IFAQ: Aerenal, Continued

The island of Aerenal is home to the majority of the elves of Eberron, including the Aereni and the Tairnadal. I’ve written a number of articles about these cultures, and Exploring Eberron delves deeper still, but my Patreon supporters came up with a few new questions!E

Are the people of Khorvaire aware of the basics of the Undying Court?

I think the common people of Khorvaire are aware that the Aereni worship their ancestors and keep them alive as some form of undead, but that’s about it; I wouldn’t expect a random citizen of the Five Nations to know what a “Deathless” is without making an Intelligence (Religion) check.

Have the Aereni sought to colonize a major Irian manifest zone elsewhere?

It’s never been mentioned in any canon source. The Valraean Protectorate in Exploring Eberron was established to create a secure buffer around Aerenal rather than being driven by a desire for significant expansion. However, just because it hasn’t been done in canon is no reason not to do it in your story. If *I* were to do this, I personally wouldn’t make it AERENAL that’s driving the colony, but rather a specific noble line or dissident group that wants to essentially found a “New Aerenal”—perhaps tied to the Skullborn, the elves who yearn to become deathless but who aren’t willing (or worthy) to follow the long and difficult path this transition usually requires. A secondary advantage to this—making it a smaller faction, not Aerenal as a whole—is that it makes it easier for adventurers to oppose the colony (or ally with it) without affecting their relationship with Aerenal itself.

Is it possible for other non Elven religions or groups to create and maintain positive energy undead like the Undying Court?

Sure. It requires powerful Irian manifest zones, a specific set of rituals and resources, and a population that’s fiercely devoted to the undead—as part of the idea of the positive energy undead it’s that devotion that sustains them when they leave the manifest zone. Like any sort of magic, this isn’t supposed to be easy or trivial; if it was, everyone would be doing it! But it’s not supposed to be something that’s somehow limited to ELVES. I could easily imagine an Irian zone in the Demon Wastes that serves as a bastion for the Ghaash’kala, with a few deathless elders who have protected this haven for millennia.

It seems weird to me how close the Undying Court is to the goals of the Seekers, especially considering the latter were inspired by its enemy.

All of the Elven cultures—the Tairnadal, the Aereni, the line of Vol—were driven by the basic question of how do we preserve our greatest souls? The Aereni created the Undying Court, preserving their heroes with their devotion. The Tairnadal become living avatars of their patron ancestors. The line of Vol noted that the flaw with both of these approaches is they are dependent on their being living elves who continue to practice their devotion. If all elves died—or simply had a change of heart—the patron ancestors would be forgotten and the Undying Court would be trapped in Shae Mordai. So Vol embraced Mabaran necromancy, ensuring that its beloved ancestors would be able to TAKE the lifeforce they needed to survive, whether as vampires, liches, or other undead.

As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the Blood of Vol is a comparatively young religion that was born on Khorvaire and is only loosely inspired by the traditions of the line of Vol (which are preserved more closely by the Bloodsail elves of Farlnen). But actually, the goals of the Undying Court and the Blood of Vol aren’t really that similar. Both agree that death is oblivion. The Blood of Vol believes that all living creatures have a spark of divinity within them—that there is divine potential in life, but that most creatures die before they can master this power. They believe that only the living have this power, and that while undeath may be a way to escape oblivion, undead creatures—both deathless and Mabaran—no longer have the spark of divinity and can never achieve their true potential. The Undying Court essentially believes the OPPOSITE of this; they believe in a transcendental state that can only be attained by the deathless, but the fact that the deathless rely on the living to sustain them prevents everyone from getting to pursue this power. So the Aereni don’t want to live forever; they believe that death and the transition to deathlessness is a necessary part of ascension.

So, they’re similar in “They are religions that believe death is bad and that it’s possible for people to ascend to a higher state.” But the Aereni believe that only a few people can achieve this higher state and that it can only be achieved after death, while the Blood of Vol believe that it’s possible for everyone to achieve divinity, but that death is the absolute end of that journey.

What was there in Aerenal before the elves?

Describing all of the challenges the elf refugees faced in founding their nation and all of the wonders they discovered would be the subject of a major article, not an IFAQ. However, if the question is were there any CIVILIZATIONS in Aerenal before the elves, no. The elves didn’t come to Aerenal as conquerors with the power to sweep aside an existing nation. They were a diverse armada of refugees from different subcultures, fleeing both war and dragonfire. The modern cultures—Vol, Aereni, Tairnadal—evolved ON Aerenal. But the idea has always been presented that Aerenal was an untamed and undeveloped land, a seemingly blessed refuge for these weary travelers.

Having said that, it’s a valid question as to WHY Aerenal was uninhabited. Humanoids are spread across Eberron, and Aerenal is a large and fertile land. Why had no one settled there? Here’s a few possibilities, each of which could support a different story.

  • It wasn’t sheer luck that brought the refugee fleet to Aerenal, and it wasn’t pure chance that the land was uninhabited and ready from their use. A cabal of dragons were responsible for both of these things; they secretly protected and guided the fleet, and they had carefully cleared the land in advance. This surely means that Aerenal has a role to play in the Prophecy, and it would surely be tied to the ongoing Elf-Dragon Wars. Canon sources have already suggested that those “wars” might be Argonnessen honing the skills of the elves in preparation for a true challenge yet to come; it could be that they set this plan in motion tens of thousands of years ago. If this is the case, it both means that the dragons have a plan for Aerenal and that there MIGHT have been a previous civilization on Aerenal, but if so, the dragons destroyed or removed it. Who knows? Perhaps Seren civilization began on Aerenal!
  • Aerenal is filled with powerful Irian manifest zones that support the creation of deathless. It’s possible that there was a previous civilization that achieved the creation of deathless, only to disappear completely long before the elves arrived. Did all of its members achieve some sort of deathless transition? Or, like the line of Vol warned, did the living members of the society die (perhaps due to a plague, perhaps due to dragons?) leaving their deathless to fade away without mortal devotion?
  • Aerenal also holds powerful Mabaran manifest zones. One possibility is that the prior society sought to harness THIS power, and their unwise efforts ultimately resulted in the death of their people. Alternatively, their major cities could have been consumed by Mabar (as described in Exploring Eberron), perhaps still existing there; could this be the origin of the Bone King? If either of these scenarios are true, could the cataclysm occur a second time? Or could the Undying Court hold it at bay?

Are there humanoids that have a significant presence or role in Aerenal beyond elves and half elves—something more meaningful than just traders, ambassadors, or tourists?

No. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting presents the population of Aerenal as 77% elves, 19% deathless, 3% half-elves, 1% other. Both Aereni and Tairnadal are insular cultures unwelcoming to outsiders, and at least throughout the history of the elven presence there’s never been a rival humanoid culture on Aerenal.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this blog possible.

IFAQ: The Elves of Aerenal

As chosen by my Patreon supporters, my next major article is going to be on the nobility of Khorvaire. This article is a shorter subject. Last week I wrote about the Tairnadal elves. This article deals with the other culture of Aerenal: the Aereni elves, the servants of the Undying Court. I’ve written about Aerenal in this article and this article, and there’s a section on Aerenal in Exploring Eberron; I’m including the two pages we’ve already previewed below. Let’s consider a few infrequently asked questions!

Image by Matthew Riley for Exploring Eberron

Are Phiarlan and Thuranni elves still considered Aereni? Are they eligible to become spirit idols or deathless? What about the elves with the Mark of Shadow who serve with the Cairdal Blades in Aerenal?

The answer to this is largely spelled out in this article. “Aereni” is a culture; being Aereni means that you honor your ancestors, give your devotion to the Undying Court, and serve the Sibling Kings. The shadow-marked families—Tialaen, Shol, Ellorrenthi, Paelion, Thuranni—were never actually Aereni; they remained independent from the Undying Court, the line of Vol, and the Tairnadal, and traveled between communities of all of these cultures. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol and exiled its allies, the shadow-marked families chose to leave with them. Some feared that they too would be persecuted for their marks; others believed that the supporters of the Undying Court had committed an unforgivable sin in spilling so much elven blood. As this article says, “to mark their departure from elven society, (the shadow-marked families) formally joined their lines into a new alliance: House Phiarlan.

As for those shadow-marked elves who are occasionally seen in the Cairdal Blades? This is also explained in the article: “A handful remained, believing that it was their duty to the kingdom; these elves found themselves largely absorbed into other lines, and this mingling of blood causes the Mark of Shadows to occasionally appear in Aerenal.” The elves who develop the Mark of Shadow in Aerenal aren’t Phiarlan or Thuranni; they are now Jhaelian or Mendyrian. And the mark only appears rarely because unlike the houses, the Aereni aren’t trying to arrange matches to produce the mark; the marked bloodlines are heavily diluted.

So no: the elves of House Thuranni and Phiarlan aren’t Aereni. They intentionally severed their ties to their homeland and have no loyalty to the Undying Court or the Sibling Kings. And since elevation to the Undying Court—whether as a spirit idol or as one of the deathless—is an honor the Aereni bestow on their most celebrated citizens, it is not offered to those elves who have abandoned their homeland and its traditions.

With that said, a Phiarlan elf could return to Aerenal, abandoning the house and embracing the Aereni traditions; they’d just have to find a noble line willing to adopt them, just like the shadow-marked elves who stayed behind when the phiarlans originally left. And as Aereni, such elves would be eligible to join the Court, though again, they’d have to impress the priests and people with their worth. But joining the court isn’t about whether you have a dragonmark; it’s whether you are a devotee of the Undying Court who has proven yourself worthy to join it, and whose talents and achievements justify this gift.


Could someone use a spirit idol as a template to clone a revered ancestor? Perhaps by transferring the soul into a construct body, or even a living elf willing to give their body to the ancestor?

All of this seems possible, but the real question is would the ancestor be happy about it? As noted in the ExE preview, for many Aereni becoming a spirit idol is something they look forward to. When they aren’t interacting with the living, the spirit within the idol exists within a paradise of its own making, dwelling within its memories and ideas. The Aereni see life as something you do to prepare for your afterlife. You don’t want to die too quickly, because then you don’t have enough memories to build a satisfying eternity. But most see life as the chrysalis, with the spirit idol as a blessed ascension, eternity unbound by the physical form.

So COULD the soul within a spirit idol be transferred into some other vessel? Sure, I don’t see why not. But this isn’t a problem the Priests of Transition are trying to solve; they see the spirit idol as being a blessed member of the Undying Court, not as a victim who needs to be saved.

Do Aereni ever join the Tairnadal, for instance one who feels rejected and out of place with their family?

Sure! We’ve mentioned it before. And likewise, zaelantar youths sometimes leave the steppes and become Aereni; this is one path for a Tairnadal youth who doesn’t get chosen by a patron ancestor. This isn’t common in either direction; a would-be Aereni has to be accepted by a noble line, while a would-be Tairnadal has to be chosen by a patron ancestor to truly become Tairnadal. But it certainly happens.

The Tairnadal faith seems fundamentally more demanding than the Undying Court. Both revolve around preserving and communing with honored ancestors, but the Tairnadal faith requires imitation and constant war, while it doesn’t seem like the Undying Court places any demands on its followers (maybe to eliminate Mabaran undead)?

The Tairnadal faith is more demanding than the Undying Court, yes. This is because the end result of the devotion is completely different. Through their faith, the Aereni seek to preserve the Undying Court. But with the exception of the ascendant counselors and divine spellcasters, the Aereni have a very concrete, limited relationship with their ancestors. If you took the Right of Counsel feat in the 3.5 ECS, you had to physically go to Shae Mordai to speak with your ancestor. By contrast, each Tairnadal vessel believes that they are a living vessel for the spirit of their patron. They believe that the patron offers them direct, personal guidance—that their remarkable skills are the result of the patron guiding their hands. So the Tairnadal endures this more demanding service because they believe that they receive a more dramatic benefit in exchange.

Having said that, a critical point is that we just haven’t talked much about what Aereni devotion actually looks like. Only the elite Deathguard are charged to fight Mabaran undead. An Aereni civilian shows their devotion through prayers, which combine expressions of gratitude for the ongoing protection the Court provides with tales that commemorate their deeds and discoveries. But the second way an Aereni honors the ancestors is by following in their footsteps. This isn’t as dramatic or absolute as the Tairnadal revenant. But Aereni do seek to hone a skill that one of their ancestors perfected—to study their teachings and master their techniques. The point is that these skills often have nothing to do with WAR and often aren’t as OBVIOUS as the revenant’s martial devotion. But the Aereni painter is honoring a great painter of the past. The bowyer followers the example of a legendary artisan (and may have served the deathless artisan as an apprentice). As a side note, this is why the WGtE suggested an Aereni variant that sacrificed weapon proficiencies for expertise with a single skill or tool—because that focused expertise is a form of Aereni devotion. Exploring Eberron includes a different approach to this concept.

So Tairnadal devotion is more demanding and intense than Aereni devotion. But the Aereni do offer prayers to their ancestors throughout the day, and they think about their ancestors constantly, reflecting on their lessons and honoring them through the exercise of their skills.

How do clerics of the Undying Court actually MANIFEST? Are they rare? For the cleric, what does it feel like to cast a spell and how do they believe they are doing it?

So under the hood, the Undying Court actually has a great deal in common with the Silver Flame. The Silver Flame was created when a force of immortals bound their spirits together into a force of pure celestial energy. The Undying Court is likewise a gestalt of souls—it is essentially a smaller Silver Flame, whose coherent elements are able to also maintain independent existence (as deathless) while still adding their power to the whole.

When a cleric of the Undying Court casts a spell, they are drawing on that GESTALT, not dealing with a single, specific member of the Court. They don’t send in a request for magic that has to be approved; what it MEANS to be a cleric of the Undying Court is that you have been recognized as a worthy vessel of its power and you have been granted the ability to draw on that well of energy. This is especially important beyond Aerenal, as the Court can’t directly affect the world the way it does in Aerenal; it NEEDS champions to serve as its hands. But essentially, as a cleric of the Undying Court, when you cast a spell, you are reaching out with your mind and channeling the power of your collective ancestors. You can FEEL them all around you, hear dozens of whispering voices, feel their strength and support. But it’s not that ONE SPECIFIC ANCESTOR is with you; it’s the gestalt as a whole.

HAVING SAID THAT, in my campaign I WILL give a cleric or paladin of the Undying Court a close relationship to a particular ancestor. They can’t initiate contact with that ancestor, but it may give them divine visions (something I discuss in this article) and missions. If they use commune or similar spells, it will be that ancestor who gives them answers. It’s a little like the idea of Tira Miron being the Voice of the Flame; the UC spellcaster will have a specific ancestor who acts as their intermediary to the Court. So that’s a unique aspect to worshipping the Court.

As for rarity, in my opinion Aerenal has more divine spellcasters than any nation in Khorvaire, even Thrane. For the Aereni, divine magic IS a science. They CREATED a divine power source, and it’s part of their government! A divine caster of the Undying Court still needs faith; it’s that faith that allows them to channel the power. But they are also, essentially, granted a license to draw on the power of the Court.

Of course, that’s if they ARE legitimate representatives of the Court. You could certainly play a character who is in essence a divine hacker—stealing energy from the Court to cast their spells WITHOUT actually being an authorized agent of the Court. This could be an interesting path for a Divine Soul sorcerer. Another option would be an Undying Warlock, who would have a relationship with a specific ancestor rather than drawing on the power of the Court… which could be because the ancestor is running a rogue operation hidden from the rest of the Court!

Just how many bodily desires do Deathless retain anyways?

In my opinion, none. Deathless are described as desiccated corpses. Consider the description of the ascendant counselor: the corpse of an elf so shriveled and aged it seems no more substantial than smoke. What survives in the deathless is the SOUL, loosely bound to the body. What makes an ascendant counselor “ascendant” is that they have moved almost entirely beyond their bodies; from the 3.5 ECS “They rarely inhabit their physical forms, preferring to explore the universe in astral form.” The body of a deathless is a corpse. it has no biological processes; if you pushed food down its throat it would just rot in its stomach cavity.

However, the counter to this is that the deathless experience reality in a way mortals can’t imagine. They are sustained by positive energy, by the love of their descendants; that is their food and drink. Do they love? Certainly. On a certain level, they ARE love; just as they are sustained by the energy of their descendants, they are defined by the love they feel for them in return. This is why deathless are “usually neutral good.” What we’ve said about Mabaran undead is that they are drawn towards evil because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out emotionally, driving them to become predators; conversely, the Deathless are sustained by love, and this softens a cruel heart.

Meanwhile, spirit idols are sustained by positive energy but live in a world they craft from their memories. They eat, they drink, they love. But they eat anything they can imagine, whether it’s having the memory of their favorite meal or whether they can combine different tastes they remember to create something new. Their companions are likewise the memories of people they knew, so they can return to an old lover, duel with a rival, or share a drink with a close friend. All of which ties to whether either form of deathless would WANT to return to life. The key with the spirit idol is that the elves believe that you need to live long enough to HAVE enough memories and ideas to populate eternity. So they will raise people who die young, even if they are deemed worthy of joining the court, because they haven’t completely the life segment of their spiritual journey. But they see physical existence as, essentially, a chore—something you do in preparation for what comes next, not the highest form of existence.

That’s all for now, but there’s more Aerenal ahead in Exploring Eberron! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going!

iFAQ: Aereni Learning

Until I’m done with Exploring Eberron, I don’t have time for deep dives. My next major article will take a deeper look at the Mror Dwarves. But meanwhile, with all of us trapped inside, I want to do a few daily posts dealing with some interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. Here’s the first!

The elves of Aerenal are supposed to spend decades perfecting the techniques of their ancestors. When an Aereni character starts out 100 years old, it’s not because they spent decades in diapers or because they’re dumber than human wizards, it’s because they’ve spent decades going deep in their studies. But how does this hold up for Aereni adventurers? They advance at the same pace as other player characters. How does an elf go from taking decades to perfect a cantrip to suddenly casting far more complex spells in a much shorter period of time?

First of all, let’s shoot the elephant in the room: character advancement doesn’t make sense. How is it that your HUMAN wizard can spend a decade studying at Arcanix, but exponentially increase their skills after a month of adventuring? How does the halfling rogue get expertise with Persuasion by stabbing a bunch of goblins? It’s a mistake to look at any of this too deeply, because it’s not logical. This also ties to the idea that the way in which player characters advance is part of what makes them remarkable and NOT typical for all inhabitants of the world. There are veterans of the Last War who still use the “Guard” statblock, because for most people that represents an OK level of skill. Player characters are supposed to be heroes, and their ability to quickly skyrocket to a greater level of power is a narrative device, not something that holds up to any sort of close analysis.

WITH THAT SAID: That doesn’t mean we can’t make it make as much sense as possible, and this is a good question. How come the Aereni wizard spent decades studying magic back home but can advance just as quickly as the human wizard? The key point is that the Aereni apprentice didn’t spend decades studying a specific spell; it didn’t take them that long to learn to cast one particular cantrip. Instead, they were mastering techniques of spellcasting. They were studying history, theory, and concretely, they were mastering somatic and verbal components. Arcane magic is a form of science, and somatic and verbal components are the underlying mechanics that make it possible. An Aereni apprentice learns precise accent and inflection of verbal components, and precise performance of somatic components, exactly mimicking the techniques of the masters of their line. They spend endless hours drilling until these techniques come naturally. When an Aereni wizard casts a spell, it looks and sounds exactly the same as the master who created the spell ten thousand years ago. Because they’ve perfected these basic principles, when they learn—or even create—new spells, the basic techniques will carry them forward. They CAN advance quickly precisely because they spent all that time learning to crawl… ensuring that they are building on a perfect foundation.

This same principle applies across all classes. The Aereni fighter is learning the basic techniques of all weapons, perfecting the most basic guards, learning to hold and move with the weapon just as their ancestors did. They are learning the most fundamental martial principles—and then they can quickly build on top of those without losing those core techniques.

Aereni PREFER to take their time with things. An Aereni fighter might spend four hours each night practicing a specific move while the other characters are taking a long rest, and continue to practice that move in their mind while trancing. But the decades they spent learning before created a foundation that lets them advance quickly when needed. They were honing the basic building blocks that they assemble as they advance with the other characters.

Now, ultimately, does all that work actually make the Aereni player character a better wizard? No. Mechanically, there’s no difference between the Arcanix-trained wizard and the Aereni wizard. But THEMATICALLY the idea is that the Aereni wizardry is beautiful and perfect, like watching a dance; by contrast the Arcanix wizard is taking a lot of shortcuts and throwing in a lot of personal touches. It works great for THAT WIZARD and may be more innovative, but the Aereni find it painful to watch. The second aspect of this is the idea that player character classes reflect a level of talent most people can’t attain, and that the Aereni have MORE people with that level of skill. It takes them longer to get there, but Aerenal has more actual wizards than Khorvaire, whereas in the Five Nations most people just spend the few years required to become magewrights.

Taking as given that player character advancement is not logical, mostly a game mechanic construct, can this focus on learning the exact techniques and history of the past account for the slow pace of technological development in Aereni cultures?

Exactly so. This is something that’s discussed in this article and in this episode of Manifest Zone. A critical quote:

This is why, despite Aereni society having been around for over twenty thousand years, humans are beginning to do things with magic that the elves have never done. Elven society is driven by tradition rather than innovation – by absolutely perfecting the techniques of the past instead of developing entirely new ways of doing things. Innovation does happen – and an Aereni player character might be the great elf innovator of this age – but it isn’t enshrined as a cultural value as it often is among humanity…

Part of the idea is that what the elves see as sloppy Arcanix techniques might actually be BETTER than the ancient Aereni traditions; certainly they’re easier to learn. But the elves take comfort in adherence to what they know.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, and I’ll tackle another question tomorrow!

