IFAQ: Old Borders, Forgotten Flags, and Vvaraak’s Lair

Every month my patrons pose questions. Some of these become Dragonmark articles, like the recent articles on Hags and Session Zero. However, other topics don’t need a full article. Here’s a few from this month! As always, these answers reflect what I do in MY campaign and may contradict canon material, starting right away with this first question…

What were the borders of Thrane before the war in your Eberron?

The Forge of War presents a map of Galifar before the war, and it draws a traveling west from the Face of Tira to the Duskwood, saying everything south of this line—including Passage, Lathleer, Ghalt, and Arcanix—were all part of Thrane. I have many issues with this map. First of all, it’s very arbitrary, lacking any natural or manmade obstacle that would help people recognize that border. Second, it places Daskaran in Aundair; it’s been previously established that before Galifar, Thrane was called Daskara, with the assumption that Daskaran a vital part of the old nation. But beyond that, we’ve made a BIG DEAL about the fact that Thrane holds Thaliost. The idea that Aundair seized three major cities and Arcanix during the war and that nobody really cares much about them is hard to fathom. Beyond that, to me Passage is very well established as a traditional Aundairian city, home to the Guild of Endless Doors and the Passage Institute. I’ve accepted the idea that Arcanix was in Thrane territory based on the idea that the floating towers were moved to the current location after the territory was seized during the war. But that simply doesn’t fit my vision of Passage, and I see no reason to accept the Forge of War borders.

So, what were the pre-war borders in MY campaign? I’d start by using the Aundair River. Daskaran’s on the southern shore, Thaliost is to the north, and it’s a major natural obstacle. So I’d start with the river. When you reach Fairhaven, I’d use the TRADE ROAD as the border—running down from Fairhaven to Lathleer and then from Lathleer to Ghalt. At that point, I’d draw a line from Ghalt to Lake Galifar—so the Eldritch Groves were technically in Thrane, but no one LIVED in them. A critical point of this is that Lathleer and Ghalt were on the border. Throughout the history of Galifar, these cities lay between Aundair and Thrane; they blended the customs of both nations and had inhabitants from both sides. During the war, Aundair gains ground and establishes a series of fortresses—including Wrogar Keep, Tower Valiant, and Tower Vigiliant—to maintain that border. The reason the loss of Lathleer and Ghalt isn’t as significant as Thrane’s occupation of Thaliost is that both cities already had strong ties to Aundair and deep-rooted Aundairian traditions—while in the case of Thaliost, the city was a proud and ancient Aundairian city with no ties to Thrane. The people of Lathleer are largely happy to be Aundairian, while Thaliost is an unstable occupation.

I’ve already discussed Arcanix—that it was a small village that took on its current importance when Aundair moved the floating towers there. But beyond that, I feel that when you go beyond the Eldritch Groves you’re dealing with territory that was technically Thrane on the map but that had a very weak cultural connection to the nation. The Year of Blood and Fire is a foundational element of modern Thrane culture and a critical part to the deeply engrained cultural devotion to the Silver Flame. I think it’s reasonable to say that Bel Shalor’s influence never spread beyond the Eldritch Groves—that the people of that region didn’t suffer in the Year of Blood and Fire and largely maintained their Vassal faith through to the present, making many of them quite happy to shift their loyalties to Aundair or Breland. In particular, I think it’s logical to assume that the Eldritch Groves have strong ties to Thelanis, and that the people in that region had fey-related customs more typically associated with Aundair. Meanwhile, Xandrar is so far from Flamekeep—separated by mountains and water—that I feel it was effectively an independent culture that just happened to be assigned to Thrane on the map, much as Droaam was technically Breland but the residents of the region didn’t consider themselves to be Brelish.

So I feel that Lathleer and Ghalt were significant acquisitions by Aundair during the war, and that this acquisition was safeguarded by the establishment of the border towers—but that from a cultural perspective these were fairly easy acquisitions compared to the bitter, contested occupation of Thranes. There is still surely a minority in both Lathleer and Ghalt who consider themselves Thranes and who despise the Aundairian tyrants, and this could create intrigue for adventurers, but they aren’t powerful forces. I’d also assert that both Lathleer and Ghalt had an influx of Aundairians resettled from the west when the Eldeen Reaches seceded, further bolstering Aundair’s hold on both cities.

Does the Eternal Dominion of the Sahuagin claim any part of the Dagger River? The area around the Hilt looks much like a fjord, which can be up to a mile deep in our world.

