IFAQ: The Inspired

I’m still working on my Riedra article—which will now be split into multiple articles, though I’ll post both this week—but I thought I’d start the week off with an IFAQ on a related topic raised by my Patreon supporters: The Inspired.

Rising From The Last War has this to say about the Inspired.

Any humanoid who can dream can volunteer to serve as a quori vessel. But the Inspired of Sarlona are humans bred to be such vessels. They have no choice in this destiny, since they can’t resist quori possession. Physically, Inspired resemble the kalashtar, possessing an almost supernatural beauty.

Rising from the last war, page 294

This is concrete and clear. The quori can possess any dreaming humanoid that agrees to the possession. The Inspired are members of a subspecies of humanity—known as the Chosen in Riedra—bred to be possessed. What Rising doesn’t call out is that in the original canon, Chosen are bred to be possessed by a specific quori spirit; you’re not simply a generic Chosen available to all quori, you’re Chosen of Lord Sulatesh. Chosen can volunteer to be possessed by another quori (and most would be happy to do so), but only one spirit has unlimited access. In Riedra, GENERALLY “Inspired” means Chosen-who-is-actively-being-possessed, but if the spirit leaves an Inspired host because of important business in another host, the “empty” Inspired still maintains their position and will carry on in the spirit’s absence.

Now, Rising muddies the water a little with this subsequent paragraph.

Most of the people of the Five Nations have heard of the Inspired lords of Riedra—never realizing that Inspired are spread throughout Khorvaire as well. Beggars and generals, merchants and mayors might all be secret servants of the Dreaming Dark. Such Inspired have to willingly accept quori possession, but the Dreaming Dark has long experience in weaving dreams that can convince mortals to surrender their bodies.

RISING FROM THE LAST WAR, PAGE 294

The main point here is that the section is using “Inspired” as a general term for any creature possessed by a quori spirit. Which is fine, because you can use the STAT BLOCK for any such creature. But it’s important to understand that this second class of people—humanoids who have ALLOWED a quori to possess them—will not CALL themselves “Inspired” and they would not be recognized as Inspired by the people of Riedra. Likewise, it is the CHOSEN who “resemble the kalashtar, having an almost supernatural beauty.” There’s no change to the appearance of people who willingly allow themselves to become possessed, and again, these voluntary hosts can be of any humanoid species that can dream. The stat block in Rising presumes a Chosen host, but you could have a dwarf, an ogre, or even a shifter infected with lycanthropy as a voluntary host.

Quori possession is entirely different from the relationship between a kalashtar and their quori spirit. With the kalashtar, the quori is a passive presence that simultaneously guides many kalashtar. With the Inspired (voluntary or otherwise) the quori is an active presence that controls a single body at a time, and it fully dominates the host. What we’ve said is that while possessed by a quori, it feels like you are making your own decisions, but you have no control; because of this, people who are possessed by a quori for long periods of time often find that their personality shifts to mirror that of the quori, because it feels natural. This is why the Inspired are trusted even when they aren’t inhabited; even without the quori presence, they tend to think like the quori. However, this sort of shift requires years of possession. Someone who is tricked into accepting quori possession and quickly freed—either because the quori voluntarily leaves or because it is driven out—remembers what happened while they were possessed and can refuse to let the quori return.

So: a quori working with Chosen hosts can move between its vessels at will. It could have Chosen vessels on three different continents and coordinate international schemes involving all three hosts. However, if the quori is working with someone who was voluntarily possessed, they may not have this option; it could be that the moment they leave the host it will turn against them, raising the alarm and undoing their schemes. Note that such a freed host may not KNOW much about the quori’s grand schemes. Usually quori trick victims into accepting possession with clever lies—claiming to be an angel, or the spirit of a heroic ancestor, or something like that. The victim may quickly realize that’s true, but they don’t know what the quori actually is or what it wants. The quori gets access to the memories of the victim, but the victim doesn’t learn the secrets of the quori. So again, freeing a host can be a major snag in the plans of the Dreaming Dark, but it doesn’t provide access to all their secrets.

So just to sum up: The Inspired is the title used for the rulers of Riedra. These rulers are raised up from the Chosen—a magebred form of humanity who cannot resist being possessed by the patron quori of their line. Quori can also possess any willing humanoid capable of dreaming, but the once they leave that host they will have to be granted permission to return to it. 

The humans found in the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes are supposed to be descended from refugees from Sarlona. Could some of these refugees have been people who were part of the Chosen magebreeding program? It seems wonderfully tragic for them to flee Sarlona to avoid being possessed only to end up in a land of fiends. Could this mean that there is a bloodline of Carrion Tribe barbarians optimized for fiendish possession?

Sure! We don’t know what was involved in creating the Chosen. It’s quite possible that the Inspired experimented with existing possessing fiends to perfect their hosts, and began with a vessel that was broadly vulnerable to any form of possession. The main point is that they’d have to have been failures as CHOSEN, because the defining feature of the Chosen is that they can be possessed ANYWHERE. Again, a quori of the Dreaming Dark can have Chosen vessels on every continent and move between them at will; their physical location is irrelevant. So a Chosen vessel can’t simply RUN from its patron quori; it will need to have some form of supernatural protection to avoid possession. But sure, you could have a bloodline in the Demon Wastes whose members are descended from early failures in the programs that created the Chosen.

The ECS notes the Chosen/Empty Vessels have slight fiendish and elven qualities (pg 290). With Sarlona and Aerenal being quite separate, is this elven quality a result of some magebreeding, selective breeding with traders, or just a way to describe their grace and etherealness?

Largely the latter. Rising is clearer about this, simply stating “Inspired resemble the kalashtar, possessing an almost supernatural beauty.” Actual elves would be a weird options since they’re very uncommon on Sarlona and because they don’t dream, which makes them a strange choice for a dream-host; I’d actually think that part of what defines the Chosen is that on one level they are ALWAYS dreaming, that their innate connection to Dal Quor is stronger than that of most creatures. The quori may have worked with tieflings from Ohr Kaluun as part of their program (giving that fiendish touch); another possible vector for an elf aspect is something that will come up in the upcoming articles, namely that one of the sorcerer-lines of Corvagura drew its power from Thelanis and had fey features.

What’s the story with mind seeds?

Mind seed is a psionic discipline from the 3.5 psionics rules that replaces the consciousness of the victim with a copy of the consciousness of the caster. In 3.5 the kalaraq quori had a specialized version of this—focused mind seed—that replaced the PERSONALITY of the victim while keeping their memories and skills intact, which is a pretty important detail if you want to to replace a top spy and not have them lose all the skills they need to perform their job.

Mind seed is a perfect example of an ability that is, ultimately, a plot device and doesn’t actually require psionics rules to be used in a story. It’s not intended to be used on player characters; it’s a tool that allows the Dreaming Dark to infiltrate other organizations, seeding people in their dreams. Seeds are the ultimate moles, because they aren’t possessed and thus can’t be exorcised; once the seed personality has taken hold, the only way to recover the original personality is with the equivalent of a wish. So again, it doesn’t really NEED mechanics; all that matters is that the Dreaming Dark has the capability to replace a victim’s personality with the personality of a Kalaraq quori, which allows them to have moles almost anywhere.

Of course, it’s reasonable to wonder: why doesn’t the Dreaming Dark have hundreds of mind seeds? Why aren’t all the rulers of Khorvaire mind seeded? There’s a few factors. The kalaraq generally plant seeds in dreams, so there’s the basic idea that they can only affect mortal humanoids that dream; they can’t mind seed elves or warforged. It’s also the case that mind seed is a slow process that can be stopped if it’s identified along the way (in the 5E version, you have about 6 days in which the effect can be removed by remove curse). So, for example, in Adar people know what to look for and will generally nip potential mind seeds in the bud. But people in Khorvaire are less familiar with this… so, why don’t they mind seed ALL the important people in Khorvaire? The answer is called out in Secrets of Sarlona: The quori don’t CONTROL mind seeds. Someone who’s possessed is entirely dominated by the possessing spirit. A mind seed is a copy of the quori in a humanoid body. The driving cause that unites the quori is the fear that the turning age of Dal Quor could destroy them all… but a mind seed ISN’T a quori and isn’t actually threatened by this. And worse still, the kalaraq quori are spirits of ambition. So it’s rare, but kalaraq mind seeds have cut ties with the Dreaming Dark to pursue their own ambitions… and as they have the cunning and knowledge of one of the leaders of the Dreaming Dark, these rogue seeds can be serious threats. As a result, the quori are very careful about not relying too heavily on mind seeds. The ideal mind seed has an interesting challenge that will keep the seed from becoming bored, while not having so much power that it will collapse the quori plans if the seed does rebel.

With that said, Rising From The Last War presents a simpler version of this that states that the victim “becomes a thrall under the quori’s control.” And you can certain take this approach, perhaps just limiting the number of thralls each kalaraq can have. But I prefer the original concept, which is that the mind seeds AREN’T under quori control. They serve solely because of inherited loyalty; but they have the potential, however rare, to evolve and rebel.

That’s all for now! More on Riedra will be coming this week. Thanks to my Patreon backers for keeping this site going!