IFAQ: The Elves of Aerenal

As chosen by my Patreon supporters, my next major article is going to be on the nobility of Khorvaire. This article is a shorter subject. Last week I wrote about the Tairnadal elves. This article deals with the other culture of Aerenal: the Aereni elves, the servants of the Undying Court. I’ve written about Aerenal in this article and this article, and there’s a section on Aerenal in Exploring Eberron; I’m including the two pages we’ve already previewed below. Let’s consider a few infrequently asked questions!

Image by Matthew Riley for Exploring Eberron

Are Phiarlan and Thuranni elves still considered Aereni? Are they eligible to become spirit idols or deathless? What about the elves with the Mark of Shadow who serve with the Cairdal Blades in Aerenal?

The answer to this is largely spelled out in this article. “Aereni” is a culture; being Aereni means that you honor your ancestors, give your devotion to the Undying Court, and serve the Sibling Kings. The shadow-marked families—Tialaen, Shol, Ellorrenthi, Paelion, Thuranni—were never actually Aereni; they remained independent from the Undying Court, the line of Vol, and the Tairnadal, and traveled between communities of all of these cultures. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol and exiled its allies, the shadow-marked families chose to leave with them. Some feared that they too would be persecuted for their marks; others believed that the supporters of the Undying Court had committed an unforgivable sin in spilling so much elven blood. As this article says, “to mark their departure from elven society, (the shadow-marked families) formally joined their lines into a new alliance: House Phiarlan.

As for those shadow-marked elves who are occasionally seen in the Cairdal Blades? This is also explained in the article: “A handful remained, believing that it was their duty to the kingdom; these elves found themselves largely absorbed into other lines, and this mingling of blood causes the Mark of Shadows to occasionally appear in Aerenal.” The elves who develop the Mark of Shadow in Aerenal aren’t Phiarlan or Thuranni; they are now Jhaelian or Mendyrian. And the mark only appears rarely because unlike the houses, the Aereni aren’t trying to arrange matches to produce the mark; the marked bloodlines are heavily diluted.

So no: the elves of House Thuranni and Phiarlan aren’t Aereni. They intentionally severed their ties to their homeland and have no loyalty to the Undying Court or the Sibling Kings. And since elevation to the Undying Court—whether as a spirit idol or as one of the deathless—is an honor the Aereni bestow on their most celebrated citizens, it is not offered to those elves who have abandoned their homeland and its traditions.

With that said, a Phiarlan elf could return to Aerenal, abandoning the house and embracing the Aereni traditions; they’d just have to find a noble line willing to adopt them, just like the shadow-marked elves who stayed behind when the phiarlans originally left. And as Aereni, such elves would be eligible to join the Court, though again, they’d have to impress the priests and people with their worth. But joining the court isn’t about whether you have a dragonmark; it’s whether you are a devotee of the Undying Court who has proven yourself worthy to join it, and whose talents and achievements justify this gift.


Could someone use a spirit idol as a template to clone a revered ancestor? Perhaps by transferring the soul into a construct body, or even a living elf willing to give their body to the ancestor?

All of this seems possible, but the real question is would the ancestor be happy about it? As noted in the ExE preview, for many Aereni becoming a spirit idol is something they look forward to. When they aren’t interacting with the living, the spirit within the idol exists within a paradise of its own making, dwelling within its memories and ideas. The Aereni see life as something you do to prepare for your afterlife. You don’t want to die too quickly, because then you don’t have enough memories to build a satisfying eternity. But most see life as the chrysalis, with the spirit idol as a blessed ascension, eternity unbound by the physical form.

So COULD the soul within a spirit idol be transferred into some other vessel? Sure, I don’t see why not. But this isn’t a problem the Priests of Transition are trying to solve; they see the spirit idol as being a blessed member of the Undying Court, not as a victim who needs to be saved.

Do Aereni ever join the Tairnadal, for instance one who feels rejected and out of place with their family?

Sure! We’ve mentioned it before. And likewise, zaelantar youths sometimes leave the steppes and become Aereni; this is one path for a Tairnadal youth who doesn’t get chosen by a patron ancestor. This isn’t common in either direction; a would-be Aereni has to be accepted by a noble line, while a would-be Tairnadal has to be chosen by a patron ancestor to truly become Tairnadal. But it certainly happens.

The Tairnadal faith seems fundamentally more demanding than the Undying Court. Both revolve around preserving and communing with honored ancestors, but the Tairnadal faith requires imitation and constant war, while it doesn’t seem like the Undying Court places any demands on its followers (maybe to eliminate Mabaran undead)?

The Tairnadal faith is more demanding than the Undying Court, yes. This is because the end result of the devotion is completely different. Through their faith, the Aereni seek to preserve the Undying Court. But with the exception of the ascendant counselors and divine spellcasters, the Aereni have a very concrete, limited relationship with their ancestors. If you took the Right of Counsel feat in the 3.5 ECS, you had to physically go to Shae Mordai to speak with your ancestor. By contrast, each Tairnadal vessel believes that they are a living vessel for the spirit of their patron. They believe that the patron offers them direct, personal guidance—that their remarkable skills are the result of the patron guiding their hands. So the Tairnadal endures this more demanding service because they believe that they receive a more dramatic benefit in exchange.

Having said that, a critical point is that we just haven’t talked much about what Aereni devotion actually looks like. Only the elite Deathguard are charged to fight Mabaran undead. An Aereni civilian shows their devotion through prayers, which combine expressions of gratitude for the ongoing protection the Court provides with tales that commemorate their deeds and discoveries. But the second way an Aereni honors the ancestors is by following in their footsteps. This isn’t as dramatic or absolute as the Tairnadal revenant. But Aereni do seek to hone a skill that one of their ancestors perfected—to study their teachings and master their techniques. The point is that these skills often have nothing to do with WAR and often aren’t as OBVIOUS as the revenant’s martial devotion. But the Aereni painter is honoring a great painter of the past. The bowyer followers the example of a legendary artisan (and may have served the deathless artisan as an apprentice). As a side note, this is why the WGtE suggested an Aereni variant that sacrificed weapon proficiencies for expertise with a single skill or tool—because that focused expertise is a form of Aereni devotion. Exploring Eberron includes a different approach to this concept.

So Tairnadal devotion is more demanding and intense than Aereni devotion. But the Aereni do offer prayers to their ancestors throughout the day, and they think about their ancestors constantly, reflecting on their lessons and honoring them through the exercise of their skills.

How do clerics of the Undying Court actually MANIFEST? Are they rare? For the cleric, what does it feel like to cast a spell and how do they believe they are doing it?

So under the hood, the Undying Court actually has a great deal in common with the Silver Flame. The Silver Flame was created when a force of immortals bound their spirits together into a force of pure celestial energy. The Undying Court is likewise a gestalt of souls—it is essentially a smaller Silver Flame, whose coherent elements are able to also maintain independent existence (as deathless) while still adding their power to the whole.

