What are the stories that the people of the Five Nations tell during the nights of Long Shadows? Who are the equivalents of Dracula or Strahd, infamous undead whose tales are told across Khorvaire?
In looking to the bogeymen of Eberron, an immediate answer is the Daughters of Sora Kell. Consider the following exchange from the novel The Queen of Stone:
“It was Zarantyr of 972 when she came to our gate. She was a refugee. She told us that her husband and children had been killed by trolls. I’ll never forget her: Tall and thin, hair as black as a crow’s wing and just as ragged, surrounding her like a shroud woven from the night itself. I could see that her skin was flawless beneath the dirt, and her eyes were as dark as her hair.
“But it was her spirit that impressed me the most—the determination that had carried her out this far from Sharn and Wroat, the courage that kept her going after her family was destroyed. She said she was hungry, and asked if she could stay the night beneath our roof before continuing east. The commander agreed. But I didn’t stay for the evening meal. Cainan and I were sent on a scouting mission, to search for our lady’s village and to track the aggressive trolls.”
“And what did you find?” Thorn said.
Beren studied the cold fire dancing along his enchanted torch. “There was no trail to follow. It was Zarantyr, and it had snowed the day before, but there were no tracks save ours… and the snow was stained with blood. Yet there were no signs of struggle. No smashed doors, no burned buildings. Just the bones of twelve settlers, picked perfectly clean and stacked neatly by the town well. Every bone… except for the skulls. Those were nowhere to be found.”
“And the woman?”
“We returned as quickly as we could, but it was past midnight by the time we arrived. I’d called on Dol Arrah, begged the Sovereigns to let that woman be a ghost, a restless spirit who’d simply wanted her remains to be found. But I knew what we were going to find. We’d left thirty people in that fort, veteran soldiers among them. All that awaited us on our return was bones, picked clean and stacked on the table in the great hall. The skulls were gone. She’d told us the truth: She was hungry.”
This is a story of Sora Maenya. Another section of the book relays a shorter tale about her:
Maenya eats the flesh and drinks the blood, but she saves the soul, binding it forever to the bones of her victim. She sleeps on a bed made from the skulls of children, and their ghostly cries ring through the cavern, now and through the end of time…
Sora Katra is less of a brute, but also the subject of terrifying stories. Typically her tales involve the deadly consequences of making foolish bargains or trying to outwit her. But it’s often said that she weaves curses on her loom, and that she can see the moment of your death when she looks at you—“See it, or set it in stone.”
So the Daughters of Sora Kell are certainly the subject of scary stories and campfire tales. But they aren’t ghost stories. In this article I want to look specifically at the undead. Because of the limits of time and space, I am not going to actually write full stories about these figures, as we have with Sora Maenya; but I want to take a look at some of the major types of undead, with infamous example of each.
The Reality of Undead
One of the first things to keep in mind is that Eberron is not our world. It is a world in which the undead are an absolute, concrete fact. Karrnath fielded LEGIONS of the dead during the Last War. Ghouls are a public menace. There are concrete examples of villages that have been destroyed by wights. This is an important aspect of the Church of the Silver Flame; while it is a religion, it’s also very much a volunteer militia prepared to protect the innocent against the undead and other unnatural threats. Because of the efforts of the templars and the paladins of Dol Arrah, most people hope that they never will be menaced by undead. Most people haven’t actually ever seen a vampire, let alone a lich. But they still know that these things are real—and if someone says a place is haunted, people will take it seriously.
A second thing to keep in mind is the two most common sources of undead: manifest zones related to Dolurrh or Mabar. Exploring Eberron has this to say…
Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh… are still close to the Realm of the Dead and exceptionally haunted, though not blighted, as Mabaran zones typically are. Shadows move in disturbing ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out. The restless spirits of Dolurrh yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in manifest zones. They might manifest as ghosts, or animate the corpses of people buried in the zone, causing them to rise as revenants or zombies.
