Dragonmarks: Arcane Industry

Sora (Sahra Syrralan d’Sivis) by Julio Azevedo

Previous articles have discussed the basic principles of Arcane Science, delved into Arcane History and the evolution of the Arcane Arts, and discussed Wizard Circles. But we’re still building a picture of how magic is integrated into everyday life. What is a magewright, and how does someone become one? How widespread are factories in the Five Nations, and what are they like?

The first thing to understand is that Khorvaire is actively and rapidly evolving. My original draft of the setting imagined a world that was more industrial—a world where wands and rods had largely replaced bows, where there were analogues to cars and radio. In developing the setting we made an intentional choice to pull back from that, to ensure that at the end of the day it still felt like D&D. But that world is out there, and it’s not that far away. This is one of the main reasons we’ve never advanced the timeline. In the last century we’ve seen the development of warforged and blast disks, and the rise of the common wandslinger. Lyrandar launched its first airship eight years ago, and within eight years we have docking towers in most major cities. We’ve shown some examples of airship innovation, with double-ring vessels. But again, these are innovations we’ve seen in just eight years. What will we have in another ten years? Flying fortresses? Will we triple the speed of airships, or create skycoaches that don’t rely on manifest zones? Galifar may have been a peaceful, golden age; but stability and stagnation went hand in hand. The Last War forced the nations (and the Houses supplying them) to innovate, to use every resource, to develop new tools and techniques.

Now the war is over, that spirit is part of civilian life. The world is changing. It’s intentional that people in Khorvaire ride horses, that more soldiers use crossbows than do wands. There ARE factories in Breland, but there’s still a place in the world for the independent blacksmith working at their forge. Today Breland is ruled by a king; but who knows what tomorrow will bring. The Arcane Revolution is happening NOW, and it’s up to decide how that manifests in your campaign. So there are arcane factories, but they are still new and expanding. There are still artisans who don’t use magecraft or other cantrips in their work, especially in small communities. But factories are spreading and new magewrights are being trained every day. The world is changing.

As always, the ideas I present in this article are what I do at my table and in my Eberron. This is not canon and may contradict canon material. Where there are contradictions, it’s up to you to decide which path to follow or how best to integrate these ideas.

THE WIDER WORLD

In considering the development and impact of arcane industry, it’s important to understand that the maps we have of Khorvaire are very high level. In my opinion, they don’t show all the rivers or roads and they only call out the most important or especially interesting settlements. There are hundreds of villages in Breland; Sharn alone is surrounded by a dozen smaller communities which, among other things, produce food and other staples the City of Towers relies on. This absence isn’t an accident. While it may SEEM like a map of Breland should include every community in Breland, the practical fact is that dropping another 400 towns and villages onto the map won’t actually make it better; it would bury the existing locations in a wave of noise. Those locations that are called out are the places where things are most likely to HAPPEN. There’s always an adventure in Sharn—whereas in the Sharn-adjacent hamlet of Dane’s Rest, the most exciting thing to happen in the last century was that time Lyndimae’s sow gave birth to an aberrant-marked piglet (something those fancy Morgrave scholars still say is impossible, but they weren’t there when it burnt down the sty, now, were they?).

So where the existing maps of the Five Nations give the impression of a handful of cities spread across a largely empty landscape, I see the nations as more active and vibrant, with steady traffic on rivers, roads, and rails. There are definitely vast stretches of undeveloped land—regions such as the King’s Forest or the Dragonwood—but where you have a major city like Sharn, Wroat, Flamekeep, or Fairhaven, there’s an active community around it. Even a town like Ardev has some smaller outlying hamlets and thorps. One reason this is important is because it’s these communities that actually produce a lot of the raw materials industry relies on. The cities are where you have house enclaves, universities, and nobles hosting galas—but it’s the villages where you have the fields, quarries, and mines. If you look back to my Q’barra campaign, that was set in a small mining town that wasn’t in any canon material—because they aren’t mining dragonshards in Newthrone! So the main point is that there is more out there—there are fishing villages along the shore of Redcliff Bay and miners living in the foothills of the Blackcaps. If you need one, just call it out and add it to the map—as I’ve done with my current Threshold campaign. Threshold is a mining town that has been largely irrelevant for most of its existence and has now become important with the rise of Droaam; and so, I’ve added it to my map and my story.

