IFAQ: Humans of Droaam and Breggan Blackcrown

Breggan Blackcrown by Carolina Cesario

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patrons. Recently, someone asked…

We know that Droaam is largely populated by monstrous races, but it also has a population of disenfranchised humans. What is life like for these humans? Are they treated much the same as everyone else? Are there any human chibs?

The denizens of Droaam have no love for the arrogant people of the east, who have long condemned them as monsters, claimed dominion over their lands, and occasionally sent templars or questing knights west to kill their people. When the Daughters of Sora Kell led their first attack against Brelish forces, the message was clear. From Exploring Eberron…

“Tell your rulers there’s a new power in the west,” Sora Katra told the people of Stubborn. “What you’ve called the Barrens, we now name Droaam. The land beyond the Graywall and below the Byeshk belongs to our people. Withdraw yours quickly and respect our claim; next time, there will be no survivors.” 

Katra’s message wasn’t your people are welcome to join our new society, it was vacate the premises immediately. King Boranel of Breland refused to recognize the new nation—and he still hasn’t—but in 987 YK he ordered all Brelish citizens to withdraw from the disputed region. Those that ignored his orders were driven east by force or slain. So by canon and Kanon, there are no human communities as part of Droaam. With that said, Exploring Eberron has this to say about humans in Droaam.

Most humans living in Droaam are easterners— brigands or renegades evading the law, or merchants seeking opportunities. However, a few are natives, serving Droaam as part of the Venomous Demesne. While the demesne’s nobles are tieflings, humans are a significant part of the population, and Demesne humans can be found serving as magewrights in other cities. The humans of the Venomous Demesne have little in common with the people of the East, considering them savages, and feel no kinship to the Five Nations. 

So first of all, there is a significant population of humans in Droaam: the people of the Venomous Demesne. However, the Demesne is an advanced civilization that still remains largely isolated from the other peoples of Droaam, and that is all but unknown to the Five Nations. As noted, humans of the Demesne can be found in the major cities of Droaam, providing vital magewright services that most of the Droaamite subcultures haven’t mastered; but they are relatively few in number and focused on their work. Demense humans stand out by their fashions and manners, and are largely recognized by other Droaamites and left alone; they provide useful services and are typically capable of defending themselves. If an Easterner is familiar with the customs of the Demesne, disguising themselves as a Demesne magewright would be one way to avoid trouble… until they encounter a tiefling lord who wants to know their lineage and loyalty!

Beyond the humans of the Venomous Demesne, most humans are brigands or renegades evading the law, or merchants seeking opportunities. The Graywall Backdrop in Dragon 369 had this to say about Easterners in the city: Humans, half-orcs, dwarves, and members of the other races are largely concentrated in the Calabas; those who live in Bloodstone are largely bandits or fugitives. The Calabas is a recognized foreign quarter with laws enforced by House Tharashk, and is the safest place in Graywall. What I’ve always told players entering Graywall is that if you see an easterner outside the Calabas, you can assume they’re capable of defending themselves… because eventually, they’ll have to. A merchant would be sure to travel with a bodyguard. But if you see three former Karrnathi soldiers, you can be sure that at some point, a drunken ogre will have taken offense at the presence of these expatriate easterners—and the fact that they’re still here shows that they can handle such a situation.

So in short, there are humans in Droaam, but they aren’t farmers. There’s merchants engaged in business—legitimate or otherwise—who will either be prepared to talk or buy their way out of trouble, or who will have some form of protection. And then there’s people who have chosen to abandon the Five Nations: War criminals, deserters, renegades, dissidents, mages pursuing forbidden research, followers of the Dark Six seeking to practice their faith openly. The main thing is that any human living in Droaam outside a foreign quarter has a reason to be there, and must be prepared to talk or fight their way out of any trouble that comes their way. Those who survive will earn respect and a reputation. Essentially, they’ll be remarkable people.

OK, but what about Brelish settlers? Aren’t there Brelish settlers? Yes, but not in DROAAM. Remember that Breland doesn’t recognize Droaam as a nation, which means there’s no official border. Sora Katra laid claim to “the lands beyond the Graywall and below the Byeshk” and the commonly recognized border is the Orien trade route that runs between Ardev and Sylbaran. The region around the road is contested territory. The road is patrolled by Brelish forces and Znir gnolls serving the Daughters, but the region around the road is far from any lord or chib. There are human communities and settlers who consider themselves Brelish. But there are also a few communities that have no loyalty to either nation. Much like the farming communities of the Eldeen Reaches, the inhabitants of these towns felt abandoned by Breland during the war; unlike the Eldeen, they lacked the unity or numbers to secede and form a new nation. Today these villages are havens for brigands or deserters, always at risk of being targeted by raiders from Turakbar’s Fist or soldiers from Orcbone. And there’s brigands who prey on the Border Road as pirates prey on trade routes on water. The most infamous bandit in the region is Breggan Blackcrown. Here’s an excerpt from Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold...

BREGGAN BLACKCROWN

In a region where bandits are as common as copper pieces, the Company of the Black Crown have earned their infamy. The core of the company were members of an elite unit of Brelish soldiers stationed at Orcbone. Their captain, Breggan, regularly ignored her orders and waged her own personal guerrilla war against Droaam, slaughtering goblin villages and leaving gruesome displays that could chill even a medusa’s blood. Some stories say that Breggan sought to avenge the slaughter of her own family at the hands of monstrous raiders. Others suggest that she admired the ferocity of her foes, that in seeking to match their cruelty she became a monster herself. One especially dramatic tale says that after losing an eye in a battle with a minotaur champion, she plucked out the eye of her fallen foe and pressed it into her own socket, so she could see the world as her enemies do. When she was finally called to account for her cruelty and violation of orders two years ago, she broke with Breland, and many of her soldiers followed her. Now she claims that she is a true daughter of Breggor Firstking, the founder of the ancient nation of Wroat, and that a vision from her ancestor guided her to find his black iron crown. She says that Boranel betrayed his people by failing to bring Droaam to heel, and that she is the champion of the abandoned people of the western frontier; she calls herself “the Queen of the Lost,” subject to the laws of no nation.

The Company of the Black Crown is a mobile force trained in the techniques of guerilla warfare. They have a few long rods and other military-grade weapons. They ride the very edge of Droaam and Breland, defying both nations and preying on the people of both lands. They frequently target other brigands and clash with Droaam raiders, and most believe that this is why the commander of Orcbone chooses to ignore them; others say that the commander is one of Breggan’s former lovers, or that he doesn’t want to send his soldiers to their deaths. Regardless of the reason, for now Orcbone isn’t pursuing the Black Crowns.

While the Black Crowns ruthlessly slaughter other brigands and raiders, they’re no angels. They rob small villages and caravans—never entirely, just “collecting the Crown’s share.” While they usually don’t kill villagers, they make a bloody example of anyone who challenges them.

Breggan Blackcrown is a human woman in her thirties, equally skilled with sword and wand. She’s more than just a wandslinger; stories suggest she could be some sort of warlock. She’s as charming as she is ruthless, and never underestimates a foe. Her success to date is no accident. Breggan is a brilliant leader and her soldiers are exceptionally loyal to her, willing to take any risk in her service. Her primary lieutenants are Hatchet (male halfling, an expert scout), her bodyguard Blessing (female personality warforged, a heavily armored defensive fighter) and Sigil (male human, the war mage who maintains the company’s artillery).

Rumors About Breggan Blackcrown…

… Breggan’s right eye is a crystal shard, and she can see people’s fears. 

… Sora Katra has offered to make Breggan a warlord of Droaam.

… In her raids, Breggan has acquired a number of mysterious artifacts—possibly Dhakaani relics, or weapons from the Age of Demons.

… Breggan Blackcrown attended a feast at Turakbar’s Fist. In some versions of this story she danced with Rhesh Turakbar; in others, she beat him in a bare-handed duel. 

Breggan and her Black Crowns have already made an appearance in my Threshold campaign, and if you’re a Threshold patron you know how that turned out. I’ll note that this section is from the player-facing gazetteer in Frontiers of Eberron; the DM section has more information, along with statistics for Breggan herself.

So are there any human chibs or warlords? None are mentioned in canon, but the Droaam is always changing; in a year, Breggan could be a warlord of Droaam, or she could be rallying the villages of the Trade Road to forge a new nation. What’s the story you want to tell?

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. As this is an IFAQ and my time is limited, I won’t be answering many questions, but feel free to discuss this topic in the comments!

IFAQ: Immortal Personalities and Chwingas in Eberron

I’m still battling with COVID, but as time and energy permit I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patrons. Here’s two…

How do I keep immortals from the Outer Planes from coming across as a really boring, obtuse, and stupid? A Fernian balor is a spirit of fiery destruction, but a typical balor has 20 Int, 16 Wis, 22 Cha—how do you reconcile something that’s so much smarter and wiser than a human also having such a one track mind about just wanting to set trees on fire?

One of the core ideas of immortals in Eberron is that, as Loki would say, they are burdened with glorious purpose. They were created for a reason and most don’t have the ability to question that purpose or to chose a new path. An angel of Shavarath comes into existence knowing it is part of the Century of Mercy in the Legion of Justice. It bursts into existence with a sword in its hand and the knowledge of how to use it, and the concepts of mercy and justice are its guiding stars. This doesn’t mean it’s obtuse or stupid; it may be deeply passionate and highly intelligent, capable of devising clever strategies and of shedding a tear over the horrible cruelty of the war. But the angel knows its purpose and most likely will never question it. It believes in the cause of justice with every fiber of its being. It literally exists to be a symbol of merciful justice. You could say it’s like a robot, but I’d prefer to say that it’s like a poem; its purpose is to make you think about the concept that it represents. But again, the key point is that it has a purpose.

The depth of an immortal’s personality is usually directly related to its power and to the specificity of its purpose. In Dal Quor, a kalaraq quori has a greater depth of personality than the dream figment you encounter as a scary clown. In Thelanis, the Lady in Shadow has more depth than the sprites dancing in the meadow. In Syrania, the Dominion of Swords has more depth than one of the many Virtues of War. Like I said, immortals are in many ways stories; is the story general (fey dancing in the woods) or is it more specific (the Forgotten Prince, gathering all those things that are forgotten or unappreciated). Again, usually this is reflected by the power of the spirit. So looking to Fernia, the burning quasit is likely just embodying the idea of “FIRE! BURN!” but a balor is going to be deeper and more interesting. I didn’t discuss such balors in Exploring Eberron because I didn’t have the time or space, and frankly, I don’t have the time or energy now, either. But let’s talk about one of them.

