Magic is a part of Eberron. The world is drenched in eldritch power—the force that flows from the Ring of Siberys, the energies of the planes, enigmatic divine power sources. Like wind, tide, iron or fire—magic is a resource waiting to be harnessed.
This is the second in a series of articles. The previous article covered the THEORIES of arcane magic. This article delves deeper into the practical evolution of magic—the concrete elements of a spell and how less advanced forms of magic differ from what we cast today. Subsequent articles will deal both with the specific evolution of arcane science in Khorvaire—including specific innovators and key discoveries—and arcane industry in the Five Nations. However, to understand how magic has evolved we need to understand the elements of magic in more detail.
Where this article references rules, it assumes the use of the fifth edition of D&D. Also, as with the previous article, this specifically addresses the development of ARCANE MAGIC as opposed to psionics, divine magic, or primal traditions. In fifth edition, the distinction between these is more story-driven than mechanical; nothing’s stopping you from describing your bard as using primal magic. But this is about the development of arcane science as described in my previous article—and with that in mind, primarily focused on artificers and wizards. As always, this is what I do at MY table, and what follows may contradict canon material. Use what you like, ignore what you don’t!
Magic: More Complicated Than You Know
To understand how arcane magic has evolved, we have to look under the hood and understand exactly how it works today. The rules of Dungeons & Dragons deal with the game mechanics of magic. For a wizard to cast a fireball, they must prepare the spell during a long rest. It takes an action to cast the spell, burning a 3rd level spell slot and requiring verbal, somatic, and material components. That fireball has a range of 150 feet and inflicts 8d6 fire damage. These are the FACTS of the fireball, and it doesn’t matter if the wizard is drawing on the essence of Fernia, using sympathetic magic, or focussing the Blood of Siberys to produce this effect: Fireball is one action; V S M components; 3rd level spell slot.
Those are the facts of the fireball. But what does any of that mean? What IS a spell slot? What are components? What does it mean to “prepare a spell”? What is the STORY behind these things, that explains what your wizards is actually doing? As described in the Arcane Science article, the basic principle of arcane magic is that the spellcaster is harnessing a particular power source—perhaps the emanations of the Ring of Siberys or the power of the planes—through scientific principles. They have mastered reliable, repeatable techniques that allow them to alter reality in specific ways. Let’s take a closer look at each element of spellcasting.
Both wizards and artificers have access to a wide range of spells. Artificers have access to the full artificer spell list, while wizards can cast any spell in their spellbooks. But they have to prepare a specific subset of those spells during a long rest, and these are the only spells they can cast until they go through a second round of preparation.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of preparation. It’s something that happens between adventures. But the point is that while a wizard or artificer may know how to cast dozens of spells, that knowledge is useless to them without proper preparation. And this is a key part of recognizing the complexity of arcane magic. Yes, it only takes a wizard six seconds to cast fireball… But that’s because they have spent hours preparing to cast fireball. For the artificer, this is a little more obvious; they produce their spell effects using tools, and they are literally preparing those tools. When an Alchemist artificer prepares cure wounds, they are mixing up a base salve that can be triggered to generate an instant healing effect; the salve they’d use for alter self is entirely different, and if they haven’t mixed it up during the long rest, they can’t prepare it in the middle of an adventure. This same principle applies to the wizard. They aren’t preparing physical tools, but they are performing a host of minor rituals and formulas that are required to be able to cast that swift spell. When a wizard prepares fireball, they might first need to mediate on the twelve principles of fire, running through a series of equations in their mind. Next, they build on that to establish a source of power. This could be forging a connection to Fernia, or it might be igniting a spark within their own spirit—an ember forged from the Blood of Siberys that they carry within. Think of the actual casting of the spell as turning on the gas to a gas stove; it doesn’t do anything if you don’t have the spark prepared to ignite it. But even then, there’s ANOTHER series of rituals that need to be performed—to protect the caster from the powers that they are channelling. Consider how dangerous it is to work with other sources of power in our word—electricity, fire, nuclear power. Arcane power is no different. A wizard who casts fireball without proper precautions could spontaneously combusts, or simply boil the blood within their brain. Part of preparing fireball is preparing the wards that protect you from the dangers of casting the spell. To be clear, this is a very specific set of wards that only protect you from CASTING the spell, and that are shielding you an arcane level—reinforcing your aura, not your flesh. Consider also that these preparations are distinct for each spell. You may use the same arcane spark to ignite your fireball and burning hands, but the fact that you have to prepare those two separately shows that each one has its own unique set of required rituals. All of which is to say that this preparation is extremely specific; preparing fireball doesn’t automatically protect you from FIRE, it just protects you from the very specific dangers involved in casting fireball.
The main point here is that as a wizard, you do most of your actual WORK during your long rest. You likely don’t get as much sleep as your comrades, because you’re going over Fernian formulas in your mind and tracing draconic sigils in the air, gathering the forces you will unleash the following day. Your power doesn’t come without effort; you put in a lot of work to prepare your spells.
I talked about components at length in this article. The short form is that components may vary and will reflect the arcane tradition you’re following. A Siberyan wizard will speak a few of the hundred Draconic words for fire, while an Externalist chants in Primordial. Components serve two purposes. They trigger the effects the caster spent hours preparing, and they also help to focus and channel that power. The key point is that the components are the trigger that invokes the previous preparations; they don’t produce the effect on their own.
