Dragonmarks: Airships, Expanded

The airship is an iconic element of Eberron. I’ve recently wrapped up a series on Arcane Industry and I’ve discussed Flight in Eberron in a previous article, but I’ve received a lot of questions about airships that aren’t covered in current material and I want to share my thoughts on them. A few disclaimers: this is not a deep mechanical breakdown of all aspects of airships and airship travel, and notably doesn’t delve into airship combat in any way. Likewise, this is quite different that what’s suggested in the 3.5 Explorer’s Handbook, which I didn’t work on. This how I use airships in MY campaign; it’s up to you to decide if you want to use this approach in yours.

THE BASICS

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that airships are a recent development. Lyrandar’s first airships went into service in 990 YK, just eight years before the default starting date. All of this ties to the idea that the science of air travel is very recent and that there’s a lot of room for improvement. From a narrative perspective, we don’t WANT airships to be perfect. We want it to be easy for airships to crash, because adventurers having to escape from crashing airships is an excellent drama. We want them to have limited range so that there are still places you can’t get to easily—that you can’t just fly your airship to Ashtakala. We want them to be largely limited to House Lyrandar because that gives Lyrandar power and adds another source of dramatic tension. So always keep in mind that airships aren’t perfect and that this is intentional. This is the DAWN of air travel; again, Eberron is closer overall to mid-nineteenth century Earth than to twentieth century Earth.

An airship is made using a soarwood hull. Soarwood is effectively weightless, though it’s not lighter than air. So a piece of soarwood will naturally float in the air, but it won’t rise. The crucial point here is that the soarwood hull is weightless… But an airship is more than its hull. Cargo, crew, and the elemental engine all do have weight, and these are sufficient to pull an airship to the ground. It is the elemental engine that provides lift and keeps an airship in the air; if the ring is shut down, an airship will crash.

So what IS the elemental engine? The heart of it is the elemental core, an engraved sphere of brass and mithral with a khyber dragonshard at the center. A raw elemental is bound to this dragonshard—”raw” in the sense of “general” elemental, not an anthropomorphic entity like an efreeti or azer. The elemental is absolutely anchored to the core and can’t be easily released; what the engine does is to pull it out from the core, stretching it out across the ship’s systems and the ring. This doesn’t release the elemental; it’s still anchored to the khyber shard, and if the engine is fully shut down, the elemental snaps back into the core.

Mark Tedin’s original airship from the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

AIRSHIP SYSTEMS

The elemental engine provides both lift and motive power. As long as the engine is active, an airship can hover or move forward. But there’s a lot more going on with an airship than just the ring. Here’s a few of the secondary systems that are vital to airship operations.

  • Elemental Veins. The elemental engine uses engraved strips of metal to channel the power of the elemental through the vessel and out to the ring. You can think of these as the veins of the ship, channeling power through its body. In addition to directly connecting the core to the elemental ring, these channel the secondary enchantments of the focusing nodes and the wind wards. There is a great deal of redundancy to the patterns of the veins, so severing a single line will have minimal impact on the ship; it could cause a particular section to lose heat or create a gap in the wards, but it would taken massive damage to cause the ring to break down. The metals used in the veins vary based on the type of elemental involved.
  • Focusing Nodes. These are metal polyhedrons, typically 8 inches in diameter, engraved with engraved with sigils and inlaid with Eberron dragonshards. They’re superficially similar to the conductor stones used in the lightning rail and serve a similar role; they are placed at critical vein junctures and help to draw out and stabilize the power of the core. Focusing nodes also maintain an enchantment that maintains a consistent temperature within the vessel, even at high altitudes that would typically be bitterly cold. As with the veins, the loss of a single node generally isn’t disastrous, but the crew needs to monitor and maintain them.
  • Wind Wards. An airship is an open-deck vessel that moves swiftly through the upper atmosphere. What keeps people from being blown off the deck? How can people breathe at high altitudes? How does an airship handle turbulence? The wind wards are the answer to these questions. An airship is enveloped in a ward that shunts both wind and small objects (such as birds) around the vessel, as well as maintaining air pressure within the wards. The wind wards are also play a role in maneuvering the ship; the ring provides forward thrust, but the envelope of winds helps the vessel turn. While the wards are controlled by the Wheel of Wind and Water, they draw power from the focusing nodes and have their own system of “ward wings” that must be maintained and adjusted by the crew. In the current design, the wind wards suffice only to ensure the safe operations of the vessel and don’t provide any special protection in combat; projectiles can penetrate the wards. However, it’s possible that a future design could strengthen the wind wards to serve as a form of defensive shield.
  • The Wheel of Wind and Water. This is the dragonmark focus item that controls the ship. It has two purposes: it allows the captain to interface with the elemental, helping to calm it and to direct speed and thrust; and it also allows the captain to maintain the wind wards, and use them to direct fine maneuvering.

THIS IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A COMPLETE LIST OF SYSTEMS. Airships are complicated, and a DM can certainly add greater complexity to fit the needs of the system. But this provides a general overview of major systems and things that can go wrong.

WHY LYRANDAR?

The classic airship uses a fire elemental in its ring… so why is the Mark of STORM useful for controlling it? What is it that gives Lyrandar the monopoly on air travel?

The Mark of Storms gives its bearer a general affinity for elemental forces that is enhanced by the wheel of wind and water. However, that’s a secondary aspect. It’s the wind wards that are specifically tied to the Mark of Storm, and every airship relies on these WIND wards, regardless of the form of elemental that provides thrust. As noted above, the wards both protect the ship and its crew and play an important role in maneuvering. An airship without the wind wards would have to operate at lower altitudes and slower speeds, and couldn’t maneuver as effectively as a Lyrandar vessel. The wheel of wind and water serves both purposes: controlling the elemental and drawing on the pilot’s mark to maintain the wind wards.

While a wheel of wind and water typically LOOKS like a classic ship’s wheel, the pilot doesn’t actually steer by turning it; instead, the pilot enters into a trancelike state where they commune with the elemental and wards. It’s not that they issue specific orders to the elemental, it’s that they experience the ship as an extension of their body.

So what happens when a ship loses its Lyrandar pilots? Most people simply can’t interface with a wheel of wind and water, but player characters aren’t most people. Someone with a strong personality and understanding of arcane science could essentially try to hack the system, using their sheer force of will to direct the elemental. Personally, I’d allow a player character who’s proficient with Arcana to bond to the wheel; while it doesn’t follow the normal rules of attunement, this connection does require the pilot to devote one of their attunement slots throughout the process. An unmarked pilot must make make regular control checks; this is performed when they first bond to the wheel, whenever they make a significant change to speed or course, and every hour they remain connected. A control check is a Charisma check with a base difficulty of 12, though the DM can adjust this based on current conditions (it’s more difficult to maintain control in a storm, for example); they could also choose to increase the difficulty each hour, if the goal is to model an emergency situation that can’t be sustained indefinitely. Every time the pilot fails a check, both the pilot and the elemental suffer a level of exhaustion (the effects of elemental exhaustion are described below). An unmarked pilot can’t maintain the wind wards; this forces the vessel to operate at lower altitudes, typically cuts its maximum speed in half, and makes storms and other weather effects considerably more dangerous. A pilot can choose to use Intimidation when making a control check—forcing their will upon the elemental—but if the check fails, the elemental suffers two levels of exhaustion.

A pilot with the Mark of Storm has a far easier time controlling an airship; all of the systems are designed to interface with the marked heir. They only need to make a control check once every four hours. Complex maneuvers or adverse conditions could require a Charisma (Air Vehicles) check, but failure doesn’t impose exhaustion on the pilot, though depending on the conditions calling for the check it could impose elemental exhaustion.

ELEMENTAL EXHAUSTION AND ONGOING COSTS

Elementals bound to airships aren’t entirely aware of their condition. While technically sentient — possessing Intelligence and even language— “raw” elementals are extremely alien beings that don’t perceive reality or the passage of time in the same ways that creatures of the material plane do. More than anything, a raw elemental wants to express its nature. A fire elemental wants to BURN. When an airship is operating at peak efficiency, that’s what the elemental experiences; the fire elemental in the ring doesn’t even realize it IS bound, it just knows that it’s BURNING. The challenge to the pilot is essentially to keep the elemental calm. The more excited it gets, the more energy flows into the systems… and while this might seem like a good thing, it actually runs a risk of overloading the focusing nodes and burning out the elemental engine—initially causing the loss of secondary systems, and eventually causing the elemental ring to collapse and the ship to crash.

The brings us to the ongoing costs of maintaining an airship. Eberron: Rising From The Last War notes that “many powerful tools—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships—require an ongoing expenditure of Eberron dragonshards to maintain their enchantments.” The key phrase there is to maintain their enchantments. Dragonshards don’t function as FUEL for an airship; again, the motive power is provided by the elemental, and that movement doesn’t directly require any expenditure of dragonshards. However, dragonshards must be expended to maintain the elemental engine—both periodic infusions of residuum to the main engine node and replacing focusing nodes that burn out (new shards can be implanted in a burnt-out node, so it’s not that the entire node is disposable). So dragonshards aren’t analagous to gasoline in a car; instead, it’s about adding oil to keep the engine running and replacing fuel. But, the more restless an elemental becomes, the more of a strain it places on these systems. This is measured by the concept of Elemental Exhaustion. With no levels of exhaustion, the ship runs at peak capacity. At six levels of exhaustion, the elemental must be confined to the core, which means the elemental engine (and ring) has to be shut down. The levels in between don’t have the standard effects of exhaustion, but they require an increasing expenditure of residuum to maintain the engine and focusing nodes will burn out; at high levels of exhaustion, it’s likely that sections of the ship will be without heat and it might become impossible to maintain the wind wards. This is a simple system, and if I was planning to make extensive use of it I’d add more concrete details to the consequences of each level—but this is the basic idea.

This brings up two important questions I’ve been asked, Can airships hover? and Why are docking towers so important? Yes, airships can hover. The elemental doesn’t particularly care if it’s moving or standing still as long as it’s generating the ring. Which means hovering places the same strains on the elemental engine as moving—and that a hovering airship is still going to generate elemental exhaustion and consume shards. The most important function of a docking tower is to calm the elemental. Every eight hours spent at a docking tower removes a level of elemental exhaustion, and it’s also possible for an airship to hover indefinitely while connected to a docking tower.

This in turn explains the current limitations of air travel: It’s dangerous to go too far from a docking tower… And currently there AREN’T THAT MANY DOCKING TOWERS; they’re primarily in the big cities. This isn’t something that I particularly want to put strict ranges on, because it’s not entirely reliable (a skilled pilot can keep the ship in the air for a longer period of time) and because it might well vary based on the design of the ship itself; certain ships may be designed to endure longer journeys and higher rates of exhaustion, while a small “commuter” ship might fail with just two levels of exhaustion. Ultimately, the point is that this is a tool that allows the DM to place limits on what a vessel can do. If a group of adventurers hijack an airship and want to fly to Ashtakala the DM can say “This ship won’t make it that far“—perhaps adding “… But that bigger ship over there could!” Though as a second note, I’d think that just being in the Demon Wastes might be something that upsets the elemental and significantly raises the difficulty of control checks. This is something the pilot would definitely notice—the elemental doesn’t want to be here.

UNORTHODOX AIRSHIPS

The standard Lyrandar airship designs are the work of collaboration between Zilargo and the Twelve, specifically House Lyrandar and House Cannith. Zil shipwrights create the hulls (using soarwood from Aerenal) and Zil binders produce the elemental cores, while Cannith artisans install the elemental engine and the veins. It was Cannith and Lyrandar working together who produced the first working wind wards, it is this that currently provides Lyrandar with dominance over the industry. Cannith doesn’t know the secrets of Zil binding, because they aren’t actually involved in the development of the elemental core; and meanwhile, the Zil don’t have the expertise to create the elemental engine or to produce wind wards.

With that said, these airships have been operating for less than a decade and the science is still evolving. Lyrandar and Cannith are continuing to evolve their design, improving speed, maneuverability, and range; they’ve certainly been experimenting on aerial warships as well. On the other side of things, the Arcane Congress and the Zil themselves are exploring other approaches to air travel, building on the principles of the skystaff (broom of flying) or carpet of flying. Currently these are largely limited to small, low-altitude vehicles—like the skystaff—but the work is ongoing. As a DM, if you WANT to introduce an airship that breaks some of the rules described here—notably, an airship that doesn’t require a Lyrandar pilot or that has an indefinite range—go ahead! The main things to think about are HOW it manages to be more efficient than the Lyrnadar vessels and where it came from. Is it a single prototype that can’t be efficiently reproduced? Or are there more of them? In general, House Lyrandar doesn’t care about one-offs; the fact that one group of adventures has a superior airship doesn’t threaten their business. On the other hand, if the adventurers or their patron actually seek to create a fleet of airships that will challenge Lyrandar’s economic monopoly they could have to deal with saboteurs or other troubles. But again, a single group of adventurers with their own unique airship isn’t a problem for Lyrandar.

GENERAL Q&A

What do the of crew an airship do to assist their respective pilot? More specifically, what are the most interesting things you have the crews do in your games?

In my opinion, an airship is just as complicated to run as a sailing vessel. You have to make adjustments to maintain the wind wards. You have to monitor the focusing nodes and adjust less crystals that maintain the ring. The engineer monitors the elemental engine, which includes adding residuum but also just performing minor rituals that keep the systems running. In my games I largely have the crew stay out to the way and do their jobs, because they’re too busy to chat with adventurers. I’ve run a one-shot set on an airship a number of times over the past year, and the main NPC the adventurers encounter is the steward, because it’s his job to deal with them. When there’s a dramatic combat scene, I may call out a number of NPC crew members in the scene who are doing their jobs and note that if these innocents die bad things could happen; if a fireball takes out the guy maintaining the local wind wards, things could get very unstable!

