Dragonmark: Priests, Krozen and Zerasha

July is quickly fading, but as time allows I want to answer a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, people asked about a pair of priests—High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane and Zerasha of Graywall.

Dealing with the Divine

Krozen and Zerasha are both powerful divine spellcasters. In third edition, Krozen was defined as a 12th level cleric of the Silver Flame, making him one of the most powerful clerics in canon Khorvaire. While never defined, Zerasha is supposed to be similar in her power—a priest respected and feared by a city of monsters and the mind flayer who governs it. Given that most priests in Khorvaire are adepts—or don’t even cast spells at all—I want players to feel how remarkable these individuals are when they encounter them. A powerful wizard is essentially a scientist, someone who uses logic and knowledge to break the laws of reality. A powerful divine caster is something else. Both Zerasha and Krozen are the chosen agents of cosmic powers. The Sovereigns and Six are omnipresent forces. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals, and Zerasha is one of its chief agents. Krozen can command the dead to return to life or call celestials from the essence of the Silver Flame. We can debate the existence of the Sovereigns, but the Silver Flame is the force that stands between Eberron and the overlords, and Krozen is a conduit for its power. These aren’t just people who have learned how to perform magic tricks. They are the chosen agents of vast cosmic forces. If you’ll pardon the phrase, they are burdened with glorious purpose.

But how do you make the powerful priest feel different from a wizard or a prince? This is something I discuss at more length in this article. One of the key points is to separate the way divine NPCs cast spells from how player characters do it. We need the structure of the classes for player characters because we need tactical precision, and I’m fine to say that in combat, Krozen casts spells as a 12th level cleric. But outside of combat I don’t feel that he needs to engage with his magic in the same way as a player character. The most common divine spellcasters—adepts—function much like magewrights; they have a specific set of cantrips and spells they can cast and that’s all they can cast. A typical spellcasting priest might be able to cast thaumaturgy, light, and ceremony. There are specialist adepts—oracles who can cast divination, healers who can perform lesser restoration—but the oracle can’t just decide to become a healer in the morning. They have been granted a divine gift, and they can’t exchange it for another one. More powerful spellcasters like Zerasha and Krozen aren’t limited like this, but they also don’t call their divinity on the phone each morning and make spell requests. Their divine power source grants them the spells they need when they need them, provided the request is justified. Krozen doesn’t prepare zone of truth ahead of time, but if he formally demands you speak the truth in the light of the Flame, zone of truth happens. Essentially, his spells are selected on the fly to match the situation he finds himself in. But the contrast is that he doesn’t have the freedom a PC has to request any spell. The Flame may empower Krozen to raise someone from the dead or to smite them with a flame strike, but in spite of his effective level it’s not going to grant him the power to create undead or to cast contagion; these aren’t the tools of a righteous servant of the Flame, and if you DO see a Flame priest using such spells, it’s a clear sign that they are actually a servant of the Whispering Flame or a warlock hacking the Flame. Krozen may take actions we consider evil, but he believes his actions are righteous in the light of the Flame; he’s not drawing on malefic powers.

Divination is another important example. With the spellcasting power of a 12th level cleric, Krozen could technically cast commune three times a day, along with a batch of auguries. And that’s how things work for PCs. But Krozen doesn’t just have some magic hotline that he can dial three times per day. He can’t just call up Tira Miron and say “Does Boranel dye his hair? Yes? I KNEW it!” It’s not some sort of abstract, scientific tool that he can just use for whatever random, trivial detail he wants to know. But the flip side is that he may simply receive information that he needs—that he can receive divine visions. Even when he doesn’t cast augury, he may suddenly KNOW that a decision he’s about to make could lead to disaster. Even without commune, he might KNOW the truth about a situation. This is especially relevant for Zerasha, because part of what defines the Shadow is dangerous secrets. Consider this description of the Shadow from this article:

As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost.

So It’s not that Zerasha sits down and says “I want to know secrets about this player character” and casts commune or some other divination spell; it’s that when the players come before her, she simply DOES know who killed the paladin’s parents and why the rogue murdered their partner, because that’s part of what it means to be the voice of the Shadow.

The short form is that when dealing with NPCs who are powerful divine spellcasters, I want them to FEEL like they are conduits to powers far greater than they are. When Krozen demands that you speak the truth, zone of truth happens. When he barks out an order, it may become a command, because that’s the power that flows through him. I want the powerful priest to feel larger then life, because at the end of the day they are the conduits for something that IS larger than life.

Now, reading all this, you might say “But I thought Eberron was the setting where we don’t know if the gods even exist.” We know that deities don’t walk the world in Eberron. You will never have a chance to punch Aureon in the face. But we know that divine power sources exist. We know that priests have been drawing on the POWER of Aureon for tens of thousands of years, and that in part because of this, most people believe divine forces exist. They may argue about details; the Cazhaak interpretation of the Dark Six is quite different from how they’re depicted in the Pyrinean Creed. But most people believe in SOME form of divinity, and part of the reason for that is the fact that divine magic exists.

With all of this in mind, you might say “If that’s how you handle NPC priests, why don’t you deal with player character clerics in the same way?” I offer some suggestions in that direction in this article. But fifth edition embraces the idea that NPCs and PCs don’t have to follow the same rules. Part of being a player character is having flexibility and tactical control. It’s about having the ability to make choices. I’ve played campaigns in which divine characters CHOSE to give me more control over their spells—embracing the idea that the powers were gifts they didn’t fully control—but that was a choice they made that fit the story of that character. But one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable, and I have no problem with them having a greater degree of versatility and precision than most other servants of the divine.

Having worked through that, let’s talk about the two specific priests that people have asked about…

Who is High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane?

Our blessed child is the Keeper of the Flame and shows us all the path to the light. But I am the keeper of the nation, and if I must toil in the darkness to ensure its prosperity, so be it.

High Cardinal Krozen

People have lots of questions about Cardinal Krozen of Thrane. What’s his first name? Does he realize he’s evil? Does he believe in a greater good—or for that matter, does he even believe in the Silver Flame? What makes him more important than the other 11 High Cardinals of the Church? These are all good questions. I’ve always liked Krozen, but my vision of him is quite different from how he’s evolved in canon sources. I know what I originally planned for him when we first created the character, and that’s how I use him, so I’ll lay that out here. Keep in mind that this directly contradicts multiple canon sources (which, admittedly, contradict themselves on some points). This is MY interpretation and I am not going to reconcile it with what other authors have done with the character; it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer.

My original vision of High Cardinal Thrane was loosely inspired by Cardinal Richelieu as depicted in The Three Musketeers—a ruthless man who is engaged in sly intrigues, but who is nonetheless an extremely capable leader, perhaps moreso than the king the protagonists serve. It was always my vision that Cardinal Krozen was devoted to Thrane and that he performs his duties exceptionally well—that he is a brilliant strategist and a charismatic orator. But this is tied to the idea that he truly believes that he knows what is best for the nation. The basic dictate of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Where Jaela recognizes that this applies to ALL innocents, regardless of their faith or nationality, Krozen believes that you aren’t innocent unless you’re a Thrane and a servant of the faith, and don’t oppose him. He DOES fight to protect the innocent—but only those HE decides are innocent.

So I see Cardinal Krozen as a remarkable man—one of the player characters of his generation. He’s human and I see him as being about fifty years old. The details of his youth—and, in fact, his first name—aren’t generally known; the general story is that he lived on the Aundairian border and that the Flame granted him the power to perform great deeds, first in the defense of his village and then as a templar. He was always charismatic and intelligent, but beyond that, his divine power was always remarkable; when he called on the Flame, he gained the power to smite his foes. In his early twenties he rose out of the templars and into the hierarchy of the church, turning his gifts to leadership behind the scenes rather than fighting on the battlefield. From there, his star rose and rose; those who opposed him were either won over by his charisma or driven from his path, one way or another.

Part of the core idea of Krozen is that he represents the danger of Thrane becoming a theocracy—that in doing so it drags the church into the management of temporal matters and political concerns. The idea of Thrane is that Jaela Daran represents the pure ideals of the faith—while Cardinal Krozen deals with political realities. Again, Jaela does believe that “protect the innocent” applies to all people—that Krozen believes that it can only be applied to the faithful and to Thranes. It’s not that he is a vile, selfish person; but he has blended his faith with his devotion to his nation and places the good of Thrane over all others. Beyond this, Krozen very much has a Chosen One mentality. He possesses immense divine power, and in his mind this proves his righteousness. He believes he was given this power to serve the interests of Thrane, and the fact that he still wields that power proves that he is right to do so. He will crush others who get in his way—even other priests or templars—because he believes, again, that those who oppose him aren’t innocent.

In considering all this, take a moment to think about the Shadow in the Flame. There are those—the Whispering Flame cultists—who knowingly choose to serve Bel Shalor. But the true power of the Shadow in the Flame is its ability to piggyback on the Voice of the Flame and to pour poison in the ears of the truly faithful. Bel Shalor loves to erode empathy and to convince people to do evil when they only seek to do good. The Shadow in the Flame reveled in the suffering caused by the Silver Crusade, and Bel Shalor undoubtedly sees Cardinal Krozen as a valuable tool. The question for the DM to decide is how much of a hold does Bel Shalor have over the Cardinal? In MY Eberron, Krozen KNOWS the dangers posed by the Shadow of the Flame; all the faithful do. And with that in mind, he does his best to resist those impulses; he knows that he does questionable things (like, you know, torture and murder…) but he truly believes that he is acting for the greater good and that he’s NOT a tool of the Shadow in the Flame. But in your campaign you could decide that he HAS fallen prey to Bel Shalor’s whispers and no longer realizes the evil he is doing… or even go further and decide that he is a priest of the Whispering Flame. Personally I prefer to follow the shades-of-grey model, to say that while Krozen does evil things, he only does them when pursuing the interests of Thrane—that he always believes his actions are justified. I like the idea that Krozen knows he walks a dark path, but that he believes it is the path the Flame has set him on, and that at the end of the day he is protecting the innocent—even if he has had to sacrifice his own innocence to do it.

Now, some people may be say “That’s all fine, but who IS he?” Krozen is one of the high cardinals of Thrane. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting…

This group of powerful church leaders administers both the workings of the church and the functions of the government. In theory, the cardinals answer to the Keeper of the Flame. In practice, they run the church and the government, only dealing with the Keeper on issues that require divine attention and interaction with the Voice of the Flame. The cardinals believe that they know best when it comes to running the government and the church, and they leave the Keeper to deal with the well-being of the spirit of the nation. This arrangement has led to problems between the Council and the Keeper in the past, but the current Keeper seems interested more in divine and spiritual matters than the intricacies of secular administration.

There may be twelve High Cardinals, but Krozen is the effective leader of the Council—and thus, of Thrane. If you have a divine problem, talk to Jaela. But if you’re looking into the deployment of Thrane troops or about getting more resources for Rellekor, it’s Krozen who can get things done. The general idea is that Krozen is in many ways the opposite of Jaela. Where the Keeper is compassionate, the Cardinal is ruthless. The Cardinal is a master of political intrigue, while Jaela prefers honest dealing. Jaela wants what’s best for all innocents; Krozen cares only for Thrane.

