IFAQ: Elven Miscellany

My last article discussed the impact the long lifespan of elves has on the elves of the Five Nations. This brought up a few other points I’d like to discuss.

Elves are Old for a Long Time

The elves of Aerenal devote decades or centuries to intense, focused study. In the previous article I said that the elves of the Five Nations don’t do this because the infrastructure doesn’t support it; a Brelish elf is going to the same school or university as a Brelish human, and there’s no decades-long classes in the Brelish core curriculum. This raised the question of whether that means the elves of the Five Nations are more versatile than the Aereni… and if so, if combining greater versatility with longer life meant that they dominated the study of arcane sciences in Khorvaire. The answer to this is NO. It’s not just the culture of the Aereni that’s the issue; it’s the fact that elves mentally mature at the same pace as humans and then are OLD FOR A VERY LONG TIME. Here’s a quote from a previous article…

This ties to the idea that a seven-hundred year old lifespan is both a blessing and a curse. Our fluid intelligence – which fuels our ability to adapt to entirely new things – peaks in young adulthood. You grandfather may be a brilliant doctor, a skilled mathematician, and still have trouble learning to use an iPhone that a three-year-old masters in three days. The child is running on fluid intelligence, which allows them to quickly adapt to new things. You grandfather is working off crystallized intelligence, the concrete skills he has perfected over time. For me, this is the fundamental difference between elves and humans… because in my Eberron, both elf and human peak in fluid intelligence at the same time. An elf’s mental facilities don’t deteriorate due to age as a human’s will, so the 110-year-old elf is still sharp and alert… but they’re is also just as firmly set in their ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for them to adapt to entirely new things.

Eberron Flashback: Aereni and Tairnadal

This follows the principle that older people tend to be more conservative than younger people, and the point I made earlier that Brelish elves are more likely to support the monarchy because they don’t like change. Aereni society is built with this in mind, but the general idea is that elves are more likely to specialize than to be diverse in their skills because it’s harder for them to learn entirely new things—and, just as I don’t remember much of the Latin I learned in college, if an elf doesn’t USE a skill for 50 years, it will atrophy. Focusing on a few skills ensures that they MAINTAIN those skills. So if you go to Arcanix, the 500 year old elf professor is more likely to be the one who’s been teaching the same Siberyan Principles course for 300 years—and who is AMAZING at it—than the young hotshot teaching the course that challenges all established principles. There are always exceptions; Mordain the Fleshweaver is a remarkably innovative elf, though it’s questionable as to whether you can still call him an elf. And your player character elf can certainly defy this pattern. But generally, elves are old for a long time; a 200 year old elf has the same general outlook on life that a 200 year old human would if they could live that long, and they aren’t as flexible in their outlook as a 20 year old human.

Where Did You Get Your Training?

Throughout many editions of D&D, elves, dwarves, and other races have had features that feel more cultural than genetic. All elves have “Elf Weapon Training” with longswords and longbows. All dwarves know how to use axes and they’re either brewers and smiths; in third edition, all dwarves had a bonus to fight orcs. It doesn’t matter if they’d never SEEN an orc or ever picked up a hammer: ALL DWARVES HAVE THIS.

This stems from the same monocultural impulse that says “All orcs are evil,” and from the beginning we pushed against this in Eberron. In third edition we largely just ignored it. In fifth edition we’ve more actively challenged it. The Aereni elf subrace in Wayfinder’s Guide and Exploring Eberron removes the Elf Weapon Training trait, because elves in Eberron DON’T all know how to use swords and bows. In Wayfinder’s and Rising From The Last War we suggested that assigned racial languages could be changed, because dwarves aren’t born knowing Dwarvish; if you’re a dwarf born in the slums of Sharn, you might know Goblin instead of Dwarvish. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything expanded on this with the optional Proficiency Swap system; they specifically call out the example of an elf who swaps longsword proficiency for an instrument proficiency. So Maza Thadian, the best cook in Sharn, doesn’t know how to use a longbow—because she traded that proficiency for Cook’s Utensils.

