IFAQ: Dullahans in Eberron

It’s been a busy month and I haven’t had a lot of time to write, in part because I’ve been making games like Cool Cool Cool, currently in its final day on Kickstarter! However, every month I answer questions from my patrons on Patreon, and I wanted to address two of those at once!

Are there any unique undead to specific cultures, or undead that show up in certain species more than others? How do dullahans fit into Eberron?

Rather than creating entirely unique undead, I tend to add regional flavor to existing creatures. Consider the ruins of Shadukar, a Thrane city set ablaze by Karrnath during the Last War, abandoned ever since due to the infestation of restless dead. Shadukar remains under an eternal haze of smoke and ash that refuses to disperse. Those who’ve entered the ruins and survive talk of smoke ghosts, moaning figures formed from soot and the scent of burnt flesh who seek to draw the heat from living creatures… and the charred, blackened bones still cloaked in a faint, smoky outline of the flesh they once wore. The practical fact is that these are just shadows and skeletons, though I add the details that smoke ghosts aren’t resistant to fire; their fiery demise is still seared into their memory, and a torch is a good way to drive off these lingering dead.

In dealing with undead, the first question I want to answer is why does this creature exist? There’s two basic paths here—Spontaneous undead and Intentional undead.

Intentional Undead are created by a sentient entity, whether that’s mortal necromancers or immortal beings. Lady Illmarrow, Katashka the Gatekeeper, the Bone King of Mabar, the long-dead Qabalrin elves of Xen’drik. Sentient undead are created for a purpose, and you should get a sense of that—the signature of the creator. Notably, Katahska the Gatekeeper delights in mortal FEAR of death and the undead, so its creations are intentionally grotesque and designed to provoke terror; while the Qabalrin sought solely to overcome death through undead. Thus, Qabalrin vampires are elegant and subtle, draining blood with delicate fangs that leave barely-visible wounds… while a vampire of Katahska uses a writhing wormlike proboscis that leaves hideous wounds, and the feeding is horrifying for both victim and observers. The Katashka vampire is supposed to provoke terror; that’s part of its purpose.

Spontaneous Undead are generally created due to an intersection of planar energies and emotion. Mabaran undead are driven to consume life force in some form (whether as blood, raw energy, or something else); they are typically hungry. Dolurrhi undead are the more traditional restless dead driven by unfinished business or an emotional anchor, something I discussed in more depth earlier this month with haunts. Mabaran undead are often monstrous, as they are hungry manifestations of entropy and despair, while Dolurrhi undead will usually display some hint of their anchors in their appearance.

So with this in mind, let’s consider the dullahan—the headless horseman. In standard 5E lore, dullahans are “the remains of villains who let vengeance consume them… Wicked knights or commanders in life, dullahans adhere to twisted codes of chivalry or soldiership.” By default, the dullahan is an easy candidate for spontaneous Dolurrhi undead. As I called out in the haunts article, battlefields where terrible tragedies occurred are often haunted; I’d say that the dullahan normally lingers in the Ethereal Veil of the battlefield where it dies, unable to cross by choice, but drawn into the world at certain times to search for its lost head. Such a dullahan could come from any culture; a Brelish commander whose head was destroyed by an arcane blast, a Dhakaani hobgoblin whose head was vaporized by a beholder, a Talenta raptor-rider whose head was stolen by a rival. Part of the idea of the spontaneous dullahan is that it can be laid to rest—you can fight it, sure, but you could also possibly resolve the situation by finding their head or by somehow offering them peace.

That’s one option. I could imagine a servant of Katashka the Gatekeeper stealing the head of a deceased hero and using it in a ritual that raises the former champion as a tormented dullahan, forced to so terror in the community it once loved until it is restored to its head; so again, the adventurers might be forced to fight the dullahan, but unless they can find its head and lay it to rest, it will always return. As noted above, with a Katashka dullahan I’d emphasize the horror—graveworms writhing in its exposed flesh, chunks of is body sloughing away as it takes damage, the sense that the dullahan is in agony even as it is forced to fight.

Another way to use an intentional dullahan would be to reverse the formula and make it a voluntary transformation: rather than seeking its lost head, the dullahan’s head could be like the phylactery of a lich. Returning to the Talenta Plains, consider the story of Headless Haralara…

When Haralara was astride her clawfoot Scythe, none could match them for speed or skill. Together they were faster than any fastieth and as silent as nightfall. Long ago, there was a night of six moons and a swordtooth titan was seen on the planes. The maskweavers called a great hunt, and said that the first hunter to draw the blood of the beast would be blessed. All knew this would surely be Haralara—and so the other hunters forged a pact, to hunt together not for the titan, but to take Haralara’s head. These were the finest hunters in the Plains save for Haralara herself. United, none could stand against them; when Haralara heard of this, she knew she was doomed. But Haralara was clever. They couldn’t take her head if they couldn’t find it; so she hide it where it would never be found, and then, riding Scythe, Headless Haralara hunted down each and every one of her enemies and took their heads. She rode with them into the night lands, where she haunts and hunts to this day; woe to the hunter who draws the absent eye of Headless Haralara.

In this case, Haralara knows where her head is… and as long as it’s hidden, she can’t be permanently destroyed. If she takes an interest in a group of adventurers—Because a halfling adventurer is the descendant of one of her old enemies? Because the adventurers killed a beast she was hunting?—they can defeat her temporarily in combat, but the only way to permanently escape her wrath is to figure out where she hid her head so long ago!

I’ll note that these thoughts on the dullahan are based on the fifth edition interpretation of the creature, which is largely inspired by “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Really, this creature should just be call a headless horseman; the dullahan is drawn from Irish folklore and has a far deeper and more significant role there than “ghost searching for its head.” I actually created statistics for this fey psychopomp in a book I wrote for 3.5 called Classic Fey. But for purposes of this article, I’m focusing on the creature as presented in fifth edition.

That’s all for now! I won’t be answering questions, but as a bonus for patrons, I’m posting four ghoul variants on Patreon! Happy Halloween!

Haunts, Borders and Veils: The Ethereal Plane of Eberron

Technically, these are images of Irian and Mabar. But they COULD be a city and its ethereal border.

The cosmology of Eberron is often depicted as a vast orrery. Each of the thirteen planes embodies a particular concept, while the material plane is the nexus where all of their ideas are expressed—the realm of life and death, war and peace, story and stagnation. The Astral Plane is the space between and beyond them, embodying nothing. What, then, is the Ethereal Plane and how does it differ from the Astral?

First of all, forget everything you know from canon sources, Eberron or otherwise. This article is about how I use the Ethereal Plane in my campaign, which combines aspects of the traditional Ethereal Plane, the Plane of Shadow, the Shadowfell, and the Feywild… and builds from there. And the first difference is, don’t call it a plane. If you want to move between planes, or between Eberron and the rest of the Multiverse, you’ll travel through the Astral Plane. The Ethereal has no defining concept, and most importantly, it has no independent existence; it’s a shadow cast by another plane. With this in mind, most scholars in Eberron don’t call it the Ethereal Plane; they call it the Ethereal Veil. Think of it as the backstage of reality, a layer that lets you slip outside reality while still being close enough to observe it.

In this article, I’ll start with a general overview of the Ethereal Veil and then delve into two additional ways you can interact with the Ethereal: Haunts and Borders.

THE ETHEREAL VEIL

The Ethereal Veil is a gray shadow of the world. For the most part, the Veil functions exactly as described in canon.

While on the Ethereal Plane, you can see and hear the plane you originated from, which is cast in shades of gray, and you can’t see anything there more than 60 feet away. You can only affect and be affected by other creatures on the Ethereal Plane. Creatures that aren’t there can’t perceive you or interact with you, unless they have the ability to do so. You ignore all objects and effects that aren’t on the Ethereal Plane, allowing you to move through objects you perceive on the plane you originated from. The Ethereal Plane also disobeys the laws of gravity; a creature there can move up and down as easily as walking.

Standing in the Veil, you see a gray shadow of reality. You can see the misty forms of buildings, of trees, of people going about their business… but you cannot be seen or heard, and you cannot affect the adjacent reality. With few exceptions, the Veil is empty. It reflects the adjacent reality, but it holds nothing of its own, and for this reason people rarely stay there for long; there’s no food, no water, and most of the time, no people. As noted earlier, the Veil is an extension of whatever plane you’re currently on. Eberron has an Ethereal Veil, but so does Fernia and so does Syrania; the Veil of Fernia is a gray shadow of Fernia, where the fires are cold and you can pass through the obsidian walls.

