Dragonmarks: Planar Q&A

I’m working on a post about Phoenix for next week, but today I’m going to address a few more questions about the planes of Eberron. Like much about the planes, most of these topics have no answers in canon material, so what you’re dealing with are my current thoughts and opinions, and NOT canon.

Did the effects of the Mournland bleed into other planes where Cyran manifests zones existed?

In Dragon #408 I said “The devastation of the Mourning had repercussions across the planes. Perhaps the grievous wound to Eberron was felt across her creations.” That article presents Baator as a demiplane where corrupted spirits are imprisoned and asserts that on the Day of Mourning the wards holding the prisoners faltered — so in this version of Eberron, the devils have only been in control of Baator for a few years. Given this, it’s logical to think that other planes could also have felt similar impacts. We haven’t suggested major transformations, but I think it’s interesting to explore pockets of the planes that have been transformed in unpredictable ways.

Is there any connection between Siberys and the Silver Flame? The latter seems too embedded in the material plane.

The Silver Flame is embedded in the material plane, as are the fiends that it holds at bay. The Silver Flame was created by the combined spiritual energy of the couatl — Eberron’s native celestials — in order to bind Eberron’s native fiends. In a way it can be seen as a parallel to the myth of Eberron and Khyber; Eberron couldn’t destroy Khyber, but she could bind her. It’s commonly asserted that just as Khyber is the source of Eberron’s fiends, Siberys was the source of its celestials, so in that way the Silver Flame IS tied to Siberys. This is also something of an explanation for why the celestials of Eberron aren’t as powerful as the Overlords; after all, Khyber killed Siberys, so the balance between celestial and fiend started off poorly.

There’s nothing strange about having a divine power source based in the material plane. The demons it binds are based in the material and the champions it empowers are in the material. The Undying Court is another divine force based entirely in the material.

How do celestials relate to the Sovereigns? Do the celestials associated to the Sovereigns believe in them like the mortal races do? Are they formed from the faith of the mortals? Are there any celestials that don’t believe in any deities other than the Progenitors?

Looking at the last three questions, the answer is “yes.” When a cleric uses planar ally an outsider answers the call. There’s three possible reasons ways this could happen.

  • The ally is manifested on the spot from the energy of the divine power source. Once its job is done it will be absorbed back into the source. This is particularly logical for the Silver Flame, which as described above has no roots in the outer planes. Given that, if I DID have an angel respond to a Silver Flame caster’s spells, I might use angel stats but I’d likely give it couatl features — rainbow wings, feathers instead of hair, etc. Essentially, a celestial of this sort is a pure embodiment of the faith and should have whatever trappings are appropriate for that.
  • The ally is an existing immortal who is devoted to the faith. In Fourth Edition material we suggest that there are angels (which in 4E is a broader class of celestial than in previous editions) who are devoted to the Sovereigns. The account is essentially that the Sovereigns at one point were present in the planes before ascending to a higher level of existence (which lines up with the Draconic Thir view of the Sovereigns). The angels have no direct line of communication with the Sovereigns, but have absolute faith that the Sovereigns exist and are part of the machinery of reality, and that my carrying out their functions the angels are following the plans of the Sovereigns. This is also in line with the idea of Radiant Idols — who are essentially angels who have become jealous of the worship the absent Sovereigns receive and want such worship themselves.  
  • But you could just as easily say that the angel in question doesn’t believe in the faith and that this doesn’t matter. When a cleric of Dol Arrah calls for a planar ally, they might get an angel from Irian who is devoted to protecting life and inspiring hope. Or they might get an archon from Shavarath who embodies combat fought for a just cause. Neither of these celestials cares exactly what the mortal believes; they are responding to the justice of the cause. It’s clear that this is aligned with their purpose… and that’s all that matters.

If I ever get to write a sourcebook on the planes, I’ll have to decide which of those last two answers I’ll run with. But both are plausible.

We know of Mabar and Irian crystals, and dusk and dawnshards have been mentioned, are there other planar shards or crystals?

Certainly. There are a host of minerals and vegetation infused with planar energies or shaped by exposure to those energies, and this is true of every plane. Such things are most typically found in manifest zones, where they are shaped by long-term exposure to planar energies. In the case of plants, they usually won’t grow outside such zones… or they’ll grow, but will lack their remarkable properties. This is why covadish leaves (ECS 91) are only found in Aerenal; they are specifically found in certain manifest zones tied to Mabar, which are most common in Aerenal.

So: there are many different forms of planetouched minerals and plants. Many of these serve as components for spells and the creation of magic items; we’ve just never called these things out. For example, in the Thorn of Breland books Thorn uses Mabaran nightwater when disarming mystical wards. In my opinion, this wasn’t a special magic item that was giving her extra bonuses; it’s that nightwater is part of a rogue’s basic toolkit when dealing with magical traps. Likewise, while the core PHB might suggest that a fireball requires sulpher or guano as a component, in Eberron wizards might instead use a pinch of Fernian firedust. This is no more difficult to acquire than sulfur would be in another setting; it’s simply that it’s a resource unique to the world.

When it becomes possible to create new Eberron material, I’d love to put together a more substantial list of such things — both those background items like nightwater and firedust and things that are rarer and have more dramatic uses.

Do dragonshards operate differently on other planes?

We’ve never suggested that they behave in unusual ways when taken to other planes, and at least in the novels we have planar travelers who don’t experience any unusual behavior with dragonshards or dragonmarks. 

Eberron has various Ages in its history, are there any planar milestones tracked on other planes?

Sure, but I can’t give you specific examples until there’s an opportunity to develop the planes in more detail. The Turning of the Age in Dal Quor is an example of this established in canon. Perhaps Fernia has a similar cycle — it’s currently mildly evil-aligned and thus dominated by the malevolent aspects of fire, but perhaps at other times it’s been mildly good-aligned and more positive. The Endless Night has cycles of absorption and assimilation. I have thoughts about how milestones might unfold in Shavarath — but it’s something that will have to wait for a longer article. 

I’d love to read about how the gith survive on Kythri. With how chaotic it is, how do permanent establishments exist?

First of all, I think Kythri is more complex than the previous description gives it credit for. Its layers are symbols of chaos, change and uncertainty; that doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire plane is literally formless, churning chaos. The Githzerai might have drifting monastaries that ARE constantly changing and evolving — but they never stop being monastaries, and the change occurs over hours or days, not seconds. The Githzerai are comfortable with this constant change; like a zen garden, they meditate on the shifting form and how it reflects reality. It may well be that it’s the mental discipline of the Githzerai that imposes this relative stability; if the monks were to abandon their monastary (or if they were killed) it would dissolve into the greater chaos.

If you have questions or thoughts about the planes, post them below! And thanks as always to the Patreon supporters who keep the blog going.

Dragonmarks: Aasimar

Recently I polled my Patreon backers for questions related to the Planes of Eberron. There’s still a lot of questions I’d like to address, so I’m going to keep talking about the planes for the rest of the month; I’ll hold a poll on Patreon soon to determine next month’s topic.

Have you done any thinking on the role of aasimar in the setting? I’d love an example or two of uniquely Eberron takes on them.

First of all, you might want to check my previous posts on using exotic races and tieflings, since many of the concepts overlap. I haven’t personally used aasimar in Eberron in the past. The Kalashtar already fill the role of “race touched by noble celestial force” and they have a well-established place in the setting; beyond that, we also already have the shulassakar as a race of divine champions touched by the Silver Flame.

Of course, aasimars don’t have to be an entire race. They can easily be individuals shaped by exposure to divine forces… or literally planetouched, altered by the energies of one of the planes. Here’s a few quick takes.

SHULASSAKAR

Do you want to be a member of a hidden race touched by divine power and devoted to fighting the forces of darkness? Then the shulassakar might be right for you. As described in this Dragonshard, the ancestors of the shulassakar were human; but after generations of serving the Silver Flame and the couatl, they have evolved into something new. They are described as being similar to yuan-ti, but as specifically having couatl traits instead of general serpent traits. Like the yuan-ti, the degree of this mutation varies. Transcendent shulassakar are equivalent to yuan-ti abominations. Flametouched shulassakar are similar to the malisons of 5E. And Flamesworn shulassakar are much like yuan-ti purebloods… nearly human, with just a few twists that reveal their true heritage and connection to the Silver Flame.

In playing an aasimar in 5E Eberron, one of the simplest options is to be a Flamesworn shulassakar. Your celestial guide is the spirit of a couatl, and your radiant racial powers reflect your connection both to the couatl and the Silver Flame. If you choose the Protector subrace, the wings you manifest are the rainbow-feathered wings of a couatl. As a Scourge you unleash the radiant power of the Silver Flame. The other racial features are all sound enough; as a Flamesworn shulassakar you don’t have sufficient serpentine traits to require mechanical representation. Physically you should appear to be generally human, but you could have a few unusual cosmetic details to make life interesting. You could have a mane of rainbow feathers instead of hair. Less dramatically, you could have serpentine eyes… and your irises might swirl in a rainbow of colors. You could have patches of iridescent scales. But mechanically you can use the features of the aasimar.

In playing a shulassakar aasimar, one question is your connection to others of your race. The shulassakar are a true-breeding race, devoted to fighting darkness and demons. They are few in number and generally work from the shadows. Have you been given a particular mission by a leader of your people? Or perhaps your cell was wiped out by the Lords of Dust, leaving you the only survivor? You could have a concrete mission you’re trying to accomplish, or you could be relying on your couatl mentor to guide you towards your destiny.

THE MIRON GAMBIT

When Bel Shalor threatened Thrane, a couatl contacted Tira Miron and guided her on the path to bind the demon. This was more than the typical tie between a cleric or paladin and their divine power source; Tira received direct guidance and power from a spiritual emissary of the Silver Flame. What does that look like if it happens today? Take a human; add the ability to communicate with an emissary of a divine force; say that this connection gives them an infusion of radiant energy and the ability to manifest this power; and you have an aasimar. The point is that this isn’t genetic; this is about destiny and faith. You weren’t born an aasimar; you were chosen to become one. Most likely you appear entirely human except when you use your radiant racial abilities; at these times you might be surrounded by a halo or similar dramatic effects. Why were you chosen? What is your mission? What is your spiritual guide?

The concept here is that an aasimar is someone that has a direct connection to a celestial and a mission from one of the primary faiths of Eberron. The Silver Flame is easy; you manifest radiant fire. If you’re tied to the Sovereign Host, the manifestation of your abilities might be reflected by the Sovereign you’re tied to. If you’re connected to Arawai, your radiant power might be a verdant green, and plants might flower when you touch them. If you’re tied to Olladra, you might have minor manifestations of good fortune — if you walk through a casino, the slot machines hit jackpots. The radiant manifestations of an aasimar tied to the Blood of Vol might be blood-red flames.

The critical question is what your celestial guide is like. If you want to have a mentor relationship with your guide — if it’s someone that you can TALK to — then it shouldn’t be a Sovereign or the Flame; instead it should be a celestial devoted to that force. So if you’re tied to Arawai, you don’t talk to HER; instead you have an angel from Irian who guides you in Olladra’s name. As an aasimar tied to the Silver Flame, you’re guided by a couatl (just like Tira Miron was). The strangest idea is that of the aasimar of the Blood of Vol, whose spiritual guide could be their own divine spark — the piece of divinity that exists within them and knows what they could become. Alternately you could have the aasimar receive visions or pronouncements that might come directly from a Sovereign. But following the general principle of Eberron that the divine is mysterious, you shouldn’t be able to just chat with a Sovereign; they would communicate in visions and intuition.

PLANETOUCHED AASIMARS

Aasimar are often described as “planetouched.” In Eberron, that’s an easy thing to be. If you want aasimar to be a thing that exists within the world in significant numbers, an easy option is to say that an aasimar is the result of a child being conceived in a powerful manifest zone or during a coterminous period tied to a generally positively aligned plane. A few obvious options are Irian, Syrania, Shavarath or Fernia.

 

  • Irian is the plane of light and life, and the easiest option for the classic Aasimar. You might have luminous eyes and a vibrant, healthy glow. Your celestial mentor would encourage you to fight the forces of darkness and to give hope to the hopeless.
  • If you’re tied to Shavarath, you have a connection to the Archons that embody just conflict. You should naturally be aggressive, quick to fight for any just cause and quick to assume that conflict can be the best response to a problem… though equally bound by principles of honor and chivalry. Your hair or even skin might be the color of steel, and you are most comfortable with a weapon in your hand.
  • Syrania is the plane of peace and contemplation. As a Syranian aasimar you would be driven to be a mediator, to settle disputes and bring people together. Given Syrania’s aerial aspect, the Protector aasimar is the logical path for a Syranian aasimar. Alternately, your celestial guide could be the divine spark of an Angel banished from Syrania after becoming a Radiant Idol; the angel has fallen, but the spark of its original nobility is with you… and perhaps it’s your destiny to find a way to reunite that spark with the Idol and redeem the fallen angel.
  • Fernia is a slightly odd choice, but noble spirits of Fernia embody the positive aspects of fire: the light that keeps shadows at bay and holds off the killing cold. The Scourge aasimar is the logical choice for Fernia; I might further replace any “necrotic” racial abilities with “Fire”, and the Scourge ability might inflict fire damage instead of radiant. Note that this is different from a Genasi because you’re not about elemental fire; you are about the idea of fire as a positive force in the world. As a Fernian aasimar, you might have a mane of cold fire instead of hair, or burning eyes.

 

The critical question with planetouched aasimar is how many of them exist? If your Fernian aasimar with the burning hair walks into a bar, does anyone know what you are? And of those who do, are you considered to be blessed, or are you a freak? Sharn is in a Syranian manifest zone and since it’s not full of aasimar, presumably it takes more than proximity alone to produce one… unless you decide that your Sharn IS full of aasimar, in which case people are probably fairly familiar with them!

OFF THE WALL

As long as we’re considering crazy ideas…

  • You’re an experiment by House Vadalis. You HAVE a connection to the Silver Flame, but it’s artificially engineered, not driven by faith. You escaped from the house and they’re hunting you — if they can isolate your connection, they can harness the power of the Flame for the Twelve.
  • Same idea, but it’s the Lords of Dust who are behind it. The divine power that’s tied to you is the prison of a specific Overlord; the stronger you grow, the weaker his bonds become.
  • You’re one of nine aasimar born at the same time. Each one of you hears the voice of a Sovereign guiding you. As you gain power, you could BECOME an avatar of that Sovereign. Is this a natural process, something that happens every so often? Or has this been engineered by a Daelkyr or by the Blood of Vol — incarnating the Sovereigns so something can be done to them?

If I was a player and interested in something like this, I’d probably just tell the DM to surprise me. Anyhow, hopefully this has given you some ideas to play with. Share your questions and thoughts below! And thanks again to my Patreon supporters.

Planes of Hope, Peace and Order

All of the Planes of Eberron have stories to tell and things to offer a campaign. Unfortunately, we never had time to explore them in depth. Until Eberron is unlocked for 5E, there’s a limit to what I can do. Yesterday I posted a long article about the Endless Night, but even that only scratches the surface. I’d love to delve deeper into the denizens of the Night and schemes that could drive adventures, and to develop unique creatures or treasures that could be found there. Hopefully this will be possible in the future. 

Some planes have generated more requests than others. In particular, Daanvi, Irian, and Syrania have all come up. Some people have said they don’t know what to do with them, that they’re too benevolent or too abstract, or simply that they have no touchstones to base them on. I don’t have the time to explore all of these with the same focus as the Endless Night article. But here’s some quick takes that may inspire ideas. As always, bear in mind that this information is not canon for Eberron and could contradict canon Eberron sources; this is what I’d do in my own campaign.

THE ETERNAL DAWN

Yesterday I explored the Endless Night. The Eternal Dawn is its opposite in all ways. The Dawn embodies both life and hope. It’s the dawn that inevitably overcomes the darkness, the spring that will eventually triumph over even the coldest winter. It is the wellspring of positive energy, which is the foundation of light, life and love.

The Eternal Dawn is also filled with layers, but its layers are about beginnings. These include fertile realms untouched by cultivating tools, but also budding towns or new villages, or the capital of an empire in its first days of glory. So: how does such a capital differ from a fortress in the Battleground? How is a virgin woodland any different from something you’d find in the Twilight Forest? The issue is the theme, which is always felt throughout the plane. In the Battleground, you will never escape the presence of war and strife. There are always archons drilling for battle, the scent of blood and smoke in the air, constant preparation for the next struggle. By contrast, the Amaranthine City in the Eternal Dawn is suffused by a sense of optimism and opportunity. There may be guards, but you won’t see armies; there may be fortifications, but they don’t feel worn and they don’t dominate things. The landscapes of the Twilight Forest emphasize the primordial power of nature; in the Eternal Dawn the focus is simply on vibrance and fertility. And yes, the Amaranthine City at the heart of the Dawn shares its name with the city at the core of the Endless Night.

It is believed that whenever the Endless Night seizes a fragment of reality, a new seed appears in the Eternal Dawn – a realm that grows as its counterpart in the Night is consumed, ultimately flowing away from the Dawn to fill the vacant space and restore the balance of energy in the wounded plane.

The Eternal Dawn is a constant source of hope and positive energy. Its celestials and Lumi rarely intrude directly on other planes, because they don’t have to; just as the Gardeners of the Endless Night cultivate despair without ever leaving their plane, the powers of the Dawn promote hope from beyond. With that said, the celestials of the Eternal Dawn are those most likely to help mortals. In Eberron, the celestials of Irian are the spirits that commonly respond to planar ally and similar mystic requests from divine casters tied to the Sovereign Host. Some of these celestials are devoted to the Sovereigns; others are simply happy to answer the call of someone in need. (In my opinion, the Silver Flame usually generates temporary celestials out of the raw energy of the Flame… but there are certainly spirits in Irian who would be glad to support Templars facing forces of darkness.)

Here’s a few other ways the Eternal Dawn could touch a campaign.