The key points about Dolurrhi zones and undead is that they don’t share the blighted aspect of Mabaran zones and that Dolurrhi undead aren’t driven to harm the living. Dolurrhi undead are restless, pulled toward Dolurrh and yet somehow kept from it. This can be the classic trope of unfinished business; they can’t rest until they have revenge, or until their fiancee knows the truth, or until their treasure is found. It could be a powerful emotion that keeps them tied to the world. The main thing is that Dolurrhi undead aren’t necessarily hostile or evil, but they also are often incomplete. They don’t possess the full memories or sentience they had in life; they are clinging to one sliver of their life and that utterly defines them. Tied to this is the fact that most Dolurrhi undead don’t realize they’re undead; again, they have a limited form of sentience and can’t necessarily process or retain new information. So the classic ghost-lingering-in-the-house-wanting-the-truth-about-its-murder-to-be-revealed is a Dolurrhi ghost. It doesn’t WANT to hurt anyone (except perhaps the murderer), it’s incapable of making grand schemes, and it has no opinion about, say, the destruction of the Brelish monarchy. It’s defined by the ONE STORY that is holding it from Dolurrh and as soon as that story is resolved it can finally rest. This also ties to a key point in the general discussion of undead: the Aereni believe that Mabaran undead inherently pose a threat to the living. They don’t believe that the same is true of Dolurrhi undead. But the point is that you shouldn’t aspire to become a Dolurrhi undead. A vampire or lich has its full consciousness and memories from its life. A Dolurrhi ghost is just a fragment, trapped between worlds; it’s not a satisfying alternative to life.
As for Mabar, here’s what Exploring Eberron has to say about Mabaran manifest zones…
Mabaran manifest zones are infamous and almost universally shunned, for nearly all are harmful to the flora and fauna of the region. In some zones, life withers and dies. In others, it’s twisted in strange ways; plants may seek the blood of living creatures, or grow unnaturally pale and cold. Rot and decay are often accelerated, and disease can thrive… While Mabaran manifest zones rarely serve as gateways to the plane, they are powerful sources of negative energy and produce undead. Skeletons, zombies, and ghouls can all spontaneously rise in Mabaran manifest zones, and more powerful undead can be created under the proper circumstances.
Mabar is the embodiment of entropy and despair. It seeks to consume light, life, and hope. As such, those undead produced by Mabar are driven to prey on the living. A Dolurrhi zombie may not be hostile, and could just try to complete some lingering task from its life. But barring the influence of some form of necromancer, a zombie spontaneously created by Mabar will be hostile toward living creatures; it can sense their spark of life and mindlessly seeks to extinguish it. Undead raised by necromancers elsewhere won’t automatically have this killer urge, and Seeker communities in Karrnath use zombies and skeletons for manual labor; but those that are spontaneously raised by the power of Mabar are driven by its malevolent hunger.
The major point here is that many ghost stories are likely to be tied to manifest zones to Dolurrh and Mabar. There are definitely other options—independent necromancers, the overlord Katashka—but if you’re looking for an infamously haunted castle, well, perhaps it was unintentionally on a manifest zone tied to Dolurrh. If you consider Pet Semetary where “The ground’s sour” and those buried there return as malevolent undead—that’s a Mabaran manifest zone, for sure.
Why are some undead sensitive to sunlight while others aren’t?
Sunlight is a dilute form of positive energy, and exposure to sunlight can disrupt the negative energy that sustains Mabaran undead. This effect is especially strong in certain undead, especially wraiths and specters (who are essentially pure negative energy) and vampires. Others, like skeletons and zombies, have a weaker connection to Mabar; this is also reflected by the fact that their touch doesn’t drain life energy. Such creatures may not lIKE being exposed to sunlight, but it has no mechanical effect on them. Ghosts typically aren’t actually connected to Mabar.
How does the spell create undead factor into this? Wouldn’t people be used to ghouls?
Create undead is a 6th level spell, which means that it’s beyond the standard limits of everyday life in the Five Nations (under which 1st-3rd level spells are reasonable common and 4th-5th spells are known of but rarely seen). The ability to create ghasts or wights requires an 8th level spell, which is even more rarely seen. So this is not how these creatures are normally encountered in the world.
Skeletons and Zombies
Mindless skeletons and zombies are the workhorses of any necromancer. They CAN be spontaneously animated in Mabaran manifest zones, and such undead are malevolent. However, after a century of war with Karrnath most people are familiar with the concept of skeletons and zombies that are bound to mortal’s will. There’s two factors that a necromancer will have to deal with.
