IFAQ: Transgender Visibility in Eberron?

Threshold’s Chronicler, by Julio Azevedo

Every month I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that came up this month…

In honor of the recent International Transgender Day of Visibility, are there any canonical NPCs you would consider being trans and/or nonbinary?

My immediate answer is every elf in Eberron, as called out in this article. Beyond that, however, this is a question where I’m far more interested in what other people have to say than in my own cisgendered opinion. Because the basic answer is that anyone could be. Exploring Eberron presents the idea that cosmetic transmutation is a safe and effective tool for transition. We’ve said that the people of Khorvaire are comfortable with gender fluidity and nonbinary identity—whether it’s the ongoing fluidity of a changeling or elf or a long-term decision. So the simple answer is that any canonical NPC COULD be transgender. But this in turn has a certain sense of “So what?” If Krozen transitioned when he was twenty but has identified as male for two decades, how exactly is it visible now? Should it even be called out now, given that Krozen is who they wish to be? I wonder if rather than “Which canonical NPCs transitioned in the past,” a more interesting question might be “Which canonical NPCs might transition in the future”—because to me, that’s what would make the story visible.

The short form is that I’m more interested in the answers of those who are living this experience than in my own ideas. Please share and discuss your thoughts—whether about canonical NPCs, transgender and nonbinary representation in Eberron in general, or experiences from your campaigns—in the comments. And while it’s not my work, I’d like to draw attention to Blessed of the Traveler, a DMs Guild book discussing this topic!

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE. I have never had to moderate comments on a post before, but I will be doing so on this post. I am asking for the input of people who are living this experience. Saying “I’m not trans and I don’t include any representation in my campaign” doesn’t add anything to this conversation, and instead further isolates people who are already isolated. This post isn’t going to force you to change how you DM. What it is—I hope—is for a chance for fellow gamers who normally feel unseen and unheard to share their experiences and to talk about how they would change the world. The question here is how do you include representation in your campaign; “I don’t” or “I won’t” aren’t useful contributions to this discussion and will be removed to keep things focused.

I have said before that in my campaign, “good” reflects empathy and compassion—our ability to understand the pain of others and the desire to avoid causing suffering. So please: be good. If the experiences of the people posting here are not your own, listen to them; this is not the time or the place to argue. Thank you all for your time, your energy, and your compassion.

IFAQ: Smalltown Karrnath, Ghallanda Scouts, and Speaking with the Dead!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from March!

Canonically, Karrnath has a significant halfling population. How does this affect its culture?

The cultures of the Five Nations are inherently cosmopolitan, woven from a tapestry of different species. Halflings make up a minimum of 4% of the population of all of the Five Nations, and have since the time of Galifar. So first and foremost, keep in mind that the culture of Karrnath as it is defined—a culture of martial discipline and warlords, the undercurrent of the Seekers—were all formed with halflings as part of that tapestry. There are halflings teaching at Rekkenmark and at the Atur Academy. The typical Karrnathi halfling is grim and stoic, and likely served in the military; a Thrane halfling is likely to be devoted to the Silver Flame; an Aundairian halfling may be a flamboyant wandslinger. They’re all halflings, but they’re also Karrns, Thranes, and Aundairians—and they are part of the gestalt that created those cultures to begin with.

With that said, Karrnath does indeed have a higher halfling percentage than most of the Five Nations—twice that of any other nation. So roughly half the halfling population of Karrnath reflects the typical widespread presence of haflings throughout Galifar, halflings who identify culturally as Karrns. But that leaves another 5% of the population. These halflings are concentrated in southeastern Karrnath, along the always loosely-defined border with the Talenta Plains. This region has a tumultous history. Before Galifar, there were times when Karrn warlords subjugated nomad tribes, and there were times when Talenta raiders struck deep into Karrnath. Galifar and modern Karrnath largely brought an end to both extremes, but also established this region as a buffer zone. Some nomad tribes chose to settle in the area, adopting agriculture and swearing fealty to warlords in exchange for protection and support. In the present day, these still exist. These small towns are communities that are almost entirely comprised of halflings, whose people think of themselves as Karrns but still retain some elements of the Talenta faith, speak both Common and Halfling in everyday life, and who may domesticate fastieth, glidewings, or hammertails.

In the wake of the Last War, this region has taken on new significance. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “… to curb continued aggression from the Valenar elves, Karrnath has established a separate alliance with the halfling clans of the Talenta Plains. This alliance has allowed Karrnathi troops to set up forts in halfling territory for the mutual protection of both nations.” So the buffer zone of halfling communities has existed for centuries, but in the wake of the Last War and this alliance, you have new Talenta tribes choosing to settle in this buffer region and adopting this hybrid lifestyle, as well as nomadic tribes who have shifted their migratory routes to pass through southern Karrnath, taking advantage of the alliance. Essentially, the border between Karrnath and the Talenta Plains is a spectrum whose inhabitants blend the traditions of both cultures. You have halflings who consider themselves Karrns and who are legally Karrnathi citizens, but who still maintain a number of Talenta tradititions (as well as unique traditions that have evolved through the merging of the two cultures)—and you also have nomads who consider themselves Talenta and aren’t Karrnathi citizens, but who are allowed to dwell in southwestern Karrnath due to the current alliance.

So small towns are Karrnathi communities—some of which have been around for centuries—and Karrns of any species are welcome in them. However, the practical fact is that these are mostly small communities, figuratively and literally; they are built by small humanoids for small humanoids. Medium humanoids can usually find shelter in a barn or church, and some villages have a dwarf or human family who may allow medium travelers to stay with them; but overall, these communities are on a smaller scale than the human-built Karrn towns. While many are small in population as well as scale, there are a few small towns of significant size along the Vulyar-Irontown road. The most notable of these is Sorallandan, a town of over ten thousand that has significant outposts of both House Ghallanda and House Jorasco; Sorallandan is a Halfling word meaning “The Hope For Comfort At The End Of A Lengthy Journey.”

Are there halfling warlords in Karrnath, or are these small towns governed by warlords of other species?

It’s a mix. The small towns around Odakyr and Vulyar owe fealty to human warlords, who are content to let the villages follow their own traditions as long as they meet their commitments as vassals. However, there are two domains along the stretch of land between Vulyar and Irontown that are held by halfling warlords. One of these warlord families—the Toralamars—were raised from the small towns centuries ago; Sorallandan is the Toralamar seat, and the family is committed to maintaining the traditions of the towns and ongoing cultural exchange with the Plains. By contrast, the Warlord Asta Vanalan commanded Fort Deepdark during final decade of the Last War, and Kaius recognized her service by granting her dominion over the nearby lands previously ruled by the ir’Jennrei line; while this technically ennobles her, Vanalan rarely employs the ir’ honorific. The Vanalan family has deep roots in Rekkenmark, and Asta is working to impose more traditional Karrnathi culture on the small towns within her domain; this includes an effort to convince Karrns from the west to resettle in the region. As a warlord, Asta has passed the daily duties of command of Deepdark to Brandin ir’Dulinch, but Deepdark remains the seat of her power.

Is there a group of kids in Khorvaire who wear sashes and sell cookies?

The first one that comes to mind are the Ghallanda Scouts. This organization is run by the Hosteler’s Guild of House Ghallanda. The mission of the Ghallanda Scouts is to build confidence and character. The primary focus is on wilderness skills—sharing the Talentan heritage of the house with all who wish to learn. However, it’s also well known for selling cookies, which both helps to raise funds and to hone business skills. Ghallanda Scout programs can be found anywhere where the house has a presence, and all children are welcome to participate; it’s not limited to halflings or Ghallanda heirs. If a character has the Outlander backgrounds, they could have been raised in the wild… or they could be a Sharn native who loved their time in the Ghallanda Scouts; just swap “A trophy from an animal you killed” for “A collection of merit badges.”

How common is the practice of Speak With Dead in the Five Nations?

There’s a few different aspects to this. Speak with dead is a service that exists in Khorvaire; the list of magewrights on page 318 of Rising From The Last War includes a medium who can perform Speak With Dead as a ritual, and elsewhere we mention a member of the Blackened Book—the mystical division of the Sharn Watch—using it as part of an investigation. So it’s a tool that is used in law enforcement, and I’ve previously mentioned it as a tool that would be used in archaeology. With that said, it’s not commonplace in the Five Nations, for a few key reasons.

  • It’s difficult and expensive. Third level spells are at the top tied of what’s commonly encountered as “everyday magic” and according to Rising, you’d have to pay a medium 100 gp to perform the ritual.
  • It doesn’t actually contact the spirit of the victim. You are drawing on trace memories attached to the corpse; you aren’t drawing their spirit back from Dolurrh. So it’s an effective way to gather information, but it’s not like you can have a normal conversation with your dead grandpa because you miss him.
  • It has to be cast on a corpse. Followers of the Silver Flame typically cremate their dead. Vassals bury them and generally don’t look kindly on people digging their relatives up. It’s typically used by investigators before corpses are buried; at the very least, you’re going to have to file some paperwork to get dispensation to dig up a corpse for questioning. Which ties to the fact that…
  • The people of the Five Nations don’t like necromancy. It’s not outlawed—and again, speak with dead is definitely used by investigators and archaeologists—but in the Five Nations, people think talking to skulls is CREEPY, and digging up the dead is worse.

So speak with dead exists and is used in the Five Nation, but it’s primarily used as an investigative tool prior to burial or as a scholarly tool on remains that have been recovered. Having said that, let’s talk about the exceptions.

Medium is listed as a magewright specialty. Magewrights have limited spell selection and can only cast spells as rituals, but they can also produce effects that are more dramatic than the standard spells. A magewright medium can certainly perform the standard speak with dead ritual—but a skilled medium can do more than that. In my campaign, a skilled medium can cast speak with dead without access to the corpse, provided they have access to strong emotional anchors—objects that were important to the deceased, and most of all, a living person with a connection to them. This is like a classic seance; it is a slow, lengthy process and the people who are close to the deceased have to actively participate in it.

If the deceased person hasn’t been dead for long, such a ritual may actually be able to reach their spirit in Dolurrh; but remember that spirits in Dolurrh are afflicted with ennui and are constantly losing their memories, so the longer they’ve been dead, the less of them will be left. The spell description notes that “Answers are usually brief, cryptic, or repetitive, and the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer.” In the case of reaching a spirit still in Dolurrh I’d require a skill check on the part of the medium (Arcana or Religion) and a Charisma check on the part of the petitioner—with advantage or disadvantage based on their relationship to the deceased and how long they’ve been dead; a good result on both checks might be able to give a semblance of actually having a conversation with the deceased. Of course, the other side of this is that there are some mediums who are simply charlatans—who use detect thoughts to determine what the petitioner wants to hear, and illusion magic to put on a spookshow.

