Dragonmark: Flight in Eberron

My Patreon supporters have chosen Arcane Science and Industry as the topic of the month. I’ll be writing a more extensive article on the topic later in the month, but now I want to address questions on a related topic: The role of flight. Before I go any further, I’ll note that you can find more of my thoughts on airships in this article, and that the 3.5 sourcebook Explorer’s Handbook is the primary canonical source. With that said…

Outside of the skycoaches of Sharn, how prevalent are airships in the other nations? Were they used in the last war? Are there nations with growing fleets of them? Do the goblins of Darguun have any?

One of the basic principles of Eberron is that arcane magic is a form of science, and that like any science, it evolves as people unlock its secrets. The idea was always that there should be a sense of evolution. In particular, the Last War drove a number of arcane breakthroughs: warforged, wandslingers, and airships. According to the timeline in the original Eberron Campaign Setting, the first airships went into service for House Lyrandar in 990 YK—less than ten years ago. In addition, Lyrandar airships are the only form of airship currently in mass production and they require a Lyrandar pilot to reliably control the elemental. The point of this is that air travel is a very recent development and it is dominated by House Lyrandar. So at the moment, NATIONS don’t have significant numbers of airships; LYRANDAR has them, and even it doesn’t have very many. Only major cities have the docking towers required by Lyrandar airships; combined with the relatively small fleet, this is why airships haven’t completely overshadowed the lightning rail.

It’s quite possible that the King’s Citadel of Breland has an airship produced in secret and piloted by a Lyrandar excoriate, or that Aundair has been working on an airship that doesn’t require a Lyrandar pilot. But no nation has fleets of airships, definitely not the Darguuls. Likewise, there were a few Lyrandar airships that were designed for military service—the Stormships”—but they played a very small role in the war, appearing only at the very end of it.

So the science behind the airship has been established, and from this point going forward airships will play an increasingly significant role. But for now they are still few in number and rely on House Lyrandar… and House Lyrandar would like to keep it that way. The point is that ongoing developments with airships can be an important plot point of a campaign. IF the Darguuls somehow start producing a fleet of airships, that would be a major mystery—how are they doing it? What do they plan to do with them?—that could be an important plot point.

As the skycoaches of Sharn were mentioned, it’s important to remember that skycoaches are nearly unique to Sharn; they rely on the magical effects of the manifest zone surrounding Sharn, and will crash if they’re taken more than a few miles from the city. You could find skycoaches in other cities in similar manifest zones, but you couldn’t fly a skycoach between those two points.

With all of that said: airships are a new development. Aerial combat is not. Galifar the Dark—the third ruler of the united Galifar—is said to have created the Race of Eight Winds as a way to test various aerial mounts, and the skyblade tournaments of Sharn likewise are a reflection of a traditional of aerial combat. But this is a tradition of mounted combat—not large vessels such as the modern airship. More on that later.

What sort of flying magical items do you see across Khorvaire? Brooms exist as D&D canon, but it seems like different countries would have different sorts of flying apparatuses.

First, let’s review my previous discussion of the broom of flying.

By the rules of Fifth Edition, a broom of flying is an extremely useful item. It’s an uncommon magic item, putting it within the range of Khorvaire’s wide magic. Unlike wings of flying, there’s no time limit on the use of the item, and critically, it doesn’t even require attunement. What’s been suggested is that Aundair used these for elite units and that other nations developed them in smaller quantities—so they aren’t commonplace in civilian life, but they are in the world.

With this in mind, the first question I’d ask is are they brooms? While the core magic item is a broom, I see no logical reason that they should be actual brooms in Eberron; remove the mythology of Earth and there’s no particular reason a broom is associated with flight. So I’d actually call them skystaffs. Keep the same essential shape—a short wooden haft—but remove the bristles, add a seat, and perhaps handles that fold out from the shaft. Essentially, make it a tool clearly designed for its function as opposed to a household item that does something unexpected. I’d then say that while anyone can use one, they require Dexterity checks for tight maneuvers or sustained balance at full speed, unless the rider has proficiency in air vehicles—so anyone CAN use one, but it requires some training to actually use one effectively. As a final element, I’d say that a skystaff is made using soarwood, which is a crucial factor in why there aren’t more of them in service at the moment. The enchantment isn’t that difficult—again, “uncommon” level in terms of its power—but the actual components required to create one are in limited supply, so there aren’t that many around. Having said that, they are most often seen in Aundair, and you’ll certainly see a few in the skies above Fairhaven or darting around Arcanix.

This further reflects the idea that Aundair is the most mystically advanced nation. The aerial cavalry of the Five Nations has relied on hippogriffs for centuries; Aundair’s introduction of the skystaff was an early innovation in the war, and they became more common as the conflict continued. So more on that later, but in my opinion the skystaff was introduced early in the Last War. It predates the airship, but only by a century. The advantages of the skystaff are that it’s very portable. As it doesn’t have to eat or breathe, you can keep a skystaff in a bag of holding indefinitely, making it an excellent tool for covert operatives. But with a top speed of 50 ft, it’s slower than a hippogriff (60 ft) and considerably slower than a pegasus (90 ft).

Another uncommon form of flight is winged boots. In my opinion these predate the skystaff (in Khorvaire) by a few centuries. They were first created in Sharn by artificers experimenting with the property of the manifest zone, and these early models only worked in Sharn. However, by 812 YK an artificer had developed winged boots that could be used beyond the City of Towers. Because the boots are limited to the wearer’s walking speed and can only be used for up to four hours, they are more limited than flying mounts and aren’t widespread. They’re typically found in Breland, as they’re still most often used in Sharn—but all of the spy agencies of Khorvaire make use of them, along with some elite commandos and thieves.

Other magical tools of flight are more exotic. The cloak of the bat and wings of flying are rare items, which means that they CAN be found in the Five Nations but that they’re rare and unusual. A few stories I could see for such items:

  • The Narathun flesh-crafters of the Mror Holds have created a form of wings of flying with the symbiont quality—a living creature that bonds to the body of the wearer. They’ve only produced a few so far.
  • The Seeker spy organization known as the Raven Corps had an elite unit outfitted with cloaks of the bat when they served Karrnath during the Last War. A person attuned to such a cloak must expend 1 hit die after completing long rest, as the cloak drains a bit of their blood.
  • The Church of the Silver Flame has an elite order of templars who wear cloaks of flying that transform into the rainbow wings of a couatl. These are driven by faith as opposed to arcane magic, and only people with great faith in the Flame can attune to them.
  • Druidic magic can create wings of flying that use the principles of wild shape. Rather than being cloaks, these are often torcs or necklaces; the wings sprout from the back of the bearer. There’s a Tairnadal ancestor whose revenants employ such tools, and a unit of the Wardens of the Wood—the Gray Owls—who use these tools.
  • Thelanis can be the source of any sort of flight magic, from wings of flying to winged boots. Each such item has its own unique story. One pair of Thelanian boots might be birds turned into boots, that still sing when they’re happy; another might be a pair of boots without wings, that allow the bearer to walk on sunbeams or shadows.
  • Other forms of flight items could be found that have limitations. House Lyrandar could have cleared a form of wings of flying that harnesses a minor elemental for lift, but that can only be attuned by someone with the Mark of Storm; another cloak might only work in a particular manifest zone, just like the skycoaches of Sharn.

The main point is that these items are rare and unusual but can be found in the Five Nations, and there were a few elite units in the Last War that employed them.

As very rare items, carpets of flying are not commonly found in the Five Nations. When encountered, these may be the product of more advanced civilizations (Aerenal, Argonnessen, the Lords of Dust), or be extraplanar in origin (Syrania, Thelanis).

Keep in mind also that feather tokens are actually common items. Paratroopers weren’t that common for most of the war because hippogriffs can’t carry many people. But Thrane certainly delivered paratroopers by wyvern, and later in the war airships could carry paratroopers with feather tokens.

What sort of air forces did each nation deploy during the Last War?

At the beginning of the war, the standard aerial cavalry of Galifar was the hippogriff rider. There were a few other forces based on local traditions, notably the dragonhawks of Aundair and the wyverns of Thrane, but the hippogriff was the mainstay of aerial combat. Such hippogriffs were primarily used as scouts and skirmishers, and there had never been an effort to field a mass aerial force. Each nation followed different paths during the war.

Aundair had three distinctive elements: dragonhawks, skystaffs, and floating citadels. 

  • Aundair developed skystaffs at the start of the Last War. While other nations replicated them over the course of the war, Aundair has always had the most significant number of them. The skystaff has the advantage of not being alive, thus removing the complications associated with maintaining a living mount.
  • The dragonhawk is the symbol of Aundair. Larger, faster, and more powerful than hippogriffs, the primary limitation of the dragonhawks is their slow rate of reproduction. However, Aundair employed them to great effect during the Last War, and their dragonhawk cavalry played a key role in defending the nation from Thrane’s wyverns.
  • Aundair has a few floating towers. The best known of these is Arcanix—though what can easily be forgotten is that Arcanix isn’t ONE floating tower, it’s FOUR. As discussed in this article, the reason you don’t see many of these towers is that the effect is unstable and requires considerable ongoing arcane maintenance—which is easy to do when you stock the citadel with the finest wizards in your nation, as is the case with Arcanix. But the Arcane Congress does have a few other floating towers. While the towers float, they don’t MOVE under their own power; moving them during the Last War required massive teams of dragonhawks.

Breland always had the best hippogriff riders. Due to the Race of Eight Winds and the popularity of skyblades, Breland had the strongest tradition of hippogriff riding and many of the riders in the army of Galifar were Brelish. As such, while Breland’s air force lacked the raw power of Aundair’s dragonhawks and Thrane’s wyverns, its hippogriff forces were known for their daring and their skill. Late in the war, Breland employed a few of House Lyrandar’s stormships.

Cyre was relatively weak in the air. It had a small corps of hippogriff riders, and encouraged House Cannith to work on flying constructs, few of which made it beyond the prototype stage. It largely relied on siege staffs and long rods to deal with enemy fliers.

Karrnath had the weakest air force throughout the war. It relied on its strong evokers to blast enemy fliers, and relied on its dominance on the ground. The Blood of Vol experimented with undead flying units; while dramatic, these were never produced in large numbers. As a result, many of Thrane’s greatest victories involved air superiority, and Korth still bears the scars of Thrane’s aerial bombardment.

Thrane has a strong, versatile air force tied to a number of elements.

  • Wyverns are to Thrane as dragonhawks are to Aundair. For tens of thousands of years, the cliffs around Flamekeep have been home to wyverns. The least of these are typical wyverns as presented in the 5E Monster Manual… generally Large in size and incapable of speech. But there is an exceptional strain of wyverns—typically known as elder wyverns, regardless of their age—that are both more intelligent than their cousins and grow to far greater sizes; as presented in the 3.5 Monster Manual, these wyverns can grow to Gargantuan size. While they are on average less intelligent than humans, elder wyverns are capable of speech. The early settlers of Daskara made peace with the elder wyverns and the rulers of Daskara always had wyvern “advisors.” During the Year of Blood and Fire the wyverns were also threatened by the forces of Bel Shalor, and Tira Miron rallied the elders to her cause; the wyvern Ashtarax carried her in her final confrontation with the forces of Bel Shalor. Following Tira’s sacrifice, the wyverns themselves adopted the faith of the Silver Flame; they consider the defense of Flamekeep to be a sacred duty. The wyverns have relatively little concept of the wider Five Nations and don’t care to know; they serve the church because they believe it serves the Voice of the Flame, and they say that Tira continues to guide them. So, Thrane can field lesser wyverns in battle, but it is the gargantuan elders who spread terror. An elder wyvern can can carry a crew into battle, and early in the war Thrane pioneered new techniques of aerial combat; their trademark was the use of vast bags of holding to drop massive rocks and divinely-infused explosives on their enemies. While the great wyverns lack the powers of dragons, some of the elders have such deep faith that they can channel the power of the Silver Flame; a wyvern might strike at enemies with sacred flame, or even greater powers.
  • Angels are templars equipped with wings of flying. This version of this rare item is created through a ritual that draws on the faith of the bearer; only the most devout templars can become angels, and typically the item will lose its power when the character attuned to it dies. These wings typically appear to be the rainbow wings of a couatl. Because of these elite templars, Thrane was often believed to have recruited actual angels to fight for them. While Thrane did occasionally deploy celestials formed from the Flame, the majority of its winged warriors were these mortal templars.

Thrane also employed a corps of hippogriff riders. Often a few hippogriffs would be harnessed to the back of a gargantuan wyvern, released to engage any flying enemies that sought to interfere with bombardment.

How common is/was technological powered flight (blimps, dirigibles, or balloons) in Eberron?

None have ever been mentioned in canon that I’m aware of. If I were to introduce some, I’d consider a magical aspect: a dirigible filled with Thelanian clouds, or an alternative form of elemental binding using a harnessed air elemental, which sacrifices speed but doesn’t need a Lyrandar pilot. I might also consider giving dirigibles to the Dhakaani (perhaps created by the Kech Aar’ar, the Keepers of the Air) as another way to show the Dhakanni pursuing a different path than the arcane science of the Five Nations.

How does House Vadalis relate to dragonhawks and wyverns?

House Vadalis is the primary breeder and trainer of hippogriffs. It supplied Galifar with these mounts and continued to breed hippogriffs for all nations during the war. Other creatures are bred and magebred to serve regional markets. For example, the bear is to Breland as the dragonhawk is to Aundair; so in BRELAND, House Vadalis has long worked to build a better bear, with results seen in the magebred bears unleashed on the battlefields of the Five Nations. It is also the case that Vadalis has long worked with creatures that are actually intelligent, as pegasi and the giant owls of Sharn. Such creatures are actually treated as members of the house. They are raised and trained by Vadalis, and Vadalis doesn’t SELL them; it temporarily places them, and the mounts have to agree to the service.

So that’s background: Vadalis has certain beasts and creatures that it supplies to all of the Five Nations, and others that are regional specialties. Vadalis does breed dragonhawks in Aundair, but it is not involved with the wyverns of Thrane—although it does provide Thrane with hippogriffs.

As an interesting side note, the 3.5 sourcebook Five Nations calls out that in the wake of the Eldeen secession, druids in the Reaches have awakened a number of dragonhawks and sent them east, where they may be a fifth column that can disrupt Aundair’s air forces.

What about griffons?

Griffons reflect the challenge of changing systems. In 3.5, the griffon (flight speed 80) was considerably slower than the hippogriff (flight speed 100). In fifth edition that is reversed; the griffon is both stronger AND faster than the hippogriff. With this in mind, I would consider griffons to be used by most nations as an alternative to Aundair’s dragonhawks. However, I would maintain that the griffon is more difficult to control and requires more maintenance—so hippogriffs remain the common aerial mount, with griffons as heavy support.

With the changes in Fifth Edition, how does the Hippogriff fare in the Race of Eight Winds?

Traditionally, the Hippogriff and the Pegasus are the top competitors in the Race of Eight Winds. The Pegasus remains at the top. With the hippogriff’s dramatic reduction in speed in fifth edition, the question is: do you change the lore to match the mechanics, or do you change the mechanics to match the lore? Personally, I’m going to do the latter and say that while wild hippogriffs have a speed of 60 feet, the magebred hippogriffs of House Vadalis have an air speed of 80 feet—call them zephyr hippogriffs. They are no longer FASTER than the Griffon, but the fact of the matter is that the Griffon is still usually more interested in taking down other competitors than in WINNING the Race, so the Hippogriff usually comes out ahead.

What about Aerenal? It’s the source of soarwood—does it use it for flight?

Yes. Aerenal is the source of soarwood, and it’s also significantly more mystically advanced than the Five Nations. I mentioned that Aerenal is a possible source of carpets of flying; those might be woven in part from fibers from the soarwood trees, and there might be massive carpets used as a form of transit. Brooms of flying are more common in Aerenal than even in Aundair. Here again, I’d make them skystaffs rather than BROOMS, but as is typical of Aerenal I wouldn’t see them as uniform in design and mass produced. Instead, I’d imagine them as being sort of like hobby-horses, with fanciful designs; one might have the carved head of a dragon, other the head of an eagle, with similar engraving along the shaft and a seat designed to resemble the creature’s wings. Despite all of that, we’ve never mentioned the Aereni as using airships or elemental binding, and I don’t think they do.

That’s all for now. Feel free to ask questions, but understand that I may not have time to answer them. In other developments, my latest D&D supplement Eberron Confidential is available now on the DM’s Guild, I’m continuing to work with my Patreon supporters to develop my Threshold campaign, and this Friday (November 20th) at 6 PM Pacific time I’ll be playing my new Adventure Zone game with Griffin McElroy, Laser Malena-Webber and Damion Poitier on my Twitch channel! Thanks for your support!

IFAQ: Wounding Werewolves and Changeling Hair

What happens when you cut a changeling’s hair?

Good question. When a changeling is killed, their body reverts to their natural form. With that in mind, it seems like if you sever some element of a changeling’s body—like its hair—it should revert, right? And if you say no—that the changeling’s hair retains its appearance after being separated—then does mean than changelings can use their power to grow their hair, and then cut it off and sell it to wigmakers?

As with many things, the key question here is what’s the story you want to tell? I don’t want a simple, foolproof method for revealing a changeling with one snip of the scissors. I also don’t want a changeling to be able to create infinite wigs. We need a rope ladder: Kel, can you grow fifty feet of hair? With this in mind, I personally say two things.

  • When a changeling’s hair is cut, it WILL revert—becoming colorless and crumbling away. But it doesn’t happen instantly. It takes about 24 hours for changeling hair to revert. Which means that wigmakers will wait a day before they’ll pay you for your hair—but also that it’s not a useful tool for a guard to decide whether they’re letting you into a room.
  • Changeling hair is an extrusion of the character’s biomass. I will place limits on just how much they can create—six feet of hair, sure! Fifty feet, no. If a mass of hair is cut off, it won’t KILL the changeling, but I may give them one or more levels of exhaustion; they are pushing their body to its limits.

But how does this tie to the idea of a character instantly reverting on death? The key question is what that process of reversion actually looks like. From a mechanical, story perspective, what’s important is that observers immediately know the character was an imposter, and have enough information to identify them if they know them. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be an instant FULL reversion. It could be that the dead changeling’s FACE reverts within moments and that the rest of the change spreads out from there over the course of the next 24 hours. The revelation that they’re an imposter is instant; but there’s no reason the full reversion can’t take a little longer.

In 5E D&D, Lycanthropes are immune to slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing damage from non-magical, non-silver weapons. How did people mistake shifters for lycanthropes during the Silver Crusade, when all you’d have to do to test it is to poke them with a dagger?

Like the changeling haircut, this seems reasonable. A werewolf is immune to mundane weapons. Therefore, I can’t hurt the werewolf with my iron dagger. If I’m concerned that you might be a werewolf, all you have to do is to let me prick your finger. But again, is that the story we want to tell? The traditional story of the werewolf is one of suspense and horror, murderer hidden among the innocents. The Silver Crusade resulted in the deaths of countless innocents who were believed to be lycanthropes—how could that happen if it’s so easy to identify them?

If you want that suspense, the answer is simple: It’s NOT that easy to identify them. As with many of my discussions of class features, it’s important to separate the mechanical effect defined in the rules from the cosmetic manifestation of that effect, which is up to the DM. The rules state that werewolves can’t be hurt by mundane weapons. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be CUT by mundane weapons, or that they don’t bleed when injured in this way; it just means it doesn’t actually cause a loss of hit points.

Look to the movies. Typically, when a werewolf is shot with a normal gun, it’s not that the bullets bounce off of them. The mundane bullets punch holes in the werewolf, but don’t hurt it; it just keeps coming until you finally use a silver bullet. Having impenetrable skin is the domain of superheroes. Having the werewolf who’s been shot and stabbed, who may have bone exposed by ghastly injuries, and who just does not die is what makes a werewolf horrifying and unnatural.

So in my campaign, it’s not that a lycanthrope can’t be physically injured by a mundane weapon, it’s that they don’t suffer an actual DAMAGE from it. They will heal from the injury with unnatural speed, but not so fast that you can watch it happen. Which means that just cutting someone’s palm with a steel dagger won’t tell you if they’re a werewolf; the dagger will cut them and they will bleed, regardless of whether they’re a werewolf or not. Now, cutting their throat or stabbing them in the heart with that dagger will tell you something, because if they’re human they will die — while if they’re a werewolf, they’ll pull the dagger out of their heart and laugh at you. Essentially, you need to inflict ENOUGH damage that a normal person would be debilitated by it to realize that the lycanthrope isn’t being adversely affected—which in turn led to innocents dying during the Silver Crusade, victims of tests that proved they weren’t werewolves but only by inflicting so much damage that these innocents subsequently died.

This is the path to take if you want it to be difficult to identify a werewolf, and you want it to be a source of suspense and horror. If you want a middle road, one option is to force a lycanthrope to make a Charisma (Deception) check to simulate suffering pain from an injury, perhaps with advantage or disadvantage based on the degree of the injury. It’s easy to wince when someone cuts your palm. It’s harder to convince people you’re suffering the agony of a knife through your gut when you actually aren’t.

This is a general principle to keep in mind. The rules tell us the MECHANICAL EFFECT. But three creatures with immunity to a particular damage type could manifest that immunity in very different ways.

That’s all for now! Lest it go without saying, my latest projects are Eberron Confidential on the DM’s Guild and the Threshold campaign I’m running for my Patreon supporters!

IFAQ: Dragons Bad?

I’ve been keeping busy. In addition to working on my Threshold Campaign, I’m also about to release The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance and I DID just release Eberron Confidential. And that’s just the projects I can talk about! However, when time permits I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. So…

In the canon lore of Eberron, the dragons of Argonnessen completely obliterated the civilizations of the giants of Xen’drik, and in the process all of the lesser civilizations on Xen’drik as well. This involved not simply devastating physical force, but also epic magic such as the Du’rashka Tul (a curse that causes any culture that grows too large to be gripped by homicidal rage) and the Traveler’s Curse (which warps time and space). Why would they do all of this instead of just conquering Xen’drik conventionally?

This relates to the role of dragons in the world, a topic I discussed in this Dragonmark on The First War, but let’s take another look at it. The primary sourcebook on the dragons of Eberron is, surprise, Dragons of Eberron. and what I’m about to say is largely drawn from that. First, let’s take a moment to consider dragons—as defined by the 3.5 rules on which the original lore of Eberron was based.

Dragons are suffused with magical power. This grows stronger as they age, until it suddenly gutters out. Thus, a dragon can live for up to 4,400 years, and as they age they simply become stronger, smarter, and gain more magical power. Under the 3.5 SRD, a typical gold great wyrm has the powers of a 19th level sorcerer, and as seen in Dragons of Eberron, exceptional dragons can add additional class levels on top of that. The dragons of Argonnessen believe that they are the children of Eberron and Siberys, and that they can ascend to become the Sovereigns after death—that they are the gods that lesser creatures worship. With this in mind, dragons don’t consider humanoids to be their equals. At best, they’re essentially dogs—potentially useful if domesticated, possibly dangerous when feral, and so cute when they think they’re dragons. At worst, humanoids are like cockroaches—swarming, insignificant creatures who live and die in the blink of an eye and should be wiped out if they cause trouble. Oh, don’t worry about it. The way they reproduce, in just a century there’ll be swarms of them again.

Dragons of Eberron outlines how, around sixty thousand years ago, dragons spread out from Argonnessen and interacted with the other creatures of Eberron. According to DoE…

Some merely wished to study the lesser creatures. A few came as mentors, foremost among them the descendants of Ourelonastrix. These dragons shared the secrets of magic with giants, curious to see what innovations these promising creatures might develop. But the bulk of the dragons chose the path of conquest. Flights of dragons carved out dominions across the world. For most of the dragons, it began as a game—one with a high cost in life among nondragons.

For a dragon, running a humanoid kingdom was kind of like having an ant farm. It was a source of entertainment and amusement, and if if a few thousand humanoids died when you forced them to fight with a rival dragon, what of it? However, as DoE calls out, things went downhill from there.

In time, however, the struggle turned dragon against dragon. Friendly rivalries became bitter. The blood of dragons flowed. And as the troubles spread, the Daughter of Khyber stirred in the Pit of Five Sorrows.

This is the first crucial factor in understanding the actions of the modern dragons: The Daughter of Khyber. One of the most powerful overlords of the first age, she has the ability to corrupt and control dragons. She begins by amplifying their cruelty and instinct for tyranny, the desire to rule lesser beings; and from that root she eventually consumes them completely, until they become extensions of her own immortal evil. Argonnessen itself was nearly destroyed in the escalating conflict that followed. When the battles were finally won and the Daughter of Khyber fully restored to her prison, the Conclave of Argonnessen ordered all dragons to return and forbade any further draconic imperialism. The dragons remain hidden in Argonnessen not simply because they have no interest in other civilizations, but because it is dangerous for them to meddle with lesser creatures.

But there’s a second element to this. Tens of thousands of years later, the giants of Xen’drik—using power based on the knowledge shared by dragons—destroyed the moon Crya and threatened the balance of the planes of Eberron. The dragons resisted taking action, but centuries later they threatened to unleash these powers again. According to Dragons of Eberron, “Perhaps they thought victory was possible, but many historians believe it was pure nihilism—if the titans couldn’t rule the world, they would destroy it.” As this threat became known…

Shocked and alarmed at the effect of the forces already unleashed by the giants, this time (the dragons) chose to act. A scaled army poured forth from Argonnessen, with flights of all colors led by the militant wyrms of the Light of Siberys. The conflict was brutal, and its outcome never in doubt. The dragons had no interest in holding territory. They made no effort to avoid civilian casualties; they brought fire, fang, and epic magic to bear in the most destructive ways imaginable. In the end, nothing was left of the proud nations of Xen’drik. Giant, elf, and all other cultures of the land were laid low by the dragons, and powerful curses ensured that the giants would never again threaten the world. Their mission accomplished, the dragons returned to Argonnessen to brood. All agreed that the people of Xen’drik would never have posed such a threat if the dragons had not shared the secrets of magic. The Conclave called the event kurash Ourelonastrix—Aureon’s Folly—and forbade any flight from sharing the secrets of Argonnessen with lesser beings.

So: Why didn’t the dragons wage a conventional war? They couldn’t, for multiple reasons. First of all, the giants were already preparing a doomsday ritual BECAUSE they were losing a war. A slow campaign wouldn’t solve that problem, it would simply push the giants even further up against the wall. Second, a conventional campaign of conquest is EXACTLY the sort of action that feeds the Daughter of Khyber. For both of these reasons, the draconic action had to be swift and decisive, not about ruling lesser creatures but simply about eliminating the threat. And this is where we come back to that point of humanoids are like cockroaches to dragons. The Conclave concluded that it had made a terrible mistake in sharing magic with the giants. Their response to this wasn’t Let’s teach them to use our power with greater wisdom, it was let’s completely wipe our mistake from the world and make sure we never do that again.

This is what drives Argonnessen today. Dragons must not repeat Aureon’s Folly, which is why Vvaraak is an apostate for sharing her secrets with the Gatekeeper druids. Dragons must not try to rule lesser creatures beyond the borders of Argonnessen. They can WATCH them. They can manipulate them, for purposes of the grand conflict over the Draconic Prophecy. But they cannot rule them. And should they become a serious threat to Argonnessen, destroying them all is a viable solution. One can even make the argument that both the Du’rashka Tul and the Traveler’s Curse were examples of draconic MERCY. The Dragons were determined that the giants would never again threaten the world as they once did. They COULD have utterly eradicated them from existence. Instead, they destroyed their civilizations, and put in place safeguards to ensure that they’d never rebuild a civilization that could pose a threat—but they DIDN’T just reduce Xen’drik to a plane of glass.

This goes all the way back to one of the basic principles of Eberron: The world needs heroes. If the Tarrasque appears and is going to destroy Sharn, the dragons won’t show up to help you, because they do not care what happens to Sharn. If they do, it’s only because it’s tied to the Prophecy and there’s a very specific outcome that they want — in which case, it’s likely they still can’t defeat the Tarrasque THEMSELVES, they need to help you do it, because that’s what is required for the Prophecy. At the end of the day, the main point is while the dragons of Argonnessen may not be EVIL, they are not your friends. They are not here to help you. They don’t CARE if the Dreaming Dark takes over Sarlona or Khorvaire unless there’s a clear threat to Argonnessen. They don’t care about the Mourning unless it, too, can be proven to be a threat to the entire world (as the actions of the Cul’sir were). And if they DO decide something is a problem, there is the risk that they will solve it in the same way they solved their problems with Xen’drik. We don’t think much about exterminating cockroaches when they get in our way, and to Argonnessen as a whole, your character is a cockroach.

The key point is that generally, the people of Khorvaire have no contact with dragons. They know they exist, but no one ever goes to Argonnessen (in part because those who do don’t return). Dragons aren’t just another nation like Riedra or the Aereni. To the people of Khorvaire, Argonnessen is a legend—and it’s likely for the best that it stays that way.

Dragons as Individuals

So what’s the point of HAVING dragons in the world if you can’t use them? Well, everything I wrote is about Argonnessen. It’s based on the idea that IF dragons lived for thousands of years, IF every dragon possessed significant magical power, why WOULDN’T they have a civilization far greater than anything we know? But the follow-up is that that civilization largely ignores the lesser civilizations, following its own version of the Prime Directive (because of Aureon’s Folly and the Daughter of Khyber). However, INDIVIDUAL DRAGONS can have their own goals and interests and play many different roles in a campaign. Just to name a few…

  • The Observer. The Chamber is watching the world to make sure that things are moving according to their plans. In general, Chamber observers manipulate rather than acting directly, and you’d never know they were dragons… unless something goes wrong. My novella “Principles of Fire” involves two Chamber observers, and something going wrong.
  • The Rogue Dragon. Not all dragons obey the Conclave of Argonnessen. And while many dragons establishing empires is a problem for the Daughter of Khyber, a SINGLE dragon being a jerk isn’t a big deal. Rogue dragons might be rogues because they want to HELP humanoids—like Vvaraak, who taught the Gatekeepers—or because they want to hurt them, as with Sarmondelaryx terrorizing Thrane. Some rogue dragons just want to pursue arcane studies, though again, because dragons often see themselves as far above humanoids, a dragon scientist may well use humans as lab rats. So you can HAVE a dragon as an ally or a villain in a campaign; the point is that they don’t have the full support of Argonnessen behind them, and thus shouldn’t overshadow the player characters.
  • The Wild Dragon. Dragons are intelligent and have (at least in the 3.5 model) innate magical powers. But you can still have a dragon orphaned in the wild, who knows nothing of Argonnessen and has essentially grown up feral. Or you could have a dragon who’s been corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber and is an agent of evil, but who likewise knows nothing of Argonnessen.

So, you can HAVE a random evil dragon or a benevolent dragon ally if you choose. But Argonnessen itself was always intended to be that spot on the map that says Here There Be Dragon, the place that we DON’T know about… The place that will pose a challenge for even the mightiest characters. It’s supposed to be a mystery, something beyond our understanding or our reach. Because remember that Eberron was grounded in principles of pulp adventure, and that concept of ancient powers in an unknown realm, advanced far beyond human civilization is certainly in keeping with that. You can find a further discussion of why we chose to follow this path in the First War article.

How do you handle the changes made to dragons in the different editions?

It’s a tricky point. The whole idea of Argonnessen IS based on the vast power possessed by the 3.5 dragons. A gold great wyrm has mental abilities scores in the 30s and the spellcasting abilities of a 19th level sorcerer, and that’s an average great gold wyrm. The point of Argonnessen was if creatures with such power and intellect existed and had existed for tens of thousands of years, WOULDN’T they have a civilization far beyond what we’re depicting for the Five Nations?

The dragons of 5E are generally weaker, and that’s probably for the best. Do you really NEED an enemy dragon to be able to drop a wish on you in addition to breathing fire? So for purposes of running adventures, I’m fine with using a default 5E dragon as that wild dragon who never mastered its innate magical powers and using the Innate Spellcasting rules for a Chamber observer. But personally, I’m not changing my default vision of Argonnessen because the rules have changed, and there’s a simple way to have this cake and eat it, too. The 5E age chart for dragons only goes to Ancient. 3.5 has two further categories, Wyrm and Great Wyrm — and it’s the Great Wyrms that would be throwing wishes around. So it’s reasonable to say that great wyrms still exist and still have all the powers they wielded in 3.5… you just don’t see them outside of Argonnesen.

Ultimately, as with anything, the question is what is the story you want to tell? The idea of Argonnessen was to be the mysterious space blank on the map, to be the civilization that’s tens of thousands of years beyond humanity, to be the illuminati secretly fighting a war with fiends in the shadows. If that’s not a story you want to tell, don’t tell it. Part of the point of the dragons BEING so secretive is that if you remove the Chamber and the Lords of Dust from the game, no one would know. All canon is only a place to start; if there’s anything you don’t like about it, don’t use it.

Now: Previously I have done my best to answer every question posted on an article. However, the whole idea of IFAQs is that they are short, meaning I can write more of them. In the past, I’ve ended up answering so many questions that the article ends up being longer than a Dragonmark… and this article is ALREADY longer than I planned. So: feel free to ASK questions about this topic, but there’s a good chance I’m not going to answer them. And again: if you want to know the CANON answers about dragons, check out Dragons of Eberron, and if you want more kanon answers, check out The First War.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

Threshold: Characters, Continued

Art by Julio Azvedo

Last month I announced plans to run an online Eberron campaign set in Threshold, a town on the edge of Breland and Droaam. In October, I worked with my Patreon supporters to establish important details about the town. The dominant faith is the Three Faces of Coin, a variant of the Sovereign Host focused on commerce and industry (both legal and otherwise). There’s an undercurrent of interest in the Cazhaak worship of the Dark Six, driven by the kobold community on the edge of town. Other significant segments of the population include Brelish veterans who fought for the local lord during the war, Cyran refugees granted safe haven in this backwater, and a few goblin families from Sharn.

With this completed, we’re now developing the Characters. Each session will have a different group of players, chosen from among the patrons. The players will choose their characters for the session from a roster of ten shared characters—and we’re currently establishing defining those ten characters. Three have been fully developed.

  • The Marshal is a Battle Master fighter with the Mark of Sentinel; a battle-scarred Sentinel Marshal from the oldest family in House Deneith, he was excoriated after they killed a war criminal who would otherwise have gone free. Now he wants to make a difference on the frontier.
  • The Smith is a beasthide shifter and a blacksmith from Cyre. She doesn’t remember anything that happened in 992 YK, but since then she’s found that her natural strength and shifter abilities have been enhanced in strange ways—giving her the powers of a Way of the Beast Barbarian. While she’s using these gifts to help protect the Cyran refugees and has become a local folk hero, the Smith mainly wants to work at the smithy she’s established with her partner, the Cannith tinker who built their prosthetic leg. The Smith and the Tinker are pictured above, as envisioned by Julio Azvedo.
  • The Greensinger is a druid of the Circle of Dreams; while they typically appear to be an elf, they’re actually a changeling. They grew up in Thelanis, in the realm of an archfey known as Fortune’s Fool, and this has led to an optimistic outlook; now, they seek to help the people of Threshold establish a relationship with the local fey. The Greensinger is a skilled storyteller and singer; they know many magical songs (spells), including a song that holds tremendous power—but singing it might kill them.

The Smith and the Marshal came from a poll selecting “The Muscle.” Currently we are finishing up “The Faith” with a poll that establishes details about The Flame, a kalashtar orphan who receives visions from the Silver Flame. We still have six characters to go, covering the Knowledge, the Cunning, and the Unexpected. Below you can see a screenshot of the poll for the Flame, which is going on for another day…

What I like about this process is that even though I’m presenting ideas, I don’t know how these characters will turn out. The question of whether the Flame is Last of their Line or Not Kalashtar will have a major impact on their long term story arc. Because I’m running this campaign for a hundred potential players instead of five, it’s a different process than creating characters with people around a table, but I’m enjoying seeing these characters come together. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that these “Facts” play the same role as the secrets I present in my latest DM’s Guild book, Eberron Confidential…. In fact, Last of their Line is taken directly from that book!

I expect the first actual Threshold game session to be at the end of the month, given that there’s still six characters to develop. If you’d like to be a part of that process, go to my Patreon and check it out!

Thanks also to Threshold supporter Asura, who created the following image to lobby for the Flame in the last poll!

Eberron Confidential is here!

Eberron Confidential cover by Olie Boldador

Everyone has secrets—and sometimes, those secrets can shape a story. Eberron Confidential is available now on the DM’s Guild, and it includes the following…

  • 54 character secrets, ready to be printed out and distributed as player handouts.
  • Tips for Dungeon Masters to integrate each secret into a campaign.
  • Options for introducing secrets to your players, whether at character creation or during an ongoing campaign.
  • Ideas for using rumors to add drama to party dynamics.
  • Tables for quickly generating NPC secrets whenever you need them.

These secrets give each character a unique connection to the world of Eberron, and to provide an intriguing story hook for the DM to explore. Each secret also provides a minor mechanical benefit. In this, they’re similar to backgrounds, but where a background provides a very general story, secrets are specific and unique. It’s possible everyone in a party of adventurers could be former soldiers—but only one is hiding an aberrant dragonmark or was raised by gnolls.

These secrets are broken into categories, allowing the players and the DM to decide just how significant they want these secrets to be. Looking at the two examples above, Dated Daask is a casual secret designed to be used in a campaign based in Sharn—while Prince of Blood is a huge secret that could become a major part of a campaign if the secret heir chooses to pursue their claim. These secrets aren’t intended to cause strife between player characters, but rather to give each character a story to explore—something that could be exciting for the entire party.

Eberron Confidential http://tiny.cc/EberronConfidentialis available now! Let me know if you have any questions!

IFAQ: Swearing, Djinn, and Genasi

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters to pose interesting questions about Eberron. Here’s a few lingering questions from October!

Any swear words specific to Khorvaire?

The humans of Khorvaire excrete and reproduce much as we do – so swear words related to those functions are just as applicable on Eberron as Earth. Setting-specifice swears generally invoke things that are unique to the world, whether that’s deities or planes. Looking to my novels, a few examples…

  • Dolurrh! is much like saying Hell! With this in mind, we’ve also seen Damn you to Dolurrh!
  • Thrice-damned invokes the Progenitors, essentially Damned by Eberron, Khyber, and Siberys. So, that thrice-damned dwarf!
  • You can always invoke the Sovereigns. Sovereigns above! is a general invocation, a sort of give me strength! In The Queen of Stone, the Brelish ambassador swears by Boldrei’s bloody feet! — essentially a variant of God’s blood! Any Sovereign could be used in this way. Aureon’s eyes, Kel, what made you think you could get away with that?
  • Olladra is the Sovereign of fortune, and often invoked to acknowledge good or bad luck. Olladra smiles is a polite way to say That was lucky, while Olladra scowls is essentially that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.
  • Flame! is often used even by people who aren’t devoted to the Silver Flame. Depending on the context and the faith of the speaker, Flame! can be an earnest invocation as opposed to an expression of frustration.

These are curses of the Five Nations, and in the Common tongue. I don’t have time to comb through all the curses we’ve created in other languages, but Maabet is a Dhakaani curse that a city goblin might still use.

Do you have a vision for how Djinni and Marids fit in the planes?

Syrania embodies peace, and all that flourishes in times of peace. Knowledge, commerce, and contemplation are all elements of Syrania. Angels perform the tasks necessary to maintain the Immeasurable Market while Dominions contemplate the concept of commerce, but angels don’t enjoy the luxuries that commerce provides. This is the role of the djinn. The floating towers of the Dominions are serene and often austere; above them are the cloud-palaces of the djinn, wondrous spectacles of crystal and stone. Within, the djinn dwell amid glorious opulence, their needs tended by unseen servants. In this, they reflect the efreet of Fernia—but the efreet are defined by the hunger of the consuming flame, the endless desire for more, while the djinn are more comfortable in their luxury. A djinni may find joy in contemplating a fine work of art, while the efreeti is always concerned that their neighbor has something finer. Essentially, the djinn are more peaceful that the efreet. Rather than representing air itself, think of the djinn as embodying the wonder of the clouds, the idea that there could be castles in the sky. While they lack the fiery temper of the efreet, djinn can be as capricious as the wind; intrigue is also a thing that flourishes in times of peace, and they can take joy in matching wits with clever mortals.

So, the djinn celebrate the fruits of peace—including celebration itself. Djinn regularly hold grand galas in their floating manors; but these focus on the joy of good times with good company as opposed to the ostentatious and competitive displays of the efreet. Nonetheless, a mortal who earns a reputation as an amazing entertainer or artist could potentially be invited to a djinni’s ball. Thus, a warlock with the Genie patron can be seen as an agent for their patron in the material plane, searching for tings that will delight their benefactor. A dao patron may be eager to obtain exotic materials and rare components to use in their works. An efreeti may task their warlock to find the treasures or wonders they need to outshine their rivals. While a djinn patron may want the warlock to find beautiful things, works of art for their mansion or delightful companions for their next feast.

Marids are harder, but I’d personally place them in Thelanis, in a layer that embodies wondrous tales of the seas. This ties to the 5E lore that marids are master storytellers, and consider it a crime for a lesser being to interrupt one of their tales. I could imagine a grand marid who’s both elemental and archfey, who styles themselves as “The Ocean King” and claims dominion over all shipwrecks and things lost in the water (not that they actually ENFORCE this claim, it’s just part of their story…).

Now: having said this, I could imagine placing the djinn in Thelanis as well, in a layer of clouds that incorporates a range of stories about giants in the sky and other cloud palaces. I personally like them in Syrania because it allows them to embody the joys that commerce and peace bring in ways the angels don’t, but I could also see djinn as being primarily tied to stories of wonders in the sky.

Is there a place for genie nobles who can grant wishes?

That’s part of the point to placing djinn on Syrania; they are, on one level, spirits of commerce. Some love to bargain and have the power to grant wonders if their terms are upheld (but can be capricious about terms). Even lesser djinn who don’t have the actual power of wish could still make such bargains, granting things that are within their power. It can also fit with marids on Thelanis, with that idea that it’s fueled by the stories of mighty genies granting wishes (and the often negative consequences of foolish wishes).

How do genasi fit into Eberron? And how would a fire genasi influenced by Lamannia differ from one influenced by Fernia?

Exploring Eberron has this to say about genasi…

Genasi aren’t innately fiendish or celestial; they’re purely elemental. While quite rare, when recognized, a genasi is generally understood to be neutral in nature —a remarkable mutation, but not something to be feared or celebrated.

Following this principle, genasi aren’t true-breeding and don’t have a recognized culture in Eberron; each genasi is a unique manifestation. As for the difference between the Lamannian genasi and the Fernian genasi, it’s not dramatic; they do both represent the neutral fore of fire. However, I could see saying that the Fernian genasi is inspired by the industrial fires of Fernia, and has a natural instinct for industry and artifce, while the Lamannian genasi is more inspired by the pure elemental force.

For other ways to use genasi in a campaign, consider the options in this article. Previously we suggested that another source of genasi (water or earth) could be Lorghalen gnomes bound to elemental forces.

To which degree are people aware of planar manifest zones and their influence on daily life?

People are very aware of manifest zones and their effects. They don’t know the locations of every zone — it’s not always easy to spot a zone at a glance — but it’s common knowledge that it’s a manifest zone that allows Sharn’s towers to rise so high, and why you don’t have skycoaches everywhere. People know that a blighted region might be a Mabaran manifest zone, and that a fertile one could be tied to Lamannia or Irian. Dragonmarked houses actively search for manifest zones that are beneficial to their operations, and I’d expect that there’s an occupation not unlike feng shui consultants, who evaluate the planar balances of a particular region.

With that said, most common people can’t tell you the PRECISE effects of each type of manifest zone; that’s the sort of thing that requires an Arcana check. But the common people are very much aware of the existence of manifest zones and their importance, and if something strange happens someone can reasonable say “Could this be a manifest zone?

If a Brelish war criminal escapes to Graywall, how likely are the Daughters or Xor’chylic to agree to a Brelish request for extradition? In general, how do extradition requests function with non-Treaty nations?

Generally, not at all. Given that Breland refuses to recognize Droaam as a nation, it’s hard for them to make a request based on international law. Beyond that, what’s more interesting for story purposes—that Droaam just turns over the criminal because Breland asks, or that Breland needs to turn to Sentinel Marshals, bounty hunters, or PLAYER CHARACTERS to apprehend the war criminal? Part of the point of having non-Treaty nations is to create situations like this.

It’s been stated that dragons became expansionist and begun colonizing eberron until this expansion brought about the release (or partial release) of the overlord tiamat, and subsequent retreat to Argonessen. What was the nature of this expansion? Empire or rival fiefdoms, did it expand to the planes of the cosmos? What were the buildings, technology and treasures like? Do remnants remain would some dragons seek to restore this age?

First of all, if you haven’t read the 3.5 sourcebook Dragons of Eberron, that’s the primary source on draconic culture, architecture, and history. The Thousand, the Tapestry, and the Vast aren’t the civilizations that drove that expansion, but they are what they became, and it also discusses the impact of the Daughter of Khyber.

With that in mind, consider that you’re talking about events that occurred eighty thousand years ago. Even among the long-lived dragons, you’re talking about dozens of generations ago. It’s likely that very few remnants of that expansion have survived the passage of time—and those that did may have been repurposed and reused by multiple civilizations since then. Perhaps Stormreach or Sharn are built on ancient draconic foundations, whose origins were long forgotten even before the Cul’sir Dominion or Dhakaani Empire came to power. There may well have been competing draconic fiefdoms or even warring empires; but whatever these civilizations were, they were forgotten tens of thousands of years ago, in part because the dragons had to banish imperialistic urges from their hearts to resist the Daughter of Khyber. There could possibly be some dragons who yearn to restore draconic dominion over the world—and it would be such dragons who would fall prey to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber and become her cultists.

I wish I had time to develop some examples of long-forgotten draconic civilizations and to chart the evolution of their arcane science, but I’m afraid that’s beyond the scope of an IFAQ. But if you aren’t familiar with Dragons of Eberron, that’s the deepest canon source on this.

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

IFAQ: 5N Fleets, Rune Arms, and the Next War

October was a busy month, between Threshold, Eberron Confidential, and my many non-Eberron projects. As a result, I have a backlog of interesting questions from my Patreon supporters; here’s a few of them.

How strong are the naval traditions of each of the Five Nations, and which one would have the strongest navy?

In considering this, keep in mind that the existing maps of Khorvaire do a poor job of showing rivers, and there are considerably more rivers and lakes than have been called out. Having said that, even with what we have seen keep in mind that during the Last War these rivers and lakes were likely more significant than sea travel. Scion’s Sound is a lengthy border that connected all of the Five Nations except Breland. Lake Galifar is a massive body of water that creates a front between Breland and Aundair, and fishing and shipping along Lake Galifar has always been an important part of life in Aundair. Beyond this, Karrnath was the primary seat of Galifar’s navy in the north—keeping watch on the Lhazaar Principalities—while Sharn was the main point of trade between Galifar and Stormreach. In general, though, Galifar had no need of a significant militarized navy. The Lhazaar Principalities didn’t present a united threat; the bulk of commercial trade was handled by House Lyrandar; and Galifar wasn’t especially devoted to intercontinental trade or exploration.

So when the Last War began, as with many elements of Galifar, people who’d served the united kingdom pulled back to their nations. So one question is who were the common sailors of Galifar? Karrnath provided most of the soldiers of Galifar; was there a nation that provided the majority of the sailors? Yes, and that nation was Aundair. While all of the nations had their coastal fishing trade, Aundair had two key factors: the central role of Lake Galifar and the presence of House Lyrandar. The Windwright’s Guild has its home in Aundair, and Aundair was always home to the largest shipyards and trade schools of the Windwright’s Guild.

So Aundair has always had the greatest expertise. However, Karrnath had the most significant force of warships in service as the war began, which gave it an early edge. Breland—which had a strong naval tradition based on the trade across the Thunder Sea and ties to the expert shipwrights of Zilargo—was able to quickly get up to speed.

As the war progressed, the naval forces of each nation evolved to reflect their nation strengths. Aundair generally had the best sailors, and warships well-outfitted with arcane weaponry and defenses. Karrnath had fewer ships, but relied on its exceptional marines. By the end of the war, Breland had a significant fleet, employing Zil elemental and alchemical weaponry. Cyre never had an especially strong fleet, but it generally had the cutting edge of Cannith developments; my novel The Fading Dream includes a Cannith breacher, an aquatic construct designed to attack ships from below.

What are your thoughts on Thrane’s role in Scion’s Sound? I feel like Thrane’s Navy is not only an opportunity to expand on how important Scion’s Sound was to Galifar, but also I feel like Thrane could use some more interesting facets to it.

Thrane definitely had was to exert its power over Scions Sound, but that wasn’t tied to its SHIPS. Thrane brought two unique elements to the Scion line. The first were lantern posts, lighthouse-like structures burning with silver flame; manned by devout priests, these towers could blast vessels that drew too close with bolts of radiant fire. Their second advantage was their air force. To the best of my knowledge, Thrane is the only nation canonically called out as conducting aerial bombardment. Through their wyvern cavalry and other tools, Thrane had air superiority over the Sound; they didn’t need to match Karrnathi ships on the water if they could destroy them from above.

So yes, Thrane had a significant role in Scion’s Sound and they had ships, but their ships weren’t the source of their power.

Besides Thaliost, what are the other ‘hot spots’ of Khorvaire that could trigger a new large scale war similar to the last war?

You’re not going to see a new large scale war until there’s an answer to the Mourning. The Mourning is, essentially, the equivalent of the nuclear deterrent in our world. And entire country was destroyed in a day, and one of the dominant theory is that it was caused by the cumulative effect of war magics used in the Last War — that the world could be a mystical powderkeg, and it could be that one barrage of siege staffs is all it would take to trigger another Mourning and destroy Breland. Another possibility is that it was an experimental weapon, in which case who built it and could they use it again? It is this fear that holds the great powers of Khorvaire in check, and they won’t risk a large scale conflict until it’s resolved. So until then, the threat is about SMALL conflicts. Thaliost is one example. The Eldeen Reaches is another; will Aundair seek to reclaim the eastern Reaches? Droaam and Breland is another potential hotspot. Valenar is actively provoking its neighbors and is another strong contender. The Heirs of Dhakaan could try to seize control of Darguun…. assuming the Ghaal’dar don’t fall into civil war when Haruuc dies. You could also see an uprising in Breland spearheaded by the Swords of Liberty when Boranel dies, or have Karrnathi warlords rise up against Kaius.

Assuming you’re set on a large scale war, the first thing you need to do is resolve the Mourning. Someone has to find out the answer. Was it a fluke that won’t happen again? Was it a weapon, and if so can it be replicated? Assuming that answer doesn’t prevent war, a major hotpot beyond the ones I mentioned before is Thronehold, which is currently divided between the four surviving nations.

What do you think of Rune arms and how would you handle them in-game?

Rune arms are something created for D&D Online. I haven’t personally played DDO since they were introduced, so I don’t have in-depth knowledge of them. But what I understand is that they’re an offhand weapon that allows the artificer to make an energy attack as a bonus action, with a secondary effect of adding elemental damage to the artificer’s main weapon attack.

So, how would you introduce the rune arm into fifth edition? Well, let’s look at it again: it’s an offhand weapon that can only be used by artificers and allows them to make a ranged attack as a free action. Well, my immediate thought is you just described the artillerist artificer’s Eldritch Cannon. In creating an Eldritch Cannon, an artificer can make it a tiny object that can be held in one hand. The artificer can use a bonus action to make an attack with the cannon. So… artificer-only one-hand weapon that can be used to make an attack as a bonus action… Sounds like a rune arm! Now, in DDO, adventurers can find rune arms that inflict a range of damage types or have greater power. But given that these items can only be used by artificers, my response to this would be to treat the rune arm object as a sort of schema—as long as it’s in the possession of an Artillerist artificer, it allows them to summon a different type of Eldritch Cannon. So it still uses the Eldritch Cannon ability and takes the place of the standard cannon, but could change the damage type or enhance the effect.

So that’s what I’d personally do: say that the rune arm is is the common tiny form of Eldritch Cannon used by Artillerist artificers, and create rune arm items that enhance the feature in various ways.

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

IFAQ: Exotic Races

I’d be curious how you’d use the Tabaxi and the Rakasta in Eberron to make them distinct. Also, how would you use the Shadow Elves?

This basic question—how would you add (exotic species) to Eberron—is the single most frequent question I’m asked. But for me, there’s a second question that is more important, and that’s why do you want to add this species to Eberron? While this may sound snarky, I mean it quite seriously. Let’s look at the most common answers to that question.

I want to play a character with these racial features.

As often as not, this is what the question comes down to. Why play a tabaxi instead of a shifter? Because the tabaxi has that Feline Agility feature, which is perfect for this archer I want to play. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the point is that you don’t need to add an entirely new CULTURE into the setting—having to find territory and consider its role in both history and the current political balance—in order for someone to play a ranger with Feline Agility. Here’s a few ways to handle it.

Reskin the character as another species. The player wants the features of a tabaxi, but they don’t mind being part of shifter culture. So call the character a shifter. For purposes of the story, they’re an unusual Swiftstride shifter, and they can even describe their character as shifting when they use their Feline Agility (even though this doesn’t convey any of the other advantages or disadvantages of shifting). The player gets the abilities they want, but they are part of a species that already has an established story in the world.

Make the character unique. If the player doesn’t care about the culture of their character, then their character could be unique. They could have been mutated by the Mourning, the result of an experiment by House Vadalis, or a creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver or one of the daelkyr. Their abilities could be the result of exposure to the energies of a manifest zone, or the curse of an archfey. With all of these examples, the player gets the abilities they want, but you don’t have to add a new culture to the setting. And you can also explore the character’s relationship with their creator. WHY did Mordain the Fleshweaver crate a tabaxi? Was the character once his feline familiar? Did the character escape from Mordain, or were they released into the wild for some unknown reason?

Small Batch. The thing about making a character unique is that they don’t have an opportunity to interact with other members of their species. If that’s important to a player, but they don’t actually want that culture to play a major role in the campaign, you can take the small batch approach. An entire village was caught in the Mourning and ALL of its inhabitants were turned into tabaxi. House Vadalis produced a unit of Goliath supersoldiers during the war: the player escaped, but most are still held in a secret Vadalis facility. There’s only a dozen Kenku: they were servants of the archfey known as the Forgotten Prince, and he stole their voices and exiled them to Eberron as punishment for a crime. What’s fun about a small batch species is that it automatically gives you a story hook to work into the game. If there’s only twelve kenku, then your kenku character knows them all. Are you working together to regain your voices, or are you rivals? Are you seeking revenge against the kenku who betrayed you and your allies to the Prince—or are you the traitor responsible for their exile? If you’re a goliath supersoldier, what do you do when another goliath asks you to help free your brothers from a Vadalis facility?

Being part of a small batch means that you don’t have a nation or a culture to fall back on. But it gives your character a certain significance. If tortles have a principality in Lhazaar, you’re just one of many tortles. But if you and your three brothers are actual turtles transformed into turtles by the Mourning, then you are the only four tortles in the world, which makes you all quite remarkable!

I’ve played this character in another setting and I want to play it in Eberron.

This is another common concept: the reason someone wants to play a tabaxi is because they ALWAYS play tabaxi and they just want to play that character again. Usually in this situation the player has a very concrete idea of what tabaxi are like, and they don’t actually WANT you to change their culture to better fit the setting: they want to play this character the same way they’ve always played it. They don’t want to play a Qaltiar drow, they want to play a drow ranger from the Forgotten Realms, because that’s the character they’ve always played.

Personally, when I encounter this, my answer is usually to say OK, your character has come to Eberron from another world. The far traveler background works well for this, as it essentially plays to the idea that no one has ever seen anything like you. This doesn’t mean that you have to make travel between settings commonplace within your world; this character could be a bizarre fluke, brought to Eberron by the Mourning, the Draconic Prophecy, a planar convergence that won’t happen again for thousands of years, or what have you. The point is that the player gets what they want—to play this character exactly the way they want to—and as DM, you don’t have to bend the setting into strange shapes trying to fit this character into.

As a side note, a few months ago I was invited to join a Rise of Tiamat campaign that was set in Faerun and already quite far along. *I* wanted to play a warforged Forge cleric. And this is the path I took: I was a priest of the Becoming God who had been sent from Eberron to seek out pieces of the Becoming God across the multiverse. I used the far traveler background, and I talked a lot about Eberron things that made no sense to anyone in the setting, and everyone had fun with it—and it was much simpler than the DM coming up with an explanation for warforged in the setting and me picking an FR god instead of getting to build the Becoming God. I got to have the story I wanted, and I didn’t need to fundamentally change the setting to get it.

I want this species to have a meaningful place in the world.

Sometimes it’s not just about a specific player wanting to play a single character of the race. Sometimes it’s the DM who loves a species and WANTS it to be a meaningful part of the setting. Or perhaps the player wants their character to have a homeland, to be an envoy or exile from their people. So what are some ways to handle this without having to rewrite the entire setting?

Replace something you aren’t using. Have you ever used the Znir Gnolls of Droaam? Do you plan to? If not, you could say that the rakasta are the founders of the Znir Pact. Or if you don’t like goblins, you could say that the Empire of Dhakaan was a GITH empire, and that the Heirs of Dhakaan are Gith clans. This allows you to make use of existing lore and relationships, just changing the focus of it. The world doesn’t become a cluttered kitchen sink, because you’ve taken something out before adding something in.

They’ve always been there… You’ve just never noticed. This is the approach we took when adding the dragonborn in Fourth Edition. The setting had already established the presence of reptilian humanoids in Q’barra and the tension between them and the colonists. We just said we only mentioned the lizardfolk, but there’s dragonborn in Q’barra as well; the humans just didn’t understand the difference between them. We added further history—the dragonborn had an empire that once covered the Talenta Plains and fought the Dhakaani, but had to retreat to their strongholds in Q’barra to fight the Poison Dusk. This allows players to play dragonborn (and I did, in a 4E Eberron campaign) and to have a homeland to return to and a place in the world—but we didn’t have to redraw the maps or change recent history. The Dragonborn have always been here, but they are an isolated culture with little contact with the Five Nations.

There’s lots of isolated places on the map that work for this. It’s entirely possible that there are tribes of tabaxi living alongside shifters in the depths of the Towering Woods, just as lizardfolk and dragonborn coexist in Q’barra; it’s up to the DM to decide if they have a unique culture that humanity simply hasn’t encountered, or if they are integrated into the Druidic sects. The Lhazaar Principalities can work for this as well. If no one’s ever met Cloudreavers in your campaign, you can declare the Cloudreavers are goliaths, and they’ve always been goliaths.They’re rare enough that people don’t know them in the Five Nations, and they didn’t have a huge impact on the Last War; but they have an island, they have ships, and they’re known across the Principalities. And obviously Xen’drik is a vast blank slate that was intentionally designed for this purpose; you could easily add a loxodon nation in Eberron that no one’s encountered. Speaking of loxodons, I’ve seen people place them in the Tashana Tundra or the Frostfell as mammoth-folk, which I think is a great way to use them and adds flavor to regions that are currently largely unknown.

We’re new in town. This is the approach we took in adding the eladrin in fourth edition. We established that the eladrin lived in feyspires that moved back and forth between Eberron and Thelanis, but that these generally only remained in Eberron for a short period of time—but that following the Mourning, the spires were trapped in Eberron and stripped of their defensive magics. The point was to say the reason eladrin haven’t played a more significant role in history is because they haven’t BEEN here until now. The general idea here is that this species has been secluded and hidden from the rest of the world but is now being thrust into contact. For example…

  • Loxodons have dwelt peacefully in the Frostfell for millennia, but they have been driven from their homes by the rising power of Dral Khatuur. Now tribes of loxodon refugees are landing across the northern coast of Khorvaire.
  • Vedalken are from a demiplane within Khyber—an inner earth filled with wonders and crystal towers. Perhaps their home has been invaded by the minions of the daelkyr Belashyrra; or perhaps the Mourning caused a chunk of their realm to materialize in the Mournland.

This allows the species to have a deep culture and potentially to have magic or techniques that SHOULD make an impact on Khorvaire, but to explain why they haven’t affected history to this point. The idea is that while people may not have encountered this species before, it’s a significant part of the story NOW.

In Conclusion…

For me, the most important thing is for the elements of the world to feel significant. While there’s a PLACE for everything in Eberron, I don’t want to force something in if it doesn’t actually add something compelling to the story I’m telling. As such, I’ve never actually used tabaxi, rakasta, or many other types of humanoids in my personal campaign. In deciding how to add them into your campaign, my advice is to first think about WHY you want them in the campaign—whether the character could be a unique mutation or an extraplanar visitor, or if you want their culture to have a significant place in the world. So looking back to that original question, I personally wouldn’t use rakasta or tabaxi in my campaign because I’d rather use shifters. If it was a design dash challenge and I had to add tabaxi in, I’d take the small batch approach: there’s a city in the Mournland where all of the inhabitants were transformed into tabaxi, and they now dwell in the ruins and are mysteriously compelled to sing and dance…

… OK, maybe not. Happy Halloween!

Threshold: Session Zero Continues

Art by Carolina Cesario

Earlier this month I revealed my plan to run an online Eberron campaign for my Patreon supporters. The campaign will use a set of pregenerated characters, but the players for each session will be determined by a challenge posed to supporters.

Currently I’m involved in Session Zero: the same process I’d use to lay the groundwork of a campaign at the table, but drawn out and resolved by polling supporters. Through this process, we’ve established a number of important details. Threshold is a town on the edge of Breland, the last outpost of civilization before you reach Graywall. It is in the domain of Count ir’Blis, and a core group of settlers are Brelish veterans who served ir’Blis during the Last War. However, the town has become a haven for devotees of a Sovereign Host sect known as the Three Faces of Coin—a faith devoted to facilitating trade and profit, whether through legitimate commerce or shadier paths. Their efforts helped draw House Orien to the town, and Orien has brought in a local kobold clan to help with labor; this has also brought the Cazhaak faith—an alternate interpretation of the Dark Six—to Threshold. Recently, ir’Blis has allowed a large contingent of Cyran refugees to settle in the town, and they’ve been joined by a few goblin families from Sharn. So there’s a mix of people in Threshold, and lots of potential for conflict and intrigue.

The supporters decided that the adventurers were working for the town itself—that each character has a tie to Threshold and a stake in its prosperity. The next step in this session zero is to define the characters themselves. Through polls, we’re going to define a total of ten characters that will form the recurring cast of player characters; this will ensure that every player will have some options in deciding who to play. We’re starting with a poll that chooses the basic concepts for two characters; the next poll will add details and determine their classes and subclasses.

So, currently we are selecting two characters that I’m defining as The Muscle. Here’s the concepts people are choosing from:

  • The Sheriff is a warforged juggernaut who served under Count ir’Blis during the Last War, and they have ties to the Brelish veterans who make up part of the population. Along with the Steward, the Sheriff represents the interests of ir’Blis and is tasked to maintain order in Threshold. The next round of questions will determine if the Sheriff is a grim realist, or if they are driven by faith or idealism. 
  • The Marshal is a dragonmarked former Sentinel Marshal of House Deneith. They’re no longer part of the house, and rumors swirl as to whether they were excoriated for wrongdoing or severed ties of their own accord. Either way, they believe in justice and they’re determined to make a difference in Threshold.
  • The Smith is a Cyran shifter just trying to make an honest living. They’ve opened a general store with their partner, a Cannith tinker. They don’t like to talk about what they did during the war, but they can swing a hammer and you won’t like them when they’re angry. They’re respected within the community of Cyran refugees within the town, and pursue the interests of their people. 
  • The Hunter is a Tharashk half-orc and licensed bounty hunter. They’ve been working the frontier for a decade, and know their way around Droaam and the wilds. Their first interest is profit, and they have ties to the Three Faces of War… but thanks to their time in Droaam, they’ve also adopted some of the beliefs of the Cazhaak faith. 

All of these characters will be part of Threshold. The question is which ones will be player characters, and which ones will be NPCs with their own secrets and goals. Will the Sheriff be a player character responsible for maintaining order—or will the Sheriff be an NPC the adventurers will have to deal with if they cause trouble?

Part of what I love about the Session Zero process is seeing how the story evolves through collaboration. I have my own ideas for the story, but things will definitely change depending on which of the characters are selected and the decisions made in the next round of questions. If you’d like to be a part of this process—and to potentially join in the game—join the Threshold tier of my Patreon!

Ghost Stories of Eberron

What are the stories that the people of the Five Nations tell during the nights of Long Shadows? Who are the equivalents of Dracula or Strahd, infamous undead whose tales are told across Khorvaire?

In looking to the bogeymen of Eberron, an immediate answer is the Daughters of Sora Kell. Consider the following exchange from the novel The Queen of Stone:

“It was Zarantyr of 972 when she came to our gate. She was a refugee. She told us that her husband and children had been killed by trolls. I’ll never forget her: Tall and thin, hair as black as a crow’s wing and just as ragged, surrounding her like a shroud woven from the night itself. I could see that her skin was flawless beneath the dirt, and her eyes were as dark as her hair.

“But it was her spirit that impressed me the most—the determination that had carried her out this far from Sharn and Wroat, the courage that kept her going after her family was destroyed. She said she was hungry, and asked if she could stay the night beneath our roof before continuing east. The commander agreed. But I didn’t stay for the evening meal. Cainan and I were sent on a scouting mission, to search for our lady’s village and to track the aggressive trolls.”

“And what did you find?” Thorn said.

Beren studied the cold fire dancing along his enchanted torch. “There was no trail to follow. It was Zarantyr, and it had snowed the day before, but there were no tracks save ours… and the snow was stained with blood. Yet there were no signs of struggle. No smashed doors, no burned buildings. Just the bones of twelve settlers, picked perfectly clean and stacked neatly by the town well. Every bone… except for the skulls. Those were nowhere to be found.”

“And the woman?”            

“We returned as quickly as we could, but it was past midnight by the time we arrived. I’d called on Dol Arrah, begged the Sovereigns to let that woman be a ghost, a restless spirit who’d simply wanted her remains to be found. But I knew what we were going to find. We’d left thirty people in that fort, veteran soldiers among them. All that awaited us on our return was bones, picked clean and stacked on the table in the great hall. The skulls were gone. She’d told us the truth: She was hungry.”

This is a story of Sora Maenya. Another section of the book relays a shorter tale about her:

Maenya eats the flesh and drinks the blood, but she saves the soul, binding it forever to the bones of her victim. She sleeps on a bed made from the skulls of children, and their ghostly cries ring through the cavern, now and through the end of time…

Sora Katra is less of a brute, but also the subject of terrifying stories. Typically her tales involve the deadly consequences of making foolish bargains or trying to outwit her. But it’s often said that she weaves curses on her loom, and that she can see the moment of your death when she looks at you—“See it, or set it in stone.”

So the Daughters of Sora Kell are certainly the subject of scary stories and campfire tales. But they aren’t ghost stories. In this article I want to look specifically at the undead. Because of the limits of time and space, I am not going to actually write full stories about these figures, as we have with Sora Maenya; but I want to take a look at some of the major types of undead, with infamous example of each.

The Reality of Undead

One of the first things to keep in mind is that Eberron is not our world. It is a world in which the undead are an absolute, concrete fact. Karrnath fielded LEGIONS of the dead during the Last War. Ghouls are a public menace. There are concrete examples of villages that have been destroyed by wights. This is an important aspect of the Church of the Silver Flame; while it is a religion, it’s also very much a volunteer militia prepared to protect the innocent against the undead and other unnatural threats. Because of the efforts of the templars and the paladins of Dol Arrah, most people hope that they never will be menaced by undead. Most people haven’t actually ever seen a vampire, let alone a lich. But they still know that these things are real—and if someone says a place is haunted, people will take it seriously.

A second thing to keep in mind is the two most common sources of undead: manifest zones related to Dolurrh or Mabar. Exploring Eberron has this to say…

Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh… are still close to the Realm of the Dead and exceptionally haunted, though not blighted, as Mabaran zones typically are. Shadows move in disturbing ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out. The restless spirits of Dolurrh yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in manifest zones. They might manifest as ghosts, or animate the corpses of people buried in the zone, causing them to rise as revenants or zombies.

The key points about Dolurrhi zones and undead is that they don’t share the blighted aspect of Mabaran zones and that Dolurrhi undead aren’t driven to harm the living. Dolurrhi undead are restless, pulled toward Dolurrh and yet somehow kept from it. This can be the classic trope of unfinished business; they can’t rest until they have revenge, or until their fiancee knows the truth, or until their treasure is found. It could be a powerful emotion that keeps them tied to the world. The main thing is that Dolurrhi undead aren’t necessarily hostile or evil, but they also are often incomplete. They don’t possess the full memories or sentience they had in life; they are clinging to one sliver of their life and that utterly defines them. Tied to this is the fact that most Dolurrhi undead don’t realize they’re undead; again, they have a limited form of sentience and can’t necessarily process or retain new information. So the classic ghost-lingering-in-the-house-wanting-the-truth-about-its-murder-to-be-revealed is a Dolurrhi ghost. It doesn’t WANT to hurt anyone (except perhaps the murderer), it’s incapable of making grand schemes, and it has no opinion about, say, the destruction of the Brelish monarchy. It’s defined by the ONE STORY that is holding it from Dolurrh and as soon as that story is resolved it can finally rest. This also ties to a key point in the general discussion of undead: the Aereni believe that Mabaran undead inherently pose a threat to the living. They don’t believe that the same is true of Dolurrhi undead. But the point is that you shouldn’t aspire to become a Dolurrhi undead. A vampire or lich has its full consciousness and memories from its life. A Dolurrhi ghost is just a fragment, trapped between worlds; it’s not a satisfying alternative to life.

As for Mabar, here’s what Exploring Eberron has to say about Mabaran manifest zones…

Mabaran manifest zones are infamous and almost universally shunned, for nearly all are harmful to the flora and fauna of the region. In some zones, life withers and dies. In others, it’s twisted in strange ways; plants may seek the blood of living creatures, or grow unnaturally pale and cold. Rot and decay are often accelerated, and disease can thrive… While Mabaran manifest zones rarely serve as gateways to the plane, they are powerful sources of negative energy and produce undead. Skeletons, zombies, and ghouls can all spontaneously rise in Mabaran manifest zones, and more powerful undead can be created under the proper circumstances.

Mabar is the embodiment of entropy and despair. It seeks to consume light, life, and hope. As such, those undead produced by Mabar are driven to prey on the living. A Dolurrhi zombie may not be hostile, and could just try to complete some lingering task from its life. But barring the influence of some form of necromancer, a zombie spontaneously created by Mabar will be hostile toward living creatures; it can sense their spark of life and mindlessly seeks to extinguish it. Undead raised by necromancers elsewhere won’t automatically have this killer urge, and Seeker communities in Karrnath use zombies and skeletons for manual labor; but those that are spontaneously raised by the power of Mabar are driven by its malevolent hunger.

The major point here is that many ghost stories are likely to be tied to manifest zones to Dolurrh and Mabar. There are definitely other options—independent necromancers, the overlord Katashka—but if you’re looking for an infamously haunted castle, well, perhaps it was unintentionally on a manifest zone tied to Dolurrh. If you consider Pet Semetary where “The ground’s sour” and those buried there return as malevolent undead—that’s a Mabaran manifest zone, for sure.

Why are some undead sensitive to sunlight while others aren’t?

Sunlight is a dilute form of positive energy, and exposure to sunlight can disrupt the negative energy that sustains Mabaran undead. This effect is especially strong in certain undead, especially wraiths and specters (who are essentially pure negative energy) and vampires. Others, like skeletons and zombies, have a weaker connection to Mabar; this is also reflected by the fact that their touch doesn’t drain life energy. Such creatures may not lIKE being exposed to sunlight, but it has no mechanical effect on them. Ghosts typically aren’t actually connected to Mabar.

How does the spell create undead factor into this? Wouldn’t people be used to ghouls?

Create undead is a 6th level spell, which means that it’s beyond the standard limits of everyday life in the Five Nations (under which 1st-3rd level spells are reasonable common and 4th-5th spells are known of but rarely seen). The ability to create ghasts or wights requires an 8th level spell, which is even more rarely seen. So this is not how these creatures are normally encountered in the world.

Skeletons and Zombies

Mindless skeletons and zombies are the workhorses of any necromancer. They CAN be spontaneously animated in Mabaran manifest zones, and such undead are malevolent. However, after a century of war with Karrnath most people are familiar with the concept of skeletons and zombies that are bound to mortal’s will. There’s two factors that a necromancer will have to deal with.

  • Even though people know skeletons and zombies aren’t necessarily dangerous, few commoners LIKE being around them. Outside of Karrnath, many businesses refused to allow such undead on their premises.
  • Most people associate skeletons and zombies with Karrnath. Thus, if the townsfolk suffered at the hands of Karrnath during the Last War, they’ll transfer that aggression to the necromancer.
  • While necromancy isn’t ILLEGAL under the Code of Galifar, grave robbing is. While it’s rarely enacted, an officer of the law could demand that a necromancer present proof of their ownership of the corpses in their entourage. Karrnathi necromancers authorized by the Ministry of the Dead are issued warrants that authorize them to “compel the corpse of any Karrnathi citizen into service” and that will be recognized as legitimate. Likewise, established precedent allows priests of the Blood of Vol to raise the corpses of followers of the faith. But if you kill someone and then raise them as a zombie, the Sharn Watch can prosecute you as a corpse robber; this will usually result in a fine and the confiscation (and destruction) of the zombie.

A typical zombie story is driven by the Dolurrhi zombie, who despite its limited intellect doesn’t realize it’s dead and strives to complete one last task or to reach a loved one. However, there is one popular zombie tale currently in circulation. The Late Count is a comic opera by the bard Kessler; this tale revolves around a Karrnathi count whose servants resurrect him as a zombie, attempting to use the undead noble as a puppet while they have the run of the estate. Thanks to the popularity of The Late Count, zombies currently have some comic appeal in Sharn and Wroat; if a necromancer is accompanied by a single zombie dressed in fancy clothes, they can play it off as a hilarious jest.

Ghouls and Ghasts

The halflings of the Talenta Plains tell the stories of the Hungry Hunter, Oralasca. The greatest hunter of his age, Oralasca swore to eat every creature that he killed. When he was forced to kill another hafling, his oath compelled him to consume his enemy… and he developed an insatiable appetite for halfling flesh. After he slew his own tribe, Orlashka was finally slain. But so great was his hunger that his spirit lingered, slipping into the forms of weaker creatures and trying to work its way up to halfling form. One of the basic Talenta taboos is never consume the flesh of a creature that eats its own kind—because that allows the spirit of Oralasca to pass into you and transform you into a ghoul.

Ghouls are the most commonly encountered undead threat in the Five Nations. They are especially common in Mabaran manifest zones, but they can spontaneously spawn when Mabar is coterminous, when powerful necrotic forces are unleashed, or seemingly, anywhere where large numbers of people die at once; massive battlefields often spawn ghouls prowling among the corpses. While technically sentient, Mabaran ghouls have no memory of their former lives and are driven by their hunger. The Restful Watch and the templars of the Silver Flame both patrol cemeteries and sewers watching for ghouls, and most cities in the Five Nations have a bounty on ghouls, the value of which varies based on the extent of the threat. After skeletons and zombies, ghouls are the easiest undead to create; it’s largely a matter of binding a corpse to Mabar. However, such ghouls are more aggressive than zombies or skeletons, and unless they are directly controlled they will seek to sate their endless hunger. Karrnath experimented with ghoul forces during the Last War, but the resources required to control them were too great; however, on a few occasions they used bags of holding to drop packs of ghouls behind enemy lines, sowing terror among their enemies.

While Mabaran ghouls are savage, there are other strains of ghoul. There are ghouls in the Talenta Plains that inhabit the forms of beasts, and the Talenta say that all of these creatures are guided by the spirit of Orlasca; this can result in surprising cunning and pack tactics, or a pack of ghouls all speaking with one voice (note that Orlasca ghouls speak Halfling, not Common).

Another strain of ghoul can be found among the cults of Katashka the Gatekeeper. These cults revolve around the idea that the practice of ritual cannibalism will protect the cultists from disease, aging, and death. And it does—but over time, the rituals transform the cultists into ghouls. These ghouls retain their full memories and intellect, but are increasingly consumed and driven by their unnatural appetites. Some of Katashka’s ghouls can maintain their original mortal appearance as long as they are well fed, but if they food supply dwindles, their undead nature becomes increasingly apparent. Such ghouls can potentially form mutually beneficial partnerships with vampires; the vampire needs the blood of the living, and the ghouls consume the flesh that remains.

Ghasts are for the most part old ghouls. The longer a ghoul survives, the deeper the power that animates it sinks into its flesh. Mabaran and Orlasca ghasts have greater intellect than ghouls, and can make more cunning plans. Katashka ghasts retain their mental ability scores from their former life, and also have the ability to control their foul odor; they are typically leaders of ghoul cults.

Wights and Wraiths

The people of the Lhazaar Principalities tell tales of the Ship of Bones, not to mention the haunted vessels of the Bloodsails. But the sailors of Stormreach speak of the Crimson Shadow. It is the name of both a vessel and its captain, a Khoravar pirate with a swift sloop. Rather than taking a vessel in open conflict, the Crimson Shadow would approach a target under cover of darkness. In some tales the Shadow had a crew of swift and silent killers, but most say that the Crimson Shadow would board an enemy vessel on her own and kill its entire crew—taking its most precious cargo aboard her sloop, and abandoning the vessel to drift lifeless. The Crimson Shadow was revealed to be Jola Wylkes, daughter of the Harbor Master of Stormreach. Her lineage couldn’t save her, and she was hanged for her crimes. But two months later another ship was found adrift, its crew butchered. The common tale is that the Keeper recognized talent when he saw it—and that he returned the Crimson Shadow to the seas, for as long as she continues to send him new souls and the treasures he desires.

A wight is a mortal that has made a bargain with a dark power after death. Wights were invariably effective killers in their mortal life; some wights are bandits or serial killers, but over the course of the Last War warrior wights rose in every nation. One of the deadliest wights of the last century is Azael Vadallia, a Valenar wight who’s said to be searching for warriors worthy to join his undead warband.

The typical bargain of a wight is simple: you continue to exist as an undead creature as long as you continue to kill. However, different wights operate under different restrictions, and their powers may vary as a result. The default wight of the Monster Manual reflects a typical warrior or bandit. However, wights retain much of their memories and skills from life, and can be considerably more dangerous. According to the Monster Manual, a wight raises its victims as zombies, and is limited to twelve of them. But historically, Malleon the Reaver is said to have led an army of thousands when he rose as a wight. And Azael Vadallia has only raised a few of his victims, but the members of his warband are also wights, not zombies.

In common folklore, wights are thought to make their bargains with the Keeper. However, most wights actually forge their pacts with the Bone King of Mabar, one of the Dark Powers of the Endless Night. Some wights remain continuously active, but most wights go through periods of torpor that can last for years or decades; during this time, the wight’s body appears to be a corpse, while its spirit resides in the Kingdom of Bones in Mabar. This often leads to wights being dismissed as folktales, because the wight can disappear for a generation before returning to kill again. When the wight is finally destroyed, its spirit remains in the Kingdom of Bones; an exceptionally strong-willed wight may eventually return as a wraith.

One question is what fate befalls those killed by a wight. If the victim is merely allowed to die, its soul travels to Dolurrh. But if the victim’s corpse is raised by the wight, the victim’s soul may be claimed by the wight’s patron—bound in miserable service in the Kingdom of Bones, or perhaps trapped in the Lair of the Keeper. If a DM chooses to enact this rule, then the only way to raise such a victim from the dead is to free its spirit from this bondage.

The defining feature of a wight is that it was a killer in life and continues to kill in undeath. While many wights were soldiers or bandits, a wight could have been a serial killer, a pirate, an assassin—anyone whose achievements draw the attention of a dark power and is willing to bargain with it. It’s possible that there could be a templar wight who is determined to pay its tithe to its patron with the blood of evildoers, but the wight is suffused with the essence of Mabar and bound to its Dark Power, and this tends to erode any compassion or empathy the victim once had.

Wraiths and Specters

A wraith is a spirit that has become deeply intwined with Mabar and that is unable to ever truly find oblivion in Dolurrh. Wraiths are often the end result of other forms of undead; wights, mummies or vampires whose physical forms degrade or are destroyed may linger as wraiths.

A wraith’s behavior and abilities often depend on its original form. Wraiths formed from mummies continue to be bound by the oaths that hold them on Eberron. Wraiths formed from wights likewise continue to be bound by their pacts with their patron. Such wraiths are generally tied to the Bone King or the Queen of All Tears, and like wights they can be pulled into Mabar for extended periods of time; eventually, most are permanently drawn into the Endless Night. This is the classic source of the wraith who only manifests when its tomb is disturbed; at other times, it dwells in Mabar.

The Bloodsail elves of Farlnen have devised rituals that can transform a mortal creature into a wraith. Such wraiths aren’t bound by the oaths and pacts of wights or mummies, but they this means that they sustain their existence with pure will; essentially, the wraith only endures as long as they can remember who they are, and over time many lose cohesion and fade, becoming specters. Lady Illmarrow knows the techniques to create wraiths, and has created a number to serve her in the Emerald Claw. Many of these lack the will to maintain their existence for decades, but they serve her purposes for now. The most infamous wraith of the Bloodsails is the Grim Lord Varonaen, one of the founders of the principality; though his physical form was destroyed in a clash with the Aereni Deathguard, through sheer will he persists as a wraith.

Specters are a lesser form of wraith. As described in the Monster Manual, “A specter is the angry, unfettered spirit of a humanoid that has been prevented from passing to the afterlife. Specters no longer possess connections to who or what they were, yet are condemned to walk the world forever.” Specters possess traces of memory from their mortal life, but unlike a wraith they don’t possess full consciousness or memory, and lack the skills of their mortal life; they can remember just enough to be tormented by what they’ve lost, and they are drawn to consume the life energy of mortals, destroying what they cannot have. Another form of specter is the never-living; these are pure extensions of Mabar, negative energy shaped into a humanoid form. Mechanically identical to those who were once mortal, such specters have no human memories and seek only to feed. Never-living wraiths can be generated by powerful necromancers, and can be found serving Katashka cults or lingering in the domain of the Keeper.

Ghosts, Banshees, and Dawn Specters

Ghosts are typically tied to Dolurrh, as discussed earlier in this article. In Khorvaire, ghost stories are as plentiful as they are in our world, and tell similar tales; souls trapped between Eberron and Dolurrh, driven to complete their unfinished business or held fast by emotions or memories they can’t let go. While they have at least some of their memories from life, most ghosts aren’t fully aware of their condition or the passage of time, and they generally can’t retain new information. They are a remnant of someone who has died, but existence as a ghost isn’t something most people would aspire to; it’s a half-life. Even where there are unusual ghosts with greater consciousness and awareness, most are bound to something—a location, an object, a bloodline—and they can’t roam freely. Ghosts have no connection to Mabar and no innate desire to harm the living. Some may, especially if they are driven by anger or were hateful in life, but being a ghost is driven by the bond that keeps them from Dolurrh, not be a hunger to harm the living.

The typical banshee is a form of ghost, tied to Dolurrh rather than to Mabar. A banshee is bound to Eberron by an intense tragedy. It’s the pain of this tragedy that drives the banshee to lash out at the living (reflected by its typically evil alignment), and it’s this intense, focused pain that empowers the banshee’s wail; it’s not that it drains the life from its victims, but rather that it inflicts such intense emotional trauma that most creatures die of heart attacks or are rendered catatonic. Like most ghosts, banshees are generally trapped in their tragedy and largely unaware of the passage of time, unable to fully process new things.

Dolurrhi banshees can be formed from humanoids of any species or gender; one of the classic Dhakaani ghost stories is of the dirge singer who will not die. In creating a Dolurrhi banshee, replace Elvish with Languages known in life. However, the Dark Power known as the Queen of All Tears has created a strain of Mabaran banshees specifically drawn from elf woman who have suffered great tragedies. These handmaidens of sorrow have more in common with wraiths than with ghosts. They are typically fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, and they split their time between haunting the place of their sorrow and the Court of Tears in Mabar.

Dawn specters are a variety of ghost commonly found in Aereni; they’re a form of deathless. Dawn specters must be bound to something—either a location or a spirit idol. Beyond this, a dawn specter’s ability to manifest is tied to the devotion it receives from the people of a community. So you might find the dawn specter of a bard entertaining patrons in an Aereni tavern; the joy of the patrons is what allows it to maintain its form and interact with world. A dawn specter uses the stat block of a ghost, with the following changes: it has no immunity to necrotic damage and is immune to radiant damage. Its Radiant Touch is similar to the Withering Touch of the ghost, but deals radiant damage rather than necrotic. Instead of Horrifying Visage, its Glorious Visage charms victims rather than frightening them, and there is no threat of aging. A dawn specter can possess a mortal, just like a ghost; however, most dawn specters can’t go more than 10 miles from the object or location they are bound to, even while possessing a mortal. Some Aereni willingly allow dawn specters to possess them, to allow the dead elf to interact directly with its descendants; however, there are limits on how long the spirit can maintain such possession.

Vampires

Surely you’ve heard of Haldon d’Cannith, the Vampire Prince of Starilaskur? When he took over the post of Cannith viceroy, he began running his factories at all hours to meet the demands of the war. He chained his workers to their stations, and those who challenged him were publicly tortured… and he drank the blood from their wounds. The common folk begged the duke for aid, but he was deeply Haldon’s thrall and turned a deaf ear to their cries. Later, Haldon began using prisoners of war in his factories, and that was when he truly began working his people to death… and who cared what became of their corpses and their delicious blood? Here we are sixty years later, and Haldon is still viceroy. He can’t use prison labor any more, but I hear he’s taken on Cyran refugees…

While most people have never seen a vampire, everyone knows about them. As a result, it’s common for people to see vampires where none exist. Is something especially cruel or bloodthirsty? Have they lived longer than seems plausible? Sounds like a vampire to me! Haldon d’Cannith might well be a vampire, who uses his workers to slake his thirst. On the other hand, he could simply be a ruthless industrialist, and all those stories of his imposing a blood tax on his workers are just sensational rumors. If he truly has held his post for sixty years, it could be that he’s been taking experimental alchemical treatments to extend his life… or it’s possible that the current Haldon d’Cannith is the SON of the man who inspired the tales, and the rumor-mongers just ignore that aspect of the story. Essentially, people SAY Haldon is a vampire… only the DM knows if he actually is.

Vampires don’t occur naturally, which is to say that they aren’t generated spontaneously by Mabaran manifest zones. Creating a vampire is an act of epic necromancy that infuses a humanoid creature with the power of Mabar. The first known vampires were created by the Qabalrin elves in the Age of Giants, and the line of Vol resurrected these techniques to create a number of vampire bloodlines on Aerenal. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol, its allies were allowed to flee; some settled on the island of Farlnen and founded the Bloodsail Principality, while others spread west, helped to establish the Blood of Vol in what’s now Karrnath. These elves brought vampires with them, and most vampires in Khorvaire can ultimately trace their bloodlines back to Aerenal. With that said, there were vampires in the line of Vol for tens of thousands of years, and some came to Khorvaire long before the Mark of Death appeared in Aerenal. One of the oldest vampires on Khorvaire is the hobgoblin dirge singer Iraala of the Kech Nasaar, who became a vampire through dealings with the line of Vol before the Empire fell. So it’s possible that a vampire in western Khorvaire could trace their lineage to the Nasaar bloodline—but ultimately, that too leads back to Aerenal.

Once you have one vampire, it’s easy to make more. So why aren’t vampires more common? The primary reason is that it’s not easy being a vampire. A vampire is bound to Mabar, and Mabar is hungry. It is this that fuels a vampire’s thirst for both the blood and life energy of the living. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult for a vampire not to see all living creatures as prey. A weak-willed vampire will quickly devolve into a feral predator; such creatures use the statistics of vampire spawn, but their Intelligence is more a measure of cunning than of rational thought. It takes strong will to maintain your personality as a vampire, and stronger still to maintain any empathy or compassion for other creatures. This is why vampires are seen as monsters; many do become ghoulish killers that need to be hunted down by templars of the Silver Flame, the knights of Dol Arrah, or the Aereni Deathguard. This is an additional reason most vampires don’t make legions of spawn; all it takes is one spawn going feral and drawing templars to town to lead to a deep purge. Undead have no rights under the Code of Galifar, and destroying a vampire isn’t considered murder; you’d just better be sure your target is a vampire before you kill the mayor.

The Qabalrin are the common source of vampires, but there are other paths…

  • The Bone King of Mabar can transform a mortal into a vampire. Such vampires cannot spawn other vampires; most instead transform victims into ghouls. When they are destroyed their spirits are drawn to the domain of the Bone King, where the exist as wraiths.
  • There are a few examples of devotees of the Keeper becoming vampires. Such vampires cannot create spawn at all. Their hunger is a manifestation of the greed of the Keeper, and the souls of creatures they slay may be bound, similar to the effect of a Keeper’s fang.

At the DM’s discretion, these three strains—Bone King, Keeper, Qabalrin—could have different weaknesses. For example, it could be that the vampires of the Bone King aren’t harmed by running water, but are vulnerable to fire; while it may be that the Qabalrin vampires don’t require permission to enter a dwelling, but also can’t assume bat form or control bats. I’m not personally going to assign these things, in my opinion it’s best for the DM to decide and for players do have to discover these using the Arcana or Religion skills of their characters. But it’s definitely reasonable to say that there are unique aspects to different bloodlines, and that things that are commonly accepted as weaknesses may not apply to all vampires—though if I remove a weakness, I’d be sure to add a new one.

Other forms of vampire—such as the penanggalan—are tied to rituals developed by different cultures, and simply aren’t as widespread as the Qabalrin techniques. In adding such variant vampires, consider the source. Are they tied to an overlord, like Katashka the Gatekeeper? Were they created by one of the princes of Ohr Kaluun?

Mummies

Most people are familiar with the concept of undead guardians bound to protect tombs or temples. The people of Karrnath have more practical experience with these oathbound, as they are the most common form of sentient undead associated with the Blood of Vol; the Crimson Monastery of Atur has been staffed with mummies since before the founding of Galifar. While they may be the most common form of undead, they still aren’t COMMON and even most Karrns have never met one; they just are familiar with the concept of oathbound, and know that they’re generally guardians as opposed to ravening monsters.

Mummies are discussed in more detail in this article. Many different cultures and traditions have produced mummies, and like vampires their abilities could vary based on the culture that produced them and the oaths that bind them to undeath.

Liches

Lady Illmarrow is older than bones. Some say she came to Khorvaire with the elves, but the way I’ve heard it, she was a queen of the Forgotten People, the humans who ruled this land before there ever were goblins or orcs. She’s forgotten more about magic than the wizards of Arcanix have ever learned. People say she weaves a grand tapestry made from souls—that when she’s quiet, it’s because she’s got all she needs to keep her busy, but when she runs out of thread it’s time to harvest more. It was Lady Illmarrow who set the Talons of Ice ravaging the north during the reign of Marala ir’Wynarn, and she’s made the boneclaw wyverns that nest in the Icewood. What’s that? Why hasn’t some bold hero faced this villain? Oh, many have, and many are frozen into the walls of her palace. Haryn Stormblade surely did slay Lady Illmarrow, and brought her crown to his king. But you can’t kill a thing that’s already dead, and it was Illmarrow that created the shadow plague that killed the king—and it was her shadow that reclaimed her crown. Illmarrow can’t die, and if she’s stirring again, all we can hope is to wait it out.

Common folk aren’t familiar with the specific abilities of the lich, but people understand the basic concept of ancient undead wizard who can’t die. With that said, liches are among the rarest of all undead, rivaled only by death knights. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the idea is that a necromancer can’t make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And even more so than a vampire, becoming a lich requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction. The oldest member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, began as a lich and has become a demilich over time. But he can’t just make other Seekers into liches; he can teach the rituals, but the aspirant has to be able to perform them.

The default lich in the Monster Manual is presented as an arcane spellcaster, but there is certainly a divine path to lichdom. The people of the north know about Lady Illmarrow, but the Brelish tell stories of Gath. In life, Hogar Gath was the high priest of the Sovereign Host, infamous for his love of luxuries. After his death it was revealed that Gath had also been leading a cult of the Keeper in lower Sharn… and that he was still leading it. Champions of the Silver Flame rallied and destroyed the undead priest. But thieves who sought to pillage his “mausoleum”—effectively a mansion he’d built in Sharn’s City of the Dead—rarely returned. Typically this was attributed to the deadly wards and traps, the finest and most expensive House Kundarak could survive. But stories circulated that Gath himself had risen again, and still dwelled in the mausoleum. This was a pattern that would continue for centuries. Once he was revealed to be behind a new criminal organization that was challenging the Boromar Clan. Another time he was exposed as the force behind a smuggling ring being run out of the Pavilion of the Host itself. Sometimes he’s destroyed, sometimes he flees; whatever happens, he always returns eventually.

The typical lich must be a master of arcane science, and most are consumed by their obsession with eldritch knowledge. Divine liches are rarer and more unique. Gath didn’t become a lich by accident. He prepared for it, which is one reason his mausoleum was so richly appointed and heavily secured. And those preparations required him to perform sacrifices that were both horrific and expensive. His love of luxuries is just a surface manifestation of his absolute and relentless GREED—which is ultimately what makes him such an effective servant of the Keeper. Where the arcane lich is sustained by will, in many ways Gath is sustained by that greed—by the desire to expand his hoard, to have the finest things; in many ways, he is more akin to the classic dragon than any dragon of Argonnessen. He doesn’t care about conquest and has no inherent desire to kill others: but he will do ANYTHING to satisfy his greed, and he will NEVER be satisfied with what he has. He does also continue to serve as a talon of the Keeper, training new priests and serving as an intermediary for those who would bargain with the Sovereign of Death and Decay. And adventurers could be surprised to find that the mysterious patron who funded their expedition wants them to deliver the treasure they recovered to the City of the Dead. He is absolutely EVIL, but his schemes are always driven by greed, and might not actually pose a threat to the world at large… and he can pay his agents VERY well. Gath uses the stat block of a lich, but his spells should be chosen from the cleric spell list (along with those spells available to the Trickery domain).

Death Knights

The Nightwood didn’t always stretch as far north as it does today. Back before Galifar, it was the domain of a family long devoted to the Blood of Vol. The rulers, they were champions of the Blood of Vol, and those around ’em didn’t think much of that. But the lord and lady, they were unmatched on the battlefield. Came a time that they were fighting a plague of warlocks, foul cultists sworn to the Queen of Shadows. The lady, she cuts her way through them, but the last one speaks with the voice of the Queen and curses her: if she says even one word, her children will die. Now, this victory over the warlocks was a glorious thing, and the lord insists that they have a grand celebration. Warlords come from all about, and in the midst of the feast, the lady sees an assassin drawing a knife by her husband. She’s got time to shout a warning, but she puts her children before her lover and holds her tongue, has to watch him die. It’s a massacre; the lord and lady are killed, the castle razed, the land itself shunned and soon overrun by the Nightwood.

Not an uncommon story in old Karrnath. Except for the fact that over the next year, each of the scheming warlords was slain—and no one ever saw or heard them die, even those just on the other side of a door. There’s them that say that it was the lady, risen to take vengeance, and that she still rules over her ruined castle in the Nightwood. But the curse is still on her, that if she speaks her children—or their descendants now—will die. So you’d best not harm any Seeker child that you meet; if you do, the Silent Knight will come for you. Nothing will stand in her way, and no one will hear you die.

The rarest of all undead, a death knight blends aspects of ghost and wraith. A death knight is forged when someone of deep devotion and martial skill—typically, a paladin—suffers intense tragedy leading to their death. This tragedy typically involves the character breaking their own oaths, blending loss with shame. A death knight can’t rest, in part because they won’t allow themselves to forget their shame. The divine power they once channeled is replaced by the pure power of Mabar. Some find brief solace in taking vengeance on mortal enemies, but largely a death knight spends its time meditating on its pain.

The Silent Knight is one known death knight, and she is a member of the Crimson Covenant of the Blood of Vol. She still acts to protect her descendants, but she’s also believed to have killed descendants who have in her eyes brought shame to their house—perhaps by abandoning the Seeker faith, by becoming a warlock, or by forming a romantic attachment to someone of one of the bloodlines that betrayed her. She does not speak and can extend an aura of magical silence at will, though this silence doesn’t prevent her from casting spells.

Another infamous death knight is Prince Moren of the Lhazaar Principalities. Once a bold swashbuckler and beloved prince, he betrayed his beloved and his treachery resulted in the destruction of his principality. Murdered by his own crew, he now he sails the Lhazaar Sea in a ship of bones, hunting treacherous captains and forcing them to serve his vessel.

That’s all for now! I know that this doesn’t cover every possible type of undead, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to go into further detail; if you’ve done something interesting with other undead in your Eberron, tell the story in the comments!

This topic was chosen by my Patreon backers, whose support makes it possible for me to spend the time it takes to write articles like this. The main topic for November will be determined by a poll on Patreon, which I’ll be posting shortly!