IFAQ: Faerie Tales in Eberron

My Patreon supporters are still voting on the subject of the next major article, but it the meantime I wanted to take a moment to answer this question from The Ultimate Human:

In an upcoming adventure, my players are going to head into Thelanis. I want them to have to advance through stories to advance to deeper layers of the plane. Do you have any suggestions for commonly told (in universe) stories or myths that would be unique to Eberron, or ideas for adapting fairytales to the setting?

When I’m making up faerie tales or folktales for a story, I try not to make it very deep or complicated. If the idea of a story is that it’s a story that all the characters know – a common folktale they’d have heard as kids – it needs to be a story the players can pick up quickly. If it’s too long or contains too many details, they won’t be able to remember it all.

With this in mind, I’ll certainly use stories from our world as inspiration. In Exploring Eberron I mention the tale of “The Sleeping Prince.” A newborn prince is cursed by Sora Katra; when he comes of age he falls into a deep slumber, until he’s are saved by the Woodcutter’s Daughter. This isn’t Briar Rose, but it’s close enough that I don’t need to explain it in any more detail to most players. Now, if the ADVENTURE needs more detail—the characters need to re-enact the conclusion—then I’ll add something that fits the adventure I want to run. Well, she had to steal the Silver Rooster from the giant’s tower, and when the Prince heard it crow at dawn the curse was broken. Say, there IS a giant tower just to the north… The key point here is that you can make a story first, and then figure out the adventure; or you can make the adventure (I want a story with a giant!) and the explain how it connects to the story.

In general, there’s a few steps I’d use to create an in-world story. The first is to identify the purpose of the story. WHY do people tell this story to their friends or children? Here’s a few basic reasons.

  • Warning. Don’t stray from the path. Don’t tell lies. Don’t take gifts from strangers. The story teaches you NOT to do something, by showing the disastrous consequences of that behavior.
  • Encouragement. Be brave! Be honest! Believe in yourself! This story shows the values and behavior society wants from you, and the rewards it can have.
  • Fan Fiction. The story may encourage or warn, but it’s primarily an opportunity to showcase a protagonist who is based on a historic figure or who exemplifies the values of our culture, family, or nation. This is King Arthur; we all know the stories aren’t entirely true, but it’s fun to imagine that they could be. You could make someone up for this story, or grab a figure from history (King Galifar! Lhazaar! Mroranon!).

The next step is to consider if there’s an existing trope that applies, because again, in this case you WANT it to be as easy as possible for the players to fill in the blanks. Person cursed to enchanted sleep? Child trapped in a tower? Hero is rewarded for act of kindness with unreasonably powerful magic item? Got it.

Following this principle, consider a few of the challenges faced in the novel The Gates of Night when a group of adventurers are passing through Thelanis. They need to hunt a legendary beast; this is essentially the Calydonian Boar/Questing Beast myth. A serpent offers to let them cross a river on its back, but only if they answer a question truthfully: this is an encouragement story, be brave and be honest and you’ll make it across. They go to an inn, where the innkeeper demands a character’s voice as payment for the night, promising to return “a voice” in the morning; hijinks ensue when it’s the wrong voice. Don’t make shady deals with strangers!

These sorts of stories are great for a single adventure. If you’re dealing with a longer arc for fey, you may want a deeper story. In creating the Prince of Frost for Court of Stars, I said that he was once the Prince of Summer, but his heart froze when his beloved chose a mortal hero over him. She and the hero cast their spirits forward in time to escape his wrath; now he bides his time in his tower of frozen tears, taking out his anger on mortal heroes and waiting for the spirit of his beloved to be reborn. This adds a touch of tragedy—he’s not just EEEEEEvil, he’s betrayed and bitter—but gives him both an ongoing role (he hates virtuous mortal heroes) and a concrete goal that could be explored (if one or more of the PCs carries the spirit of his beloved or her lover). Yet it’s still a story that I could tell in two sentences.

The final question is if you can add a concretely Eberron touch to the story. For example, in “The Sleeping Prince” it’s Sora Katra who curses the Prince. I could imagine a story about how an ancient druid stuck an axe in Oalian and said that only the destined protector of the land could remove it; when the farmer Arla did, she became the first Warden of the Wood, gathering the bravest rangers from across the land around the Oaken Table in the Greenheart, along with a mystical advisor (The Great Druid). Boom, now I can easily spin off a whole bunch of stories about the Wardens of the Wood by lifting from Arthur.

Another option to consider when creating folktales for your campaign is to involve your players. The whole idea is that these are stories the CHARACTERS will know and care about. So rather than you just telling them, ASK for details. “Hey,Bo Mroranon, everyone knows the story of Mroranon and the Troll King—how young Mroranon tricked the Troll King and stole his crown. Do you remember how exactly he tricked the King?” There are times when this isn’t the right answer, but if you don’t NEED to control every aspect of the story, this is a great way to give the players a sense of personal investment; these are THEIR stories. Note that in doing this, I’ll establish the absolute details; I could have said “Mroranon stole the Troll King’s crown, but lost his hand in the process” — meaning the player can’t now say “The King just gave him the crown and nothing bad happened!

So: I recognize that I haven’t actually answered the original question in the sense of “What are some stories in the world” — but that’s because *I* don’t have a library of existing stories, I make them up as needed. Consider the lesson of the story; if there’s a familiar trope you can hang it on, but at the same time if there’s a twist to ground it in Eberron; and how it’s going to affect the adventure.

Do you have any collections you like?

I think the simplest answer is to just share a picture of a few of my bookshelves. A Field Guide To Little People is certainly a favorite, as are the D’Aulaires myths. But I also enjoy books that take the style of faerie tale and folklore but tell unique stories, such as The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić; Night’s Master by Tanith Lee; and Deathless by Catherynne Valente.

Have you created any faerie tales or folktales in your Eberron? Share your experiences below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going!

IFAQ: Lhazaar Princes

While we’re all trapped in our bunkers, I’ve asked my Patreon supporters to present some interesting short questions on topics that are infrequently raised. Today’s question comes from Joseph.

When did Ryger become High Prince of the Lhazaar Principalities? The ECS says he represented the Lhazaar Principalities as High Prince at Thronehold, and that this was necessary for the Principalities to be recognized as a nation. Rising says he awarded himself the title AFTER Thronehold. While other sources—this Dragonshard and ECS in talking about Thuranni—suggest that there’s always been a high prince. What’s the story?

Needless to say, I can only give my opinion. But given that I wrote all of the Lhazaar material referenced above, that should count for something.

In this case, the most accurate source is the Dragonshard. The Rising section was simplified for the sake of brevity; the goal of Rising was to focus on the present rather than delving too deeply into how we got there. With this in mind, the crucial first step is to understand what it means to BE “High Prince.” In most of the principalities, the title of prince isn’t hereditary. You have to EARN it; you become a prince by being a leader the people of your principality will follow, whether you achieve it through charisma or wealth. With that in mind, the question posed here says that “there’s always been a high prince”… which is inaccurate on one crucial detail. Consider this quote from the Dragonshard…

The Lhazaar princes have always been willful and independent, and the history of the region is filled with feuds between princes. Powerful alliances have risen and fallen, but the islands have never been fully united under one prince. There has always been at least one lord who has claimed the title of high prince. This claim usually reflects the power of the lord’s fleet, and as a result the high prince usually has the respect of the other princes — but this doesn’t make their word law. They can make requests of the other princes, but unless they intend to use force, they cannot make demands.

So: Lhazaar herself was the first high prince, the first captain whose influence stretched across the entire region. Since then, there’s always been at least one lord who’s claimed the title. The key points here are that there’s been times when there’s been two or even three people who have CLAIMED to be the high prince; and that giving yourself the title doesn’t mean anything on its own. You don’t wield power because you’re the high prince; you can call yourself the high prince BECAUSE you wield enough power to back it up it.

What does this mean for Ryger? Let’s turn back to the ECS.

The largest fleet currently operating in the Principalities is the Seadragons, led by High Prince Ryger ir’Wynarn… The prince has ruled the Seadragon Principality for fifteen years, and throughout that time he has claimed to have the blood of the Galifar kings running through his veins. Whether this claim is true or not, Ryger has demonstrated remarkable charisma, a gift for leadership, and a head for strategy that makes him one of the deadliest captains plying the waters off the eastern shores… Pirate, privateer, merchant—Ryger has worn all of these hats and more since wresting the prince’s crown from the head of Horget Black, the previous high prince of the Lhazaar Sea.

