FAQ: Changelings

This is a time to think of all the things we’ve thankful for, and I for one am thankful that I haven’t been replaced by a changeling. So it seems like a good time to address a few of the questions I’ve received about changelings, the shapeshifters of Rising From The Last War.

First, let’s take a quick look at the foundation of the changeling:

As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex. You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can’t duplicate the appearance of a creature you’ve never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have. Your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait. You stay in the new form until you use an action to revert to your true form or until you die.

A question that comes up quite often is given the threat posed by changelings impersonating people, what steps do Eberron’s factions and governments take to deal with them?

The everyday magic that drives the civilization of Khorvaire only goes up to around 3rd level. So you don’t have guards stationed with true seeing at every important location. Which is good, because from a metagame perspective, changelings should be able to fool people. That’s the point of playing a changeling. We don’t muzzle dragonborn to keep them from using their breath weapons or make wood elves wear cement boots to negate their extra movement. If you play a changeling, you should be able to fool people.

With that said, that doesn’t mean it should be EASY. The people of Khorvaire are very aware of the existence of changelings, and after centuries of coexistence have a very good idea of their capabilities. So let’s consider those for a moment.

  • As a changeling it is assumed that you can perfectly replicate the appearance of a creature you’ve seen before (just like someone using disguise self). No roll is required to duplicate basic physical appearance.
  • However, this doesn’t provide you with any knowledge of that person and their quirks. It’s taken for granted that you sound like them—the voice comes with the shape—but you don’t know their mannerisms or their vocabulary.
  • Likewise, the most crucial limitation on changelings is that clothing and equipment don’t change. You can look like a guard, but you don’t get the uniform for free.

So: People of Khorvaire know there are people out there that can duplicate their appearance… but that they can’t steal their memories or copy their belongings. One immediate impact of this is that people make a conscious effort to develop unique mannerisms and accessories. People establish in-jokes and call-and-response phrases. They will often have at least one unique, personal accessory—a piece of clothing, jewelery, even a pet—that they carry all the time as an identifying factor. In part, this is simply about developing a personal style; but in Eberron, it also has the absolute concrete underlay that “If you see me without this accessory, you should be suspicious.’

So in my case, I have a hat that I wear all the time. Everyone knows me by that hat. If I every show up without the hat, my friends will notice. They won’t automatically assume that I’m an imposter, but they WILL probably try out one of our shared jokes or stories and see if I respond to it. This same basic principle applies to institutions. Guards will have distinctive uniforms. They will have SOME sort of ID object—whether it’s identification papers, a brooch of rank—that will stand out if it’s absent. And they WILL have a system of passwords or phrases that they use to test people suspected of being imposters. Because after all, changelings aren’t the only threat; anyone can get a hat of disguise. In a high security location, this system could have more layers to further confuse people. The ID item could change regularly. Imagine an ID brooch that’s a common magic item, enchanted so you can change its color by touching it and saying a command word. The appropriate color could vary based on the current time and day of the week. So an imposter with disguise self could duplicate the appearance of the uniform; but if they don’t know the system, they won’t know what color their brooch should be.

While this isn’t foolproof, these sorts of systems can make it very difficult for a changeling to fool people. However, this is where DECEPTION comes into play. You don’t have to make a skill check to duplicate someone’s appearance. You have to make a skill check when you do something that makes them suspicious… and if you are successful, it means you’ve managed to allay their suspicions. If you duplicate my appearance and don’t have my hat, a successful Deception check means you’ve recognized that people are suspicious and done SOMETHING to convince them that nothing’s wrong. Perhaps you make an excuse about what happened to the hat. Perhaps you never even know the hat is the issue, but you’re just so skilled at putting people at ease that they forget about the hat. It’s the same principle with a password or an ID badge. The fact that you don’t know the password doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you to get past a guard; an excellent Deception check means you’re able to convince them there’s a good reason you don’t have the password, or to otherwise get them to ignore it. On the other hand, there can also be inanimate security systems that can’t be fooled. An alarm could be tied to that common magic ID badge; if you enter the chamber without one, it will trigger the alarm. Which means you CAN still pull off this job; but you are going to have to somehow get one of those badges to do it.

