IFAQ: Who Leads The Tairnadal?


When time permits, I like to answer questions from my Patreon supporters. Joseph asks:

Who actually leads the Tairnadal elves? Is it a theocracy?

It’s an interesting question. The Tairnadal are the elves of the Aerenal steppes, and the elves who have claimed Valenar are Tairnadal elves. The Aereni are ruled by the Undying Court and the Sibling Kings. Valenar has a “High King.” But what of the Tairnadal of Aerenal? Do they have a monarch, or are they ruled by the Keepers of the past?

The reason this hasn’t been answered in the past is because it’s not a question with a simple answer. There is no single monarch or high priest who leads the Tairnadal, and the answer is rooted in their unusual and rigid culture. All the cultures of Aerenal cling tightly to tradition and the past. The Tairnadal came to Aerenal as soldiers—fresh from fighting against the giants of Xen’drik and their minions—and never stood down. What drives and defines the Tairnadal is their devotion to their patron ancestors. This began before the elves even reached Aerenal, as a basic cult of personality: those warriors who’d served with fallen champions being determined to honor their heroes by following in their footsteps. Those who were most devoted to this path swore that they felt a connection to their idols—that the spirit of the champions were guiding them. So this basic element—preserve the ancestors by emulating their lives—was a part of Tairnadal society from the beginning. The traditions and role of the Keepers of the Past evolved on Aerenal, but the patron ancestors were with them from the start.

Tairnadal society is shaped by their religion. This is described on page 147 of Rising From The Last War and I’m not going to retread it entirely here. But to sum up: when an elf comes of age the Keepers of the Past determine which ancestor has chosen them, and “it’s your sacred duty… to live your life as they did and to allow the champion to walk the world again through you.” It’s important to recognize that there’s a twofold aspect to this duty. The first is that through this devotion, the living preserve the ancestors. But there is also the concrete belief that through this devotion, the ancestor can act through the revenant—that the living benefit because they receive their guidance from the dead. The doctrine of the faith is that you can only receive this guidance from the ancestor that has chosen you—which means that if you refuse to accept that bond, you are denying your community the chance to benefit from the ancestor’s supernatural guidance. Essentially, the Tairnadal believe that you will never be as useful on your own as you could be if you embraced the path of your patron ancestor, and that refusing to follow that path is deadly arrogance and selfishness, and there is no place for such selfishness in a tight-knit warband.

So: Tairnadal culture is based on people emulating the lives of their patron ancestors. But these ancestors were fighting a guerilla war. Which means that the Tairnadal have to engage in endless war to follow their example… and with this in mind, they have been engaging in complex wargames for tens of thousands of years. Combatants will spare an enemy when possible—you don’t finish off a fallen foe—there is no point to a battle that doesn’t truly test the skills of the combatants, and battles are fought with spell and steel.

Working with this foundation, there are two basic aspects to Tairnadal civilization: war and peace. the zaelantar and zaeltairn. The zaelantar (“peaceful souls”) maintain the civilian infrastructure, while the zaeltairn (“warrior souls”) serve in an army and fight the endless war.

The zaelantar raise and train both young elves and beasts of war and burden. They craft weapons and tools, and they maintain the settled communities of the steppes. The bulk of the zaelantar are young elves. Remember that an elf receives a patron ancestor when they come of age. But this doesn’t usually happen until an elf is at least 60! In the initial decades of their lives, they train in basic skills (Background! Elven weapon familiarity!), study Tairnadal history, and maintain their community—including carry for the younger elves. Through this process they are effectively auditioning to the patron ancestors. The young elf who excels at hunting expects they will be chosen by a legendary archer or stalker. The elf who becomes a leader in the community hopes to be chosen by one of the great leaders of the past. Nonetheless, you are talking about elves spending at least four decades of what humans would consider adult life working in a zaelantar community. So who performs basic, necessary tasks? The elves who haven’t yet been set on a different path. Other zaelantar include former tairn who are unable to fight—either because of age or some other infirmity—but who can teach the young. The Keepers of the Past are largely zaelantar, serving to train and guide. And finally, there are those who have been chosen by patron ancestors whose legendary skills are tied to the civic sphere: fabled smiths, legendary teachers, the Siyal Marrain (druids who tend the beasts), and so on.

The zaeltairn engage in war, emulating their ancestors in the field. They are split into armies, each of when is further divided into clans and bands. A Tairnadal army is effectively a city-state. It isn’t a temporary duty; once assigned to an army Tairnadal serve until they die or until they retire (or are forced to retire) to train the young. Most armies are mobile; most of the patron ancestors were guerilla soldiers and mobility was vital; they follow migratory paths across the steppes. There are a few that are settled, based on the specialties of the ancestors represented by the army. Notably, each of the great jungles of the region—around Shae Thoridor and Var-Shalas—are home to an army, whose members specialize in jungle warfare and commando operations.

There are three great cities in the region held by the Tairnadal.

  • Var-Shalas is the largest city of the Tairnadal. It is the stronghold of the Keepers of the Past, and it is here that the Shanutar (council of lords) conducts its business.
  • Shae Thoridor is the second great city of the zaelantar. It is smaller than Var-shalas, but nonetheless an important seat of the Keepers of the Past and an industrial center for the goods required by the armies.
  • Taer Senadal is a fortress—but an unusual one. Var-Shalas and Shae Thoridor are surrounded by walls of bronzewood thorns, similar to Taer Valaestas in Valenar. Taer Senadal is a fortress of stone. Because it’s not a fortress built to defend the region from attack; it’s built to be attacked. Senadal can be roughly translated as “whetstone,” and Taer Senadal is a fortress manned by youths in the late stages of their training. Armies take turns attacking the fortress, allowing the youths to hone their skills as they defend it and the tairn to practice attacking fortifications.

