Exploring Eberron: The Thunder Sea

Art by Vincentius Matthew

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

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

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

Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead

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

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

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

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

Universal Traits

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

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

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

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

DENIZENS OF DOLURRH

The Quick

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

The Dead

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

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

The Lingering

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

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

The Queen of the Dead

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

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

LAYERS OF DOLURRH

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

The Catacombs

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

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

The Kennel

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

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

The Crucible

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

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

The Vault of Memories

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

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

MANIFESTATIONS OF DOLURRH

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

Manifest Zones

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

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

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

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

Coterminous and Remote

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

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

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

Dolurrhi Visitors

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

Dolurrhi Artifacts

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

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

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

CONCERNING RESURRECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOLURRHI STORIES

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Eberron: Dhakaan

Illustration by Kristof Koteles

In Exploring Eberron, I delve into topics I’ve been wanting to exploring in more detail for over a decade. One of these is the Kech Dhakaan, the goblinoids who still maintain the traditions of the Empire of Dhakaan. This section examines Dhakaani history, the active clans, and provides support for playing characters from the Kech Dhakaan—as well as a glossary if you’re worried about keeping track of all those dar words!

I don’t want to give a release date for Exploring Eberron until I’m sure of it; I am still wrapping up the final pieces now. But we’re getting very close, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!

As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters: I’ll be posting the requested Dolurrh article tomorrow!

Exploring Eberron Previews

Illustration by Kristof Koteles

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

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

Image by Lucas Guerrini

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

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

Rising From The Last War: The Dwarves

The Ironroot Mountains are rich in precious metals and ore, and the dwarves of the Mror Hold wield considerable economic power for such a small nation. The Mror dwarves have long been miners and warriors, proud of their clans and their traditions. And the clans have long told stories of the great deeds of their ancestors—of dwarves who ruled a vast domain below the roots of the mountains, who battled the ancient goblins long before humanity came to Khorvaire, of artificers who crafted wonders deep below the earth. According to these stories, the first clan lords were exiled from the Realm Below for their wild and reckless ways—but that someday, when the Mror walked a righteous path, the gates of the Realm Below would be opened to them once more.

In the early days of the Last War, the legends were revealed to be true. Delving ever deeper, Mror miners broke through into an ancient hall. There is a vast subterranean realm below the Ironroot Mountains, and the ancient dwarves who carved these halls did produce amazing artifacts and legendary weapons. But those dwarves died long ago. The daelkyr Dyrrn the Corruptor has laid claim to the Realm Below, and the minions of the Foul Labyrinth are spread throughout its halls. Dolgrims, dolgaunts, mind flayers, and other vile aberrations dwell in the depths. Degenerate derro dwell among these creatures, perhaps the last remnant of the dwarves of old.

Ever since this discovery, the Mror Clans have been waging a war to reclaim their ancestral holdings. The aberrations have yet to mount a counter-offensive or truly organized defense, and the dwarves have established a beachhead in the depths. Along the way, they have recovered both relics of the ancient dwarfs and weapons and tools of the daelkyr themselves—living weapons and items known as symbionts. Some of the clans—notably Clan Mroranon, the strongest of the holds—take the stance that all things tied to the daelkyr are abominable, and that any use of such things will lead to corruption. But others—notably Clan Soldorak—assert that symbionts are just tools, and that the weapons of the enemy can be used against them. Over the course of decades, Soldorak and its allies have brought symbionts into their daily lives, finding new uses for these living tools. Soldorak warlocks have found ways to draw on the power of the daelkyr themselves. Such warlocks swear that they’ll only use these powers for the good of the Holds, but Mroranon purists mutter that there can be no traffic without corruption.

