Lightning Round 2/26/18: Languages, Elementals and Pirates!

I’ve just returned to dry land after organizing gaming on the JoCo Cruise. I’ve got lots of things I need to work on, but I have time to answer a few more questions from the last lightning round. As always, this is what I do in MY Eberron, and may contradict canon material. 

What are your thoughts on extraplanar languages?

The big question I’d start with is how do languages make a game interesting? D&D isn’t a perfect simulation of the real world; it’s a fantasy. We don’t need to have as many languages as we do in our world… just as we have fewer nations that we have in our world. So what is the point of having exotic languages? Do you want PCs to have to hire a local guide or work with a translator? Do you want to have ancient inscriptions that can only be read by a sage? Both of these things are valid, but you can have these with a relatively small number of languages. So I prefer to limit the number of languages I use, but also to play up the idea of regional dialects and slang. Common draws on all of the old languages of pre-Riedran Sarlona, so you can definitely get variation from place to place. When the paladin from Thrane is in a small Karrnathi village, he might have to make an Intelligence check to perfectly understand the conversation of the locals or a Charisma check to communicate clearly… unless, of course, he has a local guide to help out. It allows for the challenge and potential humor of limited communication while still allowing for the possibility of communication with no help. If a character has the Linguist feat or is from the region, I’d allow them to act as that local guide — so we’ve got a little fun flavor because the Karrn PC can joke with the locals at the expense of the Thrane.

With that said… per page 46-47 of the Eberron Campaign Setting, each plane has its own language. There’s Infernal, Risian, and a language called “Daelkyr.” But that’s not how I do things in my campaign… because again, how is it fun? Are your characters supposed to devote one of their limited language slots to the language of Irian? How often is that actually going to be useful? And if no one takes it, do they make a perilous journey to Irian only to find that they can’t speak to any of the inhabitants? Is that fun?

So personally, I do a few things in my campaign. First, most powerful outsiders can essentially activate a tongues effect. If an angel of Syrania wishes to be understood, you simply understand what it is saying. Lesser inhabitants of the plane likely won’t have this ability and will speak the planar language. With that said, I reduce the number of languages in existence, planar and otherwise. In my campaign, I use the following major languages.

  • Common is the shared language of the humans of Khorvaire. Originally people spoke a number of regional languages from Sarlona, but when Galifar was established a single language was set as the Common tongue and use of the others was discouraged; traces of these linger in regional dialects and slang. 
  • Riedran is the dominant language of Sarlona. It was established by the Inspired after they unified Riedra. It is sometimes called Old Common, because there’s a few places in Khorvaire (notably Valenar) where people speak it; but it’s simply a different regional language from the old kingdoms of Sarlona. 
  • Goblin can be considered Dhakaani Common. It spread across Khorvaire during the long reign of the Dhakaani Empire and smothered most existing languages, and it remains the dominant language of the pre-human “monstrous” inhabitants of Khorvaire — goblins, orcs, ogres, gnolls, etc. Many of the inhabitants of Droaam and Darguun don’t speak Common, but they all know Goblin. 
  • Giant can be seen as Xen’drik Common and is understood by most of the civilized peoples of the Shattered Land. This isn’t to say that the bee-people won’t have their own language, but Giant is the recognized trade language. 
  • Draconic is — surprise! — Celestial Common. While it is spoken by dragons, it is also spoken by a majority of celestials (including denizens of Syrania, Irian and Shavarath); most likely the dragons learned it from the couatl. Some scholars call it the language of Siberys, and it also forms the foundation of many systems of arcane incantation;  as a result, many wizards and artificers understand Draconic but never actually speak it.
  • Abyssal can be considered Fiendish Common and is sometimes considered the language of Khyber. It’s spoken by most fiends, including both the rakshasa and the fiends of Mabar and Shavarath. Native aberrations could also speak Abyssal.
  • Undercommon is the language of Xoriat, and is spoken by the Daelkyr and most aberrations that have a connection to Xoriat. Undercommon seems to constantly evolve, but anyone who understands it understands the current form of it. Curiously, this means that ancient inscriptions in Undercommon can actually take on new meanings because of this linguistic evolution.
  • Elven is the language of Thelanis, and in my Eberron it essentially combines traditional Elven and Sylvan; it’s the language of Aerenal, but also spoken by most Fey.

I call these major languages because pretty much anything you meet will speak one of them. In Khorvaire, you can talk to almost anyone using either Common or Goblin. The other languages are regional — and members of those communities will generally either speak Common or Goblin. Such regional languages include Dwarven in the Mror Holds, Halfling in the Talenta Plains, Gnomish in Zilargo, and the tongue of the Gnolls. Speaking one of these languages essentially allows you to have private conversations with a member of that community and can win you some social points… but Mror children learn Common as well as Dwarven, and in many holds Common is the first language used. A mechanical side effect of this is that if a player is making a character who’s biologically of one species but raised in a different culture — IE, a dwarf raised in Zilargo or a halfling from Sharn — I may let them drop their “racial” language for something more common to their background. The Zil Dwarf might know Common and Gnomish, while the Sharn halfling might speak Common and Goblin. As it stands I’ve had the Ghaash’kala orcs speak Goblin… but on consideration, it might make more sense for them to speak Draconic or Abyssal, as they had very little contact with the Dhakaani.

While most creatures respond to one of the common languages, the more obscure languages come up in exploration and adventure. Go exploring the ruins beneath the Mror Holds and you’ll only find Dwarvish (or Undercommon!). You could find an isolated tribe of orcs that still speak the long-dead Orcish tongue. Go to Sarlona and you might find old scrolls written in the lost language of Pyrine, requiring magic to decipher. PCs may not encounter dragons or demons often, but any artifacts or ruins from the Age of Demons will use one of their languages.

