IFAQ: The Shulassakar

Eberron often takes an unusual approach to familiar things. In Eberron, you can find gnoll demon-hunters, r gnome assassins, and dine on troll sausage. When developing the setting, we decided that couatls were the primary native celestials of Eberron. With this in mind, the 3.5 ECS has this throwaway line in the description of the Talenta Plains…

Krezent: This ancient ruin is all that remains of a couatl city from ages past. The halflings tend to avoid the site, since it is home to a tribe of benevolent yuan-ti who honor and revere the couatl and the Silver Flame.

This is the only mention of these beings in the ECS. It’s a random idea: yuan-ti are evil serpent-folk, but what if there were feathered yuan-ti devoted to the light? I loved the idea, so I expanded upon it in an early Dragonshard article, which gave these beings a name: the Shulassakar. This article also answered the seeming contradiction of the original quote: if these feathered yuan-ti were benevolent, why did the halflings of the Plains avoid them?

Over time, the shulassakar appeared in a number of places. We determined that there were shulassakar among the people of Khalesh in ancient Sarlona, and that they were targeted in the Sundering. Shulassakar were presented as an option for player characters in City of Stormreach

With that said, the shulassakar haven’t received much attention—in part because they are supposed to be rare and reclusive. They were never intended to be a central part of the setting, but rather an exotic element that could surprise players used to thinking of yuan-ti as evil.

When I have time, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters, and this month there were a few questions about the shulassakar.

Do shulassakar have similar roles in their society/culture to the anathema (big hulking multiheaded divine figures) of yuan-ti culture?

The original shulassakar article notes that the shulassakar refer to purebloods as “servants,” halfbloods as “flametouched,” and abominations as “transcendent,” adding that they believe in reincarnation and that the three different forms of shulassakar represent this spiritual growth.

The shulassakar equivalent of an anathema is a Choir. This is formed when a group of transcendent shulassakar willingly sacrifice themselves in a ritual based on the original couatl sacrifice, which fuses body and spirit to create a gestalt entity possessing great power. Choirs are physically immortal—they don’t age and are immune to the effects of hunger and thirst—though they aren’t true immortals and can be killed. The ritual that creates a choir isn’t somehow instinctively known to all shulassakar, and thus different shulassakar sects have discovered it and employed it for different reasons. There could be a shulassakar choir hidden somewhere in Khalesh, the last remnant of the ancient servants who merged together to survive the Sundering. Adventurers could find a shulassakar monastery whose anchorites chose to join together in the ultimate communion. Or a choir could be found guarding a post that required an immortal sentinel. The fusing of spirits gives a choir an unusual detachment from mortality; choirs can meditate in isolation for centuries with no sense of boredom. The main point is that joining a choir does mean sacrificing one’s individual identity. It’s not something most shulassakar aspire to and they aren’t inherently rulers of shulassakar; they are created for a purpose, whether to guard a position, to gain the power needed to survive, or in the case of the monks, the pursuit of a truly transcendental state.

What do the shulassakar do for food? Are the snake-people of Krezent engaging in agriculture?

As noted in the quote above, Krezent is a RUIN and the Shulassakar are guarding it. It’s not a Shulassakar city, it’s a job; the guardians of Krezent come from a fortress-city in a demiplane they claimed long ago. Beyond this, Krezent is a COUATL RUIN, which is to say, a place built by celestial beings at the height of their power. So the guardians don’t need to farm or hunt; Krezent has divine tools that replicate the effects of create food and water for those who know how to use them.

What is the attitude of the shulassakar to the troubles of the people around them? what would drive a shulassakar adventurer?

The canon answer can be seen in the Talenta Plains, in which the halflings AVOID Krezent. This tells us that the Shulassakar aren’t running around trying to help the halflings with basic everyday problems. They aren’t mediating tribal disputes or helping when there’s an outbreak of plague. Beyond this they are completely unknown in the Five Nations; there isn’t a council of shulassakar in Thrane. This ties to a general principle of Eberron, which is that powerful NPCs aren’t going to show up to solve your problems. Personally, I’d attribute this to three factors: there are very few shulassakar, likely speaking to a low fertility rate. Shulassakar who act too openly may well be targeted by agents of the Lords of Dust. And finally, there’s the Shavarath principle: they believe that the things they are doing are MORE IMPORTANT than whatever troubles the people around them are dealing with. Yes, it’s very sad that you’re dealing with a plague, but that plague is in fact a natural occurrence and that’s how the world works… whereas if someone releases the fiends of pestilence we’re keeping bound, THAT’S going to be a serious unnatural problem. Also consider the line from the original article: “A shulassakar always prefers to solve a problem on its own or to call in a more powerful servant to handle the problem.” They don’t work WITH other people; they’re going to solve your problems for you, and likely you’ll never know. This ties to why the halflings fear the Shulassakar; “They fight against darkness with ruthless efficiency and will make any sacrifice necessary for the greater good, including the lives of innocents.”

So looking to shulassakar PCs, the question is WHY they are getting involved in other people’s problems and working directly with non-shulassakar adventurers. The simple answer is that it’s because they have been assigned a divine mission (either by a shulassakar superior or by a divine vision) and thus they’re following the dictates of their faith and culture in doing what they’re doing; it’s their SACRED DUTY to pursue their quest. The other alternative is that they are rebelling and following a path that THEY feel is more important than their sacred duties, in which case they would likely be censured by their people.

Have you every used the Shulassakar in your camapign? If so, share the story in the comments! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, pose them on Patreon!

Dragonmark: Couatls and the Silver Flame

Before I get started, here’s a quick word from our sponsor… Me! If you’d like to see me running an Eberron game, Fugue State is live Wednesdays at 7:30 PM Pacific for the next few weeks (and you can see previous sessions at that site). If you’d like a chance to play in my ongoing monthly Eberron game, check out the Threshold level of my Patreon. Likewise, the amount of time I have for this site and the subjects of the articles I write are all tied to Patreon, so if you’d like to support the site, that’s the place to do it!

Anyone who’s been to a church of the Silver Flame has seen the image of Tira and the couatl. But what are the couatls, and what do people actually know about them? How can you encounter them in the present day?

What are Couatls?

Couatls are native celestials, the last children of Siberys. They were born in the first age of the world, and they helped the mortal species of that time in their struggles against the fiendish overlords. The balance of power dramatically favored the fiends, and the children of Siberys realized that the only path to victory was through sacrifice. Working together, the native celestials abandoned their individual forms and fused their immortal essence together, creating a well of pure divine energy. As the dragons and other mortals defeated the overlords, this Silver Flame was able to bind them. Since that point, the Flame has been strengthened by the addition of millions of mortal souls, but it began with the sacrifice of the native celestials, and that immortal essence is the foundation of the Flame.

The question of the imbalance of power between fiends and celestials is one that is often discussed by sages and theologians. Why are fiends found across the world, while the celestials seemingly abandoned it… especially when planes such as Shavarath and Daanvi have a more even division between fiends and celestials? In his Codex of All Mysteries, Korran asserts that the answer is simple: Khyber slew Siberys. Through treachery, Khyber slew Siberys even before the world was formed and the native celestials are a reflection of the final spark of Siberys. In that time so long ago, the native celestials realized that as the balance of power tilted so dramatically toward the fiends that what they could accomplish as isolated individuals was trivial. But in fusing their essence into one great gestalt they could generate a power that could at least bind the overlords, and which could empower mortals to battle the fiends themselves. This ties to a crucial underlying theme of the setting: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The Silver Flame is the greatest force of light in the world, but it cannot act on its own; it depends on mortal champions to carry its light against the darkness. A small handful of independent celestials remain in the world, and this will be discussed later in this article. But the bulk of celestial power in Eberron is concentrated into the Silver Flame—a tool and a weapon for mortals to wield.

Now, couatls aren’t the only form of native celestial. But just as the rakshasa are the most common form of fiend, the couatls are the most common form of celestial on Eberron. Any other form of celestial could potentially be used as a native celestial, but most such spirits will share some cosmetic elements with couatl: prismatic coloring, feathers, serpentine characteristics. So a native deva might have rainbow-feathered wings and fine iridescent scales. Why these traits? One theory is that this is a reflection of Siberys himself; the nation of Khalesh used a banner that showed Eberron and Khyber as dragons entwined, with Siberys as a winged serpent encircling the struggling wyrms. This is purely speculative, the coloring and other traits are common among native celestials and are sometimes inherited by mortal creatures infused with celestial energy, such as the Shulassakar or aasimar tied to the Silver Flame.

One complication in dealing with couatls is their shifting power level in different editions of Dungeons&Dragons. The 3.5 couatl had a challenge rating of 10, with the note that it was possible to encounter a huge couatl with up to three times as many hit dice as that CR 10 version. However, the 5E Monster Manual presents the couatl as a fairly minor celestial, with a Challenge rating of 4. The trick is that in Eberron, “couatl” is like “rakshasa”—it’s a category, spanning spirits with a wide range of power. Looking to the rakshasa, not only are there different classes—the standard rakshasa, the ak’chazar, the naztharune, the zakya—but you also have unique individuals with far greater power than the rank and file. Just as Mordakhesh is dramatically more powerful than the typical Zakya rakshasa, the couatl Hezcalipa (the ally and mentor of the dragon Ourelonastrix, who might be the inspiration for the Sovereign Aureon) was dramatically more powerful than a typical CR 4 couatl. But what do you do with this in fifth edition, which only provides statistics for the CR 4 couatl? There’s a few options.

