IfAQ: Can Warforged Cry?

Art by Júlio Azevedo for Exploring Eberron!

If all goes well, I’ll be doing more Eberron support on this site in 2020. The frequency and form of this content will depend on my Patreon support. In addition to feature articles, I’ll always be tackling frequently asked questions about Eberron. But I also want to take the time to answer a few INfrequently asked questions.

Can Warforged Cry?

In MY Eberron, no: warforged don’t cry. There’s two major reasons for this. The first is that warforged are generally depicted as having crystaline eyes. They thus have no need to lubricate their eyes and there’s no logical reason for them to have any sort of tear duct. So there’s no biological reason for it. But beyond that: I don’t WANT non-human species of behave just like humans. I always think it’s more interesting to explore how a nonhuman species differs from humanity as opposed to saying “They’re just like us, but with pointy ears or green skin.” So I want to know what warforged do INSTEAD of crying.

Warforged have the capacity to feel emotion. A warforged can feel joy or sorrow. But they can’t smile, and in my opinion, they can’t cry. So how do these emotions come out? Is there an involuntarily physiological response like a tear? Is there a more voluntary response, like when you embrace the sorrow and start sobbing? In MY Eberron, a warforged’s involuntary response to sorrow is a slight trembling that runs through the root-like musculature of the warforged. If the warforged has metal armor plating, this will rattle the plates against one another, creating a soft, dissonant chiming sound. If the warforged has non-metal armor, if will be more of a rustling like rain. When a warforged is in the grip of sorrow, a common response is to bring its arms together—as if hugging itself—and to rhythmically tap is fingers against its forearms, essentially creating an amplified version of that “crying” sound. A warforged may also do this rhythmic tapping against one forearm as a general expression of sorrow or frustration—the equivalent of taking a deep sigh.

Now, that’s what *I* do in MY Eberron. The second side of the question is what I think the official answer might be, and my suspicion is that it’s “If there’s no rule that states a warforged can’t cry, than it can cry.” If I HAD to explain how this would work, I’d say “The organic components of a warforged are infused with alchemical fluids. Warforged tears are an involuntarily expulsion of these fluids.” But again, I personally would prefer for them to express their grief in a way that’s unique to warforged, rather than to mirror humanity.

What are your thoughts on warforged crying? Have you ever addressed it in your campaign? Post your answers below! Also, go to TheAdventureZoneGame.com to check out my latest game, currently in preorder until mid-January 2020!

34 thoughts on “IfAQ: Can Warforged Cry?

  1. I would definitely go with the unique expression of sadness, frustration, and grief on part of the warforged as something not imitative of humans. I’m sure Merrix and Aaren d’Cannith weren’t necessarily pre-occupied with by-product emotional reactions from warforged, although it seems likely they didn’t quite understand the process they were using to animate them with sentience and… dare we say… a soul? The appearance of the ghulra seems like a strong bit of evidence to support the assumption that they were playing with things they didn’t quite understand.

    I like the idea of what their reaction must have been the first time warforged expressed sadness in the way you described, “the soft, dissonant chiming… the rustling like rain.”

    Very cool. Thank you

  2. One of the warforged in a game I play utilizes a Shield of Expression to display the emotions that his stoic face cannot.

    It’s always interesting to see how people portray the unemotive restraints of a ‘forged.

    • That was my first thought when I saw the Shield of Expression! It’s such an adorable concept!

      I’d have to rely on voice a lot, I think, to portray emotion as a Warforged, and describing body language. I wonder if they are more attuned to body language and conscious emotional expression receptively too; I don’t know that they’d have the wiring we have to really properly “get” facial expressions.

  3. I will always love Matt Forbecks take on Xalt the Warforged artificer in the Mark of Death series. Xalt constantly asks questions of everyone around him regarding what most would consider pretty basic human responses. He is trying to learn humor, as well as identifying and matching his ethics against those of others around him to sort of reaffirm his choices. He is often portrayed as semi innocent in nature due to his naivety in regard to the world. Warofrged are awesome rp toons if played to all their flaws and strengths.