Eberron Flashback: Aereni and Tairnadal

In the process of getting the website up to speed, I had to delete a few old posts. Since many of you may never have seen this post unless you dug deep into the archives, I figured I’d repost it now! New posts for Phoenix and Eberron are coming soon, but for now, let’s talk about elves. As always: This is my personal opinion. It is not official Eberron content and may in fact contradict canon Eberron source material. Read at your own risk.

The elves of Eberron are divided into a number of distinct cultures. Most of the elves encountered in the Five Nations have some connection to House Phiarlan or Thuranni. Others are descended from exiles who fled in the aftermath of the war between the Undying Court and the line of Vol. However, the majority of elves in Eberron live on the island of Aerenal. There they are split into two primary cultures: the Aereni (subjects of the Undying Court) and the martial Tairnadal.

One of the things that defines the elves is their relationship with death. Per 3.5 D&D rules, an elf can have a natural lifespan of up to 750 years, and is an “adult” at 110 years. I never liked the idea that an elf was literally a child for a century. Rather, I saw that 110-year mark as the age of the typical elven adventurer. In my Eberron, elves mature mentally at a rate similar to humans, perhaps a few years off. For me, the 110-year mark is driven by a society that places great expectations on its people. A post on the WotC boards mentions a traditional sushi chef who went through seven years of apprenticeship before he was allowed to go beyond preparing the rice. I see this principle extending to all levels of youth in Aerenal… intense, lengthy apprenticeships that focus with great intensity on every different aspect of a trade. Looking to an Aereni wizard, he might spend five years simply studying somatic components (mystical gestures) before ever learning to cast a spell. He would learn precise pronunciation of verbal components, and his fireball incantation would have the exact same accent as the elf who first devised the spell… and he might even learn the incantation from that elf. By contrast, a human wizard in Arcanix would learn that you can kind of fudge incantations if you find a pronunciation that resonates with your personal aura. Aerenal teaches perfect technique; Arcanix encourages you to MacGuyver a bit.

Part of this ties to the idea that a seven-hundred year old lifespan is both a blessing and a curse. Our fluid intelligence – which fuels our ability to adapt to entirely new things – peaks in young adulthood. You grandfather may be a brilliant doctor, a skilled mathematician, and still have trouble learning to use an iPhone that a three-year-old masters in three days. The child is running on fluid intelligence, which allows him to quickly adapt to new things. You grandfather is working off crystallized intelligence, the concrete skills he has perfected over time. For me, this is the fundamental difference between elves and humans… because in my Eberron, both elf and human peak in fluid intelligence at the same time. An elf’s mental facilities don’t deteriorate due to age as a human’s will, so the 110-year-old elf is still sharp and alert… but he is also just as firmly set in his ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for him to adapt to entirely new things. This is why, despite Aereni society having been around for over twenty thousand years, humans are beginning to do things with magic that the elves have never done. Elven society is driven by tradition rather than innovation – by absolutely perfecting the techniques of the past instead of developing entirely new ways of doing things. Innovation does happen – and an Aereni player character might be the great elf innovator of this age – but it isn’t enshrined as a cultural value as it often is among humanity; instead elves take comfort in the familiar. Looking to a 110-year-old first level elf fighter and a 20 year old first level human fighter, it’s not that it took the elf 110 years to learn the same skills as the human. Instead, it’s that the elf knows a truly astounding array of highly specialized techniques and traditions, while the human accomplishes the same things with far less style and finesse. When the ogre attacks with a club, the elf shifts into the fell-the-mighty-tree stance perfected by the ogre-slaying hero Jhaelis Tal (and he could tell you the whole saga of Jhaelis) while the human fighter says “Hey! I can stab him in the arm!” and does that. At the end of the day, the RESULT ends up being about the same, but the STYLE is completely different.

Another thing about the elves is that they have a great deal of trouble letting go of things. When you’ve had someone around for seven hundred years, it’s hard to finally let him go. Thus, many elven cultures revolve around not letting go… around find ways to preserve their greatest souls. In Aerenal the most remarkable members of society are preserved as animate deathless entities, forming the Undying Court. Thus, the young wizard can learn magic from the elf who first invented the fireball, because that elf is still around. The Aereni believe that there is a limit to the number of Deathless the island can support, so you have to be truly impressive to earn a place on the Court, and that’s the great drive of an Aereni life. The consolation prize – if you’re close but not quite awesome enough – is to have your soul preserved in a spirit idol, where others can consult with it in the future. The key point: The Aereni don’t let go. They avoid death by literally keeping their ancestors with them. The line of Vol took the approach of negative necromancy, turning THEIR best and brightest into vampires and liches. Unlike the Undying Court, there’s no obvious limitation on a vampire population, provided there’s enough living beings to provide them with blood. However, the Undying Court asserts that ALL Mabaran (negatively-charged) undead inherently consume the life energy of Eberron itself to survive… essentially, that the Vol practices would ultimately destroy all life if left unchecked. Hence, the bitter war that ended with the extermination of the line, and the ongoing duty of the Deathguard to eliminate Mabaran undead.

THE TAIRNADAL

But what about the other elves of Aerenal… the Tairnadal? The ancient elves of Xen’drik battled the giants to earn their freedom. Rather than preserve the elves of the present day as deathless, the Tairnadal seek to preserve the legendary elves of the past. They believe that by emulating the deeds of an ancestor, they can serve as a spiritual anchor for that ancestor and ultimately become an avatar for them in the present day. Here’s a quote from an Eye of Eberron article, Vadallia and Cardaen”…

The lives of the Tairnadal elves are shaped by those of their patron ancestors. When an elf comes of age, the Keepers of the Past read the signs to determine which of the patron ancestors has laid claim to the child. From that point forward it is the sacred duty of the child to become the living avatar of the fallen champion, mastering his or her skills and living by her code. The people of the Five Nations know little about the Tairnadal, and their general assumptions often don’t make sense. Ask ten people in Sharn, and you’ll hear that the Valenar are bloodthirsty brutes who love to pillage the weak; that they seek glory in battle and won’t fight a weaker foe; that they are bound by a strict code of honor; that they have no honor; that every Valenar is bound to a horse; and so on. In fact, no one rule applies to every Tairnadal, for every ancestor demands a different role of his or her descendants. A child chosen by Maelian Steelweaver will spend his or her days forging swords instead of wielding them. One chosen by Silence will spend life in the shadows, never touching a horse. War is the common thread that unites the Tairnadal, because the wars against giants, dragons, and goblins were what produced these legendary heroes. As such, the Tairnadal seek conflicts that will let them face the same odds and fight in the same style as their ancestors. Nowadays a child of Vadallia can’t fight giants, because the Cul’sir Dominion has fallen, but he or she must search for a foe that is equally challenging and then defeat it in the same way Vadallia would, thus creating new legends in Vadallia’s name.

A few factors here…

Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. As noted before, war is the lens through which the Tairnadal view their patrons. These legends arose in conflict, and so the Tairnadal seek to maintain a constant state of conflict. Preferably this involves an actual, true threat – and this touches on the Valenar, which I’ll discuss in more detail later – but when there is no true threat they will create challenging scenarios. They hunt wild beasts and engage in complex wargames. This isn’t just frivolous behavior; they believe that through these actions they are preserving their greatest souls. They must keep going, or those spirits could be lost.

One analogy that works for me is Ender’s Game. From youth, Tairnadal children are trained for battle. At first, they are trained in the fundamentals, giving them a chance to prove their aptitudes and show their true nature. At this point they are selected by a patron ancestor, at which point they are assigned to a warband well suited to learning the skills of that ancestor. In the Ender analogy, this is the shift from launchie to an army. Now they have clear guidance on what they should be learning, and they WILL be placed in conflict with other warbands in wargames designed to hone those skills. As with Ender’s Game, all of this is being done in preparation for the great conflict that lies ahead, a conflict that is life or death for their culture… the difference is that they don’t know what the enemy will be. Will the Dragons finally attack in force? Will it be goblins once more? Or humanity? They don’t know, but they are determined to preserve their greatest souls until that day finally arrives.

Let’s Talk About Patrons

People often have the sense that all the Tairnadal do is fight… that they are hotheads who are always looking to start trouble. There’s a solid grounding to this: the Patron Ancestors forged their legends in battle against terrifying opposition, and so it is in battle against a challenging foe that the elves have the best opportunity to emulate the deeds of their ancestors. But let’s look to that quote again…

Ask ten people in Sharn, and you’ll hear that the Valenar are bloodthirsty brutes who love to pillage the weak; that they seek glory in battle and won’t fight a weaker foe; that they are bound by a strict code of honor; that they have no honor; that every Valenar is bound to a horse…

The point here isn’t that the people of Sharn are wrong; rather, ALL of these things are true… about different Tairnadal. There are Tairnadal who abide by a strict code of honor, and there are those who act in a relentlessly dishonorable fashion. There are those who won’t fight a weaker foe and those who seek out the weak. There are those who will draw blood at the slightest provocation and those who will never strike an innocent regardless of how severely they are provoked. Because they will do their absolute best to act as their patron ancestor would act. And there is a VAST SPECTRUM of ancestors. While we often call them “heroes”, the real point of the Patron Ancestors is that the are legends; some are infamous as much as they are famous. These are the people who defined the elves during their greatest struggles. So in thinking about a Patron Ancestor, the key things to bear in mind are:

  • They are people the Tairnadal don’t want to ever forget.
  • They are people who played a defining role in one of the great conflicts (which likely means they fought giants, elves, or goblins).
  • There is SOMETHING about them that makes them memorable.

Essentially, you can have both Gallahad and Lancelot: a knight celebrated for incredible purity and honor, and another celebrated for his fantastic martial skills but also defined by his ultimate betrayal of a close friend in the pursuit of love. If Lancelot was your patron ancestor, it would be your religious duty to try to get into a horrible tragic love triangle… whether you wanted to or not… to try to emulate your ancestor. Similarly, if your Patron was known as a guerrilla who struck fear into the giants by butchering civilian populations, then it would be your duty to prey on the weak. While meanwhile, the elves chosen by Gallahad will do their best to be paragons of virtue and honor… something that might actually bring them into direct conflict with elves following the path of the Butcher. Which also might directly emulate the lives of their ancestors.

The most critical point here: the spirit chooses the elf, not the other way around. To me, this is the MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT THE TAIRNADAL as far as roleplaying goes. Who chose you? Why did they choose you? How do you feel about it? If you are chosen by Gallahad, it is your duty to be the purest, most honorable and virtuous person you can possibly be. Are you ready for that? By contrast, if you are chosen by the Butcher, it is your duty to be a brutal, ruthless murderer who preys on the weak. Are you ready for that? And that doesn’t even get into the more extreme aspects, such as the boy who has shown great promise as a warrior but who is then chosen by a legendary poeta man who fought his wars with words. Picture this as the background of your bard. You never wanted to be a bard; you wanted to be Gallahad! You don’t even LIKE poetry. But the spirit has chosen you, and it’s your duty to follow where it leads and to become that poet in the modern day.

WHY SHOULD I DO IT?

This begs the question: If I’m chosen by the Poet but I don’t WANT to be a bard… why don’t I just become a fighter anyway? There’s a few points here.

  • Society expects it of you. If you refuse to follow the path of your patron, you are putting your personal ego ahead of the preservation of the greatest souls of your race. You will be ostracized and driven out. You can be a fighter if you want, but you’ll never train with the greatest swordsmen and you’ll never earn glory in the eyes of your kin. More important than that…
  • The Patron Ancestors are real. When a patron ancestor chooses you, it forms a bond to your spirit. When you emulate your ancestor, you draw on that bond. A typical elf can’t communicate directly with his patron, though this is a gift that mystics and Revenant Blades develop; but the bond is there, and through it you have access to the instincts and the guidance of your patron. If you turn your back on the patron, you are throwing that gift away. When you’re chosen by the Poet, you have the POTENTIAL to be one of the greatest bards of the modern age. Will you throw that away?

This is one of those things that transcends concrete mechanics. There are mechanics for strengthening the bond, notably the Revenant Blade prestige class. But even if you’re not a Revenant, the idea is that the bond is there and strengthening you. This is the reason why the Valenar are so scary. In a world in which we have emphasized the fact that player character classes are rare, we’ve called out that the typical Valenar is a 4th level PC-classed character… and given examples of them up to 12th level. This isn’t simply because they train harder than humans, though most do; it is because they are guided by their patron ancestors. The elf chosen by the Poet will find that the arts of the bard come quickly and easily to him, whereas if he turns his back on the Poet and insists on being a fighter, he won’t have that edge. It’s not just that society wants you to be like your patron… it’s that you will gain concrete benefits if you do.

What’s This Mean For PCs?

As I said, this isn’t something represented by concrete mechanics; it’s an idea that can be used for character hooks. The Tairnadal have many of the same story hooks as the Kalashtar, in that they are tied to a spirit. But for the Kalashtar, this choice is purely genetic and something that is with them from birth. For the Tairnadal it is something that happens on the border of adulthood. This raises a host of questions…

  • What is your ancestor best known for?
  • Why did they choose YOU?
  • Do you and others around you agree with the choice, or does it seem illogical? You’ve been chosen by the Poet… have you always had an aptitude for the bardic arts, or have you been more celebrated for your brawn than your songs?
  • Have you embraced your Patron or are you rebelling against it? How does this manifest in your actions? What could cause you to change your mind?
  • What general traits or specific deeds was your patron known for? Were they especially honorable or extremely dishonorable? Bloodthirsty or restrained? Best known for their general skill or for one specific deed?
  • Did your patron have any legendary feuds that you may have to take up with elves following other patrons?
  • Do YOU interpret your ancestor in a different way from others?

This last point is the key one. Tairnadal aren’t clones; even more so than the kalashtar, it is up to the elf to choose the best way to emulate their ancestors. Consider the idea of a patron ancestor who is infamous for striking terror into the enemy through horrific murder of civilians. One follower of this patron might simply translate this to the battlefield, always targeting the weakest opponent, but not actually getting into murder. The typical chosen of this patron might tend to be sociopaths who have a very broad view of “the enemy” and view horrific murder as sport. Then there’s you. You were chosen by this murderer, but you feel that you were chosen precisely because these others are misrepresenting him and hurting his spirit. Yes, he murdered horribly when he had to, but he felt great remorse with every killing; he simply felt that it was the most effective tool in the battle for the survival of his people. As a result, you believe that YOUR mission is to hunt down and kill all the elves who are embodying your patron in a flawed manner… and boom, crazy elf Dexter saga.

The point being that six elves chosen by Gallahad will all embody him in different ways and with different degrees of success. However, it is their cultural and religious duty TO embody him, and those who do so successfully should gain power and skill as their bond to his spirit grows stronger.

Another thing to consider when creating a Tairnadal PC: after you are chosen by a patron, you are assigned to a warband. This is a group of elves whose ancestors are at least in line with yours (so the brutal killer of innocents doesn’t get teams up with the conscientious defender of the innocent), selected to work and train together. Often this is a lifelong bond. Unless your whole group embraces this, odds are good you don’t have those partners with you. So what happened to them? Did you abandoned your warband to become a PC? Did you take a leave of absence? Were they all killed, and if so do you want vengeance? Or did you kill them in a terrible parting of the ways?

THE VALENAR

The Tairnadal humans know best are the elves of Valenar. They came to Khorvaire during as mercenaries during the Last War. They sold their swords to Cyre, but late in the war turned on Cyre and seized a section of land as their own. The newly appointed High King asserted that this territory had been claimed by their ancestors long before humanity came to Khorvaire and that it was theirs by right.

However, a few things are worth noting…

  • The Valenar don’t NEED this land. They’ve got enough room back home in Aerenal.
  • The Valenar don’t have a particular interest in being lords of the land. They’ve passed a great deal of civic administration duties to Khoravar or Lyrandar, and largely ignored the human population. They’ve claimed a kingdom, but they aren’t very attached to it.
  • Valenar does NOT reflect the structure of Tairnadal life back in Aerenal. There is no King of the Tairnadal. Beyond that, the civic infrastructure of the Tairnadal… the teachers, the children, the breeders of horses… are all still in Aerenal. For the elves, Valenar isn’t ahome; it’s a military beachhead.

Ultimately, what the Valenar want is an opportunity to emulate the deeds of their ancestors in battle. Their ancestors weren’t conquerors; they were guerrillas fighting a superior foe, strengthened by their knowledge of the land. So in my Eberron – and you could take things a different way – Valenar is in fact a trick. The elves aren’t building a kingdom; they are preparing a battlefield. The reason that they are so antagonistic and provocative in their dealings with the other nations – notably Karrnath and Darguun – is because they want to be attacked by a challenging foe. They don’t want to be invaders or conquerors; they want to provoke a powerful force into attacking them on their home ground. For the last few decades they have been acclimatizing themselves to the land, learning its tricks, determining the ideal spots for ambushes or ways to disrupt supply lines, and so on. The aren’t bringing their cultural infrastructure to Valenar because at the end of the day, they are ready to LOSE Valenar; if worst came to worst, they could retreat to Aerenal and be back where they started. The Last War was a good starting point, but now they are setting the stage for the REAL opportunity to emulate their ancestors.

Not all of the Tairnadal support this idea. There are some sects that have different ideas of what to do – they think the elves should fight the dragons, or return to Xen’drik. And then there are those who are perfectly content with the way things have been done for the last ten thousand years, who think the Valenar are hotheads. If you play a Tairnadal elf, it’s up to you to decide where you fall on this spectrum. Do you support the High King and the Host of Valenar? If so, why aren’t you in Valenar now, or serving as a mercenary? Are you on extended leave and simply waiting for the call to go back? Are you a spy gathering intelligence, or a provocateur getting into a position where you could help trigger the war? Do you oppose the High King and his plan… do you believe in Valenar as a kingdom, or perhaps want to protect the innocent humans of the region from future bloodshed? Or are you a Tairnadal with no ties to Valenar, either wandering the world in you own pursuit of your patron’s path or driven from your homeland by your beliefs?

In closing, a point I’ll emphasize again: The Valenar are an army. There are no Valenar children; they’re raised and trained on Aerenal. The finest smiths and horsebreeders are in Aerenal. In Valenar, almost all civilians are humans or Khoravar (half-elves). The elves aren’t invested in Valenar for the long term; it’s a tool in a larger plan.

… At least, in my Eberron.

FURTHER READING

Unfortunately, many of the online articles once hosted by WotC have been removed from the internet. However, here’s some online articles that might prove interesting.

QUESTION AND ANSWER

Post your questions in the comments and I’ll get to them as time allows.

I remember the Vadallia & Cardaen article, but I also remember how Saer Vordalyn behaved in Queen of Stone.  And while some of the ancestors may have been great poets, given their history the majority must have been warriors (clearly not many of them were urban administrators, since they have outsourced those functions to Lyrandar).

In looking at Saer Vordalyn, consider a few things. He is Valenar, which means he is, innately, a warrior. Second, his ancestor may well have been known for pride or aggression. Essentially, when a Valenar acts like a jerk, it could be because he, the Valenar is personally a jerk; because his ancestor was a jerk and he’s obliged to act that way; or both.

As for the poet, the key point is that the poet had to do something in a time or war to achieve legendary status in the eyes of the elves. Bards are VERY important to the Tairnadal, both serving to inspire troops and more important to preserve the tales of the ancestors. So the poet could be a bard who travels with a warband. On the other hand, it could be that there is a poet who is a legend OFF the battlefield. It could be he crafted the songs that are sung by every bard, or the code that defines the Tairnadal culture. He became a legend in a time of war, but that doesn’t mean he had to be a warrior. As for the lack of civic administration, see the points above. Tairnadal culture generally avoids massive cities; even if it didn’t, the best civic administrators are back in Aerenal keeping the home fires burning. Using local talent is an excellent way to keep your personal investment in the city low.

In my experience few people live up to, or even understand, the ideal of whatever religious or secular ideology they espouse.  I can’t shake the sense that a great many adolescents would use their ancestors as excuses to indulge in bad behavior (I see this happening in real life all of the time, with teens and adults), and a great many adults would take a very simplistic and conventional view of their ancestor’s activities.

Certainly. Which ties to two points above. The first is the fact that Tairnadal culture is FAR more structured and intense than typical Sunday school. Again, I personally compare it to Ender’s Game. Tairnadal children are constantly training, fighting, and learning the stories of their ancestors. It’s not just a casual “Oh, your ancestor liked swords”; it’s a matter of drilling in his precise style, learning every account of him from history by heart, and spending hours each day sparring. You have a concrete bond to his spirit, which is something that makes you distinctly different from a human adolescent. You spar for three hours a day because it is in battle that they hope that you will find that bond, and come to understand him on a very fundamental level.

Elves in Khorvaire live more casual lives. But I see both the cultures of Aerenal as very intense. As a Tairnadal, you are part of an army preparing for a war. We don’t know if that war will come in your lifetime, but if it does, you will be ready.

How do the Stillborn deal with this situation? I gather their raison d’être is to be a contrast to the heavily tradition-bound Aereni society, but are they equally unchanging – simply more egoistical and convinced that they already know everything – or are they actually the rare Aereni equivalent of the rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to sit and have tea with great-great-great-grandmama and kiss her on the decomposing cheek, because he knows better than his elders?

