, Danger Sense, Feral Instinct – and you can imagine a swashbuckler who relies on precision instead of force. In this case, Reckless Attack again becomes a conscious style that favors offense over defense as opposed to sheer wildness. I tie this to Lyrandar because it fits with the idea of the Storm Herald path… specifically the Sea path, which ties to lightning and water. In this case I envision a Lyrandar heir who enters a battle trance using the Mark of Storm. Given that the Storm Herald suggests an ongoing storm around them, you could see the physical damage resistance as being winds that deflect incoming blows. If I was going to CHANGE rules, I’d shift the Rage Damage bonus to be lightning damage and potentially switch the Strength-related bonuses to be Dexterity related – making this a path for a finesse-driven swashbuckler who might have no Strength to speak of – but that’s not an absolute requirement to make the idea work. Obviously this is awkward when, y’know, we don’t have rules for Dragonmarks – but the point of the Lyrandar Storm Sorcerer or Barbarian is that you can use the class abilities as a way to imply the presence of the Dragonmark even if you DON’T have rules for using it on its own. Alternately, you could drop the Dragonmark entirely, shift the Storm Herald focus to Fire, and imagine an Aundairian Flame Blade — a variation of the Knight Arcane focusing on martial prowess with a touch of fire. Unarmored Defense could be flavored as a form of Mage Armor instead of pure physical toughness, with the powers of the Storm Herald being ultimately arcane in nature.

BLADES OF FURY

Rather than being the product of a civilization, the abilities of the barbarian could stem from literal madness. Either the Cults of the Dragon Below or a deep faith in The Fury could lead to ecstatic battle-rage. Depending on which path you’re taking, things like Danger Sense and Feral Instinct could be flavored as being deeply attuned to primal instinct (through the Fury) or the same, but flavored in madness (“The little man on my shoulder told me to dodge, so I did.”). Berserker is an easy path for follow, but you could also reflavor Storm Herald’s Fire path to inflict psychic damage, suggesting a character in the midst of a psychic maelstrom.

I’m going to stop here, but please share your thoughts, questions and ideas about ways to use the barbarian! And as always: Nothing here is canon in any way, and thank you to my Patreon backers, who make this blog possible!

Q&A

There is a old RTS videogame set in Eberron. In that game the basic infantry units are Silver Flame dwarven berserkers that use their religious conviction as fury.

I almost mentioned these dwarves in the original post, but they’re so obscure I skipped them. But since you brought them up… The game in question is called Dragonshard. The dwarves are the Hammerfist Dwarves, a clan that lives in isolation in the Demon Wastes, fighting the Carrion Tribes and the Demons and sustained by the power of an Irian manifest zone. Where the Ghaash’kala guard the Labyrinth, the Hammerfist Dwarves are deep in the Wastes. Like the Ghost Guardians, they oppose the darkness – but they have little contact with the Ghaash’kala.

Now: in Dragonshard the dwarves are serving with the Order of the Flame – the “Good Guy” faction – but they are not followers of the Silver Flame. Instead, they follow a tradition that runs parallel to the Undying Court of the Aereni: They have Deathless. It’s established that what you need to create Deathless is a strong manifest zone to Irian and deep devotion of a group of people. They have both in the Demon Wastes, and this has let them create their own tiny Undying Court; this is reflected by the other Dwarven unit in the game, the Deathless Guardian.

So the Hammerfist Dwarves do call on their faith when they fight, and this is about as easy a justification for a Path of the Zealot barbarian that one could ask for. On the other hand, because they are all about revering their ancestors and drawing on their undying power, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian is equally logical for them.

Dragonmarks: Magewrights and Wand Adepts

One of the underlying principles of Eberron is that magic is a part of civilization. It’s not limited to a handful of mighty wizards in ivory towers; there’s an arcane locksmith down on Third Street, next door to the medium and the guy who makes everbright lanterns. With that said, this magic is widespread and useful, but not powerful. The streets may be lit with continual flame, but teleportation and resurrection are rare… and a wish is unheard of. It’s wide magic, not high magic.

The previous article looked at common magic items and magic item creation, and considered how to make that work in 5E D&D. But magic items are only part of the wide magic of Eberron. It also embraces the idea that spellcasting can be a job – not limited to full wizards or sorcerers, but also people who do nothing but make magic lanterns or speak to the dead. Now, you may look at this article and say “In 5E, anyone can get the Magic Initiate feat – doesn’t that mean magic is just scattered throughout the world without any of this?” It only means that if YOU decide it means that, because there are no rules about NPCs acquiring feats. A player character can be a Magic Initiate, but as a DM and world designer it’s up to you to decide how that’s reflected in the wider world. In Eberron, magic is a science. People don’t just wake up one day with a new feat and know how to cast light. These things take time and training – and that produces magewrights and wand adepts.

Magewrights

A wizard is extremely versatile. Your wizard can grab a spellbook, spend a few hours studying it, and cast a spell they’ve never seen before. That’s great, because wizards are exceptional people. But in Eberron, you can cast magic without having that degree of versatility. This is the magewright, someone who spends years learning how to perform the skills and spells associated with a particular trade. In 3.5 D&D this was an NPC class, but that’s not required in 5E; instead, you can simple state that an NPC magewright has the ability to cast the spells you want them to cast. Beyond this, we can also say that the spells the magewrights can perform are different from those used by PCs – typically, because they are more limited. For example, Prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, clean, soil, and more. Mending allows the caster to mend anything. But you can say that a magewright chef knows a limited version of Prestidigitation that only affects food – and that a launderer knows Prestidigitation and Mending, but can only work with cloth. The fact that the player character can mend anything is again a sign of their versatility and exceptional talent.

My idea of a magewright is that they can cast one to three cantrips or spells. They don’t require spellbooks or memorization; they have perfected these spells over the course of years. However, their cantrips may be limited (as noted above) and their spells can only be cast as rituals. So the arcane locksmith can cast Arcane Lock all day, but it takes time. I’ll talk more about ways in which these rituals differ from PC spells further below, but first, let’s take a look at a few Magewrights you could find in the world…

  • Chef: Prestidigitation, only affecting food; perhaps a form of Gentle Repose for preserving meals, or Purify Food and Drink. Proficient with cook’s utensils.
  • Healer: Detect Poison & DiseaseLesser Restoration, Spare the Dying. Proficient with Medicine and herbalism kits.
  • Launderer: Prestidigitation and Mending, both only affecting cloth.
  • Lamplighter: Light, Continual Flame. Uses tinkers’ tools to construct lanterns.
  • Locksmith: Arcane Lock, Knock. Proficient with thieves’ tools and tinkers’ tools.
  • Medium: Speak with Dead. Perhaps a form of Minor Illusion that produces an image of a dead person as they were in life. Possibly proficient in Insight and Persuasion, if they help bereaved make sense of a loss… or Insight and Deception, if they use grief to take advantage of mourners.
  • Oracle: Augury, Divination. Proficient in Insight and Investigation. This is definitely a case where I would adjust the magewright versions of these spells. In the hands of a magewright, Augury – which should be the bread and butter of a common oracle – should be able to predict outcomes farther in the future, though still only with the binary answer of woe or weal. An oracle who can perform full Divination should be rarer (it is a fourth level spell) and the ritual could take longer than usual and be more expensive.

These are just a handful of ideas; there are many possibilities. A suspicious noble could have a food taster who knows Detect Poison and Purify Food and Drink. The city watch in a major city could have a verifier who can cast Detect Thoughts and Zone of Truth. There’s also a critical spell from Eberron that’s missing in 5E, and that’s Magecraft – a spell that provides a bonus to a skill check related to crafting. So you begin to get a sense of the possibilities. But also consider the limitations.

  • What does it cost? Eberron treats magic as a science and magewrights as part of the economy. The lesser restoration spell has no cost, which is fine, because it’s NOT a ritual and player characters can’t use it that often; the “cost” is that it uses a limited spell slot. But if you’re going to introduce it as a service that can be performed by a magewright, you either need to ADD a cost or come up with an explanation for why disease still exists in the world. While every spell has unique components, it’s always been the idea that Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy, and that applies here. House Tharashk refines raw shards to produce residuum, glowing powder that serves as a fuel for most rituals – so a locksmith can use residuum instead of powdered gold dust when casting arcane lock. You can add whatever cost you want to set the price of a service. Does curing a disease cost ten gold pieces or a hundred? Even the launderer might have to sprinkle a copper’s worth of residuum over the cloth they wish to cleanse.
  • What does it look like? These are jobs people do. Mechanically they involve performing a ritual. But it’s up to you to add the color to that. An oracle can cast augury as a ritual. But what are they doing in that ritual? Are they reading cards? Palms? Auras? Are they studying star charts or patterns of the planes? A locksmith can cast arcane lock. Are they tracing elaborate patterns in the air with an iron wand? Just because these things are mechanically all “spells” doesn’t mean that the magewright just chews their lip and concentrates for a few minutes, regardless of what they are doing. Add flavor!
  • Who can do this? In Eberron in particular, it’s established that the Dragonmarked Houses dominate certain fields of magical industry. One possibility is that the Houses are where you go to learn the skills of the magewright – that most locksmiths are trained and licensed by House Kundarak. On the other hand, if you want to give the houses a tighter hold you can say that many magewright rituals are restricted to someone with a particular dragonmark… that only Kundarak dwarves can master the rituals of the arcane locksmith, that only Jorasco halflings can be magewright healers. The reason you don’t see a verifier at every watch station is because it requires the Mark of Detection. This is a way to truly emphasize the power and influence of a house; if you want a magic lock, Kundarak is your only option. Of course this is specifically about magewrights; your PC wizard can cast Arcane Lock, but do you really want to make a living doing it?

So that’s the idea of the magewright: that beyond magical items, there are people in the world who can perform magical services. It’s up to you how prevalent they are in your campaign. In a major city like Sharn, you’d see many magewrights performing all sorts of services. But in a small village, they probably do their laundry the old fashioned way. Their might be a single magewright in town; what service do they provide?

Divine Magewrights? 

Under 3.5, “magewright” was an NPC class that specifically dealt with arcane magic, counterbalanced against the adept NPC class which was a limited divine caster. Using the approach I suggest above, I don’t think it’s necessary to draw that line so sharply. Certainly any single individual is either practicing divine or arcane magic, but I think that you can use this same approach either way; you as DM simply need to be clear in your mind which is which. Specifically taking the Healer and the Oracle suggested above: either one of these could be presented as either arcane or divine. An arcane healer might be a Jorasco halfling who makes no prayers, but simply weaves rituals to cleanse the sick… while a divine healer might be a Silver Flame friar whose faith allows them to heal the sick. The oracle could be studying arcane patterns or asking the divine for guidance. Someone versed in Arcana or Religion should easily be able to tell which is which, but MECHANICALLY they are the same: an individual who can perform a few magical effects but who lacks the abilities or versatility of a spellcasting class.

Notably, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything adds a spell called Ceremony that allows a priest to imbue a religious ritual with divine power, adding a magical effect to a wedding or a coming of age ceremony. Following this magewright approach, you could easily have Ceremony, Thaumaturgy, and maybe Spare The Dying as a common set of spells known by a typical lead priest in a community – a halfway between an entirely mundane priest and a full spellcasting cleric.

Wand Adepts

When we initially developed Eberron wands were powerful and disposable magic items, and we made a conscious decision not to make them everyday tools; a fighter who wanted to kill someone across a room would still rely on a bow or a crossbow. We invented the eternal wand – a wand with only two charges, but that recharged over time and could be used with less restrictions. But even there, the cost of such a wand was too great to make it feasible as something every soldier would carry… and it still required some magical training.

However, I certainly like the IDEA of the Aundairian “musketeer” with a bandolier of wands. And with the various changes to magic over the last two editions – notably, the introduction of cantrips, the idea of wands as nonmagical arcane focus items, and the Magic Initiate feat – I think there’s a lot of room to introduce the casual wand.

A wand adept learns to perform a few offensive spells, but they require an arcane focus to channel those effects. A typical wand adept knows two offensive cantrips and a single first level spell they can perform once per long rest. But all of these require the arcane focus of a wand. So one wand adept might know acid splash, poison spray, and color spray; another might have ray of frost, fire bolt and burning hands. The critical point here is that the adept requires a wand to perform these spells, but the wand isn’t magical. It’s not a magic item worth hundreds of gold pieces; it’s an arcane focus costing ten galifars. While you COULD say that any wand will do, I would further say that adept wands are specialized by effect. Looking above, I might say that an adept uses the same wand for fire bolt and burning hands… but that ray of frost requires a different wand, one attuned to cold. So you can have the Aundairian duelist flinging fire from one wand and ice from the other, and if you disarm them of one wand they’re limited until they recover it.

The principle of this is drawn from the Magic Initiate feat; it’s simply adding an additional restriction that a player character isn’t bound by, because PCs are remarkable. It’s adding the idea that offensive magic is evolving… but that most of the time a wand is a focus, and that the fully magic wands are more significant and expensive.

Now with this said: the idea of a wand adept IS that learning to use a wand requires training and effort. This is common in a place like Aundair, which places a high value on magical talent. But just as a player character who wanted to use a wand like this would need to get the Magic Initiate feat (with the wand being there for color), the wand adept has invested resources learning to use the wand that could have been spent elsewhere. If I have an Aundairian soldier blasting her foes with wands, I might give the Karrnathi knight the benefit of Heavy Armor Master or make the expert Thrane archer a Sharpshooter. The skill isn’t in the wand, it’s in the person using it… and if I introduce wand adepts, I’d want to make clear that they could have invested that skill in other ways.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PLAYER CHARACTERS? Well, if you have the ability to cast an offensive cantrip, congratulations! You’re a wand adept. You’re so talented that you can cast your spell even without a wand, but nothing’s stopping you from using the wand for flavor. If you’re not a spellcaster, that’s what the Magic Initiate feat is for. Essentially, with the integration of cantrips as a reliable form of magical weapon, it’s more plausible to have people using magical attacks instead of mundane weapons – but at this point in time, the amount of training required to use a wand has prevented wands from replacing mundane weapons. And in that small Brelish village nobody knows how to use a wand, and they’ll consider your wand-wielding duelist to be an Aundairian hipster. If you and your DM want to embrace the idea of the wand adept, I could see a variation of the Magic Initiate feat that requires the use of a wand… perhaps in exchange for a +1 bonus to attack rolls or spell DC with these cantrips as a balance for requiring the focus.