As high prince, Ryger is seen as a leader among equals, and most of the sea barons and pirate lords bow to his wisdom and counsel (though not yet to his rule). Those who refuse to pay heed to Ryger do so quietly, so as not to attract the attention of his warships and loyal warriors. It was Ryger who gathered a council of captains and went to Thronehold to represent the Principalities in the talks that ended the war. Now, working mainly as a merchant fleet for House Orien, the Seadragons hope to gain an even greater advantage in peace than in war. High Prince Ryger wants to unite the Principalities under one banner… the banner of Prince Ryger ir’Wynarn.

Let’s break this down.

  • “High prince” is a title that implies that the bearer is the most powerful captain in the Principalities and wields influence throughout the region.
  • Ryger has been a prince for 15 years, but he didn’t start as high prince.
  • Horget Black was the previous high prince. He was in power at least 25 years ago, when he welcomed Thuranni to the region. At some undefined point in the last 15 years, he was defeated by Ryger, who “wrested the prince’s crown from his head.” While this could be a literal crown, the main point is that Black was acknowledged as the most powerful and influential captain in the Principalities and Ryger defeated him, thus implying that HE was now the most powerful captain.
  • Ryger gathered the delegation of princes that represented the region at Thronehold, and used the title of High Prince while there. No one else in the region challenged this, and this means that the other NATIONS assume that Ryger is the recognized leader of the Principalities.
  • … Which he kind of is, because no one else has challenged him and he has the strongest fleet. However, he WANTS the Principalities to join together as a true unified nation with a clear hierarchy, and that has NOT happened. He’s the high princes, and other princes will RESPECT that, but he can’t actually COMMAND any of them–he can only make requests and threats.

Rising meanwhile condenses this all down into a very simple form: Ryger has the best fleet, he represented the nation at Thronehold, he’s declared himself high prince, but he’s been unable to unite everyone. The timeline’s a little fuzzy, but the main point is that he called himself high prince before, but by using the title at Thronehold he gained international recognition as high prince and that really sealed the deal.

An important point here is that the Principalities are not a unified culture. The gnomes of Lorghalen, the Bloodsail elves of Farlnen, Mika’s Cloudreavers, the changelings of the Gray Tide—these are all proudly independent and unique. They have joined together against common enemies, and they have common traditions that unite them against the rest of the world, including the traditions of prince and high prince. But high prince isn’t a title that’s granted, it’s a title that’s claimed by someone who has the power to back it up. Ryger is high prince because he says he is and because no one’s challenged his claim. But he HASN’T managed to get Lorghalen and Farlnen and the Gray Tide to all come together and agree on a more concrete system of governance or greater union.

So: What happened to Horget Black?

Little has been said about Horget Black. Most crucially, it’s never said WHAT Principality he ruled. The ECS states that he gave Thuranni the right to set up shop in REGALPORT. There’s two ways to look at this.

The first is that Horget was himself Prince of the Seadragons. In this case, Ryger was a brilliant and capable Seadragon captain who served Captain Black for a period of time before seizing both his principality and the title of high prince. This isn’t in any way unprecedented; again, in most principalities, prince isn’t a hereditary title. The question is how it ties into the statement that Ryger has been Prince of the Seadragons for 15 years; whether that was also when he defeated Horget, or if it’s referencing that he was one of the most respected captains during that time—people were already calling him a prince even though he served Horget. It’s possible that as he called himself High Prince, Horget let his best captains be called princes.

The second option is that Horget was asserting his authority as high prince by inviting Thuranni to go settle on SOMEONE ELSE’S ISLAND. That’s the kind of thing you could get away with if you’re truly the high prince, and it would be a clear reason for Ryger to hold a grudge.

Where’s Horget now? It’s really up to you. We know he’s not a power player in the Principalities today. However, we also know that you are only prince as long as you can hold power; if he was legitimately broken—by an injury, by a crippling loss of reputation, or by age—it’s not unreasonable that he would accept his defeat and remain in a lesser standing. PERSONALLY, I’d do one of two things: I’d either have him sailing a ghost ship and occasionally popping up to take vengeance on Seadragon vessels… OR I’d have him as an old man missing a limb, serving Ryger in Regalport as a trusted advisor.

Have you put some thought towards how people travel between principalities? Given what you’ve said above, is it plausible to assume Rygar might enforce a set of rules around people who’ve fairly paid to travel between princes, or is it more like a mutual agreement that princes don’t sabotage each other’s ships when they’re carrying civilians/foreigners or trade goods?

Most ships in the region fly two flags: the flag of the ship itself (IE Breland, Aerenal, Lyrandar) and a secondary flag indicating the Principality with which they are doing business. So an Aereni ship carrying lumber to Regalport will fly a secondary Seadragon flag.

So: it’s more like a mutual agreement. If you plunder a ship bearing a Seadragon flag, you are striking at Ryger, and he may demand reparation or take retaliatory action. Conversely, if a merchant ship flies a Seadragon flag WITHOUT having legitimate business with Ryger, he may take offense at THAT.

I’ll answer more infrequently asked questions in the days ahead, and be posting a poll to Patreon to determine the subject of the next major article! Smooth sailing to you all!

IFAQ: Dhakaani Artificers?

While I get certain questions about Eberron all the time, I’ve asked my Patreon supporters to give me some simple infrequently asked questions. Today’s question comes from DMZ:

I have a goblin PC who is an Heir of Dhakaan but I don’t feel confident about his backstory. Are there any Dhakaani clans that are known for their Artificers, that want to preserve knowledge and the past or maybe one that wants to unite goblinoids once again?E

The Empire of Dhakaan was an advanced goblin nation that dominated Khorvaire long before humanity arrived on the continent. It was ultimately destroyed by the daelkyr, but before it fell completely a number of clans retreated into deep vaults. Recently these “Heirs of Dhakaan” have returned to the surface. They are more advanced and disciplined than the Ghaal’dar goblinoids most people are familiar with. You can find more information on the Dar—Dhakaani goblinoids—in this article.

So: are there any Dhakaani clans known for their artificers, their desire to preserve knowledge, and maybe that wants to unite goblinoids once again? In fact, there’s one that fits all three of these categories: the Kech Volaar, the “Keepers of the Word.” The Volaar value knowledge above all else—both the records of history but also, knowledge of the arcane. The Volaar have the finest duur’kala bards of all the clans. But they also have daashor—the forge adepts who serve the Dhakaani as artificers—and they are actively working to perfect the arcane science that produces wizards. All of the Dhakaani clans want to reunite the DAR, but many believe that the modern goblinoids have been corrupted by the daelkyr and cannot be saved. Of all the clans, the Kech Volaar are the most optimistic that it may be possible to reclaim these lost souls and to rebuild the Empire with ALL goblinoids.

There are a number of elements that make the Kech Volaar an excellent choice for PCs who want to be Dhakaani adventurers. The Kech Volaar are eager to learn more about the modern world, and especially to study the arcane science or traditions of other cultures. As such, a Volaar adventurer could simply be out in the world gathering information, with a special interest in investigating anything tied to arcane science. The Volaar are also determined to recover powerful Dhakaani artifacts lost during the fall of the Empire (and quite possibly now in the hands of chaat’oor!), which is another concrete quest for a player character to pursue.

So as a Volaar artificer you could be gathering information, searching for Dhakaani artifacts, or simply trying to improve your own skills by studying the artifice of other cultures.

Exploring Eberron has an extended section about the Kech Dhakaan that describes nine clans and goes deeper into the daashor tradition, so there’s a deeper examination of all of this coming soon!

IFAQ: Evil Tairnadal Ancestors?

I’m often asked about the cause of the Mourning or the abilities of the Mark of Death, but there are a few infrequent questions worth discussion. Like this one:

Has it ever been the case that the Tairnadal Keepers of the Past have identified a newborn’s ancestral spirit as some great villain from elven history? If so, what happens to them? Are they banished with their family exiled? Are the elves with heroic ancestral patrons forced to attempt to kill the child?

The foundation of my answer lies in a previous Tairnadal FAQ. There’s two key points.

You don’t receive a patron ancestor at birth. The Keepers of the Past don’t determine your patron ancestor until adolescence. The prior FAQ notes “Tairnadal children spend their youth essentially auditioning for the ancestors.” The idea is that the patron ancestors aren’t simply picking you based on your BLOOD—they are picking you based on your talents, your personality, and your spirit. You HELP the spirit by emulating the ancestor, so they don’t want to pick people who aren’t a good fit. In making a Tairnadal character, an important question to consider is were you chosen by the patron you hoped for, or did you have to adapt? Another aspect of this is that the Tairnadal are a CULTURE. Tairnadal can choose to abandon their traditions and become Aereni, and vice versa; if you just DON’T emulate your ancestor, you’re losing the opportunity to receive their guidance, but nothing else happens. So again, the choice happens at adolescence, after you’ve spent your childhood learning about the ancestors and the customs of your people, and training in the skills you hope will make you suitable to your preferred patron.