And as I mentioned above, I do consider the Quori to have their own language… but Quori immortals definitely fall into the category of “If they want you to understand them, you do.” They may be speaking Quori, but you’ll hear it as the language you know best.

Certain languages, such as Draconic, are usually important for magic. Would you say this is an innate property of the language or a result of early users and traditions?

Consider this: mortal languages were created by mortals. Human developed their own languages over time. The languages of immortals — which per my list include Draconic, Abyssal, Undercommon, Elvish and Quori — are part of the fundamental structure of reality. There wasn’t a time when primitive angels slowly developed language; they were created with inherent knowledge of Draconic, hence some calling it “the tongue of Siberys.” With this in mind, yes: I would say that both Draconic, Elvish and Abyssal are mystically relevant languages. They are often found in systems of mystical incantations because they do have more inherent power than mortal languages.

If the former, might there be useful information about magic or psionics in other languages?

Certainly. As I said, Abyssal and Elvish are equally relevant for arcane magic. I could see both Undercommon and Quori being tied to psionics; Psions might use mantras in one of these languages to focus their thoughts, even if they don’t know that’s what they are using. Xoriat is more connected to the tradition of the Wilder — ecstatic psionic power — while Dal Quor is tied to the more typically disciplined approach of the psion. This also ties to the idea of Undercommon constantly changing. There is something inherently unnatural and supernatural about Undercommonand knowing it changes your brain. 

Do you think that some of the more exotic “racial” languages might offer insight into the psychology of their originators? 

Certainly. I think any mortal language will tell you something about the culture that created it.

What are the moral issues with binding elementals into Khyber dragonshards? How sentient are they?

There’s no easy answers in Eberron. The elemental binders of Zilargo claim that bound elementals are perfectly content; that elementals don’t experience the passage of time the way humans do. All they wish is to express their elemental nature, and that’s what they do through the binding. The Zil argue that elementals don’t even understand that they ARE bound, and that binding elementals is in fact MORE humane than using beasts of burden. An elemental doesn’t feel hunger, exhaustion, or pain; all a fire elemental wants to do is BURN, and it’s just as content to do that in a ring of fire as it is in Fernia.

On the other hand, an Ashbound druid will tell you that this is a fundamental disruption of the natural order. And any random person might say “When a bound elemental is released, it usually goes on a rampage. That means it was unhappy, right?”

Maybe… or maybe not. In my opinion, the “raw” elementals — the “fire elemental” as opposed to the more anthropomorphic salamander, efreeti, or azer — are extremely alien. They don’t experience existence in the same way as creatures of the material plane. They are immortals who exist almost entirely in the moment, making no plans for the future or worrying about the past. My views are pretty close to the description from the 5E Monster Manual: “A wild spirit of elemental force has no desire except to course through the element of its native plane… these elemental spirits have no society or culture, and little sense of being.”

When the fire elemental is released, it usually WILL go on a rampage. Because what it wants more than anything is to burn and to be surrounded by fire… so it will attempt to CREATE as much fire as possible. If it burns your house down, there’s no malice involved; it literally doesn’t understand the concept of a house, or for that matter the concept of YOU.  In my short story “Principles of Fire” one of the characters interrogates a bound air elemental; he advises a colleague that the elemental doesn’t really understand its surroundings, and sees humans as, essentially, blobs of water.

So: there’s no absolute answer. Some people are certain that the elementals are entirely happy, and others are certain that it’s a barbaric and inhumane practice. What I can say is that MOST of the people in the Five Nations don’t think about it at all; to them, it’s no different from yoking an ox or using a bonfire to cook dinner. If you want to create a story based on a radical group that has proof that bound elementals are suffering, create that story. But the default is that there are extreme views on both sides, but that the majority of people just ride the airship without giving a thought to whether the ring has been unjustly imprisoned.

Follow-Up: A question was posed about how this relates to the Power of Purity, a group of Zil binders that seek to understand elementals and to work more closely with them. This still works with what I’ve described here. Elementals ARE sentient. It is possible to communicate with them. They simply are sentient in a very alien way. They have language, but that doesn’t mean they think like we do. In my vision, “raw” elementals generally don’t speak with one another; the elemental languages represent the ability to interface with the elemental and to draw its attention in a way that usually doesn’t happen. An airship pilot needs to interface with and guide an elemental, and a Purity binder does this as well. Most binders DISMISS the need to understand the elemental consciousness; Purity binders feel that truly understanding elementals is the secret to vastly better results. And if you want someone to suddenly reveal that elementals are being tortured and to upset the industry, the Power of Purity would be a good place to start.

Are there any people of color in Eberron? Where?

Sure! They’re everywhere. Humans aren’t native to Khorvaire. They came from Sarlona, which is a land with a range of extreme environments. You have tropical Corvagura, the Sykarn deserts, the Tashana Tundra, temperate Nulakhesh, and more. As humans adapted to these environments, they’d logically develop different pigmentation as we see in our world. Beyond this, I’d imagine that people born in manifest zones might develop pigmentations never seen in our world… fiery Fernians, Lamannians with green hair or skin, and so on. The people who settled Khorvaire came from all these regions, and under unified Galifar they blended and merged. So we’ve also embraced the idea that you can find humans of any color across Khorvaire. Given this sort of diversity, not to mention the many different SPECIES people deal with on a daily basis — Gnolls! Lizardfolk! Elves! — we’ve never presented skin color alone as something that is a source of prejudice in Eberron. Like sexual discrimination, this is another place where we prefer to present the world as we’d like it to be as opposed to trying to present all the flaws of our world. If for some reason you’re looking to have a location that has a population of a particular ethnicity, you can either return to Sarlona or simply assert that this particular community traces its roots back to a particular region and hasn’t had the same degree of integration as most of Khorvaire… such as the ethnic Khunan humans of Valenar.

