Dragonmark: Mysteries of the Talenta Plains

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

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

Alina Lorridan Lyrris, Aurum Concordian

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SPIRITS OF THE PLAINS

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

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

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

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

A FORGOTTEN WAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT ABOUT THE DRAGONBORN?

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

SO… WHAT’S IN THE PLAINS?

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

Ruins

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

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

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

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

Legendary Beasts

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

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

Spirits

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

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

Villains

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

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

Supernatural Sites

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

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

BUT WHAT ABOUT…

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

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

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

IN CONCLUSION…

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

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

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

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

Glim is live!

GLIM is live! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: Siege Staffs

Every month, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Such as…

In Exploring Eberron you say that the sahuagin of the Thunder Sea equip dragon turtles with siege staffs. I thought siege staffs were a Cannith thing. How prevalent are they in other groups/areas?

While they’ve never been described in canon material, siege staffs have always been part of my vision of Eberron; they’re described in my first Eberron novel, City of Towers. The principle is simple: The people of Khorvaire create arcane solutions to problems we solve with technology. By the rules of D&D, wands, rods and staffs are effective tools for channeling offensive arcane magic. Therefore, just as a cannon is a really big gun, it made sense to me that Khorvaire’s answer to artillery would be a really big wand… a siege staff. Here’s what I presented in Exploring Eberron.

So the point is that siege staff (and yes, I say “staffs” instead of “staves”) is a generic term for “powerful arcane artillery”. Cannith makes them, but so does the Arcane Congress and so does the Eternal Dominion, and so did the giants of Xen’drik. A siege staff is a tool for concentrating arcane energy, and any civilization that understands the basic principles of arcane science could make a form of siege staff. They won’t all be the SAME, just as guns produced by different nations in our world are different. There will be cosmetic differences and there could be mechanical differences. But any advanced arcane civilization may employ a form of siege staff. Missing from this excerpt above is the detail that when a staff that has an effect that allows a saving throw is used at long range, targets have advantage on the saving throw. The ideas I discuss here also apply to long rods, another form of arcane artillery described in Exploring Eberron.

Could you elaborate on that? What would be some differences between siege staffs of the Thunder Sea, those used by Lhazaar pirates, and those made by House Cannith?

Sure. Once of the things that defines House Cannith is MASS PRODUCTION. As a rule, House Cannith is the industry standard, and its creations are reliable and predictable. As such, the default description in Exploring Eberron applies to Cannith siege staffs. When dealing which siege staffs from other cultures, there’s a few things to consider: Appearance, Function (Force, Blast, Focus), Damage Type, and Efficiency.

Generally, appearance is broadly consistent; a siege staff is a very long rod. This is based on the principle that the wand/rod/staff is an efficient tool for channeling arcane power. But other material used in the construction of the rod and other cosmetic details will vary from culture to culture. Function refers to the three basic functions I described in Exploring Eberron. A culture may not produce all three types of staffs (Blast, Force, and Focus) — or it may produce a superior form of one type and an inferior form of another. This is echoed by Damage Type. Force is the default, common form of energy employed by Cannith staffs. But different cultures may rely on other forms of energy. Efficiency I touched on above. Cannith is the industry standard; other cultures may vary from the norm, for better or for worse. It’s also the case that many cultures produce Focus staffs that can only be used with a specific school of magic or even a specific spell. With all that in mind, let’s theorize about siege staffs of other cultures.

HOUSE CANNITH. Cannith staffs are mass produced and have a very uniform appearance. They are typically made from densewood and have a steel core and steel bands engraved with draconic sigils (which are often used in the arcane science of the Five Nations). Cannith produces all three types of staff described above, performing as described above. Force is the most common damage type.

LHAZAAR PRINCIPALITIES. Lhazaar staffs are hand-carved and each one is unique in some way. Lhazaar artillerists combine different types of wood with metals that resonate properly with them. Some Lhazaar artillerists prefer having knots or whorls in the wood; others cut such imperfections out of a staff. Bands of metal are common, but some hammer nails of different metals into the length of the wood, or drape anchor chains over them. Focus staffs are fairly rare on Lhazaar ships. A few notable traditions: The Wind Whisperers produce blast staffs that deal thunder damage and force staffs that inflict lightning damage. The Bloodsails bind spirits to their staffs, firing bolts of howling spectral matter; their blast staffs inflict psychic damage, terrifying victims to death. This has the advantage of killing crew while leaving an enemy vessel untouched. Bloodsails also are known to use focus staffs that can project necromancy spells. Lorghalen ships generally fling Lorghalen cannonballs at the enemy instead of using siege staffs.

Efficiency varies from ship to ship, because Lhazaar staffs are all custom made. A particular vessel may be renowned for its exceptionally powerful force staffs, and rivals may be yearning to claim them. I’m posting a table of Siege Staff Quirks on my Patreon; these would be common for Lhazaar staffs.

ETERNAL DOMINION. The Sahuagin civilization of the Eternal Dominion is ancient and well ordered. It doesn’t use the same forms of mass production as House Cannith, but its weapons are fairly uniform in design and appearance. There are two basic designs used by the Dominion. Spikes are whorled shafts of coral or bone. While rare, kraken bone makes especially powerful staffs, dealing an extra d8 of damage and having a +10% bonus to range. Spikes deal Force damage. On the other hand, Dominion magebreeders also produce slugs—LIVING siege staffs. Blast slug staffs inflict poison damage, and are useful for clearing a crew without damaging a ship; they have a shorter range (200/1000 feet) but deal 3d8 poison damage in an 80 foot sphere. Force slug staffs inflict acid damage.

RIEDRA. Riedran ships typically use Sentira or crysteel weapons; these sometimes take the form of massive orbs rather than staffs. Blast weapons generally inflict psychic damage, while Force weapons are telekinetic in nature and inflict force damage.

AUNDAIR. Thanks to the Arcane Congress, Aundair has experimented with a wide range of designs. These are produced in small batches; as a result, there is more standardization of design than Lhazaar, but far more diversity than Cannith. Almost any damage type can be encountered on the battlefield, and focus staffs are flexible. Audairian staffs are more elegant than either Cannith or Karrnathi designs; beauty is an important factor. It’s also possible to encounter Aundairian staffs blessed by a particular archfey, though these are NOT mass produced. These can be more efficient than standard staffs, or you could roll on the Staff Quirks table I’m posting on my Patreon. Fey-touched weapon may have unique limitations—they can only be used by a particular bloodline, the artillerist must share a secret or tell a story to reload the weapon, etc. The greater the restriction, the more powerful the weapon will be.

KARRNATH. While Karrnath largely employs Cannith weapons, it also produces its once designs. General artillery uses darkwood with bands of spiked iron, and are wider and stubbier than Cannith designs. Karrnath has been known to field fire Blast staffs and Evocation focus staffs. Seeker units—such as the Order of the Emerald Claw—produce weapons similar to those of the Bloodsails; blast staffs often inflict psychic terror.

THRANE. Thrane employs standard Cannith staffs in battle. However, over the course of the war the theocracy began working with the Silver Pyromancers to create divine artillery. This is made of oak inlaid with silver and typically inflicts radiant damage. Thrane focus staffs can only be used by divine spellcasters. Reloading and firing Thrane weapons often requires singing hymns to the Flame.

BRELAND AND CYRE. Breland and Cyre largely relied on Cannith standard designs rather than producing their own. Both nations contained large Cannith production facilities, and Brelish foundries produced raw materials for Cannith. This is also reflected in the fact that Cannith produced unique weapons for these nations, such as the floating fortresses of Breland.

These are just a few possibilities! Hopefully this gives you some ideas for your campaigns. As I mentioned above, I’m sharing a table of possible staff quirks on my Patreon! Thanks as always to my patrons, whose support is what allows me to keep creating material for Eberron.

Legacy of Worlds

Imagine an adventure that explores all of the official realms of Dungeons & Dragons—adventurers from a number of classic settings coming together to face a force that threatens all of their worlds, embarking on a quest that will take them to many different settings. Hearing this you might say “Oh, right, that’s the new WotC adventure Eve of Destruction, right?” And, well, yes it is. But it’s also the basis of Legacy of Worlds, a liveplay campaign that launches on the Six Sides of Gaming at 8:30 Eastern Time on March 12th . What is Legacy of Worlds? Well, tome keeper Devin Wilson explains it succinctly here. The cast includes Luke Gygax, Elisa Teague, Thomas Gofton, KP Upadhyayula, Bee Zelda, Ed Greenwood, and Noordin Ali Kadir, playing champions from Eberron, Oerth, Faerun, Ravenloft, Mystara, and more!

I’ve never been drawn to liveplay, but I love this group—the players, the characters, and the adventure. I especially love the relationship between Merrix and Elminster… and DM Devin does a fantastic job of creating stories that entangle all of the planes and that have significance for all of our characters. Here’s a fun moment from the first episode.

Now, to shoot the tribex in the room, I’m sure many of you are saying But wait! Eberron has its own cosmology! It shouldn’t be possible for Elminster and Merrix to have a team-up. And you’re right. Eberron has its own unique cosmology and a different approach to deities than many of the other settings; it’s intentionally isolated. But it’s also always been the case that it’s a place where you can tell the story you want to tell. The original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting had the Plane of Shadow as part of Eberron’s cosmology, with the idea that it was a back door that let you sneak to other settings. I once played a warforged cleric of the Becoming God in a Forgotten Realms campaign based on this idea. It didn’t change anything about how I wrote or ran Eberron; it was a weird one-time fluke, because that was the story I wanted to tell. Eberron: Rising From The Last War expanded on this, in this section labeled “Eberron and the Multiverse”:

It is theoretically possible to travel between Eberron and other worlds in the multiverse by means of the Deep Ethereal or various spells designed for planar travel, but the cosmology of Eberron is specifically designed to prevent such travel, to keep the world hidden away from the meddling of gods, celestials, and fiends from beyond… In your campaign, you might decide that the barrier formed by the Ring of Siberys is intact, and contact between Eberron and the worlds and planes beyond its cosmology is impossible. This is the default assumption of this book. On the other hand, you might want to incorporate elements from other realms. Perhaps you want to use a published adventure that involves Tiamat or the forces of the Abyss meddling in the affairs of the world. In such a case, it could be that the protection offered by the Ring of Siberys has begun to fail. You might link the weakening of Siberys to the Mourning — perhaps whatever magical catastrophe caused the Mourning also disrupted the Ring of Siberys, or perhaps a disruption of the Ring of Siberys actually caused the Mourning!