All of which finally brings us back to the original question: Who rules the Tairnadal? Are they a theocracy?

Religion is the absolute foundation of Tairnadal culture. Following the dictates of the religion sensible (the faithful receive the guidance of the ancestors), a duty to the dead (it preserves the ancestors), and a duty to the community (as the ancestral guidance makes you a more effective citizen). But the Keepers of the Past are guides, not leaders. The basic leadership role within the Tairnadal is the shan, which can be loosely translated as “lord.” Each band has a lu-shan (“band lord”), clan leaders simply use the title shan, and the leaders of armies are var-shan (“great lord”). On the side of the zaelantar, an an-shan (“young lord”) is a youth who guides a band of youths, while a tar-shan (“peace lord”) maintains a village or a district of one of the great cities. Note that shan is not a gendered term, and any tairnadal can hold this position.

The twist to this is that the characterization of Shaeras Vadallia as “High King” is largely a translation error. Shaeras is the var-shan of Valenar, the Great Lord of the Army of Valenar. it is the highest position of authority that the Tairnadal recognize, but each army has a var-shan of its own.

With this in mind, the structure of Valenar is a general model for the Tairnadal overall. As described in the ECS, there are 45 warclans on Khorvaire; this is the Army of Valenar. At any given time, twenty of these clans are under the direct command of the var-shan (Shaeras Vadallia), while the rest are active in the field. The same is true for the armies on Aerenal: each army has a core of clans that remain close and under the direct command of the var-shan, while others follow general direction but operate independently. Likewise, within a clan a certain number of bands remain under the direct command of the shan, while others may be dispersed on independent operations (scouting, harrying, etc). While the structure of Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial, they actually don’t have a complex hierarchy of ranks. Warbands are essentially families, whose members serve together indefinitely. When there is a split-second military decision to be made, the lu-shan commands and cannot be questioned. But if there are other issues, the band debates them around the campfire and consensus rules. The lu-shan does have the final say, but it is rare for a lu-shan to veto the decisions of the band without clear military reason. And if this is done, the band respects the decision because they respect the lu-shan, not because of the title alone. This ties to an important fact: those appointed to leadership roles are elves channeling the spirits of legendary leaders. Within a clan, of course the Vadallia revenant is the lu-shan, because she’s channeling Vadallia. Taeri is an unparalled swordsman, but he’s not a leader; who would even think of appointing a Taeri as shan? It is also the case that a respected revenant’s word carries a great deal of weight in matters related to that ancestor. A Vadallia lu-shan is a good general war leader, but when planning an ambush they may defer to the Falaen revenant, trusting their expertise in matters of stealth and cunning.

This overall structure flows upstream. If the shan issues a command it must be obeyed. But unless it’s an urgent matter, the shan will seek the consensus of the lu-shan. If it isn’t a question of war, they will seek the guidance of Keepers of the Past or even the tar-shan. Beyond this, each army dispatches two clans to Var-Shalas and one to Shae Thoridor. These clans protect the cities, but the shans also represent their army in the shanutar—a council that includes the tar-shans, and which is overseen by Keepers of the Past.

So once again: Who leads the Tairnadal? When decisions must be made in a moment, a shan’s word is absolute. In other matters, the Tairnadal seek consensus—whether a lu-shan consulting with their band, a shan seeking consensus from the lu-shans, or the var-shan consulting the shans. Beyond this, people respect the ancestors that are channeled; they look to those guided by ancient leaders to channel that wisdom.

All of which is a VERY long answer to what seemed like a simple question, but there you have it!

How do the Draleus Tairn and the Silaes Tairn fit into this structure?

They’re armies. The Draleus Tairn are largely defined by their ancestors; their patrons are heroes renowned for fighting dragons. The Silaes Tairn have some ancestral overlap with the Valaes, but believe that the the battle should be taken back to Xen’drik. Note that bands of Draleus and Silaes Tairn DO make expeditions to Xen’drik; the Draleus are also always preparing for the next time Argonnessen attacks Aerenal.

So are armies all made up of people who follow the same ancestors?

Not at all. Essentially, think of the ancestors as being military specialties. You’re rarely going to find a warband that has more than one Vadallia, because it doesn’t NEED more than one Vadallia. On the other hand, a band with a specific purpose—commandos, archers, scouts—may have multiple elves who channel the same ancestor because they want that overlap of skills. But ancestors are shared among all the Valaes armies, assigned to clans and bands as suits the needs of each unit.

How difficult is it for an ambitious revenant to break the mold of their ancestors and forge their own name in memory? Is this more within the wheelhouse of player characters, or are there examples of exceptional tairnadal who exceed the precedent of their patron ancestor, becoming patrons in their own right?

This is specifically discussed in this article… which gives the example of Carys Daealyth, who is guided by Daealyth Taeri, who was guided by Taeri. The main point is that those champions don’t typically BREAK the mold, they go beyond it. From that article:
So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.

How does parenting work among the Tairnadal? Are familial relations important?

Generally, NO. Who your father and mother are is far less important than who your patron ancestor is. Tairnadal don’t maintain property, so you’re not passing your holdings down to a child. Critically, note that the Tairnadal don’t use family names: a Tairnadal elf uses a given name and the name of their patron ancestor. So Shaeras Vadallia may have been the son of Jael Cardaen and Sol Taeri; ultimately, that doesn’t matter. A child is given to the Zaelantar to be raised, and becomes an adult when chosen by a patron ancestor. And it’s worth noting that at this point, almost all Tairnadal are in some way tied to all of the patron ancestors; it’s not like there’s only one bloodline that produces Vadallias, or that you expect to be chosen by the same patron as your parents.

