IFAQ: Historical Figures in Thelanis?

My previous article on Faerie Tales in Thelanis raised a number of good questions that I wanted to respond to. But these IFAQ articles are supposed to be short and focused, so rather than expanding yesterdays article, I figures I’d address this as a new infrequently asked question.

If a historical figure has become a figure of folklore, how would they manifest in Thelanis? If the faerie tale has changed over time, does the figure in Thelanis change as well?

This is a valid question, because in yesterday’s article I talk about a story told in Breland called “The Sleeping Prince,” in which Sora Katra curses a newborn prince so he falls into an eternal slumber. That’s clearly a faerie tale. The villain is Sora Katra. Faerie tales are the foundation of Thelanis. Therefore, Sora Katra must have a counterpart in Thelanis, right?

Wrong! Because there’s a catch. In the MROR HOLDS, there’s a tale older than Breland that tells of how Lady Narathun cursed Doldarun’s son to slumber, until he was rescued by humble Toldorath. In ancient Sarlona, the Corvagurans told a tale of how the prince was cursed by the Demon-Seer of Ohr Kaluun—a nation that no longer exists. There’s even a Dhakaani story about how Hezhaal—a Dirge Singer who felt betrayed by the empire and withdrew to study dark magics—cursed the son of the Marhu with eternal slumber, only to have him saved by a humble golin’dar.

Sora Katra, Lady Narathun, the Demon-Seer, Hezhaal… none of these exist in Thelanis. Instead, there’s a layer of Thelanis where an archfey known as the Lady in Shadow dwells in the wilds and plots revenge on those who have wronged her. Elsewhere in the layer, there is indeed a prince she has cursed to slumber waiting to be rescued. But there’s also a tower where the Lady in Shadow has imprisoned her own son; and she keeps a walled garden of wonders, and will punish anyone who steals from it. And The Lady in Shadow has been in Thelanis for as long as anyone knows—longer than ANY of the civilizations that tell these tales.

A follow up question is how the stories of Thelanis differ from myths. The key point is that myths are specific stories, dealing with the deeds of specific deities. Consider the myth of the Deluge, something found in many different cultures. The tale of Utnapishtim, of Deucalion, of Noah; each of these is a myth. What you’d find in Thelanis is a layer in which a humble person escapes a great flood that kills the other denizens of the layer (… over and over and over). But it’s not Noah, Utnapishtim, or Deucalion. It’s the core story that serves as the foundation for all of them.

Now, here’s the bit that will really bake your noodle: some of these things actually happened. The Dhakaani don’t tell fictional stories; Hezhaal was a real person. Sora Katra is a real person, and most likely she DID curse a prince as described; the whole point of the Daughters being legends is that they did the things people talk about. And yet, the Lady in Shadow is older than any of them. So that’s the central mystery of Thelanis: how is it that these stories in Thelanis keep being retold or keep being played out in different civilizations? Does the story continue to exist in Thelanis because it continues to exist in some form in the world, or does it continue to exist in the world because of Thelanis? You can bet that there’s a class at Morgrave University that dwells on this very topic!

In 5th edition, hags are fey. So… what’s Sora Katra’s connection to Thelanis?

It’s true: in fifth (and I believe fourth) edition, hags are fey. But in third edition, when the Daughters of Sora Kell were created, they were monstrous humanoids. I don’t intend to change the fundamental story of the world every time a new edition redefines a monster—just as the new default lore associated with, say, medusas doesn’t change the backstory of Cazhaak Draal.

With that said, in many ways it makes more SENSE for the Daughters of Sora Kell to be fey than to be monstrous humanoids. They ARE specifically the antagonists in dozens of faerie tales told in the Five Nations. They follow a sort of faerie tale logic, especially Sora Teraza. So I actually LIKE that they are fey; the issue is that they aren’t FEY OF THELANIS. Just as rakshasa and the demons of the Demon Wastes are native fiends tied to Khyber rather than the planes, the Daughters of Sora Kell are native fey. This has a number of important impacts. The archfey of Thelanis are immortal; if they are destroyed they will be reborn, much like the overlords of Eberron. It’s possible they might CHANGE slightly—that there’s a sense that it’s a new iteration—but the core story will exist. And that’s the second point: the archfey of Thelanis are essentially trapped by their stories. For all their power, they CAN’T change their stories. Like the angels and fiends of Shavarath, they rarely meddle with Eberron because for the most part their stories are self contained (the exception being archfey whose stories specifically INVOLVE meddling with Eberron, likethe Prince of Frost I described yesterday).

