IFAQ: Fizban’s Treasury and Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month there’s been a number of questions related to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. As always, my answers here reflect what I would do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon material!

How would you incorporate either the draconic echoes or the Elegy of the First World into Eberron?

To answer this question, you first need to answer another: Do you want your Eberron to be part of the greater Multiverse? Eberron has its own cosmology and a very different approach to deities than many of the other core D&D settings. One option—as we suggest in Rising From The Last War is the idea that Eberron is part of the multiverse, but that it was sealed off; that traffic to other settings is possible, but very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t WANT to use elements of other settings in your Eberron campaign, it’s easy to just ignore the Multiverse and focus on Eberron as an entirely independent setting.

By canon, Eberron has its own creation myth that explains the origins of dragons. The funny thing is that it’s not entirely incompatible with the Elegy of the First World. The Elegy asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind (if you count Sardior). The Progenitor myth asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind. The Progenitor myth asserts that the first dragons were born from the drops of blood that fell on Eberron; nonetheless, this still matches the basic concept of the Elegy, in that the dragons were the first children of the Progenitors, but “were supplanted by the teeming peoples” that came after them.

Personally, I LIKE the story of dragons being formed from the blood of Siberys—the idea that they alone believe that they have a direct connection to both Siberys and Eberron, an idea that explains their innate arcane power. In MY Eberron campaign, I’m not likely to abandon this concept in favor of Eberron’s dragons being linked to other dragons across infinite settings.

If you want to add the First World to Eberron WITHOUT adding the Multiverse, a simple option is to just put it AFTER THE PROGENITORS. The Progenitors create reality. Bahamut (a native celestial who favors a draconic form) and Tiamat (the Daughter of Khyber) unite the dragons and create the First World on Eberron—an idyllic civilization that predates the Age of Demons, which was ultimately shattered BY the Age of Demons, presumably set in motion by the Daughter of Khyber. This aligns with Thir, saying that the “Dragon Gods” existed before the Age of Demons but left reality when the First World was broken; this ties to the idea I’ve suggested elsewhere that Eberron’s version of Bahamut would have sacrificed themselves in the Age of Demons and could be the core of the Silver Flame.

If you want to incorporate the Multiverse into your Eberron campaign, then you can just use the First World exactly as it stands in Fizban’s. In this case, the Progenitor myth is presumably FALSE, since it has a very specific story for the origin of dragons; but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that the Progenitor Myth IS ONLY A MYTH… or even that the Progenitor Myth is just a garbled version of the Elegy.

As for draconic echoes, the idea that each dragon is mirrored across realities: If I wanted to use this, what I’d do is to assert that every reality has a Draconic Prophecy, and Eberron is simply the only one where people have recognized this. Draconic Echoes reflect the fact that the dragons are prophetically significant. But if I was going to do that, I’d personally want to add OTHER echoes across settings; even if they don’t manifest dragonmarks, you might have echoes of dragonmarked heirs in other worlds, and you’d definitely have echoes of especially Prophetically significant characters—IE player characters. But I personally prefer NOT to mix peanut butter with my chocolate. I’m happy to explore alternate incarnations of Eberron, as with the Gith, but I’ve never brought the rest of the multiverse into any of my personal campaigns (though I HAVE played a “far traveler” character from Eberron—a warforged cleric searching for pieces of the Becoming God—in someone else’s non-Eberron campaign).

How would you incorporate the alternative half-dragon origins from Chapter Three of Fizban’s? Would that change how you present Dragonborn?

Keep in mind that all things that use the stat blocks and basic shapes of dragons and dragonborn don’t have to share the same origin. For the primary dragons of Argonnessen, I LIKE the fact that while they are imbued with arcane power—children of Eberron and Siberys—they are still ultimately MORTAL. They are an ancient and advanced species, but they aren’t multiversal echoes and they’re more grounded than the immortals. They live, learn, have jobs, pursue research. So for the dragons of Argonnessen, I wouldn’t say that they reproduce by divine origin or parthenogenesis or when someone steals their hoard… because they are are ancient, long-lived, and imbued with arcane power, but they are STILL MORTAL CREATURES OF EBERRON. This principle likewise applies to dragonborn who trace their roots to Argonnessen. It seems likely that the original dragonborn were magebred by the dragons from some sort of humanoid stock. But I don’t think those original dragonborn were formed from greed or true love. WITH THAT SAID…

As I said, NOT ALL DRAGONS AND DRAGONBORN HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME ORIGIN. Many of the options described in Fizban’s—from someone becoming a half-dragon after stealing from a dragon’s hoard, to eating forbidden fruit, to a tree on which dragon eggs grow like fruit—don’t sound like Argonnessen to me; they sound like THELANIS. First of all, you could have any number of dragons who appear as “supporting cast”—they would have the stats of dragons (though I’d likely make them fey as well as dragons) but the point is that they aren’t entirely REAL. They don’t have goals or desires beyond serving their role in the story. The dragon in a cave guarding a sword in a stone truly has nothing better to do. Beyond this, I could also imagine a dragon as one of the archfey of Thelanis. I can see two paths here. My personal impulse would be to have a single archfey dragon who encompasses all the legends of dragonkind—the greedy hoarder, the destroyer of cities. But I could also imagine there being two archfey dragons—the Bright Dragon and the Night Dragon, essentially filling the STORY role of Bahamut and Tiamat, even though they wouldn’t take direct action on Eberron. Still, it would be one of these entities who could potentially bestow Cradle Favor or have a tree that grows dragon eggs (because as archfey they wouldn’t reproduce like mortal dragons do). With that in mind, I feel it’s either in Thelanis or in a Thelanian manifest zone that you’ll have someone becoming a dragon or half-dragon due to greed or by bathing in dragon’s blood. And you could thus have dragonborn who have such origins—or heck, who spring up because you sow a field with dragon’s teeth. But they aren’t the most common forms.

Regardless of how I present dragonBORN, we had half-dragons in 3.5 Eberron. The most infamous of these is Erandis Vol. Her creation is described this as involving a program of magebreeding, so I think it’s a form of True Love’s Gift, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “I love you, you get to be part-dragon” (UNLESS you’re in Thelanis!); I think you’ve got to work actual magic into the picture. In the case of Vol, I think the Emerald Claw and his kind were trying to create sustainable, “true” half-dragons; I could easily see some rogue dragon using less reliable techniques to create sterile half-dragon mules.

I am fine with the idea that infusions of dragon’s blood could have a dramatic effect on other creatures, and could be a basis for sorcery; again, dragons have an innate force of arcane magic. But I am more inclined to make that essentially scientific in nature. If there’s a place where just living there causes you to become a half-dragon, I’d make that a Thelanian manifest zone, not just something that happens to anyone who hangs out in a mansion in Argonnessen.

The main thing is that many of the Fizban options present dragons as fundamentally mythic beings. The dragons of Argonnessen are legendary, but they are also VERY REAL. They have a civilization, families, politics, and so on. With all that said, the final option I’d consider if I wanted to use multiversal echoes and the like would be to have a number of dragons who are literally physical embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. These could be essentially immortals, aware of their nature and their purpose; or they could be scattered among the mortal dragons, essentially an immortal seed reincarnated many times, and that has echoes across the multiverse.

Have there been any notable half-dragons in Khorvaire’s history that weren’t Kill On Sight? Anyone that famously claimed draconic heritage or might similar to Hassalac Chaar?

There’s a few factors here. Personally, I don’t think half-dragons ARE kill on sight. In my opinion, the issue with the line of Vol wasn’t solely half-dragons; it was the attempt to create and control apex dragonmarks through the medium of half-dragons. I also think Argonnessen disapproves of the idea of dragons trying to create any entirely new true-breeding species without approval. However, if we assume that most dragons are sterile or otherwise can’t pass on their traits, I don’t think Argonnesen will care about them, and I can personally imagine individual dragons creating half-dragons for specific purposes. Beyond this, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to identify a half-dragon AS a half-dragon. I think half-dragons with different origins could have very different physical traits. Does your sorcerer who claims dragon’s blood actually have scales and claws, or is it purely an explanation for their power in spite of their mechanically using a different ancestry? Regardless, in a world with dragonborn, blackscale lizardfolk, yuan-ti, and magebreeding in general, I think a lot of times rare oddities will just be seen as curiosities.

This ties to the point that when I say that someone becoming a dragonborn or half-dragon by bathing in dragon’s blood would be tied to Thelanis, it’s because of the idea that there are stories about it happening. So yes, I am certain that there ARE an assortment of legendary heroes and villains across all of the cultures of Eberron—the fallen kingdoms of old Sarlona, Xen’drik, even Dhakaan—of rare half-dragons, whose powers were a blessing or a curse. We have one concrete example in canon, and that’s the Draleus Tairn, the dragonslayer elves; Dragons of Eberron notes “Rumors exist that the Draleus dragon slayers can take the powers of their victims; that their blood burns like dragonfire; that they can spit lightning or breathe acid; and that their blood rituals increase their life span and even imbue them with the strength of the dragon. Perhaps these stories are mere myths. The tales could also reflect the presence of half-dragons or dragon shamans among the Draleus Tairn, with these powers derived from spilled blood instead of shared blood.” At the moment I don’t have time to make up examples of such heroes or villains, but I expect there’s a few examples in almost every culture. Following the Thelanian example ofthe half-dragon created through greed, I love the idea of a half-dragon giant lingering in a vault in a Thelanian manifest zone in Xen’drik.

How do Moonstone Dragons, which as presented in Fizban’s are tied to both the fey and to dreams, fit into your Eberron?

Personally, I see no reason to tie Moonstone dragons directly to Dal Quor. Fizban says “Moonstone dragons can project themselves into the realm of dreams to communicate with the creatures that sleep near their lairs.” Thus, they are related to dreams in the same way as a night hag or any mortal wizard who can cast Dream: they are skilled at USING and manipulating dreams, but that doesn’t mean they are natives of Dal Quor. Likewise, I personally wouldn’t make them dragons of Thelanis. In my earlier suggestions regarding Thelanian dragons, the main idea that Thelanian dragons would fill iconic draconic story archetypes which don’t really make sense for mortal dragons of Eberron—IE, when you find a dragon guarding a hoard in a cave in the woods, with no logical reason to be there other than to guard that hoard, THAT might be a Thelanian dragon and the cave may be in a manifest zone, because most Argonnessen dragons have SOMETHING BETTER TO DO than to hang out in a cave in the woods. The Moonstone dragon doesn’t fit that role either; it’s more exotic and unusual than iconic.

So WITH THAT IN MIND… The dragons of Argonnessen are the most ancient civilization on Eberron (and have seen cultures rise and fall). They have forgotten arcane secrets other species have yet to learn. In the process of their history they have surely studied the planes, manifest zones, and wild zones. I would say that Moonstone dragons trace their roots back to a flight of dragons devoted to the study of the planes and to Thelanis and Dal Quor in particular, who were changed through their long interaction with those planes—either intentionally (magebreeding themselves to strengthen their ability to operate in those planes) or by the “background radiation.” I would say that they serve as Argonnessen’s ambassadors to Thelanis and as mediators to Fey in general; Argonnessen has manifest zones tied to Thelanis just like everywhere else, and where some cultures have fey pact warlocks, Argonnessen has Moonstone dragons. The dream aspect I’d tend to use just as described—a tool they use to communicate and inspire mortals, but not reflecting a deeper connection to Dal Quor.

