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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!
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.
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?
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.
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).
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!
While I’m proud of Exploring Eberron, there’s a lot of Eberron left to explore and KB Presents is working on a number of different projects. We’ve already teased a project codenamed Fool’s Gold. This is something that is still in development, but over the last month I had two new ideas that have taken precedence. The first of these is Threshold, an online Eberron campaign that I’m developing and playing with my Patreon supporters. I’m excited about this, and once I had the idea I wanted to get started on it immediately. I’m still going through the Session Zero on Patreon and working out some details about the town, and I’ll be running the first adventure in November.
In addition to Threshold, I had another “Hmmm” moment—an idea that I loved and wanted to create right away. We initially called this project Skeleton, but I can tell you now that the actual name is Eberron Confidential. I’m not going to say too much about it just yet, but I’ll tell you that it’s short, it’s fun, and it’s something both players and DMs can enjoy. It’s currently in editing, and I think it will be available as a PDF on the DM’s Guild by around November 10th. While this pushed Fool’s Gold, that work isn’t lost; I have two major DM’s Guild Eberron releases planned for 2021.
Of course, Eberron is only part of my professional life! I also create games with my company Twogether Studios. After long complications due to COVID-19, we finally have our games back in stock, including Illimat and my RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. In addition, we’ve developed a collaborative storytelling game based on The Adventure Zone with the McElroy family, and we’ll be releasing it soon! You can get on the release mailing list here, or you can watch us play it with the McElroys and other friends on our Twitch channel!
If you have any questions about Threshold or The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, post them below! As for Eberron Confidential, I’ll be sharing more details once it’s through editing!
My last IFAQ dealt with the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol. This ties into another question that’s equally relevant to the season: How would you use the Crimson Covenant in your Eberron?
Information about the Blood of Vol is wildly inconsistent across canon material. You can find some of my thoughts on this in this article. My vision of the Blood of Vol is articulated in Exploring Eberron. In short, the Blood of Vol was created in Eberron, when exiled elves fleeing the destruction of the line of Vol settled among humans and dwarves living in a harsh land, long oppressed by tyrants who used the Sovereign Host to justify their rule. The elves shared a tale of a champion who attained divine power only to be crushed by the existing gods, and the humans recast that to fit their reality. In their story, Vol isn’t an elf with a dragonmark who fights the Undying Court, but rather is a human who finds a spark of divinity within and fights the Sovereign Host. The NAME is there and the bones of the story can be seen, but the truth that iinspired it is long forgotten. The elves shared some of their necromantic traditions with the humans, and that aspect of the faith has its roots in Aerenal. But it was only in the synthesis of the cultures and traditions that the faithful actually found the Divinity Within. The Aereni line of Vol were NECROMANCERS; they never harnessed this power.
So: the Blood of Vol was is something entirely unique to Khorvaire, something formed by the blending of Vassal heretics and exiled elves. When this religion was taking root, Erandis Vol was hiding from the Undying Court and building her strength; it was many centuries before she would stumble across the faith that carried her family’s name. She sees the Blood of Vol as a useful tool and is happy to manipulate them, and the result of this is the Order of the Emerald Claw. But she didn’t create their faith and she doesn’t share it. She aspires to be a goddess, but it is her apex dragonmark that is her path to divine power, not some universal Divinity Within.
The Blood of Vol has always been a religious of the downtrodden, of those who believe that the gods are cruel and the universe is unforgiving. Its strongholds lie in Mabaran manifest zones, shunned lands no one else could tame. As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the structure of the faith is far looser than that of the Church of the Silver Flame. Some priests are trained in one of the great temples such, such as the Crimson Monastery of Atur; others have never met a priest from beyond their village, and learned the faith from their local abactor. So, what then is the Crimson Covenant?
