IFAQ: Awakened Animals and Eldeen Materials

Ja’taarka the Worg, by Julio Azevedo

Eberron: Rising From The Last War says that in the Eldeen Reaches, “communities include awakened animals and plants as members.” This raises a number of unanswered questions. Are these awakened beings considered to be citizens under the Code of Galifar? How common are awakened animals in the Reaches? Have they ever been hunted like normal animals? As always, keep in mind that what follows is what I do in my campaign based on my interpretation of the awaken spell—your mileage may vary.

The act of awakening an animal or plant isn’t about evolution. The caster doesn’t create a new species of sentient animal with a single spell. Instead, awaken shapes a sentience from the collective anima of the world and fuses that with the subject, creating a unique intelligent entity; it’s not unlike summon beast, but the spirit is infused into an existing body instead of having a conjured physical form. The awakened creature can access the memories of their life before awakening, but they are a new and unique entity. Critically, if a druid awakens two rabbits, their offspring aren’t sentient. So there aren’t vast lineages of awakened animals out in the world. Every awakened animal has a direct connection to a powerful spellcaster. Druids and bards who can cast awaken are rare, and the spell also has a significant casting cost; it’s not something that is ever done trivially.

So awakened animals and plants are found in Eldeen communities. But any time you encounter one, it’s worth asking who awakened this animal and why? Here’s a few answers.

  • Oalian’s Voice. The Wardens of the Wood maintain a network of awakened birds and other animals who act as scouts and messengers. Many of these creatures have been awakened by Oalian themself, and roost in the branches of the Great Druid when they return to Greenheart. Given how few Eldeen communities have Sivis message stations, these beasts play an important role in connecting communities. They’re far more than animal messengers; while they carry important messages between sect leaders, they also share stories and news with the general community, and many are celebrated entertainers. Beyond this, part of their work is to gather information; in may ways, the Voice is the Eldeen answer to the Korranberg Chronicle. So adventurers could very well find themselves being interviewed by a raven, who then spreads word of their deed across the Reaches!
  • Guiding Trees. Every Eldeen community has a druidic advisor. Many also have a guiding tree—a tree awakened by one of the leaders of the sect the community has aligned with. As traditionally awakened trees, these are generally young trees that are capable of movement and which walked to the community, but once in their new home they generally take root and prefer not to move without reason. These trees typically act as spiritual advisors; your town druid may be busy, but the guiding tree is always there when you need advice.
  • Bloodhounds. The Wardens of the Wood seek to maintain order across the Reaches, and this includes helping local councils investigate and deal with crime. The Wardens have long had a corps of awakened canines—mostly wolves in the Wood, but over the last forty years this have expanded to include other hounds. Bloodhounds (a term used regardless of breed) generally work with a humanoid Warden, whether traveling or residing in a community, but occasionally a Bloodhound—or even a team of Bloodhounds—can be found working independently.
  • The Faithful. Many powerful druids awaken a few animals to serve as companions and confidantes. Over time, these animals can become valued agents of the sect, being charged with important duties or acting as a representative of their companion druid. Should they outlive their companion, the faithful beasts typically continue to work with the sect. So you can find a Moonspeaker tribe where a great bear—once the companion of a legendary druid—is still respected as one of the elders of the tribe, or meet a wolf who’s come to Varna to speak on behalf of Faena Graymorn.
  • The Totem. Especially in the deep Wood, some communities identify with a particular beast or plant, and have an awakened creature of that type who serves as a combination of mascot and advisor. While some such creatures have nothing to offer but mundane wisdom and inspiration, some totems possess greater primal gifts and serve as oracles and spirit guides.
  • The Retired. It’s always possible to encounter an awakened creature that served in one of these roles until it chose to retire. This could be for any of the reasons a human chooses to retire. Perhaps they were injured. Perhaps they got too old for this %&$. Perhaps they just realized they wanted to do something else with their lives; awakened animals aren’t slaves, and while most are happy to work with their sects, it’s always a choice. So when you go to an Eldeen tavern, you might meet a crow who used to work for Oalian’s Voice, but who currently just does stand-up three nights a week and enjoys local gossip, or a former Bloodhound who lost her sense of smell and now works as a bouncer.
  • The Returned. While they aren’t technically awakened animals, some druids are able to transfer their spirits into an animal form after death… essentially, a variation of reincarnate that transfers the soul into a beast instead of a humanoid form. The Returned retain their memories and skills from humanoid life. Most only possess a fraction of their druidic abilities, if any—but a few have managed to regain their powers. Many Returned continue to serve their sects, but others prefer to spend their days in the wilds or to retire and pursue a hobby they never had time for in life.
  • The Fey. While most druids won’t create awakened animals without a reason, Greensingers are the sect most likely to awaken animals just to bring more magic into the world (although the 1,000 gp component cost keeps them from doing this TOO often). So while most Awakened creatures have a clear connection to a druid or a community, when you’re near the Twilight Demesne you may meet a talkative magpie or a shrub with a story to tell. While this uses the awaken spell, the subjects of this Greensinger technique are considered to be fey as well as beasts or plants.

Are awakened animals considered citizens under the Code of Galifar?

If they’re citizens of the Eldeen Reaches, definitely. In my campaign, becoming a citizen of the Reaches involves swearing an oath of allegiance to a druidic representative—I don’t have time to develop all of the details, but it’s largely saying that you swear to abide by the laws of your community and the Great Druid, and that you will protect the Reaches and its people in times of trouble. The key point here is that in the Reaches, awakened animals are treated like any other sentient creature. While they’re often found performing specific jobs, again, they aren’t slaves and they can quit any time they want. They’re fellow citizens of the Reaches, and if you commit a crime against one, it’s no different than committing a crime against any humanoid. If you kick a dog in a Reacher villager, he could go to the council and accuse you of assault, and if you shoot Bambi the awakened deer, it’s murder… though it’s worth asking why did someone awaken a deer? It definitely could happen in Greensinger territory, but an awakened deer would be very unusual elsewhere. Now, the trick is that while an awakened dog may be a citizen of the Reaches and thus entitled to the protection of the law in Sharn, you’ll have to convince the Sharn Watch of that, which may take some doing. On the other hand, there’s a giant owl on the Sharn Council, so who can say!

As a side note, while we often talk about Oalian as being an awakened tree, the rituals and power invested in the Eldeen Ada were more significant than the basic awaken spell. One aspect of this is that standard awakened plants can move around. In my campaign, Oalian is stationary and infused with primal power; they’re more than just a smart tree.

What sort of materials do the people of the Eldeen Reaches use for armor and weapons?

The people of the fields haven’t abandoned the use of metal. With the exception of some extremist Ashbound, there’s no inherent taboo against metalworking; metal comes from the soil, after all. The Wardens of the Wood seek balance between the wild and civilization, not to eradication industry entirely. The goal is to reduce the environmental impact of industry; scope may be reduced, and primal magic may be employed in place of destructive mundane techniques. Primal magic can help locate objects, shape or mold earth and stone, and when it comes to smithing, anyone who’s fought a druid knows that primal magic can be used to heat metal. The Reaches aren’t primitive; they are a primal civilization, and the key is to consider what tools primal magic can offer.

So the Eldeen Reaches are reshaping the industries of the east, but they haven’t abandoned them. The people of the fields still refine and work with metal, producing similar weapons and armor to those their Aundairian ancestors created. On the other hand, the people of the Wood have long had access to interesting materials aside from metal, and have primal techniques for shaping and strengthening wood, hide, stone, and bone to make it the equal of metal (if not superior to it, as with bronzewood and darkleaf presented in the ECS). So here’s a few options to consider…

  • Wood and leaves, potentially drawn from plants that don’t exist in our world or strengthened by manifest zones, primal techniques, or, well, Avassh.
  • Hide and leather, especially the hides of horrid animals (in the ECS, the horrid template increases a creature’s natural armor class by +5!)
  • Bones, claws, or teeth. These can be drawn from creatures that don’t exist in our world—such as horrid animals—and strengthened using forms of magic fang and similar rituals. While this may not always be the most efficient choice, in some cases it may be used because of totemic significance.
  • Stone, shaped and strengthened using primal techniques.

So an Ashbound champion might wear armor fashioned from the hide of a horrid bear and wield a two-handed macuahuitl embedded with its teeth… but due to the techniques of the Ashbound artisans, these things would be the equivalent of a breastplate and greatsword.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but please discuss your own ideas and how you’ve used awakened animals in your campaigns!

