Dragonmark: Priests, Krozen and Zerasha

July is quickly fading, but as time allows I want to answer a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, people asked about a pair of priests—High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane and Zerasha of Graywall.

Dealing with the Divine

Krozen and Zerasha are both powerful divine spellcasters. In third edition, Krozen was defined as a 12th level cleric of the Silver Flame, making him one of the most powerful clerics in canon Khorvaire. While never defined, Zerasha is supposed to be similar in her power—a priest respected and feared by a city of monsters and the mind flayer who governs it. Given that most priests in Khorvaire are adepts—or don’t even cast spells at all—I want players to feel how remarkable these individuals are when they encounter them. A powerful wizard is essentially a scientist, someone who uses logic and knowledge to break the laws of reality. A powerful divine caster is something else. Both Zerasha and Krozen are the chosen agents of cosmic powers. The Sovereigns and Six are omnipresent forces. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals, and Zerasha is one of its chief agents. Krozen can command the dead to return to life or call celestials from the essence of the Silver Flame. We can debate the existence of the Sovereigns, but the Silver Flame is the force that stands between Eberron and the overlords, and Krozen is a conduit for its power. These aren’t just people who have learned how to perform magic tricks. They are the chosen agents of vast cosmic forces. If you’ll pardon the phrase, they are burdened with glorious purpose.

But how do you make the powerful priest feel different from a wizard or a prince? This is something I discuss at more length in this article. One of the key points is to separate the way divine NPCs cast spells from how player characters do it. We need the structure of the classes for player characters because we need tactical precision, and I’m fine to say that in combat, Krozen casts spells as a 12th level cleric. But outside of combat I don’t feel that he needs to engage with his magic in the same way as a player character. The most common divine spellcasters—adepts—function much like magewrights; they have a specific set of cantrips and spells they can cast and that’s all they can cast. A typical spellcasting priest might be able to cast thaumaturgy, light, and ceremony. There are specialist adepts—oracles who can cast divination, healers who can perform lesser restoration—but the oracle can’t just decide to become a healer in the morning. They have been granted a divine gift, and they can’t exchange it for another one. More powerful spellcasters like Zerasha and Krozen aren’t limited like this, but they also don’t call their divinity on the phone each morning and make spell requests. Their divine power source grants them the spells they need when they need them, provided the request is justified. Krozen doesn’t prepare zone of truth ahead of time, but if he formally demands you speak the truth in the light of the Flame, zone of truth happens. Essentially, his spells are selected on the fly to match the situation he finds himself in. But the contrast is that he doesn’t have the freedom a PC has to request any spell. The Flame may empower Krozen to raise someone from the dead or to smite them with a flame strike, but in spite of his effective level it’s not going to grant him the power to create undead or to cast contagion; these aren’t the tools of a righteous servant of the Flame, and if you DO see a Flame priest using such spells, it’s a clear sign that they are actually a servant of the Whispering Flame or a warlock hacking the Flame. Krozen may take actions we consider evil, but he believes his actions are righteous in the light of the Flame; he’s not drawing on malefic powers.

Divination is another important example. With the spellcasting power of a 12th level cleric, Krozen could technically cast commune three times a day, along with a batch of auguries. And that’s how things work for PCs. But Krozen doesn’t just have some magic hotline that he can dial three times per day. He can’t just call up Tira Miron and say “Does Boranel dye his hair? Yes? I KNEW it!” It’s not some sort of abstract, scientific tool that he can just use for whatever random, trivial detail he wants to know. But the flip side is that he may simply receive information that he needs—that he can receive divine visions. Even when he doesn’t cast augury, he may suddenly KNOW that a decision he’s about to make could lead to disaster. Even without commune, he might KNOW the truth about a situation. This is especially relevant for Zerasha, because part of what defines the Shadow is dangerous secrets. Consider this description of the Shadow from this article:

As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost.

So It’s not that Zerasha sits down and says “I want to know secrets about this player character” and casts commune or some other divination spell; it’s that when the players come before her, she simply DOES know who killed the paladin’s parents and why the rogue murdered their partner, because that’s part of what it means to be the voice of the Shadow.

The short form is that when dealing with NPCs who are powerful divine spellcasters, I want them to FEEL like they are conduits to powers far greater than they are. When Krozen demands that you speak the truth, zone of truth happens. When he barks out an order, it may become a command, because that’s the power that flows through him. I want the powerful priest to feel larger then life, because at the end of the day they are the conduits for something that IS larger than life.

Now, reading all this, you might say “But I thought Eberron was the setting where we don’t know if the gods even exist.” We know that deities don’t walk the world in Eberron. You will never have a chance to punch Aureon in the face. But we know that divine power sources exist. We know that priests have been drawing on the POWER of Aureon for tens of thousands of years, and that in part because of this, most people believe divine forces exist. They may argue about details; the Cazhaak interpretation of the Dark Six is quite different from how they’re depicted in the Pyrinean Creed. But most people believe in SOME form of divinity, and part of the reason for that is the fact that divine magic exists.

With all of this in mind, you might say “If that’s how you handle NPC priests, why don’t you deal with player character clerics in the same way?” I offer some suggestions in that direction in this article. But fifth edition embraces the idea that NPCs and PCs don’t have to follow the same rules. Part of being a player character is having flexibility and tactical control. It’s about having the ability to make choices. I’ve played campaigns in which divine characters CHOSE to give me more control over their spells—embracing the idea that the powers were gifts they didn’t fully control—but that was a choice they made that fit the story of that character. But one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable, and I have no problem with them having a greater degree of versatility and precision than most other servants of the divine.

Having worked through that, let’s talk about the two specific priests that people have asked about…

Who is High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane?

Our blessed child is the Keeper of the Flame and shows us all the path to the light. But I am the keeper of the nation, and if I must toil in the darkness to ensure its prosperity, so be it.

