IFAQ: Cyclopes in Eberron

2023 continues to be an extremely busy year. Among other things, I’m taking part in the liveplay session Destiny of Worlds, where I play Merrix d’Cannith of Eberron next to Ed Greenwood as Elminster of Shadowdale! If you haven’t seen it yet, the first two episodes are available here. I’m working on a larger article I’ll have out in the next few days, but in the meantime I wanted to address a few more questions from my patrons on Patreon. Such as…

How would you use cyclopes in your Eberron?

I’ve never used cyclopes in a campaign, and I think this raises an important secondary aspect to this sort of question… which is not just how I’d use a thing in Eberron, but WHY I’d add whatever that thing is to a campaign. While there’s a place for everything in Eberron, just because you CAN add something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. My question is always how will this make my story more interesting? Why will encountering a cyclops be a compelling experience for the players… and how will it be different from dealing with an ogre chib or an ettin in the Barrens? Fourth edition made cyclopes fey, tying them to fomorians and playing up the idea of the “evil eye.” But in fifth edition they’re just giants with poor depth perception. If I’m going to use those cyclopes in my campaign, I want to add something that makes them interesting.

Sight is the thing that immediately stands out with a cyclops. 5E gives them poor depth perception, but I like the idea of balancing that with a supernatural gift. Two thoughts immediately come to mind.

Plane Sight. It’s said that the first cyclopes were giants who yearned to see things no one else could see. They were so driven that they each plucked an eye from their skulls and cast them into the void; each found their way to a different plane. Now every cyclops sees two worlds at once they see the material plane through the eye in their head… but each cyclops is bound to another plane, and they perceive that plane overlaid atop the material. This is similar to my vision of the kuo-toa of the Thunder Sea, but where the kuo-toa are all bound to Dal Quor, each cyclops is tied to a different plane.

The first thing I like about this is that it gives me an immediate foundation to make every encounter with a new cyclops unique, because its personality and abilities may be affected by its unique vision. Consider…

  • A cyclops who is an unexpectedly sophisticated warrior, because they see into Shavarath and have studied the combat techniques of the celestials and fiends. Such a cyclops could be a dangerous foe, but they could also potentially be a swordmaster who’s able to teach manuevers that can’t be learned anywhere else on the material plane.
  • A cyclops who lives in a desolate cave but who is a surprisingly erudite sage; they perceive Syrania and while sitting in their cave, they are reading books in the library of a Dominion of Knowledge.
  • A cyclops who perceives Dal Quor, who sees the nightmares of their enemies. Do they use this knowledge to frighten enemies in battle, or do they actually use it to try to help people understand their dreams and face their fears?

Even following this model, not every cyclops has to be so clever and sophisticated; as presented in 5E, the default cyclops only has an 8 Intelligence and 6 Wisdom. So for every Shavarath-linked cyclops who has mastered celestial martial arts, you could have four more who are just especially aggressive because they perceive themselves as being constantly surrounded by war. Likewise, a cyclops who sees Dal Quor COULD just be confused by these visions—reacting to the dream-personas of adventurers rather than their physical selves—as opposed to making clever use of this model. I prefer to play with the more intelligent cyclops, but they can still be brutes if that’s what your story calls for.

Piercing the Veil. Rather than seeing into other planes, another option is to allow cyclopes to see into the Ethereal Veil. What I like about this idea is that it could lead to cyclopes dwelling in haunts, because they perceive the haunted echo of what once was. A cyclopes lives in the burnt-out ruins of a manor because it still sees Lady ir’Halan’s grand ball. Some cyclopes could take this further and serve as mediums, learning to communicate with ghosts and shades. Less sophisticated cyclopes might see the denizens of the haunt, but be unable to communicate with them; but they could still see these ghosts as companions. Either way, a cyclops could be an interesting way to draw adventurers’ attention to a haunted location. If I went down this path, I would probably go ahead and grant cyclopes the ability to see invisible objects and creatures, as see invisibility also grants ethereal sight.