With any significant immortal, I want to define its name and its purpose. A balor is a fiend of sufficient power that it would never just be “a balor.” Demons as a whole are spirits of chaos and evil, and Fernian demons reflect the chaotic and evil aspects of fire—flame as a source of random, uncaring pain and suffering. For a quasit, that’s all we need—Fire bad! For a balor I’d take it a step farther, and give the balor a more specific dominion within the broad category of the cruelty of fire. So if my players are going to have to deal with a balor, it’s not going to be “a balor.” It will be… Pyraelas, The Love Lost In Flame. Before the session, I’ll offer the players a chance to gain inspiration by telling me about a tragedy their character endured involving fire. Pyraelas will know these stories; if any of them lost a loved one to fire, Pyraelas will reminisce about the death, and may be able to call up the final words of the lost love, spoken in their voice. This is the same idea as the Syranian Dominion of Swords; there are many demons that embody the broad concept of the cruelty of flame, but within that Pyraelas specializes in the tragic loss of love. Now, a key point here is that Pyraelas doesn’t cause those deaths, just as the Dominion of Swords doesn’t cause swords to exist. But he knows about them, and he exists to remind us of those tragedies, to twist the knife in the wound and to embody the pain caused by a love lost in flame.

So this brings us back to how do you reconcile something that’s so much smarter and wiser than a human also having such a one track mind about just wanting to set trees on fire? Pyraelas has no particular interest in setting trees on fire. He dwells in a castle that is forever succumbing to flames, the flames following in his path wherever he goes and the castle slowly regenerating behind him, so that it is forever being lost to the fire yet never fully destroyed; again, Pyraelas is a symbol of tragic loss and his domain supports that story. Here we reach that point—if he’s so smart and wise, why isn’t he frustrated by the fact that he never actually burns down the castle for once and for all? The castle is a symbol, just as he is. He doesn’t NEED to burn down the castle—because he knows that right now there’s a barn fire in Ardev in which a child is losing his father, and a fire in Korth that’s claiming the lives of young lovers. He is ALL the love lost in flame, and it is enough for him that love is being lost in flame, and will continue to do so. As I said before, he’s not a robot, he’s a POEM. He’s a lesson for you to learn.

How will Pyraelas deal with adventurers who come into his domain? It depends why they’re there, of course; did they come looking to steal something from his burning castle? Are they seeking information about someone who died in fire long ago, a secret only he knows as the embodiment of Love Lost In Flame? It’s possible he’ll just attack them as interlopers, but in my campaign he’s more likely to talk to them first—to reminisce about what they’ve lost to flame in the past, to taunt them with what fire will take from them in days ahead. And then, most likely, I’d have him make them an offer: he’ll allow them all to leave safely, except for the one character they all care about the most; that adventurer will die slowly in fire. Or perhaps the price will be someone who’s not even there: You can leave here in peace, paladin: but your sister will die, trapped beneath a burning beam. Because again, that’s part of what it means to deal with a powerful outer immortal; their powers aren’t just about casting fireballs. Dealing with Pyraelas means dealing with the cruelty of fire itself. And should you defeat him? He’ll return. Because you may hack a winged fiend to pieces with your blades, but tomorrow, loved ones will still be dying in fires, and eventually Pyraelas will return to his burning castle to remind us of that. Depending how you defeat him, it might take a while; it could even be that he’ll return as Pyraela, a queen crying burning tears. But there will always be a balor in Fernia who embodies Love Lost In Flame. It’s not a choice they get to make; it’s a glorious purpose.

So how do you keep immortals from coming across as boring, obtuse, and stupid? Make them beautiful, intriguing and intelligent. Think about how they’ve already touched the lives of the player characters—again, have any of them lost a love to flame? The fact that they have a narrow focus and an absolute purpose doesn’t mean they’re stupid; it means that they are part of the universe in a way mortals can’t even begin to understand. There’s a fire spreading in an inn in Fairhaven right now, and Pyraelas knows about it and knows who’s going to die in it. At a glance, he’s a winged beast wandering around an endlessly burning building; but he is the embodiment of Love Lost In Flame, immortal and glorious. He was there when the King Azikan threw himself on his lover’s pyre in ancient Sarlona. And he’ll be there when the Five Nations are lost in ashes and you are only a long-forgotten memory, little paladin with your little blade.

Hopefully that helps.

Where do you see chwingas fitting into Eberron?

As fey. I love everything about chwingas, but in the cosmology of Eberron I don’t see why they’d be elementals. I’ve already talked about the fact that I commonly associate fey with masks, playing to the point that fey are stories and masks make it easy for different species to identify with them. So, small masked magical creatures, who are curious and can grant minor boons? Everything about this screams fey to me. In particular, in the past I’ve talked about Aundairians having bargains with fey—that some families may have ancient pacts with archfey, but that others may simply have a deal with a fey who will mend their shoes if they leave out a saucer of milk. Chwinga are perfect for this sort of fey. This can be represented by the charms they can grant, but also by changing up their cantrips. For example…

  • Nature Spirit. Can grant charm of animal conjuring; can cast druidcraft, guidance, pass without trace, resistance.
  • House Spirit. Can grant charm of vitality; can cast prestidigitation, guidance, pass without trace, mending. Natural Shelter is replaced with Domestic Shelter, allowing the chwinga to take shelter inside the walls or floor of its house.
  • Protector Spirit. Can grant charm of heroism or charm of the slayer. Can cast blade ward, guidance, pass without trace, spare the dying; it can cast blade ward on another creature, with a range of 30 feet.

As I said, I could see many old houses in Aundair having house spirits, but I could definitely see nature spirits and protectors in the Talenta Plains or the Eldeen Reaches, especially around the Twilight Demesne—and certainly around Pylas Pyrial in Zilargo. But such a spirit could be found almost anywhere—curious, possibly mischievous, and with a powerful gift it can grant if is chooses.

How does the balor you mentioned interact with the Devourer? Isn’t the Devourer supposed to cause wildfires?

Good question. Part of the point of Pyraelas is that he doesn’t cause the fires; he’s aware of them and takes pleasure in them, but again, at the end of the day he’s a symbol. He hangs out in Fernia and reminds us that people die tragically in fire. Now, this gets a bit fuzzy when he bargains with you—you can go but your sister will die in flame tonight—but that’s supposed to be tied to the greater magic of his domain. It’s the same way a wish-granting spirit usually can’t grant their own wishes; Pyraelas can broker deals about flame, but he can’t just burn Boranel in his armchair for his own personal entertainment. So how does this all relate to the Devourer? This is where we’ve said that there are immortals who will act as intermediaries for the Sovereigns and Six, who will answer commune and planar ally on their behalf. If you seek to commune with the Devourer asking a question about fire, you might be connected to Pyraelas. Essentially, those fiends and celestials who have faith believe that they are part of the Sovereigns and Six. Pyraelas knows that the Devourer shapes every flame, and that he, Pyraelas, has the specific task of watching those that consume love. He’s never met the Devourer, but he’s certain the Devourer exists, because killing flames exist; that’s all the proof he needs. So Pyraelas is a piece of the Devourer that you can punch in the nose, but even for him, the ultimate existence of the Devourer is a matter of faith.

That’s all for now! I won’t be answering questions on this IFAQ, but thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for keeping this site going; check it out if you have questions of your own! Next up: Sky piracy!

IFAQ: Old Borders, Forgotten Flags, and Vvaraak’s Lair

Every month my patrons pose questions. Some of these become Dragonmark articles, like the recent articles on Hags and Session Zero. However, other topics don’t need a full article. Here’s a few from this month! As always, these answers reflect what I do in MY campaign and may contradict canon material, starting right away with this first question…

What were the borders of Thrane before the war in your Eberron?

The Forge of War presents a map of Galifar before the war, and it draws a traveling west from the Face of Tira to the Duskwood, saying everything south of this line—including Passage, Lathleer, Ghalt, and Arcanix—were all part of Thrane. I have many issues with this map. First of all, it’s very arbitrary, lacking any natural or manmade obstacle that would help people recognize that border. Second, it places Daskaran in Aundair; it’s been previously established that before Galifar, Thrane was called Daskara, with the assumption that Daskaran a vital part of the old nation. But beyond that, we’ve made a BIG DEAL about the fact that Thrane holds Thaliost. The idea that Aundair seized three major cities and Arcanix during the war and that nobody really cares much about them is hard to fathom. Beyond that, to me Passage is very well established as a traditional Aundairian city, home to the Guild of Endless Doors and the Passage Institute. I’ve accepted the idea that Arcanix was in Thrane territory based on the idea that the floating towers were moved to the current location after the territory was seized during the war. But that simply doesn’t fit my vision of Passage, and I see no reason to accept the Forge of War borders.

So, what were the pre-war borders in MY campaign? I’d start by using the Aundair River. Daskaran’s on the southern shore, Thaliost is to the north, and it’s a major natural obstacle. So I’d start with the river. When you reach Fairhaven, I’d use the TRADE ROAD as the border—running down from Fairhaven to Lathleer and then from Lathleer to Ghalt. At that point, I’d draw a line from Ghalt to Lake Galifar—so the Eldritch Groves were technically in Thrane, but no one LIVED in them. A critical point of this is that Lathleer and Ghalt were on the border. Throughout the history of Galifar, these cities lay between Aundair and Thrane; they blended the customs of both nations and had inhabitants from both sides. During the war, Aundair gains ground and establishes a series of fortresses—including Wrogar Keep, Tower Valiant, and Tower Vigiliant—to maintain that border. The reason the loss of Lathleer and Ghalt isn’t as significant as Thrane’s occupation of Thaliost is that both cities already had strong ties to Aundair and deep-rooted Aundairian traditions—while in the case of Thaliost, the city was a proud and ancient Aundairian city with no ties to Thrane. The people of Lathleer are largely happy to be Aundairian, while Thaliost is an unstable occupation.

I’ve already discussed Arcanix—that it was a small village that took on its current importance when Aundair moved the floating towers there. But beyond that, I feel that when you go beyond the Eldritch Groves you’re dealing with territory that was technically Thrane on the map but that had a very weak cultural connection to the nation. The Year of Blood and Fire is a foundational element of modern Thrane culture and a critical part to the deeply engrained cultural devotion to the Silver Flame. I think it’s reasonable to say that Bel Shalor’s influence never spread beyond the Eldritch Groves—that the people of that region didn’t suffer in the Year of Blood and Fire and largely maintained their Vassal faith through to the present, making many of them quite happy to shift their loyalties to Aundair or Breland. In particular, I think it’s logical to assume that the Eldritch Groves have strong ties to Thelanis, and that the people in that region had fey-related customs more typically associated with Aundair. Meanwhile, Xandrar is so far from Flamekeep—separated by mountains and water—that I feel it was effectively an independent culture that just happened to be assigned to Thrane on the map, much as Droaam was technically Breland but the residents of the region didn’t consider themselves to be Brelish.