High Cardinal Krozen

People have lots of questions about Cardinal Krozen of Thrane. What’s his first name? Does he realize he’s evil? Does he believe in a greater good—or for that matter, does he even believe in the Silver Flame? What makes him more important than the other 11 High Cardinals of the Church? These are all good questions. I’ve always liked Krozen, but my vision of him is quite different from how he’s evolved in canon sources. I know what I originally planned for him when we first created the character, and that’s how I use him, so I’ll lay that out here. Keep in mind that this directly contradicts multiple canon sources (which, admittedly, contradict themselves on some points). This is MY interpretation and I am not going to reconcile it with what other authors have done with the character; it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer.

My original vision of High Cardinal Thrane was loosely inspired by Cardinal Richelieu as depicted in The Three Musketeers—a ruthless man who is engaged in sly intrigues, but who is nonetheless an extremely capable leader, perhaps moreso than the king the protagonists serve. It was always my vision that Cardinal Krozen was devoted to Thrane and that he performs his duties exceptionally well—that he is a brilliant strategist and a charismatic orator. But this is tied to the idea that he truly believes that he knows what is best for the nation. The basic dictate of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Where Jaela recognizes that this applies to ALL innocents, regardless of their faith or nationality, Krozen believes that you aren’t innocent unless you’re a Thrane and a servant of the faith, and don’t oppose him. He DOES fight to protect the innocent—but only those HE decides are innocent.

So I see Cardinal Krozen as a remarkable man—one of the player characters of his generation. He’s human and I see him as being about fifty years old. The details of his youth—and, in fact, his first name—aren’t generally known; the general story is that he lived on the Aundairian border and that the Flame granted him the power to perform great deeds, first in the defense of his village and then as a templar. He was always charismatic and intelligent, but beyond that, his divine power was always remarkable; when he called on the Flame, he gained the power to smite his foes. In his early twenties he rose out of the templars and into the hierarchy of the church, turning his gifts to leadership behind the scenes rather than fighting on the battlefield. From there, his star rose and rose; those who opposed him were either won over by his charisma or driven from his path, one way or another.

Part of the core idea of Krozen is that he represents the danger of Thrane becoming a theocracy—that in doing so it drags the church into the management of temporal matters and political concerns. The idea of Thrane is that Jaela Daran represents the pure ideals of the faith—while Cardinal Krozen deals with political realities. Again, Jaela does believe that “protect the innocent” applies to all people—that Krozen believes that it can only be applied to the faithful and to Thranes. It’s not that he is a vile, selfish person; but he has blended his faith with his devotion to his nation and places the good of Thrane over all others. Beyond this, Krozen very much has a Chosen One mentality. He possesses immense divine power, and in his mind this proves his righteousness. He believes he was given this power to serve the interests of Thrane, and the fact that he still wields that power proves that he is right to do so. He will crush others who get in his way—even other priests or templars—because he believes, again, that those who oppose him aren’t innocent.

In considering all this, take a moment to think about the Shadow in the Flame. There are those—the Whispering Flame cultists—who knowingly choose to serve Bel Shalor. But the true power of the Shadow in the Flame is its ability to piggyback on the Voice of the Flame and to pour poison in the ears of the truly faithful. Bel Shalor loves to erode empathy and to convince people to do evil when they only seek to do good. The Shadow in the Flame reveled in the suffering caused by the Silver Crusade, and Bel Shalor undoubtedly sees Cardinal Krozen as a valuable tool. The question for the DM to decide is how much of a hold does Bel Shalor have over the Cardinal? In MY Eberron, Krozen KNOWS the dangers posed by the Shadow of the Flame; all the faithful do. And with that in mind, he does his best to resist those impulses; he knows that he does questionable things (like, you know, torture and murder…) but he truly believes that he is acting for the greater good and that he’s NOT a tool of the Shadow in the Flame. But in your campaign you could decide that he HAS fallen prey to Bel Shalor’s whispers and no longer realizes the evil he is doing… or even go further and decide that he is a priest of the Whispering Flame. Personally I prefer to follow the shades-of-grey model, to say that while Krozen does evil things, he only does them when pursuing the interests of Thrane—that he always believes his actions are justified. I like the idea that Krozen knows he walks a dark path, but that he believes it is the path the Flame has set him on, and that at the end of the day he is protecting the innocent—even if he has had to sacrifice his own innocence to do it.

Now, some people may be say “That’s all fine, but who IS he?” Krozen is one of the high cardinals of Thrane. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting…

This group of powerful church leaders administers both the workings of the church and the functions of the government. In theory, the cardinals answer to the Keeper of the Flame. In practice, they run the church and the government, only dealing with the Keeper on issues that require divine attention and interaction with the Voice of the Flame. The cardinals believe that they know best when it comes to running the government and the church, and they leave the Keeper to deal with the well-being of the spirit of the nation. This arrangement has led to problems between the Council and the Keeper in the past, but the current Keeper seems interested more in divine and spiritual matters than the intricacies of secular administration.

There may be twelve High Cardinals, but Krozen is the effective leader of the Council—and thus, of Thrane. If you have a divine problem, talk to Jaela. But if you’re looking into the deployment of Thrane troops or about getting more resources for Rellekor, it’s Krozen who can get things done. The general idea is that Krozen is in many ways the opposite of Jaela. Where the Keeper is compassionate, the Cardinal is ruthless. The Cardinal is a master of political intrigue, while Jaela prefers honest dealing. Jaela wants what’s best for all innocents; Krozen cares only for Thrane.