If contact between Eberron and the wider multiverse is recent and limited, consider the implications for everyone involved. In the Great Wheel, Asmodeus is an ancient threat, with well-established cults, lines of tieflings, and a long history of meddling that sages might uncover in dusty old tomes hidden in remote libraries. But if Asmodeus has only just discovered Eberron and begun to influence it for the first time, there is no lore about him to be discovered on Eberron. He has no power base and needs to recruit new followers. Unusual alliances might form against him, as celestials and fiends join forces to expel this hostile outsider.

No Contact is the default assumption. Legacy of Worlds is a What If? scenario—What if Merrix was a hero? What if he was pulled into another setting? What if he had adventures with Elminster and friends? None of that is canon or kanon; Legacy Merrix isn’t going to appear in my Quickstone campaign. I doubled down on this by deciding that Legacy Merrix is from Eberron in 1018 YK, in part of justify the fact that he’s a 20th level character in this campaign. So the Eberron he’s from is different in many ways, some of which might come out during the campaign. But nothing I do as Merrix changes canon or kanon; it’s just a fun story to explore as a purely hypothetical scenario!

Anyhow, I love playing in Legacy of Worlds and I hope you’ll check it out! I’ll be hanging out in chat with some of the cast for the premiere, so come join me there! And here’s one more awesome picture from KP Upadhyayula—if you enjoy his work, check out his studio here!

Dragonmarks: Radiant Idols

Image by Craig J. Spearing from Eberron: Rising From The Last War

“You said this was a fallen angel,” Thorn said. “How’s that different from a devil?”

Drego shook his head. “The two are completely different. Devils are tied to malevolent concepts – hate, fear, greed. What we’re dealing with is a radiant idol, an angel punished for pride by being imprisoned on Eberron. It still possesses its original appearance, more or less, and its powers are still tied to its original dominion.”

“So who are we dropping in on tonight?”

“Do not speak this name casually,” Drego said, and there was no trace of his usual levity. He traced lines in the air as he continued. “You must understand the sheer power of the being we face. He has likely influenced the lives of thousands of your countrymen, Thorn, and just speaking his name could draw unwanted attention to us.” He made a last flourish in the air, and Thorn could just make out a translucent pattern of rippling arcane energy that dulled all sounds beyond and kept Drego’s voice close. “Tonight we shall destroy Vorlintar, the Voice of the Innocent and the Keeper of Hopes, Fifth among the Fallen of Syrania.”

The shimmering glyph burst into flame, burning without substance, and then it was gone.

“Call him by his titles,” Drego said, “But do not speak his name.”

“Keeper of Hopes?” Brom said, and his chuckle echoed off the walls. “He doesn’t sound so terrible.”

“And he wasn’t, when he was a force for light. Now he holds to his dominions, but he has become a force for evil. He is indeed the Keeper of Hopes – the hopes that he has stolen from all those who fall under his sway. He devours innocence, leaving pain and despair. As we draw closer to his throne, you will feel his talons tearing at your mind. You must be strong and hold him at bay, for a clean death is far better than a life without hope.”     

– From The Son of Khyber

The Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook introduced a new threat to the Eberron campaign setting: the radiant idol. Sharn is closely tied to Syrania, and we thought it would be interesting to introduce a new sort of fallen angel cast out of the sky. The Sharn book has this to say…

A radiant idol is an angel that has been banished from Syrania and condemned to spend eternity on the Material Plane. Not all radiant idols are evil, and none are as thoroughly corrupt as the fiends of the lower planes. Their greatest sin, as a rule, is the desire to be worshiped by the humanoids they consider lesser beings, and most gather cults of devoted humanoid followers on the Material Plane—thus giving rise to their common name.

I expanded on this in Exploring Eberron, noting…

Many sages believe that touching Eberron’s ground makes angels vulnerable to the influence of Khyber and the overlords, while others theorize that mortal worship—the positive energy that sustains the Undying Court—is like a drug to the dominions. Whatever the cause, dominions who interact with mortals run the risk of becoming corrupted. Such immortals crave mortal adoration and often seek to dominate mortals by exercising the power of their sphere.  Not all dominions fall prey to this corruption, but once one does, there seems to be no way to undo it. Even if the angel is destroyed and reforms, the corruption remains. It’s unlikely that such an angel would be met in Syrania itself; typically, these corrupted angels are forever stripped of the power of flight and condemned to walk the Material Plane as radiant idols.

For me personally, a radiant idol brings a few interesting elements to a story. They have no connection to the major factions; they aren’t aligned with the Lords of Dust, the Daelkyr, or the Dreaming Dark. They don’t care about the Draconic Prophecy and they aren’t trying to take over the world; they just want to be adored. In a world where gods don’t walk the earth, it can be fun to have a cult where you can actually beat up their deity. Radiant idols are going to be a problem whenever you encounter them, but an idol is a problem you can solve—something that’s typically intensely regional. They make good monsters. And beyond that, they work well with the overall noir vibe of Sharn and Eberron overall… fallen angels; addicted to mortal worship; glorious and beautiful but bound to dirt and grime.

There are a many ways to base an adventure around a radiant idol…. here’s a few options.

Cult Mystery. The idol is actively recruiting and adventurers run across its spreading cult. Perhaps a friend or ally has a sudden change in behavior. The key question with a radiant cult is whether the cultists are being compelled supernaturally—forced to take a blood oath and terrified that the idol will torture or kill them if they reveal its presence, or simply compelled by charm—or whether they have simply been compelled by its innate charisma (and possibly dreams!) and truly believe in the idol. Perhaps they believe the idol will turn the world into a paradise. Perhaps they believe it will protect them from their enemies in exchange for their faith. In one adventure I ran, the idol convinced its followers that it could give the souls of people killed in a particular way eternal peace as opposed to the dissolution of Dolurrh, in a paradise far more pleasant than the grim lives they were living… compelling these cultists to murder their own loved ones believing the idol would preserve their spirits in a form of paradise (this is a variation of Kotharel the Harvester, an idol canonically imprisoned in Dreadhold). One of the things that distinguishes such a radiant cult from daelkyr cults is that their beliefs are usually very concrete: they interact directly with the source of their faith, whether it’s compelled by a blood oath or freely chosen. Daelkyr cults are typically driven by irrational belief; cultists of Dyrrn’s Transcendant Flesh will never meet Dyrrn and don’t even KNOW their group is tied to him; they are simply gripped by the belief that their flesh could be better. Members of Sul Khatesh’s Court of Shadows may revere the Queen of Shadows, but they will never MEET her. Radiant cultists interact directly with their idol. Which means that in a cult mystery story, the adventurers aren’t just investigating the cult; they can track it directly to its source and face the radiant idol. A few cult mystery points to consider…

  • What does it WANT? Radiant idols thrive on mortal adoration. But within that, what is the idol actually driving its cultists to DO? Are the actions of the cult something that must be stopped… or at the end of the day, are the actions of the idol harmless or even potentially beneficial? Vorlintar consumes hope. The Harvester drives people to murder their loved ones. These are things that should be stopped. On the other hand, the actions of an idol could be largely harmless—a Dionysian cult that engages in ecstatic raves, as the idol bathes in joy, but that doesn’t FORCE people to participate; or the idol could even be using its powers to protect or aid its cultists. Of course, there could be a twist even here; the idol has never used the blood oath to torture or kill its followers, but it could. So the initial investigation could suggest that the cult is benevolent… until the adventurers find proof that the idol has been using the blood oath to kill any cultist who does try to leave. Or perhaps the idol is broadly benevolent but has to kill a cultist every week to maintain its alter self. Essentially, there could be layers to the cult the adventurers have to dig through.
  • The Power of the Oath. The blood oath is a distinctive aspect of a radiant cult. The idol can scry upon its cultists, and torture or kill them if they defy it. So a friend could come to an adventurer saying “I’ve made a terrible mistake. The Blessed One, he’s not what he seems. The blessing—no, no, I feel him watching—aaaaagh!’ and die suddenly and horribly. Can the adventurers find a way to save those bound by a blood oath?
  • Perhaps to Dream… If you follow my (and 3.5’s) guidelines, a radiant idol has access to the dream spell. This can be used to recruit followers by manipulating their dreams; as a way to communicate with minions without directly interacting with them; or also as a way for the idol to confront adventurers without physical danger. If the adventurers are getting close to solving the mystery, the idol could appear in their dreams to warn them off—the “monstrous and terrifying” form of dream. This can also be a fun false flag for people familiar with the quori!
  • Office Hours. How often DO the cultists interact with the idol? Does it personally lead them in daily services, or does it mainly communicate through dreams and through its dominated high priest? Does the idol move around the city or does it remain in its anchor point?
  • Is it a Threat? A radiant cult can be a terrible thing. Vorlintar consumes hope. The soul-consuming idol in the example above encourages people to murder their loved ones. The blood oath can be used to torture or kill cultists. But some idols only want worship, and have gifts to offer in exchange. It can be an interesting twist to a cult mystery to discover that the cult isn’t actually a threat… something I’ll explore further below.

Visible Cult. Rather than being a mystery that needs to be slowly unraveled, a radiant cult could be an active force within its community that adventurers will encounter openly. It could be recognized as a fringe religion, with outsiders failing to realize the idol is real—the people in Tumbledown have some weird beliefs… don’t go there on a festival day, is all I’m saying. Or it could be that the idol backs a force that adventurers may not initially identify as a cult. A violent new street gang starts fighting Daask and Boromar thugs in Callestan, guided by a War idol. A district has a volunteer police force that’s picking up the slack from the corrupt Sharn Watch. If they’re doing a good job, does it matter that they worship an Order idol? Adventurers come to a small agricultural village and find it thriving due to the influence of a Nature idol. But does this “Father of the Harvest” demand some sort of price from its followers? This is a solid option for a Children of the Corn scenario. But the interesting point here is is the idol actually a threat, or is it helping its followers? If the Father of the Harvest demands that people kill their parents and use their remains to fertilize the soil, that’s a problem. But what if it doesn’t do that? What if it just wants them to sing its praises and dance in the fields? What if that Order idol is making peoples’ lives better with its volunteer force? Is the idol of Joy actually harming anyone with its dionysian revels? Personally, I like radiant cultists to have a dark twist—as I’ll discuss further below, I like to call out that idols are fundamentally corrupted even if their core concept is pure. But even with that twist, there can still be the question of whether the adventurers are right to interfere. Imagine a Life idol who uses its ability to raise dead to resurrect slain members of its cult… but because of the balance of life, they must pay for the resurrection not with diamonds, but with another life. Perhaps they actually take volunteers—an old man sacrificing himself to give life to a child who died young. Perhaps they impose a death penalty on criminals within their community—do adventurers have the right to interfere with this? Or perhaps they murder travelers to buy life for their own. But again, the idol isn’t forcing them to do this… so what do the adventurers do when they find out?

