In the wake of the war, many nations still want to contain the power of the dragonmarked houses. The clearest example of this attitude is the provision of the Treaty of Thronehold that called for the destruction of the creation forges that House Cannith used to create the warforged. At the time the treaty was signed, House Cannith was divided, reeling from the loss of its baron and its Cyran holdings in the Mourning. Now, realizing that weakness and concession led to Cannith’s losses, the houses refuse to be so easily cowed, and no united Galifar remains to rein them in. The houses are not bound by national borders. With the threat of renewed war looming on the horizon, the possibility of losing the services of a house is one that few nations can afford. Indeed, some leaders are working to build close ties with the houses. Aundair granted Stormhold to House Lyrandar in a clear violation of the Korth Edicts, and that house’s activities in Valenar also overstep the law. House Deneith’s military forces at its headquarters in Korth have grown beyond even the more generous provisions granted to it in the edicts, but Karrnath has yet to challenge this state of affairs.
All this creates a situation rife with intrigue and ready for adventure, as player characters—especially those who bear dragonmarks themselves—negotiate the ever-changing alliances and plots among the houses and the nations. Aside from the individual intrigues of each dragonmarked house, you might also consider the growing influence of the houses as a whole. A century ago, the balance of power clearly lay in the hands of the monarchy. Today, the divided leaders of Khorvaire’s many nations squabble and work intrigues, weakening their influence over their economies. Meanwhile, the reach of the merchant houses grows stronger with each day. There are many who whisper that if the nations of Khorvaire are ever to be united again, it will not be a descendant of Galifar who sits on the throne, but a dragonmarked heir of one of the houses.
This text is from from the fourth edition Eberron Campaign Guide, and it reflects a few of our basic design goals in creating the dragonmarked houses. Eberron is a world where magic is a part of industry, where it provides services that are part of everyday life—communication, transportation, medical services. If you need healing, you don’t go to a temple, you go to a hospital—which is to say, a Jorasco healing house. Part of our goal in doing this was to contrast the traditional feudal fantasy kingdom with the modern multinational corporation… to explore the idea that in an industrial world, the barons of industry may be as powerful—or more powerful—than kings and queens. In part this was inspired by powerful corporate families throughout history, such as the Medici Bank or Thurn & Taxis. it was equally inspired by the megacorporations of the cyberpunk genre, which often envisions a world in which industry has largely supplanted nations, where brand loyalty may mean more than nationality. Eberron isn’t at that point YET, but it was always the idea that you could imagine it going there… that the houses are growing in power while the nations are tearing themselves apart. It’s a theme you see explored in the last two Thorn of Breland novels, among others.
You don’t have to explore this in your campaign. The basic principle of Eberron is that we present more threats than any one campaign could possibly deal with—daelkyr, Dreaming Dark, Overlords rising, dragonmarked dystopia, the Next War, the Queen of the Dead—and it’s up to the DM to decide which will play a factor in a campaign, and which are still decades or centuries away from being relevant. Just as the stars may not be right for the daelkyr to arise, it could be that in YOUR Eberron the houses have no sinister agenda and are simply friendly, reliable service providers. But the idea is there that the houses are forces with the power to rival nations, driven purely by the interests of their families and an endless hunger for profit.
To be clear, it’s not the case that the houses are supposed to be evil. They’re essentially self-regulated monopolies. Given that, they could engage in vicious price gouging. They could knowingly peddle substandard goods, or take advantage of their customers in any number of ways. In general, we present them doing the reverse: we call out that people prefer to go to a Cannith-licensed smith or a Ghallanda-licensed tavern because they trust the quality and pricing, whereas an unlicensed business could be peddling substandard wares. By default, we present the houses as having earned the trust of the public over the course of centuries of reliable service. Jorasco may charge for healing; but we’ve never suggested that they charge unreasonable rates, and we’ve said that it is the industry people are used to dealing with. By default—and you can of course change this—the houses are essentially nations. They put the interests of their nation and their citizens above the good of outsiders; Jorasco is first and foremost considered with the stability and profitability of House Jorasco, just as King Boranel puts the interests of Breland ahead of the needs of the people of Thrane. The houses aren’t GOOD; they aren’t driven by compassion and they don’t engage in charity. And they do take ruthless action to preserve their power, just as a Breland will use the King’s Dark Lanterns to eliminate threats to the nation. But as a whole, the houses are working to provide quality services at a fair price… and they could do far worse if they chose.