  • Reskin other celestials. Couatl aren’t the only native celestials. You could introduce a deva or a ki-rin as a child of Siberys. But you could also take the stat block of one of these more powerful celestials and just describe the entity as a winged serpent instead of as a winged humanoid or golden-scaled beast. A deva attacks with a mace, inflicting 1d6+4 bludgeoning damage plus 4d6 radiant damage; you can have the deva-couatl attack with a bite that deals 1d6+4 piercing damage and “floods their body with radiant venom” which deals 4d6 radiant damage. Yes, this is different from the poison effect of the CR 4 couatl, and the deva doesn’t have the ability to constrict its foe; but just as not all serpents constrict or produce venom, not all couatl do either. So make the simplest changes—swapping the bludegoning damage of the mace to piercing for fangs, because that’s obvious—but otherwise, just change the way you describe the creature and its attacks. This doesn’t have to be limited to celestials; you could easily take the guardian naga stat block, change it from monstrosity to celestial, and describe it as a wingless couatl.
  • Blend old and new. You can follow the same basic idea, but actually change a few abilities to more closely reflect the couatl. It makes sense that any form of couatl would have the Shielded Mind trait of the CR 4 couatl. For a couatl ki-rin you could describe the Horn attack as a bite attack (which just doesn’t produce venom), but replace the two hoof attacks of the ki-rin with a single Constrict attack, following the model of the CR 4 couatl—perhaps raising the DC to escape to DC 17, reflecting the Ki-rin/Couatl’s higher CR and Strength. Likewise, you could swap out spells on the Ki-Rin’s spell list to include all the spells on the CR 4 couatl’s spell list. But overall, you can still us the ki-rin stat block to reflect the more powerful creature.
  • Create something new. If you have the time, you can use the CR 4 as a blueprint to create your own unique powerful couatl. It’s not something *I* have time to do right now, but I think it makes perfect sense to create couatl with distinct abilities—a loremaster couatl (such as Hezcalipa), perhaps a warlike couatl guardian shrouded in (silver) flame.

Likewise, keep in mind that couatl don’t have to be as powerful as the CR 4 version! A Celestial warlock with the Chain pact could have a tiny couatl as a familiar. Use the statistics of a pseudo-dragon, but describe it as a couatl; this has the same relationship to a standard couatl that an imp does to a more powerful devil. Remember that as celestials, couatls are essentially divine tools and ideas given form. The tiny couatl is simply a minor spirit of light; it’s not biologically related to the more powerful couatl.

This ties to one other point, which is that immortals are tools and concepts. They exist for a reason, and they don’t choose that path as mortals can. The tiny couatl familiar exists to advise the warlock; you could play it as a minor spirit of wisdom or as a guardian angel. But every couatl has a purpose and/or embodies a concept. Where the immortals of the planes embody concepts tied to their planes (War, Hope, Law, etc) the immortals of Eberron are more broadly “good” and “evil.” In creating a specific couatl, a DM could decide that it’s a spirt of truth, or courage, or wisdom—and play its personality accordingly. Swapping out spells is another simple way to reflect this and give a particular couatl some unique flavor.

What Do People Know About Couatls?

Anyone in a nation where the Silver Flame has a presence is familiar with the basic idea of the couatls—their appearance and the fact that they’re celestial emissaries of the Silver Flame. In this, they are much like angels in OUR world; almost everyone can look at a picture of one and say “That’s an angel,” but not everyone believes they exist, and even those people who DO believe they exist don’t generally expect to meet one. Couatls are part of the mythology of the Silver Flame. Tira Miron was guided by a couatl, and the templars use rainbow fletching on their arrows to emulate the swift-flying couatl. Couatls are often also part of the manifestations of divine magic tied to the Silver Flame. When a cleric of the Flame casts spirit guardians, the guardians are often couatl-like shapes formed of silver fire. Summon celestial and planar ally typically manifest couatls or other creatures with couatl-like attributes. These spells aren’t commonplace, but the point is that people associate couatls with the Silver Flame, and if they see one they will say “That’s a couatl! Like the one that guided Tira!” as opposed to “What’s that?”

With that said, Khorvaire’s Church of the Silver Flame isn’t actually that old… and couatls have been known since the dawn of time. Anyone proficient in History or Religion may know that couatls have been revered by many cultures. As mentioned earlier, the pre-Sundering nation of Khalesh in Sarlona was devoted to the celestial serpents. The orc kala’sha paladins of Ghaash’kala often tattoo a couatl wound around one of their arms; they know the couatl as emmissaries of the Binding Flame.

So almost everyone in the Five Nations knows what a couatl is. Again, think of it as analgous to angels in our world. Anyone can recognize a picture of one, but it’s going to take a Religion check to explain the difference between a cherub or a seraph.

Silvertide and Serpent Cults

So: in kanon, everyone knows what a couatl is. Everyone’s seen that picture of Tira and the couatl. However, canon has some inconsistencies in this regard. On the one hand, page 70 of City of Stormreach says this of a priest…

He only speaks of it to his most trusted parishioners, but (the priest) practices the traditions of an ancient serpent cult, passed down to his father by a feathered yuan-ti. Although the values are similar to those of the modern church, this faith teaches that the Silver Flame was kindled by the sacrifice of the couatls in the dawn times; Tira Miron and the Keeper of the Flame are stewards who bring the light of the Flame to humans too limited to see the ancient force on their own. Guin has served as an intermediary for the shulassakar yuan-ti in the past, and this could serve as the basis for an adventure.

This isn’t the heresy that has caused the Stormreach church to be severed from Flamekeep; the section specifies that it’s the opposition to the theocracy that’s the major problem, and the quote here specifies that the priest only speaks of his beliefs to those close to him. It’s not that these beliefs are heretical, but they are unusual. However, the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide introduces the concept of Silvertide, saying “This highest holy day of the faith celebrates the sacrifice of the couatls and the birth of the Silver Flame.” So Stormreach says that the idea of the couatl sacrifice is a secret the priest only shares with his most trusted friends, while the ECG says it’s the basis of the most important holy day the church has. How do we reconcile this contradiction?

The Age of Demons ended a hundred thousand years ago, the precise details of what happened then frankly aren’t as important to most of the people of Khorvaire as the things that happened a few centuries ago. In my opinion, the tales of the Age of Demons and the story of Tira’s sacrifice can be seen as similar to the Old and New Testaments. While the two are directly related, different religions place different weight on the two books. The Serpent Cults are primarily interested with the ORIGINAL story and see Tira’s sacrifice as a recent and relatively minor development. But to the people of the Five Nations, Tira’s sacrifice is the most important story, because it happened to them. Tira saved the people of Thrane from a fiendish apocalypse, and as the Voice of the Flame, she continues to guide them today. They know the general stories about how the Flame was kindled in the dawn of time to bind the overlords and they are grateful for that first sacrifice, but it’s just too long ago to have deep personal meaning; while Tira is the Voice that speaks to them today, and her sacrifice is the reason Thrane even exists.

With this in mind, you can see how I describe the festival of Silvertide on my ongoing Threshold campaign. A key point is that the priest doesn’t actually describe that original sacrifice as the COUATL sacrifice, because those details are largely irrelevant; she speaks of the battle between the forces of light and darkness and of the sacrifice of those first champions to kindle the Flame. Because the LESSON of Silvertide is the power of sacrifice—to respect the first champions whose sacrifice lit the Flame; Tira, whose sacrifice allows us all to draw upon it; and anyone whose sacrifices have made a difference in your own personal life. A key part of the festival is to call out and honor sacrifices others have made for you, and to consider what sacrifices you can make for others. So as the ECG says, it IS a festival that honors the couatl sacrifice; but it honors the SACRIFICE, not the COUATL.

This brings us to the idea of serpent cults. A number of canon sources describe serpent cults—sects found across the world and throughout history. What differentiates a serpent cult from a Silver Flame faith is the direct focus on the couatl as opposed to the Flame. A Flame sect focuses on the Silver Flame as it exists today—a conglomeration of countless noble souls of many species. Most honor the couatl as emissaries and servants of the Flame, but they are secondary to the Flame itself. A serpent cult focuses on the couatl, honoring them as the first children of Siberys and emphasizing their role in creating the Flame. Serpent cults often downplay the idea that other creatures can join the Flame and instead emphasize the Flame as the pure light of the couatl. Looking at key named sects, the Sarlonan nation of Khalesh was a serpent cult devoted to the couatl; the Ghaash’kala, on the other hand, are a Flame sect. They may call it the Binding Flame instead of the Silver Flame, but it is the FLAME that they honor above all; couatl are its tools.

So looking back to Stormreach, again, the priest’s beliefs aren’t dire heresy; they’re just unorthodox views that most followers of the modern Church don’t share or care about. To the typical Thrane parishoner, emphasizing that the first sacrifice was entirely couatl would be a slightly eccentric belief that undermines the moral of the story—that we all have the power to make a difference through our sacrifices, and that any noble soul can strengthen the Flame. This is reflected in the original statement on page 303 of the Eberron Campaign Setting

Ultimately the couatls sacrificed most of their number in order to seal the overlords within their combined souls. Scholars have theorized that this is the ultimate source of the force worshiped by the Church of the Silver Flame. The Church ministry is ambivalent about this theory, stating that regardless of how the Flame was first kindled, there is a place within the Flame for all noble souls.

Encountering Couatls

There’s three main ways to encounter a couatl in the present age.

Ancient Guardian. The quote from the ECS states that most of the couatl joined together to found the Flame. Most isn’t all; a handful remained as incarnate individuals to accomplish vital tasks that couldn’t be entrusted to mortals. Keep in mind that they use mortal agents when they can—the shulassakar, the Masivirk’uala lizardfolk, and the Ghaash’kala, even Tira Miron are all examples of this. A few reasons you might need an actual couatl are to preserve knowledge that can’t be trusted to a mortal; to oversee a project that will take many generations to unfold; do accomplish a task that requires the innate celestial powers of the couatl; or to guard an area that’s either too hostile, isolated, or corruptive to entrust to a mortal. An ancient guardian is an immortal who has existed since the Age of Demons; they don’t have heart demiplanes and typically are reborn in the location where they are destroyed, with the length of time this takes depending on the strength of the couatl and the manner in which it is destroyed. While they are incarnate spirits of light, the fact that they have usually existed in intense isolation can make these guardians more intense than their temporary counterparts; they often have tunnel vision tied to their vital task. A temporary couatl has watched humanity grow; a guardian may not have seen another living creature since before human civilization existed.

Temporary Emissary. When a priest of the Silver Flame casts summon celestial, they aren’t pulling a couatl from some other location in the world. Instead, the spirit is directly manifesting from the Silver Flame itself, and when its work is done it will return to the Flame. The Silver Flame is a mass of hundreds of thousands of souls, but within the Flame those spirits exist as a transcendent gestalt, not as individual personalities. When a temporary couatl manifests, it will employ the personality of one of the original couatl; this could allow adventurers to actually speak with Hezcalipa, for example. But Hezcalipa doesn’t exist as an individual while she’s part of the Flame, and her actions when she does appear are moderated by being part of that gestalt; she is first and foremost an emissary of the Flame, shaped by the memories of a couatl who sacrificed itself long ago.