With that said, Tairnadal likely know who their parents are, and there are cases where relatives end up serving together in the same band or clan. So you can have siblings who feel a strong attachment or even a parent and child with a bond. But on the societal level, your personal lineage isn’t as significant as your spiritual lineage.

Can you talk a little about dynamics between Tairnadal elves and Lyrandar/Half-elves in Valenar? Especially with a Khoravar with a Tairnadal parent?

If you can find it, this is discussed in an Expeditionary Dispatches article from WotC called “The People of Taer Valaestas.”

As called out in the previous answer, direct blood lineage is less important to the Tairnadal than spiritual lineage, and it is the belief of the Tairnadal (supported by existing precedent) that no Khoravar can channel a patron ancestor. So essentially, the Tairnadal treat the Khoravar as being akin to zaelantar. They are people with a connection to the elves, and they are willing to do important tasks no tairn wishes to do. However, with most zaelantar there is the understanding that they will become tairn (or that they have been chosen by a peaceful ancestor, which is still an honor and duty), while they don’t believe that to be possible with the Khoravar. So the essential point is that they see the Khoravar as useful children but don’t believe they will ever grow up or be able to undertake the true responsibility of a Tairnadal—to embody an ancestor. That’s not their fault, just a sad fact. Of course, what we’ve said is that if any Khoravar could prove this wrong and channel an ancestor, it would be a player character!

Are there ever cases where a young elf coming of age is not selected by ANY ancestor? If so, how are such elves regarded by their fellows?

The Keepers of the Past aren’t selected by any one ancestor; instead, they have the ability to hear many ancestors, which is what allows them to serve in their role. In one campaign I ran, a PC played a Tairnadal shaman whose role was specifically to channel and remember a host of lesser ancestors who weren’t significant enough to become full patron ancestors, but that deserved to be remembered.

If the elf isn’t chosen by an ancestor and lacks the gift of the Keepers, what it means is, essentially, that they didn’t graduate. I said that MOST elves receive an ancestor at around 60, after they undergo a few decades as zaelantar. If you don’t get picked? Work another decade as zaelantar and we’ll try again at the next time. It would be assumed that if you’re not picked it’s because you haven’t displayed enough value to be chosen; that doesn’t mean you deserve to be shunned, it means you need to go back to work and do better. You’re a disappointment, certainly. But there may well be a case where it’s later discovered that a particular elf didn’t get picked because ALL of the ancestors wanted them and they couldn’t reach an agreement, or something like that; there could certainly be a tale of the elf who was thought to be shunned but who was in fact the most exceptional of all (… and went on to become a player character!). But the typical answer is that they would simply continue on as zaelantar.

Second question: Since the Tairnadal are constantly looking for battles to fight, do they ever seek out manifest zones of Shavarath, or venture to that plane itself?

I write about Shavarath in Exploring Eberron, and that’s a pretty extreme option; it is a vicious meat grinder and it would take exceptional mortals to survive there for an extended amount of time. Consider that the immortals are CONSTANTLY being killed and just reform; it’s a touch road for elves to jump in where angels fear to tread. With that said, it’s entirely possible that the Tairnadal SUMMON fiends or other extraplanar threats so they have worthy foes to fight. They might even use undead! Exploring the actual forms of conflicts the Tairnadal fight on Aerenal is a deep topic that could definitely fill another article.

That’s all for now. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and help choose topics! And if for some reason you’re looking for even MORE information about the Tairnadal, this article answers many questions and has links to many other articles!

IFAQ: Evil Tairnadal Ancestors?

I’m often asked about the cause of the Mourning or the abilities of the Mark of Death, but there are a few infrequent questions worth discussion. Like this one:

Has it ever been the case that the Tairnadal Keepers of the Past have identified a newborn’s ancestral spirit as some great villain from elven history? If so, what happens to them? Are they banished with their family exiled? Are the elves with heroic ancestral patrons forced to attempt to kill the child?

The foundation of my answer lies in a previous Tairnadal FAQ. There’s two key points.

You don’t receive a patron ancestor at birth. The Keepers of the Past don’t determine your patron ancestor until adolescence. The prior FAQ notes “Tairnadal children spend their youth essentially auditioning for the ancestors.” The idea is that the patron ancestors aren’t simply picking you based on your BLOOD—they are picking you based on your talents, your personality, and your spirit. You HELP the spirit by emulating the ancestor, so they don’t want to pick people who aren’t a good fit. In making a Tairnadal character, an important question to consider is were you chosen by the patron you hoped for, or did you have to adapt? Another aspect of this is that the Tairnadal are a CULTURE. Tairnadal can choose to abandon their traditions and become Aereni, and vice versa; if you just DON’T emulate your ancestor, you’re losing the opportunity to receive their guidance, but nothing else happens. So again, the choice happens at adolescence, after you’ve spent your childhood learning about the ancestors and the customs of your people, and training in the skills you hope will make you suitable to your preferred patron.