  • While the Dawn rarely intervenes, occasionally one or more Lumi will venture to the material to strike darkness directly. The PCs could encounter a group of vigilantes backed by Lumi. A Lumi could appear and announce that it’s here to help the PCs with the darkness that has targeted them… which is a way for a group to discover that they’ve been targeted by darkness. Do they embrace the Lumi and follow its lead? Or do they think the celestial is crazy?
  • A PC injured by dark magic has a wound that seemingly will never heal. But the Waters of Life in the Amaranthine City can cure any ill; they may be the only hope for the victim.
  • There is a manifest zone tied to the Eternal Dawn between two villages on a national border, and both villages lay claim to this region (which amplifies fertility of both plants and animals). This feud is on the verge of breaking into open conflict… can the PCs resolve the situation?
  • A paladin is presented with a weapon, shield or tool that holds the essence of a celestial from the Dawn. Can they live up to the expectations of the spirit?
  • A planar scholar believes that the power of Irian could restore the Mournland. Will the PCs travel to the Amaranthine City and implore the Dawn Emperor for aid? Assuming the Emperor has the power to direct the restorative powers of the Dawn to this purpose, what will he require?

THE AZURE SKY

Crystal spires floating in blue sky. Farms are spread across soft banks of clouds. It is breathtaking, serene, and above all, peaceful. The Azure Sky is the realm of peace and of those things that flourish in peaceful times, such as abstract knowledge and commerce.

It is virtually impossible to conceive an aggressive thought while in this plane. For this reason, it has become a crossroads for planar travelers, both immortal and otherwise. The Immeasurable Market hosts artisans and merchants from across realities. While the Market includes beings from many planes, most of the floating towers of the Azure Sky are home only to angels engaged in serene contemplation. Some of these angels are scholars studying a particular topic. Others are philosophers who contemplate a particular concept. Others simply embody an idea. This can overlap with other planes in strange ways. You could have an angel of Hope in the Azure Sky, but this is very different from a celestial from the Eternal Dawn. The angel in the Azure Sky doesn’t INNATELY embody hope; rather it is about the idea of someone seeking to embrace and understand hope… and beyond that, it is the only angel in the plane who has this role. You can even have an angel who studies the arts of war; but it does so in an abstract and peaceful way, as opposed to the active aggression of an Archon of the Battlefield.  

As a rule the Azure Sky doesn’t meddle in the affairs of other realms. But here’s a few ideas.

  • An angel could venture into the material plane seeking to prove a thesis related to its field of study. This could require interaction with (or manipulation of) player characters. Alternately, the angel could intend to be present only as an observer but instead be drawn into a conflict.
  • An unusual merchant might have a back door that opens onto the Immeasurable Market, where they trade mundane things as exotic curiosities.
  • A traveling merchant selling goods from the Immeasurable Market could cause chaos, innocently or intentionally.
  • PCs could require specific knowledge known only to an angelic scholar or goods only available in the Immeasurable Market. Or perhaps they are pursuing a fugitive who has managed to flee to the Azure Sky… how do you capture this villain in a realm where conflict is impossible?

THE PERFECT ORDER

As with many other planes, the Perfect Order has levels and layers that embody different aspects of the ideas of Law and Order, Discipline and Civilization. Unlike the other planes, in the Perfect Order these layers are carefully laid out and connected by a clear and simple system of portals — of course, you have to follow the proper protocols and be authorized to USE those portals. There are districts where Formians endlessly toil over perfectly maintained fields. There’s an endless series of courts where Inevitable tribunals judge the actions of mortals, chronicling every crime every committed; in some instances judgement is passed instantly, where other cases can last a mortal lifetime. All laws, systems of government, and violations of these laws are recorded and filed away in the Infinite Archives, catalogued and managed by a seemingly endless hierarchy of modrons. There are districts that are prefect models of utopian societies… and districts where the law is a brutal and oppressive force. Order is powerful, but it’s not innately good; the Perfect Order thus embodies law as a force for justice as well as the crushing weight of an oppressive system.

This is a slight twist from the depiction of Daanvi in The Eberron Campaign Setting, which focuses on order purely as a dispassionate force for an abstractly general good. In my mind, the Perfect Order should be entirely as diverse as Shavarath, and with the same dichotomy: the nature of an outsider reflects whether it represents Order as a positive or negative force. Formians, Inevitables and Modrons are neutral, and they reflect the dispassionate imposition or law and order outside of judgement of good or evil. But then you have devils embodying the harsh imposition of order and the use of laws as a tool of oppression – with celestials embodying the noble aspects of law and order, the quest for justice and for a utopian society. In many cases an entire district will follow a particular theme, but there are surely districts where devils debate archons before impassive inevitable arbiters, engaging in cases that could last for centuries. I’d love to explore this in more depth — exactly what sorts of fiends and celestials would fill these roles? What are some specific examples of an oppressive district? — but it will have to wait until another time.

Here’s a few thoughts about ways to use the Perfect Order in a campaign.

  • It’s unusual for an inevitable to interfere with the material world. But there are oaths that can be sworn — mystical vows that enforce a bargain with the power of Daanvi. It’s no trivial thing to enact such a pact, but should it be broken the oathbreaker will be hounded by kolyaruts and other inevitable forces.
  • The Infinite Archive records all laws and transgressions since the dawn of time. Perhaps the PCs need to know the details of some ancient transgression… but can they work their way through the modron bureaucracy to get it?
  • The tribunals of Daanvi judge all crimes, but they don’t have the jurisdiction to punish crimes on the material plane. However, if a mortal comes forward and offers to serve justice against a heinous transgressor, the powers of Daanvi might provide tools to help this person enact a proper punishment. However, this would call the eye of Daanvi down onto this person and their allies, and place them under the jurisdiction of the Court… are they so sure they are without crimes of their own?
  • As with the Azure Sky, a fugitive could flee to the Perfect Order. The PCs need to apprehend this person quickly to prevent some sort of disaster. But when they get to the Perfect Order they discover that the villain is already on trial… but that this trial could last a decade. Can the PCs find a way to either extract their target or so speed up the justice of Daanvi?
  • Artifacts from the Perfect Order could have powerful effects with dangerous consequences. A stone could cause all creatures within a mile to always speak the truth. A scourge could purge all thoughts of rebellion from anyone struck with it. A crown could whisper advice to its wearer, guiding its bearer to rule a perfect kingdom – but is it just order, or cruel tyranny?
  • Whether by natural mishap or the actions of an enemy, PCs could suddenly find themselves in a brutally oppressive district in the Perfect Order. Can they survive and escape? Through their actions, could they even shift the balance of the district – replacing tyranny with justice?

QUESTIONS

If we wanted to place fiends on Irian, would it follow that fiends related to cancers and tumours (aka uncontrolled growth) would be appropriate?

Irian isn’t about the mechanical and scientific idea of life, which is really more tied to Lamannia. In a sense ALL diseases could be defined as being about life, as viruses simply seek to reproduce. More than anything, Irian is about positive energy and all that that embodies. It’s about life in opposition to death, creation versus destruction, hope versus despair – not the difficulties and complications that come with life. One quick thing to consider: Irian is the source of positive energy, which is the basis of all healing magic. In your Eberron, can cancer be cured with healing magic? If so, I see no reason why the concept of it would thrive in Irian. If not – which could be interesting – then maybe it would fit in Irian. But I generally see embodiments of disease being tied to Mabar (as things that decay and destroy) or Lamannia (as part of nature).

Of all the planes, Mabar and Irian have the strongest innate alignment towards “good” and “evil”, which is why I call our Irian as the source of most planar allies. Looking to Shavarath, Daanvi, even Fernia we generally look at the positive and negative aspects of the core concept. But Irian and Mabar ARE positive and negative. There’s not a lot of room for darkness in the Eternal Dawn.

Is there any connection or possible connections between warforgeds and inevitables?

I don’t see that being something we’d ever suggest in canon Eberron. While Inevitables look like constructs, they’re immortal outsiders — not living constructs like the warforged. And per canon sources, if anyone outsiders influenced the creation of the warforged it’s most likely to have been the pre-Dreaming Dark Quori (as hinted at in Secrets of Xen’drik and The Shattered Land). But if YOU want to play with the idea of the Inevitables inspiring or aiding the creation of the Warforged — and perhaps having the power to commandeer warforged bodies — it could be an interesting plotline.

What are the “eternal laws” that inevitables will enforce? Did somebody build them?

In my opinion, the Inevitables are immortal spirits that embody the idea of law and inevitable justice. They weren’t built, and they aren’t actually constructs in the same sense as warforged; they simply APPEAR to be constructs because that fits the concept of an utterly impartial agent of order.

I’ve suggested that the courts of Irian judge all mortal creatures — and my thought there is that they judge each creature according to the laws of its community. The Infinite Archive is a catalogue of all systems of law, and the tribunals of Daanvi impartially judge you based on YOUR laws. But that’s where they lack the jursidiction to enact sentences; they judge, but have no authority to punish. In my examples, I suggest that this is where a PC could potentially go to Daanvi and be a “process server” — but that in taking on this role, they’d better have a clean record. I could also see this as an excellent role for a paladin PC: they aren’t a paladin of a particular god, but rather acting as an enforcer for the justice of Daanvi.

As for when Inevitables will act directly, it’s up to you. In MY Eberron I don’t want Inevitables to be trivial or commonplace. I don’t want them to screw up my story (He just broke his word! Why don’t the inevitables show up to  punish him?) or to diminish the role of PCs. I want them to be exotic, frightening, and as a result RARE. So I’d say that Inevitables only act when they have jurisdiction… and they can only gain jursidiction when under the following circumstances.

  • When they are given jurisdiction by the target. As I suggest earlier, I think it should be possible to swear an oath that puts you under the eye of Daanvi. But this should be an actual magical ritual with expensive components, not something done trivially. A member of the Aurum could pull this out when demanding loyalty from PCs, but it’s not something you’re going to do with a common merchant.
  • The Inevitables could have jursidiction over actions taken in a manifest zone to Daanvi, or when Daanvi is coterminous with Eberron. So you may have the ancient oathstone where a tribe makes their vows (…and eternal justice will punish he who breaks his vow to the stones…) or a time when EVERYONE knows that you have to tread carefully when Daanvi is coterminous.

But as always in Eberron, what makes a good story?

So: how common are travelers in Syrania and Daanvi?

I think it’s very rare for extraplanar travelers to go to Daanvi. Among other things, anyone going to Daanvi is going to have to deal with all the various restrictions and regulations, with serious consequences if you transgress.

Syrania, on the other hand, is a place that is welcoming to planar travelers. You still may not have many travelers from Eberron, but there are certainly some; you might have a dragon from the Chamber consulting angelic scholars or a Night Hag browsing the Immeasurable Market. But I certainly think you have a mix of mortals and lesser immortals from other planes, along with a few powerful spirits. The question is WHY a powerful spirit would choose to leave its home plane. One point is that Syrania is a place of absolute peace; perhaps opposing generals in Shavarath might meet in Syrania as an absolute neutral ground, or a Thelanian wizard might share arcane notes and stories with a counterpart from Xoriat. All of these things would still be rare — but again, if that’s the story you want to tell, Syrania is a good place for it to play out.

Dragons have power for dimensional travel and are mortals. But it looks like they don’t do it very often even if it could be a great resource against demons. Why?

Powerful dragons are certainly potential planar travelers. But it’s not necessarily as great a resource as you might think. As a rule, planar travel is dangerous. You’re dealing with powerful beings driven by alien logic and odds are good you don’t understand their worldview. Very few of them are interesting in helping you, and those who are will need an excellent reason. On the whole, the archons of Shavarath don’t care about the dragons’ current squabble with some demons, because the war the archons are fighting themselves is more important and is, in their opinion, defining the balance of the entire universe. Essentially, by fighting their war the Archons believe they ARE already helping everyone on Eberron and they don’t have time for your petty, small-minded mortal problems: they’ve got to get back to the war. A Syranian scholar may be willing to take some time to talk to you, but again, their contemplation is more important than your mortal problems — and if you expect to get much of their time, you’d better have something interesting to offer them.

But in short: dragons MAY be engaging in dimensional travel. A Chamber agent might have access to a sword forged in the Eternal Dawn or a treasure from the Immeasurable Market. We don’t know about it because we know next to nothing about what dragons are doing in their struggle against the Lords of Dust. But they aren’t bringing in hordes of allies from Shavarath (or other planes) because the immortals aren’t interested. I’ll talk more about the motivations of celestials tomorrow.

Would you have any idea about the kind of things a host of angels from the Azure Sky would like to keep secure, that may kindle envy from an outsider (be it a NPC or, for that matter, PC in a different context)?

Given the theme of commerce, it could literally be anything, because it could have come from another plane. But looking to something with a concrete tie to the plane…

  • A gemstone that is believed to hold an entire reality within it. The gem serves as a source of power for divine spells, as the attuned bearer can draw on the devotion of an entire world.
  • A crystal that is the essence of an angel, who engaged in contemplation so deep that they condensed into this form; it’s unknown if they will one day reform, and if so what revelations they will bear.
  • A cloud seed. If activated, it will extrude an island-sized mass of solid (but floating) cloud-matter that can serve as a foundation for buildings. This region is also treated as a manifest zone to Syrania; this could have the same properties as the Sharn zone, or it could have an additional enforced peace effect.
  • A coin with which you can purchase anything. Anything that can be bought can be purchased with this coin; its irresistible magic compels the owner to make the trade. In the process this means you’re giving them the coin, so you only get to use it once. But you can buy anything that can be bought with it.
  • A book scribed by a since-fallen angel that is the absolute source of knowledge on something. A particular Overlord or type of demon. An epic spell that could have catastrophic effects if cast. Some secret lore about one of the planes. If you want to take things a step farther, the angel could have “fallen” into Xoriat; this book holds some secret about the nature of reality so fundamentally destabilizing that realizing it shifted them into being a spirit of madness.

I wish that I had more time to explore these things, and I hope that someday I will. Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments. And as always, thanks to everyone who’s supporting the site on Patreon; the more support we have, the more I can do with it in the future.

The Endless Night

And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias

A sea of liquid shadows laps against black sands and basalt cliffs. A skull lies half-buried in the sand, empty sockets gazing into the roiling mist. The bone isn’t sun-bleached, for there is no sun here; only a faint glimmer from the deep violet moon that hangs in the sky. If you’re playing in Eberron, this is the plane of Mabar. If you’re playing Phoenix: Dawn Command it could be a realm of the Fallen in the deep Dusk. For now, set aside specific system and setting and consider the Endless Night.

Those who know little of what lies beyond common reality often assume that the Endless Night is the plane of “darkness” — that this physical trait is its defining concept. Though the plane is shrouded in shadows, this eternal gloom is just a symptom of the true nature of this place. Even the brightest day will eventually end in darkness, and the Endless Night embodies this idea. It is the shadow that surrounds every island of light, patiently waiting to consume it. This isn’t the place where the souls of the living go after death, but it is the plane of death itself — the hungry shadow that consumes both light and life. It is entropy, hunger and loss — embodying the idea that all things will eventually end in darkness.

ENVIRONS

Like many of the planes, the Endless Night isn’t one contiguous landscape. Rather, it’s layers of reality, each one a different vision of desolation and inevitable decay. In one layer a desert of black sand is broken by jagged obsidian peaks. In another layer, a once-fertile valley has wasted away; crumbling farms are scattered amid withered fields. Another layer is a single vast city. The fountains are dry, the walls are cracked, but rotting tapestries and chipped mosaics speak of an age of wonders. The critical thing to understand is that this cities has ALWAYS been a ruin. This is what Mabar is: the end of things embodied. When mortals pass through, the idea of decay may manifest dramatically – a bridge collapses, a floor gives way – but come back in a week and there will be a new crumbling bridge ready to fall. These layers are symbols of inevitable entropy and lost glory; the precise details may evolve and change, but the net effect remains the same.

While the stage varies — a desert, a ruined city, the withered remains of fertile farmland, or anything else you can imagine — the story is always about loss, entropy, despair, and death. Feel free to add anything that ties to these themes. A massive battlefield filled with the intertwined bones of dragons and giants. Ossuaries and catacombs. Crumbling memorials, with names just too faded to read. Barren orchards and dried riverbeds. And tombs… from tiny unmarked crypts to the death-palaces of fallen rulers, necropolises filled with traps and treasures. And this being the Endless Night, some of those dead rulers still dominate their domains, whether they take the form of undead or simply malevolent will.

These layers aren’t bound by the laws of physical space. They can be tiny, or they can be seemingly infinite. A desert may wrap back upon itself, and the alleys in a city could twist in impossible ways to always return you to the main square… or you could just come to an absolute edge, where everything falls away into an endless and all-consuming void. To move from one layer to another you must either employ spells of your own or find a portal that connects the two realms. Sometimes these are fairly obvious: a massive gate standing alone in the desert, a pit filled with swirling shadows. In other cases, the connection could be entirely abstract. If you are in the valley of the Bone King and you want to get to the desert of the Queen of All Tears, the answer is simple: all you have to do is sincerely cry, and the tears themselves will take you there.

Of course, if you want to explore the Endless Night there are problems you will face no matter where you go. The realm itself constantly consumes light and life. In 3.5 D&D terms it is minorly negative dominant. Unless you’re protected by some form of warding magics, the Night will continuously drain away your life energy, ultimately consuming your body and leaving nothing but a shadow. Even if you’re protected against this effect you must still deal with the darkness. All light sources in this plane are reduced to dim light. The radius of illumination doesn’t change, but no light can banish the perpetual gloom. Spells that use negative energy will be maximized (variable die rolls such as damage and healing have the maximum possible result; this doesn’t affect attack rolls or saving throws), while spells that rely on positive energy are minimized.