The final thing I’ll call about about Krozen is this: If there’s twelve high cardinals, why is he the leader? What makes him special? The short answer is that what makes him special is that he IS special. Again, not all priests are spellcasters at all, and in a world where everyday magic goes to 3rd level, a 12th level spellcaster is remarkable. He can raise the dead! Those who oppose him are struck down by flame strikes! You’ve seen him shape celestials from the pure power of the Flame! And as I said, while I don’t just let him cast commune three times a day, he hears the Voice of the Flame in ways that others do not (and, of course, potentially the Shadow in the Flame as well). There’s surely other spellcasters among the cardinals, but Krozen stands out; if you look to the 3.5 statistics, he’s notably a more powerful spellcaster than the high priest of the Host and Archierophant Ythana in Sharn: City of Towers. Power alone isn’t everything, but the whole idea is that this power is matched with passion and charisma—that just like a player character, Krozen is remarkable. With this in mind, he doesn’t command the Council of Cardinals, but he has won the loyalty of the majority of its members and thus is the EFFECTIVE leader of the council. In my opinion, there’s four cardinals who are utterly devoted to him; three who believe he’s doing what’s best for Thrane; and four who don’t support him. Of these four, all believe that the Keeper shows the proper path for the nation and that Krozen’s actions are concerning; one or two may have deeper concerns, or believe that he is serving the Shadow in the Flame. So Krozen DOESN’T have absolute control of the council, but he’s effectively the leader.

Krozen as a Villain

As I’ve just spent a lot of time insisting that Krozen believes he’s acting for the good of Thrane and that he is an effective leader, you might wonder if I actually see him as a villain. I do, generally—just a villain with many layers. He performs evil deeds in pursuit of the greater good, and more than that, he is only concerned with the greater good of THRANE. When I use Krozen, I want it to be clear why people support him. I want Thranes, in particular, to feel conflicted because Krozen IS good at his job—that if the nation was guided purely by the idealistic Jaela, it would be easy prey for the machinations of Kaius, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, and the Dark Lanterns. Krozen is effective; but is that enough to justify his methods? And IS he a tool of the Shadow in the Flame, even if he refuses to see it?

Zerasha, the Voice of the Shadow

You think you know why you’re here. You think we have to be enemies. But that’s the voice of your petty and jealous Sovereigns, who fear what you could become if you follow the paths I could show you.

Zerasha of Graywall

The medusa Zerasha is a priest of the Shadow in the city of Graywall. She’s mentioned in a Dragon article, which says…

The street ends at the Eye of the Shadow, a small windowless temple formed from black stone. The medusa priestess Zerasha holds court here. A fearsome combatant and skilled ritual caster, Zerasha is the most influential voice in Graywall after Xorchylic; the people of the town have come to trust her oracular gifts. At the moment, she is an ally of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but her first loyalty is to the Shadow and to her own warlord, the Queen of Stone. Should there ever be a civil war in Graywall, the black-scaled medusa will be a force with which to be reckoned. 

Backdrop: Graywall, Dragon 368

That’s the only canon information that exists on her. Since I wrote that article, people have asked: What is the priestess Zerasha’s relationship with Xorchylic? What are her goals, and what might cause those goals to become so misaligned with Xorchylic’s as to cause open conflict?

In my mind, Zerasha is truly devoted to her faith and to her Queen, in that order. As described in this article, she believes that the Shadow is the guide and guardian of those creatures followers of the Sovereigns consider monsters. Beyond this, she is what the article describes as a mentor. Acting on behalf of the Shadow, she seeks to help the faithful achieve their ambitions—even if that means following the darkest possible paths to do so. Beyond that, the Shadow is the Sovereign of secrets. As described above, she is an oracle—not as gifted in this regard as Sora Teraza, but certainly the most powerful oracle in Graywall. She knows secrets. Having said that, as I called out above, her knowledge comes from the Shadow and she doesn’t know things until she needs to know them. When she meets a player character, the Shadow may tell her their secrets; but it’s not like she just randomly knows everyone’s secrets all the time. And again, if the Shadow shares a secret with Zerasha, it’s so she can DO something with that secret.

So in terms of her goals, I believe that Zerasha’s goals are first and foremost to offer spiritual guidance to the people of Graywall and to help them achieve their true potential. Beneath that, her goals are whatever tasks the Shadow sets before her; it’s quite common for her to feel that there is a particular individual the Shadow wishes her to focus on, someone who needs to be guided on the proper path. And beneath that, her loyalty is to her queen, the medusa Sheshka, and to the people of Cazhaak Draal.

Her relationship with Xorchyllic largely depends on what the DM decides Xorchyllic is truly up to. As long as Xorchyllic is pursuing the greater good of Graywall and Droaam, Zerasha will support him. But we’ve called out that the Flayer Guard of Droaam serve the interests of the governor first and the common folk second. If Xorchyllic is somehow oppressing or harming a portion of the city in pursuit of his personal agenda, that could bring him into conflict with Zerasha. Ultimately, the question is what is the interest of the Shadow? If the Shadow supports Xorchyllic and wants the illithid to achieve its ambitions, Zerasha could work closely with the governor. On the other hand, if the Shadow is most interested in helping a lowly kobold on the Street of Shadows achieve her ambitions of overthrowing Xorchyllic and becoming a new warlord, than Zerasha would oppose the mind flayer. The same is true for player characters. What does the Shadow think of them? It could be that it favors their enemies, in which case Zerasha will oppose them. Or it could be that the Shadow has an interest in one of the adventurers and wants to show them the path to power—in which case, Zerasha who seek to serve as their mentor. But again, a mentor of the Shadow will always lead you down dangerous paths…

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Breaking The Law

I’m busy working on my next Eberron product for the DM’s Guild, and I’ll share more information about that when it’s further along. I’ve also just released a new short product— Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed — on the DM’s Guild. You can find more information about it in this article or watch my last session with Magic Sword in Eberron. But as time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today’s questions deal with breaking the law in Upper Sharn and the relationship between the Church of the Silver Flame and the Daughters of Sora Kell.

Inquisitives and the Law

How would you handle players doing overtly illegal things like physically roughing someone up in a place like Upper Menthis? To what extent would the law try to apprehend them?

