July is quickly fading, but as time allows I want to answer a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, people asked about a pair of priests—High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane and Zerasha of Graywall.
Dealing with the Divine
Krozen and Zerasha are both powerful divine spellcasters. In third edition, Krozen was defined as a 12th level cleric of the Silver Flame, making him one of the most powerful clerics in canon Khorvaire. While never defined, Zerasha is supposed to be similar in her power—a priest respected and feared by a city of monsters and the mind flayer who governs it. Given that most priests in Khorvaire are adepts—or don’t even cast spells at all—I want players to feel how remarkable these individuals are when they encounter them. A powerful wizard is essentially a scientist, someone who uses logic and knowledge to break the laws of reality. A powerful divine caster is something else. Both Zerasha and Krozen are the chosen agents of cosmic powers. The Sovereigns and Six are omnipresent forces. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals, and Zerasha is one of its chief agents. Krozen can command the dead to return to life or call celestials from the essence of the Silver Flame. We can debate the existence of the Sovereigns, but the Silver Flame is the force that stands between Eberron and the overlords, and Krozen is a conduit for its power. These aren’t just people who have learned how to perform magic tricks. They are the chosen agents of vast cosmic forces. If you’ll pardon the phrase, they are burdened with glorious purpose.
But how do you make the powerful priest feel different from a wizard or a prince? This is something I discuss at more length in this article. One of the key points is to separate the way divine NPCs cast spells from how player characters do it. We need the structure of the classes for player characters because we need tactical precision, and I’m fine to say that in combat, Krozen casts spells as a 12th level cleric. But outside of combat I don’t feel that he needs to engage with his magic in the same way as a player character. The most common divine spellcasters—adepts—function much like magewrights; they have a specific set of cantrips and spells they can cast and that’s all they can cast. A typical spellcasting priest might be able to cast thaumaturgy, light, and ceremony. There are specialist adepts—oracles who can cast divination, healers who can perform lesser restoration—but the oracle can’t just decide to become a healer in the morning. They have been granted a divine gift, and they can’t exchange it for another one. More powerful spellcasters like Zerasha and Krozen aren’t limited like this, but they also don’t call their divinity on the phone each morning and make spell requests. Their divine power source grants them the spells they need when they need them, provided the request is justified. Krozen doesn’t prepare zone of truth ahead of time, but if he formally demands you speak the truth in the light of the Flame, zone of truth happens. Essentially, his spells are selected on the fly to match the situation he finds himself in. But the contrast is that he doesn’t have the freedom a PC has to request any spell. The Flame may empower Krozen to raise someone from the dead or to smite them with a flame strike, but in spite of his effective level it’s not going to grant him the power to create undead or to cast contagion; these aren’t the tools of a righteous servant of the Flame, and if you DO see a Flame priest using such spells, it’s a clear sign that they are actually a servant of the Whispering Flame or a warlock hacking the Flame. Krozen may take actions we consider evil, but he believes his actions are righteous in the light of the Flame; he’s not drawing on malefic powers.
Divination is another important example. With the spellcasting power of a 12th level cleric, Krozen could technically cast commune three times a day, along with a batch of auguries. And that’s how things work for PCs. But Krozen doesn’t just have some magic hotline that he can dial three times per day. He can’t just call up Tira Miron and say “Does Boranel dye his hair? Yes? I KNEW it!” It’s not some sort of abstract, scientific tool that he can just use for whatever random, trivial detail he wants to know. But the flip side is that he may simply receive information that he needs—that he can receive divine visions. Even when he doesn’t cast augury, he may suddenly KNOW that a decision he’s about to make could lead to disaster. Even without commune, he might KNOW the truth about a situation. This is especially relevant for Zerasha, because part of what defines the Shadow is dangerous secrets. Consider this description of the Shadow from this article:
As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost.
So It’s not that Zerasha sits down and says “I want to know secrets about this player character” and casts commune or some other divination spell; it’s that when the players come before her, she simply DOES know who killed the paladin’s parents and why the rogue murdered their partner, because that’s part of what it means to be the voice of the Shadow.
The short form is that when dealing with NPCs who are powerful divine spellcasters, I want them to FEEL like they are conduits to powers far greater than they are. When Krozen demands that you speak the truth, zone of truth happens. When he barks out an order, it may become a command, because that’s the power that flows through him. I want the powerful priest to feel larger then life, because at the end of the day they are the conduits for something that IS larger than life.