So I feel that Lathleer and Ghalt were significant acquisitions by Aundair during the war, and that this acquisition was safeguarded by the establishment of the border towers—but that from a cultural perspective these were fairly easy acquisitions compared to the bitter, contested occupation of Thranes. There is still surely a minority in both Lathleer and Ghalt who consider themselves Thranes and who despise the Aundairian tyrants, and this could create intrigue for adventurers, but they aren’t powerful forces. I’d also assert that both Lathleer and Ghalt had an influx of Aundairians resettled from the west when the Eldeen Reaches seceded, further bolstering Aundair’s hold on both cities.

Does the Eternal Dominion of the Sahuagin claim any part of the Dagger River? The area around the Hilt looks much like a fjord, which can be up to a mile deep in our world.

Not in my campaign. The sahuagin of the Dominion prefer salt water and are happy to have a little distance between them and the land-dwellers; the Dagger is also far away from their Kar’lassa. However, there could easily be a different aquatic culture in the Dagger. I don’t think there would be an actively hostile culture in the middle of the Dagger; such a nation would have been dealt with during the centuries of united Galifar, whether driven away or forced to the negotiating table. So one way or another I’d think that the Dagger-dwellers would have a diplomatic relationship with the surface… though this could still lead to outlaws raiding ships in defiance of custom. Personally, rather than sahuagin, I’d be inclined to make this a locathah culture, providing a counterpoint—and potential ally—to the locathah that have been subjugated by the Dominion and the Protectorate.

Droaam and Breland were certainly in conflict during the Last War, but was Droaam fighting on any other fronts?

There were no conflicts between Droaam and either the Shadow Marches or the Eldeen Reaches. As the Eberron Campaign Setting says, “The Shadow Marches are a geographic region, not a nation“—aside from House Tharashk, the Shadow Marches aren’t an entity you can have a political relationship with. Meanwhile, the Reaches and Droaam are separated by a formidable natural barrier—the Byeshk Mountains. The Reachers have no need or desire to expand their territory, and Droaam’s primary concern is solidifying its claim on the territory of the Barrens…. land claimed by Breland. So there was a concrete reason that they had to fight Breland. But the Byeshk Mountains are a clear border that both sides have been willing to respect, and at the moment neither one has any reason to pick a fight with the other.

With that said, you could Droaam was fighting on a second front… but that front was WITHIN DROAAM. The history of Droaam wasn’t a perfect, smooth rule from day one. Maenya’s Fist has crushed multiple warlords and chibs who refused to recognize the Daughters or who turned on them over time. So Droaam has definitely fought other battles, but they’ve been internal.

The Five Nations all have a heraldic animal—Thrane’s old boar, Breland’s bear, Karrnath’s wolf, and Aundair’s dragonhawk. But Cyre has always been a bell as far as anyone can tell. What animal would you assign to Cyre?

As discussed in Exploring Eberron, Cyre was a manufactured nation that consciously broke from the established customs of Metrol. They chose the crowned bell—crowned with the five-stone crown of Galifar—as a clear breaking of the old traditions; if you asked a Cyran the question, they’d raise an eyebrow and say “Please! We’re not animals.” Another way of asking the question is “What was the heraldic animal of Metrol“—the seal that was abandoned and replaced by Cyre’s crowned bell. It’s never been described, but given that we have Bear, Boar, and Wolf represented I’d be strongly tempted to choose TIGER. We know tigers exist in Khorvaire, from Dhakaan and Borrie Tigers, and it completes the set of common lycanthropes (which makes me wonder if Thaliost was a rat before they switched to the dragonhawk). But again, Cyrans made an intentional choice NOT to represent their nation with an animal, thank you.

In my Eberron campaign the party is searching for Vvaraak’s lair. What do you think the lair looks like and what sort of wards, traps or guardians would you imagine protects the lair?

The first question you need to ask is “What is Vvaraak’s Lair?” Is it the literal place that Vvaraak slept, possibly even with a hoard? Is it a a site where she conducted Druidic rituals? Is it also her tomb—or, perhaps, did she transform herself into livewood and still sleeps in the heart of the lair as a living, wooden dragon? Is or is it not literally her lair at all, but rather a passage to a verdant demiplane that is called her lair because it’s so fertile?

In looking to traps and guardians, the next question is “Why are there traps or guardians?” What are these systems protecting, and who are they protecting it from? Why is the lair hidden and guarded at all instead of being a pilgrimage site for Gatekeepers?

With that last question in mind, I see two possible answers. One is that Vvaraak foresaw a time in the future when a vital tool or piece of knowledge would be needed and set the traps and guardians herself to keep everyone out until the time was right. In this case, the theme should be PRIMAL MAGIC. The guardians would be plant creatures, treats, maybe elementals—things that don’t care about the passage of time, since they’ve been isolated for thousands of years. They would be designed to keep out Cults of the Dragon Below but also to keep out anyone else until the time was right, and likely test Druidic ability.

The completely opposite answer is that it’s not her lair—it’s her PRISON. Vvaraak was trapped and sealed away by the Lords of Dust, and turned herself to livewood to survive while waiting for a rescue. In this case the guardians would be fiends, designed to keep out Vvaraak’s allies. If these defenses are breached, it’s possible that she could be restored to flesh—or she could offer guidance as a livewood guardian, not unlike Oalian.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my patrons, who make these articles possible and come up with interesting questions!

Dragonmarks: Hags of Eberron

When Eberron was created, hags were monstrous humanoids. In fifth edition, they’re fey. What does this change mean for the hags of Eberron? Are they now tied to Thelanis?

No. Not all fey creatures share a common origin. The denizens of Thelanis are the fey we hear the most about, as they’re often encountered on Eberron in manifest zones. But there are fey that are native to Eberron, such as the Valenar beasts of Rising From The Last War. In my campaign, fiends are physical incarnations of evil, while celestials are embodiments of good. Fey are creatures of magic, neither innately good or evil. This is reflected by the current druid Wild Companion ability, which allows them to summon a fey companion in the form of a beast. This looks like an animal, but it wouldn’t exist without the druid; it is a magical embodiment of the druid’s love of nature. Likewise, the Valenar beasts presented in Rising From The Last War are fey creatures, but they aren’t from Thelanis; they are “animals are awakened to advanced intelligence and power by the touch of an ancestral spirit“—mundane creatures that BECOME fey due to an infusion of supernatural energy, the same basic concept we see in the Hexblood lineage.

Divine magic is shaped by faith. Arcane magic is shaped by science. Fey magic is often—though not always—shaped by story. Valenar beasts are part of the story of the Tairnadal ancestors. The dryad is a story we tell ourselves about an interesting tree. Even the Wild Companion is a sort of story… and then a helpful beast came to assist me and to be my friend. This ties to fact that fey often come into existence with a clear purpose the skills they need to accomplish that purpose—essentially, they appear ready to play their role in the story. When you meet a tinker sprite in a manifest zone tied to the Thelanian Assembly, that sprite never chose to be a tinker. They came into existence with a love of tinkering and the knowledge of how to do it, never considering there was any other path they could take. The Wild Companion comes into existence to help your druid, never asking Why am I here? What do I want? Its purpose in the story is to help you. Most fey creatures have a similar purity of purpose, whether they’re kind or cruel. Evil fey are storybook villains. They don’t need the same depth of motivation that mortals do; villainy is their purpose, in and of itself.

Thelanis is the primary source of fey. Within Eberron, fey are most frequently encountered around Thelanian manifest zones. Sometimes the fey in these regions are directly tied to Thelanis; the dryads of Silvermoon Grove consider themselves to be handmaidens of the Forest Queen, even though they dwell in Eberron. Other times, it’s simply that the proximity of Thelanis leaks fey energies into the world, which respond to the stories of the people in the region; such few are often tied to their manifest zones, but they know nothing about Thelanis and feel no kinship to other fey. But fey can be found anywhere in the world… and can even begin as mortals. The Valenar beast is our key example of this—a mundane creature that is touched by the story of a Tairnadal ancestor and becomes a fey embodiment of that story. The key to these creatures is to understand the story that shapes them. Is it tied to a place? Or a person? Does it require them to behave in a particular way? The more mortal a fey creature is, the less they’re bound by their story. Notably, the Eldeen Reaches has a population of centaurs who are technically fey, but who lead mortal lives—growing old and dying, giving birth and raising children. Their ancestors were shaped by the energies of Thelanis, and that power clings to them to such a degree that spells react to them as fey; but they are mostly mortal, for better or for worse.

With that in mind, let’s look to the main subjects of this discussion…

Hags

The Daughters of Sora Kell are the most infamous hags of Eberron. But the Daughters are so remarkable that they have little in common with the standard hags of the monster manual. What, then, is the role of a typical green hag or sea hag? Where do they come from and what do they want? There’s a few answers to the question. Note that night hags are an entirely different sort of creature, and have been covered in a previous article.

Story Hags

Mother Graytooth dwells in the Saddleback Bog, and she always has, just as long as long has been. She’s matched wits with dirge singers and with templars of the Silver Flame, and many’s the time she’s been killed, but she’s too evil to stay dead for long.

Saddleback Bog is a minor Thelanian manifest zone and Mother Graytooth is a green hag rooted in Thelanis. There’s no historical basis for her story, she’s just always been there. People who live in the area eventually start telling her story, even if they can’t remember where they heard it; it’s seeped into the collective unconscious of the region itself, and if you ask someone how they know it, they’ll just say “Maybe it was my old gran who first told me the tale? I couldn’t say. But everyone knows about Mother Graytooth, mister.” She gets killed occasionally and may stay dead for decades, but people remember her story even when she’s gone, and eventually she’ll come back.

Historical Hags

Old Man Cord was the nicest man you could meet, if you met him in the day. Always had a story or a toy for the children, always a smile and a crown. But at night, now, that was a different story. A tanner, he was, and a worker of leather, and he’d make himself a cord from the guts of his victims… then out into the night he’d go, waiting for someone to stray from the light. When they finally caught him, they found the remains of all his victims, hanging by their innards in his basement. They hung him, and that was their mistake; ropes are his friends, and no noose would kill Old Man Cord. He’s been out there ever since, lurking in the darkness and waiting for someone to stray from the light. So mark my words, children, and mark them well—never be out in the night without a lantern, as you value your breath.