How volatile is an elemental core?

In my opinion, the elemental core itself is quite stable. The elemental CAN’T easily be removed from the core; it’s stretched out of it, but if the engine breaks down, it snaps back into the core; when not engaged, it lies in a dormant state. So more often than not, an elemental core can actually be recovered from a crashed airship. On the other hand, there can be effects that target the core itself. In one adventure I ran, when an airship passed through an airborne Lamannian manifest zone it broke the containment and caused the elemental to burst free (noted as a risk of zones with the Elemental Power trait in Exploring Eberron). In my novella Principles of Fire, terrorists specifically break the containment of one of an airship’s elemental cores (it was a double-ringed ship and the other survived the crash). So GENERALLY the cores are stable, but nothing’s stopping a DM from creating a specific threat that can break one.

What’s the difference between different kinds of elemental rings? Why do some ships have more than one?

In my opinion, different types of elementals should provide different benefits and drawbacks. I don’t have time right now to get into a full breakdown of different airship designs and the specific effects of rings, but my most basic thought is that fire is faster (more FORCE) and air is more maneuverable. Multiple rings can be added for speed, but what we’ve suggested in the past is that they are used by especially large ships—that essentially, one ring is devoted to LIFT and the other to THRUST.

Is there anything you do use from the airship section in Explorer’s Handbook?

I think most of the material in Explorer’s Handbook can overlap with the ideas I present here. The maps are good, the basic concept of the “arcane matrix” is similar to what I do with the elemental veins, and all the rules about shiphandling, manueverability, and such are things I don’t address here that work fine. I use life rings and like the sidebar on “How To Survive A Crashing Airship.” We mainly differ in the idea of elemental consciousness, the process of controlling the elemental, and the ongoing costs of maintaining an airship—along with the idea of the wind wards.

Soarwood isn’t lighter than air? What about the soarwood skiffs from Five Nations?

This is a reference to the following quote…

Karrnathi soldiers stormed the city of Shadukar in 959 YK. The city’s defenders were not expecting a Karrn attack from Cyre, especially one accomplished using soarwood skiffs that could glide across the Brey River.

Five Nations, Page 149

These soarwood skiffs weren’t FLYING vehicles; they were simply so exceptionally light and buoyant that they allowed the invading force to glide across the surface of the river, both more quickly and quietly than traditional boats. But Karrnath does not have a fleet of flying skiffs.

How does this work with the Wind Whisperers, who have stolen airships? If they don’t have docking towers, how can they maintain them?

The Wind Whisperers are a force in the Lhazaar Principalities that include half-elves with the Mark of Shadows. I think they have managed to create a single functional equivalent of a docking tower in their home harbor. But beyond that, I’d assert that they’ve found a way to calm elementals that is different from what the house uses; the most logical answer is that they have a few allies from Lorghalen that worked with them on this. As someone noted on Discord, “one gnome with a flute vs precision Cannith engineering.”

Can a pilot develop a bond or connection with the elemental of their ship?

I think they can, yes. The piloting process I’ve described is essentially a trance where they do connect to the elemental. It’s a little like working with any kind of mount; you can ride a horse without feeling any empathy for it, but you’ll have a better experience if you’re able to establish a connection. I think the best pilots are those who do feel a tie to their elemental companion. Note that this would not satisfy the Power of Purity — as noted in the next question — who would point out that the elemental is still BOUND and has no choice; the fact that the pilot may empathize the elemental with it doesn’t mean they are treating it as an euqal.

What are the moral issues with binding elementals into Khyber dragonshards? How sentient are they?

(Reposted from a previous Dragonmark) There’s no easy answers in Eberron. The elemental binders of Zilargo claim that bound elementals are perfectly content; that elementals don’t experience the passage of time the way humans do. All they wish is to express their elemental nature, and that’s what they do through the binding. The Zil argue that elementals don’t even understand that they ARE bound, and that binding elementals is in fact MORE humane than using beasts of burden. An elemental doesn’t feel hunger, exhaustion, or pain; all a fire elemental wants to do is BURN, and it’s just as content to do that in a ring of fire as it is in Fernia.

On the other hand, an Ashbound druid will tell you that this is a fundamental disruption of the natural order. And any random person might say “When a bound elemental is released, it usually goes on a rampage. That means it was unhappy, right?”

Maybe… or maybe not. In my opinion, the “raw” elementals — the “fire elemental” as opposed to the more anthropomorphic salamander, efreeti, or azer — are extremely alien. They don’t experience existence in the same way as creatures of the material plane. They are immortals who exist almost entirely in the moment, making no plans for the future or worrying about the past. My views are pretty close to the description from the 5E Monster Manual: “A wild spirit of elemental force has no desire except to course through the element of its native plane… these elemental spirits have no society or culture, and little sense of being.”

When the fire elemental is released, it usually WILL go on a rampage. Because what it wants more than anything is to burn and to be surrounded by fire… so it will attempt to CREATE as much fire as possible. If it burns your house down, there’s no malice involved; it literally doesn’t understand the concept of a house, or for that matter the concept of YOU.  In my short story “Principles of Fire” one of the characters interrogates a bound air elemental; he advises a colleague that the elemental doesn’t really understand its surroundings, and sees humans as, essentially, blobs of water.

So: there’s no absolute answer. Some people are certain that the elementals are entirely happy, and others are certain that it’s a barbaric and inhumane practice. What I can say is that MOST of the people in the Five Nations don’t think about it at all; to them, it’s no different from yoking an ox or using a bonfire to cook dinner. If you want to create a story based on a radical group that has proof that bound elementals are suffering, create that story. But the default is that there are extreme views on both sides, but that the majority of people just ride the airship without giving a thought to whether the ring has been unjustly imprisoned.

Follow-Up: A question was posed about how this relates to the Power of Purity, a group of Zil binders that seek to understand elementals and to work more closely with them. This still works with what I’ve described here. Elementals ARE sentient. It is possible to communicate with them. They simply are sentient in a very alien way. They have language, but that doesn’t mean they think like we do. In my vision, “raw” elementals generally don’t speak with one another; the elemental languages represent the ability to interface with the elemental and to draw its attention in a way that usually doesn’t happen. An airship pilot needs to interface with and guide an elemental, and a Purity binder does this as well. Most binders DISMISS the need to understand the elemental consciousness; Purity binders feel that truly understanding elementals is the secret to vastly better results. And if you want someone to suddenly reveal that elementals are being tortured and to upset the industry, the Power of Purity would be a good place to start.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making articles like this possible!

IFAQ: Airships and Arcanix

I’m currently traveling across the country for the first time since March. I’ve got a few hours to kill and I’m camped out in an abandoned food court in the Detroit Airport, so before I start my Gamma World kingdom, I thought I’d answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters tied to things that float—airships and Arcanix!

What do the of crew an airship and a train of lightning cars do to assist their respective pilots? More specifically, what are the most interesting things you have the respective crews do in your games?

In my opinion, an airship is just as complicated to run as a sailing vessel. You have to maintain the windwards (which are what keep people from getting blown off the upper deck). There are a host of lesser focusing crystals that maintain the ring and that have to be adjusted if conditions change dramatically. Refined dragonshards need to be fed to the heart to maintain the binding, especially when the elemental is operating at full capacity. The same basic principles apply to the lightning rail, though like comparing a train to a masted galleon, I think the lightning rail doesn’t require a large crew; you’ve got a pair of engineers maintaining the binding and ensuring all other systems are running, a few assistants, and conductors or staff to deal with the passengers.

As for MY games? I largely have the crew stay out to the way and do their jobs, because they’re too busy to chat with adventurers. I’ve run a one-shot set on an airship a number of times over the past year, and the main NPC the adventurers encounter is the steward, because it’s his job to deal with them. When there’s a dramatic combat scene, I may call out a number of NPC crew members in the scene who are doing their jobs and note that if these innocents die bad things could happen; if a fireball takes out the guy maintaining the windwards, things could get very unstable!

What are some amenities you could find at a House Lyrandar docking tower?

As I’m sitting in an airport as I write this, it’s tempting to just start listing off things I see around me. However, it’s important to remember that air travel is a very recent development. Per canon, the first elemental airships went into service in 990 YK — only eight years before the default start date! In my opinion this date refers to the launch of Lyarandar air travel as a commercial service, and is the culminations of decades of experiments and prototypes. But as an INDUSTRY it’s still very young. Likewise, tourism is largely a new development as of the signing of the Treaty of Thronehold; the Brelish weren’t going sightseeing in Thrane while the Last War was underway. So I think most Lyrandar docking towers are simple and functional; they haven’t had TIME to build up the full range of amenities that you see in a large modern airport. With that said, I think that in the largest hubs you could start to see that coming together. I imagine a deal with Ghallanda to have Gold Dragon Inn tavern franchises. You’d certainly have a lavatory equipped with a cleansing sphere. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a souvenir stand—in our world, souvenirs have been around for thousands of years!

Do airships require a constant stream of refined dragonshards to keep the elemental bound? Do they need this when the ship is idle? How expensive is it to continue fueling these ships?

This is called out in Rising From The Last War.

Eberron dragonshards are rosy crystals with crimson swirlds flowing in the depths and are typically refined into a glowing powder… Eberron dragonshard dust is used in the creation of some magic items, and many powerful tools—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships—require an ongoing expenditure of Eberron dragonshards to maintain their enchantments.

Eberron: Rising From The Last War, page 275

The key phrase there is to maintain their enchantments. On an airship, dragonshards aren’t consumed in the same way as gasoline or coal; it’s not that burning dragonshards provides motive power, because the motive power comes from the elemental. But airships have a web of additional secondary enchantments in addition to the binding—the windwards, the control systems—and these have to be maintained. The job of the airship’s engineer is to monitor and maintain those many enchantments. So dragonshards aren’t exactly FUEL, but they’re a vital ongoing expense that ensures that the vessel continues to operate. Another way to look at it would be dilithium crystals in Star Trek; they are vital to the ongoing operations of a starship, but the engineers aren’t constantly dumping dilithium into a warp furnace. The ship needs an ongoing supply of dragonshards, but consumption is a long-term process.

Addressing the specific questions, power isn’t consumed to keep the elemental bound; the elemental is contained within a Khyber shard and is a separate system. But it is the ongoing expenditure of power that keeps the elemental integrated with the ship and produces the elemental ring. And yes, that consumption continues even when the ship is standing still.

Is Arcanix the name of the floating towers or the village?

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name, Arcanix is one of the prominent institutes of arcane learning in Khorvaire. It’s located in Aundair, and described as floating towers hovering above a village. Earlier canon sources complicated things by suggesting that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane before the war, which seems odd as arcane magic has always been a focus of Aundairian culture, and Arcanix is supposed to be closely tied to the Arcane Congress. So, here’s MY answer.

Arcanix is the village. It has long been contested by Aundair and Thrane, and by Thaliost and Daskara before that; while it was part of Thrane under Galifar, many of the inhabitants were Aundairians who traveled to the village. Because, mysteriously, Arcanix seems to inspire people who seek arcane knowledge. This isn’t always incredibly dramatic; it’s not like everyone who studies magic at Arcanix revolutionizes the field of science as we know it. But if you study the statistics, people are more likely to master the arcane arts if they study in Arcanix. So: while Arcanix was part of Thrane under Galifar, it was largely inhabited by Aundairians and Aundairians CONSIDERED it to be part of Aundair, which is why, when the Last War broke out, they seized it and moved the floating towers there to secure it. Because that’s the thing about FLOATING TOWERS—you can move them! The floating towers were a previous asset of the Arcane Congress and thus have always been a facility for arcane research and learning, as well as being fortified; so the towers were already an established arcane school before being moved, and placing them in Arcanix was just a bonus. Whatever the effect of the region that enhances arcane comprehension works above the village as well as on the ground, so modern students study in the towers. But the village was called Arcanix before the towers were there.

A secondary question, of course, is WHY the region is so conducive to the study of the arcane. This is something that is SUPPOSED be a mystery within the world, and is surely something debated in Arcanix itself. Arcanix is in a Thelanian manifest zone, so that’s surely a factor—it’s up to the DM to decide if this is an active portal, and if so if there’s a particular acrhfey associated with it (The Mother of Invention would be a logical choice) or if it’s a more subtle zone. But there may be a darker power at work beyond this. Some scholars believe that Arcanix is above the soul-prison of the overlord Sul Khatesh. There have been times when cults of the Queen of Shadows have taken root in Arcanix, and there have been a few individuals who have actively bargained with Sul Khatesh or her minons. But even without any active or malefic influence, the mere presence of the Keeper of Secrets may help those seeking arcane knowledge… and this has been sufficient to crush the objections of those who fear the Queen of Shadows. But again, all of these are things that COULD be. As a DM it’s up to you to decide if Arcanix is haunted by Sul Khatesh, blessed by Aureon, watched over by the Mother of Invention, or if there’s an even stranger explanation.

Also on the topic of Arcanix, what is the relationship between the way its towers float, and the way Sharn’s towers float?

The manifest zone of Sharn enhances magic related to flight and levitation. This is why you have flying buttresses and skycoaches in Sharn; those tools don’t work outside the zone. Skyway and the floating towers of Sharn use these same principles, so they aren’t the SAME as Arcanix. But the towers of Sharn inspired Arcanix, driving the Arcane College to find a way to replicate the effects without the zone. Arcanix and the Tower of the Twelve are proof that it can be done, but the fact that we don’t see such towers everywhere—and that both of these two are the seat of arcane research facilities—suggests that the enchantment requires regular maintenance by arcane experts. Which is easy enough when your tower is filled with some of the most gifted arcanists in Khorvaire. So the Sharn towers are stable, drawing on the manifest zone to maintain the effect; other floating towers require expert maintenance.

Is there any correlation between Arcanix and, as of Rising from the Last War, the Aundairian attack on Sharn’s Glass Tower? Was Aundair able to achieve such an attack precisely because they Aundair was also intimately familiar with floating towers?