Two important facts are that while you can see the images of things in the Material plane—what I’ll call echoes—you can’t affect them and can move through them. This includes the ground beneath your feet. As called out in the description above, “a creature there can move up and down as easily as walking.” This looks like walking, and uses the traveler’s standard movement speed; it’s simply that your feet find purchase wherever you want them to. This also means that you could, for example, just start walking straight down toward the core of the planet. However, you’re walking blind. If you hit a Border or a Haunt, the matter you’re dealing with may suddenly become impermeable, or gravity might reassert itself. And if your magic should fail, the standard rules say “You immediately return to the plane you originated from in the spot you currently occupy. If you occupy the same spot as a solid object or creature when this happens, you are immediately shunted to the nearest unoccupied space that you can occupy and take force damage equal to twice the number of feet you are moved.” If you’re deep in solid rock, that could be a very unpleasant return.

Breaching The Veil

The people of Khorvaire know the Ethereal Veil exists, but there’s limited ways to reach it. The two most common tools are blink (which has a maximum duration of one minute) and etherealness (a high level spell that lasts for up to eight hours). When you enter the Veil, the magic that keeps you there also affects the objects you bring with you. If you blink across the Veil and drop a Shard of Rak Tulkhesh it will return to the material plane as soon as the spell ends… so it’s not an easy dumping ground for cursed objects, nor is it an easy matter to build things there (though if you time things right, you might be able to drop a bomb in there just before it explodes… just ask Three Widow Jane in my Threshold campaign!).

Of course, the Veil isn’t much use if there’s no good way for adventurers to get there. Here’s a few options to consider.

  • Blink is one of the powers of the Dragonmark of Passage, and House Orien has been exploring the Veil since the mark first manifested. Throughout its history, the house has experimented with ways to increase the duration of Ethereal jaunts and to take advantage of their connection to the Veil. The oldest tool in their arsenal is the passage salve, an uncommon form of oil of etherealness that only takes 1 minute to apply; it can be used by any creature, but only an heir with the Mark of Passage can activate its power. The Veil torc allows the Passage-marked wearer to cast etherealness as if it was a 3rd level spell, though the duration is only one hour. The Twelve have been continuing to work on this and may well come up with prototype focus items or eldritch machines that can allow groups of people to linger in the Veil—and naturally, they’ll need bold adventurers to test these new developments!
  • The Guild of Endless Doors has always been interested in the Ethereal Veil, and they have been working on their own counterparts to Orien’s focus items. The Guild lacks the resources of the Twelve and anything they produce will be available on a smaller scale, but on the other hand, you won’t need a dragonmark to make use of it. And the Royal Eyes of Aundair could be pushing the Guild to fast-track Ethereal tools that can be used by Aundairian spies!
  • Ancient Secrets. Humanity may not have mastered the Veil… but the elves of Aerenal are more advanced than the people of the Five Nations, and the dragons of Argonnessen are more powerful still. Sul Khatesh may hold secrets of the Veil that she could share with her Court of Shadows… but at what cost? These paths could provide adventurers—or their enemies—with tools or rituals that support Ethereal exploration.
  • Breaking Reality. Reality is a toy in the clutches of the daelkyr. A cult of the Dragon Below might tear apart the Veil or even collapse a chunk of reality into it. Consider Stranger Things!

The Dangers of the Veil

Eberron is a world where the supernatural is part of nature. The Ethereal Veil is part of life, just like air and water—and just like fish adapt to water and birds soar through the air, there are creatures in Eberron who naturally interact with the Ethereal Veil. Phase spiders are a perfect example of this—a predator with a natural ability to cross the Veil at will. While blink dogs currently teleport directly from point to point, I like to take their name literally and imagine them darting through the Veil, if only for a moment.

Night Hags are another possible threat. Along with their nightmares, these fiends have always had free access to the Veil. Every night hag has at least one sanctum hidden in the Ethereal Veil, and most have left other markers and monuments scattered around it. An old iron lantern hidden in the veil might monitor dreams, calling to the hag who forged it when there’s something worthy of attention. A monolith might be a cache where a hag stores the (literal) nightmares she collects—or she might have a stable of equine nightmares hidden in the Veil. Given the vast scope of the Ethereal Veil, adventurers are unlikely to stumble upon hag creations by accident, but night hags can definitely be a source of deadly traps or enigmatic elements waiting to be found across the Veil.

Another traditionally Ethereal-dwelling species are the Ethergaunts. Originally they’re presented as an alien species with an advanced civilization in the Ethereal Plane. Canon lore suggested that they were tied to the Daelkyr. Personally, I’d take a different approach. I don’t want a powerful civilization in the Veil, and the Daelkyr have enough going on. But I love the idea of eerie alien scientists who are watching us from beyond the Veil—who could be in the room with you right now. I love the thought of an Ethergaunt triggering a series of bizarre and seemingly impossible events—a man killed, the pieces of his body discovered in different locked vaults—in pursuit of fear, or even of children’s toys appearing from nowhere as a way to trigger joy. With this in mind, I’d tie the Ethergaunts to Mordain the Fleshweaver. Mordain never leaves Blackroot. But I love the idea that he’s created a corps of agents who are active all over the world… but active on the other side of the Veil. I love the idea of a man being questioned about an impossible murder, and when the Medani inquisitve casts see invisibility they are shocked by the hideous creature watching the interrogation from across the Veil. And the point of this approach is that each ethergaunt has its own task. It’s not introducing another organized enemy; it’s an army of invisible terrors, each pursuing a unique and unpredictable goal as they gather data for their creator. The final piece of this puzzle is how Mordain created the ethergaunts. Were they made from raw materials? Or did Mordain kidnap Orien heirs—beneath their armor, do ethergaunts have a bizarrely evolved form of the Mark of Passage?

Beyond this, part of the role of the Veil is to be undiscovered and unknown. It is as vast as the reality itself, and there may be powers within it that humanity has simply never encountered. It’s an alien world waiting to be discover that is all around us, just beyond what our eyes can see.

All this deals with the broad swath of the Veil, the gray shadow of the reality. But there are places where the Ethereal takes a more concrete form; the two most common of these are Haunts and Borders.

ETHEREAL HAUNTS

As described in this article, most ghosts in Eberron are “souls trapped between Eberron and Dolurrh, driven to complete their unfinished business or held fast by emotions or memories they can’t let go. While they have at least some of their memories from life, most ghosts aren’t fully aware of their condition or the passage of time, and they generally can’t retain new information.” Let’s call these restless spirits lingering ghosts.

When a lingering ghost is bound to a location—typically due to traumatic events that occurred there—it resides in the Ethereal Veil. Most such ghosts aren’t aware of the passage of time. They linger in the ether until something pulls them across the Veil, typically something tied to the anchors keeping them from Dolurrh. Most of the time, a lingering ghost simply drifts through the shadows of the Ethereal Veil, endlessly retracing its steps until something triggers a reaction. However, a lingering ghost driven by exceptionally powerful emotions or memories can reshape the Veil, imposing its own memories upon the the shadows of reality. So it may be that the ir’Halan Manor is a crumbling ruin stripped by looters long ago—but if a warlock blinks into the Veil, they find themselves in a vibrant replica of ir’Halan Manor at its height. There’s a fire in the hearth, music in the air, and guests mingling and murmuring. This is a Haunt—a recreation of the night that Lady ir’Halan was betrayed and murdered. It’s here that her ghost dwells, endlessly recreating that final night. Ethereal travelers can interact with objects and effects that are part of the Haunt; someone who blinks into the memory of ir’Halan Manor will find that they can’t walk through the walls and that normal gravity is in effect, and that they can take a drink from the waiter passing by. However, for the most part the elements of a Haunt are only real within the Veil. A traveler can take a drink from a waiter and they can savor the flavor of it… but when they blink back to reality, the glass fades from their hand and the wine itself fades from their system. In many ways it’s like a powerful illusion; a popular arcane theory asserts that many illusion spells function by shaping the Veil and pulling it into reality. But while you’re in the Veil, a haunt seems real.

The classic Haunt is tied to a single ghost; if that ghost is destroyed or laid to rest, the Veil will return to its gray shadow of reality. However, a Haunt can also be shaped by a mass surge of emotions or pain so powerful that they leave psychic scars on reality. The site of a massacre, a prisoner of war camp, an orphanage… all of these can leave Haunts on the other side of the Veil. Where the ghost Haunts often perfectly recreate a moment from the past, traumatic Haunts are often more surreal. If you’re in the ruins of a village destroyed by brutal soldiers during the Last War, the Haunt on the other side of the Veil could be haunted by shadowy creatures that blend the traits of Brelish soldier and beast, using the statistics of worgs; the Veil remembers the terror and brutality, not the precise details. As with ghost Haunts, traumatic haunts feel real to people who enter the Veil; travelers can’t move through objects, people can’t walk through the air, and threats can inflict real damage.