- Even though people know skeletons and zombies aren’t necessarily dangerous, few commoners LIKE being around them. Outside of Karrnath, many businesses refused to allow such undead on their premises.
- Most people associate skeletons and zombies with Karrnath. Thus, if the townsfolk suffered at the hands of Karrnath during the Last War, they’ll transfer that aggression to the necromancer.
- While necromancy isn’t ILLEGAL under the Code of Galifar, grave robbing is. While it’s rarely enacted, an officer of the law could demand that a necromancer present proof of their ownership of the corpses in their entourage. Karrnathi necromancers authorized by the Ministry of the Dead are issued warrants that authorize them to “compel the corpse of any Karrnathi citizen into service” and that will be recognized as legitimate. Likewise, established precedent allows priests of the Blood of Vol to raise the corpses of followers of the faith. But if you kill someone and then raise them as a zombie, the Sharn Watch can prosecute you as a corpse robber; this will usually result in a fine and the confiscation (and destruction) of the zombie.
A typical zombie story is driven by the Dolurrhi zombie, who despite its limited intellect doesn’t realize it’s dead and strives to complete one last task or to reach a loved one. However, there is one popular zombie tale currently in circulation. The Late Count is a comic opera by the bard Kessler; this tale revolves around a Karrnathi count whose servants resurrect him as a zombie, attempting to use the undead noble as a puppet while they have the run of the estate. Thanks to the popularity of The Late Count, zombies currently have some comic appeal in Sharn and Wroat; if a necromancer is accompanied by a single zombie dressed in fancy clothes, they can play it off as a hilarious jest.
Ghouls and Ghasts
The halflings of the Talenta Plains tell the stories of the Hungry Hunter, Oralasca. The greatest hunter of his age, Oralasca swore to eat every creature that he killed. When he was forced to kill another hafling, his oath compelled him to consume his enemy… and he developed an insatiable appetite for halfling flesh. After he slew his own tribe, Orlashka was finally slain. But so great was his hunger that his spirit lingered, slipping into the forms of weaker creatures and trying to work its way up to halfling form. One of the basic Talenta taboos is never consume the flesh of a creature that eats its own kind—because that allows the spirit of Oralasca to pass into you and transform you into a ghoul.
Ghouls are the most commonly encountered undead threat in the Five Nations. They are especially common in Mabaran manifest zones, but they can spontaneously spawn when Mabar is coterminous, when powerful necrotic forces are unleashed, or seemingly, anywhere where large numbers of people die at once; massive battlefields often spawn ghouls prowling among the corpses. While technically sentient, Mabaran ghouls have no memory of their former lives and are driven by their hunger. The Restful Watch and the templars of the Silver Flame both patrol cemeteries and sewers watching for ghouls, and most cities in the Five Nations have a bounty on ghouls, the value of which varies based on the extent of the threat. After skeletons and zombies, ghouls are the easiest undead to create; it’s largely a matter of binding a corpse to Mabar. However, such ghouls are more aggressive than zombies or skeletons, and unless they are directly controlled they will seek to sate their endless hunger. Karrnath experimented with ghoul forces during the Last War, but the resources required to control them were too great; however, on a few occasions they used bags of holding to drop packs of ghouls behind enemy lines, sowing terror among their enemies.
While Mabaran ghouls are savage, there are other strains of ghoul. There are ghouls in the Talenta Plains that inhabit the forms of beasts, and the Talenta say that all of these creatures are guided by the spirit of Orlasca; this can result in surprising cunning and pack tactics, or a pack of ghouls all speaking with one voice (note that Orlasca ghouls speak Halfling, not Common).
Another strain of ghoul can be found among the cults of Katashka the Gatekeeper. These cults revolve around the idea that the practice of ritual cannibalism will protect the cultists from disease, aging, and death. And it does—but over time, the rituals transform the cultists into ghouls. These ghouls retain their full memories and intellect, but are increasingly consumed and driven by their unnatural appetites. Some of Katashka’s ghouls can maintain their original mortal appearance as long as they are well fed, but if they food supply dwindles, their undead nature becomes increasingly apparent. Such ghouls can potentially form mutually beneficial partnerships with vampires; the vampire needs the blood of the living, and the ghouls consume the flesh that remains.
