Dragonmarks: The Aurum

Khorvaire is shaped by two powerful forces. The power of the aristocracy rests on land and tradition. The dragonmarked houses have used their gifts to carve out economic monopolies. How can a common person challenge these forces? If you don’t possess noble blood or a dragonmark, are you ultimately doomed to serve one of these forces?

The Aurum isn’t a secret society. It’s a fraternal order that began in the Mror Holds; over the last century it’s spread across the Five Nations. Members of the Aurum are drawn from different religions, nations, races, and social classes. However, the order is highly selective in those that it allows to join. Notably, despite a general image as being a society of the wealthy and powerful, the Aurum rarely admits members of major noble families or dragonmarked heirs. Founder Anton Soldorak maintains that members of the Aurum must earn their place in the world, not simply stumble into it.

The Aurum is split into four levels, called concords. New members are admitted to the Copper Concord. While many believe that membership in the Aurum requires wealth, what the recruiters actually look for is influence and potential. To gain membership in the Copper Concord—the lowest level of the Aurum—you need to possess influence that will make you useful to other members. You could be a soldier, a member of the city watch, a prosperous merchant, a renowned actor, a respected sage in Morgrave, a member of a powerful criminal organization, a successful barrister… it’s a matter of impressing a patron with your talent, your influence, and most of all, your potential. Do you have skills or connections that will benefit the society? Or could you, with a little help? To move up in the ranks, you have to prove your talents and increase your influence. Members of the Gold Concord aren’t just actors, soldiers, or criminals; they’re crimelords, superstars, and generals. Members of the upper concords ARE invariably wealthy… but they’ve gained that wealth through their influence.

So what does the Aurum do? It’s a social club, with a hall in every major city in the Five Nations. It’s a philanthropic organization that supports local communities and arts. It’s a place society where people with different political and religious beliefs can set those differences aside and talk; according to Soldorak, many of the most important negotiations of the Last War took place around a golden table. But ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s an organization that exists to increase the wealth and power of its members. Members of the Aurum are encouraged to assist one another and to exchange favors. Individually, Aurum concordians may not have the power of royalty or dragonmarked barons, but acting together they can accomplish great things.

Of course, there are always conspiracy theories… and a organization with as many celebrated members as the Aurum attracts more than it’s share. The most dramatic stories speak of a cabal hidden within this cabal… a Shadow Cabinet of the most powerful individuals in Khorvaire. According to the rumors, these concordians aren’t content to merely increase their own power; they are actively using the resources of the Aurum to undermine the Dragonmarked Houses and the old nobility of Galifar. On the surface this could seem to be a noble act. But the members of the Shadow Cabinet aren’t idealists working for the common good; they are simply determined to remove all obstacles to their personal power.

At its base, the Aurum is a society of wealthy and influential people. While the Aurum works together for the common good of its members, it’s not a tight-knit conspiracy like the Lords of Dust or the Dreaming Dark; it’s mainly a way to further justify the power of a few very powerful individuals. As such, there’s a few primary ways to use the Aurum.

  • As an enemy. Need a powerful foe for the players… who’s not TOO powerful? An Aurum concordian has power and influence, but can be driven by entirely selfish or eccentric goals. They aren’t trying to conquer the world; they’re trying to drive down property values in High Walls so they can buy a block of tenements on the cheap. If an Aurum concordian wants the Orb of Dol Azur it probably ISN’T because they’ll use it to kill everyone in Sharn; it’s just that they need it to complete their collection. Kaspar Gutman, the “Fat Man” of The Maltese Falcon, would definitely be in the Aurum if he lived in Eberron.
  • As an ally. All the things that make a concordian a useful enemy also make them good patrons for player characters. They have wealth, influence, and they’re generally not attached to any massive agenda; they’re driven either to increase their own wealth and influence, or simply to pursue their own interests. A concordian could be an eccentric collector seeking a rare artifact, an inventor who needs a priceless component only produced by House Cannith and reserved for the use of its heirs, or a ruthless criminal who’s going to draw the PCs into a web of intrigue. But again, they aren’t tied to any nation, any faith, or any vast and ancient force; they’re just people with money and things they want.
  • As an organization. An ambitious player character could be an aspiring member of the Aurum. Someone with the Criminal background could take the Aurum as their “criminal connection”—it’s not exactly a criminal organization, but it has criminal members and a great deal of shady influence. The Noble background couldreflect a character with a hereditary path into the Aurum… though again, Aurum membership must be earned. While members of the society will treat you with respect if you’re the child of a Platinum Concordian, and while that connection will get you past a lot of obstacles, you’ll have to prove yourself before you can wear the rings of a concordian.
  • The Shadow Cabinet. Part of the appeal of the Aurum is that it’s a society of individuals without a deep agenda. But what if there IS a group of shadowy masterminds pulling the strings from deep within, using the resources of its influential members to shatter the status quo? This storyline can be more compelling if players have already become entangled with the society in another way… if what appeared to be a club of eccentric and self-centered people are now revealed to be evil masterminds.

