IFAQ: Selling The Sovereigns

We’ve got a few important announcements this week—if you want to be sure to catch them, sign up for the Twogether Studios newsletter! Beyond that, as time permits I like to answer questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one from this month…

How do you make the Sovereign Host feel like the predominant faith for a large portion of Khorvaire and thus a major part of the world? It often feels like they end up overshadowed by other faiths.

Previous, I’ve said this about the Sovereign Host.

The Sovereign Host is deeply ingrained into daily life in the Five Nations. Even if you don’t BELIEVE in the Sovereigns, you know the names and basic attributes of the Nine and Six. Likewise, everyone knows the basic story that in the dawn of time the world was ruled by demons; that the Sovereigns fought them; and that the demons were bound.

The broad idea is that the Sovereign faith is omnipresent in the Five Nations; that even if you don’t follow the faith, you can feel its impact throughout the nation. And yet, it’s also a more casual faith than the Church of the Silver Flame, lacking the monolithic structure or the militant mission of the templars. The Blood of Vol draws attention because it’s feared and misunderstood; the Path of Light is exciting because it’s locked in conflict with the Dreaming Dark. Set against these more dramatic stories, how can a DM make the Sovereigns feel like the dominant faith in the Five Nations?

One of the defining features of the Vassal faith is that the Sovereigns are always with us, always ready to offer guidance or inspiration; you just have to ask. You don’t have to go to a temple; you can always just say Aureon, guide me. While this can be done with deep devotion, it’s also something that should just come out constantly in casual, everyday speech… which is to say, Vassals swear by the Sovereigns all the time. Try dropping some of these into NPC conversation.

  • Sovereigns and Six! A good general expression of astonishment. Sovereigns and Six, have you ever seen such a mess?
  • Aureon’s Eyes! Essentially, How did you miss this or you should have known better. “Aureon’s Book” is slightly more positive; Are you ready for the exam, Kel? Aureon’s Book, I hope so.
  • Dorn’s Strength! This can be a positive invocation, something a warrior says as they draw their blade or an athlete says as they enter the ring. Or it can be an expression of long-suffering frustration… Dorn’s strength, Kel’s coming over here.
  • Olladra Smiles. A general acknowledgement of good fortune. Can be sincere, or said to someone else as a snarky anyone can get lucky. Olladra scowls is a general expression of bad luck,while Olladra cries or Olladra’s tears is usually a sarcastic “Ooooh, poor baby” when someone complains about misfortune.

These are just a few examples. Arrah’s Light, Onatar’s Hammer, Korran’s Purse. In one of my novels, a Brelish ambassador says Boldrei’s bloody feet! as an expression of frustration. Again, everyone knows the names and roles of the Sovereigns; this sort of swearing is a simple cultural touchstone. Beyond this, it’s common for people to call on the Sovereigns for casual blessings, and this is a friendly act. Boldrei’s blessings, my friends! is a common greeting from any innkeeper, while a teacher may start their lesson with Aureon, be with us now.

This is also reflected in places and shops. Just looking to Sharn, Olladra’s Kitchen, Boldrei’s Hearth, Korran-Thiven and The Korranath are all districts. Olladra’s Arms is an inn, Boldrei’s Tears sells potions, the Grand Hall of Aureon and the Korranath itself are temples. Need a name for a random business? (Sovereign’s) (Tool) is an easy option… get your sword at Onatar’s Forge or pick up a pastry at Arawai’s Bounty.

This ties to the general idea of shrines and monuments. This article talks about how the Sovereigns may be depicted in artwork—whether as dragons, using their symbols, or blended with images of beloved historical figures. Sovereign monuments and shrines can be found all over the place. A shrine can be any place where people feel the Sovereigns are present. Farming communities in northern Breland (and Cyre before it fell) often have blessing trees, a large centrally located tree that serves as a shrine to Arawai and Boldrei; people will hang small offerings in the branches of the tree, especially as thanks for a good harvest or the birth of a child. Adventurers could find a shrine to Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn that’s a literal sword in a stone; the village founder embedded the sword in quickstone, saying the Sovereigns will grant their strength and the blade to a champion if the village is ever in need. In Sharn, the gnome Daca sits atop a densewood pillar and shouts advice to those below; this is seen as a blessed shrine of Boldrei. Basically, anywhere adventurers go, they could bump into a Sovereign shrine or icon.

