Doppelgangers have been part of Dungeons & Dragons since its earliest days. The original Eberron Campaign Setting introduced changelings as a playable species that shared some of the features of doppelgangers, but not all; in third and fifth editions, doppelgangers possess a powerful unarmed attack and the ability to detect thoughts at will. But what exactly is the relationship between the two? Over three editions, we’ve had three different answers in canon material.
The third edition Eberron Campaign Setting says that changelings “evolved through the union of doppelgangers and humans, eventually becoming a separate race distinct from either ancestral tree.”
Fourth edition books use “changeling” and “doppelganger” interchangibly. The doppelganger in the 4E Monster Manual has the white hair of a changeling and doesn’t possess an unarmed strike or the innate ability to detect thoughts.
Fifth Edition D&D returned the doppelganger as a unique creature with an unarmed attack and detect thoughts. Rising From The Last War says that the daelkyr created doppelgangers by warping changeling stock, essentially reversing the third edition story; doppelgangers are altered changelings rather than changelings being watered-down doppelgangers.
So, we have three different options presented in canon. So which do I use?
I loved doppelgangers long before I made Eberron. I was disappointed that we never saw any sort of doppelganger society, because I thought it was fascinating to consider the impact both of shapeshifting and innate telepathy in terms of how a culture would approach privacy, community, and identity. In The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers I presented a very inhuman approach to doppelgangers, suggesting that mimics and doppelgangers were different stages in the lifecycle of the same creature, and that the final stage of this cycle is the doppelstadt—gestalt mimics that can replicate entire buildings. It’s not just that some of the people in your neighborhood are doppelgangers; it’s possible the neighborhood itself is a doppelganger. in proposing Eberron, I wanted doppelgangers to have a place in the world; the 10-page proposal includes a mention of the conflict between the Boromar Clan, the Tyrants of Sharn, and Daask, suggesting that these things typically considered monsters were part of everyday life in Eberron. The problem was that the standard doppelganger was too powerful to work as a basic option for player characters. I liked the idea of having a weaker baseline doppelganger and introducing a “monster class”—as seen in the sourcebook Savage Species—that would let the player acquire the full powers of the standard doppelganger. In the end, we did half of that approach: we created the changelings as that weaker baseline that was suitable for player characters, but made the standard doppelganger a separate species. The problem with this is that it both left the doppelgangers themselves without any real story—per the ECS, all we really had was “True doppelgangers are considerably more rare and mysterious than their changeling descendants… They sell their services as spies, thieves, and assassins, but their true motivations usually lie beyond mere gold.” The second frustrating element is that we often had changelings and doppelgangers working side by side, and that arrangement ends up highlighting the fact that changelings are fundamentally weaker doppelgangers. I never really liked that as a story. So while I loved that changelings gave us the opportunity to explore shapeshifting cultures and societies and to have them in everyday life, I was never happy with where it left doppelgangers.
Fast-forward to the present. Fourth edition and fifth edition present two different options. Which do I use? Both. Because those two options tell very different stories. Let’s look at each of them.
The Gifts of the Traveler
I like to blend the Fourth Edition approach with my original idea—the concept that the abilities of the doppelganger are something that any changeling can develop if they put their mind to it. The defining gifts of the doppelganger are telepathy and an unarmed attack, something a psion or monk can match. I called this out in an Eberron article in Dragon 193, suggesting that “intense training, the traditions of Ohr Kaluun, and their devotion to the Traveler” allowed the changelings of Lost to develop enhanced telepathic and shapeshifting abilities. From a practical standpoint, this is a possible explanation for the class abilities of a changeling character. A changeling monk can describe their enhanced unarmed attacks and armor class as being tied to their shapeshifting, something further developed with the Way of the Living Weapon in Exploring Eberron. But there’s no need to limit such gifts to the powers of the old-school doppelganger. The Lost article notes that the hidden village has a core of mental adepts whose abilities rival those of kalashtar adepts, allowing them to communicate with sending and monitor the region with clairvoyance. It calls out that some changelings can shapeshift into animal forms, mirroring the abilities of druids—something I’ve called out elsewhere as the Changeling Menagerie.
So overall, I like the idea that changelings are the shapeshifting species that are part of everyday life in Eberron, and that “doppelganger” is actually askill set a changeling can master… and the “doppelganger” in the 5E Monster Manual is a changeling with a particular set of skills. The one problem with that is that while a player character changeling can improve their unarmed attack by taking a level in monk, there’s no easy way for them to replicate the ability to detect thoughts at will. However, the uncommon helm of telepathy lets a character do just that, and more. In my campaign, I’d allow a changeling player who trains to become a “doppelganger” to acquire a supernatural gift, something like this…
Doppelganger’s Vision (Requires attunement, can only be attuned by a changeling)
This supernatural gift reflects your training in the telepathic techniques of the doppelganger. To use this gift, you must devote an attunement slot to it, just as if you were attuning to a magic item. While you are attuned to this gift, you can use an action to cast the detect thoughts spell; Charisma is your spellcasting ability for this. Once acquired, this gift is a part of you, but you can only use it while you are actively attuned to it.
On the one hand, this is concretely weaker than the helm of telepathy, which also allows telepathic communication with allies and the ability to cast suggestion once per day; on the other hand, once acquired, it can’t be taken away. In terms of how it would be acquired, I’d give it the same narrative weight as an uncommon magic item. The player character would need find a mentor—a skilled doppelganger willing to teach them this technique. Developing the gift would take time and the mentor would set tasks the would-be doppelganger would need to carry out during their other adventures; at a narratively suitable time, I’d grant them the gift. Another way to approach this would be as a feat, but I’m not aware of a feat that provides a similar benefit—so I’d personally model it on a magic item.
So this is my primary approach to doppelgangers in my campaign: a doppelganger is a changeling who has developed the abilities we associate with the doppelganger monster. Having said that, there’s also room in the world for a very different sort of doppelganger….
Doppelgangers of the Daelkyr
Eberron has always challenged the idea of “what makes a monster,” and this was part of the point of the changeling—to take a creature that was generally featured only as an antagonist and to add depth to it. At the same time, in some stories you want a monster. There’s horror in the moment when you see your reflection and it smirks at you and draws a knife, or in the fear that one of your friends isn’t actually your friend. Compare Mystique from the X-Men to the alien in the movie The Thing. In this analogy, Mystique is a changeling. Sometimes she’s a hero and sometimes she’s a villain, but in either story we understand her motives and can sympathize with her. The Thing is incomprehensible. It may be driven by a desire to survive. It could be an anthropologist that researches alien worlds by assimilating their species. It could just be hungry. We don’t know.
This is the purpose of the Daelkyr doppelganger: to be a source of horror, a shapechanging enemy whose motives are unknowable and, at the end of the day, potentially irrelevant; in The Thing, what matters most is survival. In a story in which a changeling impersonates a duke, their motives matter; they might be trying to seize power or they might be trying to free oppressed peasants from the Duke’s tyrannical rule. By the end of the story, the players will understand why the changeling has taken these actions—and in the latter example, they may have a difficult decision to make as to whether they bring down the imposter or allow them to remain as a more benevolent Duke. By contrast, you may never know the motives of the Daelkyr doppelganger. Perhaps it’s helping a cult of the Dragon Below. It could be that the doppelganger has a non-linear experience of time and is consuming creatures in reverse, unwinding its way through its own timeline until it reaches the moment of its death when it is finally itself alone. It could be that it feeds on specific memories and needs to digest the memories of the duke before it moves on.
One of the reasons I like this approach is to expand the roster of creatures you can expect to deal with when clashing with daelkyr and Cults of the Dragon Below. It doesn’t have to be all dolgrims and mind flayers. Doppelgangers, werewolves, gargoyles—there are many monsters that can work as daelkyr creations; they should just feel different from their mundane counterparts. Rising From The Last War suggests that daelkyr doppelgangers are creations of Dyrrn the Corruptor, but I think that’s an unnecessary limitation; with few tweaks you can create unique versions of the doppelganger tied to different daelkyr.
Dyrrn is known for creating the mind flayers and the dolgaunts. Telepathy and tentacles are one of Dyrrn’s signatures. A standard doppelganger has a slam attack that deals 1d6 bludgeoning damage. For a Dyrrn doppelganger, I’d change this natural attack to deal piercing damage and describe it as the doppelganger’s fingers becoming burrowing tentacles or it attacking you with its barbed, prehensile tongue—that when it drops its disguise, it’s dramatic. I’d also highlight its telepathic nature, giving Dyrrn doppelgangers Telepathy with a range of 120 ft as a language. Dyrrn doppelgangers would only speak when interacting with other humanoids; among themselves they would always be eerily silent. A more dramatic change would be to give them blindsight based on the idea that they actually see using detect thoughts rather than standard vision, and that their eyes are just cosmetic (and likely absent in its natural form); like a dolgaunt, they would be blind beyond the radius of their blindsight.
Kyrzin loves oozes. I’d see a Kyrzin doppelganger as being an ooze that has the ability to assume humanoid forms. While it would generally use the doppelganger stat block, its slam attack would reflect it transforming its fist into a heavy pseudopod. I’d give the Kyrzin doppelganger a form of the Amorphous trait possessed by many oozes; it has to squeeze, but when it squeezes it can flow through any opening up to one inch wide. This ability wouldn’t extend to equipment, but I’d be willing to let a Kyrzin doppelganger to mimic basic clothing with its shapeshifting.
Belashyrra’s doppelgangers could function the same as standard doppelgangers, but with the idea that they don’t physically change shape but rather psychically change the way you perceive them. Given the power of the daelkyr, I’d be willing to just make this a flat effect and not something that requires a saving throw to succeed, and to say that the effect extends to senses other than sight—but I’d probably add that it doesn’t undead or constructs, or possibly creatures immune to being charmed. I could also imagine a version of They Live, where an adventurer can acquire a set of goggles or a salve that allows them to see through the disguise of Belashyrra’s doppelgangers.
Valaara could create a form of doppelganger that can’t change shape instantly, but instead kills a creature and then enters a chrysalis state to assume its form; so more limited than a normal doppelganger, but still able to replace people in an extended story. Its unarmed attack would be a concealed stinger that would deal piercing damage; if I wanted to make it more dangerous, I might add poison. I could see Avassh growing duplicates of people; these doppelgangers wouldn’t be able to change shape and I’d make them plants instead of humanoids, but it would still allow its cult to infiltrate a region. For either of these I’d likely give the doppelgangers a form of Telepathy that they can only use to communicate with others tied to their kind or allied cultists, playing to the idea that they’re part of a communal mind.
With all four of these, the key point is that they’re VERY DIFFERENT FROM CHANGELINGS. Dyrrn might have created his doppelgangers from changelings long ago, but the other three described here have nothing to do with changelings. They might all use the doppelganger stat block, but they’re different both from changelings and from one another.
Fey Changelings and Other Variations
While I haven’t personally seen the text, the word on the street is that Monsters of the Multiverse makes a number of changes to changelings—notably making them Fey instead of Humanoids. On the surface, this seems logical enough; they’re called changelings, and a mischievous shapeshifter sounds fey enough. However, it’s not a change I’ll use for the main changeling population in my Eberron campaign. We’ve never presented the common changeling as having ties close ties to Thelanis, and we’ve even said the name “changeling” comes from a minsunderstanding—people assuming a fey connection even though none exists. That 4E article calls out the changelings of Lost mastering techniques of Ohr Kaluun, not Thelanian magic. Beyond this, once changelings are fey, it becomes very easy to spot a disguised changeling by casting detect evil and good, which pinpoints the location of any fey within 30 feet—undermining some of the more interesting methods we’ve discussed for dealing with changelings. So in MY campaign, the main population of changelings will remain humanoids.
However, just because they aren’t mainstream doesn’t prevent there from being fey changelings in the world, and I’d certainly allow a player to play such a changeling. The obvious path for such a character would be to literally be a changeling—a humanoid carried off to Thelanis as a child and raised there, and transformed over time into a fey creature themselves. There’s a changeling Greensinger in the Threshold campaign I’m running on Patreon, and I might give them the Fey subtype, because it fits their story.
But there’s another point to this. Just as I’ve presented five different ideas for creatures that use the doppelganger stat block, there can easily be different types of creatures that use changeling traits. The Children of Jes and their descendants are the most common form of changeling. But I’d allow someone to use changeling traits to represent a shapeshifting assassin magebred by House Vadalis, someone with an unusual aberrant dragonmark (I could imagine a Wild Magic changeling sorcerer whose form changes uncontrollably when they have a Wild Magic Surge), or a Cyran changeling necromancer who can only assume the forms of people who died in the Mourning. So I’m happy for there to be fey changelings alongside the changelings of Sharn and Droaam—and potentially other exotic changelings as well.
That’s all for now, and perhaps more than anyone wanted to know! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month there’s been a number of questions related to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. As always, my answers here reflect what I would do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon material!
How would you incorporate either the draconic echoes or the Elegy of the First World into Eberron?
To answer this question, you first need to answer another: Do you want your Eberron to be part of the greater Multiverse? Eberron has its own cosmology and a very different approach to deities than many of the other core D&D settings. One option—as we suggest in Rising From The Last War is the idea that Eberron is part of the multiverse, but that it was sealed off; that traffic to other settings is possible, but very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t WANT to use elements of other settings in your Eberron campaign, it’s easy to just ignore the Multiverse and focus on Eberron as an entirely independent setting.
By canon, Eberron has its own creation myth that explains the origins of dragons. The funny thing is that it’s not entirely incompatible with the Elegy of the First World. The Elegy asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind (if you count Sardior). The Progenitor myth asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind. The Progenitor myth asserts that the first dragons were born from the drops of blood that fell on Eberron; nonetheless, this still matches the basic concept of the Elegy, in that the dragons were the first children of the Progenitors, but “were supplanted by the teeming peoples” that came after them.
Personally, I LIKE the story of dragons being formed from the blood of Siberys—the idea that they alone believe that they have a direct connection to both Siberys and Eberron, an idea that explains their innate arcane power. In MY Eberron campaign, I’m not likely to abandon this concept in favor of Eberron’s dragons being linked to other dragons across infinite settings.
