Sidebar: Aurum Concordians

While few outsiders know what goes on inside an Aurum hall, the existence of the organization is no secret; most members proudly wear the eight rings of their concord. If you asked a member of the Aurum to describe it, they’d say that it’s a fraternal order with a hall in every major city in the Five Nations. They’d brag about how the Aurum strengthens local communities through philanthropy and charitable work. They’d call out that the Aurum is an organization where people with different political and religious beliefs can set those differences aside and talk as friends: that it’s an organization for people who want to make a difference in the world, who can reach beyond class and nation. However, at the end of the day few can argue that one practical purpose of the organization is to increase the wealth and power of its members. Friends do favors for friends—and everyone’s friends in the Aurum. You have a problem with the Sharn Watch? Let’s have a drink with Commander Yorgan and see if we can work something out.

Push farther, and some concordians will acknowledge that one of the founding principles of the Aurum is that the existing system within Khorvaire is oppressive: the dragonmarked houses have tyrannical economic monopolies and the monarchies of the Five Nations are outdated. The Aurum brings together the finest and most capable people outside that structure, and helps them to achieve the opportunities they deserve. Now, you may have heard rumors of a “Shadow Cabinet” that seeks to tear down the houses or overthrow monarchies, but that’s just ridiculous. The Aurum is a social club. Last night we had a delightful performance from the Diva Laria. Provost Salar gave an impromptu lecture on the Sulat League and Councilor Evix discussed a Xen’drik expedition they’re funding. No one tried to conquer the world.

Anyone who’s read the sourcebooks knows that—spoiler alert—the Shadow Cabinet DOES exist. But the important point is that most members of the Aurum itself don’t actually know that. The Aurum is what it appears to be: an alliance of wealthy and influential people who enjoy each other’s company and who use their wealth and influence to help each another. Sure, many are evil in alignment, and those people are especially likely to take advantage of the connections offered by the Aurum to strengthen their positions and gain power, even if this circumvents the law or steals those opportunities from others. But there are concordians who are truly good, who do seek to use the Aurum’s influence to strengthen the local community. And many are squarely neutral, enjoying the camaraderie of the society and happy to help their fellow concordians where they can, but having no grand aspirations of their own.

So there’s a few roles an Aurum concordian can serve in a story.

  • Patron. Are you looking for someone who wants to fund an expedition? Someone who wants to pay a group of adventurers to do something that doesn’t quite fall within the law but isn’t entirely criminal, either? This is the role of the concordian. They have gold, and they have enough connections to arrange for watch patrols to be light around the entrance to Old Sharn, or to get you past customs when you land with contraband artifacts. But they don’t have the resources of a dragonmarked house or a spy agency; they need adventurers to run their errands. And these tasks don’t have to shake the world or threaten the city. A concordian may simply be indulging a personal (perhaps slightly illegal) hobby: adding to their collection of (contraband) Sulat elemental seals, or taking actions to humiliate a professional or social rival. Concordians are people who have enough wealth and power to be able to hire and help adventurers—but not so much power that adventurers become irrelevant.
  • Rival. If adventurers get on the wrong side of a concordian, it can cause a lot of trouble for them… but still, not as much trouble as making an enemy of a dragonmarked house or the King’s Citadel. A concordian may have wealth and they will certainly have contacts, but especially if they’re in the lower concords there’s a limit to how many favors they can call in. Consider Ambrose Jakis in The Name of the Wind; he’s a perfect example of how an Aurum conordian could make trouble for an adventurer who’s earned their ire. To a lesser extent, a concordian could serve as a patron for a rival group of adventurers, who thus get a lot of unfair advantages because of the wealth and influence of their patron.
  • Member. A player character could be given a chance to JOIN the Aurum. An existing member (perhaps a patron) would have to sponsor them, and they’d begin in the Copper Concord. As such, they wouldn’t have a lot of pull right away—but if they do favors for concordians, others will do favors in return. They may receive opportunities they’d never have gained on their own, and have access to gossip and secrets they’d never have been able to learn. It’s a great opportunity… but they will be expected to do favors for the higher ranking concordians.

But what about the Shadow Cabinet?

From a design perspective, the Aurum is designed to be an easy source of patrons and rivals. The connections of the Aurum make a concordian a dangerous enemy or a powerful ally, but part of the point of the Aurum is that it’s NOT a tightly knit conspiracy; members have to pay for favors with favors, and there are members of the Aurum who aren’t friends with one another. It’s not as tightly knit as the Dreaming Dark or even as a dragonmarked house. It’s a quick source of influential figures, but these are people low-level adventurers can deal with.

But what about the Shadow Cabinet? This follows the idea of the Illuminati or SPECTRE: an hidden organization of powerful people who intend to shift the balance of power. Members of the Shadow Cabinet ARE more tightly connected, and do freely share resources—making them far more dangerous than just an individual Silver Concordian. They want to disrupt or control monarchies, to break the power of the dragonmarked houses; a DM who wants a dramatic twist could reveal that the Shadow Cabinet was responsible for the Shadow Schism that divided House Phiarlan (whether working with or framing the Paelions)—and that they are now actively encouraging the rivalries between the three Cannith factions, hoping to permanently split that house as well. One might well say “If I want a plutocratic villain, why not just use a dragonmarked house? They seem to have more power and cooler gimmicks. And that’s correct: the houses DO have far more power. The point of the Shadow Cabinet is that they ARE the upstarts and the underdogs—that they are FIGHTING the established great powers of the monarchies and houses. For all his wealth and power, Antus ir’Soldorak still needs Lyrandar excoriates to fly his grand airship. He doesn’t have all the power he wants: which is why he’s fighting to disrupt the Twelve. This is a struggle that will surely take decades to bear meaningful fruit. Again, it’s possible that the Shadow Schism was a great victory for the Aurum, and that took place 26 years ago. I don’t expect the Shadow Cabinet to have any chance to actually take over the world in the course of campaign; if they COULD somehow destroy the dragonmarked houses in a year, Khorvaire would collapse into chaos. The power is that they are trying. They are working to disrupt the order, to turn houses against one another, to fund innovations that would reduce their power. They are actively trying to shake the status quo, and this can drive the events of an adventure. But their role in the story is to be the disruptive underdogs, not to actually be on top. With that said, a very important point that differentiates the houses and the Shadow Cabinet is that a dragonmarked hosue has massive power and influence within a single field. The Shadow Cabinet has agents spread across society, in places the houses can’t touch. They have concordians in the military, in the judiciary, in the arts. Their power is less CONCRETE than that of the houses, but it is more subtle; a concordian customs inspector can cause a lot of trouble for local house operations!

Hearing all of this raises an interesting option: the Shadow Cabinet COULD be presented in a heroic light. The dragonmarked houses DO wield oppressive monopolistic power. The monarchies of the Five Nations could be seen as outdated. It is entirely possible to present the Shadow Cabinet as a heroic alliance that is trying to make change—that is fighting to help the artificer working on an airship that anyone could pilot, or to push democracy in the Five Nations. By default, canon presents the Shadow Cabinet as being driven by purely selfish goals: it doesn’t actually want to make the world a better place, it wants to make it a better place for members of the Shadow Cabinet. But it is entirely possible to present it in a more altruistic light. And the reason I’m saying this with no spoilers is because, as a player, you don’t know what your DM is doing with them. When you spot someone wearing eight rings, you know they’re in the Aurum. But are they secretly plotting to throw the Five Nations into chaos? Are they fighting a secret battle in pursuit of economic innovation and democracy? Or are they a casual member who just enjoys a good game of Conqueror at the club? And as a DM, if you want to maintain that mystery, the point is to use concordians in those different capacities. Have the adventurers benefit from Aurum philanthropy. Have them need to protect an orphanage that was built with Aurum donations. When the concordian comes to them with a seemingly innocent job, is it exactly what it appears to be… or could it be serving a hidden agenda? W

Who’s In The Aurum?

The common impression is that the Aurum is an alliance of the wealthy and powerful, because it’s those wealthy and powerful members who attract attention. And usually by the time someone is in the Gold or Platinum Concords they will be wealthy or powerful… but they may not have started out that way. The Aurum doesn’t look for wealth: it looks for influence and potential. The Copper Concord includes people who don’t have power yet—but their sponsor sees a way that they could, if the right strings are pulled. Officers in the military or the watch. Civic officials. Up and coming artists. Promising artisans. The further up you go, the more wealth and influence the concordian is likely to have. They’re not a watch officer, they command a district garrison. They aren’t an aspiring playwright, they’re an international sensation. Or they could be a wealthy collector of rare Sarlonan antiquities—but if they’re in the Gold or Platinum Concords, they will be VERY wealthy…

The Aurum Concordian table provides a quick way to generate a random concordian. You’ll have to establish the basic details—this concordian is an old Brelish dwarf—but the table helps to establish that he’s an ambassador who profited off the Last War and has close ties to the Brelish military. These are basic prompts, and it’s up to you to decide how he profited off the war, or what those close ties are like—does he have personal sway with a single military unit (he can call on the Redcloak Battalion in Sharn) or does he have broader ties to Brelish military leadership?

To be clear, the Aurum seeks to shake the status quo and thus tends to reject members who are powerful nobles or well-placed dragonmarked heirs. However, a concordian could be from a lesser noble family (a minor Lhazaar prince), or as in the case of Antus ir’Soldorak, could have bought a noble title. Likewise, concordians won’t include members of powerful dragonmarked families, but they can include excoriates or members of families that have fallen into disfavor and are unhappy with the Twelve… and the Aurum includes many people who run businesses licensed by the houses, but who aren’t tied to the house by blood and chafe under its yoke.

So again, an Aurum concordian can be a useful patron, a dangerous rival, someone seeking to help strengthen their community or someone determined to increase their own power at all costs. Invoking the Aurum is a quick way to establish that someone has wealth and influence… but it shouldn’t automatically establish someone as a VILLAIN. The Aurum is intended to be a source of easy foes for low-level adventures, but it can be just as useful as a source of patrons. In the novel The City of Towers, the down-on-their-luck adventurers turn to a member of the Aurum for work. And while concordians COULD turn to organizations like the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan, or House Deneith, some members prefer not to deal with actual criminals or economic rivals… and that’s where adventurers come in!

What’s Your Connection?

The table above is a quick way to generate a random concordian. But perhaps you want an adventurer to have a concrete connection to that character. The following tables (originally posted in this article) help with that. It turns out that one of the adventurers was childhood friends we the ambassador, and that the ambassador pulled strings a year ago to get them out of jail… but now the ambassador is being targeted for assassination and they’re calling in that favor. The Aurum Concordian table takes the place of the “Aurum Member” table below, but I’m leaving that column in below, as it gives some quick and concrete examples.

General Q&A

Does a member of the Copper Concord who’s also in the Shadow Cabinet outrank a member of the Gold Concord who’s not in the Cabinet?

The Shadow Cabinet—if it even exists!—is a secret even to members of the Aurum. So no, the copper concordian can’t make demands of the gold concordian, because the gold concordian doesn’t recognize their authority. However, the people IN the secret society work more closely together than most members of the Aurum. So a member of the Platinum Concord may go out of their way to help the copper, in a way that seems unusual—because both are in the Shadow Cabinet, and it serves the purposes of the Cabinet. But it’s always possible a DM could decide to use the Aurum WITHOUT the Shadow Cabinet… or they could decide that there’s no difference between the two, and that all members of the Aurum pursue the goals of the Cabinet.

Is there an initiation ceremony or ritual involved with joining the Aurum? If so, what is that like?

Like most fraternal orders, the Aurum undoubtedly has a vast number of secret ceremonies and rituals. What are they like? SECRET. This is a level of detail you’re not likely to ever see in canon because we could easily write an entire book about the rituals of the Aurum, but for most campaigns it will never matter. Should the adventurers ever happen to witness an Aurum initiation, you can invent the rituals or even ask your players to suggest details. But certainly, it’s a solemn, complicated ceremony and it likely involved swearing oaths under a zone of truth.

When someone joins the Aurum, they join a particular hall. We use the concord rank (gold, silver, etc) as a general indicator because it’s all that most adventurers will ever have to deal with, but you can be sure that there are a vast number of internal honors and titles used within a hall. Someone’s not just a gold concordian, they’re a “Faithful Warden of the Gold Concord” —which is itself a step up from being an “Honored Initiate of the Gold Concord.” The one that matters most is the Keeper of the Hall, who is the ultimate local authority (and almost always a member of the Platinum Concord). While I’m not going to try to suggest all the secret rituals that go on as part of initiation or advancement, I will say that in either case the initiate receives the eight rings of their concord and they also receive a concordian’s coin of the metal of their concord. The rings are produced locally; every hall has their own variation on the basic design, but they are mundane metal. A concordian’s coin is a magic item produced by the Soldorak Mint. The coin has the Aurum seal on one face (the chained crown) and a profile on the other (see below). A concordian’s coin has the following properties.

  • The coin is initially unbound. When someone holds the coin in the fist and recites a specific oath, the coin is bound to that person; the only way to break this bond is to destroy or disenchant the coin. Initially, the profile on the face of the coin is a blank silhouette. When the coin is bound, it takes on the appearance of the person it’s bound to.
  • Only the person the coin is bound to can hold the coin. Anyone else who touches it will receive an unpleasant arcane shock. This doesn’t cause permanent damage, but if someone picks up or holds a concordian’s coin they must make a DC 10 Wisdom save each round to keep from dropping it.
  • The person the coin is bound to can use it as an arcane focus. It can also be used as a holy symbol by a cleric of the Sovereign Host (specifically Kol Korran or the Keeper).
  • A concordian’s coin is a common magic item. Coins of the gold and platinum concords often carry additional enchantments; a concordian’s coin might be enchanted to serve as an amulet of proof against detection and location, for example.

