January IFAQ: Atur, Seeker Saints, Penguins, and More!

I’m still in the process of deciding what I’m doing next—whether my next major project will be another Eberron book for the DM’s Guild, or whether I will explore a new setting—and if the latter, whether it will be for 5E D&D, another system, or system agnostic. However, in the meantime, I’m starting a new campaign! Every month I run an online session in an ongoing campaign for Patreon. All patrons at the Threshold level have access to recordings of previous sessions… as well as a chance to play in every new session. Over the course of this month, I’ll be running a series of patron polls to determine exactly WHAT I’m running next. So if you’d like to help determine my next campaign—or be a part of it!—check out my Patreon.

Meanwhile, another benefit of my Patreon is getting to ask me questions. I don’t get to every question every month, but here’s a few of my favorites from January!

In the original 3e Setting book for Eberron Atur is described as a bit of a party city with lots of bordellos and taverns, how true is this in your modern conception of Eberron and the Blood of Vol? Or is this a vestige of when the Blood of Vol and Emerald Claw were treated as interchangeable terms, and thus Atur was made to be seedy and decadent?

Also called the City of Night, Atur sits in the shadow of the Ashen Spires, near the great Karrn Falls that spill out of the mountains and fl ow into the Karrn River. The close peaks of the Ashen Spires, the constant mist rising off the swirling waters of the Karrn, and the oppressive brick buildings make for a place that has relatively short periods of direct daylight and consequently long nights. But the City of Night was named more for the fact that the place seems to come alive when darkness overtakes the land. With the city’s temple to the Blood of Vol (called the Crimson Monastery) and its massive Vaults of the Dead, where corpse collectors store the fodder for Karrnath’s undead armies, Atur has a definite connection to the twilight and midnight hours. A significant portion of the population follows the teachings of the Blood of Vol and attends the daily rituals in the Crimson Monastery.

Otherwise, the City of Night has a rhythm and pulse that seems to increase when the sun goes down. Feast halls, taverns, theaters, and bordellos of all descriptions open their doors after dark and stay active until the sun struggles back up and over the mountains. For many visitors, the city seems to operate in a way opposite to the other metropolitan centers of the Five Nations. Everything appears quiet and deserted by day, but by night the the various shops and businesses open to crowds of people.

Eberron Campaign Setting

The Grand Duchy of Atur is infamously a stronghold of the Seeker faith and a center for necromantic research. Its association with the Blood of Vol long predates Kaius I’s embrace of the faith, and its status as a palatinate means it remains a safe haven for Seekers regardless of how they are viewed elsewhere. Because of the strength of Seeker traditions, undead are found throughout the city. Knowing this, many who hear the name “City of Night” think Atur must be a grim, miserable place. Nothing could be further from the truth. Atur is a city that looks death in the eye—and because of that, it is a city that CELEBRATES LIFE. Karrnath as a whole is a stoic and austere culture; Atur is a place that celebrates all of the joys of life. Food, sex, art—all are enshrined and presented in a spectrum of delights. That spectrum means that there are definitely seedy elements in Atur, and if you’re looking for decadence you can find it. The quote above calls out that Atur is home to entertainments of all descriptions and that’s the key; there are taverns so fine your adventurers will surely never be let through the door, and some of Thuranni’s finest artists only perform at the grand Palace of Shadows. This is something that has evolved over the course of a thousand years, again with Atur running at odds to the generally stoic persona of the typical Karrn; the City of Night is a place for a Karrn to escape their lives for a few days, and tourism is its primary industry. So certainly, outsiders often call Atur “seedy and decadent”—but that description fails to grasp how seriously Aturans take their duty of celebrating life, and the quality of the food, music, and other performances that can be found in the City of Night.

Atur has been a bastion for the Blood of Vol since it first took root in Karrnath. The Crimson Covenant was first formed in the great monastery of Atur, and that Crimson Monastery has grown into the largest temple to the Divinity Within in Khorvaire. It was in Atur—in the palace of Nighthold—that the leaders of the faith forged their alliance with Kaius I. However, while a majority of the citizens of Atur follow the Blood of Vol, it’s not exclusively tied to the faith. The Great Hall of Feast and Fortune—commonly referred to as the Feast Hall—is one of the grandest temples of Olladra in the Five Nations; in addition to traditional services, it’s the finest venue for parties in the city, and the sounds of coins and dice can be heard at all houses in the gaming hall.

Thanks to the influence of the Blood of Vol, undead are a common sight in Atur.

  • The Seekers have no attachment to corpses and most are happy to donate their remains to serve the greater good. As a result, skeletons are found performing menial tasks and manual labor across the city. Because they serve many different functions, they’re generally painted to indicate their service; blood-red for those associated with the Monastery or other temples, dark green for sanitation, black and gold for those tied to the city watch, blue for this tied to commerce; artists add often secondary designs that give each skeleton a little personality. However, these are standard skeletons, possessing limited intelligence; they are managed by Bone Wranglers, specialized magewrights who effectively program the undead. As noted in the Monster Manual, “Although they lack the intellect they possessed in life, skeletons aren’t mindless. Rather than break its limbs attempting to batter its way through an iron door, a skeleton tries the handle first. If that doesn’t work, it searches for another way through or around the obstacle.” So a sanitation skeleton is focused on collecting garbage and disposing of it, but it can show limited initiative to overcome obstacles.
  • The Vaults of the Dead are a vast complex that served as the center of Karrnath’s necromantic war machine. Its fortified facilities include workshops for the production of undead, warehouses for storing bones and bodies, and the vast catacombs that currently hold the Karrnathi undead that have been sealed below since the Treaty of Thronehold was found. While the vast majority of the Karrnathi Undead are sealed in the vaults, the Atur Watch has a significant corps of these sentient undead, and they can also be found protecting the Ministry of the Dead, the palace of Nighthold, and other important locations. The Vaults of the Dead are maintained by the Ministry of the Dead, NOT by the Blood of Vol. While many Seekers serve in the Vaults, they serve the Crown and the Vaults are a separate entity from the Crimson Monastery.
  • The Crimson Monastery has its own corps of undead—Seeker martyrs who have devoted their endless lives to service to their faith. Most of these are Oathbound, a form of mummy; most have greater intelligence and lower strength than the typical mummy in the Monster Manual, but the principle is the same. Oathbound are sustained by the oaths they’re sworn to uphold and the restrictions placed upon them; many can’t actually leave the Crimson Monastery, while others are bound to their service but can roam the city. Oathbound can also be found in other roles in the city; the oldest tavern in Atur, The Old Bones, is maintained by Grethan and Talan Todar, two oathbound who’ve been serving Seekers for centuries. Unlike skeletons and Karrnathi undead, Oathbound do maintain memories of their former lives; but their oaths place considerable limitations on their activities.

Because of this, there are a number of businesses that cater specifically to undead. Second Life is an Oathbound salon. Despite what you may read in the Voice of Thrane, there’s no zombie bordellos in Atur (or ARE there…?) but there are a few establishments that are devoted to entertaining the undead. Oathbound can’t eat or drink and don’t experience physical pleasure, but they can still feel desire; Eulogies specializes in storytelling and roleplaying, helping the Oathbound remember joys they can no longer experience directly.

As called out above, Atur celebrates the arts. Before the Last War, Atur was the seat of House Phiarlan’s Demesne of Shape, devoted to physical arts—painting, sculpting, ceramics—as well as to the creation of costumes, props, and other supporting goods. In the wake of the Shadow Schism, House Thuranni claimed the demesne, now known as the True Shapers Enclave. This is a center for production and education, but it’s complimented by the Palace of Shadows—One of the grandest performance spaces held by Thuranni. This is not to be confused with the actual palace of Nighthold, a secondary seat for the royal family. As Atur is a Grand Duchy, it is semi-autonomous, but the presence of the Nighthold has always been a source of pride and a sign of the importance of the city. Kaius III has spent little time in Atur over the last decade, but Queen Etrigani loves the City of Night.

This only scratches the surface of the many wonders of the City of Night. You can be certain that in a visit to Atur you will see wonders you’ve never seen anywhere else. Is it seedy and decadent? It can be, if that’s what you’re looking for. But it can also be a place of astonishing beauty, a chance to experience meals and joys you won’t find anywhere else. And it is certainly a place to find forgotten secrets in the vaults of the Crimson Monastery, or to speak to an oathbound older than Galifar itself. But remember, what happens in Atur doesn’t always stay in Atur…

Am I correct in remembering that Atur is a major mabar manifest zone? If so how does that effect it’s status as a party scene and its culture more generally?

You are correct: Atur is in the most powerful Mabaran manifest zone in Karrnath, which is why it’s the seat of the Vaults of the Dead and the center for the production of undead. Which sounds bad, right? The key comes from the Fort Bones article in Dungeon 195: “Temples of the Blood of Vol are often built in manifest zones linked to Mabar or Dolurrh. The Seekers have learned to harness the power of (these zones) and to protect their comrades from their dangers.” This is WHY Atur is the site of the Crimson Monastery—the largest temple of the Blood of Vol in Khorvaire—and why Atur was left inviolate even when the nation shifted away from the Seeker faith: they need the Seekers to continue their rituals to keep the dangers posed by the Mabaran zone contained. This is also a concrete reason for the revelry in Atur; just as the Aereni veneration of the Undying Court generates the positive energy needed to sustain the Deathless, the ongoing celebration of life is part of the equation that holds the power of Mabar at bay. Incidentally, this is the underlying reason Queen Etrigani is fascinated with Atur and spends a significant amount of time there. She shares the common Aereni belief that Mabaran necromancy and undead pollute the world, but she is intrigued by the techniques the Seekers have developed to contain these energies… and she appreciates the active celebration of life even in this place of death.

I’m running a session in Atur and I’m trying to think of who would be memorialized by statues in the city. Does the BoV have any saints?

One of the basic principles of the Blood of Vol is that dead is dead—that Dolurrh eradicates the soul. The Seekers seek to unlock their Divinity Within, and clerics and paladins are partially doing just that. If someone truly did unlock the full potential of their Divinity Within they would in theory have the power of a Sovereign, but personally, I DON’T want to say “There’s a bunch of people who have already done that and we get power from them” because that fundamentally alters the flavor of the faith and because I always prefer to have things happening NOW than to have happened sometime in the past. I’d rather have your Seeker cleric potentially being the first to accomplish this. Some might believe that someone HAS unlocked their full divinity in the past—but that if so, they are locked in battle with the Sovereigns and unable to help mortals. The main point is that the Blood of Vol doesn’t have Saints in the sense of people who have died but who are still invoked to provide supernatural assistance. The dead are DEAD. You don’t pray to Malevanor hoping he will grant you favor; you go talk to Malevanor at the Crimson Monastery, because he became Oathbound precisely so he could continue to help Seekers after death.

So, the Blood of Vol doesn’t have saints in the sense of people-who-may-intercede-on-behalf-of-the-living. But BECAUSE dead is dead, the Blood of Vol does believe it’s important to remember the dead and to honor their memory and works. It’s the same way that WE have statues of founders and heroes; we don’t pray to them, but we want to remember them. Gyrnar Shult and Malevanor are two examples of recent people who could have statues honoring their achievements in Atur (a statue of Malevanor as he was in life, not reflecting him as Oathbound!). There could be statues of other great priests, philosophers, or soldiers; even in Atur, Karrns still respect martial prowess and courage.

Any advice how to create compelling religions in homebrew worlds?

Successful religions build community and generally offer hope or provide explanations for the challenges people face in life. The Sovereign Host tells us the Sovereigns are guiding us, that Boldrei brings us together, Aureon’s laws make us stronger, and that the Dark Six can be blamed for all the evil in the world. The Blood of Vol tells us the Sovereigns are to blame for the evil in the world (well, one Seeker sect says this): the gods are against us, life is cruel, and we need to stand together because all we have is one another. The Silver Flame teaches that there are real, concrete forces of evil in the world itself, but that we can overcome them by standing together and channeling the light of the Flame. So again, first and foremost: WHY should someone adopt the faith you’re creating? What questions does it answer? What hope does it offer? What about this faith would cause it to spread and flourish?

How would you explain Eberron to people who believe it is a Grimdark setting because of the multitude of world ending threats posed to it “at the same time?”

The multitude of world ending threats are presented as OPTIONS, but it’s up to the DM to decide which—if any—actually ARE world ending threats. It’s entirely possible that the stars aren’t right—that none of the overlords could be released in the next century, that the daelkyr are securely bound, that the Mourning was a fluke (a Cannith weapon that could only be created during a planar convergence that won’t happen for another five hundred years), that the Kalashtar have the Dreaming Dark situation under control. Part of my general campaign advice is to pick one or at most two of these threats to be factors in your story arc and to kick the others down the road; they all COULD happen right now, but none of them HAVE to.

So in short, it’s as grimdark as you want it to be. It COULD be that everything’s coming to a boiling point right at this moment… and while we’re at it, Lhesh Haruuc and King Boranel could die, Aundair could decide to reclaim Thaliost and the Eldeen Reaches, there could be a civil war in Karrnath, etc, etc… but the general approach of the setting is to present the DM with a lot of options, and for you to decide which will actually be threats TODAY.

Where would you put Penguins in your Eberron?

You’re asking the wrong question. You should have asked “Where WOULDN’T you put Penguins in your Eberron?” Those little %*¥#s are EVERYWHERE. Ok, just kidding. For real, though: they’re in the sewers of Sharn. There was a huge craze when Zil explorers brought them back from Everice, but then people got bored with them and dropped them down the privy, and next thing you know, soiled penguin swarms.

Of course, there’s the other obvious answer, “Silver Flame convents.”

And FINALLY, don’t forget about that time the megafauna penguin burst through the Lamannia manifest zone and laid waste to half of Silver Lake.

That’s all for now. Feel free to discuss these topics in the comments, but I’m afraid I won’t have time to answer questions myself. And again, thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible—follow the link if you want to ask your own questions or get in on my next campaign!

Dragonmark: Kethelrax and Shaarat Kol

Art by Julio Azevedo

KETHELRAX THE CUNNING

Kethelrax the Cunning is the warlord of Shaarat Kol. Sometimes known as the Goblin Prince, Kethelrax has been a rallying figure for people who have been oppressed throughout the history of the region. Kethelrax was born into one of the Khaar’paal kobold clans of the Graywall Mountains. Gifted with sorcerous power, these kobolds have largely remained in their fortified tunnels, ignoring both the humans to the east and the raiders to the west. Young Kethelrax was curious and keen to explore the western lands—but soon after he ventured into the Barrens, he was taken prisoner by an ogre chib who dominated a village of kobolds and goblins. For a time, Kethelrax served this ogre, learning the ways of the Barrens and his oppressed cousins. Before the Daughters exerted their influence over the land, the Barrens were violent and unstable; the ogre chib was in turn slain by minotaur raiders, who took Kethelrax and some of the others back with them to the fortress then known as Haalrac’s Fist. Kethelrax had many opportunities to escape; he’d been honing his sorcerous talents throughout his time in the western lands, and his captors had no idea of what he was capable of. But Kethelrax wasn’t content to escape alone. As a servant, he managed to manipulate the warrior Turakbar, playing on the minotaur’s ego. Kethelrax convinced Turakbar to slaughter the reigning clan lord, Haalrac, and in the ensuing chaos the kobold was able to free a host of goblins, kobolds, and others forced into service in Haalrac’s Fist. Kethelrax led this band south, hoping he could convince the Khaar’paal to take in these refugees. But during the long journey, Kethelrax was visited by a blind hag who urged him to take shelter in Dhakaani ruins in the foothills of the Graywall Mountains. Sora Teraza told Kethelrax that change was coming to the Barrens—and that there was a need for a leader who could inspire the small folk of the Barrens, rallying goblins and kobolds alike. Over the few years, Kethelrax and his band targeted weak chibs in the region, freeing their prisoners and building a significant force. It wasn’t easy, and Kethelrax suffered a number of bloody defeats—but he and his people remained strong. In 985 YK, Sora Katra came to Kethelrax. She explained the Daughter’s vision for the region, and made a bargain with Kethelrax: if he could seize the fortress now known as Shaarat Kol, he could hold it as a warlord of Droaam, creating a haven for goblins and kobolds. Kethelrax agreed, and over a decade later he reigns as the Goblin Prince of Shaarat Kol.

Ketherax the Cunning lives up to his epithet. He is both clever and charismatic, able to inspire his people but equally adept at deceiving his enemies. His primary motive is always to improve the lives of the kobolds and goblins of the western plains, and this has led him to be one of the most trusted allies of the Daughters of Sora Kell. While some warlords chafe at the Daughters’ rule and yearn for greater power, Kethelrax recognizes that a strong and united Droaam holds many opportunities for his people. He continues to improve Shaarat Kol, working to make it a haven for both smugglers and honest traders. With that said, he still has a number of old scores he’d like to settle with those chibs and warlords that have long oppressed the small folk. He has been unable to convince the Khaar’paal kobolds to ally with the Daughters, but he continues to work on it.

Kethelrax is a red-scaled kobold. He’s a charismatic speaker who possesses both arcane gifts and a knack with a knife. He’s known for his ability to conjure blades of flame (something that mimics both flame blade and fire bolt, as he can fling his fiery daggers). He prefers to outwit enemies rather than to rely on force to solve his problems… but he’s deadly when he needs to be.

Rumors About Kethelrax the Cunning…

  • Kethelrax is a champion of the Dark Six. The Fury has empowered him to avenge the suffering of the goblins, and the Mockery cloaks him in shadow when Kethelrax doesn’t want to be seen.
  • Kethelrax is no kobold at all: he is a dragon who has taken on kobold form. 
  • Kethelrax has sworn that he will kill Rhesh Turakbar by the end of 998 YK. 

SHAARAT KOL

Population: 6,600

In Brief: City of goblins and kobolds, smuggling and manufacturing center

Key Inhabitants: Kethelrax the Cunning (male kobold warlord)

Shaarat Kol is a city in southeastern Droaam, set against and into the western face of the Graywall Mountains. Like Cazhaak Draal, it is built on the foundations of an ancient Dhakaani city; unlike Cazhaak Draal, far more of the original city remains intact. The city was either abandoned or completely depopulated during the wars with the daelkyr. Those parts of the city that were above ground were damaged by battle and the passage of time. An ogre chieftain built a simple fortress within these ruins, and this changed hands many times over the centuries. But much of Shaarat Kol was underground, and in its last days its gates were sealed with both arcane locks and adamantine bars. None of the chibs and chieftains who claimed the fortress on the surface were ever able to delve below. None, at least, until Kethelrax the Cunning. In 985 YK Kethelrax was the leader of a band of goblins and kobolds—rebels hiding in the Graywall Mountains and raiding the thuggish chibs. Sora Katra came to his camp, and the two talked for hours. In the month that followed, Kethelrax led his followers in a daring attack against the ogres and their ettin chib who currently held the ruins of Shaarat Kol. It was a vicious fight, but Kethelrax’s forces won the day and claimed the fortress… and using the knowledge Katra had shared, Kethelrax was able to open the gates of the old city and discover the true face of Shaarat Kol. The name of the city is Goblin for “Forge of Swords” and it was once an industrial center of the Dhakaani, home to some of their greatest forge adepts. The city was largely intact and contained resources untouched for thousands of years; while some of these resources were lost to time, adamantine doesn’t age. However, the city was lost in war, and the ancient daashors left countless traps along with their treasures. There are amazing facilities and other wonders to be found in Shaarat Kol, but claiming them is a slow process. Even now, more than a decade later, the denizens of Shaarat Kol have only reclaimed an estimated 20% of the ancient city.

So at the moment, Shaarat Kol is essentially two cities. The Upper City is the surface, which is being expanded and rebuilt in the new Droaamite style seen in Graywall and the Great Crag. Most of the people of the city live in the Upper City and it’s where most business takes place. But there’s also the Undercity, which lies beyond the ancient gates. This is where Kethelrax holds court and where his most loyal and talented followers dwell. Should there ever be a serious attack, Kethelrax could seal the gates—and when those gates were last sealed, they held off intruders for thousands of years.

The Upper City of Shaarat Kol is a haven for trade, known for the vast Goblin Market. This is an even larger cousin of the Bloody Market found in Graywall. All manner of independent artisans, hunters, and magewrights sell goods and services. You can hire mercenaries, buy plunder from raiders, find trinkets scavenged from Dhakaani ruins or dangerous imports from the Venomous Demesne. The Goblin Market is a vast open space largely filed with tents and temporary housing. Looking to the permanent buildings, roughly two-thirds of the structures are built for the comfort of small creatures, with a another third of the city being designed to accommodate medium and large creatures. Kethelrax has sworn that Shaarat Kol will be a haven for goblins and kobolds, who have long been oppressed in this region; he’s building this city first and foremost for his people.

The Undercity of Shaarat Kol uses the intact infrastructure of the ancient Dhakaani city. This was an industrial center and it contains mines, foundries, and forges; Kethelrax and his people are working to restore these facilities and to make use of them. While some of the great daashors were hobgoblins, the golin’dar (goblins) were the primary artisans of the empire, and much of the city is designed for their comfort. As noted before, the process of reclaiming the Undercity is slow, and there are always teams at work exploring new sections and trying to clear out traps and defenses. But just in the area that’s been reclaimed Kethelrax has been able to get a foundry and an ore processing facility working, and they are learning a great deal about the process the Dhakaani used to create and work adamantine. This is only the start, but Shaarat Kol has the potential to play a very important role in the future of Droaam.

Unlike Graywall, Shaarat Kol has made little effort to welcome the Five Nations. There’s no Orien trade route and no Dragonmarked outposts in the City of Goblins. The coastline to the south is rocky and dangerous, and it is difficult for large ships to land. Kethelrax is actively working to build a safe port so that Shaarat Kol can rival Vralkek as an important shipping destination. For now there are a few safe havens for those who know them, but they only support small ships. All this means that the people of the Five Nations who come to Shaarat Kol are mainly smugglers. There’s all kinds of valuable goods available in the Goblin Market, including many that are taxed or prohibited in the Five Nations. Some use paths and hidden passages through the Graywall Mountains, while others dare the dangerous coastline in small boats. While Kethelrax and the Daughters haven’t tried to bring the Dragonmarked Houses to Shaarat Kol, he’s happy to deal with legitimate traders, hence his work on the port; he just wants to finish securing the Undercity and unlocking its potential before bringing easterners into the city in large numbers.

Goblins and kobolds make up nearly 90% of the population of Shaarat Kol. Many of these were formerly subjugated by brutal chibs, and either fled on their own or were released from their bondage by the Daughters and allowed to go to Shaarat Kol. There is a tremendous sense of camaraderie among the people of the city; throughout the city you’ll see people working together and helping their neighbors. There’s only a small (literally) city watch, but that’s because anywhere that there’s trouble a mob of citizens will come together to deal with the problem. There are a number of large trade schools that are teaching the skills needed to use the facilities of the Undercity, and Kethelrax has brought in mentors from the Khaar’paal kobolds to help kobolds harness their sorcerous potential. As a result, Shaarat Kol has far more magewrights than any other city in Droaam. The city is still growing and finding its footing, but there’s more casual comforts than one can find even in the Great Crag. The denizens of Shaarat Kol have largely embraced the faith of the Cazhaak Six, and there’s a temple maintained by the medusa priest Shalaasa and a number of Khaar’paal adepts. In general, Shaarat Kol is one of the safest cities in Droaam, as long as you don’t start any trouble. On the other hand, the camaraderie among the small denizens means that the criminals and con artists of Shaarat Kol ply their trade on the visiting tall-folk; keep an extra eye on your purse and don’t buy a deed to a Byeshk mine, no matter how good the price is.

 Interesting Things About Shaarat Kol

  • The Undercity of Shaarat Kol holds undiscovered wonders. There could be an armory stocked with Dhakaani artifacts, or the forge that was used to make them. There’s certainly an opportunity here for adventurers willing to brave the countless traps. But it’s also possible people who dig deeper will find that there are daelkyr forces left behind as well—as the Mror found when they dug too deep into their ancient past.
  • The Heirs of Dhaakan may be interested in reclaiming Shaarat Kol or at least recovering relics from the Undercity. This could lead to a deadly conflict between Kethelrax and the Kech Dhakaan. It’s quite likely that agents of the Shaarat’khesh are already hidden among the people of Shaarat Kol, evaluating the situation and passing information to the clans.
  • Kethelrax rose to power by fighting other chibs. He’s made many enemies, most especially Rhesh Turakbar. Any of these foes could attempt to assassinate Kethelrax or at least sabotage Shaarat Kol.  

This is an excerpt from Frontiers of Eberron, which I’ve been working on since I released Exploring Eberron. I’m currently running a poll on my Patreon to help me decide where I go from here—whether I continue to develop this book for Eberron and the DM’s Guild, or whether I use it as the foundation of an entirely new setting. There’s many factors in this decision and I won’t be making it quickly. Regardless of what happens, thanks to my patrons and to everyone else who’s supported Eberron over the years!

Session Zero: Background Prompts

Art by Julio Azevedo

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

You often suggest questions for new players starting a campaign to spark some character motivation. “Why do you owe/need 200gp?” “What is something you regret?” What would you suggest a good prompt would be for a campaign set in the Principalities?

This is, indeed, something I suggest. What’s your greatest regret and Why do you need 200 GP? are both mentioned in Eberron Rising From The Last War. As a DM, what I like about What’s your greatest regret is that it immediately gives me ideas about who the character is and about situations to work into future adventures. Can I squeeze in a chance for the character to regain something they’ve lost or to redeem their past mistake? Meanwhile, why do you need 200 gp is a way to give a concrete NEED that drives the story. You aren’t just taking this kill-rats-for-5-gp job because you have nothing better to do; you only have two weeks to pay off the Boromar Clan before they come after you!

In Chronicles of Eberron, I suggest another of my favorite background questions—What did you do during the Last War? The Last War lasted for a century, and came to an end only two years before the default campaign start. Many of the current nations didn’t exist or weren’t officially recognized during the Last War; if you’re from Droaam, you’re probably older than your nation. If you’re playing a fighter, did you serve in the war? If so, who did you fight for… and if not, why not, when you clearly have the skills? Was your ranger a scout, or were you a smuggler? Did you artificer repair weapons of war, or did you help warforged deserters build new lives? A follow up question is what did you lose during the Last War—a friend? Your home town? Your faith in the Sovereigns?

Part of what I like about questions like this is that they give me an immediate sense of the character without providing too much detail. I don’t actually WANT a player to show up to session zero with a ten-page backstory already written about their character, because I want the player characters to evolve together. You can add details to your character’s backstory over time. If we all agree that you served Breland during the war, and served on the Breland-Droaam border, then in a later adventure when you meet a worg ranger we can say Oh, of course—you met Ja’taarka when you were serving at Orcbone! That was that long patrol—you saved his life and you helped him find your way back home. If the player has carefully documented every battle they fought in, that’s more likely to get in the way of the unfolding story. But having a general picture—I fought for Breland on the Droaam front, and my brother was killed by minotaur raiders from Turakbar’s Fist—gives us a strong basic foundation we can build on.

Questions like this work with character background, but don’t define it. Critically, just because you fought in the Last War doesn’t mean you need to take the Soldier background. The benefit of the Soldier background is Military Rank, which establishes that you get recognition and respect from other soldiers (regardless of their nationality!). To me, this indicates that you were essentially a war hero—lots of people fought in the war, but any soldier knows YOUR story. Meanwhile, if you were a quartermaster you might take the Guild Artisan background. Entertainer? Perhaps you were the company musician before you launched your professional career. The direction-finding abilities of an Outlander are perfect for a scout. Your Acolyte could have been the chaplain, while your Criminal could have worked with the black market during the war—or simply gotten into crime afterwards. Essentially, the war is so far reaching in Eberron that fought in the war isn’t a defining background; it’s just a shade of it.

So: I like to present players with one or two interesting questions at the start of a campaign, as prompts to story. With that in mind, let’s get back to the original question… What would be a good prompt for a campaign set in the Lhazaar Principalities?

Any of the questions mentioned so far would work for such a campaign. Even pirates have regrets. Perhaps your party has a boat, but you need 200 gp to pay off your docking fees! And what DID you do during the Last War? Were you a pirate? A privateer? An innocent fisher whose boat was destroyed by Karrnathi soldiers during a navel battle? But I understand that the SPIRIT of this question is What’s a unique and interesting prompt for Lhazaar characters? Thinking about it, my question is…

What’s your most famous ancestor known for?

d12What’s Your Most Famous Ancestor Known For?
1Brutal Piracy. It’s not rust that stains the shores of Orthoss red—that’s the blood spilled by your ancestor, said to be one of the most merciless pirates to sail the Lhazaar Sea.
2Buried Treasure. Your ancestor amassed a legendary hoard, including priceless artifacts from Aerenal. But they swore that no one would ever find their treasure… and no one ever has. Can you claim your long-lost inheritance?
3Turtle Hunting. Drake hunting plays an important role in the Principalities, and your ancestor was the greatest turtle-hunter of them all. It’s said turtles still quake when you speak their name. But your ancestor was eaten by a particularly large and vicious dragon turtle, who’s still at large; do you want revenge?
4Humiliating Defeat. Your ancestor had grand dreams and early success, only to come to an especially embarrassing end. There’s a popular song about it. Who was their enemy? Do you believe there’s more to the story… or was your ancestor, in fact, an idiot?
5Prince of an Ancestor. There’s an annual holiday in Port Verge celebrating the deeds of your ancestor, a folk hero who clashed with Galifar and Riedra but always shared their bounty with people in need. They became a prince through popular acclaim and reigned over a golden age. Think you can live up to that?
6Fishing. Your ancestor was a pacifist who condemned both piracy and all forms of bloodshed, and who encouraged the people of the Principalities to focus all their efforts on fishing and trade. Do you support their views, or are you tired of people making fish jokes every time you walk in the room?
7Betrayal. First, your ancestor led a mutiny and took a ship from their captain. Then they murdered a prince and claimed a crown. Their reign only lasted for a single generation, but it was marked by countless acts of ruthless betrayal. Are you equally deceptive, or are you ashamed of their legacy?
8Trafficking with Malefic Powers. Your ancestor was said to be a warlock whose success was the result of deals with immortal evils. Do you believe these stories or do you think it’s jealous slander? Could you have inherited some sort of vile pact without knowing it?
9Carrying the Light. The people of the Principalities aren’t especially devout, but your ancestor was a missionary who briefly inspired a strong following that still lingers to this day. What faith did they follow? Do you uphold this tradition?
10Haunting The Lhazaar Sea. Your ancestor died long ago, but they still sail the sea in a ship of shadow and bones. Were they a brutal raider who still seeks to slake their thirst for blood? Or is their undead existence the result of a curse—they’re forced to wander the waters until they right an ancient wrong?
11Pirate and Poet. While your ancestor was a pirate for a short time, what they are known for is their poetry; they created countless shanties that are still sung to this day. If you’re an entertainer or bard you might carry on their legacy; if not, you may be sick of all the damn songs.
12Founding The Principalities. You’re descended from Lhazaar herself, the pirate queen who led the fleet from Sarlona. Sure, at this point, half the people of the Principalities have some trace of her blood in their veins… but you are from a line that has always preserved and celebrated that connection, a line that has produced many remarkable captains and raiders. Your parents have Lhazaar’s sword. Can you live up to the legend and claim that sword?

In a Lhazaar campaign, I expect the adventurers will eventually have a ship; they may walk a line between piracy and privateering, they might search for lost treasures, or they might get involved in the politics of the Principalities and perhaps even claim a crown. But the Principalities are a relatively small region of people closely linked together, and that means there will be stories about the past. People know who your parents were, and your grandparents—and they know what they did. Who’s the most famous or infamous member of your line, and what are they known for? Do you want to reclaim your ancestor’s legendary lost treasure or prove that they didn’t lose their last battle due to incompetence? Is your ancestor a source of inspiration to you, like the Tairnadal elves—or are they an albatross you carry, a story you’d like people to forget?

The table here presents a few specific ideas, but there’s countless possibilities. What your famous ancestor a prince, a pirate, a priest or a privateer? Are they renown for daring raids against Lyrandar shipping, or cursed as a traitor who worked with Lyrandar? Did they do great things at the beginning of the Last War, or did they sail in the first days of the Principalities?

This is a random example, and there are countless other questions you could ask. The point is that you don’t need to know everything about your character as a campaign begins… but answering a few interesting questions may give you a strong foundation to build upon. Thanks as always to my Patreon backers, whose support makes these articles possible!

IFAQ: Dol Arrah, the Warrior Sun

When battle is joined, Dol Dorn gives you the courage to stand your ground and the strength to swing your sword. But it’s Dol Arrah who calls you to the battlefield and who gives you the reason to fight—Dol Arrah who urges you to stand up to injustice and to smite the wicked. Dol Dorn gives you strength, but Dol Arrah gives you wisdom; Dol Arrah tells you when to fight and how to use your strength wisely and justly. If you cannot hear Dol Arrah’s voice when your hand falls to your blade—think twice about whether you should draw it. 

On my Patreon, I’ve been asked what makes being a follower of Dol Arrah interesting? Why would I want to play a character devoted to her rather than to the Silver Flame? There’s considerably more canon material on the Church of the Silver Flame than there is on the Sovereign of Sun and Sacrifice; even Tira Miron abandoned her vassal roots to embrace the Silver Flame. It was templars of the Flame who stood against the hungry horde in the Silver Crusade. We have a clear picture of what it means to be a paladin devoted to the Silver Flame. Why choose Dol Arrah instead? 

Despite their surface similarities, Dol Arrah and the Silver Flame are very different. The role of a divine champion of Dol Arrah has little in common with that of a templar of the Silver Flame. Both will team up to slay a vampire, certainly; but beyond that, their outlook and general duties are quite different. The keyword of the Silver Flame is defense. It is a force that defends the innocent from evil, and primarily from supernatural evil; it binds the overlords and empowers those who fight undead and fiends, but takes no side in mundane politics or wars between mortal nations. By contrast, Dol Arrah is a Sovereign of war. Along with Dol Dorn and the Mockery she is present on every battlefield and every soldier hopes that she sees their cause as just. The Silver Flame protects humanity from evil; Dol Arrah guides those who fight for justice with honor, regardless of who or what they are fighting. At the same time, Dol Arrah is the patron of diplomats: part of wisdom in war is knowing when a battle can be avoided.

If you’re playing a character devoted to Dol Arrah, remember that she doesn’t exist in isolation; she’s part of the Sovereign Host, an interconnected pantheon whose members govern different situations. Dol Arrah may urge you to fight for justice, but it’s Onatar who puts steel in your hand and Dol Dorn who gives you the strength to swing it; for that matter, it’s Aureon’s laws that establish the nature of justice. By saying that you’re “a servant of Dol Arrah” what you’re saying is that you have a special connection to Dol Arrah that’s stronger than that of most people—that she has called you to service and charged you to fight in her name. But you should still honor ALL of the Sovereigns in their place and time, and you may color your spells as coming from any of the Sovereigns when appropriate. When you issue a command, you speak with Aureon’s voice. When you use find steed you are calling on Balinor, and when you cast bless you might ask Olladra for good fortune. The Sovereigns are united; you may be a champion of Dol Arrah, but you’re still a Vassal of the Sovereign Host. Beyond, part of your duty is to embody the values of Dol Arrah: to stand up for justice, to spread light, and to inspire others to act with honor and wisdom. This comes to the point that unlike a templar of the Silver Flame, it’s not your daily duty to hunt down the undead—but when you encounter a supernatural threat, you should call down the light of the Warrior Sun.

WHAT’S YOUR WAR? 

While there are chivalric orders specifically devoted to Dol Arrah, she doesn’t have a large standing force like the templars of the Silver Flame, because in the Vassal view ALL soldiers are guided by Dol Arrah. When someone is called out as a servant of Dol Arrah, there is a purpose to the power that she grants. Her divine champions aren’t generally charged to wander around looking for random injustice; when she calls a paladin or cleric, it’s because there is a battle they must fight. There’s a specific injustice that must be addressed, an enemy that must be defeated, a war that only you can win. So, what is it? Let’s consider a few possibilities. 

  • You must defeat Breggan, the bandit queen of the Black Crown Company. 
  • You must overthrow Mika Stoneface and help Prince Someone claim the Cloudreaver Principality. 
  • You must help the Boromar Clan defeat Dassk, or vice versa
  • You must drive the Tairnadal from Valenar. 
  • You must defeat the Order of the Emerald Claw and destroy Lady Illmarrow. 
  • You must reunite the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair. 
  • You must restore the nation of Cyre. 

These cover a wide range of options. The first few are very regional; Breggan Blackcrown operates on the Western Frontier, and few people outside of the Lhazaar Principalities have even heard of the Cloudreaver Principality. On the other hand, a quest to restore Cyre or to to destroy Lady Illmarrow is a more abstracted struggle whose battles could be fought across Khorvaire. The idea of Dol Arrah supporting the Boromar Clan or Daask may seem strange, but remember that Dol Arrah is present in every battle; if she commands a champion to take a side, it’s because she has declared the cause to be just and because she expects her champion to MAKE it a just and to fight with honor. She may order her paladin to fight alongside the Boromar Clan, but that doesn’t mean they should embrace the treacherous tactics the Boromars might be used to; on the contrary, the idea would be that the champion should inspire the Boromars to be better, to show them how to win their war with honor. 

This isn’t a decision one person—player or DM—should make alone. Player and DM should work together to decide both the nature of the character’s war and how important it will be to the campaign. An Arrah champion’s war is the reason they’re adventuring and why they possess divine power. The character believes that they are receiving guidance from Dol Arrah—missions that lead them in pursuit of victory. But is each adventure a clear battle in the war? Or are most adventures just about honing the champion’s skills or acquiring allies? The champion should spread their light wherever they are, fighting with honor and pursuing justice—if they encounter a pack of ghouls in the graveyard, they should deal with them. But they should still have the sense that they are pursuing their war—that if they aren’t clearly fighting the enemy, they are doing something to sharpen their skills or their blade. As a DM, one of the key things I would work on is figuring out how to fit the other player characters into the war. You don’t want one character to have a driving, overarching goal that no one else cares about. If you’ve got a Arrah paladin destined to restore Cyre, than I’d either want the other PCs to have their own ties to Cyre or to have skills the champion clearly needs; part of the paladins’ mission is to convince the bard that they should use their diplomatic skills to help achieve the goal of a new Cyre. Likewise, keep in mind that not all of these wars can be won with steel; the goal mentions above is to REUNITE Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches, and this is a war that will require insight and diplomacy.

WISDOM IN WAR

Dol Dorn is the Sovereign of strength and courage, the patron of the common soldier. Dol Dorn gives you the strength to fight; Dol Arrah gives you a reason to fight, and shows you how to use your strength wisely. She’s the patron of paladins, but also of generals, strategists, and diplomats. As a champion of Dol Arrah, your role isn’t just to fight well; it is to inspire others, to lead in battle and to show them how to fight with honor. The Mockery shows the quickest path to victory, even if it comes with a brutal cost; Dol Arrah shows her champions how to win without compromising their morals, even if it requires risk or sacrifice. And again, Dol Arrah guides mediators and diplomats who prevent unnecessary bloodshed.

So where a paladin of the Silver Flame defends, a paladin of Dol Arrah needs to inspire—to lead others into battle and to inspire them to fight with honor. For a paladin, Oath of Devotion is an easy option, but the Oath of Glory is another clear choice; the Inspiring Smite reflects the rallying power of Dol Arrah. At the same time, the Oath of Vengeance can also work if you are emphasizing the active aggression of the mission—the drive to defeat the enemy rather than to defend the innocent. However, this quest for victory should never come before honor or justice… unless, of course, your champion actually serves all Three Faces of War instead of just Dol Arrah!

For clerics, War, Life, and Light are all possible domains. War and Life both reflect a champion who will fight in the vanguard, inspiring allies and getting the wounded back on their feet. The Light domain reflects Dol Arrah’s role as the Warrior Sun; the cleric should still seek out the battlefield, but they can stay behind the vanguard, inspiring and exhorting them while striking enemies with the sun’s wrath. 

In either case, Martial Adept—or a few levels of Battlemaster fighter—is an excellent way to convey the martial nature of Dol Arrah and to make the champion feel like a leader. Commander’s Strike, Commanding Presence, and Maneuvering Strike are all ways to reflect the idea of the Arrah champion as a leader and strategist who relies on wisdom over brute force. Persuasion and Insight are both important skills for a champion who seeks to resolve battles without bloodshed, and Commanding Presence also helps with Persuasion!

A DIVINE MISSION? 

I’m suggesting that a champion of Dol Arrah should have a divine mission, that the Sovereign has called them to service to fight a war. How does this fit with the distant nature of the divine in Eberron? The Sovereigns don’t manifest physically in Eberron. People can still have dreams or visions of them; the point is that a skeptic can say how do you know your dream wasn’t just a dream… or even the work of a night hag or quori? And the simple fact is that there’s no easy way TO know; it’s a matter of faith. But in general, Vassals believe that the Sovereigns speak to them through instinct and intuition. The champion may simply know what their mission is with an absolute certainty, that they realize things, or see signs they can’t quite explain in everyday events… when they hear the name Mika Rockface they simply know it is their destiny to bring her down. An intermediary step is what I describe in this article: the idea that the champion receives visions but that they aren’t entirely clear. When they see Mika Rockface, they see a bloody sword hanging over her; when they see the player character destined to become prince, they see a crown floating over their head. The champion is in touch with a divine power, but it’s not something that can be questioned. Another intermediary step is to give the champion a celestial intermediary, as often happens with spells such as commune. The champion has visions of a mighty warrior in red dragonscale armor; at some point in the future they will discover this is actually a Shavaran angel who serves Honor-In-War, who feels compelled to guide them through their mission. 

With a broad mission—restore Cyre—the war may last the entire campaign and never actually be won; it’s what drives the champion, but it’s not actually within the scope of the campaign. On the other hand, with a small, narrow war it’s possible the champion will win their war well before the campaign is over. In this case, the player and the DM must decide how to proceed. Does the champion receive a new, even greater mission? Or are they allowed to rest… in which case, the paladin could potentially be redesigned as a fighter, laying down both their divine powers and obligations? 

That’s all for now. In conclusion, in playing a champion of Dol Arrah, consider the war you’ve been charged to fight; the manner in which you receive your divine guidance; your broader devotion to the Sovereign Host; and in general, your duty to fight with honor and inspire others to do the same. Happy holidays, and thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking this question and for making these articles possible! 

Chronicles of Eberron: Sentira Lenses, Expanded Ancestries, and More!

Chronicles of Eberron is my latest release on the DM’s Guild… over two hundred pages of Eberron lore and advice. The content in Chronicles began with articles on this site, but with each chapter I reviewed, reconsidered, and expanded the material. In some case this involved significant rewriting; in others, the additions are mainly art and the mechanical elements. Here’s a look at just a few of the surprises in Chronicles of Eberron!

Art my Matthew Johnson

Sentira Lenses

Over the past few years I’ve delved into the uses of sentira, a material used by both the kalashtar and the Inspired. Sentira is a psiactive material that is, essentially, crystalized emotion. Canon long ago introduced the concept of sentira armor; now Chronicles of Eberron provides sentira weapons, lenses that allow you to cripple your enemies with bolts of emotional energy. Sentira lenses inflict psychic damage, and someone has asked what this FEELS like. In my opinion, that’s based on the type of emotion involved. It’s essentially an overwhelming, intense burst of the emotion in question, so powerful that it’s a shock to your system even if the emotion is pleasant. I think the typical Inspired weapon would use negative emotions, blasting you with fear or despair. On the other hand, I like the idea of a kalashtar lens that is a blast of love; it reduces your hit points not by hurting you, but rather by overwhelming you with bliss.

Chronicles of Eberron includes a deep chapter on Riedra and on the role of psionics in 5th edition Eberron. Sentira lenses are something Imogen Gingell and I developed for the book, expanding on the idea of psionic science.

Ancestries

How do I add this ancestry to Eberron is the question I have been asked with the most frequency over the course of the last decade. Anytime a new book comes out… how do Harengon fit into Eberron? How about Owlen? This is a topic I’ve discussed before, and Chronicles of Eberron discusses the general principles I use when making these decisions. However, it also includes more specific answers than I’ve given in the past—with concrete suggests as to how I’d add or modify thirteen ancestries for use in Eberron. If you’ve been itching to see what I’d to with grungs in my game, Chronicles has the answer!

Images by Styliani Papadaki, Brian Hagan, and Chris Burdett

Mordain’s Little Friends

Chronicles of Eberron includes an image of Mordain the Fleshweaver working at a cauldron. Some people have responded to this saying Does he have an extra hand? Nope! What he has is friends. Dragon 364 introduced skinweavers, creatures Mordain creates from the heads and hands of other creatures. Papadaki’s image is a callback to the art in Dragon 364; there’s a skinweaver hand stirring the pot, and a skinweaver head looking down from above. Of course, these aren’t his only little friends; if you look at Mordain’s belt you’ll see that he has a frightened frog—or is it a grung shrunk down with reduce—in one of his flasks!

Akiak/Doriak

One of the questions that’s come up regarding Chronicles of Eberron is why I changed the name of the dwarves of Dor Maleer from Akiak to Doriak. The short form is that they never should have been called Akiak in the first place. The Akiak are indigenous people of North America. I don’t know how this was overlooked in the first place; I didn’t work on that section of Secrets of Sarlona and don’t know how the name was developed, and I appreciate the members of the Eberron community who called this out. “Doriak” is a term that has been used by the Eberron community; it keeps enough of the original sound for some familiarity, and Do- evokes both Dor Maleer and Dolurrh.

Art by Marco Bernadini

Riedra Map

Marco Bernadini is a joy to work with. He created the planar map in Exploring Eberron, and he’s made a wonderful map of Threshold I look forward to sharing in the future. For Chronicles of Eberron we commissioned him to create a detailed map of Riedra—including callouts that gave a glimpse into each province. The details he added to the piece are astonishing. Marco developed symbols for each of the branches of Riedran government. Looking to the Provinces, he did just as we asked—giving a glimpse of a moment in each province—but he added an extra detail, working the symbols of the planes that have the greatest influence in each province into the frame of the callout. So in this image you see the ominous gate of the Final Passage, but also the symbols of Dolurrh and Risia around it.

That’s all for now! If you’ve read Chronicles of Eberron, feel free to share something that surprised you or drew your attention in the comments.

Keith Baker Presents: Chronicles of Eberron and Heraldry Shirts!

cover by Thomas Bourdon

Hektula is the Scribe of Sul Khatesh, the Keeper of the Library of Ashtakala, and the Chronicler of the Lords of Dust. Her treasured tomes hold arcane secrets still hidden from human and dragon alike. What lies beneath the Barren Sea? What powers does Mordain the Fleshweaver wield within Blackroot? Who are the Grim Lords of the Bloodsail Principality? All these secrets and many more can be found in the Chronicles of Eberron…

  • Chronicles of Eberron is a new 5E sourcebook from Eberron creator Keith Baker and designer Imogen Gingell.
  • This book explores a diverse range of topics, including lore and advice for both players and DMs, along with new monsters, treasures, spells and character options.
  • Chronicles of Eberron is available on the DMs Guild as a PDF and print-on-demand.

Eberron is vast in scope. As we close in on nearly two decades of exploring Eberron, there are still countless corners of the world that have never been dealt with in depth. I’ve personally written hundreds of articles exploring the world and offering advice, but in the past there’s always been limits on what I could do; I could write about the history of the daelkyr Avassh, but I couldn’t present a statblock for DMs seeking to pit their bold adventurers against the Twister of Roots. In Chronicles of Eberron, I expand on many of my favorite topics, and this lore is enhanced with game elements created by Imogen Gingell. Would you like to play a Stonesinger druid from the island of Lorghalen? To fight Mordain the Fleshweaver or to explore the forbidden magics of the Shadow? All this and more can be found within.

All told, Chronicles of Eberron includes 22 chapters and is over 200 pages in length. It is split into two sections. The Library covers topics that are of interest to both players and DMs. How do harengon fit into Eberron? Who are the gnomes of Pylas Pyrial? Can a player character be devoted to the Devourer? The Vault explores distant lands and deeper secrets, dealing with overlords and daelkyr, demon cities, and the realm of the the Inspired. Wherever your adventures may take you, you’ll find something you can use in Chronicles of Eberron.

The book is complete, but the process of preparing it for print on demand isn’t something we can rush; we need to review the final print proofs before we can release it. Those proofs are in the mail, and if there’s no issues we expect Chronicles of Eberron will be available at or by PAX Unplugged—the first weekend of December 2022—but there’s still a chance it could be delayed. I can’t wait to have it in my hands, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I will.

HERALDRY SHIRTS

Would you like to support your favorite nation? Now you can! These shirts are in no way official content, but if you enjoy Eberron, you might have a sense of how the Dragon Hawk, the Crowned Bear, the Lost Crown, the Blood Moon, and the Flame could fit into it. These images were created by Matthew Johnson for Chronicles of Eberron, and the shirts are available right now at Twogether Studios!

WHAT ABOUT FRONTIERS OF EBERRON: THRESHOLD?

Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold is a subsetting that explores the region that lies between Droaam and Breland. I’ve been working on it since 2020, but I had to put it on hold for pandemic and personal reasons. However, it is still in development and I expect to release it in 2023.

Thanks for your support!