With that said, while a house as a whole may not be a force for evil, there are cabals and factions WITHIN the houses that are certainly engaged in cruel or ruthless actions. Looking to Jorasco, we’ve discussed the idea that there are secret facilities engaged in bioweapons research. The nosomantic chiurgeons are an order that twist the power of the Mark of Healing to do harm rather than to prevent it. The Fading Dream shows a secret facility where innocent monsters are being tortured as part of Jorasco experiments. The point is that the typical Jorasco healer would be horrified by what’s going on in that facility… just as a typical Brelish citizen may not support the actions of the Dark Lanterns or the Swords of Liberty. The LEADERS of the Houses may well pursue ruthless agendas the common heir knows nothing about. House Cannith could have caused the Mourning… but that doesn’t mean every Cannith artificer was a part of it. As the opening paragraph suggests, the houses are a source of constantly shifting alliances and plots, and this is enhanced by the fact that they aren’t loyal to or accountable to any one nation.
So the houses could be involved in a campaign in a number of ways…
- As neutral service providers who shape the general landscape and flavor of the world, providing the everyday services adventurers come to rely on.
- As forces whose ambitions drive adventure—either because they are seeking rare resources, exploring or seeking to establish a presence in new regions, or pushing the envelope of arcane science in dangerous ways. A group of Vadalis researchers may have no evil intent, but that won’t stop the war-beasts they’ve magebred from wreaking havoc. A Cannith artificer is creating warforged that appear human; she may have no evil purpose for them, but the Lord of Blades has a few ideas. Such situations could involve the player characters working as operatives for one of the houses, cleaning up a mess made by the house, or competing with house agents.
- As opponents whose quests for profit or power puts innocents or allies of the PCs in danger. This could be something on a grand scale, or it could be quite specific: the PC artificer has made a remarkable discovery and House Cannith wants to either buy it or destroy it. Again, this may involve a specific faction within a house rather than the entire organization: a Traveler cult within House Cannith, a specific unit of assassins in House Thuranni, a Vadalis cabal magebreeding supersoldiers, or just a single ruthless baron with a vision and vast resources. You can even blend this with other forces, introducing a Cult of the Dragon Below or Dreaming Dark cell within a dragonmarked enclave.
- If you want, you COULD explore the idea of the Twelve actively working to undermine the monarchies and leaders of the Thronehold Nations. As it stands, this is something that is largely happening organically; it’s not that the house are trying to take over the world, they’re just slowly pushing their limits. But if you WANT to jumpstart a dragonmarked dystopia, that’s up to you.
Needless to say, these ideas would usually involve a particular house or a cabal within a house… and could involve two houses working at cross-purposes. Here’s a few of the more significant house conflicts.
- House Deneith resents House Tharashk for edging into the mercenary trade by brokering the services of monstrous forces.
- House Orien is threatened by House Lyrandar’s introduction of air travel. Currently this is a very young and limited form of travel, but as it expands it could seriously hurt Orien’s monopoly on overland transportation.
- House Thuranni split from House Phiarlan less than thirty years ago. While the two houses largely operate in different territories, there’s certainly a strong rivalry when their paths cross.
- House Cannith lost its leaders during the Last War, and there’s currently three powerful barons vying for control of the house. It remains to be seen if one of them can unite the house behind them, or if it will shatter and follow the example of Thuranni and Phiarlan.
- House Medani and House Tharashk are rivals in the Inquisitive business, and Medani and Deneith have overlap in personal protection. While they specialize in different things, there’s still room for rivalry.
- All of the dragonmarked houses are made up of multiple family lines, and there can always be intrigue between them. The biggest example of this is the split of the Houses of Shadow, which occured when the Thuranni erradicated the Paelion, another Phiarlan line. But this is always a possible source of tension and intrigue.
The Twelve is an organization formed specifically to help mediate these sorts of disputes and to foster cooperation between the houses. House Sivis likewise actively works to keep the peace between and within the houses. But these are certainly points of tension that could form the basis of a plot.
Agent or Excoriate?
