Dragonmarks: Orcs and the Ghaash’kala

Last week I wrote about Goblins, Orcs, and the Dhakaani. It turns out that there’s a lot to say about goblins, and the post has grown to an unwieldy size. So for the ease of future generations I’ve decided to separate the orc material into a standalone post. As as long as we’re talking about orcs, I want to takes some time to delve into the Ghaash’kala, a topic that’s received little attention in the main sourcebooks.

As I said in the previous post, my goal in Eberron is always to explore what makes each PC race unique. In what way are orcs not just humans with green (or grey) skin and fangs? How are they different from goblins and other “savage humanoids”? Let’s take a look.

ORCS

While they aren’t as directly animalistic as shifters, I see orcs as a very primal race. They’re extremely passionate and emotional; this can manifest as aggression or rage, but it’s just as strong when it comes to loyalty, affection and faith. They believe in things intensely. This led to them being the first druids on Khorvaire and having one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame – the Ghaash’kala guardians of the Demon Wastes. But they’re also highly individualistic… leaning more towards chaos than law. They are very effective in small tribes or family groups, where they all know each other and are working together… but they aren’t good with faceless authority, blind obedience, or being part of a huge infrastructure. This is one of the main reasons the orcs never dominated Khorvaire. They are barbarians by nature. They have no innate desire to build vast cities or organize huge armies; the small tribe is what they are comfortable with. This led to their being pushed into the fringes of Khorvaire by the Dhakaani goblins, and that’s where this linger to this day. If the goblins are like ants or wasps, orcs are like wolves: fierce, loyal to their pack, but not inclined to form into a massive legion of wolves and conquer the world.

In playing an orc – whether as a player or DM – I’d emphasize this primal and passionate nature. They feel emotions strongly, and are quick to anger but equally quick to celebrate. They believe things deeply, and can be very spiritual. As an orc, you’re loyal to your pack – whether that’s your family or your adventuring companions – and quick to distrust massive, faceless forces and invisible authority. This may seem at odds with the idea of strong faith, but they’re equally distrustful of monolithic organized religions. The Ghaash’kala are one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame, but they operate in small clans and have never formed the sort of political hierarchy that you see in the Church of the Silver Flame. So as an orc, follow your heart; explore your faith; be true to your friends and suspicious of those who would tell you what to do.

Half-orcs blend the traits of orc and human, and it’s up to you to decide which manifest most strongly in your personality. Do you have the quick emotion and deep faith of your orcish ancestor? Or has this been tempered by your human side? Half-orcs are celebrated in much of the Shadow Marches, where they are thought to possess the best qualities of both races. However, the people of the Five Nations don’t generally share this view… and for that matter, most of the people of the Five Nations assume that orcs are brutish.

If the orcs are so chaotic & don’t make big cities, how do we have Zarash’ak and House Tharashk?   

Because of humanity. There are two primary cultures in the Shadow Marches. The tribes are the older culture and continue to live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The clans embraced humanity – and over the generations, they adopted many human customs. House Tharashk is an unprecedented alliance between clans, and one that would never survive if not for the humans and half-orcs that balance the chaotic tendencies of their orcish kin. Tharashk orcs have grown up in this blended culture. While they are used to it, it’s still in their nature to question authority, and most Tharashk orcs are ultimately more loyal to their close kin and enclave than to the overall institution – but that’s enough to keep the house intact. Zarash’ak is the largest city the Marches have ever seen, built by House Tharashk when success demanded it; the orcs had no desire to build such things in the past.

Orcs make up the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. So are they fundamentally good creatures? 

Not at all. Yes, the Ghaash’kala and Gatekeepers are two forces that have protected Eberron for thousands of years. But for every orc in the Ghaash’kala, there’s at least two in the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. For every Gatekeeper, there’s an orc tied to a cult of the Dragon Below. One reason the Daelkyr didn’t create an orcish equivalent of the Dolgaunts and Dolgrims was because many orcs were quick to embrace their cause; they didn’t need to make an orc slave race. So orcs are passionate in their beliefs, but that includes belief in the Overlords just as easily as loyalty to the Silver Flame.

Have you ever imagined a bardic tradition for orcs?

So a critical thing to bear in mind here is that most people in the world don’t use PC classes. In Eberron, most priests are experts or adepts, NOT clerics. The same applies here. Do orcs have traditions of music and dance? Absolutely! They’re passionate, creative and emotional. I can imagine a tradition of ecstatic song and dance, where listeners are exhorted to let go and give themselves to the music; and I can imagine a tradition of song that is more mournful – similar to Portuguese fado – that is about exhorting the listener to feel the pain or anger of the song. And I’d expect specific musical traditions tied to both the Gatekeepers and the Cults of the Dragon Below. As I call out below, the Dhakaani goblins don’t enjoy art for arts sake; their songs educate you about the past, their dancing is a form of combat drill. For the orcs, art is something to experience and enjoy.

But with that said, most entertainers wouldn’t be bardsA bard isn’t just an entertainer. They are arcane spellcasters and highly skilled loremasters. If all you’re looking for is entertainment, all you need is an expert trained in Performance and perhaps Insight and Persuasion. Among the Dhakaani the dirge singers are deeply integrated into their civilization, serving not simply as entertainers but also as healers, diplomats, and spiritual guides. We have not presented a similar critical role for bards in either the Ghaash’kala or Shadow Marches. With that said, do they exist? Sure. Here’s three ideas.

  • Memories. Much of the secret lore of the Gatekeepers has never been committed to writing; it is the task of a Memory to preserve this knowledge, remembering all things that both their modern comrades and future generations will need to know. Memories typically lead public services in Gatekeeper communities, and this is where inspiration comes in; they are master orators who can exhort the people to remember the importance of their cause. So a higher level druid might be the leader of a Gatekeeper sect, but the Memory may be the one who conveys his message to the people. In looking to the wider word, Memories could be sent out beyond the Marches both the confirm that their knowledge is still accurate (for example, checking the locations of Khyber seals to ensure they are still intact) and to update their knowledge base, investigating mysteries and learning new things. Memories generally know spells related to nature (Animal Friendship, Speak With Animals, Animal Messenger), healing spells, and spells that will help them uncover secrets, and they are usually well versed in knowledge-based skills (Arcana, History).
  • Passions. The Cults of the Dragon Below have always had a strong presence in the Shadow Marches. Many cults don’t have traditional priests or clerics; instead, they have Passions, ecstatic speakers who fan the flames of emotion (and often madness) in their communities. At their best, Passions are spiritual guides and mediators; at their worst they are demagogues and firebrands, inflaming dangerous emotions. As such they rarely have skills like History or Arcana; instead they are well-versed in Insight, Intimidation and Persuasion. Their spells likewise tie to emotion, manipulation and madness. Vicious Mockery, Charm Person, Hideous Laughter, and Suggestion are all solid choices for Passions. If you’re playing an edition where bards have a Bardic Knowledge ability, for a Passion this would reflect literal mad insights; they haven’t studied a topic, but they just declare what they believe – and strangely, that’s often the truth. There’s no organization among Passions; they general spring up spontaneously. Generally there’s only one per community. A Passion PC might have developed a passion for travel; they might be following a mad vision, having an idea of a grand quest that might or might not have any basis in reality; or they could even have been driven from their community for causing trouble, and it’s up to the PC to decide if they’re remorseful adn seek redemption, or if they’re out to sow more chaos.
  • Bridge. In the Shadow Marches, half-orcs are called jhorgun’taal, “the bridge of two bloods.” Some exceptional half-orcs embrace this role. They travel from community to community, carrying local news and helping to bind those communities together. They are entertainers and mediators, seeking to spread cheer and resolve feuds. They typically know the ways of both Gatekeepers and the Cults, and seek to bring out the best in followers of both paths. A Bridge bard would be a helpful guide and advisor to strangers coming to the Marches for the first time. It would be unusual for a Bridge to leave the Marches, but one could be driven by sheer curiosity or a desire to help a wider community.

THE GHAASH’KALA

Everyone knows about the Gatekeepers, the orc druids who fought the Daelkyr. But there’s another group of orc champions who’ve been fighting evil for far longer, and whose vigil has never waned: The Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes.

I created the Ghaash’kala in the original ECS. The only canon source that’s expanded on them is the Player’s Guide to Eberron. This is one of those cases where I don’t agree with what was written there – it’s not bad, it’s just not my vision. So to be clear, what you’re about to read contradicts canon and is literally what I do in my Eberron. A few years ago a friend of my ran a 5E Eberron campaign and I played a Ghaash’kala paladin, so I put more thought into the Ghost Guardians, and what follows is the result of that.

HISTORY

In the dawn of time the world belonged to the fiends. The Binding Flame was born from a desperate act of sacrifice. The Overlords cannot be destroyed, merely held at bay; their power yearns to break free from the Flame that binds them, and their servants prey upon those who have inherited the world. The Flame is fueled by courage, and it is only through the vigilance and sacrifice of champions that the light remains strong enough to hold the darkness at bay.

The prisons of the Overlords are scattered across the world, but their power is strongest in the Demon Wastes. Here lies the ruins of Ashtakala, the greatest city of the Age of Demons. Though the Overlords are bound, their power corrupts nature and weak minds. The Wastes are filled with horrors, both mortal and immortal. Left unchecked, these terrors would spread to the south and bathe Khorvaire in blood. But ancient magic and geography have established a barrier: the mountain range known as the Labyrinth. This barrier can’t stop the powerful rakshasa from leaving the Wastes, but it serves as a funnel for the lesser horrors. Bloodthirsty barbarians, minor fiends, twisted creatures… all flow through the Labyrinth seeking release. One force guards the gates of the Labyrinth and protects the innocents to the south: The Ghost Guardians, the Ghaash’kala, sworn to serve the Binding Flame from birth to death and beyond. The life of a Ghost Guardian is one of endless strife. It is a mirror to the Flame itself: it is a battle than can never be truly won, but through sacrifice they can continue to contain the evil and protect the innocent from harm.

The Ghaash’kala have no written records and don’t know exactly how long their ancestors have fought against the darkness. It’s clear that couatl trained and equipped the first Ghaash’kala; it may not have been during the Age of Demons itself, but it was long before humanity came to Khorvaire. As such, the Ghaash’kala may be the first humanoids to channel the power of the Silver Flame… or as they call it, Kalok Shash, the Binding Flame.

STRUCTURE

There are four Ghaash’kala clans spread across the Labyrinth. As far as they are concerned, the world is divided into two sides: the living and the fel (a word that could be translated both as “unliving” or “unnatural”; it is a term that encompasses both undead, fiends and life that has been corrupted). They have no interest in politics or commerce; should the Overlords rise, they will care nothing for trivialities of mortal nations. The Ghaash’kala place most people into the category of “The weak innocents we are protecting,” but they will accept members of any race into their ranks. They feel disdain for anyone strong enough to fight who ignores the greater duty, especially mercenaries who squander their gifts without any conviction whatsoever.

The Kalok Shash is a simple faith, and the Ghaash’kala don’t waste time on the elaborate rituals or titles of the Church of the Silver Flame. There are only a few recognized positions among the faithful.

  • A korta (“Speaker”) is someone who hears the Voice of the Flame more clearly than others. The korta serve as spiritual guides, diplomats and healers, using their connection to the Flame to guide and advise others. A korta’sha is a divine spellcaster. The korta’sha are always on the front lines, leading war parties and battling demonic influences.
  • A kala (“Guardian”) is a warrior who fights in service to the Flame; this includes the bulk of the Ghaash’kala population. A kala’sha is a divine warrior – typically a paladin.
  • A drok (“Hand”) is a non-combatant, either because of infirmity or because of a vital non-combat skill needed to support the fight.

There are no equivalent ranks to bishop, priest, cardinal, or any of that. The Ghaash’kala are few enough in number that the korta and kala are distinguished by their deeds. Everyone knows that the korta’sha Hurok is the greatest of the Speakers; he doesn’t need some special title to indicate that. The Ghaash’kala are also considerably more blase about divine spellcasters than most human cultures. To the Ghaash’kala, these individuals are weapons. A korta’sha isn’t necessarily holier than a non-casting korta… but she has a purpose and a duty. She is a tank, and a tank belongs on the battlefield. While Ghaash’kala despise mercenary soldiers, they are truly baffled by the idea of divine spellcasters who do not use their powers to directly fight evil.

