As time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s two from this month!
Now that Medusae have begun to leave Cazhaak Draal for various purposes, have eyeblinders become a commonplace part of their culture or are they only used in the east to make the squishier races feel at ease?
“You aren’t in your Five Nations any more,” Sheshka said. She had sheathed her sword, but her voice was deadly. “You have come to my home. Your soldier threatened me with a blindfold. A blindfold, on my soil. Would I come into your castle and strip away your sword, or demand that you wear chains?”
“We can’t kill with a glance,” Beren said.
“And that excuses your threat to pluck out my eyes? Should I cut off your hands so you cannot strangle me?” The medusa’s eyelids fluttered, but remained closed. “Hand, tooth, steel – we are all deadly.”
Canonically, while in the cities of the Five Nations a medusa is expected to wear eyeblinders, described as a metal visor that straps around the forehead and chin and takes multiple rounds to remove; in especially high-security situations, the straps can be secured with a lock. Of course, this varies by location; in a small village in Karrnath the sheriff surely doesn’t have a set of eyeblinders lying around, and in Callestan in Sharn, who exactly is going to demand the medusa put on eyeblinders? In such situations, a medusa will often wear a veil or more comfortable blindfold, as Tashka is modeling in the image accompanying this article. Such a blindfold doesn’t offer as much security as a set of eyeblinders, since it could be removed in a single action, but it’s a compromise; you don’t have to worry unless I take it off.
With this in mind, have blindfolds become part of standard medusa fashion? Do medusas wear blindfolds in Graywall or the Great Crag, or even in Cazhaak Draal? Definitely not. Medusas are perfectly capable of controlling their deadly gaze. Let’s start with simple mechanics. Here’s the 5E interpretation of the ability in question.
Petrifying Gaze. When a creature that can see the medusa’s eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature.
I’ve bolded the key word there—they can force someone to make a saving throw, but they don’t have to. While some people may interpret this as meaning that the medusa can choose to look you straight in the eye and not petrify you, how I interpret it in my campaign is that the medusa can never turn off their power, but that they have to look you directly in the eye to make it work and they’re very good at avoiding such accidental eye contact… and if they really want to play it safe, they can just close their eyes. This is something discussed in a canonical Dragonshard article…
The gaze of a medusa can petrify even an ally, and as a result, a medusa does not meet the gaze of a person with whom it is conversing. Where she directs her eyes indicates her esteem for the person. She drops her eyes toward the ground to show respect, or looks up and over the person if she wishes to indicate disdain; when speaking to an equal, she glances to the left or right. If she wishes to show trust, she directs her gaze to the person, but closes her eyes.
While this may seem inconvenient to a human, it has little impact on a medusa. If a medusa concentrates, she can receive limited visual impressions from the serpents that make up her hair; as a result, though she seems to look elsewhere, she’s actually looking through the eyes of her serpents. She can even use her serpents to see when she is blindfolded or has her eyes closed. However, she can still “see” in only one direction in this way; her serpents may look all around her, but she can’t process the information from all of them at once.
While I like the idea of looking up or down to signal respect when dealing with an individual, things get a little trickier on a crowded city street where accidental eye contact could easily happen—but in such a situation, again, all the medusa has to do is to close their eyes. To me, this is the absolute reason a medusa can’t petrify you by accident, and why you only have to make that saving throw if they choose to force you to; if they don’t want to hurt you, they’ll close their eyes.
So, with this in mind, no, medusas don’t wearing eyeblinders when they’re at home. The power of the medusa is a gift of the Shadow and they are proud of this gift; it’s not their job to calm your fears. And as Sheshka points out, everyone is dangerous, especially in Droaam; no one expects gargoyles to file down their claws, or Xorchylic to bind his tentacles. Demanding that a medusa cover their eyes is demeaning and shows a lack of trust. They’ll put up with it when the local laws require it, though even then they may skirt it (as with Tashka wearing a blindfold instead of full eyeblinders). But they certainly aren’t going to wear a blindfold while at home just to make you more comfortable.
Can you explain the demographics of Darguun? According to the ECS, only 6% of the population is human. How did it go from being a human-dominant nation to just 6%?
First of all, we need to address the tribex in the room, and that is that population numbers in Eberron have never been realistic. In part this is because we’ve never entirely agreed on the scale of the map; there’s also the broader question of whether population numbers should reflect medieval traditions (as was typical for D&D at the time the ECS was released) or if, given that society’s advances are more like late 19th century Earth, the population should reflect that as well. Consider that in 1900, London was home to five million people… while in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting, Breland only has a total population of 3.7 million.
For this reason, the 3.5 ECS is the only book that actually gives population numbers for the nations; neither the 4E ECG or 5E’s Rising From The Last War do. Because at the end of the day, the exact number usually isn’t important. What matters is that we know that Aundair has the lowest population of the Five Nations and that Breland has the highest. It’s good to know that Sharn is the largest city in the Five Nations, even if I’d personally magnify its listed population by a factor of five or more. So I DO use the numbers given in the Eberron Campaign Setting, but what I use are the demographics break-downs—for example, the idea that dwarves make up a significant portion of the population of Breland, but are relatively rare in Aundair—while I use the population numbers just as a way of comparing one nation to another, so I know the population of Breland is almost twice that of Aundair.
So: I use the stats of the ECS, but I use them for purposes of comparing one nation to another, not for purposes of setting an absolute number. With that in mind, let’s look back to the original question: Is it strange that humans only make up 6% of the population of Darguun? In my opinion, not at all. The key is to understand the difference between the Darguun uprising and the Last War as a whole. During the Last War, the Five Nations were fighting over who was the rightful heir to the throne of Galifar. As discussed in this article, the goal—at least at the start—was reunification, and the question was who would be in charge. It was never a total war; the Five Nations agreed on the rules of war and whenever possible, avoided targeting civilian populations or critical civic infrastructure.
None of this applied to the Darguun uprising. The ECS observes that “Over the course of the Last War, most of the towns, temples, and fortresses in the region were razed and abandoned.” Not conquered and occupied: razed and abandoned. The Darguuls didn’t have the numbers to rule as occupiers, so they DESTROYED what they couldn’t control, driving the people away or killing them. It was an intensely brutal, ugly conflict, driven both by history—in the eyes of the Darguuls, the people of Cyre were the chaat’oor who had stolen the land and brutalized their ancestors—and by the fact that it needed to be swift and brutal, to maximize the impact before the Cyrans could regroup. By the time central Cyre was truly aware of the situation in southern Cyre, there was nothing left to save.
So I think the the demographic percentages are reasonable; I think most of that human 6% have actually come to Darguun after the war to do business or as expatriates of other nations. This ties to the point that Darguun is a nation of ruins—again, as the ECS says, “most of the towns, temples, and fortresses were razed and abandoned.” In my Eberron, the population of Darguun is far lower today than it was before the uprising; again, part of the reason for the brutality was because they didn’t have the numbers to rule through occupation. Darguuls are slowly reclaiming ruined towns and cities, building their own towns on the foundations just as humanity built many of its greatest cities on Dhakaani foundations—but overall, much of Darguun is filled with abandoned ruins that have yet to be reclaimed.
This brings up another important point. I agree with the demographic percentages of the ECS, but I think the listed population of Darguun is too high. Darguun is listed as having a population of 800,000. Again, I’m not concerned with that actual number—I’m concerned with how it compares to other nations. At 800,000, Darguun is the size of the Lhazaar Principalities, Zilargo, and Valenar combined. The whole idea of Darguun is that a relatively small force laid waste to the region because they lacked the numbers to conquer it. Now, in my Eberron the goblin population has swelled since the uprising. Haruuc’s people—the Ghaal’dar—were based in the Seawall Mountains and the lands around it. The dar were scattered and living in caverns, peaks, deep woods. As word spread of a goblin nation, tribes and clans came to Darguun from elsewhere in Khorvaire—from deeper in Zilargo, from Valenar, from central Cyre. This ties to the reasons Haruuc often has difficulty exercising control. The Ghaal’dar support him and they are the largest single block; but there are many subcultures that have their own traditions and aspirations. The Marguul are one example that’s been called out in canon, but there’s many more like this—dar immigrants who have come to the region with their own traditions. Notably, in Kanon I have a goblin culture from deep in the Khraal rain forest that is quite different from the Ghaal’dar, who came from the mountains and caverns. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t result in a nation with the highest population of any nation outside of the main five. By the standards of the ECS—so again, ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF COMPARING IT TO OTHER NATIONS—I’d set the population of Darguun at around 230,000. That’s significantly higher than Valenar and on par with Q’barra or Zilargo, but less than a tenth of one of the Five Nations, and low enough to reflect the idea that most of the cities in the region are still unclaimed ruins.
That’s all for now! Because this is an IFAQ, I will not be answering further questions on these topics, but feel free to discuss your thoughts and ideas in the comments. And if you want support the site and pose questions that might be answered in future articles, join my Patreon!
Eberron: Rising From The Last War says that in the Eldeen Reaches, “communities include awakened animals and plants as members.” This raises a number of unanswered questions. Are these awakened beings considered to be citizens under the Code of Galifar? How common are awakened animals in the Reaches? Have they ever been hunted like normal animals? As always, keep in mind that what follows is what I do in my campaign based on my interpretation of the awaken spell—your mileage may vary.
The act of awakening an animal or plant isn’t about evolution. The caster doesn’t create a new species of sentient animal with a single spell. Instead, awaken shapes a sentience from the collective anima of the world and fuses that with the subject, creating a unique intelligent entity; it’s not unlike summon beast, but the spirit is infused into an existing body instead of having a conjured physical form. The awakened creature can access the memories of their life before awakening, but they are a new and unique entity. Critically, if a druid awakens two rabbits, their offspring aren’t sentient. So there aren’t vast lineages of awakened animals out in the world. Every awakened animal has a direct connection to a powerful spellcaster. Druids and bards who can cast awaken are rare, and the spell also has a significant casting cost; it’s not something that is ever done trivially.
So awakened animals and plants are found in Eldeen communities. But any time you encounter one, it’s worth asking who awakened this animal and why? Here’s a few answers.
Oalian’s Voice. The Wardens of the Wood maintain a network of awakened birds and other animals who act as scouts and messengers. Many of these creatures have been awakened by Oalian themself, and roost in the branches of the Great Druid when they return to Greenheart. Given how few Eldeen communities have Sivis message stations, these beasts play an important role in connecting communities. They’re far more than animal messengers; while they carry important messages between sect leaders, they also share stories and news with the general community, and many are celebrated entertainers. Beyond this, part of their work is to gather information; in may ways, the Voice is the Eldeen answer to the Korranberg Chronicle. So adventurers could very well find themselves being interviewed by a raven, who then spreads word of their deed across the Reaches!
Guiding Trees. Every Eldeen community has a druidic advisor. Many also have a guiding tree—a tree awakened by one of the leaders of the sect the community has aligned with. As traditionally awakened trees, these are generally young trees that are capable of movement and which walked to the community, but once in their new home they generally take root and prefer not to move without reason. These trees typically act as spiritual advisors; your town druid may be busy, but the guiding tree is always there when you need advice.
Bloodhounds. The Wardens of the Wood seek to maintain order across the Reaches, and this includes helping local councils investigate and deal with crime. The Wardens have long had a corps of awakened canines—mostly wolves in the Wood, but over the last forty years this have expanded to include other hounds. Bloodhounds (a term used regardless of breed) generally work with a humanoid Warden, whether traveling or residing in a community, but occasionally a Bloodhound—or even a team of Bloodhounds—can be found working independently.
The Faithful. Many powerful druids awaken a few animals to serve as companions and confidantes. Over time, these animals can become valued agents of the sect, being charged with important duties or acting as a representative of their companion druid. Should they outlive their companion, the faithful beasts typically continue to work with the sect. So you can find a Moonspeaker tribe where a great bear—once the companion of a legendary druid—is still respected as one of the elders of the tribe, or meet a wolf who’s come to Varna to speak on behalf of Faena Graymorn.
The Totem. Especially in the deep Wood, some communities identify with a particular beast or plant, and have an awakened creature of that type who serves as a combination of mascot and advisor. While some such creatures have nothing to offer but mundane wisdom and inspiration, some totems possess greater primal gifts and serve as oracles and spirit guides.
The Retired. It’s always possible to encounter an awakened creature that served in one of these roles until it chose to retire. This could be for any of the reasons a human chooses to retire. Perhaps they were injured. Perhaps they got too old for this %&$. Perhaps they just realized they wanted to do something else with their lives; awakened animals aren’t slaves, and while most are happy to work with their sects, it’s always a choice. So when you go to an Eldeen tavern, you might meet a crow who used to work for Oalian’s Voice, but who currently just does stand-up three nights a week and enjoys local gossip, or a former Bloodhound who lost her sense of smell and now works as a bouncer.
