Each month I answer questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few interesting ones from November!
We know that Atur has skeletal street crew and Oathbound bartenders, but what are some other more unorthodox examples of casual necromancy within Atur?
Atur, the City of Night, is an independent duchy within Karrnath. This article provides a broad look at the city, while this article takes a closer look at the Grand Duke of Atur. As presented in these articles, Atur is a stronghold of the Blood of Vol in part because the city is built at the heart of a powerful Mabaran manifest zone. This allows for widespread use of necromancy in the same way that the manifest zones of Sharn makes it possible to build sky scraping towers. In fact, the ongoing rituals of the Blood of Vol play a crucial role in channeling and containing the dangerous energies of Mabar. Here’s a key quote from the first Atur article…
The Seekers have no attachment to corpses and most are happy to donate their remains to serve the greater good. As a result, skeletons are found performing menial tasks and manual labor across the city. Because they serve many different functions, they’re generally painted to indicate their service; blood-red for those associated with the Monastery or other temples, dark green for sanitation, black and gold for those tied to the city watch, blue for this tied to commerce; artists add often secondary designs that give each skeleton a little personality. However, these are standard skeletons, possessing limited intelligence; they are managed by Bone Wranglers, specialized magewrights who effectively program the undead.
So, skeletal labor is common place. But what are some other manifestations of necromancy in Atur? Here’s a few.
Bone Beasts. Obedient and tireless, skeletons make excellent laborers. While Atur is infamous for its practice of animating the bones of its citizens, the city makes use of the bones of many creatures. Skeletal horses, oxen, and tribex are found drawing wagons and coaches throughout the city. Skeletal hounds and wolves are employed as tireless watchdogs. Skeletal cats and rats control the living rate population. Skeletal pigeons are used as couriers. If you’re wondering how could a skeletal pigeon fly without flesh or feathers, consider that the bones of a skeletal are held together by mystical force, essentially translucent ectoplasm. It’s this same force that takes the place of the feathers and flesh of a skeletal bird. While the remains of any birds can be used to create couriers, pigeons are the most common choice.
Garghouls. The bonesmiths of Atur aren’t limited to direct animation of remains, and they create many forms of undead that use only parts of a corpse. Garghouls typically use a skull, which is embedded into a door or a statue and empowered to perform specific actions. For example, a door may have a skull embedded into it; the skull is aware of the people on the doorstep, and if you speak the proper password it will unlock the door. Properly enchanted garghouls can speak or sing, though they are not properly sentient and can only repeat phrases implanted by bone wranglers. Garghouls are often used as another form of security, triggering an alarm, glyph of warding, or simply taking notes on intruders or people they observe.
Ghastlights. As called out above, skeletons are held together by an ectoplasmic force. This is typically invisible, but under the right circumstances it can manifest as a green glow. The streetlights of Atur take advantage of this phenomenon. Shards of bone are implanted in lanterns shed an eerie light. The essence burns out over time, so you have bone-tenders wandering the streets with bags of broken bones freshening the lamps. Just as the towers of Sharn rely on the Syranian manifest zone, ghastlights only function in Mabaran zones with the proper traits.
Remnants. Some bonesmiths and wranglers specialize in working with partial remains. Garghouls are one example of this, but there’s a wide range of options. In Atur, you could encounter a gearwheel being turned by a tirelessly pumping pair of skeletal legs, or a chair with a pair of skeletal arms that massage you while you relax. Helping hands are skeletal hands that can be programmed to serve a variety of functions; consider Thing from The Addams Family. Most helping hands aren’t fully sentient and can only perform specific actions. However, there is a ritual that can bind a greater degree of a person’s essence to their hand… creating a creature that uses the stat block of the crawling claw, but without being inherently evil. Bones from a specific creature have a sympathetic resonance, which is why animate dead typically can’t use bones from multiple creatures mixed together. Bonesmiths can work with this connection; mansions in Atur have bone boards, where moving a knucklebone in the dining room (or any other room) rattles a matching fingerbone in the servant’s station.