I think the idea that they love creativity and like to inspire mortals is fine, and I can see this bringing a lot of Moonstone dragons to the Chamber—that they actually LIKE working with the “lesser species” and giving them inspiration in ways that don’t hurt the Prophecy or carry the risk of Aureon’s Folly. But personally, I’d largely keep them on the material plane. If there are Moonstone dragons in Thelanis, I’d make them envoys or immigrants rather than natives.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and making these articles possible. And just to be clear: I’m happy to clarify my answers to the above questions, but I do not have time to answer addtional new questions about other aspects of Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons; it’s a big book and covering it in its entirety would require a longer article.

IFAQ: Strixhaven in Eberron?

Every month, my Patreon supporters select the topics for the articles I write. I only have time for one major Dragonmark article, and in a choice between Strixhaven, Fizban’s Treasury, and the role of the Astral Plane, Astral won out. So I’ll be exploring the Astral Plane in depth later this month. But while this will be a short take on the topic, I still wanted to address the question…

How would you add Strixhaven into your Eberron campaign?

At first glance, this seems like a question with an obvious answer. Eberron already has a famous university of magic—Arcanix in Aundair. The Library of Korranberg is another option; while not explicitly a school of magic, it is a famous institute of learning that canonically has a rivalry between its aligned colleges. In the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, the Starting Point: Morgrave University discusses the idea of a campaign where the exams may be greater threats than any monster. But none of these really feel right to me. Consider the following…

  • Strixhaven is described as being very exotic in its makeup—”you’re as likely to meet a pixie, a dryad, a giant, a treant, or another fantastical creature on campus as you are a humanoid.” Beyond this, “it is unremarkable to meet someone who hails from a far-off land, since almost everyone on campus is from somewhere else.” Neither to these things especially fit Arcanix, which is primarily an Aundairian institution; and at Morgrave University, the presence of Flamewind the Sphinx is remarkable. Most students of Korranberg, Morgrave, or Arcanix are humanoids, and most are from the familiar nations of Khorvaire.
  • Strixhaven is known to be founded by five dragons, and those dragons are still around; graduates can join the Dragonsguard, “an elite group of mages who work directly with the Founder Dragons.” The Dragons of Eberron certainly have the knowledge and power to do something like this, but on Khorvaire dragons are so secretive as to be nearly mythical. And to a certain degree, asserting that Arcanix was founded by dragons would undermine the concept that it’s a seat of humanoid innovation.
  • Strixhaven is largely a self-contained setting that interacts little with the world around it. It’s driven by the tension between life and death, order and chaos—not the tension between Thrane and Aundair. Beyond this, the general level of common magic depicted is a higher than even that of Aundair. It’s an example of what the Five Nations could become, but it feels a little more wondrous than they are at the present. One of the things we’ve said about Arcanix is that player characters are remarkable, and that there are many professors at Arcanix who don’t actually have the full power of a wizard or a sorcerer, rather understanding magic in theory and working spells solely through rituals, like a magewright. Strixhaven is more of a chaotic place where powerful magic is constantly at play.

So, the Strixhaven book presents a host of rules and ideas that you can use piecemeal in a campaign set at Arcanix, Morgrave, or Korranberg. But personally, I wouldn’t just change Strixhaven’s name to “Arcanix” and use it as is. So if the question is how would I add STRIXHAVEN to my campaign—using it as it’s presented in the book—there’s two ideas that appeal to me.

A School of Dragons

The dragons of Argonnessen are the oldest surviving civilization in Eberron. Long ago they shared their arcane knowledge with other creatures. This ultimately resulted in the destruction of Xen’drik and is now known as kurash Ourelonastrix, “Aureon’s folly.” But what if a cabal of dragons wanted to try this again? What if these five Founders created a campus in the heart of Argonnessen, far from prying eyes, where hand-picked students and faculty from across Eberron and beyond it could delve into the deepest secrets of magic and philosophy? With this in mind, part of being a student at Strixhaven would be proving yourself worthy of this knowledge; your final exam would in part be an evaluation determining whether you should be allowed to take the knowledge that you’ve gained back to your homeland—whether you can be trusted to be a worthy steward of this knowledge.

One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s an easy way to add depth to the Chamber. the Colleges of Strixhaven aren’t known in the wider world, but they represent factions within the Chamber itself, and the five Founders can easily become the most influential members of the Chamber. The Dragonsguard become an elite order chosen to work directly with the Chamber as they oppose the Lords of Dust and work with the Prophecy. Whenever encountering Chamber agents, the DM can consider if they belong to any of the Colleges of Strixhaven, and reflect this in their abilities and actions. We’ve always said that the dragons of the Chambers are scholars and philosophers; the Colleges provide a quick set of philosophies to work with, though I wouldn’t say that they are the ONLY philosophies found within the Chamber.

As a school within Argonnessen, Strixhaven maintains the idea that “almost everyone on the campus is from somewhere else.” Likewise, it fits the idea that the students and faculty can include giants, awakened plants, or other exotic creatures; it’s a school for teaching members of ALL of the “lesser species,” not merely humanoids. Humanoid students could be drawn from anywhere on Eberron: you could have Qaltiar drow, Cold Sun lizardfolk, Akiak dwarves, Demesne tieflings, and similarly exotic choices. A central part of this idea is that this is an experiment—that the faculty carefully chooses students and wants to see if they’ll prove worthy of this knowledge. With this in mind, one question when creating your character is why were you chosen? Do you feel that there’s something remarkable about your character? Do you believe that you’re representing your nation, species, home town, or something else? Or are you mystified as to why you were selected? I really like the fact that this is a chance to bring together characters from very diverse cultures—a Riedran farmer, a Sulatar drow, a Carrion Tribes barbarian—and have the students learn about one another and find common ground even while mastering magic.

Faculty in Argonessen’s Strixhaven would likely include a significant number of dragons—younger than the founders and likely often seen in humanoid form, but still, dragons. On the other hand, faculty could also include former students. This could be a voluntary position, but I could easily see someone who was judged as unfit to return to their society with the knowledge they possessed and offered a choice: remain at Strixhaven and teach, or return home but with their arcane knowledge stripped from their mind. I would keep the Oracle as a humanoid, the embodiment of Strixhaven’s mission to share magic with non-dragons and tasked to ensure this power is not abused as it was following Aureon’s folly. Snarls could easily be an unusual form of manifest zone, possibly unique to Argonnessen just as wild zones are found on Sarlona. Star Arches are another question. While these could easily be draconic artifacts, part of the purpose of the arches is to be mysterious. One option would be to say that they are left over from the Age of Demons, and that even the dragons don’t know their origins—that some believe them to be creations of the Progenitors themselves, or “the bones of Siberys.” Another option is that they are relics of a fallen Draconic civilization. I’ve mentioned before that the degree to which the dragons fear the Daughter of Tiamat implies at least one devastating incident involving her release. With a hundred thousand years to work with, it’s entirely possible to imagine that draconic civilization has endured at least one massive collapse—that the Star Arches could be creations of Ourelonastrix and his peers, but that the dragons of the present day don’t understand them or know how to replicate them.

This concept of Strixhaven is somewhat similar to the city of Io’lokar, presented in Dragons of Eberron. Personally, I’ve never liked Io’lokar and don’t use it in my campaign. What I prefer about using Strixhaven in this way is the idea that it’s an experiment, constantly bringing in new students from across the world as opposed to just keeping a stable, stagnant population in isolation. With that in mind, I’d likely suggest that it’s a fairly RECENT experiment, at least as dragons measure time—no more than two or three centuries old. Among other things, this would hold to the idea that the Founders are still evaluating the experiment, and that the actions of the player characters could play an important role in this. Could the Conclave shut down Strixhaven? Could heroic characters inspire the dragons to share their knowledge more freely?

As a campus in Argonnessen, Strixhaven would be exotic and isolated, but still grounded in the material world. But there is another option I might use…

A School of Stories

Thelanis is sometimes said to embody the magic we wish was in the world. The layers of Thelanis and the Archfey embody iconic stories. So consider the story of a school of magic, a place of countless wonders that exists just around the corner from the reality we know. Everyone knows a story of a youth who didn’t fit in or didn’t meet expectations, who one day took a wrong turn and found themselves in a wondrous school where they had the chance to unlock both the secrets of magic and their own true self. With this in mind, I would place Strixhaven in Thelanis. One option would be to treat it as a Feyspire, placing it in the Moonlit Vale; however, I would be inclined to make it a distinct layer of Thelanis, because the story of Strixhaven generally stands on its own; it’s possible that students could get involved in the intrigues of the Moonlit Court, but it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Placing Strixhaven in Thelanis plays to the idea that the students and faculty can be extremely diverse and exotic—almost impossibly so. Giants, treants, sprites, sentient animals, talking statues; if you could imagine it in a story, you could find it at Strixhaven. A secondary aspect of this is the idea that many of the students aren’t, at the end of the day, REAL. Exploring Eberron talks about the idea of the “Supporting Cast” of Thelanis—lesser fey who are drafted to fill whatever purpose the story needs them to fill. Does this scene need a bully? An arrogant rival? The school can MAKE one for you. This applies to the teachers as well. Some could be greater fey with their own identities or former students who have chosen to remain, but there could definitely be teaching assistants, maintenance staff, even teachers who only exist as part of the story; you’ll never actually see Professor Greenroot except in his office or in the classroom, and he doesn’t really have any opinions on anything that’s not related to his classes. Speculating on who’s real and who’s a manifestations of the story would surely be a common pastime among students; when it comes down to it, can you be absolutely sure YOU are real?

As with Strixhaven—Argonnessen, Strixhaven—Thelanis could draw its students from across Eberron. Unlike Argonnessen, the Strix-Thel isn’t an experiment and the students aren’t being chosen to represent their people; instead they’re being chosen for their stories, and the question to think about when creating your character is What is your story? This is a fairy tale about someone stumbling onto a school of magic. Are you a luckless urchin from the streets of Sharn? A privileged Aundairian prince who needs to learn a lesson in humility? The unnatural nature of Thelanis could add a further twist—you could take a leaf from Rip Van Winkle and add students or faculty from different points in the past. Perhaps there’s a young elf at Strixhaven who, it turns out, is from the as-yet unerradicated Line of Vol—or a conniving student from one of the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun. In such a scenario, a key question would be if there’s any way for such students to return to their own time, or if they are the last remnants of civilizations long dead.