As a general rule, Upper Sharn is a dangerous place to break the law. Even if the Watch doesn’t care about justice, they are well paid to protect the people of the district… and the sort of people you find in Upper Sharn can afford to hire Medani, Tharashk, Deneith, or even Thuranni. Keep in mind that wealthy people may have a wide range of defenses that aren’t automatically obvious. The coward’s pearl was a consumable item in 3.5 that allowed a quick escape; in fifth edition, a similar item might combine the effects of misty step and invisibility, allowing the user to disappear and flee. Another simple object would be an amulet that can trigger an alarm, alerting a security team or the watch. This latter approach would work like a silent alarm in a bank; the victim would trigger it at the first sign of trouble, and then try to delay and get the criminals talking long enough for assistance to respond. Looking to other types of crime, homes and businesses in Upper Sharn may well be equipped with arcane locks, glyphs of warding, alarms, and other magical defenses; here’s an article I wrote on that topic.

Now, it’s POSSIBLE to get away with crimes in Upper Sharn. It’s just not EASY. The Watch WILL actually do their job, and even if you get away initially, Medani, Tharashk, and the Blackened Book could all be deployed to track you down. Part of the question is who was targeted. Robbing a minor merchant might not have major consequences, but if you steal from the ir’Tains, they will spare no expense to track you down—and that means Medani, Tharashk, Sentinel Marshals. Again, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get away with it, but it should be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT: this is the stuff of heist movies, not random smash and grab.

But the key is that your players need to understand that. If they’re used to solving their problems with random violence, they need to know that they’ve moved into new territory—that you’re in Ocean’s Eleven now, and Danny can’t get what he wants by walking into the casino and beating people up. Personally, if the players have never been to Upper Sharn before, I’d start the session with something like this.

Before you begin, there’s something you need to know. Up to this point, you’ve been able to do a lot of bad and frankly stupid things and get away with them. That’s all about to change. Upper Sharn is the domain of some of the richest and most powerful people in Khorvaire. They aren’t powerful in the same way you are; you could easily beat them in a fight. But if you annoy them—worse yet, if you kill them—you won’t get away with it, not unless you have done some VERY careful planning. Gold buys services. Medani will find out who you are. The Sentinel Marshals will track you down. You might evade them for a while, but they WILL find a way to bring you to justice. I don’t want to waste the next three sessions dealing with you being fugitives, so if you commit a stupid, obvious crime in this adventure, I’m going to let each of you tell me one cool thing you do while you’re on the run and one thing that leads to your capture, and then we’ll cut straight to your trial and punishment. So. Unless you WANT to be branded as outlaws—literally—don’t do something stupid while you’re in Upper Sharn. You’re in deep waters now and you’d better learn to swim.

Then, when someone DOES suggest a really stupid course of action, I’ll say “Remember that conversation we had earlier? This is you doing that stupid thing. Do you really want to do this? Because I’ve told you what happens next.”

The important thing is that this should never be the DM against the players. You’re working together to create a story you’ll all enjoy. The players just need to understand the rules of the scene: that this is not a place where you can get away with that. If you make this clear ahead of time—if you establish that this is Ocean’s Eleven, not Reservoir Dogs—you can hopefully avoid problems. Alternately, you can let the players do their stupid thing, and have them NOT suffer any consequences… and then have the powerful person who pulled strings on their behalf show up and explain why they aren’t standing on an Eye of Aureon and what they need to do now to repay the favor. Again, at the end of the day, we’re all supposed to be creating a story we enjoy. If people aren’t going to enjoy being exiled or imprisoned (because hey, this COULD be your chance to switch to an escape-from-Dreadhold campaign arc!) then either warn them away from foolish courses of action or make their getting away with it a compelling part of the story.

Do inquisitives and agents of House Medani and House Tharashk have any ability to enforce the law? Or are they just gathering information for the forces of the law to act upon?

House Medani and House Tharashk don’t have any special dispensation to enforce the law. They are, essentially, licensed private investigators and bounty hunters. Agents of the law understand the role that they play, and may either welcome their help or dismiss it. But Medani and Tharashk inquisitives have no legal authority of their own. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith are authorized to enforce the law, but this is very closely monitored and a marshal who abuses this authority will be stripped of rank.

I’m running a campaign where the players are using the Inquisitive Agency group patron. It seems anticlimactic if they can’t actually enforce the law, and have to rely on the Watch to resolve things.

If you look to the genre, there’s a vast array of stories about private investigators. Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective” with no legal authority; he works with Scotland Yard, not for them. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Stumptown, HBO’s new Perry Mason… part of the point of these stories is that these people are PRIVATE detectives, working on the edge of the law. Sometimes they have a good relationship with the law, as with Sherlock Holmes. In other cases, the forces of the law are corrupt and part of the problem; it’s because the detective is on the outside that they can get things done. Because they’re not officers of the law, detectives aren’t always as bound by rules and regulations, and they can deal with people who might not interact with an agent of the law. In developing the campaign, a crucial question is whether the adventurers are close allies of the law—in which case you could even choose to make them deputies with limited powers of their own—or if the local watch is part of the problem, with only a few people they can truly trust.

Looking to the question of whether the story will be anticlimactic if the adventurers turn it over to the forces of the law… just because the job of the detective is to gather information as opposed to catch the villain doesn’t mean that YOUR ADVENTURE should involve them gathering information, reporting it to the authorities, and then going home while the law deals with it. The adventurers solve a mystery and identify the villain. Yes, they SHOULD let the Watch handle it. But perhaps they don’t because…

  • … There’s no time! The villain is about to flee, and if the adventurers don’t act immediately they’ll get away with it.
  • … The adventurers have caught the villain red-handed, but now they have to deal with them immediately.
  • … The villain trusts the adventurers, or they’ve got an inside ally—they can get close enough to the villain to strike, while the city watch never could.
  • … The adventurers know that the watch will bungle the capture. If they want the job done right, they’ll have to do it themselves.
  • … The city watch won’t take the adventurers seriously. Or perhaps the villain has an agent or allies within the watch; they’ll either warn the villain or keep the watch from acting altogether.
  • … The villain hasn’t actually committed a crime. They’ve done something terrible, but somehow, legally, they are going to get away with it. Will the adventurers allow it?

