Dragonmarks 6/13/16: Cults and Fiends

As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is on a boat… albeit a very slow boat… headed for the United States. In the days ahead I’m going to be spending more time talking about Phoenix, both delving into the setting and system. I’ll still be answering questions about Eberron when I can, but most likely it will only be once or twice a month.

We will be launching Phoenix at Gen Con, and our full list of events should go active sometime this week. At the moment, there are two events you can sign up for. The first is All About Phoenix, where all the secrets of Phoenix will be revealed. The second is a Q&A with Keith Baker. In the past I’ve done this as an informal event in a hotel lobby. It’s still going to be casual, but this year we’ve gone ahead and gotten a room for it. This is your chance to ASK ME ANYTHING, whether it’s about Eberron, Gloom, Phoenix, or what I had for dinner on Tuesday night.

In any case: Today’s topics are cults and fiends. Let’s get to the questions!

What do you think a cult of Siberys would look like as an existential threat, especially in contrast to the schemes of the numerous Cults of the Dragon Below?

First, let me clarify how I’m reading the question. You’re asking what it would look like as an existential threat, by which I think you’re saying if they were the villains of the story. This is a slightly odd question, because in the mythology Siberys is a positive figure… a creative force killed by treacherous Khyber. This ties to the fact that all myths agree that Siberys is dead… the pieces of his body can be seen in the night sky. So from what we’ve established, most Siberys cults focus on his sacrifice and on the gifts that he’s given us; one common assertion is that magic itself is the blood of Siberys, flowing down from the Ring of Siberys. So essentially, modern society is only possible because of the gift of Siberys.

BUT: let’s take the challenge of having a Cult of Siberys as the villains of a story.

First of all, don’t forget that few Cults of the Dragon Below literally worship Khyber; instead, most are aligned with the Daelkyr, Lords of Dust, or something else that’s more directly tangible. So a Cult of the Dragon Above might have some intermediary entity that they serve. The logical choice would be a couatl, as they are generally seen to be the children of Siberys in the same way that the rakshasa are children of Khyber, but then you have the question of what makes this cult different from a traditional Serpent/Silver Flame cult.

A concrete thing about Siberys is that there’s pieces of his body floating around the world (assuming you believe the myth). So: I’d run with that. A Siberys cult is seeking to restore Siberys to life. To do this, they seek to collect all the Siberys shards. Perhaps the chief agents of this cult embed the shards within their bodies… ultimately become a sort of living shard-fusion, sort of like the Shardminds from 4E. Such a being could channel tremendous mystical power, and they wouldn’t care how much destruction they have to wreak in the process of collecting the shards. As the cult’s plot continues, they could work on Eldritch Machines that would not only draw all Siberys shards, but also drain all the magic out of an affected region… again, magic being “the Blood of Siberys.” The cultists believe that once Siberys is restored, he will create a new, perfect world – so they aren’t concerned with the havoc or suffering caused by their actions. Presuming that they are stopped, magic would eventually return to the drained regions – but it would be up to you to decide how long this would take, and it could cause all manner of chaos. Sharn is sustained by magic, and if the region was drained, the city would collapse.

So: There’s one idea to work with.

We know that cultists of the Dragon Below believe their lords to be the children fo Khyber and that the daelkyr aren’t in any hurry to disabuse them of this false notion. But what do the daelkyr themselves think of the Dragon Below and the origins their minions attribute to them.

There’s a bunch of points to address here. But before I get to any of them, I suggest you review this Dragonmark (http://keith-baker.com/dragonmarks-the-daelkyr-and-their-cults/).

First: “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term that people use to encompass wildly different sects largely united by irrational behavior and often some sort of connection to Khyber… a literal connection to Khyber, be that an association with aberrations, demons, or a desire to find shelter in the underworld. Only a few actually revere Khyber, the Progenitor Dragon; and most of those do it in a fairly abstract way.

With that said, who says it’s a “false notion”? According to myth, the Progenitors created the planes. The Material Plane was the last thing they created, because the world was created by their fight. Each Progenitor exerted greater influence on different planes. So Lamannia is a plane that strongly reflects the influence of Eberron, while Xoriat strongly reflects the influence of Khyber. So while the Daelkyr weren’t created in the physical realm of Khyber, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be considered to be “Children of Khyber.”

But to cut to the chase: Erandis Vol deceives and manipulates her followers. The Dreaming Dark and the Lords of Dust are masters of manipulation. The Daelkyr? NOT SO MUCH. They don’t need to deceive their followers, because for the most part THEIR FOLLOWERS ARE INSANE. It’s not that cultists work with Dolgaunts because they think the Dolgaunts are agents of Khyber and the Dolgaunts maintain a web of lies; they work with the dolgaunts because they think the dolgaunts are divine emissaries, the gatekeepers to a secret paradise that lies below, or the reincarnation of King Jarot. The Dolgaunts surely do a certain amount of playing along with whatever delusions the cultists are laboring under, but it’s not like they have built the deception themselves; they just need to listen to whatever the cultists are spouting and smile and nod.

Essentially, I see the Daelkyr as more primal than many of the other epic threats of Eberron. They change reality simply by existing. Their presence drives mortals mad. Their purposes are enigmatic; is change alone their goal, or do they have grander schemes we’ve yet to understand?

Are the Daelkyr still in Xoriat eager to get here?

It’s not defined in canon, so it’s really up to you. Per canon, I don’t believe we’ve actually established if there ARE any Daelkyr still in Xoriat. What we’ve said in the past is that “The Daelkyr aren’t the most powerful spirits in Xoriat; they’re simply the most powerful spirits that have an interest in Eberron.”

Part of the point of outsiders is that they are ideas given form, and that their form reflects their nature. In the article linked to above I point out that Daelkyr may essentially reflect the creatures they are dealing with. Given this I would advance the idea that the Daelkyr may literally be defined as the spirits that seek to spread madness… thus inherently there are no Daelkyr in Xoriat because it is the act of leaving Xoriat that makes them Daelkyr.

But ultimately, there is no canon answer.

If the Planes books ever get made, I’d love to see something about the themes and “exceptions” for placing monsters on that plane. For example, Fernia is obviously the fire plane, but it is also slightly evil aligned. Despite this, Celestials still arise from the pane if they have a fire theme, in defiance of alignment. I’ve been trying to place Pathfinder’s Gambling Devil in Eberron’s cosmology but have found it tough. Does it fit on Daanvi with its lawful nature? Or is Kythri better since it can manipulate probability and make people take risks? I honestly lean to the latter, despite conventional D&D wisdom on alignments, but clearer guidance would be nice.

Most planes have a “preferred” type of spirit. Quori are the primary fiends of Dal Quor. Angels are especially numerous in Syrania. Couatl and rakshasa are the most common celestials and fiends of Eberron itself (technically, of Siberys and Khyber).

With that said: You can have any spirit manifest on any plane, provided that it fits the CONCEPT of that plane.

Case in point: Shavarath, the Eternal Battleground. The three largest forces in Shavarath are an army of Archons, an army of Devils, and an army of Demons. The Archons embody the concept of just battle and war fought for noble reasons. The Devils reflect violence in pursuit of tyranny and power. And the Demons are bloodlust and chaos, random violence and brutality. You could put ANY devil you wanted into the Infernal Legions of Shavarath… but that devil would be fundamentally defined and motivated by its role in the Eternal War. Which may not serve the story you have in mind. And taking the Gambling Devil, while it IS a devil, it’s not particularly a devil that screams “I HAVE A PLACE ON THE BATTLEFIELD.”

The original ECS said that Pit Fiends are found in Fernia. In my opinion, you can find Pit Fiends in Fernia, but I believe that you can also find Pit Fiends in Shavarath… and that you can potentially find a Pit Fiend in the Demon Wastes, spawned by Khyber and with no connection to Shavarath or Fernia. All three of these Pit Fiends would have the same statistics. However, their appearance and behavior would be quite different.

  • The Pit Fiend of Shavarath is a general in the Infernal Legion. It wears heavy armor engraved with burning runes. It embodies tyranny and war, leading with an iron fist and enforcing discipline with fear and fire. Its sole desire is gaining an edge in the eternal war, and any dealings it has with mortals will revolve around how they could shift the balance or assist in the struggle.
  • The Pit Fiend of Fernia is a dark shadow wreathed in eternal flame, the embodiment of flame used to sow terror and destroy enemy holdings. It is a cruel being that rules over a fiefdom in Fernia, and it is constantly fighting (and burning) enemies as that is part of its nature… but unlike the fiend of Shavarath, it’s dealing with a series of feuds as opposed to ONE BIG WAR. In general it has no interest in Eberron or mortals; if they do cross its path it will seek to use them as tools in its current feud.
  • The Pit Fiend of Khyber is the classic scaled fiend. It’s not tied to War or Fire; instead, it can embody whatever concept best suits your story. Pride? Tyranny? Cruelty? It might rule over a host of rakshasa and be associated with the Lords of Dust. It could be the patron fiend of one of the Carrion Tribes, and send its warriors to fight the Ghaash’kala orcs. Or it could be a lone spirit bound to a specific location within the Demon Wastes, hoping the mortals that cross its path can somehow break its bonds.
  • A surprise fourth option would be Baator. In the Eye on Eberron article I presented Baator as a demiplane… a prison created by celestial powers (some say the Sovereigns) to hold corrupted and rebellious spirits. Those, the fiends of Baator weren’t always fiends. The Pit Fiend of Baator is thus a classic fallen angel. Furthermore, the denizens of Baator want mortal souls; they are seeking to build their own power bases following the same model as the Silver Flame.

As I said, mechanically these could all be EXACTLY THE SAME; it’s simply that their behaviors and motivations will all be different… and each one would serve a different role in the story.

ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY: You don’t have to decide where ALL Gambling Devils are from; you just need to decide where this one is from. And the critical question there is what does it want? What is the story you are trying to tell with it? If it is gambling to try to win a mortal soul, then it’s a good match for Baator. If it’s purely and generically evil, it might be spawned directly by Khyber. Heck, if it’s about taunting people with the promises of dreams that will be snatched away at the last minute, it could actually be from Dal Quor… a fringe spirit spawned by the plane but with no connection to the Dreaming Dark.

So figure out what your spirit wants and how it’s going to act. Base its plane of origin on that, and then shape its appearance to reflect the plane it’s from.

If we had an outsider that represented death by immolation, would that outsider be native to Dolurrh, native to Fernia, or native to both? Would alignment play into account at all?

If its primary purpose in the universe is BURNING ANYONE IT CAN, it’s from Fernia. If its primary purpose is BURNING ITS ENEMIES IN WAR, it’s from Shavarath. If its primary purpose is to SERVE AS AN EXAMPLE OF A PARTICULAR WAY YOU COULD DIE – IE, the “death” part is more important than the “burning” part, then sure, go for Dolurrh. And if it’s first and foremost an evil scheming spirit who just happens to be good at burning people, then I’d tie it to Khyber or Baator. Alignment should be reflected in its core concept and thus behavior. If it’s Lawful, that implies people being immolated in an organized and intentional way; if it’s chaotic, than it’s people being randomly immolated in wildfires.

We know that unofficially there is a group of Dwarves in the Demon Wastes who have Deathless among them. I would assume this means they have access to a manifest zone to Irian. What are they like religiously? Are they another splinter cult that worships the Silver Flame? An odd variation of the host? Or some other sect that doesn’t fit well with the more common religions?

Deathless are sustained both by the energy of Irian and the devotion of a group of worshippers. So like the Aereni, these dwarves revere their ancestors, and it is this devotion that sustains their deathless spirits. Be aware that this is a comparatively small community and only has a handful of deathless guardians – a powerful shelter in the Demon Wastes, but nothing on the scale of the Undying Court.

Related to the planes (but not necessarily the things that live there): Sharn’s weather is described as generally rainy (Sharn, pg. 24) but it’s also supposed to be a manifest zone for Syrania which is perpetually clear blue skies. Is it clear for Skyway and rainy for everyone below?

Manifest zones reflect an aspect of the plane that touches them, but their effects can take many different forms. A manifest zone tied to Syrania might enhance magic of flight, generate perfect blue skies, or create a peaceful aura that diffuses all hostilities (among other possibilities). Sharn’s zone affects flight, but doesn’t encourage peace in any way… and doesn’t help with the weather.

Also related to the planes, what happens in a manifest zone when another plane moves coterminous to the Material Plane?

Per canon, nothing. Eberron is touched by all of the planes. A manifest zone has a special connection to one of them, but it’s still influenced by the others.

What do the denizens of other planes think of the Greensingers and their idea of unrestricted planar travel?

Bear in mind that the majority of inhabitants of Khorvaire have never heard of the Greensingers, and they live on the same plane of existence. If you’re a horned devil in the Infernal Legion, fighting THE WAR THAT SHAPES REALITY, you really have no way to hear or reason to care about some group of druids on Khorvaire. Imagine if on D-Day you grabbed a soldier at Normandy and said “Hey! A bunch of Ecuadorian tourists would like to visit – what do you think?” Not every plane is as focused as Shavarath, but for the most part the denizens of the planes have their own $&%* to deal with and don’t really care about Eberron.

There are exceptions. The Quori have always been more interested in humanity than other outsiders because they deal with mortals all the time (through their dreams)… while that random devil in Shavarath may have never even seen a human. And the nobles of Thelanis have an interest in shaping new stories… which is why they have always been the most notable patrons of the Greensingers. If you’re playing with Baator, the former prisoners would welcome an easier path to the material plane… and it would be interesting to have a group of Greensingers who believe they are working with a benevolent fey discover that their patron is actually an archdevil. And I’m sure that entities like the Inevitables would take great issue with mortals opening up gates to Dolurrh… if it ever actually happened.

Do planar beings of different planes have contact between themselves? Or it’s more common to have contact/travel to the Material Plane?

The Material Plane is the hub where all the planes together. Each plane is a pure concept: War, Peace, Order, Chaos. On Eberron, all these things come together. Beyond that, you have soft spots such as Manifest Zones. So essentially, Syrania HAS a connection to the Material Plane… while it has no inherent connection to Kythri. Thus it is far easier and more common for there to be contact between Eberron and Syrania that between Syrania and Kythri. With that said, this is also the role of demiplanes – to serve as bridges between planes with no innate connections. Baator is one example of this, serving as a prison for immortals of many planes. There is at least one “crossroads” demiplane, though it’s not something I’m going to expand on until I can do so for the DM’s Guild.

Beyond this: Think of each plane as a machine. Each immortal is a cog in that machine, with a very specific role to play. Unlike mortals, the immortals have a very clear sense of their place and their purpose. A soldier in one of the armies of Shavarath never stops to say “Why am I fighting? Is there something better I could be doing?” They are embodiments of War; they have no other purpose. Essentially, for all that they may be brilliant, immortals generally have less free will than mortals. So as a general rule, the soldier in Shavarath has no interest in anything beyond fighting the war… and thus no interest in contacting Eberron or any other plane. However, Eberron is the plane they are most likely to contact by accident, being caught in a manifest zone or coterminous effect.

With that said: There are some immortals whose nature encompasses curiosity or a desire to push beyond their plane. A sage from Syrania or Daanvi might well travel to other planes in search of knowledge. Beyond that, there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose. Taratai and the other Kalashtar Quori. Radiant idols and the prisoners of Baator. Thelestes and Korliac of the Gray Flame in the Lords of Dust. So there’s always room in a story to have spirits crossing planar lines – but it is certainly the rare exception, not the norm.

This applies to the immortal inhabitants of the planes. It’s less true for the mortal inhabitants, who aren’t so closely bound to their planes and who have more free will. Again, it would be more common to find them in demiplanes, as there’s no direct path between, say, Shavarath and Syrania… but such travel surely does happen.

If immortals incarnate concepts and has no free will, how does it come that (rogue Eladrin) Luca Syara choose to fight the war, became deprimited and change her alignment to neutral?

The same way Taratai turned against the Dreaming Dark, or an angel becomes a Radiant Idol. Check the paragraph above: “…there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose.” Out of all the Quori that exist, sixty-seven rebelled to form the Kalashtar. Likewise, there may be a dozen or so Radiant Idols… which is a tiny percentage of the Host of Syrania.

The statement “Immortals have no free will” is a little too forceful. The Devourer of Dreams and Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes differ in opinion as to the path the Quori should take in Eberron, and each has their own schemes and intrigues. The point is that both are utterly devoted to il-Lashtavar, and that this wasn’t a choice either of them made; it is a fundamental part of who they are, present from the moment they came into existence. The same is true of all Quori. They come into existence with purpose, and very few of them ever evolve the ability to question that purpose. Likewise, the soldier in the army of Shavarath doesn’t fight the endless war because they’ve thought about it, considered all the options, and decided that war is the thing for them… they fight because it is the only reality they can imagine. They choose HOW they fight. They come up with cunning strategies, they negotiate and break alliances, but they fight and they fight and they fight. IT IS POSSIBLE for one of these eternal soldiers to break away from this… but again, you’re talking about a handful over the course of history out of tens of thousands of spirits.

WITH THAT SAID: Luca Syara is a Ghaele Eladrin. The powerful immortals of Thelanis aren’t united by a common purpose. Each one has their own unique story and they play out that story. In Luca’s case, there’s a few possibilities. She was drawn to Eberron by what she saw as a righteous war, and odds are excellent that THAT was part of her defined nature. Now, one possibility is that her disillusionment is a legitimate shift in her nature, as Taratai turned away from the Dreaming Dark. BUT… it is also possible that this IS her story: that she joins righteous but doomed causes and then goes through a cycle of tragic despair, before finding a new righteous but doomed cause.

You said that an immortal who change his alignment would become something complitely different. A good rakshasa wouldn’t be a rakshasa anymore, like a radiant idol is not an angel. Is there any canon creature you would use as an ex-rakshasa? 

Not that comes to mind. Personally, I’d want to design something from the ground up, as we did with Radiant Idols. With that said, with the Baator article we assert that the fiends in Baator are corrupted spirits from other planes. So there’s precedent for just using whatever makes sense to you.

Could this be a path for introducing a hellbreed in Eberron? A rakshasa that lost most of his power, including immortality, in a path of redemption?

It’s feasible. I think I’ve also heard this concept being used for Devas.

How would you shape a planar campaign in Eberron? Players with abilities to plane travel? A planar transportation(an ancient giant ship)? Is there Sigil in Eberron somewhere?

I think all three of those are sound ideas, but frankly I wouldn’t design a planar campaign in Eberron until there’s been an opportunity to describe the planes in more detail.

The planes are not inhabited only by spirits born of ideas. There are some more normal and mortal beings living there. How is their religion? Do they worship aspects of the Host/Flame like everyone else?

That’s not an easy question to answer in this format, because I simply don’t have the time or room to describe the faiths that DON’T have any parallel in Eberron. The short form is that some do associate themselves with the Sovereigns, though often with their own twists. But there are certainly other beliefs tied to their own planes and the powerful spirits within it. Within Thelanis, for example, most mortal fey are more concerned with allegiance to their ruling immortal than abstract belief in some greater power.

The Silver Flame doesn’t have much of a following in the planes, because it is concretely a Material thing: a force created by spirits of Eberron to protect the people of Eberron. There are some who appreciate the CONCEPT of it, but they don’t devote themselves to it.

Do they have the same creation myth of the Progenitor Dragons? The myth itself is very Material Plane-centric, are they ok being just “Side” planes?