Not in my campaign. The sahuagin of the Dominion prefer salt water and are happy to have a little distance between them and the land-dwellers; the Dagger is also far away from their Kar’lassa. However, there could easily be a different aquatic culture in the Dagger. I don’t think there would be an actively hostile culture in the middle of the Dagger; such a nation would have been dealt with during the centuries of united Galifar, whether driven away or forced to the negotiating table. So one way or another I’d think that the Dagger-dwellers would have a diplomatic relationship with the surface… though this could still lead to outlaws raiding ships in defiance of custom. Personally, rather than sahuagin, I’d be inclined to make this a locathah culture, providing a counterpoint—and potential ally—to the locathah that have been subjugated by the Dominion and the Protectorate.

Droaam and Breland were certainly in conflict during the Last War, but was Droaam fighting on any other fronts?

There were no conflicts between Droaam and either the Shadow Marches or the Eldeen Reaches. As the Eberron Campaign Setting says, “The Shadow Marches are a geographic region, not a nation“—aside from House Tharashk, the Shadow Marches aren’t an entity you can have a political relationship with. Meanwhile, the Reaches and Droaam are separated by a formidable natural barrier—the Byeshk Mountains. The Reachers have no need or desire to expand their territory, and Droaam’s primary concern is solidifying its claim on the territory of the Barrens…. land claimed by Breland. So there was a concrete reason that they had to fight Breland. But the Byeshk Mountains are a clear border that both sides have been willing to respect, and at the moment neither one has any reason to pick a fight with the other.

With that said, you could Droaam was fighting on a second front… but that front was WITHIN DROAAM. The history of Droaam wasn’t a perfect, smooth rule from day one. Maenya’s Fist has crushed multiple warlords and chibs who refused to recognize the Daughters or who turned on them over time. So Droaam has definitely fought other battles, but they’ve been internal.

The Five Nations all have a heraldic animal—Thrane’s old boar, Breland’s bear, Karrnath’s wolf, and Aundair’s dragonhawk. But Cyre has always been a bell as far as anyone can tell. What animal would you assign to Cyre?

As discussed in Exploring Eberron, Cyre was a manufactured nation that consciously broke from the established customs of Metrol. They chose the crowned bell—crowned with the five-stone crown of Galifar—as a clear breaking of the old traditions; if you asked a Cyran the question, they’d raise an eyebrow and say “Please! We’re not animals.” Another way of asking the question is “What was the heraldic animal of Metrol“—the seal that was abandoned and replaced by Cyre’s crowned bell. It’s never been described, but given that we have Bear, Boar, and Wolf represented I’d be strongly tempted to choose TIGER. We know tigers exist in Khorvaire, from Dhakaan and Borrie Tigers, and it completes the set of common lycanthropes (which makes me wonder if Thaliost was a rat before they switched to the dragonhawk). But again, Cyrans made an intentional choice NOT to represent their nation with an animal, thank you.

In my Eberron campaign the party is searching for Vvaraak’s lair. What do you think the lair looks like and what sort of wards, traps or guardians would you imagine protects the lair?

The first question you need to ask is “What is Vvaraak’s Lair?” Is it the literal place that Vvaraak slept, possibly even with a hoard? Is it a a site where she conducted Druidic rituals? Is it also her tomb—or, perhaps, did she transform herself into livewood and still sleeps in the heart of the lair as a living, wooden dragon? Is or is it not literally her lair at all, but rather a passage to a verdant demiplane that is called her lair because it’s so fertile?

In looking to traps and guardians, the next question is “Why are there traps or guardians?” What are these systems protecting, and who are they protecting it from? Why is the lair hidden and guarded at all instead of being a pilgrimage site for Gatekeepers?

With that last question in mind, I see two possible answers. One is that Vvaraak foresaw a time in the future when a vital tool or piece of knowledge would be needed and set the traps and guardians herself to keep everyone out until the time was right. In this case, the theme should be PRIMAL MAGIC. The guardians would be plant creatures, treats, maybe elementals—things that don’t care about the passage of time, since they’ve been isolated for thousands of years. They would be designed to keep out Cults of the Dragon Below but also to keep out anyone else until the time was right, and likely test Druidic ability.

The completely opposite answer is that it’s not her lair—it’s her PRISON. Vvaraak was trapped and sealed away by the Lords of Dust, and turned herself to livewood to survive while waiting for a rescue. In this case the guardians would be fiends, designed to keep out Vvaraak’s allies. If these defenses are breached, it’s possible that she could be restored to flesh—or she could offer guidance as a livewood guardian, not unlike Oalian.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my patrons, who make these articles possible and come up with interesting questions!

18 thoughts on “IFAQ: Old Borders, Forgotten Flags, and Vvaraak’s Lair

  1. What makes Thaliost still cling to an Aundairian identity even when it was taken by Thrane in 926 YK, a full 72 years ago? What is its manifest zone, if any?

    • I feel like Thaliost is just a good port – unlike Rekkenmark across the water, it’s not cut off by cliffs.

      As for identity, I’d tie it back to Thaliost being the original capital and Aundair very proactively antagonizing and propagandizing in the region.

    • Thaliost is another example of contradictory canon. Page 150 of Five Nations states that it was captured in 926 YK… but page 15 suggests that Thrane has controlled the region since 977 YK. That’s the date I use; that means they’ve held the city for 21 years, which is a considerable amount of time, but not so long that it’s outside of living memory. When you combine this with its historical importance to Aundair, it’s easy to imagine a strong sense of national identity and pride.

      • Did the books cover the back & fourth nature of the last war? .. i would suspect since Thrane took Thailost in 926 YK that it was potentially retaken & lost again a few times between then & 977 YK.

      • There’s an easy way to reconcile those two: It was physically captured, but had enough resistance the population it wasn’t considered “controlled” for 51 years. Even without armed insurgents, the culture remains.

  2. Thanks, Keith!

    I think if a gsme included the (lost) Sharn district of Stillwater, that the sahuagin there could be Dominion liasons to surface dwellers and brakish or freshwater cultures.

  3. Now for the real question regarding Cyre’s heraldic animal; Is it a Magebreed version of whatever animal it was? (Q: Why does that matter, A: It could show that even if they had a heraldic animal that their version of that animal is ‘better’)

    But if were talking Metrol wouldn’t the creature most likely have inhabited the spires before the humanoid races? Like an eagle or Pterodactyl of some kind? and if were going with Lycanthropic representation would the Raven be a contender for the slot especially given Dread Metrol?

    • The vermishards are representative of Metrol the city, but not necessarily representative of the entire country of Metrol that the region of Cyre was before the kingdom of Galifar.

      • True however its not unlikely for a country to share the symbol of its capital city. I mean the USA uses the eagle everywhere despite most states having their own state bird let alone heraldry.

        • Do we know for certain the Vermishards are unscalable naturally? Mountain and cave tigers could exist AND Metrol is noted for having extensive caverns and caves below where they had the Undercity. Seems just as likely the heraldic animal would be the apex predator of the region

        • The Bald Eagle is not the official bird of the District of Columbia. That would be the Wood Thrush.

  4. On the topic of dragons lingering via primal magic, 3.5 Dragon Magic gives us the twilight guardian, a dragon who has become one with the land in death. The “Twilight Guardians in Eberron” section claims that “Twilight guardians are almost never seen outside Argonessen, where they are almost as common as dragons. On occasion, twilight guardians on Argonessen belonging to two different dragon spirits will war with one another, a bit of behavior held over from their draconic origins.” They are not quite sapient, though, at a lowly Intelligence 1.

    Does such draconic primal magic hold up in your vision of Eberron?

    • I like the idea of twilight guardians being a remnant left behind by any dragon who follows the Child of Eberron path, in the same way that dracolich would be for the Master of the Hoard, and perhaps a hollow dragon for other paths like the Lightkeeper or Guide of the Weak.

      Twilight guardians could be most concentrated around areas like the Face of Eberron in the Thousand after dragons have died and their bodies became a part of the landscape, activating during times of need. Imagining a bunch of them becoming active when people land on the eastern coast is a neat image.

  5. Cyre being given the tiger as its heraldic beast sounds like some convoluted Lords of Dust rakshasa scheme.

    • The tiger head is just the fashionable negotiation form *this* season, not a fundamental aspect of fiendom

  6. What is the source for the “Old Boar of Thrane”?

    The main reason I ask is because when I had asked at Rose City Comic Con (or some other PDX con) back in the beforetimes (2017 I think) I had asked specifically about Thrane’s Heraldry before the Pheon and the Silver Flame was used. And at that time you had said it was a Horse, and I’ve been using an azure Stallion Rampant whenever it comes up.

    I guess it largely doesn’t matter, but it matters to me.

    • I believe this is drawn from the boar’s head ring that Diani ir’Wynarn wears in Five Nations, and the Breastplate of Thrane of the Regalia of Galifar from The Forge of War also having a boar’s head emblem on it. Seems reasonable that it could have been the former heraldic symbol of Thrane before the silver sword under the symbol of the Silver Flame was adopted.

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