If you think of a spell as a gun, the components are the trigger. The preparations are the bullet, carefully loaded in place and ready for use. The spell slot is the powder—the surge of energy that imbues the bullet with deadly force. So it is with spells. Someone can perform all the proper steps, say the words of power, trace the proper sigils in the air, but it’s all meaningless unless they can channel the POWER that enforces their will upon reality.
Spell slots reflect the maximum amount of energy a particular spellcaster can draw on in an instant (their maximum spell slot level) as well as their overall endurance (total number of slots). A low level wizard could understand the principles behind fireball, but they can’t grasp the power required to cast it. Possessing a spell slot means knowing both how to channel this degree of power, but also how to channel it safely. Again, arcane energy is like electricity, like fire, like radiation; it is dangerous, and there are limits on how much of it any one person can handle. When a wizard has exhausted their spell slots, they have pushed their mind and spirit to dangerous levels; they just can’t marshal the mental focus required to weave the threads of magic, and even attempting it could kill them.
WHAT ABOUT RITUALS AND CANTRIPS?
Performing a spell as a ritual allows the spellcaster to draw on the energies slowly and evenly, without taking the same physical or mental demand on the spellcaster… which is why spells cast as rituals don’t use a spell slot. Meanwhile, cantrips channel trivial amounts of arcane energy, which is why they also don’t require spell slots.
NPC arcane magewrights and wandslingers can typically only perform rituals or cantrips, though some may know one or two spells they can cast once per day. The flip side to this is that magewrights can often cast spells as rituals even though those spells don’t have the ritual tag. First and foremost, this reflects a deep and absolute dedication to a small set of spells. It’s not JUST that they have spent years honing those few spells; an elf wizard could do that. It’s that they focus on those things to the exclusion of all else. The arcane locksmith can’t spend a few more years and become a lamplighter as well; learning to cast continual flame as a ritual would cause them to lose the focus on locks that allows them to cast arcane lock as a ritual. Which is why player characters can’t learn these magewright rituals: the very act of being an adventurer would distract from the intense focus required to be a magewright. And as noted in Rising From The Last War, magewright rituals have an additional component cost, typically paid with refined Eberron dragonshards; it’s a specialized form of spellcasting that’s quite different from the flexible casting of a wizard.
SCHOOLS AND SPELLS
A PC wizard can cast any wizard spell. They may have an affinity for a particular school of magic, but a Diviner wizard can cast any wizard spell, and spells of all schools are taught at Arcanix. However, this reflects the remarkable talent and flexibility of PC wizards and the fact that Arcanix is the pinnacle of centuries of arcane research. The different schools of magic are different branches of science, and few people can master them all. An NPC evoker might not be able to cast divination, illusion, or enchantment spells; they’ve learn to conjure, to abjure, and to evoke powerful forces, but they simply can’t grasp the softer schools. A particular branch of the Esoteric Order of Aureon may not have any members who can actually perform necromancy. This same principle applies to spell selection. In general, PCs are allowed to learn any spell from the wizard spell list. But a DM could choose to limit certain spells, saying that they haven’t actually been developed by the character’s culture. Here’s a few ways to approach this…
- Have the character acquire a spellbook belonging to a legendary mage—Mordain the Fleshweaver, Minara Vol—whose contents never became part of the common canon. it could be that these spells are higher level than most NPC wizards can cast, or it could be that there’s something about them that keeps lesser mages from being able to master them.
- Tie the spell to an elite organization. This is why a wizard may want to join the Esoteric Order of Aureon or the Guild of Starlight and Shadows—to get access to spells that aren’t part of the common canon. It could be that multiple organizations have different versions of the same spell—the Aundairian Knights Phantom, the Tairnadal, and Thrane’s Order of the Silver Blades—all teach sword burst, but all use different variations with different physical manifestations.
- Tie the spells to an ancient culture—Qabalrin necromancy, Cul’sir evocation. Examples are provided later in this article. It could be that the character is able to directly scribe spells from an ancient spellshard or spellbook, or it could be that the old spellbook provides inspiration that allows them to create entirely new spells—perhaps adding a new spell each time there’s downtime. Or it could be that the ghost of a giant wizard is haunting the ruins of Xen’drik, seeking to pass on its knowledge before it releases its grip on the world.
- The adventurer could be the chosen protege of a powerful being—a dragon of the Chamber, Lady Illmarrow, one of the Lords of Dust. Or the mentor could be a purely intangible presence: Sul Khatesh, an Archfey, an Ascendant Councilor, or a force claiming to be Aureon. Why has such a powerful being chosen to help the PC? Do they have knowledge of the character’s potential actions through the Prophecy? Or do they have some personal investment in the character?
Personally, I wouldn’t do too much of this with spells of third level and below. There are places stronger in different schools of magic—for example, Atur is the best place to learn about necromancy—but 1st-3rd level spells are supposed to be easily accessible, and I wouldn’t want to place restrictions on a PC wizard early in their career. It’s in getting to higher level spells that AREN’T supposed to be common in Khorvaire that I’d put more emphasis on the wonder involved in acquiring them. There are very few wizards in the Five Nations who can cast a 7th level spell, so they’re shouldn’t BE a vast library of such spells just sitting on the shelf in Arcanix; acquiring such power should feel dramatic, whether the character is scribing their own spells, uncovering ancient secrets, or working with an enigmatic mentor. Having said that, wizards and artificers shouldn’t suffer for the story; the point is not to limit their access to spells, but to highlight how remarkable such characters are.
