The Ironroot Mountains are rich in precious metals and ore, and the dwarves of the Mror Hold wield considerable economic power for such a small nation. The Mror dwarves have long been miners and warriors, proud of their clans and their traditions. And the clans have long told stories of the great deeds of their ancestors—of dwarves who ruled a vast domain below the roots of the mountains, who battled the ancient goblins long before humanity came to Khorvaire, of artificers who crafted wonders deep below the earth. According to these stories, the first clan lords were exiled from the Realm Below for their wild and reckless ways—but that someday, when the Mror walked a righteous path, the gates of the Realm Below would be opened to them once more.
In the early days of the Last War, the legends were revealed to be true. Delving ever deeper, Mror miners broke through into an ancient hall. There is a vast subterranean realm below the Ironroot Mountains, and the ancient dwarves who carved these halls did produce amazing artifacts and legendary weapons. But those dwarves died long ago. The daelkyr Dyrrn the Corruptor has laid claim to the Realm Below, and the minions of the Foul Labyrinth are spread throughout its halls. Dolgrims, dolgaunts, mind flayers, and other vile aberrations dwell in the depths. Degenerate derro dwell among these creatures, perhaps the last remnant of the dwarves of old.
Ever since this discovery, the Mror Clans have been waging a war to reclaim their ancestral holdings. The aberrations have yet to mount a counter-offensive or truly organized defense, and the dwarves have established a beachhead in the depths. Along the way, they have recovered both relics of the ancient dwarfs and weapons and tools of the daelkyr themselves—living weapons and items known as symbionts. Some of the clans—notably Clan Mroranon, the strongest of the holds—take the stance that all things tied to the daelkyr are abominable, and that any use of such things will lead to corruption. But others—notably Clan Soldorak—assert that symbionts are just tools, and that the weapons of the enemy can be used against them. Over the course of decades, Soldorak and its allies have brought symbionts into their daily lives, finding new uses for these living tools. Soldorak warlocks have found ways to draw on the power of the daelkyr themselves. Such warlocks swear that they’ll only use these powers for the good of the Holds, but Mroranon purists mutter that there can be no traffic without corruption.
The Present Day
Today, the dwarves continue their slow war in the darkness. Occasionally a force of aberrations seeks to rise up from the depths, but overall there is a stalemate; the Mror have claimed upper halls, but it will take a great effort to press deeper. From a practical standpoint, this means that there is a vast dungeon below the Holds. Many clans would be happy to have adventurers drive deeper into the daelkyr-held halls beneath their holds, especially if those adventurers include among them a dwarf of their line. This is an especially logical focus for a dwarf with the noble background; among many of the clan lines, the elders have asserted that if their heirs want territory, they must carve it out of the Realm Below.
So on the one hand, the Mror Holds are shaped by the knowledge of the Realms Below—the awareness that there is untold wealth and power to be gained in the depths, combined with the knowledge that a deadly enemy with vast and as yet untested power lies beneath their feet. Dyrrn the Corruptor has yet launch an organized attack against the surface, but many feel that it’s only a matter of time. Some say that it’s a question of poking the hornets nest, that all traffic with the Realm Below should be severed before Dyrrn rises. Others believe that Dyrrn is biding its time while spreading its corruption through its symbionts and cults—that Dyrrn is already attacking the Mror Holds, just not through brute force. While some say that these are the excuses of cowards: that the aberrations are not as strong as others think, and that the holds should launch a concetnrated campaign to fully reclaim the Realm Below. It’s up the a DM to decide the truth and the path a campaign will take. Are Dyrrn’s minions already corrupting the dwarves from within? Do you want to have a resurgence of this ancient threat, with the dwarves fighting a desperate battle to contain hordes rising from below? Or do you want to keep the Realm Below as a mysterious dungeon for bold adventurers to explore?
Rising From The Last War presents the foundation of this idea, and provides a few example symbionts. Exploring Eberron goes farther, with a deeper look into the cultural impact of these events, along with additional symbionts and character options.
Why Did This Happen?
Since Eberron began, the Mror dwarves have been called out as being fundamentally less interesting than the dino-riding Talenta halflings, the deadly gnomes of Zilargo, and the ancestor-worshipping warrior elves of Valenar. In the past, their primary direction has been about their economic power; but that’s a subtle distinction. In developing Rising From The Last War, we wanted to add something that made the Mror dwarves distinct without completely rewriting their history. But the Realm Below has always been part of their history. This article was the first mention of the ancient kingdom below the Holds—a realm of wonders destroyed by the daelkyr long ago. Likewise, symbionts were introduced in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting and expanded upon in Magic of Eberron. But neither of these elements received much attention. Rising presented an opportunity to expand on both of these. We give the daelkyr a more significant role and create a line in the sand for adventurers who want to face them: here is a place where you know one can be found. We also take symbionts—something I’ve always liked—and say that there is a place in the world where they are being used as tools, the same way magic is used as a tool. For adventurers who prefer a more traditional dwarven story, there’s the Mroranon and their allies—proud warriors staunchly opposing the aberrations and holding to the traditions of their ancestors. For players who want something new, try the Soldorak with their warlocks and their symbionts. A critical point here is that the Soldorak aren’t evil or inherently corrupt; they see symbionts as one more tool, as a science to be mastered. Some of the other clans say that it can’t be mastered without sowing corruption—but that’s a decision the DM will have to decide. So ultimately, this was an opportunity to add a unique path for dwarf adventurers, while also expanding on the role of symbionts and the daelkyr.
