Every month I answer questions posed by my patrons on my Patreon site. Here’s a few that have come up this month…
What options does Eberron provide for people who are deaf or hard of hearing? Are there magical hearing aids? Is sign language common place?
There are a variety of tools and options. There are three primary sign languages in use in Khorvaire. Aelada is the oldest visual language that’s still in use today. It is employed by both the Aereni and the Tairnadal, as well as the Bloodsail elves of the Lhazaar Principalities. Kaasvola is a visual language developed by the Dhakaani dar, and is dominant in Droaam, Darguun, and the Shadow Marches. However, the primary form of sign language used in the Five Nations is SSL, Sivis sign language. Aelada is quite complex; Sivis wordsmiths adapted some of its principles, but worked to develop a visual language that was more intuitive and adaptable.
The most common form of hearing aid is the tin ear. Typically taking the form of an earring, this is a common magic item that uses principles of minor image and prestidigitation to compensate for hearing loss. There’s a variety of forms of the tin ear produced by House Cannith, the Arcane Congress, and others, but they operate on similar principles.
Anyone can use a tin ear, but there is another option: a familiar. This articlediscusses the role of familiars in everyday life in more detail. As described in find familiar, a character with a familiar can can see through their familiar’s eyes and hear what it hears. Normally this requires ongoing concentration, but some people learn a specialized form of the spell that allows them to use the familiar’s senses instead of their own without having to take an action to do so, but only if they are in physical contact with the familiar—so they see or hear through the crow on their wrist or the cat on their shoulder. Some people who use familiars in this way will speak through their crow, raven or parrot familiars.
My campaign involves a criminal mastermind running smuggling operations in the Lhazaar Principalities trying to make a name for themself and become fabulously wealthy. What would they be smuggling, and who would be trying to stop them?
On the whole, the majority of smuggling in Khorvaire deals with relatively mundane goods that are highly taxed in the Five Nations. For every smuggler carrying dreamlily in western Khorvaire, there’s three smuggling harpy sugar… an exotic sweetener from Droaam that happens to be in vogue in Sharn and that’s taxed accordingly. And this is a great option for player characters with a smuggling background. You could have been transporting medical supplies (which is, after all, how the dreamlily trade began…) through blockades. You could have been bringing Marcher moonshine into Sharn, evading the highly unjust Brelish tariffs on this totally innocent beverage (which does NOT make you go blind, or contain Kyrzin-brewed sentient fluids. Honest.) But in this case we aren’t looking for what’s USUALLY smuggled. You might make money smuggling harpy sugar, but you’e not going to make a fortune or develop an infamous reputation. So what’s something dangerous or reprehensible? Something that will generate outrage or make headlines? Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head.
Dragon’s Blood from Droaam, a dangerous, addictive drug that temporally grants or enhances sorcerous power.
Experimental Jorasco/Vadalis drugs that were condemned as being too risky or harmful.
Surplus Cannith weapons developed for Cyre during the Last War, doubly so if they might be unreliable. Probably smuggled out of the Mournland, which further adds the risk that they have been affected by the Mourning in unpredictable ways.
Cyran fine art or Cyran cultural treasures smuggled out of the Mournland.
Spirit idols from Aerenal, which could perhaps have some value to unscrupulous necromancers (such as the elves of the Bloodsail Principality)—there may be ways to essentially bind the spirit in the idol to create various forms of undead servants.
Karrnathi undead that have supposedly been stored in the vaults under Atur, sold with magic items that supposedly allow the bearer to control the undead.
All of the things I mentioned would be illegal under the Code of Galifar or restricted under the Treaty of Thronehold, so any national coast guard would interfere. Aerenal would be especially interested in shutting down the theft of spirit idols, and the Karrns would take the smuggling of undead seriously… though if the smuggler is operating in the Lhazaar Principalities, Karrnath would already be their primary concern.
What about dreamlily? It comes from Sarlona, but the Boromar Clan maintains dens where you can take it, much like opium dens. Do they have experts who have studied and tried to understand it? If so, what have they managed to figure out? What sorts of skills would such experts have?
Dreamlily was introduced to the setting in Sharn: City of Towers, which notes:
Healers first used essence of dreamlily, a powerful opiate from Sarlona, during the Last War. Once the Brelish Crown realized the dangers of addiction, use of this elixir was quickly outlawed. This has not erased the demand for the drug, and the control of the dreamlily trade is a source of significant strife in the Lower-City. Essence of dreamlily is an iridescent, psionically active liquid. It draws on the mind of the user, and tastes like his favorite beverage. Each use of the drug can potentially lead to an overdose, especially for those addicted to it.
If I were to do a quick conversion of dreamlily to fifth edition, I’d say that someone under the influence of Dreamlily is immune to the Frightened condition. They cannot take reactions, and on their turn, they can use either an action or a bonus action, not both. In third edition rules, dreamlily allowed someone to continue to operate normally even when they had 0 to -5 hit points; a similar way to model this would be to grant the user 5 temporary hit points. It’s not supposed to be something adventurers would want to take, though it could be interesting for adventurers to dose themselves with dreamlily before facing a creature that causes fear.
I didn’t mention dreamlily in the preceding answer, because LOTS of smugglers deal in dreamlily—it’s not a commodity that will make a master criminal stand out from the crowd. With that in mind, the general tone of Eberron is more late 19th century – early 20th century than present day, and the dreamlily trade is more like the old opium trade than a modern drug trade with people synthesizing knock offs and variants. In general, the idea is that Sarlonan drugs like dreamlily and absentia (another drug from Sharn: City of Towers, which allows the user to experience the world through another creature’s senses) are mysteries that can’t be replicated in Khorvaire, because in Sarlona you’re dealing both with wild zones and psionics; essentially, they are working with a form of science we don’t understand and have access to (super)natural resources that don’t exist in Khorvaire. The Boromars can’t figure out how to synthesize deamlily because it requires psionic disciplines and plants cultivated in a wild zone.
With that said, if I wanted to do a Breaking Bad story I could imagine someone working with a rogue gleaner (primal magewright) or alchemist artificer — or both — to enhance dreamlily. They still get the core product from Sarlona, but give it a unique twist that makes their product superior to what’s otherwise in the market. On the other hand, I could also imagine Jorasco, Cannith West, and Vadalis working together (this kind of cooperation is why the Twelve exists) to create a new narcotic as a native Khorvairian alternative to dreamlily, which could lead into an opioid epidemic if that’s a story you want to explore.. But again, that’s a generally more modern concept than the canon setting aims at; dreamlily is supposed to be more opium than fentanyl.
That’s all for now! If you’ve got questions of your own, you can pose them on my Patreon. I also hold a live Q&A each month of patrons, and patrons at the Threshold level have a chance to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign. You can check my Patreon out here—and if you’re already a patron, thanks for your support!
At the dawn of creation, the blood of Siberys rained down upon the surface of Eberron, blending the essence of the two Progenitors. This union produced the first dragons. While mortal, they were infused with the mystical power of the Dragon Above; magic is as much a part of a dragon as blood or scale. When Siberys’s blood struck the high mountain peaks, the silver dragons were born. Where it struck the desert, brass dragons emerged from the sand. Where it fell into the oceans, bronze dragons emerged from the water. These glittering dragons were echoes of the perfection of the Progenitors. But they weren’t alone. Foul Khyber was bound beneath Eberron, and as the blood of Siberys soaked down into the soil, the influence of Khyber rose up. And so a second wave of dragons were born… still the children of Siberys and Eberron, yes, but touched by the essence of Khyber. Instead of the beautiful metallic scales of the first generation, these younger dragons had scales of flat, base colors—a visible sign of their weakness of body and spirit.
This is the bitter truth of our chromatic cousins: they carry the legacy of Khyber in their blood and on their scales. Consider the favored form of the Daughter of Khyber. Consider how much stronger her influence is over these dragons than we pure metallics—something seen even in the best of times in their aggressive temperaments and sharp tongues. We cannot blame our cousins for this weakness; we can only pity them, and be even vigilant lest they fall prey to their baser nature.
-The Loredrake Ourenilach
When creating Eberron, we made a conscious decision to take new approaches to many well known monsters. Eberron has honorable gnolls and the orcs protect the world from demons and daelkyr. Halfling barbarians ride dinosaurs. Giants aren’t tied to the Ordning. As for dragons, the Eberron Campaign Setting says “Dragons come in all alignments; it is as common to encounter a good red dragon as it is an evil gold dragon. Usually, dragons aren’t monsters in the typical D&D sense; heroes won’t barge into a dragon’s lair looking to plunder its treasure. Instead, dragons are either aloof and unapproachable, or they are curious and manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes or trying to influence the world and the Prophecy in arcane ways.”
In this article, I want to address a number of questions about dragons. Do dragons in Eberron have the same personalities assigned to the colors in the Monster Manual? If not, what are the meaningful differences between chromatic and metallic dragons? What inspiration can I use for quick draconic encounters? Do all dragon follow the Thir faith? For more on dragons,I previously answered some questions tied to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons in this article; meanwhile, this article looks at why dragons usually aren’t our friends. This topic was proposed on my Patreon and addresses questions raised by patrons; check it out here if you want to influence future articles!
METALLIC AND CHROMATIC
In the default lore of Dungeons & Dragons, metallic dragons are the virtuous scions of Bahamut while chromatic dragons are the evil spawn of Tiamat. Beyond alignment, this is reflected in their regional effects and lair actions; Silver dragons generate zephyr winds around their lairs that gently catch innocent people who fall in the mountains, while blue dragons produce endless storms and malevolent dust devils. In fifth edition, black dragons aren’t just described as being evil, they FEEL evil, fouling nearby water supplies and inducing despair in the creatures around their lairs. But Eberron strips this away; you’re as likely to encounter a good red dragon as you are an evil gold. If that’s the case, why even have the distinction? What’s the meaningful difference between a black dragon and a copper dragon?
In Eberron, draconic alignment and behavior are a matter of choice. But lair actions and regional effects are biological, determined by the color of the dragon. A powerful blue dragon may choose to be heroic, but it’s still going to generate fierce thunderstorms anywhere it settles. A powerful black dragon fouls water sources regardless of the dragon’s alignment. Overall, the practical fact is that chromatic dragons shape the environment in ways that feel malevolent, while metallics typically have more positive effects. Among the dragons themselves, this is attributed to the influence of Siberys and Khyber. As presented by the loredrake Ourenilach at the start of this article, many dragons believe that the metallic dragons are the pure children of Siberys and Eberron—while the chromatic dragons are fundamentally corrupted by the touch of Khyber. Proponents of this theory point to the malign regional effects as evidence of this. And while any dragon CAN fall prey to the influence of the fiendish overlord known as the Daughter of Khyber, chromatic dragons are more susceptible to her influence; likewise, their eggs are more easily corrupted to create Spawn of Tiamat.
So black dragons DO foul water and generate entangling undergrowth. But that’s just part of being a black dragon, not the result of any actual malevolence of the dragon. It’s likely one reason Vvaraak chose the Shadow Marches as her beachhead in Khorvaire rather than the Towering Wood: as a powerful black dragon, she had less of an impact on the environment by settling in an existing swamp. It’s worth noting that only legendary dragons produce environmental effects… and this in turn is a reason for the Chamber to use younger dragons as its undercover operatives. If a powerful blue dragon settles in Sharn, the city will be lashed by powerful storms and plagued by dust devils.
A side effect of this is that there often ARE more evil chromatic dragons than evil metallic dragons—because being a chromatic dragon is HARDER than being a metallic dragon, and it can take a toll on the psyche of the dragon. As a blue dragon it can be depressing living under constant storm clouds, and those dust devils are kind of like draconic lice. Meanwhile, everyone loves Shiny the Silver and their life-saving zephyrs. So this can contribute to chromatic dragons being more likely to be angry or cruel than their metallic cousins. But most shrug this off… and as we see with Vvaraak, Ourelonastrix and Dulahrahnak, chromatic dragons can be champions.
While only legendary dragons produce full six-mile radius environmental effects, most older dragons generate these effects to some degree; they are a reflection of the raw arcane power of the dragon. Within Argonnessen, these effects have been harnessed in many ways. Storm spikes catch lightning and store it as arcane energy; you’ll find these spikes anywhere powerful blue dragons dwell. Gold dragons often act as dream guides, and it was a team of gold dragons that created the epic Draconic Eidolon in Dal Quor. Meanwhile, communities that support black dragons use powerful cleansing stones to maintain pure water supplies; it’s quite possible that a Chamber agent helped the architects of Sharn develop the water purification systems of the city precisely so they wouldn’t be fouled by a resident black dragon.
When thinking about a personality for a dragon from Argonnessen, consider the archetypes presented in Dragons of Eberron. The religion of Thir maintains that dragons have the potential to ascend and become divine beings—to become the Sovereigns, governing reality until a new aspirant takes on the mantle. Even if a dragon isn’t striving to become a Sovereign, the archetypes still offer a clear path in life. And an archetype can be an easy way to give a dragon goals. Most dragons may not care about amassing wealth, but a Master of the Hoard is defined by their treasures. A Loredrake is always interested in arcane knowledge. So, consider the following…
A Child of Eberronmay seek to protect the natural world and its creatures, as Vvaraak did. They might seek to cultivate a region—maintaining a vast preserve or zoolological garden in Xen’drik or Argonnessen. Or they could follow the path of the Devourer, embodying the destructive power of nature. Imagine a legendary storm that manifests in Khorvaire every year and moves along a particular path… but when they are caught in the storm, the adventurers discover that there is an ancient blue dragon at the heart of it.
