Every month I ask my Patreon supporters to choose a topic for a major article, and that poll will happen next week. But in the process I get a lot of smaller, infrequently asked questions that can be addressed quickly. Today’s IFAQ comes from Patrick.
I’m always having trouble thinking of what the mortal inhabitants of the world would know in terms of history – and to which degree history has been researched with the aid of magic. For instance, would it be common knowledge that the Age of Giants ended roughly 40,000 years ago? How would that be supported – divination magic perhaps? Would Morgrave University teach chronomantic spells so scholars visiting ancient ruins could catch glimpses of what once happened?
This is one of the tricky questions in any setting. As players and DMs, we have access to a perfect source of information that tells us everything there is to know about the setting. But what do the people IN the world know, and how do they know it? This is complicated by the fact that (thanks in part to the existence of long-lived races like elves and dragons), the scope of history is VAST. By the canon timeline, the civilization of the giants fell forty thousand years ago. In OUR world, forty thousand years ago Neanderthals were making flutes out of bones; the Cro-magnon were still thousands of years from achieving dominance. The timeline of the Empire isn’t that far off Mesopotamia in our world, and again, we all know a great deal about Mesopotamia, right? So it’s reasonable to wonder how much people would know about these truly ancient civilizations.
The 3.5 Player’s Guide to Eberron and the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide both have tables that provide exactly this sort of information, listing skills like History, Arcana, and Religion and setting the DC to know specific facts. Since this is an IFAQ—which means, short answer—I’ll leave that there; if you want to know WHAT people know, you can check one of those out. But that leaves the question of HOW do the people of the Five Nations know these things?
The first answer is simple. Yes, they know the Age of Giants ended 40,000 years ago, because they learned about it from the elves. Aereni civilization is an unbroken path that goes all the way back to Xen’drik, and they care deeply about their history. Aside from the fact that the Five Nations has long had diplomatic relations with Aerenal and there’s an exchange of information, there’s been a significant number of Aereni immigrants over the course of thousands of years, including both House Phiarlan—a house that originally specialized in bards, people who preserved information—and the elves exiled after the fall of the Line of Vol. One of Phiarlan’s branches is the Demesne of Memory, which is all about history and the written word. And, of course, Phiarlan is about ENTERTAINMENT; it’s quite likely that even in the Five Nations, you have at least a few plays, operas, and popular songs that romanticize the battles of the elves and giants.
This same principle applies to later history. Dhakaani civilization collapsed and the Ghaal’dar themselves know little of it… and the Heirs of Dhakaan are largely unknown and not inclined to share their knowledge. But the elves fought the Dhakaani. There are Tairnadal patron ancestors who are celebrated for fighting the dar, and members of the Undying Court who may have personally negotiated with Dhakaani leaders, back in their mortal lives. So once you get to the rise of the Undying Court, you have people with (un)living memory of a vast scope of history — even if, thanks to their insular nature, that may not go very deep.
So that answers the question of whether people understand the BROAD scope of history: yes, they do, because unlike in our world, in Eberron you can essentially go TALK to a Neanderthal leader, and his distant descendants still carefully practice his bone-flute-making techniques.
But the next question is: How MUCH do they know and do they use magic to do it? How much is, again, answered in the PGtE and ECG. An important point here is to always stop and think “What makes a good story?” Because ultimately that’s what matters most. We don’t actually WANT the people of the Five Nations to know everything there is to know about the giants of Xen’drik, because it makes a better adventure to have your characters be on the cutting edge of finding it all out. Yes, the people of the Five Nations know that the Age of Giants ended 40,000 years ago, and scholars even know that the largest and most powerful giant civilization was the Cul’sir Dominion. But they DON’T know what actually happened to the Emperor Cul’sir. They don’t know exactly what happened to the 13th moon, even if some scholars know the giants had something to do with it. Which means your adventurers could learn those answers by finding the Cul’sir Moonbreaker and destroy the emperor’s demi-lich! It’s good for people to have a broad scope of history to know “There was a great nation that fell in war” – but it will usually be more compelling to players to uncover history in the field instead of through a book report.
Which gets us back to the use of magic. The answer is certainly, yes, people DEFINITELY use magic as a tool for archaeology. But remember that the wide magic of the Five Nations tops out at around 3rd level. Which means that speak with dead is absolutely in the quiver of your adventuring archaeologist, but commune or legend lore generally aren’t. It is VERY likely that they do employ chronomantic and divination techniques designed specifically for this purpose, but keep in mind that they should be of about that 1st-3rd level of power; they might show scenes, but they aren’t providing the kind of information you’d expect to get from a 5th or 6th level spell. And it’s also quite possible that they are rituals that may take a while to perform. These are academic tools, and won’t be fine-tuned for the adventurer who needs to cast things in 6 seconds. It might take an hour for a magewright archaeologist to perform the ghosts of the past ritual… and, of course, they’ll need someone to protect them while they do it!
So in short: the people of the Five Nations know the broad scope of history but don’t know a lot of specific details. Scholars know more, and the EPG and ECG give a broad set of skill checks for this purpose. Magic is used to research history, but common magic only goes to 3rd level and spells or rituals may not be optimized for use by player characters. Finally, always consider what will make the best story, and whether you WANT information to come from a skill role or whether adventurers might be making historic discoveries through their actions.
I’d also like to learn what people, both laymen and scholars, know about the history of humanity on Sarlona, given how it’s easier to explore Xen’drik than to convince the Inspired to let anyone past their port city.
Good point, double so because the elves had no contact with the people of Sarlona so that route is closed. The answer is definitely that they remember some things because they brought history with them. The modern faith of the Sovereign Host was established in the Sarlonan nation of Pyrine. But that nation fell in the Sundering over a thousand years ago, and archaeologists CAN’T go visit its sites. And while the modern faith is called “The Pyrinean Creed”, with proficiency in History or Religion a commoner probably doesn’t know what “Pyrine” is (A priest? A city? A nation? All of the above?). With checks people know the names and stories that they have either pieced together from the preserved records and traditions or through use of divination. But largely, the nations of old Sarlona are MORE mysterious to people of the Five Nations than the giants of Xen’drik.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for asking great questions.