But wait, you say? I keep mentioning dwarf warlocks, and dwarves aren’t especially good at being warlocks? Well, perhaps there’s an option in Exploring Eberron that will help those would-be Soldorak cultists…
What About The Shadow Marches?
The Shadow Marches also have a division between those who follow the Daelkyr adn those who oppose them. Is this just the same story repeated?
On a grand cosmic scale, it can be seen that way. But the two are very different. The story of the Marches has been playing out for thousands of years. The Gatekeepers are a truly ancient tradition. The Cults of the Dragon Below are an established part of Marcher culture. The Gatekeepers maintain the seals that keep the daelkyr bound, while the Kyrzin’s Whisperers maintain the gibbering mouthers that live in their basements and consume their elders. It is an established tradition on both sides. By contrast, the situation in the Mror Holds is active and unfolding. There IS the risk that Kyrzin could drive an all out offensive (even if the daelkyr itself can’t leave Khyber). The Soldorak are actively trying to harness and use the symbionts in a more industrial manner than the ancient cults of the Marches. And frankly, the Mroranon may oppose the daelkyr, but they don’t understand what they are fighting as the Gatekeepers do. There’s also the simply point that there’s different daelkyr involved. The Marches are primarily associated with Kyrzin and Belashyrra, while it’s Dyrrn the Corruptor who’s active below the Holds. Part of this is that it’s a great reason for a Gatekeeper adventurer to be sent to the Mror Holds, to find out just what’s happening in the east and report back to the elders in the Marches.
How does House Kundarak fit into this picture?
The original 3.5 lore suggests that it was the Kundarak dwarves that opened the passages to the Realm Below. This isn’t entirely eliminated, but it’s downplayed. The idea remains that the Kundarak dwarves weren’t exiled; they left the Realm Below as guardians assigned to watch over the exiles and prevent their return. There’s a few things to consider here.
- The timeline isn’t as interesting. Set aside the idea that Dragonmark of Warding just happened to manifest on a line of dwarves maintaining wards (thousands of years after their being assigned to that position), it sets the discovery of the Realm Below as something that happened centuries ago, removing the urgency and drama of the situation. We want the interaction with the Realm Below to be recent enough that’s adventurers can be an active part of the discover, and its impact on the Holds is still unfolding.
- The previous approach meant that Kundarak maintained a direct cultural line to the Realm Below. We preferred the idea that this line was broken, that no dwarf really knows what they’ll find in the Realm Below. This ties to the fact that the ancient dwarves could make artifacts, and that there are secrets below any artificer would love to master. But it also means that the dwarves could discover that their ancestors weren’t what they believe them to have been.
- Which all leads to the idea that the Kundarak did seal and protect the paths to the Realm Below long ago… but that then thousands of years passed and they, too, largely forgot what had come before. They didn’t fail in their duty; the paths were sealed. They just were so successful that they eventually forgot what that duty was and moved on (again, over the course of thousands of years and the rise of new civilizations) and eventually someone else DID break the seals.
But the answer is simple. If you prefer the old lore, you can use that Dragonshard exactly as it reads. The Kundarak DID open the seals to the Realm Below a thousand years ago. But this only revealed the upper levels, which were empty and long abandoned. What happened recently wasn’t the discovery of the Realm Below; it was that someone found a way to go even deeper into it, and that’s when they found the levels still occupied. So it was a known curiosity, but only recently became an opportunity and a threat.
Will you ever give a canon answer for the other 10 clans where they fall on the symbiont acceptability spectrum?
I doubt it. Exploring Eberron addresses some of the other clans, but a number are left intentionally neutral so DMs and players can decide what to do with them.
The only small niggle I have was that one in-universe tabloid on a Mror noble going to Korth kitted out with a slew of symbionts. Personally find it difficult to swallow that they’d travel internationally as such. But then, can you really believe everything you read? Especially with the Karrns likely bitter still over Mror ceding from Karrnath.
The clipping in question is on page 121 of Rising From The Last War. With all of those clippings, It’s very important to look at the source. The Korranberg Chronicle is the most reliable source. The Five Voices — in this case, the Voice of Karrnath — present inflammatory and nationalistic views. So it’s hardly surprising that the Voice of Karrnath would focus on the unsavory aspects of a visiting Mror dignitary and try to generate fear.
With that said, I DON’T have a problem with the idea of Lord Malus showing up in his living armor. You have to consider WHY he’s doing this, and WHERE. If he’s an ambassador coming to Fairhaven on bended knee, this would be a terrible choice. But to paraphrase 300, this is Karrnath. This is the nation that has entire fortresses staffed with the undead. It is a nation that understands displays of power and wielding tools that terrify others. In wearing his armor, Lord Malus is intentionally seeking to intimidate and to project power: I have mastered these terrifying things.
And there’s one other element to consider. Most symbionts have a feature called symbiotic nature. Attuning to a symbiont is a commitment, and they can’t be casually removed. Malus could surely have had his armor removed before leaving the Mror Holds; but he couldn’t simply take it off before coming to the meeting.
That’s all for now! Let me know your thoughts on this new twist on the dwarves of Eberron. And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site alive. I hope to do more on the site in the months ahead, and Patreon support will help determine what that looks like. And thanks as well to Júlio Azevedo, who produced the image above for Exploring Eberron!