IFAQ: Aerenal, Continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was there in Aerenal before the elves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: Arcane Photography

It’s been over a month since the release of Exploring Eberron, and I’m working on something new—a shorter project we’re currently calling “Fool’s Gold.” However, as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters; here’s one raised by patrons Joseph and Tiernan.

In your Eberron, do you have photography—or at least, an arcane equivalent?

We’ve often called out that Eberron is closer to the late nineteenth century than it is to the twentieth century. It’s reasonable to imagine a form of arcane photography that works with principles of, say, illusory script to cast an image onto parchment. So I think there is a LIMITED form of arcane photography in the Five Nations, but the key there is LIMITED — closer to the tintype photography of the eighteenth century than to a digital camera (or even a Polaroid). Key points…

  • It wouldn’t be FAST. Like a tintype, the subject would have to sit still for a few rounds while the image was captured.
  • It wouldn’t be SUBTLE. It’s not like you’re hiding this apparatus in your bow tie.
  • The resolution might be limited; again, look to the tintype as an example.
  • I’d expect it to require some degree of magical affinity to operate — it’s the tool of a specialized magewright, though I might allow a PC who can cast minor illusion or possibly prestidigitation to operate one.

Because this is a form of ILLUSION magic, I could imagine the image having brief animation, as with the photographs in the Harry Potter series, but I’d leave that to the DM. The main point is that this is an evolving tool and it is currently limited. In the Thorn of Breland series, Thorn is a spy, and she’d LOVE to have something like a digital camera, but she doesn’t; while I think that camera equivalent exists, it’s too bulky and too slow to be of use to her in her missions. So the Korranberg Chronicle may have pictures of a royal coronation, but it isn’t a trivial, widespread technology; you probably still need to copy the inscriptions you find in the Dhakaani tomb, not just take a photograph. With that said…

You’ve called out before that House Phiarlan uses magic to project plays in other parts of the world. Could it be something akin to this technology?

House Phiarlan doesn’t PROJECT plays to other parts of the world. A Phiarlan crystal theater uses a dragonmark focus item similar to a limited crystal ball to SCRY on the stage, and then that image is projected from that crystal focus to the local screen. So the core “technology” here isn’t a broadcast device, like a television; it’s a limited crystal ball that can only scry on a few preset locations (channels, if you will).

However, House Phiarlan DOES have the image projector, mentioned in Magic of Eberron, that allows them to record a short scene and replay it as an illusion. With this in mind, I think it’s quite reasonable for PHIARLAN (and Thuranni) to have a focus item that allows them to record images, and to transfer that image onto parchment or a similar surface. Personally, I’d see this as something like this:

SHOL EYE

Wondrous item, common (requires the Mark of Shadow)

This is a small stone disk bearing a sliver of siberys dragonshard and engraved with the Mark of Shadow; it can easily be concealed in the palm of one hand. While holding the Shol eye, a creature with the Mark of Shadow can use an action to record an image in the eye. This can be the full vista of what the bearer can currently see, or it can be focused on a specific individual or object within line of sight. A Shol eye can only hold a single image at a time. If a creature with the Mark of Shadow works with the eye for the duration of a short rest, they can transfer the stored image out of the eye and onto a sheet of parchment or similar material.

This is a common item; a more powerful item could store multiple images. This ties to the basic idea that the houses have access to tools that others do not, and it would be a definite edge for Phiarlan spies. However, as with many unique dragonmarked tools, I’d expect other forces to be working to duplicate the effect. The slow and bulky tintype equivalent would be the first step toward this. But I could see, for example, the Trust having a way to record a short audible illusion—a simple, limited voice recorder.

In any case, that’s what I would do: call it out as something that exists but in a limited form, with Phiarlan having access to superior tools and other organizations actively working to improve their capabilities. The main issue about making photography more commonplace is to consider the ways it will impact a campaign. Can adventurers take a picture of an an ancient inscription instead of having to take the time to copy it down? How easy is it for them to record evidence of wrong-doing—or to be caught red-handed themselves? If I was running a campaign in which the adventurers WERE chroniclers, I could definitely imagine giving them a camera equivalent but playing up the challenges of working with its limited capabilities: it takes four rounds to capture the image and it’s not small. CAN they keep the target talking long enough to get the image, and what happens if they spot the camera? As with anything, I’d want to make sure it makes the story more exciting and fun.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. Have you used photography in your Eberron campaigns?

IFAQ: Airships and Arcanix

I’m currently traveling across the country for the first time since March. I’ve got a few hours to kill and I’m camped out in an abandoned food court in the Detroit Airport, so before I start my Gamma World kingdom, I thought I’d answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters tied to things that float—airships and Arcanix!

What do the of crew an airship and a train of lightning cars do to assist their respective pilots? More specifically, what are the most interesting things you have the respective crews do in your games?

In my opinion, an airship is just as complicated to run as a sailing vessel. You have to maintain the windwards (which are what keep people from getting blown off the upper deck). There are a host of lesser focusing crystals that maintain the ring and that have to be adjusted if conditions change dramatically. Refined dragonshards need to be fed to the heart to maintain the binding, especially when the elemental is operating at full capacity. The same basic principles apply to the lightning rail, though like comparing a train to a masted galleon, I think the lightning rail doesn’t require a large crew; you’ve got a pair of engineers maintaining the binding and ensuring all other systems are running, a few assistants, and conductors or staff to deal with the passengers.

As for MY games? I largely have the crew stay out to the way and do their jobs, because they’re too busy to chat with adventurers. I’ve run a one-shot set on an airship a number of times over the past year, and the main NPC the adventurers encounter is the steward, because it’s his job to deal with them. When there’s a dramatic combat scene, I may call out a number of NPC crew members in the scene who are doing their jobs and note that if these innocents die bad things could happen; if a fireball takes out the guy maintaining the windwards, things could get very unstable!

What are some amenities you could find at a House Lyrandar docking tower?

As I’m sitting in an airport as I write this, it’s tempting to just start listing off things I see around me. However, it’s important to remember that air travel is a very recent development. Per canon, the first elemental airships went into service in 990 YK — only eight years before the default start date! In my opinion this date refers to the launch of Lyarandar air travel as a commercial service, and is the culminations of decades of experiments and prototypes. But as an INDUSTRY it’s still very young. Likewise, tourism is largely a new development as of the signing of the Treaty of Thronehold; the Brelish weren’t going sightseeing in Thrane while the Last War was underway. So I think most Lyrandar docking towers are simple and functional; they haven’t had TIME to build up the full range of amenities that you see in a large modern airport. With that said, I think that in the largest hubs you could start to see that coming together. I imagine a deal with Ghallanda to have Gold Dragon Inn tavern franchises. You’d certainly have a lavatory equipped with a cleansing sphere. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a souvenir stand—in our world, souvenirs have been around for thousands of years!

Do airships require a constant stream of refined dragonshards to keep the elemental bound? Do they need this when the ship is idle? How expensive is it to continue fueling these ships?

This is called out in Rising From The Last War.

Eberron dragonshards are rosy crystals with crimson swirlds flowing in the depths and are typically refined into a glowing powder… Eberron dragonshard dust is used in the creation of some magic items, and many powerful tools—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships—require an ongoing expenditure of Eberron dragonshards to maintain their enchantments.

Eberron: Rising From The Last War, page 275

The key phrase there is to maintain their enchantments. On an airship, dragonshards aren’t consumed in the same way as gasoline or coal; it’s not that burning dragonshards provides motive power, because the motive power comes from the elemental. But airships have a web of additional secondary enchantments in addition to the binding—the windwards, the control systems—and these have to be maintained. The job of the airship’s engineer is to monitor and maintain those many enchantments. So dragonshards aren’t exactly FUEL, but they’re a vital ongoing expense that ensures that the vessel continues to operate. Another way to look at it would be dilithium crystals in Star Trek; they are vital to the ongoing operations of a starship, but the engineers aren’t constantly dumping dilithium into a warp furnace. The ship needs an ongoing supply of dragonshards, but consumption is a long-term process.

Addressing the specific questions, power isn’t consumed to keep the elemental bound; the elemental is contained within a Khyber shard and is a separate system. But it is the ongoing expenditure of power that keeps the elemental integrated with the ship and produces the elemental ring. And yes, that consumption continues even when the ship is standing still.

Is Arcanix the name of the floating towers or the village?

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name, Arcanix is one of the prominent institutes of arcane learning in Khorvaire. It’s located in Aundair, and described as floating towers hovering above a village. Earlier canon sources complicated things by suggesting that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane before the war, which seems odd as arcane magic has always been a focus of Aundairian culture, and Arcanix is supposed to be closely tied to the Arcane Congress. So, here’s MY answer.

Arcanix is the village. It has long been contested by Aundair and Thrane, and by Thaliost and Daskara before that; while it was part of Thrane under Galifar, many of the inhabitants were Aundairians who traveled to the village. Because, mysteriously, Arcanix seems to inspire people who seek arcane knowledge. This isn’t always incredibly dramatic; it’s not like everyone who studies magic at Arcanix revolutionizes the field of science as we know it. But if you study the statistics, people are more likely to master the arcane arts if they study in Arcanix. So: while Arcanix was part of Thrane under Galifar, it was largely inhabited by Aundairians and Aundairians CONSIDERED it to be part of Aundair, which is why, when the Last War broke out, they seized it and moved the floating towers there to secure it. Because that’s the thing about FLOATING TOWERS—you can move them! The floating towers were a previous asset of the Arcane Congress and thus have always been a facility for arcane research and learning, as well as being fortified; so the towers were already an established arcane school before being moved, and placing them in Arcanix was just a bonus. Whatever the effect of the region that enhances arcane comprehension works above the village as well as on the ground, so modern students study in the towers. But the village was called Arcanix before the towers were there.

A secondary question, of course, is WHY the region is so conducive to the study of the arcane. This is something that is SUPPOSED be a mystery within the world, and is surely something debated in Arcanix itself. Arcanix is in a Thelanian manifest zone, so that’s surely a factor—it’s up to the DM to decide if this is an active portal, and if so if there’s a particular acrhfey associated with it (The Mother of Invention would be a logical choice) or if it’s a more subtle zone. But there may be a darker power at work beyond this. Some scholars believe that Arcanix is above the soul-prison of the overlord Sul Khatesh. There have been times when cults of the Queen of Shadows have taken root in Arcanix, and there have been a few individuals who have actively bargained with Sul Khatesh or her minons. But even without any active or malefic influence, the mere presence of the Keeper of Secrets may help those seeking arcane knowledge… and this has been sufficient to crush the objections of those who fear the Queen of Shadows. But again, all of these are things that COULD be. As a DM it’s up to you to decide if Arcanix is haunted by Sul Khatesh, blessed by Aureon, watched over by the Mother of Invention, or if there’s an even stranger explanation.

Also on the topic of Arcanix, what is the relationship between the way its towers float, and the way Sharn’s towers float?

The manifest zone of Sharn enhances magic related to flight and levitation. This is why you have flying buttresses and skycoaches in Sharn; those tools don’t work outside the zone. Skyway and the floating towers of Sharn use these same principles, so they aren’t the SAME as Arcanix. But the towers of Sharn inspired Arcanix, driving the Arcane College to find a way to replicate the effects without the zone. Arcanix and the Tower of the Twelve are proof that it can be done, but the fact that we don’t see such towers everywhere—and that both of these two are the seat of arcane research facilities—suggests that the enchantment requires regular maintenance by arcane experts. Which is easy enough when your tower is filled with some of the most gifted arcanists in Khorvaire. So the Sharn towers are stable, drawing on the manifest zone to maintain the effect; other floating towers require expert maintenance.

Is there any correlation between Arcanix and, as of Rising from the Last War, the Aundairian attack on Sharn’s Glass Tower? Was Aundair able to achieve such an attack precisely because they Aundair was also intimately familiar with floating towers?

Certainly. The Arcane Congress created the towers of Arcanix using information gleaned from studying the floating towers of Sharn, and during the Last War, they explored ways to weaponize that. The main question is why they didn’t target Skyway, which would have devastated a far larger area. It’s possible that they didn’t WANT to—that the Glass Tower was an experiment or a warning, but they didn’t want to cause such extreme destruction. Or it’s possible Skyway is a more powerful and stable effect and that the techniques used on the Glass Tower couldn’t bring it down.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for posing interesting questions. The Inner Circle supporters are currently voting on the topic for the next major article; the Library of Korranberg is in the lead, but there’s still one day to cast a vote! And check out my latest DM’s Guild PDF: a collaboration with the band Magic Sword!

IFAQ: Breaking The Law

I’m busy working on my next Eberron product for the DM’s Guild, and I’ll share more information about that when it’s further along. I’ve also just released a new short product— Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed — on the DM’s Guild. You can find more information about it in this article or watch my last session with Magic Sword in Eberron. But as time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today’s questions deal with breaking the law in Upper Sharn and the relationship between the Church of the Silver Flame and the Daughters of Sora Kell.

Inquisitives and the Law

How would you handle players doing overtly illegal things like physically roughing someone up in a place like Upper Menthis? To what extent would the law try to apprehend them?