26 thoughts on “IFAQ: Awakened Animals and Eldeen Materials

  1. I like to have awakened animals sometimes have markings or colorations that signify them as unique. You might not know you are taking out Awakened Bambi with an arrow, but you’ll certainly know what you are doing if you nock and draw against the Emerald Stag.

    • I’d do this with the Greensinger technique presented in the article, which adds fey to the creature’s type; it makes sense that it is fundamentlaly making the creature more magical. But to the standard Warden technique, I think it’s an asset for the Reaches that awakened animals AREN’T easily distinguishable from mundane beasts; there’s considerable opportunities for awakened spies and scouts. One of the greatest Reacher intelligence triumphs was awakening the fern in Aurala’s private council chamber… (OK, maybe not, but it COULD happen.)

  2. Do the Reachers ever process wood from the Titans like you mentioned in your article on Fens and Marches (https://keith-baker.com/fens-and-marches/)?

    “In d20 terms, the wood of a Titan would generally be considered to be Densewood, with veins which if harvested and treated properly can yield Bronzewood (both materials described on page 120 of the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting). In canon Eberron these rare woods come from the forests of Aerenal, but it’s not particularly unbalancing to give these resources to the Shadow Marches… and it justifies Gatekeepers having ancient bronzewood weapons and armor dating back to the Xoriat incursion. While you could make this one of House Tharashk’s industries, I’d be inclined to have Tharashk keep its focus on finding rarer things. Densewood-grade lumber could be an industry that the clans focused on before the rise of Tharashk, while Tharashk uses the Mark of Finding to locate the rarer veins of Bronzewood.”

    Or is this more an aspect of processing the dead Titans of the Marches, and less the living ones of the Reaches?

    • Or is this more an aspect of processing the dead Titans of the Marches, and less the living ones of the Reaches?
      Basically this. I’ve suggested that the Deep Wood folk have access to exceptional materials we don’t have in our world. They could potentially get wood that’s the equivalent of densewood or bronzewood from the rare fallen boughs of titans; I could even imagine a tribe with a tradition of adulthood where you climb a titan and strip a piece of bark from a particular point on its trunk. But they aren’t harvesting it on a significant scale and it’s not used outside of the Wood. Aerenal is where the people of the Five Nations go to when they want densewood or bronzewood; materials of similar quality may exist in the Towering Wood, but if so, the industries of Khorvaire haven’t managed to tap this resource.

  3. “So an Ashbound champion might wear armor fashioned from the hide of a horrid bear and wield a two-handed macuahuitl embedded with its teeth… but due to the techniques of the Ashbound artisans, these things would be the equivalent of a breastplate and greatsword.”

    Do the Ashbound have different techniques of curing hides? I recall reading that they refuse to wear cured leathers, which is similar to what you’d do to cure furs. Or is this something you’d retcon?

    • I recall reading that they refuse to wear cured leathers, which is similar to what you’d do to cure furs. Or is this something you’d retcon?
      This seems to mainly be drawn from Faiths of Eberron, which I disagree with on many points. I have in some places suggested that some Ashbound champions paint themselves with the primally enchanted ashes of fallen trees, with the idea that this acts as a form of barrier tattoo. But the idea that they won’t even cure hides goes too far for me, personally—especially given that we’ve suggested that the Ashbound are in the northern regions of the Reaches, which means it’s likely to be colder.

    • Faiths of Eberron says, “Ashbound in general do not wear armor, even if they belong to martial classes, scorning it as a civilized crutch. They might use manufactured weapons, but many are drawn to unarmed combat styles (especially shifters). They eschew woven cloth, worked leather, and crafted jewelry, and they use no dyes to alter the natural colors of the hides and furs they wear. They survive entirely by hunting, fishing, and gathering, for they believe cultivation wounds the earth.”
      While going about their vital tasks, the Ashbound wear only what they need to survive, unadorned except for the emblem of their faith. They do take trophies from their campaigns, however, such as the horns of demons or wizards’ staffs, which they fashion into ornaments for use at major ceremonies. The most senior members have accumulated the most trophies— they have fantastically ornate headgear, cloaks, and the like, made from dozens of their greatest foes.”