In developing Strixhaven-Thelanis, a key question is who are the archfey of the school? An obvious possibility is that the Founders are the Archfey who define Strixhaven. They may APPEAR to be dragons, but that’s a cosmetic detail. If this is the case, then the Founders might be involved in the ongoing intrigues of the Moonlit Court; perhaps four of the founders are associated with different seasons, while one remains aloof. On the other hand, it could be that the Oracle is the anchoring Archfey, and that the Founders are themselves part of the Supporting Cast—for all their supposed power and despite the many legends associated with them, they don’t actually EXIST until there’s a particular reason for them to exist. This ties to the question of whether the Dragonsguard actually exist. If the Founders are Archfey, the Dragonsguard could be their personal agents in endless, immortal intrigues and adventures within Thelanis. If the Oracle is the Archfey, the Dragonshguard themselves might not truly exist; they are also simply part of the story.

Part of the appeal of placing Strixhaven in Thelanis is to embrace the unreality of the situation, the fact that it is a story made real; you can embrace the tropes, because that’s ultimately what the school is. It’s likewise interesting to explore what it means to be real, mortal people in an environment that is only semi-real; it’s a bit of Harry Potter blended with The Truman Show. With this in mind, it’s easy to add the Snarls and Star Arches. They COULD have a deep and mysterious role. The Star Arches could be remnants of a shattered Archfey, or tied to the underling archtecture of Thelanis itself. If you want a truly epic story, the Snarls could be an early symptom of the fact that Thelanis itself is starting to unravel; perhaps the students must find a way to save the Faerie Court itself!

A secondary question with Strixhaven—Thelanis is what happens to the students who graduate? Why haven’t they transformed Eberron with their amazing mystic knowledge? Well, one advantage of the Thelanis approach is that there don’t have to be that many actual students; you can have all the supporting cast you need, but only a handful of students truly are protagonists who COULD finish their studies and return home. Another option is the Narnia approach: students stumble into Strixhaven from all across the world and can eventually become masters of magic, wielding powers far beyond the everyday magic of the Five Nations… but when those students return home, much of that power melts away. Should they return to Strixhaven, answering the call of the Founders in their hour of need, all those powers will return; but in Eberron itself, they may be more limited. This could give the interesting option of having adventurers meet a young NPC in Khorvaire who assures them that she’s one of the greatest archmages of all time, but who can’t even cast third level spells… until they’re all drawn to Thelanis, and her true powers return to her. If you take this approach, you might say, for example, that there’s quite a few Strixhaven alumni spread across Arcanix… but that the true treasure they retained from their time at the school was self-knowledge or a deeper understanding of the philosophies of the colleges as opposed to immense practical magics.

All this only begins to scratch the surface both of ways you could use Strixhaven or of the interesting stories one can tell in an academic campaign, but I did say at the start that this was going to be a “short” article… and with that in mind, I’m not going to expand too deeply on this concept in comments. For now, the Astral Plane awaits! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who help choose these topics and who make these articles possible.

IFAQ: Nonbinary Elves and More About Githberron

I’m getting ready for PAX Unplugged—more information on that tomorrow—but as time permits I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes includes “Blessed of Corellon”—rare elves who can change their sex in a short period of time. How would you incorporate this into Eberron, beyond changing the name to remove the reference to Corellon?

My immediate question is WHY MAKE IT RARE? Why not just make it a standard trait of elves, a reflection of their fey ancestry? Once you do that, I’d just keep in mind that for elves, sex is a form of expression as opposed to an absolute. Some settle on one path that feels natural to them, never using the gift again once they’ve made that choice… or perhaps shifting every century, taking time to explore different paths. Others might shift casually from day to day, reflecting the mood of the moment. Some elves might use it the same way some changelings use personas, developing a set of unique identities and using the one best suited to a particular scenario. A question a DM should consider if incorporating this into the world is whether an elf can only choose from two options, or if there are other forms they can take with this blessing; this might also lead to the Elvish language having a broad range of pronouns.

Personally, I’d keep the core mechanics intact: invoking the blessing requires completion of a long rest and it doesn’t dramatically change the elf’s appearance. It’s a form of personal expression, not a disguise. But with that in mind, and with the idea that people KNOW this about elves, I don’t see why it can’t just be a common trait to all elves. Given that it requires the completion of a long rest and elves trance during a long rest, I’d personally present it as a sort of meditation in which the elf reflects on their self-image and identity, with their physical form shifting to match their thoughts. If it’s something that all elves possess, I’d just call it “The Change” and add it as a trait of the base elf race…

The Change. You may change your sex when you complete a long rest.

In a previous article about obyriths, you said it was possible that “Githberron” had its own overlords and some of them might still exist.

Exploring Eberron presents the idea that the Gith may be the survivors of a previous incarnation of Eberron that was, essentially, wiped and rebooted after being transformed by the daelkyr, which has been refered to in a few places as “Githberron.” What I say in the article is that the Obyriths could be fiends from a prior incarnation of Eberron, but that this wouldn’t have to be Githberron. Here’s the relevant quote from the article:

Exploring suggests that the Gith may be refugees from a previous incarnation of Eberron. An exotic option for the obyriths would be to say that they are fiends from a previous iteration of Khyber… That somehow they escaped into Xoriat and ultimately came to the current incarnation of reality, most likely finding shelter in a shadow demiplane.

This suggests that obyriths may be from “a previous iteration of Khyber”—not necessarily the same one that spawned the Gith. This ties to the idea that the Obyriths are extremely alien—fiends altered by the destruction of their world and by their experiences in Xoriat. The article also calls out that these fiends wouldn’t have heart demiplanes in the current reality, and that while they might be physically immortal they wouldn’t have the true immortality of a native fiend, and a former overlord wouldn’t wield that full power in the current reality.

If Githberron had overlords, did it have its own version of the Silver Flame or some other sealing magic? It’s hard to imagine the Gith’s ancestors being able to build a civilization with unbound overlords running around.

Who knows? The whole point of Githberron is that it’s a previous iteration of reality, one that’s different in substantial ways. There could be a union of celestials much like the Silver Flame, sure. But perhaps in Githberron the heart planes of the Overlords were deeply buried and they never emerged to rule an Age of Demons. Perhaps in Githberron the overlords fought one another so fiercely that they crippled one another. Perhaps a few of the overlords overwhelmed the others and dominate the world in a stable, if fiendish fashion. Perhaps there was a proto-Gith Empress who holds the overlords bound with the awesome psionic power of her unmatched mind. Each one of those is possible, and each would have a very different impact on how the world would evolve.

If there was a celestial binding force in another iteration of reality, do you think this power might still be able to be tapped into by a player character?

Anything’s possible. Githberron presumably had some form of native celestial. It’s possible that some form of native celestial survived that transition. But the point is that it WOULDN’T HAVE THE SAME POWER in this reality that it did in its native reality, because it doesn’t belong here. Just as the Obyriths can be permanently destroyed, the same thing would be true of a Githberron celestial. If it draws too much attention to itself and gets targeted by the Lords of Dust, it could simply be destroyed.

So could there be some sort of lingering celestial that could provide power to a player character? Sure, why not? But it wouldn’t be remotely on the same level of power as the Silver Flame, and it would carry the risk that it could be destroyed if the actions of the player character draw attention to it. I could imagine, for example, using this as the basis for a Aasimar cleric or paladin, saying that their divine power comes from THEIR PERSONAL CELESTIAL—but that it’s a small enough well of power that it couldn’t support other clerics or paladins beyond them, and that there’s a very real risk that it could be destroyed. Frankly, I think this could be a fun story to explore—what does the paladin do when their divine power source is literally extinguished by the Lords of Dust?—but I’d want to match sure the player was prepared for that to be a possibility.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who are the only thing that makes these articles possible. I hope I’ll see some of you at PAX Unplugged!

IFAQ: Yrlag and the Direshark Prince

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

Could you tell us an interesting detail about Yrlag in the Shadow Marches?

Yrlag is one of the largest cities in the Shadow Marches. It’s one of the few safe havens on Crescent Bay, and the most substantial port on the west coast of Khorvaire (which isn’t saying much, but still). Yrlag’s particular claim to fame is its proximity to the Demon Wastes. Due to the diligence of the Ghaash’kala, landing on the coast is far easier than crossing the Labyrinth. With this in mind, Yrlag is to the Demon Wastes as Stormreach is to Xen’drik—a jumping off point and safe haven for scholars, explorers, and opportunists keen to take their chances in the Wastes or to acquire goods recovered from it.

The city is located in a Lamannian manifest zone with The Land Provides property. The land is exceptionally fertile and the river well-stocked with fish—a notably change from Crescent Bay, which is home to many unnatural predators. This is one of the major reasons Yrlag has been able to thrive in such an isolated and inhospitable region. As such, Yrlag has a significant population of farmers, fisherfolk, and hunters who provide for the general needs of the city and travelers.

Yrlag is effectively run by House Tharashk; the Shadow Marches aren’t recognized as a Thronehold Nation, and no one in the region cares about the Korth Edicts. Ships run regularly between Yrlag and the outpost of Blood Crescent… but Blood Crescent is a small fortress that endures constant attacks, and most sages prefer the shelter of Yrlag when conducting long term research. As a result, Yrlag has an unusual number of scholars and luminaries, along with a bookstore and a shop specializing in supplies for calligraphers and cartographers. A number of the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts in Yrlag. There’s a Sivis speaking stone, a Jorasco healer, and even a Gold Dragon Inn. House Lyrandar helps maintain the harbor, but as of yet there’s no airship docking tower and no lightning rail into Yrlag.

There’s far more I could share, but the original question only asked for one detail, and I’ve already gone beyond that!

Doesn’t all travel into the Demon Wastes have to go through the Labyrinth?

The wording in Eberron: Rising From The Last War is unclear, but prior canon has established that it’s possible to travel to the Demon Wastes by sea. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says  “Built on the shores of Crescent Bay and regularly supplied by ships from Yrlag, a large town across the bay in the Shadow Marches, Blood Crescent serves as House Tharashk’s long dreamed-of foothold in the Demon Wastes”—it would be hard to regularly supply the outpost if every ship that arrived couldn’t leave. The general intent is that FIENDS can’t leave except through the Labyrinth; think of it like an invisible fiend fence with only one gap in it. With that said, it’s not supposed to be EASY to travel to the Wastes by sea; if it was, people would have done it long ago and we’ve have more and larger outposts. The coastline is extremely hostile, with a combination of foul weather, unnatural sealife, and a maze of demonglass spires that can tear a ship apart. Reaching Blood Crescent requires the vessel to follow a very specific path. Tharashk spent a great deal of resources to chart that path, and they are holding it as a secret of the house.

So it’s easy to reach the Demon Wastes by sea, but MOST of the time, those who try will end up shipwrecked… which is in fact what happened to the ancestors of the Carrion Tribes. Meanwhile, the Carrion Tribes themselves don’t have the sophistication or resources to build ships, which is why when they try to leave, they go through the Labyrinth.

In the Player’s Guide to Eberron we learned that Lhazaar Prince Kolberkon of the Direshark Principality is a changeling. Do you think Kolberkon’s changeling nature is known or something he keeps hidden behind personas?