Channeling and Visions. You don’t have to meet a couatl in the flesh. The CR 4 fifth edition couatl can cast dream, a useful tool for guiding and advising mortals. The 3.5 ECS also explored the idea of divine channeling…

A mortal who channels a celestial becomes a mortal manifestation of the celestial’s power. The celestial can draw on all the mortal’s memories, and the celestial senses what the mortal senses. The mortal and the celestial can communicate telepathically, but neither has complete access to the current thoughts of the other.

Looking to the tale of Tira Miron, the original idea was that most of the time Tira was channeling the couatl; it was guiding her, but it wasn’t just flying along next to her. In other places we’ve suggested that her guiding couatl was actually bound with her sword Kloijner. This is why in the image above, you can’t see the rainbow feathers of the couatl; it’s a spiritual presence. When it comes to a dream vision or channeling a couatl, there’s still the question of whether the spirit is an ancient guardian that has always been separate from the Flame or if it’s a temporary emissary sent out into the world to accomplish this task. In the case of emissaries, an emissary who grants dreams might never fully manifest as a physical couatl; think of it as an antenna extended from the Flame to broadcast a signal, after which it is retracted.

With any use of visions in dreams, a valid question is how this relates to Dal Quor. In my opinion, couatl visions don’t occur in Dal Quor; they effectively intercept the dreaming spirit before it reaches Dal Quor. This ties to the idea that they actually isolated the dreams of the Masvirik’uala, as described in this article. If you embrace this idea, it’s possible that they could actually give visions to mortal who sleep in some way but don’t actually dream, such as Kalashtar or elves—but that’s definitely up to the DM to decide. The general idea is that couatls have an affinity for mortal minds, something reflected in earlier editions by their psionic abilities; but they are native celestials, not creatures of Dal Quor. With that said, a scheming quori could definitely impersonating a couatl when manipulating someone with its own dream visions…

So, how can you encounter a couatl? You might find one as the guardian of an ancient vault, sworn to keep the cursed items within from falling into mortal hands… or to guide mortal champions to reclaim these deadly artifacts after the vault is breached. You could be visited by a couatl who has emerged from the Flame to assist you in overcoming a great threat, but it can only remain at your side for a brief time—or, potentially it can only assist you through dreams, or a moment of divine channeling. The main thing to keep in mind is that all of these are incredibly rare. There are only a handful of ancient guardians in existence, and they are dealing with tasks no mortal could handle. As for emissaries, the Silver Flame is a machine designed to do two things: to bind overlords and to empower mortal champions. Short term spells like summon celestial are part of that machine—tools that work through mortals and lasts briefly. For a couatl emissary to emerge from the Flame is like pulling a random gear off the machine; it’s difficult and potentially dangerous to the machine itself. It’s the sort of thing that happens to people like Tira Miron—heroes who can change the fate of the nation or the world. But overall, the Silver Flame deals with problems by empowering mortals, not by deploying celestials. This ties to that fundamental principle: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The physical appearance of an emissary is a legendary event… but player characters have the potential to be legends.

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

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.

IFAQ: Breaking The Law

I’m busy working on my next Eberron product for the DM’s Guild, and I’ll share more information about that when it’s further along. I’ve also just released a new short product— Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed — on the DM’s Guild. You can find more information about it in this article or watch my last session with Magic Sword in Eberron. But as time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today’s questions deal with breaking the law in Upper Sharn and the relationship between the Church of the Silver Flame and the Daughters of Sora Kell.

Inquisitives and the Law

How would you handle players doing overtly illegal things like physically roughing someone up in a place like Upper Menthis? To what extent would the law try to apprehend them?

As a general rule, Upper Sharn is a dangerous place to break the law. Even if the Watch doesn’t care about justice, they are well paid to protect the people of the district… and the sort of people you find in Upper Sharn can afford to hire Medani, Tharashk, Deneith, or even Thuranni. Keep in mind that wealthy people may have a wide range of defenses that aren’t automatically obvious. The coward’s pearl was a consumable item in 3.5 that allowed a quick escape; in fifth edition, a similar item might combine the effects of misty step and invisibility, allowing the user to disappear and flee. Another simple object would be an amulet that can trigger an alarm, alerting a security team or the watch. This latter approach would work like a silent alarm in a bank; the victim would trigger it at the first sign of trouble, and then try to delay and get the criminals talking long enough for assistance to respond. Looking to other types of crime, homes and businesses in Upper Sharn may well be equipped with arcane locks, glyphs of warding, alarms, and other magical defenses; here’s an article I wrote on that topic.

Now, it’s POSSIBLE to get away with crimes in Upper Sharn. It’s just not EASY. The Watch WILL actually do their job, and even if you get away initially, Medani, Tharashk, and the Blackened Book could all be deployed to track you down. Part of the question is who was targeted. Robbing a minor merchant might not have major consequences, but if you steal from the ir’Tains, they will spare no expense to track you down—and that means Medani, Tharashk, Sentinel Marshals. Again, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get away with it, but it should be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT: this is the stuff of heist movies, not random smash and grab.

But the key is that your players need to understand that. If they’re used to solving their problems with random violence, they need to know that they’ve moved into new territory—that you’re in Ocean’s Eleven now, and Danny can’t get what he wants by walking into the casino and beating people up. Personally, if the players have never been to Upper Sharn before, I’d start the session with something like this.

Before you begin, there’s something you need to know. Up to this point, you’ve been able to do a lot of bad and frankly stupid things and get away with them. That’s all about to change. Upper Sharn is the domain of some of the richest and most powerful people in Khorvaire. They aren’t powerful in the same way you are; you could easily beat them in a fight. But if you annoy them—worse yet, if you kill them—you won’t get away with it, not unless you have done some VERY careful planning. Gold buys services. Medani will find out who you are. The Sentinel Marshals will track you down. You might evade them for a while, but they WILL find a way to bring you to justice. I don’t want to waste the next three sessions dealing with you being fugitives, so if you commit a stupid, obvious crime in this adventure, I’m going to let each of you tell me one cool thing you do while you’re on the run and one thing that leads to your capture, and then we’ll cut straight to your trial and punishment. So. Unless you WANT to be branded as outlaws—literally—don’t do something stupid while you’re in Upper Sharn. You’re in deep waters now and you’d better learn to swim.

Then, when someone DOES suggest a really stupid course of action, I’ll say “Remember that conversation we had earlier? This is you doing that stupid thing. Do you really want to do this? Because I’ve told you what happens next.”

The important thing is that this should never be the DM against the players. You’re working together to create a story you’ll all enjoy. The players just need to understand the rules of the scene: that this is not a place where you can get away with that. If you make this clear ahead of time—if you establish that this is Ocean’s Eleven, not Reservoir Dogs—you can hopefully avoid problems. Alternately, you can let the players do their stupid thing, and have them NOT suffer any consequences… and then have the powerful person who pulled strings on their behalf show up and explain why they aren’t standing on an Eye of Aureon and what they need to do now to repay the favor. Again, at the end of the day, we’re all supposed to be creating a story we enjoy. If people aren’t going to enjoy being exiled or imprisoned (because hey, this COULD be your chance to switch to an escape-from-Dreadhold campaign arc!) then either warn them away from foolish courses of action or make their getting away with it a compelling part of the story.

Do inquisitives and agents of House Medani and House Tharashk have any ability to enforce the law? Or are they just gathering information for the forces of the law to act upon?

House Medani and House Tharashk don’t have any special dispensation to enforce the law. They are, essentially, licensed private investigators and bounty hunters. Agents of the law understand the role that they play, and may either welcome their help or dismiss it. But Medani and Tharashk inquisitives have no legal authority of their own. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith are authorized to enforce the law, but this is very closely monitored and a marshal who abuses this authority will be stripped of rank.

I’m running a campaign where the players are using the Inquisitive Agency group patron. It seems anticlimactic if they can’t actually enforce the law, and have to rely on the Watch to resolve things.

If you look to the genre, there’s a vast array of stories about private investigators. Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective” with no legal authority; he works with Scotland Yard, not for them. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Stumptown, HBO’s new Perry Mason… part of the point of these stories is that these people are PRIVATE detectives, working on the edge of the law. Sometimes they have a good relationship with the law, as with Sherlock Holmes. In other cases, the forces of the law are corrupt and part of the problem; it’s because the detective is on the outside that they can get things done. Because they’re not officers of the law, detectives aren’t always as bound by rules and regulations, and they can deal with people who might not interact with an agent of the law. In developing the campaign, a crucial question is whether the adventurers are close allies of the law—in which case you could even choose to make them deputies with limited powers of their own—or if the local watch is part of the problem, with only a few people they can truly trust.

Looking to the question of whether the story will be anticlimactic if the adventurers turn it over to the forces of the law… just because the job of the detective is to gather information as opposed to catch the villain doesn’t mean that YOUR ADVENTURE should involve them gathering information, reporting it to the authorities, and then going home while the law deals with it. The adventurers solve a mystery and identify the villain. Yes, they SHOULD let the Watch handle it. But perhaps they don’t because…

  • … There’s no time! The villain is about to flee, and if the adventurers don’t act immediately they’ll get away with it.
  • … The adventurers have caught the villain red-handed, but now they have to deal with them immediately.
  • … The villain trusts the adventurers, or they’ve got an inside ally—they can get close enough to the villain to strike, while the city watch never could.
  • … The adventurers know that the watch will bungle the capture. If they want the job done right, they’ll have to do it themselves.
  • … The city watch won’t take the adventurers seriously. Or perhaps the villain has an agent or allies within the watch; they’ll either warn the villain or keep the watch from acting altogether.
  • … The villain hasn’t actually committed a crime. They’ve done something terrible, but somehow, legally, they are going to get away with it. Will the adventurers allow it?

There’s nothing stopping the adventurers from defeating the villain themselves and delivering them to the forces of the law. They just shouldn’t MURDER them in the process. Yes, they may have to break a law or to themselves in the process, but if they’ve exposed a terrible crime the watch might not ask too many questions about their breaking and entering to pull it off. So it’s not that the adventurers need to let the law do the takedown of the villain; it’s that they should deliver the villain to justice, not execute them. And yes, this means that there’s a chance the villain WILL evade justice and return to threaten them again. Which is, after all, the plot of every Batman story ever (movies aside): Vigilante detective unravels crime, beats up criminal and turns them over to the law, villain eventually escapes to cause more trouble, rinse and repeat.