This ties to the second key point: The patron ancestors only exist because of the devotion of the Tairnadal. The living Tairnadal keep the ancestors from fading through devotion and by emulating them. The patrons REWARD their devotees with guidance, but if living elves simply chose not to revere an ancestor, that ancestor would fade and be lost. This is one main reason that elves DON’T get to choose their ancestors, and why as a Tairnadal it’s your DUTY to honor the ancestor who chooses you—because if everyone played favorites and picked Ancestor A over Ancestor B, we’d LOSE Ancestor B. But the key point here is you don’t get to BE a patron ancestors unless the Tairnadal want to keep you around. The previous article says “Despite being beloved and preserved in memory, did they have any notable flaws? Because it’s the duty of the revenant to embody their flaws as well as their virtues! But an elf wouldn’t be preserved as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.”

So you can have a patron ancestor who’s noted for their cruelty or arrogance, and it’s the duty of their chosen to be cruel or arrogant. But they have to have been celebrated heroes IN SPITE of those flaws. If someone was an utterly despicable villain, the Tairandal would simply choose NOT to follow their example, the spirit would fade (as spirits do) and that would be that. So no: following the standard traditions of the Tairnadal, a newborn could never be chosen by a legendary villain, and their family wouldn’t be exiled.

WITH THAT SAID… That’s “following the standard traditions of the Tairnadal.” If you want to tell this story, you just have to be clear that it’s OUTSIDE of those traditions. The Tairnadal sustain their ancestors through freely offered devotion. But this is a world where undead are real. So you could easily create a new form of undead: Tairnadal spirits of infamous villains who AREN’T revered or preserved, and who are instead sustained through involuntary spiritual vampirism—selecting a host and forcing that host to reenact their deeds (as opposed to the standard system where again, the ancestor can reward a good host but can’t FORCE them to do anything). It could be that there’s a much stronger biological factor in their choice of host than usual (as noted in the FAQ article, at this point most living Tairnadal are connected to dozens of ancestors and it’s not a major factor), and that when such a host appears it’s a major concern.

SO: Could an infamous villain choose a newborn elf at birth? Not by the standard traditions. But if you WANT an infamous villain to choose a newborn elf at birth, just make a new threat that supports the story.

Are the elves with heroic ancestral patrons forced to attempt to kill the child?

I wanted to revisit this for just a moment to again reflect on things. It’s important to understand that the Tairnadal aren’t CONTROLLED by their ancestors. They believe that they are REWARDED with spiritual guidance when they do a good job of emulating the ancestor—that the champion can act through them and share its skills. They believe that by emulating the ancestor they preserve it, which adds the point that it’s their civic DUTY to do so… hence the idea that if you’ve been chosen by a cruel ancestor it’s your duty to be cruel, and if you’ve been chosen by an ancestor celebrated for their virtue, it’s your duty to be virtuous. But ultimately that’s about DUTY: you are never actually forced to take an action you don’t want to do. It’s very much like a paladin’s oath: you CAN break it, you’d just prefer not to.

So first of all, MOST Tairnadal ancestors are champions who fought giants, dragons, or goblins. They are heroes to their people, but they are soldiers as opposed to general champions of virtue. With that said, you could easily have a patron ancestor who was known as a demon hunter or ghostbuster—someone who protected the people by hunting down supernatural threats, much like followers of the Silver Flame. And yes, if you were chosen by that ancestor, it would be your duty to hunt down supernatural threats. If you define this evil thing as a form of negative undead, there’s a secondary aspect to consider: rather than being hunted by TAIRNADAL, it might be hunted by the Deathguard of Aerenal, who are explicitly sacred commandos who hunt down and destroy undead.

I’ll be answering more questions in the days ahead: thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support and interesting questions!

iFAQ: University Adventures

I’m still working on Exploring Eberron, but with many of us trapped at home I want to write a few shorter articles dealing with INfrequently asked questions from my Patreon supporters. This week we’ve been tackling the concept of magical education in Eberron. Let’s wrap up that topic with this question.

If you were to run an anime-inspired school-based game, where would you set it?

We’re used to the idea of D&D being about epic adventures and dungeon crawls, but there’s lots of fantasy stories that focus on schooling and coming of age. Set aside anime for a moment; The Name of the Wind and the Harry Potter series are both stories that focus on adventures at a school or university. So whether you’ll looking for anime flavor or the more traditional fantasy of The Name of the Wind, I think this is a fun idea to explore.

With that in mind, I DID explore it… in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron. In the WGtE I included three “Starting Points.” This was an early variation of the Group Patrons of Rising, with the point of tying a campaign to a location and a theme rather than a patron. These included Clifftop, a hub for globetrotting adventurers; Callestan, a gritty street-level campaign; and Morgrave University.

So to answer the question: I would personally choose Morgrave University or Arcanix. Which I’d choose would be based on the type of story I want to tell. Arcanix is closer to Hogwarts. It is ISOLATED—heck, the towers are floating, and if you haven’t learned to fly yet it takes time to get down! There’s a supporting village nearby, but there’s not a lot of activity there. By contrast, Morgrave is right in the middle of Sharn, so there’s all sorts of opportunity for trouble just off campus (much as University students in The Name of the Wind can go into Imre). Likewise, Morgrave University is infamous for indulging in dungeon delves and dangerous expeditions as “field trips.” Furthermore, Arcanix is specifically a college of magic, which limits your character concepts; because Morgrave is a more general purpose institution, it’s easier to justify any class.

These are supposed to be short articles, so I’m not going to retread all the ground covered in the Wayfinder’s Guide. But I’ll touch on a few things I’d personally focus on in running a school-based campaign.

Story rewards. I’d drop the standard experience point system and base character advancement either on time or on clearly established milestones. It’s also possible that you could tie specific class abilities to in-game situations. If you want to learn a specific spell, you’re going to have to sneak a particular spellbook out of the Library. You may be a 3rd level fighter, but to get the abilities of your Martial Archetype you’re going to have to find a mentor. This is a way to blend story and mechanics together. In a game at school you’re not likely to be amassing TREASURE—so one option is for the rewards you gain to BE access to locations or the favor of teachers—but those can be linked to concrete rewards, whether it’s access to your full class abilities or something beyond that, such as Supernatural Gifts or Marks of Prestige from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

How will you handle power? D&D is based on an underlying system of character advancement that provides players with new abilities to explore and the ability to take on greater challenges over time. At the same time, it’s can be bizarre to have your characters become 6th or 7th level characters AT SCHOOL when that’s a level of skill that dwarfs veteran soldiers… especially if the DM wants to present rival students or professors as having even greater power. There’s a few ways to address this.

  • Limit advancement. You can always choose to say that characters DON’T advance in this campaign – or do so very, very slowly. You improve by gaining allies, influence, and information, not by doubling your hit points or gaining new spells. This is perfectly reasonable if everyone agrees, but at that point—if you’re eliminating a significant piece of the rules system—I’d question whether you should be using an entirely different rules system that isn’t based around character advancement to begin with.
  • It’s all relative. Sure, characters gain a level every two sessions. And the evil professor is a 9th level spellcaster. And there’s a lich in the basement. But it’s reasonable to say that this is how things appear because you’re in a microcosm and you’re comparing skills to people in that bubble with you. I would have no problem playing through a school campaign in which characters got up to 10th level and at the end of it saying “Okay, you all graduate. How about when we start the new campaign with you adventuring in the wider world, you all start off at 3rd level?” The point being that 10th level on the SCHOOL SCALE might only be 3rd level outside. Obviously this takes some suspension of disbelief—I used to be able to teleport! I raised someone from the dead! But hey, that was school, kids. Crazy things happen.
  • Ignore it. Sure, it doesn’t make sense for you to be dueling another student and that both of you are 9th level wizards. But so what? If people are having fun, does it matter?