Now, reading all this, you might say “But I thought Eberron was the setting where we don’t know if the gods even exist.” We know that deities don’t walk the world in Eberron. You will never have a chance to punch Aureon in the face. But we know that divine power sources exist. We know that priests have been drawing on the POWER of Aureon for tens of thousands of years, and that in part because of this, most people believe divine forces exist. They may argue about details; the Cazhaak interpretation of the Dark Six is quite different from how they’re depicted in the Pyrinean Creed. But most people believe in SOME form of divinity, and part of the reason for that is the fact that divine magic exists.
With all of this in mind, you might say “If that’s how you handle NPC priests, why don’t you deal with player character clerics in the same way?” I offer some suggestions in that direction in this article. But fifth edition embraces the idea that NPCs and PCs don’t have to follow the same rules. Part of being a player character is having flexibility and tactical control. It’s about having the ability to make choices. I’ve played campaigns in which divine characters CHOSE to give me more control over their spells—embracing the idea that the powers were gifts they didn’t fully control—but that was a choice they made that fit the story of that character. But one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable, and I have no problem with them having a greater degree of versatility and precision than most other servants of the divine.
Having worked through that, let’s talk about the two specific priests that people have asked about…
Who is High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane?
Our blessed child is the Keeper of the Flame and shows us all the path to the light. But I am the keeper of the nation, and if I must toil in the darkness to ensure its prosperity, so be it.High Cardinal Krozen
People have lots of questions about Cardinal Krozen of Thrane. What’s his first name? Does he realize he’s evil? Does he believe in a greater good—or for that matter, does he even believe in the Silver Flame? What makes him more important than the other 11 High Cardinals of the Church? These are all good questions. I’ve always liked Krozen, but my vision of him is quite different from how he’s evolved in canon sources. I know what I originally planned for him when we first created the character, and that’s how I use him, so I’ll lay that out here. Keep in mind that this directly contradicts multiple canon sources (which, admittedly, contradict themselves on some points). This is MY interpretation and I am not going to reconcile it with what other authors have done with the character; it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer.
My original vision of High Cardinal Thrane was loosely inspired by Cardinal Richelieu as depicted in The Three Musketeers—a ruthless man who is engaged in sly intrigues, but who is nonetheless an extremely capable leader, perhaps moreso than the king the protagonists serve. It was always my vision that Cardinal Krozen was devoted to Thrane and that he performs his duties exceptionally well—that he is a brilliant strategist and a charismatic orator. But this is tied to the idea that he truly believes that he knows what is best for the nation. The basic dictate of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Where Jaela recognizes that this applies to ALL innocents, regardless of their faith or nationality, Krozen believes that you aren’t innocent unless you’re a Thrane and a servant of the faith, and don’t oppose him. He DOES fight to protect the innocent—but only those HE decides are innocent.
So I see Cardinal Krozen as a remarkable man—one of the player characters of his generation. He’s human and I see him as being about fifty years old. The details of his youth—and, in fact, his first name—aren’t generally known; the general story is that he lived on the Aundairian border and that the Flame granted him the power to perform great deeds, first in the defense of his village and then as a templar. He was always charismatic and intelligent, but beyond that, his divine power was always remarkable; when he called on the Flame, he gained the power to smite his foes. In his early twenties he rose out of the templars and into the hierarchy of the church, turning his gifts to leadership behind the scenes rather than fighting on the battlefield. From there, his star rose and rose; those who opposed him were either won over by his charisma or driven from his path, one way or another.
Part of the core idea of Krozen is that he represents the danger of Thrane becoming a theocracy—that in doing so it drags the church into the management of temporal matters and political concerns. The idea of Thrane is that Jaela Daran represents the pure ideals of the faith—while Cardinal Krozen deals with political realities. Again, Jaela does believe that “protect the innocent” applies to all people—that Krozen believes that it can only be applied to the faithful and to Thranes. It’s not that he is a vile, selfish person; but he has blended his faith with his devotion to his nation and places the good of Thrane over all others. Beyond this, Krozen very much has a Chosen One mentality. He possesses immense divine power, and in his mind this proves his righteousness. He believes he was given this power to serve the interests of Thrane, and the fact that he still wields that power proves that he is right to do so. He will crush others who get in his way—even other priests or templars—because he believes, again, that those who oppose him aren’t innocent.
