Dragonmarks: The Evolving Artificer

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

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

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

THE GOOD

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

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

THE BAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update

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

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

What are your thoughts on the latest UA Artificer?

Thelanis in Play: Curses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thelanis in Play: Manifest Zones

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

Manifest zones are places where the walls between worlds are thin, where the influence of a plane can be felt on Eberron. A manifest zone could extend for miles, encompassing an entire forest or city… or it could be as small as a single well or a stone arch in the midst of a grove.

Every manifest zone influences its environs in a manner connected to its plane. However, two manifest zones tied to the same plane can have wildly different effects. By and large, Thelanian manifest zones tend to impart a sense of otherworldliness to their environs. Plants might be unnaturally healthy, colors especially vivid. This could be idyllic; hostile creatures might avoid the tranquil grove and its always-pure fountain. But it could just as easily be unnaturally menacing. You’re safe in Taiden Wood as long as you stay on the path… but those who venture off the path are rarely seen again.

Overall, Thelanian zones tend to fall into one of three categories.

Gateways. There are many tales of heroes or adventurers who accidentally find themselves in the Faerie Court, certainly more so than any other plane. This is due to the fact that many Thelanian zones serve as portals between the worlds. These are rarely constantly active. Instead, they are triggered under certain circumstances: a particular confluence of moons; a hunter pursuing a particular beast; someone newly in love, or someone whose heart has just been broken. Needless to say, these circumstances can be whatever you want them to be… as long as this justifies the fact that people aren’t using the portal every day. For purposes of an adventure, this is an easy way to take players to Thelanis. It can happen accidentally; they happen to hit the right circumstances to activate the gate and are suddenly in Thelanis. It may take a while for them to realize this, if the local environs are similar on both sides. More important, the gate may not work both ways – so one of the biggest challenges may be finding a way back! Alternately, the adventurers might know about the gateway and have to figure out how to activate it – whether to escape an unbeatable foe, to find someone who has been lost in Thelanis, or to reach an artifact or ally in the Faerie Court.

Beachheads. Sometimes a manifest zone actually brings a piece of Thelanis directly into the material plane. This is the case with the Feyspires introduced in the fourth edition of D&D (and featured in The Fading Dream), and is the general concept of the Twilight Demesne in the Eldeen Reaches. Like the gateways, these are typically temporary. Coterminous periods, phases of the moon, or special circumstances might trigger a beachhead. It could be that the locals know about it and that the arrival of the beachhead is a celebrated and anticipated event… whether by the community as a whole or by a small sect, such as a group of Greensingers who celebrate with the Fey on nights when three moons are full. Or the beachhead may be a cause of alarm – such as Taer Syraen in Karrnath, where the local warlord is concerned that the Feyspire is an invading force. The Feyspires are full cities, but a beachhead could be anything. Perhaps an archfey’s tomb appears once each century, providing a rare chance to delve into this dungeon. Or a monster appears and haunts the region for one night a month; will you track it down before it disappears again?

Influence. The most common manifest zones simply bring some of the flavor of Thelanis to the region without offering a direct connection. As described above, this influence could be seen in the environment. You can’t actually go to Thelanis, but you might find a dryad in the woods, or a talking wolf that embodies your fears. Such influence can also be intangible. Perhaps if you make a promise in the grove it must be kept, or if you bury your sword and the hair of a murderer by the blood-red tree it will become a bane blade for purposes of taking vengeance.

The critical point is that Thelanis is the place where the world works like a faerie story – and that the manifest zone can bring a touch of that into the real world. You can have magic that doesn’t strictly follow the rules, like the unbreakable vow… or simply something unexpected, like the dryads in the trees.

Putting all of this together, here’s a few ideas for Thelanian manifest zones.

  • Taiden Woods. People have always shunned this dark forest. In the past a few local lords have sought to cut it down, but none have succeeded. Some say the trees won’t burn, and that they bleed when cut. All that is none for certain is that there is a path that runs through it, and those who stay on the path are safe… but those who leave it are often never seen again. Walking the Taiden path you may hear lovely voices calling to you, or beautiful music. But if you value your life and those you love, never leave the path. Taiden Wood shows the influence of Thelanis, but the last few sentences suggest the idea of a gateway. It doesn’t always happen, but if you hear the music and follow it you will find yourself in Thelanis – and this is why many of those who leave the path truly never return. Beyond this, the wood is home to a few dryads that don’t like people, some enhanced predators, and a few other lesser fey. 
  • The Tomb of the Forgotten King. In the Mror Holds, the old miners tell a story of the Tomb of the Forgotten King. It varies from telling to telling, but core details remain the same. It cannot be found by those who seek it out; instead, it is found when a traveler seeks shelter in a cave and discovers deeper passages. Following these tunnels, they find themselves in a ancient tomb. Jewels are embedded in the walls. Coins are heaped on tables, spilling onto the floor. In some versions of the story, there are guardians patrolling the tomb, spirits of stone and metal. In others there are deadly traps. But one detail remains the same throughout all the tales: treasures taken from the tomb always bring misfortune, curses that linger until the thief finds the tomb again and returns what they have stolen… or until the robber dies. In one story the explorer finds the casket of the king himself, and from it takes the Final Blade, whose wounds cannot be healed. He uses it to settle a feud with a rival clan… only to die when he stumbles and cuts his own wrist with the blade. His daughter returned the blade to the tomb, and it has never been seen again. Here we have a beachhead – a piece of Thelanis that comes and goes. It’s also a dwarven tale, so the fey in this tomb will be spirits of stone and steel. Adventurers could stumble upon this by accident, only to have a dwarven PC recognize it from the tales. Will they seek out the Final Blade? 
  • The Grove of Promises. There is a fountain in a nearby forest. No one knows who built it, but its water is clear and pure and it has never run dry. Local stories say that if you make a promise to someone and then share a drink from the fountain that you must keep your word – that if you are false, you will sicken and die. The people of the town perform marriages in the Grove. Young lovers sneak away to pledge their hearts. There are even merchants who like to seal their deals in the Grove. The people of the town never break a promise sworn in the Grove… will you? This is an example of influence. Breaking a vow made on the fountain will afflict the liar with a disease; it can be survived, but it won’t be pleasant. It’s possible that there is actually a fey tied to the fountain who judges such things and can make the punishment more or less severe; and during a coterminous phase, that fey might even be able to manifest and leave the fountain. 

Post your thoughts or questions below!

Thelanis in Play: Artifacts

Last week I wrote about the Faerie Court of Thelanis and the fey. While it’s interesting in principle, that Q&A doesn’t get into the practical applications of how to directly incorporate either fey or Thelanis into a typical Eberron campaign. It’s a big topic, so rather than piling it all into one big post I’m going to split it up into a number of small posts spread throughout the week. Over the next few days I’m going to explore the impact of artifacts, fey patrons, curses, manifest zones, and a final round up of questions. Let’s start with the first approach: Artifacts

Eberron is a world where magic is treated as a science, where there is a certain degree of gritty realism laid over the fantasy. It often breaks the mold of classic fantasy. So how does this mesh with Thelanis, a plane that essentially embodies the faerie tale? To begin with, understand that Thelanis is its own world. In his essay about fairy stories, J.R.R. Tolkien notes that if fey creatures “really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them. Our fates are sundered, and our paths seldom meet. Even upon the borders of Faërie we encounter them only at some chance crossing of the ways.” Unlike the quori, the inhabitants of Thelanis as a whole have no interest in Eberron. Individual fey may have a story that drives them to interact with mortals, or seek amusement abroad. But by and large interactions are incidental. And yet, this lack of a single massive driving plot actually allows Thelanis to touch a wide array of stories, precisely because its inhabitants aren’t as united as the quori.

To start with, let’s consider a way that Thelanis can influence a story without the appearance of a single fey creature: artifacts. Khorvaire is a place of industrialized magic, a place where things make sense. Thelanis is a realm of storybook magic, and it often defies logic. Things from this world – from the greatest treasures to seemingly trivial things – can have remarkable qualities. The catch is that these things often come with twists… frequently things that don’t quite follow the rules people are used to dealing with when it comes to magic items. Consider the following…

  • The Mithral Falcon. This statue has no obvious powers other than its exceptional beauty… but it can amplify greed and desire, causing powerful people to shed blood to obtain it. The player characters may not want the Falcon, but it could be a  catalyst for mayhem around them as rival ganglords fight over the Falcon in the streets of Sharn. Or perhaps an Aurum concordian will hire the PCs to “acquire” the Falcon from a rival.
  • Tascara’s Eye. If you activate the power of this crystal orb, it will show you glimpses of the past, present, or future.  Most of the time the Eye shows things you want to know – warnings about threats, answers to mysteries that have been troubling you. But there is no way to control it what is shown, and sometimes it shows you things you didn’t want to know… or visions that if misinterpreted could lead you to disaster. Will you use its power and take that risk, or leave it alone?
  • Stone of Rebirth. After slaying a long-time foe, the PCs are surprised when she returns unharmed. This is because she possesses the Stone of Rebirth, an artifact that works much like a lich’s phylactery. Once someone has formed a bond to the stone, nothing can prevent them from being resurrected by it after death. The heroes must learn of the stone, figure out where it is being kept and how to sever the villain’s bond. But then what do they do with it? Does one of them want to use it? If so, will they discover that there is a price that must be paid for this eternal life? Perhaps the stone kills someone close to the bearer as a price for rebirth, or perhaps each new life comes with a curse. If they don’t want to use the stone themselves, how will they deal with the many powerful people in the world who covet it?
  • The Final Blade. The wounds inflicted by this weapon cannot be healed by any method. Those that are killed by it cannot be resurrected; it may even be that it can permanently kill immortals. But every time it takes a life, this sword strikes a blow against its wielder… and this wound can never be healed. Who will wield the Final Blade?
  • The Keepsake. This locket provides +1 bonus to AC and Saving Throws. It contains the images of two Eladrin, lovers from an ancient story. Each time the bearer levels up, the power of the amulet increases… but the bearer changes slightly. A skill proficiency shifts. A background benefit changes. Hair color shifts. The character remembers something that’s not their memory… but it’s a memory that can lead the party to adventure and treasure. With each advance, the character changes further. They are gaining power and information that leads to a grand adventure, but they are becoming one of the characters in the ancient story. Will they accept this fate? If not, it it possible to undo the changes that have already occurred? And what will it take to remove the amulet?

The general concept of Thelanian artifacts is that they come with a price… or that they draw characters into their story. The Mithral Falcon creates a story of betrayal and greed.The Keepsake literally draws its wearer into the story. Tascara’s Eye gives information… and in so doing, shapes the path the PCs will take. Once they know their employer is betraying them, can they continue working for him?

Thelanian artifacts can be acquired by dealing with the Fey, but they can also be found in hoards, collections, or the hands of powerful people. Perhaps the Daughters of Sora Kell give Tascara’s Eye to the leader of the Daask cell in Sharn… but was Sora Teraza intending for it to fall into the PC’s hands from the very beginning?

Next up: Manifest Zones!

Dragonmarks: Thelanis and the Fey

It’s been a busy few months for me, between IllimatPhoenix, and other projects I can’t discuss at the moment. There’s still no news about Eberron development for 5E, and that limits what I can do here. However, in 2017 I will be launching a Patreon to support more extensive gaming-related content on the site. For now, here’s the long-promised Q&A about the Fey of Eberron. 

What if every story you were told as a child is true? The Sleeping Princess, the Maze of Thorns, the lurkers who wait in the shadows to steal sleeping children. What if all of these things are real, poised just beyond the curtain of the material plane?

This is the case in the Eberron Campaign Setting. The material plane is a blending of substance and ideals. The outer planes are purified ideas, realms that embody particular concepts. Shavarath is the eternal battleground; this conflict began at the dawn of time, and it will continue until the end of creation. Shavarath embodies war. Dolurrh is a place of death. Kythri is chaos and change, while Daanvi is order and stability. Fernia is fire and Risia is ice. But what exactly is Thelanis? Lamannia is the plane of Nature… But Thelanis is home to dryads and similar spirits. What does this mean?

Personally, I focus on Lamannia as a place of primal nature: iconic entities and elemental forms. While the Greensingers would take issue with this, in my opinion the Fey of Thelanis aren’t part of nature… not even the dryad. The Fey are the magic we wish was in the world. The dryad is the spirit we want the tree to have, when we see a slender willow and think of it as a beautiful woman. But there’s nothing natural about a tree having a spirit that resembles a human woman; it’s something magical, a story we want to believe. For me, this is what Thelanis is. The realm of stories. The realm of the magic we want in the world. The Fey reflect hopes, fears, secrets and desires both conscious and unconscious.

But if Thelanis is the realm of stories, how is it different from Dal Quor, the region of dreams? Stories are concrete. They may evolve over time, but a story can hold its general shape for centuries. Stories can hold lessons and morals that ring true across cultures and generations. By contrast, dreams are intensely temporary and personal. Dreams aren’t passed down; they are created anew every night. The quori (the primary spirits of Dal Quor) don’t embody specific dreams; rather, they embody the emotions and forces that shape our dreams, and they themselves have the power to manipulate the content of dreams. By contrast, the immortal Fey are the subjects of stories. This raises the chicken-and-egg question: A powerful Fey resembles the subject of a well-known story. Does the story exist because the Fey exists and has passed her story into the collective unconscious of Eberron? Or has the Fey herself been shaped and ultimately created because of a story mortals began telling on her own? Can a Fey actively change her own story… or could mortals actively change her by purposefully changing the way a particular story is told? There’s no clear answer to this question, and it’s not easily proven either way. You can be certain that it is a subject of debate in the ivory towers of Eberron itself, and in my Eberron novels (notably The Fading Dream) you can see some of the inhabitants of Eberron and Thelanis wrestling with this issue. And looking back to Dal Quor, the Feyspire of Shae Doresh was essentially the bridge between Thelanis and Dal Quor, and may have been a physical reflection of that tie between stories and dreams.

The Geography of Thelanis

It’s easy to think of the planes as being essentially alien worlds. The Feyspires are like cities, so you must be able to walk from city to city, right? This is a dangerous mistake. Thelanis isn’t a planet; it’s a plane. It is potentially infinite in size… and at the same time, it doesn’t follow the physical laws of our reality. The Woodsman lives in a forest beneath the Deepwood Moon, and there is no end to that forest; it is a closed pocket of space, and if you start walking west you’ll eventually find yourself back where you began. If you’re trying to reach the Silver Tree or the domain of the Queen of Dusk, you can’t just get on a horse and ride there; you have to find a path. Inhabitants of Thelanis have gates they can open or slip through, but as a mortal you generally have to follow a story – taking actions that either complete the story of the realm you’re in, or that draw you to a different place.

What does this mean for DMs and players? Thelanis isn’t a mundane world. Every piece of it exists in isolation and is tied around one or more stories. It’s essentially made for adventure. When players go there, it’s up to you to decide what the local story is, and what they need to do to move through it. The realm of the Prince of Frost is forever shrouded in ice and night, while the Queen of Sand lives in a desert where the sun never sets. While each realm has a core story, bear in mind that it’s not the ONLY story that can play out there. In my novel The Gates of Night, the heroes need to deal with the Woodsman to leave the Deepwood Moon; but while in the realm they also have to deal with trouble at the Inn of the Crooked Tree and with the questioning serpent. Essentially, each realm has a ruling entity whose story defines and shapes the region – but many other beings inhabit each region, bringing their own stories with them. Which brings us to the next point…

The Fey

So who are the Fey? What do they want?

First of all, I draw a sharp distinction between “fey creatures” – which I define as “mortal creatures from Thelanis” – and capital-F Fey, by which I mean immortal spirits of Thelanis. Depending on edition, gnomes, elves, and eladrin all have the fey subtype. You can find both gnomes and eladrin in Thelanis, and they make up the bulk of the population of the Feyspires. These mortal creatures aren’t substantially different from their cousins on Eberron; they are the courtiers and serfs of Thelanis. An eladrin knight serving in the feyspire of Shaelas Tiraleth isn’t THAT different from a paladin of the Undying Court; both are proud and long-lived warriors who fight on behalf of immortal rulers. That knight is one of dozens of knights, and he isn’t personally embodying some ancient story. His attitudes are shaped by growing up in Thelanis, and his customs will feel strange to people of Khorvaire, but not THAT strange. And he can grow old, have children, sicken, and eventually die.

Next we have the lesser true fey: immortal spirits, but with relatively limited power and dominion. Dryads, sprites, and similar creatures fall into this category. Such creatures are essentially immortal. They cannot die by natural means, and their numbers always remain static; when one of them dies a new one will eventually manifest to take its place. Most of these beings have a fundamentally different relationship with time than the mortals of Eberron; they escape immortal ennui by living purely in the moment, giving almost no thought to past or future. A sprite could be thousands of years old, but she might not be able to recall something that happened a week ago, because time has essentially just passed through her. The sprite is almost like a flower; it’s a part of the color of Thelanis, but it cannot learn or change; it simply IS. If they harm you, it’s generally with a sort of innocent, childlike malice; poke the rose and the thorn will prick you. By tomorrow they won’t even remember it.