They are indeed the rebellious teens. Among other things, most are drawing on the traditions of the line of Vol, which were inherently more independent. It is the nature of the Deathless that they are sustained by the devotion of living elves. Part of the reason Aerenal is so mired in tradition is that it NEEDS people to follow those traditions to sustain their divinities – same with the Tairnadal. If you follow Vol’s path, once you’re a lich you can do whatever you want; you have no obligation to anyone else. The Stillborn see undeath as a gift. They don’t want to defeat death or any other grand philosophy: they want undeath and they want it now. As a side note, Erandis Vol and her inner circle – like Demise – are largely following this same theme. The Blood of Vol faith has far deeper philosophical goals and themes – the Divinity Within, ending death for all. But the Stillborn just want to be vampires, liches, or whatever because it beats being alive.

Does this tie in with the Shadow Schism? As far as I understand what you wrote about the Phiarlan in the dragonshards, Phiarlan is almost religiously dedicated to their role of keeping peace and harmony by any means necessary, ever since the giant-quori wars – though this did not work so well after Jarot’s death. But Thuranni is presented as a much more innovative House, which wanted to move away from this world of duty (and also decided to eradicate another line of the House).

While it’s not necessarily called out in the canon material, I think there’s a lot to be said for Phiarlan being made up of those who have continued to hold to Aereni tradition (albeit not the traditions of the Tairnadal or Undying Court) while Thuranni represents an evolution that has come from living among humanity. I think it makes for Thuranni to generally be more innovative and unconventional… while Phiarlan still has the majority of the greatest practitioners of traditional arts.

Speaking of the kalashtar, how would they live their increased lifespans? It’s not as long as that of elves, but still vastly exceeds that of a human – and, though it’s not their dominant personality, their Quori part is essentially immortal and has been around since the giant-quori wars (though it is not spread thin)?

That’s an entirely different subject, but one critical point I’d make there is that the child is touched by the immortal spirit from the moment of conception and shaped by that. I see a considerable difference between true immortals and long-lived mortals. Essentially, I see long life as carrying many burdens – seeing your human friends fall, societies change, everything you know fade away. The elves largely deal with this by clinging to tradition and thus minimizing change. However, with the kalashtar, one thing NEVER changes – and that is the bond to your spirit. It was with you at birth and it will be with you to death. Essentially, I see kalashtar as having a little more natural serenity… though that will certainly vary by the individual.

I thought, though, that Five Nations elf citizens outnumbered members of dragonmarked houses . . .

By canon numbers, this is certainly true. Checking the 3.5 ECS, elves make up around 7% of the population of the Five Nations. However, as I said, these articles may clash with canon numbers… and as the setting has evolved, that number has come to feel a little high to me. I don’t feel that the elves of Aerenal have a strong drive for immigration unless forced to it, as the allies of Vol were. Some would have left in protest of the conflict even if they didn’t have to; some likely did come in search of opportunity. However, all signs suggest that elves have slow population growth – again, they’ve been on Aerenal for almost forty thousand years and haven’t grown out of it – and as a result, it seems unlikely that they would make up such a large segment of the Five Nations. So essentially, in my Eberron I’m dropping their numbers a bit – but if you hold to canon, you are correct.

With that said, I think life is challenging for elves blended into human society, given the short lifespans of the people around them and the degree to which society changes. I think urban elves likely attach themselves to institutions that can give a sense of stability – for example, the churches. Of course, if you have a 600 year old elf cleric of the Church of the Silver Flame, she is actually older than the church itself; she might have known Tira Miron personally, and helped her evangelize in the first days of the Silver Flame. I’d think that elves might also look to their relationships with humans as being a relationship with the family rather than the individual; individuals come and go, but the family will endure.

A few questions, though: what would life be like for a Tairnadal whose Ancestor was known as an innovator/inventor/visionary? Would such an Ancestor even exist, as even the elves of Xen’drik may have been largely perfecting already known techniques?

This comes back to how different people interpret the Patron’s actions. Say you have a Tairnadal wizard who invented pyromancy. I think the TYPICAL Tairnadal would respond to this by trying to master pyromancy, seeing that as the ancestor’s defining feature. A rare elf might instead say “His thing wasn’t pyromancy; it was inventing a new field of magic. I will honor him by embracing that spirit and inventing a NEW school of magic of my own!” The same principle holds true for patrons who created new martial techniques; most would respond by perfecting those techniques, and it would be a rarer individual who would recognize innovation itself as the feature to be emulated. But that certain makes for an interesting player character!

This brings up another possibility… What about the ancestors who didn’t rate patron status? In one 4E game I ran, a PC created a Valenar shaman based on the idea that rather than having a single patron ancestor, he was essentially shepherding all the spirits who were good but not quite good enough to rate patron status. An amazing cook; a remarkable jerk; etc. it was a very interesting character, as he basically developed a different ancestor for each of his powers; I could certainly see a rebellious inventor as fitting in at this level.

Also, while this may not come up much in modern campaigns, but what stance did the Qabalrin have towards tradition?

The Qabalrin are the spiritual (and physical) ancestors of the line of Vol. As noted above, it’s an approach that favors the independent individual, while the Undying Court focuses on the strength of community and tradition. This lends itself to the assertion that there was significant infighting between Qabalrin schools. So I’d say the Qabalrin were more innovative, but also more volatile.

What, however, about dwarves, who would live to 450 years, and gnomes, who can live half a millenium? The dwarves seem to be about as unchanging as the elves, if less obsessed with death; the gnomes are however known for research and progress.

It’s true. Curiosity has been established as a defining feature of the gnomes – a desire to explore, and learn, and try new things. In part this is driven by a deep-rooted desire for security; if you know everything you can’t be taken unawares, and knowing the secrets of others is a powerful weapon. But I would say that the gnomes definitely have a different fluid/crystaline balance than the elves, and that their fluid intelligence declines more slowly than most races.

How would a Tairnadal be treated if they were not touched by an ancestor spirit? Would they be a pariah; considered tainted or unworthy to be an anchor? Or would they be considered an unfettered soul; someone who could become a legendary spirit like the ancestors of old?

Well, anyone has the potential to become a legend, even if they follow the path of a patron. You’re supposed to focus on embodying the ancestor, but that hasn’t stopped later Tairnadal from becoming legends in their own right. We’ve established that there are patron ancestors from the Dhakaani conflict and the wars with the dragons; presumably THOSE elves were themselves chosen by Xen’drik patrons.

With that said, there’s no hard and fast rule established. I think it’s a rare thing and would depend on the person. If the person was lazy and uninspired, it would likely be seen as rejection due to their faults and they would be assigned to menial duties. If the person was seen as a rising star who mysteriously wasn’t chosen, it would draw more attention. In a 4E campaign I ran, someone played a Tairnadal shaman who had no personal patron but was instead in touch with a host of lesser ancestors… spirits not QUITE remarkable enough to be full patron ancestors. Each of his spells was thus associated with channeling a different patron. The same concept could generally be true of ALL of the Keepers of the Past; rather than being chosen by any one spirit, they have a broad attunement to many.

For as long as the Tairnadal have been acting as anchors for their ancestors, have they ever questioned where their souls go? Are they sacrificing their spiritual existence simply to further the existence of an ancestor’s soul?

It’s an established fact where souls go: to Dolurrh, where they fade away. The point of the Tairnadal faith is to preserve the greatest souls from this fading. It’s generally accepted that you can’t save them all; thus, a sacrifice is made to save those most important to the culture as a whole. But as noted above, the idea is out there that if you are TRULY remarkable, you may yourself become a patron to future generations; emulating an ancestor doesn’t rule this out. Again, the bond to a patron enhances your talents, allowing you a greater opportunity to achieve great deeds.

Wow, so become great or fade away into the emptiness that Dolurrh. Good to know that even though you’re representing an ancestor your deeds are still your own thus you can still have a chance to become a patron as they are.

Certainly. As I said, embodying the patron preserves the ancestor and gives you a chance to draw on their strengths, but Tairnadal history is full of those who added their own legends in the process. Technically that’s not what you should be TRYING to do, but there’s surely many who have it in mind.

So with the Tairnadal having a much less physical attachment to their ancestors, where do these spirits reside? Are they basically treating their descendants as impromptu spirit idols?

It’s essentially the same mystical principle as the kalashtar and the quori. The patron spirit is tied to multiple mortals. As long as at least one of them is alive, the spirit still has an anchor. In the case of the Tairnadal, the connection is purely spiritual where with the kalashtar it’s partially genetic; as a result, the faith and the actions of the Tairnadal matter. The elf can strengthen the bond through both belief and by emulating the deeds of the patron; an elf who has no faith and makes no effort gains nothing from the bond, and provides no real anchor.

Also, if there is a literal spiritual connection to the patron spirits, could some affect the patron by messing with their anchors? Say that a Daelkyr started messing with the elves, driving them to madness in a way that they still embodied their patron’s ideals, but in a twisted way, could the madness somehow be passed to the spirit’s soul too?

Anything is POSSIBLE, if you want it to be. With that said, as it stands we don’t say that the actions of the living elf transform the spirit; rather, the more the elf acts like the spirit, the easier it is for the spirit to guide her. But it does sound like something a Daelkyr would do, and I’ve had fun with Tairnadal Cults of the Dragon Below myself.

Is it correct to say that the Undying court is the most powerful good entity in Eberron?

“Most powerful?” Probably. We’ve established that the Undying Court has the power to shield Aerenal from an attack by a significant force of dragons, and I’m not sure who else has that level of power… and even as individuals the Deathless Counselors are pretty tough. However, “Good?” That depends on your definition. Consider how long the Court has been around. It certainly didn’t help the Dhakaani when they were being attacked by the Daelkyr. It didn’t act when human invaders were massacring and enslaving goblins, or when they began massacring humans in the War of the Mark. It instructed its followers to ruthlessly exterminate a political rival in the Line of Vol. It’s positively aligned as an energy source, and it acts to protect AERENAL – it’s up to you whether that fits your definition of “good”.

Beyond that, it’s been firmly established that its power is focused on Aerenal. It can defend Aerenal from draconic attack, but it can’t channel that same power aggressively against Argonnessen. Beyond Aerenal, it can only affect things by empowering divine champions (IE clerics, paladins, etc) who can then use that power as they see fit… just like the Silver Flame, the Undying Court doesn’t personally approve every spell cast.  

If that is true, how would you set a campaign in Aerenal? Isn’t it against the code “PCs are the heroes”?

There’s places in Eberron where players aren’t the most powerful entities around. If you decide to set a campaign in Argonnessen, I wouldn’t suddenly depower all the dragons. If there is a draconic attack on Aerenal, they don’t need the player characters to solve the problem; we know the Undying Court can handle that… UNLESS something is sabotaging the Court’s ability to form a spiritual gestalt, and that something is using magic that conceals its presence from any deathless entity or that is tied to Mabar in such a way that destroys any deathless that contacts it and/or negates any divine magic that Court clerics can bring to bear. If you want a situation where the players are the only hope, you can always create one.

Beyond that, though: Even in Aerenal, the Undying Court isn’t omnipresent or omniscient, and unlike the Trust in Zilargo, the Undying Court isn’t interested in poking into everyone’s lives. The Court deals with MAJOR threats: Invasion! Planar incursions! But you can still have any number of “street-level” intrigues and schemes that are simply beneath the radar of the Undying Court.

Out of curiosity, what would happen if a Tairnadal got a non-standard patron. For example, what would happen if an Elf was chosen by say, a warlock who sold his or her soul to one of the overlords?

In MY Eberron, fiendish bargains for souls are a fairly new concept – something introduced when I worked Baator into Eberron as a demiplane whose immortal denizens have only recently engineered a jailbreak and are in the soul business in an attempt to build sources of mystical power. But that’s neither here nor there. The short answer is that it’s up to you. In principle, the religious duty of the elf would be to sell their soul – following the same path as the patron. In practice, they could decide that it’s too extreme and that they just aren’t going to do it; this would just mean that they’d never be an exceptional avatar for that patron, and wouldn’t be able to become a Revenant Blade or otherwise draw strong inspiration from the patron.

While I’m on the topic of non-standard patrons, what if an avatar was chosen by more than one patron?

As above: the patron chooses the elf, but the choice is meaningless unless the elf chooses to emulate the patron. It is through this emulation that a bond is established, sustaining the ancestor and in theory providing guidance and strength to the avatar. So if the elf was chosen by two substantially different patrons – meaning they CAN’T somehow emulate both at once – the question is really on the elf as to which they will emulate.

In one campaign I ran, a Valenar player decided that he’d been chosen by a patron who was a legendary archer… but that he WANTED to be chosen by the traditional patron of the men in his family, a famous swordsman. Since this mean he was defying his religious duty, he’d stolen his family’s heirloom scimitar and fled Valenar, and was working at being the best swordsman he could be and ignoring his declared destiny. The player’s CONCEPT was that, over time, he probably WOULD come to terms with his destiny and embrace his future as an avatar of the archer; but in the meantime, he was TRYING to defy tradition and become an avatar of the swordsman in spite of not being chosen by him.

I’ve also already mentioned the Valenar shaman who defined his character as essentially being the caretaker of all the not-quite-legendary legends… the lesser characters who didn’t quite make it to patronhood. This was a 4E game, and every time he used one of his powers he’d explain which ancestor was helping him with it. So technically, he was working with dozens of demi-patrons as opposed to having one primary patron.

If I’m a Tairnadal avatar, and one of the other avatar’s of my patron is killed (especially if it’s in a fashion inappropriate for my patron), might I become aware of it in some fashion?

Sure. We’ve said that Tairnadal don’t communicate with their patrons casually, but there is supposed to be a bond between them. In theory, this is the same sort of connection a vassal believes they have with the Sovereigns; an avatar attributes some of their skill and success to the instinctive guidance of the patron. Essentially, the avatar simply feels what the patron feels; they don’t need to communicate as such. But you could certainly play that up – especially with an avatar that’s especially close to a patron – and say that they do have visions or flashes of divine insight.

If a given Patron were beginning to run low on avatars (for whatever reason), would that Patron become more aggressive in choosing new avatars. Or is there is spiritual queue: “I’m sorry, Poet, but you chose an avatar last month; you’ll just have to sit in the ethereal waiting room until Butcher and Galahad have chosen their next avatars.”

This process is entirely undefined. It could be that there’s a quota… or it could be that there is a reason certain elves are picked, and that an elf truly is only suitable for one particular patron. But in short, it’s a decision you should make as best suits your story.

I have a new player with a half-drow, raised by elves. Her idea was to be raised by racists, in an unhealthy enviroment. Basically, she was taken care of, but still treated as other, because she is half drow. To you, does that fit Valenar elves?

There’s a few ways it could work. It’s important to note that the elves that are in Valenar are literally AN ARMY. Their civilian infrastructure is back on Aerenal. They don’t consider Valenar to be their homeland; they consider it to be a staging ground for military operations. So they are making no effort to incorporate the humans and half-elves in the region into Tairnadal culture, and this is why they are largely letting Lyrandar run the administration of the nation. So first of all, there’s the question of whether she wants to be someone who has lived ADJACENT to the Tairnadal in Valenar – in which case she could absolutely live as an abused outsider scorned for her drow blood – or if she wants to actually be an integrated part of Tairnadal society.

Looking to what that means: There’s a reason we present the Tairnadal as the being pound-for-pound the most dangerous people on the planet. It’s because their lives are intensely structured and devoted to emulating their greatest champions. Tairnadal children undego decades of intense training in the path of their ancestor. If the typical human soldier is a first level warrior and the typical Tairnadal soldier is a fourth level ranger, it’s because that Tairnadal has spent a decades mastering those skills… and, as noted above, because they are further being guided and inspired by their patron ancestor.

So there’s no such thing as being a casual Tairnadal. Either you are a civilian, in which case you live adjacent to the chosen and perform the necessary tasks that keep society running… or you’re chosen by an ancestor and you spend decades in elf Battle School.

So if she was raised on Aerenal, she either was chosen or she wasn’t, and if she wasn’t it’s important to understand that she’s not part of what we think of as “Valenar.” She could still become a hero and such through pluck – but she wouldn’t be part of a warband or trained alongside potential revenants.

Now, if this was in my campaign, I’d say that she IS chosen by a patron ancestor. I’d work with the player to figure out who that ancestor is and think about why she’d be chosen, when as a half-drow she’s clearly a flawed reflection of that ancestor. Others around her would scoff and say that she can’t possibly do justice to the ancestor, and there’s your abusive environment. If it was ME, I’d have the punchline – only discovered far down the road – be that the ANCESTOR was half-drow and this has long been covered up, and that she’s the first warrior in millennia who CAN truly embody that ancestor. Alternately, she can find her own path, as mentioned above.

 

Dragonmarks 6/18/16: Faith and Wisdom, Arcane and Divine

Cleric Octogram

I was planning to do my next Q&A about Druids, but this conversation took off in the comments of the last Q&A and really deserves its own page. So Druids will have to wait for another week or two. As I mentioned in my last post, I currently have two events on the schedule at Gen Con: a seminar specifically about Phoenix: Dawn Command, and a casual Q&A where we’ll talk about Eberron, Phoenix, and whatever else people wish to discuss.

Before diving into this discussion, I recommend checking out the previous Dragonmark on Religion, Faith, and Souls. This examines why faith matters; how someone can believe in gods that do not manifest in the world; and the role of souls within Eberron.

As always, let me be clear that this is how I run things in MY campaign. This isn’t canon, and it may even contradict canon material; it’s simply my opinion. Also, if you’ve read this post before: Due to the number of questions that were posed, I’ve gone back and consolidated my answers so it’s a little more concise.

I feel very stupid in asking that, but an answer would be very important to me since I never really undestood: what is the real difference between ARCANE MAGIC and DIVINE MAGIC in Eberron? We know most of priests don’t cast spells, faith is not enough and sometime not necessary. Gods might not exist. And you always say: magic in Eberron is like science. Is divine magic too? 

Both arcane magic and divine magic manipulate the same energy. This energy is an ambient force in the world that most scholars say flows from the Ring of Siberys. From a scientific viewpoint, this is why detect magic and counterspells and the like work on both kinds of magic: because fundamentally, they are different ways of manipulating the same form of energy. Arcane magic uses scientific methods to tap that power, while divine magic is driven by faith and willpower… and the intervention of something that may or may not be a god.

ARCANE MAGIC

Arcane magic is purely scientific. You’ve learned the underlying rules of the universe, and you’ve figured out the cheat codes. You have learned how to interact with that energy and shape it in specific ways. A wizard works through complex codified formulas. A sorcerer interacts with it in a more instinctive way. Some of this comes out with in the description of Lei performing infusions in The Dreaming Dark; she’s reaching out into this energy and weaving tapestries with it. This is the idea behind things like Spell-Storing Item; the artificer is inherently more “inventive” with magic, and can jury-rig spell effects they can’t normally produce. So to a certain degree you can think of an arcane caster as a software engineer, using code to manipulate the ambient energy. The caster may or may not have the talent required to create new spells, but they are approaching magic in a practical way.

Bear in mind that in Eberron, PC-classed characters are remarkable. Arcane magic is a science, but most who study it can at best achieve the status of magewright. Magewrights don’t use spellbooks, but neither are they spontaneous casters; they learn a particular set of spells they can memorize. The idea here is that the magewright spends years studying a specific set of spells. They don’t need spellbooks because they have drilled with those spells over and over and over. The spellbook is essentially the textbook they learned from… but they studied each spell for YEARS. They can’t just pick up a spellbook and memorize a completely new spell in a few hours. The fact that a wizard CAN do this is a reflection of the fact that the wizard is an amazing prodigy, who grasps the fundamental principles of magic in a way the magewright can’t. The magewright is essentially an electrician who learns to repair a specific type of appliance; the wizard or artificer is Tesla or Edison… they understand the principles of this science on a deeper level, and can work with it in a completely different way.

This model doesn’t make sense with every possible arcane caster; see the question on bards further down the page. In particular, sorcerers have the power to spontaneously produce arcane effects. A sorcerer doesn’t have to understand how they do what they do. But it’s arcane in nature because it’s drawing directly on the ambient magical power, and because it doesn’t require anything like faith… which is a critical component of divine magic.

DIVINE MAGIC

So, arcane magic involves using scientific principles to shape ambient magical energy. For divine magic, there is an intermediary involved: a divine power source that filters and focuses the power from the Ring of Siberys. Through faith and willpower, the divine caster connects to the divine source. If the arcane caster is an engineer, the divine caster is essentially connecting to a server that has a bunch of apps on it. The divine caster doesn’t need to understand anything about code or WHY the apps work; they just know that they ask for healing, and Cure Light Wounds 2.0 does its thing. There is no question that these divine power sources exist. The divine power source has an alignment; a set of domains; and specific relationship to positive and negative energy. Eberron is unique in that the alignment of a divine caster doesn’t have to match the alignment of that divine power source. Per my house rule in this Dragonshard, the alignment of the power source determines all magical alignment-oriented effects of the religion… so regardless of personal alignment, a divine caster associated with the Silver Flame casts holy word and protection from evil, because these are the powers granted by the source.

But what ARE these divine power sources? There’s the question. In some cases, we know exactly what they are: the Silver Flame is a pool of energy initially created by the couatl sacrifice in the Age of Demons, said to be strengthened by noble souls over the ages. Aside from supporting divine magic, it is the force that holds the Overlords at bay. So again: there is no question that it exists, and it’s not anthropomorphic in any way. But what of the others? If you’re a follower of the Sovereign Host, then you say that the Sovereigns are gods: they may be sources of pure divine power, but they are also sentient, omnipresent entities that watch us and guide us. If you’re a doubter, you say that these are just pools of energy like the Silver Flame; that they have coalesced around particular concepts like War or Law; and that they may be formed from mass belief (which the Undying Court shows has a certain degree of power) or from the souls of believers. There is no right answer here; no canon source is ever going to conclusively say “The Sovereigns are gods” or “The Sovereigns are pools of belief.”