THE CONSUMING DARKNESS

Many of the layers of the Endless Night are purely symbolic. These ruins have existed for as long as the plane itself. Many… but not all. Most of the planes don’t interact with one another. The armies of the Battleground endlessly battle each other — they don’t lay siege to the Realm of Madness. The planes are self-contained and focused on their own slivers of reality. But the concept that defines the Endless Night is the hunger to consume light and life, along with the inevitable downfall of all things. And when all the forces align just perfectly, fragments of other planes can be pulled into the Endless Night. These fragments are caught on the edge of the night, the same way mortal dreams drift around the heart of the Realm of Dreams. Over time, they are drained and pulled closer to the core, until ultimately they are fully assimilated into the plane as a new bleak layer. Typically mortals will be transformed into shadows or other forms of undead; immortals might become yugoloths, or twisted into dark mockeries of their former selves.

The Drifting Citadel is just such a layer. This floating tower was once a library; in Eberron it was part of Syrania, while in Phoenix it was created by the Faeda Concord. Now it drifts through a icy void, grand windows shattered and books fallen from their shelves. Shadows of sages clutch at books with insubstantial fingers, never able to turn a page. The angelic librarians are now tormented spirits who hunger for knowledge, draining the memories from any creature unfortunate enough to fall into their grasp.

With this in mind, as you create layers of the Endless Night, consider the history of the layer. Is it a symbolic layer that has always been desolate? Or is it a place that once knew light before it was consumed by the Endless Night? Beyond this, you can also explore the fragments that are in the process of being consumed. Fragments of outer planes might understand what’s going on and be trying to find a way to fight it… but pieces stolen from the material plane may have no way to know what’s happening to them. So you could have a small kingdom ruled by a tragic lord who wields great power and yet is being consumed by darkness… an inescapable realm shrouded by mists, seeming cut off from the rest of the world. All of which is to say that this would be an easy way to add Ravenloft into a setting, as a piece of reality that is under siege by the dark powers of the Endless Night. In Eberron, the Mourning could be what happens when a piece of reality is consumed… in which case Queen Dannel could still rule over a version of Cyre that is being consumed by shadows. It could be that this wound will never heal, and that the Mournland is now a permanent part of Eberron; or it could be that given time restorative power will flow from the Eternal Dawn to restore the blighted land, creating a new Cyre. These unassimilated fragments don’t have the negative dominant trait, and can contain living creatures… but the consuming hunger of the Endless Night should always be felt in some way.

Overall, it might seem like this is something the powers of other planes would try to stop. But the it cannot be stopped, and they know it. It is part of the machinery of reality. The Endless Night consumes and fragments are lost. Those pulled into the darkness can fight against it, but the ultimate outcome is inevitable. Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, it would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained. The question a GM must decide is whether the fragments that are consumed are random… or whether the Empress of Shadows has some discretion over this. It might not be possible to fight the coming of night… but it could be that planar emissaries come to the Amaranthine City to negotiate with the Empress of Shadows and turn the hungry darkness in a different direction.  

DENIZENS OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT

The most numerous inhabitants of Mabar are shadows. These semi-sentient spirits linger in places where you might expect to find people, forlornly pantomiming the roles of the absent inhabitants. You’ll find the shadows of children playing on the corner of a Mabaran street, or the shadow of a priest silently praying to an absent and unknown god in a shattered temple. Many sages who study the planes believe that these shadows are tied to mortals… that every sentient mortal creature has a shadow in the Endless Night, a manifestation of their darker impulses. These shadows don’t speak and are driven by impulse and instinct. They hunger for the lifeforce of mortals, and if planar travelers aren’t protected by magic they may be swarmed by hungry shadows.

The more desolate planes are home to nightshades. These powerful creatures are conduits of negative energy. In the obsidian desert, massive nightcrawlers lurk in the dark sands while nightwalkers lay claim to the ruins and rule over the shadows. Nightshades often attack fragments, feeding on the energy of the fragment and accelerating its assimilation. In these attacks, nightcrawlers may rely on raw force which nightwalkers may lead armies of undead. While intelligent, nightshades are more alien and primal than the yugoloths and rarely negotiate or converse with outsiders.

If the Endless Night has a heart, it would be the Amaranthine City… a metropolis that fills an entire layer. Nothing flourishes in this plane; banners are tattered and gardens are withered. But it is still wondrous in the scope of its cyclopean towers and grand fortifications. It is the capital of an empire in decline, and yet the hint of what it was at the height of its glory makes it wondrous even when faded. And it is no empty shell; it is a city alive with activity. This is the seat of the Empress of Shadows and her people; in D&D terms, these are the yugoloths. These are spirits of darkness, embodiments of hunger, despair and death. To all appearances, the yugoloths are citizens of a vast empire; they maintain that all things were once in darkness and eventually will be again.

Many yugoloths serve in the army. The Legion of Night lays siege to the fragments of planes that have powerful inhabitants of their own. The yugoloths do battle with angels and devils trapped in their doomed fragments, until the fragments are ultimately fully drained, assimilated, and their immortal inhabitants converted to a form more suited to the Endless Night. It’s questionable if these battles actually speed up the assimilation, or if they are simply a way for the fiends to pass the time; certainly, they enjoy these struggles.

Other yugoloths are gardeners… but what they cultivate is darkness. Most gardeners work with shadows. They search for promising shadows and use their abilities to strengthen a shadow in certain ways. It’s thought that this in turn feeds the darkness of the mortal tied to the shadow, potentially filling them with despair or driving them down dark paths. When the mortal eventually dies, the yugoloth can harness and refine the essence of the shadow, which can be used to create tools, elixirs, or works of art. While most gardeners work with shadows, some go into the fragments of the material plane that are being assimilated, twisting and tormenting the mortals trapped their in slow and subtle ways.

These are common paths, but there are many others. Some are philosophers and oracles who contemplate the nature of entropy and the way in which things will end. Some are artists and artisans, crafting shadow and spirit to create tools and weapons (which can cause death and despair should they make their way to the mortal world). And some serve seemingly menial roles in the Amaranthine City.

There are many other lesser inhabitants of the plane. Succubi are lesser spirits that embody emotional pain and loss. Some succubi are solitary and prey on mortals in fragments, while others live alongside the yugoloths and ply their wiles on them; the suffering of a fiend is just as satisfying to them as that of a mortal. Other succubi are gardeners, and some believe that a succubi can drain the love from a mortal heart by bleeding it from their shadow. And last but certainly not least, the Endless Night is home to undead. Most of the undead are symbolic: the endless skeletal armies of the Bone King aren’t actually the remains of mortal beings, and the Bone King himself, while he appears to be a lich, was likewise never mortal. Spectres and wraiths generally exist as predators, halfway between the Nightshades and the shadows. Some believe that when a vampire or lich is finally destroyed, its essence is pulled down into Mabar where it persists as a wraith… denied the eventual rest granted to other spirits of the dead, forever driven by the hunger of the night. Most are likely driven mad by this ordeal, but it’s possible that a vampire slain in a campaign could be encountered again as a spectral lord in the Endless Night.

TOUCHING THE MATERIAL: EBERRON

In an Eberron campaign, the Endless Night is the plane of Mabar. It affects the world in a number of ways: through manifest zones, coterminous periods, the actions of the plane and its denizens. Beyond this, some believe that Mabar is generally a source of despair and desolation, that it drains both emotional and physical energy from the world. While this is unproven, it is definitely the source of negative energy. Necromantic magics that sap energy or drain lifeforce draw on the power of the Endless Night. This is also the power that sustains most undead. Skeleton, vampire and wraith are all animated by the power of Mabar. This is the source of the vampire’s endless hunger and the draining touch of many undead. But even lesser undead innately draw life energy from the world around them. Typically this ambient drain is slight enough that there’s no mechanical effect; but this is why a haunted tomb will often be surrounded by dead plants and shriveled vines. The priests of Undying Court assert that negative undead are slowly destroying the world and that eventually this will cause irreparable harm; this is why the Aereni Deathguard seek to track and destroy Mabaran undead whenever possible.

One point here is the common confusion between Mabar and Dolurrh. Dolurrh is the realm of the dead, but it’s not the plane of death. Dolurrh is a place of transition. It is where the souls of the dead go after death, where the burdens of life are removed. So Dolurrh is where people go when they die; but Mabar embodies the idea of death, of inevitable loss and the end of all things.

COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE

According to the Eberron Campaign Setting, Mabar becomes coterminous for three days every five years. During these periods, there is a general increase in the amount of negative energy in the world. Shadows grow deeper and colder, and effects that rely on negative energy are strengthened. When one is alone in a dark place, this energy saps both strength and hope; solitary people are more likely to succumb to illness and despair. As a result, during these periods people generally come together to hold back the darkness. Communities gather around bonfires and sing or pray together; friends or families might gather into one abode for the duration, as bonds of love and friendship are a source of positive energy.

The Eberron Campaign Setting makes the consequences of the phase quite severe, stating “During the night and while underground, travel between the planes is much easier—simply stepping into an area where no light shines can transport a character from Eberron to Mabar, and barghests and shadows emerge from the Endless Night to hunt the nights of Eberron.” I consider this to be overstated for dramatic effect. Both of these things are possible, but here again, positive energy holds these effects at bay… and positive energy comes from light, life and love. So when Mabar is coterminous it is dangerous to go in the basement of the creepy abandoned house, or to wander alone on the moors at night. But if you’re in a house with your family and friends celebrating and singing around a roaring hearth, you don’t have to worry about being killed by a shadow when you go to the pantry. A child conceived during this period would have a chance to be born as a Mabaran tiefling… but in theory, if they child is conceived in love, that positive energy should prevent this.  

While it might be possible to be transported to Mabar by passing through a shadow in a desolate place during the coterminous phase, I wouldn’t have such an effect take you to the heart of Mabar, where the minor negative dominant aspect would kill a normal person within minutes; instead, I’d have them pass into a mortal fragment that’s currently on the edge of Mabar and being consumed. Which is, again, essentially Ravenloft. You go walking on the moors at night, pass through dark mists, and find yourself in a tiny and tragic kingdom besieged by despair.

On the other hand, when Mabar is remote effects that use negative energy are impeded; spirits are generally higher (though this effect is not as dramatic as a time when Irian is coterminous); and undead are often gripped with ennui.  

MANIFEST ZONES

All manifest zones to Mabar are strong sources of negative energy. Even if this doesn’t produce a direct mechanical effect, it is always the case that a Mabaran manifest zone is an excellent place to perform any sort of ritual that draws on negative energy. Other than that, here’s a few possible traits of Mabaran manifest zones.

  • Blighted or unnatural vegetation.
  • Low fertility and reduced resistance to disease. Creatures born in the region might be sickly, or you might get unnatural creatures (like Mabaran tieflings).
  • Psychological gloom: a tendency towards despair, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Presence of shadows, wraiths, or other undead. While these can be shades of mortals slain by other undead, they are typically just manifestations of Mabar itself – embodiments of consuming darkness.  
  • Skeletons or zombies might spontaneously animate from corpses. Such undead don’t have any of the memories of the body and will typically seek to kill any living creatures they encounter.
  • Unnatural darkness; light sources could be reduced, so even the brightest source only produces dim light. You could even have an area that is permanently shrouded in magical darkness.
  • Spells and effects that rely on negative energy could be enhanced or even maximized; undead could be strengthened.
  • Shadows could take on a life of their own without becoming fully formed aggressive monsters. It’s not that they exist independently of the things that cast them, but they might move in impossible ways or respond to actions around them.

Most of these don’t sound like very welcoming traits, and few people would likely choose a Mabaran manifest zone as a place to build their town. But there are reasons for doing it. We’ve established that in Karrnath, Blood of Vol communities often build temples in Mabaran manifest zones and perform rituals that help to contain the negative impact of the zone — and that some of the terrible famines in Karrnath were the results of soldiers seizing these towns and temples and failing to maintain these rites, resulting in sudden and dramatic blights. Beyond that, unnatural vegetation or minerals infused with Mabaran energy could have useful effects. In The Thorn of Breland books I talk about nightwater — water infused with Mabaran energy — as a common component used in disarming wards and magical traps.

So a Mabaran zone could be occupied by people trying to contain its effect or by necromancers channelling it; but often, they’re likely to be shunned areas in the wilds.

SCHEMES AND ADVENTURES

Do the denizens of Mabar ever have schemes that reach into Eberron? How could it play an interesting role in an adventure? One of the simplest ways is simply to work a manifest zone into a story. A necromancer has a tower in a blighted grove, and this empowers their magics and undead minions. The PCs take on the necromancer and defeat him. But when they return they discover that the necromancer’s work was holding the power of Mabar at bay, and the blight is spreading. Can they find a way to restore the balance? What if someone has to stay in the tower? Does one of the villagers have the talent? Or do they need to find another necromancer willing to hold the post – and can they trust her with this power?

Manifest zones could inspire many stories or interesting encounters.

  • Shadholt is a small village hidden in the woods of Karrnath… a village populated almost entirely by Mabaran tieflings. The tieflings harvest vegetation and dragonshards infused with Mabaran energies and can make interesting elixirs and items. Perhaps they simply wish to be left alone… but an encounter with superstitious foresters could lead to a conflict with the local warlord. What side will the PCs take? Are the tieflings innocent, or are they using the powers of Mabar to prey on their enemies? Or is Shadholt the source of an addictive drug that’s been spread ing across the region?
  • Passing across a moor, the PCs are set upon by the shadows of wolves and hawks. The following dawn, they discover that one of the PCs is missing their shadow… it’s been lost in the manifest zone. Do they need to go back and find it? If so, how? If not, what does it mean that the character no longer has a shadow?
  • The PCs discover that House Thuranni is experimenting with the potential of the Mark of Shadows, seeking to channel the power of Mabar. There’s a research center in a Mabaran manifest zone. What happens if the experiments work? Are the elves in full control of their powers? Or are they consumed by their own shadows, leaving dark hearts cloaked in flesh wielding terrifying powers?

Overall, the denizens of Mabar have no interest in Eberron; they have everything they need in Mabar and its fragments. However, just like the Daelkyr or the Kalashtar Quori, you could have an individual or small group of spirits that take an interest in Eberron. Here’s a few possibilities.

  • A disguised succubus is a scholar of loss, subtlely engineering disastrous tragedies for the people of a small community in order to study their reactions. Alternately you could take the same concept but she could be targeting powerful, successful individuals — such as player characters — instead of a particular place.
  • A small group of Yugoloths are studying the world and choosing the next location that will be consumed by Mabar. The consumption will happen, even if the Yugoloths are defeated… but can the damage be minimized?
  • A yugoloth artisan crafts artifacts and sows them into Eberron to cause death and despair. A weapon forged in Mabar could be a literal demon — a battleloth — or it could possess great power but bring tragedy to the one who wields it. A villain could cause great havoc with this night-forged blade; once the villain is defeated, will a PC claim the blade or leave it be?
  • A nightwalker has broken through into Eberron, turning a Mabaran manifest zones into a gateway. The dead are rising in response to the nightshade’s call, and it has a force of nightcrawlers and nightwings. The Nightwalker has no agenda other than destruction, despair, and drinking in the energy of the world. Where is this gateway? What will it take to close it and contain this threat?
  • Queen Dannel’s Cyre has been pulled into Mabar. There’s no way to reclaim it and return it to Eberron, but the now-vampire Dannel has a bigger goal. In Mabar, everything must end… even the yugoloth order. Dannel believes that she can overthrow the Empress of Shadows and become the new immortal overlord of the realm… but she needs the help of epic-level PCs to do it. Will they help transform Cyre into the new heart of the Endless Night?  

The idea of the consumed fragments opens up another host of story possibilities.

  • Forced out into the wilds during a Mabaran coterminous period, the PCs find themselves in a strange land. This could be a familiar town that’s now suffering from dangers and threats; can the PCs figure out what’s going on, and if it can’t be stopped can they help friends escape? It could be a realm pulled out of history, time slowed by the process of assimilation — the last stronghold of Karrn the Conqueror or Malleon the Reaver. Or it could be something entirely new, like Ravenloft.
  • An angel of Syrania reaches out to the PCs. Something vital is trapped in a Syranian tower that was pulled into Mabar. If the angel goes to the fragment, it will be trapped there forever; but mortals could enter the fragment, retrieve the relic and escape. What is the relic? What else might they find in the lost tower?
  • Similar ideas could take the players into the heart of Mabar itself. What treasures are hidden in the tomb of the Queen of All Tears? What secrets lie in the scattered tomes of the Drifting Citadel?

All of these ideas are literally off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can come up with others. Share your ideas in the comments!

THE DEEP DUSK: PHOENIX DAWN COMMAND

Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t have the complex cosmology of D&D. The Dusk is the realm that lies between life and death, a realm of spirits and magic. When a Phoenix dies, they go to a crucible – a pocket realm within the Dusk where they can earn their way back to the Daylit World. But there’s more to the Dusk than most Phoenixes ever see. The greatest of the Fallen Folk may have their own domains within the Dusk, and there can be great mystical engines left over from the Old Kingdoms, or simply from the framework of reality.

Within Phoenix, there’s a few ways you could use the Endless Night. Perhaps the Phoenixes face a great force of darkness striking against a community of innocents — a Nightwalker leading a legion of hungry wraiths and animated corpses. Destroying this being requires the Phoenixes to join their power together, sacrificing all their sparks to drive it back into the dusk. But instead of waking in their crucibles, the Phoenixes find themselves in the Endless Night, pulled into it by the spirit they banished. Can they find a way to escape the Deep Dusk? And what happens if they die before they do?

You could also explore the idea of the hungry realm… to have a piece of the Empire pulled into the Endless Night while the PCs are defending it. The life is being drawn out of it, and shadows lash out at the innocent. Can they find a way to return this farm/village/city to reality? And again, what happens if a Phoenix dies in this place? Do they simply return to the Night? Are they seemingly gone forever… and if so, is this what actually happens or have they simply been returned to the Daylit World?

Another possibility is to explore the idea that the layers of the Endless Night are all pieces seized from the Daylit World. Perhaps the Endless Night was created as a way to avoid the doom of the Old Kingdoms, preserving communities in some fashion (albeit a dark one); now the threat of the Dread has brought this old magic back to life, and it’s going to start stealing cities anew.

