IFAQ: Marchers, Zil, and Borders

This has been a busy month. I’ve been focused on supporting Exploring Eberron and I just posted a long article about the Nobility of Galifar, along with a supporting IFAQ and an exclusive article for my Patreon supporters. But at the start of each month I ask my patrons to present interesting, short questions, and I’d like to answer a few more before August comes to an end. So…

How Dhakaani heirs see orcs? Do you think that after fighting together with orcs, Dhakaani heirs have a better vision of them? At least about Gatekeepers?

On page 96 of Exploring Eberron, the song of the duur’kala says…

Our empire was so grand that even the spirits grew jealous. The Lords of Madness crawled out of the shadows. They made monsters of our children and sought to break our people with terror. But no power could stand against the champions of Dhakaan. Our heroes blinded the Lord of Eyes and cut the roots of the Rotting Queen. They fought the great Corruptor and brought him down…

On the one hand, this can be seen as the “winners” writing history. The Dhakaani systematically oppressed the orcs and drove them into the barren places of Khorvaire. The Kech Dhakaan have lived in isolation for many centuries and subsisted on tales of Dhakaani glory. The last thing the duur’kala want to do is to inject a story of how the Dhakaani COULDN’T win on their own and needed those very people they oppressed to defeat the enemy, even if that’s the truth. But there’s a bigger issue here, which is that most dar likely never knew the role that the Gatekeepers played. The conflict against the daelkyr raged across the entirety of the Empire. But the Gatekeepers were only active in the west. They didn’t join up with Dhakaani forces across the land; if they had, we’d SEE evidence of Marcher and Gatekeeper culture spread further, whereas instead the orcs we see in the east are an entirely different culture. We know that the Gatekeeper seals don’t need to be “on site”—the Gatekeepers didn’t have to be physically adjacent to the daelkyr to perform the rituals that bound them. Essentially, even though the Gatekeepers performed the crucial ritual that ended the daelkyr threat, they did in in the Shadow Marches—and the dar in what is now Darguun never knew what the Gatekeepers had done.

There are exceptions. As the sages of the empire, I would expect the Kech Volaar to know about the Gatekeepers and their contributions, though even they might assert that the empire WOULD have found a path to victory even without the Gatekeepers. The Kech Ghaalrac DID fight directly alongside Gatekeepers, and there are orcs among the Ghaalrac; so they are a Kech that feels a close kinship with the orcs, but they’re also a Kech that has had very little contact with the other Keepers. If I were to place one of the new Kechs in the region of Droaam—most likely the Kech Nasaar, as it’s mentioned in that region in the comics—I’d likely say that they worked more closely with the orcs during the war and respect the Gatekeepers. But most dar know little about the orcs and may have never heard of the Gatekeepers.

Ultimately, it’s up to what you want to do in your Eberron; a case can be made for different paths. The dar known that the orces are native to Khorvaire and thus not chaat’oor, and you could say that this is sufficient to create a bond between them in these difficult times. Nasaar or Ghaalrac dar could take this further and view them as valuable allies. But in general, I’d say that while they aren’t chaat’oor, they’re not dar; they are a people that the ancient dar defeated and drove into the dark corners of the land.

Is the Shadow Marches considered part of Breland? Have the Marchers always called themselves Marchers, or did they ever consider themselves Brelish (or Wroatish)?

Consider this: The Mark of Finding existed in the Shadow Marches for five hundred years before it was discovered by “House Sivis explorers” in 498 YK. In my opinion, that’s a pretty strong indicator that there was essentially no contact between the Marches and the Five Nations up to that point; the Sivis who discovered the mark are called explorers, not, say, merchants. To me, the intent has always been that the Marches are a highly inhospitable region with a low population density on the other side of the monster-infested Barrens—that the people of the Marches never had any interest in the outside world, and up until 498 YK, the outside world never had any interest in them. The people of Breland might have laid claim to it on a map, but they barely settled past the Graywall Mountains during the time of Galifar, and no one IN Galifar had ever made it past the Watching Wood; even if some lord THEORETICALLY held a claim to that territory, they’d never EXERCISED it and the people of the Marches were entirely unaware of it.

So definitely, the Marchers never considered themselves to be part of Breland or Wroat, and it is the intent that the Marches are not a Thronehold nation and that Marchers aren’t Brelish citizens. With that said, that’s not a fact that’s typically INVOKED; the common people of Breland don’t stop Marchers in the street and say “Wait a second… you’re not a Brelish citizen, I bet I could just murder you right now with no consequences!” In part this is because most Marchers encountered in the Five Nations are associated with House Tharashk, whose heirs do have the rights of citizens… and even if a Marcher ISN’T tied to the house, most people will ASSUME that they are.

