IFAQ: Show Business in Eberron

When I have time, I like to address some of the infrequently asked questions from my Patreon supporters. Today’s question comes from Ben:

How do you envision an Eberron theatre? Probably more than just The Globe with continual flame footlights, right?

Absolutely! The issue is that “theatre” covers a wide range of performances and performance spaces. The Grand Stage of Sharn employs the latest techniques and has all sorts of expensive equipment, while the Classic Theater offers minimalist performances at more reasonable prices.

Most theatre companies have a shadow orchestra. This includes one or more magewrights who use thaumaturgy and minor illusion to provide sound and dramatic effects (Thunder! Doors slamming! The roar of a dragon off stage!). Light is indeed provided by continual flame footlights (permanent), and in my opinion the orchestra can use thaumaturgy to brighten, dim, or change the color of this illumination; when performed by a trained technician on theatrical lights this effect lasts for more than a minute, so this is how you raise and lower lights, change the mood, etc.

Exceptional actors will also know thaumaturgy and many will be able to cast disguise self. Following the general principle that magewright spells can vary from standard spells, I’d say that the theatrical version of disguise self has to be cast as a ritual, but that the effect lasts for up to three hours—so it will last for the length of a performance. As not all actors will have this training, there’s common magic items that provide the voice amplification effect of thaumaturgy, along with shiftweave and similar tools for costuming.

Beyond that: the entertainment industry is dominated by the houses of Shadow. The power of the dragonmarked houses largely comes from focus items that amplify the powers of the mark, like the sending stones of House Sivis—and spells of up to 3rd level are part of wide magic. Thus, when you’re dealing with a professional Phiarlan or Thuranni theatre, you’ll have a shadow weaver—a podium that allows an operator with the Mark of Shadow to cast major image, which lets you create images, sounds, and even smells. So with this, the shadow orchestra can create anything from elaborate lighting, weather, fire, explosions, or even monsters charging on stage. In the finest Phiarlan theatres, the stage has an embedded focus item that has an effect similar to hallucinatory terrain (though able to function within a building). Traveling companies of Phiarlan’s Carnival of Shadows have such a focus item mounted in a wagon, allowing them to create an amazing set within minutes.

So the short form is that theatre will often employ illusory effects, from simple lightning and amplification of sound to more dramatic special effects. I’ll also call out the crystal theaters that have been mentioned a few times. Phiarlan’s answer to movie theaters, these use a scrying effect to project the image of a live performance on one of the house’s main stages.

In considering Eberron theater, one should also keep changelings in mind. Given that disguise self exists and that most major performances don’t require a star to SWITCH appearance, changelings may not be the stars of every show, but almost every company has at least one changeling actor who serves as understudy and plays a host of minor roles. Tavick’s Landing in Sharn is notable for changeling street performers, and while traveling changeling troupes aren’t as grand as the Carnival of Shadows, they are extremely versatile. While changelings have little use for disguise self, professional entertainers will still learn thaumaturgy and minor illusion; instead of disguise self, a changeling magewright entertainer will typically learn silent image.

Have you use the theatre in your adventures? share your story in the comments!

34 thoughts on “IFAQ: Show Business in Eberron

  1. My first Eberron character was a Thuranni former member of the Carnival of Shadows. He attributed his skills with stealth and intrigue to his youth with the Carnival.

  2. I just think of all the ways that changelings would be absolutely loved in the theatre industry; Understudies, stunt doubles (why teach the whole cast to take a punch when one man can), background characters and bit parts to save on extra cast members, and even shifting their skin to hide on-stage and provide illusions as needed.

  3. No mention of Velvet’s? The changelings in Sharn have surely developed a unique form of personalized theater. Do they also have regular public performances for larger groups? What would those be like?

    • I’ll note that Velvet’s is described as an “inn,” not a “theater.” So no, I don’t think they do public performances. There are absolutely changeling performers, and I’ll add a note about that–but Velvet’s specializes in creating personal experiences.

      • Ah, that distinction makes sense. Now I wonder if the changelings of Tavick’s Landing have coined a term for their unique art. (The Conspexerit/ The Conspexian arts, perhaps?)

        Thanks for the response, Keith!

  4. I can imagine Changelings and Shifters could also use their abilities to change appearance to emphasise certain emotions.