  4. i wonder if its possible for a warforged to get an artificer to give them tear ducts?

    Standard Warforged lack tear ducts, and therefore cannon cry, most find their own way to show their sadness.
    Warforged that spend a lot of time around non-warforged can get the ability to cry added to them, for a small fee of course.
    Warforged that were designed to perform more diplomatic things come with inbuilt tear ducts, for cases where it is best t cry alongside everyone else, such as funerals and stuff.

    Tears are made from he alchemical fluid that runs through them, too much crying could lead to a sort of dehydration effect, causing the warforged to need to actually drink in order to refill them?

    Alternativly, some Artificers may just create tiny portals to the plane of water.
    Infinite tears, sure.
    but the warforged better hope that nothing goes wrong, otherwise their eyes could turn into fire hoses.
    Useful in certain situations, sure, but a bit unfortunate otherwise.

    …..also for some reason reading this is making me cry, and i don’t even feel sad..

    • You could get an endless decanter and always be ready to pour one out for the fleshies.

  5. The flip side: How do warforged express happiness or joy? As a voluntary response, I suppose one could just say, “I feel happy” or “I share your joy.” As an involuntary reponse, I suppose since they can speak, they can laugh, but that might only occur in Warforged who choose to imitate human response. Is there an iherent, involuntary response to positive emotion?

    • There’s two elements I’d consider here.

      The first is that I feel that warforged are innately stoic. They CAN feel emotion, but it’s not something they were encouraged to explore. Consider also the warforged that we have presented in the novels. In the Dreaming Dark series, Pierce feels emotion but he doesn’t express it as dramatically as his human and halfling comrades. A particular warforged could CHOOSE to exaggerate that and really embrace their emotional side—but the default is that warforged rarely show strong emotion. So part of the question is what would MAKE a warforged laugh.

      The second aspect of this is that humans may not RECOGNIZE the way in which a warforged expresses emotion. The idea of a slight rustling being a sign of sorrow works in part because humans likely don’t even register what it is.

      So in part, I don’t think warforged are naturally exuberant when it comes to expressions of joy. But beyond that, in looking for something akin to the involuntary laugh I’d likely look for something that might not be obvious. Following the idea of the rustling cry and the fact that their armor is part of them, I’d consider a momentary expansion of the torso armor—a slight widening of the shoulders being the warforged equivalent of a smile, while a sharper flex of these muscles would be the equivalent of laughter. Again, the point being that a typical* human wouldn’t notice, but another warforged would say “They look happy.” But I’d still argue that warforged are stoic by nature; it’s not just that they’re hard to read, it’s that they have a generally steady emotional affect.

      * Having said that, it’s important to note that there’s no penalty for using Insight on a warforged. Their cues may not be obvious to a normal person, but an observant human can still figure it out.

  6. One character in my group has a construct familiar that, goes a little OCD. The more anxious the situation, the more they might repeatedly empty and fill the same bowl, continuously add ingredients to a boiling stew, or attempt to reassemble a broken bottle.

  7. What a lovely image, I’m definitely adopting this idea for my game – the rustling sound you describe with a lot of warforged is breathtaking!

  8. I immediately got my group’s warforged player to meet me for coffee and showed her the article. She loved it.

    It’s the little details that make Eberron come alive I tell you

  9. I think that a ‘Forged being stoic when it comes to spontaneous emotions makes sense, but one that is trying to understand their companion’s need for emotional expression and connection would just state their take on a situation directly at first. Over time, they could incorporate things like gestures and vocabulary or tonal shifts until eventually the group can understand and use any of those signals to understand one another. I guess it would form a sort of emotional-communication pidgin, so while the ‘Forged can’t really meld into the oxytocin pool like the soft biologicals, having another dimension of team communication may still help them function better as a group.

