Dragonmark: Priests, Krozen and Zerasha

July is quickly fading, but as time allows I want to answer a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, people asked about a pair of priests—High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane and Zerasha of Graywall.

Dealing with the Divine

Krozen and Zerasha are both powerful divine spellcasters. In third edition, Krozen was defined as a 12th level cleric of the Silver Flame, making him one of the most powerful clerics in canon Khorvaire. While never defined, Zerasha is supposed to be similar in her power—a priest respected and feared by a city of monsters and the mind flayer who governs it. Given that most priests in Khorvaire are adepts—or don’t even cast spells at all—I want players to feel how remarkable these individuals are when they encounter them. A powerful wizard is essentially a scientist, someone who uses logic and knowledge to break the laws of reality. A powerful divine caster is something else. Both Zerasha and Krozen are the chosen agents of cosmic powers. The Sovereigns and Six are omnipresent forces. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals, and Zerasha is one of its chief agents. Krozen can command the dead to return to life or call celestials from the essence of the Silver Flame. We can debate the existence of the Sovereigns, but the Silver Flame is the force that stands between Eberron and the overlords, and Krozen is a conduit for its power. These aren’t just people who have learned how to perform magic tricks. They are the chosen agents of vast cosmic forces. If you’ll pardon the phrase, they are burdened with glorious purpose.

But how do you make the powerful priest feel different from a wizard or a prince? This is something I discuss at more length in this article. One of the key points is to separate the way divine NPCs cast spells from how player characters do it. We need the structure of the classes for player characters because we need tactical precision, and I’m fine to say that in combat, Krozen casts spells as a 12th level cleric. But outside of combat I don’t feel that he needs to engage with his magic in the same way as a player character. The most common divine spellcasters—adepts—function much like magewrights; they have a specific set of cantrips and spells they can cast and that’s all they can cast. A typical spellcasting priest might be able to cast thaumaturgy, light, and ceremony. There are specialist adepts—oracles who can cast divination, healers who can perform lesser restoration—but the oracle can’t just decide to become a healer in the morning. They have been granted a divine gift, and they can’t exchange it for another one. More powerful spellcasters like Zerasha and Krozen aren’t limited like this, but they also don’t call their divinity on the phone each morning and make spell requests. Their divine power source grants them the spells they need when they need them, provided the request is justified. Krozen doesn’t prepare zone of truth ahead of time, but if he formally demands you speak the truth in the light of the Flame, zone of truth happens. Essentially, his spells are selected on the fly to match the situation he finds himself in. But the contrast is that he doesn’t have the freedom a PC has to request any spell. The Flame may empower Krozen to raise someone from the dead or to smite them with a flame strike, but in spite of his effective level it’s not going to grant him the power to create undead or to cast contagion; these aren’t the tools of a righteous servant of the Flame, and if you DO see a Flame priest using such spells, it’s a clear sign that they are actually a servant of the Whispering Flame or a warlock hacking the Flame. Krozen may take actions we consider evil, but he believes his actions are righteous in the light of the Flame; he’s not drawing on malefic powers.

Divination is another important example. With the spellcasting power of a 12th level cleric, Krozen could technically cast commune three times a day, along with a batch of auguries. And that’s how things work for PCs. But Krozen doesn’t just have some magic hotline that he can dial three times per day. He can’t just call up Tira Miron and say “Does Boranel dye his hair? Yes? I KNEW it!” It’s not some sort of abstract, scientific tool that he can just use for whatever random, trivial detail he wants to know. But the flip side is that he may simply receive information that he needs—that he can receive divine visions. Even when he doesn’t cast augury, he may suddenly KNOW that a decision he’s about to make could lead to disaster. Even without commune, he might KNOW the truth about a situation. This is especially relevant for Zerasha, because part of what defines the Shadow is dangerous secrets. Consider this description of the Shadow from this article:

As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost.

So It’s not that Zerasha sits down and says “I want to know secrets about this player character” and casts commune or some other divination spell; it’s that when the players come before her, she simply DOES know who killed the paladin’s parents and why the rogue murdered their partner, because that’s part of what it means to be the voice of the Shadow.

The short form is that when dealing with NPCs who are powerful divine spellcasters, I want them to FEEL like they are conduits to powers far greater than they are. When Krozen demands that you speak the truth, zone of truth happens. When he barks out an order, it may become a command, because that’s the power that flows through him. I want the powerful priest to feel larger then life, because at the end of the day they are the conduits for something that IS larger than life.

Now, reading all this, you might say “But I thought Eberron was the setting where we don’t know if the gods even exist.” We know that deities don’t walk the world in Eberron. You will never have a chance to punch Aureon in the face. But we know that divine power sources exist. We know that priests have been drawing on the POWER of Aureon for tens of thousands of years, and that in part because of this, most people believe divine forces exist. They may argue about details; the Cazhaak interpretation of the Dark Six is quite different from how they’re depicted in the Pyrinean Creed. But most people believe in SOME form of divinity, and part of the reason for that is the fact that divine magic exists.