In my campaign, Prince Kolberkin is a changeling foundling, as described in this article. He was raised by his mother and has a human persona that he considers to be his true face; he doesn’t identify as a changeling, have any familiarity with tribal changeling customs, or have any sympathy or affection for the changelings of the Gray Tide. He makes no effort to hide his ability to shapechange; he used it very effectively in his rise to power, and he uses it to keep his enemies and potential traitors on their toes, but he doesn’t feel any bond to other changelings or consider his changeling face to be his true identity.

This ties to the point that in Eberron, culture is often more significant than species. He’s a Lhazaar pirate who happens to be a changeling; but he doesn’t care about the Children, the Traveler, or any of that. As the Prince of the Diresharks, he takes pride in being a PREDATOR, and uses his shapeshifting as a tool to help him overcome his prey. He’s extremely skilled at shifting shape in combat in ways that may give him momentary advantage—not fooling an enemy in the long term, but throwing them off their guard.

With that said, while Kolberkon considers his first human face to be his core identity, he also will shift that to fit the situation; when negotiating with Lyrandar, for example, he may assume a half-elf version of his human form, sort of like dressing up for a meeting. So again, he doesn’t hide the fact he’s a shapechanger; he celebrates it. As such, he uses this gift in obvious ways. When he becomes a Khoravar to meet with Lyrandar, he’s not trying to FOOL them; it’s a Khoravar version of his normal appearance, just done as a “Hey, I recognize you’re Khoravar, and you know, I could be too.”

So in short, he often uses casual shapeshifting in ways that he thinks may give him a psychological advantage. It’s known that he CAN impersonate other people—potential traitors KNOW that any of their conspirators could be Kolberkin playing a game with them—but he more also uses it in obvious, social ways.

The most famous city in Khorvaire—Sharn—is built around a manifest zone. Are most cities built up around manifest zones, or is it the rarity?

Manifest zones are much like natural resources in our world. Most manifest zones provide an ongoing, reliable effect. Some are dangerous, and such regions tend to be shunned. Others are beneficial, and these areas often become hubs for civilization, just as rich deposits of natural resources often draw communities in our world. Yrlag is an example of this: if people in an inhospitable region find a manifest zone that enhances the quality of the land and of life, why wouldn’t they settle there and make use of it?

The short form is that communities that thrive usually do so for a reason. Rich natural resources. Strategic value. Fertile land. In Eberron, useful manifest zones are one more item on that checklist. Not every city is in a manifest zone; but every city will usually have SOME reason to be where it is, and in Eberron, manifest zones are an important part of that equation. Also keep in mind that manifest zones vary dramatically in size and power. The Lamannian zone that contains Yrlag is a wide zone that blankets the city, as does the Syranian manifest zone in Sharn. But you can also find manifest zones that cover the space of a single building, or even a single room. A town might spring up around a Jorasco healing house built in an Irian manifest zone… but the zone is small enough, that only those in the healing house benefit from its power.

So most major cities likely have a manifest zone SOMEWHERE in the city, though not all. In some cases this has been called out, as with Sharn or Atur. They aren’t alone, but I don’t currently have time to make a thorough list of zones that can be found in other major cities. If there’s interest on Patreon, this could be the subject of a future article.

Can Mabar consume fragments of Irian?

Mabar, also known as the Endless Night, consumes fragments of other planes. On the other end of the spectrum, Irian creates new seeds of light that fill the voids left behind by Mabar. As a general rule, Mabar doesn’t consume pieces of Irian itself. The two are two sides of a single coin, reflecting creation and destruction; they tell their story by interacting with other planes, and usually don’t target one another directly. With that said, it’s POSSIBLE that Mabar could consume a piece of Irian… and if it did, Irian would in turn regrow that missing piece.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for providing interesting questions and for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: September Lightning Round!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few of the questions that came up this month!

In our world, some fairy tales heroes deal with/encounter undead: Ghosts, wraiths, skeletons, headless horsemen, etc. On the material plane, the hero would encounter them in manifest zones to Dolurrh or Mabar, but how would that story be told in Thelanis? Are there any fey in Thelanis that have to do with undead or necromancy?

First of all, you can find almost anything in Thelanis if it fits a story archetype. There’s a barony in Thelanis with a massive dragon in it, and a barony filled with ghosts. But the key point is that those ghosts were never living mortals, and that dragon likewise isn’t mortal (it’s an archfey!) and has no connection to Argonnessen or the dragons of Eberron. If a ghost story is about a ghost that lingers because of unfinished business, it’s likely tied to Dolurrh. If it’s about an aggressive undead being who consumes life or hope, it’s likely tied to Mabar. If it’s more about the abstract idea—a story that can be found repeated in many cultures, that’s more about the allegory than the specific actions of a historical undead creature—then it could be tied to Thelanis. You can have devils in Fernia, Shavarath, and Daanvi, but they’re very different from one another; likewise, you can have ghosts in Mabar, Dolurrh, or Thelanis, but they’re very different from one another. Thelanian undead aren’t actually the remnants of mortals; they’re the IDEA of remnants of mortals. It’s up to the DM to decide whether these creatures should even be considered to be undead for purposes of magical effects, or if they are in fact fey. personally, I’d probably be inclined to make Thelanian ghosts both undead AND fey; they ARE fey, but they react like you’d expect undead to react, because that’s the story.

Who is Lady Dusk of the Crimson Covenant?

The article on the Crimson Covenant notes that members of the Covenant “guide and protect other Seekers. The Crimson Covenant are the oldest and most powerful of these undead champions, some of whom were guiding the Seekers before Erandis Vol even knew the faith existed. ” It’s also long been noted that Seeker communities donate blood which is kept in barrels of preserving pine to sustain vampire champions. This practice began with Lady Dusk, believed by some to be the first human vampire in Khorvaire. Given her age and the secrecy with which she shrouds herself, few facts are known about her. The most common of these is that she was the daughter of a warlord in the first days of Karrnath; recent scholarly work suggests that she was a member of the House of the Ram, one of the warlord dynasties that would eventually merge into House Deneith. When elf refugees came west fleeing the destruction of the Line of Vol, the lady gave them shelter and fell in love with one of these refugees. When her family decided to exterminate these elves, Lady Dusk fought alongside them. She was executed by her family… but, according to the story, her lover had already shared her blood and Dusk rose as a child of the night.

Ever since then, Lady Dusk has followed the path of the undead champion—acting to guide and protect the Seekers of the Divinity Within. She’s the model of an undead champion of the faith and the reason communities began storing reserves of blood. With that said, this is dangerous work; over the centuries, most of her peers—including her lover—have been destroyed, and Dusk herself has narrowly escaped many times. As such she rarely acts openly; she disguises herself and works from the shadows. If something is threatening a Seeker community, she won’t just charge in with fangs bared; she will try to organize mortal resistance. It’s the idea of teaching someone to fish instead of fishing for them; Lady Dusk is a GUIDE, and those she assists may never know who their mentor was.

What do the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes eat to survive? Do they make use of Shadow Demiplanes for resources in the same way as the Ghaash’kala?

There’s flora and fauna in the Demon Wastes, it’s just highly aggressive and often poisonous or infused with fiendish power. Over many generations the Carrion Tribes have developed resistances to these natural and supernatural toxins, and they can eat things travelers can’t safely eat—though in part because of this diet, members of the Carrion Tribes have a very low life expectancy and their numbers remain relatively low. The Carrion Tribes aren’t as disciplined or well equipped as the Ghaash’kala and also rarely retain institutional knowledge; for all of these reasons, they don’t harness demiplanes as effectively as the Ghaash’kala. Essentially, there’s lots of things you can eat in the Demon Wastes, if you don’t mind hosting infernal parasites, shortening your lifespan and suffering hallucinations and severe mood swings; for the Carrion Tribes, that’s just a typical Tuesday.

How do you imagine the curriculum at Arcanix to be? Is the goal of classes specifically to teach how to cast spells in a practical manner, in which case I’d imagine most courses don’t go beyond the Third Circle, or are there classes in which the theory of higher level magic is studied even if the spell can’t be cast by the students? Accompanying this, I’m curious if there’s a presence by Wizard Circles in Arcanix similar to companies at universities trying to recruit talent near graduation.

The Strixhaven book coming out in a month is sure to have lots of suggestions about this topic, so I’m somewhat loathe to discuss it now. But first of all, arcane magic is a form of science, so to begin with, consider how any form of science is taught. You’re going to have base entry-level classes that teach the principles of Arcana along with the basics of arcane science and history. These will advance into practical magic, from there into study of specific schools of magic, from there into specialized topics within that field. Most students of Arcanix don’t become wizards, and there are some who can cast perform ritual magic that’s beyond the Third Circle, just more limited than what a wizard can do; so yes, there are definitely classes dealing with magical THEORY that goes beyond the practical limits of 3rd level spells. Keep in mind that Arcanix is always driving students to push beyond the limits of what’s currently possible; Third Circle may be the practical limit of everyday magic TODAY, but the students of Arcanix intend to change that.

Many of the students of Arcanix will never cast spells as a wizard or sorcerer does. However, Aundair has the highest percentage of wandslingers and war wizards in the Five Nations. Thus you have the War College within Arcanix, which focuses on practical battlefield magic. It’s here that you will get direct training in combat cantrips, arcane sparring, drills to hone concentration, and so on, along with classes in tactics and strategy.

Meanwhile, wizard circles aren’t COMPANIES. The equivalent to companies would be the dragonmarked houses or the Arcane Congress, both of which do send recruiters to Arcanix. But wizard circles are essentially fraternities; they don’t simply have recruiters at Arcanix, they have CHAPTERS at Arcanix.

How do the magic tattoos from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything fit into Eberron?

Like all magic items, magical tattoos are a set of mechanics, which can be flavored very differently based on the story and cosmetic elements associated with them. There’s no single form of magic tattoo or single culture associated with them; instead, there are a number of different forms of magical tattooing. Sigilry is the field of arcane science that is used to create scrolls, and master sigilists can create magical tattoos infused with arcane power. On Khorvaire, the Mark of Scribing has given Sivis the edge in creating magical tattoos, but Thuranni and Phiarlan also have a limited tradition of arcane tattoos. But magical tattoos can also be created using divine magic—such as the couatl tattoos of the Ghaash’kala, which I mentioned in a recent article. Such tattoos are in part empowered by the faith of the bearer and can usually only be attuned by a person who shares the faith of the creator. There’s also a primal tradition of tattooing, employed by the shifters of the Towering Wood; Races of Eberron discusses these tattoos, which shift in appearance when the bearer activates their shifting trait. So it’s the same way that many different cultures use wands, but the design of the wand and the powers channeled will vary based on the culture and their magical tradition.

What do the Valaes Tairn do when they aren’t fighting? Would there be a reason for a group of warriors to be in Sharn besides looking for an artifact of some kind?