Hidden Monster. In the story that opens this paragraph, Vorlintar is simply a monster. He is anchored in a desolate place most people never go. He pulls innocents into his orbit and drains them of hope. It’s not a story of slow investigation, and he’s not in a place the adventurers would ever normally go; instead, they learn of his presence and must go to him, entering his lair and discovering the horror he’s been perpetrating in this forgotten corner of the city. This is a simple way to introduce a powerful foe, and the idol could easily have something the adventurers need—a book or blade brought down from Syrania, an angel’s tear… or it could just be that the idol is anchored in a place the adventurers need to be, drawn to a point of power that the adventurers have a different use for.

Power Player. I tend to have my idols anchored in a particular location; a spider lurking at the heart of its cult web. But you COULD have an idol… say, an idol of Trickery… who is less interested in direct worship and more in being part of the game. It needs to be part of a web of deception and intrigue to feel alive, and it’s playing all sides and perhaps stirring up new conflicts within the criminal underworld of Sharn or the rivalries of Aurum Concordians. It could be that it has its own small cult within this tapestry—a few agents in every faction bound by its blood oath—or it could be content to just manipulate on its own. A question here is whether the idol itself is walking around Sharn, using magic to appear human (and having to be careful not to crash skycoaches with its flightless aura)… or if it is acting through a dominated host most of the time, only appearing personally when it needs to exercise its full force. Keep in mind that when it DOES act directly it can use alter self to appear as the person it usually dominates. So you could have a fun twist where the adventurers see the idol using powerful magic and are baffled later when they confront the “idol” and find them to be mortal.

Anchor Points

Mechanically, radiant idols have no limitations on their movement. Just because they are often dropped in Sharn doesn’t mean that they have to STAY there. Sharn: City of Towers suggests that there can be up to six radiant idols in Sharn at a time, but it doesn’t explain why six is a magic number. In my campaign, it’s a territorial thing; idols can feel one another and if there’s more than six in one place if feels crowded, even if it’s a huge city and they aren’t stumbling over one another. So my murder-your-loved-ones idol was in Korth. The Father of the Harvest could be in a little farming village. Idols often start in Sharn but they don’t have to stay there. HOWEVER, I personally like my idols to have an anchor point—a place of power and security. They’re immortal embodiments of ideas, and their motivations aren’t like those of mortals; with the exception of “power players” as I described above, I see idols as wanting to sit on their anchors and bask in the adoration of their cultists. In Sharn, an anchor could be where they first appeared in the material plane. Or it could be a place that particularly resonates with their domain. So Vorlintar, an idol that consumes hope, is anchored in a ruined temple in the desolate distract of Fallen. It’s a double dose of despair, a place where faith failed to protect the people of the distract from a terrible calamity. An idol of war might be anchored beneath the Cornerstone of Sharn, drinking in the aggression of the duels and matches in the arena above… or in a district wracked by gang warfare. Where Vorlintar dwells in the lower city, I could imagine an idol of the tempest who is anchored in a high spire in Upper Sharn that draws lightning. Likewise, there could be a reason the Father of the Harvest has chosen a particular farming village as his anchor… what is it?

Mechanically, you could play up the place of power idea by giving an idol lair actions in its anchor point… or perhaps limiting it, saying it can only cast its highest level spells in its anchor. The 3.5 idol has greater teleport, and I like to allow an idol to teleport 1/day… but I only allow it to teleport to the location of either its anchor. So an idol that ventures out into the world can slip back to its anchor… but if you face it in its anchor point, there’s nowhere to run.

Appearance and Personality

The first thing she saw were the angel’s wings – outspread and glorious, with long feathers as dark as a moonless night. Now the source of the chimes became clear, for there were chains attached to every feather. Strange weights were bound to the ends of the chains, weights of many shapes and sizes, engraved with symbols Thorn didn’t recognize. Their purpose was clear; for all his glory, Vorlintar could not rise from the ground.

Radiant idols embody ideas. As presented in Sharn: City of Towers, each idol has a domain. But WAR or LIFE or NATURE are broad concepts. Exploring Eberron suggests that most idols began as dominions of Syrania, and a dominion has a focus within a domain—a dominion is the Angel of Swords, not the Angel of War. This article discusses immortal personalities and might be spark some ideas. “Swords” may be too broad a concept, but with an Idol of War I could imagine…

  • The Lady of Lightning, She Who Guides The First Strike. This idol knows all of the moments in history in which mortals made preemptive strikes. She enjoys seeing conflict unfold, but she revels in guiding the stroke that brings down an enemy before they have a chance to prepare. Her cultists will act with stunning precision, striking without warning and melting away. She could potentially pose as Dol Arrah, focusing on strategic precision and claiming that the targets they are sending their cultists to fight are servants of evil.
  • The Lord of Sacrifice. As an angel, this one watched over those who laid down their lives to protect others. Now as an idol he wants to drive people to sacrifice their lives in his name. Again, he is an idol of War; he doesn’t want his followers to simply die, he wants them to make heroic sacrifices. He may drive them to stir up conflicts in the region; his cult could be a neighborhood watch he’s driving to fight organized crime, or he could subvert a Boromar cell and drive them to doomed battle with Dassk… Or something more ugly, like forming a cult among Cyran refugees and driving them to doomed acts of defiance as they seek to “win the Last War for Cyre.”
  • The Giver of Strength. As a dominion, this angel watched over bullies and those who used their strength to dominate others. Now they encourage this behavior, and punish those who fail to live up to their standards. If the idol is lurking beneath Cornerstone Arena, it could offer blessings to those who fight as it wishes—perhaps granting the benefits of heroism to its chosen champions—but punish cultists who fail to live up to its standards with torment or death. So adventurers could investigate a general rise in the brutality of a small group of Cornerstone champions… along with the unexplained deaths of those defeated in nonlethal matches in the arena. This idol could potentially masquerade as Dol Dorn (or as a servant of Dol Dorn). Alternately it could drive aggressive behavior among a cult elsewhere in town, creating a district where might makes right. Here again, they could use dominate person to run things through their chosen champion, with the adventurers only discovering the true source of the cruelty on deeper investigation.

These are three ideas I made up ON THE SPOT, and I’m sure I could do better. But it gives that point of a narrow aspect of a broad domain. Beyond that, while it is not in any way required, *I* like to have a radiant idol reflect a slightly corrupted, greedy aspect of its core idea. As in the opening story, Vorlintar has gone from observing hopes to stealing them. The Lord of Sacrifice is pushing cultists to make unnecessary (if heroic) sacrifices. The Giver of Life needs someone to die before it can raise dead. I like the fact that all radiant cults aren’t automatically vile—again, the idea of the Giver of Life using its abilities to cure wounds and raise dead to protect its cultists, creating an idyllic healthy community—but that even there, you’ve got the ethical twist of that health comes at a cost.

So the first question with an Idol is what is its defining concept and personality. For me, its appearance flows from that. When in its true form, the key elements of a radiant idol are that it inspires awe—that high Charisma and Aura of False Divinity—and that it can’t fly, and that there is something suggesting it has been cast down. The simplest way to represent this is with maimed wings—severed, broken, withered, burnt—but there are other options, like Vorlintar’s weighted chains. The key point is that an idol is an idea; when someone sees it they should understand what that idea is. Of course, this is the point to idols having disguise or alter self; they can HIDE their fallen nature.

A last point here is that while it’s easiest for idols to use an existing clerical domain, that shouldn’t be an absolute limitation. There’s no Domain of Hope for Vorlintar. Likewise, I think JOY is a great domain for a radiant idol, inspiring bacchanalian frenzies. It could be that these could be linked to existing domains—Joy could be based on Peace or Life—but a DM can always just make up a spell list that fits a concept that doesn’t match a domain.

Immortality and the Idol

In Eberron, immortals can’t be permanently destroyed, and this is as true for radiant idols as it is for any other immortal. Notably, when an idol is destroyed and reforms, it is still a radiant idol; if their corruption could be undone by death, they’d be killed instead of cast out of Syrania. So radiant idols can’t be permanently destroyed. But we never say HOW QUICKLY THEY COME BACK. Part of what I like about idols is that they are a problem that can be solved. With that in mind, I’d consider the following options.

  • Slow Return. An idol will return—either to its anchor point or to the point in which it was cast down—but it takes centuries, possibly even millennia. This is a reflection of the fact that it was cast out of Syrania and doesn’t really belong anywhere. So even when adventurers encounter an idol that is JUST STARTING A CULT that doesn’t mean that it was only just now banished from Syrania; it could have been banished ten thousand years ago, and it’s only just reformed from the last time it was destroyed during the first days of Galifar. This is the approach I’d use as the default, though I’d add the option for cultists to be able to speed its return through rituals—so you do want to make sure you deal with the cult as well as the idol.
  • Lingering. An idol doesn’t return unaided, but its spirit lingers at its anchor point. Perhaps it can still cast dream or have other minor mystical effects. It can only reconstitute itself if mortal cultists perform rituals to summon it back… so it will try to push people to do this through dreams, or by guiding them to lore of its cult.
  • Swift, Unless… An idol will return in days or weeks of being destroyed, unless it is destroyed in a particular place—using a particular weapon, at a particular time, by a person meeting a particular condition. Essentially, it’s a minor prophecy path. If it’s destroying properly, its return will either be slow or lingering.
  • Binding. Idols aren’t actually THAT powerful, and I could see allowing them to be bound in iron flasks or similar forms of binding. They aren’t overlords!

This can vary by idol! Canonically, the radiant idol Kotharel the Harvester is sealed in Dreadhold because while it was defeated, it simply could not be destroyed. I could imagine an idol of Life who drains the life of an oath-bound cultist every time it’s dropped below 1 hit point; you can’t defeat it until you free its cultists from their bonds!

Gifts of the Idol

Radiant idols may claim to be gods, either Sovereigns or unique gods; alternately they could claim to be servants or representatives of Sovereigns. But they AREN’T gods. You can’t actually gain the powers of a cleric from a radiant idol. However, there’s a few possible loopholes. If a radiant idol impersonates a sovereign—the Lady of Lightning claiming to be Dol Arrah—then her cultists could be clerics or paladins of Dol Arrah, because they have faith in Dol Arrah; the power is still coming from a divine power source, it’s just not the idol itself. The point here is that the idol can’t take those powers away from them because it’s not given them the powers. Another option is to allow the radiant idol to cast its domain spells through cultists who have sworn a blood oath—so a Life idol could cure wounds through the hands of a cultist. The power is entirely controlled and drawn from the idol, but the cultist APPEARS to cast spells. I would also consider allowing an idol to produce a warlock following this same principle; the warlock’s powers come from the idol investing a fraction of its immortal essence in its servant.