The Present Day

Today, the dwarves continue their slow war in the darkness. Occasionally a force of aberrations seeks to rise up from the depths, but overall there is a stalemate; the Mror have claimed upper halls, but it will take a great effort to press deeper. From a practical standpoint, this means that there is a vast dungeon below the Holds. Many clans would be happy to have adventurers drive deeper into the daelkyr-held halls beneath their holds, especially if those adventurers include among them a dwarf of their line. This is an especially logical focus for a dwarf with the noble background; among many of the clan lines, the elders have asserted that if their heirs want territory, they must carve it out of the Realm Below.

So on the one hand, the Mror Holds are shaped by the knowledge of the Realms Below—the awareness that there is untold wealth and power to be gained in the depths, combined with the knowledge that a deadly enemy with vast and as yet untested power lies beneath their feet. Dyrrn the Corruptor has yet launch an organized attack against the surface, but many feel that it’s only a matter of time. Some say that it’s a question of poking the hornets nest, that all traffic with the Realm Below should be severed before Dyrrn rises. Others believe that Dyrrn is biding its time while spreading its corruption through its symbionts and cults—that Dyrrn is already attacking the Mror Holds, just not through brute force. While some say that these are the excuses of cowards: that the aberrations are not as strong as others think, and that the holds should launch a concetnrated campaign to fully reclaim the Realm Below. It’s up the a DM to decide the truth and the path a campaign will take. Are Dyrrn’s minions already corrupting the dwarves from within? Do you want to have a resurgence of this ancient threat, with the dwarves fighting a desperate battle to contain hordes rising from below? Or do you want to keep the Realm Below as a mysterious dungeon for bold adventurers to explore?

Rising From The Last War presents the foundation of this idea, and provides a few example symbionts. Exploring Eberron goes farther, with a deeper look into the cultural impact of these events, along with additional symbionts and character options.

Why Did This Happen?

Since Eberron began, the Mror dwarves have been called out as being fundamentally less interesting than the dino-riding Talenta halflings, the deadly gnomes of Zilargo, and the ancestor-worshipping warrior elves of Valenar. In the past, their primary direction has been about their economic power; but that’s a subtle distinction. In developing Rising From The Last War, we wanted to add something that made the Mror dwarves distinct without completely rewriting their history. But the Realm Below has always been part of their history. This article was the first mention of the ancient kingdom below the Holds—a realm of wonders destroyed by the daelkyr long ago. Likewise, symbionts were introduced in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting and expanded upon in Magic of Eberron. But neither of these elements received much attention. Rising presented an opportunity to expand on both of these. We give the daelkyr a more significant role and create a line in the sand for adventurers who want to face them: here is a place where you know one can be found. We also take symbionts—something I’ve always liked—and say that there is a place in the world where they are being used as tools, the same way magic is used as a tool. For adventurers who prefer a more traditional dwarven story, there’s the Mroranon and their allies—proud warriors staunchly opposing the aberrations and holding to the traditions of their ancestors. For players who want something new, try the Soldorak with their warlocks and their symbionts. A critical point here is that the Soldorak aren’t evil or inherently corrupt; they see symbionts as one more tool, as a science to be mastered. Some of the other clans say that it can’t be mastered without sowing corruption—but that’s a decision the DM will have to decide. So ultimately, this was an opportunity to add a unique path for dwarf adventurers, while also expanding on the role of symbionts and the daelkyr.

But wait, you say? I keep mentioning dwarf warlocks, and dwarves aren’t especially good at being warlocks? Well, perhaps there’s an option in Exploring Eberron that will help those would-be Soldorak cultists…

What About The Shadow Marches?

The Shadow Marches also have a division between those who follow the Daelkyr adn those who oppose them. Is this just the same story repeated?

On a grand cosmic scale, it can be seen that way. But the two are very different. The story of the Marches has been playing out for thousands of years. The Gatekeepers are a truly ancient tradition. The Cults of the Dragon Below are an established part of Marcher culture. The Gatekeepers maintain the seals that keep the daelkyr bound, while the Kyrzin’s Whisperers maintain the gibbering mouthers that live in their basements and consume their elders. It is an established tradition on both sides. By contrast, the situation in the Mror Holds is active and unfolding. There IS the risk that Kyrzin could drive an all out offensive (even if the daelkyr itself can’t leave Khyber). The Soldorak are actively trying to harness and use the symbionts in a more industrial manner than the ancient cults of the Marches. And frankly, the Mroranon may oppose the daelkyr, but they don’t understand what they are fighting as the Gatekeepers do. There’s also the simply point that there’s different daelkyr involved. The Marches are primarily associated with Kyrzin and Belashyrra, while it’s Dyrrn the Corruptor who’s active below the Holds. Part of this is that it’s a great reason for a Gatekeeper adventurer to be sent to the Mror Holds, to find out just what’s happening in the east and report back to the elders in the Marches.

Q&A

How does House Kundarak fit into this picture?

The original 3.5 lore suggests that it was the Kundarak dwarves that opened the passages to the Realm Below. This isn’t entirely eliminated, but it’s downplayed. The idea remains that the Kundarak dwarves weren’t exiled; they left the Realm Below as guardians assigned to watch over the exiles and prevent their return. There’s a few things to consider here.

  • The timeline isn’t as interesting. Set aside the idea that Dragonmark of Warding just happened to manifest on a line of dwarves maintaining wards (thousands of years after their being assigned to that position), it sets the discovery of the Realm Below as something that happened centuries ago, removing the urgency and drama of the situation. We want the interaction with the Realm Below to be recent enough that’s adventurers can be an active part of the discover, and its impact on the Holds is still unfolding.
  • The previous approach meant that Kundarak maintained a direct cultural line to the Realm Below. We preferred the idea that this line was broken, that no dwarf really knows what they’ll find in the Realm Below. This ties to the fact that the ancient dwarves could make artifacts, and that there are secrets below any artificer would love to master. But it also means that the dwarves could discover that their ancestors weren’t what they believe them to have been.
  • Which all leads to the idea that the Kundarak did seal and protect the paths to the Realm Below long ago… but that then thousands of years passed and they, too, largely forgot what had come before. They didn’t fail in their duty; the paths were sealed. They just were so successful that they eventually forgot what that duty was and moved on (again, over the course of thousands of years and the rise of new civilizations) and eventually someone else DID break the seals.

But the answer is simple. If you prefer the old lore, you can use that Dragonshard exactly as it reads. The Kundarak DID open the seals to the Realm Below a thousand years ago. But this only revealed the upper levels, which were empty and long abandoned. What happened recently wasn’t the discovery of the Realm Below; it was that someone found a way to go even deeper into it, and that’s when they found the levels still occupied. So it was a known curiosity, but only recently became an opportunity and a threat.

Will you ever give a canon answer for the other 10 clans where they fall on the symbiont acceptability spectrum?

I doubt it. Exploring Eberron addresses some of the other clans, but a number are left intentionally neutral so DMs and players can decide what to do with them.

The only small niggle I have was that one in-universe tabloid on a Mror noble going to Korth kitted out with a slew of symbionts. Personally find it difficult to swallow that they’d travel internationally as such. But then, can you really believe everything you read? Especially with the Karrns likely bitter still over Mror ceding from Karrnath.

The clipping in question is on page 121 of Rising From The Last War. With all of those clippings, It’s very important to look at the source. The Korranberg Chronicle is the most reliable source. The Five Voices — in this case, the Voice of Karrnath — present inflammatory and nationalistic views. So it’s hardly surprising that the Voice of Karrnath would focus on the unsavory aspects of a visiting Mror dignitary and try to generate fear.

With that said, I DON’T have a problem with the idea of Lord Malus showing up in his living armor. You have to consider WHY he’s doing this, and WHERE. If he’s an ambassador coming to Fairhaven on bended knee, this would be a terrible choice. But to paraphrase 300, this is Karrnath. This is the nation that has entire fortresses staffed with the undead. It is a nation that understands displays of power and wielding tools that terrify others. In wearing his armor, Lord Malus is intentionally seeking to intimidate and to project power: I have mastered these terrifying things.