What does it mean to be a dragonmarked character? Are you complicit in the actions of your house or bound by its rules? Could you be a rebel, or a spy engaging in covert operations on behalf of the house? The answer is simple: what do you want your story to be? The houses are massive organizations with thousands of heirs. Are you close to the powers that run the house, or did you grow up working on the factory floor? Do you want to be limited by the rules of the house, or do you want to be on the outside?
The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents five different roles for player characters. Here’s a quick overview, along with my thoughts on how this relates to fifth edition.
As an agent of a dragonmarked house, you have close ties to a house and its leaders. Depending on your status and accomplishments, you can draw on the authority and resources of the house—limited at first when you’ve yet to prove yourself, but increasing with your accomplishments. The flip side of this is that you have responsibilities and you’re accountable to the house. Your actions reflect upon it and you’ll be expected to follow its rules and regulations. In short, your ties to the house are a constant factor in your life, and will likely come up in every adventure—whether it’s because the house has given you a specific mission, or simply because your ties to the house affect your interactions with others. One topic that’s worth discussing with your DM is whether you want to be proud of your house and if you’d like it to be shown primarily in a positive light in the campaign… or if you like the idea of your house taking actions that force you to question your loyalty, and if you might uncover secrets you wish you didn’t know.
Your influence as an agent is based on your actions, so this is something you have to earn over time. However, there’s two backgrounds that make sense if you want this to be a long-term part of your character. House Agent from the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron reflects an ongoing role as an operative and troubleshooter for your house. You may not be close to the leadership, but you’re a recognized agent. Alternately, Noble reflects the idea that you are tied to one of the most powerful and influential families within the house… reflecting the idea that in Eberron, a dragonmarked baron has power to rival a prince or duke. Your Position of Power has a different flavor than that of an aristocrat, but you are still heir to wealth and power. Nobles may see you as new money, but they will respect your family’s influence.
In the novels, Lei d’Cannith begins as an agent of House Cannith. She’s a uniformed house operative serving alongside the Cyran military; she adheres to all house rules; and she has ties to important families and has been provided with an arranged marriage to solidify her position.
As a scion you’re an heir in good standing with your house, but you aren’t actively working for a branch of the house, and you have little recognition or responsibility. At some point in your career you worked for one of the house guilds, but you’re currently out on your own. Effectively, if the houses were nations, you’d be a citizen: you have certain rights based on your citizenship, but the house will only pay attention to you if you draw attention to yourself. This is the simplest approach if you like the idea of being part of one of these powerful families, but don’t want to have a lot of responsibilities. As with the agent, it’s good to talk with your DM and discuss the role you’d prefer to see the house play in your story. Would you prefer to stay at a distance? Would you be interested in being drawn more deeply in over time as your reputation grows? The house could definitely take an interest in you as you gain influence and power. There could be intrigues with your family, or you could have prophetic significance you don’t know about. You could discover corruption within the house and have to decide whether to fight it or whether to simply break ties with it. You begin as a largely free agent, but there’s many ways your story could go.
While a scion could have any background, there are a few that could reflect your ties to your house. Guild Artisan is an obvious one, with your guild being the house guild that covers your particular trade; your Guild Membership feature means that you can call on the support of the house, even if it’s on a more practical level than the Noble or House Agent. If you’re Phiarlan or Thuranni, a background as an Entertainer may be a reflection of a career that began with the House Guilds, while if you’re a Spy you could be a former agent who’s still maintained a few contacts and covers. Soldier is a fine choice for House Deneith, and your Military Rank represents your honorable service within the Blademark mercenary corps. Lyrandar Sailors, Sivis Scholars, Tharashk Urban Bounty Hunters… all of these reflect the idea that you had an honest career within the house, but currently you don’t have any responsibilities to it.
As an orphan, you’ve chosen to break your ties with your house. This often happens when an heir wants to engage in actions forbidden by the Korth Edicts, such as marrying into a noble family. But it can also be driven by a matter of principle: a Jorasco heir wants to devote their life to charitable healing, or a Deneith soldier wants to fight for a particular cause instead of for gold. The main point is that you chose to cut yourself off. You’re not allow to wear the house insignia or to present yourself as an heir, but you’re not an excoriate. If your circumstances change, you could even potentially return to it. The main question to answer in creating your character is why did you leave? Was it driven by the Edicts? Was it a matter of principle? Was it tied to love, or to prevent a scandal?