The Seekers of the Divinity WithinAKA the Blood of Vol—have skilled necromancers and no sentimental attachment to corpses. In some Seeker communities, the skulls of people seen as particularly wise or who possess valuable information will be preserved in a sort of library ossuary, allowing a necromancer to consult them with questions. However, this is just standard speak with dead, not something more dramatic like the spirit idols of Aerenal. Mediums can draw on the trace memories that remain in the skulls, but they aren’t actually speaking to the spirits of the deceased.

Meanwhile, when you go to Aerenal speak with dead is a very common tool—but in Aerenal, spirits of the dead are often preserved in spirit idols that prevent them from the dissolution of Dolurrh. When interacting with a spirit idol, speak with dead allows the caster to have an actual conversation with the deceased spirit; it’s not limited to five questions, and provided the spirit likes the questioner, answers don’t need to be cryptic or short.

That’s all for now! If you’d like to present questions for future articles, join my Patreon—thanks to my patrons for their questions and support! I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss these ideas and what you’ve done in your campaign in the comments!

IFAQ: Nationalism, Ancient Sailors, Merfolk and Masked Fey

Every month, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few that came up this month!

What is the basis of nationalism in Khorvaire? Everyone speaks Common. Ethnicity doesn’t seem to be a factor, considering that you can be Brelish while being a dwarf or elf, let alone human. If it’s about shared history and traditions, can an Aundairian adopt Brelish ways and become a Brelishman? If an overwrought Sword of Liberty is setting out on a terror campaign against foreigners, what is he looking for to determine who is and isn’t a “foreigner”?

First, let’s talk about language—something I did in this article. One of the basic points is that the Common tongue is an artificial construct we use because it makes stories easier; it’s not especially FUN to have the story come grinding to a halt because no one speaks Karrnathi. So, everyone in the Five Nations speaks Common. But as I note in that article…

I prefer to limit the number of languages I use, but also to play up the idea of regional dialects and slang. Common draws on all of the old languages of pre-Riedran Sarlona, so you can definitely get variation from place to place. When the paladin from Thrane is in a small Karrnathi village, he might have to make an Intelligence check to perfectly understand the conversation of the locals or a Charisma check to communicate clearly… unless, of course, he has a local guide to help out. It allows for the challenge and potential humor of limited communication while still allowing for the possibility of communication with no help. If a character has the Linguist feat or is from the region, I’d allow them to act as that local guide — so we’ve got a little fun flavor because the Karrn PC can joke with the locals at the expense of the Thrane.

Then there’s this article on “The People of the Five Nations.” A key note: “Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your ACCENT, ATTITUDE and FASHION.” (highlights added). So again, everyone may be speaking Common, but in my campaign, unless someone is actively trying to disguise it it’s obvious from their accent where they’re from (unless part of their story is “I went to Arcanix and worked hard to ditch my small-town Brelish accent.”)

To look to a real world example, consider the US Civil War. Consider how people in a small town in Mississippi would feel about someone from New York City moving into town four years after the war. He might look just like most of the townsfolk; he might even have a great-grandfather from the town. But he doesn’t dress like them, he doesn’t sound like them, he doesn’t share their customs, and the people in the town lost a lot of good boys in the war. Even if that outsider does his best to lose his accent and to adopt local customs…. do you think the locals will say “Oh, that’s OK then?” Or might some of them even be angrier, thinking he’s mocking them?

So: it’s NOT about blood. You can be a Brelish dwarf or a Brelish elf. It’s about customs. It’s about the way you speak and the sound of your name. It’s about your values and your traditions. Can you quote Beggar Dane? Are you willing to help a friend pull one over on the tax collectors? If you ditch everything about you that defines you as Cyran, then congratulations, they might even let you join the Swords of Liberty. But that’s not something most Cyrans WANT to do; the people of High Walls and New Cyre believe that they WILL regain their nation, and they are proudly holding on to their accents and their customs. And that draws the ire of the Swords of Liberty.

Why are merfolk native to Lamannia? In my musings about them, they seem to be (in our real-life mythology) more akin to dryads and other fey spirits.

In OUR world, merfolk are mythological. In Eberron—or in Fifth Edition in general—they’re not. A dryad isn’t a natural creature; it’s fey, and part of what that means its that it’s not bound by the limits of nature. Many fey are essentially immortal. They don’t reproduce in the way humanoids do, and for the most part, they don’t evolve. There’s no nation of dryads in Eberron; where they are found, they are tied to their stories, and time essentially passes through them.

None of this is true of the merfolk of Eberron or Lamannia. They’re not fey; they’re humanoids. They live, they raise families, they die. Those that live in Lamannia are influenced by the primal nature of the plane. According to Exploring Eberron,There are merfolk in Eberron—such as the Kalamer of the Thunder Sea—but their people began in the Endless Ocean of Lamannia, and are still found there. These primordial merfolk remain close to their elemental roots and instincts. They wield druidic magic, but don’t craft tools or structures. Other humanoid natives of Lamannia are much the same; any race with a strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but they’re driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization.” But once they arrived in Eberron, they evolved and they changed. The Kalamer of Eberron have many distinct cultures, and Karakala engages in diplomacy and trade with the other nations of the Thunder Sea. If you have an immortal siren who has nothing better to do than sit on a rock and lure sailors to their doom, that could be a Thelanian fey who happens to have the general appearance of a merfolk. But that’s the point—it would be fey, content to play out this somewhat pointless role for centuries. So you could definitely have fey that LOOK like merfolk—but that’s not what the Kalamer are.

Regarding Fey—many of the Archfey lords, especially in your novels, have masks hiding their faces but the enchanted disguises still move with emotions. Was there anything in particular that inspired this custom for Eberron fey of importance?

It largely ties to the idea that the Archfey are STORIES rather than PEOPLE. The stories inspired by the Lady in Shadow can be found among the dar, the dwarves, and humanity; the Lady herself isn’t human, dwarf, or dar. With some Archfey I’ve suggested that people see them in different ways, interpreting them in a familiar form; others appear masked, leaving what lies beneath to the viewer’s imagination. At the same time, the masks generally animate because the point of the mask isn’t to conceal emotion; it’s to leave room for the viewer to add details.

With some groups like elves and gnomes sailing the seas at the same time as Rhiavaar slaver ships, it would be interesting to know what impact or presence western Sarlona had on eastern Khorvaire. Would the Zil merchants have been surprised by human ships coming west?

So first of all, it’s important to keep in mind that we’re discussing events that occurred thousands of years ago, are almost entirely undocumented, and that have a minimal impact on any modern nation. So the discussion is extremely hypothetical. Having said that that, let’s talk about what ways going on in the Lhazaar Sea when Lhazaar showed up. First of all: Lhazaar wasn’t the first Sarlonan human to land in the region that now bears her name. She was the first to lead a serious, large-scale force there… but the reason they were willing to take that risk was because they knew of the land from other Rhiavhaarans who’d made the crossing and even established outposts on some of the islands. Essentially, Lhazaar was coming because it was clear there was profit to be made. Keep in mind that at this time, Rhiavhaar wasn’t some sort of disciplined empire. Rhiavhaarans were known as coastal reavers and pirates, and when asking “what ships did they attack with their piracy” — in part they clashed with vessels from the Syrkarn nations, but they also clashed with OTHER RHIAVHAARANS; the Provinces of Riedra article notes that during the Sundering, the Dreaming Dark brought down Rhiavhaar by exacerbating existing clan feuds. Part of what was remarkable about Lhazaar’s expedition was the number of people she convinced to work together.

The original question asks if Zil merchants were surprised by humans arriving, because they were trading with the Mror. But the Zil WEREN’T trading with the Mror before Lhazaar, because Zilargo didn’t exist then. Per this canon article, Zilargo specifically formed in response to Malleon’s reaving along the southern coast. Exploring Eberron notes that humanity largely ignored the Mror until Galifar, while “Zil explorers” came to Mror in the time known as Dul Krok—the time in which humanity was spreading across Khorvaire. There may have been a few ships from Trolanport exploring the east coast when Lhazaar arrived, but Zilargo as we know it didn’t even exist and didn’t yet have established trade with the Mror. Likewise, the Aereni have always been insular. I expect the Aereni traded with Khunan and Sunyagir, so their ships would have clashed with Rhiavhaaran pirates in the south, but I doubt they would have been frequently encountered in the current region of the Lhazaar Principalities. So around the time Lhazaar landed, most likely the majority of the sea traffic in the region would have been other Rhiavhaarans, either opportunist raiders or smaller-scale settlers.

What kinds of alcohol / drinks are popular in Adar?

Alcohol exists in Adar, but it isn’t especially remarkable or beloved. The more distinctive regional beverage is varit, pure water infused with a liquid form of sentira that conveys a pure emotion. Why get drunk when you can simply drink joy? Pure varit is quite intense, so it’s usually watered down; a few drops in tal to start the day off with a positive feeling. For the most part, Adaran varit is distilled from positive feelings, but there’s a distillery in Raan that specializes in sorrow, for those who wish to wallow in grief. As it hasn’t been mentioned canonically, I don’t think it’s currently well known in Khorvaire. I’d think imported varit would be a rare and exotic beverage—the sort of thing Aurum concordians would brag about drinking—but that there could be varit distilleries starting up in Overlook or other Adaran communities.

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss these ideas or to share what you’ve done with any of these things in the comments, but as this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering further questions on these topics. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions!

IFAQ: Cartomancy in Khorvaire

This is Caron Ellis’s work from Illimat, but it would certainly fit in an Aundairian oracle deck.

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This one has come up a few times…

Are there any cultures within Khorvaire that particularly utilize the Tarokka style deck? Is this associated with a dragonmarked house, magewrights, or something else?

Eberron: Rising From The Last War includes “oracle” as one of the possible specialties for magewrights; as presented, they can cast augury and divination as rituals. I expand on this in Exploring Eberron:

At DM discretion, a magewright’s spells may have expanded—or limited—effects. Consider what it takes to make a spell a viable commercial service. For example, augury only allows the caster to predict events 30 minutes in the future—useful for adventurers in the midst of a dungeon, but not for the farmer wanting an opinion on planting crops. A professional oracle might be able to predict woe or weal anywhere from a day to a week in advance—but such an oracle could have very specific limitations, such as only being able to make predictions related to to weather or agriculture. As a DM, use the existing spells as a model, but adjust them as necessary to create a viable business.

This is one place where I’d draw a sharper line than usual between magewrights (who employ arcane science) and adepts (who perform divine rituals). As a 2nd level spell, augury is in the range of everyday magic; as a 4th level spell divination is a little beyond it. With this in mind, I’d be inclined to either say that only the most exceptional magewright oracles can perform divination, or that they can only perform a narrow version of it, as described above. While for adepts I’d be inclined to say that they can cast augury at will but that divination is less predictable; they can pray on a thing, but sometimes answers come and sometimes they don’t… and sometimes, an adept oracle receives answers to questions without even asking them. It’s faith, not science.