Ghasts are for the most part old ghouls. The longer a ghoul survives, the deeper the power that animates it sinks into its flesh. Mabaran and Orlasca ghasts have greater intellect than ghouls, and can make more cunning plans. Katashka ghasts retain their mental ability scores from their former life, and also have the ability to control their foul odor; they are typically leaders of ghoul cults.
Wights and Wraiths
The people of the Lhazaar Principalities tell tales of the Ship of Bones, not to mention the haunted vessels of the Bloodsails. But the sailors of Stormreach speak of the Crimson Shadow. It is the name of both a vessel and its captain, a Khoravar pirate with a swift sloop. Rather than taking a vessel in open conflict, the Crimson Shadow would approach a target under cover of darkness. In some tales the Shadow had a crew of swift and silent killers, but most say that the Crimson Shadow would board an enemy vessel on her own and kill its entire crew—taking its most precious cargo aboard her sloop, and abandoning the vessel to drift lifeless. The Crimson Shadow was revealed to be Jola Wylkes, daughter of the Harbor Master of Stormreach. Her lineage couldn’t save her, and she was hanged for her crimes. But two months later another ship was found adrift, its crew butchered. The common tale is that the Keeper recognized talent when he saw it—and that he returned the Crimson Shadow to the seas, for as long as she continues to send him new souls and the treasures he desires.
A wight is a mortal that has made a bargain with a dark power after death. Wights were invariably effective killers in their mortal life; some wights are bandits or serial killers, but over the course of the Last War warrior wights rose in every nation. One of the deadliest wights of the last century is Azael Vadallia, a Valenar wight who’s said to be searching for warriors worthy to join his undead warband.
The typical bargain of a wight is simple: you continue to exist as an undead creature as long as you continue to kill. However, different wights operate under different restrictions, and their powers may vary as a result. The default wight of the Monster Manual reflects a typical warrior or bandit. However, wights retain much of their memories and skills from life, and can be considerably more dangerous. According to the Monster Manual, a wight raises its victims as zombies, and is limited to twelve of them. But historically, Malleon the Reaver is said to have led an army of thousands when he rose as a wight. And Azael Vadallia has only raised a few of his victims, but the members of his warband are also wights, not zombies.
In common folklore, wights are thought to make their bargains with the Keeper. However, most wights actually forge their pacts with the Bone King of Mabar, one of the Dark Powers of the Endless Night. Some wights remain continuously active, but most wights go through periods of torpor that can last for years or decades; during this time, the wight’s body appears to be a corpse, while its spirit resides in the Kingdom of Bones in Mabar. This often leads to wights being dismissed as folktales, because the wight can disappear for a generation before returning to kill again. When the wight is finally destroyed, its spirit remains in the Kingdom of Bones; an exceptionally strong-willed wight may eventually return as a wraith.
One question is what fate befalls those killed by a wight. If the victim is merely allowed to die, its soul travels to Dolurrh. But if the victim’s corpse is raised by the wight, the victim’s soul may be claimed by the wight’s patron—bound in miserable service in the Kingdom of Bones, or perhaps trapped in the Lair of the Keeper. If a DM chooses to enact this rule, then the only way to raise such a victim from the dead is to free its spirit from this bondage.
The defining feature of a wight is that it was a killer in life and continues to kill in undeath. While many wights were soldiers or bandits, a wight could have been a serial killer, a pirate, an assassin—anyone whose achievements draw the attention of a dark power and is willing to bargain with it. It’s possible that there could be a templar wight who is determined to pay its tithe to its patron with the blood of evildoers, but the wight is suffused with the essence of Mabar and bound to its Dark Power, and this tends to erode any compassion or empathy the victim once had.
Wraiths and Specters
A wraith is a spirit that has become deeply intwined with Mabar and that is unable to ever truly find oblivion in Dolurrh. Wraiths are often the end result of other forms of undead; wights, mummies or vampires whose physical forms degrade or are destroyed may linger as wraiths.
A wraith’s behavior and abilities often depend on its original form. Wraiths formed from mummies continue to be bound by the oaths that hold them on Eberron. Wraiths formed from wights likewise continue to be bound by their pacts with their patron. Such wraiths are generally tied to the Bone King or the Queen of All Tears, and like wights they can be pulled into Mabar for extended periods of time; eventually, most are permanently drawn into the Endless Night. This is the classic source of the wraith who only manifests when its tomb is disturbed; at other times, it dwells in Mabar.
