It’s been a very busy month, but as time permits I like to answer short questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few questions related to the Blood of Vol, the mummy priest Malevanor, and the burial customs of the Tairnadal elves.
Malevanor—the Blood of Vol’s high priest of Atur—seems to have genuine faith and sits between Erandis, the Crimson Covenant, and the Seeker community. What makes him tick? Is he good, bad, or in between?
In life, Hass Malevanor was a Seeker priest and student of necromancy. A Karrnathi patriot, he devoted his life to helping to develop superior combat applications of necromancy. Along with Gyrnar Shult, Malevanor played a key role in the development of the Odakyr Rites—the rituals used to create Karrnathi Undead. The basic principles of the Blood of Vol maintain that the universe is cruel and that we must stand together; Hass fought for the good of both his people and his nation. Exploring Eberron says “The former high priest of Atur was the mummy Askalor, who held the post for over four hundred years—but he was weary of his long undead existence. When Malevanor was grievously injured during the Last War, Askalor transferred his power and his undead existence to his apprentice.” This ties to the point that Seeker undead—especially the Oathbound—are expected to guide and protect the living. As both High Priest and Oathbound, this is the role Malevanor sees for himself. It is his duty to guide and protect living Seekers. As an Oathbound, he can never truly find the Divinity Within—but he can help the living Seekers and seek to find and aid those who may yet be the greatest living champions of the faith.
I personally believe that Hass is still a patriot who loves the idea of Karrnath, but it’s also the case that Karrnath has betrayed him and his people. He will always put the good of the Seekers above all else—but if he CAN help Karrnath along the way, he will.
So in Kanon, what’s his relationship with Lady Illmarrow?
I think that Malevanor believes Illmarrow is dangerous and that he questions her devotion to the faith, but he also realizes her POWER, and both a) doesn’t want to have her as an enemy and b) wants to see that power used for the good of his people. So he’s trying to maintain an alliance with Illmarrow, but it’s an uneasy relationship. Ultimately, he is OATHBOUND. I believe that his oaths are just what it says on the tin: that he is bound to protect the Seekers, help them find the Divinity Within, and to maintain and protect Atur. Which is an interesting contrast with the lich Illmarrow. I don’t think Malevanor COULD betray the faith for his own personal gain, because the oaths that sustain his undead existence are predicated on doing his duties as high priest and protecting his people.
Could Malevanor be a warlock patron (say, Undead or Undying)?
Sure, Malevanor could definitely be a warlock patron for a Seeker warlock. I’d love to do a campaign with a PC Seeker warlock who’s essentially Malevanor’s undercover agent working against Illmarrow. The main thing I’d emphasize in this case is that it’s not that Malevanor is giving the warlock powers, it’s that the warlock’s powers come from their own Divinity Within and that maelvanor is just helping them to unlock those powers. Because that is literally what he’s supposed to do: help Seekers harness the power of the Divinity Within.
In most of the Five Nations, the Blood of Vol is a series of independent covert cults without any clear connection or hierarchy between them. How does the Crimson Covenant or Lady Illmarrow find or get in contact with these cults? Or does Illmarrow mainly rely on the Order of the Emerald Claw?
Exploring Eberron has this to say:
The (Blood of Vol) isn’t as formally structured as the Church of the Silver Flame or even the Sovereign Host. For the most part, Seekers keep to themselves, living in their own villages and small towns or in isolated neighborhoods of larger communities, where they can practice their traditions without drawing the ire of their neighbors… Outside Atur, for the most part, each Seeker community relies on their abactor—the priest that oversees a temple or community—and they rarely reach out to the world beyond. The largest temple in a region serves as a hub, coordinating with the other Seeker communities around it.
