IFAQ: Transportation

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few relating to transportation in Eberron.

How ubiquitous was the lighting rail before/during the last war? Going from the map, it doesn’t look like it actually connects to all that much.

The lightning rail has been in operation for almost two centuries, and in my opinion it is a widespread, common form of long distance transportation. I feel that the rail lines shown on the map are just a few of the most notable ones, but that more or less any major city in the Five Nations will have a lightning rail station, unless it was damaged in the Last War and is awaiting repair. In my first draft of the adventure Shadows From The Last War the adventurers take a lightning rail from Sharn to Rukhaan Draal, and use a lightning runner (see below) on the abandoned rails in Darguun to reach Rose Quarry. So in short, it’s as common as you want it to be, but in MY Eberron, most significant cities of the Five Nations are connected by lightning rail.

Does Eberron have an equivalent to cars or motorcycles?

Magical land vehicles are uncommon in Eberron. Aside from the lightning rail, House Orien uses horses with the equivalent of horseshoes of speed for couriers and high-speed stagecoaches, but the horse is still the motive force (note that these are a form of dragonmark focus item and require a rider or coachman with the Mark of Passage). My first draft of SotLW had a lightning runner, a stagecoach-sized vehicle that can run on the lightning rail. The Explorer’s Handbook introduced the elemental land cart, which is essentially an automobile, but notes “Most of the few elemental land carts in existence belong to nobles of one of the dragonmarked houses.” House Orien and the Twelve are surely WORKING on new forms of land transportation and you can introduce them into your campaign if you choose, but they aren’t common in canon Eberron.

How far in the future do you pitch House Orien demiplane transportation? Could it be introduced tomorrow or is it still a few years away in your mind?

To clarify: Demiplanes are small pockets of reality that connected to the material plane in Khyber. These connections defy normal space, so you could find an entrance to the daelkyr Belashyrra’s prison demiplane in the Shadow Marches, walk for a mile, and then emerge in Xen’drik — a trip that would have taken days or weeks by other methods. It’s been suggested that House Orien would love to find a way to harness this effect, creating a system of transplanar highways.

The people of the Five Nations know almost nothing about demiplanes. The idea of Orien’s interest assumes that the house has stumbled upon a demiplane, confirmed that it is a spatial shortcut, and wants to make use of it. My assumption is that they are working on creating artificial portals, because most existing portals won’t be much use; they can’t do much with a random portal out in the middle of the Shadow Marches. But they could develop an eldritch machine that uses the power of the Mark of Passage (hence, Orien) to rip a path into a demiplane.

With all that in mind, how close is that to being functional? NOT AT ALL. First consider that the whole thing is highly experimental. Consider also that they need to figure out how to get passengers safely through the demiplane. It may be a shortcut, but you still may have to travel for a mile across Belashyrra’s prison to reach the exit point; how are they doing that?. What dangers might they face? Which reaches the main point: in my Eberron, ORIEN HAS NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE MESSING WITH. This is entirely like Weyland-Yutani discovering a xenomorph and saying “I’ll bet we can use that.” They don’t KNOW that they are opening portals into, for example, daelkyr prisons or overlord’s hearts. I expect that these efforts will have DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES. So in my campaign, this isn’t a service you can actually expect to WORK any time soon; it’s something that serves to drive ADVENTURES, as adventurers are hired to explore demiplanes, or accompany Orien pathfinders, or to deal with the horrors the house accidentally released into Passage by opening portals best left closed.

What about Brooms of Flying? Exploring Eberron says Aundair used these in the war; have they been adapted for civilian use?

By the rules of Fifth Edition, a broom of flying is an extremely useful item. It’s an uncommon magic item, putting it within the range of Khorvaire’s wide magic. Unlike wings of flying, there’s no time limit on the use of the item, and critically, it doesn’t even require attunement. What’s been suggested is that Aundair used these for elite units and that other nations developed them in smaller quantities—so they aren’t commonplace in civilian life, but they are in the world.

With this in mind, the first question I’d ask is are they brooms? While the core magic item is a broom, I see no logical reason that they should be actual brooms in Eberron; remove the mythology of Earth and there’s no particular reason a broom is associated with flight. So I’d actually call them skystaffs. Keep the same essential shape—a short wooden haft—but remove the bristles, add a seat, and perhaps handles that fold out from the shaft. Essentially, make it a tool clearly designed for its function as opposed to a household item that does something unexpected. I’d then say that while anyone can use one, they require Dexterity checks for tight maneuvers or sustained balance at full speed, unless the rider has proficiency in air vehicles—so anyone CAN use one, but it requires some training to actually use one effectively. As a final element, I’d say that a skystaff is made using soarwood, which is a crucial factor in why there aren’t more of them in service at the moment. The enchantment isn’t that difficult—again, “uncommon” level in terms of its power—but the actual components required to create one are in limited supply, so there aren’t that many around. Having said that, they are most often seen in Aundair, and you’ll certainly see a few in the skies above Fairhaven or darting around Arcanix.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support and questions.

53 thoughts on “IFAQ: Transportation

  1. There has been some debate, do you think that two lightning rail carts could pass each other on the same line, or do the lines only run clockwise/counterclockwise to avoid crashes?

    • I think I recall Keith saying elsewhere that carts using the same line of conductor stones could pass each other by moving to the side.

      For the purposes of giving adventurers something to do, I’ve always imagined that this required some sort of action on the part of each crew cart, so that an unmanned runaway lightning rail would constitute a real danger.

    • We’ve always only shown a single line of conductor stones, but there’s DEFINITELY a system that allows coaches to move in opposite directions on the same rail. It’s quite possible that one has to stop and move to the side to allow the other to pass — not that they just slide around each other at full speed — but the rail certainly goes bo to and from Sharn.

    • The real world rail train concept you’d want to copy is called a “passing siding” or “passing loop”, and seems like an easy thing to add to the lightning rail system.

      “In certain spots, a parallel series of the rail stones branches off parallel to the main line to allow trains to pass each other. “

  2. The map has some other oddities with the lines, like the lack of a Vedykar-Vulyar connector which should be bigger than it is.

    To what degree is the lightning rail used for personal vs. cargo transport? It seems like it would be really useful now that the war has ended.

    • To what degree is the lightning rail used for personal vs. cargo transport? It seems like it would be really useful now that the war has ended.

      It serves both purposes, with different coaches devoted to each. So you may find a train with 8 cargo coaches and 1 passenger coach, or you could have a train that’s mostly passenger compartments with just a coach for passenger cargo. But essentially, there’s ALWAYS cargo to be hauled, while there won’t always be enough passengers to fill a train.

  3. Friendly amendment: Shadows of the Last War had the PCs taking the Lightning Rail to Sterngate and they then join an Orien caravan overland through the Marguul Pass to Rukhaan Draal.

    • I’ll remove that part! The funny thing is that I WROTE Shadows From The Last War, and in the original draft, it not only had them taking a lightning rail to Rukhaan Draal, they get to Rose Quarry by using a lightning runner — running on the old rails that Orien has abandoned. So the main point is that in MY Eberron, the lightning rail has always been widespread.

    • There’s also an “Elemental-Powered Land Cart” on page 11 of the same adventure, which predates Explorer’s Handbook.

      Speaking of Elemental Land Cart I don’t think there’s ever been a picture of one. This random, non-interactive, background object in DDO seems like it might be one though.

      • My players loved the elemental land cart, slicing through the ground and getting them to Rose Quarry in a flash. They could not convince Failin to take them into the dead grey mists though.

        “The elemental bound to the land cart rumbles with a sound like Eberron itself stirring from an ancient sleep. The wheels slide partially into the earth itself, and then the land cart slides along without regard to broken ground or other natural obstacles.”

  4. How do the lightning rail schedules work? Are all the lines a pair of tracks with a dedicated direction or do they avoid collisions with schedules and split paths at stations to move around each other? I feel like a better understanding of real world trains would probably give me less confusion here, but I don’t really know trains.

    • This is addressed in a different comment. Logically you’d have two rails, but in all art we’ve only shown one. My belief is that it’s possible for a train to move to the side and allow another train to pass.

  5. Given that the Last War has just ended, do you think one-person transportation options like brooms of flying might be slowly making their way into the civilian populace after being used by soldiers or military? Are there any other transportation methods you see coming from military into civilian use after the War?

    • Brooms of flying are an interesting issue, and I’ve added some discussion of them to the main article. I think the question of “What tools of the Last War are being adapted to civilian life” is an excellent topic, but one I’d need to think about in more depth and better saved for another day.

      • One idea I had on the subject previously was a prestidigitation powered bake kettle (Dutch oven, but using a less common term to avoid mentioning real world. ). By default it stays cold on the inside, preserving rations longer, but can also raise its heat enough to slowly cook a meal. Regardless of setting, it remains cool enough to handle, the lid stays attached unless intentionally removed, and its always completely clean.

  6. How often would house Orien devise new “engines”?

    In your opinion do different engines have different performances? As in this engine is more for moving lumber, this one is for passengers?

    And finally what is the steepest grade a lightning rail can go up/down?

    • I think it’s likely that Orien is constantly working to improve its engines—increasing speed, strength, etc—but I imagine that purely from a cost effectiveness standpoint they don’t abandon existing engines unless there’s a really significant improvement. I do think that there are absolutely engines designed for different functions—a high-speed engine that can only haul a few coaches, versus a cargo hauler built for strength instead of speed. I think that this would in turn affect the steepest possible grade. I’m not an expert on trains, so I don’t actually know what is reasonable; I’d say the lightning rail would be someonewhat more efficient than a mundane train in handling grades (it doesn’t actually maintain direct contact with the rail, to begin with) but that it wouldn’t be able to handle exceptionally steep grades, so you’d still need to create tunnels and passes for safe travel.

      • What about reclaiming the elemental from the coach? Battletech has old engines being scavenged for new chassis all the time – Salvaging a shard from a marooned coach in the mournland could be an interesting adventure!

        • Sure, it’s possible. The elemental is contained in a portable unit. Just as long as the binding wasn’t broken by the effects of the Mourning!

  7. In my Eberron campaign the group encounters a group of warforged who use a rail-less handcart (with a seesaw mechanism) to move about. They characters later find out that these used to be more ubiquitous near the end of the war and that they were frequently used by house Orien, but that now that warforged cannot be used as slave labor to push the carts, they have been abandoned. The main differences with ‘real world’ handcars is that they can be ridden off track and that they can store energy. (So if it keeps being pumped, while standing still, it can later use that energy for propulsion.)

  8. Orien hiring a small group of adventurers to explore a demiplane seems like a solid horro one-shot. Have them guide a small group of NPCs who are non-combatants taking arcane measurements (only one of them is a Rakshasa or at least someone from a Lord of Dust family) and then turn it into Riddick.

    • “Have them guide a small group of NPCs who are non-combatants taking arcane measurements”

      Reminds me of one of Call of Pripyat’s more annoying quests…

  9. How mysterious are Breland’s floating fortresses? One is implied to be out on secret tasks of intelligence and reconnaissance, do people assume it is just Argonth, does the fortress have magics to shield it from casual observation?

  10. Along the lines of Orien demiplane transport (and it’s possible this is a little broad for a question on an iFAQ article), are there less utterly deadly demiplanes? They are mostly in Khyber, which suggests not, but I was wondering if there might be one or two, useful as an oasis of sorts for adventurers traveling in Khyber.
    Also, how do animals fit into this? Are they mainly used for traveling somewhere that isn’t serviced by an Orien road or rail? I can see Vadalis offering hippogriff services, for example, for crossing mountain ranges or aquatic obstacles that might otherwise take a while to get around or over by land.

    • There’s mention in Five Nations of the Trannick family renting out hippogriffs for non-flying visitors that need to reach Arcanix, so the concept of renting hippogriffs is already in Eberron’s canon.

    • Along the lines of Orien demiplane transport (and it’s possible this is a little broad for a question on an iFAQ article), are there less utterly deadly demiplanes?
      Some demiplanes are safer than others, sure. But as you say, they’re demiplanes of KHYBER, so none of them are going to be entirely benevolent; if you can’t see anything dangerous, it likely means you haven’t found it yet (or IT hasn’t found YOU). There’s a reason why people wouldn’t just want to abandon Eberron and go live in demiplanes… BUT the bigger point is also that Orien doesn’t have a lot of choice. Again, the people of the Five Nations know almost nothing about the demiplanes of Khyber. If Orien has stumbled into one, that’s a new development; they don’t know how many are out there, they don’t if some are safer than others, and they don’t necessarily have the ability to say “This one looks too dangerous, let’s try the next one.”

      There certainly can be havens adventurers can find; but my point is that no haven in Khyber will be ENTIRELY safe, and the most dangerous ones might not be obvious.

    • Also, how do animals fit into this? Are they mainly used for traveling somewhere that isn’t serviced by an Orien road or rail? I can see Vadalis offering hippogriff services, for example, for crossing mountain ranges or aquatic obstacles that might otherwise take a while to get around or over by land.

      One thing that’s not always addressed is that Vadalis and Orien actually work together closely; the 3.5 ECS noted that Orien’s major caravans usually involve Vadalis teamsters. Beyond that, though you’re correct: we’ve called out before that some Vadalis outposts offers flight services involving giant owls or hippogriffs. It’s not a major part of the house business and nothing to threaten House Lyrandar, but the option exists.

  11. Assuming that rail travel congestion may become a thing, what magical or conventional solution might be used to prevent a lightning engine leaving Sharn at 9 pm & a lightning engine leaving Starlisker at 10:15 pm both coming to a shocking conclusion around 11:45?

    Also, not that anyone’s planning any sabotage or nothin’, but how deep into the ground do the rail stones go, 6 inches, 6 feet? Are they easier to break or just dig up; how big a gap needs to be created to interestingly cause a derailment in your Eberron?

    • The first question has come up in a few other comments; provided rails are on schedule, one can shunt aside to provide passage for the other. Beyond that, while I didn’t work on it, the 3.5 Explorer’s Handbook goes into more detail about the operations of the lightning rail and methods and consequences of derailment.

  12. You’ve already talked about trains passing each other on single tracks, but what about at train stations? There’s no art for this I think, but I assume there are many multiple tracks then for spare trains, etc, not even counting platforms. Or would it be more magical/flexible with a grid of conductor stones? What do Lightening Rail trains do when they need to be moved without power? This can range from exciting (someone killed the driver/released the elemental on the icy bridge of doom) to boring (do carriages still float in stockyard when they have no engine or the engine isn’t burning dragonshards? Running a lot of Mournland stuff around trains at the moment got me thinking about logistics a bit more.

  13. The first lightning rail line was apparently opened in 811 yk between Fairhaven and Flamekeep. Was there a certain prestige to this run at the time, more palatable to the Five Nations than say Passage to Fairhaven?

    Does Orien put much effort into each line unique? Or is there more effort (like with Cannith and Ghallanda) with standardizing and homogeneity? When I ran my party from Korth to Gatherhold I spent a minute or two in each station narrating a stop, people getting off and on, with the station being decorated and personalized to the city (Atur and Korth and Vedakyr all feel different that way) but I wonder if the city beyond isn’t as much of a factor as Orien branding

    Do Orien heirs travel as a rule (spending a mandatory minimum of time on the rails or wagon trains or mail service, or serving as couriers) or are some expected to stay put in administrative positions?

  14. I think I have heard about warforged-like horses and stuff being in existence, would that be a sort of expensive alternate?
    No fuel requirements, can keep going for ages without rest, and can be modified for various environments.

    Probably wouldn’t even need to be horse shaped.
    I’m imagining a Halfling with one that looks like a miniature dinosaur, but with cup holders and hidden weapons…
    According to the wiki, warforged scorpions were a thing, so I’m imagining a Drow riding one with the stinger replaced with a canon or something…

  15. If lightning rails float above the conductor stones, how does a villain tie someone up so they get run over?

    • You don’t need them to get run over. You bind them to the conductor stone, and when the coach passes over it, the arc of energy between the stone and coach kills the innocent victim.

  16. I was struggling to find a concrete answer to this: Are airships still manufactured by Cannith or did they give over all the technology and know-how to Lyrandar?

    And I guess the same question could apply to the lightning rail and Orien.

    • Cannith has the production facilities, but completing an airship requires the involvement of someone with the Mark of Making. One of the main roles of the Twelve is to facilitate this sort of cooperation, allowing the houses to create tools they couldn’t create alone. So in both cases, it requires ongoing cooperation between the houses.

  17. Two Orien questions: (1) Rather than researching demiplanes, I would have assumed that Orien is desperately trying to find some way to emulate the Riedran teleportation network. “If they can do it, we should be able to, right?” How aware are they of the Riedran network, and, in your view are they feversihly trying to find a Dragonmark=catalyzed equivalent?
    (2) Re: the economics/politics of the lightning rail network. When Orien opens a new line, or extends an existing one, do they do so on their own initiative? Or does a noble (or group of nobles) or a city council or a group of wealthy types have to ask fort it? Do they have to put up money for the line itself? Or perhaps built the stations that the train will stop at? This question is spurred by one of the earliest adventures my PC was involved with. One of the other PCs was a friend of Prince Oargev, and the Prince was negotiating with House Orien to extend a lightning rail spur into New Cyre. Needless to say, there were Bad Guys tryiing to screw this up. But in your Eberron, would New Cyre already be on a rail line? If not, how would the New Cyrans go about getting one?

    • I don’t think Orien knows much about the Riedran teleportation network. To the degree that they’ve managed to learn SOMETHING about it through espionage—because it’s not as though Riedra is flawlessly protected from all spies—it’s pretty hard to fathom because it’s literally a different branch of science. The Riedran network is a psionic effect powered by the hanbalani; Orien has no understanding of any of those things. It’s like someone who’s spent their entire life riding horses seeing a car; even if they got a few minutes to look at the engine, they have no frame of reference for DOING anything with that knowledge.

      A second important point: Depending what edition you’re using, Orien HAS a teleportation network of their own. The basic issue is that depending on the edition, you need an exceptional heir (Greater in 3.5) or that it’s EXPENSIVE — too expensive to be practical as a regular service, or to replace the lightning rail and trade caravans for transportation of cargo. So Orien HAS a teleportation network and they’re definitely working on improving it; but demiplane travel would be an attempt to crack the problem in a way that could be cheap enough to take the place of the lightning rail.

      It’s also entirely plausible that because they DON’T understand the Riedran network, Orien may think that IT somehow uses demiplanes…

      • In my Eberron, Orien is working with Merrix dCannith on a teleportation system that is cheap to operate and any Orien mark can control. They offer a fair wage to the downtrodden down in the cogs willing to participate in a test run. At this point, most don’t survive to get paid. My players haven’t taken this hook yet, perhaps someone they have met has to disappear, or maybe find a a fly that is calling “help me!” from a spiderweb.

    • As for question 2, yes, I think it’s a combination of factors and that Orien a) HAS to negotiate with the town and the local noble and b) will negotiate to share costs with the town. Whether New Cyre is already on a rail line would depend on what was there before. It was a “town” before. If it was a significant, prosperous town it might already have a rail line. If it was a dump no one cared about, it probably didn’t. Basically, to me it’s a question of do you want it to have a rail line, or do you want the story to be about the challenges they face getting one? It makes sense to me that Orien would at least be CONSIDERING it, but a lot depends on how you depict New Cyre.

  18. This is dope! I’ve got a few questions based on this:

    If “Most of the few elemental land carts in existence belong to nobles of one of the dragonmarked houses” , and multiple high-ranking nobles of these houses are not marked, does that mean that the elemental carts and earthsleds don’t require a dragonmark to use? It’s just a weird idea to think of dragonmarked nobles being forced into the role of chauffer because the higher up can’t drive their own car.

    And if no mark is required for these, would you say Orien would be willing to have them sold outside of the dragonmarked houses? I.e., is being a car dealership in the future for Orien? They’re willing to sell carts, and Vadalis is willing to sell their magebred animals, so if ‘access to the lightning rail’ is down because of the Mournland’ what’re the odds they start selling earthsleds built Ford tough or something?

    Lastly, and I don’t know if this applies, there’s mention of the Dhakaani empire having access to magical technology that the Dragonmarked houses still haven’t achieved. Did they have these sorts of vehicles? And would you say the interface is similar, or the elemental binding is similar?

    • I didn’t work on the Explorer’s Handbook, so the elemental land cart isn’t my creation. However, ExH says “The elemental must respond to the appropriate dragonmark and a command word.” So I would say that you still DO have to have a dragonmark to control it, which is why they aren’t sold outside the houses. While it is possible for a dragonmarked noble not to have a dragonmark, they could definitely have a chauffeur.

      Could it change? Sure! If you want your Eberron to have widespread land carts, go for it. It’s not the tone WotC wanted for canon Eberron; the general tone of Eberron has always been more late 19th century than 20th century; things like airships are NEW, not yet commonplace. But if you want to have Orien landcart dealerships in your campaign, go ahead!

      There’s mention of the Dhakaani empire having access to magical technology that the Dragonmarked houses still haven’t achieved…

      The Dhakaani are more of a martial society than a magical one. They do have techniques the houses can’t match, but those are mostly tied to the crafting of weapons and armor; they can work adamantine more easily than any other culture, for example. Likewise, their greatest daashors can create artifacts—but they don’t mass produce as Cannith can. So no, I wouldn’t personally give the Dhakaani magical vehicles. Doubly so because the Zil are supposed to have developed elemental binding by reverse engineering techniques found in Xen’drik; it would be strange for them to have to go all that way if the Dhakaani were already binding. On the other hand, again, if YOU want to introduce a Dhakaani kech that works with elementals, go ahead! But it’s not part of the canon vision of Dhakaan.

      • Genasi are part elemental, would they be able to be used instead of a normal one? or maybe a few of them instead of just one?

        • Elemental vessels use the pure, raw elementals and among other things COMPRESS them in the process of containment. They are channeling pure elemental energy. Even if you somehow could harness the elemental spark of a genasi, a) I think it would be far too small to power the vessel and b) I’d expect the binding process to rip it from the genasi’s humanoid form, likely killing them. So a VILLAIN might try to make this work — though genasi are so rare it doesn’t seem like a particularly economical idea — but it’s not a viable economic plan.

          With that said, if I had a genasi PC in the group, there was a problem with the core, and the player said “I want to try to use my elemental spark!” I might allow it because that’s the sort of thing players do. But it would be INCREDIBLY dangerous and have a good chance of killing the character; it’s not a sustainable “Oh, I can just power the ship” situation.

          • “But it would be INCREDIBLY dangerous and have a good chance of killing the character; it’s not a sustainable “Oh, I can just power the ship” situation.”
            So, a Heroic sacrifice when no other options remain type of deal? neat!

      • You could use lightweight metals as a base for coaches and then exotic beasts to create fairly interesting transportation for Dhakaan, there is after all a Kech devoted to taming beasts

  19. What about there being a system of smaller conductor stone running the spine of the train allowing trains to run atop another in case of conflicting routes something like the incoming train activates it for the outgoing train allowing it to pass over the other, is that plausible also allows for unique sabotage element in adventures kind of thing.

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