Dragonmarks 6/6/16: Edition Wars

This is a tremendously busy time for me. As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is being loaded onto a boat somewhere, and in 5-8 weeks it should be in our hands (barring unforeseen disasters like hungry whales or RPG pirates). We are preparing to launch the game at Gencon. Our first event is already listed – a seminar where we’ll be discussing every aspect of Phoenix: Dawn Command, from setting to system – but in the near future a host of new events will go live, including game sessions and a chance to try out the character generation system. So keep an eye out (or follow @twogetherstudio on Twitter)! In addition to this, I’ve been working on a number of card and board games. I can’t talk about any of these yet, but there’s exciting news in the future.

Unfortunately, there is no official news about Eberron. While I hope it will be unlocked for the DM’s Guild, I have no idea when that might happen… but at this point there’s a decent chance it won’t be in 2016. Nonetheless, I love the world and I’ll keep answering questions… though in months to come, I’m also going to start talking more about Phoenix and its setting!

If Eberron was not designed under the assumption of D&D v3.5 rules and mechanics, how might it look different to you? What would you have changed or left out? How might a system-neutral version of Eberron look?

It’s an interesting question. I’ve played Eberron using other systems, and I don’t feel it is dependent on D&D mechanics. At the same time, you’re right: it was specifically designed with those mechanics in mind. So what impact did that have? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • Alignment. The D&D Alignment system is a tough match for the shades-of-gray noir elements of Eberron. We’ve done our best to work around this. We removed most alignment constraints on monsters. We don’t require divine spellcasters to match the alignment of the deity they worship. And in general, we assert that evil people can still play a positive role within society – a more nuanced approach that I discussed in this Q&A post. But it’s still something that I could just as happily do without.
  • Arcane Magic. One of the most basic principles of Eberron is the fact that under D&D rules, arcane magic acts like a science. It is reliable. It’s repeatable. A wizard can learn a spell from another wizard or from a scroll. A spell always works, provided you don’t get punched in the face while casting it. A wizard can create a new spell or a magic item. Eberron was at its core a reaction to this: If arcane magic behaves in a scientific manner, why wouldn’t society seize upon it and incorporate it as we have with other sciences? Thus a lot of things in Eberron are looking at how we could solve problems using the spells and other supernatural tools that exist in D&D. We light the streets with continual flame and send messages across long distances using a variation of whispering wind. In Droaam, the Daughters of Sora Kell feed the masses using an endless supply of troll sausage. I can’t easily tell you what Eberron would look like if we hadn’t been working with those assumptions, because they affect the world in many different way… anywhere where someone said “Wait, you could use this spell to accomplish this useful effect.”
  • Psionics. I remember reading the psionics rules in the appendix of my old AD&D manuals. They’ve been a part of D&D since the early days, and yet they’ve never really seemed to fit in (with the notable exception of Dark Sun). I wanted a way to integrate them into the world… and yet, a way that allowed people who just don’t like psionics in their fantasy to remove them without too much difficulty. This led to the Kalashtar, the Inspired, and the storyline of Sarlona – a distant and mysterious continent where Psionics were the foundation of society in the same way that magic was used in Khorvaire. If I’d been starting COMPLETELY FROM SCRATCH and didn’t have psionics already in the mix, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have added them in.
  • Elves and Dwarves, Orcs and Goblins. Just like alignment, these are things that come with the D&D package. If Eberron wasn’t a D&D setting, it might not have included these; Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t include any of the D&D classic demi-humans, for example. But because it IS a D&D setting, it needed a place and an interesting role for the classic demi-humans and humanoids… and so we have the Tairnadal, Dhakaani, and the rest.
  • Halflings Riding Dinosaurs. Like psionics, this aspect of the Talenta Plains arose because dinosaurs have always been in D&Dand yet they very rarely get used. They’re also an awesome pulpy thing. But the idea honestly came up because we were thinking of something interesting for Talenta nomads to ride, and we realize that nobody ever uses dinosaurs.

To be clear: I love the Inspired, the Undying Court, the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. I love that Eberron has halflings on raptors. But these are all things that definitely exist because Eberron was designed as a D&D setting. You can adapt them to any system, as many people have shown… but the reason they exist in the first place is because Eberron was a setting for D&D… a setting with elves, dwarves, psionics, dinosaurs, alignment, and more.

About Eberron in 5e, ignoring the drastic difference in content for Eberron between the D&D versions, which ruleset do you think works best to capture the feel of Eberron?

I’ve run Eberron in many different systems, from 3E – 5E for D&D to the Lady Blackbird and Over The Edge systems. I know people who have played it using Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, Fate Core, Mutants and Mastermind, and GURPS, though I never have.

I don’t feel that there’s a One True Eberron system. Each system has strengths and weaknesses. Really, it depends on the type of story that you want to tell and which mechanics will best represent that system. For example, Over The Edge is a rules-light system that’s great for a story-driven game, but it’s not a system I’d use for a combat-heavy adventure. It also depends on the players that you’re working with. I’ve found that 4E is a good game when dealing with people who have played MMOs but never played a tabletop RPG before, because many of the basic concepts make sense to them… equipment slots, powers with cooldown timers, etc. Looking to 5E, I like the simplification of certain mechanics and the use of Inspiration and backgrounds as a way to try to encourage roleplaying… though I like Lady Blackbird for going considerably farther with the idea of mechanically encouraging a player to roleplay their character.

With that said, there is one particular element of 4E+ that I like for Eberron, and that is rituals. Vancian magic has never quite made sense as the foundation for Eberron’s magical economy, because it’s a little hard to see how a magewright locksmith could make a living when he can only cast Arcane Lock twice a day. Under the 4E ritual system, Arcane Lock takes ten minutes to cast and uses 25 gp worth of components. The magewright locksmith can lock as many doors as time and resources allow, jacking up the price sufficiently to make it worth his time. The downside to this is that by the rules, the only limitation on casting rituals is being a ritual caster and having the right book. So there’s no concept of having a magewright specialized in casting a particular ritual; instead, in theory any magewright could change jobs by picking up a different book. At my table, I rectified that with a house rule stating that the ability to cast any ritual from a book reflects a remarkable level of skill generally only possessed by PCs… and by adding a “Magewright” feat that allows a character to cast select three rituals and to perform them without a book (though still requiring the normal time and component cost). Thus you have the locksmith who knows Knock and Arcane Lock, the lamplighter who can cast Continual Flame all day, and so on. But that’s still just a specific mechanical element that helps with the overall logic of Eberron’s economy… and as shown by 5E, something that can easily be adapted.

So the long and the short of it is that I don’t have a preference. 4E combat in particular is a very different experience from 3E or 5E, and the question is do you want that experience? When I was working on a different campaign setting a few years back – Codex – I was considering not just making it system neutral but encouraging people to change systems between adventures, picking the system that best models the story you want to tell. In retrospect that’s a lot of work (mainly converting characters constantly), but to me it’s still a case that each system has different strengths – find the one that YOU like best. Eberron will work wherever you go.

I would love an article on Eberron’s magic (level) and the new rules system with its “even low level magic items are mighty”-approach. 

In the comments on the last update, Pteryx suggests a “Book of Everyday Magic” to address this point, and I think that’s a great idea. I see what 5E is trying to do with the “even low-level magic items are mighty” approach, and I’m not opposed to it; when I’m playing 5E, it IS kind of cool that my +1 sword is a big deal… especially in contrast to 4E, where you’ve got to constantly be upgrading every slot to be on par with your level. At the same time, I don’t feel that this rules out the general feel of Eberron, which has always been “wide magic, not high magic.” You can still have the streets lit with continual flame and airships in the sky even if +1 weapons are rare. The cantrip prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, flavor, or clean… So an innkeeper (especially a Ghallanda innkeeper) might have a chest that keeps contents cool, a pan that instantly cooks with no heat, and a broom that instantly cleans a room in one sweep. Canon sources already mention the idea that Aundair has cleansing stones that serve as communal washing machines. Even when it comes to weapons and armor, you can have minor effects that are clearly useful magic without actually providing a full +1 enhancement. Imagine a suit of armor or a sword with an innate mending effect – over the course of an hour, it will restore itself to pristine condition, eliminating dents or rust. Such a sword would sharpen itself. Now, in mechanical terms players never worry about rust or sharpening weapons… but that just mean you’d want to call out that something remarkable is going on here!

Essentially, the issue is that 5E wants to make a +1 enhancement feel powerful… which means that magic items with a direct effect on COMBAT (or healing, spell recovery, or other things that affect combat capabilities) need to be rare. But that still leaves room for lots of everyday magic, and someday when I have time I’d love to create that Book of Everyday Magic.

Can you think of another new class unique to Eberron other than the Artificer?

There was another class we considered when we were originally developing Eberron. We called it the Journeyman, but “Everyman” or “Unlikely Hero” would have worked just as well. In pulp stories, you often have a normal person who gets swept up in the adventure and carried along with the heroes. A nosy reporter, a bartender whose bar got burnt down, a spunky kid, a nightclub singer who just happened to be dating the hero. We considered a variation of this for Eberron: the character who is NOT an adventurer, not a warrior or a wizard, but who nonetheless gets caught up and carried along with the adventurers… the Watson to Holmes, or the Xander to Buffy.

The Journeyman would be something of a skill monkey, because the point was that they HAD a normal profession and might be quite good at it. But the main strength of the Journeyman is amazing, pulp-level luck. Even though he has no right to survive the terrifying dangers that threaten paladins and rangers, SOMEHOW that spunky chronicler lands a lucky blow or evades the deadly trap. In practice this would have related to action points: the Journeyman would have more action points than any other character and a number of specialized uses for them – essentially, spell-like abilities fueled by action points. In fifth edition, I could also see a Journeyman having a number of abilities along the lines of those granted by a typical Background – things that aren’t at all useful in combat, but that can have a lot of value to story. The nosy chronicler isn’t as good a fighter as the rogue, but he excels at research and has sources all over Khorvaire.

Ultimately, we decided not to develop this class. But I might take a crack at it one of these days; it’s certainly something that can provide some interesting story and roleplaying hooks.

As side note: Jode from The Dreaming Dark novels could be an example of a journeyman. He’s a Jorasco healer. He’s quick and quick-witted, but he’s not a spell-caster or a combat monster. I think I considered him to be a rogue, justifying his backstabbing as “a healer’s knowledge of anatomy” as opposed to any sort of talent for assassination. But he’d work just as well as a Journeyman: he’s legitimately a healer, trained in mundane healing supplemented by his dragonmark, who gets by on wit and luck.

I always loved the numbers of Eberron. You know, all the 12+1 missing/different. Did you ever think any reason for that? It’s just “how prophecy work”? 

Essentially, yes… it’s “how prophecy works.” The premise of the Prophecy is that there is a code that defines reality… and if you understand it, you can manipulate the future. The Prophecy doesn’t follow a single path; it’s a massive matrix of if-then statements. The key point here is that there are underlying rules to reality. It’s not unreasonable to think that arcane magic (and possible divine as well) is tapping this same underlying system: if the proper rituals or formulas are invoked, reality is altered. Once you accept the idea that arcane magic is a science – that reality follows rules – it’s logical to have patterns that can be seen in the world. In some cases these are literal patterns, such as the dragonmarks that appear on landmarks. In others, it’s things like the linked numbers of planes, dragonmarks, clans, etc.

In this case, it began with a coincidence: the fact that we had thirteen planes of which one was lost, and thirteen dragonmarks of which one was lost. That wasn’t carefully planned, but once we realized it we liked the idea that it was a reflection of the underlying order, and so people continued to work the pattern into future things.

The funny thing? The fact that it’s a “Baker’s Dozen” was something we didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out.

That’s all the time I have for this week. Based on the stack of questions already in the queue, next week’s Q&A is going to deal with cults, druid sects, and denizens of the planes. If you have questions on any of these subjects, feel free to ask below!

Dragonmarks 5/10/16 : Planes, Druids, and Fiends

I’m working away on a number of different projects that I can’t talk about just yet, while waiting for Phoenix: Dawn Command to come back from the printer. One thing I can mention: I’m scheduled to be a guest at Acadecon 2016 (Dayton, Ohio on November 11th-13th), which is in the last few days of funding on Kickstarter. It’s a small event but has a great lineup of guests, so if you might be interested, follow the link and check it out.