    As Malleon smashes the walls of a goblin fortress his majesty is clear in his bearing and by the fact he has grown a foot taller since the last scene.
    As Delrys plots the assassination of their mother in law their talons grow longer and their teeth sharper.

    • Haha, that’s an excellent mental image. Comical plays and/or plays meant for children might even include magically/shapeshifted heads inflated in size to exaggerate every emotion and silly facial expression so everyone all the way to the back seats can catch all the laughs.

  5. Does Luca Syara make use of the typical Eberron theatre magic and illusions or are more dialogue/introspective pieces in Khorvaire mostly done how they’re done in our world, with a minimal set and a focus on the words?

    I must confess I’m fairly obsessed with The Broken Sword and Five Lives from RftLW and wanted to include a reference to seeing them with my character so any pointers on what the experience was like is much appreciated.

    • The Diamond Theater is specifically called out as a “cheap theater” and not a place where one expects work of Syara’s caliber. I think any established theater will have a shadow orchestra, but in the case of the Diamond it might be one magewright who handles the lighting and minimal sound effects. I’m sure the star can use thaumaturgy to project their voice and create sounds of explosions. But no, I don’t think they’re employing major image or illusory terrain; I think it’s in the category of cheap-but-surprisingly-moving as opposed to the spectacle of the Grand Stage.

  6. We had an epic fight with a demon on the roof of the Opera of Stormhome.
    Basically in stormehone is accepted to be target of minor charme effects… you will LOVE the show. It’s like a drug.
    Considering the presence of a demon, the whole thing was not going to end well.

  7. Do you think something that takes the likes of the crystal theater and records it for later playback exists? Would that be something Phiarlan would resist the creation of because it would risk putting actors out of work?

    • I think such a thing may EXIST, but I definitely don’t think that it’s commonplace; as described the crystal theaters only show live performances and have no capability to show recordings. Once reliable recording technology becomes available there’s a lot of impact in other fields, such as espionage. So I’d put it in “Possible but not commonplace” at the moment, and explore its development during a campaign.

    • There is a Mark of Shadow item called an “image projector” on p. 113 of Magic of Eberron which records and projects scenes within a 10′ radius of it. Sound is garbled too much to make our speech though. Up to 1 minute of images can be recorded.

  8. In my games we made a variation of the spellshard that instead of holding a book could hold sound, and a tavern or shop would have an apparatus, something like a bowl of water that would have an arm to hold the spellshard (songshard) and when the tip of the shard touches the water it would play music.

  9. Are there folks outside of the houses who take sides in the Thuranni/Phiarlan conflict as a way of advancing their own agenda? For example, would an ambitious performer or artificer declare their loyalty to one theatre chain over another and so that they could get exclusively favorable work? Are their prank wars, vandalism, talent poaching? Where the performance houses are competing directly for the same audience, do they have signature styles or formats?

    • The competition you’re looking for isn’t on the House level. The houses only slit 26 years ago – a trivial amount of time for an elf – and they largely just split up territories, with Thuranni claiming Karrnath, Lhazaar, and Valenar and Phiarlan holding the west. They each have their own stable of beloved stars, but it’s rare that they poach, especially because the biggest stars are tied to family lines. They do have “heirloom performances” that are tied to one elf, so there are specific acts that only one house can perform, but they CAN’T poach those.

      But ALL the things you’re talking about happen, they just happen on the local level (among theaters licensed by one of the houses and a few independents). Just look at the list of shows on page 170 of Rising From The Last War. Local theaters DEFINITELY have signatures styles and formats, and they certainly poach performers and technicians. You can be sure that the Grand Stage has tried to lure Luca Syara away from the Diamond Theater and are baffled that she won’t take the offer. Direct vandalism and sabotage is likely more common in the Lower and Middle wards; conflict between Upper ward theatres will be more subtle.

  10. I’m curious about the content of Khorvairi theatre, and how it varies by region. Do the peoples of the various nations show a prefrence for comedies vs. tragedies vs. histories? And within genres, do the Brelish prefer broad farces (think “A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”) while the Aundari lean toward sophisticated Noel Coward comedies of manners? Has the Last War changed popular preferences? Are dramas about great war heroes in vogue, or are the wounds too raw for such things to be popular? During the war, did Phiarlan playwrights design plays for different nations to fan patriotic fervor? Are those still performed or have they been reomoved from the repertoire? Are swashbuckling pirate adventures popular in Lhazaar…or are the more popular in areas where pirates are an exotic novelty, rather than a fact of life? Do small town audiences prefer frothy romcoms over the tragedies of doomed lovers popular in the big cities?

