Dragonmarks: Sora Teraza and the Demon Wastes

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like this…

Did/does Sora Teraza have a carrion tribe dedicated to her?

When the Daughters of Sora Kell revealed themselves as the rulers of the newfound nation of Droaam, the people of western Khorvaire were shocked and terrified. The Daughters of Sora Kell were figures from folk tales, from the stories parents used to frighten troublesome children or inspire young heroes. Everyone knew stories of the ravenous, unstoppable Sora Maenya; the cunning Sora Katra; and the… wait? There’s three of them? Who’s the third one? Sora Teraza was largely only known to scholars who studied the Demon Wastes. Confirmed accounts of her came from records recovered from Greenholt and Kymar’s Folly, and there were apocryphal accounts from other explorers and would-be pioneers—a mysterious blind woman, oddly at ease in the deadly surroundings, who greeted the protagonists of the story by name. Sometimes she predicted doom—When the sun rises in seven days, there will be no one living in Newholt. In other tales, she presents travelers with difficult choices—Fortune favors you, ir’Dayne. If you hold to your course, you will find the orb you seek in the ruins of the shattered tower. But you should know: your daughter is dying. A subtle Khyberian infection festering in her blood. None have noticed the signs, and unless it is treated with Aram’s crown she will be dead in three days. Turn back this moment, and you will reach the Sivis station in time to send a message. But if you turn back now… you will never see this tower again. But there are only a few of these stories, buried in library vaults or ir’Dayne’s personal journals. So one might wonder… how is it that Teraza stands proudly alongside her sisters? The answer is that she is just as legendary as they are. She is featured in just as many stories as Sora Maenya. She has been spoken of in whispers for centuries… but not in the Five Nations. Sora Teraza is a legend, but she’s a legend in the Demon Wastes… a tale of the Carrion Tribes.

Who are the Carrion Tribes?

The Carrion Tribes are the primary denizens of the Demon Wastes. The people of the Five Nations know little about them, and the common vision of the Carrion echoes this description from the Eberron Campaign Setting:

Descended from Sarlonan refugees stranded in the Wastes more than a millennium and a half ago, the Carrion Tribes consist of vicious humans who worship the malevolent spirits that haunt the Wastes. Over the centuries a handful of different tribes have emerged, each following a different fiendish overlord. No matter which fiend they pledge allegiance to, the Carrions are bloodthirsty nomads known to slaughter any strangers they come across—including members of other Carrion Tribes.

Reading this, people might wonder: Why would anyone choose to live in the Demon Wastes? Why would anyone willingly choose to revere a fiend? Don’t they know the overlords are evil? In my opinion, that ECS quote reflects the common vision of the tribes—but the truth is more complex. The Demon Wastes is a glimpse of what the world was like during the Age of Demons. It is a place where multiple overlords touch the world, more strongly than anywhere else. And what most delights the overlords? Tormenting mortals. Rak Tulkhesh yearns for mortal bloodshed. Ashurak delights in slow suffering and disease. Katashka wants the living to fear the dead. Over the course of history, there have been Carrion Tribes of many species. The first Ghaash’kala fought corrupted orcs and gnolls in the Wastes. There have been dwarves, shifters, goblins, and even halfling tribes over the course of millennia. How do they get there? The obvious way is shipwrecks. The influence of the Wastes extends into the waters off the coast, and vessels that travel too close can be caught in unnatural currents or storms. The largest single migration in recent history is the event called out in the ECS—a wave of refugee ships from Ohr Kaluun fleeing the Sundering, pursued by war galleys from Nulakhesh—all of which were dashed against the reefs and rocks of the Wastes. This brought thousands of humans to the Wastes, but it wasn’t the only time this happened. When Lhazaar settled on eastern Khorvaire, there were explorers who came to the other side, only to be lost in the Wastes. And throughout the history of Galifar there have been merchants and soldiers blown off course, and explorers and treasure hunters reaching too close to the fire. Because an effect of this is that the coastline of the Wastes is studded with shipwrecks. Treasures from Ohr Kaluun were carried away from the Sundering only to be lost in the sea. Merchant vessels with rich cargoes have fallen beyond the Wastes. There’s wonders to be found—but most of those who have sought these wonders have fallen prey to the dangers of the Wastes themselves.

Shipwrecks are one way to reach the Wastes, but not the only way. Most demiplanes breach the world in more than one location. Throughout the course of history, mortals have been lured into demiplanes and ended up in the Demon Wastes. Sometimes this is random chance, the fate of unlucky explorers. But there have been a number of larger migrations organized by the Lords of Dust, either tricking people into joining large expeditions or in some cases forcing them through. The overlords love their toys, and when the population falls too low, something has to be done.