Old Man Cord is an annis hag haunting the town of Lowpoint. His Crushing Hug takes the form of choking a victim with a leather strap, but otherwise he has all the abilities of an annis—shapeshifting, hiding in fog, inhuman strength. Unlike Mother Graytooth, his story has a concrete beginning; there was an Old Man Cord who killed dozens of people. He spread terror through the town while he lived, the revelations of his crimes shocked them even further, and when a child went missing a year later, everyone knew it was Old Man Cord. In essence, the town willed him into existence the same way a druid wills a Wild Companion into existence, and they keep him alive through their fear. Another difference is that his story can have an end. He can be killed; the key is that he’ll only stay dead if the people of Lowpoint believe he’s dead and, most critically, STOP TELLING HIS STORY.

A critical point is that the annis hag isn’t actually Old Man Cord. This is what differentiates this form of hag from a ghost or undead. The hag embodies the story of Old Man Cord. It’s both larger than life and also more shallow than the original. It doesn’t matter why Cord actually murdered people; what matters is why people THINK he murdered people. In some ways, you can think of this as a nightmare made manifest; he’s going to be more exaggeratedly EEEVIL than the mortal man ever was, because he’s embodying the story. One might ask if the hag could be changed by changing the story; if the people all came to believe that Old Man Cord was cuddly and friendly, would he become cuddly and friendly? Usually, no. This sort of hag is typically generated by fear. Cutting off the source will keep the hag from returning, but it won’t actually change it or kill it; the Cord hag will still be out there and will try to get its story back on track by killing people in terrifying ways. However, if his story becomes a joke, Cord won’t be able to return if he’s slain.

Often, historical hags are formed near Thelanian manifest zones; even if the zone doesn’t manifest traditional fey, the energy can form creatures like hags. However, in rare cases, such hags can form spontaneously if a response to a story is both widespread and visceral. Historical hags are typically bound to a region, but can move with their story. If a family travels from Lowpoint to Sharn and manages to spread the story of Old Man Cord throughout Callestan, he could potentially follow them.

Historical hags generally only manifest after a villain has died, typically after their story has been greatly exaggerated; again, they’re usually more of a caricature of the original, not an actual ghost. However, it could theoretically be possible for an infamous villain to be thought dead and for their story to generate a hag while they are secretly still alive. Perhaps the real Old Man Cord never killed anyone and is still in hiding; finding him could help put the story to rest.

Thelanian Hags

You will find no warm welcome in the Winter Court. In particular, you had best keep an eye out for the frost maidens—Linger, Livid, and Lost. Linger is as strong as a dying oak tree, and Livid as cunning as black ice. Their hearts are as cold as their hands, and they delight in smothering joy and stealing hope.

Thelanian hags are the closest to the traditional fifth edition lore: “Ancient beings with origins in the Feywild, hags represent all that is evil and cruel; there is nothing mortal about these monstrous creatures, whose forms reflect only the wickedness in their hearts.” They can play minor roles in the stories of baronies or feyspires, or be found scheming in the Moonlit Court. They are typically immortal, though like many immortals, if they die they might return in a slightly different form; the overall story remains, but the exact telling of it can change. While they are immortal embodiments of evil, part of what makes them fey instead of fiends is that drive to embody their story. Most are content to while away immortality in Thelanis, but every now and then a hag or a coven takes up residence in a manifest zone, or decides that intrigues in Eberron could somehow help their position in the Moonlit Court; a powerful Thelanian hag or coven could easily serve as the patron for an archfey warlock. Again, what makes a hag a HAG is being “evil and cruel”; while the Daughters of Sora Kell are more nuanced in their desires, Thelanian hags tend to play up their villainous roles. However, evil doesn’t mean violent; a Thelanian hag could be a merchant who sells interesting items that will ultimately cause misery (consider the classic monkey’s paw) or a cruel step-parent who keeps their child imprisoned in a tower made from thorns.

While “hags” are traditionally villainous, the stat block of a hag can be used for good or neutral fey. The green hag in particular makes an excellent fey courtier, clever and gifted with illusion. For such a fey, their claw attack could be replaced with a Humiliating Slap that deals psychic damage (a good pairing with vicious mockery), a Withering Touch that deals necrotic damage (tied to the strange passage of time in Thelanis), or something else that fits the story of the courtier; they might not look like a traditional hag, but the stat block works!

Pact Hags AND HEXBLOODS

Story hags were never real, and historical hags typically rise after the death of their source. But there are fully mortal beings with the powers of hags. They begin by making a pact with another powerful hag. In some cases, the nature of this bargain is clear from the start; in others, the connection may be forged my a seemingly innocent arrangement—a favor granted, a gift given. The beneficiary becomes a hexblood, as described in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft—and eventually, they may be transformed into a full hag. In part, this is a matter of time. But it’s also based on the actions of the individual. Hags represent all that is evil and cruel; the more the hexblood succumbs to cruelty, the more delight they find in the misfortunes of others, the more trouble they cause, the closer they get to becoming a hag. Few hexbloods every actually reach the point where transformation is actually possible; to become a hag, they must literally be larger than life, essentially becoming a living story.

Pact hags are the most human of the hags discussed here. They began as humanoid creatures, and the essence of that humanity remains. They are mortal and won’t return after death. But they are also fey, and aging has little effect on them. Unlike story and historical hags, pact hags aren’t limited to any particular area or community and can travel freely. As a result, pact hags can be found working with Daask cells or acting as ambassadors for the Daughters of Sora Kell.

Wait—Old *MAN* Cord?

Yes, Old Man Cord. There’s no reason hags have to take female forms. Even by fifth edition lore, their forms reflect the wickedness in their heart; wickedness isn’t limited by gender. While “hag” remains the common term for this class of fey, they can appear in male, female, or nonbinary forms.

What about Sea Hags?

Sea hags will fall into one of the categories presented above, and their role in the world will reflect this. Sargasso Jane is a story hag who dwells in a kelp mass and torments the crew of ships that get stuck in it. Captain Alarack is an infamous pirate who was lost in the Lhazaar Sea, but people say he will murder any captain who takes a prize in his waters without throwing tribute over. The Mother of Maelstroms is a Thelanian sea hag who occasionally makes pacts with Fathomless warlocks. And if Droaam starts a navy, perhaps Sora Katra will produce a pact hag to run it.

The Daughters of Sora Kell

So having discussed four types of hags, what are the Daughters of Sora Kell? They’re typically described as being a green hag (Sora Katra), an annis hag (Sora Maenya), and a dusk hag (Sora Teraza). But Sora Maenya is described as crushing giants with her bare hands and scattering armies—hardly the actions of a CR 6 Annis. The answer is that the Daughters are hags in the same way that Bahamut is a dragon; they have the forms of hags, but they are something far grander and more powerful than any normal hag. The simplest way to look at it is that they are native archfey. Their mother wasn’t a fey hag at all; Sora Kell is a primordial night hag and a legend in her own right, and in birthing her daughters she was bring nightmares into the world. The Daughters are both far more powerful than most hags, but also more subtle and complex. Katra and Maenya may delight in casual cruelty, but they fall into the category of alignment telling you how they’ll pursue their goals, but not whether their goals are good or bad. In Droaam they have created something new and given a voice to people once voiceless. They enjoy the terror they instill in their enemies, but they are far more complex that Mother Graytooth or Old Man Cord.

So just how powerful are the Daughters of Sora Kell? Their canon statistics have varied wildly over editions, and to some degree I think that’s appropriate. They’re native archfey, and to some degree, they’re as powerful as the story currently calls for them to be. Sora Maenya’s never had to fight an army of dragons, and by default she definitely doesn’t have that degree of power; but the Chamber can’t be certain that she wouldn’t GAIN that power if she was attacked by an army of dragons, because what a story that would be. So in my opinion, a major part of fighting the Daughters of Sora Kell is to lock down their story. If a party of adventurers just charges into a room and attacks Sora Maenya with no plan, they’ll lose, because she’s Sora Maenya; her story is driven by her being the strongest there is. But if the adventurers learn of her weakness (a weakness that might not even manifest unless her enemies know about it), if they spread stories of her growing old and infirm, if they destroy her treasured collection of soulbound skulls, THEN when they face her she will be locked down to a CR that is reasonable for them to face… because they have created a story in which she can be beaten. This ties to the question of whether or not the Daughters are immortal, like story hags or Thelanian hags. Personally, I’ve always believed that they are NOT immortal—they were born and one day they will die. But in my campaign, if you collapse a building on them or bomb the Great Crag, they will somehow survive… their death won’t stick unless it’s a good story.

Ultimately the real question with the Daughters is how powerful do you want them to be? In my campaign, I LIKE them being the most terrifying beings you could just make an appointment to meet. I’d probably put the Daughters in the same league as the archfey in Exploring Eberron, with CRs somewhere in the low 20s. But that’s the story *I* want. I want Maenya to be able to crush giants and fight armies. You may want to tell a very different story, in which the Daughters truly have to be afraid of their warlords, where Maenya could be taken down in an ambush by Rhesh Turakbar… and that might be a better story. Which again is why I’m inclined to say that their power level can literally shift to meet the needs of the story. Place them in a situation where they need to be impressive and they will become impressive. But if their enemies can control the story, perhaps Sora Maenya can be reduced to a mere annis hag.

That’s all for now! I won’t be answering questions on this article, but feel free to discuss the topic and how you’ve used hags in the comments! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for raising the questions that spawned this topic and for making these articles possible.

Eberron: Session Zero

Five strangers meet in a tavern. They have nothing in common. They have no families, no friends, no real idea of what they want in life. But they’ve got a special set of skills, and there’s a man willing to pay them a fistful of gold to beat up some bad guys. Let’s roll.

Once upon a time, this was the basic set-up for a typical D&D campaign. And there’s nothing wrong with this, if all you’re looking for is a chance to roll some dice and fight some monsters. But a campaign can be much more than this. There’s two things to consider here. The first is ways to create characters that have interesting ties to the world and hooks for the players and DM to make use of. The second is developing this in Session Zero—taking a little time to work through the story and to establish ground rules before diving into a campaign.

