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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Hags of Eberron

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

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

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

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

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

Hags

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

Story Hags

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

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

Historical Hags

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

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

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

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

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

Thelanian Hags

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

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

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

Pact Hags AND HEXBLOODS

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

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

Wait—Old *MAN* Cord?

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

What about Sea Hags?

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

The Daughters of Sora Kell

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

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

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

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

Eberron: Session Zero

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

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

CREATING EBERRON CHARACTERS

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

Who Are We This Time?

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

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

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

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

What did you do during the War?

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

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

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

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

What’s your religion?

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

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

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

Where Are You From?

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

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

What Do You Want?

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

Background

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

Ongoing Questions and Flashbacks.

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

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

WHAT’S SESSION ZERO?

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

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

Safety Tools

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

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

Rules

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

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

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

Review the Story

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

Character Connections

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

Aspirations

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

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

In Conclusion…

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: Figurines of Wondrous Power

“What do we do, Lightbearer?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sovereign and Flame

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

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

Cannith Figurines

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

Sentira Figurines

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

Spectral Figurines

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

Daelkyr Figurines

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

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

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

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

Dragonmark: The Families of House Tharashk

The Tharashk Triumvirate by Anne Stokes, from Dragonmarked

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

House United: One, Three, and Many

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clan Velderan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clan Torrn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clan ‘Aashta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Gem Dragons, Gem Dragonborn, and Gith!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, a number of questions circled around the same topic—how would I integrate gem dragons and gem dragonborn into my Eberron? In adding anything new to the setting, by question is always how it makes the story more interesting. I don’t want to just drop gem dragons into Argonnessen and say they’ve always been there; I want them to change the story in an interesting way, to surprise players or give them something new to think about. So here’s what I would do.

Dragons of Sardior

Eberron as we know it isn’t the first incarnation of the prime material plane. We don’t know how many times reality has fundamentally shifted, jumping to a new rat in the maze of reality. But we know of one previous incarnation because of its survivors. When their reality was on the brink of destruction, a rag-tag fleet of Gith vessels escaped into the astral plane. These survivors split into two cultures, with the Githzerai dwelling in vast monasteries in Kythri and the Githyanki mooring their city-ships in the astral plane. The transition of realities is a difficult thing to map to time. For us, our reality has always existed, going back to the dawn of creation. For the Gith, the loss of their world is still a thing some hold in living memory. They are hardened survivors. Some crave revenge on the daelkyr, while others are solely concerned with the survival of their people. But the Githyanki aren’t the only survivors of their reality. It was an amethyst greatwyrm who helped the Gith fleet break the walls of space, and a small host of dragons accompanied the survivors into their astral exile. But the dragons aren’t like the metallic and chromatic dragons of the world that we know. They are the gem dragons.

The Progenitors are constants across all versions of the material plane. They created the planar structure of reality, and the material plane is the end result of their labors. The Eberron of the Gith—let’s call it “Githberron”—started with the same primordial struggle. In the current Eberron, the dragons are said to have formed when Siberys’s blood fell onto Eberron. In Githberron, Khyber didn’t tear apart Siberys’s body; she shattered his mind. The gem dragons believed that fragments of Siberys’s consciousness were scattered through reality, and they sought to reunite these shards; just as arcane magic is said to be the blood of Siberys in Eberron, in Githberron psionic energy is called the dream of Siberys.

Where the dragons of our Eberron are concentrated in Argonnessen, the dragons of Githberron were spread across their world. However, they were culturally connected through a telepathic construct—a vast metaconcert, which they believed was a step toward reuniting the shattered Siberys. They called this psychic nation Sardior. So rather than Sardior being another Progenitor, Sardior was their answer to Argonnessen—and they believe it is the soul of Siberys. This idea involves a small but crucial chance to the gem stat block, which is that I’d add Trance (as the elf racial trait) to all gem dragons. When trancing, gem dragons would project their consciousness into Sardior. Today the survivors yearn to recreate Sardior, and each gem dragon carries their own piece of it within their mind; however, I’m inclined to say that there just aren’t enough of them to sustain a global (let alone extraplanar) metaconcert. Two gem dragons in the same place might be able to link their minds when they trance, to dwell together in a sliver of Sardior. But to truly restore the dream of Siberys, they need more dragons. But there’s a catch to that…

Reproduction

In modern Eberron, dragons reproduce as other creatures do. My gem dragons of Sardior, on the other hand, use one of the other methods described in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons:

Enlightened non-dragons (most often Humanoids) are transformed into dragon eggs when they die, when they experience profound enlightenment… Humanoids and dragons alike understand the transformation to be a transition into a higher state of existence.