What’s my connection to the Aurum?

In the novel The City of Towers, the protagonist Daine has previously worked as a bodyguard for Alina Lorridan Lyrris, an Aurum concordian with great wealth and questionable morality. Daine doesn’t like or trust Alina, but when he and his companions are down on their luck. Alina is willing to offer them work. With the approval of the DM, any character could have a connection to an Aurum concordian. The first three tables establish a past connection to a member of the Aurum, while the DM can use the fourth table to determine the concordian’s current agenda.

Thanks as always to my Patreon backers, who keep this website going! And if you’re not up to date on Eberron in fifth edition, check out the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and Curtain Call!

Q&A

What kind of economic sectors are not monopolized enough by Dragonmarked Houses (and the feudal nobility) to justify an Aurum concordian’s wealth?

First off, even within the fields monopolized by the houses, not everyone works directly for the house. Most people within a field are licensed by the house. They may receive training from the house; they pay a percentage to the house; they agree to meet house standards or follow certain practices (thus, standardized pricing for a longsword); and in exchange they can use the house seal. The Aurum includes many people whose businesses are licensed by a house. The most beloved singer in Sharn, from the list above, is surely licensed and booked by Phiarlan or Thuranni; but they aren’t necessarily an heir of the house, which means they will always be an outsider.

Beyond that, the house monopolies themselves aren’t absolute. Cannith dominates manufacturing, but they don’t control fashion or construction. Property management and real estate are options in places where the feudal monarchy has sold off land (which is certainly the case in parts of Breland and other nations). The houses have no role in the military, in religion, in crime, or in civic administration (examples of all those being given above). Anton Soldorak derives his wealth from mines, as do many concordians from the Mror Holds. Though by the principles of the Aurum, to rise to the upper concords you’d have to do more than inherit a mine; it’s Soldorak’s business accumen that turned those mines into an empire and founded the largest mint in Khorvaire.

So is the Shadow Cabinet a real thing, or not?

I think it is, but ultimately that’s up to each DM. The important thing is that even if it is real, most members of the Aurum itself don’t know about it. They may be tools of its schemes, and they might even support it if they did know about it, but it’s a secret society within a semi-secret society.

Druids in Eberron

A druid draws their power from Eberron. All natural life—from the druid, to the wolf, to the tree—is connected, all part of Eberron. The druid can use this connection to assume the form of other natural creatures, to manipulate the weather and other natural phenomena, to influence plants and animals.

With that said, what does it mean to be a druid? To most of the people in Eberron, the word “druid” conjures an image of mysterious sects conducting rituals in the deep wilds, of Ashbound avengers and Wardens of the Wood. Such druidic orders certainly exist, but a critical point is that not all of their members are druids.

In Eberron, the classes used by player characters reflect a remarkable degree of talent and potential. Most priests of the Silver Flame aren’t clerics or paladins. The same holds true with the members of druidic sects. Consider a few tiers of mystical talent.