So: Oracles can be found across Khorvaire, and they can cast augury and divination. But what does this LOOK like? The rules gives us the mechanics of spells, but flavor is something we have to add. Take fireball. Typically we think of a wizard raising a hand and calling out a word of power to produce a blast of fire from thin air. On the other hand, an artificer who employs alchemist’s supplies as their spellcasting focus could describe casting a fireball as hastily assembling a magical Molotov cocktail. It’s the same spell, but the flavor is completely different. The same definitely holds true here. An adept oracle might light incense and pray throughout their ritual time, seeking the answer within. A magewright oracle could employ bones, tea leaves, or unquestionably, cards—and I think there are oracular traditions that use all of those tools on Khorvaire.

We’ve never discussed cartomancy in any canon source that I’m aware of, but I’ve always assumed that it exists. A key question is how do people think the cards work? What power is guiding the cards? Let’s look at a few possibilities and where they’d fit.

The Draconic Prophecy. Eberron HAS the idea of a vast power that can be used to shape or predict the future, and it’s easy to imagine a deck of cards that’s seen as a lens for drawing guidance from the Draconic Prophecy. Personally I’d say that this is a very limited lens—peeking at the Prophecy through a hole in a piece of cardboard, no match for the vast observatories and tools employed by the Lords of Dust and the Chamber—but still useful as a tool for everyday life and a reliable way of casting divination. Personally, I would imagine this using a blend of the Sovereigns, Progenitors, and Planes as the arcana. To me, this would be the Rider-Waite of the Five Nations—a standard deck employed across the nations. Let’s call it the Golden Deck or the Dragon Deck (when it depicts the Sovereigns as dragons).

Sul Khatesh. The Keeper of Secrets loves esoteric rituals and people seeking forbidden knowledge. The Deck of Shadows is said to have been created by Hektula, and it uses overlords and archfiends as its arcana. It has a sinister reputation and is said to reveal painful secrets and things people don’t want known—all catering to Sul Khatesh’s love of people fearing magic. So this is found across Khorvaire, but it’s not a deck people will use in nice neighborhoods.

Thelanis. The spirits speak through the cards, and in this case the spirits are the archfey of Thelanis. The Deck of Stories is most commonly used in Aundair—where there’s long-standing traditions of dealing with the fey—but it can be found across the Five Nations.

Xoriat. It’s said the artist who drew the first tohiish dooval deck gouged out his eyes before sketching the cards. The images on the cards are unnerving, abstract designs; it’s not unlike a deck of Rorshach images, with different people seeing very different things as they stare at the cards. The tohiish dooval—”dangerous truth“—first appeared in the Shadow Marches and is rarely seen in the Five Nations, but there are rumors that Narathun oracles have started using a similar deck found in the Realm Below.

The Divinity Within. It’s not about the cards—it’s about the person reading them. Adept oracles of the Blood of Vol use cartomancy more than those of any other faith, but there’s no standardized deck associated with the faith. You could use Tarokka, Harrow, or any other deck. What’s important is what the reader sees in the cards, because the cards are the tool they use to reach their own Divinity Within.

These are just a few possible decks and traditions; an Aereni oracle might use a unique deck with cards representing their own personal ancestors. Aside from its use as a divinatory tool, I’d definitely allow a warlock to use a cartomancy deck as an arcane focus (and as their Book of Shadows, if they have Pact of the Tome); they could use the cards as a means to communicate with their patron, and could describe producing their spell effects by dramatically displaying and invoking specific cards.

I’ve got a Duergar Spirit Bard who uses a Harrow deck he found while in a labor camp in Ohr Kaluun; given that the whole vibe for Ohr Kaluun is “dark magic”, cartomancy felt like a natural fit.

This seems entirely reasonable, and such a tradition could have been carried over into the Venomous Demesne. But with that said, the question that immediately comes to my mind is what makes it “Dark Magic”? Is it a method of communicating with fiends? Are the cards printed using the blood of an innocent, and it’s their tormented spirit that speaks through the cards? Is the deck itself a bound imp? For those who aren’t familiar with it, Ohr Kaluun is a region in Sarlona which was in the past known for dangerous and sinister magical practices, including consorting with malevolent powers. When creating magic items from Ohr Kaluun, I love to try to hit this—to ask why would people be afraid of this place? I want players to say “I want to keep this item because it’s useful, but also, ewwww.”

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss these ideas or to share what you’ve done with cartomancy in the comments, but as this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering questions on the topic. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions!

Dragonmarks: The Overlords Revealed

In the first days of the world, the children of Khyber rose from the darkness to reign over Eberron. The greatest among them were the overlords, who held dominion over a world of fear, war, and death until the children of Eberron and Siberys rose up against them. Armies of dragons fought against the fiends of Khyber. And though the overlords couldn’t be destroyed, the couatl sacrificed their lives to build a prison of celestial light: a silver flame that bound the overlords in Khyber once more. These bonds have held for countless generations, but the overlords still yearn to break free and reclaim the world above.

Eberron: Rising From The Last War.

The overlords are one of the greatest threats in the Eberron campaign setting. They ruled the world in its first age, and they yearn to break their bonds and drag reality back to that age of demons. The Lords of Dust work to free the overlords, while the dragons of the Chamber oppose their efforts—and this long, cold war is one of the driving forces in the setting. I’ve written many articles about the overlords over the years, and this month I’ve received a host of questions concerning specific overlords from my Patreon supporters. I thought I’d revisit the topic and bring some of that scattered information together, as well as updating things to incorporate the ideas presented in Rising From The Last War and Exploring Eberron.

WHAT ARE THE OVERLORDS?

  • The overlords are immortal fiends with immense power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an unbound overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they aren’t deities. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith. 
  • The overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the overlords and most of their minions.
  • While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
  • Each overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
  • Even while bound, the overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their “dreams”. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are more aware and actively scheming.
  • “Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”

The overlords are commonly referred to as the children of Khyber. The truth is slightly more complex; they are actually the architecture of Khyber. Beyond the physical tunnels and caverns that extend into the depths, Khyber is a matrix of demiplanes. These can be seen as the dreams of the progenitor, each reflecting a horrifying vision of a possible reality—realms defined by fear, bloodshed, and worse. While most are isolated, some—known as heart demiplanes—are able to leak out into the prime material plane, and this is where native fiends come from. The overlord is the defining spirit of the demiplane. When it is “released,” its power flows out into reality, slowly reshaping the world to mirror its heart plane. The entity that can be fought is an avatar of that force, but it’s just a projection; if that projection is destroyed, its power flows back into its heart plane, regenerates and returns. So physically defeating an overlord is only a temporary setback for it, and the physical form you encounter is merely a projection.

One common question is what differentiates overlords from the Dark Six. There’s a few major differences. First and foremost, the overlords absolutely exist. You can find the resting place of an overlord or go to its heart demiplane. If they’ve loosened their bonds, an overlord can manifest an avatar and you can actually fight it. So while you’ll never shake hands with Aureon or dine with the Devourer, there may be a time when you can punch Rak Tulkhesh in the nose or have tal with Sul Khatesh. The downside of this is that as powerful as they are, overlords have a limited sphere of influence. While bound they can only influence the regions around their prison or where their heart demiplane touches the world. When released, their power has a finite radius. Bel Shalor threw Thrane into chaos, but his power wasn’t felt in Sharn or even in Korth. Other overlords have different limitations: the Daughter of Khyber can reach across the world, but she can only influence dragons. A final important difference is that the overlords aren’t some sort of logically arranged pantheon. Some of their ideas overlap; Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku are both corruptors, Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka hold secrets, Masvirik deals with reptiles while the Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. There’s an overlord of cold, but we’ve never mentioned one associated with fire. They aren’t gods, they’re monsters. Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku overlap in concept, but they influence entirely different regions within the world. Rak Tulkhesh is infamously an overlord of war, but there could be an entirely different overlord associated with bloodshed or war in Sarlona. Overlords are epically powerful, but they are also finite. They don’t explain the existence of evil, they embody specific aspects of it.

Every edition that Eberron has been part of has provided statistics for some of the overlords, and these vary wildly in power. Under the 3.5 rules, overlords rivaled lesser deities; they possessed the equivalent of 7 divine ranks and 30-50 character levels. The 3.5 version of Sul Khatesh could cast counterspell as a free action, had spontaneous access to all wizard and sorcerer spells, and could destroy antimagic fields; she had innate true seeing as well as the ability to cast legend lore on anything she could see. By contrast, Rising From The Last War presents Sul Khatesh as a CR 28 threat with a fairly limited set of spells. How do these two interpretations relate to one another? The answer is that the lesser deity equivalent statistics reflect the full power that an entirely unbound overlord could wield, while the CR 28 interpretations of Sul Khatesh and Rak Tulkhesh reflect a weaker avatar, most likely manifested by an overlord who’s still partially bound. At the end of the day, overlords are essentially plot devices. They are the most powerful entities that exist on Eberron, and at their full power were able to face armies of dragons. They aren’t supposed to be balanced; the idea that player characters can face them directly and potentially win the fight would reflect limits placed on the overlord (IE partial binding), the fact that the player characters are vessels of the Prophecy, the impact of special preparations (Tira Miron might have bathed Kloijner in the waters of Irian or the heartsblood of Durastoran the Wymbreaker). Overlords wield apocalyptic levels of power, and any stat block should be seen as an inspiration for what an overlord might be capable of, not an absolute limit.

How Are The Overlords Bound?

Overlords can’t be permanently destroyed. When an avatar is defeated its essence flows back into its heart plane and reforms. What the champions of the first age did was to bind that essence—preventing it from returning to its heart plane. Essentially, they severed the overlord’s brain from its heart; the heart demiplanes still exist, but the consciousness of the overlords are bound elsewhere and they can’t manifest their avatars or exert their full power. While the essence of each overlord is bound to a physical vessel, it is the power of the Silver Flame that actually keeps the overlord bound. A vessel can be damaged—Rak Tulkhesh is bound to a Khyber shard that’s been shattered—but this won’t release the overlord.

How Can They Be Released?

Releasing an overlord is no trivial matter. The prisons of the overlords are as indestructible as the fiends themselves. The only way for an overlord to be released is for a certain path of the Prophecy to come to pass. For this reason, the actions of the Lords of Dust are enigmatic. They cannot simply release their masters— they must bring history to a particular crossroads, a point at which the planes and moons are aligned and the darkness can rise again. It is up to you to decide just what is required for a particular overlord to be released. It could be something as grim as the downfall of a nation, or something as positive as the birth of a child.

Eberron Campaign Guide

This article goes into much more depth about the nature of the binding and how it can be broken. There’s a few things to keep in mind. The first is that the Prophecy is almost always tied to the actions of specific mortals. Despite all their power, the dragons and the Lords of Dust can’t resolve a situation with brute force; they need to guide the actions of mortal pawns. The second is that the Prophecy is always evolving. There is always a path for the release of an overlord. As soon as the Chamber severs one branch, a new one begins to take shape. There will never be a time when humanity doesn’t have to worry about the overlords; foiling the plans of the Lords of Dust buys time, as a new branch may take centuries to be uncovered and cultivated—but there is always a path to release Sul Khatesh and there always will be. And while the Lords of Dust and the Chamber are always working to cultivate these branches or to trim them, there’s always the chance that the events required to release an overlord will play out entirely on their own. Not all overlords have agents within the Lords of Dust, and the Chamber isn’t omnisicent; it’s always possible that the necessary events will simply happen, even if there’s no cult or fiend driving them.