What they do when not fighting depends on their patron ancestor. Tairnadal seek to emulate their patrons at all times, not just in battle; so what was their patrons known for? Were they explorers? Entertainers? Arcane researchers? With that said, as long as it doesn’t directly oppose what their patrons would do, Tairnadal can also pursue their own interests when there’s no clearly mandated path. So a group of Tairnadal in Sharn could be looking for work; they could be tourists passing the time between mercenary assignments; they could be pursuing a rogue Tairnadal who betrayed their warband; they could be following the example of their patron. There were grand cities in Xen’drik at the time of the elven rebellion; perhaps their patron was known for protecting the innocent in the shadows of the greatest city of the age. The Tairnadal have identified Sharn as the closest equivalent and are fighting crime in Lower Dura!

That’s all for now! If you have an infrequently asked question, I’ll be taking another round soon on my Patreon!

IFAQ: The Shulassakar

Eberron often takes an unusual approach to familiar things. In Eberron, you can find gnoll demon-hunters, r gnome assassins, and dine on troll sausage. When developing the setting, we decided that couatls were the primary native celestials of Eberron. With this in mind, the 3.5 ECS has this throwaway line in the description of the Talenta Plains…

Krezent: This ancient ruin is all that remains of a couatl city from ages past. The halflings tend to avoid the site, since it is home to a tribe of benevolent yuan-ti who honor and revere the couatl and the Silver Flame.

This is the only mention of these beings in the ECS. It’s a random idea: yuan-ti are evil serpent-folk, but what if there were feathered yuan-ti devoted to the light? I loved the idea, so I expanded upon it in an early Dragonshard article, which gave these beings a name: the Shulassakar. This article also answered the seeming contradiction of the original quote: if these feathered yuan-ti were benevolent, why did the halflings of the Plains avoid them?

Over time, the shulassakar appeared in a number of places. We determined that there were shulassakar among the people of Khalesh in ancient Sarlona, and that they were targeted in the Sundering. Shulassakar were presented as an option for player characters in City of Stormreach

With that said, the shulassakar haven’t received much attention—in part because they are supposed to be rare and reclusive. They were never intended to be a central part of the setting, but rather an exotic element that could surprise players used to thinking of yuan-ti as evil.

When I have time, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters, and this month there were a few questions about the shulassakar.

Do shulassakar have similar roles in their society/culture to the anathema (big hulking multiheaded divine figures) of yuan-ti culture?

The original shulassakar article notes that the shulassakar refer to purebloods as “servants,” halfbloods as “flametouched,” and abominations as “transcendent,” adding that they believe in reincarnation and that the three different forms of shulassakar represent this spiritual growth.

The shulassakar equivalent of an anathema is a Choir. This is formed when a group of transcendent shulassakar willingly sacrifice themselves in a ritual based on the original couatl sacrifice, which fuses body and spirit to create a gestalt entity possessing great power. Choirs are physically immortal—they don’t age and are immune to the effects of hunger and thirst—though they aren’t true immortals and can be killed. The ritual that creates a choir isn’t somehow instinctively known to all shulassakar, and thus different shulassakar sects have discovered it and employed it for different reasons. There could be a shulassakar choir hidden somewhere in Khalesh, the last remnant of the ancient servants who merged together to survive the Sundering. Adventurers could find a shulassakar monastery whose anchorites chose to join together in the ultimate communion. Or a choir could be found guarding a post that required an immortal sentinel. The fusing of spirits gives a choir an unusual detachment from mortality; choirs can meditate in isolation for centuries with no sense of boredom. The main point is that joining a choir does mean sacrificing one’s individual identity. It’s not something most shulassakar aspire to and they aren’t inherently rulers of shulassakar; they are created for a purpose, whether to guard a position, to gain the power needed to survive, or in the case of the monks, the pursuit of a truly transcendental state.

What do the shulassakar do for food? Are the snake-people of Krezent engaging in agriculture?

As noted in the quote above, Krezent is a RUIN and the Shulassakar are guarding it. It’s not a Shulassakar city, it’s a job; the guardians of Krezent come from a fortress-city in a demiplane they claimed long ago. Beyond this, Krezent is a COUATL RUIN, which is to say, a place built by celestial beings at the height of their power. So the guardians don’t need to farm or hunt; Krezent has divine tools that replicate the effects of create food and water for those who know how to use them.

What is the attitude of the shulassakar to the troubles of the people around them? what would drive a shulassakar adventurer?

The canon answer can be seen in the Talenta Plains, in which the halflings AVOID Krezent. This tells us that the Shulassakar aren’t running around trying to help the halflings with basic everyday problems. They aren’t mediating tribal disputes or helping when there’s an outbreak of plague. Beyond this they are completely unknown in the Five Nations; there isn’t a council of shulassakar in Thrane. This ties to a general principle of Eberron, which is that powerful NPCs aren’t going to show up to solve your problems. Personally, I’d attribute this to three factors: there are very few shulassakar, likely speaking to a low fertility rate. Shulassakar who act too openly may well be targeted by agents of the Lords of Dust. And finally, there’s the Shavarath principle: they believe that the things they are doing are MORE IMPORTANT than whatever troubles the people around them are dealing with. Yes, it’s very sad that you’re dealing with a plague, but that plague is in fact a natural occurrence and that’s how the world works… whereas if someone releases the fiends of pestilence we’re keeping bound, THAT’S going to be a serious unnatural problem. Also consider the line from the original article: “A shulassakar always prefers to solve a problem on its own or to call in a more powerful servant to handle the problem.” They don’t work WITH other people; they’re going to solve your problems for you, and likely you’ll never know. This ties to why the halflings fear the Shulassakar; “They fight against darkness with ruthless efficiency and will make any sacrifice necessary for the greater good, including the lives of innocents.”

So looking to shulassakar PCs, the question is WHY they are getting involved in other people’s problems and working directly with non-shulassakar adventurers. The simple answer is that it’s because they have been assigned a divine mission (either by a shulassakar superior or by a divine vision) and thus they’re following the dictates of their faith and culture in doing what they’re doing; it’s their SACRED DUTY to pursue their quest. The other alternative is that they are rebelling and following a path that THEY feel is more important than their sacred duties, in which case they would likely be censured by their people.

Have you every used the Shulassakar in your camapign? If so, share the story in the comments! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, pose them on Patreon!

IFAQ: August Lightning Round!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Sometimes these are weighty topics—like whaling or medusa reproduction—that require a full article. Others I just answer directly on Patreon. Here’s a few of those short answers from last month!

The warforged colossus Artorok is designated WX-73. Were there seventy three colossuses?

Nope! Every colossus has two names—So you have Artorok (WX-73), Arkus (WX-11), and so on. The name is the name of the BODY of the colossus. The numeric designation is actually the designation of the master docent that serves as the heart of the docent network that drives the colossus. “WX” stands for “Waylon/Xen’drik” and refers to the expedition that recovered the docent. So more than seventy-three docents were recovered from Xen’drik, but only a handful of those docents were intact and capable of maintaining a colossus. Personally, I think that Cannith had time to develop twelve colossuses; they were working on the thirteenth when the Mourning struck.

What is the difference in terms of magic advancement between the Dhakanni and the Dwarves of Sol Udar?

They’re vastly different. As called out in Exploring Eberron, “The dwarves of Sol Udar were an advanced civilization employing arcane science beyond that currently possessed by the Five Nations. The halls were shaped by elemental magic—an improved form of the move earth spell—and reinforced to be stronger than any natural stone. Barring any alien influence, the air is renewed by magic and remarkably fresh; a permanent prestidigitation effect keeps these halls clean after thousands of years and untold conflicts… Widespread magic was a part of daily life in Sol Udar.

By contrast, the Dhakaani are exceptional in many ways but DON’T have a tradition of wide magic. From Exploring Eberron: “Dhakaani daashor are the finest weaponsmiths on Khorvaire. Their traditions blend mundane skill and transmutation to create and manipulate remarkable alloys, including adamantine, mithral, and byeshk. Their skill at metallurgy outstrips even House Cannith, and Dhakaani champions often wield weapons forged from such material. Dhakaani equipment is designed for durability and efficiency, rarely gaudy or bejeweled. Likewise, armor is tough and flexible—often with the properties of mithral or adamantine armor—but not dramatic in style. Dhakaani magic items are either created by the daashor (who specialize in armor and weapons) or by gifted duur’kala. Dhakaani magic rarely focuses on evocation effects, and they have no tradition of elemental binding.”

So the Dhakaani make excellent WEAPONS AND ARMOR, but part of that is tied advances in mundane science. Beyond that, the items they have are created by duur’kala, with the key point being that the duur’kala are BARDS—primarily spiritual leaders and diplomats, NOT devoted to manufacturing. So the Dhakaani HAVE magic, but it’s NOT as widespread as magic in the Five Nations—let alone Sol Adar, which is considerably more advanced than the Five Nations. Essentially, the Dhakaani excel at things that are related to WAR… though even there, the point is that they don’t employ siege staffs, airships, or similar magical tools. The Dhakaani daashor make the finest SWORDS on Khorvaire… but they don’t have a strong tradition of WANDS. Now, the catch is that the ancient Dhakaani could create ARTIFACTS, as could the dwarves of Sol Udar. But these artifacts were extremely rare—the weapons of champions and tools of the Marhu—and they didn’t have a strong tradition of EVERYDAY magic.

The Sol Udar dwarves use air refreshing magic to sustain life in the depths… What do the Dhakaani do?

There’s three factors. The first is that the Dar as a species have adapted to thrive in a subterranean environment. Much as creatures in high altitudes adapt to the lower oxygen content, as creatures who evolved in the depths I’d expect Dar to be better suited to the challenges of a deep environment. I wouldn’t see this as having a strong game effect, but if I was running a long-term subterranean campaign and decided to develop environmental effects for bad air, I might give the Dar a ribbon similar to the Goliath’s Mountain Born—”You are acclimated to deep subterranean environments.” Note that I’m specifically saying the DAR—the Dhakaani who have remained in their deep vaults for thousands of years—as opposed to all goblinoids.

With that said, just because the Dar are more capable of surviving in such environments doesn’t mean they don’t need oxygen. I have always assumed that they engineer solutions that can bring fresh air to the depths—that just like creating aqueducts and mundane systems for channeling water, they use mundane (but remarkable) solutions to channel air to the depths. Thinking further, however, there’s a third factor: certain manifest zones and demiplane portals could well serve as oxygen sources in the deeps—and Dhakaani might build around these just as they would build around good sources of water. But the general principle is that while the Dhakaani aren’t as magically adept as some cultures, they are better at many forms of mundane science… which is also why I’ve said that if I was to add traditional firearms to Eberron, I’d start by giving them to the Dhakaani.

How does the Cazhaak Creed view the aberrant creations of the daelkyr, such as the illithid Xorchylic of Graywall? Are they considered children of the Shadow as much as any other aberration?

Through the sourcebooks, we have access to a lot of specific knowledge that people in world don’t have. WE know mind flayers are creations of Dyrrn the Corruptor. But most people—in Breland and Droaam alike—know nothing about mind flayers. For most of the people of Graywall, Xorchyllic is an entirely unique terror. Followers of the Cazhaak faith would likely say “Does it possess awesome powers? Are humans terrified of it? Check, check—seems like a child of the Shadow.”