So you can think of these least immortals as “background fey” – they essentially exist as set dressing for stories, and they don’t hold on to many personal details (or feel any loss at this). However, it’s possible that one of these chorus members can get promoted to have a story of their own. In The Gates of Night we encounter two dryads who DO have stories and strong individual identities: Lady Darkheart and the Crooked Tree. As they become part of a story they develop more individual identity and can have goals and desires. But even here, their personalities are only as deep as their story requires. They may be defined by an event that happened centuries ago, and still hold to that tragic romance or bitter vendetta as if there was nothing else in the world. They don’t change in the way mortals do; they can’t simply forgive a slight, unless that in itself fits the shape of their story.

But when I talk about “The Fey”, I’m usually talking about the people at the top of the food chain: what mechanically would be called Archfey. Humanoid Archfey are often (though not always) known as Ghaele Eladrin, but it’s important not to confuse them with the lesser mortal eladrin. In Shaelas Tiraleth you have hundreds of mortal eladrin, but only one Ghaele: the Lady of the Silver Tree. She is the immortal heart of the Feyspire; it is her story. Ghaele are technically immortal, but their stories can evolve and change. Thus the Lady of the Silver Tree has a father, and some day she could die and be replaced by a prince; but that transition would represent the story that defines Shaelas Tiraleth fundamentally changing.

Dragon magazine ran a series called The Court of Stars that profiled Archfey, and I wrote a piece on the Prince of Frost for issue 374 (that’s him on the cover). Here’s a note from that article: “The great powers of the Feywild dance through time unburdened by its chains, leaving their marks in stories and histories. Little can be known for certain about the archfey. Some accounts say that the Maiden of the Moon was once an eladrin who rose to power through passion for the hunt. Others claim that she is a dream of the moon. Perhaps neither tale is the truth. Maybe both are. So it is with the Prince of Frost. It is foolish to seek fact in the Feywild, but one can find stories.” According to his story, the Prince of Frost was originally the Sun Prince and betrothed to one of the three Daughters of Delight. When his lover forsook him for a noble mortal warrior, his heart grew cold… and when she and her lover cast their spirits forward in time to escape him, his heart became ice. Now he waits for his love to be reborn so he can possess her; but in the meantime he takes pleasure in tormenting mortal heroes in memory of the one who stole his beloved.

The Prince of Frost is a perfectly suitable Fey to appear in Thelanis. He has long-term goals – find his beloved when she is reborn, torment mortal heroes – and he will recruit mortal agents (Greensingers, Fey Pact warlocks) to help achieve these goals. The issue is that he is defined by his story. He can’t suddenly meet a new love and drop the whole vengeance thing, or suddenly be convinced to take an interest in the war between Droaam and Breland. He is ancient and powerful, but in some ways he is simpler than most mortal villains; he is, in essence, a storybook villain. He can be subtle and clever in pursuing his goals, but at the same time, he’s going to KEEP PURSUING THOSE GOALS FOREVER until the story somehow finally comes to an end. Like the dryad, he doesn’t really learn or evolve… unless his defining story itself somehow evolves.

The next critical thing about immortal Fey is that they are bound by rules and storybook logic; this is a thing that can limit them despite their power. Most are bound to keep their promises. The Court of Stars article calls out that a player can gain concrete, mechanical benefits if they learn the true name of the Prince (and can say it); if they learn the song Lady Sharaea composed for her beloved; or if they possess the amulet the Prince of Frost gave to Sharaea. So a mortal gnome can give her word and break it a minute later; but a Ghaele is defined by her words, and can be tricked into making a promise that saves a mortal.

All of which brings us back to the question: what do they want? The answer is different for each Archfey. Most of them are simply living out their story and want whatever suits that story. The Prince of Frost wants to torment selfless heroes while searching for his beloved. The Lady of the Silver Tree wants nothing more than the care for her tree. They may be defined by feuds with other Archfey or mortals; essentially, come up with a story and it will tell you what they want.

Another question that sometimes comes up is whose stories do the Fey represent? The answer? Everyone. In The Gates of Night, the drow Xu’sasar encounters the ghost scorpion in Thelanis – an important piece of the stories of her people, but one with no meaning to the other travelers. Likewise, she interprets the entire experience of Thelanis in a different way than the others. The fey we are FAMILIAR with reflect human stories; that doesn’t mean there aren’t OTHER fey in Thelanis who are based around Goblin stories, or a dryad-equivalent based on how a Goblin sees a tree. With that said, some fey concepts are relatively universal; everyone has to deal with Winter sometime. In that case, what you might have is a single spirit that’s perceived in a different form by different beings; so a human sees a Ghaele of Winter as an elf-like human, while a goblin might see a bugbear with ice-crusted fur. The Ghaele might interact with human and goblin in a different way, instinctively adopting the customs they expect from their tales. If you’re familiar with Gaiman’s Sandman comics, it’s the same way beings of different races and cultures all see Dream through their own lens. So as humans, we tend to see the human face of Thelanis… but there are many others.

Now, let me address a few specific questions submitted by you all.

Do the fey courts ever have any interest in the goings on outside their realm, in Eberron proper?

As a general rule, the inhabitants of the outer planes think about Eberron as much or possibly less than the people of Eberron think about the outer planes. They know it exists, and there are some scholars who study it, and a rare few go there, but the vast majority barely ever think about it. With that said, the primary effect of manifest zones to Thelanis is to allow travel between the two realms. In an area with a manifest zone, you could easily have more casual contact between the realms for better or for worse. These are the villages where you could have changelings swapped for human children, or where a villager might leave a gift in exchange for a fey boon. And these are also the places where you could have stories of sinister lurkers who cause mayhem in the dark of the moon, or where the Wild Hunt passes through the woods when the planes are coterminous.

With the Archfey, it depends entirely on their stories. The Prince of Frost has a story that gives him a concrete, specific reasons to meddle in Eberron: he’s watching for his beloved’s return, and in the meantime taking vengeance on mortal heroes. In The Dreaming Dark series, there’s an Archfey plot playing out in the background of the main story. So if you want an Archfey to have an interest in Eberron, come up with a story that explains it.

I’d love you to tell us more about the mischievous personality of the Fey.

I think this mainly applies to the “background Fey” – the immortals who serve as the set dressing of Thelanis. The playful sprite, the raucous satyr, the shy dryad. To me, the key point here is that these Fey live entirely in the moment. There is no tomorrow, there is no past. There is no fear of consequence, only the pure experience of love, joy, or rage. When a dryad curses a traveler who steals fruit from her tree, it’s because in that moment this is the worst thing that could ever happen and he deserves it. While the dancing satyr has no concerns about anything other than the party we are having RIGHT NOW. So if a fey is mischievous – and not all are – it’s very much a childlike thing, pure mischief with little consequence or deep intent.

I don’t think “mischievous” is a word that applies to most Archfey, unless you’re creating an Archfey whose story is all about spreading mischief (The Prince of Misrule!). There’s nothing mischievous at all about the Prince of Frost or the Lady of the Silver Tree; they are deadly serious.

How would you use the Greensingers in a campaign? What are they trying to accomplish, and who are they in conflict with?

The Greensingers are the least monolithic or predictable of the Druid sects. Unlike the other sects, they have no leaders or fixed communities. They are tied together by common experiences, by magical traditions, and by a shared love of fey things. But as noted in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, “The lords of Thelanis draw courtiers and entertainers from Eberron, and many Greensingers spend time in the halls of the Faerie Court before returning to Eberron to act as ambassadors, servants, and spies for the fey lords.” The critical point here is that Greensingers work for different Archfey – and that’s what will tell you what they are trying to accomplish. A Greensinger working for the Prince of Frost will watch for his lost love and attempt to lure noble heroes into his traps, and as such could be a villain in a campaign. A Greensinger working for the Lady of the Silver Tree could simply be trying to help protect Shaelas Tiraleth, and serve as an ambassador in the wider world and a guide who could take the adventurers to the tree. So when you’re dealing with a Greensinger all you know is that they have a tie to the Fey; until you learn more about WHICH Fey, you won’t know what they are trying to accomplish. Some Greensingers aren’t tied to specific Fey, but simply seek to live their life in the fey manner – living in the moment while drifting through time.

What is the kind of task an Archfey could ask of players that they can’t do by themselves nor order to Greensingers?

First of all, most Archfey are exceptionally powerful within their own realms. Like the Undying Court, this is a territorial thing. Some can’t ever leave their realms; others put themselves at risk or lose power if they did. So first of all, an Archfey may turn to an adventurer, warlock, or Greensinger to accomplish any task that has to be done in Eberron, because the Archfey quite likely can’t actually go to Eberron to do it. Beyond that, it’s all about the story. Again, the Prince of Winter seeks his reborn beloved and seeks to torment selfless heroes. He’s always looking for information. He might want a player emissary to recover his lost locket, to kidnap someone he thinks might be his beloved, or to engage in a feud against a particular hero. As for “Why pick a player character instead of a Greensinger,” it’s entirely up to you if a particular Archfey has any Greensinger agents.

Beyond this, an easy way to tie an Archfey to a group of adventurers is if you have a Greensinger druid or Fey Pact Warlock as one of the player characters. In which case, you want to define the story of the Archfey patron, which will in turn tell you what they want and ask of their mortal agents. But again, despite their great power, most Archfey are tied to their realms and need mortal help to act in the wider world.

If I want to do a short adventure in Thelanis, like recover an object there, what would make it unique, very different from a normal adventure in savage lands?

The simplest answer I can give is “Read The Gates of Night” which includes what amounts to a short adventure in Thelanis. Bear in mind the following things:

  • It’s a world that doesn’t have to obey any of our physical laws. You can have a forest that never ends, a bottomless well, a land where the Sun never rises.
  • It should feel like a fairy tale. Things don’t have to make sense if they fit the story. Why is the serpent just waiting at the river when the players arrive? Why is it willing to help them cross the river if they each answer a question? Because that’s how the story goes.

I’ll touch on this more in a future post.

How do the fey view the gods? Are there some that claim to be Dol Arrah or the Mockery, or do they claim to be the archetypes that the gods represent in myth?

More the latter. The Fey don’t claim to be things; they are things. So the Prince of Frost doesn’t acknowledge the existence or sovereignty of Arawai or the Devourer; in his story, HE is the Prince of Frost, and that is all the reality he cares about. Those Archfey that pay more attention to cosmology (like Thelania in Gates of Night) would likely acknowledge Sovereigns as powerful spirits, but assert that they are gods of Eberron and have no dominion over Thelanis. With that said, you could have SOME fey who acknowledge one of the main faiths if it fits their story. Surely somewhere there is a forest in Thelanis with an old holy man in the woods; the question is whether he’s devoted to the Sovereigns – which would be perfectly valid – or to some vague, archetypal faith that only really exists in his story.

How do the fey interact with historical stories? For example, Lhazaar has been historically portrayed as an explorer, but modern scholarship is tilting towards a less generous portrayal of her. Does that have an impact on any of the archfey? Likewise, do the Valenar and the Keepers of the Past have a special relationship to Thelanis because of the stories they preserve?

The stories that define the Archfey aren’t history. They are archetype and fable, or more on the nose, faerie tales. There might be a story of a mythical pirate queen that inspired Lhazaar, and that’s the story that would be reflected on the seas of Thelanis. But unless Lhazaar’s actions have somehow fundamentally changed the way people view that fictional character, it wouldn’t impact the Fey. Likewise for the Tairnadal. Their heroes are REAL PEOPLE, and the whole point of what they are doing is that it preserves the spirits of those mortal heroes.

To drill down on this… the stories that are reflected in Thelanis aren’t stories that anyone can concretely track to one origin. It’s not that Stephen d’King wrote a story about a pirate queen and suddenly she was in Thelanis. It’s that the story of the Pirate Queen is a classic tale known across Sarlona and especially beloved in Rhiavhaar… but no one knows exactly where it began. Azhaan’s Voyage is the earliest written version but far more people know Azhaara the Queen. As I said – no one knows if the story inspired the fey or the fey inspired the story.

With that said, I could see an interesting story based around the idea that the Tairnadal ancestors are so old that they’ve created a subset of fictional tall tales, and these have in turn taken form in a realm in Thelanis. But the point is that these stories aren’t actually things the heroes really did; they’re just stories that have somehow creeped into popular consciousness, and no one knows exactly when people started telling the story that Vadallia’s eye was a tear that fell from an angel’s eye. Far from liking this, I think the Keepers of the Past would HATE it; the point would be that these Thelanian fey are sort of like parasites latching onto the story and in the process changing it. The Keepers could be worried that if nothing was done, the story might eventually be twisted to a point where it no longer supports the actual ancestor. But how can they stop it?

Since Thelanis is the realm of stories… When mortals narrate or create passionate, intense or otherwise special stories artistically or with their lives, can they unconsciously give birth to lands or beings in Thelanis? e.g. Is there a ‘Mournland’-related land in Thelanis or a new Archfey?

This is an echo of the preceding question. Thelanis is The Faerie Court; when I say that it’s the realm of stories, I’m specifically talking about faerie stories. First of all, if you read The Fading Dream what you’ll see is that there is an Archfey who HAS incorporated the Mourning into her personal story – but she’s done it in a way that fits the logic and form of faerie tales. The development of a new Archfey is certainly possible, but it’s the sort of thing that would generally take generations as a story becomes part of the culture – and even there the critical question is whether the story would create the Archfey, or if the birth of an Archfey would inspire and define a new story.

What do the Ashbound think of fey? Are they natural, like magical beasts, or arcane?

I don’t think Ashbound are innately opposed to mortal fey creatures like elves or gnomes. Powerful Fey often employ arcane magic, which would draw the ire of Ashbound. You could decide that Ashbound are inherently opposed to dryads and other immortal Fey that impose on our world, if you like the story; I don’t think we’ve called it out in canon.

How did the Mourning impact things? How does the Mournland interact with feyspire(s) within? 

Both of these questions are integral to the plot of The Fading Dream (the third book of the Thorn of Breland series), so if you want to know my thoughts on this, read The Fading Dream!

Are there still werewolves?  if werewolves comes form Thelanis, does it means there are moons there? How much? Could fey become lycanthropes?

Werewolves don’t come from Thelanis. Werewolves are found in Lamannia, but they aren’t natives of that plane: The 3.5 ECS says “Lycanthropes… are common in Lamannia, since many fled to this plane during the crusade that nearly exterminated them from Khorvaire.” As for whether Thelanis has moons, that varies by realm. In The Gates of Night, the moons are a way to determine which realm the protagonists are in. But the point is that those moons may not actually exist in any meaningful way. They might be made of cheese, or might just be a pool of light in the sky. The moon is there because the story calls for it to be there, not because of gravity or science. Given that, it’s POSSIBLE that a moon would affect a lycanthrope normally… or it could be that it has no impact at all, because it’s not real in the same way as the moons of Eberron. As for whether Fey can become lycanthropes, that depends on the mechanics of the system/edition you’re using. Personally, I’d tend to say that immortal fey can’t become lycanthropes by the traditional method, but their personal stories could involve something that resembles lycanthropy if it fits the story.

What manner of fey are Sora Kell and her daughters? It always seemed to me that Sora Kell, at least, must be immortal. 

The Daughters of Sora Kell are an interesting case. Just as rakshasa are native outsiders – immortal spirits native to Eberron itself – the Daughters are essentially native fey. If you check out this Dragonshard it calls out the fact that the Daughters are the subjects of many stories, but the point is that those stories actually happened. When Beren shares a story about Sora Maenya in The Queen of Stone, he’s talking about something that personally happened to him. Whereas many (though not all) of the stories of the Archfey are mythological, metaphorical, or happened in Thelanis. This also means that the Daughters aren’t trapped by their stories the way the Archfey are. You can think of the Archfey a little like the hosts in Westworld; they are very clever and powerful, but they aren’t really in control of their own actions. Sora Katra doesn’t have quite so many strings holding her back, and she’s more invested in modern and mundane affairs.

Beyond that, Sora Kell is a night hag, which have been called out from the start as being native outsiders of Eberron; they served as ambassadors and mediators during the Age of Demons. So Sora Kell is immortal (and mechanically, her Daughters are half-fiends), but she’s a spirit of Eberron as opposed to being an outsider.

Setting the Daughters aside, different editions of the rules have bounced hags back and forth between being fey and just monstrous humanoids, so it’s up to you how to handle other hags. But the Daughters are definitely Eberron natives.

How is it that each of them is a different variety of hag?

Because they have different fathers, of course. No one knows for certain, but at least one tale claims that Maenya’s father was a giant; Katra was sired by a demon; and Teraza emerged from the womb of her own accord after Sora Kell had spent a long time exploring Dal Quor.

It seems that in at least two points you contradict canon Eberron (3.5). First, Thelanis is essentially described as a plane of forests; second, in faith of Eberron is told that greensingers nave a strong organization and a kind of secret plan for melding Thelanis and Eberron. Just asking if you changed your mind (in the first case) or why you disagree (on the second).

I used to put a disclaimer at the start of each of these posts that said “Things I write here may contradict canon.” Everything you read on this site is my version of Eberron, and may not match canon sources – especially because canon sources themselves often contradict themselves. Case in point: *I* wrote the Greensinger entry in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, which predates Faiths of Eberron. Meanwhile, Faiths of Eberron is one of the few Eberron books (including Forge of War, Magic of Eberron, and The Explorer’s Handbook) that I had no involvement in. So if I disagree with it, it would be because someone else took it in a different direction than I originally intended. However, I just glanced over Faiths of Eberron and I don’t particularly agree with your interpretation that they have “a strong order.” Throughout the entry it calls out their fierce individualism and states straight out “The sect is generally reclusive, with no formal organization.” It posits that what unites them is a shared belief that the planes are part of nature and should be made manifest in it, and that they will occasionally work together to help open planar connections. But they aren’t a concrete organization with a concrete goal; they are a very chaotic organization with an extremely loosely defined goal. Meanwhile, they are often more driven by the personal bonds they have made with Archfey and other planar entities.

