Dragonmarks: Cyre

The Jewel in Galifar’s Crown. Wondrous Cyre. Cyre was the heart of the united kingdom of Galifar. But what was the nation actually like? Many sourcebooks have explored the cultures and cities of Thrane, Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath. Since Cyre has fallen, the focus is often on the current plight of the refugees and not on the nation they lost. But as a Cyran PC, what are the memories you treasure? What was your childhood like? If you hope to rebuild your nation, what is it that you aspire to recreate?

In this article I’ll explore some of the history and culture of Cyre before the Mourning. Bear in mind that this is not canon material, and may even contradict canon sources.

“WHAT OUR DREAMS IMAGINE, OUR HANDS CREATE”

Galifar Wynarn was a military genius, but it was his eldest daughter Cyre who imagined the warring nations working together as a single family: Karrnathi might, Daskari faith, and the wisdom of Thaliost working together for the greater good. In crafting the map of the united kingdom, Galifar declared that Cyre would be the heart of the realm. His daughter would govern the province, and have all that she needed to pursue her vision. The crest of the Cyre is a crown and bell on a green field, above a hammer and bellows. The seat of the crown, the bell that rings in change, and the tools to build the future; the motto of the nation is “What our dreams imagine, our hands create.”

The provinces of Galifar largely retained the cultures and traditions of the nations they had once been. In many ways, their differences were reinforced and celebrated. Each nation was given one of the pillars of the united kingdom: the Arcane Congress in Aundair, the King’s Citadel in Breland, Rekkenmark in Karrnath, the Grand Temple of Thrane. Cyre was the exception. Rather than building upon the existing culture of Metrol, Cyre drew experts and artisans from across Galifar. Cyre wasn’t the center of any one discipline. Rather, it was the nexus where all of these things came together: the best of what Galifar could be. When the Arcane Congress perfected the everbright lantern, Metrol was the first city whose streets were lit with them. Soldiers trained in Rekkenmark, but the finest warriors served in the Vermishard Guard. While Metrol was the showpiece—a city of wonders—this principle was applied across central Cyre. Education, art, even agriculture; Cyre displayed the best of what Galifar could accomplish. 

This continued and evolved over the course of centuries. Karrns are tough, Thranes wise, Aundairians clever. The people of Cyre can trace their roots to all of these nations and believe they share all of these strengths; but beyond that, Cyrans strive to be creative, innovative, and artistic.

Cyre’s artistic (and some might say whimsical) temperament was balanced and sustained by the presence of House Cannith, which was based in the great city of Making. Many of Cannith’s greatest forgeholds were spread across Cyre; this provided a practical, industrial foundation that supported the wonders of Cyre. And those wonders took many forms. Where the Arcane Congress of Aundair focused on the practical applications of magic, the Wynarn Institute of Cyre explored the artistic potential of the arcane. Metrol was a city of light and marvels. Visitors could speak to illusions of past heroes and kings, and watch re-enactments of historic moments. It’s said that no one ever went hungry in Metrol, and no one ever felt the bite of winter. Cyrans say that this reflects the generosity and selflessness of the Cyran spirit; critics point out that these social projects were only possible because of the taxes paid by the people of other provinces. Certainly, Cyre held the wealth of Galifar and had a standard of living higher than any other province. Was this decadent? Or was in a work in progress, a model that could have someday been applied to all nations? There’s no way to know. Cyrans mourn what was lost; the people of other nations criticize the Cyran lifestyle as parasitic and unsustainable. What our dreams imagine, our hands build; bitter outsiders point out that it may have been Cyran hands that built, but they used the resources gathered by the hard work of others. 

This bitterness was further fueled by the Galifar’s traditions of succession. Following the example of Galifar I, the monarch’s children served as the governors of the five provinces. The eldest governed Cyre, and upon the death of the monarch they would take up the crown and their children would take over the governing positions. The prior governors would serve as regents until children were of age and as advisors moving forward, and when a monarch lacked five children the previous governors would maintain the posts. But the principle was simple: Cyre was the heart of Galifar, and all else would shift around it. Over the history of Galifar, there were multiple rebellions and attempted secessions; the Last War was simply the largest and last of them.

OUTER CYRE

Galifar’s goal with Cyre was to create something new, a culture combining the best aspects of the other nations. In the newly forged Thrane, Aundair, and Breland, the people kept their old traditions and the ruling families were often incorporated into the new governing structure. But in the old kingdom of Metrol—which covered an area roughly the size and shape of the modern Mournland—the old systems and rulers were pushed aside to make room for Cyre’s dream. Some of the noble families of Metrol embraced this new path. Others were resettled by Galifar, granted authority over regions that had previously existed as independent frontiers.

Southern Cyre covered what is now Darguun. Largely unsettled when Galifar was founded, it persisted as a backwater in the shadow of the kingdom. Its people ultimately prospered and took pride in their identity as Cyrans, aping the customs of the central kingdom. However, they had little of the wealth invested in the north or the wonders that came with it. There were ongoing clashes with goblins, a few severe—but the Ghaal’dar largely remained in the mountains and dark places until the Last War.

By contrast, Eastern Cyre —what’s now Valenar—was effectively a separate nation with dramatically different culture and values… and it was arguably Galifar’s greatest failing. The region had first been settled by immigrants from the Khunan region of western Sarlona. Galifar I wanted the lands of old Metrol, so he gave the nobles of Metrol authority over this region, setting them as the feudal overlords of the Khunan settlers. The Blade Desert served as a physical and cultural divide, and having granted the nobles their lands, Galifar largely ignored them. The noble families thus held to the traditions of Metrol rather than embracing the new culture of Cyre. Many were dissatisfied with the arrangement, and took this out on their Khunan subjects. Overall, the nobles of Eastern Cyre were petty and proud, and all too often cruel to their tenants. Some wonder why it was so simple for the elves to seize control of Valenar; first and foremost it’s because the Khunan people had no love for their Cyran rulers (generally called “thrones”) and many feel they are actually better off under the new regime.

CYRE AND THE LAST WAR

Under the reign of King Jarot, Cyre continued to shine. Aspiring artists and young nobles made their way to the heart of the kingdom, while the most promising artificers settled in the city of Making. King Jarot lavished attention on Cyre: expanding the Vermishard Palace; working with House Orien to expand the scope of the lightning rail within Cyre; spending hundreds of thousands of galifars on the Wynarn Institute of Art and the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host.

Following the death of Jarot, Galifar spiraled towards war. Initially, Cyran morale was high. Queen Mishann had centuries of tradition behind her. And everyone knew that Cyre had the best of everything: the finest wizards, the best soldiers, the foremost artificers. And on one level, this was true. But a single unit of exceptional soldiers means little when set against the martial cultures of Karrnath or Thrane. Cyre’s finest wizards were artists and theoretical scholars; Aundair had long worked on magic as a tool of war. And the expert artificers were largely tied to House Cannith, which remained neutral in the war. If you consider the nations as characters, Thrane is a paladin; Karrnath is a fighter; Aundair is a wizard; and Breland is a rogue. In this party, Cyre is the bard: elegant, clever, and doing a little bit of everything… but best when working with others, not well prepared to go toe to toe alone against a powerful foe.

Cyre adapted; it had to. Initially it relied heavily on mercenaries; it was the seat of Galifar’s treasury, and had the gold to spare. But as time passed and the scope of the conflict became clear, Cyrans devoted themselves to war. Cyre lacked the martial spirit of Karrnath or Thrane, but its people were sustained by the absolute belief that they were in the right. Beyond that, in the eyes of the people, Cyre was Galifar. It embodied the ideals of the kingdom, the best of what it could be—and that was something worth fighting for. Nonetheless, the struggle was a tremendous blow to the Cyran psyche. For centuries Cyrans had seen themselves as the stars of the show, beloved by all; now all hands were raised against them, and some at least could see their former beliefs as arrogance and narcissism. Cyre had indeed had the best of everything, but that’s because it was freely given. Now the Arcane Congress devoted its knowledge purely on the good of Aundair, Rekkenmark trained only Karrns, and the King’s Citadel served Breland. Cyre had echoes of all these things. Its wizards were still a match for any nation other than Aundair; the Vermishard Guard formed the core of Cyre’s new military academy. But it was clear that the Cyran dream had been sustained by many hands, and now the nation had to learn to stand on its own. 

TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS

Cyran culture blends the traditions of other nations. A Cyran can play Conqueror with a Karrn, sing an add-a-verse song with an Aundairian, and debate religion with a Thrane. This reflects the founding principles of Cyre—to gather the best aspects of Galifar and to build upon them. Some call this the Cyran appreciation, and considering it an admirable thing. Others call it appropriation, depicting the Cyrans as carrion crawlers who steal from others and have the arrogance to say they can do better. But the Cyran appreciation is rooted in love, not arrogance. It’s based in the idea that there is no single perfect path, and maintains both that diversity is a source of strength and that there’s always room for improvement. Cyran culture is thus a strange chimera—a blend of familiar elements from across Khorvaire, combined with a steady, ongoing evolution. A Cyran musician might play Karrnathi funeral dirges in the style of a Thrane devotional. It’s a puzzle where the pieces are known, but they’re constantly being arranged in new ways. 

The Last War built walls between Cyre and the other nations, and every nation evolved in this isolation. Cyrans know the old add-a-verse songs beloved by Aundairians, but few know the Epic of Valiant and Vigilant, a tale of martial bravery close to the heart of every modern Aundairian. They don’t know the maxims of Beggar Dane that now serve as a cornerstone of Breland. But Cyrans still see their culture as being founded on the best principles of Galifar, and can still find some common ground with people of any nation. In playing a Cyran, you can find familiar things anywhere you go. But what is it that you treasure in your memories of Cyre? Do you cling to the past, or do you embrace the Cyran principle of always striving to find a new and better way?

Fashion

Cyran fashion blends practicality with endless diversity. Cyran clothing begins with a simple foundation: this base layer may be colorful, but it is first and foremost practical and durable. Breeches and skirts, shirts or gowns; a Cyran starts with whatever the individual finds most comfortable. Again, this base level is well made, but it is more functional than decorative. It’s what comes next that adds flair. Cloaks and gloves are both integral parts of Cyran fashion. Gloves can be short and sturdy for work or war, or long and decorative for more formal occasions. Cloaks likewise vary between the practical and purely decorative: a heavy cloak for traveling, a short cloak for a casual social event, and a long, light cloak with a glamerweave lining for an evening at the Grand Stage. In addition to gloves, boots, and cloaks, jewelry is an important part of Cyran fashion. Cyran jewelry is often made from copper, leather, wood, or glass; it’s not a display of wealth, but rather a way to express individuality. Feathers and bells are also common accessories; there is a Cyran dance that involves belled bracelets and anklets. Finally, masks are often worn at formal or festive occasions. Cyran masks aren’t intended to conceal identity or intent; rather they are a way of enhancing identity and expressing a mood.

Traditionally, Cyran fashion is filled with color (often accentuated with glamerweave). In the wake of the Last War, many Cyrans have adopted Mourningwear—clothing cut in the Cyran style, but entirely in black. Others celebrate their nation by preserving its styles. Because of the emphasis on durability, a Cyran character may still have the clothes they were wearing on the Day of Mourning. What was that outfit, and do you still wear it? Do you favor a mask, and if so, what is its design?

Cuisine

Cyran cuisine reflects all the principles taken above: working with the best of all traditions and then continuing to explore. In many ways this is similar to the Sharn fusion found in the City of Towers, and a number of Cyran refugees are rising stars in Sharn’s culinary scene. Cyrans blend the thrakel spices of Thrane with traditional Karrn stews, and add the heat of southern Breland to the delicate pastries of Aundair. While many refugees cling to family recipes as a way to remember the fallen nation, others continue the tradition of Cyran appreciation—adopting new favorites from the place they’ve found shelter, and looking for ways to improve them.

Magic

Traditionally, Cyrans viewed arcane magic as a form of art as well as a practical tool. On the one hand this lent itself to a wider study of illusion and enchantment than found in other nations. But beyond this, it’s also about the presentation of magic. Magewright, bard or wizard, a Cyran often puts more show into the performance of magic than even an Aundairian. For a wizard who’s studied at the Wynarn Institute, somatic components are almost a dance, and verbal components have the cadence of song or poetry. This ties to the Cyran love of capes and flowing clothing. As a Cyran spellcaster, you are truly a student of arcane arts; consider how your casting reflects this.

Religion

While the Silver Flame had some devoted followers and temples in Cyre, the Sovereign Host was the dominant faith. At the same time, religion is driven by faith and tradition, and Cyrans have always been encouraged to question and search for new paths. The war drove some Cyrans to embrace their faith more tightly, but for others it was another source of doubt. Likewise, the Mourning threw many devout Cyrans into a crisis of faith. With that said, there are many devout Cyrans. Followers of the Silver Flame don’t question the cause of the Mourning: they simply seek to protect the innocent from harm. Vassals of the Sovereign Host trust that there is a purpose to their suffering. And in the wake of the Mourning, some Cyrans have turned to the Blood of Vol or Cults of the Dragon Below, cursing the gods they once worshipped or following a darker vision. There are also a number of new strains of the old faiths: Cyran twists on the Flame and the Host that seek to adapt traditions to make sense of the war and the world.