Beyond this, there is also a series of protocols involving both coins and rings. For example, when shaking hands on first meeting, a concordian will tap a particular finger against the finger of the other concordian, who will answer with a different tap based on the respective ranks of the members. Likewise, at a meal between concordians they may place their coins on the table; placing them in certain configurations (crown up, to the left of a drink) can convey hidden messages.

How distinctive are the rings and coin of an Aurum concordian?

Each hall has a unique ring design. However, these rings are pure metal and the designs aren’t so complex; part of the point of the ring is that another ring can be easily worn above it (like many engagement rings). So Aurum rings wouldn’t be that hard to fabricate, especially if the people you’re dealing with aren’t familiar with the hall designs. The coin is another matter. Each one is unique to the bearer, and if someone is familiar with the Aurum and has any doubts about your identity, one of the first things they’ll do is touch your coin to see if they get a shock. All concordian’s coins are made at the Soldorak Mint; counterfeiting one isn’t just about craftsmanship, it’s about calibrating the shock to feel like the Solodrak shock. It’s something a capable artificer with proficiency in forgery could accomplish, but it’s not a trivial thing. Of course, all of this comes to the question of if you’re trying to fool a member of the AURUM. Most people don’t even know concordians carry coins, let allow that they’ll shock you.

Would the Aurum take action against someone falsely claiming to be a concordian?

ABSOLUTELY. This is a highly exclusive organization of rich and powerful people. They will NOT take kindly to people seeking to profit off their reputation. Of course, they have to find out about the hoax to take action… so a charlatan could get away with it for as long as they can get away with it. But the local hall will NOT be happy with charlatans passing themselves off as concordians.

That’s all for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! The Patreon poll to determine the subject of the next major article ends soon—currently it’s neck and neck between Sarlona and the nobility of Khorvaire.

Sidebar: Aberrant Champions

It’s hard to talk about dragonmarks and the dragonmarked houses without also discussing aberrant dragonmarks and the War of the Mark. I posted a sidebar article about Aberrant Dragonmarks not too long ago, but my Patreon supporters recently raised a number of questions recently about the aberrant champions of the War of the Mark, notably Halas Tarkanan.

For a quick refresher: Long ago aberrant dragonmarks were more widespread than they are today, and they were also more powerful than the common aberrant mark known today—the simple powers granted by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat. The dragonmarked houses—quite young at the time—used the fear of aberrant dragonmarks as a scapegoat, both as a cause that helped to unite the houses themselves and to strengthen public opinion that “true” dragonmarks were good, and aberrant dragonmarks were the foul touch of Khyber… and lest it go without saying, many members of the houses believed the tales they spread. There’s no cure for an aberrant dragonmark, and this led to mob violence and from there to more organized persecution on the part of the houses. “The War of the Mark” implies a conflict between two even sides, and this was anything but. Due to house propaganda, people with aberrant marks were feared and ostracized, and this was more of a witch-hunt than a war. However, as it drew on, a number of leaders emerged among the aberrants—people with the charisma to lead and the foresight to plan, and with enough raw power that even the houses came to fear them. These leaders gathered bands of aberrants around them and sought to establish sanctuaries or hold off her houses.

The band whose exploits are best known was tied to three powerful aberrants. Halas Tarkanan was known as “The Earthshaker,” and his aberrant mark gave him power over elemental forces. His two greatest allies were known only by titles. The Lady of the Plague controlled vermin and disease, and was widely seen as the most dangerous of the aberrants. The Dreambreaker wielded vast psychic power and could crush lesser minds. Beyond his personal power, Tarkanan was a master strategist. Under his guidance, they seized the city of Sharn (which far smaller than it is today) and established it as a haven for the aberrant. But the houses had superior numbers, resources, and discipline. Sharn was besieged, and when it became clear that the battle was lost, Halas determined to make the victory as costly as possible. The three aberrant leaders gave their lives and poured their essence into terrible death curses. Little is known about the impact of the Dreambreaker’s curse. But Tarkanan’s curse shook the earth and collapsed the old towers, while the Lady of the Plague spread deadly disease throughout the ruins and called up strange forms of vermin. Those few soldiers who survived the attack lingered just long enough to carry the plagues to their comrades; even in death, the Lady of the Plague inflicted a lasting blow on the house forces. Today it’s her curse that is still felt. The region known as “Old Sharn” is sealed off because it’s believed that her plagues still linger in the depths, and there are forms of vermin found in Sharn that aren’t seen anywhere else in Khorvaire.

In considering the aberrant leaders, there’s a few things to bear in mind. The first is that they possessed aberrant marks of a level of power not yet seen in the present day—aberrant dragonmarks comparable to the Siberys dragonmarks of the houses. But beyond that, just like the house of today, their greatest powers came not simply from their dragonmarks, but from tools that focused and amplified the powers of these marks. Tarkanan channeled his power through a gauntlet he called the Earth’s Fist. The Dreambreaker used the Delirium Stone to focus his mental energy. And the Lady of the Plague wore a cloak she called Silence. So it’s not that Halas destroyed a city with his mark alone; just Cannith has creation forges and Lyrandar has its storm spires, it was the Earth’s Fist that allowed Tarkanan to level Sharn. And while these leaders died, it’s quite possible these artifacts survived. Each one was designed to interface with the unique marks of the champions who carried them, but it’s possible that a modern creature with a similar aberrant dragonmark could attune to one of these deadly artifacts.

So who were these aberrant champions? The short answer is that no one knows for sure. They lived over fifteen centuries ago, most were outcasts, and of course, the winners write history. Any serious scholar has to eliminate the propaganda circulated by the houses at the time—stories that present Tarkanan and his allies as monsters. Sivis propaganda suggested that Tarkanan was an avatar of the Devourer—a story supported by his elemental power—sent to bring suffering to innocents. Other tales claimed that all of the aberrant leaders were “lords of dust,” lingering fiends from the Age of Demons that delighted in chaos and bloodshed. So the short form is that it’s hard to be certain of anything and that adventurers could always discover new answers over the course of their adventures. What follows is the answer in my Eberron—the truth that could be found by a diligent sage—but that doesn’t mean it’s the absolute truth.

Halas Tarkanan

Halas Tarkanan was the son of Ilana Halar d’Deneith, an heir of House Deneith, and Grayn Tarkanan, a mercenary licensed by the house. Ilana commanded the mercenary regiment Grayn served in, and the two fell in love. When Grayn developed an aberrant dragonmark his contact with the house was severed and Illana was ordered to end her relationship with him. She refused and was excoriated. Ilana and Grayn left Korth behind, working as independent mercenaries in southern Wroat (the region that’s now Breland), where Deneith had yet to fully establish its presence.They served the self-appointed King Breggor III in a series of bitter conflicts between Wroat lords, and Halas was raised on the battlefield. Ilana taught her son the arts of war, and he was as capable as any Deneith heir. A Sivis account says that Halas murdered his parents, but the truth is more complex. In this time the houses were expanding their whispering campaign against aberrants, and House Deneith was expanding its operations in Wroat. Deneith promised to support Breggor, but first he had to rid himself of his aberrant and excoriate champions. Illana’s troop was sent into an ambush and trapped on a now-forgotten bridge over the Dagger River. They were surrounded by enemies when Halas’s aberrant dragonmark manifested. Its power collapsed the bridge, killing both his family and their enemies, and Halas himself was presumed dead; the destruction of the bridge was held up as yet another example of the dangers posed by aberrant dragonmarks. But Halas survived.

There’s few concrete records of the next decade of Tarkanan’s life. Some say that he secretly made his way to Rekkenmark, and served in the armies of Karrnath; in these stories, some of his unmarked comrades in arms later joined his struggles in Wroat. Certainly, he eventually fought a one-man war against Breggor and House Deneith’s operations in Wroat, gaining greater control over his powers with each guerrilla attack. He obtained the Earth’s Fist during this time, presumably by working with the Tinker. He met the Lady of the Plague in this time, but none know exactly how. Within House Tarkanan, one story says that the Lady found Halas dying of infected wounds and saved his life; another tale says that the two were both sheltering in the same village during an aberrant purge. Whatever the truth, they were already partners when the houses and their supporters began executing aberrants.

Halas was a gifted tactician, and the Lady of the Plague seems to have been a persuasive speaker; together, they executed an exodus through southern Wroat, rallying aberrants from across the region around Sharn. The rest is history; in the novel The Son of Khyber, a contemporary says of Halas “I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.”

So: what’s known of Halas Tarkanan? He was the child of a Deneith excoriate and hated House Deneith above all others. He was skilled with a sword, but his talents as a commander were more important than his skills with a blade. He was ruthless when he had to be, and was willing to make sacrifices when it was the only way to hurt his enemy. And not only did he possess an aberrant mark of great power, he knew techniques that allowed him to manipulate his mark in ways unknown in the present day… as shown by the “death curse” that leveled old Sharn. Many dragonmarks place a burden—physical or mental—on the bearer. There’s no records of what price Halas paid for his power, but some stories suggest that his mark may have reacted to his mood—that he was always calm, because his anger could shatter the world. But as with so much about him, this is largely conjecture. There are no records of him having children, but if any existed it’s likely he would have kept their existence as secret as possible. Certainly by the end of the War of the Mark, the houses claimed to have completely eliminated the “blood of Khyber”—but as as aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary in the same way as true marks, it’s possible he could have had an unmarked child who slipped past the divinations of the Twelve.

The Lady of the Plague

If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.

This is the most detailed description of the Lady of the Plague, drawn from this (noncanon) article on aberrant dragonmarks. On a small scale, the Lady could use her mark to inflict effects similar to harm and insect plague. But her greater gift was the power to create virulent diseases—plagues that could spread across entire cities. However, she had no ability to cure the diseases she could create. Unleashing a disease was like setting a fire; it could spread farther and faster than she intended. She was one of the most infamous aberrants of the age; the destruction of Sarus was a regular feature in the propaganda of the Twelve, carrying the warning that sparing one aberrant could doom your entire city.

Halas Tarkanan was a strategist and a warrior, and is usually seen as the leader of the Wroat aberrants. But sages who dig deep will find that while Halas was the warrior, the Lady was the visionary—that it was her impassioned speeches that rallied the refugees when spirits were low, and she who convinced people to follow and fight alongside them. While Sivis accounts typically depict the refugees as all aberrants, the fact is that there were many unmarked people who joined the aberrant cause. Some were relatives or lovers of the marked, but others were compelled by the Lady’s words, and made the choice to stand by those innocents being hunted by the houses. Halas and the Lady rallied other oppressed people, and many Wroat goblins joined their cause. When the Twelve finally laid siege to Sharn, only about half of the people in the city had aberrant marks, but all chose to stand and fight.

It’s known that the Lady had unusual theories about the nature and purpose of aberrant dragonmarks. It’s possible she had some inkling of the Draconic Prophecy, but she may have simply believed that aberrant marks and those who carried them had a role to play in the grand order of things. There are no known recordings of her beliefs… but perhaps one of her journals remains hidden in Old Sharn, or even somewhere in Aundair.

Like Halas, the Lady of the Plague possessed the ability to enhance her power through her own pain, and her death curse lingers to this day. Her cloak Silence helped her contain her power and prevent accidental infection of innocents, but it also amplified her abilities.

The Dreambreaker

The Dreambreaker was a gnome born in what’s now Zilargo. His aberrant mark allowed him to shatter the minds of people around him and some accounts suggest that he could twist time and space. However, his power also affected his own perception of reality. It’s said that he believed the Wroat aberrants were actually fighting the Sovereigns, and that the houses and their mortal minions were simply manifestations of this greater cosmic struggle. He was devoted to the aberrant cause and his sheer power was a vital weapon in their arsenal, but his instability prevented him from leading forces on his own. Like the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker was often featured in anti-aberrant propaganda; Sivis spread wild tales of his abilities to crush minds and claimed that he could murder innocent people in their dreams.

The Dreambreaker possessed a focus item called the Delirium Stone, presumably created by the Tinker. He is presumed to have died in the siege of Sharn, but he is known to have been fighting in a different tower than Halas Tarkanan and some accounts suggest that he planned to twist time, stealing the future from the houses… but nothing was ever heard from him following the destruction of Sharn.

The Tinker

Halas Tarkanan, the Dreambreaker, The Lady of the Plague, Kalara of the Ten Terrors, and more—the most infamous champions of the War of the mark all possessed artifacts that channeled and focused the powers of their aberrant marks. But where did these tools come from? Halas was no artificer, and the aberrants didn’t have the resources of House Cannith. Or did they? It’s recorded that Halas ascribed the Earth’s Fist to “the tinker,” and storytellers have used that to create a mysterious figure—an aberrant heir of House Cannith! Whose dragonmark allows them to consume or twist the enchantments of objects! Others say that this tinker must have been a fiend—able to create tools to channel the power of Khyber because they themselves were one of the true children of Khyber. Either of these are possible, but there is a simpler possibility: that “the tinker” may have been a term referring to a number of sympathetic artificers within House Cannith who opposed the War of the Mark and sought to aid their aberrant foes.

The true identity of the Tinker could be an interesting mystery to solve—especially if House Tarkanan starts receiving aberrant focus items in the present day. Are these gifts from the original Tinker, somehow preserved through centuries? Or is this the legacy of a movement in House Cannith—perhaps tied to the humble Juran line—that has hidden in the shadows of the house?

Why Does This Matter?