This ties to the second key point: The patron ancestors only exist because of the devotion of the Tairnadal. The living Tairnadal keep the ancestors from fading through devotion and by emulating them. The patrons REWARD their devotees with guidance, but if living elves simply chose not to revere an ancestor, that ancestor would fade and be lost. This is one main reason that elves DON’T get to choose their ancestors, and why as a Tairnadal it’s your DUTY to honor the ancestor who chooses you—because if everyone played favorites and picked Ancestor A over Ancestor B, we’d LOSE Ancestor B. But the key point here is you don’t get to BE a patron ancestors unless the Tairnadal want to keep you around. The previous article says “Despite being beloved and preserved in memory, did they have any notable flaws? Because it’s the duty of the revenant to embody their flaws as well as their virtues! But an elf wouldn’t be preserved as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.”

So you can have a patron ancestor who’s noted for their cruelty or arrogance, and it’s the duty of their chosen to be cruel or arrogant. But they have to have been celebrated heroes IN SPITE of those flaws. If someone was an utterly despicable villain, the Tairandal would simply choose NOT to follow their example, the spirit would fade (as spirits do) and that would be that. So no: following the standard traditions of the Tairnadal, a newborn could never be chosen by a legendary villain, and their family wouldn’t be exiled.

WITH THAT SAID… That’s “following the standard traditions of the Tairnadal.” If you want to tell this story, you just have to be clear that it’s OUTSIDE of those traditions. The Tairnadal sustain their ancestors through freely offered devotion. But this is a world where undead are real. So you could easily create a new form of undead: Tairnadal spirits of infamous villains who AREN’T revered or preserved, and who are instead sustained through involuntary spiritual vampirism—selecting a host and forcing that host to reenact their deeds (as opposed to the standard system where again, the ancestor can reward a good host but can’t FORCE them to do anything). It could be that there’s a much stronger biological factor in their choice of host than usual (as noted in the FAQ article, at this point most living Tairnadal are connected to dozens of ancestors and it’s not a major factor), and that when such a host appears it’s a major concern.

SO: Could an infamous villain choose a newborn elf at birth? Not by the standard traditions. But if you WANT an infamous villain to choose a newborn elf at birth, just make a new threat that supports the story.

Are the elves with heroic ancestral patrons forced to attempt to kill the child?

I wanted to revisit this for just a moment to again reflect on things. It’s important to understand that the Tairnadal aren’t CONTROLLED by their ancestors. They believe that they are REWARDED with spiritual guidance when they do a good job of emulating the ancestor—that the champion can act through them and share its skills. They believe that by emulating the ancestor they preserve it, which adds the point that it’s their civic DUTY to do so… hence the idea that if you’ve been chosen by a cruel ancestor it’s your duty to be cruel, and if you’ve been chosen by an ancestor celebrated for their virtue, it’s your duty to be virtuous. But ultimately that’s about DUTY: you are never actually forced to take an action you don’t want to do. It’s very much like a paladin’s oath: you CAN break it, you’d just prefer not to.

So first of all, MOST Tairnadal ancestors are champions who fought giants, dragons, or goblins. They are heroes to their people, but they are soldiers as opposed to general champions of virtue. With that said, you could easily have a patron ancestor who was known as a demon hunter or ghostbuster—someone who protected the people by hunting down supernatural threats, much like followers of the Silver Flame. And yes, if you were chosen by that ancestor, it would be your duty to hunt down supernatural threats. If you define this evil thing as a form of negative undead, there’s a secondary aspect to consider: rather than being hunted by TAIRNADAL, it might be hunted by the Deathguard of Aerenal, who are explicitly sacred commandos who hunt down and destroy undead.

I’ll be answering more questions in the days ahead: thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support and interesting questions!

FAQ: Tairnadal Patrons and Beasts

The Darguul warlord studied Caerys, slowly spinning the chan of his flail. “What could bring you to this place, elf?” His tribe gathered around them, forming a wide circle of shadows and gleaming red eyes.

Caerys held her double blade in the falcon guard, level with her shoulders and spreading out like wings. “I came in search of legends. Ten thousand years ago Daealyth of Taeri stood this ground and faced your ancestors, and twenty fell before his singing blades. You are no Dhakaani of old, and a mere twenty of you will bring no honor to the Taeri.”The warlord hissed in fury, and his flail flashed in the firelight. The chain wrapped around Caerys’ blade but she twisted away. The flail flew into the darkness. She spun forward, her double blade weaving a circle of fire as she danced toward the chieftain. In a moment the song of steel was over.

Caerys watched as the warlord fell to the ground. With a contemptuous snap of her wrist, she flicked the blood from her blade into the eyes of the stunned onlookers. She smiled behind her spirit veil, counting the blades arrayed against her.

“But forty will.”

—Dragonshards: Elves of Valenar, Part One

The Tairnadal elves of Eberron are devoted to the arts of war. When a Tairnadal elf reaches adolescence, a rite is perform that determines which of the patron ancestors has chosen the child. From that point on, it is the duty of the elf to emulate this ancestor, perfecting their skills and following in their footsteps. Each Tairnadal wears a zaelshin, an amulet that bears the sigil of their patron; when performing heroic deeds they cover their face with a veil known as a zaelta (“spirit mask”), so the enemy sees the zaelshin rather than the face of the living elf.

The Tairnadal have always been called out as one of the most efficient and deadly fighting forces in Eberron. In part this is due to their discipline and absolute devotion to the arts of war. The Tairnadal are ascetics who undergo decades of harsh training, and spend their lives searching for ever greater challenges for their skills. But the idea has always been that there’s a possibly supernatural aspect. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest champions; but the idea is that this allows the ancient heroes to guide the living elves. When a Tairnadal elf acts on instinct and intuition, they believe that the spirit of their ancestor can guide their hands and direct their thoughts. So for a Tairnadal, following the path of an ancestor isn’t simply an annoying chore; they believe that the more closely they emulate the ancestor, the easier it is for the patron to live through them, sharing their legendary skills.