Perhaps you want something that more actively evokes the Sovereigns? How about Holidays? Both Sharn: City of Towers and Rising From The Last War provide a list of common holidays observed in the Five Nations, and most are associated with the Sovereigns or Six. These can add a lot of color to the background of a story. If it’s early Nymm, then everyone’s getting ready for Brightblade, the festival of Dol Dorn. If you’re in Sharn, you can be sure that mercenaries and adventurers are coming to town, ready for the prizefights and the Cornerstone contest of champions. People may be practicing archery or wrestling, and tavern brawls are likely to shoot way up due to the competitive spirit in the air. As Barrakas approaches, people will start talking about what beast will be brought in for The Hunt, and people may plan their own smaller hunts. Wildnight can be wondrous or dangerous, while the nights of Long Shadows are a time that even adventurers may want to stay in and join their friends around the fire. These can be background events, or they can form the basis of an entire adventure. Do you participate in the Contest of Champions on Brightblade? Does a patron hire you to capture a wondrous monstrosity and transport it to Sharn for The Hunt? You could even have an adventure that focuses on the stories you tell on the nights of Long Shadows, and the old ghosts that are stirring.

Another way to remind people of the Sovereigns is through magic items. The Vassal faith is the dominant faith of the Five Nations, and this may be reflected in their tools. Even if it’s made using arcane science, a sentinel’s shield may bear the Sun of Dol Arrah, while a good luck stone might be a domino imbued with Olladra’s blessing. Looking to more powerful items—legendaries and artifacts—you could have items that are tied directly to the Sovereigns in some way. Dol Dorn’s sword was famously shattered. An Aurum concordian could have found proof that nine legendary weapons were made from the fragments of Dol Dorn’s blade and be determined to recover them all; while each weapon is powerful on its own, can the fragments be reassembled to recreate Dol Dorn’s sword? Before people say but I thought there was no proof the Sovereigns existed, this is a common misunderstanding. It’s provable fact that the myths of the Sovereigns are based on the deeds of champions (possibly dragons) who fought the fiends in the Age of Demons, but at that point in time they were mortal champions. The myth is that they ascended to become the omnipresent Sovereigns after defeating the overlords, and THAT’S the part that can’t be proven. As a Sovereign, Dol Dorn has no use for a sword; he is present anywhere a blade is drawn. But he HAD a sword back when he was a mortal champion fighting demons.

In conclusion, if you want to make the Sovereign faith feel widespread, the key is to show how it IS a part of everyday life—in common speech, in place names, in widespread shrines, in festivals.

Wait, DOES everyone accept that there were mortal champions who inspired the Sovereign myths? And how do immortals play into this—don’t some immortals revere the Sovereigns?

Hmm. Let me reframe that. What I meant to say is this. It’s a provable fact that there were mortals whose names and deeds are very similar to the myths of the Sovereigns. This is NOT common knowledge; what’s common knowledge is the myths of the Sovereigns. But there is testimony from dragons, ancient giant records, and most notably, testimony from immortals that prove the existence of beings like the dragon Ourelonastrix. My point was that the fact that these historical figures can be proven to have existed doesn’t prove the existence of the Sovereigns, one way or the other. A few factors…

  • The core myth is that the Sovereigns defeated the demons and then ascended to serve as immortal guardians. The existence of mortal champions doesn’t prove ascension.
  • Most likely the Sovereign myths and relics came from multiple champions. We have a myth about Dol Dorn’s sword being shattered and we may have pieces of Dol Dorn’s shattered sword. But a dragon wouldn’t need a sword. So, was there also a titan or a giant who inspired myths of Dol Dorn? Were they involved in the Age of Demons or did they come later?
  • Tied to the above, many scholars will argue that there’s not proof that those oldest known champions became the Sovereigns as opposed to being early servants of the Sovereigns. THe key example here is Ourelonastrix, the first Loredrake. A skeptical scholar could easily say the Draconic word ‘strix’ means ‘invigorate.’ So ‘Ourelonastrix’ means ‘He who is invigorated by Aureon‘—clearly, one of the first priests of the Sovereign.

OK, but what about the immortals? There are immortals who worship the Sovereigns, right? Doesn’t that prove they exist? Well, here’s a key quote from Exploring Eberron…

When priests of the Sovereign Host cast spells such as commune or planar ally, they usually interact with celestials from the planes. Typically, this is a celestial that embodies the same concept as the Sovereign in question; when a Vassal priest casts conjure celestial in Dol Arrah’s name, a warlike angel may come from Shavarath. When a celestial speaks the name of a Sovereign, listeners will hear the name they are most familiar with, whether that’s Balinor, Baalkan, or Bally-Nur. As such, some scholars assert that it’s slightly unclear if a summoned angel serves “Dol Arrah,” or if it instead serves “Honor in War” and it’s just being translated as Dol Arrah. If asked such a pedantic question, both the angel and a devout Vassal might simply respond with, “What’s the difference? Dol Arrah is honor in war.”