This ties to the point that the Cazhaak traditions are about FAITH, not fact. If you presented a Cazhaak medusa with absolute proof that they were created by Orlassk, they would say “So what? This Orlassk may have sculpted our bodies, but it was surely the Shadow who guided its hands and who gave it the inspiration; thus, it is the Shadow who is our TRUE creator and who deserves our devotion.” Having said that, knowledge of the daelkyr is certainly present in Droaam. As will be called out in FRAG, the sages of Cazhaak Draal DO know of Orlassk, but they consider it a tyrant they broke free from, not a being they should worship. Again, their point is that it doesn’t matter if Orlassk physically created the first medusa; in doing so, it was merely a tool of the Shadow, and they owe nothing to Orlassk.

Back to the original question, Cazhaak sages who know of the daelkyr will generally extend the same understanding they have of themselves to others. THEY believe that they are children of the Shadow, regardless of any ties they might have to Orlassk. They embrace gargoyles as children of the Shadow, in spite of their ties to Orlassk. Mind flayers, dolgrims—they too are children of the Shadow. But if they choose to serve the daelkyr and seek to destroy other children of the Shadow, then that’s sufficient reason to consider them enemies and destroy them.

What does the release of an overlord due to the Prophecy actually look like? Does it just spontaneously happen, or does it trigger some sort of cascade of events leading up to the release?

The release of an Overlord isn’t instantaneous; it’s simply that once set in motion by the breaking of bonds, it is usually inevitable. So if we imagine the final stage of releasing Sul Khatesh is for the Broken Hero (a PC) to murder Queen Aurala at Arcanix with the Blade of Sorrows, first we’ve had a chain of events to get there. When the event finally occurs and the bonds are broken, SOMETHING will happen immediately—it’s clear that we’re in trouble. In this case, the towers of Arcanix might fall, or the region around Arcanix could be shrouded in supernatural darkness, which spreads over the next few days and weeks as Sul Khatesh regains her power. A concrete example of this comes in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide regarding Bel Shalor:

If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him. PCs are immune to this passive effect, but it might affect their ability to find allies. Within this sphere of influence, people grow pale and their shadows become clearer and more vivid even in poor lighting, often seeming to move of their own accord. It is said that the shadows conspire against their owners, telling Bel Shalor of their secret plans; you must decide if this claim is true.

The point is that it’s not just “A hole opens up and a big monster hops out!” The physical form of the overlord is just one aspect of it (which comes back to the point that destroying that physical form doesn’t permanently destroy the overlord). The first thing that will be felt is its INFLUENCE. If the bonds of Rak Tulkhesh are broken, the FIRST thing that will happen is that people in his sphere of influence will begin fighting one another. Eventually the Rage of War will physically manifest, but its PRESENCE will be felt before that happens.

Where is House Phiarlan’s Demesne of Shape? Some sources suggest it’s in Thaliost, while others say it’s in Wroat.

Even writers make mistakes, and that’s likely what happened here. However, my answer is “Both.” Thaliost is a crazy place to establish an important facility in the wake of the war. It’s deeply contested occupied territory. Wroat, on the other hand, is a very secure national capital. In my opinion, Viceroy Idal chose Thaliost specifically because they believe that a Phiarlan presence could help maintain peace and understanding in the city and because the Serpentine Table wants a strong Phiarlan enclave in this hotspot. So the Thaliost enclave is the official Demense of Shape. However, a rival within the house has also established an “understudy” Shape facility in Wroat, because they believe that the Thaliost demesne could get burnt down any day now.

How would you make the Kech Draguus distinct from the Draelaes Tairn?

The Kech Draguus is a very deep cut. They weren’t mentioned in Exploring Eberron, and I believe the only canon source for them is a Dragonshard article I wrote, which states “Long ago, a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. Now this Kech Draguus has emerged from hiding. With a corps of half-dragon goblinoids and a few full-blooded dragons at its disposal, the Kech Draguus are poised to reshape Darguun.” The Draleus Tairn, on the other hand, are dragon SLAYERS. Dragons of Eberron has this to say: “The Draleus faith holds that the warrior draws strength from victory, and passes this energy to his ancestors . . . and no victory is greater than the defeat of a dragon.” There are RUMORS that Draleus dragon slayers can gain draconic powers and could become half-dragons, dragon shamans, etc, but those are of course rumors.

So, the two are VERY different. The Draguus are a Dhakaani Kech, which is to say, a tightly disciplined military force. They work WITH dragons, and essentially, they’re the Dhakaani answer to the Targaryens; they are going to employ dragons as living siege engines on the battlefield. Their champions may be half-dragons, but if so they were created with the blessing of their dragon patron, who in all likelihood counsels the leaders of the Kech. As the Dragonshard says, they have an ALLIANCE with dragons. By contrast, if there’s a half-dragon Draleus warrior, they gained that power by killing a dragon and ritually bathing in its blood. There’s no alliance between the Draleus and dragons; rather, they are bitter enemies. Beyond that, as Dragons of Eberron calls out, “The Draleus Tairn rarely socialize with outlanders, or even other elves… due to their isolation and reputation, few elves trouble the dragon slayers.” So the Draleus Tairn are at best isolated warbands, and often LONE INDIVIDUALS pursuing their personal quests… while the Kech Draguus are a militaristic, disciplined city-state.

That’s all for now! If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, you might be able to find the answer on my Patreon. Thanks to my patrons for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: Bagmon and Conqueror

As time permits, I like to address the INfrequently asked questions of Eberron—interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few you may not have heard before! As always, these are MY opinions and may contradict canon sources.

How would a trading/collectible card game (like Pokémon TCG, Magic the Gathering) manifest in Khorvaire? What Dragonmarked house (or other) would develop and manufacture these games?

Why make a TCG when you could make actual Pokemon? A Bag of Tricks is an uncommon magic item that lets you summon a random beast from a specific list. I could easily see the Twelve—specifically Vadalis, Orien, and Cannith—working together to produce a variant Bag of Tricks. Rather than summoning a beast with a random roll on a table, it starts containing only one special Vadalis-bred beast and you expand your list by finding and collecting other monsters. Aside from that limitation/advantage, it would work exactly like a Bag of Tricks—it’s an action to summon a beast, you can use it three times a day, beast disappears when reduced to 0 HP. Perhaps, with work, you can evolve your creatures into more powerful forms. BAGMON, it’s the new big thing!

When I initially answered this question, I’d forgotten that my Manifest Zone co-host Imogen Gingell has in fact already created a host of Eberron-themed Pokemon that you could use with as Bagmon creatures. Her Five Nations set is pictured above, but you can find more here! In addition, she’s actually developed a full bestiary with stats for these creatures, which is available on the DM’s guild. She ties them to Thelanis rather than my Cannith/Vadalis Bagmon idea, but the creatures can work with any of these ideas.

If I was going to make a card game like Magic, I’d want it to still be magical—to have the cards produce Prestidigitation-level sounds and illusions as you play it. With this in mind, I could see three paths. It could be Aundairian; we’ve always called out Aundair as having the most use of casual magic. It could be created as a joint product by Sivis and Phiarlan, blending Scribing with the illusory elements of Shadow, and being both a printing thing and a form of entertainment. But I could also see it as being a Fey artifact from Thelanis—something that came to Eberron through a manifest zone and is now spreading rapidly, like a weed or a predator introduced into an environment that’s not prepared to deal with it.

Did you ever think up rules, terminology, and/or a simple general description of how the game of Conqueror is played? Is there a word to announce your victory, kinda like “checkmate”?

Conqueror was introduced in Five Nations, a book I didn’t work on. It runs into a tricky question of worldbuilding. The idea is that the Karrns are a people with a deep love of competition and strategy; the game is described as “Chesslike.” The problem with creating new rules and terms for the game is that YOUR PLAYERS WON’T KNOW THESE RULES AND TERMS. The SIMPLE approach is to say that Conqueror uses the basic rules and terms of Chess. It is less deeply satisfying because why would this alien world have a game we play—but the point is that if a villain says “Checkmate” the players understand the reference whereas if a villain says “No more conquests” you’re going to have to explain to the players “That’s a term from the game Conqueror which is used when the opponent is out of moves, sort of like saying ‘checkmate.'” Essentially, is it worth the effort involved on all sides to create an entirely new game, or is it simpler to just have the Karrnathi warlord say “Checkmate”?

With this in mind, when I had people playing Thrones a recent Threshold game, I essentially said “It’s like poker, but it uses a five-suited deck with a suit for each of the Five Nations.” While it would make more sense for it to have entirely unique rules, for SPEED OF PLAY it was easier to have it use basic Poker rules, because the players KNOW those. The five suited deck changes the odds a bit and added a unique twist (and I came up with the face cards based on notable figures from each nation), but I didn’t have to make up an entirely new game and the players could make some quick decisions based on their pre-existing knowledge of Poker.

The main thing is that if I was going to make rules for Conqueror, I’d want to go all in and MAKE A SET THE PLAYERS CAN PLAY, and play it with them a bunch of times, so they KNOW the terms when I drop them into the world. And like Thrones and Poker, I’d probably use Chess as a foundation (IE, 8×8 grid board, pieces with specific movement patterns, win by capturing an opponent’s Sovereign) rather than making something completely unique, because again, ultimately I WANT THE PLAYERS TO UNDERSTAND THE GAME. Creating an entirely unique game that only I really understand is a cool thing, but the question is whether the experience at the TABLE will be satisfying for the players or if it’s going to be more fun all around if I just said “Checkmate.”

Are there Khorvaire (or Karrnath) parallels to our chess champions?

Five Nations calls out Conqueror as the national pastime of Karrnath. With that in mind you can be certain that there are competitions and champions, and I’d expect Rekkenmark to make use of a form of Kriegsspiel. And I do expect that there are players across the Five Nations, it’s just that Karrns dominate the game. So I could definitely imagine running a Queen’s Gambit style campaign in which a young warlock is a Conqueror prodigy and they go to competitions across Khorvaire—possibly being pushed by Kaius as a peace initiative and way to bring the nations back together. But I’d be fairly likely to lean heavily on Chess terms unless I had time to create something entirely new—just as I use the foundation of Poker for Thrones in Threshold.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, both for asking interesting questions and making it possible for me to spend time on these articles. If you have an infrequently asked question of your own, you can ask me on Patreon!

IFAQ: Medusas

The race of medusas was born in Khyber, but two hundred twenty years ago a clan emerged from the darkness and laid claim to the city of Cazhaak Draal in Droaam. The medusas have played an important role in Droaam’s rise as a nation. They are skilled stonemasons and architects, and their deadly gaze attack makes them dangerous warriors and valuable bodyguards.

This is what the original Eberron Campaign Setting had to say about medusas. It followed our general approach of questioning and considering previous assumptions. Traditionally, medusas were monsters, expected to hang around in statue-filled caves waiting for adventurers. But third edition didn’t present them as being created by a curse or otherwise existing in isolation—and further, the mental ability scores of the typical medusa were superior of those to the typical human. So why would these intelligent, powerful creatures hang around dank dungeons waiting to fight adventurers? Why wouldn’t they have a civilization of their own? Beyond this, it was easy to see how medusas could play an important role in Droaam. They’re smarter than humans, let alone ogres—and they have a power that even a gargoyle or minotaur has to respect. Breland might not think much of a city of ogres, but a city of medusas is a force anyone has to take seriously.