Q&A

How do Mabar and the Plane of Shadows both exist in the same cosmology while remaining distinct? What is the difference in themes between these two Planes? Can the Plane of Shadows have its own Manifest Zones?

This is spelled out on page 92 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. The entire reality of Eberron — including its thirteen planes — is enfolded by the astral plane; the ethereal and shadow planes encompass the material plane but don’t touch the other planes. The easy way to think of this is that the Shadow Plane is the darkness that lies between realities. It has no meaning as Mabar does; it is simply a dark space outside of reality. Spells like shadow walk let you use it as a shortcut through space, or even in theory as a conduit to move between realities. But it isn’t part of the creation of the Progenitors. It has no meaning and it doesn’t shape reality. It’s not part of the planar orrery, and as such it never becomes coterminous or remote and it doesn’t create manifest zones; it simply is.

A minor qualm, but it seems that Mabar as portrayed here ultimately prevails when it exceptionally interacts with other planes, as Syrania in the post. Yet, using the same example, after night comes dawn…

That’s exactly the point. The night consumes every day… and the dawn eventually overcomes each night. The section on “The Consuming Darkness” calls this out: Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, (The Endless Night) would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained.”

The Endless Night embodies the idea of despair and the inevitable end. But the Eternal Dawn — in Eberron, Irian — embodies the idea of hope and the indomitability of life. Anything Mabar can consume, Irian can restore… though both of these things take time. But yes, Mabar will ultimately prevail against any fragment it consumes because that fragment has been pulled out of its own concept and into the Night, which is defined by that inevitable defeat.

Is it possible for there to be Mabaran celestials, or good-aligned spirits from Mabar? For that matter, are there any Irian fiends, or evil-aligned spirits from Irian?

Certainly, in both cases. But the point is that any spirit of the Endless Night is about the concept of death, loss, despair. If you can find a way to make a being who’s a positive embodiment of these things, it could be good. For example, you could have Small Mercies — little spirits that kill those who are suffering unendurable torment. Technically they’re good; they are helping those who suffer. But their tool is still death. You won’t have a spirit in Mabar that seeks to prevent death, because that’s something that belongs in Irian. Look at Shavarath: you have noble celestials fighting vile demons, but they are all fighting; you’re not going to find a spirit from Shavarath that thinks peace is a good idea, unless it’s the peace that will come when we win our noble battle against the enemy.

So any spirit of the Endless Night will somehow embody death or loss, entropy or despair. If you can think of the positive aspects of this and personify it, that could be a Mabaran celestial. Conversely, Irian is about life and love, new beginnings and hope. If you can find a way that these things could be negative, you could have an fiend that embodies that. Perhaps there’s a spirit that spreads false hopes… though again, if its ultimate goal was to cause despair, it would belong in Mabar. Meanwhile, in a fragment of Irian being consumed by Mabar you can have the embodiment of hope that is struggling against despair; and within a fully consumed layer, it might still exist as the embodiment of crushed hopes and disappointment.

With all of that said: Bear in mind that just as celestials can fall, fiends can also rise. In the same way that an angel can become a Radiant Idol or rebel Quori can become Kalashtar, you could have a yugoloth who defies their nature and purpose. However, like the Kalashtar Quori and the Radiant Idol, if they want to maintain that identity they’d likely have to flee from Mabar.

Dragonmarks: Lizard Dreams

My previous post dealt with creating an Eberron campaign based in Q’barra, and it spawned the following question.

How do you see a human (or dwarf or whatever) barbarian raised by Cold Sun lizardfolk working in this campaign?

As I mentioned in my article on exotic races, the first thing I’d want to do with this is to find out why the player wants to play this character. Why do they want to have been raised by scales? What impact has it had on them? How do they see this background playing into their future? The critical issue here is that Q’barra has three distinct reptilian cultures. Each one plays a dramatically different role in the campaign. I’m not thrilled about the idea of having a player character with deep connections to the Cold Sun Federation, because they have a very alien culture. Learning their motivations and figuring out how to communicate with them is something that I’d planned on being a significant challenge that would play out over the course of multiple adventures. Having a player who has been raised among them and thus inherently understands their customs and has contacts within the Federation completely changes that story.

But: this isn’t my story. It’s our story. If the player understands what the Cold Sun Lizardfolk are all about and specifically wants to have a connection to their culture, I want to find a way to work with that. I can change the direction of the story to embrace this new hook, and I’ll talk about that below. But the thing is that I doubt the player has that in mind. I suspect that they just like the idea of being an outsider raised among the indigenous culture, of walking between two worlds, trying to reconcile the values and culture they were raised with against the common culture of their biological kin. That’s a great story. But if that’s all they are looking for, I will steer them away from the Cold Sun lizardfolk – the Masvirik’uala – and encourage them to have ties to the Trothlorsvek dragonborn.

To explain in any more detail, I have to delve into potential spoilers for a Q’barra campaign. Most of what I’m about to discuss is drawn from the Q’barra articles I wrote for Dungeon 182 and Dungeon 185. If you’ve only read the core Eberron sourcebooks you won’t have encountered some of these ideas… and it’s important to remember that in Eberron, everything is optional. If you don’t like these ideas, don’t use them – and if you’re a player, don’t assume that your DM is using these things. But this is where I’d be going in my Q’barra campaign.

TROTHLORSVEK: The Dragonborn of Ka’rhashan

Long ago the dragons of Argonnessen dispatched forces to Q’barra to stand watch over places where fiendish influences lingered from the Age of Demons. To cut a long story short, over the course of thousands of years the dragonborn grew bored with their duties and spread out to the west, establishing a nation in the Talenta Plains and Blade Desert. They clashed with the goblins that dominated the heart of Khorvaire, but it was the corruption of Rhashaak and the rise of the Poison Dusk that destroyed their empire. They fell back to Q’barra and have never regained their power; what strength they have is spent guarding the cursed sites and fighting the Poison Dusk.

The dragonborn are divided into clans. They are a martial culture, still hungry for glory; they split their energies between battling the Poison Dusk and ritual battles against other clans. There are clans and leaders who believe that the it’s time for their people to abandon the ancient duties and turn their eyes to more glorious battles… perhaps beginning by driving the softskins from Q’barra.

So looking back to the question: while it would be unusual, I can definitely imagine a human (or dwarf, or halfling) who somehow ends up being raised by dragonborn. Perhaps the child’s parents earned the respect of a dragonborn champion before they died. Perhaps it was some form of debt of honor… or perhaps an elder believed that the Prophecy called for the protection of the child. This creates a host of possible story hooks. Was the character taken in by an entire clan, or were they only accepted by a specific champion or elder? Either way, did this create conflict for the clan or champion, either with another clan or within the clan itself? Does the character still have a place among the dragonborn, or were they driven out from the clan? Over the course of a campaign, members of the clan could show up; they might need the PC’s help on a mission, or could call the PC back to clan lands to defend their foster family or to represent the clan in a ritual battle or a rivalry with another clan. Or, a rival clan could show up in pursuit of a vendetta. Or trouble could arise with the Poison Dusk – and by the traditions of the character’s clan, they’re duty bound to oppose the Poison Dusk. Will they uphold the duties of their clan, or have they turned their back on that life?

So: Lots of story hooks here. The only problem is that the dragonborn aren’t especially barbaric. They have a sophisticated martial tradition and excellent smiths, and would be more inclined to produce fighters or paladins than barbarians. But if the player is set on barbarian, you could establish this as the traditions of their particular clan – which could be something else that sets that clan at odds with others.

MASVIRIK’UALA: The Lizardfolk of Q’barra

In developing the lizardfolk of Q’barra, I wanted to make them a truly alien culture. They aren’t just humans with scales; there are fundamental differences that make it very difficult for them to understand and communicate with humans, and this is something that has led to the current conflict with the colonists. In my Eberron, part of a Q’barra campaign would be coming to understand these differences and finding a way to improve communication. So, spoilers to that mystery lie ahead.

On the surface, the lizardfolk are a primitive tribal culture. They have no written language, and in conversation they often seem terse and cryptic. While they initially held to treaties established with the colonists, they’ve recently engaged in savage attacks on mining camps and caravans, leaving no survivors.

The lizardfolk are an ancient race. The Overlord Masvirik dominated their ancestors, and the couatl freed them from this demonic tyranny. Following to the great sacrifice that kindled the Silver Flame, the couatl planted a seed in the collective unconscious of the lizardfolk of the region — something that would guide them and unite them, and help prevent Masvirik from rising again. And that is this: The lizardfolk of Q’barra have shared dreams. Their dreams aren’t in any way random: they are lessons. They dream of the battles their ancestors fought, and from those dreams they learn both how to fight. They dream of the tyranny of the Overlord, and from this they know what they are fighting against. They have no written language because they don’t need one; everything they need to know comes to them in their dreams. This is why their culture remains largely unchanged even though their civilization is ancient; their dreams haven’t changed, and their dreams show them how to live. So they follow the exact same paths of war and magic that their ancestors followed, and have never tried to improve upon them.

Because of their shared dreams, all lizardfolk know the same stories. The idea of explaining one of these stories is an alien concept, because how could someone not know the story of the infamous traitor or the brave martyr? As such, one of the lizardfolk might say “We do not embrace T’karr.” What he means is “We cannot be fooled and we will not take a traitor into our midst; we recognize your treachery.” Should someone say “Wait, I don’t understand what you mean by that” he’d be at a loss – how can you NOT know the story of T’karr? EVERYONE knows that story.

This is why communication with the lizardfolk is so difficult… because even comprehend languages can’t unpack context and metaphor. The lizardfolk call themselves the Masvirik’uala, which literally translates to “The Cold Sun Alliance” or “Cold Sun Federation.” It is obvious to the lizardfolk that what this means is the alliance that stands against the Cold Sun, and this isn’t something they have to explain… but most humans assume that it’s the federation of the Cold Sun. Likewise, I’ll preserve one mystery and won’t say exactly while the Masvirik’uala have become hostile (you can get my reasoning in Dungeon 185), but I’ll say that to them it is entirely obvious that the people they are killing are agents of the Overlord Masvirik, and they know from their own experience with the Poison Dusk that such creatures cannot be saved or reasoned with; the only thing to do is to kill them quickly. No one could be accidentally doing the foolish and dangerous things these colonists are doing, because everyone knows how foolish and dangerous those things are.

A secondary point here is that the Masvirik’uala are entirely united. They don’t appear to have a structure that bonds all the tribes together, because they don’t need one; they all share the same background and values. So their tribes never fight. They work together to share territory and resources. They aren’t set apart by petty feuds or desire for glory, because they all know the enemy they must stand against, and that’s a struggle that will never end. So the PC raised among the dragonborn can be caught up in (or the cause of) feuds between dragonborn clans, and have to deal with those rivalries and vendettas… but the Masvirik’uala don’t waste time on such petty things.

And a final point that ties to all of these things and again emphasizes how alien the lizardfolk are: they don’t experience emotion the way that humans do. Their brain chemistry is different; while they HAVE emotions, they are generally at a flatter level than how humans and demihumans experience things. It’s not like a Vulcan who choses to embrace logic over emotion; it’s that the lizardfolk simply never become as consumed with extremes of rage or sorrow as a human can. When the lizardfolk massacre a mining camp, they aren’t driven by fury: they’re approaching it with the detachment of a gardener plucking weeds. They can feel sorrow when a friend dies unexpectedly or anger when they are unexpectedly betrayed – but even their, they don’t experience those emotions as deeply as other races; they are quite literally cold blooded. They certainly have barbarians among their warriors, but their “barbarian rage” is literally a triggered adrenaline rush, not “rage” as humans experience it.

Now, if a player really wanted to play a character raised among the Masvirik’uala – if they couldn’t get what they were looking for from the Dragonborn – I’d let them run with it. The critical question is does the human share their dreams? There’s no logical reason why they would… and without knowing their dreams the human would always be an outsider. They’d have learned some of the stories and references over time and they’d have a weird emotional affect, but they’d always be an outsider. However, at the end of the day the dreams of the Masvirik’uala come from the Silver Flame. It was the couatl who planted the dreams in their unconscious, and in many ways this is a model of the Voice of the Flame revered in the Five Nations. So you could say that a human raised among the lizardfolk actually learned to hear their Voice of the Flame — and as such, though human, they dream the lizardfolk dream. This would mean that they understand the ways and culture of the lizardfolk, that they can interpret their metaphors — that when the elder says “We don’t embrace T’karr” they know what that means; and they understand why the lizardfolk would massacre a mining camp, and that such an action would actually make sense to them. A critical question is why this character would LEAVE the Masvirik’uala and live among humans who don’t know any of these things. One logical reason would be because they want to serve as a bridge between the two cultures, and to try to mediate or rally the colonists — in which case that story should be a major part of the campaign. But it could also be that they were raised by lizardfolk but then “rescued” at a relatively early age by colonists. So they dream the lizardfolk dream and that keeps them on the path of the barbarian… but they haven’t actually been part of a tribe for a while.

With that said: My original plan for a campaign was that learning the motivations of the lizardfolk and figuring out how to communicate with them would be an ongoing challenge. If there’s a player who gets all of this, I might add a new mystery. The Masvirik’uala are driven by dreams. Those dreams are shaped by a divine force and thus, in theory, immune to manipulation by, say, Quori. But what if they aren’t? What if the Dreaming Dark has been manipulating the shared dream to create conflict? In Sarlona, the Dreaming Dark created a terrible war so that their Inspired vessels could emerge as the heroes of that conflict. They could do the same thing here — escalate the conflict, and have their new chosen vessels (who could be a noble family in Newthrone, a dragonmarked house, followers of some religion, etc…) take the spotlight as the people who will defend against this threat. Because the player character also dreams the dreams, they know why the lizardfolk are fighting; but because they are among the colonists, they know that what the dreams claim is untrue. Can they uncover the Quori manipulation and find a way to stop it before the conflict goes too far?

How would you handle a Q’barran lizardfolk leaving the tribe to become an adventurer, or a lizardfolk acting against the cultural norms in general? Would they be ostracised? Is there room for interpretation in the Lizardfolk Dream?

Sure. The lizardfolk are less driven by raw emotion than humans are, and they essentially know they have a purpose in a way humans don’t. They aren’t generally driven by a desire for change or innovation, and thus their civilization has remained largely unchanged for tens of thousands of years. They all know all the same stories. But once you set all that aside, they aren’t mindless. They have elders and priests to help guide them — and that means that individuals can always find their own paths.

So, my question is WHY one of the lizardfolk would leave their people and travel among the softskins – these strange savages who know so little of the world. Here’s a few ideas I could see.

  • They have had a unique and personal diving vision beyond the shared dream. This could be the direct intervention of a couatl spirit — just as Tira Miron had a couatl guide her on her path. Or if could be a Quori who’s intentionally misleading them. Either way, this vision could establish that there is something they must do away from their tribe.
  • They could have a role that’s clearly defined IN the shared dream. Perhaps the lizardfolk PC is tied to the Prophecy and has a role to play in dealizing with Rhashaak or Masvirik, and all the Masvirik’uala know it. Whenever they encounter lizardfolk, they’ll treat the “chosen one” with respect… meanwhile, the Poison Dusk is particularly targeting this PC.
  • Due to extended contact with outsiders, the PC has come to question the dreams. They believe that the dreams are holding their people back and are determined to find out more about other places and cultures. Meanwhile, they have been banished from the Masvirik’uala for these heretical beliefs. Yet they still dream the shared Dream — something terrible threatens their people, they’ll know about it through the dream.
  • The PC was touched by the Poison Dusk, which cut them off from the Dream. The PC then overcame the corruption and broke free from the influence of the Cold Sun, which no one has ever done before… but their connection to the Dream was never restored. The Masvirik’uala believe the PC is corrupted and has exiled them. Is the PC corrupted, or is their victory proof that they are the one who can bring down the Poison Dusk once and for all?

The idea that people can’t tell the difference between lizardfolk and dragonborn seems hard to swallow. 

The idea was never that people literally can’t tell the two species apart; it’s that most people have never cared enough TO tell the species apart. The distinction isn’t part of the common knowledge of a person living in Khorvaire. The settlement of Q’barra only began seventy years ago, and during a time of war. Q’barra includes multiple species: kobolds, troglodytes, lizardfolk (who come in multiple shades and sizes) and dragonborn. All of these cultures are insular and many are either actively hostile to the colonists or have difficulty communicating. So: A jungle guide or a Newthrone envoy will know ALL about the differences between these difference species and cultures. But even a typical prospector doesn’t CARE to know the difference. They’re all creepy. They’re all dangerous. It doesn’t make a difference if they’re tall or short, if they have tails or don’t have tails; they’re all scales. Meanwhile, in the Five Nations Q’barra is little more than a curiosity. People know stories of miners being attacked by dinosaurs and reptilian humanoids. There are probably stories that dragons live in the jungle, or even that the colonists domesticate dinosaurs. A SCHOLAR may know all about the Trothlorsvek and the Masivirik’uala… but the commoner doesn’t know and probably doesn’t care. They’re lizard people halfway across the world.

THE POISON DUSK

So what about the third faction: The Poison Dusk? Per Dungeon 182/185, the colonists have never understood the true nature of the Poison Dusk. They’ve assumed it’s just another tribe, when in fact they are the victims of fiendish corruption — reptilian creatures of many species who have fallen under the sway of Masvirik and Rhashaak. This is why they’ve never been completely destroyed. Even if they are wiped out, they eventually return; often those most involved in the destruction end up falling prey to corruption. Per canon, humans – and for that matter, any warmblooded creatures – aren’t vulnerable to Masvirik’s influence. However, just as with the shared dream of the Cold Sun, you could say that THIS human was touched by Masvirik, which would explain why the Poison Dusk took them in.