How do you explain character classes? We’ve mentioned before that the abilities of player characters are inherently remarkable… that just at first level you’re pretty amazing. How’s that fit with a school game, where you’re just supposed to be students? Here again I’d follow the it’s all relative approach. Yes, mechanically you’re a 1st level wizard. But in this setting, that reflects the idea that you have an APTITUDE for wizardry and you need to work to develop it. A few quick thoughts…

  • Wizard? Artificer? You’re science nerds. You’re all about figuring out how arcane science works.
  • Fighter? Barbarian? You’re the jocks. Perhaps you actually want to be soldiers when you graduate, or perhaps you’re here on a Hrazhak scholarship. Barbarian, you really need to deal with your anger issues.
  • Cleric? You’re deeply religious and know that your faith in Aureon/The Divinity Within is going to help you pass that math test. Faith and divine magic ARE real things in Eberron; there’s surely a chaplain at school who will want to help you develop your faith and your abilities. You might get divine visions pushing you to do things! Paladin, you’re in the same boat, but you’re ALSO a jock on a Hrazhak scholarship.
  • Rogue? You might be a bit of a rebel—the student from Lower Dura or the bad side of the tracks, who has friends in the Boromar Clan and can get Dreamlily for the party. Are you here reluctantly? Are you hoping to turn a profit on this whole thing? Are you more interested in gambling than studying? Bard, you could follow the same path, but you’re a bit of a know-it-all and hey, you should start a band.
  • Sorcerer? Like the Cleric, sorcery is a thing that happens in the world. You may not have any knowledge of Arcana and may not want to learn, but there’s likely a teacher or professor who specializes in helping sorcerers develop their abilities. One question is whether you’re here by choice, or whether you’re here because you HAVE to be to learn to control your powers.
  • Warlock? You could take this a few ways. You COULD say that you’re working with a particular division of the Conjuration department that cultivates warlock relationships. But if it were ME, I’d play you as Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. You’re the weird kid, the outsider who’s always writing poetry in your journal in the corner, who prefers talking to your imaginary friends to going to parties… except your imaginary friends are REAL and they’re teaching you how to do things. Like the cleric, your patron could give you visions or tasks that push you to work with the other characters despite your preference for isolation.
  • Druid? Ranger? You’re both odd choices for a big city school, but hey, you just moved to town from the Eldeen Reaches and your family insisted you get an education. Shifter Ranger? You’re DEFINITELY on the Hrazhak team, and you’re annoyed because these city kids are playing it ALL WRONG.

Backgrounds obviously overlap with these ideas. Noble background? You’re from a wealthy family. Urchin? You’re the orphan here because one of the professors sponsored you. Sage? You’re the annoying know-it-all. Entertainer? You DO have a band. Soldier? You’re from a military family, and if you screw up here you’re heading back to Rekkenmark. Criminal? OK, YOU’RE the one who can get some dreamlily for the party.

This has turned into a longer article than I’d intended, so I’m going to stop here. But hopefully this gives you ideas! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

iFAQ: Magical Education

While we’re all in quarantine, I’m going to do what I can to post more short articles. I’m building up a log of interesting questions from the inner circle of my Patreon supporters that I’ll be answering as time permits. Today’s question is a spinoff from yesterday’s discussion of Aereni Learning.

University is the primary way magewrights and wizards are educated. Is a Magewright getting further education to become a Wizard like going from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate (Wizard 3) or a second, separate, degree (Magewright 2/Wizard 1)?

None of the above!

It’s easy to see mechanics and lose sight of story. A wizard can change out their spells every time they rest, which makes spells feel interchangeable. But that’s not how magewrights work at all. The concept of the magewright has always been at odds with the rules; the idea never really worked with the Vancian magic of third edition. In fifth edition, the mechanics of the magewright finally are in line with the core idea. “Magewright” is a general term, like “artisan.” It means “Someone who uses magic as a part of their occupation.” The standard magewright has one or two tool or skill proficiencies and can cast two or three spells. They cast those spells as rituals—even if they’re spells that don’t normally have the ritual tag—and have an added component cost, even if the spell doesn’t normally have a cost associated with casting.

So: a locksmith can cast mending as a cantrip and arcane lock and knock as rituals, and has proficiency with tinker’s tools and thieves’ tools. A healer can cast resistance and spare the dying as cantrips, and detect poison and disease and lesser restoration as rituals, and is proficient with Medicine and herbalism kits. These are two entirely different sets of skills—and learning to magically repair objects (mending) is as different from learning to repair people (lesser restoration) as mechanics versus medicine in our world; the fact that it’s using arcane science instead of mundane science doesn’t alter that fact. So just as an automotive mechanic isn’t going to go to the same school as a medical doctor, a magewright locksmith won’t study at the same institution as a magewright healer.

MOST magewright education isn’t done at universities. It’s handled by trade schools maintained by the associated guild. So if you want to be a healer, you’ll study with the Healer’s Guild of House Jorasco; if you want to be a locksmith, you’ll get your training from the Warding Guild of House Kundarak. When you’re done, you’ll be licensed by the guild, which will also help place you with a business. The Arcane Congress of Aundair has been developing its own trade programs, but this is something discouraged by the house guilds.

So: what does this mean for arcane universities, such as Arcanix? It’s the difference between studying physics and learning to repair a dishwasher. Guild schools train magewrights to perform clear and concrete tasks. At Arcanix, people study the THEORIES of arcane science. They learn to perform magic in very different ways than magewrights, and to cast spells that magewrights could never master. Even when casting the exact same spell, a wizard and a magewright do so in COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WAYS. When a wizard casts arcane lock, it takes one action and costs 25 gp, and burns one of the wizard’s spell slots. When a magewright locksmith casts arcane lock, it costs 65 gp and takes an hour; but if they’ve got the gold and the time, they can cast it over and over and over again. The key point here is that the result is the same, but what they are DOING is very different… and the training for each is entirely different. Magewrights study for years to master their rituals; this is because those rituals are very different from the techniques of wizardry, which is WHY your wizard can’t cast arcane lock as a ritual.

Now: NPCs don’t follow the same rules as player characters. You CAN have an NPC who has the same powers as a wizard—as shown by some NPC stat blocks—but this is also an opportunity to add story and flavor to the world. It’s possible that many graduates of Arcanix are never able to cast spells except as rituals. Some will be wandslingers or Magic Initiates, mastering just a few cantrips or a single spell. Others may only be able to master spellcasting in specific spheres: an NPC evoker can ONLY cast evocation spells, and just doesn’t understand conjuration. The professors at Arcanix aren’t supposed to all be fully operational 9th level wizards; they are arcane scholars, but don’t have the same powers as player characters. Even at low levels, player characters are remarkable; the versatility of a PC wizard reflects remarkable talent and an understanding of arcane principles that most students never master.

So back to the original question: Magewrights and wizards are on completely different paths and study at different institutions. A magewright will usually study at a guild trade school that teaches both the specialized rituals and the skill and tool proficiencies they need for their work. Universities such as Arcanix teach broader arcane science; they can produce wizards and artificers, but many graduates only possess a fraction of the abilities of those classes. They understand the THEORY—and end up trained in Arcana, and perhaps possessing the abilities of a Magic Initiate or Ritual Caster, or other limited spellcasting abilities as decided by the DM—but they aren’t all full wizards. What happens if a magewright studies at Arcanix? Assuming they’re an NPC, it’s up the the DM to decide how these two entirely different sets of education combine. It could be as simple as “They’re a magewright, but now they have proficiency with Arcana.”

This in turn ties to what I said in the previous article: Aereni students take far longer with their arcane studies than their counterparts in the Five Nations… and they also produce more actual wizards. Because despite its limitations, Aerenal is fundamentally more advanced in its understanding of arcane science than the Five Nations; they are just resistant to abandoning their established traditions and pursuing dramatic innovation, while the Five Nations is quickly evolving.

Where do wand adepts fall into the wizard-magewright dichotomy?

Wand adepts fall in between, in the same category as “Magic Initiates.” They’ve learned how to cast a few cantrips and a spell or two, and critically, they cast them in the once-per-short-rest fashion of a wizard as opposed to the as-a-ritual of the Magewright. They just lack the brilliant insight into arcane principles that makes the wizard so flexible; they’ve learned how to do a few very specific things. This where MOST Arcanix students fall—they can do a LITTLE magic, but they aren’t as versatile or as gifted as a full wizard.

With that said, most wand adepts learned their skills in specific military training programs, not at Arcanix. We SAY that a wandslinger can have any two offensive cantrips and a spell, but in practice, everyone in an Aundairian Flametongue unit would be trained in control flamesfire bolt, and burning hands. If you have a different set of spells, you’re from a different unit.

Do magewrights occurs in less civilized areas or are those almost always adepts and the like?

Magewrights require specialized training. They shouldn’t just appear randomly in the wild, any more than a random villager could suddenly become an electrician. With that said, there’s a few options I could imagine.