If you want to add the First World to Eberron WITHOUT adding the Multiverse, a simple option is to just put it AFTER THE PROGENITORS. The Progenitors create reality. Bahamut (a native celestial who favors a draconic form) and Tiamat (the Daughter of Khyber) unite the dragons and create the First World on Eberron—an idyllic civilization that predates the Age of Demons, which was ultimately shattered BY the Age of Demons, presumably set in motion by the Daughter of Khyber. This aligns with Thir, saying that the “Dragon Gods” existed before the Age of Demons but left reality when the First World was broken; this ties to the idea I’ve suggested elsewhere that Eberron’s version of Bahamut would have sacrificed themselves in the Age of Demons and could be the core of the Silver Flame.
If you want to incorporate the Multiverse into your Eberron campaign, then you can just use the First World exactly as it stands in Fizban’s. In this case, the Progenitor myth is presumably FALSE, since it has a very specific story for the origin of dragons; but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that the Progenitor Myth IS ONLY A MYTH… or even that the Progenitor Myth is just a garbled version of the Elegy.
As for draconic echoes, the idea that each dragon is mirrored across realities: If I wanted to use this, what I’d do is to assert that every reality has a Draconic Prophecy, and Eberron is simply the only one where people have recognized this. Draconic Echoes reflect the fact that the dragons are prophetically significant. But if I was going to do that, I’d personally want to add OTHER echoes across settings; even if they don’t manifest dragonmarks, you might have echoes of dragonmarked heirs in other worlds, and you’d definitely have echoes of especially Prophetically significant characters—IE player characters. But I personally prefer NOT to mix peanut butter with my chocolate. I’m happy to explore alternate incarnations of Eberron, as with the Gith, but I’ve never brought the rest of the multiverse into any of my personal campaigns (though I HAVE played a “far traveler” character from Eberron—a warforged cleric searching for pieces of the Becoming God—in someone else’s non-Eberron campaign).
How would you incorporate the alternative half-dragon origins from Chapter Three of Fizban’s? Would that change how you present Dragonborn?
Keep in mind that all things that use the stat blocks and basic shapes of dragons and dragonborn don’t have to share the same origin. For the primary dragons of Argonnessen, I LIKE the fact that while they are imbued with arcane power—children of Eberron and Siberys—they are still ultimately MORTAL. They are an ancient and advanced species, but they aren’t multiversal echoes and they’re more grounded than the immortals. They live, learn, have jobs, pursue research. So for the dragons of Argonnessen, I wouldn’t say that they reproduce by divine origin or parthenogenesis or when someone steals their hoard… because they are are ancient, long-lived, and imbued with arcane power, but they are STILL MORTAL CREATURES OF EBERRON. This principle likewise applies to dragonborn who trace their roots to Argonnessen. It seems likely that the original dragonborn were magebred by the dragons from some sort of humanoid stock. But I don’t think those original dragonborn were formed from greed or true love. WITH THAT SAID…
As I said, NOT ALL DRAGONS AND DRAGONBORN HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME ORIGIN. Many of the options described in Fizban’s—from someone becoming a half-dragon after stealing from a dragon’s hoard, to eating forbidden fruit, to a tree on which dragon eggs grow like fruit—don’t sound like Argonnessen to me; they sound like THELANIS. First of all, you could have any number of dragons who appear as “supporting cast”—they would have the stats of dragons (though I’d likely make them fey as well as dragons) but the point is that they aren’t entirely REAL. They don’t have goals or desires beyond serving their role in the story. The dragon in a cave guarding a sword in a stone truly has nothing better to do. Beyond this, I could also imagine a dragon as one of the archfey of Thelanis. I can see two paths here. My personal impulse would be to have a single archfey dragon who encompasses all the legends of dragonkind—the greedy hoarder, the destroyer of cities. But I could also imagine there being two archfey dragons—the Bright Dragon and the Night Dragon, essentially filling the STORY role of Bahamut and Tiamat, even though they wouldn’t take direct action on Eberron. Still, it would be one of these entities who could potentially bestow Cradle Favor or have a tree that grows dragon eggs (because as archfey they wouldn’t reproduce like mortal dragons do). With that in mind, I feel it’s either in Thelanis or in a Thelanian manifest zone that you’ll have someone becoming a dragon or half-dragon due to greed or by bathing in dragon’s blood. And you could thus have dragonborn who have such origins—or heck, who spring up because you sow a field with dragon’s teeth. But they aren’t the most common forms.
Regardless of how I present dragonBORN, we had half-dragons in 3.5 Eberron. The most infamous of these is Erandis Vol. Her creation is described this as involving a program of magebreeding, so I think it’s a form of True Love’s Gift, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “I love you, you get to be part-dragon” (UNLESS you’re in Thelanis!); I think you’ve got to work actual magic into the picture. In the case of Vol, I think the Emerald Claw and his kind were trying to create sustainable, “true” half-dragons; I could easily see some rogue dragon using less reliable techniques to create sterile half-dragon mules.
I am fine with the idea that infusions of dragon’s blood could have a dramatic effect on other creatures, and could be a basis for sorcery; again, dragons have an innate force of arcane magic. But I am more inclined to make that essentially scientific in nature. If there’s a place where just living there causes you to become a half-dragon, I’d make that a Thelanian manifest zone, not just something that happens to anyone who hangs out in a mansion in Argonnessen.
The main thing is that many of the Fizban options present dragons as fundamentally mythic beings. The dragons of Argonnessen are legendary, but they are also VERY REAL. They have a civilization, families, politics, and so on. With all that said, the final option I’d consider if I wanted to use multiversal echoes and the like would be to have a number of dragons who are literally physical embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. These could be essentially immortals, aware of their nature and their purpose; or they could be scattered among the mortal dragons, essentially an immortal seed reincarnated many times, and that has echoes across the multiverse.
Have there been any notable half-dragons in Khorvaire’s history that weren’t Kill On Sight? Anyone that famously claimed draconic heritage or might similar to Hassalac Chaar?
There’s a few factors here. Personally, I don’t think half-dragons ARE kill on sight. In my opinion, the issue with the line of Vol wasn’t solely half-dragons; it was the attempt to create and control apex dragonmarks through the medium of half-dragons. I also think Argonnessen disapproves of the idea of dragons trying to create any entirely new true-breeding species without approval. However, if we assume that most dragons are sterile or otherwise can’t pass on their traits, I don’t think Argonnesen will care about them, and I can personally imagine individual dragons creating half-dragons for specific purposes. Beyond this, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to identify a half-dragon AS a half-dragon. I think half-dragons with different origins could have very different physical traits. Does your sorcerer who claims dragon’s blood actually have scales and claws, or is it purely an explanation for their power in spite of their mechanically using a different ancestry? Regardless, in a world with dragonborn, blackscale lizardfolk, yuan-ti, and magebreeding in general, I think a lot of times rare oddities will just be seen as curiosities.
This ties to the point that when I say that someone becoming a dragonborn or half-dragon by bathing in dragon’s blood would be tied to Thelanis, it’s because of the idea that there are stories about it happening. So yes, I am certain that there ARE an assortment of legendary heroes and villains across all of the cultures of Eberron—the fallen kingdoms of old Sarlona, Xen’drik, even Dhakaan—of rare half-dragons, whose powers were a blessing or a curse. We have one concrete example in canon, and that’s the Draleus Tairn, the dragonslayer elves; Dragons of Eberron notes “Rumors exist that the Draleus dragon slayers can take the powers of their victims; that their blood burns like dragonfire; that they can spit lightning or breathe acid; and that their blood rituals increase their life span and even imbue them with the strength of the dragon. Perhaps these stories are mere myths. The tales could also reflect the presence of half-dragons or dragon shamans among the Draleus Tairn, with these powers derived from spilled blood instead of shared blood.” At the moment I don’t have time to make up examples of such heroes or villains, but I expect there’s a few examples in almost every culture. Following the Thelanian example ofthe half-dragon created through greed, I love the idea of a half-dragon giant lingering in a vault in a Thelanian manifest zone in Xen’drik.
How do Moonstone Dragons, which as presented in Fizban’s are tied to both the fey and to dreams, fit into your Eberron?
Personally, I see no reason to tie Moonstone dragons directly to Dal Quor. Fizban says “Moonstone dragons can project themselves into the realm of dreams to communicate with the creatures that sleep near their lairs.” Thus, they are related to dreams in the same way as a night hag or any mortal wizard who can cast Dream: they are skilled at USING and manipulating dreams, but that doesn’t mean they are natives of Dal Quor. Likewise, I personally wouldn’t make them dragons of Thelanis. In my earlier suggestions regarding Thelanian dragons, the main idea that Thelanian dragons would fill iconic draconic story archetypes which don’t really make sense for mortal dragons of Eberron—IE, when you find a dragon guarding a hoard in a cave in the woods, with no logical reason to be there other than to guard that hoard, THAT might be a Thelanian dragon and the cave may be in a manifest zone, because most Argonnessen dragons have SOMETHING BETTER TO DO than to hang out in a cave in the woods. The Moonstone dragon doesn’t fit that role either; it’s more exotic and unusual than iconic.
So WITH THAT IN MIND… The dragons of Argonnessen are the most ancient civilization on Eberron (and have seen cultures rise and fall). They have forgotten arcane secrets other species have yet to learn. In the process of their history they have surely studied the planes, manifest zones, and wild zones. I would say that Moonstone dragons trace their roots back to a flight of dragons devoted to the study of the planes and to Thelanis and Dal Quor in particular, who were changed through their long interaction with those planes—either intentionally (magebreeding themselves to strengthen their ability to operate in those planes) or by the “background radiation.” I would say that they serve as Argonnessen’s ambassadors to Thelanis and as mediators to Fey in general; Argonnessen has manifest zones tied to Thelanis just like everywhere else, and where some cultures have fey pact warlocks, Argonnessen has Moonstone dragons. The dream aspect I’d tend to use just as described—a tool they use to communicate and inspire mortals, but not reflecting a deeper connection to Dal Quor.
I think the idea that they love creativity and like to inspire mortals is fine, and I can see this bringing a lot of Moonstone dragons to the Chamber—that they actually LIKE working with the “lesser species” and giving them inspiration in ways that don’t hurt the Prophecy or carry the risk of Aureon’s Folly. But personally, I’d largely keep them on the material plane. If there are Moonstone dragons in Thelanis, I’d make them envoys or immigrants rather than natives.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and making these articles possible. And just to be clear: I’m happy to clarify my answers to the above questions, but I do not have time to answer addtional new questions about other aspects of Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons; it’s a big book and covering it in its entirety would require a longer article.
Eberron is balanced between thirteen planes, each of which represents an iconic concept. All mortal creatures are influenced by these planes. We dream in Dal Quor and cast shadows in Mabar. We feel the martial call of Shavarath balanced by the tranquility of Syrania. Where these planes extend directly into the Material Plane they create manifest zones and wild zones, Shaping Eberron in their image. Counting those that are lost, there were thirteen planes, thirteen moons, thirteen dragonmarks.
What, then, is the role of the astral plane? What concept does it represent? Does it, too, shape the world? Why isn’t associated with a moon or with manifest zones?
While the astral plane is called a “plane,” it has little in common with the thirteen planes of the orrery. It wasn’t created to embody a concept, because it wasn’t created. The Astral Plane is the ultimate foundation of reality, the realm that existed before creation. If you interpret the creation myth literally, the astral plane was the canvas upon which the Progenitors painted existence as we know it. As such, it’s not part of creation; it’s the space that lies between and beyond it. It doesn’t have a purpose; it simply is.
With that said, the fact that the astral plane is the space between spaces gives it value. With a few exceptions—such as the Immeasurable Market of Syrania—the planes of Eberron exist as independent and isolated systems. There’s no direct path from Risia to Fernia, or from Mabar to Lamannia. All of the planes touch the material plane, but manifest zones that serve as gateways aren’t easy to find. Barring manifest gateways, travel between the planes involves passing through the astral plane. Plane shift and gate expedite this process, connecting through the astral in a blink of an eye. Without such magic, travelers must enter and depart the astral plane through the color pools. So why visit the astral plane? The first reason is to go somewhere else; the astral is just the road that will take you there. The second reason is to get away; disconnected as it is from reality and the ravages of time, the astral can serve as the ultimate sanctuary. The third reason is because you need to interact with the travelers or exiles who dwell there—or wish to explore the forgotten debris of previous ages, abandoned and forgotten in the astral plane.
The astral plane is an endless silvery void. Wisps of silver and gray drift between motes of light—at first glance these seem like stars, but in fact they are the countless pools of color where the other planes bleed into the astral. There is no inherent gravity or orientation; you move by thinking about moving, and if you have no desire to move you will simply be suspended in the void. Some travelers embrace the idea of flying, while others choose to walk across the void even though there’s no ground beneath their feet.
Ancient and Enigmatic.Commune, augury, divination,legend lore and similar spells are unreliable in the astral plane. Many of the ruins and relics found in the silver sea are from previous incarnations of Eberron or predate creation itself, and spells of this age can’t unlock their mysteries.
Beyond Time and Space. Creatures in the astral plane do not age, and are immune to hunger and thirst. Time moves at the same pace within the astral plane as it does on Eberron, but creatures who spend an extensive amount of time in the astral plane often lose the ability to sense the passage of time; a hermit who’s been isolated in the astral plane for thousands of years might believe it’s been a single year.
Speed of Thought. While in the astral plane, a creature has a flight speed (in feet) equal to 3 x its Intelligence score. This replaces all other forms of movement the creature possesses, and overrides any spell or effect that grants or increases movement speed.
Suspended in the Void. Movement in the astral plane only happens by intention, and a creature that isn’t actively moving or being moved will float, suspended in the void. Thrown objects or ranged attacks travel the maximum distance they would travel in the material plane—driven by the intent of the person who launched them—and then come to a stop, floating in the air.