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN?
Magic as it exists in the rules of fifth edition reflects the current state of the art. It didn’t begin this way. More primitive forms of arcane magic could have a number of limitations, and such things could be encountered through time travel or simply when dealing with some sort of primitive culture. Here’s a few ways to represent more primitive magic; I’m numbering them so that you could roll a d12 if you want to randomly generate a flawed form of magic.
- Higher Spell Slots. The techniques of modern magic are designed to allow the caster to safely channel a significant amount of arcane energy… which translates to spell slots. A spellcaster using more limited techniques can’t channel so much magic as easily; they have to channel more energy to produce the same effect as a more advanced mage, which is to say their spells have an increased spell slot cost. This is one of the basic aspects of the pre-Galifar magic of the Five Nations; it used to be that magic missile was a second level spell. And the idea of someone being able to cast teleport? Don’t be ridiculous, it would take an impossible amount of power! So using this approach, you can use the same SPELLS, but increase the required spell slot by 1 or more levels. In such a scenario, it’s quite likely that the culture has no cantrips—that cantrip effects might require the expenditure of a 1st level spell slot.
- Lengthy Preparation. The ability for a wizard or artificer to completely change out their prepared spells during a long rest reflects the sophistication of current techniques. A less advanced wizard might be limited in how swiftly they can change spells; it might take a full long rest just to prepare/replace one new spell.
- Lengthy Casting. The ability to cast a spell in six seconds is a feature of advanced spellcasting. A slightly less advanced tradition might mean that a spell that normally takes an action to cast instead requires a full turn, preventing the caster from moving or taking a bonus action. An even more limited spell might require multiple actions to complete… though an interesting variation of this would be a tradition that allows multiple spellcasters to work together; so if a primitive fireball takes three actions to cast, one spellcaster could use three actions, or three spellcasters could work together and each use one action to complete it. This could also apply to the spell slot expended, which would be a way to offset a higher cost. So perhaps the primitive fireball takes 3 actions and a 6th level spell slot to cast—but up to three casters can work together on both, each contributing an action and a 2nd level spell slot to cast it. A more limited tradition might only be able to cast spells as rituals.
- Limited Options. Simpler traditions may very well be restricted to specific schools of magic. An old Seeker wizard of pre-Galifar Karrnath might only know Necromancy and Divination spells, and be unable to master spells of other schools.
- Limited Location. The spellcaster can only cast spells in a specific area. This could be quite large; an ancient externalist wizard might be able to cast spells while within 20 miles of a powerful manifest zone. On the other hand, it could be very limited; a wizard who can only perform magic within their tower. It’s possible that a player character wizard could use Arcana to adapt such spells to a form that could be used in any location, but it’s equally possible that the spell is too dependent to be adapted.
- Required Focus. A modern wizard has the option to use a focus instead of material components, and can quickly switch between different focuses. A more limited tradition might require the spellcaster to make use of a particular focus: a haunted skull that guides a necromancer, a staff carved from a tree watered with the wizard’s blood. Such things could be magic items that anyone would find useful, or they could only have power in the hands of the mage that made them.
- Required Species. A wizard’s spell uses the caster as a lens for its power. The spells of a particular tradition might only work with a specific type of lens—which is to say, a spell crafted by a giant might not work when cast by a human wizard (it might even harm the caster, who lacks the endurance of a giant). This is a case where a modern wizard might be able to make an Arcana check as a downtime activity to adapt the spell so anyone can cast it.
- Expensive Components. A limited tradition could require the expenditure of expensive components for spells that don’t require such things in the modern form. These could be very specific (the eye of a griffon) or more general (50 gp worth of Eberron dragonshards). Note that this is an aspect of modern magewright magic; it could be more severe in limited traditions.
- A Higher Price. A basic principle of this idea is that magic is dangerous and that the preparations wizards make allow them to safely perform magic. A more primitive tradition might not have all those preparations in place, in which case a spellcaster might suffer a level of exhaustion when they cast a spell, suffer direct damage, or have some other lingering consequence.
- Unpleasant Cosmetic Effects. Not all effects have to have a mechanical impact. It’s possible that a primitive style of magic has a cosmetic effect that makes the spell difficult to use. Perhaps it creates a foul stench, or causes minor vegetation around the caster to die, or leaches the color from the caster’s hair and clothes. Perhaps the caster needs to shout their verbal components as loudly as possible. Perhaps an old form of necromancy causes the caster to attract restless spirits; they and everyone around them hear the whispers and moans of these minor shades for hours after the wizard casts a spell.
- Challenging Concentration. The ease of maintaining an ongoing spell is a facet of modern magic. Someone using less advanced techniques might have disadvantage on Concentration checks to maintain their spells.
- Greater Power. One unexpected side effect is that some primitive traditions of magic could be MORE powerful than modern magic—but the point is that this benefit is offset by the negative side effects described above, and the pioneers of modern magic sacrificed a degree of power for safety and ease of use. So it could be that the Externalist fire wizard of ancient Khunan adds the benefits of the Distant Spell and Empowered Spell Metamagic features when she casts a fireball—but she can only cast it within a mile of a Fernian manifest zone, and she suffers ten points of fire damage herself. Or it could be that an enchanter gains the benefits of Subtle Spell, but can only perform magic in his tower. Again, the point is that the side effects outweigh the benefits—but it’s still a way make “primitive” magic an unexpected challenge. Adding the Metamagic features of the sorcerer is a simple way to reflect such benefits, but anything is possible.
