My Patreon supporters are still voting on the subject of the next major article, but it the meantime I wanted to take a moment to answer this question from The Ultimate Human:
In an upcoming adventure, my players are going to head into Thelanis. I want them to have to advance through stories to advance to deeper layers of the plane. Do you have any suggestions for commonly told (in universe) stories or myths that would be unique to Eberron, or ideas for adapting fairytales to the setting?
When I’m making up faerie tales or folktales for a story, I try not to make it very deep or complicated. If the idea of a story is that it’s a story that all the characters know – a common folktale they’d have heard as kids – it needs to be a story the players can pick up quickly. If it’s too long or contains too many details, they won’t be able to remember it all.
With this in mind, I’ll certainly use stories from our world as inspiration. In Exploring Eberron I mention the tale of “The Sleeping Prince.” A newborn prince is cursed by Sora Katra; when he comes of age he falls into a deep slumber, until he’s are saved by the Woodcutter’s Daughter. This isn’t Briar Rose, but it’s close enough that I don’t need to explain it in any more detail to most players. Now, if the ADVENTURE needs more detail—the characters need to re-enact the conclusion—then I’ll add something that fits the adventure I want to run. Well, she had to steal the Silver Rooster from the giant’s tower, and when the Prince heard it crow at dawn the curse was broken. Say, there IS a giant tower just to the north… The key point here is that you can make a story first, and then figure out the adventure; or you can make the adventure (I want a story with a giant!) and the explain how it connects to the story.
In general, there’s a few steps I’d use to create an in-world story. The first is to identify the purpose of the story. WHY do people tell this story to their friends or children? Here’s a few basic reasons.
- Warning. Don’t stray from the path. Don’t tell lies. Don’t take gifts from strangers. The story teaches you NOT to do something, by showing the disastrous consequences of that behavior.
- Encouragement. Be brave! Be honest! Believe in yourself! This story shows the values and behavior society wants from you, and the rewards it can have.
- Fan Fiction. The story may encourage or warn, but it’s primarily an opportunity to showcase a protagonist who is based on a historic figure or who exemplifies the values of our culture, family, or nation. This is King Arthur; we all know the stories aren’t entirely true, but it’s fun to imagine that they could be. You could make someone up for this story, or grab a figure from history (King Galifar! Lhazaar! Mroranon!).
The next step is to consider if there’s an existing trope that applies, because again, in this case you WANT it to be as easy as possible for the players to fill in the blanks. Person cursed to enchanted sleep? Child trapped in a tower? Hero is rewarded for act of kindness with unreasonably powerful magic item? Got it.
Following this principle, consider a few of the challenges faced in the novel The Gates of Night when a group of adventurers are passing through Thelanis. They need to hunt a legendary beast; this is essentially the Calydonian Boar/Questing Beast myth. A serpent offers to let them cross a river on its back, but only if they answer a question truthfully: this is an encouragement story, be brave and be honest and you’ll make it across. They go to an inn, where the innkeeper demands a character’s voice as payment for the night, promising to return “a voice” in the morning; hijinks ensue when it’s the wrong voice. Don’t make shady deals with strangers!
These sorts of stories are great for a single adventure. If you’re dealing with a longer arc for fey, you may want a deeper story. In creating the Prince of Frost for Court of Stars, I said that he was once the Prince of Summer, but his heart froze when his beloved chose a mortal hero over him. She and the hero cast their spirits forward in time to escape his wrath; now he bides his time in his tower of frozen tears, taking out his anger on mortal heroes and waiting for the spirit of his beloved to be reborn. This adds a touch of tragedy—he’s not just EEEEEEvil, he’s betrayed and bitter—but gives him both an ongoing role (he hates virtuous mortal heroes) and a concrete goal that could be explored (if one or more of the PCs carries the spirit of his beloved or her lover). Yet it’s still a story that I could tell in two sentences.
The final question is if you can add a concretely Eberron touch to the story. For example, in “The Sleeping Prince” it’s Sora Katra who curses the Prince. I could imagine a story about how an ancient druid stuck an axe in Oalian and said that only the destined protector of the land could remove it; when the farmer Arla did, she became the first Warden of the Wood, gathering the bravest rangers from across the land around the Oaken Table in the Greenheart, along with a mystical advisor (The Great Druid). Boom, now I can easily spin off a whole bunch of stories about the Wardens of the Wood by lifting from Arthur.
Another option to consider when creating folktales for your campaign is to involve your players. The whole idea is that these are stories the CHARACTERS will know and care about. So rather than you just telling them, ASK for details. “Hey,Bo Mroranon, everyone knows the story of Mroranon and the Troll King—how young Mroranon tricked the Troll King and stole his crown. Do you remember how exactly he tricked the King?” There are times when this isn’t the right answer, but if you don’t NEED to control every aspect of the story, this is a great way to give the players a sense of personal investment; these are THEIR stories. Note that in doing this, I’ll establish the absolute details; I could have said “Mroranon stole the Troll King’s crown, but lost his hand in the process” — meaning the player can’t now say “The King just gave him the crown and nothing bad happened!”
So: I recognize that I haven’t actually answered the original question in the sense of “What are some stories in the world” — but that’s because *I* don’t have a library of existing stories, I make them up as needed. Consider the lesson of the story; if there’s a familiar trope you can hang it on, but at the same time if there’s a twist to ground it in Eberron; and how it’s going to affect the adventure.
Do you have any collections you like?
I think the simplest answer is to just share a picture of a few of my bookshelves. A Field Guide To Little People is certainly a favorite, as are the D’Aulaires myths. But I also enjoy books that take the style of faerie tale and folklore but tell unique stories, such as The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić; Night’s Master by Tanith Lee; and Deathless by Catherynne Valente.
Have you created any faerie tales or folktales in your Eberron? Share your experiences below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going!