When a cleric of the Undying Court casts a spell, they are drawing on that GESTALT, not dealing with a single, specific member of the Court. They don’t send in a request for magic that has to be approved; what it MEANS to be a cleric of the Undying Court is that you have been recognized as a worthy vessel of its power and you have been granted the ability to draw on that well of energy. This is especially important beyond Aerenal, as the Court can’t directly affect the world the way it does in Aerenal; it NEEDS champions to serve as its hands. But essentially, as a cleric of the Undying Court, when you cast a spell, you are reaching out with your mind and channeling the power of your collective ancestors. You can FEEL them all around you, hear dozens of whispering voices, feel their strength and support. But it’s not that ONE SPECIFIC ANCESTOR is with you; it’s the gestalt as a whole.

HAVING SAID THAT, in my campaign I WILL give a cleric or paladin of the Undying Court a close relationship to a particular ancestor. They can’t initiate contact with that ancestor, but it may give them divine visions (something I discuss in this article) and missions. If they use commune or similar spells, it will be that ancestor who gives them answers. It’s a little like the idea of Tira Miron being the Voice of the Flame; the UC spellcaster will have a specific ancestor who acts as their intermediary to the Court. So that’s a unique aspect to worshipping the Court.

As for rarity, in my opinion Aerenal has more divine spellcasters than any nation in Khorvaire, even Thrane. For the Aereni, divine magic IS a science. They CREATED a divine power source, and it’s part of their government! A divine caster of the Undying Court still needs faith; it’s that faith that allows them to channel the power. But they are also, essentially, granted a license to draw on the power of the Court.

Of course, that’s if they ARE legitimate representatives of the Court. You could certainly play a character who is in essence a divine hacker—stealing energy from the Court to cast their spells WITHOUT actually being an authorized agent of the Court. This could be an interesting path for a Divine Soul sorcerer. Another option would be an Undying Warlock, who would have a relationship with a specific ancestor rather than drawing on the power of the Court… which could be because the ancestor is running a rogue operation hidden from the rest of the Court!

Just how many bodily desires do Deathless retain anyways?

In my opinion, none. Deathless are described as desiccated corpses. Consider the description of the ascendant counselor: the corpse of an elf so shriveled and aged it seems no more substantial than smoke. What survives in the deathless is the SOUL, loosely bound to the body. What makes an ascendant counselor “ascendant” is that they have moved almost entirely beyond their bodies; from the 3.5 ECS “They rarely inhabit their physical forms, preferring to explore the universe in astral form.” The body of a deathless is a corpse. it has no biological processes; if you pushed food down its throat it would just rot in its stomach cavity.

However, the counter to this is that the deathless experience reality in a way mortals can’t imagine. They are sustained by positive energy, by the love of their descendants; that is their food and drink. Do they love? Certainly. On a certain level, they ARE love; just as they are sustained by the energy of their descendants, they are defined by the love they feel for them in return. This is why deathless are “usually neutral good.” What we’ve said about Mabaran undead is that they are drawn towards evil because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out emotionally, driving them to become predators; conversely, the Deathless are sustained by love, and this softens a cruel heart.

Meanwhile, spirit idols are sustained by positive energy but live in a world they craft from their memories. They eat, they drink, they love. But they eat anything they can imagine, whether it’s having the memory of their favorite meal or whether they can combine different tastes they remember to create something new. Their companions are likewise the memories of people they knew, so they can return to an old lover, duel with a rival, or share a drink with a close friend. All of which ties to whether either form of deathless would WANT to return to life. The key with the spirit idol is that the elves believe that you need to live long enough to HAVE enough memories and ideas to populate eternity. So they will raise people who die young, even if they are deemed worthy of joining the court, because they haven’t completely the life segment of their spiritual journey. But they see physical existence as, essentially, a chore—something you do in preparation for what comes next, not the highest form of existence.

That’s all for now, but there’s more Aerenal ahead in Exploring Eberron! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going!

IFAQ: Who Leads The Tairnadal?


When time permits, I like to answer questions from my Patreon supporters. Joseph asks:

Who actually leads the Tairnadal elves? Is it a theocracy?

It’s an interesting question. The Tairnadal are the elves of the Aerenal steppes, and the elves who have claimed Valenar are Tairnadal elves. The Aereni are ruled by the Undying Court and the Sibling Kings. Valenar has a “High King.” But what of the Tairnadal of Aerenal? Do they have a monarch, or are they ruled by the Keepers of the past?

The reason this hasn’t been answered in the past is because it’s not a question with a simple answer. There is no single monarch or high priest who leads the Tairnadal, and the answer is rooted in their unusual and rigid culture. All the cultures of Aerenal cling tightly to tradition and the past. The Tairnadal came to Aerenal as soldiers—fresh from fighting against the giants of Xen’drik and their minions—and never stood down. What drives and defines the Tairnadal is their devotion to their patron ancestors. This began before the elves even reached Aerenal, as a basic cult of personality: those warriors who’d served with fallen champions being determined to honor their heroes by following in their footsteps. Those who were most devoted to this path swore that they felt a connection to their idols—that the spirit of the champions were guiding them. So this basic element—preserve the ancestors by emulating their lives—was a part of Tairnadal society from the beginning. The traditions and role of the Keepers of the Past evolved on Aerenal, but the patron ancestors were with them from the start.

Tairnadal society is shaped by their religion. This is described on page 147 of Rising From The Last War and I’m not going to retread it entirely here. But to sum up: when an elf comes of age the Keepers of the Past determine which ancestor has chosen them, and “it’s your sacred duty… to live your life as they did and to allow the champion to walk the world again through you.” It’s important to recognize that there’s a twofold aspect to this duty. The first is that through this devotion, the living preserve the ancestors. But there is also the concrete belief that through this devotion, the ancestor can act through the revenant—that the living benefit because they receive their guidance from the dead. The doctrine of the faith is that you can only receive this guidance from the ancestor that has chosen you—which means that if you refuse to accept that bond, you are denying your community the chance to benefit from the ancestor’s supernatural guidance. Essentially, the Tairnadal believe that you will never be as useful on your own as you could be if you embraced the path of your patron ancestor, and that refusing to follow that path is deadly arrogance and selfishness, and there is no place for such selfishness in a tight-knit warband.

So: Tairnadal culture is based on people emulating the lives of their patron ancestors. But these ancestors were fighting a guerilla war. Which means that the Tairnadal have to engage in endless war to follow their example… and with this in mind, they have been engaging in complex wargames for tens of thousands of years. Combatants will spare an enemy when possible—you don’t finish off a fallen foe—there is no point to a battle that doesn’t truly test the skills of the combatants, and battles are fought with spell and steel.

Working with this foundation, there are two basic aspects to Tairnadal civilization: war and peace. the zaelantar and zaeltairn. The zaelantar (“peaceful souls”) maintain the civilian infrastructure, while the zaeltairn (“warrior souls”) serve in an army and fight the endless war.

The zaelantar raise and train both young elves and beasts of war and burden. They craft weapons and tools, and they maintain the settled communities of the steppes. The bulk of the zaelantar are young elves. Remember that an elf receives a patron ancestor when they come of age. But this doesn’t usually happen until an elf is at least 60! In the initial decades of their lives, they train in basic skills (Background! Elven weapon familiarity!), study Tairnadal history, and maintain their community—including carry for the younger elves. Through this process they are effectively auditioning to the patron ancestors. The young elf who excels at hunting expects they will be chosen by a legendary archer or stalker. The elf who becomes a leader in the community hopes to be chosen by one of the great leaders of the past. Nonetheless, you are talking about elves spending at least four decades of what humans would consider adult life working in a zaelantar community. So who performs basic, necessary tasks? The elves who haven’t yet been set on a different path. Other zaelantar include former tairn who are unable to fight—either because of age or some other infirmity—but who can teach the young. The Keepers of the Past are largely zaelantar, serving to train and guide. And finally, there are those who have been chosen by patron ancestors whose legendary skills are tied to the civic sphere: fabled smiths, legendary teachers, the Siyal Marrain (druids who tend the beasts), and so on.

The zaeltairn engage in war, emulating their ancestors in the field. They are split into armies, each of when is further divided into clans and bands. A Tairnadal army is effectively a city-state. It isn’t a temporary duty; once assigned to an army Tairnadal serve until they die or until they retire (or are forced to retire) to train the young. Most armies are mobile; most of the patron ancestors were guerilla soldiers and mobility was vital; they follow migratory paths across the steppes. There are a few that are settled, based on the specialties of the ancestors represented by the army. Notably, each of the great jungles of the region—around Shae Thoridor and Var-Shalas—are home to an army, whose members specialize in jungle warfare and commando operations.

There are three great cities in the region held by the Tairnadal.

  • Var-Shalas is the largest city of the Tairnadal. It is the stronghold of the Keepers of the Past, and it is here that the Shanutar (council of lords) conducts its business.
  • Shae Thoridor is the second great city of the zaelantar. It is smaller than Var-shalas, but nonetheless an important seat of the Keepers of the Past and an industrial center for the goods required by the armies.
  • Taer Senadal is a fortress—but an unusual one. Var-Shalas and Shae Thoridor are surrounded by walls of bronzewood thorns, similar to Taer Valaestas in Valenar. Taer Senadal is a fortress of stone. Because it’s not a fortress built to defend the region from attack; it’s built to be attacked. Senadal can be roughly translated as “whetstone,” and Taer Senadal is a fortress manned by youths in the late stages of their training. Armies take turns attacking the fortress, allowing the youths to hone their skills as they defend it and the tairn to practice attacking fortifications.

All of which finally brings us back to the original question: Who rules the Tairnadal? Are they a theocracy?

Religion is the absolute foundation of Tairnadal culture. Following the dictates of the religion sensible (the faithful receive the guidance of the ancestors), a duty to the dead (it preserves the ancestors), and a duty to the community (as the ancestral guidance makes you a more effective citizen). But the Keepers of the Past are guides, not leaders. The basic leadership role within the Tairnadal is the shan, which can be loosely translated as “lord.” Each band has a lu-shan (“band lord”), clan leaders simply use the title shan, and the leaders of armies are var-shan (“great lord”). On the side of the zaelantar, an an-shan (“young lord”) is a youth who guides a band of youths, while a tar-shan (“peace lord”) maintains a village or a district of one of the great cities. Note that shan is not a gendered term, and any tairnadal can hold this position.

The twist to this is that the characterization of Shaeras Vadallia as “High King” is largely a translation error. Shaeras is the var-shan of Valenar, the Great Lord of the Army of Valenar. it is the highest position of authority that the Tairnadal recognize, but each army has a var-shan of its own.

With this in mind, the structure of Valenar is a general model for the Tairnadal overall. As described in the ECS, there are 45 warclans on Khorvaire; this is the Army of Valenar. At any given time, twenty of these clans are under the direct command of the var-shan (Shaeras Vadallia), while the rest are active in the field. The same is true for the armies on Aerenal: each army has a core of clans that remain close and under the direct command of the var-shan, while others follow general direction but operate independently. Likewise, within a clan a certain number of bands remain under the direct command of the shan, while others may be dispersed on independent operations (scouting, harrying, etc). While the structure of Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial, they actually don’t have a complex hierarchy of ranks. Warbands are essentially families, whose members serve together indefinitely. When there is a split-second military decision to be made, the lu-shan commands and cannot be questioned. But if there are other issues, the band debates them around the campfire and consensus rules. The lu-shan does have the final say, but it is rare for a lu-shan to veto the decisions of the band without clear military reason. And if this is done, the band respects the decision because they respect the lu-shan, not because of the title alone. This ties to an important fact: those appointed to leadership roles are elves channeling the spirits of legendary leaders. Within a clan, of course the Vadallia revenant is the lu-shan, because she’s channeling Vadallia. Taeri is an unparalled swordsman, but he’s not a leader; who would even think of appointing a Taeri as shan? It is also the case that a respected revenant’s word carries a great deal of weight in matters related to that ancestor. A Vadallia lu-shan is a good general war leader, but when planning an ambush they may defer to the Falaen revenant, trusting their expertise in matters of stealth and cunning.

This overall structure flows upstream. If the shan issues a command it must be obeyed. But unless it’s an urgent matter, the shan will seek the consensus of the lu-shan. If it isn’t a question of war, they will seek the guidance of Keepers of the Past or even the tar-shan. Beyond this, each army dispatches two clans to Var-Shalas and one to Shae Thoridor. These clans protect the cities, but the shans also represent their army in the shanutar—a council that includes the tar-shans, and which is overseen by Keepers of the Past.

So once again: Who leads the Tairnadal? When decisions must be made in a moment, a shan’s word is absolute. In other matters, the Tairnadal seek consensus—whether a lu-shan consulting with their band, a shan seeking consensus from the lu-shans, or the var-shan consulting the shans. Beyond this, people respect the ancestors that are channeled; they look to those guided by ancient leaders to channel that wisdom.

All of which is a VERY long answer to what seemed like a simple question, but there you have it!

How do the Draleus Tairn and the Silaes Tairn fit into this structure?

They’re armies. The Draleus Tairn are largely defined by their ancestors; their patrons are heroes renowned for fighting dragons. The Silaes Tairn have some ancestral overlap with the Valaes, but believe that the the battle should be taken back to Xen’drik. Note that bands of Draleus and Silaes Tairn DO make expeditions to Xen’drik; the Draleus are also always preparing for the next time Argonnessen attacks Aerenal.

So are armies all made up of people who follow the same ancestors?