Like magewrights, you COULD push beyond the limitations of the Magic Initiate feat. For example, putting the two concepts together, you could have a staff adept who can cast fireball as a ritual, but requires both a specialized staff and burns dragonshards with every casting. This is a way to compromise with the question of “How could the Five Nations afford to deploy magic items on the field?” It could be that the mystical artillery relied on the skills of the artillerists as much as on the power of the item… that a siege staff is just a big piece of carved wood if you don’t have someone who can use it. This of course gets into the question of war magic, as a fireball isn’t actually that useful in a truly large-scale military engagement… but THAT is a topic for another article.

Let’s Talk About Wands

Wands themselves serve a different role in 5E. When we created Eberron in 3.5, we introduced the idea of eternal wands as an evolution of “wand science” – a wand that wasn’t entirely disposable, and that could be used by a wider range of people. In 5E, that’s standard for a wand; the average wand has 7 charges and regains 1d6+1 charges every day. In addition, many wands don’t require the user to be a spellcaster; anyone can use a wand of magic missiles. This ties also to the introduction of at-will offensive magic over the last two editions… allowing for a character who prefers to rely on cantrips instead of ranged weapons. This idea of wand adepts is about incorporating the evolution of these mechanics into the setting in a logical way. If this is how magic works, this is how we would see it in the world.

With that said, this can cause some confusion about what exactly a wand IS. As I see it, there are three types of wands in the world.

  • Unaligned Focus Item. As described on pages 151 and 203 of the PHB. This is a wand that is generally designed for channeling arcane energy, but not for any particular purpose; a wizard can use that one wand for all of their spells. This has a base cost of 10 GP… but I’ll talk more about this later.
  • Aligned Focus Item. This is what a wand adept uses. The idea is that the design or components of the wand predispose it to channeling a particular type of energy; a “fire wand” might be made from charred wood harvested from a Fernian manifest zone. The wand has no innate power, but it’s easier to channel a particular type of energy through it, and a wand adept needs that boost. So the wand doesn’t grant you the ability to cast Burning Hands; it’s simply that if you’re a wand adept who knows how to cast Burning Hands, you still need a fire-aligned wand to cast the spell. This still has a base cost of 10 GP.
  • Actual Magic Item. This is a Wand of Fireballs or Wand of Magic Missiles. The magic is IN THE WAND… in the case of a Wand of Magic Missiles, ANYONE can use it. Many wands require “Attunement by a spellcaster” and I would allow the talents of a wand adept to count for this purpose – so if you’re a wand adept, you can attune a Wand of Lightning Bolts, even if it’s not a spell you can cast alone. You are trained in the science of wandcraft, and the power is in the wand. In 5E, a Wand of Fireballs is rare. So they definitely EXIST, but they are expensive and NOT things you’d see a common soldier carrying; We’re talking thousands of galifars, as opposed to the 10 gp aligned wand. Someone pulling out a Wand of Fireballs is like someone producing a bazooka.

Now, there’s definitely room for middle ground here… and that’s the enhanced focus item. As it stands, a fire-aligned focus item is simply restrictive – saying that the wand adept MUST have a fire-aligned wand to cast fire spells. But you could also have fancy aligned wands that provide BENEFITS when you channel certain types of spells. For example, a darkwood wand studded with Mabar crystals that adds +1 DC to any necromancy spells you cast using the wand. That should cost more than 10 GP, but certainly less that 4,000 GP. A wand adept could use it as a focus for necromancy spells, but I’d generally allow a wizard to use it with ANY spells – it’s just that necromancy spells get a bonus.

Post your thoughts and questions below. In my next article I’ll be getting back to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and how I’d incorporate it into my Eberron campaign. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this site.As always, bear in mind that nothing I say on this site is canon; these are simply ideas that I’m exploring.

Dragonmarks: Common Magic, Part One

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was released recently, and it includes a host of options for players and gamemasters. Over the next month I’ll explore how I’d incorporate some of these ideas and options into Eberron. Right now I want to tackle a subject that intersects only partially with XGtE: the question of how Eberron can coexist with the limited magic of default 5E D&D.

The first thing to bear in mind is that Eberron is not a high magic setting – it’s a wide magic setting. Eberron is built upon the premise that arcane magic behaves as a science and would thus become integrated into the world in a scientific manner. But one of the other basic principles of Eberron is that high-level characters are rare… and this ties to the magic that’s available. Here’s a few basic principles to consider.

  • In comparing Eberron to our world, we’ve always said that it’s closer to the late 19th century than to the present day. We have magical equivalents to the telegraph and the railroad and we’re just getting started with air travel. But we don’t have widespread equivalents to automobiles, telephones, or the like.
  • Wide magic generally includes effects that mimic spells of up to third level. Spell effects of up to fifth level – teleportation, raise dead, cloudkill – are known, but rare. Higher level effects are still “magical.”
  • Making a breakthrough in magic is exactly as difficult as making a breakthrough in science. Why hasn’t someone invented an airship anyone can fly? Because they haven’t figured out how to do it, just like WE haven’t figured out cold fusion or time travel.

Which brings us to two issues: magic items in the world and magic item creation. Under third and fourth edition, magic item creation and costs are very concrete and mechanical, and this lent itself to a vision of a world where you could go to a store and buy a +2 flametongue (and maybe ask the smith to customize the flames for you). Fifth edition initially didn’t have rules for creating magic items and ran with the idea that even a +1 weapon was a remarkable treasure. For some, this meant it was impossible to reconcile Eberron with the system. For me, it’s all about setting expectations: what is common magic? 

I mentioned earlier that “wide magic” involves spell effects between 0-3rd level. Just start at the bottom and look at what you can do with those effects. My favorite spell for this is prestidigitation. Using this cantrip, you can…

  • Light a mundane fire.
  • Instantly clean an object of limited size.
  • Instantly chill, warm, or flavor food.

If we accept that these are basic principles of magic – that we’ve figured out how to use magic to produce these effects using trivial (cantrip) amounts of magic – and you have the principles you need to create magical counterparts to the refrigerator (chill food), microwave (warm food), vacuum cleaner (clean room), lighter (firestarter) and washing machine (clean clothes). These things won’t look like our tools, and they won’t act like them. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, you might have a Sorcerer’s Apprentice broom that sweeps itself, of a fancier whisk broom that simply vaporizes dirt when you wave it over a floor. Such items won’t be cheap, but they also needn’t be ridiculously expensive; what you’re talking about is an object that only does a sliver of an effect of a cantrip.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents a host of items with this level of power, which it calls common magic itemsClothes of Mending automatically mend themselves at the end of each day. The Ear Horn of Hearing negates the deafened condition while it’s in use. Some of these common items already exist in Eberron. The Instrument of Illusions is essentially the Thurimbar Rod, an illusion-based instrument developed in Zilargo; and the shapeshifting Cloak of Many Fashions is similar to Eberron’s shiftweave, if somewhat more versatile. As I mentioned in a previous article, something that’s often overlooked in Eberron is the idea of glamerweave – fabric infused with illusion. You could have a cloak with a lining of stars, or a blazer emblazoned with what appear to be actual flames.

The short form is that the common magic items of XGtE are a good model for things that could be common in Eberron – and something you can use as inspiration in creating other items or setting a scene. For me, the key is to look for principles demonstrated by a low level spell and consider how that could be harnessed as a tool. For example, the Sivis sending stone is based on the principle of the spell whispering wind, which delivers a short message to a specific distant location – more limited than sending, but lower level. When you do create a new item or effect, one thing to consider is that if it’s TOO useful, it might be something that’s only found as a dragonmark focus item, especially if the effect is clearly related to a dragonmark’s sphere. Whispering wind is a simple effect – but I still decided to limit it to Sivis, because from a story perspective it’s interesting to have the house have a near-monopoly on swift communication.

So common magic items could indeed be common. With that said, I think it’s reasonable for uncommon items to be uncommon — not something you see in every household, but things that CAN be manufactured and purchased. When you go to rare and legendary items, you can keep them rare and legendary. Perhaps they’re relics of fallen civilizations, or creations of advanced ones (such as the Chamber or the Lords of Dust). Perhaps they are one of a kind things created under special circumstances — during particular planar conjunctions, using unique Siberys shards, or even fashioned in other planes. Perhaps that Elven blade was forged by a member of the Undying Court and imbued with a fraction of her spirit. In short, there’s room for magic to be both commonplace and truly magical. That everburning torch is just a tool you can buy at any Cannith forgehold… but that Vorpal Sword is a legendary weapon spoken of in song and story. Meanwhile, magical weapons can have lesser magical effects – a self-sharpening sword, an axe that glows on command – things that are useful and magical, but don’t have to have the same impact as a bonus to attack and damage. I have many thoughts about wands, but I’ll delve into that in my next article.

In considering these things, XGtE also helps with its classification of magic items as major or minor in addition to the rarities. Minor uncommon items should be easier to acquire than major uncommon items. The short form is to think about what it means for a magic item to be something that can simply be purchased. If that thing is a reliable tool that exists in the world for anyone who has enough money to acquire it, how should it impact your story?

MAGIC ITEM CREATION

So we’ve established a general yardstick for what exists in the world. The next question is what can player characters create, and how can they create it? The first thing to point out here is that whatever system House Cannith uses to make wands isn’t going to be the same system a player character uses. While Eberron doesn’t have full-on manufacturing plants, the creation of magic items is an industry. Creation Forges are the most dramatic tools available to House Cannith, but they have a host of lesser ways to improve the process of production. They may literally have enchanted assembly lines — not automated, but still, facilities designed to efficiently produce a particular type of item and enhanced with various magical effects. They acquire rare components in mass quantities – which ties to another largely unrealized idea in Eberron, that dragonshards are a critical part of creating magic items and serve as the fuel of the magical economy. Cannith may have lesser focus items that channel the Mark of Making. And they certainly have secret techniques or patterns for making specific items as efficiently as possible (which is to say, schema).

Meanwhile, your wizard or artificer is literally a guy making a thing in a garage. Cannith can make a wand of fireballs faster and cheaper than you can. But the one you make is going to be entirely unique. And perhaps you can make something they’ve never figured out how to make – because you’re an innovator, not just working on the assembly line.

All of which is to say that this actually works well with the model of magic item creation presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything… making the creation of a magic item part of an adventure as opposed to simply a formula you fill out with gold and XP. You can’t replicate the process Cannith uses to make a wand of fireballs, because you don’t have their facilities, resources or specialized expertise. BUT, if you could get ahold of an elemental heart from Fernia, you could use that to create your wand! And what do you know, you’ve heard that you can acquire such a thing by hunting drakes in a Fernian manifest zone in the Blade Desert. If you can get that heart, a thousand GP worth of refined Eberron shards, and a good piece of darkwood you can carve into a wand – give it a few weeks and you can make it happen.

So I like the XGtE model; just bear in mind that what you are doing ISN’T the same thing House Cannith does when they are producing something. What you are creating will be unique – and again, for that reason and because PCs are remarkable, it may be that you can create something that Cannith cannot create.

In my next article I’ll write about magewrights and wand adepts. Until then, post your questions and thoughts below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Dragonmarks: Lizard Dreams

My previous post dealt with creating an Eberron campaign based in Q’barra, and it spawned the following question.

How do you see a human (or dwarf or whatever) barbarian raised by Cold Sun lizardfolk working in this campaign?

As I mentioned in my article on exotic races, the first thing I’d want to do with this is to find out why the player wants to play this character. Why do they want to have been raised by scales? What impact has it had on them? How do they see this background playing into their future? The critical issue here is that Q’barra has three distinct reptilian cultures. Each one plays a dramatically different role in the campaign. I’m not thrilled about the idea of having a player character with deep connections to the Cold Sun Federation, because they have a very alien culture. Learning their motivations and figuring out how to communicate with them is something that I’d planned on being a significant challenge that would play out over the course of multiple adventures. Having a player who has been raised among them and thus inherently understands their customs and has contacts within the Federation completely changes that story.

But: this isn’t my story. It’s our story. If the player understands what the Cold Sun Lizardfolk are all about and specifically wants to have a connection to their culture, I want to find a way to work with that. I can change the direction of the story to embrace this new hook, and I’ll talk about that below. But the thing is that I doubt the player has that in mind. I suspect that they just like the idea of being an outsider raised among the indigenous culture, of walking between two worlds, trying to reconcile the values and culture they were raised with against the common culture of their biological kin. That’s a great story. But if that’s all they are looking for, I will steer them away from the Cold Sun lizardfolk – the Masvirik’uala – and encourage them to have ties to the Trothlorsvek dragonborn.

To explain in any more detail, I have to delve into potential spoilers for a Q’barra campaign. Most of what I’m about to discuss is drawn from the Q’barra articles I wrote for Dungeon 182 and Dungeon 185. If you’ve only read the core Eberron sourcebooks you won’t have encountered some of these ideas… and it’s important to remember that in Eberron, everything is optional. If you don’t like these ideas, don’t use them – and if you’re a player, don’t assume that your DM is using these things. But this is where I’d be going in my Q’barra campaign.

TROTHLORSVEK: The Dragonborn of Ka’rhashan

Long ago the dragons of Argonnessen dispatched forces to Q’barra to stand watch over places where fiendish influences lingered from the Age of Demons. To cut a long story short, over the course of thousands of years the dragonborn grew bored with their duties and spread out to the west, establishing a nation in the Talenta Plains and Blade Desert. They clashed with the goblins that dominated the heart of Khorvaire, but it was the corruption of Rhashaak and the rise of the Poison Dusk that destroyed their empire. They fell back to Q’barra and have never regained their power; what strength they have is spent guarding the cursed sites and fighting the Poison Dusk.

The dragonborn are divided into clans. They are a martial culture, still hungry for glory; they split their energies between battling the Poison Dusk and ritual battles against other clans. There are clans and leaders who believe that the it’s time for their people to abandon the ancient duties and turn their eyes to more glorious battles… perhaps beginning by driving the softskins from Q’barra.

So looking back to the question: while it would be unusual, I can definitely imagine a human (or dwarf, or halfling) who somehow ends up being raised by dragonborn. Perhaps the child’s parents earned the respect of a dragonborn champion before they died. Perhaps it was some form of debt of honor… or perhaps an elder believed that the Prophecy called for the protection of the child. This creates a host of possible story hooks. Was the character taken in by an entire clan, or were they only accepted by a specific champion or elder? Either way, did this create conflict for the clan or champion, either with another clan or within the clan itself? Does the character still have a place among the dragonborn, or were they driven out from the clan? Over the course of a campaign, members of the clan could show up; they might need the PC’s help on a mission, or could call the PC back to clan lands to defend their foster family or to represent the clan in a ritual battle or a rivalry with another clan. Or, a rival clan could show up in pursuit of a vendetta. Or trouble could arise with the Poison Dusk – and by the traditions of the character’s clan, they’re duty bound to oppose the Poison Dusk. Will they uphold the duties of their clan, or have they turned their back on that life?

So: Lots of story hooks here. The only problem is that the dragonborn aren’t especially barbaric. They have a sophisticated martial tradition and excellent smiths, and would be more inclined to produce fighters or paladins than barbarians. But if the player is set on barbarian, you could establish this as the traditions of their particular clan – which could be something else that sets that clan at odds with others.

MASVIRIK’UALA: The Lizardfolk of Q’barra

In developing the lizardfolk of Q’barra, I wanted to make them a truly alien culture. They aren’t just humans with scales; there are fundamental differences that make it very difficult for them to understand and communicate with humans, and this is something that has led to the current conflict with the colonists. In my Eberron, part of a Q’barra campaign would be coming to understand these differences and finding a way to improve communication. So, spoilers to that mystery lie ahead.

On the surface, the lizardfolk are a primitive tribal culture. They have no written language, and in conversation they often seem terse and cryptic. While they initially held to treaties established with the colonists, they’ve recently engaged in savage attacks on mining camps and caravans, leaving no survivors.

The lizardfolk are an ancient race. The Overlord Masvirik dominated their ancestors, and the couatl freed them from this demonic tyranny. Following to the great sacrifice that kindled the Silver Flame, the couatl planted a seed in the collective unconscious of the lizardfolk of the region — something that would guide them and unite them, and help prevent Masvirik from rising again. And that is this: The lizardfolk of Q’barra have shared dreams. Their dreams aren’t in any way random: they are lessons. They dream of the battles their ancestors fought, and from those dreams they learn both how to fight. They dream of the tyranny of the Overlord, and from this they know what they are fighting against. They have no written language because they don’t need one; everything they need to know comes to them in their dreams. This is why their culture remains largely unchanged even though their civilization is ancient; their dreams haven’t changed, and their dreams show them how to live. So they follow the exact same paths of war and magic that their ancestors followed, and have never tried to improve upon them.

Because of their shared dreams, all lizardfolk know the same stories. The idea of explaining one of these stories is an alien concept, because how could someone not know the story of the infamous traitor or the brave martyr? As such, one of the lizardfolk might say “We do not embrace T’karr.” What he means is “We cannot be fooled and we will not take a traitor into our midst; we recognize your treachery.” Should someone say “Wait, I don’t understand what you mean by that” he’d be at a loss – how can you NOT know the story of T’karr? EVERYONE knows that story.

This is why communication with the lizardfolk is so difficult… because even comprehend languages can’t unpack context and metaphor. The lizardfolk call themselves the Masvirik’uala, which literally translates to “The Cold Sun Alliance” or “Cold Sun Federation.” It is obvious to the lizardfolk that what this means is the alliance that stands against the Cold Sun, and this isn’t something they have to explain… but most humans assume that it’s the federation of the Cold Sun. Likewise, I’ll preserve one mystery and won’t say exactly while the Masvirik’uala have become hostile (you can get my reasoning in Dungeon 185), but I’ll say that to them it is entirely obvious that the people they are killing are agents of the Overlord Masvirik, and they know from their own experience with the Poison Dusk that such creatures cannot be saved or reasoned with; the only thing to do is to kill them quickly. No one could be accidentally doing the foolish and dangerous things these colonists are doing, because everyone knows how foolish and dangerous those things are.

A secondary point here is that the Masvirik’uala are entirely united. They don’t appear to have a structure that bonds all the tribes together, because they don’t need one; they all share the same background and values. So their tribes never fight. They work together to share territory and resources. They aren’t set apart by petty feuds or desire for glory, because they all know the enemy they must stand against, and that’s a struggle that will never end. So the PC raised among the dragonborn can be caught up in (or the cause of) feuds between dragonborn clans, and have to deal with those rivalries and vendettas… but the Masvirik’uala don’t waste time on such petty things.

And a final point that ties to all of these things and again emphasizes how alien the lizardfolk are: they don’t experience emotion the way that humans do. Their brain chemistry is different; while they HAVE emotions, they are generally at a flatter level than how humans and demihumans experience things. It’s not like a Vulcan who choses to embrace logic over emotion; it’s that the lizardfolk simply never become as consumed with extremes of rage or sorrow as a human can. When the lizardfolk massacre a mining camp, they aren’t driven by fury: they’re approaching it with the detachment of a gardener plucking weeds. They can feel sorrow when a friend dies unexpectedly or anger when they are unexpectedly betrayed – but even their, they don’t experience those emotions as deeply as other races; they are quite literally cold blooded. They certainly have barbarians among their warriors, but their “barbarian rage” is literally a triggered adrenaline rush, not “rage” as humans experience it.

Now, if a player really wanted to play a character raised among the Masvirik’uala – if they couldn’t get what they were looking for from the Dragonborn – I’d let them run with it. The critical question is does the human share their dreams? There’s no logical reason why they would… and without knowing their dreams the human would always be an outsider. They’d have learned some of the stories and references over time and they’d have a weird emotional affect, but they’d always be an outsider. However, at the end of the day the dreams of the Masvirik’uala come from the Silver Flame. It was the couatl who planted the dreams in their unconscious, and in many ways this is a model of the Voice of the Flame revered in the Five Nations. So you could say that a human raised among the lizardfolk actually learned to hear their Voice of the Flame — and as such, though human, they dream the lizardfolk dream. This would mean that they understand the ways and culture of the lizardfolk, that they can interpret their metaphors — that when the elder says “We don’t embrace T’karr” they know what that means; and they understand why the lizardfolk would massacre a mining camp, and that such an action would actually make sense to them. A critical question is why this character would LEAVE the Masvirik’uala and live among humans who don’t know any of these things. One logical reason would be because they want to serve as a bridge between the two cultures, and to try to mediate or rally the colonists — in which case that story should be a major part of the campaign. But it could also be that they were raised by lizardfolk but then “rescued” at a relatively early age by colonists. So they dream the lizardfolk dream and that keeps them on the path of the barbarian… but they haven’t actually been part of a tribe for a while.

With that said: My original plan for a campaign was that learning the motivations of the lizardfolk and figuring out how to communicate with them would be an ongoing challenge. If there’s a player who gets all of this, I might add a new mystery. The Masvirik’uala are driven by dreams. Those dreams are shaped by a divine force and thus, in theory, immune to manipulation by, say, Quori. But what if they aren’t? What if the Dreaming Dark has been manipulating the shared dream to create conflict? In Sarlona, the Dreaming Dark created a terrible war so that their Inspired vessels could emerge as the heroes of that conflict. They could do the same thing here — escalate the conflict, and have their new chosen vessels (who could be a noble family in Newthrone, a dragonmarked house, followers of some religion, etc…) take the spotlight as the people who will defend against this threat. Because the player character also dreams the dreams, they know why the lizardfolk are fighting; but because they are among the colonists, they know that what the dreams claim is untrue. Can they uncover the Quori manipulation and find a way to stop it before the conflict goes too far?

How would you handle a Q’barran lizardfolk leaving the tribe to become an adventurer, or a lizardfolk acting against the cultural norms in general? Would they be ostracised? Is there room for interpretation in the Lizardfolk Dream?

Sure. The lizardfolk are less driven by raw emotion than humans are, and they essentially know they have a purpose in a way humans don’t. They aren’t generally driven by a desire for change or innovation, and thus their civilization has remained largely unchanged for tens of thousands of years. They all know all the same stories. But once you set all that aside, they aren’t mindless. They have elders and priests to help guide them — and that means that individuals can always find their own paths.

So, my question is WHY one of the lizardfolk would leave their people and travel among the softskins – these strange savages who know so little of the world. Here’s a few ideas I could see.

  • They have had a unique and personal diving vision beyond the shared dream. This could be the direct intervention of a couatl spirit — just as Tira Miron had a couatl guide her on her path. Or if could be a Quori who’s intentionally misleading them. Either way, this vision could establish that there is something they must do away from their tribe.
  • They could have a role that’s clearly defined IN the shared dream. Perhaps the lizardfolk PC is tied to the Prophecy and has a role to play in dealizing with Rhashaak or Masvirik, and all the Masvirik’uala know it. Whenever they encounter lizardfolk, they’ll treat the “chosen one” with respect… meanwhile, the Poison Dusk is particularly targeting this PC.
  • Due to extended contact with outsiders, the PC has come to question the dreams. They believe that the dreams are holding their people back and are determined to find out more about other places and cultures. Meanwhile, they have been banished from the Masvirik’uala for these heretical beliefs. Yet they still dream the shared Dream — something terrible threatens their people, they’ll know about it through the dream.
  • The PC was touched by the Poison Dusk, which cut them off from the Dream. The PC then overcame the corruption and broke free from the influence of the Cold Sun, which no one has ever done before… but their connection to the Dream was never restored. The Masvirik’uala believe the PC is corrupted and has exiled them. Is the PC corrupted, or is their victory proof that they are the one who can bring down the Poison Dusk once and for all?

The idea that people can’t tell the difference between lizardfolk and dragonborn seems hard to swallow. 

The idea was never that people literally can’t tell the two species apart; it’s that most people have never cared enough TO tell the species apart. The distinction isn’t part of the common knowledge of a person living in Khorvaire. The settlement of Q’barra only began seventy years ago, and during a time of war. Q’barra includes multiple species: kobolds, troglodytes, lizardfolk (who come in multiple shades and sizes) and dragonborn. All of these cultures are insular and many are either actively hostile to the colonists or have difficulty communicating. So: A jungle guide or a Newthrone envoy will know ALL about the differences between these difference species and cultures. But even a typical prospector doesn’t CARE to know the difference. They’re all creepy. They’re all dangerous. It doesn’t make a difference if they’re tall or short, if they have tails or don’t have tails; they’re all scales. Meanwhile, in the Five Nations Q’barra is little more than a curiosity. People know stories of miners being attacked by dinosaurs and reptilian humanoids. There are probably stories that dragons live in the jungle, or even that the colonists domesticate dinosaurs. A SCHOLAR may know all about the Trothlorsvek and the Masivirik’uala… but the commoner doesn’t know and probably doesn’t care. They’re lizard people halfway across the world.

THE POISON DUSK

So what about the third faction: The Poison Dusk? Per Dungeon 182/185, the colonists have never understood the true nature of the Poison Dusk. They’ve assumed it’s just another tribe, when in fact they are the victims of fiendish corruption — reptilian creatures of many species who have fallen under the sway of Masvirik and Rhashaak. This is why they’ve never been completely destroyed. Even if they are wiped out, they eventually return; often those most involved in the destruction end up falling prey to corruption. Per canon, humans – and for that matter, any warmblooded creatures – aren’t vulnerable to Masvirik’s influence. However, just as with the shared dream of the Cold Sun, you could say that THIS human was touched by Masvirik, which would explain why the Poison Dusk took them in.

If I were to do this, I’d probably say that there is a dusk shard – a dragonshard imbued with demonic energy – embedded in the body of the player character. For most of their life, the demon in the shard has controlled them. At some point the PC was on a raid; their scaled comrades were killed; and something happened that broke the demon’s hold over the PC. If another member of the party is a divine character, I’d suggest that it was their power that freed the PC. Now the PC is in control, but they don’t entirely know what that means; they’ve been driven by a demon their entire life, and they have to discover what it means to make their own choices. Assuming you stuck with barbarian as a class, I might come up with a new Barbarian path playing with the idea that their “rage” draws on the demonic power of their shard. This is a way to justify the PC growing up in a savage culture while giving them an opportunity to be innocent of atrocities they may have committed while with the Poison Dusk (and I would definitely have them end up visiting villages they raided while with the PD and facing the families of people they murdered)… to have them have to decide if they want to embrace a brighter path or cling to their demonic instincts. And is there a risk that the demon could regain control of them?

RHASHAAK: LORD OF HAKA’TORVHAK

The black dragon Rhashaak came to Haka’torvhak as a guardian. He was corrupted by Masvirik and now channels part of the power of the Overlord… and because of this, he too is bound to Haka’torvhak. He is the figurehead of the Poison Dusk, and the colonists believe that the Poison Dusk worship Rhashaak as their living god. Which for all intents and purposes they do. But what does Rhashaak actually WANT? How can you use him in a campaign? Here’s a few ideas.

The Voice of Masvirik

Rhashaak is the living avatar of the Overlord Masvirik, one of the most powerful and evil beings ever to walk the world. Most of the Overlords essentially slumber in their prisons, but Masvirik is fully aware; the dragon is effectively a puppet. But While Masvirik is conscious, he is bound to the body of the dragon and has only a fraction of his power. His primary goal is to build his power, crush his enemies, and ultimately find a way to break the bonds of the Silver Flame and regain his full power. He calls himself “Rhashaak” because there’s no reason to let his enemies know that he has returned. But in truth, he is the Overlord Masvirik.

Under this storyline, Rhashaak remains as the god-king of the Poison Dusk. The critical aspects are that his ultimate purpose is to break the bonds and release Masvirik in his full glory.

The Mad Wyrm

Rhashaak is fused with the consciousness of Masvirik. He dreams the dreams of the slumbering Overlord, but doesn’t fully understand them. Instead, he truly believes that he, Rhashaak, is a god… or at least, he has the potential to become one. He seeks to force all of the people of Q’barra — both the lizardfolk and the softskins — to bow down and worship him. He is certain that if he can only bend enough followers to his cause, he will achieve his true divine potential, break the bonds holding him to Haka’torvhik and ascend to the heavens. It’s up to you if he thinks he’s going to become one of the Sovereigns or Dark Six, or if he will be an entirely new godlike being.

In this storyline, Rhashaak’s schemes DON’T clearly intersect with a desire to free Masvirik. His power comes from Masvirik, and the Poison Dusk are drawn to him because of this, but he will never mention the Overlord. He’s focused on dealing with dawn and dusk shards, and in fact, House Tharashk is more likely to free Masvirik than Rhashaak is. Instead, his actions purely about expanding his personal power in Q’barra, crushing his enemies, and forcing people to worship him. In this case, there could be a SEPARATE sect of dusk-shard fiendish reptilian champions that are working to free the Overlord… who resemble the servants of Rhashaak, but are actually working against him.

 

The Tortured Mastermind

Rhashaak began as a guardian. If you want to make the dragon a more complicated villain, you could say that he’s still that guardian. He’s been merged with Masvirik. The Poison Dusk worship him as a god and expect him to show them the path to unleash the Cold Sun. But he hates the Overlords and would never unleash Masvirik. At the same time, if the Poison Dusk knew this they would turn on him. He has to keep them believing that they are working towards the rise of the Cold Sun… all the while trying to find his own path to freedom and to ensure that Masvirik is never freed. In this scenario, a party of adventurers could be captured by the Poison Dusk and brought to Haka’Torvhak to be sacrificed – only to have Rhashaak himself set them free and help them escape.

Now, this is tricky enough – but if you want to make it even trickier, you could say that just because Rhashaak isn’t the villain people think he is doesn’t mean he’s a hero. Rhashaak may hate the Cold Sun and the Poison Dusk… but he could still be working towards a plan that will grant him divinity. This could be something that will let him claim Masvirik’s power as his own… or it could be something more akin to the divine power of the Undying Court. If he can fully bind Masvirik and also secure the full devotion of all of the scales, he could harness that to become something like a god. Would he use this power to redeem the Poison Dusk and be a just guide to the scales? Or would be be an even deadlier tyrant, free to unleash both his divine power and draconic might against the colonists?

This was supposed to be a quick two-paragraph answer to a question, and instead it turned into all this. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters; the more support I have, the more time I can justify spending on the site… so if you want to see more content, check it out! I’ll be answering questions from patrons whenever time permits.

Dragonmarks: The Demon Wastes vs The Mournland

Over on my Twitter (@HellcowKeith) I received a question that seemed worthy of a more-than-140-character response.

Demon Wastes vs Mournland: what are the key differences? When would I choose to set an adventure in either one? Both have similar elements: magical wasteland, “edge of the world” vs “apocalyptic” feel, manipulative villains scheming from ruined cities. Roaming savages & arcane horrors prey on PCs; devastated landscape, unnaturally hostile weather; both are essentially nation-wide dungeons.

Tldr: What kind of encounter/challenge/adventure/story would fit in either one, but not the other?

The Demon Wastes and the Mournland are both nation-sized dungeons, but they are different in many ways.

  • The Demon Wastes are ancient; the Mournland is brand new.
  • The ruins in the Demon Wastes are cities built by demons. They have been ruins for tens of thousands of years, and they hold magic that humans can’t begin to create… and anything perishable has long since perished, unless preserved by magic. The ruins in the Mournland are ruins of human cities. They were only ruined two years ago, and they contain everything you’d expect to find in a human city that was suddenly depopulated… including things that may be precious to people who survived the Mourning.
  • The inhuman threats of the Demon Wastes are fiends and the creations of fiendish power. They are ancient and innately malevolent; it is a place that is fundamentally EVIL. The inhuman threats of the Mournland are mutations seemingly created with no rhyme or reason. It may be dangerous, but it’s not evil.
  • The mortal threats of the Demon Wastes are well-established and have been in places for hundreds or thousands of years. The Carrion Tribes are themselves ancient. The Ghaash’kala have been defending the Labyrinth longer than human civilization has existed. This things have history and customs. By contrast, nothing in the Mournland is more than two years old. If there is any sort of organization or culture – IE followers of the Lord of Blades, Eladrin, Mournland Magebred – they’ve either come from the outside or only just sprung into existence. The Mournland has no history.
  • The Demon Wastes are peppered with portals into Khyber that led to demonic demiplanes. This means that you can find all sorts of bizarre wonders and worlds in the Demon Wastes, if you can find the portals. In my recent post on the Ghaash’kala I mentioned the Abyssal Forest of Khar and the battlefields of the Ironlands. A point here is that THESE places are ancient and have their own histories and structures, even if they are entirely new to the players… and again, they are fundamentally shaped by evil and filled with demons. By contrast, the Mournland is random and unpredictable. You can find all sorts of strange environments, but you won’t find ancient cities populated by demon warriors.
  • The Demon Wastes are a great place to find ancient magic humans could never create – artifacts and strange tools. The Mournland is a great place to find treasures people CAN create, left behind when they were killed.
  • The Demon Wastes are off in a corner of the world and hidden behind the Labyrinth, and have been essentially stable for tens of thousands of years. The Mournland is right in the middle of the Five Nations and is a mystery; people fear that it could suddenly start to expand.

With that in mind, here’s a bunch of adventure hooks for each that I am literally making up on the spot, so no promises that they are good.

THE DEMON WASTES

  • The adventurers must steal a scroll from the Library of Ashtakala. Perhaps it reveals the true plans of Bel Shalor, the only way to defeat Rak Tulkhesh, or exactly where Sul Khatesh is imprisoned. While in the Library, they could find entirely new arcane magic spells and rituals created by the rakshasa, or details of a new threat tied to the Draconic Prophecy.
  • Someone near and dear to the party (perhaps a PC) has been slain by a Keeper’s Fang dagger. This leads the adventurers to go to the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes to see if the soul can be reclaimed. Is this just the laid of a mundane dracolich (perhaps the FIRST dracolich), or is it a portal to another plane? Can the soul actually be found there and reclaimed?
  • An unnatural plague is sweeping through Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches. It’s definitely come from the Demon Wastes – can they find the source and a cure in the Wastes? Is the source in the wastes proper, or must you find a path to the Abyssal Forests of Khar to find that cure?
  • Take the same idea but make it personal: a PC is afflicted by a curse or disease that is tied to the Age of Demons. Perhaps they found a cursed artifact that they can’t get rid of, or dealt with a fiend or fiendish ruin elsewhere in Khorvaire. The only way to solve the problem is to go to the Wastes. It could be that this is the only place that artifact can be removed or destroyed (a la Lord of the Rings), that they need to bargain with a fiend, or just that it’s the only place that information can be found.
  • A great paladin of the Silver Flame went to the Demon Wastes and never returned. Can you discover what happened to him and reclaim his holy relics?
  • You need to do something tied to one of the planes, and the only being who can tell you what you need to know is the ancient night hag who served as ambassador to that plane during the Age of Demons. Can you find her in the Demon Wastes, and if so, what will she demand in exchange for her services?
  • The couatl sent Tira Miron to the Demon Wastes to find her sword Kloijner, the only weapon that could harm Bel Shalor. Likewise, a PC could be sent to the Demon Wastes by a vision or through lore to recover a powerful artifact from the Dragon-Fiend war.
  • Scholars are always curious to discover more about the ancient prehuman civilizations. You can blatantly rip off At The Mountains of Madness: The PCs accompany a scholarly expedition seeking to delve into the prehuman history of the Wastes, but the ruined city they explore isn’t quite as dead as they expect…

THE MOURNLAND

  • One of the Cannith factions hires the PCs to recover house secrets from a forgehold in the Mourning. This can be entirely straightforward… or the work may have evolved or mutated, or may be something Cannith doesn’t want the world to know exists. This could also be critical to the power balance between the Cannith factions – will the PCs change sides, or be opposed by another faction? Alternately, someone OTHER than Cannith could be trying to steal these secrets…
  • As above, but with ANY Dragonmarked house: a house enclave in the Mournland holds an important artifact that must be recovered, but that may have mutated or evolved in an interesting way.
  • Prince Oargev needs you to recover family tools or secrets from Metrol. Did Cyre have a secret weapon or plan that they never had a chance to deploy because of the Mourning? If so, does Oargev want to ensure that this doesn’t cause anyone harm, or does he want to use its power for New Cyre?
  • If any of the PCs are Cyrans, they could simply want to recover family heirlooms from their homes, or to try to discover the fate of their home town.
  • Inhuman raiders are striking from the Mournland and then retreating back into it. Can you find them in the Mournland and end this threat?
  • Something new (Eladrin, Magebred, Warforged) has set up a base in the Mournland, and you must go into it in order to negotiate with them.

I’m short on time so I’ll stop there, but the critical thing with the Mournland is that it’s filled with things that people want: family heirlooms, treasured works of art, secret weapons or plans from the war. It has museums, forgeholds, palaces – and people know that these things are there, in contrast to the ancient and mysterious secrets of the Demon Wastes. Consider if Washington DC was suddenly warped by magic: there would be people who would want to recover artifacts from the Smithsonian, plans from the Pentagon, family treasures, etc. By contrast, the ruins of the Demon Wastes are entirely unknown; we have no idea what rakshasa civilization even looked like, let along what treasures or dangers their cities hold.

A few more questions have come up…

Any tips on what a rakshasa city looks like? 

An important point here is that fiendish cities were created, not constructed. They were made by the Overlords, for whom it was a trivial matter to shape reality within their sphere. So the first main point is which Overlord created the city? There’s no common style here. Katashka might build a city from bones, while Rak Tulkhesh’s followers would live in a fortress of steel and stone. The city of Sul Khatesh would be a spectacle of magic while also being filled with secrets. Tul Oreshka might not have a city… or her city might exist as a shared delusion that overtakes anyone who comes upon it.

In general, things to consider:

  • These cities were formed by epic magic as opposed to mundane labor. You can have floating towers or monuments. You can have structures made out of impossible substances – a living tower, a house made from mist that somehow never drifts apart. Need light? Buildings could simply glow, or anyone in the city might find that they have darkvision within its confines.
  • Magic still lingers in these places, but that doesn’t mean it’s as strong as it was. You might have one floating tower that’s standing while another has come crashing down. A fountain of fire or blood could still be running, or it could be scroched or dried up. We’ve said of Ashtakala that the memories of the city linger even though the city is ruined – and that anyone who enters it will be cloaked in those memories.

So go deep alien and feel free to use impossible materials and designs… as opposed to the Mournland, where things may have been warped, but the FOUNDATION is entirely familiar and mundane.

What did demons like to do before the Overlords were trapped?

Immortals are ideas given form, and the primary thing they like to do is embody that idea. The demons and archons of Shavarath have been fighting since the dawn of time, and with a few remarkable exceptions they never grow tired or question the struggle; it is their PURPOSE and sole interest. During the Age of Demons, lesser fiends were essentially an extension of their Overlords. The minions of Rak Tulkhesh delighted in spreading war, and if there was no war to spread they would simply fight one another in an endless cycle of pointless violence (as they’d eventually reincarnate after death). The fiends living in Eldrantulku’s domain surely had an incredibly elaborate bureaucracy and series of houses engaged in endless schemes and vendettas. Not all Overlords HAD rakshasa or other fiends as their primary minions; Draal Khatuur is called out as preferring the company of her own icy spirits and creations to the rakshasa, and Katashka the Gatekeeper would likely rule a realm filled with undead (with a foundation of fiends specializing in necromancy and slaughter).

As I’ve said before, in Eberron immortals generally have less free will than mortals do. They don’t decide what they want to be; they KNOW what they ARE, and know it with absolute clarity. Because they’ve been so long separated from their Overlords, some rakshasa have drifted a bit – but even a rakshasa who seeks to usurp her master’s power instead of trying to free him seeks that power so SHE can become the Overlord and embody that concept. But looking to the height of the Age of Demons you can almost think of the rakhsasa as actors in a play, endlessly playing out the roles defined by their Overlord. It’s not entirely scripted, but the direction never changes. The minions of Eldrantulku are always coming up with their own new ideas and schemes – but they couldn’t just decide “Why don’t we all work together and NOT betray each other for once?”

I wonder why, if that is the nature of the cities, there aren’t demon ruins spread everywhere in Eberron. And WHY do demons need cities?

First off, demon ruins aren’t confined to the Demon Wastes. Page 20 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide described demon ruins as one of the types of places you can find adventure, noting in part “Fiendish strongholds are likely to be found at the edges of civilization, in places such as the Demon Wastes and Q’barra, but a subterranean ruin could lie hidden anywhere in Khorvaire.” Krezent in the Talenta Plains and Ha’katorvhak in Q’barra are both ruins from the Age of Demons. So these ruins ARE spread across Eberron. It’s simply that very, very few have survived. The Age of Demons was over a hundred thousand years ago. What hasn’t succumbed to time was often intentionally destroyed, either in the conflicts of the time or leveled by dragons in ages after. Those places that have survived are generally extremely isolated, incredibly durable, and generally infused with immensely powerful magic – like Ashtakala.

But let’s take a moment to look at the question of WHY these cities existed in the first place. Demons don’t need cities in the same way that humans do. They don’t need food. They don’t sleep. They aren’t concerned with shelter from the elements. Their numbers are static, so they don’t create NEW cities to house a growing population.

Now, the greatest cities would be the seats of power of Overlords. The city is a reflection of the Overlord; they don’t NEED it, but it is a representation of the Overlord and their power. Let’s call these citadels. There were a limited number of Overlords and not every Overlord would have a citadel, so that’s a concrete limit right there. An Overlord wouldn’t and couldn’t make more than one citadel; it literally is the heart of their power. Thus, Haka’torvhak is the seat of the Cold Sun. These places are the most likely to survive in some form, because they are suffused with the power of an overlord. But the fact that we haven’t mentioned, say, a citadel of Sul Khatesh suggests that even these could be destroyed.

Lesser cities serves a different purpose: they’d house mortals. Because most of the Overlords feed on mortals. Not literally – but it’s through mortals that the Overlords express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh is the Rage of War and yearns to create conflict and bloodshed. He can get his demons to fight each other just as a way to pass the time…but it’s not real. They’re immortal. They don’t feel rage and loss and death the way mortals do. Tul Oreshka needs mortals to experience her madness. An Overlord of Tyranny exists to dominate mortals. Tiamat is the darkness in dragons – which is meaningless without dragonsNot all Overlords need mortals. Draal Khatuur embodies the killing cold, and she is happy to lord over a desolate frozen waste. This was the point of the PC warlock in one of my campaign who was working for an Overlord of Tyranny. He didn’t WANT his Overlord to escape, but if one of them HAD to escape, at least his Overlord needed to keep mortals around… while Draal Khatuur would be happy to kill them all.

So it was these mortal cities that would have been spread across Eberron, but there WEREN’T made to last for a hundred thousand years and most are ash and rubble… hence the surviving demons assuming the title “Lords of Dust.”

And with all of THAT said: the current cities like Ashtakala do survive a concrete purpose. They are places for the rakshasa to meet and scheme. They are places for them to store their lore and their treasures. The Lords of Dust DON’T have the transcendent power of the Overlords, and they do value their artifacts and lore. So they don’t need cities the way humans do – but they still need places to keep their stuff!

Do the dead grey mists cover the sky? Or do they merely act as walls around the perimeter of the Mournland? 

They form a dome over the Mournland. We’ve put the ceiling at around 150 feet in the past; we’ve never said how deep the mist layer is. This also means that you never directly see the sun while in the Mournland.

What would happen if a flying airship entered the Mournland?

Like many things in Eberron, the primary answer is what do you want to have happen? The defining trait of the Mournland is that it is unpredictable. There are many things that could happen…

  • The powers of the Mournland interfere with the elemental binding. The elemental is unleashed and the airship crashes in the Mournland.
  • The airship is attacked by a flying creature. This could be a living spell. It might be something like a warped dragon; there were surely some Chamber observers in Cyre at the time of the Mourning, and they could have been twisted by its power. It could be some sort of transformed elemental – originally part of an airship, it was released and transformed during the Mourning, and now it seeks to free all other bound elementals it senses.
  • The airship is attacked by some sort of entrenched defenses still in place from the war.
  • The airship encounters unnatural weather that could bring it down.

All of these are the reasons people DON’T take airships over the Mournlands, of course…

I always hear that the Mournland is full of mutants, but it’s never been very clear to me what that actually means. Are we talking normal beasts and monsters with some extra bits on them? Unique monstrosities from obscure sourcebooks? Aberrations, but somehow distinct from the creations of the daelkyr?

All of the above. I generally say “warped” or “transformed” instead of “mutated”; to me, mutation suggests that there’s some sort of genetic logic behind things, while the Mournland doesn’t follow any predictable patterns. I’ve said before that you can use the Mournland as a place to add any unusual creature, because you don’t have to explain its evolution; if you want to drop a city of Abeil (bee-people) into the Mournland, you could say that it’s a village of humans who have been transformed into abeil by the Mourning… or a hive of bees transformed into abeil! You have altered animals like the carcass crab. You have undead, like the glass zombies. You also have natural or supernatural forces that have been transformed, like living spells or the razor wind (a warped elemental) in The Fading Dream.

To me, the only predictable thing about the Mournland is that it’s not predictable – that if you find one city of abeil, that’s not an indication that there’s going to be any more.

If you’re reading this, what have YOU done with the Mournland or the Demon Wastes?

In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started a Patreon to fund content for this site. The Inner Circle gets to vote on what topics are covered in the future. This one was spur of the moment, but the next Dragonmark will be about Planes and Manifest Zones! Thanks to all of you who are already supporters!

Dragonmarks 8-11-17: Xoriat

I’m on the road for the next few weeks. I’ll be continuing to write on the road, and I have lots of things planned – including more Phoenix support. But… I’m part of a monthly Eberron podcast called Manifest Zone. Our most recent episode focused on Xoriat and the Daelkyr, and this question came out of that… and it crept into my mind like a worm that wouldn’t leave until I wrote down the answer.

In the spirit of “If it has stats we can kill it,” what would an adventure to Xoriat look like? While “you cannot comprehend the nature of it” is good for illustrating the whirling madness of it all, it’s hard to work with as a setting.

I can’t answer this in detail until it’s legal for me to create a planar handbook, but I can at least share some basic thoughts. This is based on the original design and 3.5 lore; 4E did some odd things to try to merge Eberron with core cosmology and ignoring that.

To begin with: The Far Realm can be a useful source of inspiration, because it’s a very alien realm that produces aberrations and madness. But bear in mind that Xoriat is not the Far Realm. It’s not beyond reality. It is one of the thirteen planes that define reality; it is part of the planar orrery, and it touches and influences Eberron and all its inhabitants. It is defined by being alien and unknowable, a source of madness and inspiration. But it is still part of the underlying machinery of reality.

So with THAT in mind, consider the role it plays. Kythri is the churning chaos – which means that Xoriat isn’t about chaos. Instead, I see Xoriat as being a parallel to Dal Quor. I think you have islands of stability — regions that have coalesced around particularly powerful spirits, much as il-Lashtavar creates a central core in Dal Quor. These islands are surrounded by a sea of shifting reality – not entirely chaotic, but inexorably changing.

The islands are relatively stable. It’s on these islands that the Daelkyr have their domains, and where the mortal inhabitants – like the Illithids – have cities and communities. These regions aren’t chaotic;  they are alien. Consider an island where everything — buildings, food, the air — is alive. Perhaps you tell time by the shifting gravity; if you’re walking on the ceiling, that means it’s midday, while by evening you’ll be back on the floor. Apply Escher logic. Consider that many aberrations don’t need traditional food or water to survive; instead, a farmer may tend a field of misery. However strange these places are, you can come to understand them and learn their ways.

Out in the sea of madness, you can find almost anything. But here the key is to differentiate it from Dal Quor and its shifting dreams. Dreams generally have an internal logic; you may be giving a musical recital in your underwear, but the musical recital is something that actually happened in your past and being in your underwear is about some sort of issue you’re dealing with. The fringes of Xoriat don’t have any internal logic and aren’t drawn from your memories. They might be things you never imagined — or they could be revelatory insights that could either drive you made or change the way you look at reality. Consider the following…

  • A house built from hate. What does incarnated hate look like? You’ll have to decide, but the PCs innately know that’s what it is. Mirrors reflect the things you hate. Books in the house chronicle hateful deeds and people. And the longer you stay in it, the more you begin to hate the people around you… or yourself.
  • An endless void of empty white space. There is no end to this bleak solitude, and you know that this is what mortal existence is. To proceed, you must simply act out your travel, just as you pretend that the events of your life actually mean something. Eventually, if you convince yourself, you’ll find yourself in the world you’ve imagined.
  • A lush orchard. The trees grow secrets, and secrets buzz around in the air like tiny birds. Some of them may be your secrets, or those of your enemies. Others may be secrets of strangers, or secrets about the nature of reality. Think carefully before you listen to their songs.
  • Your home – the ooze-creche you were grown in when Kyrzin first made you. What, you thought you were adventurers? No, you’re cerebral oozes created by Kyrzin and loosed upon the world in ages past. You crawl into the minds of mortals and consume them, assuming their identities for as long as it’s useful, then moving to a new host. You’ve been a Dhakaani champion. You ate the mind of Malleon the Reaver. And then each of you consumed one of these adventurers. You compelled them to come together, knowing that they would finally be able to return you to your home, to the pools of primal slime where you were made. At last you can abandon this singular existence and return to the unifying ichor. So dive into the pool and let it all go. Or what? Can you truly continue as you did in the past, knowing that this person you think you are is simply a collection of residual memories and that you’re a thought-eating ooze with who knows how many alien instincts programmed into you?  To be clear: In all likelihood this is a delusion, not actual fact. But if you’re in a room full of oozes and you have clear memories of BEING an ooze and suddenly remember other lives – how do you KNOW if it’s true or not?

The trick here is to consider that these are things that could drive you mad. In the garden of secrets, any secret you listen to should have the capacity to deeply shake what you thought to be true… something that could literally break a lesser person. Can you handle the truth? While this could be secrets of people, it could also be universal truths. As a wizard, one of these secrets might show you a way to cast all spells as if you’d used a higher level spell slot – with the absolute knowledge that you are going to die in thirty years, and each time you cast a spell in this way you are cutting a year off your life. Again, a lesser wizard might be driven mad either by the revelation that magic is slowly killing us or that the time of your death is set or simply by the science involved. Perhaps your PC isn’t troubled by that… but are you going to use this magic? Conversely, you might have to deal with physical changes. Passing through a portal might cause your gender or race to flip, or shift the minds of the PCs into the bodies of the PCs sitting to their right. Touching something might cause a strange fungus to start spreading on your arm, slowly and inexorably. You know is consuming you and feeding off your memories, and that most everyone in your life are themselves hollow fungus slaves. What will you do?

Aside from this, you could have currents of madness that simply run through the entire realm. If a rage-storm hits, people who fail will saves might be driving into a murderous frenzy. Streams of sorrow flow through the air, and one drop can render you catatonic. Watch out!

You’ve mentioned in the past that there are things more powerful than the Daelkyr in Xoriat. How do you envision these entities? Like primordial Lovecraftian beings? Or like Thelanis´ Archfeys, but with alien agendas and rivalries?

These entities are the geography of Xoriat. They are vast and alien, and even the daelkyr are like fleas to them. We know they exist because the islands of stability are the side effect of their presence, reality shaped by the gravity of their spirits. If the Daelkyr are like the Kalaraq Quori – mighty masterminds with armies of followers – these beings are like il-Lashtavar. Too vast for us to interact with, but we know them by their impact on the plane.

With that said, I expect there are other entities that are on the same power level and cosmic scale as the Daelkyr who simply have no interest in physically traveling to other worlds. Like most planar immortals, these would represent some aspect of their plane. So looking to my example of maddening secrets, you could easily have something like the Cthaeh from Wise Man’s Fear – a static entity who is a repository of maddening knowledge, who has no agenda but who could be both extremely valuable and tremendously dangerous for anyone who encounters it.

A second question is: how is Mordain the Fleshweaver different from the Daelkyr? Why you should choose him as an enemy instead of a Daelkyr?

It’s a good question. I’ve written a number of articles about Mordain; here’s one that’s online. The thing about Mordain is that he operates on a smaller scale on every level. He’s essentially a mad scientist. He’s not trying to topple civilizations or transform the world; he’s engaging in interesting local experiments. Here’s one example of something he might do. He is one of the most powerful wizards on Khorvaire, but he’s still mortal – not an immortal incarnation that drives people insane by looking at them. His projects are generally going to show results in the short term, while the Daelkyr may set things in motion that won’t fully develop for thousands of years. He has a small army of creatures he’s made, but not the legions of aberrations that the Daelkyr have at their disposal.

Beyond this: I generally wouldn’t use Mordain as an enemy. He doesn’t leave his tower and has little interest in the world beyond using it as a test ground for his creations. I use him as an enigmatic third party – someone who could be an ally or a threat depending on how an experiment plays out. Is there a player who wants a character of a strange race? Maybe they were created by Mordain. Is there a disease that can’t be cured? Maybe Mordain can cure it – assuming he didn’t create it! An alliance with Mordain could give the Daughters of Sora Kell access to powerful living weapons – can you disrupt the alliance? You’ve found a rare magical resource that Mordain undoubtedly wants – what would you want from him in exchange?

Conversely, the Daelkyr have plans that have been in motion for millennia. They have vast armies at their disposal. They have hidden cults and can create new ones on the spur of the moment. We’ve suggested that they may have created the Dragonmarks – which means that it’s something that’s been unfolding for over two thousand years. Their actions could be small-scale – a cult causing trouble in a small town – or they could threaten entire civilizations.

Would the inhabitants of Xoriat are mindless undead and constructs as an affront, since their madness can’t touch them?

Here’s the thing: calling Xoriat “The Realm of Madness” reflects a biased mortal view. I don’t think the DAELKYR consider themselves to be lords of “Madness”. They might call Xoriat “the Realm of Revelations.” It is a fact that exposure to Xoriat typically drives mortals mad – but that’s because WE CAN’T HANDLE IT, not because that’s its purpose. Kyrzin is the Prince of Slime, not the Lord of Schizophrenia. The fact that his attention temporarily drives you mad and that you’ll go completely insane if you try to read his thoughts is incidental to him, a sign of your small mind as opposed to his right to drive you mad. I think Belashyrra would be more annoyed by the fact that a skeleton has no eyes than the fact that it doesn’t go insane.

Related to this: The wizard spell confusion is an enchantment with the sole purpose of disrupting a creature’s ability to think. Meanwhile, a Daelkyr has the ability to cause confusion at will. But in my opinion that’s NOT a “I will disrupt your thoughts now” ability: it’s literally that if the Daelkyr focuses its full attention on you, it breaks your brain. Your mind can’t handle the Daelkyr’s presence. So if the Daelkyr encounters a thinking creature who’s immune to mind-altering effects, I think it’s more likely to find it a novelty than to be outraged.

That’s all I have time for at the moment, but hopefully it gives you some ideas to work with. It’s not chaos, and it’s not a dream; it is madness. This can carry lies or revelations. It is a place where there is no concept of the impossible. And it is a place that you should not go.

Dragonmarks: Goblins

I don’t believe I’ve written about goblins in depth on this site. If you want to catch up on previous information, you might want to review my Dragonshard about the Dhakaani or this Dhakaani Strike Force. I’ve also written about the Kech Ghaalrac in Dragon 413.

In many settings, goblins and orcs are presented as genetically evil — malicious by nature, enemies the players can always feel good about fighting. From the start, we wanted to take a different approach to goblins and orcs in Eberron. I liked the idea that these creatures were fundamentally inhuman, and had a cultural history that often them set at odds with humanity, but that they were no more innately evil than dwarves or elves. This led to the idea that these were the primary aboriginal races of Khorvaire. The goblins once had an advanced civilization that dominated the continent: The Empire of Dhakaan. Conflict with the Daelkyr destroyed this civilization long before humanity came to the continent. When humans arrived the goblins had fallen into a savage state (and were far fewer in number than they had been at their height). Some goblins were enslaved by humans, a practice that continued until Galifar abolished it a thousand years ago; their descendants integrated into the population, and these are the city goblins you find in most major cities. Others goblins were driven into undesirable lands, and these were the ancestors of the current goblin population of Darguun and Droaam. So, goblins aren’t evil, but from a cultural standpoint they have every right to dislike the humans who took their lands and enslaved their ancestors. Even Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city.

So: this gave a sound role for goblins and orcs in the setting. But what are they like? What makes them different from humanity and from other monstrous races? How are they truly alien races, as opposed to just being humans with fangs and unusual skin colors?

GOBLINS

So what separates goblins from humans and orcs? One of the critical things to understand is that goblins themselves are split into three very distinct categories.

City goblins are descended from slaves. They have lived among the people of the Five Nations for as long as those nations have existed. All too often they are poor, and many feel driven to crime. City goblins have adopted many human customs and many have little knowledge of or attachment to their history.

The Ghaal’dar are the descendants of those goblins who fought the human settlers and were driven into inhospitable lands. While they are less barbaric than the tribal orcs, they are less sophisticated than the people of the Five Nations and are often thought of as warlike and savage; they are noted as practicing slavery. Looking at the Ghaal’dar, humans have a hard time believing that the goblins once had an advanced society that created tools House Cannith can’t replicate today. And they are right to be dubious. The Ghaal’dar are not the goblins of old. The Empire of Dhakaan fought the Daelkyr, and with the help of the Gatekeepers they banished these Lords of Madness to Khyber. But this war had deep and lingering consequences… consequences so severe that one can question if the Daelkyr are the ones who actually won the war. Even though the Daelkyr were banished, over the course of the long war they had sown seeds of madness and corruption among their enemies, and over time those seeds began to grow. The Empire had been stable for thousands of years… but within the course of generations, Dhakaan fell into civil war. Cults, coups, and madness tore apart their advanced civilization. Within centuries, the empire had collapsed. Soon its advanced traditions were lost. The Ghaal’dar don’t know how to smelt and refine adamantine alloys. They don’t possess the martial disciplines or techniques used by their ancestors. The strong dominate the weak, while under Dhakaan all worked together. There are still exceptional people among the Ghaal’dar – people like Lhesh Haruuc, who founded Darguun. But they are very different from the goblins who once dominated the continent.  Which brings us to…

The Heirs of Dhakaan, commonly just called the Dhakaani. Following the defeat of the Daelkyr, a number of Dhakaani leaders saw the signs of spreading madness. They constructed deep vaults and retreated from the world, taking their best and brightest with them. In doing this, they avoided the subtle curses that afflicted the rest of the goblins. For thousands of years they have honed their skills, and now they have returned. Currently they are split into Kech factions. They have no Emperor and this has kept them from uniting. Their numbers are limited, as each Kech carefully controlled population to deal with limited resources. But their martial discipline is rivaled only by the Tairnadal. Their smiths produce arms and armor superior to the work of House Cannith. Dhakaani champions are a match for any hero on Khorvaire. And they aren’t happy to see these soft creatures living in their ancestral lands. The Dhakaani are few in number and still divided… but they are a force to be reckoned with, and a way to surprise players who think of goblins as savages.

Common Traits

City goblins, the Ghaal’dar, and the Dhakaani have dramatic cultural differences. But they are all goblins, and share basic traits that concretely differentiate them from humans, elves, and other races. Goblins possess darkvision, and are quite comfortable dwelling underground. While they aren’t the only race to do so, it’s still a thing to bear in mind. Goblins don’t fear night or shadows the way many creatures do. On a primal, instinctual level night is a time when humans are vulnerable; for a goblin, it is a time when they are strong, as their darkvision gives them an advantage over their enemies. They don’t need light as humans do, which means that their buildings will have fewer windows and that they have no need for casual lighting. This is a small thing, but it’s part of remembering that they aren’t just humans with orange skin. They are a different species that has evolved under different circumstances and who have different instincts and brain chemistry than humans do. Here’s a few more things I consider to be basic goblin traits.

  • Goblins are innately lawful. They don’t have anything like an insect hive mind, but they naturally gravitate to hierarchical societies, establishing a social order and holding to it. Where orcs question authority, goblins are quick to establish structure and like being part of a greater whole. Note that I am using “lawful” to describe instincts – this doesn’t mean they feel any compulsion to obey human laws. Poor city goblins often turn to crime – but they will quickly form gangs and establish an order amongst themselves. The Ghaal’dar aren’t anywhere near as organized as the Dhakaani, but they still hold to a clear hierarchy and system of punishments for those who step out of line. And like the Tairnadal, the Dhakaani are essentially a martial society, with every aspect of life being tied to duty to the Empire.
  • Tied to this is the idea that goblins are inherently rational. Goblins are deeply pragmatic and faith is an alien concept to them. The Dhakaani never had clerics; they don’t believe in forces they cannot see influencing reality.This was called out from the start in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting book, which said the Dhakaani don’t have clerics; their spiritual leaders are the bards who inspire the people with tales of the great deeds of the past. Note that these bards inspire the Dhakaani with tales of things that actually happened – they don’t see the appeal of fiction in any form. Again, this is a deep divide between the orcs and goblins. Orcs are passionate and imaginative; goblins are rational and practical. This is why the goblins NEEDED the orcish Gatekeepers in the fight against the Daelkyr. It wasn’t that the goblins didn’t bother to have their own druids; it’s that they fundamentally couldn’t grasp the sort of faith required to follow the divine and primal paths. While this is generally true of all goblins, it is especially strong among the DhakaaniWe’ve noted that AFTER the Empire fell, some goblins DID turn to a faith similar to the Host and Six; I believe you also saw a spectrum of Dragon Below cults. All of these things are symptoms of the “madness” planted by the Daelkyr… something that undermined this core aspect of goblin character. So you COULD find a cleric among the Ghaal’dar, even if they are far more rare than among other civilizations. But you should never see them among the Dhakaani, who resisted this corruption and maintained the traditions of their people.

So: regardless of culture, a goblin inherently prefers structure to disorder. You like having a clearly established leader and a clearly defined course of action. You are rational and pragmatic, always looking for an efficient solution to the problem at hand and rarely romanticizing things or engaging in wild speculation. Goblins aren’t emotionless Vulcans, by any means. But they aren’t as passionate as orcs: they are practical, always looking to cut the Gordian knot and solve problems as opposed to speculating about them.

Eusocial Creatures

So the first step in differentiating goblins and orcs was the idea of orcs as passionate and chaotic, with goblins being practical and more lawful. But there’s another thing that distinguishes goblins: multiple subspecies. There are at least three goblin subspecies – goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. There could easily be others that were around in the age of Dhakaan and have died out on the surface, goblin subtypes humans have never seen. To me, this is a fascinating aspect of goblins that’s rarely explored in any depth. It reminds me of eusocial species like ants, bees, and naked mole rats – and in such species, the different subspecies all serve a particular role within their society and work together. In most settings this isn’t true of goblins; instead, it’s usually a case of might makes right, with the stronger goblin species oppressing the weaker. But as called out in the ECS and this Dragonshard: 

 Among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul, the strong rule the weak. Leadership is founded on fear, and the weaker races hate the stronger tyrants. Among the Dhakaani goblinoids, this is not the case. Each species has a role to serve in society, and each embraces this role. The hobgoblins rule not through force of arms but because the goblins and bugbears respect their ability to maintain structure and discipline. The strength of the bugbears is turned against the enemies of the clan. 

With Dhakaan, I wanted to emphasize the species worked together, each using their particular strengths for the benefit of the whole. The bugbears bring strength and courage. The goblins have cunning and finesse. And the hobgoblins are the most rational and disciplined, the most naturally oriented to build, to organize. In my opinion, it was the loss of this eusocial bond that truly destroyed the Empire – a subtle corruption that caused the sub-species to stop seeing themselves as one. But it’s something that is preserved in the Heirs of Dhakaan – a natural instinct to work towards the common good.

Which is not to say that the Dhakaani lack individuality or self-determination. They aren’t ants; every Dhakaani goblin is a sentient being with free will and their own dreams. A goblin has their general role in society mapped out, but they could still end up as a common laborer, an artificer, or one of the Sharaat’khesh. In one of my favorite Eberron campaigns, one of the PCs was a male Dhakaani hobgoblin who wanted to be a bard, a traditionally female role. Individual goblins may lack the eusocial instincts that drive the Dhakaani as a whole. But it’s still a critical note for the Empire as a whole. It is a place where racial caste roles are deeply engrained, and where people are respected for filling those roles. The goblins are the laborers, but they are appreciated for performing this vital function – not oppressed and forced into it.

GOBLIN HEROES

One question that’s been raised is how goblins can be used as allies or heroes in a campaign. To begin with, the Dhakaani are certainly heroes in their own eyes. They are champions who have returned from a self-imposed exile to find their homeland in the hands of aliens and their people reduced to savagery. The Dhakaani struggle to recover their lost artifacts and figure out how to restore their civilization is an inspiring one, and only “evil” if you’re one of those wretched aliens now holding their lands. So one way to use the Dhakaani as heroes is to play Dhakaani. One of the one-shot adventures I sometimes run at conventions puts players in the roles of a Kech Volaar strike force working to recover a lost artifact. Alternately, you can play an entire party tied to the Ghaal’dar, working for Lhesh Haruuc; as troubleshooters for the Lhesh, you can be trying to maintain order and ensure the survival of Darguun as a nation – something that requires dealing with the Valenar, the Marguul, the Dhakaani and, of course humanity.

In a broader sense, an obvious answer is to look to Don Basingthwaite’s trilogy of novels that deal with Darguun. You can easily set the (human) players in a position where they have to decide what faction to support in Darguun. Should they support the Ghaal’dar? Or can they work with someone like Tuura Dhakaan to choose a Dhakaani emperor who will serve as a stabilizing force in the region and ultimately prove a stronger and more valuable ally for the Five Nations than the unstable Ghaal’dar? Convincing the Dhakaani to respect the Five Nations instead of planning to drive these aliens from their homeland would be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Looking at goblin player characters in a party that’s primarily non-goblinoid:

  • City goblins have largely adopted the cultures of the regions they live in. My Dreaming Dark novels mention a goblin serving voluntarily in the Cyran army, who’s for all intents and purposes Cyran. City goblins do have to deal with a certain amount of suspicion and prejudice, but that can be an interesting thing to struggle with. The majority of city goblins live in poverty – is that true of your family, or are you prosperous? Are you trying to help your family, or are you a loner?
  • Ghaal’dar aren’t as unified as the Dhakaani. As a Ghaal’dar goblin you could be an emissary of Lhesh Haruuc doing the will of the Lhesh. You could be a child of Haruuc seeking adventures that will prove your worth to succeed him when he dies. You could be a mercenary, just seeking to make your fortune in the world. Or you could have been driven from Darguun by a feud; perhaps you are gathering allies and strength so you can go back and avenge your slain kin.
  • Dhakaani are slightly odd as loners, but not impossible. Tuura Dhakaan of the Kech Volaar is more curious about this new world than many of her peers, and she may have sent you out into the world in order to gather information about it, and to learn about these alien invaders (humans). Should they be destroyed, or is co-existence a possibility? You could be on a quest to reclaim lost relics, either for your Kech or for some personal reason. Or you could be an exile banished from your Kech – was the exile justified, or is there a possibility of redemption and return?

Another possibility for goblin PCs is to be tied to the Khesh’dar, the spies and assassins of Dhakaan. In this case you might choose a different background that’s your cover story – and it’s up to you and the DM to decide what your real mission is, and when you’ll decide to share your true identity with the party.

THE DHAKAANI

So: let’s talk specifically about the Dhakaani. Here I speak both of the civilization that spread to dominate Khorvaire and the modern goblins who have preserved its traditions. Again, in my opinion there is a fundamental psychological difference between the Dhakaani and the Ghaal’dar; it’s not just that the Ghaal’dar weren’t raised in Dhakaani society, but also that their ancestors were subtly influenced by Xoriat and lack the eusocial bond and innate discipline of the Dhakaani goblins. But: What are the core elements of Dhakaan? Why was the Empire so successful?

If orcs can be seen as easily embracing the primal and divine, the Dhakaani are a fundamentally martial culture. War is in their blood. Some sages have theorized that the goblins are a magebred race, that their subspecies are the result of some long-forgotten force — A dragon? The Overlord Rak Tulkhesh? — crafting a warrior species. This is reflected by their natural instinct to hierarchy and discipline, but also by a racial genius for the arts of war. All of the Dhakaani can follow any martial path, but each subspecies has its specialties. Hobgoblins are exceptional fighters and warlords. The goblin Sharrat’khesh and Tarkha’hhesh are gifted rangers and rogues. Bugbears often serve as scouts, but the iconic Dhakaani bugbear is the barbarian. But the Dhakaani barbarian isn’t a primal savage; rather, their “rage” is a carefully cultivated state of ecstatic frenzy.

Honor and Duty, Atcha and Muut

Much like the Tairnadal, this martial mindset bleeds into all aspects of Dhakaani life. The Empire is always in a state of battle-readiness; if it’s not actively expanding, it’s preparing for the next inevitable conflict. The Heirs of Dhakaan have been in seclusion for thousands of years, but they have never lowered their guard or ceased their training. This also reflects the direction of Dhakaan society. As called out by Don Bassingthwaite, Dhaakani culture revolves around the concepts of muut and atcha. Muut is essentially about the honor of the Empire, and can be roughly translated as duty; atcha is personal honor. The most common form of thanks is ta muut, essentially “You do your duty.” Meanwhile Paatcha! is an offer of honor, typically an exhortation of a commander to his troops – this is your chance to gain honor! The key is that the Dhakaani are always considering these concepts: how you are fulfilling your duty to the Empire, and how your actions reflect on you. The key here – and a statement that’s often misunderstood – is that the Dhakaani idea of honor on the battlefield is very different from human concepts. I’ve said before that Dhakaani “don’t care about honor on the battlefield.” What I mean by that is that Dhakaani have no compunctions about killing a helpless foe, about killing civilians if it’s strategically logical, about ambushing an enemy, and similar actions that we generally consider dishonorable. The Dhakaani are concerned with victory. Honor comes from following the orders of your commander, from standing your ground against any odds, from displaying both skill and discipline. Do what you have pledged to do, and do it well. So Dhakaani take personal honor far more seriously than most human soldiers – but it’s important to understand what “honor” means to them.

An Evil Society? 

People have asked if the Dhaakani were an evil society. In my opinion, if you mapped them to an alignment it would be lawful neutral: highly structured and disciplined, but neither exceptionally cruel, corrupt, or altruistic. Note that the two primary Dhakaani leaders mentioned so far are Ruus Dhakaan, the lawful neutral leader of the Kech Shaarat; and Tuura Dhakaan, the neutral leader of the Kech Volaar. Dhakaani society is neither cruel nor kind: it is efficient and expedient. It is a society driven by constant war, and warfare is carried out in the most efficient and effective manner possible. They’d generally avoid targeting civilian populations not because it’s the morally correct thing to do, but because destroying them is a waste of resources that could be used in the future. Their leaders do what is best for the empire, which often means doing what is best for the people. But if it was for some reason necessary to wipe out an innocent village for the good of the Empire, they’d do it without hesitation… but they’d do it for the good of the Empire, not for personal gain. Again, corruption is extremely rare among the Dhakaani (though it can certainly be found among the Marguul and Ghaal’dar). Pursue muut above all and then your atcha. So the Dhakaani may often oppose player characters – but that doesn’t make them evil.

A secondary aspect is the role of slavery in the Empire. The Ghaal’dar and Marguul practice slavery, but in my opinion it was relatively rare in Dhakaan. The eusocial bond and racial caste system are the foundation of the Empire. Every goblin has a clearly defined role and embraces that role. Members of other species have no sense of muut and atcha. They are difficult to control, will always seek to rebel, and have no clear role in the first place. In some ways the Dhakaani can be seen as ants: they spread as efficiently as possible, and they don’t seek to compel other insects to work as slaves in their anthills; they simply kill rivals or drive them away. So it was with the Dhakaani. They spread to dominate the best lands in Khorvaire, and they drove their enemies into the lands they didn’t want. This isn’t to say that slavery was unknown, but it’s a rare practice that comes into play when a specific slave has a skill the Dhakaani need – a translator, a wizard, etc – as opposed to a major institution within the society.

Magic and Metallurgy

There are many things humans take for granted that the Dhakaani have never developed. But the Dhakaani are the finest armorers and weaponsmiths in the known world, superior even to House Cannith and the Tairnadal. They have mastered metallurgy and learned to produce and work with alloys that other races haven’t even discovered. Adamantine is a Dhakaani specialty; Cannith has learned to work with this metal, but it is costly and difficult, and they don’t understand it as the Dhakaani do.

This leads to the question of magic. The Dhakaani never developed the traditions of the wizard or sorcerer, and as noted above, they don’t have divine classes. Their primary sources of magic were bards and artificers. However, it’s important to recognize that these classes were NOT identical to Cannith artificers or Phiarlan bards. These core classes existed, but they would have had their own unique subclasses and specific spell lists. They may have developed paths that aren’t seen today, and may never have done things that we commonly associated with the classes. Specifically…

Dhakaani artificers are primarily armorers, weaponsmiths, and combat engineers. They don’t use constructs but excel at combat fortifications and siege warfare. Among hobgoblins this is primarily a male tradition, but exceptional goblins of both genders can follow this path.

Bards are the duur’kala, “dirge singers.” This path is almost exclusively followed by female hobgoblins. The duur’kala fill the roles that clerics do in many other societies; they are healers, diplomats, and spiritual leaders. They inspire the troops in battle. They heal the injured – note that in 5E, bards are nearly as gifted healers as clerics, and their spell list includes both raise dead and resurrection. They’re also vital to communication and coordination; note that the bardic spell list includes sending, clairvoyance, and various forms of teleportation. Powers of suggestion and charm are vital when mediating disputes and maintaining order within the Emopire, and equally useful for negotiating with enemies. So we generally depict the bard as an entertainer or vagabond. Within the Dhakaani, the duur’kala are leaders and healers with critical roles both on and off the battlefield. There’s nothing frivolous or light-hearted about them.

The critical point here is that lacking the paths of wizard or sorcerer, the Dhakaani rarely used magic as a direct weapon in combat. They relied more on the skill of well-equipped soldiers than on fireballs or cloudkill. The duur’kala heal and strengthen soldiers, but magic isn’t the primary weapon. It’s simply a branch of arcane science the Dhakaani never explored. But they’re interested in it now. They realize that the arcane magic wielded by the people of the Five Nations is an extremely effective weapon. The Kech Volaar are at the forefront of experimenting with this, and goblins are learning the arts of wizardry – and this is a place where you may find Volaar kidnapping human wizards to try to learn their secrets. But it’s still a new program, not one they’ve fully explored.

Known and Unknown

A critical thing about the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they’ve been in isolation for thousands of years. We haven’t gone into great depth about their achievements to begin with, and it’s entirely possible that a particular clan has developed something new over the course of centuries. Consider the following possibilities…

  • We’ve presented the Kech clans as being relatively small – having controlled their populations and remained within a single region. However, you could decide that a particular Kech spread and expanded and has a vast underground territory… that what’s been seen is just the tip of the iceberg, and that they already have armies on par with any of the Five Nations.
  • In a campaign I ran, I introduced a Kech clan that worked with necromancy. They bound the spirits of warriors into spheres, and could channel this power in devastating magical blasts. These spirit orbs could only be controlled and used by a duur’kala, and if the bard died, her sphere would explode – potentially taking out her killers. This did present a particular Kech with a form of powerful offensive magic – but that magic was still controlled by bards.
  • Tied to this… if you want to introduce firearms into Eberron, a very logical approach would be to give them to a particular Dhakaani Kech. This fits with the Dhakaani martial approach – again, more emphasis on developing weapons than magic. This could be a way to have a small Kech have a dramatic impact on Khorvaire… and it would be up to you how the other nations responded to the introduction of these weapons.

In Dragon 413 I introduced the Kech Ghaalrac, a Dhakaani force that has continually fought the Daelkyr since the incursion. These goblins have blended Gatekeeper horrid magebreeding, Daelkyr symbionts, and Dhakaani industry to create a wide range of innovations. So feel free to explore such things.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Lots of good questions. Let’s get to them.

Would it fit the Dhakaani Empire if I used the Roman Empire as inspiration for their society, architeture, martial tactics and weapons and armours?

Nothing in Eberron is intended to directly map to our world, and Dhakaan is no exception. There’s certainly some base similarities to Rome – military discipline, widespread empire – and some similarities to feudal Japan or ancient India. And critically, Rome is a HUMAN civilization; Dhakaan is fundamentally an ALIEN civilization, shaped by things like the presence of the multiple goblin species. A few points of sharp dissimilarity to Rome:

  • The most critical element is the racial caste system, which in turn underlies the concept of muut. Everyone knows they are a part of the greater whole, and there is a natural instinct that encourages them to work together – something humans (and even the Ghaal’dar) lack.
  • Tied to this, a core practice of the Roman Empire was to assimilate other cultures – to spread their cultures and traditions to their conquered people. The Dhakaani have no interest in this – if you’re not a goblin, you can’t have muut – and they general drove their enemies from their lands, or simply eradicate them.
  • The Dhakaani Dragonshard calls out that the Dhakaani used infantry, cavalry, and archers. The hobgoblins favored speed and precision over strength and chain weapons (flails, spiked chains) are common. It also notes “A Dhakaani army is both tightly structured and surprisingly flexible. The military is based around small units of infantry that can quickly adapt tactics and formations to evolving combat conditions.” So a Dhakaani force can act in a large formation, but then suddenly split into many smaller units.
  • Looking to architecture: As I’ve called out earlier, the Dhakaani don’t need windows for light, and a Dhakaani fortress would only have slits for archers and visibility. In many cases their fortresses and cities are at least partially underground or carved into mountains.
  • Looking to armor, I see Dhakaani armor as being considerably more sophisticated than Roman armor, as well as being made from finer materials. Part of the point is that Dhakaani armor is better that what the Five Nations uses: more flexible, better coverage, lighter. Even their run-of-the-mill armor would still be considered masterwork. Again, this is an area where the Dhakaani are MORE advanced than the Five Nations.

As a side note, in the past we’ve suggested Dhakaan as a place to introduce martial traditions that don’t have a clear place in the Five Nations, including the Samurai, Kensai and Ninja classes.

I know during the Dhakaani Empire they fought a huge battle against the Daelkyr, with the assistance of the Gatekeepers saved Eberron. But who were the main enemies of the Dhakaani empire before that?

The Dhakaani fought every other major intelligent race on Khorvaire at some point. There was a time when orcs were spread across Khorvaire; the goblins DROVE them into places like the Shadow Marches, and the same may well be true of gnolls and other species. They fought the Tairnadal elves and the Dragonborn of Ka’rhashan, and may have clashed with the dwarven civilization that was also destroyed by the Daelkyr (the predecessors of the Mror). Beyond that, you have all the threats that linger today. The Lords of Dust were just as active then, and you had undead, lycanthropes, and the threat of other planar incursions.

Can you go into a little bit of the relationship between Lhesh Haruuc and the Dhakaani? If I remember correctly from the novels, they sort of grudgingly respect his position, but don’t really see Darguun as a proper goblin nation. 

As always, it’s worth noting that the novels – like this blog – are not canon. Both are possible interpretations, but you can always go in a different direction in your own campaign. So with that said, here’s my opinion.

The ancestors of the modern Heirs of Dhakaan went into isolation because they believed a curse was destroying their civilization. Thousands of years later they have returned… and discover that it’s exactly what happened. There are these alien creatures living in their ancestral lands, and the modern “goblins” are savages with no muut. Lhesh Haruuc shows that there is still a spark of Dhakaani spirit left in these corrupted creatures, but overall the Ghaal’dar – and even moreso, the Marguul – are a deeply disturbing display of how far their people have fallen. The critical question is whether it is possible to salvage anything, whether these modern goblins can be integrated into a new empire… or whether, in fact, the first step in restoring Dhaakan should be purging these disgusting remnants. I believe that this is a matter on which the Kech leaders differ; offhand I’d say that Tuura prefers integration and education, while Ruus advocates wiping them out. Part of the question you need to answer here is how many soldiers do the Heirs of Dhakaan have? How deep are their vaults, and how many Kech forces are out there? COULD they choose to wipe out the Ghaal’dar, or do they need their numbers?

So, in my opinion the relationship between Dhakaani & Haruuc varies by Khesh – and Haruuc himself is likely very on the fence as to whether these goblins are allies or enemies. Even in the best case, Tuura would want to reestablish Dhakaani society, and it’s worth noting that the Ghaal’dar have more freedom and individuality than the Dhakaani. In causing that eusocial bond to atrophy, the Daelkyr introduced an element of chaos in that strongly lawful goblin psyche – and the modern goblins may find they don’t want to be Dhakaani.

Are dirge-singers incorporated into the current Dhakanni military as a learned specialty serving specific tactical needs or more as a rank denoting authority in certain fields? Or something else entirely?

Something else entirely and somewhere in between. Dirge Singer isn’t a rank on its own, and you surely had different categories and ranks of duur’kala within the Empire; I would expect that some duur’kala focused specifically on healing, while others dealt more with diplomacy, lore, etc. So a low-ranking duur’kala specializing in healing might accompany a unit of soldiers in a support capacity – while a high-ranking diplomat/loremaster might assume control of a military unit for purposes of a particular mission. If you look to the Dragonshard, the fiction essentially depicts a duur’kala who is leading a unit of soldiers to reclaim a relic, because she’s their lore expert – but when it comes to battle, the military commander would take over.

The Dhakaani dominated the centre of Khorvaire, roughly corresponding with the modern Five Nations, but did they ever have a maritime culture?

In my opinion, their maritime culture was largely limited to river and coastal travel. As you suggest, the presence of Shaarat suggests that they did value rivers, which is logical for a widespread society. We’ve never discussed goblin incursions on Aerenal or suggested a goblin presence in Xen’drik. With that said, in my Bermuda-Triangle-influenced Lamannia adventure I have a massive Dhakaani galley lost en route to Xen’drik, but the idea is that it was a pioneering attempt and it didn’t go well.

If I wanted to use Koalinth (linked here) in name and spirit, how do you guys see them coming about? Were they bred to be aquatic hobgoblins, as the goblins and bugbears are said to be engineered for their roles? Or are they elite hobgoblins warriors using artifice to swim like fish and breathe and fight underwater?

Either one is an option. As it stands, the idea that the goblinoids were magebred is just that – an idea – and something that would have predated Dhakaan as opposed to being a part of it. So Rak Tulkhesh may have created them to be an army… and long after the Overlord was bound, the goblins developed a martial culture of their own. By this concept, the magebreeding idea is simply a justification for having this eusocial set of linked subraces… not a science possess by the Empire. So running with things as they ARE, it’s simpler to make the Koalinth specially trained goblins, working either with artifice tools. You could even say that they have been permanently modified – some sort of alchemical process – but that it’s not a true subrace.

With that said, I think it would be very interesting to say that magebreeding WAS a science the Dhakaani possessed and actively used. I’d be inclined to say that it was relatively rare – the work of specialists in a particular region of the Empire. But this would be an opportunity to use any of the other variant goblins – blues, norkers, varags, etc. A wacky twist would be to make these magebreeders responsible for the horrid animals found in the west. Currently the theory is that these were created by the Gatekeepers… but we’ve never really said how or why the Gatekeepers accomplished this, and if it’s something they can still do. It would be interesting to say that the horrid animals were the result of collaboration between the Gatekeepers and Dhakaani magebreeders during the Xoriat incursion – that the goblins created them, but gave them to the druids who were better able to control them.

So if I wanted to follow this, I’d introduce a new faction in modern day Eberron: The Kech Vorg’dar. Located on the western edge of the Five Nations – either on the edge of Breland or Aundair – this Kech was the heart of Dhakaani magebreeding and has both preserved the ancient techniques and improved upon them. They have a host of subraces, and other living weapons. How will they interact with the Wardens of the Wood, the Ashbound, and House Vadalis?

At one point, the PCs in my campaign were told that we were “honorable…for humans”. That raises my question: I’m guessing that “honor” in this case would be atcha – personal honor. We dealt honestly and respectfully with the dirgesingers and Tuura Dhakaan in particular, and returned a batch of Dhakaani treasures to the Kech Volaar. But would Dhakaani recognize any kind of “muut” among non-goblins?

I think you’re correct: humans could have atcha, but it would be hard for them to have muut. Muut is a reflection of the fact that in Dhakaan, every goblin HAS an established role and duty. It’s part of your blood and your instinct. You know what muut demands, or you should… whereas atcha is more about personal choice and action. Your actions helped the Empire, but you were acting based on personal integrity, not because of your established duty owed to the Empire. It’s possible that they would see a Brelish soldier doing his duty to Boranel as having a human form of muut, but essentially, they don’t see humans as having a society that has muut; humans are acting in a way that vaguely resembles a true society, but they are still basically disconnected savages with no real sense of the common good.

Without wizarding or sorcerous practices, were the otherworldly invaders a surprise to the Dhakaani? Were they aware of the planes/worlds?

The planes are an integral part of Eberron. The Dhakaani may not have had wizards, but they dealt with the effects of manifest zones and coterminous/remote periods. Note that Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city – meaning the Dhakaani chose to build their city in the manifest zone. In addition, both Arcana and Religion are bard skills; the Dhakaani might not believe in gods, but the Religion skill would still encompass knowledge of outsiders, undead, etc.

Did the Dhakaani have a concept of an afterlife, or was your honor in this life to you and the Empire what mattered?

Honor in this life is what matters, and it’s what ensures you are remembered in the future. You set an example that inspires others, and that lives on.

If they are not ants I guess there are some good or evil Dhakaani. So there are some moral discussion on what should be done or how to interact with other races.

Absolutely. The point is that all of those discussions would take for granted the basic assumption that the good of the Empire is paramount. Evil Dhakaani likely argue that all other species should be eradicated; good Dhakaani would press for enemies being allowed to flee and to settle in lands of no use to the Empire. As that’s what ended up being the more common practice, there’s certainly good Dhakaani out there. With that said, I’d maintain that most Dhakaani tend towards neutrality and also that corruption is not tolerated. One of the characteristics of an evil alignment is putting your desires ahead of the needs of others, and a Dhakaani caught pursuing their own agendas over the good of the Empire would be executed.

In general, I wonder what Dhakaani do when they don’t prepare for war.

Easy… prepare for war. Like the Tairnadal, this is the structure of their lives. If you’re a soldier, you hone your skills, drilling and engaging in tactical exercises and wargames. If you’re an artisan, you do the work that needs to be done, and then you work on honing and refining your skills. If you’re an armorer, spend any spare time you have working on ways to make even better armor.

Essentially, a critical part of “prepare for war” is to be the best you can be – so when they  have spare time, Dhakaani are almost always going to be practicing whatever it is they do so they can be better at it. A typical Dhakaani just perfects their talent, while an exceptional Dhakaani looks for new ways to innovate and improve upon the current techniques. And bear in mind that for the Dhakaani, that’s fun. As a bugbear barbarian, you love spending some downtime sparring with a comrade… even if you spent the day training, this is where you just fight for fun, proving your talent.

With that said, even for the Dhakaani there must be times when they relax, right? So what do they do? Here’s a few things.

  • Listen to the Duur’kala, who regale you with tales of past heroes and the glory of the Empire, reminding you WHY you work so hard every day.
  • Not all such entertainments would just be “listen to a bard.” There would likely be some that are acted (with a question being if there are professional Dhakaani actors, or if it’s simply an honor for a soldier to step up and take on the role of a hero). And I think you get more dramatic reenactments that double as war games.
  • Dance. I imagine that the Dhakaani have forms of dance that are similar to kata or the Maori haka – again, something that hones or expresses preparation for war, but nonetheless, it’s still a dance.

The main point – again, like the Tairnadal – is that for a Dhakaani, work isn’t a chore, it’s the focus of your life. You strike for muut and atcha. You gain muut by doing what you must do, and atcha by going above and beyond that. Engaging in activities that hone your skills IS entertainment. So essentially, Dhakaani look at Ghaal’dar or most humans and see them as incredibly slothful and unfocused, wasting the potential and with no sense of communal good.

How do the Dhakaani see love/sex/mate? 

I think Dhakaani feel love as others do, and there is certainly a duty to produce offspring and honor to be gained by guiding them on the proper path. With that said, family is less important than the Empire; when children reach an age that their aptitudes can be determines, I expect they are fostered in a school that focuses on those skills. So if you’re a goblin miner and your son has the potential to be one of the Shaarat’khesh, he goes to join the Khesh’dar and you may not see him again for years, or ever. Accepting that is muut. It’s also the case that within the Kech, reproduction would have to have been controlled to manage limited resources. We’ve established that goblinoids – especially goblins have a high rate of reproduction, and if the Kech are relatively small today that has to have been an intentional choice.

With that said, bear in mind that there’s an aspect here of the Dhakaani are not human. As humans, we are inherently alone. Love is in part about finding a companion, about building a family, and about ensuring its survival and prosperity. The point of the eusocial bond is that on a fundamental, biological and psychological level, Dhakaani goblins feel a bond to one another that humans don’t. Basically, they have a general love for each other that we don’t have as humans. The strength of the Empire is that it isn’t simply a political construct; its people work well together because they feel an inherent connection and loyalty to their comrades. So a Dhakaani goblinoid can certainly have a specific greater sense of love for a particular individual – but they have a broad real sense of connection to all the people of the Empire that we as humans don’t have with one another. And I’m saying that this was one of the critical things that was lost in the wake of the Daelkyr, and the loss of that connection that caused the Empire to collapse and led to civilizations like the Marguul and the Ghaal’dar. So again, this is a fundamental difference between the Heirs of Dhakaan and the Ghaal’dar.

Do the subraces reproduce among each other? How is that different for other goblins?

As far as I know, it’s never been established what happens if a bugbear mates with a goblin. I suspect that in Dhakaan it’s not an option, which is made easier by the fact that you spend most of your life surrounded by and interacting with members of your own subrace. Looking to love, again, I’m sure it exists and there may be tragic tales of the bugbear who loved a goblin, and you could certainly have that as a platonic relationship… but in terms of actual family, you must do what muut demands. With the other goblins, I doubt there are any absolute restrictions, but within a society like the Marguul I find it hard to image a bugbear consorting with a goblin. Family is definitely important among the Ghaal’dar, and for that reason it also seems likely that a hobgoblin bonding with a goblin would be at least somewhat scandalous.

Where was the heartland of the Empire? Was it a single palace under a singular Emperor, or were there multiple emperors ruling at once across the land?

We’ve never said where the Empire began; what works best for your story? We’ve implied that there was a single Emperor, but there were certainly regional leaders who served as the Imperial authority within an area.

I was hoping you could clear something up for me about “city goblins”. I’m not sure if it was written this way in canon, but my impression was always that only the Small goblinoids were incorporated into human society. Is this accurate, or do you see a lot of hobgoblin and bugbears that have grown up among humans as well?

You’re close. page 304 of the 3.5 ECS says:

During the initial human colonization of Khorvaire, Sarlonan invaders enslaved thousands of goblinoids. Today, goblinoids can be found in most of the major cities of Khorvaire. These goblinoids (mostly goblins, but some hobgoblins and bugbears) have been entirely assimilated into humanoid culture.

So that majority of the city goblin population are made up of actual goblins, but there are exceptions. It’s worth noting that “true” goblins have the highest birth rate and are already disposed towards common labor, so they were both the easiest to enslave and quickest to thrive in the years that followed… whereas the more aggressive bugbears and hobgoblins were more difficult to integrate and more likely to just be killed. But yes, there are city bugbears and hobgoblins, just not as many.

Do you think Darguun has any large scale dealings with Droam? Do you think their people or governments see each other as kindred spirits considering their histories?

In my novel The Queen of Stone, Darguun sends emissaries as part of the diplomatic mission to the Great Crag. No mention is made there or elsewhere that I’m aware of about any other significant dealings between the two nations. Darguun is already on thin ice regarding its own recognition as a nation, and a close alliance with a nation seen as something of a terrorist state wouldn’t help that. I’m sure that the Daughters have reached out to Haruuc with just such arguments – “We’re all outsiders, we should stand together” because Droaam needs allies. But what can Droaam offer Darguun – especially that would be worth endangering relations with Breland to gain? And as for being kindred spirits, they’re really not kindred spirits. Looking specifically to goblins, prior to the rise of the Daughters of Sora Kell most goblins in the region were oppressed by more powerful creatures – as they often are among the Ghaal’dar and Marguul. The fact that they have their own warlord in Droaam is a significant change that is thrilling for the goblins (and what makes them among the most loyal supporters of the Daughters) – and something that could actually cause trouble for the hobgoblin-dominated Ghaal’dar or bugbear-led Marguul if their goblin population is inspired to rebel. Essentially, yes, they are all “monsters” and deal with prejudice from humans – but culturally they don’t have a lot in common.

I wonder if dhaakaani would have been doomed against a free overlord or could have found another way to battle/imprison it.

Technically, the Dhakaani were doomed against the Daelkyr; it was the alliance with the Gatekeepers that enabled their defeat. So, if they fought an Overlord, it seems you’d end up with something similar. I could easily see a story based on the partial release of Rak Tulkhesh shaking the Empire thousands of years before the Daelkyr. Dhakaani skill might not be able to end the conflict, but this is where you could have a critical alliance with the Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes… champions of the Silver Flame who might leave the Labyrinth to bind the demon. Which brings us back to the difference we’ve established between orcs and goblins. The orcs are innately passionate and drawn to primal and divine paths; the goblins are innately pragmatic and drawn to martial paths. Goblin pragmatism and discipline allowed them to dominate Khorvaire; but Orc faith may have saved the world multiple times.

Just how secluded and hidden were the Kech clans? Thousands of years, operating entirely in secret, hidden from their fellow Dar, hidden from all the other underground races, yet never physically changing?

There’s a few different things to consider here.

  • The Dhakaani goblins already had a partially subterranean civilization; consider that the goblin ruins of Shaarat extend deep below Sharn. There were likely many goblins who already spent the vast majority of their lives underground. So that alone wouldn’t be enough to justify a physical change; goblins are already adapted to subterranean life.
  • We’ve never said they were hidden from all subterranean races. The Kech Ghaalrac are specifically called out as having been fighting a continuous war against the Dhakaani. Other Kech may have had to deal with other foes. They may even have had to fight corrupted Dhakaani in the last days of the Empire. However, these conflicts never extended to the surface.
  • So yes: The Dhakaani avoided all contact with the surface. Remember, their premise – which was correct – was that there was some form of psychic infection corrupting the goblins on the surface. They needed to avoid all contact with them until they could confirm that this curse was no longer a threat – something they were only sure of relatively recently.

Where did Ghaal’dar clan Bards come from if they weren’t somehow trained by the Kech Volaar?

Where do Brelish fighters come from if they aren’t trained in Karrnath? The Ghaal’dar are a unique culture that has evolved in the wake of Dhakaan. Their combat and bardic traditions might have hints of Dhakaan techniques that have lingered through generations, but they are not the same: a Ghaal’dar bard is NOT a duur’kala.  We’ve never particularly established that the Ghaal’dar HAVE a well-established bardic tradition; it might be that Ghaal’dar bards are basically self-taught mavericks. In 5E bards don’t have to know lore, so a Ghaal’dar bard could be more like the orcish Passion mentioned above.

How did the hidden clans come into the light? Did Haruuc know of the Dhakaani Kech clans before starting his rebellion? Did House Deneith have contact with them? Could a pre-969 Hobgoblin or Bugbear tribal chief hire a Khesh’Dar assassin or spy?

Haruuc knew nothing of the Kech when he started his rebellion. Full details of the Return have never been provided, and are something that would have to wait until there’s an ability to truly create new setting material, especially since each Kech has its own story and approach to contact. However, there’s a few basic things that have been established. The ECS notes Kech Volaar goblinoids often venture beyond Darguun in search of Dhakaani ruins, but they do not work as mercenaries. They rarely interact with other races except in the pursuit of a mission.

Beyond that…

  • The Khesh’dar were the first to return. They spent a few decades gathering information, confirming that it was safe to return, and establishing a basic intelligence network so the Kech weren’t returning blind. They might have sold their services to the locals, as working with modern goblins would be a good way to blend in and gain information, but they wouldn’t announce themselves as the Khesh’dar; they’d simply present themselves as talented mercenaries.
  • Before the Heirs of Dhakaan can decide how to deal with outsiders, they need an Emperor. As such their primary focus is dealing with each other – whether through conquest or diplomacy. The Kech Shaarat are assimilating others through combat, but these are calculated actions. The Kech Volaar are seeking to prove their right to rule by recovering artifacts. Every Kech should have a specific path it is following to assert its claim to the Imperial crown – or, barring that, have chosen another Kech to support.
  • The rise of Darguun has been specified as a trigger for the Return. One of the primary reasons for this is that it provides them with cover to act without drawing attention. Thanks to Darguun, there is a location where there’s a strong goblin presence. As Darguun is a Thronehold nation, Ghaal’dar have freedom to move throughout the Five Nations – and most citizens of the Five Nations don’t know enough about goblins to know the difference between Kech soldiers and Ghaal’dar. So a group of Kech Shaarat soldiers don’t walk around bragging about being Kech Shaarat. They pursue their objective quickly and efficiently, avoiding contact with outsiders whenever possible, and trust those outsiders won’t know that they aren’t just some sort of Ghaal’dar.
  • Tied to this: the basic premise that the Kech see everyone in Khorvaire as potential enemies. It’s POSSIBLE the Ghaal’dar can be salvaged, but it’s equally possible they’re corrupted abominations that will have to be wiped out. And if they are bad, humanity is worse. These things have stolen their lands and defiled their cities and tombs. So they aren’t walking up to House Deneith and saying “Hi! Do you want to hire us as mercenaries?” – unless they’re doing it specifically to infiltrate the House and learn its weaknesses. They aren’t here to make friends, and any contact with outsiders is going to be founded on the premise of Are you a threat, and if not, what is your value to our long term agenda?

So the main point of the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they are NOT known to the world at large. They are engaged in a shadow war with each other, and adventurers who interact with them are essentially pioneers on the edge of an exciting developing situation.  It’s up to you to decide whether the Dhakaani see a reason to interact with the PCs or will simply pursue their agenda as efficiently as possible. But this is about the fact that in Eberron, PCs are supposed to be the protagonists of the novel. When they run into the Kech Dhakaani, they are DISCOVERING something cool – there’s powerful ancient goblins, and they’re in conflict with other ancient goblins! – not just bumping into something that’s already well known.

Dragonmarks: Fens and Marches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s look at a few questions…

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a number of factors here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have questions or ideas, post them below!