Sidebar: The Yuan-Ti

As we lead up to GenCon, there’s a lot going on.

  • Here’s my GenCon Plans. If you’re going to be there, drop by the Twogether Studios Booth or come to my Eberron talk!
  • I’ve just announced “Project Raptor“, a new sourcebook I’ll be releasing on the DM’s Guild later this year.
  • There’s a new episode of Manifest Zone talking about it!

However, until GenCon I’m working through the big pile of questions submitted by my Patreon supporters. One asks “Could you expand on the yuan-ti in Eberron?” So, let’s talk about the serpentfolk.

Yuan-Ti in Eberron

The origin of the yuan-ti is shrouded in mystery. Here are the absolute facts.

  • The yuan-ti first appeared on the continent of Sarlona, in the early stages of the Sundering—the conflict that paved the way for the rise of Riedra and the Inspired. When the human nation of Khunan was devastated by a mystic conflict, the yuan-ti rose up in the ruins and established a new nation, which they called Syrkarn.
  • The early Inspired set their allied forces to the task of erradicating the yuan-ti. However, even in victory, the Inspired order all humans in Syrkarn and the surrounding regions to abandon the land. The Inspired have shunned the region ever since. A handful of yuan-ti survived and remain hidden within the ruins.
  • When they were persecuted by the Inspired, a number of yuan-ti fled Sarlona and sought refuge on Argonnessen. At first they were granted sanctuary, and the best of them were welcomed into the city of Io’vakas, a haven where humanoids lived in harmony with the dragons. However, some of the yuan-ti sought forbidden power, mastering dangerous arcane secrets; the dragons responded by leveling Io’vakas and exterminating the yuan-ti. A handful remain, but they continue to be eliminated when they are found.
  • A few yuan-ti escaped persecution in Xen’drik—perhaps with the help of sympathetic dragons—and reached Xen’drik. Now they lurk in the shadows of Stormreach and beyond, plotting vengeance against both humanity and the dragons.

These are the facts: they began in Sarlona, fled to Argonnessen, and fled once more to Xen’drik. But there are crucial questions. Where did they come from, when they first appeared in Sarlona? Why did the Inspired order the mass exodus of Syrkarn? Why, in a world where few creatures are bound to the alignment, do the yuan-ti of Xen’drik and Argonnessen seem entirely evil?

The scholar Abel Varmanc proposed an answer to these questions. The Overlords of the first age are bound across Eberron, and it is certain that one is imprisoned beneath Syrkarn; Abel believes that “Syrkarn” is in fact the name of this archfiend. Varmanc asserts that during the epic magewars that destroy Khunan, the seals of Syrkarn were weakened… and that the first yuan-ti were humans corrupted by Syrkarn’s power. Varmanc further believes that the Inspired couldn’t find a way to fully rebind the Overlord, which is why they evacuated the region; if they couldn’t completely defeat the fiend, they could at least deny it subjects and victims. The final piece of the Varmanc’s theory is this: the yuan-ti are uniquely vulnerable to the influence of the Overlords. As they traveled from continent to continent, they were further touched and corrupted by the influence of others—by the Daughter of Khyber in Argonnessen, who fanned the flames of yuan-ti ambition and set the destruction in of Io’vakas in motion; and by the Scar that Abides in Xen’drik, further fueling their hatred and hunger for vengeance.

Of course, this is just a theory. Perhaps the yuan-ti are the product of evil and have only grown crueler and more dangerous over time; or perhaps they have always been innocent. Perhaps Io’kovas is an example of draconic tyranny as opposed to yuan-ti ambition. Perhaps all the stories of Syrkarn were just one more way for the Inspired to use fear to control the people, and to continue to manipulate them today. So in using the yuan-ti in your campaign, you have a choice. Are they…