    Off-topic: I’ve recently started catching up on the backlog of Critical Role, and I know this will be heretical to the more sycophantic ‘critters’, but Laura Bailey could stand to develop a little stoicism. If everything is melodramatically gasp-worthy, then nothing is.

  10. Fantastic article! I wrote a short story once about a Warforged scout being threatened by his commander. In order to express the scout’s fear, I had him start shaking, with his fear eventually causing a temperature imbalance in his core that caused him to start leaking steam and emit sort of a wheezing sound. I love the idea of involuntary emotional expression on the part of Warforged.

  11. To my mind, the closest equivalent to humanoid involuntary expression in warforged is eye brightening/dimming — and even that’s lacking the nuance that comes with our eyebrows and the multitudes of tiny muscles around our own eyes. It’d be difficult to distinguish between horror and delight from a warforged’s face alone!

    • Yes, that’s certainly one way to do it. Some of the images in the original ECS show the ghulra glowing as a response to what appears to be anger.

    • The TV series Fireball starts two robots as the main roles: Drossel von Flügel, a “teenager” robot princess who don’t even have a mouth, and her massive cyclopian arachnoid servant, Gedächtnis (at least he can blink, unlike Drossel). They convey emotion with body language and voice tone and eye brightening/dimming. They do it so well that they are still easily recognizable despite their design changing drastically between seasons. If they can be expressive despite lacking even more features than a warforged I think there is not much physical limitations for a warforged to convey emotions to humans but there might be on mindset and their natural body language.

  12. I really like the way you worldbuild, including (in this case) how different races are just, well, different. The warforged can express sorrow; it’s just not in the same way. You had also commented, in a Manifest Zone, about how experience affects elves differently than it does humans. The sorts of questions you ask, and the resulting answers, make your world more coherent and a joy to run a campaign in.

  13. I could see a warforged that can’t really express emotions trying VERY HARD to do so, and being almost annoying in its efforts. Perhaps over exaggerated and over done to the point of being on that sad/comical edge.

  14. Is damage to Warforged only visible in the form of the scratches, dents ect. that show up on damaged mundane objects or do they have some kind of equivalent to bruising and bleeding?

    • The musculature of the warforged is a rootlike material suffused with alchemical fluids. I don’t see this bruising, but you could certainly describe one having torn muscle tendrils dripping fluids.

  15. I love this. I think it’s all too common for fantasy/sci-fi races to be just “humans with green skin,” and I want to see more instances where that’s not the case.

  16. None of my players play warforged, so it’s never come up. Although I’d rather have warforged not cry. But express sorrow differently. How I’d do it is not simple since it never came up.

    I’m exploring a new world I came up with, and it doesn’t include Warforged. The technology isn’t there to create them.

  17. Great article.
    Quick question: How do Warforged rid themselves of fluids and solids that have gone bad and are unusable anymore, like that alchemical fluid that distributes nutrients, what if small amounts of that goes bad, or hardens? What would a warforged have to fight against that? Do they poop or pee it out? Does it just kind of leak out like sweat?

    • If warforged cycled through fluids on a regular basis, I’d expect them to have to eat or drink to replenish those substances. The fact that they don’t eat or drink—and that they don’t suffer the effects of aging—suggests a system that simply doesn’t produce waste.

      In the case that it does, I would expect it to be simply exuded from the root structure like sweat, in a manner that’s largely unnoticeable to other creatures.

  18. If Warforged shake to cry, then how do they express fear (the most important emotion for game mechanics)? All the human methods (sweat, heavy breathing/increased heart rate) seem meatbag specific aside from shaking.

    In-fact, speaking of mechanically important emotions: We know Warforged feel pain because they’re not immune to Symbol of Pain, Inflict Pain, Painful Strike and dozens of other effects explicitly based on pain. Do Warforged scream in agony?

    • Bear in mind that there are no canon answers to any of these questions. All you’re getting here is what I’d do in MY campaign, and there’s nothing requiring you to do any of this.