With that in mind, the important thing to understand is that the Blood of Vol is a religion that Seekers follow because it helps them make sense of their lives, providing meaning and strengthening their community. Most Seekers don’t know who Lady Illmarrow is and don’t have any interest in helping her with her grand schemes. Illmarrow has agents scattered throughout the faithful who do support her—from agents in the Crimson Covenant down through hub temples or villages—and these specific agents may provide support to her schemes. But OVERALL Illmarrow doesn’t control the faith and most Seekers don’t serve her purposes; some actively despise and oppose the Order of the Emerald Claw. Meanwhile, the members of the Order are Illmarrow’s active agents; some are extremist Seekers, while others—including Illmarrow herself—aren’t Seekers at all.
So: Illmarrow’s active agents are almost entirely in the Emerald Claw. Agents of the Emerald Claw may be able to get support from a local Seeker community but that is not at all a sure thing; it will depend in Illmarrow has supporters or sympathizers within that specific community.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Covenant is something that even Seekers generally know of only as a rumor. One thing I’ve suggested is that when a Seeker priest uses commune, they could actually get their answers from the Covenant. For more on the Crimson Covenant, refer to this article.
I like the idea of the Crimson Covenant being influenced by Lady Illmarrow, but not under her full control. But how could adventurers free it over her influence without having to destroy the mummies and liches that are loyal to her?
This depends entirely on how you decide to present the members of the Crimson Covenant who are loyal to Illmarrow. WHY are they loyal to her? It could be that Illmarrow is deceiving them, and that if adventurers can expose the truth these members of the Covenant will turn against her. Or it could be that these members of the Covenant are themselves merely hungry for power and not concerned with the good of the Seekers; if adventurers could prove this to the other members of the Covenant, then the truly faithful might clean house.
The Blood of Vol is a religion that values basically faith in your inner self. It seems there would not be much of value to Seeker cleric besides their own life (and maybe life of others). What would a BoV cleric refer to as “sacred”? Does this notion even apply to the Blood of Vol?
Looking up “Sacred”, I found this definition: connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration. So with this in mind, what does a Seeker priest consider to be sacred?
- Life. First and foremost, the Blood of Vol is based on the idea that mortals possess a spark of divinity within. We ARE the gods we venerate—or at least, we have the potential to be.
- Blood. More specifically, the Seekers consider blood to be the channel of the Divinity WIthin.
- Survival. This one’s a little more abstract and not shared by all sects, but the general idea is that death is unnatural—that mortality is a curse invented to prevent us from unlocking the Divinity Within. With this in mind, fighting death is a sacred activity. Don’t give up, and do all you can to protect the people you love.
One of the central rituals of the Blood of Vol is the communal sharing of blood as a way of establishing the bond between a community. What we have called out is that while Seekers believe that life is sacred and death is a tragedy, they recognize that you can’t save everyone and their focus is on protecting their own communities and people. Any death is a tragedy, but if bandits attacks your village, you need to put your OWN survival ahead of those who are trying to kill you and the people you care about. But I could very well see some Seekers who actively try not to kill their enemies, believing that any death is a loss.
Though again: There are many sects in the Blood of Vol. The Thieves of Life largely care only about their OWN lives and Divinity Within, and are all too happy to sacrifice others in pursuit of their own ascension.
And now for something completely different…
How do the Tairnadal/Valenar elves bury their dead? Especially when they’re in the field or engaged in battle?
So: The Tairnadal are a nomadic culture. They are essentially always engaged in battle and on the move, and generally don’t place a lot of importance on physical monuments. Likewise, they don’t place much importance on corpses. They’re concerned with the SPIRIT, believing that the spirit can live on through devoted followers. For revenant blades of Cardaen, Cardaen’s spirit is with them at all times; it doesn’t matter where his bones are.
Having said that: we’ve talked about revenants who treasure relics of their patron ancestors. Notably, the Player’s Guide to Eberron talks about the zaelshin tu:
Every Valenar warrior reveres his ancestors and carries a zaelshin amulet bearing the sigil of his patron ancestor with him at all times. With a zaelshin tu, you do more than that: You carry a physical relic of your patron ancestor—a tooth or sliver of bone brought from Xen’drik to Aerenal and encased in your zaelshin amulet.
The two noteworthy points here are that champions carry a piece of their patron—so again, not burying them in some grand tomb—and that these are described as teeth or slivers of bone; we’ve never described them as using, say, bonecraft armor.