How Do They Pose A Threat?

As long as the overlords are bound by the Silver Flame, they can’t physically manifest in the world. But each overlord embodies a particular aspect of evil, which grows in strength as their servants scheme to release their ancient masters. The overlords gain strength when mortals embrace the dark paths laid down for them. And as they grow stronger, they gain more influence.

Eberron: Rising From The Last War

If the bonds of an overlord can only be broken by a prophetic path, what does it mean for an overlord to “grow stronger?” Overlords threaten the world in two ways. If an overlord is released from its prison, it will transform a region of the world into a mirror of its heart demiplane. This may start slowly, but the end results can be dramatic. The Cold Sun will steal the light from the sky, while the Heart of Winter will blanket her domain in ice. Every overlord has a handful of fiends that walk the world… but if an overlord is unbound, greater forces will emerge from its demiplane. Beyond this, the overlord itself will be able to manifest a physical avatar, as shown in Rising From The Last War. An overlord is only able to affect the world directly if their bonds are broken. But even while bound, they still have the ability to influence mortals. Tiamat corrupts dragons, the Wild Heart corrupts nature, and Rak Tulkhesh drives people to spill blood. Essentially, bound overlords can still influence mortals—and the more mortals who succumb to their influence, the greater this power becomes. Sul Khatesh can’t walk the world and unleash and arcane armageddon, but she can still whisper secrets to warlocks and create cabals and cults, while Rak Tulkhesh can shatter peace and drive war. “Partial release” falls between these two. When partially released the Wild Heart was able to amplify the power of the curse of lycanthropy and assert control over all ‘thropes, and it may have been able to manifest an avatar in the heart of the forest; but we’ve never suggested that the Towering Woods themselves were physically transformed, or that the avatar of the Wild Heart was roaming freely and striking down its enemies. Ultimately, this is about the needs of the story. A bound overlord has a very limited ability to influence mortals. An unbound overlord can affect both mortals and the world itself, and can manifest an avatar wielding tremendous power. A partially released overlord falls somewhere in between, with whatever limitations you need to impose to make your story satisfying. The key point is that even when they aren’t trying to release their overlord, cults and fiends will often try to increase its influence—usually by playing out its core concept (war, undead, betrayal, sinister magic) in a region.

While bound, the overlords are effectively dreaming—or trancing, if you prefer, as they aren’t tied to Dal Quor and can’t be targeted by dream. The point is that they aren’t entirely conscious, nor are they fully comatose. Rak Tulkhesh revels in hatred and bloodshed, but it’s his speaker Mordakhesh who schemes across the centuries and who actively sows strife. Sul Khatesh does whisper to her warlocks and share dangerous secrets, but even this is essentially reflexive; it’s how her influence manifests, and not every warlock she deals with is part of a world-breaking scheme. The Lords of Dust understand the world and scheme to free their overlords; the overlords themselves are delighted when their influence grows, but are only partially aware of what is going on in the world. This is what makes their speakers—prakhutu—so important; Mordakhesh can commune with Rak Tulkhesh and divine what the Rage of War desires. (Hint: It’s war.)

WHO ARE THE OVERLORDS?

There is no complete list of overlords, and even their exact number is uncertainly; one canon source says “around thirty” while another says “a few dozen.” Likewise, even with the overlords that do exist, much is left vague. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu, and if so, do they consult with the Bleak Council of Ashtakala? Where is Tul Oreshka’s prison? Largely this is intentional, because the overlords are essentially plot devices. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu? Well, do you want it to? We know the location of Sul Khatesh’s prison, but Tul Oreshka’s is intentionally undefined so that it can be wherever you want it to be. Are their thirty overlords or thirty-six? The answer is how many do you need?

This is a list of all of the Overlords who’ve been mentioned in canon or kanon. It includes details on where they’ve appeared, but again, many of them simply don’t have much information available; in many cases, the information provided here is more than actually exists in canon. Don’t let that hold you back; use this as inspiration and build upon it to meet the needs of your campaign.

ASHTAKALA, The Demon City. Located in the Demon Wastes, Ashtakala is described in many sources as the last citadel of the Lords of Dust and the meeting place of their Bleak Council. In this article I present the idea that Ashtakala is itself an overlord, the immortal embodiment of the citadel of evil.

ASHURAK, The Slow Death. While never named in canon, the Slow Death is the patron of the Plaguebearers, one of the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. Ashurak revels in the horror of disease. The plagues they spread are agonizing and disfiguring, but never kill quickly; lingering suffering is the hallmark of Ashurak. While their prison is in the Demon Wastes, their influence can be carried by the diseases they creates and Plaguebearers have occasionally started cults in the Five Nations. While it might seem that these cultists would find allies among the Children of Winter, the truth is quite the opposite; the maladies of Ashurak are deeply unnatural and the druids battle these cults whenever they find them. Ashurak isn’t one of the most powerful or infamous overlords, but they do have representatives among the Lords of Dust; their speaker is Shalashar, a native oinoloth. (ECS)

BEL SHALOR, The Shadow in the Flame. Bound in Flamekeep, Bel Shalor is the most infamous overlord in Khorvaire, largely due to his well-documented devastation of Thrane and subsequent defeat at the hands of Tira Miron. Bel Shalor embodies our fear of one another and the capacity for even the most virtuous person to do evil. He thrives on paranoia and smiles anytime a good person harms an innocent or ignores their conscience. Bel Shalor’s speaker is the ak’chazar rakshasa Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, and his minions are a powerful force within the Lords of Dust. Where his influence was originally tied to Thrane, due to the conditions of his binding he can influence anyone who draws on the power of the Silver Flame; it’s entirely possible he wanted to be bound, that he always planned to become the Shadow in the Flame. (ECG, ExE)

THE DAUGHTER OF KHYBER, Tiamat. The Daughter of Khyber embodies the fear of dragons and the evil they can do—fears both of humanoids and of the dragons themselves. She is bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows in Argonnessen, but much like Bel Shalor and the followers of the Silver Flame, the Daughter of Khyber can touch the heart of any dragon wherever they may be. Her influence can be subtle, hidden within pride or even a desire to help lesser creatures—but once she sinks her hooks into a dragon’s soul, she can twist even noble desires toward evil ends. The Daughter of Khyber’s machinations have brought the world to the edge of disaster at least once since the Age of Demons, devastating ancient civilizations on Khorvaire that have now been forgotten; it is because of this that the dragons of Argonnessen place severe restrictions on how dragons exercise power in the wider world. Known to some as Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber has no involvement with the Lords of Dust, and if she has a speaker their identity is unknown. (Dragons of Eberron, ECG, ExE)

DRAL KHATUUR, The Heart of Winter. Bound in the Frostfell, Dral Khatuur embodies of all of the terrors of winter—endless night, the killing frost, the ice-encrusted face of a frozen friend. Her minions are frozen corpses, fiends sculpted from ice, and the howling, hungry wind. She despises all other creatures, including the other overlords; she had no ties to the Lords of Dust and waits in the Frostfell for anyone foolish enough to venture into her domain.

ELDRANTULKU, The Oathbreaker. As described in Dragon 337, Eldrantulku is a spirit of discord who turns allies into enemies and lovers into mortal foes. A master deceiver, his title comes from his ability to convince others to break their oaths. He is not a force of war—he corrupts the innocent, using ambition, jealousy, and paranoia as his tools. He is active within the Lords of Dust. Notable minions include Thelestes, an exiled Mabaran succubus and deadly assassin; and the devious rakshasa Kashtarhak, his prakhutu. The location of Eldrantulku’s prison is unknown.

KATASHKA, The Gatekeeper. Katashka thrives on mortal fears of death and the undead. He is thought to have brought the first undead into the world, and certainly created the first liches and dracoliches. Katashka’s servants are part of the Lords of Dust, and his prakhutu is the dracolich Mazyralyx, thought by some to be the origin of many myths of the Keeper. The location of Katashka’s prison is a mystery. The Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes is a possibility, but it’s just as possible that this contains a connection to his heart demiplane. Katashka’s cults are more widespread than many other overlords, which suggests that his prison has been shattered and scattered like that of Rak Tulkhesh. As Katashka is known to create liches, one possibility is that pieces of his shattered prison are used as phylacteries by his lich champions, who spread his influence wherever they go. Katashka largely works with undead as opposed to fiends; his champions include the ancient wizard Kyuss and his spawn. (Dragon 337, ECG, ExE)

THE LURKER IN SHADOW. In the first age of the world, the Thunder Sea was the domain of a powerful overlord embodying the fear of the unknown and unknowable, of the unimaginable terrors lurking in the depths and in the darkness. Its true name is one more secret. Its servants call it Surash Ka, which is simply Abyssal for “The Deep Lord” or “The King Below;” the sahuagin and other denizens of the Thunder Sea avoid even that name, calling it the Lurker in Shadow or just the Lurker. It’s an exceptionally powerful overlord; when unbound, it dominated the Thunder Sea and even now its influence can be felt across the region. The Lurker in Shadow has no interaction with the Lords of Dust. Its servants include aboleths, shadow demons, and shark-aspected rakshasa, but stories say these are the least of the horrors it has spawned. While the Lurker has some overlap with Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka, Sul Khatesh is focused on arcane knowledge and personal secrets, while Tul Oreshka deals with secrets that can break people; the Lurker in Shadow deals with the things you can’t imagine, the forces that lie just beyond sight and that are waiting to pull you down. I’ll be providing more information about the Lurker in a follow up article.

MASVIRIK, The Cold Sun. Masvirik consumes the light, embodying our fears of all that slithers through the dark and cold. On the one hand, he embodies the warmblooded fears of reptiles and venomous vermin. On the other, he embodies reptilian fears of cold and death. His minions include corrupted lizardfolk, dragonborn, and kobolds, along with undead reptilian creatures and fiends who thrive on cold instead of heat. Masvirik is imprisoned beneath Haka’torvhak, and his influence is felt across Q’barra. His speaker, the dragon Rhashaak, is bound in Haka’torvhak; the reptilian rakshasa Asshalara represents Rhashaak on the Bleak Council of Ashtakala. (Dungeon 185)

RAK TULKHESH, The Rage of War. Rak Tulkhesh embodies the fear of war and bloodshed, whether as a victim of violence or losing oneself to bloodlust and rage. The cults of Rak Tulkhesh include brutal raiders who embrace lives of endless violence, but also those who spread hate and strife—anything that stirs up harsh conflict where there might otherwise be peace. The prison of Rak Tulkhesh has been shattered, and his influence is spread across Khorvaire; however, he has a strong presence in the Demon Wastes and his Carrion Tribes are always thirsty for bloodshed. His speaker, Mordakhesh the Shadowsword, is a respected member of the Lords of Dust and a brilliant military strategist. (Dragon 337, Dragon 416, ECG, ExE, Rising)

RAN IISHIV, The Unmaker. Bound beneath Adar, Ran Iishiv is a force of chaos and destruction. Some believe that Ran Iishiv reflects Khyber’s primal hatred of creation itself, the burning desire to tear down the material plane and start anew. Whatever the truth, Ran Iishiv was expecteptionally powerful and feared even by other overlords; it’s believe that the wild zones to Kythri in Adar reflect Ran Iishiv literally tearing through reality. Even while bound, the Unmaker’s fury is a powerful force. Ran Iishiv may be the source of the storms that batter Adar, and some accounts claim its rage created the volcano of Korrandor. Ran Iishiv has no allies among the Lords of Dust, and it’s even possible fiends tied to other overlords would help prevent the Unmaker’s release. Ran’s primary servants are the Endseekers, cultists who have heard the Unmaker’s dreaming whispers and seek to return reality to primordial chaos. (Secrets of Sarlona)

SAKINNIROT, The Scar That Abides. Those loyal to Sakinnirot say it was the first child of the Dragon Below but the last to be born. In many ways it embodies pure hatred—not the savage bloodlust of Rak Tulkhesh, but hatred that smolders and burns. Sakinnirot thrives on bloody feuds that only serve to deeping the need for revenge, on physical and spiritual wounds left to fester. It’s possible that Sakinnirot is nothing less that the patient fury of Khyber itself, the determination for vengeance upon the world that holds it prisoner. Whatever the truth, Sakinnirot is one of the most powerful overlords; during the Age of Demons, the Scar laid claim to all of Xen’drik and reveled in battling other overlords. It was bound even more tightly that most overlords, and few of its fiendish servants escaped into the world; both because of this and its feuds with other overlords, the Scar That Abides isn’t represented within the Lords of Dust. However, the rakshasa Lorishto—an Ak’chazar of Eldrantulku—has been seeking to weaken the binding of Sakinnirot, hoping to become the prakhutu of the Scar That Abides. (City of Stormreach)

THE SPINNER OF SHADOWS. Presented in D&D Online, the Spinner of Shadows is commonly associated with spiders; however, this reflects her wider role as an overlord of hidden schemes, of the careful vendetta and the joy of toying with a powerless foe. While she has significant overlap with Sakinnirot, the Spinner is less driven by burning hatred and more by hungry ambition—the schemer willing to climb a web formed of innocent corpses to achieve their desires. While not one of the most powerful overlords, one of her strengths is her talent for remaining hidden—reflected by the fact that she had her domain in Xen’drik despite Sakinnirot’s claim on the continent. because of this obsession with secrecy, it’s unlikely that the Spinner is involved with the Lords of Dust; her agents scheme along, hiding even from their fiendish cousins. (D&D Online—technically neither canon nor canon, but I’m including her on the list)

SUL KHATESH, The Keeper of Secrets. Per Rising From The Last War, “Sul Khatesh is known as the Keeper of Secrets and the Queen of Shadows. She embodies the fears and superstitions surrounding magic, from malevolent warlocks to mad wizards, from deadly curses to magical power that draws those who wield it deeper into darkness.” She may be bound beneath Arcanix, but she has found ways to spread her influence further. Her prakhutu—the First Scribe, Hektula—has written books of magic that can grant tremendous power but that also serve as a focus for her influence; these could mirror the effects of the Book of Vile Darkness or the Demonomicon. Likewise, Sul Khatesh spreads cabals and covens, and where her cultists come together to perform malefic rituals, Sul Khatesh can touch the world. While she often whispers to her warlocks and to other susceptible minds, Sul Khatesh is essentially dreaming; while her whispers rarely work out well for those who listen to them, they aren’t all tied toward one grand plan. The agents of Sul Khatesh are a strong force in the Lords of Dust. Hektula maintains the library of Ashtakala and often mediates disputes between the other speakers. (Dragon 337, City of Stormreach, ECG, ExE, Rising)

TOL KHARASH, The Horned King. There is a dark power bound beneath the fortress known as Turakbar’s Fist, and it has long spread its influence across the barren region now known as Droaam. Znir hwyri hunt those who fall too far down its path, while the minotaur clans see this power as their patron. Tol Kharash can easily be mistaken for Rak Tulkhesh, as both delight in bloodshed and war. However, Tol Kharash is a force of tyranny rather than rage. It drives the strong to oppress the weak… and the crueller they are, the better. The Horned King is the common name of the overlord and the aspect worshipped by Rhesh Turakbar and his clan, the Blood Horns; they raid and pillage in his name. However, each of the major minotaur clans has their own unique interpretation of the Horned King. The Red Hooves are devoted to He Who Walks Behind, and prefer sly ambushes to the howling assaults of the Blood Horns. The Blade Breaker clan worships One Horn, who rewards displays strength and courage. While the Blade Breakers are just as aggressive as the Blood Horns, they are less brutal; it’s just possible that while THEY think One Horn is an aspect of the Horned King, they are in truth drawing on a different power entirely—perhaps, the essence of Dol Dorn. Tol Kharash has relatively few fiendish minions. His greatest servants are possessed mortals as opposed to manifested fiends; he has no representatives in Ashtakala and doesn’t work with the Lords of Dust. (Tol Kharash appears in the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold)

TUL ORESHKA, The Truth In The Darkness. Tul Oreshka embodies our fear of secrets and the things we don’t know, of unbearable truths and feelings we’d kill to keep secret. These may be deeply personal—your mother wishes you’d died instead of your brother—or shocking cosmic revelations. She’s far more primal than Sul Khatesh; the words she deals with may not conjure fire or fiends, but they still have the power to shatter lives. People who pass by her prison may learn terrible things through ghostly whispers or vivid nightmares. Her cults take many forms, and are almost always driven by a compelling, infectious idea. While she doesn’t deal in traditional mystical knowledge as Sul Khatesh does, Tul Oreshka can reveal secrets that defy our previous understanding of magic or that alter the way we see reality; for example, a cult of Tul Oreshka might reveal that humans are all fiends, that humanity itself is collectively an overlord. While her agents are unpredictable, Tul Oreshka does participate in the Bleak Council of the Lords of Dust; her current speaker is a pit fiend named Korliac of the Gray Flame, though Tul Oreshka’s speakers rarely hold the position for long. The location of Tul Oreshka’s prison has never been established. (Dragon 337)

VAL GULTESH, The Shaper of Nightmares. Many overlords embody something that is feared; Val Gultesh feeds on fear itself. They thrive on paranoia and on lives torn apart by unfounded fears, and crafts nightmares that help spread terrifying and disruptive ideas. While they can shape nightmares, they do so from Eberron—effectively, using a powerful form of the dream spell that can potentially affect hundreds of people at once—as opposed to entering Dal Quor. The quori of the present age haven’t encountered an unbound Val Gultesh; it’s quite possible the overlord would pose a threat to them, especially to quori manifesting in Eberron as Inspired or Kalashtar. Val Gultesh is imprisoned somewhere in Zilargo, and it’s possible that should their power grow that they could corrupt the Trust to serve their purposes; however, the Trust could be aware of this threat, and may have ruthlessly eliminated cults of Val Gultesh in the past. The Shaper of Nightmares works with the Lords of Dust, but the nature of their speaker and the power of their faction have yet to be established. (Mentioned in the adventures “Curtain Call” and “Fear Reveals Truth”)

THE WILD HEART. The Wild Heart embodies mortal fears of the natural world. To some degree this embodies the sheer unknown that the wild represents, but it especially draws on the fear of predators—the unknown dangers lurking in the depths of the darkest wood. The Wild Heart is known both for their connection to gnolls and as one of the primary sources of lycanthropy; in Kanon, they were the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge. As a force that is fundamentally opposed to civilization, the Wild Heart uses no name and takes no part in the schemes of the Lords of Dust. Their speaker is a shapeshifting fiend known as Drukalatar Atesh, but its fiendish minions are more likely to possess or be fused with beasts than to act in fiendish form. (Novel: The Queen of Stone)

YAD-RAGHESH, The Fallen Rajah. The fiend known as Yad-Raghesh is a mystery; some loredrake scholars question whether they were actually an overlord, or whether they were an exceptionally powerful champion of Sakinnirot or Ran Iishiv. What is known is that during the wars of the Age of Demons, Yad-Raghesh fought in the form of a colossal two-headed rakshasa; that they were defeated with surprising ease; and that it was later discovered that they had somehow imbued their essence into the region in which they were slain, permanently corrupting it. The corpse of Yad-Raghesh remains in this vale, which seethes with hatred and fiends. There is no evidence that the consciousness of Yad-Raghesh remains as an active force, and they play no role in the Lords of Dust, but they have effectively transformed this “Vale of the Fallen Rajah” into a heart demiplane in the midst of Argonnessen. (Dragons of Eberron)

UNNAMED AND UNKNOWN. A number of overlords have been hinted at in canon sources but never described in detail. Secrets of Sarlona suggests that there are overlords imprisoned in the Kretok Peninsula and in Sustrai Mor, while the Player’s Guide to Eberron suggests that an overlord with power over the weather is bound on Tempest Isle. Some previous lists included Shudra the Fleshrender, a “mighty rakshasa” mentioned in Forge of War. However, Shudra is a rakhsasa champion on par with Mordakhesh and Hektula; he’s associated with the overlord Dhavibashta, who appears in James Wyatt’s novel In The Claws Of The Tiger. As mentioned at the start, this is not intended to be a complete list of overlords, and I would never want to create such a list; there should always be room in the world for an overlord who perfectly suits the needs of your story.

How Do These Overlords Relate to the Planes?

The overlords are spirits of Khyber and the material plane. As the material plane ties together all of the iconic concepts that define the outer planes, some of the overlords reflect ideas that are represented in the planes. Rak Tulkhesh is associated with war, and Shavarath is associated with war. Tul Oreshka and the Lurker in Shadows both deal with the unknowable and unnatural in ways that evoke Xoriat, and Val Gultesh shapes nightmares. But Val Gultesh isn’t a creature of Dal Quor and the Rak Tulkhesh isn’t from Shavarath. They are spirits of the material plane, and deal with mortals who fight and dream; but they influence those things in and from the material plane, and have no connection to or alliances with the denizens of the planes. In general, the power of an overlord will trump the power of any extraplanar entity while they are in the material plane; an unbound Val Gultesh might be able to control quori possessing human hosts. For this reason, extraplanar entities generally try to avoid conflict with overlords and the Lords of Dust.

Are The Overlords Allies?