The preceding paragraph primarily applies to Central Cyre. The nobles of Eastern Cyre were devout vassals, convinced that their leadership was a divine right. The people of Southern Cyre are less arrogant, but still tend to have a quiet faith in the Sovereigns.

In playing a Cyran divine caster, consider the impact the Mourning had on your faith. Are you conflicted and struggling to hold to your beliefs? Or was the Mourning a source of inspiration—you know you have a divine purpose, that your people need you? If you’re tied to an existing faith, do you follow the standard traditions or have you found an unusual path?

THE THREE CYRES

When most people say “Cyre” they’re thinking of Central Cyre. When they speak of Cyran refugees, they are talking about the people who fled the Mourning. But there were Cyran refugees long before the end of the war. The Tairnadal elves established the kingdom of Valenar in 956 YK, while Lhesh Haruuc claimed southern Cyre as Darguun in 969 YK. While Valenar was an unpleasant surprise, it had relatively little impact on the nation. Eastern Cyre had always been isolated, and the Khunan majority embraced elf rule; the refugees were thus a handful of nobles who were painfully out of touch with the traditions of the central kingdom. The loss of Darguun was a more significant blow. Southern Cyre was a backwater, but this was still close to home—and it resulted in a flood of refugees that the wartorn nation was ill-prepared to handle. In creating a Cyran character, consider which Cyre you’re from. 

  • Central Cyre. Odds are good that you yourself think of your home as the “true” Cyre. Before the Mourning, did you give much thought to the refugees of Valenar and Darguun? Even now, do you think of them when you think of your homeland? Are you devoted to the idea of rebuilding your nation and clinging to your memories and traditions? Or following the Cyran appreciation, are you instead looking forward and trying to find a new and better path, even if that means abandoning the dreams of Cyre?
  • Eastern Cyre. You’re tied to a noble family that can trace its roots back to Old Metrol, before Galifar even existed. You don’t accept any of the nonsense about Cyre being “the best of Galifar” or challenging tradition; if people had stuck to the old ways, perhaps all of this could have been avoided. Your people were devoted to the Sovereign Host and truly believed that Aureon had chosen you to rule. At the same time, your lands have been lost for over forty years, and the people of Central Cyre have never avenged you or shown your family the respect you deserve. You’re not as affected by the Mourning as some, because it wasn’t YOUR Cyre that was destroyed; now the others just get to see how you feel. As an Eastern Cyran, you have noble ancestry but you’re unlikely to have the noble background, as nobody cares about your claims. Do you despise the Valenar and hope to reclaim your long-lost homeland? Or do you want to rally Cyran survivors around the TRUE royal bloodlines, challenging Oargev and re-establishing the long-forgotten kingdom of Metrol?
  • Southern Cyre. Your people have been struggling for decades, eking out a life in camps and shelters. You were encouraged to take up military service; it was easier to send you to the front than to find a new home for you. Many of your friends and family chose to idolize the Queen and central Cyre, believing that she had a vision, that she would rebuild Galifar and restore an age of wonders. Did you feel that way? Were you an idealist and an optimist? Or were you bitter and angry at the nation that failed to protect you? Are you loyal to Cyre, or are you solely concerned with Darguun and taking vengeance on the goblins?

THE WONDERS OF CYRE

Cyre is lost to the Mournland, and all people have are their memories. But what are those memories? Cyre was a land of wonders… what are some of those wonders? Here’s a few of them…

  • The Vermishards. Seven spires rise up from Metrol, a natural (or supernatural) wonder. These plateaus held the ancestral homes of the noble lines of Old Metrol, and the Royal Vermishard was the seat of the Cyran crown. However, over the course of centuries other powerful forces—such as House Cannith and House Phiarlan—made their way to the Vermishards. Cannith and Phiarlan worked together with Cyran magewrights to embed illusory lighting into the Vermishards, and these glittering spires were a remarkable part of the Metrol skyline.
  • The Wynarn Institute of Art. The Wynarn institute was both one of the foremost academies of magic in Khorvaire and one of its most amazing museums. In addition to purely artistic exhibits, the Hall of Kings allowed rulers to converse with illusory replicas of the past rulers of Galifar. Treasures of the pre-Galifar kingdoms were displayed here, along with modern works of art.
  • The Vault. The Royal Treasury of Galifar was commonly known as the Vault. While there were reserves hidden around the kingdom, the Vault included both the mint, the primary reserves of both currencies and precious metals, and cultural artifacts deemed too valuable to be displayed. Salvagers have dreamed of finding the “Golden Palace,” but there are stories saying that the Vault is actually missing. The Mourning had strange effects on Metrol, and the Vault may have simply been physically displaced, or it could have fallen into another plane.
  • The Cathedral of the Sovereign Host. Following the spread of the Church of the Silver Flame in Thrane, the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host became the primary seat of vassal devotion on Galifar. Many of the rulers of Galifar would make an addition to the Cathedral as a way of showing their piety. By the reign of King Jarot, it was a wonder. Nine colossal statues encircle the temple. Illusory displays within depicted scenes from the faith, and there was a vast collection of relics and artifacts. The fate of the cathedral and its treasures remains unknown.

All of these are within Metrol itself, and they just scratch the surface of what was possible. Aundair has floating towers; Cyre expanded on this with floating gardens, flower petals falling on the wind to the cities below. Even small towns had crystal theaters when people could scry on the great performances in the Demesne of Shape. There was always music in the air and lights in the sky. With this in mind, feel free to create wonders. Cyre was the seat of House Cannith and House Phiarlan, and second only to Aundair in arcane sophistication. What your dreams imagine, their hands could create. And even if they DIDN’T create the things you dream of, people might believe that they did; the legends of Cyre only continue to grow now that the kingdom is lost.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a Cyran, you come from a culture that strove to find the best in all things, a tradition that encouraged creativity and innovation. But your people have also lived through a century of betrayal and war, fighting enemies on all sides. How has this affected you? Are you an idealist who still believes in the promise of Galifar—someone who believes that the Five Nations can and should unite, someone who tries to bring people together? Or do you curse the traitors who betrayed Mishann and doomed Galifar? Are you scarred by the memory of the Mournign and determined to reclaim your homeland or rebuild it somewhere else, or are you always looking forward to what happens next? Do you have any living relatives, and if so where are they now and what is their condition? Will you send money to your family in High Walls or New Cyre, or are you alone in the world? Beyond that, where was your home and what did you leave behind? Is there anything you wish you could recover from the Mournland, whether it’s something with practical value or simply sentimental? What do you still have to remind you of Cyre? 

GENERAL Q&A

Do Cyran nobles still have authority even though their lands have been lost?

This depends on the family and on the people you’re dealing with. The nobility of Cyre was originally drawn from across the Five Nations, and many Cyran noble families still have strong ties to other nations. Some families had significant holdings in other nations and still have wealth and influence, even if it’s limited. On the other hand, many Cyran nobles have lost everything but their titles. Some Thronehold nobles treat these displaced aristocrats with courtesy, but many dismiss them: at the Treaty of Thronehold, Queen Aurala famously said “Cyre no longer exists, and refugees have no place at these proceedings.”

In regard to YOUR character, there’s a simple way to determine the standing of your family: Your choice of background. If you take the noble background, your Position of Privilege means that you are treated with the respect of any noble; this implies that your family still has holdings or at least the respect of other aristocrats. But you could also be a fallen noble forced down a dark path (criminal background), a dandy who uses charm to find your way into courts even though you no longer have influence (charlatan), or a hero who still fights to protect the common people of Cyre even though you have no rank (folk hero). You could also take the noble background with the variant Retainers feature, reflecting that while you no longer have a position of privilege, you still have a few loyal followers who have been with your family for as long as you can remember.

The Forge of War says that Thrane turned away or even attacked Cyran refugees fleeing from the Mourning. You’ve said that this is inaccurate and possibly Karrnathi propaganda. Would this be a pervasive rumor? Would Cyrans think of Thranes as butchers who turned their backs? Is Karrnath exempted from this? What about Breland and Aundair?  

The faith of the Silver Flame is founded on the basic principle of defending the innocent from supernatural evil. I’ve already called out that if followers of the Flame were serving on opposite sides in a battle and a group of demons suddenly appeared, I’d expect the templars to set aside their political differences until the supernatural threat was dealt with. The same principle applies here. I could easily imagine an initial violent response if the surge of refugees was perceived as an attack. However, once it became clear that thi sis literally innocents fleeing a supernatural threat, I would expect Thrane to be the MOST active nation in providing support and shelter.

So my initial reaction is that Forge of War is simply WRONG. The situation as described makes no sense and I don’t see it as a rumor that would stick, because anyone familiar with the church should know it makes no sense. Why would they do something like that?

WITH THAT SAID: Maybe you WANT it to be true. If this is the case, the question is what could MAKE it happen as described. The simplest answer is that the facts aren’t straight. The Mourning transforms things caught within it. So perhaps Thrane templars DID “slaughter a host of Cyrans fleeing from the Mourning”—because those Cyrans had been caught in the Mourning and transformed into a ravening pack of bloodthirsty killers. They weren’t FLEEING the mists, they were charging out of them to kill anything they could get their hands on, and the templars had no choice but to put them down. So it is an absolute fact that Thrane forces killed a host of Cyran refugees, and Karrnath or other nations have publicized the story. But the truth isn’t as they present it—and beyond that, I’d still expect people who hear the story to say “But that doesn’t make any sense!”

So as a quick overview of how nations have responded to Cyrans, here’s MY personal opinion.

  • Breland has been presented as the most willing to shelter Cyrans without strings, as shown by the establishment of New Cyre. There are certainly tensions between the common people of Breland and the refugees, and life in camps like High Walls is hardly ideal, but it’s better than anything offered by Aundair or Karrnath.
  • I think Thrane would have responded with compassion and provided significant support. However, I can imagine Thrane focusing on integrating refugees into Thrane society as opposed to trying to preserve Cyran culture or supporting Cyran nobles; consider that they already set aside the Wynarn monarchy in favor of the Church. So they’d provide support and opportunities—for a new life as Thranes.
  • Aundair has been presented as unsympathetic (see that quote from Queen Aurala at the Treaty of Thronehold), and that makes sense. Aundair is the smallest of the Five Nations and has its own problems with the Eldeen Reaches, and Aurala still believes she would be the best ruler for a restored Galifar; none of this suggests sympathy for Cyre.
  • Likewise, I think Karrnath would be VERY unsympathetic. Cyre and Karrns were bitter rivals; per Forge of War, the Mourning followed directly on the heels of a Cyran sneak attack on the city of Atur. Karrnath had long struggled with famines and thus lacks the ability to suddenly support an influx of outsiders, and Karrns are known for being ruthless and pragmatic. Beyond this, as I called out in my last article, the Karrnathi undead are perfectly willing to slaughter civilians. If anyone slaughtered masses of Cyran refugees on the border, I’d expect it to be Karrnath.

Several maps show parts of the Talenta plains (or the borderlands) as part of Cyre during the Last War. Were these wartime holdings? Provinces of Cyre? How was Cyre’s relationship with the Halflings?

This is covered on page 202 of the 3.5 ECS:

Karrnath and Cyre both claimed parts of the Talenta Plains during the Last War. Prior to the fall of the kingdom of Galifar, the halfling tribes were permitted to wander their ancestral lands as long as they paid tribute to the Galifar king. With the coming of war, the halfling tribes began to cooperate in unprecedented ways to protect the Plains that all the tribes revered. Warriors of different tribes banded together, repelling invaders from Karrnath and Cyre by using their knowledge of the ways of the Plains to confuse and confound the invaders. Later, when the Plains became the place for various combatant nations to clash, the halfling tribes tried to stay out of the way.

Cannith had a lot of holdings in Cyre, and almost invariably there would have been mingling with the locals. Do you see the Houses as having a mostly distinct culture or also being something like citizens of the nation they grew up in? Cannith worked a lot with Cyre during the war, was that more an accident of proximity and money or did a lot of the leadership sympathize with the Cyrans? For example, is there a Cannith style or are there Cyran Cannith, Brelish Cannith, etc. styles of architecture/production?

The houses definitely hold themselves as extranational entities. They take their neutrality very seriously, and the only house we’ve suggested as having a national bias is Medani: so Cyre’s heavy association with Cannith was certainly based on gold. Cannith heirs consider themselves to be Cannith first, nation second. However, there’s certainly a national component to the personality of a dragonmarked heir. Beyond interaction with the locals, you’ve got the fact that houses are comprised of different families and these families are based in different nations—so the Vown are Brelish Cannith, while Juran are (or were) Cyran Cannith. It’s also the case that different enclaves have different focuses, which also affects corporate culture. Cannith South is focused on general industry, while Cannith East is more driven by weapons research and recently, experimenting with necromancy.