So the key point here is that Elf Weapon Training—or Dwarf Weapon Training, or similar features—don’t represent some sort of genetic talent. Which means that if you’re playing an elf and you choose to KEEP Elf Weapon Training, it’s up to you to decide how your character acquired that training. In Exploring Eberron I note that Mror dwarves can base their racial Weapon Training and Tool Proficiencies on their experiences in the War Below. This is an equally logical approach for dwarves and elves of the Five Nations. The Last War lasted for a century. Even if your background is entertainer, you can still say that you served in the last war for a decade back eighty years ago. It didn’t because the focus of your life, which is why you’re a bard instead of a fighter, but you still retain that basic training. On the other hand, if your background is ENTERTAINER, perhaps you worked archery into your act. Or, even if you don’t worship the Silver Flame NOW, perhaps you spent a decade as part of a devout Thrane militia fifty years ago and received your training then. Or you could say that your elf character never touched a bow until yesterday—but YOU have an ancestor who lives in your memories and who’s been training your while you trance. Essentially, the fact that you have skill with these weapons is part of your character’s story, and I want to know the STORY behind it. Three Brelish elves may all have Elf Weapon Training—but HOW they got those proficiencies may be completely different for each of them, and it’s certainly different from the training a Tairnadal ranger received.

Potential Lifespan is Just That

In the last article a question was raised as to whether elves would have a different outlook on the Blood of Vol, because the religion evolved as a reaction to the brutality of life and elves are less likely to see life as brutish and short. Well, the Blood of Vol evolved in the cold, harsh regions of Karrnath and the northern Lhazaar Principalities. It evolved among people who were fighting famine and plagues, and who were oppressed by tyrannical rulers. It is a reaction to the basic question what just gods would allow death and suffering… and SUFFERING is an important word to remember. Because just because an elf can POTENTIALLY live to be 700 years old doesn’t mean they WILL. Elves have no special resistance to cold or disease. They may not sleep, but they still need food and water. They can suffer from the cold, and they can suffer the agony of watching their starving children dying from diseases. The long lifespan can seem like a curse on two levels: first, when an elf child dies of a fever when they are ten years old, it seems more unjust because they COULD have had centuries of life. Second, the elf who does live for centuries while enduring starvation and disease and who has to watch their friends dying around them may well feel that another century of life is just more time to suffer.

Aerenal is in many ways a utopia. It is a peaceful, advanced nation where people DO expect to live out most of their natural life in comfort and health. And yes, the Blood of Vol won’t find much purchase there. But it won’t find much purchase ANYWHERE where people live long and comfortable lives. It takes root in those places where people are surrounded by suffering and loss, places where the cruelty of mortal life is made manifest. And just because elves can potentially live longer than humans doesn’t mean that they will—and it doesn’t protect them from starvation, poverty, plague, or any of the other tragedies that humanity endures.

My Patreon backers have posted a lot of good questions on other topics, so this is all for elves for the moment… I’ll try to get back to it in a century or so! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Elves and Pugs

In the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, elves can live to be up to 750 years old. In the past I’ve written many articles about the elves of Valenar and Aerenal and how their long lifespans have affected their culture. But what about the elves of the Five Nations, who are part of a culture driven by short-lived humans? This month, my Patreon supporters posed a number of interesting questions on this topic.

An adult elf of the Five Nations is not only older than the current monarch of their nation, they’re older than the NATION, given that Galifar only dissolved a century ago. How does their long lifespan affect their national loyalty?