Absolutely not. They often fought one another during the Age of Demons, and a few of those that have been named—Ran Iishiv, Sakinnirot, Dral Khatuur—have been specifically called out as being shunned by the Lords of Dust. Part of the point is that the overlords embody terrible things, and that all they desire is to express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh IS furious bloodshed and has no other way to the world; if you live next to Rak Tulkhesh, you KNOW he’s going to constantly attack you. Likewise, Eldrantulku is the embodiment of betrayal. The Lords of Dust who deal with him know that sooner or later any arrangement will have an unpleasant surprise; but because they know this, they can prepare and work around it. The key point is that the Lords of Dust aren’t the overlords, they’re the lesser fiends that serve them. Rak Tulkhesh is unreasoning war, but Mordakhesh is careful and calculating, and willing to scheme with the servants of other overlords. With that being said, the Lords of Dust always place the interests of their own overlord above all else… and many members of the Lords of Dust have long-standing feuds or rivalries with other fiends.

Why do the Lords of Dust serve the Overlords?

Given that the overlords ARE so firmly bound, it’s a reasonable question—why do the Lords of Dust serve the overlords? Why doesn’t Mordakhesh pursue his own interests? There’s a few aspects to this. The first is that the fiends are immortals, which makes them fundamentally inhuman. They were created as the physical embodiments of ideas, and they can’t change those ideas. Mordakhesh never chose to serve Rak Tulkhesh; it’s a fundamental aspect of what he is and he can’t change it. Furthermore, all native fiends are tied to heart demiplanes. When Mordakhesh dies, he returns to the Bitter Shield, the heart of Rak Tulkhesh. In essence, while he has his own unique personality, Mordakhesh is part of Rak Tulkhesh. Immortals CAN change—angels can fall, quori can become kalashtar—and it’s certainly possible to encounter a fiend that’s somehow shifted its allegiance or even become something other than a fiend. But it would be extremely unusual. Most fiends don’t choose to serve their overlord; it’s a fundamental part of who and what they are.

HOW CAN YOU USE THE OVERLORDS?

Eberron is balanced on a precipice. Should the overlords rise en masse, they’d destroy reality as we know it and drag the world back into the primal chaos of the Age of Demons. However, the release of a single overlord would be a devastating event that could destroy a nation—but it wouldn’t instantly herald the end of the world. We’ve seen examples of this before. In the Year of Blood and Fire, Bel Shalor devastated Thrane until he was rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. In this article, I suggest that the Lycanthropic Purge was the work of the Wild Heart; as the Towering Woods were more remote than Thrane, the impact of their partial release and the sacrifices made to rebind them are less well known. It could even be that it was a release of an overlord.

Legacy. Overlords are sources of evil, and their existence can be used to explain why evil things existence in the world. The Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. The Wild Heart is one of the sources of lycanthropy, while Katashka creates many forms of undead. The overlords have the power to create artifacts; a sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh might grant great power while also spreading strife and hatred. An adventure or a campaign arc could involve creations of the overlords—a rogue dragon, a pack of werewolves, a clan of clever ghouls, a cursed artifact—without actually having anything to do with the overlord or its goals. The Book of Vile Darkness may have been written by Hektula and be a vector for the influence of Sul Khatesh; but it may be that Sul Khatesh’s plans are on hold for the next century, and the book is only dangerous by virtue of its innate power.

Cults and Influence. Even while bound, the overlords influence mortals. Exploring Eberron delves into the many forms these cults take—from ancient secret societies that actively work to release an overlord to deluded sects who have no idea of the power they’re tied to. The whispers of Bel Shalor are a threat to every follower of the Silver Flame. Followers of Rak Tulkhesh strive to cause strife, and the ghouls of Katashka feast on flesh beneath cities across Khorvaire. So adventurers can clash with a cult of the Whispering Flame or a cabal of Katashka’s ghouls even if the overlord has no greater role in the campaign.

Long-Term Plans. Prophetic paths that lead to the release of an overlord have many steps; they can take generations or even centuries for finally bear fruit. As discussed in this article, adventurers can be caught up in a scheme set up by one of the Lords of Dust, but regardless of the outcome, there’s no threat of an overlord actually being released. It may even be that a fiend wants to help an adventure acquire a powerful magic item—because the character needs to have that item to fulfill their role in the Prophecy. It’s also the case that the Lords of Dust have their own feuds and rivalries; adventurers could get a tip about a rakshasa scheming to take over a local guild, only to eventually realize it was another fiend that helped them.

Character Origin. Player characters can be tied to overlords. A Tome warlock could be tied to Sul Khatesh and the intrigues of her Court of Shadows. A Great Old One warlock might be receiving visions from Tul Oreshka, not knowing why they’ve been chosen by the Truth in the Darkness or what she wants with them. A barbarian character could have a sliver of Rak Tulkhesh’s prison shard bound to their flesh; the shard is what powers their rage, but by mastering that rage they help hold the overlord at bay. This could be vitally important if the campaign involves the potential release of the Rage of War… or it could be that there’s no risk of Rak Tulkhesh escaping this century, but the character may clash with cultists who want to claim the shard.

Threat of Release. The threat of an overlord’s release could be a driving arc for a campaign, building to a climactic clash in which the adventurers must fight against a doomsday countdown to prevent an overlord from escaping its binding. The key here is that if the players succeed, the overlord won’t be released. They’ll be dealing with cultists and Lords of Dust. It could even be that they face a weak avatar in the conclusion of that final battle, but it’s a battle that can be won.

So far, these ideas suggest ways to use overlords in minor roles… or how to use them as the ultimate challenge of a campaign. But there’s another option—to say that the campaign isn’t about stopping the release of an overlord, but rather dealing with the impact of it. Let’s look at a historical example…

THE YEAR OF BLOOD AND FIRE: Tira’s Campaign

When Bel Shalor broke his bonds in Thrane, he plunged the region into chaos—a period known as the Year of Blood and Fire. In my vision of things, Tira Miron didn’t simply ride up and smite him; it was a long road that led her from first touching the Flame to her final sacrifice. And while she may have made that sacrifice alone, she had companions on the journey. Canonically we’ve mentioned the avenger Samyr Kes, but in my opinion she had a full party of stalwart allies. In short, Tira was one of the player characters of her age. I see her campaign as going something like this…

  • When Bel Shalor first breaks his bonds, his power is weak. The Eberron Campaign Guide says “If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” This is the world in which the campaign begins—a Thrane in which people are drawn to darkness, where good people are tempted to commit atrocities. Tira begins as a paladin of Dol Arrah. She knows something is wrong, but she doesn’t know what it is. In her initial adventures, she fights the symptoms—clashing with newly-formed cults, with good people drawn to evil, and perhaps even with a few shadowy fiends—agents of Bel Shalor who helped with his release.
  • As the campaign proceeds and Bel Shalor’s power grows, the Year of Blood and Fire truly begins. Murder and arson spread across the realm. Cities burn. Innocents suffer. Fiends emerge into the chaos, gathering cults and preying on the innocent. And it is in this time—perhaps as she chooses her Oath—that Tira has a vision of a couatl and is first touched by the power of the Flame.
  • Along with her companions, Tira fights the horror spreading across the land. She learns to harness the power of the Silver Flame and uses it to protect the innocent. She establishes a haven in an Irian manifest zone, and develops techniques that can help her followers recognize and resist the insidious corrupting influence. Her and her allies discover the source of the darkness. Reaching it, they discover that Bel Shalor has broken his bonds but is not yet fully free; he can manifest a weak avatar but can’t yet leave the spot in which he’s been bound. Nonetheless, this avatar is far too powerful for Tira and her companions to defeat, and they are lucky to survive and flee. But now they know their enemy.
  • While they can’t defeat Bel Shalor, Tira and her allies are celebrated champions protecting a community of people. They continue to deal with Bel Shalor’s servants and those who’ve been corrupted by his influence, but they are also doing all they can to learn how Shalor can be defeated. In addition to the couatl, they receive assistance from a (secret) agent of the Chamber. They travel to Daanvi, seeking knowledge in the Infinite Archive, and to other planes as well. They take steps laid out in the Prophecy, though many of these challenges are enigmatic and set them directly at odds with agents of the Lords of Dust.
  • Guided by the Flame and the Prophecy, Tira obtains the greatsword Kloijner. A brutal cult is spreading across Thrane, but Tira presses to the heart of it and exposes Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, the speaker of Bel Shalor. The rakshasa kills her Chamber ally, but Tira takes him down with Kloijner. This battle is part of a prophetic path Tira has uncovered. She knows it will keep Durastoran from reforming for decades. But it also fully releases Bel Shalor, who now strides across Thrane as a vast force of shadow.
  • Tira knew the consequences of defeating Durastoran. She and her companions gather all those innocents freed from Shalor’s power in the Irian zone that has become their haven. She holds Durastoran’s heart, and beyond that she knows that the fully friend Shalor can’t stand to have a stronghold of light at the heart of his darkness. All of this has been foreshadowed by the Prophecy; though her Chamber ally has fallen, Tira knows that Bel Shalor will come to her and she knows what she must do. She rallies her allies, sharing the light of the Flame. Bel Shalor comes with an army of fiends and victims, and Tira’s faithful make their stand in the last bastion of light. Though the battle seems hopeless, Tira’s allies help her reach Bel Shalor himself—and it is in this moment that Tira and her couatl guide make their final sacrifice, binding Bel Shalor with the light of Tira’s soul and the power of the Flame, which surges forth as the column that can still be seen in Flamekeep to this day.

Now, this is MY vision of how this all went, and I’m sure there’s canon sources that tell the story another way. Furthermore, I’m writing this in the moment and I don’t have any more details about it. In my mind, Tira traveled to Irian and Daanvi as part of her adventures, but I don’t know exactly what she did in Irian. So I’m just saying: I’ve just sketched out an outline of the campaign Tira might have gone through, but it’s not like I’ve actually written any of the adventures.

Nonetheless, the point is that this isn’t a campaign in which Tira even has a chance to prevent Bel Shalor from being released. He’s already been partially released when the campaign begins—and if I was running the campaign, part of the point is that the players wouldn’t know it. In the session zero, I’d emphasize that something is wrong with the world, that they will be champions of the light trying to identify an infectious evil that is spreading across the land—that they’d be both warriors and investigators. During the campaign they not only uncover the true threat of Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker, they also must develop their own personal connections to the Silver Flame. The first tier of the campaign would be almost entirely spent dealing with cultists and corrupted innocents, trying to determine what power is behind it; they might initially think they can stop Bel Shalor from being released, only to reach that stronghold of evil and discover he’s already out. In tier 2 they are dealing with the increasingly apocalyptic consequences of his release, fighting fiends as well as cultists and the corrupted; this get more dramatic from there.

This is an apocalyptic scenario; we know from the start that it’s called The Year of Blood and Fire. There’s going to be burning cities and mass chaos. However, that flavor would depend on the overlord involved. A campaign based around the release of Sul Khatesh could be far more subtle. The Court of Shadows spreads, and as the campaign continues its dark vision of the world starts to become real, towers of shadow appearing across the nation. Common people start gaining arcane powers and resolving petty feuds and disputes with curses. Sly rakshasa offer tempting pacts. It builds to a point where civilization could collapse into outright arcane terror… but it can take time. Minister Adal might even forge an order of witchfinders and seize control of Aundair, little realizing that he too is just a pawn of Sul Khatesh, helping to spread delightful fear and terror. Every story will be different. The release of the Rage of War will involve brutal bloodshed; the release of the Oathbreaker could have very subtle effects.