The basic point to all of this is that magic as we know it is quite sophisticated. The reason the Aereni, the dragons, and the wizards of Arcanix all use the same basic techniques is because it’s about as good as it gets. The Aereni wizard is a higher level wizard than the typical Arcanix graduate, which means that Aereni wizard has more spell slots and can cast spells that are beyond the ability of the students of Arcanix. But the techniques—the casting time, the components, the ease of concentration and preparation—are generally equivalent. With that said, part of the point is that it’s the PLAYER CHARACTERS who can perform this sophisticated magic. The tradition of the magewright is more limited: spells have Lengthy Casting (ritual only), Expensive Components (dragonshards), and Lengthy Preparation (well, in fact, NO ability to swap spells). The common wandslinger requires a focus. Beyond that, the general idea is that cantrips themselves are a relatively recent development in the mystical history of Galifar—which is why wandslingers were first fielded during the Last War. This in turn reflects the idea that the Five Nations are still evolving… while Aerenal, for example, has surely had cantrips for thousands of years, if not tens of thousands.
WHAT ABOUT ADVANCED MAGIC?
The previous section suggests ways that primitive magic could be inferior to magic as presented in the rules. Does that mean that the magic of advanced societies—such as Aerenal, Argonnessen, or the Venomous Demesne—should break the rules in other ways? If a primitive fireball is a 6th level spell, should an advanced one be a 1st level spell? While there is a certain logic to this, it’s not the path we’ve taken in the design. Given that player characters can COME from Aerenal or the Demesne, changing the rules of magic for that culture creates all sorts of issues—either story problems if you need to explain why the player character doesn’t use those superior rules, or balance problems if you allow them to. So what marks an advanced society isn’t that the rules are different; it’s that spellcasters are higher level.
What we’ve established in Khorvaire is that magic of 1st-3rd level is incorporated into everyday life, magic of 4th-5th level is rare but possible, and spells of higher level than that are all but unknown. Meanwhile, the rarity of a magic item is fairly accurate; common items are common, rare items are possible but rare, and legendary items are in fact legendary. By contrast, in Aerenal magic of up to 5th level is part of everyday life, while up to 7th level is known, and Aereni crafters can produce rare and very rare items. In part this applies to wizards and artificers, but the same principle applies to Aereni magewrights and adepts; even if they don’t actually use spell slots, they have access to spells of higher level than mages of the Five Nations. Go to Argonnessen, and great wyrms can cast spells of 9th level—or higher! So the point is that advanced civilizations don’t use different rules, but rather that powerful effects or more widespread. A player character from Aerenal CAN master the magic of their homeland by simply gaining enough experience; it’s simply that there are more NPCs that wield similar power there.
With that said, it’s certainly the case that advanced magical civilizations may have access to tools or rituals that don’t adhere to the rules—eldritch machines, or rituals such as the Du’rashka Tul or the spells the giants used to destroy the 13th moon. Like magewrights, these are things that exist outside the standard rules for player characters. The moon-breaking ritual of the giants wasn’t something that was cast by a single giant and it wasn’t a standard spell; it was something channeled through an eldritch machine and that required multiple mages—and quite possible a planar conjunction—to work. The magic wielded by player characters is reliable and convenient; the point of the eldritch machine is that magic doesn’t always follow those rules.
Alien Nations, Fallen Civilizations, Forgotten Secrets
In the vast swath of time since the Age of Demons, many civilizations have harnessed arcane power. Delving deeply into these civilizations is beyond the scope of article, but it’s useful to explore a few of them at a high level, to have some concept of what’s gone before and what wonders player characters might discover in their adventures. Most of these civilizations are (or were) more advanced that the Five Nations in at least some ways; this is why their relics are valuable, and not simply something you could buy from Cannith. But there’s a number of important things to keep in mind. First of all, many of these civilizations existed for thousands—in some cases tens of thousands—of years. It’s not that these civilizations were in some way innately superior to humanity, capable of grasping secrets the Five Nations could never unravel on their own; it’s that they had time to unravel those secrets. This ties to the second point. It’s a common mistake to think that many of the great arcane innovations of the last millennium—for example, elemental binding and the warforged—were simply stolen from past civilizations. In both cases, these developments were inspired by discoveries made in Xen’drik, but the simple fact is that most advanced magic items can’t easily be duplicated by less advanced civilizations. You can’t just take the wand of Orcus apart and figure out how it works. An artificer can look at a Sulatar firesled and tell that it’s using a bound elemental. But how is it bound? What’s maintaining the wards? How was it constructed? Is it using unfamiliar materials—materials harnessed from a manifest zone, harvested from a creature never seen in Khorvaire, or created through transmutation? Was it created using an eldritch machine, in which case we’d need access to that machine to fully understand it? Did it use dragonshards refined with an unknown technique, or altered in some way (like the dusk shards of Q’barra)?
