Every month, my Patreon supporters select a topic for a major Eberron article. This month’s choice was the plane of Dolurrh. Additional information about Dolurrh and all of the planes of Eberron is coming soon inExploring Eberron!
Endless caverns stretch throughout Dolurrh, bleak passages of gray stone. Wherever you go, shadowy figures reach towards you, imploring, but you feel only the faintest chill as their insubstantial fingers pass through you. Mist pools around your feet, and as you press forward you realize this swirling mist is moaning. This is no natural phenomenon; these are the remnants of souls who have forgotten their original form. This is Dolurrh, where mortal souls go after their bodies die, where memories fade and lives are forgotten.
Mortal spirits are drawn to Dolurrh within moments of death, and their memories begin to decay immediately. Within days, most spirits no longer have any desire to leave Dolurrh; within weeks, most only have the faintest memories of their previous lives. The faiths of Aerenal and the Blood of Vol assert that Dolurrh is the absolute end of existence, the last echoes of a life before it is gone completely. But when Dorius Alyre ir’Korran drew his classic planar map he used the octogram symbol of the Sovereign Host to represent Dolurrh, because he declared it to be the door through which all mortals must pass to join with the Sovereigns. This has come to be a common view: what appears to be memory fading is actually the soul slowly ascending to a higher form of existence, rising to a level of reality no mortal can experience. The vassals of the Sovereign Host say the faithful finally join the Sovereigns; followers of the Silver Flame say that noble souls strengthen the Flame. What is left behind is a husk—the cast-off remnants, like an abandoned snakeskin or the traces of memory that can be read using speak with dead. Thus, while Dolurrh has long been known as the Realm of the Dead, there are many who call it The Gateway. Ultimately, this is a matter of faith. Whether the other side of Dolurrh is oblivion or paradise, no one ever returns from it.
All living creatures will come to Dolurrh, sooner or later. Those that come here before death are almost always looking for something: a lost soul, a forgotten memory. But living or dead, any who come to Dolurrh can be trapped by its power.
Everything about Dolurrh is gray and gloomy. Even the brightest colors seem faded, the most joyful sounds seem dull. The heavy weight weight of ennui settles on travelers the moment they arrive, making even the simplest tasks feel challenging. And there is a constant pull, tugging on memory and emotion, a desire to just sit down and let it all go.
- Eternal Ennui. When you enter Dolurrh, you immediately gain one level of ennui (described below). This cannot be removed by rest or any other effect. It is immediately removed when you leave Dolurrh.
- Impeded Magic. In order to cast a spell of 1st level or higher in Dolurrh, you must succeed on a spellcasting ability check with a DC equal to 10 + the level of the spell. On a failed check, the spell is not cast and its spell slot is not expended, but the action is lost.
- Timeless. Time passes on Dolurrh at the same rate as on Eberron. But creatures on Dolurrh don’t age, and do not need to eat, sleep, or drink. Other natural processes may be delayed, though living creatures can benefit from resting normally and can suffer damage and die.
- Inevitable Entrapment. Every time you complete a short or long rest, you must make a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw. If you fail, you gain one level of ennui. Each time you make this saving throw, the difficulty increases by 1. If you don’t complete a rest over the course of a 24 hour period, you must make this saving throw at dawn.
Ennui reflects the soul-sapping power of Dolurrh. It’s gained in levels, and duplicates the effects of exhaustion. However, it affects all creatures, including undead and other creatures immune to exhaustion. Ennui saps motion and memory. When a creature reaches six levels of ennui, its will is completely broken and it can take no purposeful action; if this happens to a living creature, its physical body dies and it becomes a husk bound to Dolurrh. Ennui is separate from exhaustion, and levels don’t stack. If a creature has both ennui and exhaustion, use which has more levels to determine the effects.
Undead cannot recover from ennui while in Dolurrh. If a living creature completes a long rest and succeeds on the saving throw against Inevitable Entrapment by 5 or more, they reduce their ennui level by 1. Creatures native to Dolurrh are immune to Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment, but still have to deal with the effects of Impeded Magic.