Meanwhile, I’ve got dozens of Eberron questions to work through, and many could be the subject of entire posts. But there’s a few that can be answered quickly, and I’m going to see how many I can get through in one sitting.

If Eberron is ever opened for DM’s Guild, would you consider finally writing and publishing a complete Planes of Eberron?

Absolutely. I have a long list of topics I would love to write about as soon as it is possible to do so, and the Planes are high on that list.

Some planes have a key role in Eberron’s story and are very important for Eberron’s flavour. I mean Dal Quor, Xoriat, Dolurrh. Other planes, at least in core set, looks more as “a place where you can find some creatures that wouldn’t fit anywhere else”. But somehow I feel these creatures would need to be “eberronized”. 

I feel that all of the planes have much more to offer than simply being a source of exotic creatures. Each plane needs to be a compelling foundation for stories, whether the plane is the location of the story or something that directly influences it. I have deeper ideas for all the planes that have been revealed so far, and I feel that Mabar and Lamannia have just as much to offer as Xoriat or Dal Quor. And I look forward to writing about them as soon as it’s possible!

Months ago, we discussed the idea of a Daelkyr obsessed with the Silver Flame and trying to make it stronger in creepy ways. Do you think it could work more on celestial versions of aberration, or maybe in aberrating celestials, like a half-illithid angel?

In my opinion, part of what defines the material plane is that its inhabitants are innately connected to ALL of the planes. Humans live and die. They dream and know madness. They can fight wars and find peace. They are already connected to every plane, and that makes it relatively easy for them to be corrupted or transformed by the influence of planar beings. Beyond this, most mortals are creatures of flesh and blood, influenced by genetics, disease, and similar factors. So creatures of Eberron are easy clay for a daelkyr to work with.

By contrast, immortal outsiders are formed from the pure essence of a single plane. They are ideas given form, only loosely bound to physical reality. An archon from Shavarath is a pure embodiment of war. It wasn’t bred or born; it embodies an idea, and madness isn’t part of that idea. So I think it’s far more difficult for a daelkyr to transform an angel or a quori that to affect a mortal. With that said, anything is possible if it makes a good story. In a way, you can think of an angel as a piece of computer code as opposed to a being of flesh and blood. If the daelkyr could find a way to hack that code and rewrite the fundamental idea that defines the angel, they could twist it. It would just be a completely different process from the fleshwarping techniques they use on the creatures of Eberron.

If a paladin of the Blood of Vol who grew up in the ranks of the church or in another way discovers the true nature of the cult, would he lose his abilities? Or do you think in Eberron can exist a corrupted paladin or a paladin without a faith?

PERSONALLY, I hold paladins to a very different standard than clerics. I am a firm believer in the idea that you don’t choose to be a paladin: it is a divine calling that chooses you. As such, I do feel that it is vital for a paladin to remain “on-mission” and that a paladin who loses faith would lose their abilities until they could find their way back to it. With that said, I feel that paladins are defined by THEIR view of their faith. Clerics typically work through doctrine and study; an illiterate farm girl could become a paladin if she is called. She won’t lose her powers just because she’s excommunicated, and she’s unlikely to lose her faith after encountering a single corrupt priest; instead, she will likely be inspired to follow her calling and do something about that corruption.

This is especially true in the case of the Blood of Vol. Where do divine casters tied to the Blood of Vol draw their strength? The Divinity Within. Seekers believe that we all have the divine spark in our blood – that we could all be gods, and that we were cursed with mortality to keep us from reaching this potential. A paladin of the Blood of Vol isn’t getting her powers from an outside source; she has been called by her own divine spark, her own potential urging her to protect her people and fight death.

Add to this, I actually think the faith of the Blood of Vol has no more corruption than any other organized religion in Eberron… it’s simply that it’s called out more dramatically in Erandis. I believe that the majority of priests of the Blood are committed to the principles of their faith. In my campaign, Malevenor is a true Seeker and Atur a stronghold of the faith. The leaders of the Order of the Emerald Claw are corrupt and abusing the faith of their followers, but the devoted priests far outnumber the corrupt.

Now, if your question was “If a BoV paladin raised in the Emerald Claw discovered the corrupt nature of its inner circle, would she lose her faith and her powers,” I think she would turn on the corrupt priests – but I don’t believe that this would shatter her faith in the basic principles of the religion, especially since her divine power actually comes from within her, and isn’t in any way a gift from those corrupt priests.

A long time ago you wrote that you were playing an orc paladin of Demon Wastes and that you were going to tell us about this experience. I think it is a very interesting point in Eberron. How can a few of orcish tribes stand against all the demons of Demon Wastes?

There’s many more questions you could ask. Where do the demons of the Demon Wastes come from, anyway? What do they do when they aren’t trying to escape the Wastes? Why don’t the demons just go AROUND the Labyrinth? Why were the Ghaash’kala first chosen to guard the Labyrinth, and who set them there? And setting aside the demons, how can the Ghaash’kala survive in such a harsh landscape? What to they eat? Where do they acquire their weapons and armor?

This is a big topic, and when Eberron comes to the DM’s Guild the Demon Wastes is a topic I intend to explore in detail. But here’s the high level overview. There’s far more going on in the Demon Wastes than outsiders realize. It is a web of manifest zones, ancient wards, eldritch machines and demiplanes. Just as the modern Gatekeeper Druids hold back the Daelkyr by maintaining the ancient wards, the Ghaash’kala are also working with tools that date back to the Age of Demons and the foundation of the Silver Flame. As for how they obtain resources and food, they forage in Khyber. There are entrances to Khyber all across the Demon Wastes. When I say “Khyber” here, I don’t mean physical caves; I mean the demiplanes where demons are bound and born. Essentially, the Ghaash’kala raid the Abyss to obtain resources that aren’t available on the material plane.

Needless to say, this is the very tip of the iceberg… but I look forward to explaining in greater detail when it’s possible to do so.

I have a new group of players. They would love to play or a team related to Greensingers or to Ashbounds. But I feel like Greensingers are nice people singing and getting drunk in the almost-innocent plane of Thelanis and Ashbounds are interesting only at low levels, since their natural enemies are humans. Would you have any suggestion for either a Greensinger or Ashbound campaign?

I have a very different view of each sect, and I think you could definitely run a campaign tied to either sect.

Let’s start with the Greensingers. I don’t see them as “nice people” or, for the most part, as drunkards. The Greensingers are concerned about the balance between the natural world and the planes… especially Thelanis and the Fey. It’s noted that “many Greensingers spend time in the halls of the Faerie Court before returning to Eberron to act as ambassadors, servants, and spies for the fey lords.” This same article notes that “These individuals can serve as guides to Thelanis (and perhaps other planes), but they cannot always be trusted; their motives are as mysterious as the fey themselves.”

If I was going to run a campaign based on the Greensingers, I’d start by developing their Fey patrons. I’d want members of the party to have ties to different patrons, and to work with each player to develop their own personal goals. These could be tied to threats that are passing from one realm to the other; to the plight of the Feyspires; or to ancient bargains or pacts established by the Fey themselves. I’d look at the depiction of Bast and the fae in Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, or in my own novels Gates of Night or The Fading Dream. In my view, a Greensinger campaign could have all the action and suspense of Mission Impossible and Ocean’s Eleven spread across two planes. The Greensingers are tied to a secret world most mortals know nothing about it, and they alone know how that world threatens and is threatened by Eberron.

As for the Ashbound, the last thing I’d worry about is that their threats are primarily low-level or human. The stereotype of the Ashbound is that they are crazy fanatics who run around burning down Vadalis magebreeding facilities, and some of them do. But the basic drive of the Ashbound is to protect the world from the unnatural influence of magic, and there’s a lot of that going around. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Mourning? If I was running an Ashbound campaign, I would emphasize the terrible threat posed by the irresponsible use of magic. Driven by greed and the thirst for power, the Five Nations and the Dragonmarked Houses are pushing the limits of magic further and further. Concern of a second Mourning is certainly a possibility: but you can also emphasize the smaller scale horrors such research has unleashed. Explore the biological weapons Jorasco’s nosomatic chirugeons are developing, or the war magics Minister Adal is exploring in his quest to ensure victory in the Next War. Expand on Magebreeding… the experiments that have gone horrible wrong and the creations that Vadalis cannot control. and that’s not even touching demons and other unnatural magical entities that are anathema in the eyes of the Ashbound. You can play the Ashbound as zealots who primarily bother humans… but you can also play them as champions fighting a secret crusade against threats and villains the common folk don’t know about. You can play them as fanatics… but they can just as easily be the supernatural world’s answer to the Men in Black, protecting the innocent from arcane terrors they never even know about.

What relations to Night Hags – any of the nine supposed to inhabit the Demon Wastes, and great Sora Kell herself – have with the Quori? We know that they had a quasi-neutral situation as ambassadors in the Dragon-Fiend wars, but they also have powers over dreams. How do the Quori feel about this, and, conversely, do the hags know about the previous incarnations of Dal Quor?

There’s no canon answer to this. If you’re asking how I’d run it: First off, keep in mind the vast scale of Dal Quor. Every creature that dreams visits Dal Quor… and we’ve also indicated that there’s regions of Dal Quor made up of the dreams of long-dead entities, and places like the Citadel of Fading Dreams. Natural dreams are created through the interaction of the dreamer’s subconscious with the mutable reality of Dal Quor. Quori have the power to override this and alter an individual’s dreams, but it’s not as if they are personally monitoring and shaping EVERY DREAM. As a result, if your wizard uses Dream or Nightmare, he’s not innately stepping on the toes of the Quori; he’ll only draw attention if he happens to mess with a dream a Quori IS directly shaping for some purpose.

So you COULD say that the Night Hags fly under the radar of the Quori; they have enough experience to recognize when a dream is being manipulated by Quori and choose to avoid interfering. However, I’d personally say that the Night Hags are known in Dal Quor – I think they’d extend their role as fiendish ambassador to include their interaction with Dal Quor. I think they’d HAVE to know more about the previous incarnations of Dal Quor than the Quori do, which would be an immediate basis for a relationship. It could be that they have helped shape the Quori reaction to the turn of the age in this and previous ages… they might have even set the Quori-Giant war in motion.

The short form, though, is what works best for your story? Do you want a Night Hag to be able to act as a neutral intermediary between the party and il-Lashtavar? Would you like to have a Night Hag with a bitter feud with a powerful Quori… or a deep love formed in a previous age, leading her to want to force the turn of the age in the hopes of restoring her lover’s spirit to the form she once knew? It’s up to you.

What is the difference between some of the Rajahs who seem to step on each other’s toes: (a) Bel Shalor is a spirit of treason, but so is Eldrantulku. Though I assume Bel Shalor is more of the classical temptor and corruptor of innocence. (b) Sul Katesh is the keeper of secrets, but Tul Oreshka also has power over them. (c) Dral Khatuur and the overlord served by Drulkalatar are spirits of the wild, though Dral Khatuur is more specialised in cold.

The Overlords of the First Age aren’t gods, and they can step on each other’s toes. The range of their influence is limited; if Rak Tulkhesh is influencing events in the Five Nations, he’s out of range to also be influencing events in Xen’drik – but there could be ANOTHER Overlord tied to war influencing Stormreach. With that said, the ones you’ve described are different from one another. I’d love to do a more detailed accounting of each of these when the DM’s Guild opens up for Eberron, but in short:

  • Bel Shalor is more about corruption while Eldrantulku is about chaos and discord.
  • Sul Khatesh is the master of arcane secrets, while Tul Oreshka knows the secrets that will drive you mad. Sul Khatesh knows incantations that can destroy cities or raise the dead; Tul Oreshka knows what your lover truly thinks about you, and what’s lurking underneath your bed in the dark.
  • Dral Khatuur embodies the chill that kills the harvest and saps the strength of the strongest man. The Wild Heart is the predator that lurks within, the rabid instincts that lie beneath the surface waiting to be unleashed.