I expanded on the medusas of Eberron in this Dragonshard article, which added a few additional twists. The medusas of Cazhaak Draal use their serpent manes as secondary eyes, allowing them to see while their primary eyes are closed or covered. They’ve developed a language called Serpentine, which uses the hisses and motions of their serpents. Medusas can petrify other medusas (something that has varied by edition) though they’ve developed a ritual to negate the effects of their gaze. Within their own culture they use petrification as a tool, preserving elders or mortally wounded medusas. However, this article leaves many questions unanswered… a situation further complicated by the constantly shifting lore about medusas. Sharn: City of Towers has male medusas with the same capabilities (serpents, petrification) as females, while non-Eberron lore in some editions presents male medusas as a divergent species with entirely different abilities. Fifth edition presents medusas as isolated individuals rather than a distinct species; in 5E, medusas (male or female) are created as the result of a curse and they have no culture.

Eberron has always diverged from default lore; just look at gnolls, drow, and mind flayers. The fact that the default lore of medusas has changed in fifth edition doesn’t make any difference, because Eberron wasn’t using the lore of previous editions either; again, in S:CoT we have the male medusa Harash, who’s notably not a maedar. The medusas of Eberron are the medusas of Eberron: a unique species who emerged from Khyber to found a city-state on the surface, and who possess a distinct culture and language. In Eberron, vanity alone can’t make you a medusa. Which is fine, but it leaves many questions unanswered. Keep in mind that—like all of these articles—all of what I’m about to say is what I do in my Eberron campaign. Nothing here is canon, and it’s entirely possible I will contradict canon sources. This is how I use medusas; it’s a suggestion, not a fact.

What’s so interesting about medusas?

There’s many things I like about medusas.

  • They’re traditionally encountered as lone monsters, and I love turning that around and exploring the idea of medusas as a civilized people. Along with the Venomous Demesne, they have a sophisticated culture that predates Droaam, and they’re a power bloc the Daughters want to keep as allies.
  • Many of the creatures of Droaam—ogres, trolls—are creatures that rely on brute force. Medusas are more intelligent than humans. They’re an excellent tool for getting across the point that these things humans consider to be monsters may be alien, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.
  • At the same time, medusas ARE very alien, and I like exploring that. I like digging deeper into the serpent mane, and in playing up ways that human assumptions about them can be very off-base.
  • Medusas are POWERFUL and dangerous. The mere threat of their gaze is enough to change the dynamics of a conversation.
  • The Cazhaak medusas are a very spiritual people, and are the primary priests of the dominant religion in Droaam—a religion based on deities humanity fears. This is another source of power and potential story hooks, and something that can give a medusa goals that run counter to those of Droaam; Zerasha of Graywall places the her duty to the Shadow above the desires of the Daughters.

All of these things combined can make medusas excellent ambassadors, enigmatic priests, or Daask commanders. They can enforce order among dangerous and diverse minions, but they aren’t inherently bloodthirsty or brutish. They are a truly alien species, and for people who have never actually dealt with them before it’s fun to play with expectations and fears.

Where do the medusas of Eberron come from? Were they created by Orlassk?

The Cazhaak creed asserts that the Sovereigns created and cultivated weak creatures that they could dominate—pathetic, powerless creatures, like humans. It was the Shadow who gave the blessed creatures—those humans call “monsters”—their gifts. The oldest medusa myths maintain that their ancestors were slaves in the depths of Khyber—enslaved by a “stone tyrant,” most likely the daelkyr Orlassk—and that the Shadow gave them their powers and inspired them to break the yoke of their oppression and claim their freedom. Keep in mind that these are myths, passed down through oral tradition for centuries before they were even concretely codified. Gatekeepers and many modern scholars assert that it was most likely Orlaask who actually created the medusas, blending humans (Explorers? Some sort of colony?) with basilisks. But religion is about faith; even if they were presented with absolute concrete proof that Orlaask created the first medusa by merging a human and a basilisk, a medusa would say that Orlaask was simply a pawn guided by the Shadow, and that it was the Shadow who gave their ancestors the strength to rebel against the Stone Tyrant. The Cazhaak medusas know that they are children of the Shadow, and simple facts won’t shake this faith.

Regardless of the truth, the medusas are a relatively young species. In describing Cazhaak Draal, the Eberron Campaign Setting says that Cazhaak Draal “was abandoned after the daelkyr released a horde of basilisks, gorgons, and cockatrices from the depths of Khyber.” Note the lack of medusas in that description. Medusas generally resemble humans more than they do hobgoblins or dwarves (let alone gnolls), and their first historical appearance on the surface world is when they emerge to claim Cazhaak Draal. It seems likely that as a species, medusas are little over a thousand years old. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that there is a second culture of medusas that has yet to be encountered by humans—medusas who remained servants of the Stone Tyrant. So explorers in Khyber could discover a city of medusas still devoted to Orlaask, who know nothing of the Shadow or the Cazhaak creed.

What is the life cycle of medusas in your Eberron?

First of all, in my campaign maedar—the serpentless “male medusas”—are an entirely separate species. Fourth edition presented them as having a “venomous gaze” and I’d be more inclined to use these scaly, venomous humanoids as creations of the overlord Masvirik, the Cold Sun—an overlord noted for reptilian traits and poison. The medusas of Eberron are defined by their serpent mane and their petrifying gaze.

Cazhaak medusas can have a masculine or feminine appearance. Thus we have Queen Sheshka, but also the medusa Harash in Sharn, who is described as male. The majority of medusas—around 80%—have a feminine appearance. However, the fact is that medusa physiology is nothing like that of humanity and that this presumption of gender is misleading. “Female” medusas may have a feminine shape, but they don’t suckle their young and don’t actually have mammary glands. Medusa myths suggest that they were created (whether by Orlaask or the Shadow) from another humanoid species, and most likely their silhouette is an artifact of that forgotten past.

Medusa reproduction is nothing like human reproduction, and any two medusas can reproduce. After a period of foreplay that causes key chemicals to be released, two medusas entwine their serpent manes. They bite one another’s serpents, and those bitten in this way fall off of the head. The entwined, impregnated serpents undergo a metamorphosis, merging together into leathery “eggs,” eventually releasing a young medusa that blends the traits of both parents. A stranger aspect of this lifecycle is that there’s no absolute assurance how long it will take for a medusa’s egg to mature. It takes at least a year, but it’s not uncommon for an egg to take anywhere up to ten years to hatch… and some eggs never produce a child. Many medusas believe that a child has to want to emerge. Eggs are typically buried in warm sand, and it’s not uncommon for one parent to tend to their brood, singing to the eggs each night; it’s this caregiver who the medusas would call the “mother,” even though they don’t carry the children directly. This slow gestation is offset by a long lifespan. Medusas can live between three hundred to four hundred years before falling victim to old age; There are many medusas in Cazhaak Draal who were part of the expedition that originally claimed the city.

When interacting with other humanoids, medusas often adopt the pronouns people typically associate with their appearance; thus, Sheshka is a queen and uses she/her pronouns. However, the Serpentine language doesn’t use gendered terms. In Serpentine, Sheshka is simply leader, not queen.

Where did the medusas live before Cazhaak Draal? Do they live there still?

The medusas have never been a widespread or numerous people. Their myths speak of a long period of nomadic wandering following their escape from the Stone Tyrant, and describe periods of settlement in what seem to be different demiplanes—periods that always end in disaster, with the medusas being forced to move on. This exodus came to an end when they settled in a Dhakaani city deep below the surface, a vault whose keepers were slain long ago. The medusas call this city Niaanu Draal, the Mother City, and it was here that they wrote down their myths and established the traditions they carry on today. They remained in Niaanu Draal for over two centuries, before this, too, ended in tragedy. The forces of a daelkyr drove the medusas from Niaanu Draal. These enemies could not (or would not) follow the medusas to the surface, and so they came to Cazhaak Draal and claimed it as their home.

Which daelkyr did they fight? It’s possible that it was Orlaask, that the minions of the Stone Tyrant sought to reclaim its former subjects. It could be that Belashyrra was offended by these creatures with their deadly gaze, or that the crawling hordes of Valaara overran the Mother City. This battle took place centuries ago, and ultimately it only matters if a DM wants to run a story related to Niaanu Draal; as a DM, if you want to tell that story, it’s up to you to decide which daelkyr best suits the needs of your campaign. Note that this isn’t a mystery to the medusas themselves; there are medusa elders who took part in the battle, along with petrified elders who once lived in Niaanu Draal. It’s simply that there’s no reason for me to lock in a specific daelkyr here, when a different daelkyr might serve your story better. The medusas faced a great enemy they couldn’t defeat, but it has left them alone ever since. Given the enigmatic nature of the daelkyr, it’s entirely possible that this exodus was the daelkyr’s goal all along… that for some reason it wanted the medusas to rise up from Khyber.

Has Sheshka always been the Queen of Cazhaak Draal? If not, how did she gain the title?

It wasn’t Sheshka who led the medusas to Cazhaak Draal. In the novel The Queen of Stone, a warrior who’s been petrified for over a century recognizes Sheshka as “Lady Sheshka” and is surprised to discover that she is now queen. Sheshka inherited her title, but it is about more than just bloodline. Also from The Queen of Stone

“It’s not as simple as it seems.” Sheshka’s hand brushed against the silver collar that hung around her neck. “I am Sheshka, the Queen of Stone. To you, that may seem an arrogant title, an affectation of a woman who governs a city smaller than your Wroat or Passage. But it is not just a title of nobility: it is a statement of fact. I am the Queen of Stone. I hear the whisper of marble and granite…”

Essentially, Sheshka is the Queen of Stone because she IS the Queen of Stone. In a sense this is similar to the Keeper of the Flame. Medusas have varying degrees of natural affinity for stone. The regalia of the queen—the pendant Sheshka wears—amplifies this gift, but only one with the gift can attune to the collar. If Sheshka were to be killed, the medusas would search among their people for another with this gift—starting with Sheshka’s relatives, but continuing until a suitable medusa is found. So it’s as much a theocracy as it is a monarchy; Sheshka is considered to be blessed by the Shadow.

How do you see a medusa’s gaze working in general interactions. 5e’s gaze feature indiscriminately tries to petrify any qualifying targets in range…

Not exactly. Let’s look at the text…

When a creature that can see the medusa’s eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature…

There’s nothing indiscriminate about this. The medusa CAN force the creature to make a saving throw as long as the medusa can see the target, but it doesn’t HAVE to. My interpretation of this isn’t that a medusa can somehow make it safe for other creatures to look it in the eye, but rather that it’s a simple enough matter for a medusa to avoid meeting another creature’s gaze, using any of the methods I describe in this article. Notably, I still maintain that a medusa only petrifies with its primary eyes, and it can close them (or wear eyeblinders or a blindfold) and use its serpent mane for vision. In 3.5 I assigned a -2 penalty when a medusa uses its serpents for vision, and that’s an option here (fifth edition rarely does penalties, but disadvantage feels too severe). On the other hand, it’s also reasonable to say that the fifth edition medusa can choose not to petrify creatures, and that it does this by closing its main eyes and using its serpents—and therefore apply no penalty for doing so.