DENIZENS OF DOLURRH
The native creatures of Dolurrh are bound to the cycle of transition, and all have some role to serve in this process. Nalfeshnee demons patrol the Catacombs of Dolurrh, dispersing melds and lemures and dealing with mortal intruders; Dolurrhi nalfeshnee appear as large humanoids whose features are shrouded by gray mist. Marut inevitables are more powerful guardians, and are occasionally dispatched to Eberron to intervene with acts of resurrection. No one is sure what triggers this deadly intervention, but Jorasco healers will always cast augury before raising the dead; if the result is “woe” they will refuse the job. Finally, the shadar-kai are servants of the Queen of the Dead, shades granted new life in this form. They serve her in the Vault of Memories and occasionally as her hands on Eberron, though their actions are almost always enigmatic. Other denizens of Dolurrh are unique. The Librarian is found in the Vault of Memories, while the Smith of Souls dwells in the Crucible; both are described later in this section.
The spirits of the dead are omnipresent in Dolurrh. Shades are souls that are freshly arrived in Dolurrh, and maintain a portion of their memory and original appearance. They are insubstantial and can’t interact with material objects. Shades that are overcome by ennui become husks, which have only the vaguest memories of their past lives or awareness of their surroundings. Occasionally a group of husks cluster around one strong memory, forming an ectoplasmic mass called a meld that seeks more memories to consume; these are presented in more detail in Exploring Eberron.
Sometimes a shade clings to a memory with such intensity that even Dolurrh can’t eradicate it—perhaps a terrible mistake or bitter grudge. Other memories fade, but the creature lingers as a ghost and can be a danger to mortals. Other forms of undead are rarely seen in Dolurrh. The entities found here are the spirits of the dead, either undergoing transition or trapped in the process. Corporeal undead such as ghouls, skeletons, or zombies have no place here, while undead that hunger to consume life belong in Mabar.
Memories of joy and happiness do no harm in Dolurrh. But memories of pain, of cruelty, of anger… these don’t fade so easily, and they can hurt others. Even if they don’t trap shades as ghosts, this psychic residue can build up in the gears of the spiritual machinery of Dolurrh. Often it takes the presence of a mortal to trigger it; when this occurs, the lingering pain and hate coalesces into a solid form. The least of these are lemures, which are formed from hateful memories or deeds. The emotional residue of hundreds or thousands of people can form deadly sorrowsworn. In particular, the Last War and the Mourning created a lot of deaths that could fuel manifestations of the Angry and the Lost. When a character is struck by one of the Lingering, they may have a flash of one of the memories or deeds that drive the entity.
The Lingering are formed in Dolurrh and are immune to the effects of Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment. However, they are a waste product, not the desired result. Nalfeshnee, maruts, and other guardians will destroy the Lingering whenever they are found.
The Queen of the Dead
The Queen of the Dead dwells in the great spire that rises up above the Vault of Memories. She is the most powerful being in Dolurrh, and has the ability to pluck shades from the cycle of entrapment and even to grant them new life. She appears to be an elf woman, robed in silver and black, her face hidden by a cracked alabaster mask. But little is known about her motives or her origins. She creates the shadar-kai by housing shades in new bodies. She saves other souls that she never restores; she preserves them in the Vault of Memories, saving them from dissolution for unknown reasons. She collects secrets and memories, plucking her favorites from those gathered by the Librarian and keeping them in her personal collection. Sometimes she seems to directly oppose mortal necromancers, especially Lady Illmarrow. At other times she seems to be interested in killing specific people, perhaps so she can preserve their spirits or their memories. But such direct action is extremely rare, remarkable if it occurs more than once in a century; most of the time she remains silent in Dolurrh, unknown and unknowable.
There are many mysteries about the Queen of the Dead. She takes the form of an elf and gives her shadar-kai elven bodies, yet she existed long before the elves. Her actions directly involve the Material Plane, in a way unusual for the great planar powers. This may simply be tied to her role as keeper of the gateway; or there may be some greater secret yet to be revealed.