The Bloodsail elves of Farlnen have devised rituals that can transform a mortal creature into a wraith. Such wraiths aren’t bound by the oaths and pacts of wights or mummies, but they this means that they sustain their existence with pure will; essentially, the wraith only endures as long as they can remember who they are, and over time many lose cohesion and fade, becoming specters. Lady Illmarrow knows the techniques to create wraiths, and has created a number to serve her in the Emerald Claw. Many of these lack the will to maintain their existence for decades, but they serve her purposes for now. The most infamous wraith of the Bloodsails is the Grim Lord Varonaen, one of the founders of the principality; though his physical form was destroyed in a clash with the Aereni Deathguard, through sheer will he persists as a wraith.
Specters are a lesser form of wraith. As described in the Monster Manual, “A specter is the angry, unfettered spirit of a humanoid that has been prevented from passing to the afterlife. Specters no longer possess connections to who or what they were, yet are condemned to walk the world forever.” Specters possess traces of memory from their mortal life, but unlike a wraith they don’t possess full consciousness or memory, and lack the skills of their mortal life; they can remember just enough to be tormented by what they’ve lost, and they are drawn to consume the life energy of mortals, destroying what they cannot have. Another form of specter is the never-living; these are pure extensions of Mabar, negative energy shaped into a humanoid form. Mechanically identical to those who were once mortal, such specters have no human memories and seek only to feed. Never-living wraiths can be generated by powerful necromancers, and can be found serving Katashka cults or lingering in the domain of the Keeper.
Ghosts, Banshees, and Dawn Specters
Ghosts are typically tied to Dolurrh, as discussed earlier in this article. In Khorvaire, ghost stories are as plentiful as they are in our world, and tell similar tales; souls trapped between Eberron and Dolurrh, driven to complete their unfinished business or held fast by emotions or memories they can’t let go. While they have at least some of their memories from life, most ghosts aren’t fully aware of their condition or the passage of time, and they generally can’t retain new information. They are a remnant of someone who has died, but existence as a ghost isn’t something most people would aspire to; it’s a half-life. Even where there are unusual ghosts with greater consciousness and awareness, most are bound to something—a location, an object, a bloodline—and they can’t roam freely. Ghosts have no connection to Mabar and no innate desire to harm the living. Some may, especially if they are driven by anger or were hateful in life, but being a ghost is driven by the bond that keeps them from Dolurrh, not be a hunger to harm the living.
The typical banshee is a form of ghost, tied to Dolurrh rather than to Mabar. A banshee is bound to Eberron by an intense tragedy. It’s the pain of this tragedy that drives the banshee to lash out at the living (reflected by its typically evil alignment), and it’s this intense, focused pain that empowers the banshee’s wail; it’s not that it drains the life from its victims, but rather that it inflicts such intense emotional trauma that most creatures die of heart attacks or are rendered catatonic. Like most ghosts, banshees are generally trapped in their tragedy and largely unaware of the passage of time, unable to fully process new things.
Dolurrhi banshees can be formed from humanoids of any species or gender; one of the classic Dhakaani ghost stories is of the dirge singer who will not die. In creating a Dolurrhi banshee, replace Elvish with Languages known in life. However, the Dark Power known as the Queen of All Tears has created a strain of Mabaran banshees specifically drawn from elf woman who have suffered great tragedies. These handmaidens of sorrow have more in common with wraiths than with ghosts. They are typically fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, and they split their time between haunting the place of their sorrow and the Court of Tears in Mabar.
Dawn specters are a variety of ghost commonly found in Aereni; they’re a form of deathless. Dawn specters must be bound to something—either a location or a spirit idol. Beyond this, a dawn specter’s ability to manifest is tied to the devotion it receives from the people of a community. So you might find the dawn specter of a bard entertaining patrons in an Aereni tavern; the joy of the patrons is what allows it to maintain its form and interact with world. A dawn specter uses the stat block of a ghost, with the following changes: it has no immunity to necrotic damage and is immune to radiant damage. Its Radiant Touch is similar to the Withering Touch of the ghost, but deals radiant damage rather than necrotic. Instead of Horrifying Visage, its Glorious Visage charms victims rather than frightening them, and there is no threat of aging. A dawn specter can possess a mortal, just like a ghost; however, most dawn specters can’t go more than 10 miles from the object or location they are bound to, even while possessing a mortal. Some Aereni willingly allow dawn specters to possess them, to allow the dead elf to interact directly with its descendants; however, there are limits on how long the spirit can maintain such possession.