The Returned. While they aren’t technically awakened animals, some druids are able to transfer their spirits into an animal form after death… essentially, a variation of reincarnate that transfers the soul into a beast instead of a humanoid form. The Returned retain their memories and skills from humanoid life. Most only possess a fraction of their druidic abilities, if any—but a few have managed to regain their powers. Many Returned continue to serve their sects, but others prefer to spend their days in the wilds or to retire and pursue a hobby they never had time for in life.
The Fey. While most druids won’t create awakened animals without a reason, Greensingers are the sect most likely to awaken animals just to bring more magic into the world (although the 1,000 gp component cost keeps them from doing this TOO often). So while most Awakened creatures have a clear connection to a druid or a community, when you’re near the Twilight Demesne you may meet a talkative magpie or a shrub with a story to tell. While this uses the awaken spell, the subjects of this Greensinger technique are considered to be fey as well as beasts or plants.
Are awakened animals considered citizens under the Code of Galifar?
If they’re citizens of the Eldeen Reaches, definitely. In my campaign, becoming a citizen of the Reaches involves swearing an oath of allegiance to a druidic representative—I don’t have time to develop all of the details, but it’s largely saying that you swear to abide by the laws of your community and the Great Druid, and that you will protect the Reaches and its people in times of trouble. The key point here is that in the Reaches,awakened animals are treated like any other sentient creature. While they’re often found performing specific jobs, again, they aren’t slaves and they can quit any time they want. They’re fellow citizens of the Reaches, and if you commit a crime against one, it’s no different than committing a crime against any humanoid. If you kick a dog in a Reacher villager, he could go to the council and accuse you of assault, and if you shoot Bambi the awakened deer, it’s murder… though it’s worth asking why did someone awaken a deer? It definitely could happen in Greensinger territory, but an awakened deer would be very unusual elsewhere. Now, the trick is that while an awakened dog may be a citizen of the Reaches and thus entitled to the protection of the law in Sharn, you’ll have to convince the Sharn Watch of that, which may take some doing. On the other hand, there’s a giant owl on the Sharn Council, so who can say!
As a side note, while we often talk about Oalian as being an awakened tree, the rituals and power invested in the Eldeen Ada were more significant than the basic awaken spell. One aspect of this is that standard awakened plants can move around. In my campaign, Oalian is stationary and infused with primal power; they’re more than just a smart tree.
What sort of materials do the people of the Eldeen Reaches use for armor and weapons?
The people of the fields haven’t abandoned the use of metal. With the exception of some extremist Ashbound, there’s no inherent taboo against metalworking; metal comes from the soil, after all. The Wardens of the Wood seek balance between the wild and civilization, not to eradication industry entirely. The goal is to reduce the environmental impact of industry; scope may be reduced, and primal magic may be employed in place of destructive mundane techniques. Primal magic can help locate objects, shape or mold earth and stone, and when it comes to smithing, anyone who’s fought a druid knows that primal magic can be used to heat metal. The Reaches aren’t primitive; they are a primal civilization, and the key is to consider what tools primal magic can offer.
So the Eldeen Reaches are reshaping the industries of the east, but they haven’t abandoned them. The people of the fields still refine and work with metal, producing similar weapons and armor to those their Aundairian ancestors created. On the other hand, the people of the Wood have long had access to interesting materials aside from metal, and have primal techniques for shaping and strengthening wood, hide, stone, and bone to make it the equal of metal (if not superior to it, as with bronzewood and darkleaf presented in the ECS). So here’s a few options to consider…
Wood and leaves, potentially drawn from plants that don’t exist in our world or strengthened by manifest zones, primal techniques, or, well, Avassh.
Hide and leather, especially the hides of horrid animals (in the ECS, the horrid template increases a creature’s natural armor class by +5!)
Bones, claws, or teeth. These can be drawn from creatures that don’t exist in our world—such as horrid animals—and strengthened using forms of magic fang and similar rituals. While this may not always be the most efficient choice, in some cases it may be used because of totemic significance.
Stone, shaped and strengthened using primal techniques.
So an Ashbound champion might wear armor fashioned from the hide of a horrid bear and wield a two-handed macuahuitl embedded with its teeth… but due to the techniques of the Ashbound artisans, these things would be the equivalent of a breastplate and greatsword.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but please discuss your own ideas and how you’ve used awakened animals in your campaigns!
There’s no shortage of questions concerning the Eldeen Reaches, and I decided to answer a few more.
Does the Eldeen Reaches have a government and ministers? Is anything like the Code of Galifar enforced? Do the shifters in the Deep Wood acknowledge this? What’s the relationship between the Eldeen Reaches and other nations?
For the past forty years, the Eldeen Reaches have officially been under the protection and guidance of Oalian, the Great Druid of the Wardens of the Wood. Long dominant in the forest, the Wardens have spread out into the plains to ensure order throughout the region. Each village has a druid counselor who provides magical assistance and spiritual guidance, and who advises the leaders of the community. Councils made up of representatives from each farming family govern each of the communities. Bands of Warden rangers patrol the forest, responding to threats as they arise.
The shifter tribes and druid sects have their own customs, but leaders are usually chosen based on age and spiritual wisdom. Concepts of law are guided by the ways of nature, and justice is usually swift and harsh.
Politically, the folk of the Eldeen Reaches largely ignore the events of the east and are ignored in return. The Wardens of the Wood have made clear to Breland and Aundair that they will defend the nation against any military threat and have no interest in further discussions regarding borders, treaties, or resource rights.
Eberron Campaign Setting
These are the basic facts as laid out in the Eberron Campaign Setting. The Reacher communities are self-governing. Druidic advisors help guide the villages, and the Wardens of the Wood act as the connective tissue, “preserving order throughout the region”. Each community sets its own rules, inspired by the sect its aligned with. The Code of Galifar is a good general model; most things considered crimes in Sharn will probably be crimes in Varna. On the other hand, a village that’s embraced the teachings of the Children of Winter may have unusual ideas as to what constitutes a proper trial. The main point is that it’s very much what we’d consider frontier justice, with the Wardens acting as sheriffs and communities largely relying on the hue and cry–on people being ready to come together to help when a crime occurs. Meanwhile, the tribes of the Deep Wood generally respect Oalian and the Wardens, but only a few have chosen to become a full part of the Reacher experiment, and most still maintain the same traditions they’ve followed for centuries, ignoring the world beyond the Wood.
Politically “the folk of the Eldeen Reaches largely ignore the events of the east and are ignored in return.” Sharn: City of Towers specifically notes that the Eldeen Reaches don’t have any sort of consulate in Sharn and Five Nations says that they’ve rebuffed diplomatic contact with Aundair. But never forget that this is an experiment. The Treaty of Thronehold is only two years old; the Reaches are still figuring out what it means to be a nation, and how to play at politics. So at the moment, they don’t do much of it; they “largely ignore the events of the east” and “have no interest in further discussions.” But depending what happens in the days and years ahead the Reachers may realize that they have to forge stronger ties to other nations, and have to get better at the game of diplomacy. If adventurers have ties to the Reaches, they could be instrumental in helping to establish or protect the first Eldeen embassies.
What exactly IS the Towering Wood? What makes it different from any other forest?
The Towering Wood hasn’t been explored in depth in canon. Canon sources say that they are preternaturally fertile and that the forces of magic permeate the wood. We’ve mentioned greatpines and “awe-inspiring” bluewood trees. Reflecting my last post, the Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say…
The deep woods of the Eldeen Reaches remain mostly as uncultivated and pure as they were when the world was young. In the Age of Monsters, when the goblinoids forged an empire across Khorvaire, the Eldeen Reaches were the domain of orcs who sought to live in harmony with the wilderness. The orcs were devastated in the war against the daelkyr. As a result of this terrible conflict, the forest was seeded with aberrations and horrid creatures formed by the sinister shapers of flesh.
In my campaign the Towering Wood is surrounded by a buffer zone—a few miles of woodland where the trees are smaller, where there are certainly predators but where you aren’t as likely to piss off a dryad or encounter horrid wolves. The people of the fields have always hunted game and harvested lumber from this region, and it’s likely grown thinner over the history of Galifar. But the people have always known that there’s a line you don’t cross. Because when you reach the Wood itself… you feel that capital letter. You can feel its age and its power. And you if you blunder into it without knowing your way… Fey. Fiends. Aberrations. Plants twisted by Avassh. Undead. Horrid animals. Feral gnolls. Lycanthropes. Until a decade ago, Sora Maenya. If you just randomly chop down a tree, you might be cutting into Old Algatar, the great interconnected Eldeen Ada who will surely lay a terrible curse upon you or send a treant to crush you. And set aside all of these supernatural threats: if you just brought in a team to start cutting down bluewoods, you’d have to deal both with the Ashbound and the Wardens of the Wood; one of the prime directives of the Wardens is to protect the Wood from the outside world. It’s entirely possible Cannith has tried harvesting in the Towering Wood in the past; it’s just never ended well.
With that said, people live in the Towering Wood. The key is that you have to understand the threats, to be able to recognize warning signs, to know the locations of manifest zones and the safe paths maintained by the Wardens of the Wood. Looking to the present day, the Eldeen farmland communities work with their druidic advisors to harvest lumber from the edge of the Towering Wood, both ensuring that their actions are sustainable and that the lumberjacks don’t blunder into a dryad’s grove or one of Avassh’s bone orchards. Anyone can hunt and harvest from the Towering Wood… it just requires care and understanding.
But is the Wood actually like? For a start, it holds trees that don’t exist in our world. Greatpines are similar to the pine trees we know, but have thicker trunks and can reach heights of over 250 feet. The awe-inspiring bluewoods are more massive than our redwoods. But as you go deeper, you can encounter something different. This is a point where I break with canon—keeping the same general idea, but shifting it slightly. The ECS describes a specific region called The Guardian Trees, where the trees “dwarf the greatest redwoods”—but this is a very specific region that only spans about 30 miles. In my campaign, I take a different approach. First, I use the term guardian tree to refer to the Eldeen Ada. Second, in my Towering Woods those immense trees aren’t limited to a tiny region; they are spread across the forest. I call them titans—primordial trees that dwarf anything in our world, potentially thousands of feet in height. These titans are infused with primal energy—there’s the possibility they are literally the first trees, so they are sustained beyond what should be possible for any mundane fauna. The article I linked is tied to my Phoenix: Dawn Command setting, in which the titans have all fallen. In the Towering Wood I’d say most of the titans are still standing, but that there are a few that have fallen. This allows for the possibility of stumptowns (as pictured above, communities in the stumps of titans) or for communities or dungeons carved into the densewood trunks of fallen titans. Unlike the ECS, I spread these throughout the wood, but they are still rare; there’s a few dozen of them in total across the entire Wood. But each one is a truly remarkable landmark, and a wellspring of primal power. Traditional magic doesn’t work on a titan, so you can’t just animate one of them. Some people believe that the titans are awakened but are simply too vast to perceive humanoids; others believe that they hold the spirits of all the druids who’ve died in the region. Either could be true. To date Avassh hasn’t corrupted a living titan… but it could certainly have infested the trunk of a fallen one.
A final important point is that the map as it stands doesn’t show any rivers or bodies of water in the Towering Wood. This is solely because the maps have low resolution. Rivers and streams flow down from the mountains and through the wood, and there are pools tied to Lamannian and Thelanian manifest zones. There’s nothing on the scale of Lake Galifar or Silver Lake, but there are certainly immense ponds and streams that can prove challenging to cross.
What do the communities of the people in the Towering Wood look like?
The people of the woods hid from the eyes of Galifar, and most prefer the solitude of the Towering Wood to the bustle of the Five Nations. Shifters and centaurs sometimes live in their own isolated tribes, but the forest folk prefer to live in small mixed communities—human, elf, and shifter living side by side. They follow the faith of one of the druid sects, but only the most exceptional… join the patrols that guard woods and plains alike.
Player’s Guide to Eberron
There are many subcultures within the Towering Wood. Each of the druidic sects has its own tradition, and there are also sects that we haven’t discussed. The shifter Moonspeakers are a very significant faction that’s received little attention, primarily because they don’t interact much with the world beyond the Wood; there’s also a unique centaur tradition (though centaurs are also found among the Wardens, Greensingers, and other sects).
So first of all, you have the basic division of nomadic versus stationary communities. Within those categories, you see considerable variation reflecting the traditions of each sect and tribe. A detailed breakdown is beyond the scope of this article, but looking to the settled communities, some primarily create structures using tanned hides—essentially, tent cities, often extending up into the trees with hides stretched between strong boughs. Some build wooden platforms in the trees, while others—”root dwellers”—prefer sod walls and burrows going into the earth. In part, this depends on the weather and the nature of local threats, whether people need to take to the trees or if they feel secure on the ground. As noted below, people definitely take advantage of the resources the Wood presents; where you have a fallen titan (the tree, not the monster), people will build homes into the stump or the trunk. Beyond Greenheart, one of the largest communities in the Wood is just known as the Crossroads; this is a stumptown that lies along the migratory paths of a number of different nomadic tribes, which serves as central marketplace where people from different communities and sects exchange goods and services.
For the most part, however, the communities of the Wood are quite small. The Woodfolk don’t practice industrialized agriculture, so a community needs to be careful not to extend past the limits of local resources, and will split when it grows too far.
There’s a few things to keep in mind when dealing with the people of the Wood. Only the most gifted among them are full-fledged druids or rangers—just as few priests in the Five Nations are actual clerics, and few of the students in Arcanix are actually wizards. However, many possess some connection to primal power. This may be reflected by the abilities of a Gleaner, the primal equivalent to a magewright or adept. Gleaners can cast cantrips and perform spells as rituals, and as always their may have abilities beyond the standard spells; Deep Wood light-weavers create long-lasting light sources using a form of faerie fire. Gleaners also work with beasts in many ways, mirroring the ideas suggested for dinosaurs in this Talenta article; beasts serve as messengers, scouts, guards, beasts of burden, mounts, small-scale livestock, and more. Other Reachers master primal gifts that aren’t spells, and could possess gifts that mirror specific class abilities. Quite a few Deep Wood shifters master a limited form of wild shape allowing them to assume the form of a particular beast a few times a day (something that’s sure to send any follower of the Pure Flame crying “Werewolf!!!!”); even some non-shifters master this gift. A hunter might have a ranger’s Favored Foe feature, even if they don’t cast spells. Essentially, the full powers of a druid are remarkable—but primal magic and primal gifts are part of daily life in the Deep Woods. It’s also worth noting that on the whole, the people of the Deep Woods are highly competent, because they have to be. There’s a reason the Children of Winter lament how eastern civilization coddles the weak but have no such complaints about the people of the Wood, and a reason why the population of the Wood is far lower than that of the fields. The Towering Woods are dangerous. Survival is hard, and everyone is expected to contribute to their community. Ranger or not, every denizen of the Deep Wood has to be prepared to fight for survival. The tools may vary—some prefer a bow, some their own teeth, some a thorrn whip—but the Woodfolk are tough as ironwood, because they have to be.
Within a typical Woods community, everyone has tasks assigned to help the community, based on the skills they possess. The gleaners and actual druids of the community provide spiritual guidance, an expansion of the druidic advisors seen in the fields. Having said that, there ARE communities that are entirely comprised of initiates and hunters. Looking to the Wardens of the Wood, what you’ll see most are patrols, which function much like Valenar warbands: self-sufficient units capable of living off the land, which follow established paths between the major communities—helping travelers, containing new threats that have emerged, and maintaining ties between communities. You can also find circles, which function much like monasteries in the outside world; groups of gleaners and actual druids maintaining sacred sites and performing rituals, often for the benefit of nearby communities; for example, a circle may perform rituals which repel or calm horrid beasts in a wide area, or that hold back the influence of Avassh.
When creating a Deep Woods community, here’s a few things to consider.
What sect are they associated with? Who’s their spiritual leader?
What species are part of the community?
Why have they chosen this location? Is there a manifest zone here, or an especially useful resource? In either case, how have they harnessed this?
Do they work with a specific sort of beast?
What are the most significant local threats? Does the community have a particular way of dealing with them?
If the Eldeen Reaches is so decentralized and lacks industry, how can it possibly challenge Aundair or any of the Five Nations?
There’s two key elements here. The first is the spirit and determination of the Reachers. It is unlikely that they could invade Aundair or Breland, but they have sworn to be independent and are willing to fight to the bitter end to maintain that independence. This ties to the point that the Wardens excel at small-unit guerilla tactics. Essentially, it’s a statement of you can try to invade us, but be warned that we will never surrender, that you will pay a price each and every day.
The second point is more enigmatic. While Thrane bends them a bit, in general the Five Nations play by the same set of rules. Go back a century and all their generals were trained at Rekkenmark. Their nations are grounded on arcane science and the services of the Dragonsmarked Houses. They know what to expect from one another. But the Eldeen Reaches don’t play by those rules. They’re a wide primal society, wielding a power that’s never been fully tested in this way. The Five Nations don’t know what the Reachers are capable of—and beyond that, the REACHERS don’t know what they’re capable of. The spells player characters wield provide us with a foundation, but Exploring Eberron already addresses arcane artillery and war rituals—the idea that the powers of a player character are oriented around swift squad combat. Given time, given tools, given a full circle of druids allied around the Great Druid themself—the Reachers wield the pure power of nature. They shattered the castles of tyrant lords with earthquakes and scattered armies with hurricanes. They terrified enemies with swarms of stinging insects and devastated them with plagues (“Those who survive will be stronger for it,” the Children of Winter say). The most infamous engagement was the battle for Varna, in which Lake Galifar itself rose up to fight for the Wardens. At least, that’s what the stories say. They’re surely exaggerated; but the point is that the druids were able to raise an elemental of unprecedented size and power that devastated Aundairian ships and sent their forces into disarray.
Even the Warden soldiers who were at the siege don’t know what was involved in raising Lake Galifar or if it could be done again. And that’s the point: the full capabilities of the Reaches are a mystery. Their army is a fraction of the size of any of the Five Nations. Their industrial capacity is far smaller. But no one—not even the Reachers themselves—knows what they are capable of. You can be sure that there’s teams in the Arcane Congress specifically devoted to analyzing and countering the primal capabilities of the Wardens. But for now, those mysterious powers are sufficient to give any nation pause.
Are there Treants in the Towering Wood?
Absolutely… both natural treants, fey treants, and the dreaded gaa’avash. In my campaign, the treants of the Towering Wood are the children of the Eldeen Ada. Each has its own distinct personality, but each treant is spiritually linked to one of the guardian trees and follows its direction. So Oalian doesn’t leave the Greenheart, but their child Gywahar was part of the Warden forces during the Secession and many of the enemy assumed the treant was Oalian themself. Meanwhile, fey treants are found in Thelanian manifest zones and essentially a variation of dryads—a different sort of tree story.
Avassh has great influence in the Towering Wood. Elsewhere there have been suggestions that the Barrens are barren because of some sort of massive defoliation effort enacted by the Dhakaani. Why wouldn’t the Towering Wood have suffered the same fate?
There’s no certain answer to this question in the present day; you’d need to consult ancient Dhakaani or the long-dead orcs of the Towering Wood. But there’s two obvious answers. The first is that Dhakaani lived in the region that’s now the Barrens, while they never lived in the Towering Wood. They had to do something because Avassh was destroying their people… while meanwhile, the orcs of the Towering Woods would never have supported such actions. Beyond this, I’d be inclined to say that whatever cataclysmic method they used likely wouldn’t have worked in the Towering Wood, which is “preternaturally fertile.” The primal power of the region made it a safer haven for Avassh, even if the titans themselves resisted her influence.
That’s all for now! As always, these answers are my opinions and may contradict canon sources. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible; if you’d like to see more frequent articles or to be able to influence future topics, check it out!
These people fall into two distinct cultures: the farming folk of the eastern plains and the people of the woods. The farmers live on the eastern edge of the Towering Wood. Their ancestors were citizens of Aundair, but their grandparents and great-grandparents turned against the lords of Aundair during the Last War, when the princes of Galifar abandoned them. The plains folk live simple lives, but they are rugged and proud. Most have taken up the beliefs of the druids, and villages have druid advisors. The people of the woods hid from the eyes of Galifar, and most prefer the solitude of the Towering Wood to the bustle of the Five Nations. Shifters and centaurs sometimes live in their own isolated tribes, but most forest folk prefer to live in small mixed communities—human, elf, and shifter living side by side. They follow the faith of one of the druid sects, but only the most exceptional actually become druids or rangers, joining the patrols that guard woods and plains alike.
Player’s Guide to Eberron
The “Eldeen Reaches” has its roots in early Common and Druidic; it can be translated as “The Old Land” or, perhaps, “The Oldest Land.” The term has been used since the earliest days of the Five Nations, but until the Last War it wasn’t the name of a nation; it primarily referred to the land beyond civilization. The people who actually lived in this vast woodland region called their home the Towering Wood, and most still do. It was only in the midst of the Last War that the Eldeen Reaches became a nation, and that nation was and is something entirely new—the fusion of the traditions of former Aundairians with the shifters and druidic initiates of the Towering Wood. A crucial point is that the former Aundairians didn’t simply adopt the traditions of the Woodfolk, because the people of the Wood weren’t themselves united and besides, many of the woodland traditions couldn’t be directly applied to the agricultural lands of the east. The Wardens of the Wood helped the people of the farmlands secede from Aundair—and then, they worked together to build something entirely new for both of them. While the Eldeen Reaches are now a nation, more than anything they are an experiment, one that is very much still in progress.
Much has been written about the Eldeen Reaches in the present day, but I want to explore the history of the Reaches and of the Towering Wood—because the past can shed vital light on the present and on what the world within the Wood actually looks like.
The Forgotten Roots of the Towering Wood
The Towering Wood is ancient, and not even the trees know all of its secrets. But someone who studies the tales of the Moonspeaker druids, the chants of the Ghaash’kala, and the long-lost records of Dhakaan may piece together this tale of the Wood—a tale that may even be true.
The Towering Wood is as old as the world. Some say the greatpines were the first trees Eberron created, that the Wood was the first forest. In these tales, the Woods were home to the first humanoids, the Ur-Oc… the species we now know as orcs. Tale or truth, the archaeological record shows that orcs were once found across the west coast of Khorvaire, from the Shadow Marches to the Demon Wastes. But the first age was no time of peace. The Towering Wood may have been the first forest created by Eberron, but it was quickly claimed and corrupted by one of the vile children of Khyber—an archfiend known as the Wild Heart. From the Towering Wood, the Wild Heart fought ceaselessly with other overlords; its greatest rival was the Rage of War, Rak Tulkhesh, who held the Shadowcrags and the lands beyond. There are many stories that could be told of this time, tales of the endless battles between gnoll and orc, of how the orcs of the north were freed by the First Light and witnessed the birth of the Binding Flame. There are stories to be told of the dragons, of how they came to Khorvaire after the binding and how the Daughter of Khyber shattered all that they created. But these tales are in the deep and distant past, and our interest lies closer to the present. In the “Age of Monsters,” the goblins of Dhakaan became the greatest power in Khorvaire. They drove the orcs into harsh and dangerous lands, places the goblins didn’t want—high mountains, deep swamps, the wild and untamed woods. The orcs cared little, for they loved these primal lands. And so as the empire expanded, the orcs prospered in the Towering Wood. They lived in harmony with the fey of the Twilight Demesne, and kept the malevolent Gloaming at bay. They raised no cities and forged no empires, and felt no need for either.
So how is it that when humanity came to Khorvaire, there were no orcs in the Towering Wood?
A student of arcana might leap to a conclusion. Surely, it was the daelkyr! And in part it was. When the forces of Xoriat boiled into the world, the Twister of Roots sunk its tendrils deep into the Towering Wood. But the Gatekeepers—orcs druids, trained by the dragon Vvaraak—came north to the Towering Wood and shared their secret knowledge with their cousins. Together, druidic orc and Dhakaani goblin overcame the horrors of the daelkyr and drove the lords of Xoriat into the darkness. The daelkyr were bound in Khyber by primal seals, which took many forms. Some say that the seals had to match to the nature of the daelkyr. The Twister of Roots couldn’t be bound with stone or steel; Avassh could only be held at bay by a living seal of root and leaf, and so it was that the druids created the EldeenAda—Druidic for, essentially, the first trees—imbuing a handful of trees with sentience and primal power. The greatest of these, and the only one known in the wider world, is the Guardian of the Greenheart, the Great Druid Oalian. But there are other guardian trees spread across the Towering Wood. Some guide their own communities of druids and rangers. Others prefer the company of dryads or elemental spirits. At least one has grown bitter and despises humanoids. The Eldeen Ada have existed for thousands of years, and they have been an invaluable source of primal wisdom. If this tale is true, they are more than that. Oalian is one element of the living seal that keeps Avassh in Khyber. So it wasn’t the Twister of Roots that destroyed the orcs of the Towering Wood. And yet, a thousand years later, the Eldeen Ada would be the only remnant of those orcs. When humanity came to Khorvaire, the Wood was the domain of scattered shifter tribes and feral gnolls. What happened?
The tales of the shifter Moonspeakers never say how the shifters came to Khorvaire. They speak only of a time of chaos and terror, a time when shifters were feral beasts. According to this myth, it was Olarune who taught the first shifters to master the beast within, and who trained the first Moonspeakers. A historian who carefully traces these stories and compares them with the Dhakaani ruins in what is now the Eldeen Reaches could come to a clear conclusion: soon after the daelkyr were bound, something happened in the Towering Wood that utterly obliterated both the orcish culture within the Wood and the Imperial cities just beyond it. Centuries later, a handful of shifter tribes are living in the Wood, with tales of the moon goddess leading them out of terror. What could do such a thing? Why, the same power that almost did it again, thousands of years later. The evidence suggests that the Wild Heart broke free from its bonds and held dominion over what is now the Eldeen Reaches, possibly for centuries. All civilizations in the region were obliterated. Those humanoids that survived were taken by the Curse of the Wild Heart, becoming cruel, predatory lycanthropes driven by the will of the overlord. Somehow, centuries later, something broke this cycle. Something new emerged among the cursed victims of the Wild Heart—champions wielding primal power, who somehow returned the overlord to his bonds. And when peace returned to the Wood, there were no orcs left—there were only shifters.
This is a possibility, not absolute fact; other myths suggest that the first lycanthropes were cursed shifters, not the other way around. But this story explains the dramatic disappearance of the orcs and orcish culture in the region, and is is echoed by the events of the Silver Crusade. It’s simple fact that the overlords can escape their bonds; the near-release of Bel Shalor threw Thrane into chaos in the Year of Blood and Fire. Thrane’s travails are well documented because the civilization that dealt with it survived and still exists today. This dominion of the Wild Heart came as the Dhakaani Empire was collapsing and contributed to that collapse, and the orcs of the Towering Wood were completely destroyed by it. The only survivors of that time are the trees themselves. Oalian surely knows what became of the orcs, but in the few times they’ve been asked, they’ve said there are secrets that cannot be unspoken. This echoes the fact that we don’t know how the curse was brokenin the Silver Crusade… that there may have been a reason that the details of the victory were never shared and celebrated. Breaking the fourth wall for a moment, there’s a practical reason for this. If, as a DM, you decide to make the Wild Heart part of your campaign, one of the crucial challenges for the player characters will be finding out how it was defeated before and why those details were hidden. WHY won’t Oalian discuss it? Would sharing that knowledge widely somehow help the Wild Heart? Could it be something even stranger: in order to bind the Wild Heart, a group of templars and Moonspeakers had to become a new form of lycanthrope—another form of the living seal—and that to this day there is a secret group of lycanthropes at the heart of the Church of the Silver Flame, somehow evading all forms of divination? Have all the Keepers since that time been lycanthropes? Ultimately, the point is that the Wild Heart has been released before, and the eradication of the orcs and goblins of the region shows the stakes: fully unleashed, the Wild Heart would destroy the people of the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair. But should this threat arise again, people will have to learn how the Overlord was defeated before and why those involved kept those details hidden.
This story contains another important secret: who—or what—is Olarune? In the Moonspeaker tales, Olarune is the moon herself, descended from the heavens to guide the shifters and to free them from a time of chaos. The implication is that these proto-shifters were natural lycanthropes controlled by the Curse of the Wild Heart—which removes free will and enforces cruel, predatory behavior—and that “Olarune” somehow overcame the curse, while also making them shifters. Rather than being slaves to predatory instincts, they “mastered the beast within.” Who would and could do such a thing? One simple answer is a dragon. The dragon Vvaraak taught the first gatekeepers, and Olarune is said to have taught the first Moonspeakers. Could Olarune have been another Child of Eberron—or even Vvaraak herself, returned from a period of stasis? Another possibility is that Olarune was an archfey who came to the Towering Woods through the Twilight Demesne—that shifters may still have a literal faerie godmother in Thelanis. Perhaps Olarune was a manifestation of Eberron itself, a force of primal power. Or, just possibly, Olarune was a player character of her age—not an avatar of Eberron, but a natural lycanthrope who somehow channeled the power of Eberron, much as Tira Miron channeled the power of the Silver Flame. Again, this is a decision for each DM to make for themselves, should they decide to tell the story. The question is whether Olarune still exists—whether adventurers can find her in Thelanis or in Argonnessen, whether druids can reach her by communing with nature, or whether she was just a mortal—in which case it might be possible for a mortal champion of this age to assume her mantle.
The Coming of Humanity
Once upon a time, an orc culture was spread across the Towering Wood. When humanity came to what is now Aundair, the Towering Wood was inhabited by scattered shifter tribes; aside from the absence of orcs, the shifter population was far lower than that of the ancient orcs of the region. There’s two reasons for this. The first is understanding the desires of the Wild Heart. Look to the Silver Crusade: the overlord didn’t simply turn ALL of the people of the Towering Wood into lycanthropes. He turned some of the denizens into lycanthropes, and then set them on their former friends and neighbors. The Wild Heart isn’t in any way a spirit of nature; he delights in savagery andthe prey’s fear of the predator. If and when he was released before, he created servants and forced them to prey upon their former people. A grim possibility is that the reason he was eventually rebound—the reason Olarune was able to create the shifters—was because there were no innocents left to hunt, and that this weakened the overlord.
So first of all, the initial shifter population was just a fraction of the former orcs. The second point is that the Towering Wood was far more dangerous than it had been in the past. At the start of the Age of Monsters, the Wild Heart had been bound for tens of thousands of years, and the daelkyr had yet to arrive. The Wood as it exists today—and as humanity first found it— is quite a different place. Consider…
The Twister of Roots is the daelkyr that has the greatest influence in the Towering Wood, but Dyrrn the Corruptor touches it as well. While the daelkyr are bound, their minions and their influence can affect the surface. As noted in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, “For every dryad, there is a dolgrim; for every unicorn, there is a runehound.” Cults of the Dragon Below can manifest at any time, and countless denizens of the Wood have been corrupted by the daelkyr over the ages.
The Wild Heart held dominion over the region for centuries before being rebound, and its power rose again during the Silver Crusade. The scars of these conflicts remain. The woods are filled with dire and horrid beasts that act with unnatural aggression and cruelty. There are bands of feral gnolls still driven by the hunger of the Wild Heart. It seems that the power of the Curse of the Wild Heart may be growing again, and it could well be that the bite of a horrid beast could inflict an innocent with the curse.
All of this is added to the effects of powerful manifest zones… primarily to Lamannia and Thelanis, but with notable exceptions such as the Gloaming. Beyond this, despite their best efforts the Ghaash’kala can’t contain every element of evil that seeks to cross the Labyrinth; there are always a few fiends roaming the northern woods. The crucial point is that the Towering Wood are dangerous. In his Chronicle of Thaliost, the sage Dalen Book wrote that “The world ends at the Towering Wood.” The human settlers interacted with shifters on the edge of the Wood—sometimes trading, sometimes fighting—but after a few efforts they settled on the pleasant lands they called Thaliost and abandoned the idea of claiming the “Eldeen Reaches.” However, there were always some people who heard the call of the Wood.
This brings us to the druid sects we know today. The bulk of the shifter tribes follow the Moonspeaker tradition. But there were always a few drawn to different paths. Largely, these were tied to region—and most often to the guidance of one of the ancient trees. The Children of Winter have always been based in the Gloaming and helped to contain this sinister power. The Greensingers walk the edge of the Twilight Demesne. The Ashbound protect the northern Reaches from the fiends that cross the mountains. So the first druids of all of these sects were shifters, but slowly, new initiates trickled in from the newcomers settling to the east. It was at this point that Oalian formed the Wardens of the Woods, to protect the people of Thaliost from the Wood and to protect the Wood from civilization. The Wardens helped to mediate disputes between shifters and settlers, and earned the respect of both sides.
As centuries passed, the shifters of the Towering Wood maintained their traditions, while the people of Thaliost continued to expand and grow. But on the whole, it remained as Dalen Book had said; for all intents and purposes, civilization came to an end at the edge of the Towering Wood.
The Silver Crusade and the Lycanthropic Purge
Thaliost became Galifar, and under Galifar the Towering Wood and the land around it were all declared to be part of Aundair. The Eldeen Reaches was a term used to refer to all the lands west of the Wynarn River. It was a region of Aundair, known for its farmland—but it was on the edge of civilization and lacked the sophistication of Fairhaven or Thaliost, the arcane elegance that had come to define Aundairian culture. The nobles largely ignored reports of gnoll reavers, and the few times that the Carrion Tribes breached the Labyrinth in force, little was done until they threatened Varna. This disdain can be clearly seen in the ninth century. When werewolves terrorized the farmers of the Reaches, the lords of Aundair ignored their pleas for aid. It was the Church of the Silver Flame that responded, by launching the Silver Crusade. After a bad start based on ignorance and the work of cunning wererats, a tenuous alliance was formed between the templars and the inhabitants of the Towering Wood. Templars needed the support of shifter villages to carry the campaign deeper into the Wood, and it was only by working together that Moonspeakers and templars were able to break the power of the Wild Heart. This could have been a moment that forged a strong and lasting bond between the two forces. But for whatever reason, the details of that victory weren’t shared. The templars of Thrane left the region, and only the Pure Flame remained—Aundairians who embraced the Flame as a weapon, and who sought an outlet for their pain and someone to blame for their losses and suffering. Under the guise of hunting down every last lycanthrope—ultimately, an impossible task, as the lingering power of the Wild Heart can always create more—the Pure Flame carried out decades of cruel purges that drove a lasting wedge between shifters and the church.
As historians often focus on the tragedy of the Purge, there’s another important aspect of this period that’s often overlooked. The Pure Flame arose because Aundairians embraced the force they saw as saving them from the apocalyptic threat. But it wasn’t only the templars who fought that battle. Some farmers fought alongside shifters; others were saved from death by the druids and rangers of the woods, most notably the Wardens of the Wood. Even as some farmers embraced the Pure Flame and hunted for imaginary werewolves, others embraced the druidic mysteries and left their fields to serve as Wardens of the Wood. This moment laid the cornerstone for the modern Eldeen Reaches, increasing contact and interaction between the farmers and the Woodfolk and increasing the numbers of all of the Eldeen sects. One reason the people of the Five Nations know so little about the druids is because before the Silver Crusade there just weren’t enough of them to push beyond the Reaches. The Ashbound are an especially good example of this. TODAY they are infamous for raiding Dragonmarked facilities and sabotaging airships. Prior to the last century, they didn’t have enough contact to even know about the Dragonmarked Houses, let alone the numbers to plan such raids. Even as followers of the Pure Flame pressed deeper into the Wood in pursuit of their purge, other Aundairians learned about the primal mysteries. So all of the sects grew in power, the Wardens of the Wood most of all.
It’s important to understand that at this time, the people of the Wood weren’t in any way a NATION. If the Moonspeaker shifters had been united, they might have joined together to wipe out the Pure Flame; but they weren’t united. Some chose to retreat deeper into the woods; others fought the Pure Flame, played into the zealots’ narrative. Eventually the Wardens of the Wood worked with the Moonspeakers and other sects to draw a line the Pure Flame couldn’t cross, and it was this that brought the Purge to an end. Some of the people of Western Aundair were grateful to the Wardens, while to the followers of the Pure Flame it was proof than no druid could be trusted.
The Eldeen Secession
The Last War proved to be the undoing of the old order. As the conflict intensified, Aundair pulled its forces back to protect its heartland and eastern borders, leaving the Eldeen Reaches to fend for themselves. Bandit lords sponsored by Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities harried the farms west of the Wynarn River, using the forest as a base and staging ground. In the south, Brelish troops crossed the Silver Lake to occupy Sylbaran, Greenblade, and Erlaskar. As things went from bad to worse, an army of druids and rangers emerged from the forest. In 956 YK, the Wardens of the Wood rallied the farmers and peasants, crushing the bandit army before it knew what was happening. With order restored in the north, the Wardens turned their attention to the south. In 959 YK, they finally succeeded in driving the Brelish forces back across the lake.
Angry at the Aundairian crown for abandoning them, the people swore allegiance to the Great Druid, breaking all ties with the lords of Aundair and resisting several Aundair attempts to regain control. Since 958 YK, the people of the Eldeen Reaches have considered themselves to be part of an independent nation, and they were finally recognized as such with the signing of the Treaty of Thronehold. It remains to be seen whether Aundair will try to reclaim its old territories now that the Last War has ended.
Eberron Campaign Setting
The lords of eastern Aundair had long ignored the farmers on the edge of civilization, and this pattern continued in the Last War. The Eberron Campaign Setting presents the basic issue. Eastern Aundair looked to the west for taxes, for crops, and for conscripts; but they left the farmers to defend themselves from brigands, gnolls, even Brelish soldiers. For the most part, these were relatively minor incidents—in part because the Wardens of the Wood did act to deal with bandits that sought shelter in the Towering Wood or who came too close to the edge of the forest. But as the war went on, these provocations grew increasingly serious. State-sponsored brigands became better organized and armed… and at least some of these “brigands” were Pure Flame zealots. The Brelish advance across Silver Lake was the last straw.
The Eberron Campaign Setting presents the arrival of the Warden army almost as a surprise, with the farmers saying “What the heck! Let’s sign up with you!” a year later. This is a romantic image, but it oversimplifies things. The ties between the people of the west and the Wardens of the Wood had been growing for over a century, ever since the Silver Crusade. The intervention was the result not only of years of pleas from the east, but also of diplomacy within the Wood, as the Wardens convinced the woodland tribes and the other sects to join their cause. The appearance of the Wardens in 956 YK was carefully planned, and many of the farmers were already prepared to join the fight. The idea of secession was already on the table in 956 YK; it simply took the victories and the show of strength by the Wardens to convince the holdouts to embrace the cause. The Wardens won over a few of the landed nobles, even though it meant relinquishing their titles. Others were driven from their lands—though as most of these lords were already living in the cities of the east, it was easily done.
The Evolving Reaches
In considering with the Eldeen Reaches, it’s important to understand the degree to which the Towering Wood is still vast and untamed; the Player’s Guide to Eberron notes that “humanity barely has a foothold in that fortress of nature.” In many ways, the Towering Woods can be compared to the Lhazaar Principalities; the various sects and tribes respect Oalian and could be rallied again, but they’re spread wide and hold fast to their own traditions. The most unified part of the nation is the fields, because its people were unified as citizens of Aundair. As I said at the start, the Eldeen Reaches are an experiment, where the people of the fields are actively learning how to blend their old ways with the druidic traditions. There are still people in the Reaches who don’t support the new nation and who are rooting for Aundair to reclaim the land; they’re simply enough of a minority that they don’t exert power over any major community. These include followers of the Pure Flame, though many of these folk have moved east to Thaliost, delighted to have an ancient city ruled by one of their own.
The thing to always keep in mind is that the Eldeen Reaches have only existed in this current form for four decades. They’re still learning how to settle disputes and the most effective ways to employ druidic magic in everyday life. So far the Reaches are thriving, and most of the people of the land are proud of what they’ve created. But it’s evolving every day, and the shadows of the Towering Wood are just as dangerous as ever.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
As with any lore, it always comes down to the question… why does this actually matter to you, whether as player or DM? There’s a few points to consider here.
First, always consider the separation between the fields and the Wood. The fields are the focus of the great experiment, where the people of cities and villages are integrating the druidic traditions into everyday life. But Varna is far older than the Reaches as a nation. There are people in Varna who are either indifferent to this experiment and even some who actively oppose it. If you’re from one of the cities, where do you stand on this? Are you a fervent supporter of your nation, keen to help it realize its full potential and to serve as a beacon to the world, showing the wisdom of adopting the druidic traditions? Are you working to rally allies against the threat of Aundairian aggression? Or are you indifferent—you’re from the Reaches, but you’re not excited about it? Or are you actively opposed to “the Warden Occupation” and hope to help Aundair reclaim the region? If you’re from the Wood, are you deeply invested in the experiment of the fields, or are you from a deep forest tribe with no interest and little knowledge of the Five Nations?
All of this especially applies to a druid, ranger, or other character with a primal background. If you’re a druid, were you born into the sect or did you come from a family of farmers and choose this path yourself? Keep in mind that the reaches have only been around in their current form for forty years. If you’re an elf, you’re mostly likely older than the nation. Did you fight in the struggle for independence? Were you born in the Wood, or were you raised in Aundair?
As a DM, one of the most crucial things to remember is how mysterious and dangerous the Towering Wood is. As noted in the PGtE, humanity barely has a foothold in that fortress of nature… and the shadows of the wood are home to fiends, aberrations, monstrosities, fey, undead, and more. Neither the ancient orcs nor the Wild Heart built cities, but adventurers could still find ritual sites, cave dwellings, or other relics that reach back to the Age of Monsters or even the Age of Demons. Dhakaani soldiers fought alongside Gatekeeper druids, and there could be an undead dar troop still lost the Gloaming. And while the Gloaming and the Twilight Demesne are MASSIVE manifest zones, there are many, many smaller manifest zones scattered throughout the region. You can potentially encounter fey or undead anywhere in the Wood. The Wardens and the other sects do their best to locate and watch these, and a Thelanian zone might have a resident Greensinger… but again, the Wood is vast.
Next up, keep the events of the Silver Crusade and the Purge in mind. There’s surely remnants of villagers still haunted by innocent shifters slain during the Purge; but you could also find relics of battles where templars and shifters stood side by side. Beyond this, while the power of the curse was broken, the Wild Heart nearly broke free and the remnants of its power can still be felt. There are horrid animals that are crueler and more cunning than any natural beast should be, feral gnolls that are thralls of the Wild Heart, beasts that are actually hosts for fiends, and more. The Wood was also a stronghold of the daelkyr Avassh; you never know when you might stumble upon a cult or relics of the Twister of Roots
A final thing to keep in mind is whether the Eldeen experiment will take a dramatic turn in your campaign. Will Aundair try to reclaim the Reaches? And if so, how will the rest of Khorvaire react? Or is this danger a lurking problem for future generations?
While I don’t have time to answer every question people may have about the Eldeen Reaches, I do want to answer some questions posed by my Patreon supporters this month.
Any fiendish forces from the Wastes that bypass the Ghaash’kala will inevitably end up in the Reaches. Given that fiends and Carrion Tribes do sometimes break through, and the Ghaash’kala are ‘too corrupted’ to leave, is there an organization in the Reaches that deals with such incursions?
The critical issue here is to understand the scale of the situation. The Ghaash’kala are able to stop large forces, which is why it’s been centuries since the Carrion Tribes have managed to cross the Labyrinth. But the Labyrinth stretches across hundreds of miles, and individual fiends or small groups of raiders can slip through. And when they do, what they reach is the Towering Woods—hundreds of miles of a land where “humanity barely has a foothold,” and where dolgrims, horrid beasts, feral gnolls and worse things abound.
Essentially, it’s unfeasible for the denizens of the Towering Wood to try to enforce order on regions of the Wood where they don’t actually live. It’s too large and filled with too many threats, and ultimately, what’s the point? Why lay down innocent lives to enforce order on land no one actually wants to use for anything?
So no, there is no organization in the Reaches that attempts to deal with EVERY INCURSION from the Demon Wastes; the fiends that make it across the mountains disappear into the host of threats the Wood has to offer. With that said, there are two organizations that seek to defend occupied territory from fiends. The first of these is the Wardens of the Wood, who have a broad mandate to protect the people of the Reaches from ALL threats (… as well as protecting the Reaches from the people!). and who cover the widest range. Meanwhile, the Ashbound particularly despise fiends, which they consider to be incarnations of unnatural magic; it’s for this reason that the Ashbound are concentrated in the northern woods. So the point is that even the Ashbound don’t try to catch EVERY FIEND that makes it through the Labyrinth. But they remain ever alert within the regions they inhabit, and hunt fiends whenever they find signs of their presence.
A secondary point to keep in mind here is that Eberron is designed to be a world in need of heroes. Rather than saying the Ashbound have a long-established alliance with the Ghaash’kala and work closely together to deal with threats, I’m inclined to say the Ashbound have a feud with the Ghaash’kala based over a misunderstanding that happened centuries ago and never work together. This is exactly the sort of thing that a diplomatic player character could resolve, but it makes it a problem that needs to be fixed if there’s a threat of a mass incursion from the Demon Wastes… as opposed to saying “Oh, no biggie, the Ghaashbound Alliance has it all under control.”
Who are some famous figures from across the Eldeen Reaches (including the area before it was the Reaches)? Any famous heroes or villains or organizers or leaders past or present that the players could point to and say hey, my character is inspired one way or another by this figure?
First and foremost is Oalian themself; initiates of every sect respect the wisdom of the Great Druid. Here’s a few other prominent figures who have been mentioned in canon.
Bennin Silverclaw is a shifter champion from the time of the Silver Crusade. He’s renowned for playing a crucial role in forging the alliance between an shifters and the templars. He fought alongside the templars during the Crusade and may well have been part of the force that finally broke the power of the Curse. He’s believed to have died pursuing a force of lycanthropes into the Demon Wastes.
Briar is a Khoravar Greensinger. In the decade leading up the the secession, he roamed the Reaches raising spirits and encouraging people to embrace independence. Even after the secession, he remained active on the Aundair-Eldeen border, rallying the Reachers and embarrassing the Aundairians. He was captured by Aundairian forces in 968 YK, and has spent the last 30 years in a silent cell. Note that this Briar is no relation to Briar of Threshold, and may well have been imprisoned before that Briar was born.
Faena Graymorn is a Khoravar druid. While Oalian is the spiritual leader of the Wardens, they’re a tree; Faena is the humanoid leader of the sect, conducting important business that requires hands and legs. She played a critical role in the secession and was involved in the negotiations that earned the Reaches recognition at the Treaty of Thronehold. She is a powerful druid; songs are sung about her deeds driving the Brelish from Sylbaran. However, the years are catching up to her. Today she’s primarily an administrator and diplomat; it’s been a decade since she’s called down lightning against a foe.
Stormclaw is an Ashbound shifter whose strength is legendary throughout the Reaches. He’s said to have crushed fiends with his bare hands, and even to have survived an armwrestling contest with Sora Maenya (before the rise of Droaam). Stormclaw is a bold and ruthless hunter; where his comrade Tasia hunts wizards in Aundair, Stormclaw reserves his wrath for the fiends he tracks in the northern woods.
Raven is one of the most powerful members of the Children of Winter. Where the Children have long contained the power of the Gloaming, Raven has harnessed it and can wield it in battle. She is one of the voices asserting that the time has come to cleanse the world—that the Mourning is merely the first sign, and that the only path to the new s\Summer lies directly through Winter.
Quite a few more notable members of the sects are mentioned in the Player’s Guide to Eberron; here’s one section that mentions a few other Wardens of the Wood.
Other notable members of the wardens include Root (NG male personality warforged fighter 2/druid 4), a spiritual soldier searching for his place in the natural world; Moselin (NG male human druid 7), advisor to the town of Cree and also an active hunter of aberrations; and Feralyn Wolf-tail (NG female gnome ranger 5/Eldeen ranger 1), a clever gnome who hunts poachers and bandits.
Player’s Guide to Eberron
These are just a handful. There are surely other heroes and martyrs of both the Silver Crusade and the struggle for independence, as well as other guardian trees. And if you’re a shifter, there’s Olarune herself!
Were Eberron’s centaurs ever integrated into Galifar or the Five Nations?
So… In my Eberron, the large monstrosity centaur and medium fey centaur are entirely different creatures with completely different backgrounds and cultures, just as I suggested that fey changelings are entirely different from humanoid changelings. In my Eberron, there are a few different species of Monstrosity centaur, including one that’s more equine and one that’s more tribex (including bone headplates and short horns). With all of these subspecies, their humanoid torso has a distinct appearance ; they are half-humanoid, but you’d never mistake such a centaur for a human or elf; they are CENTAURS. By contrast, Fey centaurs vary dramatically in both aspects of their appearance; they aren’t limited to being equine, and their humanoid elements typically DO resemble another mortal species. So you may find a fey centaur that’s half-human, half-horse; but you could also find one that’s half-dwarf, half-riding dog or half-elf, half stag. These are primarily cosmetic details that don’t affect their statistics, and they aren’t limited by genetics but rather by story. Fey cenaturs are usually found near Thelanian manifest zones, and may have a consistent phenotype related to the story of that zone; but when they venture away and out into the wider world that becomes less fixed. Just as two shifters can have a child whose beast doesn’t match either of them, a human/horse fey centaur who mates with a dwarf/riding dog centaur could produce an elf/stag centaur.
Canonically, no, centaurs haven’t been significantly integrated into the Five Nations. The one place I know of where they are specifically called out in canon is the Player’s Guide to Eberron, which states that there are a few nomadic tribes of centaurs in the Eldeen Reaches, noting that they “are most common in the western forests near the Twilight Demesne.” Given that they are canonically denizens of the Towering Wood as opposed to the planes and in particular that they are associated with the Twilight Demesne—the largest Thelanian manifest zone presented in canon—I would say that the Eldeen centaurs are fey centaurs. I’d imagine that each nomadic tribe could have a different phenotype—there might be a tribe of elf/stags near the Demesne, a tribe of human/horses near the border between wood and field, a tribe of gnome/wolves in the north—though as noted above, fey centaurs don’t have to be consistent. In MY Eberron, the Wood centaurs are much like shifters: some tribes have chosen to completely ignore what’s going on in the east and follow their old traditions in the deep Wood, while others joined the Wardens of the Wood (or other sects—I can definitely imagine a centaur Greensinger) and have become part of the experiment. So definitely, in my campaign the Eldeen Reaches has a force of (fey) centaur cavalry as part of its military. With this in mind, I think that you could encounter Eldeen centaurs across the Five Nations just as you can encounter Greensingers or Wardens of the Wood across the Five Nations—they are rare and exotic, but not completely unknown.
But what about the NON-Fey centaurs? We’ve still never mentioned them as having a significant presence in the Five Nations and I’m not inclined to change that. I mentioned a strain of tribex centaurs and a strain of equine centaurs. In my campaign I have the tribex centaurs in the Talenta Plains and the equine centaurs in the Barrens of Droaam; in the Last War, it was actually Droaam that had a small force of centaur cavalry. Monstrosity centaurs can thus be encountered working with House Tharashk, but they are few in number and again, exotic and interesting.
Do you see the Voice of the Flame advising the Keeper of the Flame at the end of the Lycanthropic Purge to issue a public and formal apology to the shifters of the Eldeen Reaches?
tl;dr No, I don’t see the Church issuing a formal apology at the end of the Purge; but I can DEFINITELY imagine Jaela Daran issuing a formal apology today, perhaps even having an in-person ceremony in Greenheart.
Why the shift? First, it’s important to separate the Silver Crusade from the Lycanthropic Purge, as discussed in more detail in this article. The templars didn’t come to the region to kill shifters, they came to defend the innocent from lycanthropes. This started poorly, due to the fact that the raiding lycanthropes were almost entirely cursed shifters and that the wererats were actively working both to convince the templars that all shifters were the enemy and to convince the shifters that all templars were the enemy. But again, the shifters were also fighting the lycanthropes, and thanks to the work of heroes like Bennin Silverclaw, the two forces were able to work together as the conflict continued. There were ongoing tragedies throughout the Crusade, because that’s part of having a conflict with an enemy that can not only hide among your allies, but can turn your allies into your enemies with a bite. But again: shifters and templars were both fighting the lycanthropes, who posed an existential threat to ALL civilizations in the region. By the end of the conflict, templars were laying down their lives to protect shifter villages. Individual commanders surely apologized for tragedies they were involved in and may have done their best to make restitution in the moment. But overall, I don’t see the Church feeling that in needed to make a big public apology; countless templars had died fighting to protect both shifters and the people of Aundair.
… And then we get the Purge. But the thing about the Purge is that it wasn’t dictated by Flamekeep, and it wasn’t terribly well organized. It was an ongoing, slow, horrible persecution that lasted for decades. Most of all, it’s quite likely that the world at large—including Flamekeep—knew very little about it. This isn’t world with TV or internet. No one in Breland or Cyre had any awareness of what was going on the shifters in the Towering Wood. The Pure Flame templars surely reported to Flamekeep that they were engaging in absolutely necessary ongoing vigilance. Surely, over time, some word must have reached Flamekeep—I can imagine a heroic shifter making their way across Aundair to plead for help for their people. It’s possible the Keeper of the time did nothing, but it’s also possible they just didn’t do ENOUGH. They could have sent a strongly worded edict, they could have excommunicated a particular Pure Flame leader—meaning well but not understanding the extent of the hatred and the horror being committed. But not long after that, the Last War began… and I doubt apologizing to shifters was on anyone’s mind in the midst of the war.
Now the war is over. And now that the Eldeen Reaches are a nation, I’m sure that information about the horrors of the Purge are far more widely known. So NOW I see Jaela reaching out to make a formal apology for the Purge—for lighting the fire of the Pure Flame and leaving without foreseeing the danger, and for failing to do more to stop it. The mission of the Silver Flame is to protect all innocents; despite the noble intentions of the crusade, through its actions the Church set in motion a brutal tragedy that result in suffering and death for countless innocents. So yes, I think Jaela would apologize. And as I said, I could imagine a big public ceremony in the Greenheart—which could be a dramatic drive for adventures in many ways, especially if Jaela felt it necessary to attend in person, away from the power she wields in Flamekeep.
As a side note, I don’t see the Voice of the Flame as literally telling a Keeper what to do. Tira is more like an extremely strong conscience; she “speaks” more directly to a Keeper than to anyone else, but it’s still more about FEELINGS than her just say “Yo, Keeps! You fixed that shifter thing yet?” The Keeper can use commune to speak to Tira, but even then it’s up to the Keeper to set the topic. So if a Keeper said Should I do more to acknowledge the suffering of the shifters the Voice would say yes, absolutely—but she can’t force the topic if it doesn’t come up.
If the shifters of the Towering Wood are isolated tribes and may not even have had contact with the people of the fields… why do they speak Common? Shouldn’t they have their own language?
There’s a number of possible answers to this. As called out in this article, languages are one of the places where most settings sacrifice realism for ease of play—because it’s not a lot of FUN to have sessions where you go into the Reaches but get tripped up because no one speaks the Woodland language that no one uses anywhere else in Khorvaire.
With that in mind—it definitely doesn’t make sense that the Woodland shifters, as a whole, would speak Common. SOME would, because they’d have learned it as a trade language; I’m sure the Wardens of the Wood teach Common as part of the Eldeen experiment. So there’s nothing wrong with a player character shifter speaking Common even if they come from the deep Wood. But what would they actually speak at home?
First of all, I WOULDN’T make the Deep Wood language Druidic. I’m of the opinion that Druidic is a magical language that can only be mastered by people who can work primal magic—that in some ways, the Druidic language is primal magic, but some rangers or initiates never master the whole thing. So there are definitely Moonspeakers who speak Druidic, but it’s not the language used by the Deep Wood shifters.
Two valid possibilities are Orcish or Goblin. This would be strong evidence that the shifters are in fact descended from orcs. The question is if they’d speak Goblin because their ancestors adopted it during the Dhakaani reign—or would they have held onto Orcish, which would be someone amusing since we’ve suggested it’s a dead language even in the Shadow Marches?
Another possibility would be that the Moonspeakers say Olarune taught them a language when they first mastered the Beast Within; this could be Sylvan or potentially Elven, if you use my ideas on Elven.
If I were to say “They have their own entirely unique language that isn’t spoken anywhere else in Khorvaire” I would likely give this to any shifter player character from the region as a bonus language, without making them spend a language slot on it. From a practical standpoint, it’s a question of how often will the character actually use this? If the only time it will come up is when their cousin shows up in Sharn or on the two sessions the group makes a trip into the Wood, I’m fine with just giving it to a character as a bonus—just as I suggest that the Karrnathi native might be able to have a conversation with Karrn villagers the Thrane paladin can’t follow.
There’s some evidence that shifters are native to Sarlona as well given their presence in the Tashana Tundra. Did shifters independently arise in two places, or might there be a strange link between Tashana and the Reaches through Khyber?
My thought was the latter. With the timeline suggested, the emergence of shifters in the Wood would have still been thousands of years ago—easily enough time for a group of shifters to discover a land-bridge (well, demiplane bridge) through Khyber and for the common roots to have been forgotten. Given that those roots appear to have BEEN forgotten, the implication is that this bridge is either very infrequently active or that the passage leading to it has either been lost or claimed by a deadly force (hello, daelkyr) that severed any possible ties between the two cultures. There’s also been some discussion in the past of a remarkable sea crossing! The main point is that it’s been a long time—more than three thousand years—and there’s certainly been time for shifters to make it across the sea.
Is there any particular story to elves settling in the Wood?
Elves are present in the Eldeen Reaches, but there’s never been any mention of them having a unique, independent cultural identity. None of the sects are uniquely elvish and there’s no mention of entirely Elvish communities; instead, PGtE notes “the forest folk prefer to live in small mixed communities—human, elf, and shifter living side by side.” If you actually look at the numbers given in the ECS, elves make up a smaller percentage of the population of the Reaches than they do in ANY of the Five Nations; only 3% of the Reacher population are elves, compared to 11% of the population of Aundair! This may be because the elves were always based around the major cities of the east, or it could be that because of their long lifespans, most of the elves of the region remained loyal to Aundair and left the Reaches during the secession.
While the Reaches have fewer elves than any of the Five Nations, half-elves make up a considerable portion—16%, the same percentage seen in Aundair. The Player’s Guide to Eberron notes that fully half of the Greensingers in the Reaches are Khoravar. Combined with the statement that humans and elves live side by side, what this suggests to me is that a relatively small number of elves heard the call of the wild and immigrated to the Towering Wood over the years, but that they have very large families. So I think elves could be found in any of the druidic sects, and that where they are found they will often be elders with multiple generations of Khoravar children; there may only be a few established families of full-blooded elves. If one uses the subrace and considers eladrin to be elves, you could also have a handful of eladrin from Shae Loralyndar spread throughout the sects. Many would likely be Greensingers, still serving as envoys of their Queen. But you could easily have a few who have become attached to the mortal world and chosen to leave the City of Rose and Thorn.
So elves make up a small percentage of the population of the Reaches, and I feel that this would be split between the elves of the Wood—who would be spread across the sects, each with their own story about what drew them to the wild—and the elves of the fields, who were born as Aundairian citizens and chose to support the uprising even when most of their cousins chose not to.
One issue with the Reaches climatically is there’s no good way for the water from the Towering Wood to be replenished—the Wynarn river flowing north is going to drain water out of the system with Lake Galifar faster than any rain coming from the ocean (even off the Barren Sea) would naturally replenish it. Is there a Lamannia zone or some well of water from Khyber that’s kept things going?
Eberron is fundamentally a supernatural world; manifest zones and other mystical forces produce effects that defy what one would expect. This is especially notable with the Reaches, where just across the mountain you have the deeply unnatural and inhospitable environment of the Demon Wastes, while the Eldeen Reaches are said to be remarkably fertile. It’s certainly reasonable to think that there’s subterranean aquifers drawing water from Lamannia. It’s also possible that the region is simply infused with primal power—that it is close to Eberron herself. But the real issue here is that the maps simply don’t show a realistic distribution of waterways. I assume that there are streams and rivers flowing into the Towering Wood from both the Byeshk Mountains and the Shadowcrags, and that there are some significant bodies of water in the Wood (if nothing on the scale of Lake Galifar). Certainly, I’d expect the Icehorn Mountains to have considerable snowpack (perhaps enhanced by Risia) which would further contribute to the region.
That’s all for now! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the Eldeen Reaches in the comments section, though I won’t be answering additional questions. Keep in mind that everything I write here is just what I would do in MY campaign and certainly contradicts some canon sources (I’m lookin’ at you, Forge of War). The idea that the shifters of the Towering Wood may be descended from orcs is a possibility, but not one you have to embrace. With that said, this ties to my general thought that half-orcs are a reflection of the remarkable adaptability of orcs rather than humans—that “half-orc” means orc and something else, not specifically orcs and humans. But that’s another story!
As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible! As a bookend to March’s article on the Lurker in Shadow, later this month I’ll be writing a Patreon-exclusive article on the Wild Heart.
Once upon a time, when a dark pandemic lay over the land and people were trapped in their towers, my company Twogether Studios released The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance—a collaborative storytelling game set in the world created by the McElroy Family. We’ve just launched a preorder for the first expansion to TAZ:BoB (it’s Kind of a Big Deal), and I’m excited about that — but given how isolated we’ve been these past two years, I also want to tell you about the game itself.
The Adventure Zone began when the McElroy Brothers decided to play a D&D campaign with their father, Clint. From humble beginnings, this Balance Arc grew into a sweeping story. In developing the game with the McElroys, we decided two things right away. The first is that this isn’t a game in which you replay the story you may already know—the Balance Arc—but rather, it’s about creating your own unique stories about all the other Reclaimers in the Bureau of Balance. Taako and Merle may show up to lend a hand, but this is YOUR story. Likewise, if what you want to do is to play D&D, there’s already a game that lets you do that (it’s called “D&D”). What we love about the Adventure Zone isn’t the rules and mechanics, it’s the story the McElroys create together. That’s what TAZ: Bureau of Balance is all about; it’s a simple game that helps you create a delightful fantasy adventure with your friends. The rules are simple and no gamemaster is required, and you can finish a session in 90 minutes. If you’re familiar with The Adventure Zone, you’ll spot some familiar faces—but people don’t have to be familiar with the podcast to enjoy the game.
The first step of the game is to create characters. It’s a simple system and you don’t have to track a lot of ability scores or specifics. What’s important is who you are, where you draw your strength from, and how you interact with your companions. The image above is one of the character sheets included in the game, as filled out by Justin McElroy. This is Justin’s character from one of the livestream games we ran when we released the game, and if you want to see how Jason and I play Bureau of Balance, check it out here!
As a team of Reclaimers working for the Bureau of Balance, you are tasked to explore dangerous locations to keep powerful relics out of the hands of nefarious villains. The game includes decks of double-sided challenge cards, and you combine decks to create a scenario. But the cards establish a framework; it’s up to you and your friends to fill in the details. In the example above, you’re venturing into the Cave to steal the Hoard from the Lich. But where is the Cave, and what have you heard about it? What is the precious Hoard? Is it gold? Rare books? NFTs? Who is the Lich, and what’s your connection with them?
Each challenge comes with a deck of cards, and to defeat the Villain or escape the Cave, you must work your way to the bottom of that deck; the doublesided cards ensure that when you face the Lich a second time, you won’t deal with exactly the same challenges. The basic mechanic is simple: declare what challenge you’ll face, determine your strength against that challenge, and roll to see if you are able to defeat it and progress deeper into the dungeon. But once again, the most important thing about the challenge is the foundation it creates for the story. Who is the Lich’s Smug Apprentice? What are they so smug about? How are you going to attempt to defeat them—will you best them in a magical duel, or will you cut them down to size with a well-placed quip? Will you go it alone, or do you need help from your friends—and if so, how will they help?
The most important thing to understand is that this isn’t complicated, and it’s not supposed to be. TAZ:BoB is a concrete foundation for collaborative storytelling and improvisation. You don’t have to make up elaborate stories—if you don’t like being in the spotlight, you can just choose your challenge and roll the die—but the game often rewards you for doing so. We believe that it’s a great game to play with friends who have never played a TTRPG before, but have always wanted to. It won’t teach you the rules of D&D—but it will show you how to create a story with your friends, and to think of your character as more than just a collection of numbers.
What’s in the Bundle?
If you already own TAZ:BoB, you may be eager to hear more about the expansion. We’re releasing two things: the Kind of a Big Deal expansion and a set of five beautiful glittering TAZ20s… or both together in a bundle, which gets you free shipping! The Big Deal expansion adds six new challenge decks to the game. Some of these will be familiar to fans of the series—you can compete with Regular Jereeeeee and other members of his Crew while you try and seize the Sash by winning the Race. But you can also sneak into the lair of the Giant, try to steal the deadly Sword, or finally beat that Crooked Can Game at the Carnival. Some of these challenges are even more chaotic that usual, while others remove the TAZ20 from the equation and require more careful planning.
Whether you’re entirely new to the podcast and game or whether you’re a seasoned Reclaimer, I hope you’ll check it out—adventures await!
Every month I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that came up this month…
In honor of the recent International Transgender Day of Visibility, are there any canonical NPCs you would consider being trans and/or nonbinary?
My immediate answer is every elf in Eberron, as called out in this article. Beyond that, however, this is a question where I’m far more interested in what other people have to say than in my own cisgendered opinion. Because the basic answer is that anyone could be. Exploring Eberron presents the idea that cosmetic transmutation is a safe and effective tool for transition. We’ve said that the people of Khorvaire are comfortable with gender fluidity and nonbinary identity—whether it’s the ongoing fluidity of a changeling or elf or a long-term decision. So the simple answer is that any canonical NPC COULDbe transgender. But this in turn has a certain sense of “So what?” If Krozen transitioned when he was twenty but has identified as male for two decades, how exactly is it visible now? Should it even be called out now, given that Krozen is who they wish to be? I wonder if rather than “Which canonical NPCs transitioned in the past,” a more interesting question might be “Which canonical NPCs might transition in the future”—because to me, that’s what would make the story visible.
The short form is that I’m more interested in the answers of those who are living this experience than in my own ideas. Please share and discuss your thoughts—whether about canonical NPCs, transgender and nonbinary representation in Eberron in general, or experiences from your campaigns—in the comments. And while it’s not my work, I’d like to draw attention to Blessed of the Traveler, a DMs Guild book discussing this topic!
AN IMPORTANT UPDATE. I have never had to moderate comments on a post before, but I will be doing so on this post. I am asking for the input of people who are living this experience. Saying “I’m not trans and I don’t include any representation in my campaign” doesn’t add anything to this conversation, and instead further isolates people who are already isolated. This post isn’t going to force you to change how you DM. What it is—I hope—is for a chance for fellow gamers who normally feel unseen and unheard to share their experiences and to talk about how they would change the world. The question here is how do you include representation in your campaign; “I don’t” or “I won’t” aren’t useful contributions to this discussion and will be removed to keep things focused.
I have said before that in my campaign, “good” reflects empathy and compassion—our ability to understand the pain of others and the desire to avoid causing suffering. So please: be good. If the experiences of the people posting here are not your own, listen to them; this is not the time or the place to argue. Thank you all for your time, your energy, and your compassion.
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from March!
Canonically, Karrnath has a significant halfling population. How does this affect its culture?
The cultures of the Five Nations are inherently cosmopolitan, woven from a tapestry of different species. Halflings make up a minimum of 4% of the population of all of the Five Nations, and have since the time of Galifar. So first and foremost, keep in mind that the culture of Karrnath as it is defined—a culture of martial discipline and warlords, the undercurrent of the Seekers—were all formed with halflings as part of that tapestry. There are halflings teaching at Rekkenmark and at the Atur Academy. The typical Karrnathi halfling is grim and stoic, and likely served in the military; a Thrane halfling is likely to be devoted to the Silver Flame; an Aundairian halfling may be a flamboyant wandslinger. They’re all halflings, but they’re also Karrns, Thranes, and Aundairians—and they are part of the gestalt that created those cultures to begin with.
With that said, Karrnath does indeed have a higher halfling percentage than most of the Five Nations—twice that of any other nation. So roughly half the halfling population of Karrnath reflects the typical widespread presence of haflings throughout Galifar, halflings who identify culturally as Karrns. But that leaves another 5% of the population. These halflings are concentrated in southeastern Karrnath, along the always loosely-defined border with the Talenta Plains. This region has a tumultous history. Before Galifar, there were times when Karrn warlords subjugated nomad tribes, and there were times when Talenta raiders struck deep into Karrnath. Galifar and modern Karrnath largely brought an end to both extremes, but also established this region as a buffer zone. Some nomad tribes chose to settle in the area, adopting agriculture and swearing fealty to warlords in exchange for protection and support. In the present day, these still exist. These small towns are communities that are almost entirely comprised of halflings, whose people think of themselves as Karrns but still retain some elements of the Talenta faith, speak both Common and Halfling in everyday life, and who may domesticate fastieth, glidewings, or hammertails.
In the wake of the Last War, this region has taken on new significance. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “… to curb continued aggression from the Valenar elves, Karrnath has established a separate alliance with the halfling clans of the Talenta Plains. This alliance has allowed Karrnathi troops to set up forts in halfling territory for the mutual protection of both nations.” So the buffer zone of halfling communities has existed for centuries, but in the wake of the Last War and this alliance, you have new Talenta tribes choosing to settle in this buffer region and adopting this hybrid lifestyle, as well as nomadic tribes who have shifted their migratory routes to pass through southern Karrnath, taking advantage of the alliance. Essentially, the border between Karrnath and the Talenta Plains is a spectrum whose inhabitants blend the traditions of both cultures. You have halflings who consider themselves Karrns and who are legally Karrnathi citizens, but who still maintain a number of Talenta tradititions (as well as unique traditions that have evolved through the merging of the two cultures)—and you also have nomads who consider themselves Talenta and aren’t Karrnathi citizens, but who are allowed to dwell in southwestern Karrnath due to the current alliance.
So small towns are Karrnathi communities—some of which have been around for centuries—and Karrns of any species are welcome in them. However, the practical fact is that these are mostly small communities, figuratively and literally; they are built by small humanoids for small humanoids. Medium humanoids can usually find shelter in a barn or church, and some villages have a dwarf or human family who may allow medium travelers to stay with them; but overall, these communities are on a smaller scale than the human-built Karrn towns. While many are small in population as well as scale, there are a few small towns of significant size along the Vulyar-Irontown road. The most notable of these is Sorallandan, a town of over ten thousand that has significant outposts of both House Ghallanda and House Jorasco; Sorallandan is a Halfling word meaning “The Hope For Comfort At The End Of A Lengthy Journey.”
Are there halfling warlords in Karrnath, or are these small towns governed by warlords of other species?
It’s a mix. The small towns around Odakyr and Vulyar owe fealty to human warlords, who are content to let the villages follow their own traditions as long as they meet their commitments as vassals. However, there are two domains along the stretch of land between Vulyar and Irontown that are held by halfling warlords. One of these warlord families—the Toralamars—were raised from the small towns centuries ago; Sorallandan is the Toralamar seat, and the family is committed to maintaining the traditions of the towns and ongoing cultural exchange with the Plains. By contrast, the Warlord Asta Vanalan commanded Fort Deepdark during final decade of the Last War, and Kaius recognized her service by granting her dominion over the nearby lands previously ruled by the ir’Jennrei line; while this technically ennobles her, Vanalan rarely employs the ir’ honorific. The Vanalan family has deep roots in Rekkenmark, and Asta is working to impose more traditional Karrnathi culture on the small towns within her domain; this includes an effort to convince Karrns from the west to resettle in the region. As a warlord, Asta has passed the daily duties of command of Deepdark to Brandin ir’Dulinch, but Deepdark remains the seat of her power.
Is there a group of kids in Khorvaire who wear sashes and sell cookies?
The first one that comes to mind are the Ghallanda Scouts. This organization is run by the Hosteler’s Guild of House Ghallanda. The mission of the Ghallanda Scouts is to build confidence and character. The primary focus is on wilderness skills—sharing the Talentan heritage of the house with all who wish to learn. However, it’s also well known for selling cookies, which both helps to raise funds and to hone business skills. Ghallanda Scout programs can be found anywhere where the house has a presence, and all children are welcome to participate; it’s not limited to halflings or Ghallanda heirs. If a character has the Outlander backgrounds, they could have been raised in the wild… or they could be a Sharn native who loved their time in the Ghallanda Scouts; just swap “A trophy from an animal you killed” for “A collection of merit badges.”
How common is the practice of Speak With Dead in the Five Nations?
There’s a few different aspects to this. Speak with dead is a service that exists in Khorvaire; the list of magewrights on page 318 of Rising From The Last War includes a medium who can perform Speak With Dead as a ritual, and elsewhere we mention a member of the Blackened Book—the mystical division of the Sharn Watch—using it as part of an investigation. So it’s a tool that is used in law enforcement, and I’ve previously mentioned it as a tool that would be used in archaeology. With that said, it’s not commonplace in the Five Nations, for a few key reasons.
It’s difficult and expensive. Third level spells are at the top tied of what’s commonly encountered as “everyday magic” and according to Rising, you’d have to pay a medium 100 gp to perform the ritual.
It doesn’t actually contact the spirit of the victim. You are drawing on trace memories attached to the corpse; you aren’t drawing their spirit back from Dolurrh. So it’s an effective way to gather information, but it’s not like you can have a normal conversation with your dead grandpa because you miss him.
It has to be cast on a corpse. Followers of the Silver Flame typically cremate their dead. Vassals bury them and generally don’t look kindly on people digging their relatives up. It’s typically used by investigators before corpses are buried; at the very least, you’re going to have to file some paperwork to get dispensation to dig up a corpse for questioning. Which ties to the fact that…
The people of the Five Nations don’t like necromancy. It’s not outlawed—and again, speak with dead is definitely used by investigators and archaeologists—but in the Five Nations, people think talking to skulls is CREEPY, and digging up the dead is worse.
So speak with dead exists and is used in the Five Nation, but it’s primarily used as an investigative tool prior to burial or as a scholarly tool on remains that have been recovered. Having said that, let’s talk about the exceptions.
Medium is listed as a magewright specialty. Magewrights have limited spell selection and can only cast spells as rituals, but they can also produce effects that are more dramatic than the standard spells. A magewright medium can certainly perform the standard speak with dead ritual—but a skilled medium can do more than that. In my campaign, a skilled medium can cast speak with dead without access to the corpse, provided they have access to strong emotional anchors—objects that were important to the deceased, and most of all, a living person with a connection to them. This is like a classic seance; it is a slow, lengthy process and the people who are close to the deceased have to actively participate in it.
If the deceased person hasn’t been dead for long, such a ritual may actually be able to reach their spirit in Dolurrh; but remember that spirits in Dolurrh are afflicted with ennui and are constantly losing their memories, so the longer they’ve been dead, the less of them will be left. The spell description notes that “Answers are usually brief, cryptic, or repetitive, and the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer.” In the case of reaching a spirit still in Dolurrh I’d require a skill check on the part of the medium (Arcana or Religion) and a Charisma check on the part of the petitioner—with advantage or disadvantage based on their relationship to the deceased and how long they’ve been dead; a good result on both checks might be able to give a semblance of actually having a conversation with the deceased. Of course, the other side of this is that there are some mediums who are simply charlatans—who use detect thoughts to determine what the petitioner wants to hear, and illusion magic to put on a spookshow.
The Seekers of the Divinity Within—AKA the Blood of Vol—have skilled necromancers and no sentimental attachment to corpses. In some Seeker communities, the skulls of people seen as particularly wise or who possess valuable information will be preserved in a sort of library ossuary, allowing a necromancer to consult them with questions. However, this is just standard speak with dead, not something more dramatic like the spirit idols of Aerenal. Mediums can draw on the trace memories that remain in the skulls, but they aren’t actually speaking to the spirits of the deceased.
Meanwhile, when you go to Aerenal speak with dead is a very common tool—but in Aerenal, spirits of the dead are often preserved in spirit idols that prevent them from the dissolution of Dolurrh. When interacting with a spirit idol, speak with dead allows the caster to have an actual conversation with the deceased spirit; it’s not limited to five questions, and provided the spirit likes the questioner, answers don’t need to be cryptic or short.
That’s all for now! If you’d like to present questions for future articles, join my Patreon—thanks to my patrons for their questions and support! I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss these ideas and what you’ve done in your campaign in the comments!
Every month, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few that came up this month!
What is the basis of nationalism in Khorvaire?Everyone speaks Common. Ethnicity doesn’t seem to be a factor, considering that you can be Brelish while being a dwarf or elf, let alone human. If it’s about shared history and traditions, can an Aundairian adopt Brelish ways and become a Brelishman?If an overwrought Sword of Liberty is setting out on a terror campaign against foreigners, what is he looking for to determine who is and isn’t a “foreigner”?
First, let’s talk about language—something I did in this article. One of the basic points is that the Common tongue is an artificial construct we use because it makes stories easier; it’s not especially FUN to have the story come grinding to a halt because no one speaks Karrnathi. So, everyone in the Five Nations speaks Common. But as I note in that article…
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.
Then there’s this article on “The People of the Five Nations.” A key note: “Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your ACCENT, ATTITUDE and FASHION.” (highlights added). So again, everyone may be speaking Common, but in my campaign, unless someone is actively trying to disguise it it’s obvious from their accent where they’re from (unless part of their story is “I went to Arcanix and worked hard to ditch my small-town Brelish accent.”)
To look to a real world example, consider the US Civil War. Consider how people in a small town in Mississippi would feel about someone from New York City moving into town four years after the war. He might look just like most of the townsfolk; he might even have a great-grandfather from the town. But he doesn’t dress like them, he doesn’t sound like them, he doesn’t share their customs, and the people in the town lost a lot of good boys in the war. Even if that outsider does his best to lose his accent and to adopt local customs…. do you think the locals will say “Oh, that’s OK then?” Or might some of them even be angrier, thinking he’s mocking them?
So: it’s NOT about blood. You can be a Brelish dwarf or a Brelish elf. It’s about customs. It’s about the way you speak and the sound of your name. It’s about your values and your traditions. Can you quote Beggar Dane? Are you willing to help a friend pull one over on the tax collectors? If you ditch everything about you that defines you as Cyran, then congratulations, they might even let you join the Swords of Liberty. But that’s not something most Cyrans WANT to do; the people of High Walls and New Cyre believe that they WILL regain their nation, and they are proudly holding on to their accents and their customs. And that draws the ire of the Swords of Liberty.
Why are merfolk native to Lamannia? In my musings about them, they seem to be (in our real-life mythology) more akin to dryads and other fey spirits.
In OUR world, merfolk are mythological. In Eberron—or in Fifth Edition in general—they’re not. A dryad isn’t a natural creature; it’s fey, and part of what that means its that it’s not bound by the limits of nature. Many fey are essentially immortal. They don’t reproduce in the way humanoids do, and for the most part, they don’t evolve. There’s no nation of dryads in Eberron; where they are found, they are tied to their stories, and time essentially passes through them.
None of this is true of the merfolk of Eberron or Lamannia. They’re not fey; they’re humanoids. They live, they raise families, they die. Those that live in Lamannia are influenced by the primal nature of the plane. According to Exploring Eberron, “There are merfolk in Eberron—such as the Kalamer of the Thunder Sea—but their people began in the Endless Ocean of Lamannia, and are still found there. These primordial merfolk remain close to their elemental roots and instincts. They wield druidic magic, but don’t craft tools or structures. Other humanoid natives of Lamannia are much the same; any race with a strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but they’re driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization.” But once they arrived in Eberron, they evolved and they changed. The Kalamer of Eberron have many distinct cultures, and Karakala engages in diplomacy and trade with the other nations of the Thunder Sea. If you have an immortal siren who has nothing better to do than sit on a rock and lure sailors to their doom, that could be a Thelanian fey who happens to have the general appearance of a merfolk. But that’s the point—it would be fey, content to play out this somewhat pointless role for centuries. So you could definitely have fey that LOOK like merfolk—but that’s not what the Kalamer are.
Regarding Fey—many of the Archfey lords, especially in your novels, have masks hiding their faces but the enchanted disguises still move with emotions. Was there anything in particular that inspired this custom for Eberron fey of importance?
It largely ties to the idea that the Archfey are STORIES rather than PEOPLE. The stories inspired by the Lady in Shadow can be found among the dar, the dwarves, and humanity; the Lady herself isn’t human, dwarf, or dar. With some Archfey I’ve suggested that people see them in different ways, interpreting them in a familiar form; others appear masked, leaving what lies beneath to the viewer’s imagination. At the same time, the masks generally animate because the point of the mask isn’t to conceal emotion; it’s to leave room for the viewer to add details.
With some groups like elves and gnomes sailing the seas at the same time as Rhiavaar slaver ships, it would be interesting to know what impact or presence western Sarlona had on eastern Khorvaire. Would the Zil merchants have been surprised by human ships coming west?
So first of all, it’s important to keep in mind that we’re discussing events that occurred thousands of years ago, are almost entirely undocumented, and that have a minimal impact on any modern nation. So the discussion is extremely hypothetical. Having said that that, let’s talk about what ways going on in the Lhazaar Sea when Lhazaar showed up. First of all: Lhazaar wasn’t the first Sarlonan human to land in the region that now bears her name. She was the first to lead a serious, large-scale force there… but the reason they were willing to take that risk was because they knew of the land from other Rhiavhaarans who’d made the crossing and even established outposts on some of the islands. Essentially, Lhazaar was coming because it was clear there was profit to be made. Keep in mind that at this time, Rhiavhaar wasn’t some sort of disciplined empire. Rhiavhaarans were known as coastal reavers and pirates, and when asking “what ships did they attack with their piracy” — in part they clashed with vessels from the Syrkarn nations, but they also clashed with OTHER RHIAVHAARANS; the Provinces of Riedra article notes that during the Sundering, the Dreaming Dark brought down Rhiavhaar by exacerbating existing clan feuds. Part of what was remarkable about Lhazaar’s expedition was the number of people she convinced to work together.
The original question asks if Zil merchants were surprised by humans arriving, because they were trading with the Mror. But the Zil WEREN’T trading with the Mror before Lhazaar, because Zilargo didn’t exist then. Per this canon article, Zilargo specifically formed in response to Malleon’s reaving along the southern coast. Exploring Eberron notes that humanity largely ignored the Mror until Galifar, while “Zil explorers” came to Mror in the time known as Dul Krok—the time in which humanity was spreading across Khorvaire. There may have been a few ships from Trolanport exploring the east coast when Lhazaar arrived, but Zilargo as we know it didn’t even exist and didn’t yet have established trade with the Mror. Likewise, the Aereni have always been insular. I expect the Aereni traded with Khunan and Sunyagir, so their ships would have clashed with Rhiavhaaran pirates in the south, but I doubt they would have been frequently encountered in the current region of the Lhazaar Principalities. So around the time Lhazaar landed, most likely the majority of the sea traffic in the region would have been other Rhiavhaarans, either opportunist raiders or smaller-scale settlers.
What kinds of alcohol / drinks are popular in Adar?
Alcohol exists in Adar, but it isn’t especially remarkable or beloved. The more distinctive regional beverage is varit, pure water infused with a liquid form of sentira that conveys a pure emotion. Why get drunk when you can simply drink joy? Pure varit is quite intense, so it’s usually watered down; a few drops in tal to start the day off with a positive feeling. For the most part, Adaran varit is distilled from positive feelings, but there’s a distillery in Raan that specializes in sorrow, for those who wish to wallow in grief. As it hasn’t been mentioned canonically, I don’t think it’s currently well known in Khorvaire. I’d think imported varit would be a rare and exotic beverage—the sort of thing Aurum concordians would brag about drinking—but that there could be varit distilleries starting up in Overlook or other Adaran communities.
That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss these ideas or to share what you’ve done with any of these things in the comments, but as this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering further questions on these topics. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions!
When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This one has come up a few times…
Are there any cultures within Khorvaire that particularly utilize the Tarokka style deck? Is this associated with a dragonmarked house, magewrights, or something else?
Eberron: Rising From The Last War includes “oracle” as one of the possible specialties for magewrights; as presented, they can cast augury and divination as rituals. I expand on this in Exploring Eberron:
At DM discretion, a magewright’s spells may have expanded—or limited—effects. Consider what it takes to make a spell a viable commercial service. For example, augury only allows the caster to predict events 30 minutes in the future—useful for adventurers in the midst of a dungeon, but not for the farmer wanting an opinion on planting crops. A professional oracle might be able to predict woe or weal anywhere from a day to a week in advance—but such an oracle could have very specific limitations, such as only being able to make predictions related to to weather or agriculture. As a DM, use the existing spells as a model, but adjust them as necessary to create a viable business.
This is one place where I’d draw a sharper line than usual between magewrights (who employ arcane science) and adepts (who perform divine rituals). As a 2nd level spell, augury is in the range of everyday magic; as a 4th level spell divination is a little beyond it. With this in mind, I’d be inclined to either say that only the most exceptional magewright oracles can perform divination, or that they can only perform a narrow version of it, as described above. While for adepts I’d be inclined to say that they can cast augury at will but that divination is less predictable; they can pray on a thing, but sometimes answers come and sometimes they don’t… and sometimes, an adept oracle receives answers to questions without even asking them. It’s faith, not science.
So: Oracles can be found across Khorvaire, and they can cast augury and divination. But what does this LOOK like? The rules gives us the mechanics of spells, but flavor is something we have to add. Take fireball. Typically we think of a wizard raising a hand and calling out a word of power to produce a blast of fire from thin air. On the other hand, an artificer who employs alchemist’s supplies as their spellcasting focus could describe casting a fireball as hastily assembling a magical Molotov cocktail. It’s the same spell, but the flavor is completely different. The same definitely holds true here. An adept oracle might light incense and pray throughout their ritual time, seeking the answer within. A magewright oracle could employ bones, tea leaves, or unquestionably, cards—and I think there are oracular traditions that use all of those tools on Khorvaire.
We’ve never discussed cartomancy in any canon source that I’m aware of, but I’ve always assumed that it exists. A key question is how do people think the cards work? What power is guiding the cards? Let’s look at a few possibilities and where they’d fit.
The Draconic Prophecy. Eberron HAS the idea of a vast power that can be used to shape or predict the future, and it’s easy to imagine a deck of cards that’s seen as a lens for drawing guidance from the Draconic Prophecy. Personally I’d say that this is a very limited lens—peeking at the Prophecy through a hole in a piece of cardboard, no match for the vast observatories and tools employed by the Lords of Dust and the Chamber—but still useful as a tool for everyday life and a reliable way of casting divination. Personally, I would imagine this using a blend of the Sovereigns, Progenitors, and Planes as the arcana. To me, this would be the Rider-Waite of the Five Nations—a standard deck employed across the nations. Let’s call it the Golden Deck or the Dragon Deck (when it depicts the Sovereigns as dragons).
Sul Khatesh. The Keeper of Secrets loves esoteric rituals and people seeking forbidden knowledge. The Deck of Shadows is said to have been created by Hektula, and it uses overlords and archfiends as its arcana. It has a sinister reputation and is said to reveal painful secrets and things people don’t want known—all catering to Sul Khatesh’s love of people fearing magic. So this is found across Khorvaire, but it’s not a deck people will use in nice neighborhoods.
Thelanis. The spirits speak through the cards, and in this case the spirits are the archfey of Thelanis. The Deck of Stories is most commonly used in Aundair—where there’s long-standing traditions of dealing with the fey—but it can be found across the Five Nations.
Xoriat. It’s said the artist who drew the first tohiish dooval deck gouged out his eyes before sketching the cards. The images on the cards are unnerving, abstract designs; it’s not unlike a deck of Rorshach images, with different people seeing very different things as they stare at the cards. The tohiish dooval—”dangerous truth“—first appeared in the Shadow Marches and is rarely seen in the Five Nations, but there are rumors that Narathun oracles have started using a similar deck found in the Realm Below.
The Divinity Within. It’s not about the cards—it’s about the person reading them. Adept oracles of the Blood of Vol use cartomancy more than those of any other faith, but there’s no standardized deck associated with the faith. You could use Tarokka, Harrow, or any other deck. What’s important is what the reader sees in the cards, because the cards are the tool they use to reach their own Divinity Within.
These are just a few possible decks and traditions; an Aereni oracle might use a unique deck with cards representing their own personal ancestors. Aside from its use as a divinatory tool, I’d definitely allow a warlock to use a cartomancy deck as an arcane focus (and as their Book of Shadows, if they have Pact of the Tome); they could use the cards as a means to communicate with their patron, and could describe producing their spell effects by dramatically displaying and invoking specific cards.
I’ve got a Duergar Spirit Bard who uses a Harrow deck he found while in a labor camp in Ohr Kaluun; given that the whole vibe for Ohr Kaluun is “dark magic”, cartomancy felt like a natural fit.
This seems entirely reasonable, and such a tradition could have been carried over into the Venomous Demesne. But with that said, the question that immediately comes to my mind is what makes it “Dark Magic”? Is it a method of communicating with fiends? Are the cards printed using the blood of an innocent, and it’s their tormented spirit that speaks through the cards? Is the deck itself a bound imp? For those who aren’t familiar with it, Ohr Kaluun is a region in Sarlona which was in the past known for dangerous and sinister magical practices, including consorting with malevolent powers. When creating magic items from Ohr Kaluun, I love to try to hit this—to ask why would people be afraid of this place? I want players to say “I want to keep this item because it’s useful, but also, ewwww.”
That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss these ideas or to share what you’ve done with cartomancy in the comments, but as this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering questions on the topic. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions!