IFAQ: Evil Tairnadal Ancestors?

I’m often asked about the cause of the Mourning or the abilities of the Mark of Death, but there are a few infrequent questions worth discussion. Like this one:

Has it ever been the case that the Tairnadal Keepers of the Past have identified a newborn’s ancestral spirit as some great villain from elven history? If so, what happens to them? Are they banished with their family exiled? Are the elves with heroic ancestral patrons forced to attempt to kill the child?

The foundation of my answer lies in a previous Tairnadal FAQ. There’s two key points.

You don’t receive a patron ancestor at birth. The Keepers of the Past don’t determine your patron ancestor until adolescence. The prior FAQ notes “Tairnadal children spend their youth essentially auditioning for the ancestors.” The idea is that the patron ancestors aren’t simply picking you based on your BLOOD—they are picking you based on your talents, your personality, and your spirit. You HELP the spirit by emulating the ancestor, so they don’t want to pick people who aren’t a good fit. In making a Tairnadal character, an important question to consider is were you chosen by the patron you hoped for, or did you have to adapt? Another aspect of this is that the Tairnadal are a CULTURE. Tairnadal can choose to abandon their traditions and become Aereni, and vice versa; if you just DON’T emulate your ancestor, you’re losing the opportunity to receive their guidance, but nothing else happens. So again, the choice happens at adolescence, after you’ve spent your childhood learning about the ancestors and the customs of your people, and training in the skills you hope will make you suitable to your preferred patron.

This ties to the second key point: The patron ancestors only exist because of the devotion of the Tairnadal. The living Tairnadal keep the ancestors from fading through devotion and by emulating them. The patrons REWARD their devotees with guidance, but if living elves simply chose not to revere an ancestor, that ancestor would fade and be lost. This is one main reason that elves DON’T get to choose their ancestors, and why as a Tairnadal it’s your DUTY to honor the ancestor who chooses you—because if everyone played favorites and picked Ancestor A over Ancestor B, we’d LOSE Ancestor B. But the key point here is you don’t get to BE a patron ancestors unless the Tairnadal want to keep you around. The previous article says “Despite being beloved and preserved in memory, did they have any notable flaws? Because it’s the duty of the revenant to embody their flaws as well as their virtues! But an elf wouldn’t be preserved as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.”

So you can have a patron ancestor who’s noted for their cruelty or arrogance, and it’s the duty of their chosen to be cruel or arrogant. But they have to have been celebrated heroes IN SPITE of those flaws. If someone was an utterly despicable villain, the Tairandal would simply choose NOT to follow their example, the spirit would fade (as spirits do) and that would be that. So no: following the standard traditions of the Tairnadal, a newborn could never be chosen by a legendary villain, and their family wouldn’t be exiled.

WITH THAT SAID… That’s “following the standard traditions of the Tairnadal.” If you want to tell this story, you just have to be clear that it’s OUTSIDE of those traditions. The Tairnadal sustain their ancestors through freely offered devotion. But this is a world where undead are real. So you could easily create a new form of undead: Tairnadal spirits of infamous villains who AREN’T revered or preserved, and who are instead sustained through involuntary spiritual vampirism—selecting a host and forcing that host to reenact their deeds (as opposed to the standard system where again, the ancestor can reward a good host but can’t FORCE them to do anything). It could be that there’s a much stronger biological factor in their choice of host than usual (as noted in the FAQ article, at this point most living Tairnadal are connected to dozens of ancestors and it’s not a major factor), and that when such a host appears it’s a major concern.

SO: Could an infamous villain choose a newborn elf at birth? Not by the standard traditions. But if you WANT an infamous villain to choose a newborn elf at birth, just make a new threat that supports the story.

Are the elves with heroic ancestral patrons forced to attempt to kill the child?

I wanted to revisit this for just a moment to again reflect on things. It’s important to understand that the Tairnadal aren’t CONTROLLED by their ancestors. They believe that they are REWARDED with spiritual guidance when they do a good job of emulating the ancestor—that the champion can act through them and share its skills. They believe that by emulating the ancestor they preserve it, which adds the point that it’s their civic DUTY to do so… hence the idea that if you’ve been chosen by a cruel ancestor it’s your duty to be cruel, and if you’ve been chosen by an ancestor celebrated for their virtue, it’s your duty to be virtuous. But ultimately that’s about DUTY: you are never actually forced to take an action you don’t want to do. It’s very much like a paladin’s oath: you CAN break it, you’d just prefer not to.