Now: how have the Ghaash’kala survived in the Demon Wastes for tens of thousands of years? Where do they get the supplies they need, from steel for their weapons to the food and water they need to survive? What are their shelters like?

To start with the last: Each of the four clans has a stronghold carved deep into the rock of the Labyrinth, each drawing on the powers of a manifest zone. These were created by dragons and couatl in the first age, and are imbued with powerful magic; it is these fortifications that have served as a final refuge in even the hardest times. Likewise, the Ghaash’kala possess tools and weapons that have been handed down for generations. The Ghaash’kala consider these relics to be sacred gifts, and they might as well be; the most potent of them were crafted by the beings who first kindled the Flame itself. Of course, an artifact is not something to be used lightly; sometimes generations pass before someone successfully bonds with a relic. Some say that Tira Miron’s blade Kloijner came from the Wastes, that the couatl guided her north to claim the weapon she needed to face Bel Shalor. If one of your players is a champion of the Flame, perhaps there is an artifact waiting for them in the vaults of the Ghaash’kala.

Such tools certainly help explain the survival of the Ghaash’kala. But there are only a few such artifacts. The Maruk stronghold has a well that never runs dry, a variation of the Alchemy Jug. But they still need food and any number of basic supplies that can’t be found in this poisoned land. But the very thing that makes the Wastes so dangerous also provides opportunity. The Demon Wastes are peppered with passages to Khyber… not simply the physical underworld, but a host of demiplanes and demonic realms. Fiends emerge from these paths to prey on the weak… and the Ghaash’kala venture into them to find what they need. The Maruk hunt balewolves in the Abyssal Forests of Khar, and wield weapons taken from the corpses of the demon foot soldiers of the Ironlands. These strange realms are alien and deadly, but over the many centuries the Ghaash’kala have learned their secrets. As a result, the Ghaash’kala have resources that can’t be found anywhere in Khorvaire. Their weapons are forged from unknown materials, and they brew salves and unguents that would make Jorasco weep. So the idea is that the Ghaal’dar are essentially barbarians living in an apocalyptic landscape – but by mastering that environment, making the most of the resources available to them, and preserving and using ancient relics, they have found what they need to hold the line in their never-ending war.

KALOK SHASH: THE BINDING FLAME

Overall, the faith of the Binding Flame is harsh, simple and compassionate. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak. It is the duty of the living to fight the fel… whether with the sword, or in the case of the drok by caring for the warriors and producing more warriors. Harsh sacrifice is often necessary, but the loss of any innocent life is a tragedy. With that said, there is a concrete line over which innocence is lost. One of the constant threats faced by the Ghaash’kala are the Carrion Tribe barbarians, mortals who serve the Overlords. The Ghaash’kala call a mortal who chooses to serve evil a fel’gha – “Vile Soul.” They do not waste time or tears on the fel’gha; there are too many threats to the world to worry about redeeming the corrupt. A Ghaash’kala would cast any human who chooses to prey on other humans in this category, and typically one deals with fel’gha with the sword. This can be a difficult challenge for a kala’sha who travels in the south, where many humans seek to take advantage of one another. A greedy innkeeper most likely isn’t a true fel’gha deserving of death… but the Ghaash’kala are disgusted that anyone would seek to harm others for profit.

While they may give it a different name, the Ghaash’kala channel the power of the Silver Flame. They may shout different invocations, but the visible manifestations of their magic are identical to those of an exorcist of the Silver Flame or a silver pyromancer. A paladin from Thrane and a korta’sha who observe each other in battle recognize that they wield the same forces. With that said, if you’re planning to use the Ghaash’kala in a campaign involving divine characters tied to the Flame, it’s an excellent opportunity to shift around spell lists. Perhaps the Ghaash’kala know ways to use the Flame that humans have never discovered… while Tira’s followers have discovered more subtle rituals that the Korta’sha have never imagined. The simplest way to handle this is to give the Ghaash’kala spells found in a new supplement or sourcebook – so you aren’t taking away core spells from a player, but rather providing an interesting path for learning new spells. Rather than having new options magically appear over night, it’s more interesting to make a cleric study with a korta’sha to learn that new spell or channel divinity option. And perhaps they have something to teach in return.

But wait: earlier, I said the korta hear the Voice of the Flame. Isn’t Tira Miron the Voice of the Flame? She is… for the Church of the Silver Flame. A Voice is the anchor of a manifestation of the faith. Tira is the Voice of Flamekeep. But the Ghaash’kala have their own Voice, just as the people of Khalesh did in Sarlona. One can assume that the Voice of Kalok Shash was an orc from long ago, but if so their name has been lost; they are simply known as Korta’Shash. If you use my idea of learning new divine spells by training with the Ghaash’kala, it could be that this isn’t just about learning a new incantation or gesture as it would be for a wizard… but rather realizing that there is more than one Voice of the Flame, and learning how to hear the Voice of Kalok Shash.

USING THE GHAASH’KALA

Here’s a few ideas about ways to bring the Ghaash’kala into your campaign.

  • If your adventurers need to go to the Demon Wastes – perhaps to explore the Lair of the Keeper? Or on a secret mission to Ashtalaka? – they will have to deal with the Ghaash’kala to get through the Labyrinth. The Guardians won’t stop people from going in, but will warn that no one tainted by the influences of the Wastes will be allowed to leave – are you sure this trip is worth it?
  • An adventurer with ties to the Silver Flame may be guided to the Labyrinth. There is an artifact in the Maruk stronghold that they must claim… but can they prove their worthiness to the guardians?
  • The players stumble onto a rakshasa plot to weaken the wards of the Labyrinth. The PCs must work with the Ghaash’kala to stop it – but will distrust or treachery doom this effort and unleash a horde of Carrion barbarians into Aundair?
  • A Ghaash’kala paladin arrives in the PC’s community. She’s tracking an escaped possessing fiend, and will do whatever she must to destroy it. Can the PCs help capture the fiend with minimal collateral damage?

Beyond this, the Ghaash’kala can be an entertaining background for a PC. Have you been sent in pursuit of a particular agenda – Stopping the rise of an overlord? Reclaiming Kloijner? Protecting one of the other PCs, even though neither you nor they know why this is important? Are you pursuing escaped demons or the opposing the Lords of Dust? Were you exiled for a crime (and did you actually commit it)? Or are you an ambassador, sent to learn the ways of the soft southerners and protect them? As someone who played a Ghaash’kala paladin, it can be fun to play a character who is truly a warrior in the cause of light… and yet, completely unfamiliar with the ways of civilization. While most Ghaash’kala are orcs, they accept members of any races. My paladin was a half-orc; his human father was a paladin who had returned Kloijner to the Wastes, and now the blade was guiding my character on a new quest in the south.

Is there a physical manifestation somewhere in the Wastes where the Voice of the Flame can be found, similar to Tira Miron?

You may be confusing Tira Miron – the Voice of the Flame – with Jaela Daran, the Keeper of the Flame. There’s no physical location where Tira Miron can be found. Flamekeep is the site of Tira’s sacrifice and the seat of Jaela’s power, but Tira isn’t physically; anyone who follows this branch of the faith can hear Tira no matter where they are.

The Ghaash’kala have no equivalent of the Keeper of the Flame. Every clan likely has a korta they consider to be closest to the Flame, but that’s based on their actions as opposed to being a special mystical connection; there’s no equivalent to the power boost Jaela gets in Flamekeep.

With that said: there is no canon explanation of what it takes to become a Voice of the Flame. It would certainly be reasonable to say that a mortal can become a Voice of the Flame when they voluntarily bind an Overlord – that in the process, their spirit merges with the Flame, but WITHOUT the usual process of going through Dolurrh, which means that they retain more of their individuality and consciousness. In which case, the Voice of Kalok Shash could have a story similar to Tira. Perhaps long ago a Ghaash’kala champion sacrificed themselves to bind Rak Tulkhesh. Somewhere in the Demon Wastes lies the point where this sacrifice took place; and like Flamekeep, this could be a place of power. Essentially, the Ghaash’kala don’t have a Keeper and don’t know where this point of sacrifice is, because it’s somewhere in the incredibly hostile Wastes. But if they could find it and somehow secure it, perhaps they COULD have a Keeper in the future.

Does the leaders of the Church of the Silver Flame know about the Ghaash’kala? If so, what does the relationship between those in the groups that know of each other look like?

Yes and no. There are a number of scattered sects that worship the Silver Flame. The Ghaash’kala and the Shulassakar are two prominent ones, but there are others. These are often called “Serpent Cults.” So the Church knows about the Ghaash’kala and has studied them. Whether an individual knows would be about a Religion check. It’s not COMMON knowledge, but neither is it entirely unknown. The Ghaash’kala have little interest in the outside world, because they have a war to fight.

So: in the campaign in which I played my Ghaash’kala paladin, there was a cleric of the Silver Flame from Flamekeep (technically a clone of Jaela, long story) and a Silver Pyromancer. I’d had a vision that guided me from the Wastes to protect the Jaela-clone. In their eyes, I was a barbarian – clearly serving the interests of the Silver Flame, but still a savage. In my opinion, they were soft folk who likewise had the right idea but had never fought on the front lines of the eternal war; lucky for them that I was there to protect them. So initially we didn’t UNDERSTAND each other – but we still respected one another as serving the same overall cause.

But here’s the thing. You COULD say that the Ghaash’kala and Church work closely together, that Flamekeep recognizes the importance of what the Ghaash’kala are doing and supports them. But is that a fun story? In my opinion it’s more interesting for YOUR STORY if there’s been fairly little contact between the two and each largely dismisses the other… which means that YOUR ADVENTURERS – whether they are from Thrane or the Wastes – will be the ones who ESTABLISH understanding and alliances. Let your players take an active role in establishing (or destroying the chances of) an alliance – because this is exactly the sort of thing that lets the PCs make a difference within the world.

That’s all I have time to write, but if you have questions or thoughts about the orcs or the Ghaash’kala, share them below!

Dragonmarks: Goblins

I don’t believe I’ve written about goblins in depth on this site. If you want to catch up on previous information, you might want to review my Dragonshard about the Dhakaani or this Dhakaani Strike Force. I’ve also written about the Kech Ghaalrac in Dragon 413.

In many settings, goblins and orcs are presented as genetically evil — malicious by nature, enemies the players can always feel good about fighting. From the start, we wanted to take a different approach to goblins and orcs in Eberron. I liked the idea that these creatures were fundamentally inhuman, and had a cultural history that often them set at odds with humanity, but that they were no more innately evil than dwarves or elves. This led to the idea that these were the primary aboriginal races of Khorvaire. The goblins once had an advanced civilization that dominated the continent: The Empire of Dhakaan. Conflict with the Daelkyr destroyed this civilization long before humanity came to the continent. When humans arrived the goblins had fallen into a savage state (and were far fewer in number than they had been at their height). Some goblins were enslaved by humans, a practice that continued until Galifar abolished it a thousand years ago; their descendants integrated into the population, and these are the city goblins you find in most major cities. Others goblins were driven into undesirable lands, and these were the ancestors of the current goblin population of Darguun and Droaam. So, goblins aren’t evil, but from a cultural standpoint they have every right to dislike the humans who took their lands and enslaved their ancestors. Even Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city.

So: this gave a sound role for goblins and orcs in the setting. But what are they like? What makes them different from humanity and from other monstrous races? How are they truly alien races, as opposed to just being humans with fangs and unusual skin colors?

GOBLINS

So what separates goblins from humans and orcs? One of the critical things to understand is that goblins themselves are split into three very distinct categories.

City goblins are descended from slaves. They have lived among the people of the Five Nations for as long as those nations have existed. All too often they are poor, and many feel driven to crime. City goblins have adopted many human customs and many have little knowledge of or attachment to their history.

