The Dark Six: The Devourer

This image by Vincentius Matthews doesn’t actually depict the Devourer, but hey, oceans.

In the dawn times, the Sovereigns of the natural world chose to share their gifts with mortals. Arawai taught the first farmers, but she also showed us how to work with wood and heal with herbs. Balinor taught us both how to hunt game, and how to work with the horse and hound. Together these Sovereigns showed us how to harness these gifts of the natural world. Arawai and Balinor sought to lift us up, but there was another who sought to tear us down. The Devourer despised the first people and their civilization, seeing them only as prey. This struggle continues to this day. Arawai showed us how to harness the wind for sail and mill, but the Devourer sends winds that snap masts shatter buildings. Kol Korran taught us to build ships, and the Devourer delights in sinking them. Onatar showed us how to harness fire, but it’s the Devourer who smiles when the uncontrolled flame engulfs a city. The Sovereigns guide us when we work with nature—but we must always be careful and cautious, for the Devourer is ever ready to bring the power of the wilds down upon us.

Phthaso Mogan, High Priest of Sharn

You humans see the wilds as a thing that must be tamed. You fight it, caging it in your fields and binding it with leash and chain. We embrace the storm, running with the wind and dancing through the fire. We know that flame paves the way for new growth, that culling the weak strengthens the pack. You fear the Devourer; we ARE the Devourer.

Khaar’kala of the Great Pack

Arawai and Balinor embody mortal dominion over the natural world. Arawai grants power over flora, while Balinor grants power over fauna—guiding both the hunter and those who domesticate animals. But the Devourer is there to remind us that the wild can never be truly bound. We must never grow too arrogant or complacent; we must never forget to respect the power of nature. Because when we do, the Devourer will be there with wind, with flame, with tooth and with claw.

More than any other Sovereign, the interpretation of the Devourer varies dramatically from culture to culture, driven by the relationship of culture and species to the natural world. The Pyrinean interpretation of the Devourer reflects a fundamental fear of the untamed wild, while the sahuagin Sha’argon is the paragon of a species of carnivores who believe the strong should consume the weak. The Church of the Wyrm Ascendant depicts the Devourer as a dragon turtle while Arawai and Boldrei are traditional dragons; this reflects the fact that the Sovereigns walk among humanoids and guide them, while the Devourer lurks in bitter isolation in the deepest water, sinking ships and lashing the land with hurricanes. Ultimately, it’s a question of whether a civilization fears nature’s wrath, or whether it seeks to embrace primal power.

NATURE’S WRATH: The Pyrinean Creed

As described in the quote from Phthaso Mogan, the Pyrinean Creed asserts that the Sovereigns showed their vassals how to control the natural world. Arawai guides those who harvest, while Balinor guides those who hunt. Both reflect our power to impose our will on nature. In this vision of the world, the Devourer reflects the fact that we can’t ever fully control nature. The Devourer is the explanation for natural disasters and tragedies. It is the Devourer who sink ships and levels villages with wildfires and hurricanes. It’s the Devourer who guides the wolves who prey upon our sheep. The important thing to understand is that under the Pyrinean Creed, there is no benevolent aspect to the Devourer. The Devourer, Arawai, and Balinor are differentiated by the outcome, not by the tool that produces that outcome. It’s common for vassals to associate Arawai with gentle rains and the Devourer with scouring storms. But if gentle rains come in sufficient quantities to cause devastating floods, they are a tool of the Devourer; while if a region relies on monsoons to irrigate land, vassals will see those nuturing storms as gifts of Arawai. A shepherd curses predatory wolves as teeth of the Devourer, but might well have a magebreed wolf that’s been domesticated by House Vadalis guarding their flock; whether a wolf is associated with Balinor or the Devourer is determined by the outcome of interacting with it.

So under this view, there is nothing benevolent about the Devourer… and yet, he is part of everyday life. The farmer thanks Arawai for her guidance but is ever fearful of the Devourer’s wrath. Because of this, Vassals who regularly deal with dangerous natural forces often make placatory offerings to the Devourer. The principle is that the Devourer will have his due. If you benefit from working with the natural world, the Devourer will eventually come to even the scales; but if you make an offer willingly, he may accept it and pass you by. Among Vassals, it’s common to burn a fraction of the yield after a harvest; skeptics simply burn the dross, while devout Vassals base the burn on their own prosperity and what they have to lose. Vassal sailors trust Kol Korran to guide them, but many also cultivate a relationship with the Devourer and make an offering when their vessel reaches deep water. This could be anything from a single crown to a lock of hair, a poem, or something more precious; it depends on the perceived danger of the voyage and where they feel they stand with the Lord of the Depths. Again, there is no thought of benevolence here; it’s much like playing poker with a very dangerous opponent, with the question being how well you know your enemy and what you can get away with on this voyage. While common, this is still a superstition and there are some captains who won’t abide it on their ships, whether they assert that it’s a foolish waste of resources or that making offerings to the Devourer is more likely to draw his attention than to placate him.

The Three Faces of the Wild

The Three Faces of the Wild is a mystery cult within the Five Nations. Much like its counterparts, it honors members of both Sovereigns and Six: in this case, Arawai, Balinor, and Shargon. The Three Faces of the Wild acknowledge Shargon—the Devourer—as the primal force of untamed nature, but don’t depict him as inherently malevolent. Shargon demands people respect nature and maintain the balance between nature and civilization… and should they forget, or disrupt the balance due to greed or ignorance, he will remind them of nature’s might. Followers of the Three Faces of the Wild recognize that many disasters can be avoided—not by making a sacrifice or burning a field, but by understanding the interactions between civilization and nature. When a village suffers severe floods, rather than cursing the Devourer, perhaps don’t build your village in a flood plain. Followers of the Three Faces practice free range grazing and low-impact farming, and oppose techniques that they see as causing lasting harm to the world. This often leads them to oppose industrial advances that they see as threatening the natural world, and there have been clashes between Three Faces sects and House Vadalis or House Cannith enclaves, not to mention mundane damming and logging operations. Outright violence is rare; the sect prefers to solve problems with social engineering. However, this is still a potential source of environmental conflict in the heart of the Five Nations—and dangerous zealots can take root in an otherwise benevolent branch of this sect.

Champions of the Devourer

Beyond the Three Faces and placatory offerings, there’s little worship of the Devourer within the Five Nations; he’s a force to be feared and placated, not idolized. As a result, champions of the Devourer are rare and remarkable—and often dangerous.

  • The Storm Herald is a wandering priest who travels through agricultural regions. When a Storm Herald comes to a community, they will call together the Vassals and have them organize a communal feast. At this feast the Herald calls on people to discuss their profit and loss, the blessings they’ve received from the Sovereigns and what is owed to the Devourer. Sacrifices are made both through the feast itself and through additional burnt offerings at the feast. The principle is that the Storm Herald helps the community buy a period of prosperity, carrying disaster away when they leave. Storm heralds are extremely rare, mainly known through stories; in these stories, some are good people who are truly trying to help the innocents avoid disaster while others are extortionists running supernatural protection rackets—unless I am satisfied, there WILL be a disaster.
  • The Lightning Rod is another figure typically only encountered in stories or plays—someone blessed or cursed by the Devourer, who draws disaster wherever they go. Wherever they go, they are plagued by predators, bad weather, spontaneous fires, and other minor phenomena. The longer they stay in one place, the worse these manifestations will get. In stories, some lightning rods manage to weaponize this effect, becoming storm sorcerers or Ancients paladins—but even these champions need to keep moving, lest the disasters that dog their heels destroy the people they care about.
  • The Zealot is an extremist who despises civilization and industry. A typical zealot becomes infuriated by a particular manifestation of civilization—a new Tharahsk mine, a Vadalis ranch, a lightning rail line driving across their field, or even just a group of local farmers cutting down a tranquil grove—and their intense devotion to its destruction unlocks divine power. Devourer zealots generally have more in common with cults of the Dragon Below than with druidic sects. They typically lack organization or deep tradition—often involving a single divinely inspired individual—and are usually driven by an ever-growing obsession with the destruction of their target. Should a zealot achieve their goal, they could snap out of that obsession and return to normal life, or they could latch on to a new and even greater obsession; having destroyed the Orien ranch near their village, they’re now determined to destroy the house enclave in the nearby city, continually escalating until their finally fall in battle. While zealots can be tied to the Three Faces of the Wild, what characterizes the zealot is their obsession with destroying their target and the degree of supernatural power they wield; a Three Faces sect might try to negotiate with an environmental offender or to otherwise find a peaceful solution, while a zealot sees themselves as the vengeful hand of the wild.

House Lyrandar: The Kraken’s Brood

The basic doctrine of House Lyrandar maintains that the Mark of Storms is a blessing granted by Arawai and Kol Korran, a gift to help the Khoravar prosper. However, these is a sect within the house that claims that holds more sinister beliefs. These cultists say that their mark is a gift of the Devourer, and that it is intended to be used as a weapon—that the Khoravar are meant to assert their dominion over Khorvaire with hurricanes and lightning. This sect maintains that their greatest visionaries have become krakens who dwell in the deepest waters and guide their followers through visions; as such they call themselves the Kraekovar or “Kraken’s Brood.” Kraekovar heirs learn to use their dragonmarks in unusual and destructive ways, specializing in lightning. Other Lyrandar heirs say that this represents a fundamental corruption of the dragonmark—that the mark isn’t meant to be used as a weapon—and that this in turn causes the Kraekovar to become unstable and sociopathic. While the Kraekovar claim that their power ultimately flows from the Devourer, they don’t share any common cause with the Three Faces of the Wild or with zealots; they are loyal to their own elders—whom they believe to be immortal krakens—and to their vision of a nation ruled by Khoravar storm kings.

Nature and Tempest, Druid and Paladin

Champions of the Devourer can take many forms. One zealot might have the gift of wild shape and run with a pack of wolvesdrawing on the Moon druid for inspiration—while another might be more like a Storm sorcerer, wielding shocking grasp and lightning bolts. One of the main potential points of confusion is the difference between a cleric or paladin of the Devourer, and one devoted to Arawai or Balinor. Can a priest of Arawai use the tempest domain? Can a champion of the Devourer have the Oath of the Open Sea? In short, yes. The Nature domain, Tempest Domain, Oath of the Ancients, Oath of the Open Sea—all of these could be suitable for Arawai or the Devourer. Remember that the Devourer isn’t the Sovereign of Storms; he’s the Sovereign of the destructive power of nature, while Arawai is nature harnessed in the service of civilization. So, a few points to keep in mind…

  • A servant of Arawai could be a Tempest cleric or a Storm sorcerer. Their devotion allows them to smite an enemy with lightning, but for them this is no different than the ability to plant a seed or to harness an oxen to a plow; they have been granted dominion over nature as a tool to serve the greater good. An Arawai Storm sorcerer will typically be calm—even serene—when using their powers, and will strive to minimize collateral damage. The same goes for a Paladin of the Open Sea; they may call lightning or unleash a tidal wave, but they will control these forces and seek to use them with precision, avoiding harm to innocents.
  • Where the priest of Arawai harnesses the power of nature for the greater good, the champion of the Devourer teaches us that nature cannot be controlled. They revel in the wild and primal nature of the powers that flow through them and make no effort to avoid collateral damage; they have been granted these powers to make people fear the power of nature.

The point is that even if two clerics are casting the exact same spell, it should feel different if it’s tied to Arawai or to the Devourer. Arawai’s lightning bolt will be focused and precise, while the Devourer’s should feel more wild and intimidating, as if the caster is barely in control of the bolt. Beyond this, especially when dealing with NPCs, keep in mind that the spells wielded by player characters don’t have to reflect the absolute limits of mystical power. It may be that a Storm Herald can curse a community with a promise of a devastating hurricane, or that the death of a champion of the Devourer will trigger a flash flood. Neither of these effects have the precision or speed of control weather or tidal wave… but that very unpredictability is what should make them interesting. This ties to the general ideas present in this article. With this in mind, even a player character who’s tied to the Devourer could be a lightning rod, drawing disasters wherever they go unless they ensure that the people around them make sufficient sacrifices.

PRIMAL POWER: The Cazhaak Faith

In Droaam nature has a single face, and it’s both beautiful and cruel. Ghaal’gantii—the Devourer—speaks through the storms that lash the land, through the fangs of the worg, through the stone beneath the hands of the medusa. This isn’t a tradition of shepherds; it’s the faith of the wolves. There’s no need to split the roles of hunter and predator, and no interest in a deity to bless the harvest; outside of the Gaa’ran, widespread agriculture is all but unknown. The Devourer embodies a view of a world that’s red in tooth and claw. He is the hunger that drives us to survive, but he places deadly obstacles in our way; those that can overcome the challenges of the Devourer grow strong and prosper, while the weak are swept away to make room for the strong.

For most who follow the faith, the Devourer is a force to be endured rather than celebrated. He will test you with a hurricane or a wildfire. He’ll lash you with thorns, and his hand is in the deadly currents of the rapids. You can certainly offer a prayer or a sacrifice, but what he wants is your strength. Survival isn’t something he will give you in exchange for a gift; he has given you tooth and claw, and he wants to see you use them. Because of this, many of the peoples of Droaam rarely invoke the Devourer; they acknowledge him, but they don’t make offerings to him as the Vassals do. The most notable exception to this are the purest predators of the region—the worgs and the lycanthropes of the Great Pack—who call on him to sharpen their senses and their fangs. This isn’t a petition, it’s an offer—join me in my hunt, that you may share my joy in victory. The Cazhaak Devourer has no need of weaklings who require his aid to survive; but a worthy hunter can draw his eye, and his favor with it. The only sacrifice that need be made is the kill itself. The Fury is often closely connected for such devotees. The Devourer is a source of physical strength, while the Fury is the source of instinct; both are important to the hunting worg.

Beyond the predators, the Devourer also draws the prayers of those who work with natural resources. Largescale agriculture may be uncommon, but Medusa stoneworkers and kobold apothecaries thank the Devourer for nature’s bounty. Even here, though, the tone is different than the thanks offered by the Vassal priests of Arawai. The Cazhaak faithful know that the Devourer gives nothing; he only offers you the chance to take it. Essentially, the Devourer puts the “hunt” in “hunter-gatherer.” Whether you’re an apothecary looking for bloodroot or a sculptor seeking the perfect place to strike the stone, you face a challenge; the Devourer will sharpen your eyes and give you the hunger to succeed, but you must still fight for your victory. The people of Droaam don’t sail, but if they did they would scoff at the placatory offerings of Vassal sailors. If the Devourer chooses to challenge you with a storm, he will; you honor him and earn his favor by facing that challenge without fear and surviving it. What the Devourer wants from you is strength and skill, not trinkets tossed in the water.

Cazhaak Champions of the Devourer

Just as Vassal priests can perform services of all of the Sovereigns, a Cazhaak priestess of the Shadow will offer thanks to the Devourer. However, it’s rare to find a singularly devoted priest of the Devourer in a temple in Droaam, because the Devourer has little interest in cities and buildings. His most devoted priests are the worgs running with their pack and the harpies singing high on storm-wreathed peaks. Here’s a few examples of devoted champions of the Devourer.

  • The Huntmaster. The Great Pack is an alliance of worgs, lycanthropes, and other predators. Huntmasters are equal parts bard and priest, inspiring their comrades with wolfsong and guiding them on the hunter’s path.
  • The Stormsinger. While Huntmasters focus on the hunt, the Stormsinger embraces the furious power of hurricane and storm. Most Stormsingers are harpies, devoted equally to the Fury and to the Devourer. They dance through the winds, delighting in the deadly play of lightning. Largely Stormsingers are ecstatic mystics who praise the Six through song and flight, but they can also call down lightning on enemies in battle. If there is reason, they can draw away storms, luring the storm itself with their songs.
  • The Stoneshaper. Medusa architects invoke the Shadow and the Devourer. The Shadow wove stone into the medusa’s blood and shows them the secrets of working it, while they thank the Devourer for the raw gift of stone. Stoneshapers are specialized adepts capable of producing effects like stone shape, mold earth, and meld into stone.
  • The Wolfchild. Goblins and kobolds have long been oppressed in the Barrens of Droaam, being dismissed as small and weak by the ogres, trolls, and their kin. But there have always been those whose fury and determination to bring down their enemies—no matter their size—has drawn the favor of the Devourer and unlocked the predator within them. Known as the Gaa’taarka, these champions develop the gift of wild shape. While they are most often associated with wolf form, they aren’t limited to it; there are Gaa’taarka who can scout as hawks or fight as bears. The Gaa’taarka are broadly similar to Moon druids (and this would be a way to play a Wolfchild as a character) but most don’t possess the full spellcasting abilities of a druid. Those that can cast spells typically possess magic tied to working with beasts—beast sense, speak with animals, and similar spells. In the past, Wolfchildren have often served as champions defending their kin from would-be oppressors. In the present, a number of Gaa’taarka have joined the Great Pack, while others are serving with Maenya’s Fist. Technically, any devoted creature could become a Gaa’taarka; however, it’s still primarily associated with goblins and kobolds, hence their being described as “children.”