With that said, the HOUSES hold themselves as neutral; the members of the houses often had their own sympathies. In The Dreaming Dark novels, Daine is a Deneith heir who cut ties with the Blademark in order to fight for Cyre. Dragonmarked discusses such characters, who are generally referred to as “orphans.”

What would YOU like to know about Cyre? Post your questions below. And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for requesting the topic and making it possible!

Dragonmarks: Karrnathi Undead

The nation of Karrnath became infamous for its use of undead during the Last War. Initially, the bulk of the undead forces were common, mindless skeletons and zombies. But as the war progressed, the science of necromancy continued to evolve. The greatest breakthrough came when the high priest Malevenor and master necromancer Gyrnar Shult developed the Odakyr Rites: Techniques that could imbue the skeleton or corpse of an elite Karrnathi warrior with malign intelligence and increased resilience. The Karrnathi undead possess deadly skill and considerable cunning; once given direction, a unit of Karrnathi undead can operate autonomously, adapting to deal with unexpected threats or strategic setbacks.

Most of the Karrnathi undead were retired after the Treaty of Thronehold, sealed away in vast vaults beneath Atur or stationed at Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. But a few remain in service. Recently people have reached out to me with a number of questions related to Karrnathi undead. What is the intelligence level of Karrnathi Undead? Do they have any memories of their past lives? Do they have thoughts and opinions? Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

As always, the real answer here is what’s going to make the best story? But let’s start with the canon presentation and move on from there.

The Canon

To begin with, consider the following facts about Karrnathi undead from the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Guide. 

  • Karrnathi undead are described as being “imbued with malign intelligence.” They possess 11 Intelligence, 10 Wisdom, and can speak Common.
  • Karrnathi undead have an alignment of Always lawful evil. Sentient creatures rarely have an always alignment; certainly, the elite soldiers of Karrnath aren’t always lawful evil. So already this tells us that the consciousness isn’t the consciousness of the deceased donor of the corpse. A dictated alignment is typically tied to a creature that embodies an idea, such as a celestial or fiend; or a creature whose behavior is dictated by a supernatural force, like a lycanthrope. This ties to the fact that the undead is imbued with “malign” intelligence.
  • Karrnathi undead possess remarkable skills. But in the ECS listing, they have no advancement. One of the defining features of the warforged is that they can learn new things: a warforged built to be a fighter can become a wizard. Karrnathi undead have tactical intelligence, but they can’t evolve.

With these things in mind, consider this description of Karrnathi undead from the article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195.

The Karrnathi undead are tremendously efficient solders. A normal zombie requires some sort of necromancer to sustain and command it, but the sentient Karrnathi undead can integrate with any unit. Fear, hunger, and exhaustion are alien to them. They can see in perfect darkness—an advantage over the warforged, and one that Karrnath often exploited in conflicts with Cyre. One of the few limitations of the undead derives from their utter lack of mercy or compassion. Left on its own, a Karrnathi skeleton will slaughter all opposing forces—soldiers, civilians, even children. A commander must exercise close control if he wants his undead to leave anyone alive.

The Odakyr Rites—the ritual used to create the Karrnathi undead—isn’t a cheap form of Raise Dead. The original victim is gone. A Karrnathi skeleton doesn’t have the specific memories of the warrior who donated his bones. The military specialty of the undead reflects that of the fallen soldier, so only the bones of a bowman can produce a skeletal archer. However, the precise techniques of the skeleton aren’t those of the living soldiers. Rekkenmark doesn’t teach the bone dance or the twin scimitar style common to the skeletal swordsmen. So where, then, do these styles come from?

Gyrnar Shult believed that the Karrnathi undead were animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath itself. This is why they can be produced only from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers: an enemy corpse lacks the connection to Karrnath, while a fallen farmer has no bond to war. However, the current commander of the Corpse Collectors fears that the undead aren’t animated by the soul of Karrnath, but rather by an aspect of Mabar itself—that the combat styles of the undead might be those of the dark angels of Mabar. Over the years, he has felt a certain malevolence in his skeletal creations that he can’t explain, not to mention their love of slaughter. He has also considered the possibility that they are touched by the spirits of the Qabalrin ancestors of Erandis Vol. The Kind hasn’t found any proof for these theories, but they haunt his dreams.

Karrnathi undead never show emotion and never speak without cause. A Karrnathi skeleton is content to stand motionless and silent for days if there is no reason to move. A soldier’s name is typically a combination of name and number and the records of the original identity of the body are hidden in the tomes of the Corpse Collectors. The distinctive armor of the Karrnathi skeletons is forged for them and fitted to their fleshless bones. Fort Bones operates a small forge for this purpose, though most of this armor is created at the Night Forge of Atur.

So with all this in mind, let’s look back at those questions. A Karrnathi skeleton is as intelligent as a typical human, but it doesn’t have a human personality or think like a human does.

Do Karrnathi undead have thoughts and opinions? Well, how would you know? A Karrnathi skeleton obeys the orders of its commander without question. It fights without fear and will hold a position even at the cost of its own existence. The Karrnathi undead never speak unless spoken to, or unless necessary in pursuit of their duties; if they have thoughts, they don’t share them. If questions, their opinions appear to be an absolute commitment to the Karrnathi cause, and the opinions of one are shared by all of them; so they do have opinions, but they all have the SAME opinions. A warforged might compose a poem. A Karrnathi skeleton might know a poem, but if it does, then all Karrnathi skeletons know that poem, even though no one ever taught it to them. And what about that underlying cruelty, that always lawful evil? In my opinion, even a Karrnathi commander has to worry that maybe the dead are just going along with them… that maybe there’s a darker force behind those eyeless sockets, waiting for the right moment to turn its blades on you.

Regarding memories of past lives: by canon, no, Karrnathi undead have no memories of their past lives. While they can only be created from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers, theit skills and techniques don’t match those of the donor. They are always lawful evil, regardless of the alignment of the donor. In my opinion, the Karrnathi undead don’t even know the names of the people who donated their bones. BUT… with that said, see the next section for other ideas.

With all this in mind: Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? By canon, definitely not. They can’t learn new skills or advance. Their true opinions and thoughts are intentionally mysterious. With that said, see “Other Options” below.

Ultimately, there’s a critical point here: The Karrnathi undead are supposed to creep you out. They aren’t just warforged who happen to be made out of bone. There is a sense of a malign intelligence in them… a touch of Pet Semetery, with that lingering fear that you should have let them stay dead.

Other Options

So, that’s the canon approach. But there’s two things to consider. First, the science of necromancy has continued to evolve. As a DM, you can introduce sentient skeletons or zombies that AREN’T produced using the Odakyr Rites. Such skeletons could possess more distinct personalities, could be capable of learning new skills, and could possess memories of their former lives. You could play around with a form of undeath that can preserve mortal soul and memory in a rotting shell. And this could work for a player character.

But with that said, personally I believe the Karrnathi undead should feel creepy… and I like to play up the idea that even the Seekers don’t know exactly what they are dealing with. Mabar is the plane of entropy and loss, the darkness that eventually consumes all light. THIS is the force that’s animating the Karrnathi undead. You can TELL yourself that it’s animated by a pure spirit of Karrnathi patriotism. You can say that there’s nothing of your wife left in those bones… but then one night you might hear her voice singing a song only the two of knew as the skeleton patrols the line. You might wonder if you would find her again, if you also died on the battlefield. Or you might wonder if some piece of her is trapped in those bones, held captive by the cruel spirit and never truly able to rest.

So as with anything in Eberron, do what feels right for the story. But for me, I’m always looking for a way to make the undead disturbing. Even if there’s a zombie with the perfect memories and personality of your friend, I’m going to point out that there’s maggots in their flesh and occasionally a tooth will fall out… and again, are you SURE it’s the soul of your friend in there?

Q&A

Does this mean that undead aren’t used for menial labor in Karrnath?

There’s two issues here. The followers of the Blood of Vol—who prefer the term Seekers—are the ones who practice necromancy and embrace the undead. The Blood of Vol has had a presence in Karrnath for over a thousand years, but it has never been the faith of the majority. During the Last War, Kaius I embraced the Blood of Vol and it gained greater influence, and it was in this time that the undead were incorporated into the Karrnathi army. In more recent years, Kaius III and the Regent Moranna turned against the Blood of Vol. The chivalric orders of the Seekers were disbanded, and Kaius has used the Seekers as a scapegoat—blaming the famines and plagues that crippled Karrnath on the Seekers. The faith still has a significant presence in Karrnath, but it is neither the majority faith nor in a position of power. Karrnathi traditionalists despise the use of undead, which they see as a stain on Karrnath’s proud martial tradition; this is another reason Kaius sealed the bone legions in the vaults below Atur. He doesn’t want to throw this weapon away, but he gained political points among the established Karrnathi warlords by reducing the role of undead. More on this—including the history of the Bone Knight—can be found in this article.

Now: the Seekers have always used undead for menial tasks. They have no emotional attachment to corpses; a Seeker wants their body to be put to good use after they are gone. So within a Seeker community, you could definitely find zombies working the fields. The main point is that these are traditional mindless zombies, who have to be provided with clear direction. The sentient Karrnathi zombies are a different thing—a more recent development, and ill-suited to noncombat tasks. The Odakyr undead are weapons: sentient, yes, but imbued with malign purpose.

Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

By canon presentation, no. First of all, Seekers aren’t sentimental about corpses. The bones of a dead relative are no different than a set of clothes or piece of jewelry the deceased wore in life. The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that what matters is the divine spark (what others might call the soul) and that this is obliterated in Dolurrh. A Seeker pays respects to the dead by recalling their deeds and following their example. The bones the deceased leave behind are a resource to be used, not a thing to be treasured. In addition, while the identity of the donor is noted when the Odakyr Rites are performed, this information isn’t publicly available and the undead warrior doesn’t know the name of the donor.

Were the Odakyr Rites created, found, or both? What was the malign spark that granted them the sudden necromantic advance?

This is covered in Dungeon 195. The Blood of Vol has always had a strong presence in the agricultural region of Odakyr, which also contains a powerful manifest zone tied to Mabar. When Kaius I embraced the Last War, Fort Bones was established in Odakyr as a center for necromantic research. Gyrnar Shult and Malevenor (then living) developed the Odakyr Rites after years of research and work. It’s noteworthy that they can only be performed in a place with a strong manifest zone to Mabar; in Karrnath, this means Fort Bones or Atur. As for exactly how the breakthrough was made, it’s not defined in canon, and for me the answer would depend on how I planned to use the Karrnathi undead in the story. Did Shult and Malevenor discover some sort of artifact tied to Mabar at the heart of the manifest zone? Did they tap into the power of Katashka the Gatekeeper, or acquire some sort of ancient Qabalrin tome from Erandis Vol? Or did they just legitimately develop a new necromantic technique that no one had mastered before, which is entirely possible? Despite their cruelty, are the Karrnathi undead truly what Shult believed—empowered by the patriotic spirits of the fallen—or is there a darker secret?

Were Karrnathi undead created for any other branches of the Karrnathi military? Presumably, if they are canonically inclined to slaughter, undead sailors wouldn’t be of much use, but were there undead Marines aboard Karrnathi ships in the Last War? Did Karrnath have any airships in its service with undead parachute troopers? 

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First of all, even more so than warforged, Karrnathi undead aren’t robots. They aren’t precisely programmed; the Dungeon article notes that you can’t use the Odakyr Rites to create an undead farmer. The basic principle of the Odakyr Rites is one of sympathy: if you perform the Rites on the corpse of an expert archer you’ll be an archer, if you perform them on an elite melee fighter you’ll get a melee fighter. But even there, it’s not as if it’s a perfect proficiency match: the Karrnathi skeletons favor a two-weapon style that isn’t a standard technique for Karrnathi infantry. And again, they’re incapable of learning entirely new skills. So you could certainly have a Karrnathi galleon that has a skeleton crew manning the oars, but a) they wouldn’t be skilled sailors and given that, b) they’d likely be mundane skeletons, not sentient Karrnathi undead. However, that same galleon could certainly have a squad of undead Marines (who also have the advantage of not needing to breathe).

Looking to airship paratroopers, remember that airships are a recent development—they’re only been in active use for eight yearsand require Lyrandar pilots. Most air battles mentioned in canon involve aerial cavalry: Thrane wyverns, Aundairian dragonhawks. With that said, you could certainly equip undead troops with feather tokens and drop them into enemy territory; as they don’t need food or sleep, can operate tirelessly, have darkvision, and are happy to engage in suicide missions, I’m sure this was done.

It seems unlikely to me, even if a GM broadens the possibilities of Karrnathi undead, that they would be created for anything other than warriors. Spellcasters would require higher INT, WIS or CHA, and more independence of thought. 