Fifth edition also says…

If the medusa sees itself reflected on a polished surface within 30 feet of it and in an area of bright light, the medusa is, due to its curse, affected by its own gaze.

I’m ambivalent about this. It seems very vague and ill-defined compared to the very specific degree of control the medusa has in dealing with enemies. A medusa can choose not to look at an adventurer (not forcing them to make a saving throw)—if that adventurer is holding a mirror, I’d assume it can avoid looking at that, too? I’m not adverse to the idea that a medusa could be affected by its own gaze—as the article suggests, medusas can petrify other medusas—but I think they’d be VERY used to the risks and good at avoiding them; and they’d be able to avoid the threat completely by closing their main eyes (or blindfold) and seeing through their serpents. I’d also hold closely to that “polished surface” and say that they don’t get petrified by, for example, looking at rhe rippling surface of a glass of water. So I’m fine with saying that if there’s a really well-executed plan it is POSSIBLE to petrify a medusa with their own gaze, but that it’s not something you can do casually by just wearing a mirror around your neck.

Cazhaak Draal is noted as being the spiritual center of Droaam. Do the medusas have an arcane tradition as well, and if so, what is that like?

The Cazhaak medusas have an arcane tradition. They are devoted to the Shadow, and the Shadow is a deity of KNOWLEDGE; according to Cazhaak myths, it was the Shadow who taught Aureon all that he knows. However, the Shadow is also about personal ambition and power, and rather than developing a shared system of arcane science that can support wizards and artificers (as seen in the Venomous Demesne), Cazhaak Draal is more a collection of individuals following their own secret paths to power.

Cazhaak Draal has both magewrights and adepts. Medusas have a natural affinity for stone, and their spellcasters often cast spells (or rituals) related to stone, earth, or poison. Cazhaak Draal thus has a strong corps of magewrights capable of casting mold earth and stone shape; working together and using arcane focuses they can cast move earth. More sophisticated spellcasters generally follow the model of bards (most often Whispers), sorcerers (typically Shadow or Storm), or warlocks (potentially any). In the case of warlocks, most Cazhaak warlocks believe their powers flow from the Shadow; they might have the powers of an Archfey of Great Old One patron, but those are the gifts the Shadow has bestowed upon them. However, medusa warlocks believe that the Shadow’s gift was connecting them TO their patron, and you could find a medusa warlock dealing with an archfey, a dao, or some other patron. The main point is that such spellcasters are remarkable individuals, each blazing their own trail—and thus, Cazhaak Draal overall doesn’t have the arcane infrastructure of the Venomous Demesne.

Does it bother you that mythologically, Medusa was a specific gorgon, while in D&D, medusas are a species and gorgons are an entirely different, unrelated creature?

Not really. D&D is full of such flawed mythological analogues. Greek Mythology is as irrelevant to the medusas of Eberron as the default lore of third or fourth edition. The medusas of Eberron are an alien species that share a name and a few cosmetic traits with medusa and the gorgons of mythology. (As a side note, I’ve always loved the name Euryale—one of Medusa’s sisters.)

In conclusion… What I enjoy about medusas is that they alien and intelligent, that they are spiritual but devoted to a tradition humanity shuns. Cazhaak Draal is a distinct faction within Droaam that has considerable power and influence, and I enjoy exploring its relationship with the Daughters. And I like the dramatic weight that comes with the medusa’s gaze, especially when dealing with a medusa in a non-combat situation.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who requested this topic and who are the only reason I can taker the time to write these articles!

IFAQ: Whaling in Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

Where and how do you see whaling playing a part in Eberron?

The immediate question is are there whales in Eberron, because there’s no particular reason to assume that any random thing that exists in our world does exist in Eberron. As it turns out, whales have been mentioned; Exploring Eberron has this to say.

When dealing with the Thunder Sea, remember that it’s just as civilized as the Five Nations. It does have wilderness regions with feral beasts roaming at will, and you might find wild plesiosaurs, a scheming sea hag, or a hungry scrag. But in the areas above and around sahuagin city-states, such beasts have been tamed or destroyed. All cultures of the Thunder Sea farm fish like the people of the land farm sheep or cattle; a pod of whales may be carefully managed and cultivated, and their farmers will be quite angry with dryskins who poach their ichthyic livestock. 

So first of all, I don’t see whaling as being a common practice in the Thunder Sea, because blundering out and killing a random whale is a great way to get your ship sunk by an angry Karakala stormcaller. We’ve called out that agreements between the Five Nations and the powers of the Thunder Sea do allow fishing in close coastal waters, so you have Brelish fishing villages on the southern coast, but I wouldn’t make them whalers.

So, where and how do I see whaling playing a part in Eberron? I see it as being focused on the Lhazaar Principalities, but the twist is that it’s not whaling. In our world, whales are the largest and most dramatic denizens of the sea, but this isn’t our world. In the Lhazaar Sea, the mighty creatures bold sailors hunt are dragon turtles. They aren’t the SAME dragon turtles described in the Monster Manual; they’re slightly smaller and weaker (commonly huge, though they can reach gargantuan size), they’re omnivorous, and they’re less intelligent, notably not speaking Draconic; we can call them drake turtles or softshell dragon turtles. But they are still built on the model of the dragon turtle. Building on this, I’d say that drake hunting is a major part of the Lhazaar economy. Drake (turtle) blood is a crucial component in industrial alchemy, part of what allows Jorasco and Cannith to produce mass quantities of healing and other potions. Drakebone could be used in everything from corsets to weaponry. In the Principalities, most medium armor makes use of drake turtle scales and heavy armor is typically made not from metal, but from drake turtle shells. Essentially, this not only creates an industry that parallels whaling, it also creates a unique flavor for Lhazaar fashion and tools and introduces the disturbing idea that many mass-produced potions use components drawn from a deeply questionable source. Because I’ve said that these are as intelligent as the standard dragon turtles of the Monster Manual… but less intelligent doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent. They don’t perform magic. They don’t speak Common or Draconic. But they sing… and anyone who knows the language (which very few land-dwellers do) will realize that they are singing in Aquan.

Part of the point of Eberron is that stories don’t always end well and that good people can do bad things. A druid adventurer may realize a drake turtle is singing in Aquan. But even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do—even if it is clear to the ADVENTURER that the turtles are intelligent, it may not be a simple matter to prove it. And there could always be the chance that while the turtles appear to sing in Aquan, they aren’t actually intelligent by the typical measures. Even if adventurers can prove it, the response of the common Lhazaar sailor will be “Who cares if drake turtles sing in Aquan? They’re MONSTERS. I need to feed my family. The healing potions Jorasco will make using that drake’s blood will save countless HUMAN lives. I chose my family and my species over the well-being of alien sea monsters.” Personally, I like the idea of placing player characters at the very forefront of this issue—making it THEIR discovery, because it’s their story—but you could also say that it’s something that’s been known for decades and is being actively debated. Druid activists could be blocking drake hunting boats. Principalities could be split, with some princes forbidding drake hunting, while other principalities are deeply dependent on the drake-hunting economy. It could be that ending dragon-hunting would be a major blow to industrial alchemy, unless Cannith and Jorasco can be pushed to find new methods of production. Ultimately, it’s a more dramatic and bloodier version of the ethical questions of elemental binding… and it could be that fighting over this issue could force people to reevaluate Zil binding as well.

So, going back to the original question, I’d place whaling in the Lhazaar Principalities and I’d make it an industry that has great impact within the region but also to the greater economy of Khorvaire, but I’d also make the creatures hunted an variant form of dragon turtles as opposed to whales. Not with that said, there’s nothing wrong with saying that there’s also traditional whaling in the northern Lhazaar Principalities. But personally, I’m more interesting in adding something that’s unique to the world—and in doing so, being able to add a unique twist to the economic impact of that creature. But if you want a story focus on traditional whaling, tell that story!

Do drake turtles have blowholes?

No, they don’t. However, they do have steam breath—though it’s weaker than that of a dragon turtle and takes longer to recharge. They need to vent this occasionally, and common drake hunter practice is to wait for such an exhalation before attacking, to strike while the breath is discharged. So you can still have a “Thar she blows!” moment.

Does Riedra have any interest in drake turtles?

Certainly! I think that drake’s blood is a useful basic alchemical component and that the shell, scales, bones, and teeth all have their uses. I definitely think fishing rights in the Lhazaar Sea is an lingering point of tension; it’s even possible there’s been an open conflict—similar to the Cod Wars—between Rhiavaar and one of the Principalities at some point in the past.

If drake turtles sing in Aquan, how can there be any doubt they’re intelligent? Why don’t people just use the Tongues spell or similar magic to talk to them?

A parrot can recite a poem in English; does that mean it possesses human intelligence? The drake hunters argue the same thing of drake turtles; it’s exotic behavior, but that doesn’t mean they’re PEOPLE. Which comes to a key point in my description: Even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do. My point is that if you know Aquan, when you hear the drake’s song you’ll recognize it as, for example, “Bluuuue sorrow delving deeeeep.” But if you row up to the drake turtle and say “Hi! My name’s Keith! What’s yours?” in Aquan (or using tongues) it will ignore you. Perhaps it doesn’t recognize the tiny non-turtle as a creature. Perhaps it doesn’t respond to simply spoken words; you need to SING your statement at a particular pitch for the drake to recognize it as an attempt at communication. Or perhaps it’s a parrot—it produces words it’s picked up from passing elementals but it doesn’t actually understand their meaning.

D&D has a tendency to treat any creature with a language as communicating exactly as humans do. I like to explore the idea that alien creatures may communicate in very different ways, something I’ve discussed in articles relating to elementals and lizardfolk. The point is that your Aquan speaker/tongues caster can understand the words the drake turtle is singing; but that doesn’t mean that you understand the meaning or how to effectively communicate back. The point of all this is because I’m interested in exploring the question of drake turtle intelligence as a STORY. Consider the movie Arrival; it wouldn’t have been much fun if the protagonist just walked in, cast tongues, and it was all over. I like the idea that people KNOW the drake turtles sing in Aquan, but because no one’s ever managed to have an effective conversation with one, the hunters can dismiss them as parrots. If the player characters get involved, their challenge is to figure out how the turtles communicate, beyond simply the words that they’re using. In OUR world there’s considerable debate about cetacean intelligence; my point is that I want it to be a possible story that adventurers can be a part of, because player characters are remarkable. If drake turtles are fully sentient, I want your character to be the protagonist of Arrival or Spock mind-melding with a whale; I want YOU to be the one who solves a mystery others have abandoned or dismissed. But if that’s not a mystery you want to explore, you can definitely resolve it one way or the other using NPCs or have it have been clearly established in the past.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible!