Flashback: Sphinxes of Eberron

I’ve written a lot of articles over the last decade, and every now and then I like to pull and old article back on top of the stack for people who missed it the first time. This is a combination of two of my previous articles, on Sphinxes and Sphinxlantis. Enjoy!

She had the body of a great black cat, with the neck and head of a beautiful elf-maiden – though if that head was on a humanoid body, she’d have to be nine feet tall to match the scale. Her skin was flawless cream, her eyes glittering gold. Her long hair was midnight black, dropping down and mingling with the vast raven’s wings folded on her back. The black of her fur and hair was striped with bands of brilliant orange, and these seemed to glow in the dim light; when she shifted these stripes rippled like flames.

“Why are you doing this?” Daine said. “If you know so much about our destinies, why the riddles? Why not just tell us what you know?”

The sphinx smiled. “What answer do you wish to hear, Daine with no family name? That I am bound by divine and arcane laws, and have told you all that I can? That I have told you what you need to know to fulfill your purpose in this world? Or that I have my own plans, and I am shaping your destiny as much as any of the others who watch?”

“Which is true?”

“Which will you believe?”

City of Towers

Sphinxes are enigmatic and inscrutable. For all their cryptic insights and challenges, in some ways the greatest riddle of the sphinx is the sphinx itself. Where do they come from? What is the source of their knowledge, and most of all, what is their motivation? In most tales a sphinx is found guarding some arcane site or artifact, only sharing its treasure or its knowledge with those who can pass its test. Why does it do this?

No sphinx will answer these questions. No power on Eberron can read the mind of a sphinx, and divinations shatter against their inscrutable nature. And so the sages of Eberron are left to ponder the riddle, studying the clues that are available. The first and most popular theory about sphinxes was presented by the loremaster Dorius Alyre ir’Korran. In his Codex of All Mysteries, ir’Korran asserted that sphinxes are living embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. Their oracular abilities are tied to the fact that they are manifestations of the Prophecy and innately know the paths of the future. They are bound to their duties and found in portentous locations because they are literally instruments of destiny, positioned to guide and challenge the people who will in turn shape history. They slip through time and space because they exist beyond it. Ir’Korran suggested that although they appear to be individuals, sphinxes are in fact all part of a greater entity, fingers on a hand too vast for mortals to see.

For centuries most scholars have embraced ir’Korran’s theory. Magister Mara ir’Lain observed that sphinxes often appear to be guarding tombs, temples, or treasures, but there are no reliable accounts of a sphinx being assigned such a task. An androsphinx that identified itself as Silverstorm challenged Harryn Stormblade in the ancient Dhakaani citadel below Cazhaak Draal, but the only Dhakaani account that mentions sphinxes is the story of Jhazaal Dhakaan outwitting a sphinx to obtain its secret knowledge. Ir’Lain believed that this supported the Codex: that as Silverstorm wasn’t posted by the Dhakaani, its stewardship of Cazhaak Draal must be tied to the Prophecy.

However, over the centuries, scholars have learned more about sphinxes. In his paper “The Sphinx in the Library”, Professor Cord Ennis of Morgrave University made the following observations (summarized for the terrestrial reader; Ennis doesn’t mention the Monster Manual):

  • Sphinxes are powerful and varied spellcasters. The androsphinx in the Monster Manual is a divine spellcaster, using Wisdom to cast cleric spells. the gynosphinx is an arcane spellcaster, using Intelligence to cast wizard spells. While it’s possible that this is tied to the species of sphinx, it’s equally plausible that these are learned skills—that an androsphinx could master arcane magic, or a gynosphinx could channel magic through faith.
  • While they often appear to be bound to some sort of duty, sphinxes seem to have personalities and even a desire to learn. The most well-documented sphinx of the modern age, Flamewind, resides at Morgrave University and often spends her time reading; she has been known to attend parties and theatrical events.
  • Sphinxes are monstrosities, not celestials, fiends, or fey. This suggests that they are creatures of flesh and blood, rather than immortal incarnations.

Ennis challenges the Codex on multiple points. If sphinxes are extensions of the Prophecy, why are they monstrosities rather than some form of celestial or fiend? Why do we see what appear to be both wizards and clerics among them, rather than a single path reflecting the channeled power of the Prophecy? Why did Flamewind attend the premiere of Five Lives, and even shed a tear in the final act? There are certainly reports of Flamewind assuming the role of the imperious oracle—as she did when first encountered, and as in the account quoted at the start of the article—and yet, she also seems to be capable of more casual interactions.

Cord Ennis believed this proved that sphinxes could have a more mundane origin: that they are mortal creatures, that they can study and learn, that they have more personality than the typical celestial. But as critics were quick to point out, no one has ever discovered any evidence of a civilization of sphinxes. There’s only a single account (discovered in Cul’sir ruins) of multiple sphinxes being encountered at the same time. All of this supports the Codex. There’s no signs of a sphinx civilization because sphinxes are tools of the Prophecy.

A team of researchers in the Arcane Congress presented a new theory, seeking to bridge the two: that sphinxes are creatures of Thelanis. The premise is that sphinxes aren’t instruments of destiny, but rather that they exist to drive the plot. Thelanis is the plane of stories, and its archfey often seem to enjoy seeing echoes of their stories in the world. Under this theory, the reason sphinxes show up at such dramatic times and locations is because the story needs them to—that they are some form of servants to the archfey, helping to guide the world in ways that echo the story of their masters. This ties to the fact that Thelanian creatures often show more personality and quixotic behavior than celestials, and that lesser fey aren’t immortal. While a compelling theory, opponents counter with the point that sphinxes don’t share the typical traits of Thelanian entities—which is to say, they are monstrosities rather than fey.

Most recently, Cord Ennis returned with a refinement of his thesis. Ennis suggests that sphinxes are mortal, civilized creatures, but that the reason there’s no evidence of any sphinx civilization is because they aren’t from this time. There are a number of accounts in which people facing sphinxes in their lairs are shifted through time—the apocryphal tale that Breggor Firstking was a beggar who was given a chance to relive his life and used his knowledge to become a king, or the story of the man who sleeps in a sphinx’s lair without permission and awakes a hundred years later. According to Ennis’s theory, the idea that sphinxes can move through time helps to explain both their seemingly oracular abilities and their interest in cryptic actions; that their enigmatic behavior shapes future events in ways we don’t see, but they do. The lack of any signs of sphinx civilization is because it doesn’t exist in the scope of history as we know it. And further, the fact that sphinxes only manipulate time in their lairs suggests the use of some form of eldritch machine as opposed to the innate powers one would expect in a living manifestation of the Prophecy—that they accomplish time travel using a tool, rather than personal power alone. Ennis asserted that this could explain Flamewind’s observed behavior—at times the cryptic oracle, and at other times almost more of a curious tourist.

While intriguing, Ennis admitted that there was one piece of the puzzle that still escaped him. When do these time-traveling sphinxes come from? His first thought was the distant future—that they could even be some sort of mystically evolved descendants of the modern races. Yet if that were the case, is there no risk of their meddling changing their own future? Given this, he ultimately favored the idea that the sphinxes are from the very distant past—that they could potentially be the citizens of the FIRST civilization of Eberron, a society that predates the Age of Demons and whose existence was wiped from history by the dominion of the overlords. With this as a foundation, Ennis suggests that the actions of the sphinxes might not be the absolute demands of destiny one would expect from embodiments of the Prophecy, but rather a grand game. As their time is long past, the sphinxes don’t actually care about the ultimate outcome; whether the overlords rise again or the daelkyr are unleashed doesn’t actually hurt them. Ennis further suggests that this could reflect the different techniques seen among sphinxes. The “divine” sphinxes—those wielding clerical abilities—could see their actions as being a divine mission, potentially even one mandated by the Progenitors (because what other gods were there at the dawn of time?) while the “arcane” sphinxes could be the scientists of their time. Thus, Flamewind could be in Sharn because she knows it is a nexus of elements she wants to deal with—events or people she wants to observe or influence—but that between those key events she is simply enjoying studying this time and place, so alien to her native time.

While these are all intriguing possibilities, as long as sphinxes remain inscrutable they will remain a mystery. Servants of the Prophecy? Agents of the archfey? Travelers from the dawn of time? All three are possible, and the only way to learn the truth is through adventure. Within their lairs, sphinxes have the ability to manipulate time and travel the planes.

Why Does This Matter?

The mystery of the sphinx is an important part of the creature, and something I want to maintain rather than simply providing an absolute answer. Are sphinxes time travelers? Agents of Prophecy? Shapers of story? All three are possible—but each has a different impact on both the role a sphinx may play in a campaign and on the mechanics of the sphinxes themselves. Most critically, the rules of the sphinx’s lair action state that the sphinx can shift itself and others to “another plane of existence.” It doesn’t specify which plane of existence or that the sphinx has multiple options. This answer—along with the circumstances under which the sphinx would USE its lair actions—likely depends on its origins. Because again, always remember that just because a sphinx CAN do something doesn’t mean it WILL. A Prophecy sphinx my have the POWER to shift people through time, but it may never use it if it isn’t required. So, let’s briefly consider the theories presented above and the ways these would impact a story.

Time Travelers. One of the core elements of sphinxes as time travelers is the idea that they are a mortal civilization. They are advanced beyond any civilization that exists today, but they are individuals using magical tools to accomplish these things—they are arcane scientists and divine spellcasters, capable of observing the tapestry of time and playing a great game with it. If this is the case, Flamewind in Sharn may indeed have very specific events she wants to observe and people she wishes to drive down specific paths, but at the end of the day she is a mortal wizard. She may play the role of being enigmatic and all-knowing, but there’s a touch of the Wizard of Oz; she DOES have knowledge of the future and of the potential destiny of the characters, but she’s not in fact infallible, she is playing her own game, and she also enjoys being a little bit of a tourist between those critical events. Should you follow this path, there’s a few points I’d consider.

  • The spellcasting abilities of a sphinx reflect whether they are a divine or arcane spellcaster—essentially, a wizard or a cleric. Under this approach, gynosphinxes and androsphinxes are simply male and female sphinxes, and it should be possible to encounter an androsphinx wizard or a gynosphinx priestess. A key question is what divine power sphinxes serve; personally, I like the idea that they might have a different sort of relationship with the Progenitors than people of the present day.
  • In shifting themselves or others to another plane, I would specifically use XORIAT. We’ve established that Xoriat is the key to time travel, and I’d assert that the time travel techniques being used by the sphinxes are based in this. The sphinxes aren’t creatures OF Xoriat and have no love for the daelkyr; they are scientists who are USING Xoriat. But they can also toss you into it for kicks.
  • The lair abilities of a sphinx are tied to a form of eldritch machine. Most likely this is specifically linked to the sphinx and cannot be used or even understood by any other creature… But it’s POSSIBLE that someone who’s figured out the mystery of the sphinx and has access to their lair could find a way to hack their time machine. A second specific question is where Flamewind has her lair. If the lair is a machine, it’s not likely to be something she could build in Morgrave University. In the novel City of Towers, this is why she deals with the protagonists in the abandoned temple in Malleon’s Gate; she hangs out at Morgrave, but her LAIR is in Malleon’s.
  • The final point is that time-traveling sphinxes are manipulating events, but they don’t have the same sort of agenda as heralds of Prophecy or Archfey emissaries. They aren’t invested in the outcome in the same way as, say, the Lords of Dust or the Chamber. Ultimately, this isn’t their time and the outcome won’t actually AFFECT them; it’s more intriguing than vital. However, divine sphinxes are more likely to be driven by a divine mission, while arcane sphinxes are more likely to be scientists and researchers.

Agents of the Archfey. If Sphinxes are tied to Thelanis, they are a form of fey; it’s up to the DM to decide whether to add the fey subtype or simply to say that you don’t HAVE to be fey to be from Thelanis. Sphinxes would effectively be Greater Fey—not truly immortal, but with a loose relationship to time and reality. A few thoughts about Thelanian sphinxes…

  • The plane they can travel to is Thelanis. Their ability to manipulate time is something that they don’t use with great precision and essentially only use when it serves the story; they aren’t truly time travelers, but they can throw Rip Van Winkle ahead a century when it fits the story.
  • A sphinx will be tied to a specific archfey, and its goals and the role it plays—guarding a location, posing a riddle—are tied to the story of that archfey. A Thelanian sphinx will be bound by fey logic: if it eats anyone who fails to answer its riddle, that’s not a CHOICE, it’s what it HAS TO DO. It MUST follow its role in the story.
  • While they draw on wizard or cleric spell lists, sphinxes aren’t actually clerics or wizards; their spellcasting reflects innate fey powers rather than arcane science.

Incarnations of Prophecy. If they are incarnations of the Prophecy, sphinxes stand sideways to the conflicts of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber. They don’t seek to manipulate the Prophecy: they ARE the Prophecy. While they may not be celestials or fiends, neither are they mortal creatures: they appear when and where they are needed, and likely disappear back into the Prophecy once their purpose has been fulfilled. If you want to explain the curious behavior of Flamewind, one possibility is to say that while a Prophetic sphinx has a limited existence, during the time it does exist it is a conscious entity; that Flamewind has spent eons as a disembodied thread of the Prophecy and is enjoying this incarnate period while she waits for the purpose that has caused her to be made manifest comes to a point. Key points about Prophetic sphinxes…

  • A Prophetic sphinx has no tied to any specific plane; as such, the planes it can access are likely tied to its specific Prophetic role.
  • This likewise ties to its ability to time travel. Essentially, a Prophetic sphinx has no free will. It exists for an absolute purpose. It CAN manipulate time or transport people to the planes, but it won’t and can’t use this power unless it is necessary for the purpose it’s manifested to fulfill. If adventurers must travel to Shavarath, it will transport them to Shavarath. If they must go forward ten years, it will take them forward ten years. But it can’t just decide that it would be INTERESTING to take them forward ten years to see what happens, as a time-traveling sphinx might.
  • The spellcasting abilities of a Prophetic sphinx are an innate part of its purpose and not skills it has learned.
  • The sphinx only exists to fulfill a purpose, guiding or guarding a particular node of the Prophecy. It is quite possible that part of its purpose is to prevent the Lords of Dust, Dragons, or other forces from interfering with that Prophetic lynchpin. But it has no wider goals, and it will discorporate once its purpose is fulfilled.