  • Malevolent Masterminds. Varmanc’s theory is absolutely correct. The yuan-ti don’t serve the Lords of Dust, but they are vessels of immortal evil. Just as they did in Io’vakas, they seek arcane power that will allow them to dominate or destroy all other creatures. They are few in number, so they must use cunning and deception. Wherever they are found, they are either seeking power or sowing discord. In this case, the physical form of the yuan-ti is a reflection of their corruption, with the abominations being the closest to the overlords and most innately vile.
  • Consumed by Revenge. The yuan-ti aren’t inherently evil or corrupted by Overlords. But they are driven by the desire for revenge on humanity and the dragons—revenge they believe is absolutely justified. They aren’t unnecessarily cruel, but their ancestors have been betrayed by all they have trusted and they are hunted on two continents. In this case, the physical forms of the yuan-ti could have been created through Khunan magebreeding; there’s nothing evil about it, they simply sought to transcend their humanity.
  • Maligned Innocents. Another option is to say that the stories are entirely untrue, and that the yuan-ti are neither innately evil nor hungry for vengeance; they are simply persecuted refugees, afraid of both the Chamber and Inspired, trying to find a place where they can prosper. As above, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the result of active magebreeding.

There’s another option to consider that could expand any of these: that the yuan-ti don’t serve the Overlords, but rather believe that they have been abused by the archfiends and seek their power too. It could well be that the yuan-ti have an innate connection to the Overlords, and that they believe they can use this to harness the power for themselves: not releasing the Overlords, but using their might for their own purposes. In this case, whatever path you choose, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the product of the Overlords’ power and reflect their desire to transcend their human origins.

While the yuan-ti are primarily found in Sarlona, Argonnessen, and Xen’drik, depending on the path you take they could be found anywhere. There could be yuan-ti in Q’barra tapping into the power of the Cold Sun, or yuan-ti lurking in the sewers of Sharn. The question is whether they are simply hiding and trying to survive, or whether they are pursuing power and sowing discord.

Do the yuan-ti have any relation to the shulassakar?

Not directly. The shulassakar first appeared within Khalesh, a nation dedicated to the Silver Flame; the yuan-ti appeared later and to the west, in Khunan. However, as with all things yuan-ti, there’s a few possibilities. The simple one is that they are spiritual cousins. The shulassakar are humans transformed by the power of the Silver Flame; it’s thus reasonable to say that the yuan-ti are humans transformed in a similar manner but by a darker power, the Overlord Syrkarn. However, if you WANT them to be related, you could say that the yuan-ti are specifically shulassakar corrupted by Syrkarn… that a group of shulassakar embraced the darkness and went west in pursuit of power, and this dark force physically transformed them.

Are there any groups hunting the shulassakar? Inspired, the Lords of Dust, etc? Did they remain in Sarlona or make the exodus with the humans, changelings and ogres to Khorvaire?

While there’s conflicting statements about the shulassakar, the intent was that there was never a shulassakar NATION and they didn’t begin with a unique culture. Khalesh was a nation devoted to the Silver Flame, though with a far stronger focus on the couatl than the modern church or the Ghaash’kala. The shulassakar arose within Khalesh, and were the secret leaders of the land; they were seen as being blessed by the Flame. During the Sundering, the Inspired specifcally exposed and targeted the shulassakar, aligning them with the yuan-ti and depciting them as touched by evil; this turned Nulakhesh and Corvagura against Khalesh, and the shulassakar were relentlessly hounded. Some escaped to Khorvaire , others fled to Adar, others managed to hide within Riedra. But there were never many of them to begin with and their still aren’t. In Riedra, they are absolutely hunted by the Thousand Eyes and the Edgewalkers. They aren’t really common enough in Khorvaire to REQUIRE that they be hunted by the Lords of Dust, but yes, a shulassakar that is too open in its actions would attract the same sort of enemies as any dangerous champion of the Silver Flame.

If you have questions or thoughts about the yuan-ti in Eberron, post them below!

28 thoughts on “Sidebar: The Yuan-Ti

  1. Wasn’t Tiamat responsible for their corruption in an earlier edition? Does this mean that he’s getting the boot from Eberron? Or am I remembering incorrectly?

    • You’re remembering incorrectly. SHE is imprisoned on Argonnessen, and is mentioned in the text: “As they traveled from continent to continent, they were further touched and corrupted by the influence of others—by the Daughter of Khyber in Argonnessen, who fanned the flames of yuan-ti ambition and set the destruction in of Io’vakas in motion…”

      “The Daughter of Khyber” is the Overlord embodying ambition and the tyranny of dragons, sometimes known as Tiamat.