Certainly. The Arcane Congress created the towers of Arcanix using information gleaned from studying the floating towers of Sharn, and during the Last War, they explored ways to weaponize that. The main question is why they didn’t target Skyway, which would have devastated a far larger area. It’s possible that they didn’t WANT to—that the Glass Tower was an experiment or a warning, but they didn’t want to cause such extreme destruction. Or it’s possible Skyway is a more powerful and stable effect and that the techniques used on the Glass Tower couldn’t bring it down.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for posing interesting questions. The Inner Circle supporters are currently voting on the topic for the next major article; the Library of Korranberg is in the lead, but there’s still one day to cast a vote! And check out my latest DM’s Guild PDF: a collaboration with the band Magic Sword!

Dragonmarks: Reaching For The Stars

Image by Lucas Guerrini for Exploring Eberron

Nearly a quarter of Exploring Eberron is devoted to the planes of Eberron, providing a deeper look into these different layers of reality. While this addresses the supernatural cosmology of Eberron, my Patreon supporters have posed a number of questions tied to the Material Plane. What do the people of Eberron know about the physical universe beyond Eberron? What is the nature of the moons? Could there be a space race in Eberron? Others have raised more practical questions: how do the many moons of Eberron affect its tides? Wouldn’t the destruction of a moon have had even more cataclysmic results than have been suggested?

Ultimately, this begins with a crucial question: what is the Material Plane? In the myth of the Progenitors—a tale told in some form by nearly every culture—the three Progenitors work together to create thirteen planes, each one an idealized exploration of a particular concept: Life, death, war, peace. Following this effort, they rest in the emptiness that lies at the center of the planes. There the Progenitors quarrel. Khyber kills Siberys and tears him apart. Eberron enfolds Khyber and becomes the world itself, forming a living prison she cannot escape.

Whether this is truth or metaphor, it is a basic explanation for natural phenomenon.

  • Eberron is the world and source of natural life. It is surrounded by the shattered Ring of Siberys, and it contains Khyber. Whether or not Eberron was once a noble dragon who imprisoned another dragon, it is a natural world that surrounds and imprisons a source of fiends and aberrations.
  • Eberron—and its Material Plane—lies between the thirteen planes. It is influenced by all of them but it’s not part of any of them. It’s a world that knows both war and peace, life and death.
  • By canon (Rising p. 228), Eberron is the sole planet in its Material Plane. Beyond this, when people dream in Eberron, their spirits go to Dal Quor. When they die, they go to Dolurrh. There are no accounts of people encountering spirits from OTHER material worlds in either plane.

So the first thing to bear in mind: There is nothing natural about the universe of Eberron. The story of the Progenitors might be fact or it could be mere myth. But Eberron does appear to be the center of its Material Plane. It is the fulcrum of the 13 planes, the point where they all intersect — and as shown by Dal Quor and Dolurrh, the creatures of the Material Plane are tied to the other planes. Dig below the surface of Eberron and you won’t simply find a molten core; you’ll find the demiplanes of Khyber. You can go down a tunnel in the Mror Holds, walk five miles, and come out in Xen’drik. Which is to say, this is a supernatural reality. Arcane and divine magic are side effects of this; Eberron is suffused with a fundamental force that doesn’t exist in our world. Now, this may be because Eberron as a setting is a created artifact—that some form of the myth of the Progenitors is true. Or it could be the result of undirected evolution… but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a supernatural reality, fundamentally different from the universe that we know.

This initial section examines the known facts about the celestial objects of Eberron. This is followed by a discussion of the possible space race, which goes into more detail about what might be found on the moons or in the ring. Lest it go without saying, this is my vision of Eberron and may contradict existing sourcebooks.

The Sun and the Stars

In the Progenitor Myth, the three Progenitors rested in the Material Plane after creating the planes. They created the sun, Arrah, much as mortals might kindle a campfire. This fire remained even after their battle, and continues to provide light, heat, and comfort to the world. Arrah is rarely mentioned because it functions much like the sun we’re used to; it’s good that it’s there, but you definitely wouldn’t want to visit it. In the Sovereign Host, Dol Arrah is the Sovereign of Sun and Sacrifice; her name is, essentially, “The Warrior Sun.”

As for the stars, there are stars in the sky of Eberron, but they aren’t the anchors of distant solar systems. There are limits to the Material Plane, and the stars mark those limits; whether or not you embrace the concepts of Spelljammer, you can think of them as glittering points in the shell of a crystal sphere. The common constellations are figures of ancient dragons—Io, Tiamat, Chronepsis—though most people can’t actually say where these names come from. It’s generally assumed that they were handed down by one of the ancient kingdoms of Sarlona, or established by the ancestors of the Aereni; in fact, this is a tradition that was spread by dragons, as they moved secretly among the lesser races.

The Ring of Siberys

The closest celestial object is the Ring of Siberys, a brilliant equatorial band of light that dominates the sky. We know that the Ring is comprised of siberys dragonshards, because it’s where those dragonshards come from. Most fallen shards are quite small, but it’s there are definitely larger shards in the Ring; the civilization of the Qabalrin elves of Xen’drik was destroyed when the Ring of Storms was struck by a massive dragonshard now known as the Heart of Siberys. It’s possible that the entire ring is made up of pure dragonshards, or it could be that there are shards embedded in a more inert material—perhaps the petrified flesh of an ancient cosmic dragon.

One of the more popular schools of arcane thought maintains that all arcane magic (and perhaps divine magic as well) manipulates energy that radiates from the Ring—that magic itself is the “Blood of Siberys.” Whether or not this is true, siberys dragonshards are an extremely valuable resource. Siberys shards are used for dragonmark focus items, but per Rising From The Last War they are also used for “eldritch machines or the creation of legendary items or artifacts.” A nation or house that can secure a reliable source of siberys shards will have a huge advantage in advancing arcane science. It’s also possible that an outpost in the Ring could harness the ambient energy of the Ring itself to perform epic magic. So the Ring of Siberys is close to Eberron and unquestionably valuable; if a space race begins, it’s the logical first step.

The Moons

Twelve orbiting moons are visible from Eberron. Each moon goes through standard lunar phases, and during the month that shares its name, the moon enters an “ascendant phase”; during this time the moon is brighter than usual. Each moon is associated with certain personality traits, and it’s believed that people are influenced by the moon that is ascendant at the time of their birth. Canon descriptions of the moons can be found in this article. Moving beyond canon (something suggested but never defined) there’s a further complication, because the moons are also tied to the planes—and each moon enters its ascendant phase when its associated plane is coterminous, and becomes unusually dim when the plane is remote. So while unusual, it’s possible for there to be two or three ascendant moons at a particular time, if multiple coterminous periods converge.

The connection between the planes and the moons is reinforced by the fact that within a plane, the associated moon is the only one that can be seen in the sky (assuming that any moon can be seen; not all planar layers have a visible sky). However, the phase of the moon doesn’t match its current phase on Eberron. It may be fixed in a single phase—such as in Lamannia, where the moon is always full, or it could change from layer to layer.

By canon lore, no humanoid has ever visited one of the moons. Because of this, their nature remains a mystery. They could be similar to the moon of Earth—harsh and barren. It’s possible that they aren’t planetoids at all, but are in fact planar gateways—that a vessel that tries to land on Dravago will find itself in Risia. This would explain why the moons don’t have the expected impact on tides; it may be that they don’t actually have any mass! A third option lies between these two: that the moons are habitable planetoids that are strongly influenced by the planes they are tied to. The moon Vult isn’t inhabited by the angels and demons of Shavarath, but it could be home to societies of tieflings and aasimar locked in an endless war… though unlike the immortals of Shavarath, the people of Vult might decide to turn their aggressive attention to Eberron!

THE SPACE RACE

By canon, Eberron is the only planet in its material plane. Between the planes and the demiplanes of Khyber, there’s ample opportunity for adventurers to explore strange new worlds, and deep space exploration was never planned as part of the setting; we don’t need to have alien invaders come from a distant planet when we already have alien invaders crawling out of Xoriat. Nothing’s stopping the DM from going full Spelljammer and breaking through the wall of stars. But by default, that’s not the story Eberron was designed to tell.

However, you don’t have to go into deep space to have a space race. The Ring of Siberys is a clear target for any advanced nation. Siberys dragonshards are an immensely valuable resource; now that the Five Nations are using dragonshards in an industrial capacity and can see the potential of siberys shards, it’s only logical that people would be looking to the skies and dreaming of the power waiting to be claimed. Beyond the ring you have the moons. Perhaps they’re barren orbs. But if they’re planar gateways they could be the key to serious planar exploration, and if they’re manifest worlds they could hold unknown wonders. So there’s clearly something to be gained from reaching for the sky. And just as in our world, a space race gives a clear, tight focus for the current cold war. The people of the Five Nations may be afraid to start the Last War anew… but which nation will be the first to plant their flag in the Ring of Siberys?

In dealing with the space race, there’s a few questions to consider. What are the obstacles that have to be overcome? Who’s in the race? Who’s already up there? And what might people find?

Obstacles

If all that it takes to reach the moons is to fly straight up, people would have done it long ago. Even though airships are a relatively recent innovation, surely in three decades SOMEONE has determined just how high they can go… and while airships may be new, brooms of flying and similar devices have been around. If there’s no obstacles, there’s no tension and it’s hard to explain why it hasn’t happened. Yet at the same time, this isn’t our reality and there’s no reason that the obstacles to space travel should be the SAME obstacles that we had to overcome. So as a DM planning a space race, consider the following factors.

  • Gravity. If you have to escape the gravity of Eberron to reach the Ring of Siberys, it’s easy to say that no standard methods of flight provide sufficient velocity to accomplish this. This provides room for different nations to be exploring different approaches to attaining that velocity. Elemental binding is an option; how many elementals can you bind to a vessel? Another option is to expand on the arcane principles of levitation, perhaps burning siberys shards to provide a temporary surge of energy. A more exotic option would be to abandon flight in favor of teleportation; imagine flinging a teleport circle anchor at the target.
  • Cosmic Rays. The Ring of Siberys is thought by many to be the source of arcane energy. If so, this radiation could be lethal without proper protection. Alternately, the energy might be harmless, but it could overload unprotected enchantments: until people figure out how to protect against this surge, all magical systems could burn out and shut down in the vicinity of the Ring of Siberys. This could form a deadly layer around the entire planet, or this could be a way to explain why people are aiming for the moons instead of the Ring; because they can’t safely get close to the Ring, but they can avoid it.
  • Oxygen. At what point does the air become too thin to breathe? Is there a vacuum between Eberron and the moons? Because this isn’t natural space, it could be that there IS breathable air throughout the entire system, or that the Ring or the moons have atmosphere—or it could be that the atmosphere largely behaves the way that we’re used to. If oxygen is an obstacle, it doesn’t affect the design of a vessel, but travelers will need to have a solution. Spells and magic items that allow people to breathe underwater could be adapted for this purpose; it’s possible that the same item could work both underwater or in the Ring of Siberys.
  • Hostile Environment. In our world, space travel may require you to deal both with extreme cold or heat. Is the Ring of Siberys shrouded in bitter cold, or is it mysteriously maintained at a comfortable temperature? Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides basic guidelines for dealing with extreme cold, extreme heat, or high altitude. These could be intensified to reflect a truly alien environment, either reducing the time between required saving throws or amplifying the effects of failure. This could also be a factor in vessel design. Airships are made of soarwood; will a wooden ship burn up on re-entry?

Who’s In The Race?

The idea of a space race is that there’s a sense of tension and competition. The Ring of Siberys is too vast for any nation to claim dominion over it. But the first nation to establish an outpost in the Ring or on the moons with have the first opportunity to explore the environment, to harness its resources, and to establish contact with whatever creatures could be found there. The idea is that no nation or dragonmarked house has had unlimited access to Siberys shards; no one knows what could be done with that reliable source. So for purposes of the story, people should KNOW who’s in the race; adventurers could involve helping an allied power gain the resources it needs to advance or acting to block a rival power. So who’s in the race?

One option is to focus on the Five Nations: this is about Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath racing to the sky. A second option is to make it a rivalry between house and nation; perhaps it’s about the Twelve competing against the space program of the Arcane Congress.

Personally, my inclination is to focus on the Five Nations—emphasizing that the Last War has been replaced by a cold war. But I’d also throw in additional alliances. House Cannith is involved with everyone; it’s split in three and the house thus wins in any scenario, but part of the question is who wins; it could be generally understood that the Cannith faction that wins the space race will also claim the leadership of the house. So here’s the factions I’d use in MY space race.

  • Aundair: The Dragonhawk Initiative. Aundair’s space program is an alliance between the Arcane Congress, Cannith West (under Jorlanna d’Cannith), and House Orien. While they are exploring all possibilities, the Dragonhawk Initiative is focusing on teleportation. There are three current paths under investigation: direct teleportation (which also requires scrying to confirm the target point); physical projection of an object that serves as a teleportation circle; or using a passage through a plane to cross space. Thelanis and Xoriat are the planes most tied to these efforts. There is a branch of the Dragonhawk exploring traditional levitation, but leadership is convinced that teleportation is the cleanest and safest approach.
  • Breland: The King’s Observatory. The Observatory is a branch of the King’s Citadel, formed in alliance with Zilargo, Cannith South (under Merrix d’Cannith), and Hosue Lyrandar. While they are exploring traditional levitation techniques, the Observatory is primarily focused on building a better elemental airship, overcoming the obstacles with elemental binding and Cannith ingenuity. Merrix has been experimenting with living ships—a step that could render Lyrandar pilots obsolete. Syrania and Fernia are the planes most associated with their efforts.
  • Karrnath: The Blade of Siberys. The Blade is an alliance between the Karrnathi crown, Cannith East (under Zorlan d’Cannith), and a number of wealthy individuals. Antus ir’Soldorak brings tremendous wealth and mineral resources to the table; Alina Lorridan Lyrris is an expert transmuter and owns the richest khyber shard mines in Khorvaire. The fact that they’re both members of the Platinum Concord of the Aurum is a remarkable coincidence. The Blade of Siberys is primarily interested in reaching the Ring rather than the moons. It is focused on traditional magic of flight, but Zorlan is exploring ways necromancy could be used to solve this problem: ghost astronauts? A shadow engine that draws on the power of the Endless Night? These efforts involve the Mabaran manifest zones in Karrnath, but they are considering the potential of other planes. The Blade is also very focused on the military potential of this program, and any Karrnathi space vessel will be heavily armed.