Funerary Fashion. Remnants can be incorporated into clothing; fingerbones are often used as clasps. One of the more colorful accessories is the rasp, a skeletal serpent programmed to serve as a belt, boa, or other form of adornment. In addition to serving as a practical belt or fashion accessories. Rasps typically use the poisonous snake stat block combined with skeleton traits; they don’t produce poison, but can at least serve as a brief distraction if flung at an enemy and commanded to attack.
Bone Grafts. Eberron: Rising From The Last War introduces prosthetic limbs—common magic items that can take the place of a lost limb. Throughout the Five Nations these are usually made from wood or metal. In Atur, they are typically made from bone—which could be the polished bone from the original severed limb, or the limb of a different creature. It’s up to the DM to decide if these prosthetic limbs function beyond Atur and can thus be encountered anywhere in the world, or if they only function in a Mabaran manifest zone. Beyond their appearance, they function like typical prosthetic limbs. While they are made using necromantic rituals, they draw on the lifeforce of the bearer and thus aren’t affected by turn undead or similar effects. And before anyone asks, you can definitely get a skeletal version of an arcane propulsion arm!
These are just a few examples, but I hope they’ll inspire more ideas!
For a cleric of the Divinity Within, how do you flavor spells/features which explicitly summon or contact external divine creatures? I’m thinking here of things like Summon Celestial, Divine Intervention, Planar Ally, or Commune?
Exploring Eberron has a section on the Blood of Vol that addresses this. Here’s the relevant section…
If the power of the Blood of Vol flows from within, who answers when a cleric conjures a celestial or invokes planar ally? One simple answer is for the DM to use a being who has the statistics of a celestial or fiend, but that is formed from blood and magic; it’s a manifestation of your own divine essence and fades away when its work is done. This might seem a strange match for planar ally, a spell that normally requires payment to an external force, but even an ally of your own essence might demand a service in return. This could be seen as a request from your subconscious—a demand that you do something you know you should do, but that you’ve been trying to ignore. On the other hand, it could be a mysterious task with no discernible purpose; this ties to the fact that your Divinity Within is something beyond mere mortal understanding, and you don’t fully understand what it needs or wants.
Another possibility is that you’re drawing on the Seeker community rather than reaching to the planes for assistance. One principle of the faith is that champions become undead so that they can help other Seekers. When you cast planar ally, rather than calling a celestial or fiend, you might summon an undead champion of your faith; this could be anything from a vampire to a mummy lord or a death knight. In this case, the payment they demand for their service would likely be a tithe to the Seeker temple they are bound to. On a smaller scale, your DM could similarly decide that when you cast conjure celestial, it summons a sarcastic flameskull instead of an angel.
This is another relevant section…
As a divine spellcaster who follows the Blood of Vol, you believe that your power comes from your own soul. As a paladin, you are calling on the power of your own blood when you heal your allies or smite your enemies. The visible manifestations of magic of the Blood of Vol typically involve crimson energy, as if luminous tendrils of blood are flowing from you. But it’s not simply your power. Consider the Seeker priest who casts commune; how can they gain information they don’t already know? The answer is that the divinity within is something far greater than you. It is a god, possessing celestial power you can’t understand or imagine—but it is still in its chrysalis, waiting to be born. When you cast your spell, you awaken a sliver of its power; once the spell is done, it returns to its rest.
How widespread is the acceptance of undead throughout Karrnath? I understand that most Karrns do not know their king is a vampire, and that there are undead laborers in the major cities at least. In Joe Flyspeck village, are undead laborers common as well, or are they rare, or out of vogue, or feared, distrusted, what? What is the perception of both thinking and unthinking undead throughout Karrnath?