This is by no means a complete list—just a handful of examples of Droaamites touched by the Devourer.

OTHER VIEWS OF THE DEVOURER

As with all of the Sovereign and Six, many different interpretations of the Devourer can be found across the world.

  • In Xen’drik, the giants of Rusheme revere the goddess Rowa of the Jungle Leaves, who incorporates aspects of both Arawai, the Fury, and the Devourer; according to City of Stormreach, Rowa is “the goddess of life and nature. Rowa is much beloved, but she is given to fits of passion that can drive her into a rage. As a result, storms, wildfires, and other natural disasters are attributed to ‘Rowa’s wrath.’
  • As mentioned earlier, the Three Faces of the Wild respect Shargon as the untamed power of the wild, but don’t see him as malevolent; they seek to find the balance between Arawai and Shargon.
  • The sahuagin of the Eternal Dominion honor Sha’argon, saying that he began as a mortal hunter who stalked, killed, and devoured their interpretations of Arawai and Balinor, thus claiming dominion over nature. This vision of the Devourer is even more ruthless than their Cazhaak counterpart. The sahuagin razh’ash teach that Sha’argon “sets the laws of the world, and they are cruel. Life is an endless struggle. The weak will perish in the storm or be consumed by the mighty. Those with cunning and courage can conquer the world itself, and the victor has the right to devour their vanquished foe.”  

These are just a few examples; there’s no limit to the number of sects that might be out there, each with their own unique interpretation of the Devourer. This also relates to the relationship between the Devourer, Arawai, and the Fury. There is a Pyrinean myth that suggests that the Fury is the child of Arawai and the Devourer—a metaphorical representation of the concept that a storm destroying a farm causes anguish to the farmer. On the other hand, Rusheme conflates the three into a single deity, while a Droaamite myth asserts that the Fury was born of Eberron’s cry of pain when she brought life into being. Priests create myths about the Sovereigns as a way to teach lessons, and those myths vary based on the culture that creates them and the lessons they’re passing on.

USING THE DEVOURER

One of the simplest ways to bring the Devourer into your campaign is to talk about the weather. It’s an important part of everyday life, but it’s something we often ignore in adventures—and it doesn’t help that the sourcebooks don’t go into much detail about what to expect in different parts of Khorvaire. So to some degree you’re on your own here. But if time after time you mention the gloomy rains of Sharn, you lay the groundwork for the slowly-building threat of a hurricane that somehow resists the power of the Raincaller’s Guild. Is a group of Devourer zealots responsible for this threat? Is it the work of the Kraken’s Brood (in which case the Raincaller’s Guild may have been sabotaged from within)? Can the adventurers find a Storm Herald, and if they do, what will the herald want in return? A storm at sea, a wildfire threatening to sweep over an adventurer’s home village… when these moments come, will the adventurers embrace the superstition and make an offering to the Devourer, or will they spit in the eye of the storm?

Followers of the Devourer can be an easy source of villains. Zealots can always turn up to shatter cities or strike at the Dragonmarked Houses. The Kraken’s Brood uses primal force in their pursuit of power. A Droaamite worg may honor the Devourer by hunting the most dangerous prey—and they’ve set their sights on one of the player characters. On the other hand, champions of the Devourer don’t have to be enemies. A medusa stoneshaper could prove an invaluable ally when adventurers are trying to get into a collapsed mine. The Three Faces of the Wild could draw attention to industrial activities that do threaten a local community. A Droaamite huntmaster could adopt the adventurers as their temporary pack and guide them through a dangerous region. They could also just be mysterious. If the adventurers have business in a small community, a Storm Herald could arrive and call for the Devourer’s Feast. They say that this is an innocent action which will help to protect the village from disaster. Will the adventurers help organize the feast, or will they oppose the Herald—and if so, will disaster indeed strike?

Player characters could follow any of the paths described above. An urban druid could be devoted to the Three Faces of the Wild. A goblin or kobold could play a Moon druid as one of the Gaa’taarka—have they been sent out on a mission from the Daughters of Sora Kell, or are they just following their instincts? A Lyrandar Fathomless warlock could have been raised in the Kraekovar cult… have they turned against the Kraken’s Brood, or are they trying to oppose its corruption from within the system? A Storm sorcerer could be a lightning rod, both cursed and blessed by the Devourer; they have also power over lightning and wind, but if they stay in one place for too long disaster will follow. Can they find a way to lift this curse… and if they do, will they lose their gifts as well?

That’s all for now. Note that this article reflects how I use the Devourer in my campaign and may contradict canon sources! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and for making these articles possible; follow the link if you want to have a voice in future topics! Because of serious IRL events I will not be able to answer many questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss your experiences and thoughts on the Devourer and to praise his Watery Deepness in the comments.

IFAQ: Prince Oargev’s Suitors

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that’s come up a few times over the last few months.

Who would you cast as suitors for Khorvaire’s most eligible bachelor, Prince Oargev ir’Wynarn?

Oargev ir’Wynarn is the last son of Cyre’s ruling family. He was serving as an ambassador to Breland when the mysterious disaster befell his nation and has since become the unofficial leader of the Cyran refugees scattered throughout the other domains. He hopes to one day gather all of Cyre’s homeless children to this refuge in Breland. His other desire revolves around discovering the truth behind the destruction of his kin and country, and exacting revenge on the guilty parties. Until then, he graciously accepts the hospitality of Breland (even if the Brelish have given him unwanted land in the middle of nowhere) and works to rebuild the confidence and honor of his subjects. He serves as mayor of New Cyre while also playing the role of a king in exile.

Eberron Campaign Setting

Though young, Oargev is already a widower. His wife was lost on the Day of Mourning while Oargev was abroad. Oargev must take a new wife if the Cyran branch of the line of Wynarn is to endure. The prince, now twenty-five years of age, is both charming and gallant, and the coming social season is sure to be lively as both the families of Cyre and the nobles of other nations try to woo this dynamic leader.

Five Nations

In talking about Prince Oargev, an important first step is to resolve contradictory canon. Canon sources disagree on everything from Oargev’s age to his alignment to his class (notably, presenting two different sets of statistics for Oargev in the same book, Five Nations). Personally, I prefer Five Nations‘ first choice—NG aristocrat 2/bard 2—reflecting an optimistic idealist with raw artistic and arcane talent, both things Cyrans admire. But the more significant contradiction is his age and parentage. Forge of War and the 4E ECG both describe Oargev as the son of Queen Dannel ir’Wynarn. But his original mention in the 3.5 ECS simply describes him as “the last son of Cyre’s ruling family”—and Five Nations calls out that he’s young, 25 years old as of 998 YK. By canon, Queen Dannel became Queen of Cyre in 943 YK… meaning that she had been RULING Cyre for thirty years when Oargev was born. If we consider parallels in our world and cast Queen Dannel as Queen Elizabeth II of England, I’d personally cast Oargev as a young Prince Harry, not Charles; he was one of Dannel’s grandchildren. He is the “last son of Cyre’s ruling family,” not the last son of Dannel herself.

So for purposes of this article, Oargev is young—25 as of 998 YK. He’s idealistic, “charming and gallant“; he “hesitates to betray” his allies, and believes he’s doing what’s best for the Cyran people. He’s charming and artistic, being appointed to serves as a wartime ambassador when he was only twenty years old. He’s a grandson of Queen Dannel. Who were his parents? Honestly, I don’t care. It could be fun to create a story about his parent’s tragic relationship and how that affected him growing up, or to suggest that Dannel herself was jealous of the popularity of one of Oargev’s parents, or something like that. But I don’t like getting too deep into the weeds unless I’m actually telling a story in which those facts MATTER. The most important details are that Dannel was Queen of Cyre on the Day of Mourning and that Oargev is the last scion of the royal family; if you feel a need to fill in additional details about the Cyran royals, go right ahead. Which brings us to the next important question…

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Why does anyone CARE who Oargev is dating? What possibly relevance could it have to an adventure you might run? It’s a valid question. As I mentioned with Oargev’s parents, I don’t like adding obscure details unless they’re going to actually matter in the story that I’m telling. So why could Oargev’s love life matter in your campaign? Here’s a few possibilities.

The Legacy of Cyre. One of the simplest, basic backstories for a group of Eberron adventures is former Cyrans. Whether you were soldiers who served together or patrons of the same lost tavern, shared Cyran background is an easy way to forge a bond between a group of characters and to justify a group of wandering adventurers; your homeland was destroyed, and all you have now is the bonds you build. This in turn brings us to New Cyre. If you have a group of Cyran adventurers—or even just one influential Cyran within your party of adventurers—then New Cyre matters. As a Cyran your nation has been destroyed and your people scattered to the winds. New Cyre is a nexus for Cyran refugees, a place where your people are struggling to maintain your culture and to rebuild your nation. In a party with one or more Cyran adventurers, one question I’d ask in session zero is what are your ties to New Cyre? It’s the largest assembly of Cyran refugees… does the character have any family or friends in New Cyre? Do they want to see their nation reborn or have they turned their back on it?

If the adventurers care about Cyre or New Cyre, one possibility is for Oargev to serve as their patron—as described in more detail in the Head of State group patron presented in Eberron: Rising From The Last War. Adventures can be driven by the ongoing interests of Cyre and by the investigation of the Mourning or the Mournland. New Cyre itself could serve as an adventuring hub. If you follow any of these ideas, than Oargev’s relationships matter. Oargev’s spouse will shape the direction of his life and ambitions, and these in turn will shape the future of New Cyre and the potential of Cyre reborn. Do you want to see Oargev with someone who will fuel aggressive ambitions to rebuild—or seize—a new Cyre? Or would you rather see him with someone more conciliatory, who will focus on the security and well-being of the refugees even if that means abandoning the idea of Cyre reborn? Are you worried about your prince becoming a tool or a puppet of malign forces? If so, you should care about his suitors.

A Horse in the Race. Even if the adventurers have no ties to Cyre, they could have a connection to one of the suitors. Are they working with the Citadel? Perhaps their contact asks them to look out for Heydith. Are they part of House Cannith? Maybe Idara is an old friend. If they’re warforged they could have ties to Rose, or be interested in their agenda. If you really want Oargev’s choice to matter, get one of the player characters in the race! This is especially appropriate for a player character with the noble background; are they personally interested in Oargev, or is there pressure from their family to pursue the match? This could easily combine with having Oargev as a patron, as the adventurer tries to win his heart while helping enact his agenda. This is a story for a particular type of player, but if you have a player who wants to pursue the prince, it could be fun!

The Draconic Prophecy. The Draconic Prophecy revolves around the interaction of prophetically significant people and events. It’s a simple matter to assert that Oargev—let’s call him the Last Prince—is a prophetically significant figure whose choice of spouse will have cascading consequences in the Prophecy. Depending on the importance of the outcome, you could have disguised rakshasas or dragons in play trying to influence events, or adventurers working for the Chamber could be told you make sure Oargev and Haydith fall in love! A key point is that if the Prophecy requires that Oargev and Haydith fall in love, the Lords of Dust can’t just brute force the answer (using dominate or replacing Haydith); if the Prophecy requires them to fall in love, they will have to legitimately fall in love for it to qualify.

The point here is that you could have a part of adventurers who has no interest in Cyre whatsoever but who are working with the Chamber (or the Lords of Dust) in pursuit of the Prophecy and who are directed to play Cyrano and to meddle in Oargev’s romantic affairs… or if they’re more interested in protecting New Cyre, they could run afoul of the disguise rakshasa pulling strings.

Phiarlan Presents: The Prince. If your adventurers have no interest in Oargev or Cyre, you could still throw in his romance as a source of comic relief. House Phiarlan is building up its crystal theaters—theaters that use scrying tools to tune into distant entertainment. Phiarlan is building up a repertoire of crystal programming, and they’ve settled on The Prince. They’ve helped assemble the team of potential matches for Oargev, and each week there’s a series of crystalized trials that help the Prince narrow down his choice. People are following the drama across Khorvaire, and each adventure NPCs could be discussing the latest twist or elimination. Meanwhile, in exchange for going along with this circus, Oargev is getting Phiarlan’s support for New Cyre… both financial support and access to their more secret services.

So there’s a number of ways to make Oargev matter. If the player characters are Cyran, Oargev’s choice could determine the future of their people. If the adventurers are dealing with the Prophecy, it could be a key point they have to push in a particular direction. And if they don’t care at all, it could still be a funny story unfolding in the background of the campaign! Which suitor will receive the Purple Rose of Cyre?

WHO ARE THE SUITORS?

As with so many things in Eberron, my immediate reaction is who do you want them to be? Because ultimately the question is always what’s going to make the best story. I don’t have time to come all canon sources for eligible young nobles, or to come up with a comprehensive list of the eligible heirs of every noble family of the Five Nations. So what I’m going to provide here isn’t in any way a comprehensive list. Instead, it’s a few examples of suitors, highlighting how that suitor could have an interesting impact on a story. As a DM, you should definitely expand this list to include your own favorite canon NPCs or new characters you create. There may be dozens of competitors on the field; I’m just calling out a few I’d use in MY campaign.

  • Haydith ir’Wynarn, Princess of Karrnath. Following the Treaty of Thronehold, King Kaius III and King Boranel agreed to an exchange of hostages—each sending members of their family to live in the foreign court. Haydith is Kaius’s younger sister, and she’s said to have become quite popular at court. Nonetheless, she’s far from her home and friends, a stranger trying to make her place in Breland just as Oargev is. I could see Haydith having true feelings for Oargev, sympathizing with his immense loss (“Most of my friends are dead too. Or undead.”). In my campaign, Haydith is about 20 years old (a shift from canon) and is a brilliant, sharp-witted gothic princess—a blend of April Ludgate and Wednesday Addams. She’s currently a pawn in Boranel and Kaius’s game of Conqueror, and she wants to change the game; if she ended up with Oargev, she’d push for him to do something truly unexpected.
  • Rose. A unique warforged envoy, Rose given to the Cyran royals as a gift from House Cannith, and served as a companion to Oargev’s sister Marhya. The Princess died in the Mourning, but Rose survived years in the Mournland and rallied a community of warforged survivors who still dwell in the Mournland. In presenting themself as a suitor, Rose notes that both they and Oargev are leaders of a people with no recognized homeland; Cyre has been lost and the warforged have never had a true home. Rose has a vision of warforged and refugees working together to rebuild a new Cyre where both are full and equal partners. Whether this means undoing the effects of the Mournland or simply reclaiming it as is, Rose is passionate about creating a new future for both their people. Needless to say, the marriage of a noble and a warforged is unprecedented, and there’s the obvious question of an heir; but Rose dismisses such concerns, believing that if they can find a way to create a new Cyre, they can find a way to create a family. Where the Lord of Blades advocates separatist aggression—the warforged building their identity apart from humanity—Rose seeks to bring two lost peoples together, peacefully building something stronger than either would be alone. If player characters are either Cyrans, warforged, or both, they may have an interest in Rose’s agenda.
  • Lady Talalara is an Inspired ambassador from Riedra, recently appointed to Oargev’s makeshift court in New Cyre. Riedra is offering economic assistance, but Talalara is offering something more—promising to train a new generation of Cyran psychics, helping Oargev’s people unlock power they could potentially use to reclaim Valenar or Darguun or to create a new nation for his people. And if this proliferation of young psychics also served as an excellent cover for having more quori hosts on Khorvaire, so much the better.
  • Vestige is a changeling with a gift for adopting the forms and personalities of people who’ve died. With Oargev, he often adopts the form of the Prince’s late wife, allowing Oargev to spend more time with his first love; he also adopts the personas of others lost in the Mourning, allowing Oargev to consult with his father or speak with his sister. Vestige serves as a medium, believing he brings peace to both the living and the dead by giving people additional time. However, he also maintains his own identity; as consort he would expect to be identified as Vestige, and to forge a new Cyre that is especially hospitable to changelings, both settled changelings and the Children of Jes. (Note that Vestige’s gift is a form of divine ritual—sort of like Speak With Dead, but instead of having a piece of the body he has to go through a short seance-like ritual with someone who remembers the person who’s persona he will assume. Vestige can then assume the deceased person’s form and is guided by their memories. A skeptic could assert that Vestige is actually just telepathically drawing on the living person’s memories of the deceased; the DM will have to decide whether Vestige can access memories of the dead they never shared with the living anchor.)
  • Ilina Corla d’Cannith. Scion of a powerful family, Ilina dreamed of being matriarch of House Cannith. But the Corla line were entirely based in Eston and Making, and the Mourning wiped Ilina’s lineage from the face of Khorvaire. She has refused to align herself with any of the three Cannith factions that have formed since the war; instead, she has remained with Cyran refugees, and has played a vital role in building and maintaining the infrastructure of New Cyre. There’s quite a few ways Ilina could go, depending on the shape of the story. She could only be interested in helping the refugees. She could be seeking influence that would make her a valuable asset to whichever of the three Cannith factions she ultimately allies with. Or she could be taking a more dramatic third option—suggesting that she could rally excoriates and foundlings and reclaim Cannith facilities in the Mournland, building a new Cyre that directly wields dragonmarked power beyond any of the houses. Depending on which path you follow, she might be happy to renounce her family name, or she could be determined to test the limits of the Korth Edicts—after all, since Oargev holds no lands at present and she is acting independently of the house, is it really defying the Edicts?
  • Siiana of the Kapaa Dor. Siaana is a champion of the Kapaa Dor clan of the Ghaal’dar hobgoblins. She recognizes that Darguun began with an act of betrayal (albeit reclaiming land taken from her people long ago) and hopes that her union with Oargev would be the bridge to reforging Cyre and Darguun into an entirely new nation where human and goblin could move forward together in peace. With that said, the Kapaa Dor are old rivals of Lhesh Haruuc and his Rhukaan Taash, and Siiana certainly recognizes that forging her new nation would involve breaking his.