    • This is at least partially answered on pages 169-171 of Rising From The Last War, which gives examples of current shows and discusses plays about the war.

  11. The mark of making artificer in my game is into making toy themed contraptions, and her masterpiece as a battlesmith is her Megazord styled Steel Defender, Mega Dragonix, based off the five chromatic dragons. When she asked if that was fine, I set up a Power Ranger styled live show at the Stargazer Theater in the University district called the Comet Knights. I set up this whole storyline about the five dragon themed heroes (eventually six with platinum) against the dark forces of the zombie giant lord.

    It became such a hit with my players that some of them requested if they can buy themed merch like bags of holding with their picture on them. Gives them good RP sessions too with the 30+ kobolds they adopted in the Sunless Citadel.

  12. Would the Swords of Liberty (ect.) use theater groups to push their agenda (like, for example, Otojirō Kawakami)?

    Plays can be copy-written. How’s international copyright work after the Last War? My best guess would be the Code of Galifar has something about it, and international respect of patents, trademarks and copyright would be covered by the Treaty of Thronehold requiring upholding that. After all, I can’t imagine Cannith not pushing for international recognition of patents in the treaty (which itself would raise all sorts of FUN questions with the house competing against itself…).

    Any famous plays have members of the Host/Six as characters?

    Drifting a bit further: Do any of the various newspapers have a comics section?

    • “Do any of the various newspapers have a comics section?”

      While i haven’t found anything specifically about a comics section, one of the journalistic focuses on page 94 of RftLW is “Adventure Logs”, basically stories from adventurers about their adventures. As long as the printing press can be set up to do images cheaply enough, I imagine that some papers would transition adventure log sections from plain text to text with illustrations to comics.

  13. Dear Keith,
    I take your invitation to share our creations and therefore I would like to submit the Company of Dancing Shadows. I created and have used this theater group in 3 campaigns and since their inception (back in 2006 …), they have evolved and enriched themselves with details and history.
    I would appreciate your opinion infinitely.


    The Company of Dancing Shadows is a group of wanderers affiliated to the Guild of Entertainers of the House Phiarlan, made up mostly of elves, humans and half-elves. The leader of the group is an elderly elf (240 years old) named Keishara ir’Atrelioth who rides a displacer beast of more massive size than normal, whom she calls Opatys. With the exception of their leader, all group members bring with them a mask. There are those who carry it over their heads, those on the shoulder, those who hang on the backpack. It is of dark material with delicate silver finishes that stylizes its appearance.

    The company was founded about two centuries ago in Fairhaven for the purpose of entertaining the court of Aundairian nobles, but when King Arrott died in 961, the situation at court was no longer so peaceful. In 967, when the Thrane army attempted to besiege Fairhaven, the Company of Dancing Shadows, he took advantage of the confusion to abandon the capital. From that day the group became itinerant and wandered between the various battlefields, with the aim of raising the mood of the troops. Keishara joined the Guild of Entertainers and, taking advantage of the neutrality of the Phiarlan House, he was able to offer his services for any deployment, without risk of retaliation.

    From the beginning, the Dancing Shadows became famous for the plays that represented important historical events, in which great use was made of illusory magic, songs, dances and stunts. Keishara is the author of the scripts, as well as the director and art director. Fairhaven’s most cultured audiences who attended the first of his shows were amazed at the abundance of details and the precision with which he was able to reconstruct scenes, speeches and, above all, the appearance of historical characters. To allow such astonishing realism in the disguise of the actors, are the masks that each member of the company brings. Masks are believed to be an invention of the House Phiarlan, but all over the world, only Dancing Shadows wear them. Chatter of those who claim to have known Keishara, report that she has composed 144 minor and 25 major operas, perfectly mixed in every theatrical genre: comedies, tragedies, dramas, martial theater, immersive holographic experience (which we will explain later), cabaret and satire, but nobody knows where he keeps his precious archive.