  • They apprenticed to a previous magewright. Somewhere down the line, there was someone with formal training, and they passed it on. Personally, I think it would take longer to do this that to learn through the standard training, or this person might have gaps in their knowledge; but it should be possible to “learn on the job.”
  • You could posit a sort of sorcerous magewright. Sorcery exists and can manifest spontaneously. Just as the professors of Arcanix aren’t full wizards, you could posit a sorcerer who has a specific arcane talent but whose powers don’t go any further. They wouldn’t LOOK like a normal magewright—it wouldn’t be the SAME sort of ritual a magewright performed—but they could potentially perform the same functions.
  • They could be adepts or gleaners, driven more by faith than arcane training. Again, adepts don’t perform the SAME rituals as magewrights and to a large degree it’s about honing a gift as opposed to choosing a profession. You can discover you have a gift for healing or divination and hone that gift to become an oracle, but you can’t just declare “I’m going to become a faith-based plumber!”

Is it possible for PC wizards, artificers and others to learn rituals for magewrights? How about the Ritual Caster feat?

As it stands, no. The Ritual Caster feat only lets you cast spells that have the ritual tag; magewrights cast spells AS rituals in spite of the fact that they don’t have the ritual tag. Again, the idea is that magewrights spend years in specialized training learning to cast their specific rituals; they aren’t supposed to be something you can casually pick up.

On the one hand, this seems odd; why can’t you play a character who was a magewright before they became an adventurer? The answer is because it would break the balance of the game. Ritual casting is a fundamentally different system than the Vancian model of spell slots. If a player character cleric could cast lesser restoration as a ritual, it would fundamentally alter the balance of many threats; as is, the DM has control over whether a Jorasco healer is available. Magewrights break the rules, but that’s OK because NPCs and player characters don’t follow the same rules; player characters get wide versatility and the ability to rapidly improve, while NPCs get the benefits of deep specialization.

That’s all for now! If you want a deeper dive into magewrights, take a look at this article. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

iFAQ: Aereni Learning

Until I’m done with Exploring Eberron, I don’t have time for deep dives. My next major article will take a deeper look at the Mror Dwarves. But meanwhile, with all of us trapped inside, I want to do a few daily posts dealing with some interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. Here’s the first!

The elves of Aerenal are supposed to spend decades perfecting the techniques of their ancestors. When an Aereni character starts out 100 years old, it’s not because they spent decades in diapers or because they’re dumber than human wizards, it’s because they’ve spent decades going deep in their studies. But how does this hold up for Aereni adventurers? They advance at the same pace as other player characters. How does an elf go from taking decades to perfect a cantrip to suddenly casting far more complex spells in a much shorter period of time?

First of all, let’s shoot the elephant in the room: character advancement doesn’t make sense. How is it that your HUMAN wizard can spend a decade studying at Arcanix, but exponentially increase their skills after a month of adventuring? How does the halfling rogue get expertise with Persuasion by stabbing a bunch of goblins? It’s a mistake to look at any of this too deeply, because it’s not logical. This also ties to the idea that the way in which player characters advance is part of what makes them remarkable and NOT typical for all inhabitants of the world. There are veterans of the Last War who still use the “Guard” statblock, because for most people that represents an OK level of skill. Player characters are supposed to be heroes, and their ability to quickly skyrocket to a greater level of power is a narrative device, not something that holds up to any sort of close analysis.

WITH THAT SAID: That doesn’t mean we can’t make it make as much sense as possible, and this is a good question. How come the Aereni wizard spent decades studying magic back home but can advance just as quickly as the human wizard? The key point is that the Aereni apprentice didn’t spend decades studying a specific spell; it didn’t take them that long to learn to cast one particular cantrip. Instead, they were mastering techniques of spellcasting. They were studying history, theory, and concretely, they were mastering somatic and verbal components. Arcane magic is a form of science, and somatic and verbal components are the underlying mechanics that make it possible. An Aereni apprentice learns precise accent and inflection of verbal components, and precise performance of somatic components, exactly mimicking the techniques of the masters of their line. They spend endless hours drilling until these techniques come naturally. When an Aereni wizard casts a spell, it looks and sounds exactly the same as the master who created the spell ten thousand years ago. Because they’ve perfected these basic principles, when they learn—or even create—new spells, the basic techniques will carry them forward. They CAN advance quickly precisely because they spent all that time learning to crawl… ensuring that they are building on a perfect foundation.

This same principle applies across all classes. The Aereni fighter is learning the basic techniques of all weapons, perfecting the most basic guards, learning to hold and move with the weapon just as their ancestors did. They are learning the most fundamental martial principles—and then they can quickly build on top of those without losing those core techniques.

Aereni PREFER to take their time with things. An Aereni fighter might spend four hours each night practicing a specific move while the other characters are taking a long rest, and continue to practice that move in their mind while trancing. But the decades they spent learning before created a foundation that lets them advance quickly when needed. They were honing the basic building blocks that they assemble as they advance with the other characters.

Now, ultimately, does all that work actually make the Aereni player character a better wizard? No. Mechanically, there’s no difference between the Arcanix-trained wizard and the Aereni wizard. But THEMATICALLY the idea is that the Aereni wizardry is beautiful and perfect, like watching a dance; by contrast the Arcanix wizard is taking a lot of shortcuts and throwing in a lot of personal touches. It works great for THAT WIZARD and may be more innovative, but the Aereni find it painful to watch. The second aspect of this is the idea that player character classes reflect a level of talent most people can’t attain, and that the Aereni have MORE people with that level of skill. It takes them longer to get there, but Aerenal has more actual wizards than Khorvaire, whereas in the Five Nations most people just spend the few years required to become magewrights.

Taking as given that player character advancement is not logical, mostly a game mechanic construct, can this focus on learning the exact techniques and history of the past account for the slow pace of technological development in Aereni cultures?

Exactly so. This is something that’s discussed in this article and in this episode of Manifest Zone. A critical quote:

This is why, despite Aereni society having been around for over twenty thousand years, humans are beginning to do things with magic that the elves have never done. Elven society is driven by tradition rather than innovation – by absolutely perfecting the techniques of the past instead of developing entirely new ways of doing things. Innovation does happen – and an Aereni player character might be the great elf innovator of this age – but it isn’t enshrined as a cultural value as it often is among humanity…

Part of the idea is that what the elves see as sloppy Arcanix techniques might actually be BETTER than the ancient Aereni traditions; certainly they’re easier to learn. But the elves take comfort in adherence to what they know.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, and I’ll tackle another question tomorrow!

Exploring Eberron Previews

Illustration by Kristof Koteles

March has continued to be a crazy time. I was helping with gaming events on the JoCo Cruise, so I just returned from a week on the oceans… and I did come back sick, though fortunately not with Covid-19. So I’ve been recovering from that and adjusting to the new pace of life on land. I am still writing, and this means that we don’t have a firm release date for Exploring Eberron yet; I will tell you as soon as we do. However, editing and layout continue on the completed sections of the book. Wayne Chang and Laura Hirsbrunner have been working tirelessly to keep things moving forward, and I wanted to share the week’s previews!

Above is the opening of the bestiary chapter, featuring the daelkyr Valaara. Other sections of the book discuss Valaara’s cults and symbionts, while this chapter includes statistics for the Crawling Queen. Just to maintain some suspense, we’ve concealed the names of the other creatures in the section, but at least you know what types of creatures lie ahead. These creatures are tied to the other content in the book, so there’s a few tied to the planes, a few tied to the oceans, and a few other surprises.

Image by Lucas Guerrini

We’ve also finished layout on Chapter 6, which covers magic items and other treasures. While the first page just gives examples of common, everyday items, there’s a wide range of treasures in this section tied to different cultures and places. That item hanging on the wall is a conversion of the Coat of Eyes, which originally appeared in my 4E adventure Khyber’s Harvest.

Work continues! We’ll have more news and previews next week.

Dragonmarks: Modern Medicine

Could there be a pandemic in Eberron? A plague spread by the Children of Winter, or a bioweapon created by the nosomantic chiurgeons of House Jorasco? How does disease even work in a world where lesser restoration can remove any disease? Given events in our world, these things are on my mind and I thought I’d tackle them with a series of articles. This post will take a quick look at medicine in the Five Nations; a follow-up article will explore the role of disease and plagues in campaigns.

HEALTH AND HEALING

Fifth edition presents a largely abstract view of health. As I’ve mentioned before, hit points are a very nebulous concept—a blend of actual physical health and luck, skill, or willpower. A character can regain hit points by spending hit dice during a short rest, and is fully restored after a long rest. When you use the Medicine skill, all you need to do is role a die. But remember that when we play D&D, we are building a story together. The rules provide a foundation for that story, but it’s up to the DM and players to add the details. MECHANICALLY you’re as good as new after a long rest, and you don’t have to do anything other than hang out for eight hours to get that benefit. But if there’s a character with the Medicine skill in your party, you might tell the story of how that character worked to patch you up during that long rest—how they had to stitch up a particularly deep wound, how they gave you a shot of Irian-infused water to keep you on your feet or rubbed a Mabaran salve on your arm to numb the pain. When someone uses the Medicine skill or an herablism kit, they or the DM can DESCRIBE them as using medical tools or techniques, even if all the PLAYER does is roll a die. The point is that the rules keep things simple; we don’t WANT player characters to spend a long time sitting on the sidelines recovering from a sprained ankle or a broken rib. But you can DESCRIBE that process of recovery in as much detail as you want.