While Haunts are usually tied to locations, a lingering ghost can also be tied to an object… or even to a particular event, such as a song. In such instances the ghost won’t completely transform the Veil, but it will leak elements of its anchoring trauma into the environment.

See invisibility is a 2nd level spell and allows the caster to peer beyond the Veil. As such, it’s an important tool for mediums and exorcists; as it’s a gift of the Mark of Detection, House Medani inquisitives may be called in to investigate suspected Haunts.

Beyond ghosts and trauma, there’s another force that can create Haunts within the Veil: the Overlords of the First Age. An unbound overlord can shape reality; a bound overlord might reshape the Veil in its image. The most logical place for this would be around an Overlord’s prison. If you cross the Veil near the prison of the Wild Heart, you might find that the echoes of the woods are not only solid but writhing and aggressive. The Veil in the vicinity of one of Rak Tulkhesh’s prison shards might be stained with blood and the refuse of recent battle… a foreshadowing of Rak Tulkhesh’s desires. Another possibility is that the devotions of a Cult of the Dragon Below could channel the influence of their overlord to shape the Veil in their place of power. Sul Khatesh’s Court of Shadows imagine a magical kingdom that exists beyond the world; it could be that through their devotion, a powerful chapter of the Court could create this shadow-kingdom on the other side of the Veil. If so, the question is whether Sul Khatesh allows her cultists to cross the Veil, or if they simply have the ability to SEE these umbral spires rising behind reality when others cannot. In a twist—in part because otherwise it would be all too easy for House Medani to monitor cults—in my campaign Overlord Haunt effects can’t be seen by see invisibility, though true seeing will reveal their presence; just as rakshasa resist low level spells, the influence of the overlords isn’t so easily revealed.

Lingering Ghosts and Shades

Lingering ghosts usually don’t know that they’re ghosts. They linger because they’re trapped in a particular moment or by a powerful anchor, and they interpret all events through that emotional lens. Often when dealing with adventurers, a lingering ghost will fixate on one or more adventurers who bear some similarity to characters from their own personal drama—recognizing the bard as the lover who spurned them, or the rogue as the cousin who ruined them—and completely ignore the other adventurers. They generally can’t be reasoned with and simply won’t hear things that don’t fit their narrative. Persuasion and Intimidation often have little impact on them, because they essentially can’t change their minds… unless the speaker is actually invoking part of the ghost’s story, in which case a check might have advantage.

Lingering ghosts can use the standard ghost stat block from the Monster Manual, but they aren’t visible on the material plane while in the Veil; there could be lingering ghosts around you right now, but you’ll never know unless something pulls them across the Veil. Also, because lingering ghosts don’t know they’re ghosts, they don’t always take full tactical advantage of their capabilities in combat. They may use Horrifying Visage instinctively, manifesting their horrifying visage in a moment of anguish or rage. Possession is often used to seize control of an adventurer who has some similarities to the ghost’s living form; the ghost doesn’t recognize that they are possessing someone and believes the body is their own. However, the classic ghost stat block is only a starting point. Depending on the ghost’s scenario and the strength of its anguish, it could be a simple poltergeist or even something as powerful as a dullahan. While the core stat blocks are a good place to start, part of what makes encounters with lingering ghosts interesting is to vary them based on the story and unique nature of the ghost.

  • To harm the ghost, you must recreate the circumstances of its original death. The man who died in fire might be immune to all damage types except fire. A ghost who died in a fateful duel could be immune to all physical damage except from rapiers, and vulnerable to damage from the rapier that actually killed them. If a ghost has such extreme resistances, you might reduce the power of its withering touch—adventurers will need time to realize their attacks aren’t working and find an effective solution.
  • The ghost can’t attack as an action. Instead, it has three legendary actions it can use to attack an enemy who attacks it. It can taunt and provoke, but if people simply ignore it, it can’t initiate violence.
  • Instead of targeting everyone within 60 feet, apply the effects of Horrifying Visage to victims of the ghost’s physical attack. When the ghost touches a target, the victim has a flash of its anchoring trauma; this is what causes the fear. The aging effect could be removed or reduced to 1d4 years per attack, reflecting the sheer shock to the victim’s system.
  • The ghost has no physical attack, Horrifying Visage, or Possession. However, it can cast phantasmal killer at will, drawing the victim into the nightmare of the ghost’s own death. It will typically focus on one person at a time, ignoring all others while it psychically crushes its chosen victim.
  • Instead of Possession, the ghost has the power to draw a single victim into the Ethereal Veil. The victim’s physical body remains on the material plane, but their consciousness and likeness are pulled into the Veil, where they can interact with it as if they were physically present. So the victim’s companions can see the character struggling with an unknown foe, but they can’t perceive the ghost or interact with it in any way.
  • Instead of Possession, the ghost can cast dream, targeting creatures across the Veil. It may target someone it identifies with, forcing them to suffer visions of the ghost’s demise, or it could target someone it blames for its tragedy.
  • Rather than inflicting necrotic damage, a ghost’s attack could reflect something about their life. A duelist could inflict slashing damage with a spectral rapier; a pyromancer could inflict fire damage with a burning touch; a spurned lover could inflict psychic damage, literally breaking the heart of their victim.

Taking a scenario like the ir’Halan manor, the house may appear to be full of people, and the people in these crowd scenes aren’t full ghosts. They’re shades, memories plucked from the life of the lingering ghost. Often shades have no real existence. They’re essentially manifestations of the phantasmal force spell. Any direct attack or defense against such a shade should be resolved with a Wisdom saving throw against the spell DC of the lingering ghost; a shade’s attack deals 1d6 psychic damage. More potent shades could use the statistics of a shadow or a poltergeist; alternately, they could use the statistics of other creatures (such as the worg-soldiers in the massacre haunt). Like the lingering ghost, shades are bound to play out their roles and may not use abilities they possess if they don’t fit their role in the story.

A Haunt reflects the anchors that are binding the ghost to the world, which may not be related to the actual moment of their death. The ir’Halan manor scenario may reflect the night Lady ir’Halan was murdered, but the haunted Cannith foundry may reflect the day that Castar d’Cannith murdered his father or ruined his partner; even if Castar died a natural death, it’s his intense guilt over what he did in the foundry that binds him to the world. In dealing with anchors, consider the following questions.

  • Was the ghost the victim in the scenario—they were murdered, financially ruined, framed for a crime they didn’t commit? Or are they anchored by guilt for the wrongs they inflicted on others?
  • If the ghost was a victim, do they want bloody revenge? If they don’t want blood, do they want the wrongdoer to feel remorse or to publicly acknowledge what was done? Or do they just want the truth to be known by the general public?
  • If the ghost was a perpetrator, do they want to make reparations for the crimes that they committed? Do they want the truth to be known? Or do they refuse to acknowledge that they have done something wrong, and they actually want any lingering evidence of their guilt to be wiped out?
  • Another option is that the ghost died with a task unfinished. This could be very concrete—a letter that was never delivered, an arcane experiment that was never completed, a buried treasure that was supposed to be found. Or it could be more abstract—they wanted a town to prosper, a child to have a good home.

Loosening an anchor could be a task for an altruistic group of adventurers who want to lay a ghost to rest. However, it can also simply be used to set the tone and parameters of a haunt. A murdered many may not be able to rest until the entire family line of his murderer has been exterminated. The adventurers may consider this extreme and ruthless desire to be vile and cruel; the point is that the ghost’s haunt may reflect their hunger for bloody vengeance, and if one of the player characters is part of the murderer’s bloodline, it could drive the story.

THE BORDER ETHEREAL

The material plane is influenced by all of the other planes. Where this influence is especially strong, you find manifest zones. Traits of the outer plane bleed into the material, and planar energies may produce unusual flora or fauna. However, often manifest zones aren’t obvious to the naked eye. It’s the influence of Syrania that makes it possible for the towers of Sharn to scrape the sky, but if you never try flying, you might never notice its effects.

This changes when you cross the Veil. Where another plane touches the material, you’ll find the Border Ethereal—a dramatic blending of the two realms. The Border Ethereal generally reflects the reality of the material plane in its layout and structure; when you blink into the Veil from a tower in Sharn, you’ll still be in a tower with roughly the same shape. But the cliffs over the Dagger are now formed of thick cloudstuff. The towers themselves are formed of crystal and mist. You can see shadow angels circling in the skies, along with whorls of living cloud-stuff (the minor air elementals mentioned on page 152 of Rising From The Last War).