As a general rule, Upper Sharn is a dangerous place to break the law. Even if the Watch doesn’t care about justice, they are well paid to protect the people of the district… and the sort of people you find in Upper Sharn can afford to hire Medani, Tharashk, Deneith, or even Thuranni. Keep in mind that wealthy people may have a wide range of defenses that aren’t automatically obvious. The coward’s pearl was a consumable item in 3.5 that allowed a quick escape; in fifth edition, a similar item might combine the effects of misty step and invisibility, allowing the user to disappear and flee. Another simple object would be an amulet that can trigger an alarm, alerting a security team or the watch. This latter approach would work like a silent alarm in a bank; the victim would trigger it at the first sign of trouble, and then try to delay and get the criminals talking long enough for assistance to respond. Looking to other types of crime, homes and businesses in Upper Sharn may well be equipped with arcane locks, glyphs of warding, alarms, and other magical defenses; here’s an article I wrote on that topic.

Now, it’s POSSIBLE to get away with crimes in Upper Sharn. It’s just not EASY. The Watch WILL actually do their job, and even if you get away initially, Medani, Tharashk, and the Blackened Book could all be deployed to track you down. Part of the question is who was targeted. Robbing a minor merchant might not have major consequences, but if you steal from the ir’Tains, they will spare no expense to track you down—and that means Medani, Tharashk, Sentinel Marshals. Again, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get away with it, but it should be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT: this is the stuff of heist movies, not random smash and grab.

But the key is that your players need to understand that. If they’re used to solving their problems with random violence, they need to know that they’ve moved into new territory—that you’re in Ocean’s Eleven now, and Danny can’t get what he wants by walking into the casino and beating people up. Personally, if the players have never been to Upper Sharn before, I’d start the session with something like this.

Before you begin, there’s something you need to know. Up to this point, you’ve been able to do a lot of bad and frankly stupid things and get away with them. That’s all about to change. Upper Sharn is the domain of some of the richest and most powerful people in Khorvaire. They aren’t powerful in the same way you are; you could easily beat them in a fight. But if you annoy them—worse yet, if you kill them—you won’t get away with it, not unless you have done some VERY careful planning. Gold buys services. Medani will find out who you are. The Sentinel Marshals will track you down. You might evade them for a while, but they WILL find a way to bring you to justice. I don’t want to waste the next three sessions dealing with you being fugitives, so if you commit a stupid, obvious crime in this adventure, I’m going to let each of you tell me one cool thing you do while you’re on the run and one thing that leads to your capture, and then we’ll cut straight to your trial and punishment. So. Unless you WANT to be branded as outlaws—literally—don’t do something stupid while you’re in Upper Sharn. You’re in deep waters now and you’d better learn to swim.

Then, when someone DOES suggest a really stupid course of action, I’ll say “Remember that conversation we had earlier? This is you doing that stupid thing. Do you really want to do this? Because I’ve told you what happens next.”

The important thing is that this should never be the DM against the players. You’re working together to create a story you’ll all enjoy. The players just need to understand the rules of the scene: that this is not a place where you can get away with that. If you make this clear ahead of time—if you establish that this is Ocean’s Eleven, not Reservoir Dogs—you can hopefully avoid problems. Alternately, you can let the players do their stupid thing, and have them NOT suffer any consequences… and then have the powerful person who pulled strings on their behalf show up and explain why they aren’t standing on an Eye of Aureon and what they need to do now to repay the favor. Again, at the end of the day, we’re all supposed to be creating a story we enjoy. If people aren’t going to enjoy being exiled or imprisoned (because hey, this COULD be your chance to switch to an escape-from-Dreadhold campaign arc!) then either warn them away from foolish courses of action or make their getting away with it a compelling part of the story.

Do inquisitives and agents of House Medani and House Tharashk have any ability to enforce the law? Or are they just gathering information for the forces of the law to act upon?

House Medani and House Tharashk don’t have any special dispensation to enforce the law. They are, essentially, licensed private investigators and bounty hunters. Agents of the law understand the role that they play, and may either welcome their help or dismiss it. But Medani and Tharashk inquisitives have no legal authority of their own. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith are authorized to enforce the law, but this is very closely monitored and a marshal who abuses this authority will be stripped of rank.

I’m running a campaign where the players are using the Inquisitive Agency group patron. It seems anticlimactic if they can’t actually enforce the law, and have to rely on the Watch to resolve things.

If you look to the genre, there’s a vast array of stories about private investigators. Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective” with no legal authority; he works with Scotland Yard, not for them. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Stumptown, HBO’s new Perry Mason… part of the point of these stories is that these people are PRIVATE detectives, working on the edge of the law. Sometimes they have a good relationship with the law, as with Sherlock Holmes. In other cases, the forces of the law are corrupt and part of the problem; it’s because the detective is on the outside that they can get things done. Because they’re not officers of the law, detectives aren’t always as bound by rules and regulations, and they can deal with people who might not interact with an agent of the law. In developing the campaign, a crucial question is whether the adventurers are close allies of the law—in which case you could even choose to make them deputies with limited powers of their own—or if the local watch is part of the problem, with only a few people they can truly trust.

Looking to the question of whether the story will be anticlimactic if the adventurers turn it over to the forces of the law… just because the job of the detective is to gather information as opposed to catch the villain doesn’t mean that YOUR ADVENTURE should involve them gathering information, reporting it to the authorities, and then going home while the law deals with it. The adventurers solve a mystery and identify the villain. Yes, they SHOULD let the Watch handle it. But perhaps they don’t because…

  • … There’s no time! The villain is about to flee, and if the adventurers don’t act immediately they’ll get away with it.
  • … The adventurers have caught the villain red-handed, but now they have to deal with them immediately.
  • … The villain trusts the adventurers, or they’ve got an inside ally—they can get close enough to the villain to strike, while the city watch never could.
  • … The adventurers know that the watch will bungle the capture. If they want the job done right, they’ll have to do it themselves.
  • … The city watch won’t take the adventurers seriously. Or perhaps the villain has an agent or allies within the watch; they’ll either warn the villain or keep the watch from acting altogether.
  • … The villain hasn’t actually committed a crime. They’ve done something terrible, but somehow, legally, they are going to get away with it. Will the adventurers allow it?

There’s nothing stopping the adventurers from defeating the villain themselves and delivering them to the forces of the law. They just shouldn’t MURDER them in the process. Yes, they may have to break a law or to themselves in the process, but if they’ve exposed a terrible crime the watch might not ask too many questions about their breaking and entering to pull it off. So it’s not that the adventurers need to let the law do the takedown of the villain; it’s that they should deliver the villain to justice, not execute them. And yes, this means that there’s a chance the villain WILL evade justice and return to threaten them again. Which is, after all, the plot of every Batman story ever (movies aside): Vigilante detective unravels crime, beats up criminal and turns them over to the law, villain eventually escapes to cause more trouble, rinse and repeat.

So Medani and Tharashk can’t enforce the law, but what about House Deneith?

There is inconsistent canon regarding the role of House Deneith. Notably, Dragonmarked contradicts Sharn: City of Towers. I wrote the section in Sharn, and it’s what *I* do. Here’s the critical piece.

During the reign of King Galifar III, House Deneith was granted the right to enforce the laws of the kingdom, bringing fugitives to justice and enforcing punishments in exchange for gold. Originally, this was a largely honorary role that allowed House Deneith to assist the Galifar Guard in an official capacity. With the Last War and the formation of the Five Kingdoms, these Sentinel Marshals have become far more important. The Sharn Watch, the Blackened Book, and the King’s Citadel are all agents of the Brelish crown, and they cannot pursue fugitives into Aundair or Thrane. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith can. These elite agents are authorized to enforce the law in all five kingdoms—although they are not authorized to break the law in pursuit of justice! Sentinel Marshals are usually employed as auxiliaries by regional authorities, but they are occasionally hired by private individuals when the local justices lack the resources to pursue a case.
A Sentinel Marshal holds the honor of House Deneith in his hand, and only the most trusted members of the house are granted this authority. A Sentinel Marshal must possess exceptional skills and knowledge of the laws of all of the kingdoms of Khorvaire, and it is rare for an heir to even be considered for this honor unless he has served with both the Blademark and the Defender’s Guild. It is possible that a player character would be granted the title of Sentinel Marshal after performing an exceptional service for the house, but a DM should always remember that this position does not place the character above the law—and should he ever abuse his authority, it will be stripped from him and he will in all likelihood be expelled from the house.

So, Sentinel Marshals enforce the law for gold. They are freelancers hired as auxiliaries by local authorities, not champions of justice expected to be fightin’ crime pro bono. Their most valuable attribute is the fact that they are recognized as neutral and extranational, able to enforce the laws across the Thronehold nations and pursue fugitives across borders.

Just to give a sense of how rare and special Sentinel Marshals are, according the Sharn: City of Towers there are NINE of them in Sharn… And Sharn is the largest city in Khorvaire! Sentinel Marshals aren’t supposed to take the place of the Watch; they are elite specialists called in for jobs that require their skills and ability to cross borders. With that said, the watch can also just hire standard Deneith mercenaries to help out with a rough situation; but that doesn’t grant the Blademarks the authority of Sentinel Marshals.

Are the brands used to mark criminals in Sharn recognizable in most of the Five (Four) Nations? Are the brands simply physical brands? If not, what kind(s) of enchantment are involved?

The brands are standardized under the Galifar Code of Justice and would be recognized in all of the Five Nations. There would be a few new nation-specific ones (“Exiled from Nation X”) but any agent of the law will recognize them. These details are discussed in Sharn: City of Towers:

Repeat offenders are often marked with a symbol that warns others about their criminal tendencies. In the past, these marks were made with branding irons. In this more civilized age, a House Sivis heir inscribes the mark using a pen of the living parchment (see page 169). Marks are either placed on the forehead or on the back of the right hand, and guards often demand that suspicious strangers remove their gloves and show the backs of their hands.

The section on the pen of the living parchment adds the following information.

A character who possesses the arcane mark ability of the Least Mark of Scribing can use the pen to inscribe permanent arcane marks onto the flesh of living creatures. These are commonly used by the courts of Khorvaire to mark criminals and exiles, warning all observers about the nature of the character’s offense… Removing such a mark is extremely difficult, and requires the use of break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, or wish; the DC for a break enchantment check is 18. Removing a criminal’s mark is a crime under the Galifar Code of Justice, so it may be difficult to find someone to break the enchantment. The character who inscribed the mark can also remove it, using the same pen they used to create it in the first place… Placing a criminal’s mark upon an innocent victim is a serious crime under Galifar law, and the Blackened Book is assigned to track down anyone believed to be performing this form of forgery.

The Silver Flame and Droaam

What would Jaela Daran’s official position, as Keeper of the Flame, be concerning the tier of evil that the Daughters of Sora Kell are classified under?

In the past, the Church of the Silver Flame cast most “monsters” under the umbrella of Innate Evil. This is called out clearly in Exploring Eberron:

Entities of innate evil. This is the most contentious category on the list, and it is the idea of monsters—that there are creatures native to Eberron who are evil by nature. In the past, the church has placed medusas, harpies, trolls, and similar creatures into this category, asserting that through no fault of their own, these creatures are vessels for supernatural evil and pose a threat to the innocent.

It’s this principle that justified the actions of templars raiding the Barrens in the past, protecting the innocent people of the Five Nations by killing these monsters. Of course, that’s what’s been done in the past. Jaela Daran embodies the compassionate principles of the faith, and in my Eberron I could easily see her asserting that the denizens of Droaam—from the Daughters to the harpy to the gnoll—are no different than any human, and pose a threat only if they choose evil. However, in doing this, she would be fighting against tradition; the Pure Flame in particular might rebel against the idea of treating MONSTERS as innocents instead of threats to the innocent. But in MY Eberron, I’d have her make that pronouncement NOW—so the player characters are actively caught in the middle of it and could play a role in what happens next—as opposed to it just being something that happened a few years ago and has largely been settled.

But aren’t the Daughters of Sora Kell half-fiends?

Maybe, but what does that even mean? Normally, immortal entities don’t reproduce. We don’t even know with certainty HOW the Daughters were born. While they are long-lived, in my opinion they are mortal and can be killed. They are capable of CHOICE… just like tieflings, and consider that the Church of the Silver Flame established Rellekor as a place for tieflings to reproduce. The Daughters of Sora Kell are evil beings of great power, but are they FORCED to do evil or do they choose it? The critical point here is that this defines the interpretation of Droaam itself. If you classify the Daughters of Sora Kell as immortal evils they must be opposed and are seen as incapable of doing anything good; thus, Droaam MUST serve an evil purpose. On the other hand, if the Daughters are capable of choice, they are capable of change; while they’ve done evil things in the past, Droaam COULD be a good thing. I prefer to have Jaela open to the concept that Droaam may actually serve a noble purpose as opposed to definitively condemning it.

How willing is Jaela Daran to accept monsters as “peers”?

While it doesn’t have close ties to them, the church has known about the Ghaash’kala for ages. The modern church accepts orcs, goblins, changelings, and shifters (despite the troubles around the Purge) as equals in the eyes of the Flame. What makes an ogre so different from an orc? The question is solely does this creature have the capacity to choose to do good? Can they touch the Flame? Or, like lycanthropes, are they compelled to harm innocents by a power beyond their control? I think that many “monsters” suffered by virtue of being UNKNOWN; no one had SEEN an ogre in any context other than “This is a monster that will try to kill my friends,” whereas now it’s a laborer working in Sharn for an honest wage. I think the VOICE of the Silver Flame would encourage compassion in this case; the question is whether mortals will listen to the Voice of the Flame, or whether the Shadow in the Flame can play on their fears.