So in part, the devotion of the Tairnadal is based on the belief that they are keeping the spirits of their ancestors from fading into oblivion. But this is balanced against the belief that the living Tairnadal receive concrete benefits from this relationship—that the exceptional skills of Tairnadal warriors and wizards reflect the direct guidance of these ancestors.

Over the years, there are a number of questions that come up frequently.

  • If Tairnadal culture is based on the relationship with the ancestors, how did it begin? Who were the first ancestors?
  • Is it possible for my character to become a patron ancestor, or can living elves never be seen as the equals of their ancestors?
  • Where are the patron ancestors? If their spirits still exist, why haven’t they been resurrected?
  • How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?
  • Can half-elves become Tairnadal?
  • What’s the difference between Valenar elves and Tairnadal?

Who are the patron ancestors?

One thing that many people don’t realize is that the original patron ancestors weren’t Tairnadal. The elves who fought against the ancient giants came from many different cultures. In Dragon 407, the article “Vadallia and Cardaen” presents two patron ancestors—one a warrior queen who was born free in the wilds of Xen’drik, the other a wizard trained by the Cul’sir giants who turned against his masters. The original patron ancestors were united by their common cause, but they came from many different cultures and backgrounds. Tairnadal culture was born on Aerenal, forged by refugees united by the stories of their champions and the determination that they would never be conquered again.

So the FIRST patron ancestors were heroes who fought against the giants. But while the foundation of the Tairnadal faith is to honor and preserve the ancestors, it’s understood that this is because it lets the mortal elf channel the skills of those legendary heroes… and potentially to use those skills to become legends in their own right. Look back to the story that begins this article. What this tells us was that in the Age of monsters there was a Tairnadal champion named Daealyth who was channeling the patron ancestor Taeri, one of the champions of Xen’drik. But the deeds of Daealyth were so exceptional that she herself became a legend—and TODAY, we have the elf Caerys, who is channeling Daealyth. So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.

A secondary aspect to this is the idea that when dealing with generational ancestors, you do honor the patrons of your patron. In the opening paragraph, Caerys says that the battle will “bring no honor to the Taeri.” While she is the chosen of Daealyth, Daealyth was chosen by Taeri, and Caerys feels a secondary allegiance to the original champion.

Summing up: The first patron ancestors were champions of the conflicts on Xen’drik. However, over the course of tens of thousands of years new patrons have risen, and if you perform legendary deeds as a Tairnadal elf you yourself could become a patron ancestor.

in developing a patron ancestor—whether as a player or DM—consider that they are a celebrated, legendary figure and that the elves what to make sure they are never forgotten. Why are they celebrated and admired? What was their greatest achievement? Did they have a particular tool or treasure they were known for? Despite being beloved and preserved in memory, did they have any notable flaws? Because it’s the duty of the revenant to embody their flaws as well as their virtues! But an elf wouldn’t be preserve as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.

But where ARE the patron ancestors? Are they in Dolurrh? Why don’t they get resurrected?

People only linger in Dolurrh for about a month before their spirits fade. In the past this has been used as a concrete limit on any form of resurrection; that unless a spirit is somehow kept from fading in Dolurrh (as some say occurs if the soul is snatched by the Keeper), there’s no way to return after it fades.

This is concrete fact. But no one knows if there’s anything beyond Dolurrh. The vassals of the Sovereign Host believe that Dolurrh is a gateway to the realms of the Sovereigns. Followers of the Silver Flame say the spirit moves on from Dolurrh to merge with the Silver Flame. The Blood of Vol says that fading is oblivion. The Tairnadal faith maintains that you persist for as long as you’re remembered. The more people who remember you, the stronger your spirit and the greater your ability to influence the world. Thus, the patron ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh and are beyond the reach of resurrection, but it’s believed that they continue to exist regardless.

How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?

Tairnadal elves don’t get to choose their patron ancestors; rather, the ancestor chooses the living elf. So Tairnadal children spend their youth essentially auditioning for the ancestors. The basic belief is that if you prove yourself to be an exceptional archer you’ll be chosen by a patron who specializes in archery—that early aptitudes inform the choice. But again, ultimately, the patron chooses the elf. You might EXPECT to be chosen by the legendary archer because of your skill, only to be chosen by a brave swordsman—who may have picked you because of your bravery, or some other aspect of your character you haven’t considered to be an asset.

One thing that is rarely a factor is bloodline. Consider the assertion that one in every 200 people is thought to be related to Genghis Khan. Most Tairnadal elves are related to many of the patron ancestors. It’s possible that you will end up tied to the same ancestor as your parents or siblings, but it’s not expected.

So in choosing a patron ancestor for your character, the primary question is how will it affect your story. Consider the following elements. F