If I were to do this, I’d probably say that there is a dusk shard – a dragonshard imbued with demonic energy – embedded in the body of the player character. For most of their life, the demon in the shard has controlled them. At some point the PC was on a raid; their scaled comrades were killed; and something happened that broke the demon’s hold over the PC. If another member of the party is a divine character, I’d suggest that it was their power that freed the PC. Now the PC is in control, but they don’t entirely know what that means; they’ve been driven by a demon their entire life, and they have to discover what it means to make their own choices. Assuming you stuck with barbarian as a class, I might come up with a new Barbarian path playing with the idea that their “rage” draws on the demonic power of their shard. This is a way to justify the PC growing up in a savage culture while giving them an opportunity to be innocent of atrocities they may have committed while with the Poison Dusk (and I would definitely have them end up visiting villages they raided while with the PD and facing the families of people they murdered)… to have them have to decide if they want to embrace a brighter path or cling to their demonic instincts. And is there a risk that the demon could regain control of them?

RHASHAAK: LORD OF HAKA’TORVHAK

The black dragon Rhashaak came to Haka’torvhak as a guardian. He was corrupted by Masvirik and now channels part of the power of the Overlord… and because of this, he too is bound to Haka’torvhak. He is the figurehead of the Poison Dusk, and the colonists believe that the Poison Dusk worship Rhashaak as their living god. Which for all intents and purposes they do. But what does Rhashaak actually WANT? How can you use him in a campaign? Here’s a few ideas.

The Voice of Masvirik

Rhashaak is the living avatar of the Overlord Masvirik, one of the most powerful and evil beings ever to walk the world. Most of the Overlords essentially slumber in their prisons, but Masvirik is fully aware; the dragon is effectively a puppet. But While Masvirik is conscious, he is bound to the body of the dragon and has only a fraction of his power. His primary goal is to build his power, crush his enemies, and ultimately find a way to break the bonds of the Silver Flame and regain his full power. He calls himself “Rhashaak” because there’s no reason to let his enemies know that he has returned. But in truth, he is the Overlord Masvirik.

Under this storyline, Rhashaak remains as the god-king of the Poison Dusk. The critical aspects are that his ultimate purpose is to break the bonds and release Masvirik in his full glory.

The Mad Wyrm

Rhashaak is fused with the consciousness of Masvirik. He dreams the dreams of the slumbering Overlord, but doesn’t fully understand them. Instead, he truly believes that he, Rhashaak, is a god… or at least, he has the potential to become one. He seeks to force all of the people of Q’barra — both the lizardfolk and the softskins — to bow down and worship him. He is certain that if he can only bend enough followers to his cause, he will achieve his true divine potential, break the bonds holding him to Haka’torvhik and ascend to the heavens. It’s up to you if he thinks he’s going to become one of the Sovereigns or Dark Six, or if he will be an entirely new godlike being.

In this storyline, Rhashaak’s schemes DON’T clearly intersect with a desire to free Masvirik. His power comes from Masvirik, and the Poison Dusk are drawn to him because of this, but he will never mention the Overlord. He’s focused on dealing with dawn and dusk shards, and in fact, House Tharashk is more likely to free Masvirik than Rhashaak is. Instead, his actions purely about expanding his personal power in Q’barra, crushing his enemies, and forcing people to worship him. In this case, there could be a SEPARATE sect of dusk-shard fiendish reptilian champions that are working to free the Overlord… who resemble the servants of Rhashaak, but are actually working against him.

 

The Tortured Mastermind

Rhashaak began as a guardian. If you want to make the dragon a more complicated villain, you could say that he’s still that guardian. He’s been merged with Masvirik. The Poison Dusk worship him as a god and expect him to show them the path to unleash the Cold Sun. But he hates the Overlords and would never unleash Masvirik. At the same time, if the Poison Dusk knew this they would turn on him. He has to keep them believing that they are working towards the rise of the Cold Sun… all the while trying to find his own path to freedom and to ensure that Masvirik is never freed. In this scenario, a party of adventurers could be captured by the Poison Dusk and brought to Haka’Torvhak to be sacrificed – only to have Rhashaak himself set them free and help them escape.

Now, this is tricky enough – but if you want to make it even trickier, you could say that just because Rhashaak isn’t the villain people think he is doesn’t mean he’s a hero. Rhashaak may hate the Cold Sun and the Poison Dusk… but he could still be working towards a plan that will grant him divinity. This could be something that will let him claim Masvirik’s power as his own… or it could be something more akin to the divine power of the Undying Court. If he can fully bind Masvirik and also secure the full devotion of all of the scales, he could harness that to become something like a god. Would he use this power to redeem the Poison Dusk and be a just guide to the scales? Or would be be an even deadlier tyrant, free to unleash both his divine power and draconic might against the colonists?

This was supposed to be a quick two-paragraph answer to a question, and instead it turned into all this. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters; the more support I have, the more time I can justify spending on the site… so if you want to see more content, check it out! I’ll be answering questions from patrons whenever time permits.

Dragonmarks: A Q’Barra Campaign

My last post raised a question: what cities or locations in Eberron can support an entire campaign? Sharn and Stormreach can fill this role, if you want them to. But what about other locations? Someone raised the idea of the city of Newthrone in Q’barra, and that got me thinking. Because I think you could easily run an entire campaign in Q’barra, but I wouldn’t start it in Newthrone.

In my mind, a Q’barra campaign would be a fantasy twist on the classic Western. The adventurers are people who’ve chosen to live on the frontier, searching for fortune, redemption, or simply an escape from something. Rather than starting them in the largest city in the region, I’d do the reverse and start them in an entirely new community. Q’barra is a frontier nation largely untouched by humans, but in the past decades prospectors and settlers have discovered rich deposits of dragonshards in Q’barra. Much like the classic gold rush, this has drawn a host of opportunists and fortune seekers – and all the sorts of people who hope to profit or prey upon them.

Player Backgrounds

So: I’d sit down with the players and establish that there’s a new town in the Hope region of Q’barra. Tharashk prospectors have identified the region as rich in shards, and it’s on the precipice of a boom. With that in mind, I’d ask the players if any of them want to be founders of this community. There’s a couple of roles a player could choose to fill:

  • The Law. Someone needs to keep order in this small town… do you have what it takes to pin that star to your chest? This is an easy go-to for a paladin, but there’s no reason a fighter or even a rogue can’t design to be the lawkeeper. It’s also a role that could be shared among multiple characters, either equally or as a warden with deputies.
  • The Faith. As a divine character — or a druid, for that matter — could be the spiritual guide for this small town. Their choice of faith will say a great deal about the flavor of the town; is the local church dedicated to the Silver Flame or to the Blood of Vol? And does the character have the respect of a significant portion of the community, or are they an evangelist trying to convert the faithless townsfolk? This is an opportunity to play up the idea of a divine caster filling the actual duties of a priest – guiding and counseling a community – as well as smiting undead.
  • The Money. It’s a small town, but someone’s got to buy and sell. Personally, I’d be inclined to have the primary merchant prince be an NPC so you have a little flexibility in tracking the local economy and you don’t get into the weird space of “Why don’t I give all my goods away to the party?” But you could certainly have a bard or rogue running the local saloon — having a stake in the local economy, and having a little bit of a minigame involving managing goods and employees.

If one or more players is up for taking one of these central roles, I’d ask them to name the townThey may not be the mayor, but they’re one of the founders… so what did they call it? For the rest of the article, I’m going to call my town Felhaven. But having the players name the town is a way to give them a concrete connection to it and establish that it is new. It’s not on the existing maps of Q’barra because it wasn’t there when those maps were made.

So, what about the rest of the players? Everyone needs a reason to be in Felhaven: What is it? Here’s a few ideas, just off the top of my head…

  • A rogue or bard could be any combination of grifter, gambler, entertainer or professional “companion” (an especially strong role for a changeling).
  • A ranger would make an excellent Tharashk bounty hunter — someone who’d have ties to the Tharashk prospectors in the area, and who could be offered work tracking down troublemakers. You could take the same path with another class, but ranger’s a great match.
  • I love the idea of a warlock or sorcerer as a professional wandslinger – gambler, duelist, and general scoundrel. Either one could also have ties to the dark powers in the region, either by choice or unwillingly.
  • A fighter could be an ex-soldier fleeing the war. They could be a deserter who fled during the war, a Cyran soldier without a home, someone who served with distinction but now feels they have no place in the Five Nations. But they could just as easily be a mercenary looking for opportunities — Firefly terms, Mal or Jayne. A deserter
  • An artificer or wizard could be interested in rare dragonshards in the region — believing that if they can locate a supply of these shards, they could make some sort of arcane breakthrough. Or they could be a sage interested in the history of the Age of Demons, eager to explore the local ruins.
  • A halfling druid, barbarian or ranger could have come from the Talenta Plains. They could have formed a bond to one of the other PCs and this is what drew them from their homeland… or they could have been exiled from their tribe, for reasons that will be explored as the campaign continues.

Given that Q’barra is off the beaten path, it’s also an easy place for any sort of unusual character who doesn’t feel comfortable in the Five Nations. Tiefling, warforged, magebred exotic race – Felhaven’s a perfect place for a person who doesn’t fit in elsewhere.

Once players have basic concepts, I’d also suggest that they come up with exactly what has brought their character to Felhaven… a hook that could be explored in future adventures. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Family. This is a good match for someone who has an important role in the town. Family could mean parents and siblings, but if could just as easily mean a spouse and children. Often adventurers are rootless, but in this scenario, Felhaven is the character’s home. Personally, if a player picked this path, I’d have each of the other players also take on the roles of a member of the PC’s family – rather than me playing them all as NPCs, if there’s a scene with the PC’s spouse, one of the players always takes on that role. In doing this, it gives the other players both a stronger connection to the fate of the family and to the town overall.
  • Profit. The character is a mercenary who’s in this for quick gold. They’re here for tomb raiding, bounty hunting, and anything else that could get a few galifars in their purse. Will they discover there’s something more important than gold as time goes on? Alternately, the character could be a dragonmarked heir, either sent to oversee a specific house operation or hoping to make a name for themselves within the house through their own action.
  • Redemption. The character did something terrible in the Last War… something they deeply regret. It’s possible that they are a wanted criminal in the Five Nations… and if so, it’s possible bounty hunters could show up in pursuit of them. Was the terrible action justified? Is it that they once were a truly terrible person and remorse has changed them? What will redemption involve?
  • Revenge. Someone wronged the PC in a terrible way – murdered their family, stole their future, what have you – and that person is somewhere in Q’barra. Felhaven is just the first step in tracking them down.
  • Knowledge. Q’barra has well-preserved ruins from the Age of Demons. The people of the Five Nations also know little about the lizardfolk and the Dragonborn. Any of these could be an interesting thing to pursue, and the PC could have a specific lead or contact they’re following up on.
  • Vision. This is an easy option for a divine character, but anyone can have a vision. The character has had a vision of a terrible darkness that could sweep out to destroy Khorvaire – and knows that the path to stopping it begins in Felhaven. Is this a true divine vision? Or could they be being manipulated by the Dreaming Dark?
  • Spy. The character is working for an organization that wants to keep an eye on this developing community. Easy options include the Aurum or a local crime boss in Newthrone… but you could have a secret agent of a Dragonmarked House or even the Lords of Dust. A changeling companion could have ties to the Cabinet of Faces. This most likely is something that gets the PC a little extra gold on a regular basis, but they could start getting orders that put them at odds with the needs of the community. Turning on their boss is a great arc for a midlevel story!
  • Mystery. The PC has a map to a fortune. It could be treasures stashed during the Last War, an ancient fiendish vault, or a rich shard field. Whatever it is, they have a lead on a fantastic opportunity – but it’s not something they can pull off alone.

Building The Town

So: now we have some well rounded player characters and some hooks to explore in upcoming episodes. Next I want to develop the town itself. Who are the major NPCs? Who are the power brokers? If the players didn’t take on these parts, someone has to be the law and there will certainly be some sort of temple or church. There will surely be a saloon, inn or brothel (or some combination of all of these) and a general store. There’s a local leader: is this a mayor, or is this town a Tharashk outpost governed by a Tharashk baron (in which case Tharashk would also provide the “law”)? What other groups are here? Who’s the richest person in town, and how desperate is the poorest person? I’d certainly want to develop these characters myself so they have secrets for the PCs to uncover, but I’d also engage the players to help me fill out details. “Bob, the innkeeper at the Rusty Nail is a beloved pillar of the community. What gender is the innkeeper? Sarah, what race are they? Galen, any distinctive physical details?” Again, I’m establishing the critical story detail – the innkeeper is a beloved figure, as opposed to a hated pennypincher – but I’m letting the players add details that give them a connection.

In creating the town, there’s a few critical questions. What services are available here? Is there a Sivis message station? Is there a Jorasco healer? What can be bought, and what’s the limit on what the merchants can afford to buy? Who are the potential troublemakers, and who could be patrons or long-term enemies of the PCs? In particular…

  • Is someone in town a disguised agent of the Chamber or the Lords of Dust?
  • Is someone being manipulated by the Dreaming Dark?
  • Is someone a spy for one of those groups I mentioned before?

Personally, I WOULDN’T provide a lot of dragonmarked services to begin with, because it’s a great way to establish the growth of the community; I’ll talk more about this below.

What last thing to consider: Manifest zones. Is the town built by or in a manifest zone, and if so, what are its effects? Manifest zones can have very useful effects; a zone tied to Lamannia might naturally purify all water in the region, while a zone tied to Fernia might cause fires to burn longer and brighter than normal. Logically, if people were going to build in a manifest zone it should have some sort of useful effect. But it’s also possible that the founders didn’t know the zone was there – or that there’s a zone adjacent to the town that has dangerous effects.

Plots

So we’ve got a fun location. We have interesting characters. What do we do for story? Here’s a few easy starting adventures….

  • There are ruins near the town. These could date back to the Age of Demons, or they could be tied to the fallen dragonborn nation. At low levels, you don’t necessarily want people stumbling into Haka’Torvhak, but these could be tiny outposts or tombs with simple traps and minor undead or local wildlife. This is a great opportunity for the PCs to do something that sends a longer term plot in motion: they take the magic orb from the tomb, little realizing that it was a warding stone holding an evil spirit in check… and in future adventures, they’ll have to deal with the unleashed spirit and its corrupted minions.
  • Bandits or criminals can threaten the town, preying on the honest prospectors. Can the PCs act as mediators, or violence the only solution?
  • Likewise, you could have any number of mysterious strangers showing up for an adventure of the week. A wealthy explorer shows up with a map but needs bold adventurers to help her find the prize. A large group of Cyran refugees shows up and wants to settle, but are they as innocent as they seem? A crusading priest shows up and tries to rally the townsfolk to his cause. A traveling tinker has a host of mystical treasures for sale… but we’ve long been warned to beware the gifts of the Traveler!
  • The PCs can run into trouble with the local scales – hostile lizardfolk and dragonborn. The Poison Dusk are aggressive servants of the local demon Overlord; the Cold Sun lizardfolk fight the Poison Dusk, but could end up fighting the PCs or Felhaven because the PCs have unknowingly violated a taboo or threatened the local balance. Can the PCs establish communication and work out an alliance with the Cold Sun? Logically, this is something that starts small – clashes with a few bands of warriors – but that over time draws PCs into the ancient conflict in the region and reveals the history of the dragonborn and the Cold Sun.
  • Within the town itself, you could have a Cult of the Dragon Below or a Dreaming Dark cell spread like a cancer until it’s uncovered. You could also simply have mundane troubles – organized crime or a Dragonmarked House seeking to claim the town as their own.

Beyond this, you’ve got a lot of hooks in the choices made by the players. If a PC is the law in these parts, you can always drop in quarrels or crimes they need to deal with… while the preacher may have to deal with morale and the saloon owner with economic challenges. If someone came to town seeking revenge, well, where’s that trail lead?

Now: In this scenario, I’d make the town essentially a character in the game as well… as the PCs grow in power, the town can gain levels as well. While the PCs are going on adventures, prospectors are hunting for shard deposits and farmers are settling in. if the PCs can hold off bandits and scales, the town prospers and should gain services. Each time the players gain a level, consider adding something new: a Sivis message station (perhaps initially only connected to Newthrone), a Jorasco healer, a magecrafting blacksmith, a Cannith tinker who produces a few minor magic items, a larger Tharashk refinery that raises the cap on what merchants can afford to play. If the players screw up, things could be lost; the message stone operator could be killed, or simply decide it’s too dangerous for him to stay. The players should feel a meaningful impact both for their triumphs and failures.

Longer term, you can start bringing in more powerful organizations and greater challenges.

  • An elite Emerald Claw squad comes through – what are they looking for in the jungle, and should the PCs stop them? Do they want to outright fight the Emerald Claw on the streets of Felhaven – which could result in a lot of innocent deaths – or find another answer? It could be that the secret to Erandis Vol’s ascension lies in the region – which is a reason to have a long term and evolving Emerald Claw presence. This is a good basic for a recurring villain, such as the necromancer Demise.
  • The Lords of Dust have plans involving Felhaven. Logically this would invovle the Overlord Masvirik, the demon bound in Haka’Torvhak… but you could also have agents of a different Overlord with plans that run counter to what Masvirik wants. The Lords of Dust seek to enact a particular branch of the Prophecy – and they’ll help the PCs, but only because they are trying to steer the PCs into unleashing Masvirik or another Overlord. Eventually the PCs might expose the rakshasa hiding in Felhaven – but is it too late to stop the demon’s plans?
  • You could likewise have an agent of the Chamber, whose plans involve the Prophecy and the scales. This character could be a patron who wants to use the party against the servants of Masvirik… but dragons have little regard for individual human lives, and missions could put the PCs in grave danger.
  • Initial casual bandit raids could escalate into a larger struggle. Does the powerful bandit leader have a goal beyond simply getting gold? Are they an agent of the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, a Dragonmarked House. or are they just a brilliant, charismatic leader? This could lead to a full-on attack on Felhaven.
  • A dragonmarked house could have plans that threaten the entire community. This could be about acquiring resources – Cannith wants all the rare dragonshards- or it could just be about direct house conflict, like Deneith striking against Tharashk. Following the idea of the rare dragonshards, Felhaven could end up being at the center of a conflict between agents of the three Cannith houses… and meanwhile, the Cold Sun could be furious because removing these shards is empowering the local fiends.
  • The Dreaming Dark could be attempting to create a new puppet figurehead — people who can take on the role of the Inspired in the event of a Quori takeover. Can the PCs uncover and expose this plot?
  • A Dragonmarked baron could seek to expand the power of their house across the region – either with or without the support of the Twelve.