So Medani and Tharashk can’t enforce the law, but what about House Deneith?

There is inconsistent canon regarding the role of House Deneith. Notably, Dragonmarked contradicts Sharn: City of Towers. I wrote the section in Sharn, and it’s what *I* do. Here’s the critical piece.

During the reign of King Galifar III, House Deneith was granted the right to enforce the laws of the kingdom, bringing fugitives to justice and enforcing punishments in exchange for gold. Originally, this was a largely honorary role that allowed House Deneith to assist the Galifar Guard in an official capacity. With the Last War and the formation of the Five Kingdoms, these Sentinel Marshals have become far more important. The Sharn Watch, the Blackened Book, and the King’s Citadel are all agents of the Brelish crown, and they cannot pursue fugitives into Aundair or Thrane. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith can. These elite agents are authorized to enforce the law in all five kingdoms—although they are not authorized to break the law in pursuit of justice! Sentinel Marshals are usually employed as auxiliaries by regional authorities, but they are occasionally hired by private individuals when the local justices lack the resources to pursue a case.
A Sentinel Marshal holds the honor of House Deneith in his hand, and only the most trusted members of the house are granted this authority. A Sentinel Marshal must possess exceptional skills and knowledge of the laws of all of the kingdoms of Khorvaire, and it is rare for an heir to even be considered for this honor unless he has served with both the Blademark and the Defender’s Guild. It is possible that a player character would be granted the title of Sentinel Marshal after performing an exceptional service for the house, but a DM should always remember that this position does not place the character above the law—and should he ever abuse his authority, it will be stripped from him and he will in all likelihood be expelled from the house.

So, Sentinel Marshals enforce the law for gold. They are freelancers hired as auxiliaries by local authorities, not champions of justice expected to be fightin’ crime pro bono. Their most valuable attribute is the fact that they are recognized as neutral and extranational, able to enforce the laws across the Thronehold nations and pursue fugitives across borders.

Just to give a sense of how rare and special Sentinel Marshals are, according the Sharn: City of Towers there are NINE of them in Sharn… And Sharn is the largest city in Khorvaire! Sentinel Marshals aren’t supposed to take the place of the Watch; they are elite specialists called in for jobs that require their skills and ability to cross borders. With that said, the watch can also just hire standard Deneith mercenaries to help out with a rough situation; but that doesn’t grant the Blademarks the authority of Sentinel Marshals.

Are the brands used to mark criminals in Sharn recognizable in most of the Five (Four) Nations? Are the brands simply physical brands? If not, what kind(s) of enchantment are involved?

The brands are standardized under the Galifar Code of Justice and would be recognized in all of the Five Nations. There would be a few new nation-specific ones (“Exiled from Nation X”) but any agent of the law will recognize them. These details are discussed in Sharn: City of Towers:

Repeat offenders are often marked with a symbol that warns others about their criminal tendencies. In the past, these marks were made with branding irons. In this more civilized age, a House Sivis heir inscribes the mark using a pen of the living parchment (see page 169). Marks are either placed on the forehead or on the back of the right hand, and guards often demand that suspicious strangers remove their gloves and show the backs of their hands.

The section on the pen of the living parchment adds the following information.

A character who possesses the arcane mark ability of the Least Mark of Scribing can use the pen to inscribe permanent arcane marks onto the flesh of living creatures. These are commonly used by the courts of Khorvaire to mark criminals and exiles, warning all observers about the nature of the character’s offense… Removing such a mark is extremely difficult, and requires the use of break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, or wish; the DC for a break enchantment check is 18. Removing a criminal’s mark is a crime under the Galifar Code of Justice, so it may be difficult to find someone to break the enchantment. The character who inscribed the mark can also remove it, using the same pen they used to create it in the first place… Placing a criminal’s mark upon an innocent victim is a serious crime under Galifar law, and the Blackened Book is assigned to track down anyone believed to be performing this form of forgery.

The Silver Flame and Droaam

What would Jaela Daran’s official position, as Keeper of the Flame, be concerning the tier of evil that the Daughters of Sora Kell are classified under?

In the past, the Church of the Silver Flame cast most “monsters” under the umbrella of Innate Evil. This is called out clearly in Exploring Eberron:

Entities of innate evil. This is the most contentious category on the list, and it is the idea of monsters—that there are creatures native to Eberron who are evil by nature. In the past, the church has placed medusas, harpies, trolls, and similar creatures into this category, asserting that through no fault of their own, these creatures are vessels for supernatural evil and pose a threat to the innocent.

It’s this principle that justified the actions of templars raiding the Barrens in the past, protecting the innocent people of the Five Nations by killing these monsters. Of course, that’s what’s been done in the past. Jaela Daran embodies the compassionate principles of the faith, and in my Eberron I could easily see her asserting that the denizens of Droaam—from the Daughters to the harpy to the gnoll—are no different than any human, and pose a threat only if they choose evil. However, in doing this, she would be fighting against tradition; the Pure Flame in particular might rebel against the idea of treating MONSTERS as innocents instead of threats to the innocent. But in MY Eberron, I’d have her make that pronouncement NOW—so the player characters are actively caught in the middle of it and could play a role in what happens next—as opposed to it just being something that happened a few years ago and has largely been settled.

But aren’t the Daughters of Sora Kell half-fiends?

Maybe, but what does that even mean? Normally, immortal entities don’t reproduce. We don’t even know with certainty HOW the Daughters were born. While they are long-lived, in my opinion they are mortal and can be killed. They are capable of CHOICE… just like tieflings, and consider that the Church of the Silver Flame established Rellekor as a place for tieflings to reproduce. The Daughters of Sora Kell are evil beings of great power, but are they FORCED to do evil or do they choose it? The critical point here is that this defines the interpretation of Droaam itself. If you classify the Daughters of Sora Kell as immortal evils they must be opposed and are seen as incapable of doing anything good; thus, Droaam MUST serve an evil purpose. On the other hand, if the Daughters are capable of choice, they are capable of change; while they’ve done evil things in the past, Droaam COULD be a good thing. I prefer to have Jaela open to the concept that Droaam may actually serve a noble purpose as opposed to definitively condemning it.

How willing is Jaela Daran to accept monsters as “peers”?

While it doesn’t have close ties to them, the church has known about the Ghaash’kala for ages. The modern church accepts orcs, goblins, changelings, and shifters (despite the troubles around the Purge) as equals in the eyes of the Flame. What makes an ogre so different from an orc? The question is solely does this creature have the capacity to choose to do good? Can they touch the Flame? Or, like lycanthropes, are they compelled to harm innocents by a power beyond their control? I think that many “monsters” suffered by virtue of being UNKNOWN; no one had SEEN an ogre in any context other than “This is a monster that will try to kill my friends,” whereas now it’s a laborer working in Sharn for an honest wage. I think the VOICE of the Silver Flame would encourage compassion in this case; the question is whether mortals will listen to the Voice of the Flame, or whether the Shadow in the Flame can play on their fears.

Are the generally traditionalist Thranes willing to entertain such equivalence or would Jaela esposing such beliefs be a possible weak point for Cardinal Krozen or Blood Regent Diani to capitalize on? Or that would inflame tensions with Solgar Dariznu of Thaliost?

The Silver Flame is based on principles of compassion: on the idea that those who can choose the light should be guided toward it, and only those who are irredeemably evil need to be destroyed for the greater good. In my opinion, the people of Thrane are the people who hew most clearly to those core principles of the faith. In Aundair, the Silver Crusade created the Pure Flame, whose adherents see the Flame as a weapon; in Breland, it suffers from the general cynicism and pragmatism of the Brelish character. But if there’s a place where people will TRY to follow the core tenets of the faith, it’s Thrane. So, PERSONALLY, I believe that there are many who would follow her, or who have already come to such conclusions on their own. In my novel The Queen of Stone, Minister Luala of Thrane is diplomatic in her interactions with the creatures of Droaam, notably discussing her regrets with the Silver Crusade and the ‘madness of the zealots’ that it spawned. As I said, I think the adherents of the Pure Flame would disagree, and say that the medusa and the harpy are clearly twisted creatures of innate evil that should be destroyed; so such a ruling by Jaela would surely reate a rift with Dariznu. With Diani or Krozen? It’s a plot you could certainly explore if you want to. But I’ll call out Rellekor; where many fear tieflings, Thrane has created a haven for them. I think if you WANTED to make it an issue, the key thing would be to have a major tragedy instigated by Droaamites—a pack of war trolls slaughtering people in Flamekeep—that Diani or Krozen could use as a rallying point for fear. But again, in my opinion Thrane is the nation whose faithful are MOST likely to embrace compassion, because that is the core of the faith.

That’s all for now! I draw IFAQ topics from my Patreon supporters, as well as polling them to determine the subject of the major article for the month. There’s four days left in the current poll, and it’s currently a tight race between The Library of Korranberg and The Fey of Aundair—but there’s still time for another topic to pull ahead!

Dragonmarks 7/2/14: Subraces, Sarlona, and More!

So I’ve got over 50 questions on my slush pile, and I don’t have time to answer them all. As a result, the next few Q&As will be tied around particular themes, such as The Five Nations and Magic. This helps me narrow down the pile and will hopefully make it easier for people to find answers in the future. I’m sorting the existing questions into these categories, so if I don’t answer your question about Boranel’s children here, it’s because it’s a Five Nations topic. The next post will be on Aundair and The Eldeen Reaches, including the druids. If you have new questions on those topics, post them below!

As always, these are my personal opinions and nothing more. They may contradict previous or past canon sources.

What’s going on with D&D Next? Is the setting going to see major changes like the Forgotten Realms or is it just going to be a rules set change? Will there be new Eberron novels?

It’s too early in the process to answer these questions, I’m afraid; things are still being worked out. There will BE Eberron support for D&D Next, but exactly how extensive it is or what form it will take remains to be seen.