The point is that the Carrion Tribes aren’t an ancient civilization and they aren’t a unified culture. They are victims struggling to survive in an extremely hostile environment. They rise and fall. The tribes named in canon lore are current Carrion Tribes. The Moon Reavers are one of the oldest surviving tribes, but the current incarnation of the Plaguebearers have been around for less than a century; Ashurak has had a number of vassal tribes throughout history, but all have eventually been destroyed. Even the term Carrion Tribe isn’t a name the tribes themselves use; it’s a term coined by the Ghaash’kala, reflecting the fact that in their view of things, the corrupted tribesfolk are already dead and it’s a mercy to kill them; they are walking carrion. Since most knowledge of the Demon Wastes has come from interaction with the Ghaash’kala, scholars have adopted the term. But the Moon Reavers feel no kinship with the Plaguebearers; they are bitter and deadly rivals.

This explains how the ancestors of the Carrion Tribes found themselves in the Demon Wastes. But why do the tribes revere fiends? It’s important to understand that the Demon Wastes are a deeply unnatural environment. The common image of the Wastes is “A plain of blackened sand and volcanic glassRivers of lava, bubbling pits of noxious stew, and barren wasteland.” And that is the common and most pleasant form of the Wastes. But that’s just a foundation upon which countless horrors are laid. Part of this is that the Wastes are full of fiends. Some of these are fully sentient, free-roaming fiends that have stat blocks in the Monster Manual. But others are minor entities who have no independent physical form, and instead inhabit aspects of the land. There are fiend that manifests as a swarm of stinging insects, a fiend that inhabits plants and possesses anyone who eats them, a fiend that dwells in pools of water and tears anyone who drinks the water apart from within. Where Katashka has influence, fiends will possess the corpse of any creature that dies. It’s not just that the Wastes are alien and extremely dangerous, it’s that they are fundamentally evil. This is a land that wants to see you suffer. But this isn’t purely random. Entrances to demiplanes are scattered around the Demon Wastes. Many of these are heart demiplanes of overlords. In the Age of Demons, each overlord dominated a particular region of the world, and the largest entrances of their heart planes are found in those regions. But many have back doors in the Demon Wastes, and these in turn project a smaller radius of influence within the Wastes. The overlords are bound and can’t emerge into the Wastes, but their influence still shapes a region, and the lesser fiends reflect their overlord. Thus, within Katashka’s sphere of influence undead are plentiful and corpses will rise. The Wild Heart’s domain is filled with vicious gnolls and supernatural beasts. The hamlet of Festering Holt is within the domain of Eldrantulku, because the vestige of civilization is better for the intrigues and betrayals that delight the Oathbreaker; but the region is filled with venomous creatures and poisonous flora, and the wind whispers secrets that will turn travelers against one another. Festering Holt is a neutral ground, spared from direct attack by other tribes; but all outsiders know that staying too long in Festering Holt is a subtle death sentence.

So the key to understanding the Carrion Tribes is that their motivation is survival. They are born into a hostile world shaped by supernatural forces and it’s the only reality they know. People ask why do they revere fiends? Don’t they know the overlords are evil? As a member of a Carrion Tribe, you’ve never known anything that’s NOT evil. The Carrion Tribes don’t choose their patron fiends because they like the idea of them; they believe that placating their overlord is the only thing that will allow them to survive—protecting them not only from the deadly environment and fiend-influenced wildlife, but also from the other Carrion Tribes. Not to mention the Ghaash’kala. WE see the Ghaash’kala as heroic champions of the Silver Flame; to the Carrion Tribes, they are terrifying monsters. This is exacerbated by the fact that most of the Carrion Tribes are illiterate and history is only preserved in living memory. They don’t choose between a peaceful existence and fiend-worshipping war; they are born into a world in which their fiendish patrons are the only thing that stand between life, death, and all of the other fiends in the Wastes. They stake their claim in a particular region of the Wastes and make their peace with the powers that dwell there, and then use that alliance to fight against the countless horrors that surround them. They can’t leave; the Ghaash’kala will kill anyone who approaches the Labyrinth. All they know is endless war. And it is in this war that Sora Teraza is a legend. Sora Teraza plays the same role in the Demon Wastes that Gandalf does in Middle Earth. She is a wanderer and wizard, a source of wisdom who offers a glimpse of the future. She has helped to rebuild tribes that were almost destroyed and to negotiate temporary truces. She has broken curses and slain monsters. And she has been a harbinger of doom, for she takes no side for long. So Sora Teraza has no single Carrion Tribe; when she is in the Wastes, she wanders, and every tribe gives welcome to the Dusk Walker.

So could I play a character from the Demon Wastes?