Surely you’ve heard of Haldon d’Cannith, the Vampire Prince of Starilaskur? When he took over the post of Cannith viceroy, he began running his factories at all hours to meet the demands of the war. He chained his workers to their stations, and those who challenged him were publicly tortured… and he drank the blood from their wounds. The common folk begged the duke for aid, but he was deeply Haldon’s thrall and turned a deaf ear to their cries. Later, Haldon began using prisoners of war in his factories, and that was when he truly began working his people to death… and who cared what became of their corpses and their delicious blood? Here we are sixty years later, and Haldon is still viceroy. He can’t use prison labor any more, but I hear he’s taken on Cyran refugees…
While most people have never seen a vampire, everyone knows about them. As a result, it’s common for people to see vampires where none exist. Is something especially cruel or bloodthirsty? Have they lived longer than seems plausible? Sounds like a vampire to me! Haldon d’Cannith might well be a vampire, who uses his workers to slake his thirst. On the other hand, he could simply be a ruthless industrialist, and all those stories of his imposing a blood tax on his workers are just sensational rumors. If he truly has held his post for sixty years, it could be that he’s been taking experimental alchemical treatments to extend his life… or it’s possible that the current Haldon d’Cannith is the SON of the man who inspired the tales, and the rumor-mongers just ignore that aspect of the story. Essentially, people SAY Haldon is a vampire… only the DM knows if he actually is.
Vampires don’t occur naturally, which is to say that they aren’t generated spontaneously by Mabaran manifest zones. Creating a vampire is an act of epic necromancy that infuses a humanoid creature with the power of Mabar. The first known vampires were created by the Qabalrin elves in the Age of Giants, and the line of Vol resurrected these techniques to create a number of vampire bloodlines on Aerenal. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol, its allies were allowed to flee; some settled on the island of Farlnen and founded the Bloodsail Principality, while others spread west, helped to establish the Blood of Vol in what’s now Karrnath. These elves brought vampires with them, and most vampires in Khorvaire can ultimately trace their bloodlines back to Aerenal. With that said, there were vampires in the line of Vol for tens of thousands of years, and some came to Khorvaire long before the Mark of Death appeared in Aerenal. One of the oldest vampires on Khorvaire is the hobgoblin dirge singer Iraala of the Kech Nasaar, who became a vampire through dealings with the line of Vol before the Empire fell. So it’s possible that a vampire in western Khorvaire could trace their lineage to the Nasaar bloodline—but ultimately, that too leads back to Aerenal.
Once you have one vampire, it’s easy to make more. So why aren’t vampires more common? The primary reason is that it’s not easy being a vampire. A vampire is bound to Mabar, and Mabar is hungry. It is this that fuels a vampire’s thirst for both the blood and life energy of the living. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult for a vampire not to see all living creatures as prey. A weak-willed vampire will quickly devolve into a feral predator; such creatures use the statistics of vampire spawn, but their Intelligence is more a measure of cunning than of rational thought. It takes strong will to maintain your personality as a vampire, and stronger still to maintain any empathy or compassion for other creatures. This is why vampires are seen as monsters; many do become ghoulish killers that need to be hunted down by templars of the Silver Flame, the knights of Dol Arrah, or the Aereni Deathguard. This is an additional reason most vampires don’t make legions of spawn; all it takes is one spawn going feral and drawing templars to town to lead to a deep purge. Undead have no rights under the Code of Galifar, and destroying a vampire isn’t considered murder; you’d just better be sure your target is a vampire before you kill the mayor.
The Qabalrin are the common source of vampires, but there are other paths…
- The Bone King of Mabar can transform a mortal into a vampire. Such vampires cannot spawn other vampires; most instead transform victims into ghouls. When they are destroyed their spirits are drawn to the domain of the Bone King, where the exist as wraiths.
- There are a few examples of devotees of the Keeper becoming vampires. Such vampires cannot create spawn at all. Their hunger is a manifestation of the greed of the Keeper, and the souls of creatures they slay may be bound, similar to the effect of a Keeper’s fang.