What’s your take on the Library of Korranberg? Is it one big Tardis of a building, a collection of structures that cover a campus, a borough of books? Are certain places within the library subject to smaller manifest zones or planar connections?

This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebook Player’s Guide to Eberron, which is available on the DM’s Guild. The Library of Korranberg isn’t a building; it’s an institution and an organization, supporting thousands of students and scholars and with active agents across Khorvaire. Per the PGtE, the Library is comprised of eight separate colleges, in addition to the corps of sages, librarians, and agents who work for the unifying foundation. I’d be happy to explore this further in a deeper article, but for now the PGtE is the best source for further information.

Does the Library of Korranberg being eight colleges essentially make Korranberg itself a university town, or that the city of Korranberg has one or more districts that are entirely the Library while other districts are more traditional?

The latter. Korranberg is one of the three ruling cities of Zilargo. It’s the ancestral seat of House Sivis, and home to the largest temple to Aureon in Khorvaire (the Codex Vault) and to the Korranberg Chronicle. The Library is an important, major part of the city, but there’s more to Korranberg than just the Library.

I really like the idea of the Trust as an organization and I have a decent sense of how people in Zilargo view the trust, but less of a sense of how people outside Zilargo view the Trust. So my question is how do the citizens of other nations on Khorvaire view the Trust, how much would an average person, or as a contrast a person in power, know about the organization, and what are some potential region specific rumors that people believe about the trust (say in the Mror Holds and in Thrane).

Most people in the Five Nations don’t take Zilargo terribly seriously, which is just how the Zil like it. Remember, on the surface, Zilargo looks like a cheerful, colorful gingerbread village (that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea). The Zil don’t WANT to be seen as a threat. They’re librarians! And scholars! They make great glamerweave and do the elemental binding! That’s the extent of what the COMMON person knows; Zilargo is seen as useful (everybody deals with House Sivis!) but not powerful or dangerous.

People with a little more knowledge know that Zilargo is a ruthless police state. But a lot of people who have never been there don’t really believe that. A vast network of ruthless gnome assassins? That’s ridiculous. Next you’ll say that there’s a secret order of Ghallanda vigilantes who use the Mark of Hospitality to poison people. People who have been to Zilargo or who deal with the nation directly know that it IS true, and we’ve suggested that most find it horrifying and are amazed that the Zil don’t. But again, the Zil don’t, so it’s not like THEY are running around talking about it.

So in general, if non-Zil have heard about the Trust at all, they tend to think it’s an exagerated fairy tale. Ooooh, watch what you say, invisible Trust assassins could be listening in. On the other hand, people who are actually IN the business of espionage—Dark Lanterns, Royal Eyes, House Phiarlan or Medani, etc—know all about the Trust and take them very seriously. They know how capable the Trust is, especially in Zilargo itself. They don’t know how strong its influence is beyond Zilargo, because hello, that’s why they’re called secret agents, but they know enough to treat them as a serious potential threat and as someone to be treated with respect in negotiations.

So generally, I’d say the typical commoner in Thrane has never even heard of the Trust. The people of the Mror Holds might have heard of it just because they have a closer relationship with the Zil, but they’d still know it as “That’s the spooky police in Zilargo, right? My Zil buddy says they see everything.”

Surely the Twelve know about the Trust. Does this mean they’d avoid putting anything too important—like research facilities—in Zilargo?