These six examples are all quite exotic. As Five Nations calls out, Oargev is also surrounded by the scions of the surviving families of Cyre, along with other nobles of the Five Nations. Shaela ir’Ryc, Jalene ir’Tala, Donal ir’Kulan, Isti ir’Dalas, and Habra ir’Soras are five such heirs. One of them’s a mind seed of the Dreaming Dark, one’s part of a cult of the Dragon Below, one’s a warlock bound to an archfey, one’s fiercely devoted to the Silver Flame, and one’s tied to the Three Faces of Love; it’s up to you to decide which is which. Some say that Oargev maintains a correspondence with Queen Diani of Thrane, another monarch whose domain isn’t all that she wishes it was. But again, all of these examples are just a place to start; the important thing is to think about the story you want to tell and the role the suitor has to play in it. Should they find bliss with Oargev, how will it affect the possible future of New Cyre and its people?

Because of everything going on in my life at the moment, I will not be answering questions on this topic. However, if you’ve used Prince Oargev in your campaign, who have YOU used as his suitors? I’d love to hear your ideas and stories in the comments!

IFAQ Round-Up: Archfey, Astral Questions, and Saints

Every month, my Patreon supporters have an opportunity to ask a question. Some of these questions become the basis of full articles, such as my recent article on the Grim Lords of Farlnen. Others just get short answers. Here’s a roundup of a few such questions that came up in January!

Have you any thoughts on how to tie the Lady in Shadow (an archfey from Exploring Eberron) to the Emerald Claw or Lady Illmarrow? In particular, how would an Archfey warlock of the Lady in Shadow relate to Illmarrow?

From a story perspective, Illmarrow already sort of IS the Lady in Shadow. She’s an infamous mage who dwells in the inhospitable wilds, which is the basic story of the Lady in Shadow. We’ve said before that the Archfey enjoy seeing their stories played out. Of course, that WAS Illmarrow’s story… until she raised an army of extremists (the Emerald Claw). “Cult leader” is a very different story from “sinister enigmatic hermit.” So one easy option is that the Lady in Shadow is actually sympathetic to Illmarrow but wants to shut down the Emerald Claw… because she wants Illmarrow back as the mysterious witch in the wilds, not being an active cult leader.

Another option is that Illmarrow made a bargain with the Lady herself at some point in the past. Illmarrow’s been around for thousands of years, and she’s been pursuing all manner of arcane options; she easily could have tried bargaining with archfey to get her mark back, only to have it fail. If you go that way, then the Lady in Shadow has a vendetta. It could be that Illmarrow simply broke a promise and needs to be punished. Or it could be that Illmarrow stole an artifact belonging to the Lady, something that holds a significant amount of her power… and that the Lady CAN’T act against Illmarrow until that artifact is recovered or destroyed. So the LiS would help her warlock generally oppose Illmarrow, working up to the moment when the vendetta can be settled.

A final optional twist would be that the Lady in Shadow wants her warlock to BECOME Lady Illmarrow. This would be a super long-term goal, but it goes back to the idea that the LiS likes there being a Lady Illmarrow who serves as a real-world analogue of the Lady in Shadow… but that Erandis is no longer filling that role. So she wants the warlock to bring down Erandis and then keep being Illmarrow.

The Second Son (or ‘Count of the Barren Marches’) is an archfey mentioned in Exploring Eberron, but there’s little information beyond him being a jealous would-be usurper whose schemes almost always fail. What are the “Barren Marches” he rules like? Who are the “siblings” who his lands are always inferior to—other archfey, or just characters in HIS story? What real-world stories did you have in mind writing him?

Much like the Lady in Shadow, the Second Son is a nebulous figure whose details are less important than his overriding concept. His covetous nature is the key, but the exact details aren’t as important. In fact, every time you go to the Barren Marches, he could be lusting after something new. Within the Moonlit Court, HIS OLDER SIBLING MIGHT CHANGE from season to season; the point is just that he always HAS an elder sibling who’s widely beloved and has what the Second Son desires. Looking to inspiration, you could go anywhere from Claudius in Hamlet, villainous depictions of King John, all the way to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Technically that last one isn’t about INHERITANCE, but it fits the TONE of the Second Son to a T; a miserable man in a miserable cave hates his happy prosperous neighbors and schemes to end their joy through theft. In terms of his schemes failing, I think the more accurate point is that they END BADLY. Claudius does succeed at claiming his brother’s crown, but the story still ends (spoiler alert) with Claudius dead and the kingdom fallen. The Second Son never ends up with what he desires for long… and even if he does, he’ll realize it’s not enough.

As for what the Barren Marches are like, the key point is that THEY’RE NOT AS NICE AS HE’D LIKE THEM TO BE. They could be rocky moors, a desert, the Grinch’s barren peak. Again, I think it’s quite reasonable that what they border CHANGES EVERY SEASON to reflect whatever story he’s playing out in this particular moment.

If the previous instances of Eberron, like the famous Githberron, were all instances of the material plane (as Gith have survived by hiding in other planes), does that mean that inhabitants of the planes remember this previous Eberrons? Besides both Gith cultures, where would the best places be to understand/learn about this?

Does that mean that inhabitants of the planes remember this previous Eberrons?” The immortals don’t. Remember that immortals are essentially part of the machinery of reality. Think of the planes as hardware that’s running Eberron 2.0.2.1. When it gets upgraded to Eberron 2.0.2.2, the hardware remains in place, but the software gets updated… and in this analogy, immortals are software, and their memories are updated to be in line with the new reality. Last week we were at war with Eastasia and had always been at war with Eastasia. Then we upgraded to Eberron 2.0.2.2, and now we’ve always been at war with Eurasia instead.

The big question is what happens to extraplanar mortals. We know that creatures in the Astral Plane can survive updates, but the Githzerai have chosen to dwell in Kythri. The question is whether there’s been another update since Githberron—if they were able to ride out the change with the same force of will that lets them maintain order in Kythri—or if there is a real possibility that when another update occurs, the Githzerai will be “overwritten” and erased. If it hasn’t happened yet, the Githzerai themselves don’t know the answer. The main place to find out more about previous realities would be in Xoriat or the Astral Plane, both of which don’t get changed in these updates.

Given the timeless nature of the astral plane, are all the gith “leftover” from previous incarnations of Eberron? And if not, how does gith society reproduce on a “timeless” plane — if you don’t age, do they have to take their children somewhere else to grow them into adulthood?

Note the sentence from the article: “This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both ALLOW THEIR POPULATION TO GROW and to give them an anchor in time.” Children can’t be born or grow in the Astral Plane. The Githyanki population is thus largely made up of survivors. However, there’s is a faction that is working to increase the population, maintaining a few Creche ships that anchor in isolated parts of the Material plane where children can grow. An interesting question is how these newborns are treated by the veterans. Some may celebrate them as proof that the Gith will overcome all hardships and thrive; others may feel that because they never saw the “True World” they can’t truly understand what it means to be Githyanki.

Could there be remnants of Quori armies in the Astral Plane from before Dal Quor was torn from the material plane, or would being cut off from the Dreaming Dark be fatal? And in a similar vein, Quori from il Lashtavar’s prior incarnations?

If going to the Astral Plane was a safe way to avoid the Turning of the Age, I’d expect the quori to have done it en masse long ago instead of messing around with the material plane. So the question is WHY it’s not safe. Personally, I think that while immortals can travel through the Astral Plane, it’s dangerous for them to stay there for extended amounts of time. Immortals are fundamentally extensions of their planes, and the Astral is outside creation. If they spend too much time there (and I’m saying months or years, not minutes) I think their identity would degrade; they wouldn’t DIE, but they’d become something DIFFERENT. So you could have some survivors of a previous age, but they WOULDN’T BE QUORI ANYMORE and they wouldn’t have clear memories of their age.

You’ve said in the past that Thrane has more wide divine magic than the other countries – How does that look in practice? Is it more, “The bones of Belladonna Martyrs will break curses or cure diseases of worthy pilgrims” or more, “Through our understanding of the holy power of the flame, we’re able to set up a Zone of Truth courthouse”?

More the latter. Remember that the Silver Flame is a power source that empowers the worthy. As a paladin of the Flame you aren’t calling on saints, you’re just drawing on the Flame itself. With that said, even adepts need faith. The Flame is a gift that allows people to protect the innocent, and this will be called out. In the Courthouse, the truthteller would say “Let no falsehood be uttered in the light of the Flame!” as they draw the zone of truth. A healer would say “Let the power of the Flame flow through you, driving out the foul disease.” There is a REVERENCE and appreciation for this gift; but it is about drawing directly on the power of the Flame. With that said, tools that help focus and channel the power of the Flame could take the form of reliquaries or similar things. The bones of the Belladonna Martyrs don’t have inherent power, but it’s possible that they can help an adept channel the Flame more effectively; that the faith of the martyrs remains in the bones, and strengthens the faith of the adept who holds them. We’ve never talked about common channeling tools of the CotSF, and it’s an interesting question—but a larger one than I can answer right now.

I was wondering if the various faiths of Eberron have saints or Saint-like figures as common knowledge? Or are the religions too decentralized? I know the Blood of Vol has undead martyrs in a more physical sense and the Church of the Silver Flame has Keepers and cardinals of the past still sometimes revered, but is it widespread in those faiths or the Sovereign Host or even the druidic faiths?

It depends how you define “saint.” The Church of the Silver Flame most definitely has martyrs and champions who are honored. Tira Miron is the most obvious of these, but Sharn includes a shrine to Fathen the Martyr; I’d assume Fathen is just one example of many. The key point is that people don’t believe that (aside from Tira) these saints still exist and can intercede on their behalf; people HONOR Fathen and preserve his memory, but they don’t PRAY to him.

The Sovereign Host largely focuses on the Sovereigns, who are after all always with you. With that said, it’s called out as having LIVING saints—people who are recognized as being especially close to the Sovereigns. I’ve called out that you might have a village where people see the blacksmith as being close to Onatar and ask for his blessing, while in Sharn we have the concrete (literally!) example of Daca; on page 83 of Sharn: City of Towers she’s specifically identified as a saint in her stat block. But the main point is that these Vassal saints are largely honored for their holiness in life, but don’t continue to be venerated after death. I could imagine a particular Vassal sect that embraces the concept and creates reliquaries, but it’s not standard practice.

I feel that the druidic faiths largely accept the idea that death is death and wouldn’t be likely to ask the dead to intercede on their behalf. On the other hand, I think it could be very interesting to explore the idea of Tree Saints—great druids who have transfered their souls into trees when they were close to death, and who can continue to advise people, much like Aereni spirit idols. I WOULDN’T suggest this as an origin for Oalian, and I’d be inclined to limit the power of these saint trees to offering advice, perhaps affecting the weather in their region, etc rather than making them actual spellcasters like Oalian. But I think there could be some fun flavor with druids going to the Whispering Grove to ask the elders for advice.

That’s all I have time for now. I’m happy to clarify these answers, but I won’t be answering entirely new questions in the comments. However, I am about to launch another call for questions on Patreon, so if you have an interesting Eberron question that’s the place to ask it!

Dragonmarks: The Grim Lords of Farlnen

The ship is a shadow in the night, its darkwood hull all but invisible against the water. It is the sail that draws the eye. The black silk is adorned with a hundred crimson sigils, each burning with pale light. The sea is calm, but a groaning wind fills the sails. If you make your living on the Lhazaar Sea, you know what that vessel is. If you’re lucky, it’s a merchant vessel carrying the strange spices and other goods of Farlnen. If not, you’d be wise to make your peace with the Sovereigns. The Bloodsails are known to take prisoners, but they rarely take them alive.

Eye on Eberron: The Bloodsail Principality, Dragon 410

Thousands of years ago, the Undying Court and dragons of Argonnessen joined forces to eradicate the line of Vol. All elves who carried the blood of Vol were slain. But there were many elves who supported Vol despite having no blood ties to the line. The victors offered these defeated elves a choice: swear allegiance to the Undying Court or be exiled from Aerenal. A large force of these exiles traveled north and laid claim to the island of Farlnen, founding the Bloodsail Principality. A bleak and sunless land, Farlnen is charged with the energies of Mabar, allowing the people of this realm to perform remarkable feats of necromancy. Prince Shaen Tasil is the living ruler of Farlnen, but the greatest power on the island is the Grim, a council of mighty undead. Some of the Grim work for the benefit of the Principality, while others focus on their own esoteric interests and arcane research.

The members of the Grim are powerful undead. Canon lore includes one infamous member of the Grim: Lady Illmarrow, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Dead.” Few members of the Grim leave Farlnen; most make extensive use of the power of Mabar, and rely on retinues of skeletal and spectral servants. More than this, Farlnen is a safe haven. There are many would-be heroes—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, Paladins of Dol Arrah—who would be thrilled to destroy a Grim Lord. While few possess the power to accomplish such a thing, most of the Grim prefer to remain in their estates, protected both by powerful wards and by their peers. As a result, only a few of the Grim are known beyond Farlnen—and even those are obscured by legends and rumors. Here are a few unusual members of the Grim, lords whose tales are known in Lhazaar.

Lord Varonaen, The Bloody Gardener

Before the elves came, Farlnen was just bare rock and sand. The sun doesn’t shine there, and no living thing could prosper in that cursed place. But a land with no sun sounds mighty nice if you’re a vampire, like Lord Varonaen! He steers the elves to Farlnen, and when he gets there he breaks his ship to splinters and he scatters the splinters across the stony ground. He kills his own sailors and waters the wood with their blood, and they sprout up as darkwood trees and bloodstained roses. All the night-gardens of Farlnen, it was Varonaen who planted the seeds. And if the Bloodsails kill you on the sea? They’ll keep your bones to work an oar, but they’ll won’t let your flesh go to waste; cargoes of carrion make their way to Farlnen to feed the bloody gardens.