At the DM’s discretion, these three strains—Bone King, Keeper, Qabalrin—could have different weaknesses. For example, it could be that the vampires of the Bone King aren’t harmed by running water, but are vulnerable to fire; while it may be that the Qabalrin vampires don’t require permission to enter a dwelling, but also can’t assume bat form or control bats. I’m not personally going to assign these things, in my opinion it’s best for the DM to decide and for players do have to discover these using the Arcana or Religion skills of their characters. But it’s definitely reasonable to say that there are unique aspects to different bloodlines, and that things that are commonly accepted as weaknesses may not apply to all vampires—though if I remove a weakness, I’d be sure to add a new one.
Other forms of vampire—such as the penanggalan—are tied to rituals developed by different cultures, and simply aren’t as widespread as the Qabalrin techniques. In adding such variant vampires, consider the source. Are they tied to an overlord, like Katashka the Gatekeeper? Were they created by one of the princes of Ohr Kaluun?
Most people are familiar with the concept of undead guardians bound to protect tombs or temples. The people of Karrnath have more practical experience with these oathbound, as they are the most common form of sentient undead associated with the Blood of Vol; the Crimson Monastery of Atur has been staffed with mummies since before the founding of Galifar. While they may be the most common form of undead, they still aren’t COMMON and even most Karrns have never met one; they just are familiar with the concept of oathbound, and know that they’re generally guardians as opposed to ravening monsters.
Mummies are discussed in more detail in this article. Many different cultures and traditions have produced mummies, and like vampires their abilities could vary based on the culture that produced them and the oaths that bind them to undeath.
Lady Illmarrow is older than bones. Some say she came to Khorvaire with the elves, but the way I’ve heard it, she was a queen of the Forgotten People, the humans who ruled this land before there ever were goblins or orcs. She’s forgotten more about magic than the wizards of Arcanix have ever learned. People say she weaves a grand tapestry made from souls—that when she’s quiet, it’s because she’s got all she needs to keep her busy, but when she runs out of thread it’s time to harvest more. It was Lady Illmarrow who set the Talons of Ice ravaging the north during the reign of Marala ir’Wynarn, and she’s made the boneclaw wyverns that nest in the Icewood. What’s that? Why hasn’t some bold hero faced this villain? Oh, many have, and many are frozen into the walls of her palace. Haryn Stormblade surely did slay Lady Illmarrow, and brought her crown to his king. But you can’t kill a thing that’s already dead, and it was Illmarrow that created the shadow plague that killed the king—and it was her shadow that reclaimed her crown. Illmarrow can’t die, and if she’s stirring again, all we can hope is to wait it out.
Common folk aren’t familiar with the specific abilities of the lich, but people understand the basic concept of ancient undead wizard who can’t die. With that said, liches are among the rarest of all undead, rivaled only by death knights. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the idea is that a necromancer can’t make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And even more so than a vampire, becoming a lich requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction. The oldest member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, began as a lich and has become a demilich over time. But he can’t just make other Seekers into liches; he can teach the rituals, but the aspirant has to be able to perform them.
The default lich in the Monster Manual is presented as an arcane spellcaster, but there is certainly a divine path to lichdom. The people of the north know about Lady Illmarrow, but the Brelish tell stories of Gath. In life, Hogar Gath was the high priest of the Sovereign Host, infamous for his love of luxuries. After his death it was revealed that Gath had also been leading a cult of the Keeper in lower Sharn… and that he was still leading it. Champions of the Silver Flame rallied and destroyed the undead priest. But thieves who sought to pillage his “mausoleum”—effectively a mansion he’d built in Sharn’s City of the Dead—rarely returned. Typically this was attributed to the deadly wards and traps, the finest and most expensive House Kundarak could survive. But stories circulated that Gath himself had risen again, and still dwelled in the mausoleum. This was a pattern that would continue for centuries. Once he was revealed to be behind a new criminal organization that was challenging the Boromar Clan. Another time he was exposed as the force behind a smuggling ring being run out of the Pavilion of the Host itself. Sometimes he’s destroyed, sometimes he flees; whatever happens, he always returns eventually.
The typical lich must be a master of arcane science, and most are consumed by their obsession with eldritch knowledge. Divine liches are rarer and more unique. Gath didn’t become a lich by accident. He prepared for it, which is one reason his mausoleum was so richly appointed and heavily secured. And those preparations required him to perform sacrifices that were both horrific and expensive. His love of luxuries is just a surface manifestation of his absolute and relentless GREED—which is ultimately what makes him such an effective servant of the Keeper. Where the arcane lich is sustained by will, in many ways Gath is sustained by that greed—by the desire to expand his hoard, to have the finest things; in many ways, he is more akin to the classic dragon than any dragon of Argonnessen. He doesn’t care about conquest and has no inherent desire to kill others: but he will do ANYTHING to satisfy his greed, and he will NEVER be satisfied with what he has. He does also continue to serve as a talon of the Keeper, training new priests and serving as an intermediary for those who would bargain with the Sovereign of Death and Decay. And adventurers could be surprised to find that the mysterious patron who funded their expedition wants them to deliver the treasure they recovered to the City of the Dead. He is absolutely EVIL, but his schemes are always driven by greed, and might not actually pose a threat to the world at large… and he can pay his agents VERY well. Gath uses the stat block of a lich, but his spells should be chosen from the cleric spell list (along with those spells available to the Trickery domain).
The Nightwood didn’t always stretch as far north as it does today. Back before Galifar, it was the domain of a family long devoted to the Blood of Vol. The rulers, they were champions of the Blood of Vol, and those around ’em didn’t think much of that. But the lord and lady, they were unmatched on the battlefield. Came a time that they were fighting a plague of warlocks, foul cultists sworn to the Queen of Shadows. The lady, she cuts her way through them, but the last one speaks with the voice of the Queen and curses her: if she says even one word, her children will die. Now, this victory over the warlocks was a glorious thing, and the lord insists that they have a grand celebration. Warlords come from all about, and in the midst of the feast, the lady sees an assassin drawing a knife by her husband. She’s got time to shout a warning, but she puts her children before her lover and holds her tongue, has to watch him die. It’s a massacre; the lord and lady are killed, the castle razed, the land itself shunned and soon overrun by the Nightwood.
Not an uncommon story in old Karrnath. Except for the fact that over the next year, each of the scheming warlords was slain—and no one ever saw or heard them die, even those just on the other side of a door. There’s them that say that it was the lady, risen to take vengeance, and that she still rules over her ruined castle in the Nightwood. But the curse is still on her, that if she speaks her children—or their descendants now—will die. So you’d best not harm any Seeker child that you meet; if you do, the Silent Knight will come for you. Nothing will stand in her way, and no one will hear you die.
The rarest of all undead, a death knight blends aspects of ghost and wraith. A death knight is forged when someone of deep devotion and martial skill—typically, a paladin—suffers intense tragedy leading to their death. This tragedy typically involves the character breaking their own oaths, blending loss with shame. A death knight can’t rest, in part because they won’t allow themselves to forget their shame. The divine power they once channeled is replaced by the pure power of Mabar. Some find brief solace in taking vengeance on mortal enemies, but largely a death knight spends its time meditating on its pain.
The Silent Knight is one known death knight, and she is a member of the Crimson Covenant of the Blood of Vol. She still acts to protect her descendants, but she’s also believed to have killed descendants who have in her eyes brought shame to their house—perhaps by abandoning the Seeker faith, by becoming a warlock, or by forming a romantic attachment to someone of one of the bloodlines that betrayed her. She does not speak and can extend an aura of magical silence at will, though this silence doesn’t prevent her from casting spells.
Another infamous death knight is Prince Moren of the Lhazaar Principalities. Once a bold swashbuckler and beloved prince, he betrayed his beloved and his treachery resulted in the destruction of his principality. Murdered by his own crew, he now he sails the Lhazaar Sea in a ship of bones, hunting treacherous captains and forcing them to serve his vessel.
That’s all for now! I know that this doesn’t cover every possible type of undead, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to go into further detail; if you’ve done something interesting with other undead in your Eberron, tell the story in the comments!
This topic was chosen by my Patreon backers, whose support makes it possible for me to spend the time it takes to write articles like this. The main topic for November will be determined by a poll on Patreon, which I’ll be posting shortly!