First of all, we’ve always said that most demihumans of the Five Nations tend to put their national identity before their species. A third-generation Brelish halfling might support the Glidewing in the Race of Eight Winds as a nod to their Talentan heritage, but they consider themselves Brelish, not Talentan. So that’s the first point to consider: elves born in the Five Nations generally embrace that culture. Which comes to the second point: until the Last War, the Five Nations were united as Galifar. But there were still Five Nations, each of which was culturally distinct and maintained traditions that predated Galifar; Galifar united them under a single ruler and code of laws, but it didn’t erase that cultural identity. The point of this is that not only does your 300-year-old Brelish elf think of themselves as Brelish, they’ve thought of themselves as Brelish far longer than a 30-year-old human; they’ve had far longer to invest in the traditions of Breland and to have a very strong sense of what it means to be Brelish. Which ties to the second point. Because their long lifespan means they’ll outlive the humans around them—whether we’re talking about their monarch or their neighbor—the elves of the Five Nations tend to invest in institutions and customs more than in individual humans. An elf invests in the concept of Breland more deeply than in any one ruler. Likewise, they invest in families more than individuals, seeing the living members of the family as the latest incarnation of that beloved family. For an off the cuff example, consider the relationship between humans and dogs. My household is a pug household. We had a pug we loved, and when he passed away we got a new pug—who is very much his own person, but also very much a pug. And when he passes away, I expect we’ll get another pug. We love our pugs, and in the moment, we love our current pug most of all. But we also know that barring tragedy we will outlive him. So we love him in the moment, we give him the best life that we can, and when he passes we’ll honor him by bringing a new pug into our lives. What we’re NOT going to do is suddenly decide to get a St. Bernard; we’ve become pug people, and we don’t WANT a different dog.

This basic principle applies both to national identity and to an elf’s personal relationships with shorter lived races. Breland in this instances is “Pugs” while King Boranel is “The Current Pug.” The elf who has chosen to live in Breland for three centuries loves Breland more than any other nation. Most likely, they also love Boranel; they may fondly remember Wroaan or other rulers, but Boranel is alive and with them now; they will always honor Wroaan’s memory, but they support the current king. Unless, of course, they don’t like Boranel, in which case they may grumble and think “There’s always a bad one in the litter, but in another ten yeas we’ll get a new one that will be better.” That elf doesn’t want to go live in Thrane any more than I want to get a St. Bernard; they’ve become comfortable with Breland and it’s become part of their identity. With this in mind, I would also say that Brelish elves in particular likely strongly oppose the Swords of Liberty and the anti-monarchy movement, because the four hundred year old elf is far more invested in the institution of the Brelish monarchy than the human who’s only lived with it for twenty years. They’ve invested in the idea of Breland for centuries, and part of that idea of Breland is that it’s a monarchy.

As I said, I’d extend this to an elf’s personal relationships with humans. In playing an elf character, I’d consider whether I know the ancestors of one or more of the other player characters. I might ask one of the other players (it’s a collaborative story and I want to work with them, not impose my story on them ) if they’re OK with the idea that my character has had a long relationship with their family. Throughout the campaign, I might discuss my experiences and adventures with their ancestors. It might even be that the reason I’m part of the adventuring party is to look after that character—because their grandfather would never forgive me if anything happened to them. If you’re familiar with Deep Space Nine, there’s a touch of this in the way Dax refers to their previous hosts. As an elf, play up the fact that you may have known Queen Wroaan or met Kaius I. When you’re at a store in Sharn, mention how it use to be a restaurant a century ago and had the best fried spider legs in the city—they just don’t make them like that any more.

It’s suggested that some elf immigrants to Khorvaire came with a plan to marry into human families and essentially outlive their way to power, inheriting family fortunes from their short-lived spouses. Canon lore suggests that this was abandoned out of an initial revulsion for the Khoravar, but how has it played out in the present day?

The canon answer is clear: elves haven’t taken over all the noble families of Galifar, and in fact, very few elf nobles are mentioned. The question, then, is WHY. The answer is that people of Galifar are well aware of the disparate lifespans of their neighbors and that the laws of the land take it into account. Any position with a lifetime appointment will have clauses that allow for the holder to be removed, so you can’t just appoint a warforged to a lifetime position and then have no way to remove them ever. Meanwhile, nobles will always has pre-nuptial agreements to address this; I think the standard one is simply that a spouse doesn’t inherit the title. It passes to the eldest child or, failing that, to a sibling.