Beyond this, I have no issue with allowing idols to break the rules to fit their story. As I suggested earlier, I’m fine suggesting that the Giver of Strength can give the benefits of heroism to anyone who’s sworn its Blood Oath. Each idol could give unique gifts to its cultists. But purely on a power level, radiant idols can’t create paladins or clerics; the best they could do is take advantage of someone’s faith, claiming credit for divine power that’s flowing from an actual divine power source.

A radiant idol could also be a source of magic items. Perhaps the idol’s blood acts as a magical potion (or a drug!), and it gives this to its cultists. In my adventure where the idol wanted people to murder those they cared about, it gave its cultists amulets they had to give to their victims, to ensure their spirits were channeled to the idol. I could see an idol of fire that could turn weapons into flame tongues by engraving its name on them… but when the idol is defeated, those things would likely lose power.

Relative Power

In both 3.5 and fifth edition, a radiant idol has a challenge rating of 11. They are powerful, yes, but not THAT powerful. In general, this is something I like about them. They’re powerful enough to be exciting, but weaker than daelkyr, the prakhutu of the Lords of Dust, or even powerful Inspired. However, that’s a base level, and radiant idols can be as powerful as you want them to be. In 3.5 canon Kotharel the Harvester is a 30 HD radiant idol who literally cannot be destroyed, hence his being stored at Dreadhold. The description of Vorlintar at the start of this article likewise suggests a level of power beyond the default radiant idol; radiant idols don’t generally have the ability to scry on people who speak their names, and Vorlintar also has what amounts to a feeblemind attack where he tears hope out from his victims and leaves them in a vegetative state. Just as Dyrrn and Belashyrra are more powerful than the generic daelkyr presented in the 3.5 ECS, you can create radiant idols that are more powerful than the base model. You can use a Planetar or Solar as a foundation for creating a more powerful radiant idol, shifting spell lists if necessary and adding the unique traits of the idol (including those I describe below)—Aura of False Divinity, Blood Oath, Flightless, Domain, Guide Thrall.

Let’s Talk About Stat Blocks…

Last but not least… The radiant idol was introduced in Sharn: City of Towers. There’s a stat block for radiant idols in Eberron: Rising From The Last War, but it doesn’t incorporate a lot of what I consider to be the defining elements of the 3.5 radiant idol—ideas I’ve mentioned often in this article. Let’s take a look at those.

INNATE MAGIC. Per Sharn: City of Towers, radiant idols had the following spell-like abilities: At will—alter self, charm person, dream, heroism, nightmare, rage; 3/day—confusion, greater dispel magic, mind fog, slow; 1/day—dominate person, eyebite, hold monster, song of discord, greater teleport (self only). Let’s consider the function of these spells. Alter Self gives the angel the possibility of moving among mortals, and it can reduce itself from large to medium; alternately, it can simply shift its appearance to better fit the image it is creating for its cult, concealing its disfigurement and adding details that fit its God of ____ storyline. Dream and nightmare (which in 5E were combined into a single spell) allow it to influence and lure followers from a distance, as well as giving missions to its loyal cultists; it’s a small-scale Dreaming Dark, and potentially a fun surprise for the player who immediately assumes that when they stumble on someone being manipulated by dreams that quori are responsible. Confusion, mind fog, hold monster, song of discord, and mind fog all play to the idea of the idol’s supernatural charisma and its ability to overwhelm mortal minds, while dominate person is a great way for the idol to directly control a cult lieutenant. Keep in mind that in 3.5 rules, dominate person had a duration of 1 day per caster level; it’s interended to be a long term effect, again, the sort of thing they’d use to telepathically control a minion. Radiant idols also have the inherent power of glibness, which provides a +30 bonus to Deception checks made to convince someone of their honesty and makes them immune to any magic that would force them to tell the truth or reveal the truth of their words.

DOMAIN. S:CoT gives radiant idols a special gift:

Each radiant idol chooses one cleric domain to represent the portfolio it claims in its masquerade of divinity. The radiant idol gains the granted power of that domain, and can use each spell up to 6th level in that domain as a spell-like ability. It can use 1st-level spells at will, 2nd- and 3rd-level spells three times per day each, and 4th- through 6th-level spells once per day each.

For me, this is a crucial aspect of a radiant idol. It’s not just a generic idol; it is an idol of FIRE or an idol of LIFE. In Exploring Eberron I call out that Syranian angels have domains; this reflects that idea. It’s something that adds flavor but also means its idol has a distinct set of spell like abilities.

CULTISTS. The 3.5 idol has a number of powers that specifically tie to its role as cult anchor. FIts Aura of False Divinity afflicts enemies with despair, but grants allies within 30 ft the effects of Good Hope: Each affected creature gains a +2 morale bonus on saving throws, attack rolls, ability checks, skill checks, and weapon damage rolls. This plays up the idea that the idol FEELS DIVINE—that it feels awesome and terrible, able to crush or inspire hope just with its presence. A more dramatic feature is the Blood Oath. After an extended ritual, a radiant idol can form a connection with a cultist that allows them to locate and scry on the cultist, cause them pain, or even kill them outright. This oath can even be forced on unwilling participants, if they are restrained throughout the ritual and fail enough saving throws. This can create an interesting situation where a victim doesn’t believe in the idol, but knows that if the idol could be watching them at any time and that if they defy it, they could suffer pain or death. Which in turn means that adventurers opposing a cult need to recognize that the cultists they are fighting may be innocent victims just trying to save their own lives or the lives of people they care about.

FLIGHTLESS. Radiant idols cannot fly through any means. In addition, per S:CoT, Spells that grant flight to other characters fail within 30 feet of a radiant idol, as if it were at the center of an antimagic field, but only magic related to flight is affected. Magic items that grant the power of flight likewise fail. Even creatures with a natural ability to fly feel uncomfortable near a radiant idol.

HOW’S RISING STACK UP? The radiant idol in Rising From The Last War is a watered down version of the original idea. Its Aura of False Divinity can charm anyone within 30 feet. This is effective against enemies and implies supernatural charisma, but it lacks the original aspect of inspiring allies, which helps with the cult aspect of the story. There’s no mechanical aspect to being flightless; the idol doesn’t have a flying speed, but there’s nothing saying it can’t fly and nothing that stops other creatures from flying around it. Meanwhile, there’s some overlap in the spell list; the Rising Idol can use charm person at will and dominate person once per day, and mass suggestion is in the same sort of mood as dominate and charm, and replaces the nonexistent mind fog and song of discord. But then it has some very specific spells—raise dead, cure wounds at will, commune, insect plague. There’s no clear theme to these; raise dead is handy and insect plague is good for wrathful god, sure, but how do they relate to one another? Meanwhile, they notably lack dream, which is a great tool for a manipulative cult leader.

SO WHAT WOULD I DO? Without entirely redesigning the stat block, I’d change a few of its existing traits and add a few others, as outlined below.

  • If the idol has an evil alignment, I’d change its creature type to fiend. In my campaign, the definition of “fiend” is “evil immortal”; there’s no such thing as an evil celestial or a good fiend. If the alignment changes, their type changes with it; they are incarnate ideas.
  • Aura of False Divinity. Allies within 30 feet of the radiant idol have advantage on saving throws made to avoid being charmed or frightened by other creatures. Any enemy of the idol that starts its turn within 30 feet of it must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw, provided the radiant idol isn’t incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature is charmed by the radiant idol. A creature charmed in this way can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. Once it succeeds on the saving throw, a creature is immune to this radiant idol’s Aura of False Divinity for 24 hours.
  • Innate Spellcasting. The radiant idol’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 17). The radiant idol can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components: At will: alter self, charm person, dream, thaumaturgy; 1/day: confusion, dispel magic (6th level slot), mass suggestion, teleport (self only, only to anchor point). The idol may use alter self to assume the shape of a large or medium humanoid.
  • Domain Powers: Choose one cleric domain to represent the radiant idol’s sphere of influence. The radiant idol can cast the domain spells associated with that domain, without requiring material components; its spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell ssave DC 17) It can use 1st-level spells at will, 2nd- and 3rd-level spells three times per day each, and 4th- through 6th-level spells once per day each. For example, a radiant idol of Life uses the Life domain and adds the following spell-like abilities: At Will: bless, cure wounds; 3/day: beacon of hope, lesser restoration, revivify, spiritual weapn; 1/day: death ward, guardian of faith, mass cure wounds, raise dead. As I’ve suggested before, I might modify these spells to reflect the nature of the idol—as with the example of the Life idol needing to take a life to cast raise dead rather than needing material components. Idol spells could have unusually long durations, be able to be cast on oathbound cultists regardless of range, etc—though they could also be limited, perhaps ONLY being able to be cast on oathbound cultists, only cast at the idol’s anchor point, and so on.
  • Glibness. The radiant idol has advantage on Charisma ability checks and is immune to any magical effect that would allow a creature to determine the truth of its words or that would force it to tell the truth.
  • Flightless. A radiant idol cannot fly by any means. No spell intended to grant flight (even levitate) functions with a radiant idol as its target. A spell (such as polymorph) that changes a radiant idol into a form with the natural ability of flight works normally, but the radiant idol cannot fly in that form. If changed into a form that has only a fly speed (no land speed), the radiant idol can only move along the ground in that form. Spells that grant flight to other characters fail within 30 feet of a radiant idol, as if it were at the center of an antimagic field, but only magic related to flight is affected. Magic items that grant the power of flight likewise fail. (This is verbatim from Sharn: City of Towers.)
  • Blood Oath. A radiant idol has the ability to perform a ritual of initiation that binds cult members to its service.This requires 24 hours of preparation, and the ritual itself lasts for 2 hours plus an additional 10 minutes for each initiate involved. If a participant wishes to resist the connection, they may make a Wisdom save (DC 19); however, the idol knows whether or not the bond was properly formed. Once a bond is established, it can only be severed by the use of greater restoration on the victim or by the destruction of the idol. As an action, the idol may invoke one of the following powers, targeting a creature on the same plane that is bound by its oath. These saving throws are Charisma-based.
    Locate Cultist. This functions as locate creature, with unlimited range.
    Scry on Cultist. This functions as scrying. If the target wishes to resist they can make a Wisdom saving throw (DC 24); if they succeed, the idol cannot observe them in this way for 24 hours.
    Torture Cultist. The victim must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 17). If they fail, they are wracked with pain and poisoned for 1 minute.
    Kill Cultist. The victim must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 17). If they fail, they are reduced to zero hit points. If the save is successful, the victim takes 3d6+6 necrotic damage.
  • Guide Thrall. Once per day, the radiant idol can cast dominate person on a creature bound by its blood oath. The idol doesn’t have to see the victim, but must be on the same plane of existence. This ability doesn’t require concentration and lasts until the idol uses the ability again or until the victim makes a successful Wisdom saving throw (DC 17, Charisma based). The victim may attempt a saving throw when the effect is first used, and then again at dawn or whenever they take damage. Once it succeeds on the saving throw, a creature is immune to this radiant idol’s Guide Thrall for 24 hours.