So first of all, MOST Tairnadal ancestors are champions who fought giants, dragons, or goblins. They are heroes to their people, but they are soldiers as opposed to general champions of virtue. With that said, you could easily have a patron ancestor who was known as a demon hunter or ghostbuster—someone who protected the people by hunting down supernatural threats, much like followers of the Silver Flame. And yes, if you were chosen by that ancestor, it would be your duty to hunt down supernatural threats. If you define this evil thing as a form of negative undead, there’s a secondary aspect to consider: rather than being hunted by TAIRNADAL, it might be hunted by the Deathguard of Aerenal, who are explicitly sacred commandos who hunt down and destroy undead.

I’ll be answering more questions in the days ahead: thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support and interesting questions!

26 thoughts on “IFAQ: Evil Tairnadal Ancestors?

  1. Okay well this just simplified a number of things for an evil Revenant Blade villain I have had a few parties encounter across my Eberron campaigns. Instead of needing to have been corrupted by some outside undead the creature can be a “forgotten” ancestral spirit!

    Great article as usual!

  2. I think a secret/splinter group that feel the foes and villains of their own past are worth keeping could be a very interesting opposing force in a game that has a strong Tairnadal presence. Maybe a small cabal of Keepers of the Past who feel that the bad is worth preserving alongside the good, conditioning wayward youths towards the worst of their ancestors.

    • I had a player in a campaign who played a (4E) Tairnadal shaman who essentially was tied to unwanted spirits—all the ones who didn’t quite make the cut to be patron ancestors. One of the spirits we defined in connection to him was an infamous traitor; any time he tried to use magic and FAILED, we’d explain it as Brega the Bastard taking the place of the spirit whose help he’d called for.

      So sure, this is certainly an idea you could explore. But as you’re describing it, that’s still VOLUNTARY — choosing to preserve the ancestor — as opposed to the OP’s question of whether a child could be hunted because they were chosen against their will.

  3. If I can, I’d like to ask a question about a different topic: the Dao.

    The ECS says the dao are residents of Lamannia, but their heavy industry and mining default flavour may not be the best fit for the plane of nature. How would you handle the dao in Eberron, Keith?

    • Correct, heavy industry and mining definitely don’t fit with Lamannia, which actively embodies primordial nature. I’ll be writing about the planes in ExE, but short form: Industry is an aspect of Fernia.

      • So, short answer, would you reflavour dao or move them from where the ECS put them?

        • I’d put dao in Fernia, and will be discussing that placement in the Fernia section of Exploring Eberron.

          • Thank you, Keith. They’re the first entry for Volume 4 of Naturalist’s Guide and I was curious.

  4. Hi Keith! I have a very IFAQ: what does happen if an ancestor dead long time ago is resurected by wish or whatever? Would all the tairnadal feel it? Only the ones following him? Should they have any mechanical loss? Will they receive a new ancestor?
    Second: positive and negative undead are powered by mabar and irian. Are ancestors “powered” in some way by any plane or magic?

    Thanks for writing down all of this!

    • This was addressed in the previous FAQ article:

      People only linger in Dolurrh for about a month before their spirits fade. In the past this has been used as a concrete limit on any form of resurrection; that unless a spirit is somehow kept from fading in Dolurrh (as some say occurs if the soul is snatched by the Keeper), there’s no way to return after it fades.

      This is concrete fact. But no one knows if there’s anything beyond Dolurrh. The vassals of the Sovereign Host believe that Dolurrh is a gateway to the realms of the Sovereigns. Followers of the Silver Flame say the spirit moves on from Dolurrh to merge with the Silver Flame. The Blood of Vol says that fading is oblivion. The Tairnadal faith maintains that you persist for as long as you’re remembered. The more people who remember you, the stronger your spirit and the greater your ability to influence the world. Thus, the patron ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh and are beyond the reach of resurrection, but it’s believed that they continue to exist regardless.

      So the principle is that they simply cannot be resurrected. If you as DM choose to ignore that and tell the story regardless, that measn the answer is up to you. If I was to tell that story, I’d do one of two things. What’s I’d most likely do is say that it makes no difference to the Tairnadal as a whole: that they haven’t sucked the spirit of the ancestor from wherever it is and into a new body, but rather RECREATED a new duplicate of that ancestor. Which raises the interesting idea that this reincarnated ancestor could EMULATE THEMSELVES and gain strength. Alternately, you could say that in reincarnating them you are ripping them away from all the elves that follow them. The benefit of patron guidance is entirely abstract and story driven, so it would be up to the DM to decide how to represent that; the idea that they a different ancestor would step in to fill the void makes sense to me, so they’d need to change their behavior but they wouldn’t suffer mechanical penalties.