DENIZENS OF THE ASTRAL PLANE
There’s no native life in the astral plane. Those creatures encountered here are either immigrants, travelers passing through, or things that have been created and set here—most by beings or civilizations long forgotten. I’ll be posting a table of possible astral encounters as bonus content on my Patreon, but here’s a general look at the creatures you might find.
While plane shift allows travelers to instantly traverse the astral plane, there are always travelers who make their way across the astral step by step. These include denizens of the outer planes, but not many; the planes are independent systems that are designed to function in isolation. With this in mind, it’s never normal for beings from the planes to be traveling through the astral, and if they are you can be sure there’s a story behind it. Perhaps an efreeti pasha wishes to serve shaved Risian ice at their next gala, and has dispatched a servant to fetch some. Perhaps a condemned archfey is being escorted from Thelanis to the Inescapable Prison of Daanvi, or an angelic Virtue of Knowledge is going to consult the Infinite Archive. Any of these things could happen, but all of them are remarkable events; it’s not like there’s a constant stream of immortals passing through the astral plane.
Mortal travelers from the material plane are likewise rare, but not unknown. The mages of the Five Nations know of the Astral Plane, but have not yet developed a sustainable form of astral travel. There are currently three civilizations that make use of astral travel.
The Dragons of Argonnessen. Long ago, a cabal of dragons sought to build within the astral plane; this experiment came to an end with the loss of Sharokarthel (see below). Today Argonnessen sees the astral plane purely as a conduit for travel. Since powerful wyrms will make use of plane shift, most dragons encountered in the astral plane will be in their middle years—accomplished enough to have needs that can only be met in other planes, but not capable of casting plane shift. Loredrakes (dragon scholars) may wish to consult the Infinite Archives of Daanvi or to speak with a particular immortal. Masters of the Hoard (collectors and merchants) may be seeking unique commodities, while Flames of the Forge (artisans and artificers) may be looking for resources that can only be acquired beyond reality.
The Elves of Aerenal. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the Astral Plane, working on the grand experiment of Pylas Var-Tolai. Beyond this celestial realm, the Aereni follow in the footsteps of the dragons. The greatest Aereni sages may consult with Virtues in Syrania or browse the Infinite Archive, and Aereni artisans may seek materials that can only be found in the planes. Where dragons found traveling in the astral are usually young, elf travelers are most likely among the most accomplished of their kind still living; astral travel is an established practice, but only the most capable elves will risk its many dangers.
The Venomous Demesne. Hidden in western Droaam, the Venomous Demesne is less than two thousand years old—a pale shadow in comparison to Argonnessen or Aerenal. But the humans and tieflings of the Demesne are brilliant mages who are pushing the bounds of arcane science. Over the course of the last century they’ve begun to dig deeper into the mysteries of the Astral Plane, both as a corridor through which to reach the planes and as a resource in its own right. Some mages of the Demesne seek to bargain with the Githyanki, while others hope to find forgotten treasures in the ruins of Sharokarthel. So the Demesne doesn’t yet have a large-scale presence in the Astral Plane, but adventurers could encounter Demesne mages either as fellow travelers or as rival explorers competing for plunder and secret knowledge.
Immigrants and Exiles
There’s no truly native life in the astral plane, but there are creatures—both mortals and immortals—who choose to live within the silver sea. Some have been stranded by mystical accidents. Others are prisoners exiled to the astral plane, cursed so that they cannot leave it; they are trapped in the timeless void, doomed never to return to the world that has forgotten them. There are hermits who have chosen this solitary existence: philosophers who appreciate having an eternity to contemplate the higher mysteries, inventors working on forbidden research, fugitives waiting for their enemies to die of old age. With no need for food or drink, some dwell in complete isolation; explorers could find a Cul’sir giant who has been meditating for the last five thousand years. Other creatures came to the astral plane in groups, and maintain some form of society in the silver sea. The most significant of these are the Githyanki, who escaped the destruction of a previous incarnation of Eberron and now dwell in fortress-ships the size of small towns. However, there are a handful of smaller communities scattered across the infinite void. Some come from lost realities, like the Gith. Others are remnants of fallen civilizations or followers of traditions that have been wiped out on the material plane. Adventurers exploring the deep astral could discover an outpost built by the dwarves of Sol Udar, or a Dhakaani garrison that knows nothing of the chaat’oor. Part of the point of these outposts is to explore the idea of isolation. They don’t need anything from the outside world; they have no need to seek out others and trade with them. Thus they can exist as flies in amber—a Dhakaani force even more isolated than the Kech Dhakaan, goblins who don’t even realize their empire has fallen. Adventurers could find an astral workshop where giants of the Sulat League have been perfecting a doomsday weapon they can use to take vengeance on the dragons, or the labyrinth-tower of an infamous prince of Ohr Kaluun, cast into the astral plane to escape the Sundering.
Most of the immigrants and exiles of the astral plane exist in isolation and timeless stagnation, content to be forgotten in the trackless expanse of the void. The Githyanki are the most notable exception to this rule. Tu’narath is a bustling city, fueled by the plunder Githyanki raiders bring in from other planes. The ships themselves are communities, from small vessels that house a dozen raiders to the fortress-ships that hold hundreds. With that said, between dwelling in the astral and pillaging immortal planes, the Githyanki themselves have lost track of time. This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both allow their population to grow and to give them an anchor in time. The naysayers argue that they don’t belong in the current creation—that they’ve been able to thrive in the astral because it is beyond reality, but that if the Githyanki stake a claim in the material it could trigger unknown metaphysical defenses. The argument continues; as a DM, if you decide to explore such an invasion, you’ll have to decide if there will be unforeseen consequences to a Githyanki incursion.
The Githyanki are warlike and proud. Their ultimate goal is to build their power until they can destroy Xoriat itself, regardless of the consequences this could have to reality. They have a deep competitive streak that could be seen as a need to prove themselves superior to the world that has replaced theirs. Whether merchant or warrior, Githyanki view all interactions through the lens of conflict; every situation has a winner and a loser, and the Githyanki will always be the victors. Note that this doesn’t mean mindless aggression; the Githyanki recognize the need to outwit their enemies, to employ careful strategies and preserve their limited resources. But they are always seeking a path to victory, and they have no compunction about taking anything they desire from the people around them; in the eyes of the Githyanki, only their people are real, and all the trappings of this age are just flawed reflections of their reality. This is one reason the Githyanki raid other planes while leaving the other denizens of the astral plane alone. Even if they are from other realities, the Githyanki recognize the other exiles as kindred in suffering—and beyond that, they prefer not to start battles on their home ground. So the Gith are constantly raiding through the color pools, but they avoid the ruins and outposts of other immigrants in the astral sea. They have limited contact with the Aereni. They feel no love for these creatures of the usurping reality, but see more value in trading with them than in starting a conflict in the void. However, if the Githyanki were to launch an attack against Eberron, it’s likely they would either negotiate a treaty with Aerenal before they begin… or that they would find a way to cripple the Undying Court and launch their conquest with a devastating first strike against the elves.
Most of the denizens of the astral plane have a history that can be unraveled and explored. Some come from earlier incarnations, like the Githyanki. Others come from fallen nations—remnants of Xen’drik, Sol Udar, the Empire of Dhakaan. The ruins of Sharokarthel are almost a hundred thousand years old. But there are beings in the astral plane that predate even the age of demons, constructs built and abandoned by civilizations entirely unknown… civilizations that could even predate the Progenitors and the cosmology of Eberron itself. The terrifying Astral Dreadnoughts are one example of these forgotten entities. These gargantuan entities glide through the astral sea, destroying all that they encounter. Some believe that the dreadnoughts were created by the Progenitors to fight any beings that might come from beyond Eberron’s cosmology—that the dreadnoughts exist to fight any would-be gods that might seek a foothold in Eberron. Others believe that the dreadnoughts predate the Progenitors, that they are remnants of a world truly beyond mortal understanding. The dreadnoughts are just one example of those things that may be forgotten in the depths of the astral—powers waiting to be unleashed.
LAYERS AND LOCATIONS
The astral plane isn’t divided into layers. It is a singular, seemingly infinite void in which color pools are scattered like stars. Measured using the concepts of the material plane, Tu’narath and Sharokarthel could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles apart. This is why it’s possible to find an astral hermitage where a giant philosopher has remained undisturbed for thousands of years… because unless you know what you’re looking for, the astral plane is so vast as to make any particular location a single grain of sand on a vast beach.
It might seem like this distance would prevent any sort of meaningful travel in the astral plane. If Tu’narath and Sharokarthel are a hundred thousand miles apart, how is an adventurer to move between them? The catch is that movement in the astral plane isn’t measured in miles or even in space; it is purely a concept. The Speed of Thought trait determines a character’s speed in combat, where people must focus on the narrow moment. Outside of combat, movement across the Astral Plane is based on knowing where you wish to go and willing yourself to get there. Travel speed is largely arbitrary; the Dungeon Master’s Guide notes that it will take about 1d4 x 10 hours to find a color pool tied to a particular plane, with the risk of psychic wind increasing travel time. But that’s just to find a random pool; think of this as searching the skies for a green star and then willing yourself in its direction. Astral color pools are tied to locations within planes; finding a specific pool, or finding a location like Sharokarthel, is a different story. If you have been to the location before, it will usually take around 1d4 x 10 hours to reach it. If you’re proficient in Arcana, you can work with a description of a location (an Aereni map, a description from a Cul’sir tomb…). In such a case, it can take 1d8 x 10 hours to reach your destination. If you have no intended destination, you can try to navigate based on the constellations formed by the scattered color pools; you’ll eventually find something, whether it’s just a pool or some more interesting outpost or ruin. Someone familiar with astral travel can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check to speed travel; this is arbitrary, but a good result can reduce travel time and help the travelers avoid the psychic wind.
The elves of Aerenal are the most notable astral cartographers in Eberron. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court have spent countless hours exploring the astral sea as thought forms, recording the paths of its constellations and noting interesting ruins and hermitages. If adventurers wish to find adventure in the astral plane, they could just dive into the sea and start swimming… but a torn page from an Aereni atlas could be what they need to get started.
Ruins and Hermitages
The astral plane may in fact be infinite, and there’s no telling what could be waiting in that void. There’s at least one active city, Tu’narath. But there are many other points of interest scattered in the void. Most of these are ruins. Some are the remnants of actual cities once built in the astral plane, like Sharokarthel. Others are simply pieces of unknown civilizations or lands. These could be from the distant past of this Eberron. They could be remnants of a lost Eberron, such as the Eberron of the Gith. Or they could even be relics of previous creations, realities older than the Progenitors themselves. A few examples…
A dragon’s skull, ten miles long from snout to horn-tip. The shape doesn’t precisely match any known species of dragon.
A single tower, seemingly broken off of a larger castle.
A massive ship, apparently designed for sea travel—a distinctly different design than the Githyanki vessels.
A mountain peak formed from some sort of smoky crystal.
A mass of silvery clouds, soft but solid enough to stand on. They drift and shift, but never disperse or drift apart.
The empty shell of an immense dragon turtle.
Half of an immense bridge, sheered off sharply in the middle.
A manor house, preserved with mending magic and tended by unseen servants. It’s impossible to tell how long it’s stood empty.
A grove of colossal trees, whose roots and branches are intertwined.
There are many planes in which odd structures can be found. What differentiates the ruins of the Astral Plane from the bizarre landscapes of Xoriat is the fact that ruins generally feel like they had a purpose—they may be encountered out of context, but once the ship was in water and the skull was part of an immense dragon. What makes them unlike the wonders of Thelanis is that while they may have a purpose, the ruins of the astral plane rarely have a story—at least, not one that can be easily discerned. The skull was once part of a dragon, but there are no further clues as to who that dragon was or how it died; if it was once part of a story, that story is long over.
Ruins are generally abandoned. When immigrants or exiles lay claim to a ruin, it becomes a hermitage. Given that creatures in the astral plane are immune to starvation and thirst, people can live in places that could never support life in the natural world. A massive dragon skull could be inhabited by a clan of winged kobolds, or by a trio of Seekers of the Divinity Within. Again, unlike Xoriat, the denizens of such a realm came from somewhere; if there’s kobolds in the skull, the question is whether they’re from Eberron, a previous reality, or a forgotten creation.
The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the astral plane—leaving their bodies behind and exploring through astral projection. In part, they are charting the near-infinite expanse; the Aereni have maps of many ruins and hermitages, even though they have left many of the hermits undisturbed. But astral cartography is a side project. Their true interest is something far grander. The astral plane is a place of beginnings. If the myths are true, it is here that the Progenitors laid the cornerstone of creation. The Undying Court seeks to follow in their footsteps—to create a new reality. They are still far from this goal, but using their gestalt power they have managed to create a region within the void—an island they call Pylas Var-Tolai.
The core of Pylas Var-Tolai is a vast, fortified monastery. This includes a scriptorium where monks draw maps of the astral sea, a vast library holding accounts of all the ruins they have explored, and a vault holding both wonders found in the astral and artifacts deemed too dangerous to be kept in the material plane. There is a council chamber at the center of it where the ascendant councilors commune with one another and exert their power. While the most important inhabitants of Var-Tolai are the astral forms of the ascendant councilors, there is a population of mortal elves—scholars, priests, and soldiers—who are physically present. While Pylas Var-Tolai is primarily a research outpost, it also serves as a waystation for Aereni who have business in the planes; as such it does have a small capacity for guests, and there are usually a handful of travelers along with the permanent staff. Whoever, the monastery is driven by research, not commerce. If adventurers come to the gates of Pylas Var-Tolai, the priests will be more interested in their stories than their gold.
The most important aspect of Pylas Var-Tolai is the gate at its center. This allows passage to the workshop of the Undying Court… the reality they are creating. This is very much a work in progress, fluid and unsustainable. But they are continuing to work at it. When adventurers visit, the realm on the other side of the gate could be a tiny island or a vast continent. It could be a perfect replica of Aerenal, or it could be a wondrous realm that defies the laws of physics. Visiting adventurers could be asked to explore the nascent realm—to test the creation of the councilors, and identify its flaws.