Anyone who does business in Zilargo knows about the Trust, and the Twelve are surely well aware of the Trust. The curious counter argument is that this might be why they’d choose to put important facilities IN Zilargo. The Zil don’t have any sort of monopoly on spies. Before the Last War, the King’s Dark Lanterns operating across Zilargo, and now you have the Royal Eyes, the Argentum, etc. The Trust are especially good at what they do, and yes, I would assume that the houses take the approach that there are no secrets in Zilargo; that if they are doing something in Zilargo, ASSUME that the Trust will find out about it. But with that in mind, so what? The beauty of the Twelve’s research is that it can’t be stolen because it relies on use of dragonmarks. Zilargo couldn’t steal Cannith’s techniques for creating warforged because you need the Mark of Making to operate a creation forge. The second point is if you assume that SOMEONE’S spies will find out what you’re up to, who would you rather it be: the Royal Eyes, the Dark Lanterns or the Trust? The Royal Eyes and the Dark Lanterns are active participants in the cold war and will seek any advantage that will help them against the other nations. But Zilargo is largely neutral. It’s not trying to claim the throne of Galifar. What are they going to DO with the knowledge that Cannith is creating a new weapon? The purpose of the Trust is to maintain order and ensure the security of Zilargo. As long as it doesn’t threaten either of those things, they don’t care if Cannith is building a new bomb; they’ll make note of it, file it away, and be done with it. The strong ties between Sivis and the Trust strengthen this; as a general rule, Zilargo wants to work WITH the Twelve, not fight them. This has come up in previous discussions of “Why doesn’t House Cannith steal elemental binding from the Zil?” The key answer is that for now, both sides would rather maintain an alliance that benefits both parties rather than to start a war that would cripple everyone involved. With that in mind—the idea that if SOMEONE is going to know your house secrets, it’s better for it to be the Trust than for it to be the Royal Eyes—that’s where the exceptional talents of the Trust HELP the Twelve with their Zilargo research facilities… because the Trust will target any other spies that try to infiltrate Zil facilities. Not to mention that Zilargo has a lower crime rate than any other nation!

Essentially, the Twelve will assume that there are no secrets in Zilargo, that the Trust will know about anything they’re doing. But they will also assume that unless that work poses a direct threat to the Zil people, they won’t DO anything with that knowledge. And they know that Zilargo values a good working relationship with the Twelve. SO: If the Twelve are working on a secret scheme to conquer all nations? Yeah, don’t work on that in Zilargo. But if they’re just working on a more efficient lightning rail or a new form or Lyrandar weather control? They don’t CARE if the Trust knows about it—and in the case of the improved lightning rail, odds are good that they’ll want Zil artificers working with them!

What’s the climate/environment like in the Demon Wastes? I’ve always envisioned it as a desert wasteland like Dark Sun.

I recommend you read this article if you haven’t already. And you might want to listen to the latest episode of Manifest Zone, which covers the Demon Wastes. Beyond that, it’s been described as “A plain of blackened sand and volcanic glass… among the ruins of shattered fortresses and the open pits to Khyber… Amid rivers of lava, bubbling pits of noxious stew, and barren wasteland, a few barbaric tribes of orcs and humans struggle to survive.” So generally, yes, desert wasteland; but also, a key point is that it is deeply unnatural. Part of the point of those “open pits to Khyber” is that reality isn’t what you’re used to. The fiendish influence doesn’t just manifest in the fiends you fight; it imbues the plants and land itself.

How strict is border enforcement in the Five Nations?

The Five Nations are just two years out of a century of war, and there are many people who don’t believe that the peace will hold. Borders shifted in the Last War, and some are still contested; so it’s not like there are vast walls separating the nations, and they can’t stop a party of adventurers from making their way across the border unseen. But there are definitely keeps and watchtowers along the borders, and checkpoints on the main roads where caravans may be searched. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “Anyone who travels across national borders is usually required to carry traveling papers identifying them, their residence, their destination, and their reason for travel.

Having said that? I have never in sixteen years told a group of my players “Oh, sorry, Bob’s a Marcher and doesn’t have traveling papers, so I guess she can’t go with you to Aundair.” Ultimately this comes back to what is going to make a fun story for you and your players? If it would be FUN for the adventurers to figure out how to smuggle Bob across the border or how they can get her papers, then OK, maybe I would make it part of the adventure. If one of the PCs is specifically wanted by the Aundairian authorities if could be fun for them to have to acquire fake papers. Otherwise, I generally assume that the party’s patron has provided them with the papers they need, or that they just take a minor detour to avoid a checkpoint; getting hassled at the border because a passport is my something I associate with a bad vacation, not an epic adventure.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for keeping this site going!

20 thoughts on “IFAQ: Marchers, Zil, and Borders

  1. Does the Library of Korranberg being eight colleges essentially make Korranberg itself a university town, or that the city of Korranberg has one or more districts that are entirely the Library while other districts are more traditional?

  2. Great stuff! Having just recently aquired a pair of Zil gnomes in my party this is nice to know.

  3. ” it’s been described as “A plain of blackened sand and volcanic glass… among the ruins of shattered fortresses and the open pits to Khyber… Amid rivers of lava, bubbling pits of noxious stew, and barren wasteland, a few barbaric tribes of orcs and humans struggle to survive.” So generally, yes, desert wasteland;”

    Frankly this sounds more like Morrowind’s ashlands than a traditional desert.