Well, OK, but Exploring Eberron also says “The Librarian of Dolurrh may mention the time Aureon came to borrow a book—but that was almost a hundred thousand years ago.” In this case, the Librarian is talking about a mortal champion who embodied Aureon. But here again, part of the point is that immortals don’t get too hung up on the details. If Jaela Daran came to the Librarian, they’d likely say “I spoke to the Silver Flame today.” The Librarian spoke to a being who was the essence of Law and Lore. The distinction of whether they WERE the pre-ascended Sovereign or whether they were simply a mortal channeling the power of the Sovereign—a mighty cleric or priest—is irrelevant.

So, there were mortal champions who inspired myths and left relics behind. There are immortals who honor the Sovereigns. But the Sovereigns themselves do not manifest as physical entities, and the existence of immortals who honor them or mortals who resemble them doesn’t tell us whether they are, in fact, guiding us in this very moment.

One More Option…

I’ve suggested that the way to suggest the presence of the Sovereigns is to have people use their names and to highlight their festivals. But there’s another option, which is to suggest the presence of the Sovereigns. I wouldn’t do this casually, but let’s imagine that an adventurer—not a paladin or cleric, just whoever—is facing a demon in an epic fight that could have grave consequences for their nation. They have been paralyzed by hold person and they are about to make their next saving throw, and they may die if they fail it. I might ask them—you were raised a Vassal, right? Do you ask Dol Arrah to aid you? If they say they will, I might follow up—what do you offer? What is your vow or your sacrifice? If they give a compelling answer, well, perhaps the save will succeed on its own; if not, maybe I’ll give them a second chance or just say it succeeds. Either way… will they fulfill their vow? DID they get help from Dol Arrah, or did they just concentrate their will with such determination that THEY broke the spell? Or, perhaps did something else give them aid? In this article I talk about the fact that Divine magic should be mysterious—part of what differentiates it from Arcane magic is that it’s not scientific. I wouldn’t want to ever say “If you say a prayer to Dol Dorn at the start of combat you get a +1 Initiative.” But maybe, if it really matters, if you need it to succeed, and your character calls on a greater power—whether it’s a Sovereign, the Flame, their own divine spark—maybe it will answer. I definitely wouldn’t suggest this as a standard rule or something players could or should ever rely on… but as a DM, if you want your players to wonder if the Sovereigns are with them, you might want to occasionally give them reason to believe that they are.

As this is an IFAQ I won’t be answering questions on this topic, but please share your own thoughts or ways you’ve used the Sovereigns! And thanks to my Patrons for making these articles possible.

16 thoughts on “IFAQ: Selling The Sovereigns

  1. Holiday events are a lot of fun to run, especially customizing them to a locale. I have used Aureon’s Crown in a Library of Korranberg game where the students got to celebrate before graduation, and have also used a variation on Sun’s Blessing in the small setttlement of Wolf’s Paw where a renegade hellcat’s presence threatened the jubilations.

    I also enjoy using variations of the Sovereigns in games, local renames or combinations, and various Three Face cults like my Kundarak excoriate who followed the Three Faces of Fortune- Olladra, Kol Korran, and the Keeper- Luck, Wealth, and Greed.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Keith!

  2. First of all, very intrigued by “It’s pretty much accepted fact that the myths of the Sovereigns are based on the deeds of champions (possibly dragons) who fought the fiends in the Age of Demons” — who accepts this? I was always under the impression that Vassals believed there were historical champions who fought the fiends, but that there were no non-religious records from that time.

    Second of all, when considering profanity: remember that Khorvaire and the Sovereigns aren’t as cisgender-by-default as our world, and I’ve had a lot of fun using foul words for any body part on any Sovereign.

    • The other two major religions (Silver Flame and Seekers) are commentaries on the Vassal faith as well. The Church of the Silver Flame and the Blood of Vol don’t deny that the Sovereign champions existed, merely their overall relevance compared to their own pursuits.

    • First of all, very intrigued by “It’s pretty much accepted fact that the myths of the Sovereigns are based on the deeds of champions (possibly dragons) who fought the fiends in the Age of Demons” — who accepts this?

      It’s a good question, so I’ve clarified it in the main article. “Accepted fact” is slightly overblown. It’s PROVABLE fact that the myths of the Sovereigns are INSPIRED by actual events, which can be confirmed by immortal testimony. However, first of all they may conflate the actions of different people—IE, there may have been both a dragon AND a giant who did deeds associated with Dol Dorn—and second, we don’t know if they actually became the Sovereigns as they are worshipped now. Common people have heard the stories of the Sovereign myths but don’t know all the research about their origins; a critical point is that it would take a great History or Religion check for someone in the Five Nations to know the name “Ourelonastrix.”

  3. The novel I’m writing will touch on the sovereigns, exactly. How their worship pervades all Khorvaire can be shown in a novel.