Are the generally traditionalist Thranes willing to entertain such equivalence or would Jaela esposing such beliefs be a possible weak point for Cardinal Krozen or Blood Regent Diani to capitalize on? Or that would inflame tensions with Solgar Dariznu of Thaliost?

The Silver Flame is based on principles of compassion: on the idea that those who can choose the light should be guided toward it, and only those who are irredeemably evil need to be destroyed for the greater good. In my opinion, the people of Thrane are the people who hew most clearly to those core principles of the faith. In Aundair, the Silver Crusade created the Pure Flame, whose adherents see the Flame as a weapon; in Breland, it suffers from the general cynicism and pragmatism of the Brelish character. But if there’s a place where people will TRY to follow the core tenets of the faith, it’s Thrane. So, PERSONALLY, I believe that there are many who would follow her, or who have already come to such conclusions on their own. In my novel The Queen of Stone, Minister Luala of Thrane is diplomatic in her interactions with the creatures of Droaam, notably discussing her regrets with the Silver Crusade and the ‘madness of the zealots’ that it spawned. As I said, I think the adherents of the Pure Flame would disagree, and say that the medusa and the harpy are clearly twisted creatures of innate evil that should be destroyed; so such a ruling by Jaela would surely reate a rift with Dariznu. With Diani or Krozen? It’s a plot you could certainly explore if you want to. But I’ll call out Rellekor; where many fear tieflings, Thrane has created a haven for them. I think if you WANTED to make it an issue, the key thing would be to have a major tragedy instigated by Droaamites—a pack of war trolls slaughtering people in Flamekeep—that Diani or Krozen could use as a rallying point for fear. But again, in my opinion Thrane is the nation whose faithful are MOST likely to embrace compassion, because that is the core of the faith.

That’s all for now! I draw IFAQ topics from my Patreon supporters, as well as polling them to determine the subject of the major article for the month. There’s four days left in the current poll, and it’s currently a tight race between The Library of Korranberg and The Fey of Aundair—but there’s still time for another topic to pull ahead!

IFAQ: Marchers, Zil, and Borders

This has been a busy month. I’ve been focused on supporting Exploring Eberron and I just posted a long article about the Nobility of Galifar, along with a supporting IFAQ and an exclusive article for my Patreon supporters. But at the start of each month I ask my patrons to present interesting, short questions, and I’d like to answer a few more before August comes to an end. So…

How Dhakaani heirs see orcs? Do you think that after fighting together with orcs, Dhakaani heirs have a better vision of them? At least about Gatekeepers?

On page 96 of Exploring Eberron, the song of the duur’kala says…

Our empire was so grand that even the spirits grew jealous. The Lords of Madness crawled out of the shadows. They made monsters of our children and sought to break our people with terror. But no power could stand against the champions of Dhakaan. Our heroes blinded the Lord of Eyes and cut the roots of the Rotting Queen. They fought the great Corruptor and brought him down…

On the one hand, this can be seen as the “winners” writing history. The Dhakaani systematically oppressed the orcs and drove them into the barren places of Khorvaire. The Kech Dhakaan have lived in isolation for many centuries and subsisted on tales of Dhakaani glory. The last thing the duur’kala want to do is to inject a story of how the Dhakaani COULDN’T win on their own and needed those very people they oppressed to defeat the enemy, even if that’s the truth. But there’s a bigger issue here, which is that most dar likely never knew the role that the Gatekeepers played. The conflict against the daelkyr raged across the entirety of the Empire. But the Gatekeepers were only active in the west. They didn’t join up with Dhakaani forces across the land; if they had, we’d SEE evidence of Marcher and Gatekeeper culture spread further, whereas instead the orcs we see in the east are an entirely different culture. We know that the Gatekeeper seals don’t need to be “on site”—the Gatekeepers didn’t have to be physically adjacent to the daelkyr to perform the rituals that bound them. Essentially, even though the Gatekeepers performed the crucial ritual that ended the daelkyr threat, they did in in the Shadow Marches—and the dar in what is now Darguun never knew what the Gatekeepers had done.

There are exceptions. As the sages of the empire, I would expect the Kech Volaar to know about the Gatekeepers and their contributions, though even they might assert that the empire WOULD have found a path to victory even without the Gatekeepers. The Kech Ghaalrac DID fight directly alongside Gatekeepers, and there are orcs among the Ghaalrac; so they are a Kech that feels a close kinship with the orcs, but they’re also a Kech that has had very little contact with the other Keepers. If I were to place one of the new Kechs in the region of Droaam—most likely the Kech Nasaar, as it’s mentioned in that region in the comics—I’d likely say that they worked more closely with the orcs during the war and respect the Gatekeepers. But most dar know little about the orcs and may have never heard of the Gatekeepers.

Ultimately, it’s up to what you want to do in your Eberron; a case can be made for different paths. The dar known that the orces are native to Khorvaire and thus not chaat’oor, and you could say that this is sufficient to create a bond between them in these difficult times. Nasaar or Ghaalrac dar could take this further and view them as valuable allies. But in general, I’d say that while they aren’t chaat’oor, they’re not dar; they are a people that the ancient dar defeated and drove into the dark corners of the land.

Is the Shadow Marches considered part of Breland? Have the Marchers always called themselves Marchers, or did they ever consider themselves Brelish (or Wroatish)?

Consider this: The Mark of Finding existed in the Shadow Marches for five hundred years before it was discovered by “House Sivis explorers” in 498 YK. In my opinion, that’s a pretty strong indicator that there was essentially no contact between the Marches and the Five Nations up to that point; the Sivis who discovered the mark are called explorers, not, say, merchants. To me, the intent has always been that the Marches are a highly inhospitable region with a low population density on the other side of the monster-infested Barrens—that the people of the Marches never had any interest in the outside world, and up until 498 YK, the outside world never had any interest in them. The people of Breland might have laid claim to it on a map, but they barely settled past the Graywall Mountains during the time of Galifar, and no one IN Galifar had ever made it past the Watching Wood; even if some lord THEORETICALLY held a claim to that territory, they’d never EXERCISED it and the people of the Marches were entirely unaware of it.

So definitely, the Marchers never considered themselves to be part of Breland or Wroat, and it is the intent that the Marches are not a Thronehold nation and that Marchers aren’t Brelish citizens. With that said, that’s not a fact that’s typically INVOKED; the common people of Breland don’t stop Marchers in the street and say “Wait a second… you’re not a Brelish citizen, I bet I could just murder you right now with no consequences!” In part this is because most Marchers encountered in the Five Nations are associated with House Tharashk, whose heirs do have the rights of citizens… and even if a Marcher ISN’T tied to the house, most people will ASSUME that they are.

What’s your take on the Library of Korranberg? Is it one big Tardis of a building, a collection of structures that cover a campus, a borough of books? Are certain places within the library subject to smaller manifest zones or planar connections?

This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebook Player’s Guide to Eberron, which is available on the DM’s Guild. The Library of Korranberg isn’t a building; it’s an institution and an organization, supporting thousands of students and scholars and with active agents across Khorvaire. Per the PGtE, the Library is comprised of eight separate colleges, in addition to the corps of sages, librarians, and agents who work for the unifying foundation. I’d be happy to explore this further in a deeper article, but for now the PGtE is the best source for further information.

Does the Library of Korranberg being eight colleges essentially make Korranberg itself a university town, or that the city of Korranberg has one or more districts that are entirely the Library while other districts are more traditional?

The latter. Korranberg is one of the three ruling cities of Zilargo. It’s the ancestral seat of House Sivis, and home to the largest temple to Aureon in Khorvaire (the Codex Vault) and to the Korranberg Chronicle. The Library is an important, major part of the city, but there’s more to Korranberg than just the Library.

I really like the idea of the Trust as an organization and I have a decent sense of how people in Zilargo view the trust, but less of a sense of how people outside Zilargo view the Trust. So my question is how do the citizens of other nations on Khorvaire view the Trust, how much would an average person, or as a contrast a person in power, know about the organization, and what are some potential region specific rumors that people believe about the trust (say in the Mror Holds and in Thrane).

Most people in the Five Nations don’t take Zilargo terribly seriously, which is just how the Zil like it. Remember, on the surface, Zilargo looks like a cheerful, colorful gingerbread village (that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea). The Zil don’t WANT to be seen as a threat. They’re librarians! And scholars! They make great glamerweave and do the elemental binding! That’s the extent of what the COMMON person knows; Zilargo is seen as useful (everybody deals with House Sivis!) but not powerful or dangerous.

People with a little more knowledge know that Zilargo is a ruthless police state. But a lot of people who have never been there don’t really believe that. A vast network of ruthless gnome assassins? That’s ridiculous. Next you’ll say that there’s a secret order of Ghallanda vigilantes who use the Mark of Hospitality to poison people. People who have been to Zilargo or who deal with the nation directly know that it IS true, and we’ve suggested that most find it horrifying and are amazed that the Zil don’t. But again, the Zil don’t, so it’s not like THEY are running around talking about it.

So in general, if non-Zil have heard about the Trust at all, they tend to think it’s an exagerated fairy tale. Ooooh, watch what you say, invisible Trust assassins could be listening in. On the other hand, people who are actually IN the business of espionage—Dark Lanterns, Royal Eyes, House Phiarlan or Medani, etc—know all about the Trust and take them very seriously. They know how capable the Trust is, especially in Zilargo itself. They don’t know how strong its influence is beyond Zilargo, because hello, that’s why they’re called secret agents, but they know enough to treat them as a serious potential threat and as someone to be treated with respect in negotiations.

So generally, I’d say the typical commoner in Thrane has never even heard of the Trust. The people of the Mror Holds might have heard of it just because they have a closer relationship with the Zil, but they’d still know it as “That’s the spooky police in Zilargo, right? My Zil buddy says they see everything.”

Surely the Twelve know about the Trust. Does this mean they’d avoid putting anything too important—like research facilities—in Zilargo?

Anyone who does business in Zilargo knows about the Trust, and the Twelve are surely well aware of the Trust. The curious counter argument is that this might be why they’d choose to put important facilities IN Zilargo. The Zil don’t have any sort of monopoly on spies. Before the Last War, the King’s Dark Lanterns operating across Zilargo, and now you have the Royal Eyes, the Argentum, etc. The Trust are especially good at what they do, and yes, I would assume that the houses take the approach that there are no secrets in Zilargo; that if they are doing something in Zilargo, ASSUME that the Trust will find out about it. But with that in mind, so what? The beauty of the Twelve’s research is that it can’t be stolen because it relies on use of dragonmarks. Zilargo couldn’t steal Cannith’s techniques for creating warforged because you need the Mark of Making to operate a creation forge. The second point is if you assume that SOMEONE’S spies will find out what you’re up to, who would you rather it be: the Royal Eyes, the Dark Lanterns or the Trust? The Royal Eyes and the Dark Lanterns are active participants in the cold war and will seek any advantage that will help them against the other nations. But Zilargo is largely neutral. It’s not trying to claim the throne of Galifar. What are they going to DO with the knowledge that Cannith is creating a new weapon? The purpose of the Trust is to maintain order and ensure the security of Zilargo. As long as it doesn’t threaten either of those things, they don’t care if Cannith is building a new bomb; they’ll make note of it, file it away, and be done with it. The strong ties between Sivis and the Trust strengthen this; as a general rule, Zilargo wants to work WITH the Twelve, not fight them. This has come up in previous discussions of “Why doesn’t House Cannith steal elemental binding from the Zil?” The key answer is that for now, both sides would rather maintain an alliance that benefits both parties rather than to start a war that would cripple everyone involved. With that in mind—the idea that if SOMEONE is going to know your house secrets, it’s better for it to be the Trust than for it to be the Royal Eyes—that’s where the exceptional talents of the Trust HELP the Twelve with their Zilargo research facilities… because the Trust will target any other spies that try to infiltrate Zil facilities. Not to mention that Zilargo has a lower crime rate than any other nation!

Essentially, the Twelve will assume that there are no secrets in Zilargo, that the Trust will know about anything they’re doing. But they will also assume that unless that work poses a direct threat to the Zil people, they won’t DO anything with that knowledge. And they know that Zilargo values a good working relationship with the Twelve. SO: If the Twelve are working on a secret scheme to conquer all nations? Yeah, don’t work on that in Zilargo. But if they’re just working on a more efficient lightning rail or a new form or Lyrandar weather control? They don’t CARE if the Trust knows about it—and in the case of the improved lightning rail, odds are good that they’ll want Zil artificers working with them!

What’s the climate/environment like in the Demon Wastes? I’ve always envisioned it as a desert wasteland like Dark Sun.

I recommend you read this article if you haven’t already. And you might want to listen to the latest episode of Manifest Zone, which covers the Demon Wastes. Beyond that, it’s been described as “A plain of blackened sand and volcanic glass… among the ruins of shattered fortresses and the open pits to Khyber… Amid rivers of lava, bubbling pits of noxious stew, and barren wasteland, a few barbaric tribes of orcs and humans struggle to survive.” So generally, yes, desert wasteland; but also, a key point is that it is deeply unnatural. Part of the point of those “open pits to Khyber” is that reality isn’t what you’re used to. The fiendish influence doesn’t just manifest in the fiends you fight; it imbues the plants and land itself.

How strict is border enforcement in the Five Nations?