In many ways being an orphan is the simplest way to play a dragonmarked character, if all you want is the abilities of the mark. You have no responsibilities, no access to house resources, and you can’t even use the house name… but you’re also not burdened by the infamy of excoriation. The main question is if you want the house to play a role in your life. If you left to avoid a scandal, do you want it to come back up? If you were driven away by love gone wrong, do you want to cross paths with your lover or your rival? If you left because of a principle, do you want that to be a theme as your story evolves? Or do you just want to focus on a career as an adventurer with a dragonmark, without getting into any of that?
An orphan can follow almost any background. The main point is that the benefits of your background will not reflect an active tie to your house. If you’re a Soldier and a Deneith orphan, you should either drop Military Rank, or say that it reflects your rank in a different military organization; you’ve broken all ties to the Blademark. If you’re a Noble, you don’t have a Position of Privilege within the house; instead, you or one of your parents could have married into the aristocracy. Of course, you could take the Noble background with the Retainers option, suggesting that you turned your back on your life of privilege but a few loyal retainers remain by your side.
In the Dreaming Dark novels, Daine is an orphan who left House Deneith in order to serve in the Cyran army.
An Excoriate has committed a crime against the house and been formally cast out of it. This is far more severe than being an orphan. Your likeness is circulated; heirs of the house are forbidden from providing you with any sort of aid or assistance, and even members of other houses will usually shun excoriates. This punishment is reserved for serious offenses, and carries the weight of infamy, so the immediate question is what did you do? Did you actually commit treason or make an attack against your house? Did you deserve your excoriation, or is it the result of political maneuvering—you uncovered corruption or some other secret the house needed to keep hidden? If it was possible, would you want to find a way to return to your house, or do you despise your family and everything it stands for?
An excoriate is an orphan with an extra serving of drama. You aren’t simply ignored by the house, you will actively have to deal with the consequences of your infamy. If the adventure requires interaction with a house, you may have to disguise yourself or make yourself scare. On the other hand, perhaps you still have friends or contacts in the family… but are you willing to place them at risk by asking for their help?
While an excoriate can follow any background with the same limitations as the orphan, this is also a logical path for a Criminal; it could be that your criminal activities are what got you excoriated, or it could be that you were forced into a life of crime after being thrown from the house. It’s also a good match for a Folk Hero, especially if you were excoriated for doing something that hurt your house but helped the common people. A more unusual option would be Hermit or Haunted One; you have seen or discovered something the house doesn’t want known.
In the Dreaming Dark novels, Lei d’Cannith becomes an excoriate. In her case, she doesn’t know why she was driven from the house, and this is an ongoing mystery she slowly unravels over the course of her story.
As a foundling you never had a connection to a house. You’re presumably descended from an orphan or excoriate… or you might be the illegitimate child of a member of a house. You’ve grown up without any guidance from the house and you don’t know any of its traditions; you’ve learned to use the mark entirely on your own. As a general rule, the houses are quite happy to bring foundlings back into the family, so you COULD become a scion or agent if you ever wanted to… so the question is, why haven’t you? Is it that you’ve never had contact with a house—that you’re an Urchin, Hermit, or Outlander who has never been to a house enclave? Have you been recruited by some other organization keen to make use of your powers… so you might be a Spy or a Criminal, or an Acolyte who’s chosen your faith over your house? Or are you AFRAID of the houses… either because you know a terrible secret about them, or for purely irrational reasons?
A foundling has no immediate responsibilities; typically, the house doesn’t know you exist. Generally, the reason to play a foundling character is because you want to explore a relationship with the houses… or to play the idea of being a dragonmarked agent of another organization. If your reputation grows and your mark is revealed, your house may pressure you to join—is that a story that you want to explore? If not, you might be better off as an orphan.
This article began as a general Q&A with questions provided by my Patreon supporters—thanks for keeping this website going! Here’s answers to those questions.
Why did you decide to limit dragonmarks to specific bloodlines as opposed to making them available to all members of a particular race?