  • Many of those who follow the Eldeen traditions are hunters, farmers, or initiates in the mysteries who have yet to unlock mystical powers. A hunter might be proficient in Survival and Stealth. An Initiate would likely be proficient with Survival and Nature, and perhaps Medicine, Insight, or Persuasion—useful skills for advising a community and helping to resolve disputes. These people are competent and devoted, but they don’t have all the talents of player characters.
  • Player characters and champions of a sect may have classes, but they won’t all be druids. Rangers play an important role in all of the Eldeen sects. Barbarians can be found in many of them, and there are Greensinger bards and warlocks. It’s a druidic tradition, but not restricted to druids.
  • Other NPCs fall between these two extremes. An initiate might know a few cantrips, spells, or rituals—druidcraft, speak with animals—without having the full scope of a true druid. You might meet an initiate with the Wild Shape ability… but who can only use it to assume a narrow range of shapes (local birds, for example).

So: you can follow one of the druidic traditions without having any levels in the druid class. Conversely, you can have druid as your class without being tied to any of these traditions.

What is the Druidic Language? 

What I’m suggesting here is that druids aren’t all bound by common traditions, and that you can take level in the druid character class without sharing any traditional druidic beliefs. But if that’s the case, what’s the Druidic language? How is it that a Talenta maskweaver and a shifter weretouched master—two people with absolutely no cultural overlap—somehow know this secret language unknown to the rest of the world? And furthermore, once it’s that widespread, why don’t MORE people know it? Shouldn’t rangers in the Wardens of the Wood learn to speak Druidic?

There’s two ways to approach this. One is to treat Druidic as a mundane language—exotic, certainly, but as a mundane language that anyone could learn. If I were to do this, I’d definitely make it available to anyone in an Eldeen sect regardless of class. But it still raises the question of why a Qaltiar drow druid in Xen’drik—someone whose culture has never had any contact with Khorvaire—would share a language with both the Talenta Maskweaver and the Warden of the Woods.

A second option is to say that Druidic is a fundamentally magical language. It’s not some sort of secret code: it is literally the language of Eberron. If you embrace this idea, you can extend this to say that the ability to perform druidic magic is integrally tied to knowledge of the Druidic language—that the two are one and the same. Think of Druidic as the source code of the natural world; when you perform a druid spell with verbal components, you are simply speaking in Druidic. Depending on YOUR beliefs, you might see this as petitioning the spirits for aid or you could see it as simply operating the “machinery” of nature. But the idea remains that the Druidic language is the tool used to perform magic. All druids understand it because mastering it is a fundamental part of what it means to be a druid. Even if you’re a hermit who learned your druidic abilities by listening to the wind, when you meet another druid you’ll find you both speak the same language—the language you learned from the wind. The idea here is that while Druidic can be considered to be a language for purposes of spells like comprehend languages—which is to say, magic can reveal its meaning—only someone who can cast spells from the druid spell list can fully learn the language.

With THAT in mind, I’d probably drop Druidic from some of my variant “druid-who’s-not-a-druid” ideas… allowing them to learn another language in its place. And I might allow another character (a Nature cleric casting themselves as a variant druid, a spellcasting ranger or Greensinger bard with spells that can be found on the druid spell list) to learn Druidic. Here again, the point isn’t that they learn it like any other language; it’s that knowledge of the language is an inherent part of their connection to druidic magic.

Druidic Traditions

The broad idea of druids as a servants of nature, tied to ancient traditions and serving as spiritual guides and protectors—can be seen across Khorvaire. It’s most obvious in the Eldeen Reaches, where every major community has a druidic advisor. The Gatekeeper tradition of the Shadow Marches is older still, and Gatekeeper initiates and wardens have been protecting Eberron from unnatural forces for thousands of years. Halfling druids guide the nomadic tribes of the Talenta Plains. The Tairnadal elves worship the spirits of the past, but there are warrior druids among their ranks; the Valenar capital of Taer Valaestas is protecting by a living wall of thorns.

How do these traditions map to 5E? If you’re a Warden of the Woods, should you take the Circle of the Land or Circle of the Moon? Personally, I prefer to avoid concrete restrictions. In particular, Land druids focus on spellcasting while Moon druids enhance their shapeshifting talents. To me, this can easily reflect the aptitude of an individual. Most Wardens of the Wood may be Land druids… but if your WotW shifter Wolf excels at shapeshifting and prefers to be in lupine form, I have no problem with her being a Moon druid and a Warden. In the descriptions below I suggest common classes, but there’s nothing to prevent you from making an uncommon character.

The Wardens of the Wood

Common Classes: Cleric (Nature), Druid (Land), Ranger (Hunter, Beast Master)

The Wardens of the Wood are the largest of the sects of the Eldeen Reaches, with thousands of active members. The primary purpose of the Wardens is to protect the innocent: which includes protecting the people of the region from the dangers of the wild, but simultaneously protecting the innocent creatures of wood and wild from dangers posed by civilization. The Wardens ensure that the dangers of the Towering Wood don’t spill out into the farmlands of the Eldeen Reaches, while also dealing with brigands and poachers. The Wardens work with the farmers of the Reaches, and every Eldeen village has a Warden advisor who helps ensure that the farmers are working with the land instead of harming it, and who seeks to peacefully resolve disputes within their village or with other communities.

The Wardens serve as the militia of the Eldeen Reaches. While they are the largest sect, most of their members are hunters or advisors. Among the druids, the Circle of Land is the most common path; however, druids with a knack for shapeshifting might take the Circle of the Moon, and those who guard the deep woods may follow the Circle of the Shepherd.

As a Warden, one question is why you’ve left your community behind. The Wardens act to protect the wild from the world and vice versa; how are your adventures advancing that goal?

The Ashbound

Common Classes: Barbarian (Beast Totem, Berserker, Storm Herald); Druid (Moon, Shepherd)

Where the Wardens of the Wood believe that nature and civilization must be kept in balance, the Ashbound believe that they are at war—and the Ashbound are the champions of nature. Ashbound seek to defend the natural world from the depredations of civilization. In frontier regions, this often involves guerilla strikes against encroaching settlements or making brutal examples of poachers. However, the Ashbound also see arcane magic as a dangerous and corrupting force. Ashbound have made strikes against the holdings of dragonmarked houses and released bound elementals, often causing chaos in the process.

Barbarians are common among the Ashbound. This doesn’t reflect savagery; it’s about drawing on the fury of the natural world, which may manifest through the Storm Herald archetype. Ashbound druids are warriors, and many follow the Moon Circle so they can fight with tooth and claw.

While the Ashbound believe that arcane magic is a corrupting force and that divine spellcasters are little better (clearly bargaining with alien forces that have no place in the natural world), it’s still possible to play a moderate Ashbound as a PC. You want to emphasize the reason you are out in the world—to stop the Mourning from spreading, to find allies to bring down the dragonmarked houses. If your party is serving this greater cause, you can overlook the actions of the party wizard—but you’d still want to encourage them to limit the use of unnatural magic, using it only when absolutely required.

The Children of Winter

Common Classes: Barbarian (Zealot), Druid (Spores, Twilight), Ranger (Gloom Stalker, Monster Slayer)

The Children of Winter see death, disease, and decay as part of the natural order. They believe that if the natural order is bent too far the world will retaliate with a terrible cleansing fury (the metaphorical “Winter” of their name)… and many in the sect believe that the Mourning is the first stage of that destruction. On the positive side, the Children of Winter despise undead as creatures that defy the cycle of life and death, and many of the are dedicated to hunting down and destroying undead. On the darker side, some believe that the benefits of civilization also defy the natural order, allowing the weak and infirm to survive when they’d never survive in the wilds. They see disease as an important tool that weeds out the weak and may spread disease in large cities or towns; but they may also push other situations that force conflict and ensure the survival of the fittest. However, not all Children approve of these methods. Likewise, some extremists among the Children believe that the apocalyptic Winter has already begun and should be welcomed, and that great cities should be torn down; while others fervently believe that the Mourning is a warning and that there is still time to stop this cataclysm. Such Children seek to contain contaminated regions, such as the Mournland and the Gloaming.

The Children of Winter are a small sect, but have a high percentage of elite individuals. They are comfortable in darkness, thus leading some to following the path of the Gloom Stalker ranger or the Twilight Druid. Monster Slayer rangers specialize in hunting down the undead. The Spore druid is a good match for the Children who embrace decay and disease, and its temporary ability to create a spore zombie (for one hour) is acceptable within the sect, but Children wouldn’t cast animate dead. 

As a Child of Winter PC, you are trying to protect the world from the coming apocalypse. You do this by fighting undead, by investigating the Mourning, and when possible by pushing situations that test the weak. You may  oppose extremists among the sect engaging in actions you believe are unjustified. While death is part of the natural cycle, you’re still able to heal your allies. You oppose using magical healing to sustain creatures who could never survive in the wild. But healing the fighter after he chooses to battle a pack of vampires—an unnatural situation he could have easily avoided—is entirely justified.

The Gatekeepers

Common Classes: Barbarian (Ancestral Guardian, Beast Totem); Druid (Land, Shepherd); Ranger (Horizon Walker, Monster Slayer)

The primary mission of the Gatekeepers is to protect the natural world from unnatural forces. They are best known for fighting aberrations, but they are equally concerned about fiends and other things that do not belong in the natural world.  The Gatekeepers have their roots in the Shadow Marches, and there are many in the Shadow Marches who support the “Old Ways”; but they have a presence across Khorvaire, often in the shadow of House Tharashk. Gatekeepers are constantly vigilant for extraplanar incursions, and also work to maintain existing seals that hold the Daelkyr in Khyber.

While Land and Shepherd are sound circles for Gatekeeper Druids, the Circle of the Moon is entirely appropriate for Gatekeepers who prefer to fight with tooth and claw. It’s believed that ancient Gatekeepers created the first horrid animals, and it’s thought that some Gatekeepers could assume horrid forms. The ranks of the Gatekeepers include passionate barbarians and more strategic rangers; the Horizon Walker is an especially appropriate path for Gatekeeper rangers.

As a Gatekeeper PC, are you simply keeping an eye out for trouble or do you have a particular task in hand? You might be pursuing a particular threat—a Cult of the Dragon Below, a Daelkyr agent. Or you could be protecting something: a location or an artifact that needs to be kept safe.

The Greensingers

Common Classes: Bard (Glamour); Druid (Dreams); Ranger (Horizon Walker); Warlock (Archfey)

The Greensingers believe that the magic of the fey compliments and enhances nature, and they encourage close ties between Thelanis and Eberron. They work to improve relations between mortals and the fey, teaching people how to safely interact with the fey and serving as ambassadors to the faerie realms. While the bards and druids draw the most attention, many Greensingers are simply people who learn the stories of the fey and follow their traditions, seeking to live in harmony with their fey neighbors.

Any path that touches the Fey has a place among the Greensingers. The Dream druid is the archetypal Greensinger, but their ranks include quite a few bards and a handful of warlocks. One critical point is that while the Greensingers are united by core principles, many Greensingers are aligned with a particular archfey—a patron who has ties to their region—and they may work to advance the specific agenda of their patron in the world. This can lead to feuds between Greensingers working for different archfey. This is expected and understood, though Greensingers will try not to kill rivals in the sect. This also leads to the image of Greensingers as a source of mischief and chaos; their actions are unpredictable, as they serve the agendas of different fey.

In creating a Greensinger druid, you should decide if you follow the general principles of the sect or if you have a tie to a specific archfey. If so, work with your DM to work out the story of your patron and the role they might play in the campaign.

Siyal Marrain

Common Classes: Cleric (Nature), Druid (Land, Shepherd)

The Siyal Marrain are the druids of the Tairnadal, descended from heroes who unleashed the force of nature against the giants of Xen’drik. The Siyal Marrain see nature as a tool and a weapon, and don’t have the same sort of devotion to the natural world found among the Eldeen sects. Members of this order care for and protect the famed horses of the Tairnadal; legends say that the first of these Valenar warhorses were druids trapped in wild shape by a giant’s curse, and that this is the source of their remarkable abilities. Aside from this, the Siyal Marrain are warriors who ride with warbands and use their powers in battle.