Likewise, imagine a Fernian manifest zone in the King’s Forest of Breland. In the material plane, this stretch of jungle is unseasonably warm and prone to flash fires. But when you cross the veil, you find that same forest, except that the trees are always on fire and yet never consumed. Mephits leap from tree to tree, delighting in the flames. While the trees are never consumed, their flames will burn any travelers who touch them, and the stifling heat is deadly to mortals.

In short, the Border Ethereal takes on some of the elements of the traditional Feywild (Thelanian Borders) and Shadowfell (Borders with Dolurrh or Mabar), while adding a host of other blended realms. However, the stories of the Border Ethereal are smaller in scope and scale than the stories of the planes; you might make a deal with a terrifying hag in a Thelanian Border, but if you want to deal with an archfey or dance in the Palace of the Moon, you need to go to Thelanis itself.

You can use any of the methods described in Breaching the Veil to reach a Border, but sometimes there are other options unique to the manifest zone. Dance in the ring of mushrooms when Rhaan is full and you might end up on the other side of the Veil. Sacrifice something you love in fire, and your grief might drag you across the Fernian border. These passages shouldn’t be easy—it’s not like the locals should have regular commerce with the Border Ethereal—and most zones don’t have them, but they can provide ways for adventurers to have an adventure across the Veil without having to spend a fortune on oil of etherealness, and a way to have a taste of the planes without entirely leaving home.

Denizens of the Border Ethereal

One of the major things that distinguishes the Border Ethereal from the planes they’re connected to are the inhabitants. The Border Ethereal resembles a blend of the two planes, and people can see shadows of the inhabitants on both sides of the veil. In the example given above, the angels that can be seen in the skies of the Border Ethereal in Sharn aren’t present in the border; they’re shadowy images of the denizens of Syrania, flying through their own skies. The borders of Shavarath appear war-torn and you may see misty images of conscripts and fiends, but the damage you see in the environment around you wasn’t actually caused by recent action. So for the most part, the Border Ethereal is empty and relatively safe for travelers. However, there are exceptions.

  • Anchors. Some Ethereal Borders are home to an anchoring entity, who plays the same basic role as a lingering ghost does with a haunt. This is usually a powerful immortal from the associated plane, but it’s rarely one of the most powerful beings in that plane. A Mabaran Border could be held by a Ultroloth servant of the Empress of Shadows, or a powerful banshee sworn to the Queen of All Tears. A forested Thelanian border might be bound to the tragic story of an exceptional dryad who is a daughter of the Forest Queen, but you won’t find the Forest Queen herself on the Border. A Lamannian Border might be anchored by a massive megafauna beast, while a powerful beholder might watch the world from the Border Ethereal. If it’s possible to pass through a border, the Anchor Lord may control the passage. Anchor lords typically can’t leave their borders, but those with an interest in the material might well recruit mortal agents; this could be an interesting, smaller-scale patron for a warlock, if a campaign is based in a particular region.
  • Denizens. Sometimes Borders will have a small population of native creatures from the associated plane. Mabaran Borders are often home to shadows, and sometimes when powerful undead are destroyed in Mabaran zones they linger in the Veil instead of going directly to the Endless Night; a slain vampire might continue to haunt their castle as a wraith in the Border Ethereal. Restless souls can linger on the edge of Dolurrh. A Thelanian Border might have a small population of native sprites… and a Xoriat Border may be home to aberrations. Again, Borders generally aren’t crowded, and the natives will be outnumbered by the misty reflections of the people on the material plane… but some are inhabited.
  • Shades. As with Haunts, Borders can manifest illusions relating to their story—creatures that seem so real that they can inflict slight damage, but which have no ongoing existence or logical ecology surrounding them.
  • Travelers. Especially in a Border with no Anchor, it’s always possible you’ll encounter other travelers. Set aside Night Hags, Chamber observers, Lords of Dust, or Ethergaunts and you could still find Orien heirs or Royal Eyes of Aundair using the latest tools from the Guild of Endless Doors to spy across the Veil. But in general the Ethereal Veil is a place you pass through—not a place where mortals dwell.

Passing Through

The Ethereal Veil extends from the plane its attached to, but no farther. There’s no Deep Ethereal, no curtains to other planes; the Astral Plane is the primary corridor for travel. However, the Borders are where planes come together, and it may be possible to move between material and the connected planes in such places. Anchor Lords often have the power to open passages for travelers. Otherwise, passages are often well hidden and may require particular actions to open. There might be a gate of rusted iron in a Shavarath Border that only opens when blood is spilled in anger, or a clearing in Thelanis that provides passage when adventurers tell the story of their destination.

The Effects of the Planes

Typically the Border Ethereal resembles the overlapping region in the Material Plane—the material foundation—transformed to reflect the influence of the outer plane. The Lamannian Border of a city will be overgrown; the Shavaran Border of a city will be shattered by war. The misty echoes of the creatures of the material plane can be seen moving around, and occasionally echoes of extraplanar beings can be seen as well.

A crucial feature of the Border Ethereal is that its structures are solid. Explorers can’t walk through the burning trees of a forest in a Fernian Border, or the fortified walls of a Shavaran Border. Gravity is also usually in effect in Borders, so people can’t walk through the air. Here’s a few elements you could find in the Border Ethereal; the planar traits referred to are described in Exploring Eberron.

  • DAANVI. Angles feel sharper. People naturally move to an underlying rhythm; the Plane of Truth and No Chance properties (ExE) are usually in effect. Structures or plants may be formed from metal, perfect and precise. Anything naturally chaotic—the patterns of ivy, clouds—are structured and reliable. Misty images of marching modrons can occasionally be seen.
  • DAL QUOR. The destruction of Crya severed Dal Quor’s direct connections to the material plane, and just as there are no manifest zones, there’s no Border Ethereal between Dal Quor and Eberron.
  • DOLURRH. At a glance, the Border of Dolurrh looks just like the rest of the Ethereal Veil—a grey echo of the material plane, perhaps with a little more mist clinging to the edges. Shades often linger in Dolurrhi borders. Some are husks whose memories have been stripped away, vague grey outlines of people. Others are the spirits of people who have recently died in the area—not so restless as to become lingering ghosts, yet still clinging to the world, unwilling to slip away. Like lingering ghosts, such spirits usually can’t comprehend their situation—but they know they have somewhere to be, something to do. The Dolurrh Border is a dangerous place; the Eternal Entrapment and Inevitable Ennui traits are in effect, and anyone who lingers too long can get trapped forever.
  • FERNIA. First and foremost, FIRE. Things burn without being consumed. Bodies of water may be replaced by magma or pure fire. Obsidian, brass, and igneous stone are common materials, and the air may be filled with smoke and ash. The Deadly Heat property of Fernia is in effect.
  • IRIAN. The Pure Light property of Irian means that there’s no darkness in an Irian Border. Colors are bright and cheerful. Plants and wildlife appear healthy and vibrant, and things seem fresh and new. Most Irian zones also have the Life Triumphant property; it’s a good place to take shelter when you’re pursued by undead.
  • KYTHRI. A Kythri border has a general resemblance to its material inspiration, but it’s always slowly changing. As one element drifts further away from the aspect of the material that cast it, another will drift back toward it; so again, overall, it resembles the material plane but is constantly shifting. Building materials are constantly in flux; if there’s a row of houses, one might be made from stone and another made from straw; give it an hour and they could both be made from hard candy. The Kythri border has the Constant Change and The Odds Are Odd properties.
  • LAMANNIA. Natural features are exaggerated and weather effects are more dramatic. If the border is in an urbanized area, it will resemble the Titan’s Folly layer of Lamannia: buildings will be overgrown, with roots cracking foundations and nature reclaiming the land. Even if there are no denizens in the Border, shadows of massive beasts can be seen moving through the land. It has the Primordial Matter property of Lamannia.
  • MABAR. The Eternal Shadows and Necrotic Power properties of Mabar can be felt in the Border Ethereal, consuming bright light and bolstering undead. The landscape resembles the material foundation, but plants are withered and dying and structures are decrepit and crumbling; it’s a vision of ruin and entropy. Shadows congregate in Mabaran Borders, often following the movements of people in the material world; sometimes their movements can be seen in mortal shadows.
  • RISIA. Everything is either formed from ice or encrusted with it. Liquids are frozen. Risian Borders have the Lethal Cold and Stagnation effects. There are rarely any creatures in a Risian Border; it is cold and empty.
  • SHAVARATH. Imagine the world at war. The Border resembles its material foundation, but cast through the lens of a bitter, prolonged conflict. Some buildings are ruined, others are fortified. There are craters and smoldering fires. While occasionally there are shades battling or misty visions of fiends and angels, more often than not it feels like an active war zone, as though the enemy could strike at any moment, but no one ever does. This Border has the Bloodletting property of Shavarath.
  • SYRANIA. Syranian Borders take different forms, reflecting the aspects of the plane that manifest in the connected zone. In the Border of Sharn, the Unburdened property is in effect and all creatures can fly; as mentioned earlier, structures are formed of crystal and mist and animate clouds drift around. Another Border might be more grounded, but have the Gentle Thoughts and Universal Understanding properties, allowing all spoken languages to be understood.
  • THELANIS. Every Thelanian Border has a story, and builds on the material foundation to sell that story. In one forest, the woods may grow darker and deeper, promising that wolves and far deadlier things lurk just off the path; in another forest, the trees may be full of dancing lights, with misty images of satyrs dancing in the groves. A city may become more beautiful and magical, or it could seem cruel and oppressive if the driving story is one of a bitter tyrant. The story of the Border will be well known to anyone who lives in the region. In the case of the bitter tyrant, the actual rulers may take pains not to resemble the cruel leader of the tale… or it may be that the Border seeps into reality and drives the locals to be cruel. Storybook Logic is in effect, and where there are fey, Words Have Power.
  • XORIAT. There is no predicting what a Xoriat border will look like, but it’s always strange and usually disturbing. One Xoriat border may perfectly resemble its material foundation until you realize that all the structures are actually made of flesh and blood; the buildings quiver when you approach, and that low moan isn’t the wind. In another, writhing tentacles stretch up from the earth, burrowing through buildings and grasping any travelers who come to close. Mirrors ripple and reveal unpleasant truths. Colors are disturbing and gravity is unreliable; the Strange Reality property of Xoriat is always in effect.