  • Legend. The Tairnadal patrons are legends. They become patrons because the elves believe that their deeds must not be forgotten and that others should follow their example. What did your patron do to earn this devotion? What were they known for? What was their greatest deed? Did they have a legendary weapon or accessory (and if so, are you working to find it)? A signature move or spell? What is a distinctive thing about them that you can emulate?
  • Ideals, Bonds, Flaws. As a Tairnadal you’re expected to pattern your after your ancestor. Are your personality traits something you’ve cultivated to be more like your ancestor? Or are they things you’re trying to overcome? For example, if your flaw is your overconfidence, it could be that you’re NOT naturally overconfident, but you’re TRYING to be, because that’s something your ancestor was known for.
  • Class Features. Patrons are suppose to share their skills with their revenants. Do you see your ancestor as a source of class features—either those you have at the moment or those you will eventually gain? For example, if you’re a ranger, your Favored Enemy and Fighting Style likely reflect your ancestor. When you cast hunter’s mark, you might describe it as feeling your ancestor guide your aim. As a rogue or bard, it makes sense for your expertise to be tied to the skills your ancestor was celebrated for. If you’re a sorcerer or a true, your patron likely was as well. If you’re a warlock you might serve the same patron as your ancestor; if you’re a hexblade, your patron might be the weapon they carried. So, what does your class and your choices say about your ancestor?
  • Relationship. Are you proud to follow in your ancestor’s footsteps? Do you value their guidance and believe that together you will create new legends? Did you hope you’d be chosen by them, or did you always imagine you’d be chosen by a different patron? Beyond that, what is your actually relationship with the patron? Do you feel their presence guiding you? Do you have visions while trancing? This is especially appropriate for Tairnadal paladins, clerics, or warlocks; you could believe that the ancestor has a concrete purpose for you to fulfil.
  • Rivals. There are many more elves than patrons, and most patron ancestors have multiple elves following in their footsteps. You can find entire warbands dedicated to a particular patron. How well-represented is your patron among the Tairnadal? Are there dozens or hundreds of elves following in their footsteps, or are you one of only a few? What makes you stand out from the others? Do you have a particular rival who’s determined to be a better revenant than you?

Once you’ve considered these things, you can work out the rest of the details with your DM. How will your patron fit into the campaign? Are you trying to find their legendary artifact weapon? Are you driven to defend the innocent, or to hunt down a particular type of creature? As a Tairnadal you have a story you’re trying to relive; ideally that story should fit into the scope of the campaign your DM has in mind, not clash with it.

Can Half-Elves Become Tairnadal?

Ultimately that’s not up to mortals; it’s up to the patrons. What we’ve said is that there’s never been a case of a half-elf being chosen by a patron ancestor. But there’s nothing stopping you from making a Khoravar character who believes they HAVE been chosen and is trying to prove it. Again, if a Keeper of the Past could confirm it, it’s not the place of mortals to deny it.

What’s the difference between Valenar and Tairnadal?

Valenar are a subset of the Tairnadal elves. They are Tairnadal who came to Khorvaire as mercenaries and laid claim to the region they were protecting. The short form is that if you’re VALENAR then you fought in the Last War and served under High King Shaeras Vadallia. if you’re Tairnadal you could have remained on Aerenal and taken no part in the Last War. The Valenar are an armed host engaged in an active military operation; this means, for example, that there are no Tairnadal children in Valenar, because the civilian infrastructure of Tairnadal society remains in Aerenal; the Valenar are part of an ongoing military operation.

Valenar Beasts

Previous editions have focused on the amazing horses of the Valenar, beasts with seemingly supernatural attributes. We’ve always highlighted that despite its best efforts, House Vadalis has never been able to breed these horses in captivity. Over the course of two editions, we’ve called out a few things the first is the idea that what makes the horses special isn’t simply genetic—that it’s tied to the idea that the HORSE is channeling the spirit of a legendary ancestor, that this is replicating the bond between the patron and their animal companion. This led us to the thought that it shouldn’t be limited to horses. While the Valenar are renowned for their cavalry, they also have expert commandos, assassins, and soldiers of every specialty—an elf could have a remarkable hound or hawk. The key point is that the idea of being chosen by a Valenar beast isn’t simply that the animal likes you; it’s that there’s a bond between you and the spirit within the beast. This is why you can only have one Valenar beast; if your patron was bound to a hawk, you can have a Valenar hawk as a companion, but you can’t later trade it in for a horse. The hawk is a defining part of your ancestor’s story.

Rising From The Last War does suggest that a Valenar beast could bond to a non-elf adventurer. This would be exceptionally remarkable, and the big question is what this means. Do you have some distant blood tie to the ancestor? Do you have a spiritual connection to them? Could you be an elf reincarnated in human form? Or has the spirit simply judged you to be a worthy companion?

House Vadalis hasn’t given up on replicating Valenar beast. But the idea is that what makes the beast special is the SPIRIT, and this only manifests when it is bound to a Tairnadal companion; when bred in captivity away from their people, the spirit won’t manifest and the Valenar beast will be born as a mundane creature, not fey.

Further Reading…

This isn’t the first article I’ve written about the Tairnadal. If you want to dig deep, you should explore the following links.

Additional Questions…

If you have questions about the Tairnadal, post them in the comments! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site running.

Has there ever been a Tairnadal who was later turned into a deathless?

It’s an interesting question, and more complicated than you might think. Bear in mind that the Aereni and the Tairnadal are two entirely different cultures with different values and traditions. The Tairnadal are ascetic, nomadic, and relentlessly martial. The Aereni are static and peaceful. While they join forces against common threats, they have relatively little in common and there’s not a lot of interaction between them. Looking to the deathless, the Aereni consider their tradition to be superior because the deathless continues to exist in this world. The Tairnadal consider their path to be superior, because the ancestor lives on through hundreds of revenants; they see that as a form of ascension, a superior form of immortality to just being trapped in Shae Mordai for eternity. A secondary factor is that while, per 3.5 rules, it is possible for a priest of the Undying Court to animate lesser deathless, the entire principle of the undying is that they are sustained by the devotion of their descendants—that for a Tairnadal deathless to survive, they would need to have the love and devotion of a sufficient population of local elves.

So could it happen? Sure. The Tairnadal and Aereni have joined forces multiple times to fight against dragons, and perhaps a Tairnadal champion performed such great deeds that the Aereni animated them after death and have sustained them with their love. But the TAIRNADAL might consider this to be a punishment rather than a blessing; they might rather live on in the memories of their descendants rather than be trapped in an undead body.

In saying that the Tairnadal ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh, are you confirming that there IS something beyond Dolurrh? Doesn’t that have enormous implications for other religions?

The Tairnadal faith is just that: a faith. The Tairnadal BELIEVE their ancestors are reaching out from beyond Dolurrh, just as a Vassal smith believes that Onatar is guiding her hands. You can’t just have a casual conversation with a patron—”Hey, Great-great-great-uncle Haen, what’s it like beyond Dolurrh?” Instead, they communicate through visions and intuition.

With that said: the Tairnadal are channeling SOMETHING. It is a concrete fact that a revenant blade can gain a supernatural level of skill by following the path of their ancestors. There is SOMETHING real going on here. And it’s quite possible that it’s exactly what the Tairnadal believe it to be. The idea of a patron ancestor existing in a state beyond death and guiding multiple descendants is very similar to the kalashtar quori, who also exist in the collective souls of their bloodlines. But the point is that there’s no absolute certainty here… and even if the Tairnadal spirits do somehow exist beyond Dolurrh, it doesn’t reveal what happens to the souls of faithful Vassals or reveal whether the Sovereigns exist.

What is the relationship between the Aereni and Tairnadal like? Did they just kinda divide up the isles between them and call it good?

This is summed up on page 218 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting: “Relations between the Tairnadal and the elves of the Undying Court are cordial. They honor the same ancestors, and respect the shared blood that flows through their veins.” It’s also the case that elves do move between the two cultures. Children who don’t adapt to the harsh life of the Tairnadal may be fostered among the Aereni, while the ECS says that “In the last few millennia many younger elves of southern bloodlines have left their homes to join the Tairnadal.” The Tairnadal have fought alongside the Aereni when Aerenal has been attacked, and as I suggest elsewhere, you might well find Tairnadal mercenaries serving as marines on Aereni ships. So yes, they split up the island long ago. The Tairnadal have remained in their territory, and so far there’s never been a conflict over those borders; Aerenal isn’t overcrowded.

What sources of internal conflict does Valenar/the Tairnadal have?

Tairnadal culture has little room for internal dissent. It is, in essence, a highly disciplined army that is further united by deep devotion to a shared religion. This ties to the general elf dedication to tradition and is reflected by the fact that the civilization has stood, virtually unchanged, for over twenty thousand years. On the one hand, this reflects unity and stability; on the other hand, it also reflects the general stagnation of Aerenal.

So: the Tairnadal are effectively an army, broken into a clearly defined system of warclans and warbands. The endless training exercises conducted between these united provides an outlet for competition within the culture, as does the competition between revenants struggling to be the best avatars of their patrons. There’s also a tension between revenants whose patron ancestors had feuds. But this is friendly competition; people who truly don’t fit it will simply be expelled from the society, typically fostered to the Aereni. With that said, there are some philosophical divisions, shown by the Silaes Tairn, Dralaeus Tairn, and Valaes Tairn; but these are long-established sects that have coexisted for millennia.

Within the Valaes Tairn, the primary point of conflict is simple: who supports the Valenar initiative? While many of the warclans joined Shaeras’s expedition, others chose to remain on Aerenal and disapprove of his actions (which some see as a dishonorable betrayal of a client). As a Tairnadal elf, you should decide if you serve in Valenar or if you oppose it.

Valenar is a different issue, because it involves many different factions. The TAIRNADAL in Valenar are strongly united; they are, again, a disciplined army in the field. But you also have Cyran loyalists, House Lyrandar, Khoravar immigrants, and the khunan majority, all with different aspirations and dreams. House Lyrandar imagines a Khoravar state, while most Tairnadal see the kingdom as a tool—the perfect place to fight a war without threatening Aerenal.

There are no Valenar civilians? This is news to me. Do they rely on locals for everything else? Are children and noncombatants shipped out?

This is discussed in more detail in this post, among other places. But yes, that’s the idea. The Tairnadal don’t need land. They don’t care about Valenar as a long-term kingdom (with the understanding that “long-term” has a different meaning for people who live for centuries). It’s a military beachhead and an opportunity for conflict; what they WANT is to encourage a powerful enemy to attack them, allowing them to emulate their ancestors (who fought a guerilla war against a powerful foe). By keeping their civilian infrastructure on Aerenal they maintain the ability to abandon Valenar entirely if it serves their purposes.

I understand that the Valenar elves use the locals to fill civilian roles but who does that for the Tairnadal back home. Who grows the food, looks after the kids, makes sure no one poops in the well, etc?

This is covered in this article:

On Aerenal, much of the mundane work is done by elves who have yet to earn blade or steed. But there are master craftsmen among the elves of Valenar, those who dedicate their lives to the work of supporting the soldiers. This is not a choice; it is religious duty. When a child comes of age among the Tairnadal, the Keepers of the Past perform divinations to see which of the ancient heroes has chosen the initiate. Honorable warrior, stormcalling druid, merciless hunter, master smith –- these are just a few of the archetypes found among the ancient Tairnadal, and it is up to the young elf to follow whatever path is laid before him. Most of the Valaes Tairn are deadly warriors, but some are destined to support their kindred as smiths, engineers, or other vital tasks. These elves are known as the zaelantar, “peaceful spirits.” They are viewed with a mixture of respect and pity by their warlike brethren; the work they do is vital, and yet they are denied the chance to ride into battle or stalk prey.