The Five Nations are just two years out of a century of war, and there are many people who don’t believe that the peace will hold. Borders shifted in the Last War, and some are still contested; so it’s not like there are vast walls separating the nations, and they can’t stop a party of adventurers from making their way across the border unseen. But there are definitely keeps and watchtowers along the borders, and checkpoints on the main roads where caravans may be searched. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “Anyone who travels across national borders is usually required to carry traveling papers identifying them, their residence, their destination, and their reason for travel.

Having said that? I have never in sixteen years told a group of my players “Oh, sorry, Bob’s a Marcher and doesn’t have traveling papers, so I guess she can’t go with you to Aundair.” Ultimately this comes back to what is going to make a fun story for you and your players? If it would be FUN for the adventurers to figure out how to smuggle Bob across the border or how they can get her papers, then OK, maybe I would make it part of the adventure. If one of the PCs is specifically wanted by the Aundairian authorities if could be fun for them to have to acquire fake papers. Otherwise, I generally assume that the party’s patron has provided them with the papers they need, or that they just take a minor detour to avoid a checkpoint; getting hassled at the border because a passport is my something I associate with a bad vacation, not an epic adventure.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for keeping this site going!

IFAQ: Noble Questions

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. My latest article deals with the Nobility of Galifar, and I want to address some of the questions that have come up regarding the nobles. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and making these articles possible!

To begin with, I want to call out a general concept that applies to a lot of these questions, especially when dealing with nobles as antagonists in an adventure. Eberron is designed with two story poles in mind: pulp adventure and noir intrigue. This is a spectrum, and any adventure will fall somewhere in between the two. Pulp adventure thrives on over the top nefarious villainy, and it’s why we have groups such as the Order of the Emerald Claw. When adventurers encounter the Emerald Claw, they shouldn’t have to stop and think about it; they should KNOW that fighting the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do. If your local noble is a pulp villain, then they SHOULD be clearly terrible. They SHOULD be starving their people, hanging dissenters, holding Human Sacrifice Night on Tuesdays. By contrast, noir intrigue thrives on shades of gray, uncertainty, and on questions that don’t have simple answers. If your noble is a noir villain, perhaps hanging villagers, but it’s because they lost their children to an Aundairian attack in the Last War and now they are convinced that there are Aundairian spies in the village… and they might be right. If the noir lord has Human Sacrifice Night, it’s because the town is on a manifest zone to Thelanis and if they DON’T sacrifice someone, FIVE innocent people will die. The noir lord may be terrible, but are you so sure that if you remove them, the next lord won’t be worse? With that in mind…

To what extent is regional variation tolerated? How much autonomy do counts, viscounts and crown reeves have? I’m asking mainly in the context of converting non-Eberron adventures. For instance, if the local lord in an adventure is imposing arbitrary and extremely un-Galifaran laws, is that best explained because he is acting outside of his authority, or because local variation gives him wide latitude?

Lore should always be a point of inspiration rather than something that concretely prevents you from telling a good story. If you need the local lord to be acting in a manner that seems un-Galifaran, that just means you need to find a way to justify it. With that said, most stories are more entertaining if they feel plausible—if we’re not just handwaving things. So let’s consider a few elements.

The first option is the grand duchy. The whole point of palatinates is that they’re largely independent and can ignore local laws and traditions. There’s not supposed to be very many of them, but if you really need a lord behaving in a way that’s way out of line with the laws of the land, make them a grand duke.

Beyond that, it largely depends on the nation and, specifically, the liege lord. So first of all, Karrnath has harsh laws that do place near-absolute power in the hands of the local noble. Can you put the story in Karrnath? In Breland or Aundair, the main point is that the local lord shouldn’t, for example, be denying the people their right to justice under the Galifar Code. But if the next lord up the ladder is rotten or ineffective, then they can get away with it, at least for now. A few other important questions is how much of a backwater we’re talking about. If the town has an speaking stone station and a lightning rail stop it’s pretty that people should know about Bad Lord Boggle and that people might just choose to leave. On the other hand, if it’s a small town that doesn’t have these things (or the stone station was closed three years ago and never reopened, or the stonespeaker only works for Bad Lord Boggle, etc) then it’s easier to explain how the lord is getting away with their behavior. With that said…

If the local lord does behave badly, why is the intervention of the adventurers necessary, as opposed to just petitioning the duke?

This comes back to don’t let the lore ruin your story. In a perfect system, the adventurers shouldn’t be needed, which means that things aren’t perfect. The people SHOULD be able to go up to the next rung of the ladder to get help; if they can’t, is it because it’s out of reach? Missing? Rotten? Is it something that can be fixed by the adventurers or is it deep and systemic—again, the player characters can solve today’s problem, but they can’t abolish the Code of Kaius in Karrnath.

One of the basic principles of noir is that the system is unreliable—either corrupt, blind, or toothless. With this in mind, the Why Can’t The Duke Help? table provides a few suggestions. Other things to consider are that the locals may be too afraid to take action, or too ground down by systemic oppression. Sure, in THEORY everyone has a right to justice under the Galifar Code, but we ain’t never seen that code in Blackwood, mister. Beyond that, there could be any number of concrete reasons the liege lord won’t listen to the adventurers. Do they have any sort of reputation, or are they just a bunch of armed vigilantes and professional tomb robbers? Are they all from the local nation, or might some of them be enemy spies? Do you have one of those untrustworthy warforged? It’s a well known fact that the Duke HATES warforged because of that incident at Orcbone at the end of the war…

With that said, if the player characters DO have a good reputation, and have for example a noble whose Position of Privilege specifically allows the to request an audience with a noble, you should LET them go petition the duke. There’s no reason that can’t be just as valid a solution to the problem as stabbing the evil count. You just want to make sure it’s a good story and that it’s as interesting for the players as the fight would be. Do they have evidence? Is there a conspiracy or cult manipulating the duke that the adventurers can expose? If the duke is being blackmailed or enchanted, can the adventurers solve the problem? A little court intrigue can be just as much fun as storming the castle…

What age are noble heirs considered to be “of age” for ruling?

It’s not established in canon. I’ll arbitrarily say “Sixteen!” but I’m making that number up right now and at least one leader—Jaela—breaks that rule, though she’s obviously a weird case. There’s also the point that there are non-human nobles, so the age would vary for, say, dwarves. But I think human-sixteen is a good baseline.

How does noble inheritance and succession treat rare resurrections?

It’s an excellent question. Sharn: City of Towers establishes that the Galifar Code doesn’t consider undead to be citizens, and undead nobles can’t hold property. On the one hand, I could see a case being made that death is death, and if you die you lose your rights; on the other hand, especially with lower level spells such as revivify, that seems a little extreme. I think I’d probably institute a two-week grace period, essentially, allowing the soul to pass through Dolurrh. If you’re raised from the dead in that time, you retain your rights and privileges. After two weeks, you are considered dead and all the legal aspects proceed; if you are returned to life after that, you are essentially considered to be a new person with no claim to your old titles or property. There’s likely a legal term for this; if someone brought Queen Wroaan back now, she wouldn’t take over Breland, but they might give her a room at the palace and call her “Queen-Posthumous”.

Sharn:CoT has examples of local laws that are extremely classist. If the adventurers to remove an evil crown reeve with extreme prejudice, instead of going to the count, how is the law likely to view them?

This again comes back to How do you want the story to go? Because for sure, “everyone is entitled to justice under the Galifar Code” includes the evil reeve, and unless your adventurers are appointed justiciars, a bunch of random lowlife vigilantes killing a noble is not something that should end well. The question is what story do you and your players want to experience and how do you point them toward it?

  • Justice With Murder. If the crimes of the reeve are extreme, the evidence is entirely clear, and the public is on the side of the adventurers, it’s entirely reasonable to say that the locals will cover the adventurers’ tracks and that the law won’t care about hunting them down because it’s clear that they did a good thing.
  • Justice Without Murder. The reeve has committed crimes. There’s tons of evidence. But she should be brought to justice, not killed. Player characters get to DECIDE what happens to a creature they reduce to zero hit points. As DM, you can make clear “If you kill her, the rest of the campaign will be about all of you being on the run from Sentinel Marshals until you’re hauled in front of Brelish justice… is that really what you want?”
  • No Justice, No Murder. If you’re going full noir, it’s entirely possible that the adventurers CAN’T bring the noble to justice. If they kill the noble, they’ll be hunted down as murderers. Or perhaps if they kill the noble, the Mabaran manifest zone adjacent to town will expand and kill everyone. Or perhaps the noble has blast disks on a deadman trigger. If they don’t kill the noble, there’s no evidence and no justice will be done. This can be a very interesting story, but as a DM building such a scenario you have to consider how is there a satisfying conclusion for the adventurers—even if they can’t get the answer that they WANT, can they get an answer that they can live with and take some pride in having done the best they possibly could? And also, because adventurers have free will, if you set up a scenario like this you have to be ready for them to kill the reeve anyway. This isn’t YOUR story, it’s EVERYONE’S story; and if they players say “We don’t care about the blast disks, we’re killing the damn reeve” are you actually prepared to go through with it? Or was it, in fact, a bluff?
  • Forget it, Jake. It’s Callestan. Depending where you are, it’s entirely possible to say that the law simply doesn’t apply here. This isn’t to say that actions won’t have consequences, but that it may be that the corrupt count and the local watch won’t give a damn whether you kill the crown reeve… but the Boromar Clan, who she was working for, might.

Basically, this is a stylistic question that you should work out with your adventurers in advance. Is this a world in which the player characters can get away with murder, or is this a world where killing a noble in cold blood will ultimately destroy the campaign? The goal of all of this is for people to have fun, and while I’d like to believe that people can have fun without murder, the DM and the players need to be on the same page.

For Breland, it canonically has a house of nobles as a bicameral parliament. It’s also the largest of the five nations by far. Would seats in the House of Nobles be limited to Dukes, or would counts be included as well?

The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about the Brelish Parliament.

Breland’s parliament consists of both elected legislators and hereditary noble legislators. The citizens of Breland elect legislators every two years. These elected lawmakers, selected by popular vote (one from each village or town, two from each city, and three each from the metropolises of Sharn and Wroat), are sent to the capital to participate in all parliamentary proceedings. The noble legislators gain their seats in the parliament based on the status of their families; each noble family holds one seat in the parliament. Each year, the recognized head of the family appoints a family member to parliamentary duty. In many cases, the yearly appointment is symbolic, and each family has one representative who serves year in and year out. Twenty-seven noble families serve the crown of Breland.

There’s a number of ways to interpret this, but how *I* read it is that of the many noble families of Breland, 27 have the right to appoint a member to parliament. Personally, I’d consider this to be a royal appointment, acknowledging a family as part of the Lords Parliament; so like being Minister of Magic, this is an office and honor that exists separately from a title. In my opinion, there’s only ten dukes in Breland; it’s likely that all of the ducal families would be Lords Parliament, which leaves 17 seats for lesser lords. I think these are largely static appointments, and that they are hereditary until a sovereign revokes that status—and that this would be a dramatic action for a sovereign to take, especially if they removed one of the ducal families. Take note that the FAMILY holds the office and chooses the representative; this is an office that would typically be held by an heir of the house, not the head of it.

In Breland, and specifically in Sharn, are the nobles there typically true nobles with the same requirements in taking care of counties and land? If so, how is that broken up within Sharn, or Breland as a whole?

While Sharn is within a duchy (which I’m arbitrarily naming The Hilt, referring to the cross-section of the Dagger river), the city is governed by the Lord Mayor, who’s appointed by the elected city council. So the nobles within Sharn don’t govern Sharn itself; it’s not like the city is broken into counties, and the actual leaders you’ll encounter there are city councilors and Watch captains. With that said, there are 25 noble families represented in Sharn, along with the 35 other powerful families that make up the Sixty, the social nobility of Sharn. Some of those families are true nobles who maintain estates in Sharn; even if the actual lord isn’t in residence, their heirs might be in Sharn to enjoy the season. Others are indeed courtesy nobles. Notably, the ir’Tain family—generally seen as the crown jewel of the social scene—draw their influence from vast wealth and have ir’Tains have served as Lord Mayor, but we’ve never actually said what rank they hold and if they have domains elsewhere in Breland. So if you assume that 12-15 of those noble families are “true” nobles, they’re likely from across Breland, and the title holders are probably only in Sharn occasionally.

Regarding “the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon,” Galifar had 5 kids a thousand years ago. There’s many scholarly organizations on Eberron, and at least one group (Vadalis) that actively studies geneology. Is the simple math that a substanial chunk of Khorvaire’s humans should be of the Wynarn bloodline at this point general knowledge among the educated?

Possibly, but the key point is that this “blessing” isn’t something that’s based on science or, for that matter, widely believed. It’s something that Galifar I believed a thousand years ago and because of that, it’s baked into the systems he created. But as noted in the article, it’s not something people tend to talk about in the present day. The Daskarans took it seriously, and some of the nobles of Thrane still do, but largely it’s just understood to be a faerie tale that justifies the customs of the monarchy. Beyond that, the “blessing” is really only something that’s supposed to apply to the active rulers—”Aureon smiles on a Wynarn king”—not a mutation that is passed down the line to anyone with a drop of Wynarn blood.

If an Aundarian noble can only cast 0-level spells, is there an “of the Xth Circle” title for that?