There’s also been a number of questions about how I’d handle specific mechanics in D&D Next, such as an artificer or dragonmarks. While I’d like to answer these questions, these are things that take a significant amount of time and testing; I don’t have answers I’m 100% satisfied with yet. All I can say is that one way or another, these answers will be coming in the future.

Are there any plans to make Eberron compatible with Pathfinder or any rules already out?

The vast majority of Eberron material that’s out there is 3.5 material, which is considerably easier to convert to Pathfinder than, say, to D&D Next. If you haven’t read this material, it’s available in PDF form at D&D Classics.  As Eberron belongs to WotC, it’s not currently possible for Paizo (or anyone else) to produce new Eberron material for Pathfinder.

What do you mean when you said you don’t use subraces? You use the drow don’t you and they are a subrace of elf!

This is mainly a 3.5 issue. I use drow, and in 4E I use eladrin, which some could see as “high elves.” But I don’t use Sun Elves, Chaos Gnomes, Snow Orcs, Star-Bellied Halflings, and so on. There are literally dozens of subraces in 3.5 D&D, and the vast majority of them exist for one of two reasons…

  • “I want to play class Y and I want to be race X but race X is terrible at class Y… so I’ll play a subrace of race X, which is exactly the same but has the perfect stats and favored class for class Y.”
  • “I think that if race X lived in environment Y, they would need to be stronger, so they should have a strength bonus.”

Humans don’t change. Inuit don’t get a bonus to Constitution because they live in the arctic. Thus, I dislike this idea that every other race should alter their stats because of the environment the live in. And if Race X isn’t the ideal match for a Class Y, I’d prefer to challenge you to think of how that race would adapt to compensate for that handicap rather than making a new version of the race that lacks it.

Let’s look at the Valenar. Many people have asked me: “Valenar like being rangers. Why not give them ranger as a favored class?” My response is that as Elves have an innate racial talent for wizardry, what you’ll see among the Valenar is a lot of rangers with a few levels of wizard—something that makes them distinctly different from other races and reflects their elven nature. In my opinion, that favored class isn’t cultural; if it was, a member of any race that grows up in another culture should have that favored class. Instead, it is fundamental to the race. Whether it’s a difference in brain structure, innate fey blood, or what have you, Elves have a natural talent for wizardry. I’d rather explore how that affects the martial culture of the Valenar than simply ignore it and make them a different sort of elf entirely.

Now, let’s look to drow and eladrin. Both have deep cultures and history within the setting. While both are racially tied to elves, they are also physically distinct on a very fundamental level—differences that occurred not just because “They lived somewhere cold” but because their ancestors were genetically altered by the magic of the giants. The only difference between a Tairnadal and an Aereni is cultural; an Aereni can choose to BECOME a Tairnadal elf. But he can’t decide to become drow or eladrin. It’s not just a cultural difference; it’s a fundamental physiological difference with a logical origin, along with an interesting role in history.

I’m not innately adverse to subraces. I’m adverse to subraces that in my mind have no logical reason to exist and that add nothing substantial to the history or story of the world. This isn’t just limited to subraces; it extends to full-on RACES. Personally, I don’t use Illumians or Goliaths or Genasi. I don’t want my world to feel like a Mos Eisley cantina, with a different species at every table. I’d rather use fewer races but really focus on their cultures, histories, and role in the world. Which leads us to…

How do the lords of dust view Tieflings and how are tiefling viewed by different nations or religions? What of very obvious tieflings?

I never used tieflings in 3.5 Eberron. However, as they are a core race in 4E D&D, I developed a place for them. In canon Eberron, tieflings can trace their roots back to Ohr Kaluun, a Sarlonan nation that made pacts with fiends; Ohr Kaluun is also the source of the skulks. During the Sundering, Ohr Kaluun was vilified and destroyed. Those tieflings that survived escaped to Droaam and the Demon Wastes, and this is where their descendants live today. The tieflings of the Demon Wastes are scattered among the Carrion Tribes and have no distinct culture of their own. The tieflings of Droaam have their own kingdom, the Venomous Demesne; this is where to go if you want tiefling pride and intrigue. However, neither the Demon Wastes or the western edge of Droaam have any real traffic with the Five Nations. In Sharn, there are in all likelihood more medusas than tieflings. And there are certainly more harpies and ogres. Tieflings simply aren’t prevalent enough for people to be aware of their origins or to have a strong opinion. When someone sees a tiefling in Sharn, their first response won’t be “Flame preserve us! Her ancestors made pacts with fiends!” Instead, it’s more likely to be “Whoa! That’s the sexiest minotaur I’ve ever seen!

With that said, if I decided I wanted to do something with tieflings, I think that the Venomous Demesne could be a fascinating place to explore. Here’s a place where the warlock tradition is the foundation of their culture, a place where fiendish bargains are a fundamental part of life. I see a lot of room for interesting intrigue. And if I was to play a tiefling from the Demesne (warlock or no), I would certainly establish what pacts the character or their family had made, what intrigues they are tied to, and what has driven them out into the wider world. While by contrast the Demon Wastes are the source for the isolated tiefling with no cultural or family connections.

How do the Lords of Dust feel about tieflings? “Whoa! That’s the sexiest minotaur I’ve ever seen!” The ancestors of the tieflings didn’t make pacts with the Overlords. There’s no innate connection that makes the Lords of Dust treat tieflings any differently than orcs, hobgoblins, humans, or what have you.

Now: that’s how I use tieflings, and it’s the canon position in 4E. But you could go a different way. You could say that tieflings are bound to the Overlords (though why do they have horns instead of stripes?). You could have them be persecuted by the Silver Flame. It’s just not what I do.

What subraces do you use in D&D Next?

Given my big diatribe there, this may come as a surprise… but at the moment I use all of them. I just don’t consider most of them to be subraces (with Drow as the sole exception); I think of them as different manifestations of the races’ natural talents. If you look to D&D Essentials, most races took the form “ELF: +2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence or Wisdom.” I liked this as a way of providing flexibility, and that’s how I look at the subraces in 4E. Rather than saying “City Halflings are Lightfoot and Talenta Halflings are Stout”, I prefer to say “ANY Halfling can be Lightfoot or Stout.” These are simply different paths any member of the race can follow. So a Valenar warband would include both “wood elves” and “high elves”… just like I’ve got an ectomorphic body type, while my best friend from high school is a mesomorph.

You COULD say “All Aereni are High Elves and all Tairnadal are Wood Elves”, but again, this raises all those issues like “But an Aereni can become a Tairnadal” and “What about a elf who was raised by humans?” For me, it’s just simpler to say that they aren’t “subraces”, they are simply different manifestations of elf found in all elven communities. The drow are a clear exception, because again, you can’t just “decide to be a drow when you grow up”; they have a significantly distinct physiology and a clear role in the world.

If you were to run a campaign aimed at ridding Sarlona of the Inspired, what would it take for the Inspired to lose hold of Sarlona?

The simplest answer is the one the Kalashtar are pursuing: get the cycle of Dal Quor to shift, bringing an end to the Age of il-Lashtavar. If this is done, all the quori will be drawn back to Dal Quor and transformed. Do that, and you end the occupation in a moment. So the question is what you can do to accelerate that.

First of all: if you haven’t done it yet, read Secrets of Sarlona. Otherwise, much of what I say here won’t make sense.

My first question: Why do you want to rid Sarlona of the Inspired? Do you have a system in mind to take its place? At the moment, the people of Riedra love the Inspired, and the Inspired provide for their basic needs. They are denied many freedoms people of Khorvaire take from granted, but they largely don’t have to worry about crime, starvation, shelter, etc. As you can see in regime changes across the world, when you kick out a dictator you create a vacuum… and what’s going to fill it? In ridding Sarlona of the Inspired, will you collapse Riedra into civil war, famine, and plague?

Assuming you’ve got an answer to that, there’s a few lynchpins to the Inspired system. The major key is the hanbalani monoliths. These control the dreams of the people, serve as planar anchors and power generators, and are the backbone of continental communication. Whether you’re acting on a regional level or continental, the hanbalani are vital targets. The second critical target is the psionic teleportation circles that allow swift transportation of troops and supplies. Of course, these draw on the local hanbalani for power, so if you eliminate one you eliminate the other.

You’d also likely want to work with existing dissident groups: The Broken Throne, the Dream Merchants, the Horned Shadow, the Unchained, and the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun. Of course, some of these groups – notably, the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun – are worse than the Inspired, so it’s again a question of who you really WANT to help.

But the most important ally and the true key to success would likely be the Edgewalkers—the Riedran military arm tasked with defending the nation from extraplanar threats. It would be incredibly difficult, but if you could convince the Edgewalkers that the Inspired themselves are an extraplanar threat, you’d gain access both to a disciplined corps of people trained in dealing with hostile spirits and a force recognized as heroes by the common people.  However, it’s all how you prove this. Just saying “They’re possessed by spirits” won’t do the trick, because EVERYONE KNOWS THAT; you’d need to prove that those spirits aren’t what they say that they are, and that despite the fact that they’ve kept the nation prosperous and cecure for a thousand years – and despite the fact that they themselves created the Edgewalkers – that the Inspired are somehow an evil threat that must be removed.

Could you go into more detail about what you think would happen if all the Quori disappeared, leaving their Inspired vessels empty? Are Chaos and civil war inevitable?

It’s a valid question. If the only thing that happened is that the quori themselves vanished – say the Age turned without a visible terrestrial struggle – it wouldn’t actually be immediately obvious to anyone except the Chosen (the mortal hosts of the Inspired) themselves. And the Chosen aren’t simply puppets who would suddenly be useless if the Inspired vanished. A few things to bear in mind:

  • Most quori have multiple Chosen vessels and move between them. Thus, the Chosen are used to operating and ruling even without quori guidance. It’s been noted that over the course of years, the presence of a quori has an effect similar to mind seed; the Chosen essentially thinks like the quori even when the quori isn’t present.
  • Tied to this is the fact that there are also a significant number of actual mind seeds around Sarlona. For those who aren’t familiar with the discipline, mind seed essentially reformats a creature’s brain to be a duplicate of the manifester, minus a few levels of experience. So mind seeds are humans, ogres, whatever – but with the personality, memories, and some of the class levels of a quori. They’ll all still be around even if the quori are transformed.

So eliminating the QUORI wouldn’t immediately throw every community into chaos. The Chosen are capable of leading and the people are used to obeying the Chosen. However, there are three other things that would cause more trouble.

  • The hanbalani monoliths are used for communication and more significantly, to control the dreams of the populace. The people of Riedra don’t think of dreams as a source of inspiration or creativity; they think of them like a news channel, where they get the latest information. This is part of what gives them such a sense of unity: they literally share the same dream. Once you eliminate that, first you have wiped out the government’s ability to provide news; second, there is an excellent chance that people will panic when they start having everyday normal nightmares, because they’ve never had them before. They may think that evil spirits are attacking them, or just generally freak out because they don’t know what’s going on. You could mitigate this with help from the Unchained, who are Riedrans who have experiemented with dreams, but it’s going to be the main immediate source of panic.
  • The hanbalani also power the system of psionic teleportation circles. If the hanbalani are left intact, there would be Chosen or mind seeds who could maintain them, even if they couldn’t create new ones. But if you eliminate the hanbalani and thus this network, you’re going to have communities that no longer have access to supplies they are accustomed to, which could thus lead to shortages, famine, etc.
  • Most of all: the Chosen may be capable leaders on their own, but they lack the pure unity of purpose shared by the quori. What I’ve said before about immortal outsiders is that to a large degree they lack free will. Kalashtar aside, the quori have a truly inhuman dedication to their common goal. This is enhanced by the fact that they are planning their actions from Dal Quor (where time moves at a different rate than on Eberron). The Inspired Lords of the major cities may never meet in person, because they don’t have to; their quori meet and make plans in Dal Quor and then return to the Chosen. Left on their own, the Chosen may be good leaders, but they are human. They will come up with their own goals and agendas. They will have doubts about one another. The leaders of the Thousand Eyes may decide that they are best suited to maintain order… and be opposed by the military leaders or the Edgewalkers.

So a certain amount of chaos and panic are inevitable once people start dreaming. The Chosen may maintain order, but without the unifying, inhuman influence of the quori I think that you will get factionalizing and civil war fairly quickly. With that said, I don’t see things dissolving into UTTER chaos; I think you’d see a breakdown into three or four major factions/nations, with a handful of isolated independent communities scattered around them. The largest of these would likely be a faction maintaining that the quori will return – that people need to maintain tradition and calm and just wait it out. But I think you’d get SOME significant factions moving in different directions.

Will common people revolt against their masters without pacifying influence of the hanbalani?

I don’t think that’s a given, but it’s a possibility. Again, the majority of people in Riedra BELIEVE in the Chosen and Inspired. They will be looking to the Chosen to fix things, not instantly turning on them. On the other hand, SOME might instantly turn on their lords.

Or will any external power take a chance to prey on weakened Riedra?

I don’t think there’s any mundane force powerful enough to try to INVADE Riedra. They’d still have their military infrastructure, even if leadership is fragmented. I think it’s far more likely that Riedra’s greatest enemy would be other Riedrans, as different Chosen lords pursue different agendas to fix things. But setting aside the concept of invasion, there’s lots of forces that would take advantage. The Akiak dwarves. The Heirs of Ohr Kaluun, who I think would immediately seize at least one small province. The Horned Shadow. For that matter, I could easily see a Lord of Dust deciding that this is a perfect opportunity to gain followers… or failing that a group of dragons. The main question on those last two is if they were certain the quori were GONE; otherwise they might not want to poach so quickly. But that leaves another possibility…

WHAT WOULD THE NEW QUORI DO? The easiest way to get rid of the quori is for the age of Dal Quor to turn. This effectively eliminates ALL kalashtar and Inspired; their quori spirits will be sucked back into Dal Quor and released in a new form that fits the flavor of the new age. In all likelihood they wouldn’t immediately return to Eberron, because we’ve established that the quori of a new age know nothing about the quori of the previous age; they wouldn’t know anything about Riedra, the Inspired, or any of that. However, if you WANTED to, you could decide that these new quori are quick learners… and that they actually do return to the Chosen in a new, more benevolent form, and work with them to create an entirely new Riedra.

OF COURSE… if something like this happens, are you entirely sure you believe them? Or could it be the old quori just trying to get your PCs to leave them alone?

I’ve been trying to understand a few things about the shifter nations of the Tashana Tundra. So I said to myself, where there are shifters, there must be lycanthropes… but what happened to lycanthropes beyond western Khorvaire during the 9th century? Were they not affected by the new strain of lycanthropy that led to the Purge?

You’re working from a flawed premise: “Where there are shifters, there must be lycanthropes.”  While many people assume that shifters are thin-blooded lycanthropes, there’s a shifter tradition that maintains that the reverse is true – that the shifters came first, and that the first lycanthropes were created from shifters. The existence of a shifter nation elsewhere in the world—in a place where lycanthropy may not even exist—certainly supports this idea.

That same article calls out the fact that the shifters and the lycanthropes weren’t allies. The only way the Shifters were affected by the strain of lycanthropy that led to the Purge was that the lycanthropes sought to use them as scapegoats and living shields. Even before the Purge occurred, there was a sect among the Eldeen shifters dedicated to hunting down evil lycanthropes, because those guys are bad news for everyone.

So, the short form is that the Purge had no particular impact on the shifters of Sarlona.

A second question is how shifters migrated from one continent to the other. Setting aside the plausible possibility of parallel evolution, the most likely possibility is that a tribe of shifters passed through Thelanis via manifest zones… the same way Daine & co get from Xen’drik to Sarlona in The Gates of Night. The Eldeen certainly has its fair share of Thelanian manifest zones.

You’ve mentioned before that a LE cleric of the Silver Flame would detect as LG, as the clerical aura is stronger than that of his personality. What would happen, if by some twist of fate, someone became a CG paladin (of freedom) of the Silver Flame (3.5, Unearthed Arcana)? Would others be able to detect that she is chaotic?

This is a house rule that I discuss in detail here. Under 3.5 rules, a divine power has an alignment. The Silver Flame is Lawful Good. A cleric has a powerful divine aura tied to his divine power source that is actually stronger than his personal aura. So a chaotic cleric of the Silver Flame will radiate an aura of law.

All this is based on the 3.5 SRD description of detect (alignment). This spell specifically calls out CLERICS as having that powerful aura. As a DM, I would be willing to extend this effect to “divine spellcaster,” thus including paladins, favored souls, and so on. However, by the rules as written, a paladin wouldn’t have this aura.

A key point, however: this isn’t some sort of trick or loophole you can take advantage of. If you have a divine aura, it is because you have deep faith and a mystical connection to that source. To be cloaked by the aura of the Flame, that LE Cleric must be truly devoted to the Flame; it’s simply that he may take evil actions in pursuing that faith and philosophy. So assuming that you or your DM allow paladins to have that aura, your paladin must be called by the Flame to have its aura. If you see a way to reconcile a Paladin of Freedom with faith and devotion to the Flame, this could work, and it would conceal a chaotic alignment. But again, it’s not a trick or a cheat; it’s because the character literally is bound to something bigger than himself, and that bond overshadows his personal alignment.

Did the Thranes of the Church of the Silver Flame, at least some of its priests, care for the wounded of rival nations during the Last War?

The faith of the Silver Flame maintains that the best way to combat human evil is by showing an example of virtuous behavior, through acts of compassion and charity. Given that, anyone who follows the Silver Flame would be encouraged to show kindness to prisoners. We’ve established that the Puritan faith of Aundair tends to stray from this and lose sight of the value of compassion, and Breland has the highest percentage of corrupt priests (of all faiths, not just the Flame). Still, you could expect to see such acts of kindness from any truly devoted follower of the Flame. And overall, I would certainly expect Thrane to have the best record for taking care of prisoners of war.

Since Jorasco works for profit, and the CotSF is understood as being more altruistic, were there voices that opposed more aggressive factions and took care of and even healed rival soldiers and civilians from other nations?

Throughout all Five Nations you surely found conscientious objectors who refused to fight. Some simply left; this is how the current human civilization of Q’barra was founded. Others might have done their best to care for the injured, especially innocent civilians; I’d expect such behavior from adepts of Boldrei just as much as from priests of the Silver Flame. But a key point here: You suggest that this might present an alternative to Jorasco, because Jorasco works for profit. The key is that the church simply don’t have the resources to offer some sort of free alternative to Jorasco that could provide all the services Jorasco is capable of providing. In the present day, you do have charitable clinics maintained by both the Flame and the Host (again, Boldrei is all about caring for the community). Go to such a place and you’ll find an acolyte trained in the Heal skill that will do their best to assist you. But they can’t provide magical healing. One of the central pillars of Eberron is that people with player character classes are rare, and that even at first level PCs are remarkable people. The typical priest of any faith isn’t a cleric; he is an expert trained in skills like Diplomacy, Religion, Sense Motive, History, Heal, etc. The role of the priest is to provide moral and spiritual guidance to his community, not to cast spells for them. Divine casters are rare and remarkable people who are likely to be pursuing vital missions for their faith. There simply aren’t enough spellcasting clerics in the world to replicate the services that Jorasco provides, and even Jorasco couldn’t provide those services based on spellcasters; it relies on Dragonmark focus items that can be used more frequently than Vancian magic allows. The reason Jorasco can charge what it does is because it’s the only place you can get magic healing RIGHT NOW when you want it.

Having said that: Thrane has more divine spellcasters than any other nation. This was a key military asset for the nation during the Last War. But even there, it doesn’t have so many of them that it could simply treat them as a replacement for combat medics. There are many things a divine spellcaster can do that can have a more dramatic impact on the outcome of a battle than healing an individual soldier, especially when you can buy that service from Jorasco.

So might there have been priests in Thrane who healed enemy combatants and civilians? I’m sure there were. Just bear in mind that this didn’t somehow make Jorasco obsolete or redundant, because these charitable healers couldn’t offer all the services Jorasco can.

What would happen if the Dragons launched their next attack on the elves and the elves wiped them out without effort? Full scale war?

Just like the true cause of the Mourning, the motivation for the Elf-Dragon conflict is left to the individual DM. Consider this quote from Dragons of Eberron:

Those who study this puzzling behavior ask… What motivates this seemingly endless struggle? If the dragons truly wish to eliminate the elves, why don’t they commit their full forces to the task? If they don’t care enough to do so, why do they continue to fight in such piecemeal fashion?