Most do have the same creation myth, which among other things justifies the fact that their planes ARE connected to and influence the Material. But most would argue with your assertion that the myth is “Material Plane-centric.” As a planar entity, I would point out that the planes were the FIRST creations of the Progenitors, and that they were completed. By contrast, Eberron the world is a thing that occurred as the result of a brawl. They say that the Material is touched by and shaped by all planes simply because it is the final resting place of the Progenitors who created them all, not because the Material is somehow the pinnacle of creation. Essentially, the angel of Syrania asserts that Syrania is a perfectly designed machine… while the Material is an unfinished lump of clay that just happens to be where the Progenitors called it quits.

Sharn is a fantasy city inspired in the manifest zone to Syrania. In an alternative dimension Eberron, how could Sharn be affected by different manifest zones?

This seems like a broader question about the effects of manifest zones in general. Whenever the opportunity comes to write about the planes in more detail, I’d definitely like to present multiple examples of manifest zones tied to each plane, and to go into more detail about the effects of coterminous and remote periods. But it’s not something I have time for right now.

Khyber runs under the entirety of Eberron, so are there deep trenches underwater that lead to the “Deeps”; flooded sections of Khyber?

Certainly. But bear in mind that Khyber is more than just a physical underworld; it also contains portals to demiplanes, allowing the discovery of fantastic regions that transcend the limits of reality.

Is it possible that there are one or more daelkyr that had no interest in the surface races and instead went after the underwater world? What sort of ‘dol-merrow’ concepts would you think such a daelkyr would come up with?

It’s certainly possible. However, just to present another alternative, the Eberron Expanded article on Lords of Madness calls out the Aboleths as contemporaries of the Rakshasas and the demon Overlords, and Sahuagin legend speaks of a battles between the Devourer and the ancient fiends back in the dawn of time that friend the sahuagin from Aboleth domination. A Daelkyr would thus be a relatively recent entry into this ancient Aboleth-sahuagin rivalry. As for what a daelkyr might do with merfolk or sahuagin as a starting point, I’ll have to think about it.

The 3.5 sourcebook Elder Evils had a gigantic creature called “the Leviathan”; a creature of “pure chaos left over from the creation of the world”… My question is then: Would you consider the ‘primordial chaos beast’ Leviathan to be a child of Khyber, creation of the Daelkyr, or from some other being entirely? If the Head of Eberron (whether it is actually her physical head shall be left out of this question) is in Argonessen, could the Leviathan or source of its legends be the “Head of Khyber”?

I would personally make such a thing tied to Khyber as opposed to the Daelkyr, and making it the “Head of Khyber” seems plausible. The very first draft of Eberron actually included a serpent literally wrapped around the world, essentially filling this same role. The faith of the Sahuagin includes ritually consuming an enemy to gain its strength; back in that first draft, the Sahuagin were searching for a way to eat the world serpent.

 

That’s all I have time for. The next Q&A will be about the Lords of Dust or Druids, depending on which gets more interest… so if you have any questions, post them in the comments!

Dragonmarks 6/6/16: Edition Wars

This is a tremendously busy time for me. As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is being loaded onto a boat somewhere, and in 5-8 weeks it should be in our hands (barring unforeseen disasters like hungry whales or RPG pirates). We are preparing to launch the game at Gencon. Our first event is already listed – a seminar where we’ll be discussing every aspect of Phoenix: Dawn Command, from setting to system – but in the near future a host of new events will go live, including game sessions and a chance to try out the character generation system. So keep an eye out (or follow @twogetherstudio on Twitter)! In addition to this, I’ve been working on a number of card and board games. I can’t talk about any of these yet, but there’s exciting news in the future.

Unfortunately, there is no official news about Eberron. While I hope it will be unlocked for the DM’s Guild, I have no idea when that might happen… but at this point there’s a decent chance it won’t be in 2016. Nonetheless, I love the world and I’ll keep answering questions… though in months to come, I’m also going to start talking more about Phoenix and its setting!

If Eberron was not designed under the assumption of D&D v3.5 rules and mechanics, how might it look different to you? What would you have changed or left out? How might a system-neutral version of Eberron look?

It’s an interesting question. I’ve played Eberron using other systems, and I don’t feel it is dependent on D&D mechanics. At the same time, you’re right: it was specifically designed with those mechanics in mind. So what impact did that have? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • Alignment. The D&D Alignment system is a tough match for the shades-of-gray noir elements of Eberron. We’ve done our best to work around this. We removed most alignment constraints on monsters. We don’t require divine spellcasters to match the alignment of the deity they worship. And in general, we assert that evil people can still play a positive role within society – a more nuanced approach that I discussed in this Q&A post. But it’s still something that I could just as happily do without.
  • Arcane Magic. One of the most basic principles of Eberron is the fact that under D&D rules, arcane magic acts like a science. It is reliable. It’s repeatable. A wizard can learn a spell from another wizard or from a scroll. A spell always works, provided you don’t get punched in the face while casting it. A wizard can create a new spell or a magic item. Eberron was at its core a reaction to this: If arcane magic behaves in a scientific manner, why wouldn’t society seize upon it and incorporate it as we have with other sciences? Thus a lot of things in Eberron are looking at how we could solve problems using the spells and other supernatural tools that exist in D&D. We light the streets with continual flame and send messages across long distances using a variation of whispering wind. In Droaam, the Daughters of Sora Kell feed the masses using an endless supply of troll sausage. I can’t easily tell you what Eberron would look like if we hadn’t been working with those assumptions, because they affect the world in many different way… anywhere where someone said “Wait, you could use this spell to accomplish this useful effect.”
  • Psionics. I remember reading the psionics rules in the appendix of my old AD&D manuals. They’ve been a part of D&D since the early days, and yet they’ve never really seemed to fit in (with the notable exception of Dark Sun). I wanted a way to integrate them into the world… and yet, a way that allowed people who just don’t like psionics in their fantasy to remove them without too much difficulty. This led to the Kalashtar, the Inspired, and the storyline of Sarlona – a distant and mysterious continent where Psionics were the foundation of society in the same way that magic was used in Khorvaire. If I’d been starting COMPLETELY FROM SCRATCH and didn’t have psionics already in the mix, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have added them in.
  • Elves and Dwarves, Orcs and Goblins. Just like alignment, these are things that come with the D&D package. If Eberron wasn’t a D&D setting, it might not have included these; Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t include any of the D&D classic demi-humans, for example. But because it IS a D&D setting, it needed a place and an interesting role for the classic demi-humans and humanoids… and so we have the Tairnadal, Dhakaani, and the rest.
  • Halflings Riding Dinosaurs. Like psionics, this aspect of the Talenta Plains arose because dinosaurs have always been in D&Dand yet they very rarely get used. They’re also an awesome pulpy thing. But the idea honestly came up because we were thinking of something interesting for Talenta nomads to ride, and we realize that nobody ever uses dinosaurs.

To be clear: I love the Inspired, the Undying Court, the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. I love that Eberron has halflings on raptors. But these are all things that definitely exist because Eberron was designed as a D&D setting. You can adapt them to any system, as many people have shown… but the reason they exist in the first place is because Eberron was a setting for D&D… a setting with elves, dwarves, psionics, dinosaurs, alignment, and more.

About Eberron in 5e, ignoring the drastic difference in content for Eberron between the D&D versions, which ruleset do you think works best to capture the feel of Eberron?

I’ve run Eberron in many different systems, from 3E – 5E for D&D to the Lady Blackbird and Over The Edge systems. I know people who have played it using Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, Fate Core, Mutants and Mastermind, and GURPS, though I never have.

I don’t feel that there’s a One True Eberron system. Each system has strengths and weaknesses. Really, it depends on the type of story that you want to tell and which mechanics will best represent that system. For example, Over The Edge is a rules-light system that’s great for a story-driven game, but it’s not a system I’d use for a combat-heavy adventure. It also depends on the players that you’re working with. I’ve found that 4E is a good game when dealing with people who have played MMOs but never played a tabletop RPG before, because many of the basic concepts make sense to them… equipment slots, powers with cooldown timers, etc. Looking to 5E, I like the simplification of certain mechanics and the use of Inspiration and backgrounds as a way to try to encourage roleplaying… though I like Lady Blackbird for going considerably farther with the idea of mechanically encouraging a player to roleplay their character.

With that said, there is one particular element of 4E+ that I like for Eberron, and that is rituals. Vancian magic has never quite made sense as the foundation for Eberron’s magical economy, because it’s a little hard to see how a magewright locksmith could make a living when he can only cast Arcane Lock twice a day. Under the 4E ritual system, Arcane Lock takes ten minutes to cast and uses 25 gp worth of components. The magewright locksmith can lock as many doors as time and resources allow, jacking up the price sufficiently to make it worth his time. The downside to this is that by the rules, the only limitation on casting rituals is being a ritual caster and having the right book. So there’s no concept of having a magewright specialized in casting a particular ritual; instead, in theory any magewright could change jobs by picking up a different book. At my table, I rectified that with a house rule stating that the ability to cast any ritual from a book reflects a remarkable level of skill generally only possessed by PCs… and by adding a “Magewright” feat that allows a character to cast select three rituals and to perform them without a book (though still requiring the normal time and component cost). Thus you have the locksmith who knows Knock and Arcane Lock, the lamplighter who can cast Continual Flame all day, and so on. But that’s still just a specific mechanical element that helps with the overall logic of Eberron’s economy… and as shown by 5E, something that can easily be adapted.

So the long and the short of it is that I don’t have a preference. 4E combat in particular is a very different experience from 3E or 5E, and the question is do you want that experience? When I was working on a different campaign setting a few years back – Codex – I was considering not just making it system neutral but encouraging people to change systems between adventures, picking the system that best models the story you want to tell. In retrospect that’s a lot of work (mainly converting characters constantly), but to me it’s still a case that each system has different strengths – find the one that YOU like best. Eberron will work wherever you go.

I would love an article on Eberron’s magic (level) and the new rules system with its “even low level magic items are mighty”-approach. 

In the comments on the last update, Pteryx suggests a “Book of Everyday Magic” to address this point, and I think that’s a great idea. I see what 5E is trying to do with the “even low-level magic items are mighty” approach, and I’m not opposed to it; when I’m playing 5E, it IS kind of cool that my +1 sword is a big deal… especially in contrast to 4E, where you’ve got to constantly be upgrading every slot to be on par with your level. At the same time, I don’t feel that this rules out the general feel of Eberron, which has always been “wide magic, not high magic.” You can still have the streets lit with continual flame and airships in the sky even if +1 weapons are rare. The cantrip prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, flavor, or clean… So an innkeeper (especially a Ghallanda innkeeper) might have a chest that keeps contents cool, a pan that instantly cooks with no heat, and a broom that instantly cleans a room in one sweep. Canon sources already mention the idea that Aundair has cleansing stones that serve as communal washing machines. Even when it comes to weapons and armor, you can have minor effects that are clearly useful magic without actually providing a full +1 enhancement. Imagine a suit of armor or a sword with an innate mending effect – over the course of an hour, it will restore itself to pristine condition, eliminating dents or rust. Such a sword would sharpen itself. Now, in mechanical terms players never worry about rust or sharpening weapons… but that just mean you’d want to call out that something remarkable is going on here!

Essentially, the issue is that 5E wants to make a +1 enhancement feel powerful… which means that magic items with a direct effect on COMBAT (or healing, spell recovery, or other things that affect combat capabilities) need to be rare. But that still leaves room for lots of everyday magic, and someday when I have time I’d love to create that Book of Everyday Magic.

Can you think of another new class unique to Eberron other than the Artificer?

There was another class we considered when we were originally developing Eberron. We called it the Journeyman, but “Everyman” or “Unlikely Hero” would have worked just as well. In pulp stories, you often have a normal person who gets swept up in the adventure and carried along with the heroes. A nosy reporter, a bartender whose bar got burnt down, a spunky kid, a nightclub singer who just happened to be dating the hero. We considered a variation of this for Eberron: the character who is NOT an adventurer, not a warrior or a wizard, but who nonetheless gets caught up and carried along with the adventurers… the Watson to Holmes, or the Xander to Buffy.

The Journeyman would be something of a skill monkey, because the point was that they HAD a normal profession and might be quite good at it. But the main strength of the Journeyman is amazing, pulp-level luck. Even though he has no right to survive the terrifying dangers that threaten paladins and rangers, SOMEHOW that spunky chronicler lands a lucky blow or evades the deadly trap. In practice this would have related to action points: the Journeyman would have more action points than any other character and a number of specialized uses for them – essentially, spell-like abilities fueled by action points. In fifth edition, I could also see a Journeyman having a number of abilities along the lines of those granted by a typical Background – things that aren’t at all useful in combat, but that can have a lot of value to story. The nosy chronicler isn’t as good a fighter as the rogue, but he excels at research and has sources all over Khorvaire.

Ultimately, we decided not to develop this class. But I might take a crack at it one of these days; it’s certainly something that can provide some interesting story and roleplaying hooks.

As side note: Jode from The Dreaming Dark novels could be an example of a journeyman. He’s a Jorasco healer. He’s quick and quick-witted, but he’s not a spell-caster or a combat monster. I think I considered him to be a rogue, justifying his backstabbing as “a healer’s knowledge of anatomy” as opposed to any sort of talent for assassination. But he’d work just as well as a Journeyman: he’s legitimately a healer, trained in mundane healing supplemented by his dragonmark, who gets by on wit and luck.

I always loved the numbers of Eberron. You know, all the 12+1 missing/different. Did you ever think any reason for that? It’s just “how prophecy work”? 

Essentially, yes… it’s “how prophecy works.” The premise of the Prophecy is that there is a code that defines reality… and if you understand it, you can manipulate the future. The Prophecy doesn’t follow a single path; it’s a massive matrix of if-then statements. The key point here is that there are underlying rules to reality. It’s not unreasonable to think that arcane magic (and possible divine as well) is tapping this same underlying system: if the proper rituals or formulas are invoked, reality is altered. Once you accept the idea that arcane magic is a science – that reality follows rules – it’s logical to have patterns that can be seen in the world. In some cases these are literal patterns, such as the dragonmarks that appear on landmarks. In others, it’s things like the linked numbers of planes, dragonmarks, clans, etc.

In this case, it began with a coincidence: the fact that we had thirteen planes of which one was lost, and thirteen dragonmarks of which one was lost. That wasn’t carefully planned, but once we realized it we liked the idea that it was a reflection of the underlying order, and so people continued to work the pattern into future things.

The funny thing? The fact that it’s a “Baker’s Dozen” was something we didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out.

That’s all the time I have for this week. Based on the stack of questions already in the queue, next week’s Q&A is going to deal with cults, druid sects, and denizens of the planes. If you have questions on any of these subjects, feel free to ask below!

Dragonmarks 5/02/16: Ravenloft and Cyre

My last call for Eberron questions produced over forty questions, many quite complex. So it’s going to be some time before I get to them all. But let’s get started with one of the big ones… though as always, important disclaimers. Nothing I say here is official. These are my thoughts – often off the top of my head – and how I might handle things in MY campaign. I may contradict canon sources. As with all things, use what you like and ignore what you don’t. With that said…

Do you have any advice for incorporating Ravenloft in an Eberron Campaign?

Ravenloft is set in the Demiplane of Dread, a pocket dimension shaped by the enigmatic Dark Powers. These mysterious forces draw realms from the material plane, along with individuals of great evil; these become the Dreadlords who rule over these domains. The most infamous Dreadlord is Strahd von Zarovich, who rules over his domain of Barovia from Castle Ravenloft.

In tying Ravenloft to Eberron, the first question is whether you want the Demiplane of Dread to serve as a bridge between realities – if you want to have Lord Soth ruling a piece of Krynn, or to say that Barovia is a piece of the Forgotten Realms. If not, it’s a simple matter to say that all of the domains in the Demiplane of Dread are drawn from different points in Eberron’s history… especially if you assert that time passes differently in the Domain of Dread, so while a domain may have disappeared thousands of years ago, it may have only been years or centuries from the perspective of those trapped within it. Here’s a few possibilities to consider.

  • Ancient Karrnath. Barovia could easily have been a fiefdom in pre-Galifar Karrnath. With this approach you could use Strahd and his history exactly as written. Alternately, you could keep the basic story of Strahd, but change him to an infamous character from the history of Khorvaire. My first choice would be to make him Karrn the Conqueror, the king who first sought to unite the Five Nations by force… and failed. In this model, Karrn retreated to his ancestral stronghold of Ravenloft after his defeat, drawing his family and closest allies to him – and it is here that you could overlay the existing story of Strahd. This would be interesting because it would present Barovia as Karrn’s idealized vision of what Karrnath (and the Five Nations under his rule) should have been. It would also present the vision of a ruthless, vampire Karrn king… an interesting contrast and foil to Kaius III of present day Karrnath. And it opens the possibility that Karrn/Strahd could be seeking a way to return to Eberron, still hoping to unite the Five Nations under his rule. If I ran Ravenloft in Eberron, this is the path I would likely take.
  • Ohr Kaluun. This is one of the pre-Sundering kingdoms of Sarlona. Its people were known both for their strong mystical traditions and their dark practices, and it’s easy to imagine that a Dreadlord such as Hazlik could be drawn from this place. One of the distinctive aspects of Ohr Kaluun is the War Labyrinths used as citadels by the ruling families; a haunted fortress maze could certainly fit into Ravenloft.
  • The Dhakaani. Who says domains have to be dominated by humans? The Demiplane of Dread could contain a fiefdom plucked out of the Dhakaani empire at the height of its power. If you want to add a little more Lovecraftian flavor to your Gothic horror, the hobgoblin Dreadlord could secretly be running a Cult of the Dragon Below; rather than being undead, she could be bonded to life-sustaining symbionts.
  • The Qabalrin. Little is known about this ancient Elven civilization, aside from the fact that they possessed vast knowledge of the arts of necromancy and produced the first humanoid vampires and liches. They are thought to have been decadent and cruel; it’s said that they learned their secrets directly from the Shadow, and that Aureon himself destroyed their civilization. You could easily say that a piece of the Qabalrin survived the destruction that formed the Ring of Storms by being drawn into the Demiplane of Dread… or perhaps, that the entire civilization of the Qabalrin was drawn into the Demiplane, and that the meteor strike was an unrelated event that occurred in the aftermath. As the Qabalrin are thought to have been the greatest mortal masters of necromancy, it would be easy to say that Vecna is one of the first Qabalrin liches.

While you can work any or all of these options into an Eberron Ravenloft campaign, there’s another possibility that has even greater potential.

Could Cyre be tied to Ravenloft?

Four years ago the nation of Cyre was consumed by the Mourning, a catastrophe that left twisted remnants of the nation surrounded by dead-gray mists. As mists are the traditional hallmark of the Dark Powers, it would be an easy thing to say that the Mourning was nothing less than Cyre being consumed by the Demiplane of Dread. If you decide to follow this path, a critical question is just how much of Cyre you want to incorporate into the Demiplane. Is the entire country there? Or did only a small region survive the transition, such as the city of Metrol?