No. Including “I have the ability to cast cantrips” as part of your title in Aundair would be like saying “I graduated kindergarten” or “I have a learner’s permit”—it’s not something to brag about. Even most magewrights and wandslingers can cast at least one 1st level spell. With that said, this does bring up an important secondary point. I talk about the idea that everyday magic is more common in Aundair than elsewhere in Khorvaire, that nobles are expected to have some mystical talent. Yet by the 3.5 books they don’t; in Five Nations, Queen Aurala isn’t a spellcaster. Is this intentional? No. This is a point where both the concept of the nation evolved and where the SYSTEM now supports new ideas. 3.5 didn’t have ritual magic or wide cantrips, and NPCs in 3.5 used the same general rules as PCs. We didn’t have a good way to represent wandslingers in 3.5, but now we’re saying that wandslingers are a major part of Aundair’s forces. So with that in mind I would update Aurala’s statistics for 5th edition. I wouldn’t make her a mighty wizard; she’s not supposed to be the most powerful spellcaster in the land. But I’d definitely give her a few cantrips and a few one-use spells or rituals… essentially, on par with a gifted magewright.

What does knighthood mean in Galifar? You suggest that it’s typically not a landed title, but in medieval Europe it was typically the grant of land that allowed a knight to afford the equipment required to meet their obligations to their lord. Without that income, how would knights maintain their equipment?

Knighthood in present-day Khorvaire is NOT a feudal exchange of land for military service. It is an HONOR—often granted to someone who is already performing military service, but not necessarily. If you’re looking to emulate the medieval arrangement, you’d have a crown reeve tasked with military service who is also granted a knighthood.

In Eberron, knights are typically part of an ORDER. You’re not simply a knight, you’re a Knight of the Order of the Emerald Claw, or a Knight of the Order of the Inviolate Way. Knightly orders serve three functions. A knighthood is an honor reflecting the favor of a duke or sovereign. Knightly orders are fraternal orders and members are expected to support one another in both war and peace. And knightly orders are also elite military units. However, that last part is essentially split in the same way as a courtesy title versus a substantive title. You may be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re an exceptional combat alchemist whose skills will serve Karrnath well on the battlefield. Or you might be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re one of the first citizens of Karrlakton and the Duchess of Karrlakton wants both to honor your service and to connect you to other members of the order—even though it is understood that you are not a soldier and will never serve the order on the battlefield. Sometimes a knighthood comes with an annuity, making it a concrete reward that will help support a non-noble knight. But also, this is where support the order both in peace and war comes in. In the example given above, the combat alchemist may not be a noble and may not have great funds. But the non-martial knight IS a wealthy man, and he may serve as a patron to the alchemist. The orders are ways to bring the finest citizens together, people who might normally be split by class lines; it is a way to elevate gifted commoners without actually raising them to the nobility, and to forge connections between nobles and exceptional commoners.

The most detailed description of knightly orders that we have in canon is on page 54 of Forge of War, which describes six Karrnathi orders. As I mentioned before, the Order of the Inviolate Way ONLY accepts those of noble blood—which highlights the fact that most of the orders are not so restricted.

What is the path to citizenship in the Five Nations?

Galifar is based on feudal principles, and most nations retain that basic foundation. To become a citizen of such a nation requires an audience with a local noble. The applicant swears fealty to the nation and its ruler, and also direct allegiance to that local noble; the noble in turn formally accepts them as a subject. This means that the noble is accepting responsibility for that individual, and the individual is promising to obey that noble, pay taxes, and answer any call for conscription, as well as to respect the laws of the land. The noble doesn’t HAVE to accept an offer of fealty, and most won’t unless the potential subject intends to reside within their domain. So it’s entirely valid for a Brelish noble to refuse to accept the fealty of an ogre from Droaam because either they don’t believe the ogre will uphold the laws or they don’t believe that the ogre intends to remain within their domain. Likewise, back before Droaam, the Barrens were considered to be part of Breland but the inhabitants of the region weren’t Brelish citizens, because they’d never sworn fealty to any Brelish lord; legally (from the perspective of Galifar) they were outlaws squatting in Brelish land.

In the modern age, much of this process is handled by bureaucracy, especially in the case of children of existing citizens. In some regions there are annual ceremonies where each child swears an oath to the local lord before being recognized as an adult. But in a populous region like Sharn, the parents will file paperwork when the child is born, and when the child becomes an adult they’ll file their own statement. But the underlying principle remains the same: someone needs to make a decision on behalf of the local lord as to whether to accept the offer of fealty, and this will be based on the applicant’s residence, reputation, family, and other factors.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, and I expect to be posting the Patreon-exclusive article tomorrow.

IFAQ: The Emerald Claw

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. Today I want to look at a few questions about the Order of the Emerald Claw.

The Order of the Emerald Claw seem like terrible villains. While they’re sometimes compared to “The Nazis in Indiana Jones movies,” they don’t have the power base or support that made the Nazis a credible threat. If everyone hates them, how is it that they get away with anything? And what have they actually DONE that’s worse than the Swords of Liberty, anyway? The Kanon take on the Blood of Vol just makes this worse, because by the original 3.5 interpretation they at least had the support of the Blood of Vol religion, while Keith’s take on the Blood of Vol emphasizes that they don’t approve of the extreme actions of the Emerald Claw.

So, there’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, I want to drill down on the narrative purpose of the Order of the Emerald Claw. There are MANY villains to choose from in Eberron. On one side of the spectrum we have the Lords of Dust and the Dreaming Dark. Both of these organizations are extremely powerful. Both have fiendish agents that can pose a challenge even to epic-level characters. Both have vast resources and far-reaching plans, but both are masters of subterfuge. Quori mind seeds and overlord cultists can be found in any organization, often with no obvious indication of their true allegiance. Given this, they are intended to be long-term villains. At low levels, adventurers who clash with them won’t even know what organization they are dealing with; it’s only at higher levels that they will start to realize just how widespread these powers are. Both organizations have plans that could transform Khorvaire itself. And in both cases, even once adventurers know that they are dealing with, they are SO vast that you can’t expect to bring them down in a single fight. On a fundamental level, players can’t hope to DESTROY the Lords of Dust; they can only hope to kick the can down the road, stopping their current plans and forcing them to return to their schemes for another century.

For a second tier of villain, you can bring in Dragonmarked Houses or nations themselves. These forces aren’t otherworldly, and their motives often aren’t mysterious; but because of their vast support it can be difficult for adventurers to oppose them. And in the case of nations, their motives may not be evil. If the Royal Eyes of Aundair are trying to obtain a magical weapon to help Aundair win the Next War, it’s entirely conceivable that there might be a wizard among the adventurers who studied at Arcanix and who actually thinks Aundair SHOULD win the Next War. These forces DO have vast support and thousands of people who believe that their actions are justified, and adventurers may need to think about the consequences of choosing a side. And likewise, adventurers likely can’t expect that through their actions they will destroy House Deneith or the nation of Aundair.

But perhaps you’re just starting a new campaign. The low level characters aren’t capable of fighting rakshasa. They don’t yet know enough about the world to appreciate the deep schemes of the Dreaming Dark, or the impact of making an enemy of House Deneith. You need a villain that’s easy to understand and who operates on a scale small enough for people to understand. Lucky for you, there are three groups specifically designed for this purpose.

THE AURUM are classic Bond villains. They’re rich and powerful enough to hire thugs or adventurers, but they don’t have the vast resources and international influence of the Dragonmarked Houses. Their goals are PERSONAL and SELFISH. The average Aurum Concordian isn’t trying to RULE THE WORLD; they’re trying to get a particular artifact for their collection, or to crush a business rival, or to simply increase their own wealth. Their motives are easy to understand. They have enough power to make life difficult for adventurers, but they aren’t ancient immortals or as well connected as Dragonmarked barons; if the players make an implacable enemy of a Concordian, they can simple go to a new city for a while. In short, the Aurum are EASY and OBVIOUS villains: people with enough power to either threaten low level adventurers or to hire them, but intentionally NOT as powerful as Dragonmarked Houses, let alone the Lords of Dust. WITH THAT BEING SAID… If the adventurers love the Aurum and you WANT to have that low-level villain evolve into a greater threat over time, you can choose to engage the Cabinet of Shadows, revealing that the Aurum ISN’T just a collection of wealthy narcissists and DOES have a greater agenda. But that’s simply an option; MOST concordians aren’t part of the Cabinet, and their actions and motives can be as shallow as you want.

THE CULTS OF THE DRAGON BELOW are irrational and can appear ANYWHERE. They aren’t a vast, monolithic force; they are a myriad of small cells, and each one is driven by its own unique visions. Even two cults tied to the same daelkyr may have no awareness of or connection to one another. Their goals can be as grand or as focused as the story requires, and could be as simple as a handful of murder-sacrifices or as grand as a ritual that could destroy a city. But as every cell IS unique, they are a force whose goals are typically easily understood and that can be completely defeated. Defeating the Transcendent Flesh sect in Wroat doesn’t defeat DYRRN, but that particular cult can be conclusively eliminated. Again, in comparison to the Dreaming Dark or the Lords of Dust, you can think of them as “Monster of the Week” villains; their schemes AREN’T necessarily part of some vast grand scheme, they HAVEN’T anticipated your interference; and if you defeat them today, this particular cult WON’T be back to cause trouble. On the other hand, if you WANT that long term threat to evolve over the campaign, the daelkyr play the same role here that the Shadow Cabinet does for the Aurum. In fighting the cults, low-level adventurers will come to learn about the daelkyr, who are a greater threat that may challenge them at higher levels—but that doesn’t change the fact that they have conclusively triumphed over THIS ONE CULT.

THE ORDER OF THE EMERALD CLAW are classic pulp villains. When they are described as “Nazis in Indiana Jones Movies” the emphasis is on IN MOVIES, not “historical Nazis.” I think a better comparison is Cobra Command from the GI Joe franchise. The Emerald Claw doesn’t have the support of any nation. There is nothing sympathetic about its agenda. The Emerald Claw serves a narcissistic lich who is willing to drown innocents in blood if it helps her get the power she seeks. And like the Cults, the Emerald Claw is a “Monster of the Week” villain. Its schemes are focussed and often exactly what they appear. Its minions can come in all levels of power; a group of 1st level adventurers can face a changeling necromancer who’s just PRETENDING to be a vampire and his squad of goons, while a group of 10th level adventurers can face a squad of ACTUAL vampires. You could use the Emerald Claw as villains in a single adventure and then never use them again, or you can use them as recurring villains, until the adventurers ultimately find a way to destroy Lady Illmarrow herself… because unlike The Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, or even a dragonmarked house, it’s plausible that a group of adventurers COULD defeat Lady Illmarrow and truly destroy the Order of the Emerald Claw. The Emerald Claw is a FINITE villain, whose goals are petty and focused. And in specifically comparing it to the Swords of Liberty, the point is that the Swords of Liberty may use violent methods, but they have a rational goal; they want to affect political change. We never expect players to have any question that opposing the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do, any more than GI Joe will ever say “Huh, Cobra might actually have a good point” or than Indiana Jones will say “Maybe we SHOULD give the Nazis the Ark of the Covenant this time.”

So focusing specifically on the Emerald Claw, it’s INTENTIONAL that everyone hates them, that they don’t have the support of nations, that they can’t field an army. They are a terrorist force that can appear anywhere to cause chaos, but they DON’T have the power to, for example, conquer a nation (or even a large city). If you oppose them, YOU aren’t making an enemy of a nation or choosing a side in the Next War.

As for “What have they done that’s so evil,” what do you WANT them to have done? The point is that they are a terrorist organization that uses necromancy as a weapon. Using my OWN campaign as an example, I recently ran a campaign set in Callestan that involved the Emerald Claw…

  • In the first session, an agent of the Emerald Claw paid a PC courier to carry a time-locked bag bag of holding to a crowded tavern, thinking they were going to meet a client. Instead, the bag opened and turned out to be full of hostile skeletons, and the PCs had to protect the patrons from these undead.
  • Next, a friend of the adventurers was infected with a zombie virus set to trigger when the victim entered a micro-manifest zone tied to Mabar, which turned out to be in a local dreamlily den. The adventurers were able to contain the outbreak, but they couldn’t save everyone—and there was no saving their friend.
  • Next, the Emerald Claw used the micro-Mabar zone to throw a few blocks of Callestan into the Hinterlands of the Endless Night; the players had to find a way to escape, also openly clashing with agents of the Claw for the first time.

The point is that these acts were all SMALL SCALE. The Emerald Claw was testing necromantic weapons on a captive populace that no one (aside from the PCs) cared about. The EC could well be planning to unleash these techniques on a larger target—spreading a contagious zombie virus across Sharn itself—but the adventurers were dealing with a small, localized problem. And ultimately, they could locate and defeat the necromancer responsible for these tragedies. It could be that that necromancer WOULD return in a future adventure in a new undead form—with greater powers to challenge the more powerful player characters—but the adventurers could absolutely wipe out that CELL and feel a legitimate sense of triumph, which can be more difficult when dealing with the Lords of Dust and their far-reaching schemes.

But patriotism… OK, but haven’t we said that many of the soldiers of the Emerald Claw are Karrnathi patriots? Indeed… Karrnathi patriots who want the Queen of the Dead to take over Karrnath and then lead it to conquer Khorvaire. These “patriots” are extremists whose goals aren’t supposed to be sympathetic. This isn’t like the Swords of Liberty, where you might introduce a cell leader whose actions are driven by the cruel actions of a local noble who tormented their vassals. Likewise, if you WANT some shades of gray with your necromancy, you can use a Blood of Vol sect who AREN’T tied to the Emerald Claw, and who may have legitimate grievances. Whether or not they are driven by patriotism, Emerald Claw agents ultimately want the living people of Khorvaire to be ground under the skeletal bootheel of the Queen of the Dead; this isn’t supposed to be some kind of rational “OK, maybe they’re got a point here” situation. THIS is why kanon divorces them from the Blood of Vol; because as a faith, the Blood of Vol has many shades of gray and sympathetic aspects, while the Emerald Claw is supposed to be an absolute evil.