That’s all for now, but look out for a Patreon-exclusive article delving deeper into the Lurker in Shadow. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking the questions that inspired this article and for making all of these articles possible.

IFAQ: The Lycanthropic Purge Campaign

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that came up this month. As always, my answers are based on what I do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon sources: notably, this article is based on the premise that the Wild Heart was the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge, which is just one of the options presented in canon.

I’d like to run a campaign set during the Lycanthropic Purge. On the Manifest Zone podcast you mentioned running a one-shot with a mixed party during this time, and I was wondering if you have any suggestions. Should I have my players make characters on both sides and alternate between them, or would that be too confusing?

In my Eberron, the Purge began when the archfiend known as the Wild Heart awoke in the Towering Wood and spread its power across the region. Countless innocents died, but none suffered so much as the shifters of the Towering Wood. Entire villages were brutally slaughtered, while elsewhere hunters tortured innocents as they sought to root out hidden wererats.

… And then the templars arrived.

When people think of the Lycanthropic Purge, they often think of the final stage—the slow decades in which the zealots of the Pure Flame sought to eliminate every last lycanthrope, heedless of how many innocents they harmed in the process. Everyone knows that shifters died in the conflict and that it created a deep rift between the shifters of the west and the Church of the Silver Flame. What is often overlooked is that countless innocent shifters died before the templars ever came to the Towering Wood. The Silver Crusade wasn’t a struggle between templars and shifters. It was a war between the servants of the Wild Heart and everyone else; shifters just suffered the worst of it.

First, let’s establish some basic facts. This Dragonmark article provides basic information about the Silver Crusade, now often known as the Lycanthropic Purge. This IFAQ article discusses different strains of lycanthropy—in particular, the Curse of the Wild Heart, the primary strain involved in the Silver Crusade. This is important because the lycanthropes being fought weren’t blessed by Olarune or champions of the natural world; they were cursed by an overlord and essentially demonically possessed.

The Templars of the Silver Flame came in response to lycanthropes raiding western Aundair. After securing the region they realized the threat was based deep in the Towering Wood—and that they would have to push into the woods to fight it. But who were those lycanthropes who triggered the crusade? Where did the forces that raided Aundair come from? The curse began in the Towering Wood, and it was the people of the Towering Wood who were the first victims of the Wild Heart—and the majority of them were shifters. Why did the templars fear shifters? Why was it so easy for them to believe shifters could be lycanthropes? Because the majority of the lycanthropes they fought were cursed shifters, taken by the Wild Heart before the templars came into the region. And templars didn’t jump to this conclusion alone; wererats hidden among shifters and templar forces delighted in sowing chaos and turning people who should be allies into enemies. Wererats worked to convince templars that innocent shifters were scheming lycanthropes, and to convince shifters that the templars were butchers and that their only chance for survival was to strike first. So there were all too many incidents where innocents died. But the templars never believed that all shifters were lycanthropes or that all shifters were the enemy. Shifters were the civilians of the Towering Wood. But shifters also formed the bulk of the forces of the Wild Heart, and lycanthropes were hidden in almost every shifter village.

So in looking at the actual battles of the Purge, there were essentially two movies playing out at the same time. In the open forest you had a movie that was a blend of Aliens and Predator. Werewolves, wereboars, and other lycanthropes were feral and bloodthirsty. Some—especially wereboars—would rely on brute force, charging directly into enemy forces. Weretigers and similar types preferred to toy with templars, stalking them, laying traps and ambushes. Werewolves could go either way, sometimes overrunning their enemies and other times hounding them, striking swiftly and then disappearing. One to one, only the greatest templar champions were a match for an individual lycanthrope. This was complicated by the fact that the templars couldn’t afford to silver every weapon. Specialists had silvered halberds, greatswords, and arrows; but most templars had to rely on silvered daggers to bring down their foes. This was a horror movie. The templars relied on superior numbers to overcome the enemy, but one to one they were grievously outmatched. The lycanthropes were at home in the woods, while the templars were from the villages of Thrane. Then you had the inhabitants of the wood—primarily shifters, but also the followers of the druidic traditions we know think of as the Eldeen sects. Shifters, humans, elves, and others, these people knew the woods and knew the enemy far better than the templars, but they had been savaged by the Wild Heart before the templars ever arrived, and had always been isolated from the outside world.

This brings us to the second story playing out in the Towering Wood… a blend of The Thing and the game Are You A Werewolf? Wereboars relied on brute force, but wererats specialized in psychological warfare. Wererats infiltrated every village and outpost they could find, working to worm their way into templar forces as well as the communities of the Towering Wood. And keep in mind that the templars relied on those villages as bases of operations and sources of supplies in the vast untamed woods; they needed the help of shifter villagers. The wererats used these positions to gather intelligence on their enemies, but also to amplify paranoia and to turn innocents against one another. Set aside templars and shifters—when two squads of templars meet in the wood, can they trust one another? What about when a squad of templars finds a single templar, the lone survivor of a squad butchered in a werewolf attack. She swears she was never bitten, that she’s still human… but can they trust her, or will their fear overwhelm them? One might say lycanthropes are immune to non-silvered weapons… couldn’t they just prick her finger with an iron blade? Good question, but in my campaign it’s not quite so simple. This article discusses the topic in more length, but the short form is that werewolves bleed when you stab them with iron knives, they just won’t DIE; so to make a conclusive determination by wounding them with a weapon, you’d have to inflict enough damage that they might actually die if they’re innocent, which is how many innocents ended up dying in the later years of the Purge.

So this war was both physical and psychological, and whichever front you were fighting on, it was a horror story. The enemy could be anywhere, and all it would take was a single untreated bite to turn you into a monster who would turn on your friends. The adventure I described on Manifest Zone involved the remnants of a templar patrol needing to join forces with a shifter Moonspeaker druid and her warden, who were tracking a champion of the Wild Heart. The shifters knew more about this threat than the templars, but they couldn’t defeat the enemy on their own. And yet, could either group trust that the other? Could they get past the innocent blood that had been spilt and work together?

Creating A Party

So: in running a campaign set in during the “Surge” era, it’s not about shifters versus templars. It’s about shifters, templars, Greensingers, Wardens of the Wood, Ashbound and more—all of the inhabitants of the Towering Wood and the army that came from beyond it—against the deadly power of the Wild Heart. I wouldn’t have players create characters on both sides of this conflict, because the servants of the Wild Heart weren’t acting with free will; this comes to the point that player characters that become evil lycanthropes are often placed under DM control. The forces of the Wild Heart weren’t choosing to fight; they were extensions of an overlord. What I’d do is to have players create two character concepts at the beginning of the campaign: a templar character and a native of the Towering Wood, who could be a shifter or a member of one of the druidic sects. The players would begin as a squad of templars assigned to a deep forward patrol, seeking the source of the Wild Heart’s power. Whenever a player character dies, the group would have the opportunity to acquire a local ally—that player’s backup character. Because again, part of the point is that this is a horror movie in which the templars were largely outmatched, so unlike many campaigns I’d want to be clear from the onset that player characters can die. We’d be prepared for that and players would know that death wouldn’t be the end of the story—but they’d know that it’s a very real threat, and they’d have a backup character prepared. And with this in mind, if a player loses their initial character and assumes the role of their secondary, I’d have them make a new secondary—who could be a native or could be a templar, the last survivor of another patrol thrilled to find friends. And I’d at least throw out that possibility you never know, one of the secondary characters you acquire could be a wererat… Even if this never happened, part of the point would be to establish how powerful this fear could be.

Wait, The Eldeen Druids Were Involved?

We’ve never mentioned the role of the Wardens of the Wood or the Ashbound in the Lycanthropic Purge, but of course they were involved. The Towering Wood was the front line of the war, and the Towering Wood is the home of the Eldeen sects. Cut Oalian and count the rings; he’s been around for far longer than two centuries. The point is that the bulk of the population of the Towering Wood—the majority of its villages and communities—were shifters, so they received most of the attention… and meanwhile, the templar forces far outnumbered the Wardens of the Wood. But yes, the Eldeen Sects were absolutely involved in the conflict, fighting both to survive and to protect other innocents where they could. They suffered tremendous losses during the conflict—some at the hands of templars convinced they were lycanthropes—but the Wardens in particular did manage to protect many innocents. We’ve mentioned before that the Pure Flame emerged from the Lycanthropic Purge as the Aundairians who’d suffered through the Purge embraced the Silver Flame. But just as the Flame received a surge of new followers in the aftermath of the conflict, so did the Wardens of the Wood! Especially in the region around Niern—the closest to the Greenheart—many people owed their survival to the efforts of the Wardens and either immigrated into the woods in the aftermath of the Purge or simply maintained contact with their Warden allies. This was one more factor in the willingness of the people of western Aundair to embrace the Wardens and form the Eldeen Reaches during the Last War; because the region already had history with the Wardens, still told the stories of Warden rangers bravely fighting wereboars. But again, the key point is that the Wardens didn’t have the numbers or the military discipline of the templars. They played a key role in a few specific areas, and they certainly were involved in the final push that broke the power of the Wild Heart, along with templars and Moonspeakers—but to the world at large, this was the templars’ story.

How Did Any Shifters Survive?

The templars didn’t learn of the threat until the lycanthropes spread beyond the Towering Wood and into Aundair. We’ve said that shifter villages were important staging areas for templar forces during the conflict, and that there were villages with just a handful of wererats hidden among an otherwise innocent population. But how is it that there were any shifter villages by the time the templars arrived? How is it that they weren’t completely overwhelmed before the forces of the Wild Heart began invading Aundair?

The key to this is that we’ve never discussed what the Wild Heart actually wanted to accomplish or how it was finally defeated. We know that the Wild Heart had broken most of its bonds, that it was able to exert its influence over a vast region, and that at some point it was likely able to manifest a physical avatar at the seat of its power (a manifestation similar in power to the overlords presented in Rising From The Last War). We know that in general it drew strength from the spread of lycanthropy, and that eliminating lycanthropes weakened it. But as discussed in this article, the bonds of the overlords are enigmatic and tied to the Prophecy. It is entirely possible that the Wild Heart needed the templars to break free from its prison. I’ll take it a step further and say that it may well have needed templars to kill innocent shifters—that part of why cunning wererats were engineering paranoia and driving massacres is because this was a crucial component of the lock on the Wild Heart’s prison. One could say if that’s the case and someone figured it out, couldn’t they just leave? and sure, if someone figured it out, they could—but that wouldn’t undo the damage already done. Even if it wasn’t fully free, the Wild Heart would still command an army of lycanthropes and could still destroy Aundair; things had gone way too far for ignoring it to be an answer. The templars may have been a key element in releasing the Wild Heart—but they also had a vital role to play in fully rebinding it, which is what eventually occurred.