      As for the second question, patron ancestors concretely aren’t undead; they aren’t tied to Irian or Mabar and can’t be affected by spells that affect undead. They don’t exist in a coherent form; I’m inclined to say that like the kalashtar quori, they exist IN the collective spirits of the Tairnadal.

  5. “an elf wouldn’t be preserved as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.”

    So would someone like Oda Nobunaga (burned a holy site because militants used it as a base, worked to annihilate some of his enemies as a people, and threw out a lot of social norms, but judged purely on merit instead of blood, totally changed the face of warfare and, if not for Mitsuhide’s betrayal, would have unified Japan) be a possible patron? Frank Castle?

    • I think a simple yardstick is “Would you want this person on your team?” The Tairnadal faith isn’t simply about remembering someone’s achievements; it’s about allowing that person to live on through their devotees. There could well be ancestors where the Keepers say “Taeron revolutionized principles of war. Everyone should study Taeron’s teachings and tactics. But Taeron was also a sociopath who skinned his enemies alive, and we don’t condone that behavior. We can LEARN from Taeron; but we will not preserve his spirit.”

      On the other hand, I think it’s possible that there are patron ancestors who are literally considered to be “monsters”—specialists in psychological warfare or the use of terror, especially brutal assassins—who have been preserved because they are exceptionally effective at what they do, but who are generally not deployed. Essentially, they’re the nuclear arsenal; we don’t WANT to use them, but we’ve GOT them if we need them. The main question is whether such “monsters” would have even been brought to Valenar or kept in reserve on Aerenal. And looking the the OP’s question, these are still things that would only exist if they were consciously cultivated.

      • “I think a simple yardstick is “Would you want this person on your team?” ”

        Given the number of teams he has been on, I guess that’s a yes for Frank.

  6. Good and evil being somewhat subjective in Eberron there’s every likelihood a reverred Tarinadal ancestor could be quite monstrous from another perspective. There could even be controversial ancestors among the Tairnadal. A general revered for generations for her conquests, but increasingly criticized by younger generations for her atrocities. Could be that goblins, dragons, or giants have stories and records that cast that beloved Tairnadal hero in quite a different light. A good aligned PC could be very troubled to learn new information about the spirit their ally is channeling.

    • I do think that AS CULTURES, I wouldn’t call either the Aereni or the Tairnadal “good.” Let’s face it: However they choose to justify it, Valenar EXISTS because the Tairnadal stabbed the Cyrans in the back. They may not be CRUEL to their Khunan subjects in Valenar, but they are consciously inviting a war that could devastate the region… in part because THEY can always go home if it goes badly. They are following the dictates of their religion and preserving their ancestors, and they feel they HAVE to follow this course of action—but they aren’t concerned with the impact this has on other cultures. In some ways it’s the embodiment of the RPG player who justifies bad behavior by saying “I’m just roleplaying my character” — the Tairnadal justify their bad behavior by “It’s what my ancestor would do.”

      Add to this the fact that the majority of the Tairnadal were rebels fighting a guerilla war against an immensely overpowering foe. They were fighting for the freedom and survival of their people. There are certainly ancestors who maintain that victory without honor isn’t victory—but there’s DEFINITELY a lot of ends-justify-the-means ancestors out there. So I’d say that with the Tairandal, they usually don’t TRY to hide monstrous behavior (in part because you NEED to know about it if you’re going to live your life as they would)—it’s simply that for the hero to become a patron ancestor, the Keepers of the Past would have to believe that on the balance, they are someone we want to preserve and emulate.

      But certainly, the idea of a new Tairnadal movement that seeks to reevaluate and ELIMINATE certain patron ancestors is a fun idea!

      • So more than a cult of personality, it would be a religious imperative of personality. Have you ever had individuals or factions compete or conflict over the, ‘truest’ memories? “My ancestor, General Xael d’Custer, was a warrior poet who died leading a heroic charge!”-versus-“Actually, d’Custer overconfidently attacked against orders while disregarding accurate intelligence that my ancestor, Leonidas d’Marathon, died fighting to provide him! Also your ancestor wrote doggeral and was only breveted a lieutenant general.”