Essentially, time traveling sphinxes are the most free-spirited and are essentially playing a game with their riddles and challenges, while Prophetic sphinxes are the least free-willed and most bound to an absolute agenda, with Thelanian sphinxes falling in between.

Do Time Travelers Break The Game?

The fifth edition sphinx has the ability to travel in time, and to take others with it. From a purely abstract perspective, this throws all sorts of wrenches into a campaign. If adventurers fight a sphinx, why doesn’t it just go back in time and kill their grandparents? If the daelkyr rise, why don’t the adventurers get a sphinx to take them back in time and undo everything?

First of all, that last point is an excellent argument for having that power: it IS an ultimate escape hatch. It means that you CAN put failure on the table. You CAN have have Rak Tulkhesh break its chains and drown the Five Nations in blood, and the only hope is for the adventurers to fight their way to Sharn and convince Flamewind to give them a second chance. From a narrative perspective, that option is a great thing to have. The trick is that it shouldn’t be something that trivializes every defeat… “Oh, Flamewind, I lost at cards last night. Can we redo that?” Which brings up a number of points: when they can travel in time, and when they will travel in time.

First of all: time travel is a LAIR ACTION for a sphinx. You may not meet a sphinx in its lair… and a particular sphinx might not even HAVE a lair. In Sharn, Flamewind definitely can’t call Morgrave University “her lair.” Presumably, her lair was in the Xen’drik ruins where she was first found. I’ve suggested that she might have built a NEW lair in some abandoned part of Sharn, but it’s equally plausible to say that she just doesn’t have a lair in Sharn; if she wants to help you time travel, you’ll all have to make a trip to Xen’drik (and hope nothing else has taken over her lair!). So keep in mind that when you meet a sphinx guarding a tomb, there’s no rule saying that the tomb is actually its LAIR.

Second: Even if a sphinx COULD solve all your problems with time travel, why would it? The Thelanian sphinx is there to nudge the story in a particular direction, not to completely rewrite it; as said earlier, it’s likely doesn’t have full free access to time travel, and can only actually use the power when it fits the narrative (IE: it can toss Rip Van Winkle forward a hundred years, but it can’t take you back in time to murder King Jarot). The Prophecy sphinx is even more limited, bound by unbreakable bonds of fate to only do the things it’s supposed to do, and taking you back in time isn’t an option. The wild card is the time traveling sphinx, but here’s the catch: it doesn’t care about your problems. From the perspective of the time traveler, it sees the full scope of history, filled with uncountable deaths and tragedies. From your perspective, the release of Rak Tulkhesh is a horrible tragedy that could be stopped and hundreds of thousands of people could be saved. From the time traveler’s perspective, the rise of Rak Tulkhesh and those tragic deaths are just one page in the book of all history, one filled with countless tragedies and countless deaths; what the time traveler knows is that HISTORY GOES ON, and that in three thousand years these events will only be a memory. The time traveler’s job isn’t to defeat Bel Shalor for Tira Miron; it’s to challenge Tira Miron to realize that she has the power to do it herself. Or they might even just be here to watch! The release of Rak Tulkhesh in 998 YK is a fascinating moment in history and they’re just here to watch it unfold.

The short answer I’d give is that when dealing with a time traveling sphinx, decide EXACTLY WHY IT’S HERE. If it’s a divine sphinx it may have what it believes to be a divine mission. If it’s an arcane sphinx, it may be a tourist here to observe history or it might be playing a game, seeing if it can engineer a very specific outcome. Whatever the goal, nothing else matters to it. Everyone around it is simultaneously already dead and haven’t yet been born. You may want it to solve your problems, but your problems are no more important to it than the problems of every single other tragic person in history, and if it’s not helping them it won’t help you. It’s not here to beat Rak Tulkhesh for you—it’s here to give you the clue or the challenge, and then see if you do succeed… or take notes on exactly how things play out when you fail and then go home to the dawn of time, where that failure is just an entertaining anecdote.

Of course, there’s a third even zanier option to consider, following the model of The Magicians: How do you know that sphinxes HAVEN’T been resetting the timeline? Is it in fact possible that Flamewind is in Sharn to engineer a very specific outcome—and if it somehow fails, she will take the entire city back in time and replay the entire scenario until you dummies get it right? It could be that the adventurers somehow realize that Flamewind has prevented Rak Tulkhesh from being released thirty times already—but again, she can’t solve the problem, she can only pull everyone back a year and hope that this time you’ll figure it out. Or, on a smaller scale, you could have a Groundhog Adventure where each day ends with a second Mourning and the adventurers starting over again… Once again, Flamewind is reseting Sharn each time they fail, but she can’t actually solve the problem for them, because it’s their history. But again, it’s easy enough to say that this is the single reason she’s in Sharn… and once you to get it right, she’ll return to her own time for good.

Essentially, yes, unlimited time travel would cause all sorts of problems. So limit it. Limit what they can do (no lair, no travel; no violating the laws of the Prophecy; etc) and limit what they are willing to do. Your horrific apocalypse is just one page in a very big history book, and for the time tourist it’s a cool event to observe happen, not something they need to fix.

Looking the time travelers from the past, How do they handle and reconcile the fall of their civilization? They can go back to their home at the dawn of time, but eventually that time runs out on their civilization?

Certainly. It’s something we see in various versions of Atlantis. Imagine that they know that their civilization will end in one year. The overlords are going to rise and that is absolutely, 100% inevitable: Krypton WILL explode. They don’t have the resources to project their entire civilization beyond the Age of Demons; they can only support, say, one hundred time travelers. And it may even be that they can only support them for a certain amount of time, that they will eventually be pulled back to the doomed dawn. So those one hundred time travelers are essentially stretching that final year out for as long as possible by dwelling in other times — seeing as much as they can of a future their people will never know, cataloguing the wonders of eternity and doing what they can to be a part of legend—to create stories that WILL be remembered—before they are gone.

On the other hand, if you want a more activist story, consider this: what if the reason the sphinxes are tweaking history and shaping stories is because they are creating a point in the distant future that they CAN move their civilization to? Essentially, it’s an even longer game than the Lords of Dust. Each shift—each hero tested—is shifting the number of a combination lock. At some point they will create the future they are looking for, five thousand years from now, when Sphinx Atlantis can leap forward in time and be saved. So they could, essentially, be from both the past AND the future.

If you had to place “Sphinxlantis”—the theoretical Sphinx lost civilization—anywhere in Your Eberron, where do you think it would be and why? What would it be like?

The answer is simple: It was in a place that no longer exists. This comes back to the idea that it simply isn’t possible for the sphinxes to somehow save it. The overlords ripped their way out of Khyber and they can shape reality with their power. It’s not just a matter of splitting previous continents, though I think that definitely happened. Consider the overlord Ran Iishiv, the Unmaker. It seeks to tear down reality itself, and in the Age of Demons it was free to express that desire; in my opinion, large chunks of whatever existed before were completely annihilated by Ran Iishiv, and that’s just ONE of the overlords. This comes back to the observation that there are no traces of a sphinx civilization… in my opinion, it’s one of the pieces of the world that Ran Iishiv unmade while earning that title. There may be TRACES of Sphinxlantis that have somehow survived, but I think they would be more likely to be artifacts than structures.

A second key point is that in my opinion, Sphinxlantis was just one of the civilizations that existed in the past. So what other creatures were around? For starters, dragons and titans. Dragons are said to have emerged from the blood of Siberys falling upon Eberron; they were there at the start. You could use this to play with some of the “First World” ideas, if you want. However, in my opinion “modern” dragon civilization has absolutely nothing in common with the Sphinxlantis-era dragons—whatever civilization existed at the dawn of time were completely annihilated by the Age of Demons. Rak Tulkhesh and Tol Kharash set existing civilizations against one another in brutal wars, while Eldrantulku and Bel Shalor tore them apart from within. The Wild Heart and the Heart of Winter devastated civilizations with the horrifying potential of nature, while Ran Iishiv simply annihilated them. And dragons themselves would be subsumed by the Daughter of Khyber. Again, these are just a few of the overlords and they dominated the world for millions of years… it’s no surprise that little remains. With that said… who else could have existed? Frankly, anyone. Dragons and titans are sure things. But given the role of the Ghaash’kala, it’s quite possible that orcs existed at the dawn of time and survived through the Age of Demons. I’ve joked about the people of the Five Nations attributing Dhakaani ruins to some lost human civilization… but if it suits the story you want to tell, you could say that there was a human civilization in Sphinxlantis, something far more advanced than the present day. A truly odd idea is that the sphinxes were products of a primordial human civilization. Rather than saying that in the past you had sphinx families sitting around a table together at Sphinxsgiving, it could be that the sphinxes were created by the people of Sphinxlantis AS time travelers—that the reason their eldritch machines can’t be used by others is because the sphinxes themselves essentially ARE eldritch machines. You can explore this idea whether or not you use humans as their creators.

Another thing I’d consider: If the myths are accurate, Sphinxlantis predates both the Sovereign Host and the Silver Flame. Earlier I suggest that the divine spellcasting sphinxes may engage more directly with the Progenitors. This ties to something I suggested in my Siberspace campaign—that LILENDS are children of Siberys. There’s some broad similarities between lilends and sphinxes, both blending humanoid and animal features. It could be that the shape of the sphinx is a reflection of a connection to Siberys (though they ARE mortal, not celestial)… or it could be that the people of Sphinxlantis created the sphinxes in partial emulation of lilends and other celestials. In any case, because Sphinxlantis predates the Silver Flame, they would have had more interaction with individual native celestials—couatls, lilends, and more.

Why Does This Matter?

A key question in deciding why this matters depends on the motivation of the sphinxes. Do the sphinxes have a mission? Are they paving the way for a new Sphinxlantis to be born in the distant future? Are they playing a cosmic chonological game with one another? Is there actually a secret war being waged between the divine spellcasting sphinxes and the arcane spellcasting sphinxes? Or are they ultimately just tourists, stretching out the final days of their civilization by living out their lives in other times and watching the world that takes their place?

Aside from the sphinxes themselves, one reason this matters is because it is an excellent source of artifacts. Part of the whole point of time traveling sphinxes is that they are more advanced than any modern civilization, including Argonnessen. The certainly had a closer relationship with the native celestials, and may have had a closer relationship with the Progenitors themselves. And any object that has survived from the dawn of time would HAVE to be powerful and virtually indestructible. So this is an excellent origin point for artifacts that are incredibly powerful but have no connection to any known civilization—artifacts that could do ANYTHING.

Typing this, another thought occurs to me. I’ve said that the sphinxes could have had a different relationship with the Progenitors. That could include Khyber. If I wanted to explore a story that deals with the Progenitors as actual, concrete entities I might consider the idea that Sphinx civilization is older than the world itself—that rather than being created BY the Progenitors, the sphinxes could have come to this reality WITH the Progenitors. In this concept, they aren’t celestials because they’re older than the celestials. Though again, this is as a civilization—any individual sphinx is mortal, so it’s not like Flamewind is older that Eberron, but her people were. This could be one reason that they aren’t fighting the destruction of Sphinxlantis… because some among them honor Khyber and believe that Khyber deserved an opportunity to express their vision on reality, at least for a time.

Again, it’s important to me to say that we don’t know if the Progenitors were real or if the creation myth is just a metaphor. But part of the point is that if it is a metaphor, it may be a metaphor in which the reality we know was created not by cosmic dragons but by three immensely powerful mortal individuals—potentially, members of the same civilization as the Sphinxes. I say this in the same way I suggest multiple possible causes for the Mourning: because the answer depends on the story you want to tell. If sphinxes are survivors of the first civilization, THEY may know the true nature of the Progenitors… and may have been their servants, creations, or peers.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

What about Zenobaal?

Dragons of Eberron presents the idea of Zenobaal, a rogue dragon who refers to itself as “The Prophecy Incarnate”. One aspect of Zenobaal is that he has an alliance with a gynosphinx named Maris-Kossja, and that they have a brood of half-dragon gynosphinx offspring. How does that fit with this idea?

There’s a few factors: first and foremost, this article is based on the fifth edition interpretation of sphinxes, which positions them as being more rare and unique — as opposed to the default 3.5 approach, by which sphinxes are just part of the world. This article notably doesn’t address hieracosphinxes, for example. The second point is that I didn’t create Maris-Kossja or Zenobaal, and this article is based on how *I* use sphinxes — which is more reflected by Flamewind. With that said, I have no issues with Zenobaal, and I think it can work in this interpretation. The simplest approach is to use the time travel idea, because under that concept sphinxes ARE mortal and could have offspring; Maris-Kossja has come from the past or future, is fascinated with Zenobaal, and has chosen to produce offspring with him… creating that rare time when you could encounter multiple sphinxes. That’s pretty straightforward. The more exotic option is to go with the Prophetic Sphinx and say that this is evidence of Zenobaal’s deep ties to the Prophecy. Zenobaal is so bound to the Prophecy that it has literally manifested a mate for him—and that his half-dragon offspring are flesh-and-blood manifestations of the Prophecy.

In general, however, this article is based on the 5E interpretation of sphinxes and will not necessarily apply to all 3.5 uses of sphinxes. You’ll have to decide how to address other contradictions. If you go with time travel sphinxes, and interesting option is to say that criosphinxes and hieracosphinxes are MODERN sphinxes — that they are either the primitive ancestors of or devolved descendants of the time traveling sphinxes.

The Inscrutable trait prevents anyone from reading the thoughts of a sphinx. Can a sphinx choose to lower this defense and allow an adventurer to detect its thoughts?

With questions like this, my first response is what’s going to make a more interesting story? As I say above, to me the inscrutability and the mystery of the sphinx are part of what make encounters with them so compelling. Consider the exchange between Daine and Flamewind at the start of this article: which answer will you believe? I like the fact that even if a sphinx wants to help a group of adventurers, it HAS to remain cryptic and enigmatic; they will never be able to know for certain whether it’s telling the truth and what it might be hiding from them. The concrete reasons for this would vary based on the story of the sphinx. If sphinxes are manifestations of the Prophecy, it’s reasonable to think that their thoughts are so complex and immense that no mortal mind can grasp them. If they are time travelers, it could be that their perspective is simply too alien to be understood, or it could be that anyone peering into their minds is caught up in a labyrinth of possible pasts and futures. It could be interesting to run an adventure in the mind of a sphinx, with the adventurers trying to find their way out. By the 5E rules as written, a sphinx CAN allow other forms of divination to affect it—so it can allow you to scry or locate it, if it chooses—but it is simply impossible to discern the thoughts or emotions of a sphinx, and I’d continue that.

The latest news from WotC suggests that Sphinxes will be Celestials…

Any sort of new edition will always shake things up, and the lore will have to adjust to it. Consider that this article presents three different interpretations of sphinxes, and that Professor Ennis’s argument against the Prophecy sphinx is that they ought to be celestials. So the whole point is that IN EBERRON ITSELF, next year you can expect to see the a Korranberg scholar publish a paper rebutting Ennis’s work by saying The latest research suggests that sphinxes ARE celestials. The Prophecy Sphinx SHOULD be celestial, just as the Fey Sphinx should be fey; it’s the time traveling sphinxes that make the most sense as monstrosities. So all of the ideas here remain valid; it’s up to a DM to decide if they want to pick the one that makes the most sense with the current mechanics, or if they want to actually keep ALL of them and just say that “sphinx” is being used as a name for three completely different forms of creature because it’s hard for a casual observer to tell the difference. Just like how in The Queen of Stone, Thorn deals with a creature she calls a maniticore, but it’s definitely not the standard monstrosity manticore from the Monster Manual…

Thanks for taking this journey into the past with me, and thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible! The artwork that accompanies this article is an image of the medusa Essra, by the artist Matthew Johnson. Essra is one of the characters in the new Eberron campaign I’m running for my patrons, the first episode of which happens this weekend. If you want to watch the games I’ve run or play in a session yourself, check out my Patreon!

IFAQ: Troll Origins

The Chib is a chill troll in Graywall. Art by Matthew Johnson.

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

What do you see as the origin of trolls in Eberron? They are so different from other giants, they almost seem like aberrations to me – maybe some Daelkyr or other experimented with ogres?

In my Eberron, there has never been a nation of trolls; they have always been found in wild places on the edges of civilization, but never amassed in great numbers or forged a kingdom. A common folk belief is that they are the children of hags; whether or not they are directly related, trolls are often found in the vicinity of story hags. The dominant theory among Korranberg scholars is that trolls began as native fey—that the first trolls were the literal embodiment of the monster under the bridge and the predator in the shadows. This explains both their remarkable healing ability and the fact that in spite of this incredible gift, they haven’t spread to dominate the region or the world. They aren’t entirely real and don’t follow the same basic logic as natural creatures. Their fertility rate fluctuates so that there’s always just enough of them to maintain their role in the story. This also supports a difference between trolls and ogres. Both are large and powerful, but ogres are more human in their behavior and aspirations. Much like the supporting cast of Thelanis, trolls are often patient and content to play out their role in a tale; the point being that a troll might be content to sit beneath a bridge for a century, while an ogre would get bored after a day or two. The fly in the ointment is that trolls aren’t fey. The Korranberg assertion is that trolls began as native fey but that those who left Thelanian manifest zones slowly became more real, as has been seen to occur with eladrin. With this in mind, trolls encountered in Thelanian manifest zones—or in Thelanis itself—may be fey instead of giants.

The region of the Barrens that is now the domain of the Prince of Bones was never a nation in the same way as the Cazhaak Draal or the Venomous Demesne. It’s a region of ruins, haunted and dominated by trolls, lesser hags, and roaming monstrosities. The Prince of Bones is the largest and oldest troll—a legend who blends elements of traditional troll and annis hag. With the guidance of the Daughters of Sora Kell, the Prince of Bones is working to change the story of his domain, and towns are rising among the ruins. But the ruins remain, and there are still monsters that prefer lurking in the shadows to living in the light; it’s still one of the wildest and deadliest regions of Droaam.

So throughout the history of Khorvaire, trolls have played the role of monster, rarely seen in large numbers and rarely organized. This has changed with the rise of the Droaam and the appearance of war trolls. These are the backbone of Maenya’s Fist: an army of disciplined troll soldiers, well equipped and skilled in the use of weapons. There’s no precedent for such a force in history, and no one knows exactly how Sora Maenya assembled this army or how long it took. One theory is that Sora Maenya has a massive fortress deep in the roots of the Byeshk Mountains, where she has been building her army for centuries; according this theory, most of the war trolls are her children or her descendants. Others assert that Sora Maenya essentially worked epic magic to craft a story… that in the same way the first trolls may have embodied the idea of the monster beneath the bridge, that Sora Maenya wove a tale of the Legion of Monsters. So even more so than the domain of the Prince of Bones, if there is a true city of trolls to be found, it is Maenya’s Keep below the Byeshk.

While the idea that the first trolls were native fey is the most popular academic theory, there is a second idea proposed by scholars at Morgrave University. They believe that goblins, bugbears, and hobgoblins are magebred species—that some ancient civilization bioengineered the Dar subspecies to fill specific roles in society. This theory suggests that trolls were products of these same magebreeders—but that they proved wild and uncontrollable, and weren’t integrated into dar civilization. The question remains who these magebreeders were. Most proponents of this idea suggest that dragons were responsible, as it’s known that there was a Draconic civilization on Khorvaire that completely collapsed and disappeared. Others believe that it was a humanoid species—the protodar—who were either exterminated by their creations or who potentially destroyed themselves through civil war, leaving their dar soldiers behind. A final theory combines both of the above, suggesting that the trolls were engineered by the creators of the dar, but that they were then influenced by Thelanis, which is what made them uncontrollable.

Whether their roots are as fey or as living weapons, trolls are long lived and durable, but have a very low rate of reproduction; they have never been as populous as ogres, let alone the dar. Their role in Droaam—both with the war trolls of Maenya’s Fist and the domain of the Prince of Bones—represents a new shift in the role of trolls within Khorvaire.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support! If you have your own questions, you can ask them on Patreon.

IFAQ: Goliaths in Eberron

The Chib is a troll from my upcoming Droaam campaign, but he IS a big guy. Art by Matthew Johnson.

When time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

Now that Goliaths are coming to the PHB with their different forms based on their giant ancestry, do you have any thoughts on how they could be included more commonly than the few paragraphs afforded in Chronicles?

Good question. When the Fourth Edition of D&D added Dragonborn and Eladrin to the Player’s Handbook, we found ways to give each of those species roles in the setting that could easily support player characters—while at the same time, not making dramatic changes that would feel jarring to people in long-term Eberron campaigns, such as saying the people of Thrane are all dragonborn. With this in mind we placed a Dragonborn culture in Q’barra, with the idea that the human colonists hadn’t fully differentiated between the Trothlorsvek dragonborn and the Lizardfolk Cold Sun Federation—we’d always said there’d been reptilian humanoids in Q’barra, it just turns out there was a greater variety than people knew about.

In previous sources I’d suggested that Goliath mechanics could be used the represent the Eneko of Sarlona, an offshoot ogre species largely found in the Syrkarn region. This idea—reskinning Goliaths as an existing species—is still an option. Goliaths with fire giant ancestry could be used as Eneko. Goliaths with hill giant ancestry could be reskinned as ogres from Droaam. Cloud giant goliaths could be recast as Oni. That could work. But with them as a core species in the new PHB, it feels weak to me; it’s valid for people to want a place for Goliaths, something more than just “They’re actually ogres.”

Thinking it over, I’ve come up with not one, not two, but FOUR possible options that could work—each with a very different footprint within the setting and a very different set of roles for player characters. The question is how big a role you want goliaths to play and whether you want them to have a dramatic, active story or if you just want a safe space where they can come from. So, here’s a few ideas to consider.

HOUSE VADALIS: PROJECT GOLIATH

During the final decade of the Last War, the Feral Heart of House Vadalis set up a secret facility in Xen’drik. Far from the eyes of the Five Nations, dragonmarked magebreeders used the abhorrent techniques of the Seryan line to imbue human test subjects with the essence of dead giants. These experiments were agonizing and deadly. The test subjects were criminals, deserters, and others smuggled from Khorvaire. Dozens were slain in the initial trials, but over time the research bore fruit, creating few dozen people each carrying a fraction of a giant’s might. It was then that Project Goliath came under attack. The survivors don’t know who was responsible. Was it Sulatar Drow? The Battalion of the Basalt Towers? The Guardians of Rusheme? Whoever was responsible, the disruption allowed the goliaths to break free from their captivity, destroy the facility from within, and escape.

This idea is what I call a small batch approach. The point would be that there’s only around 24 goliaths in the world, and that if you’re a goliath, you know all the others; you were all tormented in that secret Vadalis facility, and all escaped together. You don’t have a large footprint in the world and most people who meet you will have no idea what you are or what you can do. A few key elements of the story…

  • Project Goliath was a rogue operation run by the Feral Heart. So House Vadalis as a whole isn’t hunting you down. But member of the Feral Heart may have survived the destruction of the facility. Will you investigate and try to track down any survivors? Or wait and see if they rebuild and come after you?
  • How did the Feral Heart capture you? Did they kidnap you directly? Or were you betrayed by someone else? Were you a soldier whose corrupt commander claimed you were a casualty of war before shipping you to Vadalis? A criminal betrayed by your employer? The key point being, are you just happy to be alive, or are you looking for some payback?
  • What’s your relationship with the other goliaths? Are you allies trying to help one another and fighting against common enemies? Or… are some of the other goliaths terrible people the world was better off without? Do you feel an obligation to track down these other goliaths before they can wreak havoc in the Five Nations?
  • What’s your relationship with the giant who’s essence you carry? Are they fully dead and gone? Are you haunted by their spirit? Or do you perhaps have flashes of their memories, glimpses of artifacts and secrets in Xen’drik that could change the world? And if so, are the other goliaths allies who could work with you to uncover these secrets—or do you need to make sure that no one finds the artifacts you see in your giant-touched dreams?

The point of Project Goliath is that it is a clear and easy path for goliath ADVENTURERS, but it doesn’t actually create a goliath CULTURE. Instead it ties the goliaths directly to the giants of Xen’drik, with that idea that adventurers (and possibly, villainous rivals) going follow dreams and memories to uncover deadly secrets in Xen’drik.

LORGHALEN: ELEMENTAL GOLIATHS

Chronicles of Eberron explores the island of Lorghalen, one of the southern isles of the Lhazaar Principality. The island of Lorghalen and the waters around it are a nexus for powerful elemental energies. As depicted in Chronicles, Lorghalen is home to a gnome culture; but the gnomes are depicted as working closely with native elementals. But a generation after the gnomes settled on Lorghalen, the first goliaths appeared—born fully formed in Lorghalen groves, but with the minds of children. The Lorghalen sages believe that it’s the elemental forces of Lorghalen instinctively responding to the presence of the humanoid settlers—creating these giants to work with the tiny newcomers and to protect them. As such goliaths have always been celebrated in Lorghalen; a newborn Goliath is adopted into a gnome family as a “big brother.”

Lorghalen goliaths feel a deep connection to the natural world. The older they grow the stronger this becomes, and as they grow older they begin to grow in size and elemental power. These Elders have the statistics of giants, but have the Elemental creature type rather than Giant. They are tied to the elemental energies of Lorghalen and rarely leave the island; they dwell in its strongest manifest zones, mediating on the flow of energies and advising Lorghalen stonespeakers.

Lorghalen goliaths are a half-step further than Project Goliath. They have a small footprint in the world and their culture is intertwined with the Lorghalen gnomes. Part of what’s interesting about the Lorghalen goliaths is to play up their elemental connection—they aren’t tied to giants, they’re tied to EBERRON and to the forces of nature. The idea that they are essentially immortal—seeds that will grow into giant elders—can also be a fun thing to explore. As a goliath adventurer, this is your time to see the world before you settled down and become an elder bound to a place of power. You might be a seed cast on the wind looking for a new elemental stronghold out in the world—you could be very interested in meeting druids or other primal cultures. However, this idea of an elemental culture closely tied to gnomes may not be what people want from goliaths. So…

LHAZAAR: THE STONEHEART PRINCIPALITY

Long before humanity came to Khorvaire, a massive airship crashed on the eastern coastline. The ship was built by giants—a unique vessel designed to explore the world beyond the land of Xen’drik. The ship fell because it entered a powerful Lamannian manifest zone, releasing bound elementals and causing the ship to plummet into what is now known as the Forsaken Forest. The wood possesses the Primordial Matter trait of Lamannia, and its vegetation is strong and vibrant—and refuses to be conquered by civilization. The survivors of the crash built a settlement in the woods, but despite their valiant struggles the forces of nature overcame the giant pioneers. Ruins are scattered around the ancient ship, overgrown and worn down. Planar scholars might note the resemblance to the layer called Titan’s Folly in Lamannia—another place where giants fought the power of Lamannia and lost. But this expedition left a lasting mark on the region: Goliaths. When Lhazaar landed in the region that bears her name, she found being already dwelling on the mainland—orc, dwarves, and the mighty goliaths that lived on the edge of the Forsaken Forest. Lhazaar and her peers were ruthless and determined to carve out a home in this new land, and in the days ahead they would slaughter and oppress goblins and other denizens of Khorvaire. But the Goliaths of Skairn were too strong and too well entrenched to be easily conquered. The newcomers established treaties with the giantfolk, establishing what is now known as the Stoneheart Principality. The Stoneheart capital of Skairn plays an important role in the Principalities. The goliaths have little interest in seafaring and take to the water only to fish; but the Lamannian-touched lumber they harvest from the Forsaken Forest is some of the finest available in the region, and traders come from across the Principalities to purchase lumber for their shipwrights. The Stoneheart don’t have a fleet on the water, and Skairn remains neutral in the feuds of the Sea Princes; it is a friendly port for all.

The Stoneheart Goliaths are proud of their ancient ties to the land. They believe they are descended from the ancient giants that fell in the forest, and that they have ties to the region older even than those of the dwarves. Mechanically, there is one important element. Goliaths are born with the Powerful Build trait—they are large and powerful. But upon reaching adolescence, they make a pilgrimage into the Forsaken Forest, traveling to the ancient shipwreck and touching an artifact within it: a massive stone charged with mystical energy, which they call The Stone Heart. Touching the stone sends a surge of mystical energy through the young goliath, triggering their Giant Ancestry trait (and providing access to Large Form, though not all goliaths manifest this power). one aspect of this is that the Giant Ancestry trait isn’t directly hereditary; the child of two goliaths with fire giant ancestry could manifest Stone’s Endurance or Storm’s Thunder. There are also goliaths in other principalities—notably, the Cloudreavers—who don’t possess Giant Ancestry, as they have never been to the Stone Heart to activate this latent power.

The Stoneheart Principality is prosperous, buoyed by the lumber trade and the strength of its people. Stoneheart goliaths have never sent a fleet onto the water, but they have often served as mercenaries for other princes. A small number of elite Stoneheart mercenaries sell their services through House Deneith, and the princes of Karrnath have traditionally had a goliath bodyguard. As such, while goliaths are rarely seen in the Five Nations, they are recognized and renowned for their strength, endurance, and commitment to a task. During the Last War, Deneith brokered the services of an elite company of goliaths known as the Stone Hammer. Throughout most of the war they served Karrnath; but toward the end of the war Cyre lured them away. Because of this, most members of the Stone Hammer died in the Mourning. Many of the survivors have chosen to remain with communities of Cyran refugees, holding to their last contract to protect Cyre. The former captain of the Stone Hammer, Skuldaran, now protects Prince Oargev in New Cyre.

The point of the Stoneheart Principality is to give the goliaths of Khorvaire a unique culture, role in history, and tie to the giants of Xen’drik without having such an overwhelming presence that it feels strange not to have encountered them before. People across the Five Nations have heard of goliaths due to royal bodyguards and the tone Hammer, but they are still quite rare outside the Lhazaar Principalities. Within the Principalities they have an important role, but they are a mainland force that has no strong ties to piracy. They were there before Lhazaar, and they are the people of wood and the stones of the coast. They have no interest in sailing on the water, but it is their lumber that makes it possible. And this is also a way to add flavor to the canonically undeveloped port of Skairn and the Forsaken Forest. What is the Stone Heart, and what other secrets could be hidden in the ancient ruins around it?

THE GOLATHARI: THE TITAN’S BLADE

In the last days of Xen’drik, the immortal titan Golath foresaw the plans of the dragons and led a small force into a Khyber demiplane. Golath was a target of interest, and he sealed the gate to the plane behind him so that the dragons would find no trace of him and believe him dead. Golath and his kin conquered the native denizens of the demiplane, and over the course of tens of thousands of years they built a mighty empire. Now they have returned… and they want vengeance.

The idea of the Golathari is to take many of the traditional tropes of the Githyanki and recast them onto Goliaths. They are a brutal, powerful extraplanar raider culture ruled by a godlike immortal tyrant. Goliaths are descended from the giants who accompanied the titan Golath and the humanoid natives of the demiplane; over the course of tens of thousands of years they have become a unique species. Unlike what I’ve suggested for the goliaths of the Stoneheart Principality, the Giant Ancestry of the Golathari goliaths would be hereditary, and furthermore, this is where I’d use the Ordning.The giants of ancient Xen’drik didn’t have this tradition, but it is something established by Golath and maintain among his goliaths as well as the actual giants of his demiplane; goliaths with hill giant ancestry are expected to show respect to those further up the Ordning.

The idea of the Golathari is that they are a brutal martial culture that has held onto and built upon some of the mystical traditions of Xen’drik, as well as working with unique materials and energies found in their demiplane. For millennia, Golath has been plotting a way to take revenge against Argonnessen, and he is finally putting that plan into action. He has found a way to open portals from his demiplane into Eberron, but it is currently impossible for anyone to enter the demiplane against his wishes. He has developed weapons uniquely suited to fighting dragons. Dragonbane weapons are an easy option, but this could also be the source of Orbs of Dragonkind. I could also imagine him having developed artifacts that can temporarily strip a dragon of its inherent arcane abilities. If you wanted to borrow a further twist from the traditional Githyanki story, Golath could have forged a dangerous alliance with the Daughter of Khyber—who is content for Golath to slay and enslave dragons and break the current civilization of Argonnessen knowing that when she herself is freed her children will destroy the last titan. But for now Golath’s weapons—like Orbs of Dragonkind—could be empowered by the overlord, and he could Spawn of Tiamat fighting alongside his goliaths.

If I used this story, I would make the Golathari Incursion something that’s unfolding RIGHT NOW. Across the world, Golathari raiders are striking Chamber operations and assassinating rogue dragons. They may be gathering parts for a devastating weapon that could strip the arcane power of all the dragons of Argonnessen. The Golathari goliaths believe in their righteous cause and are utterly devoted to their immortal tyrant; again, this is a space where you could borrow the relationship between the Githyanki and Vlaakith in other settings. And with that in mind, that’s a key element for Golathari goliath adventurers: are you a loyal servant of the Titan King on an important mission requiring you to work with these tiny denizens of this backwater world? Or are you a rebel and a renegade, someone who knows that Golath consumes the essence of those goliaths who become too powerful, and who sees him for the tyrant he is?

EVERYDAY GOLIATHS

The four ideas presented above are all designed to give goliaths a STORY within the world—whether it’s a very recent story like Project Goliath, or if they’ve been around for a while, like the Stoneheart Principality. However, you don’t HAVE to give goliaths a deep story. And even if you DO use the Stoneheart Principality, you can make a goliath who’s just descended from a family of goliaths that immigrated to Karrnath centuries ago and think of themselves as Karrns. Just as Brelish dwarves and elves are BRELISH rather than having ties to the Mror or Aereni cultures, if you just want to play a goliath from Sharn who works for the Boromars and doesn’t CARE where he came from, that’s fine. Likewise, I said above that I wouldn’t turn the entire population of Thrane into dragonborn… but I have no problem with the idea that there may be dragonborn living in Thrane. Someone raised the idea that it would be cool to have a community of wyvernborn living in Thrane, and I love that; I just wouldn’t completely change the established culture and history of Thrane in adding them. But as long as player and DM are on the same page, you don’t have to use a story that’s as exotic as any of these options to add a new ancestry to your campaign.

IN CONCLUSION…

While these ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, I personally would choose one of them for my campaign. Project Goliath is the least intrusive, as only a handful exist. The Lorghalen goliaths have a very small footprint; they have a place to call home, but haven’t made much impact. The Stoneheart Principality is a way to give goliaths a clear and unique culture while still interweaving them with the existing story of the Lhazaar Principalities. And the Golathari are both an active and entirely new threat, rising up from Khyber with an aggressive agenda. And if they CAN actually strip Argonnessen of its power, what will that do to the balance of power in the world? Who will stand against the Lords of Dust?

Feel free to discuss these ideas in the comments, but I am unlikely to have time to answer questions here. If you do want to ask me questions — like the one that inspired this article! — check out my Patreon.

Dragonmarks: Sora Teraza and the Demon Wastes

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like this…

Did/does Sora Teraza have a carrion tribe dedicated to her?

When the Daughters of Sora Kell revealed themselves as the rulers of the newfound nation of Droaam, the people of western Khorvaire were shocked and terrified. The Daughters of Sora Kell were figures from folk tales, from the stories parents used to frighten troublesome children or inspire young heroes. Everyone knew stories of the ravenous, unstoppable Sora Maenya; the cunning Sora Katra; and the… wait? There’s three of them? Who’s the third one? Sora Teraza was largely only known to scholars who studied the Demon Wastes. Confirmed accounts of her came from records recovered from Greenholt and Kymar’s Folly, and there were apocryphal accounts from other explorers and would-be pioneers—a mysterious blind woman, oddly at ease in the deadly surroundings, who greeted the protagonists of the story by name. Sometimes she predicted doom—When the sun rises in seven days, there will be no one living in Newholt. In other tales, she presents travelers with difficult choices—Fortune favors you, ir’Dayne. If you hold to your course, you will find the orb you seek in the ruins of the shattered tower. But you should know: your daughter is dying. A subtle Khyberian infection festering in her blood. None have noticed the signs, and unless it is treated with Aram’s crown she will be dead in three days. Turn back this moment, and you will reach the Sivis station in time to send a message. But if you turn back now… you will never see this tower again. But there are only a few of these stories, buried in library vaults or ir’Dayne’s personal journals. So one might wonder… how is it that Teraza stands proudly alongside her sisters? The answer is that she is just as legendary as they are. She is featured in just as many stories as Sora Maenya. She has been spoken of in whispers for centuries… but not in the Five Nations. Sora Teraza is a legend, but she’s a legend in the Demon Wastes… a tale of the Carrion Tribes.

Who are the Carrion Tribes?

The Carrion Tribes are the primary denizens of the Demon Wastes. The people of the Five Nations know little about them, and the common vision of the Carrion echoes this description from the Eberron Campaign Setting:

Descended from Sarlonan refugees stranded in the Wastes more than a millennium and a half ago, the Carrion Tribes consist of vicious humans who worship the malevolent spirits that haunt the Wastes. Over the centuries a handful of different tribes have emerged, each following a different fiendish overlord. No matter which fiend they pledge allegiance to, the Carrions are bloodthirsty nomads known to slaughter any strangers they come across—including members of other Carrion Tribes.

Reading this, people might wonder: Why would anyone choose to live in the Demon Wastes? Why would anyone willingly choose to revere a fiend? Don’t they know the overlords are evil? In my opinion, that ECS quote reflects the common vision of the tribes—but the truth is more complex. The Demon Wastes is a glimpse of what the world was like during the Age of Demons. It is a place where multiple overlords touch the world, more strongly than anywhere else. And what most delights the overlords? Tormenting mortals. Rak Tulkhesh yearns for mortal bloodshed. Ashurak delights in slow suffering and disease. Katashka wants the living to fear the dead. Over the course of history, there have been Carrion Tribes of many species. The first Ghaash’kala fought corrupted orcs and gnolls in the Wastes. There have been dwarves, shifters, goblins, and even halfling tribes over the course of millennia. How do they get there? The obvious way is shipwrecks. The influence of the Wastes extends into the waters off the coast, and vessels that travel too close can be caught in unnatural currents or storms. The largest single migration in recent history is the event called out in the ECS—a wave of refugee ships from Ohr Kaluun fleeing the Sundering, pursued by war galleys from Nulakhesh—all of which were dashed against the reefs and rocks of the Wastes. This brought thousands of humans to the Wastes, but it wasn’t the only time this happened. When Lhazaar settled on eastern Khorvaire, there were explorers who came to the other side, only to be lost in the Wastes. And throughout the history of Galifar there have been merchants and soldiers blown off course, and explorers and treasure hunters reaching too close to the fire. Because an effect of this is that the coastline of the Wastes is studded with shipwrecks. Treasures from Ohr Kaluun were carried away from the Sundering only to be lost in the sea. Merchant vessels with rich cargoes have fallen beyond the Wastes. There’s wonders to be found—but most of those who have sought these wonders have fallen prey to the dangers of the Wastes themselves.

Shipwrecks are one way to reach the Wastes, but not the only way. Most demiplanes breach the world in more than one location. Throughout the course of history, mortals have been lured into demiplanes and ended up in the Demon Wastes. Sometimes this is random chance, the fate of unlucky explorers. But there have been a number of larger migrations organized by the Lords of Dust, either tricking people into joining large expeditions or in some cases forcing them through. The overlords love their toys, and when the population falls too low, something has to be done.

The point is that the Carrion Tribes aren’t an ancient civilization and they aren’t a unified culture. They are victims struggling to survive in an extremely hostile environment. They rise and fall. The tribes named in canon lore are current Carrion Tribes. The Moon Reavers are one of the oldest surviving tribes, but the current incarnation of the Plaguebearers have been around for less than a century; Ashurak has had a number of vassal tribes throughout history, but all have eventually been destroyed. Even the term Carrion Tribe isn’t a name the tribes themselves use; it’s a term coined by the Ghaash’kala, reflecting the fact that in their view of things, the corrupted tribesfolk are already dead and it’s a mercy to kill them; they are walking carrion. Since most knowledge of the Demon Wastes has come from interaction with the Ghaash’kala, scholars have adopted the term. But the Moon Reavers feel no kinship with the Plaguebearers; they are bitter and deadly rivals.

This explains how the ancestors of the Carrion Tribes found themselves in the Demon Wastes. But why do the tribes revere fiends? It’s important to understand that the Demon Wastes are a deeply unnatural environment. The common image of the Wastes is “A plain of blackened sand and volcanic glassRivers of lava, bubbling pits of noxious stew, and barren wasteland.” And that is the common and most pleasant form of the Wastes. But that’s just a foundation upon which countless horrors are laid. Part of this is that the Wastes are full of fiends. Some of these are fully sentient, free-roaming fiends that have stat blocks in the Monster Manual. But others are minor entities who have no independent physical form, and instead inhabit aspects of the land. There are fiend that manifests as a swarm of stinging insects, a fiend that inhabits plants and possesses anyone who eats them, a fiend that dwells in pools of water and tears anyone who drinks the water apart from within. Where Katashka has influence, fiends will possess the corpse of any creature that dies. It’s not just that the Wastes are alien and extremely dangerous, it’s that they are fundamentally evil. This is a land that wants to see you suffer. But this isn’t purely random. Entrances to demiplanes are scattered around the Demon Wastes. Many of these are heart demiplanes of overlords. In the Age of Demons, each overlord dominated a particular region of the world, and the largest entrances of their heart planes are found in those regions. But many have back doors in the Demon Wastes, and these in turn project a smaller radius of influence within the Wastes. The overlords are bound and can’t emerge into the Wastes, but their influence still shapes a region, and the lesser fiends reflect their overlord. Thus, within Katashka’s sphere of influence undead are plentiful and corpses will rise. The Wild Heart’s domain is filled with vicious gnolls and supernatural beasts. The hamlet of Festering Holt is within the domain of Eldrantulku, because the vestige of civilization is better for the intrigues and betrayals that delight the Oathbreaker; but the region is filled with venomous creatures and poisonous flora, and the wind whispers secrets that will turn travelers against one another. Festering Holt is a neutral ground, spared from direct attack by other tribes; but all outsiders know that staying too long in Festering Holt is a subtle death sentence.