If airships weren’t an option, how would House Lyrandar transport a large amount of cargo from Sharn to Karrnath? Would they go around the Lhazaar Principalities despite the reputation for piracy, or be more likely to risk the Demon Wastes in spite of a lack of friendly ports and crazy monsters? 

There’s a few issues here: rivers, pirates, and cooperation between houses.

First of all: Rivers. I’m not a cartographer, and I didn’t personally draw all the maps for Eberron. Reviewing them today, I’d say that if I did, I’d add more rivers. Notably, I’d extend the Brey River to connect to the Dagger… which is to say, I’d have the Brey run across Breland, and we just call it “The Dagger” around Sharn. So normally there is a river that crosses through, but it does run along the Mournland now which is a little dangerous. But river barges should be a significant thing.

Second, let’s talk about pirates. The Lhazaar are known to engage in piracy, but they ALSO engage in legitimate merchant trade. And Lyrandar, like any Dragonmarked House, isn’t entirely staffed by members of the family. The ECS notes that “many of the dragonmarked houses and other enterprises hire Lhazaar ships and crews to move cargo from one destination to another…” So many Lyrandar vessels traveling along the east coast ARE Lhazaar — either licensed Lhazaar vessels or elemental galleons with Lhazaar crews. Which is mainly just a point that not all Lhazaar sailors are pirates — and that many of the ships targeted BY piracy are themselves Lhazaar vessels. Beyond this, the answer is simple: be prepared for piracy. A typical licensed vessel may be an easy target, but attacking an elemental galleon is no trivial thing for a mundane pirate; not only is the ship faster than yours, the captain can control the wind. It can be done — but it’s no trivial thing! Likewise, Lyrandar employs privateers — many of them Lhazaar! — to protect their ships. Piracy is a threat in Lhazaar waters or the Thunder Sea, but that doesn’t mean it’s a constant or inescapable thing.

Finally, don’t forget cooperation between houses. The whole point of the Twelve is to find ways for houses to work together and accomplish things none of them could do along. Lyrandar and Orien are in competition, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t cooperate in situations where they both can make a profit. So you will definitely have situations where cargo would be taken upriver by a Lyrandar barge, and then transferred to a Orien caravan or lightning rail to cross a stretch of land.

Eberron is a world where changelings and rakshasa exist. What precautions have people developed to deal with imposters? In 3.5 the spell discern shapechanger from Races of Eberron is a third level sell — do you see this spell existing and being implemented?

We’ve presented Eberron as a world in which rakshasa and dragons DO hide unseen and pull strings. While we added magic items like the Mask of the Misplaced Aura precisely to help deep cover agents avoid True Seeing, the fact that such hidden agents are part of the world implies to me that the ability to detect shapechangers IS NOT a trivial, commonplace thing. I think House Medani has produced a dragonshard focus item that duplicates the effect of discern shapechanger, and you can hire a Medani guardian equipped to watch for shapechangers… but it’s not a trivial thing, and you won’t find such agents in small communities.

With that said, Eberron is also a world in which changelings exist, and people know it. So turn it around to OUR world. We have the ability to test DNA and the like, but such technology isn’t available to the average person on the street. So if you knew shapechangers existed, what would YOU do? First of all, changelings can’t duplicate equipment. So, I suspect many people would have some sort of distinctive item that friends would recognize — a ring, a locket, a pin. Their friends would know this totem item, and if someone behaved strangely, the first thing they’d do is say “Is Johnny wearing his totem ring?” Aside from this, paranoid people might also fact check before they engage in risky behavior. “Where did we last meet?” A group of adventurers might establish code phrases that they regularly drop into conversation. This doesn’t have to be full on spy talk; it can be just as simple as friends having a funny call and response or an elaborate handshake. But if Bob suddenly doesn’t remember the handshake, that’s going to raise suspicions.

With that said, changelings are supposed to be able to deceive people. If society has an ironclad way to spot changelings, what’s the point of playing one? People will have customs that tie to this… but this is where changelings need to use Insight to guess the proper response or Deception to shift suspicion. When you’re trying to break into Dreadhold, you can bet they will have True Seeing and many other magical security systems. But in the village grocery, they aren’t equipped to flawlessly spot your changeling.

I’m confused about how the Galifar succession worked… or rather, how it managed to function for nearly nine hundred years before someone’s dispossessed siblings said “Enough!”

There’s two major factors here. First of all, it’s not like it was a surprise when a new ruler took over, with everyone in suspense about who it would be. The eldest heir would be Prince/ss of Cyre, understood to be heir to the throne. Subsequent siblings would be appointed as the Prince/sses of Breland, Karrnath, Thrane and Aundair, and would take over those roles whenever the current governor passed. If the Cyran heir died, the next eldest would shift up to fill the role; if there weren’t enough heirs to fill the governorships, you’d draw on the extended Wynarn family. So each sibling had an important role… and they weren’t raised to think they had a right to the throne. 

Second: who says it DID function for nine hundred years without incident? We’ve never delved deeply into the history of Galifar. Nine hundred years is a tremendously long time. Overlords have nearly broken free. Dragons have ravaged kingdoms. A false Keeper of the Flame split the faithful. Aundair was threatened by a plague of lycanthropy. And I’m SURE there have been attempted secessions, coups, and all many of usurpations. It’s just that the Last War was the one that finally brought the whole thing down. I’d love to delve more deeply into the history of Galifar when there’s an opportunity.

How many Wynarns are there in Khorvaire today, aside from the current royal families?

I can’t give you a count off the top of my head, but there’s certainly a number of Wynarns in all of the Five Nations. I’ll point out that one of the significant characters in The Queen of Stone is Beren ir’Wynarn, one of Boranel’s cousins.

That’s all for now! Feel free to ask questions below, but I am extremely busy this week and new questions may end up being added to the list for the next lightning round. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible.

50 thoughts on “Lightning Round 2/26/18: Languages, Elementals and Pirates!

  1. Given that elementals are that alien that they don’t comprehend the world as anything more than its component elements (mortals being “bags of mostly water”), how do the Power of Purity persuade these creatures to be bound? Is there any difference to the layman between the techniques used by a Purity gnome binder and a “traditional” gnome binder?

    As an extension, do the Sulatar have any similar sort of break in philosophy when it comes to their binding rituals, or are they more “Aereni” in their attitude; “this is how the great Shalakri bound a sword three thousand years ago under the fire giant masters and this is how you will do it now”.

    • It’s a good question. I’ve added an answer and clarified my position in the Elemental section of the main post. Meanwhile, in my opinion the Sulatar are EXTREMELY bound by tradition. This is the point of the Zil techniques being quite different from the Sulatar. The Zil were INSPIRED by what the Sulatar have done, but they expanded and innovated on the concept.

    • I always felt that the fact that the Sivis family could translate old runes and more importantly speak with the elementals is a big part of the reason they figured out the sealing process.

      I think that they would definitely have their own process if not more than one process.

  2. I’d just like to mention that the issue with languages is a problem that only seems to occur n 5e. Eberron was written for 3.5, a system where all characters begin with Common, their racial language (if any), and bonus languages equal to their Intelligence modifier. In addition, learning a new language only costs a skill rank, so it’s entirely reasonable for a linguist character to be fluent in at least 10 languages, making the specificity of planar languages a non-issue. So having a different language for each plane, race, and sometimes even ethnic group within a race (e.g. elves and drow having different languages) adds realism without impinging upon play for those of us that still use an older system.

    • Certainly… though I’ll note that this is what I do in MY campaign, and it’s what I did in my 3.5 campaign as well. To me again, it’s less a question of what’s realistic and more about what’s fun. The more languages are in use, the more chance of a player having to sit out a conversation because her character doesn’t understand it. Furthermore, just because my barbarian COULD easily learn five languages doesn’t mean that I WANT him to learn five languages; that’s not how I see this guy. By my system there are PLACES where you need to know unusual languages to get around – someone better know Goblin in Droaam, and in Q’barra you’ll need Draconic to talk to the Scales – but Common gets you through most of the day to day.

      Beyond that, I HATE RACIAL LANGUAGES. I hate the idea that every halfling everywhere speaks “Halfling” regardless of where or how they were raised. I’m fine with the idea that this is the language of the Talenta Plains and that SOME Halflings in the Five Nations know it as part of their heritage — if you can’t speak Halfling, you won’t get far in the Boromar Clan — but I believe there should be other halflings who have never even heard the language spoken.

      But again: this explicitly ISN’T the official system; it’s what I do in MY Eberron.

      • Please for the love of everything holy get them to put in the very fitting regional “common” languages you mention in the post when they come out with a 5e eberron book. The current situation is not only annoying for the reasons you note about “halfling” but the 3.5 to 5e language selection changes makes them fairly pointless

      • I agree that racial languages doesn’t apply to all characters — and in fact that’s what I do in my game too. Elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and orcs not associated with their racial nations or racial Dragonmarked houses have no reason to speak their racial language by default. I’m simply mentioning it for the sake of counting the maximum starting langauge a PC could have in 3.5 and Pathfinder — it’s a lot higher than in 5e.

        That being said, at our table, Common gets people through most social situations with mortals, which in the end is what matters in my Eberron game. I simply prefer it if most people can’t communicate with Fey or Daelkyr without specifically training in their speech (or if the outsider in question specifically WANTS to talk to you).

        • I’m simply mentioning it for the sake of counting the maximum starting langauge a PC could have in 3.5 and Pathfinder — it’s a lot higher than in 5e.

          That makes sense.

          I simply prefer it if most people can’t communicate with Fey or Daelkyr without specifically training in their speech

          I understand. For me, the challenge of dealing with Fey is understanding their customs rather than understanding their language; it’s not a question of learning a new language, it’s about learning enough about the Fey in question to understand how to deal with them.

          As for Daelkyr, the fact that (per the 3.5 entry) they can speak and understand the languages of any intelligent creature makes it a slightly moot point… but I do have them speak another language, Undercommon. I just extend that language to all Xoriat-touched aberrations, so that there’s a somewhat broader value to it. Adding the touch of the language evolving is the idea that knowing Undercommon does something to your brain… are you SURE you want to learn it?

          • Speaking of creatures with Truespeech…is it possible for an Outsider to selectively choose which mortal understands it and which one does not? Say, for example, when a Daekyr singles out a party member as the most vulnerable to corruption, and allows him to understand its every word while the paladin nearby would think it’s spouting mad gibberish unless he actually took the time to learn the Daelkyr tongue.

            • For me this depends on the immortal. Some might just have an on/off switch for their universal translators; others might target individuals. In the case of a Daelkyr, if *I* was running the scene, its “truespeech” option wouldn’t be as simple as mundane speech. It’s like you’d suddenly remember what it said without ever actually hearing it speak… did you forget it speaking or did you just imagine it? With this in mind, I’d let a daelkyr carry on multiple different conversations within a group of individuals — each one hearing something entirely different, and perhaps some hearing gibberish or nothing at all.

      • I agree that the racial language conceit seems pretty off for a setting like this, so I interpret it somewhat similarly: The racial languages represent the dominant language of some region or culture (e.g. Talenta for Halfling) that probably has its roots in whatever commonality of historic origin a race might have, and the sense of association-with-race is partly a matter of races tending to see *each other* as culturally-monolithic by default and a certain sense that having so little connection to one’s race’s perceived dominant culture that you can’t even speak the language is seen as a little weird.

        On the freebie languages I absolutely argue for background over race; the Zil halfling war orphan I’ve mentioned elsewhere does happen to know both Gnome and Halfling languages, but I would say that he learned Gnome very early and naturally as part of growing up among a Zil family, and picked up Halfling later in life because it seemed like an obvious good idea. Also, while I don’t figure Old Common and Riedran to be the same language per se in the stuff that I do, I do figure that they are strongly-enough related that someone who knew one could recognize the other and maybe unreliably suss out bits of meaning, the way someone who knew Japanese kanji could decipher some of the meaning of written Chinese. And if it came up I’d be willing to house rule that someone with the background to know Common, Riedran and Old Common could count the entire grouping as two languages for slot purposes. (I’m basically counting “Old Common” in this case to be the state of the Riedran language at the time of the human migration to Khorvaire, and largely of historical interest; the only ‘speakers’ of it today would be academics with a particular focus.)

        As for whether languages and language barriers contribute, that seems both a matter of taste and of circumstances. In one work involving a setting crossover, two characters meet who are both of an intellectual bent and polyglots but have no shared languages between them; this leads to a somewhat amusing dance in which both experiment with switching languages to see if they can find a common one, before one of them loses patience and invokes Psionic Tongues. Another character in the same story is explicitly a talented linguist who knows more languages than most people have probably heard of. This invites the idea that there are a lot of distinct languages around, but doesn’t mandate that all that many of them are relevant most of the time. Perhaps some official languages are essentially dead in the modern day but still of interest to scholars; you might never encounter a speaker of the language, but perhaps you’ll discover a rare scroll or inscription that turns out to be worth a sizeable favor from someone at the Library of Korranberg…

        I think having a lot of languages in play works best in an environment where one of the key focuses is exploration of culture, where the language is sort of a hook and part of discussing cultural diversity and the role of language rather than a means to exclude characters not in the know. Note that this may involve a lot of talking *about* various languages while most of what is spoken is actually Common (which is the kind of thing facilitated by the smatterings of official vocabulary that languages like Draconic have). When a lot of your conversations are *in* another language, you start having to worry about conventions for distinguishing speech or text when all you are actually presenting in the end is the English translation for player/reader benefit (in online play we often use color-coding for this).

  3. what kind of missions or adventures can you imagine to a cleric of the three faces of war? what kind of stories can you tell for a PC?

    Also, if a villager wants to be a priest of the sovereign host, where does he studies?

    Can you tell us more about the hierarchy of the Sovereign host religion?

  4. The section on rivers caught my eye & was really interesting because they are a natural resource that aids with trade and can act as a border, but it can be done without needing to change the map & allow for a region altering discovery for PC’s by underground river. I threw one in from the blackwater lake to somewhere between the eldeen & kraken bays north of Karrnath & aundair :D.

    Either natural or dhakaani built underground rivers like that or daggerbrey rivers being suddenly stumbled upon by PC’s would have radical influences on life in khorvaire. Other than house Lyrander having a practical monopoly over their use, what sort of changes would either disccovery result in?

  5. How obtainable is the magic to create and sever manifest zones? Do Gatekeepers hold Xoriat zones at bay by faith and rite, can Sulatar bring Fernian fires to their tribe by dedication alone?

    • It’s super extremely rare. As a general rule manifest zones are important resources that you have to find, not something you create. And note that Riedra has an entire special division of soldiers who patrol manifest zones; if they could simply sever them all, they would.

  6. I played in an Eberron campaign where the issue of the ethics of elemental binding came up. Since we were unenthused about playing in a setting where a whole bunch of the cool magitech stuff was powered by slavery, we concluded that we had to come up with a reason why elementals would submit to binding voluntarily and figure out what they would be getting out of the deal.

    What could that be? We decided that the experience of being bound was itself a reward for them. In that campaign, elementals (at least some of them) actually find restriction and limitation interesting, because it’s so different from the formless freedom of their normal existence. Plus, they’re immortal, so time matters less to them. So to the alien mentality of the elemental, spending a few centuries bound into a magic sword isn’t like multiple lifetimes of servitude, it’s more like a long holiday at a zen retreat.

    • You’ve hit the critical point with immortality. My concept is definitely that elementals don’t perceive time as we do, ESPECIALLY when bound; “a holiday at a zen retreat” is a good way of describing it. The second is the core idea that what brings an elemental joy is expressing its nature… and if the binding equipment functions correctly, it allows the elemental to do that. What a fire elemental most wants to do is BURN, and being a ring of fire lets it do that; it is MOST happy when the engines are at full throttle. And as you suggest, it may be more satisfying to burn in a place that isn’t made of fire, because you are actually burning something.

      With that said, it’s NOT my intention to have an absolute canon answer, because I WANT this to be a question people struggle with in the world. I could easily come up with an explanation as to why this is 100% OK and the elementals LOVE being bound… but as Keith, I want YOU to be able to explore the idea of someone revealing that elementals are being tormented and the PCs leading a campaign to destroy the binding industry. So I like the uncertainty: the professional binders say “They love it!” and the Ashbound say “They hate it!” and the players have to decide if they care enough to investigate.

  7. Something I forgot to mention in my previous comment about languages: I am *very* tempted to have Common be known as either the Galifar or Karrn tongue; possibly even to have both used by different groups in the setting.

    The idea here is that Karrn the Conqueror is responsible for the spread of a common language, and to pull in some of the social context of that as the common language nearly everyone in Khorvaire speaks – I feel like people having Opinions on that could drive some fun, and it’s another tool in my arsenal of subtle cues as to NPCs’ worldviews.

    • The idea here is that Karrn the Conqueror is responsible for the spread of a common language…

      In my history, Common is the language of Galifar… just as Goblin is the language of Dhakaan. The original Sarlonan nations would have spoken different languages and brought these languages to Khorvaire; but when Galifar was established, one of these was established as the Common tongue. Meanwhile, in Sarlona the Inspired established a single language as their Common tongue following the Sundering… but these weren’t the SAME languages. So, common roots, but not identical.

      Essentially, all of the “Common” languages are the languages of the empires that dominated those continents. Other languages exist and you should be able to find a document in Old Pyrinean, but no one alive speaks that language. (Side note: I’ve clarified this in the main post.)

  8. I’ve actually swung hard the other way with languages in Eberron and put in a lot of national languages, to slightly up the Cold War feeling of not being able to understand what’s going on – there’s a dozen or so human languages spoken today, and Draconic, Dwarven, Giant, and Goblin all come in several variants. (Common does exist in a less-useful form as Low Metron, a form of the Cyran language used as the bureaucratic language throughout Galifar.) I’ve had to bend my own rules to make certain aspects of my campaign work, but I think it’s appropriate for flavor and realism. That said, I agree very much about “not every member of every species speaks The Species Language”; one of my favorite linguistic developments was saying that the Jhorash’tar speak the same dwarven language as the Mror dwarves.

    • That’s exactly the thing. If having a communication barrier is USEFUL for the stories you want to tell – if isolation and mystery are a part of the story – then it’s definitely useful (and more realistic) to have more languages. In my set-up, I could also see establishing certain languages as common secondaries within a region — many Karrns speak Dwarven, Aundairian aristocracy speaks Elvish, many Brelish speak Goblin — as a way to add some of the “People have a regional language for a private conversation”, though Common still serves as the bridge.

      To me, diversity in languages on the material is more logical than having a host of extraplanar languages. There’s just something slightly weird about “I died and my spirit went to the Realm of the Dead, but the spirits there all spoke a strange language so I don’t know what any of them were saying.” Or the more general concept of “I had a vision! An angel descended from the sky, and it… well, I don’t know, said something in a language I didn’t understand.” So while I suggest Abyssal and Draconic as “common” extraplanar languages, to me the point of the “tongues” effect is that powerful immortals don’t simply speak as mortals do; they convey meaning in a manner that anyone can understand. Immortals are themselves incarnate ideas; the ability to convey ideas to others seems like a logical gift.

      Now, I have no issue with the MORTAL inhabitants of a plane having developed a unique language… but that’s where Draconic and Abyssal are the “common” tongues of many planes.

    • Likewise, when it comes to Xen’drik, my point is that Giant is the “Common” tongue and that many communities will have someone who can at least speak a bit of it. If you find an Abeil hive, they may well speak a weird buzzing bee-tongue humans can’t reproduce… but they might still have an envoy who’s learned to speak Giant.

  9. I understand that changeling cannot duplicate token personal items, but if one were to possess something like Thorn’s shiftweave clothing, would they be able to make a facsimile perhaps? Been giving thought to a very adept changeling who not only is good with her ability, but also wears shiftweave to insure that her clothing can come as close as possible to whomever she duplicates. Thoughts?

    • TRADITIONAL shiftweave has a specific set of preset options. You don’t define it on the spur of the moment; you just choose “outfit #5.”

      However, given that you can create a Hat of Disguise which lets you assume any shape, it’s logical to think that it’s possible and presumably easier to create a form of glamerweave that is, essentially, a Hat-of-just-disguising-your-clothes.

      This ties to another point: changelings have a natural ability to shapeshift, but any second level warlock can pick up Mask of Many Faces, which is actually SUPERIOR because it changes clothes as well. Anyone could potentially acquire a Hat of Disguise. Since you mentioned her, Thorn makes good use of Disguise Self. So changelings are a clear reason to be prepared… but illusory disguise is a thing that anyone can potentially employ.

  10. Hey Keith, speaking of languages, is there a dictionary for Eberron’s elven and goblin languages?

  11. Some time ago you wrote an amazing post answering a question I posed on Facebook and you explained how you would build a campaign from level 1 to 20 in Q’barra. Any chance that you’ll write a sequel for campaigns in talenta, zilargo or lazhaar?

    • These aren’t on my current short list, but I’ll put one of them on the Patreon poll for March and see if it’s something people would like to see.

  12. Thanks again, very cool as always!

    Certain languages, such as Draconic, are usually important for magic. Would you say this is an innate property of the language or a result of early users and traditions?

    For example, are there principles of magic encoded in the grammar? Or is the fact that dragons were the first real students of magic and early humans were received draconic instruction just made it the language of magic by inertia?

    If the former, might there be useful information about magic or psionics in other languages? Not that information about the topics is written in those languages, but something about knowing them grants different perspectives.

    Do you think that some of the more exotic “racial” languages might offer insight into the psychology of their originators? Like Giant might have dominance built into word endings to make clear the degree the speaker is superior or subservient to the listener.

      • Outsiders and Fey being born/created to speak their racial language makes sense. Since Elvish and Sylvan bear plenty similarities (and you did mention that you combine them into one for your game), is it safe to assume that primitive elves on Eberron were taught to speak by the Fey? Or did elves have their own languages prior to first contact with Feyspires, and those are lost to history?

        The idea of meeting truly ancient Elven groups — hidden Qalbarin vampires and liches on Xen’drik for example — who speak a version of ancient Elven with no Fey or Giantish influences would be a very interesting one.

        • is it safe to assume that primitive elves on Eberron were taught to speak by the Fey?

          If you go by 4E, “primitive elves” WERE fey. Which for me is one more thing that helps to explain their impressive-but-stagnant culture… there’s still a touch of the fixed immortal to them.

          The idea of meeting truly ancient Elven groups — hidden Qalbarin vampires and liches on Xen’drik for example — who speak a version of ancient Elven with no Fey or Giantish influences would be a very interesting one.

          You could do this with a variety of races. I mentioned the idea of an isolated tribe of orcs who speak an otherwise entirely unknown Orcish. This could even be the Ghaash’kala, if you didn’t want them to work with Abyssal or Draconic.

          • I’m not a big fan of most of 4e’s changes to Eberron. Feyspires are a cool addition, but I still prefer my eladrin and elves to be completely separate races. Feyspire eladrin in my game are the 3.5 celestial fey rendition — gaeles, firres, bralanis, etc — rather than “elfier” elves.

            That being said, what do you think of the idea that eladrin interbred with ancient elves and taught them language and civilization, thus granting elves their longer lifespan and mystical qualities?

            • That being said, what do you think of the idea that eladrin interbred with ancient elves and taught them language and civilization, thus granting elves their longer lifespan and mystical qualities?

              In MY Eberron, it works both ways. First of all, the mortal “elfier elf” eladrin don’t take the place of the immortal Ghaele and the others; rather, they are the least of the inhabitants of Thelanis. They are the servants and courtiers that attend the Ghaele and the Bralani. The immortals are the spirits who have and are defined by stories; the mortals are the extras who fill out the scenes.

              Now with that said, where did these mortals of Thelanis come from? One possibility is that they were generated by the plane itself. But Eberron and Thelanis have always been close, and you can easily pass from one into the other. So another simple answer is that the mortal eladrin are themselves descended from mortals of Eberron who wandered into Thelanis long, long ago and were adapted and incorporated into the plane. So it may be that they BEGAN as elves, or something like them; were transformed in eladrin by exposure to Thelanis; and then became elves again when the giants took them away from it. Which leaves the possibility of finding ancient proto-elves, or saying that this is what the Qabalrin were — which allows the Qabalrin to have always stood apart from the giants.

              But the short form is: do what works for your story.

          • @bob. the eldarin captured, enslaved, & magebred by the giant empire was one og the few 4e things I _liked_. The reason I say that is because most of the additions were very much of the “this is how it works elsewhere, so now eberron will adapt to fit the same lore” flavor while the eldar were more “eberron does not care how X works in $NotEberron, X has been altered to fit eberron rather than the other way around”.

            If you don’t think that changing stuff to fit the setting rather than the setting to carry the lore of that stuff over from elsewhere is important… Go around suggesting that WotC should m,ake sure that mindflayers are updated in $NotEberronSetting to reflect that the daelkyr created them, that dwarves migrated over from Risia/ The plane of ice ( Oh your settting didn’t have one before? good nothing is disturbed by adding one)… so on & so forth. Even if you are only using those as an example to show why it’s so problematic, the pushback you get will be immense.

          • @James Malaspino You completely misunderstood what I was trying to express. I have never even IMPLIED that all settings should have the same origin for everything. I said that I don’t particularly like certain 4E elements in Eberron, period, even after they’ve been retrofit. Anyone can feel free to stick to any edition of the game and take what they wish. In my case, fey creatures being defeated, captured, and enslaved like mortals doesn’t gel with my vision of the fey, nor does elves being descended from fey when gnomes already hold that position as their “unique” thing. Sure, weaker fey can be bound into servitude by mortals through trickery and rituals….and their situation may as well be equally horrific to mortal slaves. But it’s fundamentally a different story.

          • @bob, I don’t think that I misunderstood so much as disagree. the gnomes you mention started as a different type of fey creature & through whatever means adapted into mortal form. The eldar->elves/drow are a different story though because The Dragons were teaching the secrets of their own magic to the giants & the resulting giant empire used that knowledge of draconic magic to trap/cap[ture/enslave/magebreed the eldar into elves & khyber knows what other useful creatures.. that nearly unspeakably evil path is what separates the gnomes & elves so neither treads on the lore of the other.

            I think the reason why disagree is because we have different views on the fey. You seem to respect the fey as written to some degree, I find them to often be too tied up in setting specific lore tangles linked to other settings. I was not suggesting that you implied the settings should have the same origin & fluff for stuff, just that not being the case was the reason why I liked the was because eladrin+giant empire wielding draconic magic->elves & drow. rather than trying to fit something with Corellon like how they stomped the planes to fit baator/asmodeous & his associated planes for the tiefling children of asmodeous thing. Compare the 4e planar meddling to the version Keith Baker describes in dragon 408 where those concepts are altered to fit eberron instead of what 4e published

            • I suppose in that case you’re right — I don’t like fey being too similar to mortals, regardless of what setting it edition they come from. Like Keith said in a previous article, fey live in the present and don’t care much about the past and future, which makes them highly emotional and fickle. Thats the vision of fey I always liked, and that… would make really bad slaves, without extensive use of fey contracts and tricks and geas spells. Not to mention it seems the exact opposite of all mainstream Elven cultures as well: the Aerenal, Calendar, and Houses Phiarlan and Thuranni to a degree, are obsessed with the past and tradition. Only the Greensingers are closer to fey, but Greensingers are influenced by fey within their own lifetime.

              In the end it’s about themes and portrayal rather than what belongs in which setting. In my Eberron, Feyspires contained immortal fey and noble eladrin, that primitive elves may already have contact with pre-enslavement. Giants might also have invaded Feyspires and bound many of the creatures they caught…but while Elven slaves were labourers and house servants, these fey might be bound to altars to power rituals, or even infused into weapons and eldritch machines against their will like elementals.

              Ultimately there’s no right or wrong thing here. We all pick and choose what we like.

  13. In the post you say that some languages are part of the structure of reality. At the same time it’s somewhere written that music has a part in the creation.
    Do you have an opinion on the role of music in the creation? Has music a connection with the prophecy?
    Is music a mortal creation or there are overlords playing violin somewhere in Khyber?

  14. Previously, you’ve talked about the Thelanian and Mabarian manifest zones ( and But how the other planes influence Eberron?

    In your post on rural Eberron, you emphasize that many towns/cities/communities are built on a magical zones. I’m currently DMing a campaign centered around Nathyrr: I ruled that there is a well providing infinite pure water (probably a Fernia thing, I guess?), but I’m drawing a blank otherwise.

    The list containing some examples of every 13-1 manifest zones would be extremely helpful!

    • That’s an excellent question, but something that should definitely be a full post on Manifest Zones. I’ll add it to mylist of topics.

  15. So are the Sulatar drow tied to tradition because they are elves or are they coincidentally traditional? Do the drow of Eberron share their cousins tendency to avoid change or do the Umbragen/Vulkorii not have the classic elven attachment to things that halts change?

    • One of the primary factors in elven adherence to tradition is age. When you live for centuries, you get used to doing things a certain way; previously I’ve discussed the concept of fluid vs crystalline intelligence, and the concept that elder elves aren’t as INNOVATIVE as younger races. This is less of a factor among the Vulkoori because they are more primitive and live in dangerous environments, and I very much doubt that many Vulkoori live long enough to die of old age. However, I’d expect it to be a factor for both Umbragen and Sulatar. For the Sulatar you further have the aspect that they didn’t DEVELOP the magic they are using; they inherited it from the Sulat. They’ve never needed to understand it in a way that would allow them to innovate on it. Now, you could certainly change this and make your Sulatar more innovative. But this is the key difference between the Sulatar and the Zil. The Sulatar inherited the magic and just keep using it as it was. The Zil were inspired by the magic they discovered and used that inspiration to develop something new, and to continue to refine those techniques.

  16. As always, thank you for the post. The languages issue is one I’m currently grappling with in my 5e Eberron game and it was interesting to see your take.

    I had a question that might be better served in a hypothetical future article on running campaigns in one of the other major nations, but I’ll ask it here because it might not need a long answer.

    A key feature of our real world Cold War was proxy wars. If you were to run a proxy war among some of the remaining Five Nations, where would be the best place to run it? The Lhazaar Principalities seem a good choice, but I’m not sure which nation would support which prince in a hypothetical civil war. The Talenta Plains might be interesting since it abuts Karrnath and there is already the implied looming conflict between the main lath and the priestess lath whose name escapes me. What about the Shadow Marches or the Eldeen Reaches? We have not seen much of their political structures, but they seem to be made up of only loosely affiliated localities with many possible feuds.

    • It’s an excellent question, but one I’d prefer to address in an article focused on the Cold War and its manifestations. I’ll add that topics to the list.

  17. One of the things that I’ve always disliked about languages in D&D and its descendants is that languages are binary- you’re either fluent or you don’t know it at all. This is doubly frustrating when one of the common things about language translations in fiction is incomplete knowledge or the possibility of changed meanings.

    To that end, in my home games (which are not D&D) I use a combination of skill checks and character talents to give multiple levels of fluency. Essentially, there’s a basic “Multilingual” talent that PCs can take that gives them fluency in a number of common languages (which for most cases are the racial languages of Khorvaire) and allows them to make skill checks to translate languages they’re not fluent in – with varying levels worth of success – then a separate, higher level “Polyglot” talent that allows a character to gain fluency in a single rare language (being able to take it multiple times).

    In my experience this sidesteps the binary nature of languages and allows a much richer interaction between the characters and whatever otherwise unknown world lies around them. It also greatly reduces the chance of the party being completely and unexpectedly blocked because they simply *don’t know* the language. After all, if none of them have the talent then they should expect to run into a language barrier – and if they do, then they always have a chance to glean some meaning out of it, even if they’re not fluent in it.

    One of the little side perks that I really like about this setup is that slang and dialects can actually be represented, allowing players to either play the little word game or attempt to make a skill check to get it right (or horribly, horribly wrong)

    • I agree. This is essentially what I call out in the first main paragraph – the idea of someone having to make a check to fully grasp a regional dialect, if they don’t have any regional speakers. As you say, it’s about adding depth to the interaction.

  18. Late thought on ethical elemental binding: maybe released elementals run amok because you just broke their home! Like a baby crying after birth, “this sucks and I need to let you know”.

    Of course, there could be different styles of elemental binding. This one lost a nice home and is sad, that one has suffered decades of pain and is looking to pay it back.

  19. Here’s a thought!
    Let’s say I don’t know the Zilargo/Sulatar secret of elemental binding, but I DID know the 5th level spell Planar Binding.
    Could I command the elemental to go into the Khyber Shard and infuse the item/flow through the arcane matrix of a vessel? It would only be temporary, but would it be possible? (24 hours if cast at 5th level)

    Also, I know you didn’t write Magic of Eberron, but as far as I’m aware that’s the only place where the Zil binding process is explained and differentiated from what other spell casters can do.

    Or in your Eberron campaign, would you just say the 5th Level Planar Binding spell itself is unavailable to your players unless they discover the secrets of the Zil?

    • Could I command the elemental to go into the Khyber Shard and infuse the item/flow through the arcane matrix of a vessel? It would only be temporary, but would it be possible? (24 hours if cast at 5th level)

      In my opinion? No. Because “Zil Binding” isn’t just about forcing the elemental to obey, it’s about BINDING THE ELEMENTAL TO AN OBJECT. Planar binding forces the target to “follow your instructions to the best of its ability.” But an elemental doesn’t have the ability to infuse another object. If you say “Get in that core!” it’s going to say “HOW?” Thus there’s no need to restrict access to the spell, because again, it’s only part of what Zil’s secret techniques do. “Planar binding” binds a extraplanar creature to your will; it does NOT bind it into a physical object, and it has to be bound to a physical object for either of those two effects. Fifth level spells aren’t beyond the range of known magic, and I’m sure there are mages at Arcanix who can perform planar binding; but that doesn’t mean they can create airships.

      What I WOULD do is allow someone to cast planar binding to take control of an elemental vessel for 24 hours. Again, the spell lets you CONTROL an elemental, but it only lets you make the victim perform actions to the best of its ability. So you can tell it where to go, but you can’t, for example, tell it to LEAVE the elemental core because again, it doesn’t have the ability to perform that action on its own.

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