The point here is that it’s generally possible to identify the function of an alien magic item and to find a way to attune to it or use it, but that doesn’t mean it’s possible to duplicate it. It could be a wizard’s life work just to duplicate the material used on a firesled… which would be a crucial insight into the overall arcane science of the Sulat League. As is, the point is that the Zil binders were inspired by their discoveries of Sulat artifacts, but they developed their own, unique tradition of elemental binding based on that inspiration. Notably, the Sulatar drow do not have airships, and the Zil don’t currently have small vessels like firesleds. The same thing is true of House Cannith and the warforged. The discovery of the quorforged inspired Merrix and Aaren’s work, but quorforged weren’t sentient and weren’t created using the Mark of Making. If a team discovered an ancient Sulat FACTORY and were able to hold it for an extended period of time, they might be able to unlock its secrets and employ those techniques. But generally ancient relics are a source of inspiration as opposed to being the key to transforming society. Which means that if your fighter gets a vorpal blade from the ruins below Stormreach, it’s not irresponsible of you to hold onto it instead of handing it over to Cannith; they’d be impressed by its enchantments, but they couldn’t just turn around and start mass-producing them tomorrow. Having said all that, there ARE sages in Arcanix, Morgrave, and Korranberg who are studying all of these ancient cultures and working to unlock their secrets; but it’s not a trivial challenge.
The following list doesn’t cover all of the advanced arcane societies of Eberron, because there are a tremendous number of them. This doesn’t deal with the dragonborn empire that once spread out from Q’barra, the Umbragen drow below Khyber, or the countless civilizations that have risen in Xen’drik and been consumed by the Du’rashka Tul. But it covers a number of arcane civilizations, some long fallen, others still thriving. Likewise, this is a brief overview; it’s up to the DM to expand and add details to if one of these civilizations plays a major role in a campaign.
The Lords of Dust
The overlords of the Age of Demons possessed immense mystical power. They didn’t need SCIENCE to reshape reality; they simply did it intuitively with their own raw power. The same is largely true of their lesser minions. While rakshasa and other fiends often possess supernatural powers, these generally aren’t arcane; they are simply harnessing their own personal power. They’re more like sorcerers than wizards; they don’t need to understand their powers to use them. So it’s a fact that the overlord Katashka created the first (draco)liches through his own transcendent power, but he couldn’t teach mortals how to make liches on their own; they had to discover that over time.
A key element to this is that relics and artifacts of the Age of Demons are immensely powerful but largely can’t be replicated today. This is the origin of the name the Lords of Dust; because the rakshasa themselves dwell in the ruins of their masters’ citadels, and couldn’t repair them even if they wished, because it was the near-divine powers of the overlords that raised them. So magic items tied to the Age of Demons can be extremely powerful—artifacts, legendary, very rare—but there’s little to be gained by studying them, because they weren’t created using scientific principles and can’t be replicated without the power of an unbound overlord. Relics of the Age of Demons are usually tied specifically to the sphere of the overlord they are associated with; Rak Tulkhesh created many horrifying weapons of war, but didn’t create healing potions or things that soothed pain. This is a reason that most spellcasting agents of the overlords are warlocks rather than wizards; they may be granted direct power in exchange for their devotion, but they don’t learn scientific principles.
There are, of course, exceptions, and the most notable of these is Sul Khatesh. Known as the Keeper of Secrets and the Queen of Shadows, Sul Khatesh embodies dangerous secrets and the threat of magic. Sul Khatesh can teach magical secrets to her servants, provided that such secrets are dangerous. It’s worth noting that Sul Khatesh is bound and effectively dreaming. Her Court of Shadows is spread across Khorvaire, but she doesn’t always use it in ways that would seem to maximize its value to her; her actions are essentially reflexive, driven by her own subconscious, a dream that she may forget within an immortal moment. So when Sul Khatesh offers to teach a spell to a wizard in Aundair, you can be sure that the knowledge is dangerous… but that doesn’t mean that the offer is somehow tied to the schemes of the Court of Shadows in Karrnath. Beyond Sul Khatesh herself, her minions possess far greater arcane knowledge than most of the Lords of Dust. The rakshasa Hektula—who calls herself “The First Scribe”, though her enemies called her “The Bloody Scribe” due to her penchant for using the blood of dragons to write her spells—is the keeper of the Library of Ashtakala, and may be the greatest expert on arcane knowledge in existence. It is Hektula and her servants who create new magic items for the Lords of Dust… though largely, Hektula is absorbed with her endless work cataloguing and maintaining the library. Hektula could be an interesting patron for a wizard or artificer; for all her knowledge, Hektula doesn’t possess the mortal ability to innovate, and it could be that she sees a mortal’s potential to develop something entirely new.
The Dragons of Argonnessen
The dragons have been working with magic for a hundred thousand years. They have forgotten secrets lesser civilizations have yet to learn, and they can perform rituals that can devastate continents. In considering draconic magic, there’s a few important things to keep in mind.
- The civilization of Argonnessen is based upon the depiction of dragons in the 3.5 rules of D&D, which makes the assertion that every dragon has an inner well of magical power, a force that grows stronger over time. Under the 3.5 rules, a typical gold great wyrm had the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer—and that’s without adding any class levels. A key consequence of this is that the magic of Argonnessen isn’t directly transferable to other creatures—because rather than harnessing external powers, it begins by drawing on the inner power of the dragon itself.