Not at all. Essentially, think of the ancestors as being military specialties. You’re rarely going to find a warband that has more than one Vadallia, because it doesn’t NEED more than one Vadallia. On the other hand, a band with a specific purpose—commandos, archers, scouts—may have multiple elves who channel the same ancestor because they want that overlap of skills. But ancestors are shared among all the Valaes armies, assigned to clans and bands as suits the needs of each unit.

How difficult is it for an ambitious revenant to break the mold of their ancestors and forge their own name in memory? Is this more within the wheelhouse of player characters, or are there examples of exceptional tairnadal who exceed the precedent of their patron ancestor, becoming patrons in their own right?

This is specifically discussed in this article… which gives the example of Carys Daealyth, who is guided by Daealyth Taeri, who was guided by Taeri. The main point is that those champions don’t typically BREAK the mold, they go beyond it. From that article:
So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.

How does parenting work among the Tairnadal? Are familial relations important?

Generally, NO. Who your father and mother are is far less important than who your patron ancestor is. Tairnadal don’t maintain property, so you’re not passing your holdings down to a child. Critically, note that the Tairnadal don’t use family names: a Tairnadal elf uses a given name and the name of their patron ancestor. So Shaeras Vadallia may have been the son of Jael Cardaen and Sol Taeri; ultimately, that doesn’t matter. A child is given to the Zaelantar to be raised, and becomes an adult when chosen by a patron ancestor. And it’s worth noting that at this point, almost all Tairnadal are in some way tied to all of the patron ancestors; it’s not like there’s only one bloodline that produces Vadallias, or that you expect to be chosen by the same patron as your parents.

With that said, Tairnadal likely know who their parents are, and there are cases where relatives end up serving together in the same band or clan. So you can have siblings who feel a strong attachment or even a parent and child with a bond. But on the societal level, your personal lineage isn’t as significant as your spiritual lineage.

Can you talk a little about dynamics between Tairnadal elves and Lyrandar/Half-elves in Valenar? Especially with a Khoravar with a Tairnadal parent?

If you can find it, this is discussed in an Expeditionary Dispatches article from WotC called “The People of Taer Valaestas.”

As called out in the previous answer, direct blood lineage is less important to the Tairnadal than spiritual lineage, and it is the belief of the Tairnadal (supported by existing precedent) that no Khoravar can channel a patron ancestor. So essentially, the Tairnadal treat the Khoravar as being akin to zaelantar. They are people with a connection to the elves, and they are willing to do important tasks no tairn wishes to do. However, with most zaelantar there is the understanding that they will become tairn (or that they have been chosen by a peaceful ancestor, which is still an honor and duty), while they don’t believe that to be possible with the Khoravar. So the essential point is that they see the Khoravar as useful children but don’t believe they will ever grow up or be able to undertake the true responsibility of a Tairnadal—to embody an ancestor. That’s not their fault, just a sad fact. Of course, what we’ve said is that if any Khoravar could prove this wrong and channel an ancestor, it would be a player character!

Are there ever cases where a young elf coming of age is not selected by ANY ancestor? If so, how are such elves regarded by their fellows?

The Keepers of the Past aren’t selected by any one ancestor; instead, they have the ability to hear many ancestors, which is what allows them to serve in their role. In one campaign I ran, a PC played a Tairnadal shaman whose role was specifically to channel and remember a host of lesser ancestors who weren’t significant enough to become full patron ancestors, but that deserved to be remembered.

If the elf isn’t chosen by an ancestor and lacks the gift of the Keepers, what it means is, essentially, that they didn’t graduate. I said that MOST elves receive an ancestor at around 60, after they undergo a few decades as zaelantar. If you don’t get picked? Work another decade as zaelantar and we’ll try again at the next time. It would be assumed that if you’re not picked it’s because you haven’t displayed enough value to be chosen; that doesn’t mean you deserve to be shunned, it means you need to go back to work and do better. You’re a disappointment, certainly. But there may well be a case where it’s later discovered that a particular elf didn’t get picked because ALL of the ancestors wanted them and they couldn’t reach an agreement, or something like that; there could certainly be a tale of the elf who was thought to be shunned but who was in fact the most exceptional of all (… and went on to become a player character!). But the typical answer is that they would simply continue on as zaelantar.

Second question: Since the Tairnadal are constantly looking for battles to fight, do they ever seek out manifest zones of Shavarath, or venture to that plane itself?

I write about Shavarath in Exploring Eberron, and that’s a pretty extreme option; it is a vicious meat grinder and it would take exceptional mortals to survive there for an extended amount of time. Consider that the immortals are CONSTANTLY being killed and just reform; it’s a touch road for elves to jump in where angels fear to tread. With that said, it’s entirely possible that the Tairnadal SUMMON fiends or other extraplanar threats so they have worthy foes to fight. They might even use undead! Exploring the actual forms of conflicts the Tairnadal fight on Aerenal is a deep topic that could definitely fill another article.

That’s all for now. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and help choose topics! And if for some reason you’re looking for even MORE information about the Tairnadal, this article answers many questions and has links to many other articles!

IFAQ: The Houses At War

Today I want to continue the discussion of the Dragonmarked Houses with a few questions raised by my Patreon supporters. The first comes from Joseph:

My understanding is both Lyrandar and Orien participated in the supply lines of the nation’s militaries, not just civilian supplies. Was their neutrality respected? Was that part of the price? Or did attacks happen, probably while trying to disguise the source?

To begin with, it’s important to consider the nature of the Last War. It was never a total war, fought with the intent to utterly annihilate the enemy. The goal of every nation was to place their ruler upon the throne of a reunited Galifar… which in turn meant that severe destruction of infrastructure and attacks on civilians were discouraged, because ultimately you’re hoping that all of it will be YOUR infrastructure and that those civilians will accept your leader’s right to rule. So to begin with, just consider our rules of war. We can be sure that the Five Nations were operating under similar restrictions, if not necessarily identical: Targeting civilians was a war crime, and civilians, aid workers, and medical personnel should be protected. In the early days of the war, the Twelve established a basic set of principles with the leaders of the Five Nations. Essentially, house forces were to be treated as noncombatants, even if on the battlefield… and in turn, would not be expected to engage in combat. A Cannith artificer might be present with a unit of soldiers to maintain the warforged and artillery, but they wouldn’t engage in active combat and offer no resistance to an enemy. A Jorasco healer would only heal soldiers of the nation that contracted their services, but again, they wouldn’t fight members of an opposing nation. This would in turn apply to their vehicles as well. The lightning rail and Orien carriages were forbidden targets. If a coach was transporting military personnel or supplies, it could be STOPPED and those supplies could be confiscated or personnel taken prisoner, but the coach and its Orien crew should be allowed to pass.

That’s the basic principle, and it further increased the value of those services; a purely Karrnathi coach is a valid target for Cyran attack, while an Orien coach is inviolate. Of course, this is the PRINCIPLE, but there’s a number of additional factors.