But it’s important to remember one thing: in Eberron, the majority of priests are not divine casters. They’re like priests in our world: they offer spiritual guidance and comfort to their congregation. They believe in the faith, but it’s true, belief alone is not enough. Faith alone doesn’t guarantee divine magic… because in my opinion, a divine caster must have something more than just mundane faith. They have what I’ll call transcendental faith. In part this is about depth of conviction… but it is also just about a way of viewing the universe, of having a faith that lets you believe beyond the limits of mundane reality and touch the divine that lies beyond it. I can’t explain this much more clearly than this, because I don’t have it. But touching a divine power source requires an degree of faith most people simply don’t possess… just as most magewrights simply don’t have the insight and talent required to become a wizard or artificer. And even this faith alone may not be sufficient; it’s quite possible that you must in some way be chosen by the divine power source, as a paladin is called. If you view the power sources as gods, than this is an easy thing to understand. If not, it’s a little harder to explain; but in some way, a divine caster has a connection to the power source that most people will simply never have. But in my opinion, faith is always necessary. It is the conduit that forms the basic connection to the divine power source, and without it you have nothing. Regardless of alignment, a follower of the Silver Flame must believe they are using the power of the Silver Flame to protect the innocent. They can be evil and using it in a horrible unjustified witch hunt, but they must believe that the cause is justified. If you have someone who is truly a servant of the Lords of Dust and cares nothing for the principles of the Flame, then they cannot be drawing their magic from the Flame itself; they must be tied to a different divine power source. With that said, the Silver Flame has a built-in out in the Shadow in the Flame, which can empower such evildoers. But you can’t be a lover of chaos and draw power from Aureon, Lord of Law. Your alignment doesn’t have to match your divine power source… but your faith must.

So: What differentiates the cleric from the favored soul? It’s essentially the same separation as the wizard and sorcerer… but with faith added. Not all priests are clerics, but the vast majority of clerics are priests. A cleric works with tradition, learning the prayers and rituals of the faith. A favored soul has faith and feels the divine call, and needs nothing more. So in the Silver Flame, the typical cleric is a priest or friar… while a favored soul might be a farmer who hears the Voice of the Flame. I generally put paladins in this camp: a paladin has to be called. Within the Church of the Silver Flame, paladins are treasured and brought into the templars; but in my opinion, a paladin must be called, it’s not something you can just pursue.

Isn’t faith inherently irrational? And isn’t that at odds with clerics having to have a high Wisdom? And isn’t it strange that a cleric with the Madness domain could have a high Wisdom?

To begin with, I don’t view Wisdom as a statistic associated with logic; that’s what Intelligence is for. In my opinion, Wisdom is about willpower (hence, Will saves), perception, and understanding… an understanding that goes beyond the pure reason of Intelligence. Beyond that, I think it’s dangerous to try to use ability scores as a measure of someone’s beliefs… IE “This belief is stupid, therefore this individual can’t have a high Intelligence.” This is especially true when it comes to madness. In my opinion a Cleric of the Dragon Below could be exceptionally intelligent about everything but the subject of their madness. They could be a brilliant arcane scholar… and it could be that very brilliance that led them to discover the secrets that shattered their sanity.

But back to the core point: Is faith irrational? On some level, of course it is. The basic concept of faith is believing in a thing that cannot be proven. But don’t equate faith with zealotry or fanaticism. Just because a person has faith doesn’t mean that they will be driven to irrational action or that they cannot listen to reason. And just because a person has faith – even that amazing transcendental faith that I describe – doesn’t mean that they can’t have doubt. In my opinion, questioning faith is one of the most interesting things you can do as a divine character: explore why you believe what you believe, and why you hold to that faith even when it can’t be proven. The other day I was watching Shakespeare in Love, and multiple times when things are at their very worst, someone says “Don’t worry – it will all turn out well.” To which someone else responds “How?” because there is no rational way that it could. The first speaker shrugs, smiles, and says “I don’t know… it’s a mystery.” To me that’s the point of faith. One person looks at something terrible – like the Mourning – and has their faith broken by it. Another sees the same thing and says “I don’t understand how or why this could happen… but I have faith that there is a reason.” For such a person faith is a source of strength and comfort when reason provides no answer. Further below I’ll look at this point in more detail, but the basic point is that yes, faith IS irrational. But that doesn’t mean that every divine caster has to have blind faith. It doesn’t mean that they have to ignore reason or things that go against their faith, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t question their faith. The question is whether, in the end, you hold onto your faith… or whether the things that you face will break it.

With this in mind, I’d like to look at two player characters from my own Eberron campaigns. One was a changeling cleric of the Silver Flame, who as part of his character background explained that he’d encountered corruption in the church and been shocked by it. He’d left the church to go out into the world and explore the darkness of the human soul more deeply… so that he could gain the understanding he’d need to come back an drive it from the church. So: his faith was shaken by an encounter with a corrupt priest; he left the church itself; but he never stopped believing in the Silver Flame and its purpose.

The second was a character I played in the longest-running Eberron campaign I’ve been a part of. I began as a dragonborn follower of the Sovereign Host (with a Thir spin on the Sovereigns). Over the course of the campaign, I lost my faith in the Sovereigns… but ended up becoming a divine oracle of the Draconic Prophecy, and seeing that as the force shaping the world. So I questioned my faith, and it actually changed and evolved over the course of my story.

So the point of all this? A divine caster must have faith. Faith is the fuel of divine magic and a critical element that differentiates it from arcane magic. But you don’t have to be a zealot or a fanatic. You can listen to reason. You can question your faith and even change it. But in my opinion, you must have faith to perform divine magic.

In Eberron, can’t a cleric gain divine magic from a philosophy or personal belief? 

This is about the principle that in Eberron, you can cast spells with sufficient faith in ANYTHING. You could have the Church of Your Shoe. Technically, this is true. Page 35 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting says the following:

You may also decide that your cleric has no deity but instead channels divine power from the spiritual remnants of the Dragon Above. Select two domains that reflect the cleric’s spiritual inclination and abilities. The restriction on alignment domains still applies.

So yes: In Eberron, you can make a cleric of ANYTHING. With that said, the description here makes clear what you’re doing. You may worship your shoe, but your shoe isn’t what’s granting you magic; you are bypassing the divine power sources and drawing your power straight from the Ring of Siberys, which as I mentioned above is essentially the source of all magic. Beyond this, I’d note the following…

  • While this is possible, within the canon world it is incredibly rare. You’ll note that the vast majority of the divine casters presented in canon material follow the defined faiths. I’m not even sure that there is an example of an I-worship-my-shoe-style priest anywhere in canon, though I could be wrong (I was! See below). Basically, this is only possible for rare and remarkable people… but player characters ARE rare and remarkable people, so go ahead!
  • The theory behind this is that it’s easier to connect to one of the existing divine sources that has mass belief… potentially because the power sources ARE that mass belief. This is why you see so many religions that are essentially some variation of the Sovereign Host – why Rusheme has Rowa of the Leaves instead of Fiddledediddlestag the Charcoal God. The closer your god is to a Sovereign archetype, the greater the chance that your faith will produce divine spellcasters. So there are and have been many radically different faiths… but those similar to the Sovereigns have produced more spellcasters, and that’s been a form of social evolution. Basically, if you can’t connect to a belief pool/god you can go straight to the source – but that’s hard to do.

So the principle of the atheist who believes SO STRONGLY that the gods don’t exist that he actually draws divine power from this is certainly possible – but you’ll note that we didn’t present tons of these in the world. And in my campaign, if you’re playing that character and you’re suddenly faced with absolute proof that gods DO exist, you could have a crisis of faith and lose your powers…

PRIMAL MAGIC

So how do druids and rangers fit into this? In 3.5 they are considered to be divine casters. However, a ranger isn’t called as a paladin is, and the concept of a ranger doesn’t seem to require transcendental faith. This is true. A cleric with the Nature domain has an alignment aura, channels positive or negative energy, and has to have faith; a druid does none of these things. So how is it that druids are divine casters?

The fact of the matter is that this is a kluge… because they aren’t arcane casters, either. They don’t have some deep scientific understanding of magical principles. Fourth edition introduced the concept of the Primal power source as distinct from arcane and divine, and personally, that’s how I view things… all the more so because while arcane and divine magic both manipulate the ambient energy of the Ring of Siberys, I would make the case that primal magic is actually drawing on the energy of Eberron… which is to say the world itself. This is important for a number of reasons. The Ashbound hate unnatural magic, and one possibility is they could temporarily abolish it (at least within a region); this goal makes more sense if primal magic continues to function. The danger is that once you move in this direction, you open a huge rabbit hole (presumably, made by a dire rabbit). Do detect magic and dispel magic work on primal magic? Basically, adding a new sort of magic is a big can of worms for balance and complexity of play… and thus it’s generally easier to simply say that primal magic essentially functions like divine magic. But if you want to open that can of worms, go ahead!

 

ARCANE AND DIVINE

If you’re looking for more ways to differentiate arcane and divine magic in your game, take a moment to think about the components of magic… by which I mean the verbal and somatic components, the gestures and incantations that are made. What do verbal components actually sound like? What does casting a spell actually look like?

Following the principle that arcane magic is like software engineering, in my campaign both incantations and gestures are very scientific: you are repeating syllables of power in a specific order and making very precise gestures, tracing glyphs that help channel the forces you are drawing on. Each time you cast fireball, you use exactly the same gestures and incantation, because that is the recipe for “fireball.”

By contrast, I see the typical divine spell as a prayer. You are invoking your faith and asking for a specific favor. In my opinion this isn’t about precise syllables arranged in a certain way. It may well involve names that have power, but each time a cleric casts cure light wounds the precise prayer may vary, taking into account the specific situation: “Olladra, smile on your servant Ping and let your light heal his wounds.” Because again, the cleric isn’t using a scientific method; they are invoking the source of their faith.

With that said, I believe that in the case of a cleric, spell-prayers are likely to have a very specific form based on the particular spell and nature of the religion… whereas the favored soul is more likely to have very little structure and simply call directly on the divine power.

So what about someone who level dips, like a theurge? They have the cheat codes and pray to the designer to wrote them? For those that dabble in the arcane and divine, does it come with more clarity or confusion?

Bearing in mind that this is just my opinion, I don’t think it’s confusing at all… and I personally wouldn’t try to make one answer fit all characters. Divine power sources exist. As a result, I would support the idea of a theurge as a “hacker” who had figured out an arcane method for hacking into a power source and channeling its power.

At the same time, nothing about arcane magic and divine magic is inherently in opposition. I think that many clerics of Aureon may also have levels in arcane classes. Per the belief of the Host, it is Aureon who gave mortals the gift of arcane magic; just because a cleric is capable of performing divine miracles through Aureon’s grace doesn’t mean that she can’t also learn to master the arcane arts, whether she does this as a theurge or by traditional multiclassing.

Adepts cast divine spells but can also be considered rustic mages, or is this an Adept vs Magewright issue?

I’d call it a skinning issue: how do you want to present the particular adept? I do suggest that many Jorasco healers are adepts precisely because they are NOT required to have faith.

So where do Bards fit into all of these? I know traditionally they are arcane. But I prefer to think of them as dabblers in everything, and that their spells are a mixture of arcane, divine, primal, and whatever else they heard somewhere. But can one “dabble” in divine magic? 

I generally don’t think of bards as being defined by either excessive faith or spiritual enlightenment. They don’t have a connection to a divine sphere, any sort of Channel Divinity, or the alignment aura of a cleric. Thus, I would say that while they do have certain spells that are otherwise unavailable to arcane casters (like healing), that it’s not drawing on their faith or a divine connection.

So why can a bard heal when a wizard can’t? A simple option is the same one I suggested for the mystic theurge: they are essentially hackers, using arcane techniques to tap into a divine power source. Note that they aren’t the only arcane casters who can do this; an artificer can generate healing effects using spell-storing item, something Lei does frequently in The Dreaming Dark novels. In the case of SSI, I believe that it is that the case of an artificer literally hacking a spell together from the ground up.

However, if it was ME, I’d take a different approach with bards. I’d say that story and songs have power… both the power of shaping a culture, and beyond that because story and song are a path to the power of Thelanis, just as psionics can draw power from Xoriat and Dal Quor.

Now, the bard is concretely performing arcane magic, which is relevant mechanically for anything that triggers off arcane magic. But I’d essentially argue that they perform it in, as you suggest, a “dabbling” way – and yet they can accomplish things that their technique shouldn’t allow, precisely because they are connected to Thelanis and the Trickster… or Traveler?… archetype. As with other things, a lot of it is how you skin your bard. Do you PRESENT their spells as being cast in the same way as a wizard? Or do you have it be more about flourish and style, of telling a story that becomes real?

The Magic Initiate feat in 5E also begs that question. How do you have the kind of super-faith needed to cast divine magic, but only a little?

First off, there’s no reason that you can’t possess transcendental faith and yet still only cast a few spells. I don’t think that a 20th level cleric necessarily has more FAITH than a 1st level cleric; what she’s done is either earned the respect and favor of her deity (if you believe in gods) or through experience gained a greater ability to manipulate the divine source (if you don’t). But you can have an NPC who’s a first level cleric who NEVER GAINS ANOTHER LEVEL. That doesn’t represent imperfect faith in my eyes, it simply means they’ve reached the extent of their potential for divine spellcasting ability.

Personally, if I’m running a game and I have a player who wants to that the Magic Initiate (Cleric) feat, I will ask them to explain to me how this is justified by their character’s faith. As I said above; just because you’re a wizard or a thief doesn’t mean that you can’t have spiritual faith. Obviously this isn’t required by the mechanics, but it’s what I’D do… UNLESS they could justify with their character that, as suggested with the Mystic Theurge, their access to divine spells isn’t driven by divine faith but because their CHARACTER has learned to game the system… that the wizard is so good at magic that they’ve found a way to hack a divine power source.

BEYOND THIS: Something we’ve commonly said before is that in the faith of the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns are with us all… and that those who emulate the Sovereigns are closer to them. So the smith becomes closer to Onatar through his work… while the rogue might feel a bond to Olladra, or the wizard to Aureon. I could see any of those characters taking Magic Initiate to reflect that “bond to the Sovereign.” Though I’d still generally expect the character to have some level of faith in that Sovereign.

 

RANDOM QUESTIONS

We know that Valenar elves want to call back their ancestors.

That’s not precisely correct. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest heroes. Like the Blood of Vol and the Aereni, they believe that there is no afterlife beyond Dolurrh. By emulating the heroes of the past, they anchor those spirits to the material plane and keep them from fading away. It’s the same principle as the Undying Court, but the Undying Court preserves the deathless directly – while among the Tairnadal, the ancestors live on through their descendants.

So don’t call it a comeback… because they never left.

You might want to check out the “Vadallia and Cardaen” Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 407 for a more in-depth look at what the faith and the ancestors mean to the Tairnadal.

But does their priests have any vision of reality, a greater plan for the future beyond that? Do they see any role for other races or a destiny or duty for elves after they reach greatness? 

There’s a number of different factors here. First, for the priest: the job is never done. There’s never a point where you say “The elves have reached greatness, folks… mission accomplished.” Even if the elves of this generation are the perfect avatars of the greatest heroes, they will one day die… and when they do the next generation must be ready to take their place. So there’s always work to do. Likewise, for the follower of the faith, you could always be doing better. The patron ancestors were LEGENDS… are your deeds truly worthy of them?

In part this speaks to a fundamental difference in human and elven character. Short-lived humans are always pushing to achieve something new. Overall, both Aereni and Tairnadal essentially believe that their society IS perfect; both seek to preserve what they have and to prevent the loss of any of their greatest heroes. People of the Five Nations would say that this has essentially led to the stagnation of the elven cultures… but that’s a matter of opinion.

There are certainly Tairnadal who aren’t content to simply emulate the legends of the past; while their first concern must be to honor the ancestors, they also seek to become legends in their own right, who will become new patron ancestors after their deaths. Thus, while most of the patron ancestors date back to Xen’drik, there are heroes from the times in which the Tairnadal have battled goblins and dragons… and there may soon be new heroes from this age.

The article on Vadallia and Cardaen discusses the fact that Tairnadal actions and goals vary strongly based on the patron ancestor. Some are honorable; some are cruel. But their heroes weren’t conquerors. The original patron ancestors were rebels and guerillas fighting against an overwhelming power that sought to enslave and destroy them. This is the drama the Valenar seek to recreate. In seizing land on the mainland they are creating a killing ground; now they work to antagonize some great power into attacking them there, so they can recreate the heroic struggle of their ancestors.

In other words; what’s the “reality under reality” a Valenar cleric has to believe in?

This is an interesting question, because the answer is that all the elven cultures are largely agnostic. They don’t care about who created the world, and they don’t believe that there are unknown divine powers shaping general events. Druids and rangers both play a role in Tairnadal culture, and when it comes to questions like “Why’d that earthquake happen” a Tairnadal is more likely to say “Because that’s how the world works” than to attribute it to the Devourer or some other supernatural force. The reality beyond reality that the Tairnadal care about is simple: Through our devotion, we preserve the spirits of our greatest heroes. Those heroes in turn chose those who are to follow their path, and they can guide and inspire the chosen who emulate their deeds. That’s enough for the elves; their pantheon is made up of heroes, and they believe those heroes can influence the lives of their chosen. This is most directly seen in the extraordinary abilities of a Revenant Blade, but it’s still believed that the Patron Ancestor is with their chosen in less dramatic times. Meanwhile, it is the Patron Ancestors AS A WHOLE that empower clerics and are the source of clerical magic. I ran a one-shot where all the players made Valenar characters, and the cleric made a point of explaining the ancestor that was responsible for each of the spells that he cast. His healing is granted by the legendary healer, his spiritual weapon is the blade of Vadallia, his flame strike is the fires of Cardaen. So to draw a parallel to our world, the Tairnadal don’t care about gods; their faith is based entirely around saints, and they believe that it is only through the actions of the Tairnadal that those saints are preserved. So the cleric must always be guiding this generation and preparing the next; this is never a job that will be done.

At the moment I am playing a Khoravar Paladin of the Sovereign Host. He’s also an active member of House Medani. What I was curious about was if it is acceptable for this character to want to seek out Valenar tradition and learn about it, possibly honoring an ancestor, while still serving the Host?

I know I’ve written about this topic before, but I can’t track down the answer. Short form: It’s certainly a great path for a PC. Within the world, we’ve established that there are Khoravar who pursue this path (it’s mentioned that some of the Khoravar in Taer Valaestas do this). With that said, I think the character will receive a very mixed reaction from the Tairnadal themselves. I think some will applaud the character’s attempts to honor their ancestors; the purpose of the tradition is to preserve the ancestors, and if the PC can help do this, good for them. Others will say that those of mixed blood are flawed vessels that cannot contain the soul of a true Elven hero.

The first step towards any sort of acceptance would be having a Keeper of the Past determine and declare which ancestor has chosen you. If a respected Keeper declares that you’ve been chosen by a patron, that would be good enough for many – but convincing a Keeper to do the tests likely won’t be easy. Beyond this, even those who believe you might provoke or challenge you… whether they are doubters who seek to prove that you have no connection to the spirit, or believers who seek to emulate events from the life of your patron to strengthen your connection.

As for conflict with serving the Host, I don’t think the two are necessarily in conflict. I think there are many Tairnadal who would dismiss your faith in the Host as foolishness, and many might say “Your patron was no follower of the Host; clearly you must abandon this faith if you are to truly embody their spirit.” However, as I said, the Tairnadal faith isn’t about gods that define reality. There’s no fundamental conflict beyond the basic one that the Patron Ancestors didn’t follow the Host, so how can you truly emulate them when you do? But that seems like an interesting story to explore.

It’s quite obvious what is FAITH when you worship the Host or the Blood of Vol. But what is faith in the Undying Court or the Flame? They do exist, no doubt in that. As you say: they are pragmatical things, they exist and work.

WE know the Silver Flame exists, because WE know for a fact that it’s the only thing that keeps the Overlords from destroying everything. But if you’re standing in a field in Khorvaire, you have no way to prove that; the Silver Flame doesn’t incarnate and walk around beating up demons in front of people. So faith in the Flame means first of all, believing that it exists; believing that it holds a great evil at bay; believing that it empowers noble souls who seek to protect the innocent from evil; and believing that after death noble spirits can join with it and strengthen it. All of this then reinforces the concept that you want to be a “noble soul” – which comes back to compassionate, charity, protecting the weak, etc, etc.

The Undying Court is a different sort of thing because you CAN go visit the Court – but remember that the power of the Court is greater than its combined components. Faith in the court includes the belief that reverence for the ancestors is what sustains them; while it’s not as extreme as it is for the Tairnadal, it is your duty to venerate your ancestors and their deeds and ensure that their legacy is never forgotten. Beyond that, it is the faith that the Court as a whole is bound to the destiny of Aerenal and the Elves as a whole: that the power of the Court will shield Aerenal from any who would harm it. Finally, it is the belief that you can prove yourself worth of the Court by excelling at the Aereni traditions. So in day to day life, it’s about honoring your ancestors, having faith that they are watching over you, and seeking to perfect your own talents so you can follow in their footsteps. Unlike the Tairnadal, an Aereni wizard isn’t trying to become an avatar for his wizard ancestor – but he does seek to perfect his magic to prove himself worthy of the Court.