The Siyal Marrain revere their ancestors, just like other Tairnadal; their patron ancestors were druid heroes. With this in mind, when a Siyal Shepherd druid conjures their beast totem, it could actually manifest as an aspect of a Tairnadal hero as opposed to being a purely primal beast spirit. Meanwhile, a Nature cleric is a path for a Siyal who’s more focused on direct combat—relying on armor as opposed to shapeshifting. Rangers and other classes aren’t listed as the Siyal aren’t a broad tradition like the Eldeen sects; being one of the Siyal Marrain means being a primary spellcaster.

As with any Tairnadal elf, in creating a Siyal druid you should work with your DM to develop the story of your patron ancestor and to consider your relationship with Tairnadal culture. Why aren’t you serving with a warband or protecting the herds? Is your career as an adventurer driven by the actions of your ancestor?

Talenta Maskweavers

Common Classes: Druid (Dreams, Moon, Shepherd)

The halflings of the Talenta Plains believe that the world around them is filled with spirits—spirits of nature, spirits of their ancestors, and more. A number of details of this tradition can be found in this article. A maskweaver guides their tribe and serves as an intermediary for the spirits: part medium, part ambassador. They help warriors forge bonds to their mounts, and as the name implies, they help to create the masks that serve as important tools when dealing with the spirits.

Like the Greensingers, the Talenta druids often deal with the fey. Unlike their Eldeen counterparts, the maskweavers see no distinction between fey, purely natural spirits, or the ghosts of their ancestors. As far as the druid is concerned, all of these things are part of the spirit world, and all should be treated with respect. Talenta druids may also show respect for the Sovereigns Balinor and Arawai; however, they generally assert that these Sovereigns were Talenta heroes—that Balinor was a legendary hunter—and revere them in the same way as the other spirits.

The three common classes described above reflect different paths. The Moon druid focuses on working with dinosaurs, and excels at assuming dinosaur shapes. The Shepherd deals first and foremost with natural and ancestral spirits. Generally their totems reflect common beasts of the Plains: the Bear is the Hammertail (ankylosaurus), the Eagle is the Glidewing (pteranodon), and the Wolf is the Clawfoot Raptor. However, a druid devoted to heroes of the past—or Arawai and Balinor—could conjure spectral traces of those heroes as their totems. Meanwhile, the Dreams druid focuses on the fey spirits and manifest zones. This is specifically a druidic tradition (though it could apply to a Nature cleric). There are many barbarians and rangers in the Plains, and a few Archfey warlocks; while these champions may respect the spirits, only the druids perform the duties of the maskweavers.

Druids That Aren’t Druids

Mechanically, a druid is primarily defined by spellcasting abilities, limited armor, and Wild Shape. Here’s a few quick ideas for characters that use the druid class withoutbeing spiritual devotees of nature.

Changeling Menagerie

Normally, a changeling can only assume humanoid forms. But a changeling who devotes themselves to the art of shapeshifting can transcend this limitation, mastering the ability to assume a wide array of shapes. At its core, a menagerie is a Moon druid focused on their shapeshifting powers.

You could play this as a character in touch with primal forces, in which case you could speak Druidic and cast any spells on the druid list. however, if you want to play the character as a master-of-shapes without delving into the primal connection, you could swap Druidic for a standard language and focus on spells that fit either shapeshifting abilities or changeling powers. Barkskin, darkvisionjump, longstrider, meld into stonepoison spray, resistance, and similar spells could all tie to shapeshifting mastery. Charm person, guidance, hold person, and the like could reflect enhanced psychic abilities. And healing spells, enhance abilityprotection from energy and such could reflect an ability to alter the forms of others; I could see cure wounds being a sort of disturbing thing where you touch someone and scar over their wounds using your own body tissue.

Vadalis Monarch

The Mark of Handling gives a character a mystical connection to the natural world. But this gift isn’t something the heir earns; it is their birthright. A Vadalis heir could present druidic magic as a symptom of their dominion over nature. The same connection that lets you influence the behavior of animals could allow you to assume their forms… or even to control a wider range of creatures with charm person and hold person.