In the wake of the Age of Demons, the victorious dragons spread across the world. This lead to the first rise of the Daughter of Khyber, which led to a devastating war of dragons that destroyed the nations they’d created and forced them to withdraw later. Ten thousand years later, a loredrake presented a new idea. The Daughter of Khyber drew power when the dragons expanded across Eberron. But the Daughter herself was bound to Khyber. What, then, if the dragons spread not across the material plane, but across the outer planes? This impulse led to the creation of a number of outposts in the astral plane, culminating in the great city of Sharokarthel. This is a city built by dragons, for dragons—a city formed from magic and the immateria, unbound by gravity or weather. The dragons of Sharokarthel built arcane workshops and planar orreries, and amassed hoards drawn from across the planes. But ultimately the theory was proven wrong. The Daughter of Khyber couldn’t touch the dragons in Sharokarthel—but as their glory grew, she could corrupt those dragons still on Eberron, and these corrupted servants could carry the fight to the astral city. This led to the second great collapse. The Daughter was defeated once again, but the dragons were forced to abandon Sharokarthel. They didn’t destroy the glorious city, but they laid powerful wards and curses upon it, ensuring that no casual traveler could claim their abandoned glory.
There are a number of draconic ruins in the astral plane, but Sharokarthel is the grandest of them all. It surely holds untold wonders and treasures, but it’s protected by powerful curses and traps. Still, there are surely accounts of those defenses somewhere. Perhaps a human sage might stumble upon a book detailing a secret path into Sharokarthel… or perhaps a young dragon might recruit a group of adventurers to accompany them to the abandoned city, hoping to reclaim some treasure of their ancient ancestors.
There are many effects—magnificent mansions, bags of holding, portable holes—that make use of extradimensional spaces. Typically, these are presented as tiny demiplanes, isolated and unconnected; some, such as secret chest, mention the ethereal plane. However, one possibility is that these extradimensional spaces are in fact in the astral plane. A bag of holding can be encountered as a floating force bubble containing objects… while a magnificent mansion is a mansion suspended in the void. If this is the case, someone might be able to find and penetrate those spaces from the outside. Of course, keep in mind that finding a bag of holding in the astral plane would be like finding a bottle dropped into an ocean; the astral plane is potentially infinite. But if a DM follows this route, they could decide that items created with the same technique occupy the same region of the astral plane; that there is a constellation of Cannith bags of holding, a neighborhood of Ghallanda magnificent mansions, or an island formed by the Kundarak Vault network. If this is the case and someone DOES find a way to access any of these things from the outside, it could cause chaos and force the houses to deploy additional security. But it could certainly make for an epic astral heist!
In their early days in the astral plane, the Githyanki discovered an immense six-fingered hand floating in the void. This severed hand is charged with arcane power, not unlike Eberron dragonshards. The origins of the hand remain a mystery, but the Githyanki recognized it as a useful resource and a suitable foundation for an anchorage. Most Githyanki prefer to dwell in their ships, but Tu’nararath is the port where the city-ships come together, where the Githyanki unload their planar plunder and tell tales of their glorious battles. And should they plan a conquest, it is here that they will mass their forces.
The Githyanki have no love of outsiders; if you want a friendly place to conduct commerce, go to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. However, the Sixth Finger is essentially a foreign quarter where travelers can find shelter and sample some of the wonders the Gith have claimed from across reality. It’s a very rough neighborhood, where you will find exiles, astral prisoners, and worse—but if you’re looking for an astral guide or some exotic planar plunder, you could make a landing at Tu’narath.
Here are ways that the astral plane can affect the material plane.
Manifest Zones, Coterminous and Remote
The astral plane doesn’t produce manifest zones on the material plane, and it never becomes coterminous or remote. It touches all of the planes at various points. These are visible in the astral plane as color pools and allow travelers to exit the astral plane into the connected region. However, these points are generally imperceptible on the other side of the pool. Identifying the astral point and opening the gate requires magical tools that the people of the Five Nations have yet to master. The three civilizations mentioned earlier—Argonnessen, Aerenal, and the Venomous Demesne—have ways to do this. This could involve a specialized ritual, or it could use an astral key that can open color pools from either side—either linked to a particular pool or potentially able to open any pool-point the adventurers can find. Using such methods, a Chamber agent could open an astral gateway to allow adventurers to escape disaster or to quickly pass between distant points in the material plane. Lacking such magic, the only ways to enter the astral plane are to use plane shift, gate, astral projection, or similar spells. With that said, a DM could always decide that there are circumstances under which unwary travelers can fall into the astral plane. Perhaps there’s a graveyard of ships, a point in the Thunder Sea where under the right circumstances, a maelstrom can draw ships entirely out of reality.
The astral plane produces nothing on its own, and it has no unifying theme. But it is filled with the ruins and remnants of countless civilizations and worlds. Githyanki plunder can provide treasures drawn from across the planes. Ruins and hermitages could provide relics from the past; adventurers could recover titans’ treasures from a Cul’sir outpost, Dhakaani weapons from a floating piece of an Imperial garrison, draconic wonders from the ruins of Sharokarthel. Beyond that there is the possibility for astral explorers to discover tools or resources that truly have no place in this creation. This could be anything from a new form of dragonshard or some other material that simply doesn’t exist on Eberron… to an iron flask holding an entity who comes from a previous iteration or Eberron or another creation entirely.
One uniquely astral tool is the astral key, an object that allows the bearer to open an astral color pool from either side. This allows access to the astral plane, but only from a specific point. Depending on the power of the item, the key could be tied to a single specific point or it could have the power to open any pool the bearer can find. Note that the people of the Five Nations don’t currently possess astral keys; such an item could be a relic of one of the civilizations that has mastered astral travel, or it could be a unique prototype or breakthrough. Despite the name, an astral key could be any shape; it could be a dagger that slices through the veil of reality or a paintbrush they must use to paint a doorway in the air.
For most creatures, the astral plane is simply the space that lies between the planes. It’s a path to be traveled, not a destination. But there are many ways that it can drive a story on its own. The adventurers might have to pursue a fugitive who’s slipped through a pool point and into a ruin. They could be tasked to explore a region of the astral sea, to bargain with a Githyanki smuggler, or to help a mad scholar who’s determined to reach Sharokarthel. They could acquire an iron flask holding some unknown spirit from a previous world—what will it take to open it, and would it be better left alone? Here’s a few other ideas.
An Ancestor’s Call. An Aereni adventurer is ordered to bring their adventuring companions to Shae Mordai, and from their send to Pylas Var-Tolai. An ascendant councilor—one of their distant ancestors—is conducting experiments in creation, and wants their descendant to test the lands beyond the portal. Is this just coincidence, or does the ascendant councilor know something about their descendent as yet undiscovered by the living?
Storming the Castle. An enemy of the players has built a fortress in the Astral Plane. Using a spell similar to magnificent mansion, they can retreat to their fortress from any location; this allows them to have their evil lair wherever the adventure is taking place. The adventurers could be on a desert island or in a small rustic village, but they’ll still have to pursue the necromancer Demise into her Tower of Death when things go wrong.
The Undiscovered Country. A Morgrave scholar has discovered three astral keys. One opens a pool-point in Sharn, and they want a group of adventurers to help them explore the other side. The pool-point leads to a Cul’sir outpost in the astral plane. Is it abandoned, or are their ancient giants still lingering in this place? Was it just good fortune that the scholar found the keys, or does someone want the adventurers to stumble into the forgotten outpost?
This article presents my vision of the astral plane and how I will use it in my Eberron. It surely contradicts various canon sources—Eberron or otherwise—regarding the Astral Plane, and I’m not going to try to reconcile every contradiction; it’s up to the DM to decide how to handle such things in their campaign.
What’s the deal with silver cords and spirit forms?
There are multiple ways to enter the astral plane. It is possible to enter it physically by using plane shift, gate, or by opening a pool portal (using an item like an astral key). In this case, the traveler is physically present and can suffer lasting harm and death. On the other hand, astral projection separates the caster’s spirit from their body and allows them to enter the astral plane as a spirit form tethered to their body by a silver cord. The advantage of this form of travel is that you can’t be permanently harmed while in “astral form”; if you’re reduced to zero hit points, you return to your physical body.
The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court typically travel the astral plane in spirit form, which allows them to venture into unknown regions without fear.
What about the psychic wind?
What about it? It’s a dangerous local weather condition that operates just as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
If creatures in the Astral Plane do not age, do some people travel there simply to avoid death? It seems more hospitable than Risia for such a purpose.
Absolutely! I’ve called out a few examples of this—the trio of Seekers in the dragon skull, the prince of Ohr Kaluun. You could have a Khunan archmage, another remnant of a long-forgotten society. Keep in mind that this trait isn’t unique to the astral plane of Eberron; it comes directly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide: “Creatures on the Astral Plane don’t age or suffer from hunger or thirst.” So there are certainly hermits who come to the Astral Plane to experience immortality. But there’s a number of reasons why it’s not commonplace.
It’s actually easier to reach Risia than it is to physically enter the astral plane. Manifest zones can serve as gateways to Risia; entering the astral requires the use of powerful magic or an astral key. The people of the Five Nations don’t have access to such magic; you can’t just decide to go to the Astral Spa.
The Aereni don’t actually want eternal LIFE; they seek spiritual evolution and believe life and death are part of that journey. The ultimate path of the Undying Court is to become an ascendant councilor; they spend most of their time in astral form because they are no longer bound by their physical form and exist as part of the divine gestalt. There are certainly Aereni outposts; I can imagine a tower where an Aereni poet has been working on a particular poem for a century. But for most Aereni, such a retreat would be a temporary measure, not an ideal way to spend eternity. The living elves of Pylas Var-Tolai certainly cycle out every few decades or centuries.
The Astral Plane is essentially a vast, vast desert. If you live there you won’t age and you won’t know hunger and thirst; but you’ll also live isolated from all contact with mortal society, in a vast empty void. There are unquestionably people for whom that’s a worthwhile trade, and that’s the point of hermits; if all you want to do is to study conjuration for a thousand years, building an astral workshop is an alternative to becoming a lich. But offered the casual choice, not everyone would be interested in eternal life if it means sacrificing all contact with the world and living in an endless gray void.
As noted in the traits, if you spend too much time in the astral plane you actually start to lose track of time—as noted with the giant who doesn’t realize that thousands of years have passed. It’s immortality, certainly, but it does have a psychological price.
So the short form is that there definitely are hermits in the Astral Plane who dwell there because they desire immortality. There’s philosopher dragons, old Sarlonan wizards, a handful of giants. But they’re a few grains of sand in a vast desert; the odds you’ll actually encounter them when you travel in the astral plane are quite low, unless you have some hint as to where their hermitages lie.
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Every month, my Patreonsupporters select the topics for the articles I write. I only have time for one major Dragonmark article, and in a choice between Strixhaven, Fizban’s Treasury, and the role of the Astral Plane, Astral won out. So I’ll be exploring the Astral Plane in depth later this month. But while this will be a short take on the topic, I still wanted to address the question…
How would you add Strixhaven into your Eberron campaign?
At first glance, this seems like a question with an obvious answer. Eberron already has a famous university of magic—Arcanix in Aundair. The Library of Korranberg is another option; while not explicitly a school of magic, it is a famous institute of learning that canonically has a rivalry between its aligned colleges. In the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, the Starting Point: Morgrave University discusses the idea of a campaign where the exams may be greater threats than any monster. But none of these really feel right to me. Consider the following…
Strixhaven is described as being very exotic in its makeup—”you’re as likely to meet a pixie, a dryad, a giant, a treant, or another fantastical creature on campus as you are a humanoid.” Beyond this, “it is unremarkable to meet someone who hails from a far-off land, since almost everyone on campus is from somewhere else.” Neither to these things especially fit Arcanix, which is primarily an Aundairian institution; and at Morgrave University, the presence of Flamewind the Sphinx is remarkable. Most students of Korranberg, Morgrave, or Arcanix are humanoids, and most are from the familiar nations of Khorvaire.
Strixhaven is known to be founded by five dragons, and those dragons are still around; graduates can join the Dragonsguard, “an elite group of mages who work directly with the Founder Dragons.” The Dragons of Eberron certainly have the knowledge and power to do something like this, but on Khorvaire dragons are so secretive as to be nearly mythical. And to a certain degree, asserting that Arcanix was founded by dragons would undermine the concept that it’s a seat of humanoid innovation.
Strixhaven is largely a self-contained setting that interacts little with the world around it. It’s driven by the tension between life and death, order and chaos—not the tension between Thrane and Aundair. Beyond this, the general level of common magic depicted is a higher than even that of Aundair. It’s an example of what the Five Nations could become, but it feels a little more wondrous than they are at the present. One of the things we’ve said about Arcanix is that player characters are remarkable, and that there are many professors at Arcanix who don’t actually have the full power of a wizard or a sorcerer, rather understanding magic in theory and working spells solely through rituals, like a magewright. Strixhaven is more of a chaotic place where powerful magic is constantly at play.
So, the Strixhaven book presents a host of rules and ideas that you can use piecemeal in a campaign set at Arcanix, Morgrave, or Korranberg. But personally, I wouldn’t just change Strixhaven’s name to “Arcanix” and use it as is. So if the question is how would I add STRIXHAVEN to my campaign—using it as it’s presented in the book—there’s two ideas that appeal to me.
A School of Dragons
The dragons of Argonnessen are the oldest surviving civilization in Eberron. Long ago they shared their arcane knowledge with other creatures. This ultimately resulted in the destruction of Xen’drik and is now known as kurash Ourelonastrix, “Aureon’s folly.” But what if a cabal of dragons wanted to try this again? What if these five Founders created a campus in the heart of Argonnessen, far from prying eyes, where hand-picked students and faculty from across Eberron and beyond it could delve into the deepest secrets of magic and philosophy? With this in mind, part of being a student at Strixhaven would be proving yourself worthy of this knowledge; your final exam would in part be an evaluation determining whether you should be allowed to take the knowledge that you’ve gained back to your homeland—whether you can be trusted to be a worthy steward of this knowledge.
One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s an easy way to add depth to the Chamber. the Colleges of Strixhaven aren’t known in the wider world, but they represent factions within the Chamber itself, and the five Founders can easily become the most influential members of the Chamber. The Dragonsguard become an elite order chosen to work directly with the Chamber as they oppose the Lords of Dust and work with the Prophecy. Whenever encountering Chamber agents, the DM can consider if they belong to any of the Colleges of Strixhaven, and reflect this in their abilities and actions. We’ve always said that the dragons of the Chambers are scholars and philosophers; the Colleges provide a quick set of philosophies to work with, though I wouldn’t say that they are the ONLY philosophies found within the Chamber.
As a school within Argonnessen, Strixhaven maintains the idea that “almost everyone on the campus is from somewhere else.” Likewise, it fits the idea that the students and faculty can include giants, awakened plants, or other exotic creatures; it’s a school for teaching members of ALL of the “lesser species,” not merely humanoids. Humanoid students could be drawn from anywhere on Eberron: you could have Qaltiar drow, Cold Sun lizardfolk, Akiak dwarves, Demesne tieflings, and similarly exotic choices. A central part of this idea is that this is an experiment—that the faculty carefully chooses students and wants to see if they’ll prove worthy of this knowledge. With this in mind, one question when creating your character is why were you chosen? Do you feel that there’s something remarkable about your character? Do you believe that you’re representing your nation, species, home town, or something else? Or are you mystified as to why you were selected? I really like the fact that this is a chance to bring together characters from very diverse cultures—a Riedran farmer, a Sulatar drow, a Carrion Tribes barbarian—and have the students learn about one another and find common ground even while mastering magic.
Faculty in Argonessen’s Strixhaven would likely include a significant number of dragons—younger than the founders and likely often seen in humanoid form, but still, dragons. On the other hand, faculty could also include former students. This could be a voluntary position, but I could easily see someone who was judged as unfit to return to their society with the knowledge they possessed and offered a choice: remain at Strixhaven and teach, or return home but with their arcane knowledge stripped from their mind. I would keep the Oracle as a humanoid, the embodiment of Strixhaven’s mission to share magic with non-dragons and tasked to ensure this power is not abused as it was following Aureon’s folly. Snarls could easily be an unusual form of manifest zone, possibly unique to Argonnessen just as wild zones are found on Sarlona. Star Arches are another question. While these could easily be draconic artifacts, part of the purpose of the arches is to be mysterious. One option would be to say that they are left over from the Age of Demons, and that even the dragons don’t know their origins—that some believe them to be creations of the Progenitors themselves, or “the bones of Siberys.” Another option is that they are relics of a fallen Draconic civilization. I’ve mentioned before that the degree to which the dragons fear the Daughter of Tiamat implies at least one devastating incident involving her release. With a hundred thousand years to work with, it’s entirely possible to imagine that draconic civilization has endured at least one massive collapse—that the Star Arches could be creations of Ourelonastrix and his peers, but that the dragons of the present day don’t understand them or know how to replicate them.
This concept of Strixhaven is somewhat similar to the city of Io’lokar, presented in Dragons of Eberron. Personally, I’ve never liked Io’lokar and don’t use it in my campaign. What I prefer about using Strixhaven in this way is the idea that it’s an experiment, constantly bringing in new students from across the world as opposed to just keeping a stable, stagnant population in isolation. With that in mind, I’d likely suggest that it’s a fairly RECENT experiment, at least as dragons measure time—no more than two or three centuries old. Among other things, this would hold to the idea that the Founders are still evaluating the experiment, and that the actions of the player characters could play an important role in this. Could the Conclave shut down Strixhaven? Could heroic characters inspire the dragons to share their knowledge more freely?
As a campus in Argonnessen, Strixhaven would be exotic and isolated, but still grounded in the material world. But there is another option I might use…
A School of Stories
Thelanis is sometimes said to embody the magic we wish was in the world. The layers of Thelanis and the Archfey embody iconic stories. So consider the story of a school of magic, a place of countless wonders that exists just around the corner from the reality we know. Everyone knows a story of a youth who didn’t fit in or didn’t meet expectations, who one day took a wrong turn and found themselves in a wondrous school where they had the chance to unlock both the secrets of magic and their own true self. With this in mind, I would place Strixhaven in Thelanis. One option would be to treat it as a Feyspire, placing it in the Moonlit Vale; however, I would be inclined to make it a distinct layer of Thelanis, because the story of Strixhaven generally stands on its own; it’s possible that students could get involved in the intrigues of the Moonlit Court, but it’s not an everyday occurrence.
Placing Strixhaven in Thelanis plays to the idea that the students and faculty can be extremely diverse and exotic—almost impossibly so. Giants, treants, sprites, sentient animals, talking statues; if you could imagine it in a story, you could find it at Strixhaven. A secondary aspect of this is the idea that many of the students aren’t, at the end of the day, REAL. Exploring Eberron talks about the idea of the “Supporting Cast” of Thelanis—lesser fey who are drafted to fill whatever purpose the story needs them to fill. Does this scene need a bully? An arrogant rival? The school can MAKE one for you. This applies to the teachers as well. Some could be greater fey with their own identities or former students who have chosen to remain, but there could definitely be teaching assistants, maintenance staff, even teachers who only exist as part of the story; you’ll never actually see Professor Greenroot except in his office or in the classroom, and he doesn’t really have any opinions on anything that’s not related to his classes. Speculating on who’s real and who’s a manifestations of the story would surely be a common pastime among students; when it comes down to it, can you be absolutely sure YOU are real?
As with Strixhaven—Argonnessen, Strixhaven—Thelanis could draw its students from across Eberron. Unlike Argonnessen, the Strix-Thel isn’t an experiment and the students aren’t being chosen to represent their people; instead they’re being chosen for their stories, and the question to think about when creating your character is What is your story? This is a fairy tale about someone stumbling onto a school of magic. Are you a luckless urchin from the streets of Sharn? A privileged Aundairian prince who needs to learn a lesson in humility? The unnatural nature of Thelanis could add a further twist—you could take a leaf from Rip Van Winkle and add students or faculty from different points in the past. Perhaps there’s a young elf at Strixhaven who, it turns out, is from the as-yet unerradicated Line of Vol—or a conniving student from one of the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun. In such a scenario, a key question would be if there’s any way for such students to return to their own time, or if they are the last remnants of civilizations long dead.
In developing Strixhaven-Thelanis, a key question is who are the archfey of the school? An obvious possibility is that the Founders are the Archfey who define Strixhaven. They may APPEAR to be dragons, but that’s a cosmetic detail. If this is the case, then the Founders might be involved in the ongoing intrigues of the Moonlit Court; perhaps four of the founders are associated with different seasons, while one remains aloof. On the other hand, it could be that the Oracle is the anchoring Archfey, and that the Founders are themselves part of the Supporting Cast—for all their supposed power and despite the many legends associated with them, they don’t actually EXIST until there’s a particular reason for them to exist. This ties to the question of whether the Dragonsguard actually exist. If the Founders are Archfey, the Dragonsguard could be their personal agents in endless, immortal intrigues and adventures within Thelanis. If the Oracle is the Archfey, the Dragonshguard themselves might not truly exist; they are also simply part of the story.
Part of the appeal of placing Strixhaven in Thelanis is to embrace the unreality of the situation, the fact that it is a story made real; you can embrace the tropes, because that’s ultimately what the school is. It’s likewise interesting to explore what it means to be real, mortal people in an environment that is only semi-real; it’s a bit of Harry Potter blended with TheTruman Show. With this in mind, it’s easy to add the Snarls and Star Arches. They COULD have a deep and mysterious role. The Star Arches could be remnants of a shattered Archfey, or tied to the underling archtecture of Thelanis itself. If you want a truly epic story, the Snarls could be an early symptom of the fact that Thelanis itself is starting to unravel; perhaps the students must find a way to save the Faerie Court itself!
A secondary question with Strixhaven—Thelanis is what happens to the students who graduate? Why haven’t they transformed Eberron with their amazing mystic knowledge? Well, one advantage of the Thelanis approach is that there don’t have to be that many actual students; you can have all the supporting cast you need, but only a handful of students truly are protagonists who COULD finish their studies and return home. Another option is the Narnia approach: students stumble into Strixhaven from all across the world and can eventually become masters of magic, wielding powers far beyond the everyday magic of the Five Nations… but when those students return home, much of that power melts away. Should they return to Strixhaven, answering the call of the Founders in their hour of need, all those powers will return; but in Eberron itself, they may be more limited. This could give the interesting option of having adventurers meet a young NPC in Khorvaire who assures them that she’s one of the greatest archmages of all time, but who can’t even cast third level spells… until they’re all drawn to Thelanis, and her true powers return to her. If you take this approach, you might say, for example, that there’s quite a few Strixhaven alumni spread across Arcanix… but that the true treasure they retained from their time at the school was self-knowledge or a deeper understanding of the philosophies of the colleges as opposed to immense practical magics.
All this only begins to scratch the surface both of ways you could use Strixhaven or of the interesting stories one can tell in an academic campaign, but I did say at the start that this was going to be a “short” article… and with that in mind, I’m not going to expand too deeply on this concept in comments. For now, the Astral Plane awaits! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who help choose these topics and who make these articles possible.
In 2009 I traveled around the world, running Eberron games for people in dozens of different states and countries. I met a lot of wonderful people and it was always fascinating to see how different groups of players would handle the same scenario; I ran the same adventure over 59 times, but every time players came up with something I haven’t seen before. There’s many reasons I can’t repeat that journey today, but I still enjoy getting to meet new people and share an adventure. While I may not be able to travel across the world, there are two ways that you can find yourself a seat at my table.
In the summer of 2022, I’ll be taking to sea for a week of adventure! Satine’s Quest is a week long campaign with a host of fantastic DMs—myself included. It’s going to be an evolving campaign where your actions affect the ultimate outcome for everyone—and where interactive elements will be woven into all sorts of activities throughout the cruise. While I enjoy one-shots, my favorite part of TTRPGs is the stories that evolve over the course of a campaign, and I can’t wait to see how this tale unfolds. In addition to the campaign itself, with a week at sea there’s going to be lots of opportunities to talk about worldbuilding and storytelling. There’s a range of different tiers and options; find out more at the website!
If you prefer to stay on dry land and don’t mind using the internet, there’s another way you can play at my table. Each month, I run an Eberron adventure for my Patreon supporters. This is an ongoing campaign set in the town of Threshold, on the edge of Breland and Droaam. It’s a continuing story using an established cast of characters, but the players change each time. If you support my Patreon at the Threshold level, you get the following benefits…
Every month I answer questions from my patrons on Patreon.
My patrons choose the topics of the articles I post on this website.
Patrons have access to the Threshold Discord channel, which is the primary channel I use to discuss Eberron and Threshold. Patrons also have access to video and audio recordings of all of the previous Patreon settings, along with a campaign website with details on the town and its denizens.
Each month, you have a chance to play in that month’s Threshold session. I use a poll to determine the time of the setting, and then post a creative challenge. Any Threshold patron can participate in the challenge, and the five winners play in the session!
While only five patrons get to play each month, I use polls to shape the content of each session and to add details about the town and the campaign. It’s also an opportunity to see content from my upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold book in action. And beyond that, it’s Patreon that allows me to spend time on this blog. The more patrons, the more articles you’ll see here!
Whether by sea or internet, I hope to have a chance to roll some dice with you in the future. Adventures await!
This weekend I’ll be at my first convention in almost two years: PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with my company Twogether Studios. We’re involved in a lot of great events at the convention and even some you can watch at home!
As a small business, conventions are a double-edged sword with exhaustion and financial risk balanced against the absolute high of positive energy and meeting people in real life who enjoy our games. Don’t ever be worried about saying hello or telling us you enjoy something we made—it’s those affirmations that keep us going and remind us why we do this. So if you see us at the show, we’re always down for an elbow bump, ghost high fives, and socially distant tips of the hat!
Here’s where you can find me and Twogether Studios at PAX Unplugged…
Twogether Studios will be at Booth 3355. You can see our current line-up of games, including Illimat, TheAdventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, and a small supply of TAZ hoodies!
Friday 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM: Exploring Eberron with Keith Baker. Join me for a discussion of Eberron, along with a look at my current projects and what I have planned for the future! This is in Mothman Theatre and should be streamed on one of the PAX Twitch channels.
Friday 7:30 PM-9:30 PM: Instant RPG—Just Add You. I’ll be a player in this event organized by Ninth Level Games—playing a game developing live by the audience!
Saturday 1 PM – 2 PM: Eberron Meet-Up. This is slightly mysterious—it’s not listed on the official schedule and the location is simply “the Queue Hall.” But I’ll be in the Queue Hall at 1 PM on Saturday for an informal gathering with anyone who shows up!
Sunday 11 AM – 12 PM: Signing at Booth 3355. I’ll be at the Twogether Studios booth off and on throughout the convention, but this is the one time you can be SURE I will be there! If you have something you want signed, this is your chance.
Sunday2:30 PM – 3:30 PM: Add Drama To Your Game (Screening). Andrew Barth Feldman, Alex Boniello, B. Dave Walters, Jenn Ellis, and I unpack what drama is and how to add more intrigue, tension, and investment to your next D&D session, story telling game, or murder mystery party.
I’m getting ready for PAX Unplugged—more information on that tomorrow—but as time permits I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. Questions like…
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes includes “Blessed of Corellon”—rare elves who can change their sex in a short period of time. How would you incorporate this into Eberron, beyond changing the name to remove the reference to Corellon?
My immediate question is WHY MAKE IT RARE? Why not just make it a standard trait of elves, a reflection of their fey ancestry? Once you do that, I’d just keep in mind that for elves, sex is a form of expression as opposed to an absolute. Some settle on one path that feels natural to them, never using the gift again once they’ve made that choice… or perhaps shifting every century, taking time to explore different paths. Others might shift casually from day to day, reflecting the mood of the moment. Some elves might use it the same way some changelings use personas, developing a set of unique identities and using the one best suited to a particular scenario. A question a DM should consider if incorporating this into the world is whether an elf can only choose from two options, or if there are other forms they can take with this blessing; this might also lead to the Elvish language having a broad range of pronouns.
Personally, I’d keep the core mechanics intact: invoking the blessing requires completion of a long rest and it doesn’t dramatically change the elf’s appearance. It’s a form of personal expression, not a disguise. But with that in mind, and with the idea that people KNOW this about elves, I don’t see why it can’t just be a common trait to all elves. Given that it requires the completion of a long rest and elves trance during a long rest, I’d personally present it as a sort of meditation in which the elf reflects on their self-image and identity, with their physical form shifting to match their thoughts. If it’s something that all elves possess, I’d just call it “The Change” and add it as a trait of the base elf race…
The Change. You may change your sex when you complete a long rest.
In a previous article about obyriths, you said it was possible that “Githberron” had its own overlords and some of them might still exist.
Exploring Eberron presents the idea that the Gith may be the survivors of a previous incarnation of Eberron that was, essentially, wiped and rebooted after being transformed by the daelkyr, which has been refered to in a few places as “Githberron.” What I say in the article is that the Obyriths could be fiends from a prior incarnation of Eberron, but that this wouldn’t have to be Githberron. Here’s the relevant quote from the article:
Exploring suggests that the Gith may be refugees from a previous incarnation of Eberron. An exotic option for the obyriths would be to say that they are fiends from a previous iteration of Khyber… That somehow they escaped into Xoriat and ultimately came to the current incarnation of reality, most likely finding shelter in a shadow demiplane.
This suggests that obyriths may be from “a previous iteration of Khyber”—not necessarily the same one that spawned the Gith. This ties to the idea that the Obyriths are extremely alien—fiends altered by the destruction of their world and by their experiences in Xoriat. The article also calls out that these fiends wouldn’t have heart demiplanes in the current reality, and that while they might be physically immortal they wouldn’t have the true immortality of a native fiend, and a former overlord wouldn’t wield that full power in the current reality.
If Githberron had overlords, did it have its own version of the Silver Flame or some other sealing magic? It’s hard to imagine the Gith’s ancestors being able to build a civilization with unbound overlords running around.
Who knows? The whole point of Githberron is that it’s a previous iteration of reality, one that’s different in substantial ways. There could be a union of celestials much like the Silver Flame, sure. But perhaps in Githberron the heart planes of the Overlords were deeply buried and they never emerged to rule an Age of Demons. Perhaps in Githberron the overlords fought one another so fiercely that they crippled one another. Perhaps a few of the overlords overwhelmed the others and dominate the world in a stable, if fiendish fashion. Perhaps there was a proto-Gith Empress who holds the overlords bound with the awesome psionic power of her unmatched mind. Each one of those is possible, and each would have a very different impact on how the world would evolve.
If there was a celestial binding force in another iteration of reality, do you think this power might still be able to be tapped into by a player character?
Anything’s possible. Githberron presumably had some form of native celestial. It’s possible that some form of native celestial survived that transition. But the point is that it WOULDN’T HAVE THE SAME POWER in this reality that it did in its native reality, because it doesn’t belong here. Just as the Obyriths can be permanently destroyed, the same thing would be true of a Githberron celestial. If it draws too much attention to itself and gets targeted by the Lords of Dust, it could simply be destroyed.
So could there be some sort of lingering celestial that could provide power to a player character? Sure, why not? But it wouldn’t be remotely on the same level of power as the Silver Flame, and it would carry the risk that it could be destroyed if the actions of the player character draw attention to it. I could imagine, for example, using this as the basis for a Aasimar cleric or paladin, saying that their divine power comes from THEIR PERSONAL CELESTIAL—but that it’s a small enough well of power that it couldn’t support other clerics or paladins beyond them, and that there’s a very real risk that it could be destroyed. Frankly, I think this could be a fun story to explore—what does the paladin do when their divine power source is literally extinguished by the Lords of Dust?—but I’d want to match sure the player was prepared for that to be a possibility.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who are the only thing that makes these articles possible. I hope I’ll see some of you at PAX Unplugged!
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like…
Could you tell us an interesting detail about Yrlag in the Shadow Marches?
Yrlag is one of the largest cities in the Shadow Marches. It’s one of the few safe havens on Crescent Bay, and the most substantial port on the west coast of Khorvaire (which isn’t saying much, but still). Yrlag’s particular claim to fame is its proximity to the Demon Wastes. Due to the diligence of the Ghaash’kala, landing on the coast is far easier than crossing the Labyrinth. With this in mind, Yrlag is to the Demon Wastes as Stormreach is to Xen’drik—a jumping off point and safe haven for scholars, explorers, and opportunists keen to take their chances in the Wastes or to acquire goods recovered from it.
The city is located in a Lamannian manifest zone with The Land Provides property. The land is exceptionally fertile and the river well-stocked with fish—a notably change from Crescent Bay, which is home to many unnatural predators. This is one of the major reasons Yrlag has been able to thrive in such an isolated and inhospitable region. As such, Yrlag has a significant population of farmers, fisherfolk, and hunters who provide for the general needs of the city and travelers.
Yrlag is effectively run by House Tharashk; the Shadow Marches aren’t recognized as a Thronehold Nation, and no one in the region cares about the Korth Edicts. Ships run regularly between Yrlag and the outpost of Blood Crescent… but Blood Crescent is a small fortress that endures constant attacks, and most sages prefer the shelter of Yrlag when conducting long term research. As a result, Yrlag has an unusual number of scholars and luminaries, along with a bookstore and a shop specializing in supplies for calligraphers and cartographers. A number of the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts in Yrlag. There’s a Sivis speaking stone, a Jorasco healer, and even a Gold Dragon Inn. House Lyrandar helps maintain the harbor, but as of yet there’s no airship docking tower and no lightning rail into Yrlag.
There’s far more I could share, but the original question only asked for one detail, and I’ve already gone beyond that!
Doesn’t all travel into the Demon Wastes have to go through the Labyrinth?
The wording in Eberron: Rising From The Last War is unclear, but prior canon has established that it’s possible to travel to the Demon Wastes by sea. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “Built on the shores of Crescent Bay and regularly supplied by ships from Yrlag, a large town across the bay in the Shadow Marches, Blood Crescent serves as House Tharashk’s long dreamed-of foothold in the Demon Wastes”—it would be hard to regularly supply the outpost if every ship that arrived couldn’t leave. The general intent is that FIENDS can’t leave except through the Labyrinth; think of it like an invisible fiend fence with only one gap in it. With that said, it’s not supposed to be EASY to travel to the Wastes by sea; if it was, people would have done it long ago and we’ve have more and larger outposts. The coastline is extremely hostile, with a combination of foul weather, unnatural sealife, and a maze of demonglass spires that can tear a ship apart. Reaching Blood Crescent requires the vessel to follow a very specific path. Tharashk spent a great deal of resources to chart that path, and they are holding it as a secret of the house.
So it’s easy to reach the Demon Wastes by sea, but MOST of the time, those who try will end up shipwrecked… which is in fact what happened to the ancestors of the Carrion Tribes. Meanwhile, the Carrion Tribes themselves don’t have the sophistication or resources to build ships, which is why when they try to leave, they go through the Labyrinth.
In the Player’s Guide to Eberron we learned that Lhazaar Prince Kolberkon of the Direshark Principality is a changeling. Do you think Kolberkon’s changeling nature is known or something he keeps hidden behind personas?
In my campaign, Prince Kolberkin is a changeling foundling, as described in this article. He was raised by his mother and has a human persona that he considers to be his true face; he doesn’t identify as a changeling, have any familiarity with tribal changeling customs, or have any sympathy or affection for the changelings of the Gray Tide. He makes no effort to hide his ability to shapechange; he used it very effectively in his rise to power, and he uses it to keep his enemies and potential traitors on their toes, but he doesn’t feel any bond to other changelings or consider his changeling face to be his true identity.
This ties to the point that in Eberron, culture is often more significant than species. He’s a Lhazaar pirate who happens to be a changeling; but he doesn’t care about the Children, the Traveler, or any of that. As the Prince of the Diresharks, he takes pride in being a PREDATOR, and uses his shapeshifting as a tool to help him overcome his prey. He’s extremely skilled at shifting shape in combat in ways that may give him momentary advantage—not fooling an enemy in the long term, but throwing them off their guard.
With that said, while Kolberkon considers his first human face to be his core identity, he also will shift that to fit the situation; when negotiating with Lyrandar, for example, he may assume a half-elf version of his human form, sort of like dressing up for a meeting. So again, he doesn’t hide the fact he’s a shapechanger; he celebrates it. As such, he uses this gift in obvious ways. When he becomes a Khoravar to meet with Lyrandar, he’s not trying to FOOL them; it’s a Khoravar version of his normal appearance, just done as a “Hey, I recognize you’re Khoravar, and you know, I could be too.”
So in short, he often uses casual shapeshifting in ways that he thinks may give him a psychological advantage. It’s known that he CAN impersonate other people—potential traitors KNOW that any of their conspirators could be Kolberkin playing a game with them—but he more also uses it in obvious, social ways.
The most famous city in Khorvaire—Sharn—is built around a manifest zone. Are most cities built up around manifest zones, or is it the rarity?
Manifest zones are much like natural resources in our world. Most manifest zones provide an ongoing, reliable effect. Some are dangerous, and such regions tend to be shunned. Others are beneficial, and these areas often become hubs for civilization, just as rich deposits of natural resources often draw communities in our world. Yrlag is an example of this: if people in an inhospitable region find a manifest zone that enhances the quality of the land and of life, why wouldn’t they settle there and make use of it?
The short form is that communities that thrive usually do so for a reason. Rich natural resources. Strategic value. Fertile land. In Eberron, useful manifest zones are one more item on that checklist. Not every city is in a manifest zone; but every city will usually have SOME reason to be where it is, and in Eberron, manifest zones are an important part of that equation. Also keep in mind that manifest zones vary dramatically in size and power. The Lamannian zone that contains Yrlag is a wide zone that blankets the city, as does the Syranian manifest zone in Sharn. But you can also find manifest zones that cover the space of a single building, or even a single room. A town might spring up around a Jorasco healing house built in an Irian manifest zone… but the zone is small enough, that only those in the healing house benefit from its power.
So most major cities likely have a manifest zone SOMEWHERE in the city, though not all. In some cases this has been called out, as with Sharn or Atur. They aren’t alone, but I don’t currently have time to make a thorough list of zones that can be found in other major cities. If there’s interest on Patreon, this could be the subject of a future article.
Can Mabar consume fragments of Irian?
Mabar, also known as the Endless Night, consumes fragments of other planes. On the other end of the spectrum, Irian creates new seeds of light that fill the voids left behind by Mabar. As a general rule, Mabar doesn’t consume pieces of Irian itself. The two are two sides of a single coin, reflecting creation and destruction; they tell their story by interacting with other planes, and usually don’t target one another directly. With that said, it’s POSSIBLE that Mabar could consume a piece of Irian… and if it did, Irian would in turn regrow that missing piece.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for providing interesting questions and for making these articles possible.
When time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few that have come up this month…
With Strixhaven coming out, I have a player who wants to play an Owlen. How would you add the Owlen to Eberron?
I’ve discussed some basic principles about adding new species to Eberron in this article. The basic question is what your player is looking for in playing an Owlen. Do they just want the racial traits? Do they specifically there to be an Owlen nation with a significant role in the world? Or are they open to the idea that there could be just a handful of Owlen?
If you’re playing a Strixhaven style game at, say, Arcanix, one of the first things I’d consider would be that the PC Owlen could be ENTIRELY UNIQUE—that they could have been the owl familiar of some legendary faculty member, and when the wizard died, one of their last acts was to transform their familiar into this form. So some of the current staff might see them as a sort of mascot, and there could be an ongoing legacy tied to their late master that you could explore over the course of the campaign.
If I were to add Owlen to MY campaign, I’d personally say that there’s a community of Owlen in the Bazaar of Dura in Sharn, who assist the giant owls and support the Owl in the Race of Eight Winds. They’ve been doing this job for hundreds of years; they aren’t found anywhere else in Khorvaire; and at this point, NO ONE KNOWS where they came from. Some believe the first Owlen came from Thelanis. Others claim a crazy Vadalis race fan magebred them. It’s beyond the living memory of the current Owlen, and THEY don’t know the answer. But the key point is that they’re a small, tight-knit community based in the Bazaar, with connections to a lot of Bazaar businesses and a particular focus on the Race of Eight Winds. The owl councilor Hruitt definitely has a Owlen valet who helps him with things that require hands… and the Owlen PC could potentially have a patron in Hruitt.
For me personally, either of these options—both of which give the character an immediate tie to NPCs, plot hooks to explore, and a unique role in the world—are more interesting than just saying that there’s an Owlen nation in the Towering Woods or something similar.
PCs can often end up getting incredibly rich by the “normal” standards of the world, sometimes still wandering around as a bunch of itinerant eccentrics, hoarding incredible wealth. Avoiding the trope of punishing characters for getting rich, what suggestions would you have for interesting, “Eberonn-y” ways of encouraging them to spend or use that money if the PCs aren’t coming up with any themselves?
Personally, I tend to downgrade wealth rewards, using superior equipment, influence, and favors as rewards rather than wealth. We’re eight episodes into my Threshold campaign and I think the only monetary reward has been some old Dhakaani copper pieces! However, the question is certainly valid, and with that in mind…
What do people in OUR world spend vast sums of money on? Property is certainly one option, and owning property also gives people a stake to protect; would someone like a mansion? Consider Schitt’s Creek; perhaps they buy a Brelish title and discover that they’ve actually taken responsibility for a small town, which frankly could use a lot of work. If not through title, any way you can get the players attached to a community is an opportunity to soak up cash. The town needs a speaking stone! Wouldn’t the cleric like to fund a beautiful church? Wouldn’t the fighter like to shore up its defenses, or perhaps establish a martial academy?
Another possibilities are for the characters to be asked to fund an adventure. A Morgrave professor knows the secrets to enter a Cul’sir tomb—but he’s not going to travel with the adventurers unless the fund a fully staffed expedition. Or perhaps the players are asked to invest in mystical research; if successful, it could have a transformative effect on their nation or their world. While we’re at it, don’t forget social causes. Do they support Brelish democracy? Oppose elemental slavery? If they’re Cyran, would they like to support housing for Cyran refugees or general improvements to New Cyre? If they’re Thranes, why don’t the just donate some of that gold to the poor? If a PC picks a cause and supports it both with significant funding and with their reputation, you could decide that it actually helps drive change with in the world—that they help to make New Cyre a prosperous city, or shift public opinion (one way or the other) on the future of the Brelish monarchy.
Since the Daughter of Khyber seems to be the representative of Tiamat in the Eberron setting, is there an equivalent representative for Bahamut? And if so, would they be more affiliated with Eberron or with Siberys?
II’ve addressed this before in the context of “Is there an Angelic/Celestial equivalent to the Overlords?” Here’s that answer.
If you mean “Is there an incarnate force that’s called something like ‘The Cuteness of Kittens’?” No, there isn’t. If you mean “Is there any sort of native celestials on Eberron,” there WERE: the couatl. They were never as powerful as the Overlords, and were more on par with the rakshasa… and they sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame. On some level you could say that the Silver Flame is the good counterpart to the Overlords, which is why it can bind them; it’s simply less concrete and more abstract.
Why is this? Look to the progenitor myth. Khyber killed Siberys and was in turn imprisoned by Eberron. The Overlords are Khyber’s children, and like Khyber, are forces of evil that cannot be vanquished, only bound. Eberron doesn’t produce incarnate spirits like the Overlords: her children are mortal. So Eberron DID create a thing that embodies the cuteness of kittens: she created kittens. Meanwhile, Siberys would be the source of native celestials, and he did create some, like the couatl – but they were created from the blood of Siberys after his defeat, and thus lack the power of the victorious Khyber. From a purely practical worldbuilding standpoint, there’s a simple reason for this. Eberron is designed to be a world that needs heroes. All the powerful forces of good are limited. Jaela Daran is a child whose power is limited beyond Flamekeep. Oalian doesn’t leave the Greenheart. When evil rises, the world needs you; there is no ultimate good force that can step in and solve the problem for you. The Silver Flame can empower you to solve the problem, but it can’t solve the problem for you.
Looking to Bahamut specifically, I ‘m fine with the concept that Bahamut COULD have existed in the past. One fan theory from the Eberron Discord is that Bahamut—known in Eberron as The Last Breath of Siberys—was a powerful celestial who existed in the Age of Demons, who led the effort to create the Silver Flame and became its heart. Rakshasa are the most common fiends, but Khyber can produce others; likewise, just because couatls are the most common native celestials doesn’t mean that they were the only ones. With that said, even if the Last Breath had the same statistics as Bahamut, it could still be presented as a couatl-dragon with rainbow feathers or even as an incarnate being of silver flame. Regardless, the point is that while the Last Breath may once have walked the world, now it exists only as the Silver Flame—and as in the above quote, it affects the world by empowering mortals. The Discord theory suggests that this could be the basis for a Silver Flame path in Argonnessen, in which the Last Breath is revered in the same way that Tira Miron is honored in the church of Thrane.
What might an Argonessen-based dragon say to a Q’barra-based dragonborn character when asked “Why did you leave us to our fate? For thousands of years we have had to mop up what comes out of Hakatorvhak. We’ve been fighting this losing battle for generations. Why haven’t you come to help us?! We worshipped you, we died for you, and you left us!!!”
First comes the question of whether a dragon is going to even bother to answer such a question. It’s like a rat asking a scientist conducting cancer research “Why are you doing this?” The scientist doesn’t consider the rat an equal who’s either deserving of an answer or capable of understanding it. They are a resource and a tool, short-lived creatures incapable of experiencing or understanding the world as a dragon does. The dragon doesn’t owe the dragonborn an answer, and likely doesn’t think the dragonborn could understand the answer if they gave it. But let’s assume they choose to answer. The dragon might well say something like this…
What would you have us do, little one? We contain the greater threat. Rhashaak gave his very soul to contain Masvirik, and he continues to do his duty to this day. The Poison Dusk is the mold that grows around his grave. It can never be permanently destroyed, merely contained. We cannot do it for you; prolonged action would risk raising the Daughter of Khyber and unleashing a threat far, far greater than the Poison Dusk. This is why your ancestors pledged to fight this battle, to contain this evil.
You call this a losing battle. We have been fighting this war across the world for a hundred thousand years. It is a war that cannot BE won, little one; but by fighting you allow countless others to live their lives never knowing of the danger. This was the battle your ancestors swore to fight. It was their children who lost their way and led your people into disaster through their desire for glory. Now you have returned to your duty, but you fail to understand it. This is not a war that can be won. But it is a war that must be fought—and we cannot fight it, lest we release an even greater evil upon the world. This is your battle. Rhashaak still serves his purpose, though it cost him everything. We ask no less of you than we asked of him. Will you stand strong? Or are your needs and desires more important than the fate of the world?
I’m not saying the dragon is right or that the character’s anger is misplaced. But that’s what they’d say. The dragons can’t step in and wave a magic wand and win this battle. The Poison Dusk will always return. The dragons can’t exert force over time without risking the rise of the Daughter of Khyber; that is why they needed the Dragonborn in the first place, to fight the long term battle. The character’s ancestors agreed to fight this war KNOWING it was forever. So uphold that bargain.
Now, perhaps the character means “Give us more support! Give us magic weapons! Send MORE dragonborn!” These could be entirely reasonable requests, and if the character somehow actually managed to make this case to the Light of Siberys—to say that the dragonborn can’t continue to contain the Poison Dusk without some form of additional support (that’s not just “Send dragons to solve the problem”), perhaps the Light of Siberys WOULD send that support. This is exactly the sort of way in which the actions of a player character could have a greater impact. The dragons believe that Q’barra is stable, that it’s contained. If a PC can actually present a case that the dragonborn need some form of aid—not just “Why don’t you solve this problem for us?”—perhaps they could get that help.
The last answer is a decent way of escalating a Q’barra campaign, and bringing in Argonessen politics without risking blowing up the region. Would you say that the dragons empowering the lesser races like that; being hands-off but still powerful influences on the world; would still risk the DoK waking? To put it simply: “Would the dragons still be able to ‘rule the world’ remotely from Argonessen without causing the Daughter of Khyber to wake?”
The short answer is that if the dragons could rule the world in this way without risk they already would. The longer answer is they’ve tried it before and it didn’t end well. How do you think the dragons KNOW about the threat of the Daughter of Khyber? Notably, we know almost nothing about the history of Khorvaire before the Age of Monsters. Why is that? In my opinion, it’s because whatever civilizations flourished there in the past were destroyed by the Daughter of Khyber—that it was in Khorvaire that the dragons learned a harsh and deadly lesson. Looking to the modern world, the point is that what we see the dragons do is the extent of what they believe they can safely maintain—which is largely observing with critical nudges in the right direction. We know a dragon accompanied Lhazaar, but they didn’t command her, they advised her. The general idea is that the Daughter of Khyber amplifies the tyranny of dragons, their desire to rule over lesser creatures—that the more direct power they exert, the greater the risk of corruption. So they could send the Q’barran dragonborn a shipment of weapons without much risk. But if they began to actively direct Q’barra and to treat it like a client state, it runs the risk of those involved becoming hungry for greater power, seeking to reestablish the dragonborn as an empire (one which properly glorifies their draconic masters, of course) and eventually becoming puppets of Tiamat. The status quo—where Argonnessen trusts forces like the dragonborn and shulassakar to defend key sites with little or no draconic involvement—reflects the lessons they’ve learned over the last hundred thousand years about what they can do safely.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible!
The principles of the Sovereigns are the cornerstone of our civilization. Boldrei brings us together. Aureon’s laws allow us to coexist in peace. When peace is not an option, Dol Dorn gives us the strength to defend ourselves, and Dol Arrah teaches us to use that strength wisely and with compassion. Why should the strong protect the weak? Why spare civilians and fallen foes? Because if we all live by those principles, we all prosper. War isn’t just about victory—it’s about being able to live with the aftermath. —Phthaso Mogan, Sovereign priest of Sharn
‘Why should the strong protect the weak?’ It’s a question posed by those who wish you to believe that they are strong and you are weak, that you would be helpless without them. These are the words of people who only know one way to play the game of war, and who are desperate for you to play by the same rules. Our lord shows the truth: the strong protect the weak because they don’t want the ‘weak’ to realize how strong they can be. Imagine a hundred hounds pursuing two wolves. The hounds call out, challenging the wolves to face them in honorable combat. The brave wolf turns and fights beneath the bright sun, and they are torn into a hundred pieces. The wise wolf knows a simple truth: I cannot beat them at once, but in the shadows my teeth are as sharp as any of theirs. Every night, the wolf comes with the shadows and kills one of the hounds. The hounds may curse the wolf for his cowardly, dishonorable actions… but in a hundred days, the wolf stands triumphant. Which wolf are you? Will you fight in the sunlight, and die with honor? Or will you follow the path that leads to victory, even if it leads you through shadows?” —’Redblade‘ Rrac, of the Deathsgate Adventurer’s Guild
In the first age of the world, three siblings challenged the Lord of Death. They rallied their forces, and swore to meet Death on the battlefield at dawn. When Death came with his army of corpses, the eldest brother was nowhere to be seen; he lacked the courage to face this dreadful foe. The mortal soldiers quaked, seeing comrades who had fallen in battle now serving in the army of the dead. But the young brother filled them with courage and inspired them with his strength, scattering the forces of the dead. And the sister called on the light of the sun, blinding Death until her soldiers could safely retreat. Though the battle was lost, the champions were able to save most of their soldiers. They learned that their elder brother had used the distraction to steal a great treasure from the Citadel of the Dead, caring more for his personal enrichment than for the lives of his siblings, their soldiers, or his own oath.
This is the story of the Mockery. It can be found in many forms across many cultures, and the details are always different. In some versions of the story, it is Aureon who orders that the Mockery be stripped of both his name and his skin, his truth laid bare for the world to see. But in the Cazhaak myth, the elder brother fools his siblings by shedding his skin and using it as a decoy; going forward, he often strips the skin off his enemies and wears it to fool their friends. Likewise, the reason for the Mockery’s betrayal also varies. In the common story, the Mockery betrays his siblings due to cowardice and envy, further using the opportunity to enrich himself. The implication is that if he had bravely stood with his siblings, Death could have been defeated. But the annals of the Three Faces of War say that Dol Azur believed the battle to be a fool’s errand from the beginning, asserting that it wasn’t possible to defeat Death; rather than fighting a battle that couldn’t be won just because he’d sworn an oath to do so, Dol Azur used the distraction to steal a mighty weapon from the enemy’s citadel. So his action was unquestionably a dishonorable betrayal; but he also accomplished a tactically significant objective, rather than fighting an “honorable” fight that couldn’t be won.
Such shifting interpretations are common with the Sovereigns and Six, reflecting the values of the cultures and individuals who worship or revile them. Within Khorvaire, there are three common approaches to the Mockery. The common Vassals blame him for the excesses of war and for cruel betrayal. Some emulate him, seeking to earn his favor through acts of cruelty. And others see him not as the Lord of Betrayal, but as the Sovereign of Victory—a deity who can always show you the way to overcome your enemies, even if it is a dark path.
Bloodshed and Betrayal
The Vassals of the Pyrinean Creed believe that the Sovereigns act through mortals, that they guide us and inspire us. Onatar doesn’t craft a sword; he guides the mortal smith, and if the smith listens she will forge a finer blade. Dol Dorn is a source of strength each soldier can find within, a whisper of courage in the darkest moments. For the Vassals, the Dark Six explains the darker impulses of mortals. The Keeper inflames our greed, whispering to us of the things that could be ours. The Fury overwhelms us with anger and passion. And the Mockery urges us to be cruel—to revel the suffering of others and our power to inflict it. The Mockery scoffs at courage and honor, telling us that all that matters is survival and victory, no matter the cost. It’s Boldrei who tells us we’re stronger as a community, Aureon who teaches that laws can benefit us all; the Mockery urges us to place our own needs above anything else, to see others solely as tools to be used. So under the Pyrinean Creed, the Mockery and others of the Dark Six inspire our base instincts; the Sovereigns show us how to be better, and how to prosper as a community.
With this in mind, the Mockery covers two distinct spheres, as called out in his title of bloodshed and betrayal. On one level he is a WAR god—specifically calling out all the darkest elements of conflict and combat. Bloodlust, unnecessary cruelty, dishonorable strategies; all of these are tied to the Mockery. But the Mockery isn’t confined to the battlefield. The assassin who kills without warning, the bully who beats smaller children—these two are guided by the Mockery. Any time blood is shed in cowardly or cruel ways, the Mockery smiles. The Fury inspires rage, the Keeper drives greed, but when the actual blade is drawn it’s the Mockery who guides the hand of the murderer. Beyond bloodshed, the Mockery also delights in betrayal. He takes the greatest pleasure when the betrayal runs deep—a sibling betraying a sibling, a lover turning on their paramour. But on the simplest level, this aspect of the Mockery is tied to deception with the intent to cause pain to others. The Traveler also delights in deception, but the Traveler is the Sovereign of chaos and change. The Mockery uses deception in the pursuit of pain. So the changeling grifter may see the Traveler as their patron, but the assassin who uses disguise self to get close to their victim is guided by the Mockery.
Among Vassals, the Mockery is primarily seen as an explanation for cruelty in the world. Virtuous Vassals never offer prayers to the Mockery; they pity the brutal people who are swayed by his whispers and drawn down cruel and criminal paths. Those who actively revere the Mockery in this aspect are people who willfully embrace a dark path and acknowledge their actions as selfish and cruel. A King’s Dark Lantern who kills for the good of their nation and their people will ask Olladra for luck, even though they are deceiving others and spilling blood. The assassin who invokes the Mockery knows that they are spilling blood solely for their personal gain, and takes pride and delight in their power to inflict pain. The monks of the Flayed Hand are an example of this: they acknowledge the Mockery as the Sovereign of Bloodshed and Betrayal, but worship him still, and believe that they commune with the divine by inflicting pain. And for this reason, the Flayed Hand is a secretive order and the monks hide their devotional scars; those who knowingly employ the Flayed Hand are comfortable with cruelty.
One aspect of the Mockery that’s not always recognized is the use of Fear. Dol Dorn inspires courage in the soldier’s heart; the Mockery shows them how to inflict terror on their enemies. This ties to the idea that the Mockery delights in causing pain—psychological as well as physical. This leads to one of the few potential paths for a player character who honors the Mockery: the hero who uses fear as a weapon, such as Batman or the Shadow (the pulp hero, not the deity!). This is a dark path to follow, as the fearmonger knows they are inflicting suffering on their enemies. This can tie to the idea that my enemies don’t deserve to be treated with honor—that it’s acceptable to engage in a brutal war on evil, to fight fire with fire. The main point is that the Mockery believes that no weapon is too vile to use in battle, and fear or other forms of psychological warfare are certainly valid. Most likely, a vigilante who embraces the Mockery in this way believes that the law is ineffective—that Aureon’s laws and Dol Arrah’s honor has failed, and that only cruelty and fear can overcome the threats the character is facing or avenge the wrong that’s been done to them.
The Lord of Victory
The Pyrinean Creed casts the Mockery as a force of pure evil—the cruel betrayal who delights in the suffering of innocents. But there are many ways to look at the world. The Cazhaak faith calls the Mockery the Lord of Victory. The Pyrinean interpretation chooses Dol Arrah over the Mockery, saying that war can and should be fought honorably. The Cazhaak interpretation says there is no honor in war. War is brutality and bloodshed. Once you see this—that someone ALWAYS suffers in war—you’ll realize that it’s better to be the one holding the blade rather than the one who bleeds. The Cazhaak Creed values cunning over brute strength; ultimately, survival is the proof of righteousness. If the goblin defeats the ogre, it doesn’t matter if they used poison or treachery; they should be celebrated for finding a path to victory.
The Cazhaak creed promotes a harsh, ruthless vision of the world: you should always be ready for betrayal. You should always be watching for weakness in those you deal with. One might think that this philosophy would undermine any form of community. But the Cazhaak creed does create communities, just in a very different way from Boldrei’s love and Aureon’s laws. The Cazhaak community is a wolf pack. Leaders must command respect with their cunning and power. If people don’t betray their leaders, it’s not because of honor or duty; it’s because they think it’s in their own self-interest to serve the leader, or believe that they couldn’t get away with the betrayal. You follow your leader because you believe you will prosper under her rule. In a society driven by the Cazhaak principles, no agreement can be based purely on trust. Words alone mean nothing; they have to be backed up by fear, by the knowledge that betrayal will carry a terrible cost. Look to Droaam as a whole; while Katra inspires with her voice, Maenya’s fist is always ready. It is a cruel way to view the world, but it makes sense to those who follow it. To the Cazhaak vassal, the ideals of Dol Arrah are childish; war isn’t a game with rules. With that said, it’s important to recognize that while the Cazhaak faith can support communities, historically it has never been tested on a wide scale. Droaam is a new nation, and in the centuries prior the Barrens were ruled by small communites and city-states. The Pyrinean scholar might argue that why Aureon’s laws and Dol Arrah’s ideals matter is because international relations rely on trust and on law. The armies of Droaam rely on guerilla warfare and small-unit tactics, where the cunning of the squad leader can turn the tide of battle. It remains to be seen if their ruthless principles can support global relationships.
Some who follow the Cazhaak path draw in the more extreme elements of the Lord of Bloodshed and Betrayal. There are those who revel in displays of cruelty; the Skinners of Graywall prey on despised foreigners and wear the tanned hides of their victims as grisly trophies. But for most who follow the Cazhaak path, the point is more that the world is cruel, and you must be strong and cunning to survive it; do whatever you must to bring down your foes.
If you’re a player character who follows the Cazhaak creed, a key point is that you expect betrayal and cruelty from others. You believe that you need to display your strength or cunning to ward off challenges; you aren’t used to kindness or pure altruism and you don’t expect people to keep their word if it becomes an inconvenience to them. You expect people to be driven by self-interest. The key to a lasting bargain isn’t a word of honor; it’s making sure that neither party dares to break the agreement.
The Three Faces of War
The Three Faces of War is a mystery cult found across the Five Nations. Exploring Eberron has this to say…
The Three Faces of War honors Dol Arrah, Dol Dorn, and Dol Azur (the Mockery). It was part of the united armies of Galifar, and cult chapters can be found in all of the armies of the Five Nations. Sect meetings provide a place for soldiers and veterans to interact as friends and equals, regardless of rank or nationality. The cult asserts that honor and courage are to be valued, but there is also a time and place for cunning and cruelty, even if it is never to be desired.
As depicted by the Three Faces of War, Dol Azur is a less intense version of the Lord of Victory. The Three Faces of War acknowledge that his actions are dishonorable and cruel, that the world is a better place if we all live in Dol Arrah’s light. But followers of the Three Faces acknowledge that the world is cruel, and that there are times when victory must come before honor. The Three Faces of War notably downplay the aspect of betrayal and focus on Dol Azur’s role on the battlefield; at the same time, followers of the Three Faces of War are definitely feel that while treaties play an important role in international relationships, a commander must always be prepared to violate a treaty when the moment is right. The Three Faces of War also recognizes the power of psychological warfare, of using fear to demoralize a foe. The key point is that followers of the Three Faces honor Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn; they do believe that honor has a place on the battlefield. But they believe that every tactic has its time and place—that we should strive to fight just wars, but be prepared for them to get ugly. Members of the Three Faces often feel that they have a particular affinity for one of the Sovereigns; those who feel they are guided by Dol Azur may still seek to using their powers for good, but they acknowledge that they have a knack for sowing terror or ruthless action when it becomes necessary. Within the sect, steel is used to represent Dol Dorn, gold to represent Dol Arrah, and leather to represent Dol Azur; if a soldier wears a leather ring, it might be a sign that they feel they are guided by the Mockery.
The Three Faces of War is a hidden sect, but its existence is a fairly open secret. It has members in all of the armies of the Five Nations. Allegiance to the Three Faces definitely doesn’t supercede national loyalty, but provided that it doesn’t violate that loyalty, it provides a foundation for friendship between soldiers of different nations. If a player character with the Soldier background chooses to be an initiate of the Three Faces of War, this can be used to explain how the benefits of the Military Rank feature apply when dealing with soldiers of other nations; even if they fought one another in the Last War, they respect the character as an initiate into the mysteries. And again, a player character could decide that they are guided by Dol Arrah and wear gold to show it; just because they accept that Dol Azur is part of war doesn’t mean that they have to embrace his path.
Using The Mockery
So how can you use the Mockery in a campaign? Well, in a world filled with shades of grey, followers of the Sovereign of Bloodshed and Betrayal are a good source of absolute villains. When you’re running a pulp campaign and you want someone who feels capital-E EVIL, a Flayed Hand monk is certainly an option. Someone who is guided by the Pyrinean creed but nonetheless chooses to embrace the Mockery is something who delights in cruelty and who believes that they gain strength by inflicting suffering on others. I could imagine a serial killer warlock who believes their power flows from the Mockery, and whose Mask of a Thousand Faces ability requires a strip of skin from the person they wish to impersonate. On the other hand, you could explore the idea of a group of ruthless vigilantes who believe that the terror tactics of the Mockery are the only way to combat rising crime… or the once-virtuous person who’s turned to the Mockery and the Fury to take vengeance for a crime Aureon’s laws failed to stop. Turning to the Lord of Victory, this can work anywhere you have a wolf pack, a group that will do whatever it takes to survive and overcome a foe. Aside from this, it can be a generally interesting way to contrast a soldier of Droaam from one of the Five Nations. Those who follow the Cazhaak path genuinely see the idea of honor in war as a childish concept. This doesn’t make them EVIL. Just because the world is cruel doesn’t mean they have to be unnecessarily cruel. but it means that they will do whatever is required to survive, that they will show mercy only if they see some clear benefit down the road. Meanwhile, the Three Faces of War is an old tradition that seeks to forge a bond between soldiers of all nations, and if one or more of the player characters is a veteran of the Last War, an influential member of the Three Faces could be a useful patron. Alternately, while the cult overall isn’t malevolent, an influential Azur-touched initiate of the Three Faces of War could use the organization to rally other Azur-touched for some sinister purpose.
Is someone who “fights dirty” in a direct sense (leverage, gouging, cheap shots) fighting more in the vein of Dol Dorn or the Mockery?
It’s important to remember that Vassals see the Dark Six as part of everyday life. When your anger gets the better of you, you let the Fury take hold for a moment. The Keeper drives our greed, and the Mockery urges us to take the cheap shot. If you’re watching a fight and there’s a move that makes everyone go “Ooooh—that’s a dirty trick!” then yes, that’s guided by the Mockery. The point is that Dol Dorn gives you the strength and skill you need to win in a fair fight, and the Mockery can show you how to win when you can’t win a fair fight. But throwing one sucker punch doesn’t make you a cultist of the Mockery. Think of people saying “The Devil made me do it” in our world—that’s not the same as saying “I am now a warlock devoted to dark powers.”
The key aspect is that people use the Dark Six to explain why there is evil in the world. Atrocities happen in war, just as rage or passion can drive people to violence in everyday life. People condemn those actions and blame them on the corrupting influence of the Dark Six, but that doesn’t mean they believe everyone who takes such an action consciously chose to serve the Six. The voices of the Six are with us all the time; the virtuous Vassal should overcome them and heed Aureon’s law and Dol Arrah’s light.
Rising calls out the divine domains of the Mockery (Trickery and War), but what subclass would you suggest for a Paladin of Dol Azur or for a Warlock who sees the Mockery as their patron?
For a Paladin, my immediate choice would be Conquest. FEAR is one of the traits of the Mockery, and beyond having fear on their spell list, Conquering Presence and Aura of Conquest are both fear-related abilities. Vengeance is possible, but I’d be more inclined to give it to a paladin of the Fury. Likewise, Oathbreaker is an option, but given the association with undead I’d be more likely to use it for a paladin of the Keeper.
For a warlock, my inclination would be Hexblade. The Mockery is a Sovereign of War, after all; the Shadow is a more logical source of general malevolent magic.
Why can a Karrnathi soldier not openly declare themselves to belong to the Three Faces of War, following in the footsteps of Karrn?
The existence of the Three Faces of War isn’t a secret. It’s been around for around two thousand years. Everyone knows that it exists and that it’s part of the armies of the Five Nations, and there’s never been an inquisition to wipe it out. It’s not seen as a threat or as a cult of the Dragon Below. The reason you don’t announce it is because it’s a MYSTERY CULT. Only those who have been initiated into its mysteries understand it, and only they DESERVE to know about it. The Karrn soldier doesn’t hide the fact that they belong to the Three Faces of War because it’s a crime; they hide it because the uninitiated don’t deserve to know about it. Beyond that, it’s a known fact that the Three Faces cults involve veneration of the Dark Six. Initiates understand the context of this and WHY they accept their chosen member of the Six as worthy of veneration—but they know that those who don’t understand the mysteries will not. So, the first rule of the Three Faces is that you don’t talk about the Three Faces.
What is the relationship of the goblinoids of Darguun to the Mockery and the Three Faces of War?
The Ghaal’dar hobgoblins and the Maargul bugbears both revere the Mockery. Much like the minotaurs of Droaam and the Horned King, each tribe and clan has its own interpretation and unique traditions, but they fall on a spectrum between the Sovereign of Betrayal and Bloodshed and the Lord of Victory. Since taking power, Lhesh Haruuc has been working to promote the worship of Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah, blending this with the existing worship of the Mockery. The simple fact is that this is about optics more than faith. Haruuc recognizes that most people of the Five Nations see worship of the Mockery as evil, and shifting the conversation to say that Darguuls worship all of the Sovereigns of War makes things a little more palatable for outsiders. Having said that, Haruuc believes that there are lessons to be learned from each of the Sovereigns, and feels a particular affinity for Dol Dorn—so his efforts aren’t entirely insincere. At the moment, there has been no concerted effort by the Three Faces of War to initiate Darguuls, but it’s possible that there are mercenaries who were initiated by comrades during the war.
What’s the Orb of Dol Azur?
The Orb of Dol Azur was first mentioned in an article I wrote in 2004. Since then, it’s been my go-to MacGuffin, an easy placeholder to drop in any time people are looking for something mysterious and powerful. I’ve never actually used it in a campaign or ever said what it does, though by all accounts it’s powerful and dangerous. Dragons of Eberron establishes that the draconic champions fought the overlord known as Katashka the Gatekeeper during the Age of Demons, and it’s entirely possible that this is the actual basis of the myth of the Dols fighting Death. If you accept this, it’s an easy step to think that the Orb of Dol Azur could actually be an artifact the proto-Mockery stole from the citadel of the Overlord. Katashka the Gatekeeper embodies our fears of death and the undead. With that in mind, people on the Eberron Discord server have made a number of interesting suggestions as to what the Orb could be…
The Orb of Dol Azur is one of the eyes of the Overlord Katashka. By default it’s the size of a dragon’s eye—quite large—but the proper ritual could cause it to shift to a size appropriate to the bearer. In short, this would be a way to use the mechanics of the Eye of Vecna in a form that fits the lore of Eberron.
When you kill someone with a Keeper’s Fang—a magical weapon that prevents resurrection—their soul is bound to the Orb of Dol Azur. At this point, the Orb holds the spirits of countless mortals and lesser fiends trapped over the course of history.
I doubt I’ll ever give an official answer, because I enjoy having a vague MacGuffin… but I think both of those are interesting possibilities!
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and for making these articles possible!