  2. Fascinating stuff! I particularly like the presentation wherein they’re innocent. Perhaps the original Yuan-Ti were, in fact, corrupted by Sykarn, but there’s little enough reason as to why why the imprisoned fiend would have been able to inflict such effects permanently, at least the non-biological effects like “evil”. More than that, I feel that Eberron is at its best as a setting of pulp and noir; every creature able to fulfil any alignment, and no creature bound to an alignment good or bad, with the potential exception of Fiends and Celestials as ever. It’s one of the many things I love about the setting as opposed to the Forgotten Realms, and it would seem strange to force alignment on one “corrupted” group while leaving other “corrupted” folk like Tieflings and Aasimar free to embody any alignment they desire.

    How do you see Yuan-Ti purebloods fitting into all of this? Are they just the same as they are in other D&D material, or might they be strange hybrids, possibly created by the Yuan-Ti to infiltrate humanoid settlements?

    (Also, would like to say, I’ve become a huge fan of Eberron recently. The Morgrave Miscellany book is actually magnificent and I really like that you don’t use your canon-dad status to claim certainties when possibilities are even better.)

    • Ah, also, would it be appropriate to play a Shulassakar Bloodsworn character using the stats for the Yuan-Ti Pureblood, except instead of learning Abyssal they learn Celestial? I picture them, instead of casting Poison Spray and Suggestion, casting Sacred Flame and Detect Thoughts (to root out evil), while the unlimited Animal Friendship on snakes might instead work exclusively on songbirds or very small feathered dinosaurs…

      Obviously, the nature of Shulassakar makes playing one difficult with the old-school Paladin issues, but I feel that they’re no more difficult than, say, an Aasimar… or you could just play an Aasimar and call it Bloodsworn. Right. Oops.

  3. The yuan-ti’s diverse morphs reminds me quite a bit of the Daelkyr and their experiments of flesh. Is it possible for any connection there to be drawn there?

    • Possible, but not something I’d expect to see in canon. Per canon, the Shulassakar are tied to the Silver Flame and the yuan-ti to the Overlords; I don’t see the daelkyr entering into it.

      • I was under the impression that the creations of Overlords are all fiends of various kinds, most famously Rakshasa, and their humanoid followers are simply cultists. Are there other cases of humanoid followers of Overlords being mutated so much that they become completely unrecognizable, like the abominations and anathemas? From previous articles, I thought physical mutation and corruption is the Daelkyr’s thing; whereas the Overlords are far more interested in mental subversion.

        • I was under the impression that the creations of Overlords are all fiends of various kinds, most famously Rakshasa, and their humanoid followers are simply cultists. Are there other cases of humanoid followers of Overlords being mutated so much that they become completely unrecognizable, like the abominations and anathemas?

          Overlord corruption is one of the explanations for lycanthropy. It’s also been suggested that both orcs and gnolls could have been created by Rak Tulkhesh. It’s been noted that Masvirik’s cultists are often physically transformed. From “Poison Dusk, Black Sun”:

          Many are physically transformed so that they possess serpentine or draconic traits and specifically resemble a black dragon. These mutations can be reflected by using the Snaketongue Cultist or Red Hand of Tiamat themes from Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 or the Dragontouched Destroyer template. Where a choice is given, powers from templates or themes should be tied to poison or acid.

          Note that this is actually a retroactive explanation for the Blackscale Lizardfolk; as with the scales in general, the principle is that the settlers assumed this was a separate species, when in fact they’re just corrupted champions of Masvirik. The same article also says “One possible arc for a campaign would be to introduce yuan-ti to Q’barra, as humans newly transformed by the power of the Cold Sun.”

          The main point is that Daelkyr transformation is usually an active thing. Goblins didn’t suddenly become dolgrims; the daelkyr took them and MADE dolgrims from them. While fiendish transformation is a slow process that happens without any obvious direct interaction: Masvirik doesn’t come down and PERSONALLY change you, it’s just that you slowly transform over time. Which is why the yuan-ti are a good match – because the range of expressions reflects the degree of corruption. Among dolgrims and dolgaunts, you never see someone who’s BASICALLY human but with just a little bit of dolgauntiness; it’s all or nothing. Whereas in the case of Overlord corruption, it’s something that can creep up on you.

          It is generally the case also that an Overlord can only corrupt a follower or someone who draws on their power – while a daelkyr forces change upon you.

          But it’s certainly not a COMMON thing.

          • Thank you, that’s a very clear explanation and exactly what I was looking for.

            To follow up on that, when Bel Shalor nearly broke free, did it have any physical transformations on its followers? Do the current cults of Bel Shalor have any visible markers of their corruption? What about Sul Khatesh?

          • Part of the issue is that it depends on the nature of the Overlord itself. Bel Shalor embodies a subtle concept, that expresses itself more through behavior than appearance; while Masvirik represents a PHYSICAL concept, and thus corrupts physically. Katashka is another Overlord whose influence has a concrete physical manifestation (Undeath!) while the manifestation of Sul Khatesh’s influence is “Knows things you shouldn’t.”

  4. As the Khunan population remains intact (to a degree) in Valenar, are there any local traditions and legends about the foul snake monsters of their former home in Sarlona?

    Do Yuan-ti of Eberron still use white resin (a drug which produces a stupor and manifests in snake-like mutations of the addict) and if so is that more a Stormreach problem?

    Are there any groups hunting the shulassakar? Inspired, the Lords of Dust, etc? Did they remain in Sarlona or make the exodus with the humans, changelings and ogres to Khorvaire?

    • As the Khunan population remains intact (to a degree) in Valenar, are there any local traditions and legends about the foul snake monsters of their former home in Sarlona?

      Not really. The ethnic Khunans of Valenar fled during the Sundering, BEFORE the yuan-ti took over the region and renamed it Syrkarn. And this occurred around 1,500 years ago. They maintain the Khunan language, but the nation is long gone.

      Do Yuan-ti of Eberron still use white resin (a drug which produces a stupor and manifests in snake-like mutations of the addict) and if so is that more a Stormreach problem?

      It’s a plausible plotline to employ in Stormreach. I’d leave it to a DM to decide if they do.

      I’m adding the shulassakar question to the main post.

  5. You could draw a lot of parallels between the Yuan-ti and the Tieflings in this way. They’re both from Sarlona, and both altered by magic into rather unsettling forms. Both hiding from more common species.

    I love them both, but have a hard time thinking of ways to make them distinct from each other besides their origins. If you can, I’d very much like to know. Culturally, mechanically. How would you make them stand out from each other?

    • First off, I’m assuming you’re speaking of the tieflings of the Venomous Demesne. The majority of tieflings are mutated by planar forces; they have no culture or common cause, and as such have little in common with yuan-ti.

      Comparing them to the Venomous Demesne: the tieflings of Ohr Kaluun have their form as a result of pacts their ancestors made. They consider themselves to be descendants of royalty, and they remain heirs to a kingdom that is arcanically more advanced then the Five Nations. Their realm may be HIDDEN, but they don’t consider themselves to be HIDING, if that makes sense. They also aren’t particularly driven by a desire for revenge.

      By contrast, revenge is the defining element of the yuan-ti. They’ve been betrayed by the dragons (who were afraid of what the yuan-ti could become), driven from their homeland by humanity, and EVERYONE WILL PAY. They don’t have a realm to call their own like the Venomous Demesne. They also may bnot have chosen their form; it was more a consequence than a gift. This likewise ties to the point that the Xen’drik yuan-ti may literally be corrupted by evil forces and therefore be “genetically evil”, while the Venomous tieflings are not.

      • If one were to use the idea that yuan-ti are “genetically evil” as a species, would it make sense to change their type to fiend rather than humanoid? I feel like having an always evil humanoid race contradicts the canon in Eberron.

        • First off, this only refers to the yuan-ti of Xen’drik, and it’s specifically called out IN canon as an unusual thing specifically tied to the influence of the Overlords. The relevant passage is page 126 of City of Stormreach:

          With every exodus, the personality of the yuan-ti grew darker and more hateful. In Eberron, it is a rare thing for an entire intelligent species to adhere to a single alignment; nonetheless, the yuan-ti of Xen’drik truly seem to be evil by nature.

          What’s called out in Eberron is that a forced alignment generally only occurs because of supernatural influence. Lycanthropes have a fixed alignment, because it’s set by the curse. The Poison Dusk in Q’barra have a fixed alignment, because it’s not a choice; it’s the result of corruption by Mavirik. Here, it’s the collective INFLUENCE of Sakinirot, Tiamat, and Syrkarn. But know, I wouldn’t make them fiends, any more than I’d make a poison dusk lizardfolk or lycanthrope a fiend. They’re humanoids who’ve been corrupted by magical forces.

          • I just realized it’s a stupid question because 5e doesn’t have “native outsiders”. Tieflings and aasimar are humanoids, so evidently bearing a heavy supernatural influence doesn’t change a creature’s type anymore.

        • I’ll also note that the history section is actually drawn from canon – though part of the issue is that canon is contradictory on a few points. Personally, I’m not a great fan of Io’vakas and Io’lokar — but they are part of canon.

          • I don’t mind the basic idea—a city of humanoids in Argonnessen that’s essentially a social experiment on the part of a few dragons. And I don’t mind that city being significantly more advanced than most nations in Eberron. But as depicted in 3.5, the power level is too high for my tastes. In the core design, we made a conscious effort to restrict the number of high-level characters, and to limit those who could be allies: Jaela can’t leave Flamekeep, Oalian is a tree. I dislike the premise that there’s a BUNCH of level 20+ humanoids just hanging out in Io’lokar—and that they aren’t even defined, don’t really have clear motives, etc.

            So I don’t mind the idea, I’d just dial the power level down: average citizen maybe around 6th level, most powerful in the 10-14th level. I don’t mind having one or two higher level characters, but I’d want to concretely define them and highlight their motives.

          • I agree. It’s an interesting story idea—need an authentic Dhakaani chain master or a pre-Unification style priest from Corvagura? Fine, the dragons collect cultures like they do other treasure. Let them be those things in-story, with a lower level. But a whole city of what are effectively superheroes just sitting in the middle of Argonnessen sitting on their hands playing hours like they’re just regular Joes? Womp womp.

  6. Hi Keith! I always loved the yuan-ti and even the idea of “good feathered yuan-ti” in eberron. Do yuan-ti maintain their slavist society in Eberron? Is it possible that the magic they were tapping into was an eldritch machine for enslaving a (or some) dragons?
    I was considering this idea. What if the yuan-ti as a race ARE the sigil that keep an overlords at bay? Since ages dragons, inspired and lord of dust are wondering what would happen if they will kill every single yuan-ti…

    • What if the yuan-ti as a race ARE the sigil that keep an overlords at bay?
      Anything’s possible, but it’s a pretty dramatic shift from canon. By canon, the Silver Flame is the force that keeps the Overlords at bay. It was created by the couatls’ act of sacrifice; and it’s the reason the power of the Silver Flame is available to champions of the light—- the reason we have everything from the Shulassakar to the Ghaash’kala. If you remove the binding role of the Silver Flame, it raises the question of how and why it exists in the first place. And by canon, the yuan-ti haven’t been around that long.

      By canon, the magic they were tapping into was the general power to wield epic level magics, like those the dragons used to destroy Xen’drik; they also sought the power of the dragon gods, whose worship is forbidden to humanoids.

      But they could certainly be working on eldritch machines to enslave dragons — or other creatures — today.

  7. Yuan-ti have a strong connection to psioniarcs: they are original from Sarlona, where psionics are rooted, and at least in 3.5 they have natural psionic powers. However, in Eberron they have an strong arcane or even divine influence by being connected to the overlords.
    What would be the most common yuan-ti spellcaster? A psionic, a mage a priest or another one?

    • The pedantic answer would be that Psions are manifesters (who manifest powers) and thus aren’t spellcasters (who cast spells). The story based answer would be, like every other culture on Eberron, the most common spellcasters are Adept and/or Magewright. The mechanical answer would be something based on their highest ability score, which actually varies by the type of Yuan-Ti.

      The Yuan-Ti pureblood stats in the Monster Manual list favored class as Ranger, which is technically a spellcaster. I don’t think ANYONE actually used the Favored Class rule though.

  8. I think I like the idea that the Yuan-Ti are a reoccuring disease of the Dragon-markable races caused by Dusk shards, then make all the breakouts unrelated to each other. I would reduce the strength of the first stage though from Volo’s guide to the Urban Arcana “Snakeblooded”, turning Poison Immunity to the equivalent of Dwarven Resilience and Magic Resistance to the equivalent of Gnomish cunning. Darkvision, Innate Spellcasting, and Resilience would make good subspecies traits (Races with Darkvision would get +60 ft. Darkvision, and Dwarves would get poison immunity). Then it could be something like an anti-Dragonmark.

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