A Vadalis monarch could function as a normal druid and could even potentially understand Druidic, but I’d play up the flavor that this is a power of your mark and something you demand as opposed to a petition to spirits or natural forces.

Weretouched Master

Shifters are well suited to primal paths and to being traditional druids or rangers, and shifters can be found in most of the Eldeen sects. However, you could play a shifter druid as an expert in shapeshifting as opposed to being a servant of nature. As with the changeling menagerie, I’d make this a Moon druid and encourage spells that reflect control of shape. A shifter might not take charm person or hold person, but even without druidic faith, speak with animals, animal friendship, and similar spells could be justified as being a manifestation of the shifter’s lycanthropic heritage.

These are just a few ideas, but hopefully you understand the concept! If you have questions post them below. As always, thank you to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this site.

Q&A

What exactly is the difference between a Nature cleric and a druid? Does a follower of the Sovereign Host have to be a cleric? Could I play a Warden of the Woods as a Nature cleric? 

Well, let’s look at the concrete mechanical differences between the two.

  • A Nature cleric can wear any sort of armor, including heavy armor. A druid isn’t proficient with heavy armor, and the PHB states that “druids will not wear armor or use shields made of metal.”
  • Wild Shape is an important element of the druid. A Nature cleric doesn’t shapeshift.
  • A Nature cleric has a different selection of combat spells. Sacred flame has a better range than any druid cantrip, and guiding bolt is a strong, long range attack; by contrast, the druid can unleash a thunderwave or lash enemies with a thorn whip.
  • Generally speaking, the druid is more of a close range combatant. As noted above, most of their battle magic is relatively close range, and Wild Shape generally drives them towards melee combat.
  • A Nature cleric doesn’t know Druidic.

It’s certainly simple to say that as a general rule, priests of the Sovereign Host are clerics and spellcasters in the Eldeen Reaches are druids. However, I always believe in putting story first. If someone wants to play a priest of Balinor who excels at assuming the forms of wild beasts, I see no reason not to make that character a druid. Likewise, if someone wants to be a Warden of the Wood but doesnt’ want to deal with shapechaning, I’m fine with making them a Nature Cleric. The main issue to me is Druidic. If I feel the character IS essentially a druid from the story side, I’d let them swap out one of their current languages for druidic. On the other hand, I’m fine with the idea that the typical priest of Arawai doesn’t speak Druidic. Per my idea above, Druidic is something you learn as part of directly engaging with the natural world… while a typical Sovereign priest reaches out to a deity, not to the world itself.

In my Q’barra campaign, I had a player who really liked the idea of being a Greensinger druid, but who had no interest in shapeshifting and preferred being able to use long-ranged magic in combat. So we made her character a Nature cleric instead of a druid. I allowed her to swap a language for Druidic. Beyond this: She had heavy armor proficiency, but wearing heavy armor really didn’t fit the image of the character. We agreed that she had received a gift from her Archfey patron: mystical tattoos across her body. She had an amulet, and when she wore the amulet the tattoos hardened her skin and protected her… essentially, barkskin. While active, the tattoos shimmered and glowed slightly—not providing useful illumination, but giving her disadvantage on Stealth checks (just like wearing heavy armor). The net result of this was to give her the AC that her class proficiencies allowed, while still having limitations (Stealth penalty, obvious to observers, it could be “removed” by taking away the amulet). Now, YOUR DM might not be willing to go that far, and that’s entirely reasonable. I’m a fan of this sort of reskinning to fit an interesting story—but it does add complexity and potentially balance questions, and it’s always up to each DM to decide what they’re comfortable with.

Why use the existing archetypes instead of making new archetypes for the Eldeen sects? 

The Eberron IP belongs to Wizards of the Coast, and legally you can’t post new Eberron material. So I’m looking at the best match within existing material. The Horizon Walker ranger is a solid option for a Gatekeeper, and the Twilight druid is a good match for the Children of Winter. If Eberron is unlocked for 5E I might explore archetypes that are more directly tied to the concepts of a particular tradition, but it’s currently not an option.

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.