With all of this in mind, you might say “If that’s how you handle NPC priests, why don’t you deal with player character clerics in the same way?” I offer some suggestions in that direction in this article. But fifth edition embraces the idea that NPCs and PCs don’t have to follow the same rules. Part of being a player character is having flexibility and tactical control. It’s about having the ability to make choices. I’ve played campaigns in which divine characters CHOSE to give me more control over their spells—embracing the idea that the powers were gifts they didn’t fully control—but that was a choice they made that fit the story of that character. But one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable, and I have no problem with them having a greater degree of versatility and precision than most other servants of the divine.

Having worked through that, let’s talk about the two specific priests that people have asked about…

Who is High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane?

Our blessed child is the Keeper of the Flame and shows us all the path to the light. But I am the keeper of the nation, and if I must toil in the darkness to ensure its prosperity, so be it.

High Cardinal Krozen

People have lots of questions about Cardinal Krozen of Thrane. What’s his first name? Does he realize he’s evil? Does he believe in a greater good—or for that matter, does he even believe in the Silver Flame? What makes him more important than the other 11 High Cardinals of the Church? These are all good questions. I’ve always liked Krozen, but my vision of him is quite different from how he’s evolved in canon sources. I know what I originally planned for him when we first created the character, and that’s how I use him, so I’ll lay that out here. Keep in mind that this directly contradicts multiple canon sources (which, admittedly, contradict themselves on some points). This is MY interpretation and I am not going to reconcile it with what other authors have done with the character; it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer.

My original vision of High Cardinal Thrane was loosely inspired by Cardinal Richelieu as depicted in The Three Musketeers—a ruthless man who is engaged in sly intrigues, but who is nonetheless an extremely capable leader, perhaps moreso than the king the protagonists serve. It was always my vision that Cardinal Krozen was devoted to Thrane and that he performs his duties exceptionally well—that he is a brilliant strategist and a charismatic orator. But this is tied to the idea that he truly believes that he knows what is best for the nation. The basic dictate of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Where Jaela recognizes that this applies to ALL innocents, regardless of their faith or nationality, Krozen believes that you aren’t innocent unless you’re a Thrane and a servant of the faith, and don’t oppose him. He DOES fight to protect the innocent—but only those HE decides are innocent.

So I see Cardinal Krozen as a remarkable man—one of the player characters of his generation. He’s human and I see him as being about fifty years old. The details of his youth—and, in fact, his first name—aren’t generally known; the general story is that he lived on the Aundairian border and that the Flame granted him the power to perform great deeds, first in the defense of his village and then as a templar. He was always charismatic and intelligent, but beyond that, his divine power was always remarkable; when he called on the Flame, he gained the power to smite his foes. In his early twenties he rose out of the templars and into the hierarchy of the church, turning his gifts to leadership behind the scenes rather than fighting on the battlefield. From there, his star rose and rose; those who opposed him were either won over by his charisma or driven from his path, one way or another.

Part of the core idea of Krozen is that he represents the danger of Thrane becoming a theocracy—that in doing so it drags the church into the management of temporal matters and political concerns. The idea of Thrane is that Jaela Daran represents the pure ideals of the faith—while Cardinal Krozen deals with political realities. Again, Jaela does believe that “protect the innocent” applies to all people—that Krozen believes that it can only be applied to the faithful and to Thranes. It’s not that he is a vile, selfish person; but he has blended his faith with his devotion to his nation and places the good of Thrane over all others. Beyond this, Krozen very much has a Chosen One mentality. He possesses immense divine power, and in his mind this proves his righteousness. He believes he was given this power to serve the interests of Thrane, and the fact that he still wields that power proves that he is right to do so. He will crush others who get in his way—even other priests or templars—because he believes, again, that those who oppose him aren’t innocent.

In considering all this, take a moment to think about the Shadow in the Flame. There are those—the Whispering Flame cultists—who knowingly choose to serve Bel Shalor. But the true power of the Shadow in the Flame is its ability to piggyback on the Voice of the Flame and to pour poison in the ears of the truly faithful. Bel Shalor loves to erode empathy and to convince people to do evil when they only seek to do good. The Shadow in the Flame reveled in the suffering caused by the Silver Crusade, and Bel Shalor undoubtedly sees Cardinal Krozen as a valuable tool. The question for the DM to decide is how much of a hold does Bel Shalor have over the Cardinal? In MY Eberron, Krozen KNOWS the dangers posed by the Shadow of the Flame; all the faithful do. And with that in mind, he does his best to resist those impulses; he knows that he does questionable things (like, you know, torture and murder…) but he truly believes that he is acting for the greater good and that he’s NOT a tool of the Shadow in the Flame. But in your campaign you could decide that he HAS fallen prey to Bel Shalor’s whispers and no longer realizes the evil he is doing… or even go further and decide that he is a priest of the Whispering Flame. Personally I prefer to follow the shades-of-grey model, to say that while Krozen does evil things, he only does them when pursuing the interests of Thrane—that he always believes his actions are justified. I like the idea that Krozen knows he walks a dark path, but that he believes it is the path the Flame has set him on, and that at the end of the day he is protecting the innocent—even if he has had to sacrifice his own innocence to do it.