- Like the overlords, this means that the magic items created by dragons usually can’t be reverse engineered by lesser creatures, because you can’t replicate the techniques used to create them unless you actually possess the inner power of a dragon. With that said, unlike the overlords, the dragons do wield their powers in a scientific way, not simply by acting on instinct. They’ve studied and honed their powers, and I would personally say that wild dragons that have grown up without any contact with the civilization of Argonnessen likely wouldn’t possess the full spellcasting abilities described in the 3.5 SRD. They might possess a fraction of those powers, channeling their innate might in very specific ways through insight, but I wouldn’t give them the versatility of an Argonnessen-trained dragon. This is a way to reconcile 3.5 and 5E. The 5E dragons reflect wild dragons either not raised in Argonnessen, or who have consciously refused to develop their powers. The “Dragons as innate spellcasters” option rule can reflect rogues or basic agents of Argonnessen. The true loredrakes of Argonnessen should have powers more on par with those presented in the 3.5 SRD. With this in mind, it’s also worth noting that the oldest dragons presented in 5E are ancient, described as being more than 800 years old; 3.5 has wyrm (1,000+) and great wyrm (1,200+). Again, the easy answer is that the dragons encountered in 5E aren’t the most powerful dragons in existence, and that wyrms and their elders rarely leave Argonnessen. The base stats for 5E dragons aren’t inaccurate, they just don’t show the full spectrum of draconic power.
- Many of the greatest powers of the dragons aren’t things that would be represented by a traditional spell. When the dragons laid the Du’rashka Tul upon Xen’drik—a curse that has lingered for tens of thousands of years, disrupting any civilization that grows too large—that wasn’t the work of a single dragon burning a spell slot. It was a ritual that involved MANY dragons working in concert, all lending their immense power to the effort. So the greatest powers wielded by the dragons aren’t spells that can be cast in six seconds; they are rituals and eldritch machines.
Now, the dragons CAN teach magic to lesser creatures, as shown by Vvaraak teaching the Gatekeepers and the dragons sharing knowledge with the giants of Xen’drik. But the point is that in doing this they aren’t teaching the same techniques THEY use, because a giant doesn’t have the innate power of a dragon. Rather, it’s that over the course of eons, the loredrakes of Argonnessen have studying arcane science (and primal magic, as shown by Vvaraak) in depth. Unlike the elves of Aerenal, the dragons aren’t stagnant; they ARE always interested in learning more about how the world works. However, after the disastrous experience with the giants, they have sworn never to share their knowledge with lesser creatures.
The upshot of this is that the dragons of Argonnessen are the most advanced civilization on Eberron and possess immense arcane knowledge. However, they don’t share this knowledge with lesser creatures and they rarely interact with the world beyond Argonnessen. Beyond this, even for dragons, a hundred thousand years is a long time. The dragons could have forgotten or forbidden various magical techniques; adventurers could find the lair of a rogue dragon, now long dead, who’d been working on something forbidden by the Conclave. Likewise, just because the dragons are so advanced and have been studying magic for so long doesn’t prevent a player character from stumbling on something that somehow, no dragon has ever learned. The question is whether the Chamber would take an interest in such a development, or if they would choose not to meddle with humanoid civilization.
The Giants of Xen’drik
Long ago, the dragons of Argonnessen taught the first secrets of magic to the young giants of Xen’drik. Today, this is known as kurash Ourelonastrix (“Aureon’s Folly”), and has resulted in the Conclave of Argonnessen forbidding dragons from sharing knowledge with lesser creatures. But a key point here is that the dragons couldn’t share their full secrets; as noted above, draconic magic draws on the inner power of the dragon. Instead, they taught the giants the basic principles of arcane magic—the fundamental building blocks of artifice and wizardry—and what followed was the result of tens of thousands of years of giant innovation. With that said, the early giants weren’t giants as we know them today. They were highly intelligent, powerful beings—closest to the modern cloud and storm giants, though even more intelligent and advanced. It’s known that their greatest leaders with something even greater—titans, or in 5E terms, empyreans. What’s unclear is whether these empyreans were always empyreans—if they were immortals infused with this power in the first age of the world—or if they were born mortal and somehow attained empyrean power. The latter theory is implied by a number of sources, but as of yet no one has recovered any information about how a giant could become an empyrean—and whether modern giants, or even other humanoids, could make use of these techniques.
The giants were never a single monolithic culture. Beyond that, over the course of tens of thousands of years, many cultures rose and fell within Xen’drik. Three cultures have been called out in canon sources, but keep in mind that this isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive list. These are examples of giant cultures, and perhaps the greatest of them. But it’s possible that there were others before them—and certain that there were others that rose after their fall, only to be destroyed by the Du’rashka Tul.
- The Cul’sir Dominion was the largest and most widespread of the giant nations. It’s hard to know the truth about a civilization that fell forty thousand years ago. According to the tales of the elves, the Cul’sir were ruthless tyrants who crushed countless lesser nations (including the feyspire Shae Tirias Tolai) while the recovered accounts of the Cul’sir depict their nation as a utopia that sought to assimilate more primitive nations for their own good. Likewise, it’s still unclear whether the Cul’sir suffered an unprovoked attack from Dal Quor, or whether the titan emperor Cul’sir sought to claim dominion over the Realm of Dreams, setting disastrous retribution in motion. What is known for certain is that the Cul’sir were a disciplined society with a strict social hierarchy and slaves of many species, that they destroyed the moon Crya in their war with the quori and that they were prepared to unleash even greater devastation rather than to allow the elves and other rebel slaves to bring down their empire. Cul’sir wizards and artificers excelled at evocation, conjuration, and enchantment—creating devastating weapons and enforcing their will upon lesser creatures.