  • There were always commanders and soldiers willing to disregard the rules of war (just consider the destruction of the White Arch Bridge or the bombardment of Korth). Just because you weren’t supposed to target the lightning rail doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
  • Any House personnel or vehicles actively engaging in conflict forego this protection. So first of all, Deneith mercenaries are treated like any other combatant. A Orien coach that’s got a mounted weapon and fires on soldiers can be destroyed. And if the Cannith artificer disobeys House orders and fights alongside the unit they’re embedded with, they become a valid target. Certainly, there were times when soldiers would claim House personnel offered resistance even when they hadn’t.

With both of these things in mind, bear in mind that the primary incentive against this behavior was financial. House personnel serving with the enemy were not to be killed, but they would be taken prisoner and ransomed back to the house. There was a clearly established rate of exchange and this would be applied against that nation’s bills with the house. Meanwhile, the houses would impose financial penalties and raise rates when nations violated their rules. So As a soldier, if you kill a Jorasco healer, you’re costing your nation gold—while if you take them prisoner, you’re saving money. It’s not simply a good idea; officers would enforce this seriously.

So in short: people generally respected the neutrality of the Dragonmarked houses. It was rare that they would, for example, blow up an Orien caravan even if it was carrying military supplies. However, they could STOP the caravan and confiscate those supplies. Or they COULD blow it up, likely trying to pin the crime on another nation. But if it was the truth was discovered, they would suffer financial penalties. So you can be sure it happened, just not constantly.

A secondary point to consider here is the fact that the houses wield monopolistic power unrivaled by any corporation in our world (because we have laws preventing it!). For many of the services they provided, there simply was no reliable alternative. Nations certainly worked at it: the Arcane Congress surely worked to develop a system of arcane communication that could take the place of the Sivis speaking stones, Thrane assembled a corps of adept healers, etc. But none of these had the full scope of the services the houses could provide. You couldn’t just buy your warforged from somewhere else, and if you didn’t work with Orien your goods would take longer to reach their destination. Every nation relied on the services of at least SOME of the houses. There was undoubtedly at least one incident where an officer seized control of house facilities, essentially seeking to nationalize them—or even just used a house facility as a shield for military operations. This is where the Twelve was vitally important, because while ONE house might have trouble challenging a nation, no nation could make do without the services of all twelve. So an attack on a Vadalis facility could result in a rate increase from all houses—or even a service blackout for a particular region. Again, these things surely happened—and there were consequences when they did.

Deneith seems like it would have substantially higher casualties than the other houses due to its focus. Do they ransom their heirs if they’re captured during house business? Do they do anything special to keep their numbers up?

As noted above, Deneith personnel serving as soldiers are valid targets and don’t receive the same protections as a Sivis stonespeaker or a Jorasco healer. With that said, the general rules of war likely prohibited killing soldiers who are too injured to fight or who surrender (again, that doesn’t mean it didn’t HAPPEN, just that people were supposed to accept surrender). So Deneith soldiers would have to fight fiercely enough that people would actually want to hire them: but they could surrender if seriously injured. And just as with all house personnel, there was surely a system of ransom for them. The rate would vary based on the position of the person: a marked Deneith heir would bring in a good ransom, while a mercenary with no blood tie to the house would command a fairly low rate. But soldiers would know that if you could take a Deneith officer alive, it’s best to do so.

Having said that, it’s also important to remember that the bulk of Deneith soldiers aren’t blood heirs of the house: they are mercenaries licensed and trained by the house. In some cases—look to the Ghaal’dar and the Valenar—they weren’t even trained by the house; the house simply served as a broker for their services. So losing a Blademark unit is a loss to the house because they’ll have to recruit and train new soldiers—but they’d only lose a few blood heirs in the process. So they certainly had higher casualty rates than the other houses, but not every slain mercenary was a Deneith heir.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! I’ll be posting the topic poll for the next major article soon.

IFAQ: Before The Houses

When time allows, I like to answer interesting questions submitted by my Patreon backers. This week, I’m going to answer a few questions about the Dragonmarked Houses. Today’s question comes from Alex. According to the 3.5 Dragonmarked sourcebook, the Mark of Sentinel was the first dragonmark to appear among the humans of Khorvaire. The Deneith warlords ruled the region around Karrlakton for around four centuries; it then fell into two centuries of warfare, which came to an end when Karrn the Conqueror united the region and established the nation of Karrnath. Alex asks:

Given that they were in power for 400 years, should we assume that some of Karrnath’s culture is actually the culture of the Deneith bloodline?

While the subject is Deneith, this is a question that applies to all of the houses. Where did the houses come from? To what degree do their cultures reflect those of the nations in which they first appeared, or vice versa? A critical factor is that the houses didn’t begin as HOUSES. The houses as they exist today evolved over time. Consider this passage from the 3.5 sourcebook Dragonmarked.

It is often assumed that each house has a single founder: that some ancient Master Cannith was the first person to develop the Mark of Making, with House Cannith born of his children. The truth is not so simple. Each dragonmark first appeared within multiple families, although the marks were bound to specific races and regions. The Mark of Sentinel appeared among the people of Khorvaire’s northern coast, while the Mark of Making was found in the region that would eventually become Cyre. It took generations for these first dragonmarked to realize the significance and power of their marks.

It continues…

The Lyrriman gnomes of House Sivis claim that their forebears were the first to identify and unify the dragonmarked families, while members of the Vown family of House Cannith make similar claims. Seven dragonmarks were known by the time Karrn the Conqueror sought to bring all Khorvaire under his rule, though the families that bore them were not yet unified. The Sivis League, the Tinkers Guild of Cannith, and the Phiarlans of Aerenal had all laid the groundwork for their future houses, but the Sentinel families of the north were still divided. Some fought alongside Karrn, while others were among his strongest foes.

So: the Mark of Sentinel didn’t appear on House Deneith, because House Deneith didn’t exist at the time. Each mark appeared on multiple families. These families were united by their species and by their general region, and also by their aptitudes. The Aashta and Torrn clans of the Shadow Marches were already renowned hunters before they developed the Mark of Finding . On Aerenal, the Elorrenthi and Thuranni had served as phiarlans (essentially, traveling bards) for tens of thousands of years before appearance of the Mark of Shadows. In a few cases—scribing, shadows—the marked families already had close ties. But more often than not, the families had no ties; and even if they shared a broad occupation, they might approach it in different ways. Looking at the Mark of Making, the Vown family were wealthy and respected artisans even before they developed the dragonmark. But the Jurans were a rootless family of itinerant tinkers with little wealth or influence. The Mark of Making was a boon to the traveling Jurans, allowing them to mend broken things with a touch; but they were still on a very different path from the wealthy Vowns.

Over the course of generations, early dragonmarked barons were able to confirm that the child of two parents who bore the same dragonmark was more likely to develop that mark, and this drew the families together. Other dragonmarked opportunists saw the benefit of uniting those that carried the marks—of consolidating this power behind a single house. But this idea wasn’t universally or immediately accepted. In the Shadow Marches, the Torrn and Aashta clans were bitter rivals, in part due to their respective ties to the Gatekeepers and the Cults of the Dragon Below. Other families simply didn’t recognize the value of unity; it took the efforts of the young House Sivis and House Cannith to convince the bearers of the other marks to follow their example and to join together. Many of the things now seen as standard practices of the houses are traditions developed by House Sivis and incorporated into the foundation of the Twelve.

So now, let’s come back to the original question and take a look at the young House Deneith. We’ve never mentioned any of its families by name. Dragonmarked contains a seeming internal contradiction in canon. The introduction clearly talks about the Sentinel families and notes that these families were deadly rivals. On the other hand, the Deneith chapter says the following:

House Deneith was founded centuries ago from a family of warlords… The skill of Deneith warlords in battle was already well known, and when the mark appeared in their bloodline, it only added to their fearsome reputation. For over four hundred years, they ruled over the area near modern-day Karrlakton. Then war and a cycle of famine weakened the Deneith leadership and allowed rival factions to challenge it… Legends tell of how the leaders of House Deneith pledged themselves to Karrn even before he began his quest for power, though their reasons for doing so have been lost to time.

I didn’t write this section, so I can’t speak to the intention behind it. But there’s a very simple way to reconcile the apparent contradiction. The introduction says that there were multiple Sentinel families, and that some fought alongside Karrn while others fought against him. The Deneith chapter specifically talks about Deneith warlords and how they allied with Karrn. The logical answer is that DENEITH is the name of ONE of the Sentinel families—the family that was established in the region of Karrlakton. But there were other Sentinel families near what is now Korth, Vedakyr, Vulyar. And note that the chapter text above doesn’t claim that these Deneith ruled what is now KARRNATH; they only ruled the region around KARRLAKTON. So they were never more than local warlords. Following “war and a cycle of famine” they lost that concrete position and ultimately allied with Karrn. How I’M going to interpret that is that for a time they were warlords, but after their downfall they became mercenaries. Because even though they allied with Karrn and he was victorious, they didn’t become Karrnathi warlords.

So how I see it is this. Deneith was a powerful family with a strong martial tradition that ruled the region around Karrlakton. However, they were better soldiers than rulers. They weren’t great at managing peasants or handling famines, and they were forced to abandon Karrlakton following famine and rebellion. However, the core of the family remained intact as a remarkable mercenary company, their skills enhanced by the Mark of Sentinel. They were rivals with a number of other Sentinel families; every warlord wanted their own “Sentinel Guard.” In allying with Karrn, Deneith wasn’t seeking land; they sought dominance over the other Sentinel families that served Karrn’s enemies. And as Karrn united the warlords under his rule, the Sentinel families were forced to submit and serve with the Deneith Blademark—forming the foundation of the house as it exists to day. Integration with the Twelve restored a little more sense of balance between the families of the house, but it nonetheless bears the name of Karrn’s victorious allies.

Consider also the symbol of the house: the three-headed chimera. To me it makes sense that this represents the fact that there are three major families within the house, each of which identifies with one of the beasts. Deneith is the Dragon, the heart of the house, and has its roots in Karrlakton. The other two heads were its ancestral rivals; I’ll say that the Lion was based in what is now Rekkenmark, while the Ram was based in Vedykar—so the house seal is also a sort of marp of the house roots on the map, with the lion in the west, the dragon in the center, and the Ram in the east. Having said that, there are certainly lesser families within the house—just as Tharashk has three major families (Torrn, Aashta, and Velderan) but additional lesser families. And again, these Sentinel families are now all united—but looking to the seal, the Deneith dragon is definitely the first among equals.

Which brings us to the second part of the question. Is Karrnath’s culture actually Deneith culture? Yes and no. Deneith never ruled Karrnath, it simply dominated the area around Karrlakton… and they were deposed two centuries before Karrn the Conqueror established Karrnath itself. I think there’s no question that Deneith is strongly defined by its Karrnathi roots, but I think that they were shaped by proto-Karrn culture as opposed to concretely defining it. And I do think that even before the reign of Karrn they had chosen the path of the mercenary over that of the landed warlord. It could well be that in establishing the Korth Edicts, Galifar ir’Wynarn (who was himself a Karrn, don’t forget!) was inspired by the existing relationship between the Karrnathi warlords and House Deneith—that he essentially said “What if you were all like Deneith—mercenaries who provide a service rather than nobles and landowners?

So I do think that Deneith is proud of its ancient roots and its ties to Karrnathi history. But I also think that Deneith has its own unique culture—something that has evolved tied to its centuries of service as the house of mercenaries and trusted enforcers of the law.

I’ll answer additional questions about the Dragonmarked Houses later in the week. Thanks to Alex and the rest of my Patreon backers, who keep this blog going!

IFAQ: Galifar – One Nation or Five?

As time allows I like to address shorter questions raised by my Patreon supporters. This one comes from Mariamow: I would love to see a breakdown of the fashion of the nations! Specifically how things were pre-last war mostly all being a single nation, how it evolved and why it evolved in that way.

A full nation-by-nation breakdown of fashions is a significant topic; I’ll put it on the Patreon topic poll for June. However, I wanted to take a moment to address the second half of the question: As pre-war Galifar was a single nation, how and why did the Five Nations evolve as they did?

Galifar wasn’t a single nation: it was a united kingdom. Two thousand years ago, the warlord known as Karrn the Conqueror sought to bring the nations of central Khorvaire under his control and failed. A thousand years later, Galifar I succeeded. But unlike Karrn, he didn’t seek to crush these nations and impose Karrnathi culture onto them. Galifar was a diplomat as well as a warrior, and he achieved victory through compromise. He rallied the Dragonmarked Houses to his side with the Korth Edicts. He gained the support of the goblins with the promise of freedom. And with a notable exception, he won acceptance for his rule by respecting the traditions of his defeated enemies. He appointed his children as governors of the conquered nations, and he did rename the nations after them. His homeland of Karrnath remained unchanged, but the nation of Thaliost became Aundair; Daskara became Thrane; Wroat became Breland; and Metrol became Cyre. But his children took local nobles as their spouses, and for the most part local leaders who swore fealty to Galifar and accepted his laws and edicts were allowed to keep their positions and lands. Rather than crushing the cultures of the nations, he largely embraced them and sought to harness their strengths for the greater good. Notably, each nation was granted one of the major institutions of Galifar—something that built on their existing strengths but which also served as a cultural anchor and point of pride moving forward.