The Daughters break all those rules. First of all, they are mortal. They had parents and they were born… and some day they WILL die. Beyond that, while they inspire stories, they are very actively meddling with events in Eberron. They are defined by basic stories and do tend to hold to those iconic roles, but they aren’t TRAPPED in the same way the immortals are. So, they share some characteristics with the fey of Thelanis, but they are native fey and differ in many important ways.

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36 thoughts on “IFAQ: Historical Figures in Thelanis?

  1. So most simply put, the fey of Thelanis, and especially the archfey, act out archetypal stories that have (or one day will have) spread across cultures? It’s more the template for stories.

    I suggest the “sorcerer’s apprentice” as an ancient story in Eberron; so there’s possibly a layer of Thelanis where an apprentice is constantly bungling greater magic they can handle to catastrophic effect, only to have a mentor “reset button” the problem?

    • So most simply put, the fey of Thelanis, and especially the archfey, act out archetypal stories that have (or one day will have) spread across cultures?

      Correct, though I’ll note that this is specifically the IMMORTALS of Thelanis. Mortals — like the inhabitants of the Feyspires — aren’t so tightly bound.

      And yes, your Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an excellent example. Though the question is whether the archfey of that story is THE APPRENTICE or if it’s THE SORCERER. The answer will lie in the other stories of the layer. My guess is that the Sorcerer is engaged in multiple other stories. Just as the Lady in Shadow put the prince to sleep but also keeps her child in a tower, I expect that the “Wise and mysterious sorcerer” is an archetype that can drive multiple stories… while the bumbling apprentice is more like the Sleeping Prince.

      • Perhaps the Wise and Mysterious Sorcerer of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is the same Wise and Mysterious Sorcerer of “Arthurian Mythos”, which gives the later a sort of “medieval European Dark Ages” vibe.

  2. When we talk about killing fey – because some stories naturally involve death, does “killing” them to force a reformation require also breaking their story?

    • If you go back to the Thelanis and the Fey dragonshard, there’s basically three classes of fey: mortals (most eladrin), background immortals, archfey. Background immortals are things where the population remains stable but details can change; there’s always a hundred sprites in the Golden Wood, but if you kill one, a new one will appear; they aren’t the SAME sprites. They can also be “background characters” who are always present but incapable of really affecting the story; the job of the Sleeping Prince is just to SLEEP. The Archfey are the characters who DRIVE the stories and are thus the anchors of their layers.

      Killing background immortals doesn’t affect the story at all and is often a necessary part of the story. Killing archfey is SOMETIMES a necessary part of their story, but if it’s done in accordance with the story it likewise has a minimally disruptive effect. Killing them in a way that runs counter to their story or that somehow CHANGES the story could have a more dramatic and lingering effect. It could be that the Lady in Shadow returns and continues in the same role, but that she’s not the same Lady in Shadow as before; it could be that a background player was promoted to take her place, or that something notable about her has changed.

      The point being: it’s possible for player characters to feel like their actions have changed things in some meaningful way, even if the STORY continues on.

  3. This is always so fascinating. Will there be some examples of additional Archfey in Exploring Eberron? The Prince of Frost and the Lady in Shadow are the only two now that I can think of, other than the Lords and Ladies of the Feyspires (though I’m not sure they are on the same “level”).

  4. I wonder how a meeting between Sora Katra and the Lady in Shadow would go…

    • “MORTAL! FEAR ME!”

      “Uh, no, you’re just copying my story. Now get out of my way.”

  5. Even in 3rd ed I just bumped hags up by giving them low-light vision and extra skill points, essentially combining the best of both monstrous humanoid and fey. It hardly affects their power as monsters but puts them in the same niche as certain outsiders (deathdrinker comes to mind, which gets some undead traits) and dragons (disciple of arshardlon). Hags in 3rd ed were seriously underwhelming as actual threats and a little bump helped them back up their actions in the lore.