LAYERS OF DOLURRH
Dolurrh is universally gray and gloomy. All layers that have been described in the accounts of explorers have appeared to be underground; no one has ever seen the sky in Dolurrh. Unlike most planes, the layers of Dolurrh don’t embody different ideas; instead, they serve different functions. Dolurrh is a machine for gathering, collecting, and perhaps transitioning souls; all of its layers serve that purpose. Here are four of them.
Tunnels are carved into gray stone. In some places they are painfully tight; in others they widen into grand halls, with ceilings lost in the darkness. The dead are everywhere, shades pleading for release and husks keening in the shadows. Some chambers contain vast wells filled with moaning mist; in others nalfeshnee herd shades into pens or scrape lemures off the walls. There is no particular logic to it, just endless tunnels.
The Catacombs may be larger than Khorvaire, or even Eberron. A mortal could wander forever through these winding tunnels, or at least until they are consumed by ennui. However, there are junction points that transcend the logic of distance. If one knows the right symbols to follow, they can cross the vastness of the Catacombs quickly or pass to other layers.
All the mortals born on Eberron are bound to Dolurrh, but like spirits are drawn together. The Catacombs holds the spirits of dead humanoids. The Kennel is similar in appearance, but it contains the shades and husks of beasts and monstrosities. Here you’ll hear the howls of fading wolf spirits, and see flocks of spectral birds flying through grand halls… along with larger and more fierce creatures. Beast spirits rarely linger long in Dolurrh, as most have fewer memories to erase.
It’s possible that the Queen of the Dead has created special servants that wander these halls, just as she has made the shadar-kai; adventurers could be questioned by a clever raven with the soul of a poet. But nalfeshnee and maruts can be found here as well as in the Catacombs.
In the Crucible, the immortal spirit known as the Smith of Souls refines the essence of faded spirits and creates things out of this husksteel. The Smith forges the armor and weapons of the shadar-kai, and creates the maruts from the husks of brave souls. She also creates smaller and stranger items from husksteel. This is a comparatively small layer, but it is still a grand foundry, tended by shadar-kai and guarded by newly-forged maruts.
The Smith wears a mask of black steel and an apron that seems to be made from dragonhide. When forging maruts she is a giant; when crafting tiny trinkets she appears to be a gnome. It’s possible that she collects the memories of mortal artisans, and can replicate their works at her forge.
The Vault of Memories
The heart of Dolurrh is the Vault of Memories. It’s a tower carved up through gray stone, larger than any of the great towers of Sharn. The lowest levels are the Library. Here, the spirit known as the Librarian interviews each shade and makes a record of its life. The power of the Librarian is such that an entire life can be confined to a single large page. Every sigil inscribed holds a crucial memory; a character proficient in Arcana can read the symbol to experience that memory. The many floors of the library hold countless books of preserved lives, carefully tended by shadar-kai scribes. The Librarian himself is a massive hooded figure, and his books are enormous. It’s said that he can be many places at once, which is how he is able to speak to every shade before it fades.
In the halls above the library, the Queen of the Dead keeps her many treasures. What seem to be obsidian statues are actually shades, crystallized to prevent them from fading into husks. Paintings and crystals contain memories that the Queen has chosen to isolate. Beyond these are countless trinkets and oddities, items collected by her shadar-kai over the vast scope of history. And higher still are the chambers of the Queen herself, where she usually sits in silent contemplation listening to the whispers of the countless shades in her domain.
MANIFESTATIONS OF DOLURRH
Here are a few of the ways Dolurrh can affect the Material Plane.
Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh rarely possess the full properties of the plane. But they are close to the Realm of the Dead, and that means they are almost always haunted. Shadows may move in strange ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out.
Restless spirits yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in Dolurrhi zones. Sometimes they manifest as ghosts. Other times they’ll animate the corpses of people buried in the zone; these creatures are effectively zombies, but may display unusual intelligence as they seek to resolve their unfinished business. Raising the dead can be dangerous in a Dolurrhi zone; there’s a chance that the wrong spirit will be returned to the body!