But where are they from? My basic inclination is to keep cyclopes as being rare and remarkable, rather than to introduce a nation of cyclopes somewhere in the world. There’s a few options. They could be creations of the daelkyr Belashyrra; do they have any loyalty to the daelkyr or was this purely an abstract experiment? They could be native fey, each with a story, much like I’ve said of hags in this article. They could be the devolved descendants of giants from the Group of Eleven. However, what I would do is to make them a strain of ogre—making cyclops sight a rare, recessive trait that occasionally appears among ogre communities. In the ancient nation of Borunan, these eye-seers were celebrated for their plane-sight, which was usually tied to Shavarath or Fernia. They are rarely seen in the present day, but can still appear in any ogre bloodline. In Khorvaire they’re mostly found in Droaam, but can potentially be encountered anywhere on the continent.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. And check out Destiny of Worlds!

6 thoughts on “IFAQ: Cyclopes in Eberron

  1. Thanks, Keith! Always fun to see how different cultures would take advantage of their innate abilities. I like the concept of both kinds of cyclopes in different regions.

    My players once encountered a cyclops diviner in Xen’drik- she was the sole inhabitant of a skyberg from a previous Age, trying to understand the magics lingering in the ruins. She brought the player characters back from the dead after they ran afoul of dream serpents by using something akin to a (broken) altar of resurrection, which had lots of fun side effects.

  2. Oh wow cyclops are also huge size it seems, so this strain produces quite a physical mutation. I like it! Also being in Droaam allows the ancient Wroatish knights to have tales of encountering cyclops in the Barrens

  3. I like making some monsters like cyclopes and ettins a mutation of a similar species. Cyclopism and ettinism could be conditions that show up in any sort of giant. I also don’t think the various giant species need to vary so much in height, but their variance would be more about culture and elemental training.

    Maybe the people now known as dwarves were originally huge giants, but were cursed and exiled by their former kin. It could explain the traditional enmity between giants and dwarves found in earlier editions of D&D.

    Trolls could have been created by hags as guardians. Maybe there was a species of giantkin that didn’t have such rapid regeneration or the ravening hunger that fuels it. The hags killed (or at least endeavored to) all of the female members of the original species and replaced them. Then, when major improvements were discovered, they also cloned some through careful dissection in order to build up numbers. Then of course there’s grist… I guess the base species could be called Trow, even though that’s the root of both ‘troll’ and ‘drow’; there are plenty of other cases in which variants of the same creature from Earth legend were turned into much different monsters in RPGs.

  4. Great to have some ideas for making cyclopes both interesting and Eberron-connected! Thanks!

    Both kinds of extraplanar perception allow for the cyclopes to potentially be central to a community, or to be an isolated loner with their own thing going on.

    EYES OF MADNESS: An idea I had was to give each cyclopes a different eye ray from a beholder or beholder-kin, maybe on a recharge like a dragon’s breath weapon. This could tie them to Belashyrra’s eye cults or exposure to Xoriat’s planar influence. May be Aberrations, could show up menacing the Umbragen drow.

    CONTAGIOUS CURSE: Inspired by Polyphemus cursing Odysseus.
    Cyclopes are another stage in the degeneration of the Giants brought about by the dragon’s cursing of Xen’drik, represented by their limited vision and poor intellect. They also can spread this curse to others: they can cast Bane 1/long rest, or for stronger ones: Hex or Bestow Curse. When someone kills a cyclopes, the curse can spread to them: they must save against Bane or Bestow Curse or be affected by those spells permanently, until they receive a Bless or Remove curse spell.

  5. One idea I had with cyclops is that they are psionic and their eye is a eye of enlightenment of sorts. And that they communicate by telepathy, but it requires eye contact. This cyclops would have detect thoughts as a at will, and it’s rock attack is a psionic throw.

Comments are closed.