  • Aundair had the strongest system of general education (later used as a model for all of Galifar) and the greatest expertise in wizardry and artifice. The was chosen as the home of the Arcane Congress, Galifar’s center for mystical research and education.
  • Breland became the seat of the King’s Citadel, service both as the strong shield of the ruler and as their eyes and ears. Beyond this, Breland would also evolve into a major center for commerce and industry. All of these were supplemented by its close ties to Zilargo, which remained culturally independent but under the general jurisdiction of Breland.
  • Karrnath had the oldest and strongest martial tradition. Rekkenmark was both the most prestigious military academy in Galifar and the secondary seat of military administration.
  • Thrane was known for its devotion to the Sovereign Host, and was the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host. The temple was devastated during the Year of Blood and Fire; following the sacrifice of Tira Miron, the majority of the people of Thrane converted to the faith of the Silver Flame, and the Grand Temple was replaced by Flamekeep.
  • Cyre was the exception to the rule of maintaining the existing culture. Here Galifar displaced the existing nobility and built a nation that would be a model for the kingdom as a whole—drawing on the cultural strengths of all five nations to and creating something new. This was a source of pride for the new Cyrans, but a bitter pill for the displaced nobles of Metrol (largely granted new lands in what is now Valenar)—and in general, there was a lingering resentment that Cyre’s prosperity was built with the sweat of the other nations.

So people considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar, but they still thought of themselves as Cyrans, Brelish, or Aundairian. The sourcebook Forge of War includes a map of Galifar before the war, and again, it’s not one nation: it’s five.

Galifar was a metropolitan society. Part of the point of spreading its major institutions across the continent is that people would go to Aundair to learn magic or to Karrnath to study war and then return to their homelands. So the nations weren’t isolated, and Cyre in particular strove to draw inspiration from all of the nations. Nonetheless, Karrns were the most likely to serve as soldiers and Aundairians the most likely to become scholars or wizards.

So while the cultures of the Five Nations have deep roots in the pre-Galifar nations, the traits most associated with them today—Aundair’s arcane strength, Thrane’s devotion—developed under Galifar. In the previous article I mentioned that the soldiers of the Five Nations started from a common base for their uniforms, because the ARMY was the army of Galifar; but the soldiers within the army had always thought of themselves as Brelish, Aundairian, etc and when they changed into civilian clothing it would reflect their local culture.

All of which is to say that there’s certainly room for a longer discussion of the cultures and fashions of the Five Nations when I have time to write about them! Until then, in dealing with the Five Nations the key point is to remember that while they have only been independent nations for a century, they Five Nations have traditions and cultural identities that go back far longer than that.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! As determined by the poll on Patreon, the my next major article will concern the moons and the potential for a space race in Eberron.

IFAQ: Show Business in Eberron

When I have time, I like to address some of the infrequently asked questions from my Patreon supporters. Today’s question comes from Ben:

How do you envision an Eberron theatre? Probably more than just The Globe with continual flame footlights, right?

Absolutely! The issue is that “theatre” covers a wide range of performances and performance spaces. The Grand Stage of Sharn employs the latest techniques and has all sorts of expensive equipment, while the Classic Theater offers minimalist performances at more reasonable prices.

Most theatre companies have a shadow orchestra. This includes one or more magewrights who use thaumaturgy and minor illusion to provide sound and dramatic effects (Thunder! Doors slamming! The roar of a dragon off stage!). Light is indeed provided by continual flame footlights (permanent), and in my opinion the orchestra can use thaumaturgy to brighten, dim, or change the color of this illumination; when performed by a trained technician on theatrical lights this effect lasts for more than a minute, so this is how you raise and lower lights, change the mood, etc.

Exceptional actors will also know thaumaturgy and many will be able to cast disguise self. Following the general principle that magewright spells can vary from standard spells, I’d say that the theatrical version of disguise self has to be cast as a ritual, but that the effect lasts for up to three hours—so it will last for the length of a performance. As not all actors will have this training, there’s common magic items that provide the voice amplification effect of thaumaturgy, along with shiftweave and similar tools for costuming.

Beyond that: the entertainment industry is dominated by the houses of Shadow. The power of the dragonmarked houses largely comes from focus items that amplify the powers of the mark, like the sending stones of House Sivis—and spells of up to 3rd level are part of wide magic. Thus, when you’re dealing with a professional Phiarlan or Thuranni theatre, you’ll have a shadow weaver—a podium that allows an operator with the Mark of Shadow to cast major image, which lets you create images, sounds, and even smells. So with this, the shadow orchestra can create anything from elaborate lighting, weather, fire, explosions, or even monsters charging on stage. In the finest Phiarlan theatres, the stage has an embedded focus item that has an effect similar to hallucinatory terrain (though able to function within a building). Traveling companies of Phiarlan’s Carnival of Shadows have such a focus item mounted in a wagon, allowing them to create an amazing set within minutes.

So the short form is that theatre will often employ illusory effects, from simple lightning and amplification of sound to more dramatic special effects. I’ll also call out the crystal theaters that have been mentioned a few times. Phiarlan’s answer to movie theaters, these use a scrying effect to project the image of a live performance on one of the house’s main stages.

In considering Eberron theater, one should also keep changelings in mind. Given that disguise self exists and that most major performances don’t require a star to SWITCH appearance, changelings may not be the stars of every show, but almost every company has at least one changeling actor who serves as understudy and plays a host of minor roles. Tavick’s Landing in Sharn is notable for changeling street performers, and while traveling changeling troupes aren’t as grand as the Carnival of Shadows, they are extremely versatile. While changelings have little use for disguise self, professional entertainers will still learn thaumaturgy and minor illusion; instead of disguise self, a changeling magewright entertainer will typically learn silent image.

Have you use the theatre in your adventures? share your story in the comments!

IFAQ: Who Trusts The Trust?

My Patreon supporters are currently voting on the subject of the next long article, but when time permits I like to address shorter, infrequently asked questions. Today’s question comes from Neut:

It is my understanding that the Zil Gnomes are very willing to use assassination as a valid tool for progression (be it professional, or just enforcing secrets being kept). How does this not conflict with the Code of Galifar, which as far as I have understood, still exists within the recognized Thronehold Nations?

There’s vital misunderstanding here. Assassination is NOT a valid tool for progression in Zilargo. Murder, theft, and all other major crimes recognized under the Code of Galifar are crimes in Zilargo. What defines Zilargo isn’t the laws themselves; it’s how they are enforced. This is clearly called out on page 131 of Rising From The Last War:

Zil gnomes live their lives within a web of intrigues. The Trust condones their actions, as long as they break no laws and don’t threaten the state or the status quo. A gnome charlatan can connive to steal a jewel mine from another gnome—as long as the charlatan accomplishes the deed through cunning, negotiation, or deception rather than violence or outright theft, and as long as the mine stays in Zil hands.