There’s nothing stopping the adventurers from defeating the villain themselves and delivering them to the forces of the law. They just shouldn’t MURDER them in the process. Yes, they may have to break a law or to themselves in the process, but if they’ve exposed a terrible crime the watch might not ask too many questions about their breaking and entering to pull it off. So it’s not that the adventurers need to let the law do the takedown of the villain; it’s that they should deliver the villain to justice, not execute them. And yes, this means that there’s a chance the villain WILL evade justice and return to threaten them again. Which is, after all, the plot of every Batman story ever (movies aside): Vigilante detective unravels crime, beats up criminal and turns them over to the law, villain eventually escapes to cause more trouble, rinse and repeat.

So Medani and Tharashk can’t enforce the law, but what about House Deneith?

There is inconsistent canon regarding the role of House Deneith. Notably, Dragonmarked contradicts Sharn: City of Towers. I wrote the section in Sharn, and it’s what *I* do. Here’s the critical piece.

During the reign of King Galifar III, House Deneith was granted the right to enforce the laws of the kingdom, bringing fugitives to justice and enforcing punishments in exchange for gold. Originally, this was a largely honorary role that allowed House Deneith to assist the Galifar Guard in an official capacity. With the Last War and the formation of the Five Kingdoms, these Sentinel Marshals have become far more important. The Sharn Watch, the Blackened Book, and the King’s Citadel are all agents of the Brelish crown, and they cannot pursue fugitives into Aundair or Thrane. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith can. These elite agents are authorized to enforce the law in all five kingdoms—although they are not authorized to break the law in pursuit of justice! Sentinel Marshals are usually employed as auxiliaries by regional authorities, but they are occasionally hired by private individuals when the local justices lack the resources to pursue a case.
A Sentinel Marshal holds the honor of House Deneith in his hand, and only the most trusted members of the house are granted this authority. A Sentinel Marshal must possess exceptional skills and knowledge of the laws of all of the kingdoms of Khorvaire, and it is rare for an heir to even be considered for this honor unless he has served with both the Blademark and the Defender’s Guild. It is possible that a player character would be granted the title of Sentinel Marshal after performing an exceptional service for the house, but a DM should always remember that this position does not place the character above the law—and should he ever abuse his authority, it will be stripped from him and he will in all likelihood be expelled from the house.

So, Sentinel Marshals enforce the law for gold. They are freelancers hired as auxiliaries by local authorities, not champions of justice expected to be fightin’ crime pro bono. Their most valuable attribute is the fact that they are recognized as neutral and extranational, able to enforce the laws across the Thronehold nations and pursue fugitives across borders.

Just to give a sense of how rare and special Sentinel Marshals are, according the Sharn: City of Towers there are NINE of them in Sharn… And Sharn is the largest city in Khorvaire! Sentinel Marshals aren’t supposed to take the place of the Watch; they are elite specialists called in for jobs that require their skills and ability to cross borders. With that said, the watch can also just hire standard Deneith mercenaries to help out with a rough situation; but that doesn’t grant the Blademarks the authority of Sentinel Marshals.

Are the brands used to mark criminals in Sharn recognizable in most of the Five (Four) Nations? Are the brands simply physical brands? If not, what kind(s) of enchantment are involved?

The brands are standardized under the Galifar Code of Justice and would be recognized in all of the Five Nations. There would be a few new nation-specific ones (“Exiled from Nation X”) but any agent of the law will recognize them. These details are discussed in Sharn: City of Towers:

Repeat offenders are often marked with a symbol that warns others about their criminal tendencies. In the past, these marks were made with branding irons. In this more civilized age, a House Sivis heir inscribes the mark using a pen of the living parchment (see page 169). Marks are either placed on the forehead or on the back of the right hand, and guards often demand that suspicious strangers remove their gloves and show the backs of their hands.

The section on the pen of the living parchment adds the following information.

A character who possesses the arcane mark ability of the Least Mark of Scribing can use the pen to inscribe permanent arcane marks onto the flesh of living creatures. These are commonly used by the courts of Khorvaire to mark criminals and exiles, warning all observers about the nature of the character’s offense… Removing such a mark is extremely difficult, and requires the use of break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, or wish; the DC for a break enchantment check is 18. Removing a criminal’s mark is a crime under the Galifar Code of Justice, so it may be difficult to find someone to break the enchantment. The character who inscribed the mark can also remove it, using the same pen they used to create it in the first place… Placing a criminal’s mark upon an innocent victim is a serious crime under Galifar law, and the Blackened Book is assigned to track down anyone believed to be performing this form of forgery.

The Silver Flame and Droaam

What would Jaela Daran’s official position, as Keeper of the Flame, be concerning the tier of evil that the Daughters of Sora Kell are classified under?

In the past, the Church of the Silver Flame cast most “monsters” under the umbrella of Innate Evil. This is called out clearly in Exploring Eberron:

Entities of innate evil. This is the most contentious category on the list, and it is the idea of monsters—that there are creatures native to Eberron who are evil by nature. In the past, the church has placed medusas, harpies, trolls, and similar creatures into this category, asserting that through no fault of their own, these creatures are vessels for supernatural evil and pose a threat to the innocent.

It’s this principle that justified the actions of templars raiding the Barrens in the past, protecting the innocent people of the Five Nations by killing these monsters. Of course, that’s what’s been done in the past. Jaela Daran embodies the compassionate principles of the faith, and in my Eberron I could easily see her asserting that the denizens of Droaam—from the Daughters to the harpy to the gnoll—are no different than any human, and pose a threat only if they choose evil. However, in doing this, she would be fighting against tradition; the Pure Flame in particular might rebel against the idea of treating MONSTERS as innocents instead of threats to the innocent. But in MY Eberron, I’d have her make that pronouncement NOW—so the player characters are actively caught in the middle of it and could play a role in what happens next—as opposed to it just being something that happened a few years ago and has largely been settled.