Atur is q special case. Chapter 18 of Chronicles of Eberron covers Karrnathi Undead and addresses their wider role in more detail. Here’s a relevant quote…
The followers of the Blood of Vol—who prefer the term Seekers—are the ones who practice necromancy and embrace the undead. The Blood of Vol has had a presence in Karrnath for over a thousand years, but it has never been the faith of the majority. During the Last War, Kaius I embraced the Blood of Vol and it gained greater influence; during this time, the undead were incorporated into the Karrnathi army. In more recent years, Kaius III and the Regent Moranna turned against the Blood of Vol. The chivalric orders of the Seekers were disbanded, and Kaius has used the Seekers as a scapegoat—blaming the famines and plagues that crippled Karrnath on the Seekers.
So with Joe Flyspeck village, the question is whether the village is a community of Seekers or Vassals. If it’s a Seeker village, they will be using undead labor as they have been for centuries. If it’s a Vassal community, they wouldn’t know how to create undead even if they wished to — and most wouldn’t. The people of Karrnath are USED to undead. The Seekers have been using them for over a thousand years, and they were part of the armies of Karrnath for decades. So Karrns won’t flinch when they meet a skeleton soldier or an oathbound (mummy) monk, and many Karrns are simply ambivalent about undead. But there are some who feel that the use of undead and embrace of the Seeker faith was a betrayal of the traditional culture of Karrnath — as noted above, who use the use of undead as an excuse for Karrnath’s losses in the Last War. “If we’d relied on pure Karrnathi steel and skill, King Kaius would be ruling a new Galifar now.” Because of these attitudes, you DON’T see a lot of undead labor in the major cities. Those who associate with undead are generally assumed to be Seekers. But Karrns are USED to undead, and not surprised to find Karrnathi undead used in special cases.
Karrnath is described as using the Code of Kaius, which is based off of the Galifar code of Justice but with more extreme punishments and more specific and strict laws. What could this code look like? What are some examples of how the two compare and how they differ?
Sharn: City of Towers is the best source for information on the Code of Galifar, and talking about what constitutes a crime and how justice is enforced. The Code of Kaius uses the Galifar code as its foundation, but is a form of martial law. Under the Code of Galifar you are innocent until proven guilty, and if a crime is serious enough to go to court you may have a trial by jury. Neither is true under the Code of Kaius. Justice flows summarily from the warlord and their representatives, and there is no recourse or appeal. So what is considered a CRIME is generally the same, but punishments are harsher and often carried out on the spot. Meanwhile, crimes such as treason are interpreted more broadly in Karrnath; there’s no right to free speech, for example. That’s the basic concept; hopefully you can extrapolate from there.
Given how the most famous historical figures are often mythologized and become key facets of their cultures, how do historical figures factor into Thelanis? Is there a Dread Conquerer riding about, endlessly seeking to expand his domain?
So if you’re talking about WARRIORS, the answer you are looking for may lie in SHAVARATH. Consider this section from Exploring Eberron.
All mortal creatures have a spiritual connection to Shavarath, and there’s a sliver of their spirit in the plane. The strength of this sliver is determined by the mortal’s courage, willpower, and martial drive… Sometimes, on the death of a great mortal warrior, echoes of their personality and martial spirit can coalesce into a sword wraith (though its abilities may vary based on the champion it echoes). Unlike standard conscripts, sword wraiths are capable of meaningful action even without the direction of an immortal and can command conscripts of their own. A sword wraith has the appearance of its mortal source and some of the memories, but it’s only an echo of the mortal, much like the traces of memory that allow you to speak with dead. Sword wraiths reconcile their memories with the war within the layer. If there’s a sword wraith of Karrn the Conqueror commanding troops in Nullius Terram, he believes that he’s fighting for Karrnath and can’t be convinced otherwise; after all, he’s only a memory, and there are limits to his ability to reason.
So adventurers might meet a sword wraith of Lhazaar commanding a ship in the Bloody Sea. Dhakaani champions, the Mror clan founders, heroes of the Last War—any of these could be found as sword wraiths, serving the legion that best matches their values. There are sword wraiths of many patron ancestors of the Tairnadal elves; however, these aren’t the patrons themselves, simply echoes left behind. While sword wraiths generally form after a mortal’s death, the slivers of especially remarkable heroes can manifest sword wraiths even while alive. King Boranel of Breland surely has a sword wraith serving in the Legion of Justice, and it’s possible an adventurer could meet their own sword wraith while exploring Shavarath.