The Ghaal’dar are the descendants of those goblins who fought the human settlers and were driven into inhospitable lands. While they are less barbaric than the tribal orcs, they are less sophisticated than the people of the Five Nations and are often thought of as warlike and savage; they are noted as practicing slavery. Looking at the Ghaal’dar, humans have a hard time believing that the goblins once had an advanced society that created tools House Cannith can’t replicate today. And they are right to be dubious. The Ghaal’dar are not the goblins of old. The Empire of Dhakaan fought the Daelkyr, and with the help of the Gatekeepers they banished these Lords of Madness to Khyber. But this war had deep and lingering consequences… consequences so severe that one can question if the Daelkyr are the ones who actually won the war. Even though the Daelkyr were banished, over the course of the long war they had sown seeds of madness and corruption among their enemies, and over time those seeds began to grow. The Empire had been stable for thousands of years… but within the course of generations, Dhakaan fell into civil war. Cults, coups, and madness tore apart their advanced civilization. Within centuries, the empire had collapsed. Soon its advanced traditions were lost. The Ghaal’dar don’t know how to smelt and refine adamantine alloys. They don’t possess the martial disciplines or techniques used by their ancestors. The strong dominate the weak, while under Dhakaan all worked together. There are still exceptional people among the Ghaal’dar – people like Lhesh Haruuc, who founded Darguun. But they are very different from the goblins who once dominated the continent.  Which brings us to…

The Heirs of Dhakaan, commonly just called the Dhakaani. Following the defeat of the Daelkyr, a number of Dhakaani leaders saw the signs of spreading madness. They constructed deep vaults and retreated from the world, taking their best and brightest with them. In doing this, they avoided the subtle curses that afflicted the rest of the goblins. For thousands of years they have honed their skills, and now they have returned. Currently they are split into Kech factions. They have no Emperor and this has kept them from uniting. Their numbers are limited, as each Kech carefully controlled population to deal with limited resources. But their martial discipline is rivaled only by the Tairnadal. Their smiths produce arms and armor superior to the work of House Cannith. Dhakaani champions are a match for any hero on Khorvaire. And they aren’t happy to see these soft creatures living in their ancestral lands. The Dhakaani are few in number and still divided… but they are a force to be reckoned with, and a way to surprise players who think of goblins as savages.

Common Traits

City goblins, the Ghaal’dar, and the Dhakaani have dramatic cultural differences. But they are all goblins, and share basic traits that concretely differentiate them from humans, elves, and other races. Goblins possess darkvision, and are quite comfortable dwelling underground. While they aren’t the only race to do so, it’s still a thing to bear in mind. Goblins don’t fear night or shadows the way many creatures do. On a primal, instinctual level night is a time when humans are vulnerable; for a goblin, it is a time when they are strong, as their darkvision gives them an advantage over their enemies. They don’t need light as humans do, which means that their buildings will have fewer windows and that they have no need for casual lighting. This is a small thing, but it’s part of remembering that they aren’t just humans with orange skin. They are a different species that has evolved under different circumstances and who have different instincts and brain chemistry than humans do. Here’s a few more things I consider to be basic goblin traits.

  • Goblins are innately lawful. They don’t have anything like an insect hive mind, but they naturally gravitate to hierarchical societies, establishing a social order and holding to it. Where orcs question authority, goblins are quick to establish structure and like being part of a greater whole. Note that I am using “lawful” to describe instincts – this doesn’t mean they feel any compulsion to obey human laws. Poor city goblins often turn to crime – but they will quickly form gangs and establish an order amongst themselves. The Ghaal’dar aren’t anywhere near as organized as the Dhakaani, but they still hold to a clear hierarchy and system of punishments for those who step out of line. And like the Tairnadal, the Dhakaani are essentially a martial society, with every aspect of life being tied to duty to the Empire.
  • Tied to this is the idea that goblins are inherently rational. Goblins are deeply pragmatic and faith is an alien concept to them. The Dhakaani never had clerics; they don’t believe in forces they cannot see influencing reality.This was called out from the start in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting book, which said the Dhakaani don’t have clerics; their spiritual leaders are the bards who inspire the people with tales of the great deeds of the past. Note that these bards inspire the Dhakaani with tales of things that actually happened – they don’t see the appeal of fiction in any form. Again, this is a deep divide between the orcs and goblins. Orcs are passionate and imaginative; goblins are rational and practical. This is why the goblins NEEDED the orcish Gatekeepers in the fight against the Daelkyr. It wasn’t that the goblins didn’t bother to have their own druids; it’s that they fundamentally couldn’t grasp the sort of faith required to follow the divine and primal paths. While this is generally true of all goblins, it is especially strong among the DhakaaniWe’ve noted that AFTER the Empire fell, some goblins DID turn to a faith similar to the Host and Six; I believe you also saw a spectrum of Dragon Below cults. All of these things are symptoms of the “madness” planted by the Daelkyr… something that undermined this core aspect of goblin character. So you COULD find a cleric among the Ghaal’dar, even if they are far more rare than among other civilizations. But you should never see them among the Dhakaani, who resisted this corruption and maintained the traditions of their people.

So: regardless of culture, a goblin inherently prefers structure to disorder. You like having a clearly established leader and a clearly defined course of action. You are rational and pragmatic, always looking for an efficient solution to the problem at hand and rarely romanticizing things or engaging in wild speculation. Goblins aren’t emotionless Vulcans, by any means. But they aren’t as passionate as orcs: they are practical, always looking to cut the Gordian knot and solve problems as opposed to speculating about them.

Eusocial Creatures

So the first step in differentiating goblins and orcs was the idea of orcs as passionate and chaotic, with goblins being practical and more lawful. But there’s another thing that distinguishes goblins: multiple subspecies. There are at least three goblin subspecies – goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. There could easily be others that were around in the age of Dhakaan and have died out on the surface, goblin subtypes humans have never seen. To me, this is a fascinating aspect of goblins that’s rarely explored in any depth. It reminds me of eusocial species like ants, bees, and naked mole rats – and in such species, the different subspecies all serve a particular role within their society and work together. In most settings this isn’t true of goblins; instead, it’s usually a case of might makes right, with the stronger goblin species oppressing the weaker. But as called out in the ECS and this Dragonshard: 

 Among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul, the strong rule the weak. Leadership is founded on fear, and the weaker races hate the stronger tyrants. Among the Dhakaani goblinoids, this is not the case. Each species has a role to serve in society, and each embraces this role. The hobgoblins rule not through force of arms but because the goblins and bugbears respect their ability to maintain structure and discipline. The strength of the bugbears is turned against the enemies of the clan. 

With Dhakaan, I wanted to emphasize the species worked together, each using their particular strengths for the benefit of the whole. The bugbears bring strength and courage. The goblins have cunning and finesse. And the hobgoblins are the most rational and disciplined, the most naturally oriented to build, to organize. In my opinion, it was the loss of this eusocial bond that truly destroyed the Empire – a subtle corruption that caused the sub-species to stop seeing themselves as one. But it’s something that is preserved in the Heirs of Dhakaan – a natural instinct to work towards the common good.

Which is not to say that the Dhakaani lack individuality or self-determination. They aren’t ants; every Dhakaani goblin is a sentient being with free will and their own dreams. A goblin has their general role in society mapped out, but they could still end up as a common laborer, an artificer, or one of the Sharaat’khesh. In one of my favorite Eberron campaigns, one of the PCs was a male Dhakaani hobgoblin who wanted to be a bard, a traditionally female role. Individual goblins may lack the eusocial instincts that drive the Dhakaani as a whole. But it’s still a critical note for the Empire as a whole. It is a place where racial caste roles are deeply engrained, and where people are respected for filling those roles. The goblins are the laborers, but they are appreciated for performing this vital function – not oppressed and forced into it.

GOBLIN HEROES

One question that’s been raised is how goblins can be used as allies or heroes in a campaign. To begin with, the Dhakaani are certainly heroes in their own eyes. They are champions who have returned from a self-imposed exile to find their homeland in the hands of aliens and their people reduced to savagery. The Dhakaani struggle to recover their lost artifacts and figure out how to restore their civilization is an inspiring one, and only “evil” if you’re one of those wretched aliens now holding their lands. So one way to use the Dhakaani as heroes is to play Dhakaani. One of the one-shot adventures I sometimes run at conventions puts players in the roles of a Kech Volaar strike force working to recover a lost artifact. Alternately, you can play an entire party tied to the Ghaal’dar, working for Lhesh Haruuc; as troubleshooters for the Lhesh, you can be trying to maintain order and ensure the survival of Darguun as a nation – something that requires dealing with the Valenar, the Marguul, the Dhakaani and, of course humanity.

In a broader sense, an obvious answer is to look to Don Basingthwaite’s trilogy of novels that deal with Darguun. You can easily set the (human) players in a position where they have to decide what faction to support in Darguun. Should they support the Ghaal’dar? Or can they work with someone like Tuura Dhakaan to choose a Dhakaani emperor who will serve as a stabilizing force in the region and ultimately prove a stronger and more valuable ally for the Five Nations than the unstable Ghaal’dar? Convincing the Dhakaani to respect the Five Nations instead of planning to drive these aliens from their homeland would be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Looking at goblin player characters in a party that’s primarily non-goblinoid:

  • City goblins have largely adopted the cultures of the regions they live in. My Dreaming Dark novels mention a goblin serving voluntarily in the Cyran army, who’s for all intents and purposes Cyran. City goblins do have to deal with a certain amount of suspicion and prejudice, but that can be an interesting thing to struggle with. The majority of city goblins live in poverty – is that true of your family, or are you prosperous? Are you trying to help your family, or are you a loner?
  • Ghaal’dar aren’t as unified as the Dhakaani. As a Ghaal’dar goblin you could be an emissary of Lhesh Haruuc doing the will of the Lhesh. You could be a child of Haruuc seeking adventures that will prove your worth to succeed him when he dies. You could be a mercenary, just seeking to make your fortune in the world. Or you could have been driven from Darguun by a feud; perhaps you are gathering allies and strength so you can go back and avenge your slain kin.
  • Dhakaani are slightly odd as loners, but not impossible. Tuura Dhakaan of the Kech Volaar is more curious about this new world than many of her peers, and she may have sent you out into the world in order to gather information about it, and to learn about these alien invaders (humans). Should they be destroyed, or is co-existence a possibility? You could be on a quest to reclaim lost relics, either for your Kech or for some personal reason. Or you could be an exile banished from your Kech – was the exile justified, or is there a possibility of redemption and return?

Another possibility for goblin PCs is to be tied to the Khesh’dar, the spies and assassins of Dhakaan. In this case you might choose a different background that’s your cover story – and it’s up to you and the DM to decide what your real mission is, and when you’ll decide to share your true identity with the party.

THE DHAKAANI

So: let’s talk specifically about the Dhakaani. Here I speak both of the civilization that spread to dominate Khorvaire and the modern goblins who have preserved its traditions. Again, in my opinion there is a fundamental psychological difference between the Dhakaani and the Ghaal’dar; it’s not just that the Ghaal’dar weren’t raised in Dhakaani society, but also that their ancestors were subtly influenced by Xoriat and lack the eusocial bond and innate discipline of the Dhakaani goblins. But: What are the core elements of Dhakaan? Why was the Empire so successful?

If orcs can be seen as easily embracing the primal and divine, the Dhakaani are a fundamentally martial culture. War is in their blood. Some sages have theorized that the goblins are a magebred race, that their subspecies are the result of some long-forgotten force — A dragon? The Overlord Rak Tulkhesh? — crafting a warrior species. This is reflected by their natural instinct to hierarchy and discipline, but also by a racial genius for the arts of war. All of the Dhakaani can follow any martial path, but each subspecies has its specialties. Hobgoblins are exceptional fighters and warlords. The goblin Sharrat’khesh and Tarkha’hhesh are gifted rangers and rogues. Bugbears often serve as scouts, but the iconic Dhakaani bugbear is the barbarian. But the Dhakaani barbarian isn’t a primal savage; rather, their “rage” is a carefully cultivated state of ecstatic frenzy.

Honor and Duty, Atcha and Muut

Much like the Tairnadal, this martial mindset bleeds into all aspects of Dhakaani life. The Empire is always in a state of battle-readiness; if it’s not actively expanding, it’s preparing for the next inevitable conflict. The Heirs of Dhakaan have been in seclusion for thousands of years, but they have never lowered their guard or ceased their training. This also reflects the direction of Dhakaan society. As called out by Don Bassingthwaite, Dhaakani culture revolves around the concepts of muut and atcha. Muut is essentially about the honor of the Empire, and can be roughly translated as duty; atcha is personal honor. The most common form of thanks is ta muut, essentially “You do your duty.” Meanwhile Paatcha! is an offer of honor, typically an exhortation of a commander to his troops – this is your chance to gain honor! The key is that the Dhakaani are always considering these concepts: how you are fulfilling your duty to the Empire, and how your actions reflect on you. The key here – and a statement that’s often misunderstood – is that the Dhakaani idea of honor on the battlefield is very different from human concepts. I’ve said before that Dhakaani “don’t care about honor on the battlefield.” What I mean by that is that Dhakaani have no compunctions about killing a helpless foe, about killing civilians if it’s strategically logical, about ambushing an enemy, and similar actions that we generally consider dishonorable. The Dhakaani are concerned with victory. Honor comes from following the orders of your commander, from standing your ground against any odds, from displaying both skill and discipline. Do what you have pledged to do, and do it well. So Dhakaani take personal honor far more seriously than most human soldiers – but it’s important to understand what “honor” means to them.