But aren’t the Daughters of Sora Kell half-fiends?

Maybe, but what does that even mean? Normally, immortal entities don’t reproduce. We don’t even know with certainty HOW the Daughters were born. While they are long-lived, in my opinion they are mortal and can be killed. They are capable of CHOICE… just like tieflings, and consider that the Church of the Silver Flame established Rellekor as a place for tieflings to reproduce. The Daughters of Sora Kell are evil beings of great power, but are they FORCED to do evil or do they choose it? The critical point here is that this defines the interpretation of Droaam itself. If you classify the Daughters of Sora Kell as immortal evils they must be opposed and are seen as incapable of doing anything good; thus, Droaam MUST serve an evil purpose. On the other hand, if the Daughters are capable of choice, they are capable of change; while they’ve done evil things in the past, Droaam COULD be a good thing. I prefer to have Jaela open to the concept that Droaam may actually serve a noble purpose as opposed to definitively condemning it.

How willing is Jaela Daran to accept monsters as “peers”?

While it doesn’t have close ties to them, the church has known about the Ghaash’kala for ages. The modern church accepts orcs, goblins, changelings, and shifters (despite the troubles around the Purge) as equals in the eyes of the Flame. What makes an ogre so different from an orc? The question is solely does this creature have the capacity to choose to do good? Can they touch the Flame? Or, like lycanthropes, are they compelled to harm innocents by a power beyond their control? I think that many “monsters” suffered by virtue of being UNKNOWN; no one had SEEN an ogre in any context other than “This is a monster that will try to kill my friends,” whereas now it’s a laborer working in Sharn for an honest wage. I think the VOICE of the Silver Flame would encourage compassion in this case; the question is whether mortals will listen to the Voice of the Flame, or whether the Shadow in the Flame can play on their fears.

Are the generally traditionalist Thranes willing to entertain such equivalence or would Jaela esposing such beliefs be a possible weak point for Cardinal Krozen or Blood Regent Diani to capitalize on? Or that would inflame tensions with Solgar Dariznu of Thaliost?

The Silver Flame is based on principles of compassion: on the idea that those who can choose the light should be guided toward it, and only those who are irredeemably evil need to be destroyed for the greater good. In my opinion, the people of Thrane are the people who hew most clearly to those core principles of the faith. In Aundair, the Silver Crusade created the Pure Flame, whose adherents see the Flame as a weapon; in Breland, it suffers from the general cynicism and pragmatism of the Brelish character. But if there’s a place where people will TRY to follow the core tenets of the faith, it’s Thrane. So, PERSONALLY, I believe that there are many who would follow her, or who have already come to such conclusions on their own. In my novel The Queen of Stone, Minister Luala of Thrane is diplomatic in her interactions with the creatures of Droaam, notably discussing her regrets with the Silver Crusade and the ‘madness of the zealots’ that it spawned. As I said, I think the adherents of the Pure Flame would disagree, and say that the medusa and the harpy are clearly twisted creatures of innate evil that should be destroyed; so such a ruling by Jaela would surely reate a rift with Dariznu. With Diani or Krozen? It’s a plot you could certainly explore if you want to. But I’ll call out Rellekor; where many fear tieflings, Thrane has created a haven for them. I think if you WANTED to make it an issue, the key thing would be to have a major tragedy instigated by Droaamites—a pack of war trolls slaughtering people in Flamekeep—that Diani or Krozen could use as a rallying point for fear. But again, in my opinion Thrane is the nation whose faithful are MOST likely to embrace compassion, because that is the core of the faith.

That’s all for now! I draw IFAQ topics from my Patreon supporters, as well as polling them to determine the subject of the major article for the month. There’s four days left in the current poll, and it’s currently a tight race between The Library of Korranberg and The Fey of Aundair—but there’s still time for another topic to pull ahead!

Dragonmarks 11/14: Warforged and More

It’s been a very busy month, from wonderful events such as Extra Life and ChariD20 to unexpected tragedies like the loss of my friend Mr. Pants. I’m also hard at work on Phoenix: Dawn Command and I hope to talk more about that soon. However, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a Dragonmark, and I don’t want to get rusty.

At the moment, I have no news about 5E Eberron support, though I am still optimistic that there will be news soon. As always, everything I write here is entirely unofficial and may contradict material in canon sources.

How would you emulate a warforged character using the 5E PHB?

I came up with one possible 5E interpretation of the Warforged with Rodney Thompson of WotC for Extra Life; you can find the stats I used here. There are other things I might try – one being the ongoing question of whether warforged should have inherent armor similar to the 3E feat-based armor or follow the 4E hermit crab approach where armor is a shell they attach. The version on my site takes the hermit crab approach; all I’ll say is that I had a fine time with Smith when I played him in Extra Life. Personally, I will continue to experiment with different approaches to the warforged as I continue to evaluate 5E – but I think the current model is a reasonable approach and definitely not overpowered.

What sort of culture is there among warforged? Also, now that the war’s over, how might one warforged from one nation behave around a warforged of a different nation?

Both good questions, but I think the answer is that there’s no clear answer. The warforged have only been free citizens for two years, and they are still creating their culture. The followers of the Becoming God and the Lord of Blades represent two hubs for warforged culture to build around, but any center for warforged population – such as the Cogs in Sharn – could be the genesis of a warforged culture. As for how warforged of different nations behave around each other, it’s the same issue: it’s going to depend on the cultural path they are following. Followers of the Lord of Blades have no loyalty to any human nation, and consider all warforged to be part of one family… while other warforged cling rigidly to national loyalty and military discipline as the only things that have given their lives any sense of meaning. Such a warforged could be very hostile to a ‘forged from an enemy nation. The interesting question is if the ‘forged would act the same way towards a human soldier of that nation, or if he holds greater emnity for rival ‘forged because he still sees them as essentially weapons.