In general, if you’re playing a changeling bard with expertise in Deception, you are SUPPOSED to be a master deceiver. You SHOULD be able to fool people. On the other hand, you’re not going to be able to simply walk into the Kundarak vault and steal all the treasure because you’re wearing someone’s face. They will have passphrases, and they will use magic that’s available (up to 3rd level); so you will have alarm, and in the case of a Kundarak vault you might even be questioned under a zone of truth. People KNOW changelings are around. They are PREPARED. But it’s always possible to overcome these with enough work and preparation.

One key point to bear in mind is that an easy way to not get caught is to not impersonate someone in the first place. The whole idea of a persona is that changelings will CREATE unique identities for their purposes. If a family of changelings created the identity of “Keith Baker,” they’re the ones who came up with the hat in the first place; they KNOW all the recognizable quirks of the character. The traveling changelings often don’t duplicate the appearance of outsiders; they simply use the persona best suited to the situation.

Another question that’s come up is can a changeling impersonate a warforged? This ties to a second question, can a changeling appear to be wearing a mask, but it’s actually just their face?

The answer to both of these hinges on the phrase your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait. A mask is a piece of equipment, so no, you can’t make a fake mask. Likewise, you can duplicate the appearance of a warforged, but you can’t replicate armor—and most warforged are always wearing armor. So you could be a “naked’ warforged, which means you’ve just got the livewood musculature exposed, but that’s not normal for warforged and you’ll draw a lot of attention.

If a Changeling transformed into someone/thing with webbed hands and feet, or claws, would they have any benefit, even if it’s not a lot?

No. A changeling gains no mechanical benefit from their disguise. As suggested in the comments, I could imagine granting a Stealth bonus to a naked changeling who wants to shift the color of their skin to hide in a snowbank, but the key points there are “naked” and “snowbank” (IE, not a complex background). A changeling can make it LOOK like they have sharper teeth or claws, but this doesn’t actually give them natural weapons; it’s a deception. Essentially, it is a form of disguise self, NOT alter self.

Having said that, Exploring Eberron will have a few options that allow changelings to improve their natural shapeshifting abilities in order to get mechanical benefits from it.

Could a particularly skilled Changeling pull off a Cuttlefish impression?

No; the ability states “you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have.” With that said, I have in the past suggested the idea of a Changeling Menagerie—a changeling who is mechanically a Circle of the Moon druid, but who explains their class features as being derived from their mastery of shapeshifting as opposed to druidic traditions.

I’d love to know more about Changeling Culture. I do have a question, and it might be addressed in your book already, but here it is: In your Eberron, how would Changelings view love and romance? Would they stick with their persona the entire time they’re with their significant other, or show their true nature once they decide to commit to each other?

Exploring Eberron does go into more detail about changeling cultures, and the key point is that this isn’t a simple answer because there’s more than one changeling culture and the common answer (as there’s always exceptions in love!) would definitely vary by culture.

  • Stable changelings live openly as changelings and wouldn’t need to hide their true nature in the first place. I’d expect them to use personas as part of courting, but not to deceive the lover—rather to show them all the different facets of the changeling’s personality, to explore all the possibilities of their relationship. This could be confusing for a non-changeling lover, but between changelings it would be an important part of learning about one another. A final aspect of this could be developing an entirely new persona that is used ONLY with the lover: this is who I am with YOU.
  • Passers—lone changelings blending into non-changeling communities—might chose to share their true nature with a lover because they want to be completely honest with them. But there are passers who deny their own changeling nature and consider their chosen persona to BE their true identity; so they might believe they are BEING honest in using the persona. But part of the point is that passers aren’t really a culture; each one deals with unique circumstances.
  • Where the static changeling might create personas to show their facets to a lover, for the traveling changelings personas are important tools and stories. Many personas are shared, and any change you make to the core story of the persona would have to be followed by anyone else using the persona. If Tel-as-Bronson takes Jesse as a lover as Bronson and their cousin Dal also uses Bronson, then it’s Dal’s job to love Jesse when they are Bronson. So essentially, the question is are you taking this lover yourself—in which case, once you are certain about the relationship, you would DEFINITELY want them to know your true face—or is the persona taking this lover—in which case you’d never want to let them see your true face. This doesn’t mean the persona-lover would be any less intense or real; but it’s not part of YOUR story, it’s THEIR romance.

And these are just three of the more prevalent changeling cultures. So there’s a lot of possibilities.

I would think changelings must have some kind of internal law system for dealing with malcontents.