Thrane is currently a minor player in the race, though the Argentum is exploring the possibilities for an engine that harnesses the power of the Silver Flame itself. Likewise, New Cyre lacks the resources to compete with these main players… but Oargev dreams of establishing a true new Cyre on Olarune.

Who’s Already Up There?

The Five Nations may be working to win the space race, but someone else likely won that race long ago. The dragons of Argonessen are an ancient and advanced civilization, and believe themselves to be the children of Eberron and Siberys; if it’s possible to reach the Ring of Siberys, they surely did it long ago. They could use outposts in the Ring to watch for the appearance of Prophecy marks, and the epic magics unleashed in the destruction of Xen’drik may well have been channeled through siberys shards harvested from the Ring. However, the Ring of Siberys is vast and the dragons are secretive; their outposts are surely well hidden, both physically and magically. Having said that, the dragons may not have bothered to explore the moons—so they could be a truly unexplored frontier.

The giants of ancient Xen’drik were also powerful and advanced. Both the Cul’sir Dominion and the Group of Eleven explored the planes; either one could have ventured into space. Any giant outposts in the Ring of Siberys would have been destroyed by the dragons when they laid waste to Xen’drik, but there could be still be ruins in the Ring. And if a DM wants to introduce a powerful force of giants or empyreans, they could have used a powerful sequester effect to conceal a base in the Ring or on one of the moons.

The Undying Court aren’t involved in the space race. The Ascendant Counselors explore the universe in astral form and have no need to do it physically. The Lords of Dust don’t have any outposts of their own, but they are surely watching all the participants in the space race. As the fiends are the children of Khyber, it’s possible that the pure essence of Siberys is especially repellant to them—that any fiend that approaches the Ring will be destroyed.

These are creatures of Eberron who might have settled above it; possible natives are discussed below.

Exploring the Ring of Siberys

The Ring of Siberys is the logical first stop in the space race, being closer than the moons and having a clear strategic value. If the DM would rather focus on the moons, the magical energies of the Ring can be deadly to living creatures. If the Ring is the destination, the first question is whether the Ring has gravity and atmosphere. This is the most magical place in existence, so anything is possible. The next question is whether the Ring is in fact entirely comprised of massive dragonshards, or if the bulk of it is some other material; it could be a soft stone, that some might see as the calcified flesh of an ancient dragon. Even if there is an atmosphere, the Ring is entirely barren. People may be able to dig into it or build structures on the surface, but there’s no natural sources of food or water; travelers will need to either have strong supply lines, or more likely, to come prepared with ways to magically create food and water.

Magic is dramatically enhanced within the Ring. One option is that all spells cast in the Ring benefit from the Distant Spell and Extended Spell Metamagic options presented in the sorcerer class. But it’s difficult to channel this power; if the DM uses this option, all spellcasting carries the risk of a sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge. With time, it could be that spellcasters could learn unique spells that can only be cast in the magic-rich environment of the Ring.

Even if the energies of the Ring aren’t directly lethal, they can produce many dangerous effects. Just as the energies of the Ring can be used to produce fireballs and lighting bolts, the Ring produces dramatic, unnatural weather effects—bursts of fire, acid rain, illusory manifestations, psychic storms. The Ring also produces living spells, which linger for a time before being absorbed back into the Ring. Other native creatures are rare, given the difficulty of surviving in the RIng. However, just as the rakshasa are said to be the children of Khyber, the native celestials of Eberron—the couatl—are said to have been born of Siberys. While most of the couatl sacrificed their existence to bind the overlords, there could be a few powerful celestials still bound to the Ring. Given that Thrane isn’t a major player in the space race, the first explorers could be surprised to discover embodiments of the Silver Flame itself in the Ring of Siberys.

There’s another exotic possibility. Legends speak of the Irsvern—winged kobolds said to be blessed by Siberys. According to these tales the Irsvern live on the peaks of the tallest mountains; but what if they’re actually natives of the Ring of Siberys? What powers might these children of the Ring possess?

Exploring The Moons

Exploring Eberron provides more details about the planes, and will prove a useful resource whether the moons are planar portals or merely strongly influenced by planes. The main difference between the planar portal and the idea of the manifest world is the degree to which the adventurers can have a lasting impact, and the degree to which the world is an entirely new frontier. The planes are known, even if mortals don’t visit them regularly; and the planes cannot be fundamentally changed. On the other hand, manifest worlds are an opportunity to explore entirely new and alien realms—to have first contact with unknown cultures. This is another a way to introduce exotic races or elements from other settings; perhaps loxodons are from Olarune!

Q&A

Does Arrah orbit Eberron? If so, is it much further away than the moons?

There’s no canon answer to this. What we know is that Eberron has traditional seasons (as defined by the calendar)—that Arrah FUNCTIONS in the way we’re used to a sun working. On the one hand, there’s some logic to Eberron being stuck in the center of its sphere (though it could well be that it rotates in that central point and that Arrah is fixed!).

But let’s consider the Progenitor myth, which again, may or may not be exactly true but is still the closest thing we have to an explanation. In the myth, the Progenitors finish their work and rest in the Material Plane. They kindle Arrah as a campfire. They then fight: Siberys is killed, Eberron and Khyber entwined. Arrah exists BEFORE Eberron becomes a world, and I think it’s perfectly logical to say that ARRAH is at the very center of the plane and that Eberron orbits it. Though another sage could argue that the Progenitors were clearly the focal point of creation and that Arrah would have been pulled into their orbit. So like many things in Eberron, I expect that it’s something sages are actively debating in the world itself.

How do the multiple moons of Eberron affect lycanthropes?

The origin of lycanthropy remains a mystery. All lycanthropes are influenced by the moons, but not all in the same way; this suggests that there may be multiple strains of lycanthropy with different origins. The first strain is only affected by the phases of the moon Olarune; this is typically associated with good-aligned lycanthropes. The second strain of lycanthropy is affected by all of the moons, and multiple full moons can cause extreme behavior; this is the effect reported by the templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and it encourages aggressive behavior and drives victims to quickly succumb to the curse. The third strain of lycanthrope is affected by the moon(s) that were ascendant at the moment of its birth or at the moment it was afflicted; this is common among natural lycanthropes. When adventurers encounter lycanthropes, the DM will have to decide which strain they’re dealing with.

In the past you’ve said that the Gith come from another world… could this be one of the moons?

It’s a possibility, but not the one I personally use. Exploring Eberron goes into more detail about how I use the Gith in my Eberron.

How do the shifter Moonspeakers see the moons? Are they planar portals or more like spiritual guides?

The Moonspeaker druids view the moons as spiritual guides. This doesn’t invalidate the possibility that they are planetoids or portals; the Moonspeakers invoke the spirits of the moons, just as some other druids invoke the spirit of Eberron. With that said, it’s worth noting that this material contradicts the Moonspeaker’s assignment of the moons; I didn’t design the Moonspeaker and I don’t agree with all of its choices.

While the moons correlate with the planes, is there really a correlation with the Dragonmarks, too? The lost moon is tied to Dal Quor, but the lost mark is the Mark of Death, which would have been tied to the same moon as Dolurrh, I would have thought.

There’s a few basic points here. The moons and the planes are both part of creation; they have both existed since the dawn of time. The Dragonmarks have barely existed for three thousand years, and it’s quite possible they were created by the daelkyr. Consider that Crya was lost tens of thousands of years before the Mark of Death even existed! So the ultimate point is that the association of dragonmarks and moons isn’t a concrete, natural FACT as the association of planes and moons is; it’s a superstition, where people have ASSIGNED marks to moons, because hey, twelve marks, twelve moons. And the people who made those assignments may not even know that there once was a thirteenth moon! So it’s possible that people have stumbled onto a cosmic truth in linking these together‚that even those the marks are recent, they tied into this cosmic code. But it could also be entirely speculative.

Having said that, consider what Dolurrh actually is. It’s NOT the “Plane of Death.” Many believe that it is the plane of transition, where the soul leaves its burdens behind and ascends to a higher realm. Aryth is “The Gateway” — and the dragonmark associated with it is the Mark of Passage. The point of this association is that Dolurrh ISN’T actually the destination; it’s a pathway to the unknown realm that lies beyond.

The moons of Eberron are tied to the planes. What about the sun? What’s it tied to?

There is no canon answer to this question, and I’m sure that sages debate it at Arcanix and Korranberg. I’ll give you three answers that all likely have supporters. One is that it represents nothing. It was created by the Progenitors to serve a utilitarian function; it’s the divine campfire. Another is that just as the moons are tied to the planes, the sun represents the MATERIAL plane. A third is tied to the theory that Dolurrh is a gateway that allows people to transition to the Realm of the Sovereigns, a higher realm no mortal can know; some surely believe that Arrah is tied to THAT plane, which is why it’s so much brighter than the moons; it’s a glimpse of the truly celestial realm.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and who keep this blog going! How have you used the moons or the space race in your campaign?

Lightning Round Q&A: Manifest Zones and Magic

Hello, world!

I’ve been off the grid for a month: dealing both with a host of mundane challenges and working on Morgrave’s Miscellany, which will be released in November. This has kept me from posting much here. I will be back online next month, but for now I wanted to do a quick lightning round with some questions from my Patreon supporters.

MANIFEST ZONES

Manifest zones are often portrayed as this Venn diagram overlap between Eberron and another dimension/world, with the overlap recurring cyclically like the orbits of planetary bodies. Assuming that’s an accurate depiction of what you intended them to be… are manifest zones subject to continental drift, ocean levels, etc.?

This isn’t an entirely accurate description; it’s combining two separate ideas.

Manifest Zones are permanent locations: places where the influence of another plane can be felt in Eberron. This isn’t cyclical; it is ongoing and reliable. Sharn is built on a manifest zone that enhances spells tied to levitation and flight, and this supports the great towers and enables skycoaches; if that connection were to fade or be severed, the towers could collapse. Likewise, Dreadhold is built on a manifest zone, and this is tied into its security. Manifest zones are reliable. They are (super)natural resources, like rivers and veins of precious metal; thus many of the great cities and institutions are built to take advantage of them. Generally speaking we haven’t suggested that manifest zones are subject to effects such as tides or rising ocean levels. I think that the location of the manifest zone is static; if the land beneath it drifts or rises or lowers, the zone will remain constant. We’ve presented manifest zones that are small points high in the air or underwater, so they aren’t tied to soil.

Coterminous and remote planes are the result of the constant shifting of planar influence on the world. This is something that occurs cyclically, like the orbit of planetary bodies. When a plane is coterminous, it strongly influences Eberron, causing broad effects not unlike what a manifest zones can produce—but universally across the world. When its remote, the influence of that plane is far weaker.

You could say that while a plane is coterminous, the effects of a manifest zone are increased. So for example: you might say that tieflings may be born when a child is conceived in a manifest zone during a coterminous period. But that;s a double whammy, and critically the effects of a manifest zone continue even while the plane is remote.

The 4e ECG says that some manifest zones are permanent, and others may appear where no one was before. 

It’s entirely reasonable to say that a manifest zone can appear unexpectedly or that an existing manifest zone could suddenly fade. My point is simply that this isn’t how manifest zones USUALLY work. The ebb and flow of planar power—remote to coterminous—is a part of the setting, but it is a separate thing from the functioning of manifest zones, and that’s what I wanted to clarify. But there’s nothing wrong with having a new manifest zone appear.

Are there zones that respond to stimulus at a lower level of magic than eldritch machine?

We often say that manifest zones are a requirement for creating eldritch machines or for performing powerful magical rituals. But it’s not that the zone responds to the machine; it’s that the machine harnesses the existing power of the zone. Most manifest zones have perceivable effects at all times, just not as dramatic as the powers of an eldritch machine.

When I have more time, I’d certainly like to give more examples of manifest zones and the sorts of effects they can produce.

Is there any specific listed canon method to shut off a manifest zone?

In canon? No. Manifest zones also aren’t uniform in size, shape, or power, so I doubt that there’s a single method that would apply to all manifest zones; I’d also expect the method using to have to relate to the plane involved.

With that said, the idea that it can be done has certainly been presented. My novel The Son of Khyber involves an attempt to destroy Sharn using a Cannith weapon that would disrupt the manifest zone. Again, this isn’t canon (Eberron novels are suggestion, not concrete fact); and it is a weapon that critically had to be used in a very specific location and required a massive amount of arcane power. So when it has come up, it’s presented as a difficult challenge. But yes, it’s certainly POSSIBLE.

Could a tinkering arcanist build a music box that opens a foot-sized manifest zone? 

Sure. Anything is possible if it’s a story you want to involve. But something that CREATES a manifest zone certainly isn’t a trivial effect. It’s not something that people casually do. Again, manifest zones are things that must be found and harnessed; they aren’t created (if they could be easily created, we’d have more cities like Sharn). But if you WANT to say that this particular NPC has made some sort of bizarre breakthrough and created an artifact that produces a tiny manifest zone, why not?

Do the deathless need the manifest zone of Irian to stay “alive,” or just need it for their creation?