This does tie back to why Elven culture isn’t THAT much more advanced than human culture, despite being far older. As I think I’ve said before, the Elves essentially feel they’ve achieved perfection and the key is sustaining it. MOST Elven wizards aren’t trying to innovate, as much they are trying to perfectly match they techniques of their ancestors (who were, to be certain, amazing at what they did). This comes back to the idea of what an arcane incantation sounds like. In my opinion, an Aereni mage will spend years or even decades learning the PERFECT PRONUNCIATION of the syllables of power. His fireball sounds EXACTLY like the one cast ten thousand years ago. Whereas a mage at Arcanix learns the same basic “language’ of magic, but may fudge or modify things slightly to find a pronunciation that’s uniquely suited to them. And in the process, they might discover something entirely new.

But again, if you attend services of the Undying Court, they would be telling the stories of the Deathless… ensuring that their deeds are never forgotten, that we sustain them with our memory and reverence just as they protect us with their power.

Could you perhaps give me some insight into how the Undying Court grants spells? From what I understand, the Court can only grant spells when acting as a whole, which implies that the duty of granting spells is spread out amongst a large number of different deathless. I started wondering how they would go about granting spells, and domains, and if the process might be some variant of a spellpool that the deathless add to and allow clerics to draw from each day. I’m not sure though. Any thoughts?

The Undying Court is – in and of itself – a divine power source. Just as the Silver Flame is said to be formed from a mass of devout souls. In the case of the Undying Court you have the souls of the deathless themselves. Beyond this, the Deathless are themselves channels to Irian, adding its energy to the pool. And on top of that, add the faith of the living who are devoted to the Court. All of that woven together create a gestalt force that is the divine power source of the Undying Court… and it is this force that has a Good alignment aura, positive energy alignment, and the domains of the Court.

So when a cleric prayers for spells, it’s not like one of the Deathless suddenly stops and says “Bob wants Cure Light Wounds.” The existence of the Court creates the power source. The transcendent faith of the cleric allows them to connect to this power source and cast spells. Meanwhile, the councilors themselves can call on this power to do things like fight dragons. Essentially, it’s much like the Silver Flame: a source of pure mystical power that certain people can channel. Not that the Councilors technically DON’T have to have faith, because they are directly connected to the source; but a cleric would need faith.

Normally, my inclination would be to say that a paladin of the Undying Court is called by this gestalt spirit, not by an individual. HOWEVER, it could be an interesting story to say that in addition to having faith, a divine caster of the Undying Court must be sponsored by one of the Undying Councilors. This would create an interesting patron for the caster, and it would presumably also be that patron who would answer spells like commune. At it could be that this patron could choose to cut off the caster’s access to the Court’s magic. If you’re looking for that incarnate god experience, this might be the closest thing to it Eberron has to offer.

I know I already asked you how would you justify a hellbreed in a 3.5 eberron, where there’s no canon baator, nor hell or punishment for mortal souls. 

I’ve never personally used a Hellbred, and I don’t own whatever sourcebook covers them, so it’s not a topic I have a strong opinion on. From what I understand, a Hellbred is a damned soul who reprents just before damnation and is returned to life for a chance at redemption. I agree that this concept isn’t a great match for Eberron’s cosmology. With that said, as of 4E, Baator is a part of canon Eberron, and its denizens do make bargains with mortals for their souls. It’s simply that this is a very recent occurrence, and would require the Hellbred to have made a bargain with one of the lords of Baator.

Another possibility would be that the Hellbreed actually involves the redemption of an evil immortal, such as a rakshasa. When an immortal is killed, its energy eventually reforms into a new immortal. In the case of weaker immortals, memories are often lost and it is rededicated to its original purpose. In this case, you could say that a fiend sought to change its path and was killed by its comrades so it would be reborn and restored to its original alignment; to escape this fate, it has merged with a mortal host. It has the duration of the host’s life to complete its “redemption” and transformation into a different sort of immortal. So the mortal is actually the vessel of redemption… though the mortal could be seeking redemption as well, which would explain why they’d agree to this bargain.

I’m sure there’s other possibilities: something involving the Mourning (and all the unavenged souls that died in it); something tied to the Prophecy. But that’s all I have time to come up with now.

How would you explain a good-aligned character offering worship to an evil deity, aside from those who do so simply to appease or forestall the deity’s attention?  

There’s a number of different cultures across Eberron that worship one or more of the Dark Six, for example – and that doesn’t make all of its people evil. Per 3.5, The Blood of Vol was an “Evil” faith, and I’ve already written at length about good Seekers. In this Dragonmark I explained how you could have a hero from the Cults of the Inner Suns, who seeks to pave his way to paradise with blood… but only with the blood of evil-doers.

The most immediate point here is that very few of these people consider their gods to be evil. The people of Droaam view the Shadow as a sort of Prometheus… where jealous Aureon withheld his gifts from humanity, the Shadow gave the medusa her gaze and the harpy her voice. The Fury is a source of rage in battle and passion in life; she is the well of emotion within us all, and it is only denying her that causes madness. And while Vassals see the Mockery as espousing treachery, the folk of Droaam say that he teaches cunning – and that anyone who refuses to use cunning in battle is a fool. The Sahuagin don’t offer their worship to the Devourer simply to avoid his wrath; rather they believe that it is his wrath that tests all things, destroying the weak and strengthening those who survive it.

So you can have a heroic medusa who defends the weak and kills those who prey on the innocent… and who still slaughters her enemies using the cunning tactics espoused by the Mockery, embraces the passion of the Fury, and give thanks to the Shadow for her deadly gaze.

On the other hand, there was a player in one of my campaigns who played a warlock who served one of the Overlords. He was good and did all the usual good things – defend the innocent, help those in need, etc. But at the same time, his view was that the eventual rise of one of the Overlords was absolutely inevitable. He believed that most of the Overlords would utterly destroy civilization as we know it… while his Overlord would enslave everyone but still keep a semblance of civilization. So he viewed it as the best option when facing inevitable doom, and did his best to help others while walking this path to doomsday.

Seekers of the Blood of Vol believe that the gods cursed humans with mortality to keep all the power for themselves. What if the gods are too far away to influence the material plane directly and that’s why they us intermediaries like angels? That would make Dolurrh a road to a further afterlife, and a reordering of the planes might be necessary to gain immortality, so it might not be the gods fault or intentions. How would most seekers react if this was discovered to be the case?

How would it be “discovered to be the case”? Followers of the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host make precisely this claim: Dolurrh is not the final fate for the dead, but simply a waystation for souls as they make a transition to a higher plane of existence. But because no mortal can go to this higher plane of existence, it remains purely theoretically… something that must be taken on faith. The Vassal believes that the Sovereigns are with us at all times. They believe that the life is merely the first stage of a journey that will ultimately lead them to union with the Sovereigns. But like most religions in our world, these things can’t be proven; it is a matter of trust and faith.

Meanwhile, the Seeker looks at what is known. People suffer. Injustices occur across the world. And what is known is that the souls of the dead go to Dolurrh, where their memories fade away. This can be proven: you can go to Dolurrh and find the husk of a friend’s spirit. Again, those of other faiths say that this is just like a cast-off snakeskin, left behind by the soul that has moved on… but why should the Seeker believe you?

Beyond this: You can tell the Seeker “The gods may be distant, but they have a wonderful plan for all of us.” The Seeker will reply “Really? Why did this plan include my children starving to death? Why did it include my husband losing his arm to an infected wound? If the gods are good, why do we suffer? Our suffering proves that they don’t care about us. The universe is against us, and all we have is one another. We must stand by our community and fight against fate, not blindly trust some fairy tale of a better world to come.”

You might have an angel appear and say “I serve Aureon, and I believe in the journey” – but why should the Seeker trust this angel? How does the word of an angel change what the Seeker has experienced? How does it justify the pain and misery the Seeker sees every day?

Essentially, religion in Eberron is very much like religion in our world. There are no absolute answers; it is about finding your faith, and choosing what to believe. The Vassal can’t prove that the Sovereigns are benevolent or that they are present in the world… but he knows it in his heart. He knows that there is a reason for pain and misfortune, that these are simply trials that must be overcome as part of the great journey. While the Seeker knows that there is no grand justification for the pain and suffering she sees every day – that if there were benevolent gods the world would be a better place. The Vassal and the Seeker will never convince the other, because it’s not about logic; it’s about faith.

Now, if you could somehow ABSOLUTELY BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT prove the existence of benevolent Sovereigns, justify human suffering, and promise a joyous afterlife you could undermine the Blood of Vol, but as it stands the setting is built on the assumptions that these things cannot be proven; such an absolute revelation would potentially undermine many religions. Personally, I prefer making people work on faith, because that’s what WE have to do… so for me it makes the world feel real.

How do Seekers think they are going to gain immortality? Are people like Baron Zorlan working on it? How will they deal with overcrowding?

First, they don’t believe they will gain immortality; they believe they will gain divinity. The principle is that the spark of divinity lies within our blood, and that it is the curse or mortality that prevents us from being able to attain it. Eliminating death is simply the means by which we attain divinity, and once we are divine, reality will completely change. I’m not just going to be an immortal farmer working on my farm for hundreds of years; I will be a god moving through creation. So we’re not worried about overcrowding because once we are gods we’re no longer living on Eberron. This is why most Seekers don’t actually want to be undead. It’s acknowledged that once you’re undead you have forever lost the spark of divinity and can never ascend… so you may live forever, but you’ll do it trapped in a rotting material body on Eberron. The undead champions are seen as martyrs, not something to be envied.

Now, within the faith there are two basic approaches. The first are those who care only for their own personal ascension. They want power and don’t care about the world at large. Most of Erandis’ inner circle fall into this camp. They are searching for ways that THEY can realize their divinity but don’t care about unlocking it for the masses. This is also the basis of the Thief of Life prestige class in Faiths of Eberron. However, the larger segment of the faith believes that it was whatever gods exist that cursed the living with mortality… and that thus, to break the curse, they must destroy the gods themselves. HOW? Most people have no idea. It’s not something the farmer believes he can personally help with, and it’s not something he really expects to happen in his lifetime… it’s like Judgment Day, part of the faith but not something you actually expect to happen tomorrow. For this, they look to the undead champions, who have (in theory) sacrificed their chance at divinity to become immortal heroes who might, somehow and someday, find a way to defeat the gods. This is the other reason not everyone wants to be undead; in theory the undead are tirelessly working to advance the faith. In practice, some are (like Malevenor) – others, like Erandis’ cabal, simply want that personal power.

So what that farmer does is donate blood to sustain the vampires he believes are fighting for his cause, and everything he can to strengthen his community and preserve the lives of those he cares about, while hoping that out there the undead champions are fighting a mystical war he can’t comprehend and that MAYBE, just maybe, they’ll find a way to win it.

As for Zorlan, I suspect he’s on the seeking-personal-power side of the fence… but it would be very interesting if he was on the other side, and was actually designing artifacts to rip a hole in the heavens and take the war to the Sovereigns! Could a test run of such a thing have been the cause of the Mourning?

What are the beliefs about the consequences of failing as a faithful soul? 

As things stand, the primary consequence is oblivion. Your soul goes to Dolurrh, isn’t worthy of moving on to the higher realm of the Sovereigns or joining with the Silver Flame, your memories are destroyed and everything that was you is gone. When faced with the prospect of a positive afterlife or ABSOLUTE OBLIVION I think most people would have a pretty strong opinion about which they prefer. With that said… From the start, the concept of The Keeper is that he seeks to “snatch souls on their way to Dolurrh.” We’ve never said exactly what consequences this fate has, but presumably it’s a fate worse than Dolurrh, or people would want it to happen (as the Restful Watch does, but that’s another story). So one can assume that’s a horrible fate. Of course, as it stands, everyone fears that… but it would be logical to say that living according to the virtues of the Sovereigns is the best way to avoid the Keeper.

If you want some concept of “eternal damnation” for story purposes, another option would likely be Baator. Per 4E canon, the fiends of Baator are bargaining for souls. Now, they are simply amassing souls as a source of power – essentially building their own Silver Flame. But what is the experience of the individual whose soul is thrown into this fiendish well of power? If you want, you could make it being trapped in a hell generated by the individual’s own fears. It would certainly make signing an infernal bargain a little less appealing.

Likewise, as it stands we have specified that Dolurrh is NOT a place of punishment or reward. However, if I specifically wanted the ability for players to rescue a soul in torment as part of a story, I’d just add a group of immortals to Dolurrh who make it their personal responsibility to torment souls they deem worthy of punishment. It’s not part of the “mechanics” of the plane itself, but hey, it could happen. But to be clear, that is not canon.

What would be considered “corruption” in the view of the different religions and why?

That’s far too broad a question for me to answer in detail here, especially because even the major religions could have sub-sects or cults with weird beliefs. But for the most part, the same things we consider corruption in our world. To the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns represent the virtues you should live by. Care for your community; obey the law; respect nature; if you must fight, do so with courage and honor. The Silver Flame charges its members to protect the innocent, show compassion, and fight evil both by your daily behavior and, when necessary, physically. The Blood of Vol likewise tells the faithful to care for their community, to work together, and to do what they can to free humanity from suffering and death. The Tairnadal faith is slightly different, because its core commandment is emulate your patron ancestor; if your patron ancestor was cruel, it is your religious duty to be cruel as well. I just don’t have the time to get into all the other possibilities here, like what members of a Mockery cult might believe. But generally speaking, all the major faiths encourage behavior that strengthens communities, because that’s a main reason they ended up being major faiths in the first place.

In one of my campaigns, Zilargo was essentially controlled by a Dark Six cult… the main plan of the cult is: “show how these things can be accepted, so the Dark Six can come back in the main religion”.

While that’s not part of canon Eberron, per canon Zilargo is I believe the only Thronehold nation in which you will find temples to the Dark Six operating out in the open. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting: 

The people of Zilargo are extremely broad-minded when it comes to religion. Most gnomes try a few religions before settling on a single patron deity. Some never make a final choice; there are gnomes who attend and even perform services for both the Sovereign Host and the Silver Flame. Temples to virtually all religions can be found in the major cities of Zilargo. Korranberg even contains a temple dedicated to the Dragon Below, although the adherents are more philosophical and less disturbing than the fanatics of the Shadow Marches. Despite this seemingly cavalier attitude, most gnomes take religion very seriously; they simply don’t see a conflict in following more than one god.

First of all, there are gnomes who explore every path. Temples of the Fury hold ecstatic celebrations, and monks of the Shadow plumb the deepest mysteries of magic. Zilargo is a place where you can go and debate peacefully with a priest of the Devourer. But the last sentence of the paragraph above gets to the point that many gnomes look to the larger picture. Gods or divine power sources – however you prefer to view them – are part of reality. To the degree that it’s possible, why not try to embrace them all?

By the way, maybe you like to know that there is a canon cleric of no particular deity: Haneela d’Jorasco, cleric 13 in Fairheaven (Five Nations manual). She resurrect for money and channel “the spiritual remnants of Dragon Above, so she’s affiliated with no particular deity”. She is even a pretty powerful cleric for Eberron standards.

Good catch! I didn’t work on Five Nations, so I’m not surprised this slipped my notice. As I said above, I traditionally make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I feel a Clr13 is a very powerful individual to have in a minor commercial role; if I were to develop either Fairhaven or Jorasco in more detail, I’d personally expand on her character and her role in the house.

Now, Haneela is an example of what’s laid out on page 35 of the Eberron Campaign Setting… and it wouldn’t surprise me if the designer put her in there just so SOMEONE is shown as following that path. With that said, the point of channeling the Dragon Above is that you can follow a personal faith… and in Haneela’s case WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS IS. It’s possible that she is actually a Siberys cultist; she’s drawing her power from the Ring, and Siberys is one of the greatest life-giving forces imaginable. His blood is the source of magic, and as such, it is through his suffering and sacrifice that she has the power to heal. Personally, I’d be very tempted to make her a sort of Frankenstein. Essentially, her faith is in herself and her healing abilities: she has absolute faith that she can conquer any disease or ailment. Because she’s not worshipping a god, the trappings of this can be whatever you decide… so she could use strange unguents or tools that simply don’t work for anyone else but work wonders when SHE uses them. She comes to the dead man and says “Oh, he’s not dead; he’s just Mostly Dead. He just needs a dose of my patented Lifer-Upper!” … which mysteriously doesn’t work for anyone but her. If you could somehow cause her to doubt herself, she would lose her powers.

Essentially, I don’t like having a cleric of that power floating around with no apparent depth to her story… and if I ever delve into Fairhaven in more detail, I’ll definitely address it.

The point is that she has all the power and spells of a cleric. She can turn undead, fight better than most of warriors and cast offensive spells.

… Which is why usually make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I suspect that the original author just wanted someone who could cast resurrection and stuck her in there to fill that role, without consider how much power a 13th level PC-class character has in Eberron. Note that she’s not described as a mighty champion of the house; she is purely described as a healer, albeit one who’s frankly willing to do it for a low profit margin.

So, true: as a player character, a 13th level cleric can do all the things you describe. But remember that a core principle of Eberron is that the players are the heroes… that there aren’t a lot of other people out there who can step up and solve epic problems if they arise. Most of the most powerful benevolent entities are seriously handicapped in some way. Oalian is a tree. Jaela is a child who loses most of her power if she leaves Flamekeep. If I were to use Haneela as a villain – the secret mastermind behind the Nosomantic Chirugeons and Jorasco’s bioweapons research, for example – I would keep all her power intact so she could pose a challenge to players. But if I were to use her as she’s presented – essentially, a source of healing with no other dynamic role in the city – I would want to add something to explain WHY she couldn’t solve big problems on her own. Here’s a few examples.

  • Just because she CAN cast offensive spells doesn’t mean she has or ever will. A cleric gets the spells they ask for; if Haneela views her spellcasting in the Frankenstein manner I described above, she’d never actually ask for a Flame Strike because it makes no sense with her faith and view of her magic.
  • Ditto for undead. If she’s never encountered an undead creature in her life, she may not know she has that power. Again, every PLAYER cleric knows their full capabilities; that doesn’t mean every NPC has to.
  • She could be crippled in some way, just like Jaela. Perhaps she’s incredibly old, and all her physical stats are in the 6-7 range. Perhaps she’s missing an arm or a leg; because she was born with this deformity, regeneration won’t heal it (I’m making up that restriction on regeneration, but it makes sense to me).

My point is simply that there can always be a difference between a PC and an NPC. If you want to use her as a mighty force, you certainly can; and hey, nosomantic chiurgeons are creepy. But as written, she seems to be a passive healer – and there are things you could do to ensure that she remains in that role.

“Belief without evidence” as a definition of faith is something that has, of course, come up in this discussion. But insanity is belief without evidence too. Where does the difference lie? Does one have to go far enough to DENY OR RATIONALIZE contrary evidence to count as faithful enough to be a cleric and stay that way? Do clerics have to refuse to think objectively in favor of twisting whatever they see to conform to their preconceptions? Or is there, in fact, an actual difference between faith and insanity?

Good question. I’ve incorporated the answers to many of these questions in the description of divine magic presented above. As noted there, the answer is that you can listen to reason and you can question faith. With that said, let’s look at a number of Eberron’s religions very specifically here. My question to you is what rational argument or event would cause this individual to completely lose their faith?

  • The followers of the Silver Flame believe that the Silver Flame is a source of divine power that exists to protect the innocent from evil. This power holds demons at bay and answers the call of selfless souls who seek to fight the darkness. And it does this. They don’t assert that this power created the universe, or that it dictates any actions anyone takes; they simply say that it exists as a tool for those who are worthy, and that we should all strive to be worthy. They further assert that there is a Shadow in the Flame that tempts us to do evil. They acknowledge that humans are flawed and can do evil, and say that human evil should whenever possible be fought with compassion instead of with the sword. The Silver Flame does exist; it does hold demons at bay; and it does answer the call of those who seek to protect the innocent.
  • The Sovereign Host, essentially, is a very laid-back faith. It’s not uptight about doctrine. It has a very loose hierarchy; in some villages, you’ll see the local blacksmith considered to be the highest spiritual authority because people believe he is close to Onatar. The followers of the faith believe that the Sovereigns are with us at all times, and guide those who will listen to them; but they also believe that Dol Dorn guides the hand of EVERY war, regardless of which side he fights on or whether he believes in the Sovereigns himself. Further, they have the Dark Six as a way of explaining why bad things happen. You fell pray to the Fury, your fields were wrecked by a storm sent by the Devourer, your loved one who died was taken by the Keeper. So we have an explanation for things both good and bad; we don’t EXPECT the Sovereigns to appear to us in a concrete form; and we have a very loose creed so we don’t get tangled up in contradicting gospels.
  • The Blood of Vol calls bulls**t on the claim that bad things happen because of the Dark Six. What just god would allow death and suffering? If there was any benevolent power in the universe, the universe would be a better place. All we have is each other, and the only life we have is the one we know. The Seekers expect the worst, so the main way to shake the faith of a Seeker would be to somehow prove that there IS a benevolent plan to the universe, and if you can find an irrefutable logical argument that proves that to be the case, I would love to hear it!

So, let’s take an event that can – and in my opinion has – shake the faith of anyone: The Mourning. The senseless and inexplicable death of hundreds of thousands of people. In my opinion, many people HAVE lost their faith over the Mourning, as shown by Daine in The Dreaming Dark. But how can a person of faith have a logical debate with someone about it without simply sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “LALALA?”

  • Silver Flame: This changes nothing about my faith. The Silver Flame exists to empower us to defend the innocent from supernatural evil; the Mourning is exactly the sort of force it empowers us to fight. We cannot lose our faith in this moment of crisis; we must cling to it and use that strength to ensure that this never happens again.
  • Sovereign Host. Lots of different possibilities here. First off, the Shadow governs dark magic; the Traveler loves chaos; the Devourer is the lord of Destruction; and the Keeper seeks to capture the souls of the dead. All four have an easy stake in inspiring the Mourning. So my faith HAS a rational explanation for this. And just as Onatar guides the hands of the smith, evidence that this was done by humans wouldn’t shake that belief; instead, it simply goes right along with it. Of COURSE it was crazy Cannith researchers who caused the Mourning… because they were inspired by the Shadow or the Traveler. Essentially, the faith in the Sovereign Host is like water; it can fairly easily flow around obstacles without having to smash them down.
  • Blood of Vol. This is what I’ve been telling you all along. If there are gods, they hate us and will do S#!t like this for fun. This is why we need to stick together.
  • Tairnadal. My faith has nothing to do with why things like this happen; what I need to worry about is how my patron ancestor would respond to it.

If you can present me with a specific example of a rational argument and how a rational member of a specific faith might deal with it, I’m happy to take a crack at it.

As a fun side note, in the novel The Gates of Night, Lei’s father claims to know who caused the Mourning. If you read all the subtext, he’s talking about The Traveler. Lei’s parents are Traveler cultists, and his point is that whatever mortal instrument was used, the Traveler set it in motion as a force of change and evolution. At the time the novel was released, a lot of people said “I thought you said there would never be a canon answer – but he says he knows it!” He has an answer, but it’s an answer driven by faith as opposed to fact.

My next Eberron Q&A will be about Druids, but my next post will be about Phoenix: Dawn Command. Feel free to post your questions or comments about either below!

Dragonmarks 2/26: Teleportation, Warforged, Paladins and More!

It’s a very busy time for me right now. I just got back from Portland Comic Con, Gamestorm is coming up, and I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. I’m itching to start talking about Codex, and in the future Codex discussions will be interspersed with Dragonmarks. However, I’ve still got a few things I want to finish up first, so for this week, it’s more Eberron questions. As always, all answers are my personal opinion and may contradict canon sources!

This week we have a few different topics: warforged, paladins of Aerenal, Overlords of the Age of Demons, teleportation, and more. First up: WARFORGED AND HOUSE CANNITH.

How do you see Warforged evolving and where do you see their race going in the future?

First off, I’ll point out that warforged are capable of physically evolving. The Reforged and Warforged Juggernaut prestige classes both involve a physical transformation; the warforged juggernaut actually grows heavier armor and spikes. Warforged are fundamentally magical entities, and they are living constructs; there’s more to this than just being sentient. So I think it’s quite possible that if you jumped forward a hundred years, you’d find a vast range of unique warforged who have adapted to different environments and circumstances.

With that said, the greatest obstacle in their evolution as a race and their future is their inability to procreate. The Lord of Blades is trying to address this by seizing control of a creation forge and finding a way to make it work. In The Dreaming Dark novels, Lei’s parents explore a different solution to the issue of warforged procreation. Following the previous path, perhaps some warforged could evolve the ability to procreate. However, if any of these come to pass, how will the rest of the world react? The threat of the warforged is limited because of their numbers. If the Lord of Blades is found to be producing new warforged, will nations or houses band together to stop him?

If Cannith permanently split into West/East/South, can you see them becoming “Corporations”, or what would happen?

If they permanently split, I think they would logically seek to become separate houses individually recognized by the Twelve; after all, Thuranni and Phiarlan have paved the way for this. The only question I see is if one of them would instead choose to ally directly with a nation as opposed to becoming a smaller house… if Jorlanna would ally with Aundair, for example. There’s also the question if any would keep the Cannith name. In the case of Phiarlan, the larger house kept the original name, and I suspect the same would hold true here.

Next up: TELEPORTATION AND HOUSE ORIEN.

House Orien controls teleportation in Khorvaire, but it is unclear what you are actually paying for. The Campaign setting says that teleportation is 10 gp per mile.  But they left the service description out of the book.  From reading the rest of the Eberron Campaign Setting (ECS) and having a little knowledge about some of the novels I believe the mode of transportation is a teleportation circle.  Is that true?

It depends what you’re playing, and exposes the challenge of multisystem design.

Eberron was designed for the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The premise was that magic of up to third level was fairly well integrated into society. Higher-level magic – such as teleportation – was not. It’s possible to pay Orien for teleportation, but what you are paying for is to have an heir with the Siberys Mark of Passage transport you using the once-per-day power of his mark. Looking to random locations where I know this is discussed, it’s called out on page 11 of Secrets of Xen’drik—which includes the percentage chance of finding such an heir on any given day in Khorvaire’s largest cities—and page 67 of City of Stormreach, which suggests that a teleporter comes to Stormreach about once every three days. So it’s a service that exists, but it’s not reliable; per SoX you could be waiting in Korth ten days before a teleporter shows up. With this in mind, I’ll note that the idea of charging “by the mile” makes no sense at all. It doesn’t make that much difference to the teleporter whether you’re going five miles or a thousand, and you’re using his daily charge either way; so the idea that you could pay ten gp to teleport ten miles is just silly. Any sort of teleportation is going to cost thousands. It’s a service that only the very wealthy can afford, and even they can’t always get it.

By contrast, Secrets of Sarlona reveals that Riedra is a nation that does have institutionalized teleportation circles and goes into detail about them. This was always intended to be a concrete difference between Riedra and Khorvaire, a reflection of the supernatural power of the Inspired and a contributing factor to the unity of their culture.

Then Fourth Edition comes along.

In 4E, Linked Portal is a level 8 ritual that allows the user to access a network of circles, described in the ritual as being at “most major temples, important wizards’ guilds, and large cities.” We address this on page 45 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide, stating that House Orien maintains Khorvaire’s network of linked portals and heirs perform the ritual for travelers. I show this system at work in The Fading Dream.

With that said, I don’t particularly LIKE this system. It’s too institutional and advanced for 998 YK Khorvaire as presented in Eberron, and makes airships and lightning rail travel largely obsolete. As such, unless I’m running a 4E campaign, I would ignore it completely and keep teleportation as a rare and expensive service.

If it is a circle does it function just like the teleportation circle spell or did you have a few tweaks you were planning on? If they use circles, where are they? Which leads me to another question – how frequent would the guild houses be; every outpost or town? If that is true, how are they operated?  The way I understand the teleportation circle spell is that it can teleport you anywhere.  From reading the ECS I get the impression that the House of Orien uses a connected network of circles to jump from point to point.   Which is more correct?

By default 3.5 rules, there is no circle service at all: you hitch a ride with an individual teleporter with a Siberys mark. By 4E rules, it’s not using teleportation circle, it’s using linked portal. As such it only provides direct transportation between portals. The ECG says “House Orien maintains an extensive network of permanent teleportation circles in cities throughout the Five Nations. Outside the Five Nations, circles are less widespread, limited to the larger cities and national capitals.”

Again, while it’s there to accommodate 4E rules, this system doesn’t fit my personal vision of Eberron in 998 YK. It makes travel to remote locations too quick and casual; I’d rather that a trip to Stormreach be significant as opposed to a quick stop down at the Orien enclave.

Who operates the circle? Is it a high level mage or is any house member capable of operating them? The last teleport question, how does the house member know where the traveler wants to go?  If I understand the spell correctly the caster can travel anywhere as long as they are familiar with the location.

If we’re talking circles, then we’re talking 4E’s linked portals. Which means you tell the house member the destination city and they take you to the portal. It’s not as flexible as a 3.5 teleportation circle spell.

Next topic: PALADINS AND THE DEATHLESS.

One of the tasks that was trusted to me by the GM was creating a Paladin from Aerenal.   We felt that some of the standard Paladin abilities just didn’t fit.  So I changed a couple of things. We dropped turn undead.  We felt the undying and undead were too closely related for the purpose of what the ability did.  So we turned to Pathfinder and borrowed the Channel Positive Energy ability.  It allows the Paladin to heal injuries or deal damage to negative energy undead.   We both thought that fit the flavor of Aerenal much better.

While you didn’t ask this as a question, allow me to address it. if this is something you’re doing for ALL paladins in order to give paladins a more distinct role from clerics—which I’d argue is the goal of the Pathfinder shift—bravo. However, if you’re saying that you’d specifically change the ability for paladins of the Undying Court because they work closely with the Deathless, I have to disagree. The Deathguard—which most of the paladins of the Undying Court are part of—is specifically charged with seeking out and destroying negative energy undead, and Turn Undead is obviously a potent tool in that war. As for the deathless, it allows them to “rebuke” deathless. But what does this actually MEAN? When you rebuke undead, they are either awed (and leave you alone) or controlled. That’s the mechanical effect, but what’s the in-game explanation? To me, it’s a matter of the deathless voluntarily recognizing and respecting the authority of the paladin. It is no different from a police officer flashing his badge and demanding that people either stand aside (awed), or commandeering civilian resources to deal with a crime (controlled). If you portray the deathless as fighting against it and being forced to comply against its will, it seems highly inappropriate… so don’t. Portray the deathless as choosing to alter its behavior of its own free will because of the paladin/cleric’s display of divine authority. The Paladin is the agent of the entire Undying Court; if the paladin is high enough level, that gives them enough clout to ask a favor of an individual deathless.

With that said, if the power is abused for trivial purposes, it is just like a cop commandeering your car and then using it to buy donuts. He could DO it, but if you report it to his superiors, he’ll get in trouble for doing it. A paladin who abuses his authority—rebuking without good reason—should suffer the same sort of disciplinary action from the mortal authorities of the Court.

And bear in mind, any positively aligned cleric/paladin can rebuke deathless. A paladin of the Silver Flame or Path of Light can do it. If you follow my interpretation, this is because the Deathless recognizes them as agents of a benevolent divine force and chooses to work with them; it’s interagency cooperation in the name of greater good. If you take a forced-into-slavery approach and take the power away from Aereni paladins, you have the strange situation of Kalashtar paladins being able to command deathless when the Deathguard can’t.

Where I am struggling though is the spells.   With the background of all the arcana in Aerenal should the Aerenal paladin have access to arcane magic instead of divine?  

A lot of people focus on Aerenal’s arcane achievements. In 4E people sometimes ask if Aereni elves should have a bonus to Intelligence instead of Wisdom. But bear in mind that while Aerenal is relatively advanced in matters of arcane magic, its greatest achievement by far is divine. Aerenal has created a god. The Undying Court is the only active, sentient force in the setting that wields full divine power. It’s equivalent to the Silver Flame, but you can actually go and talk to the beings that are a part of it. And an Aereni paladin is a direct agent of than conscious, active divine force. Frankly, no one has a better justification for wielding divine magic than an Aereni paladin, called by the Court to act as its hand in the world. If you want to reflect the tradition of the arcane, multiclass as wizard. You could even use something like the Silver Pyromancer PrC from the Silver Flame. But I see no reason to take away an Aereni paladin’s divine spellcasting ability; if anything, I’d expand it.

Turning from the divine to the demonic, it’s time for OVERLORDS AND THE UNDEAD.

Is there a list of all the rajah already published somewhere? With the rajah’s theme, location and where to find the full writeup?

I’ve never done it. However, Lord Gore at the WotC forums put together this list, which may be the most comprehensive around.

  1. Bel Shalor the Shadow in the Flame (Tamor Hills, Khorvaire) ECG page 29
  2. Dral Khatuur the Heart of Winter (Frostfell) female overlord Druid 25/Sorcerer 15/Frost MageFb 10 Death, ColdFb, WinterFb unpublished
  3. Eldrantulku the Oathbreaker (unknown) NE male overlord rogue 15/sorcerer 15/mindbenderCAr 10 CorruptionBoVD, Trickery Dr 337 pages 63, 69-70
  4. Katashka the Gatekeeper (Lair of the Keeper, Khorvaire) LE male overlord cleric 8/wizard 8/true necromancerLM 14 Deathbound, UndeathECS DoE page 36, Dr 337 page 70, ECG page 30
  5. Rak Tulkhesh the Rage of War (Khorvaire) NE male overlord fighter 15/blackguard 10/cleric 15 Destruction, War Dr 337 pages 65, 70; ECG page 31
  6. Ran Iishiv the Unmaker (Korrandar, Sarlona) SoS page 12
  7. Sakinnirot the Scar that Abides (Stormreach, Xen’drik) CoS page 156
  8. Shudra the Fleshrender (Mel-Aqat, Xen’drik) PGtE page 155, TFoW page 127
  9. Sul Khatesh the Keeper of Secrets (Arcanix, Khorvaire) LE female overlord wizard 36/archmage 4 Knowledge, Magic CoS 89, Dr 337 pages 60, 68; ECG page 31
  10. Tiamat the Daughter of Khyber (Pit of Five Sorrows, Argonnessen) DoE page 9
  11. Tul Oreshka the Truth in the Darkness (unknown) CE female overlord bard 20/wizard 10/loremaster 10 Madness, ShadowECS Dr 337 pages 64, 70
  12. Unnamed (Krertok Peninsula, Sarlona) SoS page 12
  13. Unnamed (Sustrai Mor, Sarlona) SoS page 91
  14. Unnamed (Tempest’s Isle, Lhazaar Principalities) PGtE page 99 possibly a rajah
  15. Yad-Raghesh (The Vale of the Fallen Rajah, Argonnessen) colossal two-headed overlord DoE page 50 “dead”

I believe that Sul Khatesh is the only one that’s received a complete 3.5 writeup, in Dragon 337. I’ll also note that I prefer the term Overlord. “Rajah” tends to get subsumed into “rakshasa rajah”—and while the Overlords rule the rakshasa, they are not themselves rakshasa.

Is there any connection between Katashka the Gatekeeper and other prominent undead-themed entities (eg Vol and her followers).

Not according to canon. However, you could always decide that Katashka is connected to all negatively empowered undead, whether they know it or not… and that Vol, Kaius, and other influential undead are all secretly pawns in the Overlord’s plans. This certainly seems like a fine approach for starting with the Emerald Claw as a heroic tier threat, moving to Vol herself in paragon, and then bringing Katashka in as the true epic threat. For those wanting to know a little more about Katashka, check out Dragon 337 or this Eberron Expanded article.

I just read the original ECS and it gave the impression that the Blood of Vol worship/idolize undead, when I recall that this has been clarified as not true in later books; what is going on with the Blood of Vol?

I’m not sure exactly what the question is here. You are absolutely correct that I consider the depiction of the Blood of Vol in the original ECS to be flawed. They don’t idolize undead; however, many or their martyrs and champions ARE undead, which can cause others to think this. Later books give a more rounded view of the Seekers. Here’s a quick description I wrote a little while ago…

The Blood of Vol is based on the question “What just god would allow suffering and death?” – with the conclusion “None, so the gods must be our enemies.” It’s tied to the fact that the people of Eberron KNOW what the afterlife is like, and it’s not pretty. The Elven religions seek to avoid going to Dolurrh; the Silver Flame believes its people join with the Flame; and the Vassals say “Well, we go to Dolurrh, but you just don’t understand what it really is.” The Seekers say “You’re kidding yourself. Dolurrh is extinction. But we have the divine spark within us. We can become gods – and even if we can’t, we will spit in the face of death.”

What I really need to do is to get all these Q&As organized into a master list by subject. Until then, take a look at this Q&A – there’s a lot about the BoV there.

And finally, a little RANDOM STUFF.

I’m sorry if this has been asked before, but you said the scale of Khorvaire was incorrect. How so?

I feel that the Five Nations should be on the scale of France and England; by the original maps, they’re on the same scale as Russia and China. It’s a question of travel time between nations, the logical impact an army traveling on foot can have, and similar things.

Apart from some druids, are there people that consider magic as dangerous or evil? What if its use did caused the mourning?

If it caused the Mourning, then you might want to listen to the Ashbound and Children of Winter or there might be another Mourning soon. I don’t believe we’ve specifically described any antimagic groups in canon, but I’m sure there are some out there.

 

Dragonmarks 2/20: Demons and Deathless!

I’d planned on talking about Codex this week, but for a number of reasons I’m holding back on that for another week. However, if you’re going to be at Wizard World Portland Comic Con this weekend, I’ll be discussing it at my Eberron & Beyond talk, Saturday at 2 PM.

Today I’m just going to pull some questions out of the Eberron mailbag. As always, these are just my opinions, and some contradict canon material. So there!

Are the demons of the planes connected to the fiends of Khyber? Is a balor from Fernia Khyber-spawned?

Yes and no. The progenitor wyrms created all of the planes, and some show the influence of one progenitor over the others. So a balor from Fernia is Khyber-spawned in the sense that it was created by the progenitor wyrm Khyber… but it has no innate connection to the physical Khyber found in the material plane.

Tied to this is the fact that fiends embody specific concepts. Fernia is fire. Benevolent outsiders from Fernia embody the positive aspects of fire: its light drives away the darkness; its warmth keeps us alive; it purifies wounds and drives off dangerous predators; it gives the heat that fuels the forge. Fiends of Fernia embody the negative aspects of fire. Chaotic fiends embody the terrifying destructive force of it, the uncontrollable flames that consume homes and cities. Lawful fiends embody the terrible uses fire can be put to—fire as a weapon of war or torture, harnessed as an intentional engine of destruction.

A balor of Fernia and a balor of Khyber have the same game statistics. But they represent different things. They will have very different personalities and goals, and I would personally have them be physically distinct from one another. The balor of Fernia is an embodiment of wild fire, and should be flame incarnate. The fiends of Khyber are more generally spirits of terror and pure malevolent evil; a Khyberian balor will wield fire, but it will be less fiery in its appearance, and interested in a broader range of goals; it will also owe fealty to one of the overlords of the Age of Demons, which will further determine its theme and behavior.

I have a follow up. Say that the aforementioned Balor of Fernia found its way to Eberron. Through a portal or summoning ritual or whatever. Would said Balor fall in line with one of the Overlords and its agents, or would the fiery Balor have its own agenda.

A Fernian balor embodies the terrifying chaotic destructive power of fire. As such, it might be tricked into serving the ends of an Overlord, but its prime interest will be laying waste to cities and otherwise spreading fire and fear. The key point here is that extraplanar spirits embody ideas, and that determines their goals and purpose. If there is an Overlord that offers them the opportunity to pursue their ends or help them in other ways (protection or vengeance from enemies, for example) they might ally. But there’s no innate all-Balors-must-serve-Overlord-Bob thing going on.

One of the most detailed sources on the Lords of Dust is the article Eternal Evil, written back when Dragon was a print magazine. This includes bios of six members of the Council of Ashtakala. One is a Fernian pit fiend who serves the Truth in the Darkness, and another is a Mabaran succubus allied with the Oathbreaker.

It has been confirmed that dinosaurs roam the Talenta Plains, but in one of the adventure books I believe, there was a mention of a Swordtooth (Tyrannosaurus) in Khorvaire. Are dinosaurs present in Qbarra? If so, how are they different from their cousins in Xendrik?

I don’t think that it has ever been stated in any canon source. But my opinion is that Q’barra is a cradle for reptilian life on Khorvaire. The lizardfolk domesticated dinosaurs long before the Talentans did, and it may well have been the expansionist dragonborn who brought domesticated dinosaurs to the Talenta Plains. If you haven’t read it, I’d advise you to check out my Explore Q’barra article, which discusses the reptilian cultures of Q’barra in more detail.

At the core, I don’t think there are any fundamental differences between dinosaurs of Xen’drik and Q’barra. However, Q’barra was once the domain of the demon overlord known as Masvirik, AKA the Cold Sun. Masvirik has the power to corrupt and influence reptilian creatures, as seen in the Poison Dusk humanoids and the corrupted dragon Rhashaak. As reptilian creatures, dinosaurs could certainly be touched by the Cold Sun. I would expect such tainted dinosaurs to have half-fiend traits. If you refer to the Explore Q’Barra articles I wrote for DDI, I could also see dinosaurs being used as dusk shard vessels. So you might have a swordtooth possessed by an ancient demon!

Given the history of elves and giant magic, would giants have also had a number of Deathless or did the elves do that alone?

There’s a few conflicting versions of this in canon material. This is MY opinion on the matter.

The elves didn’t learn how to create deathless from the giants. On the contrary, Aeren’s death was the primary spark that led to all three of the elves’ traditions. Aeren led the elves out of Xen’drik and died in the process. The elves had lost their savior, and also had time to reflect on how many of their greatest heroes had been lost in battle against the giants. While no one can know with certainty the final fate of the dead, what is know is that souls go to Dolurrh and appear to fade away – that the dead are truly lost. The elves swore that their next heroes would not be lost so easily… but the settlers of Aerenal came from many different cultures, and they split along cultural lines.

  • The warrior progenitors of the Tairnadal tradition chose to preserve the spirits of their heroes by becoming their avatars in the world; the dead heroes live on through their descendants.
  • The founders of the Undying Court sought to ensure that their greatest heroes simply never died. However, their techniques rely on positive energy: the devotion freely given by those who worship the Court, and by the massive manifest zones to Irian that exist on Aerenal.
  • The flaw with both of the preceding approaches is that they depend on living elves. If no elves embody a Tairnadal ancestor, it will be lost. If no one worshipped the Undying Court, its power would fade. The line of Vol was determined to give their heroes the power to survive at any cost; even if the last living elf dies, Erandis Vol will still exist. They drew on the techniques of the Qabalrin elves and developed the foundation of modern necromancy.