With this in mind, I think that the common Tairnadal practice is to burn the dead, and then to collect ashes, teeth, and slivers of bone that survive the fire, which would be carried by other members of the fallen elf’s warband and possibly passed on to the Keepers of the Past. You don’t want to leave something behind an enemy could desecrate, and all you need is a sliver that can help serve as a beacon to their spirit.
That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters for their questions and support!
Thank you for the great article, Keith!
Given the Seeker approach to life and death, would you say that Atur or somewhere else with powerful priests of the BoV are a good place to look for resurrection beyond Jorasco? Admittedly there aren’t that may priests powerful enough for raise dead, but is it possible?
The Crimson Covenant create and maintain a lot of the rituals that channel Mabaran manifest zones and create undead. That sounds like a wizardy thing, but they are still followers of the BoV. In particular, there are lich members of the Covenant, which requires someone to be a powerful arcane caster (although you’ve posited divine liches before). Do you see Covenant members as more arcane or divine casters? Or both?
Again, thanks for your time and the awesome article!
Would you say that Atur or somewhere else with powerful priests of the BoV are a good place to look for resurrection beyond Jorasco?
Yes. We’ve called out in a few places that since the Seekers don’t believe that anything good happens after death — no joining with the Flame or union with the Sovereigns — they’re the most likely to raise the dead, those as you say there are few priests powerful enough to do it.
Do you see Covenant members as more arcane or divine casters? Or both?
Definitely all of the above. Some, like Malevanor are priests. Others are wizards—typically necromancers. In the article itself I point out that you could use Malevanor as a warlock patron (though part of the idea is that the warlock is drawing on their Divinity Within, making an interesting hybrid of divine and arcane). Someone can have faith in the Blood of Vol without being a divine spellcaster!
thanks for this! In a very tangentially related, possibly IFAQ, did those with the mark of death before its extermination have a role in Elven culture like house Phiarlan before they left for Khorvaire? Or was there always too much fear even when it first cropped up?
The Mark of Death was carried by the elves of the line of Vol, which was essentially an Aereni city-state based in the region around Shae Deseir. So where the Phiarlans were neutral wanderers, Vol was an Aereni state. Even before the appearance of the Mark of Death, the line of Vol opposed the Undying Court on philosophical grounds and pursued the study of Mabaran necromancy. Vol’s supporters assert that the Undying COurt erradicated Vol because of political motives, and that the claims of the threat posed by the Mark of Death were overblown to justify this destruction.
How does the average Seeker view the Emerald Claw?
In my own game the party cleric (vassal) noted after some Religion checks that the skeletal wolves and zombie soldiers the Claw was using in an ambush seemed to clash with the general concept of “volunteering to turn from the path of divinity within” and seemed more akin to press-ganging. And this got me thinking, is it the non-commited members of the group who are using necromancy on whatever they come across, or is this a matter of desperate times in their view calling for using what’s at hand?
How does the average Seeker view the Emerald Claw?
There’s no “average Seeker.” It will depend entirely on where they are and their circumstances. Some despise the Emerald Claw, seeing no purpose to its actions other than scarring the reputation of the faith in the public eye. Others believe that the Emerald Claw is fighting for the things they care about—whether that’s Karrnath or the Seeker faith. In places where Seekers have been persecuted because of the crown turning against them, Seekers may see the Order as their champions—even if the Order isn’t actually doing anything to justify this faith.
Is the Draleus Tairn practice of using dragonbone weapons and dragonhide armor intended to fuel the legend of the patron ancestors that defeated the dragon, harness the might of the dragon itself to use against others, or recognize the spirit of the defeated dragon in turn? From the few paragraphs we get on them in Dragons of Eberron I could see the case for any or all of the three!
First, I really like this formatting with the larger bolded text, not sure if an update to the site or my browser but it is helpful.
Although it is rather rare circumstances, how would Seekers treat an undead member who was restored to life?