Remember that just like elves or for that matter drow, “changelings” don’t have anything as a whole. They aren’t a monolithic force; they have different cultures, and each culture will have their own traditions. With that said, yes, there would definitely be punishments for those whose actions threaten the community. Also bear in mind that theft of identity is a crime under the Code of Galifar; obviously casual actions can be hard to prove, but it’s an issue a changeling had best be aware of if they are going to be going before the law of the Five Nations.

One of the simplest but most severe punishments would be an indelible mark—a magical tattoo that cannot be removed by shapeshifting. The technique of the indelible mark is a secret held close by the elders of the Children of Jes, used only in severe situations. An equally severe punishment for serious offenses is removal of all or part of a limb; as noted above, changelings can’t create limbs with their power. With both of these punishments, the message is simple: if you abuse your gift, it can be taken from you. A lesser punishment would be the destruction of the criminal’s personal personas (through other changelings adopting the person and taking actions that can’t be undone).

Do changelings sometimes use their shapechanging artistically or outlandishly? Wild hair colors, patterned skin, strange eyes?

This is a question of culture. In stable changeling communities where they live openly as changelings, they absolutely use shapeshifting artistically and as a form of expression. The Queen of Stone has a changeling dancer changing patterns on their skin as part of the performance. Page 18 of Rising From The Last War notes that changeling names often incorporate a minor degree of cosmetic shapeshifting—Jin-with-vivid-blue-eyes. Traveling changelings and passers hiding their changeling nature obviously won’t use shapeshifting in this way, but still use it subtly to convey messages to family members.

Can all changelings get pregnant? Are they biologically asexual and just choose their current sex with shapeshifting?

Yes. What’s been stated in the past is that changelings set their sex with shapeshifting. Prior canon has said that a pregnant changeling actually loses the ability to shapeshift during the pregnancy. This seems extreme to me, but I could see the idea that they need to maintain a female form in order to maintain the pregnancy (and that shifting form very early in the pregnancy would simply end it, so changelings have a very easy form of birth control). The idea that changing sex is an instinctual thing, like flipping a light switch, and that a normal changeling couldn’t, for example, assume a male form but keep the uterus. With that said, if you had a changeling called out as having greater control over their abilities (for example, the Changeling Menagerie druid I’ve mentioned elsewhere) I might allow that.

Can changelings mate with non-changelings, and are their children full-blooded changelings?

What we’ve said before is that changelings can mate with most humanoids, and that the child is always a changeling. The child is born with the apparent species of the mother, and the shapeshifting ability doesn’t set in for around a year. This is the origin of the name “changeling” — because when someone’s previously human child suddenly becomes a pale thing, it was once thought that the original child had been taken to Thelanis.

Having said that: while changelings CAN mate with other humanoids, I’d say that it is RARE for them to impregnate creatures of other species. It can happen, but the fertility rate isn’t that high. It’s quite possible that humans and other human-compatible species are the most viable. With that said…

Are changelings biologically compatible with other changelings or are they parasitic with humanoids?

Changelings are biologically compatible with changelings. Most changeling cultures are relatively insular, precisely because many traditions of the culture are tied to shapeshifting and a fluid outlook on identity, and it’s difficult to integrate a single-skin into the community. There certainly are changelings who choose to pursue relationships with members of other species —see the changeling romance answer above—but it’s not the common practice.

Can they disguise injuries, like if a guard cut your face and you escaped but they try to track you by the cut?

It would depend on the extent of the injury. There is no mechanical benefit to changeling shapeshifting, so they can’t actually heal themselves. However, I’d personally say that they can conceal minor injuries. If it’s a specific story point—an especially grievous wound inflicted for the express purpose of marking the changeling—I’d probably have the changeling make a Wisdom (Medicine) check to simply seal the wound. If they failed that, I’d still likely let them minimize and conceal it, but if someone was explicitly looking for an injured changeling it would be grounds for requiring a Charisma (Deception) check to conceal it.

What if you cut off a changeling’s arm?

Changeling shapeshifting provides no mechanical benefit, and as a changeling “you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have.” The ability to regrow a lost limb would certainly be a mechanical benefit. So as noted above, this is a particular brutal form of justice in a changeling community.

Can changelings fake convincing dragonmarks? Can changelings be tattooed?

Yes and yes. A changeling can duplicate the appearance of a creature they’ve seen; there’s no exception stating “unless that creature has a dragonmark.” With that said, dragonmarks glow when used; if the character is attempting to make it appear functional, I’d definitely require a Charisma (Deception) check, and for them to have seen the mark used before. And note that this sort of fake dragonmark won’t let you use a dragonmark focus item.

As for being tattooed, changelings can definitely be tattooed, and they can just as easily erase the tattoo with a moment’s thought. As mentioned above, the Children of Jes have a curse known as the indelible mark which can only be removed using a spell that would remove a curse, but a mundane tattoo can be easily faked or removed.

What’s up with doppelgangers? We know changelings believe they’re a kind of insane changeling, but how true is that if doppelgangers seem to come from Khyber?

Under 5E lore, doppelgangers are changelings twisted by the daelkyr Dyrrn the Corruptor. A general belief is that this change is actually primarily psychological. Doppelgangers have a fundamentally alien outlook. They are predators who so paranoia and chaos when not working for a specific Cult of the Dragon Below, but there’s often no apparent motive for their actions. This is largely about the horror of a creature who knows your thoughts, who can kill you with its bare hands and steal your face, but that you don’t know WHY or what it wants.

One possibility is that doppelgangers are biologically distinct from changelings. Another possibility is that they are physically identical, and that the doppelganger’s superior abilities are simply unlocked by its alien psychology. With this said, it’s possible that changelings can also unlock these same abilities—but that in so doing they will lose their original personality and become doppelgangers.

Would a scholar be able to tell the difference between a changeling and a doppelganger? Would a changeling be able to recognize a doppelganger if they saw it using its abilities?

In their natural forms, doppelgangers and changelings are quite different. Just take a look at the picture in the Monster Manual! Doppelgangers are hairless and less human in their proportions. If you embrace the idea of the changeling becoming a doppelganger, once it underwent the psychological transition its “true form” would change to match the hairless doppelganger form.

With that said, a changeling could DISGUISE itself as a doppelganger (if it had see one in its true form), and vice versa!

As for recognizing it, the BASIC shapeshifting action is identical. You don’t see someone shift faces and say “That’s not a changeling, it’s a doppelganger!” You recognize it by its ability to read thoughts and by its deadly unarmed attack.

Does the 2nd level Moonbeam work against changelings? If so, wouldn’t this have large implications in the viability of hiding as a changeling? Likewise, are changelings immune to the polymorph spell, which fails when used on shapeshifters?

This is something that requires errata. The changeling racial description doesn’t clearly state that changelings have the shapeshifter subtype. However, in Chapter 6, the example changeling NPC DOES have the shapeshifter subtype, which means that it’s vulnerable to moonbeam and immune to polymorph. This is definitely something that will be clarified in the future, and I don’t have the ability to make a ruling on behalf of WotC, so for now it’s a DM’s decision.

With that said: Moonbeam isn’t a particularly effective changeling test. It’s a 2nd level spell, so it is in the world, but that’s still not something people use all the time. It’s also a druid spell, and druidic magic isn’t common in the Five Nations. Most important, it inflicts 2d10 radiant damage, which is MORE than enough to kill a normal person. So using moonbeam to check if someone’s a changeling is like shooting them in the face to see if they’re a vampire.

To what degree are 4th (Private Sanctum), 5th (Geas), and 6th (Forbiddence) level spells available to high end buyers (eg Royalty). I know the 3.5 Dreadhold write up had antimagic, which is 8th level, but I don’t have a sense to grade from “Standard enclave” to “The most impenetrable prison of all time”. I know greater marks go up to 5th, but are 5th level spells that aren’t on a Spells of the Mark list available for the ultrawealthy?

This isn’t strictly a changeling question, but it ties to the general topic of detection. First of all: one of the general principles of Eberron is that only magic of up to 3rd level is commonly available — employed by magewrights, etc. This article discusses a range of options that fall under that umbrella, based on alarm, glyph of warding, and arcane lock.

Spells of 4th level and above can be available, but they are rare and expensive—not services you should take for granted. The Spells of the Mark tables are good guidelines but are NOT complete. These are spells heirs may be able to CAST, but the direct powers of a mark are not as important as the ability to use focus items – and for example, I have a focus item in Exploring Eberron that allows a dwarf with the mark of warding to cast guards & wards. Effects such as forbiddance and true seeing are POSSIBLE, but they should be RARE, not something anyone would take for granted. It’s the sort of thing where a commoner might have HEARD of a Kundarak houseward but never seen one.

Meanwhile, Dreadhold is the most secure prison in Khorvaire. It is LEGENDARY. Yes, it employs forbiddance and antimagic—but that doesn’t mean you should find these effects in a typical city jail.

I’ll be writing more about changeling culture in my upcoming book Exploring Eberron. In my next post I’ll talk about my plans for PAX Unplugged and The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance!

And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters! I hope to do more with the site in the future, and support will help determine what’s possible.

If you have questions or thoughts about changelings, post them below!

Rising From The Last War: The Dwarves

The Ironroot Mountains are rich in precious metals and ore, and the dwarves of the Mror Hold wield considerable economic power for such a small nation. The Mror dwarves have long been miners and warriors, proud of their clans and their traditions. And the clans have long told stories of the great deeds of their ancestors—of dwarves who ruled a vast domain below the roots of the mountains, who battled the ancient goblins long before humanity came to Khorvaire, of artificers who crafted wonders deep below the earth. According to these stories, the first clan lords were exiled from the Realm Below for their wild and reckless ways—but that someday, when the Mror walked a righteous path, the gates of the Realm Below would be opened to them once more.

In the early days of the Last War, the legends were revealed to be true. Delving ever deeper, Mror miners broke through into an ancient hall. There is a vast subterranean realm below the Ironroot Mountains, and the ancient dwarves who carved these halls did produce amazing artifacts and legendary weapons. But those dwarves died long ago. The daelkyr Dyrrn the Corruptor has laid claim to the Realm Below, and the minions of the Foul Labyrinth are spread throughout its halls. Dolgrims, dolgaunts, mind flayers, and other vile aberrations dwell in the depths. Degenerate derro dwell among these creatures, perhaps the last remnant of the dwarves of old.

Ever since this discovery, the Mror Clans have been waging a war to reclaim their ancestral holdings. The aberrations have yet to mount a counter-offensive or truly organized defense, and the dwarves have established a beachhead in the depths. Along the way, they have recovered both relics of the ancient dwarfs and weapons and tools of the daelkyr themselves—living weapons and items known as symbionts. Some of the clans—notably Clan Mroranon, the strongest of the holds—take the stance that all things tied to the daelkyr are abominable, and that any use of such things will lead to corruption. But others—notably Clan Soldorak—assert that symbionts are just tools, and that the weapons of the enemy can be used against them. Over the course of decades, Soldorak and its allies have brought symbionts into their daily lives, finding new uses for these living tools. Soldorak warlocks have found ways to draw on the power of the daelkyr themselves. Such warlocks swear that they’ll only use these powers for the good of the Holds, but Mroranon purists mutter that there can be no traffic without corruption.

The Present Day

Today, the dwarves continue their slow war in the darkness. Occasionally a force of aberrations seeks to rise up from the depths, but overall there is a stalemate; the Mror have claimed upper halls, but it will take a great effort to press deeper. From a practical standpoint, this means that there is a vast dungeon below the Holds. Many clans would be happy to have adventurers drive deeper into the daelkyr-held halls beneath their holds, especially if those adventurers include among them a dwarf of their line. This is an especially logical focus for a dwarf with the noble background; among many of the clan lines, the elders have asserted that if their heirs want territory, they must carve it out of the Realm Below.

So on the one hand, the Mror Holds are shaped by the knowledge of the Realms Below—the awareness that there is untold wealth and power to be gained in the depths, combined with the knowledge that a deadly enemy with vast and as yet untested power lies beneath their feet. Dyrrn the Corruptor has yet launch an organized attack against the surface, but many feel that it’s only a matter of time. Some say that it’s a question of poking the hornets nest, that all traffic with the Realm Below should be severed before Dyrrn rises. Others believe that Dyrrn is biding its time while spreading its corruption through its symbionts and cults—that Dyrrn is already attacking the Mror Holds, just not through brute force. While some say that these are the excuses of cowards: that the aberrations are not as strong as others think, and that the holds should launch a concetnrated campaign to fully reclaim the Realm Below. It’s up the a DM to decide the truth and the path a campaign will take. Are Dyrrn’s minions already corrupting the dwarves from within? Do you want to have a resurgence of this ancient threat, with the dwarves fighting a desperate battle to contain hordes rising from below? Or do you want to keep the Realm Below as a mysterious dungeon for bold adventurers to explore?

Rising From The Last War presents the foundation of this idea, and provides a few example symbionts. Exploring Eberron goes farther, with a deeper look into the cultural impact of these events, along with additional symbionts and character options.

Why Did This Happen?

Since Eberron began, the Mror dwarves have been called out as being fundamentally less interesting than the dino-riding Talenta halflings, the deadly gnomes of Zilargo, and the ancestor-worshipping warrior elves of Valenar. In the past, their primary direction has been about their economic power; but that’s a subtle distinction. In developing Rising From The Last War, we wanted to add something that made the Mror dwarves distinct without completely rewriting their history. But the Realm Below has always been part of their history. This article was the first mention of the ancient kingdom below the Holds—a realm of wonders destroyed by the daelkyr long ago. Likewise, symbionts were introduced in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting and expanded upon in Magic of Eberron. But neither of these elements received much attention. Rising presented an opportunity to expand on both of these. We give the daelkyr a more significant role and create a line in the sand for adventurers who want to face them: here is a place where you know one can be found. We also take symbionts—something I’ve always liked—and say that there is a place in the world where they are being used as tools, the same way magic is used as a tool. For adventurers who prefer a more traditional dwarven story, there’s the Mroranon and their allies—proud warriors staunchly opposing the aberrations and holding to the traditions of their ancestors. For players who want something new, try the Soldorak with their warlocks and their symbionts. A critical point here is that the Soldorak aren’t evil or inherently corrupt; they see symbionts as one more tool, as a science to be mastered. Some of the other clans say that it can’t be mastered without sowing corruption—but that’s a decision the DM will have to decide. So ultimately, this was an opportunity to add a unique path for dwarf adventurers, while also expanding on the role of symbionts and the daelkyr.

But wait, you say? I keep mentioning dwarf warlocks, and dwarves aren’t especially good at being warlocks? Well, perhaps there’s an option in Exploring Eberron that will help those would-be Soldorak cultists…

What About The Shadow Marches?

The Shadow Marches also have a division between those who follow the Daelkyr adn those who oppose them. Is this just the same story repeated?

On a grand cosmic scale, it can be seen that way. But the two are very different. The story of the Marches has been playing out for thousands of years. The Gatekeepers are a truly ancient tradition. The Cults of the Dragon Below are an established part of Marcher culture. The Gatekeepers maintain the seals that keep the daelkyr bound, while the Kyrzin’s Whisperers maintain the gibbering mouthers that live in their basements and consume their elders. It is an established tradition on both sides. By contrast, the situation in the Mror Holds is active and unfolding. There IS the risk that Kyrzin could drive an all out offensive (even if the daelkyr itself can’t leave Khyber). The Soldorak are actively trying to harness and use the symbionts in a more industrial manner than the ancient cults of the Marches. And frankly, the Mroranon may oppose the daelkyr, but they don’t understand what they are fighting as the Gatekeepers do. There’s also the simply point that there’s different daelkyr involved. The Marches are primarily associated with Kyrzin and Belashyrra, while it’s Dyrrn the Corruptor who’s active below the Holds. Part of this is that it’s a great reason for a Gatekeeper adventurer to be sent to the Mror Holds, to find out just what’s happening in the east and report back to the elders in the Marches.

Q&A

How does House Kundarak fit into this picture?

The original 3.5 lore suggests that it was the Kundarak dwarves that opened the passages to the Realm Below. This isn’t entirely eliminated, but it’s downplayed. The idea remains that the Kundarak dwarves weren’t exiled; they left the Realm Below as guardians assigned to watch over the exiles and prevent their return. There’s a few things to consider here.

  • The timeline isn’t as interesting. Set aside the idea that Dragonmark of Warding just happened to manifest on a line of dwarves maintaining wards (thousands of years after their being assigned to that position), it sets the discovery of the Realm Below as something that happened centuries ago, removing the urgency and drama of the situation. We want the interaction with the Realm Below to be recent enough that’s adventurers can be an active part of the discover, and its impact on the Holds is still unfolding.
  • The previous approach meant that Kundarak maintained a direct cultural line to the Realm Below. We preferred the idea that this line was broken, that no dwarf really knows what they’ll find in the Realm Below. This ties to the fact that the ancient dwarves could make artifacts, and that there are secrets below any artificer would love to master. But it also means that the dwarves could discover that their ancestors weren’t what they believe them to have been.
  • Which all leads to the idea that the Kundarak did seal and protect the paths to the Realm Below long ago… but that then thousands of years passed and they, too, largely forgot what had come before. They didn’t fail in their duty; the paths were sealed. They just were so successful that they eventually forgot what that duty was and moved on (again, over the course of thousands of years and the rise of new civilizations) and eventually someone else DID break the seals.

But the answer is simple. If you prefer the old lore, you can use that Dragonshard exactly as it reads. The Kundarak DID open the seals to the Realm Below a thousand years ago. But this only revealed the upper levels, which were empty and long abandoned. What happened recently wasn’t the discovery of the Realm Below; it was that someone found a way to go even deeper into it, and that’s when they found the levels still occupied. So it was a known curiosity, but only recently became an opportunity and a threat.

Will you ever give a canon answer for the other 10 clans where they fall on the symbiont acceptability spectrum?

I doubt it. Exploring Eberron addresses some of the other clans, but a number are left intentionally neutral so DMs and players can decide what to do with them.

The only small niggle I have was that one in-universe tabloid on a Mror noble going to Korth kitted out with a slew of symbionts. Personally find it difficult to swallow that they’d travel internationally as such. But then, can you really believe everything you read? Especially with the Karrns likely bitter still over Mror ceding from Karrnath.

The clipping in question is on page 121 of Rising From The Last War. With all of those clippings, It’s very important to look at the source. The Korranberg Chronicle is the most reliable source. The Five Voices — in this case, the Voice of Karrnath — present inflammatory and nationalistic views. So it’s hardly surprising that the Voice of Karrnath would focus on the unsavory aspects of a visiting Mror dignitary and try to generate fear.

With that said, I DON’T have a problem with the idea of Lord Malus showing up in his living armor. You have to consider WHY he’s doing this, and WHERE. If he’s an ambassador coming to Fairhaven on bended knee, this would be a terrible choice. But to paraphrase 300, this is Karrnath. This is the nation that has entire fortresses staffed with the undead. It is a nation that understands displays of power and wielding tools that terrify others. In wearing his armor, Lord Malus is intentionally seeking to intimidate and to project power: I have mastered these terrifying things.

And there’s one other element to consider. Most symbionts have a feature called symbiotic nature. Attuning to a symbiont is a commitment, and they can’t be casually removed. Malus could surely have had his armor removed before leaving the Mror Holds; but he couldn’t simply take it off before coming to the meeting.

That’s all for now! Let me know your thoughts on this new twist on the dwarves of Eberron. And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site alive. I hope to do more on the site in the months ahead, and Patreon support will help determine what that looks like. And thanks as well to Júlio Azevedo, who produced the image above for Exploring Eberron!

Rising From The Last War: The Warforged

The warforged are one of the defining elements of Eberron. Sentient golems created to fight in the Last War, they must find their purpose and place in the world now that the war is over.

Warforged are often dismissed as “magical robots,” but it’s a flawed analogy. Warforged are formed from wood and metal, but they are living creatures. Their musculature is formed from a rootlike substances, and they have a circulatory system of alchemical fluids. A warforged can be healed, and they can even be poisoned, though it’s not easy. Warforged have feelings, and while this is something that’s debated in Eberron itself, the fact is that they have souls; the real mystery is where those souls come from. Robot or not, a warforged character is quite different from other species. As a warforged you don’t eat, sleep, or breathe. Your armor is your skin. Whether you embrace it or rebel against it, you were created for a purpose and your class features may be reflected in your physical design. A warforged barbarian could describe their Rage as entering an advanced battle mode, while a warforged sorcerer could present themselves as a living wand.

The warforged have gone through multiple design iterations in Eberron, from an early Unearthed Arcana article when Fifth Edition was first released to a more developed version in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron. The final version released in Rising is quite different from Wayfinder’s, and I want to discuss those changes.

Integrated Protection

When the warforged were released in the original Eberron Campaign Setting, one of their defining features was that they didn’t wear armor; they WERE armor. In that early edition a warforged character used a feat to set their armor class, and once set, they had it for the rest of their life. This added a unique flavor to the race, though it did require a character to burn a feat. In the earliest draft of the WGtE, we mimicked this original model by tying armor type to subrace. The juggernaut subrace had the equivalent of heavy armor, the skirmisher was medium, and the envoy was light. This mirrored that original design; you made a choice at first level and that defined your armor moving forward. But it clashed with the inherent flexibility that’s a pillar of Fifth Edition. So it was shifted shortly before release to a model that allowed a warforged to transform their integrated protection—a bit of an odd idea, but the original warforged juggernaut prestige class had introduced the idea that warforged could evolve their bodies, so it wasn’t without precedent.

While this approach added flexibility, it raised a lot of questions and corner cases. Did Integrated Protection count as wearing armor for purposes of feat prerequisites? How did it interact with class features, such as Fighting Styles? Could it be targeted by heat metal (which was a threat to warforged in 3.5!). Likewise, because warforged couldn’t acquire new armor, we tried out a mechanic that let them add their proficiency bonus to their armor class, essentially self-enchanting as they gained levels. This was INTERESTING, but there were many concerns about its impact on game balance.

This all led to the current approach. In Rising From The Last War, a warforged has “defensive layers that can be enhanced with armor.” A warforged has an innate +1 bonus to Armor Class, and can don or remove armor. It’s noted that to don armor, you must “incorporate it into your body,” a process that takes an hour. Once you do this, it cannot be removed against your will.

Some people feel that this undermines the idea of warforged. But this is a matter of perception. Don’t think of it as warforged WEARING armor as other characters do. You don’t just wear armor; you incorporate it into your body. When a warforged goes through this hour-long process, they are literally peeling off their outer plating, disassembling the new armor and fusing it to their body, piece by piece. It’s like a human peeling off their skin and gluing new skin on. A critical point for me is that this isn’t easy or comfortable, and it’s not something many warforged ever do. MOST warforged live their entire lives using the armor they were first forged with, because it’s not EQUIPMENT for them, it’s their body. However, if there is a need, they are CAPABLE of going through this extreme process of body modification, removing their plating and incorporating new armor.

Ultimately, this approach to armor is cleaner from the perspective of both interaction with other rules elements and long-term character balance. It doesn’t change the IDEA that warforged have a different relationship to their armor than other creatures do. Don’t think of it as “wearing armor”; think of it as modifying your body. It’s also up to you to decide what this looks like. You are incorporating the armor into your body, not wearing it. You don’t look like a person in armor; you look like a warforged.

Warforged Subraces

The original Unearthed Arcana included three warforged subraces. These are notably missing from Rising From The Last War. The simple reason for this is that the subraces were themselves a holdover from the earlier design where Armor Class was tied to subrace. The Envoy warforged was an inherently stronger subrace than the Juggernaut, because originally the Envoy was limited to light protection and the Juggernaut had heavy armor. It was a parallel to the original 3.5 design in which warforged chose feats that locked in their armor class at 1st level. Once this limitation was removed from Integrated Protection, the foundation for subraces was no longer there.

The element I’m sad to lose from the subraces is the idea of the Envoy having an integrated tool. The picture above is of a character I played in a local Eberron campaign—the warforged druid Rose, who has an integrated herbalism kit. I love the idea of a warforged being designed for a specific purpose, and having the tool to perform that function as an inherent part of their body. However, this was never intended to be the default for all warforged. Again, in the original design the Envoy was limited to light armor; they were supposed to be rare prototypes, not the most common design. With that said, I still love the concepts that can be created using integrated tools, so you’ll find some variations of this idea in Exploring Eberron, the book I’m currently creating for the DM’s Guild; the portrait of Rose above is an illustration from this book. One of these is the addition of an integrated tool as a common magic item, parallel to the armblade; with the DM’s permission, a warforged character could begin with an integrated tool, reflecting the idea that it was part of their original design. I’m including the text of that tool below as a sneak peek, but there’s another approach in the book for warforged who don’t want to sacrifice an attunement slot.

Exploring Eberron: Integrated Tool

Wondrous item, common (requires attunement by a warforged)

An integrated tool can be created using any of the following: any artisan’s tools weighing no more than 10 pounds; any musical instrument weighing no more than 10 pounds; a forgery kit; an herbalism kit; or thieves’ tools. When you attune to the item, it merges with your body and cannot be removed as long as you’re attuned to it. While the tool is part of your body, you must have your hands free in order to make use of the tool.

That’s all for now. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going!