I’m leaving for GenreCon in the morning and still have to pack, do another round of Phoenix edits, and all sorts of other little life things, so I’m only going to address one Eberron question today. Don’t worry – I’ll get to the others next week! As always, this is just my personal opinion and might contradict canon material.
I always hoped for more info on the Gatekeepers, especially on their Seals and ways of breaking them.
A relevant question that’s come up before is “How can you have Gatekeepers and Cults of the Dragon Below working side by side in House Tharashk?” The answer is that both Cults and Keepers are deeply ingrained traditions that define the culture of the Shadow Marches… but that neither are generally relevant in daily life. The Daelkyr conflict was over seven thousand years ago. Let’s say a third of the people in the Shadow Marches follow the Gatekeeper traditions… what that really means is that it determines the holidays they observe, the songs they sing, the oaths they make. The typical follower of “The Old Ways” knows that you blindfold the dead so Belashyrra can’t use their eyes… but he doesn’t necessarily BELIEVE it. Meanwhile, the true Gatekeepers—the ones who are deeply concerned with maintaining the seals, who dispatch rangers into the deep swamps to fight Dolgaunts, etc—are sort of like a cross between a modern-day Revelations cult and the Men in Black. The majority of Marchers think that they’re a little over the top and creepy… while the true Keepers, in turn, don’t bother the common people with the fact that they just eliminated a force of Dolgrims under Zarash’ak because, frankly, they don’t need to know.
So the short form is the Marches are filled with, essentially, non-practicing Gatekeepers; people who know the traditions and stories, but consider them to be just that. Meanwhile, the active Gatekeepers are almost a secret society. The fact that people know the Old Ways mean they can operate in the open; it’s just that people don’t realize that the local holy man really IS a druid with significant powers and not just an old storyteller.
It’s up to you as a gamemaster to decide just how many true Gatekeepers there are and how far their influence spreads. There could be a tiny handful of them hidden in the Shadow Marches, with the true mysteries of their faith all but forgotten. Or they could be a powerful, active force that has been hiding in the shadows of House Tharashk, using the House as a way to plant agents and observers across Khorvaire and taking a very active role in combating aberrant threats. Essentially, it’s a question of what you want them to be. Are they a handful of sages who can provide the PCs with information but who need the PCs to actually face a threat? Or are they an active, powerful force that could provide significant assistance (or pose a significant threat) to PCs?
THE GATEKEEPER SEALS
There’s not a lot of canon information on the seals that hold the Daelkyr at bay. The IDEA of the seals is a core part of the setting, but like the cause of the Mourning, they haven’t really been nailed down. So I’m making this up as I write it, but here’s MY answer.
The Gatekeeper seals are one of the great mysteries of Khorvaire. It’s well-established in legend that the Gatekeepers created the seals that hold Xoriat at bay and prevent the Daelkyr from returning to the surface. But what ARE the seals? Listen to a dozen stories and you’ll hear a dozen different answers. Some say they are dolmen structures found in the deep swamps, massive rune-carved stones infused with byeshk ore and placed in powerful manifest zones. In other stories they are small disks worn as pendants by the Gatekeepers. Each pendant is connected to a particular Daelkyr, and the bearer can sense the thoughts of the Daelkyr and draw on its power… though this carries the threat of madness. One story says that the mightiest druids turned themselves into trees, and that these guardian trees are themselves the seals. One song popular in the Marches claims that IT is the seal, and that as long as it is sung the Daelkyr while never return. Others believe that the seals are the light held in the dragonshards scattered throughout the Marches, and fear that House Tharashk’s mining of the shards will doom all. All stories agree that powerful magic was used to hide the seals, and that much is clear as divination magic has proven entirely unable to reveal any sort of useful information about the seals; whatever form they take, they won’t be easily found.
As a DM, I would latch onto the mystery. There’s a half-dozen theories about what the seals are. What happens when the PCs NEED to know the answer… or when someone is clearly taking steps to systematically eliminate each possibility? I’d take the approach that even the majority of the Gatekeepers don’t know the truth; the order is thousands of years old, and the elders intentionally dispersed and hid the knowledge so it would be difficult to destroy. And all of the things described above do exist—dolmen sites, ancient druids preserved as trees, disks tied to Daelkyr, a song of faith. Perhaps one of them is the REAL seal… or perhaps they all are, and releasing the Daelkyr requires all of them to be eliminated.
With that said, I do like the idea of leading players to believe that the seals are stationary locations, and then having them discover that they are easily portable pendants… and having one of them come into the PCs’ possession. So you have an amulet which is personally holding Belashyrra in Khyber. You can use the amulet to draw on a fraction of his power or to get a sense of what he’s up to – but if you do, you draw his attention to you and he learns what YOU are up to. In a sense, it’s like the One Ring, except you CAN’T destroy it, because that will release Belashyrra. So what do you do with it?
The idea of portable seals in really interesting, but it seems to me that leaving the seals in the custody of isolated or itinerant druids would be incredibly dangerous, since (from Faiths of Eberron) the rituals to maintain the seals must be conducted annually, and a druid who had an unlucky encounter with a chuul wouldn’t be keeping up with the rituals.
I’ll point out that in at the very beginning of this post I note that the ideas here are my personal opinions and may contradict canon material…. IE, this may not mesh with Faiths of Eberron. I suggest a number of different forms that the seals might take. The FoE material really only applies to the static sites – IE, the “byeshk-laced dolmens”. If the seal is a song, it can only be broken if people stop singing it, and it’s not tied to a particular tainted location. Likewise, with the pendants, the idea is that the pendant doesn’t automatically taint the world around it; rather, it’s when you choose to use its power that you risk corruption.
My point is that all of these things could exist. There are tainted sites in Eberron that Gatekeepers tend annually. There are songs that people sing. And there are pendants. But which one of them is actually the seal? Again, if I’m running it, I’d say that part of the point is that even the druids aren’t sure any more… that the druids who tend those sites BELIEVE that if they fail in their duties the Daelkyr will be freed. And they might be right, or they might have been taught that just to make sure that even they can’t reveal the true secret of the portable pendant seals to the enemy. SOMEONE out there must know the truth… but who? Part of the point here is to emphasize that the seals were made seven thousand years ago by a society that at the time likely relied on an oral tradition. That’s a lot of time for misinformation to take root.
Likewise, my point above is that you could have the Gatekeepers as isolated shamans who drift from tribe to tribe and have little connection… or you could say that they are a highly organized conspiracy that uses the modern largely-ambivalent faith as a cover for the dedicated, coordinated druids and rangers who are tracking aberrant activity. It’s all a question of what best suits your campaign and what inspires you.