The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that every mortal holds a spark of divinity within their blood, and the goal is to unlock that Divinity Within. But few can accomplish that in their lifetime, and death is oblivion. Some champions of the faith become undead—typically vampires and oathbound mummies—to live beyond what their mortal span would allow. This is a form of martydom; an undead creature has no spark of life, and loses the Divinity Within. But they gain time, and can guide and protect other Seekers. The Crimson Covenant are the oldest and most powerful of these undead champions, some of whom were guiding the Seekers before Erandis Vol even knew the faith existed.
Among most of the faithful the Crimson Covenant is little more than a legend; most seekers believe that Hass Malevanor, High Priest of Atur, is the greatest spiritual leader of the faith. There is good reason for this secrecy. First and foremost, there are many—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, paladins of Dol Arrah, and other champions of the light—who would see these elders as monsters to be destroyed. But there is another aspect: all undead aren’t created equal. We think of things in terms of stat blocks and rules, under which a lich is a lich is a lich. But the necromancy of the early Seekers was adapted from Aereni techniques; it was never as sophisticated as the techniques used by the Bloodsails or the Line of Vol, and has its own quirks. The most ancient member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, was its first lich; but while his will is strong, his enchantments are unable to maintain his body and he exists now as a demilich. Most of the members of the Crimson Covenant are oathbound, and many of their oaths are quite restrictive. Beyond this, many members have had their humanity slowly worn away by the passage of time, and they know it; it is difficult for them to interact directly with the living. With this in mind, Malevanor ISN’T a member of the Crimson Covenant; he is still young, still comfortable with the world. But he and other priests protect the Covenant and rely upon it for guidance, and the Covenant does perform the most sacred rituals of the faith. The core of the Covenant resides in the catacombs below Atur, and it is their devotions that contain and channel the dreadful powers of this sunless land.
So for the most part the Crimson Covenant are masterminds and advisors. They can cast spells and perform rituals that are far beyond Malevanor’s powers—but only a few of them are actually capable of freely moving within the world. As such, they generally support the faith by creating magic items, raising undead (they were certainly an important part of raising the first armies for Karrnath), and casting divinations and other rituals. They teach the most promising students in the Crimson Monastery. But there are only a few—such as the Silent Knight and Lady Dusk—who often act in the outer world. There have been others—there were a few members of the Crimson Covenant who rose from their chamber to lead Seekers in the Last War—but they have been destroyed.
So, to go back to the original question, How would I use the Crimson Covenant in my Eberron? I would use it as something the adventurers hear of in whispers. Seekers may receive guidance from the Crimson Covenant; I might even choose to say that when a Seeker priest casts commune, it’s the Covenant that answers. Its possible they won’t even believe it exists until one of these ancient champions actually DOES appear to assist a group of seekers… or alternately, until one of them is discovered and destroyed, and the Mabaran manifest zone they were containing becomes a threat. Beyond that, it would depend on the relationship between the adventurers and the Seekers. If the adventurers are fighting the Emerald Claw, I’d probably start by having them believe that the mysterious Crimson Covenant is their enemy, perhaps the true leaders of the Emerald Claw. But eventually they would finally meet the Covenant, and if they walked the proper path it could be a powerful ally in the question to put an end to the threat posed by the Claw. With that said…
What’s the relationship between Lady Illmarrow and the Crimson Covenant?
Originally, none. The Crimson Covenant are elder Seekers, many of whom have served the faith for longer than Illmarrow has been aware of it. However, Lady Illmarrow is a mastermind, and over the course of centuries some of her handpicked agents have risen to join the Crimson Covenant. It is through these agents that Illmarrow knows the plans of the abactors and influences the faith to her own ends. It is Illmarrow’s agents who have prevented the Covenant from taking any action against the Emerald Claw, convincing the others that they must wait and see, and that perhaps Illmarrow is acting as a champion of the faith. Some of those councilors slain in the Last War were victims of schemes laid by their fellow councilors, because they posed a threat to Illmarrow’s plans. So the point is that Lady Illmarrow doesn’t control the Crimson Covenant… But she is influencing it, and in many ways slowly poisoning it to help with her agenda. So again, if I were running a campaign in which the adventurers were fighting Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw, an important piece of the endgame would be identifying and destroying her agents in the Crimson Covenant, at which point its surviving members could be valuable allies.