In part this was inspired by historical precedent—the Medici Bank, Thurn & Taxis, industrial dynasties like the Rockefellers. But there’s a few major reasons we chose to limit it. Tying the houses to families is a way to immediately ensure self-interest and to encourage the monopoly aspect: they began in one place, they had the immediate motive to ensure the prosperity of their families, and it’s not like someone halfway across the world could develop the mark independently and challenge their monopoly. The second aspect is the fact that families have drama. If you’re dragonmarked and there’s a villain in the house, they may be your uncle or your cousin. Essentially, if you have a dragonmark, you have a connection to the house, whether you’re a foundling, orphan, or agent; it’s not the case that you just developed it randomly on your own.
This is also something that clearly and concretely distinguishes the houses from aberrant dragonmarks, which do appear entirely at random.
Was it intentional for House Jorasco to come across as a heartlessly capitalistic organization?
The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents a particularly heartless view of House Jorasco, requiring every heir to swear an oath never to heal without payment and suggesting that heirs can actually be excoriated for breaking this oath… when excoriation is elsewhere said as a rare punishment reserved for treason and similar acts. Personally, I consider this to be extreme, and that oath isn’t something I use in my Eberron. I definitely focus on the fact that the house is a business, not a charity. Again, think of the house as a nation; Breland is going to put the interests of the Brelish people ahead of Thranes, even if that means some Thranes may die. Jorasco’s position is simple. They don’t have the resources to heal everyone. They need to make a profit to prosper and continue to provide their services. Therefore, they will limit their services to those who can pay. And people KNOW that. I live in the US, and I know that I can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and demand that the doctor give me a free checkup; it’s just not how the system works. Would it be better if everyone had all the services they needed? Of course! But that’s not how the system works… and I don’t think my doctor is evil or heartless because of it. I don’t expect an auto mechanic to fix my car for free. I don’t expect the grocer to give me free food. In Eberron, Cannith doesn’t give away warforged and Orien doesn’t offer free rides on the lightning rail… and Jorasco only heals those who can pay for it.
With that said, I feel the oath as presented in Dragonmarked is too specific and strict. I DEFINITELY don’t support the idea of a Jorasco cleric saying “Sorry, fellow PC, I can’t use a healing word until you give me 5 gp. Oath, y’know.” With that said, I think it’s entirely appropriate for the house to insist that a Jorasco agent be compensated for healing they perform… but that compensation can take many forms. If the party is performing a service for the house, that’s the payment. Otherwise, does the agent feel that the actions of the party are increasing the reputation of the house? are they helping Jorasco allies? Essentially, the services of a Jorasco healer should never be taken for granted—but even the Dragonmarked chapter notes that alternative forms of payment are an option.
I find it hard to imagine a good-aligned Jorasco PC who doesn’t in some way chafe against their House, a chaotic-aligned Jorasco PC who isn’t an excoriate, or indeed much room for good-aligned or chaotic-aligned NPC Jorascos at all; again, was that intentional?
Again, I see this as being based on the Dragonmarked idea that a Jorasco heir could be actively punished for helping without payment, and as I said, I see that as extreme. While they are at a healing house, they have to follow the rules, just as a Cannith smith has to meet the standards and follow the pricing established by the house. But I don’t support the idea that if that halfling healer is walking home and a kid falls off a bike, the healer would say “I’d love to take a look at that, but it will cost 5 crowns.” SOME Jorasco heirs may be heartless and cruel, but I also feel there are Jorasco heirs who do care about their patients and who do the best they can… and if they can’t give away full services for free, they might at least point the patient towards charitable services.
I will say that it’s hard to see a chaotic individual becoming a house agent, but not impossible; “Damn it, Dravis! You broke a dozen house regulations, but I can’t argue with your results.”
With that said, the IS the point of the orphan or excoriate. While I don’t support the Dragonmarked oath, I definitely agree that a Jorasco healer isn’t allowed to give away the services of a house of healing, and there are some who will balk at that or at the fact that the house isn’t doing more to help as many people as possible. You could leave as an orphan to do your part; or perhaps you’re a folk hero and excoriate who gave away an entire shipment of healing potions to help save a village.
There’s two points I do want to call out here. One is the fact that while Jorasco is BEST known for its healing magic, the most COMMON and affordable services are mundane treatment enhanced by the power of the mark—which is to say, use of the Medicine skill with the intuition bonus granted by the mark. If you’ve got gold you can get a lesser restoration to remove an ailment instantly, but most treatments are long term and based on the healer’s skills. So in looking to the fact that they expect payment, most of what they do is an actual SERVICE—not just the work of a moment and a spell slot.