The upshot of all of this is to remember that the true goals of the Wild Heart were more subtle than simply kill and expand… and that the ultimate defeat of the Wild Heart required more than just physical force. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what these two options—release and rebind—involved.

In Conclusion…

In telling a story or creating a campaign around the Silver Crusade, I’d keep the following points in mind…

  • Shifters of the Towering Wood were the primary inhabitants of the Wood before the Crusade. Most villages in the wood were shifter communities.
  • These shifters suffered grievous losses and were fighting for their survival before the templars even arrived. Shifter villages that hadn’t been openly attacked were often infiltrated by wererats.
  • Templars weren’t the enemy of the shifters, and they did work together in villages. But the Wild Heart forever worked to make them enemies and to trick them into bloodshed.
  • The known druid sects—Wardens of the Wood, Ashbound, Greensingers, Children of Winter—were all involved in the conflict, but because of their small numbers were typically confined to specific regions. They were fighting for their survival. Prior to the Aundairian attacks, non-shifter lycanthropes in the Towering Wood would be drawn from the druid sects.
  • The goal of the Wild Heart was to shatter the final bonds imprisoning it. While bloodshed and the spread of lycanthropy helped this, its true goals were more complex; this is why the conflict lasted as long as it did and why it didn’t raze every village.
  • In my campaign, good people slaughtering innocents would be a critical element of the Wild Heart’s goals. So there were two clear front lines—physical conflict with powerful lycanthropes and psychological conflict with wererats seeking to compel innocents to kill one another.

All of this deals with the first phase of the Purge. Once the power of the Wild Heart was broken, afflicted lycanthropes could no longer infect others and champions of Olarune and other good lycanthropes were freed from its control. But the conflict wasn’t over, and there were decades of strife and pain as the Pure Flame continued its efforts to root out every last lycanthrope. As a story, this would be more like The Crucible, and it’s not a campaign I’d particularly like to run.

Even if you never run a campaign set in this period, it can still play a role in the story of many player characters in the modern day. If you’re from the region—whether human or shifter—what happened to your family during the Purge? Were your ancestors slaughtered by lycanthropes, templars, or both? Did they adopt the faith of the Flame or join one of the druid sects because of their actions in the Silver Crusade… or have they never forgiven one of those groups for the actions it took during the Purge? If you’re playing an elf or a similarly long-lived character, did you actually experience part of the Purge yourself, and if so, what role did you play?

That’s all for now! My time is very limited right now, so I may not be able to answer questions on this topic. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible; follow the link if you’d like to help support the site and determine the topics of future articles!

IFAQ: Dreamspace and Flumphs

Art by Julio Azevedo

Every month, I ask my Patreon supporters for interesting questions about Eberron. This is the first time I’ve been asked about flumphs! So let’s get to it!

What’s the role of Flumphs in Eberron, especially in Riedra or Adar?

As far as I know, flumphs have never been addressed in canon. I’ve personally never used a flumph in any campaign I’ve run, so I’m primarily familiar with them from their appearances in Order of the Stick. So, the following things are true about flumphs in 5E.

  • Flumphs are small aberrations.
  • Flumphs are telepathic. They feed on telepathic emanations and thus are thus found around other telepathic species. They can eavesdrop on telepathic communication in their vicinity and cannot be perceived by telepathy or divination.
  • Flumphs are wise and benevolent. They dislike holding on to evil thoughts, and thus when they overhear evil thoughts they will try and share them with good people—so they’re ideally suited to spilling the beans on illithid or aboleth schemes.
  • They’re traditionally found in the Underdark, and live in harmonious units known as cloisters.

So with all that in mind, here’s how I’ll use flumphs in Eberron…

Flumphs are natives of Xoriat, where they dwell in the Emocean—a tide of surging thoughts and emotions, deeper and more primal than Dal Quor’s Ocean of Dreams. Flumph cloisters drift along streams of consciousness, drawing sustenance from the pure psychic emanations surrounding them. This is a blissful experience, and most flumphs have no interest in traveling to the material plane. But occasionally manifest zones form maelstroms within the Emocean, especially when people within the manifest zone suffer intense emotions. Flumphs in the material plane are fish out of water, and need to quickly find a source of psychic emanations in order to survive. While flumphs can draw sustenance from any form of telepathic emanation, they are benevolent by nature. While they can survive on a diet of cruelty, it’s distressing and they will seek to expunge the evil thoughts in a psychic exchange with good creatures whenever possible.

Flumphs enter Eberron through manifest zones to Xoriat. Here’s a few places flumphs can be found in Eberron.

  • There are flumphs scattered across Sol Udar beneath the Mror Holds, pulled in by the fear and suffering of the dwarves battling Dyrrn the Corruptor. Most Mror flumphs are isolated and lost, struggling to survive. Sages of Clan Narathun have established a flumph sanctuary beneath Shadowspire and reunited a flumph cloister. A group of Narathun bards have been working with these flumphs to develop their thoughtsinging techniques, and flumphs are helping Narathun watch for Dyrrn’s forces.
  • Flumphs can be found in the swamps of the Shadow Marches. Some linger in the periphery of dangerous telepathic entities. Others have formed a symbiotic relationship with a sect known as the Uul’gaanu, the “Daughters of the Dream.” A benevolent variation of Kyrzin’s Whisperers, the Uul’gaanu build their communities around hidden flumphs. The flumphs help the Uul’gaanu develop basic telepathic abilities; an Uul’gaanu community has a very simple hive mind, with members of the community casually sharing emotions and thoughts. Community members gather together for psychic metaconcerts, generating shared emotions that feed their flumphs. Dealing with the Uul’gaanu can be unsettling for outsiders, as the Uul’gaanu respond to the thoughts and emotions of their companions without need for speech; while for their part, the peaceful Uul’gaanu are often distressed by the cruel or selfish thoughts of outsiders. As a result, the Uul’gaanu tend to remain isolated from other Marcher communities.
  • Flumphs have emerged in wild zones of Sarlona over the years. Because of their ability to eavesdrop on psychic communication, the Inspired consider them a security risk and exterminate them whenever they are found. However, a number of flumphs have found safe havens in the fortress monasteries of Adar. Adaran flumphs are valued members of their communities, engaging in thoughtsinging and presenting young Adarans with philosophical challenges. Some flumphs choose to work with Adaran security forces, watching for Inspired infiltrators and influences.

As denizens of Xoriat, flumphs perceive reality in very different ways from creatures of the material plane, and have different outlooks on the nature of time, space, matter, and individual identity. Those who can bend their brains to encompass these concepts can learn a great deal from flumphs, as shown by the nascent group mind of the Uul’gaanu and the thoughtsinging techniques of the Narathun. However, these concepts can be difficult to reconcile with everyday life in the material plane, and this can make conversations with flumphs confusing for people fully grounded in reality.

What is the Dreamspace, and how would you use it?

The Dreamspace is a concept introduced in Secrets of Sarlona, which has this to say:

Planar gateways that once linked Eberron and Dal Quor, the Region of Dreams, were sundered during the cataclysmic wars that destroyed Xen’drik and shattered the giant civilization. Since then, Dal Quor has been forever distant, and no stable manifest zones to Dal Quor exist anywhere on Eberron.

However, Dal Quor and Eberron remained inextricably linked by the state of dreaming—the process by which mortal minds travel to the Region of Dreams, and the subtle gateway through which the quori first began their conquest of Sarlona some fifteen centuries past. 

Discovered short years ago and still known only to a few, the dreamspace is an effect that appears related to this spiritual connection between planes, but one that as yet has no explanation. It appears as a kind of ripple of arcane and psionic energy—a border of sorts between the mortal world and the world of dreams… Regardless of its origin, different factions among both the kalashtar and Inspired distrust—some even say fear—the dreamspace. In particular, a good number of Inspired are said to be disturbed by the existence of a power connected to Dal Quor that they neither control nor understand.

Secrets of Sarlona, Page 18

Secrets of Sarlona includes a set of “Dreamtouched Feats” that allow people to attune themselves to the Dreamspace. Specific uses include the Dream of Contact, which allows long-distance telepathic communication (not unlike Sending) and Dream of Insight, which allows the dreamer to make a Intelligence-based skill check with a substantial bonus to the role—essentially, drawing knowledge from the collective unconscious. These techniques are crucial tools for the Unchained, a resistance movement within Riedra whose members engage un unsanctioned free dreaming.

That’s the extent of canon information. The Dreamspace was “discovered a few short years ago” and both the Inspired and kalashtar distrust it. So what IS it? A few possibilities that come to mind…

  • The Dreamspace is just part of the natural infrastructure of the planes. Think of it as the phone lines that connect mortal dreamers to Dal Quor. There’s nothing sinister about it; it’s just a (super)natural part of the world.
  • The Dreamspace is an artifact created by the quori of a previous age when they interacted with Eberron. Rather than tying this to the Giant-Quori conflict in Xen’drik, I’d tie this to an even older age of Dal Quor, potentially associated with long-forgotten civilizations in either Khorvaire or Sarlona… civilizations destroyed by the rising of the Daughter of Khyber or another Overlord. This allows for the discovery of ancient rituals or artifacts designed to manipulate the Dreamspace, and leaves the question open as to whether the quori of that past age were benevolent or if the Dreamspace itself was designed as some sort of weapon or tool of oppression.
  • People have only discovered the Dreamspace recently because it’s only recently come into existence. It’s the side effect of unforeseen damage the Inspired are inflicting on the psychosphere of Eberron through their use of the hanbalani monoliths. At the moment it’s a useful tool, but as the damage becomes more extensive it could connect unwilling minds, cause dreaming spirits to be lost in the Dreamspace instead of reaching Dal Quor, or far worse things.
  • The Dreamspace is a hoax. It’s a creation of the Dreaming Dark, a lure that’s being used to draw out rebels like the Unchained. Attuning the the Dreamspace and developing Dreamtouched techniques actually makes the user more vulnerable to quori possession.

These are all interesting possibilities. The point is that, like the Mourning, I wouldn’t WANT to present a single kanon or canon answer, because a central point of the Dreamspace is that the people using it don’t know what it is. It is a new tool that’s being latched onto by a desperate resistance—is it a blessing, or could it be a trap? Is it secretly a tool of the Dreaming Dark, or is it a the horrifying result of their messing with powers beyond even their control? Each of the four options above would form the foundation of very different stories. Using the first option, it could be a simple, reliable tool that has no other significant impact on the story. Using the second option could unveil a quori scheme from a previous age that dwarfs the ambitions of the Dreaming Dark—while the third option could end with the Dreaming Dark and the player characters working together to disassemble the hanbalani system before it tears reality apart.

So, the Dreamspace was always intended to be an idea that each DM could use in different ways; perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you!

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for posing interesting questions and for making these articles possible!