The final thing I’ll call about about Krozen is this: If there’s twelve high cardinals, why is he the leader? What makes him special? The short answer is that what makes him special is that he IS special. Again, not all priests are spellcasters at all, and in a world where everyday magic goes to 3rd level, a 12th level spellcaster is remarkable. He can raise the dead! Those who oppose him are struck down by flame strikes! You’ve seen him shape celestials from the pure power of the Flame! And as I said, while I don’t just let him cast commune three times a day, he hears the Voice of the Flame in ways that others do not (and, of course, potentially the Shadow in the Flame as well). There’s surely other spellcasters among the cardinals, but Krozen stands out; if you look to the 3.5 statistics, he’s notably a more powerful spellcaster than the high priest of the Host and Archierophant Ythana in Sharn: City of Towers. Power alone isn’t everything, but the whole idea is that this power is matched with passion and charisma—that just like a player character, Krozen is remarkable. With this in mind, he doesn’t command the Council of Cardinals, but he has won the loyalty of the majority of its members and thus is the EFFECTIVE leader of the council. In my opinion, there’s four cardinals who are utterly devoted to him; three who believe he’s doing what’s best for Thrane; and four who don’t support him. Of these four, all believe that the Keeper shows the proper path for the nation and that Krozen’s actions are concerning; one or two may have deeper concerns, or believe that he is serving the Shadow in the Flame. So Krozen DOESN’T have absolute control of the council, but he’s effectively the leader.

Krozen as a Villain

As I’ve just spent a lot of time insisting that Krozen believes he’s acting for the good of Thrane and that he is an effective leader, you might wonder if I actually see him as a villain. I do, generally—just a villain with many layers. He performs evil deeds in pursuit of the greater good, and more than that, he is only concerned with the greater good of THRANE. When I use Krozen, I want it to be clear why people support him. I want Thranes, in particular, to feel conflicted because Krozen IS good at his job—that if the nation was guided purely by the idealistic Jaela, it would be easy prey for the machinations of Kaius, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, and the Dark Lanterns. Krozen is effective; but is that enough to justify his methods? And IS he a tool of the Shadow in the Flame, even if he refuses to see it?

Zerasha, the Voice of the Shadow

You think you know why you’re here. You think we have to be enemies. But that’s the voice of your petty and jealous Sovereigns, who fear what you could become if you follow the paths I could show you.

Zerasha of Graywall

The medusa Zerasha is a priest of the Shadow in the city of Graywall. She’s mentioned in a Dragon article, which says…

The street ends at the Eye of the Shadow, a small windowless temple formed from black stone. The medusa priestess Zerasha holds court here. A fearsome combatant and skilled ritual caster, Zerasha is the most influential voice in Graywall after Xorchylic; the people of the town have come to trust her oracular gifts. At the moment, she is an ally of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but her first loyalty is to the Shadow and to her own warlord, the Queen of Stone. Should there ever be a civil war in Graywall, the black-scaled medusa will be a force with which to be reckoned. 

Backdrop: Graywall, Dragon 368

That’s the only canon information that exists on her. Since I wrote that article, people have asked: What is the priestess Zerasha’s relationship with Xorchylic? What are her goals, and what might cause those goals to become so misaligned with Xorchylic’s as to cause open conflict?

In my mind, Zerasha is truly devoted to her faith and to her Queen, in that order. As described in this article, she believes that the Shadow is the guide and guardian of those creatures followers of the Sovereigns consider monsters. Beyond this, she is what the article describes as a mentor. Acting on behalf of the Shadow, she seeks to help the faithful achieve their ambitions—even if that means following the darkest possible paths to do so. Beyond that, the Shadow is the Sovereign of secrets. As described above, she is an oracle—not as gifted in this regard as Sora Teraza, but certainly the most powerful oracle in Graywall. She knows secrets. Having said that, as I called out above, her knowledge comes from the Shadow and she doesn’t know things until she needs to know them. When she meets a player character, the Shadow may tell her their secrets; but it’s not like she just randomly knows everyone’s secrets all the time. And again, if the Shadow shares a secret with Zerasha, it’s so she can DO something with that secret.

So in terms of her goals, I believe that Zerasha’s goals are first and foremost to offer spiritual guidance to the people of Graywall and to help them achieve their true potential. Beneath that, her goals are whatever tasks the Shadow sets before her; it’s quite common for her to feel that there is a particular individual the Shadow wishes her to focus on, someone who needs to be guided on the proper path. And beneath that, her loyalty is to her queen, the medusa Sheshka, and to the people of Cazhaak Draal.

Her relationship with Xorchyllic largely depends on what the DM decides Xorchyllic is truly up to. As long as Xorchyllic is pursuing the greater good of Graywall and Droaam, Zerasha will support him. But we’ve called out that the Flayer Guard of Droaam serve the interests of the governor first and the common folk second. If Xorchyllic is somehow oppressing or harming a portion of the city in pursuit of his personal agenda, that could bring him into conflict with Zerasha. Ultimately, the question is what is the interest of the Shadow? If the Shadow supports Xorchyllic and wants the illithid to achieve its ambitions, Zerasha could work closely with the governor. On the other hand, if the Shadow is most interested in helping a lowly kobold on the Street of Shadows achieve her ambitions of overthrowing Xorchyllic and becoming a new warlord, than Zerasha would oppose the mind flayer. The same is true for player characters. What does the Shadow think of them? It could be that it favors their enemies, in which case Zerasha will oppose them. Or it could be that the Shadow has an interest in one of the adventurers and wants to show them the path to power—in which case, Zerasha who seek to serve as their mentor. But again, a mentor of the Shadow will always lead you down dangerous paths…

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Talenta Dinosaurs

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

In what clever ways do the Talenta halflings utilize their dinosaurs besides using them as beasts of burden?

The halflings of the Talenta Plains are what I call a Wide Primal society. They have never pursued the arcane science that defines the Five Nations, in part because they’ve never felt a need to do so. The Talenta have a path of magic that they use to solve their problems; they work with spirits, employing both druid magic and fey pacts. So while they don’t have arcane magewrights, they do have widespread adepts and gleaners who employ magic as part of everyday life. Like magewrights, Talenta gleaners generally know a few cantrips and can cast a few spells as rituals—typically druid spells, though those that deal with fey spirits often work with enchantment and illusion.

With this in mind, consider that the following spells are “Everyday Magic” in the Talenta Plains: animal friendship, animal messenger, beast bond, beast sense, find familiar and speak with animals. When the Talenta talk about having a bond with the spirits of their mounts, it’s because many of them literally do. Even when you’re dealing with beasts of burden, halflings will usually talk to their beasts. We’re still talking about dinosaurs, so they are limited by their intelligence; but there’s a general sense of partnership between the Talenta and their dinosaurs.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the spells and cantrips used by NPC magewrights (or adepts or gleaners) don’t always work like their PC counterparts! Often they are more limited; when Talenta gleaners use the spells mentioned above, they typically can only cast them on reptiles, which is one reason they work so closely with dinosaurs; their magical traditions have evolved to work with them over time. However, these specialized rituals can be more effective in other ways, such as having a longer duration. The spirit rider is an important form of Talenta gleaner; they employ a ritual that combines the effects of beast bond and beast sense, allowing the gleaner to enter an extended trance in which they perceive the world through the senses of their dinosaur companion and can guide it telepathically. Note that this doesn’t dominate the beast; it simply allows telepathic communication. It takes a long time for a spirit rider to establish a necessary connection to a dinosaur, and they can’t just ride a new beast on the spur of the moment. Spirit riders who work with glidewings and dartwings serve as scouts and couriers; but spirit riders often also work with larger dinosaurs—hammertails, bloodstrikers, threehorns—to guide them while traveling or performing heavy labor. As a random point: most of the everyday magic of the Plains works specifically with reptiles, and one of the reason the Talenta use tribex as livestock is because they don’t talk to the tribex.

So throwing out a few random ways dinosaurs are used…

  • Bloodstrikers are large burrowing herbivores. Many Talenta tribes have a single bloodstriker, which will use its burrowing abilities to help establish camps. In Gatherhold, bloodstrikers are used to maintain latrines, and as living mining tools. The caustic blood of the beast is also harvested.
  • Dartwings, typically just called darts, are small pterosaurs; they use the hawk stat block. Dartwings are the primary messengers of the Talenta, and they are also used by scouts—both full spirit riders who may spend hours watching the world from above, and hunters who may just use speak with animals or beast sense to get information from their companions.
  • Glidewings and soarwings are larger pterosaurs. While often used as flying mounts for hunters and warriors, spirit riders can use them to scout and they are also often used by couriers, swiftly transporting goods between tribes.
  • Many large herbivores are used as beasts of burden, but hammertails (Ankylosaurs) are often used as mobile homes; a family can make its home in howdah tent on the back of the beast. few tribes have thunderherders (diplodocus)—among other things, they require a great deal of food—but those that do often use the herder for their leader’s tent, leading to the phrase that someone important “rides the thunder.”
  • Carvers, clawfeet and swiftclaws (velociraptors) are all used for hunting and for defense. Swiftclaws are used for pest control. Along with the fastieth, clawfeet are often seen as a simple form of mobility enhancement; it’s very common for a hunter to ride their fastieth or clawfoot in situations where most people would dismount; the rider considers themselves to be a single entity with their mount.
  • Scampers or scamps are a tiny form of fastieth, and can use the weasel stat block. they have nimble foreclaws and are often used as assistant animals, fetching small things or performing simple tasks.

These are just a few examples. The main thing to keep in mind is that through spirit riders and general use of speak with animals, the Talenta can get their dinosaurs to perform precision tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. Large dinosaurs are used as beasts of burden, but also perform a wide range of heavy labor—effectively serving as living cranes and bulldozers. Within Gatherhold, you have a few high chambers that can only be reached if a thunderherder lifts you up.

So dinosaurs help with scouting, hunting, transportation, communication, and heavy labor; hammertails serve as housing! Dinosaurs are even used as instruments. Three-horn bellows can be heard across a great distance, and are often used for signaling purposes. Hammertail drums may be used in somber rituals, while dartwing choirs support other musicians. Scale singers blend the talents of spirit rider and bard, riding a dinosaur and singing with its voice. Dinosaurs are worked into sporting events as well; the Talentans play a mounted sport called Dalasci that is somewhat like aggressive polo, and scamp races are a common basis for gambling.

What kind of dinosaur would be the typical livestock of one of the nomad tribes?

Dinosaurs don’t produce milk and generally aren’t raised as food; both of these are the role of the tribex. So most tribes have a herd of tribex. Beyond that, tribes often breed a specific type of dinosaur, which they will then trade with other tribes. So most tribes only have a few hammertails, but there’s a tribe that has a breeding population of hammertails, a tribe that breeds threehorns, a few that breed clawfeet, and so on. The point is that there is no “typical” dinosaur livestock; it’s a choice that shapes the tribe, and a hammertail-breeding tribe will be quite different from the tribe with a host of clawfeet.

Do Talenta halflings eat dinosaur eggs? Would they raise dinosaurs to harvest their eggs?

There’s no taboo against eating unfertilized dinosaur eggs; these are celebrated as a gift from a friend. However, keep in mind that dinosaurs don’t lay eggs like chickens do. Some species don’t lay unfertilized eggs. Others do, but only at a specific time of year—typically Nymm to Lharvion. These are generally times of feasting, and for celebrating the dinosaurs that share these gifts. But they don’t keep dinosaurs JUST for the eggs; dinosaurs are essentially members of the tribe who perform a useful function, and the eggs are a bonus. In my opinion, the only Talenta dinosaurs that lay unfertilized eggs across the entire year would be scamps; so scamp eggs are certainly part of the Talenta diet.

Are there any Talenta tribes that use necromancy?

Certainly! The Tolashcara (“Keepers of Bones that Rustle and Moan”) tribe guard a manifest zone to Mabar in the Plains and draw on its power to animate the dead. They believe that by using its power as they do, they keep the hungry spirits from venturing further afield to prey on innocents. Some Tolashcara are drawn to pursue undead threats elsewhere in the Plains or in the world, and a small group of Tolashcara halflings patrol the edge of the Boneyard (the graveyard of dragons) hoping to keep the dead quiet. So overall, they are a peaceful and benevolent force; on the other hand, you could always have a new leader rise up among the Tolashcara with a more malevolent agenda.