So there’s a reason we don’t try to show every village. However, I do have an issue with the limited scope of the lightning rail as depicted on the current maps. While it’s easy to imagine that the rail system suffered a certain amount of damage during the war, the lightning rail has been operating for nearly two centuries; while it may have taken a century to really take root, I see it as being more widespread than is currently shown and a backbone of freight transportation. I’ll note that in my first draft of the adventure Shadows From The Last War the adventurers take the lightning rail from Sharn to Rukhaan Draal—and part of the plot rested on the idea that while Orien doesn’t currently operate other rails in Darguun, the network of conductor stones is still there and independent Orien heirs are running smaller coaches on them. Likewise, in Threshold I’ve established that the lightning rail runs through Ardev and out to Threshold… and Orien is actively negotiating to extend it into Droaam.

Part of the idea of the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold book is to look at a smaller region in more detail. But the key point here is to understand that the economy of Khorvaire is more robust than what we’ve called out; that there is an industrial infrastructure that’s deeper than the handful of cities we’ve highlighted on the map. The focus of the existing material is always on adventure, not on establishing a clear model of the industrial economy. But the economy is supposed to be there underneath it.

LIMITATIONS AND INNOVATIONS

With that in mind, the next step is to understand the limitations of magic and a few of the key innovations that are driving the current arcane revolution. As the previous articles have established, arcane magic behaves in a scientific manner and it’s more complicated than it appears to be. It’s simplified in play because this is a game, and we don’t WANT it do be complicated for players to use. But player characters are remarkable. The fact that an artificer can potentially create ANY magic item they feel like is an expression of their remarkable talent, and also reflects unorthodox techniques; they’re the genius creating a prototype in their garage, but those same techniques don’t work on an industrial scale. Let’s quickly review some of the historic limitations on arcane magic.

  • Dragonmark Only. Long ago there were many effects that could only be produced by dragonmarked individuals and then, only a few times per day.
  • Exotic Components. Components are a limiting factor in both spellcasting and magic item creation, from the need to carry balls of sulphur and guano to cast fireball to the need to have the poison glands of a wyvern to create a dagger of venom. Looking to the latter example, a need for such exotic components made it unfeasible to produce such items on a large scale.
  • Narrow Skills. Arcane workers specialize in particular materials (cloth, wood, metal, paper) and specific schools of magic (Illusion, evocation). Except for player characters, the person who makes a hat of disguise can’t also create a wand of magic missiles, just as a gunsmith can’t assemble a television; the two items require a completely different subset of Arcana specializations.

Meanwhile, here’s a host of developments which (over a significant period of time) helped to usher in the modern age.

Spellcasting Focuses and V/S Components. The ability to use a wand to focus your fireball instead of having to carry a supply of guano-balls was a key development for the widespread wandslinger, and streamlined spellcasting overall. Likewise, verbal and somatic components are a tool that have evolved over time and allowed a more efficient use of arcane energy.

The Twelve and Dragonmark Focus Items. The Twelve created a forum in which the Dragonmarked Houses could combine their talents and create tools and techniques no single house could create alone. This accelerated the development of dragonmark focus items, which amplify the powers of a mark and can be used repeatedly. A Sivis heir being able to cast whispering wind (a 3.5 spell) once per day is a novelty; the development of the speaking stone is what transformed the communications industry. However, the cost of creating focus items was an early limitation, something that would be offset by…

Eberron Dragonshards. The most common form of dragonshard, Eberron dragonshards were found to be a universal source of arcane power—allowing early artificers to bypass the traditional limitations of rare components. However, even after this discovery was made, Eberron dragonshards weren’t available in significant quantities. When the young House Tharashk realized it could use its mark for prospecting as well as bounty hunting, Eberron dragonshards became available in significant quantities.

Access to larger quantities of Eberron dragonshards was a general boon to the development of magic items. But the match that lit the fuse of the arcane revolution was the development in the mid-ninth century of the techniques for refining Eberron dragonshards into residuum, a powdered form of the shards that concentrates their power, dramatically increasing the amount of energy people could work with. You know how there’s a base cost to creating a magic item? A significant portion of that is residuum, which can be acquired from House Tharashk—and this takes the place of the exotic components (Manticore spines! Irian crystals! Dragon’s blood!) that had been required in the past. Most magic items still do require some exotic components—you can’t make an airship without soarwood—but refined dragonshards provided a universal base material and general source of fuel that dramatically increased the ability to produce magic items and dragonmark focus items on a larger scale. Which in turn led to the following developments…

  • Agriculture. The widespread implementation of storm spires in agricultural regions allows House Lyrandar to ensure optimal weather, minimizing drought and other disasters. Cannith’s improved manufacturing allows the development and distribution of efficient tools, and they’re developing irrigation systems tied to the principles of create water. Combined with Vadalis’s enhanced livestock this created a surge in agricultural productivity in the late ninth century, contributing to the expansion of major cities and an increase in the industrial workforce.
  • Communication. While the first speaking stones were developed at the end of the eighth century, it was only with the discovery of residuum that they could be deployed on a wide scale. Improved communication helps facilitate collaboration in both research and business. The Arcane Congress developed sending stones in the early days of the Last War and continues to improve the tools of arcane communication. In turn, Tasker’s Dream—a think tank in House Sivis—is working to improve Sivis capabilities and services.
  • Manufacturing. House Cannith’s arcane forges (described in more detail below) allow more widespread production of mundane goods and tools. Combined with the development of the guild trade schools, this helped spread the used of both efficient techniques and tools that allow even independent artisans to produce goods more efficiently than in the past. These techniques include the magecraft cantrip, which allows arcane artisans work more efficiently than those using purely mundane techniques.
  • Transportation. As noted above, there are more roads and rivers in Khorvaire than we see on our maps. The elemental galleons of House Lyrandar are important for sea travel, but elemental-bound barges play an important role in river transport—and the development of residuum and improved binding techniques accelerated the production of these vessels. Likewise, it was the development of residuum that allowed the lightning rail to spread. According to canon, by 869 YK there were rail lines connecting the Five Nations all the way out to the Ironroot Mountains and the Talenta Plains, and the scope of the rail network continued to expand over the decades leading to the Last War. All of this aided in the transportation of both food and raw materials, further driving all other levels of the economy.

So the century leading up to the war saw an increase in the available labor force, while the development of cantrips and ritual magic—disseminated through guild trade schools—enable the rise of the modern magewright. Increasingly efficient techniques for finding and refining Eberron dragonshards made it possible to produce magical items and effects in larger quantities. Most professional magewrights rely on residuum to perform their rituals; it’s not just that people didn’t have the training, it’s that in the past it wouldn’t have been possible to sustain the modern magewright economy.

The Last War diverted much of the labor force, but it also created a burning need that didn’t exist under the unity of Galifar—both to supply the armies of each nation and for constant innovation, each nation eager to find some sort of edge. A century of war strained both resources and infrastructure, which is one reason that the dragonshard deposits of Q’barra and Xen’drik are of such great interest to House Tharashk. Now, in the wake of the war, the systems that evolved to feed that appetite are being turned to civilian needs—both repairing the damage that was done and finding ways to improve everyday life.

INDUSTRY IN THE WORLD

So we have a general sense of the forces that are driving the arcane revolution, but how does it actually manifest in the world? When you’re looking for general touchstones, what we’ve said is that Eberron has more in common with Earth in the nineteenth century than the twentieth or beyond. We are starting to see factories, but for the most part these are the sort of factories you’d see during the American Civil War, not modern automation. We have the point-to-point communication of the speaking stone—which fills much the same role as the telegraph—but in canon, we don’t yet have a wide-broadcast analogue to the radio. In general, magic is being used to produce better tools and techniques for artisans and farmers, but with a few notable exceptions work is still done by individuals. A typical smith may have trained at a Cannith trade school and may pay for the license that lets them display the Cannith seal; but such licensed independents still make up a significant part of the labor force. The greater industrial forces of the dragonmarked houses—Vadalis battery farms, Cannith’s creation forges—are expanding, and it’s easy to see have these could soon transform the economy in the days ahead. But again, that’s the point; the world is changing.

Having said that, the broadly-nineteenth-century model is just that—a general yardstick. Part of the point of Eberron is that it uses different tools than our world, and that means there are things that can be done in Eberron that are impossible even in the present day. While it’s not yet an economically viable service, House Orien can teleport you from Sharn to Korth in the blink of an eye. House Phiarlan may not have access to modern special effects, but they can do things with illusion we can only dream of. Prestidigitation can heat or chill food in seconds. This is especially true when we get into eldritch machines. Lyrandar’s storm spires can control the weather, and Cannith creation forges can create life. So the Five Nations don’t have analogues to television or cars, they don’t have the internet, and airships aren’t as advanced or widespread as our airplanes. But aside from the fact that arcane science advances with every day, always keep in mind the ways in which it does differ from our technology.

Let’s look at a few specific manifestations of arcane industry…

A Vadalis riding tribex, by Olie Boldador

Magebreeding

House Vadalis and those independents licensed by the Handler’s Guild cover a range of businesses: animal husbandry, teamster services, veterinary medicine. These are generally specialized, generational fields. Redleaf Harriers breeds hounds, raptors, and other hunting beasts, while the Willowhaven Ranch outside Varna is the largest dairy farm in the Five Nations. As with any dragonmarked house, most of the largest and well-supported businesses are run by house heirs, but the Handler’s Guild also licenses countless independent ranchers and breeders. The black hippogriff seal ensures that the people in charge have Vadalis training and that beasts are cared for and raised according to house standards. So there are a few massive ranches like Willowhaven, but there are countless small farms as well.

When most people hear “Vadalis,” they think of magebreeding. This is a term that has many meanings. Let’s start with the earliest description.

The widespread use of magic on Eberron has led to the development of magical enhancements to animal breeding, particularly within House Vadalis. Some experiments in that direction have created new creatures that are actually magical beasts, with unusual intelligence and supernatural or spell-like abilities. In general, however, the aim of these breeding programs is simply to create better animals—ones that are more suited for use in the work of daily life. These magically enhanced animals are called magebred.

Eberron Campaign Setting, page 295

Today, House Vadalis identifies three distinct forms of magebreeding.

Incremental magebreeding is similar to breeders in our world trying to produce a new breed of dog. The result is a slight variation in the standard beast well suited toward a particular role: a hen that lays larger eggs, a tiger that’s easier to train, a hound that thrives in colder climates or has a remarkable sense of smell. One concrete example of this is the riding tribex. For thousands of years, the plains tribex has been bred as a beast of burden and source of food. The riding tribex is smaller and faster—sturdier than a horse and capable of enduring long, sustained trips.

Enhanced magebreeding seeks to strengthen a creature, imbuing it with minor supernatural qualities. The Magebred Animal template in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting suggests the following changes:

  • One of Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution is increased by 4; the other two ability scores are increased by 2.
  • Armor Class is increased by 2, reflecting increased overall durability.
  • Magebred animals are easier to train, can learn more tricks or maneuvers than purely mundane creatures, and the DC of Animal Handling checks involving the beast is reduced by 2.
  • The creature gains either a +10 bonus to one of its movement speeds, an additional +2 bonus to armor class, or a bonus to tracking checks.

These creatures are still considered beasts; in 3.5 D&D terms, they were limited to an Intelligence of 2. A few critical points about this template. It’s intended to reflect BREEDS of magebred animals. So Redleaf hounds all have +4 Dexterity and a bonus to tracking; it’s not as though two pups in the same litter each get to choose whether the +4 goes to Strength or Dexterity, or whether they get the boost to movement or tracking. House Vadalis created the first Redleaf hounds through active enhanced magebreeding; but ever since then, Redleaf Harriers has bred that enhanced line, while the house magebreeders have moved on to other things.

The second point is that this is a simple template that is intended to give a broad example of what can be done. The template only suggests a possible bonus to movement, armor class, or tracking checks. But I could see any of the following as being the sort of features that enhanced magebreeding could produce:

  • Increased fertility; increased laying for egg-laying creatures, along with potentially unusual egg characteristics.
  • Animals used to provide meat or dairy could be magebred to enhance these aspects, whether that’s simply increasing the quantity or adding an unusual quality (flavor, color). This is how you get the cow that produces chocolate milk.
  • Heightened senses; a magebred falcon might have a bonus to Perception instead of Survival.
  • Specific resistances: creating a creature that doesn’t just have thick fur, but that is actually resistant to cold damage.
  • Unnatural appearance. A horse with metallic, silvery fur; a hound with glowing eyes; cats that always have identical markings.

The key points here are that the general goal of enhanced magebreeding is to produce new breeds with hereditary traits and generally requires generations to produce results. They don’t take a horse and GIVE it metallic fur; they easily COULD with cosmetic transmutation, but it wouldn’t last. Instead they work to instill a trait over multiple generations, that will thereafter be passed down to offspring. Typically enhanced breeds are only available to house arms in the Handler’s Guild, and enhanced beasts are sterilized before they are sold to others. Stories say that there are all sorts of safeguards to deal with poachers—that enhanced animals will die if they aren’t feed special Vadalis supplements, that they will frenzy and turn on rustlers, that Vadalis has death squads that sneak around the world hunting for unauthorized breeders—but these are probably just rumors. Probably.

Innovative magebreeding involves the creation of either an entirely new species or imbuing an existing creature with dramatic supernatural characteristics. Popular legend holds that the house’s first act of innovative magebreeding was the production of the hippogriff; skeptics claim that Vadalis simply discovered the first hippogriff after it emerged from a manifest zone tied to Kythri. A more recent and dramatic example is the tressym, first produced just twenty-four years ago. The house is always working on innovative projects, but actual successes are far and few between; innovative creations are often sterile, stillborn, or mentally unstable. Many innovative creatures are monstrosities as opposed to beasts.

While it’s more colorful and exciting than, say, dairy farming, magebreeding is a tiny fraction of the work of House Vadalis. Ranches and kennels tied to the Handler’s Guild may perform iterative magebreeding, but enhanced and innovative magebreeding is performed almost entirely within house enclaves or in conjunction with the Twelve. The tressym was produced through collaboration with House Medani, and there are stories of Vadalis working with House Jorasco on ghastly experiments involving troll’s blood and medusa’s eyes.

So what does a magebreeding facility actually look like? What is the daily work that goes on within? The following tools are used in magebreeding.

  • Manifest Zones. Zones tied to Kythri and Lamannia are both highly prized by House Vadalis, though any zone can have value; a Risian manifest zone could be crucial when trying to breed a creature resistant to cold. Sometimes this is about creating a facility in a manifest zone, but often it involves using secondary materials, such as foodstuffs grown in the relevant manifest zones or harnesses formed from planar materials.
  • Focus Items and Eldritch Machines. Vadalis magebreeders use focus items that help them both to maintain control of beasts through the process of magebreeding, compel necessary behaviors, shape instincts, and monitor the state of their charges. Eldritch machines can serve more dramatic purposes; one that comes to mind is the spire of growth, a monolith that accelerates the aging of any beasts within its radius; these help with generational breeding, though these spires are expensive to create and dangerous to maintain (supposedly they don’t affect humanoids…). In general, eldritch machines that produce truly dramatic effects are likely to be either unique or experimental, and may become unstable or require a steady supply of dragonshards.
  • Rare Components. As noted before, Vadalis has been experimenting with troll’s blood. Innovative and enhanced magebreeding often uses transmutation techniques to imbue a creature with the qualities of another creature; this can require organs, blood, or other elements of the creature with the desired trait. Likewise, planar resources can be important in magebreeding.
  • Transmutation Magic. Magebreeding can involve a wide array of transmutation rituals, most of which have little practical application to adventuring: rituals to enhance fertility, highly specific polymorph effects, rituals that simply increase a beast’s chances of surviving the transfusions and other operations it’s going through. A side effect of this is that there is a corps of specialists within Vadalis who excel at cosmetic transmutation (as described in Exploring Eberron). This is rarely a service they perform for humanoids, but there is at least one Vadalis transmuter who runs a business altering the new pets of rich clients to match the appearance of a deceased pet. As a general rule, polymorph alone doesn’t allow successful breeding; polymorphed creatures are functionally sterile while under the effects of the spell, so while you can turn a cat into a dog for an hour, if it mates with another dog in that time it won’t end up producing either puppies or kittens. This is certainly something Vadalis has and continued to experiment with, but lasting change isn’t as simple as a single 4th level spell.

So the point is that magebreeding facilities often look like farms or vertinary hospitals, with special chambers for performing rituals or imbuing planar energies. But magebreeding is invariably a long-term process, involving both breeding and the careful study of multiple generations. Vadalis is always searching for ways to produce swifter and more dramatic results… And these efforts often end in disaster, or at least adventure!

What about plants? One question that’s frequently come up is whether House Vadalis also magebreeds plants. On consideration, my answer is that they do not. Their expertise is limited to fauna, not flora. We have specifically called out Riedran work magebreeding plants (such as dreamlily and the pommow). We’ve talked about the fact that soarwood is a vital limited resource, suggesting that Vadalis can’t replicate it. I also see magical manipulation of plantlife as something that may end up being a strength of the Eldeen Reaches. So there are lots of interesting possibilities for magebred plants, but it’s not a field monopolized by a dragonmarked house;this is an area of the economy that hasn’t currently been locked down, leaving opportunities for independent forces to fill that gap.

Magewrights

A magewright is someone who uses cantrips and arcane rituals to perform their job. It’s a generic term, like technician. “Magewright” isn’t a job; the job is lamplighter or locksmith or truthteller. A typical blacksmith is a magewright, using magecraft and mending to enhance their work; but if you ask their occupation, they’ll say “blacksmith.” The point is that in the modern age, arcane cantrips and rituals are becoming standard tools of industry. If you go to a small village, you may find a smith who doesn’t know how to cast mending; but they’ll have a hard time competing with the Cannith-trained smiths who can mend a broken object in seconds.

As has been discussed in earlier articles and Exploring Eberron, most magewrights are highly specialized and use cantrips or spells that are more limited than the spells used by player characters—though sometimes limitations are balanced by specific advantages. A magewright launderer may use a form of prestidigitation that can only clean or dry, and that only affects fabric or leather—but it may affect a larger area than the standard cantrip. As noted in Rising From The Last War, most magewrights can only cast leveled spells as rituals (even spells that normally don’t have the ritual tag); these often rituals take longer than usual; and they require an additional material cost of 20 gp x the spell’s level, typically refined Eberron dragonshards. Magewrights can produce their effects over and over, but there is a cost in time and gold. Likewise, Magewrights are often proficient with very narrow slices of Arcana. For a player character, Arcana represents broad knowledge; a magewright might be an expert with Arcana but ONLY regarding illusion effects, because that’s all that they mastered in their studies.

Like the wandslinger, the number of magewrights in the world has increased exponentially over the course of the last century. This is due both to the development of improved training techniques and to the need for more services. Magewrights also highlight a crucial difference between the arcane economy and our technological economy. Arcane magic can produce remarkable effects, but it often requires a living creature to guide it. At the moment, laundry is typically done by a magewright who casts their specialized prestidigitation, not by use of a machine anyone can use. Some of the most important tools are dragonmark focus items that can only be operated by someone who possesses a specific dragonmark. Magic items exist, and as noted below exist in ever-increasing numbers—but at the moment there is a vital human (well, living) component to the economy.

Most magewrights are trained by one of the guilds tied to the dragonmarked houses. These trade schools pass along specific techniques tied to the houses, and ultimately provide the student with the opportunity to work within the guild or to license an independent business. The Arcane Congress has its own training programs, and other nations are working on their own programs, but these are typically limited to a few specific fields that until recently were critical to the war effort; again, you don’t go to “magewright school”, you train to be a tinker or a lamplighter. Aside from having the greatest expertise and deep pockets, the trade schools of the guild have the public trust; everyone KNOWS that if you want to be the best smith you can be, you should get Cannith training, not study with some Morgrave outreach program. With that said, not all Magewrights learn from schools. Especially in smaller communities, a magewright may learn their trade through a local apprenticeship. It’s also possible that a magewright could stumble onto their own unique techniques (for example, an Aundairian shoemaker who learns fey techniques for mending shoes).

Manufacturing

House Cannith dominates industrial manufacturing, but isn’t particularly involved in the harvesting or development of raw materials. Likewise, House Cannith is known for two things: the development and maintenance of durable tools and weapons and the creation of magic items (common and otherwise). A key example of this is clothing. Cannith produces and sells looms and weaver’s tools, and it creates enchanted clothing—but it largely performs the latter function by purchasing clothing from weavers and then adding the enchantments. In the case of some of the new factories, Cannith is employing weavers to produce those clothes onsite—but it doesn’t dominate the production of clothing or the fashion industry in the same way that it dominates the creation of swords or constructs. Many expert artisans in all fields still receive Cannith magewright training, but Cannith on the whole is focused on function; fashion is another cottage industry, where independent forces like Clebdecher, Davandi, and a host of Aundairians can shine. 

This ties to the general point that a great deal of modern manufacturing is still the province of individuals or small businesses. The local blacksmith may be Cannith-trained, but you still go and deal with the local blacksmith.

With that said, that is changing. Eldritch machines like creation forges and the legendary genesis forge are amazing arcane factories that allow heirs to channel the forces of conjuration and transmutation and reshape matter through magic alone. However, most Cannith factories aren’t that advanced. They employ assembly lines, with workers having focused tasks that contribute to a greater whole. They use arcane principles—using forms of prestidigitation and mending to polish and shape elements, for example—but they are still more akin to nineteenth century factories than those of the modern day. The simple fact of the matter is that I’m not an expert on manufacturing techniques, and I can’t give you a precise breakdown of what goes on in a Cannith arms factory. But I can say that if that factory is producing swords, every sword in a particular model is nearly identical in quality and appearance—and that it’s produced by an assembly line as opposed to the work of a single smith. It is also the case that a Cannith workshop is generally tightly focused and uses tools that effectively provide advantage to the production of a specific type of thing. That Cannith arms factory is able to churn out swords and halberds, but they can’t suddenly turn around and start producing wagons tomorrow; they’re metalworks, and while they might be able to shift to producing maces by changing out molds, they can’t suddenly start producing leather armor.

Cannith is also the source of the bulk of the magic items that are found in the present day. As a general rule, even common items aren’t yet MASS produced, though Cannith is working on it. Let’s consider a cloak of many fashions. First they need the base, physical cloak, which has to be produced to certain specifications (a particular material, specific total mass; given the esoteric nature of arcane magic, it’s even possible that it has to be a specific color). Assembly line workers can perform preparatory work—imbuing the material with residuum and a certain elixir; attaching a brooch, itself specially prepared—but ultimately it is a specialized magewright who performs a lengthy ritual that draws on arcane forces and binds them to the cloth. The Cannith facility is designed to help this process; the chamber that magewright works in is engraved with arcane patterns that allow them to channel the energies involved in illusion-into-cloth rituals more efficiently. This ties to the basic difference between Cannith artisans and player characters creating magic items. Cannith facilities are geared to create specific items and they can do so quicker and more cheaply than an artificer. But that workshop is entirely geared toward binding illusion into clothes—producing a specific version of cloak of many fashions, perhaps a form of cloaks of elvenkind, maybe a specific type of glamoured armor. They can’t just decide to produce a wand of magic missiles tomorrow; their speed and efficiency is tied to following a clearly established pattern.

Cannith dominates manufacturing and sets the standards of the industry, but that doesn’t mean all goods are manufactured by Cannith. We’ve always called out that Breland has the greatest industrial capacity of the Five Nations, while through the Arcane Congress Aundair has the most sophisticated facilities for producing magic items. The Cogs of Sharn are an important center for metalworking. Cannith facilities are simply better, because dragonmark focus items are cheaper and more effective than other tools and because Cannith artisans have Artisan’s Intuition; but Brelish facilities are still effective and capable of producing mundane equipment on par with Cannith’s basic goods.

What About Automation?

Even before House Cannith created the fully sentient warforged, it developed the semi-sentient warforged titans. Homunculi have been around for quite some time, and I’ll talk about both homunculi and familiars in more detail in a future IFAQ. The principles of arcane automation are clearly on the table, and already one of the primary concerns meatbags—I mean, people—have raised about the warforged is that these tireless constructs might steal the jobs of honest folk. As it stands, the general concept is that the science just isn’t there yet. There may certainly be prototype factories where animated metal limbs perform the work that once required human hands, or where docents perform the work of enchantment. But again, this ties to the point that the world is changing. Currently, the magewright is a crucial living component of modern manufacturing; but perhaps the next decade will bring dramatic change.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

This is always the key question with this type of article. Ultimately, why does any of this matter? How does any of this actually affect your adventure or your adventurer? Here’s a few things to consider.

  • Independent artisans are still common. Most are trained or licensed by the dragonmarked houses, and people value a house license because it promises a standardized level of quality. If you have the Guild Artisan background, odds are good you’re tied to one of the house guilds… But if you’re proficient with Smith’s Tools, you could have been a soldier trained to maintain equipment in the Last War, you could have worked in the Cogs, or you could simply have learned the trade from the village smith.
  • Manifest zones are often an important aspect of industry. It’s Syrania that makes the City of Towers possible. As a DM developing an interesting industrial site, consider if there’s a manifest zone that could be relevant—and if so, what unforeseen consequences it could have. Sharn has its radiant idols. If Cannith has built a massive forgehold in a Fernian manifest zone to take advantage of its Fires of Industry trait, they might run into problems when an exiled dao decides to lay claim to the facility…
  • Consider the practical applications of cantrips. Within seconds, a magewright can heat, chill, clean, flavor, or mend. That’s a tool; prestidigitation lets you heat and flavor food, but unless you’re proficient with cook’s utensils there’s no assurance you’ll do it well.
  • Factories exist, and employ assembly lines and specialized facilities, but are not as advanced—or automated—as what we’re used to.
  • On the other hand, eldritch machines can produce effects that are beyond what we can do today. However, these often either require a dragonmarked heir (as with the storm spire or creation forge) or are either unique or prototype facilities that could easily have unexpected problems.
  • Tied to this, arcane science is constantly advancing. Both the houses and independent forces are trying to push the envelope. Risky experiments can have unsafe consequences or require questionable actions—whether that’s about Vadalis kidnapping trolls to harvest their blood, or Cannith making a new generation of warforged that channel the essence of fiends from Shavarath.

GENERALQ&A

As we start moving into the late Victorian period the first department stores begin showing up and textiles are by and large one of the most industrious industries… The smaller tailors will buy the newest patterns from France or Italy, then you’d go in and be fitted and pick out your fabrics. In larger department stores it is much the same, but instead of a dress made in your hometown it is shipped in from a more manufacture savvy city or country. I’m assuming that one could say that Cannith acts as these large department stores, and these dresses (still made to order and fit) are then brought in so that Cannith artificers can enchant them. Or would it be more of a service that Cannith does, that one can order a gown in a fine silk, and the tailor can have it sent off to Cannith to have a glamour put upon it?