While these are negative traits, Dolurrhi zones can have positive effects. In many zones it is easier to return people from the dead; you only have to spend half the usual material components when casting such a spell. In others, anyone can cast speak with dead as a ritual; this takes an hour to perform, and the caster must have the corpse they wish to speak with and a personal connection to the deceased.
The most dramatic manifest zones are those that serve as gateways to the Catacombs of Dolurrh. Opening such a gateway might require a special ritual, a significant sacrifice, an alignment involving the moon Aryth, or all of the above. It might only work if Dolurrh is coterminous. But under the right circumstances, you can use the gateway to enter the Realm of the Dead—and hopefully, to return.
Coterminous and Remote
As with any plane, Dolurrh can become coterminous or remote when it serves the needs of a story. It has has a slow planar cycle, and becomes coterminous for a full year once every century. Fifty years after that, it is remote for a full year. Shorter phases are tied to the movements of the moon Aryth.
While Dolurrh is coterminous, it’s easier for ghosts to slip from the Realm of the Dead into the Material Plane, especially around Dolurrhi manifest zones. Any form of magic that restores life to the dead can also serve as a conduit for unwanted spirits.
While Dolurrh is remote, no form of magic that restores life to the dead—including revivify or reincarnate—will function. The only way to restore life to the dead in these times is by directly traveling to Dolurrh and pulling the shade back to the world. Ghosts are also especially common in this time. But these aren’t ghosts that return from Dolurrh; rather, if Dolurrh is remote when people die in the grip of great emotion or with vital unfinished business, their spirits can more easily resist Dolurrh’s pull.
The most common types of visitors from Dolurrh have already been discussed. A marut may show up in response to resurrection. Ghosts may drag their way back into the world. And the shadar-kai—or other revenant servants of the Queen of the Dead—may come to the world pursuing her enigmatic missions.
The most common Dolurrhi artifacts are the creations of the Smith of Shadows. These are formed of husksteel, the fused essence of faded souls. Depending on the nature of the object, it could be crafted from a single spirit—a dagger whose edge is forged from a single moment of pain—or from the emotional residue of multiple husks. Despite the name, husksteel can appear as dark metal, slick black leather, dark iridescent cloth, or other substances.
In creating a husksteel object, consider the memory or emotion that is the heart of the item. For a magic item, this should reflect its purpose; a husksteel cloak of elvenkind could be formed from a secret. A husksteel variation on a dagger of venom might be formed from a moment of absolute terror; when its power is invoked, the victim struck by the dagger must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take 2d10 psychic damage and be frightened of the wielder for 1 minute.
Other husksteel items are largely curiosities. Adventurers could find a monocle that shows the last thing seen by a dead man, or a journal containing poems written by a celebrated poet—after they died.
Returning life to the dead is not a reliable service in Eberron. There are many characters who are capable of casting the necessary spells, from clerics to adepts of House Jorasco. But just because it can be cast doesn’t mean that it should be cast… or that it will work if it does.
The first and simplest limitation is time. The longer a spirit remains in Dolurrh, the more it falls under the sway of ennui. Any spell that returns life to the dead requires the spirit to want to return. Once the shade becomes a husk, it can no longer make that decision and can’t be raised or reincarnated; note that most religions maintain that this is because at this point the true soul has moved on to a higher level of existence; you can’t easily pull someone back from their union with the Sovereigns. So you only have about a week or two—depending on the strength of will of the victim—to pull them back. But even before that time, it is quite possible that the spirit will simply choose not to return. What is it they have to live for? Is that worth fighting to lulling ennui of Dolurrh?
The second limitation is risk. The appearance of maruts is extraordinarily rare, but in part that’s because Jorasco knows to check beforehand and won’t raise someone if there’s a risk. Essentially, the question is whether this person is supposed to come back… or if this is, indeed, their time to die. If so, a marut may appear to challenge the resurrection.