    • Keith’s Eberron novels (and those by others as well) do a good job of showing that. They’re omnipresent without being overly oppressive.

  4. I often tie profane swearing specifically to the Dark Six. “Six-damned,” “Devourer take you,” etc. It’s a small detail that ingrains acknowledgement of the Host (specifically Pyrinean interpretations of them) into the cultural fabric (and might draw a reaction ranging from bemusement to hostility from someone with a more Cazhaak-creed-oriented perspective on the Host).

  5. Here’s my big question: How do you make being a follower of Dol Arrah and the Silver Flame feel meaningfully different from each other? They’re both incredibly similar in practical terms, but I think I speak for most people when I say that the Silver Flame is the far more attention grabbing faith with it’s entire nation and more tangible impact on the lore. Why would my character and myself as a player pick to be a cleric or paladin of Dol Arrah instead of the Silver Flame besides wanting to be different?

    • I don’t have time to go into detail; for a longer answer bring it up on Patreon. Short answer: Never forget that “fighting evil” is only one part of Dol Arrah’s portfolio. Dol Arrah is a deity of war, honor, and light. The templar is charged to defend the innocent from supernatural evil. The paladin of Dol Arrah is a warrior charged to fight with both honor and wisdom, to fight for JUSTICE—which can be quite different from fighting against evil. A general will invoke Dol Arrah as he plans his strategy for the battle ahead; but he’s not planning to fight demons. He wants Arrah’s wisdom, and guidance on how to achieve victory with honor as opposed to giving in to the easy path of the Mockery.

  6. I personally do not see why history agrees that it was only mortals who inspired the myths of the Sovereigns. I do not see what was stopping, for instance, some dragon summoning the Sun Prince (before he was the Prince of Frost) and having him lead an army of fey against a fiendish horde, thus contributing to the larger mythos of Dol Arrah.

    • That’s entirely possible. It’s a fact that there were mortals who contributed to the legends. There’s no reason to think that it was ONLY mortals who contributed to the legends. And as I just added to the article, it’s also possible that those mortals were the first divine champions of the Sovereigns as opposed to the Sovereigns themselves; the existence of mortal champions doesn’t automatically mean those mortals became the Sovereigns.

  7. Even though my character is a Seeker, he’s still the type of character is exclaim. “By the Nine!” just because it was the faith he was raised with. Those types of verbal reactions are just hard unlearn.

  8. My PCs went down into Khyber while in the Moor Holds. They came upon a binding circle. I told the Dwarven Druid Gatekeeper that the circle was acient, but not of gatekeeper origin but by the Hosts.

    I had one of the PCs, warforged fighter and veteran of Breland hear a common song that he had learned while Training. He joined in with the song, to the surprise of the dwarves who were preparing for their tour of duty in the mines. The priest walked over and addressed him after they had finished. “Ah, you are a follower of the host?” No, he answered. He know the song from his training. She then proceeded to explain the songs origin as a blessing before battle.

    I love the idea of the Hosts fulfilling everyday activities. I need to do that more. Thank you for the ideas. I am seeing a tree in the middle of their next village coming into play.

  9. I’m not sure how to give a vassal cleric a religious moment that doesn’t break the veil of mystery and prove the sovereigns’ existence.
    In Exandria, a nature cleric could have a dream where they meet Mellora, or a light cleric could meditate and meet Pellor. It won’t happen often because the gods are trapped behind something called the divine gate.

    How can I capture something like that for my player without breaking what makes the sovereigns so special, that they are more omnipresent and not even proven to be real?

    • So first and foremost: clerics channel divine power. That’s not a mystery and doesn’t prove the Sovereigns exist. With that in mind, if you want to make divine visions a little more enigmatic, check out this article. A divine vision doesn’t have to be simple and clear. Perhaps a cleric of Dol Arrah looks at a man and sees his hands covered with fresh blood. That’s clearly a divine vision, but what does it mean? Is he a murderer? Is Dol Arrah telling the cleric to punish him for his crimes? Perhaps a cleric of Aureon dreams of a shining golden book at the top of The Korranath in Sharn, and sees shadows creeping up the tower to swallow. Will they see this vision as a warning and go to the Korranath?

      Part of the point is that these visions MIGHT be from the Sovereigns, just as their divine spells might be from the Sovereigns. Or they could be the work of daelkyr, quori, couatls, night hags. They could be channeled from your own Divine Spark, which is where the Blood of Vol believe Divination and Commune come from. Or they might JUST BE DREAMS. Aureon may not just appear in a dream as a friendly old man who shakes your hand and offers you a cup of tea; that doesn’t mean you can’t have divine visions that could be from Aureon.

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