The Flames of the Forge are artists and artisans. Within Argonnessen, these dragons create eldritch machines and epic wonders. But perhaps there is a Prometheus like dragon who is leaking secrets of artifice to lesser creatures… or who simply enjoys watching the younger species pursue knowledge. Such a dragon might take a particular interest in an artificer adventurer whom they see as the genius of the age. Or perhaps the adventurers stumble into the workshop lair of a rogue Flame of the Forge who died centuries ago… but who left behind a lair filled with eldritch tools and deadly traps. Do you want to introduce a construct that has no logical place in the region? Perhaps it escaped from that abandoned dragon’s forge…
Fortune’s Fangs are social dragons who enjoy traveling and seeing the world. Many serve as spies for the Chamber or help to push particular paths of the Prophecy. But they might also become patrons of the arts, amused by the work of the younger races (“If you set a ten thousand humans writing, eventually one might produce the works of Shakespearatryx.”). Others simply want adventures of their own—seeking there own excitement in Xen’drik, the Mournlands, or other dangerous places where their actions won’t impact the younger species.
Guides of the Weaklikewise often serve as spies for the Chamber, subtly helping communities of humanoids. When they go bad, this is where you could have a rogue dragon who sets themselves up as a tyrant over a small, isolated community. Typically dragons get these impulses out in the safe space of the Vast of Argonnessen; among other things, embracing tyranny opens a door for the Daughter of Khyber. But a young dragon might defy tradition and ignore the risks… which could then lead to their becoming a servant of the overlord.
Lightkeepers enforce order within Argonnessen, and who fight the cults of the Daughter of Khyber that emerge there. They are usually quite strict about not interfering with the younger species, but there are a few hidden among humanity and the other species. Keep in mind that the terms of the Prophecy often require humanoids to solve their own problems; a dragon might be able to defeat a particular villain easily, but they need to push the adventurers to do it themselves.
Loredrakes are the scholars and arcane researchers of Argonnessen. Most work within Argonnessen, as both sages and scientists. Loredrakes are the most ardent students of the Prophecy. But the pursuit of knowledge can lead to villains such as Zenobaal or lesser rogues—those who follow the path of the Shadow and research paths of magic forbidden by the Conclave of Argonnessen. Such things might not even be directly relevant to adventurers; a loredrake’s work could be SO esoteric that a common wizard can’t even understand it. On the other hand, it could be that a group of adventurers who stumble into a Loredrake’s lair could recover a spellshard holding a civilization-changing secret—how to mystically split the atom, for example. Imagine Stranger Things, but instead of it being the government running experiments on the edge of town, it’s a rogue loredrake experimenting on mortals beneath it. It all goes smoothly until they somehow open a portal into Xoriat. The adventurers must deal with both the creatures that have come through the portal, the innocent subjects of the dragon’s experiments, and ultimately a dragon twisted by exposure to Xoriat.
Looking for a dragon with a trove of treasure? The Master of the Hoardis just what you need. A Hoarder might get involved in commerce within a particular town, using the younger species to play out its archetypal role. Or it could be obsessed with collecting something in particular—like the default black dragon in the Monster Manual who “collects the wreckage and treasures of fallen peoples.” Such a dragon could be entirely harmless if left alone; it only wishes to enjoy its hoard and acquire all of its treasures through legitimate trade. But it could be the adventurers have a desperate need for one of the treasures in the dragon’s hoard; can they bargain with the Master of the Hoard or will they attempt theft? Beyond this, dragons can be driven by greed just as humans are. I could see reenacting Beowulf or the story of Smaug in a remote part of the Lhazaar Principalities, with a young dragon laying claim to the vast wealthy acquired by a greedy prince.
Dragons of Eberron presents Passion’s Flame in a relatively negative light, focusing solely on the aspect of the Fury. I think it can be more broadly expanded to fill the same role as the Three Faces of Love in Khorvaire. Within draconic society, Passion’s Flames serve as matchmakers, midwives, and entertainers—helping to bring dragons together. Passion’s Flames organize festivals and celebrations, much like Cazhaak priests of the Fury. Those encountered beyond Argonnessen can be on the wilder side—unconventional artists who use humanoids as their medium, rogue prophets with wild visions—but I also envision Passion’s Flames within the Chamber as specialists who understand how to manipulate humanoid emotions. For example, if the Prophecy requires Prince Oargev to fall in love with a particular person, it would be a Passion’s Flame who would study the situation and try to create a path that would bring those two crazy kids together.
Stalking Wyrms seek challenging prey and as such rarely spend much time among humanoids. But adventurers in Xen’drik could accidentally come between a Stalker and her prey, or be themselves pursued by a rogue Stalker who considers them worthy of a hunt.
Like Lightbringers, Wyrms of Warusually serve the Conclave or the Light of Siberys. But as I’ve suggested with the Flames of the Forge, a Wyrm of War might find some pleasure in training the finest warriors of the younger species, or in observing their battles without interfering. A rogue Wyrm of War could spar with an agent of Rak Tulkhesh, playing a game of Conqueror with living pawns… though such a dragon would be in dire risk of being corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber.
USING THE MONSTER MANUAL…
A patron observed that because Eberron’s dragons throw out the good and evil stereotypes presented in the Monster Manual, it can be difficult to use existing adventures or material. I sympathize with this in principle. You’re in a hurry, you like the description of the black dragon in the Monster Manual, and you just want to throw it in an adventure… but are you somehow breaking Eberron by doing it? Well, there’s a place for everything in Eberron. The gnolls of the Znir Pact defy the gnoll lore of the Monster Manual, but you can apply that lore to the gnolls who are still bound to one of the overlords.. Looking back to the ECS, it said that USUALLY dragons aren’t monsters in the typical sense; they are masterminds and manipulators, scholars and observers. But if you just want to have a black dragon sitting on a hoard in a swamp? There’s a few ways to handle this.
The Monster Manual provides a lot of flavor for different types of dragon. According to the MM, black dragons “collect the wreckage and treasures of fallen peoples. These dragons loathe seeing the weak prosper and revel in the collapse of humanoid kingdoms. They make their homes in fetid swamps and crumbling ruins where kingdoms once stood.” A black dragon “lives to watch its prey beg for mercy, and will often offer the illusion of respite or escape before finishing off its enemies.” In Eberron, this definitely doesn’t apply to ALL black dragons. But it could be true of a particular black dragon. While we’ve only named a few in canon, there are supposed to be rogue dragons who have spawned terrifying legends throughout history. You could use this to explain the Monster Manual lore—to say that that lore is taken from an in-world draconomicon that asserts that all black dragons are cruel and all blue dragons are tyrants based on the actions of individual rogue dragons encountered in history. So, to make up a few rogues…
Hazcoranar the Gravedigger is a black dragon and a Master of the Hoard. He is infamous for appearing after horrific battles and looting the corpses of the dead—adding to his hoard of treasures from fallen or falling humanoid civilizations. Aside from the treasures of Galifar, he has gathered artifacts from the Empire of Dhakaan, the Cul’sir Dominion, and the pre-Sundering kingdoms of Sarlona. In tales he often appears at the end of a battle, finishing off dying survivors (and enjoying their pleas for mercy) but his title of the Gravedigger comes from the fact that he has desecrated and stolen from a number of great tombs.
Prince Golan Thunder was an elf prince of Stormkeep, a domain in the mainland Lhazaar Principality. He was a tyrant who maintained power through an alliance with a blue dragon who dwelt in the mountains above the Principality, who destroyed anyone who challenged him. While Stormkeep was a small domain, Golan built it up in remarkable ways, recruiting exceptional mercenary soldiers, a court wizard, fine artists—playing to the blue dragon stereotype of wanting exceptional minions. In fact, Golan WAS the dragon—Golantyx the Thunderer, a tyrannical Guide of the Weak. He ruled for over a century, but he eventually fell prey to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber and sought to conquer the surrounding principalities. One of the champions of the age (perhaps Harryn Stormblade) challenged the tyrant, first in elf form and then as a dragon, and Golantyx was forced to abandon his domain.
Why is the Dragonwood of Breland called “The Dragonwood”? Because of Mazalaryn, known variously as the Viper Queen and the Wyrm of the Woods. This green dragon appeared during the reign of Galifar the Dark and announced her claim to what was then called the Daggerwood. She would often appear in human guise at the galas of neighboring nobles. For a time, she demanded a strange tribute from neighboring nobles—every 25 years, each family had to send a champion into the woods to find her lair, dealing with the countless hazards in the forest maze. If a champion survived the challenge, she would advise the family for the next 25 years; if a family refused to participate, she would raid their holdings in dragon form. Over time, she created a culture driven by vicious vendettas and the use of poison, and the ir’Calan line was completed wiped out in these feuds. Templars and other champions often entered the Dragonwood to slay the Viper Queen; few ever returned from the woods. It’s possible that Mazalaryn is a rogue who is simply playing with humanoids as if they were toys. Or it may be that she’s an agent of the Chamber who is carefully setting up paths of the Prophecy. It could be that she’s still active today, or it may have been a century since she’s been seen. If so, she could have been targeted by one of the Lords of the Dust or even caught in an accidental bombardment during the Last War.
In the annals of the Five Nations, the most infamous red dragon of legend is Sarmondelaryx, the Bane of Thrane. Long before the Year of Blood and Fire and the rise of the Church of the Silver Flame, Sarmondelaryx terrorized the region, ultimately killing Prince Thrane ir’Wynarn. However, there is another red dragon that made his mark on history. The Kech Volaar have records of Jharaashta, also known as the Marhu’kor (Crimson King). Jharaashta dominated a region of central Khorvaire before the rise of the Dhakaani Empire. It’s said that his mountain domain contained countless treasures, both things he collected as tributes and artifacts of ancient times that he jealously hoarded—artifacts from the Age of Demons, relics of the Sovereigns. The legendary Jhazaal Dhakaan negotiated a peace between the dragon and the young empire—and it was Jhazaal who convinced Jharaashta to surrender the horn that later became the artifact Ghaal’duur. While the Dhakaan were able to buy ongoing peace with Jharaashta, it came at a considerable price, and his lair is said to contain incalculable wealth. Jharaashta hasn’t been seen for nine thousand years. Most likely he’s long dead of old age; another possibility is that he was a Master of the Hoard and that he is the spirit currently embodying Kol Korran or the Keeper! Likewise, his lair could still remain intact, holding countless Dhakaani and pre-Imperial artifacts; if so it would be of great interest to the Heirs of Dhakaan. On the other hand, it is possible it was looted thousands of years ago. But Jharaashta contributes to the legend of the red dragon as vain and greedy.
In the Lhazaar Principalities, it’s said that the isle of Orthoss used to be a tropical paradise… until the white dragon known only as Rime settled there. There are countless stories of Rime trapping ships in ice and stealing their cargoes, or demanding sacrifices in exchange for mercy. Rime could be a Child of Eberron, following the path of the Devourer; they embody the harsh hand of winter. Rime has been silent for over a century, following a clash with the heroes of a previous age. But the people of Orthoss remember the dragon-fear, and many swear they will return. If you want to run Rime of the Frostmaiden in Eberron, you could potentially set the game in Orthoss and use Rime as a stand-in for Auril.
These five ideas all play to the Monster Manual stereotypes… the sadistic black dragon hoarding relics of a previous age, the blue tyrant, the treacherous green. But these are specific individuals who happen to have those personality traits. It’s not that all red dragons are greedy—it’s that JHARAASHTA was greedy, and because he’s a rogue who actually interacted with humanoids, scholars assert that all reds are greedy. This ties to the point that you could take the personality traits or hooks presented in the Monster Manual and apply them to ANY dragon. Even here, Rime could be a silver dragon instead of a white, if for some reason that better suits the story you want to tell.
“Random Dragons” could be foundlings who never had the education of a child of Argonnessen. They could be rogues or exiles. But perhaps there’s more to their actions than first meets the eye… perhaps the dragon that’s been sitting on the hoard in the Burning Hills for the last two centuries has actually been stationed there waiting for the adventurers to arrive, because this is the moment when the Son of the Storm has to overcome adversity and sieze the Blade of the Falling Star. For the adventurers, they think they are fighting a monster and stealing its hoard. The dragon can’t just give them the sword; to fulfill the Prophetic condition they have to fight for it. But boy, after spending the last 200 years establishing this set piece, the dragon is going to be SO glad when the damn adventurers finally steal the sword and they can go home. Even the Bad Apples described above could be actors; building up the reputation as “Rime” because that’s somehow necessary to lock in a particular Prophetic path.