But Erandis is a tragic figure… Certainly! I’ve explored this in a number of other articles. But her personal tragedy isn’t supposed to justify the horrors she inflicts in pursuit of her goals. Again, from a design perspective, the Emerald Claw are supposed to be absolute villains; the players are never expect to say “Wait, we shouldn’t fight them until we know more.” While the personal tragedy of Erandis helps to explain how she went down this dark path, she still went down that path. What suggested with the saga of the Queen of the Dead is the possibility that if she achieves her goal and truly ascends, that she could BECOME a benevolent entity and perhaps even feel remorse for her actions, but that’s supposed to be a wacky twist, not a justification for the terrors she inflicted on innocents in her quest.

So the Emerald Claw aren’t SUPPOSED to be the most powerful or nefarious villains of the setting; on the contrary, they are specifically useful BECAUSE they operate on a small scale, with actions that are typically both clearly reprehensible (starting a zombie outbreak in an innocent neighborhood) and small enough that they can be dealt with by a party of adventurers. They’re an opening act who can appear any time you need a quick and easy villain and who help prepare the players to take on the REAL villains of the campaign, whose schemes are more subtle and far-reaching. Likewise, all of these three groups—the Aurum, the Cults of the Dragon Below, the Emerald Claw—could themselves turn out to be unwitting tools of the Lords of Dust!

Were all of the original members Karrnathi knights or have there been supporters and laymen members from its creation?

The organization takes its name from the Seeker chivalric order that served in the war, and uses the reputation of that original order to present its members as Karrnathi patriots opposing the weak leadership of Kaius III. But from the very beginning, the actual members of that order were only a fraction (albeit an elite core) of the new Order of the Emerald Claw. Lady Illmarrow had been building her power for centuries, and the Emerald Claw is just a convenient rallying point for her forces… and remember that Illmarrow herself isn’t a Seeker of the Divinity Within! So from the very begining, Illmarrow’s operatives included undead lieutenants and retainers from her domain in Farlnen, along with thugs recruited From Lhazaar Seeker offshoots… reinforced with Karrns angry about Kaius’s peace initiative and lured by dreams of power in the new Empire of the Queen of the Dead. Essentially, there ARE misguided Karrnathi patriots and Seekers in the Order, including original members of the Chivalric Order. But many of its members—especially in its inner circle—seek only personal power in the service of Lady Illmarrow and have no interest in Karrnath or the Divinity Within. The cause of Karrnathi patriotism is a convenient figurehead that lets the order APPEAR to have a legitimate political motive, but they ultimately serve only the Queen of the Dead.

Would you run a campaign of emerald claw player characters fighting Kaius since he is not a real patriot nor a real bov believer?

Now, I wouldn’t. When I want to run a story that’s about patriotic Seekers whofeel betrayed by Kaius, I use the Order of the Onyx Skull—another Seeker chivalric order that was disbanded. These are my go-to group to explore anyone with legitimate grievances who are actually trying to make Karrnath a better place and to help Seekers. From a design perspective, the Emerald Claw isn’t SUPPOSED to have this sort of depth. It’s a front that has been entirely corrupted to serve the purposes of Lady Illmarrow, who is neither a Karrnathi patriot nor a believer in the Divinity Within, and anyone who serves her is either a willing tool or a dupe.

With that said, I ran a campaign in which one of the PCs WAS a paladin of the Blood of Vol who had been trained by Lady Illmarrow and who specifically wanted to bring down Kaius because he’s not a real patriot or a real BoV believer. But from the very beginning the PLAYER knew that his character was a dupe being used as a tool by Illmarrow. His whole idea for his story arc was that if he succeeded in bringing down Kaius he’d REALIZE he’d made a terrible mistake and would ultimately have to battle Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. So the character wasn’t somehow proving that the Emerald Claw wasn’t so bad; the player KNEW the character was a fool and a tool, but wanted that revelation and redemption to be part of his story arc.

For Emerald Claw members who know that the order is loaded by Vol, what are their motivations?

Forget the name “Vol” for a moment. Most members of the Order of the Emerald Claw know that their order is led by Lady Illmarrow, the infamous lich also known as the Queen of the Dead. Some believe that Illmarrow will take over Karrnath and then lead Karrnath to conquer Khorvaire. They want this because they believe their leaders are weak and because they believe that they will hold positions of power in this future empire of the undead. Many others don’t care about Karrnath or the Blood of Vol, and are interested PURELY in the personal power they can gain. Some are necromancers who yearn for the arcane secrets Illmarrow can teach them. Others simply hunger for the power and immortality of the vampire or the death knight. Their motivations aren’t supposed to be sympathetic; again, if I want a complex story, I’ll use the Onyx Skull. So if your brother has joined the Emerald Claw, it means your brother dreams of living in a world ruled by a ruthless lich-queen and is willing to kill innocents to make it come to pass. Maybe he hates life. Maybe he thinks mortal rulers are weak and misguided. Maybe he wants revenge on someone. But again, if he’s joined the Emerald Claw, it’s because he is willing to kill innocents so a ruthless lich-queen might someday rule the world.

You mentioned there could be other Seeker chivalric orders besides the Emerald Claw and Ebon Skull. If you were to make new seeker orders in what ways could they be different? Like could there be orders more focused on healing or fighting cults of dragon below ? Maybe one led by Alhoon, a undead mind flayer?

First of all, I made a mistake before; the honorable Seeker order I mentioned is the Order of the Onyx Skull, not Ebon; I’ve fixed it above. To the point, though: There are other Karrnathi chivalric orders. The sourcebook The Forge of War describes six of them: The Adamant Fang, the Blackened Sky, the Conquering Fist, the Emerald Claw, the Inviolate Way, and the Onyx Skull. While these do have some specialization—the Adamant Fang is light cavalry, the Blackened Sky focused on artillery, the Onyx Skull were the foremost necromancers—they are all general military forces, so I wouldn’t go too specialized. It’s logical to think that Karrnath had medics, but I don’t think they were part of a chivalric order. So, you can definitely create new orders, using Forge of War as inspiration. Note that only those closely associated with Seekers were actually disbanded; per FoW, the other four (Fang, Fist, Sky, Way) are all still in service.

I wouldn’t see an alhoon as being placed in charge of an actual Karrnathi chivalric order. That would be like the Pentagon appointing an actual Martian as a general. The Chivalric orders are literally the pride of Karrnath; appointing an alien monster as a commander would be a very bizarre choice. However, I could definitely see Lady Illmarrow working with an alhoon and giving it command of a branch of the Emerald Claw. So I wouldn’t make that a DIFFERENT order, I’d make it a specific unit of the Emerald Claw, which has cells and units scattered across Khorvaire.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going!

IFAQ: The Elvish Language

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. Yesterday I posted an IFAQ about developing languages. In the comments, a question came up about the role of the Elvish language in the world. Since the answers have broader implications on a general philosophy of worldbuilding, I wanted to make it a standalone IFAQ. So…

Elvish is the language of Thelanis. Is that primordially true, i.e. did Elves speak that language prior to their enslavement by the Giants? Also, if Elvish is the language of Thelanis, are Elves born knowing it, or must it be taught to children like any other language?

There are no canon answers to these questions. By the rules of D&D, elves speak Elvish. It’s part of their racial features. There’s no explanation of where the language came from or how they come to learn it. So first, to be clear, everything I’m about to say is what I do IN MY CAMPAIGN. It has no foundation in any canon source, though as far as I know it doesn’t contradict any canon source either; the topic has simply never come up. But if you don’t like it, don’t use it. To me, this is a perfect example of a choice where you need to think about the broader implications—you need to be sure you WANT your story to go down a particular path. So I’ll tell you my answer, but then I want to talk about WHY I’d answer that way.

First: Elvish is the language of Thelanis. That is primordially true. The planes are universal concepts, and their fundamental principles don’t change (setting aside the complications of Dal Quor!). With that said, one of the minor effects of Thelanis is that while you are in Thelanis, you understand Elvish. When you’re wandering through the Endless Weald, you can understand the songs of the dryads singing in the trees; you are part of the story and that means you understand its words. It is only when you and a dryad LEAVE Thelanis that you realize that you can’t understand her any more, and start hearing her words as Elvish instead simply understanding their meaning.

Second: In my Eberron, every elf is born with an innate understanding of the Elvish language. It doesn’t matter if you’re an orphan born in a Sharn gutter or a proud Aereni. You don’t have to be taught; the language a part of you, tied innately to the Fey Ancestry feature. It is impossible to be an elf and NOT understand Elvish.

WHY DO THIS? What appeals to me about this is that in concretely establishes that elves are not human. They aren’t just humans who have pointed ears and live for centuries. They are fundamentally alien beings whose minds do not work the same way as human minds. It further reinforces other things we’ve established about the elf cultures, namely that they are extremely tied to tradition and that they aren’t as innovative as humans. This makes sense if elves have a greater degree of engrained knowledge and instinct than humans. As an elf, you never have to develop a new language. You are born knowing THE LANGUAGE, the language that will allow you to speak to any elf anywhere.

This comes back to one of my basic principles of world building. I like exploring worlds that are unlike our own. To me, it’s fascinating to consider the impact of having a language seared into your brain from the moment of birth. How would that affect the development of culture? It is fundamentally the antithesis of the Babel story—the people of the world are divided by their many languages, but all elves are united by their common tongue.

The original question included this: was Giant the language that the oppressed elves were supposed to use with their overlords, while Elvish was preserved as the language they used among themselves? Absolutely. The giants weren’t going to learn Elvish, so elf servants had to learn at least basic Giant. It’s not that Elvish was preserved, because the elves couldn’t forget it even if they wanted to. But it was unquestionably SUPPRESSED, and elves would be punished for speaking it. But this is also a crucial factor in the eventual uprising. Captives of the giants, descendants of Qabalrin refugees, the unconquered ancestors of the Tairnadal—despite their different cultures and histories, they were united by the Elvish tongue and could always understand one another. Given this, one might well ask what about the Drow? First of all, by the RULES drow speak Elvish. Second, they possess the Fey Ancestry trait. To me, those two facts hold the answer. While altered by the giants, the drow still have their Fey Ancestry, and it is through that ancestry that they know the Elvish language.

This gets to a much deeper and more complicated question: Do the Khoravar (half-elves) innately understand Elvish, or do THEY have to learn it? The reason this is complicated is because it has vast ramifications on the relationship between Khoravar and Elves. We’ve often raised the question can a half-elf become a Tairnadal? Could they join the Undying Court? If all elves innately understand Elvish and Khorvar do NOT understand Elvish, that’s a deep point in favor of the idea that Khorvar are fundamentally not elves… while if they are born with the knowledge of Elvish, that’s a strong argument that they ARE spiritually part of the elf species and COULD connect with Patron Ancestors. PERSONALLY, I would say that Khoravar DO innately know Elvish, for the same reason as drow. Under the rules of 5E, half-elves possess the Fey Ancestry feat and have Elvish as an ingrained language. For me, it’s all about that Fey Ancestry; part of what it means to have Fey Ancestry is to KNOW ELVISH, in the same way that I’ve said that part of being a druid is that you KNOW DRUIDIC. This also explains why the Valenar were so quick to bring in Khoravar administrators; they may not consider them equals, but it’s good to have an administrator who KNOWS THE LANGUAGE. But this is definitely a case where I could see a DM ruling the other way specifically because of how they want to play out that story of the Khoravar who wants to be Tairnadal. We’ve also made a point of saying that many Khoravar communities develop a Khoravar Cant that is a unique blend of Elvish and Common; part of the point of this is that they KNOW Elvish, but they are choosing to speak in a manner that is unique to THEIR people, not simply relying on the language of either parent. Likewise, it adds color to the relationship between Aereni and drow; even though the drow were created to kill elves, they still know the Language.

So this raises another interesting question… what happens when you need a new word? A situation arises where there’s a concept that’s never been expressed in Elvish, or a poet is expressing an entirely new concept. Do they create a new word? If so, wouldn’t they have to teach it to others? Isn’t this exactly how we end up developing unique dialects and new languages? Certainly. But this is where we get back to the point that they’re not human, that they are touched by the Fey, that this is something that fundamentally doesn’t make sense. The poet doesn’t create a new word the way a human poet would. They realize they already know the word, even though it’s never been spoken in Elvish before. And once spoken, every other fey creature also knows that word. Because Elvish isn’t just a mundane, mortal language; it is an immortal, magical language. An elf knows Elvish because fundamentally, they are fey, and being fey means knowing Elvish. The language evolves as it is needed, and all fey creatures know the language. What this DOES mean is that any creature without Fey ancestry who learns Elvish WILL find that new words occasionally appear and they’ll have to learn their meaning, because without Fey Ancestry, they don’t get those automatic dictionary updates.

This is a long discussion of a point that, mechanically, makes no difference. Because by the rules, elves just know Elvish. It’s a racial feature with no inherent story. But the point is that once you add a story you GIVE it meaning. The reason I’d say that they DO all know it, that it is fundamentally tied to Fey Ancestry is because I WANT to explore the impact of that decision—on the Xen’drik Uprising, on the relationship between Khoravar and Aereni, on the idea of elves being bound to tradition. I think it’s interesting to explore ways in which elves AREN’T like humans, and to imagine what it would be like to be born with immediate, perfect knowledge of a language.