CREATING EBERRON CHARACTERS

You’re starting a new Eberron campaign. Players are supposed to create 3rd level characters using point buy. But half the players have never heard of Eberron, and they don’t have time to read the Eberronicon to get a feel for the world. If they have a little time, you can encourage them to read the introduction of Eberron: Rising From The Last War; if they don’t have the energy for that, this Reddit post lists ten important things to know about the world, as well as providing links for people who want to do further reading. Those ten points hit the most crucial elements of the world. It’s a world of magic with airships and dragonmarked dynasties; the Last War has ended, sort of; it draws on both pulp and noir for inspiration; and familiar things may not be what you expect them to be. At the end of the day, this covers a lot of crucial ground.

Who Are We This Time?

When I’m starting a new campaign, the first thing I do is to pitch the concept to my players. I’m thinking about a campaign in which you’re all reporters for the Korranberg Chronicle, being sent to investigate the biggest stories in Khorvaire. The first, most important thing is to make sure the players want to play in that campaign. The second is to give some basic direction on creating characters. This is an idea that Eberron: Rising From The Last War explores with Group Patrons. The simplest of these is the Adventurer’s Guild, in which the idea is that you are professional adventurers; it establishes that your campaign is likely going to involve dungeon crawls and exploring ruins in exotic locations. The tone can be set by the guild; for example, the Clifftop Guild has a positive reputation and generally doesn’t employ evil characters, while the Deathsgate Guild thrives on dirty tricks. On the other hand, you could all work for the Boromar Clan (Crime Syndicate), you could be private investigators in Sharn (Inquisitive Agency), or you could be agents of the Argentum (Religious Order). This gives players a clear focus: For our group of reporters, we want someone who’s good at social interaction, a good researcher, and some muscle to keep us safe and throw around a little intimidation when we need it.

Even when you don’t have a shared patron, the setting can inform characters. In my Q’barra campaign I established that the characters were living in a small mining town and encouraged the players to draw on classic Western archetypes, noting that the town needed someone to be the Sheriff, someone to be the Preacher, and someone with an interest in local business; the players could claim these roles for their characters, otherwise I’d fill them with NPCs. On the other hand, when running a game set in Callestan, I told people that the tone was similar to Gangs of New York and that they were living in one of the worst districts in Sharn, and the question they needed to answer was why? Were they urchins who grew up in the neighborhood? Did they have ties to local criminals? Were they excoriates or deserters hiding out from powerful enemies? Or were they virtuous vigilantes trying to make a difference?

The main point here is that by clearly establishing the story, you can help the players come up with ideas. If this was a movie, how does your character fit in it? Even if your character is a professional adventurer, take a moment to think about why they’re a professional adventurer—how they got into that line of work, where they expect to be in ten years. Are they just in it for the thrill? Are they searching for inspiration for their arcane experiments? Is it the equivalent of waiting tables while their real ambition is to be an actor?

While establishing a story will give some clear guidance for characters, there are some basic questions that any Eberron character can think about.

What did you do during the War?

For most of the last century, the continent of Galifar has been embroiled in a bitter civil war. If you’re human, you’ve never known a world without war. If you’re a warforged, you were literally built to fight in it. The Last War came to an end two years ago, after the utter destruction of one of the warring nations. With this in mind

  • What did your character do in the war? Were you a soldier—keeping in mind that this is a magical world, where wizards and artificers had roles on the battlefield as well as warriors? If you didn’t fight in the war, were you a criminal? A conscientious objector? A fugitive? Or were you just a civilian whose connections or talents kept you off the front lines?
  • If you fought in the war… How did your service end? If you take the Soldier background you’re still in good standing, but otherwise you’ve left it behind. Are you proud of your service? Is it something you’d rather not talk about? Is there a particular event that was a defining moment for you—a battle where you did something especially heroic or where you were one of the only survivors?
  • How did the war affect you? Did you lose someone in the war? Was your home town destroyed—or are you from Cyre, in which case your entire nation was destroyed? Did the things you saw during the war cause you to lose your faith, or did they actually strengthen it?

Keep in mind that a character who served in the Last War doesn’t have to take the soldier background. Because of the Military Rank benefit, soldier is good if your character is still respected by or tied to the military. But as long as you’ve left the service, an outlander could have been a scout; a sailor might have served in the navy; an entertainer could have started out as the company musician, while an acolyte could have been a chaplain; a criminal could have been dishonorably discharged, while a folk hero could be celebrated for heroic deeds they performed during the war, even if their heroism went against orders and wasn’t rewarded with Military Rank.

The war is over, but it hasn’t been over for long. Thinking about how it affected your character and if it’s tied to their skills—was your rogue a smuggler who avoided the war, or did they use their skills to infiltrate enemy territory—is a way to add depth to the character and establish a concrete connection to the world.

What’s your religion?

Assuming the player isn’t familiar with the setting, I’ll focus on the main options.

  • The Sovereign Host. The deities of this pantheon don’t manifest in the world, but their followers believe that the Sovereigns are with them always, offering guidance. This is the most popular religion, but it’s a casual faith that asks little of its followers.
  • The Silver Flame is a spiritual force that holds demons at bay. Followers of the Flame seek to protect innocents from supernatural evil and to encourage compassionate behavior. It’s sort of like a cross between the Jedi and the Men in Black; they don’t believe in an anthropomorphic deity, but they can draw on the power of the Flame to fight evil.
  • The Blood of Vol is a grim faith that believes that there’s no afterlife and that the gods are cruel, and that all we have is each other. Followers of this faith believe that all mortals have a spark of divinity within their blood, and Seeker clerics and paladins draw divine power from their own souls.
  • Primal faiths include druids and other cultures that are devoted to the natural world and animistic spirits.
  • Many people are faithless. Gods don’t physically manifest in the world, and there are people who either don’t believe that they exist or just don’t care whether or no they do. As a faithless character, did you lose your faith because of something terrible that happened, or have you just never been a believer?

The other faiths—Path of Light, Tairnadal, Dark Six—I’ll suggest if they seem especially appropriate based on the player’s concept. Likewise, if they like the concept of a Primal character, I’ll suggest a more specific option (Gatekeeper, Warden of the Wood, Talenta) once I know more about their character.

Where Are You From?

If I’m working with players who don’t know the setting, I’ll usually suggest an answer to this question. Rather than trying to explain all the nations in sufficient detail for the player to make an informed decision, I’ll say tell me about your idea and see if it lends itself to a particular nation… especially when informed by their role in the war and their religion. A Silver Flame cleric who served in the war? Sure sounds like Thrane. A faithless or primal outlander ranger who didn’t serve in the war? Talenta or Eldeen, depending on your species.

If a group of people are new to the setting, I’ll often suggest that they come from Cyre. They could have served together during the Last War, or they could have been thrown together by the Mourning. This has the advantage of a shared loss and of an easy explanation for why they are adventurers; they have no home to return to, and all they have is each other. The next question is if they want to help other Cyrans, or if they’re just out for themselves.

What Do You Want?

This question isn’t particularly tied to Eberron, but it’s a good question to ask. Why are you adventuring? Are they just in it for the gold, and if so, what do they want the gold for (if they don’t know, this is a great opportunity to use the Why Do You Need 200 GP table from Rising From The Last War). Are they fighting for a cause, and if so, what is it? Do they want to recover a lost heirloom? Are they seeking vengeance? In all of these cases, as DM my job is to find a way to work that desire into the thread of the campaign. If they want vengeance against the man who killed their father, well guess what—he’s part of the Emerald Claw, the main villains of this arc! And he’s carrying the heirloom sword the other character is determined to recover!

Background

Backgrounds provide skills and proficiencies, but they also add depth to a story. It’s important to keep in mind that background is background—it’s typically what the character used to do. One basic question is why they left that life behind. Why isn’t the acolyte tending a shrine? How did the criminal turn their life around, and why? If the character is a guild artisan, what’s their guild; does this character have a tie to a dragonmarked house? What’s the entertainer’s most popular song, and did they sell the rights to House Phiarlan? If I’m working with players who don’t know much about Eberron, I’ll ask them to come up with the basic story, and then I’ll offer suggestions tied to the region where the campaign is taking place. In the case of an acolyte, I can suggest a particular temple or monastery they served at; if they’re a former criminal, I’ll offer a suggestion for their criminal contact. With that said…

Ongoing Questions and Flashbacks.

There’s no need to establish every detail about a character at the start of a campaign. If you’ve established that the fighter fought for Breland during the war, when a Brelish veteran shows up during an adventure the DM can say You saved his life during the Last War—how did that happen? Or perhaps they run into a Boromar enforcer, the DM can say He was in your unit during the war, but you didn’t get along—what happened? When an entertainer takes advantage of By Popular Demand, I might say you played at this tavern a year ago and something dramatic happened—what was it? Details about family can be established over time. Consider the typical movie or novel: we get enough details about our protagonists to draw us into the story, but we usually don’t get a detailed dossier. In the case of a certain war in the stars, revelations about family end up being part of the story!

So there are many more questions you can ask—For example, What’s your biggest regret, possibly using the table in Rising From The Last War. But usually these basics will create enough of a foundation that I can help the player flesh out the story with additional Eberron details. And that’s a key point: I know the world. I understand the story the player appears to be looking for. So I can offer suggestions that translate that story into the setting. I don’t need to ask them if they have ties to a Dragonmarked House if they don’t know that that is. But if they describe Romeo & Juliet, I can say “Eberron has these powerful houses that forbid marriage—what if you’re tied to one of those?” Between the war, faith, desire, and background, there’s usually good hooks to work with as I build out the story.

WHAT’S SESSION ZERO?

By this point the players know the basic idea behind the campaign and have ideas for characters that could be a part of it. Session zero is about bringing players together before you actually start rolling dice to discuss the story you’re going to create together. It’s a final opportunity to make sure everyone knows what they’re getting into and to see what excites people about this story—and just as important, to make sure everyone knows the places they don’t want the story to go. It’s a chance to establish ground rules, both for characters and conduct. The basic principle of session zero is that a roleplaying game is a collaborative story. It’s not solely the responsibility of the DM to make all the pieces come together. The players should help in that process, which means it’s important for them to understand one another—to agree that the rogue won’t steal from the party or whether romance will be part of the story.

When hold a session zero, I start with a few basic things.