Deathless require an ongoing supply of positive energy to sustain their existence. There’s two primary sources of this: manifest zones to Irian, and the devotion of loyal followers. So Shae Mordai is located on a powerful Irian manifest zone, and that means that even if all the living elves were wiped out, the Court could survive. But a deathless who spends an extended amount of time outside manifest zone needs to have a pool of positive energy to draw on, which means devoted followers. The deathless counsellor in Stormreach is sustained by the devotion of the local Aereni community, and if they all left, she’d have to leave too.

This was the fundamental divide between the Line of Vol and the Undying Court. Positively charged undead can’t take the power they need to survive; it has to be freely given. Negatively charged undead consume the lifeforce they need; even if every living elf died, the vampire or lich will continue. So Vol asserts that Mabaran undeath is the only way to ensure the survival of the finest souls; the Undying Court asserts that all Mabaran undead consume the ambient lifeforce of the world, and that creating them is unethical and ultimately a threat to all life.

MAGIC IN THE WORLD

How do you imagine ID systems in Khorvaire? Who checks them, how are they authenticated?

We’ve generally suggested that Eberron is at a rough level equivalent to late 19th century earth, NOT 20th century. When you get into magical wards you can have more advanced forms of identification. But when it comes to ID papers, it’s NOT supposed to be on par with our modern day systems of databases, biometrics, or anything like that.

House Sivis fills the role of the notary in Eberron. Originally, arcane mark was one of the powers of the Mark of Scribing. The idea is simple: each Sivis heir can produce a unique arcane mark—a sort of mystical signature. A Sivis heir goes through training and testing to become a notary, and their mark is on record in the house. Like a modern notary, a Sivis notary would make a record of all documents they notarize and this would be held by the house. So: ID papers would be notarized by a Sivis scribe, who would review all materials before placing their mark. An arcane mark is difficult (though not impossible) to forge. A border guard is primarily just going to look at your ID papers and say “This appears to be you, and you’ve got a valid Sivis mark.” IF there was some reason to question things, the papers could be confiscated and referred to a Sivis enclave, who could use a speaking stone to check with the primary house records to confirm that ht papers were legitimately notarized. But that’s a very big step. Generally it’s a question of if you have a valid Sivis arcane mark.

Fifth Edition doesn’t have arcane mark, so instead we added in the scribe’s pen as a dragonmark focus item that allows a Sivis heir to inscribe mystical symbols. This would still work the same way: a Sivis heir would have to go through a process to become a notary, their personal mark is recorded, and records are made of every document they notarize.

So getting all the way to the point: 95% of the time, verification will essentially be on a level of what could be done in the 19th century: a cursory check for obvious signs of forgery, confirming that the material in the document is accurate (IE, it says you’re a dwarf but you’re clearly an elf), and that it has a Sivis mark. Forgery is thus entirely possible; the challenge is forging the arcane mark, because that’s a glowing magical symbol and you’d have to have some sort of magical tool to pull it off.

How do mundane craftsmen and martial characters stay relevant in an increasingly magical world like the Five Nations? I feel like the Houses and magewrights crowd out trade and spellcasting ability seems borderline required going forward for spies and fighters alike.

Magewrights don’t crowd out trade; magewrights are the future of trade. It’s essentially saying “Does a washing machine drive people who are washing by hand out of business?” Sure, so that launderer probably wants to invest in a washing machine. I still have a large article half-written that talks about the general concept of what it means to be a magewright. Essentially, as a blacksmith your life is simply easier if you can cast mending and magecraft (which I see as a skill-specific version of guidance). Now, those two cantrips on their own aren’t that much of a job; it’s the combination of those cantrips and mundane skill that make a good blacksmith. So I’m saying that in Eberron, most successful craftsmen will KNOW a cantrip or two.

With that said, you can also say “Why didn’t the microwave drive chefs who use longer cooking techniques out of business?” Prestidigitation allows you to heat food instantly, but you could certainly say that food snobs think that food produced through mundane means is BETTER.

The critical point here is that Eberron in 998 YK is based on the idea that civilization is evolving. The wandslinger is something new, a reflection of improved techniques developed during the Last War and now spreading out to the civilian population. Magic isn’t supposed to be a static force that’s remained unchanging for centuries; we are at a moment in time where people can ask “Can you really be a good spy without knowing magic?”

As I said, I’ll certainly write more about this in the future.

GENERAL

You’ve said that nothing in Eberron is born evil. Does that include aberrations created by the daelkyr, like the dolgrim, dolgaunts, and dolgrue?

My short form is that entirely natural creatures aren’t bound to an alignment; their alignment will be shaped by their culture and experiences. UNnatural creatures can be either forced into a particular alignment (like celestials, fiends, and lycanthropes) or strongly driven in a particular direction (like a vampire, who is driven towards evil by their connection to Mabar)…though you can have good vampires and even fallen celestials.

First of all, I don’t think you can make a single canon ruling on all aberrations. Beyond that, we have given examples of beholders and illithids who are at least neutral in Eberron. I think I see it as the equivalent of the vampire. A dolgrim or illithid is pushed in a particular direction. It’s gone alien brain chemistry. Its mind literally doesn’t work the way the human or dwarf brain does. However, I think that MANY aberrations have the ability to ultimately follow a unique path—that they aren’t absolutely locked into a particular form of behavior.

So let’s imagine a baby dolgrim raised by peaceful goblin farmers. I don’t think it would be just like any other normal goblin child, because IT’S NOT NORMAL. It’s brain was physically shaped in a particular direction by an alien geneticist. It’s tied to Xoriat and likely has vivid visions and possibly hallucinations pushing it in a particular way. And it has two unique (and yet merged) consciousnesses. So it wouldn’t just present as any old goblin that happens to have two mouths. But I don’t think it would necessarily be EVIL; it could find a unique path.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

Not that we’ve said in canon so far, but I think it’s an excellent idea to explore and develop. In the past we’ve suggested that Olarune is the PRIMARY moon that influences lycanthropes. But if I was exploring the idea in more depth, I’d love to present ways in which different moons influence lycanthropes, suggesting that each moon pushes a particular time of emotion or behavior.

If their ships were made airtight, what’s to prevent House Lyrandar from flying into space? What would they find when they got there?

That depends. How are you viewing space? Are we using spelljammer concepts or modern science? Could a fire elemental exist in a vacuum, or would it be extinguished? Are we going to consider the stresses of re-entry that a rocket actually deals with and the sort of speed and forced required to break escape velocity, or are we going to saying that in THIS universe, magic propulsion overrides gravity? Or that there’s a universal gravity, and that when your Lyrandar airship sails into space people can still walk around as if there was gravity?

Essentially: I like the idea of an Eberron space race, though I’d likely start by exploring the moons. But if I was to propose such a campaign I’d need to stop and answer a lot of questions about the physics of the universe that we haven’t yet answered… and I’d want to think carefully about it before I do. For example, let’s just look at the moons. I can imagine the moons being fantastic wonderous locations, like Barsoom in Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. But I could ALSO imagine the revelation that the moons aren’t celestial bodies at all; they’re actually massive planar portals, allowing an airship to physically sail into another plane. I’d want to think about which story feels more interesting and which I’d like to explore. But as of now, there is no canon answer.

Would you ever allow a player to play as an escaped Chosen vessel?

Sure. I think there’s stats for them in Secrets of Sarlona. But the main issue is that the Chosen have no voluntary say in being possessed. Chosen vessels are genetically designed to be possessed by a particular quori. So my question is how your PC vessel deals with this. Are they a ticking time bomb who could be possessed at any time? Have they been given some sort of Adaran artifact that keeps them safe as long as they don’t lose the item? Or has the particular quori tied to their line been bound?

Were a particular quori to be made incapable of possessing its Inspired hosts, whether by destruction or imprisonment, would it be possible that the Chosen and Inspired of that particular line be “reassigned”? Would Dal Quor remove the Inspired as well if they removed the quori? Would an “unused” Chosen be given to a new quori or share the fate of the “used” Inspired?

The principle that’s been established is that the bond between quori and vessel is in some way biological. So Dal Quor can’t simply reassign a Chosen line; they’d have to breed a new one. With that said, Chosen CAN be possessed by any quori; it’s simply that they have to ALLOW themselves to be possessed, while they have no choice when dealing with the quori bound to their line. So there could easily be Chosen who are serving as voluntary vessels for other quori; it’s just that it can’t be forced.

That’s all for now! If you have questions related to these topics, post them below!

Dragonmarks 11/14: Warforged and More

It’s been a very busy month, from wonderful events such as Extra Life and ChariD20 to unexpected tragedies like the loss of my friend Mr. Pants. I’m also hard at work on Phoenix: Dawn Command and I hope to talk more about that soon. However, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a Dragonmark, and I don’t want to get rusty.

At the moment, I have no news about 5E Eberron support, though I am still optimistic that there will be news soon. As always, everything I write here is entirely unofficial and may contradict material in canon sources.

How would you emulate a warforged character using the 5E PHB?

I came up with one possible 5E interpretation of the Warforged with Rodney Thompson of WotC for Extra Life; you can find the stats I used here. There are other things I might try – one being the ongoing question of whether warforged should have inherent armor similar to the 3E feat-based armor or follow the 4E hermit crab approach where armor is a shell they attach. The version on my site takes the hermit crab approach; all I’ll say is that I had a fine time with Smith when I played him in Extra Life. Personally, I will continue to experiment with different approaches to the warforged as I continue to evaluate 5E – but I think the current model is a reasonable approach and definitely not overpowered.

What sort of culture is there among warforged? Also, now that the war’s over, how might one warforged from one nation behave around a warforged of a different nation?

Both good questions, but I think the answer is that there’s no clear answer. The warforged have only been free citizens for two years, and they are still creating their culture. The followers of the Becoming God and the Lord of Blades represent two hubs for warforged culture to build around, but any center for warforged population – such as the Cogs in Sharn – could be the genesis of a warforged culture. As for how warforged of different nations behave around each other, it’s the same issue: it’s going to depend on the cultural path they are following. Followers of the Lord of Blades have no loyalty to any human nation, and consider all warforged to be part of one family… while other warforged cling rigidly to national loyalty and military discipline as the only things that have given their lives any sense of meaning. Such a warforged could be very hostile to a ‘forged from an enemy nation. The interesting question is if the ‘forged would act the same way towards a human soldier of that nation, or if he holds greater emnity for rival ‘forged because he still sees them as essentially weapons.

But the ultimate answer is “there is no absolute answer.”

Have you ever used the Lord of Blades in a game? What backstory did you use, if so?

I originally planned for the Lord of Blades to play a significant role in The Dreaming Dark trilogy. WotC decided they didn’t want him to appear in fiction so early in the cycle of the setting, so Harmattan took his place. I developed the Lord of Blades during the original cycle, and he originally had stats in the 3.5 ECS in the same section as Demise and Halas Martain – and like both of them, he had multiple sets of statistics to allow him to evolve as PCs rose in level. He ended up being cut for space, and I think it was just as well as it let DMs take him in different directions. The only time I’ve personally used him in a session it actually ended with the idea that he wasn’t an individual warforged – rather, he was a shared identity created by a cabal of warforged at the end of the war. So in that storyline, it would have been possible for people to fight and defeat a Lord of Blades in one scenario and discover that he was simultaneously doing something elsewhere. It’s a little like saying that Doctor Doom always was a bunch of Doombots working together, who made up the story of “Doctor Doom.”

I suggest a number of other ideas in this Dragonshard – among others, the idea that he could just be Aaren d’Cannith wearing a suit of warforged armor – but I haven’t personally used any of those ideas in games I’ve run.

What pacts do you think work best for warforged warlocks? With pacts made before or after rolling off the creation forge.

That depends how you define a “warforged warlock” and “pact.” For example, in a number of games I have used warforged warlocks who draw their powers from the Mourning. But the idea of this wasn’t that these warforged had made a concrete bargain with a sentient aspect of the Mourning, like a traditional Infernal or Fey warlock; rather it was that they had been touched and twisted by the Mourning. If you are actually playing with the idea of a warforged bargaining with a supernatural entity in exchange for power, I think you could make a case for any pact. I think you could have a very interesting Infernal Warlock based on the idea that a human warlock died and made a bargain that resulted in his soul being inserted into a warforged body… with the underlying threat that the body could be taken away if he fails to live up to the terms of his pact.

Are there mindflayers who support Riedra or the inspired -or that are even inspired themselves? Given their psionic abilities?

As I first discussed in this Dragonshard article, Dal Quor and Xoriat are both common sources of psionic power. However, they reflect very different approaches to reality and the mind, and I don’t see the fact that they both channel psionics as being any sort of bridge between them; if anything, I’d argue that psions inspired by these two different sources are fundamentally as different from each other as clerics and wizards are when it comes to manipulating “magic.” This can be reflected by having Wilders be more commonly tied to Xoriat, but I think that you can have people from both paths use the same class and still have a very different flavor for it. I feel that the denizens of Dal Quor and Xoriat are equally far apart and would generally find very little common ground.

While the Quori are undeniably alien creatures, there is a very close bond between them and mortal dreams. Mortal dreams have an impact on Dal Quor, and the Quori themselves inspire and draw strength from mortal emotions. Tsucora draw on fear, Duurlora are spirits of aggression, and so on. Among other things, this means that emotions as we understand them are relevant to the Quori. It means that we can generally understand their motivations and outlook on the world. You then have the secondary aspect that the modern Quori are very strongly aligned behind a common cause – the perceived survival of their reality. The Quori are an innately Lawful force. They have a strict hierarchy amongst themselves, and in many ways they are fundamentally defined by the fact that they are enforcing order upon chaos. They SHAPE dreams and use them as tools. They create specific emotions and use them to accomplish their goals.

By contrast, the denizens of Xoriat are utterly alien… as alien to the Quori as they are to humanity. I’ll point you to this Dragonmark article on the subject for further exploration of this fact. But the short form is that Quori understand humans, which is what allows them to manipulate humanity; they don’t understand the Daelkyr or their servants. There is no order that can easily be imposed upon them, and they don’t even necessarily experience the same emotions that we do.