    After leaving Fairhaven, the company enriched its schedule with another type of show: the circus of exotic beasts. This show was added just before the end of the Last War, when the company fled an attack by the Cyre army south of Vulyar, entering the Talenta Plains. Having stumbled upon a group of wild halflings, Keishara enthralled them with his plays and these, out of gratitude, taught some Dancing Shadows, how to tame the beasts of the Plains.

    It was there that Keishara created the bond with Opatys, the great displacer beast who became his mount and bodyguard. Today they are located on the Lhesh Road, between Rhukaan Draal and Gathering Stone. In the capital of Darguun, the series of circus performances have just ended, in which the court of Lhesh Haruuc had a lot of fun admiring the trained exotic beasts. Note for the Ministerial Decree: the real reason why my partner went there is to gather as much information as possible about politics in the country on behalf of the House Phiarlan.

    Today the company can count on over two hundred members and more than fifty vehicles, including caravans, menageries, cages and convoys.
    The most important members of the Dancing Shadows Company, in addition to Keishara, are:

    – the middle-aged elf Iramil, who leads the group when Keishara is not present, and is also the director of the circus;
    – the three young elves: Xaveria (the youngest and most beautiful of the whole company, but very aggressive, especially with those who make advances), Koraxana and Rixis (they are sisters, the first introverted and good at cooking, the second extrovert and is the most capable seamstress of the group);
    – the humans Galdan and Licrian, martial actors, acrobats and skilled fencers;
    – Brother Horu, described further on, is the talkative and affable kobold sorcerer, author of the new magic and illusion show known to the public as the Holographic Immersive Experience;
    – Branmil, half-elf in charge of the firecamp and actor of the comic and cabaret monologues;
    – the human Berwirn and the half-elf Otirkul, involved in the care of animals, with the habit of drinking and gambling;
    – Berurian and Panster ex karrnathi soldiers (some believe they are deserters), employed to protect stocks and money;
    – the elves Farxis, Mindartis and Cordarai who deal with the assembly and disassembly of the field and the stage, as well as martial actors very famous among the public of the Five Nations for their illusory skills that make the representations in which combat scenes are spectacular;
    – Jordarai, Cordarai’s brother, is responsible for training and well-being of wild creatures (including dinosaurs) and the company’s magical beasts;
    – the elf Shaneth, the half-elf Qisanna and the human Cruiver, are the acrobats who are part of the number of beasts and help Jordarai in the care of the animals.


    Each of the NPCs listed above has a very well-defined history, which I do not find correct to elaborate now, except for Brother Horu, with whom I have a very very deep personal bond.

    Brother Horu is a kobold sorcerer who has joined the Dancing Shadows Company for about a year. Initially opposed by the other members, thanks to his magical talents, he found his place in the circus group and is held in high esteem by Keishara.

    Practically nothing is known of his past, not even why he calls himself “Brother”. Perhaps Keishara may know more about his past, but to this day, what was before the company remains a mystery. The fact is that the displacer beast Opatys, usually extremely suspicious and aggressive with anyone, is unusually docile with this kobold. Brother Horu is very talkative, calm in nature, curious about people and the world. It is evident that he has traveled a lot, because he speaks an infinite number of languages ​​(including dialects) and knows the customs of any place and civilization, both modern and ancient.

    He has his own show in the company, which Keishara has called Holographic Immersive Experience. In this show, viewers live the experience in first person, with incredible effects of movement, sounds, lights and smells so realistic that sometimes, some more sensitive bystanders experience an illness. In this show Brother Horu exploits all his illusionist skills, even if he proved, on some occasions, to master spells of any school of magic.

  14. I once made a minor magic item called the Ring of Suspended Disbelief, which disallows its wearer from making any saves or checks to disbelieve an illusion. It’s technically a cursed item in that it bestows a negative effect, but it’s created intentionally for theatrical purposes, and it was issued like 3D glasses to the audience for an interactive play.

  15. Hi keith, might you share any thoughts about book business in Eberron? Is house Sivis in charge of most printings? Is it common to have bookstores and book presentations? Do dramas often inspire to books (and pay for it) like in modern film industry or is it more open like in 19th century?

  16. I can imagine Eberron had lots of anti-war manifests during Last War.

  17. Reading through the summaries of sample plays in Rising, The Late Count sounds really entertaining. I’m imagining a vaguely Weekend-At-Bernies-esque plot, am I far off?

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