Also, remember that in fifth edition the rules that apply to player characters don’t necessarily apply to NPCs! YOU may recover fully after a long rest, because you’re the protagonist of the story; you’re the hero in the action movie who keeps pushing on after enduring ridiculous amounts of damage. But the DM can say that an NPC takes longer to recover from a serious wound—that a city guard will need days of bedrest to recover after being dropped to zero hit points, even if they were stabilized and healed. Player characters are remarkable. We can highlight this by showing that other people DO need more time to recuperate than player characters… or their particularly remarkable opponents.

JORASCO SERVICESR

In the Five Nations, most people rely on House Jorasco for medical services. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, priests in most temples and churches aren’t spellcasters; they provide spiritual guidance, not spellcasting services. So the Jorasco healing house serves the common role of a clinic or hospital in our world. Villages or communities that don’t have a dedicated healing house will still usually have a Jorasco-trained healer, whether it’s an heir of the house or someone who learned their skills from the Healer’s Guild.

Page 10 of Rising From The Last War lists the services you can obtain from House Jorasco. The first two are tied to the Medicine skill: Minor nonmagical care or major nonmagical care. This ties back to the idea that just because PLAYER CHARACTERS don’t have to deal with sprains, concussions, broken bones, and such, these things still exist in the world! Likewise, most people rely on nonmagical treatment for diseases. Lesser restoration provides an instant cure, but the 50 gp cost is beyond the reach of most commoners. But again: there’s nothing wrong with nonmagical care. The skill is called MEDICINE; it reflects the use of medicines and medical techniques—setting broken bones, disinfecting wounds, treating fevers, and on and on. Again, most player characters never need these things; but the common people do, and Jorasco provides these services.

Then we get to magical services. Lesser restoration costs 50 gp; remove curse is 75 gp; greater restoration is 150 gp. Who provides these services? What does this help actually look like? Here again, player characters are remarkable. The typical Jorasco healer isn’t a cleric; they’re a magewright. Per page 318 of Rising From The Last War, a magewright casts lesser restoration as a ritual that takes an hour and that requires “additional material components” that cost up to 40 gp. MECHANICALLY this is a “ritual that requires components.” But this is where the idea of arcane science enters the picture. I don’t see a Jorasco healer as sitting next to you chanting for that hour, and then POOF you’re healed. In my opinion, the “ritual” reflects medical work. They may be using divining rods and Irian salves instead of CAT scans and antibiotics, but they are starting with a foundation of mundane skill and then ADDING magic to accelerate the effects and perform healing that is impossible with skill alone. You can have the Jorasco chiurgeon shouting “I need a Lamannian rod and 5 cc’s of Mabaran moss, STAT!” as they work to break your curse or cure your disease. Likewise, the spell uses “40 gp of additional components”—but those components might be ENTIRELY DIFFERENT depending on WHAT they are treating. So: mechanically, a Jorasco healer can cure cackle fever or sewer plague by casting lesser restoration. But how they cure these two different diseases might LOOK entirely different. And once you accept the idea that different diseases require different components to treat them, you have the possibility that a Jorasco house could run out of the components needed to cure a specific disease! Now, refined Eberron shards can take the place of any costly component, and this can help with an outbreak; but if you’re in an isolated village, residuum could be harder to find than Mabaran moss. To be clear, this isn’t a concern for player characters. When your cleric casts lesser restoration it’s NOT a ritual and doesn’t require components… but again, that’s because player characters are remarkable!

How does the Mark of Healing factor into this? The simple answer is that most magewrights with the Healer specialty are assumed to be halflings with the Mark of Healing; they are able to master this specialty because they have the mark, and they are channeling the powers of the mark any time they cast their rituals. This is the same as the concept that you could play a Jorasco Life cleric who presents their healing magic as being drawn from their mark as opposed to religious faith. So they ARE using the mark to heal; it’s just that this uses standard magewright mechanics.

All of these same principles apply to the other services that Jorasco offers. Remove curse can be presented as a sort of magical infection. It’s not that the Jorasco healer mumbles for an hour and the curse stops; it’s that they perform a sort of mystical surgery, literally carving the curse out of your aura. While the RULES say remove curse never fails when cast on a player character, it’s still possible that it doesn’t always work on NPCs and that it’s normally potentially dangerous! Note that greater restoration is a 5th level spell—beyond the standard wide magic available in the Five Nations—and that Rising notes that only Jorasco’s finest healers can perform the ritual.

And finally, there’s raise dead. This is supposed to be a rare service, something available only at the finest Jorasco houses. This is typically tied to a focus item, the altar of resurrection. But there’s a number of points that have been spread out across various sourcebooks. The first is the idea that again, while Raise Dead always works on PLAYER CHARACTERS, it’s NOT reliable for NPCs! First of all, memory starts to fade as soon as a soul reaches Dolurrh. Someone has to CHOOSE to return to life… and if they’ve spend too much time in Dolurrh, they may no longer remember why they want to return. Even if they wish to return, sometimes the spell just doesn’t work. Sometimes it can restore life but draw the wrong soul back into the body. Or it may summon a number of hostile ghosts while leaving the corpse dead… or draw a marut that seeks to destroy the would-be healer. This is why wealthy people AREN’T automatically raised immediately after death; because for most people it simply isn’t a valid argument. What we’ve said is that IF a Jorasco house has the ability to raise the dead, they will always cast augury before raise dead… and if the proposed resurrection draws a result of woe, they will refuse to take the case. Essentially, raise dead is a tool that lets us bring player characters and crucial villains back from the dead; but it’s not a service for everyone! This is a topic I’ve discussed in more detail before: this article explores resurrection and alternatives to death, while this article considers the idea that you could add a personal price to resurrection beyond the components of the spell.

WHAT ABOUT FAITH HEALING?

As I’ve said: in the Five Nations, people don’t go to temples to be healed, they go to hospitals. But what about places like Thrane, where divine magic is more widespread? Or the Eldeen Reaches, where there’s more of an emphasis on primal magic than on the industrial magic of House Jorasco?

The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron discusses the idea of adepts, divine or primal counterparts to arcane magewrights. Page 127 of Rising notes that “divine adepts provide important services.” There still ARE Jorasco houses in Thrane, it’s simply that divine magic IS more widespread. You still wouldn’t go to the temple and ask the priest to cure you, but there are clinics tied to the Church of the Silver Flame where adepts can heal you. Such clinics can also be found in other nations, typically tied to adepts of Olladra; in the Eldeen Reaches, there are druidic adepts—often called gleaners—who may be able to perform healing rituals. The magic of an adept LOOKS different than that of a magewright; a Silver Flame adept will chant while they treat you, while seeking to excise malign influences with blades of light. But a critical point is that mechanically there’s no difference between an adept and a magewright, which means that this healing still takes an hour to perform and still costs the adept 40 gp. The components may be DIFFERENT than those used by the arcane magewright, but the point is that magically healing generally can’t be offered for free because it’s not free for the caster. In the Eldeen Reaches, it’s not that a druid spends 40 gp to buy components; it’s that the ritual consumes rare roots and herbs (likely charged with the essence of Lamannia or Irian) that would have such a value if they had to buy them. Usually people rely on the Medicine skill because magic has a price.

Q&A

Is the germ theory of disease known in Eberron? Or is there some truth to the humoral theory in a fantasy world where the four elements are more of a real thing than in our own? This would come into play in order to determine such behaviour as hand-washing and sterilisation of instruments or blood letting. For that matter, is there room for alternative medicines, rejecting that of Jorasco?

To answer the last question first, there’s DEFINITELY room for alternative theories and approaches to medicine. I expect that Riedra and Aerenal have dramatically different approaches to medicine. However, the crucial point is that MECHANICALLY this all works out to using the Medicine skill and to the benefits of resting. You can DESCRIBE it with exotic color, but at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER if your healer is using Jorasco traditions or Riedran qi manipulation; the result is the same.