In considering all this, take a moment to think about the Shadow in the Flame. There are those—the Whispering Flame cultists—who knowingly choose to serve Bel Shalor. But the true power of the Shadow in the Flame is its ability to piggyback on the Voice of the Flame and to pour poison in the ears of the truly faithful. Bel Shalor loves to erode empathy and to convince people to do evil when they only seek to do good. The Shadow in the Flame reveled in the suffering caused by the Silver Crusade, and Bel Shalor undoubtedly sees Cardinal Krozen as a valuable tool. The question for the DM to decide is how much of a hold does Bel Shalor have over the Cardinal? In MY Eberron, Krozen KNOWS the dangers posed by the Shadow of the Flame; all the faithful do. And with that in mind, he does his best to resist those impulses; he knows that he does questionable things (like, you know, torture and murder…) but he truly believes that he is acting for the greater good and that he’s NOT a tool of the Shadow in the Flame. But in your campaign you could decide that he HAS fallen prey to Bel Shalor’s whispers and no longer realizes the evil he is doing… or even go further and decide that he is a priest of the Whispering Flame. Personally I prefer to follow the shades-of-grey model, to say that while Krozen does evil things, he only does them when pursuing the interests of Thrane—that he always believes his actions are justified. I like the idea that Krozen knows he walks a dark path, but that he believes it is the path the Flame has set him on, and that at the end of the day he is protecting the innocent—even if he has had to sacrifice his own innocence to do it.
Now, some people may be say “That’s all fine, but who IS he?” Krozen is one of the high cardinals of Thrane. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting…
This group of powerful church leaders administers both the workings of the church and the functions of the government. In theory, the cardinals answer to the Keeper of the Flame. In practice, they run the church and the government, only dealing with the Keeper on issues that require divine attention and interaction with the Voice of the Flame. The cardinals believe that they know best when it comes to running the government and the church, and they leave the Keeper to deal with the well-being of the spirit of the nation. This arrangement has led to problems between the Council and the Keeper in the past, but the current Keeper seems interested more in divine and spiritual matters than the intricacies of secular administration.
There may be twelve High Cardinals, but Krozen is the effective leader of the Council—and thus, of Thrane. If you have a divine problem, talk to Jaela. But if you’re looking into the deployment of Thrane troops or about getting more resources for Rellekor, it’s Krozen who can get things done. The general idea is that Krozen is in many ways the opposite of Jaela. Where the Keeper is compassionate, the Cardinal is ruthless. The Cardinal is a master of political intrigue, while Jaela prefers honest dealing. Jaela wants what’s best for all innocents; Krozen cares only for Thrane.
The final thing I’ll call about about Krozen is this: If there’s twelve high cardinals, why is he the leader? What makes him special? The short answer is that what makes him special is that he IS special. Again, not all priests are spellcasters at all, and in a world where everyday magic goes to 3rd level, a 12th level spellcaster is remarkable. He can raise the dead! Those who oppose him are struck down by flame strikes! You’ve seen him shape celestials from the pure power of the Flame! And as I said, while I don’t just let him cast commune three times a day, he hears the Voice of the Flame in ways that others do not (and, of course, potentially the Shadow in the Flame as well). There’s surely other spellcasters among the cardinals, but Krozen stands out; if you look to the 3.5 statistics, he’s notably a more powerful spellcaster than the high priest of the Host and Archierophant Ythana in Sharn: City of Towers. Power alone isn’t everything, but the whole idea is that this power is matched with passion and charisma—that just like a player character, Krozen is remarkable. With this in mind, he doesn’t command the Council of Cardinals, but he has won the loyalty of the majority of its members and thus is the EFFECTIVE leader of the council. In my opinion, there’s four cardinals who are utterly devoted to him; three who believe he’s doing what’s best for Thrane; and four who don’t support him. Of these four, all believe that the Keeper shows the proper path for the nation and that Krozen’s actions are concerning; one or two may have deeper concerns, or believe that he is serving the Shadow in the Flame. So Krozen DOESN’T have absolute control of the council, but he’s effectively the leader.
Krozen as a Villain
As I’ve just spent a lot of time insisting that Krozen believes he’s acting for the good of Thrane and that he is an effective leader, you might wonder if I actually see him as a villain. I do, generally—just a villain with many layers. He performs evil deeds in pursuit of the greater good, and more than that, he is only concerned with the greater good of THRANE. When I use Krozen, I want it to be clear why people support him. I want Thranes, in particular, to feel conflicted because Krozen IS good at his job—that if the nation was guided purely by the idealistic Jaela, it would be easy prey for the machinations of Kaius, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, and the Dark Lanterns. Krozen is effective; but is that enough to justify his methods? And IS he a tool of the Shadow in the Flame, even if he refuses to see it?
Zerasha, the Voice of the Shadow
You think you know why you’re here. You think we have to be enemies. But that’s the voice of your petty and jealous Sovereigns, who fear what you could become if you follow the paths I could show you.Zerasha of Graywall
The medusa Zerasha is a priest of the Shadow in the city of Graywall. She’s mentioned in a Dragon article, which says…
The street ends at the Eye of the Shadow, a small windowless temple formed from black stone. The medusa priestess Zerasha holds court here. A fearsome combatant and skilled ritual caster, Zerasha is the most influential voice in Graywall after Xorchylic; the people of the town have come to trust her oracular gifts. At the moment, she is an ally of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but her first loyalty is to the Shadow and to her own warlord, the Queen of Stone. Should there ever be a civil war in Graywall, the black-scaled medusa will be a force with which to be reckoned.Backdrop: Graywall, Dragon 368
That’s the only canon information that exists on her. Since I wrote that article, people have asked: What is the priestess Zerasha’s relationship with Xorchylic? What are her goals, and what might cause those goals to become so misaligned with Xorchylic’s as to cause open conflict?
In my mind, Zerasha is truly devoted to her faith and to her Queen, in that order. As described in this article, she believes that the Shadow is the guide and guardian of those creatures followers of the Sovereigns consider monsters. Beyond this, she is what the article describes as a mentor. Acting on behalf of the Shadow, she seeks to help the faithful achieve their ambitions—even if that means following the darkest possible paths to do so. Beyond that, the Shadow is the Sovereign of secrets. As described above, she is an oracle—not as gifted in this regard as Sora Teraza, but certainly the most powerful oracle in Graywall. She knows secrets. Having said that, as I called out above, her knowledge comes from the Shadow and she doesn’t know things until she needs to know them. When she meets a player character, the Shadow may tell her their secrets; but it’s not like she just randomly knows everyone’s secrets all the time. And again, if the Shadow shares a secret with Zerasha, it’s so she can DO something with that secret.
So in terms of her goals, I believe that Zerasha’s goals are first and foremost to offer spiritual guidance to the people of Graywall and to help them achieve their true potential. Beneath that, her goals are whatever tasks the Shadow sets before her; it’s quite common for her to feel that there is a particular individual the Shadow wishes her to focus on, someone who needs to be guided on the proper path. And beneath that, her loyalty is to her queen, the medusa Sheshka, and to the people of Cazhaak Draal.
Her relationship with Xorchyllic largely depends on what the DM decides Xorchyllic is truly up to. As long as Xorchyllic is pursuing the greater good of Graywall and Droaam, Zerasha will support him. But we’ve called out that the Flayer Guard of Droaam serve the interests of the governor first and the common folk second. If Xorchyllic is somehow oppressing or harming a portion of the city in pursuit of his personal agenda, that could bring him into conflict with Zerasha. Ultimately, the question is what is the interest of the Shadow? If the Shadow supports Xorchyllic and wants the illithid to achieve its ambitions, Zerasha could work closely with the governor. On the other hand, if the Shadow is most interested in helping a lowly kobold on the Street of Shadows achieve her ambitions of overthrowing Xorchyllic and becoming a new warlord, than Zerasha would oppose the mind flayer. The same is true for player characters. What does the Shadow think of them? It could be that it favors their enemies, in which case Zerasha will oppose them. Or it could be that the Shadow has an interest in one of the adventurers and wants to show them the path to power—in which case, Zerasha who seek to serve as their mentor. But again, a mentor of the Shadow will always lead you down dangerous paths…
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.