Now, some people may be say “That’s all fine, but who IS he?” Krozen is one of the high cardinals of Thrane. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting…

This group of powerful church leaders administers both the workings of the church and the functions of the government. In theory, the cardinals answer to the Keeper of the Flame. In practice, they run the church and the government, only dealing with the Keeper on issues that require divine attention and interaction with the Voice of the Flame. The cardinals believe that they know best when it comes to running the government and the church, and they leave the Keeper to deal with the well-being of the spirit of the nation. This arrangement has led to problems between the Council and the Keeper in the past, but the current Keeper seems interested more in divine and spiritual matters than the intricacies of secular administration.

There may be twelve High Cardinals, but Krozen is the effective leader of the Council—and thus, of Thrane. If you have a divine problem, talk to Jaela. But if you’re looking into the deployment of Thrane troops or about getting more resources for Rellekor, it’s Krozen who can get things done. The general idea is that Krozen is in many ways the opposite of Jaela. Where the Keeper is compassionate, the Cardinal is ruthless. The Cardinal is a master of political intrigue, while Jaela prefers honest dealing. Jaela wants what’s best for all innocents; Krozen cares only for Thrane.

The final thing I’ll call about about Krozen is this: If there’s twelve high cardinals, why is he the leader? What makes him special? The short answer is that what makes him special is that he IS special. Again, not all priests are spellcasters at all, and in a world where everyday magic goes to 3rd level, a 12th level spellcaster is remarkable. He can raise the dead! Those who oppose him are struck down by flame strikes! You’ve seen him shape celestials from the pure power of the Flame! And as I said, while I don’t just let him cast commune three times a day, he hears the Voice of the Flame in ways that others do not (and, of course, potentially the Shadow in the Flame as well). There’s surely other spellcasters among the cardinals, but Krozen stands out; if you look to the 3.5 statistics, he’s notably a more powerful spellcaster than the high priest of the Host and Archierophant Ythana in Sharn: City of Towers. Power alone isn’t everything, but the whole idea is that this power is matched with passion and charisma—that just like a player character, Krozen is remarkable. With this in mind, he doesn’t command the Council of Cardinals, but he has won the loyalty of the majority of its members and thus is the EFFECTIVE leader of the council. In my opinion, there’s four cardinals who are utterly devoted to him; three who believe he’s doing what’s best for Thrane; and four who don’t support him. Of these four, all believe that the Keeper shows the proper path for the nation and that Krozen’s actions are concerning; one or two may have deeper concerns, or believe that he is serving the Shadow in the Flame. So Krozen DOESN’T have absolute control of the council, but he’s effectively the leader.

Krozen as a Villain

As I’ve just spent a lot of time insisting that Krozen believes he’s acting for the good of Thrane and that he is an effective leader, you might wonder if I actually see him as a villain. I do, generally—just a villain with many layers. He performs evil deeds in pursuit of the greater good, and more than that, he is only concerned with the greater good of THRANE. When I use Krozen, I want it to be clear why people support him. I want Thranes, in particular, to feel conflicted because Krozen IS good at his job—that if the nation was guided purely by the idealistic Jaela, it would be easy prey for the machinations of Kaius, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, and the Dark Lanterns. Krozen is effective; but is that enough to justify his methods? And IS he a tool of the Shadow in the Flame, even if he refuses to see it?

Zerasha, the Voice of the Shadow

You think you know why you’re here. You think we have to be enemies. But that’s the voice of your petty and jealous Sovereigns, who fear what you could become if you follow the paths I could show you.

Zerasha of Graywall

The medusa Zerasha is a priest of the Shadow in the city of Graywall. She’s mentioned in a Dragon article, which says…

The street ends at the Eye of the Shadow, a small windowless temple formed from black stone. The medusa priestess Zerasha holds court here. A fearsome combatant and skilled ritual caster, Zerasha is the most influential voice in Graywall after Xorchylic; the people of the town have come to trust her oracular gifts. At the moment, she is an ally of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but her first loyalty is to the Shadow and to her own warlord, the Queen of Stone. Should there ever be a civil war in Graywall, the black-scaled medusa will be a force with which to be reckoned. 

Backdrop: Graywall, Dragon 368

That’s the only canon information that exists on her. Since I wrote that article, people have asked: What is the priestess Zerasha’s relationship with Xorchylic? What are her goals, and what might cause those goals to become so misaligned with Xorchylic’s as to cause open conflict?

In my mind, Zerasha is truly devoted to her faith and to her Queen, in that order. As described in this article, she believes that the Shadow is the guide and guardian of those creatures followers of the Sovereigns consider monsters. Beyond this, she is what the article describes as a mentor. Acting on behalf of the Shadow, she seeks to help the faithful achieve their ambitions—even if that means following the darkest possible paths to do so. Beyond that, the Shadow is the Sovereign of secrets. As described above, she is an oracle—not as gifted in this regard as Sora Teraza, but certainly the most powerful oracle in Graywall. She knows secrets. Having said that, as I called out above, her knowledge comes from the Shadow and she doesn’t know things until she needs to know them. When she meets a player character, the Shadow may tell her their secrets; but it’s not like she just randomly knows everyone’s secrets all the time. And again, if the Shadow shares a secret with Zerasha, it’s so she can DO something with that secret.

So in terms of her goals, I believe that Zerasha’s goals are first and foremost to offer spiritual guidance to the people of Graywall and to help them achieve their true potential. Beneath that, her goals are whatever tasks the Shadow sets before her; it’s quite common for her to feel that there is a particular individual the Shadow wishes her to focus on, someone who needs to be guided on the proper path. And beneath that, her loyalty is to her queen, the medusa Sheshka, and to the people of Cazhaak Draal.

Her relationship with Xorchyllic largely depends on what the DM decides Xorchyllic is truly up to. As long as Xorchyllic is pursuing the greater good of Graywall and Droaam, Zerasha will support him. But we’ve called out that the Flayer Guard of Droaam serve the interests of the governor first and the common folk second. If Xorchyllic is somehow oppressing or harming a portion of the city in pursuit of his personal agenda, that could bring him into conflict with Zerasha. Ultimately, the question is what is the interest of the Shadow? If the Shadow supports Xorchyllic and wants the illithid to achieve its ambitions, Zerasha could work closely with the governor. On the other hand, if the Shadow is most interested in helping a lowly kobold on the Street of Shadows achieve her ambitions of overthrowing Xorchyllic and becoming a new warlord, than Zerasha would oppose the mind flayer. The same is true for player characters. What does the Shadow think of them? It could be that it favors their enemies, in which case Zerasha will oppose them. Or it could be that the Shadow has an interest in one of the adventurers and wants to show them the path to power—in which case, Zerasha who seek to serve as their mentor. But again, a mentor of the Shadow will always lead you down dangerous paths…

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

Dark Six: The Shadow

The Shadow was the first of the Dark Six. As Aureon drew the first words of power in the blood of Siberys, his shadow was tracing sigils in the blood of Khyber. As Aureon gained power, the darkness in his heart gained strength and sentience. It was the whispers of the Shadow that led the Mockery down his dark path and stoked the anger of the Devourer. For the Shadow is the maker of monsters. The Shadow gave the harpy a voice that lures innocents to their doom, and gave the medusa her deadly gaze. But the Shadow can make monsters of any of us, tempting us down evil paths. Aureon and Dol Arrah show us the path to the common good, while the Shadow urges us to give in to our own darkness. It is up to you to listen to the light and to take the higher road. 

—Halas Molan, High Priest of Wroat

Eat your vegetables. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t learn that spell, it’s dangerous! Aureon, the king, the judge, the teacher… the world is filled with people telling you what to do, people who want to impose their laws on your life. They say the Shadow urges you to do evil, but who decides what’s evil? The Shadow wants you to achieve your full potential, to live your best life—not to be limited by lesser people and their laws. And if that makes you a ‘monster’ in their eyes, so be it. 

—Thalanna of Sharn

The war between the Shadow and Aureon rages in all of us. Aureon’s voice tells us that we are stronger together, that it’s worth it to suffer for the sake of the common good. The Shadow whispers that there is no common good—that all that matters is what you need and what you can do. Why should you make sacrifices for others instead of doing what’s best for yourself? Why should you give when you can take?

In the common tradition of the Five Nations, the Shadow is broadly responsible for evil within the world. The Sovereigns banished and bound the Overlords of the First Age, but the Shadow is a part of Aureon and couldn’t be destroyed; metaphorically, this reflects the idea that the potential for evil is in everyone. But as with all of the Dark Six, the Shadow has different aspects: the Sovereign of Ambition, the Tempter, the Keeper of Secrets, and the Maker of Monsters.

Ambition and Temptation

The Shadow is the source of ambition. It’s the voice that keeps you from ever being satisfied, that urges you to achieve greater things. A little ambition can be a good thing, but the Shadow is never satisfied. It embodies the hunger to succeed regardless of the cost to yourself or others. Those who revere the Shadow emphasize this as a positive trait: The Shadow will show you the path to power, how to be the best that you can be. But how far will you go? Would you murder your boss if it’s the only way to advance? What if you can simply ruin their reputation with a lie? Would you employ dark magics even if you’ll take a year off an innocent’s life each time you cast a spell? This is how ambition becomes a pathway to temptation.

But what is the purpose of temptation? Why does the Shadow want to lead you astray, and why should his followers care about you? Because Dolurrh isn’t the end of existence. Most Vassals believe that Dolurrh is a place where the soul transitions to a higher level of existence: the realm of the Sovereigns. Some believe that that this is a true afterlife based on the concept of each Sovereign: that Arawai and Balinor govern a realm of perfect nature, while Aureon presides over a grand assembly of courts and libraries. Others believe that Vassals become part of the Sovereign they most resemble—that the soul of the sage becomes one with Aureon. But one led astray by the Shadow becomes part of the Shadow. This might mean dissolution of the soul or it could be an eternity trapped in a formless void; either way it’s not going to be fun. Of course, as with all things related to the Sovereigns, there’s no absolute proof of this… and a devotee of the Shadow will tell you it’s exactly the kind of story followers of Aureon use to control you. Are you going to let fear keep you from achieving your ambitions?

Those who follow this aspect of the Shadow often call themselves mentors, but others refer to them as tempters or Shadowtongues. A tempter specializes in helping others find a path to power… but always driving them towards the darkest path. While this has some overlap with a talon of the Keeper, there are significant differences between the two. A talon negotiates a deal with explicit terms and benefits: your inn will prosper, in exchange for which you will die at the age of forty and the Keeper will take your soul. By contrast, a tempter doesn’t make a specific promise or ask you for anything. A mentor simply offers advice… helping you figure out how to solve your problem or achieve your goal yourself. But in the process, they will urge you to follow darker and darker paths… to become a monster.

A skilled tempter needs to know secret paths to power and to have the charm to convince others to follow them. A mentor could be a cleric, following either the Knowledge or Trickery domain; a warlock, using the Archfey patron to reflect a talent for beguiling others and slipping into the shadows; or a bard using the College of Whispers. Some tempters believe that their powers are a direct gift from the Shadow, and that they hear whispers from the Shadow telling them who to corrupt. Other tempters trust that the Shadow rewards them for their work, but don’t have direct interaction with the Shadow or an immortal emissary.

Another divine option is the Oath of Conquest paladin: a would-be tyrant who believes that the Shadow is giving them the power they need to achieve their ambitions. What separates a paladin of the Shadow from a paladin of the Mockery is the focus on power rather than war. Where a Mockery paladin lives for conflict, the Shadow paladin is only concerned with the end result.

Mentors are typically villains, and they facilitate the evil actions of others. But it’s a possible paths for a player character, albeit a dark one. A tempter emphasizes choice and freedom. They may excel at solving problems, and can help other characters achieve noble goals; the point is that a follower of the Shadow believes that nothing is forbidden. A Shadowtongue bard could even be searching for light in the darkness—tempting in the hopes of finding someone who resists corruption. Alternately, a player character could be haunted by a previous encounter with a tempter, who helped them achieve whatever position or power they hold today. Is this character permanently spiritually tainted by the actions they took to achieve their ambition? Or can they find redemption?

The Keeper of Secrets

Aureon is the Sovereign of Knowledge, who uses science (arcane and otherwise) to build a better world. As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost. This is one of the main things that can draw a Vassal to invoke the Shadow… the desire to gain knowledge they know they shouldn’t seek.

In dealing with a priest of the Shadow—NPC or player character—consider the ideas in my article on Adding Drama to the Divine. A priest of the Shadow may regularly receive revelations—information about the people around them, or the world. But unlike an augury or commune, the priest doesn’t ASK for this knowledge and has no control over it. Sometimes this knowledge will be useful, but just as often it will reveal things you don’t actually want to know… knowledge that will hurt people if you share it. With that said, people with this sort of connection to the Shadow often end up as fixers in the criminal underworld; are you willing to pay the price for their knowledge? Knowledge clerics and Whispers bards are both sound paths, though the College of Lore is also a reasonable option for a follower of the Shadow; the Cutting Words ability of the Lore bard can reflect your knowledge of a weakness, or a whispered secret that causes your victim to stumble.

While this reflects general knowledge, the Shadow is particularly known for arcane secrets—for teaching techniques that good people will shun. At a simple level, this makes the Shadow a standard patron for Warlocks. Because this is about deadly power, the actual “patron” is flexible; Fiend or Hexblade both work, and as noted before an Archfey warlock could reflect powes of coercion and deception as opposed to an actual tie to the Fey. Like all gods of Eberron, the Shadow won’t actually manifest to a warlock. But the warlock may BELIEVE they have a direct channel to the Shadow; and they could have a sinister spirit acting as an emissary of the Shadow, or they might actually be working for the Overlord Sul Khatesh. The main thing is that a Shadow Warlock believes they are making a sacrifice to gain mystical power… and that they are expected to use that power for malevolent purposes.

The Shadow Sorcerer is also a logical servant of the Shadow. In this case, the power may have been given to you involuntarily. Perhaps your parents were Shadow cultists, and you are the result of a a terrible ritual: are you doomed to be consumed by evil, or can you use your power in the service of the light?

Beyond this, any wizard can be presented as having received inspiration from the Shadow. You’d never have mastered necromancy on your own, but you woke from a dream and realized you understood it. This is fine as a general idea, but it’s also possible for a DM to introduce ACTUAL gifts of the Shadow into the game. The whole idea of the Shadow is that it knows secrets of magic people shouldn’t use. The magic of D&D isn’t designed that way. So, as a DM you can ADD forbidden magic. There’s a few ways to do this. One is to introduce new spells that are unusually powerful or have especially horrifying effects. Another is to allow a character to gain a metamagic benefit (as if they were a Sorcerer) by taking on a penalty. Here’s a few thoughts on effects that the magic of the Shadow might have.

  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d4. You permanently lose that many hit points.
  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d6. The DM chooses you or one of your allies, and either inflicts the result as necrotic damage or applies it as a penalty to the victim’s next saving throw.
  • When you cast the spell, an innocent creature dies. You have no control over who will suffer and may never know who it is.
  • Whenever you cast the spell, plants withers and all natural creatures within 15 feet suffer one point of necrotic damage.
  • Any time you cast the spell, there is a chance that a hostile shadow will manifest; if it does, it will try to harm you and your friends.
  • When you cast the spell, choose an ally within sight. The player must reveal a horrifying secret about their character to you. This must be worse than any previous secret they’ve revealed; if they can’t (or if the player chooses not to) the spell fails. Note that this is a choice of the player; the character doesn’t have this choice, and it’s up to the DM if they realize their secret has been shared.

These are all ideas that are at least PLAUSIBLE for player characters. An NPC wielding secrets of the Shadow could have more dramatic effects or costs to their spells. The main point is that when we say “This is power people shouldn’t use,” it’s NOT just Aureon being a jerk; these powers truly are dangerous.

The Maker of Monsters

Through temptation, the Shadow can transform anyone into a monster. But the Shadow is also infamous for unleashing monsters into the world. The definition of “monster” varies by culture, but the essential point is that this is the influence of malevolent magic twisting nature; thus, it usually includes most aberrations and monstrosities, along with giants or humanoids that are seen as evil by the culture in question. Mythologically, the idea is that the Shadow took evil humans (or dwarves, or halflings, etc) and transformed them into harpies, medusas, hags, and the like—and there’s a host of myths that deal with these monstrous origin stories. It should be noted that these are MYTHS and are in many cases provably false; certain creatures are known to be the creations of specific Overlords or daelkyr. But it isn’t always possible to prove the origin of a species; many scholars assert that the daelkyr Orlaask created medusas, while the medusas themselves attribute their powers to the Shadow.

This aspect of the Shadow overlaps with Cults of the Dragon Below and the daelkyr. But it’s another way that you can find wizards or warlocks who are seeking to create monsters. Looking to a warlock, the Pact of the Chain can be reflavored to suggest that the character created their familiar.

The Shadow in Monstrous Cultures

The Dark Six have been called out as having significant support in Droaam and Darguun. It’s important to recognize that these articles generally focus on the Nine and Six as they are presented in the Pyrinean Creed, the common Sovereign faith of the Five Nations. The people of Droaam have their own interpretations of the Nine and Six that are both entirely different from the Five Nations and from one another. Droaam is a tapestry woven together from wildly diverse cultures. The Last Dirge harpies worship the Fury, but they say that she was born from Eberron’s cry in birthing the world. The minotaurs worship the Horned Prince, but interpretation varies by clan and some are effectively worshipping the Mockery, Dol Dorn, Dol Arrah, or Rak Tulkhesh.

Following the unification of Droaam, the traditions of Cazhaak Draal have effectively become the state religion. People still hold to their own traditions, but the Voices of the Shadow—typically medusas or oni—are recognized as spiritual authorities. Here’s a few critical details about the Cazhaak faith.

  • All members of the Dark Six are worshipped by their common titles (Shadow, Fury, Keeper, Mockery, Devourer, Traveler)… though usually in Goblin.
  • The Shadow is the foremost of the Six. In addition to the traditional spheres of magic and knowledge, the Shadow is generally considered to be a guide and guardian to the monstrous species. As such, a medusa cleric of the Shadow might actually have the Life domain… because she sees the Shadow as being the bringer of life to her people.
  • The Sovereigns are considered to be the cruel and petty gods of the people of the East. The general assertion is that the Sovereigns want to keep their subjects small and weak; that the Shadow rebelled and broke free from Aureon, giving gifts to its creations. Thus, there is some overlap with the way the Seekers of the Divinity Within view the Sovereigns; a Voice of the Shadow feels pity for a human Vassal.
  • A Voice of the Shadow reveres all members of the Six and will invoke all of them when it is appropriate. However, there are priests who are devoted to a single deity and who lead or provide services tied to that god… so, there is a priestess of the Keeper in Graywall who performs funerary services.
  • One question that’s come up is whether the Cazhaak Six are seen in a more positive light than the Pyrinean Six. On the one hand, they definitely are; they are seen as positive forces in civilization. On the other hand, they still embody the same core ideas; part of this is that the values of Droaamite civilization are very different than the Five Nations. Droaam is a place where there is no distinction between vengeance and justice, where victory in battle is more important than honor. It’s a meritocracy where having the talent to take power is more important than following a system of laws. I will say that the Cazhaak Shadow drops the aspect of the tempter. The Voice of the Shadow asserts that knowledge is power, that people should pursue their ambition and that there should be no limits on knowledge. But they scoff at the idea that the Shadow tempts people to do evil; that’s the product of a civilization that’s bound and blinded by its laws and moral codes, that fears ambition and instinct.

It’s been asked before how a human follower of the Sovereign Host would react to a Voice of the Shadow, and vice versa. The short answer is that each will recognize that the other is following a different creed, and each will assert that the other’s interpretation is flawed. The Voice of the Shadow pities the fool who worships Aureon; how good can your god be, when he didn’t even give you eyes that can see in the dark? Meanwhile, the Sovereign priest will dismiss the Shadow-worshipper as a servant of the Tempter, both deceived and deceiver.

The critical point, however, is that the Pyrinean creed presents the Sovereigns and Six and two sides of a coin. The Droaamite faiths either focus on a single entity (such as the harpy faiths) or generally dismiss the Sovereigns as evil entities.

What About The Overlords?

The Shadow has specific overlap with two of the best known Overlords of the First Age. Sul Khatesh is also known as the Keeper of Secrets, and also said to be a source both of arcane knowledge and things best kept hidden. While Bel Shalor is known as the Shadow in the Flame and specializes in temptation.

There are a number of scholars who assert that the myths of the Shadow are actually based on interactions between draconic champions and Overlords… that the story of Aureon learning magic may actually be based on a bargain between the dragon Ourelonastrix and Sul Khatesh. It’s up to a DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales. However, even if these tales are false, the fact remains that Sul Khatesh and Bel Shalor are concrete, very real entities that can serve in the role of the Shadow… and that warlocks or cults that believe they are dealing with the Shadow could easily be working with one of these archfiends.

Using The Shadow

So how can you use the Shadow in a campaign? What would a villain devoted to the Shadow actually want?

As noted above, in many cases a servant of the Shadow may be an instigator as opposed to the primary villain. A mentor drives others to do evil, and helps facilitate their plans. A priest of the Keeper of Secrets may serve as a general fixer in the criminal underworld, but can also set trouble in motion by revealing a secret. Combined with their knowledge of dark magic, such a character could be an interesting frenemy for a group of player characters. Consider Thalanna, a human priestess of the Shadow in Sharn. She’s known as a reliable source of information about the underworld, always willing to share her knowledge… for a price. But she may also approach the players and simply tell them things. Did they know that Ilya Boromar is going to assassinate Saiden Boromar tonight? Did they know that Thora Tarkanan was the one who killed a friend of theirs? Thalanna has nothing personal to gain by sharing this information, but she enjoys setting wheels in motion. And if one of the players is a wizard, Thalanna can offer to teach them a few things they won’t learn in Arcanix… tied to the ideas presented above. These secrets ARE powerful… but is the character willing to pay the price?

Shadow sects can also fill the classic role of the warlock cabal or the infernal bargain… people being granted mystical power in exchange for performing malevolent actions. Often this is about ambition—getting the power you need to fulfill your darkest desires—but it can also be driven by fear. The leader of a warlock coven may play on fears of the Mourning, refugees, or even monsters. Join them and they will teach you the magic you need to protect yourself! As mentioned above, such a cult could be found to have connections to the Lords of Dust, either Sul Khatesh or Bel Shalor.

Another Shadow-driven villain is the wizard who is determined to unlock ultimate arcane power, regardless of cost. Such a character could even have a noble goal; for example, a wizard who believes that they must unlock the power of the Mourning so they can prevent it from spreading, or being harnessed and used by one of the Five Nations. The point is that this character is consumed by their ambition and doesn’t care about who they hurt in pursuit of their goal. Perhaps they need to open a manifest zone to Mabar in the middle of Sharn to complete a ritual or learn a secret… even though doing so will break Sharn’s connection to Syrania and bring down the towers. It doesn’t matter, because the knowledge they acquire will help them save the entire world!

To be clear: these examples are extremes. There are some who offer prayers to the Shadow who aren’t warlocks or wizards, and who don’t seek to tempt others or destroy the world. The ultimate principle of the Shadow is that nothing is forbidden: that you shouldn’t let laws or the dictates of society hinder your ambition. Do you believe that you’d do a better job than your boss, but it’s going to take decades to get there if you follow the system? The Shadow tells you the system is the problem. Beyond this, the Shadow embraces those that society calls “monsters.” The Mockery and the Keeper can both serve as patrons for criminals driven by greed or violence, but the Shadow is a general patron for someone who feels that they stand apart from Boldrei and Aureon; that they don’t have a place in a community, or that the laws only exist to hold them back. In this, there’s some overlap with the Traveler; the net is that the Traveler encourages people to challenge systems and to drive change, while the Shadow is more about pursuing personal ambition.

As for player characters, here to you can have the person pursuing knowledge at any cost; the character shaped by a past bargain who now seeks redemption; the bard who sees the Shadow as the source of knowledge and freedom, who does good but on their own terms. Looking to the paragraph above, you can also have a rogue who’s a casual supporter of the Shadow, asserting that laws are for other people. You can have the Conquest Paladin who is willing to use the power of the Shadow to seize their ambition… will they have a change of heart along the way?

Long Shadows

The Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook calls out a number of “holidays” in Eberron. One of these are the nights of Long Shadows, which takes place from the 26th through the 28th of the month of Vult. It’s said that on these three nights the power of the Shadow is at its peak—that malevolent magics are stronger, and that monsters—either those born monsters, or those who have become monsters—are free to act. It’s up to the DM to decide what truth there is to this superstition. Perhaps people have disadvantage on saving throws against any sort of “dark magic” during this time. Maybe those who act with evil intent will receive advantage to their actions, or other supernatural benefits. Perhaps there are mystic rituals that can only be performed on these nights. In any case, these are three nights when good folk tend to stay in and huddle around the fire, while the forces of evil rise up and take action.

Q&A

Is necromancy associated with the Shadow? Is it forbidden, or is it taught in Arcanix?  

Divine necromancy—such as a cleric with the Death domain—would usually be associated with the Keeper or the Blood of Vol. Arcane necromancy is generally associated with the Shadow. Sharn: City of Towers presents the shrine of the Shadow as a gathering place for necromancers, and Thalanna is presented as a cleric/necromancer. Only Karrnath employed necromancy in the Last War, and that was primarily divine necromancy provided by the Blood of Vol. We’ve never said that it is strictly FORBIDDEN; it’s not like a cleric of the Blood of Vol can be arrested for having a skeleton companion. But it’s definitely seen as a dark path that good people avoid. I suspect that Arcanix has a small necromancy department that primarily focuses on passive necromancy—such as speak with dead—and that is constantly struggling to maintain its funding.

As the Shadow is a creator of monsters, how would you present a Shadow-themed barbarian? 

I could see two paths. One would use the Zealot subclass and be similar to the Conquest paladin; a warrior strengthened by malevolent magic, who has been granted power to achieve their ambition. On the other hand, one could present a barbarian character as actually being physically altered by the power of the Shadow… with the Rage feature reflecting a sort of Jekyll and Hyde physical transformation.

Droaam is a nation where the official religion seems to be the Six, but do its leaders, the Daughters of Sora Kell, truly support it?

If you mean “Do the Daughters attend services and offer prayers to the Six”— No, I don’t think they do. None of the Daughters feel that their fates are in the hands of higher powers, and their mother may have known Ourelonastrix or Bel Shalor. What I’ve said is that the common faith is based on the traditions of Cazhaak Draal. It’s a tradition that’s broad enough to be able to incorporate the beliefs of other subcultures, which allows it to serve as a unifying force, and that’s all the Daughters care about; if a Voice of the Shadow can get a harpy, a minotaur, and a goblin to all attend the same service, mission accomplished. But to the Daughters it’s just a tool, not something they believe in.

HAVING SAID THAT… There’s no absolute answer as to who the fathers of the Daughters are. I could see Sora Maenya asserting that she’s a daughter of the Devourer; this certainly fits her wild nature and insatiable appetite. And asserting that she’s kin to the Fury would be a fun thing to add to her myth and reputation…

When did the Dark Six lose their names? Magic of Eberron reveals the names Shurkaan, Szorawai, Kol Turrant, and Dol Azur; when did the Church of the Sovereign Host decide those names would be forgotten in favor of the titles used today? 

There’s a few points here. The first is that it’s important to recognize that different traditions use different names and titles; the titles given here are the Pyrinean titles, just as Aureon and Boldrei are Pyrinean names. Shurkaan is also known as Shargon (hence Shargon’s Teeth near Xen’drik). The Harpies of Droaam call the Fury The Song of Rage and Fury or more typically The Song; they don’t accept the Arawai/Devourer story or use the name Szorawai. The Cazhaak tradition uses the titles, because they take the Six as embodiments of those ideas; they don’t hold to the Pyrinean myths. So to the priestess of Graywall, the Keeper is the Keeper; that IS his name.

Now, looking to the Pyrinean tradition, it wasn’t the CHURCH that stripped the Six of their names; it was the Sovereigns. Dol Azur was stripped of his name—and his skin—after he betrayed Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn. The Keeper was cast down after making his bargains with Death. So the CORE church has always separated Sovereigns and Six… but you’ve also always had the Three Faces sects and other groups that have preserved the names.

Do the Cazhaak have a unified symbol for the Six like the Octogram or do they just use the Six’s usual symbols?

Have you met the Hexagram? With that said, the Cazhaak tradition is also the main source of the five-bones-and-a-shadow symbol that often is incorrectly assigned to the Devourer. But essentially, any prominent display of six points—or five points and a shadow—is common.

how do the Cazhaak respond to the more aggressive extremes of the non-Cazhaak veneraters of the six?

As we’ve called out elsewhere, Droaam basis its laws more on the principles of the Fury and Shadow than on Aureon. The most powerful force—the Daughters and their governors—define and enforce the law. But justice and vengeance are still largely synonymous; if someone does you wrong, you don’t take the problem to the Flayer Guard, you handle it yourself. So the short form is anyone whose actions threaten the good of the city or nation will be dealt with by the authorities; otherwise, people can do whatever they can get away with. So a Voice of the Shadow tries to mitigate those extremes—to take the Last Dirge harpy and say “I recognize your devotion to the Song; here in Graywall we know her as the Fury, and let me teach you ways to honor her that won’t get you killed.”

I’m currently in the midst of a series of articles about the Dark Six, the sinister side of the Sovereign Host. You can find my articles about the Fury and the Keeper through these links. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Also, while it has nothing to do with Eberron (Aside from Arawai being the Protector of Puppies), please check out the Kickstarter for my new game: ACTION PUPS! It’s a casual storytelling game about revealing the secret lives of dogs, and we need your dog pictures! If you like dogs or storytelling, take a look!