Only partially relevant, but do you think there could be seekers or revered spirits who exist in Dolruhh after hundreds of years, somehow kept going by either a will against death / worship of a revenant?
Could a spirit survive in Dolurrh? Sure, they’re called “Ghosts.” from Exploring Eberron:
Ghosts are formed when a shade clings to a particular memory with such intensity that even Dolurrh can’t completely eradicate it—perhaps a terrible mistake or a bitter grudge. The rest of the spirit’s memories fade, and it becomes immune to ennui, but this ember remains, defining its existence. Ghosts are driven by a primal desire to return to Eberron, to haunt the place where they died or where their anchoring memory was forged…
With that said, a key point is that ghosts don’t have the full sentience and independence of the living beings they once were. They aren’t just immortal; they are a fragment of the original that hasn’t been digested.
If you’re looking for something more, obviously they can exist because that’s what the patron ancestors are. But I don’t think even the Tairnadal know exactly WHAT the patron ancestors are. They AREN’T just spirits hanging out in Dolurrh. If anything, they are closer to the kalashtar quori, and could be exactly that — spirits who have been removed from Dolurrh and that are sustained by being bound to mortal hosts.
If you’re asking if I think the SEEKERS have something like that, no, I definitely don’t. The whole underlying principle of the Blood of Vol faith is based on the fact that they DON’T have something like that—that death is the end—while, conversely, the entire Tarinadal faith is based on preserving spirits in this way. If the Blood of Vol had a reliable way of creating such spirits, I’d expect their faith to look more like the Tairnadal. Instead, the only path they have to prolonging existence is undeath.
Something I’ve been wondering about the Blood of Vol priests: Where does the word “abactor” come from, in or out of universe? The English word “abactor” technically refers to an individual who steals cattle, but I sort of assumed it wasn’t a reference to that.
Fun fact: I haven’t a clue. I believe its first use in canon was Faiths of Eberron, which I didn’t work on. So it’s not MY word, but I try not to contradict canon unless I feel I have to, so I’ve continue to use it in my material.
I always imagined that the Blood of Vol priests viewed followers of other faiths as being “cattle” of the gods they worship, so by leading people to their faith, they were essentially stealing cattle from the gods
That seems like a reasonable explanation to me!
I honestly just assumed it was derived from “abattoir,” on account of the association with blood?
Wait, so does this segment:
” Any death is a tragedy, but if the Silver Flame paladin attacks your village, you need to put your OWN survival ahead of others.”
Mean SF Paladins attack villages and civilians, putting the place to the torch? I get that if he’s there for an undead or necromancer, but to the point civilians NEED to run to survive, seems a bit for a church of “good guys”.
Did you refer to extremists like the Pure Flame or Rogue Paladins? Or is that something that just happens?
Did you refer to extremists like the Pure Flame or Rogue Paladins? Or is that something that just happens?
It was a random expression. I’ll change it to “If it was a bandit who attacks your village.” The point is that they see any death as sad, but they also focus on PROTECTING THE PEOPLE THEY CARE ABOUT, even if that requires them to defend others.
You are entirely correct: there is no reason for a SF paladin to attack a village. With that said, the SF does seen Mabaran undead as a form of supernatural evil which can cause dangerous tension between Seekers and followers of the flame.
Does the construction of a pyramid have any symbolic meaning to the seekers, or is the pyramid of Atur more built to be big and took a practical design for the goal?
Would seeker art feature the humanoid body to venerate life? And have quotes like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” as part of the script as survival?
All of these are questions without absolute answers, but MY thoughts…
1. I don’t personally see pyramids as having great importance to the Seekers; we’ve never mentioned them elsewhere. And keep in mind that the Seekers aren’t generally supposed to be sharply culturally distinct from Karrns; it’s a faith that was formed in the region, not something that came from elsewhere with a lot of unique architectural traditions.
2. I don’t think they venerate the body in art, no; they venerate the DIVINITY WITHIN, which is something both more ephemeral and glorious than flesh. If anything, the body is a rotting cage that traps your divine spark, a time bomb that starts dying from the moment you’re born. The body isn’t something to celebrate, it’s a weakness we must endure. This also reflects the fact that they are far more comfortable than most in interacting with skeletons and zombies, because they are entirely comfortable with the fact that FLESH ROTS. So they think LIFE is sacred, but in the context of the divine spark of life, not the workings of flesh.
3. The last question is a very fine semantic line. But no, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” doesn’t sound right to me. Page 145 of Rising From The Last War has quotes that sum up Seeker principles. Death is the end, Dolurrh is oblivion, and if the gods exist, they are cruel. Stand with those you care for; all we have is this life and each other. Essentially, WE ARE AT WAR WITH DEATH. Every day the world tries to kill you. Don’t let it. Every day you survive is a day you spit in the Sovereigns’ eyes. But somehow, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” feels too much like “No Pain, No Gain” which really isn’t what the faith is about. Suffering may be INEVITABLE, but that doesn’t mean it’s in any way desirable or a positive experience. You don’t NEED to suffer to find the Divinity Within, it’s just that you probably will and you will have to endure it.
Under the original assumption that, yes, Kaius III actually is Kaius I the vampire, what *actually* happened between him, the Blood of Vol, and Erandis/Illmarrow? The precise sequence of events, along with why they happened the way they did, seems highly muddled by all the retconning between the Blood of Vol and Erandis/Illmarrow.
Could you please clarify the historial relationship between the vampiric Kaius, the Blood of Vol, and Erandis/Illmarrow under your current conception of their lore? Thank you.
This is an excellent question; the shifting canon has left things confused. I will answer it, but because the answer is going to be long, it will have to wait until later in the week.
When “blood” is mentioned as being sacred, is it only literal blood (and possibly Warforged equivalent), or does the BoV care about bloodlines (genetic legacy) to any special degree?
It’s hard to say. The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that we ALL have the Divinity Within, and we’ve never suggested that the faith AS A WHOLE values any particular bloodline over any other. However, I think it’s certainly possible that there could be a sect of the faith that DOES study bloodlines closely—potentially one secretly supported by Lady Illmarrow, seeking to find forgotten traces of the Line of Vol.
I always thought that one of the plots for Erandis probably is manipulating bloodlines so as to get anyone with even the flimsiest link to the original line of Vol to intermarry so that perhaps one of them might manifest the Mark of Death. I mean while elves probably maintain exacting records of lineage even in the earlier days of Aerenal, at least some cases might have eluded the Deathguard because of mistakes in the records or let’s say, misattribution of the patrilineality.
I’m curious about something. You used to talk about Erandis Vol as quite a sympathetic character, murdered and robbed of her birthright while still a teenager, but your presentation of “Lady Illmarrow” is quite different; she seems more unambiguously evil. It this a change in your perception of the character, or is it supposed to be a reflection of people’s attitudes towards the Illmarrow persona?
You used to talk about Erandis Vol as quite a sympathetic character, murdered and robbed of her birthright while still a teenager, but your presentation of “Lady Illmarrow” is quite different; she seems more unambiguously evil.
Certainly. It’s not a change in my perception of the character, but I think it’s quite logical to argue that it is the PURPOSE of the Illmarrow persona. First and foremost it’s very important to note that while I have always considered Erandis to be a TRAGIC figure, I have also always considered her role in the setting to be that of an unambiguous villain. I may have sympathy for the loss that has driven her to her current extremes, but that doesn’t change the fact that she will destroy nations and slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocents if it will allow her to achieve her goals. The fact that we can understand what has driven her to this extreme and sympathize with her doesn’t change the fact that she is and always has been intended to be one of the major antagonists of the setting.
So with that in mind, I think it’s absolutely reasonable to say that Erandis Vol is the woman murdered as an adolescent, who saw her entire bloodline unjustly eradicated because of a mark she bears on her skin but cannot use, who cannot even choose oblivion but is bound to an eternity to contemplate her failings and the stolen legacy of her line. It is Erandis who is still hunted by those people who killed her family, Erandis who must remain in hiding. And thus, it is Erandis who created Lady Illmarrow. Because Lady Illmarrow is no failure and she doesn’t have to hide. Lady Illmarrow is a legend. She is infamous, she is powerful. Essentially, it’s entirely possible that ERANDIS HERSELF essentially allows Illmarrow to channel her darkest impulses and to BE the ruthless tyrant she needs to be to achieve her destiny—while Erandis remains the murdered adolescent mourning her family.
For Crimson Covenant, I thought Illmarrow could CONTROL some of them secretly through eldritch machines, specialized rituals, and/or Qabalrin artifacts.
It’s certainly possible! Ultimately it comes down to the story you want to tell; if a player character wants to cleanse the Covenant, what will it take to do it?
I mean, they ARE undead. A high enough level necromancer or cleric should be able to influence undead
Seems like there’s room for a solid villainous monologue about the ties that bind us – the undead so often cut the ties of affection and duty, only to replace them with metaphysical strings from Mabar.
Hey so what kind of connection between the bloodsail elves and Ilmarrow would there be? Also the bloodsail elves and the rest of the blood of vol?
so what kind of connection between the bloodsail elves and Ilmarrow would there be?
From Dragon 419: The Queen of the Dead needs to conceal her true identity from the Aereni Deathguard, and only her most trusted allies know her true name. Instead, the people of Farlnen know her as Lady Illmarrow, one of the most powerful and reclusive members of the Grim. She can use this authority to call on her people for aid or fealty, but she generally prefers to keep her profile low and to work through other agents.
Also the bloodsail elves and the rest of the blood of vol?
From the same article: The religion known as the Blood of Vol is a bastardized version of the beliefs of the elves of Farlnen, and it has grown and changed over the centuries. Bloodsail priests… shape their divine spells from the raw energy of Mabar, and while the Seekers of Atur seek to unlock the immortal potential of the Divinity Within, the priests of Port Cairn are content with the simpler immortality of undeath. Nonetheless, there are some common practices be-tween the two faiths and followers of the Blood will be treated with respect in Farlnen.
The ultimate point is while there’s some overlap, the Bloodsails aren’t seekers of the Divinity Within and have no ties to Atur or the Crimson Covenant.
I think Keith’s finger slipped, it is Dragon Magazine 410 for reference if you ever want to track down the article. It’s on the DM’s Guild.
What’s Malevenor’s alignment in your eberron? Per Five Nations it’s LE, but that always struck me as a little odd, and I wonder if that’s an artifact of the fact that the Blood of Vol was LE in 3.5
Have you read this article? It’s almost nine years old and I should really write a revised version for 5E, but the basic principles remain the same. The short form is that in MY campaign, alignment doesn’t tell you what someone wants to do, it tells you what they’re willing to do to achieve it—as well as the degree of compassion and empathy they have for others. In other words, Malevanor may have what we can see as an ultimately noble goal—protecting innocent Seekers and helping them find the Divinity Within— but in order to PROTECT Seekers he would be willing to skin a group of Thrane prisoners alive and would feel no remorse for his actions. I’ve called out that loss of empathy is common among Mabaran undead; they themselves no longer feel pain or the other sensations of life and compassion is dulled by the influence of Mabar, making it easier to hurt the living without regret or remorse.
The point is that Malevanor could be a stalwart ally of Seeker player characters and could assist them in their fight against Erandis. He may be driven by his desire to protect Seekers and Karrnath. But I’m still happy to say that he’s Lawful Evil, because while he largely respects law and tradition, he is willing to do terrible, ruthless things to his enemies—or even to innocents who simply aren’t his ALLIES—in pursuit of those goals. In this, he mirrors Kaius himself—a king who is fighting for peace, but who will employ assassination or torture in pursuit of that goal.
Good and evil aren’t as clear cut in Eberron; shades of great are part of the noir flavor. It’s a world where the evil vampire may be pursuing peace while the good queen seeks to rekindle war. Malevanor may have noble goals, but he’s willing to pursue them in evil ways.