- The Sulat League was powerful, but less ambitious than the Cul’sir Dominion. Its power was such that the Cul’sir acknowledged the Sulat giants as equals and traded with them, the League doesn’t appear to have sought greater dominion… Though it could be that there were unrecorded conflicts between the two powers that established this detante. The Sulat mages excelled at transmutation and abjuration, and especially elemental binding and magebreeding (here meaning the use of transmutation magic and mundane techniques to change a species in ways that could be passed on to offspring). The Sulat giants are said to have created the drow, and fire giants are also thought to be a devolved legacy of the Sulat League. Any number of monstrosities in Xen’drik could have been created by the magebreeders of the Sulat League.
- The Group of Eleven was an alliance of eleven city states, each ruled by an empyrean mage. The Eleven are known to have encouraged competition both within each city-state and between them, though this was a more ritualized and intellectual competition, not bloody warfare; nonetheless, this internal rivalry kept them from seeking power over other nations. The mages of the Eleven studied many branches of arcane science. Over time, each city chose to focus on the study of a single plane; the two that they left out of this efforts were Dal Quor (one reason the Cul’sir took such an interest in it) and Mabar. The Eleven explored the potential of externalist magic, of bargaining with the powers of a plane (though they seem to have had less success at this than the Unspoken of the Qabalrin, described below), and even exploring the planes; there are remnants of an Eleven outpost in the layer of Lamannia known as Titan’s Folly, and the empyrean Il’Ara now dwells in Risia with her subjects and slaves. While the Group of Eleven lacked the expansionist ambition of the Cul’sir Dominion, there’s no question that they did subjugate other species and considered themselves to be superior to other nations; it’s simply that conquest was never their primary goal.
One notable point is that none of these cultures employed necromancy. it could be that they dabbled with it and chose to turn away from it, or it might be that they simply never mastered this field of arcane science. It’s known that the Cul’sir Dominion feared and despised the Qabalrin elves (described later in this article) and that the Qabalrin practice of necromancy was part of this.
In general, the relics of the giants are a powerful draw for explorers and sages. Unlike the tools of the fiends and dragons, the giants relied on scientific principles (albeit arcane science) and as such there’s more that can be learned from their tools and their spells than those of the elder civilizations. However, as noted earlier, this doesn’t mean that it’s a simple matter to simply duplicate a Cul’sir technique or tool; there’s still a vast amount that modern sages have yet to unravel, and there’s a common belief that they may have used some form of dragonshard—either artificially created, or something naturally occurring that has been lost in the intervening millennia—that has yet to be identified. Nonetheless, the ruins of the giants can provide inspiration for modern artificers and wizards… and their artifacts and relics are more plentiful than those of the Age of Demons.
If you support my Patreon, this article goes into detail about the ancient nations of Sarlona. For the most part, these nations used techniques that are considered primitive today, but they had their own strengths. Here’s a quick overview.
- Corvagura was dominated by two lines of sorcerers. The House of the Sun had Thelanian ties and was tied to Wild Magic, fire, and enchantment; the House of the Moon produced Shadow sorcerers who worked with necromancy, though they didn’t animate the dead. Corvagurans relied on innate sorcerous talent rather than understanding the science behind their powers, but it’s possible there are relics in the ruins of Corvagura that can enhance the powers of modern sorcerers.
- Ohr Kaluun was dominated by Shadow Lords, who harnessed the powers of Kythri, Mabar, and Xoriat. Thanks to the influence of Kythri, they made countless breakthroughs in arcane science but would rarely maintain or preserve these techniques; thus Kaluunite wizards wielded astonishing powers but rarely passed their knowledge on to future generations. As such, the war mazes of Ohr Kaluun are a possible place to new spells or relics that could potentially be duplicated… but its possible that there’s good reason those relics and secrets were buried.
- Khunan developed a strong arcane tradition based in the principles of Externalist magic, drawing on the power of the planes—influence that’s especially strong in that region, because of the wild zones of Sarlona. The Khunan refugees who fled the Sundering discovered that their techniques didn’t work on Khorvaire, and lacked the resources to build a new path to power. However, the ancient wizards accomplished great things, and there may yet be those in Syrkarn who still use their ancient knowledge… Or who have found specific places in Khorvaire where the ancient spells still work.
The very existence of the Qabalrin is something hotly contested by modern scholars. Many suggest that the very idea of the Qabalrin—an isolated city-state of elves wielding such vast arcane power that they were feared by the Cul’sir Dominion—is a ludicrous myth, at odds with the proven existence of elf slaves and wild tribes. And if these mighty elves existed, why didn’t they leave a greater mark on the world? Others point to elements of this civilization that have persisted in Aerenal—the calendar known as the “Qabalrin Wheel”, certain techniques used by the line of Vol. The primary source on the Qabalrin is the Ouralon Fragments, a set of damaged Cul’sir spellshards. The Fragments include the following details…
- The god Ouralon came to the giants and taught them the secrets of arcane lore.
- While the giants stood in Ouralon’s light, his shadow fell across a city of elves. They embraced the Shadow and it taught them vile secrets.
- These Qabalrin blotted out the sun above them so that their city would always lie in shadow. Rather than expanding out, they delved down into Khyber.
- The Qabalrin practiced dangerous magics forbidden by Ouralon. They broke the laws of life and death and trafficked with fiends. Giant and elf alike feared their magic, but none had the strength to challenge them in battle.