So the key to understanding the Carrion Tribes is that their motivation is survival. They are born into a hostile world shaped by supernatural forces and it’s the only reality they know. People ask why do they revere fiends? Don’t they know the overlords are evil? As a member of a Carrion Tribe, you’ve never known anything that’s NOT evil. The Carrion Tribes don’t choose their patron fiends because they like the idea of them; they believe that placating their overlord is the only thing that will allow them to survive—protecting them not only from the deadly environment and fiend-influenced wildlife, but also from the other Carrion Tribes. Not to mention the Ghaash’kala. WE see the Ghaash’kala as heroic champions of the Silver Flame; to the Carrion Tribes, they are terrifying monsters. This is exacerbated by the fact that most of the Carrion Tribes are illiterate and history is only preserved in living memory. They don’t choose between a peaceful existence and fiend-worshipping war; they are born into a world in which their fiendish patrons are the only thing that stand between life, death, and all of the other fiends in the Wastes. They stake their claim in a particular region of the Wastes and make their peace with the powers that dwell there, and then use that alliance to fight against the countless horrors that surround them. They can’t leave; the Ghaash’kala will kill anyone who approaches the Labyrinth. All they know is endless war. And it is in this war that Sora Teraza is a legend. Sora Teraza plays the same role in the Demon Wastes that Gandalf does in Middle Earth. She is a wanderer and wizard, a source of wisdom who offers a glimpse of the future. She has helped to rebuild tribes that were almost destroyed and to negotiate temporary truces. She has broken curses and slain monsters. And she has been a harbinger of doom, for she takes no side for long. So Sora Teraza has no single Carrion Tribe; when she is in the Wastes, she wanders, and every tribe gives welcome to the Dusk Walker.

So could I play a character from the Demon Wastes?

Absolutely. Outlander or Haunted One are both reasonable backgrounds for a character from the Wastes. In playing a Carrion survivor, there’s a few things to consider…

  • How did you escape from the Wastes? Did you evade the Ghaash’kala? Did you escape through a demiplane? Did one of the Lords of Dust help you to escape? Or perhaps… Sora Teraza?
  • Are you still loyal to your fiendish patron? Do you believe that the members of your tribe are blessed? Are you proud of your patron’s gifts (which could be warlock or sorcerer abilities, barbarian rage, etc)? Are you pursuing some agenda on behalf of your patron? Or…
  • Do you recognize that your “patron” was your jailor and tormentor? Have you become a demon hunter? Do you want to find a way to rescue other members of your tribe from the Wastes?
  • Consider that you have lived your life in a deadly supernatural world literally filled with demons. The reality of life elsewhere in Khorvaire will likely be bizarre to you. The people are soft and trusting, with no fear of fiends in the water or in the food they eat, not expecting their neighbors to murder them. Are you delighted by the peaceful wonders of the world, or are you deeply suspicious and always waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Another character option is someone who was stranded in the Wastes for an extended period of time—perhaps as a child—only to eventually be rescued. In this case you have memories on both sides of the Labyrinth.

Can demiplanes be used to escape the Wastes? If they came through demiplanes, why don’t the Carrion Tribes leave through them?

The Ghaash’kala raid demiplanes for supplies, and this may make demiplanes sound like a fun adventure. But as a general rule, demiplanes are even deadlier than the Wastes. The Ghaash’kala are elite, disciplined soldiers who possess forged armor and weapons, divine magic, and couatl relics. They have detailed maps and records of each of the demiplanes they deal with, and act with speed and surgical precision. By contrast, the Carrion Tribes don’t have the equipment, knowledge, or discipline of the Ghaash’kala, and their conventional wisdom is avoid the deadly lands below. They came through the demiplanes, but that’s because the overlords wanted them to reach the Wastes; they may have been guided or herded by the Lords of Dust, and even then, many surely died along the way. And beyond this, there is no limit to the potential size of a demiplane. The Ironlands could be the size of Breland, or they could be the size of Khorvaire itself; the Ghaash’kala and the Kech Shaarat both interact with the Ironlands, but they aren’t running into one another there. Likewise, it’s possible for fiends to escape the Wastes by traveling through demiplanes, and this is how most of them do travel between the Wastes and the rest of Khorvaire. However, MOST fiends are deeply uncomfortable entering demiplanes aside from the ones that spawned them. Rakshasa are uniquely immune to this, a side effect of the same power that shields them from most magic. This, again, is why rakshasa are the most common native fiends. You can face a free-roaming vrock in the Wastes… but if it wants to leave, the only path out is the Labyrinth.

If the influence of overlords is regional, could you make a map of the Demon Wastes that shows the areas affected by different overlords?

It’s something that could potentially be done, but no modern scholar has sufficient understanding of the Demon Wastes. It could be a goal for House Sivis. But there’s surely maps in the Library of Ashtakala that show the influence of each overlord.

How does this influence reflect the fact that the overlords are bound? Are the Carrion Tribes actually dealing directly with overlords?

The influence of the overlords is more like ambient radiation. While it’s not a perfect analogy, you can think of the overlords as sleeping and this influence as their dreams. The Carrion Tribes make their piece with the influence of the overlord as a general force; it’s not like they have personal conversations with them, or that the overlords are aware of them as individuals. However, Carrion Tribes also often interact with active fiends. The Moon Reavers interact with Night Hags. The Plaguebearers revere Ashurak, but they interact with Bloody Vasa, an oinoloth spawned by Ashurak. It’s also the case that lesser rakshasa and other shapeshifting fiends often conceal themselves among the Carrion Tribes, serving as leaders or spiritual guides; the fiends are aspects of their overlords, and they enjoy the suffering of the mortals.

That’s all for now! I probably won’t have time to answer questions, but feel free to ask. June was a busy month for me, but there’s a lot of things going on. On my Patreon I’m about to start a new online Eberron campaign for patrons; the hagling pictured above is one of the potential characters in that campaign, a hexblood bartender drawn by Matthew Johnson. I’m also finishing Frontiers of Eberron and will have some previous for patrons this month. And last but not least, I’ll be playing and running D&D on stage at GenCon—use the links about to learn more!

Community Creations at the DM’s Guild!

This month is the 20th anniversary of the Eberron Campaign Setting. But even after twenty years, there are many elements of the setting that have never been explored in depth, whether in canon wizards content or my own creations. However, over the last four years people have been able to release their own Eberron content on the DM’s Guild and at this point there are hundreds of products out there… And for the next three days, all Eberron products are 20% off at the DM’s Guild!

I am humbled and grateful to everyone who has helped to keep the setting alive and to expand the world by creating their own content for it. As I said, there are hundreds of products and I can’t possibly identify them all. But I wanted to call out a few of the products and creators on the DM’s Guild that you might want to check out! Starting with, well, me…

Exploring Eberron. My first independent Eberron book, Exploring Eberron covers a number of topics I always wanted to address in canon but that never happened. The largest of these are the Planes of Eberron’s unique cosmology; Exploring Eberron takes a deeper look at each of the planes. It also covers the civilizations of the Thunder Sea, the Dhakaani goblinoids, the Mror Dwarves, and much much more! While you’re there, take a look at my other DMsG work. Eberron Confidential provides a host of interesting background hooks for characters; Dread Metrol explores the crossover between Eberron and Ravenloft; Chronicles of Eberron takes a look at a host of topics, from nobility to Session Zero to Karrnathi undead! And for a tiny deep cut that’s less than two dollars, check out my Eberron collaboration with the band Magic Sword!

The Eberronicon. This book is a fantastic resource that consolidates lore details from across all of the editions of Eberron into one, handy reference. Do you want to play a changeling? The Eberronicon tells to about the Gray Tide, the Tyrants of Sharn, the changelings of Riedra and more, all in one place. This provides easy access to a lot of deep lore!

Convergence Manifesto. Produced by the same community that created the Eberronicon, this 13-episode adventure path that takes you across Eberron and explores the influence of the planes. In order, it’s Fired & Forgotten, Live Another Day, Rime or Reason, Living Legend, Perfect Timing, Night’s Gambit, The Silvered Edge of Twilight, March of Madness, Weathering The Storm, At Death’s Door, A Heart In Mourning, Lost In Dreams, and Skyfall. And as long as we’re talking about adventures, I’ll also recommend Escape From Riedra by the awesome Imogen Gingell; The Deathless Skies of Cyre by Sadie Lowry and Amber Litke; and Curtain Call and Trust No One, a pair of adventures by me, Wayne Chang, Anthony Turco, and Robert Adducci!

Politics of Eberron. This bundle gathers together the work of Joseph Meehan, and provides ideas for cultures and politic intrigue for all of the nations of Khorvaire. The bundle is already an impressive bargain, even more so during the sale!

Map Perilous and More! This imposing sourcebook provides over five hundred pages of enemies, allies, and rivals for your Eberron campaign. This is just one of many sourcebooks created by Anthony Turco. The Adventurer’s Almanac and Psion’s Primer provide a host of character options, While the Xen’drik Advisory gives more threats and hooks for the Shattered Land! And speaking of Xen’drik…

The Giant’s Guide to Xen’drik is another titanic sourcebook, with over 500 pages of content including monsters, character options, and a look at 13 fallen nations of Xen’drik! And while you’re at it, check out Jamie Bernstein’s Hektula’s Khyber Codex—with a look at 38 demiplanes in Khyber!

Kendal Santor has explored some of the most dangerous regions of Eberron. With the help of a number of the authors who’s work I’ve already mentioned, this bold sage has created Kendal Santor’s Treatise on the Mournland and Wisdom and Warning: The Demon Wastes.

Sora Esma, Trinkets and More! In addition to the collection of urban legends seen above, this hag has nine collections of Eberron-themed trinkets sure to add some excitement to any campaign. My fingers would fall off linking to each one, but you should check out this full list of things created by Jarrod Taylor, including his work in the Points of Interest series!

Revisiting Sarlona. The nations of Sarlona are barely covered in the original canon, and a number of community authors have taken a deeper and more thoughtful look at the lands beyond Riedra. Check out Talvakri’s Guide to Adar and Linvakri’s Guide to Syrkarn… I believe a book on the Tashana Tundra is in the works!

The Naturalist’s Guide to Eberron. Working from A-Z, Matthew Booth has gone through the monsters of Dungeons & Dragons and considered how they might logically fit into the world of Eberron. This link goes to the first volume—Aarakocra to Azer—but the series continues through the alphabet!

Blessed of the Traveler is a guide to incorporating transgender characters and stories into the Eberron setting for Dungeons & Dragons, with looks at how several cultures and faiths approach gender, as well as a look at magical transition methods. For some reason it’s not part of the sale, but it’s ONE DOLLAR, so I think that’s OK. Meanwhile, if you’ve been looking for a queer take on the Lord of Blades, check out Queercoded!

Tiefling Treatise brings heaps of new lore and a queer focus for the tieflings of Eberron, including information on the Venomous Demesne and sanctuary of Rellekor. If you want more of Megan Caldwell’s Eberron work, check out Cyre 1313: The Mourning Rail and the Thunder Sea Merfolk Report!

Sarhain’s Guide to the Silver Flame explores the various cultures that worship or revere the Silver Flame and the Couatl in Eberron. And it’s written by the Church’s very own Drego Sarhain (with a little help from Luke Robinson), so you know it’s reliable!

Starilaskur: Crossroads of Destiny explores one of the canonically ignored industrial cities of Breland! Author Dylan Ramsey has also delved deeper into Eberron in Uncaged Goddesses and Eberron: Seeds of Strife, as well as providing Eberron conversions for Candlekeep Mysteries and Keys From The Golden Vault!

It’s not the DM’s Guild, but if you want to lend a hand to a worthy charity, Beadle & Grimm’s are donating 50% of the profits on their Eberron products to Extra Life this month, and there’s a raffle if you want to donate directly!

As I said, there are hundreds of amazing Eberron products on the DM’s Guild, and they’re all on sale now. I can’t possibly cover them all, and I’ll end with Shard Wars, for those of you who’ve been wanting a more sci-fi take on your Eberron! Go to the DM’s Guild, browse, read some reviews, and you might find something wonderful. I want to personally thank everyone who’s put their energy and imagination into creating content for the world of Eberron—and I apologize to all the creators who didn’t get mentioned directly. If you’ve got an Eberron product on the DM’s Guild, post a description and a link in the comments! Thank you all for bringing the world to life, and happy Eberroniversary!

IFAQ: Where do you get powerful Magic Items?

I’ve been very busy this month—and year!—and haven’t had as much time for articles as I’d like. However, I do answer questions for my Patreon supporters every month, and some times the topics are too big to be addresses on Patreon. Such as…

My campaign is Pathfinder 2e, but set in Eberron. It’s been going great, but one major sticking point is that players in Pathfinder are expected to be able to buy or somehow find higher level generic magic items like scrolls and talismans to aid them in adventure. As Khorvaire doesn’t have very high magic, where would a group of adventurers over level 10 equip themselves with strong but generic magical effects? As in, who is selling level 5+ spell scrolls?

First of all, it’s important to clarify the question that’s being asked. The point isn’t just where do you get powerful magic items, but specifically about “generic” and consumable items—scrolls, potions, and similar tools. The system presumes that high level characters have casual access to consumables that are appropriate to their level—that it’s not a big deal for a 12th level character to grab a potion of speed. But 6th level magic is beyond the everyday magic of the Five Nations. So where can a powerful character get a 6th level spell scroll?

There’s no one answer. House Cannith doesn’t have a VIP section of its enclaves that only sells powerful gear to powerful characters. So in my campaign I would tailor the approach to the party of the adventurers and the story of the campaign. Who are their allies? Who are their enemies? Do you WANT it to be as easy as just dropping some gold and getting the items (in which case my homemeade gear suggestion is easy) or do you want to give the players access to the gear but make them have to maintain a relationship if they want to restock? Do you want it to be a slightly shady thing? With that in mind, here’s some ideas.

THE IMMEASURABLE MARKET. From Exploring Eberron…

While most planes are isolated from others and it’s difficult to move from one plane to another, commerce and peaceful interaction are defining aspects of Syrania. Most planes have back doors that lead to the Immeasurable Market. The crystal spire in the Open Sky is merely a gateway leading to an open marketplace that extends as far as the eye can see. To one side, a slaadi haggles with a modron over the price of hippogriff eggs; to the other, a sly dao shows a Shavaran balor a selection of Fernia-forged blades. It’s said that anything you can imagine—and many things you can’t—can be found in the Immeasurable Market. 

Are you looking for things that can’t be purchased in the Five Nations? Are you a remarkable, legendary adventurer? The Immeasurable Market of Syrania has what you need. Not only does it provide access wondrous goods, the entrances to the Market could turn up anywhere. If I were to use the Immeasurable Market as an ongoing part of a campaign, I’d have an adventure in which the adventurers stumble onto a doorway to the Market and have to earn the favor of an Angel of Commerce, who gifts them with the ability to return. If you want to limit it, they could be presented with a key that will guide them to the nearest door to the Market and open it (a key that will only work for them). This allows the DM to decide whether or not there IS a door in their current area, just as you can’t always find a shop selling scrolls. If I were to follow this plotline, I would play up how remarkable this is and have some developing stories as the adventurers get to know merchants and other residents of the Market. For simplicities sake I’d generally allow adventurers to spend gold on simple consumables, but Exploring Eberron lists a variety of other options…

SUNDRY. If you don’t want to have the adventurers go to the Immeasurable Market, you have the Market come to them… or, more specifically, to introduce a magical merchant whose storefront appears in different places. Sundry (or whatever you choose to call them) pops up just where the adventurers happen to be with the deal you need. Sundry COULD be getting her goods from the Immeasurable Market, but if you want to add more mundane flavor, she could just have connections across Eberron. Those potions are from Aerenal; that wand was carved by one of the finest artificers of the Venomous Demesne; that scroll? Stolen from Ashtakala. That potion of speed is actually surplus from the Last War, a cutting edge formula Jorasco and Vadalis are working on… Don’t worry, the side effects aren’t too bad. Is Sundry just well connected? Is she a Chamber dragon? One of the Lords of Dust? An archfey? The Traveler? Does it really matter, if she has what you need when you need it? An interesting Good Omens take on this would be to have a little shop that appears just where the players need it to be that has TWO proprietors, one who sells more benevolent goods, one who deals in delightfully dangerous things. This pair could be a Chamber dragon and a Lord of Dust who both have a Prophetic interest in the actions of the adventuring party, who have agreed to monitor them together… selling them the things they need to stay on the proper path, without revealing that path.

HOMEMADE GEAR. If any of the player characters are spellcasters, you could build the story around the idea that they are creating the items they want to purchase themselves. They would still expend the amount of gold it would normally cost to buy the item, and they could only buy items between sessions when they’re at rest, but wouldn’t need to go through the usual process of creating magic items; it’s as if they are their own shop.The expenditure of gold should be recognized as the cost of the components and dragonshards needed to quickly create the items in question. A key point is that THIS IS NOT NORMAL—but high level player characters AREN’T normal. They are supposed to be legendary figures and heroes of the age, capable of doing things that are beyond the typical magewright artisan. The exact flavor of item creation (as well as what the DM decides is available) can vary based on the character. For example…

  • Artificers and wizards are essentially arcane scientists and would create their consumables in a workshop.
  • Warlocks could bargain with their patrons to acquire the items.
  • Sorcerers might channel their raw arcane energy into consumable form.
  • Druids could GROW organic tools that replicate the abilities of wands, scrolls, or potions
  • Clerics or paladins could pray during a long rest. This isn’t just about having a scroll appear; they would lay out a seal of faith using raw Eberron shards, and focus their faith on this point, drawing on the energy of the divine and letting it flow through them—essentially, being artificers but without understanding the science involved.

Again, the point here is that cosmetically it is the same as going and buying the item from a store. You can’t do it in the middle of an adventure, you are limited by the money you have on hand, it’s up to the DM to decide what’s available in this moment. But if you’ve GOT the money and you’re in a safe space, you can just get a few scrolls; just spend a minute or two describing how you make them and move on. If you want, you could call out how the items created in this way are unstable or only work for the creator—thus explaining why the PC doesn’t go into business creating and selling magic items. They can’t create permanent items this way—make sure you drink that potion within a few days or it will lose its fizz.

LUCIUS FOX. In some interpretations of Batman, Wayne is the superhero but it’s Lucius Fox who supplies his cool gadgets. The point is that Fox doesn’t have the talent to go out and personally fight crime, but he’s a great inventor. So if you don’t like the idea that the adventurers are creating their own goods, you could have an NPC who does it for them. A key point here is that NPCs don’t follow the same rules as PCs. It is possible for an NPC to be a great INVENTOR without having the full class abilities of an artificer or wizard. They can build amazing things overnight, as long as you provide them with the resources (IE gold), but they can’t cast a spell in six seconds; they aren’t capable of being an adventurer, but they can help you to succeed.

IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT… The Sundry idea presents a way for the adventurers to BUY powerful magic items that aren’t available to the general public. However, you could drop that approach and give the party a patron who supplies them with powerful, generic items. If high level adventurers are knowingly working for the Chamber or the Lords of Dust, there’s nothing odd about them being giving the basic tools they need to carry out a mission. If characters have a tie to the Church of the Silver Flame, the Argentum collects dangerous magic items; you could make a big deal about the Argentum doling out items saved for just such an occasion.

So summing up… having the characters create their own items is potentially a way to highlight that the characters are remarkable—that they can create things that couldn’t be bought. Giving the adventurers access to the Immeasurable Market is a way to highlight how remarkable they are and to add a series of plotlines tied to the Market, while Sundry implies that Market connection without having the players themselves engage in extraplanar travel.

In terms of the Sundry section, I have to wonder why even ask for a price as a lord of dust or a chamber agent, I find it somewhat hard to imagine that someone as part of a civilization as powerful as advanced as the lords of dust or argonessen would be strapped for cash to the point where they’d need a couple thousand gold from the party…

Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head as to “Why do the dragon/rakshasa need money…”

  1. They don’t, and they can just give things away for free. As long as it suits your campaign, there’s no reason they’d have to charge anything.
  2. They believe that it’s the only way the adventurers will place value on the things they are buying.
  3. They use the money for other personal projects. The dragon might support a local charity, orphanage, what have you; the rakshasa might fund a Swords of Liberty cell, pay for raves, or similar things. The point is that while they are technically observers for their factions, their factions wouldn’t support those personal projects. The CHAMBER could pay for a thousand orphanges, but THEY WOULDN’T… so the dragon pays for the orphanage with this “Adventurer Tax.”

That’s all for now! All of the ideas I’ve presented here are only a few possibilities, but it’s all I have time for now! If you have other thoughts on how to give high level characters access to high level consumables, add them in the comments. Also: I’m preparing to run a new campaign arc for my Threshold Patrons. This is a monthly campaign: every patron can apply to play in a session, and all sessions are recorded and shared for patrons to watch or listen to. This upcoming campaign is set in Graywall, and we’re in the midst of a series of session zero polls to establish the party of adventurers. If this sounds interesting, this is your chance to get on board before it begins and to help shape the story. Check it out on Patreon!

Designing Glim: Dominions

Early in 2023, Gregg Hale—one of the creators of The Blair Witch Project—came to Twogether Studios with a challenge. Gregg was developing a setting called The Emerald Anvil, a magical world that would be explored through many different mediums… including a podcast, a novel, and—if we were up to the challenge—a game. As with out game Illimat, we wanted to create a game that felt as if it was part of the world of Hada, something that would draw you into the setting as you played it. We came up with the idea of a dice game, something based on a Hadeen gambling game that had evolved into a sort of teaching tool for learning about the Dominions of Hada—the powerful factions that drive the story of the world.

The basic gameplay of Glim is simple. Six resource cards are laid out on the cloth board, each paired with a symbol on the board. On your turn, you roll a certain number of dice. Choose one of the symbols that you’re rolled, and place a number of your influence tokens on that card equal to the number of dice showing that symbol. So if you roll 2 Trade and 1 Force, you can place one influence token on the resource in the Force position, or two influence tokens on the resource in the Trade position. Players take turns rolling and placing until all influence tokens have been placed; at that point, if you have the most influence on a resource, you collect the card. Resource cards have a Glim Value, and these are how you win the game; at the end of three rounds of play, whoever has the highest total Glim is the winner. But resource cards also grant you special abilities you can use in subsequent rounds. So the first round is fairly simple, but in each round that follows, players have more tools and options to work with.

At the start of the game, each player chooses one of the four Dominions. There are thirty-six Dominions in the world of Hada. Each has a unique culture and ways of manipulating the mystical power of glim. Pydos are brutal and militaristic; Hogo Sha seek serenity and balance; Auga is wealthy and hedonistic; and The Walking are enigmatic sorcerers, who manipulate glim in very different ways from the other Hadeen. Gregg Hale has shared more of the lore of the world on the Kickstarter Page. In designing the game, the challenge for Jenn and I was to find a way to capture the flavor of each Dominion without presenting a lot of exposition—to have the Dominion feel like it should, so as you play as Pydos you feel aggressive and when you play the Walking you feel like a sneaky puppet master.

Each Dominion is represented by a double sided Persona card, and when you choose your dominion you decide which of the two Personas you will use. So for Pydos, you can be the Crown Priestess or the Zealous Knight. Let’s start with a look at the Crown Priestess of Pydos.

The core mechanics of Glim are simple. Each Persona has two tactics. On your turn, you choose one of those two tactics; that determines how many dice you will roll to place influence, and adds special rules. Each Persona within a Dominion shares one tactic. So in the case of Pydos, both the Crown Priestess and the Zealous Knight have the Relentless Barrage tactic, which lets them roll all six dice. This is a simple, brutal move—it gives them lots of options, but it lacks any sort of finesse. It helps Pydos feel powerful, as you scoop up all the dice and throw them on the table… but it’s not very subtle. It’s also a strong basic tactic that is always going to be useful.

Each Persona also has a second, unique tactic—and these are more specialized. The Imperial Siege ability of the Crown Priestess only gives her four dice, but when she places influence on a resource she also removes an opponent’s token from that card. This is an aggressive move that helps the Priestess dominate her chosen resources. However, because the token is returned to the original player, it gives them a chance to place it again—potentially adding unexpected drama to the final turns of a round. Between these two abilities, the Priestess feels forceful and aggressive—exactly what we want from Pydos.

The Walking are enigmatic sorcerers with a hidden agenda. Where the other Hadeen use glim to soar through the skies, they prefer to walk in the shadows. So with the Walking, we wanted them to feel magical and manipulative. The two Walking Personas are the Grand Mage and the Keeper of the Eye. Both share the Shackled God tactic, a reference to a powerful entity the Walking have bound with their rituals. This workhorse tactic only rolls four dice, rather than the six dice Pydos can use. However, when the Walking roll Knowledge icons, they can treat them as any other symbol. This makes them unpredictable but potentially highly flexible… and reflects the idea that for them, Knowledge is power.

The Keeper’s second tactic, Visions of Strife, is one of my favorites. It’s essentially the opposite of the Crown Priestess’s Imperial Siege. When the Priestess uses Siege she removes an opponent’s piece from a card. When you use Visions of Strife, you force another player to commit an influence token wherever you put yours. It’s tricky, because you’re inherently creating a head-to-head contest with another player. But used properly you can force a player to commit resources to a weak position, or block their plans to reinforce another resource. It’s a subtle ability, and you might go an entire round without ever having a time where it feels like the best move to make. But there are times when it’s absolutely perfect—and when it’s not, Shackled God is a strong reliable move. Comparing the two, Pydos is a simpler, blunt instrument—while the Walking are subtle, but have a devastating potential to interfere with the plans of the other players.

These are just two of the eight Personas, but they give you a glimpse of the flavor and mechanics of the game. Gameplay is simple, and yet the Dominions feel very different… and very quickly you’ll find there’s Dominions you love and Dominions you hate! Keep in mind that your initial tactics are soon supplemented by the resources you acquire: while you start with only two moves you can make, each round has more options than the one before.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the design of Glim and the world of Hada. The game is on Kickstarter now, but there’s only a few days left to make it happen—check it out now! And shout-out to artist Ren Lindroos and graphic designer Adi Slepak, who created the Persona cards seen here!

Would You Like To Play A Game?

For the last few years, I’ve been running an Eberron campaign on Patreon. The story and the characters are persistent, but the players change with each setting. If you support the Patreon at the Threshold level ($6) you get access to all of the recorded episodes—and every month, you can apply for a seat at the table of that month’s game. The rules of Patreon don’t let me draw a name at random, so instead I pose a simple creative challenge. In a recent adventure in which the adventurers were going to Graywall, I told applicants tell me which character you want to play and what that character is most looking froward to seeing in Graywall… which leaves me with the terrible job of having to judge a creative challenge every month, but so it goes. The point is that the story is ongoing, and players choose their characters from an established cast… But that every Threshold patron has the opportunity to play in a session.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because after 24 sessions, my current campaign reached a satisfying conclusion and it’s a good moment to start something new. There’s a poll up on the Patreon that runs until Noon Pacific time this Wednesday, and the results will determine the plot of my next campaign. As soon as this is done, I will start an extended session zero process—using a series of polls to allow the patrons as a group to select the cast of characters and define aspects of the campaign. You can see a glimpse of what this looked like last time below. On Wednesday, the result of the poll will determine the nature of the next campaign, and I’ll immediately get started with session zero polls to create the cast of characters. So, if you’re interesting in playing a game with me sometime this year, this is your chance to get on board at the start of the new campaign and help shape the direction of the characters and the story. If that sounds like fun, check out the Patreon! And thanks for your time and interest!

So as I was saying…

The first poll determined that we’d have a Khoravar wandslinger in the cast…

A follow-up poll determined that she would be a Genie warlock—a former smuggler who’d won her powers in a card game with an efreet—who owes a lot of gold to the Boromar clan. And so…

… We ended up with the wandslinger Three Widow Jane, depicted here by Matthew Johnson. I’ll be using this same process to develop the characters for this new campaign; if you’d like to be involved, check out the Patreon!

Dragonmark: Mysteries of the Talenta Plains

My esteemed colleague’s suggestion of establishing vast farms in the Talenta Plains shows his ignorance of history and lack of common sense. Why do you suppose the Talenta tribes are nomadic, Danison? Why hasn’t House Ghallanda establish its own farms in its ancestral homeland, or brought home the arcane tools they use across the Five Nations? I’ll do you one better: Why didn’t Galifar settle the Talenta Plains? For a thousand years it was called Cyre on our maps. Yet when the Great King chose to resettle the nobles of old Metrol, did he send them to the Plains? No, he sent them all the way across the Blade Desert. Perhaps—perhaps—this could be attributed to wishing to put a desert between his daughter and possible rivals, but why in the century that followed did Cyrans not settle this vast realm? Dig deeper and you may find stories of a Scale empire that spread from what we now call Q’barra into the Plains—where is that empire today?

It’s no accident that the Talenta keep moving, Danison. It’s no coincidence that they’ve developed a mystical tradition that works with spirits, and choose to hold to this path instead of adopting the arcane science of the west. There are forces at play in the Plains you know nothing about… and you are better off not knowing.

Alina Lorridan Lyrris, Aurum Concordian

Over the last twenty years of Eberron, the Talenta Plains have largely been ignored… just as they have largely been ignored by the people of the Five Nations. The Talenta tribes pursue a nomadic lifestyle and employ a system of primal magic rather than embracing the arcane science of the west. This isn’t an accident. The Talenta developed their traditions because they are the key to survival and prosperity in the Plains. Consider House Ghallanda and House Jorasco, both of which build enclaves in the Five Nations and employ arcane science in those facilities—yet beyond Gatherhold they haven’t built enclaves in the Plains, nor pushed western wizardry or artifice onto their cousins. This is no accident. The Talenta tribes have honed their mystical and mundane traditions for countless generations, and these techniques allow them to accomplish things Cannith artificers and Vadalis magebreeders can’t even imagine.

But this article isn’t about the Talenta tribes… it’s about the Plains themselves. Remember always that Eberron isn’t our world. It’s a world shaped by supernatural forces, a world in which fiends, fey, and undead are real. It’s a world in which planar influence and epic curses have dramatic effects on everyday life. And now, lest it go without saying, we’re moving from canon lore into the realm of Kanon lore—what I do with the Plains in my campaign.

So let’s consider the basic facts. When humanity spread across Khorvaire, they didn’t settle the Plains. There’s no Dhakaani ruins in the Plains. The Trothlorsvek did expand from Q’barra into the Plains, because where else could they go? And yet, their empire collapsed (… with a little help from Masvirik). Dinosaurs thrive in the Plains and in Q’barra, yet aren’t widespread elsewhere in Khorvaire. The Talenta halflings have maintained a nomadic tradition for thousands of years, and employ primal spirit-driven magic rather than the arcane science of the Five Nations—and yet, when they leave the Plains (as seen by Jorasco, Ghallanda, the Boromars, and more) they don’t bring that system of magic with them. The Talenta traditions are a path to survival and to power within the Plains, because of unique aspects of the Plains outsiders don’t recognize or understand. So with that in mind… here’s the core principle I’m working with when I approach the Plains.

The Talenta Plains have always had strong connections to Lamannia, Thelanis, and Dolurrh. During the early Age of Giants, the Plains were the heart of a powerful draconic civilization. When this nation of dragons became corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber, it fell into a war with Argonnessen that ended with the corrupted civilization being utterly eradicated. The victorious dragons employed powerful forces to contain the fallout from that conflict and to prevent any repetition of the threat. When Argonnessen later laid waste to Xen’drik, it was drawing on experience and techniques that had first been employed in the razing of the Talenta Plains.

As such, the Talenta Plains are a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But that apocalypse happened tens of thousands of years ago. The devastation was thorough, and beyond that, the civilization was unlike that of any humanoid culture. The people of the present day don’t SEE the traces of that fallen nation and the evidence of its apocalyptic fall. And yet, it holds the core principles we’re familiar with from the post-apocalyptic tales of our media: people roaming across a ruined land, invisible lingering forces that affect everyday life, wonders of the fallen civilization waiting to be uncovered. In the Talenta Plains, those “invisible forces” are spirits rather than radiation… but the basic principles still apply.

So as I’m developing my campaign in the Talenta Plains, I’m thinking about Gamma World, Fallout, and Mad Max: Fury Road in addition to old folk tales… just replace the cars in Mad Max with dinosaurs. There have always been fey, elementals, and ghosts in the Plains because of the planar influences. But there are also relics of a draconic civilization—a civilization so advanced that we don’t even recognize its tools as tools—as well as scars of the weapons that destroyed it. A crucial difference between this and the Mournland is that the basic environment isn’t as relentlessly hostile as the Mournland. There is natural life in the Plains, and it’s possible to survive and thrive there—provided you know what you’re doing and know how to avoid its dangers. And one of the basic principles to that is to keep moving. A second aspect of this is that there are ruins and monsters in the Talenta Plains that you’d never find in the heart of a nation like Breland, because the Talenta know to avoid them. The paths the tribes use in their migrations are safe, but venture off the paths and you can find wonders—along with deadly danger.

THE SPIRITS OF THE PLAINS

At a glance the Talenta Plains often seem vast and empty. But there is far more to this realm than meets the mortal eye. It’s common knowledge that the Talenta traditions involve interacting with “spirits”; what outsiders don’t realize is that this general term actually covers a wide range of entities. There are five distinct classes of “spirit” that are widespread in the Plains. But beyond the type of spirit, an encounter can very dramatically based on the form of the spirit. Ambient spirits are invisible and intangible; they can’t be interacted with directly, but they may produce supernatural effects on the environment. Pure spirits can be physically perceived in their own shape—a spectral ghost, a fire elemental, a dryad. Incarnate spirits are tied to a physical form, whether that’s animal, vegetable, or mineral; this could be face in a pool of water or a talking clawfoot. Bound spirits are similar to incarnate spirits in that they are tied to something physical, but were bound against their will; they are often tied to objects or set as guardians. So let’s talk about the five common types of spirits, but in the context of how you would encounter one as an incarnate spirit tied to a clawfoot.

  • Elementals are raw primal forces, largely driven by pure instinct. An elemental clawfoot would be supernaturally strong and fast, but it wouldn’t speak or have a particular interest in interacting with humanoids. It’s just much more dangerous than a normal clawfoot.
  • Fey are spirits that bring magic and story into the world; essentially, their purpose is to make mortal lives more interesting. Fey spirits have a story or a purpose, which could be simple or complex. A fey clawfoot might guard a wondrous treasure, offer wise counsel, or have a thorn in its tail that it can’t get out—do you help it?
  • Undead of the Talenta Plains are typically spirits that haven’t fully reached Dolurrh. Some wish for rest; others are driven by powerful emotions or unfinished business. A haunted clawfoot might speak with your grandfather’s voice and ask you to fulfill a promise on his behalf… or it might be the corpse of a clawfoot driven by the hunter Orlasca’s vile hunger.
  • Fiends are malevolent spirits. Some are tied to the Cold Sun or the Daughter of Khyber; others are sparks of evil drifting directly from Khyber. They exist to inflict suffering on mortals, though each has a flavor of tragedy it prefers. A fiendish clawfoot might lure travelers into the darkness with the voices of loved ones, killing them one by one in horrifying ways.
  • Artificial spirits are relics of the fallen dragon nation that occupied this region tens of thousands of years ago. These are effectively sentient magic items, though they can be bound to fields of energy instead of solid objects. Artificial spirits aren’t usually encountered in animal forms, but there could be a spirit bound to a buried sphere of brass studded with Khyber shards which has the ability to dominate beasts, and uses these creatures to carry out its purpose—still patrolling the borders of an outpost that was ground to dust long ago.

An important point with fey, fiends, and elementals is that for the most path these are native spirits. The ambient energies of Lamannia and Thelanis are strong in this region, but it’s native influences that harness this power and form into spirits. So the fey clawfoot isn’t from Thelanis; it is Thelanian energy that has been shaped by the region and by deep archetypes. There are actually Thelanian manifest zones where travelers may interact with fey of Thelanis; but most of the fey spirits are native to Eberron. Likewise for the fiends; they are tied to overlords or to Khyber, not to Shavarath or Fernia.

So the first thing to known about the Talenta Plains is that they are full of spirits. The next question is… WHY? All of these classes and types of spirits CAN be found anywhere in the world. Why is there such an intense concentration of spirits in the Plains? The answer to that is…

A FORGOTTEN WAR

In the wake of the Age of Demons, the dragons exulted in their victory. They were few in number at that time, and it took them millennia to rebuild and to craft nations. But a time came when dragons set out to claim the world they had saved. The dragons laid down roots in Argonnessen, in Xen’drik, and in Khorvaire. Most began as explorers, artists, and scientists—unlocking the mysteries of the world they had saved. But slowly, a worm began to burrow into the collective heart of the dragons of Khorvaire. The Daughter of Khyber began to play on their pride and their arrogance. Why should they share this world with lesser beings—creatures who’d been so easily dominated by the fiends in the past? They were the children of Siberys. They were made to rule and to enforce their will upon reality. They quickly conquered the humanoids that existed in Khorvaire at the time. But what is now the Plains was the heart of their empire, where they experimented with magic and built terrifying weapons. And in this time, they themselves began to be corrupted, with spawn of Tiamat, abishai and other mockeries of dragonkind appearing. But enthralled as they were, the dragons justified this as a desired evolution and proof of their power and wisdom. When other dragons questioned them, it was proof that these rivals had to be subjugated and made to see the “light of Siberys.”

This isn’t the place to go into a long and detailed breakdown of a war between dragons. Ultimately the power of the Daughter of Khyber was broken, and the surviving dragons withdrew to Argonnessen. But the conflict shook the world. The forces unleashed in the war didn’t just shatter the cities of dragons, they tore at the fabric of reality itself. Part of the reason Argonnessen reacted so brutally to the actions of the Cul’sir Dominion in Xen’drik was because they themselves had come close to inflicting irreparable harm to reality.

Most evidence of this first draconic empire was destroyed in the conflict, and what was left has largely been erased by the passage of time. But there are still lingering consequences of that ancient war.

A Spiritual Cacophony. The barriers to the planes are worn thin. There are concrete manifest zones that have the standard effects, but beyond this the ambient energy of the planes generates an unusual amount of native spirits, as described above.

Rare Relics. Most traces of the draconic civilization were erased, and their magic was unraveled. But there are a few traces that have endured: eldritch machines that have resisted destruction, wards or guardian spirits placed by the victors, or abandoned weapons—the draconic equivalent of an unexploded blast disk. Most dramatically, there’s the potential for time capsules or fallout shelters—things specifically designed to survive the conflict and endure the passage of time.

An Arcane Menace. The civilization of the Imperial dragons was largely driven by arcane science. Over the course of the war, the enemies of the empire unleashed slow, inexorable weapons designed to undermine and break down that draconic civilization. The process is extremely slow by human standards, but it is inexorable. Any static community in the Talenta Plains will suffer the following effects.

  • It will draw ghosts and undead—tortured spirits unable to reach Dolurrh. The effect ramps up as it goes; the more restless spirits are in a region, the more newly dead spirits are drawn to this mass instead of to Dolurrh. At a glance this might sound like a good thing—isn’t Dolurrh oblivion?—but the spirits are disoriented and tormented. Hauntings can range from merely disturbing to concretely dangerous, and it continues to worsen over time. Think of every haunted house movie you’ve seen, and slowly amplify the effects.
  • Arcane magic is subtly corrupted over time. Systems may break down or malfunction. Living spells can manifest.

This effect is slow but inexorable. The Trothlorsvek dragonborn were able to resist it—as discussed in more detail later in this article—but the point is that it is dangerous to remain still and that traditional arcane science will slowly go wrong. This effect is slow enough that it doesn’t affect the wizard or artificer passing through to Plains, but it’s why Ghallanda and Jorasco don’t implement the arcane infrastructure of the Five Nations in the Plains. And it’s why the people of Metrol and Cyre didn’t settle in the Plains—They DID, but every settlement came to a miserable end and sages soon recognized that it was a concrete, real effect and that settlement was ill-advised.

WHAT ABOUT THE DRAGONBORN?

During the Age of Monsters, the dragonborn expanded out of Q’barra and into the Plains. They were able to establish an empire of their own, that lasted for a time; it ultimately collapsed when the partial release of the overlord Masvirik forced them to return to Q’barra. Historians will note that they never attempted to rebuild this empire and that there’s very little mention of dragonborn ruins in the Plains. Personally, I’d expand this history in a few ways. I’d say that the expansion of the dragonborn empire was part of the requirements for Masvirik’s release—that the fiends of Masvirik encouraged the spread of the empire knowing it would help their overlord. Likewise, I’d say that the Daughter of Khyber played a role as well. Normally she doesn’t influence dragonborn, but her claws were sunk deeply into the Talenta Plains and she has a greater presence there than anywhere else beyond the Pit of Five Sorrows. So the influence of Masvirik and the Daughter twisted the dragonborn, again unleashing abishai, spawn, and other horrors—along with Dolurrhi hauntings described above. It’s not simply that the Trothlorsvek had to abandon their holdings in the Plains; they had to destroy them in order to break the power of the Daughter and the Cold Sun. In my campaign there ARE definitely still ruins to be found, but they are isolated and limited—and rightly shunned by the Talenta tribes, whose paths of migration keep them far away.

SO… WHAT’S IN THE PLAINS?

The inspiration for this article was a question posed on my PatreonWhat are some interesting adventure sites or villains you would place in the Talenta Plains if you were running a game there? The point was that the Plains seems to be vast and empty, without a lot of real points of interest. Why would adventurers go there? Taking everything I’ve suggested above, here’s a few ideas.

Ruins

We don’t hear much about ruins in the Talenta Plains. In part that’s because the previous widespread civilizations were thoroughly and intentionally destroyed… and in part it’s because the few ruins that are left are bad, dangerous places that the Talenta learned to avoid thousands of years ago. There ARE still ruins out there if you leave the migratory paths followed by the tribes… but there’s good reason they’ve been left alone. Here’s a few ideas entirely off the top of my head.

The Temple of Tiamat. Once this was a vast citadel of followers of the Daughter of Khyber. All that’s left on the surface are the faintest traces of ancient walls and broken stone. But there is a passage that leads below—a cavern formed of pure demonglass, something even the dragons couldn’t destroy. The ruin is dead and silent… but as people explore it, it stirs to life. Carvings of abishai become real, pulling free from the walls and eager to torment mortals. And in the deepest layer, a demonglass dracolich—the Ancient Askannath—guards an hoard of treasures from the forgotten civilization. The fiends and their master can’t leave the demonglass sanctum, but the longer mortals remain within it, the more it comes to life. Why would adventurers go there? One possibility is that they stumble upon it by accident, when they choose to ignore halfling warnings about cursed lands. Another is that they are searching for a draconic relic — an artifact a sage has traced to this place. It could be this is purely a source of information or knowledge. Or it could be that an ancient weapon from the forgotten war remains intact. Are the adventurers sent to recover it for the good of their own nation? Or are they pursuing rivals—trying to stop the Emerald Claw from seizing the Stone of Doom?

Haunted Hastalar. Most of the cities of the dragonborn empire were destroyed. Most… but not all. The fortress-town of Hastalar remains perfectly intact. But it has long been shunned by the halflings, and with good reason: it is intensely haunted. Hastalar was attacked by a Dhakaani legion before the full collapse of the Trothlorsvek dominion, and lingering spirits of both Dhakaani dar and dragonborn soldiers remain, howling through the streets. There is a powerful duur’kala banshee here who song is louder and deadlier than that of the standard banshee. Poltergeist activity is a constant threat. There are countless ghosts and shadows, and anyone who sleeps in Hastalar may be possessed by a vengeful spirit that seeks to reenact the final struggle. But there are relics of both the Trothlorsvek and the Dhakaani here. A Dhakaani Kech may send a force here to recover a potent artifact; the Kech Nasaar could try to release the banshee and recruit her to their cause. The Trothlorsvek could ask a team of trusted adventurers to recover a relic of their own; the haunting has a more powerful effect on dragonborn and they need softskins to explore it.

The Planar Workshop. Another subterranean ruin of the forgotten war, this is essentially a fallout shelter and arcane workshop designed to harness and manipulate planar energies. It is shielded from divination and has been hidden even from the Chamber itself. The region around it is especially dangerous, and the workshop itself is filled with malfunctioning magic—deadly artificial spirits, living spells, and golems. It could be that there’s a specific artifact here to be discovered. Or perhaps there’s a Chardalyn dragon—a relic of the forgotten war—that rises up and starts menacing the Plains, and the secret to stopping it lies in this vault.

Legendary Beasts

Incarnate spirits can result in terrifying threats. The Talenta tribes largely avoid these dangers, but perhaps adventurers have a reason to deal with them. A few entirely random ideas…

  • Flamemaw, a swordtooth titan (tyrannosaurus rex) blended with a fire elemental; it has a burning aura and breathes fire.
  • The Red Eyes, a pack of clawfeet possessed by fiends. The Talenta avoid their hunting grounds, but perhaps their territory suddenly shifts. Alternately, a Talenta adventurer could wish to recover the weapon of a legendary hunter who fell fighting the pack…
  • The Great Hammertail is a legend of a massive ankylosaurus that has a town on its back. Think of this as Brigadoon, except on the back of a wandering dinosaur. Needless to say, this is a fey phenomenon. But there could be blessings and wonders to be found in this town! Alternatively, this could be a patron for a halfling warlock that uses the Genie archetype; instead of traveling into a bottle, their sanctuary is a tent on the back of the Hammertail!
  • Orlasca Ghouls are discussed in Chronicles of Eberron; essentially, these are ghoul beasts that are guided by a single predatory consciousness. They could arise anywhere, and if they spread over a large force—perhaps wiping out an entire small tribe and raising them as ghouls—they could be a terrible threat.
  • The Carver is a large predator that will bargain with potential prey. Is it a fey spirit that offers fair bargains, or a fiend that will bring only misfortune?
  • The Living Wish is an epic living spell, a dangerous relic of the forgotten war. It spends most of its time slumbering. Someone—perhaps an Aurum concordian?—learns of its existence and hires adventurers to try to locate it and use its power. What damage might it cause to reality?

Spirits

Spirits are a defining aspect of the Plains. Here’s a few ways they could inspire adventures…

  • Curses or Blessings. A Talenta adventurer could have a longstanding bond between a fey spirit and their family that is about to become due. This could be a good thing; on their twentieth birthday, if an heir of the Cascala bloodline can find and catch the silver fastieth, they will receive a boon of speed. Or it could be a bad thing; on their twentieth birthday an heir of the Cascala bloodline has one opportunity to catch the silver fastieth; if they fail, they will die.
  • Minor Fiends. Minor fiends can cause trouble anywhere in the Talenta Plains. The halflings know minor warding rituals and traditions that largely protect their tribes from loose fiends, but outsiders may have to deal with all sorts of minor harassments. Beasts could be possessed. Travelers could have nightmares, or be troubled by anything from illusions to phantasmal killers.
  • Guiding to Rest. The wandering undead of the Plains are largely tormented by their restless existence. Adventurers could be tasked to find a wandering spirit and help lay it to rest. Alternately, they could be tasked to find the spirit of someone important who died in the Plains and whose spirit was lost. The Cannith seneschal was touring the Plains. Now it seems his spirit’s bound to a clawfoot and he can’t be raised from the dead unless you find it.
  • Ancient Force. An artificial spirit from the forgotten war could hold priceless knowledge about draconic magic or the history of the first age. But what would convince their entity to help adventurers? And is it actually wise to give humans the knowledge this being possesses?

Villains

What villains might I use in a Talenta campaign? Once again, here’s a few entirely random ideas…

  • Tellan Narathun. A concordian of the Aurum, Tellan Narathun has made a fortune off of dangerous things his family has recovered from Sol Udar, and now he’s turning his attention to the relics of the Plains. Tellan could start out as a patron for a party of adventurers, but the more they work with him the clearer it becomes that he’s selfish and dangerous. It could be that he is purely driven by mortal greed… or over the course of the campaign he might make one too many bargains with fiends and become a host for an immortal threat. He’s experimenting with symbionts from Sol Udar, and the longer the campaign goes, the more alien he will become. As I said, he could start as a patron, or he could start as the patron of a group of rival adventurers the player characters clash with—either way, the longer it goes, the more dangerous he becomes.
  • The Scales. A cult of the Daughter of Khyber. They would start out seemingly innocent—perhaps a friendly dragonborn working with a willing tribe of halflings to investigate the fall of the Trothlorsvek empire—but over time would become corrupted, dragon-fiend terrors.
  • Oblivion. An artificial spirit from the forgotten war that seeks vengeance on Argonnessen. Once recovered, it would serve as a patron (possibly creating warlocks or draconic sorcerers) in a long slow quest that would start by targeting Chamber agents and build to something ever more dangerous. Along the way it would be recruiting both dragonborn and actual dragons, serving as a locus for the influence of the Daughter of Khyber.
  • Holy Uldra. Let’s not sleep on our existing villains. Uldra is a charismatic halfling lath who believes “following the path of the Five Nations is wrong and goes against the spirits of their ancestors and the beasts with which they share the Plains. She also rails against the dragonmarked houses for abandoning the ancient traditions of the tribes.” As it stands, she’s a cleric of the hunt. But in her ambitions to punish the houses and to strike agains the Five Nations, she could make bargains with fey or fiends, gaining increasingly dangerous powers (even as she drifts away from the ancient traditions herself). Part of the threat of Uldra is the idea that she can lure innocents to her cause and potentially cause war within the Plains itself. It’s not the case that all her followers are possessed or evil; some may have valid issues with the role foreign powers have taken in the Plains.

Supernatural Sites

Setting aside ruins and places that have already been named like Krezent and the Boneyard, what are some interesting locations I might use in the Plains? Before specifics, I’ll call out that the Plains have a number of large, strong manifest zones tied to Lamannia, Thelanis, and Dolurrh; in this current interpretation, I’d tie the Boneyard to Dolurrh instead of Mabar. In addition, incarnate spirits can be tied to plants, stones, soil, or other locations. Very briefling, consider the following…

  • A large pond inhabited by a water weird. This place is a hybrid of fey and elemental forces. The weird can serve as an oracle, but it demands a price for its wisdom and will drown anyone who seeks to reclaim the tribute thrown into its waters.
  • A grove of trees that moan in the wind. Each tree holds the essence of someone who died long ago, and speak with dead can be used to give a tree a clear voice for a short time. If trouble, the trees can wail with the same effect as a banshee’s howl.

BUT WHAT ABOUT…

… Krezent? It could be tied to the forgotten war, but I’m inclined to say that it remains as described—a relic of the couatl and the Age of Demons. The Shulassakar take care to contain the potential threats of Krezent, but they can’t guard every dangerous site in the Plains. However, the Shulassakar could be patrons or advisors for adventurers—or dangerous enemies who send a strike force to stop the adventurers if they are blundering around into dangerous territory. I’d also call out that the population of Krezent isn’t sufficient to count it as a “town” for purposes of triggering the ill effects; while it houses a population of Shulassakar, the ECS still identifies it as a “ruin” and not an active city.

... Gatherhold? If settlements in the Talenta Plains are slowly cursed, how does the town of Gatherhold survive? This is a mystery even to the Talenta themselves—the fact is that it does and always has. The most logical answer is that unlike the Mourning, whatever curses were laid upon the Plains long ago don’t perfectly conform to current political boundaries. Gatherhold is already on the edge of the Plains, on the shore of Lake Cyre; likely it’s simply outside whatever effect is responsible for the hauntings. The same is true of the “small towns” along the northern border. On the other hand, maskweavers and other mystics have long been performing rituals to draw in the favor of benevolent spirits to protect and preserve Gatherhold, and it could be that it is these traditions are responsible for its ongoing propsperity. Nonetheless, the fact remains that there’s a reason Gatherhold is an anomaly, and that the there aren’t towns spread throughout the Plains. With that said, it’s important to note that this affect is supposed to target TOWNS and COLONIES, and could spare small outposts. The Tolashcara monitor the Boneyard. The Shulassakar guard Krezent. But in both cases, these aren’t CITIES… and it’s also the case that the Shulassakar channel the Silver Flame and the Tolashcara specialize in necromancy, so both are able to deal with hauntings.

… Fire Ecology? Wildfires play an important role in environments such as the Plains, and that would be just as true in the Talenta Plains as it is in our world. Wildfires are a regular part of life in the Plains and another reason to keep moving. The twist I’d add to consider the ways in which Eberron isn’t our world is that I would have fire spirits in the Plains in addition to purely natural wildfires. These could include elemental wildfires, who largely act just like mundane wildfires but that might sing in Ignan as they burn, and which could respond to druids or bards; fey wildfires, which would play out stories—perhaps being mischievous, perhaps targeting heroes to make their life more challenging; or fiendish wildfires, which would be unnaturally dangerous, aggessive, and cruel.

IN CONCLUSION…

This truly just scratches the surface of what’s possible here, and every aspect of this could be expanded upon; hopefully this gives you some ideas. Again, all of this is KANON—this is what *I* would do if I focused on the Plains—but that doesn’t mean that YOU have to use it.

A few quick points, since I don’t have time to talk about the Talenta themselves…

  • Talenta “spirit traditions” cover a wide range of actual paths. The Maskweavers are one such path and primarily deal with fey and elemental spirits. The Tolashcara deal with undead. Talenta traditions could produce rangers, druids, warlocks, clerics, bards, monks, artificers, and more. The point is that they generate these effects through interactions with spirits: seeking guidance from them or bargaining with them, binding them, drawing on their ambient power, and more. Saying it again, these spirits aren’t tied to specific CLASSES. You can be a Talentan druid, warlock, or artificer and draw your powers from interacting with spirits! CANNITH artificers employ arcane science, but a Talentan artificer can produce the same EFFECTS by working with spirits of the Plains.
  • On a large scale, these traditions don’t work when you leave the Plains. This is why House Jorasco largely employs arcane science in the Five Nations rather than calling on healing spirits; the spirits aren’t THERE in Breland. However, a Talentan player character can still use class abilities wherever they are. This can be justified either by the player character being remarkable and maintaining a connection over a distance; by them having an attendant spirit that invisibly travels with them; or by them personally being able to work with local spirits.
  • I previously said that the Tolashcara deal with Mabaran undead; in this model I’d switch their focus to be on Dolurrh.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible! I won’t be answering questions on this article, but feel free to discuss it in the comments.

Glim is live!

GLIM is live! 

What, you may ask, is Glim? It’s the latest game designed by Keith Baker and Jennifer Ellis—a dice game that draws you into the intrigues of a fantasy world. In 2023 we made a strange discovery at an estate sale: a crumbling copy of an old game that dealt with fairies at war over the resources of a mystic realm. Intrigued, we updated the components and rules, and the result is Glim

… OK, that’s actually just a story. The truth is that we were approached by Gregg Hale—one of the creators of The Blair Witch Project—who told us about The Emerald Anvil, a project that explores the mystical world of Hada through multiple forms of media. Black Velvet Fairies is a podcast based around the discovery of mysterious artifacts. Journey to Hada is an upcoming novel. We wanted to follow in the footsteps of Illimat and create a game that felt like it was an artifact of an alien world. Glim is the result.

In designing Glim, we focused on making a game that’s easily accessible. The core mechanics are simple: there are six resources in play. You roll dice, match them with resources, and based on your roll choose how to allocate your limited influence to those resources. Once all players are out of influence, they collect the cards they have won and six new resources are dealt to the table and a new round begins. Each resource card has a Glim value; at the end of three rounds, whoever has gathered the most Glim is the winner. That’s the foundation of the game—easy to grasp and to start play. But there’s many elements that add compelling strategic options to the experience. 

At the start of the game, each player chooses a Dominion—one of the major forces in the world of Hada. Each Dominion has two champions to choose from. This choice of champion gives the player two starting tactics they can use—determining how many dice they roll when placing influence and what other tricks they can use—shifting influence or forcing plays by other players. At the end of each round, the players collect Resource cards—and each Resource provides a new tactic or tool that can be employed in subsequent rounds. So the opening round is quick and simple… but each round that follows provides deeper strategies and options. The goal of the game is to collect the most Glim, but the resources with the most powerful abilities often have the lowest Glim value. And then there are the dice themselves—eight-sided dice from the world of Hada, they have different odds for what they roll; choosing your dice can be a key strategic decision. 

So Glim is easy to learn, but the shifting combinations of Dominion and Resource make every session unique. Beyond that, as with Illimat, our goal was to make something that feels like a beautiful artifact. It uses a cloth board, unique eight sided dice, and stunning artwork by artist Ren Lindroos—drawing players into the magical world of Hada. 

Glim is now available on Kickstarter. We don’t yet know if the game will be available in retail; it’s possible that this will be the only way to obtain it, so if you’re interested in Glim, this is your chance. Twogether Studios designed Glim, but we are not running the Kickstarter or publishing the game. You can ask me questions about gameplay, but all other questions should be directed toward the Emerald Anvil via the Kickstarter page!