Absolutely. Outlander or Haunted One are both reasonable backgrounds for a character from the Wastes. In playing a Carrion survivor, there’s a few things to consider…

  • How did you escape from the Wastes? Did you evade the Ghaash’kala? Did you escape through a demiplane? Did one of the Lords of Dust help you to escape? Or perhaps… Sora Teraza?
  • Are you still loyal to your fiendish patron? Do you believe that the members of your tribe are blessed? Are you proud of your patron’s gifts (which could be warlock or sorcerer abilities, barbarian rage, etc)? Are you pursuing some agenda on behalf of your patron? Or…
  • Do you recognize that your “patron” was your jailor and tormentor? Have you become a demon hunter? Do you want to find a way to rescue other members of your tribe from the Wastes?
  • Consider that you have lived your life in a deadly supernatural world literally filled with demons. The reality of life elsewhere in Khorvaire will likely be bizarre to you. The people are soft and trusting, with no fear of fiends in the water or in the food they eat, not expecting their neighbors to murder them. Are you delighted by the peaceful wonders of the world, or are you deeply suspicious and always waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Another character option is someone who was stranded in the Wastes for an extended period of time—perhaps as a child—only to eventually be rescued. In this case you have memories on both sides of the Labyrinth.

Can demiplanes be used to escape the Wastes? If they came through demiplanes, why don’t the Carrion Tribes leave through them?

The Ghaash’kala raid demiplanes for supplies, and this may make demiplanes sound like a fun adventure. But as a general rule, demiplanes are even deadlier than the Wastes. The Ghaash’kala are elite, disciplined soldiers who possess forged armor and weapons, divine magic, and couatl relics. They have detailed maps and records of each of the demiplanes they deal with, and act with speed and surgical precision. By contrast, the Carrion Tribes don’t have the equipment, knowledge, or discipline of the Ghaash’kala, and their conventional wisdom is avoid the deadly lands below. They came through the demiplanes, but that’s because the overlords wanted them to reach the Wastes; they may have been guided or herded by the Lords of Dust, and even then, many surely died along the way. And beyond this, there is no limit to the potential size of a demiplane. The Ironlands could be the size of Breland, or they could be the size of Khorvaire itself; the Ghaash’kala and the Kech Shaarat both interact with the Ironlands, but they aren’t running into one another there. Likewise, it’s possible for fiends to escape the Wastes by traveling through demiplanes, and this is how most of them do travel between the Wastes and the rest of Khorvaire. However, MOST fiends are deeply uncomfortable entering demiplanes aside from the ones that spawned them. Rakshasa are uniquely immune to this, a side effect of the same power that shields them from most magic. This, again, is why rakshasa are the most common native fiends. You can face a free-roaming vrock in the Wastes… but if it wants to leave, the only path out is the Labyrinth.

If the influence of overlords is regional, could you make a map of the Demon Wastes that shows the areas affected by different overlords?

It’s something that could potentially be done, but no modern scholar has sufficient understanding of the Demon Wastes. It could be a goal for House Sivis. But there’s surely maps in the Library of Ashtakala that show the influence of each overlord.

How does this influence reflect the fact that the overlords are bound? Are the Carrion Tribes actually dealing directly with overlords?

The influence of the overlords is more like ambient radiation. While it’s not a perfect analogy, you can think of the overlords as sleeping and this influence as their dreams. The Carrion Tribes make their piece with the influence of the overlord as a general force; it’s not like they have personal conversations with them, or that the overlords are aware of them as individuals. However, Carrion Tribes also often interact with active fiends. The Moon Reavers interact with Night Hags. The Plaguebearers revere Ashurak, but they interact with Bloody Vasa, an oinoloth spawned by Ashurak. It’s also the case that lesser rakshasa and other shapeshifting fiends often conceal themselves among the Carrion Tribes, serving as leaders or spiritual guides; the fiends are aspects of their overlords, and they enjoy the suffering of the mortals.

That’s all for now! I probably won’t have time to answer questions, but feel free to ask. June was a busy month for me, but there’s a lot of things going on. On my Patreon I’m about to start a new online Eberron campaign for patrons; the hagling pictured above is one of the potential characters in that campaign, a hexblood bartender drawn by Matthew Johnson. I’m also finishing Frontiers of Eberron and will have some previous for patrons this month. And last but not least, I’ll be playing and running D&D on stage at GenCon—use the links about to learn more!

9 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: Sora Teraza and the Demon Wastes

  1. How might Zophik, the Morgrave professor with a specialty in the Demon Wastes fit in? An alias for Sora Teraza or another entity from the wastes purposefully spreading information and misinformation? A dust-stuffed agent?

  2. Various lore sources have spoken of how difficult it is to leave the Demon Wastes and sail off into the sea or walk into the Eldeen Reaches. For example, 5e Rising from the Last War says, “A series of canyons known as the Labyrinth further separate the Demon Wastes from the rest of Khorvaire. Due to ancient warding magic, any creature that wishes to leave must do so through the Labyrinth.”