Beyond this: gateways to Khyber can be found anywhere… and where you have Khyber, you can have the Daelkyr. What begins as a simple (and easily defeated) Cult of the Dragon Below can ultimately be tied to the rising power of a Daelkyr, complete with aberrant dinosaurs or warped lizardfolk. Alternately, the same approach can be taken with the Overlord Masvirik. A cult to Masvirik could also end up producing yuan-ti – literally new yuan-ti reflecting the corrupting influence of Masvirik, so the local merchant prince becomes yuan-ti over the course of the campaign.

Long term, this can lead to epic developments in the region:

  • Masvirik is unbound, and there is a bitter conflict as corrupted scales and possessed dinosaurs ravage the region.
  • A Daelkyr rises, unleashing abberant terror (with the exact nature depending on the Daelkyr).
  • Erandis Vol herself comes to Q’barra; once her mark is restored, she raises an army of undead dragonborn and lizardfolk.
  • The Dreaming Dark unleashes a scheme to take over Q’barra, using their makeshift Inspired (local heroes they’ve created and raised) as the figureheads.

Ideally, this is something where things that have been around from the start end up being central to the epic finale. That greedy Cannith baron who’s been a throne in the PC’s side throughout the campaign ends up becoming the vessel for Masvirik due to his foolish experiments with corrupted Dragonshards! Perhaps there’s even an army of possessed warforged, as this evil artificer has found a way to use the shards to implant demons into warforged!

Now: Felhaven might be the heart of the campaign, but that doesn’t mean the players will never leave it. Events and adventures should take the PCs to ruins across the region, to the cities of the Dragonborn or warrens of the lizardfolk, to Haka’Torvak and to Newthrone. But Felhaven can always be at the heart of it.

That ended up being longer than I planned, but I hope it’s interesting both in terms of developing stories in Q’barra and as a look at how I think about campaigns. In the meantime, I’m working on a number of big articles you’ll see in future weeks. As always, the more support I get on my Patreon the more time I can justify spending on this site. If you’re already supporting me, thank you very much; if not, check it out here!

Also: the ideas I present here draw heavily on the expanded Q’barra articles I wrote for Dungeon 182 and Dungeon 185. D182 examines the Dragonshard trade and introduces the concept of dusk shards and dawn shards. D185 delves deeper into the Cold Sun, Poison Dusk, and dragonborn of the region, along with additional information about the role it played during the Age of Demons.

 

What have you done with Q’barra? What would you do in a Q’barra campaign? Post your answers below!

Favorite Cities in Eberron?

I’ve spent the last six weeks traveling the US in a van to demo my card game Illimat, and that’s meant that I haven’t had much time for writing. I have three big articles I’m working on for the website, but they’re complicated topics and need more time. But rather than leave you all hanging, I wanted to pull out an easy question from the ones submitted by my Patreon supporters… and while I’m at it, thanks to everyone who has chosen to support me and this site! Now on to the question:

If you had the chance to to another Eberrron city book on the scale of Sharn or Stormreach, which city would be your first pick and why?

My first choice would definitely be Graywall. This is the second largest city in Droaam, lying directly on the border between Droaam and Breland. Why Graywall? Here’s a few reasons…

  • Like Stormreach, Graywall is a frontier — a gateway to a world the people of the Five Nations know little about.
  • Droaam is a nation of monsters. Humans are in the minority here, and that creates a lot of potential for interesting stories that don’t work in many other places. It’s a chance for player characters to interact with “monsters” as something other than enemies – to deal with medusas, harpies and werewolves in ways they wouldn’t anywhere else.
  • It’s a city filled with intrigue and opportunities. Droaam has only been a nation for a decade. Many of the warlords have their own agendas, and there are those who which to bring down warlords to take their places. Beyond this you have the mysterious schemes of the Daughters of Sora Kell. As it’s not bound by the laws of Thronehold, you have opportunities for war criminals, outlaws, or wizards engaging in arcane research forbidden in other places. Beyond this, it’s built atop ancient Dhakaani ruins… yet one more thing to explore.
  • Beyond the city itself, such a sourcebook would be an opportunity to explore the many cultures of Droaam in more depth. Droaam is a tapestry woven from many distinct and very different cultures: the doppelgangers of Lost, the tieflings of the Venomous Demesne, the lycanthropes of the Dark Pack, the gnolls of the Znir Pact, etc, etc. I’d love to be able to delve into each of these more deeply, creating hooks that are equally useful for DMs building stories and players who want to play a member of that culture.

Graywall is a chance to take something very different and distinctly part of Eberron and to tell stories that you couldn’t tell in any city in the Five Nations.

So: that’s my first choice. But there’s lots of other possibilities.

  • Thaliost. This Aundairian city was seized by Thrane during the Last War. The Last War never really ended in Thaliost, and it’s a great place to explore the lingering tensions and ongoing intrigues between these two nations.
  • Atur. The City of Night is the heart of the Blood of Vol in Karrnath and the center of their necromantic research. It grew in power and influence along with the Blood of Vol, but now that Kaius has abandoned the faith it is a city in crisis – an a place filled with opportunity, adventure, and a chance to consider how necromancy could be integrated into society.
  • Rukhaan Draal. The capital city of Darguun intrigues me for many of the same reasons as Graywall — an opportunity to explore adventures in the city of those usually considered monsters in other settings. It’s also an opportunity to dig deeper into the customs of both the Ghaal’dar and Dhakaani goblins.

Taer Valaestas in Valenar. Pylas Talaer in Aerenal. Almost any city in the Lhazaar Principalities… like most of those described above, it’s the chance both to flesh out a city as a hub for adventure, but also to delve deeper into the cultures that shape it.

To be clear: This isn’t necessarily one of the first sourcebooks I’d make if I had the power to do so. I’d rather write a sourcebook on Darguun than specifically one on Rukhaan Draal, and I’d pick a Droaam sourcebook over a Graywall sourcebook — because there’s so much to delve into about those entire regions. And I might write a book on the Planes before that. This is a thought experiment — if someone appeared tomorrow and said “You can write an Eberron book, but it has to be a city sourcebook” what would I want it to be?

Anyhow, that’s all I have time for today. What cities would you like to see developed in more depth?

Dragonmarks: The Demon Wastes vs The Mournland

Over on my Twitter (@HellcowKeith) I received a question that seemed worthy of a more-than-140-character response.

Demon Wastes vs Mournland: what are the key differences? When would I choose to set an adventure in either one? Both have similar elements: magical wasteland, “edge of the world” vs “apocalyptic” feel, manipulative villains scheming from ruined cities. Roaming savages & arcane horrors prey on PCs; devastated landscape, unnaturally hostile weather; both are essentially nation-wide dungeons.

Tldr: What kind of encounter/challenge/adventure/story would fit in either one, but not the other?

The Demon Wastes and the Mournland are both nation-sized dungeons, but they are different in many ways.

  • The Demon Wastes are ancient; the Mournland is brand new.
  • The ruins in the Demon Wastes are cities built by demons. They have been ruins for tens of thousands of years, and they hold magic that humans can’t begin to create… and anything perishable has long since perished, unless preserved by magic. The ruins in the Mournland are ruins of human cities. They were only ruined two years ago, and they contain everything you’d expect to find in a human city that was suddenly depopulated… including things that may be precious to people who survived the Mourning.
  • The inhuman threats of the Demon Wastes are fiends and the creations of fiendish power. They are ancient and innately malevolent; it is a place that is fundamentally EVIL. The inhuman threats of the Mournland are mutations seemingly created with no rhyme or reason. It may be dangerous, but it’s not evil.
  • The mortal threats of the Demon Wastes are well-established and have been in places for hundreds or thousands of years. The Carrion Tribes are themselves ancient. The Ghaash’kala have been defending the Labyrinth longer than human civilization has existed. This things have history and customs. By contrast, nothing in the Mournland is more than two years old. If there is any sort of organization or culture – IE followers of the Lord of Blades, Eladrin, Mournland Magebred – they’ve either come from the outside or only just sprung into existence. The Mournland has no history.
  • The Demon Wastes are peppered with portals into Khyber that led to demonic demiplanes. This means that you can find all sorts of bizarre wonders and worlds in the Demon Wastes, if you can find the portals. In my recent post on the Ghaash’kala I mentioned the Abyssal Forest of Khar and the battlefields of the Ironlands. A point here is that THESE places are ancient and have their own histories and structures, even if they are entirely new to the players… and again, they are fundamentally shaped by evil and filled with demons. By contrast, the Mournland is random and unpredictable. You can find all sorts of strange environments, but you won’t find ancient cities populated by demon warriors.
  • The Demon Wastes are a great place to find ancient magic humans could never create – artifacts and strange tools. The Mournland is a great place to find treasures people CAN create, left behind when they were killed.
  • The Demon Wastes are off in a corner of the world and hidden behind the Labyrinth, and have been essentially stable for tens of thousands of years. The Mournland is right in the middle of the Five Nations and is a mystery; people fear that it could suddenly start to expand.

With that in mind, here’s a bunch of adventure hooks for each that I am literally making up on the spot, so no promises that they are good.

THE DEMON WASTES

  • The adventurers must steal a scroll from the Library of Ashtakala. Perhaps it reveals the true plans of Bel Shalor, the only way to defeat Rak Tulkhesh, or exactly where Sul Khatesh is imprisoned. While in the Library, they could find entirely new arcane magic spells and rituals created by the rakshasa, or details of a new threat tied to the Draconic Prophecy.
  • Someone near and dear to the party (perhaps a PC) has been slain by a Keeper’s Fang dagger. This leads the adventurers to go to the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes to see if the soul can be reclaimed. Is this just the laid of a mundane dracolich (perhaps the FIRST dracolich), or is it a portal to another plane? Can the soul actually be found there and reclaimed?
  • An unnatural plague is sweeping through Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches. It’s definitely come from the Demon Wastes – can they find the source and a cure in the Wastes? Is the source in the wastes proper, or must you find a path to the Abyssal Forests of Khar to find that cure?
  • Take the same idea but make it personal: a PC is afflicted by a curse or disease that is tied to the Age of Demons. Perhaps they found a cursed artifact that they can’t get rid of, or dealt with a fiend or fiendish ruin elsewhere in Khorvaire. The only way to solve the problem is to go to the Wastes. It could be that this is the only place that artifact can be removed or destroyed (a la Lord of the Rings), that they need to bargain with a fiend, or just that it’s the only place that information can be found.
  • A great paladin of the Silver Flame went to the Demon Wastes and never returned. Can you discover what happened to him and reclaim his holy relics?
  • You need to do something tied to one of the planes, and the only being who can tell you what you need to know is the ancient night hag who served as ambassador to that plane during the Age of Demons. Can you find her in the Demon Wastes, and if so, what will she demand in exchange for her services?
  • The couatl sent Tira Miron to the Demon Wastes to find her sword Kloijner, the only weapon that could harm Bel Shalor. Likewise, a PC could be sent to the Demon Wastes by a vision or through lore to recover a powerful artifact from the Dragon-Fiend war.
  • Scholars are always curious to discover more about the ancient prehuman civilizations. You can blatantly rip off At The Mountains of Madness: The PCs accompany a scholarly expedition seeking to delve into the prehuman history of the Wastes, but the ruined city they explore isn’t quite as dead as they expect…

THE MOURNLAND

  • One of the Cannith factions hires the PCs to recover house secrets from a forgehold in the Mourning. This can be entirely straightforward… or the work may have evolved or mutated, or may be something Cannith doesn’t want the world to know exists. This could also be critical to the power balance between the Cannith factions – will the PCs change sides, or be opposed by another faction? Alternately, someone OTHER than Cannith could be trying to steal these secrets…
  • As above, but with ANY Dragonmarked house: a house enclave in the Mournland holds an important artifact that must be recovered, but that may have mutated or evolved in an interesting way.
  • Prince Oargev needs you to recover family tools or secrets from Metrol. Did Cyre have a secret weapon or plan that they never had a chance to deploy because of the Mourning? If so, does Oargev want to ensure that this doesn’t cause anyone harm, or does he want to use its power for New Cyre?
  • If any of the PCs are Cyrans, they could simply want to recover family heirlooms from their homes, or to try to discover the fate of their home town.
  • Inhuman raiders are striking from the Mournland and then retreating back into it. Can you find them in the Mournland and end this threat?
  • Something new (Eladrin, Magebred, Warforged) has set up a base in the Mournland, and you must go into it in order to negotiate with them.

I’m short on time so I’ll stop there, but the critical thing with the Mournland is that it’s filled with things that people want: family heirlooms, treasured works of art, secret weapons or plans from the war. It has museums, forgeholds, palaces – and people know that these things are there, in contrast to the ancient and mysterious secrets of the Demon Wastes. Consider if Washington DC was suddenly warped by magic: there would be people who would want to recover artifacts from the Smithsonian, plans from the Pentagon, family treasures, etc. By contrast, the ruins of the Demon Wastes are entirely unknown; we have no idea what rakshasa civilization even looked like, let along what treasures or dangers their cities hold.

A few more questions have come up…

Any tips on what a rakshasa city looks like? 

An important point here is that fiendish cities were created, not constructed. They were made by the Overlords, for whom it was a trivial matter to shape reality within their sphere. So the first main point is which Overlord created the city? There’s no common style here. Katashka might build a city from bones, while Rak Tulkhesh’s followers would live in a fortress of steel and stone. The city of Sul Khatesh would be a spectacle of magic while also being filled with secrets. Tul Oreshka might not have a city… or her city might exist as a shared delusion that overtakes anyone who comes upon it.

In general, things to consider:

  • These cities were formed by epic magic as opposed to mundane labor. You can have floating towers or monuments. You can have structures made out of impossible substances – a living tower, a house made from mist that somehow never drifts apart. Need light? Buildings could simply glow, or anyone in the city might find that they have darkvision within its confines.
  • Magic still lingers in these places, but that doesn’t mean it’s as strong as it was. You might have one floating tower that’s standing while another has come crashing down. A fountain of fire or blood could still be running, or it could be scroched or dried up. We’ve said of Ashtakala that the memories of the city linger even though the city is ruined – and that anyone who enters it will be cloaked in those memories.

So go deep alien and feel free to use impossible materials and designs… as opposed to the Mournland, where things may have been warped, but the FOUNDATION is entirely familiar and mundane.

What did demons like to do before the Overlords were trapped?

Immortals are ideas given form, and the primary thing they like to do is embody that idea. The demons and archons of Shavarath have been fighting since the dawn of time, and with a few remarkable exceptions they never grow tired or question the struggle; it is their PURPOSE and sole interest. During the Age of Demons, lesser fiends were essentially an extension of their Overlords. The minions of Rak Tulkhesh delighted in spreading war, and if there was no war to spread they would simply fight one another in an endless cycle of pointless violence (as they’d eventually reincarnate after death). The fiends living in Eldrantulku’s domain surely had an incredibly elaborate bureaucracy and series of houses engaged in endless schemes and vendettas. Not all Overlords HAD rakshasa or other fiends as their primary minions; Draal Khatuur is called out as preferring the company of her own icy spirits and creations to the rakshasa, and Katashka the Gatekeeper would likely rule a realm filled with undead (with a foundation of fiends specializing in necromancy and slaughter).

As I’ve said before, in Eberron immortals generally have less free will than mortals do. They don’t decide what they want to be; they KNOW what they ARE, and know it with absolute clarity. Because they’ve been so long separated from their Overlords, some rakshasa have drifted a bit – but even a rakshasa who seeks to usurp her master’s power instead of trying to free him seeks that power so SHE can become the Overlord and embody that concept. But looking to the height of the Age of Demons you can almost think of the rakhsasa as actors in a play, endlessly playing out the roles defined by their Overlord. It’s not entirely scripted, but the direction never changes. The minions of Eldrantulku are always coming up with their own new ideas and schemes – but they couldn’t just decide “Why don’t we all work together and NOT betray each other for once?”

I wonder why, if that is the nature of the cities, there aren’t demon ruins spread everywhere in Eberron. And WHY do demons need cities?

First off, demon ruins aren’t confined to the Demon Wastes. Page 20 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide described demon ruins as one of the types of places you can find adventure, noting in part “Fiendish strongholds are likely to be found at the edges of civilization, in places such as the Demon Wastes and Q’barra, but a subterranean ruin could lie hidden anywhere in Khorvaire.” Krezent in the Talenta Plains and Ha’katorvhak in Q’barra are both ruins from the Age of Demons. So these ruins ARE spread across Eberron. It’s simply that very, very few have survived. The Age of Demons was over a hundred thousand years ago. What hasn’t succumbed to time was often intentionally destroyed, either in the conflicts of the time or leveled by dragons in ages after. Those places that have survived are generally extremely isolated, incredibly durable, and generally infused with immensely powerful magic – like Ashtakala.

But let’s take a moment to look at the question of WHY these cities existed in the first place. Demons don’t need cities in the same way that humans do. They don’t need food. They don’t sleep. They aren’t concerned with shelter from the elements. Their numbers are static, so they don’t create NEW cities to house a growing population.

Now, the greatest cities would be the seats of power of Overlords. The city is a reflection of the Overlord; they don’t NEED it, but it is a representation of the Overlord and their power. Let’s call these citadels. There were a limited number of Overlords and not every Overlord would have a citadel, so that’s a concrete limit right there. An Overlord wouldn’t and couldn’t make more than one citadel; it literally is the heart of their power. Thus, Haka’torvhak is the seat of the Cold Sun. These places are the most likely to survive in some form, because they are suffused with the power of an overlord. But the fact that we haven’t mentioned, say, a citadel of Sul Khatesh suggests that even these could be destroyed.

Lesser cities serves a different purpose: they’d house mortals. Because most of the Overlords feed on mortals. Not literally – but it’s through mortals that the Overlords express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh is the Rage of War and yearns to create conflict and bloodshed. He can get his demons to fight each other just as a way to pass the time…but it’s not real. They’re immortal. They don’t feel rage and loss and death the way mortals do. Tul Oreshka needs mortals to experience her madness. An Overlord of Tyranny exists to dominate mortals. Tiamat is the darkness in dragons – which is meaningless without dragonsNot all Overlords need mortals. Draal Khatuur embodies the killing cold, and she is happy to lord over a desolate frozen waste. This was the point of the PC warlock in one of my campaign who was working for an Overlord of Tyranny. He didn’t WANT his Overlord to escape, but if one of them HAD to escape, at least his Overlord needed to keep mortals around… while Draal Khatuur would be happy to kill them all.

So it was these mortal cities that would have been spread across Eberron, but there WEREN’T made to last for a hundred thousand years and most are ash and rubble… hence the surviving demons assuming the title “Lords of Dust.”

And with all of THAT said: the current cities like Ashtakala do survive a concrete purpose. They are places for the rakshasa to meet and scheme. They are places for them to store their lore and their treasures. The Lords of Dust DON’T have the transcendent power of the Overlords, and they do value their artifacts and lore. So they don’t need cities the way humans do – but they still need places to keep their stuff!

Do the dead grey mists cover the sky? Or do they merely act as walls around the perimeter of the Mournland? 

They form a dome over the Mournland. We’ve put the ceiling at around 150 feet in the past; we’ve never said how deep the mist layer is. This also means that you never directly see the sun while in the Mournland.

What would happen if a flying airship entered the Mournland?

Like many things in Eberron, the primary answer is what do you want to have happen? The defining trait of the Mournland is that it is unpredictable. There are many things that could happen…

  • The powers of the Mournland interfere with the elemental binding. The elemental is unleashed and the airship crashes in the Mournland.
  • The airship is attacked by a flying creature. This could be a living spell. It might be something like a warped dragon; there were surely some Chamber observers in Cyre at the time of the Mourning, and they could have been twisted by its power. It could be some sort of transformed elemental – originally part of an airship, it was released and transformed during the Mourning, and now it seeks to free all other bound elementals it senses.
  • The airship is attacked by some sort of entrenched defenses still in place from the war.
  • The airship encounters unnatural weather that could bring it down.

All of these are the reasons people DON’T take airships over the Mournlands, of course…

I always hear that the Mournland is full of mutants, but it’s never been very clear to me what that actually means. Are we talking normal beasts and monsters with some extra bits on them? Unique monstrosities from obscure sourcebooks? Aberrations, but somehow distinct from the creations of the daelkyr?

All of the above. I generally say “warped” or “transformed” instead of “mutated”; to me, mutation suggests that there’s some sort of genetic logic behind things, while the Mournland doesn’t follow any predictable patterns. I’ve said before that you can use the Mournland as a place to add any unusual creature, because you don’t have to explain its evolution; if you want to drop a city of Abeil (bee-people) into the Mournland, you could say that it’s a village of humans who have been transformed into abeil by the Mourning… or a hive of bees transformed into abeil! You have altered animals like the carcass crab. You have undead, like the glass zombies. You also have natural or supernatural forces that have been transformed, like living spells or the razor wind (a warped elemental) in The Fading Dream.

To me, the only predictable thing about the Mournland is that it’s not predictable – that if you find one city of abeil, that’s not an indication that there’s going to be any more.

If you’re reading this, what have YOU done with the Mournland or the Demon Wastes?

In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started a Patreon to fund content for this site. The Inner Circle gets to vote on what topics are covered in the future. This one was spur of the moment, but the next Dragonmark will be about Planes and Manifest Zones! Thanks to all of you who are already supporters!

Dragonmarks 8-11-17: Xoriat

I’m on the road for the next few weeks. I’ll be continuing to write on the road, and I have lots of things planned – including more Phoenix support. But… I’m part of a monthly Eberron podcast called Manifest Zone. Our most recent episode focused on Xoriat and the Daelkyr, and this question came out of that… and it crept into my mind like a worm that wouldn’t leave until I wrote down the answer.

In the spirit of “If it has stats we can kill it,” what would an adventure to Xoriat look like? While “you cannot comprehend the nature of it” is good for illustrating the whirling madness of it all, it’s hard to work with as a setting.

I can’t answer this in detail until it’s legal for me to create a planar handbook, but I can at least share some basic thoughts. This is based on the original design and 3.5 lore; 4E did some odd things to try to merge Eberron with core cosmology and ignoring that.

To begin with: The Far Realm can be a useful source of inspiration, because it’s a very alien realm that produces aberrations and madness. But bear in mind that Xoriat is not the Far Realm. It’s not beyond reality. It is one of the thirteen planes that define reality; it is part of the planar orrery, and it touches and influences Eberron and all its inhabitants. It is defined by being alien and unknowable, a source of madness and inspiration. But it is still part of the underlying machinery of reality.

So with THAT in mind, consider the role it plays. Kythri is the churning chaos – which means that Xoriat isn’t about chaos. Instead, I see Xoriat as being a parallel to Dal Quor. I think you have islands of stability — regions that have coalesced around particularly powerful spirits, much as il-Lashtavar creates a central core in Dal Quor. These islands are surrounded by a sea of shifting reality – not entirely chaotic, but inexorably changing.

The islands are relatively stable. It’s on these islands that the Daelkyr have their domains, and where the mortal inhabitants – like the Illithids – have cities and communities. These regions aren’t chaotic;  they are alien. Consider an island where everything — buildings, food, the air — is alive. Perhaps you tell time by the shifting gravity; if you’re walking on the ceiling, that means it’s midday, while by evening you’ll be back on the floor. Apply Escher logic. Consider that many aberrations don’t need traditional food or water to survive; instead, a farmer may tend a field of misery. However strange these places are, you can come to understand them and learn their ways.

Out in the sea of madness, you can find almost anything. But here the key is to differentiate it from Dal Quor and its shifting dreams. Dreams generally have an internal logic; you may be giving a musical recital in your underwear, but the musical recital is something that actually happened in your past and being in your underwear is about some sort of issue you’re dealing with. The fringes of Xoriat don’t have any internal logic and aren’t drawn from your memories. They might be things you never imagined — or they could be revelatory insights that could either drive you made or change the way you look at reality. Consider the following…

  • A house built from hate. What does incarnated hate look like? You’ll have to decide, but the PCs innately know that’s what it is. Mirrors reflect the things you hate. Books in the house chronicle hateful deeds and people. And the longer you stay in it, the more you begin to hate the people around you… or yourself.
  • An endless void of empty white space. There is no end to this bleak solitude, and you know that this is what mortal existence is. To proceed, you must simply act out your travel, just as you pretend that the events of your life actually mean something. Eventually, if you convince yourself, you’ll find yourself in the world you’ve imagined.
  • A lush orchard. The trees grow secrets, and secrets buzz around in the air like tiny birds. Some of them may be your secrets, or those of your enemies. Others may be secrets of strangers, or secrets about the nature of reality. Think carefully before you listen to their songs.
  • Your home – the ooze-creche you were grown in when Kyrzin first made you. What, you thought you were adventurers? No, you’re cerebral oozes created by Kyrzin and loosed upon the world in ages past. You crawl into the minds of mortals and consume them, assuming their identities for as long as it’s useful, then moving to a new host. You’ve been a Dhakaani champion. You ate the mind of Malleon the Reaver. And then each of you consumed one of these adventurers. You compelled them to come together, knowing that they would finally be able to return you to your home, to the pools of primal slime where you were made. At last you can abandon this singular existence and return to the unifying ichor. So dive into the pool and let it all go. Or what? Can you truly continue as you did in the past, knowing that this person you think you are is simply a collection of residual memories and that you’re a thought-eating ooze with who knows how many alien instincts programmed into you?  To be clear: In all likelihood this is a delusion, not actual fact. But if you’re in a room full of oozes and you have clear memories of BEING an ooze and suddenly remember other lives – how do you KNOW if it’s true or not?

The trick here is to consider that these are things that could drive you mad. In the garden of secrets, any secret you listen to should have the capacity to deeply shake what you thought to be true… something that could literally break a lesser person. Can you handle the truth? While this could be secrets of people, it could also be universal truths. As a wizard, one of these secrets might show you a way to cast all spells as if you’d used a higher level spell slot – with the absolute knowledge that you are going to die in thirty years, and each time you cast a spell in this way you are cutting a year off your life. Again, a lesser wizard might be driven mad either by the revelation that magic is slowly killing us or that the time of your death is set or simply by the science involved. Perhaps your PC isn’t troubled by that… but are you going to use this magic? Conversely, you might have to deal with physical changes. Passing through a portal might cause your gender or race to flip, or shift the minds of the PCs into the bodies of the PCs sitting to their right. Touching something might cause a strange fungus to start spreading on your arm, slowly and inexorably. You know is consuming you and feeding off your memories, and that most everyone in your life are themselves hollow fungus slaves. What will you do?

Aside from this, you could have currents of madness that simply run through the entire realm. If a rage-storm hits, people who fail will saves might be driving into a murderous frenzy. Streams of sorrow flow through the air, and one drop can render you catatonic. Watch out!

You’ve mentioned in the past that there are things more powerful than the Daelkyr in Xoriat. How do you envision these entities? Like primordial Lovecraftian beings? Or like Thelanis´ Archfeys, but with alien agendas and rivalries?

These entities are the geography of Xoriat. They are vast and alien, and even the daelkyr are like fleas to them. We know they exist because the islands of stability are the side effect of their presence, reality shaped by the gravity of their spirits. If the Daelkyr are like the Kalaraq Quori – mighty masterminds with armies of followers – these beings are like il-Lashtavar. Too vast for us to interact with, but we know them by their impact on the plane.

With that said, I expect there are other entities that are on the same power level and cosmic scale as the Daelkyr who simply have no interest in physically traveling to other worlds. Like most planar immortals, these would represent some aspect of their plane. So looking to my example of maddening secrets, you could easily have something like the Cthaeh from Wise Man’s Fear – a static entity who is a repository of maddening knowledge, who has no agenda but who could be both extremely valuable and tremendously dangerous for anyone who encounters it.

A second question is: how is Mordain the Fleshweaver different from the Daelkyr? Why you should choose him as an enemy instead of a Daelkyr?

It’s a good question. I’ve written a number of articles about Mordain; here’s one that’s online. The thing about Mordain is that he operates on a smaller scale on every level. He’s essentially a mad scientist. He’s not trying to topple civilizations or transform the world; he’s engaging in interesting local experiments. Here’s one example of something he might do. He is one of the most powerful wizards on Khorvaire, but he’s still mortal – not an immortal incarnation that drives people insane by looking at them. His projects are generally going to show results in the short term, while the Daelkyr may set things in motion that won’t fully develop for thousands of years. He has a small army of creatures he’s made, but not the legions of aberrations that the Daelkyr have at their disposal.

Beyond this: I generally wouldn’t use Mordain as an enemy. He doesn’t leave his tower and has little interest in the world beyond using it as a test ground for his creations. I use him as an enigmatic third party – someone who could be an ally or a threat depending on how an experiment plays out. Is there a player who wants a character of a strange race? Maybe they were created by Mordain. Is there a disease that can’t be cured? Maybe Mordain can cure it – assuming he didn’t create it! An alliance with Mordain could give the Daughters of Sora Kell access to powerful living weapons – can you disrupt the alliance? You’ve found a rare magical resource that Mordain undoubtedly wants – what would you want from him in exchange?

Conversely, the Daelkyr have plans that have been in motion for millennia. They have vast armies at their disposal. They have hidden cults and can create new ones on the spur of the moment. We’ve suggested that they may have created the Dragonmarks – which means that it’s something that’s been unfolding for over two thousand years. Their actions could be small-scale – a cult causing trouble in a small town – or they could threaten entire civilizations.

Would the inhabitants of Xoriat are mindless undead and constructs as an affront, since their madness can’t touch them?

Here’s the thing: calling Xoriat “The Realm of Madness” reflects a biased mortal view. I don’t think the DAELKYR consider themselves to be lords of “Madness”. They might call Xoriat “the Realm of Revelations.” It is a fact that exposure to Xoriat typically drives mortals mad – but that’s because WE CAN’T HANDLE IT, not because that’s its purpose. Kyrzin is the Prince of Slime, not the Lord of Schizophrenia. The fact that his attention temporarily drives you mad and that you’ll go completely insane if you try to read his thoughts is incidental to him, a sign of your small mind as opposed to his right to drive you mad. I think Belashyrra would be more annoyed by the fact that a skeleton has no eyes than the fact that it doesn’t go insane.

Related to this: The wizard spell confusion is an enchantment with the sole purpose of disrupting a creature’s ability to think. Meanwhile, a Daelkyr has the ability to cause confusion at will. But in my opinion that’s NOT a “I will disrupt your thoughts now” ability: it’s literally that if the Daelkyr focuses its full attention on you, it breaks your brain. Your mind can’t handle the Daelkyr’s presence. So if the Daelkyr encounters a thinking creature who’s immune to mind-altering effects, I think it’s more likely to find it a novelty than to be outraged.

That’s all I have time for at the moment, but hopefully it gives you some ideas to work with. It’s not chaos, and it’s not a dream; it is madness. This can carry lies or revelations. It is a place where there is no concept of the impossible. And it is a place that you should not go.

Dragonmarks: Orcs and the Ghaash’kala

Last week I wrote about Goblins, Orcs, and the Dhakaani. It turns out that there’s a lot to say about goblins, and the post has grown to an unwieldy size. So for the ease of future generations I’ve decided to separate the orc material into a standalone post. As as long as we’re talking about orcs, I want to takes some time to delve into the Ghaash’kala, a topic that’s received little attention in the main sourcebooks.

As I said in the previous post, my goal in Eberron is always to explore what makes each PC race unique. In what way are orcs not just humans with green (or grey) skin and fangs? How are they different from goblins and other “savage humanoids”? Let’s take a look.

ORCS

While they aren’t as directly animalistic as shifters, I see orcs as a very primal race. They’re extremely passionate and emotional; this can manifest as aggression or rage, but it’s just as strong when it comes to loyalty, affection and faith. They believe in things intensely. This led to them being the first druids on Khorvaire and having one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame – the Ghaash’kala guardians of the Demon Wastes. But they’re also highly individualistic… leaning more towards chaos than law. They are very effective in small tribes or family groups, where they all know each other and are working together… but they aren’t good with faceless authority, blind obedience, or being part of a huge infrastructure. This is one of the main reasons the orcs never dominated Khorvaire. They are barbarians by nature. They have no innate desire to build vast cities or organize huge armies; the small tribe is what they are comfortable with. This led to their being pushed into the fringes of Khorvaire by the Dhakaani goblins, and that’s where this linger to this day. If the goblins are like ants or wasps, orcs are like wolves: fierce, loyal to their pack, but not inclined to form into a massive legion of wolves and conquer the world.

In playing an orc – whether as a player or DM – I’d emphasize this primal and passionate nature. They feel emotions strongly, and are quick to anger but equally quick to celebrate. They believe things deeply, and can be very spiritual. As an orc, you’re loyal to your pack – whether that’s your family or your adventuring companions – and quick to distrust massive, faceless forces and invisible authority. This may seem at odds with the idea of strong faith, but they’re equally distrustful of monolithic organized religions. The Ghaash’kala are one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame, but they operate in small clans and have never formed the sort of political hierarchy that you see in the Church of the Silver Flame. So as an orc, follow your heart; explore your faith; be true to your friends and suspicious of those who would tell you what to do.

Half-orcs blend the traits of orc and human, and it’s up to you to decide which manifest most strongly in your personality. Do you have the quick emotion and deep faith of your orcish ancestor? Or has this been tempered by your human side? Half-orcs are celebrated in much of the Shadow Marches, where they are thought to possess the best qualities of both races. However, the people of the Five Nations don’t generally share this view… and for that matter, most of the people of the Five Nations assume that orcs are brutish.

If the orcs are so chaotic & don’t make big cities, how do we have Zarash’ak and House Tharashk?   

Because of humanity. There are two primary cultures in the Shadow Marches. The tribes are the older culture and continue to live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The clans embraced humanity – and over the generations, they adopted many human customs. House Tharashk is an unprecedented alliance between clans, and one that would never survive if not for the humans and half-orcs that balance the chaotic tendencies of their orcish kin. Tharashk orcs have grown up in this blended culture. While they are used to it, it’s still in their nature to question authority, and most Tharashk orcs are ultimately more loyal to their close kin and enclave than to the overall institution – but that’s enough to keep the house intact. Zarash’ak is the largest city the Marches have ever seen, built by House Tharashk when success demanded it; the orcs had no desire to build such things in the past.

Orcs make up the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. So are they fundamentally good creatures? 

Not at all. Yes, the Ghaash’kala and Gatekeepers are two forces that have protected Eberron for thousands of years. But for every orc in the Ghaash’kala, there’s at least two in the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. For every Gatekeeper, there’s an orc tied to a cult of the Dragon Below. One reason the Daelkyr didn’t create an orcish equivalent of the Dolgaunts and Dolgrims was because many orcs were quick to embrace their cause; they didn’t need to make an orc slave race. So orcs are passionate in their beliefs, but that includes belief in the Overlords just as easily as loyalty to the Silver Flame.

Have you ever imagined a bardic tradition for orcs?

So a critical thing to bear in mind here is that most people in the world don’t use PC classes. In Eberron, most priests are experts or adepts, NOT clerics. The same applies here. Do orcs have traditions of music and dance? Absolutely! They’re passionate, creative and emotional. I can imagine a tradition of ecstatic song and dance, where listeners are exhorted to let go and give themselves to the music; and I can imagine a tradition of song that is more mournful – similar to Portuguese fado – that is about exhorting the listener to feel the pain or anger of the song. And I’d expect specific musical traditions tied to both the Gatekeepers and the Cults of the Dragon Below. As I call out below, the Dhakaani goblins don’t enjoy art for arts sake; their songs educate you about the past, their dancing is a form of combat drill. For the orcs, art is something to experience and enjoy.

But with that said, most entertainers wouldn’t be bardsA bard isn’t just an entertainer. They are arcane spellcasters and highly skilled loremasters. If all you’re looking for is entertainment, all you need is an expert trained in Performance and perhaps Insight and Persuasion. Among the Dhakaani the dirge singers are deeply integrated into their civilization, serving not simply as entertainers but also as healers, diplomats, and spiritual guides. We have not presented a similar critical role for bards in either the Ghaash’kala or Shadow Marches. With that said, do they exist? Sure. Here’s three ideas.

  • Memories. Much of the secret lore of the Gatekeepers has never been committed to writing; it is the task of a Memory to preserve this knowledge, remembering all things that both their modern comrades and future generations will need to know. Memories typically lead public services in Gatekeeper communities, and this is where inspiration comes in; they are master orators who can exhort the people to remember the importance of their cause. So a higher level druid might be the leader of a Gatekeeper sect, but the Memory may be the one who conveys his message to the people. In looking to the wider word, Memories could be sent out beyond the Marches both the confirm that their knowledge is still accurate (for example, checking the locations of Khyber seals to ensure they are still intact) and to update their knowledge base, investigating mysteries and learning new things. Memories generally know spells related to nature (Animal Friendship, Speak With Animals, Animal Messenger), healing spells, and spells that will help them uncover secrets, and they are usually well versed in knowledge-based skills (Arcana, History).
  • Passions. The Cults of the Dragon Below have always had a strong presence in the Shadow Marches. Many cults don’t have traditional priests or clerics; instead, they have Passions, ecstatic speakers who fan the flames of emotion (and often madness) in their communities. At their best, Passions are spiritual guides and mediators; at their worst they are demagogues and firebrands, inflaming dangerous emotions. As such they rarely have skills like History or Arcana; instead they are well-versed in Insight, Intimidation and Persuasion. Their spells likewise tie to emotion, manipulation and madness. Vicious Mockery, Charm Person, Hideous Laughter, and Suggestion are all solid choices for Passions. If you’re playing an edition where bards have a Bardic Knowledge ability, for a Passion this would reflect literal mad insights; they haven’t studied a topic, but they just declare what they believe – and strangely, that’s often the truth. There’s no organization among Passions; they general spring up spontaneously. Generally there’s only one per community. A Passion PC might have developed a passion for travel; they might be following a mad vision, having an idea of a grand quest that might or might not have any basis in reality; or they could even have been driven from their community for causing trouble, and it’s up to the PC to decide if they’re remorseful adn seek redemption, or if they’re out to sow more chaos.
  • Bridge. In the Shadow Marches, half-orcs are called jhorgun’taal, “the bridge of two bloods.” Some exceptional half-orcs embrace this role. They travel from community to community, carrying local news and helping to bind those communities together. They are entertainers and mediators, seeking to spread cheer and resolve feuds. They typically know the ways of both Gatekeepers and the Cults, and seek to bring out the best in followers of both paths. A Bridge bard would be a helpful guide and advisor to strangers coming to the Marches for the first time. It would be unusual for a Bridge to leave the Marches, but one could be driven by sheer curiosity or a desire to help a wider community.

THE GHAASH’KALA

Everyone knows about the Gatekeepers, the orc druids who fought the Daelkyr. But there’s another group of orc champions who’ve been fighting evil for far longer, and whose vigil has never waned: The Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes.

I created the Ghaash’kala in the original ECS. The only canon source that’s expanded on them is the Player’s Guide to Eberron. This is one of those cases where I don’t agree with what was written there – it’s not bad, it’s just not my vision. So to be clear, what you’re about to read contradicts canon and is literally what I do in my Eberron. A few years ago a friend of my ran a 5E Eberron campaign and I played a Ghaash’kala paladin, so I put more thought into the Ghost Guardians, and what follows is the result of that.

HISTORY

In the dawn of time the world belonged to the fiends. The Binding Flame was born from a desperate act of sacrifice. The Overlords cannot be destroyed, merely held at bay; their power yearns to break free from the Flame that binds them, and their servants prey upon those who have inherited the world. The Flame is fueled by courage, and it is only through the vigilance and sacrifice of champions that the light remains strong enough to hold the darkness at bay.

The prisons of the Overlords are scattered across the world, but their power is strongest in the Demon Wastes. Here lies the ruins of Ashtakala, the greatest city of the Age of Demons. Though the Overlords are bound, their power corrupts nature and weak minds. The Wastes are filled with horrors, both mortal and immortal. Left unchecked, these terrors would spread to the south and bathe Khorvaire in blood. But ancient magic and geography have established a barrier: the mountain range known as the Labyrinth. This barrier can’t stop the powerful rakshasa from leaving the Wastes, but it serves as a funnel for the lesser horrors. Bloodthirsty barbarians, minor fiends, twisted creatures… all flow through the Labyrinth seeking release. One force guards the gates of the Labyrinth and protects the innocents to the south: The Ghost Guardians, the Ghaash’kala, sworn to serve the Binding Flame from birth to death and beyond. The life of a Ghost Guardian is one of endless strife. It is a mirror to the Flame itself: it is a battle than can never be truly won, but through sacrifice they can continue to contain the evil and protect the innocent from harm.

The Ghaash’kala have no written records and don’t know exactly how long their ancestors have fought against the darkness. It’s clear that couatl trained and equipped the first Ghaash’kala; it may not have been during the Age of Demons itself, but it was long before humanity came to Khorvaire. As such, the Ghaash’kala may be the first humanoids to channel the power of the Silver Flame… or as they call it, Kalok Shash, the Binding Flame.

STRUCTURE

There are four Ghaash’kala clans spread across the Labyrinth. As far as they are concerned, the world is divided into two sides: the living and the fel (a word that could be translated both as “unliving” or “unnatural”; it is a term that encompasses both undead, fiends and life that has been corrupted). They have no interest in politics or commerce; should the Overlords rise, they will care nothing for trivialities of mortal nations. The Ghaash’kala place most people into the category of “The weak innocents we are protecting,” but they will accept members of any race into their ranks. They feel disdain for anyone strong enough to fight who ignores the greater duty, especially mercenaries who squander their gifts without any conviction whatsoever.

The Kalok Shash is a simple faith, and the Ghaash’kala don’t waste time on the elaborate rituals or titles of the Church of the Silver Flame. There are only a few recognized positions among the faithful.

  • A korta (“Speaker”) is someone who hears the Voice of the Flame more clearly than others. The korta serve as spiritual guides, diplomats and healers, using their connection to the Flame to guide and advise others. A korta’sha is a divine spellcaster. The korta’sha are always on the front lines, leading war parties and battling demonic influences.
  • A kala (“Guardian”) is a warrior who fights in service to the Flame; this includes the bulk of the Ghaash’kala population. A kala’sha is a divine warrior – typically a paladin.
  • A drok (“Hand”) is a non-combatant, either because of infirmity or because of a vital non-combat skill needed to support the fight.

There are no equivalent ranks to bishop, priest, cardinal, or any of that. The Ghaash’kala are few enough in number that the korta and kala are distinguished by their deeds. Everyone knows that the korta’sha Hurok is the greatest of the Speakers; he doesn’t need some special title to indicate that. The Ghaash’kala are also considerably more blase about divine spellcasters than most human cultures. To the Ghaash’kala, these individuals are weapons. A korta’sha isn’t necessarily holier than a non-casting korta… but she has a purpose and a duty. She is a tank, and a tank belongs on the battlefield. While Ghaash’kala despise mercenary soldiers, they are truly baffled by the idea of divine spellcasters who do not use their powers to directly fight evil.

Now: how have the Ghaash’kala survived in the Demon Wastes for tens of thousands of years? Where do they get the supplies they need, from steel for their weapons to the food and water they need to survive? What are their shelters like?

To start with the last: Each of the four clans has a stronghold carved deep into the rock of the Labyrinth, each drawing on the powers of a manifest zone. These were created by dragons and couatl in the first age, and are imbued with powerful magic; it is these fortifications that have served as a final refuge in even the hardest times. Likewise, the Ghaash’kala possess tools and weapons that have been handed down for generations. The Ghaash’kala consider these relics to be sacred gifts, and they might as well be; the most potent of them were crafted by the beings who first kindled the Flame itself. Of course, an artifact is not something to be used lightly; sometimes generations pass before someone successfully bonds with a relic. Some say that Tira Miron’s blade Kloijner came from the Wastes, that the couatl guided her north to claim the weapon she needed to face Bel Shalor. If one of your players is a champion of the Flame, perhaps there is an artifact waiting for them in the vaults of the Ghaash’kala.

Such tools certainly help explain the survival of the Ghaash’kala. But there are only a few such artifacts. The Maruk stronghold has a well that never runs dry, a variation of the Alchemy Jug. But they still need food and any number of basic supplies that can’t be found in this poisoned land. But the very thing that makes the Wastes so dangerous also provides opportunity. The Demon Wastes are peppered with passages to Khyber… not simply the physical underworld, but a host of demiplanes and demonic realms. Fiends emerge from these paths to prey on the weak… and the Ghaash’kala venture into them to find what they need. The Maruk hunt balewolves in the Abyssal Forests of Khar, and wield weapons taken from the corpses of the demon foot soldiers of the Ironlands. These strange realms are alien and deadly, but over the many centuries the Ghaash’kala have learned their secrets. As a result, the Ghaash’kala have resources that can’t be found anywhere in Khorvaire. Their weapons are forged from unknown materials, and they brew salves and unguents that would make Jorasco weep. So the idea is that the Ghaal’dar are essentially barbarians living in an apocalyptic landscape – but by mastering that environment, making the most of the resources available to them, and preserving and using ancient relics, they have found what they need to hold the line in their never-ending war.

KALOK SHASH: THE BINDING FLAME

Overall, the faith of the Binding Flame is harsh, simple and compassionate. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak. It is the duty of the living to fight the fel… whether with the sword, or in the case of the drok by caring for the warriors and producing more warriors. Harsh sacrifice is often necessary, but the loss of any innocent life is a tragedy. With that said, there is a concrete line over which innocence is lost. One of the constant threats faced by the Ghaash’kala are the Carrion Tribe barbarians, mortals who serve the Overlords. The Ghaash’kala call a mortal who chooses to serve evil a fel’gha – “Vile Soul.” They do not waste time or tears on the fel’gha; there are too many threats to the world to worry about redeeming the corrupt. A Ghaash’kala would cast any human who chooses to prey on other humans in this category, and typically one deals with fel’gha with the sword. This can be a difficult challenge for a kala’sha who travels in the south, where many humans seek to take advantage of one another. A greedy innkeeper most likely isn’t a true fel’gha deserving of death… but the Ghaash’kala are disgusted that anyone would seek to harm others for profit.

While they may give it a different name, the Ghaash’kala channel the power of the Silver Flame. They may shout different invocations, but the visible manifestations of their magic are identical to those of an exorcist of the Silver Flame or a silver pyromancer. A paladin from Thrane and a korta’sha who observe each other in battle recognize that they wield the same forces. With that said, if you’re planning to use the Ghaash’kala in a campaign involving divine characters tied to the Flame, it’s an excellent opportunity to shift around spell lists. Perhaps the Ghaash’kala know ways to use the Flame that humans have never discovered… while Tira’s followers have discovered more subtle rituals that the Korta’sha have never imagined. The simplest way to handle this is to give the Ghaash’kala spells found in a new supplement or sourcebook – so you aren’t taking away core spells from a player, but rather providing an interesting path for learning new spells. Rather than having new options magically appear over night, it’s more interesting to make a cleric study with a korta’sha to learn that new spell or channel divinity option. And perhaps they have something to teach in return.

But wait: earlier, I said the korta hear the Voice of the Flame. Isn’t Tira Miron the Voice of the Flame? She is… for the Church of the Silver Flame. A Voice is the anchor of a manifestation of the faith. Tira is the Voice of Flamekeep. But the Ghaash’kala have their own Voice, just as the people of Khalesh did in Sarlona. One can assume that the Voice of Kalok Shash was an orc from long ago, but if so their name has been lost; they are simply known as Korta’Shash. If you use my idea of learning new divine spells by training with the Ghaash’kala, it could be that this isn’t just about learning a new incantation or gesture as it would be for a wizard… but rather realizing that there is more than one Voice of the Flame, and learning how to hear the Voice of Kalok Shash.

USING THE GHAASH’KALA

Here’s a few ideas about ways to bring the Ghaash’kala into your campaign.

  • If your adventurers need to go to the Demon Wastes – perhaps to explore the Lair of the Keeper? Or on a secret mission to Ashtalaka? – they will have to deal with the Ghaash’kala to get through the Labyrinth. The Guardians won’t stop people from going in, but will warn that no one tainted by the influences of the Wastes will be allowed to leave – are you sure this trip is worth it?
  • An adventurer with ties to the Silver Flame may be guided to the Labyrinth. There is an artifact in the Maruk stronghold that they must claim… but can they prove their worthiness to the guardians?
  • The players stumble onto a rakshasa plot to weaken the wards of the Labyrinth. The PCs must work with the Ghaash’kala to stop it – but will distrust or treachery doom this effort and unleash a horde of Carrion barbarians into Aundair?
  • A Ghaash’kala paladin arrives in the PC’s community. She’s tracking an escaped possessing fiend, and will do whatever she must to destroy it. Can the PCs help capture the fiend with minimal collateral damage?

Beyond this, the Ghaash’kala can be an entertaining background for a PC. Have you been sent in pursuit of a particular agenda – Stopping the rise of an overlord? Reclaiming Kloijner? Protecting one of the other PCs, even though neither you nor they know why this is important? Are you pursuing escaped demons or the opposing the Lords of Dust? Were you exiled for a crime (and did you actually commit it)? Or are you an ambassador, sent to learn the ways of the soft southerners and protect them? As someone who played a Ghaash’kala paladin, it can be fun to play a character who is truly a warrior in the cause of light… and yet, completely unfamiliar with the ways of civilization. While most Ghaash’kala are orcs, they accept members of any races. My paladin was a half-orc; his human father was a paladin who had returned Kloijner to the Wastes, and now the blade was guiding my character on a new quest in the south.

Is there a physical manifestation somewhere in the Wastes where the Voice of the Flame can be found, similar to Tira Miron?

You may be confusing Tira Miron – the Voice of the Flame – with Jaela Daran, the Keeper of the Flame. There’s no physical location where Tira Miron can be found. Flamekeep is the site of Tira’s sacrifice and the seat of Jaela’s power, but Tira isn’t physically; anyone who follows this branch of the faith can hear Tira no matter where they are.

The Ghaash’kala have no equivalent of the Keeper of the Flame. Every clan likely has a korta they consider to be closest to the Flame, but that’s based on their actions as opposed to being a special mystical connection; there’s no equivalent to the power boost Jaela gets in Flamekeep.

With that said: there is no canon explanation of what it takes to become a Voice of the Flame. It would certainly be reasonable to say that a mortal can become a Voice of the Flame when they voluntarily bind an Overlord – that in the process, their spirit merges with the Flame, but WITHOUT the usual process of going through Dolurrh, which means that they retain more of their individuality and consciousness. In which case, the Voice of Kalok Shash could have a story similar to Tira. Perhaps long ago a Ghaash’kala champion sacrificed themselves to bind Rak Tulkhesh. Somewhere in the Demon Wastes lies the point where this sacrifice took place; and like Flamekeep, this could be a place of power. Essentially, the Ghaash’kala don’t have a Keeper and don’t know where this point of sacrifice is, because it’s somewhere in the incredibly hostile Wastes. But if they could find it and somehow secure it, perhaps they COULD have a Keeper in the future.

Does the leaders of the Church of the Silver Flame know about the Ghaash’kala? If so, what does the relationship between those in the groups that know of each other look like?

Yes and no. There are a number of scattered sects that worship the Silver Flame. The Ghaash’kala and the Shulassakar are two prominent ones, but there are others. These are often called “Serpent Cults.” So the Church knows about the Ghaash’kala and has studied them. Whether an individual knows would be about a Religion check. It’s not COMMON knowledge, but neither is it entirely unknown. The Ghaash’kala have little interest in the outside world, because they have a war to fight.

So: in the campaign in which I played my Ghaash’kala paladin, there was a cleric of the Silver Flame from Flamekeep (technically a clone of Jaela, long story) and a Silver Pyromancer. I’d had a vision that guided me from the Wastes to protect the Jaela-clone. In their eyes, I was a barbarian – clearly serving the interests of the Silver Flame, but still a savage. In my opinion, they were soft folk who likewise had the right idea but had never fought on the front lines of the eternal war; lucky for them that I was there to protect them. So initially we didn’t UNDERSTAND each other – but we still respected one another as serving the same overall cause.

But here’s the thing. You COULD say that the Ghaash’kala and Church work closely together, that Flamekeep recognizes the importance of what the Ghaash’kala are doing and supports them. But is that a fun story? In my opinion it’s more interesting for YOUR STORY if there’s been fairly little contact between the two and each largely dismisses the other… which means that YOUR ADVENTURERS – whether they are from Thrane or the Wastes – will be the ones who ESTABLISH understanding and alliances. Let your players take an active role in establishing (or destroying the chances of) an alliance – because this is exactly the sort of thing that lets the PCs make a difference within the world.

That’s all I have time to write, but if you have questions or thoughts about the orcs or the Ghaash’kala, share them below!