I’d be curious how you’d use the Tabaxi and the Rakasta in Eberron to make them distinct. Also, how would you use the Shadow Elves?
This basic question—how would you add (exotic species) to Eberron—is the single most frequent question I’m asked. But for me, there’s a second question that is more important, and that’s why do you want to add this species to Eberron? While this may sound snarky, I mean it quite seriously. Let’s look at the most common answers to that question.
I want to play a character with these racial features.
As often as not, this is what the question comes down to. Why play a tabaxi instead of a shifter? Because the tabaxi has that Feline Agility feature, which is perfect for this archer I want to play. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the point is that you don’t need to add an entirely new CULTURE into the setting—having to find territory and consider its role in both history and the current political balance—in order for someone to play a ranger with Feline Agility. Here’s a few ways to handle it.
Reskin the character as another species. The player wants the features of a tabaxi, but they don’t mind being part of shifter culture. So call the character a shifter. For purposes of the story, they’re an unusual Swiftstride shifter, and they can even describe their character as shifting when they use their Feline Agility (even though this doesn’t convey any of the other advantages or disadvantages of shifting). The player gets the abilities they want, but they are part of a species that already has an established story in the world.
Make the character unique. If the player doesn’t care about the culture of their character, then their character could be unique. They could have been mutated by the Mourning, the result of an experiment by House Vadalis, or a creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver or one of the daelkyr. Their abilities could be the result of exposure to the energies of a manifest zone, or the curse of an archfey. With all of these examples, the player gets the abilities they want, but you don’t have to add a new culture to the setting. And you can also explore the character’s relationship with their creator. WHY did Mordain the Fleshweaver crate a tabaxi? Was the character once his feline familiar? Did the character escape from Mordain, or were they released into the wild for some unknown reason?
Small Batch. The thing about making a character unique is that they don’t have an opportunity to interact with other members of their species. If that’s important to a player, but they don’t actually want that culture to play a major role in the campaign, you can take the small batch approach. An entire village was caught in the Mourning and ALL of its inhabitants were turned into tabaxi. House Vadalis produced a unit of Goliath supersoldiers during the war: the player escaped, but most are still held in a secret Vadalis facility. There’s only a dozen Kenku: they were servants of the archfey known as the Forgotten Prince, and he stole their voices and exiled them to Eberron as punishment for a crime. What’s fun about a small batch species is that it automatically gives you a story hook to work into the game. If there’s only twelve kenku, then your kenku character knows them all. Are you working together to regain your voices, or are you rivals? Are you seeking revenge against the kenku who betrayed you and your allies to the Prince—or are you the traitor responsible for their exile? If you’re a goliath supersoldier, what do you do when another goliath asks you to help free your brothers from a Vadalis facility?
Being part of a small batch means that you don’t have a nation or a culture to fall back on. But it gives your character a certain significance. If tortles have a principality in Lhazaar, you’re just one of many tortles. But if you and your three brothers are actual turtles transformed into turtles by the Mourning, then you are the only four tortles in the world, which makes you all quite remarkable!
I’ve played this character in another setting and I want to play it in Eberron.
This is another common concept: the reason someone wants to play a tabaxi is because they ALWAYS play tabaxi and they just want to play that character again. Usually in this situation the player has a very concrete idea of what tabaxi are like, and they don’t actually WANT you to change their culture to better fit the setting: they want to play this character the same way they’ve always played it. They don’t want to play a Qaltiar drow, they want to play a drow ranger from the Forgotten Realms, because that’s the character they’ve always played.
Personally, when I encounter this, my answer is usually to say OK, your character has come to Eberron from another world. The far traveler background works well for this, as it essentially plays to the idea that no one has ever seen anything like you. This doesn’t mean that you have to make travel between settings commonplace within your world; this character could be a bizarre fluke, brought to Eberron by the Mourning, the Draconic Prophecy, a planar convergence that won’t happen again for thousands of years, or what have you. The point is that the player gets what they want—to play this character exactly the way they want to—and as DM, you don’t have to bend the setting into strange shapes trying to fit this character into.
As a side note, a few months ago I was invited to join a Rise of Tiamat campaign that was set in Faerun and already quite far along. *I* wanted to play a warforged Forge cleric. And this is the path I took: I was a priest of the Becoming God who had been sent from Eberron to seek out pieces of the Becoming God across the multiverse. I used the far traveler background, and I talked a lot about Eberron things that made no sense to anyone in the setting, and everyone had fun with it—and it was much simpler than the DM coming up with an explanation for warforged in the setting and me picking an FR god instead of getting to build the Becoming God. I got to have the story I wanted, and I didn’t need to fundamentally change the setting to get it.