For centuries after the War of the Mark, aberrant dragonmarks were all but unknown. Over the age of Galifar they slowly began to return, but their powers were trivial in comparison to the might of Halas Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. Within the last century aberrant dragonmarks have been appearing at an unprecedented rate, and a few with greater power have been reported. Is this the work of the daelkyr? A sign that an overlord is close to breaking its bonds? Or could it be a manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy: could the aberrants have a vital role to play in the days ahead?

While there are no concrete mechanics for powerful aberrant marks, as with an dragonmark a player character could ascribe their class features to an aberrant dragonmark. A sorcerer’s spells could be drawn from their mark; a warlock could take their aberrant mark as their patron, perhaps even hearing it whisper or receiving strange dreams. Even a barbarian could say that their rage is the power of their aberrant mark. I personally played a character in a campaign who believed that he had inherited Halas Tarkanan’s mark, and that it was his destiny to rally and protect the aberrants of the present day. That’s one possibility: the idea that the essence of one of these champions could be reborn in the present. Another possibility is that the Dreambreaker could have been right all along; that he did have the power to twist time and space, and that he channeled the essence of the aberrants to the present day (a variation of this is explored in the old RPGA adventure “The Delirium Stone”). Alternately adventurers could encounter a ghost or some other legacy of one of these champions—or perhaps find a journal of the Lady of the Plague, containing strange insights.

General Q&A

Were aberrant marks always ostracized? When Cannith and Sivis began to rally the other bloodlines into the Houses, were mixed marks thought of as undiscovered new marks, or were their destructive abilities quickly categorized into the realm of dangerous and taboo?

There was certainly a time when aberrant marks weren’t as feared as they are today, let alone the crazed fear that drove the War of the Mark. We’ve called out that the houses actively fanned the flames of fear and built up that hatred for decades before the War of the Mark finally took place. But while it may not have been as intense, they were always feared, because as called out in the other linked articles, they ARE dangerous. The Lady of the Plague DID destroy multiple communities before learning to master her power—and there are many aberrants who never learn to master their powers. It was easy for the houses to amplify the fear because people were already afraid, and the houses encouraged this instead of working to bring people together. But there were also surely communities that refused to give into that fear—villages that were havens for those with aberrant dragonmarks. Such communities would have provided the bulk of the numbers in the Wroat exodus, both of marked and unmarked refugees; while the people in these communities stood together, they also knew that they couldn’t fight house forces.

Regarding why the marks weren’t seen as undiscovered new dragonmarks, and why they quickly became taboo, there’s two factors. Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary and don’t have a common appearance. Three marks that grant burning hands could all manifest in entirely different ways. It’s rare to find any two aberrant marks that are identical, let alone that resemble the “true” marks, so people were pretty quick to conclude that these weren’t just some undiscovered new mark. Beyond this, the issue is that not only is an aberrant mark not hereditary, manifesting an aberrant mark severs your connection to any other dragonmark. When the child of an Orien and Cannith manifests an aberrant mark, it also eliminates any possibility that their children could manifest the Mark of Making or Mark of Passage. As the houses were still working to build their numbers and the strength of their lines, this revelation was as significant a factor in banning inter-house liasons as fears of the mixed marks themselves.

How do you see the participation of the Houses that existed at the time playing out in the War of the Mark?

Part of the purpose of the war was to strengthen the ties between the newly minted houses—creating a common foe they could fight together. This was also a way to familiarize the people of Khorvaire with houses that had previously been limited to a particular region and to help them spread. There were houses that didn’t exist—Thuranni, Tharashk. The Mark of Detection had only just appeared, and it’s quite possible that Medani was formed during the war, as the hunt for aberrant marks would certainly have discovered this new true mark. But Phiarlan performed reconnaissance, Deneith provided the bulk of the soldiers, Cannith armed them, Jorasco healed them, Ghallanda supported them. Vadalis provided mounts to ride and beasts to track the foe. Sivis most likely focused on logistics and propaganda. In the adventure “The Delirium Stone” (EMH-7), adventurers encounter a squad of soldiers including Deneith infantry, a Phiarlan archer, and a Jorasco healer supporting the unit. Later encounters include a Vadalis magebred swarm and a Cannith construct.

Ghallanda is an interesting question. While I expected it was pressured to support the action and likely helped with supplies, I can definitely imagine individual Ghallanda heir providing sanctuary to aberrant refugees, holding their principles over the goals of the alliance.

In Dragonmarked it’s said that the Medani were originally thought to be aberrants, and that they were subsequently coerced into joining the Twelve.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that there was any significant length of time in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. Aberrant dragonmarks and true dragonmarks are dramatically different. All true dragonmarks share the same general coloration, sizing, and overall design; the Mark of Detection is distinctly different from the Mark of Making, but at a DISTANCE it looks the same. Aberrant marks vary wildly in color and design. They aren’t hereditary and two marks that grant the same power may be dramatically different in appearance. Even if someone believed that despite looking just like a true mark that a mark was aberrant, the moment they saw that the person had a brother with the same mark they should know something was up. And remember that the Twelve were LOOKING for additional true marks; they called themselves “The Twelve” before they’d found twelve marks, because they were convinced there were others out there waiting to be found.So I have great trouble imagining a widespread series of events in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. One or two minor incidents, sure, But even at a distance, if someone saw the blue-purple mark they likely wouldn’t say “No, wait, that’s not exactly like one of ours”—they’d say “Damn, that half-elf has a dragonmark! Who let a Lyrandar in here?”

With that said: The Mark of Detection manifested during the War of the Mark. So those who carried it lived alongside aberrants, and could easily have been caught up in the purges that targeted them. As such, I can see many Medani having sympathy for the aberrants and choosing to stand alongside them: “Why do you treat me differently than her, just because my mark is blue and the same as my father’s?” So I think it’s quite plausible that a number of early Medani rejected the Twelve and actually fought alongside the aberrants; but that’s not the same as being mistaken for aberrants. And I do think that overall, the Medani were pressured—even threatened—by the other houses to join the Twelve, and that this underlies their attitude toward the Twelve to this day.

That’s all I have time for now. Have you used aberrant dragonmarks or the champions of the War of the Mark in your campaign? If so, share your stories below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going; supporters are currently voting on the topic of the next major article (Sarlona is currently in the lead!).

Dragonmarks: Reaching For The Stars

Image by Lucas Guerrini for Exploring Eberron

Nearly a quarter of Exploring Eberron is devoted to the planes of Eberron, providing a deeper look into these different layers of reality. While this addresses the supernatural cosmology of Eberron, my Patreon supporters have posed a number of questions tied to the Material Plane. What do the people of Eberron know about the physical universe beyond Eberron? What is the nature of the moons? Could there be a space race in Eberron? Others have raised more practical questions: how do the many moons of Eberron affect its tides? Wouldn’t the destruction of a moon have had even more cataclysmic results than have been suggested?

Ultimately, this begins with a crucial question: what is the Material Plane? In the myth of the Progenitors—a tale told in some form by nearly every culture—the three Progenitors work together to create thirteen planes, each one an idealized exploration of a particular concept: Life, death, war, peace. Following this effort, they rest in the emptiness that lies at the center of the planes. There the Progenitors quarrel. Khyber kills Siberys and tears him apart. Eberron enfolds Khyber and becomes the world itself, forming a living prison she cannot escape.

Whether this is truth or metaphor, it is a basic explanation for natural phenomenon.

  • Eberron is the world and source of natural life. It is surrounded by the shattered Ring of Siberys, and it contains Khyber. Whether or not Eberron was once a noble dragon who imprisoned another dragon, it is a natural world that surrounds and imprisons a source of fiends and aberrations.
  • Eberron—and its Material Plane—lies between the thirteen planes. It is influenced by all of them but it’s not part of any of them. It’s a world that knows both war and peace, life and death.
  • By canon (Rising p. 228), Eberron is the sole planet in its Material Plane. Beyond this, when people dream in Eberron, their spirits go to Dal Quor. When they die, they go to Dolurrh. There are no accounts of people encountering spirits from OTHER material worlds in either plane.

So the first thing to bear in mind: There is nothing natural about the universe of Eberron. The story of the Progenitors might be fact or it could be mere myth. But Eberron does appear to be the center of its Material Plane. It is the fulcrum of the 13 planes, the point where they all intersect — and as shown by Dal Quor and Dolurrh, the creatures of the Material Plane are tied to the other planes. Dig below the surface of Eberron and you won’t simply find a molten core; you’ll find the demiplanes of Khyber. You can go down a tunnel in the Mror Holds, walk five miles, and come out in Xen’drik. Which is to say, this is a supernatural reality. Arcane and divine magic are side effects of this; Eberron is suffused with a fundamental force that doesn’t exist in our world. Now, this may be because Eberron as a setting is a created artifact—that some form of the myth of the Progenitors is true. Or it could be the result of undirected evolution… but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a supernatural reality, fundamentally different from the universe that we know.

This initial section examines the known facts about the celestial objects of Eberron. This is followed by a discussion of the possible space race, which goes into more detail about what might be found on the moons or in the ring. Lest it go without saying, this is my vision of Eberron and may contradict existing sourcebooks.

The Sun and the Stars

In the Progenitor Myth, the three Progenitors rested in the Material Plane after creating the planes. They created the sun, Arrah, much as mortals might kindle a campfire. This fire remained even after their battle, and continues to provide light, heat, and comfort to the world. Arrah is rarely mentioned because it functions much like the sun we’re used to; it’s good that it’s there, but you definitely wouldn’t want to visit it. In the Sovereign Host, Dol Arrah is the Sovereign of Sun and Sacrifice; her name is, essentially, “The Warrior Sun.”

As for the stars, there are stars in the sky of Eberron, but they aren’t the anchors of distant solar systems. There are limits to the Material Plane, and the stars mark those limits; whether or not you embrace the concepts of Spelljammer, you can think of them as glittering points in the shell of a crystal sphere. The common constellations are figures of ancient dragons—Io, Tiamat, Chronepsis—though most people can’t actually say where these names come from. It’s generally assumed that they were handed down by one of the ancient kingdoms of Sarlona, or established by the ancestors of the Aereni; in fact, this is a tradition that was spread by dragons, as they moved secretly among the lesser races.

The Ring of Siberys

The closest celestial object is the Ring of Siberys, a brilliant equatorial band of light that dominates the sky. We know that the Ring is comprised of siberys dragonshards, because it’s where those dragonshards come from. Most fallen shards are quite small, but it’s there are definitely larger shards in the Ring; the civilization of the Qabalrin elves of Xen’drik was destroyed when the Ring of Storms was struck by a massive dragonshard now known as the Heart of Siberys. It’s possible that the entire ring is made up of pure dragonshards, or it could be that there are shards embedded in a more inert material—perhaps the petrified flesh of an ancient cosmic dragon.

One of the more popular schools of arcane thought maintains that all arcane magic (and perhaps divine magic as well) manipulates energy that radiates from the Ring—that magic itself is the “Blood of Siberys.” Whether or not this is true, siberys dragonshards are an extremely valuable resource. Siberys shards are used for dragonmark focus items, but per Rising From The Last War they are also used for “eldritch machines or the creation of legendary items or artifacts.” A nation or house that can secure a reliable source of siberys shards will have a huge advantage in advancing arcane science. It’s also possible that an outpost in the Ring could harness the ambient energy of the Ring itself to perform epic magic. So the Ring of Siberys is close to Eberron and unquestionably valuable; if a space race begins, it’s the logical first step.

The Moons

Twelve orbiting moons are visible from Eberron. Each moon goes through standard lunar phases, and during the month that shares its name, the moon enters an “ascendant phase”; during this time the moon is brighter than usual. Each moon is associated with certain personality traits, and it’s believed that people are influenced by the moon that is ascendant at the time of their birth. Canon descriptions of the moons can be found in this article. Moving beyond canon (something suggested but never defined) there’s a further complication, because the moons are also tied to the planes—and each moon enters its ascendant phase when its associated plane is coterminous, and becomes unusually dim when the plane is remote. So while unusual, it’s possible for there to be two or three ascendant moons at a particular time, if multiple coterminous periods converge.

The connection between the planes and the moons is reinforced by the fact that within a plane, the associated moon is the only one that can be seen in the sky (assuming that any moon can be seen; not all planar layers have a visible sky). However, the phase of the moon doesn’t match its current phase on Eberron. It may be fixed in a single phase—such as in Lamannia, where the moon is always full, or it could change from layer to layer.

By canon lore, no humanoid has ever visited one of the moons. Because of this, their nature remains a mystery. They could be similar to the moon of Earth—harsh and barren. It’s possible that they aren’t planetoids at all, but are in fact planar gateways—that a vessel that tries to land on Dravago will find itself in Risia. This would explain why the moons don’t have the expected impact on tides; it may be that they don’t actually have any mass! A third option lies between these two: that the moons are habitable planetoids that are strongly influenced by the planes they are tied to. The moon Vult isn’t inhabited by the angels and demons of Shavarath, but it could be home to societies of tieflings and aasimar locked in an endless war… though unlike the immortals of Shavarath, the people of Vult might decide to turn their aggressive attention to Eberron!

THE SPACE RACE

By canon, Eberron is the only planet in its material plane. Between the planes and the demiplanes of Khyber, there’s ample opportunity for adventurers to explore strange new worlds, and deep space exploration was never planned as part of the setting; we don’t need to have alien invaders come from a distant planet when we already have alien invaders crawling out of Xoriat. Nothing’s stopping the DM from going full Spelljammer and breaking through the wall of stars. But by default, that’s not the story Eberron was designed to tell.