All of this is my personal preference, and you’re certainly welcome to take a less extreme position. But for me, what makes the Daelkyr, the Cults of the Dragon Below, and aberrations in general INTERESTING in a world that also includes Quori, Rakshasa, evil dragons, and more is the fact that the creatures of Xoriat are the most completely alien of any of these. A mind flayer such as Xorchyllic might appear to have motivations we understand, but when you delve deeper you may find that there’s things going on there that don’t make sense at all. The logic, emotions and schemes of Xoriat should be hard for us to understand, because their logic is our madness. It is inherently at odds with our vision of order, reason and reality.

So I might have an ALLIANCE between a mind flayer and the Inspired, but I would certainly expect it to be temporary… and I would emphasize that even the Quori don’t understand what the mind flayer is up to.

 How would you make Thrane sympathetic in a game set in Thaliost?

Interesting question. They are the occupying force, which is always a hard position to justify. One of the first things I’d do is to emphasize that the brutal governor of the city, Archbishop Dariznu, is actually Aundairian; he represents the extremist Pure Flame movement rooted in Aundair. The Thrane templars and priests in the city are under his authority, but I’d emphasize their disgust at Dariznu’s actions and have some of them doing what they can to mitigate them or to help people in need. Compassion is a core virtue of the Silver Flame, and I’d incorporate a number of Thranes – whether part of the occupying force or independent agents – who are providing compassionate assistance to the needy. I could even see a group of Thrane templars considering if they should defy the hierarchy and remove Dariznu from power. The essential point to make is that this isn’t a simple black and white Thrane vs Aundair conflict; you are also dealing with an ideological schism within the Church of the Silver Flame. There are Aundairians and Thranes on both sides of that schism, and definitely Thranes who believe in the validity of Thrane’s claim to the region while still despising the actions of the Governor. This is something I touch on in this Dragonmark.

How do you handle airships being damaged without making it feel like you’re punishing the players or taking away their stuff?

To me, the key issue here is the difference between punishing players and taking away their stuff. In my campaign, everything outside of the players themselves is fair game to suffer consequences player action. I want players to develop attachments to people, places and things precisely so I CAN threaten their airship, spouse, or home village – because all of these are ways to add a sense of tension and consequence to player action. But that also requires a level of trust on the part of my players that the actions I take aren’t simply malicious or capricious. One of the points on things is that they can always get replaced. If I destroy their airship as part of a Lost-like scenario that drives a campaign arc, they can always get a NEW airship when they get back to civilization… and if it’s not exactly the same as the old one, like I said, that’s part of what actually drives the story: things change, events have consequences, and heroes CAN suffer loss.

But I think the key point here – as with many things about good GMing – is about clear communication between player and GM, and about an understanding of the type of story that will play out. If the PLAYERS have a clear vision of the campaign as them flying around saving the universe in the Millennium Falcon and you randomly have it destroyed by an asteroid in the first session, just saying “But you get another ship later!” isn’t going to make that all better. Basically, I would never, say, make a PC lose a limb without having some form of consent that the PC is OK with that sort of story. If the airship truly is as integral to the concept of the PC as a limb, then I’m not going to casually remove it. But overall, my GOAL is for people to be able to develop attachments to people, places and things with the understanding that these things CAN be lost, and can even potentially be lost in seemingly senseless ways; it’s this understanding that helps people feel that their actions matter and that loss is a possibility.

The game I’m currently developing – Phoenix: Dawn Command – approaches loss in a very different manner, as death and loss are fundamental parts of character growth. But that’s a subject for a future post.

OK: That’s all I have time to discuss in detail. Which means it’s time for another lightning round for the remaining questions…

Did elements from Final Fantasy VI (opera, airships…) inspire some features of Eberron even slightly?

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have never actually played a Final Fantasy game or seen any of the movies. So any similarities are simply parallel evolution.

How common are wands among non-magical inhabitants of Eberron?

Not at all. Using a wand requires magical talent; even eternal wands require you to be SOME sort of spellcaster, even if you don’t have to be a caster with access to the spell in the wand.

Eberron suddenly becomes “mundane” -no divine/arcane power, no connection to planes. What happens instantly, a year, 10 years?

I explored this concept in the Children of Winter article in Dragon 418. One thing to bear in mind is that a lot of Eberron’s major cities take advantages of manifest zones or magic; remove those things and Sharn will immediately collapse, for example.

Can criminals avoid being convicted in spite of items as the eye of Aureon and pendants of mystic warning (from SharnCoT)?

Sure. FIrst of all, an Eye of Aureon won’t help you CATCH a criminal; it only helps you prove his guilt or innocence once he’s been captured. Eyes of Aureon are rare and “only found in the greatest cities of Khorvaire.” Beyond that, an Eye of Aureon is simply a zone of truth, and there’s lots of ways to get around those… from effects that shield you from divination to simply finding ways to mislead while speaking the literal truth. Meanwhile, a Pendant of Mystical Warning is an expensive item that can only be used by someone with arcane talent, and has all the same limitations as detect magic. So yes, I think there are definitely ways for criminals to avoid conviction. This sort of thing is a subject I delve into in considerable depth in the 3E sourcebook Crime and Punishment from Atlas Games.

If the worlds-traveling crone Baba Yaga were to visit Eberron, where would her hut reside?

Personally, if I were to use Baba Yaga in Eberron I would say that when she passes through Eberron she tends to use another name, and either make her Sora Katra or Sora Kell herself.

How evil are the daughters of Sora Kell? Do they have legitimate plans for Droam? Would you ever write a story focused there?

I have written stories focused there; I think Sheshka is actually the most popular character in The Queen of Stone. Beyond that, it’s a topic I’ve discussed in some detail in this Dragonmark, so I suggest you take a look at that and see if it answers your questions.

Does Flamewind have an androsphinx counterpart/sibling/mate?

Not in Sharn, and we’ve never detailed her private life before Sharn. Of course, if you’re referring to Flamewind as depicted in The Dreaming Dark, you have to ask yourself if she’s really a sphinx at all – or if she is some sort of manifestation of the Queen of Dusk. And speaking of which…

Will the new edition be advancing the timeline at all? Anything in the works for Daine, Lei, and Pierce?

I still have no concrete details on the plans for future Eberron support and whether it will include novels. Personally I would rather focus on the past or on regions of the world (or planes) that have been underdeveloped as opposed to pushing the timeline forward.

If a “Super Hero” team appeared in Sharn, how would Breland react to it? Would the local Dragonmark houses do anything?

Sharn’s a big place. The first draft of the setting actually included a pulp vigilante in Sharn – a kalashtar known as “The Beholder.” I’d only expect Breland to get involved if the group was somehow seen as a serious threat to royal authority; after all, it’s not as though Breland has stepped in to interfere with House Tarkanan or the Boromar Clan. Likewise, I’d only expect this houses to act if their personal interests were threatened. If anything, I could see the Twelve CREATING a superhero team as a PR exercise. Get your Cannith Iron Man, Vadalis super-soldier, Orien speedster, etc…

Are any of the moons inhabited?

They COULD be. We’ve intentionally left details on the moons scarce so that YOU can decide if you want to have a Moon Race game, an invasion from the moons, or even to just say that the moons are in fact simply portals to other planes.

Why did the Eldeen Reaches declare independence from Aundair? I can see why places like Mror or Zilargo got independent, but Eldeen?

For a brief exploration of this topic, look at this previous post. The short form is that the schism between Aundair and the Eldeen reflected significant cultural and economic troubles between the regions, and that the leadership of Aundair was focusing on the war with the other nations to the detriment of the Eldeen.

What were your plans for the undersea kingdoms of Eberron?

Someday I hope to explore this in more depth (get it?) but it won’t be today. One detail I will throw out is that Sharn originally had an undersea district with a section with a permanent Airy Water enchantment so people could make deals with merfolk emissaries.

 

Dragonmarks 8/9: Lightning Round 5!

It’s time for another Eberron Q&A! Let’s get right to it…

Let’s say that I’ve got a player who really likes games with Nerull. How would you put him in? The Keeper? Lord of Dust?

The thing about the Keeper is that you only interact with him through his cults, and they aren’t even all bad. The Restful Watch believe that Aureon and the Keeper work together to preserve vital souls from Dolurrh so that they can be returned to Eberron in a time of need; in many communities, the RW maintains cemeteries and performs funerary rites. As a result, I’d go with the Lords of Dust, specifically the Overlord Katashka, also known as the Gatekeeper. Lord of death and undeath, Katashka is said to have created the first undead. His mightiest servant is the dracolich Mazyralyx, who some scholars believe is the original inspiration for the myths of the Keeper. Katashka himself is bound, but you can bring Mazyralyx and any number of fiendish and undead servants to bear. Katashka is mentioned on page 30 of the 4E ECG and in this Eberron Expanded article.

Continuing with the theme…

How exactly does a Rajah like Yad-Raghesh ( from Dragons of Eberron, page 50) die?

He doesn’t. That’s the point of Yad-Raghesh’s tale; his apparent death appears to be a shocking, one-of-a-kind victory, but it is later discovered that rather than dying, he has simply spread his spirit across the Vale, transforming it into a pit of corruption that spawns fiends and slowly expands. If Yad-Raghesh was truly “dead”, the blight on the land would pass; it’s the presence of his spirit that keeps it alive and growing.

Now, to be clear: An Overlord can be temporarily killed the standard way – by reducing his hit points below zero. It’s simply that this doesn’t last for long; he returns within a day. In the case of Yad-Raghesh, he didn’t return and thus appeared to have been truly defeated. This turned out to be a false hope. By transforming himself in this way, he at least partially escaped the binding of the Silver Flame; he can’t return to his original form, but his power is continuing to spread while the other Overlords are held in check.

As for what he represents, I would say corruption. He gave up his physical existence to BECOME the corruption he embodied.

Out of all Eberron NPCs, which one would be the most likely to become a Ravenloft Darklord?

I don’t know about “most likely,” but my choice would be Merrix d’Cannith. His great crime? The attempt to create true life, moving beyond the warforged (who can’t procreate) to create something that can truly replace the current people of Eberron. In the Gothic architypes, he’d be a sort of Frankenstein, his realm filled with his imperfect creations – after all, the Dark Powers might let him get close to his goal, but they’d never allow him to succeed.

Suppose you have a player who, for whatever reason, wants part of his PC’s story arc to be romancing a noble. Who would be your best/favourite NPC noble for this role?

I’m still planning to write more about the nobility in the future, but this is more targeted. It depends where your story is set, but I’d personally choose Princess Haydith of Karrnath, who currently resides in Boranel’s court in Breland. According to Five Nations she’s only fifteen, but it’s easy enough to adjust that as you see fit. I think Haybith is an interesting character for a number of reasons. She’s the sister of a king, so certainly an important noble; she’s in a foreign land and thus likely happy to find a new friend or romance; she’s already a political pawn in Kaius’s efforts to promote peace, but she could easily be targeted by those who wish to strike at Kaius himself. And, of course, getting close to Haydith provides an interesting connection to Kaius itself, which could go any number of different ways.

Besides a certain royal prince (already mentioned in the ECG) who are some potential identities behind the mask of Prisoner Deep Fourteen?

Let’s look at the facts. He was sent to Dreadhold by Kaius III. He is being kept alive. His features are hidden. He can’t speak and isn’t allowed to communicate in other ways. So why keep him alive but incommunicado? Here’s a few random ideas, which I am making up at this very moment.

War Wizard. This individual is one of Karrnath’s greatest war wizards, responsible for creating immensely powerful and horrific rituals used in war. He’s wanted for a host of war crimes, and Kaius promptly had him tried and supposedly executed at the end of the war before any other nation could get their hands on him (thus claiming innocence in some of his worst atrocities). However, the fact of the matter is that he wants the man alive so if the war begins again he can bring him back into service. Heck, if you want to go there, you could say that he is the architect of the Mourning itself! Kaius is horrified by the damage the weapon did and doesn’t want his future kingdom devastated like this… but he doesn’t want to kill the one man who knows how to make a second Mourning.

Demon Vessel. During the war, Kaius made deals with a powerful fiend. When it came time for the fiend to collect what was promised to it, Kaius was able to trick it into possessing this mortal body, which was then bound and sent to Dreadhold. If the vessel is killed, the demon will be freed and will take a terrible vengeance on Kaius and Karrnath.

Who’s Your Daddy? According to some myths, a vampire has influence over vampires that it creates. Some superstitious people maintain that slaying a vampire will result in the deaths of those it has sired; even if this isn’t true as a default, a brilliant necromancer could certainly devise sympathetic rituals to strike at a vampire through it’s sire. As for why Kaius III would want a vampire locked away – I’ll leave it to you to figure that out.

Have you ever ran an adventure in Everice or Frostfell? What sort of things might be found there? I can only think of Daelkyr/Quori ruins greatly inspired by At the Mountains of Madness, though I wonder what ideas flow through your head.

I wrote a backdrop set in the Frostfell for the print edition of Dungeon that never ended up seeing the light of day. Rumor has it that some form of it may appear as an Eye on Eberron article. For now, I’ll simply say that my vision of the Frostfell includes old dwarven ruins and the impact of a powerful Overlord of the Age of Demons.

I noticed the other day that, geographically, much of the demon wastes should be rainy, frozen misery. Was this intended?

The Demon Wastes is an unnatural place, due to the presence of buried overlords and close ties to Khyber. So rainy, frozen misery is certainly appropriate; but it also has its share of volcanic activity, burning basalt wastes, and the like.

With House Sivis’ tight standards for authentication, how effective is forgery for your typical hard-working scoundrel?