But the ultimate answer is “there is no absolute answer.”

Have you ever used the Lord of Blades in a game? What backstory did you use, if so?

I originally planned for the Lord of Blades to play a significant role in The Dreaming Dark trilogy. WotC decided they didn’t want him to appear in fiction so early in the cycle of the setting, so Harmattan took his place. I developed the Lord of Blades during the original cycle, and he originally had stats in the 3.5 ECS in the same section as Demise and Halas Martain – and like both of them, he had multiple sets of statistics to allow him to evolve as PCs rose in level. He ended up being cut for space, and I think it was just as well as it let DMs take him in different directions. The only time I’ve personally used him in a session it actually ended with the idea that he wasn’t an individual warforged – rather, he was a shared identity created by a cabal of warforged at the end of the war. So in that storyline, it would have been possible for people to fight and defeat a Lord of Blades in one scenario and discover that he was simultaneously doing something elsewhere. It’s a little like saying that Doctor Doom always was a bunch of Doombots working together, who made up the story of “Doctor Doom.”

I suggest a number of other ideas in this Dragonshard – among others, the idea that he could just be Aaren d’Cannith wearing a suit of warforged armor – but I haven’t personally used any of those ideas in games I’ve run.

What pacts do you think work best for warforged warlocks? With pacts made before or after rolling off the creation forge.

That depends how you define a “warforged warlock” and “pact.” For example, in a number of games I have used warforged warlocks who draw their powers from the Mourning. But the idea of this wasn’t that these warforged had made a concrete bargain with a sentient aspect of the Mourning, like a traditional Infernal or Fey warlock; rather it was that they had been touched and twisted by the Mourning. If you are actually playing with the idea of a warforged bargaining with a supernatural entity in exchange for power, I think you could make a case for any pact. I think you could have a very interesting Infernal Warlock based on the idea that a human warlock died and made a bargain that resulted in his soul being inserted into a warforged body… with the underlying threat that the body could be taken away if he fails to live up to the terms of his pact.

Are there mindflayers who support Riedra or the inspired -or that are even inspired themselves? Given their psionic abilities?

As I first discussed in this Dragonshard article, Dal Quor and Xoriat are both common sources of psionic power. However, they reflect very different approaches to reality and the mind, and I don’t see the fact that they both channel psionics as being any sort of bridge between them; if anything, I’d argue that psions inspired by these two different sources are fundamentally as different from each other as clerics and wizards are when it comes to manipulating “magic.” This can be reflected by having Wilders be more commonly tied to Xoriat, but I think that you can have people from both paths use the same class and still have a very different flavor for it. I feel that the denizens of Dal Quor and Xoriat are equally far apart and would generally find very little common ground.

While the Quori are undeniably alien creatures, there is a very close bond between them and mortal dreams. Mortal dreams have an impact on Dal Quor, and the Quori themselves inspire and draw strength from mortal emotions. Tsucora draw on fear, Duurlora are spirits of aggression, and so on. Among other things, this means that emotions as we understand them are relevant to the Quori. It means that we can generally understand their motivations and outlook on the world. You then have the secondary aspect that the modern Quori are very strongly aligned behind a common cause – the perceived survival of their reality. The Quori are an innately Lawful force. They have a strict hierarchy amongst themselves, and in many ways they are fundamentally defined by the fact that they are enforcing order upon chaos. They SHAPE dreams and use them as tools. They create specific emotions and use them to accomplish their goals.

By contrast, the denizens of Xoriat are utterly alien… as alien to the Quori as they are to humanity. I’ll point you to this Dragonmark article on the subject for further exploration of this fact. But the short form is that Quori understand humans, which is what allows them to manipulate humanity; they don’t understand the Daelkyr or their servants. There is no order that can easily be imposed upon them, and they don’t even necessarily experience the same emotions that we do.

All of this is my personal preference, and you’re certainly welcome to take a less extreme position. But for me, what makes the Daelkyr, the Cults of the Dragon Below, and aberrations in general INTERESTING in a world that also includes Quori, Rakshasa, evil dragons, and more is the fact that the creatures of Xoriat are the most completely alien of any of these. A mind flayer such as Xorchyllic might appear to have motivations we understand, but when you delve deeper you may find that there’s things going on there that don’t make sense at all. The logic, emotions and schemes of Xoriat should be hard for us to understand, because their logic is our madness. It is inherently at odds with our vision of order, reason and reality.

So I might have an ALLIANCE between a mind flayer and the Inspired, but I would certainly expect it to be temporary… and I would emphasize that even the Quori don’t understand what the mind flayer is up to.

 How would you make Thrane sympathetic in a game set in Thaliost?

Interesting question. They are the occupying force, which is always a hard position to justify. One of the first things I’d do is to emphasize that the brutal governor of the city, Archbishop Dariznu, is actually Aundairian; he represents the extremist Pure Flame movement rooted in Aundair. The Thrane templars and priests in the city are under his authority, but I’d emphasize their disgust at Dariznu’s actions and have some of them doing what they can to mitigate them or to help people in need. Compassion is a core virtue of the Silver Flame, and I’d incorporate a number of Thranes – whether part of the occupying force or independent agents – who are providing compassionate assistance to the needy. I could even see a group of Thrane templars considering if they should defy the hierarchy and remove Dariznu from power. The essential point to make is that this isn’t a simple black and white Thrane vs Aundair conflict; you are also dealing with an ideological schism within the Church of the Silver Flame. There are Aundairians and Thranes on both sides of that schism, and definitely Thranes who believe in the validity of Thrane’s claim to the region while still despising the actions of the Governor. This is something I touch on in this Dragonmark.

How do you handle airships being damaged without making it feel like you’re punishing the players or taking away their stuff?