However, you don’t have to go into deep space to have a space race. The Ring of Siberys is a clear target for any advanced nation. Siberys dragonshards are an immensely valuable resource; now that the Five Nations are using dragonshards in an industrial capacity and can see the potential of siberys shards, it’s only logical that people would be looking to the skies and dreaming of the power waiting to be claimed. Beyond the ring you have the moons. Perhaps they’re barren orbs. But if they’re planar gateways they could be the key to serious planar exploration, and if they’re manifest worlds they could hold unknown wonders. So there’s clearly something to be gained from reaching for the sky. And just as in our world, a space race gives a clear, tight focus for the current cold war. The people of the Five Nations may be afraid to start the Last War anew… but which nation will be the first to plant their flag in the Ring of Siberys?

In dealing with the space race, there’s a few questions to consider. What are the obstacles that have to be overcome? Who’s in the race? Who’s already up there? And what might people find?

Obstacles

If all that it takes to reach the moons is to fly straight up, people would have done it long ago. Even though airships are a relatively recent innovation, surely in three decades SOMEONE has determined just how high they can go… and while airships may be new, brooms of flying and similar devices have been around. If there’s no obstacles, there’s no tension and it’s hard to explain why it hasn’t happened. Yet at the same time, this isn’t our reality and there’s no reason that the obstacles to space travel should be the SAME obstacles that we had to overcome. So as a DM planning a space race, consider the following factors.

  • Gravity. If you have to escape the gravity of Eberron to reach the Ring of Siberys, it’s easy to say that no standard methods of flight provide sufficient velocity to accomplish this. This provides room for different nations to be exploring different approaches to attaining that velocity. Elemental binding is an option; how many elementals can you bind to a vessel? Another option is to expand on the arcane principles of levitation, perhaps burning siberys shards to provide a temporary surge of energy. A more exotic option would be to abandon flight in favor of teleportation; imagine flinging a teleport circle anchor at the target.
  • Cosmic Rays. The Ring of Siberys is thought by many to be the source of arcane energy. If so, this radiation could be lethal without proper protection. Alternately, the energy might be harmless, but it could overload unprotected enchantments: until people figure out how to protect against this surge, all magical systems could burn out and shut down in the vicinity of the Ring of Siberys. This could form a deadly layer around the entire planet, or this could be a way to explain why people are aiming for the moons instead of the Ring; because they can’t safely get close to the Ring, but they can avoid it.
  • Oxygen. At what point does the air become too thin to breathe? Is there a vacuum between Eberron and the moons? Because this isn’t natural space, it could be that there IS breathable air throughout the entire system, or that the Ring or the moons have atmosphere—or it could be that the atmosphere largely behaves the way that we’re used to. If oxygen is an obstacle, it doesn’t affect the design of a vessel, but travelers will need to have a solution. Spells and magic items that allow people to breathe underwater could be adapted for this purpose; it’s possible that the same item could work both underwater or in the Ring of Siberys.
  • Hostile Environment. In our world, space travel may require you to deal both with extreme cold or heat. Is the Ring of Siberys shrouded in bitter cold, or is it mysteriously maintained at a comfortable temperature? Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides basic guidelines for dealing with extreme cold, extreme heat, or high altitude. These could be intensified to reflect a truly alien environment, either reducing the time between required saving throws or amplifying the effects of failure. This could also be a factor in vessel design. Airships are made of soarwood; will a wooden ship burn up on re-entry?

Who’s In The Race?

The idea of a space race is that there’s a sense of tension and competition. The Ring of Siberys is too vast for any nation to claim dominion over it. But the first nation to establish an outpost in the Ring or on the moons with have the first opportunity to explore the environment, to harness its resources, and to establish contact with whatever creatures could be found there. The idea is that no nation or dragonmarked house has had unlimited access to Siberys shards; no one knows what could be done with that reliable source. So for purposes of the story, people should KNOW who’s in the race; adventurers could involve helping an allied power gain the resources it needs to advance or acting to block a rival power. So who’s in the race?

One option is to focus on the Five Nations: this is about Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath racing to the sky. A second option is to make it a rivalry between house and nation; perhaps it’s about the Twelve competing against the space program of the Arcane Congress.

Personally, my inclination is to focus on the Five Nations—emphasizing that the Last War has been replaced by a cold war. But I’d also throw in additional alliances. House Cannith is involved with everyone; it’s split in three and the house thus wins in any scenario, but part of the question is who wins; it could be generally understood that the Cannith faction that wins the space race will also claim the leadership of the house. So here’s the factions I’d use in MY space race.

  • Aundair: The Dragonhawk Initiative. Aundair’s space program is an alliance between the Arcane Congress, Cannith West (under Jorlanna d’Cannith), and House Orien. While they are exploring all possibilities, the Dragonhawk Initiative is focusing on teleportation. There are three current paths under investigation: direct teleportation (which also requires scrying to confirm the target point); physical projection of an object that serves as a teleportation circle; or using a passage through a plane to cross space. Thelanis and Xoriat are the planes most tied to these efforts. There is a branch of the Dragonhawk exploring traditional levitation, but leadership is convinced that teleportation is the cleanest and safest approach.
  • Breland: The King’s Observatory. The Observatory is a branch of the King’s Citadel, formed in alliance with Zilargo, Cannith South (under Merrix d’Cannith), and Hosue Lyrandar. While they are exploring traditional levitation techniques, the Observatory is primarily focused on building a better elemental airship, overcoming the obstacles with elemental binding and Cannith ingenuity. Merrix has been experimenting with living ships—a step that could render Lyrandar pilots obsolete. Syrania and Fernia are the planes most associated with their efforts.
  • Karrnath: The Blade of Siberys. The Blade is an alliance between the Karrnathi crown, Cannith East (under Zorlan d’Cannith), and a number of wealthy individuals. Antus ir’Soldorak brings tremendous wealth and mineral resources to the table; Alina Lorridan Lyrris is an expert transmuter and owns the richest khyber shard mines in Khorvaire. The fact that they’re both members of the Platinum Concord of the Aurum is a remarkable coincidence. The Blade of Siberys is primarily interested in reaching the Ring rather than the moons. It is focused on traditional magic of flight, but Zorlan is exploring ways necromancy could be used to solve this problem: ghost astronauts? A shadow engine that draws on the power of the Endless Night? These efforts involve the Mabaran manifest zones in Karrnath, but they are considering the potential of other planes. The Blade is also very focused on the military potential of this program, and any Karrnathi space vessel will be heavily armed.

Thrane is currently a minor player in the race, though the Argentum is exploring the possibilities for an engine that harnesses the power of the Silver Flame itself. Likewise, New Cyre lacks the resources to compete with these main players… but Oargev dreams of establishing a true new Cyre on Olarune.

Who’s Already Up There?

The Five Nations may be working to win the space race, but someone else likely won that race long ago. The dragons of Argonessen are an ancient and advanced civilization, and believe themselves to be the children of Eberron and Siberys; if it’s possible to reach the Ring of Siberys, they surely did it long ago. They could use outposts in the Ring to watch for the appearance of Prophecy marks, and the epic magics unleashed in the destruction of Xen’drik may well have been channeled through siberys shards harvested from the Ring. However, the Ring of Siberys is vast and the dragons are secretive; their outposts are surely well hidden, both physically and magically. Having said that, the dragons may not have bothered to explore the moons—so they could be a truly unexplored frontier.

The giants of ancient Xen’drik were also powerful and advanced. Both the Cul’sir Dominion and the Group of Eleven explored the planes; either one could have ventured into space. Any giant outposts in the Ring of Siberys would have been destroyed by the dragons when they laid waste to Xen’drik, but there could be still be ruins in the Ring. And if a DM wants to introduce a powerful force of giants or empyreans, they could have used a powerful sequester effect to conceal a base in the Ring or on one of the moons.

The Undying Court aren’t involved in the space race. The Ascendant Counselors explore the universe in astral form and have no need to do it physically. The Lords of Dust don’t have any outposts of their own, but they are surely watching all the participants in the space race. As the fiends are the children of Khyber, it’s possible that the pure essence of Siberys is especially repellant to them—that any fiend that approaches the Ring will be destroyed.

These are creatures of Eberron who might have settled above it; possible natives are discussed below.

Exploring the Ring of Siberys

The Ring of Siberys is the logical first stop in the space race, being closer than the moons and having a clear strategic value. If the DM would rather focus on the moons, the magical energies of the Ring can be deadly to living creatures. If the Ring is the destination, the first question is whether the Ring has gravity and atmosphere. This is the most magical place in existence, so anything is possible. The next question is whether the Ring is in fact entirely comprised of massive dragonshards, or if the bulk of it is some other material; it could be a soft stone, that some might see as the calcified flesh of an ancient dragon. Even if there is an atmosphere, the Ring is entirely barren. People may be able to dig into it or build structures on the surface, but there’s no natural sources of food or water; travelers will need to either have strong supply lines, or more likely, to come prepared with ways to magically create food and water.

Magic is dramatically enhanced within the Ring. One option is that all spells cast in the Ring benefit from the Distant Spell and Extended Spell Metamagic options presented in the sorcerer class. But it’s difficult to channel this power; if the DM uses this option, all spellcasting carries the risk of a sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge. With time, it could be that spellcasters could learn unique spells that can only be cast in the magic-rich environment of the Ring.

Even if the energies of the Ring aren’t directly lethal, they can produce many dangerous effects. Just as the energies of the Ring can be used to produce fireballs and lighting bolts, the Ring produces dramatic, unnatural weather effects—bursts of fire, acid rain, illusory manifestations, psychic storms. The Ring also produces living spells, which linger for a time before being absorbed back into the Ring. Other native creatures are rare, given the difficulty of surviving in the RIng. However, just as the rakshasa are said to be the children of Khyber, the native celestials of Eberron—the couatl—are said to have been born of Siberys. While most of the couatl sacrificed their existence to bind the overlords, there could be a few powerful celestials still bound to the Ring. Given that Thrane isn’t a major player in the space race, the first explorers could be surprised to discover embodiments of the Silver Flame itself in the Ring of Siberys.

There’s another exotic possibility. Legends speak of the Irsvern—winged kobolds said to be blessed by Siberys. According to these tales the Irsvern live on the peaks of the tallest mountains; but what if they’re actually natives of the Ring of Siberys? What powers might these children of the Ring possess?

Exploring The Moons

Exploring Eberron provides more details about the planes, and will prove a useful resource whether the moons are planar portals or merely strongly influenced by planes. The main difference between the planar portal and the idea of the manifest world is the degree to which the adventurers can have a lasting impact, and the degree to which the world is an entirely new frontier. The planes are known, even if mortals don’t visit them regularly; and the planes cannot be fundamentally changed. On the other hand, manifest worlds are an opportunity to explore entirely new and alien realms—to have first contact with unknown cultures. This is another a way to introduce exotic races or elements from other settings; perhaps loxodons are from Olarune!

Q&A

Does Arrah orbit Eberron? If so, is it much further away than the moons?

There’s no canon answer to this. What we know is that Eberron has traditional seasons (as defined by the calendar)—that Arrah FUNCTIONS in the way we’re used to a sun working. On the one hand, there’s some logic to Eberron being stuck in the center of its sphere (though it could well be that it rotates in that central point and that Arrah is fixed!).

But let’s consider the Progenitor myth, which again, may or may not be exactly true but is still the closest thing we have to an explanation. In the myth, the Progenitors finish their work and rest in the Material Plane. They kindle Arrah as a campfire. They then fight: Siberys is killed, Eberron and Khyber entwined. Arrah exists BEFORE Eberron becomes a world, and I think it’s perfectly logical to say that ARRAH is at the very center of the plane and that Eberron orbits it. Though another sage could argue that the Progenitors were clearly the focal point of creation and that Arrah would have been pulled into their orbit. So like many things in Eberron, I expect that it’s something sages are actively debating in the world itself.

How do the multiple moons of Eberron affect lycanthropes?

The origin of lycanthropy remains a mystery. All lycanthropes are influenced by the moons, but not all in the same way; this suggests that there may be multiple strains of lycanthropy with different origins. The first strain is only affected by the phases of the moon Olarune; this is typically associated with good-aligned lycanthropes. The second strain of lycanthropy is affected by all of the moons, and multiple full moons can cause extreme behavior; this is the effect reported by the templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and it encourages aggressive behavior and drives victims to quickly succumb to the curse. The third strain of lycanthrope is affected by the moon(s) that were ascendant at the moment of its birth or at the moment it was afflicted; this is common among natural lycanthropes. When adventurers encounter lycanthropes, the DM will have to decide which strain they’re dealing with.

In the past you’ve said that the Gith come from another world… could this be one of the moons?

It’s a possibility, but not the one I personally use. Exploring Eberron goes into more detail about how I use the Gith in my Eberron.

How do the shifter Moonspeakers see the moons? Are they planar portals or more like spiritual guides?

The Moonspeaker druids view the moons as spiritual guides. This doesn’t invalidate the possibility that they are planetoids or portals; the Moonspeakers invoke the spirits of the moons, just as some other druids invoke the spirit of Eberron. With that said, it’s worth noting that this material contradicts the Moonspeaker’s assignment of the moons; I didn’t design the Moonspeaker and I don’t agree with all of its choices.

While the moons correlate with the planes, is there really a correlation with the Dragonmarks, too? The lost moon is tied to Dal Quor, but the lost mark is the Mark of Death, which would have been tied to the same moon as Dolurrh, I would have thought.