The key is that the Overlords are fundamentally about the EVIL that their spheres can do – the things that cause fear and death. There’s nothing positive about Dral Khatuur; she embodies the killing cold. She’s not part of the natural cycle; she will bring unending winter. Likewise, the Feral Master is a corruptor of natural impulses, turning innocents into savage monsters.

Back on the WotC forums, in the days when they existed, you mentioned that you had details on Dral Khatuur and her place of imprisonment, but had to clear it with WotC whether you could release any information. Has there been any movement on this?

I have a 10,000 word backdrop on Dral Khatuur and her prison in the Frostfell. If Eberron is unlocked for the DM’s Guild I’ll see if I can revise it and post it there.

How do various Rajahs – or, for that matter, gods – interact with planes that are within their spheres: Dral Khultur with Risia, Rak Tulkesh with Savarath, the Wild Heart with Lamannia, Katashka with Mabar and Dollurh, and so forth?

As I mentioned above, Eberron is touched and influenced by all the planes. The Overlords are fundamentally spirits of Eberron and as such reflect how the planes influence mortals as opposed to having some sort of personal tie to the planes. So Tul Oreshka is strongly tied to Madness and has a closer connection to Xoriat than to the other planes… but that’s just an amplified version of the connection ALL mortals have to Xoriat, and it doesn’t mean that she has some sort of bond to or influence over the Daelkyr or other creatures of Xoriat.

That’s all I have time for today. As always, leave your questions and comments below!

Dragonmarks 5/02/16: Ravenloft and Cyre

My last call for Eberron questions produced over forty questions, many quite complex. So it’s going to be some time before I get to them all. But let’s get started with one of the big ones… though as always, important disclaimers. Nothing I say here is official. These are my thoughts – often off the top of my head – and how I might handle things in MY campaign. I may contradict canon sources. As with all things, use what you like and ignore what you don’t. With that said…

Do you have any advice for incorporating Ravenloft in an Eberron Campaign?

Ravenloft is set in the Demiplane of Dread, a pocket dimension shaped by the enigmatic Dark Powers. These mysterious forces draw realms from the material plane, along with individuals of great evil; these become the Dreadlords who rule over these domains. The most infamous Dreadlord is Strahd von Zarovich, who rules over his domain of Barovia from Castle Ravenloft.

In tying Ravenloft to Eberron, the first question is whether you want the Demiplane of Dread to serve as a bridge between realities – if you want to have Lord Soth ruling a piece of Krynn, or to say that Barovia is a piece of the Forgotten Realms. If not, it’s a simple matter to say that all of the domains in the Demiplane of Dread are drawn from different points in Eberron’s history… especially if you assert that time passes differently in the Domain of Dread, so while a domain may have disappeared thousands of years ago, it may have only been years or centuries from the perspective of those trapped within it. Here’s a few possibilities to consider.

  • Ancient Karrnath. Barovia could easily have been a fiefdom in pre-Galifar Karrnath. With this approach you could use Strahd and his history exactly as written. Alternately, you could keep the basic story of Strahd, but change him to an infamous character from the history of Khorvaire. My first choice would be to make him Karrn the Conqueror, the king who first sought to unite the Five Nations by force… and failed. In this model, Karrn retreated to his ancestral stronghold of Ravenloft after his defeat, drawing his family and closest allies to him – and it is here that you could overlay the existing story of Strahd. This would be interesting because it would present Barovia as Karrn’s idealized vision of what Karrnath (and the Five Nations under his rule) should have been. It would also present the vision of a ruthless, vampire Karrn king… an interesting contrast and foil to Kaius III of present day Karrnath. And it opens the possibility that Karrn/Strahd could be seeking a way to return to Eberron, still hoping to unite the Five Nations under his rule. If I ran Ravenloft in Eberron, this is the path I would likely take.
  • Ohr Kaluun. This is one of the pre-Sundering kingdoms of Sarlona. Its people were known both for their strong mystical traditions and their dark practices, and it’s easy to imagine that a Dreadlord such as Hazlik could be drawn from this place. One of the distinctive aspects of Ohr Kaluun is the War Labyrinths used as citadels by the ruling families; a haunted fortress maze could certainly fit into Ravenloft.
  • The Dhakaani. Who says domains have to be dominated by humans? The Demiplane of Dread could contain a fiefdom plucked out of the Dhakaani empire at the height of its power. If you want to add a little more Lovecraftian flavor to your Gothic horror, the hobgoblin Dreadlord could secretly be running a Cult of the Dragon Below; rather than being undead, she could be bonded to life-sustaining symbionts.
  • The Qabalrin. Little is known about this ancient Elven civilization, aside from the fact that they possessed vast knowledge of the arts of necromancy and produced the first humanoid vampires and liches. They are thought to have been decadent and cruel; it’s said that they learned their secrets directly from the Shadow, and that Aureon himself destroyed their civilization. You could easily say that a piece of the Qabalrin survived the destruction that formed the Ring of Storms by being drawn into the Demiplane of Dread… or perhaps, that the entire civilization of the Qabalrin was drawn into the Demiplane, and that the meteor strike was an unrelated event that occurred in the aftermath. As the Qabalrin are thought to have been the greatest mortal masters of necromancy, it would be easy to say that Vecna is one of the first Qabalrin liches.

While you can work any or all of these options into an Eberron Ravenloft campaign, there’s another possibility that has even greater potential.

Could Cyre be tied to Ravenloft?

Four years ago the nation of Cyre was consumed by the Mourning, a catastrophe that left twisted remnants of the nation surrounded by dead-gray mists. As mists are the traditional hallmark of the Dark Powers, it would be an easy thing to say that the Mourning was nothing less than Cyre being consumed by the Demiplane of Dread. If you decide to follow this path, a critical question is just how much of Cyre you want to incorporate into the Demiplane. Is the entire country there? Or did only a small region survive the transition, such as the city of Metrol?

Per existing canon, the mists spread across Cyre on the Day of Mourning, killing or transforming anything caught within them. If you follow this path, you could say that those things twisted by the Mourning died in Eberron but lived on in the Demiplane of Dread.At first, transportation to this Dread Cyre might seem like a dream come true to Cyran PCs. Here they could find villages destroyed by the Mourning, friends or family thought long dead, or other treasures or secrets long lost in core Eberron. But over time the full extent of the realm’s corruption would be revealed. Mad Cannith artificers are performing horrific experiments, perhaps blending human and warforged to create something new and terrible. A legendary bard is perfecting a performance that drives all who hear it mad. And, of course, no one can escape the mists that surround the nation. Queen Dannel rules with an iron fist, justifying this cruelty as necessary to preserve the nation through this vital time. But what is the truth of Dannel’s tale? Is she the domain’s Dreadlord, and if so, what evil deed caused her and her nation to be drawn into Dread? Were her misdeeds tied to personal passion or ambition, or did she travel down a dark path in a quest to save her people? Does she believe that she HAS saved Cyre by pulling it out of the Last War? Or is she searching for a way to return the nation to Eberron… and if so, has she developed a horrific weapon that will ensure Cyran dominion upon its return?

A possible twist on this is to start a campaign with the player characters in Cyre on the Day of Mourning (you’d want to make clear to the players that they’ve never heard of the Mourning, and that the war is still going on). They see the dead-grey mists, but when the mists pass over them… nothing happens. Everything appears to be the same. Continue the adventure as normal, but the players will eventually learn of the impassible wall of mist surrounding the borders of the nation, and discover the slowly spreading darkness that is corrupting every aspect of their land. What will they do? Say they find a way to return… but discover that Dannel has been working on a horrific weapon of mass destruction, and that it was this work that drew the nation into Dread? Will they seek to return Cyre to Eberron if it could result in a far greater horror than the Mourning being unleashed on the rest of Khorvaire? Or will they remain in the Demiplane of Dread and find a way to live with the darkness?

What are the Dark Powers? 

Ravenloft is shaped by the Dark Powers, entities that both empower and torment the Dreadlords. The Dark Powers are largely enigmatic, but it may help you to determine their true nature in the contact of Eberron. Here’s a few possibilities.

  • The Dark Powers could be one or more of the Overlords of the First Age – the fiendish masters of the Lords of Dust banished over a hundred thousand years ago. The Demiplane of Dread could potentially be inside an Overlord (metaphysically speaking). The corrupt nature of the Dreadlord creates a link to the Overlord, who then consumes the Dreadlord and the surrounding domain and gains strength by slowly digesting it. Tul Oreshka (AKA The Voice In The Darkness) would be a good match from the Overlords that have been named so far, but you could easily create a new Overlord for this purpose.
  • The prime spirit of Dal Quor is il-Lashtavar, “The Darkness That Dreams.” The Demiplane of Dread could in fact be a part of Dal Quor. Each domain is literally the nightmare of its tormented Dreadlord. These domains serve as anchors that help il-Lashtavar avoid the turning of the age that will end its existence. A question to address with this is whether the Quori are aware of this and interact with it, or whether this is a private practice of the great darkness that its minions know nothing about.
  • Mabar is the consuming darkness. It is always seeking a foothold in Eberron, an opprtunity to consume its light and life. Mabar is the source of the negative energy that sustains the undead, and they are its unwitting touchstones into the world. The Dark Powers could be the prime spirits of Mabar, and the process of absorbing domains and corrupting Dreadlords could be part of a slow quest to consume all of Eberron. This would be a way to explain why Cyre is far larger than any other domain; the connection is growing stronger each time, and the next consumption could take an entire continent.

These are just a few ideas, and you don’t have to go to such extremes to use Ravenloft in your game. If you’ve done something different with Ravenloft in Eberron, post your ideas in the comments!

What are some easy points of reference for Cyran culture? We know that Karrnath is generally dour and proud of its military heritage and that the Brelish are cosmopolitan and welcoming, but descriptions of Cyre tend to be “was welcoming, now is a smouldering wasteland.” What values would a Cyran character have? What was its niche back when it still existed? 

The great institutions of Galifar were spread throughout the Five Nations, and while they belonged to the kingdom they had considerable impact on the nations in which they lay. Karrnath has Rekkenmark, and has always prided itself on martial skill and discipline. Aundair has the Arcane Congress, and values knowledge and all things arcane. Thrane has Flamekeep; while not a branch of Galifar, it is still an institution that has shaped the nation. Breland has the King’s Citadel. Back in the day this organization served all of Galifar, but it was based in Breland… and while Brelish may be cosmopolitan and welcoming, they are also extremely pragmatic. Essentially, if you had to assign classes to the nations, Karrnath is the fighter; Aundair the wizard; Thrane the cleric; and Breland is the rogue. So where does this leave Cyre?

Cyre was the heart of Galifar. Thronehold was the literal capital, but all the arms and various attendants of government spilled out from the island into Cyre. The nation was a center for trade, but beyond this it was the nexus of art and culture within Galifar. Breland had a strong industrial capacity, but Cyre produced the finest things in the kingdom. Poets, playwrights, artisans of all sorts: if you were at the top of your field, then Metrol is where you belonged. Add to this the fact that Cyre was the ancestral home of House Cannith and seat of most of its Forgeholds. Essentially, the other four nations had a strong single focus; Cyre is where the best of all of those things came together, or at least that’s what a Cyran would tell you. If I had to put a class to it, Cyre would be the bard. Of all the nations, it was the most charismatic, and its people valued diplomacy, commerce, and art over brute strength, devout faith, or pure knowledge.