The critical point here is that Tairnadal undergo decades of training and service before they are bound to an ancestor. So you might not be bound to an ancestor until you’re 60 years old. Which is fairly trivial for an elf who could live for a thousand years, but that’s still a good 40 years of productive labor. So who looks after the kids? Older kids. Meanwhile, elders who’ve retired from active duty train the youth, along with the Keepers of the Past.

With that said, bear in mind that Tairnadal society is completely unlike life in the Five Nations. The Tairnadal are essentially an army, and you’re in boot camp for the first few decades of your life. EVERYONE does latrine duty when it’s their turn, and everyone makes sure people don’t poop in the well; if you do, expect harsh military discipline. As an adult, you’re part of a warband; the warbands are nomadic, remaining in motion and living off the land. This lifestyle is sustained both by strict population control AND by powerful druidic magic that ensures that the Tairnadal don’t grow beyond the ability to sustain this nomadic lifestyle—with primal magic used both to enhance the fertility of the land and its creatures and to improve the efficiency of Tairnadal foraging (see the cualra flask in the article linked above).

So Tairnadal warbands are mobile and self-sufficent. These migrate between settled communities that train the young and provide the services of the zaelantar and the Keepers of the Past. Most of the work to maintain these communities is performed by young elves (who can, again, be up to 60 years old!) who’ve yet to be assigned an ancestor and a warband. Meanwhile, the Siyal Marrain are responsible for maintaining both the Valenar beasts and the land itself, ensuring that the warbands aren’t overtaxing its resources.

Also, are there non-military ancestors (great healers and guides, to say nothing of artists and lovers)?

There are great healers and guides, as well as artists and lovers; they’re just ALSO deadly warriors. Luckily, D&D supports this. The great healer is a war cleric or druid, who can smite as well as heal. The great artist might a bard of the College of Blades, whose artistry is deadly. As for great lovers, the story of Vadallia and Cardaen is a story of tragic love; it’s just that the lovers happen to be a peerless warrior and a mighty wizard.

This is a fundamental difference between Tairnadal and Aereni. The Ascendant counselors of the Undying Court include sages, philosophers, and abstract artists. But Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. Life revolves around perfection of martial skill and magic. Those who yearn for a more peaceful life can become Aereni; this does happen, just as some among the Aereni leave their culture to follow the path of the Tairnadal. With that said, there are patrons that fill more traditionally civilian roles; we’ve spoken of the zaelantar artisans (mentioned above) and of the Siyal Marrain who tend the horses and the land. But even they are part of the core cycle of Tairnadal culture. There’s no patron who’s “the poet who never touched a blade or cast a spell,” unless he somehow defeated an army with his words.

Is it possible for a Tairnadal warlock’s patron to BE their ancestor? 

I’m inclined to say no, because to me this muddies the line between cleric and warlock. To me, a cleric is someone who draws their magic from their faith in a higher power… while a warlock has an arrangement with a concrete entity. Essentially, the cleric requires faith while the warlock doesn’t; the warlock is making a deal with someone they know exists. This changes the dynamic because warlock patrons usually have clear, finite agendas, and because in principle you COULD find a warlock patron and punch them in the nose.

So looking to an Archfey warlock: if their patron is an archfey of Thelanis, that’s a being that exists and who we can go and meet. It can have quarrels with other archfey. It might betray or deceive the warlock. It could give you a physical gift or want you to bring it something. By contrast, if it’s a patron ancestor it only exists in this abstract “It’s sustained in the memory of all Tairnadal” way… it’s more like the devotion of a cleric or paladin than the bargaining of a warlock.

So personally, I would keep that intact. Rather than saying that the patron is your ancestor, I’d say that you have the SAME patron as your ancestor. If your ancestor was an archfey warlock, you are following in their footsteps by becoming an archfey warlock, serving the same patron they did—and there’s an interesting relationship in that your patron is an immortal being who KNEW your ancestor. It can still be that your pact blade is the blade your ancestor wielded, that your familiar was their familiar—but it’s because you’re serving the same patron they didn’t, not because they are the patron.

What’s up with the Valenar slaughtering refugees fleeing from the Mourning?

I didn’t work on the book that described this incident, and it doesn’t make any sense to me. Valenar don’t revel in needless bloodshed. The ancestors they emulate were rebels who rose up against tyranny and cruelty. As a rule, the Valenar don’t want to conquer or oppress; they want to fight conquerors and oppressors. Note that they themselves don’t actually RULE Valenar; they’ve left the administration to the Khoravar. Many believe that the Valenar don’t actually WANT a kingdom; what they want is to provoke a powerful nation into attacking them, because THAT replicates the conflict with the giants—guerillas fighting against overwhelming odds. It’s very likely that they’ve claimed Valenar solely because they want Karrnath or Darguun to try to take it from them.

So: in suggesting that they needlessly slaughtered civilians, I want to know WHY. Valenar aren’t inherently cruel. They could have perceived the refugees as a threat, perhaps thought they were BRINGING the Mourning. Or it’s possible they were in some way following the path of an ancestor. But if so, I’d want to know HOW the ancestor’s story drove them to slaughter civilians—and what it is that would make such an ancestor a figure worth celebrating and preserving. If you said that there’s an ancestor who was undefeated in battle, who saved tens of thousands of elves, but who also showed no mercy to enemy civilians, OK, I could perhaps accept that. But the short form is that this incident was created by an author who didn’t explain the reasons behind it and likely didn’t fully understand Tairnadal culture, so I don’t give it a lot of weight.

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!