      But looking to warforged as they’ve been presented in fiction, they come across as stoic. They may experience emotion, but they don’t SHOW it the way humans do. This ties to my sorrow suggest. It’s not supposed to be dramatic, obvious shaking; it’s a slight tremor primarily perceived through the AUDIO cue – the rustling of plate against plate – and something that a human could easily ignore. I’d expect any involuntary responses to other emotions to be just as subtle. To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never depicted warforged laughing or screaming in pain. They experience pain; but that doesn’t mean they react to it in a human fashion. Likewise, they experience fear, but the MECHANICAL impact of being frightened is that you run away from the thing that’s frightening you; and warforged can certainly do that.

      One reaction to fear that I could see would be that their musculature swells slightly, expanding the armor plating – essentially, like many animals, they become larger. On the other hand, given that we’ve never described this in any fiction, I’d argue that it would be a very slight shift – something someone could spot with Insight, but not a warforged suddenly seeming to double in size.

  19. How do Warforged speak? I know they can speak, but do they have speakers in their throats like modern day speakers? Or do they have lungs that they suck air into and then blow through vocal cords almost like other humanoids? If they have lungs, how many do they have? I’d expect one as they don’t even need to breathe to live and could likely make do with just one? If they have multiple lungs, why would they?
    You also mentioned the alchemical fluids that you said they may “sweat” out in my previous question. Would this liquid be pumped around with one heart, or multiple places across their body that act as smaller hearts, almost like insects?

    • How do Warforged speak?

      What I’ve said before is that it’s a magical solution more like magic mouth than the way organic creatures produce sound.

      Would this liquid be pumped around with one heart…

      We’ve described warforged muscles as being rootlike, and I’d see them as being more akin to plants than to mammalian anatomy. We’ve never described a “warforged heart.” This ties to the point that while they COULD sweat waste fluid out, they generally DON’T—they aren’t subject to aging, and they don’t eat, drink, or produce waste. They’re organic, but not especially similar to humans—and they are fundamentally magical creatures.

      • Warforged are not immune to Crisis of Life or a Scarab of Death (plus a lot more effects that specifically hit the heart outside of SRD stuff), so that would imply there’s some equivalent part.

        • It’s all a question of what you want from your story. In mine, I prefer the warforged to be different from humans. I prefer the idea that they have fundamentally different physiology. If they have a heart and a standard circulatory system, why DON’T they need to eat and excrete?

          So it’s up to you as a DM. You can say “The warforged aren’t immune to stirges or a Scarab of Death, which means they MUST have a standard circulatory system and a heart!” Or you can say “Even though a warforged doesn’t have a heart, the Scarab of Death still snuffs out its life force! Even though it doesn’t have standard veins, a stirge can still drain its fluids!”

          Mechanically, the warforged has no protection against these effects. It’s still up to you how you tell that story.

  20. In my game, currently, I’m playing a Warforged Eldritch Knight whose arc is involving him trying to learn more about these weird humans. He’s a veteran of the Battle of Bones (we’re using Forgotten Realms), and was defunct for ten years until the rest of the group found and repaired him. On point, he had regular dealings with a young woman who was a cleric of Eldath while he was in the military, who reached out to him and his fellow Warforged, and without understanding what was going on…he fell in love with her. She was the first human to talk to him instead of at him. He didn’t grok why he cared so much for her, but he did. She was killed in a surprise attack on his camp, died in his arms, and he went berserk over it. He is outwardly stoic, but inwardly he’s suffering from a big old armor plated broken heart and has no idea how to express it. The way I’m trying to convey this is him just clamming up about it as he tries to grapple with this as well as the fact he’s ten years behind the times. My DM loved the idea, and what I’m ultimately aiming for is him trying to learn how to express himself better so that the 7-foot tall, 400 lb walking tank won’t scare everyone around him so much…or snap and explode at the worst possible time. Is there anything you yourself could advise me on, there, Keith?

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