Going back to the first part of the question, this touches on an interesting point. Because it’s not simply whether the people of Eberron are familiar with germ theory, it’s the question of are most diseases in Eberron actually caused by germs? This is a world where werewolves, undead, and fiends are REAL THREATS. Lycanthropy isn’t caused by germs, and there could be any number of other diseases in Eberron that are actually cause by a mild form of demonic possession or by transmutation effects. There’s definitely a school of medicine that is based on the balance between planar influences, asserting that if you have a fever it’s because your Fernian influences are too high and you need to be treated with Risian ice… And in Eberron, that may be true. So there are germborne diseases in Eberron, but it’s not the ONLY form of disease out there and may not be the foundation of Jorasco treatment. I’ll talk more about kinds of diseases in the follow-up article, but the main point is, again, that this is somewhat cosmetic. Whether the disease is caused by a germ or an evil spirt, you counter it with rest, Medicine, or lesser restoration. These treatments are all tied to theories of medicine, but whichever theory you use, it will work according to the rules. Though you’re certainly free to say Bloodletting is a terrible principle that DOESN’T work, and while there are healers who perform bloodletting, they aren’t proficient in the Medicine skill and provide no actual benefits! Likewise, Jorasco potions of healing are reliable, but if you buy your healing potions from some unlicensed charlatan, you could find that all you’ve bought is snake oil. Trust that Jorasco logo!

Do the people of Eberron know how to prevent/treat scurvy or what it really is? 

This is similar to the preceding question, and could ultimately be asked about any disease from our world. But Eberron’s not our world. For all we know, the Ring of Siberys could radiate an aura of vitamin C, and it could be impossible to have a C deficiency in Eberron. There’s no rules for scurvy in 5E, and it’s never been mentioned as a problem in any sourcebook, so the default is that it’s not a problem—either because it’s been identified and people know how to deal with it, or because for some reason ((C-rays from the Ring of Siberys!) it’s just not an issue. I’ll talk about this more in the follow-up post, but the short form is that you need to decide what diseases you want to be threats, and ultimately what makes a good story. Personally, I don’t feel that players running out of oranges and catching scurvy is a story I want to tell, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing so!

If magewrights can carve a curse out of a person’s aura, was this ever suggested as a solution during the Lycanthropic Inquisition by Jorasco or the Silver Flame’s own minor healers?

Certainly. Under the rules of fifth edition, that’s EXACTLY how you treat lycanthropy: you cast remove curse, and if you’re doing it as a magewright ritual that means you’re performing just this sort of spiritual surgery. However, there’s a few factors here as regards the Silver Crusade…

  • Bear in mind that especially early on, I’m sure the templars DID cure people when they had the ability to do so. It simply wasn’t viable as an overall solution to the problem, based on resources, the number of lycanthropes, and the fact that you would have to capture and hold lycanthropes alive to do this—and especially in the early days of the Purge, the odds were stacked against the Templars. They didn’t have the luxury of trying to take most of their enemies alive; they were lucky if THEY could stay alive.
  • If you’re using magewrights or adepts, you need 60 gp worth of specialized components to cast that ritual. What are those components? Are they specialized to each type of lycanthropy (IE, you need to treat a wereboar with different herbs than a wererat), or general? It’s quite reasonable to say that when the Crusade began the templars didn’t have either full knowledge of proper treatment or that they simply didn’t have access to sufficient supplies of the appropriate components—and this was before the residuum revolution which lets you use refined dragonshards instead of any component.
  • Critically: Lycanthropy during the Purge was different from lycanthropy as it exists today. This is literally true, as the rules for curing lycanthropy in 3.5 rules are far more difficult that just casting remove curse. It either has to be done by a 12th level cleric within three days of the affliction (and 12th level clerics are VERY rare in Eberron) or it has to be attempted during a full moon… and the victim has to make a DC 20 Will save for it to work. Eberron gets a lot of full moons, but still, that’s a lot of time and resources for a ritual that has a very high chance of not working.

The simplest explanation for the change in the rules of lycanthropy is that lycanthropy itself has changed: that the power of the curse is now weaker than it was during the purge, because the influence of the overlord or daelkyr behind the surge has faded… or alternatively, because techniques for treating lycanthropy have advanced significantly over the last century. Either way, lycanthropy can now be effectively treated by a magewright performing remove curse; that doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t a viable solution to the problem at the height of the purge.

That’s all for now! When time allows, I’ll write a follow-up article about using disease in an Eberron campaign, but my Patreon supporters will decide the topic of the next article. Until then, wash your hands!

Dragonmarks: Gnolls and the Znir Pact

Art by Mariana Suarez Otero for Eberron Expanded

In the dawn of time, before the Sovereigns and the Silver Flame, Eberron was the domain of the fiendish overlords. This was an age of chaos, as the overlords constantly clashed with one another. The Rage of War commanded armies of fiends and savages, while the Wild Heart raised hordes of ravenous beasts. In the struggles between the two, the Wild Heart bred dire hyenas that could consume the Zakya warriors of Rak Tulkhesh. But fiends cannot be permanently slain by tooth or claw; their energy remains. Twisted from within by the immortal essence of the demons they’d devoured, the hyenas were warped into something entirely new, something that was neither beast or demon: and so the first gnolls were born.

Formed from both War and the Wild, the first gnolls were recruited and bred by both Rak Tulkhesh and the Wild Heart. As foot soldiers of the overlords they fought against orcs and the other early humanoids, as well as battling gnoll clans serving other overlords. Even after the overlords were defeated and bound by the Silver Flame, gnolls continued to be pawns of the overlords. The fiendish spark burned within them, and when they weren’t directly serving the Lords of Dust, most gnolls engaged in savage acts of brutality. The Dhakaani goblins ruthlessly exterminated gnolls in imperial territories, driving them back into the wilds.

In the present day gnolls are primarily found on the west coast of Khorvaire. Here’s a few notable concentrations of gnolls.

  • Gnolls are found across the Demon Wastes. Some have integrated into the Carrion Tribes, while other clans refuse to have anything to do with other creatures. These gnolls have embraced the Rage of War and engage in endless, ecstatic violence; when there are no outsiders to fight, they find reasons to battle the other clans. There have been times in the past when a great leader has united them and lead a horde through the Labyrinth, and this could happen again; but for the most part they are one of the ongoing dangers of the Demon Wastes, ever hungry to spill blood in the name of Rak Tulkhesh.
  • The gnolls of the Towering Wood are creatures of the Wild Heart. These feral hunters prowl through the Eldeen Reaches, preying on any creatures who cross their paths. These gnolls rarely organize beyond clans. The fact that they don’t form armies limits the overall threat that they pose to the people of the Towering Woods; they’ve never amassed in sufficient numbers to threaten the Greenheart, for example. But because they’re scattered and mobile, the Wardens of the Wood and the shifter tribes of the Towering Woods have never been able to end the threat. Clans melt away into the depths, appearing to strike isolated villages and travelers. Some say that there is a piece of the Towering Wood that can only be found by gnolls and lycanthropes who serve the Wild Heart—a dark haven where these feral forces build their strength and wait to strike.
  • There at least two gnoll clans that live deep in the King’s Forest of Breland. While smaller than the clans of the Towering Wood, these gnolls are likewise driven by the Wild Heart; they are cruel hunters who take pleasure in terrifying their quarry. Typically they remain in the wildest, darkest depths of the King’s Forest, avoiding the Knight Rangers and restricting their attacks to those fools who stray far from the safe paths. But there have been times when their numbers have grown, and when gnoll raiders have emerged from the Forest to prey on surrounding villagers.

While savage gnolls are often tied to the Rage of War or the Wild Heart, few know those names. Clans are guided by warlocks and fiendish visions, and each clan has its own name for the power that fuels their thirst for blood. The gnolls of Rak Tulkhesh show more martial discipline, while the gnolls of the Wild Heart are feral and cunning. Both are uniformly cruel, taking pleasure not simply in spilling blood but in instilling terror in their prey. The last great raid across the Labyrinth was centuries ago, but the people of Aundair still share grisly tales of the horrors unleashed by the pillaging gnolls, and Brelish children know gnolls devour those fools who stray from the path. This uniform cruelty is unusual in Eberron, where goblins are often more honorable than humans and orcs may be champions of the light. But gnolls aren’t natural creatures; they were shaped by overlords, and the essence of demons flows through their veins. They were bred to spill blood and sow terror, and for countless generations they gleefully embraced that path. But there are gnolls who reject the foul influence of their creators… such as the Znir Pact of Droaam.