Looking at an example of this in play, Kaius III of Karrnath is married to Etrigani, an Aereni elf. As long as Kaius is alive, Etrigani carries the title of queen. When Kaius dies, however, the crown of Karrnath would pass to their eldest child, not to Etrigani. If they have no children (and currently they don’t), it would pass sideways along the line to Kaius’s sister Haydith. A spouse could likely serve as a regent while waiting for a child to come of age, but they can’t claim the title as their own… thus preventing an elf from marrying into a family of human nobles and holding the title for the next five centuries.

There are a few elf nobles in the Five Nations, and it’s certainly the case that if you’re an Aundairian elf with the noble background, you may be waiting a LONG TIME before the title falls to you.

This raises another question. If my elf character is two hundred years old and knew the wizard’s grandfather, how come I’m only a first level character?

The long-lived races are always a problem in this regard, and I’ve talked about this before in this article. First of all, I’ll call out the fact that in REAL LIFE, skill doesn’t progress in a continuously upward line as we grow older. I learned Latin in college, I haven’t used that skill in two decades, and at this point I can recognize some words but I couldn’t write a sentence in Latin. In another 20 years I may have forgotten it entirely, and that’s nothing like an elf living for centuries. Generally speaking, we reach plateaus with skills and have to work to maintain them. I also fenced in college. Guess what? I’m older now and while I still know some tricks, I’m not a better fencer than I was. Admittedly I multiclassed and took levels of writer instead of fighter, but the point remains: age alone doesn’t equate to skill. A second point is simple: How good is your grandfather at making TikTok videos? Now, replace “TikTok videos” with “Modern Techniques of Arcane Spellcasting.” You could absolutely say that your 1st level elf wizard was a cutting edge wizard 300 years ago, but he’s been out of the game for a while—writing novels, perhaps—and now his spellcasting techniques are incredibly out of date and he can’t figure out these fancy somatic components the kids are doing these days. “That thing! With the fingers!”

While that’s a FUNNY option, I would personally be more likely to use my elf character being 1st level to add a hook to their backstory: WHY are they 250 years old and only first level? My immediate inclination is just what I said above but without the comical agism. My elf character trained as a wizard 200 years ago, and then spent the last 200 years as a novelist or a poet—some career that essentially has no concrete bearing on the skills I use while adventuring—and I need to get back in practice. I remember the basics, and it’s all going to come back to me quickly once we get going, but come on people, I haven’t even cast a cantrip since before you were born.

A more dramatic option would be to justify my temporary low level as a form of injury. Perhaps I served in the Last War—possibly even serving with the parents or grandparents of one of the other characters—and suffered “spellshock” from an arcane attack. Or perhaps I was caught in the Mourning and was found in a coma—I’ve recovered, but my whole body feels numb and I haven’t fully recovered my spellcasting ability. OR, perhaps I was on an epic adventure (again, could be with an ancestor of one of the PCs) and was cursed by an archfey. Breaking that curse could be an ongoing story hook, or it could be something that is broken BECAUSE I’m adventuring with the descendant—allowing me to regain my skills. All three of these options would allow me to say that I WAS a fairly high level character a century ago but I’ve temporarily lost those skills. While other characters may feel like they’ve dramatically improved by the time they reach 9th level, I feel like I’ve only just gotten my sea legs back.

The main point here is that you shouldn’t look at the old dwarf or elf and say “It makes no sense that I’m 120 and still have the same skills as a 20 year old human.” First of all, remember that in Eberron ANY player character is remarkable. Second, don’t just say “it makes no sense”—figure out a way that it COULD make sense. An injury, a curse, a century away from adventuring. The fact that you’re only 1st level NOW doesn’t prevent you from having BEEN higher level at some point in the past.

Do the longer lived races like the elves and dwarves view the Blood of Vol differently (insofar as their lives are not as short, cruel and hopeless as the oppressed humans who latched onto it a couple millennia ago)?