Likewise, I could certainly see a member of the Crimson Covenant who is suspicious of Illmarrow’s influence but unable to act openly serving as a patron for a group of adventurers—potentially using the Immortal Being group patron, or serving as an Undying patron for a warlock or a personal spiritual guide for a Seeker paladin or cleric. Such a patron could direct adventurers to operations of the Emerald Claw or to expose other agents of Illmarrow within the faith.
What’s the relationship between the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principality? Also, the article “Dolurrh’s Dawn” has an individual named Ashalyn Vol who’s said to have created some of the core principles of the Blood of Vol. How’s that work with this interpretation?
Well, I DID say canon was inconsistent! Having said that, let’s take a look at what the canon Bloodsail article says.
The religion known as the Blood of Vol is a bastardized version of the beliefs of the elves of Farlnen, and it has grown and changed over the centuries. Bloodsail priests are far more pragmatic than are their Karrnathi counterparts. They shape their divine spells from the raw energy of Mabar, and whereas the Seekers of Atur try to unlock the immortal potential of the Divinity Within, the priests of Port Cairn are content with the simpler immortality of undeath. Nonetheless, the two faiths share some common practices, and followers of the Blood are treated with respect in Farlnen.
The bolded element is the key. After the line of Vol was eradicated in Aerenal, the Undying Court allowed elves allied to the line but who didn’t carry its blood to either swear fealty to the Court or to accept exile. Some of these went directly north to Farlnen and became the Bloodsails. Others landed in Lhazaar and migrated west, mingling with humans and dwarves. The Blood of Vol arose from that mingling of traditions, and the Divinity Within was a discovery of this new faith. So Ashalyn Vol WAS a cleric and did set the first cornerstones of the faith. But those cornerstones were about channeling the power of Mabar, not about finding the Divinity Within. The idea of fighting against death was there, but how you do it is very different. The Seekers see undeath as a sacrifice; the Bloodsails see it as entirely satisfactory and don’t believe in a divine inner spark; they don’t believe the oathbound gives anything up by becoming undead, and their divine magic isn’t drawn from the same source as that of a Seeker priest. So as noted, the Bloodsails RESPECT the Seekers and recognize their common roots; but they also think the Seekers are, well, crazy humans with bizarre conspiracy theories. “The Sovereigns cursed people with mortality, so they couldn’t become gods themselves” — that’s just a ridiculous idea!
Part of the point of this is to challenge the concepts of Elven Exceptionalism and that Things Were Always Better In The Old Days. I like the idea that the blending of elf and human beliefs and ideas created something new—that this fusion allowed them to DISCOVER the Divinity Within, which is a real divine power source that the line of Vol never knew about or harnessed. To me this is more compelling than saying “Oh, an elf discovered it five thousand years ago – we’re just following in their footsteps and we’ve never really made any sort of improvements.” The Bloodsails ARE just following in Ashalyn’s footsteps, because that’s what elves do; they cling to the traditions of their ancestors. But the Blood of Vol did something NEW. And part of MY idea is that they are continually improving their techniques—that Duran the demilich is a demilich because their original lich technique was flawed and that they’ve gotten better at it — that the techniques used to produce Malevanor were superior to the oathbound rituals they used centuries ago.
What’s the relationship between the Crimson Covenant and Kaius III? How does the Covenant feel about Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw?
In thinking about the Crimson Covenant, it might be helpful to look at the US Supreme Court. It’s a small body of people who are experts at what they do (we hope) but who have differing opinions and who were appointed in very different times. It’s a lifetime position, and in this case, when we say lifetime, we mean eternity—or until you get taken down by a paladin of Dol Arrah. There are members of the Crimson Covenant who are older than Galifar, and at least one who’s older than Karrnath. For these people, the events of the last ten years—the Order of the Emerald Claw, Kaius III—are a tiny drop in the bucket of time. It’s only been a decade; let’s see how it plays out in another decade.
You definitely have factions in the Covenant. There are those who argue that the Covenant should be focused on teaching the living—that it’s not its place to intervene directly. There are those who say that they should be trying to find a way to destroy the Sovereigns directly, those who say they should undermine the institutions that encourage worship of the Sovereigns, and those that say that all this discussion of the Sovereigns is ridiculous, because they don’t exist. There are those who believe Lady Illmarrow poses a threat to the faith, and those who argue that she’s a champion and that the Covenant should be supporting her—along with those who say “Let’s see what happens in the next ten years.”
So there are definitely enough members on the Covenant who support Illmarrow or at least want to wait and see to keep the Covenant as a whole from acting against her. But there’s certainly members of the Covenant who ARE worried about Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. Such a member might well be secretly working with Kaius III, and might very well work as a patron for an adventurer or a party of adventurers. They can’t convince the majority of the Covenant to take action, but they do believe that something should be done.
What stops the Crimson Covenant from using some preexisting D&D 5e methods of achieving effective immortality, such as the Reincarnate and Clone spells?
Part of the idea of Eberron has always been to consider magic as a tool and a science—which means that we add limitations to it that aren’t necessarily obvious from the rules. If you’re making a character you can be a druid, just like that. But in the WORLD, druidic magic comes from ancient traditions. A random person in Sharn can’t just say “I’m going to be a druid” and start casting thorn whip; they need to LEARN these traditions from someone else. There is no established druidic tradition in Karrnath, therefore, the Crimson Covenant has no druids and no idea how to cast reincarnate. On the other side, clone is an 8th level spell, which is far outside the common power level of the Five Nations—which is normally 1st-3rd level spells are common tools, 4th-5th are attainable but rare. On that scale, clone is the stuff of legends. Even if we assume that there are a few members of the Crimson Covenant who have gained the power to cast 8th level spells, the next point of considering arcane magic as a science is that just because there’s rules for a spell doesn’t mean that every culture has developed every spell. This is something we called out in earlier editions with the idea of limiting certain rituals to character with dragonmarks. As a PLAYER CHARACTER, your wizard can learn any spell on the wizard spell list. And in my Eberron you can be sure that Mordain the Fleshweaver has discovered clone. But beyond that, it’s up to the DM to decide what spells are available to NPCs. If you want to have a member of the Covenant who uses clone as a path to immortality, tell that story! But in my campaign, no one in the Covenant has discovered how to cast that spell.
Ultimately, remember—the rules are a tool for the DM to use to tell a story. It’s always up to us to decide which elements we want to use and which we choose to ignore. I prefer to think of each wizard spell as a scientific discovery, and to consider that different traditions—the Twelve, Arcanix, Aerenal, the dragons—may know spells that the others haven’t yet mastered. Again, player characters can choose any spell—but that’s part of what makes them remarkable.
That’s all for now! My next major article (as chosen by my Patreon supporters) will deal with Ghost Stories of Eberron. And tomorrow I’ll have a few announcements about other things I’m working on!
In November I’m going to start running an online Eberron campaign set in Threshold, a border town that lies on the edge of Breland and Droaam. Between then and now, I’m going to go through the same process I would in running any campaign: working with the players to establish the cast of characters and important elements of the story and campaign setting. The players are my Patreon supporters, and it’s on Patreon that I’ll hold the polls that determine the ANSWERS to the questions I’m raising. But I thought I’d post this first piece here, for anyone who’s interested in my process.
As we begin this story, we know one thing about it: it’s set in Threshold, a newly founded town in the western edge of Breland. We’re in the shadow of Droaam, and there’s the ever-present threat of raids. But there’s byeshk and Dhakaani ruins in the mountains. There’s merchants and diplomats happy to have a final mug of Brelish ale before crossing into the land of monsters. Dragonmarked houses are considering investments; House Orien is here, working on the western rail. It’s rough, it’s dangerous, but it’s a fountain of opportunities.
The question is: what are we doing here? We know where this story is set, but what kind of story is it? Are our adventurers here to protect the town? Are we dreaming of the treasures that could be hidden in forgotten ruins? Are we soldiers in the service of the Brelish crown, or are we reporters here to cover the story of western expansion? In practical terms, what I’m looking for here is a group patron. I want the adventurers in this story to know one another and to have a reason to be here—to identify if this is a war story, a tale of exploration and adventure, or something else entirely. Choosing a group patron will help me plan my initial adventures, and it also helps to provide basic guidelines for the characters. If the adventurers are a squad of the Westwind Raiders, they need to feel like a unit of soldiers; while if they’re a team of reporters for the Sharn Inquisitive, they’ll want a very different set of skills and abilities.
So here’s the patrons I’m putting on the table.
Threshold Itself. The adventurers are all people who have a stake in the town. The cleric is the town preacher. The paladin or fighter is the sheriff. The artificer or wizard is here to study the ruins, but may also be doubling as the local schoolteacher. As a party working for Threshold itself, the adventurers don’t have a boss—but they are united by their shared investment in the town and its future, and will be working together to protect it from threats—whether those threats are minotaur raiders or the overreaching greed of House Orien.
The Westwind Riders. Before Droaam, the Westwind Riders were an elite unit that patrolled western Breland, protecting settlers from the dangerous creatures that dwelt in the Barrens. The last of the Westwind Riders were slain by the Daughters of Sora Kell in the battle that established Droaam. Now Count ir’Blis, Shield of the Graywall, has appointed a new corps of Westwind Riders to protect the people of his domain. As Westwind Riders, the adventurers are an elite military unit sworn to protect Brelish citizens from any dangers they may face. A Westwind campaign will be focused on action, as the adventurers are constantly responding to new threats; but it may be that there are dangers that are best dealt with diplomatically, rather than with spells or steel.
Professional Adventurers. There are many wonders hidden in the Graywall mountains. Dhakaani ruins are merely the beginning; stories hint at portals to demiplanes and relics dating back to the Age of Demons. There’s a fortune waiting for those prepared to venture into the depths and wrest it from ghosts and monsters. With this story, the adventurers are adventurers—professional dungeon-delvers. Should this path be chosen, the next question will be if the adventurers are associated with the virtuous Clifftop Adventurer’s Guild, or the more infamous Deathsgate Guild.
The Sharn Inquisitive. There’s something in Threshold more valuable than gold, and that’s the story. In Threshold itself you have the saga of Brelish settlers seeking their fortune in a dangerous land and of dragonmarked ambition. But it also stands on the edge of Droaam, and that’s a realm with many unanswered questions. How secure is the rule of the Daughters of Sora Kell? Is Droaam on the verge of collapse, or is it stronger than ever? Is the border stable, or could war break out at any time? With this patron, the adventurers are a team of reporters working for the Sharn Inquisitive, and they’re here to find the truth. This campaign would have a strong focus on social interaction and intrigue, with characters needing to have skills that help to get to the truth. But uncovering that truth will be a dangerous job…
Mysterious Visions. Strange visions have drawn a diverse group of people to Threshold. These people have nothing in common, save for these cryptic revelations and the knowledge that there is something they have to do. What is the force that has brought them together, and what is the task that only they can complete? The adventurers in this scenario would be very diverse in their backgrounds; part of the campaign would be trying to figure out why they were chosen and who their immortal patron actually is.
These are just a few of the possible themes for a campaign in Threshold. Adventurers could be working for the Boromar Clan of Sharn, establishing an outpost for this criminal syndicate and seeking to punish Droaam for the actions of Daask. They could be agents of the Twelve, sent to represent the interests of the Dragonmarked Houses. They could be spies seeking to infiltrate Droaam. But the five campaign ideas I’ve mentioned are ones that I feel comfortable running… so these are the five that I’m presenting to my players.
if you want to help make this decision and help as I continue to develop the campaign and the characters, join the Threshold tier on my Patreon. If not, hopefully this was an interesting peek at my process as a DM!
I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. This Friday I’ll be playing my new Adventure Zone game with Justin McElroy, Hrishikesh Hirway, and Becca Scott on the Twogether Studios Twitch channel. I’m working on a secret Eberron project and I’ll be doing my first post about Threshold later this week. But as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So…
What’s the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol?
The traditions of necromancy practiced by the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principalities are known to be able to produce three forms of sentient undead: mummies, vampires, and liches. Note that I don’t include the Karrnathi undead in this list, because while they are seemingly sentient, they don’t have the personality or memories of a living person. If you want to extend your own existence, these are your three options.
Of these, liches are the rarest and most difficult to produce. 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 general idea is that a necromancer can’t just 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 again, in my campaign, becoming a lich also 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.
On the other end of the spectrum, vampires are the easiest sentient undead to produce, because if you have one vampire, they can produce more vampires. So an obvious question is why don’t they? Yes, the Blood of Vol generally believes that undeath is an inferior state that severs your connection to the Divinity Within. But still, it is trivially easy for a vampire to create more vampires. Why aren’t all of the leaders of the Emerald Claw vampires? We know that the Emerald Claw ISN’T flooded with vampires, so this is a simple logic problem: If you could turn an ally into a vampire, why wouldn’t you? In my campaign, the answer is that being a vampire isn’t easy. Of the lich, mummy, and vampire, the vampire is a PREDATOR. It is a conduit to Mabar, and Mabar is HUNGRY. The vampire needs to drain the blood and life force of other creatures, not simply in the practical way that a human needs food and water, but as a consuming drive that is always burning. This is a critical reason most vampires are evil: because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out, eroding their empathy and transforming them into pure predators. So, why doesn’t the Emerald Claw turn everyone into vampires? Because most people can’t take it. Just as it takes a powerful will to become a lich, to endlessly defy the draw of Dolurrh, it takes a powerful will to retain your own identity as a vampire. Most vampires degrade into inhuman creatures driven purely by their hunger—creatures with the statistics of Vampire Spawn, but without true human sentience. So you don’t want to just turn all of your friends into vampires because you don’t know if they will survive the experience. Their bodies will survive—but they may no longer be the people they were, or even people at all.
Which brings us to the original question: what’s the role of mummies? First of all, let’s consider that word. Mummies are indeed produced by rituals that include, among many other factors, ritualized embalming and mummification. But that’s just a physical aspect and not what Seekers see as their defining principles. Thus, Seekers and Bloodsails call them oathbound, for reasons that will soon become clear. Anyone can become oathbound; it involves a conduit to Mabar, an expert necromancer, a series of rituals including the embalming process, and a number of rare and expensive components… Which are the major limiting factor on the number of mummies in existence. But there is a second, critical component to creating a mummy: its oaths. The 5E Monster Manual says that a mummy “obeys the conditions and parameters laid down by the rituals that created it.” These conditions aren’t an extra piece added onto the ritual; they are an integral part of it. A mummy is bound by a set of oaths that it must obey, and it is these oaths that bind its essence to its body and prevent it being dragged to Dolurrh. This is how you end up with a mummy bound to protect a specific tomb; even if it’s intelligent, it CAN’T just choose to leave the tomb and forget about it; that role of tomb guardian is what defines it and preserves it. Most mummies are bound by restrictive oaths; many Bloodsail mummies are bound to their ships. The looser these oaths, the more power and components are required for the ritual. So Malevanor, the High Priest of Atur, has far fewer restrictions than most oathbound; but it’s not a simple matter to create mummies with such freedom. Of liches, vampires, and mummies, the oathbound are the most common form of undead within the Blood of Vol, but many of the oathbound are never SEEN; mummies are often bound to temples or villages. There are hundreds of mummies in Atur, but most dwell in the vaults and temples of the City of Night, tirelessly performing their duties.