There’s a few basic points here. The moons and the planes are both part of creation; they have both existed since the dawn of time. The Dragonmarks have barely existed for three thousand years, and it’s quite possible they were created by the daelkyr. Consider that Crya was lost tens of thousands of years before the Mark of Death even existed! So the ultimate point is that the association of dragonmarks and moons isn’t a concrete, natural FACT as the association of planes and moons is; it’s a superstition, where people have ASSIGNED marks to moons, because hey, twelve marks, twelve moons. And the people who made those assignments may not even know that there once was a thirteenth moon! So it’s possible that people have stumbled onto a cosmic truth in linking these together‚that even those the marks are recent, they tied into this cosmic code. But it could also be entirely speculative.

Having said that, consider what Dolurrh actually is. It’s NOT the “Plane of Death.” Many believe that it is the plane of transition, where the soul leaves its burdens behind and ascends to a higher realm. Aryth is “The Gateway” — and the dragonmark associated with it is the Mark of Passage. The point of this association is that Dolurrh ISN’T actually the destination; it’s a pathway to the unknown realm that lies beyond.

The moons of Eberron are tied to the planes. What about the sun? What’s it tied to?

There is no canon answer to this question, and I’m sure that sages debate it at Arcanix and Korranberg. I’ll give you three answers that all likely have supporters. One is that it represents nothing. It was created by the Progenitors to serve a utilitarian function; it’s the divine campfire. Another is that just as the moons are tied to the planes, the sun represents the MATERIAL plane. A third is tied to the theory that Dolurrh is a gateway that allows people to transition to the Realm of the Sovereigns, a higher realm no mortal can know; some surely believe that Arrah is tied to THAT plane, which is why it’s so much brighter than the moons; it’s a glimpse of the truly celestial realm.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and who keep this blog going! How have you used the moons or the space race in your campaign?

IFAQ: Galifar – One Nation or Five?

As time allows I like to address shorter questions raised by my Patreon supporters. This one comes from Mariamow: I would love to see a breakdown of the fashion of the nations! Specifically how things were pre-last war mostly all being a single nation, how it evolved and why it evolved in that way.

A full nation-by-nation breakdown of fashions is a significant topic; I’ll put it on the Patreon topic poll for June. However, I wanted to take a moment to address the second half of the question: As pre-war Galifar was a single nation, how and why did the Five Nations evolve as they did?

Galifar wasn’t a single nation: it was a united kingdom. Two thousand years ago, the warlord known as Karrn the Conqueror sought to bring the nations of central Khorvaire under his control and failed. A thousand years later, Galifar I succeeded. But unlike Karrn, he didn’t seek to crush these nations and impose Karrnathi culture onto them. Galifar was a diplomat as well as a warrior, and he achieved victory through compromise. He rallied the Dragonmarked Houses to his side with the Korth Edicts. He gained the support of the goblins with the promise of freedom. And with a notable exception, he won acceptance for his rule by respecting the traditions of his defeated enemies. He appointed his children as governors of the conquered nations, and he did rename the nations after them. His homeland of Karrnath remained unchanged, but the nation of Thaliost became Aundair; Daskara became Thrane; Wroat became Breland; and Metrol became Cyre. But his children took local nobles as their spouses, and for the most part local leaders who swore fealty to Galifar and accepted his laws and edicts were allowed to keep their positions and lands. Rather than crushing the cultures of the nations, he largely embraced them and sought to harness their strengths for the greater good. Notably, each nation was granted one of the major institutions of Galifar—something that built on their existing strengths but which also served as a cultural anchor and point of pride moving forward.

  • Aundair had the strongest system of general education (later used as a model for all of Galifar) and the greatest expertise in wizardry and artifice. The was chosen as the home of the Arcane Congress, Galifar’s center for mystical research and education.
  • Breland became the seat of the King’s Citadel, service both as the strong shield of the ruler and as their eyes and ears. Beyond this, Breland would also evolve into a major center for commerce and industry. All of these were supplemented by its close ties to Zilargo, which remained culturally independent but under the general jurisdiction of Breland.
  • Karrnath had the oldest and strongest martial tradition. Rekkenmark was both the most prestigious military academy in Galifar and the secondary seat of military administration.
  • Thrane was known for its devotion to the Sovereign Host, and was the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host. The temple was devastated during the Year of Blood and Fire; following the sacrifice of Tira Miron, the majority of the people of Thrane converted to the faith of the Silver Flame, and the Grand Temple was replaced by Flamekeep.
  • Cyre was the exception to the rule of maintaining the existing culture. Here Galifar displaced the existing nobility and built a nation that would be a model for the kingdom as a whole—drawing on the cultural strengths of all five nations to and creating something new. This was a source of pride for the new Cyrans, but a bitter pill for the displaced nobles of Metrol (largely granted new lands in what is now Valenar)—and in general, there was a lingering resentment that Cyre’s prosperity was built with the sweat of the other nations.

So people considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar, but they still thought of themselves as Cyrans, Brelish, or Aundairian. The sourcebook Forge of War includes a map of Galifar before the war, and again, it’s not one nation: it’s five.

Galifar was a metropolitan society. Part of the point of spreading its major institutions across the continent is that people would go to Aundair to learn magic or to Karrnath to study war and then return to their homelands. So the nations weren’t isolated, and Cyre in particular strove to draw inspiration from all of the nations. Nonetheless, Karrns were the most likely to serve as soldiers and Aundairians the most likely to become scholars or wizards.

So while the cultures of the Five Nations have deep roots in the pre-Galifar nations, the traits most associated with them today—Aundair’s arcane strength, Thrane’s devotion—developed under Galifar. In the previous article I mentioned that the soldiers of the Five Nations started from a common base for their uniforms, because the ARMY was the army of Galifar; but the soldiers within the army had always thought of themselves as Brelish, Aundairian, etc and when they changed into civilian clothing it would reflect their local culture.

All of which is to say that there’s certainly room for a longer discussion of the cultures and fashions of the Five Nations when I have time to write about them! Until then, in dealing with the Five Nations the key point is to remember that while they have only been independent nations for a century, they Five Nations have traditions and cultural identities that go back far longer than that.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! As determined by the poll on Patreon, the my next major article will concern the moons and the potential for a space race in Eberron.

Dragonmarks: Aesthetics & Armor

Art by Júlio Azevedo for Exploring Eberron

Eberron is a world where you have the lightning rail, where warforged can be mass-produced, where the towers of Sharn scrape the sky. But it’s also a world where your character might be a knight in plate armor hitting things with a sword. So what does that look like? Does the world feel medieval, or is the aesthetic closer to World War I?

In creating Eberron, the design team made a conscious decision to keep the experience of the world grounded in D&D. This meant that people would still wear plate armor. They’d ride horses instead of motorcycles. They’d fight using swords and bows rather than using a version of firearms. So part of the point is that we didn’t want to make classic armor or weaponry obsolete. With the introduction of the wandslinger in fifth edition it’s possible to see how the world is moving in that direction—one of my favorite quotes from the Wayfinder’s Guide is the Aundairian exclaiming “Sovereigns above, Wyllis. We’re days away from the Eleventh Century and you’re still shooting people with pointed sticks?” So we are REACHING a point where the warlock wearing leather armor and carrying a wand is just as plausible a soldier as the fighter in plate with sword and shield. But for now it is still a world where armies clash with sword and spear.

With that said, the basic concept of Eberron is that it is a world in which magic has taken the place of the science we know. It’s a world that has trains, yes: but that train doesn’t use steam or gears, it’s a series of stagecoaches that ride a line of lightning. It’s NOT our world, and while the tools people use may have medieval names, that doesn’t mean they are medieval in form. I discussed this in a previous article dealing with crossbows, but it is equally important when thinking about armor. Heavy armor became obsolete in our world because crossbows and gunpowder weapons could easily penetrate it, and the protective value of the armor no longer offset its limitations on movement. But consider a few facts about armor in D&D…

  • Heavy armor provides equal protection against all weapons. Plate armor provides significantly better protection than leather armor, regardless of whether your attacker is using a sword, a heavy crossbow, or even a modern firearm (if you use the rules provided in the DMG).
  • Heavy armor is remarkably flexible. As long as you meet the Strength requirement, the only limitation it imposes is disadvantage on Stealth checks: it’s NOISY. But unlike previous editions, it doesn’t reduce your movement speed. And it doesn’t impose disadvantage on, say, Acrobatics or Sleight of Hand checks. That implies remarkable ease of movement. And, you can wear it all day without worrying about sores or other problems.

You can choose to look at these as the limitations of a casual rules system. But the alternative is to accept the idea that this isn’t medieval armor. It is “plate” armor, yes. It’s literally heavy and it requires a certain level of Strength to use it effectively. In terms of its materials and appearance, it’s not medieval. The same concept applies to other “medieval” things. Orien couriers use a form of horseshoes of speed that channel the power of their dragonmark (thus reducing the rarity) to give a mount greater speed and durability. So yes, people are riding horses instead of motorcycles, but that Orien courier can tear past you with blue light flashing from the hooves of the horse; less frequently you might even see a courier with horseshoes of a zephyr riding a horse across the surface of a river. It’s a MAGICAL world; don’t just think “No cars means it’s primitive”, highlight what they’ve developed instead. Mention the squad of Vadalis hippogriffs passing overhead, or the street performer weaving wonders out of illusion; it’s not medieval, it’s magical.

Magic is a part of life, and is very much a part of fashion. Glamerweave is a form of common magic item that imbues clothing with illusion. A sorcerer may wear a cloak that’s lined with a starry sky. A former soldier could have glowing sigils representing the medals bestowed upon them in their service etched into their armor. Consider also shiftweave, a common magic item that allows the wearer to shift between multiple outfits—so someone who can afford a common magic item can shift between their traveling outfit and a shimmering gown with a snap of their fingers. Exploring Eberron will also discuss cosmetic transmutation—the idea that you can go to a cosmetic illusionist and add magical details to your appearance. In Aundair in particular you can expect to see people with glowing eyes, metallic hair, or other cosmetic details that are obviously the product of magic.

Art by Olie Boldador for Exploring Eberron

Pulling back to armor and common appearance for a moment: Consider that Khorvaire is just two years out from decades of war. All genders served in the armies of the Five Nations. Combined together, you’ll see a trend toward practical clothing that allows freedom of movement. The closer you were to the front lines, the more you wanted to be ready for anything. Nobles might embrace fashions that restrict movement to make a statement—my fancy gown shows that I’m NOT going to fight, or that if I do it will be with magic, not muscle—but that would stand as an exception. Tied to this, armor has become a part of everyday life. Especially in the case of light armor, leather and even studded leather can be designed to be stylish and comfortable. Many former soldiers wear a modified form of their service armor. Think of it a little bit like gunslingers in westerns; carrying a pistol suggests you can handle yourself, but it’s not going to immediately raise alarm. The same is true of armor; heavy armor is definitely making a statement, but people won’t blink at someone causally wearing light armor.

So with that in mind, consider that the names of armors in D&D are arbitrary. A deeper system might explore the advantages and disadvantages of chainmail versus rigid armor; current D&D doesn’t. So consider chain shirt, scale mail, and breastplate:

  • These are all “metal armor” for spells and effects that target metal armor.
  • “Scale mail” is 20 lbs heavier and applies disadvantage to your Stealth Check, but provides better protection.
  • A “breastplate” is the same weight as a “chain shirt” but provides the same protection as “scale mail” while not imposing disadvantage on Dexterity checks.

Mechanically, these are the factors that matter: weight, AC, disadvantage on Stealth, metal armor… and the fact that someone who examines you can recognize those things. Everything else is story. There’s no reason that you can’t say that the Doldarun dwarves produce exceptionally strong, light chainmail that has the same characteristics as a breastplate rather than being heavy armor. Essentially, there’s no reason that “breastplate” armor has to BE a breastplate—as long as someone looking at the wearer can recognize the qualities of their armor. This likewise applies to, say, “studded leather.” It doesn’t have to actually involve STUDS; it is leather armor reinforced with metal, but that could be strips, metal vambraces and shinguards, etc; what’s important is that someone can say “Oh, it’s reinforced leather armor, that’ll have the stats of studded.”

Putting all of this to practical purpose, let’s talk about the common uniforms of soldiers of the Five Nations. Consider that they all BEGAN as soldiers of the army of Galifar, so while nations would evolve their own styles over the course of the war, it’s reasonable that they’d have a common base style used for conscripts. I imagine leather armor as either a leather greatcoat or, as shown with Greykell in the image above, a leather tunic supplemented with gauntlets or vambraces and high boots or shinguards. Advancing to studded leather you’d add metal to the vambraces and shinguards, and studs or strips of metal to the leather. Moving to medium armor, you’d add a metal helmet and breastplate. The standard model would MECHANICALLY be “scale mail”—but it’s a metal cuirass that’s heavy enough (that extra weight) that it applies the Stealth penalty. The improved model —the “breastplate”—is the same basic design, but uses stronger alloys to produce a thinner, lighter model that doesn’t impose the Stealth penalty. Advancing to heavy armor, I’d still keep the same cuirass design, but add chain beneath it. Now, this is definitely where you’d start to see national variation; the Karrns have always been the finest armorers of the Five Nations and will make more use of heavy armor, both in their armies and among their nobles; this can be more stylized, and even aside from the infamous bone knights you can expect gothic styling or details tied to a family crest. Meanwhile, actual chainmail would be more common in the Mror Holds and the Lhazaar Principalities… and again, I could imagine a Mror champion with reinforced double-chain that is effectively plate armor, even though it’s described as heavy chainmail.

All of this has been a very long way to say a simple thing: Just because people in Eberron use tools WE think of as medieval doesn’t mean they are medieval. You can adjust the appearance of everything from a crossbow to plate armor to make it feel more modern in its design, and you shouldn’t feel limited by the NAME of a type of armor as long as you logically maintain its STATISTICS and that someone can recognize that—again, nothing wrong with a Mror champion having chainmail “plate” as long as people KNOW that they’re fighting someone with the capabilities of plate armor.