An Evil Society? 

People have asked if the Dhaakani were an evil society. In my opinion, if you mapped them to an alignment it would be lawful neutral: highly structured and disciplined, but neither exceptionally cruel, corrupt, or altruistic. Note that the two primary Dhakaani leaders mentioned so far are Ruus Dhakaan, the lawful neutral leader of the Kech Shaarat; and Tuura Dhakaan, the neutral leader of the Kech Volaar. Dhakaani society is neither cruel nor kind: it is efficient and expedient. It is a society driven by constant war, and warfare is carried out in the most efficient and effective manner possible. They’d generally avoid targeting civilian populations not because it’s the morally correct thing to do, but because destroying them is a waste of resources that could be used in the future. Their leaders do what is best for the empire, which often means doing what is best for the people. But if it was for some reason necessary to wipe out an innocent village for the good of the Empire, they’d do it without hesitation… but they’d do it for the good of the Empire, not for personal gain. Again, corruption is extremely rare among the Dhakaani (though it can certainly be found among the Marguul and Ghaal’dar). Pursue muut above all and then your atcha. So the Dhakaani may often oppose player characters – but that doesn’t make them evil.

A secondary aspect is the role of slavery in the Empire. The Ghaal’dar and Marguul practice slavery, but in my opinion it was relatively rare in Dhakaan. The eusocial bond and racial caste system are the foundation of the Empire. Every goblin has a clearly defined role and embraces that role. Members of other species have no sense of muut and atcha. They are difficult to control, will always seek to rebel, and have no clear role in the first place. In some ways the Dhakaani can be seen as ants: they spread as efficiently as possible, and they don’t seek to compel other insects to work as slaves in their anthills; they simply kill rivals or drive them away. So it was with the Dhakaani. They spread to dominate the best lands in Khorvaire, and they drove their enemies into the lands they didn’t want. This isn’t to say that slavery was unknown, but it’s a rare practice that comes into play when a specific slave has a skill the Dhakaani need – a translator, a wizard, etc – as opposed to a major institution within the society.

Magic and Metallurgy

There are many things humans take for granted that the Dhakaani have never developed. But the Dhakaani are the finest armorers and weaponsmiths in the known world, superior even to House Cannith and the Tairnadal. They have mastered metallurgy and learned to produce and work with alloys that other races haven’t even discovered. Adamantine is a Dhakaani specialty; Cannith has learned to work with this metal, but it is costly and difficult, and they don’t understand it as the Dhakaani do.

This leads to the question of magic. The Dhakaani never developed the traditions of the wizard or sorcerer, and as noted above, they don’t have divine classes. Their primary sources of magic were bards and artificers. However, it’s important to recognize that these classes were NOT identical to Cannith artificers or Phiarlan bards. These core classes existed, but they would have had their own unique subclasses and specific spell lists. They may have developed paths that aren’t seen today, and may never have done things that we commonly associated with the classes. Specifically…

Dhakaani artificers are primarily armorers, weaponsmiths, and combat engineers. They don’t use constructs but excel at combat fortifications and siege warfare. Among hobgoblins this is primarily a male tradition, but exceptional goblins of both genders can follow this path.

Bards are the duur’kala, “dirge singers.” This path is almost exclusively followed by female hobgoblins. The duur’kala fill the roles that clerics do in many other societies; they are healers, diplomats, and spiritual leaders. They inspire the troops in battle. They heal the injured – note that in 5E, bards are nearly as gifted healers as clerics, and their spell list includes both raise dead and resurrection. They’re also vital to communication and coordination; note that the bardic spell list includes sending, clairvoyance, and various forms of teleportation. Powers of suggestion and charm are vital when mediating disputes and maintaining order within the Emopire, and equally useful for negotiating with enemies. So we generally depict the bard as an entertainer or vagabond. Within the Dhakaani, the duur’kala are leaders and healers with critical roles both on and off the battlefield. There’s nothing frivolous or light-hearted about them.

The critical point here is that lacking the paths of wizard or sorcerer, the Dhakaani rarely used magic as a direct weapon in combat. They relied more on the skill of well-equipped soldiers than on fireballs or cloudkill. The duur’kala heal and strengthen soldiers, but magic isn’t the primary weapon. It’s simply a branch of arcane science the Dhakaani never explored. But they’re interested in it now. They realize that the arcane magic wielded by the people of the Five Nations is an extremely effective weapon. The Kech Volaar are at the forefront of experimenting with this, and goblins are learning the arts of wizardry – and this is a place where you may find Volaar kidnapping human wizards to try to learn their secrets. But it’s still a new program, not one they’ve fully explored.

Known and Unknown

A critical thing about the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they’ve been in isolation for thousands of years. We haven’t gone into great depth about their achievements to begin with, and it’s entirely possible that a particular clan has developed something new over the course of centuries. Consider the following possibilities…

  • We’ve presented the Kech clans as being relatively small – having controlled their populations and remained within a single region. However, you could decide that a particular Kech spread and expanded and has a vast underground territory… that what’s been seen is just the tip of the iceberg, and that they already have armies on par with any of the Five Nations.
  • In a campaign I ran, I introduced a Kech clan that worked with necromancy. They bound the spirits of warriors into spheres, and could channel this power in devastating magical blasts. These spirit orbs could only be controlled and used by a duur’kala, and if the bard died, her sphere would explode – potentially taking out her killers. This did present a particular Kech with a form of powerful offensive magic – but that magic was still controlled by bards.
  • Tied to this… if you want to introduce firearms into Eberron, a very logical approach would be to give them to a particular Dhakaani Kech. This fits with the Dhakaani martial approach – again, more emphasis on developing weapons than magic. This could be a way to have a small Kech have a dramatic impact on Khorvaire… and it would be up to you how the other nations responded to the introduction of these weapons.

In Dragon 413 I introduced the Kech Ghaalrac, a Dhakaani force that has continually fought the Daelkyr since the incursion. These goblins have blended Gatekeeper horrid magebreeding, Daelkyr symbionts, and Dhakaani industry to create a wide range of innovations. So feel free to explore such things.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Lots of good questions. Let’s get to them.

Would it fit the Dhakaani Empire if I used the Roman Empire as inspiration for their society, architeture, martial tactics and weapons and armours?

Nothing in Eberron is intended to directly map to our world, and Dhakaan is no exception. There’s certainly some base similarities to Rome – military discipline, widespread empire – and some similarities to feudal Japan or ancient India. And critically, Rome is a HUMAN civilization; Dhakaan is fundamentally an ALIEN civilization, shaped by things like the presence of the multiple goblin species. A few points of sharp dissimilarity to Rome:

  • The most critical element is the racial caste system, which in turn underlies the concept of muut. Everyone knows they are a part of the greater whole, and there is a natural instinct that encourages them to work together – something humans (and even the Ghaal’dar) lack.
  • Tied to this, a core practice of the Roman Empire was to assimilate other cultures – to spread their cultures and traditions to their conquered people. The Dhakaani have no interest in this – if you’re not a goblin, you can’t have muut – and they general drove their enemies from their lands, or simply eradicate them.
  • The Dhakaani Dragonshard calls out that the Dhakaani used infantry, cavalry, and archers. The hobgoblins favored speed and precision over strength and chain weapons (flails, spiked chains) are common. It also notes “A Dhakaani army is both tightly structured and surprisingly flexible. The military is based around small units of infantry that can quickly adapt tactics and formations to evolving combat conditions.” So a Dhakaani force can act in a large formation, but then suddenly split into many smaller units.
  • Looking to architecture: As I’ve called out earlier, the Dhakaani don’t need windows for light, and a Dhakaani fortress would only have slits for archers and visibility. In many cases their fortresses and cities are at least partially underground or carved into mountains.
  • Looking to armor, I see Dhakaani armor as being considerably more sophisticated than Roman armor, as well as being made from finer materials. Part of the point is that Dhakaani armor is better that what the Five Nations uses: more flexible, better coverage, lighter. Even their run-of-the-mill armor would still be considered masterwork. Again, this is an area where the Dhakaani are MORE advanced than the Five Nations.

As a side note, in the past we’ve suggested Dhakaan as a place to introduce martial traditions that don’t have a clear place in the Five Nations, including the Samurai, Kensai and Ninja classes.

I know during the Dhakaani Empire they fought a huge battle against the Daelkyr, with the assistance of the Gatekeepers saved Eberron. But who were the main enemies of the Dhakaani empire before that?

The Dhakaani fought every other major intelligent race on Khorvaire at some point. There was a time when orcs were spread across Khorvaire; the goblins DROVE them into places like the Shadow Marches, and the same may well be true of gnolls and other species. They fought the Tairnadal elves and the Dragonborn of Ka’rhashan, and may have clashed with the dwarven civilization that was also destroyed by the Daelkyr (the predecessors of the Mror). Beyond that, you have all the threats that linger today. The Lords of Dust were just as active then, and you had undead, lycanthropes, and the threat of other planar incursions.

Can you go into a little bit of the relationship between Lhesh Haruuc and the Dhakaani? If I remember correctly from the novels, they sort of grudgingly respect his position, but don’t really see Darguun as a proper goblin nation. 

As always, it’s worth noting that the novels – like this blog – are not canon. Both are possible interpretations, but you can always go in a different direction in your own campaign. So with that said, here’s my opinion.

The ancestors of the modern Heirs of Dhakaan went into isolation because they believed a curse was destroying their civilization. Thousands of years later they have returned… and discover that it’s exactly what happened. There are these alien creatures living in their ancestral lands, and the modern “goblins” are savages with no muut. Lhesh Haruuc shows that there is still a spark of Dhakaani spirit left in these corrupted creatures, but overall the Ghaal’dar – and even moreso, the Marguul – are a deeply disturbing display of how far their people have fallen. The critical question is whether it is possible to salvage anything, whether these modern goblins can be integrated into a new empire… or whether, in fact, the first step in restoring Dhaakan should be purging these disgusting remnants. I believe that this is a matter on which the Kech leaders differ; offhand I’d say that Tuura prefers integration and education, while Ruus advocates wiping them out. Part of the question you need to answer here is how many soldiers do the Heirs of Dhakaan have? How deep are their vaults, and how many Kech forces are out there? COULD they choose to wipe out the Ghaal’dar, or do they need their numbers?

So, in my opinion the relationship between Dhakaani & Haruuc varies by Khesh – and Haruuc himself is likely very on the fence as to whether these goblins are allies or enemies. Even in the best case, Tuura would want to reestablish Dhakaani society, and it’s worth noting that the Ghaal’dar have more freedom and individuality than the Dhakaani. In causing that eusocial bond to atrophy, the Daelkyr introduced an element of chaos in that strongly lawful goblin psyche – and the modern goblins may find they don’t want to be Dhakaani.

Are dirge-singers incorporated into the current Dhakanni military as a learned specialty serving specific tactical needs or more as a rank denoting authority in certain fields? Or something else entirely?

Something else entirely and somewhere in between. Dirge Singer isn’t a rank on its own, and you surely had different categories and ranks of duur’kala within the Empire; I would expect that some duur’kala focused specifically on healing, while others dealt more with diplomacy, lore, etc. So a low-ranking duur’kala specializing in healing might accompany a unit of soldiers in a support capacity – while a high-ranking diplomat/loremaster might assume control of a military unit for purposes of a particular mission. If you look to the Dragonshard, the fiction essentially depicts a duur’kala who is leading a unit of soldiers to reclaim a relic, because she’s their lore expert – but when it comes to battle, the military commander would take over.

The Dhakaani dominated the centre of Khorvaire, roughly corresponding with the modern Five Nations, but did they ever have a maritime culture?

In my opinion, their maritime culture was largely limited to river and coastal travel. As you suggest, the presence of Shaarat suggests that they did value rivers, which is logical for a widespread society. We’ve never discussed goblin incursions on Aerenal or suggested a goblin presence in Xen’drik. With that said, in my Bermuda-Triangle-influenced Lamannia adventure I have a massive Dhakaani galley lost en route to Xen’drik, but the idea is that it was a pioneering attempt and it didn’t go well.

If I wanted to use Koalinth (linked here) in name and spirit, how do you guys see them coming about? Were they bred to be aquatic hobgoblins, as the goblins and bugbears are said to be engineered for their roles? Or are they elite hobgoblins warriors using artifice to swim like fish and breathe and fight underwater?

Either one is an option. As it stands, the idea that the goblinoids were magebred is just that – an idea – and something that would have predated Dhakaan as opposed to being a part of it. So Rak Tulkhesh may have created them to be an army… and long after the Overlord was bound, the goblins developed a martial culture of their own. By this concept, the magebreeding idea is simply a justification for having this eusocial set of linked subraces… not a science possess by the Empire. So running with things as they ARE, it’s simpler to make the Koalinth specially trained goblins, working either with artifice tools. You could even say that they have been permanently modified – some sort of alchemical process – but that it’s not a true subrace.

With that said, I think it would be very interesting to say that magebreeding WAS a science the Dhakaani possessed and actively used. I’d be inclined to say that it was relatively rare – the work of specialists in a particular region of the Empire. But this would be an opportunity to use any of the other variant goblins – blues, norkers, varags, etc. A wacky twist would be to make these magebreeders responsible for the horrid animals found in the west. Currently the theory is that these were created by the Gatekeepers… but we’ve never really said how or why the Gatekeepers accomplished this, and if it’s something they can still do. It would be interesting to say that the horrid animals were the result of collaboration between the Gatekeepers and Dhakaani magebreeders during the Xoriat incursion – that the goblins created them, but gave them to the druids who were better able to control them.

So if I wanted to follow this, I’d introduce a new faction in modern day Eberron: The Kech Vorg’dar. Located on the western edge of the Five Nations – either on the edge of Breland or Aundair – this Kech was the heart of Dhakaani magebreeding and has both preserved the ancient techniques and improved upon them. They have a host of subraces, and other living weapons. How will they interact with the Wardens of the Wood, the Ashbound, and House Vadalis?

At one point, the PCs in my campaign were told that we were “honorable…for humans”. That raises my question: I’m guessing that “honor” in this case would be atcha – personal honor. We dealt honestly and respectfully with the dirgesingers and Tuura Dhakaan in particular, and returned a batch of Dhakaani treasures to the Kech Volaar. But would Dhakaani recognize any kind of “muut” among non-goblins?

I think you’re correct: humans could have atcha, but it would be hard for them to have muut. Muut is a reflection of the fact that in Dhakaan, every goblin HAS an established role and duty. It’s part of your blood and your instinct. You know what muut demands, or you should… whereas atcha is more about personal choice and action. Your actions helped the Empire, but you were acting based on personal integrity, not because of your established duty owed to the Empire. It’s possible that they would see a Brelish soldier doing his duty to Boranel as having a human form of muut, but essentially, they don’t see humans as having a society that has muut; humans are acting in a way that vaguely resembles a true society, but they are still basically disconnected savages with no real sense of the common good.

Without wizarding or sorcerous practices, were the otherworldly invaders a surprise to the Dhakaani? Were they aware of the planes/worlds?

The planes are an integral part of Eberron. The Dhakaani may not have had wizards, but they dealt with the effects of manifest zones and coterminous/remote periods. Note that Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city – meaning the Dhakaani chose to build their city in the manifest zone. In addition, both Arcana and Religion are bard skills; the Dhakaani might not believe in gods, but the Religion skill would still encompass knowledge of outsiders, undead, etc.

Did the Dhakaani have a concept of an afterlife, or was your honor in this life to you and the Empire what mattered?

Honor in this life is what matters, and it’s what ensures you are remembered in the future. You set an example that inspires others, and that lives on.

If they are not ants I guess there are some good or evil Dhakaani. So there are some moral discussion on what should be done or how to interact with other races.

Absolutely. The point is that all of those discussions would take for granted the basic assumption that the good of the Empire is paramount. Evil Dhakaani likely argue that all other species should be eradicated; good Dhakaani would press for enemies being allowed to flee and to settle in lands of no use to the Empire. As that’s what ended up being the more common practice, there’s certainly good Dhakaani out there. With that said, I’d maintain that most Dhakaani tend towards neutrality and also that corruption is not tolerated. One of the characteristics of an evil alignment is putting your desires ahead of the needs of others, and a Dhakaani caught pursuing their own agendas over the good of the Empire would be executed.

In general, I wonder what Dhakaani do when they don’t prepare for war.

Easy… prepare for war. Like the Tairnadal, this is the structure of their lives. If you’re a soldier, you hone your skills, drilling and engaging in tactical exercises and wargames. If you’re an artisan, you do the work that needs to be done, and then you work on honing and refining your skills. If you’re an armorer, spend any spare time you have working on ways to make even better armor.

Essentially, a critical part of “prepare for war” is to be the best you can be – so when they  have spare time, Dhakaani are almost always going to be practicing whatever it is they do so they can be better at it. A typical Dhakaani just perfects their talent, while an exceptional Dhakaani looks for new ways to innovate and improve upon the current techniques. And bear in mind that for the Dhakaani, that’s fun. As a bugbear barbarian, you love spending some downtime sparring with a comrade… even if you spent the day training, this is where you just fight for fun, proving your talent.

With that said, even for the Dhakaani there must be times when they relax, right? So what do they do? Here’s a few things.

  • Listen to the Duur’kala, who regale you with tales of past heroes and the glory of the Empire, reminding you WHY you work so hard every day.
  • Not all such entertainments would just be “listen to a bard.” There would likely be some that are acted (with a question being if there are professional Dhakaani actors, or if it’s simply an honor for a soldier to step up and take on the role of a hero). And I think you get more dramatic reenactments that double as war games.
  • Dance. I imagine that the Dhakaani have forms of dance that are similar to kata or the Maori haka – again, something that hones or expresses preparation for war, but nonetheless, it’s still a dance.

The main point – again, like the Tairnadal – is that for a Dhakaani, work isn’t a chore, it’s the focus of your life. You strike for muut and atcha. You gain muut by doing what you must do, and atcha by going above and beyond that. Engaging in activities that hone your skills IS entertainment. So essentially, Dhakaani look at Ghaal’dar or most humans and see them as incredibly slothful and unfocused, wasting the potential and with no sense of communal good.

How do the Dhakaani see love/sex/mate? 

I think Dhakaani feel love as others do, and there is certainly a duty to produce offspring and honor to be gained by guiding them on the proper path. With that said, family is less important than the Empire; when children reach an age that their aptitudes can be determines, I expect they are fostered in a school that focuses on those skills. So if you’re a goblin miner and your son has the potential to be one of the Shaarat’khesh, he goes to join the Khesh’dar and you may not see him again for years, or ever. Accepting that is muut. It’s also the case that within the Kech, reproduction would have to have been controlled to manage limited resources. We’ve established that goblinoids – especially goblins have a high rate of reproduction, and if the Kech are relatively small today that has to have been an intentional choice.

With that said, bear in mind that there’s an aspect here of the Dhakaani are not human. As humans, we are inherently alone. Love is in part about finding a companion, about building a family, and about ensuring its survival and prosperity. The point of the eusocial bond is that on a fundamental, biological and psychological level, Dhakaani goblins feel a bond to one another that humans don’t. Basically, they have a general love for each other that we don’t have as humans. The strength of the Empire is that it isn’t simply a political construct; its people work well together because they feel an inherent connection and loyalty to their comrades. So a Dhakaani goblinoid can certainly have a specific greater sense of love for a particular individual – but they have a broad real sense of connection to all the people of the Empire that we as humans don’t have with one another. And I’m saying that this was one of the critical things that was lost in the wake of the Daelkyr, and the loss of that connection that caused the Empire to collapse and led to civilizations like the Marguul and the Ghaal’dar. So again, this is a fundamental difference between the Heirs of Dhakaan and the Ghaal’dar.

Do the subraces reproduce among each other? How is that different for other goblins?

As far as I know, it’s never been established what happens if a bugbear mates with a goblin. I suspect that in Dhakaan it’s not an option, which is made easier by the fact that you spend most of your life surrounded by and interacting with members of your own subrace. Looking to love, again, I’m sure it exists and there may be tragic tales of the bugbear who loved a goblin, and you could certainly have that as a platonic relationship… but in terms of actual family, you must do what muut demands. With the other goblins, I doubt there are any absolute restrictions, but within a society like the Marguul I find it hard to image a bugbear consorting with a goblin. Family is definitely important among the Ghaal’dar, and for that reason it also seems likely that a hobgoblin bonding with a goblin would be at least somewhat scandalous.

Where was the heartland of the Empire? Was it a single palace under a singular Emperor, or were there multiple emperors ruling at once across the land?

We’ve never said where the Empire began; what works best for your story? We’ve implied that there was a single Emperor, but there were certainly regional leaders who served as the Imperial authority within an area.

I was hoping you could clear something up for me about “city goblins”. I’m not sure if it was written this way in canon, but my impression was always that only the Small goblinoids were incorporated into human society. Is this accurate, or do you see a lot of hobgoblin and bugbears that have grown up among humans as well?

You’re close. page 304 of the 3.5 ECS says:

During the initial human colonization of Khorvaire, Sarlonan invaders enslaved thousands of goblinoids. Today, goblinoids can be found in most of the major cities of Khorvaire. These goblinoids (mostly goblins, but some hobgoblins and bugbears) have been entirely assimilated into humanoid culture.

So that majority of the city goblin population are made up of actual goblins, but there are exceptions. It’s worth noting that “true” goblins have the highest birth rate and are already disposed towards common labor, so they were both the easiest to enslave and quickest to thrive in the years that followed… whereas the more aggressive bugbears and hobgoblins were more difficult to integrate and more likely to just be killed. But yes, there are city bugbears and hobgoblins, just not as many.

Do you think Darguun has any large scale dealings with Droam? Do you think their people or governments see each other as kindred spirits considering their histories?

In my novel The Queen of Stone, Darguun sends emissaries as part of the diplomatic mission to the Great Crag. No mention is made there or elsewhere that I’m aware of about any other significant dealings between the two nations. Darguun is already on thin ice regarding its own recognition as a nation, and a close alliance with a nation seen as something of a terrorist state wouldn’t help that. I’m sure that the Daughters have reached out to Haruuc with just such arguments – “We’re all outsiders, we should stand together” because Droaam needs allies. But what can Droaam offer Darguun – especially that would be worth endangering relations with Breland to gain? And as for being kindred spirits, they’re really not kindred spirits. Looking specifically to goblins, prior to the rise of the Daughters of Sora Kell most goblins in the region were oppressed by more powerful creatures – as they often are among the Ghaal’dar and Marguul. The fact that they have their own warlord in Droaam is a significant change that is thrilling for the goblins (and what makes them among the most loyal supporters of the Daughters) – and something that could actually cause trouble for the hobgoblin-dominated Ghaal’dar or bugbear-led Marguul if their goblin population is inspired to rebel. Essentially, yes, they are all “monsters” and deal with prejudice from humans – but culturally they don’t have a lot in common.

I wonder if dhaakaani would have been doomed against a free overlord or could have found another way to battle/imprison it.

Technically, the Dhakaani were doomed against the Daelkyr; it was the alliance with the Gatekeepers that enabled their defeat. So, if they fought an Overlord, it seems you’d end up with something similar. I could easily see a story based on the partial release of Rak Tulkhesh shaking the Empire thousands of years before the Daelkyr. Dhakaani skill might not be able to end the conflict, but this is where you could have a critical alliance with the Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes… champions of the Silver Flame who might leave the Labyrinth to bind the demon. Which brings us back to the difference we’ve established between orcs and goblins. The orcs are innately passionate and drawn to primal and divine paths; the goblins are innately pragmatic and drawn to martial paths. Goblin pragmatism and discipline allowed them to dominate Khorvaire; but Orc faith may have saved the world multiple times.

Just how secluded and hidden were the Kech clans? Thousands of years, operating entirely in secret, hidden from their fellow Dar, hidden from all the other underground races, yet never physically changing?

There’s a few different things to consider here.

  • The Dhakaani goblins already had a partially subterranean civilization; consider that the goblin ruins of Shaarat extend deep below Sharn. There were likely many goblins who already spent the vast majority of their lives underground. So that alone wouldn’t be enough to justify a physical change; goblins are already adapted to subterranean life.
  • We’ve never said they were hidden from all subterranean races. The Kech Ghaalrac are specifically called out as having been fighting a continuous war against the Dhakaani. Other Kech may have had to deal with other foes. They may even have had to fight corrupted Dhakaani in the last days of the Empire. However, these conflicts never extended to the surface.
  • So yes: The Dhakaani avoided all contact with the surface. Remember, their premise – which was correct – was that there was some form of psychic infection corrupting the goblins on the surface. They needed to avoid all contact with them until they could confirm that this curse was no longer a threat – something they were only sure of relatively recently.

Where did Ghaal’dar clan Bards come from if they weren’t somehow trained by the Kech Volaar?

Where do Brelish fighters come from if they aren’t trained in Karrnath? The Ghaal’dar are a unique culture that has evolved in the wake of Dhakaan. Their combat and bardic traditions might have hints of Dhakaan techniques that have lingered through generations, but they are not the same: a Ghaal’dar bard is NOT a duur’kala.  We’ve never particularly established that the Ghaal’dar HAVE a well-established bardic tradition; it might be that Ghaal’dar bards are basically self-taught mavericks. In 5E bards don’t have to know lore, so a Ghaal’dar bard could be more like the orcish Passion mentioned above.

How did the hidden clans come into the light? Did Haruuc know of the Dhakaani Kech clans before starting his rebellion? Did House Deneith have contact with them? Could a pre-969 Hobgoblin or Bugbear tribal chief hire a Khesh’Dar assassin or spy?

Haruuc knew nothing of the Kech when he started his rebellion. Full details of the Return have never been provided, and are something that would have to wait until there’s an ability to truly create new setting material, especially since each Kech has its own story and approach to contact. However, there’s a few basic things that have been established. The ECS notes Kech Volaar goblinoids often venture beyond Darguun in search of Dhakaani ruins, but they do not work as mercenaries. They rarely interact with other races except in the pursuit of a mission.

Beyond that…

  • The Khesh’dar were the first to return. They spent a few decades gathering information, confirming that it was safe to return, and establishing a basic intelligence network so the Kech weren’t returning blind. They might have sold their services to the locals, as working with modern goblins would be a good way to blend in and gain information, but they wouldn’t announce themselves as the Khesh’dar; they’d simply present themselves as talented mercenaries.
  • Before the Heirs of Dhakaan can decide how to deal with outsiders, they need an Emperor. As such their primary focus is dealing with each other – whether through conquest or diplomacy. The Kech Shaarat are assimilating others through combat, but these are calculated actions. The Kech Volaar are seeking to prove their right to rule by recovering artifacts. Every Kech should have a specific path it is following to assert its claim to the Imperial crown – or, barring that, have chosen another Kech to support.
  • The rise of Darguun has been specified as a trigger for the Return. One of the primary reasons for this is that it provides them with cover to act without drawing attention. Thanks to Darguun, there is a location where there’s a strong goblin presence. As Darguun is a Thronehold nation, Ghaal’dar have freedom to move throughout the Five Nations – and most citizens of the Five Nations don’t know enough about goblins to know the difference between Kech soldiers and Ghaal’dar. So a group of Kech Shaarat soldiers don’t walk around bragging about being Kech Shaarat. They pursue their objective quickly and efficiently, avoiding contact with outsiders whenever possible, and trust those outsiders won’t know that they aren’t just some sort of Ghaal’dar.
  • Tied to this: the basic premise that the Kech see everyone in Khorvaire as potential enemies. It’s POSSIBLE the Ghaal’dar can be salvaged, but it’s equally possible they’re corrupted abominations that will have to be wiped out. And if they are bad, humanity is worse. These things have stolen their lands and defiled their cities and tombs. So they aren’t walking up to House Deneith and saying “Hi! Do you want to hire us as mercenaries?” – unless they’re doing it specifically to infiltrate the House and learn its weaknesses. They aren’t here to make friends, and any contact with outsiders is going to be founded on the premise of Are you a threat, and if not, what is your value to our long term agenda?

So the main point of the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they are NOT known to the world at large. They are engaged in a shadow war with each other, and adventurers who interact with them are essentially pioneers on the edge of an exciting developing situation.  It’s up to you to decide whether the Dhakaani see a reason to interact with the PCs or will simply pursue their agenda as efficiently as possible. But this is about the fact that in Eberron, PCs are supposed to be the protagonists of the novel. When they run into the Kech Dhakaani, they are DISCOVERING something cool – there’s powerful ancient goblins, and they’re in conflict with other ancient goblins! – not just bumping into something that’s already well known.

Dragonmark 3/19/14: Orcs, Mean Streets and More

The last few months have been very busy. I’ve got many things I’d love to write about, including a bag full of Stories & Dice entries; however, I’m working on multiple deadlines and it’s going to be another week or two before I can get to them.

In other news, I will be attending T.A.B.L.E. in Coppell, Texas on March 28-30th. It’s a gaming expo that’s working to reach out to people who don’t normally play games, and it’s got a few small-time guests like me and Steve Jackson. If you’re in the area, I hope you will come and play a game with me!

And now, the latest round of Eberron questions. As always, my answers are not official in any way and may contradict canon sources; this is how I do things in my personal Eberron.

What’s next for you and Eberron? Anything?

The main news I do have is that the PDF of the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting is available online here. As for new Eberron material, no news to report yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as there is anything to know.

 

Could you tell us about your dndnext Eberron experience?

I don’t have time to go into a lot of detail, I’m afraid. I’m playing a changeling inquisitive (rogue), which means I’m really playing three or four different characters. I’m having fun with my personal vision of changeling culture, in which personas are tangible things that are shared within families and passed down to descendents; so my character has a few identities that are older than he is, and he’s got obligations and expectations to fulfill whenever he uses one of them. After an adventure involving werewolves, the DM and I have actually spun off a whole new take on the history of lycanthropy in Eberron – where the curse originally came from—and this will hopefully play a larger long-term arc in the story of the character. The game itself is sent a few decades in the future of the default setting, which means I don’t know everything; one of the other players is playing Jaela, who mysteriously vanished and has now returned with only a fraction of her former abilities. So far it’s been a lot of fun. The system is very different from both 3.5 and 4E, but there’s a number of things I like about it, and we haven’t had any trouble adapting changelings, shifters, inquisitives, and other elements to the system.

 

I am trying to make the Orcs more than just Green, Strong Humans and could use some advice.

To me, a key thing is that the orcs are a very primal race. Their emotions and instincts run deep, and they are very passionate. While they are often known for their fierce rages, this passion is just as powerful when in manifests as love or grief. They engage with the world around them more fully than many humans do. It’s easy to look back at their shared history with the Dhakaani and portray the orcs as savages who lived in the woods while the goblins built empires, but the key to me is that the orcs never wanted the civilization the goblins adored. It’s not that orcs are stupid or brutish; it’s that they don’t feel the same need to impose their will on the world that many other races do. They embrace their lives as part of nature instead of holding themselves above it. This is why they have a natural inclination for the primal classes, and why they took so quickly to Vvaraak’s teaching.

As a minor aside, this quote from The Player’s Guide To Eberron might be useful.

Many of the people of the Five Nations are uncomfortable around half-orcs and find the idea of humans and orcs crossbreeding to be vile and distasteful. Such beliefs have never found root in the Shadow Marches, though, and those orcs who chose to welcome humanity to their land were quick to mate with the newcomers. Those who followed the druidic paths knew that hybrids are often the strongest plants, while the Khyber cultists have always seen change as a path to power. In the Marches, half-orcs are celebrated; they are called jhorgun’taal, “children of two bloods.” Blood is everything to the clans, and the jhorgun’taal are the proof that orc and human are kin. They have the strong spirituality of their orc forebears and the wisdom of humanity, and as such many of the greatest druids and priests are half-orcs.
The jhorgun’taal perform important tasks in the Marches, for while they are not as clever or charming as their human kin, they have the trust of both races. As a result, the sheriff of a muck-mining town is more likely to be a half-orc than a member of either of the pure races. Likewise, when the clans send ambassadors to negotiate feuds or trading rights, they often send a jhorgun’taal, even if a more charismatic human comes along as an advisor.
While half-orcs are a true-breeding race in their own right, the jhorgun’taal are just as likely to mate with humans or orcs as with their own kind. The half-orcs of the Shadow Marches don’t see themselves as a separate race; rather, they consider themselves to be the bridge that makes humans and orcs one race.

Looking to the race as a whole, I see orcs as a fundamentally chaotic race where goblins are fundamentally lawful. Goblins thrive on structure and hierarchy; orcs are more driven by instinct and impulse. Where the goblins established a vast empire, the orcs remained bound to family and clan; we’ve never mentioned a “King of the Orcs”. They are passionate and creative, but more driven by what an individual can accomplish than a nation. This doesn’t prevent them from placing value on tradition, as shown by both the Gatekeepers and Cults of the Dragons Below… but even there, both of these faiths are far less structured than the Church of the Silver Flame. Humanity has a greater impulse towards order, and House Tharashk reflects the marriage of human and orc; it benefits from orcish passion and strength, but also from the human desire to build and expand.

This is a simplistic look at a complex race. The Ghaash’kala orcs of the Demon Wastes are highly disciplined… but even there, their structure is less hierarchical and complex than that of the Church of the Silver Flame. Again, my feeling is that on a very primal level they value personal instinct and emotion more highly than the rule of law. An orc lives in the moment and follows his feelings.

While House Tharashk strongly reflects the influence of humanity and the half-orcs, it is worth noting that Tharashk is a house that has already been pushing rules and stepping on toes. Through its dealings with Droaam it is overlapping with the existing business of Orien and Deneith, while its inquisitive business fills a role long monopolized by Medani. This ties to that early point. They are more chaotic and more inclined to pursue their own desires than to accept the established order and be content with one niche.

As a final thought: When the Daelkyr invaded, they made things from the creatures they fought. They made dolgrims, dolgaunts, and dolgarrs from the goblin races. They made chokers out of Halflings. But we’ve never said what they made out of orcs. Perhaps this is because they COULDN’T physically corrupt the orcs, and that this is another reason that Vvaarak chose them; there is something fundamentally primal about the orcs that prevents the daelkyr fleshwarping. Thus instead they chose to mentally corrupt the orcs, preying on their passions and planting the seeds of madness and the Cults of the Dragon Below. If you like this idea, here’s a few other things you could play with…

  • We have half-orcs and we have half-elves. We’ve never mentioned, say, half-dwarves, half-halflings, half-gnomes, or half-goblins. This could be because orcs are an exceptionally fertile and versatile race due to their deep primal nature. Note that when we say “half-orc” we don’t say what the other half is… so perhaps you can have orc/goblins, orc/dwarves, etc and it’s just that the orcish half is dominant enough that most people can’t tell them apart. As for elves, the elves are themselves a genetically altered slave race; they too may have an unnatural ability to interbreed with other species (and if you read the Khoravar Dragonshard, the fact that they could produce offspring with humans was a surprise to the elves as well).
  • Perhaps the orcs are actually the root race that produced the shifters. The first shifters could easily have been primal champions created by Vvaarak and the first Gatekeepers… orcs blended with animalistic spirits.

 

Why don’t we see many Cults of the Dragon Above? Apart from draconic prophets, Siberys doesn’t seem to have worshipers.

Well, if you look to the Progenitor myth, Siberys is DEAD; those are the pieces of his body floating in the night sky. People may revere Eberron as the source of natural life and Khyber as the Mother of Monsters, but Siberys died before the world was even created. He gave us gifts; many say that the energy that is the foundation of all magic is the “blood of Siberys.” But Siberys is dead and not looking for your prayers.

Beyond that, very few people worship ANY of the Progenitors directly. The short form is that the Progenitors aren’t seen as active forces. People worship the Sovereigns instead of Eberron, because the Sovereigns are seen as active forces who may intervene in mortal affairs.  Khyber won’t and can’t personally do anything to you. But Khyber’s children – the Overlords – can and will. Thus, the “Cults of the Dragon Below” are typically tied to the Daelkyr, to a particular Overlord, or they are crazies who don’t actually think of themselves AS a cult; take a look at this Dragonmark for more details.

 

Where is your favorite location in Eberron to set a game, and why? Besides Sharn.

Personally? Graywall in Droaam. It’s like Casablanca, only with more trolls. It’s a frontier nation where the law is more or less whatever Xorchylic wants to be. It’s a haven for war criminals, dissidents, bounty hunters, and other interesting characters. There’s ancient ruins dating back to Dhakaan and the Daelkyr below it. And it’s a great opportunity to explore the intriguing possibilities of a nation of monsters. Check out The Queen of Stone for more of my vision of Droaam.

 

A player wants to play an incorruptible Sharn Watch Captain. How much could he clean up his district before Boromar kills him?

There’s many different layers to this question.

First of all: How is this going to impact your game? If it’s PURELY background… if he’s playing a paladin and wants to say “I started out cleaning up the mean streets of Sharn, and now I’m heading out into the wider world”… personally, I’d let him. If you’re not IN Sharn, what’s the harm in it? It means when he goes back to Sharn, he’ll have some allies and enemies, and he may be disappointed at how things have gone to crap in his absence. But if your adventures aren’t ABOUT cleaning up Sharn, then what’s the harm in him having done some impressive things in his time on the force and somehow kept ahead of the hit men?

On the other hand, perhaps your campaign is about Sharn, and what this player is saying is that he wants clean up the streets as part of the campaign. First of all, what district is he dealing with? Many parts of Sharn already are quite clean; Skyway is a very different place from Callestan. Second, there’s a limit to what one guard can do when the structure around him is corrupt; however gifted and virtuous he is, if his targets keep getting tipoffs, if his companions let them escape, if charges don’t stick, it doesn’t matter how many he brings in. So he may need to clean up the WATCH before he can really make a dent in the Boromar Clan; and once he’s cleaned up the Watch, he’s not a lone target any more. And remember, being in the Watch doesn’t make him judge, jury, and executioner; if he runs around slaughtering Boromar fences and smugglers, HE’S the criminal.

Next up: look at any good noir story. How often do the bad guys just shoot the good guy in the head? It shouldn’t be as simple as “He arrests some guys so they kill him.” Instead, you want to draw it out, and put him in a position where he has to think about his actions and the price of his principles. If this were MY game, I would sit down with the player and ask a number of questions. I’d ask him to tell me his three favorite places in the district he protects. What’s his favorite bar? Or shop? Then tell me his three favorite people. The barmaid? The orphan beggar boy? I’d like to know about his family; his vision of what he wants the district to be; and the worst mistake he ever made (because if this is a noir character, he’s made AT LEAST one). Once I know all these things, I have a wealth of tools to play with that are far more interesting that just killing him. After all, the Boromars aren’t an especially violent organization; they prefer blackmail and coercion to murder. What does he do if they threaten his family? If they take that beggar boy hostage? If they threaten reprisals, and when he ignores the threat, they burn down that bar? If the only tool you have to work with is the life or death of the player, it’s all or nothing. So you need the player to care about other things in the world, so you can threaten those… and follow through on some of those threats. A final challenge here is to come up with a reason the Boromars don’t WANT to kill him. Perhaps he’s so beloved that they don’t want the attention that would come from an assassination… in which case one thing they’ll do is to try and attack his reputation. Perhaps Saiden Boromar has a personal vendetta… the classic “I will take everything away from him before I give him the mercy of death.” Perhaps his family has a connection to the Boromars he doesn’t know about; his father was a corrupt cop who saved Saiden Boromar’s life three times, and Saiden is going to ignore three mortal insults before he takes action.

Side note: personally, I’d be inclined to have the PC be a relative newcomer in the district he wants to clean up. Either he’s just been transferred from a nicer district, or this is where he grew up but he’s been away. Rather than explain how he’s been a pain in Boromar’s rear for years and has never dealt with the consequences, start the clock NOW.

You could turn it around and say that it simply makes no sense that the PC has survived this long… but someone else is looking out for him. Someone shoves the assassin from his hiding place so the PC has a chance to defend himself. Someone pushes the poisoned drink from his hand. Someone gets the barmaid out of the bar before it’s destroyed. Is it the Chamber? A Lord of Dust who has plans for the PC? The Tyrants? House Thuranni? Someone could have long term plans for the PC… or they could want to see the PC clean up the district, but want him to be the figurehead.

The short form: There’s lots of ways to make this background work. It’s all a question of how far you want to go with it, and what impact it’s really going to have on your actual campaign. As a minor recommendation, I suggest Warren Ellis’ Fell (available in graphic novel form); here you have a story of a remarkable detective sent into a corrupt place, who does his best to clean it up but is limited by the overwhelming scope of the corruption and his own very limited resources. Find ways to make little things feel like big victories; he doesn’t have to bring down the entire Boromar Clan on day one, and they can overlook a lot of little losses.

 

How do you keep track of SO many factions?

Generally speaking, I don’t. In any particular campaign, I pick a certain number of factions I want to use, and I pick a few of the major villains. I don’t try to weave Vol, the Dreaming Dark, the Daelkyr, the Aurum, the Lord of Blades and half a dozen Overlords into a single coherent plot; instead I pick two or three that I will focus on, typically with one as the obvious initial threat, one as the hidden long-term threat, and one as the wild card, and focus on those. The others are around for me to sprinkle in for interesting one-shots, but I don’t try to make them all equal. Short form: Most of these forces are playing a waiting game. The Stars (or the Prophecy) need to be right for the Daelkyr to pose a threat. If I don’t want to use them, I simply assert that their stars won’t be right for another century; they simply aren’t going to be major players in this arc. This also addresses the question of why all these world-threatening forces aren’t stomping on each others’ toes; they simply don’t all have to be active right at this moment.

 

Are there many other large ‘franchises’ in Eberron, aside from the Houses?

Certainly. Most of the major members of the Aurum are people with their own franchises of one form or another; I suggest you check out this Eye on Eberron, if you can. Organized crime gives you another recognized brand, such as Daask and the Boromar Clan. Many of these sorts of franchises are limited to a particular nation, but are still everyday encounters in those nations. On a broader scale, you have the Church of the Silver Flame, which touches the world in many ways; a key example would be their free clinics. You generally can’t get the magical services you could get at a Jorasco house and it’s not as comfortable, but it’s a low-cost alternative for people who need help and something everyone is familiar with. Another would be the Korranberg Chronicle, which is known and respected across Khorvaire.

 

Drow – Why scorpions?

It’s a common misconception (one made by many of the inhabitants of Khorvaire and Stormreach) that the drow are especially hung up on scorpions. The Sulatar and Umbragen don’t care about scorpions at all. Among the jungle tribes, Vulkoor the Scorpion is simply one of a pantheon of primal spirits; if you read The Gates of Night or The Shattered Land, Xu’sasar calls on a number of other spirits. The Vulkoori tribes consider Vulkoor to be the greatest and most powerful of these spirits, but that’s a particular choice of a particular group of tribes.

 

WHY do souls go to Dolurrh? Did they originate there and are returning home? Is there some sort of magic pulling people there? Where did it originate? Why are souls made? (Are these “Big Unanswerables”?)

These are Big Unanswerables. A key point is that no one actually agrees on what Dolurrh IS or what happens to the souls that go there. It’s a provable fact that when someone dies a soul appears in Dolurrh that matches them, and that this soul then fades over time. The most common theory among the Sovereign Host is that the “fading” isn’t destruction at all; rather, Dolurrh is a GATEWAY to the realm of the Sovereigns, a place that is beyond all mortal experience and cannot be visited even with planar magic. The “fading” effect is the process of the soul transitioning to this higher realm; and what is left behind is just a husk, like a discarded snakeskin. Meanwhile, the Blood of Vol asserts that Dolurrh is the end; some believe that the Sovereigns created Dolurrh specifically to destroy mortal spirits, and that your spirit is drawn their after death because they designed it that way. Others say that the “fading” is the spirit being cleansed so it can be reused and reincarnated. But there’s no absolute “right” answer.

With that said… the general answer to big unanswerables such as “Why are souls made and what draws them to Dolurrh” is “The Progenitors did it.” The Progenitor myth includes the creation of the planes and the creation of mortal and immortal life. They set the system in place; they simply don’t interfere with it directly now it’s in motion. Meanwhile, the Sovereigns aren’t described as having CREATED the world; they simply govern particular aspects of it.

 

In your opinion, which nation is most likely to restart the Last War?

In MY Eberron, definitely Aundair. Of the current rulers of the Five Nations, Aurala is the only one who’s called out as really having a strong vision of reuniting Galifar. In my Eberron, Aundair is also aggressively pursuing research into new forms of war magic, as arcane magic is the only thing that offsets Aundair’s small size and population. This could be seen as a threat or provocation by the other nations… or alternately, if Aundair does develop superior rituals it could give them the confidence to act.

Another possibility is Cyre. Groups such as Dannel’s Wrath want vengeance for the fall of Cyre, and might engage in terrorist actions designed to provoke the other nations to war.

None of the other rulers—Boranel, Jaela, or Kaius—are portrayed as having an interest in war. However, Boranel and Kaius are specifically called out as being in precarious positions. Boranel is old and there’s a movement that’s interested in unseating the monarchy in Breland; and Kaius has alienated many of the warlords. If a current ruler is displaced, a new ruler could emerge with a more aggressive agenda.

 

The comic introducing Chapter 1 of Magic of Eberron suggests that nobility can have Karrnathi undead minions. Is that common?

It depends how you define “minions.” You can’t buy Karrnathi undead, and you can’t key them to be specifically loyal to a particular person. For more information on the process used to create them and the nature of Karrnathi undead, check out the article on Fort Bones.

Karrnathi undead are soldiers by nature. It’s believed that they channel the martial spirit of Karrnath. As such, they typically abide by the military chain of command; in The Queen of Stone, there’s a Karrnathi skeleton with the Karrnathi delegation. You could also find them serving bone knights regardless of their current standing. So personally, when I look at the comic in Magic of Eberron, I assume that Lord ir’Krast is a bone knight or a high-ranking member of the Emerald Skull or a similar order. The skeleton is loyal to someone who happens to be a noble; that doesn’t mean any random noble could purchase a Karrnathi skeleton. It’s one of the economic advantages of the warforged; anyone could buy one of those.

 

How would one get to the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes?

The simplest way would be to take a boat to the ruins of Desolate and cut across on land from there. A more difficult path would be to go through the Labyrinth to Festering Holt and go north, which among other things takes you very close to Ashtakala. Bear in mind that there’s no perfect maps of the Demon Wastes, so it’s not as though anyone in the Five Nations knows EXACTLY where the Lair of the Keeper is (and SURPRISE – it’s shielded from divination!). It’s very much a “Here there be dragons” situation; its location is loosely derived from a handful of ancient accounts and Ghaash’kala myths. If you really want to find it, you’d be best off getting a local guide or dealing with a living person who’s been there… say, Sora Teraza.

 

What info have you been hiding about the dwarves that got sealed in Khyber by their now topside dwelling kin?

I feel like I’ve written about this in detail somewhere, but I don’t remember where. Short form: In MY Eberron, they were wiped out or corrupted beyond recognition during the Daelkyr Incursion. The ruins of the Old Kingdom are now filled with aberrations and other horrors, and there’s a Daelkyr somewhere beneath the Ironroot Mountains. Mror heroes sometimes go below in search of glory and treasure.

Oh, and bear in mind, the surface dwarves didn’t seal the other dwarves below… the surface dwarves got KICKED OUT of the awesome subterranean kingdom. Check out this Dragonshard on the subject.

 

Which factions or countries have the largest rivalries with each other?

There’s no shortage of rivalries…

Karrnath and Thrane

The Chamber and the Lords of Dust

The Royal Eyes of Aundair and the King’s Citadel of Breland

The Kalashtar and the Dreaming Dark

Adar and Riedra

The Blood of Vol and the Sovereign Host

Thuranni and Phiarlan

Cannith and Cannith (and Cannith)

The Aurum and the Twelve

House Tarkanan and the Twelve

Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches

The Ashbound and House Vadalis

The Gatekeepers and (some of) the Cults of the Dragon Below

The Boromar Clan and Daask

The Lhazaar Princes and the Lhazaar Princes

Erandis Vol and the Undying Court

The Swords of Liberty and the Brelish Monarchy

… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond that, if you pick one of the Five Nations, you can probably find a faction in any of the other Five Nations that hates them.

 

What is the royal symbol of the kingdom of Galifar?

I’m not sure it’s ever been defined in a canon source. In my Eberron, it’s a gold crown bearing five jewels, set against a green field; I believe a canon source somewhere speaks of Cyre as “the purple jewel in Galifar’s crown,” and this is where that expression comes from. Cyre kept the Crown of Galifar on its flag during the war, while adding other elements.

 

Are there equivalents to European monastic orders for the major faiths?

Sure. It’s touched on at the beginning of this Dragonshard, though it then turns to a description of more martial orders.

Many of the creatures can trace a path back to their origins, but what of shapechangers? We know changelings descend from dopplegangers, but where do beasties like dopplegangers, and by proxy things like tibbits, come from?

Depending on what edition you’re using, the distinction between changelings and doppelgangers can be blurred. In 3.5 they are concretely distinct species; in 4E “doppelganger” is an alternate word for changeling, implying that the changeling uses his abilities for larcenous purposes. As for origins, I’ve developed a particular changeling creation myth for my D&D Next character; perhaps I’ll include it in a dedicated Changeling post in the future. I’ll also point out that one of the first D20 products I had published was The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers, by Goodman Games; there I propose a lifecycle that links doppelgangers and mimics, though it’s not something I’d use for changelings as presented in canon Eberron.

Who judges those convicted to go to Dreadhold? Sivis judges, international judges, judges from the 5 nations?

The key thing to bear in mind is that Dreadhold isn’t directly tied to ANYONE’S legal system. Dreadhold is a for-profit operation run by a business, House Kundarak. Consider prisoner Deep Fourteen, who some believe to be the true Kaius III. He was never convicted of any crime. Almost no one in the world knows that he exists. He was sent to Dreadhold by the King of Karrnath, who is paying for his incarceration. With that said, does this mean ANYONE can send someone to Dreadhold? Probably not. I expect that Kundarak has a certain criteria they apply before they accept prisoners from you, likely defined by your legal status and your wealth. The short form is that they take prisoners sent to them by the courts of the Five Nations… but they probably also take prisoners sent to them by the Aurum or patriarchs of Dragonmarked Houses. It’s not Kundarak’s job to determine guilt or innocence; it’s their job to imprison the people they are paid to imprison, for as long as they are paid to do so. A potentially interesting point would be to have Dreadhold release a host of dangerous criminals or political dissidents (some who may have been preserved in the Stone Ward for centuries) that were imprisoned by United Galifar or Cyre, because none of the Thronehold nations want to keep paying for their imprisonment.

Being a private or for-profit endeavor, house Kundarak could get in trouble in my opinion if they accept to imprison someone in exchange for payment when that someone is innocent or not deserving such a harsh punishment and is sent to Dreadhold by a nation or anyone else who is its rival.

First off: We HAVE discussed the existence of international courts that judge war crimes, established under the terms of the Treaty of Thronehold. The key is that these courts have nothing in particular to do with Dreadhold. They can choose to send a person to Dreadhold, but if they do someone will have to be designated to pay for it, and be treated like any other client. Kundarak evaluates every prisoner submitted to Dreadhold. They consider all the risks associated with incarceration; these include the challenges posed by the prisoner and risks associated with the prisoner’s outside influence. If they decide to accept the prisoner, they set the cost of imprisonment. If the client agrees to those terms, they will maintain the incarceration until the client or their heirs cease payment or cancel the contract.

What DON’T they consider? If the prisoner is innocent or guilty. That’s not their problem. Dreadhold isn’t about justice. Every nation has its own prisons. Dreadhold isn’t part of any nations’ judicial system. You send someone to Dreadhold when no other prison can hold them; when you are concerned about an uprising or military action to free them; or when you can’t kill them but never want them to see the light of day again, like Melysse Miron. Dreadhold exists in international waters, and it’s not under the jurisdiction of any kingdom. If Aundair objects to the imprisonment of someone Breland has sent to Dreadhold, Kundarak’s answer is simple: take it up with Breland. If you want, you can lay siege to Dreadhold; however, it is one of the most impregnable fortresses in Eberron and on top of that, your nation would face immediate sanctions from the Twelve.

This touches on one of the key themes of Eberron: the balance of power between the houses and Eberron. When Galifar was united, Kundarak would be unlikely to refuse the King of Galifar if he demanded the release of a prisoner. But the Queen of Aundair is an entirely different matter… and it can be argued that Aundair needs the Twelve far more than they need her. Is she willing to risk losing the services of all the houses at a time when she’s contemplating war? Essentially, no single house HAS the leverage to place demands on Kundarak… and thus, Kundarak will simply say “Take it up with the people who sent the prisoner to us.”

Case in point: Prisoner Deep Fourteen. He’s being held incommunicado, masked, in a deep cell. His identity is hidden from the world. Is he guilty of something? Given that we don’t even know his identity, who knows? Kaius wanted this person to disappear forever, so he sent him to Dreadhold… there’s no one to challenge this, and Kundarak doesn’t care what his story is.

With that said: Kundarak can and will refuse submissions. Let’s say Erandis Vol kidnapped Jaela and sent her to Dreadhold. Kundarak would in all likelihood refuse to take her, not wanting to have the entire Church of the Silver Flame rise against them. On the other hand, if Cardinal Krozen sent her to Dreadhold with the full support of the church, they would take her. It’s not a question of innocence or guilt; it’s the fact that if she’s sent by the church, it’s safer for Kundarak to take her.

But the key thing to remember: Dreadhold isn’t about justice. It’s a business, plain and simple. Half the people in there may be innocent; if you want to get them out, take it up with the people who imprisoned them, or break them out yourself.

Is the Church of the Silver Flame still paying for Melysse Miron’s incarceration, or do they have an alternate deal worked out with Kundarak?

Yes, they are still paying for her. With that said, I doubt she’s the only one; I suspect they have a significant ongoing payment that covers a significant number of prisoners. It’s likely they are covering Saeria Lantol’s imprisonment as well. The mandate of the church is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. If the best way to do that is to pay for its incarceration, they will.

How do the Sentinel Marshals view Dreadhold?  On the one hand, it houses legitimate prisoners, which they must support, but does the incarceration of others not in accordance with any law give them pause?  If a person was kidnapped according to the laws of the nation in which the crime occurred, and then sent to Dreadhold, would the Marshals feel a need to do anything about it?

A key point: The Sentinel Marshals aren’t some sort of Justice League, fighting crime for the good of all. Let’s take a look at the first source to describe the Sentinel Marshals, Sharn: City of Towers:

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.

Sentinel Marshals aren’t tied to the Watch. They aren’t casual law enforcers. If a Sentinel Marshal is walking down the street and sees a robbery, he’s not OBLIGATED to do anything about it. Many are honorable people who MIGHT… but that’s not their job. They are private contractors who are authorized to enforce the law across Khorvaire. Some Sentinel Marshals are deeply concerned with honor and justice; for others it’s just a job. It’s a job they have to take very seriously – Sentinel Marshals are held to very high standards of conduct – but you could easily have an evil Sentinel Marshal, who plays strictly by the rules but doesn’t give a damn what happens to the criminals he brings in. Meanwhile, looking back to Kundarak: THEY aren’t the kidnappers. As I said, Dreadhold is in international waters. If the person who brought the prisoner to Dreadhold kidnapped them, fine – FIND THE KIDNAPPER and get them to end the incarceration contract. So say Saiden Boromar kidnaps someone and sends them to Dreadhold. If there’s a Sentinel Marshal who’s so infuriated by this miscarriage of justice that he’s going to take independent action to do something about it, the best thing for him to do would be to expose Saiden and bring him to justice. SAIDEN has committed the crime of kidnapping in a nation bound by the Code of Galifar. Dreadhold is NOT bound by the Code of Galifar.

Fun side note: As Dreadhold is in international waters and not actually covered by the Code of Galifar, it’s technically not a crime to break into Dreadhold. It’s a frontier operation. if Kundarak catches you, well, they may just throw you in a deep cell… but you won’t end up in a court anywhere.

Again about Dreadhold, since they are in international waters, they could be payed to perform tortures to a prisioner?

I’m sure that they could; after all, one could argue that the conditions of Deep 14’s imprisonment are a form of torture. With that said, I don’t see them resorting to torture to acquire information. In a world where people have access to detect thoughts, zone of truth, discern lies, and so on, I can’t imagine that the keepers of the most sophisticated prison in Eberron would use physical torture as a primary means of extracting information… though I suppose that physical and psychological torture could be COMBINED with some of those spells as a way to force an answer and then verify its accuracy. While they could farm this out to another house, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kundarak has its own specialists in this; after all, psychological warfare would play an important role in holding certain prisoners.

Since he came up, are there any people that you have in mind for Prisoner Deep Fourteen besides the real Kaius? 

Spoilers here, so if you don’t know Kaius’ story skip this question. I don’t have anyone in mind for D14, but I could brainstorm a few possibilities, given a moment. He’s someone Kaius wants alive, but not allowed to speak or write. The idea that he’s a relative is one possibility. Another is that he’s a Karrnathi warmage who committed war crimes so vile he couldn’t be left at liberty (in part because other nations would demand justice) but Kaius wants to be able to retrieve him if there’s another war. A third even zanier possibility is that HE is Kaius I, and that the biggest secret of Karrnath is that Kaius III IS Kaius III, presenting himself to Kaius’ inner circle as his grandfather. If you want to get really deep into conspiracies, try this. Erandis arranged to have Kaius transformed. Because of the nature of this process, the vampire that transformed Kaius has direct influence over him, if s/he chooses to exert it. Unwilling to live with this threat hanging over him, Kaius I turned Kaius III into a vampire. In this theory, I’m asserting that a vampire can assert control over his direct progeny, but not over THEIR progeny. So K1 sires K3, and then arranges for K3 to send him under deep cover into Dreadhold. K3 poses as K1 posing as K3. His mission: to find and eliminate K1’s sire, so no one can dominate K1; once that’s done, he’ll free K1 from Dreadhold. In the meantime, Erandis is baffled by the fact that she can’t exert control over Kaius.

Personally, I like the idea of K3 posing as K1 posing as K3… but perhaps I’ve been watching too much Orphan Black.

Now, I just came up with this idea on the spur of the moment. But running with it a little further, you can get even farther out there and say Kaius III isn’t a vampire. Here’s the sequence of events. Kaius is turned into a vampire by Erandis. After being undercover for a time, Erandis sends him to replace K3 and take over Karrnath; she likes the idea of having a puppet on the throne. But K1 is no one’s puppet, and he has his own scheme. K3’s lover Etrigani is a deep-cover Deathguard agent, and knows rituals that can allow a living person to appear undead, a variant of the half-life techniques common among the Jhaelian clan. Together, Etrigani, K1, and K3 arrange to make it SEEM as though K3 is actually vampire K1. This “coup” – the idea that K1 has replaced K3 – is revealed to Morana and the other inner circle of Karrnath, and of course all of Vol’s spies. “K3” – actually K1 – is sent to Dreadhold, and made incommunicado, so there is no way for Vol to manipulate him; he can’t get out even if he wanted to. Etrigani and K3-posing-as-K1 want to destroy the vampire that sired K1 and to get as much information as they can about Erandis’ inner circle and her reach in Karrnath. Again, in this scenario Etrigani is an agent of the Deathguard, who have been trying to eliminate Erandis for centuries. But K1 is under close scrutiny by Vol. She doesn’t understand why she can’t control him, but he’s doing his best NOT to reveal his true identity. He’s too closely watched. He needs agents she doesn’t know… agents like the PCs.

The main thing I like about this is that most people who know Eberron know that Kaius III is a vampire and Kaius I. To negate both of these – not only is he actually Kaius III, he’s not even a real vampire – is a great way to catch people who think they know everything about the world offguard. And it helps solidify K3 and Etrigani’s relationship; it’s not that she loves him in spite of his being a vampire, something that’s an anathema to her people; rather, she loves him because they are working together to bring down Erandis, and it’s her skills that allow him to maintain his masquerade.