Are you looking for a dragon to be the classic villain in a simple tale, jealously guarding its hoard or protecting a legendary artifact? Thelanis is the answer to your problem. Consider the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. As a Thelanian manifest zone, it could be unnaturally rich in resources… the story of “wondrous wealth”. But as that’s discovered and people pour in, the story shifts to “deadly greed” and the dragon manifests to kill the miners and claim the hoard. In this version of the story, the Arkenstone could be a Thelanian artifact — the stone of impossible beauty — but the hoard could also contain lesser magic items created by the miners before the dragon came for the hoard. The point here is that Smaug exists because this is a story about a hoarding dragon. He didn’t fly in from somewhere else and he has no ties to Argonnessen; he appeared when the story needed a dragon, and now he remains because the dragon guarding the hoard continues to be a good story. While he is a product of Thelanis and the manifest zone, he has become real; he COULD fly away from the mountain to ravage Laketown. But it’s not something he could or would do casually; looking at The Hobbit, the idea would be that the people of Laketown celebrating the dwarves and THINKING about the mountain and the treasure draws the dragon to them, playing out the story. If the dragon was somehow kept out of the manifest zone for a long time it might shrivel or weaken — but it could dart out for a raid and return.
What differentiates these Storybook Dragons from the Bad Apples described above? Largely it would be about the complexity of the character. The Venom Queen is a little like Maleficent—the powerful mystical neighbor who might get pissed if she’s not invited to the christening. But most of the Bad Apples ended up getting involved in local politics and history. Jharaashta dealt with the Empire on an ongoing basis. The point of Storybook Dragons is that they ultimately aren’t REAL; they’re just the IDEA of a dragon. And lest it go without saying, this same concept could apply to any other creature. You could have a cloud giant tied to an airborne Thelanian manifest zone who embodies the idea of a monster in the sky but who doesn’t actually interact with the world below in any meaningful way.
We know very little about draconic culture and history. A broad implication is that it’s been a monolithic force since the Age of Demons. Personally, I don’t think it was monolithic then, and I don’t think it’s continued in an unbroken path. The reason the dragons remain isolated in Argonnessen is because of their fear of the Daughter of Khyber, and I don’t think you adhere to that for tens of thousands of years unless you’ve had clear evidence that it’s an existential threat. Personally, I think there’s been two serious cataclysms within draconic civilization that have rocked even Argonessen, and likely a few smaller collapses that only affected outposts established beyond it. I’ve already said that I think there was a widespread dragon civilization on Khorvaire sometime before the Age of Giants that collapsed due to the Daughter. It’s even possible that the destruction of Xen’drik had terrible consequences for Argonnessen—that such a dramatic exercise of their power caused a surge of cult activity on Argonnessen and a bitter civil war. Why does this matter? Because it means there could be draconic artifacts on Khorvaire tied to a civilization that no longer exists, things unknown even to Argonnessen. This could be an opportunity for adventurers to stumble across something even the Chamber has forgotten. And if it’s tied to a forgotten civil war between dragons, it could be a threat to the wyrms of the present day. While Ourenilach suggests that chromatic dragons are most vulnerable to the Daughter of Khyber, I like the idea that even if this is true, chromatic dragons of the past (such as Ourelon) could have crafted magic items to help them resist this, meaning that it could have been arrogant metallics who were the villains in the first great world war between Argonnessen and the dragons of Khorvaire…
WHAT ABOUT ARGONNESSEN?
An in-depth look at Argonnessen is beyond the scope of this article, but I want to touch on a few points that should help inform encounters with dragons from Argonnessen. Dragons of Eberron covers Argonnessen and I did work on that sourcebook, but I feel it doesn’t hit all the notes I’d like to hit if I were writing it alone, so here’s a few thoughts.
Advanced Aliens, Not Monsters
My touchstone for the dragons of Eberron are the Vorlons of Babylon Five—an incredibly ancient and powerful civilization that remains in isolation from the younger races while conducting its enigmatic war against the Shadows (IE, the Lords of Dust). By the rules of 3.5 dragons were not only incredibly intelligent, they were all innate spellcasters. Even without taking any class levels (and 3.5 had classes designed specifically for dragons!) a typical great wyrm could cast 9th level sorcerer spells. And one of the basic principles of Eberron is if Arcane magic existed, wouldn’t it become a tool of civilization? So think of the everyday magic of Khorvaire, and now imagine that EVERYONE in society can perform arcane magic—and that if you live long enough, you might be able to cast wish just using your own inherent power.
With this in mind, I feel that this takes the idea that sufficiently advanced science would seem like magic in a different direction: sufficiently advanced MAGIC would seem like magic. Meaning that the magic of the dragons is so advanced (and often, drawing on their own innate power) that wizards and artificers can’t comprehend the techniques. This ties to the idea that dragons can create artifacts and eldritch machines—things that go beyond what can be done with simple artifice. They can curse entire continents, leaving effects that still remain in force tens of thousands of years later. Within Argonnessen itself, there could be an arcane infrastructure that is all but invisible. Imagine seeing what seems to be a simple valley flanked by hills and caves. But should you detect magic, you’ll sense the massive energy flowing through artificial ley lines (generated by blue dragons and storm spikes…) and when the local dragon council gathers for their meeting a structure formed of walls of force will shimmer into existence. How does Argonnessen support its large dragon population? Well, if we assume dragons actually eat standard food, there’s a few options. Those who enjoy eating can conjure the food they need; the dragons of the Vast use the magebred bolatashi to keep the region stocked with dinosaurs and other suitable prey. But the dragons also long ago learned to mass produce goodberries—or, more likely, crafted wells imbued with the same life-sustaining magic, so a single drink provides all the sustenance you need for a week. And here again, the point is that this may not LOOK advanced to the casual observer; oh look, it’s a marble well. But look closer and you’ll recognize it’s an eldritch machine that can sustain a city.
Again, the key point here is that in setting up Eberron, we made the decision that for the most part, its dragons weren’t monsters; they are “either aloof and unapproachable, or they are curious and manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes or trying to influence the world and the Prophecy in arcane ways.” Consider the common trope of advanced aliens interacting with pre-warp civilizations. Some are observers trying not to interfere with the lives of the creatures they are studying; others are rogues using the younger species for entertainment.
Dragons of Eberron gives the sense that Argonnessen is very monolithic—for example, that all of the dragons of Argonnessen embrace Thir. DoE suggests that the Thousand is just made up of different families; I see it as being comprised of different cultures. Again, I don’t have the time to explore this in depth now. But I’d definitely imagine…
A culture driven by Children of Eberron that employs advanced primal magic (likely the birthplace of Vvaraak)
A magebreeding culture that created the bolatashi—and possibly, that created many other species found across Eberron
A culture that has focused on the planes and demiplanes, the source of planar orreries.
A culture focused on artifice.
A culture dedicated to the study of immortals—dealing with elementals, celestials, etc. They would be the experts on the overlords and would also be the main source of dragon warlocks.
… That’s just a start. All of this is on top of the Light of Siberys—which you can think of as Starfleet, a force that serves the United Federation of Dragons—and the Tapestry, which is where dragons of different cultures actively work together and share their philosophies. And on the other end you have the Vast, which is specifically maintained as a preserve where any dragon can live as they choose… in some ways, it’s the dragon equivalent of The Purge.
Humanoids in Argonnessen
Argonnessen isn’t only inhabited by dragons, and Dragons of Eberron discusses the role of nondragons in each of the major regions. The most populated and diverse is the Vast…
The Vast has the highest nondragon population of any of the territories. These lesser races have been brought to Argonnessen over the course of a hundred thousand years. Hobgoblins, whose ancestors were saved from the downfall of the Empire of Dhakaan, still sing the songs of the duur’kala… Elves, whose ancestors were brought from the shores of Xen’drik long before the elf–giant wars, know nothing of the Undying Court or the Tairnadal. There are nondragons never seen in Khorvaire, members of races that were exterminated by the giants or the daelkyr. The range of communities that can be found are dizzying. Some are metropolitan, with members of a dozen races living under one roof. Other communities are genetically isolated, steadfastly preserving secrets of their forgotten cultures.
Humanoids in the Vast are essentially toys for the dragons that live there. “To a dominion lord, nondragons are an extension of his hoard.” Guides of the Weak often interact directly with humanoids, either dominating them as tyrants or working as mentors. Wyrms of War play wargames with humanoids, whether pitting their humanoids against those of other Dominion Lords or engaging in direct dragon-to-dragon conflict to seize humanoid holdings. Here’s a table you could use to generate a community players encounter in the Vast…
Humanoids in the Vast
… have perfectly preserved their original culture
… have half-dragons incorporated into their culture
… have been reduced to feral savagery
… are pacifists protected by their dominion lord
… have a ruthless culture devoted to war
… are more arcanically advanced than modern Khorvaire
Xen’drik Elves or Drow
… employ powerful primal magic
… worship their dominion lord as a deity
Five Nations Blend
… have been altered by a powerful manifest zone
… have just been seeded in their current location
… have a unique culture that’s survived for millennia
Forgotten species is the idea of a form of humanoid that is entirely unknown in the present day, such as the proto-Dar I’ve mentioned a few times. “Other” could include yuan-ti, shulassakar, Lorghalen gnomes, Tairnadal elves, dwarves from the Realm Below… or even a unique species magebred by the dragons that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
In other regions, humanoid civilizations always serve some sort of draconic purpose. The Light of Siberys maintains an army of dragonborn and giants, ready should they ever be needed. Within the Tapestry and the Thousand, there’s a few different purposes for humanoid civilizations…
Lab Rats. This could be a particular unpleasant scenario in which some form of arcane magic is being actively and aggressively tested on a humanoid population. On the other hand, it could be an entirely peaceful experiment that will take centuries to play out… for example, a line of dragons is studying divine magic and has created a religion, and wants to see if their humanoid subjects develop the ability to cast divine spells through belief in this artificial faith.
Factory Workers. Because of how advanced the dragons are, menial labor is usually accomplished with magic. However, there could be a particular reason to use humanoids to maintain some sort of arcane system—whether it’s a production facility or simply part of the infrastructure, such as maintaining a nexus of artificial ley lines. This would make particular sense with an arcane system or manifest zone that has dangerous long-term effects; dragons don’t want to be exposed to it, but humans don’t actually live long enough to experience the negative effects.
Companions. Humans keep cats and dogs; some dragons keep humans. This could be a direct relationship, or it could be more like a garden; the dragons remain aloof but enjoy providing for and observing their humanoid community. “You must come and visit—the orcs are in bloom.”
Artwork. A twist on this is that a humanoid community could be a palette for a dragon artist—essentially, a living poem or concept given form. One option is that such a society would be kept stagnant to preserve the artistic vision; another is that it is a short term project, and that the artist plans to clear their canvas and start again in a century or two.
Valets. Exceptional humanoids could work directly with dragons—if not as equals, at least as respected servants. This is similar to Factory Workers but with more direct interaction between dragon and humanoid. I could imagine a primal society where humanoid gleaners and druids work closely with Children of Eberron, or a planar orrery where humanoid magewrights are tracking specific signs for dragon sages. I say “Valet” because the relationship here definitely isn’t one of equals—but the dragons involved have more respect for the humanoids than in the other examples, and won’t just throw them away. With this in mind, this sort of relationship would be most common within the Tapestry (the home of the Chamber); among other things, I can certainly imagine a humanoid community where the Chamber trains bother humanoid agents to serve as moles in the wider world, while also serving as a training ground for dragons who are preparing to go undercover themselves.
WHAT’S THE STORY WITH THE KECH DRAGUUS?
This question came up on my Patreon, and it’s a very deep cut. But since it deals with dragons, I’ll add my answer here. The Kech Draguus weren’t mentioned in Exploring Eberron, and I believe the only canon source for them is a Dragonshard article I wrote, which states Long ago, a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. Now this Kech Draguus has emerged from hiding. With a corps of half-dragon goblinoids and a few full-blooded dragons at its disposal, the Kech Draguus are poised to reshape Darguun.
Fifth edition adds a twist that adds an entirely new aspect to the Kech Draguus. In fifth edition, gold dragons have an affinity for dreams. A legendary gold dragon has the following regional effect: Whenever a creature that can understand a language sleeps or enters a state of trance or reverie within 6 miles of the dragon’s lair, the dragon can establish telepathic contact with that creature and converse with it in its dreams. The creature remembers its conversation with the dragon upon waking. Such a dragon also has the following Lair Action: One creature the dragon can see within 120 feet of it must succeed on a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be banished to a dream plane, a different plane of existence the dragon has imagined into being. Now, the first key question is what is meant by “A dream plane”. Is this Dal Quor or just a completely isolated demiplane of the dragon’s imagination? Personally, I would use it as banishing the victim to Dal Quor, to an island in the Ocean of Dreams that has been imagined by the dragon. So, taken together, legendary gold dragons have a strong tie to Dal Quor: they can create dream islands and send people there temporarily, and they can find and communicate with mortal dreamers who dream nearby, causing the dreamer to remember the conversation — meaning, they induce lucid dreaming in the people they interact with.
First of all, this idea says to me that in fifth edition Eberron, gold dragons played a crucial role in the creation of the Draconic Eidolon—the draconic gestalt that can preserve dragon souls after death. Second, while the Lair Action is primarily intended as a short term, temporary attack, I would allow a gold dragon to transport a willing mortal for a longer period of time — meaning, if you have a need to physically get to Dal Quor, you need to find a legendary gold dragon. With all THAT in mind, let’s get back to the Kech Draguus.
The canon information is that a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. The dreaming abilities of gold dragons are regional, so I would shift “clan” to “city”. This dragon forged an alliance with a Dhakaani city, protecting the city in the waking world and guiding its citizens in their dreams. This dragon admired the Uul Dhakaan and the Dhakaani principles, and worked with the Kech Uul. However, its love and loyalty were first and foremost for the city it had formed an attachment to; it was respected by the Kech Uul but didn’t work closely with them. Then the Xoriat incursion comes along. The dragon helps to protect its “children” but it can only do so much. The dragon works with the leaders of the city to prepare the sanctuary vault, and in time they flee into the depths and the long isolation—becoming the Kech Draguus.