I don’t have time to get into the individual fashions of each of the Five Nations now, but if patrons are interested in the topic, bring it up on Patreon and I may address it in an IFAQ or as a poll topic. But here’s a very high-level overview:

  • Aundair is the most magical of the Five Nations. They have the most significant number of wandslingers, and you’ll see more of a focus on the classic “musketeer”—lighter armor and wand. While mobility is key, Aundairians are definitely concerned with appearance and fashion, and are the most likely to use glamerweave or cosmetic transmutation to produce exotic effects. In general, Aundairians favor grace, mobility, and skill over heavy armor and brute strength.
  • Breland has always been called out for its industrial capacity and pragmatic nature. I see them as holding to the standard leather-and-cuirass design. People like to have some touch of personal flair, but they aren’t going to be as exotic about it as Aundairians or Cyrans.
  • Cyre falls between these two: not as dramatic as the Aundairians, but placing importance on personal style. In the past we’ve called out that Cyran fashions incorporate gloves and cloaks, with varying styles for the occasion—heavy cloak for traveling, short cloak for socializing, light long cloak with a glamerweave lining for the gala. Jewelry is likewise important for Cyrans—not necessarily holding great value, but as a form of personal expression. The fashion of “Mourningwear” is to maintain this style, but in black.
  • Karrnath is both gothic and martial in its overall style. It’s common to wear some form of armor, and heavy armor is more commonly used both on and off of the battlefield. Armor and helmets are designed to intimidate; in contrast to Aundair, in Karrnath strength is emphasized. The flag of Karrnath is black and red, and both these colors are common in their fashions.
  • Thrane is the most practical and least pretentious of the Five Nations. Templars may wear heavy armor, but the common peasant militias relies on light armor and bows. Light clothing is common, but subdued; cosmetic transmutation and glamerweave are rare. Followers of the Silver Flame will usually display a symbol of their faith, whether pendants, brooches, or painted designs.

That’s all I have time for today! Hopefully it’s been interesting. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going, and to patron dglover for the question that inspired this post. The next major article—as chosen by the patrons—will be on the moons and the space race in Eberron, though there may be another short article before that. Add your thoughts on fashions in Eberron in the comments!

IFAQ: Show Business in Eberron

When I have time, I like to address some of the infrequently asked questions from my Patreon supporters. Today’s question comes from Ben:

How do you envision an Eberron theatre? Probably more than just The Globe with continual flame footlights, right?

Absolutely! The issue is that “theatre” covers a wide range of performances and performance spaces. The Grand Stage of Sharn employs the latest techniques and has all sorts of expensive equipment, while the Classic Theater offers minimalist performances at more reasonable prices.

Most theatre companies have a shadow orchestra. This includes one or more magewrights who use thaumaturgy and minor illusion to provide sound and dramatic effects (Thunder! Doors slamming! The roar of a dragon off stage!). Light is indeed provided by continual flame footlights (permanent), and in my opinion the orchestra can use thaumaturgy to brighten, dim, or change the color of this illumination; when performed by a trained technician on theatrical lights this effect lasts for more than a minute, so this is how you raise and lower lights, change the mood, etc.

Exceptional actors will also know thaumaturgy and many will be able to cast disguise self. Following the general principle that magewright spells can vary from standard spells, I’d say that the theatrical version of disguise self has to be cast as a ritual, but that the effect lasts for up to three hours—so it will last for the length of a performance. As not all actors will have this training, there’s common magic items that provide the voice amplification effect of thaumaturgy, along with shiftweave and similar tools for costuming.

Beyond that: the entertainment industry is dominated by the houses of Shadow. The power of the dragonmarked houses largely comes from focus items that amplify the powers of the mark, like the sending stones of House Sivis—and spells of up to 3rd level are part of wide magic. Thus, when you’re dealing with a professional Phiarlan or Thuranni theatre, you’ll have a shadow weaver—a podium that allows an operator with the Mark of Shadow to cast major image, which lets you create images, sounds, and even smells. So with this, the shadow orchestra can create anything from elaborate lighting, weather, fire, explosions, or even monsters charging on stage. In the finest Phiarlan theatres, the stage has an embedded focus item that has an effect similar to hallucinatory terrain (though able to function within a building). Traveling companies of Phiarlan’s Carnival of Shadows have such a focus item mounted in a wagon, allowing them to create an amazing set within minutes.

So the short form is that theatre will often employ illusory effects, from simple lightning and amplification of sound to more dramatic special effects. I’ll also call out the crystal theaters that have been mentioned a few times. Phiarlan’s answer to movie theaters, these use a scrying effect to project the image of a live performance on one of the house’s main stages.

In considering Eberron theater, one should also keep changelings in mind. Given that disguise self exists and that most major performances don’t require a star to SWITCH appearance, changelings may not be the stars of every show, but almost every company has at least one changeling actor who serves as understudy and plays a host of minor roles. Tavick’s Landing in Sharn is notable for changeling street performers, and while traveling changeling troupes aren’t as grand as the Carnival of Shadows, they are extremely versatile. While changelings have little use for disguise self, professional entertainers will still learn thaumaturgy and minor illusion; instead of disguise self, a changeling magewright entertainer will typically learn silent image.

Have you use the theatre in your adventures? share your story in the comments!

Exploring Eberron: The Thunder Sea

Art by Vincentius Matthew

Since Eberron began, I’ve wanted to explore aquatic civilizations. Merfolk, sahuagin, locathah—these creatures are just as intelligent (or more so) than humans. So what are their civilizations like? How do they interact with one another, and with the world above? With that said, there’s more land below the water than there is above, and no reason to think its cultures aren’t just as diverse as those of the surface dwellers. Dealing with every aquatic nation of Eberron would be a book in itself. So in Exploring Eberron I focus on the Thunder Sea, which lies between Khorvaire. Aerenal, and Xen’drik. Sharn and Stormreach are two of the ports adventurers are most likely to deal with; this explores the sea that lies between them and what you can find below it.

These two pages provide an overview of the chapter, and I’m not going to expand on it in depth here because the book itself will do that soon. But I can say that these two pages are literally the tip of the iceberg. The Eternal Dominion, the merfolk of Karakala, the Valraen Protectorate, the mysterious kar’lassa—all of these are dealt with in this section, and each provides a host of interesting hooks for adventures or adventurers.

The raw text of Exploring Eberron is complete, but I’m not going to predict a release date until layout is complete. The final text is still going through editing, and with a book of this size layout and review will take time. So we haven’t crossed the ocean yet, but we can see land on the horizon!

IFAQ: Who Trusts The Trust?

My Patreon supporters are currently voting on the subject of the next long article, but when time permits I like to address shorter, infrequently asked questions. Today’s question comes from Neut:

It is my understanding that the Zil Gnomes are very willing to use assassination as a valid tool for progression (be it professional, or just enforcing secrets being kept). How does this not conflict with the Code of Galifar, which as far as I have understood, still exists within the recognized Thronehold Nations?

There’s vital misunderstanding here. Assassination is NOT a valid tool for progression in Zilargo. Murder, theft, and all other major crimes recognized under the Code of Galifar are crimes in Zilargo. What defines Zilargo isn’t the laws themselves; it’s how they are enforced. This is clearly called out on page 131 of Rising From The Last War:

Zil gnomes live their lives within a web of intrigues. The Trust condones their actions, as long as they break no laws and don’t threaten the state or the status quo. A gnome charlatan can connive to steal a jewel mine from another gnome—as long as the charlatan accomplishes the deed through cunning, negotiation, or deception rather than violence or outright theft, and as long as the mine stays in Zil hands.

So Zil culture encourages intrigue, but only when it DOESN’T involve breaking the law. So… why might someone have this mistaken impression of Zil society as a place where assassination and poisoning are commonplace? It’s not because of what the law allows; it’s about how the laws are enforced. It’s about The Trust. This is an organization of spies and assassins who act to maintain order in Zilargo. Rising suggests that as much of a third of the population of Zilargo serve the Trust in some way, primarily as informants. By combining this massive network with excellent divination techniques, the Trust knows everything that happens in Zilargo—or at least, that’s what they want to think. There is no due process in Zilargo. If you even PLAN to break the law, the Trust can pass sentence and take action. Now: assassination isn’t the automatic punishment for all crimes; that would be ridiculously extreme. The first step is just a warning, a ghost sound whisper of “I wouldn’t do that.” They might just impose a fine, or exile you. The main point is that the gnomes don’t like confrontation and they don’t believe in imprisonment. If they feel that you can’t safely be a part fo society and exile isn’t a logical answer, they will remove you from society permanently, and do so in a quiet way with minimal impact on everyone else.

So: Zil gnomes do NOT see assassination as a valid tool for progression. On the whole, the Zil are MORE law-abiding than the people of the Five Nations. The Zil take pride in the fact that you can walk through the alleys of Trolanport at night without carrying a weapon—because they know the Trust is watching them, and that it will both protect them from any malefactors and kill them if they step out of line. They will push up to the edge of the law with their intrigues, but they won’t cross it.

Just to set the tone of the Trust, consider this quote from the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 406:

Two years after Zilargo was founded, a pamphlet was distributed across the nation announcing the existence of the Trust and the role it would play in days to come. This tract lauded the shared virtues of the Zil: love of family, ingenuity, curiosity, and the ability to overcome adversity through wit and wisdom. The pamphlet acknowledged that friendly competition between neighbors is the whetstone that keeps wits sharp. Competition would be accepted—crime would not. The precise definition of crime is quite vague, and it ends  “To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours.”

The essential point is this. To most of us, Zilargo sounds like a terrifying nightmare. It’s an absolute surveillance state where at least one in three people is an informer, and where secret police are authorized to preemptively assassinate you when you haven’t even committed a crime yet. You don’t get to see your accuser or offer a defense, and the only force policing the Trust is the Trust itself. But it’s not terrifying to the Zil, because they actually trust the Trust. They truly believe that it only uses its unchecked power for the good of Zilargo, and so far—as hard as this is for most outsiders to conceive of—that seems to be the case. The Zil are willing to sacrifice their privacy and some measure of their freedom for absolute security, and they are proud of the fact that their homeland has the lowest crime rate in Khorvaire—even if that’s because you can potentially be killed for even planning a crime.

So to the original question, this is acceptable under the Code of Galifar because the Code establishes what is considered a crime; but individual nations can decide how to enforce the laws and how they punish crimes. Both Zilargo and Karrnath impose harsh systems of justice on top of the foundation of the Code. Murder is a crime: but in these nations, the forces of the law have a license to kill.

How do the Zil view how OTHER nations establish their laws and punishments? How do they treat people who are not Zil and do not understand the Trust?

The Zil think that other nations are dangerous cesspools of crime and violence, though they understand that the rest of the world just doesn’t get their trust of the Trust. So the Zil think their way of life is superior, which is why they support it so strongly. With that in mind, the job of the Trust is to protect the people of Zilargo, not to coddle outsiders. If you pose a threat you will be dealt with. However, assassination isn’t the first choice. Remember that whole thing about a third of the nation working for the Trust? The first step is to DISSUADE you. Warn you that you’re being watched. Remind you that people don’t do things that way in Zilargo. Potentially, drug you and toss you on the first boat to Sharn, warning you never to return. The important point here is that it shouldn’t be impossible for adventurers to adventure in Zilargo—but they need to understand that they can’t just resort to brute force or do things the same way they would in Sharn; they need to play the game. If I’m running a Zil story, I will make sure the PCs have a local guide who will call out the risks and offer alternatives. “You do that and you’re all going to get killed. But if you want to get that same result, you could do it THIS way.”

How would the Trust handle high-level (15+) PCs coming to Zilargo? What preparations would they make to handle potential violations of laws and norms by people who will be hard to intimidate or control?

The first and simplest step is to send a very clear warning. “We’re pleased your business brings you to Zilargo. We are aware of your destructive activities in [[INSERT PLACE NAME]], and for your benefit and ours we want to inform you that we will not tolerate any violation of our laws. We will not risk our citizens in any kind of open conflict. If we are forced to take action against you it will be decisive and final; we are also prepared to take retaliatory action against [[NPC YOU CARE ABOUT]]. There will be no further warning. Do not put us to the test.”

Now, there’s two critical questions here. The first is COULD the Trust defeat high level player characters, and the answer to that is YES. The second is more important, and it’s does anyone want that to happen? And the answer to that is NO. The Trust will know everything there is to know about the PCs. Their secrets. Their weaknesses. The magic items they rely on and the spells they like to use. The Zil aren’t warriors; they are experts in illusion and divination, and fighting them will be like being the chump in a heist movie. They’ll steal your magic items and replace them with mundane duplicates. They can poison every drink you take, with a poison tailored to kick in… NOW. Heck, this room we’re standing in? It’s designed to drop into a sphere of annihilation, because we are NOT taking chances. But that’s back to the second question. They COULD do this, but none of us wants that. They don’t want to burn that awesome sphere of annihilation trap, and no player wants their character to be destroyed with no save. So set aside the idea of whether they can beat the PCs and instead say “How can they get the PCs out of Zilargo as quickly and safely as possible.” Which means that instead of FIGHTING the PCs, the most likely answer is that the Trust will HELP them to get what they want — either obviously or secretly. They’ll surround the PCs with undercover agents, who will make sure that the PCs get the information they need as quickly as possible. Heck, if the PCs are looking for an object, it could just turn up on their bed with a note saying “You can go now.” Again, the Trust doesn’t LIKE assassinating people; it’s just always looking for the most efficient way to protect the people of Zilargo.

