IFAQ: The Shulassakar

Eberron often takes an unusual approach to familiar things. In Eberron, you can find gnoll demon-hunters, r gnome assassins, and dine on troll sausage. When developing the setting, we decided that couatls were the primary native celestials of Eberron. With this in mind, the 3.5 ECS has this throwaway line in the description of the Talenta Plains…

Krezent: This ancient ruin is all that remains of a couatl city from ages past. The halflings tend to avoid the site, since it is home to a tribe of benevolent yuan-ti who honor and revere the couatl and the Silver Flame.

This is the only mention of these beings in the ECS. It’s a random idea: yuan-ti are evil serpent-folk, but what if there were feathered yuan-ti devoted to the light? I loved the idea, so I expanded upon it in an early Dragonshard article, which gave these beings a name: the Shulassakar. This article also answered the seeming contradiction of the original quote: if these feathered yuan-ti were benevolent, why did the halflings of the Plains avoid them?

Over time, the shulassakar appeared in a number of places. We determined that there were shulassakar among the people of Khalesh in ancient Sarlona, and that they were targeted in the Sundering. Shulassakar were presented as an option for player characters in City of Stormreach

With that said, the shulassakar haven’t received much attention—in part because they are supposed to be rare and reclusive. They were never intended to be a central part of the setting, but rather an exotic element that could surprise players used to thinking of yuan-ti as evil.

When I have time, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters, and this month there were a few questions about the shulassakar.

Do shulassakar have similar roles in their society/culture to the anathema (big hulking multiheaded divine figures) of yuan-ti culture?

The original shulassakar article notes that the shulassakar refer to purebloods as “servants,” halfbloods as “flametouched,” and abominations as “transcendent,” adding that they believe in reincarnation and that the three different forms of shulassakar represent this spiritual growth.

The shulassakar equivalent of an anathema is a Choir. This is formed when a group of transcendent shulassakar willingly sacrifice themselves in a ritual based on the original couatl sacrifice, which fuses body and spirit to create a gestalt entity possessing great power. Choirs are physically immortal—they don’t age and are immune to the effects of hunger and thirst—though they aren’t true immortals and can be killed. The ritual that creates a choir isn’t somehow instinctively known to all shulassakar, and thus different shulassakar sects have discovered it and employed it for different reasons. There could be a shulassakar choir hidden somewhere in Khalesh, the last remnant of the ancient servants who merged together to survive the Sundering. Adventurers could find a shulassakar monastery whose anchorites chose to join together in the ultimate communion. Or a choir could be found guarding a post that required an immortal sentinel. The fusing of spirits gives a choir an unusual detachment from mortality; choirs can meditate in isolation for centuries with no sense of boredom. The main point is that joining a choir does mean sacrificing one’s individual identity. It’s not something most shulassakar aspire to and they aren’t inherently rulers of shulassakar; they are created for a purpose, whether to guard a position, to gain the power needed to survive, or in the case of the monks, the pursuit of a truly transcendental state.

What do the shulassakar do for food? Are the snake-people of Krezent engaging in agriculture?

As noted in the quote above, Krezent is a RUIN and the Shulassakar are guarding it. It’s not a Shulassakar city, it’s a job; the guardians of Krezent come from a fortress-city in a demiplane they claimed long ago. Beyond this, Krezent is a COUATL RUIN, which is to say, a place built by celestial beings at the height of their power. So the guardians don’t need to farm or hunt; Krezent has divine tools that replicate the effects of create food and water for those who know how to use them.

What is the attitude of the shulassakar to the troubles of the people around them? what would drive a shulassakar adventurer?

The canon answer can be seen in the Talenta Plains, in which the halflings AVOID Krezent. This tells us that the Shulassakar aren’t running around trying to help the halflings with basic everyday problems. They aren’t mediating tribal disputes or helping when there’s an outbreak of plague. Beyond this they are completely unknown in the Five Nations; there isn’t a council of shulassakar in Thrane. This ties to a general principle of Eberron, which is that powerful NPCs aren’t going to show up to solve your problems. Personally, I’d attribute this to three factors: there are very few shulassakar, likely speaking to a low fertility rate. Shulassakar who act too openly may well be targeted by agents of the Lords of Dust. And finally, there’s the Shavarath principle: they believe that the things they are doing are MORE IMPORTANT than whatever troubles the people around them are dealing with. Yes, it’s very sad that you’re dealing with a plague, but that plague is in fact a natural occurrence and that’s how the world works… whereas if someone releases the fiends of pestilence we’re keeping bound, THAT’S going to be a serious unnatural problem. Also consider the line from the original article: “A shulassakar always prefers to solve a problem on its own or to call in a more powerful servant to handle the problem.” They don’t work WITH other people; they’re going to solve your problems for you, and likely you’ll never know. This ties to why the halflings fear the Shulassakar; “They fight against darkness with ruthless efficiency and will make any sacrifice necessary for the greater good, including the lives of innocents.”

So looking to shulassakar PCs, the question is WHY they are getting involved in other people’s problems and working directly with non-shulassakar adventurers. The simple answer is that it’s because they have been assigned a divine mission (either by a shulassakar superior or by a divine vision) and thus they’re following the dictates of their faith and culture in doing what they’re doing; it’s their SACRED DUTY to pursue their quest. The other alternative is that they are rebelling and following a path that THEY feel is more important than their sacred duties, in which case they would likely be censured by their people.

Have you every used the Shulassakar in your camapign? If so, share the story in the comments! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, pose them on Patreon!

64 thoughts on “IFAQ: The Shulassakar

  1. Would the shulassakar of Krezent have fairly bland taste buds? One initially would say no as they’re snake people and snakes have extremely good olfactory senses (though couatl lack Scent in 3.5 and the blindsight of snakes in 5e) but:

    As they’ve spent generations eating food from create food and water, which reads “The food is bland but nourishing, and spoils if uneaten after 24 hours” and not hunted for themselves, would their tastes have dulled? Or do they use magic to flavour the food? Living so close to the Mror and Talenta seems dangerous for their palates in the event of the eventual cultural exchange!

    • On the one hand, I see the shulassakar of Krezent as ascetics devoted to their faith and their duty, and I think they would be perfectly happy to subsist on flavorless gruel for their entire lives. However, I’ve suggested that the Krezent provides “divine tools that replicate the effects” of create food and water. As we’re essentially talking about artifact-level divine magic, there’s no particular reason to think it would be as limited as the actual spell. If you wish as a DM, you could suggest that the replicators of Krezent can produce whatever the user most desires. It could be quite amusing if the shulassakar themselves eat only flavorless gruel because they have no actual concept of other food, but when the first outsider is brought to the cafeteria, the replicator produces a grand feast for them.

      • Ooooh yes! That would be interesting! Thanks that adds a really fun little moment for adventurers who manage to get inside Krezent

  2. Do they always live in their own communities or do they wander around like other folks, even adventuring? I intend to use one or two shulassakar for a new campaign as advisers, even one or two time companions, as the party shares common goals. In my campaign they are not guarding something but searching for something lost (Daelkyr site in the vicinity of the byeshk mountains).

    I do love the idea of shulassakar, but never had a reason to implement them. This time though, they will get their role. 😉

    • This is largely addressed in the original article, which is linked above. There’s certainly room for them to serve as advisors; they are just very few in number and largely secretive.

  3. What do you feel the shulassakar’s attitudes towards the troubles of the people surrounding them? Would they behave like the dragons and shame or punish those who choose to involve themselves in the lives of other cultures, or would they allow them to go but ask that they not endanger the rest of their people?

    I ask because in a long-ago campaign I had a shulasakar bloodsworn who believed in the mission of Prince Lorrister. She left her people and had essentially become his second-in-command and fiancee, and was holding the Principality together after the Prince’s disappearance.

    • What do you feel the shulassakar’s attitudes towards the troubles of the people surrounding them?
      “Troubles” is a loaded term. The basic answer comes from the Talenta Plains, in which the halflings AVOID Krezent. This tells us that the Shulassakar aren’t running around trying to help the halflings with basic everyday problems. They aren’t mediating tribal disputes or helping when there’s an outbreak of plague. This also ties to the general principle of Eberron, which is that powerful NPCs aren’t going to show up to solve your problems. Personally, I’d attribute this to three factors: there are very few shulassakar, likely speaking to a low fertility rate; shulassakar who act too openly may well be targeted by agents of the Lords of Dust; and finally, there’s the Shavarath principle: they believe that the things they are doing are MORE IMPORTANT than whatever minor troubles the people around them are dealing with. Yes, it’s very sad that you’re dealing with a plague, but that plague is in fact a natural occurance and that’s how the world works… whereas if someone releases the fiends of pestilence we’re keeping bound, THAT’S going to be a serious and unnatural problem. Also consider the line from the original article: “A shulassakar always prefers to solve a problem on its own or to call in a more powerful servant to handle the problem.” They don’t work WITH other people; they’re going to solve your problems for you, and likely you’ll never know. This ties to why the halflings fear the Shulassakar; “They fight against darkness with ruthless efficiency and will make any sacrifice necessary for the greater good, including the lives of innocents.”

      So looking to shulassakar PCs, the question is WHY they are getting involved in other people’s problems and working directly with other creatures. The simple answer is that it’s because they have been assigned a divine mission, and thus they’re following the dictates of their faith and culture in doing what they’re doing; it’s their SACRED DUTY to pursue their quest. The other alternative is that they are rebelling and following a path that THEY feel is more important than their sacred duties, in which case, yes, they would likely be censured by their people. So if the PC you describe was charged by a divine vision or a shulassakar choir to go help Lorrister, then they would ahve the support of their people. If they simply decided that they believed that Lorrister’s mission was more important than whatever they’d actually been sent into the world to accomplish, then they would have turned their back on their duty and would be censured.

  4. I appreciate all of this! The shulassakar are one of my favorite obscure bits of lore; I’ve always wanted to play one, and see them “on screen” so to speak. One of the Pathfinder designers made an unofficial set of mechanics for playing as couatl-blooded aasimar that reminded me of how much I love them!

    What would motivate a shulassakar PC to travel out into the wider world?

    • I’d imagine it would be like a Gatekeeper Orc, Ghaash’kala or lizardfolk of the Cold Sun Federation as an adventurer. That they are “burdened with glorious purpose” and need to accomplish something for the higher power they serve

  5. I am running a Silver Flame-themed campaign right now where a shulassakar flametouched NPC is explaining the metaphysical side of the Flame as opposed to the religious side. I took bits of the old Ultima Avatar virtue map and rejiggered it to reflect the unity of purpose it took for the couatl to sacrifice themselves. It’s been pretty rad to explore alternate views of the Flame, and what loving something so much that you will die for them really means.

  6. One of my player’s characters was saved from her warlock pact with Belashyrra by switching to a pact with a couatl. When one of the other players made a new character (his warforged was stuck in Thronehold doing politics), he made a bloodsworn shulassakar warrior from Krezent sent to assist her. When they ended up in Stormreach, he recognized Surrayana by her markings as she was looking for Mud Hen, leading to the party saving the wretchlings by sending them back to Sharn.

  7. “… the guardians of Krezent come from a fortress-city in a demiplane they claimed long ago.”

    Dude, you can’t just drop this without elaboration. 🙂

        • Difficult to get to Siberys, since there’s a lot of atmosphere between there and the surface of Eberron. So unless you’re saying the shulassakar have hidden rocket ship technology…

        • It can’t a a demiplane in Khyber…
          Why not? They aren’t native to the territory; it’s space they have seized. We’re talking about a shadow demiplane, of which ExE says “Unlike heart and prison demiplanes, shadow demiplanes serve no clear purpose. They aren’t prisons or fortresses of evil, but rather, strange reflections of the world.” Exploring Eberron notes that the Kech Shaarat have claimed territory within the Ironlands, and the ancient dwarves harnessed resources from shadow demiplanes.

          • Well, sure, I was just thinking its (a) not very celestial, and (b) located in enemy territory. Unless the entrance to the demiplane is very close to the surface.

            OTOH, I guess there is precedent for this with the Ghaash’kala in the Labyrinth. Perhaps they guard one or more exits from Khyber?

          • Well, sure, I was just thinking its (a) not very celestial,
            That’s the point. They’re not FROM there; they SEIZED it. There’s a story, but if people want to hear it, they’ll have to request a Krezent article…

  8. What level of artifice or magic o you think one can find inside Krezent? If any have lasted the test of time. And given it’s likely to be psionic, could items require thoughts to use? Say one thinks “open” to open a door rather than the use of a door handle (as the couatl don’t have hands).

    • The shulassakar are, essentially, a form of aasimar. The idea is that someone could, potentially, spontaneously become a shulassakar… most likely, beginning as a traditional aasimar and then evolving to a shulassakar form. Page 76 of Exploring Eberron notes that while rare, it’s possible for Aasimar to have hereditary bloodlines, and that’s the case with generational shulassakar; the first members of the species were sponateneous aasimar, but this produced a viable species. It’s the same general principle as the yuan-ti begining as corrupted humanoids but evolving into a unique species.

    • Considering that there’s almost entirely unknown in the outside world AND that they may be targeted by agents of the Lords of Dust if they make themselves known, I’d be inclined to say “No.” But hey, do what makes a good story!

  9. I’ve used a Shulassakar from Xen’Drik in our current campaign. It was “saved” by a cleric of the Silver Flame on an expedition as a child and brought to Flamekeep. HIt grew up within the system of the church and served as warden for bound supernatural beings (demons and the like) in a secret dungeon under a small church in Flamekeep.

    The party infiltrated the dungeon to liberate one of the prisoners. The warlock of the group was tempted by the Shadow in the Flame to liberate one of the bound demons as well. In the resulting mayhem the demon killed the Shulassakar who was desperatly trying to prevent an escape of this ancient evil.

    The character turned out to be rather memorable, the party has developed an interest in his background while running from the Silver Flame.

  10. I am playing a young shulassakar sorcerer named X’Chel who was orphaned and adopted by a warforged cleric of Boldrei named Hearth. She likes to doodle on him in their off time . I’m planning on making her a Jade Phoenix mage.

  11. Are the higher-ups in the Church aware of the Shulassakar, but rarely have any need to discuss them, or make their existence public knowledge? For example, if a Shulassakar arrived at Flamekeep demanding an emergency audience with the Keeper, would the Cardinals have any idea what they were seeing? Would Jaela have divine knowledge beforehand, and be fully aware of who the Shulassakar are? Would Krozen know? Would he be more likely to view a Sulassakar as an opportunity, or a threat to his political position?

    • Are the higher-ups in the Church aware of the Shulassakar, but rarely have any need to discuss them, or make their existence public knowledge?
      The linked article states: The feathered servants do not believe that any other creature can truly touch the light of the couatl. The Church of the Silver Flame, the Keeper of the Flame — these are inherently flawed. While they may mean well, they are tampering with forces they do not understand. A shulassakar is more inclined to work with a follower of the Flame than with any other creature but she will still treat the character as an underling or a child.

      This follows the same idea that the church doesn’t have an existing understanding with the Ghaash’kala. Just look at our world: there are many major religions that contain sects that don’t work together‚ or that may actively oppose one another. Beyond this, there’s the basic principle that the story of a campaign should be about what the player characters are doing NOW, not what major NPCs did years ago. What’s more interesting: having the PC cleric establish first contact with the shulassakar of Krezent? Or having the PCs go to Krezent and discover that the primary guardian has had a regular lunch date with Krozen for decades? Likewise, if the shulassakar arrives at Flamekeep on an emergency mission, is it going to be a more interesting story if they have to convince everyone of who this emissary is and why they should listen? Or to have Jaela say “A SHULASSAKAR? Why didn’t you say so? Send them in immediately!”

      Anything is possible, but I’m always more interested in a story that involves the player characters actively discovering something new, brokering an alliance, or otherwise being on the cutting edge of things, rather than having them discover that all of that interesting work was done long ago by NPCs.

      • Would they have the same thoughts about the lizardfolk of Q’barra since they are tied closer to the actual Coautls? Or are they not even aware of one another?

    • The city map would be decent for any tropical forested city. But I don’t know that a straight yuan-ti to shulassakar swap would work that well, they are too obviously evil. You could in theory swap them in for any faction, but it would require a significant rewrite of elements relating to that faction (since they are all evil).

      Personally I would be more inclined to keep the yuan-ti or swap them out for Vulkoori drow.

  12. If you were to have someone play a Shulassakar, would you use the aasimar race, or would you possibly modify the yuan-ti Pureblood somewhat? Or would you have issue with someone playing one?

    • They’re one of the suggestions Keith has made for Aasimar

      “SHULASSAKAR
      Do you want to be a member of a hidden race touched by divine power and devoted to fighting the forces of darkness? Then the shulassakar might be right for you. As described in this Dragonshard, the ancestors of the shulassakar were human; but after generations of serving the Silver Flame and the couatl, they have evolved into something new. They are described as being similar to yuan-ti, but as specifically having couatl traits instead of general serpent traits. Like the yuan-ti, the degree of this mutation varies. Transcendent shulassakar are equivalent to yuan-ti abominations. Flametouched shulassakar are similar to the malisons of 5E. And Flamesworn shulassakar are much like yuan-ti purebloods… nearly human, with just a few twists that reveal their true heritage and connection to the Silver Flame.

      In playing an aasimar in 5E Eberron, one of the simplest options is to be a Flamesworn shulassakar. Your celestial guide is the spirit of a couatl, and your radiant racial powers reflect your connection both to the couatl and the Silver Flame. If you choose the Protector subrace, the wings you manifest are the rainbow-feathered wings of a couatl. As a Scourge you unleash the radiant power of the Silver Flame. The other racial features are all sound enough; as a Flamesworn shulassakar you don’t have sufficient serpentine traits to require mechanical representation. Physically you should appear to be generally human, but you could have a few unusual cosmetic details to make life interesting. You could have a mane of rainbow feathers instead of hair. Less dramatically, you could have serpentine eyes… and your irises might swirl in a rainbow of colors. You could have patches of iridescent scales. But mechanically you can use the features of the aasimar.

      In playing a shulassakar aasimar, one question is your connection to others of your race. The shulassakar are a true-breeding race, devoted to fighting darkness and demons. They are few in number and generally work from the shadows. Have you been given a particular mission by a leader of your people? Or perhaps your cell was wiped out by the Lords of Dust, leaving you the only survivor? You could have a concrete mission you’re trying to accomplish, or you could be relying on your couatl mentor to guide you towards your destiny.”
      -http://keith-baker.com/dragonmarks-aasimar/

      • In my homebrew campaign world, I adapted the Shulassakar because I really liked the imagery of couatl touched humanoids. For racial stats I just used the yuan-ti stats and changed out Poison Spray for Word of Radiance. Quick and easy.

    • As it stands, Krezent is essentially an entirely undeveloped story hook. I’ve never used it in a campaign and have never had to decide what the shulassakar are guarding. To make that decision, I’d need to spend some significant time developing the story of the ruin, coming up with its original purpose, with some thoughts about why the couatl built structures in the first place and what their magic was capable of. All of which is to say, I’d need a longer article to answer that question.

  13. Page 110 of 3.5 Dragons of Eberron says: “It is speculated that a number of the dragons of old Sarlona treated with the shulassakar and the yuan-ti in an attempt to learn the secrets of psionic power.” Does this hold true even under your view of the setting, and under the newer detachment of shulassakar/yuan-ti from psionics?

    • Not inherently, no. But they are a society that’s strong with divine magic and actively concerned with fiends and fiendish manipulation; as such they would be more likely to recognize any attempt at dream manipulation and be able to employ abjuration magic or use other techniques to resist it. So they aren’t immune, but they are certainly highly resistant.

  14. Between the couatls in the Silver Flame and the shulassakar choirs, couatls and couatl-related creatures seem to have a penchant for forming up into hiveminds. Is this a trait of couatls in general?

  15. In my post-apocalyptic Eberron campaign where several rajahs were partially released, Krezent has become one of the few safe places in the Talenta Desert (previously the Talenta Plains).
    A large town has come into existence around the walled ruins of Krezent as the celestial wards placed on the site have kept it safe from the fiendish desolation that claimed most of Khorvaire. Though the shulassakar there still keep to themselves, they do aid the townspeople in matters regarding supernatural evil.
    The state of the world in general has forced them to accept more allies than previously (though they might rather be pawns in the eyes of the shulassakar), with representatives from the Aereni Deathguard, the Trothlorsvek of Q’barra, the Church of the Silver Flame, and even Adar. With the world already on the brink of a new Age of Demons, having direct lines of communication has allowed the shulassakar to prevent some of their “allies” from messing things up further.

    The group I’m currently running is part of the Heavenly Fleet in the Lhazaar Principalities, with the ship’s captain being a bloodsworn shulassakar NPC. Though she doesn’t exactly keep her species a secret, most of the crew don’t know what a shulassakar is, and they have been shocked on multiple occasions when she decided on a course of action that put innocents in danger (even though she considers herself overwhelmingly lenient and merciful, almost to the point of negligence).

  16. I don’t know if you ever addressed it, but do you have any idea of how the couatl ruins are? Are they a “real city” or more an illusion/embodiment of an idea, like rakshadas’ cities?
    And, in case: why should immortals build and defend cities?

    • That’s beyond the scope of this article and would need to be in a focused article dealing either with Krezent or Couatl dungeons in general (as couatl ruins also exist in Sarlona and in the Demon Wastes). They wouldn’t need cities for the same reason mortals need cities, which implies that the city serves a PURPOSE. It could be a form of eldritch machine, or it could have been created for the benefit of the mortal species that existed at the time, which would explain why it would be designed with architecture that humanoids can navigate and why it would have systems that generate food and water. But that’s all I have time to suggest right now.

      • It might also be outside of the scope of a comment reply, but how do you imagine the art and architecture of the Couatl and Shulassakar? As you say, Couatl wouldn’t need cities for the usual reason, but they left ruins and artifacts behind. Similarly, the Shulassakar live in those ruins and might seek to emulate the style or have their own, human-scale interpretation.

        • If you’d ask me I’d expect architecture that takes into account first the Couatls’ physiology and then its function.
          A Couatl is a natural flier that probably does not need any protection from the elements. That would lend to soaring and open structures.
          At the same time the question is what would those buildings would be. If they were fortifications I think elevation would certainly be important. The primary form of demons native to the Material is bound to the ground and would depend on spells and/or tamed or dominated beasts to reach heights. A tall structure whose ground floors are completely inaccessible makes the most sense there.

  17. This isn’t just a question for Keith. It’s for everyone.
    How might I involve a Couatl or the Shulassakar in a campaign that revolves primarily around the Dreaming Dark?
    They’re so unrelated but I’ve got a player trying to fulfill a piece of Draconic Prophecy that says “the feathered cousins shall be lost no more.” That’s just their own unique backstory thing. So far it doesn’t have any connection to the main story which is racing Dreaming Dark agents to get some ancient Quori artifacts.
    I understand there are hidden Shulassakar in the Talenta Plains and Khalsa, but… how could they help?
    Creative block at the moment

    • Does it have to be in Khorvaire? Because I think it would be easy to bring the Dreaming Dark and Shulassakar into conflict in Sarlona.

    • Does the prophecy have to have a good outcome? Because the couatls coming back sounds like DOOMSDAY since the only way I can see them coming back is if something disolved the Silver Flame back into its components (and releasing every Overlord)

      • It really could be doomsday!
        My player is a Dragonborn from Q’barra who is hoping to find a Couatl who can purify Rashaak. But perhaps he’s misread the prophecy.

  18. Keith, you’ve also mentioned that there can be aquatic variants of Couatl, or that the Couatl can just transform from swimming mode to flying mode.
    Is there perhaps an aquatic equivalent of the Shulassakar? Some kind of light touched sahaugin?

  19. I actually am using them in an arc in my campaign right now, players have accidentally stumbled onto the last holdout of Shulassakar in Riedra and are trying to smuggle them out so they can do something related to the main plot back in Khorvaire.

  20. In places like Khalesh, it says there are Couatl ruins, and it says that Shulassakar can be found protecting them. But what might they be guarding in there?
    I’m trying to make them appear in my story, but I need a motivation for them.

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