The final risk is the direct intervention of a higher power. It’s said that the Keeper can snatch souls before they reach Dolurrh. It’s up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to this myth; the story says that such souls must be recovered from the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes. The Keeper itself may or may not be there, but it’s certainly the abode of a powerful dracolich! Alternatively, the Queen of the Dead can crystallize a shade and prevent it from being restored, or she can catch a spirit that’s about to be restored and set a price on its passage. The flip side of direct intervention is that the Queen of Death—or another power that seems dramatically appropriate, as chosen by the DM—could offer to return a shade to life for a price. This is a way to bring a low-level character who can’t afford resurrection back to life, while adding a hook to their story. This article provides some ideas about the possible cost of a life.
Perhaps your augury warns you of woe. Perhaps Dolurrh is remote. There’s one way you can always bring someone to life: to go to Dolurrh, find their shade, and drag it back out to the Material Plane. All you need to do is to locate a single soul in the endless Catacombs (perhaps with the help of a native guide, the records in the Vault of Memories, or powerful divination magic) and evade the many guardians to return to the world. But if you succeed, the victim receives a new body, just as if you’d cast true resurrection; and while the defenders will try to stop you from leaving, they won’t interfere once you return to Eberron. It is theoretically possible to restore a husk in this way as well, but it won’t restore lost memories. Most resurrected husks are effectively mindless. Some can relearn new skills, though their original memories are forever lost. This is why people don’t try to bring back the Tairnadal ancestors or Galifar I; you could bring a body back, but it’s not the original person in any meaningful way. This is why the Queen of the Dead (and perhaps the Keeper) preserves certain shades from decay—so that it could be possible to restore them, even after centuries.
In the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion sent an army into Dolurrh to recover the spirits of a family lost in the Quori Conflict; none returned. The Queen of the Dead doesn’t care if a shade or two are stolen every century or even every decade. But her power cannot be contested in Dolurrh, and thieves who attract her personal attention will find their shades torn from their bodies in the blink of an eye.
Dolurrh can inspire many simple stories through its manifest zones or escaped ghosts. A husksteel trinket could provide a flash of memory that sets the adventurers on a particular path. And finding a way to rescue a shade from the underworld is always an epic tale. Here’s a few deeper stories to consider.
The Once and Future Queen of the Dead. The Queen of the Dead is an enigmatic figure who wields great power in Dolurrh. But there’s another being who uses this title: Erandis Vol, the last heir of the Mark of Death. Through her agents in the Order of the Emerald Claw and beyond, Erandis seeks to restore the power of her dragonmark; no one knows what godlike powers she might wield if she unlocks its full potential. Meanwhile, the Queen of the Dead seems to oppose Erandis, and often sends her agents—both shadar-kai and adventurers she’s restored to life at a price—to interfere with Vol’s schemes. This could be exactly what it appears. The Queen of the Dead may despise necromancers, and Vol is seeking to depose her. But perhaps there’s more to it. Time works in strange ways when dealing with the planes and beings of vast power. Perhaps the Queen of the Dead isn’t trying to stop Erandis; perhaps she’s guiding her down a very specific path. Perhaps Erandis will become the Queen of the Dead, in which case, she always will have been her. Or perhaps that’s what’s supposed to happen, but there’s a way in which it could still go wrong… which could destroy the Queen of the Dead and throw Dolurrh itself into chaos.
Agent of Death. After the adventurers kill a nefarious villain, their foe reappears alive and well. This happens time and again. How is the villain escaping from Dolurrh? Are acting as an agent for the Queen of the Dead, or have they simply found a back door to the Realm of the Dead? Either way, what can the adventurers do to lay them to rest once and for all?
Devastating Sorrow. When Dolurrh becomes coterminous, a powerful sorrowsworn emerges and devastates the region. The adventurers may not have the ability to defeat the sorrowsworn in battle, but if they understand the circumstances of its creation—the emotion that drives it and the event that triggered it they might be able to disperse the deadly monster by defusing this emotion.
That’s it for now. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for choosing the topic!