So, in conclusion, when there is no canon answer to questions like this—or even if there is!—the question to me is always how will it affect the story, and what story do I want to tell? *I* find the story of innate-knowledge-of-Elvish more INTERESTING that Elvish-is-just-a-mundane-language-like-any-other. But you certainly don’t have to agree with me!

Are there other languages that would work the same way?

Certainly. I’d say that an aasimar understands Celestial the same way that an elf understands Elvish; they don’t have to learn it, and you can’t be an aasimar and NOT understand Celestial (unless you’re an aasimar tied to a power that speaks another immortal language; note that the Court aasimar in Exploring Eberron speaks both Elvish and Celestial, and of course has Fey Ancestry!). All true immortals are born innately possessing all of their basic knowledge, including languages, and I would say that just like I’ve suggested with Elvish, if Celestial needs a new word, all creatures with an innate knowledge of Celestial automatically know that word. Again, MORTALS who have LEARNED the language wouldn’t get that automatic update. This could be an interesting element for archaeologists, being able to date inscriptions in Abyssal or Celestial based on “Note the use of ‘Alael’, which didn’t become part of the language until the Age of Giants.” But in general this would be an aspect of immortal languages. Humans can make new languages; immortals are born knowing their language, and again, can usually make themselves understood when they wish to.

In this article I suggested that Undercommon might be constantly evolving, but that anyone who could speak Undercommon automatically knows the current form of it—essentially the same principle as the Elvish dictionary updates, but that rather than just ADDING to the existing language, the pre-existing words are always changing… and that when you find inscriptions in Undercommon, they may make no sense under the current form of the language or they might have taken on a new meaning. However, this is a pretty difficult concept for us poor mortals to wrap our brains around, and I didn’t actually push it in either the Wayfinder’s Guide or Rising From The Last War.

Before the fall of Xen’drik were there multiple Giant languages for each realm?

This comes back to the whole question of language-in-games in general. Xen’drik is a massive continent and there were multiple, very distinct giant civilizations. Barring some exterior factor—IE Fey-Ancestry-means-you-speak-Elvish—it’s reasonable to assume that these different giant cultures would all have developed unique languages. However, it’s also the case that we haven’t defined those languages; we’ve never mentioned Sulatan or Elevenese. What we’ve said is that the language we know as Giant was the COMMON TONGUE of Xen’drik, widespread enough that it is what you find spoken by the vast diverse range of creatures across the continent. I might very well introduce the idea of Elevenese as a PLOT DEVICE—the adventurers have found an ancient scroll in Risia that’s written in old Elevenese, the pre-Giant language of the Group of Eleven! It’s completely unknown in the modern age, and you’ll need to use Comprehend Language!—but I’m not going to expect a player character to waste a language slot learning Elevenese; Giant is the language you NEED to know to get by in Xen’drik. Again, at the end of the day, it’s the question of how will this decision affect the story you and your friends tell at your table?

What is the difference/relationship between Celestial and Draconic?

In the article that’s been linked a few times I suggested that they might be the same, but I’ve actually backed off from that (and we didn’t include it in Rising From The Last War). I think that there are SIMILARITIES between the two, just as I’ve suggested that Goblin and Orc may have their roots in Abyssal (noting the similarity between Goblin and the names of the Overlords). But essentially, I think Draconic is the oldest MORTAL language, but it’s not an IMMORTAL language.

What about gnomes? Aren’t they fey? Do they know Elvish?

The idea that gnomes are from Thelanis was added into the fourth edition books specifically to address the fact that in fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, gnomes were fey creatures. This is no longer true in fifth edition, and it’s not something we mention in Rising From The Last War. To my mind, this is in the same category as BAATOR, which was added into the planar cosmology in fourth edition, and REMOVED AGAIN in Rising From The Last War. Canon can evolve, and the latest canon does NOT have gnomes as Thelanian immigrants. What I have suggested is that there are gnomes who have immigrated FROM EBERRON TO THELANIS through the Feyspires, but they are natives of Eberron. They do not have Fey Ancestry and as such don’t have an innate understanding of Elvish. If a gnome knows Elvish, it’s because they learned it like anyone else.

Setting aside the fact that the idea of gnomes being from Thelanis was always a 4E artifact, the gnomes and elves of Eberron have a few very fundamental differences that reflect this. The elves are deeply bound to tradition and not driven toward innovation. They are happy to exist in isolation. By contrast, gnomes are typically extremely inquisitive. They are called out as being explorers, seeking out new lands and discovering new cultures. The Zil try different religions. House Sivis is specifically called out as having created multiple languages. They’ve reverse-engineered elemental binding techniques recovered from Xen’drik. The fact that there’s some gnomes in Thelanis is a reflection of that deeply inquisitive nature—not of Thelanian origins. With that said, as I describe in the Exploring Eberron FAQ, I’m playing a gnome artificer from Pylas Pyrial in my current campaign. But he’s NOT a fey creature; he’s just using the “Magical Thinking” style of artifice tied to his Pyrial upbringing.

Thanks for taking this deep dive into the Elvish rabbit hole. And thanks to my Patrons for making it possible!

IFAQ: Creating Languages

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. I am currently working on a longer article about the Nobility of Khorvaire, but as time permits I like to answer interesting short questions from my Patreon supporters, so here’s one from Samantha:

How do you pick the names for the Overlords? They seem to all have a common thread or convention, and I’m dying to know what it is.

The answer is tied to a broader question of worldbuilding, which is how deep do you go in creating languages for a world? Exploring Eberron includes a Goblin glossary, compiled with help from Don Bassingthwaite and Jarrod Taylor. The bulk of that glossary was developed by Don when he was working on his Legacy of Dhakaan novels, but he built it on the foundation I’d established in previous sourcebooks. The answer is that I almost never go deep into creating a language; but my goal is to be distinctive and consistent. I don’t usually bother to create a full dictionary of hundreds of words. But I establish a simple set of rules and keep track of existing words, and use the existing words as a foundation going forward.

So for example, here’s a few we came up with developing the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

Elvish. The elves use a lot of diphthongs, especially ae and ai. Words often have a soft flow, and V and L are common letters: Vadallia, Valaestas, Valenar, Vol. We quickly established Shae as “City”, Taer as “Fortress”, and “Pylas” as “Port.” This is important for worldbuilding, because you want consistent naming conventions for places when you are creating maps—even if you don’t yet no the culture. Elvish words are usually multisyllabic, and L, S, and R are common end letters… Tairnadal, Aerenal, Valenar. However, you have a few short names, usually formed on -ol—Vol, Shol.

Goblin. An immediate goal was for Goblin to feel harsher than Elvish. Goblin also uses a lot of diphthongs, but generally with repeated vowels—duur, ghaal, guul. It blends sibilance with harsh k and kh sounds—Shaarat’khesh, Taarka’khesh, Kech Shaarat. As seen in two of those three examples, glottal stops are common. As with Elvish, we immediately settled on place names, so draal was “city”; Rhukaan Draal, Cazhaak Draal, again with the harsher sound, dipthongs, and hard k’s. We started with those few basic words: duur is “dirge“, shaarat is “sword”, taarka is “wolf”, volaar is “word”, ghaal is “mighty” and could be attached to a people (ghaal’dar) or thing (ghaal’duur). We had Shaarat’khesh, the “silent blades” and Kech Shaarat, the “Keepers of the Blade.” But the point is that at the time, we didn’t have too much more than that. Until Don came along, we DIDN’T create a extensive Goblin dictionary; it was simply the case that when you needed to make a new Goblin word, you wanted to look back over the words that already existed and to make a word that feels like it fits the same pattern. So again, for me, the vital element is consistency.

So with that in mind, how did we pick the names of the overlords? Well, even before picking their names, we established the idea that every overlord would have a common title. The overlord’s actually names would be ancient and people might be superstitious about using them. Beyond that, part of the issue of using alien languages is that players can have trouble remembering them. “Rak Tulkhesh” is a jumble of sounds; “The Rage of War” immediately says this is an angry warmonger. So for most of them, the TITLE came first: The Rage of War, the Voice in the Darkness, the Keeper of Secrets, the Shadow in the Flame. In then developing their actual names, it’s the same process as for Goblin or Elvish: establish basic principles and make sure you stick with them. So…

  • Most overlords have a monosyllabic first article and a multisyllabic second article: Rak Tulkhesh, Sul Khatesh.
  • Like Goblin, overlord names often combine harsh consonants with sibilants—Tulkhesh, Oreshka. However, overlords generally DON’T use diphthongs or glottal stops.
  • Ul, kh, and sh are common; Sul Khatesh, Tul Oreshka, Rak Tulkhesh. Part of the concept is that while they’re usually broken into short-name long-name, to some degree each syllable has power… it’s actually Rak-Tul-Khesh and Tul-Or-Esh-Ka. This plays to the idea that on some level the name of an overlord is an incantation… which explains why you DON’T want to say their names!

There are exceptions to all things. Eldrantulku the Oathbreaker uses a single word in both name and title, but you can still imagine his name as El-Dran-Tul-Ku. Dral Khatuur has a diphthong in her name. She probably should have been Dral Khatur; I admit that this was just a case where *I* liked the look and feel of Khatuur… Dral-Kha-Tuuuuur.

Some older versions of D&D had Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic as languages, but didn’t fully expand on their role. How would you make them distinct from Infernal, Abysmal, and/or Celestial for Eberron?

PERSONALLY, how I’d make them distinct is by making them nonexistent. There’s a number of reasons why I wouldn’t use these in my campaigns.

First, I usually find that having too many languages tends to get in the way of a story instead of making it more fun. The last thing I want is for the adventurers to meet a crucial NPC but then find no one can speak to him. This CAN be fun if it’s a specific part of the story — they need to play charades to figure out the directions to the dragon’s lair, or they need to find the one sage in the region that can read ancient Orc. But I don’t want that to be a part of EVERY ADVENTURE. As a result, I tend to REDUCE the number of languages in the game, focusing on the idea of “common tongues” — Common as the common language of Galifar, Goblin as the common language of Galifar, Giant as the common language of Xen’drik, Riedran as the common language of Sarlona. Exotic languages are EXOTIC and may play an interesting story role — the gnolls will be impressed if you actually speak gnoll — but any Znir gnoll will understand Goblin.

But beyond that, ALIGNMENT languages are especially weird for Eberron, where we try to downplay the role of alignment and play up personal choice. It’s not like you are born lawful and go to lawful school where they teach you to speak Lawful. You could make it the language of Daanvi, and in the 3.5 ECS many planes have languages. But in my Eberron, any immortal that WANTS to be understood WILL be understood. When the couatl appeared to Tira Miron, it didn’t speak Common; it just SPOKE, and she UNDERSTOOD. When you finally make it to the Amaranthine City of Irian, I don’t WANT you to find that you don’t understand anything the crowds are saying. The planes aren’t just mundane alien worlds, they are UNIVERSAL SYMBOLS — and as such, I say that if an immortal wants to be understood, it WILL be understood. I don’t mind having planar languages as the MOST esoteric of the esoteric languages; if you find a SCROLL from Mabar, maybe it’s written in Mabaran. And to be clear, an immortal CAN speak a mundane language if that serves its purpose. But that’s a conscious choice.

So having said all that, it’s not what I would do, but on that principle of EVERYTHING HAS A PLACE, if I HAD to put alignment languages in Eberron, I would say that they are fundamentally magical languages; they are universal languages — the speech of immortals — but are only understood by people who share the outlook of the speaker. So perhaps a Shavaran angel of the Legion of Freedom DOES speak Chaotic, which means that any creature with a chaotic alignment understands it perfectly and no one else understands it at all. It is the language of FREEDOM, understood by any free spirit. But it’s not a language you can LEARN; it’s part of the I’m-an-embodiment-of-chaos aspect of the immortal. If a player character could speak it, it would be through some kind of magic item or supernatural gift.

As a fun side note: sometimes soldiers or emergency service personnel use a “pointy-talky” card to facilitate communication with people when they have no common language. When we were developing the RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command we created a pointy-talky for Phoenixes to use on their missions; I’m going to share that now on my Patreon!

IFAQ: Immortal Alliances

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today I want to answer a few questions about immortals in Eberron.

In the past I’ve said that one of the most important differences between mortals and immortals in Eberron is that immortals lack free will. With a few notable exceptions, immortals can’t change. They may LOOK like humans (or humanoids), but they are essentially cogs in a metaphysical machine: created to serve a specific purpose. The gear in a watch didn’t DECIDE to be a gear, and it can’t suddenly quit being a gear; in the same way, the typical angel of Shavarath didn’t DECIDE to fight in the war, nor could it choose to stop.

So: immortals come into existence with an established purpose and with the knowledge and tools needed to play that role. The deva in Shavarath didn’t have to learn how to use a sword, and more important, over the course of hundreds of thousands of years of war, it’s never gotten any better at it. Again, one of the strengths of mortals is that they can change. They begin with no skills whatsoever, but they can follow any path they choose. This isn’t to say that immortals can’t learn new facts. And this does vary by immortal. Hektula, the rakshasa Librarian of Ashtakala, has surely learned new spells over the last hundred thousand years. However, she may not have gained any new class levels in that time. She’s broadened her knowledge, but she is at the peak of her potential and can’t push beyond it.