So Zil culture encourages intrigue, but only when it DOESN’T involve breaking the law. So… why might someone have this mistaken impression of Zil society as a place where assassination and poisoning are commonplace? It’s not because of what the law allows; it’s about how the laws are enforced. It’s about The Trust. This is an organization of spies and assassins who act to maintain order in Zilargo. Rising suggests that as much of a third of the population of Zilargo serve the Trust in some way, primarily as informants. By combining this massive network with excellent divination techniques, the Trust knows everything that happens in Zilargo—or at least, that’s what they want to think. There is no due process in Zilargo. If you even PLAN to break the law, the Trust can pass sentence and take action. Now: assassination isn’t the automatic punishment for all crimes; that would be ridiculously extreme. The first step is just a warning, a ghost sound whisper of “I wouldn’t do that.” They might just impose a fine, or exile you. The main point is that the gnomes don’t like confrontation and they don’t believe in imprisonment. If they feel that you can’t safely be a part fo society and exile isn’t a logical answer, they will remove you from society permanently, and do so in a quiet way with minimal impact on everyone else.

So: Zil gnomes do NOT see assassination as a valid tool for progression. On the whole, the Zil are MORE law-abiding than the people of the Five Nations. The Zil take pride in the fact that you can walk through the alleys of Trolanport at night without carrying a weapon—because they know the Trust is watching them, and that it will both protect them from any malefactors and kill them if they step out of line. They will push up to the edge of the law with their intrigues, but they won’t cross it.

Just to set the tone of the Trust, consider this quote from the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 406:

Two years after Zilargo was founded, a pamphlet was distributed across the nation announcing the existence of the Trust and the role it would play in days to come. This tract lauded the shared virtues of the Zil: love of family, ingenuity, curiosity, and the ability to overcome adversity through wit and wisdom. The pamphlet acknowledged that friendly competition between neighbors is the whetstone that keeps wits sharp. Competition would be accepted—crime would not. The precise definition of crime is quite vague, and it ends  “To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours.”

The essential point is this. To most of us, Zilargo sounds like a terrifying nightmare. It’s an absolute surveillance state where at least one in three people is an informer, and where secret police are authorized to preemptively assassinate you when you haven’t even committed a crime yet. You don’t get to see your accuser or offer a defense, and the only force policing the Trust is the Trust itself. But it’s not terrifying to the Zil, because they actually trust the Trust. They truly believe that it only uses its unchecked power for the good of Zilargo, and so far—as hard as this is for most outsiders to conceive of—that seems to be the case. The Zil are willing to sacrifice their privacy and some measure of their freedom for absolute security, and they are proud of the fact that their homeland has the lowest crime rate in Khorvaire—even if that’s because you can potentially be killed for even planning a crime.

So to the original question, this is acceptable under the Code of Galifar because the Code establishes what is considered a crime; but individual nations can decide how to enforce the laws and how they punish crimes. Both Zilargo and Karrnath impose harsh systems of justice on top of the foundation of the Code. Murder is a crime: but in these nations, the forces of the law have a license to kill.

How do the Zil view how OTHER nations establish their laws and punishments? How do they treat people who are not Zil and do not understand the Trust?

The Zil think that other nations are dangerous cesspools of crime and violence, though they understand that the rest of the world just doesn’t get their trust of the Trust. So the Zil think their way of life is superior, which is why they support it so strongly. With that in mind, the job of the Trust is to protect the people of Zilargo, not to coddle outsiders. If you pose a threat you will be dealt with. However, assassination isn’t the first choice. Remember that whole thing about a third of the nation working for the Trust? The first step is to DISSUADE you. Warn you that you’re being watched. Remind you that people don’t do things that way in Zilargo. Potentially, drug you and toss you on the first boat to Sharn, warning you never to return. The important point here is that it shouldn’t be impossible for adventurers to adventure in Zilargo—but they need to understand that they can’t just resort to brute force or do things the same way they would in Sharn; they need to play the game. If I’m running a Zil story, I will make sure the PCs have a local guide who will call out the risks and offer alternatives. “You do that and you’re all going to get killed. But if you want to get that same result, you could do it THIS way.”

How would the Trust handle high-level (15+) PCs coming to Zilargo? What preparations would they make to handle potential violations of laws and norms by people who will be hard to intimidate or control?

The first and simplest step is to send a very clear warning. “We’re pleased your business brings you to Zilargo. We are aware of your destructive activities in [[INSERT PLACE NAME]], and for your benefit and ours we want to inform you that we will not tolerate any violation of our laws. We will not risk our citizens in any kind of open conflict. If we are forced to take action against you it will be decisive and final; we are also prepared to take retaliatory action against [[NPC YOU CARE ABOUT]]. There will be no further warning. Do not put us to the test.”

Now, there’s two critical questions here. The first is COULD the Trust defeat high level player characters, and the answer to that is YES. The second is more important, and it’s does anyone want that to happen? And the answer to that is NO. The Trust will know everything there is to know about the PCs. Their secrets. Their weaknesses. The magic items they rely on and the spells they like to use. The Zil aren’t warriors; they are experts in illusion and divination, and fighting them will be like being the chump in a heist movie. They’ll steal your magic items and replace them with mundane duplicates. They can poison every drink you take, with a poison tailored to kick in… NOW. Heck, this room we’re standing in? It’s designed to drop into a sphere of annihilation, because we are NOT taking chances. But that’s back to the second question. They COULD do this, but none of us wants that. They don’t want to burn that awesome sphere of annihilation trap, and no player wants their character to be destroyed with no save. So set aside the idea of whether they can beat the PCs and instead say “How can they get the PCs out of Zilargo as quickly and safely as possible.” Which means that instead of FIGHTING the PCs, the most likely answer is that the Trust will HELP them to get what they want — either obviously or secretly. They’ll surround the PCs with undercover agents, who will make sure that the PCs get the information they need as quickly as possible. Heck, if the PCs are looking for an object, it could just turn up on their bed with a note saying “You can go now.” Again, the Trust doesn’t LIKE assassinating people; it’s just always looking for the most efficient way to protect the people of Zilargo.

What about the practice of slavery in Darguun? That’s a clear violation of the Code of Galifar.

This is certainly true. The Code strictly outlaws slavery, but there are Marguul and Ghaal’dar clans who practice it. The main issue is that Lhesh Haruuc wants to put an end to it, but currently lacks the support among the Ghaal’dar warlords to do so. So the question is what happens next. Everyone is still recovering from the war and foreign leaders understand Haruuc is in a difficult position; as long as he’s seen to be working toward it, I think most leaders will be satisfied. The most likely scenario is that if he fails to make significant progress in a few years, at least some nations will impose economic and diplomatic sanctions—putting pressure on Haruuc to take more decisive action.

To the upshot of that is: Thronehold nations are supposed to adhere to and uphold the Code of Galifar. They can go further if they choose, and both Karrnath and Zilargo do. However, it’s not yet clear what will happen if a nation fails to uphold the Code, because the Treaty has only been in force for two years and no one has yet called out a major violation and demanded an international response; the system has yet to be put to the test. But Darguun is currently failing to enforce the Code and it that’s not resolved soon, it could become an issue. This also applies to Valenar’s acts of aggression. These do violate the terms of the Treaty, but so far they haven’t been significant enough to push someone to take action.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going!

IFAQ: Evil Tairnadal Ancestors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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