OK, but… The default mummy in the Monster Manual has an Intelligence of 6. That doesn’t SEEM like it’s an ideal alternative to, say, a vampire. In my Eberron, that base MM Mummy is a classic tomb guardian. As the lore suggests, it’s someone bound to be a mummy as a sort of course, forced by their oaths to battle intruders; they haven’t tried to retain their humanity. However, oathbound such as Malevanor retain their mental ability scores, their proficiencies, and some of their class abilities; Malevanor is the high priest of Atur and can perform divine magic. The Monster Manual mummy is created to be a physical powerhouse, but I think there are oathbound who aren’t as physically powerful but are sustained by the same rituals and power; I’m posting a stat block for an oathbound priest for my Patreon supporters.
Now: oathbound aren’t driven by the hunger of the vampire. They don’t need to consume to survive. However, they are sustained by and suffused with the power of Mabar. This is why the touch of the mummy causes flesh to rot and why its gaze causes dread; it is a vessel for Mabar, which embodies the death of all that lives and the end of all hope. While it’s not as dramatic as the vampire, the influence of Mabar still does erode the compassion and the empathy of the oathbound. This is why most mummies have an evil alignment. As is always the case in Eberron, they can have an evil alignment and still be driven to DO GOOD—but because of that lack of empathy, they may do good deeds in an evil way. A mummy forgets pain, and so it doesn’t care about causing pain to others. You can have a good or neutral mummy, but there’s a reason that they are rare… and why mummies tend to be crueler than the deathless of Aerenal, who are sustained by positive energy. The rotting touch of the mummy is something the Aereni point to in asserting that the oathbound do consume the life force of the world—that even though they don’t actively feed on others as vampires do, they are still slowly destroying the world merely by existing.
So within the Emerald Claw and the broader Blood of Vol, liches are rare and remarkable. Vampires aren’t very common, but they are often found as active agents in the field because they have freedom of movement and need to find new prey. Oathbound are the most common sentient undead, and if adventurers encounter an undead priest of the Blood of Vol, it’s most likely a mummy; however, it may be bound to its temple or its village (and it may be a lesser oathbound, weaker than the default mummy). In creating one of the oathbound, the critical question is what are the oaths that bind it? What are the restrictions on its actions and choices? Who was it in life, and what key skills has it retained in its undeath? Has it retained its sense of mercy and empathy, or has this been worn away?
How do wights figure into this?
I prefer not to lump all undead into a single basket. There are different sources of undead—Qabalrin traditions, Katashka the Gatekeeper, the raw power of Mabar—and to me, a story is more interesting if those different traditions produce different undead, rather than the only difference being CR. With this in mind, the basic lore of 5E notes that wights are mortals transformed by a dark power with the goal of making eternal war on the living. With this in mind, I say that wights AREN’T created by mortal necromancers; they can be created either by Katashka the Gatekeeper or by one of the Dark Powers of Mabar, and they directly serve the agenda of the force that created them (even if they don’t know what that agenda is).
What do you think happens if an oath is broken? Would the mummy just cease to function or would it be compelled magically to restore its oath?
It’s a matter of will. I think that most oathbound simply cannot violate their oaths, and if they are somehow forced to (a guardian removed from its tomb by force) it must attempt to rectify the situation immediately. If it can’t, this will weaken the bonds that sustain its undead existence, and it would ultimately disintegrate. Having said that, there can always be exceptions. A mummy with the strength of will to break its oath might become something else—finding a new way to sustain itself—potentially becoming something like a death knight or a wight, depending on the power of the spirit and its personal story.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.