Here’s where things get interesting. The canon line says that the Draguus have a FEW full-blooded dragons, along with HALF DRAGONS. As far as I know, fifth edition doesn’t have half-dragons in the same way 3.5 did — creatures that are genetically part dragon, anything from humans to rats. Our most infamous half-dragon in Eberron is Erandis Vol, and some people have assumed that means Argonnessen will exterminate all half-dragons. That wasn’t actually meant to be the case; the issue with Erandis was the attempt to produce an Apex Mark and to move it onto dragons. Many Argonnessen dragons find half dragons to be CREEPY, but they aren’t Kill On Sight. There are some half-dragons among the Serens and in the Light of Siberys; some lords of the Vast likely create their own half-dragons. For purposes of easily dropping half-dragons into the Kech Draguus, I might just make them dragonborn sorcerers. But I like the idea of playing with the regional effects of the gold dragon and saying that gold half-dragons are innately lucid dreamers. Meanwhile, looking to the idea that the Kech has a few full-blooded dragons, I’d make those children of the founder… but the fact that there’s more than one means that they have the potential to spread out while still maintaining a presence in both the waking world and the Uul Dhakaan. So if I were to do something with the Kech Draguus, I’d play up the idea that they dwell both in the physical world and in the Uul Dhakaan itself and that because of this they consider themselves to be the most true to the core ideals of the Empire. It could be that they are just trying to reestablish the Empire as it was in the present day… But they could have a more exotic goal. Perhaps they want to help all Dhakaani permanently, physically immigrate to the Uul Dhakaan! A second question is how they interact with the Dreaming Dark. It could be that the quori leave them alone; the Uul is a stable mass dream, and that’s good for il-Lashtavar. It could be that the Kech Draguus is actively fighting quori forces that are laying siege to the Uul. OR… it’s quite likely that the Turning of the Age will destroy or at the very least transform the Uul Dhakaan. Perhaps the Devourer of Dreams has demonstrated this to the leaders of the Kech Draguus, both human and dragon—and they now are aligned with the Dreaming Dark in doing whatever they can to prevent the turning of the age!
Another question: 2600 years ago isn’t that long for dragons. Are there living dragons on Argonnessen who opposed the destruction of the line of Vol?
Certainly. The green dragon known as the Emerald Claw didn’t act alone. There was a faction of dragons within the Thousand that supported the efforts of the Emerald Claw, and there was a fullscale conflict between dragons that took place in Argonnessen even as battles were raging on Aerenal. Many of the dragons who supported the experiment were slain, but there are certainly some who chose to stand down. However, it’s important to recognize that these dragons weren’t in an way acting for the good of elves or the younger races. They were working to create a half-dragon with an apex dragonmark, because they saw this as a crack in the door to potentially control the Prophecy itself. The supporters of this project believed that it could at the very least allow them to defeat the overlords and Lords of Dust once and for all, and potentially to gain the power of the Progenitors themselves; the majority that opposed it felt that it was both hubris and far too dangerous, with the potential to destroy Argonnessen itself. But there were a significant number of dragons who opposed the destruction of the Line of Vol—including some who actually fought against it.
That’s all the time I have. I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss it in the comments. if you do have questions for me, join my Patreon—thanks to the patrons who make these articles possible!
Between multiple conventions, getting sick from attending multiple conventions, and working on Wayfinder, I haven’t had time to write articles for my website this month. But I have been answering questions on my Patreon, and I thought I’d share one now…
In Exploring Eberron one of the suggested class ideas for a kalaraq kalashtar was a conjurer who summons spirits bound by your kalaraq spirit, but how did the kalaraq bind those spirits in the first place? Say my conjurer can summon a minor elemental. Do elementals dream, or did the kalaraq bind the spirit directly before Dal Quor was severed from the other plane?
Kalaraq quori are the most powerful quori spirits, and they are legitimately terrifying. Alone of the quori, an eyebinder can kill you in your sleep; if it kills you in your dream, it can bind your spirit to its wreath of eyes… Or it can twist your personality into a mirror of its own, using its mind seed ability. The strength of a kalaraq is a reflection of the number of souls that it’s bound; a powerful kalaraq could have hundreds of bound spirits.
There’s a number of interesting questions that come up with kalaraq kalashtar. If they are aspiring to be spirits of light, how do they justify the binding of souls? If we assume that there’s two or more kalaraq spirits left among the kalashtar lines (the leader of the rebel quori, Taratai, was kalaraq, but her line has been wiped out), one of them might have released all its bound spirits when it turned to the light. On the other hand, we’ve never said what sort of experience the souls have while bound. An interesting possibility is that each soul is trapped in its own eternal dream; that it continues to dream as it would in Dal Quor, just within the essence of the kalaraq itself. This helps explain the power of the kalaraq; each one is, in essence, a miniature Dal Quor, containing its own array of dreamers. So if we keep that idea in mind, one of the kalashtar kalaraq could have specifically targeted cruel and evil people who it believes deserve eternal punishment, and it keeps them experiencing endless nightmares; pretty brutal, but if we say that it targeted exceptionally horrible people, it’s interesting to imagine who it felt deserves such punishment. On the other hand, another kalashtar kalaraq could have taken the opposite approach: it bound the most compassionate and accomplished mortals it could find in order to preserve their spirits from dissolution in Dolurrh. Each one lives on in a dream paradise; essentially, this kalaraq decided to give worthy people the idyllic immortal afterlife that doesn’t exist on this side of Dolurrh (as no one knows what’s beyond Dolurrh). In either case, as a kalashtar of a kalaraq’s line, it’s interesting to think about the spirits it has bound in its eyes. Are they compassionate and accomplished mortals the kalaraq wanted to preserve? Or are they vile people it wished to punish?
This brings us back to the original question. In Exploring Eberron I suggested that you could use the nature of the kalashtar quori to add flavor to character abilities. Perhaps a conjurer is drawing on souls bound by the kalaraq! But what does that mean if the creatures you’re conjuring are elementals, or fey, or animals? Did the kalaraq dreambind a pack of wolves? Do elementals dream? Well, if you fight an elemental in Dal Quor, it’s not actually an elemental drawn from another plane; it’s a dream figment that has the abilities of an elemental. In conjuring creatures, what I’d say is that I’m not summoning the actual spirits my quori has bound; I’m summoning the nightmares of those bound spirits, made real using the energy of the spirit. This is where I’d come up with a list of nightmares at my disposal, and rename/flavor the creatures I could summon with that in mind. For example, if I can cast summon minor elemental I can summon an Azer. But with my DM’s approval, I’d say that what I actually summon is a horrifying burning clown—the persistent nightmare of a serial killer my quori bound ten thousand years ago. On the other hand, if I conjure animals, those beasts could sing softly with the voices of the bard who was bound long ago; they are part of the song he has been singing in his dream for thousands of years. While they may have the stats of elementals or beasts, cosmetically I’d highlight that they are dreams made real—the dreams of the souls preserved by my quori.
This same principle could apply to other spells or abilities. If I cast borrowed knowledge I’d say that I’m drawing that proficiency from one of the souls my quori holds bound. But I could see a non-musical bard who says that they perform “Bardic Inspiration” by temporarily gifting you with a guiding spirit (based on the kalaraq binding compassionate people). A warlock could have the kalaraq as their patron and say that each spell or invocation is the gift of a different spirit it has preserved; hellish rebuke is tied to the spirit of a furious, vengeful barbarian while charm person and suggestion draw on a charismatic bard.
But to further address the original question: A kalaraq couldn’t have bound any spirits before Dal Quor was cut off from the material plane. The breaking of the thirteenth moon occurred in a previous age of Dal Quor. When the Age turned and the Quor Tarai changed, it pulled in all the quori of that age and they were reborn as children of il-Lashtavar. This is why the Dreaming Dark is trying to stop the cycle; if il-Lashtavar becomes il-Yannah, it will again draw in and destroy all existing quori, creating a new host in the model of the Great Light. Kalaraq quori are children of il-Lashtavar; the quori of the previous age were likely entirely different in form.
And a last minor point—in all of the art I’ve seen of the kalaraq, their eyes have been very uniform in appearance. My original description emphasized that every eye is unique, reflecting the creature that’s bound within it.
Wait: a kalaraq can kill you in your sleep? Or mind seed you? How are player characters supposed to fight that?
It’s a very valid question. I’ve written before about how the initial actions of player characters aren’t likely to draw retaliation from the Dreaming Dark — that they are effectively playing hundreds of games of chess across Eberron and they EXPECT some of their plans to fail; they aren’t going to hunt down every meddling kid who interferes. But eventually you may reach a point where the Dreaming Dark definitely knows who the players are and it feels like if they could just kill them in their sleep, they would. How do you justify their survival?
One way is to consider that the kalaraq are the most important quori and have many duties. Unless the PCs are dealing with a kalaraq directly, the quori whose plans they’ve been spoiling may not want to draw the many eyes of a kalaraq to their personal failure. If they are mainly dealing with an Usvapna, they may want to personally fix the problem BEFORE the Devourer finds out, rather than risking his wrath at their seeming incompetence. Likewise, we’ve called out that the Dreaming Dark doesn’t love mind seeding especially powerful people because they don’t have absolute control over mind seeds. Mind seed replaces the personality of the victim with that of the seeding quori. But the seed ISN’T a quori and isn’t actually at any risk from the turning of the age, and there is always the chance that they may abandon the cause of the Dreaming Dark and pursue their own agenda. This is called out with Keshraa the Fallen, on page 59 of Secrets of Sarlona. Mind seed is an exceptionally powerful ability but it’s not a flawless tool — and the more powerful the seed, the greater the risk that they’ll see other opportunities.
However, ultimately, I have no problem as a DM saying that the kalaraq can’t bind the souls of the PCs. One of the basic principles of Eberron is that Player Characters are remarkable. I’ve called this out with the idea that resurrection doesn’t work for everyone; the fact that you can resurrect player characters without consequence reflects the fact that they are remarkable people with unfulfilled destinies. I’d be absolutely happy to run a terrifying scene in which a kalaraq quori slaughters a PC in their dreams, proclaiming that it will bind their soul… and then they just wake up, unbound. Why didn’t it work? I’d leave that as a mystery to both kalaraq and PC. It could be the power of the Prophecy, protecting the character with the unfulfilled destiny. It could be that an overlord is shielding the character who is destined to release them, or that a dragon has warded them for similar reasons. It could be that the turning of the age is close at hand, and the power of the kalaraq is waning. Whatever the answer, I have no problem with the idea that player characters are big damn heroes who occasionally break the rules; that’s part of the pulp inspiration.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. I’m about to do a live AMA for Threshold Patrons on things left on the cutting room floor of Eberron. If you’re reading this it’s probably too late to catch it live, but I’ll be posting the recording on Patreon.
August has been a month! After returning from GenCon I ended up being sidelined with COVID for a week. In addition, Wayfinder—a video game I’ve been writing for—has just gone into early access. AND, I’m going to be at PAX in Seattle this upcoming weekend; if you’re there, come find me at the Twogether Studios booth and say hi! Oh, and also, the seats for my table at D&D in a Castle are almost sold out, so if you want to be part of that, follow the link!
So, it’s been a crazy month and I haven’t had as much time or energy for writing as I’d hoped. However, when time allows I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one of those…
How common or uncommon are magics that extend someone’s lifespan in Eberron, like potions of longevity? There’s NPCs like Haldren ir’Brassek that are supposedly human, but still healthy enough at at least 120ish years old that there would be people willing to serve under him if he broke out of prison, which makes me wonder how much those types of potions might play into politics.
While there are always exceptions, largely the rarity categorization is a good indicator of how common a magic item is. Potions of Longevity are very rare, which means that they aren’t unheard of—they aren’t LEGENDARY—but at the same time they definitely aren’t mass produced or reliably available. At very rare, they aren’t being produced by House Jorasco. Because they exist, you can be sure that Jorasco is trying to create them—likely coordinating with Vadalis and the Twelve—but it hasn’t managed to crack the code.
With that said, very rare means that, again, they aren’t legendary. People have HEARD of them, even if they aren’t something you can just go to the store and purchase. This ties to the general point that especially with rarer items, don’t just think of it as a generic “potion”. Who made it? How will that affect its appearance? Are there any interesting side effects? Appearance, application, side effects—all of these should be largely cosmetic. If a potion is something you rub on your skin instead of drinking, you should still be able to do it in six seconds. A side effect might make you green for an hour, but it wouldn’t give you the Poisoned condition. I mean, it could, if that’s what you want, but that would be a distinctly inferior version of the item.
So with that in mind, let’s consider a few ways someone could acquire a very rare potion of longevity… and what those might look like. .