      I always think it’s funny that the Ashbound would be more likely to use claimed metal weapons as presented here than Keith’s take would seemingly suggest (though the 3.5e special materials is another great callout). Also, calls to mind the idea of Gharull, Stormclaw, or Tasia draped in the furs of a rakshasa they personally slew or wielding a goristro’s horn as a legendary weapon.

      • So often in my personal journey with Eberron, something is written about a subject I care less about. The peculiarities of nobles, what flumphs do, and now the one-two punch of the Eldeen Reaches in general and the Ashbound in particular. These subjects always end up a new obsession with beautiful ideas spawning for characters

        So what I’m saying is . . . stop making me love the Asbound so much dang it! Oh my word Ben you just made them so cool!

      • Also, calls to mind the idea of Gharull, Stormclaw, or Tasia draped in the furs of a rakshasa they personally slew or wielding a goristro’s horn as a legendary weapon.
        Which is where I was going with the example of the Ashbound warrior wielding the hide and fangs of a horrid bear—it’s a beast that they’ve defeated and that they’re claiming it’s strength. My point is that whether the hide belonged to a horrid beast or some fiendish creature, I don’t have an issue with them curing that hide to make it last longer. There’s a difference between completely repurposing materials into an unrecognizable form… and simply ensuring that your trophy doesn’t rot away. The people of the Woods use materials we don’t use, but also, with primal magic they have ways to preserve and toughen those materials that we don’t. I was just reading an article about how science is being employed to create a wooden knife sharper than any steel; the point is that the druids may have primal techniques to accomplish the same effect.

        I always think it’s funny that the Ashbound would be more likely to use claimed metal weapons as presented here than Keith’s take would seemingly suggest…
        Not at all. The Player’s Guide to Eberron (and I did write the Druid section there) states that “most are willing to use forged weapons“—with the intention that these weapons would be taken as trophies. The point is that with special materials and techniques of hardening and preserving those materials, they don’t NEED to — that the champion’s beartooth blade IS a match for the Aundairian-forged greatsword.

        • Ah, thank you for clarifying. People on the Discord have sometimes thought the Ashbound did not use metal at all so I’ve looked at those sections a few times!

          I tried to run an Eldeen Reaches campaign that started in Cree, which this is a big help for thinking through as well should it ever pick up again.

  4. What is the motivation of giving a plant sentience when they are programmed to grow? Plants are alive, yes, but typically they don’t house spirits like us. An animal has a programmed spirit, thinking beings (orcs, humans, elves, dwarves, etc.) don’t have programmed spirits. They have blank spirits that foundationalize as an orc, human, or elf.

    Is an Awakened animal different? Are their spirits replaced with that one associated with a thinking being?

    • This presupposes that Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy has bearing on the way spells work in d&d. If you want to assume that plants and animals have fundamental spiritual differences from humans which raise questions about the awaken spell then yes, said spell likely changes the fundamental spirit of the target

  5. is there a way to allow Awakened Plants to move around?
    seems kinda rude to awaken a flower, only to leave it somewhere.

    • From the spell description “If the target is a plant, it gains the ability to move its limbs, roots, vines, creepers, and so forth, and it gains senses similar to a human’s.”

      • From the spell description “If the target is a plant, it gains the ability to move its limbs, roots, vines, creepers, and so forth, and it gains senses similar to a human’s.”
        Exactly. The fact that Oalian doesn’t move around is unusual, which is why I called it out.

        • Honestly, I just assumed that the reason the Greatlpine doesn’t get up and walk around is the root systems. Plants generally have about as much root mass as they do crown, and for a tree the size of Oalian, moving all of those roots is really disruptive to the entire local ecosystem.

          • makes sense.

            Wonder if its possible to remotely control a body instead?
            Oalian can keep their normal body in one spot, keeping the ecosystem fine, while exploring with the other body?

            • Creating wilden or hamadryads or seedlings that could serve as potential PCs or interactable NPCs with a fraction of his knowledge!

              • I think wilden-as-sliver-of-Oalian-sent-out-into-the-world is an excellent PC idea! Also tying to my general point on exotic races, that you could have a race in the world in very small quantities—it could be that ALL wilden are offshoots of Eldeen Ada, and that there’s only about thirty of them in existence; crossing paths with another one would be a significant event.

  6. Given the cost, would there be preference to longer lived animals (like a tortoise) over shorter ones?

  7. It is probably worth mentioning that ironworking requires a LOT of carbon, in the form of either a particular form of coal, or charcoal. Charcoal requires a LOT of wood to make a small amount. See https://acoup.blog/2020/09/25/collections-iron-how-did-they-make-it-part-ii-trees-for-blooms/.

    So unless there is magic to reduce the amount of carbon necessary to make and forge iron (and especially steel), there may be some pressure on the people of the plains to refrain from ironwork. This could cause friction if the local smiths, living by the largest forest in the world, have to *import* charcoal, which is a *very* expensive way to get charcoal. Which gives incentive to engage in a little elicit forestry. Which the Wardens and Ashbound will likely take issue with (I expect the Ashbound would also take issue with other aspects as metalworking as well). In case you needed to add a little conflict to your Eldeen campaign.

    • I’m all for adding interesting conflicts to a campaign, but there’s a few things I’d consider. I feel like this article is describing MEDIEVAL ironworking, and Eberron has more in common with mid-to-late 19th century technology than it does to medieval engineering. A quick study suggests that people started using coke-fueled blast furnaces in the early 18th century. Now, do I think people in Khorvaire are using coke-fueled blast furnaces? Probably not… because they have access to techniques that don’t exist in our world. What we’ve always said is that Eberron is a place in which people have used magical principles to solve problems we have solved with technology. Eberron is a world where arcane magic can produce fireballs and flaming spheres from a simple ball of guano, and where people can bind fire elementals. We’ve never DESCRIBED what metalworking systems look like in Khorvaire, because what we know is that they work about as well as what we could do in the 19th century. But I’d definitely think about how the pyromantic tools we know exist in the world could be adapted to industry; a blast furnace in Eberron might involve a tiny ongoing fireball sustained by powdered dragonshards.

      I’m fine with the idea that whatever arcane ironworking methods are used are as destructive to the environment as our parallel techniques and could still be using, say, coke as a base fuel. On the other hand, the Eldeen experiment has been going on for 40 years, and what we’ve said is that the druidic advisors and sects have been working with the people of the fields to try to find sustainable alternatives. And what I immediately think of is heat metal—traditionally a druidic spell, though it is of course also available to artificers. But I imagine druids working with smiths and smelters and actively working on ways to adapt primal magic to solve problems—producing a blast furnace that works with a small (unbound!) fire elemental, or teaching gleaners a slow, cost-effective form of heat metal that can take the place of the traditional furnace.

      I’m fine with the idea that these methods may currently be LESS EFFICIENT than arcane industrial techniques, and could require the operators to master gleaner techniques; while they’ve had forty years to work on it, I could easily see elf or dwarf smiths who can’t wrap their brains around gleaning and who are angry about restrictions being placed on their activities. And you could definitely say that while they’re working on improving these techniques, it’s still got a ways to go. But essentially, with the Eldeen Reaches I’m more interested in saying “How could you use primal power to work metal in a sustainable, non-intrusive way” rather than just saying “The druids ban ironworking in the Reaches.” It’s basically like a nation trying to fully embrace windpower and solar power. I’m fine with the idea that this is going to be DIFFICULT and put them at a severe industrial disadvantage compared to their coal-burning, tree-killing neighbors… but they are still working toward a better solution, not just abandoning the practice.

      All of this ultimately comes to the fact that what interests me about the Eldeen Reaches is the idea that it’s a wide primal civilization. They aren’t PRIMITIVE; they are using a different set of tools to solve the problems we’ve solved with technology and that the Five Nations solve with arcane science, with the added goal of minimizing environmental damage. I think it’s interesting to think about what those solutions would look like. Again, with only forty years I definitely feel like they haven’t got it all worked out yet, but it’s fun to imagine what their efforts look like.

  8. I like to say that awakened animals live as long as elves, and that they can adopt humanoid forms, like the old kitsune/huli jing/kumiho myths.

  9. Do in your Everton druids have any control on the alignment/wisdom score of awaken animals? As far as I remember you could awake a dumb, evil bear. Cool but unpredictable 🙂

  10. Would Varonaen of the bloodsail also have awakened plants?

    And is Oalian’s Voice Eldeen Twitter?

    And thank you for this amazing post on reacher weapons and clothing!

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