The second is that there are people who provide charitable healing. The Church of the Silver Flame and adepts of Boldrei sometimes operate free clinics. The critical points here…
- These places look after people who are truly in need. This is Faela in Sharn, caring for the destitute people of Fallen. If you show up with gold in your purse just trying to avoid paying Jorasco costs you clearly could afford, they’ll tell you to get lost.
- Most priests in Eberron aren’t divine spellcasters. These charitable clinics provide access to someone trained in the Medicine skill, but this isn’t a place you go hoping for a free restoration. They don’t have dragonmark focus items or the other resources of a Jorasco house.
Essentially, in a big city there will be some options for people in desperate need, but this doesn’t change the fact that Jorasco is seen as the standard and most reliable option.
How strong or fragile are the limitations of the Korth Edicts after the War?
The Korth Edicts are the laws put in place by the united kingdom of Galifar to limit the power of the dragonmarked houses. These include restrictions on the houses holding land or maintaining military forces. The issue with the Korth Edicts is that Galifar is no longer a united entity. So if a house violates these terms… who’s going to enforce them? Cannith abided by the terms of the Treaty of Thronehold when it demanded the destruction of the Creation Forges, but that was a rare moment both of unity between all Thronehold nations and exceptional weakness for Cannith, which had just lost its leadership. But imagine if Aundair decided to call out Stormhome as Lyrandar violating the terms of the Edicts… and imagine Lyrandar saying “Of course! We completely understand your need to stand by these antiquated principles. But we were planning on Stormhome being the new center of our weather control operations, and if we can’t have the island we’ll have to discontinue this service in Aundair. It’s really too bad: I have it on good authority that you’re looking at a severe drought this summer without our help. We’ll also need to raise costs on airship travel out of Aundair to offset the costs… and House Sivis told us that if we raised our rates, they’d probably, they’ll have to increase the cost of communications across Aundair as well. Are you SURE that our little island is a problem? It would be so much simpler for all of us if we just kept things as they are.”
Essentially, the war weakened the nations and strengthened the houses. The Twelve are still testing the limits of the Korth Edicts. At the moment they aren’t violating them on a massive scale, but the main point is if they did, who would actually be able to do anything about it? This is a theme that comes up across the Thorn of Breland novels. Would the nations stand together to enforce limits on the houses? Or would the houses be able to exploit the divisions between the nations and continue to get what they want?
So the Korth Edicts are weakening. Is that how House Vadalis has land on which to put their compounds and Varna, Merylsward et al? I couldn’t think of who they pay rent to, now that the Reaches no longer under Aundairian rule. Did they just quietly claim ownership of the land?
The Player’s Guide to Eberron says “Since the houses do not own land, the edicts dictate a system of rents to be paid to the crown. In the wake of the Last War, the houses continue to operate under the edicts of Korth, treating the local ruler as the crown for purposes of the law.” Stormhome is called out as a special exception, where Aundair granted the land to Lyrandar in violation of the Korth Edicts.
The Eldeen Reaches are likewise an unusual case. Prior to the Eldeen secession, Vadalis was paying rent to the Aundairian crown for its holdings in Varna. Following the Eldeen secession, I believe that the Wardens of the Wood came to an arrangement with Vadalis, where the house holds the land in exchange for maintaining the local infrastructure and supporting the Eldeen secession. Much like the Valenar and House Lyrandar, the Wardens of the Wood have no interest in maintaining large cities, so it makes sense that they’d deputize the house to do so. Again, this is a violation of the Korth Edicts, but the Eldeen Reaches were never a part of the Korth Edicts, so why should they enforce them?
In the last book of Thorn of Breland, we see a covert joint operation between several of the Houses after Drix uses an Orien teleportation circle. What was the purpose of that operation and what are other “secret project” that the houses are working on ?