One theory is that the dragons despise the exten­sive practice of necromancy, even when it draws on the positive energy of Irian, but do not view it with the same abhorrence as the giants’ planar studies. Thus, they cannot agree en masse that Aerenal should be laid low.

Another possibility is that the struggle is a form of exercise for the dragons, a proving ground for the younger warriors of the Light of Siberys. Conversely, it might be that the wars are fought to test the elves and harden them for some future conflict, just as a soldier will sharpen his blade in preparation for battles to come. The dragons might be unwilling to share the secrets of their power with lesser races, but they can still push the lower creatures to reach their full potential. The long struggle with the dragons has certainly forced the Aereni wizards and Tairnadal warriors to master the arts of war and magic.

The response to an overwhelming defeat would depend on the reason for the attacks. If the purpose of the conflict is in fact to hone the skills of the elves, it could be that the dragons would be pleased by this outcome. It could be that, thanks to the Prophecy, the dragons know that an Overlord will be released in Aerenal… and that if the elves couldn’t defeat a dragon attack, they’d never be ready to face the Overlord. If the dragons were using the elves as a training ground for their young warriors, I don’t think they’d seek vengeance on the elves for defeating them; the dragons chose the battle, not the elves. Instead, I think it would mean that they’d chose a NEW target for future training exercises—something more evenly balanced. Perhaps Sharn?

Divine Ranks and Eberron, where do the progenitors stand, for example?

Frankly, they don’t. Divine Ranks are part of a god’s statistics, suggesting the power it wields when it manifests… and the deities of Eberron don’t manifest. The only beings we’ve assigned Divine Rank to in Eberron are the Overlords of the First Age, precisely because they DO manifest in this world; IIRC, we’ve set their divine ranks at 7.

Now, looking to the Progenitors, consider a few things. IF you take the myths at face value and believe that they are literally true, the Progenitors created reality as we know it. They didn’t just create planets and creatures; they created all of the planes that we know. At the end of all of this, Eberron became the world. Eberron can’t physically manifest because doing so would be the equivalent of the world stretching out and standing up. The Progenitors exist on a scale beyond everything else. And no one believes that they directly grant spells. Many druids revere Eberron, but they don’t think that Eberron listens to them or personally answers their prayers; Eberron sleeps, holding Khyber in her coils, and what they respect is the system she created. So, if I had to give Eberron a divine rank, I’d make it a minimum of 30. They are the over-est of overdeities.

I’m running a 3.5 Eberron game and the bottom line is this: Vol is seeking to attain godhood by sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives in a mater of days. To do this, she has discovered a set of powerful artifacts that would awaken the greatest and most powerful evil of all and bind it to her will. The entity? Not an Overlord, but KHYBER himself, restored, not in full cataclysmic power, but close. She then intends to send him again the Five Nations and harvest the souls through several Eldritch Engines. I would appreciate your input on this plot and to suggest any substitutions or monsters that might represent Khyber.

This question runs into the same problem I mentioned above. Khyber is literally the underworld. Khyber is the demiplanes that exist in the world. If Khyber was truly somehow physically restored to its primal form, a) you’d be ripping out the heart of the world, which would have cataclysmic effects; and b) the scale is simply too grand for PCs to face it. Consider Siberys. If you believe the myth, the Ring of Siberys is literally the remains of Siberys’ body… and it wraps around the entire world. The Progenitors are simply TOO BIG to be brought into a normal combat.

With that said, I’m not one to stomp on a story. So if you want to keep Khyber as your threat, you could say that it isn’t Khyber’s true body, but rather a physical manifestation of Khyber’s spirit… in which case, it can be the biggest, baddest dragon you care to put together.

However, if I may suggest an alternative: I wouldn’t use Khyber for this plot. Among other things, Khyber isn’t a force of death (I realize Siberys might argue this point). ALL the Progenitors are forces of creation; Khyber may create fiends, aberrations, and monsters, but that’s still creation. If Khyber were to manifest, I wouldn’t expect the occasion to be marked by a big dragon smashing things; I’d expect to see hordes of new monsters and fiends being created by this event. None of which really fits the idea of Vol becoming a Goddess of Death.

 

So my suggestion is that she summon one of Khyber’s children… specifically, Katashka the Gatekeeper. Katashka is the Overlord that embodies death and undeath. If Vol wants to become a goddess, what she basically wants to do is to take Katashka’s place. So my plot would be that Vol finds a way to release Katashka and bind him to her will, harnessing the deaths that he causes and ultimately using that power to usurp his place and become him.

The Overlords are entities with an approximate divine rank of 7. You can see find more details about creating an Overlord in 3.5 rules in Dragon 337; you can get a PDF of this issue here.

OK, there’s still a lot of questions on my pile – let’s do a quick lightning round of ones with short answers.

What happened to Eberron’s thirteenth moon?

It was destroyed by the giants of the Sul’at League during the conflict between the giants and the Quori of the previous age. This action had horrific physical and mystical consequences for Eberron, and this is why the dragons intervened the next time the giants considered using such a weapon. It’s discussed in more detail in the novel The Gates Of Night.

Does the force known as the Silver Flame have adherents beneath the waves? A different take on it like the Gash’kala?

Not in any canon source. It certainly doesn’t fit sahuagin culture as it’s been presented. However, if you play with the idea that the aboleths are agents of an aquatic overlord, one could assume that the aquatic races fought them during the Age of Demons; given that, I could see having a merfolk interpretation of the Silver Flame that traces back to that conflict. But it’s not something that’s ever been concretely defined.

Would there be werewolf war if a werewolf lord were to appear?

I’m not sure what you mean by “werewolf war” – a war between werewolves, or a new attack on the scale of the one that triggered the Purge. There IS someone I’d consider a “werewolf lord” in Eberron: Zaeurl, the leader of the Dark Pack. She’s been keeping the Pack on track and alive for the last two centuries. On the other hand, if you mean something more like an Overlord, I suggest you check out The Queen of Stone for my take on that idea…

 Would anyone on Khorvaire care if Stormreach was destroyed?

Absolutely! Stormreach is the gateway to Xen’drik, which is a source of many imported goods—dragonshards, kuryeva, eternal rations, and more. Dragonshards are the key, as they are a vital part of the magical economy. Plus, something that could destroy Stormreach could presumably threaten any coastal town in the Five Nations. I’d expect it to be a serious concern.

Besides the Lord of Blades and his whole warforged supremacy thing, what other cults, societies or groups have emerged in and around the Mournland?

I’ll revisit this in the future in more detail, but the short form is that it’s very difficult for any human to live IN the Mournland, both because of the hostile environment and simple lack of natural resources. But you’re going to see scavengers and salvagers; refugees who have established communities on the edge; cults of the Dragon Below that believe the Mournland is the promised land; bandits willing to take the risks to shelter from the law; and creatures that have evolved to live in the Mournland (want a city of Abeil? It just popped up in the Mournland!). Per canon, you have a wider range of warforged factions than just the followers of the Lord of Blades. And don’t forget the magebred empress and her followers (from the 4E ECG).

Beyond the world, sun, and the thirteen moons, are any other celestial bodies in the galaxy described anywhere?

Not in any canon source that I’m aware of. Though the 3.5 ECS includes constellations.

OK, that’s all I have time for now. If you have questions about Aundair or the Eldeen Reaches, post them below!

Dragonmarks 1/25: Codex, Cannith, and Changes I’d Make

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Eberron Q&A, largely because I’ve been spending most of my spare time working on my new setting, codenamed Codex (working title only – it’s my Blue Harvest). But I don’t want to neglect Eberron, and a few of these questions segue into my upcoming Codex post. As always, my answers are just my opinion and may contradict canon sources: it’s up to you to decide what to use!

If there were anything you’d change about as-published Eberron, what would it be? What would you add or expand?

Lots of things. I wish we’d had more space to talk about the planes and undersea nations. I’d like more information about the spells and weapons used during the Last War, and more information about what war in Eberron actually looks like (and how these things could affect a post-war story). I wish we’d been able to provide more support for goblins as PCs. I wish we’d gotten the scale right on the original map of Khorvaire. Most of these are practical things that I believe would improve the setting for other players & DMs. There’s other changes that are more about what I want in a world, but don’t necessarily serve anyone else’s needs. I’d like the history of Galifar to have been shorter and a little more dramatic. I’d like more restrictions on resurrection and more of an exploration of its impact on society. There are lots of other little details like this, but they’re more for my peace of mind than because they interfere with people’s ability to enjoy the world.

As you progress in future RPGs/settings/etc, are there themes you tried exploring in Eberron that you’ll try to explore more?

Certainly. Looking at just a few…

  • The Impact of Magic on a Society. Any time I’m working on a world or system that involves magic, I want to seriously consider its impact on the world around it, and how it could be incorporated into a culture. Codex is at a different point in the history of magic than Eberron, and there’s more of a breakdown of different cultures employing different forms/schools of magic. But the basic idea—if magic exists and is reliable, how will it change the world—is definitely there.
  • War. There are many different ways in which war can generate stories. Eberron dealt with a civil war shattering a major kingdom. Codex will do something different… but war and its impact on the people caught up in it is certainly a theme that will be present.
  • Dreams. I’ve always loved exploring dreams. The very first RPG piece I had published was essentially Inception rules for Over The Edge. I wrote Oneiromancy rules for Atlas Games’ Occult Lore. Eberron plays with the Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Codex is going in a different direction, but dreams have a role in the world.
  • Divine Mysteries and the Importance of Faith. Codex takes a very different approach to the divine than Eberron does. But it is still a world in which faith matters, where the absolute nature of the divine remains a mystery to mortals.
  • Shades of Gray. There’s always a place for the cut-and-dried pulp villain; when you fight the Emerald Claw, you generally know you’re doing the right thing. But as a noir fan, I want the world as a whole to be less black and white.

That’s just off the top of my head. I like conspiracies and intrigue, so you can be sure you’ll see a lot of schemes going on. I like to think about monsters—what are their cultures and drives? If I took another ten minutes, I’d likely come up with ten more answers, but I’ll get to those in the future.

Do the Five Nations have or seek to have colonies?