That’s all I have time for today, but add any interesting ways you’ve used dinosaurs in your campaign in the comments! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Dread Metrol: Into The Mists

The wolves of Karrnath howl at our gates. The vile necromancers of the north have brought their armies of the dead. But we are Cyrans. We do not give in to fear. What our dreams imagine, our hands create, and we have dreamt a dream of victory. It will take all that we have to give—even our very bones, so that the Karrns cannot turn our dead against us. But I know the Cyran heart, and I know that we will prevail. If you’re willing to wield a sword, report to the Vermishard of War; otherwise, report to the Vadalis Kennels for processing.

—Queen Dannel ir’Wynarn

In 994 YK, the Mourning swept across the nation of Cyre. The glorious capital of Metrol was one of the first cities to fall to the Mourning. But what if Metrol wasn’t destroyed in the Mourning? What if the city was lost in the mists, cut off from the rest of Eberron ever since that day? What if it has been under siege by what seem to be endless undead forces? How would Metrol survive? What would Queen Dannel do in pursuit of victory?

These are the questions posed in Dread Metrol: Into The Mists. We describe the book as a crossover with Ravenloft, and if you’ve read Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft you’ll recognize the core ideas of the Domain of Dread and the dark lord Dannel. But you don’t need to know anything about Ravenloft to explore Dread Metrol. All you need to know is that it’s a city that’s fallen through the cracks of reality and now is trapped in an endless siege. It’s a vision of Eberron where House Vadalis has weaponized wererats and where Cannith corpse collectors comb the city looking for spare parts. You can use it as a deadly detour for existing characters, adventurers who are torn from their regular world; or you can use it as the foundation for a new campaign, creating characters who could only emerge from this dark crucible.

Dread Metrol is a 110-page PDF that comes with a 10 high-resolution maps. The first half of the book is a deep dive into the city of Metrol, discussing the layout of the city and the forces that wield power within it. This also contains a section discussing adventurers from Metrol, whether as part of a Metrol campaign or as an unusual background for unusual characters. Do you want to play a Reborn halfling stitched together and animated by Jorasco chirugeons? Metrol is the place for it! It also contains the Mastermaker, an artificer archetype that replaces their own flesh with wood and steel. The second half of the PDF is “The Mourning After,” an adventure by Andrew Bishkinskyi set in Dread Metrol that can take characters from 1st to 4th level; the hooks provided can pull characters to Metrol, or the adventure can be used as the beginning of a campaign set in the city. In addition to all of this, Dread Metrol comes with a separate, 32-page player-friendly PDF that provides general information about Metrol without spoiling the deepest, darkest secrets!

The short form is that if Dread Metrol brings the themes of Ravenloft to Eberron and can serve as a bridge between the settings. But if you know nothing about Ravenloft, you can still explore the horrors of war in Metrol. And if you’re planning a Last War campaign, the sourcebook provides a snapshot of a city that now only exists as a ruin and a queen lost to the Mourning.

Dread Metrol: Into The Mists is a platinum seller on the DM’s Guild. Check it out now!

DREAD METROL Q&A

Previously you’ve suggested that Barovia could be a pre-Galifar Karrnath domain, and Strahd could be an ancient Karrnathi warlord. But the section on Mabar in Exploring Eberron suggests that the Hinterland consumes fragments within years or decades; how do you reconcile this with a pre-Galifar fragment that would be over a thousand years old?

The short answer is that while both can be found in the Hinterlands of Mabar, there’s crucial differences between a typical planar fragment and a domain of dread. The fragments are essentially being digested by Mabar, after which they become part of the plane. But a domain of dread isn’t just being digested; it is specifically designed to imprison and torment a darklord. The question is why. The most logical answer is that it is is how new Dark Powers are created—that somehow a darklord can evolve to become one of the Dark Powers. We see an example of this in the Queen of All Tears; for some time, she might have been a darklord imprisoned in a Hinterlands domain.

So essentially, standard fragments are digested over a period of years, but domains of dread exist for as long as it takes to complete the journey of the darklord, whether they ascend to the ranks of the Dark Power or somehow find release.

Dread Metrol says that Queen Dannel was crowned in 943 YK and was 17 years old at that time. So she’s 73 years old?

That’s correct! those dates and her age were established in Five Nations and Forge of War. If that seems surprisingly old, keep in mind that (as seen on the cover) Dannel has made construct improvements to herself; beyond that, she may well receive experimental Jorasco treatments that limit the effects of aging.

How would you integrate the haunted lightning rail—Cyre 1313—from Van Richten’s Guide with Dread Metrol?

The two are different domains, and part of the theme of Dread Metrol is its absolute isolation. So by default, I wouldn’t integrate the two. However, there is a lightning rail station in Metrol; if I was running a Dread Metrol campaign and was ready to change things up, I might have Cyre 1313 pull into the station. I would expect there to be a flood of people trying to get to the train; how will the adventurers get to the front of that line, and what intrigues might carry onto the train when it leaves?

Falkovnia in Van Richten’s Guide is a “Domain Besieged by the Dead.” Is Dread Metrol basically the same thing?

There are certainly similarities between the two domains; both explore the horrors of war and an extended undead siege. The primary differences are the intensity of the siege and the application of arcane science—both as employed by the attacking forces and the people of Metrol. In Falkovnia, criminals are impaled; in Metrol, they’re taken to the Vadalis Kennels or given to Cannith as spare parts. In Falkovnia, new zombies show up on the night of the new moon. In Metrol, new forces emerge from the mists each night, and they may bring mystical siege weapons and arcane bombardment. You can wander the ruined countryside in Falkovnia; in Metrol, the city is the domain, and all that lies beyond the walls are blasted battlefields.

So the two domains explore a number of overlapping fiends—but aside from the possibility of fighting some zombies, an adventure in Metrol will be quite different from one in Falkovnia.

Will this be available in print?

Not at the moment. We’re looking into this, but there are certain restrictions—and also, print on demand costs have increased dramatically.

That’s all for now! You can find Dread Metrol: Into The Mists on the DM’s Guild.

My Summer Streams!

Currently I’m taking part in two live-play streams of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. The two campaigns are very different; one you can watch, the other you can potentially participate in! Here’s the story.

THRESHOLD

Threshold is an Eberron campaign I’m running as DM. It’s set in a small town that lies between Droaam and Breland, the setting of my upcoming Frontiers of Eberron sourcebook, and I’m using the plots and places I’m creating for that sourcebook in the campaign. Threshold is tied to my Patreon. The story is ongoing and it involves a consistent cast of ten player characters, but each session only involves five of those characters—and the players change each session, being drawn from among the patrons. Those patrons who don’t get a seat at the table still have a chance to influence the story through polls and discussion on the Threshold Discord. Patrons have access to both audio and video recordings of the sessions, but I’m not sharing these with the general public. However, if you want a sense of what Threshold is all about, I’ve just posted a one-hour excerpt from a recent session. I love how Threshold has evolved through the collaboration of the patrons, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next! So if you join my Patreon (at the Threshold tier) you get access both to the past episodes, the campaign website, the Threshold Discord, and the chance to play in a future session… As well as helping to support the articles I post on this site!

FUGUE STATE

In addition to running games, I occasionally like to play games with my friends. Back in 2020 I started playing in a weekly online campaign with a few of my friends in Portland—Colin Meloy and Chris Funk of the Decemberists, Charlie Chu from Oni Press, and Patti King from the Shins. Conveniently, Charlie—the only one of that line-up who isn’t a musician—is the one playing the bard. DM Han Duong is running us through Rime of the Frostmaiden, and after thirty sessions we thought “Hey, why don’t we let other folks watch?” Fugue State happens from 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM Pacific Time every Wednesday, on the Twogether Studios Twitch channel. We’re also working to raise money for local charities; this month we’re raising funds for the Black Resilience Fund. So it remains to be seen if we’ll save the eight remaining towns of Icewind Dale (seven if you leave out Targos, which is a garbage town for garbage people), but we can do a little good regardless. I’m only a player in Fugue State—it’s not set in Eberron and I’m just along for the ride—but if you want to take a peek at the game I’m playing in, drop by!

THE ZONECAST SUMMER

The final stream I want to mention isn’t a D&D stream at all, and I’m not actually a regular! However, Twogether Studios is sponsoring the ZoneCast, a livestream in which Gnomedic and guests play my game The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance! The ZoneCast will be happening throughout the summer on the Twogether Studios channel, every Tuesday at 6 PM Pacific Time! So if you’d like to see what TAZ:BoB is all about and possibly win some fabulous prizes, check that out!

Q&A

In Threshold, players take control of pre-existing characters. Do you feel that players get into character easily or do they struggle at times? I’ve had guest players take the role of pre-established NPCs before, and it didn’t always mesh well.

So far it’s gone great, and I really enjoy seeing what each new player brings to their character. When players apply to play in a session, they request a specific character; it’s not random, and people know what they’re getting into. The campaign website has detailed backgrounds of each character and their past exploits. And this includes a section of roleplaying notes; the image below is from Rolan Harn, the former Sentinel Marshal.

Think of these as expanded Bonds and Flaws. A player doesn’t HAVE to abide by these restrictions, but if they play these up they may receive Inspiration or gain advantage on an action; conversely, if they go against the character’s nature, they may suffer disadvantage or other penalties. So an oathbreaking, cruel Rolan will effectively have very bad luck—whereas if you play up Rolan’s honesty and integrity, you’ll have a better chance of success.

That’s all for now! I hope to see you at a future stream!

IFAQ: War Crimes and Potatoes

I’ve been traveling and haven’t had much time to write. But whenever I have time, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s two that came up in June on clearly related topics: War crimes and potatoes.

What counted as a war crime during the Last War?

Looking to the definition of war crimes in our world is a good place to start. One of the key points is that in principle, the Last War was being fought with the intent of reuniting Galifar. As a result, causing unnecessary harm to civilians or civilian infrastructure was definitely an issue – consider the Geneva Convention’s censure of “taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” NOT JUSTIFIED BY MILITARY NECESSITY is the key point there. It’s understood that there will be a certain amount of collateral damage in military operations—but are we talking about justified destruction or about wanton, extreme actions that inflict avoidable harm on the civilian population?

Likewise, the development or deployment or weapons of war that would cause unnecessary suffering or collateral damage was also censured. Again, the key is MILITARY NECESSITY: is the use of this weapon justified, or is it a weapon that will clearly cause grievous and unnecessary harm to civilians or irreparable damage to what we one day hope will be a reunited Galifar?

The crucial underlying point is that the civilians were ultimately seen as the innocent people of a united Galifar. The monarchs were fighting over the succession, but they were fighting for the right to rule all of the people of Galifar—so don’t butcher civilians. Likewise, there was a general rule that you don’t target noncombatant members of dragonmarked houses (IE Jorasco healers)—though this only applies to NONCOMBATANTS, so a Deneith mercenary or a Jorasco healer who takes up arms would be valid targets.

A highly contentious point was the treatment of corpses. Four of the nations supported laws forbidding the desecration of corpses and gravesites. As a result, under the code of war Karrnathi necromancers could only animate the corpses of Karrnathi citizens. This is a rule that many frontline necromancers violated during the war, and there are active cases based on this—with Karrnathi counselors arguing the point of “military necessity.”

When would war crimes actually have been defined? Were they already on the books when the Last War began? Were they only defined with the Treaty of Thronehold?

The basic principle of the Last War is that the five heirs of King Jarot challenged the traditional succession… But that all sought to reunite Galifar under a particular leader. None of the Five Nations were trying to secede; it was a war about who should rule the united whole. So there was reasonable open communication between the warring powers from the very beginning, and I think the general terms of warfare were established early on; again, the war was fought over the question of who was worthy to rule Galifar, not to destroy any of the Five Nations. So I think basic agreements on the treatment of civilians and prisoners would have been established by the leaders of the Five Nations early in the war. Beyond this, the war lasted for a century and wasn’t going at a breakneck pace the whole time; there were certainly previous attempts at mediation and temporary ceasefires during which the rules of war could be renegotiated, prisoners exchanged, etc. There surely were additional clauses established in the Treaty of Thronehold—such as forbidding the creation of warforged—but the basic laws likely date back to the start of the war.