The houses are always working on joint projects; facilitating such cooperation is the primary purpose of the Twelve, along with presenting a unified front if a nation challenges the houses. The Kundarak vault network was a joint operation between Cannith, Kundarak, and Orien. Airships are a joint operation between Cannith, Lyrandar, and the Zil. In the case of The Fading Dream—and I say this because it’s not a major spoiler to the main plot of the story—they stumble into a facility that appears to be a joint Jorasco-Vadalis program seeking to unlock and replicate the supernatural abilities of various monsters. Jorasco would love to be able to replicate the regenerative powers of trolls, and Vadalis would be thrilled to be able to magebreed the harpy’s voice or medusa’s gaze into other species. House Cannith often gets dragged into things because the houses need them to build magic items or focus items… and this in turn is why they have traditionally been the most influential house within the Twelve. House Orien doesn’t especially need House Jorasco, but it relies on Cannith to produce conductor stones and coaches.
As for other secret projects, who can say? If Vadalis was magebreeding supersoldiers, I’d expect Jorasco to be involved. Likewise, we’ve hinted at the existence of Jorasco bioweapons programs, and that could likewise benefit from Vadalis insights. Each house has a specialty; in thinking of an interesting idea, consider which specialties would be required to bring it about.
House Deneith is the only House with rights, through the Treaty of Thronehold, to maintain an army. How does this contend with House Tharashk’s mercenary operation, if at all?
See the earlier discussion of the Korth Edicts. Tharashk doesn’t maintain an army in the same way that Deneith does with the Blademark; Tharashk simply brokers the services of independent monstrous mercenaries. It also generally bases these forces in Droaam or the Shadow Marches, neither of which are Thronehold nations. If it wants to establish a garrison in the Five Nations, that could be an issue.
Is there a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan?
Halas Tarkanan was the commander of one of the major aberrant dragonmarked forces during the War of the Mark. We know he had a consort, the Lady of the Plague. No canon source mentions them having children, and even if they did, one would presume that they died in the destruction of Dorasharn. House Tarkanan has never mentioned any sort of recognized Tarkanan bloodline; instead anyone with an aberrant dragonmark is considered to be a member of the house and to have a right to use the Tarkanan name. But the point is that no one knows, so this is entirely something for each DM to explore. Do you WANT a secret bloodline of Halas Tarkanan? Then come up with a story of how it survived the siege of Dorasharn and run with it.
With that said, this relates directly to the earlier question about the dragonmarked families. Aberrant dragonmarks are not reliably hereditary. The most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is by mixing pure dragonmarked lines. Aside from that, aberrant dragonmarks can appear on anyone, anywhere, regardless of heritage. We’ve said that children of aberrant parents aren’t assured of developing aberrant marks, and that those that do usually won’t inherit the abilities of their parents. In The Son of Khyber, Zae is the daughter of Fileon… but Fileon has a deadly touch, while Zae talks to rats. This is intentionally in direct opposition to the reliable, hereditary nature of “true” dragonmarks; aberrant marks are chaotic and impossible to control. So you COULD have a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan, but being an heir of Halas doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an aberrant mark, and even if you do it may have no resemblance to his mark.
According to D&D Beyond, a warforged character can have an aberrant dragonmark. Is this a mistake?
The Wayfinder’s Guide placed no racial restrictions on aberrant marks. Changelings, shifters, or even warforged can have aberrant marks. An aberrant warforged would be highly unusual, and raise questions about how it happened and what it means. But with that said, there IS an warforged with an aberrant dragonmark in The Son of Khyber—and again, people there are puzzled and wonder what it means. The whole point of aberrant dragonmarks is that they are unpredictable and they AREN’T tied to bloodlines.
How did Thuranni get away with the Shadow Schism? What’s the common understanding of the mass-murder/disappearance of so many Paelions?
This is covered on page 82 of Dragonmarked. The Paelions were accused of plotting a massive wave of assassinations targeting the heads of nations and dragonmarked houses. Per Dragonmarked, “To this day, Baron Elar d’Thuranni maintains that he acted out of loyalty to his own house and all the dragonmarked houses, quashing a plot that would have thrown all of Khorvaire into even greater upheaval”… And within the Twelve, there are many that believe him and support him, which is why Thuranni was accepted as a house by the Twelve.
As for the public understanding of the situation, bear in mind that this occurred in the middle of a war; that the Paelions were believed to be entertainers; and that the Thuranni are expert assassins with a great deal of experience covering their tracks. Depending on the situation, assassination could have been made to look like the result of military action (Aundarian arcane explosive accidentally brings down opera house!), the work of bandits (tragic loss as bandits senselessly murder traveling Phiarlan troupe!), or criminal activity (Were gambling debts behind the carnival massacre?). It’s not like the common people even know the difference between all the Phiarlan lines. You can be sure that there are conspiracy theorists that have pieced it together, but you can be equally sure Thuranni agents have spread a host of ridiculous theories that have clogged up those channels—the Paelions were a cult of the Dragon Below! They were secret agents of the Silver Flame slain by demons! But the short form is that the public was more concerned with war and not in a place to be terribly interested in the seemingly coincidental deaths of Phiarlan entertainers.
Beyond this, one theory is that the “Shadow Schism” was an amicable arrangement between Elar and Elvinor d’Phiarlan—that they both wanted to eliminate the Paelions, and that the entire schism is a sham. Don’t forget that these are the finest actors in Eberron; this could all be part of an elaborate play that’s going to take a century to play out… which is, again, not a lot of time for an elf!
The Dragonshard articles on House Phiarlan give different locations for the Five Demesnes (the primary house enclaves) than the Dragonmarked Sourcebook. Which is correct?
The Dragonmarked sourcebook is the more accurate source.
Have you thought about putting an explicitly anti-House organization into the setting?
There are a few specifically anti-house organizations… it’s just a question of whether it’s a pleasant answer. The Aurum is entirely an anti-house organization. The Ashbound are anti-house, along with anti-many other things. There’s a few others like that. But we intentionally didn’t put an entirely benevolent, well organized anti-house organization for the same reason the Gatekeepers are withered and fading: we don’t want the major problems of the world to be solved by NPC organizations. Typically where there are such organizations—notably the Church of the Silver Flame, a compassionate organization that does charitable work, provides free healthcare where it can, and seeks to fight supernatural evil—we call out problems that limit its ability to accomplish that mission. Because the world needs player characters to shift the balance. As it stands it’s a world with many problems and few solutions; it’s up to YOU to find the best answer.
While most people see the houses as directly dispensing the services they provide, isn’t it the case that most of those services are actually provided by the guilds—and that the members of the guilds aren’t necessarily part of the dragonmarked family? What are the interactions between high-ranking, unmarked guild members and those house leaders who govern their affairs?
This is a good question, and it’s covered on page 11 of Dragonmarked. You are absolutely correct: the HOUSES are families, and the GUILDS are what provide services. However, there’s a Venn diagram here, because the Guilds govern three different types of businesses.
- House Arms are businesses directly run by blood heirs / house agents on behalf of the house.
- Bound Businesses are essentially franchises. They’re funded by the guild in exchange for a greater share of the profits, and they maintain a recognized guild identity—for example, the Gold Dragon Inn of House Jorasco. In many cases, a bound business will have to be run by a blood heir because the business may require the use of dragonmark focus items to provide its services, but many of the employees may be outside of the house. They have more independence than a house arm, but they have significant limtiations.
- Licensed Businesses are businesses that uphold the standards of the guild, and are usually run by people trained by the guild, but they are not directly tied to the house and generally aren’t run by blood heirs.
The critical point here is that licensed businesses can’t provide the unique house services. You can have a licensed scribe who’s Sivis-trained, but they can’t manage a message stone. Meanwhile, most Sivis message stations are house arms, because the house actively maintains and expands the stone network.
So looking to Jorasco, a house arm is directly run by the house through the guild. It will have the best equipment and the largest number of blood heirs. A bound house will likely be run by a blood heir who can use dragonmark focuses, but will have less of those focuses and a significant number of unmarked staff. And a licensed house of healing will largely provide nonmagical services, but the people there will be Jorasco trained and maintain Jorasco standards, and they may sell Jorasco potions.
Generally speaking, I expect the leadership of the guilds to be largely comprised of blood heirs… though quite possibly UNMARKED blood heirs. Remember that only around half of the heirs develop even the least mark, and guild administration is an important position that doesn’t require a mark. You don’t HAVE to be an heir to rise to a position of authority, but there’s always going to be some degree of nepotism you’ll have to deal with. Still, it’s not the case that the Finder’s Guild is primarily run by outsiders who are going to negotiate with the house; leadership will still mainly be Tharashk heirs, even if they’re unmarked, and they will have the interests of the house at heart.