Colonization isn’t a strong theme in Eberron. By the numbers, the Five Nations aren’t even fully utilizing the land they currently claim; there’s no desperate need for new land. Beyond that, there’s not a lot of appealing land to colonize. Sarlona and Argonnessen are already taken, the Frostfell is hardly appealing, and Xen’drik is a cursed, twisted land full of dangerous things.

With that said, colonization and exploration are themes I’ll be exploring in Codex.

The Silver Flame infamously conducted a pogrom vs. lycanthropes. Has it similarly campaigned against other supernatural types?

Sure. Remember all those demon overlords trapped in Khyber? They’re the end result of the very first Silver Flame pogrom versus a supernatural threat. Of course, that predates HUMAN worship of the Silver Flame. In modern times, there’s nothing on par with the purge of lycanthropy, but in part that’s because there’s never been a threat that called for it. The Purge was a response to a massive outbreak of infectious lycanthropy; if left unchecked, this would have consumed and destroyed human civilization on Khorvaire. The forces of the Flame met this head on, and once it was broken, took steps to eliminate it completely. If there was, say, a zombie apocalypse, they’d act with the same ruthless efficiency to hunt down and destroy all vectors of zombie infection. There hasn’t been such a large-scale obvious threat, and so we haven’t seen such a thing. But on a smaller scale, the Silver Flame is CONSTANTLY campaigning against supernatural threats. That’s the purpose of the Templars: Protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Are there ghouls in the graveyard? The templars will check it out when they arrive. Is Dela possessed? Call for an exorcist of the Silver Flame! People often see the Silver Flame as intolerant or overzealous, but it’s important to remember that Eberron is a world where there ARE rakshasa, vampires, and demons abroad in the world, where you could be possessed or where evil from Khyber could burst onto the surface at any time. If it does, the Templars are charged to face it and if necessary, to lay down their lives to protect you from it.

Is there a Cannith family tree w/the prominent family member’s dates of birth/death & so on? How old was Norran when he died?

I’ve never encountered or constructed a full Cannith family tree. I don’t believe there’s a canon source as to Norran’s age, so it’s up to you to decide what best suits your story.

Also would warforged eventually expire if sealed in a vault? If Cannith seals unwanted creations up, do they last forever?

Warforged don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe. As such, a warforged could survive for a very, very long time if it was sealed in a vault. Do they last FOREVER? That depends on the environment. If you stored a suit of armor in this vault, would it still be intact and usable in a century? If the answer is “yes,” than a warforged stored in a similar way would also survive. If the environment lends itself to decay and corrosion, and if circumstances prevent the warforged from maintaining itself, it could fall pray to rot or corrosion. On the other hand, if it’s capable of moving and tending to itself, it could probably hold these things at bay. As defined, warforged have no set “expiration date,” and there are canon sources that deal with warforged created during the Age of Giants that are still operational.

Can a rakshasa truly worship the Silver Flame? If not, why don’t Silver Flame priests detect the evilness of disguised rakshasa?

This question originally dealt with the plot of a specific novel; to avoid spoilers, I’m addressing the general point. First, I don’t believe that a rakshasa can truly worship the Silver Flame… because if it does, it will cease to be a rakshasa and become something else. Immortal fiends are essentially incarnate ideas; if the idea changes substantially, I maintain that the creature will become something entirely different. A fallen angel becomes a radiant idol or a devil. A “risen” rakshasa would likewise take on a new form… perhaps that of a deva.

Given this, how do undercover rakshasa avoid detection? They have to be able to duplicate the powers of the roles they seek to fill. A rakshasa posing as a silver pyromancer has to learn some way to make his magic LOOK like that of a true silver pyromancer, even if it’s not. However, the Lords of Dust have had tens of thousands of years to work on this.  They have access to epic level spellcasters and hordes of treasure amassed since the dawn of time… so they can use magic items to help their disguises. One of the most important of these is the Mask of the Misplaced Aura, described on page 170 of Sharn: City of Towers; this is an amulet that gives the wearer a different aura for purposes of divination. So a rakshasa could have a MotMA that makes him show up as a 10th level lawful good cleric, even though he’s actually a 12th level lawful evil sorcerer/outsider.

What would change if the Twelve creates some magic equivalent firearms just for dragonmarked heirs?

It depends how effective they are compared to other weapons, from crossbows to eternal wands. Can they by any dragonmarked heir, or just one with a dragonmark? Do they require martial training, or are they mystically accurate (more like a longbow or a wand of magic missiles)? What’s the range? Do they automatically penetrate armor? How expensive are they—can every heir have them, or are they as rare as high-level sorcerers?

One of the underlying themes of Eberron is the uneasy balance of power between the nobility and the dragonmarked houses; the military power of the houses has been held in check by the Korth Edicts. If the houses acquire this new tool, there is the chance for them to be seen as a new military threat. I expect that the Five Nations would seek to ban them, just as they shut down Cannith’s creation forges. The question is if the Twelve would defy them, and what would happen if they do. Will all the houses stand together behind the Twelve, or would some break ranks? Are the nations prepared to forgo the services of the houses to enforce this point? Might they convince the Church of the Silver Flame that these firearmed dragonmarked heirs are a supernatural threat that endangers the innocent?

Ultimately, I think the answer largely depends on diplomacy and how these things are used. If they are used sparingly and in accord with the laws of the land, they might go largely unnoticed. On the other hand, if the houses flaunt them and engage in acts of aggression, it’s possible you could have an entirely different sort of Next War on your hands.

You mentioned a pulp hero named The Beholder. Would he be more like Batman or The Shadow?

The Beholder and her tagline (“No evil escapes the eyes of the Beholder!”) was inspired by the Shadow. The Beholder was a kalashtar with an assortment of agents (her “eyes”) she could communicate with telepathically to coordinate her war on the villains of Sharn.

Why may Aereni be interesting villains?

Hmm. The members of the Undying Court are tens of thousands of years old. They are one of the few forces who are capable of interpreting the Draconic Prophecy. Together, they wield divine power on par with the Silver Flame, if not as far reaching. They are capable of ruthless action in pursuit of their own interests, as shown by the extermination of the Line of Vol. Their power is limited beyond Aerenal, but can still be channeled through their priests and paladins. So, here’s a few ideas.

  • Take a page from Fringe. The Undying Court has been watching humanity for thousands of years. Now it acts. Through some unknown method, the Court extends its power to (Sharn/Stormreach/wherever), allowing them to wield their full divine power in this region. This allows them to shatter any organized military force that challenges them. Aereni soldiers commanded by deathless paladins seize control of the region and place it under martial law. They are constructing eldritch machines that will extend the range of their powers and allow the Ascendant Counselors to leave Shae Mordai. First off, WHY? Are they trying to save humanity from itself? Is this really an attack on the Lords of Dust/Chamber/Erandis Vol, who were about to do something big in the area?
  • Take it on a smaller scale. Aerenal decides that it won’t put up with the people of Khorvaire providing aid and support for its enemies (Erandis and the Emerald Claw). It begins to send military strike teams into the Five Nations to attack the Emerald Claw, and to hit areas with divine strikes. Aerenal considers these actions fully justified and is unconcerned about collateral damage. As an adventurer, you can easily get caught up in conflict with these forces, especially if you have any attachments to the Blood of Vol. Do you fight them? Strike back at Aerenal? Or try to help them finish their mission as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimize collateral damage?
  • If you’re an elf, chances are your ancestors at least passed through Aerenal. That means the Court knows something about you. Perhaps you have an ancestor on the Court. Or you have an ancient enemy on the Court who has been slowly eliminating your entire line. He’s finally gotten around to you. He’s coordinating strikes from Shae Mordai. Not only do you not know who he is, you don’t know the basis for the feud. Can you find the answers to these questions before it’s too late? How do you reach him in Shae Mordai?

Our local group is trying to get a better understanding of airships, which has made us curious about some of the choices used.  In the campaign setting book  airships use fire elementals and galleons use air elementals.  It just doesn’t make sense to us.  Why not just use air elementals for both ships?

A galleon uses an air elemental to generate wind which it harnesses with sails. The fire elemental works more like a rocket. With that said, some airships do employ air elementals; Pride of the Kraken from Principles of Fire used both an air and fire elemental.
I have been doing some research on flying fortresses.  In doing so I stumbled across a forum post that was speaking about the command center.  The post mentioned that it uses three bound elementals, earth, air, and fire. How does an earth elemental aid the flying fortress?

I don’t believe it’s my post, so I can’t say what the original author intended. However, I could see it as possibly being less about the interaction with the earth and more about enhancing the structural stability of the vessel.
If an elemental vessel loses its bound shard or it becomes damaged can it be repaired? Better yet can it be replaced?

Provided that it survives the experience, sure. If someone removes it while it’s docked, it could be replaced. And a galleon could lose its shard and continue under normal windpower. However, a large airship that loses its shard while in motion is going to crash, so a new shard is the least of your repair issues.
If shards are replaceable, would it then be possible to have a vessel that could swap crystals to take on different traits?

I don’t see why not. This would be an argument for a ship with multiple bound elementals—so you could still have one active to maintain the stability of the vessel while you switch out the other.
It seems that all of the Eberron publications only intend for the core elementals (air, earth, fire, and water) to be bound?  Do you have plans for the other elementals?  I know I do.  Is it possible that they can’t be bound?

I think any elemental should be able to be bound. I have no plans for them, but I certainly encourage you to run with the idea.

Besides Q&A it would be cool if you write short Eberron stories (FR authors do it).

I don’t know what FR authors do, but there’s a few factors here.

First, Eberron is the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast. If I wrote an Eberron story, they would be within their rights to order me to take it down or change it. Would they? I don’t know. But they COULD. There’s been issues in the past as to whether I could post an Eberron adventure on my site. And there’s certainly no way I could sell an Eberron story.

This ties to point number two, which is time. I don’t have a whole lot of it, and the freelance RPG business isn’t the most lucrative job in the world. As a result, I need to focus the time that I have on projects that I feel are going somewhere. I’d LIKE to finish the stories of Thorn and Daine and Lei. But those stories belong to WotC, and I can’t afford to work on a story that not only can’t I sell, but that I might not even be able to post for free. Hence my working on Codex. I want to work on something that I know I can expand. So I’d be thrilled if WotC authorizes me to do more Eberron fiction. But it’s not something I’m comfortable investing time in without that authorization.