    What is your most up-to-date perspective on how the Demon Wastes bar off exit? Do the Demon Wastes prevent only fiends from exiting, or are mortals prevented from leaving as well? What is the provenance of this “ancient warding magic”?

    On a different subject, do the Demon Wastes have manifest zones, or are the Wastes too fully Khyberian in aspect to support them?

  3. What sort of magic items can be found in the Demon Wastes?

    I would think that most of the magic items have demonic origins. Perhaps they would grant more power than other items of the same rarity, but they have a cost or a drawback for being attuned.

    It would be interesting running a campaign where the players are shipwrecked and must survive the wastes, using whatever they can find.

  4. Forgive me if I’m asking questions already asked. This is my first time commenting on your posts. Also, please correct me if I get anything wrong.

    Would the Daughters of Sora Kell be considered fey or fiends in 5e? Their mother was a night hag and their fathers were fiendish overlords. But they seem to resemble most hags as fey. And if they are fey, how could I convey to players through appearance, roleplay and mechanics, that the Daughters are children of fiends?

    Am I correct in assuming that the Daughters would be similar to the Daughters of Baba Yaga in Wild Beyond the Witchlight, in the sense that they are unique and don’t seem to fall into any pre-existing category of hag? Or would they more resemble specific types of hags, only much more powerful?

    Do any of the Daughters know who their Overlord fathers are or is that entirely unknown to everyone other than Sora Kell and the fiends themselves?

    • Not Keith but I can try to help!
      Basically, the Daughters of Sora Kell would be native archfey! The embodiments of countless fairy tales. Sora Maenya IS just unbeatable and ravenous, that’s her story.

      I’m not sure where you read the Daughters were children of the Overlords (If you’re confused, Overlords are the thirty-ish fiends who embody evil and ruled the world. The Rage of War, the Wild Heart, the Keeper of Secrets, this kind of fiends). I never heard about it, and it’s a little weird since on a common basis, fiends, of which Overlords are the most powerful, don’t reproduce.

      You are. The Daughters are their respective type of hags in the same way a level 20 wizard is human. They’re mechanically annis, dusk, etc. But basically, they’re something else entirely.

      I think only Sora Kell knows who are their fathers, if she didn’t just make them like that.

      • Thank you.

        So lore wise, the Daughters are more powerful versions of annis, dusk and green hags respectively?

        I can’t remember where I read that the fathers were specifically overlords, but there are many references that the fathers are fiends. For example “Ancient fiends number among Sora Kell’s allies—not the least of which are her daughters’ three long-forgotten fathers.”- Eberron, Rising from the Last War.

  5. How exactly are the overlords locked away? Are they all trapped in single physical vessels, multiple smaller vessels or does it vary? And are the vessels always made of dragonshards? If I’m correct, Sul Khatesh is trapped beneath Arcanix, while Rak Tulkhesh’s essense is spread through multiple Khyber shards across Khorvaire. Also, are Rak Tulkhesh’s Kyber shards noticeablly different to shards that don’t contain an overlord’s essence?

    Also, how exactly does the Draconic Prophecy interact an overlord’s imprisonment? When the prophecy leads towards an overlord’s freedom, do the prophesised events physically or magically weaken the overlord’s prison? Or do they merely act as harbingers and omens of the fiend’s freedom? And when the final event before freedom comes to pass, is the overlord immediately freed wherever they are imprisoned, or are their prisons weakened enough to now be broken? And for fiends like Rak Tulkhesh trapped in multiple vessels, where would they physically manifest when freed?

    Also, sorry for so many questions and their length.

    • A lot of these questions have not been definitively answered, and that is probably by design.
      The overlords are imprisoned in different places and through different means, so if one come closer to breaking free, that has no effect on the others. When the Wild Heart neared escape and thus, the lycanthropic epidemic happened, it hat no effect on Rak Tulkhesh’s power.

      The details of the prison of an overlord are not known, and probably are not relevant, as there is no regular way of freeing them. A Dragonshard with a fragment of Rak Tulkhesh might be a plot point or part of a character’s backstory, but even if they were all collected, you could not just break them to release the overlord.

      The Draconic Prophesy likewise obviously is not explained in detail, as it is a MacGuffin, a plot device, not a literal map. In my opinion, it is not a literal key that itself opens the prisons, the prophesy just describes convoluted paths that would lead to a release, paths way to complicated to be followed by planning alone. Thus neither the intelligence of the rakshasa, not the intelligence of the dragons, is enough to just plan and execute (or in case of the dragons, prevent) a release.That is why both obsessively watch for signs of the prophesy. The only ways to free an overlord is by following the steps laid out in part of the prophesy, or by dumb luck. Not every threatening release follows a genius deciffering a part of the prophesy, it may have been a coincidence, thus not always is a villain involved, sometimes it is more like a natural disaster.
      But no simple 3 step plan would lead to a release, otherwise, the agents of dust would have done so long ago.

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