With that said, no accounting of Cyran character would be complete without considering the impact of the Last War. The war lasted nearly a hundred years, and any human Player Character from Cyre will know no other life. Here’s a few things to consider:

  • They were in the right. Mishann ir’Wynarn was Jarot’s rightful heir. Mishann should have been Queen of Galifar; the Last War began because others challenged her rightful succession. The Cyrans know with absolute certainty that they are the only nation whose actions were beyond reproach, that it was the greed and betrayal of the other nations that destroyed Galifar. The loss of their nation simply reinforces this: it is the ultimate injustice, as they alone were truly in the right. As a side note, Mishann was assassinated by the Order of the Emerald Claw. While this was relatively early in the war, it’s still a potential foundation for prejudice against Karrns in general and the Blood of Vol specifically.
  • Surrounded by enemies. Karrnath, Thrane, Breland, and towards the end of the war Darguun and Valenar. Every other nation had one or more relatively secure borders, areas of the nation that were less affected by the ongoing conflict. There was no safe haven in Cyre, and they were always girding for the next attack.This fostered a strong community spirit – it’s us against the world – and led to…
  • Resourcefulness. Cyre didn’t have the military power of Karrnath or the mystical might of Aundair. It lacked Breland’s spy network or the divine force of Thrane. Cyre had to somehow hold off all of these foes. This led Cyre to employ more warforged and mercenary forces than any other nation (something that didn’t work out so well in Valenar and Darguun), but it also forced the Cyran people to become extremely adaptable and resourceful – stretching resources, adapting tactics to deal with their many and varied foes, and always being prepared for an attack from a new quarter. This trait has served Cyrans well as refugees, as they must continue to make the most of limited resources and constant adversity.
  • Artistry. The luxurious lifestyle of old Cyre was quickly lost as all resources were devoted to the war, but the people always treasured the fine things they still had: music, dance, literature. The most heartwrenching and uplifting works of art of this time still come from Cyre, and most Cyrans hone some sort of artistic talent, be it dabbling in an instrument, telling stories, or simply drawing in the dirt. This continues to be a source of pride for Cyrans in their exile; whatever they have lost, they know they have the talents to create new treasures. In this, there is some common ground with Aundairians, who place great value on wit and knowledge. However, the Aundiarians are more naturally scholars while Cyrans are artists. The finest histories of the war were produced in Aundair; the most heartwrenching songs came out of Cyre. Likewise, throughout the war, Aundair was able to maintain its ivory towers. Cyran artists lived and worked with mud, sweat, and tears.

Cyrans are proud. They may not have been the best warriors, wizards, or priests. But they were in the right from the very beginning of the war. They stood back to back against the enemies that surrounded them. Even when the war took everything from them, they have held on to the culture that defined them. Once Cyran tailors worked with the finest silks, and now they work with rags; but they still find ways to make things that are unique and beautiful.

Phew! Two questions down, thirty-eight to go. Share your thoughts or questions on Ravenloft, Cyre, Eberron, or anything else below!

Where Have I Been?

ShrikeIt’s been two months since my last update, and you may wonder if I’ve fallen off the face of the internet. In fact I have been chained to my desk working on my upcoming RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. We just finalized the card files yesterday, the adventure path is with the editor, and we’re just a few weeks away from sending the game to the printer. Once that’s done, I’ll get back on a regular blogging schedule… but for now, all my writing time is dedicated to Phoenix. In the meantime, there are a few things I wanted to share.

EXTRA LIFE

The Extra Life fundraising event is just a few weeks away. Originally I was scheduled to play with the Wizards of the Coast Team, on a team with Erin Evans, Bruce Cordell, Teos Abadia and DM Susan Morris. It’s an incredible team, but I’m chained to my desk until Phoenix is at the printer and I can’t get away until it’s done, even for an adventure as amazing as this. However, it is a fantastic cause and the WotC marathon should be an amazing event; I urge you to check out the player links in this paragraph and back someone if you can!

WOTC EBERRON FORUMS CLOSING DOWN

On October 29th, Wizards of the Coast is shutting down their community site. I’ve been posting on the WotC forums since Eberron first began, and I’m sad to see them go. In particular, I’m sad to lose the Eberron forum. However, there are a few options. The Piazza is urging people to transfer Eberron material from the WotC site to the Piazza’s dedicated Eberron Forum. The venerable ENWorld is also encouraging people to transfer favorite posts and threads to their Emergency Evacuation Lifeboat. I don’t have time to transfer posts myself, but if anyone has enjoyed the Eberron forum over the years, feel free to move a favorite thread to a new home.

Now it’s back to Phoenix for me!

Villains of Eberron

As I was writing about the daelkyr in my last Eberron post, it occurred to me that my emphasis on how alien and unknowable they are might make it hard for people to understand how to work them into a story. Eberron has a host of major villains ready to go, and sometimes it’s not always clear what differentiates them. So I figured I’d do a quick run-down of the big bad guys.

The Dreaming Dark seeks to take control of mortal civilization in order to preserve the current status quo in Dal Quor. Thus, its primary goal is conquest. However, the quori prefer to conquer in such a way that their subjects embrace their oppressors. If you look to Sarlonan history, they instigated a series of wars and political upheavals and then the Inspired emerged as the saviors who brought order to this shattered land. They are more likely to do the same thing in Khorvaire than to invade with a Riedran army. It’s entirely possible that they instigated the Last War as the first stage of this plan. The question is who they will use as their figurehead leaders. They don’t need to replicate the culture of Riedra in Khorvaire: they simply need a scenario in which mortals embrace a new, absolute ruler. Is Queen Aurala secretly a quori figurehead (which would explain her warlike ambitions)? Have they assumed control of one or more of the Dragonmarked houses? Whatever it is, the main role of the quori is to cause chaos and then to provide a seemingly perfect solution.

The Daelkyr are essentially alien scientists and artists, and their primary goal is change. When they first arrived, they engaged the Empire of Dhakaan with armies of aberrations. They took creatures of Eberron and twisted them to produce monstrosities. For the last seven thousand years they’ve been bound in Khyber, and many wonder why they haven’t been working harder to escape. The main point is that they aren’t interested in conquest: they are interested in transformation. Even from the depths they can work through their cults and their agents; read this blog post for information on why someone would be a part of a daelkyr cult. They may BE changing the world in ways people don’t even realize; one interesting idea is that the dragonmarks were actually created by the daelkyr. If you WANT a daelkyr to burst out of Khyber with a devastating army of aberrations, you can have that. Just bear in mind that they aren’t seeking to conquer or colonize Eberron: they simply want to change it. If you’re going to use a daelkyr as a major villain, think about how it seeks to change the world.

The Lords of Dust are driven to free their ancient Overlords. Thus they are driven by Prophecy. The release of an Overlord will likely shatter modern civilization. Thus the Lords of Dust have little interest in conquest… unless conquest is necessary to release the Overlord. Each Overlord has a sequence of events that must come to pass to release it – a combination to its lock. It’s up to you to decide what that combination is. So if you WANT the combination to involve the conquest of Aundair by the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes, than the Lords of Dust will be working to conquer Aundair. You could have a Lord of the Ring plotline – they need to recover a lost artifact and return it to a specific location at a specific time – in which case the conflict would all be based around the artifact and those who possess it. Or their actions could be far more subtle: they need Queen Aurala to restore Galifar, and thus they are helping her conquer the other Five Nations, but they are acting behind the scenes and even she doesn’t know it. Another way to look at the Lords of Dust is The Terminator: They have a vision of the future, and they are taking the actions required to make that future come to pass. Their actions don’t always make sense to us because we don’t understand the dominoes they are lining up. Why are they helping Aurala? What’s that do for them? We’ll find out when she’s murdered on the day of her coronation and Sul Khatesh is released from her bonds.

The Aurum is an alliance of powerful and wealthy mortals, and they seek to increase their own power and influence; as such they are often driven by Greed and Ambition. In a sense, they are a cabal of Bond villains, and pretty much any James Bond plot could be laid at the feet of the Aurum. While they work together when it serves their purposes, their schemes are often the schemes of an individual Aurum concordian – thus, foiling a plot doesn’t necessarily make you the enemy of the entire Aurum. Likewise, their schemes are often on a smaller scale than those of the daelkyr or the Dreaming Dark. They want to acquire a particular thing, gain control of an organization or piece of land, eliminate a particular person. Where the daelkyr and the quori are cosmic threats, the Aurum are fundamentally human villains (even if they are dwarves or elves).

The Emerald Claw are driven by Erandis’ desire to restore her dragonmark and gain ultimate power. Like the Aurum, their actions are generally more straightforward and serve a specific purpose. Erandis is going to set off a necrotic generator that will turn everyone in Sharn into a zombie because she hopes that harnessing that power will unlock her mark. She’s going to send an army of undead against Arcanix because she needs a particular necromantic tome or artifact. The actions of her followers may be cloaked in political schemes – many agents of the Emerald Claw believe they are laying the groundwork for Karrnathi dominance – but ultimately, any large-scale Emerald Claw action is somehow about increasing Erandis’ power or furthering her personal goals.

I’ve got to get back to work on Phoenix, so I’ll stop here. How about you? Which villains are your favorites, and what have you done with them?

Latest News and Eberron Q&A!

EPSON MFP imageI’ve spent much of the last few weeks sick with the flu, but I’ve finally bounced back. I’m continuing to work on Phoenix: Dawn Command, and I’m excited about how the adventures are coming together. I’m still not 100% certain what we’ll be doing at Gen Con and whether there will be full demo sessions, but at the very least I’ll have a get together to discuss the game and show you how it works. The above image is from one of our stretch goals – a challenge created by the amazing Jason Morningstar.

In other news, Fairytale Gloom is out in the wild… though it doesn’t seem to have reached all stores yet. I’m keen to hear what people think. If you’ve had a chance to play and have any questions or comments, let me know!

And finally, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the vast backlog of Eberron questions. I’m afraid I still have no concrete information about 5E Eberron development; I’m hoping there will be news of some sort at Gen Con. Today’s questions focus on warforged, the Silver Flame, and the devious daelkyr…

A very interesting point in my opinion is the conflict between the ideals of the Flame and the corruption and racism of the Church. For example about warforgeds. How are the lives of warforged living in Thrane?

This is a complicated issue. To begin with, let’s talk about racism in Thrane.

The 3.5 ECS says nothing about endemic racism in Thrane. This is a concept that was introduced in Five Nations, a book I didn’t work on. It’s not a concept I personally endorse. There’s nothing in the core beliefs of the Silver Flame that sets humanity apart or above other races. At its ultimate core it is about defending the children of Eberron and Siberys from the children of Khyber. Broadly interpreted it’s about protecting the innocent from supernatural evil… not “innocent humans.” ALL noble souls can strengthen the Flame after death, and it was originally kindled by a noble sacrifice made long before human civilization existed. Many sources feature nonhuman Thrane clerics of the Silver Flame, and one of Tira Miron’s most trusted allies was an elf avenger. Aundair doesn’t have a human majority, yet Thrane’s templars put themselves in harms way to defend Aundair from the lycanthropic threat. If anything, I would expect Thrane to have LESS racism than the other Five Nations as it is grounded in a faith that is driven to protect all innocents. So speaking personally: I didn’t come up with the idea of excessive racism in Thrane and it’s not something I embrace at my table or in my writing.

WITH THAT SAID: If I were to embrace Five Nations’ depiction of racism in Thrane, I would say that it is a relatively recent development that seems to be getting worse every day… And that it is in all likelihood a manifestation of Bel Shalor’s growing power. The Shadow in the Flame thrives on drawing out the darkness inside of people, and this would be a logical manifestation of that. I’d call out the fact that it IS in opposition to the principles of the Flame, and have a few notable voices (such as Jaela) trying unsuccessfully to steer people back to the light.

The warforged are a special case. The Church doesn’t accept that Cannith could artificially manufacture souls. Thus warforged don’t fall into the category of “innocents to be protected.” A warforged is like a sword: a tool to be used in the battle. The Treaty of Thronehold gave the warforged freedom, but it can’t give them souls… and thus, in the eyes of the faithful, they remain things. What’s been said before is that Thrane warforged often end up in various forms of indentured servitude. They are seen as tools, and the Treaty hasn’t changed that.

In my campaign one of the players is a warforged paladin and most of the hierarchy doesn’t even look at him as a living being. As my players are growing up to mid-high levels, I’m thinking: what if keeper of the flame would create him a cardinal? How would the hierarchy react? How the people? Would it be a playable role?

Certainly. In MY campaign, you can’t decide to be a paladin; you have to be called. Cannith couldn’t build a paladin. Thus, the warforged paladin is proof to those with eyes to see that warforged DO have souls and can be part of the Flame. It would be something many Thranes would have difficulty accepting, but it could ultimately cause change across Thrane… or it could trigger a hostile backlash, especially if natural doubts were fanned by the Shadow in the Flame. And as such, it is an extremely playable role.

One thing I am curious about is why did the Treaty of Thronehold include the destruction or disassembly of all of the creation forges? Why do that when you’re also including in there that all warforged are considered individuals rather than property? The way I see it, it’s like neutering an entire race…

The fact that the Treaty of Thronehold helps the warforged is incidental. Its primary purpose was to limit the power of both the Five Nations and House Cannith. At the end of the war, every nation had warforged armies of various sizes. Disbanding these armies was a symbol of standing down from military footing. In my opinion, the original draft of the treaty ordered that all warforged be destroyed; shifting this to freedom for the warforged took a serious amount of lobbying on the part of sympathizers who’d worked with warforged over the wars. But the primary intention was eliminating standing armies, and I doubt that even many of the sympathizers considered this “the birth of a new race.”

Meanwhile, the destruction of the creation forges was a way to rein in the power of House Cannith. Left unchecked, Cannith could produce armies of warforged. Already there’s reason to question if the Five Nations truly have the power to enforce the Korth Edicts; no one liked the idea of Cannith being able to field an army of its own.

So both of these actions were about the balance of power in Khorvaire, not a grand vision of the sanctity of warforged life; in all likelihood, it was a near thing that the warforged weren’t destroyed along with the forges.

Maybe the Keeper could create cardinal a paladin orc?

This seems far less likely to me. I’m actually playing an orc paladin of the Ghaash’kala in a 5E Eberron campaign (a home game run by a friend). One of these days I’ll post some of what I’ve written about the Ghaash’kala over the course of the campaign. The short form is that my paladin would have no interest in being part of the hierarchy of Thrane. He comes from a completely different culture and a different tradition of the Flame. The excessive hierarchy and traditions of the Church seem frivolous to him; he is a warrior used to being on the front line of an endless war. I could see Jaela doing something to more officially acknowledge the Ghaash’kala as comrades in faith – but I don’t think appointing one of them to be a cardinal in Flamekeep would work out well for anyone involved.

Do you think the Lord of the Blades could have some connections with an Overlord? Maybe the mourning was caused by the freeing of an Overlord; or maybe the Becoming God is nothing but a living machine for channeling the energy of an Overlord. Or maybe he is trying to create with warforgeds something like Elves did in Aerenal.

All of these things are certainly possible if it’s a story you want to tell. The Lord of Blades could have connections with an Overlord. He could even be a Lord of Dust who’s only masquerading as a warforged. Try this on for size: We’ve never said where warforged souls come from. This is because warforged souls are tiny, tiny fragments of an Overlord, tiny enough to slip through the binding of the Flame. The Becoming God is a vessel that will ultimately absorb all the souls of the warforged and recreate the Overlord. So once the vessel for the Becoming God is completed, the “Lord of Blades” may start setting up situations to kill warforged – because when they die, their spirits are sucked into the vessel of the God. The trick is that each individual soul is innocent and unique, as long as it can keep from being reabsorbed. So a warforged PC is thus a part of a great evil – but by staying alive, they are preventing that evil from being reborn and turning its power to a good purpose.

I remember somewhere you wrote that it COULD exist a good Daelkyr, even if it still would be somehow crazy. Have you ever played something like that? Could the Daelkyr join the Silver Flame? Do you think Gatekeepers would fight him anyway?

I touch on this in a reply to a comment in my blog post on The Daelkyr And Their Cults. The critical point of the issue is that you could have a “good daelkyr” in the sense that its overall agenda is intended to help the people of Eberron. However, that doesn’t mean that agenda would appear to be good to everyone else. Daelkyr are as alien as alien gets: their idea of doing good might be to change all humans into changelings, to spread a linguistic virus that transforms Khorvaire into a group mind, or something like that. In the long run this might actually promote world peace and harmony, but it’s not likely to be something the existing cultures welcome. Even a daelkyr who simply wants to protect Eberron from other forms of supernatural evil – so one that serves the same purpose as the Silver Flame – would be likely to do so in a way that’s inexplicable to humans. One option I’ve thrown on the table is the idea that the daelkyr created Dragonmarks; perhaps that’s their way of trying to help humanity against other evil forces.

The main thing is that I personally wouldn’t have a daelkyr show up in Flamekeep and have a rational discussion with Krozen and Jaela (or the PCs) about how they can join forces to fight evil. If I wanted to do this with some traditional force of evil I’d use a Lord of Dust or a Quori. The Lords of Dust are native fiends of Eberron and the Quori are tied to human dreams, and as such there is a basic foundation for understanding. While in my mind what defines the daelkyr is that there is NO foundation for understanding. The mere presence of a daelkyr causes confusion, and if it focuses its attention on you it can inflict permanent mental damage. To me this is a side effect of the fact that it’s a powerful telepath whose thoughts are so innately alien that the telepathic broadcast breaks human minds. If you touch its mind, you will go insane. To quote the ECS…

The mind of a daelkyr is a labyrinth that can swallow the thoughts of lesser creatures. Any creature who attempts to read the thoughts of a daelkyr or otherwise study its mind must make a DC 29 Will save or suffer the effect of an insanity spell.

Note that this isn’t an active power. It’s not something the Daelkyr CHOOSES to do. It is simply what happens to any creature of Eberron that touches the mind of a daelkyr.

And for all these reasons: Yes, a Gatekeeper would fight him anyway. Because ultimately it doesn’t matter what his intentions are. He’s a fundamentally alien entity who doesn’t belong in Eberron, and who innately spreads madness and corruption simply by virtue of his presence. Which may be a tragedy if he means well, but there it is.

So I’m certainly open to a story about a daelkyr who’s trying to help the people of Eberron… but I’d make his help enigmatic and potentially dangerous, not some sort of simple “creepy ally.”

Is a human mind as alien to a daelkyr as a daelkyr mind is to a human, and if not, why not? Do daelkyr suffer similar problems if they read the mind of a creature from Eberron?

No. In general aberrations are alien creatures, but you can use detect thoughts on a dolgrim, beholder or mind flayer without getting your brain fried. It’s not simply that daelkyr are alien; it’s that they are primal immortal entities who ALSO happen to be indescribably alien. So a daelkyr looking at your thoughts will going to find them very alien and puzzling… but so incredibly tiny and insignificant that it doesn’t really have a big impact.

Personally, I would put the relationship between human and daelkyr as much like the relationship between a fruit fly and a human. From your perspective the fly’s life is trivially short and relatively meaningless. Look at a single fruit fly: can you tell me what it’s thinking or the purpose behind its actions? Do you believe it feels emotions or has dreams or thoughts as you do? Meanwhile, do you think the fly understands YOU? You’re so vast that all it can really perceive is your foot or the finger descending to kill it; it doesn’t even have a full picture of what you are. Comparing lifespans you are essentially immortal. And again, do you think it understands WHY you do what you do? Perhaps you’re a scientist running an experiment in genetics. Perhaps you’re a bored child pulling the wings off insects for the fun of it. Perhaps different daelkyr represent these different things… so Belashyrra is pursuing a vast experiment (one that will take many, many human generations to show any results) while Dyrrn the Corruptor is simply the child frying ants with a magnifying glass. This allows the one daelkyr whose actions, however bizarre, do involve a vast scheme – and the other whose cruelty is purely pernicious.

Now if you WANT a daelkyr to take a personal interest in a PC as part of a storyline, go ahead. It happens that they’re a particularly remarkable fly and the culmination of a particular experiment and it’s actually keeping an eye on them to see how it plays out. But it still doesn’t understand or empathize with them; they are still just insects, even if they happen to be interesting ones.

Doom, Gloom and Eberron Q&A

FTGloom

Since the Phoenix Kickstarter campaign ended, I’ve been working hard on finishing the writing for Phoenix and that’s going to be my focus for the next few months. However, I don’t want to completely drop off the face of the earth, and I’ve got a big backlog of Eberron questions to get to.

First, news: Fairytale Gloom comes out this week. I’m very happy with the game and I look forward to hearing what people think of it. One thing I like is that you’re working with characters you already know – which makes it easy to come up with a new story. Furthermore, Fairytale Gloom doesn’t use preset families; instead you assemble a family from the cast of 20 characters. So you can assemble the cast of a classic fairy tale… or you can decide that Snow White, Red Riding Hood and Cinderella are secret agents working for the mysterious “Granny.”

Beyond that, there’s big news in the world of Kickstarter. For those who aren’t familiar with The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, in 2012 a guy named Erik Chevalier licensed a game I’d designed with my friend Lee Moyer, and went to Kickstarter to raise the money to produce it. He raised four times the amount he was asking for; told everyone that he was making the game; and a year later revealed that he was out of money and had never actually gotten around to making the game. Here’s my post from when I received this news. Because Erik had broken his contract, the rights to the game returned to Lee and I. We worked out an arrangement with Cryptozoic where they made the game and game everyone who backed it a free copy. It wasn’t an ideal solution – Erik had promised many things that Cryptozoic couldn’t provide, especially since they were doing it entirely as a gesture of goodwill to the people who’d been robbed – but thanks to Cryptozoic the game exists and made it to the backers. For the last two years there’s been no further news… until yesterday. The FTC has leveled a $112K judgment against Erik Chevalier as punishment for his duplicitous practices. Supposedly he’s also enjoined to honor his pledge to refund backers. It’s of limited effect as Erik is apparently broke – but I’m glad to see SOMETHING done about this. Crowdfunding is an amazing thing. Thanks to people who have put there faith in me I’m producing Phoenix  a game I could never have produced on my own. It’s a chance to bring things in the world that might never exist otherwise, and I hate seeing that trust abused.

So, that’s the short news here: I’m still working on Phoenix, Fairy Tale Gloom will be on shelves any day now, and there is finally some degree of justice for Doom backers.

I have a big slush pile of Eberron questions that I’ll get to as time allows… here’s a few to get the ball rolling again. At this time I have no news about any developments with 5E Eberron. Rest assured, I’ll share news if and when I have any. Now on with the questions…

The Mourning is the big obvious “no canonical answer” Eberron mystery. Any others in the setting that you particularly like?

Where do warforged souls come from? What do the Daelkyr want? What were the Quori of the previous age like? What exactly are aberrant dragonmarks, and why are they starting to appear again after lying dormant for so long?

When running Eberron, what is the single most important thing to remember? How does Eberron differ from other settings?

I don’t think there’s one answer that covers all Eberron games. If you’re more on the pulp end of the spectrum, then you want to look for ways to make the PCs feel remarkable. Never have a fight on solid ground when you could have it on the back of a moving lightning rail or an airship plummeting from the sky. Emphasize the villainy of the villains and the stakes of the conflict, and make sure your players feel like big damn heroes. All of this changes when you go to the noir side of the spectrum. In the mean streets of Sharn, things aren’t so clearly defined. It’s hard to tell the heroes from the villains. Stories don’t always end well – and sometimes it’s best when they don’t. In a noir campaign your want hard decisions and difficult revelations.

But there are a few things that can apply to any Eberron game, and these are things I try to call out when I’m creating an Eberron adventure for a convention or charity event. One of these is the war. Khorvaire is just two years out of a horrific war that ended with the utter destruction of nation. How did the war affect the player characters? Who did they fight for, or why didn’t they fight? How can its impact be felt in the adventure – whether it’s the scars of the conflict or the tensions of the current cold war? How about the impact of industrialized magic… how can you show magic being used as a tool within society?

When running con games I call out elements of the setting that are especially unique. In previous games I’ve used parties of Dhakaani goblins; monstrous agents of the Daughters of Sora Kell; and a Blood of Vol undead equivalent of the A-Team. It’s a way to immediately impress on people that things aren’t what they’re used to – that monsters aren’t always bad guys and that the bad guys aren’t always monsters.

Eberron is a world that is waiting for heroes. Do you think it’s a world with a place for a campaign for high level evil characters? Beside that forces of evil look already preeminent, I am worried that a ruthless high level cleric or mage could easily overpower any human institution.

This question comes up a fair bit. There’s a lot of different ways to answer it. But the first question I have is what’s the experience your players are looking for? In choosing to be evil, what do they WANT their story to be like? In my opinion, RPGs are about building a collaborative story. As DM, your challenge is to build out that story, to make it challenging and interesting. In choosing to be evil, do your players want to simply achieve wealth and personal power? Do they want to create a criminal empire? Do they want to depose rulers and take over Khorvaire? Each of these stories builds room for different sorts of opposition. An equally important question is what they want the tone to be… is this story more pulp or noir?

Personally, I see an “evil” campaign as leaning more towards noir. The typical noir story has very few heroes… but deals with the fact that villains will happily prey on each other. In a noir story, I’d reveal that the world is a lot darker than anyone realizes. I’d play up the number of organizations that are secretly controlled by the Lords of Dust, the Aurum, or the Dreaming Dark. I’d work in the extremely ruthlessness of organizations such as the Trust, the Citadel or the Chamber. I’d have my villainous PCs constantly on edge for the threat of betrayal, assassination or dangerous revelation. Sure, that institution LOOKS like an easy target… but that’s because you don’t realize that the “low level cleric” running the temple is actually an epic level rakshasa or an Inspired. In short, in a noir villain campaign, I’d pit the PCs against other villains who are every bit as powerful as they are – or more so – and in a far better starting position.

On the other hand, perhaps the players WANT a pulp-style evil campaign in which they are the worst villains the world has every seen. In that case, I’d play down the Lords of Dust and Dreaming Dark; if the players WANT to be the coolest villains around, it’s not so much fun to be constantly tripping over older evil conspiracies. Instead, I’d create heroes. Eberron is intentionally designed as a world in need of heroes because the PCs are expected to fill that role. If the PCs instead choose to play villains, as DM I’d create the heroes that would usually be PCs. Let’s have Tira Miron reborn as a new crusader of the Silver Flame. Trade out the Lord of Blades for a heroic warforged uniting his people into a force for good… a Professor X instead of a Magneto. Perhaps the Twelve assemble a team of dragonmarked champions as their own answer to the Avengers. For that matter, you could bring in any of the protagonists of the Eberron novels; the reason novels aren’t canon is because we don’t want these heroes treading on the toes of the PCs, but if the PCs don’t want the part, why not? Alternately, you could have a truly powerful group of heroes – heroes who always seem to come back no matter how they are defeated or destroyed. The ultimate revelation is that these champions are actually shapechanged dragons – agents of the Chamber acting to preserve their preferred path of the prophecy. They always return because even if killed, a new dragon can assume the role of the fallen champion.

Basically, the default assumptions of Eberron assume the PCs are heroic. If they aren’t, change those assumptions. Create what you need to create to present the challenges the PCs want to deal with. And don’t be afraid to LET the PCs disrupt existing organizations, if that’s the story they want to be part of. LET them throw Kaius out and take over Karrnath… because once they’ve got territory to control, you’ve got a lot more hooks to work with.

That’s all for now!

 

 

Dragonmarks: Phoenix In Eberron?

I’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund my new RPG, Phoenix: Dawn Command. I don’t have any news at this point about Eberron for 5E, though I still believe that progress is being made on that front. Which means it’s a good time to answer the following question…

How would you adapt Phoenix to work in the Eberron setting? I want to try Phoenix, but I can’t let go of the setting. Is there space in there for Phoenixes?

In Phoenix: Dawn Command you take on the roles of Phoenixes – champions imbued with supernatural power and the ability to return from death up to seven times. Death is actually how a character becomes more powerful; each time you die you learn lessons from your previous life.

The trick is that there’s more to Phoenix than playing a hero with seven lives. The game is set in a fantasy world facing a existential threat: a plague of supernatural horrors that mortal forces cannot overcome, and that have slowly but surely been consuming the known world. Part of creating a character in Phoenix is determining why you fight – what you’ve lost to the Dread, what you still care about – but Phoenix is a game about facing an enigmatic force that could destroy your world. This is part of what makes the seven lives structure work. In Phoenix, you regularly face unknown threats with terrible odds… and quite often it is more important to find a way to accomplish your mission than it is to survive. It is a setting that calls for heroic sacrifice.

So: it’s a trivial matter to insert Phoenixes into Eberron. The question is how you would provide that same sense of urgency that makes Phoenixes feel necessary – and where choosing to sacrifice your life to accomplish a task feels worthwhile.

One possibility would be to amp up the threat posed by the Mourning – to say that the Mourning is expanding, and that terrors are emerging to threaten people on its borders. Meanwhile, Phoenixes are something that first appear after the Day of Mourning; the first Phoenixes could be Cyrans who died in the Mourning, only to return with the power to face this threat. This would reflect the other aspect of Phoenix, which is that the threat is a mystery. As I mention in this post, it’s not just about whether you can fight the Dread, it’s whether you can unlock its secrets.

I could also see a high-tension game set around the Dragonmarked houses. Perhaps the Phoenixes are a creation of the Twelve – a joint project of Vadalis and Jorasco – who have escaped from their creators with knowledge of some sinister plan. Now they are fighting a shadow war against the houses while being constantly hounded by their other secret forces – sort of Dark Angel meets Shadowrun.

The main point of this: there’s more to Phoenix than the death mechanic. I love the Phoenix setting as well. It’s something I’ll reveal more about in the days ahead, and it’s something that is tied around the idea of Phoenixes. So you certainly COULD run Phoenix in Eberron, but I’d check out the new setting first!

And with that in mind, I’ll leave you with some of the threats you might encounter in Phoenix!

Challenge Trio

Dragonmarks 3/12/15: Origins, Authors and Thrane

It’s been a busy few months for Twogether Studios. We’re continuing to work towards the Phoenix: Dawn Command Kickstarter campaign, and I’ll be writing more about Phoenix soon. But it’s been nearly three months since my last Eberron Q&A, and I figure it’s time to get to some questions!

With the recent Unearthed Arcana release of the Eberron material, do you like the 5e work up of the material? Would you change it any further from what is currently “playtesting?” Do you think the Artificer should be re-designed in 5e as a stand-alone class, or would you like to see it supported as a Wizard (or other) type of sub-class?

At the moment, I’ve held off creating my own 5E Eberron material, beyond the vague first drafts I’ve presented for the warforged and artificer. I’m keen to develop new Eberron material, but until it’s been authorized by WotC I’ve got more things to work on than I have time. I’ve been focused on playtesting Phoenix Dawn Command for the past year, and there’s always more to do there – not to mention the Gloom variations and other projects I can’t talk about yet.

Given that: I’m glad to see WotC exploring Eberron in Unearthed Arcana. Personally, I would like to explore different approaches to the material, but the UA article specifically states that it’s an exploratory first draft… and it’s always good to explore multiple directions. The 3.5 warforged went through seven drafts before the final one. In one version warforged could attach extra limbs. In another, they absorbed the energy from magic items to gain enchantments. I don’t see a version I’d want to consider final in the UA material, but if I have an opportunity to work on official Eberron material I’ll certainly consider the UA drafts and the feedback people have given about them. Which comes back to my previous request: tell ME what you think about them, and what you would keep, add or change.

If the Du’rashka Tul tale proves to be true, could it be neutralized or dispelled? And could its effects go to Khorvaire?

For those not familiar with it, the Du’rashka Tul is mentioned on page 53 of Secrets of Xen’drik. According to legend, it is a powerful curse laid on the continent of Xen’drik by the forces of Argonnessen when the dragons destroyed the civilization of the giants. The theory is that the Du’rashka Tul is triggered any time a civilization or settlement reaches a certain level of size or sophistication. The curse drives members of the civilization into a homicidal madness; they turn on each other and destroy themselves. In this way, the dragons ensured that the giants would never rebuild their ancient power. As a result, there is evidence of a number of civilizations that have risen only to suddenly disappear over the course of the last thirty thousand years.

As it stands, details about the Du’rashka Tul are far too nebulous for me to be able to answer the questions that are posed here. So the question is how do you WANT it to work for purposes of your campaign? If you don’t want it to be possible for it to be dispelled, then it’s a curse leveled on the entire continent using a form of magic human mages can’t even begin to understand. On the other hand, if you want to be able to break it, the first thing is to define it. Perhaps it’s tied to an artifact: the skull of the titan emperor Cul’sir, engraved with draconic runes and imbued with immense magical power. First you have to find it; then you have to decide what to do with it. If it’s an artifact, it may be impossible to destroy or dispel it. You don’t know how far its radius is (it’s currently affecting all of Xen’drik). Do you drop it in the ocean and potentially destroy the civilizations of the sahuagin and merfolk? Take it back to Argonnessen and see what happens? Or might someone bring it back to Khorvaire not knowing what it is and accidentally trigger an apocalypse?

If you don’t like that approach, you could decide that it’s actually tied to a living creature. Ever since the destruction of the giants, there has been a dragon stationed in Xen’drik maintaining the Du’rashka Tul. Can you find it? Do you need to kill it, or could you just convince the guardian that the time has come to end the curse?

About the Du’rashka Tul… If it could be dispelled, would it bring about an era of colonization of Xen’drik by the great powers? If so, that could bring about potential conflict not only between the great nations of Khorvaire, but also with the Riedran empire, who already have a settlement therein. Do you think more cities would be created? And could the traveler’s curse be removed as well?

The Du’rashka Tul is an unproven myth, so I don’t think THAT’S what’s stopping the colonization of Xen’drik. The Traveler’s Curse is unquestionably real and a serious hindrance to colonization; who wants to establish a colony if you might not be able to find it later? If you posit that you remove BOTH curses, then the main issue is that you’re dealing with a continent that’s still full of powerful monsters… and the fact that Khorvaire isn’t exactly overcrowded right now. The main draw to go there is untapped resources and treasure hunting. So if you took away all the curses, I certainly think you’d get an expansion of settlements there to claim and harvest resources, in a sort of Wild West gold rush development… but I don’t think you’d see a vast proliferation of permanent settlements. Heck, if you’re looking to live on a dangerous frontier because you want a chance to strike it rich with dragonshards, you can already do that in Q’barra.

As for bumping into the Riedrans over territory, Xen’drik is the same size as Khorvaire, and KHORVAIRE still isn’t overcrowded, so it seems a little hard to imagine it happening in a hurry. Personally, I’d make it more about conflict between settlers from the Five Nations and the Dragonmarked Houses. Tharashk would definitely want to harness the resources as quickly and efficiently as possible, and any number of the other houses could see this as a way to establish lands outside of the Korth Edicts. So you could certainly have conflict between would-be independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich and dragonmarked Tharashk.

If my goal was to run a campaign focused on territorial conflict between Riedra and the Five Nations, I’d actually create a new massive island in the Lhazaar Sea. Let’s say that it’s a chunk of another plane that suddenly drops in during an odd planar conjunction – so a piece of Lamannia, filled with natural and mystical resources never even seen before on Eberron. This gives a new desirable territory directly between Khorvaire and Sarlona; lets it be small enough that forces can quickly come into conflict; places it in a region where Lhazaar pirates can pose an interesting threat; and lets in be filled with unknown threats and commodities. I think that could make for a very interesting campaign… though I’d also throw the Dragonmarked Houses in as a third player in the conflict.

There are some fairly close thematic similarities between the kalashtar and the githzerai: both use psionics, both have extraplanar connections, both are at eternal war with a race of shared origin. Were these similarities intentional when the kalashtar were designed? If so, were they meant to be a playable version of the githzerai for your campaign (ie, lacking in level adjustment)?

Interesting theory, but no. The kalashtar have the distinction of being the one new race that was mentioned in the original ten-page overview of Eberron in the setting search (though the idea of a playable doppelganger was also there in the ten-pager). For me, the defining elements of the kalashtar are that they are mortal humanoids tied to immortal spirits and their unique connection to the world of dreams, something that’s been a long-time interest of mine. My first published piece of RPG material dealt with a conspiracy of people who shared dreams and affected the world through dream manipulation (more than a decade before Inception, mind you). So no, I’m afraid it’s just a coincidence.

Meanwhile, I’ve always used the Gith as a race whose world was destroyed by the Daelkyr before they came to Eberron. I consider the Illithids to be to the Gith as the Dolgaunts are to hobgoblins; they are creatures the Daelkyr created from Gith stock. Thus the Gith are a race who have lost their world, and they despise the Mind Flayers both as the instruments of their destruction and a mockery of their people.

Also, I have read elsewhere that warforged and shifters were elements introduced to Eberron only after WotC accepted it as their contest winner. In the pre-WotC conception of Eberron, did elements related to warforged and shifters exist?

That’s not quite true. The Warforged and Shifters weren’t present in the TEN page submission, because I made the assumption that WotC wouldn’t be interested in adding lots of new races when so many already existed. As such, the kalashtar were the only NEW race I presented. When WotC chose Eberron as a finalist, I had the opportunity to talk to the D&D R&D team and they discussed the aspects of Eberron they liked and what they wanted to see more of in the 100-page final story bible. In particular, they wanted to see more races – specifically races that addresses the magic-as-part-of-life aspect of the world. Sentient war golems and playable lycanthropes both fit that bill. So warforged, shifters and changelings were all in the 100-page story bible that was submitted in the final round of the setting search… and then after Eberron was selected, they were further defined and refined for inclusion in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

Is it conceivable for a 5e Great Old One Warlock to have a bond with a Quori? If so, how would you interpret a warlock bond with a Quori outside of the Kalashtar case?

You can certainly have a Great Old One Warlock tied to Dal Quor. Here’s a few ways I could see it working.

Higher Power. The Warlock isn’t dealing with the lesser entities of the Quori; rather, he is dealing directly with one of the greater spirits of the plane. If he tends towards evil, this would be the dominant spirit, il-Lashtavar, the Darkness that Dreams. If he’s benevolent, this would be il-Yannah, the Dawn Yet To Come.

Essentially, the Quori are the creations and servants of il-Lashtavar. If a PC warlock is directly chosen by the great spirit, he is being elevated above the Kalashtar or even the rank and file members of the Dreaming Dark; among the Quori, only the Devourer of Dreams communes directly with il-Lashtavar. This would make the PC a remarkable special person… as a PC should be. The question then becomes HOW the power communicates with him and why. Does it have specific requests, and if so why can’t those be handled by Kalashtar or Quori? Or does it simply need a mortal vessel for some other reason?

Enemy of Higher Power. Twist the concept of the Warlock. The PC isn’t a SERVANT of il-Lashtavar. Instead, the Warlock has essentially hacked into il-Lashtavar and is draining its power by casting spells. This concept works well if you don’t plan for a lot of direct warlock-patron interaction. Alternately, you could say that the power is taken from il-Lashtavar, but the patron is il-Yannah; by weakening the darkness, you speed the coming of the light.

Quori Stooge. The player’s patron is a malevolent quori, likely one of the most powerful of the Kalaraq (such as the Devourer of Dreams). It is posing as some awesome dream entity; it is only through play that the PC will realize that the missions he’s being given are pushing the world in a subtly sinister direction. At this point he’ll need to find a new patron, such as…

Lost Kalashtar. The rebel kalaraq Taratai started the Kalashtar rebellion, but all of her kalashtar hosts have been eliminated and her spirit is lost, presumed to have been reabsorbed by il-Lashtavar. But perhaps it still survives, and has managed to reach out to the warlock. While this bond wouldn’t be the same as being a Kalashtar, it would make the warlock incredibly important to the Kalashtar.

If you named a bunch of books, or films, or TV shows, or whatever, whose inspiration has been critical in creating Eberron, in a sort of multimedia Eberron Appendix N, which would they be?

I could swear there’s a two page list in one of the 3.5 sourcebooks, but a quick search isn’t turning it up. Putting together a list of every book, show or film that I think could possibly inspire people working on Eberron would take more time than I currently have. For example, I have a FEELING that some people might find China Mieville’s books to be inspiring for Eberron, but I’ve never actually read them (which is embarrassing, as all accounts suggest they are awesome – I’ve just never gotten around to it). Likewise, I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. So I’m going to list a few things, but these are simply a few things that personally inspired me – not every possible source of inspiration.

Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and almost any Film Noir movie.

The original one sentence description of Eberron was “Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon meet Lord of the Rings.” Anything in this vein will help inspire adventures tied to dirty dealings on the mean streets of Sharn… and I’ve always described Graywall in Droaam as “Casablanca with ogres.” For what it’s worth, I prefer The Maltese Falcon as a movie and The Big Sleep as a book.

Two-Fisted Tales of Adventure!

The Mummy. Any Indiana Jones movie. Any Republic serial (such as “Nyoka and the Tigermen”). Anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Jules Verne. I originally came up with the idea for Eberron because I’d spent a few years working on a pulp-flavored MMORPG that ended up being cancelled, and I’d been watching a LOT of pulp serials.

Neuromancer

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the early cyberpunk novels. It combines aspects of a dystopia future with some basic film noir tropes. There are certainly ways in which the Dragonmarked Houses are inspired by the classic cyberpunk megacorps, with the basic question of what happens when corporate power equals or exceeds the relevance of nations. Almost any cyberpunk novel can provide inspiration for a House-heavy game, but Neuromancer remains my favorite.

Steven Brust

Brust’s Taltos series are pulp stories set in a fantasy world, and deal with many of the same issues as Eberron… though Dragaera is more magically advanced than Eberron; teleportation and resurrection are basic tools available to civilization and everyone effectively has a psionic cell phone. I’ve often considered running a Taltos-style campaign in Eberron, in which the PCs are small time operators in the Boromar Clan trying to hold their turf and expand their reputation and influence. I also like Brust’s Phoenix Guards series, in part because it’s set in an earlier age and there’s an opportunity to see how the science of magic evolves. And as long as we’re mentioning The Phoenix Guards, you also can’t go wrong with anything by Alexandre Dumas.

Phillip K. Dick

I prefer PKD’s short stories to his novels, but I love the questions he raises in his work. The warforged essentially spring from my long love of Blade Runner, bringing us back to cyberpunk. What is the nature of life? What do you do if you were made to be a weapon and there is no war?

H.P. Lovecraft

If you’re going to get into the Cults of the Dragon Below or the Lords of Dust, you should delve into some Lovecraft.

I’m going to stop here because I could keep this list going for pages, and I’m out of time… but anyone reading, post your inspirational films and stories in the comments! For honorable mention, as authors I’ve read and enjoyed who may or may not have directly influenced Eberron: Jack Vance (anything to do with the Dying Earth); Tanith Lee (Night’s Master or Tales From The Flat Earth); J. R. R. Tolkien; George R. R. Martin; Michael Moorcock; Robert E. Howard; Sheri S. Tepper; Neil Gaiman; Patrick Rothfuss; William S. Burroughs (maybe not useful for Eberron, but great if you’re running Over The Edge)… I’ll stop there, but I’m sure I’ll think of a dozen more as soon as I post this.

And now, the Thrane and the Silver Flame questions…

Is there any cardinal who is seriously opposed to Krozen or is suspicious about him? Does Jaela Daran mistrust Krozen?

As with many things about Eberron, it depends on your campaign. In MY campaign, I might decide to have Jaela be a canny politician who’s quite suspicious of Krozen and seeks personal agents to help her carry out personal missions. However, more often I cast Jaela as the truly spiritual leader of the Church, who has little interest in politics and thus tends to trust Krozen and rely on him to handle that side of things. I hate to say this with so many questions, but it’s really a question of how you want the story to go; there’s no wrong answer.

In the 4e ECG it’s mentioned that Aundair refused to return lands to Thrane and that is why Thrane kept Thaliost. Why did Aurala attach more importance to those lands than to such a city? Magic, strategic importance, or other settlements?

Personally I see this as an oversimplification. It’s not that Thrane offered to return Thaliost and Aundair said “No deal,” it’s that each nation had made territorial gains and neither one was willing to give ground. Remember that Aurala in particular believes in the righteousness of her claim to the throne of Galifar and has the least interest in the peace process. What’s been said in other sourcebooks is that Aundair claimed the land that is currently home to Arcanix during the war; note that as Arcanix is a set of floating towers, it was moved to this location to help secure the claim. However, if you consider what makes specific locations strategically important in Eberron, if I were to write something about Arcanix in the future I’d propose that the current location is a powerful manifest zone that is valuable for the research conducted at Arcanix… which would explain both why Aundair attaches such importance to the location, why they moved the university there, and why they aren’t prepared to surrender it.

Wasn’t it mentioned somewhere that Overlord Sul Khatesh is imprisoned under Arcanix?

Good catch! You’d think I’d remember that, since I wrote it (it’s on page 31 of the 4E ECG). In my opinion, this isn’t something anyone KNOWS – it’s a fact for you, the DM. But it’s an excellent reason to say “Arcane magic is remarkably effective in this region and people are far more likely to make amazing breakthroughs in arcane studies.” People think it’s because of a manifest zone, but in fact it’s the influence of Sul Khatesh. So Aundair does believe it’s an ideal site for the University. If I was looking for a plot hook, I’d have some Church scholar figure it out and Thrane suddenly urgently pushing to take back the region, which threatens to escalate into open conflict.

What kind of discrimination (if any) would an aristocrat face who is a devoted follower of the Silver Flame but who holds lands in Cyre, Breland, Aundair, etc.  Having that kind of dual loyalty would strike me as fertile ground for rivals to nibble away at holdings. 

The Silver Flame was widespread across Galifar before the Last War. Ever since the Lycanthropic Purge it’s been especially strong in Aundair, which has always been the stronghold of the Pure Flame. However, devotion to the Flame DOES NOT EQUAL LOYALTY TO THRANE. Many of the Purified don’t approve of the theocratic government of Thrane, asserting that involving the Keeper and cardinals in secular politics distracts the Church from its true mission and breeds corruption.

The purpose of the church is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Mortal politics don’t enter into the equation. So a Brelish noble who is loyal to the Flame can absolutely oppose the soldiers of Thrane when they are engaged in military action on behalf of Thrane. If, say, an army of demons pops up, all of the Purified would be expected to join forces against this supernatural threat; once that’s out of the picture they could return to their secular conflict.

So: an Aristocrat who is devoted to the Flame is unlikely to suffer significant prejudice in any nation other than Karrnath. However, a noble who vocally supported his national government being dissolved in favor of Thranish theocracy would likely suffer trouble.

How prolific is the CoSF in Karnath and to what degree would the Karnathi Purified have been persecuted?

The CoSF has never had a strong presence in Karrnath. The people of Karrnath are pragmatic and pessimistic by nature, and the Silver Flame is fed by optimism and altruism. Beyond this, the Blood of Vol was deeply rooted in Karrnath a thousand years before the modern CotSF was even formed… and the Blood of Vol is fundamentally opposed to the Silver Flame, as it embraces what the Church would call “Supernatural Evil”. So it was weak to begin with, and most SF loyalists would have risen in revolt when the state embraced the Blood of Vol as the state faith and began employing undead in the military. This is also the reason Thrane and Karrnath have the deepest emnity of any of the Five Nations. There are surely some in Karrnath who embraced the faith of the Flame… and even if most immigrated or revolted during the war, some could have chosen to hold position and endure so that they could continue to protect the innocents of Karrnath. But they would certainly be viewed with distrust and disdain by those around them, and could easily be accused of treason (true or not).

Side note: While the state no longer supports the Blood of Vol, the cultural tone of Karrnath is still a better match for the BoV – which is a bleak faith based on the concept that the universe and the gods are our enemies and ultimate dissolution is inevitable – than the Silver Flame.

After the Day of Morning, Thrane turned away Cyran refugees.  Would the Purified of Cyran birth been exempt from this prohibition?

Well, here’s the thing. In the extended aftermath of the DoM I could see Thrane refusing to admit refugees. However, in the IMMEDIATE aftermath, it’s the only nation I CAN’T imagine refusing refugees. The entire purpose of the church is to DEFEND THE INNOCENT FROM SUPERNATURAL EVIL. Not “Defend the citizens of Thrane” or “Defend the followers of the Flame”, DEFEND THE INNOCENT. The Mourning is about as “supernatural evil” as things get. It is utterly bizarre to suggest that when faced with clear evidence of supernatural attack that anyone devoted to the Flame would turn back civilians to fend for themselves.

So frankly, the first thing I’d do would be to rewrite whichever history book says that they turned away refugees in the immediate aftermath. After that, I’d have to come up with an explanation that would make sense to me as to how they would justify turning away refugees in a long-term situation. I do feel that they would accept anyone who wished to serve the church itself, because again, the purpose of the church transcends politics. I could see AUNDAIRIAN Templars aligned with the Pure Flame taking such actions (turning back any who didn’t support the Flame) because the Pure Flame is an extremist movement that frequently ignores the core principles of the faith (as shown by Archbishop Dariznu burning people)… but it’s very out of character for Thrane Templars, and personally I’d ignore it in any campaign I run.

I can see the explanation for turning away refugees to involve something along the lines of, “In our capacity as worldly rulers, we are forced to separate ourselves from our spiritual roles as leaders of the Church. So, it is with a heavy heart we are forced to look at what is good for Thrane, rather than what is good for for the suffering souls of Cyre. We are therefore closing our borders to any, and all, refugees from the event known as the Day of Mourning.”

Certainly. If I had to come up with an explanation for it, it would the the reasons that any government turns away refugees. I’m just saying that of all the Cyre-adjacent countries, Thrane seems like the strangest one to make that decision. Consider our options…

  • Karrnath. A very logical choice. Not only are they a highly pragmatic, militant culture used to making harsh decisions, they are also called out as dealing with famine and thus legitimately lacking the resources to suddenly support refugees. If I was picking one of the Five Nations to turn away refugees, it would be Karrnath.
  • Breland. On the one hand, you have Breland’s egalitarian character; on the other, Breland is often also presented as pragmatic and opportunistic. It wouldn’t surprise me to have some corrupt border patrols lining their pockets in exchange for safe haven.
  • Thrane. The odd duck. Thrane isn’t noted as suffering from a crippling lack of resources that would prevent it from accepting refugees. The fundamental principle of the Silver Flame is protecting the innocent from supernatural threats… like the Mourning. Thrane abandoned its secular government in favor of a theocracy based on this faith, and this faith is widespread throughout the nation – so even if the secular leaders gave such an order, I’d expect many border forces to ignore it and follow their faith. Bear in mind that when Aundair was threatened by a plague of lycanthropy a few centuries early, an army of Thranes threw themselves in harm’s way to protect their neighbors. They are the one nation with a proven history of altruistic behavior. Now, I have no problem with Thrane turning away immigrants under any other circumstance… but specifically turning away refugees fleeing from a horrific supernatural threat is bizarrely out of character for Thrane.

Historically, Thrane has the least consistency in its presentation by different authors. The corruption is often blown out of proportion, when a) the CotSF isn’t supposed to have MORE corruption than any other faith in Eberron, it’s simply that there IS corruption even in this altruistic institution; and b) the majority of that corruption is based in Breland. The zealotry becomes a focus, when Aundair is supposed to be the stronghold of the Pure Flame and Thrane the seat of the moderate faith. Heck, we can’t even get consistency on the fact that archery is an important cultural tradition.

So: there is a book that says that Thrane ruthlessly turned away refugees on the Day of Mourning. I could come up with an explanation for that if I had to. But in MY campaign, I’m simply going to ignore it and say it was Karrnath that turned people away… which was an unfortunate necessity due to their limited resources.

So, in your view the Cyran refugees problem presented in the books happening in Breland, it also exists in Thrane? With ghettos and maybe a big refugee camp( like a smaller New Cyre). If not, why the refugee problem exists only in Breland? They have gone there BECAUSE of New Cyre? The Thrane refugees adopted quickly the faith and culture of Thrane and are more keen to mingle and adapt than the Brelanders?

All good questions! To be clear: My issue is the concept that Thrane would turn away people fleeing from a severe supernatural threat. Once that imminent threat is over, I have no issue with them placing political reality ahead of altruism. It’s the same idea that Thrane followers of the Flame can fight Brelish followers of the Flame, but if that demons appear they should both stop fighting to deal with them. For followers of the Flame, a supernatural threat should override political concerns – but once that threat is resolved, politics are back in play.

I believe that Cyran refugees are a problem across Khorvaire (and heck, as far away as Stormreach). If there’s a nation where they aren’t a problem, I’d pick Karrnath… both as the nation legitimately most likely to reject them in the first place (famine!) and as the nation most use to draconian enforcement (Code of Kaius). However, I think that Breland is unique in embracing the refugees… specifically creating New Cyre, a place where their culture is allowed to flourish. Thrane could well be pushing its refugees to abandon their culture and assimilate into Thrane and the Church… given which, those with the means to do so would likely have made their way to New Cyre.

So if I was creating a Flamekeep sourcebook, I would certainly address the presence of Cyran refugees within it. But again, I’m happy with the idea that they are under significant pressure to assimilate, and that NEW refugees aren’t welcome. It’s not that Thrane is the kindest, gentlest nation; it’s that it is specifically altruistic when it comes to fighting supernatural threats, and the actual event of the Mourning would fall under that umbrella.

The accounts of the spread of the Mourning suggest it was very fast (it was the Day of Mourning, not the Week of Mourning or the Month of Mourning, and the Field of Ruins was certainly overrun that same day). If that is the case, how are there any significant number of refugees at all? For that matter, how was there time for any official policy on refugees to be formed? It doesn’t seem like anyone other than border guards would have had time to react before the refugees were already there.

Another excellent set of questions. You’re absolutely correct: it’s called the Day of Mourning for a reason. The first point is that the effects of the Mourning bizarrely conform to a particular set of borders. In my opinion, the bulk of the “refugees” weren’t actually in Cyre when the Mourning occurred; they were soldiers and support staff either in enemy territory or land temporarily seized. This raises one of the long-term issues of dealing with Cyran refugees: most of them were actually enemy combatants, and the war wasn’t over.

In terms of civilian refugees, start with those already out of the borders. Add to those communities on the very edge of Cyre… it was the Day of Mourning, not the Hour of Mourning, after all. The cloud could be seen from a great distance away, and you could easily have had a few places where there was communication – a Speaking Stone station sends a message out saying “Cloud approaching” and then drops off the grid. People on the edge who discover that no inner city is responding might have time to make it to the border… though given that they wouldn’t have known it would stop at the border, odds are good that you’d just have general panic and “SOMETHING IS COMING!!!” – again, the sort of supernatural threat Templars are supposed to defend the innocent from.

HOWEVER, at the same time, it was a time of war and for all border guards would know, it could be a trick. In a time of war, it’s not unreasonable for any nation to act with fear and suspicion; it’s simply that of all the nations, Thrane has the most compelling reason in the very short term to set that suspicion aside to defend those endangered by a supernatural threat.

So for refugees, this gives us Cyrans in enemy territory already; civilians on the very edge who were able to flee before the Mourning reached them; and one more category: survivors. The effects of the Mourning weren’t entirely predictable, and not everyone exposed to it died. The Storm Hammers in Stormreach (City of Stormreach, p.73) are a group of such survivors. So you could have had people in border communities who didn’t escape – but who survived and then fled in a panic.

In any case, you’re right: we’re not talking about large numbers of refugees, and it would be the border guards that would be making the initial decision.

What’s your take on the event leading to the creation of the Church of the Silver Flame?

Well, the 3.5 ECS has this to say…

In 299 YK, the event that started the religion of the Silver Flame took place. In that year, a terrible eruption split the ground and a great pillar of crimson fire emerged from the resulting chasm. No one understood the significance of the blazing column of flame, but most who dared approach it felt unrelenting malevolence in its radiating heat… Tira Miron, a paladin dedicated to Dol Arrah, received a powerful vision about this strange fire while exploring the western reaches of the realm. In her vision, a great rainbow-winged serpent warned her that a terrible evil was emerging in the east, riding crimson fire from the depths of Khyber itself. Tira rallied the forces of Thrane and defeated the dark creatures that had come to venerate the crimson fire and help free the malevolent entity trapped within its flames.

A key point here that’s sometimes missed is that Bel Shalor was never truly free; he just got VERY VERY close to being released. This caused the appearance of demons. Some were likely drawn to the region from other points (such as his followers in the Lords of Dust), but many were probably just released from the Flame itself in advance of him… imagine a fishing net pulled from the ocean with one big fish trapped in it and hundreds of smaller fish tumbling out through the gaps. So: Demons were afoot in Thrane, and their numbers were increasing over time. However, I think that the actions of mortals were more noticeable than the presence of demons. As Bel Shalor’s influence over the region grew, he brought out the worst in people. As noted in the 4E ECG, “People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” So you’d see feuds and vendettas taken to extremes, the rise of petty tyrants, widespread banditry, and far worse. It makes me think a little of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles – there ARE demons in the darkness, but the people are more concerned with increasing banditry, war, taxes and the like… not realizing the darker forces that are influencing things.

Tira becomes aware of the threat, but in my opinion she doesn’t just rush over and dive in. Personally, I feel that it took her the better part of a year to prepare – gathering mortal and immortal allies, traveling across Khorvaire and even the outer planes to learn about Bel Shalor and how he could be defeated. In my personal campaign, she went to the Demon Wastes to obtain Kloijner; the greatsword was forged by the couatl (technically it’s a couatl frozen in steel) in the Age of Demons and was previously in the possession of the Ghaash’kala orcs.

In coming back through Thrane, the first step was uniting people and helping them break free of Bel Shalor’s influence; then she led these forces and her allies to the site of the breach, where she defeated the demons and sacrificed herself to force Bel Shalor back into the Flame. Those she left behind then laid the foundation of the modern church. As a side note, in my opinion Tira was essentially one member of a party of adventurers. Dragon 417 includes an article called Miron’s Tears, which identifies an Avenger named Samyr Kes as one of these allies. Others haven’t been named – but these would be the people who established the Church.

One other point: While Bel Shalor was never fully released, it seems likely that his prakhutu, The Wyrmbreaker (described on page 30-31 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide) would have been commanding the forces defending the breach… so likely Tira and her allies had to defeat him before they could reach the Flame.

Phew! That’s all for this installment. I’ll certainly let you know as soon as I have any news about Eberron development of 5E. Next up: More about Phoenix: Dawn Command!

News From The Bermuda Triangle

I’m currently on a boat in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle as part of the JoCo Cruise. Jenn Ellis and I are demoing Phoenix: Dawn Command, and having a lot of fun with that. I’ll be writing much more about Phoenix once I’m back on dry land, but here’s a sneak peek at some of our art, courtesy of Grace Allison and Rich Ellis

(C) 2015 Twogether Studios, LLC

(C) 2015 Twogether Studios, LLC

Phoenix aside, there’s a lot of other things going on today… despite being out in the middle of the ocean, I felt that I had to assemble an internet server from twine to get the word out about them. So without further ado…

GEEK-A-WEEK

This week, I’m honored to join a long line of luminaries that artist Len Peralta has featured on his Geek-A-Week series. Geek-A-Week is a podcast with a twist – in addition to discussion, Len produces a trading card of each of his guests. Past guests include Neil Gaiman, Guillermo Del Toro, Molly Lewis and many more. Take a look and a listen here!

UNEARTHED ARCANA: EBERRON

Wizards of the Coast has a new online feature sharing various ideas for D&D Fifth Edition, and the first installment deals with Eberron. The article includes possible ways to handle three of Eberron’s unique races, an option for implementing the artificer as a wizard subclass, and a way to implement Dragonmarks. I’m always excited to see any support for Eberron, but as you read the article bear in mind that this is draft material. Quoting the article itself:

These game mechanics are in draft form, usable in your campaign but not fully tempered by playtests and design iterations. They are highly volatile and might be unstable; if you use them, be ready to rule on any issues that come up. They’re written in pencil, not ink.

The upshot of this is that your opinion matters. These aren’t final mechanics – they are ideas. Do you like the artificer as a wizard subclass, or would you prefer to see something that is more closely modeled on the 3.5 artificer? Are you comfortable with warforged “wearing” armor, or would you rather see something like the old adamantine/mithral body feats? Post your thoughts, here or anywhere else, and let people know what you like or dislike; it could make a difference for the next stage in Eberron’s development.

And now I’m going to get back to the serious business of being on a cruise!