What about the practice of slavery in Darguun? That’s a clear violation of the Code of Galifar.

This is certainly true. The Code strictly outlaws slavery, but there are Marguul and Ghaal’dar clans who practice it. The main issue is that Lhesh Haruuc wants to put an end to it, but currently lacks the support among the Ghaal’dar warlords to do so. So the question is what happens next. Everyone is still recovering from the war and foreign leaders understand Haruuc is in a difficult position; as long as he’s seen to be working toward it, I think most leaders will be satisfied. The most likely scenario is that if he fails to make significant progress in a few years, at least some nations will impose economic and diplomatic sanctions—putting pressure on Haruuc to take more decisive action.

To the upshot of that is: Thronehold nations are supposed to adhere to and uphold the Code of Galifar. They can go further if they choose, and both Karrnath and Zilargo do. However, it’s not yet clear what will happen if a nation fails to uphold the Code, because the Treaty has only been in force for two years and no one has yet called out a major violation and demanded an international response; the system has yet to be put to the test. But Darguun is currently failing to enforce the Code and it that’s not resolved soon, it could become an issue. This also applies to Valenar’s acts of aggression. These do violate the terms of the Treaty, but so far they haven’t been significant enough to push someone to take action.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going!

IFAQ: Mysteries of History

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters to choose a topic for a major article, and that poll will happen next week. But in the process I get a lot of smaller, infrequently asked questions that can be addressed quickly. Today’s IFAQ comes from Patrick.

I’m always having trouble thinking of what the mortal inhabitants of the world would know in terms of history – and to which degree history has been researched with the aid of magic. For instance, would it be common knowledge that the Age of Giants ended roughly 40,000 years ago? How would that be supported – divination magic perhaps? Would Morgrave University teach chronomantic spells so scholars visiting ancient ruins could catch glimpses of what once happened?

This is one of the tricky questions in any setting. As players and DMs, we have access to a perfect source of information that tells us everything there is to know about the setting. But what do the people IN the world know, and how do they know it? This is complicated by the fact that (thanks in part to the existence of long-lived races like elves and dragons), the scope of history is VAST. By the canon timeline, the civilization of the giants fell forty thousand years ago. In OUR world, forty thousand years ago Neanderthals were making flutes out of bones; the Cro-magnon were still thousands of years from achieving dominance. The timeline of the Empire isn’t that far off Mesopotamia in our world, and again, we all know a great deal about Mesopotamia, right? So it’s reasonable to wonder how much people would know about these truly ancient civilizations.

The 3.5 Player’s Guide to Eberron and the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide both have tables that provide exactly this sort of information, listing skills like History, Arcana, and Religion and setting the DC to know specific facts. Since this is an IFAQ—which means, short answer—I’ll leave that there; if you want to know WHAT people know, you can check one of those out. But that leaves the question of HOW do the people of the Five Nations know these things?

The first answer is simple. Yes, they know the Age of Giants ended 40,000 years ago, because they learned about it from the elves. Aereni civilization is an unbroken path that goes all the way back to Xen’drik, and they care deeply about their history. Aside from the fact that the Five Nations has long had diplomatic relations with Aerenal and there’s an exchange of information, there’s been a significant number of Aereni immigrants over the course of thousands of years, including both House Phiarlan—a house that originally specialized in bards, people who preserved information—and the elves exiled after the fall of the Line of Vol. One of Phiarlan’s branches is the Demesne of Memory, which is all about history and the written word. And, of course, Phiarlan is about ENTERTAINMENT; it’s quite likely that even in the Five Nations, you have at least a few plays, operas, and popular songs that romanticize the battles of the elves and giants.

This same principle applies to later history. Dhakaani civilization collapsed and the Ghaal’dar themselves know little of it… and the Heirs of Dhakaan are largely unknown and not inclined to share their knowledge. But the elves fought the Dhakaani. There are Tairnadal patron ancestors who are celebrated for fighting the dar, and members of the Undying Court who may have personally negotiated with Dhakaani leaders, back in their mortal lives. So once you get to the rise of the Undying Court, you have people with (un)living memory of a vast scope of history — even if, thanks to their insular nature, that may not go very deep.

So that answers the question of whether people understand the BROAD scope of history: yes, they do, because unlike in our world, in Eberron you can essentially go TALK to a Neanderthal leader, and his distant descendants still carefully practice his bone-flute-making techniques.

But the next question is: How MUCH do they know and do they use magic to do it? How much is, again, answered in the PGtE and ECG. An important point here is to always stop and think “What makes a good story?” Because ultimately that’s what matters most. We don’t actually WANT the people of the Five Nations to know everything there is to know about the giants of Xen’drik, because it makes a better adventure to have your characters be on the cutting edge of finding it all out. Yes, the people of the Five Nations know that the Age of Giants ended 40,000 years ago, and scholars even know that the largest and most powerful giant civilization was the Cul’sir Dominion. But they DON’T know what actually happened to the Emperor Cul’sir. They don’t know exactly what happened to the 13th moon, even if some scholars know the giants had something to do with it. Which means your adventurers could learn those answers by finding the Cul’sir Moonbreaker and destroy the emperor’s demi-lich! It’s good for people to have a broad scope of history to know “There was a great nation that fell in war” – but it will usually be more compelling to players to uncover history in the field instead of through a book report.

Which gets us back to the use of magic. The answer is certainly, yes, people DEFINITELY use magic as a tool for archaeology. But remember that the wide magic of the Five Nations tops out at around 3rd level. Which means that speak with dead is absolutely in the quiver of your adventuring archaeologist, but commune or legend lore generally aren’t. It is VERY likely that they do employ chronomantic and divination techniques designed specifically for this purpose, but keep in mind that they should be of about that 1st-3rd level of power; they might show scenes, but they aren’t providing the kind of information you’d expect to get from a 5th or 6th level spell. And it’s also quite possible that they are rituals that may take a while to perform. These are academic tools, and won’t be fine-tuned for the adventurer who needs to cast things in 6 seconds. It might take an hour for a magewright archaeologist to perform the ghosts of the past ritual… and, of course, they’ll need someone to protect them while they do it!

So in short: the people of the Five Nations know the broad scope of history but don’t know a lot of specific details. Scholars know more, and the EPG and ECG give a broad set of skill checks for this purpose. Magic is used to research history, but common magic only goes to 3rd level and spells or rituals may not be optimized for use by player characters. Finally, always consider what will make the best story, and whether you WANT information to come from a skill role or whether adventurers might be making historic discoveries through their actions.

I’d also like to learn what people, both laymen and scholars, know about the history of humanity on Sarlona, given how it’s easier to explore Xen’drik than to convince the Inspired to let anyone past their port city.

Good point, double so because the elves had no contact with the people of Sarlona so that route is closed. The answer is definitely that they remember some things because they brought history with them. The modern faith of the Sovereign Host was established in the Sarlonan nation of Pyrine. But that nation fell in the Sundering over a thousand years ago, and archaeologists CAN’T go visit its sites. And while the modern faith is called “The Pyrinean Creed”, with proficiency in History or Religion a commoner probably doesn’t know what “Pyrine” is (A priest? A city? A nation? All of the above?). With checks people know the names and stories that they have either pieced together from the preserved records and traditions or through use of divination. But largely, the nations of old Sarlona are MORE mysterious to people of the Five Nations than the giants of Xen’drik.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for asking great questions.

Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead

Every month, my Patreon supporters select a topic for a major Eberron article. This month’s choice was the plane of Dolurrh. Additional information about Dolurrh and all of the planes of Eberron is coming soon inExploring Eberron!

Endless caverns stretch throughout Dolurrh, bleak passages of gray stone. Wherever you go, shadowy figures reach towards you, imploring, but you feel only the faintest chill as their insubstantial fingers pass through you. Mist pools around your feet, and as you press forward you realize this swirling mist is moaning. This is no natural phenomenon; these are the remnants of souls who have forgotten their original form. This is Dolurrh, where mortal souls go after their bodies die, where memories fade and lives are forgotten.

Mortal spirits are drawn to Dolurrh within moments of death, and their memories begin to decay immediately. Within days, most spirits no longer have any desire to leave Dolurrh; within weeks, most only have the faintest memories of their previous lives. The faiths of Aerenal and the Blood of Vol assert that Dolurrh is the absolute end of existence, the last echoes of a life before it is gone completely. But when Dorius Alyre ir’Korran drew his classic planar map he used the octogram symbol of the Sovereign Host to represent Dolurrh, because he declared it to be the door through which all mortals must pass to join with the Sovereigns. This has come to be a common view: what appears to be memory fading is actually the soul slowly ascending to a higher form of existence, rising to a level of reality no mortal can experience. The vassals of the Sovereign Host say the faithful finally join the Sovereigns; followers of the Silver Flame say that noble souls strengthen the Flame. What is left behind is a husk—the cast-off remnants, like an abandoned snakeskin or the traces of memory that can be read using speak with dead. Thus, while Dolurrh has long been known as the Realm of the Dead, there are many who call it The Gateway. Ultimately, this is a matter of faith. Whether the other side of Dolurrh is oblivion or paradise, no one ever returns from it.

All living creatures will come to Dolurrh, sooner or later. Those that come here before death are almost always looking for something: a lost soul, a forgotten memory. But living or dead, any who come to Dolurrh can be trapped by its power.

Universal Traits

Everything about Dolurrh is gray and gloomy. Even the brightest colors seem faded, the most joyful sounds seem dull. The heavy weight weight of ennui settles on travelers the moment they arrive, making even the simplest tasks feel challenging. And there is a constant pull, tugging on memory and emotion, a desire to just sit down and let it all go.

  • Eternal Ennui. When you enter Dolurrh, you immediately gain one level of ennui (described below). This cannot be removed by rest or any other effect. It is immediately removed when you leave Dolurrh.
  • Impeded Magic. In order to cast a spell of 1st level or higher in Dolurrh, you must succeed on a spellcasting ability check with a DC equal to 10 + the level of the spell. On a failed check, the spell is not cast and its spell slot is not expended, but the action is lost.
  • Timeless. Time passes on Dolurrh at the same rate as on Eberron. But creatures on Dolurrh don’t age, and do not need to eat, sleep, or drink. Other natural processes may be delayed, though living creatures can benefit from resting normally and can suffer damage and die.
  • Inevitable Entrapment. Every time you complete a short or long rest, you must make a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw. If you fail, you gain one level of ennui. Each time you make this saving throw, the difficulty increases by 1. If you don’t complete a rest over the course of a 24 hour period, you must make this saving throw at dawn.

Ennui reflects the soul-sapping power of Dolurrh. It’s gained in levels, and duplicates the effects of exhaustion. However, it affects all creatures, including undead and other creatures immune to exhaustion. Ennui saps motion and memory. When a creature reaches six levels of ennui, its will is completely broken and it can take no purposeful action; if this happens to a living creature, its physical body dies and it becomes a husk bound to Dolurrh. Ennui is separate from exhaustion, and levels don’t stack. If a creature has both ennui and exhaustion, use which has more levels to determine the effects.

Undead cannot recover from ennui while in Dolurrh. If a living creature completes a long rest and succeeds on the saving throw against Inevitable Entrapment by 5 or more, they reduce their ennui level by 1. Creatures native to Dolurrh are immune to Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment, but still have to deal with the effects of Impeded Magic.

DENIZENS OF DOLURRH

The Quick

The native creatures of Dolurrh are bound to the cycle of transition, and all have some role to serve in this process. Nalfeshnee demons patrol the Catacombs of Dolurrh, dispersing melds and lemures and dealing with mortal intruders; Dolurrhi nalfeshnee appear as large humanoids whose features are shrouded by gray mist. Marut inevitables are more powerful guardians, and are occasionally dispatched to Eberron to intervene with acts of resurrection. No one is sure what triggers this deadly intervention, but Jorasco healers will always cast augury before raising the dead; if the result is “woe” they will refuse the job. Finally, the shadar-kai are servants of the Queen of the Dead, shades granted new life in this form. They serve her in the Vault of Memories and occasionally as her hands on Eberron, though their actions are almost always enigmatic. Other denizens of Dolurrh are unique. The Librarian is found in the Vault of Memories, while the Smith of Souls dwells in the Crucible; both are described later in this section.

The Dead

The spirits of the dead are omnipresent in Dolurrh. Shades are souls that are freshly arrived in Dolurrh, and maintain a portion of their memory and original appearance. They are insubstantial and can’t interact with material objects. Shades that are overcome by ennui become husks, which have only the vaguest memories of their past lives or awareness of their surroundings. Occasionally a group of husks cluster around one strong memory, forming an ectoplasmic mass called a meld that seeks more memories to consume; these are presented in more detail in Exploring Eberron.

Sometimes a shade clings to a memory with such intensity that even Dolurrh can’t eradicate it—perhaps a terrible mistake or bitter grudge. Other memories fade, but the creature lingers as a ghost and can be a danger to mortals. Other forms of undead are rarely seen in Dolurrh. The entities found here are the spirits of the dead, either undergoing transition or trapped in the process. Corporeal undead such as ghouls, skeletons, or zombies have no place here, while undead that hunger to consume life belong in Mabar.