This raises an important point: the fact that you CAN live to be seven hundred years old doesn’t mean that you WILL. Elves are just as susceptible to disease and to cold as humans are. They may not sleep, but they certainly need to eat. So if you’re an elf farmer in Karrnath surprised by a sudden frost, you can still be worried that you’re hungry, that your children are freezing and one has a fever, and that if the frost kills your crops there’s no knowing how you’ll get the money you need to survive. Even if you do somehow live through it, the fact that you get to look forward to hundreds of years of watching your friends die may not feel like a blessing. Those people who founded the Blood of Vol, who felt that life was short, cruel, and helpless, weren’t dying of old age. So no, I don’t think it has a notable effect. And also, the Blood of Vol has never been widespread in the Five Nations. The Brelish elf may not see the appeal to the Blood of Vol, but most Brelish HUMANS don’t see the appeal either.

That’s all for now! I am VERY busy with writing deadlines and family matters and I likely won’t have times to answer questions on this topic. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making this website possible!

IFAQ: Aerenal, Continued

The island of Aerenal is home to the majority of the elves of Eberron, including the Aereni and the Tairnadal. I’ve written a number of articles about these cultures, and Exploring Eberron delves deeper still, but my Patreon supporters came up with a few new questions!E

Are the people of Khorvaire aware of the basics of the Undying Court?

I think the common people of Khorvaire are aware that the Aereni worship their ancestors and keep them alive as some form of undead, but that’s about it; I wouldn’t expect a random citizen of the Five Nations to know what a “Deathless” is without making an Intelligence (Religion) check.

Have the Aereni sought to colonize a major Irian manifest zone elsewhere?

It’s never been mentioned in any canon source. The Valraean Protectorate in Exploring Eberron was established to create a secure buffer around Aerenal rather than being driven by a desire for significant expansion. However, just because it hasn’t been done in canon is no reason not to do it in your story. If *I* were to do this, I personally wouldn’t make it AERENAL that’s driving the colony, but rather a specific noble line or dissident group that wants to essentially found a “New Aerenal”—perhaps tied to the Skullborn, the elves who yearn to become deathless but who aren’t willing (or worthy) to follow the long and difficult path this transition usually requires. A secondary advantage to this—making it a smaller faction, not Aerenal as a whole—is that it makes it easier for adventurers to oppose the colony (or ally with it) without affecting their relationship with Aerenal itself.

Is it possible for other non Elven religions or groups to create and maintain positive energy undead like the Undying Court?

Sure. It requires powerful Irian manifest zones, a specific set of rituals and resources, and a population that’s fiercely devoted to the undead—as part of the idea of the positive energy undead it’s that devotion that sustains them when they leave the manifest zone. Like any sort of magic, this isn’t supposed to be easy or trivial; if it was, everyone would be doing it! But it’s not supposed to be something that’s somehow limited to ELVES. I could easily imagine an Irian zone in the Demon Wastes that serves as a bastion for the Ghaash’kala, with a few deathless elders who have protected this haven for millennia.

It seems weird to me how close the Undying Court is to the goals of the Seekers, especially considering the latter were inspired by its enemy.

All of the Elven cultures—the Tairnadal, the Aereni, the line of Vol—were driven by the basic question of how do we preserve our greatest souls? The Aereni created the Undying Court, preserving their heroes with their devotion. The Tairnadal become living avatars of their patron ancestors. The line of Vol noted that the flaw with both of these approaches is they are dependent on their being living elves who continue to practice their devotion. If all elves died—or simply had a change of heart—the patron ancestors would be forgotten and the Undying Court would be trapped in Shae Mordai. So Vol embraced Mabaran necromancy, ensuring that its beloved ancestors would be able to TAKE the lifeforce they needed to survive, whether as vampires, liches, or other undead.