Safety Tools

Before delving into the story, it’s good to establish the things players don’t want to see at the table. This can be anything from plotlines involving child endangerment to any sort of romance involving my character. A common approach is to discuss this in terms of lines and veils. Are there elements that a player doesn’t mind being part of the storyline, as long as they are veiled, kept in soft focus or occurring off camera—and are there lines a player simply doesn’t want the story to cross, things they don’t even want to be mentioned in passing? While this is useful for the DM, it’s also an important time for the players to establish boundaries with one another. It’s entirely reasonable to say I don’t want to play in a party with evil characters or I’m not comfortable with in-character flirting. This could be a simple discussion or use a detailed checklist. Beyond this, it’s important for characters to have a way to talk about these things if they come up over the course of a campaign; it could be that you don’t think you have any lines until you’re in the middle of a scene and you realize you don’t want to go any further down that path.

This is a deep topic, but there’s a lot of good resources related to this. Here’s a list of safety tools assembled by Golden Lasso Games, and here’s an extensive free PDF on the topic from Monte Cook games. Thanks to my patrons for recommending these resources!

Rules

As a DM, are you planning to use any house rules? Is there anything about your approach to the game that players should know about? A few things that might come up…

  • Death. How does the group want to handle player character death? Is it just straight up, let-the-dice-fall-where-they-may play where if an ogre gets a critical hit you might die in the first session? Is it the case that dropping to zero hit points will render you unconscious, but that as long as someone survives the group will be OK? Somewhere in the middle, where a character that drops to zero hit points won’t die but will have some form of lasting scar or injury, which the player and DM can discuss at the time?
  • Descriptive Rolls. How does the DM plan to handle things like Charisma-based skills? Can a player just say “I intimidate them. I roll a 20. I’m so scary!” or does the DM expect the player to add more detail to the scene—what are you doing that’s so terrifying? This is something that can be handled on a player by player basis; one player might enjoy detailed roleplaying, while another player may have taken expertise in Persuasion precisely because they aren’t comfortable roleplaying such interactions and want to be able to roll through them.
  • Inspiration and Bennies. Does the DM plan to use any sorts of rewards for clever play—awarding inspiration when a character plays up a flaw, or providing some other sort of benefit?

In MY campaigns, I always have two basic things I emphasize. The first is that I’m a story-driven DM: the rules are a framework, but I may choose to ignore or override a rule in a particular scene. I am happy for players to bring rules to my attention if it seems like I may have overlooked something, because often that may be all that it is. But if I acknowledge it and say that I’m intentionally ignoring it, I don’t want to argue about it. Likewise, part of my DMing style is to ask players to add details to a scene—There’s a mob of zombies! They’re rotting villagers. Tom, describe one of the zombies that draws your attention. I like doing this because it helps to give players a concrete investment in the scene, and players will come up with things that I never would. But I always want to make sure that the players are comfortable with this style of play, and that they know they can always say “Pass” if they don’t have an answer or just aren’t comfortable with the question. The goal is to let everyone share in building the story, but the more important goal is that everyone should enjoy the experience—and not everyone likes being put on the spot.

Review the Story

I always want to make sure the players approve of the basic concept of the campaign before we reach this point, but session zero is where I’ll lay it out in more detail. We may have agreed in advance that the adventurers are starting in a mining town and that the warforged fighter is the Sheriff, but now I want to tell the players about the basic situation in Q’barra and the events that are shaping the story. At this point, I’ll usually ask the players to add some personal elements to the setting. There’s only one tavern in town, the Cat and Biscuit—tell me one detail about it or tell me about someone you know in Callestan. This could be a relative, a friend, a rival; the point is that it helps to give the character and the player a connection to the location, and now I’ve got a few NPCs I can work with.

Character Connections

Have each player introduce their character and say what they like most about their character—what they see as most defining aspect of their character, what’s important to them. Now that people know the basic building blocks of the story, you have an opportunity to work together and establish connections between the characters. Who served together during the war? What was the worst thing they endured together? Who lost the most gambling, and does one of them still owe the other money? Perhaps the elf and the dwarf are siblings—How did you never know you were adopted? Maybe the charlatan was the entertainer’s promoter for a time, or the urchin always used to hum one of the entertainer’s songs in hard times but never imagined they’d meet. Most likely players have been thinking of their characters in isolation; this is a chance to find things that bring them together, that make it a shared story instead of five strangers.

Aspirations

In creating characters, I encourage players to think about their characters’ aspirations. But what about the players’ aspirations? What interests players the most—social interaction? Challenging combat? Solving mysteries? Political intrigue? Do they want to own land or gain titles, or to just focus on carefree adventuring? Ideally, a group will be largely united in what they want to see, but it’s still possible for the DM to work around different player’s preferences; the fighter is never going to have to worry about politics, but the bard may be drawn into intrigues.

Aside from these broad choices, this is a chance for players to describe things they’d like to see happen at some point during the campaign. This could be anything from I want to find a holy avenger or I want us to fight a dragon to I want to overthrow Kaius III and become king of Karrnath. It’s important to be clear that these things might not happen for a long time, or ever; but as a DM, knowing it’s something the players want to see helps me shape the story. I’m not going to drop a holy avenger in the campaign at first level, but perhaps the adventurers hear stories about a legendary blade early on. If they’re fighting the Emerald Claw, Lady Illmarrow’s chief lieutenant could be a death knight who lost the blade after breaking his oath—and the only way that they can ultimately defeat this enemy is by finding his forgotten blade and breaking the curse he’s laid on it. So they’ll get to that holy avenger, but by the time they get there it will be part of the story. Likewise, if a player wants to overthrow Kaius and that just doesn’t fit with the campaign, I might still be able to work aspects of that into encounters. The adventurers may have an opportunity to help a Karrnathi warlord, earning their respect—or to win the friendship of a group of mercenaries who could prove invaluable in a campaign against Kaius. It might not happen during the campaign—but I can help the player believe that they’re moving toward that goal.

In Conclusion…

This is a basic list, and you may come up with many more topics based on the nature of your campaign. The key points are…

  • What’s the story we’re about to embark on? Where does it begin, and who are we? What brings us together?
  • What are the things people want to see and the lines we won’t cross? When there’s a problem at the table, what tools do you have in place to identify it and to deal with it?
  • Are there any rules or house rules people should know about?

Dealing with all of these things in advance can help to avoid disappointment or frustration down the road, and build a sound foundation for a future campaign.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for requesting the topic.

IFAQ: Figurines of Wondrous Power

“What do we do, Lightbearer?”

“We’ve got to hold this position,” Drego said. “We can’t let the wolves through the pass. But the people at the Crossroads need to know what we’ve learned about the thrice-damned rats.” He unpinned the raven brooch from his cloak, and whispered to it. Silver flame licked around the edges, and the metal melted and expanded, reforming into a bird with glittering feathers. After a few more words, the bird took to the air and disappeared into the canopy of the Towering Wood, heading south.

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

How do you see Figurines of Wondrous Power fitting into the Eberron setting?

A figurine of wondrous power is a magic item that can become a living creature for a particular duration or until the animal is killed. These are the mechanics, but it’s up to us to provide the flavor and the context. How common are they? Who makes them, and who uses them?

Starting with the first question, suggested rarity is a good place to start. What we’ve said before is that uncommon items can be found as part of everyday life in the Five Nations. Rare items are in fact rare; they exist, certainly, but aren’t part of everyday life. So it’s reasonable to think that a soldier in a special forces unit might be given a silver raven to help with communication, and one of Tharashk’s top bounty hunters might have an onyx dog to help with her hunts. But that onyx dog would be a remarkable tool… and the very rare obsidian steed would be almost unheard of in the Five Nations. Given both the material and the nature of the creature involved, I’d be likely to make obsidian steeds tools created by the Lords of Dust—perhaps by the Scribe Hektula, given to favored warlocks of Sul Khatesh.

So once again, figurines are mechanics. But there’s a lot of different ways that you could interpret those mechanics, based on the story you want to tell. So how do figurines fit into Eberron? I could imagine a few very different ways I’d use them.

Sovereign and Flame

The first figurines used by the people of the Five Nations were divine in nature, not arcane. Balinor is the Sovereign of Hunt and Hound, teaching people to work with beasts both as allies and as prey. Vassal figurines are engraved with Balinor’s symbol and imbued with faith. They function just like normal figurines, but they can only be recharged by devotion; such a figurine won’t regain its charge unless it’s in the possession of a devoted Vassal.

As noted in the quote that opens this article, the Church of the Silver Flame has also created such figurines. The most common of these is the silver raven, often used as a messenger by templars in the field; some of these take the form of small winged serpents, though they have no special abilities beyond flight. Like the Vassal figurines, these divine items can only be recharged by the faith of a follower of the Flame. I could also imagine Seekers of the Divinity Within crafting bone figurines of wondrous power; while one might expect such creatures to be skeletal, I’d be more inclined to make them vivid crimson beasts formed from the essence of the Seeker’s own blood.

Cannith Figurines

Over the last century, House Cannith has been experimenting with figurines that replicate the basic principles of a creation forge. Cannith figurines can only be used by people who bear the Dragonmark of Making. They’re made of metal and wood, embedded with small siberys dragonshards. When activated, they grow bodies of root and steel, and have the Constructed Resilience trait of warforged. When the beast is killed or reverted, the materials that comprise it dissolve.

Sentira Figurines

Both the Inspired and the kalashtar of Adar use figurines of wondrous power carved from sentira, a substance made from solidified emotion. The emotion used in the figure is reflected in the creature summoned; an onyx hound made from hatred will be cruel and aggressive, while one made from love will be gentle but protective of its summoner. The beasts summoned by sentira figurines have the statistics of the living creatures they resemble, but they’re formed from ectoplasm and often have dreamlike aspects—unnatural coloration, fur rippling in nonexistent wind, and a strong aura of the emotion that forms them. Activating a sentira figurine requires the user to feel the associated emotion intently; to use a figurine formed of hatred, the bearer will have to think of a creature they hate.

Spectral Figurines

The elves of Aerenal—both Aereni and Tairnadalcreate figurines of wondrous power. Both operate in a similar manner. When the figurine is activated, the translucent form of the summoned animal takes shape around the item. The summoned creature is solid and can be touched or ridden, and is in all ways treated as a living creature, but it is clearly ghostly and dissolves when its service is done. Aereni figurines are made using the spirits of beloved animals, while Tairnadal figurines are icons representing beasts of legend that fought alongside the patron ancestors. Both types of figurines are prized relics that typically have great emotional value to their owners, and are rarely sold; given this, Aereni or Tairnadal may be curious or angry if they see such items in the hands of others. Spectral figurines are often tied to the Valenar beasts presented in Eberron: Rising From The Last War; the equivalent of an onyx dog might summon a Valenar hound.

Daelkyr Figurines

A number of the daelkyr have created Figurines of Wondrous Power. While functional, they’re not very pleasant…

  • Dyrrn’s figurines are small, beating hearts. When activated, a figurine extrudes fleshy tendrils and chitinous plates, weaving them together to create a body out of strands of muscle; it has the general shape of an elephant or a goat, but most people will be horrified by its appearance. When the creature is killed or reverted, the fleshy form falls away and slowly decays, leaving only the heart intact.
  • Kyrzin’s figurines are vials of fluid. To activate the figurine, you unstopper the bottle and pour out its contents; the liquid expands into a gelatinous shape, again reminiscent of the creature but very clearly unnatural. When slain or reverted, the gelatinous form melts away. Meanwhile, the vial slowly refills itself until it’s ready to be used again.
  • Orlask’s figurines are stone statues, much like standard figurines of wondrous power. However, Orlassk’s figurines are living creatures that have been trapped in this stone form; holding the figurine, you can feel the misery of the trapped creature. When they are used, the bound creature is released, though it is forced to obey the person who freed it. When slain or reverted, they are returned to their prison of stone.

These are just a few examples of possible figurines of wondrous power, and I’m sure you can come up with many more. As rare items most figurines would be, well, rare; I’d use the uncommon bag of tricks if I was creating a version of Pokemon in Eberron.

I won’t be answering questions on this IFAQ, but share your thoughts and ideas below. And if you’d like pose questions that could inspire future articles or participate in my online Eberron campaign, check out my Patreon!

Dragonmark: The Families of House Tharashk

The Tharashk Triumvirate by Anne Stokes, from Dragonmarked

House Tharashk is the youngest Dragonmarked house. The Mark of Finding first appeared a thousand years ago, and over the course of centuries the dragonmarked formed three powerful clans. It was these clans that worked with House Sivis, joining together in the model of the eastern houses. The name of the House—Tharashk—is an old Orc word that means united. Despite this, heirs of the house typically use their clan name rather than the house name. They may be united, but in daily life they remain ‘Aashta and Velderan.

House United: One, Three, and Many

The Dragonmarks are driven by more than simple genetics. In most dragonmarked houses, about half of the children develop some level of dragonmark. Over the course of a thousand years of excoriates and voluntary departures, many people in Khorvaire have some trace of dragonmarked blood. And yet, foundlings—people who develop a dragonmark outside a house—are so rare that many foundlings are surprised to learn that they have a connection to a house. Many houses allow outsiders to marry into their great lines, and the number of dragonmarked heirs born to such couples within the houses is dramatically higher than those born to excoriates outside of the houses. Scholars have proposed many theories to explain this discrepancy. Some say that it’s tied to proximity—that being around large numbers of dragonmarked people helps to nuture the latent mark within a child. Others say that it’s related to the tools and equipment used by the houses, that just being around a creation forge helps promote the development of the Mark of Making. One of the most interesting theories comes from the sage Ohnal Caldyn. A celebrated student of the Draconic Prophecy, Caldyn argued that the oft-invoked connection between dragonmarks and the Prophecy might be misunderstood—that rather than each dragonmarked individual having significance, the Prophecy might be more interested in dragonmarked families. It’s been over two thousand years since the Mark of Making appeared on the Vown and Juran lines of Cyre—and yet those families remain pillars of the house today.

This helps to explain the core structure of Tharashk, sometimes described as one, three, and many. There are many minor families within House Tharashk, but each of these is tied to one of the three great clans: Velderan, Torrn, and ‘Aashta. The house is based on the alliance between these three clans, and where most dragonmarked houses have a single matriarch or patriarch, Tharashk is governed by the Triumvirate, a body comprised of a leader from each of these clans.

When creating an adventurer or NPC from House Tharashk, you should decide which of the great clans they’re tied to. Each clan is tied to lesser families, so you’re not required to use one of these three names. A few lesser families are described here along with each clan, but you can make up lesser families. So you can be Jalo’uurga of House Tharashk; the question is which clan the ‘Uurga Tharashk are connected to. In theory, the loyalty of a Tharashk heir should be to house first, clan second, and family third. Heirs are expected to set aside family feuds and to focus on the greater picture, to pursue the rivalry between Deneith and Tharashk instead of sabotaging house efforts because of an old feud between ‘Uurga and Tulkar. But those feuds are never forgotten—and when it doesn’t threaten the interests of house or clan, heirs may be driven by these ancient rivalries.

To d’ or not to d’? Tharashk has never been bound by the traditions of the other houses, and this can be clearly seen in Tharashk names. Just look to the three Triumvirs of the house. All three possess dragonmarks, yet in the three of them we see three different conventions. Khandar’aashta doesn’t bother with the d’ prefix or use the house name. Daric d’Velderan uses his clan name, but appends the d’ as a nod to his dragonmark. Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk uses the d’ but applies it to the house name; no one uses d’Torrn. Maagrim’s use of the house name makes a statement about her devotion to the alliance and the house. Daric’s use of the ‘d is a nod to the customs of the other houses. While Khandar makes no concessions to easterners. He may the one of the three leaders of House Tharashk, but he is Aashta. As an heir of House Tharashk, you could follow any of these styles, and you could change it over the course of your career as your attitude changes.

Orcs, Half-Orcs, and Humans. By canon, the Mark of Finding is the only dragonmark that appears on two ancestries—human and half-orc. However, by the current rules, the benefits of the Mark replace everything except age, size, and speed. Since humans and half-orcs have the same size and speed, functionally it makes very little difference which you are. It’s always been strange that this one mark bridges two species when the Khoravar marks don’t, and when orcs can’t develop it. As a result, in my campaign I say that any character with the Mark of Finding has orc blood in their veins. The choice of “human” or “half-orc” reflects how far removed you are from your orc ancestors and how obvious it is to people. But looking to the Triumvirs above, they’re ALL Jhorgun’taal; it’s simply that it’s less obvious with Daric d’Velderan. In my campaign I’d say that Daric has yellow irises, a slight point to his ears, and notable canine teeth; at a glance most would consider him to be human, but his dragonmark is proof that he’s Jhorgun’taal.

Characters and Lesser Clans. The entries that follow include suggestions for player characters from each clan and mention a few lesser clans associated with the major ones. These are only suggestions. If you want to play an evil orc barbarian from Clan Velderan, go ahead—and the lesser clans mentioned here are just a few examples.

The Azhani Language. Until relatively recently, the Marches were isolated from the rest of Khorvaire. The Goblin language took root during the Age of Monsters, but with the arrival of human refugees and the subsequent evolution of the blended culture, a new language evolved. Azhani is a blending of Goblin, Riedran, and a little of the long-dead Orc language. It’s close enough to Goblin that someone who speaks Goblin can understand Azhani, and vice-versa; however, nuances will be lost. For purposes of gameplay, one can list the language as Goblin (Azhani). More information about the Azhani language can be found in Don Bassinthwaite’s Dragon Below novels.

Clan Velderan

  • Capital: Urthhold
  • Triumvir: Daric d’Velderan
  • Primary Role: Far trade, diplomacy and administration, inquisitives
  • Common Traits: Curiosity, Imagination, Charisma, Ambition

Before the rise of House Tharashk, most of the clans and tribes of the Shadow Marches lived in isolation, interacting only with their immediate neighbors. Velderan has always been the exception. The Velderan have long been renowned as fisherfolk and boatmen, driving barges and punts along the Glum River and the lesser waters of the Marches and trading with all of the clans. The clan is based in the coastal town of Urthhold, and for centuries they were the only clan that had any contact with the outside world. It was through this rare contact that reports of an unknown dragonmark made their way to House Sivis, and it was Velderan guides who took Sivis explorers into the Marches.

That spirit remains alive today. Where ‘Aashta and Torrn hold tightly to ancient—and fundamentally opposed—traditions, it’s the Velderan who dream of the future and embrace change, and their enthusiasm and charisma that often sways the others. Torrn and ‘Aashta are both devoted to the work of the house and the prosperity of their union, but it’s the Velderan who truly love meeting new people and spreading to new locations, and who are always searching for new tools and techniques. Stern ‘Aashta are always prepared to negotiate from a position of strength, but it’s the more flexible Velderan who most often serve as the diplomats of the house. While they work with House Lyrandar for long distance trade and transport, the Velderan also remain the primary river runners and guides within the Marches.

In the wider world, the Velderan are often encountered running enclaves in places where finesse and diplomacy are important. Beyond this, the Velderan are most devoted to the inquisitive services of the house; Velderan typically prefer unraveling mysteries to the more brutal work of bounty hunting. The Velderan have no strong ties to either the Gatekeepers or the “Old Ways” of Clan ‘Aashta; they are most interested in exploring new things, and are the most likely to adopt new faiths or traditions. Many outsiders conclude that the Velderan are largely human, and they do have a relatively small number of full orcs as compared to the other clans, but Jhorguun’taal are in the majority in Velderan; it’s just that most Velderan Jhorgun’taal are more human in appearance than the stereotype of the half-orc that’s common in the Five Nations.

Overall, the Velderan are the glue that holds Tharashk together. They’ve earned their reputation for optimism and idealism, and this is reflected by their Triumvir. However, there is a cabal of elders within the house—The Veldokaa—who are determined to maintain the union of Tharashk but to ensure that Velderan remains first among equals. Even while Velderan mediates between Torrn and ‘Aashta, the Veldokaa makes sure to keep their tensions alive so that they rarely ally against Velderan interests. Likewise, while it’s ‘Aashta who is most obvious in its ambition and aggression, it’s the Veldokaa who engage in more subtle sabotage of rivals. So Velderan wears a friendly face, and Daric d’Velderan is sincere in his altruism. But he’s not privy to all the plans of the Veldokaa, and there are other clan leaders—such as Khalar Velderan, who oversees Tharashk operations in Q’barra—who put ambition ahead of altruism.

Velderan Characters. With no strong ties to the Gatekeepers or the Dragon Below, Velderan adventurers are most often rangers, rogues, or even bards. Velderan are interested in the potential of arcane science, and can produce wizards or artificers. Overall, the Velderan are the most optimistic and altruistic of the Clans and the most likely to have good alignments—but an adventurer with ties to the Veldokaa could be tasked with secret work on behalf of the clan. Velderan most often speak Common, and are equally likely to speak Azhani Goblin or traditional Goblin.

Triumvir. Clan Velderan is currently represented by Daric d’Velderan. Daric embodies the altruistic spirit of his clan, and hopes to see Tharashk become a positive force in the world. His disarming humor and flexibility play a critical role in balancing the stronger tempers of Maagrim and Khandar. Daric wants to see the house expand, and is always searching for new opportunities and paths it can follow, but he isn’t as ruthless as Khandar’aashta and dislikes the growing tension between Tharashk and House Deneith. Daric is aware of the Veldokaa and knows that they support him as triumvir because his gentle nature hides their subtle agenda; he focuses on doing as much good as he can in the light while trusting his family to do what they must in the shadows.

Lesser Clans. The Orgaal are an orc-majority clan, and given this people often forget they’re allied with Velderan; as such, the Veldokaa often use them as spies and observers. The Torshaa are expert boatmen and are considered the most reliable guides in the Shadow Marches. The Vaalda are the finest hunters among the Velderan; it’s whispered that some among them train to hunt two-legged prey, and they produce Assassin rogues as well as hunters.

Clan Torrn

  • Capital: Valshar’ak
  • Triumvir: Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk
  • Primary Role: Prospecting and mining, infrastructure, primal magic
  • Common Traits: Stoicism, Stability, Wisdom

Torrn is the oldest of the Tharashk clans. The city of Valshar’ak has endured since days of Dhakaan, and holds a stone platform known as Vvaraak’s Throne. While true, fully initiated Gatekeepers are rare even within the Marches, the Torrn have long held to the broad traditions of the sect, opposing the Old Ways of ‘Aashta and its allies. Clan Torrn has the strongest traditions of primal magic within the Reaches, and ever since the union Torrn gleaners can be found providing vital services across the Marches; it was Torrn druids who raised the mighty murk oaks that serve as the primary supports of Zarash’ak. However, the clan isn’t mired in the past. The Torrn value tradition and are slow to change, but over the last five centuries they have studied the arcane science of the east and blended it with their primal traditions; there are magewrights among the Torrn as well as gleaners.

The Torrn are known for their stoicism and stability; a calm person could be described as being as patient as a Torrn. They refuse to act in haste, carefully studying all options and relying on wisdom rather than being driven by impulse or ambition. Of the three clans, they have the greatest respect for the natural world, but they also know how to make the most efficient use of its bounty. While ‘Aashta have always been known as the best hunters and Velderan loves the water, Torrn is closest to the earth. They are the finest prospectors of the Marches, and are usually found in charge of any major Tharashk mining operations, blending arcane science and dragonmarked tools with the primal magic of their ancestors. Most seek to minimize long-term damage to the environment, but there are Torrn overseers—especially those born outside the Marches—who are focused first and foremost on results, placing less weight on their druidic roots and embracing the economic ambitions of the house.

Most Torrn follow the basic principles of the Gatekeepers, which are not unlike the traditions of the Silver Flame—stand together, oppose supernatural evil, don’t traffic with aberrations. However, most apply these ideas to their own clan and to a wider degree, the united house. Torrn look out for Tharashk, but most aren’t concerned with protecting the world or fighting the daelkyr. Torrn miners may use sustainable methods in their mining, but they are driven by the desire for profit and to see their house prosper. However, there is a deep core of devoted Gatekeepers at the heart of Torrn. Known as the Valshar’ak Seal, they also seek to help Tharashk flourish as a house—because they wish to use its resources and every-increasing influence in the pursuit of their ancient mission. Again, most Torrn follow the broad traditions of the Gatekeepers, but only a devoted few know of the Valshar’ak Seal and its greater goals.

Within the world, the Torrn are most often associated with mining and prospecting, as well as construction and maintaining the general infrastructure of the house. The Torrn Jhorguun’taal typically resemble their orc ancestors, and it’s generally seen as the Clan with the greatest number of orcs.

Torrn Characters. Whether or not they’re tied to the Gatekeepers, Torrn has deep primal roots. Tharashk druids are almost always from Torrn, and Tharashk rangers have a strong primal focus; a Torrn Gatekeeper could also be an Oath of the Ancients paladin, with primal trappings instead of divine. The Torrn are stoic and hold to tradition, and tend toward neutral alignments. Most speak Azhani Goblin among themselves, though they learn Common as the language of trade.

Triumvir. Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk represents the Torrn in the Triumvirate. The oldest Triumvir, she’s known for her wisdom and her patience, though she’s not afraid to shout down Khandar’aashta when he goes too far. Maagrim supports the Valshar’ak Seal, but as a Triumvir her primary focus is on the business and the success of the house; she helps channel resources to the Seal, but on a day to day basis she is most concerned with monitoring mining operations and maintaining infrastructure. She is firmly neutral, driven neither by cruelty or compassion; Maagrim does what must be done.

Lesser Clans. The Torruk are a small, orc-majority clan with strong ties to the Gatekeepers, known for fiercely hunting aberrations in the Reaches and for clashing with the ‘Aashta. The Brokaa are among the finest miners in the house and are increasingly more concerned with profits than with ancient traditions.

Clan ‘Aashta

  • Capital: Patrahk’n
  • Triumvir: Khandar’aashta
  • Primary Role: Mercenary trade, Droaamite relations, bounty hunting
  • Common Traits: Aggression, Courage, Strength

The ‘Aashta have long been known as the fiercest clan of the Shadow Marches. Their ancestral home, Patrahk’n, is on the eastern edge of the Shadow Marches and throughout history they’ve fought with worg packs from the Watching Wood, ogres and trolls, and even their own Gaa’aram cousins. Despite the bloody history, the ‘Aashta earned the respect of their neighbors, and over the last few centuries the ‘Aashta began to work with the people of what is now Droaam. The ‘Aashta thrive on conflict and the thrill of battle; they have always been the most enthusiastic bounty hunters, and during the Last War it was the ‘Aashta who devised the idea of the Dragonne’s Roar—brokering the service of monstrous mercenaries in the Five Nations, as well as the services of the ‘Aashta themselves.

The ‘Aashta are devoted to what they call the “Old Ways”—what scholars might identify as Cults of the Dragon Below. The two primary traditions within the ‘Aashta are the Inner Sun and the Whisperers, both of which are described in Exploring Eberron. Those who follow the Inner Sun seek to buy passage to a promised paradise with the blood of worthy enemies. The Whisperers are tied to the daelkyr Kyrzin; they’re best known for cultivating gibbering mouthers, but they have other traditions tied to the Bile Lord. The key point is that while the ‘Aashta are often technically cultists of the Dragon Below, they aren’t typically trying to free a daelkyr or an overlord. The ‘Aashta Inner Sun cultist is on a quest to find worthy enemies, to buy their own passage to paradise; they aren’t looking to collapse the world into chaos or anything like that. The Gatekeepers despise the cults for trafficking with malefic forces, and believe that they may be unwitting tools of evil, and it’s these beliefs that usually spark clashes between the two (combined with the fact that Gatekeeper champions are certainly ‘worthy foes’ in the eyes of the Inner Sun). But it’s important to recognize that these two paths have co-existed for thousands of years. That co-existence hasn’t always been peaceful, but they’ve never engaged in a total war. Since the union of Tharashk, both ‘Aashta and Torrn have done their best to work together, with Velderan helping to mediate between the two (… and with the Veldokaa occasionally stirring up the conflict).

The ‘Aashta are fierce and aggressive. They respect strength and courage, and take joy in competition. Having invested in the Tharashk union, they want to see the House rise to glory. It’s the ‘Aashta who pushed to create the Dragonne’s Roar despite the clear conflict with House Deneith. The ‘Aashta also recognize the power Tharashk has as the primary supplier of dragonshards, and wish to see how the house can use this influence. In contrast to the Veldokaa, the ‘Aashta are honest in their ambition and wish to see the house triumph as a whole. While they do produce a few inquisitives, their greatest love is bounty hunting, and most Tharashk hunters come from ‘Aashta or one of its allied clans.

While they aren’t as dedicated to innovation as Velderan and aren’t as invested in symbionts as the dwarf clans of Narathun or Soldorak in the Mror Holds, the ‘Aashta are always searching for new weapons and don’t care if a tool frightens others. Some of those who follow the Old Ways master the techniques of the warlock, while the Whisperers employ strange molds and symbionts tied to Kyrzin and produce gifted alchemists.

‘Aashta Characters. The ‘Aashta are extremely aggressive. While there are disciplined fighters among them—often working with the Dragonne’s Roar to train and lead mercenary troops—the ‘Aashta are also known for cunning rangers and fierce barbarians. Their devotion to the Old Ways can produce warlocks or sorcerers, and especially gifted Whisperers can become Alchemist artificers. Culturally, the ‘Aashta are the most ruthless of the clans and this can lead to characters with evil alignments, though this is driven more by a lack of mercy than by wanton cruelty; like followers of the Mockery, an ‘Aashta will do whatever it takes to achieve victory. Due to its proximity to Droaam, the people of Patrahk’n speak traditional Goblin rather than Azhani, as well as learning Common as a trade language; however, ‘Aashta from the west may prefer Azhani.

Triumvir. Khandar’aashta is bold and charismatic. He is extremely ambitious and is constantly pushing his fellow Triumvirs, seeking to expand the power of Tharashk even if it strains their relations with the rest of the Twelve. Khandar is a follower of the Old Ways; it’s up to the DM to decide if he’s a Whisperer, pursuing the Inner Sun, or if he’s tied to a different and more sinister tradition. While he is ruthless when it comes to expanding the power of the house, he does believe in the union and wants to see all the clans prosper.

Lesser Clans. Overall, the ‘Aashta have no great love of subterfuge. When they need such schemes, they turn to the ‘Arrna, a lesser clan who produces more rogues than rangers. While they are just as aggressive as the ‘Aashta, the ‘Aarna love intrigues and fighting with words as well as blades. The Istaaran are devoted Whisperers and skilled alchemists; they have a great love of poisons and have helped to produce nonlethal toxins to help bounty hunters bring down their prey. The ‘Oorac are a small clan known for producing aberrant dragonmarks and sorcerers; before the union they were often persecuted, but ‘Aashta shields them.

That’s all for now. I’m pressed for time and likely won’t be able to answer questions on this topic. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in shaping the topic of the NEXT article, there’s just four hours left (as of this posting) in the Patreon poll to choose it; at the moment it’s neck and neck between an exploration of Sky Piracy in Khorvaire and my suggestions for drawing players into the world and developing interesting Eberron characters in Session Zero. In addition, tomorrow I’ll be posting the challenge that will determine which Threshold patrons play in my next online adventure. If you want to be a part of any of that, check out my Patreon!