WHAT ABOUT…

  • The Plane of Shadow? In my campaign, the Ethereal Veil and the Plane of Shadow are two different words for the same thing. The Feywild is a term that could be used to describe Thelanian Borders, while the Shadowfell could describe Mabaran or Dolurrhi borders.
  • Plane Shift? The spell Plane Shift can’t transport you to the Ethereal Veil, as it’s not a plane.
  • Secret Chest? The spell Secret Chest is tied to the Astral Plane, not the Ethereal Veil—as previous discussed in the Subspace section of the Astral Plane article. In general, Ethereal travel takes you sideways to your current location. Any magical effect that creates a new extradimensional space or that connects planes together should be tied to the Astral Plane.
  • Wild Zones? The Wild Zones of Sarlona are exceptionally powerful manifest zones—often described as planar beachheads. My personal inclination is that Wild Zones don’t have Ethereal Borders—that the reason they are wild is that the Border Ethereal normally acts as a buffer between the planes, but has here collapsed and fused them directly together. This reflects a dramatic breakdown of the cosmic design and I’d also say it’s the source of the Reality Storms—raging surges of planar energy. How could such a thing happen? It’s a mystery, but it could well be tied to the Sarlonan Overlord Ran Iishiv the Unmaker, infamously driven to tear down reality; the Unmaker may have begun this process by tearing away the Ethereal Veil.
  • The Radiant Citadel? In my campaign, I’d put the Radiant Citadel in the Astral Plane. Personally, I’d make the civilizations of the Citadel legacies of previous incarnations of the Material Plane, just like Githberron. A key question would be if all or some of the civilizations came from the same world, or if each one comes from a different echo of the current reality. It could well be that the Citadel offered sanctuary to the Githyanki, but they spurned it. If I went with this approach, another important question would be the role of the Concord Jewels. Does each jewel hold a preserved version of the civilization even though its world has been lost? Or do the civilizations now only exist in the Citadel itself, while the Jewels take you to the broken worlds that are lost in the Maze of Realities?

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments, but I won’t be answering questions. If you’d like to ask me questions on this or other topics, check out my Patreon! And thanks to my patrons for making these articles possible.

How We Roll: Sovereign Saints and Relics

Saint Isti the Beacon, Blessed of Dol Arrah; Phoenix art by Rich Ellis and Grace Alison!

Each month I take questions from my Patrons. This month, someone asks…

Could you provide any details on specific relics, saints, or stories of the Sovereign Host?

I’m afraid I don’t have a secret stash of Sovereign relics I’ve been saving for a special occasion. I could make up some examples off the top of my head, but in the words of Jurian the Wise, “Give a DM a relic and they have fuel for one adventure; give them a table and they have fuel for a campaign.” Far be it from me to ignore the wisdom of one beloved by Aureon—and so, here’s a table for you to work with!

But first, it’s important to define what we mean by saint. It’s commonly understood that some people form an especially close bond to the Sovereigns, and are capable of performing miracles or sharing the blessings of the Sovereigns with others. However, the Pyrinean faith doesn’t believe that these people continue to affect the world after death. The Sovereigns are always with us; you don’t need Saint Isti to bless your blade, because Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah are with you right now. However, there were saints, and they left their mark on the world. There are still stories of Saint Isti the Beacon, how she defeated hordes of undead with her shining blade. There’s a battlefield named after her, and her sword is one of the great treasures of the Sovereign Temple of Passage. You won’t call on Saint Isti to intervene on your behalf, but you might invoke her as an inspiring example, or seek out her undead-smiting blade, or stumble into a cemetery dedicated to her memory. It’s also the case that this table could be used to generate living Sovereign saints. Perhaps the small village you’re passing through turns out to be home to Davan the Old, a devotee of Arawai who is said to have brought an end to a terrible plague!

So with all that said, let’s see some saints and relics!

d20NameTraitTied ToRelicAssociated With A…
1AstaThe OldArawaiFavored Weapon… Plague
2DavanThe StrongArawaiTool… Rebellion
3IstiThe QuickAureonInstrument… Temple
4MorasThe BeaconAureonRing… Beloved Song
5TaraThe UnlovedBalinorCloak or Robe… War or Battlefield
6DragoThe KindBalinorBelt… Prison
7BesreThe ForgottenBoldreiHair… Village or Town
8JurianThe WiseBoldreiBook… Fountain or Pond
9KetThe TrueDol ArrahBoots or Shoes… Tree or Forest
10UrikThe YoungDol ArrahArmor or Shield… Cave or Peak
11ThedaThe GentleDol DornAmulet… Ruin
12LarisThe SmallDol DornMirror… Cemetery or Vault
13BelethThe CleverKol KorranScroll… University or Library
14KaineThe BoldKol KorranGloves… Marketplace
15HarielThe GrimOlladraLantern… Dragonmarked House
16CordThe FrailOlladraFingerbone… Noble Family
17SedeThe ArcaneOnatarEye… Manifest Zone
18VedimThe WarriorOnatarTooth… Undead or Aberrations
19ChantalynThe UnseenThe HostSkull… Fiend
20LukarThe BeautifulThe Dark SixMartyring Weapon… Dragon

Using the Table

A few things to keep in mind…

  • Names. I’ve given you twenty names to work with, but you can always make up a new name. You can certainly have Bob the Bold. Or take the name of a player character and roll to see which legendary saint they were named after! “Fasil, did you know you’re named after Fasil the Frail, a saint of Onatar who founded this town?”
  • Traits. Think about how the chosen trait matches up to the Sovereign associated with the character. Sede the Arcane makes perfect sense as a saint of Aureon, but Kaine the Frail may feel like a weird choice to be a saint of Dol Dorn. I say embrace and explore that. We know that the virtues of Dol Dorn are strength and courage. It could be that Kaine the Frail had fragile bones from a curse, but when his town was attacked by brigands he displayed impossible strength in fighting them; or it could be that while he was physically weak, he had indomitable courage that others knew was a gift of Dol Dorn. The trait is something that stands out about the saint, but it could be an aspect that’s in addition to the blessings they received from the Sovereigns.
  • Associated Sovereign. Vassals revere all the Sovereigns. However, saints are often associated with a particular Sovereign, and this suggests their background or skill set. Most likely, a saint associated with Dol Dorn will be celebrated for courage or skill at arms, whether they were a career soldier or a folk hero; a saint tied to Aureon might have been a scholar, a wizard, or a judge. combine this with their Trait and see what story suggests itself. A saint associated with the Dark Six could be tied to one of the Three Faces cults—they were blessed by the Mockery in the role of Dol Azur—or it could be that what they’re best known for is opposing one of the Dark Six.
  • Relic. What has the saint left behind? Have these relics been found, or have people been searching for the Gloves of Laris the Quick for generations? As with traits, think about the associated sovereign when establishing the details of the relics. Gloves associated with Dol Dorn are likely gauntlets that provide excellent protection, while gloves tied to Olladra are probably gloves of thievery. “Tool” and “Instrument” are intentionally vague because of this. A saint of Onatar will have smith’s tools, while a tool of Olladra could be dice or a deck of cards. A key question is was the relic a tool used by the saint in life, or is it simply all they’ve left behind? The point of having a skull on the table isn’t that the saint carried a skull in life; it’s that the saint’s actual skull has been preserved and is thought to be blessed.
  • Association. This suggests one of the best known legends of the saint, and the mark they’ve left on the world. The question is what they had to do with the thing in question. If they’re tied to a village, did they found the village? Protect it from disaster? Die there? If they’re associated with a plague, did they stop the plague or fight the demon that unleashed it? If they’re tied to a Dragonmarked House, was the saint a scion of the house or did they take a stand against it? If they’re associated with a prison, is it because they imprisoned a fiend (as Tira imprisoned Bel Shalor)? Because they died in a prison, which is now a cursed ruin? Or because they founded a prison, perhaps associated with their Sovereign—a debtor’s prison that’s also a temple to Kol Korran, or a prison associated with Dol Arrah that seeks to lead criminals back to the light?

You don’t need to use all these rows at once. You CAN create a saint with ties to a relic and a village… but you could also use this table when someone finds a magic item to add flavor to it. It’s a +1 sword, but guess what, it’s the sword of Hariel the Grim, who we all know from that beloved song! You might assume that because it’s a sword, it’s tied to Dol Dorn… but you could instead roll for a Sovereign and change the sword accordingly. If it’s the sword of a saint of Aureon, were they an eldritch warrior who inscribed their favorite spell into the steel of the blade? Or is the sword itself a key to a hidden vault of knowledge?

An example that came up on the Eberron discord was Jurian the Unseen, Saint of Boldrei, associated with a Ring and a Plague. On the surface, this might seem like a jumble of entirely unrelated things. My suggestion is that Saint Jurian had a ring of invisibility and traveled unseen through villages that had been sealed up due to fear of the plague, whispering messages of hope or bringing tiny gifts that lifted the spirits of those left to die, giving them the strength to fight the plague. It’s believed he eventually succumbed to the plague, but no one knows; if he died, he was still wearing his ring, and his body was never found. The main point is that if you’ve just found a ring of invisibility and it turns out it’s actually the Ring of St. Jurian, wow, are you just going to use it to pick some pockets? Or are you going to try to live up to its history? This is also an interesting way to explore sentient magic items; perhaps a fragment of Jurian lingers with the ring, and if you use it wisely and well, he will offer you guidance and unlock the additional powers of the ring.

I’ve shared Aureon’s knowledge with you—what you do with it is up to you! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible; check out the Patreon if you want to ask your own questions or see the exclusive articles!

IFAQ Roundup: Bugbears, Deathless Drow, Seeker Funerals and More!

Every month, my Patreon supporters can ask me questions. Here’s a lightning round of questions from September!

In Exploring Eberron the Dhakaani Bugbears are characterized as Bulwarks in the military structure, and the Dhakaaani Bugbear playable race has no reference to bugbears innate gift for Stealth and ambushing… is there a reason for this?

Largely, it was ignored because the Dhakaani needed the bugbear’s strength more than their stealth. Under the base 3.5 rules, the bugbear has a substantial strength bonus and more hit points than either goblin or hobgoblin. Essentially, the goblins COULD serve as spies and scouts; they COULDN’T serve as shock troops or heavy laborers, while the bugbears could. Overall, Dhakaani military strategy wasn’t based on stealth; so again, for the Dhakaani, the bugbear’s strength was the tool they had a greater use for. Per the canon Dragonshard, “From an early age, bugbears are raised to think of themselves as the heroes and martyrs of Dhakaani civilization. They are taught to believe that their strength is the single greatest weapon of the Empire.” They are described as being skirmishers and typically having barbarian levels, so they often would serve as scouts and harriers; it’s certainly useful for scouts to be sneaky. But the Dhakaani focused more on the Golin’dar for stealth and the Guul’dar for strength; even their name translates to “Strong People.”

An important part of this is the idea that the hobgoblins effectively controlled the stronger bugbears through narrative; they didn’t WANT the bugbears to focus on their cunning. The Dhakaani intentionally downplayed that talent because they wanted the bugbears to embrace the bold vanguard role, something that comes up with the modern Marguul bugbears…

Since there isn’t much written on the Marguul tribes of the Seawall Mountains, what do you see as unique to the Marguul that differentiates them from other goblinoid cultures?

What’s been established is that the Marguul are a league of bugbear tribes whose ancestors “rose up against their hobgoblin oppressors to seize control of their own destiny.” While they’re fewer in number than the Ghaal’dar, “For centuries, the bugbears have raided the larger hobgoblin communities… slaughtering the arrogant hobgoblins.” While some have come down to take part in the Darguul experiment, most remain in the Seawall Mountains, “where they continue to battle any creatures that cross their path.” As noted above, they place great value on martial skill and guerilla warfare, and worship the Mockery and the Lhesh Shaarat (“King of Swords”), an interpretation of Dol Dorn.

The Marguul are supposed to be a challenge that makes it dangerous for adventurers and others to travel in the Seawall Mountains. But this isn’t because they’re somehow innately evil: it’s because they have valid reasons to despise and fight outsiders. The people of the Five Nations are the chaat’oor who drove their ancestors into the hinterlands and who built their cities on the bones of the great Dar fortresses. The catch is that they then also hate the Ghaal’dar, who sought to dominate the displaced dar and to rule those hinterlands. While their records don’t go back that far, Marguul anger can be traced all the way back to Dhakaan, where as noted above, bugbears were effectively indoctrinated to support the ruling hobgoblins and to serve as laborers and front-line troops. The Marguul essentially say we are the strongest of our kind. For countless generations you have feared us and sought to control us. Well, you SHOULD fear us and you will never control us again. So again, the Marguul are supposed to be dangerous. But there is reason for their anger, and if their grievances and their traditions are understood, they could become friends or allies. But their initial stance is aggressive, because they believe that only bugbears have ever done what’s best for the bugbears.

Going more into unique aspects of the bugbears, this is where I’d bring in the traditional bugbear affinity for stealth mentioned earlier. The Marguul have always been outnumbered by the Ghaal’dar, and they embrace guerilla warfare. It is in this aspect that they revere the Mockery—what this article calls The Lord of Victory. Just because you’re strong doesn’t mean you have to be reckless. When your enemies have greater numbers and resources, the Mockery will show you the path to victory, even if it leads you through the shadows. Bugbears have a natural gift for stealth, and the Marguul have refined this to an art. I see the Marguul as exceptional hunters and stalkers, viewing the greatest warrior as the one whose enemy never sees them. I imagine them as having a long tradition of stealth duels, with six Marguul entering a hunting ground from different points and stalking and counter-stalking… though to be clear, in such Marguul duels victory would come from striking an enemy firmly with a blunted weapon; the Marguul wouldn’t carelessly spill their own blood. I could absolutely see an adventure in which explorers venture into Marguul territory playing out like Predator, with unseen Marguul hunters stalking their prey, laying traps and slowly weakening them before a final conflict. This is also where the challenge of diplomacy comes in. Again, the Marguul have reason to distrust and hate the people of the outer world; and when you enter their territory, the first time you see one of them may be when they strike to kill.

I can easily imagine a Marguul player character; the ECS notes that a few of the Marguul have descended into Darguun and become mercenaries, and this could lead them out into the wider world. I’d just emphasize that they come from a culture that sees the rest of the world as oppressors and betrayers; they are always suspicious, always ready for danger, and surprised by altruism and kindness. What others might see as dishonorable strategies, they see as smart tactics; look back to this article at Redblade Rrac’s story of the two wolves.

The undead of Kech Nasaar are cut off from the Uul Dhakaan, but did a ghaal’dar of the kech ever rise to Marhu, ruling for centuries, or does the Emperor need a living connection to the dream, much like the edicts of Galifar prevent the dead from claiming the crown?

From Exploring Eberron: “The edict of a long-dead emperor asserted that no dead creature could wear the imperial crown; while the services of the Nasaar were valued, the dead are severed from the Uul Dhakaan and cannot draw on the wisdom of the past or see Jhazaal’s dream.” It’s quite likely that at some point there was an undead marhu because they’d need a reason to MAKE such an edict—most likely a marhu who became undead after taking office—but clearly their reign was disastrous enough that the edict was made. Which is to say, I doubt that they ruled for centuries, because that would require people to be content with their rule… and the edict suggests that they were not.

A Valenar warband plans to conduct a raid into Darguun in 998 YK, Besides Darguun opposition, are there any political or social obstacles the raiders would need counter or avoid; factions within the Valaes Tairn, Khorovar, or House Lyrandar?

That depends. At any given time, a certain number of warbands are assigned to the Host of Valenar. They have specific duties and answer to the High King, and definitely can’t raid Darguun, any more than a platoon in the US army could just decide to attack Canada. The catch is the bands that AREN’T assigned to the Host. They’re free to do whatever they wish. They could sell their services as mercenaries, roam as adventurers, or act as raiders. They don’t have to tell anyone what they’re doing or request permission to act, and the High King will accept no responsibility for their actions nor shield them from consequences… though the Host doesn’t extradite raiders either, so if you want them, you’ll have to come to Valenar and get them. Which is, of course, what the Valenar actually want and why the High King allows these raids, even if he doesn’t authorize them. Having said that, warclan leaders actually do keep track of the general positions and intentions of their bands; they may not know the specifics of what they plan, but effectively there’s a lot of Knowing winks when warband X says that they’re going to spend the summer “hunting” on the border of Darguun.

If the Blood of Vol see death as the gods’ cruel joke, how does a Blood of Vol priest perform a funeral? What do they say to offer comfort if their congregation believes that the departed soul has been cheated out of their rightful apotheosis?

Seeker funerals don’t focus on the loss; they focus on remembering the person who has been lost, sharing stories and ensuring that *they won’t be forgotten.* HOWEVER, a Seeker funeral is also about focusing on the people who have been left behind. Community is important to the Blood of Vol. There’s nothing to be done for the dead, but we can still help the living. If a child has been orphaned, who in the community will take them in? If a family is left with debts, who will offer them support? One of the key principles of the BoV is to defy the cruelty of the universe by standing together and looking out for each other. You may have taken Maia’s mother, cruel fate, but she won’t be left alone.

Could a drow from Xendrik become deathless? what about a half elf? how could a half elf or drow become worthy enough to become a member of the Undying Court?

So first of all, I’ve said before that there could be drow and drow/elf hybrids integrated into Tairnadal and Aereni culture who trace their roots back to the original exodus from Xen’drik—and that because of this, there may well be drow members of the Undying Court. But the key point is that while they’re biologically drow, these elves are culturally Aereni and Tairnadal and have been for tens of thousands of years… so very different from a Sulatar drow showing up from Xen’drik today.

COULD a Xen’drik drow or half-elf become a deathless member of the Undying Court? Sure, though in my Eberron it hasn’t happened yet. In principle, anyone could. But the key factor is that they have to be adored by the Aereni; they have to be welcomed by the Court and sustained by the living Aereni. We’ve called out that the energy required to sustain the deathless is a limited resource, which is why standards are so high and why so few Aereni become deathless. The principle of the Undying Court is that the living people don’t want to ever lose the deathless individual—that they value their skills or insights so highly that they wish to preserve them forever. It’s not just about a few priests bestowing this on the drow in question; the PEOPLE have to know of them and love them. To become one of the lesser deathless they only need the adoration of a relatively small population, like a town; but to become a Councilor they need to be loved by the Aereni as a whole. How could they accomplish that? You tell me. They’d have to be known and loved by the Aereni as a whole, granted a space that could go to a member of an Aereni line. Perhaps if they publicly saved Aerenal from a major threat — a Draconic attack, an Overlord, a Daelkyr, Lady Illmarrow. Perhaps if they made some sort of discovery or creation that significantly improved life on Aerenal. It would need to be something on that level — something significantly greater than the deeds of the current members of the Court, something so remarkable people are willing to break millennia of tradition to honor this individual.

Tis the season. The Pumpkin Spice Season! So what in Eberron is like the equivalent of pumpkin spice—something that everyone associates with that autumnal pop culture crowd?

When autumn rolls around, it’s time to bring out the sandfruit spice! This delightful staple of the Brelish frontier is sure to become a beloved fall tradition across the Five Nations. Any day now.

This message brought to you by Vesper and the Threshold Sandfruit Society.

For context, Sandfruit grows in the region covered by my upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold book. It’s highly unappetizing, and there’s an ongoing quest to find ways to improve the experience. Just as pumpkin spice doesn’t actually contain pumpkin, sandfruit spice is a blend used to flavor sandfruit. And trust me, if it can make sandfruit bearable, you’re going to love it!

That’s all for this month! I won’t be answering follow-up questions but feel free to discuss these topics in the comments. And if you want to ask your own questions, check out my Patreon!

IFAQ: Blood Hunters in Eberron

Actually a Bitter Phoenix by Rich Ellis and Grace Allison, but close enough…

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters, such as…

How would you incorporate Matthew Mercer’s blood hunters into Eberron?

At its core, the blood hunter is a warrior who can strengthen their own attacks and weaken their enemies at the expense of their own health. A blood hunter can invoke the Crimson Rite to infuse a weapon with elemental power or invoke a Blood Curse on an enemy, but this requires them to take damage based on the role of their Hemocraft die. A secondary aspect is a knack for hunting monsters. From the beginning, they have advantage on checks made to track or recall information about fey, fiends, or undead; the Brand of Castigation allows a blood hunter to mark a creature and always know the path toward it. Ghostslayer blood hunters specialize in dealing with the undead; Lycan blood hunters take on aspects of the curse of lycanthropy; Mutant blood hunters alter their own physiology; and Profane Soul blood hunters forge pacts with dangerous entities to gain their powers. Ultimately, the defining feature to me is monster hunters who burn their own essence to bring down their foes.

The critical question is what aspects of the existing blood hunter we want to keep. Is it important that the character is part of an order, or could they be a unique individual who has found their own path to this power? Does the power have to be based on blood, or as long as the core mechanics remain the same, could it be about consuming the character’s soul? I’ve never used blood hunters in my campaign, but here’s a few different ways I could imagine doing it.

The Order of the Silver Night (Ghostslayer)

When the jealous gods cursed our people with mortality, they filled the night with countless terrors—tempting demons, slavering werewolves, hungry corpses, and more. They sought to sever our path to divinity, to trap us in our flesh and to tear us apart. But I will seize that power and use it to slaughter these horrors, even if burns my body from within. I will be the silver sword in the night, the blade that stands between the innocent and terror.

The Seekers of the Divinity Within—also known as the Blood of Vol—know that there is a spark of divinity within mortal blood. They also know that the universe is a hostile place, that the gods have stacked the odds against mortals, and that only by standing together can humanity survive. So it was that long ago the wizard-priest Duran devised the ritual known as the Hunter’s Bane. Its name comes from the fact that the rite is incredibly painful, and can cripple or even killed those who undertake it. But those few Seekers with the strength and faith to complete the ritual of the Hunter’s Bane can draw on the power of their own divine essence, channeling their own power into their blades or laying curses on their enemies. But this power hasn’t been earned through enlightenment; the hunter can channel their divine spark into their blood, but it literally burns them from within.

The Order of the Silver Night protects seekers from supernatural threats. While they are far fewer in number, these Night Hunters serve much the same role as the templars of the Silver Flame—though a hunter will point out that their order is nearly a thousand years older than Tira’s church. They are ever watchful for scheming fiends, horrors emerging from Khyber, and other beasts… but their true and greatest enemies are the restless dead. Outsiders see Seekers using skeletons as laborers and learning from oathbound martyrs and assume that the Blood of Vol embraces all undead. But a ravenous ghoul is no one’s ally, and an exorcist is the only answer when a maddened ghost possesses an innocent in a quest for bloody vengeance. With its proliferation of Mabaran manifest zones, Karrnath deals with more spontaneous, malefic undead than any of the other Five Nations—and the hunters of the Silver Night stand ready to deal with these terrors. With this in mind, the hunters of the Silver Night typically use the Ghostslayer archetype; others use the Profane Soul archetype with an Undying Patron.

It may be that there is another aspect to the Night Hunters, one not known even to the hunter initiates themselves. The Seekers of the Divinity Within view sentient undeath as both a gift and a sacrifice. The faithful support vampires and oathbound with a tithe of blood, but this is based on the implicit understanding that the undead serve the living. It’s possible that the lich Duran—the oldest member of the Crimson Covenant and the creator of the Hunter’s Bane ritual of the Silver Night—has recruited an elite group of Night Hunters to police the Seeker undead, and to eliminate those who have been corrupted by greed or by the influence of Mabar. If a player character is drawn into this secret order, they could be tasked to investigate the Order of the Emerald Claw, to eliminate the undead who aren’t truly devoted to the well-being of the Seekers… perhaps even Lady Illmarrow herself. Whether the character uses the Profane Soul or Ghostslayer Archetype, Duran would effectively be an Undying patron.

It would be simple enough to posit a Ghostslayer order within the Church of the Silver Flame—one could even say that the damage the hunter suffers is “being burnt by the Flame.” However, I like the visceral contrast between the templar paladin calling on the Flame and the Seeker hunter ripping their unearned power from their own divine spark, doing whatever it takes to protect the innocent even if it may kill them. I’d love to play in a campaign with those two characters fighting side by side.

Olarune’s Blessed (Lycan)

Long ago, Olarune gave our people a gift. We could fully embrace the Beast Within, wielding all the power of the wild. But an ancient evil snatched her gift and twisted it, so any who channeled its power would become predators bound to its will. We refuse to surrender Olarune’s blessing. We defy the ancient evil, and use this power to destroy every monster it has unleashed within our woods.

The Towering Wood is filled with terrors. Capricious fey, plantlife twisted by the daelkyr Avassh, the fiendish minions of the Wild Heart—these are just a few of the dangers of the deep wood. The shifter tribes of the Towering Wood are guided by Moonspeaker druids, by cunning rangers and bold barbarians. But some of their most legendary champions are those who have reclaimed Olarune’s Blessing—fierce warriors who can unlock the full potential of their shifting gift.

Olarune’s Blessing doesn’t come easily. The rite of the Hunter’s Bane is one of the mysteries of the Moonspeaker druids; it can only be performed when the moons are properly aligned, and if the aspirant lacks spiritual strength they will become a monster bound to the will of the Wild Heart. A triumphant hunter receives Olarune’s gift, but the curse is always a part of it, and this is the principle of the damage dealt by blood hunter abilities; when the hunter draws on these powers they are actively fighting the curse of the Wild Heart, pushing through the corruption to seize the primal gift.

In playing one of Olarune’s blessed, the main question is why have you left the Towering Wood? You are a champion of your people, and there are many threats in the Eldeen you could deal with; why, then, would you become a wandering adventurer? Here’s a few possibilities…

  • You lost control and the Wild Heart’s influence turned you against your people. Your Moonspeaker restored you at the cost of their own life. You have left the Towering Wood to distance yourself from the influence of the ancient evil; you must master the blessing and strengthen your resolve before you can risk returning to your home.
  • A feud with other blood hunters drove you from the Wood. This could have been fueled by tragic romance, by tribal politics, or something else—but it is a mortal feud that drove you from your home, not fear of an immortal power. Do you intend to one day return and settle the matter, or have you closed the door on your old life?
  • The Eldeen Reaches are a young nation living in the jealous shadow of Aundair. The survival of the Reaches may depend on the recognition and support of the people of other nations. You’ve been sent into the world to be a hero—to perform great deeds that will raise awareness of and support for your people.
  • You have a nemesis—a fiend tied to the Wild Heart? A particularly cunning and cruel lycanthrope? Whoever they are, they inflicted great suffering on your people in the Towering Wood but have since fled. You are determined to hunt them down and make them pay. If you’re starting as a low-level character, it could be that this nemesis slew your blood hunter mentor. You know that you don’t currently possess the power necessary to defeat them. Finding and defeating your nemesis is your endgame, but as an adventurer you are working to develop the skills and allies you will need to defeat them; it’s not a race.

Mutant blood Hunters

With Mutant blood hunters. there are so many interesting possibilities that I find it difficult to choose one over the other. The Mutant hunter ingests mutagens that temporarily alter their physical capalities, and which possess both positive and negative side effects. Here’s just a few ideas…

  • The Gifts of the Traveler. As a changeling, you were born into a nomadic family with a secret gift they’ve kept hidden even from other changelings—a system of rituals and formulas that allow them to push the bounds of changeling shapeshifting. How have they used this power? Are they agents of the Traveler, challenging traditions and promoting change? Are they locked in a feud with another changeling clan—a shadow war singleskins know nothing about? As an adventurer, are you acting as an agent of your family, or are you perhaps its last surviving member?
  • Narathun Commandos. The dwarves of Clan Narathun are driven by the pursuit of arcane knowledge. Over the last century they have struggled to wrest the secrets of fleshcrafting from the Realm Below. The Narathun commandos are the product of that work—soldiers transformed to fight aberrant fire with fire. Your Hunter’s Bane rite essentially merged a symbiont with your nervous system, and your basic blood hunter abilities reflect this painful bond. Your mutagens are short-lived symbionts or formulas that interact with the embedded force. You surely served in the War Below; why have you left? Did you serve your time and retire with honor? Have you been banished from your hold after an incident in Sol Udar you won’t speak of? Are you pursuing a Cult of the Dragon Below—or are you afraid that such a cult has sunk its claws into your family?
  • Seryan Heir. As a dragonmarked heir of House Vadalis, you have discovered that you have ties to the infamous Seryan family—a Vadalis line that practiced vile magebreeding techniques and created horrifying monsters. You’ve read your ancestors’ notes and experimented on your own body using their techniques, undergoing the excruciating Hunter’s Bane rites; now you are continuing to experiment with their mutagens. While your ancestors may have been monsters, you believe that their work can be used for the greater good; you just need to perfect it, and you’re the only test subject you’re willing to endanger. You’re an adventuring Doctor Jekyll. It could be that you actually harvest ingredients from the creatures your party defeats—Hang on, let me get the eye from this bullette; it’ll be perfect for my experiments!

Profane Soul blood Hunters

Even more than Mutants, Profane Soul blood hunters present a vast array of possibilities based on the patron that they choose. An Undying hunter could be tied to the Silver Night, while an Undead hunter could be connected to Katahska the Gatekeeper or the Bone King of Mabar. In Aundair, there could be an order of Archfey hunters who use their gifts to hunt down renegade fey; Hexblade hunters could have ties to the Court of Shadows, knowingly or unwittingly drawing power from Sul Khatesh. On the other hand, a Hexblade hunter could have been transformed when they unwittingly accepted a cursed weapon—perhaps from one of the Daughters of Sora Kell! The Great Old One works well for a hunter with a tie to one of the daelkyr or even the Dreaming Dark; is the hunter fighting the force that transformed them, or do they revel in its gifts?

Most of these ideas work best for characters who are starting at 3rd level, allowing the connection to the patron to be part of the character’s story from the very beginning. However, you could still establish the story even if the character doesn’t receive the full benefits of the relationship initially. The main thing to keep in mind is the principle that it’s painful for a blood hunter to draw on their powers. This suggests the idea that the Hexblade hunter is cursed; that the Great Old One hunter is dealing with painful daelkyr modifications; that the Archfey hunter pays a price for channeling fey power. This article on warlocks might provide additional ideas!

That’s all for now! As this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss these ideas and share what you’ve done with Blood Hunters in your Eberron! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible!

Siberspace Continues

Wayfinder Wolf, by Matthew Johnson

Last month I wrote an article about how I’d combine Spelljammer and Eberron—a space race to reach the Ring of Siberys and the moons. I was so intrigued by the idea that I decided to run the campaign for my Patreon supporters. If it sounds interesting, there’s still time to get on board—I’m running the second session next week!

How Does This Work?

Each month, I run an online Eberron session for my Threshold patrons. The story and the characters are persistent from session to session, but the players change each time. I run the session at a different time each month, to ensure people in different time zones have a chance to play. Once a time is set (patrons are currently voting on the time for this month’s session!) I pose a creative challenge: last month it was tell me which character you want to play, and what they’re leaving behind as they go into space. The rules of Patreon won’t let me pick players randomly; as it is, this creative challenge gives me material I can work into the adventure itself. All patrons have access to the edited audio and video recordings of each session.

A peek at a Discord story hour and a Patreon plot poll.

While only five patrons get to play in each session, I do what I can to give all of the patrons an opportunity to influence the story. I run one adventure each month; between sessions, I post polls on Patreon and occasional interactive story hours on the Threshold Discord that allow everyone to shape the future of the events. Oh, and did I mentioned that there’s a Discord channel where I discuss the campaign and Eberron in general with patrons? One of my favorite things about TTRPGs is how the story evolves over the course of a campaign, and I enjoy finding ways for bring that experience to this format.

Not everyone has time to watch every episode, of course. To help with this, there’s a campaign website that maintains descriptions of all the characters and summaries of all previous sessions—both short overviews like the one here (spoiler alert for Siberspace session 1!) and more detailed breakdowns. And, of course, patrons have access to exclusive previews of upcoming books, like the recent preview of Medusa Characters from Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, as well as helping to shape the short and long articles I post on this site… and determining the amount of time I have to spend on them.

Now the valiant Dragonhawk crew is preparing to venture beyond the Ring of Siberys. If you’d like to join them, check out the Threshold level of my Patreon!