There’s a few factors here. The first is that so far in canon I don’t believe we’ve discussed the existence of a classic department store in the model of Selfridge’s or Le Bon Marche. I believe that there’s a lot of room for just such a business to exist in Fairhaven or Sharn, but the point is that it doesn’t exist yet. MY inclination would be to highlight this as a key development of the world moving forward from the war—to tell a Selfridge-like story of the entrepreneur who’s trying to introduce the department store to the Five Nations. The question then comes as to whether that store would be Cannith, or whether it would be an independent—who could, therefore, be an Aurum member. Essentially, Cannith specializes in MAKING things; we’ve never said they specialize in SELLING them, and that could be a crucial distinction here.

This ties to the key question of where the dragonmarked monopolies lie. What businesses do you want to be utterly dominated by the houses, and where are the opportunities for independents and the Aurum to get a foothold? Just as I suggest above that Vadalis isn’t involved in magebreeding plants, I’m inclined to say that Cannith is focused on function over fashion. I DO think it’s reasonable to say that they enchant bolts of fabric with relevant enchantments (self-cleaning, simple glamerweave effects) and then sell them to tailors. But I don’t think that most dressmakers are Cannith. In Sharn: City of Towers, the two most celebrated tailors are Hellien Clamas Clebdecher and Thurik Davandi—both independent gnomes. In Threshold, the Cannith heir runs the smithy while Littlehand Haberdashers is independent. Personally, I like having those spaces in the world that fall in the cracks between houses. I think it IS reasonable to say that Cannith produces bolts of cloth—that tailors buy their materials from Cannith—but I’m OK with the idea that fashion is outside of Cannith, and that the department store could be a new development.

But also tied to that, in general I tend to think that fine glamerweave is often custom work. I think it’s reasonable to say that there are basic glamerweave effects that can be bound to bolts of cloth and that are seen in bulk—field of stars, flowing water, embers—but I tend to think that more dramatic glamerweave effects are usually custom work. So it could be that a tailor would make a dress and then you’d take it to a glamerweave artisan, but I don’t think that artisan would necessarily be Cannith.

Would it be House Cannith that has magewright plumbers?

Yes and no. Rather than “plumber,” I’d call this magewright trade custodian. Prestidigitation to clean; a form of mending that can be used to repair damaged masonry and wood; and potentially a speciality spell like create or destroy water, floating disk, or even some form of generating fire to dispose of refuse. Custodians could serve as plumbers in cities that have plumbing, but would also deal with general maintenance of infrastructure, remove refuse and graffiti, and so on. Again, I could definitely see that the Cannith Tinker’s Guild would TRAIN custodians, but I’m not sure that it would actually broker their services; I think custodians would probably work directly for the civic authority. However, the Tinker’s Guild might license itinerant custodians who travel between smaller villages.

What’s the role of the city of Making, which now resides on the Glass Plateau, in this? Were there any particular innovations or was it “just” a major industrial center? Was it the original home of one or more Cannith families?

The city of Making is a source of contradictory canon. In some places it’s described as “the birthplace of House Cannith.” Yet Rising From The Last War and earlier canon sources clearly establish Eston as the seat of House Cannith and the focus of its greatest works. Likewise, Rising says “A secret Cannith facility is supposed to hide in the city’s subterranean depths“—which implies that the city overall isn’t dominated by Cannith.

My answer lies in the final question—Was it the original home of one or more Cannith families? As this article notes, Cannith was formed from multiple families. The Vown family—which we’ve called out as one of the more powerful families today—was definitely associated with Eston. I’d say that the region around making was associated with both the Harn and Juran families (though the Jurans were always travelers and didn’t settle in one city). While Eston became the seat of the united house, Making remained a center of GENERAL industry within Cyre, both Cannith and other cottage industries. To tie it to the preceding questions, I’d take it a step further and say that Making might have been the center for Cannith’s textile production—so yes, Cannith had facilities in Making, but they largely produced bolts of cloth and other basic goods, whereas in Eston they have the clockwork menagerie and three creation forges. This ties to the statement that Cannith had a SECRET facility beneath Making; the point is that they had factories and facilities on the surface but that they were all devoted to peaceful production, while if there was some sort of weapons research going on in Making, it was in this hidden outpost.

As with all of these articles, there’s many more aspects of this I’d like to cover. Future IFAQs may deal with questions about the lightning rail, airships, and familiars. As always, thanks to by Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and who make these articles possible!