Difficult. However, based on the principle that science advances with needs, I’m sure that there are tools in existence allowing people who can create arcane marks to (attempt to) forge a Sivis mark. And bear in mind that not all documents in circulation are authenticated by Sivis. Letters of credit and identification papers generally are; but when the innkeeper sends a letter to his brother, he’s not likely to run over to the bank to get it authenticated.

Lightning rail roads are always shown as a single line of stones. How do the trains pass each other?

I don’t believe that the coach needs to ride directly above the rail; it’s about the interaction between the two. as such, I think two trains could slide to the side (using some form of front deflector) and move alongside each other, with the rail in between the two of them, for a short period of time.

I want a villain with an airship. He’d need a Lyrandar pilot. Why wouldn’t the House put a stop to that? At what point would the House personally step in to stop a rogue member assisting a villain?

It would only concern the house if it was somehow causing bad publicity for them. Their initial response would simply be to declare the individual to be a rogue and excoriate, and likely put a bounty on him based on just how much trouble he was causing them; meaning that yay, the player characters can collect an extra reward. I’d only see the house leadership as taking some sort of direct action if the individual became a huge black eye for them – if her actions were causing people to boycott Lyrandar services or the like.

Did the ancient goblins/giants/dragons have artificers? If not, why not? If so, what are some examples of ancient artifice, as opposed to just ancient magic in general?

First off: the artificer is a PC class. I don’t like saying that “Culture X doesn’t have a single individual of class Y”, because PC-class individuals are remarkable people. Just because the ancient dragon culture as a whole didn’t have artificers doesn’t mean that there wasn’t *A* dragon artificer; what I’m going to say is my view of the culture’s approach to magic as a whole. And with that in mind, bear in mind that there’s nothing an artificer can create that can’t be created by some other spellcasting class. The artificer is simply more versatile and efficient. In my opinion, it represents a more industrial approach to the creation of magic items: a focus on magic items as a tool of society, as opposed to a secondary aspect of whatever field of magic the individual pursues. So, looking at each culture:

Dragons of Argonnessen. I don’t see artificers as being a significant part of draconic cultures. Dragons are magic, and their style of magic largely involve learning to channel their own innate power, or using it to create greater effects in the world around them – which is to say, primarily sorcery. Dragons of Eberron talks about loredrakes and divine casters, and loredrakes such as Ourelonastrix obviously unlocked epic level magic lesser creatures haven’t yet mastered – things like the magic used to devastate Xen’drik. But I don’t see artifice as such being a particular interest of dragons.

Giants of Xen’drik. Yes, I believe that there were artificers in Xen’drik. In particular, the Sulat League has been shown as having a very industrial approach to magic, between elemental binding, magebreeding, and the tools and weapons they created. In The Dreaming Dark trilogy you see a number of examples of their artifice, such as the moon-breaker and the chamber of false dreams.

Dhakaani Goblins. No artificers. They have exceptional smiths whose techniques and knowledge of metallurgy allow them to produce magical arms and armor, but a Dhakaani war-smith simply doesn’t have the versatility of an artificer (who can also disable constructs, craft everburning torches, create spell-storing objects, etc). The Dhakaani goblins do know how to create artifacts – Ghaal’Duur, to name one – but as described in the recent Kech Ghaalrac article, “these objects cannot be mass produced; each one is unique and requires rare components to create—the blood of a daelkyr, slivers of Khyber dragonshards imbued with a demon’s essence, and the like.” So again, they have exceptional treasures, but that doesn’t mean that they have a culture that produces artificers; their treasures are made by their smiths and the duur’kala. With that said, if your goal is to find a place where an artificer could learn a new infusion, I could see saying that a PC artificer could learn some sort of new technique by working with the Dhakaani smiths, even if those smiths aren’t artificers.

Was there ever the idea to break up Cannith’s HUGE powerbase and split up the magic stuffs a bit more? Yeah, Cannith is split up three ways that make sense but would it make sense for Denieth to make the Warforged … or have Lyrandar make the airships? Cannith just seems very omnipresent in a world surrounded by magic.

Don’t overestimate Cannith’s power. Cannith produces airships, but it can’t make airships that actually work without the help of both Lyrandar and Zil elemental binders. Cannith created the Kundarak vault network, but it required the assistance of Orien and Kundarak heirs. Cannith is the house of making, and they are the foundation of the magical economy. But many of the critical tools of society require multiple houses to work together. This is the primary purpose of the Twelve: to facilitate this sort of cooperation and create things no house could create alone.

So allowing Lyrandar to create airships on its own would significantly alter the balance of power. As it is, Lyrandar needs Cannith… but Cannith also needs Lyrandar. There are many things – the warforged, wands, etc – that Cannith creates alone, but even there it relies on House Tharashk for the massive amounts of dragonshards required for its work. They are one of the most powerful and influential houses, but there are other houses that can challenge them – especially with the current schism in their ranks.

Maybe you answered this before, but how would you retcon the Silver Flame being the ones to handle resurrection in DDO?

The short answer is that I wouldn’t. City of Stormreach leaves resurrection in the hands of Jorasco, and even there notes that it’s not something they do lightly as many strange mishaps have happened in the past. However, if I had to, I’d start by saying that because of those mishaps Jorasco has finally dropped the service. Then I’d highlight the fact that the Silver Flame in Stormreach is a heretical sect that’s been cut off from Flamekeep for refusing to accept the authority of the theocracy (maintaining that the political ties distract the church from its true mission and breed corruption). Lacking the support of Flamekeep, they may have turned to this as a way to raise the money they need to maintain their mission in Stormreach. One option is to say that they’ll only resurrect people who they consider to be unworthy of joining the Flame, reasoning that thus they aren’t actually robbing the Flame of a soul; another approach is to say that as they are a minority “heretical” sect, they feel the need to keep anyone who might champion their cause alive.

Are there enough kalashtar to form an evil splinter-group, perhaps countered by a group of altruistic Inspired? How about one that has defected & wants to warn the world?

Evil kalashtar? Sure. I think Races of Eberron actually presented a group of Kalashtar who essentially wanted to become full-fledged quori. Kalashtar are mortal creatures; their personalities are influenced by their quori spirits, but at the end of the day, they are unique individuals. An evil kalashtar may be a manic, psychotic individual because of the psychic dissonance between their actions and the beliefs of their connected Quori, but that’s fine for a villain!

“Altruistic Inspired” are a very different story. The kalashtar can come in any flavor because they are mortal. Inspired aren’t. They are immortal embodiments of nightmares. They are literally evil incarnate*. They can change – as the kalashtar quori did – but this is like an angel falling and becoming a demon. An immortal is an idea given form, and if that idea changes, the form will change as well; it’s not something that would go unnoticed, and that transformed spirit would either be eliminated or force on the run, as the kalashtar quori were. Just bear in mind that there is a fundamental difference between mortals and immortals; immortals don’t have as much free will and opportunity for mental evolution as mortals do. This is why the Lord of Dust remains fundamentally the same being he was a hundred thousand years ago; it’s not in his nature to change.

With that said, all quori may be “evil”, but that doesn’t mean they are opposing the players. The primary concern of the quori is preserving Dal Quor. Many highly placed quori believe that they have accomplished that by gaining control of Riedra, and that as long as the kalashtar don’t mess things up, there is no need to take hostile action against Khorvaire… and that in fact, this simply risks disrupting the success they have achieved. Such quori aren’t “altruistic”, but they may see the actions of the Dreaming Dark as running against the best interests of their people, and thus be willing to help the PCs. However, I wouldn’t expect them to take any action that would threaten the quori and Dal Quor as a whole; again, for that to occur, you’d really have to have such a fundamental shift that the spirit is, essentially, a fallen angel (or redeemed fiend).

* As a side note: quori aren’t actually “evil” incarnate. They are the embodiments of the nightmare age, and they feed on (and create) mortal nightmares. The Tsucora quori are tied to fear; the Du’ulora to agression and hate; the Kalaraq to pride and ambition; etc.

That’s all I have time for this week. Feel free to leave more questions below!

Bonus Dragonmark: Zilargo vs House Cannith!

This began as a question on the Dragonmarked post, and was expanded in questions from the WotC forums. While it deals with a dragonmarked house, it’s also about Zilargo and its goals and reach, and given the scope of it I decided to move it to its own post. Even more than usual, this is MY Eberron. It’s not that you missed all of this in the books; this is my take on these things and how they make sense to me. So, with that said…

I have always been curious as to why the Zils bind the elementals and not Cannith? It seems from nearly every Eberron source that Cannith has the top Artificers and Wizards, from above it sounds like you believe that the Mark of Making sound give them a HUGE advantage in this area. Plus it doesn’t seem to be magic that would be all that complex for Cannith to pull off, Cannith did create a new sentient race, creation forges, and genesis forges for goodness sake!

I’ve underlined the key point here. It’s related to the last question in this post – the fact that in Eberron, magic is treated like science. One of the key points here is that different forms of magic are as diverse as different fields of science. You can be the best metallurgist in the world; that doesn’t somehow make you an amazing biologist. The priests of the Blood of Vol are experts at necromancy. No one’s come close to matching Mordain’s understanding of transmutation. And the Zil are Khorvaire’s foremost experts on alchemy. And strange as it sounds, elemental binding is a highly magical form of alchemy; it’s based on understanding the elemental nature of things and the ways in which the elements interact. Cannith excels at creation. They are the house of Making. The Genesis forge is a tool that allows production of finished goods from raw materials. The creation forge assembles warforged. Cannith plays a role in the creation of the focus items used by most other houses – but they can’t create those items alone; they need the unique magicks of the other houses.

Don’t get me wrong: Cannith has alchemists. In 4E, it’s a possible benefit of the Mark of Making, and it’s something we’ve mentioned as a focus of Cannith West. I’m just saying that in my mind, it’s a Zil specialty – something they developed before the first Cannith tinker developed his mark, and the secret weapon they’ve always had. It ties into everything from their exceptional love of poison to the weapons they sold to Breland during the war. The Zil can’t pull together an army to match any of the Five Nations, but they’ve got many a basement vault full of wildfire! Quoting the ECG entry on Zilargo: “Though the gnomes committed few troops to the war effort, their alchemical and elemental weapons were devastatingly effective, and Zil spies were said to provide substantial intelligence to Breland.”

I read somewhere that the Zils brought back the technique from Xen’drik and reverse engineered it, which is silly to me since if a bunch gnomes can reverse engineer a thousnd year old relic, the Cannith should have no problem reverse engineering the actual working device they see everyday.

The first part is a misunderstanding. The Zil didn’t simply find a Sulatar firesled and say “Oh! Why don’t we do that?” Zil binding isn’t a copy of Xen’drik techniques. Rather, the discovery in Xen’drik was like Newton’s apple – the inspiration that helped a genius make a mystical breakthrough, which built on the pre-existing alchemical traditions of the Zil. You’ll note the Sulatar don’t have airships, and they’ve had their form of binding for thousands of years; they are stuck at a more limited level of development.

As for the second part: Why doesn’t Cannith just reverse engineer the object in front of them? Because it’s more complex than just taking apart the gears of a watch. Cannith can look at an airship and say “OK, that’s clearly a class three ward; that’s a omega level elemental. We can create the ward, we can summon an elemental… but how in Onatar’s name are they getting the damn thing to interact with the ship?” Think of it as building a nuclear reactor. If you don’t understand the science behind it, you’re going to have some trouble just understanding what the components are for. And even if you do figure out the science, you still need fissionable material – which brings us back to the fact that the Zil are the best alchemists in Khorvaire. There is a secret to Zil binding that Cannith can’t crack; essentially, it’s the Philosopher’s Stone – a substance that can only be created using Zil alchemy. Then you get to the fact that the Zil do have one of the most efficient network of assassins in Khorvaire and they are very willing to kill to keep their nation’s monopoly on elemental binding.

So short form: You can be absolutely sure that Cannith has tried to crack the elemental binding code, and that more than one Cannith research team has met with an unfortunate end in the process thanks to the Trust (those substances are very volatile – it’s too bad the workshop blew up!). For now, it’s easier for Cannith to continue to do the things they do best and that the Zil cannot match than to fight to master every field of science.

Now moving on the the WotC forum expansion of this discussion…

If a Cannith heir cracked the method of binding elementals, what would the fallout of that be?  Would it spark a Hatfield-McCoy type feud?  What side (if any) would any nations or other Dragonmarked Houses take?

This was clarified…

I meant a scenario where Cannith figures out how to bind elementals, so the house as a group knows.  Thinking about it I would think the gnomes would be powerless to do anything about it.  Not that they couldn’t try an assassination or two, or even succeed.  But politically NO ONE else can afford to alienate themselves with House Cannith, nations need them in case the current cold war ever goes hot, and the dragonmarked houses need them for items to keep their competitive advantage.  On the other hand no one really needs Zilargo.

Before I answer the question of what Zilargo could do if Cannith fully mastered elemental binding, I want to look at what it would take to get to that point. Let’s talk about that “Philosopher’s Stone” I mentioned above. Essentially, there’s two vital things you need to do to make elemental binding work. You need to understand the techniques of binding the elemental – but you also need the right substance to bind that elemental to, and that is a substance that simply doesn’t exist in nature: A Khyber dragonshard altered through alchemical techniques. And bear in mind that one of the things Zilargo is noted for is its mines. So, posit this:

  • While Zilargo is publicly known for its jewel mines, its deep mines are one of the richest existing sources of Khyber shards in Khorvaire.
  • The Zil have developed the technique for transforming Khyber shards into suitable vessels for elemental binding.
  • They have built up a considerable stockpile of these altered shards.