Random Idols

Roll twice on the name column and combine the names together: Ranrael, Kastar-Ular. The wings column describes why it can’t fly but also suggests general appearance. Domain and Cult Focus gives a broad domain and a possible cult direction.

d8 NameWingsDomain/Cult Focus
1KastarSeveredOrder. The cult seeks to bring order to the idol’s sphere of influence, stopping violence and crime, but also enforcing a dress code and restricting free speech.
2RaelPetrifiedForge. The cult is building a monument or weapons—or a monument that is also a weapon—that honor the idol.
3UlarChainedDeath. The idol promises a peaceful eternity to victims killed in a ritual manner; their souls are contained within the idol, preventing resurrection until the idol is destroyed.
4AstulFrozenLife. The idol uses its magic to provide perfect health to its cultists—but for every cultist it heals, an innocent person suffers the malady removed.
5RanBurntPeace. Cultists of the idol exist in a state of perfect, serene peace; however, they are incapable of taking any remotely aggressive action, even in the most desperate situations.
6AvarGlassTrickery. The idol yearns to see intrigues unfold in the community, and dispatches its cultists to infiltrate factions and guilds to sow discord.
7TusBrokenKnowledge. The cultists of the idol cannot lie and others find they cannot lie to the cultists. What chaos will this bring to a community that has a lot of skeletons in its closets?
8ValaSpectralNature. The idol can provide a community with bountiful crops and healthy stock… but there is a price for this supernatural prosperity.

Q&A

When I have time I answer questions from my Patreon supporters, as this support is what allows me to continue to create Eberron content. Here’s a few questions patrons posed on this article.

In Sharn the presence of Radiant Idol cults seems fairly prominent. With Idols being Large and likely not having subtle falls from grace, how does the city handle this eventuality? Are members of the Blackened Book prepared to handle a “live idol fall” or is their cast to the material more subtle? Does the Sharn Watch have methods of detecting the gravity well the Idols generate, etc?

In my Eberron, they aren’t that obvious. Being “cast down” to the material plane doesn’t mean they literally fall from the sky. In my game they appear in a place that’s suited to their nature—IE, the Giver of Strength might have appeared under Cornerstone, while Vorlintar appeared in Fallen. So you don’t have weather-oracles saying “There’s a 50% chance of falling idols today.” Likewise, I tend to have their cults manifest in places that aren’t all that obvious; the point of Vorlintar in The Son of Khyber is that no one cares about Fallen and so the cult goes unobserved… or in the case of the Giver of Strength, it could be that it takes a player character to notice the strange pattern of deaths. This ties to my general point that the world needs heroes—I want ADVENTURERS to deal with idols, not to have them just make a sending call to the Blackened Book’s Idol Squad. Canonically we know that Kotharel the Harvester was defeated by the Knights of Dol Arrah—which in my opinion was a legendary order of champions who might just as well have been player characters. Essentially, if a idol is too obvious in its manifestation and is causing havoc crashing lifts and skycoaches, the city could send the Redcloaks and Blackened Book to deal with it—but first, that’s why most idols WON’T be that clumsy and obvious and second, that’s going to be a tough fight for the forces of the law. This is a job for Harryn Stormblade, or at least the Harryn Stormblade of today, and that’s all of you. Regarding size, this is where magic comes into play. Rising stats only give them disguise self, but 3.5 let them alter self—which, in 3.5 allowed you to shrink a size category. So ORIGINALLY they were supposed to be able to move among humans unnoticed. I’d personally allow still them to do that; and if I didn’t, that’s the point of Guide Thrall, allowing them to telepathically control a cultist who can serve as their hands and eyes among the common people.

I certainly think that the Blackened Book KNOWS about radiant idols and has records of idols that have threatened the city in the past. But I don’t think that they are aware that there’s six idols in Sharn at any given time. And if you go to the Blackened Book and say There’s a radiant idol in Fallen! in my game, they’ll say Thank goodness it’s somewhere where we can ignore it! Last time one of those things turned up, it wiped out an entire watch station and it was only stopped when Boranel himself came and punched it into Dolurrh. Likewise, the Silver Flame has records of radiant idols, but in Sharn Ythana Morr will probably ask how much you’re willing to pay to have it dealt with (What? It’s in Fallen? Why would anyone even care?) while Mazin Taza would WANT to help you deal with this threat, and might even try to take it on himself… but he doesn’t have the power to deal with a radiant idol, and trying will just get him killed. This is on you, adventurers!

How do other cultures deal with radiant idols, either cases like the Mror or the Zil that may view them differently or outlying cultures like the Dhakaani? 

Radiant idols aren’t COMMON and I think it’s entirely plausible that there’s never been a radiant idol in the Mror Holds. If there has been, odds are good that it was JUST ONE — something that spawned a particular story about the bold deeds of Mroranon crushing the wingless angel, but not that has created a cultural attitude.

With the Zil, I could go in one of three very different directions. The first would be to say that the Trust would swiftly identify an idol and eliminate it as quickly as possible whenever it appeared. Why do I say this is possible in Zilargo when it’s beyond the Blackened Book in Sharn? Because it’s THE TRUST, and that’s kind of the point of the Trust; they are terrifyingly efficient and effective, and they are scarier than an idol. The second option is to say that an idol of Knowledge or Trickery might actually find a comfortable home in Zilargo — that a particular Zil family could have a symbiotic relationship with a hidden idol, providing it the adoration it craves in exchange for its knowledge or gifts. Again, I see most idols as having a maximum effective range; they aren’t TRYING to conquer the world, and a radiant cult could happily thrive in a particular village for centuries without ever being known to the outside world. So there could easily be a Zil family who has worked out a decent arrangement with “Grandfather”… as long as you don’t reveal the secrets, he won’t kill you through your blood oath, and everyone’s happy! The final option is to combine the two: the Trust is aware of radiant idols and THE TRUST has absorbed idols of either Knowledge or Order and made them part of their whole system. Are adventurers about to interrogate a Trust agent with amazingly important secrets? Too bad, Oversight just activated his blood oath and killed him.

The Dhakaani have absolutely dealt with radiant idols, because Sharn is a nexus of idols and Sharn began as a Dhakaani city. Part of my point is that defeated idols may take centuries to reform… and have reformed and been destroyed multiple times throughout the history of the city. So there could be Dhakaani tales of Vorlintar or the Giver of Strength, and their appearances in the present day are just their latest of many incarnations.

How do radiant idols clash with other supernatural forces? For instance, how do bonded cultists interact with daelkyr influence, and how do radiant idol dreams conflict with quori dreams?

Radiant idols are unique individuals. They have no particular means to be aware of daelkyr influence or quori schemes, or to be given special treatment by these greater powers. The idol’s ability to influence dreams is the dream spell, no more or less. So if both the quori and an idol are trying to influence the same person, both can; it’s going to be frustrating for both of them realizing that they are playing tug of war. I think it’s quite valid for a party of adventurers to be tipped off about a radiant idol by a Dreaming Dark agent who wants them to get rid of this immortal interloper who’s stumbled into their sandbox. Likewise, there’s no rules or limits regarding what the daelkyr can do. You could have a cult that’s both influenced by a daelkyr AND bound by an idol’s blood oath. You could say the daelkyr influence breaks the blood oath. Or you could have Dyrrn twist an idol and create something horrible and new, blending the traits of the daelkyr and the idol.

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments, but I won’t be answering further questions. Thanks again to my Patrons for making these articles possible!

Dragonmarks: Wondrous Caches

It was pure luck that Rusty found the loose board in his room in the Crooked Cat. The space below was just small enough to hold a folded sack… but that sack was a bag of holding which was somehow shielded from divination. Now the contents of the bag were spread out across the bed. Three different sets of identification papers. Ten Kundarak letters of credit, each worth one thousand galifars. Three vials bearing the Jorasco seal—high grade healing potions. A spellshard. A wand, a rapier, and a ring… all radiating magic. “So what do you think?” Rusty asked his friends. “Are we the luckiest bastards in Sharn? Or should we put this all back, get a new room, and pretend this never happened?”   

My previous post examined buried treasures and how the pursuit of a lost, legendary treasure could be the driving force for an entire campaign. But not all treasures are ancient relics found in a monster’s lair. In Khorvaire, there are many options for finding hidden treasures that are anything but legendary. Consider caches—something stored away or hidden for future use. Here’s just a few example caches that come to mind…

  • A former assassin decides to live an honest life, and hides the tools of their tradea hat of disguise, dagger of venom, an assortment of poisons—behind a mortared stone in a shrine to Olladra. 
  • Someone becomes obsessed with the idea that a grand apocalypse is just around the corner, and hides supplies in preparation for this. Are they still alive—perhaps running a cult of the Dragon Below tied to their apocalyptic visions? Or did they die long ago, leaving their doomsday supplies behind? If they left clues about their fears, might the PCs realize there’s some truth to them?  
  • The Swords of Liberty or Emerald Claw have stashed supplies that are supposed to be used in an operation in the next few days. Do you take the supplies and run, or do you try to deal with the cell behind it?  
  • In the aftermath of a botched attack, the last survivor of a Cyran commando squad discarded their gear and tried to blend into the local populace. Perhaps they succeeded and just never returned for it; perhaps they were killed or imprisoned. This is excellent equipment, but it is clearly Cyran military gear.
  • Once upon a time, there were countless Dhakaani caches spread across Khorvaire—remnants of the last days of the empire, as those dar who resisted the effects of the Kapaa’vola fought against the chaos. Thousands of years have passed, and most of these caches have been recovered. But adventurers could still find a cache containing perfectly preserved Dhakaani adamantine arms and armor, or the hidden treasures of a dirge singer. Such a cache might include trinkets that have no immediate, obvious value to adventurers—but which could be incredibly important to the Heirs of Dhakaan. 
  • During the Last War, a squad of soldiers engaged in forbidden looting and hid their spoils. Perhaps they used the chaos of war to steal from a noble of their own nation, or from a dragonmarked house. Perhaps they had a mission to recover goods from an enemy and chose to hide some of this bounty instead of turning it all over to their superiors. If the PCs stumble onto this cache, will they try to return the goods to their rightful owners? Alternately… were one or more of the player characters part of the group of looters? 
  • The Fifth Crown, King’s Citadel, the Shadow Houses, the Trust, and  the Royal Eyes all have supplies hidden across Khorvaire, stashed for the moment when an undercover operative needs something. The nature of the equipment will be tied to the mission it’s supposed to support. The Fifth Crown collapsed with the Mourning, and most of its caches are likely lost and forgotten. But other caches may be placed with a very specific purpose—and if you take the supplies, you could jeopardize an operation. If it’s not your nation that’s involved this might actually be a good thing… but most such caches won’t have a convenient note saying who they belong to or what they’re for. And it’s always possible there’s some way for the owner to trace the equipment…
  • A more dramatic version of this is a cache set aside for agents of the Chamber or the Lords of Dust. Such equipment may be far more powerful than what spies of the Five Nations would normally employ, but you’re crossing significantly more dangerous people if you take it. Unless, of course, your clearing out the cache is part of their plan, because they need you to have this equipment to carry out your role in the Prophecy…