        • The Tairnadal tradition IS a religion, which is why it’s described in the religion section of Rising From The Last War; emulating your ancestor is a religious duty. It’s also an extremely regimented society. Given that Xael died 40,000 years ago, to some degree what the Keepers of the Past SAY he did is going to be more important than what he actually did; again, it’s a religion, and ultimately the point is that they WANT TO BELIEVE this particular story about Xael. The interesting question is whether the revelation of a new detail could actually help revenant blades bond more effectively with the ancestor: If I akcnowledge that Xael was arrogant and ignored intelligence, my bond with him is going to be stronger than when I was acting on a flawed story. Because again, the idea is that the closer you ACCURATELY emulate the ancestor, the stronger your bond and the better they’re preserved; the Keepers don’t WANT to hide truths or spin stories, because it defeats the entire purpose of the exercise.

          So after tens of thousands of years, I don’t think you see a lot of internal dissent; I think the established stories are very well established. But NEW information could cause chaos.

          It’s also definitely the case that there are established rivalries between patron ancestors, and as a revenant it’s your duty to follow that, too. If it’s well known that Xael and Leonidas constantly quarreled, then followers of Xael should quarrel with followers of Leonidas.

        • You’ll also definitely have Xael’s revenants judging one another on how well they are following in his path. So you might not have people arguing about the facts of an ancient battle, but you could definitely have two Xael revenants arguing “What Would Xael Do?” regarding a current situation.

        • Side note: House Phiarlan is currently developing an entertainment series where seven revenant blades devoted to Xael are forced to live together for two months in a small house. “Find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start being Xael.”

  7. Would a Valenar elf be shunned from society if they chose not to follow an ancestor, or followed one, but suddenly stopped?
    (I have a Blood Hunter Valenar Elf that became a member of the Blood of Vol. Any information on the relationship between the Blood of Vol and Valenar elves would be appreciated as well. I want this character to have left their home for some reason that would make them essentially be disowned, and I figured becoming a member of another religion would be a good way to do this.)

    • Would a Valenar elf be shunned from society if they chose not to follow an ancestor, or followed one, but suddenly stopped?

      Yes, absolutely. Being part of Tairnadal society essentially means serving as a soldier in an army. Warbands have broad freedom in how they carry out their assigned objectives, but you don’t get to question orders, and the most basic order is emulate your patron ancestor. You don’t like the ancestor who chose you? Tough. You don’t WANT to emulate an ancestor? It’s not up to you: it’s your duty. The guidance of the ancestors is a strategic advantage and it’s your duty to keep them from fading. In refusing to emulate your ancestor you’re being both insubordinate and selfish, and there’s no place in a warband for you.

      Having said that: I don’t see the faith of the Blood of Vol as being fundamentally at odds with the Tairnadal beliefs. The BoV states that if there are gods they are cruel; that mortality is a curse and death is oblivion; and that we are meant to be something greater. The Tairnadal beliefs have nothing to do with gods, and everything to do with keeping their dead champions from being lost to oblivion. I think it’s entirely possible for a Tairnadal to make the case “My ancestor would have sought out the Divinity Within if this tradition had existed in their life.” (Assuming it makes sense given the story of the particular ancestor) I know this isn’t relevant to your particular situation, I’m just saying that it theoretically doesn’t have to be Tairnadal OR Blood of Vol; I could imagine a Tairnadal character who ALSO practices the Blood of Vol or draws power from the Silver Flame.

      In any case, as a Tairnadal, you are chosen by a patron ancestor. If you choose not to revere and emulate your patron ancestor, whether because you follow a different religion or just don’t like your ancestor, that’s grounds for dishonorable discharge and exile.

  8. Keith: In an answer above, you reminded us that spirits in Dolurrh only last about a month before they begin to fade. You also establish that Tairnadal spirits don’t choose their emulators until the latter are in adolescence, which for elves is significantly later than for humans. So, then, when an elven hero died, no one would be emulating them for decades. Does that meanthat Tairnadal spritits are sustained initially by the mundane memories of those who had known them, or heard of their deeds in life? Given elven lifespans, it would not be unsual for elves who knew a hero in person to still be alive long after a new generation of elves had begun to emulate them.

    • Most likely, yes. The Tairnadal ancestors aren’t sustained IN Dolurrh; we’ve called out that they can’t be resurrected and you can’t go and find them there. So yes, they would have already faded from Dolurrh by the time that anyone chooses to emulate them. But exactly as you say, if they are heroes WORTHY of immortality, they will have done such deeds that people WILL remember them and honor them, even if they aren’t EMULATING them in the formal way; the important thing is for them to START the process of emulating and honoring them before the current generation dies and they are forgotten… and as you say, given the long lifespan of elves, that’s usually not an issue.

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