As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the Blood of Vol is a comparatively young religion that was born on Khorvaire and is only loosely inspired by the traditions of the line of Vol (which are preserved more closely by the Bloodsail elves of Farlnen). But actually, the goals of the Undying Court and the Blood of Vol aren’t really that similar. Both agree that death is oblivion. The Blood of Vol believes that all living creatures have a spark of divinity within them—that there is divine potential in life, but that most creatures die before they can master this power. They believe that only the living have this power, and that while undeath may be a way to escape oblivion, undead creatures—both deathless and Mabaran—no longer have the spark of divinity and can never achieve their true potential. The Undying Court essentially believes the OPPOSITE of this; they believe in a transcendental state that can only be attained by the deathless, but the fact that the deathless rely on the living to sustain them prevents everyone from getting to pursue this power. So the Aereni don’t want to live forever; they believe that death and the transition to deathlessness is a necessary part of ascension.

So, they’re similar in “They are religions that believe death is bad and that it’s possible for people to ascend to a higher state.” But the Aereni believe that only a few people can achieve this higher state and that it can only be achieved after death, while the Blood of Vol believe that it’s possible for everyone to achieve divinity, but that death is the absolute end of that journey.

What was there in Aerenal before the elves?

Describing all of the challenges the elf refugees faced in founding their nation and all of the wonders they discovered would be the subject of a major article, not an IFAQ. However, if the question is were there any CIVILIZATIONS in Aerenal before the elves, no. The elves didn’t come to Aerenal as conquerors with the power to sweep aside an existing nation. They were a diverse armada of refugees from different subcultures, fleeing both war and dragonfire. The modern cultures—Vol, Aereni, Tairnadal—evolved ON Aerenal. But the idea has always been presented that Aerenal was an untamed and undeveloped land, a seemingly blessed refuge for these weary travelers.

Having said that, it’s a valid question as to WHY Aerenal was uninhabited. Humanoids are spread across Eberron, and Aerenal is a large and fertile land. Why had no one settled there? Here’s a few possibilities, each of which could support a different story.

  • It wasn’t sheer luck that brought the refugee fleet to Aerenal, and it wasn’t pure chance that the land was uninhabited and ready from their use. A cabal of dragons were responsible for both of these things; they secretly protected and guided the fleet, and they had carefully cleared the land in advance. This surely means that Aerenal has a role to play in the Prophecy, and it would surely be tied to the ongoing Elf-Dragon Wars. Canon sources have already suggested that those “wars” might be Argonnessen honing the skills of the elves in preparation for a true challenge yet to come; it could be that they set this plan in motion tens of thousands of years ago. If this is the case, it both means that the dragons have a plan for Aerenal and that there MIGHT have been a previous civilization on Aerenal, but if so, the dragons destroyed or removed it. Who knows? Perhaps Seren civilization began on Aerenal!
  • Aerenal is filled with powerful Irian manifest zones that support the creation of deathless. It’s possible that there was a previous civilization that achieved the creation of deathless, only to disappear completely long before the elves arrived. Did all of its members achieve some sort of deathless transition? Or, like the line of Vol warned, did the living members of the society die (perhaps due to a plague, perhaps due to dragons?) leaving their deathless to fade away without mortal devotion?
  • Aerenal also holds powerful Mabaran manifest zones. One possibility is that the prior society sought to harness THIS power, and their unwise efforts ultimately resulted in the death of their people. Alternatively, their major cities could have been consumed by Mabar (as described in Exploring Eberron), perhaps still existing there; could this be the origin of the Bone King? If either of these scenarios are true, could the cataclysm occur a second time? Or could the Undying Court hold it at bay?

Are there humanoids that have a significant presence or role in Aerenal beyond elves and half elves—something more meaningful than just traders, ambassadors, or tourists?

No. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting presents the population of Aerenal as 77% elves, 19% deathless, 3% half-elves, 1% other. Both Aereni and Tairnadal are insular cultures unwelcoming to outsiders, and at least throughout the history of the elven presence there’s never been a rival humanoid culture on Aerenal.

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

IFAQ: Evil Tairnadal Ancestors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iFAQ: Aereni Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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