Lord Sylian Varonaen is the oldest member of the Grim. The Varonaen were allies of Vol long before the Mark of Death appeared, and Sylian was one of the first vampires created on Aerenal. Where Vol studied ways to imbue humanoid creatures with the energies of Mabar, Sylian Varonaen explored its effects on plants. Varonaen was fascinated by those strains of flora that managed to adapt to Aerenal’s Mabaran zones, and improved upon these with his own hybrids; it was he who refined the strain of darkwood that Aerenal exports to this day. It was no accident that Varonaen and his exiles came to Farlnen. The elves knew they needed powerful a Mabaran zone to continue their research, and Varonaen came prepared. The story quoted above is apocryphal, but it holds seeds of truth. Varonaen brought his hybrids with him across the Lhazaar Sea and established the first night gardens. He planted darkwood groves, and in the centuries that followed he developed entirely new strains of vegetation that could thrive in the unique conditions of Farlnen. While the stories are exaggerated, there is some truth to them. Darkwood isn’t watered with blood… but some of Varonaen’s creations do thrive when fertilized with the flesh of the dead. Some of his experiments are just plants, but others can be treated as both plants and undead; Varonaen has created assassin vines that drain the lifeforce of creatures they constrict and a shrieker that howls with the cry of a banshee.

Lord Varonaen played a vital role in founding Farlnen. The people rely on his hybrid plants as a source of both food and lumber, and the exotic spices and wines produced from his creations are unique exports sold by Bloodsail merchants. Despite his part in ensuring the survival of his people, Varonaen has never asserted his power over his peers; his plants are his sole obsession, and he has spent the centuries working on his gardens. He has the manner of a mild, friendly scholar—but he feels no compunctions about creating plantlife that feeds on the living, or sacrificing strangers in this work.

There was a time when Lord Varonaen traveled in search of exotic blooms. It was on such a journey that he was destroyed by the Deathguard of Aerenal. While his vampire form was reduced to ashes, Varonaen had bound his spirit to his garden much as a lich has its phylactery. He was reborn in Farlnen as a wraith (albeit a unique wraith with spellcasting abilities). While he often remains in this incorporeal form while doing his work, he has crafted a body from darkwood and can animate this vessel when he wishes to interact with the physical world. He hasn’t left Farlnen since his death, and it may be that he can’t travel far from this soul garden. However, adventurers could encounter his creations either in Farlnen or beyond, or have need of an exotic elixir that can only be produced from his undead plants. He could even have an interest in consulting with an adventurer renowned as a master alchemist or unusual druid.

Haeldar Krakensbane

You think you’ve looked death in the eye? Wait until you’ve stared into the empty sockets in the skull of a dragon turtle, after it’s capsized your ship and it’s coming right for you. I’m telling you now, you get too close to the Sunless Isle and pirates are the least of your worries. I know you’ve heard these stories before, but have you ever wondered where the Bloodsails GOT these bones so they could animate ’em? I can tell you in two words: Haeldar Krakensbane. He was a legend in life, a dragonslayer who fought alongside the rebel elves just for a chance to fight dragons. He got himself exiled for his troubles, and sailed north with the rest of ’em. His ship runs afoul of a bloody great kraken, which demands tribute from the fleet. The elves, they’re rightly terrified, and they all agree to pay its price. But Haeldar, he’s not having it. It’s his ancestor, see? Never would bend to a beast. So he siezes control of his ship, and no surprise, kraken sinks it and kills everyone aboard—including Haeldar’s children! You’d think that would be the end of it, but weeks later, as them elves are camped out on the sunless shore, they see a monster on the horizon. It’s the kraken; after it swallowed Haeldar, he refused to die, dug his way up through its heart and out its eye. Now here he is, riding the damn dead thing home.

That beast still patrols the waters of Farlnen today. And Haeldar… he spends much of his time mourning his lost children, but when the mood is upon him, he goes back to sea. He won’t force his own on the hunt, not again. But he’ll board another vessel, take command of it, and take it on another monster hunt. If he comes to your ship, hope you’re one of the lucky ones, that he takes down his prey with your vessel still intact. Haeldar Krakensbane never misses his mark… but the ships he sails rarely make it home again.

In life, Haeldar Arrael was a Tairnadal of the Draleus Tairn. He fought alongside the line of Vol not because he believed in their cause, but because it gave him the opportunity to fight dragons. Over the course of the conflict, he fell in love with an elf of the Vyrael line, and following the defeat of the line of Vol he sailed north in the company of his wife and kin. As the story says, when a mighty leviathan threatened his ship, Haeldar put his dreams of glory ahead of the safety of his family. He lost everything, including his own life—but his hunger for victory was so great that he returned as a death knight in the very belly of the kraken, slaying his enemy and animating its corpse.

As described in the tale, Haeldar spends much of his days in mourning. But he is also the source of many of the great beasts bound in undeath as guardians of Farlnen. Haeldar slays these creatures—serpents, dragon turtles, his eponymous kraken—personally, and it is his unique gift that animates those he slays; however, he turns control of these sentinels over to living necromancers upon his return to the island. And as the tale says, when he is in the mood for a hunt, Haeldar will set out on board a Bloodsail vessel—but he will board and sieze control of some other ship, ensuring that he doesn’t place more elves at risk in his relentless pursuit of challenges at sea. Adventurers on the water could encounter a vessel that’s been seized by Haeldar and is in the midst of a hunt—or they could be aboard a vessel when Haeldar commandeers it, and have to decide whether to fight the death knight or to assist him and hope to survive his hunt.

The Ship of Eldaraen

When I was just a boy in the rigging, my captain spotted a ship dead in the water near Farlnen. Beautiful elven vessel it was, not a soul aboard. We board the vessel, no sign of the crew, but it’s well loaded with treasures. The sailors, they took what they could carry; me, I was just a boy, and I’d heard all too much about Farlnen to see such a thing as luck. After looting what he could, my captain scuttles the ship and we watch it sink as he sails away. But late that night, the lass in the ‘nest calls a ship on the horizon. It was that same vessel, good as new, following us. The captain, he panics, starts prepping Zil fire he’d been saving to burn the cursed ship down. He launched six cannisters, and the riggings of the elf ship were all aflame. But then, as sure as I see you now, I saw a shadow amid the barrels we had left… and that’s all I saw before the explosion. I’m the only one who survived, and whatever loot my captain claimed, it should be spread across the bottom of the ocean. But I tell you this, and I’m telling you true: I remember my captain holding that same golden skull you have in your hand now, and that ship behind us, it’s the same one we sank so long ago.

Many see the days before Galifar as the golden age of piracy. Riedran ships were on the water, but there was no united Galifar and the dragonmarked houses had only a sliver of the power they wield today. In those days Bloodsail captain Vyra Eldaraen was the terror of the northern seas. She plundered the oceans for two centuries before her luck finally ran out. With all the plunder she’d amassed, Eldaraen was restored as an oathbound, and she chose to be bound to her ship. Though other members of the Grim warned against it, she sought to continue her career—and soon enough, the Deathguard and a brave captain—Bright Lorrister, a distant ancestor of the modern Prince of the Heavenly Fleet—destroyed Eldaraen and sunk her ship. But a century later, records reported a clear sighting of Eldaraen’s vessel, as good as new. It seemed that somehow, Eldaraen had become something more than any mere oathbound; she had become truly bound to the ship itself, and just as a lich’s body reforms after it is destroyed, the ship of Eldaraen will always return… even if no original part of the ship remains.

Stories of the Ship of Eldaraen vary, and it seems that it goes through stages. In some stories, the ship is actively populated by a crew of wights and shadows, with Eldaraen herself manifesting as a wraith among them. In others, as in the tale shared above, the ship appears to be empty… though in some stories, Eldaraen manifests aboard it in a form similar to a demilich. A few facts are consistent…

  • The Ship is immune to all forms of divination. Creatures can’t teleport into or out of the ship or use planar travel to enter or leave it, unless traveling to Mabar.
  • The Ship seems to have become a mobile manifest zone tied to Mabar, which extends 500 feet from the ship. Within that area. The radius of all light sources is halved; saving throws against necromancy spells are made with disadvantage; and undead have advantage on saving throws to avoid being turned or frightened.
  • The ship carries the plunder of centuries, but treasures taken from it often bring ill luck. Sometimes the items themselves are actively cursed. Other treasures cause the victim to be tracked by the Ship itself (as in the story above) or specters from its crew, or haunted by nightmares until the loot is flung back into the water. The details vary, but the treasures of Eldaraen always return to her eventually.

The Ship of Eldaraen is included in this article as it is a powerful undead entity tied to the Bloodsail Principality. However, Eldaraen is not believed to be an active member of the Grim; the ship follows its own path, and doesn’t appear to coordinate with the living. On the other hand, it’s possible that there is more to this than meets the eye. It could be that Eldaraen is in contact with other Lords of the Grim, communicating through sending or even interacting with them in the court of the Bone King of Mabar. Even if this is not the case, it’s possible that a living Bloodsail elf could track down the Ship and recruit Eldaraen to help her people should the Bloodsails have need of her.

The Vyrael Sisters

The Bloodsail Elves pursue undeath as a path to eternal life. Some are content to endure the red thirst of the vampire or undertake the vows of the oathbound. Others yearn for the power of the lich—but that power isn’t a gift that can be given. It can only be claimed by a being who possesses both tremendous will and arcane knowledge. Few individuals possesses these traits… but on Farlnen, there’s one example of a family claiming power no single member could achieve alone. The Vyrael were one of the largest and most powerful families among the exiled elves that set out for Farlnen. In the early days of the island, three sisters of the Vyrael line rose to prominence, working with Lord Varonaen to establish the night gardens and to lay the foundations of Farlnen. Centuries later, they knew their time was running out. Torae believed that she had mastered the ritual that granted lichdom, but she was certain her two sisters couldn’t survive the process… and she couldn’t bear to leave her siblings behind. Working together they became something entirely new—the first Skull Lord of Farlnen, three spirits bound together in a single form.

The Vyrael Sisters are one of the more active members of the Grim. Each sister has her own interests, and they take turns serving as the primary force of their shared body.

  • Torae Vyrael is the most accomplished wizard of the sisters. While she is in control of the body the DM should feel free to change the standard spells of the Skull Lord, and she should also possess a single 8th level spell slot and expertise with Arcana. Torae loves to spend her days studying obscure lore or mentoring accomplished Bloodsail necromancers. If an elf player character has Vyrael blood (knowingly or not) and arcane talent, Torae could reach out to them through sending and dream and offer to serve as a mentor; she would make an excellent Undead patron for a warlock.
  • Solae Vyrael is the most politically active of the sisters. While she is the dominant spirit, they have expertise with Insight and Persuasion. Solae advises Prince Shaen Tasil, and enjoys hosting salons and galas with Bloodsail captains and other interesting individuals. While foreigners are rarely welcome on Farlnen, exotic adventurers who visit the Sunless Isle might receive an invitation to such a salon. If so, they’d best prove entertaining; boring guests rarely survive the evening. Of course, spurning an invitation from Vyrael is even more dangerous than attending…
  • Vyla Vyrael is a scholar and philosopher, with expertise in History and Religion; while she is in control of the body, they can switch up to five spells for spells from the Cleric spell list. While she studies religions, Vyla herself draws her divine power through Mabar, shaped by her will. Nonetheless, she is fascinated by the concept of religion, and hopes to some day concretely prove the existence of the Sovereigns—though she largely subscribes to the view that if the Sovereigns exist, they are cruel. Should a group of adventurers be seeking the mysteries of the divine, it’s possible Vyla may have answers they seek. She also collects divine artifacts, and adventurers could clash with agents she’s dispatched to recover a new relic for her collection.

One of the Sisters always holds dominance over their shared body, and this is something that can be changed after a long rest. However, the other sisters are an active presence at all times. They can speak and offer opinions; but it is the active spirit that affects the capabilities of the body. The Sisters have a longstanding feud with Haeldar Krakensbane, whom they blame for the death of their aunt. While they have never engaged in any direct violence against Haeldar, it’s quite possible they’d provide surreptitious aid to adventurers clashing with the Krakensbane. The Sisters are essentially an unusual form of lich, and it’s quite possible that they have a phylactery and will return if they are destroyed; however, returning in this way would require the willpower of all three sisters, and if one sister lost her desire to cling to existence, they would all pass on.

The Grim Lords mentioned here are among the most unusual of their kind. Most members of the Grim are vampires, with oathbound (mummies) as the next most common form; there are only one or two liches aside from Illmarrow and the Lords Vyrael. These are all I have time to discuss now, but hopefully these give you some ideas to work with!

If Farlnen is such a powerful source of Mabaran undead and the Undying Court hates the practice of Mabaran necromancy, why hasn’t Aerenal done more to wipe out the Bloodsails?

Mabar consumes light and life. There are many who believe that anything that draws the energies of Mabar into Eberron is inherently destructive, and in particular that undead animated by the power of Mabar ambiently consume the lifeforce of Eberron itself. In many ways, this is analogous to the threat of global warming in our world. It’s a threat that is only expected to play out over a very long time with incremental impacts (such as grass withering around a garrison of skeletal warriors). Given this, there’s people who are concerned about it; people who are convinced it’s nonsense; and the vast majority of people who simply don’t care.

The Aereni care, and they’ve created the Deathguard as a force that eliminates undead and polices the practice of Mabaran necromancy. But Aerenal is an extremely insular nation that takes almost no action in the world beyond its borders. Most notably, the original description of the Deathguard in the 3.5 ECS states that the Deathguard was “Created to battle the corrupted spirits of the realm” which is to say, they mainly operate in Aerenal itself. Essentially, if you compare Mabaran necromancy to global warming, Aerenal has enacted extremely strict regulations within Aerenal itself… but they aren’t sending soldiers to Detroit to blow up automobile factories, let along smashing individual gas-guzzling cars in New Jersey. The key point here is Karrnath. The skeletons in the armies of Karrnath likely outnumber the entire population of Farlnen. Yet over the course of a century, the Deathguard hasn’t somehow brought down Karrnath or destroyed Fort Bones. What they have done is send agents—notably, a highly influential agent with direct access to the king, who has convinced Kaius III to break ties with the Blood of Vol and to limit military necromancy. But that’s a more typical path for the Deathguard to pursue in the wider world than direct military action.

The second key point is that Farlnen is in a strong Mabaran manifest zone. Mabaran manifest zones are a part of the world and always have been, offset by the presence of Irian manifest zones. The short form is that Mabaran necromancy has less impact on the environment when it’s practiced in such a manifest zone because you’re already halfway in Mabar. So making skeletons on Farlnen adds less to your carbon footprint than making them in Sharn. This ties to the fact that many of the major centers for necromancy—such as Atur—are in Mabaran zones. The Aereni don’t like any use of Mabaran necomancy, but they’re not very concerned about Atur, Odakyr, or Farlnen; we’ve called out before that necromancers channeling the energies of such a zone may actually reduce its overall environmental impact.

So cutting to the chase: destroying individual undead is really pretty small potatoes for Aerenal; they aren’t trying to hunt down every individual vampire in the world any more than environmental activists in our world blow up individual gas-powered cars. Occasionally, they WILL target what they see as high value targets. They took down Lord Varonaen a few centuries ago, and they killed Eldaraen—though there, note that they worked with a local hero to pull it off. But overall, they don’t mind the Bloodsails existing as long as they are largely confined to Farlnen. They would be far more concerned if the Bloodsails spread the practice of Mabaran necromancy throughout the Principalities, and that’s one reason the Bloodsails haven’t done that, and why they haven’t spread their culture beyond the island… but even if that occurred, as seen in Karrnath, Aerenal would be more likely to send a diplomat than an assassin to deal with the problem.

The short form is that Deathguard strikes can happen, but it’s extremely rare for them to occur outside of Aerenal—and when they do, it’s very likely that the Deathguard will try to work with some sort of local heroes, like Bright Lorrister in Lhazaar. All of which is to say that rather than solving a problem for the PCs, the Deathguard are likely to try to work with capable adventurers and deal with the problem together.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who selected this topic and who make these articles possible. If you want to have a voice in the topic of future articles—and potentially, to get to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign!—check out my Patreon!

IFAQ: What are Doppelgangers?

Doppelgangers have been part of Dungeons & Dragons since its earliest days. The original Eberron Campaign Setting introduced changelings as a playable species that shared some of the features of doppelgangers, but not all; in third and fifth editions, doppelgangers possess a powerful unarmed attack and the ability to detect thoughts at will. But what exactly is the relationship between the two? Over three editions, we’ve had three different answers in canon material.

  • The third edition Eberron Campaign Setting says that changelings “evolved through the union of doppelgangers and humans, eventually becoming a separate race distinct from either ancestral tree.”
  • Fourth edition books use “changeling” and “doppelganger” interchangibly. The doppelganger in the 4E Monster Manual has the white hair of a changeling and doesn’t possess an unarmed strike or the innate ability to detect thoughts.
  • Fifth Edition D&D returned the doppelganger as a unique creature with an unarmed attack and detect thoughts. Rising From The Last War says that the daelkyr created doppelgangers by warping changeling stock, essentially reversing the third edition story; doppelgangers are altered changelings rather than changelings being watered-down doppelgangers.

So, we have three different options presented in canon. So which do I use?

I loved doppelgangers long before I made Eberron. I was disappointed that we never saw any sort of doppelganger society, because I thought it was fascinating to consider the impact both of shapeshifting and innate telepathy in terms of how a culture would approach privacy, community, and identity. In The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers I presented a very inhuman approach to doppelgangers, suggesting that mimics and doppelgangers were different stages in the lifecycle of the same creature, and that the final stage of this cycle is the doppelstadt—gestalt mimics that can replicate entire buildings. It’s not just that some of the people in your neighborhood are doppelgangers; it’s possible the neighborhood itself is a doppelganger. in proposing Eberron, I wanted doppelgangers to have a place in the world; the 10-page proposal includes a mention of the conflict between the Boromar Clan, the Tyrants of Sharn, and Daask, suggesting that these things typically considered monsters were part of everyday life in Eberron. The problem was that the standard doppelganger was too powerful to work as a basic option for player characters. I liked the idea of having a weaker baseline doppelganger and introducing a “monster class”—as seen in the sourcebook Savage Species—that would let the player acquire the full powers of the standard doppelganger. In the end, we did half of that approach: we created the changelings as that weaker baseline that was suitable for player characters, but made the standard doppelganger a separate species. The problem with this is that it both left the doppelgangers themselves without any real story—per the ECS, all we really had was “True doppelgangers are considerably more rare and mysterious than their changeling descendants… They sell their services as spies, thieves, and assassins, but their true motivations usually lie beyond mere gold.” The second frustrating element is that we often had changelings and doppelgangers working side by side, and that arrangement ends up highlighting the fact that changelings are fundamentally weaker doppelgangers. I never really liked that as a story. So while I loved that changelings gave us the opportunity to explore shapeshifting cultures and societies and to have them in everyday life, I was never happy with where it left doppelgangers.

Fast-forward to the present. Fourth edition and fifth edition present two different options. Which do I use? Both. Because those two options tell very different stories. Let’s look at each of them.

The Gifts of the Traveler

I like to blend the Fourth Edition approach with my original idea—the concept that the abilities of the doppelganger are something that any changeling can develop if they put their mind to it. The defining gifts of the doppelganger are telepathy and an unarmed attack, something a psion or monk can match. I called this out in an Eberron article in Dragon 193, suggesting that “intense training, the traditions of Ohr Kaluun, and their devotion to the Traveler” allowed the changelings of Lost to develop enhanced telepathic and shapeshifting abilities. From a practical standpoint, this is a possible explanation for the class abilities of a changeling character. A changeling monk can describe their enhanced unarmed attacks and armor class as being tied to their shapeshifting, something further developed with the Way of the Living Weapon in Exploring Eberron. But there’s no need to limit such gifts to the powers of the old-school doppelganger. The Lost article notes that the hidden village has a core of mental adepts whose abilities rival those of kalashtar adepts, allowing them to communicate with sending and monitor the region with clairvoyance. It calls out that some changelings can shapeshift into animal forms, mirroring the abilities of druids—something I’ve called out elsewhere as the Changeling Menagerie.

So overall, I like the idea that changelings are the shapeshifting species that are part of everyday life in Eberron, and that “doppelganger” is actually a skill set a changeling can master… and the “doppelganger” in the 5E Monster Manual is a changeling with a particular set of skills. The one problem with that is that while a player character changeling can improve their unarmed attack by taking a level in monk, there’s no easy way for them to replicate the ability to detect thoughts at will. However, the uncommon helm of telepathy lets a character do just that, and more. In my campaign, I’d allow a changeling player who trains to become a “doppelganger” to acquire a supernatural gift, something like this…

Doppelganger’s Vision (Requires attunement, can only be attuned by a changeling)

This supernatural gift reflects your training in the telepathic techniques of the doppelganger. To use this gift, you must devote an attunement slot to it, just as if you were attuning to a magic item. While you are attuned to this gift, you can use an action to cast the detect thoughts spell; Charisma is your spellcasting ability for this. Once acquired, this gift is a part of you, but you can only use it while you are actively attuned to it.

This is similar to the blessing of wound closure, a supernatural gift in the DMG that provides the benefits of an uncommon magic item; however, it is weaker than a helm of telepathy (only providing one of the helm’s three benefits) and I’m saying that it requires an attunement slot to use to balance the fact that I’d be willing to grant it at a lower level than I’d allow most blessings. But like any supernatural, it’s not just something you can buy. To gain this gift, the player character would need find a mentor—a skilled doppelganger willing to teach them this technique. Developing the gift would take time and the mentor would set tasks the would-be doppelganger would need to carry out during their other adventures; at a narratively suitable time, I’d grant them the gift. If you don’t like supernatural gifts, the Telepathic feat from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is an alternative, although it doesn’t provide the full at-will use of detect thoughts.

So this is my primary approach to doppelgangers in my campaign: a doppelganger is a changeling who has developed the abilities we associate with the doppelganger monster. Having said that, there’s also room in the world for a very different sort of doppelganger….

Doppelgangers of the Daelkyr

Eberron has always challenged the idea of “what makes a monster,” and this was part of the point of the changeling—to take a creature that was generally featured only as an antagonist and to add depth to it. At the same time, in some stories you want a monster. There’s horror in the moment when you see your reflection and it smirks at you and draws a knife, or in the fear that one of your friends isn’t actually your friend. Compare Mystique from the X-Men to the alien in the movie The Thing. In this analogy, Mystique is a changeling. Sometimes she’s a hero and sometimes she’s a villain, but in either story we understand her motives and can sympathize with her. The Thing is incomprehensible. It may be driven by a desire to survive. It could be an anthropologist that researches alien worlds by assimilating their species. It could just be hungry. We don’t know.

This is the purpose of the Daelkyr doppelganger: to be a source of horror, a shapechanging enemy whose motives are unknowable and, at the end of the day, potentially irrelevant; in The Thing, what matters most is survival. In a story in which a changeling impersonates a duke, their motives matter; they might be trying to seize power or they might be trying to free oppressed peasants from the Duke’s tyrannical rule. By the end of the story, the players will understand why the changeling has taken these actions—and in the latter example, they may have a difficult decision to make as to whether they bring down the imposter or allow them to remain as a more benevolent Duke. By contrast, you may never know the motives of the Daelkyr doppelganger. Perhaps it’s helping a cult of the Dragon Below. It could be that the doppelganger has a non-linear experience of time and is consuming creatures in reverse, unwinding its way through its own timeline until it reaches the moment of its death when it is finally itself alone. It could be that it feeds on specific memories and needs to digest the memories of the duke before it moves on.

One of the reasons I like this approach is to expand the roster of creatures you can expect to deal with when clashing with daelkyr and Cults of the Dragon Below. It doesn’t have to be all dolgrims and mind flayers. Doppelgangers, werewolves, gargoyles—there are many monsters that can work as daelkyr creations; they should just feel different from their mundane counterparts. Rising From The Last War suggests that daelkyr doppelgangers are creations of Dyrrn the Corruptor, but I think that’s an unnecessary limitation; with few tweaks you can create unique versions of the doppelganger tied to different daelkyr.

  • Dyrrn is known for creating the mind flayers and the dolgaunts. Telepathy and tentacles are one of Dyrrn’s signatures. A standard doppelganger has a slam attack that deals 1d6 bludgeoning damage. For a Dyrrn doppelganger, I’d change this natural attack to deal piercing damage and describe it as the doppelganger’s fingers becoming burrowing tentacles or it attacking you with its barbed, prehensile tongue—that when it drops its disguise, it’s dramatic. I’d also highlight its telepathic nature, giving Dyrrn doppelgangers Telepathy with a range of 120 ft as a language. Dyrrn doppelgangers would only speak when interacting with other humanoids; among themselves they would always be eerily silent. A more dramatic change would be to give them blindsight based on the idea that they actually see using detect thoughts rather than standard vision, and that their eyes are just cosmetic (and likely absent in its natural form); like a dolgaunt, they would be blind beyond the radius of their blindsight.
  • Kyrzin loves oozes. I’d see a Kyrzin doppelganger as being an ooze that has the ability to assume humanoid forms. While it would generally use the doppelganger stat block, its slam attack would reflect it transforming its fist into a heavy pseudopod. I’d give the Kyrzin doppelganger a form of the Amorphous trait possessed by many oozes; it has to squeeze, but when it squeezes it can flow through any opening up to one inch wide. This ability wouldn’t extend to equipment, but I’d be willing to let a Kyrzin doppelganger to mimic basic clothing with its shapeshifting.
  • Belashyrra’s doppelgangers could function the same as standard doppelgangers, but with the idea that they don’t physically change shape but rather psychically change the way you perceive them. Given the power of the daelkyr, I’d be willing to just make this a flat effect and not something that requires a saving throw to succeed, and to say that the effect extends to senses other than sight—but I’d probably add that it doesn’t undead or constructs, or possibly creatures immune to being charmed. I could also imagine a version of They Live, where an adventurer can acquire a set of goggles or a salve that allows them to see through the disguise of Belashyrra’s doppelgangers.
  • Valaara could create a form of doppelganger that can’t change shape instantly, but instead kills a creature and then enters a chrysalis state to assume its form; so more limited than a normal doppelganger, but still able to replace people in an extended story. Its unarmed attack would be a concealed stinger that would deal piercing damage; if I wanted to make it more dangerous, I might add poison. I could see Avassh growing duplicates of people; these doppelgangers wouldn’t be able to change shape and I’d make them plants instead of humanoids, but it would still allow its cult to infiltrate a region. For either of these I’d likely give the doppelgangers a form of Telepathy that they can only use to communicate with others tied to their kind or allied cultists, playing to the idea that they’re part of a communal mind.

With all four of these, the key point is that they’re VERY DIFFERENT FROM CHANGELINGS. Dyrrn might have created his doppelgangers from changelings long ago, but the other three described here have nothing to do with changelings. They might all use the doppelganger stat block, but they’re different both from changelings and from one another.

Fey Changelings and Other Variations

While I haven’t personally seen the text, the word on the street is that Monsters of the Multiverse makes a number of changes to changelings—notably making them Fey instead of Humanoids. On the surface, this seems logical enough; they’re called changelings, and a mischievous shapeshifter sounds fey enough. However, it’s not a change I’ll use for the main changeling population in my Eberron campaign. We’ve never presented the common changeling as having ties close ties to Thelanis, and we’ve even said the name “changeling” comes from a minsunderstanding—people assuming a fey connection even though none exists. That 4E article calls out the changelings of Lost mastering techniques of Ohr Kaluun, not Thelanian magic. Beyond this, once changelings are fey, it becomes very easy to spot a disguised changeling by casting detect evil and good, which pinpoints the location of any fey within 30 feet—undermining some of the more interesting methods we’ve discussed for dealing with changelings. So in MY campaign, the main population of changelings will remain humanoids.

However, just because they aren’t mainstream doesn’t prevent there from being fey changelings in the world, and I’d certainly allow a player to play such a changeling. The obvious path for such a character would be to literally be a changeling—a humanoid carried off to Thelanis as a child and raised there, and transformed over time into a fey creature themselves. There’s a changeling Greensinger in the Threshold campaign I’m running on Patreon, and I might give them the Fey subtype, because it fits their story.

But there’s another point to this. Just as I’ve presented five different ideas for creatures that use the doppelganger stat block, there can easily be different types of creatures that use changeling traits. The Children of Jes and their descendants are the most common form of changeling. But I’d allow someone to use changeling traits to represent a shapeshifting assassin magebred by House Vadalis, someone with an unusual aberrant dragonmark (I could imagine a Wild Magic changeling sorcerer whose form changes uncontrollably when they have a Wild Magic Surge), or a Cyran changeling necromancer who can only assume the forms of people who died in the Mourning. So I’m happy for there to be fey changelings alongside the changelings of Sharn and Droaam—and potentially other exotic changelings as well.

That’s all for now, and perhaps more than anyone wanted to know! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Fizban’s Treasury and Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month there’s been a number of questions related to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. As always, my answers here reflect what I would do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon material! Also, check out this later article on how I’d use Gem Dragons and Gem Dragonborn.

How would you incorporate either the draconic echoes or the Elegy of the First World into Eberron?

To answer this question, you first need to answer another: Do you want your Eberron to be part of the greater Multiverse? Eberron has its own cosmology and a very different approach to deities than many of the other core D&D settings. One option—as we suggest in Rising From The Last War is the idea that Eberron is part of the multiverse, but that it was sealed off; that traffic to other settings is possible, but very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t WANT to use elements of other settings in your Eberron campaign, it’s easy to just ignore the Multiverse and focus on Eberron as an entirely independent setting.

By canon, Eberron has its own creation myth that explains the origins of dragons. The funny thing is that it’s not entirely incompatible with the Elegy of the First World. The Elegy asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind (if you count Sardior). The Progenitor myth asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind. The Progenitor myth asserts that the first dragons were born from the drops of blood that fell on Eberron; nonetheless, this still matches the basic concept of the Elegy, in that the dragons were the first children of the Progenitors, but “were supplanted by the teeming peoples” that came after them.

Personally, I LIKE the story of dragons being formed from the blood of Siberys—the idea that they alone believe that they have a direct connection to both Siberys and Eberron, an idea that explains their innate arcane power. In MY Eberron campaign, I’m not likely to abandon this concept in favor of Eberron’s dragons being linked to other dragons across infinite settings.

If you want to add the First World to Eberron WITHOUT adding the Multiverse, a simple option is to just put it AFTER THE PROGENITORS. The Progenitors create reality. Bahamut (a native celestial who favors a draconic form) and Tiamat (the Daughter of Khyber) unite the dragons and create the First World on Eberron—an idyllic civilization that predates the Age of Demons, which was ultimately shattered BY the Age of Demons, presumably set in motion by the Daughter of Khyber. This aligns with Thir, saying that the “Dragon Gods” existed before the Age of Demons but left reality when the First World was broken; this ties to the idea I’ve suggested elsewhere that Eberron’s version of Bahamut would have sacrificed themselves in the Age of Demons and could be the core of the Silver Flame.

If you want to incorporate the Multiverse into your Eberron campaign, then you can just use the First World exactly as it stands in Fizban’s. In this case, the Progenitor myth is presumably FALSE, since it has a very specific story for the origin of dragons; but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that the Progenitor Myth IS ONLY A MYTH… or even that the Progenitor Myth is just a garbled version of the Elegy.

As for draconic echoes, the idea that each dragon is mirrored across realities: If I wanted to use this, what I’d do is to assert that every reality has a Draconic Prophecy, and Eberron is simply the only one where people have recognized this. Draconic Echoes reflect the fact that the dragons are prophetically significant. But if I was going to do that, I’d personally want to add OTHER echoes across settings; even if they don’t manifest dragonmarks, you might have echoes of dragonmarked heirs in other worlds, and you’d definitely have echoes of especially Prophetically significant characters—IE player characters. But I personally prefer NOT to mix peanut butter with my chocolate. I’m happy to explore alternate incarnations of Eberron, as with the Gith, but I’ve never brought the rest of the multiverse into any of my personal campaigns (though I HAVE played a “far traveler” character from Eberron—a warforged cleric searching for pieces of the Becoming God—in someone else’s non-Eberron campaign).

How would you incorporate the alternative half-dragon origins from Chapter Three of Fizban’s? Would that change how you present Dragonborn?

Keep in mind that all things that use the stat blocks and basic shapes of dragons and dragonborn don’t have to share the same origin. For the primary dragons of Argonnessen, I LIKE the fact that while they are imbued with arcane power—children of Eberron and Siberys—they are still ultimately MORTAL. They are an ancient and advanced species, but they aren’t multiversal echoes and they’re more grounded than the immortals. They live, learn, have jobs, pursue research. So for the dragons of Argonnessen, I wouldn’t say that they reproduce by divine origin or parthenogenesis or when someone steals their hoard… because they are are ancient, long-lived, and imbued with arcane power, but they are STILL MORTAL CREATURES OF EBERRON. This principle likewise applies to dragonborn who trace their roots to Argonnessen. It seems likely that the original dragonborn were magebred by the dragons from some sort of humanoid stock. But I don’t think those original dragonborn were formed from greed or true love. WITH THAT SAID…

As I said, NOT ALL DRAGONS AND DRAGONBORN HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME ORIGIN. Many of the options described in Fizban’s—from someone becoming a half-dragon after stealing from a dragon’s hoard, to eating forbidden fruit, to a tree on which dragon eggs grow like fruit—don’t sound like Argonnessen to me; they sound like THELANIS. First of all, you could have any number of dragons who appear as “supporting cast”—they would have the stats of dragons (though I’d likely make them fey as well as dragons) but the point is that they aren’t entirely REAL. They don’t have goals or desires beyond serving their role in the story. The dragon in a cave guarding a sword in a stone truly has nothing better to do. Beyond this, I could also imagine a dragon as one of the archfey of Thelanis. I can see two paths here. My personal impulse would be to have a single archfey dragon who encompasses all the legends of dragonkind—the greedy hoarder, the destroyer of cities. But I could also imagine there being two archfey dragons—the Bright Dragon and the Night Dragon, essentially filling the STORY role of Bahamut and Tiamat, even though they wouldn’t take direct action on Eberron. Still, it would be one of these entities who could potentially bestow Cradle Favor or have a tree that grows dragon eggs (because as archfey they wouldn’t reproduce like mortal dragons do). With that in mind, I feel it’s either in Thelanis or in a Thelanian manifest zone that you’ll have someone becoming a dragon or half-dragon due to greed or by bathing in dragon’s blood. And you could thus have dragonborn who have such origins—or heck, who spring up because you sow a field with dragon’s teeth. But they aren’t the most common forms.

Regardless of how I present dragonBORN, we had half-dragons in 3.5 Eberron. The most infamous of these is Erandis Vol. Her creation is described this as involving a program of magebreeding, so I think it’s a form of True Love’s Gift, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “I love you, you get to be part-dragon” (UNLESS you’re in Thelanis!); I think you’ve got to work actual magic into the picture. In the case of Vol, I think the Emerald Claw and his kind were trying to create sustainable, “true” half-dragons; I could easily see some rogue dragon using less reliable techniques to create sterile half-dragon mules.

I am fine with the idea that infusions of dragon’s blood could have a dramatic effect on other creatures, and could be a basis for sorcery; again, dragons have an innate force of arcane magic. But I am more inclined to make that essentially scientific in nature. If there’s a place where just living there causes you to become a half-dragon, I’d make that a Thelanian manifest zone, not just something that happens to anyone who hangs out in a mansion in Argonnessen.

The main thing is that many of the Fizban options present dragons as fundamentally mythic beings. The dragons of Argonnessen are legendary, but they are also VERY REAL. They have a civilization, families, politics, and so on. With all that said, the final option I’d consider if I wanted to use multiversal echoes and the like would be to have a number of dragons who are literally physical embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. These could be essentially immortals, aware of their nature and their purpose; or they could be scattered among the mortal dragons, essentially an immortal seed reincarnated many times, and that has echoes across the multiverse.

Have there been any notable half-dragons in Khorvaire’s history that weren’t Kill On Sight? Anyone that famously claimed draconic heritage or might similar to Hassalac Chaar?

There’s a few factors here. Personally, I don’t think half-dragons ARE kill on sight. In my opinion, the issue with the line of Vol wasn’t solely half-dragons; it was the attempt to create and control apex dragonmarks through the medium of half-dragons. I also think Argonnessen disapproves of the idea of dragons trying to create any entirely new true-breeding species without approval. However, if we assume that most dragons are sterile or otherwise can’t pass on their traits, I don’t think Argonnesen will care about them, and I can personally imagine individual dragons creating half-dragons for specific purposes. Beyond this, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to identify a half-dragon AS a half-dragon. I think half-dragons with different origins could have very different physical traits. Does your sorcerer who claims dragon’s blood actually have scales and claws, or is it purely an explanation for their power in spite of their mechanically using a different ancestry? Regardless, in a world with dragonborn, blackscale lizardfolk, yuan-ti, and magebreeding in general, I think a lot of times rare oddities will just be seen as curiosities.

This ties to the point that when I say that someone becoming a dragonborn or half-dragon by bathing in dragon’s blood would be tied to Thelanis, it’s because of the idea that there are stories about it happening. So yes, I am certain that there ARE an assortment of legendary heroes and villains across all of the cultures of Eberron—the fallen kingdoms of old Sarlona, Xen’drik, even Dhakaan—of rare half-dragons, whose powers were a blessing or a curse. We have one concrete example in canon, and that’s the Draleus Tairn, the dragonslayer elves; Dragons of Eberron notes “Rumors exist that the Draleus dragon slayers can take the powers of their victims; that their blood burns like dragonfire; that they can spit lightning or breathe acid; and that their blood rituals increase their life span and even imbue them with the strength of the dragon. Perhaps these stories are mere myths. The tales could also reflect the presence of half-dragons or dragon shamans among the Draleus Tairn, with these powers derived from spilled blood instead of shared blood.” At the moment I don’t have time to make up examples of such heroes or villains, but I expect there’s a few examples in almost every culture. Following the Thelanian example ofthe half-dragon created through greed, I love the idea of a half-dragon giant lingering in a vault in a Thelanian manifest zone in Xen’drik.

How do Moonstone Dragons, which as presented in Fizban’s are tied to both the fey and to dreams, fit into your Eberron?

Personally, I see no reason to tie Moonstone dragons directly to Dal Quor. Fizban says “Moonstone dragons can project themselves into the realm of dreams to communicate with the creatures that sleep near their lairs.” Thus, they are related to dreams in the same way as a night hag or any mortal wizard who can cast Dream: they are skilled at USING and manipulating dreams, but that doesn’t mean they are natives of Dal Quor. Likewise, I personally wouldn’t make them dragons of Thelanis. In my earlier suggestions regarding Thelanian dragons, the main idea that Thelanian dragons would fill iconic draconic story archetypes which don’t really make sense for mortal dragons of Eberron—IE, when you find a dragon guarding a hoard in a cave in the woods, with no logical reason to be there other than to guard that hoard, THAT might be a Thelanian dragon and the cave may be in a manifest zone, because most Argonnessen dragons have SOMETHING BETTER TO DO than to hang out in a cave in the woods. The Moonstone dragon doesn’t fit that role either; it’s more exotic and unusual than iconic.

So WITH THAT IN MIND… The dragons of Argonnessen are the most ancient civilization on Eberron (and have seen cultures rise and fall). They have forgotten arcane secrets other species have yet to learn. In the process of their history they have surely studied the planes, manifest zones, and wild zones. I would say that Moonstone dragons trace their roots back to a flight of dragons devoted to the study of the planes and to Thelanis and Dal Quor in particular, who were changed through their long interaction with those planes—either intentionally (magebreeding themselves to strengthen their ability to operate in those planes) or by the “background radiation.” I would say that they serve as Argonnessen’s ambassadors to Thelanis and as mediators to Fey in general; Argonnessen has manifest zones tied to Thelanis just like everywhere else, and where some cultures have fey pact warlocks, Argonnessen has Moonstone dragons. The dream aspect I’d tend to use just as described—a tool they use to communicate and inspire mortals, but not reflecting a deeper connection to Dal Quor.

I think the idea that they love creativity and like to inspire mortals is fine, and I can see this bringing a lot of Moonstone dragons to the Chamber—that they actually LIKE working with the “lesser species” and giving them inspiration in ways that don’t hurt the Prophecy or carry the risk of Aureon’s Folly. But personally, I’d largely keep them on the material plane. If there are Moonstone dragons in Thelanis, I’d make them envoys or immigrants rather than natives.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and making these articles possible. And just to be clear: I’m happy to clarify my answers to the above questions, but I do not have time to answer addtional new questions about other aspects of Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons; it’s a big book and covering it in its entirety would require a longer article.

Dragonmarks: The Astral Plane

This is actually a picture of Kythri. But, y’know, close enough.

Eberron is balanced between thirteen planes, each of which represents an iconic concept. All mortal creatures are influenced by these planes. We dream in Dal Quor and cast shadows in Mabar. We feel the martial call of Shavarath balanced by the tranquility of Syrania. Where these planes extend directly into the Material Plane they create manifest zones and wild zones, Shaping Eberron in their image. Counting those that are lost, there were thirteen planes, thirteen moons, thirteen dragonmarks.

What, then, is the role of the astral plane? What concept does it represent? Does it, too, shape the world? Why isn’t associated with a moon or with manifest zones?

While the astral plane is called a “plane,” it has little in common with the thirteen planes of the orrery. It wasn’t created to embody a concept, because it wasn’t created. The Astral Plane is the ultimate foundation of reality, the realm that existed before creation. If you interpret the creation myth literally, the astral plane was the canvas upon which the Progenitors painted existence as we know it. As such, it’s not part of creation; it’s the space that lies between and beyond it. It doesn’t have a purpose; it simply is.

With that said, the fact that the astral plane is the space between spaces gives it value. With a few exceptions—such as the Immeasurable Market of Syrania—the planes of Eberron exist as independent and isolated systems. There’s no direct path from Risia to Fernia, or from Mabar to Lamannia. All of the planes touch the material plane, but manifest zones that serve as gateways aren’t easy to find. Barring manifest gateways, travel between the planes involves passing through the astral plane. Plane shift and gate expedite this process, connecting through the astral in a blink of an eye. Without such magic, travelers must enter and depart the astral plane through the color pools. So why visit the astral plane? The first reason is to go somewhere else; the astral is just the road that will take you there. The second reason is to get away; disconnected as it is from reality and the ravages of time, the astral can serve as the ultimate sanctuary. The third reason is because you need to interact with the travelers or exiles who dwell there—or wish to explore the forgotten debris of previous ages, abandoned and forgotten in the astral plane.

Universal Properties

The astral plane is an endless silvery void. Wisps of silver and gray drift between motes of light—at first glance these seem like stars, but in fact they are the countless pools of color where the other planes bleed into the astral. There is no inherent gravity or orientation; you move by thinking about moving, and if you have no desire to move you will simply be suspended in the void. Some travelers embrace the idea of flying, while others choose to walk across the void even though there’s no ground beneath their feet.

Ancient and Enigmatic. Commune, augury, divination, legend lore and similar spells are unreliable in the astral plane. Many of the ruins and relics found in the silver sea are from previous incarnations of Eberron or predate creation itself, and spells of this age can’t unlock their mysteries.

Beyond Time and Space. Creatures in the astral plane do not age, and are immune to hunger and thirst. Time moves at the same pace within the astral plane as it does on Eberron, but creatures who spend an extensive amount of time in the astral plane often lose the ability to sense the passage of time; a hermit who’s been isolated in the astral plane for thousands of years might believe it’s been a single year.

Speed of Thought. While in the astral plane, a creature has a flight speed (in feet) equal to 3 x its Intelligence score. This replaces all other forms of movement the creature possesses, and overrides any spell or effect that grants or increases movement speed.

Suspended in the Void. Movement in the astral plane only happens by intention, and a creature that isn’t actively moving or being moved will float, suspended in the void. Thrown objects or ranged attacks travel the maximum distance they would travel in the material plane—driven by the intent of the person who launched them—and then come to a stop, floating in the air.

DENIZENS OF THE ASTRAL PLANE

There’s no native life in the astral plane. Those creatures encountered here are either immigrants, travelers passing through, or things that have been created and set here—most by beings or civilizations long forgotten. I’ll be posting a table of possible astral encounters as bonus content on my Patreon, but here’s a general look at the creatures you might find.

Travelers

While plane shift allows travelers to instantly traverse the astral plane, there are always travelers who make their way across the astral step by step. These include denizens of the outer planes, but not many; the planes are independent systems that are designed to function in isolation. With this in mind, it’s never normal for beings from the planes to be traveling through the astral, and if they are you can be sure there’s a story behind it. Perhaps an efreeti pasha wishes to serve shaved Risian ice at their next gala, and has dispatched a servant to fetch some. Perhaps a condemned archfey is being escorted from Thelanis to the Inescapable Prison of Daanvi, or an angelic Virtue of Knowledge is going to consult the Infinite Archive. Any of these things could happen, but all of them are remarkable events; it’s not like there’s a constant stream of immortals passing through the astral plane.

Mortal travelers from the material plane are likewise rare, but not unknown. The mages of the Five Nations know of the Astral Plane, but have not yet developed a sustainable form of astral travel. There are currently three civilizations that make use of astral travel.

  • The Dragons of Argonnessen. Long ago, a cabal of dragons sought to build within the astral plane; this experiment came to an end with the loss of Sharokarthel (see below). Today Argonnessen sees the astral plane purely as a conduit for travel. Since powerful wyrms will make use of plane shift, most dragons encountered in the astral plane will be in their middle years—accomplished enough to have needs that can only be met in other planes, but not capable of casting plane shift. Loredrakes (dragon scholars) may wish to consult the Infinite Archives of Daanvi or to speak with a particular immortal. Masters of the Hoard (collectors and merchants) may be seeking unique commodities, while Flames of the Forge (artisans and artificers) may be looking for resources that can only be acquired beyond reality.
  • The Elves of Aerenal. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the Astral Plane, working on the grand experiment of Pylas Var-Tolai. Beyond this celestial realm, the Aereni follow in the footsteps of the dragons. The greatest Aereni sages may consult with Virtues in Syrania or browse the Infinite Archive, and Aereni artisans may seek materials that can only be found in the planes. Where dragons found traveling in the astral are usually young, elf travelers are most likely among the most accomplished of their kind still living; astral travel is an established practice, but only the most capable elves will risk its many dangers.
  • The Venomous Demesne. Hidden in western Droaam, the Venomous Demesne is less than two thousand years old—a pale shadow in comparison to Argonnessen or Aerenal. But the humans and tieflings of the Demesne are brilliant mages who are pushing the bounds of arcane science. Over the course of the last century they’ve begun to dig deeper into the mysteries of the Astral Plane, both as a corridor through which to reach the planes and as a resource in its own right. Some mages of the Demesne seek to bargain with the Githyanki, while others hope to find forgotten treasures in the ruins of Sharokarthel. So the Demesne doesn’t yet have a large-scale presence in the Astral Plane, but adventurers could encounter Demesne mages either as fellow travelers or as rival explorers competing for plunder and secret knowledge.

Immigrants and Exiles

There’s no truly native life in the astral plane, but there are creatures—both mortals and immortals—who choose to live within the silver sea. Some have been stranded by mystical accidents. Others are prisoners exiled to the astral plane, cursed so that they cannot leave it; they are trapped in the timeless void, doomed never to return to the world that has forgotten them. There are hermits who have chosen this solitary existence: philosophers who appreciate having an eternity to contemplate the higher mysteries, inventors working on forbidden research, fugitives waiting for their enemies to die of old age. With no need for food or drink, some dwell in complete isolation; explorers could find a Cul’sir giant who has been meditating for the last five thousand years. Other creatures came to the astral plane in groups, and maintain some form of society in the silver sea. The most significant of these are the Githyanki, who escaped the destruction of a previous incarnation of Eberron and now dwell in fortress-ships the size of small towns. However, there are a handful of smaller communities scattered across the infinite void. Some come from lost realities, like the Gith. Others are remnants of fallen civilizations or followers of traditions that have been wiped out on the material plane. Adventurers exploring the deep astral could discover an outpost built by the dwarves of Sol Udar, or a Dhakaani garrison that knows nothing of the chaat’oor. Part of the point of these outposts is to explore the idea of isolation. They don’t need anything from the outside world; they have no need to seek out others and trade with them. Thus they can exist as flies in amber—a Dhakaani force even more isolated than the Kech Dhakaan, goblins who don’t even realize their empire has fallen. Adventurers could find an astral workshop where giants of the Sulat League have been perfecting a doomsday weapon they can use to take vengeance on the dragons, or the labyrinth-tower of an infamous prince of Ohr Kaluun, cast into the astral plane to escape the Sundering.

The Githyanki

Most of the immigrants and exiles of the astral plane exist in isolation and timeless stagnation, content to be forgotten in the trackless expanse of the void. The Githyanki are the most notable exception to this rule. Tu’narath is a bustling city, fueled by the plunder Githyanki raiders bring in from other planes. The ships themselves are communities, from small vessels that house a dozen raiders to the fortress-ships that hold hundreds. With that said, between dwelling in the astral and pillaging immortal planes, the Githyanki themselves have lost track of time. This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both allow their population to grow and to give them an anchor in time. The naysayers argue that they don’t belong in the current creation—that they’ve been able to thrive in the astral because it is beyond reality, but that if the Githyanki stake a claim in the material it could trigger unknown metaphysical defenses. The argument continues; as a DM, if you decide to explore such an invasion, you’ll have to decide if there will be unforeseen consequences to a Githyanki incursion.

The Githyanki are warlike and proud. Their ultimate goal is to build their power until they can destroy Xoriat itself, regardless of the consequences this could have to reality. They have a deep competitive streak that could be seen as a need to prove themselves superior to the world that has replaced theirs. Whether merchant or warrior, Githyanki view all interactions through the lens of conflict; every situation has a winner and a loser, and the Githyanki will always be the victors. Note that this doesn’t mean mindless aggression; the Githyanki recognize the need to outwit their enemies, to employ careful strategies and preserve their limited resources. But they are always seeking a path to victory, and they have no compunction about taking anything they desire from the people around them; in the eyes of the Githyanki, only their people are real, and all the trappings of this age are just flawed reflections of their reality. This is one reason the Githyanki raid other planes while leaving the other denizens of the astral plane alone. Even if they are from other realities, the Githyanki recognize the other exiles as kindred in suffering—and beyond that, they prefer not to start battles on their home ground. So the Gith are constantly raiding through the color pools, but they avoid the ruins and outposts of other immigrants in the astral sea. They have limited contact with the Aereni. They feel no love for these creatures of the usurping reality, but see more value in trading with them than in starting a conflict in the void. However, if the Githyanki were to launch an attack against Eberron, it’s likely they would either negotiate a treaty with Aerenal before they begin… or that they would find a way to cripple the Undying Court and launch their conquest with a devastating first strike against the elves.

The Forgotten

Most of the denizens of the astral plane have a history that can be unraveled and explored. Some come from earlier incarnations, like the Githyanki. Others come from fallen nations—remnants of Xen’drik, Sol Udar, the Empire of Dhakaan. The ruins of Sharokarthel are almost a hundred thousand years old. But there are beings in the astral plane that predate even the age of demons, constructs built and abandoned by civilizations entirely unknown… civilizations that could even predate the Progenitors and the cosmology of Eberron itself. The terrifying Astral Dreadnoughts are one example of these forgotten entities. These gargantuan entities glide through the astral sea, destroying all that they encounter. Some believe that the dreadnoughts were created by the Progenitors to fight any beings that might come from beyond Eberron’s cosmology—that the dreadnoughts exist to fight any would-be gods that might seek a foothold in Eberron. Others believe that the dreadnoughts predate the Progenitors, that they are remnants of a world truly beyond mortal understanding. The dreadnoughts are just one example of those things that may be forgotten in the depths of the astral—powers waiting to be unleashed.

LAYERS AND LOCATIONS

The astral plane isn’t divided into layers. It is a singular, seemingly infinite void in which color pools are scattered like stars. Measured using the concepts of the material plane, Tu’narath and Sharokarthel could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles apart. This is why it’s possible to find an astral hermitage where a giant philosopher has remained undisturbed for thousands of years… because unless you know what you’re looking for, the astral plane is so vast as to make any particular location a single grain of sand on a vast beach.

It might seem like this distance would prevent any sort of meaningful travel in the astral plane. If Tu’narath and Sharokarthel are a hundred thousand miles apart, how is an adventurer to move between them? The catch is that movement in the astral plane isn’t measured in miles or even in space; it is purely a concept. The Speed of Thought trait determines a character’s speed in combat, where people must focus on the narrow moment. Outside of combat, movement across the Astral Plane is based on knowing where you wish to go and willing yourself to get there. Travel speed is largely arbitrary; the Dungeon Master’s Guide notes that it will take about 1d4 x 10 hours to find a color pool tied to a particular plane, with the risk of psychic wind increasing travel time. But that’s just to find a random pool; think of this as searching the skies for a green star and then willing yourself in its direction. Astral color pools are tied to locations within planes; finding a specific pool, or finding a location like Sharokarthel, is a different story. If you have been to the location before, it will usually take around 1d4 x 10 hours to reach it. If you’re proficient in Arcana, you can work with a description of a location (an Aereni map, a description from a Cul’sir tomb…). In such a case, it can take 1d8 x 10 hours to reach your destination. If you have no intended destination, you can try to navigate based on the constellations formed by the scattered color pools; you’ll eventually find something, whether it’s just a pool or some more interesting outpost or ruin. Someone familiar with astral travel can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check to speed travel; this is arbitrary, but a good result can reduce travel time and help the travelers avoid the psychic wind.

The elves of Aerenal are the most notable astral cartographers in Eberron. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court have spent countless hours exploring the astral sea as thought forms, recording the paths of its constellations and noting interesting ruins and hermitages. If adventurers wish to find adventure in the astral plane, they could just dive into the sea and start swimming… but a torn page from an Aereni atlas could be what they need to get started.

Ruins and Hermitages

The astral plane may in fact be infinite, and there’s no telling what could be waiting in that void. There’s at least one active city, Tu’narath. But there are many other points of interest scattered in the void. Most of these are ruins. Some are the remnants of actual cities once built in the astral plane, like Sharokarthel. Others are simply pieces of unknown civilizations or lands. These could be from the distant past of this Eberron. They could be remnants of a lost Eberron, such as the Eberron of the Gith. Or they could even be relics of previous creations, realities older than the Progenitors themselves. A few examples…

  • A dragon’s skull, ten miles long from snout to horn-tip. The shape doesn’t precisely match any known species of dragon.
  • A single tower, seemingly broken off of a larger castle.
  • A massive ship, apparently designed for sea travel—a distinctly different design than the Githyanki vessels.
  • A mountain peak formed from some sort of smoky crystal.
  • A mass of silvery clouds, soft but solid enough to stand on. They drift and shift, but never disperse or drift apart.
  • The empty shell of an immense dragon turtle.
  • Half of an immense bridge, sheered off sharply in the middle.
  • A manor house, preserved with mending magic and tended by unseen servants. It’s impossible to tell how long it’s stood empty.
  • A grove of colossal trees, whose roots and branches are intertwined.

There are many planes in which odd structures can be found. What differentiates the ruins of the Astral Plane from the bizarre landscapes of Xoriat is the fact that ruins generally feel like they had a purpose—they may be encountered out of context, but once the ship was in water and the skull was part of an immense dragon. What makes them unlike the wonders of Thelanis is that while they may have a purpose, the ruins of the astral plane rarely have a story—at least, not one that can be easily discerned. The skull was once part of a dragon, but there are no further clues as to who that dragon was or how it died; if it was once part of a story, that story is long over.

Ruins are generally abandoned. When immigrants or exiles lay claim to a ruin, it becomes a hermitage. Given that creatures in the astral plane are immune to starvation and thirst, people can live in places that could never support life in the natural world. A massive dragon skull could be inhabited by a clan of winged kobolds, or by a trio of Seekers of the Divinity Within. Again, unlike Xoriat, the denizens of such a realm came from somewhere; if there’s kobolds in the skull, the question is whether they’re from Eberron, a previous reality, or a forgotten creation.

PYLAS VAR-TOLAI

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the astral plane—leaving their bodies behind and exploring through astral projection. In part, they are charting the near-infinite expanse; the Aereni have maps of many ruins and hermitages, even though they have left many of the hermits undisturbed. But astral cartography is a side project. Their true interest is something far grander. The astral plane is a place of beginnings. If the myths are true, it is here that the Progenitors laid the cornerstone of creation. The Undying Court seeks to follow in their footsteps—to create a new reality. They are still far from this goal, but using their gestalt power they have managed to create a region within the void—an island they call Pylas Var-Tolai.

The core of Pylas Var-Tolai is a vast, fortified monastery. This includes a scriptorium where monks draw maps of the astral sea, a vast library holding accounts of all the ruins they have explored, and a vault holding both wonders found in the astral and artifacts deemed too dangerous to be kept in the material plane. There is a council chamber at the center of it where the ascendant councilors commune with one another and exert their power. While the most important inhabitants of Var-Tolai are the astral forms of the ascendant councilors, there is a population of mortal elves—scholars, priests, and soldiers—who are physically present. While Pylas Var-Tolai is primarily a research outpost, it also serves as a waystation for Aereni who have business in the planes; as such it does have a small capacity for guests, and there are usually a handful of travelers along with the permanent staff. Whoever, the monastery is driven by research, not commerce. If adventurers come to the gates of Pylas Var-Tolai, the priests will be more interested in their stories than their gold.

The most important aspect of Pylas Var-Tolai is the gate at its center. This allows passage to the workshop of the Undying Court… the reality they are creating. This is very much a work in progress, fluid and unsustainable. But they are continuing to work at it. When adventurers visit, the realm on the other side of the gate could be a tiny island or a vast continent. It could be a perfect replica of Aerenal, or it could be a wondrous realm that defies the laws of physics. Visiting adventurers could be asked to explore the nascent realm—to test the creation of the councilors, and identify its flaws.

Sharokarthel

In the wake of the Age of Demons, the victorious dragons spread across the world. This lead to the first rise of the Daughter of Khyber, which led to a devastating war of dragons that destroyed the nations they’d created and forced them to withdraw later. Ten thousand years later, a loredrake presented a new idea. The Daughter of Khyber drew power when the dragons expanded across Eberron. But the Daughter herself was bound to Khyber. What, then, if the dragons spread not across the material plane, but across the outer planes? This impulse led to the creation of a number of outposts in the astral plane, culminating in the great city of Sharokarthel. This is a city built by dragons, for dragons—a city formed from magic and the immateria, unbound by gravity or weather. The dragons of Sharokarthel built arcane workshops and planar orreries, and amassed hoards drawn from across the planes. But ultimately the theory was proven wrong. The Daughter of Khyber couldn’t touch the dragons in Sharokarthel—but as their glory grew, she could corrupt those dragons still on Eberron, and these corrupted servants could carry the fight to the astral city. This led to the second great collapse. The Daughter was defeated once again, but the dragons were forced to abandon Sharokarthel. They didn’t destroy the glorious city, but they laid powerful wards and curses upon it, ensuring that no casual traveler could claim their abandoned glory.

There are a number of draconic ruins in the astral plane, but Sharokarthel is the grandest of them all. It surely holds untold wonders and treasures, but it’s protected by powerful curses and traps. Still, there are surely accounts of those defenses somewhere. Perhaps a human sage might stumble upon a book detailing a secret path into Sharokarthel… or perhaps a young dragon might recruit a group of adventurers to accompany them to the abandoned city, hoping to reclaim some treasure of their ancient ancestors.

Subspace

There are many effects—magnificent mansions, bags of holding, portable holes—that make use of extradimensional spaces. Typically, these are presented as tiny demiplanes, isolated and unconnected; some, such as secret chest, mention the ethereal plane. However, one possibility is that these extradimensional spaces are in fact in the astral plane. A bag of holding can be encountered as a floating force bubble containing objects… while a magnificent mansion is a mansion suspended in the void. If this is the case, someone might be able to find and penetrate those spaces from the outside. Of course, keep in mind that finding a bag of holding in the astral plane would be like finding a bottle dropped into an ocean; the astral plane is potentially infinite. But if a DM follows this route, they could decide that items created with the same technique occupy the same region of the astral plane; that there is a constellation of Cannith bags of holding, a neighborhood of Ghallanda magnificent mansions, or an island formed by the Kundarak Vault network. If this is the case and someone DOES find a way to access any of these things from the outside, it could cause chaos and force the houses to deploy additional security. But it could certainly make for an epic astral heist!

Tu’narath

In their early days in the astral plane, the Githyanki discovered an immense six-fingered hand floating in the void. This severed hand is charged with arcane power, not unlike Eberron dragonshards. The origins of the hand remain a mystery, but the Githyanki recognized it as a useful resource and a suitable foundation for an anchorage. Most Githyanki prefer to dwell in their ships, but Tu’nararath is the port where the city-ships come together, where the Githyanki unload their planar plunder and tell tales of their glorious battles. And should they plan a conquest, it is here that they will mass their forces.

The Githyanki have no love of outsiders; if you want a friendly place to conduct commerce, go to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. However, the Sixth Finger is essentially a foreign quarter where travelers can find shelter and sample some of the wonders the Gith have claimed from across reality. It’s a very rough neighborhood, where you will find exiles, astral prisoners, and worse—but if you’re looking for an astral guide or some exotic planar plunder, you could make a landing at Tu’narath.

PLANAR MANIFESTATIONS

Here are ways that the astral plane can affect the material plane.

Manifest Zones, Coterminous and Remote

The astral plane doesn’t produce manifest zones on the material plane, and it never becomes coterminous or remote. It touches all of the planes at various points. These are visible in the astral plane as color pools and allow travelers to exit the astral plane into the connected region. However, these points are generally imperceptible on the other side of the pool. Identifying the astral point and opening the gate requires magical tools that the people of the Five Nations have yet to master. The three civilizations mentioned earlier—Argonnessen, Aerenal, and the Venomous Demesne—have ways to do this. This could involve a specialized ritual, or it could use an astral key that can open color pools from either side—either linked to a particular pool or potentially able to open any pool-point the adventurers can find. Using such methods, a Chamber agent could open an astral gateway to allow adventurers to escape disaster or to quickly pass between distant points in the material plane. Lacking such magic, the only ways to enter the astral plane are to use plane shift, gate, astral projection, or similar spells. With that said, a DM could always decide that there are circumstances under which unwary travelers can fall into the astral plane. Perhaps there’s a graveyard of ships, a point in the Thunder Sea where under the right circumstances, a maelstrom can draw ships entirely out of reality.

Astral Artifacts

The astral plane produces nothing on its own, and it has no unifying theme. But it is filled with the ruins and remnants of countless civilizations and worlds. Githyanki plunder can provide treasures drawn from across the planes. Ruins and hermitages could provide relics from the past; adventurers could recover titans’ treasures from a Cul’sir outpost, Dhakaani weapons from a floating piece of an Imperial garrison, draconic wonders from the ruins of Sharokarthel. Beyond that there is the possibility for astral explorers to discover tools or resources that truly have no place in this creation. This could be anything from a new form of dragonshard or some other material that simply doesn’t exist on Eberron… to an iron flask holding an entity who comes from a previous iteration or Eberron or another creation entirely.

One uniquely astral tool is the astral key, an object that allows the bearer to open an astral color pool from either side. This allows access to the astral plane, but only from a specific point. Depending on the power of the item, the key could be tied to a single specific point or it could have the power to open any pool the bearer can find. Note that the people of the Five Nations don’t currently possess astral keys; such an item could be a relic of one of the civilizations that has mastered astral travel, or it could be a unique prototype or breakthrough. Despite the name, an astral key could be any shape; it could be a dagger that slices through the veil of reality or a paintbrush they must use to paint a doorway in the air.

Astral Stories

For most creatures, the astral plane is simply the space that lies between the planes. It’s a path to be traveled, not a destination. But there are many ways that it can drive a story on its own. The adventurers might have to pursue a fugitive who’s slipped through a pool point and into a ruin. They could be tasked to explore a region of the astral sea, to bargain with a Githyanki smuggler, or to help a mad scholar who’s determined to reach Sharokarthel. They could acquire an iron flask holding some unknown spirit from a previous world—what will it take to open it, and would it be better left alone? Here’s a few other ideas.

An Ancestor’s Call. An Aereni adventurer is ordered to bring their adventuring companions to Shae Mordai, and from their send to Pylas Var-Tolai. An ascendant councilor—one of their distant ancestors—is conducting experiments in creation, and wants their descendant to test the lands beyond the portal. Is this just coincidence, or does the ascendant councilor know something about their descendent as yet undiscovered by the living?

Storming the Castle. An enemy of the players has built a fortress in the Astral Plane. Using a spell similar to magnificent mansion, they can retreat to their fortress from any location; this allows them to have their evil lair wherever the adventure is taking place. The adventurers could be on a desert island or in a small rustic village, but they’ll still have to pursue the necromancer Demise into her Tower of Death when things go wrong.

The Undiscovered Country. A Morgrave scholar has discovered three astral keys. One opens a pool-point in Sharn, and they want a group of adventurers to help them explore the other side. The pool-point leads to a Cul’sir outpost in the astral plane. Is it abandoned, or are their ancient giants still lingering in this place? Was it just good fortune that the scholar found the keys, or does someone want the adventurers to stumble into the forgotten outpost?

Q&A

This article presents my vision of the astral plane and how I will use it in my Eberron. It surely contradicts various canon sources—Eberron or otherwise—regarding the Astral Plane, and I’m not going to try to reconcile every contradiction; it’s up to the DM to decide how to handle such things in their campaign.

What’s the deal with silver cords and spirit forms?

There are multiple ways to enter the astral plane. It is possible to enter it physically by using plane shift, gate, or by opening a pool portal (using an item like an astral key). In this case, the traveler is physically present and can suffer lasting harm and death. On the other hand, astral projection separates the caster’s spirit from their body and allows them to enter the astral plane as a spirit form tethered to their body by a silver cord. The advantage of this form of travel is that you can’t be permanently harmed while in “astral form”; if you’re reduced to zero hit points, you return to your physical body.

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court typically travel the astral plane in spirit form, which allows them to venture into unknown regions without fear.

What about the psychic wind?

What about it? It’s a dangerous local weather condition that operates just as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

If creatures in the Astral Plane do not age, do some people travel there simply to avoid death? It seems more hospitable than Risia for such a purpose.

Absolutely! I’ve called out a few examples of this—the trio of Seekers in the dragon skull, the prince of Ohr Kaluun. You could have a Khunan archmage, another remnant of a long-forgotten society. Keep in mind that this trait isn’t unique to the astral plane of Eberron; it comes directly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide: Creatures on the Astral Plane don’t age or suffer from hunger or thirst.” So there are certainly hermits who come to the Astral Plane to experience immortality. But there’s a number of reasons why it’s not commonplace.

  • It’s actually easier to reach Risia than it is to physically enter the astral plane. Manifest zones can serve as gateways to Risia; entering the astral requires the use of powerful magic or an astral key. The people of the Five Nations don’t have access to such magic; you can’t just decide to go to the Astral Spa.
  • The Aereni don’t actually want eternal LIFE; they seek spiritual evolution and believe life and death are part of that journey. The ultimate path of the Undying Court is to become an ascendant councilor; they spend most of their time in astral form because they are no longer bound by their physical form and exist as part of the divine gestalt. There are certainly Aereni outposts; I can imagine a tower where an Aereni poet has been working on a particular poem for a century. But for most Aereni, such a retreat would be a temporary measure, not an ideal way to spend eternity. The living elves of Pylas Var-Tolai certainly cycle out every few decades or centuries.
  • The Astral Plane is essentially a vast, vast desert. If you live there you won’t age and you won’t know hunger and thirst; but you’ll also live isolated from all contact with mortal society, in a vast empty void. There are unquestionably people for whom that’s a worthwhile trade, and that’s the point of hermits; if all you want to do is to study conjuration for a thousand years, building an astral workshop is an alternative to becoming a lich. But offered the casual choice, not everyone would be interested in eternal life if it means sacrificing all contact with the world and living in an endless gray void.
  • As noted in the traits, if you spend too much time in the astral plane you actually start to lose track of time—as noted with the giant who doesn’t realize that thousands of years have passed. It’s immortality, certainly, but it does have a psychological price.

So the short form is that there definitely are hermits in the Astral Plane who dwell there because they desire immortality. There’s philosopher dragons, old Sarlonan wizards, a handful of giants. But they’re a few grains of sand in a vast desert; the odds you’ll actually encounter them when you travel in the astral plane are quite low, unless you have some hint as to where their hermitages lie.

That’s all for now! This topic was chosen by my Patreon supporters, and it’s only their support that makes articles like this possible; if you’d like to see more articles like this or have a voice in future topics, follow the link.

IFAQ: Strixhaven in Eberron?

Every month, my Patreon supporters select the topics for the articles I write. I only have time for one major Dragonmark article, and in a choice between Strixhaven, Fizban’s Treasury, and the role of the Astral Plane, Astral won out. So I’ll be exploring the Astral Plane in depth later this month. But while this will be a short take on the topic, I still wanted to address the question…

How would you add Strixhaven into your Eberron campaign?

At first glance, this seems like a question with an obvious answer. Eberron already has a famous university of magic—Arcanix in Aundair. The Library of Korranberg is another option; while not explicitly a school of magic, it is a famous institute of learning that canonically has a rivalry between its aligned colleges. In the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, the Starting Point: Morgrave University discusses the idea of a campaign where the exams may be greater threats than any monster. But none of these really feel right to me. Consider the following…

  • Strixhaven is described as being very exotic in its makeup—”you’re as likely to meet a pixie, a dryad, a giant, a treant, or another fantastical creature on campus as you are a humanoid.” Beyond this, “it is unremarkable to meet someone who hails from a far-off land, since almost everyone on campus is from somewhere else.” Neither to these things especially fit Arcanix, which is primarily an Aundairian institution; and at Morgrave University, the presence of Flamewind the Sphinx is remarkable. Most students of Korranberg, Morgrave, or Arcanix are humanoids, and most are from the familiar nations of Khorvaire.
  • Strixhaven is known to be founded by five dragons, and those dragons are still around; graduates can join the Dragonsguard, “an elite group of mages who work directly with the Founder Dragons.” The Dragons of Eberron certainly have the knowledge and power to do something like this, but on Khorvaire dragons are so secretive as to be nearly mythical. And to a certain degree, asserting that Arcanix was founded by dragons would undermine the concept that it’s a seat of humanoid innovation.
  • Strixhaven is largely a self-contained setting that interacts little with the world around it. It’s driven by the tension between life and death, order and chaos—not the tension between Thrane and Aundair. Beyond this, the general level of common magic depicted is a higher than even that of Aundair. It’s an example of what the Five Nations could become, but it feels a little more wondrous than they are at the present. One of the things we’ve said about Arcanix is that player characters are remarkable, and that there are many professors at Arcanix who don’t actually have the full power of a wizard or a sorcerer, rather understanding magic in theory and working spells solely through rituals, like a magewright. Strixhaven is more of a chaotic place where powerful magic is constantly at play.

So, the Strixhaven book presents a host of rules and ideas that you can use piecemeal in a campaign set at Arcanix, Morgrave, or Korranberg. But personally, I wouldn’t just change Strixhaven’s name to “Arcanix” and use it as is. So if the question is how would I add STRIXHAVEN to my campaign—using it as it’s presented in the book—there’s two ideas that appeal to me.

A School of Dragons

The dragons of Argonnessen are the oldest surviving civilization in Eberron. Long ago they shared their arcane knowledge with other creatures. This ultimately resulted in the destruction of Xen’drik and is now known as kurash Ourelonastrix, “Aureon’s folly.” But what if a cabal of dragons wanted to try this again? What if these five Founders created a campus in the heart of Argonnessen, far from prying eyes, where hand-picked students and faculty from across Eberron and beyond it could delve into the deepest secrets of magic and philosophy? With this in mind, part of being a student at Strixhaven would be proving yourself worthy of this knowledge; your final exam would in part be an evaluation determining whether you should be allowed to take the knowledge that you’ve gained back to your homeland—whether you can be trusted to be a worthy steward of this knowledge.

One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s an easy way to add depth to the Chamber. the Colleges of Strixhaven aren’t known in the wider world, but they represent factions within the Chamber itself, and the five Founders can easily become the most influential members of the Chamber. The Dragonsguard become an elite order chosen to work directly with the Chamber as they oppose the Lords of Dust and work with the Prophecy. Whenever encountering Chamber agents, the DM can consider if they belong to any of the Colleges of Strixhaven, and reflect this in their abilities and actions. We’ve always said that the dragons of the Chambers are scholars and philosophers; the Colleges provide a quick set of philosophies to work with, though I wouldn’t say that they are the ONLY philosophies found within the Chamber.

As a school within Argonnessen, Strixhaven maintains the idea that “almost everyone on the campus is from somewhere else.” Likewise, it fits the idea that the students and faculty can include giants, awakened plants, or other exotic creatures; it’s a school for teaching members of ALL of the “lesser species,” not merely humanoids. Humanoid students could be drawn from anywhere on Eberron: you could have Qaltiar drow, Cold Sun lizardfolk, Akiak dwarves, Demesne tieflings, and similarly exotic choices. A central part of this idea is that this is an experiment—that the faculty carefully chooses students and wants to see if they’ll prove worthy of this knowledge. With this in mind, one question when creating your character is why were you chosen? Do you feel that there’s something remarkable about your character? Do you believe that you’re representing your nation, species, home town, or something else? Or are you mystified as to why you were selected? I really like the fact that this is a chance to bring together characters from very diverse cultures—a Riedran farmer, a Sulatar drow, a Carrion Tribes barbarian—and have the students learn about one another and find common ground even while mastering magic.

Faculty in Argonessen’s Strixhaven would likely include a significant number of dragons—younger than the founders and likely often seen in humanoid form, but still, dragons. On the other hand, faculty could also include former students. This could be a voluntary position, but I could easily see someone who was judged as unfit to return to their society with the knowledge they possessed and offered a choice: remain at Strixhaven and teach, or return home but with their arcane knowledge stripped from their mind. I would keep the Oracle as a humanoid, the embodiment of Strixhaven’s mission to share magic with non-dragons and tasked to ensure this power is not abused as it was following Aureon’s folly. Snarls could easily be an unusual form of manifest zone, possibly unique to Argonnessen just as wild zones are found on Sarlona. Star Arches are another question. While these could easily be draconic artifacts, part of the purpose of the arches is to be mysterious. One option would be to say that they are left over from the Age of Demons, and that even the dragons don’t know their origins—that some believe them to be creations of the Progenitors themselves, or “the bones of Siberys.” Another option is that they are relics of a fallen Draconic civilization. I’ve mentioned before that the degree to which the dragons fear the Daughter of Tiamat implies at least one devastating incident involving her release. With a hundred thousand years to work with, it’s entirely possible to imagine that draconic civilization has endured at least one massive collapse—that the Star Arches could be creations of Ourelonastrix and his peers, but that the dragons of the present day don’t understand them or know how to replicate them.

This concept of Strixhaven is somewhat similar to the city of Io’lokar, presented in Dragons of Eberron. Personally, I’ve never liked Io’lokar and don’t use it in my campaign. What I prefer about using Strixhaven in this way is the idea that it’s an experiment, constantly bringing in new students from across the world as opposed to just keeping a stable, stagnant population in isolation. With that in mind, I’d likely suggest that it’s a fairly RECENT experiment, at least as dragons measure time—no more than two or three centuries old. Among other things, this would hold to the idea that the Founders are still evaluating the experiment, and that the actions of the player characters could play an important role in this. Could the Conclave shut down Strixhaven? Could heroic characters inspire the dragons to share their knowledge more freely?

As a campus in Argonnessen, Strixhaven would be exotic and isolated, but still grounded in the material world. But there is another option I might use…

A School of Stories

Thelanis is sometimes said to embody the magic we wish was in the world. The layers of Thelanis and the Archfey embody iconic stories. So consider the story of a school of magic, a place of countless wonders that exists just around the corner from the reality we know. Everyone knows a story of a youth who didn’t fit in or didn’t meet expectations, who one day took a wrong turn and found themselves in a wondrous school where they had the chance to unlock both the secrets of magic and their own true self. With this in mind, I would place Strixhaven in Thelanis. One option would be to treat it as a Feyspire, placing it in the Moonlit Vale; however, I would be inclined to make it a distinct layer of Thelanis, because the story of Strixhaven generally stands on its own; it’s possible that students could get involved in the intrigues of the Moonlit Court, but it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Placing Strixhaven in Thelanis plays to the idea that the students and faculty can be extremely diverse and exotic—almost impossibly so. Giants, treants, sprites, sentient animals, talking statues; if you could imagine it in a story, you could find it at Strixhaven. A secondary aspect of this is the idea that many of the students aren’t, at the end of the day, REAL. Exploring Eberron talks about the idea of the “Supporting Cast” of Thelanis—lesser fey who are drafted to fill whatever purpose the story needs them to fill. Does this scene need a bully? An arrogant rival? The school can MAKE one for you. This applies to the teachers as well. Some could be greater fey with their own identities or former students who have chosen to remain, but there could definitely be teaching assistants, maintenance staff, even teachers who only exist as part of the story; you’ll never actually see Professor Greenroot except in his office or in the classroom, and he doesn’t really have any opinions on anything that’s not related to his classes. Speculating on who’s real and who’s a manifestations of the story would surely be a common pastime among students; when it comes down to it, can you be absolutely sure YOU are real?

As with Strixhaven—Argonnessen, Strixhaven—Thelanis could draw its students from across Eberron. Unlike Argonnessen, the Strix-Thel isn’t an experiment and the students aren’t being chosen to represent their people; instead they’re being chosen for their stories, and the question to think about when creating your character is What is your story? This is a fairy tale about someone stumbling onto a school of magic. Are you a luckless urchin from the streets of Sharn? A privileged Aundairian prince who needs to learn a lesson in humility? The unnatural nature of Thelanis could add a further twist—you could take a leaf from Rip Van Winkle and add students or faculty from different points in the past. Perhaps there’s a young elf at Strixhaven who, it turns out, is from the as-yet unerradicated Line of Vol—or a conniving student from one of the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun. In such a scenario, a key question would be if there’s any way for such students to return to their own time, or if they are the last remnants of civilizations long dead.

In developing Strixhaven-Thelanis, a key question is who are the archfey of the school? An obvious possibility is that the Founders are the Archfey who define Strixhaven. They may APPEAR to be dragons, but that’s a cosmetic detail. If this is the case, then the Founders might be involved in the ongoing intrigues of the Moonlit Court; perhaps four of the founders are associated with different seasons, while one remains aloof. On the other hand, it could be that the Oracle is the anchoring Archfey, and that the Founders are themselves part of the Supporting Cast—for all their supposed power and despite the many legends associated with them, they don’t actually EXIST until there’s a particular reason for them to exist. This ties to the question of whether the Dragonsguard actually exist. If the Founders are Archfey, the Dragonsguard could be their personal agents in endless, immortal intrigues and adventures within Thelanis. If the Oracle is the Archfey, the Dragonshguard themselves might not truly exist; they are also simply part of the story.

Part of the appeal of placing Strixhaven in Thelanis is to embrace the unreality of the situation, the fact that it is a story made real; you can embrace the tropes, because that’s ultimately what the school is. It’s likewise interesting to explore what it means to be real, mortal people in an environment that is only semi-real; it’s a bit of Harry Potter blended with The Truman Show. With this in mind, it’s easy to add the Snarls and Star Arches. They COULD have a deep and mysterious role. The Star Arches could be remnants of a shattered Archfey, or tied to the underling archtecture of Thelanis itself. If you want a truly epic story, the Snarls could be an early symptom of the fact that Thelanis itself is starting to unravel; perhaps the students must find a way to save the Faerie Court itself!

A secondary question with Strixhaven—Thelanis is what happens to the students who graduate? Why haven’t they transformed Eberron with their amazing mystic knowledge? Well, one advantage of the Thelanis approach is that there don’t have to be that many actual students; you can have all the supporting cast you need, but only a handful of students truly are protagonists who COULD finish their studies and return home. Another option is the Narnia approach: students stumble into Strixhaven from all across the world and can eventually become masters of magic, wielding powers far beyond the everyday magic of the Five Nations… but when those students return home, much of that power melts away. Should they return to Strixhaven, answering the call of the Founders in their hour of need, all those powers will return; but in Eberron itself, they may be more limited. This could give the interesting option of having adventurers meet a young NPC in Khorvaire who assures them that she’s one of the greatest archmages of all time, but who can’t even cast third level spells… until they’re all drawn to Thelanis, and her true powers return to her. If you take this approach, you might say, for example, that there’s quite a few Strixhaven alumni spread across Arcanix… but that the true treasure they retained from their time at the school was self-knowledge or a deeper understanding of the philosophies of the colleges as opposed to immense practical magics.

All this only begins to scratch the surface both of ways you could use Strixhaven or of the interesting stories one can tell in an academic campaign, but I did say at the start that this was going to be a “short” article… and with that in mind, I’m not going to expand too deeply on this concept in comments. For now, the Astral Plane awaits! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who help choose these topics and who make these articles possible.