Per existing canon, the mists spread across Cyre on the Day of Mourning, killing or transforming anything caught within them. If you follow this path, you could say that those things twisted by the Mourning died in Eberron but lived on in the Demiplane of Dread.At first, transportation to this Dread Cyre might seem like a dream come true to Cyran PCs. Here they could find villages destroyed by the Mourning, friends or family thought long dead, or other treasures or secrets long lost in core Eberron. But over time the full extent of the realm’s corruption would be revealed. Mad Cannith artificers are performing horrific experiments, perhaps blending human and warforged to create something new and terrible. A legendary bard is perfecting a performance that drives all who hear it mad. And, of course, no one can escape the mists that surround the nation. Queen Dannel rules with an iron fist, justifying this cruelty as necessary to preserve the nation through this vital time. But what is the truth of Dannel’s tale? Is she the domain’s Dreadlord, and if so, what evil deed caused her and her nation to be drawn into Dread? Were her misdeeds tied to personal passion or ambition, or did she travel down a dark path in a quest to save her people? Does she believe that she HAS saved Cyre by pulling it out of the Last War? Or is she searching for a way to return the nation to Eberron… and if so, has she developed a horrific weapon that will ensure Cyran dominion upon its return?

A possible twist on this is to start a campaign with the player characters in Cyre on the Day of Mourning (you’d want to make clear to the players that they’ve never heard of the Mourning, and that the war is still going on). They see the dead-grey mists, but when the mists pass over them… nothing happens. Everything appears to be the same. Continue the adventure as normal, but the players will eventually learn of the impassible wall of mist surrounding the borders of the nation, and discover the slowly spreading darkness that is corrupting every aspect of their land. What will they do? Say they find a way to return… but discover that Dannel has been working on a horrific weapon of mass destruction, and that it was this work that drew the nation into Dread? Will they seek to return Cyre to Eberron if it could result in a far greater horror than the Mourning being unleashed on the rest of Khorvaire? Or will they remain in the Demiplane of Dread and find a way to live with the darkness?

What are the Dark Powers? 

Ravenloft is shaped by the Dark Powers, entities that both empower and torment the Dreadlords. The Dark Powers are largely enigmatic, but it may help you to determine their true nature in the contact of Eberron. Here’s a few possibilities.

  • The Dark Powers could be one or more of the Overlords of the First Age – the fiendish masters of the Lords of Dust banished over a hundred thousand years ago. The Demiplane of Dread could potentially be inside an Overlord (metaphysically speaking). The corrupt nature of the Dreadlord creates a link to the Overlord, who then consumes the Dreadlord and the surrounding domain and gains strength by slowly digesting it. Tul Oreshka (AKA The Voice In The Darkness) would be a good match from the Overlords that have been named so far, but you could easily create a new Overlord for this purpose.
  • The prime spirit of Dal Quor is il-Lashtavar, “The Darkness That Dreams.” The Demiplane of Dread could in fact be a part of Dal Quor. Each domain is literally the nightmare of its tormented Dreadlord. These domains serve as anchors that help il-Lashtavar avoid the turning of the age that will end its existence. A question to address with this is whether the Quori are aware of this and interact with it, or whether this is a private practice of the great darkness that its minions know nothing about.
  • Mabar is the consuming darkness. It is always seeking a foothold in Eberron, an opprtunity to consume its light and life. Mabar is the source of the negative energy that sustains the undead, and they are its unwitting touchstones into the world. The Dark Powers could be the prime spirits of Mabar, and the process of absorbing domains and corrupting Dreadlords could be part of a slow quest to consume all of Eberron. This would be a way to explain why Cyre is far larger than any other domain; the connection is growing stronger each time, and the next consumption could take an entire continent.

These are just a few ideas, and you don’t have to go to such extremes to use Ravenloft in your game. If you’ve done something different with Ravenloft in Eberron, post your ideas in the comments!

What are some easy points of reference for Cyran culture? We know that Karrnath is generally dour and proud of its military heritage and that the Brelish are cosmopolitan and welcoming, but descriptions of Cyre tend to be “was welcoming, now is a smouldering wasteland.” What values would a Cyran character have? What was its niche back when it still existed? 

The great institutions of Galifar were spread throughout the Five Nations, and while they belonged to the kingdom they had considerable impact on the nations in which they lay. Karrnath has Rekkenmark, and has always prided itself on martial skill and discipline. Aundair has the Arcane Congress, and values knowledge and all things arcane. Thrane has Flamekeep; while not a branch of Galifar, it is still an institution that has shaped the nation. Breland has the King’s Citadel. Back in the day this organization served all of Galifar, but it was based in Breland… and while Brelish may be cosmopolitan and welcoming, they are also extremely pragmatic. Essentially, if you had to assign classes to the nations, Karrnath is the fighter; Aundair the wizard; Thrane the cleric; and Breland is the rogue. So where does this leave Cyre?

Cyre was the heart of Galifar. Thronehold was the literal capital, but all the arms and various attendants of government spilled out from the island into Cyre. The nation was a center for trade, but beyond this it was the nexus of art and culture within Galifar. Breland had a strong industrial capacity, but Cyre produced the finest things in the kingdom. Poets, playwrights, artisans of all sorts: if you were at the top of your field, then Metrol is where you belonged. Add to this the fact that Cyre was the ancestral home of House Cannith and seat of most of its Forgeholds. Essentially, the other four nations had a strong single focus; Cyre is where the best of all of those things came together, or at least that’s what a Cyran would tell you. If I had to put a class to it, Cyre would be the bard. Of all the nations, it was the most charismatic, and its people valued diplomacy, commerce, and art over brute strength, devout faith, or pure knowledge.

With that said, no accounting of Cyran character would be complete without considering the impact of the Last War. The war lasted nearly a hundred years, and any human Player Character from Cyre will know no other life. Here’s a few things to consider:

  • They were in the right. Mishann ir’Wynarn was Jarot’s rightful heir. Mishann should have been Queen of Galifar; the Last War began because others challenged her rightful succession. The Cyrans know with absolute certainty that they are the only nation whose actions were beyond reproach, that it was the greed and betrayal of the other nations that destroyed Galifar. The loss of their nation simply reinforces this: it is the ultimate injustice, as they alone were truly in the right. As a side note, Mishann was assassinated by the Order of the Emerald Claw. While this was relatively early in the war, it’s still a potential foundation for prejudice against Karrns in general and the Blood of Vol specifically.
  • Surrounded by enemies. Karrnath, Thrane, Breland, and towards the end of the war Darguun and Valenar. Every other nation had one or more relatively secure borders, areas of the nation that were less affected by the ongoing conflict. There was no safe haven in Cyre, and they were always girding for the next attack.This fostered a strong community spirit – it’s us against the world – and led to…
  • Resourcefulness. Cyre didn’t have the military power of Karrnath or the mystical might of Aundair. It lacked Breland’s spy network or the divine force of Thrane. Cyre had to somehow hold off all of these foes. This led Cyre to employ more warforged and mercenary forces than any other nation (something that didn’t work out so well in Valenar and Darguun), but it also forced the Cyran people to become extremely adaptable and resourceful – stretching resources, adapting tactics to deal with their many and varied foes, and always being prepared for an attack from a new quarter. This trait has served Cyrans well as refugees, as they must continue to make the most of limited resources and constant adversity.
  • Artistry. The luxurious lifestyle of old Cyre was quickly lost as all resources were devoted to the war, but the people always treasured the fine things they still had: music, dance, literature. The most heartwrenching and uplifting works of art of this time still come from Cyre, and most Cyrans hone some sort of artistic talent, be it dabbling in an instrument, telling stories, or simply drawing in the dirt. This continues to be a source of pride for Cyrans in their exile; whatever they have lost, they know they have the talents to create new treasures. In this, there is some common ground with Aundairians, who place great value on wit and knowledge. However, the Aundiarians are more naturally scholars while Cyrans are artists. The finest histories of the war were produced in Aundair; the most heartwrenching songs came out of Cyre. Likewise, throughout the war, Aundair was able to maintain its ivory towers. Cyran artists lived and worked with mud, sweat, and tears.

Cyrans are proud. They may not have been the best warriors, wizards, or priests. But they were in the right from the very beginning of the war. They stood back to back against the enemies that surrounded them. Even when the war took everything from them, they have held on to the culture that defined them. Once Cyran tailors worked with the finest silks, and now they work with rags; but they still find ways to make things that are unique and beautiful.

Phew! Two questions down, thirty-eight to go. Share your thoughts or questions on Ravenloft, Cyre, Eberron, or anything else below!

Dragonmarks 12/26/14: Under The Sea

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope that the end of 2014 finds you all well. Jenn and I have been tremendously busy doing work for our new company, Twogether Studios. For the last year we’ve been developing a new RPG called Phoenix: Dawn Command. We’re going to be launching a Kickstarter for Phoenix early in 2015, and I’ll be posting much more about it over the next few months. If you want to make certain you’re in the loop, go to the Twogether Studios site and get on the Mailing List! I’m very excited about Phoenix, and I look forward to discussing it in more detail. You can get a little taste of it by checking out my recent interview on the Tome Show’s Gamer to Gamer podcast.

But before I dive into Phoenix, I wanted to round out the year with one more Eberron Q&A. Currently, I don’t have any news on Eberron support in 5E D&D, but I am confident that there will be news in 2015, and I will definitely post it here. But today I’m going to deal with a subject that people have been asking about for a long time… the undersea civilizations of Eberron. As always, bear in mind that everything I post here is entirely unofficial and may contradict canon information: this is what I do in my home game, nothing more. With that said…

Are there any aquatic races other than the sahuagin that see non-hostile contact with land-dwellers? I may be doing a pulp game that’s heavier on the Sea Stuff™ than expected, and I imagine the political scene is just as busy below the waves as it is above. Especially curious about kuo-toa and aquatic elves, but anything you have helps.

I don’t believe that any of the aquatic races besides the sahuagin have been mentioned in canon Eberron sources. But I did come up with other ideas when I was developing the world, and I suppose I can mention those briefly. In my original draft I asserted that the two primary undersea races were the sahuagin and the merfolk, with a smaller but critical role for aquatic elves.

In this model, the sahuagin are a largely monolithic culture: a widespread ancient empire older than even Aereni civilization. In this you could see the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft as a model; they worship a deity that others fear (the Devourer), and they have an ancient and sophisticated civilization that is almost entirely unknown to the people of the surface world. While I refer to this as an “empire”, my thought is that its borders have been stable for thousands of year; it’s not an especially aggressive power. With that said, if I was to bring in kuo-toa or locathah, one of the first places I’d be likely to put them is as subject states within the Sahuagin empire.

Now, how’s this work if you want savage or uncivilized sahuagin raiders? Well, while the sahuagin empire might be widespread, there’s always room for barbarians who’ve never embraced it. Furthermore, there’s a lot of room for Lords of Dust / Cult of the Dragon Below action among the sahuagin. Note that per City of Stormreach the sahuagin colonized Stormreach long before humans did, but pulled back after a terrible ancient force corrupted the settlement. You can easily introduce savage bands of sahuagin barbarians (literally) who revere the Overlords of the First Age and seek to restore their dominion.

Let’s move on to the Aquatic Elves. My thought here was that around ten thousand years ago, there was a movement among a number of Aereni lines to colonize the ocean around Aerenal. The original aquatic elves were created through mystical rituals, though they are a self-sustaining race. Thus, there is a significant undersea region around Aerenal that is under Aereni dominion. In my original model the populace was largely comprised of sahuagin, but you could add any other aquatic races you wanted; the main point is that these races adhere to Aereni culture, revering the Undying Court. My assertion was that there remained a long-standing bitter enmity between the Sahuagin Empire and the Aereni Territories. The power of the Undying Court makes it nearly impossible for the sahuagin to reclaim the region… but as that power is geographically limited, the elves can’t extend their dominion further. Thus you have the malenti, sahuagin mystically altered to appear to be aquatic elves; these are covert operatives used in acts of espionage and covert aggression within the Aereni Territories.

The rest of the ocean is dominated by the Merfolk. Where the sahuagin have a vast, monolithic and ancient culture, I’ve always considered the merfolk to be as diverse as humanity and less bound to a single ancient tradition. Thus my original model had multiple merfolk territories and a range of cultures.

In my model, the Sahuagin Empire was concentrated in the Thunder Sea, the region between Khorvaire and Xen’drik; thus you would deal with the sahuagin if you were going from Khorvaire to Xen’drik, and with the merfolk if you were going from Khorvaire to Sarlona. The merfolk are also the dominant race in Lhazaar waters. With that said, the merfolk of the western coast are quite different from those of the eastern coast.

Say you wanted to present sahuagin as a viable character option. Would you have any brief roleplaying tips, suggested classes, and what gods they might worship?
As mentioned about, when I look to a literary analogy for the Imperial sahuagin, I think of the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft. Their god is the Devourer, the embodiment of the destructive power of nature; you see the Devourer’s hand in the tempest and the storm. He is a grim patron who strengthens the faithful through harsh trials; but survive and you will be the shark amongst the prey.
So one part of the Deep One analogy is that their god is a harsh and fearful deity who most people fear. The second is the fact that they are both wise and intelligent; per the 3.5 SRD, a typical sahuagin has an Intelligence of 14 and a Wisdom of 13. In my opinion they have an ancient culture, and have their own traditions of arcane and divine magic. So when it comes to classes, any combination of fighter, cleric and wizard make sense. As they have an affinity both for sharks and for hunting, ranger is another logical choice. From a racial perspective, their only weakness is Charisma… so I don’t see a lot of sahuagin bards or sorcerers.
Looking to roleplaying tips, one start is to look at places the sahuagin are mentioned in canon. Their religion is discussed in City of Stormreach
The doctrine of this sect holds that it was the Devourer alone who defeated the fiends of the first age, and that the force of this battle raised the lands above the sea. The faithful are taught to embrace the fury of nature, preparing for the time when the Devourer will scour the earth and draw all back beneath the waves.
A critical point is the description of the relationship between the sahuagin priests and human followers of the sect…


These priests consider humans to be flawed cousins, stripped of scale and weak of lung, but they pity these humans and consider it an act of charity to help them find the right path.

The key points here is that these Imperial sahuagin who regularly interest with the humans of Stormreach approach them with an attitude of condescension and pity. Compare a typical human to a typical sahuagin. Per the SRD, a sahuagin is superior in every ability score save Charisma; they are smarter, faster and stronger than their human counterparts. The sahuagin has significant natural armor (+5 natural AC bonus) and natural weapons… and again, an average 14 Strength and 14 Intelligence. By comparison, humans are weak, slow-witted and woefully unfit for battle. Add to this the idea that the Sahuagin have a remarkable and ancient culture under the waves that humans know nothing about (because your poor little lungs are too weak to endure it… while by contrast, a typical sahuagin can at least survive for 6 hours on land without magical assistance).

So personally, if I was playing an Imperial sahuagin character I’d emphasize the intelligence and ancient culture of the sahuagin and be somewhat arrogant and condescending to my soft-skinned, slow-witted mud-cousins… but that’s me.

Now, two more things you might want to consider. City of Stormreach also notes that “The holy texts speak of devouring the strength of fallen foes…” While this is a metaphor, I have always intended that certain significant sahuagin rituals involve the literal consumption of a thing to gain its strength. My idea of both the malenti and the four-armed sahuagin warriors is that these are accomplished through mystical rituals of devouring… that you become a malenti by consuming an aquatic elf.

With that said, following the model I outlined above, there’s two other paths for sahuagin characters. You could be a sahuagin from the Aereni Territories, who has fully embraced Elven culture and is a loyal servant of the Undying Court. Or you could be a savage sahuagin from beyond the Empire; this would be somewhat analogous to playing an orc cultist of the Dragon Below from the Shadow Marches.

Would you be sympathetic to a little more HPL in allowing “half-sahuagin” (or even half-aquatic elves, come to think of it) to emerge from humans who may or may not know of their ancestry a la “Shadow Over Innsmouth”?

Certainly. I think the most logical path for this would be the malenti. By core rules, malenti are sahuagin that are physically indistinguishable from aquatic elves. It seems reasonable to me to suggest that the offspring of a human and a malenti could produce a creature that appears to be a normal half-elf, but who develops sahuagin traits over time… eventually becoming a full sahuagin. I think you could easily place a village like Innsmouth along the southern coast of Breland.

If you fashion Sahuagin culture as imperial, have you ever given thought or description to the Emperor or Empress? Are they ruled by a singular monarch or a dynasty of imperial mutant families?

Personally, I see it as a dynasty with nobles reigning over different provinces. Incorporating the mutants into this is a very logical step; the four-armed sahuagin could be a particular noble bloodline, with other families having similarly distinctive traits that have simply never been seen by surface-dwellers.

And how many of the themes of Eberron do you think are able to be translated into an under-sea environment? Would you put submarines similar to airships under the sea or have things similar to lightning rails on ocean floors? Could there be aquatic versions of the warforged?

Some of these things already exist. Submersible elemental vessels have appeared in a number of sources, from Grasp of the Emerald Claw to my novel The Fading Dream. Warforged are capable of operating underwater, and The Fading Dream has a Cyran aquatic construct still patrolling the waters around the Mournland.

Looking to the lightning rail, I’m not sure whether you’re asking if humans have created such a thing, or if it might already be in use by aquatic nations. Addressing the first point, I don’t see such a thing happening any time soon… in part because the ocean floor is inhabited, and I don’t see the Sahuagin being keen on Orien running a rail through their homeland. As the Sahuagin are an ancient and sophisticated culture, they should have their own answers to long-distance transportation and communication, but these could take many forms. They could have harnessed or bred special creatures to assist in transportation… or they may have come up with their own techniques for binding water elementals. As it’s not something that was picked up in canon Eberron, it’s not something I ever explored in great detail.

Are there any long lost civilizations, perhaps currently unheard of in Khorvaire, whose remains are underwater? Apart from giants from Xen’drik, that is.

There certainly could be. In the conversion notes for Lords of Madness I suggest that the aboleths were a civilization that existed during the Age of Demons, so you could easily have ancient aboleth ruins holding remnants of powerful magic… essentially, the undersea equivalent of Ashtakala and the Demon Wastes. Aside from that, this could be an interesting path to take with one of the other aquatic races, such as the Kuo-Toa. Perhaps the Kuo-Toa were once even more widespread and powerful than the Sahuagin, until SOMETHING devastated their civilization; now they are savages and subjects of the other races, and their ancient cities are haunted ruins. If you want to get really crazy, you could have undersea explorers discover a region below the sea that is clearly analogous to the Mournland, suggesting that the ancient Kuo-Toa civilization triggered (and was destroyed by) their own Mourning millennia ago.

Eberron has a lot of interesting features on the maps of its *surface* continents. What sort of variation in environment do you think there would be across the seas and oceans of Eberron?

For a start I’d look to all of the interesting ocean environments that exist in our world, such as the Mariana Trench, the Sargasso Sea and the Great Barrier Reef. From there, I’d consider the fact that there are manifest zones below water as well as on the surface, and manifest zones can create both exotic regions and areas that would lend themselves to colonization or adventure. A manifest zone to Fernia could give you fire underwater, while a manifest zone to Lamannia could be a source of unusually massive sea creatures or dramatic growth of vegetation; I could see a Lamannia zone at the heart of an especially dramatic Sargasso region. Zones to Thelanis would produce regions like the Twilight Desmesne in the Eldeen Reaches, with aquatic fey and water spirits. And so on. Beyond this you could have any number of regions affected by the actions of the ocean inhabitants… such as the idea of a Kuo-Toa Mournland.

How do the Inspired feel about the merfolk or do they even realize they’re there?

I think the existence of a quori client state among the merfolk is a great idea. With that said, I wouldn’t actually connect them directly to the Inspired. The point of quori subversion is to work from within and create a structure within the target culture that supports their rule. So if they conquered Khorvaire, they wouldn’t actually try to impose Riedran culture on it; instead, they’d do something like instigate a brutal civil war that devastates the existing order and then have their own (secretly Inspired) saviors rise up to fix it. That’s how they came to rule Riedra to begin with – the Inspired brought the Sundering to an end. If this sounds like the Last War is a quori plot, it would make a lot of sense; the question is who they would use as puppets in Khorvaire.

So in other words, I think a merfolk-quori state makes perfect sense, but I’d have them be merfolk “guided by the Voice of the Ocean” or something like that… and it would take someone familiar with the Quori to say “Hey, they’re using psionics… I think they’re Inspired!”

That’s all for now. Happy New Year to you all, and I’ll be back in 2015 to talk about Phoenix: Dawn Command!

Dragonmarks 6/25/14: House Heraldry

I’ve been traveling for the last few weeks and haven’t had a lot of time. There’s a lot of good questions in the Q&A slush pile, and I still have other features I want to work on. But last time I said I’d finally address the question of Dragonmarked Heraldry, so that’s what I’m doing today. As always, this is just my personal opinion, and it may contradict existing or future canon material.

A question regarding the emblems of each Dragonmarked House…. why did each house choose each particular magical beast?

Flip open the ECS or ECG and turn to the section on Dragonmarked Houses, and you will see the seals of the houses. Each house has a particular beast, such as House Orien and its Unicorn. But why exactly does Kundarak use a manticore? What’s the basis behind these?

The current structure of the Dragonmarked Houses is an artificial construct established at the founding of the Twelve. Some of the houses were already operating as monolithic guilds, but others were more scattered; there were tinker families with the Mark of Making that weren’t tied to the influential Vown artificers. While every house has unique traditions, the Twelve worked to establish a unifying foundation, codifying the system of licenses and bound businesses; adoption of foundlings and excoriation; patriarchs and seneschals; and so on. Part of the purpose of this was to establish the houses as a united front in the face of kings and lesser guilds. The Guild seals were thus established in deliberate emulation of noble heraldry, with a unifying theme: the use of magical beasts, creatures who—like the Dragonmarked themselves—possessed innate mystical powers that set them apart from mundane wolves and bears.

The upshot of all this is that some of the houses had a preexisting attachment to their chosen symbol… while others literally chose a beast on the spot because it was the structure that had been agreed upon. So Kundarak actually does have a strong ongoing relationship with manticores, while Thuranni has no attachment to real displacer beasts. Needless to say, in the centuries that followed the selection of these symbols some houses have developed an attachment to their patron creature or superstitions connected to it, like the claim that Orien heirs need to remain virgins until the Test of Siberys to “attract the Unicorn.” But many of the houses had no pre-existing connection to the beast they chose. Anyhow, here’s my thoughts on the origins of these symbols…

CANNITH: THE GORGON

Cannith are artificers, who weave magic into steel. The bull has long been a symbol of power and triumph. What better symbol for this industrial house than a steel bull? The core Cannith guild was already using this symbol, and it was Cannith that proposed the magical-beast tradition; Sivis latched onto the idea and helped them push it through.

DENEITH: THE CHIMERA

The families that founded House Deneith had each prospered as independent mercenary companies. Each company had its own heraldic beast. While they couldn’t preserve each of these traditional symbols, they embraced the idea that like the chimera, their new house bound multiple beasts together into an even more fierce form.

GHALLANDA: THE BLINK DOG

As described in Dragonmarked, “Ghallanda” is the Talenta name for the blink dog. Talenta tales identify the blink dog as a helpful creature who appears to help stranded travelers: “The helpful hound who appears where needed the most.” It’s Eberron’s answer to the Saint Bernard with the barrel of booze on its neck.

JORASCO: THE GRIFFON

The Jorasco leaders wanted to use the Glidewing as their symbol, but the majority insisted on a unified theme of magical beasts. The Jorasco matriarch had seen a painting of griffons descending on a battlefield to help the wounded, and it stuck with her; this was accepted by her kin and the Twelve. As it turns out, the image was actually of griffons descending on a battlefield to feed on carrion, so it’s often been seen as an odd choice, but the house has stuck by it.

KUNDARAK: THE MANTICORE

As noted in Dragonmarked, this is tied to a legend of an early alliance between the clan and the manticores of the Ironroot Mountains. The house maintains this alliance to this day, and employs manticore cavalry in the mountains.

LYRANDAR: THE KRAKEN

Also called out in Dragonmarked; a common legend of the house founder holds that a kraken emerged from the depths to save him when he was attacked by pirates. Beyond this, a hidden sect within the house maintains that the founders of the house continue to exist as immortal krakens, though this tale is largely unknown outside the house.

MEDANI: THE BASILISK

Medani’s power is observation. They will see your enemies before they can harm you. They will spot threats… and eliminate them. Thus, a creature with a deadly gaze was a logical choice.

ORIEN: THE UNICORN

Pretty straightforward: the Unicorn is a swift land creature, a strong image, and it has the ability to teleport (check the SRD!). ‘Nuff said.

PHIARLAN: THE HYDRA

Also covered in Dragonmarked. The five heads of the Hydra represent the five artistic demesnes of the house, and they also appreciate its general reputation for resilience.

SIVIS: THE COCKATRICE

The power of Sivis lies in words; thus, the a creature with a “deadly quill” seemed to be an appropriate choice.

THARASHK: THE DRAGONNE

Again, from Dragonmarked: The Dragonne is a deadly hunter touched by dragons, long respected by Marcher hunters.

THURANNI: THE DISPLACER BEAST

Like Orien, it’s pretty straightforward; a feared predator who’s never where you think it is. What better symbol for a house of shadowy assassins?

VADALIS: THE HIPPOGRIFF

House Vadalis claims to have bred the first hippogriff. Whether or not this is true, they were certainly the first to domesticate the creatures and sell them as mounts; this was a strong part of their early success and an obvious choice for house symbol. However, as the house breeds many flying mounts, it’s not considered gauche for a Vadalis to back a different creature in the Race of Eight Winds.

TARKANAN: THE BEHOLDER

When Thora Tavin and her allies established House Tarkanan, they deliberately adopted some of the trappings of the Dragonmarked Houses. However, rather than choosing a magical beast, they chose one of the mightiest aberrations. This works on multiple levels. Obviously it’s a powerful creature feared by others; it also ties to the fact that aberrants are often treated as monsters or abominations by the “pure” dragonmarked.

I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind recapping some of your ideas for the beast that the Mark of Death would use if it hadn’t been scrubbed away into obscurity and (nigh) extinction.

As noted before, the Line of Vol was never a “Dragonmarked House”; it was erradicated centuries before the Twelve came into existence. As such, it never had any reason to follow the magical beast tradition, and would have been more likely to use the traditional elven seal of the line, or a creature more traditionally associated with psychopomps or the dead (such as a raven). If for some reason it had to follow suit, one possibility would be the Catoblepas, which is a “magical beast” and death-themed. However, the Catoblepas is deadly as opposed to being associated with death, and the Mark of Death is more about understanding and interacting with the dead than killing things, so it’s not a very good match. If I had to pick a magical beast for them, I’d personally choose the Sphinx; hidden knowledge is more appropriate for line than a deadly gaze.

You mention how some of the Houses have adopted their beast, but as many of the beasts are intelligent as well, how do they feel about representing a humanoid structure of power? Do Displacer Beast Packlords revel in their feline authority to see themselves plastered on flags, if they know how to interpret such things? Do unicorns accept their majesty being condensed into a symbol of travel and transport?

I don’t see it as a serious concern. Despite their varying intellects, none of these creatures have been presented as having anything on par with a nation. The Kundarak dwarves made a pact with a particular manticore tribe, but we’ve never presented manticores as having any remote political or cultural impact; it’s sort of like saying “Does Karrnath worry that wolves don’t like their being used on the flag?” Taking unicorns, I think it’s going to vary by unicorn; some may be amused, some may be insulted, most probably won’t care in the slightest. But there’s no unicorn nation that is going to band together and raise some sort of concerted outcry about it. And at the end of the day, the images being used aren’t especially offensive or specific to any particular cultural group among those species; it’s essentially the equivalent of having a sports team called “The Human Beings.”

Back on the previous point, some of the houses actually do interact with their heraldic beasts. Vadalis breeds manticores. Some Talenta-based Ghallanda have friendships with local blink dog packs. Kundarak still deals with Ironroot manticores. But even there, MOST Ghallanda have never seen a blink dog, and a Kundarak dwarf doesn’t have some sort of special in with a manticore from Droaam, any more than having human friends from Karrnath will help you when some thugs from Thrane want to beat you up.

Dragonmarks 5/30/14: Vol, the Dark Six, and the Trouble With Aundair

Spring has been a busy time, and I haven’t had much time for the site. I’m working on a lot of exciting things, and I look forward to being able to discuss them in more detail in the future. I also have a backlog of Stories & Dice to get to. But for now, here’s a few Eberron questions. As always, bear in mind that these are only my personal opinions and that my answers may contradict canon material.

Chris Perkins said that Eberron will have 5e/DNDnext support and your input. Is this true?

Yes. It’s far too early to talk about details as to what form support will take, how extensive it will be, or anything like that, but I have been talking with Mike Mearls and Chris Perkins about Eberron in D&D Next, and I will be working with WotC on future Eberron support. More details to follow in days to come.

What makes Aundair interesting? It seems like idyllic farm land except for Aurala’s ambitions.

This question came in at the last minute, and it can easily be the subject of an entire post. So I’m just going to give you a very high level overview, and explore all these points in more detail in the future.

What makes Aundair interesting?

  • A land divided. Aundair USED to be idyllic farm land… until a big chunk of its idyllic farmers seceded to form the Eldeen Reaches. That’s huge ongoing rift with serious impact on daily life in both Eldeen and Aundair. Then to the west, you have Thaliost – a major Aundairian city now in the hands of Thrane. Of all the surviving Five Nations (we’ll leave Cyre out of this) Aundair carries the worst wounds from the war… which is one of the reasons Aundair HAS ambitions.
  • Mystical sophistication. Aundair is the seat of the Arcane Congress. It’s the smallest of the Five Nations, and during the war, Aundair relied on its arcane superiority to survive. Out of all the Five Nations, Aundair is the one where arcane magic is the most integrated into daily life. If you want to explore that aspect of Eberron, Aundair is the place to do it.
  • Ambition. Aundair dares! The bitter wounds of the war give Aundair a motive to fight – the belief (perhaps foolish) that only renewed war could settle these injustices and turn the fortunes of the nation. Combine this with the belief that Aundair’s mystical edge could let it win that war – that it’s just one super-weapon away from ultimate power. The King’s Citadel is basically working to preserve the status quo… while the Royal Eyes want to destroy it. If you want to be a spy who’s out to CAUSE trouble instead of stopping trouble, it’s the place for you.
  • A nation of dreamers. Karrnath is stoic and grim. Thrane is tied to the church. Breland is industrial and grimy. Aundair is all about magical thinking, figuratively and literally. Its people have the most romantic – and unrealistic – outlook on things, in part because as the nation of magic, they know life can BE unrealistic. Aundairians love duels. They love grand gestures. Life in Aundair is full of flair and color. This ties to the fact that most of the zealots of the Silver Flame are actually from Aundair – because they are more passionate and, if you will, magical in their beliefs, while Thranes tend to be moderate and compassionate.

I’d love to go into more detail on all of these points, but I don’t have time. But to me, the high degree of magical integration combined with the tensions of Thaliost and Eldeen can give birth to a host of interesting stories.

I notice that, in relation to Aundair, you did not mention that, according to the maps published in Forge of War, the entire of southern Aundair (including Arcanix) was actually part of Thrane before the Last War, and a good chunk of northern Thrane (not just Thaliost) used to be part of Aundair. Do you use those border changes in your home game? If so, how does that impact the nation?

This is why I always say “My answers may contradict canon material.” I have no problem with borders having shifter, but I don’t accept the idea that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane. As I said above, the whole idea of Aundair is that it’s the nation most driven by arcane magic… that Aundair herself was one of the earliest wizards and made her nation the seat of the Arcane Congress, and that this is an integral part of Aundair’s character and culture. Conversely, Thrane has nothing arcane in its culture at all (yes, Silver Pyromancers, but that’s the key – even wizardry is tied to the church). Having Thaliost or other significant cities have changed hands is interesting, but having Arcanix have been part of Thrane weakens both nations, because it doesn’t play into the character of either.

Why the Dark Six? By this I mean: What is the function of the Dark Six and their worshippers from a plot perspective? If I’m looking to run an evil cult, why the Dark Six? Or is there some completely different function that they’re serving that I am missing?

First off, it’s a mistake to separate the Dark Six from the Sovereign Host. The Shadow is cast by Aureon. The Mockery puts Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah in perspective… as shown by the Three Faces of War, which is devoted to all three of them. We’ve mentioned a number of cults that blend the worship of Host and Six – for example, the Restful Watch, who revere both Aureon and the Keeper. The Host and the Six are all part of the same big picture, and you should always consider how your cult walks the line between the two.

Looking to one simple example: Onatar is the divine patron of House Cannith. However, the house has always been a haven for Traveler Cults. Canniths who follow the Traveler typically do so because the Traveler drives innovation. Onatar guides the hands of the smith when he makes a sword, but is the Traveler who gives him the idea for a gun or a bomb – something that could utterly change the face of warfare (for better or for worse). The Traveler encourages dangerous risks and paradigm shifts. These things are dangerous, and that’s what puts the Traveler in the Dark Six. But Cannith Traveler cultists have made some of the largest breakthroughs in the history of the house. Sometimes dangerous risks pay off.

The Three Faces of War maintain that all the Dols have a place on the battlefield. Dol Arrah is the patron of honor and strategy, and there’s a time for that. Dol Dorn is the rough-and-tumble patron of the career soldier. But war can get ugly… and that’s where Dol Azur comes in. The Mockery pursues victory at any cost. He shows you the path to defeat the undefeatable foe. He’s not honorable. He’s not strong. But he will win, and so will you… if you’re willing to follow his path.

In Droaam, the Six are revered as positive forces. Humans see the Shadow as the corrupting force that creates monsters. Well, monsters see the Shadow as the Prometheus who gave them their gifts, powers Aureon won’t share with humanity. For wizards, the Shadow/Aureon divide is much like Traveler/Onatar or Mockery/Dol Arrah. Do you follow the rules, or do you follow the path others are afraid of?

In short, don’t just think about one of the Six in isolation. Think of them alongside their counterparts in the Host, and think about what it says about a person that they embrace the aspect represented by the Six.

Could some way the cultists of the Dark Six and the Lord of Dust cooperate? Maybe could a rakshasa impersonate a god?

Certainly! In my opinion, both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber have posed as deities to manipulate mortal cults. Of course, I wouldn’t really call this “cooperation”; the cultists don’t realize they’re working with a fake god, after all. But yes, the Lords of Dust may manipulate cults of the Dragon Below, the Dark Six, or for that matter the Sovereign Host (though that’s usually the dragons’ department).

Why is the Order of the Emerald Claw not shown to have grey morality too? It can have tragic figures.

I have a different answer to each of these sentences. Taking the last one first: It’s very easy for the Emerald Claw to have tragic figures associated with it. Its members can be driven by tragic past, misguided patriotism or religious zeal, or an understandable desire for vengeance for crimes inflicted during the war. Erandis Vol herself is a very tragic figure, with many valid reasons for doing what she is trying to do.

But that’s where we come to grey morality. Erandis is a tragic figure with understandable motives for doing what she is trying to do. But when what she is trying to do is suck out the life force of everyone in Sharn so she can power her necrotic resonator and become Queen of the Dead, there’s no question that your PCs are doing the right thing when they try to stop her. And that’s the purpose of the Emerald Claw. It’s like Cobra in GI Joe or the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark; these are PULP villains, enemies that the PCs KNOW they should oppose whenever they are encountered.

If you want more shades of grey, just pick a different order. Personally, I use the Order of the Ebon Skull as my go-to Blood of Vol chivalric order with a complex moral agenda. But from a storytelling perspective, there is a value to having a particular force that the players KNOW they don’t need to think about; if the Emerald Claw is up to something, stopping it is the right thing to do.

So the key point: You can do anything you want with the Emerald Claw. YOU can make them more complex. But their role within the setting as designed is specifically to BE a black-and-white pulp enemy as opposed to a shades of gray noir faction.

How are Outsiders, native and otherwise, seen in Blood of Vol theology?  They have blood, and they have immortality. Do Outsiders have the divine spark?  If so, why aren’t they getting divinity and deific status with the massive amounts of time at *their* disposal?

First: The Blood of Vol maintains that Eberron and its inhabitants are special, a belief shared by others. The planes are isolated aspects of reality: War, peace, light, darkness, order, chaos. Eberron (well, the material plane in general) is where all these things come together. Mortals know war AND peace, order AND chaos. They dream, they have inspiration, and at times this can drive them to madness. The pit fiend of Fernia and the angel of Syrnia each possess tremendous power, but both are limited by their fundamental nature. An embodiment of war can’t become a force for peace. In a sense, it’s about free will. Ultimately, very few immortal outsiders actually have it. They are incarnate ideas, but that means that they are bound by their nature. Changing their fundamental nature literally means a physical transformation; a fallen angel becomes a devil or a radiant idol or what have you. And it’s very rare that this can happen in the first place.

So: an angel has vast power to begin with, but it’s limited by its nature. You don’t get to be a hashalaq quori by starting out as a tsucora and working your way up; you either are a hashalaq or you’re not.

The mortals of Eberron have nothing BUT potential. A baby has no power at all, but he can grow up and become an amazing sorcerer or a mighty cleric. If he can do all that in a single century while also suffering the daily trials of mortal life, what could he achieve with eternity at his disposal?

Looking at it another way: the basic premise of the BoV is that mortals have a divine spark and the potential to achieve divinity… and that because of this the gods afflicted them with mortality. The fact that outsiders are immortal is, essentially, a sign that they have no spark… because the gods don’t see them as threats or rivals. Which makes them tools, weapons, slaves, servants… call it what you will. The key point is that for all its power, a pit fiend (or a lich, for that matter) lacks the raw potential of a mortal human.

As a side note, I personally don’t think that immortals DO have blood in the same sense as mortals. If you want to get purely mechanically, if a creature doesn’t specifically say it can’t be killed by stirges then it theoretically has some form of circulatory fluid that can be drained with a negative effect. But even if that’s true, I don’t think that an angel’s blood or demon ichor is going to resemble the blood of a human or an elf. I might say that an angel’s blood is light, while the blood of a demon might be a foul black substance that slowly eats away at mortal matter… and I’d probably change this based on the nature of the angel or demon. Really, that’s a DM’s call – but I don’t think immortal blood resembles mortal blood, and that’s enough for a BoV priest to call it a mockery or imitation.

Are there any particularly handy resources already floating around where you’ve commented on the Blood of Vol history or philosophy, particularly the role of its undead champions (when they’re not just being used as a corny “eeevil” death cult), the nature of House Vol before its fall, or the history of the Blood of Vol dating back to before Galifar such as Aerenal or the Qabalrin?

I don’t know about “handy.” One of these days I’ll have to consolidate some of these into a single coherent entry. But here’s a few scattered pieces and discussions across the web. The RPG.Net links are discussion threads, but ones where I’ve posted at some length.

Eberron Expanded: Libris Mortis

Dragonmark: The Mark of Death

Dragonmark: Erandis Vol – Hot or Not?

RPG.Net: What’s Erandis Been Doing For 3,000 Years?

RPG.Net: The Blood of Vol

On this one, I particularly recommend pages 2 and 3, which discuss what makes it an attractive religion to followers and what a paladin of the BoV can do to “fight death”.

Is there a dark side of house Ghallanda? Hosting illegal parties with dangerous substances and activities I would guess…

Anything can have a dark side, if you want it to.  House Ghallanda doesn’t just run inns and restaurants; they are the masters of the urban social arena. They know what to do to make their clients comfortable. A Ghallanda fixer is the person who can get you anything. He may employ members of other houses to accomplish that – turning to Sivis, Medani, or Tharashk, among others – but the point is, the concierge at the Gold Dragon Inn can get you anything. You can just as easily have crisis managers and cleaners – the branch of Ghallanda who takes care of things when there’s a dead body in the prince’s room or when the Countess overdoses on the dreamlily the concierge obtained for her. Ghallanda also has its promoters who build up celebrities to help as draw to Ghallanda events and locations.

Beyond that… are you familiar with the Black Dogs, from Eberron? These are Ghallanda assassins, who among other things are experts at mystically poisoning food and drink.

Do you have any thoughts on what place Vestiges and Pact Magic might have in Eberron? 

Personally, I say that Vestiges are immortal entities that linger in Dal Quor. Not exactly gods, they are beings who have become legends, and their spirits draw power and sustenance from that. I’ve called out titans of Xen’drik and ancient dragons as possible Vestiges. It’s entirely possible the Daughters of Sora Kell are trying to become Vestiges, or that Sora Kell is one.

If you could add a new continent to Eberron, what would you put on it?

Drawing on past answers, the simplest is that I wouldn’t add a new continent; I’d add more depth (get it?) to the undersea civilizations. At the moment, I don’t feel a need to add something completely new to the surface world, in part because it’s so easy to add an entirely new race/civilization/whatever to Xen’drik.

You once mentioned how the future of Eberron may be (warriors with many magical weapons, etc) Have you played in a future era?

I’ve played in some very near-future scenarios, but not in a future where the level of magic has changed significantly.

If warforged have no souls, which is an option, could Canniths somehow force/program them to do something against their will?

People in the world argue about whether or not warforged have souls. Speaking personally, the question to me isn’t whether warforged have souls; the fact that they can be raised from the dead is basically proof of that. Instead the question is how can they have souls, and where those souls come from. Whatever your stance on this, whether or not warforged have souls doesn’t affect Cannith’s ability to manipulate them. You can’t “program” a warforged; if you could, Cannith would have done it to all of them. There are quite a few aspects of sentience Cannith would love to have selectively removed from the warforged, but sentience came fully formed. Cannith can provide basic direction to the warforged – producing a model with an inherent aptitude for combat or recon, for example – and it is this that suggests that they might actually be using recycled souls. The reason Warforged X pops out with an innate aptitude for combat is because he has the soul of a soldier.

In any case, the key point is that by canon there is no way for an artificer to “program” a warforged. You could always introduce something – say that Merrix has a secret network of Warforged Manchurian candidates – but it’s not the default.

I must admit, though, that I prefer the possession of souls by warforged to not be settled under canon but to be left to each DM…

Even if it is established under canon, it’s ALWAYS up to each DM to change canon as they see fit. The main issue is that warforged BEHAVE as if they have souls for purposes of magic that directly affects a soul – resurrection, trap the soul, magic jar, etc. The DM could certainly come up with an explanation for why this is possible when they don’t actually have souls – but MECHANICALLY they are treated like creatures that do have souls.

I wonder if perhaps Cannith artificers do not at the very least have the capacity to “charm” warforged in a very powerful way, being their creators, or of removing their souls from their bodies -temporarily or not- if they do have souls.

Again, it’s always up to you as a DM. But from a world design standpoint, the concept has always been that Cannith itself doesn’t fully understand or control the warforged. If every aspect of the warforged was under their control, there are many aspects of humanity they would probably eliminate. The idea is that they didn’t CHOOSE to give the warforged the capability to feel love, or sorrow, or fear; these things simply came with the package when they found a way to imbue them with sentience. Again, the key is that warforged aren’t robots; they are living beings who were created through artificial means.

Thus, a typical Cannith has no means to control the thoughts of a warforged, even one he created. However, what he does have are many, many ways to DESTROY a warforged… disable construct, inflict damage, etc. We see this in the Dreaming Dark novels with Lei; she can’t take control of a warforged, but she can certainly shut one down.They can’t manipulate their thoughts any more than they can manipulate the thoughts of any other living being. But they can take apart their bodies, because that’s the part of the warforged the Cannith understand perfectly.

With that said, you can do anything with the right Eldritch Machine; this is presumably the foundation of the soul-stripping plotline in DDO.

I’m sure it’s been asked before, but… name one new technology you’d like to see replicated Eberron-style. Smartphones?

In the original proposal I had “crystal theaters.” Essentially, the theater has a GIANT CRYSTAL BALL, with a number of preset “channels” – Phiarlan and Thuranni stages where major events are performed. At showtime, the screen is tuned to the proper location. It’s an example of magic accomplishing the same function as technology, but using the existing mechanics of magic. Rather that the event being broadcast to the screen, the screen is scrying on the stage. I use these in my campaign, but I don’t think they made it into any official source.

Bear in mind that Eberron’s key principle is finding ways to use D&D magic to accomplish the things we do with technology. So in thinking about something like a smartphone, the question is how you create a smartphone using existing D&D principles. Is it a sentient magic item with decent knowledge skills combined with a form of sending that can only connect with someone carrying another smartphone? That sort of thing would work, but of course, a sentient magic item is SENTIENT… so you might have to worry about whether your smartphone is smarter than you.

That’s all for today. A late question is “Why do the Dragonmarked Houses use the animal symbols they do” and I’ll see about addressing that as a bonus tomorrow.

Dragonmarks: Lost Lands and Obscure Places

Do you want to know what’s going to happen with Eberron in D&D Next? So do I. There’s still no official answer, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see support for the setting in some form. With that in mind, I’m finally getting into a Next Eberron campaign. The gamemaster is my friend Galen Ciscell, designer of Atlantis Rising… which means I actually have a chance to PLAY in Eberron, which doesn’t happen often.

Playing DDN in Eberron means that we’re making up house rules for things as we need them. I’m playing a changeling rogue, and over the last few weeks I’ve developed changeling racial stats and a background and rogue path for Inquisitives. I want to wait until I’ve had a chance to do some playtesting before I post any of these, but if there isn’t OFFICIAL support for Eberron you may at least get my house rules. It’s also been an opportunity for me to expand on my personal take on changelings. I’ve always loved changelings and doppelgangers; one of my first D20 products was The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers by Goodman Games. I didn’t work on the Changeling chapter of Races of Eberron, and I’ve got different ideas about changeling culture… so I may post those one of these days. The first session is tomorrow – we’ll see how it goes!

My next post will be about Phoenix. But today I’m going to tackle some lingering Eberron questions.

Are there legends of mysterious lost lands underwater like Atlantis in Eberron?

There’s many “lost lands” in Eberron. The Mournland and Noldrunhold are lost lands right in Khorvaire, while Xen’drik is an entire lost continent (Hmm, that sounds like a promising title for an MMORPG…). However, in canon material, there’s no SUNKEN lands like Atlantis. In part, this is because the original design had considerably more detail on the aquatic civilizations. So the oceans were essentially other countries – nations you didn’t visit often, certainly, but places you can find on a map; you could go to Sharn and talk to ambassadors from the Sahuagin nations of the Thunder Sea.

Of course, there’s no reason at all that you can’t add a lost sunken continent. But it’s not something I’ve ever encountered in canon material.

Concerning Xen’drik, did the giants ever deal a serious blow to the dragons?

No. The giants never FOUGHT the dragons. The dragons launched a massive preemptive strike while the giants already had their back against the wall fighting the elves. And consider the nature of that strike; we’re not simply talking about a physical assault, we’re talking about epic magic on a scale that hasn’t been seen since. The Du’rashka Tul collapsed most major population centers into bloodthirsty savagery. The Curse of the Traveler crippled communication and travel. By the time the giants knew what hit them – if they EVER did – it was too late.

As a side note, this is a subject modern scholars often debate with regard to Aerenal. Given the astonishing force the dragons unleashed against Xen’drik, how is it that the Aereni have held their own in conflict with Argonnessen? There’s two standard theories on this. The first is that this speaks to the massive power of the Undying Court. Taken as a gestalt entity, the UC is essentially an incarnate deity and Aerenal is its divine domain; it can’t extend that power to make an aggressive strike against Argonnessen, but it can defend Aerenal against any threat. That’s the elf-friendly theory. The other (mentioned in Dragons of Eberron) is that the dragons have never actually tried to defeat Aerenal. The “war” has simply been the actions of a small faction of dragons who are actually trying to hone the skills of the elves for some future purpose. It’s not a war of destruction; it’s like sharpening a blade.

But did the giants ever successfully retaliate against some dragons? Or… Will they?… Could they?

Bear in mind that Xen’drik fell over THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND YEARS AGO. The rulers of Xen’drik weren’t even the giants we know today; Emperor Cul’sir was a titan. All the dragons involved in the conflict are long, long dead. The situation is somewhat like us deciding to attack Mars in retaliation for something done to the Neanderthals: beyond our capabilities and seeking vengeance for something that has absolutely no bearing on our modern life.

WITH THAT SAID… If I wanted to do such a plot, here’s what I’d do. I’d say that the Emperor Cul’sir avoided death by becoming a vestige. I’d then have HIM return. His entire purpose at this point is vengeance. I’d have him reactivate all kinds of ancient magic, enhanced by the power he’s built up as a vestige (including warlock followers of many races) and uplift many of today’s pathetic degraded giants into titans, and make a huge XEN’DRIK RISING campaign out of it.

Is the Galethspyre that gives the town its name, the “narrow sliver of blue stone jutting up over 600 feet from the bank of the Dagger River”….any idea what this is meant to be? Some kind of plinth or monolith from the Dhakaani Empire or something older? I know you didn’t work primarily on The Five Nations, but I’m wondering if you have/had any ideas about this feature. The text has nothing more than that and I know my PCs will totally want to investigate the town’s namesake, especially if it’s ancient and magical.

Honestly, I’d never heard of Galethspyre until this question came up. If you haven’t heard of it either, you’ll find it on page 63 of Five Nations, where it’s described as a significant port city on the Dagger river with, you guessed it, a 600 foot blue spire. But just because I didn’t make it doesn’t mean I can’t come up with ideas. A few things came to mind.

1. Why’s the city a thriving city? It’s a port, which is a concrete practical reason. But this being Eberron, one of the major reasons to establish a city is to take advantage of some sort of natural magical resource, typically a manifest zone. Thus it could be that the spire is the result of a manifest zone, a marker placed so people can find the manifest zone, or an artifact with a useful effect on par with a manifest zone.

2. Why build a 600 foot blue spire? Nothing about it says “Dhakaani Monument” to me. That leaves a few interesting possibilities.

* It’s a natural occurrence, or a natural result of a manifest zone.

* It’s a creation of a pre-Galifar human civilization, though given that there’s no other blue spires mentioned, presumably something isolated – a Cult of the Dragon Below or a brilliant lone wizard.

* It’s an artifact of the Age of Demons, either generated by an Overlord or placed by the dragons to mark the location of an Overlord.

* It’s a creation of the Shulassakar, perhaps tapping into a natural point of power of the Silver Flame.

* Some combination of the above.

PERSONALLY, I’d go with the following:

The Galethspyre is an artifact of the Age of Demons. It serves as a lightning rod for the ambient energy of the Silver Flame – not so significant as the fountain in Flamekeep, but still noticeable. The area was originally settled by a group of Khaleshite* explorers, who were guided to it by signs; unbeknownst to the settlers, their priest was a Shulassakar halfblood, and there has been a hidden Shulassakar presence in the city ever since. The energy of the Galethspyre manifests in many subtle ways; the waters are usually well stocked with fish, weather is remarkably mild, and Flamic visions are clearer and more common than usual.

The Khaleshite faith was always at odds with the Pyrinean faith that came to dominate the region (which is to say, the Sovereign Host) and the people of the Spire maintained a low profile during pre-Galifar days. Today, Galethspyre continues to practice its own personal version of the Silver Flame, one of the few places where fragments of the Khaleshite faith has been preserved. While they acknowledge the Keeper and maintain the basic standards of the church, the rituals are older and the priests use Old Common in their rituals.

So there’s something to play with. Beacon for generally positive divine energy; secret family of Shulassakar priests; splinter sect of the Flame; possible Lord of Dust desire to destroy it.

Umm, that’s great. but what’s a “Khaleshite?”

Khalesh is one of the old human nations of Sarlona that predate human settlement in Khorvaire. You can read about it in Secrets of Sarlona, though the information is limited. Short form: the Khaleshite faith is what modern scholars call a “serpent cult.” It shared the same basic outlook and goals as the modern Church of the Silver Flame, but specifically revered the couatl as agents and symbols of the divine light. It was somewhat more aggressive that the modern church, in terms of aggressively seeking to eliminate the foul practices of, say, Ohr Kaluun. Most of the noble families had shulassakar blood, and this was used against them in the Sundering.

So looking at a modern Khaleshite sect:

* It would camouflage itself as a regular CotSF.

* It would respect the modern Church as a branch of the true faith, but feel that they’re “new money” if you will. Tira and the Keepers are all fine and well, but the Shulassakar were around long before Tira, and are directly touched by the ultimate source of the Flame.

* Nonetheless, they do believe in the same basic goals: protect the innocent from supernatural evil.

* There could be a line of Shulassakar hidden within the community.

* There would be lots of couatl imagery, and the services would be performed in Old Common.

 

How would you envision the architecture, look, and feel of Gatherhold?

Another obscure corner heard from! The Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about Gatherhold, the only permanent halfling settlement in the Talenta Plains: “House Ghallanda built and maintains Gatherhold, both as its headquarters and as a place where all the Talenta tribes might gather and meet as equals.” A few things that immediately come to to mind:

The town is built into a rocky outcropping on the shore of Lake Cyre. “Built into” includes a number of structures that extend into the hill, hobbit-hole style. It also includes a large natural amphitheater; nature and magic combine to provide excellent acoustics, so while you may have thousands gathered here, someone who stands on Speaker’s Rock can be heard by all.

The Ghallanda enclave is largely dug into the hill. This makes it very secure; it’s generally cozier than subterranean structures of dwarves or goblins. Outsiders aren’t generally invited into the heart of the enclave, and it’s not built to accommodate medium creatures.

Along the base of the hill, you have buildings designed for outsiders, many of which are sized for medium creatures. These include a large Gold Dragon Inn and significant Jorasco and Deneith enclaves. The Deneith enclave was built by Deneith and is a notably different architectural style. I’d envision the traditional Talentan structures as being adobe structures with rounded edges, while Deneith is a stone fortress with hard edges.

Beyond this cluster of buildings you have a host of tents and wagons. 80% of the population of the city is found in this area; even the permanent halfling residents prefer tents to the hard walls of the enclave. Wagons and caravans are always coming and going, and the layout changes regularly. There’s always an open market and a festival of some sort, but the location and the theme is constantly changing. Some days there’s theater with masked storytellers; some days there’s races or jousting; some days its competitions around food or drink. The key is that it’s fluid and changing. And don’t forget dinosaur herds! The stock show is a great time to get into town.

I can’t find much on the King’s Dark Lanterns nor the King’s Shadows. How does one join? What kind of adventures or missions would one go on? From what I can tell, the Dark Lanterns are kind of like professional CIA, while the Shadows are like… problem solvers of the lethal kind. A bit like SPECTRES from Mass Effect.

Funny you should mention Mass Effect, since both Lanterns and Shadows are agents of the King’s… Citadel (entirely a coincidence, I assure you!).

The primary sources for information on the Citadel are Five Nations, Sharn: City of Towers, and the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. The Dark Lanterns are the covert arm of the Citadel. Their primary job is the acquisition of intelligence, hence the name; they are the lantern that shines a light on things the King needs to know. However, as shown in the Thorn of Breland novels (which are out of print, but still available in kindle and Audible formats), Dark Lantern missions can cover anything from observation to theft to assassination. Lanterns can also duplicate the tasks of other branches (such as Thorn protecting Prince Oargev, nominally a task for a King’s Shield) when there’s something particularly sensitive about the job. The King’s Shadows aren’t really a separate division; rather, they are the most trusted and elite agents, assigned the MOST secret and sensitive missions. According the the ECG, “only the captain, commander, and king know its operatives’ identities.” You’d never introduce yourself as a King’s Shadow; you’d always have some other cover. It’s possible that Thorn herself is a Shadow as opposed to a Lantern.

How do you become a Lantern or Shadow? Well, the Citadel is an arm of the Brelish government; the Lanterns are a covert arm of the Citadel; and the Shadows are the most elite Lanterns. So first you have to earn the trust of the Brelish Crown and be willing to swear yourself to its service; then display enough skill and loyalty to earn the title. There’s no such thing as a “Freelance Lantern”; it’s a fulltime job. With that said, if you’re an amazing rogue who saves Breland or the king on multiple occasions, it’s possible you could be declared an honorary Shadow. It’s not exactly like being a Spectre in MA, in that you wouldn’t exactly have any authority and couldn’t advertise your position; but you could get cooperation from the other arms of the Citadel and be called in for special missions. If you like the idea of being a Spectre, you might be better off as a Sentinel Marshal, since their authority is recognized by multiple nations; the King’s Shadows are very specifically agents of the Brelish crown.

How would you integrate eyekin and non-evil beholders from your Complete Guide to Beholders into Eberron? Would they be enemies of the Daelkyr?

This ties to my recent post on the Daelkyr, which is to say that their actions are often inexplicable to humans. Personally, I could easily see Belashyrra as having created ALL the different types of beholders in the guide and sent them out in the world in intentional opposition to one another. Why? Does this advance his goals in any way? Maybe. Or maybe it’s like throwing paint at a wall because the patterns are beautiful. Alternately, you could get really weird and say that ONE of the types of beholder is the original, that they come from another material world, and that the Daelkyr actually destroyed their world and created all the other beholders just as they made dolgaunts from hobgoblins and mind flayers from gith. In which case THOSE beholders would be fervent enemies of the Daelkyr and dedicated to avenging their lost world. The Eyekin could easily be agents of Belashyrra, or you could align them to this “True Beholder” faction.

A few more questions about the Dragon-Giant conflict…

I must confess that I had alwayes before misinterpreted the fall of giant civilization because I thought that the giants and dragons direcly clashes at least once. Could it be that having inflicted terrible curses in Xen’drik the dragons brought upon themselves or attracted dome evil?

The giants and dragons DID directly clash once. But it’s hard to qualify it as a “war”, as that term suggests that the giants were able to respond to it, plan defensive and offensive actions, and that it lasted for a significant amount of time, much like the Giants’ conflicts with the Quori and the elves. It didn’t. Personally, I’d guess the conflict was measured in weeks. It was a sneak attack that combined epic magic on a scale beyond that known to the giants with brutal coordinated physical assaults. The giants were already crippled by their long conflict with the elves and were lucky to even put up a decent struggle in some places, let along launch a coordinated assault back at Argonnessen.

With that said, if you WANT to explore that story, there’s nothing stopping YOU from saying some giant wizard set all his talent and skill to creating a doomsday device to take revenge on the dragons. It simply raises the question of why it’s taken 40,000 years to take effect.

As for the dragons attracting evil, certainly. That evil is called “Tiamat.” The whole point of Tiamat is that she is the embodiment of all the worst elements of dragonkind: pride, aggression, hubris. When the dragons use their powers to oppress or destroy, Tiamat grows stronger. That’s why the dragons went right back to Xen’drik after the assault instead of colonizing it, and it’s why they’ve never taken similar action since. It was an act of desperation because they believed that the giants were about to inflict irreparable damage in their war against the elves; the Dragons destroyed them before this could happen. But it surely strengthened Tiamat, and they retreated to Argonnessen to continue to contain her. If you haven’t read Dragons of Eberron, the story’s in there.

If you consider DDO to be canon in some way, there is two survivors from the Dragon/Giant war too: The Stormreaver and The Truthful One. They both died in the conclusion of the most recent game raid, but their history had been told since DDO launch.

It was careless of me to suggest that all giants and dragons from this period are dead. The point is that the natural lifespan of a giant or dragon is such that any that were around in the Age of Giants would be long dead. But there’s lots of ways they could survive past their natural lifespans. In DDO, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One are reserved by a unique enchantment that binds their lives together. Emperor Cul’sir is a Vestige. Antaegus (from City of Stormreach) was held in suspended animation. There’s many ways to create exceptions, if you want to.

However, the core point is that there never really WAS an “Dragon/Giant War”; when the dragons assaulted Xen’drik, it was a cataclysmic, one-sided attack. If my DDO lore is correct, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One both come from the Giant-Quori Conflict, which happened two thousand years before Argonnessen’s brutal assault.

This does touch on a greater question: What is canon? I’ll get to that in my next post.

 

 

Dragonmarks: JorascoCare and the Mark of Snails

It’s still convention season for me. I just got back from a fantastic weekend at G.A.M.E. in Missouri, and next weekend I’ll be in Seattle for GeekGirlCon. I look forward to writing about G.A.M.E. and about Phoenix, which I tested there and will be testing at GGC. But today seemed like a good time to address one player’s concerns about the deplorable state of healthcare in Eberron, so it’s time for another Q&A! As always, everything said here is just my opinion based on my personal campaign, and it may contradict canon sources.

I have a real problem with the ability of Artificers to outright heal people. I see Artificers as the inventors and creative geniuses of the magic world, being able to see the very essence of magic and it’s wondrous patters to infuse that energy into ‘wonderful’ toys. When I say magic I mean Arcane, as Divine is just something that is beyond the knowledge of the mortal being and unable to be manipulated.

Am I missing something? How is House Jorasco the ‘House of Healing’ if any artificer can throw around healing magic. I don’t see how Jorasco is still around with the prevalence of Artificers in the setting.

You don’t say what system you’re playing now, so I’m going to start with universal principles and then move to system specifics.

First major issue: There’s no such thing as “the prevalence of artificers.” The player character classes are rare and exceptional. If you go to the average temple, you won’t find a cleric or a paladin there; the priest will most likely be an expert trained in Religion, Diplomacy, History, and similar skills – someone who offers spiritual guidance, not magic. Where you do have magical healers – whether at Jorasco or in a charitable clinic dedicated to Boldrei or the Silver Flame – they’ll be adepts, not clerics. The vast majority of spell-workers employed by House Cannith (or anyone else) are magewrights. You said it yourself: Artificers are the inventors and creative geniuses of the world. The magewright is the magical equivalent of an electrician; an artificer is someone like Nikolai Tesla or Merrix d’Cannith—an innovator who can challenge the way people think about magic. There are AT LEAST a hundred Jorasco heirs for every artificer in the world… possibly considerably more.

Next, to quickly look to the original 3.5 artificer, there are no infusions on the default list that can directly heal organics. There’s only one way for an artificer to do this: to create a spell storing item. The whole idea of this is that you are literally creating a new prototype magic item on the spot—one that’s unstable and is going to be destroyed after one use. You have to make a UMD check to have it work at all, and if it fails, it might blow up in your face. Furthermore, it requires you to spend XP, which means it’s entirely possible that an NPC can’t use it at all, since NPCs don’t necessarily HAVE XP the way PCs do. Spell Storing Object is the infusion that truly represents the idea of an artificer as a creative genius: you are creating an item that CAN’T be created by a wizard, and you’re making it out of lint and pure determination. A wizard CAN’T create a wand for that – but you just did. It’s not a casual thing. It’s dangerous—and just as dangerous the second time as the first—and it costs you to do it.

If you’re talking about the 4E artificer, I can’t help you there. I didn’t work on the 4E Eberron Player’s Guide. The artificer isn’t my design; it was chosen to be a “leader” class, and leaders heal. But what I will point out is that healing in 4E means something very different than it does elsewhere. A warlord can heal you with an INSPIRING WORD. Literally. That’s not magic, it’s him being so encouraging that you get the will to get back up and get in the fight. So think of the 4E artificer’s healing as being more like that of the warlord than that of the cleric; it’s more that he’s giving you a shot of adrenaline than divinely removing your wounds. With that in mind, don’t think of “healing” as literally wiping away serious injuries; “hit points” are a very abstract thing representing morale, determination, and the strength to keep on fighting. Which brings me to the next major point…

MOST PEOPLE DON’T GO TO JORASCO FOR CURE LIGHT WOUNDS.  Loss of hit points is, by and large, a problem suffered by adventurers. Frankly, they make no sense when it comes to the idea of the health care industry. Consider that 90% of the population are either 1st level commoners or experts, and thus have three or four hit points. A sixth level dwarf fighter might have sixty hit points. What does that even mean? Can the dwarf literally stand there and get shot with a dozen arrows and just walk it off? Or are hit points a measure of his martial skill and ability to avoid damage in the first place? The short form is that a cure spell that heals 3d8+6 hit points isn’t a service that first level expert will ever require, and it’s questionable what it even MEANS in a physical sense. Most people are going to go to Jorasco for the same reason WE go to a hospital. You’ve got the flu. There’s a weird pain in your side that won’t go away. You broke your arm. Now, Jorasco DOES have the power to make these troubles go away instantly with magic, but frankly, most people can’t afford to pay for that, and most people don’t NEED the problem to go away instantly. They don’t go to Jorasco for magic; they go there for the mundane services of the Heal skill. When you go to a Jorasco healing house, you know that the people are professional healers; and you know exactly what to expect in terms of prices, because they are standardized.

Looking back to system, when the people of 4E go to Jorasco, if they aren’t just going for mundane healing they are likely going for a healing RITUAL, like Cure Disease or Remove Affliction. As noted in this Dragonmark, I actually restrict key rituals like that to the Dragonmarked. In the case of healing, I would make an exception for certain especially holy divine healers – but in my campaign, a cleric of Dol Dorn couldn’t actually learn the Cure Disease ritual. A cleric might be well versed in the Heal skill, and be able to help you through the disease that way – but the instant cure only comes from Jorasco.

Although given your concerns about arcane healing in general, I’ll note that you’ve got problems beyond Eberron; the 3.5 Bard is an arcane caster with cure spells on his list, which is the loophole that does let the artificer make an arcane wand of cure light wounds.

Now, given that we’re talking about Dragonmarks, I’ll throw an extra question in…

Do Aberrant Dragonmarks only do big dangerous things? Or are they just the ones talked about? Would people fear a rubbish one? If an Aberrant Dragonmark allowed me to control the actions of snails, would the cultural fear of the mark exile me?

The core idea is that true dragonmarks are constructive, while aberrant dragonmarks are destructive. The true dragonmarks deal with healing, communication, creation—and they do so in predictable ways. Aberrant dragonmarks deal with fire, plague, madness and more, and beyond that do so in unpredictable ways. One person’s aberrant fire mark lets them spontaneously generate flame; another burns enemies up from within; a third sets anything the bearer touches on fire. Furthermore, aberrant dragonmarks are often difficult or dangerous to the bearer. The person with the flame mark may suffer painful burns any time they use the mark, or it may activate spontaneously in times of stress.

There are exceptions to these rules; for example, the Mark of Storm has some offensive applications. But the mark is still predictable and doesn’t harm its bearer. On the flip side, take Brom’s mark in The Son of Khyber. It’s essentially localized reincarnation; he can survive almost any injury, but the wound heals with the flesh of a random species… so he has the arm of a troll, and it’s called out that he often regrows internal organs that don’t work with the rest of his physiology, requiring the medic to cut them out until they regrow in a compatible form.

Coercion is certainly a valid form of aberrant power. So it’s POSSIBLE you could have an aberrant mark of snail control. However, the key point is that aberrant marks are entirely unpredictable and never take exactly the same form. So no one is capable of looking at your mark and saying “Oh, that’s snail control.” All they know is that it’s aberrant, and that aberrant marks CAN spread disease, control minds, cause fire, and worse, and often cause the bearer to go mad. So yes, you will be ostracized and feared by many.

Some point out that the powers of least marks are easily mimicked by, say, a low-level sorcerer, and that’s true. The point is that generally, a sorcerer has to learn how to perform sorcery; it’s the result of training and discipline. An aberrant mark is thrust on the owner; is often difficult to control; and may cause pain or madness to the bearer. Essentially, people don’t automatically assume a sorcerer is a sociopath—while they tend to jump to that conclusion with aberrants.

With regard to the matter of true dragonmarks I have a question. If true dragonmarks are constructive in nature, what does that say about the Mark of Death? In terms of its role in the Prophesy/cosmology, is the act of creating undead a creative, potentially civilizing force? Or did the Mark have other applications and House Vol was simply doing it wrong?

I’ve written about this subject at length in a previous post on The Mark of Death. Here’s two key quotes:

…the Mark of Death should be about interacting with death and the undead, but I wouldn’t make it about KILLING, because that’s an aberrant path. Things like speaking with the dead; animating the dead; controlling or even laying undead to rest; these all fit. It could be that a dragonshard focus item could be created that would harness that power in a destructive fashion – but that’s not the innate power of the mark.

In 4E, I will say that in addition to providing access to focus items and any logical rituals, I’d probably allow someone with the mark to perceive ghosts and to use speak with dead as a skill challenge as opposed to a ritual. I’d likely put a limit on length of death, but I’d personally have the Mark of Death involve interaction with the dead… not to be confused with the Mark of Healing, which prevents people from dying.

Addressing your question specifically, look at your own phrase – “the act of CREATING undead.” Right there, it’s a creative act as opposed to a destructive one. Note that the Blood of Vol frequently uses undead to perform useful domestic labor; skeletons or zombies don’t HAVE to be used for aggression. Now, the Undying Court maintains that the creation of Mabaran undead harms Eberron itself – that negatively charged undead inherently consume the ambient energy of the world. But that’s a particular religious view that’s essentially like worrying about your carbon footprint; the UC believes it’s a serious threat and the BoV asserts that it’s nonsense.

Short form, though: The Mark of Death shouldn’t be about CAUSING death; it should be about INTERACTING with death and with the dead, just as the Marks of Handling and Healing interact with the living.

In light of your response, could the Mark of Death have been used to create undying, as opposed to Mabaran undead?

It’s possible. The line of Vol had been invested in the pursuit of Mabaran necromancy for thousands of years prior to the appearance of the mark. I wouldn’t say that the mark was inherently oriented towards Irian necromancy, but it could be that the mark was essentially “neutral” and Vol only explored its Mabaran applications.

With that said, bear in mind that there are some deep and fundamental differences between the two styles, which drive the reasons the different factions pursued each style.

First, there’s a basic mystical concept: creatures need energy to survive. An undead creature isn’t a zero-sum proposition; it has to have an ongoing source of energy to sustain its undead existence.

Negative necromancy is self-contained. You create a vampire and you let him go… from that point on he is self-sufficient and doesn’t need you to survive. Negatively-charged undead get the life force they need to survive by consuming it. In some cases this is obvious – the vampire drinking blood, the ubiquitous level drain. The Undying Court maintains that it is in fact the case with ALL Mabaran undead, even when it’s not obvious. A skeleton doesn’t APPEAR to be consuming anyone’s life force; but Court scholars assert that the skeleton actually absorbs ambient life energy from its environment – a theory that seems to be born out by the blighted areas around Fort Bones. In short, the UC believes that negative undead cause environmental damage just by existing.The key point, however, is that negative undead TAKE the energy they need to survive.

By contrast, positive necromancy requires energy to be given. The deathless can’t survive on their own. Deathless can be sustained by ambient energy in an Irian manifest zone, and many of the major Aereni cities (notably Shae Mordai) were constructing in Irian zones for exactly this reason. However, their primary source of sustenance is mortal devotion. The faithful of the Undying Court channel positive energy through their adoration of their elders. No one is harmed in this process – but it’s not something that can be forced. So if all the Aereni died or simply turned away from the faith, the spirits of the Court would dwindle and fade, clinging to their manifest zones just to survive.

The whole purpose of the Elven faiths was to prevent the future loss of the greatest souls of the elves. The line of Vol asserts that the Irian approach fails because it relies on continued devotion from the living… while a lich never runs out of power. While the Undying Court maintains that this is only because the lich preys on the living – and that if the people aren’t willing to sustain the undead of their own free will, it doesn’t deserve to continue.

Short form: Even if the Mark of Death COULD be used to create positive undead, bear in mind that those undead would still require Irian energy or mortal devotion to survive long-term; that’s the nature of positive necromancy.

Dragonmarks: The Dragonmarked Houses, pt 2

As always, this material represents my own personal opinions; it’s not canon and may contradict canon sources. I still don’t have any new information about official Eberron support in D&D Next, but I hope to have news soon.

I’ve talked about the Dragonmarked Houses and Aberrant dragonmarks before. Before getting to the current questions, I want to bring up a key point from the earlier article.

The power of the houses comes from the fact that they offer services that are unavailable elsewhere, at least on the scope and scale they can provide. While some houses do work to eliminate competition, for many of their services there simply isn’t significant competition. While clerics can heal, there aren’t a lot of spell-casting priests in Eberron, and they generally have a divine calling and a purpose in the world; it’s not viable to fully replace Jorasco healing houses with clerics. Likewise, while an individual spellcaster could learn and cast sending, that’s trivial compared to the network of Sivis speaking stones that deliver thousands of message each day. Magic is a form of science, and new discoveries require innovation; and it’s always easier to create a tool that enhances an existing power than to make one that generates the same effect from nothing.

So it is a default assumption of the setting that people simply haven’t found a way to create magic items that duplicate the effects of most dragonshard focus items without the need for a mark. In 4E, I suggest restricting many rituals to the Dragonmarked to reflect this. Groups like the Arcane Congress are always working on this, and your PC might be an innovator who can make some of these effects no one has until now. But the key point is that while the houses are monopolies, this is often because no one knows how to replicate what they can do on an international scale; only a few have to actively deal with serious competition.

What would happen to Eberron if all the Dragonmarks suddenly went dormant?

It would be a serious blow to the culture of the Five Nations. Swift long distance communication relies on Orien and Sivis. Orien and Lyrandar are cornerstones of mass transit and freight. Loss of Jorasco removes basic medical services, which would likely lead to plagues. Between loss of transit and Lyrandar weather control, you’d probably end up with famines when crops fail or food can’t be delivered. Loss of Cannith brings mass production of common goods and primary creation of magical goods to a halt. Breaking the Kundarak vault system suddenly cuts many people off from their wealth, which could seriously impact some nobles. If you look at my list of restricted rituals in 4E, suddenly those rituals just don’t exist in the world.

Now, it’s not the end of magic or civilization. You’ve still got magewrights out there; check this article for examples of services magewrights provide. The lamplighters who keep the streets lit aren’t using dragonmarks to do it. Some standard magical services would remain intact. Furthermore, there ARE skilled wizards and artificers outside of the houses. Nobles would still have access to some of those old services by hiring the best independent mages money can buy. But much of the system that provides magical services to the middle class would fall apart, and people would have to implement mundane systems to take their place.

Aundair would be in a strong position because of the Arcane Congress and the general effort to bring arcane magic into everyday life. Thrane has the highest percentage of divine casters and would thus have the best ability to counter the loss of Jorasco healing. Karrnath has a decent war magic program, but would be hurt by the loss of things like communication, transportation, and weather control.

I get the impression that the houses are everywhere, and if you open a business that’s within their “domain”, you either have to join the house or get stomped on. If my character starts a mercenary Company, would they have to eventually join with house Deneith? The problem with that, is that, if my character don’t possess a dragonmark or family within that house, he’ll only be able to climb so far within it.

First: It is entirely possible to operate a business without being affiliated with a house. There’s many independent mercenary companies, many smiths who don’t work for Cannith, many inns that aren’t tied to Ghallanda. One wizard who can cast Sending doesn’t pose a threat to House Sivis; it’s only if he actually comes up with a way to offer service on the same scale that they do that he becomes a real threat.

So, one independent mercenary company of 100 people based in Sharn doesn’t pose a threat to Deneith. But an independent mercenary army of 10,000 people with branches in multiple cities DOES pose a threat to Deneith, and they would attempt to stop it or assimilate it before it reached that level.

With that said, assimilation is always the preferred path. Most houses would rather just get a share of your profits that wipe you out. As described in Dragonmarked, Guild membership comes in three flavors. Most businesses are licensed. They pay a small percentage of profits and vow to uphold guild standards, and in exchange they get to show the guild stamp. So the average inn isn’t OWNED by Ghallanda, but it’s licensed by Ghallanda; the seal of the Hosteller’s Guild is an assurance that you won’t get food poisoning, be killed in the night, etc. Bound businesses are essentially franchises, and the nature of the services they offer are dictated by the guild. So an inn licensed by Ghallanda can serve whatever food it wants, as long as the quality meets Guild standards; but a Gold Dragon Inn has to serve the same core menu as all other Gold Dragon Inns.

So back to you: You want to start a mercenary company. You could be entirely independent and do your own thing, and as long as you don’t seriously threaten Deneith’s business they’ll leave you alone. However, you might find that clients pass you up and hire licensed Deneith mercenaries instead, because the Deneith seal assures them that the soldiers meet Deneith standards of training and discipline, and because they can go to the house for compensation if the mercs fail to perform. And if you decide to be licensed by Deneith, they aren’t going to try to limit your success; they’ll even send work your way. They’ll simply expect a share of your profits.

The houses do work to maintain their monopolies, but they’d rather be making money from you than spending money crushing you. They’ll only take ruthless action if they truly see you as a mortal threat to their overall success.
How do the different houses respond to a dragonmark going from least to lesser, lesser to greater, etc? There are system reasons why it happens, but does anyone in the game world have theories? Does anyone do anything to try to encourage/suppress the progression?

Well, now we venture into the realm of house rules. MECHANICALLY, marks are clearly delineated into four sizes. We have pictures of each of those four sizes. However, I personally don’t believe that you go to sleep with a Least Mark and wake up with a Lesser. I believe that marks grow organically over time. So take three people with Least Marks and they might all be different sizes and shapes – all clearly recognizable as somewhere between Least and Lesser, but different stages of development. You know you’ve reached the next stage when you are capable of performing the magic associated with the next stage, or using a focus item that requires that level of mark.

Now, that doesn’t change the question of why people think Marks grow and what affects someone’s potential. Most people believe it’s largely genetic, and that a child whose parents have powerful marks will be more likely to develop a powerful mark of their own; this also ties to the belief that children of two houses will develop aberrant marks. However, there are any number of other theories, ranging from diet and mental exercise to planar alignment and the influence of the Prophecy.

Which houses meddle in their members’ love lives, and why?

In dealing with this, it’s vitally important to remember that houses aren’t monolithic  entities. Every house is made up of multiple families; the Shadow Schism that created House Thuranni was a civil war between the Phiarlan families. The different Cannith factions are likewise largely divided along family lines. So with this in mind, I’ll give you some reasons, but interfering with your love life is something that’s more likely to be done based on the policies of your FAMILY than your house. One Cannith family may go out of its way to arrange political alliances or bring new blood into the house; if you’re the best artificer of the age & not dragonmarked, they’d like to convince you to marry into the family. Meanwhile, a different Cannith family may strictly forbid people marrying outside the house. Now, why might they interfere?

  • Dragonmarks. You’ve got a Siberys mark. You think we’re going to let you  waste that on unmarked trash? Elaydren Vown has a greater mark, and we’ve already made arrangements.
  • Race. You may love this elf, but think of your children. If they aren’t fully human, there is no chance they will manifest a mark. Will you damn them for your own selfish desire?
  • Politics. We have an opportunity to secure a connection with the Brelish aristocracy/end the feud with the Vowns/Arcane Congress etc. We’re not letting you waste yourself on some guttersnipe ex-soldier.
  • Recruitment. Flega is the finest artificer in the Five Nations. We need to bring her into the house, and you’re going to do it.
  • Prejudice. Your father was killed in the attack on Shadukar. I’ll see you excoriated before you sleep with a Thrane.

Vadalis is highly likely to arrange marriages for marks. Tharashk is remakably liberal and sees outside marriage as a good way to increase its influence. But beyond that, it’s really about your personal family.

Dragonmarks are seen only on the peoples living on Khorvaire. Why are there none on the goblin race, who lived before humans?

Good question. And why do they appear on half-orcs but not full orcs? And why not on gnolls or shifters or changelings? Nothing about the marks is clear. Bear in mind that they didn’t all appear at once; marks appeared on the Aereni and Talenta Halflings more than five centuries before they appeared on humans, and more than TWO THOUSAND YEARS before the Mark of Finding appeared on half-orcs. Who’s to say that the goblins won’t suddenly manifest a mark no one’s seen before?

And, of course, one answer is that the marks have only appeared at certain times and on certain races because they are an experiment of, say, the Daelkyr; they are actively picking and choosing who gets what mark.

Is there any reason why Greater Aberrant marks aren’t as common any more? Is the ‘bloodline’ that much weaker or another reason?

No one knows for certain. The common belief is that the strongest bloodlines were wiped out in the War of the Mark and that strength is simply gone from the world. But aberrant marks have never been strictly tied to bloodline, so it’s a little odd. So a secondary question would be “Why are aberrant marks becoming more common now?” I’ll give you a few possible answers for that:

  • The Mourning has wounded nature and increased the number of aberrant marks.
  • It’s a sign of the increased power of an overlord.
  • It’s dictated by the Prophecy.
  • It’s the work of the Daelkyr.
  • It’s just natural; the aberrant lines were weakened in the War of the Mark, and now it’s finally regaining strength.

If another house started to form, under what kind of mark do you think would be new and novel?

I’d probably start by saying that there’s been a changeling Dragonmark for over a century, but unlike most marks they can hide it by shapeshifting, so no one KNOWS about the changeling Dragonmarked House. I’d also consider the idea of the goblins developing a mark. With that said, I like the 13-1 structure… so what I might do is to have one of these two races develop the Mark of Death. There’s only 13 marks; the elves had their time with the Mark of Death; now it’s moving to another race. Is this a sign? Will the other marks start migrating too? If it’s about how long they’ve been around, the Mark of Shadow and the halfling marks would be the next to go…

Are there any houses /marks you would redesign or replace if you could? Any reason why, or ideas to that effect?

I’ve never been happy with the mechanics for aberrant dragonmarks; I’d change those if I had the opportunity. And I’ve already redesigned the relationship between marks and rituals in 4E, as noted in the previous articles. As for the houses themselves, I’m generally happy with them. I don’t think Orien has ever had the attention it deserves, and I could see doing more with Vadalis and eugenics. In general, I’d love to look at ALL of the houses in more detail, but I’m happy with the fundamental concepts.

I wonder what it’s like for non-creepy Vadalis who just want to breed a better pig.

Which is most of them. For that matter, magebreeders are only a small segment of the house; most heirs are ranchers, teamsters, veterinarians, handlers, jockeys, and more; people who love working with animals and whose animals can do amazing things.

Which house do you think has most potential as an outright villain? Would your answer be different for adventure v. campaign?

Certainly. Again, I think Vadalis has a lot of long-term potential because magebred humans are creepy (and an extremely logical source of homegrown Inspired for the Dreaming Dark to use). Lyrandar has tremendous ambition. And hello, by canon (which you can of course ignore) Zorlan d’Cannith of Cannith East is a seeker of the Blood of Vol; you could easily make him an ally of the Emerald Claw.

What is Cannith East’s greatest strength?

In my opinion? War. Cannith South specializes in warforged and manufacturing, but I’ve always considered Cannith East to be the arms specialists. They may not have manufacturing facilities to match South, but their unique form of ingenuity is building better weapons. Aside from that, they’ve been experimenting with undead, so consider the weird things you can do with that.

If all marks of a kind are the same, what about the Draconic Prophecy? Not every Mark of Making can indicate the same destiny, can it?

Not at all. First of all, speaking GENERALLY, the prophetic significance of dragonmarks isn’t tied to the individual; it’s about patterns. Think of dragonmarked individuals as tarot cards or runes. Someone who knows the Prophecy may walk into a bar, say “OK, I see Greater Storm, Lesser Making, and three of Least Healing. Which means… it’s going to be a bad day.” That bad day may not even involve any of the marked individuals; they’re just signposts for someone who knows how to read them. Having a Dragonmrk doesn’t automatically mean that YOU are significant to the Prophecy; in means that you are now a tea leaf others can use to read it. If you ARE personally significant to the Prophecy, your mark will be one of the things that identifies you, but it won’t be the only thing.

Do you think there is tension or rivalry between houses Tharashk and Medani given how both work with inquisitives?

Certainly. However, one issue here is that Medani is a very subtle house; its services also overlap with Deneith when it comes to bodyguards. Medani is the warning guild. Its specialty is counterintelligence and predictive work. You hire a Deneith bodyguard when you want muscle at your side; you hire Medani for defense when you want them to identify and neutralize the threat before it actually manifests. The same is true of inquisitives. Tharashk inquisitives are more of your classic private eyes. They are the people the innkeeper will hire to find out who stole his valuables, or who’s dating his wife. Medani’s inquisitives deal with more complex problems and generally, wealthier clients. They’re who you call in to negotiate with a blackmailer – or to prevent blackmail when you’re vulnerable but it hasn’t happened yet. Think someone might have spies watching you, or an assassin after you? Hire Medani. Short form: Medani inquisitives handle complex cases for wealthy clients; Tharashk inquisitives solve basic problems for a broader client base.

Likewise, Tharashk’s monstrous mercenaries overlap with Deneith, but don’t really fill the same space. Most of Deneith’s best clients won’t turn to ogres and gnolls instead of Deneith’s reliable forces.

While Tharashk is stepping on toes, it’s also the best source for the single most valuable resource in the magical economy: dragonshards. As a result, while Deneith and Medani are rivals with Tharashk, they don’t really want to get into an all-out feud with the house, and many other houses are willing to support Tharashk in conflicts.

I wonder why house Phiarlan does not seek to outlaw Thuranni. After all, both houses have the same dragonmark.

Among other things, because they are family. The Shadow Schism only occurred a few decades ago. The Mark of Shadow has been around for thousands of years, and elves themselves live for centuries. There are still members of the Thuranni families in House Phiarlan and vice versa. They are now professional rivals, and the wounds of the schism run deep for some; but they are still brothers and sisters. What they have largely done is divide up Khorvaire, so for the most part they aren’t directly competing in the same territories.

Moreover, why do not the sentinel marshals or national authorities imprison and prosecute those they know are killers from Thuranni? Granted, in the shadow war there is a place for spies and assassins, but an overt assassin organization should be frowned upon by the populace, and despite their alibies, many are aware of the true business of house Thuranni.

First, it’s the same principle as the Mafia or other major organized crime organizations: you may KNOW they do bad things, but can you actually catch them doing them? And as the Captain of the local city watch, do YOU really want to make a personal enemy of a family of professional assassins? Someone who starts a crusade to bring down Thuranni assassins will immediately become a target. Beyond that, their “alibis” are more than just alibis. You say that many people should be aware of the “true business” of Thuranni. But assassination ISN’T the “true business” of Thuranni. The Shadow Network is a guild of entertainers and artists, including many of the finest performers in Khorvaire. While the Network supports the covert ops that the house engages in, this doesn’t change the fact that the day-to-day business of the house is entertainment. As a normal person on the street, you can’t simply go to a Thuranni enclave to hire a spy or assassin; you go to the enclave to purchase art, to take classes (in music, acting, or other forms of art), or to engage the services of entertainers. If you want those other services, you have to know the right channels to take, and they will reach out to YOU.

With that said, if a Thuranni assassin just walked up on the street and stabbed the Mayor of Sharn in front of witnesses, Sentinel Marshals and Dark Lanterns WOULD be dispatched to bring them in (or simply kill them). Being in Thuranni isn’t a license to break the law. Again, it’s like organized crime in our world. You can get away with it if you’re careful and play by the rules that have been established, but if you’re clumsy you will get caught and pay the price.

Now for a perennial question…
Also, what happened to Cyre, really? You must have a personal Canon, right?

As I just said at DragonCon, no… I actually don’t. To me, the Mourning is much more powerful as a mystery. Once the answer is defined, it is possible to predict if it can happen again and whether it can be harnessed. Once that information becomes public, it will completely change the balance of the cold war between the Five Nations. I like the current balance of power, so I’ve never felt a need to run a campaign in which the answer is found. Meanwhile, I can think of a dozen answers that all could be true. One appears in The Fading Dream. But it could have been a Cannith weapon, possibly tied to trying to harness the power of an Overlord; or it could have been the release of an Overlord; or it could have been the natural result of using too much war magic; or it could have been the harbinger of Xoriat coming back into alignment with Eberron for the first time in thousands of years; or it could have been the beginning of the end that the Children of Winter have been talking about; or it could have been Khyber Herself finally straining against Eberron’s bonds; or it could have been a creation of the Lord of Blades, building a new homeland for his people, and he’s just about got Mourning Mk II ready to go; or… you get the idea.

I’ve always felt like the reason presented for the Mourning in The Fading Dream was not, in fact, the reason, so much as it was the “tea leaves” that indicated an event in the Prophecy was about to occur… I have always felt like the physical cause of the Mourning was still undetermined in the Thorn continuity.

The cause of the Mourning is DEFINITELY undetermined in the Thorn continuity. The Eladrin have advanced a theory, but Thorn herself doesn’t buy it. With that said, you are exactly right: this is exactly the way Prophetic manipulation would work. There could be an aspect of the Prophecy that says something to the effect of “If the Silver Queen wounds the Unknown Prince, his land shall share his pain.” Meanwhile, the Mourning itself could be caused by a Cannith weapon malfunction. What the Prophecy does is says “If event A occurs, event B will follow.” To us, there is nothing directly relating these two things – but the Prophecy lets you control one by controlling the other.

This last question is something of a spoiler for my novel The Son of Khyber. Skip over it if that concerns you.

The Son of Khyber appears in another novel prior to his appearance in The Son of Khyber. What happened between the two appearances?

If it’s not entirely clear, the individual in The Son of Khyber ISN’T the same person you’ve encountered before; he’s another soul occupying that person’s body. He’s the spirit of an aberrant leader from the War of the Mark, an ancestor of the body he occupies. He made his way back to Khorvaire, found House Tarkanan, and essentially took over. The house was a small organization, and the Son of Khyber has significant experience as a military leader, more knowledge of aberrant marks and especially aberrant focus items than anyone in the modern age, and a mark that’s more powerful than any modern aberrant. Having stepped out of time as the aberrants were being hunted down, he was pretty driven to turn things around.

Now, the other side of this coin is what happened to the original spirit that occupied that body, and that’s a good question. I had thought about him and his Jorasco companion making an appearance in The Fading Dream, as Taer Lian Doresh is both on Dal Quor and Eberron, but it was too much to fit in. But he’s still around on Dal Quor, and you can be sure his other companions are trying to get him back.

Dragonmarks 3/4: The Lords of Dust

I’m pulling a few answers from other weeks, and I’ll continue to do so as time allows so this can be a comprehensive source for all of my Q&A discussions of the Lords of Dust and the Overlords. So check back in a few days and I may have expanded it! As always, these answers are just my opinions and may contradict canon sources… though to the best of my knowledge, I’ve written most of the canon sources on the Lords of Dust!

There are a number of decent sources of information on the Lords of Dust. I recommend the Eberron Campaign Guide (4E) and Dragon 337. With that said, let me try to clarify some of the common points of confusion right away.

The Lords of Dust is an alliance of fiends—mostly rakshasa, as they are the most common native fiends of Eberron—who serve the interests of the fiendish overlords of the Age of Demons. There were originally approximately thirty of these overlords. Their power was equivalent of that of gods in most other settings. Most exerted influence over a region akin to a large modern nation, but some had more subtle influence reaching across the entire world. Overlords are part of the very fabric of reality, and they cannot be destroyed any more that you can destroy death or treachery. They can only be bound, and that only with the guidance of the Prophecy. The only known force capable of binding them is the Silver Flame, which was created by the sacrifice of the Couatl host, a sacrifice that created an immortal force of light to contain the immortal force of darkness.

The overlords of the Age of Demons are the most powerful entities that exist in the setting. An individual overlord is equivalent in power to il-Lashtavar (the force behind the Dreaming Dark) or the entire Undying Court. A question worth asking is, if they are so incredibly powerful and had hordes of demons on top of it, how did the war of the Age of Demons last so long? It lasted for centuries… why didn’t the overlords just win?

There’s a few answers. The first is that it wasn’t a “war” in the sense we think of it. Some of the overlords—like Rak Tulkhesh and Katashka—fielded armies that could be fought in a traditional battle. Some sought to directly control and enslave dragons, titans, and other creatures. But with many of them, the “war” was simply existence. They are immortal. Their fiendish servants are immortal. They don’t NEED to conquer you. They just do what they do. A battle against Tul Oreshka is a battle against madness; having more soldiers doesn’t help you win a fight. The Voice in the Darkness “wins” when you succumb to madness; she doesn’t need to occupy your city if she occupies your mind.

Got that? Now add to this the fact that for the most part, the overlords were neither friends nor allies. They are not human in any sense of the word: they are primal entities who shape reality by virtue of existing. Far from being friends, many of them actually fought one another; when you are an incarnation of strife or discord, that’s kind of what you do. One of the main reasons they were finally defeated is because their opponents were able to target them individually or use their existing rivalries against them. And bear in mind that absolute immortality and nigh-omnipotence breeds a lot of overconfidence.

After they were bound, their surviving servants eventually recovered and began laying plans to free their masters. Eventually this brought them in conflict with one another. The Lords of Dust aren’t a monolithic force; they are more like the United Nations, with each member of the Council of Ashtakala representing the interests of a different overlord. They don’t all share resources, and three different Lords of Dust may all have personal agents in the same court. The purpose of the Council is at best to exchange favors and at worst to try to keep the Lords from interfering with one another’s plans accidentally (key word: accidentally. Intentional interference happens). The Wyrmbreaker calls the council together and explains that he’s going to be doing something that involves a group of heroes and will probably kill the Queen of Aundair. The Shadowsword explains that he has plans involving Aurala, but based on his insights into the Prophecy, perhaps Durastoran could achieve the same results with the death of Kaius III—and he’d be happy to lend some agents to that cause. Perhaps the Wyrmbreaker agrees, perhaps he doesn’t, perhaps he agrees but still plans to see to it that Aurala dies.

The next thing is to understand what it takes to release an overlord. It’s nothing so simple as breaking a seal or melting a ring. The conditions for the release of an overlord are different for each one, and involve a long-term manipulation of the Prophecy. In the case of the Aurala death above, we’re not just talking about Aurala’s death; it would be trivial for one of the Lords of Dust to make that happen. Instead, it’s that a particular hero (the son of a particular person, herself the daughter of a particular person, born in particular circumstances) must kill a beloved ruler on a particular day with a particular weapon, and must do so believing they are serving a greater good but in fact be wrong. So the Lord of Dust not only can’t kill the ruler, they actually have to make sure that the person who does the killing doesn’t know why they are doing it. Some of the overlords’ release conditions have nothing to do with one another; others are actually overlapping or contradictory, so actions cannot be taken to free one without directly screwing with another. This can result in Lords of Dust helping heroes. The problem is, if a Lord of Dust is helping you, you can be certain it’s somehow benefiting them.

If an Overlord is released, it generally won’t return at full power. It will take time for its power to grow.  Bel Shalor was released, and wreaked havoc in Thrane for almost a year before he was finally bound again by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. It wasn’t the end of the world; it was simply a year of utter terror for the people of Thrane. Of course it’s possible that Bel Shalor intended this all along as a way of infecting the Silver Flame, and thus his release wasn’t as devastating as it could be. But generally, the immediate release of an Overlord will affect an area of a few miles, spreading out until it encompasses a nation or more. The impact will also greatly depend on WHICH Overlord is released. An incarnation of madness or war will cause immediate violence or insanity. An elemental force like Dral Khatuur would cause a new ice age. But an incarnation of tyranny or betrayal may have a very subtle effect that takes years to really be noticed. It’s entirely possible that the Mourning was caused by the release of an Overlord, and that there are continuing effects that people simply haven’t identified. Essentially, the effect of an Overlord’s release is up to the DM. It could have instantly apocalyptic effects, or it could be a slow cancer that eats away at the region over time.

Tied to this, I once had a PC warlock in my campaign who was actually a willing agent of an overlord. The idea behind his character was that it was inevitable that an overlord would eventually be released… but his overlord would at least keep society intact in a form that people could live in, as opposed to dissolving it into chaos, war, or ice. Life in the domain of his overlord might be endless tyranny and oppression and tears of blood, but it’s far better than what you’d get from Tul Oreshka or Rak Tulkhesh. He didn’t LIKE the future he believed was coming, but he believed that ONE of them had to get out eventually, and his was the best option.

So bearing all that in mind…

Is there a list of all the rajahs already published somewhere? With the rajahs theme, location and where to find the full writeup?

I’ve never done it. However, Lord Gore at the WotC forums put together this list, which may be the most comprehensive around; I’ve updated it with Overlords mentioned since it was written.

  1. Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame (Tamor Hills, Khorvaire) ECG page 29
  2. Dral Khatuur, the Heart of Winter (Frostfell) female overlord Druid 25/Sorcerer 15/Frost MageFb 10 Death, ColdFb, WinterFb unpublished
  3. Eldrantulku the Oathbreaker (unknown) NE male overlord rogue 15/sorcerer 15/mindbenderCAr 10 CorruptionBoVD, Trickery Dragon 337 pages 63, 69-70
  4. Katashka the Gatekeeper (Lair of the Keeper, Khorvaire) LE male overlord cleric 8/wizard 8/true necromancerLM 14 Deathbound, UndeathECS DoE page 36, Dragon 337 page 70, ECG page 30
  5. Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War (Khorvaire) NE male overlord fighter 15/blackguard 10/cleric 15 Destruction, War; Dragon 337 pages 65, 70; ECG page 31
  6. Ran Iishiv the Unmaker (Korrandar, Sarlona) SoS page 12
  7. Sakinnirot the Scar that Abides (Stormreach, Xen’drik) CoS page 156
  8. Shudra the Fleshrender (Mel-Aqat, Xen’drik) PGtE page 155, TFoW page 127
  9. Sul Khatesh the Keeper of Secrets (Arcanix, Khorvaire) LE female overlord wizard 36/archmage 4 Knowledge, Magic CoS 89, Dragon 337 pages 60, 68; ECG pg 31
  10. Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber (Pit of Five Sorrows, Argonnessen) DoE page 9
  11. Tul Oreshka, the Truth in the Darkness (unknown) CE female overlord bard 20/wizard 10/loremaster 10 Madness, ShadowECS Dragon 337 pages 64, 70
  12. Masvirik the Cold Sun (Haka’Torvhak, Q’Barra); Dungeon 185 (DDI)
  13. Unnamed (Krertok Peninsula, Sarlona) SoS page 12
  14. Unnamed (Sustrai Mor, Sarlona) SoS page 91
  15. Unnamed (Tempest’s Isle, Lhazaar Principalities) PGtE page 99 possibly a rajah
  16. Yad-Raghesh (The Vale of the Fallen Rajah, Argonnessen) colossal two-headed overlord DoE page 50 “dead”
  17. The Spinner of Shadows (Xen’drik), DDO

I believe that Sul Khatesh is the only one that’s received a complete 3.5 writeup, in Dragon 337. I’ll also note that I prefer the term overlord to rajah. “Rajah” tends to get subsumed into “rakshasa rajah”—and while the overlords rule the rakshasa, they are not themselves rakshasa.

For you, how many overlords do exist? There is 17 listed, that’s all? There is a couple more? 17 more? A hundred more?

According to the Eberron Campaign Guide (page 30), “approximately thirty fiendish overlords are bound in Khyber.”

How big is the area of influence of an overlord?

Thirty overlords once held dominion over all of Eberron. A fully empowered overlord can easily hold dominion over an entire nation. However, it will take time for a released overlord to regain its full power. Its immediate dominion would cover a few miles, and would then quickly grow until it covered an entire nation or more.

If Katashka is made free, how long until the effects(pests, deaths, undead hordes) are sensed in the Talenta Plains? And Q’barra? Or Xen’drik/Sarlona?

That’s entirely up to you. You could decide that Katashka’s influence spreads quickly and that within days wights are crawling out of cemeteries across the world. Or you could decide that his power is growing slowly and won’t expand exponentially until Mabar’s next coterminous phase.

What if more than one overlord is released. Would they ally or make war on one another?

It entirely depends on what overlords they are. The Voice in the Darkness doesn’t do alliances. The Oathbreaker will, but there’s no question that any alliance with him will end in betrayal. And in some cases there’s no real basis for alliance—Rak Tulkhesh wants endless war, while Dral Khatuur simply wants to freeze everything in her reach. Some might fight, but such a feud might be even worse for mortals in the disputed territory than an alliance.

Are the overlords friendly to each other enough to releasing some or all of the other still bound ones? If Bel Shalor breaks his bonds, he will stride to Aundair and try to release Sul Khatesh, or he will just make sure she never gets free?

First, Bel Shalor can’t stride to Aundair and release Sul Khatesh. For Sul Khatesh to be released, the conditions of her Prophecy must be met. It doesn’t matter how much raw power Bel Shalor brings to bear; releasing an overlord is delicate work. Now, would he TRY to? Possibly. Bel Shalor in particular is a devious force, and has clearly learned a thing or two from his imprisonment. He might well see the value in releasing as many of the other overlords as possible, where Tul Oreshka just wouldn’t bother. On the other hand, there are certainly rivalries and some overlords might work against one another. It’s been noted that Dral Khatuur has no love for any of the others, and as a result she doesn’t have representatives on the Council of Ashtakala.

How common is the knowledge about how their prison works or where each of of then is between the overlords? Does every overlord know how to break free? Or how to break other free?

Extremely uncommon, no, and no. The secrets are all held in the Prophecy. It likely took thousands of years of study before any rakshasa figured out the secrets of releasing their master, and there may well be ones whose release conditions have never been identified. One thing to bear in mind is that the Prophecy is a living thing that constantly shifts as the future becomes the present. So Rak Tulkhesh can be released if X, Y, and Z happen. If you remove Z from the equation—by destroying the person who was supposed to have a child or the sword that child was supposed to use—the universe will simply recalculate and find a new way to solve for Z; and all the scholars who knew the original answer will have to keep studying until they figure it out. This is what the Chamber does: seek to identify paths that will release Overlords and eliminate them, while the Lords of Dust find paths that will release them. It’s a never ending conflict, even though it rarely comes to a demon and a dragon fighting one another.

What should the response of the Argonessen dragons be if an overlord is released?

Rebinding an overlord is just as difficult as releasing one, and in the same way, brute force is no answer. Bel Shalor wreaked havoc for a year in Thrane before Tira defeated him. Do you think Argonnessen just didn’t know or care? They knew; they simply had no path to rebind him, so they stayed far away. They may well have helped Tira without her knowing it. Just as it doesn’t help Sul Khatesh to have a rakshasa kill Queen Aurala, it doesn’t help Argonnessen if an army of dragons defeats Bel Shalor; he’d just reform tomorrow. So Argonnessen would get to work trying to find an answer to the problem, and trying to isolate themselves from the impact of the release. But brute force—even all the magic of Argonnessen—is no answer to the release of an overlord.

Of course it’s possible they would take action to contain the impact of a release. If the Rage of War gets out and transformed the Five Nations into a raving army of bloodthirty reavers, the dragons might sink their boats before they can reach Argonnessen. But this won’t stop Rak Tulkhesh.

And what about Aerenal? Are they safe against one overlord? Two? How long could take to the free overlord to crack the island defenses?

The Undying Court is essentially an artificial overlord. As such, it would be able to stave off the hostile influence of another overlord for a time, but as noted above, it would also depend on the form that influence takes. Tul Oreshka drives mortals mad. Rak Tulkhesh drives them to war. Aerenal could keep Rak Tulkhesh from infecting the elves, but they can’t stop him from flinging hordes of reavers at the island. And if you had an alliance of overlords, who knows?

Realizing that the bonds of the Daelkyr have to be maintained, and with the chaos brought by one or more released overlords, is safe to assume that sooner or later they would falter, and the mad gods would spill in Eberron again. How could they interact with the acting overlord(s)?

Daelkyr are small potatoes next to overlords. Bear in mind that the daelkyr aren’t even the toughest things in Xoriat; they’re just the toughest things that have any interest in other planes. Beyond that it depends on the overlord in question. The Voice in the Darkness might welcome the daelkyr. Rak Tulkhesh doesn’t care who’s fighting as long as someone is. An overlord who actually wants to exert dominion over mortals and have some semblance of civilization—an incarnation of Tyranny, for example—would need to deal with the daelkyr to keep them from wrecking that. But many overlords might just incorporate the daelkyr into their plans.

And Sarlona? What would be the Dreaming Dark response to an age of demons again?

Pretty much any free Overlord will mess things up for the Dreaming Dark. However, the Dreaming Dark has never been noted as having expert knowledge of the Prophecy, which means a) they don’t have lots of warning about it and b) they don’t really know what to do to deal with it. And remember, fiends don’t dream. Again, the Dreaming Dark was active when Bel Shalor spent a year free in Thrane. Most likely they would keep their distance while studying the situation and trying not to panic about it. They might provide aid to whoever proves to have a chance to bind it. But a Riedran army won’t help. Thought they may not know that—so if you WANT them to, you could have them panic and do something dramatic, simply so it can fail awesomely. Heck, a confrontation between the Dreaming Dark and an overlord might be just what it takes to push Dal Quor into the next age… which could be the best thing that could possibly happen, if the next age of Dal Quor is one of light.

If a Lord of Dust was killed, would the death be for good (akin to killing a demon in the Abyss) or would it reform somewhere?

In Eberron, immortal spirits cannot be destroyed. Unless they are bound, they will always reform. This is true of every immortal from rakshasa to devils to quori. Depending on the type of immortal, it may not retain its memories after death and reincarnation. This is true of quori, and it’s why the Dreaming Dark seeks to exterminate the Kalashtar quori – so they can be reintegrated and reborn as part of il-Lashtavar. With rakshasa, weaker ones generally lose memories, while strong ones (such as the Council of Ashtakala) will generally reform with memories intact. Now, there are ways to ensure that you destroy the memories, and ways to delay that reincarnation, and the key there is to know your Prophecy. Kill the Wyrmbreaker with normal steel on a Tuesday and he’ll be back by Thursday. But if the Son of Seven Sorrows kills him with a silver sword forged in the tears of the Keeper under the light of a new moon, he might be dead for a year and a day. Which is to say, a DM should always feel free to come up with interesting circumstances under which it is possible to effectively kill a fiend.

Are there angelic or good aligned counterparts to the overlords?

If you mean “Is there an incarnate force that’s called something like ‘The Cuteness of Kittens’?” No, there isn’t. If you mean “Is there any sort of native celestials on Eberron,” there WERE: the couatl. They were never as powerful as the Overlords, and were more on par with the rakshasa… and they sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame. On some level you could say that the Silver Flame is the good counterpart to the Overlords, which is why it can bind them; it’s simply less concrete and more abstract.

Why is this? Look to the progenitor myth. Khyber killed Siberys and was in turn imprisoned by Eberron. The Overlords are Khyber’s children, and like Khyber, are forces of evil that cannot be vanquished, only bound. Eberron doesn’t produce incarnate spirits like the Overlords: her children are mortal. So Eberron DID create a thing that embodies the cuteness of kittens: she created kittens. Meanwhile, Siberys would be the source of native celestials, and he did create some, like the couatl – but they were created from the blood of Siberys after his defeat, and thus lack the power of the victorious Khyber.

From a purely practical worldbuilding standpoint, there’s a simple reason for this. Eberron is designed to be a world that needs heroes. All the powerful forces of good are limited. Jaela Daran is a child whose power is limited beyond Flamekeep. Oalian doesn’t leave the Greenheart. When evil rises, the world needs you; there is no ultimate good force that can step in and solve the problem for you. The Silver Flame can empower you to solve the problem, but it can’t solve the problem for you.

Is there not even a single surviving Couatl?

I believe we have a few places in canon where there are still couatl who were left behind to watch over things. And there are of course the Shulassakar, the feathered yuan-ti. Beyond this, the fact that the couatl are gone from the word doesn’t mean that they can’t play a role–it means that they need your help to do it. Tira Miron was aided by a couatl, but it didn’t help her in corporeal form; it empowered her and advised her spiritually. In D&D 3.5 this is called divine channeling; I don’t know if 4E ever did a version of it. Essentially, it’s a form of possession that doesn’t actually control the person being possessed, instead granting them additional powers. The premise is that this isn’t something just anyone can do; Tira’s faith and courage made it possible, and it’s what defines her as the Voice of the Silver Flame — her ability to hear the Flame when others did not. So the couatl CAN affect the world, but only through the medium of heroes. Which comes back to that basic premise of Eberron: there are no forces of good that can solve the problem alone. They need you.

On the other hand, the Silver Flame preaches that it will one day cleanse the world from all evil, and naturally that involves the lords of dust, which entails that they are not truly invincible.

This idea comes from Faiths of Eberron. I didn’t work on that book, and I don’t agree with the idea. To me, the key of the Silver Flame is that you don’t fight because you think the battle can be won: you fight because it is that battle which makes the world a better place. There’s no end condition: it is an eternal struggle. There will always be a need for champions. There will always be a need for courage and sacrifice. Evil can’t be permanently vanquished, because good and evil are choices people make. You can’t eliminate lying from the world, because every time someone speaks they have the choice to lie. You can teach that person the value of honesty. You can encourage them to tell the truth. But if you truly eliminated their capacity to lie, you have taken away their free will, and how is that a good thing? This is the lesson of the Overlords. They will always be there, just as the potential for war, death, and treachery will always be there. Through our actions, we hold them at bay, both physically and in the human heart. Through courage and virtue, we show people the proper path and inspire them to be better than they are, to ignore the tempting whispers of evil. And when a noble soul dies their spirit joins the Flame, where it continues to hold evil at bay and strengthen those who fight it.

In several tales heroes tend to be inspired by higher noble powers and realize that they are still fragile and prone to temptation (this is well reflected by Eberron’s handle of alignments), and just as the lords of dust embody several aspects of evil (war…), there ought to be embodiments of goodness.

The Silver Flame is a positive source of spiritual power. It is a source of inspiration. But unlike the Overlords, it cannot act alone: it needs to act through champions. Again, this is part of what defines it as good; it cannot enforce its nature on others, but rather they must choose it. Rak Tulkhesh makes people fight. Katashka revels in death. There is no entity that forces you to be good; there are simply powers that can strengthen you if you choose to be good, just as it was Tira’s courage and virtue that allowed the couatl to empower her.

In my eyes, the fact that virtuous behavior is a choice is what makes it truly virtuous. If it is enforced–whether by a supernatural agency or a mortal power–it loses its meaning. The followers of the Silver Flame don’t do what they do because they expect to win and utterly eliminate all evil forever; they follow the precepts of the Flame because doing so is what makes the world a better place.

This is in marked contrast to the Blood of Vol, many of whose followers believe that they can some day eliminate the concept of death from the world; one can well ask what that would actually mean, and if in so doing they would also eliminate new birth. But that’s another topic. Meanwhile, you might want to consider the following…

Could the place of an Overlord be usurped, or could a person rise to become an overlord? For example, if Erandis Vol decided that her destiny was to achieve actual dominion over death, could she rise to become the embodiment of the concept of death, or failing that, usurp the place of Katashka as the gatekeeper of death?

Anything is possible. We have said that there are members of the Lords of Dust who don’t want to free their Overlord masters, but rather to usurp their power. If it’s possible for a rakshasa to do it, than it’s presumably possible for a human to do it; you’ve just got an interim step of becoming an entity of incarnate spirit like a rakshasa. With that said, you don’t have to usurp the power of an Overlord to become an embodiment of a concept. Erandis Vol wishes to become the Queen of Death (and bear in mind, she’s been working at it for thousands of years and has a unique spiritual basis for being able to do it–the Mark of Death–so clearly this isn’t a casual thing). However, I don’t think this requires her to displace Katashka. The Overlords embody horrible things. That doesn’t mean they govern them. Katashka embodies our fears of death and the horror of the undead. He can enslave the spirits of the dead and bind them to his service in the mortal world. But as he is part of this world, he doesn’t govern the fate of the dead in the worlds beyond. Rak Tulkhesh gains strength from strife, and when free he can create strife. But again, he only has dominion over the rage of war… he has nothing to do with a just conflict.

So the question you have to ask, is do you want to become an Overlord… a finite entity who can be bound and whose dominion is limited… or do you want to become a Sovereign, whose power is unbound and touches all it inspires? The Sovereign Host maintains that Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah can be found any time a blade is drawn, and that Onatar is there in every forge. Tied to the previous answer, the Sovereigns don’t take incarnate form; they inspire and act through mortal vessels. When you create something new, Onatar (or the Traveler) is with you. When you fight, Dol Dorn is with you. And, of course, when you choose to do evil in war, the Mockery is with you. But even the Mockery isn’t finite in the way an Overlord is.

People have sought to become Sovereigns before. The founder of the Library of Korranberg sought to displace Aureon as lord of knowledge. According to the draconic faith of Thir (as discussed in Dragons of Eberron), this is possible; when a new being takes on the mantle of a Sovereign, the previous one ascends to greater realms. Myths suggest that the first Sovereigns were ascended dragons who fought the Overlords in the first age. So there’s mythical precedent for it; it’s just a question of what it takes, and what it actually means if you succeed, since Sovereigns don’t manifest after ascension.

Is there any connection between Katashka the Gatekeeper and other prominent undead-themed entities (eg Vol and her followers).

Not according to canon. However, you could always decide that Katashka is connected to all negatively empowered undead, whether they know it or not… and that Vol, Kaius, and other influential undead are all secretly pawns in the Overlord’s plans. This certainly seems like a fine approach for starting with the Emerald Claw as a heroic tier threat, moving to Vol herself in paragon, and then bringing Katashka in as the true epic threat. For those wanting to know a little more about Katashka, check out Dragon 337 or this Eberron Expanded article.

Any idea what Overlord you would place under Sharn? Some of the details of Fallen (the improvement of which was a major goal of a paladin in one of my games) seems to imply something malign is buried below the city.

By canon, the spiritual force of evil in Sharn isn’t tied to an Overlord; it’s tied to the fact that it’s a dumping ground for Syrania where fallen angels… AKA Radiant Idols… are left to rot. My novel The Son of Khyber specifically addresses the idea of a malign spiritual force tied to Fallen. With that said, you could decide that the reason Sharn is such a great place for dumping angels – aside from being a manifest zone – is due to the presence of an Overlord.

Why could Siberys be killed, but Khyber only imprisoned? Or could Khyber be killed by (only) Eberron or an alive Siberys?

Assuming you take the myth at face value, there’s a few reasons. First, Khyber employed treachery, taking Siberys by surprise. Second, because that is what Khyber is: destruction. Treachery. Corruption. Evil. Eberron, on the other hand, is Life. Destruction isn’t in her nature. So she deals with Khyber by imprisoning him through creation–by building the world around Khyber, creating a living prison to hold her sibling at bay. One point I’ll make is that despite the power of Khyber’s children, their number is limited. They may never die, but if there are thirty overlords today, there will never be thirty-one tomorrow. Eberron’s children may be mortal, but they have the power of creation, and that’s something Khyber lacks. So again, Eberron didn’t create an immortal, stagnant overlord called the Cuteness of Kittens; she created kittens, and new kittens are born every day.

Of course, the progenitors and the myth are symbols as much as anything else. The triumph of Khyber explains why evil can exist in the world. Destruction cannot defeat creation, which is why Khyber can never escape Eberron; however, it can corrupt creation, as made manifest in the Age of Demons. The defeat of the demons shows that mortal life can choose a better path – that virtue can hold evil at bay – but as noted above, it can never be defeated eternally.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the Ring of Siberys is the primary source of arcane energy; as such, even in death Siberys gives people the tools to change the world. They must decide whether to use them wisely.

Do you consider the DDO semi-released Overlord, The Spinner of Shadows, a good example of the demonstration of Overlord power? For non-DDO players, she is imprisoned by the Silver Flame magic, and is basically invulnerable, have some powerful poison that infects you on contact, and can summon an infinite number of demons and spiders to do her bidding. The objective of the quest is recovering parts of the Silver Flame magic that was “eaten” by some magically-altered spiders specifically to counter it, and redo the wards. If you lure her too close to the flame wards, she is weakened enough to run in fear for a few seconds.

There’s no such thing as a reasonable display of overlord power. You say yourself that she’s “semi-released.” So anything could be a reasonable display of power based on the conditions of that release. Rak Tulkhesh could turn an entire country into sociopathic killers. But if he’s “semi-released”, maybe he can only do that to things he can touch through an avatar. In other words, sure, I think this is a perfectly reasonable way to use an overlord in a form that it can be tangibly interacted with in an MMORPG. And I really appreciate DDO’s efforts to work with the existing mythology of the overlords when they could just call the Spinner Lolth and do anything they wanted. But it’s not like you need to use this as a guideline for the release of a different overlord, because it really can take whatever form fits your story.