The Shadowor Sul Khatesh. The Shadow and Sul Khatesh can both be sources of powerful magic… but such magics often has a disturbing cost. A powerful priest of the Shadow or a favored warlock (or other devotee) of Sul Khatesh could learn a ritual allowing them to create a swirling crimson liquid that adds years to your life. The catch? The primary ingredient is the lifesblood of a humanoid creature; generally, to be effective, it must be a creature of the same species as the potential imbiber, and there could be additional restrictions (the blood of a virgin or the blood from someone who has never taken a life). Essentially, you are stealing their life—again, it must be their lifesblood, which is to say that they must die in the process of your taking it—and condensing it down to give you a few more years. There is a second form of this ritual that instead requires the recipient to bathe in the enchanted fluid as opposed to just drinking it. This doesn’t have the cumulative risk of accidental aging, but it takes longer and requires much more blood—the blood of multiple humanoids for one effective dose. There have been a few tyrants throughout history who have worked with a priest of the Shadow and extended their lives unnaturally in this way; while they weren’t actual vampires, they lived off the blood of their subjects.
The Blood of Vol. One of the basic devotions of the Seekers of the Divinity Within is the communal donation of blood. This blood is typically used to support vampires and other undead champions of the faith. However, a few Seeker priests have found a way to create a potion similar to the Shadow brew described above—a potion that can sustain a living creature through the donated lifeforce of the faithful. However, this is a divine ritual that is difficult to master and there may not be any living priests capable of performing it. Further, while it’s superior to the Shadow technique in that it doesn’t require the death of the donors, it can only draw on the blood of the faithful and it uses a significant amount of that blood (it is concentrated down into the final potion); it’s not an efficient use of the donations.
The Prince of Slime. The daelkyr Kyrzin creates a symbiotic ooze that can be consumed as if it was a potion, which has the same effects as a potion of longevity. The ooze spreads throughout the donor’s body, rejuvenating their flesh. However, it remains within their system forever. Should the user consume multiple potions, there is no risk of accidental aging. However, with each potion consumed, there is a 10% cumulative chance that the user’s personality and memories will be eradicated and replaced by the alien consciousness of the slime.
Archfey. A number of Archfey create potions of longevity. The elixir brewed by the Lady in Shadow ages someone close to the imbiber a number of years equal to the benefit the user receives; they get more life, but someone they know pays the price. The Harvest Monarch produces a potion that reduces the imbiber’s effective age… but the years come back during the winter months, only to fade again in the spring. The Mother of Invention might produce a potion that works in a manner similar to Kyrzin’s slime; it effectively reduces the age of the user, but it does so by replacing some of their internal organs with clockwork or silver thread, and there’s a cumulative 10% chance that the imbiber will become a mindless construct. The Merchant of Misthaven sells a standard potion of longevity with no unpleasant side effects; the question is what she will seek in exchange for that potion.
Mordain the Fleshweaver. Mordain has created a number of different forms of potions of longevity... a salve that’s rubbed into the skin, a silvery fluid similar to mercury, a glittering powder that’s inhaled. It’s unclear why he keeps making new versions; presumably, he’s trying to find the perfect form and these are all unsatisfactory. Which could again mean that there’s some long-term side effects waiting to be discovered…
With it being very rare, I wouldn’t have Jorasco producing potions of longevity. However, if they did, I’d definitely give it a catchy name and appealing flavoring. Try the new SpringStep, available in Zilberry or new Vazilla!
With all that in mind, let’s consider the second question: what’s the political impact of such things? After all, the Code of Galifar has a clause that addresses the undead, so that a vampire can’t (openly) rule forever. Would there be a similar clause dealing with potions of longevity? As written, I’m inclined to say not, for two reasons. The short form is that they aren’t that impressive. A potion of longevity extends someone’s life for up to 13 years, with a 10% cumulative chance of backfiring. So at best that’s adding 130 years of life. Which SEEMS pretty good to us, but when we’re living in a world of elves and dwarves, Haldren’s 120 years really isn’t that impressive; let’s face it, that’s the default starting age for an Aereni PC. Beyond that, there’s a lot of different things that could extend life a little. Haldren ir’Brassek is called out as having ties to the worship of the Dark Six, so I expect he’s increasing his life using techniques of the Shadow. BUT… he’s also a powerful sorcerer, which means that he’s innately magical. While I don’t think it’s suggested in the class features, I see nothing strange about the idea that a powerful Draconic Sorcerer might live an unnaturally long life. The same logic could follow for any sorcerer. Perhaps a Clockwork Soul Sorcerer has an innate form of the Mother of Invention’s potion, slowly becoming more construct over time. A Divine Soul Sorcerer could easily be sustained by celestial energy. Beyond that, you have affects of manifest zones, subtle aasimar, fey bargains… In short, if a seemingly normal human lives for centuries, people may start to wonder. But if someone who is known to be a powerful sorcerer makes it to 120 and still seems healthy? He’s clearly a remarkable person infused with supernatural energy; I don’t think people will be too surprised. Some might even say “Age isn’t what’s gonna kill Haldren.” At the same time, murdering people to extend your life is definitely against the Code of Galifar. If he’s just a (super)naturally long lived sorcerer that’s fine. If it can be proven that he ritually sacrificed people to extend his life, well, back to Dreadhold we go…
That’s all for now! If you’re at PAX this weekend make sure to drop by the Twogether booth and say hello. Thanks again to my Patrons who make these articles possible—I’ve got a number of things planned for Patreon in September.
The last few months have been a difficult time, culminating with the death of my mother at the end of July. A lot of work had to be sidelined and it’s going to take me a few weeks to get back up to speed, so I may not be as active this month as I’d like to be. However, I do like interacting with all of you and answering questions, so I’ll do what I can. I’m close to completing my final work for Frontiers of Eberron: Quickstone and I’ll be posting another preview for patrons before the end of the month. In the meantime, here’s a few of the interesting questions posed on Patreon in July.
How would you build Hektula as a warlock patron? Fiend? Old One? And how might you introduce her as a patron, but keep her identity a secret from the warlock?
My inclination would be to say that it’s not HEKTULA who’s the patron, but rather one of her books. She gives the book to the warlock or arranges for them to get it, and the book acts as a surrogate for her. With this in mind, the nature of the patron (Fiend, Old One, etc) reflects the nature of the book. The Fiend patron would be a version of the Demonomicon. An Archfey patron would be a book of sinister faerie tales. It’s not that the patron IS an archfey or fiend, it’s that they are sharing the secrets of archfey or fiends. These books would be artifacts. I wouldn’t make them indestructible (because I can think of a lot of ways for a player to abuse that) but if destroyed they would return to Ashtakala, and would likely be returned to the warlock. So if you think of Death Note, the warlock finds the book, and the book has a spirit or sentience associated with it that guides the warlock. The player doesn’t know that Hektula arranged for them to get the book or if the book spirit has other loyalties. But over time, they may encounter other Codex warlocks and start figuring things out.
Eberron campaigns often revolve around conspiracies and mysteries that have built up for several centuries or millennia, orchestrated by supernaturally intelligent masterminds who have been methodically concealing their presence this entire time. How do you manage to get PCs invested in these masterminds, if they cover their tracks and thus won’t reveal themselves until the final act? For example if you’re running an Emerald Claw campaign how do you make the players care about Lady Illmarrow who spends 99% of the campaign in the background more than whatever Emerald Claw minion or lieutenant does most of the heavy lifting?
I don’t. When players are dealing with the Emerald Claw, I WANT them to care about the lieutenant who does most of the heavy lifting. The original ECS specifically includes an NPC named Demise who is a recurring villain for use with the Emerald Claw; I’ve also gotten a lot of mileage out of the changeling Garrow in my Emerald Claw campaigns. In my novel The Shattered Land, the adventurers encounter the warforged Harmattan and his crew; they are agents of the Lord of Blades, but they’re interesting on their own. Consider the original Star Wars trilogy. The mastermind behind the Empire is Palpatine. But the hero of the story doesn’t encounter him until late the the trilogy… because he’s not READY to encounter him. Meanwhile, Darth Vader is a cool badass… which itself reflects on the power of Palpatine. So: the players won’t be ready to face Illmarrow for a long time, and it makes sense to match them against Demise or Garrow. But while doing that, I want them to LEARN about Illmarrow and to come to hate her. First, her minion should name drop her all the time. Soon Illmarrow’s plans will come to fruition! Second, it should be clear that whatever terrible thing the EC is doing is in her name. She should also be credited for their powerful tools or weapons; Demise may be triggering the necrotic resonator, but she explains how it was the genius of Lady Illmarrow that created it. Demise could even share recorded messages from Illmarrow. Another possibility is for the players to fight Demise session after session… and then in the endgame discover that she WAS ILLMARROW THE WHOLE TIME… that she was toying with them for some reason, or perhaps experimenting with placing her consciousness in a living body.
What was the reasoning behind making Galifar a kingdom and not an empire?
This is a fundamentally semantic question, so I’ll start with a semantic point. I wasn’t simply the Kingdom of Galifar; it was the UNITED Kingdom of Galifar. Going as far back as the original ECS, the timeline states that in -1,012 Galifar begins his campaign to UNITE the Five Nations. Switching to Exploring Eberron, here’s a few key quotes:
After a long campaign of conquest and diplomacy, Galifar I unites the nations of Khorvaire under his rule, declaring this realm the United Kingdom of Galifar…
… Galifar didn’t just want power—he wanted to build a better world, and on many levels, he succeeded. He abolished slavery and instituted laws that promised justice for all. Over time, the kingdom would promote public education and the rise of the merchant class…
… Galifar Wynarn was a military genius, but it was his eldest daughter Cyre, twin to Aundair, who imagined the warring nations working together as a single family: Karrnathi might, Daskari faith, and the wisdom of Thaliost working together for the greater good. In crafting the map of the united kingdom, Galifar declared that Cyre would be the heart of the realm.
So Galifar didn’t conquer the Five Nations and rule over them as a tyrant. He united the Five Nations—some through force, others through diplomacy. He then instituted major new systems—education, justice—designed to improve the lives of all citizens. Crucially, Galifar’s home nation—Karrnath—was in no way elevated above the others. If anything, it was Cyre which was the first among equals, and remember that Cyre didn’t exist as a nation beforehand—the region was Metrol, and while in the other nations Galifar allowed the existing ability to retain their land, in Metrol he resettled the old nobility in order to create something new. If Karrn the Conqueror had succeeded, he would have created the Empire of Karrnath. Galifar didn’t want to create the Empire of Karrnath; he wanted to unify the previously warring nations into something entirely new—the united kingdom of Galifar. Cyre embodied this idea… as noted above, the idea of previously warring nations working together as a family.
How old is the average adventurer in Eberron? Are most of them in early adulthood, or they usually get to adventure later in life?
My immediate reaction is “There are no average adventurers.” Breaking that out a little, “adventurer” isn’t a recognized career someone prepares for… which means everyone gets there a little differently. For purposes of example, consider these adventurers from my Quickstone campaign…
TARI is a kalashtar orphan; we’re not actually sure how old they are, but part of the point of their character is that they’re “The Kid.”
The same goes for KALA SAR’KAAS, the tailor’s teenage daughter who became a bardlock by making a deal with an archfey.
THREE WIDOW JANE is around thirty; old enough that she had a career as a smuggler before becoming a full time rake and wandslinger, but still relatively young.
ROLAN HARN is in his fifties—a seasoned veteran who had a long career as a Sentinel Marshal before retiring to Quickstone.
SORA d’SIVIS is almost three hundred years old.
Rolan and Tari are essentially Rooster and Mattie from True Grit. Bel is in her twenties—still young, but running a successful business. Devin’s his thirties; consider that he has a teenage daughter. Sheriff Constable is a warforged, built during the war and about ten years old. The point is that each of these characters has their own story that’s led them to where they are. Tari was orphaned as a child. Rolan was discharged after a long career. Bel was forced out into the world by the Mourning. There is no AVERAGE adventurer; every adventurer should have a story, and that will determine their starting age.
The Venemous Demesne is obviously run by tieflings, and tieflings make up the upper class there. How strictly is that enforced? Are there physical or social boundaries preventing say, Lady Pyranica of House Dreygu from taking Nilah the human as a wife?
There’s no PHYSICAL boundaries. Even within the tiefling families, there are children born human sometimes—it’s embarrassing, to be sure, but humanity is in the blood. Beyond the tiefling aspect, a crucial question is POWER. If a human scion proves to be a mighty warlock or wizard, their power proves the worth of their blood. And that POWER is the key here. A noble can take any spouse they wish. But dueling plays an important role in Demesne society… and if other members of the house feel the noble is weakening the house through their choice, they can challenge the prospective spouse to a duel. If the spouse survives, they prove they are a worthy addition to the house. So if Nilah has power in her own right she’ll be fine. If she’s just a cute poet and Pyranica loves her for her sensitivity, she’s going to have a lot of trouble surviving her duels with the three Dreygu wandslingers lined up to fight her…
Since Quori are fiends, and Kalashtar are the merging of these fiends and humans, does that mean Kalashtar are basically tieflings?
In Eberron, most tieflings aren’t shaped by direct contact with fiends; they are shaped by the malefic influence of the planes. Even those who owe their tiefling nature to a fiendish connection (Sakah, Venomouns Demesne) don’t have a direct, ongoing connection to a specific fiend. Tieflings are also noted by dramatic physical manifestations. Kalashtar have subtle physical manifestations and are shaped by an ongoing spiritual connection to a specific entity. So no, I think the differences between the two are sufficient that they wouldn’t be considered to be tieflings.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my patrons; your support allows me to continue delving into Eberron. In addition to the next Quickstone preview, this month I’ll be doing another live Q&A on the Patreon Discord and running the next session of my Frontiers campaign. If any of that sounds interesting, check out Patreon!