I want this species to have a meaningful place in the world.
Sometimes it’s not just about a specific player wanting to play a single character of the race. Sometimes it’s the DM who loves a species and WANTS it to be a meaningful part of the setting. Or perhaps the player wants their character to have a homeland, to be an envoy or exile from their people. So what are some ways to handle this without having to rewrite the entire setting?
Replace something you aren’t using. Have you ever used the Znir Gnolls of Droaam? Do you plan to? If not, you could say that the rakasta are the founders of the Znir Pact. Or if you don’t like goblins, you could say that the Empire of Dhakaan was a GITH empire, and that the Heirs of Dhakaan are Gith clans. This allows you to make use of existing lore and relationships, just changing the focus of it. The world doesn’t become a cluttered kitchen sink, because you’ve taken something out before adding something in.
They’ve always been there… You’ve just never noticed. This is the approach we took when adding the dragonborn in Fourth Edition. The setting had already established the presence of reptilian humanoids in Q’barra and the tension between them and the colonists. We just said we only mentioned the lizardfolk, but there’s dragonborn in Q’barra as well; the humans just didn’t understand the difference between them. We added further history—the dragonborn had an empire that once covered the Talenta Plains and fought the Dhakaani, but had to retreat to their strongholds in Q’barra to fight the Poison Dusk. This allows players to play dragonborn (and I did, in a 4E Eberron campaign) and to have a homeland to return to and a place in the world—but we didn’t have to redraw the maps or change recent history. The Dragonborn have always been here, but they are an isolated culture with little contact with the Five Nations.
There’s lots of isolated places on the map that work for this. It’s entirely possible that there are tribes of tabaxi living alongside shifters in the depths of the Towering Woods, just as lizardfolk and dragonborn coexist in Q’barra; it’s up to the DM to decide if they have a unique culture that humanity simply hasn’t encountered, or if they are integrated into the Druidic sects. The Lhazaar Principalities can work for this as well. If no one’s ever met Cloudreavers in your campaign, you can declare the Cloudreavers are goliaths, and they’ve always been goliaths.They’re rare enough that people don’t know them in the Five Nations, and they didn’t have a huge impact on the Last War; but they have an island, they have ships, and they’re known across the Principalities. And obviously Xen’drik is a vast blank slate that was intentionally designed for this purpose; you could easily add a loxodon nation in Eberron that no one’s encountered. Speaking of loxodons, I’ve seen people place them in the Tashana Tundra or the Frostfell as mammoth-folk, which I think is a great way to use them and adds flavor to regions that are currently largely unknown.
We’re new in town. This is the approach we took in adding the eladrin in fourth edition. We established that the eladrin lived in feyspires that moved back and forth between Eberron and Thelanis, but that these generally only remained in Eberron for a short period of time—but that following the Mourning, the spires were trapped in Eberron and stripped of their defensive magics. The point was to say the reason eladrin haven’t played a more significant role in history is because they haven’t BEEN here until now. The general idea here is that this species has been secluded and hidden from the rest of the world but is now being thrust into contact. For example…
- Loxodons have dwelt peacefully in the Frostfell for millennia, but they have been driven from their homes by the rising power of Dral Khatuur. Now tribes of loxodon refugees are landing across the northern coast of Khorvaire.
- Vedalken are from a demiplane within Khyber—an inner earth filled with wonders and crystal towers. Perhaps their home has been invaded by the minions of the daelkyr Belashyrra; or perhaps the Mourning caused a chunk of their realm to materialize in the Mournland.
This allows the species to have a deep culture and potentially to have magic or techniques that SHOULD make an impact on Khorvaire, but to explain why they haven’t affected history to this point. The idea is that while people may not have encountered this species before, it’s a significant part of the story NOW.
For me, the most important thing is for the elements of the world to feel significant. While there’s a PLACE for everything in Eberron, I don’t want to force something in if it doesn’t actually add something compelling to the story I’m telling. As such, I’ve never actually used tabaxi, rakasta, or many other types of humanoids in my personal campaign. In deciding how to add them into your campaign, my advice is to first think about WHY you want them in the campaign—whether the character could be a unique mutation or an extraplanar visitor, or if you want their culture to have a significant place in the world. So looking back to that original question, I personally wouldn’t use rakasta or tabaxi in my campaign because I’d rather use shifters. If it was a design dash challenge and I had to add tabaxi in, I’d take the small batch approach: there’s a city in the Mournland where all of the inhabitants were transformed into tabaxi, and they now dwell in the ruins and are mysteriously compelled to sing and dance…
… OK, maybe not. Happy Halloween!