The Lingering

Memories of joy and happiness do no harm in Dolurrh. But memories of pain, of cruelty, of anger… these don’t fade so easily, and they can hurt others. Even if they don’t trap shades as ghosts, this psychic residue can build up in the gears of the spiritual machinery of Dolurrh. Often it takes the presence of a mortal to trigger it; when this occurs, the lingering pain and hate coalesces into a solid form. The least of these are lemures, which are formed from hateful memories or deeds. The emotional residue of hundreds or thousands of people can form deadly sorrowsworn. In particular, the Last War and the Mourning created a lot of deaths that could fuel manifestations of the Angry and the Lost. When a character is struck by one of the Lingering, they may have a flash of one of the memories or deeds that drive the entity.

The Lingering are formed in Dolurrh and are immune to the effects of Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment. However, they are a waste product, not the desired result. Nalfeshnee, maruts, and other guardians will destroy the Lingering whenever they are found. 

The Queen of the Dead

The Queen of the Dead dwells in the great spire that rises up above the Vault of Memories. She is the most powerful being in Dolurrh, and has the ability to pluck shades from the cycle of entrapment and even to grant them new life. She appears to be an elf woman, robed in silver and black, her face hidden by a cracked alabaster mask. But little is known about her motives or her origins. She creates the shadar-kai by housing shades in new bodies. She saves other souls that she never restores; she preserves them in the Vault of Memories, saving them from dissolution for unknown reasons. She collects secrets and memories, plucking her favorites from those gathered by the Librarian and keeping them in her personal collection. Sometimes she seems to directly oppose mortal necromancers, especially Lady Illmarrow. At other times she seems to be interested in killing specific people, perhaps so she can preserve their spirits or their memories. But such direct action is extremely rare, remarkable if it occurs more than once in a century; most of the time she remains silent in Dolurrh, unknown and unknowable.

There are many mysteries about the Queen of the Dead. She takes the form of an elf and gives her shadar-kai elven bodies, yet she existed long before the elves. Her actions directly involve the Material Plane, in a way unusual for the great planar powers. This may simply be tied to her role as keeper of the gateway; or there may be some greater secret yet to be revealed.

LAYERS OF DOLURRH

Dolurrh is universally gray and gloomy. All layers that have been described in the accounts of explorers have appeared to be underground; no one has ever seen the sky in Dolurrh. Unlike most planes, the layers of Dolurrh don’t embody different ideas; instead, they serve different functions. Dolurrh is a machine for gathering, collecting, and perhaps transitioning souls; all of its layers serve that purpose. Here are four of them.

The Catacombs

Tunnels are carved into gray stone. In some places they are painfully tight; in others they widen into grand halls, with ceilings lost in the darkness. The dead are everywhere, shades pleading for release and husks keening in the shadows. Some chambers contain vast wells filled with moaning mist; in others nalfeshnee herd shades into pens or scrape lemures off the walls. There is no particular logic to it, just endless tunnels.

The Catacombs may be larger than Khorvaire, or even Eberron. A mortal could wander forever through these winding tunnels, or at least until they are consumed by ennui. However, there are junction points that transcend the logic of distance. If one knows the right symbols to follow, they can cross the vastness of the Catacombs quickly or pass to other layers.

The Kennel

All the mortals born on Eberron are bound to Dolurrh, but like spirits are drawn together. The Catacombs holds the spirits of dead humanoids. The Kennel is similar in appearance, but it contains the shades and husks of beasts and monstrosities. Here you’ll hear the howls of fading wolf spirits, and see flocks of spectral birds flying through grand halls… along with larger and more fierce creatures. Beast spirits rarely linger long in Dolurrh, as most have fewer memories to erase.

It’s possible that the Queen of the Dead has created special servants that wander these halls, just as she has made the shadar-kai; adventurers could be questioned by a clever raven with the soul of a poet. But nalfeshnee and maruts can be found here as well as in the Catacombs.

The Crucible

In the Crucible, the immortal spirit known as the Smith of Souls refines the essence of faded spirits and creates things out of this husksteel. The Smith forges the armor and weapons of the shadar-kai, and creates the maruts from the husks of brave souls. She also creates smaller and stranger items from husksteel. This is a comparatively small layer, but it is still a grand foundry, tended by shadar-kai and guarded by newly-forged maruts.

The Smith wears a mask of black steel and an apron that seems to be made from dragonhide. When forging maruts she is a giant; when crafting tiny trinkets she appears to be a gnome. It’s possible that she collects the memories of mortal artisans, and can replicate their works at her forge.

The Vault of Memories

The heart of Dolurrh is the Vault of Memories. It’s a tower carved up through gray stone, larger than any of the great towers of Sharn. The lowest levels are the Library. Here, the spirit known as the Librarian interviews each shade and makes a record of its life. The power of the Librarian is such that an entire life can be confined to a single large page. Every sigil inscribed holds a crucial memory; a character proficient in Arcana can read the symbol to experience that memory. The many floors of the library hold countless books of preserved lives, carefully tended by shadar-kai scribes. The Librarian himself is a massive hooded figure, and his books are enormous. It’s said that he can be many places at once, which is how he is able to speak to every shade before it fades. 

In the halls above the library, the Queen of the Dead keeps her many treasures. What seem to be obsidian statues are actually shades, crystallized to prevent them from fading into husks. Paintings and crystals contain memories that the Queen has chosen to isolate. Beyond these are countless trinkets and oddities, items collected by her shadar-kai over the vast scope of history. And higher still are the chambers of the Queen herself, where she usually sits in silent contemplation listening to the whispers of the countless shades in her domain. 

MANIFESTATIONS OF DOLURRH

Here are a few of the ways Dolurrh can affect the Material Plane.

Manifest Zones

Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh rarely possess the full properties of the plane. But they are close to the Realm of the Dead, and that means they are almost always haunted. Shadows may move in strange ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out.

Restless spirits yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in Dolurrhi zones. Sometimes they manifest as ghosts. Other times they’ll animate the corpses of people buried in the zone; these creatures are effectively zombies, but may display unusual intelligence as they seek to resolve their unfinished business. Raising the dead can be dangerous in a Dolurrhi zone; there’s a chance that the wrong spirit will be returned to the body!

While these are negative traits, Dolurrhi zones can have positive effects. In many zones it is easier to return people from the dead; you only have to spend half the usual material components when casting such a spell. In others, anyone can cast speak with dead as a ritual; this takes an hour to perform, and the caster must have the corpse they wish to speak with and a personal connection to the deceased.

The most dramatic manifest zones are those that serve as gateways to the Catacombs of Dolurrh. Opening such a gateway might require a special ritual, a significant sacrifice, an alignment involving the moon Aryth, or all of the above. It might only work if Dolurrh is coterminous. But under the right circumstances, you can use the gateway to enter the Realm of the Dead—and hopefully, to return. 

Coterminous and Remote

As with any plane, Dolurrh can become coterminous or remote when it serves the needs of a story. It has has a slow planar cycle, and becomes coterminous for a full year once every century. Fifty years after that, it is remote for a full year. Shorter phases are tied to the movements of the moon Aryth.

While Dolurrh is coterminous, it’s easier for ghosts to slip from the Realm of the Dead into the Material Plane, especially around Dolurrhi manifest zones. Any form of magic that restores life to the dead can also serve as a conduit for unwanted spirits.

While Dolurrh is remote, no form of magic that restores life to the dead—including revivify or reincarnate—will function. The only way to restore life to the dead in these times is by directly traveling to Dolurrh and pulling the shade back to the world. Ghosts are also especially common in this time. But these aren’t ghosts that return from Dolurrh; rather, if Dolurrh is remote when people die in the grip of great emotion or with vital unfinished business, their spirits can more easily resist Dolurrh’s pull.

Dolurrhi Visitors

 The most common types of visitors from Dolurrh have already been discussed. A marut may show up in response to resurrection. Ghosts may drag their way back into the world. And the shadar-kai—or other revenant servants of the Queen of the Dead—may come to the world pursuing her enigmatic missions.

Dolurrhi Artifacts

The most common Dolurrhi artifacts are the creations of the Smith of Shadows. These are formed of husksteel, the fused essence of faded souls. Depending on the nature of the object, it could be crafted from a single spirit—a dagger whose edge is forged from a single moment of pain—or from the emotional residue of multiple husks. Despite the name, husksteel can appear as dark metal, slick black leather, dark iridescent cloth, or other substances.

In creating a husksteel object, consider the memory or emotion that is the heart of the item. For a magic item, this should reflect its purpose; a husksteel cloak of elvenkind could be formed from a secret. A husksteel variation on a dagger of venom might be formed from a moment of absolute terror; when its power is invoked, the victim struck by the dagger must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take 2d10 psychic damage and be frightened of the wielder for 1 minute. 

Other husksteel items are largely curiosities. Adventurers could find a monocle that shows the last thing seen by a dead man, or a journal containing poems written by a celebrated poet—after they died.

CONCERNING RESURRECTION

Returning life to the dead is not a reliable service in Eberron. There are many characters who are capable of casting the necessary spells, from clerics to adepts of House Jorasco. But just because it can be cast doesn’t mean that it should be cast… or that it will work if it does.

The first and simplest limitation is time. The longer a spirit remains in Dolurrh, the more it falls under the sway of ennui. Any spell that returns life to the dead requires the spirit to want to return. Once the shade becomes a husk, it can no longer make that decision and can’t be raised or reincarnated; note that most religions maintain that this is because at this point the true soul has moved on to a higher level of existence; you can’t easily pull someone back from their union with the Sovereigns. So you only have about a week or two—depending on the strength of will of the victim—to pull them back. But even before that time, it is quite possible that the spirit will simply choose not to return. What is it they have to live for? Is that worth fighting to lulling ennui of Dolurrh?

The second limitation is risk. The appearance of maruts is extraordinarily rare, but in part that’s because Jorasco knows to check beforehand and won’t raise someone if there’s a risk. Essentially, the question is whether this person is supposed to come back… or if this is, indeed, their time to die. If so, a marut may appear to challenge the resurrection.

The final risk is the direct intervention of a higher power. It’s said that the Keeper can snatch souls before they reach Dolurrh. It’s up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to this myth; the story says that such souls must be recovered from the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes. The Keeper itself may or may not be there, but it’s certainly the abode of a powerful dracolich! Alternatively, the Queen of the Dead can crystallize a shade and prevent it from being restored, or she can catch a spirit that’s about to be restored and set a price on its passage. The flip side of direct intervention is that the Queen of Death—or another power that seems dramatically appropriate, as chosen by the DM—could offer to return a shade to life for a price. This is a way to bring a low-level character who can’t afford resurrection back to life, while adding a hook to their story. This article provides some ideas about the possible cost of a life.

Perhaps your augury warns you of woe. Perhaps Dolurrh is remote. There’s one way you can always bring someone to life: to go to Dolurrh, find their shade, and drag it back out to the Material Plane. All you need to do is to locate a single soul in the endless Catacombs (perhaps with the help of a native guide, the records in the Vault of Memories, or powerful divination magic) and evade the many guardians to return to the world. But if you succeed, the victim receives a new body, just as if you’d cast true resurrection; and while the defenders will try to stop you from leaving, they won’t interfere once you return to Eberron. It is theoretically possible to restore a husk in this way as well, but it won’t restore lost memories. Most resurrected husks are effectively mindless. Some can relearn new skills, though their original memories are forever lost. This is why people don’t try to bring back the Tairnadal ancestors or Galifar I; you could bring a body back, but it’s not the original person in any meaningful way. This is why the Queen of the Dead (and perhaps the Keeper) preserves certain shades from decay—so that it could be possible to restore them, even after centuries.

In the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion sent an army into Dolurrh to recover the spirits of a family lost in the Quori Conflict; none returned. The Queen of the Dead doesn’t care if a shade or two are stolen every century or even every decade. But her power cannot be contested in Dolurrh, and thieves who attract her personal attention will find their shades torn from their bodies in the blink of an eye.

DOLURRHI STORIES

Dolurrh can inspire many simple stories through its manifest zones or escaped ghosts. A husksteel trinket could provide a flash of memory that sets the adventurers on a particular path. And finding a way to rescue a shade from the underworld is always an epic tale. Here’s a few deeper stories to consider.

The Once and Future Queen of the Dead. The Queen of the Dead is an enigmatic figure who wields great power in Dolurrh. But there’s another being who uses this title: Erandis Vol, the last heir of the Mark of Death. Through her agents in the Order of the Emerald Claw and beyond, Erandis seeks to restore the power of her dragonmark; no one knows what godlike powers she might wield if she unlocks its full potential. Meanwhile, the Queen of the Dead seems to oppose Erandis, and often sends her agents—both shadar-kai and adventurers she’s restored to life at a price—to interfere with Vol’s schemes. This could be exactly what it appears. The Queen of the Dead may despise necromancers, and Vol is seeking to depose her. But perhaps there’s more to it. Time works in strange ways when dealing with the planes and beings of vast power. Perhaps the Queen of the Dead isn’t trying to stop Erandis; perhaps she’s guiding her down a very specific path. Perhaps Erandis will become the Queen of the Dead, in which case, she always will have been her. Or perhaps that’s what’s supposed to happen, but there’s a way in which it could still go wrong… which could destroy the Queen of the Dead and throw Dolurrh itself into chaos.

Agent of Death. After the adventurers kill a nefarious villain, their foe reappears alive and well. This happens time and again. How is the villain escaping from Dolurrh? Are acting as an agent for the Queen of the Dead, or have they simply found a back door to the Realm of the Dead? Either way, what can the adventurers do to lay them to rest once and for all?

Devastating Sorrow. When Dolurrh becomes coterminous, a powerful sorrowsworn emerges and devastates the region. The adventurers may not have the ability to defeat the sorrowsworn in battle, but if they understand the circumstances of its creation—the emotion that drives it and the event that triggered it they might be able to disperse the deadly monster by defusing this emotion. 

That’s it for now. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for choosing the topic!