  6. In the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting book, time in Thelanis passes at 1/10th the speed of Eberron’s time.

    However, as evidenced by many fairy tales, there are often time skips, flashbacks, flashforwards, etc. In that context, how does time function in your Thelanis, and how does it affect Thelanis natives as well as visitors from the Material Plane?

    • The original ECS assigned time ratios to each plane, and in my opinion that fails to incorporate the more abstract nature of the planes… something a mortal scholar might easily claim because “When I visiting Thelanis, I was gone for ten years!” without understanding that this was their personal experience. I don’t believe Thelanis experiences time as the material plane does; time moves as needed for the stories. The stories themselves don’t necessarily move in a linear pattern. Wandering into the story of the Sleeping Prince, you might come into the moment he’s cursed; you might find the kingdom in mourning as he’s asleep; or if you have the Silver Rooster, you’ll surely find him in his bier waiting to be awoken. But the key to Thelanis is that even if you wake him, you’ll enjoy the grand celebration… and then, when someone else comes to Thelanis, the prince will be cursed again and the people will have no memory of your action. When these stories play out in the material plane, they CAN have endings; in Thelanis, they’re eternal. The prince can be cured in one moment, because that’s part of the story; but the story itself never ends. This is part of the chicken-and-egg mystery of Thelanis; BECAUSE Thelanis exists out of time, can we truly say that the Lady in Shadow predated the mortal civilizations? Or MIGHT she be a reaction to all of those stories, a conglomerate of all of them actually spawned at the END of the material plane? These are the things Arcanix and Korranberg scholars debate, to be sure.

      Here’s something I said in the Thelanis and the Fey Dragonmark, which relates to this:
      Most of these (lesser fey) have a fundamentally different relationship with time than the mortals of Eberron; they escape immortal ennui by living purely in the moment, giving almost no thought to past or future. A sprite could be thousands of years old, but she might not be able to recall something that happened a week ago, because time has essentially just passed through her. The sprite is almost like a flower; it’s a part of the color of Thelanis, but it cannot learn or change; it simply IS. If they harm you, it’s generally with a sort of innocent, childlike malice; poke the rose and the thorn will prick you. By tomorrow they won’t even remember it.

      • A side note of this is that archfey whose stories specifically tie to the material plane – the Prince of Frost, tormenting mortal heroes – obviously have MORE of an awareness of time passing on the material. At the same time, even to him it doesn’t matter much. He pulls the wings off whatever moment fly catches his attention in this moment; he doesn’t dwell on how long he’s been doing it.

        A secondary aspect of this: if you wake the Sleeping Prince the story may reset when another adventurer shows up… but the Lady in Shadow may still remember you as someone who opposed her.

        • I was thinking that, too.
          I guess it’s just a trope with different worlds for time to work differently, in ways most people can’t understand.

          • Certainly—and it’s a common trope in faerie tales, where the farmer dancing for a night finds they’ve been gone for a hundred years, or where the fey workers build a castle in a single night. Per the ECS it’s always the case that time passes more slowly in Thelanis than in Eberron and catches up when travelers return, but to me that both fails to fit the variability of stories and can make Thelanis a punishing place to visit, while we’ve always said it’s one of the easiest. So I like it as a POSSIBILITY but not an absolute rule.

            And also, the dot over the I in “Thelanis” IS Tuesdays and that moment when nothing never happened.

    • The night hags are native to Eberron. If we accept the tale that the night hags were ambassadors to planes—which is after all apocryphal—it would be logical to assume that Sora Kell was in fact the liason to Thelanis, as this fits both with her story and the fey nature of her daughters. But she’s still a native of Eberron, and thus not TRAPPED in her story like the archfey are; Eberron is a realm where time generally behaves in a linear fashion. She might choose to spread and inspire stories, and it could be part of a bargain; but it’s not the same as being an archfey.

      I will say that the concept that night hags are planar ambassadors IS apocryphal; they are said to have been ambassadors and mediators in the Age of Demons, but some may have simply mediated between the more powerful lieutenants of the Overlords. Certainly there is a vast power difference between Sora Kell and the standard night hags in the MM, just as Sora Katra is far more powerful than a typical green hag. So it’s reasonable to think that there might have been 13 PRIMORDIAL night hags—the first created, each with a tie to a particular plane—but that you can also have night hags who simply use the MM stats and don’t have that level of power. In my Greywall, the night hag Jabra sells stolen dreams in the goblin market; but I don’t think she’s the Planar Ambassador to Dal Quor.

      • This is definitely something that I have used for years In My Eberron. My players met the ambassador of Lamannia, who had all but abandoned her ties to the material and spent countless centuries in the Twilight Forest. I called her Sora Zarola, and she had grown quite dire in her tenure on the plane, and more natural, her curved ram’s horns had been replaced by twisting antlers.

        The Gatekeeper orc PC was quite pleased to share gaeth’ad and tal with her that he had brought from Eberron to the plane.

  7. Excellent article, this and the previous.

    You mentioned that death of the archfey as part of the story isn’t a huge deal to them, while death outside the story can result in a new character “filling the role” but being different.

    To what extent would you say that Archfey are aware of this and would you say some desire freedom from it? Might an Archfey attempt to induce extraplanar adventurers to kill it precisely to “change the story”? Or would the very act of doing so be part of the story and thus doom them to play out that pattern?

    Perhaps another way to ask: Do Archfey have any agency?

    • I think they HAVE some degree of agency; the question is whether they ever choose to exercise it, which is another way of saying that it’s ultimately up to what you want to do in your story. However, I also think that “The immortal who wants to die” is definitely an archetypal story and that the Archfey ITSELF might question whether its actions are its own choice or just part of a larger loop.

      The real question is whether the archfey are the highest level of spirit in Thelanis, or if there is something far more vast and unseen—something on par with il-Lashtavar, the defining spirit of Dal Quor—which is guiding and shaping the stories that define the archfey. And I’d say that’s the kind of question a group of player characters could someday answer…

  8. So I’ve been reading everything I can find about Thelanis because I am playing an Eladrin who was displaced with the feyspires. In this reading I have found names like, Queen of Dusk, Queen of Sand, The Lady of the Silver Tree, and the Woodsman to name a few, but i know little to nothing about them.

    We know so much about the Prince of Frost and his Story/goals, Im interested in hearing about more canon named fey like the ones above about their stories and what they want (and what are their names), as well as those like the Queen of Summer (Titania), Mab, Maeve and other big names that come up when talking about fey.

    • Exploring Eberron has a section on Thelanis that will mention a number of archfey. The Archfey tend to use titles instead of names both because it suits their archetypal nature and because of the concept that names have power.

  9. Pardon me if this question is a little ill-formed, but… I get the impression that the symbiosis between Thelanis and the faerie tales of Eberron applies almost entirely to oral traditions, to stories that are TOLD. Is there an Eberronian equivalent of the collections of the Brothers Grimm, or Hans Christian Andersen, or the 1001 Arabian Nights, that have become “standard” versions of the faerie tales in the Five Nations? Does codifying a tale have any effect on it? Also, do the modern Five Nations have writers of popular fiction? Does an individual writer “resonate” with the stories of Thelanis? Does this resonance dpend on how widely read the fiction is, or perhaps, are some tales widely read BECAUSE the resonate with Thelanis? (As an aside, I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN, and love the concept fo the Library of the Dreaming, where all the books that were never written are stored.)

    • “Also, do the modern Five Nations have writers of popular fiction?”

      Many would argue the staff of the Sharn Inquisitive qualifies.

      • “Also, do the modern Five Nations have writers of popular fiction?”
        Many would argue the staff of the Sharn Inquisitive qualifies.

        Okay, you win the Internet for today.

    • The key point is that the Lady in Shadow EXISTS, and existed before human civilization existed. Her story is told in many forms in many cultures. Even if it’s popularized in a particular form in Breland, there’s still duur’kala in the Kech Volaar singing the songs of Hezhaal. And when human civilization is ultimately ash and the next great civilization rises on Khorvaire, they will tell their own versions of the story. Even now, there could be a hunter in the Tashaana Tundra who makes up a story for her children about how the Snow Witch buries the Chieftain’s Son in a blanket of snow.

      So I don’t believe that codifying a tale changes it in Thelanis. Humans like to THINK they are the center of the universe, but again, there was a war in Shavarath long before humanity existed, and there will be a war in Shavarath long after they’re gone.

      But is there a standard version of faerie tales, like the Brothers Grimm? Absolutely. However, it’s never been stated in canon. I could tell you right now that the classic work is Firelight Tales of Western Galifar by Malia Mit Davandi, but that’s not OFFICIAL. Nonetheless, the Five Nations definitely have writers of popular fiction. One author who is mentioned in canon is Kessler, though he’s more about satire and political commentary (his Cyre and Loathing was an instant classic). The widest publisher of popular fiction is House Phiarlan; Dragonmarked notes that novelists and playwrights are tied to the Demesne of Motion within the house.

      Does an individual writer “resonate” with the stories of Thelanis? Does this resonance dpend on how widely read the fiction is, or perhaps, are some tales widely read BECAUSE the resonate with Thelanis?

      All of the planes influence mortals. If you’re a natural soldier, it’s because you have a strong resonance with Shavarath. If you are a gifted storyteller, it’s because you have a good connection to Thelanis. Many artists have strong resonance with Dal Quor or Xoriat. In essence, the planes are muses; just as your spirit goes to Dal Quor when you dream — through no effort of your own — when you brainstorm, ideas may come to you from Thelanis. Side note: This is also how you get Cults of the Dragon Below spontaneously popping up; we all have an innate tie to Xoriat. So I’m inclined to say that the tales are popular because the writer’s strong tie to Thelanis helps them write compelling stories… not that it’s the other way around. But who knows?

      As for the Library of the Dreaming, it’s entirely plausible that Dal Quor has a repository of ideas people have dreamed about but never completed. Thelanis itself IS a repository of stories waiting to be told. And I too am a big fan of SANDMAN—there’s a few tiny homages scattered around Eberron.

  10. Are the daughters of Sora Kell native fey unbound by story because their fathers were native fiends?

    And what of Sora Kell herself? She’s frequently mentioned in story, and many even equate her with the Traveller and worship her as a god. Is Sora Kell an archfey with an interest in Eberron? Or is she something else?

    • I just realized that night hags are fiends, but other hags are fey. Would that mean it’s their fathers that were fey in that case?

    • Is Sora Kell an archfey with an interest in Eberron? Or is she something else?

      Sora Kell is a night hag. Night hags have always been native fiends of Eberron. This is discussed in the ECS, and Sora Kell specifically here:

      Would that mean it’s their fathers that were fey in that case?

      Nope. Immortal fiends aren’t biological creatures. The fact that Sora Katra could HAVE children at all is unusual. Ultimately, it’s reasonable to say that what she created was a set of STORIES… and a creature that is essentially a story given life would logically be fey. The father wasn’t contributing BIOLOGICAL material, because fiends don’t reproduce biologically; so what the father contributed was an IDEA.

  11. Will the “stories” playing out on Thelanis ever spill out onto Eberron or the other planes? Like might a manifestation of some story about Galifar I (which is also told about Karrn the Conqueror ect.) try to conquer the real Khorvaire or, more likely, do something that will reignite the war?

    • So first of all: I’ve said a few times that it’s possible for the story of an archfey to involve action in the material plane; in the example of of the Prince of Frost, he specifically waits for his lover to be reborn in Eberron, and seeks to punish mortal heroes. But that is TARGETED action, not large scale.

      Here’s the arguments against large-scale action.

      1. If this WAS going to happen, why hasn’t it already happened? Thelanis and its stories have been around since the dawn of time. What’s the triggering event that causes this conqueror to act NOW?

      2. The point of Thelanis is that unless the story is about “A conqueror who conquers other planes” Thelanis creates the lands they need. A layer in Thelanis is unbound in size; it could BE the size of Khorvaire if the story requires it. The conqueror is never going to run out of space in Thelanis.

      3. I don’t really see a story that does unite both Karrn and Galifar. They were driven by different motives, had different followers, and their stories ended completely differently. HISTORY isn’t a story; the stories of Thelanis should be archetypal and fantastic. The story isn’t the CONQUEST, it’s that the conqueror begins as a farmboy who pulls a magic spear from the oak tree; he’s invincible as long as he holds the spear and leads troops to victory after victory; but he’s finally defeated when his lover betrays him and replaces the spear with normal wood. And IF it’s a Thelanian story we should have SEEN that happen in various forms throughout history (at least seen people tell the STORY whether it happens or not)… but we’ve never said Karrn had a magic spear.

      4. The Fey don’t NEED people to tell their stories. Again, they’ve existed far longer than any mortal civilization, and whatever rises after humanity will also tell their stories.

      Now, if you WANT to change any of this, you can; just answer those questions. Look to the Quori; they need to conquer because of the Turning of the Age, and they HAVE tried it before; so right away there’s a logical explanation to “Why now” and “why not before?” If you want to tell this story, EXPLAIN why they need to do it now, and you could potentially add that it HAS happened before. Create a story that IS about a conqueror who conquers other planes. But it’s not something I’d expect to see in a canon product, for the reasons above.

  12. So could it work like this:

    On the layer of the Flood, there is a Shipmaker (and his family). When the rains come, they work on the ship (maybe they require help from the party to finish the ship on time) and when the Flood comes, they fill the ship with every living thing they can (maybe needing the party’s help to fill the ship, or defend it from a Kraken or something). Once the Flood is over, they step onto the land and the people make civilisation. In that time, the Shipmaker becomes a Woodcutter, for there is a newly grown forest nearby. And if anyone meets him in that time, he will protect them from the dangers that lurk in the forest (like a Big Bad Beast the party might encounter)… but the rains come eventually, and so he must finish cutting wood, and once again become a Shipmaker, turning that wood into a ship to keep everyone alive. Over and over again.

    Do I have that right? Would it be possible for Fey (or Archfey? Would such a character count as an Archfey?) to change which story they embody so regularly? Or are they locked into one story per Fey? And does that mean there are infinite layers of, say, ice domains, for each different story about winter (for the story of the prince of Frost can’t be the only way people rationalise and explain the cold of winter away to their children and themselves!)

    • You have the basic idea right, but the point is that one Archfey can tell different stories at the same time. The Lady in Shadow can curse the sleeping prince WHILE jealously protecting her garden AND hiding her stolen child in a tower; the question is which of those stories while come to the fore when the PC enter the scene. So rather than your Archfey being “The Boatmaker,” they might be “The Humble Farmer” — essentially, he doesn’t CHANGE from the Boatmaker to the Woodcutter, he has a role that’s broad enough to encompass both ideas.

      Thus, the point is that ARCHFEY generally have more than one story, but those stories can all be told in one LAYER. Which ties to…

      And does that mean there are infinite layers of, say, ice domains, for each different story about winter…

      There can be multiple icy layers that tell dramatically different stories, certainly. But infinite layers, no. First of all, as noted above, different archfey can encompass multiple stories. Generally the Prince of Frost is noted for having a cold heart and hating heroes, but there could also be a story about how he helps a child wandering alone on the last night of Long Shadows; those don’t have to be entirely different layers. So there COULD be a different icy layer that deals with a very different personification of winter—the Snow Queen—but there doesn’t have to be a new one for EACH story. Bear in mind also that part of the point is that different cultures INTERPRET the stories differently. THere’s four different versions of the Sleeping Prince described above; if you added one in which the Lady in Shadow HELPS the prince by putting him to sleep (saving him from poison by putting him to sleep!) that wouldn’t require an entirely different layer; it’s still clearly working off the BASE of the story.

      Also, to “the story of the prince of Frost can’t be the only way people rationalise and explain the cold of winter away to their children” note that these are faerie tales and folktales, not MYTHS. These generally aren’t creation stories and don’t have to explain everything about the world; they’re more about teaching specific lessons or extoling particular virtues. I realize I muddied the waters by bringing up the example of the Deluge, which typically IS a myth — but the stories of Thelanis are more Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White than Genesis. How MOST people rationalize winter is by talking about the Devourer and Arawai; but they tell stories of the Prince of Frost on a particularly bitter night.

  13. Looks like your going deeper with Eberron. This is good. Although, there is a surprise coming for Eberron. Can’t tell ya yet, it’s a secret. ;>) No questions at this time, although the more I read these IFAQs, the more I can consider deeper questions about Eberron.

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