The gem dragons of Sardior weren’t born in isolation; they are the evolved, transcendent forms of other denizens of Githberron. This means that they have a fundamentally different relationship with humanoids than the dragons of Argonnessen. In the current Eberron, dragons see humanoids much like mice; useful for experiments, but don’t feel bad if you have to exterminate them, and isn’t it cute when they think they’re dragons. By contrast, in the Gith Eberron, dragons all evolved from humanoids, meaning both that they have memories of their humanoid existence and that they rely on humanoids to propagate their species. This is one of the key reasons they work with the Gith, even if they don’t especially like the Githyanki raiding. Not only are the Gith the last survivors of their world, they may be the only species capable of producing new gem dragons.

So, what is this process of reproduction and enlightenment? First, it requires a certain degree of psionic aptitude. The dragons see psionic energy as the dream of Siberys, and to become a dragon you are essentially drawing the essence of Siberys into yourself; what it means to be a dragon is to become a refined shard of the mind of Siberys. This doesn’t requires all pre-dragons to be full psions, but you need to have some degree of psionic ability, even if it’s just one of the psionic feats from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The second aspect is more ineffable, and it involves unlocking your full potential—becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. In many ways this is similar to the idea of mastering the Divinity Within in the Blood of Vol, or becoming worthy of Ascension to the Undying Court in Aerenal, and it should be just as difficult; it’s usually the work of a lifetime, not something you can rush. And I’d combine the two aspects of the Fizban’s quote—the ascension requires both enlightenment and death, that on death you become a gem dragon egg. So the point is, become enlightened, live your enlightened life, and hope that when you die you’re reborn as a dragon—you don’t want to rush the process unless you’re really sure you’re sufficiently enlightened. It’s definitely something that could happen to a player character, but it would only happen when they die.

A second key aspect of this is the idea that the type of dragon you become reflects the path you walked in life. The reason sapphire dragons are warlike is because they were warriors in their first lives. Amethyst dragons were planar scholars devoted to fighting aberrations before they became dragons; if a Gatekeeper from Eberron became a gem dragon, they’d be amethyst. I’m inclined to say that some of the character’s original memories and skills are lost in the process of draconic ascension, since it would be a significant change to say that every gem wyrmling has the skills of a mortal paragon—but the essence of that first life remains and guides the dragon moving forward. While the wyrmling may not have the full skills of the mortal seed, they have its wisdom and determination, the experience of a life well lived.

Encounters

In my campaign, there are less than a hundred dragons of Sardior in the current reality. They have a single greatwyrm—an amethyst dragon who played a crucual role in helping the Gith escape their doomed reality and who generally resides at and protects Tu’narath in the astral plane. But again, each gem dragons—even the Wyrmlings—has a rich story of a prior life. Some were Gith warriors who fought against the daelkyr. Some were sages or scholars. In building an encounter with a gem dragon, the first question for the DM should be who were they before they became a dragon?

Gem dragons work with the Gith—both Githzerai and Githyanki—for many reasons. Many of the dragons were Gith before their ascension (though there were many other humanoid species on their world) and they are the last remnant of their lost world. Beyond that, the dragons yearn to recreate Sardior, and the dragons don’t yet know if it’s possible for humanoids of this reality to undergo draconic ascension; the Gith may be the only source of new gem dragons. The dragons who join Githyanki on their raids are primarily sapphire dragons, many of whom were Gith warriors in their former lives and who want to keep their people sharp; amethyst dragons are typically found in the monasteries of the Githzerai, helping build their dream of striking at Xoriat. But not all gem dragons work with the Gith. Here’s a number of ways that adventurers could encounter a gem dragon in my Eberron.

  • The Guardian. These are the dragons who work with the Gith. Some can be encountered working openly with their Gith charges, fighting alongside Githyanki raiders or protecting a Githzerai monastery. Others could shadow their charges covertly—for example, working as a sort of guardian angel for a Gith adventurer.
  • The Draconic Observer. These gem dragons are studying the native dragons of Eberron. They seek to understand the ways of Argonnessen and to see if there’s any chance that the metallic and chromatic dragons could become part of Sardior—not unlike the Dhakaani dar and the Ghaal’dar.
  • The Mentor. These gem dragons study the humanoids of this reality. Some merely observe, while others try to guide humanoids toward draconic ascension. This could be subtle and covert, but a mentor could be found training humanoids in the psionic arts—seeing this as the first step toward the enlightenment that could produce a gem dragon egg. Alternately, a sapphire or amethyst dragon could take a direct interest in the depredations of the daelkyr in this world, and could be working with Gatekeepers or Mror dwarves—most likely secretly, but anything is possible.
  • The Hedonist. The gem dragons have escaped the utter destruction of their reality. All of the dragon types mentioned above hope to rebuild Sardior, but there are surely some who want to look to the future instead of dwelling in the past, to enjoy the life that they have and to pursue whatever it is that brings them joy. This is the option for a gem dragon who has no ties to the Gith and no grand agenda. They could be dwelling among humanoids and experiencing simple joys; perhaps an undercover gem dragon has become an Aurum concordian! Or they could be found in isolation, gathering a hoard of whatever it is they treasure and enjoying the world around them.
  • The Native. In Githberron, gem dragons are born through a process of ascension. The DM must decide—is it possible for this to occur in the current incarnation of Eberron? If so, it’s reasonable to think that at some point it has occurred even among unguided mortals—that there are people who have become gem dragons on their own. These dragons would know nothing of Githberron or Sardior, and their motives would likely be tied to their own history and culture. Beyond this, the gem dragon stat blocks could also be used with other sorts of spontaneous dragons; moonstone dragons could essentially be draconic changelings, dragons of Argonnessen who’ve spent time in Thelanis and been altered by the experience.

While most of these paths are largely benevolent, there’s certainly room for any of these dragons to go down a sinister path. A guardian may place the survival of the Gith above all else, caring nothing for the damage they do to this cracked mirror in pursuit of their goals. A mentor could eliminate students who fail to live up to expectations—or kill them believing that they will become dragon eggs, only to discover that they weren’t ready.

A key question is how Argonnessen interacts with gem dragons, and whether gem dragons are vulnerable to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber. Given that they are from an alien reality and are so different in how they are formed, I am inclined to say both that gem dragons aren’t affected by the Daughter of Khyber and also that they don’t show up in the Draconic Prophecy. With this in mind, in my campaign, Argonnessen doesn’t know much about gem dragons. Because they can and have spontaneously manifested over the course of history, Argonnessen dismisses isolated encounters with gem dragons as fluke occurrences, thinking they’re much like a draconic version of tieflings or aasimar; they haven’t yet realized that there is a civilization of gem dragons active in the world. This gives player characters the opportunity to have a front row seat for the full first and open contact between Sardior and Argonnessen. The Sardior dragons have been studying Argonnessen via their draconic observers and dealing with a few individual sympathetic dragons, but they haven’t yet dealt with the Conclave or the Chamber—and adventurers could be a part of this event when it occurs. Will the Conclave work with these alien dragons? Or will they view them as a threat that should be eliminated? A second plot thread I might explore is the idea that the gem dragons aren’t as vulnerable to the Daughter of Khyber as native dragons, but that they aren’t immune to her influence… that a gem dragon who remains on Eberron and exercises its power might slowly be corrupted by the overlord, turning a valued ally into an enemy. The main point is that I’d rather have these things occur as part of the story the player characters are involved in than to be something that occurred long ago.

Kalashtar, Adar, and the Dreaming Dark

One important question is how the dragons of Sardior interact with the psi-active forces of the current Eberron, notably Adarans, kalashtar, and the Dreaming Dark. If psionic talent is a cornerstone of the evolution into a gem dragon the kalashtar could be natural allies for Sardior; the Adaran shroud would also make Adar a compelling place to have a secure Gith creche for raising children. On the other hand, it’s possible that because kalashtar psionic talent is tied to an alien spirit that the kalashtar are a spiritual dead end or at least would have MORE trouble ascending than other humanoids. It could be that Adar is already home to one or more native gem dragons; it could be very interesting to reveal that there’s always been a gem greatwyrm hidden beneath Adar, helping to protect its people.

On the other side of things, gem dragons might be more interested in Riedra and the Inspired. Could the Hanbalani be hijacked to create a form of Sardior? On the other hand, once the gem dragons have revealed their presence, I could imagine the Dreaming Dark trying to capture and use them; this could be the source of an obsidian dragon.

The main point to me is that I’m always more interested in having interesting things happen NOW than setting them in the past. I’d rather have Adaran or Kalashtar players be actively involved when a Sardior emissary comes to Adar and asks to build a creche than to say that it happened a century ago… though I do love the idea of the revelation that there have always been a few native gem dragons in Adar who have helped to guide and protect the nation!

What About Gem Dragonborn?

In my Eberron, gem dragonborn are like gem dragons, in that they aren’t a species that reproduces with others of their kind; they must be created. For these purposes, I’d consider the half-dragon origins suggested in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. True Love’s Gift suggests that a bond of love between a dragon and another creature can produce a dragonborn, while Cradle Favor suggests that some gem dragons can transform an unborn child. How and why this could occur would depend on the nature of the dragon sharing their power. A guardian dragon could cultivate a squad of dragonborn soldiers. Likewise, a mentor could cultivate a small family of dragonborn to help with its mission. On the other hand, a secretive hedonist or mentor could produce a dragonborn through a bond of love, with the child and their mother never knowing the true nature of the draconic godparent. On the other hand, Fizban’s offers other possible paths to becoming a half-dragon… notably, the idea that “A creature that bathes in or drinks the blood of a dragon can sometimes be transformed into a half-dragon.” I wouldn’t make this reliable or easy technique… but it leaves the possibility that some of the Draleus Tairn hunt gem dragons for this reason, or that a dying gem dragon might choose to give the last power of its blood to a humanoid that finds it.

This provides a range of options for a gem dragonborn player character. If you’re tied to a guardian, it means that you have an active connection to the Sardior survivors and a Gith vessel. Why have you left your ship? Have you been exiled for some crime, and seek to clear your name? Do you have a specific mission, whether diplomatic or searching for a particular artifact? If you’re tied to a mentor, you could have a relationship with your draconic benefactor not unlike that of a warlock and their patron; your dragon seeks to gather information and to help elevate humaniodity, and you are their eyes and hands. On the other hand, it could be that you were born as a gem dragonborn but don’t know why—that part of your quest is to discover the dragon who transformed you and to learn why.

Thoughts For Gith…

Given my theory of Githberron, one might ask what this means for Gith player characters. Are all Githyanki survivors of Githberron? Do all Gith have to have a connection to the Astral or to Kythri? A few thoughts…

The timeless nature of the astral plane means that you could play a Githyanki character who’s a survivor of the lost world. Part of the idea of Githberron/Sardior is that psionic energy was more abundant there, so you could justify being a low-level character by saying that you were a more powerful psion in your own world and part of the reason you’re traveling is to learn to work with the lesser energies of this one. With that said, the Githyanki do want to continue to grow their population; in this article I suggest the existence of creche ships that serve this purpose. I imagine adolescent Githyanki having a sort of rumspringa period—they have to be out of the astral until they physically mature, and some ships might encourage their youths to explore the material plane in this time, learning about the wider world, honing their skills, and making potential allies. Meanwhile, Kythri ISN’T timeless—which among other things suggests that the only Githzerai who personally remember Githberron are monks who’ve mastered some form of the Timeless Body technique (which I’d personally allow some Githzerai NPCs to do even if they don’t have all the other powers of a 15th level monk). On the other hand, because we are dealing with events that defy the concept of linear time, if it suits the story a DM could decide that from the perspective of the Gith, it’s only actually been a few decades since Githberron was lost! Either way, I could also see the Githzerai having a wandering period where their adolescents experience life in the material plane, to understand existence beyond Kythri.

In any case, I would say that all Gith have a connection to either a city-ship or a monastery. So as a Gith, why might you be an adventurer? A few ideas…

  • You’re a Gith adolescent in your wandering time, honing your skills and seeing the world; you plan to return to your people in a few years.
  • You’re a Githyanki advance scout studying the people of this world so your ship can decide whether and where to raid in it.
  • You’re the child of a Githyanki who chose not to return after the Wandering, and you know nothing of your ancestors or their customs.
  • You are working with a gem dragon mentor, who’s requested your help in their work studying or attempting to uplift the humanoids of this world.
  • You’re on a personal mission to eliminate the mind flayer Xor’chyllic, who committed horrific war crimes in your reality. Your people refused to support your quest, so you’ve gone rogue and need to cultivate a team of local allies.

That’s all for now! I don’t have time to answer many questions on this article, but feel free to discuss your ideas and ways you’ve used gem dragons or Gith in the comments. If you want to see more of these articles, to have a chance to choose future topics, or to play in my ongoing online Eberron campaign, check out my Patreon!

IFAQ: Working Without Lore, Sovereign Images, Nagpa and Princess Marhya!

Every month I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from April!

What details do you start with when trying use a Eberron location with no lore? Sometimes I get blank page paralysis.

First of all, what’s the nation? If it’s Aundair, is there something interesting going on with everyday magic or fey? If it’s Thrane, how does the faith in the Silver Flame manifest? If it’s Karrnath, is it more influenced by Seekers or by Karrnath’s martial traditions? Can you feel the weight of the Code of Kaius? If it’s Breland, is there crime? Do they support the monarchy or the Swords of Liberty? Outside the Five Nations, is there a manifest zone? Is it tied to a daelkyr or an overlord? Is there an interesting resource or an unusual creature?

Another thing to consider is the stories people tell. For example, in Frontiers of Eberron I dealt with Whitehorn Woods for the first time, which raised the question “Why do people call it Whitehorn Wood?” So, I decided that the people in the region tell stories of Whitehorn, a massive horned bear. Essentially, if a place has a name, there’s surely a reason for the name—what’s a logical explanation you can come up with?

Beyond that, I will often ask my players to help flesh these things out. If I was running a game tomorrow in the Whitehorn Woods, I’d start by telling people about the bear, and then I’d ask each player “Tell me something you’ve heard about the Whitehorn Woods.” I did this in Threshold just recently, when I asked players to tell me something they’d heard about the Byeshk Mine. I didn’t USE all those answers—not every story has to be true—but it was a useful source of inspiration.

How concrete are the appearances of the Sovereign Host — particularly at the local level. While canon has called out they have different appearances, is this a matter of everyone at one church holding a common image of Dol Arrah, or is it rather a more personal choice and imagining for each Vassal?

There’s two important things to consider here. The first is that the Sovereigns appear in many different cultures and with many different variations. Clearly Banor of the Bloody Spear, Bally-Nur, and the Pyrinean Balinor won’t all look the same; one’s a giant, one’s a halfling, one isn’t locked into any one species. Even within the Five Nations, you have many subsects within the broad Pyrinean tradition—the Church of the Wyrm Ascendant, the Restful Watch, Aureon’s Word, the Order of the Broken Blade, the Three Faces, and so on.

The second important point is that on some level, the exact appearance of the Sovereigns doesn’t matter, because the idea of the Sovereigns is that they aren’t going to appear and interact with you physically, but rather that they are with you at all times, offering guidance.

Is there art depicting the myths of the Sovereigns? Absolutely. But the key is that there’s no absolute agreement on what they look like, so instead what’s crucial is symbols. The first of these is called out in the original ECS: Dragons. Each of the Sovereigns is associated with a particular dragon; the blue dragon is a symbol of Aureon, while the silver dragon is used to represent Dol Dorn. Beyond this, each Sovereign has a particular iconic symbol, suggested in Faiths of Eberron; Aureon can be recognized by his book, while Arawai holds a sheaf of wheat. The ECS also assigns a favored weapon to each Sovereign, but I didn’t choose these and I strongly disagree with some of the choices. As Sovereign of the fields, it would make sense for Arawai to be associated with a farming implement, such as the flail or the scythe; instead, she’s canonically tied to the morningstar (which is sometimes depicted as a ball-and-chain, but definitely not a farming implement). Balinor is the Sovereign of the Hunt but is canonically tied to the battleaxe, hardly a traditional choice for a hunter. With that in mind, I’ll suggest kanonical alternatives befow.

With all this in mind, the point is that artwork depicting the Sovereigns focuses on SYMBOLS. There’s no one universally accepted depiction of Dol Dorn, but he’s always muscular and carries a longsword, often crossed over a shield. Dol Arrah holds her halberd with the sun rising behind her; if that doesn’t fit in the image, she’ll have a rising sun worked into her clothing. The humanoid models vary by sect and region, and often use historical or living figures considered to exemplify that Sovereign’s traits. For example, there may be a church in Sharn with a mural that depicts war heroes Khandan the Hammer as Dol Dorn (wielding a longsword instead of his famous hammer) and Meira the Huntress as Balinor. If you’re Brelish, you know Khandan as a warrior renowned for his strength and courage, and this combined with his pose, his obvious strength, and his sword and shield make it clear he’s representing Dol Dorn; if they really wanted to lay it on, they could add a silver dragon in a pennant or a brooch. Meanwhile, Meira the Huntress would be recognized as Balinor by her bow, by the antlers mounted on her helm, and by the fact that she’s clearly a huntress. It doesn’t matter that Balinor is considered to be male, because what this picture is truly depicting is Balinor acting through Meira—because THAT is how you’ll actually encounter the Sovereigns in the world. In using real people as models for the Sovereigns, these images remind us that the Sovereigns are with us all.

SovereignDragonWeaponSymbol
ArawaiBronzeFlailSheaf of Wheat
AureonBlueQuarterstaffBook
BalinorGreenBowAntlers
BoldreiCopperSpearHearth
Dol ArrahRedHalberdRising Sun
Dol DornSilverLongswordShield
Kol KorranWhiteMaceGold Coin
OlladraBlackDaggerDomino or Dice
OnatarBrassWarhammerHammer and Tongs

Where would the Nagpa from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foe fit into your Eberron?

I’ve never used the Nagpa. As I understand the story, the idea is that they’re mortal wizards who were cursed by the Raven Queen for meddling in a war between gods. Now they plot in the shadows, but presumably on a smaller scale than, for example, the Lords of Dust; they are still cursed mortals.

The first thing I’d do is to drop the Raven Queen and evaluate the core overall story. Mortals meddle, are cursed by a wrathful being of deific power. Playing to the idea that they “interfered in a war between gods” the most obvious answer to me is that they weren’t HUMAN wizards… they were DRAGONS. They interfered in the first war—the conflict between dragon and overlord—and were cursed by Ourelonastrix, forever bound to these pathetic, humanoid forms. Powerful as they are, they’re still feeble next to the glory of a greatwyrm, and you can see how their state would be a considerable humiliation. With this in mind, they can then have been present in EVERY disaster that’s come since. They could have played a key role in Aureon’s Folly; perhaps it was one of the Nagpa who urged the giants to use the Moonbreaker. Rival Nagpa could have helped different mazes in Ohr Kaluun, or Khunan. A key point would be that unlike the Chamber or the Lords of Dust, the Nagpa aren’t driven by the Prophecy and don’t know what the long-term impact of their actions—they just enjoy sowing chaos and causing trouble for all sides. If I didn’t want to do that, the next approach that comes to mind is to make them cursed acolytes of Sul Khatesh, twisted by their devotion to the Queen of Shadows—cursed with ugly immortality until they can unlock some particular arcane mystery. This could be tied to her release—making them allies of Hektula and an adjunct of the Lords of Dust—or they could just be an entirely separate faction which, again, has no knowledge of the Prophecy and are purely devoted to pursuing their own selfish problem. Another option would be to work with Thelanis, as the whole “cursed wizard” story sounds very Thelanian. But personally, I’d either go with cursed dragons or ancient Khorvairians.

You’ve mentioned Princess Marhya ir’Wynarn of Cyre a number of times, but if she’s in any canon sources, I cannot locate her. Is there anything more you can tell us about this youngest daughter (or possibly granddaughter, again referring back to the Oargev’s suitors article) of Queen Dannel? I’m not looking for anything mechanical here.

A few years back, my friend Dan Garrison—the co-designer of Phoenix: Dawn Command—ran an Eberron campaign called “The Fall of Cyre”. It began in Metrol on the eve of the Day of Mourning, at the celebration of Princess Marhya’s betrothal. That was the night we danced the Tago with knives! Marhya was the younger sister of Oargev, which in my current view would make her a granddaughter of Dannel. My character in that campaign was the warforged envoy Rose, who was built to serve as a companion to the Princess; Rose is depicted in Exploring Eberron and mentioned in the article on Oargev’s suitors.

In Dan’s campaign, Marhya was betrothed to Prince Jurian of Aundair… though of course, this isn’t canon. Marhya was competent, trained in statecraft and with the sword, determined to do what she could to ensure peace and safety for her people. In that campaign, Metrol was also sucked into Mabar, but more in the typical Hinterlands way—so apocalyptic chaos rather than the dystopia of Dread Metrol. Marhya was the natural leader who needed to unite the survivors and find a way out of the nightmare. Good times!

As with most IFAQs, I won’t be expanding further on these topics, but feel free to discuss them in the comments! If you have questions of you’re own, I’ll be posting a new call for questions for my Patreon supporters soon!