To me, the key issue here is the difference between punishing players and taking away their stuff. In my campaign, everything outside of the players themselves is fair game to suffer consequences player action. I want players to develop attachments to people, places and things precisely so I CAN threaten their airship, spouse, or home village – because all of these are ways to add a sense of tension and consequence to player action. But that also requires a level of trust on the part of my players that the actions I take aren’t simply malicious or capricious. One of the points on things is that they can always get replaced. If I destroy their airship as part of a Lost-like scenario that drives a campaign arc, they can always get a NEW airship when they get back to civilization… and if it’s not exactly the same as the old one, like I said, that’s part of what actually drives the story: things change, events have consequences, and heroes CAN suffer loss.

But I think the key point here – as with many things about good GMing – is about clear communication between player and GM, and about an understanding of the type of story that will play out. If the PLAYERS have a clear vision of the campaign as them flying around saving the universe in the Millennium Falcon and you randomly have it destroyed by an asteroid in the first session, just saying “But you get another ship later!” isn’t going to make that all better. Basically, I would never, say, make a PC lose a limb without having some form of consent that the PC is OK with that sort of story. If the airship truly is as integral to the concept of the PC as a limb, then I’m not going to casually remove it. But overall, my GOAL is for people to be able to develop attachments to people, places and things with the understanding that these things CAN be lost, and can even potentially be lost in seemingly senseless ways; it’s this understanding that helps people feel that their actions matter and that loss is a possibility.

The game I’m currently developing – Phoenix: Dawn Command – approaches loss in a very different manner, as death and loss are fundamental parts of character growth. But that’s a subject for a future post.

OK: That’s all I have time to discuss in detail. Which means it’s time for another lightning round for the remaining questions…

Did elements from Final Fantasy VI (opera, airships…) inspire some features of Eberron even slightly?

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have never actually played a Final Fantasy game or seen any of the movies. So any similarities are simply parallel evolution.

How common are wands among non-magical inhabitants of Eberron?

Not at all. Using a wand requires magical talent; even eternal wands require you to be SOME sort of spellcaster, even if you don’t have to be a caster with access to the spell in the wand.

Eberron suddenly becomes “mundane” -no divine/arcane power, no connection to planes. What happens instantly, a year, 10 years?

I explored this concept in the Children of Winter article in Dragon 418. One thing to bear in mind is that a lot of Eberron’s major cities take advantages of manifest zones or magic; remove those things and Sharn will immediately collapse, for example.

Can criminals avoid being convicted in spite of items as the eye of Aureon and pendants of mystic warning (from SharnCoT)?

Sure. FIrst of all, an Eye of Aureon won’t help you CATCH a criminal; it only helps you prove his guilt or innocence once he’s been captured. Eyes of Aureon are rare and “only found in the greatest cities of Khorvaire.” Beyond that, an Eye of Aureon is simply a zone of truth, and there’s lots of ways to get around those… from effects that shield you from divination to simply finding ways to mislead while speaking the literal truth. Meanwhile, a Pendant of Mystical Warning is an expensive item that can only be used by someone with arcane talent, and has all the same limitations as detect magic. So yes, I think there are definitely ways for criminals to avoid conviction. This sort of thing is a subject I delve into in considerable depth in the 3E sourcebook Crime and Punishment from Atlas Games.

If the worlds-traveling crone Baba Yaga were to visit Eberron, where would her hut reside?

Personally, if I were to use Baba Yaga in Eberron I would say that when she passes through Eberron she tends to use another name, and either make her Sora Katra or Sora Kell herself.

How evil are the daughters of Sora Kell? Do they have legitimate plans for Droam? Would you ever write a story focused there?

I have written stories focused there; I think Sheshka is actually the most popular character in The Queen of Stone. Beyond that, it’s a topic I’ve discussed in some detail in this Dragonmark, so I suggest you take a look at that and see if it answers your questions.

Does Flamewind have an androsphinx counterpart/sibling/mate?

Not in Sharn, and we’ve never detailed her private life before Sharn. Of course, if you’re referring to Flamewind as depicted in The Dreaming Dark, you have to ask yourself if she’s really a sphinx at all – or if she is some sort of manifestation of the Queen of Dusk. And speaking of which…

Will the new edition be advancing the timeline at all? Anything in the works for Daine, Lei, and Pierce?

I still have no concrete details on the plans for future Eberron support and whether it will include novels. Personally I would rather focus on the past or on regions of the world (or planes) that have been underdeveloped as opposed to pushing the timeline forward.

If a “Super Hero” team appeared in Sharn, how would Breland react to it? Would the local Dragonmark houses do anything?

Sharn’s a big place. The first draft of the setting actually included a pulp vigilante in Sharn – a kalashtar known as “The Beholder.” I’d only expect Breland to get involved if the group was somehow seen as a serious threat to royal authority; after all, it’s not as though Breland has stepped in to interfere with House Tarkanan or the Boromar Clan. Likewise, I’d only expect this houses to act if their personal interests were threatened. If anything, I could see the Twelve CREATING a superhero team as a PR exercise. Get your Cannith Iron Man, Vadalis super-soldier, Orien speedster, etc…

Are any of the moons inhabited?

They COULD be. We’ve intentionally left details on the moons scarce so that YOU can decide if you want to have a Moon Race game, an invasion from the moons, or even to just say that the moons are in fact simply portals to other planes.

Why did the Eldeen Reaches declare independence from Aundair? I can see why places like Mror or Zilargo got independent, but Eldeen?

For a brief exploration of this topic, look at this previous post. The short form is that the schism between Aundair and the Eldeen reflected significant cultural and economic troubles between the regions, and that the leadership of Aundair was focusing on the war with the other nations to the detriment of the Eldeen.

What were your plans for the undersea kingdoms of Eberron?

Someday I hope to explore this in more depth (get it?) but it won’t be today. One detail I will throw out is that Sharn originally had an undersea district with a section with a permanent Airy Water enchantment so people could make deals with merfolk emissaries.