As for the second point, it’s true: the 3.5 ECS says “Thelanis is a realm of rugged natural beauty—primarily lush forests and crystal-clear waters.” My point is that these places exist and may form the majority of the environmental types in Thelanis… but not all of them. This is what happens when you have a single paragraph to describe an entire layer of reality, and in The Gates of Night the first vision we have of Thelanis is a rocky moor, not a lush forest. It’s not that I changed my mind, as much as there is more to the plane than the 3.5 description could encompass.

Thelanis is the place where we see the magic that we want to be in the world… but isn’t Eberron highly magic? Magic is everywhere there, do they need Thelanis?

There’s magic, and there’s magic. First off, Thelanis is eternal. It existed long before humanity ever mastered arcane or divine magic. But beyond that, Tolkien hits a critical point in his essay On Fairy Stories: “Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician.” The arcane magic that is the cornerstone of Khorvaire is the very definition of the “scientific magician” – while the magic of Thelanis remains mysterious and wild. If you read The Gates of Night or The Fading Dream, you can see people from Eberron bumping into the wild fey magic, and how it differs from the world that they know.

Thelanis is the plane of fairies. But Thelanis is the plane of stories. A lot of stories don’t speak of fairies, but for same of gods. Why don’t we have Auron and the shadow battling in Thelanis? Why don’t we have some great Hero of the last war?

I touch on this in previous answers, but it’s because Thelanis isn’t simply the plane of Faerie or the plane of Stories… it’s the plane of FAERIE STORIES. As noted in Tolkein’s essays, a faerie story doesn’t even have to involve actual faeries; it’s about its tone and style. The stories that define Thelanis aren’t based on concrete events. They aren’t chronicles of history, or stories created by a single mortal mind. They are about archetypes and about wonder. As I said above, you could have a realm in Thelanis inspired by the Tairnadal ancestors, but if you did it WOULDN’T actually depict them accurately or re-enact their actual deeds; it would be about the faerie stories inspired by the truth, the things people want them to have done… even if those deeds are wildly impossible.

Humans see the Prince of Frost as an elfy creature. Bugbears as a bugbear. What about a recenti created warforged, that don’t know and story nor understands love?

It’s a good question. To be clear, my concept is that most Archfey have a default form. It’s not that everyone sees them differently; any human/elf/etc will see the Prince of Frost as “Elfy”, and if the two of us drew a picture of him it would look the same. Because elves fit in our cultural view. A bugbear raised among goblinoids generally isn’t thinking of things in terms of humans or elves, and thus he puts a goblinoid spin on it – but all goblinoids would likely see the same shape. So taking your warforged, as long as the warforged spent its life among humans and elves – which most have – it is logical for it to perceive the default “elfy” shape. If you took a warforged that had never seen humans, then you would say “How would it personify winter?” Perhaps it would be a frost-covered warforged. Perhaps a warforged made out of ice. It’s really up to you.

Tied to this: In The Gates of Night, the warforged Pierce sees Thelania in the same form as the others. But the feast she serves appears to be everyone’s favorite meal. For Pierce, who has no experience with food, this manifests as a flavorless paste.

Add your questions and thoughts about the Fey below!

Eberron Flashback: Aberrant Dragonmarks

aberrant_dragonmark

There’s lots of great things afoot. I’m keen to delve deeper into the setting of Phoenix and to explore the topics sitting on the burner for Eberron. However, at the moment I am under the gun as I prepare to launch the Kickstarter campaign for my new game illimatcoming to Kickstarter this Tuesday, October 4th! and I don’t have any time to write. So instead, I’m resurrecting an old topic from 2012: Aberrant Dragonmarks.

Dragonmarks are mystical symbols that provide mystical power to the people that bear them. “True” dragonmarks are bound to bloodlines, and over time the dragonmarked houses have turn their mystical powers to industrial purpose and carved out economic empires. Such dragonmarks are reliable and useful, and largely have postive, constructive effects. But there’s another sort of dragonmark: twisted marks that are unpredictable in every way, and which grant powers that frighten and hurt others. Where the pure dragonmarks let their bearers heal and create, those who bear aberrant dragonmarks may produce fire, spread plagues, control minds, or worse. While aberrant dragonmarks often result when people of diferent dragonmarks bloodlines have children, they can manifest on anyone. There are many prejudices and superstitions tied to aberrant dragonmarks, adn centuries ago there was a massive purge – the “War of the Mark” – that virtually wiped out the aberrant population. For a time, aberrant dragonmarks were just legend. Now they are beginning to return.

While their powers are dangerous, on the surface aberrant dragonmarks don’t seem that bad. So you can cast burning hands once per day. So can a sorcerer, and he’s not being hunted by a mob. The main point is that aberrant dragonmarks are defined by story as well as rules. The concept of the aberrant dragonmark is that it is dangerous and often unpleasant for its bearer, and that even if they can control it now, they likely couldn’t when it first manifested. As an adventurer, the power provided by an aberrant dragonmark may seem to be a blessing; but per story, at some point in your life it has surely been a curse. As you develop an aberrant character, think about that concept. How did it first manifest? Who was hurt by it? How does it feel – are you comfortable with your mark, or does it burn against your skin? Many marks are accompanied by physical or mental disfigurement… is yours? If you want your character to develop an aberrant dragonmark over the course of play, you may want to place it in the hands of your DM and have it manifest at an inconvenient time, to advance the story and explore the burden. Or as a DM, with your players’ permission you could give one or more of them aberrant dragonmarks they can’t control – so don’t require them to pay the cost of the feat, but it’s up to you exactly when and how the power manifests.

With all that in mind, let’s look back at some of the questions people have had about aberrant dragonmarks.

I was always perplexed about the detail of the War of the Mark. First, there is an apparent lack of public opposition to the persecution of aberrants. Hundreds or even thousands of them must have been killed across the continent for no other reason than manifesting the wrong version of the dragonmarks. Of course, the Houses’ propaganda painted them as evil, but there is just that much propaganda can do. Most of those people had families and friends who knew otherwise. I doubt that aberrants have any bigger tendency to become criminals due to destructive powers of their marks than, say, sorcerers, who learn how to cast burning hands and magic missiles.

If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.

She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.

Before I continue, have you read any of the following?

  • The RPGA adventure The Delirium Stone, in which players actually experience a flashback to the War of the Mark.
  • The Children of Khyber Dragonshard article.
  • The novels The Son of Khyber or The City of Towers, in which we interact with modern aberrants and get to see some of them. They’re not all bad people. But many of them are strange or disturbing. Little “Junior Lady Of The Plague” Zae who only talks to rats. Brom with his troll’s arm. Crippled Filleon with his deadly touch.

Here’s a quote from the Dragonshard article, describing what it’s like to have a powerful aberrant mark:

You can feel your power festering within you. It’s different for every child of Khyber. One feels a chill no warmth can push away, while another complains of fire burning beneath his skin. An heir with the power of confusion feels the force of madness in his mind, trying to claw its way out and feast on the thoughts of others. Your mark may bring you pain. It may whisper to you as you try to sleep. But it is a part of you.

You say “Why would an aberrant be any more likely to be a criminal than a sorcerer?” The answer is that a sorcerer chooses his path. Sorcery may be a natural talent as opposed to wizardry, but the sorcerer applies himself to its study and chooses the path he wants to follow. The aberrant doesn’t. His power chooses him, and often in a very unpleasant way. If the aberrant has burning hands, odds are good it manifested for the first time when he was angry at someone. Was that in a lover’s quarrel? When he was arguing with a parent? A friend? What death is on his conscience? And whenever he gets angry, can he hold the flames in? Likewise, for a sorcerer the power isn’t a burden; it’s a tool he learns to use. For an aberrant it’s something he must master and control, lest it drive him mad or harm those around him.

Powerful aberrant marks are dangerous to the bearer. They often cause disfigurements or madness. Yes, with training these dangers can be controlled or limited, and that’s something Tarkanan was trying to do. But to your question of “Why didn’t people care? Why did people believe the propaganda?”… look at the Salem witch trials and imagine that these things were unquestionably real. That someone has a livid red mark on their skin and that they burned their mother to death – and that you’ve HEARD the stories about how these people are touched by Khyber, how they are all monsters. Are you going to say “Oh, he didn’t mean it, he just needs to learn to control it. So he killed my wife – mistakes happen.” Or are you going to sending a messenger out to find the nearest Deneith extermination squad? And again, in terms of just how dangerous these marks could be, I’ll note that Halas Tarkanan destroyed a city when he unleashed his mark – and that the curse of the Lady of the Plague still lingers over a thousand years after. Far from trying to STOP the Dragonmarked from persecuting the aberrants, most local authorities were glad they were there.

The aberrant marks seen today – the “least” aberrant marks, if you will – don’t carry the same restrictions or power. You can have an aberrant mark without being a madman or a cripple. And you’re not going to use that mark to destroy a city. But the stories haven’t been forgotten, and the houses simply keep them alive. And now the more powerful marks are starting to return… so what happens next?

So you are basically saying that abberant dragonmarks do tend to make people outcasts and criminals…

Aberrant dragonmarks certainly make people outcasts. They don’t necessarily make them criminals; being outcasts may, however. The point is that there’s a significant difference between having an aberrant mark that produces burning hands and being a sorcerer who can do it. For the aberrant, it begins as a dangerous burden. Some are driven mad. Some inadvertently take actions that lead to their deaths (unleashing burning hands in a public place and getting lynched as a result). Those that survive learn to control their powers – but it’s not an easy or comfortable thing.

But the logical conclusion would be that the society had been trying to deal with this threat long before War of the Mark. If I knew a kid who caused a whole village to die from disease and another kid who torched his mom in anger and they both had those scary red marks on their skin, I would probably vote for a kill-on-sight policy for anyone with a similar mark. I would have had a lynching mob go after such people. And if it were too dangerous, I would call on my liegelord to send a squad of archers and shoot the baddie from a safe distance.

Society would only have to deal with this threat “long before the War of the Mark” if aberrant marks existed in significant numbers long before the War of the Mark… and they didn’t. Mixed marks appeared in small numbers when houses mingled; this is how the houses discovered these existed and how “the threat” became known. At the time the houses set their policy, it was largely the way we have incest laws: mingling the blood of two houses has unsavory results, don’t do it. Then the marks began spreading – yet not tied to lineage or any predictable pattern. The first of these were the equivalent of least marks. Stories begin to spread… but bear in mind that there were no airships, lightning rails, or speaking stones at this time, so word certainly didn’t spread as fast as it once did. A boy burned his mother, and he had a mark like those of the Twelve, but traced in blood. More powerful marks begin to appear, but still nothing on the level of Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. People say it’s Khyber stirring in the depths. There are more stories of marks driving their bearers mad, and the deaths that have resulted are sensationalized. Ghallanda spreads the word through the inns. Orien passes it along the trade roads, and Lyranar the seas. Phiarlan sings songs of the unsavory aberrants… and it’s now that the Lady of the Plague appears, and her tale is one that terrifies the public. Families that have been hiding their aberrant kid begin to question their actions. And the marks keep appearing in greater numbers, and becoming increasingly dangerous. Now Deneith-backed squads show up promising to protect people from these unclean children of Khyber – and now is the time that people start calling on them for help, or organizing lynch mobs of their own. But…

… remember that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t predictable. They can appear on anyone at any time. It’s not just “a kid” who has the mark. It could be a soldier. A Duke. A powerful priest. Anyone could get an aberrant mark, and as society turned on the aberrants in fear, those who developed aberrant marks knew exactly what fate awaited them. The boy who burned a parent wouldn’t turn himself in; he would run. The duke would try to conceal his mark, fortify his stronghold and hide from the world. This degree of versatility meant that aberrant forces could have unexpected skills and resources. And then you have Halas Tarkanan. He was a Karrnathi officer before he developed his mark, a brilliant soldier who learned the arts of war at Rekkenmark and the ways of House Deneith from his mother. His forces weren’t solely aberrants; many of his unmarked soldiers stood by him, and he won others to his cause… as well as taking in goblins and other oppressed forces.

My point is – there wouldn’t be enough aberrants hiding out there to form a force capable to wage a regular war under Tarkanan. That would require a sudden surge of aberrant powers similar to what is happening in the world in present-day, which is quite possible actually.

First off, the current surge is far less than what was seen in the century leading up to the War of the Mark. It appears to be starting again, and a DM can take it that way. But at the moment, there’s neither the number or power level seen in the past. In canon sources (remember, novels aren’t canon), no one has been described as possessing an aberrant mark matching the power of Halas Tarkanan or his lieutenants… and it was the power of these marks that kept the aberrant forces alive.

Beyond this, bear in mind that they never fought a “regular war.” You never had formations of aberrant soldiers facing off against dragonmarked house armies. While Halas did his best to provide basic training, the majority of the aberrants were noncombatants, though with their marks they could put up a defense when cornered and forced to fight. Somewhat to my surprise, the best analogy I can think of is Battlestar Galactica. Think of the aberrants as fleets of largely civilian vessels, huddling around an individual like Tarkanan or the Dreambreaker – their battlestar, whose power was singlehandedly great enough to disperse conventional forces. You then have a small group of trained soldiers and people with lesser/greater marks – the vipers of the Battlestar analogy, able to carry out their commander’s will. But they were still always on the run, relying on the raw power of their commanders (and Tarkanan’s tactical genius) just to survive, always searching for some lasting sanctuary. They were occasionally able to gather small elite units for their own commando strikes, but they never faced the houses with proper armies. And in the end, despite Tarkanan’s best efforts, they were herded to Shaarat and forced to make a final stand. And again, you can see a little of what that’s like in the RPGA adventure The Delirium Stone.

Is this what’s happening today? Aberrant marks are manifesting in ever-greater numbers, but are they going to reach the same level of power as Tarkanan possessed? And if so, is this a natural cycle? Part of the Prophecy? Or is it being actively manipulated by the Lords of Dust or some other force? That’s up to you…

I’d like to revisit one point…

If I knew a kid who caused a whole village to die from disease and another kid who torched his mom in anger and they both had those scary red marks on their skin, I would probably vote for a kill-on-sight policy for anyone with a similar mark.

Bear in mind that nothing about aberrant marks is predictable. The red and black marks that we’ve shown are the most common sort of aberrant mark, but aberrant marks can take a vast array of forms. The lines of a burning hands mark might be formed from livid scar tissue. An aberrant mark that grants charm person could actually be a shining array of glowing white lines that’s almost hypnotic to look at… while another charm person mark is red and black. Aberrant marks are, well, aberrant. So this helped slow things down. Sure, the kid with the scary scar mark burned his mom, but our daughter’s mark is beautiful. And she’s not hurting anyone, is she? Really?

Ultimately people would decide that yes, the charmer was hurting people – that mind controllers are scary. But again, this combination of diversity and limited long-distance communication added to the amount of time it took for public opinion to form.

In conclusion…

Aberrant marks originally existed in small numbers and low power. In the century leading up to the War of the Mark, they rapidly increased in number and power. There was excellent reason for people to fear the marks. If Tarkanan had been born earlier and been a diplomat instead of a soldier, he might have convinced people that the aberrants weren’t at fault – that if they were taught to control their marks, they could peacefully coexist (though some were, of course, mad or sociopathic). But most of the media of the time was in the hands of the houses, and when the fear was spreading there was no spokesperson for the aberrants. The “war” began as a simple witchhunt and purge. Tarkanan organized survivors into small guerrilla forces with enough firepower to defend themselves as they fled. Ultimately they were caught and erradicated.

In the centuries that followed, aberrant marks appeared in small numbers and only at the lowest level of power. But the stories remained and grew with each telling. People don’t run in terror from aberrants, because it’s been over a thousand years since the Lady of the Plague laid her curse on Shaarat. But they still know the stories, and aberrants are still shunned and treated with suspicion. And now the numbers of marks are growing again, and their power with them. But this is new and unusual. House Tarkanan has noticed it, and it is acting to gather the aberrants. But society as a whole hasn’t yet noticed exactly what’s going on. aberrants are an old bogeyman; even the houses are only just now looking at House Tarkanan and trying to figure out what’s happening.

Moving to more general discussion about the marks…

“Aberrant” seems like it’s shifted in meaning since the setting was originally published, and it was always kind of broad to begin with.

It’s something that was never developed as far as I wanted. I actually had a full system for aberrant marks developed for the Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook, but it ended up being cut for space. It is the case that a number of the SLAs in the original 3.5 sourcebook do NOT, in my mind, qualify for my vision of aberrant marks. I don’t see feather fall or detect secret doors as aberrant marks. To me, a core difference between aberrant and normal dragonmarks is that aberrant marks channel destructive or aggressive forces, while true marks are constructive. With that said, we’ve seen that true marks can be used in aggressive ways – from Lyrandar slamming you with a gust of wind to the Orien assassin teleporting behind you and killing you. But note that when aberrant marks were expanded in Dragonmarked the lists didn’t include superior flight or expanded detection capabilities.

What I’m wondering is if there’s some kind of substantive difference between Aberrant Marks and Mixed Marks. For example, would mixed marks tend to appear more as a mixture of the true marks? And would such a mark exhibit powers that call to mind the two true marks involved? Or is it more like the mixture of the marks corrupts their fundamental nature and creates some bizarre, unrelated effect?