Would Cloudkill be outlawed under the rules of war? If not, why not?

There are banned weapons of war. And it’s easy to draw casual comparisons to our world: cloudkill is a form of poison gas, we banned poison gas, therefore wouldn’t they ban cloudkill? But with any comparison to our world, it’s important to look at the reasons we made the decisions we made and to see if they actually apply to D&D. Poison gas was banned because it horrified the public. Mustard gas was seen as a slow and agonizing way to die—slowly suffocating while your skin and lungs blister—and notably, had horrific long-term effects on the people who survived gas attacks. It also wasn’t especially EFFECTIVE; heck, if the wind changed it could threaten your own people. Essentially, it was a very traumatizing weapon, causing unnecessary suffering when considering its actual effectiveness.

Cloudkill, on the other hand, is none of these things. It inflicts 5d8 poison damage—even the half damage inflicted with a successful saving throw is sufficient to kill a typical commoner, so it kills just as quickly as a fireball. There’s no risk of wind blowing it out of your control. It has no effect OTHER than damage—no long-term side effects, nothing that indicates that it particularly causes pain; it doesn’t even inflict the Poisoned condition, which would be an easy way to represent debilitating pain. There’s nothing that makes cloudkill any more inhumane than a fireball; one could argue that swift death by gas might be MORE humane than death by fireball, and fireballs are a standard part of war in the Five Nations.

If I was to create an equivalent to mustard gas, I’d make it slow-acting—either 1d6/round or simply to say that it kills through suffocation—while adding additional effects to reflect the agonizing pain and long-term after-effects. Let’s say that it inflicts the Poisoned condition the first time a victim fails their saving throw and makes them Incapacitated on their second saving throw, as well as reducing Constitution by 1 every time they fail a saving throw (incidentally reducing their ability to resist suffocation). This Constitution damage would be permanent unless magically cured. You could also add a risk of blindness, which was another long-term side effect of mustard gas. The essential point is that a weapon like fireball—or, in my opinion, cloudkill—is seen as a valid, effective weapon of war. Weapons that will be banned are those seen as causing unnecessary suffering or which are specifically designed to cause mass civilian casualties.

What are a few specific ways the people of Khorvaire and beyond enjoy their potatoes?

Keep in mind that I myself am not an expert on all the ways one can prepare potatoes, and that someone with a stronger culinary background might be able to present more interesting and exotic alternatives to what I’m going to suggest. With that in mind…

  • While other sources may not agree with me, I’ve always personally seen Thrane as relatively ascetic in its cuisine. I see Thranish life as being largely driven by small farming communities. As a result, I see Thranish country cuisine as being more functional than exotic. So I’d say Thranish potatoes would be floury potatoes par-broiled to cook the outside while leaving the inside nearly raw, providing an immediate carb-hit from the outside, with a longer release of carbohydrates over time as the uncooked core is slowly digested. 
  • By contrast, I’ve always seen Aundairian cuisine as being both more dramatic and subtle, playing off the more widespread presence of prestidigitation. Likewise, I see the Aundairians being more inclined to show off with their cuisine, taking pride in delicate work. So I could see a sort of Hasselback potato with different flavors infused between the slices, or fine croquettes. 
  • Breland I’d lean toward a straightforward baked potato but with lots of extras piled on, with the specific extras varying by region (and also somewhat being a chance to show off one’s wealth). 
  • Karrnath I personally lean toward potato soup and stews. 
  • Cyre would of course borrow from everyone else, but I’d also be likely to make Cyre the place that’s developed the fried potato and dishes spinning off from them. Though House Ghallanda has picked up and popularized thin fried potatoes across the Five Nations—everyone loves dragon fries!

With that said, these are just MY ideas, and a better cook might be able to come up with more interesting options! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for asking these important questions!

IFAQ: Kaius and Lady Illmarrow

Image by Rich Ellis and Grace Allison, from Phoenix Dawn Command

In my previous article, I answered questions my patrons posed about the Blood of Vol. In response to that, one of my patrons asked a question that had deeper roots reflected the changes to the setting over the course of three editions of D&D.

Could you please clarify the historical relationship between the vampiric Kaius, the Blood of Vol, and Erandis/Illmarrow under your current conception of their lore?

One of the most infamous “secrets” from the original Eberron Campaign Setting is that Kaius ir’Wynarn III, the King of Karrnath, is actually Kaius I—that he was transformed into a vampire by Erandis Vol and replaced his descendant. I say “secret” because this information was included in the basic description of Karrnath in the book, and because there have been images and miniatures of Kaius the Vampire… so while it was supposed to be a secret in the WORLD, most PLAYERS were aware of it. In describing this, the ECS says…

When the Last War was in full swing, Kaius I was approached by priests of the Blood of Vol. These priests promised to aid Karrnath against its enemies, provided Kaius agreed to a few minor considerations… First, the priests worked with Kaius’s own court wizards to perfect the process for creating zombie and skeleton troops to bolster Karrnath’s forces… Second, the priests provided an elite fighting force dedicated to both Vol and Kaius—the Order of the Emerald Claw.

That was in the ECS, the first Eberron book ever written. Over the course of fifteen years, the concept of the Blood of Vol, Erandis Vol, Lady Illmarrow, and the Order of the Emerald Claw all evolved. Lady Illmarrow is a spider who has agents spread among the Seekers—including priests and members of the Crimson Covenant—but the faith doesn’t serve her personally. Likewise, it has been established that the Order of the Emerald Claw was just ONE of the Seeker chivalric orders, but not the only one. So for a more detailed breakdown of the timeline as I personally run it…

  • Early in the war, plagues and famines wreak havoc in Karrnath. Priests of the Blood of Vol — possibly including Malevanor’s predecessor Askalor, or even a young and still living Malevanor — approach Kaius and propose an alliance between the Seekers and the crown, offering necromantic advancements and undead troops in exchange for elevating and celebrating the faith and developing the chivalric orders.
  • The Seekers celebrate this alliance and the common people grudgingly accept it. Over the course of decades, Seeker priests and necromancers work to find ways to enhance Karrnath’s military might through necromancy. This includes widespread use of common undead troops with their bone knight commanders, the development of the Seeker orders, and the perfection of the Odakyr Rites, creating the Karrnathi undead.
  • This continues until the Regent Moranna turns against the Blood of Vol, disbands the orders, and breaks ties between the faith and the crown. When Kaius III rises to power, he blames Karrnath’s troubles—including the plagues and famines that originally set the alliance in motion—on the Seekers, a populist strategy that salvages Karrnathi pride and seeks to solidify support behind Kaius; this is important because not all of the warlords support his desire for peace.

This all public-facing, well documented fact. What is NOT publicly known is what happened to Kaius I and the role of Lady Illmarrow. One of the intentional choices we made when writing Eberron Rising From The Last War was to leave the ultimate truth about this up to the DM. Specifically, Rising includes a newspaper article that says Maybe Kaius is a Vampire… Or maybe he isn’t! This is tied to an in-world conspiracy theory I personally subscribe to, but I’ll get back to that later. So the main point is that what I’m about to say isn’t a spoiler, because IT MAY NOT BE TRUE IN THE CAMPAIGN YOU ARE PLAYING IN, reader. But with the assumption that Kaius I is a vampire…

Long before the Last War, Lady Illmarrow worked to spread agents throughout the Seekers. She gained power over priests and even placed a number of her own loyal servants within the Crimson Covenant. While useful, this influence was limited by the fact that the Seekers had little political influence and no organized military; there was no equivalent to the Order of the Emerald Claw for her to use. As the Last War began, she used her influence with her Seeker agents to promote the idea of the alliance with the Crown. It’s worth noting that it is entirely possible that ILLMARROW is responsible for some of the plagues and famines, creating a situation where Kaius needed the alliance. Regardless of whether this is true, the priests who approached Kaius I largely did so in good faith, truly believing that their actions would benefit both their country and their faith—while Illmarrow’s loyalists made sure to include the idea of the Seeker chivalric orders. In the decades that followed, the elevation of the Seekers and their integration into the military served Illmarrow’s agenda in a number of different ways. Her agents within the Seekers gained more broad influence in the nation. She gained greater access to the Karrnathi military (remember, not all the members of the modern Emerald Claw are Seekers—many are just Karrnathi veterans and patriots!). She had access to the arcane resources of Karrnath to help her develop necromantic weapons. And with the development of the chivalric orders, she was able to build the core of a force that could serve as her personal strike force—the Order of the Emerald Claw.

Next, the ECS tells us this:

When Vol, the ancient lich at the heart of the Blood of Vol cult, appeared before Kaius to collect her “considerations” for the aid her priests provided him, he had no choice but to submit. In addition to allowing the cult to establish temples and bases throughout Karrnath, Vol demanded that Kaius partake in the Sacrament of Blood. Instead of the usual ceremony, Vol invoked an ancient incantation that turned Kaius into a vampire. Instead of becoming a compliant thrall, however, Kaius fought to keep his independence. Furious that the vampire refused to be humbled, Vol eventually forced the issue by triggering Kaius’s blood lust (something he had been struggling to control). When the crimson haze cleared, Kaius discovered that he had killed his beloved wife.

Even with the many changes over the years, in my campaign the basic idea of this is the same. As the price of the continued Seeker alliance—something Illmarrow could control through her agents—Kaius was forced to become a vampire. This should have made him a thrall forced to do Illmarrow’s bidding, but somehow he was able to resist her control… though not before killing his wife. We know that what happened next is that he went into hiding. There’s likely two reasons for this: the first being that the world wasn’t (and still isn’t) ready to put a vampire on the throne of Galifar, and the second being that whatever allowed him to resist Illmarrow’s control wasn’t reliable; he had to go into hiding until he found a way to protect himself from her influence. The ECS tells us “Now, after eighty years of hiding and secretly working to break all ties with the Blood of Vol, Kaius has returned to govern his nation. He has taken the place of his great grandson, pretending to be Kaius III.” Looking back to the public-facing facts, it is at this time that Karrnath breaks ties with the Seekers and disbands the chivalric orders. It’s up to you how far this goes; as I say above, in my campaign Kaius III is now using the faith as a straw man to build support. Regardless of whether you follow that path, Kaius III has taken an anti-Seeker stance and opposes Illmarrow, while Illmarrow has reformed the Order of the Emerald Claw as her personal army, including both original Seeker members and Karrnathi fanatics who believe she will return Karrnath to greatness (unlike peace-loving Kaius III).

The question that remains is who is Kaius III? It is possible that he’s Kaius I the vampire pretending to be Kaius III. I personally like the theory that he’s Kaius III pretending to be Kaius I pretending to be Kaius III—that the reason Illmarrow can’t control him is because he’s NOT really Kaius I, but rather Kaius I is remaining in hiding and working through K3 until they can find a way to break Illmarrow’s hold over him. This ties to the next question, which is assuming K1 is a vampire, what IS Illmarrow’s hold over him? The ECS account implies that Erandis used a ritual to turn K1 into a vampire. *I* prefer the idea that she turned him the old fashioned way—that one of her top vampire lieutenants sired Kaius, and that it is actually that lieutenant who can control Kaius, using the standard bond between sire and spawn. One of the main reasons I prefer this is because it means killing that vampire is the key to breaking Illmarrow’s hold over Kaius, and that’s a story adventurers could get involved in.

If you follow the original narrative in which Kaius I is a vampire who replaces Kaius III, what to you think he did in all the years between disappearing and becoming Kaius III? It is almost 100 years for a ex-king vampire probably with none or few allies.

First of all, I COMPLETELY disagree with the idea that Kaius I had “no or few allies.” He didn’t just run away. His disappearance would have been very carefully planned. To my knowledge the exact circumstances have never been described, but I expect that he faked his own death, used cosmetic transmutation to enact a long term disguise, and then went into hiding among a carefully established network of supporters. For the sake of absolute secrecy it’s quite likely that many of the people sheltering him didn’t know who he was, but they would know that he was a loyal servant of the former king. He would have retained contact with followers with influence in court, and in MY Eberron he was certainly continuing to manipulate events in Karrnath from hiding, offering guidance to generals and nobles who remained loyal to him and likely dealing with political rivals from the shadows. Ultimately, this culminated with his working closely with Moranna to plan the Regency and his return. Again, aside from Moranna many of the people he worked with may not have had known exactly who they were dealing with, but they certainly respected and valued his advice.

Beyond that, one of the most important things he was doing was learning everything he could about vampires. He was surely working to master his own abilities, but also to understand his weaknesses and particularly to understand the methods Illmarrow could use to control him and what he could do to block them. In this, I expect that he was working closely with Seekers. Remember that Kaius has been called out as having a loyal cabal of Seeker followers who, among other things, provide him with blood. Part of the idea is that even though Kaius PUBLICLY denounces the Seekers—because it’s politically expedient to do so—he maintains ties with a devoted sect OF Seekers. Why would they follow him? Because they recognize that Illmarrow holds a poisonous influence within their faith and that Kaius opposes her—they believe that in the long term, Kaius WILL help the Seekers. Time will tell if they are correct.

But to the short form, I believe that the vampire Kaius I was always pursuing his return, which required him to learn more about the nature of vampires and to manipulate events from the shadows. He built alliances, destroyed enemies, and studied the nature of the undead.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

All this may be fun for folks who like quibbling over inconsistencies in canon sources, but as a DM or player, why does any of this matter to you? Here’s the key breakdown.

  • The Order of the Emerald Claw is a force that is directly loyal to Lady Illmarrow. Its forces include Seekers with elite military training—bone knights, battlefield necromancers—as well as Karrnathi veterans who aren’t Seekers but who are fanatically devoted to Illmarrow.
  • While there are still necromantic forces integrated into the Karrnathi military—non-Seeker Karrns learned necromancy during the time of the alliance—a significant portion of this strength was lost when the crown broke ties with the Seekers. The bulk of the Karrnathi undead were sealed in subterranean vaults, and some of the warlords are afraid that they cannot be trusted.
  • As a Karrnathi Seeker, you may have to deal with hatred from your own people, who have been encouraged to blame the Seekers for all of Karrnath’s woes. Some Seekers are angry about this and have turned against the Crown, and it’s many of these Seekers who support the Emerald Claw. However, other Seekers are still devoted to Karrnath and trust that this time will pass.
  • Kaius III opposes Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. It may be that Kaius is a vampire who has found a way to resist her control; that he isn’t a vampire at all; or that he is actively carrying out a plan to break her power (IE destroying his sire). Illmarrow seeks to undermine Kaius; her loyalists in the Emerald Claw accuse him of being weak, of robbing Karrnath of its rightful victory by pursuing peace, and so on.
  • It also ties to the most basic question of whether Kaius is a potential ally or whether he’s a dangerous enemy. If adventurers oppose Lady Illmarrow, Kaius could be a powerful friend. On the other hand, while he may want a peaceful solution, in my opinion Kaius still wants to rule Galifar; remember that if he is the vampire Kaius I, he’s one of the five rulers who STARTED the Last War. I believe that he pursues peace because he doesn’t feel Karrnath can win and reunite Galifar through force, at least for now. But in my opinion he is a ruthless man and a brilliant strategist who has been scheming for a year. He may be the enemy of your enemy if you’re opposing Illmarrow, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have sinister plans of his own… it’s just that where Aurala is willing to restart the Last War, I think Kaius is searching for a different path to the throne of Galifar.

As a Karrnathi Seeker player character, an important question is whether you are angry at Kaius III for turning on your faith (and if so, if you actually have a positive opinion of the Order of the Emerald Claw); whether you simply have no opinion; or whether you are actually loyal to your king in spite of this betrayal. If you choose the latter approach, one option is that you are actually part of the king’s inner circle (even if only at the lowest level)—that you are sworn to help him find a way to break Lady Illmarrow’s poisonous influence within the faith.

As an example of this: In a campaign I ran, a player created a paladin of the Blood of Vol. His backstory was that his parents were members of a Seeker chivalric order and were killed when Moranna turned on the faith. As a child, the PC was taken in and raised by Lady Illmarrow, taught to harness his powers and led to believe that Kaius III betrayed his faith and was responsible for the death of his parents. As a PC, his initial arc was to build his power and gain allies to help him bring down Kaius III. That was the PC’s goal, but what the PLAYER knew from the start was that his character was a dupe and that Kaius III wasn’t truly guilty. His whole idea was that, assuming he succeeded in killed Kaius, it would through Karrnath into chaos and the PC would realize Illmarrow had lied—that the SECOND arc of his story would be undoing the damage he’d done and bring down Lady Illmarrow. We never actually reached that second arc in the campaign, but I appreciated the idea—that he KNEW his character’s goal was something foolish that would have disastrous consequences, but that his long-term character arc would be cleaning up that mess. And in this story you can see something I talked about in the previous article—that it may be that any number of Illmarrow’s agents serve her because they believe she has the best interests of the Seekers or of Karrnath at heart, and that if they discover absolute proof that this is not the case, they could turn against her.

You used to talk about Erandis Vol as quite a sympathetic character, murdered and robbed of her birthright while still a teenager, but your presentation of “Lady Illmarrow” is quite different; she seems more unambiguously evil.

There’s a few important elements here. From the very beginning Erandis Vol was intended to be one of the major antagonists of the setting. Eberron draws on Pulp and Noir themes, and Erandis and the Emerald Claw were always intended to weigh on the pulp side of that spectrum. They’re the Nazis in an Indiana Jones movie, Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, COBRA in GI Joe. What I’ve always said is that the Emerald Claw are the villains adventurers can always feel good about opposing: you never need to stop and say “I wonder if we should actually let the Nazis have the Ark of the Covenant” or “Maybe COBRA has some good points.” The SEEKERS have a far greater degree of moral complexity and depth of story, and SEEKERS can be allies or enemies. But Erandis and the Emerald Claw are supposed to be some of the most reliable, straightforward villains you can encounter in the world.

Having said that: I see Erandis as a TRAGIC character, and I always have. I LIKE villains to have depth and motivations we can understand. Erandis has endured horrors and carries an enormous burden. I can understand why she commits atrocities. But the key point there is that she commits atrocities. We may feel sympathy for her loss, we may understand her drive to reclaim her birthright, but the simple fact is that she will destroy nations and slaughter countless innocents in pursuit of that goal. She’s a tragic villain, but the key word there is VILLAIN.

The second important point here is that the people who work for her DON’T KNOW HER TRAGEDY. And that’s what underlies this question and WHY we introduced the identity of Lady Illmarrow. Erandis Vol is the woman murdered as an adolescent, who saw her entire bloodline unjustly eradicated because of a mark she bears on her skin but cannot use, who cannot even choose oblivion but is bound to an eternity to contemplate her failings and the stolen legacy of her line. It is Erandis who must hide her name and nature lest the forces that eradicated everyone she cares about come after her again. She CAN’T share her burden. She can’t even declare her name with pride lest she bring down ruin on all she has accomplished. And thus, she created Lady Illmarrow, a Grim Lord who has risen to power among the Bloodsails entirely on her own merits, unburdened by ancient tragedy. Lady Illmarrow is infamous not for the deeds of her family, but for her own deeds and power. She is respected and feared by her minions, even those who have no knowledge of her true past and potential.

It could well be that Erandis uses Illmarrow to channel her darkest impulses and to be the ruthless tyrant she needs to be to achieve her destiny, while Erandis remains the murdered adolescent still mourning her family. She’s been alive for thousands of years and has suffered through immense tragedy; it could well be that Illmarrow is in some ways an independent persona, that the mask Erandis created has taken on a life of its own and in this way allows the core of Erandis to retain some innocence. However, the ultimate point is that whether she’s Erandis or Illmarrow, she is a dangerous villain who will break the world if it allows her to achieve her goals.

If Erandis Vol wants to die (“she cannot choose oblivion”) why doesn’t she just reveal her presence to the Deathguard and let them destroy her?

First of all, just because Erandis may hate her existence doesn’t mean that she wants the DEATHGUARD to end it. The Undying Court destroyed her entire bloodline and she is all that’s left of their legacy. If she was to be destroyed without mastering her mark, all of that would be for nothing. And she will NOT allow the Undying Court to win this struggle.

Second: the Deathguard can’t destroy her. Since Rising From The Last War, it is canon that the elocation of Erandis’s phylactery is unknown; if her body is destroyed, she will reform in a random location hundreds of miles away. So the Deathguard can’t grant her oblivion. What it CAN do is slaughter all her allies, steal or destroy all the relics she’s gathered, and ruin all the plans she’s carefully built up over centuries. The danger they pose isn’t to her personally, but rather to everything she has managed to accomplish. Imagine you’d spent 800 years building up a plan; would you want a bunch of $&%* paladins to suddenly drop in, destroy everything, and leave you in a new body hundreds of miles away having to spend centuries to rebuild everything you’ve lost?

I’ve written a number of articles that are quite relevant to this topic, so for people who HAVEN’T been reading this blog for years, here’s a few you might want to check out.

Dragonmark: The Blood of Vol

IFAQ: The Crimson Covenant

IFAQ: Malevanor

IFAQ: Mummies and the Blood of Vol

Erandis: Hot or Not?

That’s all for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: Blood of Vol, Malevenor, and Tairnadal Burial!

It’s been a very busy month, but as time permits I like to answer short questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few questions related to the Blood of Vol, the mummy priest Malevanor, and the burial customs of the Tairnadal elves.

Malevanor—the Blood of Vol’s high priest of Atur—seems to have genuine faith and sits between Erandis, the Crimson Covenant, and the Seeker community. What makes him tick? Is he good, bad, or in between?

In life, Hass Malevanor was a Seeker priest and student of necromancy. A Karrnathi patriot, he devoted his life to helping to develop superior combat applications of necromancy. Along with Gyrnar Shult, Malevanor played a key role in the development of the Odakyr Rites—the rituals used to create Karrnathi Undead. The basic principles of the Blood of Vol maintain that the universe is cruel and that we must stand together; Hass fought for the good of both his people and his nation. Exploring Eberron says “The former high priest of Atur was the mummy Askalor, who held the post for over four hundred years—but he was weary of his long undead existence. When Malevanor was grievously injured during the Last War, Askalor transferred his power and his undead existence to his apprentice.” This ties to the point that Seeker undead—especially the Oathbound—are expected to guide and protect the living. As both High Priest and Oathbound, this is the role Malevanor sees for himself. It is his duty to guide and protect living Seekers. As an Oathbound, he can never truly find the Divinity Within—but he can help the living Seekers and seek to find and aid those who may yet be the greatest living champions of the faith.

I personally believe that Hass is still a patriot who loves the idea of Karrnath, but it’s also the case that Karrnath has betrayed him and his people. He will always put the good of the Seekers above all else—but if he CAN help Karrnath along the way, he will.

So in Kanon, what’s his relationship with Lady Illmarrow?

I think that Malevanor believes Illmarrow is dangerous and that he questions her devotion to the faith, but he also realizes her POWER, and both a) doesn’t want to have her as an enemy and b) wants to see that power used for the good of his people. So he’s trying to maintain an alliance with Illmarrow, but it’s an uneasy relationship. Ultimately, he is OATHBOUND. I believe that his oaths are just what it says on the tin: that he is bound to protect the Seekers, help them find the Divinity Within, and to maintain and protect Atur. Which is an interesting contrast with the lich Illmarrow. I don’t think Malevanor COULD betray the faith for his own personal gain, because the oaths that sustain his undead existence are predicated on doing his duties as high priest and protecting his people.

Could Malevanor be a warlock patron (say, Undead or Undying)?

Sure, Malevanor could definitely be a warlock patron for a Seeker warlock. I’d love to do a campaign with a PC Seeker warlock who’s essentially Malevanor’s undercover agent working against Illmarrow. The main thing I’d emphasize in this case is that it’s not that Malevanor is giving the warlock powers, it’s that the warlock’s powers come from their own Divinity Within and that maelvanor is just helping them to unlock those powers. Because that is literally what he’s supposed to do: help Seekers harness the power of the Divinity Within.

In most of the Five Nations, the Blood of Vol is a series of independent covert cults without any clear connection or hierarchy between them. How does the Crimson Covenant or Lady Illmarrow find or get in contact with these cults? Or does Illmarrow mainly rely on the Order of the Emerald Claw?

Exploring Eberron has this to say:

The (Blood of Vol) isn’t as formally structured as the Church of the Silver Flame or even the Sovereign Host. For the most part, Seekers keep to themselves, living in their own villages and small towns or in isolated neighborhoods of larger communities, where they can practice their traditions without drawing the ire of their neighbors… Outside Atur, for the most part, each Seeker community relies on their abactor—the priest that oversees a temple or community—and they rarely reach out to the world beyond. The largest temple in a region serves as a hub, coordinating with the other Seeker communities around it.

With that in mind, the important thing to understand is that the Blood of Vol is a religion that Seekers follow because it helps them make sense of their lives, providing meaning and strengthening their community. Most Seekers don’t know who Lady Illmarrow is and don’t have any interest in helping her with her grand schemes. Illmarrow has agents scattered throughout the faithful who do support her—from agents in the Crimson Covenant down through hub temples or villages—and these specific agents may provide support to her schemes. But OVERALL Illmarrow doesn’t control the faith and most Seekers don’t serve her purposes; some actively despise and oppose the Order of the Emerald Claw. Meanwhile, the members of the Order are Illmarrow’s active agents; some are extremist Seekers, while others—including Illmarrow herself—aren’t Seekers at all.

So: Illmarrow’s active agents are almost entirely in the Emerald Claw. Agents of the Emerald Claw may be able to get support from a local Seeker community but that is not at all a sure thing; it will depend in Illmarrow has supporters or sympathizers within that specific community.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Covenant is something that even Seekers generally know of only as a rumor. One thing I’ve suggested is that when a Seeker priest uses commune, they could actually get their answers from the Covenant. For more on the Crimson Covenant, refer to this article.

I like the idea of the Crimson Covenant being influenced by Lady Illmarrow, but not under her full control. But how could adventurers free it over her influence without having to destroy the mummies and liches that are loyal to her?

This depends entirely on how you decide to present the members of the Crimson Covenant who are loyal to Illmarrow. WHY are they loyal to her? It could be that Illmarrow is deceiving them, and that if adventurers can expose the truth these members of the Covenant will turn against her. Or it could be that these members of the Covenant are themselves merely hungry for power and not concerned with the good of the Seekers; if adventurers could prove this to the other members of the Covenant, then the truly faithful might clean house.

The Blood of Vol is a religion that values basically faith in your inner self. It seems there would not be much of value to Seeker cleric besides their own life (and maybe life of others). What would a BoV cleric refer to as “sacred”? Does this notion even apply to the Blood of Vol?

Looking up “Sacred”, I found this definition: connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration. So with this in mind, what does a Seeker priest consider to be sacred?

  • Life. First and foremost, the Blood of Vol is based on the idea that mortals possess a spark of divinity within. We ARE the gods we venerate—or at least, we have the potential to be.
  • Blood. More specifically, the Seekers consider blood to be the channel of the Divinity WIthin.
  • Survival. This one’s a little more abstract and not shared by all sects, but the general idea is that death is unnatural—that mortality is a curse invented to prevent us from unlocking the Divinity Within. With this in mind, fighting death is a sacred activity. Don’t give up, and do all you can to protect the people you love.

One of the central rituals of the Blood of Vol is the communal sharing of blood as a way of establishing the bond between a community. What we have called out is that while Seekers believe that life is sacred and death is a tragedy, they recognize that you can’t save everyone and their focus is on protecting their own communities and people. Any death is a tragedy, but if bandits attacks your village, you need to put your OWN survival ahead of those who are trying to kill you and the people you care about. But I could very well see some Seekers who actively try not to kill their enemies, believing that any death is a loss.

Though again: There are many sects in the Blood of Vol. The Thieves of Life largely care only about their OWN lives and Divinity Within, and are all too happy to sacrifice others in pursuit of their own ascension.

And now for something completely different…

How do the Tairnadal/Valenar elves bury their dead? Especially when they’re in the field or engaged in battle?

So: The Tairnadal are a nomadic culture. They are essentially always engaged in battle and on the move, and generally don’t place a lot of importance on physical monuments. Likewise, they don’t place much importance on corpses. They’re concerned with the SPIRIT, believing that the spirit can live on through devoted followers. For revenant blades of Cardaen, Cardaen’s spirit is with them at all times; it doesn’t matter where his bones are.

Having said that: we’ve talked about revenants who treasure relics of their patron ancestors. Notably, the Player’s Guide to Eberron talks about the zaelshin tu:

Every Valenar warrior reveres his ancestors and carries a zaelshin amulet bearing the sigil of his patron ancestor with him at all times. With a zaelshin tu, you do more than that: You carry a physical relic of your patron ancestor—a tooth or sliver of bone brought from Xen’drik to Aerenal and encased in your zaelshin amulet.

The two noteworthy points here are that champions carry a piece of their patron—so again, not burying them in some grand tomb—and that these are described as teeth or slivers of bone; we’ve never described them as using, say, bonecraft armor.

With this in mind, I think that the common Tairnadal practice is to burn the dead, and then to collect ashes, teeth, and slivers of bone that survive the fire, which would be carried by other members of the fallen elf’s warband and possibly passed on to the Keepers of the Past. You don’t want to leave something behind an enemy could desecrate, and all you need is a sliver that can help serve as a beacon to their spirit.

That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters for their questions and support!

IFAQ: Thrane Fashion

Art by Bad Moon for Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold

As time permits, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s another:

The Thrane fashion section is missing from Five Nations—any general ideas on how citizens of Thrane might dress distinctly differently from the other Five Nations?

In thinking of Thrane, it’s useful to contrast the forces shaping it to those that shaped its neighbors. Aundair has the widest penetration of everyday arcane magic and is also shaped by long-term interaction with the Fey. This leads to fashions that are wild and whimsical, to widespread glamerweave, cosmetic prestidigitation, and a general love of flamboyance and flair. On the other side, Karrnath has the harshest climate and the most martial culture. When it embraces fashion, it tends toward a gothic approach that is both grim and intentionally intimidating; the strong seek to SHOW their strength, and you see a definite martial element across general fashion. So with that said…

Faith is the cornerstone of Thrane. This predates both the Church of the Silver Flame and Thrane itself; before Galifar, the people of Daskara were devoted to the Sovereign Host. Divine magic is as important to Thrane as arcane magic is to Aundair, but that power comes from deep faith. I have always seen the typical Thrane as more humble and stoic than their counterparts in the other nations. A key element of the faith of the Silver Flame is the idea that we face a constant, shared threat—that people should be prepared to face supernatural evil and to protect themselves and their neighbors. We’ve called out that shared devotion—and practices like group archery—are key elements of daily life for the common Thrane. I see Thrane fashion as reflecting all of these things. They don’t seek to intimidate their rivals or to celebrate their martial prowess, as you see in Karrnath; and they don’t seek to shine the brightest or to dazzle their peers, as happens in Aundair. More than anything, Thrane fashion is SIMPLE and FUNCTIONAL.

Blue and silver are colors associated with the faith, and both of these colors are thus commonly seen throughout the populace. Now, it’s not that people don’t take pride in their appearance—but they aren’t especially driven by a desire to shine brighter than their neighbors; what is vital is to wear clothing that is PRACTICAL. More than any other nation, the people of Thrane know that dolgrims could burst out of the ground or ghouls could swarm out of the graveyard at any moment; so as a Thrane, you’re always thinking “Am I wearing something that would be practical in a zombie apocalypse?”

On a more specific level, I think that long coats and dusters are common in Thrane: simple, durable, versatile when it comes to weather. The same concept goes to boots and hats; in Thrane, a hat is designed to protect you from the sun and rain; in Aundair, a hat exists to make a STATEMENT, and its functionality is a secondary bonus.

This means that at a glance, Thranes have significant uniformity—similar colors, similar overall design of clothing. But it’s not a UNIFORM. And likewise, where an Aundairian will use Mending to repair damage and likely throw out (or recycle) clothing that is out of style, Thranes will wear their clothes to the bitter end and repair them by hand. They aren’t embarrassed to have clothing with patches or a cloak that’s clearly using a piece of another cloak. So while there’s a common overall style, there’s also a significant degree of tiny, unique details, as clothes evolve over time. I could also definitely imagine a patchwork aspect to clothing, almost like a quilt—where people specifically patch their clothes with pieces of cloth that have particular significance to them—heirlooms from family members, a strip from of the cloak of a heroic templar.

We can see some aspects of this reflected in Epitaph, the Thrane missionary pictured above. Epitaph is a priest, so there is a little flair to her outfit; I’d argue that her flowing sleeves are tied to a tendency to make sweeping gestures while preaching. But compared to Aundairian fashion, it’s a fairly SIMPLE outfit. There’s no glamerweave, no decorative embroidery, no jewelry, She’s wearing practical footwear. Her most prominent accessory is the symbol of her faith, as befits a missionary. Her clothing serves its purpose. Now, she doesn’t have the “patchwork” aspect I suggested above, but that’s not surprising for a missionary, who represents the Church; but the common templar isn’t embarrassed to wear a patched cloak, or their father’s long coat modified to fit their frame.

Is there a specific style of glamerweave that does incorporate silver, similar to how silverburn alters the colors of mundane fires?

The fashion potential of glamerweave is effectively limitless; it’s illusion imbued into cloth. The Church of the Silver Flame has a small but significant following in Aundair, and yes, I believe that Aundairian priests will often have burning lines of Sliver Flame traced on their robes. In my mind, Archbishoip Dariznu of Thaliost may take things even farther; I could imagine him in a silver cloak that appears to be trimmed in actual silver flames.

Does the sentiment of reducing waste and reusing things extend to food too, does Thrane have dishes equivalent to jok/congee, horchata or cod cakes, where the food can be prepared from leftover prepared food (examples far from exhaustive)?

Yes. Again, a good way to think of Thrane is We’re always prepared for a zombie apocalypse. So you’re definitely looking for ways to recycle waste and to get the most out of the supplies you have. In some ways, this is an interesting contrast to Karrnath, which we’ve always called out as the most martial by culture. Karrnath is proud of its martial heritage and has mandatory military service. But the people of Thrane are essentially SURVIVALISTS, always training to be prepared for the threats they know are out there. This ties to the point that local militias are a major part of Thrane’s military; it’s not as FORMAL as the armies of Karrnath, but again, most Thranes have drilled with the bow since childhood. And, of course, prior to the Last War the templars of Thrane often saw more active combat than many of the soldiers of Galifar; the Silver Crusade was certainly the most dramatic conflict in the century leading up to the Last War.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Education, Overlords, and More!

Art by Bad Moon for Frontiers of Eberron

The latest episode of Threshold has been posted on my Patreon for Threshold patrons! In this episode, the crew spends the day at the feast of Bounty’s Blessing. In addition, young Tari meets the Silver Flame missionary Epitaph, pictured above; Epitaph and this art will be seen in the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron!

In the meantime: Each month, I ask my Patreon patrons to submit questions. Sometimes these form the basis of articles, but there’s often questions that are interesting but have short answers. As I’m getting read to do a new call for questions, I wanted to post a lightning round with some of the questions patrons asked in May.

Do the Overlords, and their envoys in the Lords of Dust, have any form of a non-aggression pact towards one another, or is it just a free-for-all should the machinations of one come into conflict with another?

This is addressed in this article. A critical line: “The Overlords weren’t allies and had no interest in cooperation. When the domains of two overlords overlapped they would clash, and many took great joy in these conflicts.”

To begin with, don’t just think of the overlords as powerful rakshasa. They engage with reality on a fundamentally different level than their lesser minions. Overlords are primordial forces that shape reality around them sheerly by existing. In a real way, you can think of overlords as kaiju, like Kong or Godzilla. Mortal lives and cities are utterly insignificant to them and they will sweep them aside without even noticing. Rak Tulkhesh spreads rage and war. He doesn’t meticulously plan out the details of these actions because he doesn’t have to; if he is unleashed in his full power, everyone within his sphere of influence will be consumed by bloodlust and a hunger for conflict. Now, with this in mind, one can ask: could Kong and Godzilla have a non-aggression pact? Well, they certainly might team up in a particular encounter in order to defeat Monster Zero. But it’s not like they’re WRITING SOMETHING DOWN. and the next time they meet, Kong might decide to kick Godzilla’s @$$.

However, THE LORDS OF DUST are a completely different story. They are servants of the overlords and seek to return reality to a state of primordial chaos, but THEY engage with the world on a far smaller scale. Rak Tulkhesh will just sweep over a nation and cause it to collapse into savage warfare, because that’s the power he wields. But MORDAKHESH doesn’t have that power, and HE has to manipulate newspapers and subvert generals and make long term plans. And with that in mind, the PURPOSE of the Lords of Dust and the Bleak Council of Ashtakala IS to facilitate cooperation and communication between the servants of the different overlords in order to prevent unnecessary conflicts. So if Mordakhesh and Hektula find that they both have plans for a particular group of adventurers, they will meet in Ashtakala and try to work something out. And in general, they do manage to avoid unnecessary conflict with one another. But the key word there is “unnecessary”; they will almost always put the interests of their overlord ahead of the interests of the Lords of Dust as a whole… which is a weakness that can potentially be exploited.

How does public education actually work in Khorvaire? Who receives free education? Is it any different in, say, Sharn, particularly the lower wards?

The educational system of the Five Nations is described on page 132 of the Eberron Campaign Setting: “Throughout the Five Nations (or at least what’s left of them), formal schooling is considered a right and a necessary part of every child’s training. Rural manors maintain schools for the sons and daughters of the peasants and laborers. Private tutors provide an education for the children of royal and economic nobility. In towns and cities, schools cater to all who wish to attend. In no case is education mandatory; however, most people understand the advantages offered to them by the remnants of the Galifar education system. Higher education and study is available at a number of colleges and universities, as well as among the religious institutions.” So while they’ve never been specifically mentioned, we can assume that there are public schools in Sharn. With that said, I think it’s reasonable to assume that this system faces the challenges of any public schooling system, and that there are regions — such as the lower wards of Sharn — where schools will be understaffed and underfunded. It’s also important to note that the ECS specifies that education is offered but never mandatory. Nonetheless, the Five Nations do have a reasonably effective public education system… which is why it’s taken for granted that the average person in the Five Nations speaks Common and is literate.

How does Morgrave university works in terms of recruiting new students? How much it can cost per year? Or is it the talent that forms entry barrier, not the money – can they have some sort of research for especially talented young people and offer them free tuition? For example, is it possible that some people from Morgrave notice poor urchin kid on the street and take him in because he is a talented sorcerer and seems like promising/useful student and/or magic user?

Here’s a relevant comment from Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron:

As a Morgrave student, you’re not an adventurer yet. You’ve got talent, but you’re learning. Consider how your background ties into this. As a noble, are you an entitled rich kid who thinks you’re better than everyone else? As an urchin, did you somehow earn a scholarship, or are you literally sneaking into your classes? As a criminal, you could be the daughter of a Boromar crime boss, or you might be an entrepreneur selling dreamlily to the nobles. A charlatan could be a brilliant drama student or an undercover spy trying to root out enemy agents in the faculty. If you’re an entertainer you might be a prodigy whose talent is only just emerging. A Morgrave story is about coming of age and unlocking your potential. So think about your background as a way to set up the person you’re becoming, as opposed to representing adventures that you’ve already had.

The point here is that I would make the price the price of plot. D&D economics are extremely nebulous, in order to calculate a REALISTIC tuition I’d have to sit down and concretely establish the actual incomes of the different social classes of Khorvaire, which frankly I don’t have the time to do. Hence the suggestion to use backgrounds above. If you want the characters to be students at Morgrave, then they ARE students at Morgrave. If a character’s a noble, then their family is paying their tuition. If they’re an urchin, either they have a scholarship or they are sneaking into classes. The point is, the character is going to Morgrave; I’ll use their story to decide exactly how.

The only time I would want to set a concrete tuition was if it was an important plot point that the character has to RAISE that tuition over the course of their adventures, following the model of The Name of the Wind — but note that in the Kingkiller Chronicles, THE TUITION IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE, which again allows the author to set the tuition at the rate that makes it most interesting for the story. 10 gp could be an insurmountable obstacle to a 1st level character and completely trivial for a 4th level character; so a system that bases the tuition off of what you want it to be for THIS story is going to be more useful than me arbitrarily setting a cost that could be too high or too low for the story you want to tell.

What are the towns inside the Towering Wood like? We know about Greenheart and the feyspire Shae Loralyndar, but are there others? Who lives there, and how are they different than the ones in the western Reaches?

There are very few traditional “towns” in the Towering Wood; the 3.5 ECS notes that “In the great wood, the druid sects and shifters typically live in small communities that are roughly equivalent to thorps and hamlets.” Essentially, these are communities that will be tied around an extended family and live off the land; whenever population grows to a level that strains local resources, a group will split off and start a new home in unclaimed territory. The Towering Woods are vast and population density is extremely low, so there’s no shortage of space. Towering communities employ primal techniques instead of arcane or mundane industry, so you will often find homes that are embedded into living trees or that are made of stone that has been shaped by hand. Envoys—often druidic initiates—travel between family estates, sharing news and needed supplies. Shae Loralyndar is an unusual exception, and there are a handful of satellite elven/Greensinger villages around it, but those represent a distinct culture that’s different from the mainstream—just as there are nomadic shifter tribes that have traditions that are entirely different from the settled folk.

What does prophetic significance look like? Is dragonmark graffiti’d on the wall of a ruined building prophetically significant? How do the Chamber and Lords of Dust recognize this significance?

This could definitely be the subject of a longer article, but in brief: what’s been said about the Prophecy is that it takes many forms and involves more than one element at a time. IE it can be crop circles; fissures formed by an earthquake; graffiti on a wall; an unusual pattern of bloodstains. But this is COMBINED with a particular planar or lunar conjunction, a spike in magical energies, the presence of three dragonmarked people, etc. This is part of why it’s generally only creatures with vast lifespans and enormous resources that are able to interpret it. That graffiti on the wall MIGHT be significant, but unless you’ve been studying the Prophecy for a thousand years (or you’re, say, a cleric of the Prophecy with divine insight) you don’t have the context to fully interpret it.

Can Aberrant Dragonmarks appear on Warforged?

Yes. It’s an extremely bizarre thing that will be seen as a curiosity and draw interest from certain scholars, but it is possible.

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

Dragonmarks: Familiars, Homunculi, and Animal Companions

A wizard walks into a tavern with a raven on his wrist. A Cannith heir is close behind, followed by her gleaming steel defender. The Eldeen ranger is waiting for them, with his wolf curled up under the table.

All three of these are plausible player characters in an Eberron campaign. But how do these things—familiars, animal companions, homunculi—fit into the world? How do people react to them, and what do people know about them? Would any of them actually be allowed in a tavern, and would a typical person actually be able to tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion?

Familiars, homunculi, and animal companions play different roles in the game and in the world, and I want to explore each one of them. But to begin with, let’s answer the quick questions. In the Five Nations…

  • Familiars are most common in Aundair and (previously) Cyre, but they have been employed throughout the Five Nations for centuries. They are also found in Zilargo and the Eldeen Reaches.
  • Even beyond these four areas, people are familiar with the basic idea of familiars and most people know at least some of the following facts: Familiars can communicate with their companion; their companion can see through their eyes; familiars can potentially channel touch spells; they can be easily dismissed and resummoned; they can be resummoned if killed.
  • People generally assume that familiars are extensions of a spellcaster (discussed in more detail later in this article) and don’t consider them fully independent beings. Along with homunculi, they are seen as tools. In the eyes of the law, a character is responsible for the actions of their familiar/companion/homunculus, and you can’t get away with murder by casting the killing spell through your familiar.
  • While most people can’t tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion, most know that familiars are usually limited to tiny forms. The common assumption is that a tiny animal companion is a familiar, and a small or larger animal companion is a beast.
  • If an establishment allows patrons to carry weapons, it will generally allow well-behaved familiars, homunculi, or animal companions, unless the creature seems especially unsanitary or aggressive. In part, this is a metagame conceit: we are still playing a game, and the Beast Master ranger or Battlesmith artificer shouldn’t be crippled every time the adventurers go indoors. But it also ties to the idea that people recognize these things as tools. So in my opinion, any place that will allow the barbarian to carry his greataxe will allow the battlesmith to bring her steel defender… And conversely, a fine restaurant like the Oaks in Sharn isn’t going to let you bring your axe or your steel defender to your table.
  • Most people know that a spellcaster can spy through the eyes of a familiar, just as they know that someone with the spell beast sense (druid, ranger, Vadalis heir) can see through the eyes of a mundane animal. People don’t assume that every rat is a spy, but they know it’s a POSSIBILITY… so tiny animals showing up in highly secured areas or behaving in a clearly unnatural manner may be dealt with as if they’re spies.
  • In major cities with a significant population of magewrights or arcane universities, you may find businesses that cater to characters with familiars—the bring-your-own-sassy-magical-cat cafe.
  • While most people assume familiars are extensions, they also recognize traditional imps and quasits as fiends. Having a quasit as a familiar isn’t ILLEGAL, but it definitely makes a statement; even if you’re not actively associating with fiends, you’re choosing one to represent you. Some people will see that as cool and edgy, some people will see it as a sign that you’re a scumbag, and some people will see it as pretentious— “LOOK AT ME! I CONSORT WITH DEEEEEMONS!” It will definitely be noticed, and it’s up to the DM to decide how people will react. But again, people see familiars as tools, so they aren’t going to burn you just for having an imp; but it’s similar to whether your fighter has a greatsword of plain steel or whether he’s carrying a rune-carved sword that moans softly. You can’t get arrested for it, but people will make judgements because of it.

So key takeaways: People are familiar with the idea of familiars and homunculi. They largely see them as tools and will treat them accordingly. If a tiny animal behaves in an unusual manner, people may assume that it’s a familiar or otherwise being manipulated by magic. With those general things settled, let’s take a quick look at the differences between these three categories of companion…

FAMILIARS

Mechanically, familiars have a common foundation—the find familiar spell. Warlocks, wizards, and druids all acquire their familiars by using this spell, and this establishes the core rules that all familiars follow—shared senses, telepathic communication, can be dismissed and resummoned, and so on. But while this provides a concrete baseline for the mechanics of a familiar, from a story perspective the familiars of a wizard, a warlock, and a druid may be very different. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here’s three important categories of familiar.

Extensions

The most common form of familiar—the form used by most wizards and magewrights in the Five Nations—is an externally manifested aspect of the spellcaster’s personality. A few aspects of this…

  • As an extension of you, your familiar doesn’t know anything that you don’t know—but it’s drawn from your subconscious, and may know things you’ve forgotten or draw conclusions you haven’t consciously made.
  • All familiars must obey the spellcaster’s commands. An extension doesn’t resent this; they’re part of you. If they do have any personal goals, they’re likely things you actually want, even if you haven’t consciously realized it.
  • When an extension is dismissed or slain, it returns to your subconscious. This isn’t unpleasant for the familiar, and most extensions don’t resent being dismissed.
  • An extension is drawn from you. Most extensions have the fey creature type; in many ways, they are manifested stories. Extensions would only manifest as celestials or fiends if they are tied to remarkably virtuous or deeply vile people.
  • If you wish, you and your DM could decide that the familiar represents a specific aspect of your personality, which could in turn flavor its personality and demeanor. This could also be reflected by its shape, which you can change by casting the spell. It could be that as a cat it reflects your curiosity, while as a hawk it’s your courage and as a weasel it’s your cunning. A secondary question is whether each of these three would present themselves as having different names—if they essentially identify as three familiars—or whether they maintain a single identity even though their shape and personality changes.

In many ways, an extension is like a character in your dreams. They have distinct personalities, you can have interesting conversations with them, they FEEL real—but ultimately they’re a manifestation of your own mind. This doesn’t stop them from being fun and interesting individuals; it could be that your rat familiar embodies your sense of humor! But they can’t be killed because they’re a part of you; and conversely, if you die, they will die with you.

Extensions are the most common form of familiar in the Five Nations. They are a product of arcane science. On some levels (especially in Aundair), a familiar is both a tool and a status symbol for an accomplished spellcaster; wizards are rare, but some magewrights and demi-wizards manifest familiars for this reason. However, the most common users of familiars in the Five Nations are falconers. This is a magewright specialty that masters a narrow form of find familiar. A falconer can only summon a single shape of familiar—so if they can summon a hawk, they can’t turn it into a cat—but they can maintain telepathic communication and a sensory link with their familiar over a far greater distance than usual. The typical range of a falconer is one mile, but an exceptional falconer can go even farther. Falconers typically served as scouts and skirmishers in the Last War, and as the name suggests, most summon birds (typically hawks or falcons, though owls and ravens are also used). There are other magewrights who use this specialized form of find familiar in different ways—ratcatchers who conjure cats, even assassins who can conjure poisonous snakes. All of this ties to the basic point that people see extensions as tools—you learn to manifest an extension because you have a use for it.

Emissaries

When a warlock acquires a familiar, it’s generally not an extension of the warlock—it’s an emissary of the warlock’s patron, an independent entity whose services are granted to the warlock as a gift. However, this can also be an appropriate choice for a conjurer wizard or any other character who has made bargains with a powerful supernatural being. Important details about emissary familiars…

  • An emissary is an independent spirit with its own history and agenda. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what that agenda is. It may be that the emissary is entirely benevolent and has been sent solely to assist you and protect you. But it could be that the emissary is sent to watch you—to see if you’re living up to expectations, to remind you of agreements you’ve made with your patron, or to serve as an intermediary for communication; the patron might temporarily possess the familiar when they want to communicate with you.
  • Tied to this: an emissary familiar has to follow your orders when it comes to taking physical actions, but it doesn’t have to share all of its information with you. Unlike an extension, an emissary may have knowledge you don’t have—but it’s only going to share that information with you if it serves the interests of the patron.
  • The creature type of the emissary will generally reflect the creature type of the patron. If you’re working for Sul Khatesh she’ll give you a fiend, while a celestial warlock channeling the power of the Silver Flame will have a celestial familiar. A DM may choose to tweak type and details to fit a particular patron. For example, an efreeti patron could give a warlock a familiar that’s mechanically an imp, but with the elemental type and knowledge of Primordial instead of Infernal; they might even say that its sting inflicts fire damage instead of poison damage, causing the victim to burn from within. An undead patron could likewise give an “imp” that’s got the undead type and inflicts necrotic damage with its sting.
  • Emissary familiars CAN assume a mundane animal form, but even those that take the form of animals may have a “natural” form that reflects their origins. A raven gifted by an efreeti could choose to appear as a tiny phoenix wreathed in cold flames, or just as a mundane bird.
  • It’s up to the DM to decide what happens to the emissary when it is dismissed/killed. It may be that it returns to the domain of its patron; if this is the case, it may actually WANT to be dismissed occasionally to go and take care of its own business. Or it may be that as long as it’s bound to you, it is bound to your spirit and retreats into you when dismissed. If this is the case, it may still be aware of what is going on around you, even if it can’t take any actions.

The basic question between having an extension or an emissary is whether you want your familiar to be entirely loyal and reliable, or if you LIKE the idea that your familiar may have secrets and agendas you don’t know about. An extension may have a semblance of personality, but at the end of the day it really is a puppet; an emissary is a truly independent entity who is only working with you for now, and who could have their own significant role to play at some point in the campaign.

Emissary familiars are rare. You can go to school to become a falconer, but there’s no common magewright paths that teach people to make bargains with overlords. As noted above, people generally assume that familiars are extensions, so having an imp as a familiar doesn’t automatically mean you’re making deals with demons, but to a common person what it means is that THE PROJECTION OF YOUR PERSONALITY IS A FIEND and people will judge you accordingly. And if people DO realize that no, this is an actual emissary of Sul Khatesh and you are getting advice from it, that’s not going to be great; so usually, you’re going to want your imp to be in an animal form.

Primal Spirits

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduces the Wild Companion feature, allowing a druid to cast find familiar by using a charge of wild shape. Such a familiar has the fey creature type. It’s worth noting that beasts summoned with the conjure animals spell also have the fey creature type. This doesn’t mean that they are from Thelanis. If you’re a Greensinger, they might be; but typically, these are primal spirits. These can be seen as native fey, in the same way the Lords of Dust are native fiends. They are essentially stories made real—the idea of a beast given temporary form. A few details…

  • Primal spirits don’t have individual identities in the same way as emissaries or extensions. They are more iconic beings. Your raven embodies the idea of “raven” and will behave as you expect a raven to act in a fable or folktale. A cat may be curious, a raven may be wise. But the cat embodies the idea of CAT, not of your personal curious Graymalkin.
  • Primal spirits generally only remain for as long as they are needed; when they die or are dismissed they simply return to the transcendent essence of Eberron.
  • Primal spirits generally have no desires other than to help the summoner. They don’t NEED anything and generally look forward to returning to the heart of Eberron.
  • Druids and rangers typically employ primal spirits to avoid placing living animals in danger. They don’t feel any compunctions about sending summoned animals or familiars to their deaths because they aren’t really alive; you can’t kill an idea, and ultimately that’s what they are.

Primal spirits are typically only found in communities with strong primal roots—the Eldeen Reaches, the Qaltiar drow, the Lorghalen gnomes. In such places, you may find the equivalent of Falconer magewrights—gleaners who can conjure a specific familiar spirit, and who can maintain their bond with it over an unusually long distance. Primal communities often also involve animal companions, but people working with living beasts will generally be much more conscientious about placing their companions in dangerous situations—whereas primal spirits suffer no lasting harm from death.

In Conclusion…

Familiars are the most common class of companion, and extensions are the most common class of familiar. Falconers and similar magewrights use familiars as practical tools, while arcanists use often familiars as companions and assistants. Emissaries are rare and thus rarely recognized for what they are, but most people won’t be thrilled if you reveal that your companion is an actual fiend given to you because you made a bargain with a malefic power.

HOMUNCULI AND CONSTRUCT BEASTS

A homunculus is a construct, typically created by an artificer or wizard. They notably don’t follow the rules of find familiar; a homunculus can’t be simply dismissed and recalled at will. The most common form of homunculus player characters deal with is the homunculus servant, which is created using an artificer infusion. The servant is a tiny construct, and notably the shape of the homunculus is up to the artificer. The intention of this is that the appearance of the homunculus should reflect the techniques of the artificer. A Cannith Traditionalist may create a steel dragonfly with crystal wings—a creature similar to a warforged, perhaps with metal threads or gears instead of root-like tendrils. An artificer from Pylas Pyrial may use Thelanian logic to create a flying teapot. And an alchemist who’s experimenting with daelkyr fleshcrafting techniques could create a tiny platypus with one eye and three wings. A Battle Smith artificer gets to create a more powerful homunculus, a steel defender. Again, what’s specifically noted is that the shape and design of the defender is up to the artificer, including the choice as to whether it has two legs or four. This reflects the idea that all of these homunculi are extremely unique. The fact that the artificer can only have one of each type of homunculus at a time reflects the idea these creatures aren’t entirely stable—that the artificer has to continue to maintain their companion and to maintain the reserve of arcane energy that sustains it. As noted, homunculi can’t be dismissed and resummoned with the ease of a familiar, but if one is destroyed it can be rebuilt.

So a key point is that the homunculi of player characters aren’t supposed to be as familiar as a raven or even an imp. They’re supposed to stand out; they’re reflections of the unique genius of the artificer character. Unlike familiars and falconers, there isn’t a class of magewrights that creates homunculi; again, familiars ultimately come from a 1st level spell, while homunculi are derived from an artificer class feature. They’re more exotic than familiars. At the same time, people understand the CONCEPT of homunculi. Sentient magic items exist. Constructs exist. The Clockwork Menagerie of Eston was one of the wonders of Cyre centuries before House Cannith perfected the warforged. And with that said, the Last War involved a constant escalation in the development of constructs leading up to the Last War. Animated weapons have been developed, ranging from the tiny arbalester to the arcane ballista. Warforged titans stormed across the battlefield decades before their smaller cousins. And House Cannith does create construct beasts; the iron defenders of House Cannith can be produced as autonomous constructs (though they are typically considerably weaker than the steel defender of an accomplished Battle Smith). These creatures are still EXOTIC, but they aren’t unheard of and people generally won’t be frightened by them. They’ll draw attention, certainly, but attention isn’t always bad. With that said, the daelkyr-inspired fleshcrafted homunculus will generate the same sort of reaction as the imp familiar; people may not run you instantly out of town for having a creepy homunculus, but they will judge you by the company you keep.

I’ll be posting a table of random ideas for homunculus servants on my Patreon as an exclusive bonus for Inner Circle and Threshold patrons later in this week, so if you’re a supporter, keep an eye out for that!

ANIMAL COMPANIONS

What about the ranger and his wolf? Well, beasts are a part of everyday life in Eberron. From horses and tribex to the giant owls of Sharn or the Valenar hounds, there’s nothing strange about seeing someone with an animal companion. Magewright falconers conjure their companions, but Vadalis farriers can cast animal friendship, speak with animals, and beast sense, and gleaners (primal magewrights) in the Eldeen Reaches also develop these talents. Many gnomes cultivate the gift of speaking with small beasts. Exotic beasts are often rarer in major cities simply because of the difficulty of maintaining them, but people aren’t especially SURPRISED to see a ranger with a wolf companion; the fact that there are people who can befriend and speak with animals is a simple fact of life, and has been for centuries.

Animal companions aren’t exactly tools in the same way as familiars, because they’re independent living creatures. A Beast Master can replace an companion that dies, but an animal still died… while familiars and conjured beasts can be put in harm’s way with no lasting risk. Nonetheless, to the world at large they are still largely seen as tools and treated accordingly, so the same rule applies. If the ranger is allowed to bring his sword and his bow into a place of business, he’s probably allowed to bring his wolf; and if the wolf bites someone, the ranger will be held responsible, just as if he’d stabbed the victim with a sword.

Some might wonder if the existence of speak with animals would drive an overall greater wave of ethical behavior regarding the treatment of animals. Sadly, this is not the case in the Five Nations. Speak with animals exists, but MOST people can’t cast it. People will still take a tribex-drawn carriage down to a restaurant where they’ll eat a steak, without stopping to think “Was that tribex happy? Did the cow I’m eating live a good life?” The general attitude of House Vadalis is that they’ve been granted dominion over beasts, and it is their right to exploit that power. This is quite different in wide primal societies—such as the Eldeen Reaches and Lorghalen—but in the Five Nations beasts are still primarily treated as property and tools.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping to choose this topic and for making these articles possible.