- Finally Ouralon himself decided to destroy them. He ripped the heart of Siberys from the Progenitor’s corpse and hurled it at the city of the Qabalrin, utterly destroying the evil elves.
Part of the point of the Qabalrin is that they are essentially unknown—so it’s up to the DM to decide the absolute truth of the legends. Were they an independent civilization that evolved over the course of tens of thousands of years, which would disprove the idea that the elves were created after the Cul’sir Dominion sacked Shae Tirias Tolai? Or might the heart of their great city have been another stranded feyspire, perhaps one that chose to anchor itself to the material plane?
The concrete facts are that the Qabalrin were an isolated nation of elves located in the region of Stormreach now known as the Ring of Storms. They are said to have bargained with the Shadow (which could have been an overlord like Sul Khatesh), and the Qabalrin faction known as the Unspoken had extensive dealings with both native fiends and the denizens of the planes. A second faction, the Shapers of Night, worked with the powers of Mabar to unlock the secrets of necromancy, creating the first vampires. These two factions were rivals; the Unspoken considered the first vampires to be an unforgivable corruption of the elven spirit. Long feuds finally ending in open conflict. The Unspoken sealed the vampire lords of the Shapers of Night in prison tombs… but as they celebrated their victory, the sky began to fall. An early rain of Siberys shards devastated the city, culminating with a massive shard that devastated the region and utterly destroyed the Qabalrin. Before the end, the Unspoken performed an epic ritual that drew the spirits of the Qabalrin from their bodies, binding them together in a well of power not unlike the Silver Flame (on a far smaller scale). This power is the Umbra, the force harnessed by the Umbragen drow.
The upshot of this is that the Qabalrin were almost entirely destroyed, and that the greatest minds among them were either imprisoned in the depths or drawn into the Umbra—so those few who did survive the devastation and fled their home weren’t masters of their society’s great powers. So while it is the case that the Line of Vol had Qabalrin roots, those “roots” were tied to a handful of refugees who had likely been children or servants; the techniques they passed down were the simplest and most basic techniques. With that being said, the first vampires of the Qabalrin are still buried in the Ring of Storms, and one possibility—suggested in some canon sources—is that one or more of these ancient vampires could have been released, and could be influencing or assisting Lady Illmarrow, House Thuranni, or some other force.
In terms of magic, the Shapers of Night were the greatest mortal necromancers ever known. Beyond the initial guidance they received from “the Shadow,” they harnessed the power of Mabar in ways that no-one has managed since, and forged alliances with the dark power known as the Bone King. They crafted eldritch machines, spires that drew the power of Mabar directly into Eberron, draining the life from vast swaths of the Ring of Storms and sacrificing thousands of their own people in their question to master undeath. It is these acts that turned their own against them, and that ultimately resulted in their defeat at the hands of the Unspoken. It’s worth noting that they are primarily celebrated for creating the first VAMPIRES; it’s entirely possible that liches were a later innovation that the line of Vol developed tens of thousands of years later (though it’s also worth noting that the overlord Katashka created the first dracoliches during the Age of Demons)… and possible that the first oathbound (mummies) were actually the product of, say, Ohr Kaluun, meaning that the modern Blood of Vol reflects a blend of many traditions. Likewise, the Qabalrin created the FIRST vampires, but that doesn’t mean that all vampires are tied to the Qabalrin; they were simply the first to do it, but different strains of vampire were created at later times across the world, each with their own particular traits. Nonetheless, the Shapers of Night could be the source of epic necromantic rituals and artifacts, along with magic items that drain life, channel the power of Mabar, or command undead.
The Unspoken were peerless conjurers and abjurers, known for their bargains with fiends and powerful spirits. Their numbers may have included warlocks as well as wizards, but largely they bargained with dark forces as equals as opposed to pledging their services. Their artifacts and relics could be tied to summoning or binding spirits, such as the iron flask, or tied to planar travel, such as dream of the blue veil. Adventurers could encounter spirits bound by the Unspoken, or mighty beings who dealt with them in the distant past. A Qabalrin journal might include secrets about one of the Lords of Dust that could be invaluable to those fighting them. beyond this, the Unspoken still linger in the force known as the Umbra—though this is a gestalt entity, and it’s questionable if the spirits within it still possess any sense of individual identity.
Aerenal, the dwarf nation of Sol Udar, the Eternal Dominion of the Sahuagin, and the Empire of Dhakaan are all described in more detail in Exploring Eberron. The next article will explore a number of “primitive” techniques that rose in Khorvaire and are still practiced in places. There are far more—the Umbragen drow, for example—but this is all I have time to cover in this article.
Now that we’ve explored the nature of magic and the advantages of the modern style, the next article will look at the specific evolution of arcane science in Khorvaire, including the role of the Dragonmarked Houses, the Arcane Congress, and traditions that were abandoned over the passage of time. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who are the only reason I can afford to spend time writing these articles! In addition, starting in January I’ll be running the first session of my Threshold campaign for Patreon supporters, so if that’s something that’s interesting, check it out!
It’s the last hours of 2020 as I post this, and I do just want to thank all of you for making this a wonderful year for Eberron. It brings me joy to see people building their own adventures within the world, and the ongoing support for Exploring Eberron and for my Patreon—which allows me to spend time on this website—means the world to me. So thanks to you all, and I hope 2021 will bring even more adventures (and, I hope, happier times) for all of us.