The original idea is definitely the latter. Aberrant marks are entirely unpredictable. If you knew that Orien + Lyrandar = feather fall, then it’s not an aberrant mark anymore; it’s “the Mark of PassageStorms.” The idea of the mixed mark was simply that it was and is the only reliable way to produce an aberrant mark – but that there’s no telling what that mark will be. Likewise, this is part of the 3.5 aberrant mark system in Dragonmarked. You can have charm person as your least power and poison as your lesser power. You might have an aberrant individual who develops powers along a specific theme – all fire, all fear – but unlike the true marks this isn’t a given.

Now again, this is how it’s been presented. If you want to do things differently – and for that matter, play up existing elements like the feather fall aberrant mark – go for it!

Dragonmarks 7/11/16: Druids

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We’re closing in on the release of my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command, and Jenn and I are working to organize the events we’ll be running at Gen Con. But I’ve been promising to answer questions about Druids in Eberron for a while, so here goes! As a side note, the image above is actually a Devoted Phoenix, but as a Grimwald shaman he’s SORT of a druid. Anyhow…

PRIMAL MAGIC

In the previous Dragonmark, I wrote about the difference between arcane and divine magic. As I mentioned there, I prefer druidic magic to be an entirely separate path as opposed to a subset of divine magic – taking the 4E approach of making druids and rangers primal casters. If you believe the myth of the Progenitors, arcane and divine magic both draw on the power of Siberys, while primal magic is the power of Eberron – the world itself. This reinforces the idea that druidic magic is natural magic, and fundamentally different from either arcane magic or divine magic.

So… How is it different? Arcane magic is about manipulating mystical energy through scientific methods. Divine magic uses faith and willpower as a method to tap divine power sources. What’s involved in primal magic? In my opinion, it walks a path between the two. Power is present in nature, and it comes in many forms. You have the direct elemental power of wind and storm; the power of animal archetypes; the life force of the world; and more. Primal magic involves touching and channeling one of these forces. In my opinion, this is like lucid dreaming – something anyone in theory COULD do, but something that in practice few people master. Another example would be Naming in Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind. To generate lightning, a wizard will use a formula that alters the laws of physics. A cleric will call on the power of the Sovereigns. The druid simply understands the storm and knows how to ask it to do what she wants. This doesn’t require any particular belief, nor does it unlock every secret of nature at once. A ranger may have learned how to tell the world to leave no trace of his path, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to talk to the storm. With that said…

HOW DOES YOUR DRUID CAST SPELLS?

Primal magic doesn’t require belief to function… but that doesn’t prevent humans from layering belief on top of it. Each druidic sect has its own approach, and ultimately it’s up to you to decide how your primal caster operates. When you perform a spell, what do you do? Here’s a few approaches.

  • You invoke the spirits of nature. You speak to the storm and ask it to strike your foes. You call to primal spirit of the Hawk and ask it to lend you its wings.
  • You know secret words and rituals that let you channel natural forces – one word that calls the storm, another that gives you skin of bark. There’s more to this than just the word itself; it’s about understanding the storm and the tree. Nonetheless, you don’t actually talk to the storm; you simply know how to make lightning strike your enemy, the same way a farmer knows how to plant a seed so it will grow. You understand nature in a way most people do not, but to you this isn’t magical; it’s natural.
  • All things are connected through Eberron. You are already connected to the hawk and the storm. You don’t invoke them with secret names or address them as spirits; you simply reach through that connection and draw on the power you need. When you heal someone, you are helping them draw on their own connection to the primal lifeforce; when you hurt them, you are reaching through that connection and channeling disease.
  • You are a champion of Eberron, empowered by the world itself to protect her. She created the storm and the hawk, and she gives you dominion over them. You are the hand and the voice of the Wild.

In a sense, primal lies between divine and arcane, and the question is which end of the spectrum you fall under. Do you interact with spirits the same way a priest might speak to angels? Do you believe that you are a champion of the world as a paladin is a champion of the Silver Flame? Or do you believe that nature simply is, and the magic you perform is no more “magical” than a tree growing from the seed – you just know how to make natural things happen on demand?

WHAT ABOUT RANGERS?

Rangers serve as the warriors of the Eldeen druidic sects. They are primal characters in 4E and use druidic magic in 5E. Thus, as a whole, they fit the concepts presented above, and rangers from the Eldeen sects will follow the belief framework of their sect. However, it may be that you have an idea for a ranger that doesn’t really fit any of these. You want to be an awesome hunter, but you don’t really see your character thinking about “the balance of nature” or anything like that. If you want a not-so-druidic ranger, here’s a few approaches.

  • You can characterize your ranger’s spells as being more “tricks” that they’ve picked up. Perhaps you cure wounds using a salve you’ve learned to make, or create a fog cloud with a smoke grenade. Your hunter’s mark or jump could simply be driven by skill, and detect magic an innate sense of things. Mind you, all of these things WOULD still be magic, and could be dispelled, detected, etc – but it’s more that you’ve jury-rigged things that produce magical effects as opposed to having a deep connection with the power of nature.
  • Personally, I’d have no objection to a ranger who wanted to define his spells as arcane (reflecting a scientific approach to magic) or entirely divine (tied to his faith to Arawai or Balinor, for example). I wouldn’t change the spell list, as that’s part of the class balance, and because they can choose spells that fit what they are looking for – but I’d be happy to consider their magic to be arcane or divine instead of primal for any magical effects that relate to such things.
  • You can simply play a ranger who doesn’t use spells; one version of this was presented in this Unearthed Arcana article.

DRUID SECTS

To date, most of the focus on primal magic has been on the druidic sects of the Eldeen Reaches. Aside from the primary setting guide, you can find more details on these sects in the Player’s Guide to Eberron and Faiths of Eberron. Each of these sects is primarily concerned with a different aspect of nature. Here’s the very short version.

  • The Wardens of the Wood are about balance. They help people live in harmony with nature, and act to protect both the innocent and the wild. They are the largest of the Eldeen sects and the one that gets the most new recruits, as they actively work to help and protect the people of the Eldeen Reaches.
  • The Gatekeepers are about protecting nature from the unnatural. They fight the forces of Khyber and Xoriat, and maintain the seals that hold the Daelkyr at bay.
  • The Children of Winter are about the cycle of life… and death. They believe that civilization has thrown this cycle out of balance and use disease and other means to test and thin the herd. They further believe that there will come a time when an apocalypse cleanses the world, clearing a path for its rebirth. Some of them believe the Mourning is the first stage in this disaster… and that it should be welcomed and accelerated.
  • The Ashbound oppose civilization. They despise agriculture, cities, and all the ways in which civilization seeks to control or abolish the natural world… but they are especially opposed to those who warp the natural order with unnatural magic. They are the most zealous and dangerous of the sects. This sect includes a significant number of barbarians along with rangers and druids.
  • The Greensingers are ambassadors to the Fey. They linger in areas that are close to Thelanis, and often travel between the planes. While they are most strongly connected to the Fey, some Greensingers are more broadly interested in traffic with all of the planes.

The critical thing is that these five sects are NOT all of the druids in the world! To begin with, we’ve said that there’s around a dozen active sects in the Eldeen Reaches (which obviously means that there were thirteen, but one’s gone missing). We have never described the other Eldeen sects, because this is part of “There’s a place in Eberron for anything in D&D…” We intentionally left those other sects open so DMs have an easy place to drop in new sects of their own or interesting sects from other settings or sourcebooks. It’s possible we will add others in future material; I have an idea for a shifter sect with a focus on shapeshifting and living among the beasts of the wild, which hasn’t made as much of an impact as the others because its members are largely invisible within the woods. But the point is: These five sects exist to give you hooks to play with, but they are not intended to cover every possible sect.

Beyond this, within canon we’ve already presented a number of other druidic sects.

If I had the time to go through every sourcebook, I’m sure I could find more examples of druidic sects. The five named sects are those with the greatest impact on the Five Nations, and have been cast into the spotlight by the Eldeen secession. But you’re not limited to these five choices when you make a primal character of your own.

What do the Ashbound and Children of Winter think of the Undying Court, to the extent they are aware of each other? Have the Followers of the Broken Path had any significant contact with the other druid sects? Do the Gatekeepers nowadays a connection to the Wordbearer Dhakaani?

I’m merging all these together because they are all variations of the same question, which is how much contact do the Eldeen sects have with the rest of the world? The answer: not much. There’s a reason we call them the ELDEEN sects. We’re used to a world that is filled with information, where TV and internet keep us in constant contact with the entire world. Not only does Eberron lack these things, but the druid sects – especially the Ashbound – largely avoid the tools that do exist; the Ashbound aren’t going to go use House Sivis speaking stones or pick up the latest chronicle. The Wardens of the Wood rose up to protect the people of the Eldeen Reaches during the Last War; but during the thousand years Galifar was unified, they rarely left the Towering Woods.

With that said, some of the sects have taken an interest in the wider world recently BECAUSE of the Mourning. Children or Winter have ventured east to study the Mourning and to bring Winter to the great cities of the Five Nations. Some Ashbound believe they must strike deeper at the heart of civilization; some Gatekeepers want to reach out to find help in their struggle. These are things you can expand upon to meet the needs of the story you want to tell. But BY DEFAULT the Eldeen sects have little knowledge of or contact with the world beyond the Towering Woods. Among other things, this means that as a player character from one of these sects, you may be a trailblazer. The Gatekeepers haven’t been in contact with the Wordbearers or joined forces with the Kalashtar to fight the Dreaming Dark… but YOUR Gatekeeper might be the druid who restores the ancient alliance with the Dhakaani or negotiates new ties to the Kalashtar. This ties to the general philosophy of Eberron: YOU should be the people at the heart of events that change this era. There are many groups that share common interests with the Eldeen sects… but it’s up to you to establish those ties.

THE CHILDREN OF WINTER

It’s not so clear to me what’s the goal of Children of Winter. Do they want to kill any human life?

From Dragon 418:  When Eberron created life, she also created death. She gave the asp its venom and set plagues loose in the world. All these things have their purpose. Now you have pulled the serpent’s teeth and leashed the plagues with magic. Our mother will not be mocked, and her wrath is coming soon.

This is in the voice of one of the Children; a later section is clearer.

Although they surround themselves with vermin and the trappings of decay, the Children see themselves as champions of life. They believe that all natural things have a purpose, even those that seem malevolent. Death clears the way for new life. Disease weeds out the weak. The Children work to preserve this cycle. 

The Children despise the undead and destroy them whenever they encounter them… and if they WERE aware of the Undying Court, they’d despise it as well. Positive or negative energy means little to them; the simple fact is that these elves have placed themselves outside the natural cycle, and no good can come of it. And while they aren’t as dedicated to it as Gatekeepers and have no specialized spells, the Children will also fight aberrations or similar unnatural threats if they encounter them.

So why do the Children kill people? What’s their real goal? Let’s look back to Dragon 418: Like most druids, the Children see Eberron as the source of all life and the spirit of the natural world. They believe that she had a grand design for nature, a purpose yet unfulfilled. And they believe that if humanity strays too far from the path of Eberron’s design, she will wipe the slate clean and start again.

It’s not simply that the Children believe that people are “breaking the rules” with their medicine and their Undying Courts; they believe that these things THREATEN EVERYONE, and that if we don’t get the population under control the WORLD WILL BE DESTROYED. By spreading disease, they are using the tools nature designed to weed out the weak and reduce population. A significant number of Children believe that the Mourning is the harbinger of this “Winter” – the apocalypse Eberron will use to wipe the slate clean and start again. This has created a subsect whose members welcome this; this world is too far gone, and they want to bring down the Winter and reset the world. However, other Children oppose this and still believe the current world can be saved.

Are the Children of Winter aware of all the cosmic threats like Daelkyr, Lords of Dust and so on? Do they care?

No more than most people. WE know about the Lords of Dust because we have a cool book that spills all their secrets – but they are a conspiracy that has successfully remained hidden for thousands and thousands of years. The Children fight aberrations when they encounter them, but in short, the Daelkyr haven’t been a serious threat for thousands of years and the Overlords haven’t been a threat for tens of thousands of years. They’ve GOT a thing that they know about that is a real serious issue, and that’s what they worry about. Side note: Back in the day, when Bel Shalor was almost released… to the degree that the Children of Winter were aware of the troubles of Thrane, they might have considered THAT to be a possible harbinger of Winter.

THE GATEKEEPERS AND DRAGONS

As I understand the Gatekeeper sect, most of it’s knowledge came from Vvaraak’s teachings a long time ago. And most of it is lost today, especially the underlying magical principles of the seals and the annual ritual. They merely follow rituals they don’t understand any more, at least not in the fullest. So, in my understanding, they would not be able to repeat the ritual they used to seal the Gates to Xoriat – right?

That is correct.

Are the gatekeepers aware that Vvaraak was/is a dragon? If need be, would they try to find her today or seek help from another dragon?

Vvaraak taught the first Gatekeepers sixteen thousand years ago, and dragons aren’t immortal, so Vvaraak is long dead… plus, there’s a decent chance she was assassinated by the Eyes of Chronepsis for her actions in Khorvaire. The Gatekeepers have no easy way to contact Argonnessen and even if they did, the dragons wouldn’t help them. As called out on page 11 of Dragons of Eberron, Vvaraak’s actions were a betrayal of draconic customs:

A true child of Eberron, Vvaraak foresaw a disaster that would wound the world itself. The Conclave had no interest in this struggle; just as the dragons had stood aside while the giants of Xen’drik battled Dal Quor, the elders of the Conclave told Vvaraak that they would act when a clear threat to Argonnessen existed, and not before.

As a whole, the dragons aren’t your friends. They aren’t here to help. They stood by and watched as the Xoriat Incursion tore apart the Empire of Dhakaan. They did nothing during the Giant-Quori War. Heck, they attack Aerenal on a regular basis just so the kids can earn their wings. The one time they took decisive action was when the giants were preparing to do something that would threaten Argonnessen… and they dealt with that by utterly destroying giant civilization. Vvaraak was an extremely rare individual who truly cared about the lesser races – but that’s not a common thing.

I read that the gatekeepers have friendly connections to the Chamber and sometimes their scholars (known as dragons?) come to converse with the druid elders. If that’s true, why not simply ask a visiting dragon what to do if something with the seals/Daelkyr threat is … threatening? Or how to repeat the ritual properly?

It is true that over the centuries the Chamber has established Siberys Observatories in the Shadow Marches. But you’re making the mistake of thinking of the Chamber as “good guys” who would help if the people needed it. The Chamber monitors the Prophecy and ensures that it remains on the approved path. The only way to monitor the Prophecy is to have agents across the world. Essentially, the Chamber is using the Gatekeepers to collect data, which they can periodically pick up. The Gatekeepers don’t fully understand what they are doing, and I don’t think their Chamber contacts identify themselves as dragons. Even if they did, they would only help if it was part of the approved path of the Prophecy. It’s entirely possible that a Daelkyr Uprising IS part of the approved path, in which case not only would the Chamber not help them stop it, they’d actively mislead them to keep things on track.

Generally speaking the Chamber is better for us than the Lords of Dust, because their endgame doesn’t involve the release of demonic Overlords. But they are not our friends. Vvaraak broke with the Chamber when she taught the Gatekeepers.

What do the Gatekeepers think about the prophecy? Do they have druids specialized in deciphering the prophecy? Is it incorporated in their daily life somehow?

Yes and no. There are Siberys Observatories in the Shadow Marches, and the Chamber has got the Gatekeepers monitoring these and collecting the data they need for occasional pickup. This data MAY be useful in the short term at predicting events within the Shadow Marches, and the Gatekeepers undoubtedly believe that it will give them advance warning of a Daelkyr resurgence. However, they are not capable of monitoring the Prophecy as a whole from one location, and the scope of the Prophecy goes way beyond the Marches. It takes a group like the Chamber, Lords of Dust, or Undying Court – immortals with vast resources and power – to be able to put together the bigger picture.

So there are druids who specialize in using the Observatories, and in using them to predict local events and monitor the seals, but they aren’t concerned with the wider scope of the Prophecy.

The Gatekeeper community getting smaller with every generation, so it gets more challenging to maintain the seals. Are there seals all over Khorvaire or are they all located in the Shadow Marches/Eldeen Reaches/Demon Wastes? 

It has been established somewhere that the location of the seals doesn’t correspond to the physical location of the imprisoned Daelkyr. With that said, in MY campaign many of the seals are highly portable. There are a few seals that are vast buried stones, but a seal could also be a pendant, or a ring, or embedded in a staff. In this case it is possible that prophecy dictates where a seal must go; it could be that to function, one of the seals needs to follow a particular path or visit a series of locations. All of this is a great foundation for a Gatekeeper PC who is assigned to carry one of the seals, and who must take it to certain dangerous places to maintain its power.

How many seals do the Gatekeepers maintain? Somehow I recall that there are 6 (or7) Daelkyr left in this world and I assumed that therefore there are 6 (or 7) major seals as well, probably accompanied by smaller ones. Is this defined in canon material? And if not, how would you do it?

There are six Daelkyr that have been called out by name, however the Player’s Guide to Eberron states “These are undoubtedly among the most powerful of their kind, with abilities beyond those presented in the EBERRON Campaign Setting.” So there are as many Daelkyr as you need for the purposes of your story, and the same holds true for the seals. Given that you’re talking to ME, obviously I would say that there were thirteen seals, but one has already been destroyed in the past, and many believe that this is why the Daelkyr are stirring now.