Or course, there are exceptions! The radiant idols are fallen angels of Syrania. The kalashtar are bound to quori who rebelled against il-Lashtavar. It’s possible that you could find an angel of Shavarath who has abandoned the eternal war. But these are exceptionally rare. We’ve never said how many quori exist, but for sake of argument, let’s say there’s a hundred thousand… mostly lesser spirits like the tsoreva, and mostly devoted to duties in Dal Quor. From the perspective of the quori, the current era of Dal Quor has lasted for 400,000 years. In all that time, we’ve called out 67 quori who rebelled to become kalashtar. Let’s imagine there’s another 33 who were either caught and destroyed or who have managed to remain undetected. That’s still around a .1% rebellion rate over the course of 400,000 years… not too bad. Essentially, these are malfunctions. They’re gears that came into existence with the wrong number of teeth. Which is why the Dreaming Dark seeks to destroy rebel quori — to that energy can be drawn back into Dal Quor and reforged into a proper, compliant spirit.

So, keep these basic principles in mind. Most immortals come into existence with a clear purpose and with the skills they need to accomplish that function. They choose how they pursue that purpose, but they cannot change it. They are powerful, but they cannot learn new things as mortals can. Some of them have existed for a million years of subjective time. They don’t grow bored; they don’t desire change. They are what they are.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few questions.

How common is it for a fiend or cult to serve multiple overlords?

This depends on your definition of “Serve.” Most lesser fiends are bound to their overlord in the same way that the quori are bound to il-Lashtavar. Mordakhesh didn’t DECIDE to work for Rak Tulkhesh; the Shadowsword is essentially an extension of Rak Tulkhesh, the embodiment of one of the many ideas that falls under the Rage of War. Serving Rak Tulkhesh is part of his spiritual DNA; it’s not a choice, it’s what he IS. Thus, he will never feel that same loyalty to another overlord; it’s not in his nature.

HOWEVER: It’s possible that Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh could have a common goal, and that they might work together to create a cult that serves both of them. The mortals in that cult might feel equal loyalty to both overlords, just as devotees of the Restful Watch revere both Aureon and the Keeper. The fiends associated with the cult might work toward its common goals, but it doesn’t change the fact that every one of those fiends is devoted to EITHER the Rage of War or Keeper of Secrets, not both. They pursue the alliance because it serves the purposes of their overlord, but there is never any question that THEY serve their overlord and only their overlord.

Ultimately, this sort of alliance is why the Lords of Dust came into existence—to facilitate cooperation between the servants of different overlords. With that said, it’s more common that this simply extends to preventing fiends from fighting one another as opposed to actual alliances like I’ve described above. In fact, I’m not sure there IS an example in canon of two overlords working together in that way. Part of it is because their natures are SO different that it is hard for them to forge a lasting alliance; a second aspect is that the things the overlords require for their freedom—the Prophetic “combinations” to their chains—typically have nothing in common. Keep in mind that the reason the overlords were defeated was because they wouldn’t cooperate… and that while we mortals would learn from that mistake, immortals can’t change. So it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to have a fiendish cult that serves two overlords, but it’s not common and not likely to be long-lived.

In theory, it’s MORE plausible with the daelkyr, because the daelkyr were all originally on the same side. They have shared resources; Dyrrn created the dolgrims and Belashyrra created beholders, but both can be found serving any daelkyr. However, it’s also the case that most daelkyr cults are shaped by the mental influence of their daelkyr patron, and this is a powerful and unique force; a mortal bound to both Dyrrn and Belashyrra would be mentally torn in two very different directions. So again, it’s more likely than an alliance between overlords, but still not likely to be a long-term alliance.

There’s one wild card here: non-native fiends. NATIVE fiends have a bond to a particular overlord. But we’ve called out the fact that there are immortals from the planes who have broken from their planes and joined with the Lords of Dust… essentially, rather than a fiend rebelling to become an angel, it’s a fiend rebelling to be a fiend somewhere else. Two canon examples of this are Thelestes, a succubi who serves the overlord Eldrantulku; and Korliac of the Gray Flame, a Fernian pit fiend allied with Tul Oreshka. Such fiends are already outliers, because they have broken their original path, which again most immortals can’t do. As such, there’s nothing that prevents them from choosing yet ANOTHER path. CURRENTLY Thelestes serves Eldrantulku… but she could decide to serve Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker as well, or to simply break her ties to the Oathbreaker. Ultimately, as with all things, the end answer is do what’s best for your story. Most quori can’t rebel against il-Lashtavar, but SOME CAN; if you want a new rebel quori in your story, then there’s a new rebel quori! If you decide that the Wyrmbreaker is betraying Bel Shalor and working with Eldrantulku, so be it (though like the Devourer of Dreams, it’s not entirely odd to think that the chief servants of spirits of betrayal and corruption might themselves betray their masters!).

Can immortals be promoted or demoted? Can an immortal gain power?

Yes, just not in the same way that mortals can. Time and experience aren’t how immortals improve. Essentially, the way to think of any particular group of immortals—the quori, the angels of the Legion of Justice, the fiends of Rak Tulkhesh—is as a pool of energy. The amount of energy in that pool is static and cannot change. If there are a hundred thousand quori, there will always be a hundred thousand quori. Kill one—or a hundred—and their energy flows back to il-Lashtavr, which eventually reconstitutes that energy and spits out replacements. This is why people bind immortals instead of killing them; you can’t destroy that energy, but if you can take it out of circulation, that’s a win.

So: this pool of energy is static. But it’s not distributed equally. A powerful immortal like Mordakhesh holds more of that energy than a typical Zakya rakshasa. A powerful immortal can redistribute that energy. So it is POSSIBLE for a deva in Shavarath to be elevated to the position of planetar… but only if a planetar is demoted to deva, or if the deva is taking the place of a planetar that was destroyed rather than it being reconstituted. Likewise, Rak Tulkhesh could STRIP Mordakhesh of some of his power, and then invest that power into another fiend. So yes, the higher powers CAN elevate or promote the immortals below them; but only by redistributing that energy from somewhere else. There will always be devas in Shavarath; Justice Command can’t just promote them all to the rank of solar.

However, there’s one other possible twist. The energy within a pool is static. But the other way for an immortal to gain power is to TAKE energy from somewhere else. This is the idea of the Devourer replacing il-Lashtavar: that an immortal could USURP another immortal’s power. Another possibility is that an immortal could somehow draw power from an artifact or some other outside source. So Mordakhesh doesn’t gain levels just by killing things. But if he found some way to literally absorb the essence of a coautl, maybe he COULD gain strength. The main thing is that this would be a momentous event that is shaking the metaphysical balance of the multiverse. It’s quite possible that it would be dangerous and potentially unstable… that there would be some way to restore the couatl, pulling the power back out of the fiend.

What are the attitudes of the Daelkyr and the Dreaming Dark towards one another? What about the Lords of Dust?

The Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, and the daelkyr are the three most powerful malevolent forces in the setting. Their ultimate goals are mutually exclusive. The Dreaming Dark seek a stable world dreaming their dream. The overlords seek a return to primordial chaos. The daelkyr seek to transform reality into something unrecognizable. There’s no vision of victory that will allow two of these groups to both be satisfied. It is also the case that they are DANGEROUS. A rakshasa doesn’t fear death; it knows it will return. But can a daelkyr change the ESSENCE of a rakshasa—driving it mad or turning it into something new and horrifying? If you’re a rakshasa, you don’t want to find out. Essentially, NO ONE in their right mind, immortal or otherwise, wants to fight the daelkyr if they can avoid it.

These groups don’t actually know much about one another. The daelkyr and fiends don’t dream, so the quori can’t spy on them that way. The Dreaming Dark holds its councils in Dal Quor where none can spy of them. Riedra is hidden from the Draconic Prophecy. The daelkyr don’t care what the other two are up to, and their actions are inscrutable. Dreaming Dark mind seeds and daelkyr cults can appear anywhere, subverting long-established Lords of Dust agents without even realizing it. So more often than not these groups will stumble onto one another accidentally—and when they do, the first one to realize it will usually act to eliminate the threat. Consider that the Edgewalkers of Riedra are specifically trained to fight fiends and aberrations!

On the other hand, if you WANT these groups to work together in your campaign, go for it. The main question is why. The easiest ally is the Lords of Dust, because their goal of manipulating the Prophecy could require one of the other factions’ schemes to succeed. The main thing is that in any sort of alliance, each faction likely thinks it’s coming out ahead in the exchange… because in the end, they can’t both get what they want.

Personally, I rarely use all three of these as equal threats groups in the same campaign. All of these factions have been scheming for centuries or even thousands of years. There’s no reason that all of their schemes have to come to a tipping point in 998 YK. It’s entirely reasonable to say that the stars won’t align for the Lords of Dust for another decade, or that the daelkyr are currently dormant. So you can have alliances or conflicts between them, but you also can choose to ignore one or more completely.

You could also have the groups work against one another, using PCs as pawns.

Certainly. As noted above, in my opinion if their plans conflict, they will oppose one another, and the player characters could be caught in the middle of that. The main thing in MY Eberron is that the Chamber and the Lords of Dust are actively at war (though a very cold war). They are playing a game on the same board—manipulating the Prophecy—and they understand one another. By contrast, neither the Chamber nor the Lords of Dust really have a clear picture of the daelkyr or the Dreaming Dark. So they eliminate these threats when they interfere with their plans, but they don’t see the big picture of what they are trying to accomplish — while the dragons and fiends DO have that picture with one another.

What’s a “native outsider?” Are they basically the same as immortals that live on other planes, only native to Eberron, or is there more to them than that?

“Native outsider” is a holdover term from 3.5 and can be thought of as “native immortal.” It means that the immortal is a product of the material plane. Native fiends are apocryphally said to be children of Khyber, while native celestials are children of Siberys. First of all, this means that when the immortal dies, it will be reborn on Eberron——while if you destroy a Shavaran devil on Eberron, it will be reborn on Shavarath. It’s also the case that immortals in some way embody the concept of their planes of origins. So take a pit fiend. If it’s from Shavarath it is ultimately a spirit of WAR and tyranny. If it’s from Fernia it is first and foremost a fiend of FIRE. If you just want a generic “I’m eeeeevil” pit fiend, than it should be a native immortal tied to one of the overlords, such as Bel Shalor. As a side note, the night hags of Eberron are native immortals, but aren’t tied to the overlords; they are their own faction.

Regarding stuff like efreet, salamanders, or similar entities, would you have them all follow the same template as fiends and celestials in that they generally maintain a particular alignment or distribution of alignments, or is this not a fundamental aspect of some groups of immortals and the alignment of a group is more dynamic in some cases?

My definition of “Immortal” means the following: the creature is tied to a specific plane; it came into existence with its skills and knowledge in place, and did not need to learn; it does not reproduce naturally; it has a static population, and when it is destroyed, either it will be reborn or a new creature of its type will appear to take its place. As long as it meets these criteria it doesn’t matter if a creature is a celestial, elemental, fiend, or aberration. If it does NOT meet these criteria, it is not immortal under these terms. Thus, for example, a vampire is immune to aging, but it won’t be replaced if it is destroyed and it has a method of reproduction. It’s not an immortal; it’s a mortal that is channeling the power of Mabar, which sustains its life.

Immortals are SYMBOLS more than they are living creatures. They have purpose, even if often that purpose is simply to represent an idea. The basic definition of “fiend” is that it embodies an EVIL aspect of an idea, while a “celestial” embodies a GOOD aspect of an idea. Shavarath is the plane of WAR. Devils represent war fought in pursuit of tyranny; angels, war fought in pursuit of justice. So for these spirits, alignment is part of their core concept. Elementals aren’t as clear cut and don’t have an automatic alignment bias. But as they are immortals, they represent IDEAS. So the key question is “What is their idea?”

In MY Eberron, what the efreeti represent is the beauty and glory of fire… but also its capricious and deadly nature. The raging bonfire is beautiful and awe-inspiring, but if you are careless it can burn all you hold dear. So too with the efreeti. They are glorious and powerful. But anger them and they will burn you in the blink of an eye. What we’ve said in Eberron is that alignment doesn’t tell us WHAT you’ll do, it tells us HOW you’ll do it. You can have an evil king who wants peace or a good queen who pursues war; it’s just that the evil king will be ruthless in his pursuit of peace while the queen will be kind as she pursues war. Efreeti don’t necessarily want to DO things we would consider evil. They want to celebrate their wealth and power. They want to outshine their rivals. An efreet might invite you to a grand gala in its brass citadel, with no hostile intent. But if you insult it, or embarass it by using the wrong fork, it will burn you with no remorse. THAT is what makes efreeti evil. It’s not that they are all conquerors or torturers; it’s that like fire, they have no mercy and no empathy. They BURN, bright and beautiful, and if you aren’t careful they will burn you.

So efreeti are not universally pursuing an evil CAUSE in the same way that the devils of Shavarath are. But they still have evil ALIGNMENTS because it’s in their nature to be merciless and unrelenting… even if a particular efreeti has no grand designs we would see as evil. Meanwhile, the beings who embody the purely benevolent aspects of fire are celestials, and those who embody SOLELY its destructive aspects are fiends. The Azer are spirits of industry and are neutral. Efreeti are both the beauty of fire but also its danger; they won’t necessarily pursue evil goals, but they have no remorse when their actions cause suffering.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going!