Meanwhile, Thelanis isn’t affected by HISTORY or real events. Consider this from Exploring Eberron:
Breland tells tales of the Sleeping Prince, cursed to slumber by a cruel hag until he’s saved by the courage of the Woodcutter’s Daughter. In the Mror Holds, there’s a tale older than Breland itself, in which Lady Narathun curses Doldarun’s son with eternal sleep, until he’s saved by humble Toldorath. And the Dhakaani dar have an ancient story about how Hezhaal—a dirge singer who betrayed the empire and studied sinister magic—cast the marhu’s son into a cursed slumber, until he was saved by a simple golin’dar.
The stories of Thelanis don’t exist BECAUSE of events in the material plane; instead, events on the material plane are sometimes drawn to reflect Thelanian stories. So there may well BE a Dread Conqueror in Thelanis. But if so, there’s ALWAYS been a Dread Conqueror in Thelanis, and scholars will say “Ah, you can see how in Karrnathi folk tales Karrn the Conqueror assumed the role of the Dread Conqueror; but you can find a similar version of these stories in Nulakhesh, based around the deeds of the Iron Emperor.“
Amaranthine City Question: If Genghis Khan was an immortal spirit would he be a Irian Celestial or a Mabaran Yugoloth? The man began a huge empire, but he also ended several others.
Part of what you’re running into is the fact that mortals are more complex than immortals. Mortals have shades and dimensions. Immortals embody specific iconic concepts. So with a figure like Genghis Khan, there’s three distinct ideas you could explore which would all be different immortals.
- In IRIAN you would find the VICTORIOUS EMPEROR—the leader who is uniting people and forging something new, who is riding the glory of his triumphs, who is celebrated by his people and feared by his enemies.
- In SHAVARATH you could find the WARRIOR KING. Because neither Irian or Mabar is about WAR. If you’re looking for an immortal who embodies the idea of brutal military conquest, that’s an immortal in the Legion of Tyranny.
- In MABAR you would find the EMPEROR IN DARKNESS, whose strength is fading, whose empire is rotting from within, weakened by corruption and torn by insurrection, the king who still sits on his throne but who knows his days of glory are behind him.
… the further point here is that the story won’t change, because what you’re dealing with isn’t REAL, it’s SYMBOLIC. Mabar is about despair and decay. Irian is about hope and growth. The Victorious Emperor in Irian will ALWAYS be enjoying the rise of his empire, while the Emperor in Darkness will always be sullenly watching it collapse. Meanwhile, yes, the fact that the the triumph of the Victorious Emperor means that other people have been subjugated isn’t the focus of the story in Irian; an immortal in Irian embodies hope and triumph. If you want to see brutal conquest, you need to go to Shavarath. And again, this is what makes the material plane special and what makes mortals special—they can be many things at once. Their stories can evolve and change. They can create hope and despair through the same action. Most immortals are inherently more two-dimensional, because they are symbols, not people. And keep in mind that the mortal Genghis Khan would cast a shadow in Mabar, a sword wraith in Shavarath, an ember in Irian—because he touches them all. As a side note, the idea of the empire-in-decline is one story you could tell about Genghis in Mabar. Another would be the Collapsing Empire—the story of the empire being CONQUERED by Genghis, facing an implacable enemy and knowing the end is near. Again, if the story was about the ACTUAL BATTLE it would be in Shavarath; but if the story is about the DESPAIR and terror of the people forever awaiting the arrival of the Horde, endlessly preparing but knowing no preparations will be sufficient… that’s Mabar.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my patrons for posing these and many other questions, and for making these articles possible. If you have questions of your own—or if you’d like to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign—check out my Patreon!