Do you have some ideas what special relics back from the Daelkyr war the gatekeepers might have right now or have legends about? (beside Vvaraak’s tears)

Not off the top of my head. It’s certainly a topic I’d love to explore if Eberron gets unlocked for the DM’s Guild!

THE GREENSINGERS

Am I right in thinking that you wouldn’t really have creatures of Thelanis considering themselves Greensingers or druids?

You are correct. With that said, the Greensingers themselves are the least “druidic” of the Eldeen sects. We’ve already noted the fact that they sometimes multiclass with arcane classes (typically bard)… and as far as their druidic magic goes, they are much more in the model of “I know the secret name of the storm, so I can ask it to smite my enemies” than “I am a servant of Eberron.” Shapeshifting is also a common strength of Greensingers, in part in emulation of the fey who aren’t bound to a single form.

It’s hard for me to imagine the native inhabitants of Thelanis or Lamannia taking up druidic traditions per se – even if it weren’t “the magic of Eberron itself”, Thelanis isn’t the same kind of natural world that druids care for.

First of all, I wouldn’t include Lamannia in this equation. The Greensingers have strong ties to Thelanis, largely derived from the presence of the Twilight Demesne. They have no particular attachment to Lamannia. Aside from that, the Greensingers themselves don’t care for the natural world in the way that most druids do. The Greensingers look at what nature COULD be. They see the story. They imagine that the wind is singing a song, that the tree truly dances in the wind… because in Thelanis, it does. If you wanted, you could decide that Greensinger magic is actually slightly different from that of other druids… that rather than drawing on pure nature, they are temporarily imbuing the world around them with a touch of Thelanis. A dryad isn’t a natural part of Eberron, but it could be that a Greensinger temporarily creates a dryad in a normally natural tree.

Even if you don’t go that far, that’s how the Greensinger sees it. They see the world as a magical place, and it becomes more magical around them.

THE WARDENS OF THE WOOD

How are the Wardens of the Wood inserted in the geopolitics of the Reaches? Since they were a very active part of the independence, and there is very little about how the region is organized.

From page 97 of The Player’s Guide to Eberron: 

When the plains folk seceded from Aundair, the Wardens trained their militias and fought at their sides. In their gratitude, the folk turned to the study of the druidic mysteries, and this helped make the land remarkably fertile. Today, Warden rangers patrol the entirety of the Reaches, fighting bandits, poachers, and other interlopers.

And from page 172 of the Eberron Campaign Setting: 

Long dominant in the forest, the Wardens have spread out into the plains to ensure order throughout the region. Each village has a druid counselor (of anywhere from 1st to 7th level, depending on the size of the community) who provides magical assistance and spiritual guidance, and who advises the leaders of the community. Councils made up of representatives from each farming family govern each of the communities. Bands of Warden rangers patrol the forest, responding to threats as they arise. 

As a side note, some of these druid counsellors might be gleaners. But the short form is that the Wardens advise and protect, but do not rule. Also note that while the Wardens patrol the entire region and settle any disputes between villages, each village does have its own mundane militia – trained by the Wardens, but not made up of primal-classed characters.

THE ASHBOUND AND THE MOURNING

What do the Ashbound think of clerics and their divine magic?

That it’s the unnatural result of trafficking with alien spirits. At the end of the day it’s manipulating the same energy wizards do, and they have no love of it. It’s possible a priest of Arawai or Balinor would meet with their approval if he SEEMED primal. But generally, if it’s not natural magic, it’s UNnatural magic.

Finally I am thinking on a campaign focused on the Ashbound. In that campaign they behave like real terrorists. They are fundamentalists, but they are right. Mourning happened because too much of magic has been used. So, here comes the question: if THAT is what caused the Mourning, who should know that? Lords of Dust, Chamber, the Twelve, a daelkyr, someone in Daanvi? How should they react?

The idea that the Mourning was caused by the extensive use of war magic is one of the popular theories within the world, and it is a primary reason for the Treaty of Thronehold: the fear that continuing the war will simply cause the effect to spread. As for who would KNOW THIS WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY? That depends on where you want to go with it.

  • The Twelve are a weird choice, but not out of the question. You could say that Cannith knew that the extensive use of war magic was a danger but concealed this information because hey, their business is about selling war magic. If this is the case, it can be argued that THEY CAUSED THE MOURNING. That’s an interesting plotline to me, because what are you going to do about it? This is especially true if it was known to the Twelve – if the leadership of all of the houses were complicit in hiding this information and continuing to push the world closer to doomsday.
  • The Lords of Dust or the Chamber work if you want to say that the Mourning was foretold by the Prophecy. If it’s the Lords of Dust, I would argue that the Mourning is in fact the visible manifestation of weakening the bonds of the Overlords, and that at least one Overlord was released on the Day of Mourning and now lingers in the Mournland as it regains its power. So the action was caused by overuse of magic, but there is worse still to come.

Assuming that it was the result of human action, another twist on the Twelve being behind it would be to have the information shared or revealed by the Dreaming Dark, who have plucked it from the dreams of one of the Twelve conspirators. What’s their angle? I don’t know. But if you want to bring in another faction, that’s an option.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Are the druid sects a religion? If so, the vast majority of “druids” and “rangers” are really not classed individuals, and don’t have the capabilities of a class level PC. It seems to me this distinction is always reinforced by you with wizards (most are magewrights) and clerics (most are even adepts) but is never touched with druids.

This is really two different questions, so I’ll address them in order. There is a spiritual component to the beliefs of the different druidic sects: live in harmony with the world and your surroundings. Some – on an individual basis – take this further and see themselves as champions of Eberron; but other members have a more pragmatic view, and that’s fine. Again, primal magic doesn’t REQUIRE belief the way divine magic does. A sect provides guidelines for how a person should live their life, but it doesn’t necessarily tell them what they must believe.

As for your second point, there’s once again multiple answers.

  • Every sect generally has a large number of common people who share their general beliefs and approach to life. This is especial true of the Gatekeepers. When talking about the Shadow Marches we say that a significant portion of the population follows the Gatekeeper traditions. This doesn’t mean they are druids, that they know anything about the seals other than ancient stories, or that they are ready to fight aberrations; it simply means that they tell the stories of the Gatekeepers, respect their traditions, and would welcome and honor an actual Gatekeeper druid who shows up. The same is true of the Wardens in the Eldeen Reaches. There are many commoners who are ALIGNED with the Wardens, but they wouldn’t actually CALL themselves Wardens of the Wood. Further, for every classed Warden, you might have a half dozen initiates struggling to master their skills, or working to help the sect in support roles.
  • With that in mind, when we say “Wardens of the Wood” or “Gatekeepers”, we are generally referring to the elite core of that sect – the people who do have primal classes, and who actively pursue the goals of the sect. Now, most of these people would top out at first or second level, but this IS remarkable; this one reason the Reaches were able to secede and why they still haven’t been reclaimed. It’s why groups like the Ashbound and Children of Winter are serious threats even if each may have less than a thousand active members: they are small groups of exceptional people.
  • With THAT said, part of the issue is that core D&D doesn’t have a primal NPC class – an equivalent of an adept or magewright. Which is why I made one. Years ago I made a primal NPC class called The Gleaner. This was posted on Giant In The Playground, but hasn’t been used elsewhere. It is precisely what you’re looking for here, and yes, for every full druid in the Wardens of the Wood you have a number of Gleaners who travel the Reaches and the woods helping those in need. While D&D doesn’t have a system in place for someone “evolving” from one class to another, I would personally say that many druidic sect initiates begin as first level gleaners and then evolve into rangers or druids once they fully master their skills.

In general, do how the sects see each other? Are druids of different Eldeen sects more friendly to each other than a random person they meet? Do they all pay some respect to Oalian?

This is addressed on page 57 of The Player’s Guide to Eberron: 

Despite their differences in belief, Oalian supports all the druids, since each sect embraces an aspect of the natural world. In return, most druids respect Oalian as the ultimate spiritual authority in the region, and they gather at The Greenheart for important conclaves and rituals.

Beyond that, I’d say that in general the active members of the sects will treat primals of other sect with respect, and they might work together to resolve certain problems; they joined forces during the Eldeen Secession, and members of any sect would join together to deal with undead or aberrations in the woods. But that won’t prevent Wardens from opposing members of other sects who are endangering innocents; there have certainly been many clashes between Wardens and Ashbound in the past.

If the druid sects would be aware of the Aundarian plans against the reaches, could they start a war against Aundair? Would it become a new global war?

In thinking of the capacity of the Reaches to wage war, bear in mind that they are not a normal nation. They are a collection of villages and small communities, and the closest thing they have to a single leader is a tree. They don’t have a strong industrial base to create weapons of war. Their population is a fraction of Aundair’s, let alone the other nations. One of their greatest strengths is their strong bond to the Towering Woods and their ties to the manifest zones and magic of the woods; once they lead an army into hostile territory, they lose that. And if they were to invade Aundair, what would victory look like? Would they try to actually occupy it in some way? It’s not like the people of Fairhaven are suddenly going to adopt the lifestyle of the farmers to the west.

So no: I don’t see the Eldeen Reaches waging a full-scale war against Aundair. With that said, I could certainly see them engaging in GUERILLA warfare. If Aundair begins building up forces in preparation for reclaiming the Reaches, they could definitely launch targeted strikes to take out caches, depots, or research facilities. Part of the point is that the Reaches don’t have either the infrastructure or the numbers of Aundair… but what they do have is a small but elite force. If it came to a straight-up war, Aundair simply outnumbers and outguns the Reaches. But with an army of rangers and shapeshifting druids, the Reaches are well-suited to covert strikes before disappearing back into the woods.

The Eldeen sects are so named, as you say, because they’re native to the forests of the Eldeen Reaches. Do you think their particular philosophies or concerns are tied to that location, or are they the sort of thing that might have arisen independently in other regions and/or taken root there if brought by a rare wandering druid?

Geography definitely plays a role. The Greensingers largely came about because of the Twilight Demesne, while the Children of Winter have a connection to the Gloaming. Proximity to Aundair is definitely a factor for the Ashbound.

With that said: I believe that the mechanical elements of the sects reflect different ways to focus druidic magic, and that you could see other sects adopt these same practices even if they don’t share the same name or precisely the same beliefs. The Seren Dragonshard linked to above notes that most Dragonspeakers follow the paths of the Wardens of the Wood or Gatekeepers… which is about them MECHANICALLY following those paths, not that some of them say “We’re Gatekeepers!” So in creating a new sect, if you don’t want to create entirely new mechanics, you could certainly say “Which of the five is it most like in its purpose?”

This is particularly relevant to the Greensingers. The Eldeen sect has a strong connection to the Twilight Demesne. But if you’re using the 4E story, I’d say that you could have similar sects in any of the regions where Feyspires manifest – essentially, anywhere that has a strong, ongoing connection to Thelanis. These would share similar traits – fey ambassadors, blending druidic and bardic paths – but they wouldn’t necessarily call themselves Greensingers. WITH THAT SAID… you could just as easily say that the Greensingers began in the Twilight Demense, entered Thelanis, and from Thelanis spread out to such places… and thus make them all part of the same sect.

You’ve mentioned previously that each sect tends to fight one enemy, Aberrations for Gatekeepers / Undead for Children of Winter, is there a sect setup to fight the Lords of Dust? or Demons / Devils in General?

The Overlords aren’t bound by a natural force; they are imprisoned by the SIlver Flame. Thus they are primarily opposed by forces that channel the SIlver Flame, like the Ghaash’kala orcs. So no: at present there is no canon druidic sect that focuses on fighting demons. On the other hand, I’d think EVERY sect WOULD fight demons if they encountered them.

Tied to this: the sects often have one foe they are most concerned with, but they’ll still fight the others. The Gatekeepers are focused on aberrations and the Children despise undead. But the Gatekeepers will definitely destroy undead and the Children will hunt down aberrations that cross their paths. It’s just that these things aren’t a focus of their daily lives.

How do the different druidic sects and the Church of the Silver Flame tend to perceive each other? 

Personally, I think there’s very little interaction between them. The Church can’t possibly monitor every single sect or cult that exists in the world, and the druids aren’t especially interested in interacting with them; they’re doing just fine, thank you. WE know what the Gatekeepers are doing is vitally important, but to the world at large they are obsessing about something that hasn’t been a threat since before humanity came to Khorvaire. With that said, I’d think that they would have a generally positive view of the Wardens of the Wood, who likely assisted templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and  a generally negative view of the Children of Winter and Ashbound, both of whom take actions that can threaten innocents… and the Ashbound in turn will see the Church as channeling unnatural energy. Meanwhile, the Gatekeepers live in the shadows and don’t believe that they need the help of some human outsiders.

WITH THAT SAID: In the last 5E Eberron campaign I’ve been playing in, the players include a Ghaash’kala paladin, a cleric of the Silver Flame (well, technically, Jaela Daran), and a Gatekeeper druid. We work together well because we do all share a common goal of protecting the innocent from evil, and we’ve been happy to pursue each other’s personal issues. But we’re still playing it that our respective organizations really don’t know a lot about one another.

Furthermore, if primal magic does not require belief… could a druid believe in and follow the Silver Flame?

The question I’d ask is why they become a druid in that case, instead of becoming a cleric. But other than that, there’s no reason they couldn’t. You could easily CREATE a sect of Silver Flame-inspired druids in the Eldeen who adopted the faith after fighting alongside templars in the Lycanthropic Purge.

Are there any druidic traditions amongst the Blood of Vol?

The Seeker tradition is largely urban and druidic traditions generally develop in the wild. Further, the goals of the Seekers are fundamentally TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF NATURE; combined with their affinity for undead, this would brand them as abominations in the eyes of the Children of Winter, if not most sects.

When it comes to druids, are there any sects that tend to utilizing the feat from 3.5 “Assume Supernatural Ability”? Does it fit with any specific sect’s view on the world?

Nothing particular comes to mind… but I don’t have time to go through and figure out a) what shapes a druid could take where this would come into play and b) the level that would be required to do so, which would affect how much it could really be central to a sect. You could certainly make a new sect around the idea.

And are there any sects that use “Draconic Wildshape”?

Sure: the Seren Dragonspeakers.

Are there any druidic traditions amongst the merfolk and sahuagin? What are some druidic traditions of the Vulkoorim drow of Xen’drik?

I’m certain that there are aquatic druidic traditions. The Qaltiar drow have a tradition involving primal spirits, as seen in The Shattered Land and Gates of Night. But neither of these are things I have time to explore in this format. Once Eberron is unlocked for the DM’s Guild, I’d love to explore this in depth (or see what other people do with it).

Is there any more information about the druid(s) that awakened Oalian and Kraa’ark Lors?

Not at present.

Life in the Lhazaar Principalities revolves around the sea. What’s the possibility of there being a druidic sect in that area who focus on the sea life of the region; ensuring fishermen get bountiful catches, ensuring whaling ships don’t hurt the creatures unnecessarily, and predicting the hurricanes off the Sea of Rage?

It’s a logical role for druids or gleaners, and something that has been suggested in passing; in particular, it’s been noted that Cloudreaver priests of the Devourer may develop druidic abilities, and the Wind Whisperers are a powerful force. With that said, we haven’t presented druids as a defining pillar of society in the Lhazaar the way we have in the Eldeen Reaches, so if I was writing for canon Eberron, I probably wouldn’t make them the secret masters of the Reaches. However, I could see adding in a gleaner sect that does exactly the sort of thing you suggest – ensuring bountiful catches, predicting storms, preventing overfishing. As a Gleaner sect they could exist without DOMINATING the culture; some respect them, some curse them as annoying busybodies. But they aren’t as dramatically powerful as the Cloudreaver druids or the Wind Whisperers.

As a side note on the Wind Whisperers: In theory, their power comes from a connection to the Mark of Storms. In practice, I might give a powerful Wind Whisperer NPC druid, warlock or sorcerer levels with storm/lightning related magic reflecting a deeper connection to primal storms unlocked by the mark. So the power that makes them a force to be reckoned with is more than just the base abilities granted by the mark.

What’s the tie between the Prophecy and Primal Magic? Aren’t both a direct expression of Eberron?

Eberron may be the source of Primal Magic, but she’s not the sole source of the Prophecy. There are many different theories about the origin and nature of the Prophecy; the dominant view in the Chamber (as called out in Dragons of Eberron) is that “The Prophecy is a reflection of the ongoing struggle between Khyber and Eberron. The Progenitors shaped reality at the beginning of time, and the Prophecy reflects their divergent desires for their creation.”

If dragons know primal magic and druidism for millennia, should we suppose that a sect of very powerful, high level dragons/druids exist and take care of the equilibrium of Eberron?

Powerful draconic druids do exist. The Child of Eberron is one of the core archetypes of the religion of Thir, as covered in Dragons of Eberron: All natural life sprang from the progenitor dragon Eberron, and the child of Eberron honors the Great Mother and defends her works. However, the vast majority believe that this is a task fit solely for dragons, not something that the lesser races should be involved in. There may be a few Children of Eberron acting within Khorvaire, but they aren’t working with lesser druids (whom Vvaraak should never have taught!) and are generally dealing with primal problems we don’t even perceive. Humans are like ants to them: part of the natural world, capable of forming communities, but of no directrelevance to their actions… and if you have to wipe out a bunch of them to do something important, they’ll recover from it. The critical example of this is Xen’drik: when the giants were about to take action that seriously threatened the equilibrium of Eberron, the dragons acted and utterly destroyed their civilization.