And there’s one other element to consider. Most symbionts have a feature called symbiotic nature. Attuning to a symbiont is a commitment, and they can’t be casually removed. Malus could surely have had his armor removed before leaving the Mror Holds; but he couldn’t simply take it off before coming to the meeting.

That’s all for now! Let me know your thoughts on this new twist on the dwarves of Eberron. And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site alive. I hope to do more on the site in the months ahead, and Patreon support will help determine what that looks like. And thanks as well to Júlio Azevedo, who produced the image above for Exploring Eberron!

Exploring Eberron: The Cover

Eberron: Rising From The Last War is out in the world, but I’d still hard at work on my next project. Rising provides a basic introduction to the setting, while Exploring Eberron delves deeper into aspects of the world that have received relatively little attention—from the aquatic nations of the Thunder Sea to the newly introduced idea of the Mror dwarves working with symbionts. As part of the development cycle we commissioned new art from a host of fantastic artists. The image above is the mock-up of the front cover; below you can see the full wrap-around image, designed by artist Thomas Bourdon.

In developing the book, Wayne Chang and I developed a few iconic characters who appear in multiple images. Here they’re dealing with a few friends from Dal Quor (note the portal in the background), which ties to the planar content in the book. But each one has their own story. Ban is a golin’dar (goblin) rogue with ties to the Sharaat’khesh. Dela Harn d’Cannith is an artificer with the Mark of Making, pursuing research forbidden by her house. Rev is a warforged barbarian who’s been extensively repaired and tinkered on by Dela; his name is short for “Revenant,” after a comrade remarked on the number of times Dela brought him back to life. Rusty is a dwarf warlock and wandslinger from the Mror Holds. And Gentle is a kalashtar monk. If you’re wondering what’s up with her claws, Gentle and Dela are both using subclass options presented in the book, while Rusty’s symbionts are also in the book.

Let me know what you think of the cover! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

Short Take: Gith in Eberron

Thousands of years ago, a proud empire ruled the known world. This golden age was shattered when portals opened to Xoriat. Hordes of aberrations poured through the gates, and behind them came the daelkyr. The Lords of Madness twisted the land and its creatures, capturing the champions of the Empire and turning them into horrors.

It’s a familiar story, but there’s a twist. This isn’t the Empire of Dhakaan—and it isn’t Eberron. The people of this empire were gifted psychics, and their cities were made from crysteel and solidified emotion. They fought the daelkyr with sword and thought, the great leader Gith rallying her forces against the corrupting influence of Xoriat. But there was no victory to be won. There were no Gatekeepers in this world, no knowledge of the primal power that saved Eberron. This land was doomed. Retreat was the only option, and so Gith rallied the wisest of her kind and found a way to open portals into the realms beyond reality. The only remnant of these proud people were the heroes twisted by the Dyrrn the Corruptor, psychic champions transformed into living weapons: the Mind Flayers.

The refugees fell into the realm of Kythri, and the Churning Chaos hid them from pursuit. The greatest monks of the people—now calling themselves the Gith, after their savior—carved out a pocket of stability with their minds. They regained their strength and evaluated the situation, and here a bitter division split their people. Zerthimon the Wise maintained that the Gith should remain within Kythri, strengthening their will through the endless struggle against chaos. He believed that mental discipline was the ultimate key to victory—that in time, the Gith could impose their will on Xoriat itself, taking the daelkyr’s home just as the Lords of Madness had stolen theirs. But Gith was a warrior, and her followers yearned for battle. They knew they weren’t strong enough to face the daelkyr, but they built their fortresses in the space between spaces and began raiding different layers of reality: pillaging floating towers in Syrania and slaughtering devils on the plains of Shavarath. One day they would find a way to utterly destroy Xoriat; until then, they would hone their skills in conflicts across the planes.

Eberron wasn’t the first world visited by the daelkyr. It’s been said that the daelkyr view the destruction of worlds as a form of art; it’s an art they’ve practiced since the dawn of time. The illithids are both a relic of this conflict and a promise of what might lie ahead. Should the daelkyr rise and complete their work, there could come a time when the dolgaunts and dolgrims are all that remains of Eberron. And what of the Gith? They’re carved out a new existence beyond what we know of as reality. They’re planar hermits and plunderers, pondering mysteries we cannot imagine and gathering treasures and weapons from across the planes. Generally Gith are encountered as individuals, explorers, philosophers, or agents with a mission. But there could come a time when the Githyanki arrive in force. Will they come to destroy the daelkyr? Or will they come as conquerors?


But What About…

I remember being intrigued by the Githyanki on the cover of the Fiend Folio when I first saw it as a teenager. I was intrigued by the idea of this deeply alien society—of a civilization that had abandoned the material world and carved out a place in the planes. There’s a place for everything in Eberron, and it was obvious the Gith would be somewhere. I had thoughts on the matter, but I wasn’t the one who wrote the Gith entry in the Player’s Guide to Eberron. The PGtE suggests that the Gith were created from human or hobgoblin stock during the daelkyr invasion of Eberron, and that they escaped when the Gatekeepers bound the daelkyr. There’s a number of things I don’t like about this explanation. Essentially, it downgrades the Gith to being discarded dolgrims—which is also strange because for creatures “created by the mind flayers from hobgoblin stock” they’re not aberrations and are far less disturbing than the dolgaunts and dolgrims. More than that, I want the Gith to be the heroes of their own story—not playing second fiddle to the Gatekeepers. They may have failed to save their world, but at least they fought to the bitter end.

The other thing I like about this story is that it adds depth to the daelkyr themselves. It establishes that they’ve done this before and that if not for the Gatekeepers, Eberron would share the fate of the forgotten world of the Gith. It also provides a different approach to the enmity between the mind flayers and the Gith. It’s not simply that the illithids were slavemasters. It’s that the illithid were Gith—and remain now as the twisted reminder of the destruction of their world. And it’s not that the Gith have psychic powers because they were altered by mind flayers; it’s that the mind flayers have psionic power because they were created from the naturally psychic Gith. Given that time and space have no absolute rules in Xoriat and there’s no law about the lifespan of a mind flayer, it also leaves the possibility that some of the mind flayers on Eberron were part of that ancient war—that the mysterious grudge Xor’chyllic has against the daelkyr could tie back to its history with the Gith.

In the meantime, the Gith themselves offer hooks for planar adventures. A Githzerai player character may have come to Eberron in pursuit of a particular idea, while a Githyanki could be searching for a more practical weapon; either could be here to gather information on the daelkyr and their cults. A player Gith could be an explorer or a renegade, perhaps caryying a warning of an upcoming Githyanki incursion. Adventurers in Kythri could find shelter in a Githzerai monastery, while a Githyanki vessel could carry adventurers from plane to plane.

And what of the lost world of the Gith? What does it mean that there is a lost world? How many more are there? One possibility is that Eberron has a solar system, or that the Gith world is one of the moons. However, Xoriat defies our concepts of time and space, and I’d personally play it that from Xoriat you can enter any number of alternate versions of Eberron, the ruined Gith world is one; but what other alternate Eberrons could you reach through Xoriat?

I’m currently working on Exploring Eberron, a product for the DM’s Guild which will delve more deeply into the planes and their relationship to Eberron, along with many other subjects. I may have some previews to share soon. Thanks as always to my Patreon backers! I’ll be posting more articles once I get done with Exploring Eberron. You can also find be at Pax Unplugged, and if you’re in Portland, Oregon I’ll be doing an Eberron signing and Q&A at Guardian Games on November 23rd!