IFAQ: Recorded Music and Songs of the Poison Dusk

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few from this month!

Is there an equivalent to the phonograph in Eberron? If so, how accessible is it?

In this article I gave my thoughts on the equivalent of photography in Eberron. So, what about recorded sound? Well, Eberron is about the every day application of magic. Is there a spell of 3rd level or below that could reasonably be applied to produce a similar effect? Absolutely. Minor illusion is a cantrip that allows the reproduction of sound… and spellshards are crystals that hold data. And who loves music AND has a talent for illusion? So, putting that all together…

If you attend the Tain Gala, Celyria will show you her latest acquisition—a Phiarlan hydra. The base of this wonder is a cube of black stone. A four-headed hydra is engraved on its top, and the mouth of each hydra is a spherical depression that can hold a polished globe of wood embedded with a tiny dragonshard. Each of these “marbles” holds a performance by one of Phiarlan’s finest musicians. But the hydra has a fifth head, sculpted from copper and wood, rising up from the base. When you activate the hydra, it draws out the sound of the performance held within one of the marbles and projects it through the sculpted head, as clear as if you were there. So come to the Tain gala, and hear the hydra sing!

Personally (largely because it’s never been mentioned before) I’m inclined to make the hydra a recent development that’s currently only available to the wealthy. But the principles aren’t terribly complicated — it’s cantrip level magic — so I could see it quickly gaining popularity and spreading. PCs with the entertainer background could be encouraged to record some marbles for Phiarlan! Also, if you’re interested in the idea of broadcast audio entertainment in Eberron, check out the House Sivis Echoer Station!

Do the Poison Dusk lizardfolk of Q’barra have any significant musical/artistic customs?

Certainly! But it’s important to remember that the Poison Dusk aren’t exclusively lizardfolk and that they aren’t a traditional culture. As called out in Dungeon 185, the Poison Dusk includes kobolds, troglodytes, lizardfolk, and dragonborn—including mutants like the blackscale lizardfolk. They aren’t a culture that has evolved over time; they are victims of Masvirik, whose personalities and memories have been eroded and overwritten by the power of the Cold Sun. Their leaders are actively (if often only partially) possessed by fiends.

So with all that in mind, in thinking about ANY of the customs of the Poison Dusk, I would want them to feel eerie and alien—to help convey the concept that these are people who are all, on some level, shaped by fiendish influences.

Considering all this, what comes to my mind is the Hissing Chorus. This is a rhythmic, ululating hissing, at its base almost like the sound of wind. This hissing is supplemented by body percussion, each participant using a single hand to tap claws against scales, or potentially to scrape claws against another surface — essentially, adding fingernails on a blackboard to a musical performance. The key to all of this is that the rhythm is seemingly random, asymmetric and unpredictable, yet all participants work in perfect unison; it’s an ecstatic experience driven by instinct, something that draws the musicians into communion with the Cold Sun. The Hissing Chorus is encountered in many ways and with varying intensity. A single Poison Dusk may effectively whistle while they work, hissing quietly to themself. A troop will hiss as they march, with greater force and intensity. And a Poison Dusk community may hiss together as a writhing mob, guided by a dusk-shard imbued champion who voice is amplified by magic, potentially with instrumentalists using hide drums and scraping surfaces that send chills through anyone within range. But the PRINCIPLE is the same throughout, and crucially, the song is something that is constantly evolving; it’s more like speaking in tongues than playing a treasured symphony. Because the Poison Dusk has no lengthy history; time and time again, they have been hunted down by the Trothslorsvek and the Masvirik’uala, only to rise once more, hissing their eerie, endless song.

That’s all for now! If you have questions of your own, join my Patreon. As always, thanks to my patrons for making this site and these articles possible!

11 thoughts on “IFAQ: Recorded Music and Songs of the Poison Dusk

  1. This Hydra immediately give me ideas for other spells worked into performance shards that might have disastrous results as in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

    Very easy to macguffin that up. Thanks, Keith!

  2. ‘And who loves music AND has a talent for illusion?’

    I genuinely thought you meant Zil gnomes at first. The people who invented sending stones and thurimbar rods, run the biggest library, and have a great fondness for the spoken and written word just were a very likely candidate to my brain, I guess.

    In my Eberron, I gave it to the orcs though: They also love music and probably can see the vibrations in the swamp waters quite often, reading the rings in disks made of tree resin (shellac) sounded like a rather druidic or Daelkyr cult thing to do, and I wanted them to have another “in” to the more industrialized parts of the world. They probably had help from Sivis, and there might be a patent dispute with Phiarlan now though, because the hydra is just an awesome visual!

    • I genuinely thought you meant Zil gnomes at first.
      Absolutely! The Thurimbar rod is a reason I’d expect there to BE recorded music—because we’ve already established that the principle of minor illusion/ghost sound is used to create music, it’s logical to think that it could recreate music as well. I chose Phiarlan because the House of Shadow is more concretely tied to entertainment as an INDUSTRY, and is more the force I’d expect to try to push recorded music across the entire continent (as well as already having many of the most popular entertainers under contract).

      • Makes a lot of sense! I was coming at it from a slightly different angle too: record keepers gonna record. Korranberg librarians would love a sound (or smell) archive, a famous Sivis lawyer’s defense speech would be worth gold to law schools if recorded, and the Trust not having to be everywhere to listen in would also be quite an advantage. Zilargo’s state, science and education sectors, would all profit immensely from recorded speech.

        Phiarlan on the other hand, is tied to entertainment, but risks losing as much as they gain through records, creating a competing business for their shows. The magical principles could’ve been around for a while, a Phiarlan faction could’ve invested into its development to facilitate espionage during the last years of the war, and is now looking for a peace time application to justify the investment.

        • Sure, but there’s a few factors there. You’re quite right… “the Trust not having to be everywhere to listen in would also be quite an advantage,” which is exactly why I WOULDN’T give widespread recording to the Zil; because if they had it, they’d be using it and it WOULD be a major tool of the Trust, and we haven’t suggested that to be the case (while conversely we HAVE suggested that the Serpentine Table of Phiarlan makes limited use of mystical recording). I personally prefer the Trust largely relying on live intelligence sources; giving them a tool that could make that obsolete isn’t a change I want to implement in my campaign. Beyond that, we’re back to the setting largely having the flavor of the late 19th century, not the 20th; even here, I suggest that the Hydra is a new tool that is only just beginning to come into widespread use. It’s very reasonable to think that if Zilargo had a reliable, easily reproducible system of recording it would make widespread use of it… and for that reason, I don’t want them to have such a system, at least in 998 YK.

          And Phiarlan having mixed feelings about recording is valid, which is again why I’m suggesting the Hydra as something that’s being developed NOW, so that such concerns within the house can be actively unfolding. The question of whether an adventuring entertainer should record a song could feel valid — for me, it’s more O Brother Where Art Thou than the modern recording industry.

          But certainly, it’s an entirely valid path to follow!

  3. I’ve got a Q’barra campaign going that can combine the two! Some ignorant fool is putting Dusk Shards into their version of the Hydra, exporting a subaudible hissing chorus if you put the crystals in backwards! Now House Tharashk & Cannith are both weakening the dream net and propogating the Cold Sun!

  4. In a nod to our world, I would make many musicians protest the use of hydras in performance spaces. They would feel that playing recorded music takes work away from live musicians.

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