The good news for us is that the Children of Eberron are generally only concerned with SERIOUS threats to the equilibrium of Eberron, like “destroying a moon.” Things that are just going to wipe out a bunch of human nations aren’t that big a deal… again, when you look at things from a perspective of millennia, they’ll grow back. With that said, I suspect the Children of Eberron are concerned with the Mourning, and could potentially be allies in a plot that seeks to solve this mystery… but again, if the answer to the Mourning is “humans did it” and there’s a chance they could do it again, there is a very real risk that Argonnessen would decide that human civilization should go the way of the giants.

If primal magic is the result of invoking the primal spirits, using the secret names and rituals to channel natural forces, or tapping into the interconnectedness of all things through Eberron, how do druids and other primal casters use magic when they travel to other planes? In theory, primal magic is the domain of Eberron herself, so when traveling away from her, wouldn’t a primal spellcaster be cut off from their magic?

Good question. The same problem applies to Divine and Arcane magic, which are fundamentally drawing on the power of Siberys; shouldn’t going to another plane separate them from this source? The short and simple answer is that no, it doesn’t. The Progenitors created all the planes, and all of the planes are connected to Eberron. The creatures of Eberron live and die, know peace and war, dream and go mad. This is because Eberron is touched by all of the planes. The same process works in reverse. Dal Quor may not have a direct connection to Thelanis, but it DOES have a connetion to Eberron, and this allows your caster to draw on the power of Eberron or Siberys.

Now, if YOU had more time, it would certainly be interesting to change the way that primal magic works in Thelanis or Lamannia, and it’s something I might explore if/when I have the opportunity to develop Planes of Eberron. But the simple out if you don’t have time for such tinkering is “Eberron touches all the planes.”

My next few post will be about Phoenix: Dawn Command, but I will be posting another Eberron Q&A sometime in the next few weeks; the topic will be Thelanis and The Fey. Post your questions about Phoenix or Eberron below!

Dragonmarks 6/18/16: Faith and Wisdom, Arcane and Divine

Cleric Octogram

I was planning to do my next Q&A about Druids, but this conversation took off in the comments of the last Q&A and really deserves its own page. So Druids will have to wait for another week or two. As I mentioned in my last post, I currently have two events on the schedule at Gen Con: a seminar specifically about Phoenix: Dawn Command, and a casual Q&A where we’ll talk about Eberron, Phoenix, and whatever else people wish to discuss.

Before diving into this discussion, I recommend checking out the previous Dragonmark on Religion, Faith, and Souls. This examines why faith matters; how someone can believe in gods that do not manifest in the world; and the role of souls within Eberron.

As always, let me be clear that this is how I run things in MY campaign. This isn’t canon, and it may even contradict canon material; it’s simply my opinion. Also, if you’ve read this post before: Due to the number of questions that were posed, I’ve gone back and consolidated my answers so it’s a little more concise.

I feel very stupid in asking that, but an answer would be very important to me since I never really undestood: what is the real difference between ARCANE MAGIC and DIVINE MAGIC in Eberron? We know most of priests don’t cast spells, faith is not enough and sometime not necessary. Gods might not exist. And you always say: magic in Eberron is like science. Is divine magic too? 

Both arcane magic and divine magic manipulate the same energy. This energy is an ambient force in the world that most scholars say flows from the Ring of Siberys. From a scientific viewpoint, this is why detect magic and counterspells and the like work on both kinds of magic: because fundamentally, they are different ways of manipulating the same form of energy. Arcane magic uses scientific methods to tap that power, while divine magic is driven by faith and willpower… and the intervention of something that may or may not be a god.

ARCANE MAGIC

Arcane magic is purely scientific. You’ve learned the underlying rules of the universe, and you’ve figured out the cheat codes. You have learned how to interact with that energy and shape it in specific ways. A wizard works through complex codified formulas. A sorcerer interacts with it in a more instinctive way. Some of this comes out with in the description of Lei performing infusions in The Dreaming Dark; she’s reaching out into this energy and weaving tapestries with it. This is the idea behind things like Spell-Storing Item; the artificer is inherently more “inventive” with magic, and can jury-rig spell effects they can’t normally produce. So to a certain degree you can think of an arcane caster as a software engineer, using code to manipulate the ambient energy. The caster may or may not have the talent required to create new spells, but they are approaching magic in a practical way.

Bear in mind that in Eberron, PC-classed characters are remarkable. Arcane magic is a science, but most who study it can at best achieve the status of magewright. Magewrights don’t use spellbooks, but neither are they spontaneous casters; they learn a particular set of spells they can memorize. The idea here is that the magewright spends years studying a specific set of spells. They don’t need spellbooks because they have drilled with those spells over and over and over. The spellbook is essentially the textbook they learned from… but they studied each spell for YEARS. They can’t just pick up a spellbook and memorize a completely new spell in a few hours. The fact that a wizard CAN do this is a reflection of the fact that the wizard is an amazing prodigy, who grasps the fundamental principles of magic in a way the magewright can’t. The magewright is essentially an electrician who learns to repair a specific type of appliance; the wizard or artificer is Tesla or Edison… they understand the principles of this science on a deeper level, and can work with it in a completely different way.

This model doesn’t make sense with every possible arcane caster; see the question on bards further down the page. In particular, sorcerers have the power to spontaneously produce arcane effects. A sorcerer doesn’t have to understand how they do what they do. But it’s arcane in nature because it’s drawing directly on the ambient magical power, and because it doesn’t require anything like faith… which is a critical component of divine magic.

DIVINE MAGIC

So, arcane magic involves using scientific principles to shape ambient magical energy. For divine magic, there is an intermediary involved: a divine power source that filters and focuses the power from the Ring of Siberys. Through faith and willpower, the divine caster connects to the divine source. If the arcane caster is an engineer, the divine caster is essentially connecting to a server that has a bunch of apps on it. The divine caster doesn’t need to understand anything about code or WHY the apps work; they just know that they ask for healing, and Cure Light Wounds 2.0 does its thing. There is no question that these divine power sources exist. The divine power source has an alignment; a set of domains; and specific relationship to positive and negative energy. Eberron is unique in that the alignment of a divine caster doesn’t have to match the alignment of that divine power source. Per my house rule in this Dragonshard, the alignment of the power source determines all magical alignment-oriented effects of the religion… so regardless of personal alignment, a divine caster associated with the Silver Flame casts holy word and protection from evil, because these are the powers granted by the source.

But what ARE these divine power sources? There’s the question. In some cases, we know exactly what they are: the Silver Flame is a pool of energy initially created by the couatl sacrifice in the Age of Demons, said to be strengthened by noble souls over the ages. Aside from supporting divine magic, it is the force that holds the Overlords at bay. So again: there is no question that it exists, and it’s not anthropomorphic in any way. But what of the others? If you’re a follower of the Sovereign Host, then you say that the Sovereigns are gods: they may be sources of pure divine power, but they are also sentient, omnipresent entities that watch us and guide us. If you’re a doubter, you say that these are just pools of energy like the Silver Flame; that they have coalesced around particular concepts like War or Law; and that they may be formed from mass belief (which the Undying Court shows has a certain degree of power) or from the souls of believers. There is no right answer here; no canon source is ever going to conclusively say “The Sovereigns are gods” or “The Sovereigns are pools of belief.”

But it’s important to remember one thing: in Eberron, the majority of priests are not divine casters. They’re like priests in our world: they offer spiritual guidance and comfort to their congregation. They believe in the faith, but it’s true, belief alone is not enough. Faith alone doesn’t guarantee divine magic… because in my opinion, a divine caster must have something more than just mundane faith. They have what I’ll call transcendental faith. In part this is about depth of conviction… but it is also just about a way of viewing the universe, of having a faith that lets you believe beyond the limits of mundane reality and touch the divine that lies beyond it. I can’t explain this much more clearly than this, because I don’t have it. But touching a divine power source requires an degree of faith most people simply don’t possess… just as most magewrights simply don’t have the insight and talent required to become a wizard or artificer. And even this faith alone may not be sufficient; it’s quite possible that you must in some way be chosen by the divine power source, as a paladin is called. If you view the power sources as gods, than this is an easy thing to understand. If not, it’s a little harder to explain; but in some way, a divine caster has a connection to the power source that most people will simply never have. But in my opinion, faith is always necessary. It is the conduit that forms the basic connection to the divine power source, and without it you have nothing. Regardless of alignment, a follower of the Silver Flame must believe they are using the power of the Silver Flame to protect the innocent. They can be evil and using it in a horrible unjustified witch hunt, but they must believe that the cause is justified. If you have someone who is truly a servant of the Lords of Dust and cares nothing for the principles of the Flame, then they cannot be drawing their magic from the Flame itself; they must be tied to a different divine power source. With that said, the Silver Flame has a built-in out in the Shadow in the Flame, which can empower such evildoers. But you can’t be a lover of chaos and draw power from Aureon, Lord of Law. Your alignment doesn’t have to match your divine power source… but your faith must.

So: What differentiates the cleric from the favored soul? It’s essentially the same separation as the wizard and sorcerer… but with faith added. Not all priests are clerics, but the vast majority of clerics are priests. A cleric works with tradition, learning the prayers and rituals of the faith. A favored soul has faith and feels the divine call, and needs nothing more. So in the Silver Flame, the typical cleric is a priest or friar… while a favored soul might be a farmer who hears the Voice of the Flame. I generally put paladins in this camp: a paladin has to be called. Within the Church of the Silver Flame, paladins are treasured and brought into the templars; but in my opinion, a paladin must be called, it’s not something you can just pursue.

Isn’t faith inherently irrational? And isn’t that at odds with clerics having to have a high Wisdom? And isn’t it strange that a cleric with the Madness domain could have a high Wisdom?

To begin with, I don’t view Wisdom as a statistic associated with logic; that’s what Intelligence is for. In my opinion, Wisdom is about willpower (hence, Will saves), perception, and understanding… an understanding that goes beyond the pure reason of Intelligence. Beyond that, I think it’s dangerous to try to use ability scores as a measure of someone’s beliefs… IE “This belief is stupid, therefore this individual can’t have a high Intelligence.” This is especially true when it comes to madness. In my opinion a Cleric of the Dragon Below could be exceptionally intelligent about everything but the subject of their madness. They could be a brilliant arcane scholar… and it could be that very brilliance that led them to discover the secrets that shattered their sanity.

But back to the core point: Is faith irrational? On some level, of course it is. The basic concept of faith is believing in a thing that cannot be proven. But don’t equate faith with zealotry or fanaticism. Just because a person has faith doesn’t mean that they will be driven to irrational action or that they cannot listen to reason. And just because a person has faith – even that amazing transcendental faith that I describe – doesn’t mean that they can’t have doubt. In my opinion, questioning faith is one of the most interesting things you can do as a divine character: explore why you believe what you believe, and why you hold to that faith even when it can’t be proven. The other day I was watching Shakespeare in Love, and multiple times when things are at their very worst, someone says “Don’t worry – it will all turn out well.” To which someone else responds “How?” because there is no rational way that it could. The first speaker shrugs, smiles, and says “I don’t know… it’s a mystery.” To me that’s the point of faith. One person looks at something terrible – like the Mourning – and has their faith broken by it. Another sees the same thing and says “I don’t understand how or why this could happen… but I have faith that there is a reason.” For such a person faith is a source of strength and comfort when reason provides no answer. Further below I’ll look at this point in more detail, but the basic point is that yes, faith IS irrational. But that doesn’t mean that every divine caster has to have blind faith. It doesn’t mean that they have to ignore reason or things that go against their faith, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t question their faith. The question is whether, in the end, you hold onto your faith… or whether the things that you face will break it.

With this in mind, I’d like to look at two player characters from my own Eberron campaigns. One was a changeling cleric of the Silver Flame, who as part of his character background explained that he’d encountered corruption in the church and been shocked by it. He’d left the church to go out into the world and explore the darkness of the human soul more deeply… so that he could gain the understanding he’d need to come back an drive it from the church. So: his faith was shaken by an encounter with a corrupt priest; he left the church itself; but he never stopped believing in the Silver Flame and its purpose.

The second was a character I played in the longest-running Eberron campaign I’ve been a part of. I began as a dragonborn follower of the Sovereign Host (with a Thir spin on the Sovereigns). Over the course of the campaign, I lost my faith in the Sovereigns… but ended up becoming a divine oracle of the Draconic Prophecy, and seeing that as the force shaping the world. So I questioned my faith, and it actually changed and evolved over the course of my story.

So the point of all this? A divine caster must have faith. Faith is the fuel of divine magic and a critical element that differentiates it from arcane magic. But you don’t have to be a zealot or a fanatic. You can listen to reason. You can question your faith and even change it. But in my opinion, you must have faith to perform divine magic.

In Eberron, can’t a cleric gain divine magic from a philosophy or personal belief? 

This is about the principle that in Eberron, you can cast spells with sufficient faith in ANYTHING. You could have the Church of Your Shoe. Technically, this is true. Page 35 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting says the following:

You may also decide that your cleric has no deity but instead channels divine power from the spiritual remnants of the Dragon Above. Select two domains that reflect the cleric’s spiritual inclination and abilities. The restriction on alignment domains still applies.

So yes: In Eberron, you can make a cleric of ANYTHING. With that said, the description here makes clear what you’re doing. You may worship your shoe, but your shoe isn’t what’s granting you magic; you are bypassing the divine power sources and drawing your power straight from the Ring of Siberys, which as I mentioned above is essentially the source of all magic. Beyond this, I’d note the following…

  • While this is possible, within the canon world it is incredibly rare. You’ll note that the vast majority of the divine casters presented in canon material follow the defined faiths. I’m not even sure that there is an example of an I-worship-my-shoe-style priest anywhere in canon, though I could be wrong (I was! See below). Basically, this is only possible for rare and remarkable people… but player characters ARE rare and remarkable people, so go ahead!
  • The theory behind this is that it’s easier to connect to one of the existing divine sources that has mass belief… potentially because the power sources ARE that mass belief. This is why you see so many religions that are essentially some variation of the Sovereign Host – why Rusheme has Rowa of the Leaves instead of Fiddledediddlestag the Charcoal God. The closer your god is to a Sovereign archetype, the greater the chance that your faith will produce divine spellcasters. So there are and have been many radically different faiths… but those similar to the Sovereigns have produced more spellcasters, and that’s been a form of social evolution. Basically, if you can’t connect to a belief pool/god you can go straight to the source – but that’s hard to do.

So the principle of the atheist who believes SO STRONGLY that the gods don’t exist that he actually draws divine power from this is certainly possible – but you’ll note that we didn’t present tons of these in the world. And in my campaign, if you’re playing that character and you’re suddenly faced with absolute proof that gods DO exist, you could have a crisis of faith and lose your powers…

PRIMAL MAGIC

So how do druids and rangers fit into this? In 3.5 they are considered to be divine casters. However, a ranger isn’t called as a paladin is, and the concept of a ranger doesn’t seem to require transcendental faith. This is true. A cleric with the Nature domain has an alignment aura, channels positive or negative energy, and has to have faith; a druid does none of these things. So how is it that druids are divine casters?

The fact of the matter is that this is a kluge… because they aren’t arcane casters, either. They don’t have some deep scientific understanding of magical principles. Fourth edition introduced the concept of the Primal power source as distinct from arcane and divine, and personally, that’s how I view things… all the more so because while arcane and divine magic both manipulate the ambient energy of the Ring of Siberys, I would make the case that primal magic is actually drawing on the energy of Eberron… which is to say the world itself. This is important for a number of reasons. The Ashbound hate unnatural magic, and one possibility is they could temporarily abolish it (at least within a region); this goal makes more sense if primal magic continues to function. The danger is that once you move in this direction, you open a huge rabbit hole (presumably, made by a dire rabbit). Do detect magic and dispel magic work on primal magic? Basically, adding a new sort of magic is a big can of worms for balance and complexity of play… and thus it’s generally easier to simply say that primal magic essentially functions like divine magic. But if you want to open that can of worms, go ahead!

 

ARCANE AND DIVINE

If you’re looking for more ways to differentiate arcane and divine magic in your game, take a moment to think about the components of magic… by which I mean the verbal and somatic components, the gestures and incantations that are made. What do verbal components actually sound like? What does casting a spell actually look like?

Following the principle that arcane magic is like software engineering, in my campaign both incantations and gestures are very scientific: you are repeating syllables of power in a specific order and making very precise gestures, tracing glyphs that help channel the forces you are drawing on. Each time you cast fireball, you use exactly the same gestures and incantation, because that is the recipe for “fireball.”

By contrast, I see the typical divine spell as a prayer. You are invoking your faith and asking for a specific favor. In my opinion this isn’t about precise syllables arranged in a certain way. It may well involve names that have power, but each time a cleric casts cure light wounds the precise prayer may vary, taking into account the specific situation: “Olladra, smile on your servant Ping and let your light heal his wounds.” Because again, the cleric isn’t using a scientific method; they are invoking the source of their faith.

With that said, I believe that in the case of a cleric, spell-prayers are likely to have a very specific form based on the particular spell and nature of the religion… whereas the favored soul is more likely to have very little structure and simply call directly on the divine power.