    “But there are definitely keeps and watchtowers along the borders, and checkpoints on the main roads where caravans may be searched. ”
    There’s also this WotC article mentioning there being patrols

    As for ID papers, I’ve always felt the Mark of Heroes RPGA campaign giving them to characters for free as part of their starting gear was the right solution.

  4. How aware are the Daughters of the Dhakaani goings on beneath the surface of Droaam?

    • Sora Teraza surely knows all about them. The question is whether she’s told her sisters. Which is to say, how aware do you WANT them to be?

      • Sora Teraza is such a great NPC. I once had her telling a PC about a vision in which he was involved. He asked, “Why are you telling me this?” She replied, “If you could understand why I do things, you would be I. And there’s only one of me. Isn’t there?”

  5. Interesting. I was just working on a storyline with my PCs having to visit an orc druid in the Mror Holds to get some training on how to seal a gate. If the orcs of the east are not Gatekeepers, or at least associated, looks like I was heading down the wrong trail.

    Are all of the seals located in the Reaches or Marshes?

    I was looking for a hook to get the PCs involved in politics to bring the Orcs into the Hold as voting members.

    • Interesting. I was just working on a storyline with my PCs having to visit an orc druid in the Mror Holds to get some training on how to seal a gate. If the orcs of the east are not Gatekeepers, or at least associated, looks like I was heading down the wrong trail.

      Have you read Exploring Eberron? It’s got a lot of information about the Mror Holds, but also specifically on the Jhorash’tar orcs. But indeed, by canon it’s always been the case that the Ghaash’kala orcs of the Demon Wastes, the Jhorash’tar orcs of the Ironroot Mountains, and the Gatekeepers of the Shadow Marches are entirely different cultures with no common customs.

      Part of the issue on the seals is that they aren’t necessarily static things. A seal COULD be a massive slab of carved stone. But it could also be a small pendant… which might have once been in the Shadow Marches, but long ago been carried east. The seals aren’t physical locks on physical doors; they are mystical locks that keep the daelkyr trapped in their demiplanes.

      Though, of course, if you WANT to make the Jhorash’tar Gatekeepers, I’m not going to stop you.

      • Have not had a chance to read the new book. It was scheduled to arrive while I am on vacation. That is a bummer, as I could have had the time to read it.

        • Ah, just read part of page 127: “The Jhorash’tar orcs have a distinct culture, with nothing in common with the Ghaash’kala orcs of the Demon Wastes or the Gatekeepers of the Shadow Marches.”

          Now to figure out Path of the Bone.

          Thank you.

  6. Point on the border crossings is they’re probably more targeted at tariff enforcement than people, which of course invites a whole magical arms race of illusion vs detection spells. Fun fact, the IRL black market for otherwise-legal-goods that have just avoided tariffs + safety inspections is far larger than goods we think of as illegal like guns or drugs. Spices, garlic, seafood, all subject to huge amounts of smuggling.

    • Smuggling for the purpose of tarif evasion was actually used in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The Empire raising tariffs in order to pay for their new standing army and producing a lot of smugglers is a reasonable world detail, and allowed “smuggler” to be an archetype for player character without having everyone be a spice dealer. It’s actually a plot point as early as Heir to the Empire.

  7. I was saving this question for the article on Tashana but I might as well ask now with the Marchers being featured! Tried to reframe it so I was asking what I wanted to know:

    In Secrets of Sarlona it’s noted that there’s trade between Zarash’ak and eastern Tashana in Sarlona (possibly also involving smugglers in Ohr Kaluun, possibly their own thing), crossing the Barren Sea.

    I’m intrigued by the concept as it’s a non-Lyrander form of trade (which does obviously exist otherwise) that’s also done with only one major city in the route (two if Dar Jin features but perhaps it doesn’t), and that city is a stilt-town in a swamp!

    Were the Marchers sailors before Sivis arrived? Did they go to Vralkek or up and down the coast between clans and tribes, did the humans who had sailed to the Shadow Marches also sail back in the time pre-Galifar? Or is this sailing new? Are the gnomes (Khorvaire’s premier sailors and a possibly minority population in Zarash’ak) involved in the sailing or would a party get on a ship crewed by orcs and humans from the Marches to sail the Barren Sea?

    What are the Marchers trading for in Tashana (or elsewhere) that makes an almost year-round journey worthwhile? Scrimshaw and narcotic lichen from the shifters? Metalwork from the Tashana dwarves? Or is this voyage less a common thing and more a “the party CAN do this, find a captain and make a DC 30 Persuasion check” sort of thing?