As uncommon magic items, bags of holding are part of everyday life; portable holes and handy haversacks are rarer but still well known to the general public. Such things make it possible to conceal a significant amount of equipment in a relatively small space. A cache could contain mundane supplies or money—something that would help a group of adventurers but that has little immediate impact or identifying marks. On the other hand, it could contain valuable magic items… perhaps a conveniently interesting item for each of the adventurers, something that will get them started on their adventures. But such items might be distinctive, whether they are clearly tied to a particular organization or to the original owner. Are the players concerned about running into someone who recognizes this loot? On a different spectrum, a cache could contain trinkets that have little concrete value but that tell a story or set the players on a path… A journal that exposes a secret plot or a possible threat, or evidence about a crime that’s long gone unpunished. On the other side, a cache could have magic that is exceptionally powerful, but more than the adventurers want to deal with. A bag of blast disks; a spellshard containing secrets of proprietary Cannith artifice; the Orb of Dol Azur (which for this purpose we’ll say has the same stats as the Wand of Orcus). If you’re a group of 3rd level characters, what are you going to do with the Orb of Dol Azur? Especially knowing that in all likelihood it was stashed by an incredibly powerful and dangerous person who will probably come looking for it? On an even more exotic path, imagine that you find a cache that contains the answer to the cause of the Mourning—along with an item (an arcane core for a weapon, an artifact tied to an overlord) that could allow someone to enact a second Mourning. If this falls into the hands of any nation it will irrevocably alter the balance of power in Khorvaire. What will the adventurers do with it? 

Part of the point of a cache is that it’s not a deep dungeon or a tomb full of traps. A good narrative example is the troll’s den in The Hobbit. After the trolls are defeated, Gandalf concludes that they must have a safe hole, and they search until they find it… and when they do, it’s full of treasure, including two named magic swords and some swanky gear for Bilbo. We get a slight repeat of this in Fellowship of the Ring, where the hobbits just kind of stumble across a barrow and end up with some nice equipment. A cache can be a fun way to give adventurers some decent equipment while also setting up interesting story hooks. Do they have to worry about the owner of the cache coming after them? Does anything they’ve claimed rightfully belong to someone else, and if so, do they want to find that rightful owner… who could then become a patron of the party? Does something in the cache draw them into a greater plot—is there evidence of a murder that should be avenged, or an Emerald Claw threat about to happen, a Chamber scheme? With all these stories in mind, one of the key questions is how the players encounter the cache. A few possibilities…

Random Chance. All the clever concealment in the world can’t counter pure luck. Perhaps the adventurers are caught in a skirmish between Daask and the Boromar Clan, and an eldritch bolt that misses its target shatters the hollow statue of Boldrei containing a stashed haversack. Perhaps when the character with Sage background conducts research they need a book in the Morgrave stacks that no one else would ever have reason to look at—and they find that this obscure account of Galifar the Dark’s economic policies is a hollowed out book containing a spellshard, a glove of storing, and a few other key belongings of a rogue Dark Lantern.  Perhaps the rogue goes to visit an old mentor and finds them dead—their apartment is trashed, but because the adventurer knows the mentor, they spot the clue that reveals their hidden cache. The PC feels certain the mentor would want them to use these hidden tools, but will they try to avenge their mentor? And why WAS the mentor killed? The point here is that finding the cache isn’t the challenge; it’s a surprise, something that falls into the path of the PCs, and the question is what they will do with it. 

Spoils of War. As with the trolls in The Hobbit, a cache could be a reward for victory. After defeating the Emerald Claw’s latest scheme, the adventurers find a key to a Kundarak vault or a note with the address of their safehouse. The cache contained goods or equipment they wouldn’t just carry around town, and may have additional clues about future threats, local agents, or other hooks for future stories. But the challenge is fighting the cache owner; once that’s accomplished, the cache itself is relatively easy. 

The Tiny Dungeon. On the other hand, there are countless ways a cache could be secured. This article discusses a few examples of how everyday magic can take interesting forms. Glyphs of Warding are extremely flexible, and even an alarm can be a concern if you’re afraid of who will be alerted. So one option is that the players find a cache but have to deal with considerable security to gain access to it. Another is that they learn of a cache but reaching it is going to be a journey. A group of Cyran adventurers might be contacted by an old comrade in arms who has located a cache of Cyran treasures just inside the Mournland. When they arrive, the contact is missing; perhaps kidnapped or killed by agents of an Aurum concordian who wants the cache. Can the adventurers get there first, and if so, can they bypass its security? Will they keep the goods or turn it over to New Cyre and Oargev? The main difference between this and the buried treasure stories of the last article is the scale. This isn’t an epic expedition that will cover multiple sessions, and the treasure in the cache is significant, but it’s not a dragon’s hoard. This is an adventure low level characters can complete; the loot creates more opportunities and hooks for them, but it’s not a king’s ransom.  

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, whose support makes these articles possible. Speaking of which, I will be doing a live Q&A on the Last War on Sunday January 14th at 9 AM Pacific time, on the Threshold Discord channel associated with my Patreon. If you’re a patron and you can’t make it live, don’t worry – it will be recorded and shared with all patrons. Thanks for your support! And also, thanks to Matthew Johnson for the image of the artificer Ink Narathun that opens this article! 

IFAQ: Buried Treasures

Devin, a simple goblin tailor, as illustrated by Matthew Johnson.

The year is coming to a close, but there’s still time to answer an interesting question posed by one of my Patreon supporters…

What sort of legendary buried treasures might Eberron have stories about? Where might they be located? My players are big fans of the One Piece series, and expressed interest in looking for treasure on the scale of the in-universe “one piece,” said to be so grand that it could set you and your family up for the rest of your bloodline. Are there any hidden treasures of this variety that would be whispered in taverns and told between crews over pints of ale?

Buried or otherwise, legendary lost treasures are a great trope for setting a campaign in motion. From One Piece to The Hobbit to Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s an easy drive for story. This doesn’t have to be driven by greed; just comparing those three examples, the quest for treasure could be driven by the status that will accompany the recovery of the treasure, by a rightful claim to the wealth, or by the desire to keep a dangerous artifact out of the hands of people who will abuse it. Regardless of whether the adventurers are driven by pure self-interest or whether they’re serving a greater good, a grand quest for a legendary treasure can be a solid drive for adventure.

So… what are some legendary treasures of Eberron? Let’s consider a few, canonical and otherwise.

TREBAZ SINARA. The island of Trebaz Sinara was Lhazaar’s seat in life and her home in death, and its vaults held the treasures and tribute she gathered in her decades as the pirate queen. Her heirs followed in this tradition, adding vast wealth and extravagant tombs… and each one did something to add to the security of the island. Lystara the Red bargained with one of the Lords of Dust and established a deadly demonglass reef—a maze that can gut a ship from below. Hungry Lhazaan imported the most terrifying monsters from across the world to guard the shores. Duros the Wise worked with the greatest mages of the age to add arcane wards and traps to the halls and tombs of Trebaz Sinara. And Astalaar—the last pirate queen to rule from Trebaz—well, no one knows exactly what she did. Astalaar swore that no one would ever steal her treasures after her death, and no one has… because since the moment of her death, no one has set foot on Trebaz Sinara. Most ships that enter the demonglass maze around Trebaz Sinara never return. But a few captains claim to have safely navigated the maze and its monsters, only to find themselves on the opposite side of the island. In 997 Koulton Brightwind sought to land on Trebaz Sinara using a stolen airship; his vessel barely survived the unnatural storms that rose up, and despite pressing through them Koulton was unable to find the island. Trebaz Sinara is a large island, and people can safely sail around it, but something prevents anyone from landing on it. Has the island been shifted to another plane? Is it simply concealed from any ship that lacks the proper enchantments? The truth remains a mystery. But Trebaz Sinara holds the treasures of a dynasty of legendary pirates, including the crown jewels of Lhazaar herself.

The first challenge to Trebas Sinara is finding the island itself—discovering what Astalaar did to conceal it and how to overcome its defenses. Once this is accomplished, however, it will still take a very capable ship and crew to thread the needle of the stormlashed demonglass maze (an airship is an option, but as Prince Brightwind can attest, the supernatural storms make this a dangerous choice!). And making landfall on Trebaz Sinara is just the start of the story, as the isle is home to countless monsters, and every tomb has its own host of traps. A party of treasure hunters could simply snatch all that they could carry and flee back to sea. But Trebaz Sinara was the seat of Lhazaar herself, and if someone claimed Lhazaar’s crown and her ancient keep they would be in a powerful position to challenge Rygar for the title of High Prince of the Lhazaar Principalities; the wealth of Sinara could be enough to jumpstart a new nation.

RED KNIGHT. During the Last War, House Cannith established a number of hidden forgeholds where they worked on military projects of the utmost importance. Some of these are relatively well known within the house, such as the Whitehearth facility that plays a role in Shadows of the Last War. But there’s another forgehold whose existence was hidden not only from the Twelve, but even from the Lords Seneschal of House Cannith. Red Knight was personally established by Starrin d’Cannith. It’s existence was only revealed after a team of adventurers recovered one of Starrin’s journals from the ruins of Metrol; potentially, this could have been the work of the player characters, either before the campaign begins (it’s a prelude that the PCs were brought together to work on this Metrol job, and their success is what leads to the ongoing campaign) or potentially as their first adventure. Regardless of how they come by it, Starrin’s journal reveals the existence of Red Knight, a forgehold isolated even from House Cannith, where the Gorgon was working on his most cutting edge, dangerous experiments. Unfortunately, the journal is damnably vague about what those experiments were. It’s possible that Red Knight holds the secret to the Mourning, or that it houses some other weapon of incalculable power. But it could be that its research was focused in an entirely different direction, but one that could be equally world-shaking. Perhaps Red Knight holds the prototype for a teleportation network (that doesn’t need House Orien), or a reliable resurrection creche (with no need for House Jorasco). Maybe Starrin found a way to create portals to other iterations of Eberron lost in the Maze of Realities. Perhaps he was harnessing the full power of an overlord… in which case, it could be that the accidental release of that overlord triggered the Mourning!

It could be that the adventurers learn of Red Knight on their own and choose to conceal this information from everyone else, not wanting anyone to know about it until they’ve found it and learned exactly what it contains. On the other hand, every power player in Eberron would jump at the chance to seize this hidden facility. All three Cannith factions would be desperate to acquire it, as would the Aurum, the Dark Lanterns, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, the Blood of Vol, the Lord of Blades… so the question for the DM is who they want to be involved in the race. The initial challenge will be trying to locate the forgehold without revealing anything about it to the rest of the world. The secrets could be hidden in the Mournland (especially Eston or Making), but it’s possible that Merrix, Jorlanna and Zorlan have critical keys or pieces of information whose relevance they aren’t aware of. Once it’s located, bypassing the security of the forgehold will be an epic endeavor in its own right, as it will be defended by remarkable magic and cutting-edge constructs. The exact nature of the defenses could relate to the work being done there. If involves teleportation, it could exist in the astral or ethereal plane. If it deals with resurrection, it could have a staff of arcanists who are automatically reborn any time they die—similar to a lich’s phylactery only without death. If it’s tied to an overlord, Red Knight could be located in the heart demiplane of that overlord… and possibly been overrun by its minions. And if the adventurers succeed, the question rises again: do they take what they can carry and run? Do they destroy it so no one can harness its power? Or do they seek to operate it? If one of the player characters is a Cannith heir, do they work with one of the three aspiring barons, or do they make their own claim to reuniting the shaken house?

THE GRAVEDIGGER’S HOARD. As noted in this article, Hazcoranar the Gravedigger is a rogue black dragon infamous for looting treasures of fallen or falling human civilizations. He’s gathered artifacts from the Empire of Dhakaan, the Cul’sir Dominion, and the pre-Sundering kingdoms of Sarlona… not to mention pillaging battlefields during the Last War. There’s many accounts of priceless treasures stolen by the Gravedigger. But where does he keep his hoard? As a rogue, Hazcoranar isn’t welcome in Argonnessen. Which means his hoard is hidden somewhere where it could be found. The Gravedigger spends much of his time actively pillaging, and a clever group of adventurers could sneak in while the dragon is away. But would they take what they could and flee, spending the rest of their lives wondering when the Gravedigger would track them down? Or might they believe that they could fight the dragon and survive, claiming his lair as their spoils?

Hazcoranar’s hoard is an opportunity for a classic dragon’s lair tale. Somehow the adventurers stumble onto a secret leading them to his hoard… a map? A lone survivor of a previous expedition? A journal whose pages have been torn out and scattered? The lair could simply be isolated and well-hidden; or it could be in a demiplane or an extradimensional space, where the challenge isn’t simply finding it but finding out how to forge an arcane connection to it. Perhaps the adventurers find the back door and are able to sneak in and steal something while the dragon is away, but can they come up with a way to actually defeat the Gravedigger? Beyond that, what will they do with their spoils? Relics from ancient Xen’drik may not have any active claimants, but the treasures Hazcoronar stole from the Dhakaani or during the Last War could well have people eager to recover them; will the adventurers restore these relics to their rightful owners or claim their rights of salvage?

THE MOURNING VAULT. On a far smaller scale, countless noble families lost their estates and their treasures when the Mourning struck. If a Cyran adventurer has the Noble background, they could have just such an estate in the Mournlands. Perhaps they discover the existence of a vault they never knew about—an ancestral hoard hidden beneath their estate, holding treasures that are rightfully theirs. This is smaller and more manageable that some of the earlier ideas. The adventurer knows exactly where their estate is. The challenge is that it’s in the Mournland. They will have to cross the untold dangers of the Mournland to reach it, and there’s no telling how the estate itself has been transformed. There’s also the question of whether the vault holds secrets about the character’s family they themselves never knew… in which case, the recovering of the first treasure could just be a stepping stone toward the next phase of the campaign. There’s also the question of whether the noble will just claim the treasure as their rightful due, or whether they will use it to try to help New Cyre or other refugees. Nonetheless, this is a concept that is smaller and more manageable than some of the preceeding ideas—it’s a treasure that the adventurers COULD recover and take away without it being the end of their lives as professional adventurers, or threatening the balance of power of a region.

These are four solid ideas. But this is still just scratching the surface. A few more to consider…

  • The Imperial Treasury. The legendary vault of the last emperor of Dhakaan. Of course, this is vitally important to all of the Heirs of Dhakaan…
  • The Orb of Dol Azur. This isn’t a HOARD, but rather a singular lost treasure. It’s said to be the treasure that caused the Mockery to betray his siblings, an object of immeasurable power. One possibility is that it is the eye of the overlord Katashka; depending on the path of a campaign, it could have the abilities of either the Wand of Orcus or the Eye of Vecna. In any case, this is a solid option for a legendary TREASURE that could be sought by Antus ir’Soldorak, Lady Illmarrow, or other powerful and dangerous people.
  • Noldrunhold. The dwarves of Clan Noldrun mysteriously vanished. The riches of their hold remain, for anyone willing to brave the strange terrors that lurk in the Realm Below. This is another case where the location is KNOWN, it’s just DANGEROUS… likewise, like the Mourning Vault, it’s less that there is one singular treasure hoard and more that the wealth of an entire wealthy hold is spread out below… UNLESS it’s been gathered and concentrated by some foul creature in the darkness over these many centuries.
  • The Demon’s Trove. During the Sundering, refugees fled from Ohr Kaluun to Khorvaire. Some landed in the Demon Wastes and became Carrion Tribes. Some crossed safely to establish the Venomous Demesne. But surely some ships didn’t survive the journey. What Kaluunite artifacts and treasures were lost in the Barren Sea?
  • The Heart of Siberys. The RTS game Dragonshard dealt with an alliance from Khorvaire seeking to recover a massive dragonshard from a dangerous region of Xen’drik, contending both with the scales set to guard it and a force of Umbragen drow with their own plans for the Heart. The Heart of Siberys isn’t a traditional TREASURE, as it’s a massive geological feature; but Dragonshard is still a campaign driven by a race to claim an object of great power that’s located in a dangerous, inaccessible region.

The list goes on! The Lair of the Keeper, the master vault of House Kundarak, the hoard of Hassalac Chaar or the lich Gath… I’m going to stop here, but I hope this gives you some ideas.

Any of these treasures could start a campaign rolling. A few things to consider…

  • Do the adventurers have a patron supporting their quest, or are they operating on their own?
  • Do the adventurers or their patron have a rightful claim to the treasure? If they don’t, does anyone?
  • Is anyone else actively searching for the treasure? If so, are they aware of the PCs, and will clashes between them be a regular part of the story?
  • Is the primary challenge locating the treasure, or is that only one piece of the puzzle? Perhaps the key to the vault was carried by a lycanthrope who fled into Lamannia during the Silver Crusade, or the five seals of Trebaz Sinara are described in five scrolls that are in the collections of different Aurum Concordians…
  • Once the adventurers HAVE the treasure, is it just a question of dividing it up and carrying on with life? If it’s a case of grabbing something and running this might be true. But if the wealth involved is truly vast, the next phase of the campaign could be about MANAGING it, and what the adventurers choose to do with the influence that it gives them—such as if they want to use the Mourning Vault to help New Cyre or to claim the crown of a united Lhazaar Principalities!

There’s only a few hours left in 2023, and this is all I have time for. I hope it gives you somethign to work with! And again, my deepest thanks to my Patrons who have supported my in 2023. It’s been a hard year, and this support is the only thing that allows me to spend time continuing to explore Eberron. In addition to asking questions, patrons have access to live and recorded Q&A sessions and the opportunity to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign. If that sounds interesting, check it out. And regardless, happy New Year!!!

IFAQ: Kalashtar quest-givers, the Dreaming Dark, and Quori Minutiae

A young kalashtar holding a magical sucker and a ball of silver flame.
The kalashtar orphan Tari by Matthew Johnson.

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one from this month…

In a campaign in which the Dreaming Dark is the primary villain, would the Kalashtar be the right quest-givers? How aware are the Kalashtar of the schemes of the Dreaming Dark? How would Kalashtar or other NPCs learn of Dreaming Dark plots?

So first of all, this question is sort of like saying In a campaign in which the daelkyr are the primary villains, would the orcs be the right quest-givers? To which the answer is that Gatekeepers would be the most likely quest givers. Ghaash’kala orcs, Jhorash’tar orcs, a Tharashk inquisitive working the mean streets of Sharn—they’re not going to know anything about the daelkyr. This is key here because the automatic answer is that followers of the Path of Light are an excellent option for drawing adventurers into the schemes of the Dreaming Dark. But not all kalashtar follow the Path of Light, and even among those that do there are different approaches among the faithful. A few quick points to keep in mind…

  • The kalashtar have been separated from Dal Quor for almost two thousand years. The rebel quori escaped Dal Quor before Riedra existed as a nation. So it’s not like they split off a few years ago and have lots of inside info. Especially because…
  • The kalashtar don’t dream in Dal Quor. Contrary to popular belief, kalashtar DO dream. Their dreams are formed from their own memories and subconscious and those of their linked quori spirit. But because they don’t dream in Dal Quor, they can’t be affected by dream and more important, they can’t actually spy on the Dreaming Dark in Dal Quor. Within Adar, there are human devotees of the Path of Light who are trained to serve as dream-spies, going where kalashtar can’t. So the Adaran Path of Light has access to some inside information, but that’s because of their human agents.
  • Kalashtar can’t usually talk to their quori. Kalashtar don’t have casual conversations with their guiding spirits; instead, they are guided by instincts and visions. It’s something that could happen under exceptional circumstances. The most common would be a kalashtar spellcaster framing their divination magic as communicating with their quori, but as a DM you could have a kalashtar get a direct message from its quori in a dream vision or something similar. But it’s not normal. The kalashtar feel the presence of their guiding spirit, but they can’t just say “Ashana, tell me everything you know about the Dreaming Dark“… and likewise, it’s possible for an orphan kalashtar to fail to recognize the nature of their spirit, just believing they have interesting dreams and strong hunches.
  • Kalashtar are at least latently psionic and could be sensitive to psychic disturbances. And this can be a key to the adventure hook. Kalashtar don’t have a direct backdoor into the plans of the Dreaming Dark. But the Path of Light is aware of the Dreaming Dark, and kalashtar in general may be able to sense when something is off—when quori have been manipulating emotions, mind seeding people, etc. This isn’t something concrete or reliable like a paladin’s Divine Sense. But as a story device, a DM could certainly say You feel something wrong here, Virashana… a pervasive, unnatural sense of despair. You can feel Ashana’s concern. This same concept can easily be used as a basis for kalashtar quest-givers. They don’t KNOW the plans of the Dreaming Dark, but they feel that something is wrong… can you investigate, adventurer?

So keeping that in mind, let’s revisit the question… In a campaign about fighting the Dreaming Dark, would kalashtar be the right quest givers? They COULD be, but what that would look like would depend on the individual. A key point here is that as a DM running a long term campaign I’m usually not going to start by stating on day one The Dreaming Dark are infiltrating House Cannith and planning to create an army of warforged vessels they’ll use to conquer Khorvaire! What I want is for the players to learn about the Dreaming Dark and their greater scheme organically… to interfere with a minor scheme and then slowly get pulled deeper and deeper into it. My novel series The Dreaming Dark deals with, surprise, a scheme by the Dreaming Dark. But they don’t even get MENTIONED in Book One; there’s simply an incident in which the protagonists cross paths with a kalashtar. In Book Two the character returns to help them with a problem and avoiding spoilers, the story evolves from there. So this is a case where a kalashtar drives the story… but she doesn’t just show up in Book One and say “You must come with me now to fight the Dreaming Dark!

Taking all that in mind, let’s consider three different kalashtar, any of which could be PCs or NPC quest givers.

TARI (pictured above) is an orphan who grew up in the Shadow Marches. They’ve never met another kalashtar and didn’t know the word until someone else used it to describe them; they still don’t really know what that means. They know nothing about the Dreaming Dark or the Path of Light, and have instead found their way to the Silver Flame. Mechanically they are a divine soul sorcerer, with their powers flavored as a blend of silver fire (guiding bolt, sacred flame) and psychic influence (charm person, hold person, detect thoughts). The idea is that all of this is largely intuitive, driven by their compassionate spirit and their unrecognized link to their quori. Tari is better suited to being a PC than an NPC; part of the point of the character is that they are connected to powerful forces they don’t yet fully understand, and that they can receive guidance and visions from both the Flame and their quori. So as a PC, Tari COULD lead the other adventurers into a scenario with the Dreaming Dark, but the idea is that they wouldn’t know what they were getting into… they’d just know that something is wrong and needs to be investigated, and THEY would learn about the Dreaming Dark along with the other adventurers as they dig deeper into the adventure.

VIRASHANA is a kalashtar soulknife rogue from Breland. She was raised in the Path of Light and knows its traditions, and if she’s in Sharn she knows people in Overlook; but overall she operates alone. She’s what the Path calls a Shadow Watcher—someone who seeks to fight evil directly and forcefully. When she was young, the kalashtar coummunity she was part of was targeted by the Dreaming Dark and her father was killed by an Inspired mindstealer. Now she craves vengeance and has devoted her life to identifying and eliminating mind seeds and other agents of the Dreaming Dark in Khorvaire.

Virashana could absolutely draw adventurers into a story, but she would likely be acting alone: she’s been conducting a personal investigation and she’s identified a threat, and she needs back-up. This story is stronger if one of the player characters has a pre-existing connection to Vira, and even if they’ve never met IN THE CAMPAIGN, this is where I might draw on a character’s background and work with the player to develop a story. Perhaps a Folk Hero, Inquisitive, or former Sentinel Martial once teamed up with Virashana to catch a murderer driven by nightmares. Maybe a former Spy got an unexpected assist from Virashana after his handler mysteriously turned on him (due to a mind seed). If the player is up for it, I might ask them to tell me about the time Virashana saved their life… establishing that she’s a mysterious woman with psychic knives who helped you out with some creepy dream business.

The main point is that Virashana can get a story rolling with her investigation, and she can share general knowledge about the Dreaming Dark, but she’s never been to Adar, she’s never actually met a Riedran Inspired, and she’s not connected to a larger network of kalashtar. She’s great for getting adventurers involved in a small, targeted scenario that will later be revealed as part of something larger. She’ll show up and say Good to see you again, Daine. What’s it been—five years since that ugly business in the Cogs? Well, it’s happening again… something to do with House Deneith. You and your friends free tonight? Dress for the sewers. She’s following a lead, she doesn’t have a lot of information, and she’s going to get her hands dirty whether you join in or not.

ALARKHAD is a kalashtar monk from Adar, sent by the elders to serve as a Lightbringer—combating the Dreaming Dark and other malevolent forces by inspiring the people around him to be better and generally bringing more light into the world. While I’ve described him as a “monk”, mechanically he’s a bard; his Inspiration and bardic magic (mainly enchantment and divination spells) are presented as psionic powers. He can definitely serve as a patron for a group of adventurers. Like the character in my novel, he might just show up when the adventurers need guidance or healing, helping to remove a psychic “curse” one of the characters has been afflicted with in an encounter with quori vessel. Unlike Virashana, he is more likely to guide and advise. Coming from Adar, he has access to a deeper knowledge base and resources, but he dislikes direct, ruthless action and beyond that, he’ll need time both to come to trust the adventurers and to prepare them for the greater conflict that lies ahead.

So after helping them in a previous adventure, Alarkhad might approach the characters and say There is a malevolent force growing in Callestan. Speak to those who are suffering there, and look closely at the agents of House Tarkanan; I cannot say with certainty that they are the source of this corruption, but they may be. He isn’t coming along. He doesn’t actually have a personal stake beyond people are suffering. He’s just letting you know something is rotten in the district of Callestan and you need to check it out. It might not even BE related to the Dreaming Dark — but if you resolve the situation compassionately, he’ll conclude you have the skills and temperament to deal with the more serious scheme he’s aware of.

But what’s the Scheme?

If I’m running a campaign in which the Dreaming Dark are the major villains, I’ll start by coming up with their BIG GOAL. As I’ve said in other places, the first thing I’ll do is pick a catspaw. The Dreaming Dark established Riedra by turning all the existing powers against one another and then presenting the Inspired as unifying saviors. They convinced the people of Riedra to forge their own chains. In my campaign, if they want to conquer Khorvaire they’ll take the same approach. They’ll push the Five Nations to tear themselves apart (canonically, there’s lots of hints that they could have set the Last War in motion) and then present a savior to fill the role of the Inspired in Khorvaire… or, potentially, a different approach that still ends with a stable pacified population, such as an army of quori-possessed warforged. So, who’s the figurehead in this scheme? It could be the ruler of one of the Five Nations; a dragonmarked house; the Twelve; a new religion; an existing religion (new zeal for the Sovereign Host!); a political movement. Whatever this is, it’s going to be something I want to develop over time. I don’t want to send 1st level characters up against THE DREAMING DARK; I want them investigating something smaller. Identify a mind seed. Investigate the actions of a strange warforged that turns out to have an impossible design. Deal with a psychic plague spreading through a bad part of Sharn. Deal with a serial killer driven by dreams. These could be trial runs of something they intend to deploy later, or dominos whose impact won’t be seen until later (the serial killer causes fear in the area which makes people more willing to accept martial law when it’s proposed). This also means that when the player characters solve the problem, they aren’t actually drawing the wrath or attention of the Dreaming Dark. The psychic plague was a trial run; the warforged was a prototype; the serial killer already served his purpose. The adventurers have triumphed and done something good for their community, but the Dreaming Dark’s plan continues to unfold.

I’m creating a smol table for randomly generating Dreaming Dark schemes as a treat for my Patreon supporters (Inner Circle and above). If that sounds like fun, check out my Patreon!

This month, patrons also asked a questions about the Quori themselves…

Are there any Lluora Quori-inspired Chosen lines in Riedra? If yes, which branch of Riedra do they serve?

This is a VERY deep cut. The Lluora quori are an idea I suggest in this article, when someone asked if there could be a quori of sloth. Here’s what I said…

“Sloth” isn’t quite the right word for a quori. The general idea is that quori specialize in developing and manipulating particular emotions or moods. So the key is that this quori—which I’ll call the Lluora—doesn’t embody sloth itself; rather, it specializes in SAPPING MOTIVATION. Consider all the tools of procrastination—creating distracting tasks or options; causing the mortal to endlessly question their decisions, paralyzing them with self-doubt; causing them to question their end goal; encouraging Whataboutism and “Why bother doing anything when nothing will ever really change?” I don’t think they’d be common. One possibility is that they’d be a sort of jailor, trapping mortals in their own mental prisons and preventing them from ever building up the motivation to escape. Another is that they’d advise kalaraq, suggesting ways to undermine mortal motivation.

So sure, there could be a Lluora line. Which branch would they serve? One immediate option is THE GUIDING PATH. The Lluora essentially specialize in preventing progress and quelling resistance by dissolving the motivation to rebel. Another option is THE THOUSAND EYES, serving in the role of jailor described above. But also, it’s important to keep in mind that not every quori specializes in administering RIEDRA. This ties to theoretical quori who deal with greed or envy. There are quori who have no role in Riedra, because their role is to serve the Dreaming Dark as it plants roots in OTHER CULTURES. The lluora CAN help the Guiding Path sap motivation. But it’s going to have a far greater impact *working in the Five Nations* helping to undermine passion and drive. Riedra is a fairly stable machine at this point; it’s Khorvaire where there’s more need to actively inflame greed, doubt, envy, and more.

But there’s another point here. If you make a new type of quori and then aren’t sure how it fits into the Dreaming Dark’s activities on Eberron, remember that QUORI DON’T BELONG ON EBERRON. That’s not why they exist. They SHOULDN’T all have a role to play on Eberron, because THAT’S NOT WHERE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE. If you can think of a useful way the Dreaming Dark could use them in its schemes, that’s great. But they are supposed to have a role to play in DAL QUOR; whether there’s something for them to do on Eberron is entirely secondary.

Could you see there being 13-1 types of Quori? I wonder if it too many and I am not sure how make one of types missing.

No, personally I wouldn’t do this. The idea of a missing quori TYPE seems forced. If I was to push a Baker’s Dozen on the quori—and I probably WOULDN’T—I’d say that there are thirteen KALARAQ, but that Taratai is missing. But on reflection I think this is an unnecessary limitation. As for quori themselves, I think thirteen is too FEW. Consider how many different times of demons or devils exist! The ones we know may be the most common types, but I don’t feel a need to completely lock down how many strains there are; I like being able to add a new rare quori type if I think of something cool.

That’s all for now! I need to stockpile firewood for Long Shadows. Oh, with that in mind: I’ll be doing a live Q&A on Saturday, December 23rd at 9 AM Pacific Time for my Threshold patrons; the session will be recorded and made available to Inner Circle patrons after the fact. So, one more reason to check out my Patreon! Patreon support is what makes it possible for me to spend time on Eberron, so thanks to all of you who make this possible!