My previous article calls out the fact that there may have been hundreds of civilizations that rose and fell over the course of the Age of Demons. Most of these cultures were directly influenced or guided by one of the overlords, which would allow rapid progress along a particular path and, most likely, an apocalyptic end; for Rak Tulkhesh, the only reason to create a civilization is to watch it fight increasingly brutal wars until it finally falls or destroys itself.
The Age of Demons came to an end a hundred thousand years ago, and many of these civilizations are millions of years old. Combined with their dramatic falls, few have left any traces of their existence. However, it’s always possible adventurers could fine a relic or a vault tied to one of these primordial civilizations, or encounter a vision of the past. These tables provide a quick foundation for a random civilization. The first presents a nation that could have existed on ancient Khorvaire. The second suggests a patron overlord and how that association would influence the culture. It may seem like the overlord should override the entry on the first table—that a civilization tied to Sul Khatesh should always be noteworthy for its arcane magic and that a nation created by Rak Tulkhesh would always be militant and known for its soldiers or weapons of war. But the two elements can co-exist. A nation crafted by Sul Khatesh will have magic as part of everyday life. But if the first table suggests it’s a militant empire known for its weapons of war, add arcane magic to that; its weapons of war are siege staffs or rituals of mass destruction. Rak Tulkhesh could create an isolated league of halflings known for their scholars and sages; but the scholars would be studying the nature of war and they would periodically emerge from isolated to ransack their neighbors.
This table is tied to Khorvaire, and as a result doesn’t include humans, giants, or dragons as the foundation of a nation. The category Extinct Creatures suggests something that was wiped out during the Age of Demons; if you get this result you could decide that there were humans or giants in Khorvaire in the past, or you could use a species that is completely unknown in the present day.
I have yet to write about the history of Khorvaire before the Dhakaani Empire, and you could use this table to create nations that might have existed during the Age of Giants. In this case you only need to use the first table; the question is what ultimately became of the civilization, if it’s completely unknown in the present day.
Roll on each column (or choose a result) to create a nation that once existed on Khorvaire!
Noteworthy for its…
Poetry or Music
Weapons of War
Beasts or Monstrosities
Constructs and Artifice
Scholars and Sages
What overlord is associated with the civilization, and how is its influence felt?
Overlord’s Cultural Impact
Sul Khatesh.Dangerous magic.The society could be based around arcane science, with powerful wizards and artificers and oppressive mystical industry. Or it could be a civilization driven by secretive warlocks—though these warlocks would likely all have pacts with fiendish lieutenants of Sul Khatesh. Magic is dangerous and common people live in fear of it.
Rak Tulkhesh. Engine of War. This civilization will be obsessed with war. It could be an mighty imperial power engaged in constant military expansion, or it could be driven by endless internal conflict—rival warlords constantly testing strength and crushing anyone who shows weakness.
Bel Shalor.Fear and Loathing. This society will be driven by fear. Its people fear one another just as much as they fear external enemies. It will have excessive fortifications and security measures, along with hosts of secret police. People often succumb to their own worst impulses. Shadows may play an active role as allies, tools, or as a threat.
Eldrantulku. Endless Intrigue. The Oathbreaker delights in intrigue and betrayal. His nations will be filled with secret societies, mystery cults, and complex political systems rife with backstabbing and corruption.
Tul Oreshka.Hermits and Heretics. The Truth in the Darkness revels in revelations. Any society driven by Tul Oreshka would be driven by visions and moments of inspirations. Given that Tul Oreshka delights in the fear of secrets revealed, there could be a powerful central authority—whether a church, library, or government—that is forever fighting against schims, heretics, and rebels. Poetry and other art from such a nation might be very powerful.
Katashka.The Quick and the Dead. The Gatekeeper thrives on the fear of death and the undead. This could be internal—a nation ruled by tyrannical lich-lords or vampires who terrify their living suspects. Or it could be external, with a nation endlessly struggling to hold off a plague of the restless dead.
Tol Kharash.The Iron Fist. The Horned King promotes soul-crushing tyranny. Any society he creates will brutally oppress its own people, as well as seeking to subjugate others. Compared to Eldrantulku or Bel Shalor, this oppression will be active and physical; the Horned King lacks the subtlety of those other overlords.
The Daughter of Khyber. Dragonfear. As with Katashka and undead, the Daughter of Khyber delights in mortal fear of dragons. The cultures she creates could serve draconic masters and work together to terrify other nations… Or, the society could be driven by utter fear of dragons, scraping to raise tribute for their dragon lords and forever rebuilding from the last attack.
Masvirik.Hidden Serpents. The Cold Sun delights in warmblooded fears. Lizardfolk or kobold societies could be early variations of the Poison Dusk. A culture based on another species could be an excellent place for spontaneous yuan-ti—with the common folk living in fear of the malevolent serpents hidden in their midst. I also imagine elaborate traditions of poison…
Ashurak.Plague and Pestilence. The Slow Death trades in disease. Ashurak’s nations might live in constant fear of a perennial plague, going to great lengths to watch for signs of infection and ruthlessly sealing away anyone who shows symptoms. Alternately—like the Plaguebearers of the present day—Ashurak’s people could be carriers for a disease they’re immune to, taking it into the territories of other overlords like missionaries spreading the word.
Keep in mind that a single overlord could seed multiple civilizations at once. Rak Tulkhesh could shape a powerful league of orcs known for their weapons of war and a brutal clan of dwarves known for their soldiers, because he wants to watch them fight and see which successfully evolves into a cruel empire known for its massive monuments.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. I will be doing a live Q&A on my Patreon Discord for patrons at 9 AM Pacific Time on Saturday, July 22nd. If you’re interested in joining live or watching the recording—or in playing in a session of my ongoing Eberron campaign—check out my Patreon!
Imagine that your world is a plaything for cruel gods. There’s no escaping them; every corner of reality falls under the dominion of one of these fiendish overlords. Their power manifests in countless horrifying ways. In the domain of the Gatekeeper, you can hear lost souls wailing in the wind… and you know that if you die, yours will join them. In Bel Shalor’s realm, your shadow conspires against you… and some day, it will kill you and claim your body as its own. Dral Khatuur brings slowly advancing, inevitable ice. But the greater and more subtle threats strike at your mind. Within the realm of Rak Tulkhesh you’ll find your anger surging. You find yourself gripping a knife you don’t remember picking up. You keep thinking about your enemies. A week ago you didn’t even know you had enemies… but now it’s hard to think about anything else. The hatred is like fire in your blood, and the only thing that will sate your rage is violence. Perhaps—perhaps you can overcome this brutal haze, to realize that these aren’t your thoughts. But the longer you stay, the more your own memories and motives will fade away in the bloodthirsty fog. This is the power of the overlords. You’ve never seen Rak Tulkhesh, but he’s in you… and soon you’ll be ready to kill for him.
Whether they twist your thoughts or the environment around you, there’s no escaping the influence of the overlords. But you have more direct threats to worry about. To Rak Tulkhesh you’re one of hundreds of thousands of fleas; his hungry wrath sweeps over you, but he won’t manifest personally to strike you down. And he doesn’t have to, because the world is filled with fiends. Some flaunt their horrifying forms and delight in spreading terror and bloodshed; others conceal their true nature and wear the faces of people you love or trust. Demons can possess corpses or beasts… or, for that matter, your body. Perhaps you’ll have to watch as one of Tul Oreshka’s vicious children uses your hands to murder your best friend and then paints a perfect, heartbreaking portrait of them using your fingers and their blood. Fiends could be in the plants around you, in the words you read, in the sword in your hand. If you’re lucky you’ll still have a strong enough sense of self to be able to feel fear and horror at what’s happening around you.
This is life in the Age of Demons. But who are you in this time? You might live in a thatched hut with your extended family. You might be hiding in a network of caves with two other survivors, and you’re pretty sure one of them is possessed. Or you might live in an ancient, crumbling city filled with scheming factions. Your may feel that your time is coming, but the oracle has seen a vision of dragons filling the sky with fire; she says that by nightfall tomorrow, your city will be in ruins. All of this depends on the whims of the overlords. Over the course of a hundred thousand years, the inhabitants of the realm of the Wild Heart have never been anything other than prey. While in the domain of Sul Khatesh there have been a dozen civilizations in that same period, each of which eventually followed a path of arcane science that ultimately destroyed it. But even where you find civilizations, they aren’t free. The subjects of Sul Khatesh can’t resist abusing magic any more than the subjects of Rak Tulkhesh can avoid war. You might ask why Sul Khatesh and her children would do this, why they’d allow a civilization to rise up only to wipe it out in an instant with an arcane cataclysm or over the course of a century through a brutal inquisition. Is it an experiment or art, like the daelkyr? Is it part of a master plan? No. Ultimately, it’s more like food, or perhaps music. The only thing an overlord truly desires is the joy it receives from tormenting mortals. Why? Because mortal souls have power. Gods in some settings need mortals to worship them. In Aerenal, it is the devotion of the living that sustains the Undying Court. The overlords don’t want worship; they want fear, and they want mortals to experience their vision of the world. Rak Tulkesh wants to see hatred and war. Sul Khatesh delights in the fear of magic, and so she creates scenario after scenario in which magic is abused and leads to cruelty, terror, and ultimately destruction. Dral Khatuur wants people to live in fear of the creeping cold. They don’t have an endgame, because they are immortal and endless. They don’t want to ever completely destroy the mortals, because it is torturing mortals that bring them joy. And so it was for millions of years. Some domains saw millions of years of brutal chaos; others saw civilizations rise and fall, but those civilizations were always under the psychic sway of the ruling overlord (whether they knew it or not) and would inevitably be destroyed.
That’s the backdrop to keep in mind when thinking of the Age of Demons. It was a world that was utterly dominated by immortal overlords, where fiends roam freely in the world, both openly and covertly. Civilizations only existed to serve the appetites of the overlords and were wiped out when they lost their savor. Overlords had broadly stable domains, but the borders of their realms were constantly in flux; among other things, the people of a neighboring territory aren’t as used to the terrors of a rival overlord, and their fear is sweeter. Dral Khatuur wants people to fear the advancing ice, not just to learn to survive in it; as such, she would choose to let her borders ebb and flow. The side effect of this is that the overlords were constantly warring with one another.
Now I’ve painted a picture of the Age of Demons, let’s look at a few questions my Patreon supporters have raised this month.
What was the relationship between the Couatls and Dragons during the Age of Demons? Did they respect each other as equals, or did they have conflicts?
The Age of Demons lasted for millions of years. In the final ten thousand years of the Age, there was a powerful draconic nation that called itself Argonnessen. Its disciplined flights of dragons trained to incinerate armies and to raze cities. And these mighty creatures were utterly devoted to the Daughter of Khyber. This overlord is an immensely powerful being. The dragons of the present day have to go to great lengths to avoid falling under her influence, and that’s while she’s bound. During the Age of Demons she was at the height of her power, and the dragons were her tools; she used them to terrify mortals and to attack the domains of other overlords. So there was no powerful nation of dragons that fought the overlords, because any powerful force of dragons would be corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber. The dragons opposing overlords were a small band of scrappy rebels who had been shielded from the influence of the Daughter of Khyber by their allies, the native celestials. Let’s consider each of those forces.
It’s said that Khyber created fiends, Siberys created celestials, and Eberron created natural life. But Khyber slew Siberys. This is why the native celestials are so much weaker than their counterparts, and why there are no celestial equivalents to the overlords. The celestials that exist are just a faint echo of what would have been had Siberys had an active hand.
Native celestials embody the broad concept of goodness in the world. Compassion, justice, defense, wisdom, love; these are the sorts of concepts personified by the celestials. Just as the fiends exist to prey upon and terrify mortals, the purpose of the celestials was to guide and protect them. Given that the celestials were massively overpowered and outnumbered by the fiends, this was something they did subtly—working to inspire people or to guide key mortals who could help others… teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish. Whenever celestials were exposed, fiends would swarm in to destroy the interlopers and whatever they had accomplished; subtlety was vital. However, keep this section from Chronicles of Eberron in mind…
Glance across a Khalesh plain and you may see what looks to be a giant bone projecting from the earth—a fallen column of something like polished ivory. The locals call these “dragon bones,” saying they’re the bones of Eberron herself. But search further and you may find patches of wall, foundations, or even small buildings formed from this dragonbone. It’s virtually indestructible and seemingly immune to the passage of time. In truth, this isn’t made from the bones of the earth; it’s a building substance used by the ancient couatl, the most numerous of the native celestials of Eberron. Khalesh is one of the places that the couatl came into the world in the Age of Demons, one of the anchors where these immortals would reform if they were destroyed. In a sense, it’s the celestial counterpart to the Demon Wastes of Khorvaire; a place suffused with lingering celestial power.
The fiends vastly outnumbered the celestials, and over the course of millions of years they learned where most of these celestial anchors were. But they couldn’t actually DO anything about them. The celestials are as immortal as the fiends, and when destroyed they would eventually return. Given a good reason—for example, if the couatls tried to foster a mortal civilization in their spire—the fiends would bring sufficient forces to bear to destroy everything in a celestial spire. While the immortals would return the mortals would be lost. For that reason, the celestials kept their work subtle, working with individuals or small groups of mortals who then worked with others. The celestial guides could shield mortals from the psychic influence of the overlords. They could teach them, helping mortals master magic or other skills. They could even channel their power into a mortal, a form of voluntary possession. However, throughout most of the Age of Demons, they were never able to affect any grand change. The final rebellion wasn’t the only rebellion; it’s just the only one that had lasting results.
While it’s never been mentioned in canon, in my Eberron Flamekeep is built on dragonbone foundations and that the font of the Flame is a celestial anchor point. Likewise, there is a celestial anchor in the Labyrinth around the Demon Wastes; this is a sacred haven of the Ghaash’kala orcs.
Throughout this I’ve been saying celestials instead of couatls. Any celestial statblock could be reskinned to reflect a native celestial of Eberron. Just as the native fiends have a certain fondness for feline forms, the native celestials often have some blend of serpentine features or prismatic feathers. The couatl are by far the most common form of native celestial, but adventurers could encounter a deva with rainbow wings or a ki-rin with prismatic scales and a serpentine head. Compared to their counterparts in Shavarath or Syrania, these celestials are still guided by the basic principle of embodying positive ideas—of protecting and inspiring mortals as the Silver Flame continues to do today. Throughout most of the Age of Demons, these native celestials were only loosely aligned and largely sought to express their nature as individuals. They didn’t try to act as a host, because all that would accomplish would be creating a target to rally the fiends; they worked subtly and on their own. Which brings us to…
DRACONIC CHAMPIONS OF THE AGE OF DEMONS
In the last era of the Age of Demons, Argonnessen was a tool of the Daughter of Khyber. But there were small groups of dragons who evaded the Daughter’s control—first through celestial intervention, and then through the use of rituals and spells that they created. Dragons possess innate arcane power. The celestials helped the dragons understand their potential, but the rebels developed their own tools and techniques. Different cells specialized in different things. Dularanahk and her brothers led groups of warrior dragons and titans, capable of unleashing devastating force when it was required. Ourelonastrix worked with a cabal of dragons studying arcane science. Think of this as a hacker collective that provided logistical support and facilitated communications between the cells. All of this built on the work of previous generations; Ourelonastrix didn’t single-handedly master the secrets of arcane magic. But working with the couatl Hezcalipa, he made a crucial breakthrough that would ultimately bring the Age of Demons to an end: he discovered the Draconic Prophecy. What followed likely took centuries, as Ourelonastrix rallied the disparate dragons and Hezcalipa called on scattered celestials to help find Prophecy signs, gathering enough data to understand the power and possible paths of the Prophecy. Up to this point, the rebels had no real goal other than survival; without a way to permanently defeat an overlord, there was no reason to start a war. Now there was a glimmer of hope—a path through the Prophecy that could lead to victory.
The dragons who challenged the overlords weren’t a nation or a massive army. They were remarkable individuals, leading small bands of other remarkable mortals—including dragons, giants, titans and more. Ourelonastrix was the greatest expert on magic and knowledge. The Dols led militant cells, while Kolkonoran facilitated logistics and support, moving supplies between the cells. Eventually the studies of the Prophecy revealed a possible path to victory. And this is when the war began in earnest. This is where we have Dularanahk facing the Lord of Death, and other clashes in which the rebels gathered all their military might together—because they needed to win battles, acquire artifacts, or even potentially to lose key battles in order to lock in the future Ourelonastrix had discovered. The final key element was the sacrifice of the celestials to create a force that could bind the overlords. But even this wasn’t an instant victory. Once the celestials kindled the Silver Flame, the overlords were severed from their heart demiplanes; when their avatars were destroyed their essence would be bound into the prison shards. But each one had to be individually defeated… and even though they were weakened, this was no small task, especially without the help of the departed celestials. The first target was the Daughter of Khyber; once she was bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows, her hold over Argonnessen was broken. And now there was a true army of dragons fighting to bring down the remaining overlords, one by one.
OK… BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEM?
The original question was What was the relationship between the Couatls and Dragons during the Age of Demons? Did they respect each other as equals, or did they have conflicts? The important thing to understand is it wasn’t about the relationship between THE DRAGONS and THE CELESTIALS. It was about the relationship between Ourelonastrix and Hezcalipa, between Dularanahk and Azcalanti, and others. Because you aren’t talking about nations, you’re talking about remarkable individuals. Within that framework, it was the purpose of the celestials to guide and protect the mortals. There were many conflicts between them—disagreements over actions that endangered innocents, dragons believing the celestials were holding back, celestials trusting tradition while Ourelonastrix urged them to follow his instincts. Likewise, there were celestials who opposed the sacrifice that kindled the Flame, even if they ultimately took part. But again, these agreements and disagreements were between individuals, not cultures. While the celestial anchors resemble cities, the couatl never had a nation.
You’ve mentioned native celestials… What are native fiends like?
Fiends are incarnations of evil concepts. In the planes, they are tied to the central idea of their plane. A Shavaran devil reflects the idea of evil in war. A Daanvi devil embodies tyranny or oppressive order. A Fernia balor represents the cruel, chaotic destruction of fire. The native fiends more broadly represent evil in the world. Their purpose is to tempt and torment mortals, wreaking Khyber’s vengeance against the children of Eberron with a hundred thousand tiny cuts. All native fiends are tied to Khyber; most are specifically part of an overlord and its heart demiplane, but there are some time to demiplanes without overlords. Native fiends generally reflect an aspect of their overlord’s defining concept. Fiends tied to Rak Tulkhesh are tied to some aspect of hatred or war. Those associated with Sul Khatesh are more likely to be associated with magic or dangerous secrets. However, they can approach this in different ways. A raskhasa serving Rak Tulkhesh may excel at inspiring mortals to go to war—using its talents for deception to set conflict in motion. While a goristro bound to Rak Tulkhesh is a fiendish engine of war waiting to be unleashed on the battlefield.
A goristro? Absolutely. Just as couatl are the most common celestials but not the only celestials, rakshasa are the most numerous of the fiends but far from the only ones. Any fiendish stat block could be used for a native fiend, with a little cosmetic reflavoring. In the image that accompanies this article, the multiarmed figure on the left is a native marilith. Feline features are in fashion among the native fiends, but in describing a fiend, don’t feel you need to make it mundane. What differentiates a rakshasa from a weretiger? Canonically, the rakshasa Mordakhesh has stripes of blazing flame across his black fur. The First Scribe, Hektula, has arcane sigils on her fur. Remember that fiends aren’t natural creatures; when they are revealed in their full power, they should have obviously supernatural aspects.
Beyond this, I’ve suggested that feline features are a fashion. Rakshasas are natural shapechangers, and they are immortal embodiments of ideas, not creatures of flesh and blood. There may have been a time when the Lords of Dust wore shark heads, or even draconic features; the present use of feline features may be a fun retro reference to the Age of Demons. With this in mind, when adventurers in my game use True Seeing on a fiend, they don’t see its tiger form. Someone looking at Mordakhesh with Truesight will see him as a figure of shadows striped in flame and as a bloodthirsty sword, all at once. They will see that he has killed tens of thousands with his own hands, and feel his all-consuming appetite for war. Because THAT is the truth of Mordakhesh. For fiends and celestials, truesight doesn’t just strip away disguise self; it reveals their truth. Depending on the power of the fiend and the circumstances, I may make the individual with Truesight make a saving throw to avoid psychic damage or a condition; it can be dangerous to look too closely at a powerful immortal.
Just for fun, here’s a table you can use to add some random flare to a rakshasa or other native fiend…
Was there a time before the Age of Demons?
There was a brief time, yes. If you believe the myth, Eberron defeated Khyber by constricting her and then becoming the world. The principle is that Khyber’s children were able to slip through Eberron’s coils. But this wouldn’t have happened instantly, and even once the overlords were out in the world it surely took some time for them to sink their roots into reality and to establish their dominions. So, there was a period in which natural life flourish before being dominated by the overlords. What was it like? Who knows. Keep in mind that this was millions of years ago and that most likely, cultures didn’t appear fully formed. How long did it last? Were there any significant cultures in place before the overlords claimed the world? Largely, that’s a question you need to answer based on the needs of your story. Morgrave professor Cord Ennis suggests one possibility in this article about sphinxes:
While intriguing, Ennis admitted that there was one piece of the puzzle that still escaped him. When do these time-traveling sphinxes come from? His first thought was the distant future—that they could even be some sort of mystically evolved descendants of the modern races. Yet if that were the case, is there no risk of their meddling changing their own future? Given this, he ultimately favors the idea that the sphinxes are from the very distant past—that they could potentially be the citizens of the FIRST civilization of Eberron, a society that predates the Age of Demons and whose existence was wiped from history by the dominion of the overlords. With this as a foundation, Ennis suggests that the actions of the sphinxes might not be the absolute demands of destiny one would expect from embodiments of the Prophecy, but rather a grand game. As their time is long past, the sphinxes don’t actually care about the ultimate outcome; whether the overlords rise again or the daelkyr are unleashed doesn’t actually hurt them. Ennis further suggests that this could reflect the different techniques seen among sphinxes. The “divine” sphinxes—those wielding clerical abilities—could see their actions as being a divine mission, potentially even one mandated by the Progenitors (because what other gods were there at the dawn of time?) while the “arcane” sphinxes could be the scientists of their time. Thus, Flamewind could be in Sharn because she knows it is a nexus of elements she wants to deal with—events or people she wants to observe or influence—but that between those key events she is simply enjoying studying this time and place, so alien to her native time.
The key point of this idea is that the Sphinx civilization is so far back in time that no evidence of it remains, and that its downfall is utterly inevitable. The sphinxes can’t save themselves; all they can do is to play games in the future. That’s all for now! I have very limited time at the moment and most likely will not answer questions posted in the comments, but feel free to discuss them yourselves. I do answer questions on my Patreon, and in fact, I will be hosting a live Q&A on my Patreon Discord at 9 AM Pacific Time on Saturday, July 22nd. So check out my Patreon if you want to participate in that! Your support directly determines how much time I can spend creating Eberron content, so thanks to my current patrons for making this article possible.
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one from this month…
With a complete lack of Player interaction, what major events would play out in your Eberron in the five years following 998 YK?
I have an Eberron one-shot that I’ve run 59 times. It never gets boring for me, because it’s filled with interesting decision points and choices for the players. I’ve never gotten bored with running it, because every time I run I see something I’ve never seen before—every group of players comes up with something no one else has tried. It’s like I get to watch my favorite movie over and over, but it surprises me every time.
Eberron overall is the same thing for me. 998 YK is a nexus of possible dramatic events—far more than you could incorporate into a single campaign. This is intentional, because an Eberron story can be so many different things—gritty noir in Callestan, globetrotting expeditions with the Clifftop adventurers, horror, intrigue, and more. Every campaign I run engages with different elements and thus takes a different path. A key part of this is that I never use all the major villains in one campaign. I’ve said before that with the Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, and the Daelkyr, I’ll pick one to play a major role and use the others sparingly. Most of these major threats are working on plans that spans centuries, and it’s easy enough to say that none of the overlords are close to release right now or that it’s going to take another decade for the Dreaming Dark to set a scheme in motion.
So, for example… In the next five years, will there be war between Droaam and Breland? Well, even if you remove player characters from the equation, is the Dreaming Dark involved (in which case they might be interested in promoting unity and manipulate people to drive peace) or does the overlord Tol Kharash seek to inspire war? Are the Heirs of Dhakaan going to emerge in force or are they going to hold off for another decade? I can’t just give you a list of “This is what would happen in the next five years” because the answer will change with every campaign I set up; it will depend on which of the major powers are manipulating the world in the background, whether the tone is grim horror or over the top pulp action, and so much more. With that said, what I can do is to call out what those major events would be. The OUTCOME will depend on the forces involved… but these are a few of the factors that I’d want to address in any campaign that covers that period.
Droaam seeks recognition. As Droaam continues to rise, will it eventually be accepted as a Thronehold nation, in which case Droaamites will be more widely seen across Khorvaire? Or will fear and intolerance drive Breland into war with Droaam, with or without the support of other Thronehold Nations? This is something that comes up in my novel The Queen of Stone, which is set during 999 YK.
KingBoranel dies. What happens next? Does the Brelish monarchy come to an end, and if so, does this have any broader impact on the other Wynarn monarchs? Or do the loyalists coalesce around a surprisingly effective heir—and if so, is that heir secretly a figurehead for the Dreaming Dark, a servant of the Lords of Dust, or beholden to the Twelve and to House interests?
Someone fights Valenar. The Valenar want someone to attack them, and will continue to poke at hornet’s nests. Darguun or Karrnath are the most likely to respond, but anything’s possible. Here again—the Tairnadal want a war so they can emulate the deeds of their ancestors. But does some other force have an interest in this conflict? Could the Valenar be collectively possessed by Rak Tulkhesh? Is their a Cult of the Dragon Below spreading through the Tairnadal—could that elf warrior have a tongueworm hidden beneath his Zaelta veil?
Haruuc dies. As seen in Don Bassingthwaite’s Legacy of Dhakaan novels. What happens next? Does someone manage to fill the void, and if so, are they puppets of the Dreaming Dark or the Lords of Dust? Do the Heirs of Dhakaan emerge openly? Or does Darguun fall into chaos?
Arcane science advances. The last 30 years have brought us warforged, airships, and colossi. What’s coming next? I’d chose 2-3 major breakthroughs that could have a significant impact on the story. Do we improve teleportation circles? Come up with a Sending-based improvement to communication, or something like radio? A weapon? Or, as seen in my Siberspace campaign… spelljammers?
The Lord of Blades escalates. The Lord of Blades wants to make a dramatic statement, and I’m sure he will do SOMETHING major in the next five years… anything from urging a violent warforged uprising in Sharn to unleashing Cannith superweapons recovered from the Mournland. While his intentions may be pure—he’s dedicated to the cause of his people—is he an unknowing puppet of one of the ancient powers?
What’s up with the Dragonmarked Houses? Beyond any advances in arcane science, a number of houses are already pushing the limits of the Korth Edicts. Do any seek to more actively exert political influence or to expand their power within the world? Does Cannith get a single baron or does it break into multiple houses like Thuranni and Phiarlan? Do any rivalries—notably Deneith and Tharashk—grow deeper?
Kaius III is challenged. Many of the warlords of Karrnath are unhappy with Kaius’s pursuit of peace… and those potential usurpers could be manipulated by anyone from Rak Tulkhesh to Lady Illmarrow. A coup or civil war could start within Karrnath, or it could be triggered by an outside, like the exile Drego Thul. And whatever path you choose, Kaius has secrets… what happens if they are exposed?
An ancient power is released. Consider the story of Tira Miron. She ultimately prevents the overlord Bel Shalor from fully escaping their bonds. But the saga begins with Bel Shalor being partially released—starting a year of blood and fire, as the overlord’s power and its fiends spread across Thrane. There’s literally dozens of overlords, along with the daelkyr. I could definitely imagine a campaign in which the adventurers don’t have the opportunity to prevent an overlord from being released; the partial release is what sets the campaign in motion, and the adventurers must battle against the chaos it brings to the world and try to return it to its prison.
Aurala wants a war. Does she get it? On a small scale, this could revolve around Thaliost or the Eldeen Reaches. On a large scale, Aurala wants to reignite the Last War and claim the throne of reunited Galifar. But to do this, she’d need reason to believe she could win—an unbeatable alliance (with Riedra? With an overlord?) or an arcane superweapon that no nation can stand against. This also ties to…
An answer to the Mourning? The major factor preventing the Next War is fear of the Mourning. As long as people don’t know what caused the Mourning, they are afraid to go back to war. If it’s a weapon, someone could have that weapon; if it was an environmental effect caused by the overuse of war magic, restarting the war could cause the Mournland to expand. The mystery of the Mourning is the deterrent. If that mystery is solved, the key questions will be who solves it; whether that answer allows them to replicate or control the Mourning; or whether the answer proves that war magic IS dangerous, making it difficult to pursue war.
These are major points I’d be thinking about, but there’s so many more! Do the Heirs of Dhakaan unite under a single leader and emerge in force? Does Oargev establish a new Cyre? Is there a change in relations with Riedra, or perhaps a dramatic shift in the stalemate between Riedra and Adar? Looking back to the original question, I can’t tell you which of these things WILL happen or how they will play out, because it’s all going to depend on the story I feel like telling as I set up the campaign… do I want a war story? Do I want it to explore corporate overreach or advancements in arcane science? Just like my convention one-shot… If I run 59 Eberron campaigns, I expect to see 59 different paths for the future.
That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the article, please consider checking out my Patreon! In addition to asking the questions that drive articles like this, my Patreon support directly determines how much time I can spend creating Eberron content in the future. I’m also doing a monthly live Q&A, and Threshold patrons have the chance to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign. And for the month of July, patrons can get a special discount on Exploring Eberron! Check it out, and thanks to all of you who are already patrons!
When time permits I like to answer questions posed by my Patrons. Many are simple; others require more thought. It’s taken me a few months to address this question, and you may want to read this article on Atur before you dive into it. With that said…
In your Eberron, who is the Duke of Atur and what do his personal agenda and political aspirations look like?
Delve into the pre-Galifar history of Karrnath and you’ll find references to the “Dark Ages.” This was a time of tyrants and feuding warlords, but the use of dark doesn’t refer to this brutality… rather, it’s a reference to the literal darkness found in Karrnath during this period. There were vast shadow lands, barren stretches where clinging mists obscured the sun. These shadow lands posed a threat even to those who shunned them. Shadows, wights, and other deadly undead would rise within the mists and emerge to threaten the surrounding lands. These shadow lands are powerful manifest zones tied to Mabar. While fighting tyrants and warlords, the first followers of the Divinity Within often took shelter in shadow lands, and they learned how to manipulate the Mabaran energies with their rituals. And over time they found ways to channel these energies—using some of this power to raise skeletons and zombies to help with everyday life, and dispersing additional Mabaran energy in ways that limited its impact on the flora and fauna of the region. The people of the surrounding regions soon learned that the Seekers were useful neighbors—that even if their necromantic practices were disturbing, it was better to have skeletal farmers on the border than bloodthirsty wights crossing it.
The region where Atur now stands is one of the most powerful Mabaran manifest zones in Khorvaire, known in records as the Lake of Sorrows. The necromancer Duran dispersed the shadows of this “lake” and built a fortress for his followers here, and over the course of time this expanded to become the city of Atur. When the other warlords joined together to support the first Queen of Karrnath, Duran chose to stand apart: his loyalty was to his followers and to their faith. While some urged the Queen to destroy the Seekers, she remembered the horrors that once emerged from the Lake of Shadows, and preferred to keep those forces in check. So she negotiated an arrangement with Duran—one preserved to this day, granting Atur the status of a semi-independent palatinate. It was in Atur that Kaius I negotiated with the Seekers of the Divinity Within, and it holds the Vaults of the Dead where most of Karrnath’s undead forces are held in reserve, patiently waiting to return to the battlefield. Despite Moranna’s edicts condemning the Blood of Vol, the crown needs the Seekers to contain the Lake of Sorrows and to maintain the Vaults of the Dead. And so Atur remains a proud Grand Duchy and a stronghold of the Blood of Vol… and the Grand Duke Davian Karla is its ruler.
The Blood of Vol was born from the blending of the traditions of Aereni exiles and human rebels. Davian is a Khoravar who can trace his bloodlines back to Duran the Wise and the shadow-touched towers of Shae Deseir. Though his title of Grand Duke entitles him to use the ir suffix, his parents weren’t nobles and Davian is proud of his lowly roots; he enjoys the discomfort of his fellow warlords when they remember how he earned his title. Because as a palatinate, Atur isn’t bound by the traditions of Karrnath, and the title of Grand Duke isn’t hereditary. It is bound to a second title… Warden of the Lake of Shadows. There is a core of Mabaran energy at the heart of Atur, a force first contained by the Seeker Duran. Binding this power is a crucial part of holding the harmful energies of the region at bay. It is a task that requires tremendous willpower, faith, and an understanding of necromantic science… and the favor of the Lake itself. When the Grand Duke of Atur is lost, any resident of Atur can seek to claim the title. The process is simple. An applicant must descend to a chamber below the great palace, immerse themselves in the ever-spreading pool of shadows… and drive a dagger into their heart. While dying, they must draw the shadows into their body and bind this Mabaran power to their blood. No one lives through this ritual: they will either be reborn as the Warden of the Lake of Shadows, or die in the darkness and be forgotten. Going forward, the Grand Duke is infused with this power. It sustains them, protecting them from age and disease. They are alive—mechanically, using the Reborn lineage. But their body is now bound to the shadow, and they do not heal normally. When they are seriously injured, flesh falls away to reveal the shadow within. Eventually—when shadow outweighs flesh—the Grand Duke will be drawn into Mabar as a wraith. Duran escaped this fate by becoming a lich, but every Warden who’s followed him has eventually been consumed by this darkness.
Davian Karla has been Grand Duke of Atur for 235 years. He was 33 when he claimed the title—a necromantic prodigy, and one of the youngest people to successfully claim the title. He is not as powerful a practical necromancer as Malevanor or the late Gyrnar Shult; but it is his deep understanding of the principles of necromancy and his devotion to the Seeker faith that allows him to contain the Lake of Shadows. He is an elegant Khoravar with pale skin and shining dark hair that he usually wears in a plaited braid. The irises of his eyes are ever-shifting gray, forever reflecting the Lake of Shadows. Davian is tall and thin, but not gaunt; he moves with an easy grace, like water flowing against stone. His fine, dark clothing generally hides his most distinctive feature. During the Last War he lost his left arm and upper left shoulder, along with strips of his left chest and lung. Where once there was flesh, now there is shadow—a misty replica of the limb he once had. While he is conscious, he can choose to make this phantom limb substantial, and so he usually hides it beneath silk and leather. But should he choose, Davian can make his arm insubstantial; there are stories of him reaching into a rivals’ chest and running ghostly fingers across their heart.
Davian’s primary motivation is to protect Atur and to maintain it as a bastion of the Blood of Vol. During the Last War, he played a vital role in negotiating the Seeker alliance with the crown and overseeing the construction of the Vaults of the Dead. In the present day he navigates a difficult path, balancing the resentment of many warlords and their desire to scapegoat the Seekers for Karrnath’s setbacks with the fact that Karrnath needs the Seekers to maintain the Vaults and to contain deadly Mabaran energies. He is equally skilled with intimidation and persuasion; he can play on the fears of those unnerved by his ghostly halflife and the power he possesses, but he can be extremely charming when circumstances require. Atur is a city that celebrates life, and Grand Duke Karla embraces that; he loves poetry and dancing, and often joins his people in the streets during wild nights. While he is angry about how the Seekers have been treated, he does all that he can to maintain his relationship with King Kaius III and Queen Etrigani. He does not seek to expand his holdings, because it is the Mabaran foundation of Atur that ensures no other warlord could ever claim it. But he is determined to maintain its independence and to ensure it remains a sanctuary for the Blood of Vol.
Davian Karla is a committed Seeker. He is not a priest, but his role as Warden of the Lake of Sorrows commands the respect of other Seekers; while he can never fully unlock the power of the Divinity Within, he holds the deadly shadows at bay with the strength of his mind and blood. He has resisted the influence of Lady Illmarrow and despises the Order of the Emerald Claw for tarnishing the reputation of Seekers both in Karrnath and beyond; however, he is in touch with the Crimson Covenant and abides by their commands. As the vessel of the Lake of Sorrows, he cannot travel more than sixty miles from Atur; there is a supernatural gravity tying him to the city, and his body cannot be moved further even against his will.
How powerful is Davian? That’s up to the DM. It could be that he contains the power of the Lake but cannot wield it; likewise, it could be that his necromantic knowledge is reflected by expertise in Arcana but not by practical spellcasting. On the other hand, it could be that he possesses vast power he just almost never exercises. Davian Karla is alive; for now he is a humanoid, not undead. But it could be that he has the power of a Death Knight and could use that stat block. He doesn’t usually wear armor and he’s alive; but he could possess all of the other abilities and traits of a Death Knight. Regardless, he is a skilled swordsman and served in the military before he became Grand Duke; in battle he can choose whether to fight with a weapon or to strike with his phantom grip. His ghostly touch mimics the life drain attack of a wraith: +11 to hit, 4d8+5 necrotic damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 16 constitution saving throw or have their hit point maximum reduced by the damage taken. Again, it could be that this grip is the only dramatic supernatural ability he possesses, or it could be that he is one of the most dangerous beings in Karrnath… who wants to find out?
How would you use him in a story? Grand DukeDavian Karla is a powerful figure working to protect the Seekers and their interests. But aside from the diplomatic maze he navigates, he is also the governor of an important province and has countless duties to oversee and attend to. Beyond this, after two centuries governing the infamous City of Night, Davian is widely known across Karrnath—and he can’t go far from his city. Taking all of these factors together, Davian needs capable agents to help him as he strives to help the Seekers. Depending on their beliefs and allegiances, Davian could support an entire party of adventurers. Alternately, he could be the secret patron of a single Seeker character, providing instructions through spectral messengers (let’s call them “undead drops”). He could push his agents to quietly oppose the Emerald Claw while minimizing the damage the Claw does to the reputation or the Blood of Vol. He could have them help other Seekers in trouble, or acquire necromantic lore or artifacts sought by the priests of the Crimson Monastery. Or he could need help with more mundane issues—dealing with diplomatic rivals or undermining rival warlords.
One question the DM must decide is the relationship between Davian and Kaius III—which in turn depends on the path they’ve decided to take with Kaius. It is possible that Davian is a close confidante of Kaius III, working to help him fight Lady Illmarrow while maintaining the King’s secrets. Or it’s possible that there is a bitter divide between them—that Davian maintains a diplomatic relationship, but doesn’t know the king’s secrets and blames Kaius for the difficulties the Seekers are facing.
If the adventurers oppose the Blood of Vol—perhaps lumping all Seekers in with the Order of the Emerald Claw—then Davian could be a dangerous enemy. Or, in your Eberron, you could decide that Grand Duke Karla has embraced Lady Illmarrow and that he is giving the Emerald Claw a safe haven within Atur. As always, it’s a question of the story you want to tell. Could the Grand Duke of Atur be a powerful ally, or is he a deadly foe?
That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the article, please consider checking out my Patreon! In addition to asking the questions that drive articles like this, my Patreon support directly determines how much time I can spend creating Eberron content in the future. I’m also doing a monthly live Q&A, and Threshold patrons have the chance to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign. Check it out, and thanks to all of you who are already patrons!