    If there is trade and commerce between them, does this mean Zarash’ak has oddly Sarlonan market goods (albeit ones from the tundra) and is this reflected in the other Thunder Sea ports (Vralkek, Sharn, Trolanport, Stormreach, etc)?

    • So here’s the issue: I don’t think this trade is driven by the Marchers. SoS states that ships occasionally cross the Barren Sea between Zarash’ak and small Tashana ports, noting that these are mundane vessels (not Lyrandar). But a key word there is occasional. There’s a pattern to this, but it’s definitely an unusual route and it makes no sense to me that it would be driven by the Marcher side; I see it as being tied to a Tashana culture. Canonically, Zarash’ak was created by House Tharashk AFTER the dragonshard trade made a port necessary, because “their ancestral homes were too deep in the Marches to facilitate easy trade with Galifar.” Combine that with the fact that the Marchers were all but unknown before the Sivis expedition, and I see no logical basis for the Marchers having a flourishing pre-Galifar sailing tradition. RIVER travel is deeply important to the Marchers, but they have been presented as an isolated culture in the deep heart of the Marches, all but unknown throughout the history of human civilization on Galifar; that doesn’t add up with “regular seafarers and coastal sailors.”

      So, the answer is that this strange trade comes from Tashana, and that’s why I can’t give you an answer now. I wasn’t involved with the development of Tashana in Secrets of Sarlona, and I would go in a different direction with the shifter cultures, which means we don’t have a common language for discussing those cultures, the reason they’d have the capabilities and desires to cross the Barren Sea, the things they have to offer and the things they desire. I have thoughts about it, but it’s all tied together in a larger package; I can’t talk about unique trade goods without explaining the culture that produces them. And again, that’s a Tashana topic, not Marcher.

      Sorry to disappoint you, as I know that this is a topic you’ve wanted to discuss for a long time now. But again, to me the issue is that I would take the Tashana in a different direction than canon, and so my thoughts don’t mesh with the foundation that currently exists.

      • I think you and I have a different definition of “disappoint”. This is amazingly helpful and it answers most of what I needed to know. I understand I’ve been a bit of a pain about this and every time I asked I felt a little more like “this is too complex and niche a question” so for you to take not just the time to answer but the time to answer in as much detail as possible (currently) is really going above and beyond.

        Honestly this highlights to me that despite being a Sarlona fanatic as I am, I was still working from a “Khorvaire-centric” focus, and once again the answer is different from what I could ever have imagined but SO cool in its own right. The Tashanan shifters sailing across the sea to Khorvaire and back is completely different from the Marchers doing the same. But now I have the answer to:

        -Shifter or dwarf goods? Shifter
        -Is it part of Marcher culture? No
        -Is it part of Khorvaire’s larger culture? Not really
        -Does it figure into the Thunder Sea trade culture? No

        And that’s pretty much everything besides more esoteric “no, what EXACTLY are they trading for” which isn’t always necessary to press for. I’ll admit I got caught up in the romance of a year-long voyage across the Barren Sea and back, of what these people’s lives were like to be gone for so long. I imagined them going on to other ports, to Droaam and Sharn and Stormreach, of a rich “hidden” cultural mix that was old and subtle and stood in contrast (but not conflict) to Lyrander’s o’er reaching ambition. But that’s still possible, now it’s simply the story of one PC bringing things together. The shifters coming FROM Tashana is still cool, it’s still really evocative.

        But I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll be patiently waiting for the chance to see your version of Tashana (and the I assume dozens of articles that could be between then and now) and loving every minute of it. Thank you so much

  8. Regarding the Trust and people who would know of it:

    Surely the Twelve, and various higher ups in all the Houses, would have learned by now. Would they tend to avoid locating anything to important, like research facilities or anything they want kept under the table in Zilargo because of that?

    You have mentioned before that the Trust, in cooperation with Sivis tapping the phone lines, could be aware of a lot of those things anyway. But do they still make an effort to try to keep such things secret? If so, what steps might they take as distinct from the usual anti-spy measures?

    • “Would they tend to avoid locating anything to important, like research facilities or anything they want kept under the table in Zilargo because of that?”
      Remember who has a monopoly on elemental binding…

    • I’ve added the answer to the first question to the main article. The short form is that the Twelve would assume that the Trust knows about anything going on in Zilargo, but as long as the project they’re working on isn’t somehow a threat to Zilargo, they don’t expect the Trust to DO anything with that information. Zilargo and the Twelve have maintained a mutually beneficial working relationship for centuries, resulting in the lightning rail, the airships, and more; neither side wants to disrupt that balance. But again, more detailed answer in the article.

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