I’m fine with the idea that there are additional forms of Karrnathi undead we haven’t seen in canon—even just skeletons and zombies with different skill sets. It could even be that a spellcaster produced using the Odakyr Rites is a more wraithlike entity. But remember that the core principle of the Odakyr Rites is sympathy: to raise a spellcaster, you’d need the corpse of a dedicated Karrnathi spellcaster. Assuming this is possible, every spellcaster raised by the Rites would have the same spell set, which wouldn’t have anything to do with the spells possessed by the donor corpse, and they couldn’t learn new ones. Given the tie to Mabar, I’d expect their spell selection to mainly be necromantic attack spells.

With that said, the undead champions of the Blood of Vol have long included both mummies and vampires—so there are other options for elite undead spellcasters.

Do we, or even their commanders, know how spoofable the officer recognition is on Odakyr undead is? If a Brelander wearing a Karrnathi uniform speaking with a Karrnathi accent showed at Fort Bones would the undead obey them? 

I see two possible approaches here. The first is to follow the point that they are sentient. Could this ruse fool a normal human soldier? If so, maybe it could fool the undead; handle it the same way, with a Deception/Insight check if you think one is called for.

The second approach is to emphasize that they’re supernatural… that we don’t entirely KNOW why they follow orders. The THEORY is that they are animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath. Do you think you can fool that spirit with your crappy accent? Do you really want to take that chance?

How would they react if there was a civil war and they were being used on each other?

Excellent question. I think the answer is that NO ONE KNOWS. This is one reason the traditionalist warlords hate the use of undead; because they don’t know where their loyalty truly lies. They never betrayed Karrnath during the war; but what would happy if Karrns fought Karrns? Would they follow their local commanders? Would they be loyal to the crown? Would they be loyal to who THEY believe deserves the crown, and if so, does that prove the legitimacy of the candidate they support? Or could it be that once you tell them to spill Karrnathi blood… that they would turn on ALL Karrns?

If the Karrnathi undead are just going along with the commands of whatever Karrnathi Commander is leading them….is it a possibility that their true loyalty is to Vol?

It’s certainly a possibility. With that said, if that’s the case the question would be why she hasn’t already exercised that power—what is she waiting for?

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this possible. My next article will delve into Cyre!

Dragonmarks: Lycanthropes

I’m hard at work on many projects, but I’ve had a few questions tied to lycanthropes… and with Halloween around the corner, it seems like an appropriate topic to address! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for supporting the blog.

I’ve been listening to the stories of the Werewolf Trials of the Middle Ages. Was the Eberron purge based on these, or is this just a coincidence?

For those of you unfamiliar with the setting, the Lycanthropic Purge is an event that occurred around two centuries before the default Eberron campaign. The Church of the Silver Flame sent an army of templars into western Aundair and what is now the Eldeen Reaches to combat a rising tide of lycanthropy. Following a brutal conflict, the church supported an ongoing campaign to root out and cure or exterminate all lycanthropes that could be found. This conflict is also the root of the Pure Flame, a zealous sect of the Church of the Silver Flame that engages in ruthless and often violent behavior.

People often think of the Purge as a sort of inquisition, similar to the Salem Witch Trials or the Werewolf Trials mentioned above. It certainly ENDED that way, with the newly minted zealots of the Pure Flame trying to hunt down every last lycanthrope… and in the process, targeting many shifters and other innocents. So you can certainly use werewolf trials as inspiration for this period. But that wasn’t how the Purge BEGAN; it’s how it ENDED, a cruel inquisition carried out by people who had suffered through a decade of terror and loss and who were hungry for bloody vengeance. So how did it start?

Under the rules of third edition D&D—the edition that existed when Eberron was created—lycanthropy was a virulent curse. Under the rules of the time, any lycanthrope could spread lycanthropy. If one wererat creates two victims, and each of them infect two others, within five cycles of infection you have 243 wererats… and that assumes each one only has two victims! Essentially, in lycanthropy as presented you have the clear potential for a zombie apocalypse: a massive wave that could result in untold death and ultimately destroy civilization as we know it. The Purge ENDED in a cruel inquisition. But it BEGAN as a noble, selfless struggle to save the world from collapsing into primal savagery. Thousands of templars gave their lives in the Towering Woods, fighting to protect the people of Aundair from supernatural horror.

Under the rules of 3.5 and 4th Edition, afflicted lycanthropes can’t spread the curse. This eliminated the threat of exponential expansion that made the Purge so necessary. Personally, I make this a part of history. At the time of the Purge, lycanthropy was more virulent. By the end of the Purge, the power of the curse had been broken. The question is: Was this tied to some specific victory, to ann Overlord being rebound or an artifact that was destroyed? Or was it simply tied to the number of lycanthropes—when the population grows, so does the power of the curse? And this is important, because in FIFTH edition, all lycanthropes can spread the curse again! Personally, I’m embracing this as the continued evolution: whatever cause the power to wane, it’s rising again. A werewolf apocalypse is a very real threat. Could another purge be called for?

What Makes Lycanthropy A Curse?

Lots of people like lycanthropes. They see lycanthropes as champions of nature, and as the persecuted victims of the purge. So why am I insistent about it being a curse?

First, there’s a simple logic to the decision. Lycanthropes possess amazing abilities. They can transfer these gifts to others, quite easily. So if there’s no downside to being a lycanthrope, why aren’t we all lycanthropes? Why isn’t this gift embraced and shared? If one member of a party contracts lycanthropy, why shouldn’t every member of the party get in on it?

With this in mind, D&D has generally inherited its view of lycanthropy from the Universal monster, not from the World of Darkness and its champions of Gaea. Even a man who’s pure of heart and says his prayers by night can become a wolf when the moon is full. It’s the vision of werewolves that chain themselves up as the moon grows close for fear of killing innocents. The third edition rules were very clear about this. Initially, when a victim falls prey to the curse, THEY BECOME AN NPC for the duration of the event and act according to their lycanthropic alignment. You lose all control and don’t know what you’ll do.

The rules specify that if this goes on long enough, the alignment change becomes permanent and it’s possible for the player to take over. But this isn’t a casual thing. In Eberron, an evil person can have a valid role in society. But 3E called out that an evil lycanthrope isn’t just “evil;” they’re murderers who enjoy preying on their former family and friends. Likewise, a good lycanthrope isn’t just a nice person; they are compelled to abandon civilization to live in the wilds. Fifth Edition echoes this. Consider the following quotes from the fifth edition Monster Manual:

  • Evil lycanthropes hide among normal folk, emerging in animal form at night to spread terror and bloodshed, especially under a full moon. Good lycanthropes are reclusive and uncomfortable around other civilized creatures, often living alone in wilderness areas far from villages and towns.

  • Most lycanthropes that embrace their bestial natures succumb to bloodlust, becoming evil, opportunistic creatures that prey on the weak.

The point here is simple: no player character should WANT to become a lycanthrope. It’s a terrifying burden; even good-aligned lycanthropy will destroy your original personality and turn you into someone else.

Eberron generally takes a broad approach to alignment. But lycanthropy is a special case: it is a supernatural force that IMPOSES an alignment, and this overrides the victim’s ability to choose their own path. What we do say is that there are different strains of lycanthropy, and that alignment is tied to strain. So it is possible to have a good-aligned werewolf… but if they infect someone that person will become a good-aligned werewolf. Here again, I can’t emphasize enough that being a good-aligned lycanthrope isn’t just about being a virtuous person. If it was, the Silver Flame would support it. But just look back at that quote from the Monster Manual: Good lycanthropes are “reclusive and uncomfortable” around civilization. Good or evil, the curse fundamentally changes who you are and enforces a powerful set of instincts and drives.

I feel that natural lycanthropes have a greater ability to adapt and evolve personalities around the behavior dictated by the curse. But it’s important to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between a natural lycanthrope and, say, a gnoll or a shifter. The lycanthrope isn’t just bestial in appearance; they are a vessel for a powerful supernatural force that shapes and drives their behavior. A natural werewolf can fight those urges, but the urges will always be there.

The Origin of Lycanthropy

The origins of lycanthropy are shrouded in mystery. As with the Mourning, I don’t think this is something that needs to be established in canon. I’d rather present a few different ideas, and let each DM decide which one they prefer. So consider the following.

The Gift of Olarune. Common belief is that shifters are thin-blooded lycanthropes. But there are shifters who say that their kind came first. Shifters are touched by Eberron and Olarune, tied to the natural world. Olarune empowered her champions with a stronger bond to nature, blessing them with enhanced vitality, animal form, and other gifts. According to this legend, this gift was corrupted by a dark power—one of the other forces presented below. This explains why lycanthrope traits don’t reflect the natural animal. The wolf isn’t a cruel murderer; but the werewolf embodies our fears of the savage predator that lurks in the darkness. The rat doesn’t scheme to spread disease and undermine cities… but the wererat does.

This means that there was a proto-lycanthropy that was entirely benevolent… and it allows players to have a quest to restore this, cleansing the curse as opposed to wiping it out. In my opinion, this “pure” lycanthropy wasn’t infectious—it would only produce natural lycanthropes, assuming it was hereditary at all. Alternately, it might not even resemble lycanthropy; these blessed champions could be a form of druid.

I have no objection to the idea of there being a small population of these blessed lycanthropes in the world—but again, I’d probably make them non-infectious. The blessing is something you earn, not something you get from a bite. This removes the issue of “Why don’t we all become blessed lycanthropes?”

Overlords: The Wild Heart. The novel The Queen of Stone suggests that lycanthropy is tied to one of the fiendish Overlords of the First Age, a mighty spirit known as the Wild Heart. If this is true, lycanthropy has been around since the dawn of time… and the waning and waxing of the power of the curse likely reflects the strength of the Overlord’s bonds. If you want positive lycanthropes in the world, the Wild Heart could have corrupted Olarune’s Gift… or you could reverse it and say that Olarune’s Gift is a variant that released some of those cursed by the Wild Heart.

Daelkyr: Dyrrn the Corruptor. The Daelkyr are known for transforming victims and creating monsters. Not all of their creations are aberrations; the daelkyr Orlassk is credited with creating medusas and basilisks. Dyrrn the Corruptor is especially know for, well, corruption; this certainly fits with a curse that transforms people both physically and mentally and turns victims into predators that prey on their own friends and family. This could have been something created from scratch… or they could have corrupted the existing primal gift.

So personally, I see even good lycanthropes as victims, and as people who don’t want to spread their curse because it WILL destroy the original personality of the victim. I have run a campaign in which a druid was working to restore the curse to its original blessed form.

But looking to all of this: this is how I run lycanthropes. It’s in line with the depiction in the Monster Manual, which emphasizes lycanthropy as a curse that drives unnatural behavior (whether good or evil). I personally like the idea of the lycanthrope as an alien entity, a being whose behavior is shaped by an unknown supernatural power. Essentially, D&D has a LOT of half-animal humanoids. Tabaxi, gnolls, giff… I like to make lycanthropes feel very different than all of these. Whether in human, hybrid, or animal form, a werewolf is a magical weapon, shaped and empowered to prey on the innocent (or to defend them, if it’s a good strain). Natural lycanthropes can take control of this; Zaeurl of the the Dark Pact is a brilliant warlord. Zaeurl isn’t wild or uncontrolled, she isn’t a slave to her instincts. But she is still a vessel for a power that makes her a supernatural predator, and those murderous instincts are always there. The same is true of the good lycanthrope: they aren’t cruel or murderous, but there is a deep primal core to their personality calling them to retreat to the wilds, to defend their territory.

But again: I embrace this because I LIKE it… because I LIKE lycanthropes, regardless of alignment, to feel dangerous and alien. I want my players to be terrified of contracting lycanthropy, not looking forward to it. If you want to do something different in your campaign, follow the path that’s going to make the best story for you and your players.

The Timeline of the Purge

Here’s a quick overview of the Lycanthropic Purge, pulled from one of my earlier posts.