THE ZNIR PACT

The region now known as Droaam has long been home to gnoll clans. The Rage of War seeks endless battle, and when there is no greater conflict it delights in setting its minions against one another. For countless generations, gnolls fought troll, ogre, and other gnolls seeking blood for their hungry idols. Centuries ago two gnolls from rival clans faced one another on a battlefield soaked in the blood of their kin and questioned the path that had led them there. The two urged others to deny the voice that called for endless war, to refuse to chase death in the service of a fiend. Two became four, then eight, until entire clans heeded the call. Clan leaders dragged their idols to the place now known as Znir—a word that simply means stone—and there they shattered the images of the fiends they once served. Together the gathered hunters, shamans, and warriors swore an oath: They might be many clans, but from this day forward they would be one pack. They would allow no one—not chieftain, god, or demon—to hold dominion over them.

This was easier said than done. Fighting the fiendish influence within was challenging enough, but the western wilds were a chaotic tapestry of battling forces. The leaders of the newly forged Pact had no desire to rule over other creatures, but even just holding their territory would invite attack. And so they developed the path that has carried them forward to this day: the road of the mercenary. The gnolls would claim no territory beyond the lands around Znir. They would fight for any who would pay a fair price. But if anyone sought to enslave a gnoll, or to strike against Znir itself, they would face the wrath of all of the united clans. This was a lesson that had to be taught many times, but after a century or so, the point was made. To those who paid them, the gnolls were as reliable as stone. Those who betrayed them or who picked a fight would fall before the might of the full Pact.

Some scholars of the Five Nations find it strange that the Znir Pact never took the path of conquest. There was no parallel to the united force of the Pact within the region, and they could have defeated the various chieftains and warlords they served. But the fact is that the gnolls have never had a desire to rule other creatures. They love the hunt and the thrill of battle. The path of the Pact allows them to do what comes naturally—to stalk and kill, to fight endless battles. But they do so together. They choose the paths they follow and the battles they fight. One could look at the Pact and say that they serve many masters. But the Znir gnoll would respond that they serve only themselves: that they choose who they fight for, that they set the terms of their service.

Znir Clans

The Znir gnolls include a dozen different clans, each of which holds onto distinct traditions. Once the clans were devoted to different faces of the overlords, but when they shattered the statue, each clan chose one of the moons. All gnolls hunt and fight, but the Barrakas are known to be the finest trackers of the Pact; the Aryth the deadliest archers; and the Olarune are the strongest warriors and most forceful in the vanguard. Typically, mercenary units are comprised of gnolls of a single clan, assigned based on the nature of the task that lies ahead, and contracts are usually negotiated for a period based on cycles of the clan’s moon. The clans maintain distinct territories within the Znir region. Despite this, all gnolls are welcome around the hearth of any clan; the Znir take pains to crush any tension that arrises between the clans. Shamans and leaders from each clan maintain a council at the Znir, around the broken idols. Here they mediate disputes, assign contracts to clans, and allocate funds and equipment. The Eyre clan have honed their skills as smiths and tanners, and they craft much of the equipment used by the Znir gnolls… though there is still a strong tradition of scavenging among the Znir, and warriors will often claim trophies from fallen foes.

Gnoll vs Gnoll

Droaam is a small place, and the Znir will serve any who will pay a fair price. This inevitably leads to conflict between Znir gnolls. In such situations, Znir will fight one another with all their skill. But they will strike to wound… and a gnoll wounded by another gnoll will immediately withdraw from battle, no matter how superficial the wound. While some clients take umbrage at this—You can still fight! Get back out there!—this is an absolute rule of all Znir contracts, and those who defy this will be punished by the united clans.

In general, the Znir take their contracts seriously. If the client breaks the terms of the agreement, the contract immediately ends. As long as terms are met, Znir will face any danger and will never betray a client. They have earned this reputation over the course of centuries, and this gives them a place much like the Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith in Khorvaire; everyone knows that the word of the Znir is as unbreakable as stone.

The Daughters and Tharashk

In their rise to power, the Daughters of Sora Kell have contracted for fully half of the forces of the Znir Pact (divided among all clans). This is an extended contract, under which the gnolls serve both as soldiers, hunters, and peacekeepers. Most large communities have a Znir garrison that’s serving the Daughters. These troops are present to protect the region from brigands or invaders, and to help maintain order. But they serve the Daughters, not the local warlord; it’s understood that if the warlord turns against the Daughters, the local Znir will act in their interests. The remainder of the Pact serves other masters. Many warlords maintain their own Znir forces, either as bodyguards, enforcers, or hunters. House Tharashk has also begun brokering the services of Znir gnolls within the Five Nations. The Pact is still cautious about this arrangement, however. Within Droaam, Znir customs are known and respected, and the Znir can unite against anyone who defies them. The Znir recognize that they don’t hold such power over the rulers of the Five Nations… and thus they are concerned about serving so far from their stones. In addition to those who serve through House Tharashk, a number of Znir have been sent east to study the Five Nations, gathering knowledge of its people and customs so the Znir council can determine how to engage with the wider world. This scouting role is a reasonable path for a gnoll player character; it’s their job to travel the world beyond and learn its ways, and to make friends and allies.

The Demon Within

The Znir defied the overlords when they shattered their statues, but there is still a spark of a fiend in the blood of each gnoll. Znir refuse to allow the demon within to hold dominion over them. Young gnolls learn how to resist this influence—to channel the strength of the fiend without giving it power over them. For most gnolls this is simply a matter of discipline. Znir gnolls are known for remaining calm in the face of provocation; having learned to fight their own demons, they aren’t easily manipulated by mortals. However, some gnolls learn to draw on their unnatural heritage and to channel this power in useful ways. Znir gnolls have their own equivalents of rangers and barbarians; the ranger’s primal magic draws on the Wild Heart, while the barbarian channels the fury of the Rage of War. Znir shamans are similar to warlocks, typically following the path of the Fiend. However, in all of these examples, the Znir don’t serve the dark power. Rather, they can be seen as stealing their strength from it; learning to draw on it without giving anything in return.

In their determination not to let fiendish forces hold dominion over their people, the Znir gnolls have also developed their own techniques for fighting supernatural threats. Champions trained to face fiends and undead are known as hwyri, and wield powers similar to those of paladins in other lands. However, hwyri don’t worship any divine power. Their abilities come from training and understanding of the demon within; they aren’t crusaders, they’re mercenary demon hunters. Most hwyri come from the Vult clan, and in a land that shuns the Silver Flame, these gnolls can be the best hope for people facing fiendish threats. There has been some tension between the Vult and the lycanthropes of the Dark Pack; the Vult shamans suspect that the Pack is vulnerable to the influence of the Wild Heart.

ZNIR GNOLL TRAITS

Exploring Eberron will include my rules for Znir gnoll player characters. For the moment, here’s a few general tips on playing a Znir gnoll.

  • Bone Eaters. Gnolls possess powerful jaws, as reflected by their bite attack. Gnolls can chew through and digest bone, and dislike letting food go to waste. When savage gnolls raid a village, they will consume even the bones of their victims. Znir gnolls won’t eat their fallen foes if they’re in the company of creatures who will be uncomfortable with such behavior. But they will often eat a small piece of any creature they slay—even if it’s just a finger—to form a bond with the victim. The Znir believe that those you kill wait for you in the realm of death, and honoring them ensures that they won’t be hungry when you travel to that land.
  • Pack Instincts. Gnolls have very strong pack instincts. They instinctively work together in combat, and they think nothing of placing themselves in harm’s way to protect their kin. Znir gnolls will not deceive members of their pack; if there are problems, they will call them out directly. If a gnoll character adopts a group of adventurers as their temporary pack, these things apply to the other players—but they will be surprised and angry if their non-gnoll packmates don’t show them the same respect.
  • Casual Aggression. Gnolls often seem very aggressive to other creatures. However, gnolls themselves don’t consider casual intimidation to be a hostile act; it’s just a way to establish a place in the hierarchy of the pack, largely ignored once that hierarchy is established. One of the most common ways this manifests is that gnolls make demands rather than requests. As a gnoll, use active statements rather than passive queries.
  • Cunning Hunters. Gnolls are strong and aggressive by nature. But both the Znir gnolls and there savage kin are cunning hunters rather than simple brutes. Gnolls work together as a pack, always searching for weaknesses in enemies and supporting injured allies. Znir goals won’t break their word, but they don’t hold to any idea of honorable conduct on the battlefield; they are ruthless and efficient, and see nothing wrong with ambushing or tricking a superior foe. Some gnolls have a supernatural knack for minicry, and will use this gift to draw enemies into danger.
  • The Fiend Within. As a gnoll, there is a spark of demonic influence within you. The Znir learn to control this at an early age. But how does it manifest in you? Do you suppress it completely, or do you channel it in some way—possibly reflected by your class abilities? Are you a hwyri who seeks to fight supernatural threats, or are you not concerned with such things?

That’s all I have time for today, but you’ll find more about gnolls and the Znir Pact in Exploring Eberron! Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and who chose this topic!