We’ve never described the giants as having a religious culture like that of the Undying Court, which serves as a source of positive energy. It could be done with the existence of a powerful manifest zone, but I don’t really see it. Deathless is the most passive form of undeath, and the giants of Xen’drik were anything but passive. What I’ve suggested elsewhere is that the titans cheated death by becoming Vestiges… so an entirely different path.

Is there religious intrigue in Eberron? Factions of the SF attempting to split or vying for power? Jealousy of the SH?

In a word? Yes.

To go into more detail, there’s intrigue within and between all of the faiths of Eberron, from the Silver Flame to the Path of Light. The Sovereign Host is broken into more sects than you can shake an Octogram at. The Silver Flame already has defined intrigue between the core faith, the Pure Flame, the Whispering Flame, the Stormreach separatists, factions loyal to different cardinals and more… and that’s not even bringing the Ghaash’kala, Shulassakar, or Cold Sun Federation into the equation. The Blood of Vol has intrigue between those who believe in the core principles of the faith, and groups loyal to Erandis or who only see the faith as a path to power. Within the Path of Light you have the passive traditionalists of the Adaran path and those who advocate aggressive action. And that’s just what we’ve seen so far; there’s certainly room to add more intrigue if you want it.

Do you consider Khorvaire’s economy to be industrial or post-industrial?

I’d say it’s an industrial society moving towards a post-industrial economy. You have the magewright as the driving force of the magical economy, but the future lies in the new ideas of the Twelve and the Arcane Congress. Of course, Khorvaire has an economy unlike our world in that there are a great deal of monopolies. The Dragonmarked Houses have proprietary control of many vital tools; it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you can’t make a warforged without a creation forge. Of course, it could be that brilliant innovators—such as PC artificers or wizards—could find some way to break one or more of those monopolies.

What are the things hanging from the belt of the Lord of Blades on the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide?

Only Wayne Reynolds knows for sure. However, if I had to come up with an answer, I’d say that they are the schema-keys of Cannith artificers he’s killed.

What would an Eberron-inspired arcane lighthouse look like for you?

It entirely depends on who’s making it. Generally speaking, it would simply be a very large everburning lantern – a beacon of cold flame with amplifying lenses. The Aereni elves would be more likely to tap ambient positive energy, creating something more graceful and without any “flame”. Thrane might do something similar tapping the power of the Silver Flame, in which case it would have religious trappings, while one built during the war in Karrnath by Blood of Vol engineers might be empowered by bound ghosts.

Dragonmarks 1/25: Codex, Cannith, and Changes I’d Make

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Eberron Q&A, largely because I’ve been spending most of my spare time working on my new setting, codenamed Codex (working title only – it’s my Blue Harvest). But I don’t want to neglect Eberron, and a few of these questions segue into my upcoming Codex post. As always, my answers are just my opinion and may contradict canon sources: it’s up to you to decide what to use!

If there were anything you’d change about as-published Eberron, what would it be? What would you add or expand?

Lots of things. I wish we’d had more space to talk about the planes and undersea nations. I’d like more information about the spells and weapons used during the Last War, and more information about what war in Eberron actually looks like (and how these things could affect a post-war story). I wish we’d been able to provide more support for goblins as PCs. I wish we’d gotten the scale right on the original map of Khorvaire. Most of these are practical things that I believe would improve the setting for other players & DMs. There’s other changes that are more about what I want in a world, but don’t necessarily serve anyone else’s needs. I’d like the history of Galifar to have been shorter and a little more dramatic. I’d like more restrictions on resurrection and more of an exploration of its impact on society. There are lots of other little details like this, but they’re more for my peace of mind than because they interfere with people’s ability to enjoy the world.

As you progress in future RPGs/settings/etc, are there themes you tried exploring in Eberron that you’ll try to explore more?

Certainly. Looking at just a few…

  • The Impact of Magic on a Society. Any time I’m working on a world or system that involves magic, I want to seriously consider its impact on the world around it, and how it could be incorporated into a culture. Codex is at a different point in the history of magic than Eberron, and there’s more of a breakdown of different cultures employing different forms/schools of magic. But the basic idea—if magic exists and is reliable, how will it change the world—is definitely there.
  • War. There are many different ways in which war can generate stories. Eberron dealt with a civil war shattering a major kingdom. Codex will do something different… but war and its impact on the people caught up in it is certainly a theme that will be present.
  • Dreams. I’ve always loved exploring dreams. The very first RPG piece I had published was essentially Inception rules for Over The Edge. I wrote Oneiromancy rules for Atlas Games’ Occult Lore. Eberron plays with the Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Codex is going in a different direction, but dreams have a role in the world.
  • Divine Mysteries and the Importance of Faith. Codex takes a very different approach to the divine than Eberron does. But it is still a world in which faith matters, where the absolute nature of the divine remains a mystery to mortals.
  • Shades of Gray. There’s always a place for the cut-and-dried pulp villain; when you fight the Emerald Claw, you generally know you’re doing the right thing. But as a noir fan, I want the world as a whole to be less black and white.

That’s just off the top of my head. I like conspiracies and intrigue, so you can be sure you’ll see a lot of schemes going on. I like to think about monsters—what are their cultures and drives? If I took another ten minutes, I’d likely come up with ten more answers, but I’ll get to those in the future.

Do the Five Nations have or seek to have colonies?

Colonization isn’t a strong theme in Eberron. By the numbers, the Five Nations aren’t even fully utilizing the land they currently claim; there’s no desperate need for new land. Beyond that, there’s not a lot of appealing land to colonize. Sarlona and Argonnessen are already taken, the Frostfell is hardly appealing, and Xen’drik is a cursed, twisted land full of dangerous things.

With that said, colonization and exploration are themes I’ll be exploring in Codex.

The Silver Flame infamously conducted a pogrom vs. lycanthropes. Has it similarly campaigned against other supernatural types?

Sure. Remember all those demon overlords trapped in Khyber? They’re the end result of the very first Silver Flame pogrom versus a supernatural threat. Of course, that predates HUMAN worship of the Silver Flame. In modern times, there’s nothing on par with the purge of lycanthropy, but in part that’s because there’s never been a threat that called for it. The Purge was a response to a massive outbreak of infectious lycanthropy; if left unchecked, this would have consumed and destroyed human civilization on Khorvaire. The forces of the Flame met this head on, and once it was broken, took steps to eliminate it completely. If there was, say, a zombie apocalypse, they’d act with the same ruthless efficiency to hunt down and destroy all vectors of zombie infection. There hasn’t been such a large-scale obvious threat, and so we haven’t seen such a thing. But on a smaller scale, the Silver Flame is CONSTANTLY campaigning against supernatural threats. That’s the purpose of the Templars: Protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Are there ghouls in the graveyard? The templars will check it out when they arrive. Is Dela possessed? Call for an exorcist of the Silver Flame! People often see the Silver Flame as intolerant or overzealous, but it’s important to remember that Eberron is a world where there ARE rakshasa, vampires, and demons abroad in the world, where you could be possessed or where evil from Khyber could burst onto the surface at any time. If it does, the Templars are charged to face it and if necessary, to lay down their lives to protect you from it.

Is there a Cannith family tree w/the prominent family member’s dates of birth/death & so on? How old was Norran when he died?

I’ve never encountered or constructed a full Cannith family tree. I don’t believe there’s a canon source as to Norran’s age, so it’s up to you to decide what best suits your story.

Also would warforged eventually expire if sealed in a vault? If Cannith seals unwanted creations up, do they last forever?

Warforged don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe. As such, a warforged could survive for a very, very long time if it was sealed in a vault. Do they last FOREVER? That depends on the environment. If you stored a suit of armor in this vault, would it still be intact and usable in a century? If the answer is “yes,” than a warforged stored in a similar way would also survive. If the environment lends itself to decay and corrosion, and if circumstances prevent the warforged from maintaining itself, it could fall pray to rot or corrosion. On the other hand, if it’s capable of moving and tending to itself, it could probably hold these things at bay. As defined, warforged have no set “expiration date,” and there are canon sources that deal with warforged created during the Age of Giants that are still operational.

Can a rakshasa truly worship the Silver Flame? If not, why don’t Silver Flame priests detect the evilness of disguised rakshasa?

This question originally dealt with the plot of a specific novel; to avoid spoilers, I’m addressing the general point. First, I don’t believe that a rakshasa can truly worship the Silver Flame… because if it does, it will cease to be a rakshasa and become something else. Immortal fiends are essentially incarnate ideas; if the idea changes substantially, I maintain that the creature will become something entirely different. A fallen angel becomes a radiant idol or a devil. A “risen” rakshasa would likewise take on a new form… perhaps that of a deva.

Given this, how do undercover rakshasa avoid detection? They have to be able to duplicate the powers of the roles they seek to fill. A rakshasa posing as a silver pyromancer has to learn some way to make his magic LOOK like that of a true silver pyromancer, even if it’s not. However, the Lords of Dust have had tens of thousands of years to work on this.  They have access to epic level spellcasters and hordes of treasure amassed since the dawn of time… so they can use magic items to help their disguises. One of the most important of these is the Mask of the Misplaced Aura, described on page 170 of Sharn: City of Towers; this is an amulet that gives the wearer a different aura for purposes of divination. So a rakshasa could have a MotMA that makes him show up as a 10th level lawful good cleric, even though he’s actually a 12th level lawful evil sorcerer/outsider.

What would change if the Twelve creates some magic equivalent firearms just for dragonmarked heirs?

It depends how effective they are compared to other weapons, from crossbows to eternal wands. Can they by any dragonmarked heir, or just one with a dragonmark? Do they require martial training, or are they mystically accurate (more like a longbow or a wand of magic missiles)? What’s the range? Do they automatically penetrate armor? How expensive are they—can every heir have them, or are they as rare as high-level sorcerers?

One of the underlying themes of Eberron is the uneasy balance of power between the nobility and the dragonmarked houses; the military power of the houses has been held in check by the Korth Edicts. If the houses acquire this new tool, there is the chance for them to be seen as a new military threat. I expect that the Five Nations would seek to ban them, just as they shut down Cannith’s creation forges. The question is if the Twelve would defy them, and what would happen if they do. Will all the houses stand together behind the Twelve, or would some break ranks? Are the nations prepared to forgo the services of the houses to enforce this point? Might they convince the Church of the Silver Flame that these firearmed dragonmarked heirs are a supernatural threat that endangers the innocent?

Ultimately, I think the answer largely depends on diplomacy and how these things are used. If they are used sparingly and in accord with the laws of the land, they might go largely unnoticed. On the other hand, if the houses flaunt them and engage in acts of aggression, it’s possible you could have an entirely different sort of Next War on your hands.

You mentioned a pulp hero named The Beholder. Would he be more like Batman or The Shadow?

The Beholder and her tagline (“No evil escapes the eyes of the Beholder!”) was inspired by the Shadow. The Beholder was a kalashtar with an assortment of agents (her “eyes”) she could communicate with telepathically to coordinate her war on the villains of Sharn.

Why may Aereni be interesting villains?

Hmm. The members of the Undying Court are tens of thousands of years old. They are one of the few forces who are capable of interpreting the Draconic Prophecy. Together, they wield divine power on par with the Silver Flame, if not as far reaching. They are capable of ruthless action in pursuit of their own interests, as shown by the extermination of the Line of Vol. Their power is limited beyond Aerenal, but can still be channeled through their priests and paladins. So, here’s a few ideas.

  • Take a page from Fringe. The Undying Court has been watching humanity for thousands of years. Now it acts. Through some unknown method, the Court extends its power to (Sharn/Stormreach/wherever), allowing them to wield their full divine power in this region. This allows them to shatter any organized military force that challenges them. Aereni soldiers commanded by deathless paladins seize control of the region and place it under martial law. They are constructing eldritch machines that will extend the range of their powers and allow the Ascendant Counselors to leave Shae Mordai. First off, WHY? Are they trying to save humanity from itself? Is this really an attack on the Lords of Dust/Chamber/Erandis Vol, who were about to do something big in the area?
  • Take it on a smaller scale. Aerenal decides that it won’t put up with the people of Khorvaire providing aid and support for its enemies (Erandis and the Emerald Claw). It begins to send military strike teams into the Five Nations to attack the Emerald Claw, and to hit areas with divine strikes. Aerenal considers these actions fully justified and is unconcerned about collateral damage. As an adventurer, you can easily get caught up in conflict with these forces, especially if you have any attachments to the Blood of Vol. Do you fight them? Strike back at Aerenal? Or try to help them finish their mission as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimize collateral damage?
  • If you’re an elf, chances are your ancestors at least passed through Aerenal. That means the Court knows something about you. Perhaps you have an ancestor on the Court. Or you have an ancient enemy on the Court who has been slowly eliminating your entire line. He’s finally gotten around to you. He’s coordinating strikes from Shae Mordai. Not only do you not know who he is, you don’t know the basis for the feud. Can you find the answers to these questions before it’s too late? How do you reach him in Shae Mordai?

Our local group is trying to get a better understanding of airships, which has made us curious about some of the choices used.  In the campaign setting book  airships use fire elementals and galleons use air elementals.  It just doesn’t make sense to us.  Why not just use air elementals for both ships?

A galleon uses an air elemental to generate wind which it harnesses with sails. The fire elemental works more like a rocket. With that said, some airships do employ air elementals; Pride of the Kraken from Principles of Fire used both an air and fire elemental.
I have been doing some research on flying fortresses.  In doing so I stumbled across a forum post that was speaking about the command center.  The post mentioned that it uses three bound elementals, earth, air, and fire. How does an earth elemental aid the flying fortress?

I don’t believe it’s my post, so I can’t say what the original author intended. However, I could see it as possibly being less about the interaction with the earth and more about enhancing the structural stability of the vessel.
If an elemental vessel loses its bound shard or it becomes damaged can it be repaired? Better yet can it be replaced?

Provided that it survives the experience, sure. If someone removes it while it’s docked, it could be replaced. And a galleon could lose its shard and continue under normal windpower. However, a large airship that loses its shard while in motion is going to crash, so a new shard is the least of your repair issues.
If shards are replaceable, would it then be possible to have a vessel that could swap crystals to take on different traits?

I don’t see why not. This would be an argument for a ship with multiple bound elementals—so you could still have one active to maintain the stability of the vessel while you switch out the other.
It seems that all of the Eberron publications only intend for the core elementals (air, earth, fire, and water) to be bound?  Do you have plans for the other elementals?  I know I do.  Is it possible that they can’t be bound?

I think any elemental should be able to be bound. I have no plans for them, but I certainly encourage you to run with the idea.

Besides Q&A it would be cool if you write short Eberron stories (FR authors do it).

I don’t know what FR authors do, but there’s a few factors here.

First, Eberron is the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast. If I wrote an Eberron story, they would be within their rights to order me to take it down or change it. Would they? I don’t know. But they COULD. There’s been issues in the past as to whether I could post an Eberron adventure on my site. And there’s certainly no way I could sell an Eberron story.

This ties to point number two, which is time. I don’t have a whole lot of it, and the freelance RPG business isn’t the most lucrative job in the world. As a result, I need to focus the time that I have on projects that I feel are going somewhere. I’d LIKE to finish the stories of Thorn and Daine and Lei. But those stories belong to WotC, and I can’t afford to work on a story that not only can’t I sell, but that I might not even be able to post for free. Hence my working on Codex. I want to work on something that I know I can expand. So I’d be thrilled if WotC authorizes me to do more Eberron fiction. But it’s not something I’m comfortable investing time in without that authorization.

Dragonmarks 6/14: Lightning Round 4!

Big week this week, but it may be two weeks before there’s another update; I’m getting ready to move back to Portland and there’s a lot of work to be done! As always, these are my personal thoughts and may not always mesh with canon sources. Take ’em for what they are worth.

Did you sneak any personal data into Eberron? Is “Eberron” the name of a favourite cat as a child? Is Merrix a best friend?

Bear in mind that not all the names are mine; many things changed in the big brainstorming phase when I was working with James Wyatt, Bill Slaviscek, Chris Perkins, and the rest, and many NPCs were developed in that phase. For example, I think it was Bill Slaviscek who came up with the name “Khorvaire”, so maybe someone in his family drove a Corvair. Everyone on the original design team left their marks on the world somewhere.

On my part, the only one that comes to mind is Greykeyll from Eye of the Wolf and City of Towers. In real life, Greykell is my adopted sister. The character in City of Towers essentially is her, dropped into Eberron. When I was developing ideas for the comic and decided to use a Cyran veteran, she seemed like a logical choice – and as I mentioned earlier, her background became much more interesting at that point. And hey, she’s got a great fantasy name!

The real Greykell!

Sharn and Stormreach are two cities that have seen a decent amount of source material. Are there any other cities that you would like to see fleshed out? Which ones and could you elaborate on what is interesting about those places?

I want to see EVERYTHING fleshed out. But I’ll pick out a few specific examples.

Graywall. I got started with this in this Dungeon Backdrop, but it’s one of my favorite cities and I’d love to do more. I love the frontier feel and the chance to explore monsters in a role beyond “the creatures you kill for treasure.” It’s also a great haven for dissidents, deserters, and war criminals. As I like to say, it’s Casablanca with more trolls.

Thaliost. It’s a powder keg right in the heart of the Five Nations, and a chance to take a deeper look at both Aundair and Thrane. it was something that was in the running for a 2012 Dragonshard, but Eston ended up winning the “undeveloped city” slot.

Pylas Talaear. This port city serves as the gateway to Aerenal. We haven’t taken a close look at what daily life is like in Aerenal, and what it’s like for foreigners who visit; I think it would be a great place to explore.

Atur. Ancient stronghold of the Blood of Vol in Karrnath. The crown has distanced itself from the faith, but Kaius still holds court in Nighthold. This is an interesting place to explore the full spectrum of the Blood of Vol and its relationship with Karrnath, and the conflict between the Emerald Claw and other elements of the faith.

Did you have explanation for the day of mourning when you first developed the setting?

No. I had half a dozen explanations that all made sense to me, which is essentially the approach you get with a lot of things in Eberron. To me, the cause of the Mourning was far less important than the impact it had on the world. The unsolved Mourning is what holds the Next War at bay and keeps the world in a cold war, and that interests me far more than an adventure in which people solve it. So here’s a few I considered:

* It was an environmental consequence of the amount of magic being used in the war – both war magic and increased production on the part of the houses. This is one thing driving the ceasefire; until people can be sure that using war magic won’t cause another Mourning, it’s hard to start firing the siege staffs again.

* It was a misfire of a weapon that was being developed, most likely by Cannith. The question then becomes if any of the current Cannith heirs know anything about it, or if all information was lost.

* It was a successful test of a weapon, and whoever did it is waiting to “reload” before they take credit for their actions.

* It was the result of the release of a demon Overlord or Daelkyr, who is currently sitting in the Mournland rebuilding its strength and studying the world. This could be an interesting blend with the Becoming God or Mournland Magebred.

* The Children of Winter are right: it is simply the beginning of the end. Whether or not it was triggered by magic, it is a catastrophic environmental failure that will soon start to spread across the world until the entire world is transformed; at that point, an entirely new world will be created.

* It’s the work of the Sovereigns – a warning to get people to stop and reconsider.

* It’s tied to the appearance of the Feyspires (see The Fading Dream).

… I could continue, but you get the idea. Any of these could be true. And as long as any could be true, people have to proceed as if they are all potential threats.

Some people may say “But in The Gates of Night it’s implied that Lei’s parents know what caused the Mourning! So that means you had an answer!” Well, if you read closely, they don’t say they know WHAT caused the Mourning, they say they know WHO caused the Mourning. They have a specific answer in mind, and it could apply to any of those explanations I’ve given above… and I’ll leave it at that.

If you have a ‘new favorite’ explanation of the day of mourning, and if so, what is it?

Clearly, it’s the Spellplague!

… OK, maybe not.

It’s sometimes mentioned that cultists of the Dragon Below have some kind of “promised reward” in the form of a wonderful place deep within Khyber. Have you ever fleshed out any details about what this promised land would be for them, or is this something that’s intentionally vague and/or subject to change depending on the particular cult?

A key principle of the Cults of the Dragon Below is that they aren’t monolithic in any way. The majority of cultists don’t even think of themselves as “cultists of the Dragon Below”; it’s a label that academics use to cover the diverse range of sects. Common elements are connections to or affection for aberrations; ties to Daelkyr or Overlords; and bizarre beliefs which may actually be schizophrenic in nature. I’ve talked about a sect that believes there’s a glorious kingdom below that you can only reach by paving the path with the blood of enemies. It could be that this is a literal, physical place. Khyber is supposed to include, essentially, demiplanes – there could be some bizarre wonder-world you can only get to through this cavern in the Shadow Marches. Or it could be utter lunacy. This same basic belief could appear in another cult across the nation, especially if it’s tied to the same Overlord or Daelkyr; but that doesn’t imply any communication between the two cults, and it’s possible cult two has an entirely different idea of their paradise… or that their paradise also exists but is a different demiplane.

Were there any other potential races you thought of for Eberron before settling on Changelings, Warforged, and Shifters? Also, regarding Changelings, what are your personal ways for keeping Changeling PC’s in check?

First, you left Kalashtar out of the list, and they were in from day one. Beyond that, there were no other NEW races in the original proposal. It was suggested that goblinoids should be viable characters. As for changeling PCs, it depends what they’re trying to do; I’ve played in quite a few games with changeling PCs without problems. Can you be more specific (in the comments) about exactly what problems you’re having (and what edition you’re using)? Their clothing and equipment doesn’t change, and in a society in which changelings exist people will pay attention to such things. In a city like Sharn, groups such as the Tyrants may actually police their own, as someone passing through and giving changelings a bad name will hurt them in the long term. Beyond that, though, anyone can be a changeling with a hat of disguise or first levelillusion spell – and there they can change clothes, too! Changeling abilities are useful, but they shouldn’t be foolproof – and bear in mind that this is a world where changelings, illusionists, rakshasa and more are simply known fact.

In a real society, the medieval urban elite would be bankers, traders, captains of industry. But in Eberron, industry and trade is dominated by the Dragonmarked. How do hypothetical non-Dragonmarked urban elites compete without the magical edge the Dragonmarked possess?

Not easily, which is why the Houses are typically described as having monopolistic power over their fields of industry. Thus, the simplest way for a non-dragonmarked urban elite to thrive is to run a business sanctioned by one of the houses; this is something described in the Dragonmarked sourcebook. Not every inn is a Ghallanda inn; but if it’s got the Ghallanda seal of approval, you know it’s of quality… and that it gives the house a share of its profits. To be licensed, you need to adhere to house standards (and put up with inspections) and pay your dues. But it’s possible for everyone to profit.

There are other options. You can find a niche that none of the houses cover. While we’ve never mentioned it, it’s possible Cannith has a line of clothes. But they aren’t competing with people like Davandi in the field of high fashion. You could specialize in a particular field; you can’t make smoothies as quickly as someone using a Ghallanda prestidigitation-based blender, but you have a special recipe that makes it worth the wait and higher price. This is the point of, say, The Oaks in Sharn. The food is simply better than you’ll get in the Gold Dragon Inn. But it’s due to the genius of that single chef. You could also possess a resource that the house needs and doesn’t have. The Mror lords are wealthy because they own the gold and steel mines.

I’ve talked about how the houses may bring their power to bear on someone who threatens their monopolies. The thing is, it has to really be a viable threat. Ghallanda doesn’t care if the Oaks is the best restaurant in Sharn; they still make fat dragons every day from all of their restaurants. It’s only if the Oaks’ chef tried to create a national chain and a series of low-end cheap eateries that they’d start to worry. Likewise, Cannith doesn’t need to drive every single smith out of business. However, if you buy from a smith who doesn’t have the Gorgon seal, you don’t know what sort of steel you’re getting!

Considering the masses of Warforged that have been produced , what countermeasures against Warforged have been created? How likely would it be for an influential Individual like Nolan Toranak to find/create them ?

Honestly, the masses of warforged still make up a relatively small number of the total troops fielded during the war. With that said, you don’t need something to be entirely developed to destroy warforged; anything that would be especially effective against armored infantry will work. Heat metal, some sort of corrosive cloud, a swarm of rust monsters… take your pick. And if you’re using 3.5 rules, you have a wide range of inflict damage/disable construct spells you can build into weapons. I don’t think Nolan Toranak could create them, but he could certainly buy them.

What do the leaders of Aerenal think about Xen’drik and the recent trend of expeditions looting all those giant relics? I can’t imagine them to be neutral about this, since they know better than almost anyone else what the ancient giants were capable of.

What are they going to do – blockade the Thunder Sea? There’s more humans than elves. I think the most likely approach would be for them to send their own forces – a specialized unit of the Cairdal Blades – to try to destroy the things they feel are too dangerous to be found. So when your adventurers have just found a really, really cool artifact, have some elves show up who want to destroy it.

What does the Dreaming Dark think of Aerenal? I imagine they must be pretty concerned with the power of the Undying Court, and the fact that the elves will likely know some of the stuff that happened back when the Quori invaded Xen’drik.

Maybe yes, maybe no. The Dreaming Dark seeks to impose order upon the chaotic minds of humanity because mortal dreamers affect Dal Quor. Elves don’t dream, therefore it’s quite likely that their actions have no impact on Dal Quor; and setting aside that tiff with Vol, Aerenal has shown itself to be an incredibly stable society that has barely changed in twenty thousand years. What more could the Quori want from it?Essentially, their best bet is to leave it alone and hope that nothing changes.

As for the elves remembering the Quori invasion, there’s all sorts of issues there.

* It’s not like the elves who founded Aerenal were big on pre-war history. They don’t even have concrete info about the Qabalrin; the line of Vol was just using scraps of Qabalrin lore.

* The exact details of the Quori “invasion” are still very mysterious. While it’s logical to assume that they were seeking to evade the turn of the Age as the current Quori are, it’s entirely possible that they were trying to do this in a non-aggressive manner; the existence of the docent Shira shows the possibility that they simply sought to ESCAPE Dal Quor, but had no desire to conquer the people of Eberron. Another possibility that’s come up is that the giants – who were clearly aggressive – actually sought to conquer Dal Quor, and that the actions of the Quori were in fact self-defense.

* Any way you slice it, that war involved an entirely different age of Dal Quor, and the Quori were nothing like those of the present day. So even if there are elves who kept excellent records, those records describe interactions with a very different culture and species.

How would the Dreaming Dark feel about Warforged , since they do not sleep and therefore dont dream ?

See the above, and for that matter, read The Dreaming Dark trilogy. It was written by this Keith Baker guy – you might have heard of him. It’s out of print, but still available in ebook form: City of Towers, The Shattered Land, and The Gates of Night.

“Do warforged dream of humunculi sheep?” A question that came up in game recently when one character offered to show the warforged character her dreams. The warforged said that “they don’t dream.” Other than a “Blade Runner” type adventure, how do you interpret this concept?

How do *I* interpret it? Well, you might want to check out The Dreaming Dark trilogy. I hear it’s available on Amazon. Now in time for the holidays!

Could Karrnathi skeletons theoretically act autonomously like a warforged or do they require Karrnathi military orders to act?

Karrnathi skeletons can make autonomous decisions based on pre-existing orders. So if a Bone Knight tells his undead regiment “Hold this pass at any cost” and then dies, the regiment is capable of adapting their tactics to deal with whatever new threat comes along. However, they cannot do any of the following:

* Decide that they are sick of holding the pass and want to do something else.

* Conclude that circumstances have changed and that the pass is no longer strategically important.

* Compose poetry while they are waiting.

* Improve their skills – which is to say, gain class levels.

* Have any sort of emotional attachment to anyone or anything in their unit.

Karrnathi undead aren’t like vampires or liches. They can only be made from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers, but a newly risen Karrnathi skeleton is identical to every other Karrnathi skeleton; it has none of the memories of the original soldier. The ritual isn’t some cheap form of raise dead. One way to look at it: a warforged has a soul; Karrnathi undead do not. FOr more on Karrnathi undead and possible dark secrets about them, check out the Fort Bones Eye on Eberron article.

On the Ashbound: do you see there being room in the Ashbound doctrine for members who oppose not arcane magic, but the mundane pollution of Eberron?

Allow me to answer with a quote from the Player’s Guide to Eberron: “To the Ashbound, many things violate the natural order, with arcane magic at the top of the list. The Ashbound see such magic as the epitome of the unnatural, using formulas and rituals to twist the laws of nature and create deadly effects that were never meant to exist. Cities and other physical manifestations of civilization are next on the list, along with structured agriculture and the magebreeding of animals—twisted attempts to reshape the world.”

“Pollution” is just a symptom; civilization is the disease.

How would the Ashbound regard an arcane caster who draws their magic from nature, such as the Pathfinder witch?

That depends. How does it manifest, from a practical in-world standpoint? How does someone looking at the witch recognize that her magic is arcane in the first place, and how can they tell that it comes from a “natural source”? If she is using the verbal, somatic, and material components of a wizard, then the Ashbound will treat her like a wizard. If she looks more like a druid, then most will treat her like a druid; it would take some sort of magehunter who’s actually trained to sniff out arcane magic to recognize her and decide what to do.

What is a cutting disk, what does one look like & how did it come to be a kalashtar weapon?

One is shown here in the hand of the Atavist Lanhareth. The kalashtar prefer curved things to hard angles. In my opinion it was developed as a soulknife weapon long before it was used in steel. As a result, they come in many styles; any soulknife could come up with a different take on it.

If Eberron religions were replaced with Earth religions what would their analogues be?

The Sovereign Host is a pantheistic faith dealing with anthropomorphic deities, and as such could map to any number of Earthly religions. Frankly, the others weren’t intended to mirror Earthly religions and don’t map well at all.

The Church of the Silver Flame doesn’t worship an anthropomorphic deity. It doesn’t believe that its divine power created the world; rather, it believes that this power was created to combat the evil in the world. Add to that the fact that supernatural evil unquestionably exists. The current human church (as opposed to other Flame sects like the Shulassakar) was founded when Tira Miron was empowered by the Flame to defeat Bel Shalor. This is sort of like Godzilla appearing in North America and stomping on Texas and Oklahoma before being defeated by someone who was given a special gun by aliens and invited to join the Galactic Federation of Godzilla Binders. People don’t “worship” the Flame as such; the Flame is a source of power noble people can draw on to protect the innocent from evil, and the Church is the organization that coordinates that (and as the Shulassakar show, you don’t have to be part of the church to form a connection to the Flame). It has as much in common with the Jedi and the Men In Black as it does with Christianity.

The Blood of Vol is based on the question “What just god would allow suffering and death?” – with the conclusion “None, so the gods must be our enemies.” It’s tied to the fact that the people of Eberron KNOW what the afterlife is like, and it’s not pretty. The Elven religions seek to avoid going to Dolurrh; the Silver Flame believes its people join with the Flame; and the Vassals say “Well, we go to Dolurrh, but you just don’t understand what it really is.” The Seekers say “You’re kidding yourself. Dolurrh is extinction. But we have the divine spark within us. We can become gods – and even if we can’t, we will spit in the face of death.” Again, not a very direct map to anything.

Concerning religions, while the Silver Flame is certainly no direct analogue of a real-world religion, to my mind many of its elements are similar to Catholic and Christian elements. Aside from cardinals, the idea of sacrificing oneself for getting rid of evil (Tira Miron, etc.) and the existence of exorcisms are some of them.

Certainly. Note that I said “it has as much to do with the Jedi as Christianity” – which is to say, there are elements of each. The elements you mention are good examples – and bear in mind, long before Tira Miron was born, the Flame itself was formed by the sacrifice of the Couatl; the most fundamental principle of the Flame is noble sacrifice to defeat evil. It’s simply the case that while there are important similarities, there are also some very fundamental differences – people can be blinded by one and not see the other.

Blood of Vol is cult like, individual, secret. How do you reconcile that with a massive Monastery in Atur? How old is that?

I think we have very different views of the Blood of Vol. Have you read the Eye on Eberron article on Fort Bones? One pertinent quote: “The Blood of Vol has had a presence in Karrnath for many centuries, and followers of this faith served under Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar I.” There are many Karrnathi villages where it’s always been the dominant faith for over a thousand years, and in any major Karrnathi city it should be easy to find the neighborhood of the Seekers or the local priest; Atur has long been its urban stronghold. However, it was never endorsed or supported by the royal family, and this is what Kaius did – he made it the religion of the state and gave its priests real political power. Now he’s reversed that, disbanded the orders, and condemned the Emerald Claw. In my campaign, Moranna and Kaius are also using the Seekers as scapegoats for many of Karrnath’s troubles and defeats – why, their dark magics are probably why Karrnath had such troubles with the plagues in the first place, and then they tricked us to relying on them. This is an effort to undercut the power the faith gained during the war and to strengthen Kaius’ support by saying “all our past problems can be blamed on these people, and I’m taking steps to change that.”  So life can be difficult for the faithful. But it’s still not a crime to follow the faith, and most who follow it remain loyal to Karrnath even though their fortunes have changed; the commander of Fort Bones is a seeker.

As for being individual and cult-like, there’s two paths Seekers tend to follow. You have the hermit-like followers who carry out a solitary pursuit of the Divinity Within, which is after all a personal quest. However, most Seekers believe that you CAN’T find the Divinity Within in a human lifespan, which is precisely why they believe the Sovereigns created the curse of mortality – to prevent humans from attaining their true potential and becoming the equals of the Sovereigns. These Seekers hope that their undead martyrs (martyrs in that an undead creature can never attain the Divinity Within, which is tied to the blood and spark of life) and the champions of the church will some day break the chains of death for all people, Seekers and non-Seekers alike. In the meantime, the faith places a very strong emphasis on community. The universe is against us and death is the end. Therefore, hold tight to your friends and neighbors. Present a united front. Every death diminishes us, and we must stand together in the face of this. The most common religious rite is bringing the community together and sharing blood in a basin; this emphasizes that the community is one, and must stand together. I’ll also note that a cleric of the Blood of Vol is more likely to raise the dead than one of the Sovereign Host (who believes that Dolurrh is the gateway to joining the Sovereigns) or the Silver Flame (who believes noble souls strengthen the Flame). The Seeker cleric knows that nothing better is waiting for you, and if he can get you back, he will.

Now, the Order of the Emerald Claw is secret and cult-like. But it’s an extremist sect. Some Seekers support its actions even if they won’t join it; but others despise the Emerald Claw and oppose it when they can.

Where does the Emerald Claw keep finding those gullible kids to be their minions?

Who says they’re gullible? There’s a few different things that drive them.

* The principle of the Blood of Vol is that the ancient undead champions have the wisdom to guide the living towards the Divinity Within and that if anyone can defeat the Sovereigns and free the living from the curse of mortality, it’s them. And what undead champion is mightier than the Queen of Death? The sad part is that by canon, Erandis doesn’t care about that, but hey, they don’t know that. “There is no greater champion than the Queen of Death. She will usher in the new Age of Life.”

* The Blood of Vol came to the aid of Karrnath in its hour of need. Seekers who could have stayed out of harm’s way joined the battle because their priests called on them to do so. They shared secrets of the faith with the king, created Fort Zombie and Fort Bones, helped the nation to survive. Now the King has turned on them and condemned them without reason. He ignores their good works and blames his own failings on them. “My father gave his life for this kingdom! He spilled his blood on its soil! And this king spits upon his sacrifice? i will give MY loyalty to a Queen who will never betray us.”

* Most Seekers don’t actually WANT to be undead. They want the Divinity Within; being a corpse driven by a blood-thirst that cannot be slaked pretty much sucks next to that. However, there are some who are purely driven by a desire for personal immortality and power, and Erandis plays to that. “The Queen of Death has promised that I shall be one of her next blood lords if I succeed at this mission!”

* Kaius’ actions have angered many of the non-Seeker warlords. His efforts to broker a peace are seen as weakness. Many Emerald Claw recruits aren’t seekers at all; they have simply been lured by the idea that this Queen of Death will overthrow Kaius and place their warlord of choice (who might be one of those she’s promised to make a vampire, or even Erandis herself) on the throne of Galifar. “I fight for Karrnath! This lily-white king is sucking the blood from our country – the Queen of Death shall lead us all to victory!”

I could go on, but I do have to do some work that pays bills sometime. But you get the idea.

Are you aware of any 4e conversions of the Master Inquisitive?

Not personally. I’d make it a theme. Have a base ability that helps with investigation and utilities tied to Perception, Insight, and Steetwise (look to the skill powers for inspiration). Not sure about what I’d do with the combat powers, you could tie it to the way they handle Sherlock Holmes in the Downey movies – using Insight to anticipate an opponent’s moves and make a more effective attack.

Do representitives from Adar / Kalashtar not speak to the nations of Khorvaire?  Do they not say ‘Hey guys Riedra is ruled by extra planar denizeniens bent on world (means everyone) domination, we should do something!’   Does no one care?

This is covered in more detail in sources like ​Races of Eberron. To a certain degree, the kalashtar suffer from a level of cultural arrogance; “This is our battle to fight.” There’s also the fact that most of the kalashtar of Adar don’t approve of active warfare in the first place; they believe that it is through their continued passive resistance that they will force the turn of the age, and THIS is what will win the war. if you want to do something to help, stop fighting your wars and letting the quori turn you against one another, because THAT is how they conquered Sarlona. However, there are kalashtar in Khorvaire who want to do more. Some of these might try to raise awareness. But here’s the problems with that:

  • Riedra is a global superpower. It is a valuable ally and trade partner, and many nations received Riedran aid during and since the Last War. In short, nations have good reason to want to keep Riedra as an ally.
  • Riedra has taken no offensive action against any nation in Khorvaire.
  • Riedra asserts that the Adarans are religious fanatics and terrorists, much like the Order of the Emerald Claw – something the common folk of Khorvaire can identify with.
  • The leaders of Riedra are demons trying to enslave us all!” If this is true, why hasn’t Riedra tried to enslave anyone? Even the history of Riedra is one of the common people embracing the Inspired as their saviors, not one of conquest. Beyond this, bear in mind that the leaders of Riedra don’t deny that they are possessed; they simply assert that the spirits that possess them are benevolent ancestors. It’s not particularly different from the Tairnadal or the Undying Court.
  • No-one is especially concerned about having Adar as an ally.
  • The Dreaming Dark is careful to keep its operations entirely separate from Riedran ambassadors, and the Dreaming Dark has no recognized authority in Riedra; if the action can be traced to Riedra at all, it would be something the Inspired could dismiss as criminal.
  • There are mind seeds and quori agents scattered across Khorvaire, some in positions of power. Essentially, the Kalashtar who goes to the Duke and announces his suspicions about a local Dreaming Dark plot may simply be exposing himself to the agents of the Dark.

So: Riedra has in the past shown itself to be a valuable ally to Khorvaire. Adar can’t prove any claims it might make, and drawing itself into the spotlight actually makes it easier for the Dreaming Dark to use propaganda against it. The kalashtar believe that it’s their task to oppose the Inspired. Some feel that they do this simply by surviving and continuing their devotion to the Path of Light. Others seek to identify, expose, and destroy individual operations of the Dreaming Dark (which, remember, more often then not have no obvious connection to Riedra). Experience has shown that it’s more effective to gather a small skilled force – say, a party of adventurers – and handle things directly.

Kalishstar resemeble humans so much, how evident would it be for someone to identify a character as Kalishtar instead of human …

Following 3.5 rules, a kalashtar receives no penalty if it attempts to disguise itself as human. So if they TRY to appear human, it’s not very hard for them to do. If the kalashtar makes no effort to conceal its identity, its mannerisms, appearance (unnatural symmetry, etc), and potentially clothing will make it stand out as unusual, even if the observer isn’t familiar enough with kalashtar to recognize it for what it is.

You mentioned the Duke being controlled by a “mind seed.”

A mind seed is a psychic infection that rewrites the personality of the victim to that of a quori. So the mind seed isn’t controlling the Duke as such; he’s become a willing servant of the Dark.

Aren’t all Kalashtar seen as enemies of the Dreaming Dark? Therefore he wouldn’t even have to talk to the infected Duke, merely be seen by him … or would that Duke necessarily immediately know if someone was Kalishtar or Human by sight?

To address the second part first, if the kalashtar disguises his appearance – wearing a hooded robe, taking some effort to adjust his body language – he can easily pass as human. Beyond that, does the duke actually see every traveler who passes through his domain? However, if he walks up to the duke and says “I am a lightbringer of Adar, and I tell you that there is evil in this place!” – well, the cat-of-light’s out of the bag at that point.

As to the first question: is every kalashtar seen as an enemy? Every kalashtar is connected to a rebel quori, and as such the Dark would be happy to destroy every kalashtar of a line in order to reclaim that spirit. However, on a daily level, not every kalashtar is actively engaged in conflict with the Dreaming Dark, and of those who are the vast majority do so simply by performing the rituals of the Path of Light, which are ever-so-slowly keeping the wheel of the age turning. The net result of this is that yes, the Dark is always a potential threat to a kalashtar, which is why they generally live in Adaran communities and draw little attention to themselves. But in practice, the death of any single random kalashtar is a very very low priority to the Dreaming Dark. So let’s go back to that infected duke. He’s a very valuable tool for the Dreaming Dark and likely engaged in long-term political schemes. He sees some random kalashtar on the street. Risking exposure and the upset of all his plans just to kill some random, possibly harmless kalashtar isn’t remotely worthwhile. On the other hand, if that kalashtar is either drawing attention to himself or directly threatening the operations of the Dark – suddenly it may be worthwhile to risk exposure in order to eliminate him. Of course, they’d try to eliminate him in a way that DIDN’T risk exposure – frame the kalashtar for a crime, for example, so the duke can execute him legally. But if the kalashtar stays in the shadows, keeping a low profile and concealing his true nature from those he doesn’t know, he’s far safer than if he walks around saying “LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE DREAMING DARK!” – which is why they don’t do it.

Another way to look at the lightbringers’ approach to the Dreaming Dark is very much Tommy Lee Jones’ statement to Wil Smith in the original Men in Black. Why don’t they tell the world about all the aliens? Because ignorance is what lets these people live their normal, happy lives. If you tell them that there are evil monsters in their dreams they are never going to sleep soundly again, and yet that won’t help one bit in making those dreams safer. The Lightbringers are aware the threat. They will identify it and deal with it. If you’re a capable adventurer, perhaps you can help. But revealing it to the world will only cause panic for no purpose. There’s a certain arrogance to this – they frankly think they can handle this better than you can, paladin of the Silver Flame – but there it is.

Look for more about the Dreaming Dark in an upcoming Eye on Eberron article!

As always, I’d love to hear what you’ve done in your campaign or your thoughts on any of these things. The next Q&A is going to concern the nobility of the Five Nations – feel free to ask questions here!