So Cannith doesn’t just have to learn how to bind the elementals to the altered shards and integrate those shards into the control systems of an enchanted object; it has to learn how to manufacture the shards themselves and build up a sufficient supply to use in its initial tests and eventual production runs (or, of course, acquire them from Zilargo). Can it do this? Certainly, given enough time. As noted, Cannith artificers are exceptionally talented. Once they know what they need, they can hire House Tharashk to search for new sources of suitable Khyber shards. But this is not something that could possibly happen over night. They have to learn enough of the one technique simply to know they need the unknown shards; they have to learn what the base shards are, and figure out how to synthesize the philosopher’s stone; they have to develop a mine that produces the base shards. And because magic operates like science, this is going to require trial and error. It’s going to require tests, and facilities constructed for testing.

In short, it really is very much like a new nation deciding to develop a nuclear weapons program in our world. It’s absolutely possible, if you have scientists who understand the concepts, if you can build the facilities required, and if you can acquire sufficient fissionable material… but even once you’ve done these it will take time for you to put it all together. And in the meantime, the Zil will likely use the same techniques modern nations use to deal with new nations developing nuclear weapons.

Diplomacy. Remember the Zil maxim: five words can stop a thousand swords. They’ve got sticks and carrots. Until it has its own program, Cannith does rely on Zilargo for their elemental tools. The Zil can threaten an embargo, or offer better terms if Cannith will stand down. Then there is the other currency of the Zil: Information. You can bet that the Zil have been gathering dirt on all the leaders of the Dragonmarked houses. They don’t need to assassinate a Cannith leader if they can ruin him by exposing his secrets (say, an illegal creation forge being maintained under a certain major city)… or alternately, they can offer to ruin one of his rivals, which given Cannith’s political situation could be quite valuable. Carrot and stick. Beyond this, there’s the issue of what nation would choose to take the side of the Zil over Cannith. Well, none would voluntarily. But again, what sort of stick can the Trust bring to bear? Say they tell Kaius III “We know your secret, and we’ve liberated a certain prisoner from Dreadhold. Tell Cannith you don’t support their elemental research and that you won’t purchase elemental goods from them, or we’re going to make the political situation in Karrnath very interesting.” Last but not least, don’t forget that Zilargo produces the most trusted chronicles. Does Cannith really want the Korranberg Chronicle delving too deeply into its questionable business practices?
Sabotage. ​No one understands binding and the techniques involved as well as the Zil. So, no one is as well qualified as they are to sabotage a developing program while leaving few traces. I’ll point to the computer virus used to interfere with the centrifuges in the Iranian nuclear program; that’s the sort of subtlety you’d get from the Zil.
Assassination. ​Personally, I think they’d try diplomacy before assassination, because they’d rather have Cannith as an ally than an enemy. But if it’s a matter of eliminating a program in early development, and if it can be pinned on someone else (Aundair, the Lord of Blades, Dragons, Lords of Dust, whatever) they are certainly very very good at it. I’ll point to Madra Sil Sarin in Sharn: City of Towers – one of the highest level characters in the city, an assassin who always wears rings of sustenance and invisibility, receiving her orders via a telepathic bond with her superiors; she’s a deadly ghost.

This brings us to a vital question: ​Just how close IS House Sivis to the Trust? ​The recent Trust Eye on Eberron suggests the following possible adventure hook: The adventurers discover evidence that the current Proctor is a Sivis lord and that House Sivis has secretly controlled the Trust for centuries. Personally, that’s what I play with. Which helps address the question of Zilargo’s influence and just how effective the Trust is at gathering information: they’re tapping the phone lines. This has a few impacts. Set aside Zilargo negotiating with House Cannith: what you’d get is Sivis negotiating with them. And Sivis can threaten an embargo of its own; loss of long-distance communication is a serious blow. Neither house would want to lose the services of the other, but this leads us to the question: just how important is it to Cannith to have this secret? As it stands, they can get elemental binding services from the Zil. If they are talking about starting a shadow war with one of Khorvaire’s deadliest leagues of assassins and potentially alienating Sivis and breaking the Twelve… is it worth it? Even if in the end they’d win – is it worth the cost of the struggle?

Let’s assume it is, and lets assume they DO make it through all these hurdles, figure out the techniques, and start producing their own bound elemental goods. What can Zilargo do at that point? They certainly can’t engage in open war. As you say, no one is going to completely sever ties with Cannith to maintain relations with Zilargo. But again, what the Zil have always excelled at is subterfuge and intrigue. Go back up to the point on Diplomacy and consider what I said about Kaius. They don’t have to threaten Cannith if they can threaten all of its customers. They don’t have to demand that people break ties with Cannith completely as long as they insist people don’t purchase their elemental goods. The short form is that Zilargo’s power is subtle and rarely brought to bear, but if they are pushed to the edge they could do some very destructive things. Could they win a “war” against Cannith? Perhaps not. But is it worth it for Cannith to start that conflict? I don’t think so. Now that we’ve examined the issue in more detail, I think the most likely scenario is that a brilliant PC artificer might crack the first piece of it, and go to the Patriarch with this exciting news… only to have the Patriarch shake his head and say “Forget it. Drop it. We started down this path a century ago and it was a terrible mistake – we’re not going there again.”

Again, that’s just MY take.

On the other hand no one really needs Zilargo.

Well, no one needs Zilargo once Cannith has mastered all their techniques. Until then, they do. Beyond that, remember the other things that Zilargo provides. As noted above, they are the foremost alchemists of Khorvaire. Airships aside, they produce a range of elemental weaponry. They are a source of precious stones, both raw and fashioned. They are a source of information, both secret and through the medium of the chronicles. If Sivis stands with Zilargo, its services are a vital part of modern life. And most of all, it’s all about the damage Zilargo can do if you piss it off. Again, you don’t see the power of the blackmailer until he has reason to blackmail you. Zilargo prefers to keep its power hidden until its needed… but the power is still there.

How could Sivis negotiate with Cannith on this matter? I’m fine with the idea that Sivis runs the Trust, which is really cool, but Sivis relies greatly on the trust of others and their own position of neutrality. If Sivis let it slip that they were connected to the Trust, or far worse, actively feeding information to the Trust, then their business would be devastated. No one is going to use your service if you’re feeding everything they say to an intelligence network.

Really? Let’s look to our world. In the US, the fact of the matter is that the NSA can monitor any phone call. They can do searches for particular words. Meanwhile, Google is dissecting my searches and mails to figure out things I like. And yet… I’m still using my phone. I’m still on Google. In part, because I have nothing to hide. In part, because even if they can, that doesn’t mean they are. And in part, because what else am I going to do? Could I just stop using the phone and the internet? All of this applies to the idea of Sivis and the Trust. How many communications actually DO matter to Sivis or the Trust? Zilargo is a neutral country, and really, the secret of elemental binding is pretty much the only thing they have to protect – which is precisely why it’s a hornet’s nest Cannith shouldn’t kick. Is the tenth lord of Somethingsville having an affair? They don’t really care. Hence the point that if provoked, they potentially have access to vast power… but the odds of them ever using it are very, very low.

And bear in mind, Sivis would never say “Oh, we’re allied with the Trust.” They say something like this. “Merrix, our friends in the Triumvirate have asked us to talk to you about the elemental binding program you’ve got going under Wroat. As you know, elemental binding is a crucial industry for our people, and while we may be mere merchants, we feel a sense of loyalty to our nation and are deeply disappointed you’d seek to undermine them in this way after working together for so long. While we’d never condone such things, we’re concerned as to what consequences this could have for you – we don’t have to tell you how ruthless the Trust can be in protecting our national interests. Perhaps we can work as mediators to solve this problem. If you abandon this effort, we think we can get the Binder’s Guild to lower their rates by 5% for the next 20 years. If not… well, I’m afraid we really can’t support this effort to steal our nation’s one great gift. We’d hate to have to sever our bonds to Cannith South… especially since Jorlanna’s been so reasonable recently.” Note that they’ve said the Triumvirate came to them with the information; not that they passed it along. Spies have all sorts of ways to get information in the world. Heck, perhaps they hired Thuranni.

Another problem is how exactly Sivis is supposed to reveal that they know about Cannith’s experiments, and how they know. You can just threaten to reveal the creation forge in Sharn, but now Cannith knows that Sivis can’t be trusted. They levy their own embargoes against Sivis…

Again, Sivis doesn’t say “The Trust knows because we told them”; they say “We know because the Trust told us.” So first of all, that’s not how the conversation goes. Second… Cannith DOES know that Sivis can’t be trusted. The houses are ALWAYS engaged in this kind of delicate balance. And you are absolutely right about the consequences… that’s what I meant when I said “do they want to break the Twelve” above. If Cannith and Sivis go to outright war, the other houses will have to take sides, and they won’t all choose Cannith. Kundarak is closely tied to Sivis. Tharashk doesn’t rely on Cannith’s services as much as the other houses, and it’s got the biggest aspirations to power; the opportunity to weaken Cannith would be extremely appealing… which in turn means that Deneith would side with Cannith, as they hate Tharashk. Likewise, you’d probably see Lyrandar and Orien on different sides – one trusting Cannith, the other hoping that the gnomes will provide an elemental vessel that doesn’t require Cannith in the equation and generally willing to spit on their own personal rival. This would be terrible for EVERYONE. Which is exactly why I don’t think it’s worth it for Cannith to pursue it, especially at this point in their history. There’s more or less nothing else that would provoke the Zil to this extreme. It’s a service Cannith has access to at a reasonable cost – and again, a simple answer is to use an agreement not to pursue research as a way to drive down the cost of that service. Why kick that hornet’s nest when there’s so many other fields of magic to research?

Beyond that, in the situation described above, I think Cannith would simply fall apart. Assume it’s Jorlanna doing the research; Cannith West has always been the stronghold of Cannith alchemy. Why on Eberron should Merrix back her in this insane civil war when he could just step in and say “I condemn my greedy cousin’s behavior. I am glad to work with the binders of Zilargo in a fair manner, and ask this council of the Twelve to join me in sanctioning Jorlanna and recognizing me as the one true representative of my house.” Soon you have another Shadow Schism, only with House Jorlanna as one no one wants to do business with. And when it comes to spreading rumors, remember that Zilargo and Sivis essentially maintain the press and the phones. The other major player in that game is Ghallanda. But spreading rumors isn’t a Cannith specialty…

All their blackmail and secret hoarding seems like a double-edged sword, because once they reveal ‘what’ they know, they’ve revealed ‘that’ they know, and screwed their own neutrality.

Sivis wouldn’t engage in blackmail. They’d only engage in mediation, and even then only with their business partners, House Cannith. Any action beyond that would be performed by agents of the Trust or Zil diplomats, depending who they are talking to and the nature of the discussion.Which would hardly come as a surprise, any more than the Citadel acting on behalf of Breland. So it’s likely a representative of Zilargo who comes to Kaius and makes that statement. It’s a matter of national security, and Kaius has already shown that he is just as ruthless in his policies; frankly, of all the leaders, he’s the one most likely to appreciate the move.But you’re right; once you make the move, they know that you know and can start coming up with contingencies. So you don’t do it unless you have to. The question is whether Cannith would be foolish enough to push them that far.

There’s only so far you can push someone with blackmail, at a certain point the fact that they have more guns than you is going to come into play.

That depends on your threat. Consider the threat I’ve suggested about Kaius. If they could back that up, how do any of his guns help him? If they can truly unleash that, suddenly half those guns – or more – will be pointed at Kaius. Karrnath is already a highly unstable region; many of Karrnath’s warlords don’t like their king’s policies and would love an excuse for change. You are correct that there’s only so far you can push… so don’t push that far. Note that I never said they’d tell him not to trade with Cannith; I said they’d tell him not to support or purchase any Cannith elemental goods. If Cannith can’t sell those goods, why make them?

I would think that deep down the Zils knew that Cannith would unlock all their secrets someday. After over 2,000 years Cannith are hardly upstarts, and as you said they are pretty sharp. Plus being dragonmarked seems to mean you are chosen by the gods, the multiverse, or random dumb luck to be the apex of something… In accordance with the power of their mark, a dragonshard focus item for crafting alchemical items could likely be developed, further putting the Zils behind. In the end the gnomes remind me of a mom and pap store on main street trying to stay in business selling the same goods against Wal-Mart. They might have a few connections, bring up some zoning issues, appeal to the masses, but in the end are just delaying the inevitable.

As I said in my mind the question isn’t whether Cannith can do it – it’s whether it’s worth the trouble of doing it. Someday it might be. With everything going on – and the house at its weakest moment politically in pretty much its entire history – it doesn’t seem like the best time to be trying to steal the livelihood of a powerful partner.

To be clear: Cannith has the potential to not only learn the secrets of the Zil but to improve upon them. There’s no question in my mind that they could create a dragonshard focus item for converting shards, for example… and that once created, it would be far more efficient than the Zil technique the Zil are using. That’s what gives the houses their power: the dragonmarks simply let them do things others can’t match with mundane techniques. But it’s still a science. You can’t create an entirely new dragonshard focus item overnight; it can take years or even decades to develop a new tool, especially one dealing with an unfamiliar and advanced form of magic. They could do it, but it would be something that would require a research center, a supply of shards, a handful of highly capable artificers, and time. And if you couldn’t keep it hidden from the Trust (and possibly Sivis) throughout that time, you’d have to be able to defend it. The Trust doesn’t have to go to war with the house if they can simply sabotage every effort to create that focus item. And as long as they can, that research effort becomes a costly process. And who’s funding it? Remember, Cannith is on the verge of a three-way schism. You’re Merrix. You’re engaged in a bitter political struggle with Zorlan and Jorlanna. You’re sitting on a big secret that you don’t really want exposed. Is this the best time to devote your resources to a project that a) is likely to be sabotaged; b) duplicates services you CAN buy right now; and c) is likely to cause a very powerful intelligence agency to work to ruin you and aid your two rivals?

Long term? Sure. They CAN do it. But I don’t see it happening until Cannith is reunited and the benefits outweigh the many risks. And as for being dragonmarked meaning you’re chosen by the gods, well, tell it to Erandis Vol. Being destined to be the best at something doesn’t mean things will always work out the way you want them to…