  • Lycanthropes have been present throughout the history of Galifar. However, they rarely acted in any sort of coordinated fashion; afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the curse; and natural lycanthropes would generally avoid spreading the curse. They were dangerous monsters and something that templars or paladins of Dol Arrah would deal with, but not perceived as any sort of massive threat… more of a bogeyman and reason to stay out of wild areas.
  • Around the Ninth Century, there was a shift in Lycanthropic behavior. Packs of werewolves began coordinating attacks. Eldeen wolves began raiding Aundair, and wererats established warrens beneath the cities of western Aundair. More victims were left alive and afflicted. While terror spread among the common folk of western Aundair, the nobles largely dismissed the claims.
  • Sages in the Church of the Silver Flame confirmed that afflicted lycanthropes could now spread the curse. They realized that the raids and urban actions might not be as random as they appeared – that this could be the groundwork and preparations for a serious large-scale assault. Combined with the risk of exponential expansion, this was a potential threat to human civilization.
  • Templars were dispatched to Aundair, and fears were confirmed; there were more lycanthropes than anyone guessed, and they were better organized than had been seen in the past. What followed was a brutal guerrilla war; the templars had numbers and discipline, but they were fighting an unpredictable and extremely powerful foe that could hide in plain sight and turn an ally into an enemy with a single bite. Thousands of Aundairians and templars died in these struggles. Cunning lycanthropes intentionally sowed suspicions and fomented conflict between templars and shifters, resulting in thousands of additional innocent deaths.
  • The precise details of the war aren’t chronicled in canon and likely aren’t known to the general public. I expect it happened in waves, with periods where the templars thought the threat had finally been contained… only to have a new resurgence in a few years. Again, canon doesn’t state what drove the power of the lycanthropes. Whatever it was – demon, daelkyr, shaman – the templars finally broke it. Afflicted lycanthropes could no longer spread the curse, and all lycanthropes were freed from whatever overarching influence had been driving their aggression.
  • While the threat was largely neutralized at this point, people didn’t know that. There’d been ups and downs before. Beyond this, the Aundairian people had suffered through decades of terror and they wanted revenge. This is the point at which the Purge shifted from being a truly heroic struggle and became something more like a witch hunt, with mobs seeking to root out any possible lingering lycanthropes. Tensions with shifters continued to escalate as bloodthirsty mobs sought outlets for their fear and anger. A critical point here is that at this point, most of the aggressors were no longer Thrane templars. The primary instigators were Aundairians who had adopted the ways of the Silver Flame over the course of the Purge. For these new believers, the Silver Flame wasn’t just about defense; it was a weapon and a tool for revenge. This is the origin of the sect known as the Pure Flame, and its extremist ways can be seen in priests like Archbishop Dariznu of Thaliost, noted for burning enemies alive.

The take-away here is that the Purge began as a truly heroic struggle against a deadly foe, and the actions of the templars may have saved Galifar from collapsing into a feral savagery. But it ended in vicious persecution that left deep scars between the shifters, the church, and the people of Aundair. And now, it may be happening again.

Q&A

How prevalent were lycanthropes during the Dhakaani Empire?

That depends on the origin you chose for them. If you follow the idea of an Overlord, than the curse would exist during the Empire. However, I think it would be extremely rare. Consider a) the Dhakaani are highly civilized and city based, and b) the Dhakaani were a highly regimented and ruthless culture. Essentially, I would see the Dhakaani as being VERY quick to completely cauterize any nest of lycanthropes, just as they would quickly wipe out any form of biological disease. Now, lycanthropes could have still flourished in the wilds— the Towering Woods, the Shadow Marches—but they wouldn’t be seen in the Empire.

On the other hand, if lycanthropes were created by Dyrrn the Corruptor, they would have been a weapon unleashed in the Xoriat Incursion. There could well be historical evidence of a stretch of the western empire that was almost completely wiped out in a lycanthropic exponential expansion. Given this, if you wanted to present a Kech of the Heirs of Dhakaan that have somehow adapted and controlled their lycanthropy, it could be an interesting story—though the other Kech might see these things as abominations.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

We’ve never discussed this in canon. There’s certainly precedent for it with the Moonspeaker druid. We’ve suggested the idea that Olarune has the greatest influence over lycanthropes, but I think it would be very interesting to say that different moons drive different impulses or moods. Another option would be to tie each strain to a particular moon.

I’m very curious about how lycanthrope genetics work. I know it’s a supernatural thing and probably don’t follow any scientific logic at all, but bloodlines and heritage are still strong symbolic themes to play with. 

It’s a good question. If a natural evil werewolf has a child with an afflicted good werebear, what’s the child? You’re correct to keep in mind that this is fundamentally magic and that science isn’t the factor here. I’m inclined to follow the precedent of the kalashtar, and to say that while the child may inherent genetic traits from both parents, they only inherent the supernatural lineage of one of them. In the example above, they don’t produce some sort of neutral wolfbear; the child is either a good werebear or an evil werewolf. In the kalashtar, this is predictable and tied to gender; the child inherits the curse from the parent of the same gender. But you could just as easily make it random, or assert that one of the strains (I’d tend to say the evil one) is dominant.

I will say that I don’t consider natural or afflicted to be a factor in this. Once you have the curse you have the curse. It’s more deeply rooted in the natural—it can’t be removed, and it’s shaped them psychologically since birth—but in terms of passing it to a child, I think there’s no difference.

Is it correct to assume that the children of a natural or afflicted lycanthrope with a humanoid is a shifter (albeit one with far more obvious bestial traits than average)?

No, that’s not what I’d say at all. In my opinion, the connection between lycanthropes and shifters is more nebulous than that—and as I suggest above, it could be that shifters actually predate lycanthropes. We’ve called out that with shifters it’s not necessarily clear what animal they are tied to, and that shifter traits aren’t hereditary. If shifters are related to lycanthropes, I think it’s the process of many generations.

So personally, I would say that the child of a humanoid and lycanthrope is a going to be a natural lycanthrope. The curse isn’t natural and isn’t limited by genetics; it’s a curse. WITH THAT SAID… I can see some strong story potential to making it not an absolutely sure thing, which would allow you to have a character who appears to be normal only to develop lycanthropy spontaneously late in life (Shadow over Innsmouth style).

With that said, if you want to use shifter mechanics to represent a hybrid child of a human and lycanthrope, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d just personally say that the character isn’t a traditional shifter—that the MECHANICS are the same, but that there will be obvious physical differences (this character would be more obviously linked to the particular animal, would be driven to a specific subrace, etc).

One sourcebook (was it Secrets of Sarlona?) mentioned that shifters and lycanthropes originated from Sarlona, more specifically from the Tashana Tundra. If so, shouldn’t the daelkyr hypothesis be ruled out?

The sourcebook in question is Secrets of Sarlona. There’s a few factors to consider here.

  • Secrets of Sarlona suggests that shifters began on Sarlona, but gives no explanation of how they came to Khorvaire.
  • It specifically presents this Tashan origin as a surprise to both the humans and shifters of Khorvaire.
  • Neither shifter culture seems to have the motives or resources to organize a vast migration by sea, and the Eldeen shifter culture isn’t strongly intertwined with humanity.

Putting these three factors together suggests that shifters arrival in Khorvaire predates humanity, and was unusual in its origin. So I’ll present one hypothesis: Perhaps a large group of shifters entered one of the Wild Zones of Sarlona and were thrown into Thelanis. There, an Archfey—who called herself Olarune, after the moon—guided them through the Faerie Court, leading them out through another manifest zone into Khorvaire. This provides the basis for folktales of shifters as the chosen people of Olarune and gives them a migration that’s entirely unconnected to humanity. This could have occurred long before humanity crossed the ocean. And if we posit the Towering Wood as their landing point, it’s a wild region that was never tamed by Dhakaan; so it’s entirely possible they could have been present during the Daelkyr conflict.

WITH THAT SAID: A daelkyr wouldn’t have to cross thousands of miles to threaten Sarlona. We’ve discussed the Umbragen of Xen’drik fighting daelkyr. Remember that Khyber contains a myriad of demiplanes, which don’t follow natural law. So you could easily descend into Khyber in the Eldeen Reaches and emerge in Xen’drik, if you found the right passage.

Also: Secrets of Sarlona DOESN’T provide any explanation for the origin of lycanthropy. It seems to have had no significant impact on the history of Sarlona and is barely mentioned. It presents the possibility that it’s the result of an exposure to wild zones, but this is clearly called out as simply one possibility, not concrete fact… and I find it to be a weak story compared to the other options.

This is very well-timed, not just for Halloween, but because the shifter and the Silver Flame warlock in my group are sort of eyeing each other warily…

It’s worth exploring this a bit. The shifter tribes of the Towering Woods have far more experience with lycanthropes than humans do. They know that the good strains don’t pose a threat, and many clans would work in harmony with good-aligned lycanthropes. However, they despise EVIL lycanthropes. Again, per core rules, an evil lycanthrope is compelled to prey on the weak and innocent, even taking joy in targeting former friends and family members. The shifters understood this threat better than anyone, and had no desire to shield evil lycans. But they also understood that there were good strains as well.

So in principle, shifters and templars could have worked together against the common foe. But cunning lycans (especially wererats) worked to destroy this possibility before it could be realized. These agents intentionally sowed the idea that shifters were weretouched and supported all lycanthropes, actively working to set the templars and shifters against one another. The damage done by this lingers to this day. Many shifters hate the church, and followers of the Pure Flame hold to the idea that all shifters are weretouched or lycan sympathizers.

With that said, this isn’t universal. Many people on both sides understand that this was a trick, misinformation to turn allies against one another. There were shifters and templars who fought side by side during the Purge, and shifters who have become champions of the church in the decades that have followed.

All of which is to say: It’s up to your players to decide where they stand on this. Either one could be blinded by superstition and prejudice. Or they could understand that this hatred was engineered by a mutual foe, and be trying to work past it.

During development, was the purge specifically created to offset the “They’re heroes!” mentality that might come from such a “Holy Glorious Shenanigan” mindset otherwise?

Yes and no. The Purge was inspired by historical events, certainly: crusades, the Inquisition, wiping out smallpox. But in these situations, it’s vital to remember that Eberron isn’t our world. When we think of witch trials, we inherently assume that this involves the paranoid persecution of innocents, because (we believe) witches aren’t real. By contrast, the Purge was driven by an absolute concrete apocalypse level threat. Whatever you think about lycanthropes generally—even if you believe that lycanthropy is a blessing creating champions of the natural world—the lycanthropy presented in the rules of third edition was a curse, a supernatural force that could turn the noblest soul into a cruel murderer with the power to create more murderers. The curse that set the Purge in motion was a real, concrete supernatural threat that would have collapsed human civilization into primal murderous savagery. This is why it’s logical to think that this curse was created by the daelkyr or an Overlord: because it’s a weapon perfectly designed to tear apart a civilization from within and without.

So at its core, the Purge WAS a Holy Glorious Shenanigan. People ask why the Church didn’t put more effort into curing the victims, why it was so ruthless. To me, this fails to grasp the brutality of the situation. In my mind, we are talking about a horrific, terrifying struggle. Lycanthropes are powerful and deadly, and one-to-one the Templars were badly outmatched. Take the movie Aliens and set it in a redwood forest: that’s how I see the early days of the Purge. Add to this the idea that any village you find could be riddled with wererats scheming to poison you or turn you against innocents… or the entire village could BE innocent, and YOU DON’T KNOW. There could have been periods of peace, but when a surge occurred it would be sheer apocalyptic horror. In this phase, the templars weren’t cruel inquisitors. They weren’t in the position of power. They were heroes laying down their lives to protect the innocent people of Aundair.

After years of conflict, the tide finally turned. The power of the curse was broken. Suddenly the numbers of lycanthropes began to dwindle as they were defeated. But as noted in my timeline, this had happened before; no one knew that this time the threat was truly over. Now that the outright war had been won, the focus shifted to rooting out the survivors… those lycanthropes still hidden among the population. THIS is where we shift to the cruel inquisition and the paranoid witch hunt, taking the story we’ve seen play out many times in our history. But it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with a population that had suffered through a generation of blood-soaked terror, people who’d had lost countless loved ones to murderous lycanthropes. And remember that WE have the benefit of a rulebook that tells us with absolute authority how lycanthropy works, how it can be cured, that a good lycanthrope only creates other good lycanthropes. They had none of these things: what they had were countless conspiracy theories and superstitions born of terror and rage. And this was the foundation of the Pure Flame: a sect who saw the Silver Flame as a weapon, a tool not simply to protect the innocent but to punish the enemy, a force that had saved them from annihilation and could now make the forces that caused such terror pay for it.

So if anything, the Purge is a reflection of the moral complexity of the setting. It’s an event that can’t be painted as entirely good or purely evil. It was a conflict fought for the noblest of reasons that may have saved human civilization; and it was a ruthless persecution that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents and set an ember of hatred and suspicion between shifters and the church that still burns today. It is a stain upon the Church of the Silver Flame because of the innocents who died; but it’s also a symbol of selfless courage, of templars placing themselves in harms way to protect hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

That’s all for now… happy Halloween!

Dragonmarks: Firearms in Eberron

There are a few questions I’ve been asked time and again over the years, and one of those came up again just recently: How do firearms fit into Eberron? There’s a number of different gunpowder related classes and rules out in the world; Unearthed Arcana even included a version of the artificer with a Gunsmith archetype. So, how do firearms fit into the setting?

The short and simple answer is they don’t. From the very beginning, Eberron was designed as a setting where arcane magic was the foundation of civilization. The core idea is that in Eberron people wouldn’t pursue the development of firearms and gunpowder, because they have a different tool for creating explosions and hurting people at a distance… so they’d refine that magical tool instead of pursuing something entirely different.

But… isn’t another core principle of Eberron If it exists in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron? So: there’s a gunslinger class and I’ve got a player who really wants to use it… what do I do with it?

In any situation like this, the most critical question is: WHY do you want to add this thing into Eberron? What is the story you are trying to tell, and do you need to change the world to tell it? Does your story absolutely require the existence of some form of gunpowder analogue… or could you take the same basic idea and reflavor it to work using magical principles instead of gunpowder?

The Wandslinger

The basic principle of Eberron is that people are finding ways to solve the problems we’ve solved with technology by using magic. Instead of using telegraphs or cell phones, they have speaking stones and sending. Thus, the idea that’s most in keeping with the setting is to develop a magical analogue to the firearm. Wands, staves, and rods are tools that can hold and channel mystical power. In third edition, it wasn’t feasible to use wands as personal sidearms; they were too expensive and also entirely disposable, and it was hard to imagine a unit of soldiers equipped with such a tool. But we took steps towards this by introducing the eternal wand, which had fewer restrictions on who could use it and which recharged every day. While statistics were never presented for it, in my novels I also presented the idea of the siege staff, Khorvaire’s answer to artillery. The idea’s simple: if a wand holds a little power and a staff can hold greater power, then a staff made from a tree trunk could hold greater power still, dramatically amplifying the range and radius of a spell effect to fill the same role as cannons in our world.

The later editions of D&D have made casual combat magic easier to use. In fifth edition, a wand is an arcane focus that costs a fraction of the price of a longbow. Such a wand has no inherent power of its own; it channels the power of a spellcaster. Meanwhile, the Magic Initiate feat establishes the idea that you don’t need to be a wizard or warlock to know a cantrip or two. So in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron we embrace this idea and suggest that over the course of the Last War the nations began training elite arcaneers—essentially, soldiers who gain the Magic Initiate feat and can perform simple combat magic. Because NPCs don’t need to follow exactly the same rules as player characters, I suggest that wandslingers typically only know offensive cantrips (spells that require an attack roll or saving throw), and further that the typical wandslinger needs an arcane focus to perform their magic. Essentially, for a player character a wand is an optional tool; for a wandslinger, it’s a requirement. This is intended both to emphasize that player characters are remarkable, but also to establish that in this world arcane focuses are important tools—that there’s a form of science at work here, and that the “wand technology” is significant.

There’s a few issues with arcane focuses replacing firearms. One of the obvious ones is range: a fire bolt has a range of 120 feet, while a bow can hit an enemy up to 600 feet away; don’t we need a solution that can match that? There’s also the issue that only spellcasters can use the wand, so wouldn’t we have an answer that anyone can use? Addressing the second point first, we do have a solution anyone can use: a bow or crossbow. And anyone CAN learn to use a wand… if they put in the time. Again, the core idea of Eberron is that the magic used by a magewright or a wandslinger is a form of science. Different people may have a special aptitude to different types of spells, just as in our world some people have a talent for a certain type of instrument while others just aren’t very musical. But anyone CAN learn to play an instrument… and in Eberron, anyone could learn to use a wand. On the other hand, they could also put that time and energy into mastering another skill. So Aundair’s elite infantry may be made up of wandslingers, who have the equivalent of Magic Initiate; while Thrane’s elite archers have the equivalent of the Sharpshooter feat, reflecting their specialized training.

So: a basic principle of Eberron’s widespread magic is that many magical tools do have a living component. A siege staff requires a trained person to operate it. And this is why crossbows and arbalests DO still have a place in the world. But remember that here too, these tools can be enhanced by magic. If an Aereni ship uses an arbalest, the bolts could easily be explosive; we’ve also mentioned livewood bolts bound to a dryad, allowing the dryad to manifest on the ship struck by the bolt. Rather than saying “An arbalest is inferior to a cannon, they’d have to have developed cannons,” consider the ways that you could magically enhance an arbalest to match the capabilities of a cannon… even if, like the livewood arbalest, the actual results are very different.

Still, there’s a few valid points. Range is a significant limitation for the battlefield wandslinger. And another thing that bothers me is that in fifth edition there’s no difference between the arcane focuses. Wand, staff, orb… it’s a purely cosmetic choice with no practical effect. Given the idea that these things are tools, I wanted the choice of focus to matter. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron includes one set of rules. Here’s a summary of what I’m playing with now. The staff rules are new and largely untested, which is why they aren’t in the WGtE, but you could try them out if your players and DMs agree.

  • A wand, crystal, or orb is used in one hand. This has no inherent impact unless you’re using a special focus (imbued wood, orb of shielding, etc).
  • A rod can be used with one or two hands. If it is used with two hands, the range of any offensive cantrip you cast is increased by 50%. Using a two handed arcane focus meets the somatic requirements of a spell.
  • A staff requires two hands. When casting an offensive cantrip, the standard range is the listed range for the cantrip, but the staff provides a long range equal to four times the listed range: so when using a staff, fire bolt has a standard range of 120 feet and a long range of 480 feet. When casting an offensive cantrip beyond normal range, you have disadvantage on the attack roll and the target has advantage on the saving throw. Using a two handed arcane focus meets the somatic requirements of a spell.

The goal here is to present the wand as a sidearm—short range, easily concealable—with the staff as the analogue to the rifle. A team of Aundairian arcaneers equipped with staves can’t quite match the range of Aundairian archers, but they can come close… and of course the staff doesn’t require ammunition and the damage scales with the user’s skill. Note that these rules specifically apply to “offensive cantrips”—cantrips requiring an attack roll or saving throw. The staff increases the range of fire bolt, but it doesn’t quadruple the range of message.

The basic principle here is simple: rather than say “A cantrip is inferior to a gun, so people would develop guns,” consider how magic might evolve to fill the same niche. We need to kill someone from farther away? Let’s see if we can increase the range of the spell by making a longer wand (IE, a staff). Want a silencer? Perhaps you can buy a ring that goes around the end of a wand or staff and reduces the obvious discharge. Explore magical solutions. With that said, bear in mind that part of presenting magic as a form of science is that magic has the same limitations as science, one of which is that progress comes slowly. Within current lore the idea is that the techniques of the wandslinger only developed over the last thirty years. People are actively working to improve these things and to make better focus items.

So, the first question is whether it’s possible to just reflavor whatever class or element is calling for guns to use a magical alternative. Currently I’m running a campaign in Q’barra that has the flavor of a fantasy western, and so far, I’ve been very happy with how the wandslinging rules fill the gap for firearms. The sheriff relies on sword and bow; the warlock’s a fancy wandslinger with a brace of imbued-wood wands; the innkeeper has a rod behind the bar in case of trouble.

Goblin Gunslingers

So: I would just reflavor a gunslinger class to use wands. But perhaps that doesn’t work. Maybe the mechanics don’t make sense with a wand, or maybe the DM or player really, really wants something that functions more like an actual gunpowder weapon.

There’s a place for everything in Eberron; you just have to find it. If I had a player who really, really wanted to be a gunslinger, I wouldn’t solve this problem by giving firearms to House Cannith or the Five Nations. The core idea is that the Five Nations solve their problems by using arcane magic, not technology. But… what about a society that DOESN’T possess arcane magic? An advanced, militaristic civilization already renowned for its metallurgy and smithing techniques—a civilization that is thus perfecting the mundane arts of war? Those of you who know the setting well may already have guessed who I’m talking about: the goblinoid Heirs of Dhakaan.

Now: I’m not suggesting that the goblins of Darguun—the Ghaal’dar—have guns. And I’m not saying that the Dhakaani had firearms when they fought the Daelkyr. The Heirs of Dhakaan have been in subterranean isolation for thousands of years, and I’m suggesting that some of their clans may have developed this technology during that time. The Kech Volaar study arcane magic, and thus they wouldn’t have firearms. The Kech Sharaat pride themselves on their mastery of melee combat. So I’d introduce the Kech Hashrach, a clan that has developed firearms and artillery. I’d want them to be as surprising and as threatening to Darguun as to the Five Nations, and present this as an entirely alien form of technology—a path of science others haven’t explored at all. Essentially, in clashing with the Kech Hashrach there would be a chance to explore the conflict between magic and technology. So going back to the player character who wants to be a gunslinger, I’d figure out a way that they could have acquired their tools from the Kech Hashrach. Could they have been a slave who learned the ways of the gun before escaping? Would the player be interested in having ties to the clan—in having somehow earned their respect and been inducted into the Kech? Or might they simply have befriended an old goblin sharpshooter who taught them her secrets? Essentially, I’m fine with a single player character having an exotic weapon, but I’d play up the idea that it IS exotic… and that the Cannith artificer doesn’t get why you’re messing around with dangerous explosives when the basic arcane formulas for pyrotechnic magic are well established and quite safe.

Elemental Weapons

If you don’t like the Dhakaani, there’s another path that we’ve mentioned but never fully explored: Elemental weapons. The gnomes of Zilargo are noted for their skill with alchemy and for elemental binding, and we specifically call out that they provided Breland with “elemental weaponry” during the Last War… but we’ve never explained exactly what this is. One possibility is to play up the alchemical side and explore explosive technology. Another is to focus more on the idea of bound elementals; but this would be a way to create a fire-based weapon that’s distinct from a wand.

I don’t have time to explore this concept in detail here, but it’s a path that would allow you to create a sidearm or form of artillery that isn’t based on direct spellcasting, while still engaging with in-world lore. And I could certainly imagine interesting ways to make it distinct from mundane firearms. Imagine a form of canon that fires globes containing small fire elementals; when the weapon strikes, it doesn’t just explode, it unleashes the fire elemental in the midst of your enemies.

Giving this to the Zil and Breland is also another way to differentiate between nations and to shift the power dynamic from the houses. Aundair might have the finest wandslingers, and House Cannith might be the primary source for arcane weapons of mass destruction. But the Zil could be providing Breland with a form of weaponry none of the other nations use… and the Kech Hashach could be emerging from the depths of Khyber with yet another form of unfamiliar weaponry.

So: I personally focus on using magic in place of firearms, but here’s a few alternatives to consider. Have you used firearms in your Eberron? Have you tried out the wandslinger? Share your thoughts below!

Q&A

What class would you use as a wandslinger?

Anyone who can cast an offensive arcane cantrip COULD be a wandslinger. It’s largely a question of style. Your wizard can cast fire bolt. Does he take pride in this? Does he carry a fine wand of Fernian ash on his hip, or a battleworn rod over his shoulder? Or is he a scholar who KNOWS the words to produce fire, but prefers only to use them as a last resort? Essentially: does the character use offensive cantrips? If so, do they use an arcane focus more often than not? If so, do they take some pride in this? If so, that character’s a wandslinger. It doesn’t matter if they’re a sorcerer, wizard, warlock, bard, or just anyone who’s taken Magic Initiate. And again, with NPCs they generally aren’t any class at all; the ONLY magic a typical arcaneer knows is the battle magic they channel through their foci.

Now, there is something I always wanted to ask Keith ever since he first talked about wandslingers, how common were they in the Last War? And how common are they in post-war Khorvaire? Could you be mugged by a thug with a wand in a dark alley?

The short answer is “They’re as rare or as common as you want them to be in your story.” In my Eberron Aundair fielded the first elite arcaneer units in the last 30 years of the war, and they’ve become more common since then. Today I think wand use is common in Aundair, rare in Thrane, and uncommon everywhere else—which is to say, everyone is familiar with the concept of it, people know a wandslinger when they see one, but the city watch are still using crossbows. In my Q’barra campaign, the sheriff uses a bow, but when the slick Tharashk operatives showed up in town, two of them were wandslingers… and again, the innkeeper keeps a rod over the bar. Essentially, wandslinging is definitely new… but sure, you could be mugged by a thug with a wand. But again: in your campaign, it’s as common as you want it to be.

Dragonmarks: The City of Silver and Bone

The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons introduced the concept of the Feyspires: cities that drift between the Faerie Court of Thelanis and the material world. Legends say that the giants of Xen’drik pillaged one of these mystical cities, stealing its treasures and taking its people as slaves. According to these tales, the elves of Eberron are descended from these fallen fey. And it’s said that the ruins of the citadel remain somewhere in the wilds of Xen’drik. But these events occurred many tens of thousands of years ago, and the elves themselves know nothing about their distant ancestors. All that we know is the name of the fallen feyspire: Shae Tirias Tolai, the City of Silver and Bone.

So: the ruins of an ancient mystical city are lost in Xen’drik. But what will explorers find if they discover this shattered feyspire? What WAS the City of Silver and Bone? As with anything in Eberron, the answer is ultimately up to you. But here’s one possibility… an option that sheds new light on a few of the mysteries of the elves.

Study the lore of ancient cultures, and you’ll find a recurring story of a city that stands on the edge of life and death. A shade is drawn to Dolurrh, but along the way it passes through a wondrous city of silver and bone, a city with tapestries of fine glamerweave and bone fountains filled with blood. The librarians of this final city record the tales of the ghosts, a last record before their memories are lost in Dolurrh. The artists work with creative shades, offering a last chance to complete unfinished works. And then there are the necromancers who make darker bargains, offering a chance to return to the world of the living… but at a terrible cost.

This was Shae Tirias Tolai: the city at the crossroads, the repository of final thoughts and the last chance for the fallen to find a way back to the world. And its existence answers a number of questions that have lingered for some time.

  • The Qabalrin. It’s said that the Qabalrin were an elven nation of mighty necromancers who were feared by the giants, and who pioneered many techniques of necromancy. Stories say that there are ancient Qablarin vampires hidden in deep crypts, mighty undead that have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years. But the question has always remained: where did these elves come from? How did they learn these grand secrets of necromancy, this magic that rivaled the giants? If the tales are true, the first Qabalrin were fugitive citizens of Shae Tirias Tolai, survivors who used their necromantic knowledge to found a new realm in the mortal world.
  • Elven Necromancy. Likewise, the distant tie to Tirias Tolai explains the elven penchant for necromancy, both positive and negative. The Aereni and the line of Vol know nothing about their ancient ancestors, but memories still linger in their blood… and this may explain how the elves came to form two of the most remarkable necromantic traditions in Eberron.

But… it’s said that the giants feared the Qabalrin. How could that be, if they defeated Shae Tirias Tolai? Well, the story is that the titans of old took Shae Tirias Tolai by surprise, using treachery and careful preparation to catch the people of this city unaware. Beyond that, the inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone weren’t warlike by nature. They dealt peacefully with the shades; they never expected an attack and weren’t prepared for battle. The Qabalrin, on the other hand, turned all their knowledge and power into weapons. They also rooted themselves in the mortal world. The original inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone WEREN’T arch-liches or vampires; they simply knew the secrets of creating such things. In destroying the Silver City, the giants forced the survivors down a dark path.

So what lies in the ruins of the City of Silver and Bone? The first thing to bear in mind is that it is at its heart an imaginary city. It is literally ripped out of a faerie tale, and its structures and elements don’t have to conform to any sort of natural logic. It was always a gothic citadel that blended beauty and luxury with morbid reminders of death. Its people have been taken and it has been bound to the material world, but in a strange sense the city itself is still alive. Its story has simply evolved to encompass its downfall. Envision every story of a haunted castle or mansion and project it here. It is a city that was built using bones as its base—bones of dragons, giants, and all manner of lesser creature. Bone blends with marble and silver, with pools of fresh blood (which by all logic should have coagulated tens of thousands of years ago). Imagine a place of gothic beauty, and now add the aftermath of a terrible battle. Glamerweave tapestries display the tales of forgotten heroes, but the cloth is torn and tattered. The sounds of battle can still be heard as echoes. The spirit of every giant that fell in that ancient battle remain bound here, along with the angry shades of doomed eladrin and other innocent shades who were trapped in transition. Explorers may be overwhelmed by visions of that terrible final conflict, or assaulted by spirits who seek vengeance or a final release. An important point is that these spirits don’t have consecutive memory: for the most part, they are still trapped in the moment of their demise, still fighting their final battles and yearning for revenge on a nation that’s now dust.

Within this concept, it’s up to the DM to decide what wonders remain. Perhaps the library remains intact, holding the secrets of thousands of ancient champions (including dragons, giants, orcs, eladrin, and many others). Maybe there’s a vault of demiliches of dozens of different species, dragon-skulls who still remember the battles against the Overlords. The mightiest artifacts would have been taken by the giants, but there could be many lesser treasures that were beneath their notice… or deep vaults (such as that ossuary of demiliches) where even the giants feared to tread. Ultimately, it’s still important to bear in mind that it’s NOT simply the ruins of a mortal city; explorers are stepping into the story of a haunted ruin, clinging to its tragic loss. Another question to consider is whether the archfey of the city still remains, and if so in what form.

Strangely, this could be another way to explore the Raven Queen in Eberron. Perhaps the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai still linger between Eberron, Thelanis, and Dolurrh. The Raven Queen is the archfey of the city that stands between life and death. The Shadar-Kai are all that remain of her beautiful children, and the memories she captures are what preserve her existence. If you take this route, the ruins would be revealed to be a gateway to Dolurrh. The question is whether the Raven Queen has accepted her fate and embraced her new story… or whether the player characters could undo the damage that has been done and somehow restore the City of Silver and Bone, allowing it to serve once again as a friendly waystation on the journey into oblivion.

Story Hooks

People exploring Xen’drik could simply stumble onto the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai. The Curse of the Traveler makes the geography of Xen’drik unreliable; explorerers could discover the ruins once and never find their way back to the shattered city. But they could also be drawn to the haunted city. Consider the following ideas.

  • The party discovers a trinket from Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be carried by an enemy, found in a villain’s hoard, or simply discovered in a flea market or the trash heaps of Sharn. The trinket yearns to be returned to the City of Silver and Bone, and whoever holds it will have visions of the ancient city and its final battle. The trinket serves as a compass, and the party that carries it can ignore the Traveler’s Curse. Will they follow where it leads? A table of possible trinkets is included at the end of this article.
  • The Order of the Emerald Claw is searching for Shae Tirias Tolai. There are secrets in the City of Silver and Bone that are critical to the plans of the Queen of the Dead. Perhaps she can raise an army of lingering giant ghosts and bind them to her will. Possibly a crumbling dragon demilich knows the secret of restoring her lost mark. Whatever power she seeks, the PCs must find a way to reach Tirias Tolai before the Queen of the Dead… or if they arrive too late, to turn the lingering ghosts of the city against the Emerald Claw.
  • When a previously unknown undead force (Acererak? A Qablarin arch-vampire? A sinister being directly channeling the power of Mabar and Dolurrh?) threatens the world, the key to understanding this villain may lie in Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be held in a crumbling scroll in the library, found on a tattered tapestry, or contained in the cracked skull of an ancient demilich.
  • Someone who has been raised from the dead finds that they hear whispers, and are haunted by nightmares when they sleep or trance. Even though they have returned from death, a piece of their spirit has been trapped in Shae Tirias Tolai… and unless it can be released, their soul will eventually be torn from their body and pulled down into the haunted city. Play this a horror movie: the player character returned from the dead, but they came back incomplete and that hole in their soul is growing; if they can’t find the city they see in their visions, they will either die again or become some sort of undead monster.
  • Consider a variation of the Eye of Vecna. The giants couldn’t destroy the archfey of Shae Tirias Tolai, but they took pieces of the archfey and scattered them across the world. Each of these pieces grants great power, but the pieces yearn to be reunited and to return to the fallen feyspire. The spirit may not be evil in the traditional sense, but all mortals are as dust to it, and all that it cares about is its restoration and the restoration of its citadel. One possibility is that the sentience of the archfey doesn’t communicate directly with those who bear the pieces… but that they all know that ultimate power awaits in the haunted city.

These are just a few ideas. The point is that the City of Silver and Bone can serve many roles. It could be a haunted dungeon that adventurers stumble into once while exploring Xen’drik. It could the the ultimate capstone in the plans of the Emerald Claw. Or it could be a mystery that develops over time, a slow burn tied to the visions of a resurrected hero or the whispers of a powerful artifact.

Here’s a few ideas for trinkets tied to Shae Tirias Tolai. Even if the adventurers never go to the City of Silver and Bone, one of these trinkets could add interesting color to a story.

If you have questions or ideas tied to the City of Silver and Bone, share them below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going. I’ll be at DragonCon, and I’ll post my schedule tomorrow!

Dragonmarks: The Aurum

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

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

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

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

So: the Aurum isn’t a SECRET society. It’s private, certainly; outsiders aren’t allowed into the halls. But even if the existence of the Aurum isn’t a secret, there are a host of conspiracy theories and stories about its hidden rituals and secret agendas. The most dramatic rumors speak of a cabal hidden within this cabal… a Shadow Cabinet of the most powerful individuals in Khorvaire. According to these stories, these concordians aren’t content to merely increase their own power; they are actively using the resources of the Aurum to undermine the Dragonmarked Houses and the old nobility of Galifar. On the surface this could seem to be a noble act. But the members of the Shadow Cabinet aren’t idealists working for the common good; they are simply determined to remove all obstacles to their personal power.

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

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

What’s my connection to the Aurum?

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

GenCon 2018

I’m getting ready for GenCon, and I hope I’ll see some of you there. Here’s what I’m up to.

ILLIMAT AND TWOGETHER STUDIOS

I’ll be at Booth 2667 for much of the convention. This is where my company, Twogether Studios, will be demonstrating our game Illimat. This is a neo-classic card game we created in conjunction with the band The Decemberists; it’s familiar and mysterious at the same time. And if you’re an Eberron player, you can check out this article about using Illimat in Eberron! We’ll be doing demos all weekend, but we also have a special promotion. Each day, the first 25 people to purchase an Illimat product receive a copy of the limited edition Rusalka Luminary, pictured above! This is ONLY at Booth 2667. We’ll also be demoing my game Action Cats at Booth 1552, and you can buy either game at either location, but you can only get the Rusalka at Booth 2667.

EBERRON EVENTS

There’s two Eberron events on the GenCon Schedule.

Exploring Eberron with Keith Baker (Friday, 11 AM – Noon; Lucas Oil Mtg Rm 4)

The D&D setting of Eberron is a world of magic, pulp adventure, and noir intrigue. It’s been fifteen years since the Fantasy Setting Search that produced Eberron: join setting creator Keith Baker for a discussion of how Eberron came to be and how the world has evolved over the years! 

Inkwell Society Live! (Friday, 9 PM – 11 PM; Westin Grand Blrm I & II)

Within the seedy underbelly of Eberron metropolis, Sharn, the Inkwell Society follows the path of broken, beleaguered level zeroes who would kill for a little class, but when their rise collides with the Dream Lily cartels, they find the streets they roam are anything but home. Don’t miss DM Ruty Rutenberg unfold the next installment of the Inkwell Society LIVE at Gen Con 2018!

Both of these events have limited space, so if you’re interested, get your tickets now!

SIGNING

I’ll be doing a single signing session: Thursday from 3 PM4 PM at Booth 2667. 

WRITER’S SYMPOSIUM

I’m participating in the GenCon Writer’s Symposium this year. It’s a great program, and I’m doing four different session.

  • Convincing Aliens (Thursday, 11 AM – Noon; Marriott – Atlanta Room)
  • Finding Inspiration (Thursday, 4 PM – 5 PM; Marriott – Ballroom 1)
  • Dealing With Imposter Syndrome (Friday, 10 AM – 11 AM; Marriott – Atlanta Room)
  • When Fantasy Jumps The Shark (Friday, 3 PM – 4 PM; Marritott – Austin Room)

Most of these are already sold out, but there’s always the chance that there will be empty seats!

Whether we play a hand of Illimat or talk about Eberron, I hope to see you at GenCon!

The Wayfinder’s Guide To Eberron

Eberron was born sixteen years ago. It’s been eight years since I’ve been able to write new material, and in that time I’ve worked on many things… Illimat. Action Cats. Even another roleplaying game, Phoenix: Dawn CommandBut in all that time, my heart’s still been in Eberron. And now Eberron has come to fifth edition.

The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is now available on the DM’s Guild. It’s a PDF product, and it’s treated as Unearthed Arcana material. This is Eberron as I’m playing it at my table. The goal is of the book is to give you everything you need to start running Eberron at your table… but also to test these ideas and get your feedback on them. It’s a 170 page book, and the bulk of it is about the world. But it’s also a living document, and the mechanical material—races, dragonmarks—will evolve over time. This is one reason it’s not currently available as print on demand; the PDF will be updated as we gather feedback on the material.

So what is the Wayfinder’s Guide to EberronI’ll start by telling you what it’s not, and that’s a rehash of either the Eberron Campaign Setting or the Eberron Campaign Guide. Both of those books are available on the DM’s Guild, and it seemed foolish to lead off with a book that simply repackages information many of you already have. The WGtE isn’t an encyclopedia. It doesn’t delve deeply into history or geography. Instead it talks about the themes of Eberron, the things that define the setting, and how these can affect your game. How can you capture the feel of pulp adventure or neo-noir intrigue? What impact could the Last War have on your character or your campaign?

The Wayfinder’s Guide includes the following things. 

  • New versions of changelings, kalashtar, shifters, and warforged, along with information and ideas about how the common races fit into Eberron. If you’re a Mror dwarf, why did you leave the Holds? if you’re a Zil gnome, what schemes are you caught up in?
  • An overview of Khorvaire with a focus on ideas for characters and NPCs from each nation.
  • Rules for dragonmarks, the mystical sigils that play an important role in the setting. This includes greater dragonmarks and aberrant dragonmarks.
  • A selection of unique magic items, including dragonshards, warforged component items, and new arcane focuses for your wandslinger.
  • An overview of Sharn, City of Towers with a focus on getting you started with your character or your story. This includes a host of interesting background hooks and story ideas, along with three separate starting points for different styles of campaign… including the gritty Callestan campaign I’m running at home!

The Wayfinder’s Guide is written for both players and DMs. It doesn’t give away any of the deep secrets of the world, but it’s designed to serve as an inspiration both for creating characters and adventures… and I’ll just say that there’s a lot of ideas squeezed into those 170 pages.

What Happens Next?

Eberron has been unlocked for the DM’s Guild. I’m currently working on the Morgrave’s Miscellany with guild adept & Inkwell Society creator Ruty Rutenberg (who collaborated on the dragonmarks and races for the WG). The Miscellany will delve into a range of subjects that didn’t make it into the Wayfinder’s Guide, including Siberys Dragonmarks and some classic Eberron archetypes. Beyond that, there’s a host of topics I’ve been wanting to explore for years now: the Planes of Eberron, Droaam, Darguun, Eberron Underwater, and more. I’ll get to all of these things and more; it’s a question of when. I’ve posted a poll here, on my Patreon site; you don’t have to be a patron to vote on it. Let me know what you want to see first!

In addition to writing new material for Eberron, I want to get back to another project that’s been on a back burner for a long time. Back in 2009—before the age of Kickstarter and Patreon—I bootstrapped something I called Have Dice Will TravelI roamed around the world running an Eberron game for interesting groups of people. I wrote about a few of my adventures for The Escapist, but lack of funding and a creative collaborators caused it to fizzle out. Now with crowdfunding, new support for Eberron, and my partnership with Jenn Ellis and our company Twogether Studios, we’re exploring different ways to bring back Have Dice Will Travel.

We don’t yet know exactly what form this will take. A travel/D&D podcast? A book? Both? What we do know is that we want to capture the diverse people around the world who play RPGs and tell their stories. If you want to make sure you get the latest news, join the Twogether Studios mailing list. And if you feel that you have a particularly interesting gaming group or town we might want to visit on our tour, follow this link and tell us about it!

That’s all for now. Thank you for joining me in this return to Eberron. I look forward to seeing what all of you do with the world!

Druids in Eberron

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Druidic Language? 

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

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

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

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

Druidic Traditions

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

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

The Wardens of the Wood

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

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

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

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

The Ashbound

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

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

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

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

The Children of Winter

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

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

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

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

The Gatekeepers

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

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

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

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

The Greensingers

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

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

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

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

Siyal Marrain

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

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

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

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

Talenta Maskweavers

Common Classes: Druid (Dreams, Moon, Shepherd)

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

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

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

Druids That Aren’t Druids

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

Changeling Menagerie

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

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

Vadalis Monarch

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

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

Weretouched Master

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Raven Queen in Eberron

The Raven Queen is trapped by her fascination with the past. She sits in her fortress, amidst all the memories of the world, looking at the ones that please her the most as though they were glittering jewels. 

—From Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

The Raven Queen was introduced in 4th edition Dungeons&Dragons. In her original form she’s a mortal who attained godhood after death. She’s the goddess of death, but specifically she’s a psychopomp—her role is to safeguard the soul’s passage to its final destination. She is also presented as a goddess of fate and winter. Her tenets include the idea that death is the natural end of life and that her followers should bring down the proud who cast off the chains of fate. So: She’s a shadowy goddess of death, but presented in a positive light—and specifically being opposed to Orcus and the undead. She’s also presented as being able to spare worthy mortals from death if they will perform services for her.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes brings her to 5th edition, and in the process changes up her story. In 5th edition, she was originally an elf queen, a contemporary of Lolth and Corellon. She sought to attain godhood and in the process was pulled into the Shadowfell with her followers. She became an “entity composed of symbols, images, and perceptions.” She sustains herself by drawing on mortal memories, and thus created her Fortress of Memories. Those who go to her realm are “transported to a strange fairy tale world pulled from their experiences, filled with metaphors, parables, and allegories.” People might seek her out to free themselves from a dark past; to learn the secrets of the dead; or to find answers that only she possesses.

In both incarnations, she is served by the shadar-kai. In 5th edition, these servants are immortal; if they die, she will cloak them in new bodies to return to her service. She sends them out to uncover secrets or memories the Queen wishes to acquire.

So: we have a goddess of natural death who despises undead and seeks to safeguard soles and the natural course of fate. We have an Elven keeper of secrets who collects tragic memories. Both dwell in the Shadowfell, have shadowy servants, and may deal with mortals. How does this translate to Eberron?

Lest it go without saying, Eberron doesn’t have incarnate gods. So we know one thing she’s NOT, and that’s a god. She is a powerful extraplanar entity who can serve as a patron for warlocks. Perhaps it’s even possible for a cleric or paladin to gain power in her service, but if so, the power isn’t coming from her directly; it’s power gained in service to her ideals.

There’s a lot of different ways you could go with this. Here’s a few quick takes.

THELANIS. The archfey of Thelanis embody epic faerie tales, and that’s explicitly what the 5E version of the Raven Queen is: a fairy tale about a queen who sought power, was consumed by shadows, and now feeds on tragedy. It’s a simple matter to take her exactly as presented in MToF and simply place her Fortress of Memories in a shadowy layer of Thelanis. In this case, the shadar-kai are essentially immortal fey spirits temporarily housed in mortal forms to play their role in her story. She continues to seek memories and tragedy because that’s her story; it’s simply the case that when you deal with her, you want to think of her as a character in a faerie tale, to bear in mind that her goals and the logic driving her actions aren’t the same as those of mortals. If you want to follow this path, I’d check out my post on Thelanis. Note that this doesn’t incorporate any of the “Goddess of Death” aspect.

MABAR. In my article on Mabar I discuss the idea that realms are consumed by the Endless Night. The MToF story of the Raven Queen fits that idea well; it’s a tale of a mighty queen who seeks godhood and is consumed by her hubris, dragging herself and her followers into shadows from where she continues to feed on tragedy. You could certainly make the Raven Queen the ruler of a domain within Mabar. However, if this is the case, it would definitely play to presenting her as a more sinister and dangerous figure as opposed to being a possible ally or patron.

DOLURRH. The basic principle of Dolurrh is that it draws in the spirits of the dead and consumes their memories, leaving behind only forlorn shades. Most of the major religions assert that this is a side effect: that the memories aren’t being LOST, but rather they’re transitioning to a higher form of existence… either bonding with the Silver Flame or reaching the realm of the Sovereigns. Nonetheless, memories are lost. You could combine the two approaches and say that the Raven Queen is a powerful being who dwells in Dolurrh and saves the memories of the dead from being lost. This plays to the idea of people seeking her out to learn long-lost secrets from the memories of the dead. It also fits with the idea that she could restore ancient champions to life—that she preserves their spirits from the dissolution of Dolurrh so they can potentially be restored at a future time. This also fits with the idea that she could offer resurrection to a dead player character in exchange for their services in the mortal world, or that her shadar-kai are spirits restored to mortal bodies. In my mind, this is the best way to combine the two versions of her: she is a powerful entity who works to preserve the natural order of Dolurrh, encourages the natural cycle of death and despises undead, yet who also preserves the memories of the dead and could grant resurrection.

THE CHILDREN OF WINTER. If you work with the idea that “death is the natural end of life,” the Raven Queen could be the patron of the Children of Winter. This likely works best if she’s tied to Dolurrh, but it could work with any option. This would justify mixing a few warlocks among the druids and rangers.

ELVEN ORIGINS. Playing off the idea that she is connected to the history of the elves; that she hates those who defy fate; and that she collects memories, there’s another interesting path you could take: she could oppose the elves of Aerenal and Valenar. The elves seek to preserve their greatest souls from being lost to Dolurrh. The Raven Queen could seek the downfall of Tairnadal champions in order to claim the spirits of the patron ancestors they are sustaining; she could also oppose the Undying Court and its agents.

GUARDIAN OF FATE. In Eberron, fate is determined by the Draconic Prophecy. One option is to say that the Raven Queen knows the path the Prophecy is supposed to follow. When forces on Eberron—the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, the Undying Court—seek to change that path, the Raven Queen seeks to set things right, either using shadar-kai or pushing player characters onto the right path.

All of these are valid options, and you can mix and match them: She rules a layer of Mabar, but she was once an elf queen and seeks to destroy the Undying Court. She’s a power in Dolurrh and served by the Children of Winter. But there’s a final option that’s MY personal favorite, as it brings a number of different ideas together: tragic Elven backstory, mortal who’s become a godlike being, guardian of the natural cycle of death, mysterious motives and ties to fate, specific tie to Eberron. And that’s ERANDIS VOL.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN OF DEATH

Erandis Vol was the product of experiments conducted by dragons and elves, experiments designed to produce a godlike being with power over death. But she was killed before she could unlock the powers of her apex dragonmark. She was brought back as a lich, but as an undead being she can’t access the power of her dragonmark and achieve her destiny. Her phylactery is hidden even from her; she can’t truly die, even if she wants to. For thousands of years she has tried to achieve her destiny. She’s done terrible things in pursuit of this goal. She raised ann army of undead champions and fanatics. Perhaps she’s gone mad. But at the heart, she’s trying to achieve her destiny: to become the Queen of Death.

One option is to say that there IS no Raven Queen… yet. Erandis is trying to BECOME the Raven Queen. But if it was me? I’d push things one level further. I’d use the Dolurrh version of the Raven Queen: the enigmatic spirit who preserves the experiences of the dead in her Fortress of Memories, who has the ability to catch the spirits of the dead and restore them if they serve her. This Raven Queen can be a mysterious ally for the PCs. She despises undead and those who seek to cheat and manipulate fate. She can point the PCs in directions that bring them into conflict with the Emerald Claw. And yet, even if they fight the Emerald Claw, these battles might also push Erandis towards her goals. On the surface, it seems like the Raven Queen and Erandis are the bitterest enemies, opposed in every way. But in fact, Erandis IS the Raven Queen… or will be. The process of ascension isn’t a simply thing; it transcends our normal understanding of time and reality. The Raven Queen has dwelt in her Fortress of Memories for eons: but at the same time, she is Erandis, and she still has to ascend. So the ascended Erandis despised the actions of the lich and helps those who oppose her; and yet, she also has to ensure that the ascension takes place.

Simple, right? And you can easily add the Raven Queen hating the Undying Court into that mix: not only do they defy the natural order of life and death, they also killed her family and HER, back when she was mortal.

So: there’s my thoughts on the Raven Queen in Eberron. Any questions?

As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters: I couldn’t keep doing this without you!

Q&A

How do you see Raven Queen cultists as behaving in Eberron?

Have you met the Children of Winter? Seriously, though: it depends on how you interpret her. If you embrace the 4E direction, she’s about sustaining the natural cycle of life and death and enforcing fate, and as such being strongly opposed to the undead. You could easily play up these aspects of the Children of Winter. Currently they focus on how the tools of civilization interfere with the natural cycle, but they are presented as despising undead and you could choose to play this up. As suggested above, I’d see Raven cultists as being opposed to the Elven faiths and anyone seeking to shift the direction of the Draconic Prophecy. Beyond that—and with whichever version of the Queen that you use—as she is a powerful outsider as opposed to an abstract god, she can give concrete directives to cultist, whether that’s digging up a secret, killing someone who’s escaped their fate, or what have you.

With the Raven Queen’s emphasis on death being the natural and fated end, how might you see her interactions with maruts? Would she pluck them from Daanvi to guard her fortress of memories or deploy them against those who would cheat death?

Per the 3.5 ECS, maruts are normally found in Dolurrh. Personally I see Dolurrh as being very mechanical in nature (philosophically, not necessarily visually). The process of drawing souls in and processing them isn’t done by hand; normally you don’t get some sort of cosmic judge reviewing your actions, it’s just “Souls come in, rinse, repeat.” I see maruts as being part of that machine—in essence, the antibodies of Dolurrh. If you come in and try to drag a soul out, you’ll have to deal with maruts. And as I called out in City of Stormreach, any time you use resurrection to return someone who isn’t fated to return, there’s a chance you’ll draw the attention of a marut; which is why Jorasco will generally perform an augury before they’ll do a resurrection.

With this in mind, I’d personally say that the Raven Queen DOESN’T employ maruts. I prefer to say that she is living IN the machine, grabbing memories before they’re lost forever, but she’s not actually OPERATING the machine. Largely this is because I prefer her to have to work through mortal agents—be they temporarily mortal shadar-kai, Children of Winter, or player characters—than to have an army of maruts at her disposal.

If one were to utilize the Crucible from Phoenix (specifically the Dhakaani Phoenix strike force version) in Eberron as well, how might the Raven Queen tie in to the Crucible?

If you’re adapting Phoenix to Eberron, you could certainly present the Raven Queen as being the force that created the Crucibles — saving spirits from the dissolution of Dolurrh so they can return as champions. In a sense, this mirrors the 5E concept of the shadar-kai, with the added ideas that power grows with each reincarnation and that they only get seven lives. The main question is how the Phoenixes interact with the Raven Queen. Traditionally, the only being a Phoenix interacts with in the Crucible is their mentor, the spirit of a prior Phoenix of their school. If you chose, you could say that ever mentor is in fact an aspect of the Raven Queen herself.

In Phoenix itself, you don’t have elves or gods. Personally, I’d make the Raven Queen one of the Fallen Folk — a Faeda spirit created to preserve the memories of the dead. Over the ages, she’s built her fortress of memories in the Deep Dusk, and could be a source of information or guidance for Phoenixes.