So what about someone who level dips, like a theurge? They have the cheat codes and pray to the designer to wrote them? For those that dabble in the arcane and divine, does it come with more clarity or confusion?

Bearing in mind that this is just my opinion, I don’t think it’s confusing at all… and I personally wouldn’t try to make one answer fit all characters. Divine power sources exist. As a result, I would support the idea of a theurge as a “hacker” who had figured out an arcane method for hacking into a power source and channeling its power.

At the same time, nothing about arcane magic and divine magic is inherently in opposition. I think that many clerics of Aureon may also have levels in arcane classes. Per the belief of the Host, it is Aureon who gave mortals the gift of arcane magic; just because a cleric is capable of performing divine miracles through Aureon’s grace doesn’t mean that she can’t also learn to master the arcane arts, whether she does this as a theurge or by traditional multiclassing.

Adepts cast divine spells but can also be considered rustic mages, or is this an Adept vs Magewright issue?

I’d call it a skinning issue: how do you want to present the particular adept? I do suggest that many Jorasco healers are adepts precisely because they are NOT required to have faith.

So where do Bards fit into all of these? I know traditionally they are arcane. But I prefer to think of them as dabblers in everything, and that their spells are a mixture of arcane, divine, primal, and whatever else they heard somewhere. But can one “dabble” in divine magic? 

I generally don’t think of bards as being defined by either excessive faith or spiritual enlightenment. They don’t have a connection to a divine sphere, any sort of Channel Divinity, or the alignment aura of a cleric. Thus, I would say that while they do have certain spells that are otherwise unavailable to arcane casters (like healing), that it’s not drawing on their faith or a divine connection.

So why can a bard heal when a wizard can’t? A simple option is the same one I suggested for the mystic theurge: they are essentially hackers, using arcane techniques to tap into a divine power source. Note that they aren’t the only arcane casters who can do this; an artificer can generate healing effects using spell-storing item, something Lei does frequently in The Dreaming Dark novels. In the case of SSI, I believe that it is that the case of an artificer literally hacking a spell together from the ground up.

However, if it was ME, I’d take a different approach with bards. I’d say that story and songs have power… both the power of shaping a culture, and beyond that because story and song are a path to the power of Thelanis, just as psionics can draw power from Xoriat and Dal Quor.

Now, the bard is concretely performing arcane magic, which is relevant mechanically for anything that triggers off arcane magic. But I’d essentially argue that they perform it in, as you suggest, a “dabbling” way – and yet they can accomplish things that their technique shouldn’t allow, precisely because they are connected to Thelanis and the Trickster… or Traveler?… archetype. As with other things, a lot of it is how you skin your bard. Do you PRESENT their spells as being cast in the same way as a wizard? Or do you have it be more about flourish and style, of telling a story that becomes real?

The Magic Initiate feat in 5E also begs that question. How do you have the kind of super-faith needed to cast divine magic, but only a little?

First off, there’s no reason that you can’t possess transcendental faith and yet still only cast a few spells. I don’t think that a 20th level cleric necessarily has more FAITH than a 1st level cleric; what she’s done is either earned the respect and favor of her deity (if you believe in gods) or through experience gained a greater ability to manipulate the divine source (if you don’t). But you can have an NPC who’s a first level cleric who NEVER GAINS ANOTHER LEVEL. That doesn’t represent imperfect faith in my eyes, it simply means they’ve reached the extent of their potential for divine spellcasting ability.

Personally, if I’m running a game and I have a player who wants to that the Magic Initiate (Cleric) feat, I will ask them to explain to me how this is justified by their character’s faith. As I said above; just because you’re a wizard or a thief doesn’t mean that you can’t have spiritual faith. Obviously this isn’t required by the mechanics, but it’s what I’D do… UNLESS they could justify with their character that, as suggested with the Mystic Theurge, their access to divine spells isn’t driven by divine faith but because their CHARACTER has learned to game the system… that the wizard is so good at magic that they’ve found a way to hack a divine power source.

BEYOND THIS: Something we’ve commonly said before is that in the faith of the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns are with us all… and that those who emulate the Sovereigns are closer to them. So the smith becomes closer to Onatar through his work… while the rogue might feel a bond to Olladra, or the wizard to Aureon. I could see any of those characters taking Magic Initiate to reflect that “bond to the Sovereign.” Though I’d still generally expect the character to have some level of faith in that Sovereign.

 

RANDOM QUESTIONS

We know that Valenar elves want to call back their ancestors.

That’s not precisely correct. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest heroes. Like the Blood of Vol and the Aereni, they believe that there is no afterlife beyond Dolurrh. By emulating the heroes of the past, they anchor those spirits to the material plane and keep them from fading away. It’s the same principle as the Undying Court, but the Undying Court preserves the deathless directly – while among the Tairnadal, the ancestors live on through their descendants.

So don’t call it a comeback… because they never left.

You might want to check out the “Vadallia and Cardaen” Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 407 for a more in-depth look at what the faith and the ancestors mean to the Tairnadal.

But does their priests have any vision of reality, a greater plan for the future beyond that? Do they see any role for other races or a destiny or duty for elves after they reach greatness? 

There’s a number of different factors here. First, for the priest: the job is never done. There’s never a point where you say “The elves have reached greatness, folks… mission accomplished.” Even if the elves of this generation are the perfect avatars of the greatest heroes, they will one day die… and when they do the next generation must be ready to take their place. So there’s always work to do. Likewise, for the follower of the faith, you could always be doing better. The patron ancestors were LEGENDS… are your deeds truly worthy of them?

In part this speaks to a fundamental difference in human and elven character. Short-lived humans are always pushing to achieve something new. Overall, both Aereni and Tairnadal essentially believe that their society IS perfect; both seek to preserve what they have and to prevent the loss of any of their greatest heroes. People of the Five Nations would say that this has essentially led to the stagnation of the elven cultures… but that’s a matter of opinion.

There are certainly Tairnadal who aren’t content to simply emulate the legends of the past; while their first concern must be to honor the ancestors, they also seek to become legends in their own right, who will become new patron ancestors after their deaths. Thus, while most of the patron ancestors date back to Xen’drik, there are heroes from the times in which the Tairnadal have battled goblins and dragons… and there may soon be new heroes from this age.

The article on Vadallia and Cardaen discusses the fact that Tairnadal actions and goals vary strongly based on the patron ancestor. Some are honorable; some are cruel. But their heroes weren’t conquerors. The original patron ancestors were rebels and guerillas fighting against an overwhelming power that sought to enslave and destroy them. This is the drama the Valenar seek to recreate. In seizing land on the mainland they are creating a killing ground; now they work to antagonize some great power into attacking them there, so they can recreate the heroic struggle of their ancestors.

In other words; what’s the “reality under reality” a Valenar cleric has to believe in?

This is an interesting question, because the answer is that all the elven cultures are largely agnostic. They don’t care about who created the world, and they don’t believe that there are unknown divine powers shaping general events. Druids and rangers both play a role in Tairnadal culture, and when it comes to questions like “Why’d that earthquake happen” a Tairnadal is more likely to say “Because that’s how the world works” than to attribute it to the Devourer or some other supernatural force. The reality beyond reality that the Tairnadal care about is simple: Through our devotion, we preserve the spirits of our greatest heroes. Those heroes in turn chose those who are to follow their path, and they can guide and inspire the chosen who emulate their deeds. That’s enough for the elves; their pantheon is made up of heroes, and they believe those heroes can influence the lives of their chosen. This is most directly seen in the extraordinary abilities of a Revenant Blade, but it’s still believed that the Patron Ancestor is with their chosen in less dramatic times. Meanwhile, it is the Patron Ancestors AS A WHOLE that empower clerics and are the source of clerical magic. I ran a one-shot where all the players made Valenar characters, and the cleric made a point of explaining the ancestor that was responsible for each of the spells that he cast. His healing is granted by the legendary healer, his spiritual weapon is the blade of Vadallia, his flame strike is the fires of Cardaen. So to draw a parallel to our world, the Tairnadal don’t care about gods; their faith is based entirely around saints, and they believe that it is only through the actions of the Tairnadal that those saints are preserved. So the cleric must always be guiding this generation and preparing the next; this is never a job that will be done.

At the moment I am playing a Khoravar Paladin of the Sovereign Host. He’s also an active member of House Medani. What I was curious about was if it is acceptable for this character to want to seek out Valenar tradition and learn about it, possibly honoring an ancestor, while still serving the Host?

I know I’ve written about this topic before, but I can’t track down the answer. Short form: It’s certainly a great path for a PC. Within the world, we’ve established that there are Khoravar who pursue this path (it’s mentioned that some of the Khoravar in Taer Valaestas do this). With that said, I think the character will receive a very mixed reaction from the Tairnadal themselves. I think some will applaud the character’s attempts to honor their ancestors; the purpose of the tradition is to preserve the ancestors, and if the PC can help do this, good for them. Others will say that those of mixed blood are flawed vessels that cannot contain the soul of a true Elven hero.

The first step towards any sort of acceptance would be having a Keeper of the Past determine and declare which ancestor has chosen you. If a respected Keeper declares that you’ve been chosen by a patron, that would be good enough for many – but convincing a Keeper to do the tests likely won’t be easy. Beyond this, even those who believe you might provoke or challenge you… whether they are doubters who seek to prove that you have no connection to the spirit, or believers who seek to emulate events from the life of your patron to strengthen your connection.

As for conflict with serving the Host, I don’t think the two are necessarily in conflict. I think there are many Tairnadal who would dismiss your faith in the Host as foolishness, and many might say “Your patron was no follower of the Host; clearly you must abandon this faith if you are to truly embody their spirit.” However, as I said, the Tairnadal faith isn’t about gods that define reality. There’s no fundamental conflict beyond the basic one that the Patron Ancestors didn’t follow the Host, so how can you truly emulate them when you do? But that seems like an interesting story to explore.

It’s quite obvious what is FAITH when you worship the Host or the Blood of Vol. But what is faith in the Undying Court or the Flame? They do exist, no doubt in that. As you say: they are pragmatical things, they exist and work.

WE know the Silver Flame exists, because WE know for a fact that it’s the only thing that keeps the Overlords from destroying everything. But if you’re standing in a field in Khorvaire, you have no way to prove that; the Silver Flame doesn’t incarnate and walk around beating up demons in front of people. So faith in the Flame means first of all, believing that it exists; believing that it holds a great evil at bay; believing that it empowers noble souls who seek to protect the innocent from evil; and believing that after death noble spirits can join with it and strengthen it. All of this then reinforces the concept that you want to be a “noble soul” – which comes back to compassionate, charity, protecting the weak, etc, etc.

The Undying Court is a different sort of thing because you CAN go visit the Court – but remember that the power of the Court is greater than its combined components. Faith in the court includes the belief that reverence for the ancestors is what sustains them; while it’s not as extreme as it is for the Tairnadal, it is your duty to venerate your ancestors and their deeds and ensure that their legacy is never forgotten. Beyond that, it is the faith that the Court as a whole is bound to the destiny of Aerenal and the Elves as a whole: that the power of the Court will shield Aerenal from any who would harm it. Finally, it is the belief that you can prove yourself worth of the Court by excelling at the Aereni traditions. So in day to day life, it’s about honoring your ancestors, having faith that they are watching over you, and seeking to perfect your own talents so you can follow in their footsteps. Unlike the Tairnadal, an Aereni wizard isn’t trying to become an avatar for his wizard ancestor – but he does seek to perfect his magic to prove himself worthy of the Court.

This does tie back to why Elven culture isn’t THAT much more advanced than human culture, despite being far older. As I think I’ve said before, the Elves essentially feel they’ve achieved perfection and the key is sustaining it. MOST Elven wizards aren’t trying to innovate, as much they are trying to perfectly match they techniques of their ancestors (who were, to be certain, amazing at what they did). This comes back to the idea of what an arcane incantation sounds like. In my opinion, an Aereni mage will spend years or even decades learning the PERFECT PRONUNCIATION of the syllables of power. His fireball sounds EXACTLY like the one cast ten thousand years ago. Whereas a mage at Arcanix learns the same basic “language’ of magic, but may fudge or modify things slightly to find a pronunciation that’s uniquely suited to them. And in the process, they might discover something entirely new.

But again, if you attend services of the Undying Court, they would be telling the stories of the Deathless… ensuring that their deeds are never forgotten, that we sustain them with our memory and reverence just as they protect us with their power.

Could you perhaps give me some insight into how the Undying Court grants spells? From what I understand, the Court can only grant spells when acting as a whole, which implies that the duty of granting spells is spread out amongst a large number of different deathless. I started wondering how they would go about granting spells, and domains, and if the process might be some variant of a spellpool that the deathless add to and allow clerics to draw from each day. I’m not sure though. Any thoughts?

The Undying Court is – in and of itself – a divine power source. Just as the Silver Flame is said to be formed from a mass of devout souls. In the case of the Undying Court you have the souls of the deathless themselves. Beyond this, the Deathless are themselves channels to Irian, adding its energy to the pool. And on top of that, add the faith of the living who are devoted to the Court. All of that woven together create a gestalt force that is the divine power source of the Undying Court… and it is this force that has a Good alignment aura, positive energy alignment, and the domains of the Court.

So when a cleric prayers for spells, it’s not like one of the Deathless suddenly stops and says “Bob wants Cure Light Wounds.” The existence of the Court creates the power source. The transcendent faith of the cleric allows them to connect to this power source and cast spells. Meanwhile, the councilors themselves can call on this power to do things like fight dragons. Essentially, it’s much like the Silver Flame: a source of pure mystical power that certain people can channel. Not that the Councilors technically DON’T have to have faith, because they are directly connected to the source; but a cleric would need faith.

Normally, my inclination would be to say that a paladin of the Undying Court is called by this gestalt spirit, not by an individual. HOWEVER, it could be an interesting story to say that in addition to having faith, a divine caster of the Undying Court must be sponsored by one of the Undying Councilors. This would create an interesting patron for the caster, and it would presumably also be that patron who would answer spells like commune. At it could be that this patron could choose to cut off the caster’s access to the Court’s magic. If you’re looking for that incarnate god experience, this might be the closest thing to it Eberron has to offer.

I know I already asked you how would you justify a hellbreed in a 3.5 eberron, where there’s no canon baator, nor hell or punishment for mortal souls. 

I’ve never personally used a Hellbred, and I don’t own whatever sourcebook covers them, so it’s not a topic I have a strong opinion on. From what I understand, a Hellbred is a damned soul who reprents just before damnation and is returned to life for a chance at redemption. I agree that this concept isn’t a great match for Eberron’s cosmology. With that said, as of 4E, Baator is a part of canon Eberron, and its denizens do make bargains with mortals for their souls. It’s simply that this is a very recent occurrence, and would require the Hellbred to have made a bargain with one of the lords of Baator.

Another possibility would be that the Hellbreed actually involves the redemption of an evil immortal, such as a rakshasa. When an immortal is killed, its energy eventually reforms into a new immortal. In the case of weaker immortals, memories are often lost and it is rededicated to its original purpose. In this case, you could say that a fiend sought to change its path and was killed by its comrades so it would be reborn and restored to its original alignment; to escape this fate, it has merged with a mortal host. It has the duration of the host’s life to complete its “redemption” and transformation into a different sort of immortal. So the mortal is actually the vessel of redemption… though the mortal could be seeking redemption as well, which would explain why they’d agree to this bargain.

I’m sure there’s other possibilities: something involving the Mourning (and all the unavenged souls that died in it); something tied to the Prophecy. But that’s all I have time to come up with now.

How would you explain a good-aligned character offering worship to an evil deity, aside from those who do so simply to appease or forestall the deity’s attention?  

There’s a number of different cultures across Eberron that worship one or more of the Dark Six, for example – and that doesn’t make all of its people evil. Per 3.5, The Blood of Vol was an “Evil” faith, and I’ve already written at length about good Seekers. In this Dragonmark I explained how you could have a hero from the Cults of the Inner Suns, who seeks to pave his way to paradise with blood… but only with the blood of evil-doers.

The most immediate point here is that very few of these people consider their gods to be evil. The people of Droaam view the Shadow as a sort of Prometheus… where jealous Aureon withheld his gifts from humanity, the Shadow gave the medusa her gaze and the harpy her voice. The Fury is a source of rage in battle and passion in life; she is the well of emotion within us all, and it is only denying her that causes madness. And while Vassals see the Mockery as espousing treachery, the folk of Droaam say that he teaches cunning – and that anyone who refuses to use cunning in battle is a fool. The Sahuagin don’t offer their worship to the Devourer simply to avoid his wrath; rather they believe that it is his wrath that tests all things, destroying the weak and strengthening those who survive it.

So you can have a heroic medusa who defends the weak and kills those who prey on the innocent… and who still slaughters her enemies using the cunning tactics espoused by the Mockery, embraces the passion of the Fury, and give thanks to the Shadow for her deadly gaze.

On the other hand, there was a player in one of my campaigns who played a warlock who served one of the Overlords. He was good and did all the usual good things – defend the innocent, help those in need, etc. But at the same time, his view was that the eventual rise of one of the Overlords was absolutely inevitable. He believed that most of the Overlords would utterly destroy civilization as we know it… while his Overlord would enslave everyone but still keep a semblance of civilization. So he viewed it as the best option when facing inevitable doom, and did his best to help others while walking this path to doomsday.

Seekers of the Blood of Vol believe that the gods cursed humans with mortality to keep all the power for themselves. What if the gods are too far away to influence the material plane directly and that’s why they us intermediaries like angels? That would make Dolurrh a road to a further afterlife, and a reordering of the planes might be necessary to gain immortality, so it might not be the gods fault or intentions. How would most seekers react if this was discovered to be the case?

How would it be “discovered to be the case”? Followers of the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host make precisely this claim: Dolurrh is not the final fate for the dead, but simply a waystation for souls as they make a transition to a higher plane of existence. But because no mortal can go to this higher plane of existence, it remains purely theoretically… something that must be taken on faith. The Vassal believes that the Sovereigns are with us at all times. They believe that the life is merely the first stage of a journey that will ultimately lead them to union with the Sovereigns. But like most religions in our world, these things can’t be proven; it is a matter of trust and faith.

Meanwhile, the Seeker looks at what is known. People suffer. Injustices occur across the world. And what is known is that the souls of the dead go to Dolurrh, where their memories fade away. This can be proven: you can go to Dolurrh and find the husk of a friend’s spirit. Again, those of other faiths say that this is just like a cast-off snakeskin, left behind by the soul that has moved on… but why should the Seeker believe you?

Beyond this: You can tell the Seeker “The gods may be distant, but they have a wonderful plan for all of us.” The Seeker will reply “Really? Why did this plan include my children starving to death? Why did it include my husband losing his arm to an infected wound? If the gods are good, why do we suffer? Our suffering proves that they don’t care about us. The universe is against us, and all we have is one another. We must stand by our community and fight against fate, not blindly trust some fairy tale of a better world to come.”

You might have an angel appear and say “I serve Aureon, and I believe in the journey” – but why should the Seeker trust this angel? How does the word of an angel change what the Seeker has experienced? How does it justify the pain and misery the Seeker sees every day?

Essentially, religion in Eberron is very much like religion in our world. There are no absolute answers; it is about finding your faith, and choosing what to believe. The Vassal can’t prove that the Sovereigns are benevolent or that they are present in the world… but he knows it in his heart. He knows that there is a reason for pain and misfortune, that these are simply trials that must be overcome as part of the great journey. While the Seeker knows that there is no grand justification for the pain and suffering she sees every day – that if there were benevolent gods the world would be a better place. The Vassal and the Seeker will never convince the other, because it’s not about logic; it’s about faith.

Now, if you could somehow ABSOLUTELY BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT prove the existence of benevolent Sovereigns, justify human suffering, and promise a joyous afterlife you could undermine the Blood of Vol, but as it stands the setting is built on the assumptions that these things cannot be proven; such an absolute revelation would potentially undermine many religions. Personally, I prefer making people work on faith, because that’s what WE have to do… so for me it makes the world feel real.

How do Seekers think they are going to gain immortality? Are people like Baron Zorlan working on it? How will they deal with overcrowding?

First, they don’t believe they will gain immortality; they believe they will gain divinity. The principle is that the spark of divinity lies within our blood, and that it is the curse or mortality that prevents us from being able to attain it. Eliminating death is simply the means by which we attain divinity, and once we are divine, reality will completely change. I’m not just going to be an immortal farmer working on my farm for hundreds of years; I will be a god moving through creation. So we’re not worried about overcrowding because once we are gods we’re no longer living on Eberron. This is why most Seekers don’t actually want to be undead. It’s acknowledged that once you’re undead you have forever lost the spark of divinity and can never ascend… so you may live forever, but you’ll do it trapped in a rotting material body on Eberron. The undead champions are seen as martyrs, not something to be envied.

Now, within the faith there are two basic approaches. The first are those who care only for their own personal ascension. They want power and don’t care about the world at large. Most of Erandis’ inner circle fall into this camp. They are searching for ways that THEY can realize their divinity but don’t care about unlocking it for the masses. This is also the basis of the Thief of Life prestige class in Faiths of Eberron. However, the larger segment of the faith believes that it was whatever gods exist that cursed the living with mortality… and that thus, to break the curse, they must destroy the gods themselves. HOW? Most people have no idea. It’s not something the farmer believes he can personally help with, and it’s not something he really expects to happen in his lifetime… it’s like Judgment Day, part of the faith but not something you actually expect to happen tomorrow. For this, they look to the undead champions, who have (in theory) sacrificed their chance at divinity to become immortal heroes who might, somehow and someday, find a way to defeat the gods. This is the other reason not everyone wants to be undead; in theory the undead are tirelessly working to advance the faith. In practice, some are (like Malevenor) – others, like Erandis’ cabal, simply want that personal power.

So what that farmer does is donate blood to sustain the vampires he believes are fighting for his cause, and everything he can to strengthen his community and preserve the lives of those he cares about, while hoping that out there the undead champions are fighting a mystical war he can’t comprehend and that MAYBE, just maybe, they’ll find a way to win it.

As for Zorlan, I suspect he’s on the seeking-personal-power side of the fence… but it would be very interesting if he was on the other side, and was actually designing artifacts to rip a hole in the heavens and take the war to the Sovereigns! Could a test run of such a thing have been the cause of the Mourning?

What are the beliefs about the consequences of failing as a faithful soul? 

As things stand, the primary consequence is oblivion. Your soul goes to Dolurrh, isn’t worthy of moving on to the higher realm of the Sovereigns or joining with the Silver Flame, your memories are destroyed and everything that was you is gone. When faced with the prospect of a positive afterlife or ABSOLUTE OBLIVION I think most people would have a pretty strong opinion about which they prefer. With that said… From the start, the concept of The Keeper is that he seeks to “snatch souls on their way to Dolurrh.” We’ve never said exactly what consequences this fate has, but presumably it’s a fate worse than Dolurrh, or people would want it to happen (as the Restful Watch does, but that’s another story). So one can assume that’s a horrible fate. Of course, as it stands, everyone fears that… but it would be logical to say that living according to the virtues of the Sovereigns is the best way to avoid the Keeper.

If you want some concept of “eternal damnation” for story purposes, another option would likely be Baator. Per 4E canon, the fiends of Baator are bargaining for souls. Now, they are simply amassing souls as a source of power – essentially building their own Silver Flame. But what is the experience of the individual whose soul is thrown into this fiendish well of power? If you want, you could make it being trapped in a hell generated by the individual’s own fears. It would certainly make signing an infernal bargain a little less appealing.

Likewise, as it stands we have specified that Dolurrh is NOT a place of punishment or reward. However, if I specifically wanted the ability for players to rescue a soul in torment as part of a story, I’d just add a group of immortals to Dolurrh who make it their personal responsibility to torment souls they deem worthy of punishment. It’s not part of the “mechanics” of the plane itself, but hey, it could happen. But to be clear, that is not canon.

What would be considered “corruption” in the view of the different religions and why?

That’s far too broad a question for me to answer in detail here, especially because even the major religions could have sub-sects or cults with weird beliefs. But for the most part, the same things we consider corruption in our world. To the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns represent the virtues you should live by. Care for your community; obey the law; respect nature; if you must fight, do so with courage and honor. The Silver Flame charges its members to protect the innocent, show compassion, and fight evil both by your daily behavior and, when necessary, physically. The Blood of Vol likewise tells the faithful to care for their community, to work together, and to do what they can to free humanity from suffering and death. The Tairnadal faith is slightly different, because its core commandment is emulate your patron ancestor; if your patron ancestor was cruel, it is your religious duty to be cruel as well. I just don’t have the time to get into all the other possibilities here, like what members of a Mockery cult might believe. But generally speaking, all the major faiths encourage behavior that strengthens communities, because that’s a main reason they ended up being major faiths in the first place.

In one of my campaigns, Zilargo was essentially controlled by a Dark Six cult… the main plan of the cult is: “show how these things can be accepted, so the Dark Six can come back in the main religion”.

While that’s not part of canon Eberron, per canon Zilargo is I believe the only Thronehold nation in which you will find temples to the Dark Six operating out in the open. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting: 

The people of Zilargo are extremely broad-minded when it comes to religion. Most gnomes try a few religions before settling on a single patron deity. Some never make a final choice; there are gnomes who attend and even perform services for both the Sovereign Host and the Silver Flame. Temples to virtually all religions can be found in the major cities of Zilargo. Korranberg even contains a temple dedicated to the Dragon Below, although the adherents are more philosophical and less disturbing than the fanatics of the Shadow Marches. Despite this seemingly cavalier attitude, most gnomes take religion very seriously; they simply don’t see a conflict in following more than one god.

First of all, there are gnomes who explore every path. Temples of the Fury hold ecstatic celebrations, and monks of the Shadow plumb the deepest mysteries of magic. Zilargo is a place where you can go and debate peacefully with a priest of the Devourer. But the last sentence of the paragraph above gets to the point that many gnomes look to the larger picture. Gods or divine power sources – however you prefer to view them – are part of reality. To the degree that it’s possible, why not try to embrace them all?

By the way, maybe you like to know that there is a canon cleric of no particular deity: Haneela d’Jorasco, cleric 13 in Fairheaven (Five Nations manual). She resurrect for money and channel “the spiritual remnants of Dragon Above, so she’s affiliated with no particular deity”. She is even a pretty powerful cleric for Eberron standards.

Good catch! I didn’t work on Five Nations, so I’m not surprised this slipped my notice. As I said above, I traditionally make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I feel a Clr13 is a very powerful individual to have in a minor commercial role; if I were to develop either Fairhaven or Jorasco in more detail, I’d personally expand on her character and her role in the house.

Now, Haneela is an example of what’s laid out on page 35 of the Eberron Campaign Setting… and it wouldn’t surprise me if the designer put her in there just so SOMEONE is shown as following that path. With that said, the point of channeling the Dragon Above is that you can follow a personal faith… and in Haneela’s case WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS IS. It’s possible that she is actually a Siberys cultist; she’s drawing her power from the Ring, and Siberys is one of the greatest life-giving forces imaginable. His blood is the source of magic, and as such, it is through his suffering and sacrifice that she has the power to heal. Personally, I’d be very tempted to make her a sort of Frankenstein. Essentially, her faith is in herself and her healing abilities: she has absolute faith that she can conquer any disease or ailment. Because she’s not worshipping a god, the trappings of this can be whatever you decide… so she could use strange unguents or tools that simply don’t work for anyone else but work wonders when SHE uses them. She comes to the dead man and says “Oh, he’s not dead; he’s just Mostly Dead. He just needs a dose of my patented Lifer-Upper!” … which mysteriously doesn’t work for anyone but her. If you could somehow cause her to doubt herself, she would lose her powers.

Essentially, I don’t like having a cleric of that power floating around with no apparent depth to her story… and if I ever delve into Fairhaven in more detail, I’ll definitely address it.

The point is that she has all the power and spells of a cleric. She can turn undead, fight better than most of warriors and cast offensive spells.

… Which is why usually make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I suspect that the original author just wanted someone who could cast resurrection and stuck her in there to fill that role, without consider how much power a 13th level PC-class character has in Eberron. Note that she’s not described as a mighty champion of the house; she is purely described as a healer, albeit one who’s frankly willing to do it for a low profit margin.

So, true: as a player character, a 13th level cleric can do all the things you describe. But remember that a core principle of Eberron is that the players are the heroes… that there aren’t a lot of other people out there who can step up and solve epic problems if they arise. Most of the most powerful benevolent entities are seriously handicapped in some way. Oalian is a tree. Jaela is a child who loses most of her power if she leaves Flamekeep. If I were to use Haneela as a villain – the secret mastermind behind the Nosomantic Chirugeons and Jorasco’s bioweapons research, for example – I would keep all her power intact so she could pose a challenge to players. But if I were to use her as she’s presented – essentially, a source of healing with no other dynamic role in the city – I would want to add something to explain WHY she couldn’t solve big problems on her own. Here’s a few examples.

  • Just because she CAN cast offensive spells doesn’t mean she has or ever will. A cleric gets the spells they ask for; if Haneela views her spellcasting in the Frankenstein manner I described above, she’d never actually ask for a Flame Strike because it makes no sense with her faith and view of her magic.
  • Ditto for undead. If she’s never encountered an undead creature in her life, she may not know she has that power. Again, every PLAYER cleric knows their full capabilities; that doesn’t mean every NPC has to.
  • She could be crippled in some way, just like Jaela. Perhaps she’s incredibly old, and all her physical stats are in the 6-7 range. Perhaps she’s missing an arm or a leg; because she was born with this deformity, regeneration won’t heal it (I’m making up that restriction on regeneration, but it makes sense to me).

My point is simply that there can always be a difference between a PC and an NPC. If you want to use her as a mighty force, you certainly can; and hey, nosomantic chiurgeons are creepy. But as written, she seems to be a passive healer – and there are things you could do to ensure that she remains in that role.

“Belief without evidence” as a definition of faith is something that has, of course, come up in this discussion. But insanity is belief without evidence too. Where does the difference lie? Does one have to go far enough to DENY OR RATIONALIZE contrary evidence to count as faithful enough to be a cleric and stay that way? Do clerics have to refuse to think objectively in favor of twisting whatever they see to conform to their preconceptions? Or is there, in fact, an actual difference between faith and insanity?

Good question. I’ve incorporated the answers to many of these questions in the description of divine magic presented above. As noted there, the answer is that you can listen to reason and you can question faith. With that said, let’s look at a number of Eberron’s religions very specifically here. My question to you is what rational argument or event would cause this individual to completely lose their faith?

  • The followers of the Silver Flame believe that the Silver Flame is a source of divine power that exists to protect the innocent from evil. This power holds demons at bay and answers the call of selfless souls who seek to fight the darkness. And it does this. They don’t assert that this power created the universe, or that it dictates any actions anyone takes; they simply say that it exists as a tool for those who are worthy, and that we should all strive to be worthy. They further assert that there is a Shadow in the Flame that tempts us to do evil. They acknowledge that humans are flawed and can do evil, and say that human evil should whenever possible be fought with compassion instead of with the sword. The Silver Flame does exist; it does hold demons at bay; and it does answer the call of those who seek to protect the innocent.
  • The Sovereign Host, essentially, is a very laid-back faith. It’s not uptight about doctrine. It has a very loose hierarchy; in some villages, you’ll see the local blacksmith considered to be the highest spiritual authority because people believe he is close to Onatar. The followers of the faith believe that the Sovereigns are with us at all times, and guide those who will listen to them; but they also believe that Dol Dorn guides the hand of EVERY war, regardless of which side he fights on or whether he believes in the Sovereigns himself. Further, they have the Dark Six as a way of explaining why bad things happen. You fell pray to the Fury, your fields were wrecked by a storm sent by the Devourer, your loved one who died was taken by the Keeper. So we have an explanation for things both good and bad; we don’t EXPECT the Sovereigns to appear to us in a concrete form; and we have a very loose creed so we don’t get tangled up in contradicting gospels.
  • The Blood of Vol calls bulls**t on the claim that bad things happen because of the Dark Six. What just god would allow death and suffering? If there was any benevolent power in the universe, the universe would be a better place. All we have is each other, and the only life we have is the one we know. The Seekers expect the worst, so the main way to shake the faith of a Seeker would be to somehow prove that there IS a benevolent plan to the universe, and if you can find an irrefutable logical argument that proves that to be the case, I would love to hear it!

So, let’s take an event that can – and in my opinion has – shake the faith of anyone: The Mourning. The senseless and inexplicable death of hundreds of thousands of people. In my opinion, many people HAVE lost their faith over the Mourning, as shown by Daine in The Dreaming Dark. But how can a person of faith have a logical debate with someone about it without simply sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “LALALA?”

  • Silver Flame: This changes nothing about my faith. The Silver Flame exists to empower us to defend the innocent from supernatural evil; the Mourning is exactly the sort of force it empowers us to fight. We cannot lose our faith in this moment of crisis; we must cling to it and use that strength to ensure that this never happens again.
  • Sovereign Host. Lots of different possibilities here. First off, the Shadow governs dark magic; the Traveler loves chaos; the Devourer is the lord of Destruction; and the Keeper seeks to capture the souls of the dead. All four have an easy stake in inspiring the Mourning. So my faith HAS a rational explanation for this. And just as Onatar guides the hands of the smith, evidence that this was done by humans wouldn’t shake that belief; instead, it simply goes right along with it. Of COURSE it was crazy Cannith researchers who caused the Mourning… because they were inspired by the Shadow or the Traveler. Essentially, the faith in the Sovereign Host is like water; it can fairly easily flow around obstacles without having to smash them down.
  • Blood of Vol. This is what I’ve been telling you all along. If there are gods, they hate us and will do S#!t like this for fun. This is why we need to stick together.
  • Tairnadal. My faith has nothing to do with why things like this happen; what I need to worry about is how my patron ancestor would respond to it.

If you can present me with a specific example of a rational argument and how a rational member of a specific faith might deal with it, I’m happy to take a crack at it.

As a fun side note, in the novel The Gates of Night, Lei’s father claims to know who caused the Mourning. If you read all the subtext, he’s talking about The Traveler. Lei’s parents are Traveler cultists, and his point is that whatever mortal instrument was used, the Traveler set it in motion as a force of change and evolution. At the time the novel was released, a lot of people said “I thought you said there would never be a canon answer – but he says he knows it!” He has an answer, but it’s an answer driven by faith as opposed to fact.

My next Eberron Q&A will be about Druids, but my next post will be about Phoenix: Dawn Command. Feel free to post your questions or comments about either below!

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!