Dragonmarks: The Barren Sea

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions from patrons. Here’s a recent one…

Is there anything going on in the Barren Sea beyond well… A lack of anything really? What would that be?

Good question! The Player’s Guide to Eberron has this to say:

The Barren Sea is so called because it is poor for fishing and devoid of apparent life. Hideous monsters are said to inhabit its depths—but sailors make that claim about all ten seas. In fact, sailors have more to fear from storms, icebergs in the north, and unpredictable winds than they do from any living thing in the Barren Sea. In addition to the mundane risks of storm and calm, the Barren Sea is known for scattered areas of dead calm—areas of perfectly still water, sometimes suffused with negative energy that attracts undead.

The Eberron Campaign Guide adds this…

The Barren Sea is home to dark and sinister fiends that dwell in horrid cities far below the waves… and tremendous storms send ships to splinter against the rocky shore (of the Demon Wastes).

The Thunder Sea is home to powerful civilizations, and those who cross it will have to deal with the sahuagin or sea elves. The Lhazaar Sea is more chaotic, home to pirates, drake hunters, elemental islands, and all manner of monstrosities. The Barren Sea tells a different story. As its name suggests, it seems to be almost lifeless. The Barren Sea isn’t a resource to be harvested; it’s a deadly obstacle to be crossed, an aquatic desert. It’s for this reason that you don’t see the equivalent of Rhiavhaar or the Lhazaar Principalities on the coasts around the Barren Sea; there’s no fishing, nothing to draw people into the water. The people of Ohr Kaluun, Nulakhesh, and the lands now known as Droaam largely ignored the Barren Sea. Today, the Riedran province of Corvagura is an important port that supports shipping to and from Riedra’s interests in western Khorvaire and Xen’drik, and many of Riedra’s merchant sailors are Corvaguran; but there are no fishing boats in the Barren Sea.

So why is the Barren Sea so barren? The practical explanation is hypersalinity. The waters of the Barren Sea have almost ten times the salt content of the other seas of Eberron. Few plants or animals can survive in these waters. A side effect of this is that the waters of the Barren Sea are surprisingly buoyant; anyone swimming in the Barren Sea has advantage on checks made to stay afloat. But while the salt content explains why the sea is devoid of life, the larger question is why is the water so salty? Hypersalinity is usually caused by mineral deposits, but that’s not a factor here. The mystery is further compounded by the fact that the majority of the Barren Sea is shielded from divination (including the psionic clairsentience techniques employed by Riedrans). A massive nondetection effect blankets the barren waters and anything upon them. Sages can’t explore the Barren Sea with scrying, Tharashk prospectors can’t sense what lies beneath the waves, and even commune can’t unlock the secrets of the Barren Sea. Mystical navigation tools become unreliable in barren waters, and navigators must be prepared to use mundane techniques. Taken together, the hypersalinity and nondetection effect are clearly unnatural. The cause of these effects is explored later in this article.

Calm and Still, Merchant and Spy

So, back to the original question… What goes on in the Barren Sea? You won’t encounter dragon turtles or merfolk there, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean that it’s boring and uniform. Here’s a few of the things you can find.

Deadly Storms. The Player’s Guide to Eberron calls out the risk of storms and “unpredictable winds.” it later specifies that these are “mundane risks”—so while storms are always a risk on the Barren Sea, they aren’t as dramatic as the Lamannia-fueled storms of the Thunder Sea. The exception is to the north, where the ECG notes the “tremendous storms” that can dash a ship against the Demon Wastes; along this cursed coast, the weather is enhanced and twisted by the malevolent powers bound in the Wastes.

Dead Calm. The southern Barren Sea holds a number of large manifest zones tied to Mabar. Normally Mabaran manifest zones can be recognized by their impact on flora and fauna, but in the Barren Sea there’s no native life to use as a yardstick. As called out in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, these Mabaran zones create areas of unnatural calm. Winds die and currents are diverted. Some of these share Mabar’s trait of Eternal Shadows; in such regions all bright light is reduced to dim light, and ships must make their way through this gloom.

As noted in PGtE, regions of dead calm are often inhabited by undead. Zombies, skeletons, and other undead can be found—animated corpses both of travelers and of strange creatures from deep below the poisoned waters. However, the most common form of undead are shadows. Superstition holds that within the dead calm, the shadows of sailors can come to life and kill their owners, persisting even after killing the mortal who cast them. There are countless tales of merchants stumbling on ghost ships inhabited solely by shadows. In the annals of the Wayfinder Foundation, Lord Boroman ir’Dayne discovers a massive graveyard of ships in the Barren Sea, including vessels that seemed to be the ships of giants and Dhakaani galleys. According to the story, Boroman’s own ship was overrun by shadows and he was forced to abandon his vessel and flee. His dinghy was overturned and his friends consumed by “shadow sharks,” but—at least according to the tale—Boroman managed to swim for days and made landfall in the Demon Wastes (which is a story in its own right). Though he tried, ir’Dayne was never able to find the graveyard again.

Still Water. While there are Mabaran manifest zones across the Barren Sea, to the north they are outnumbered by manifest zones tied to Risia. These zones are unnaturally cold, home to unexpected icebergs and creeping ice that can potentially trap slower vessels. Such zones have Risa’s Lethal Cold trait as described in Exploring Eberron. A few of the largest manifest zones have the Preservation trait; any creature or object that is completely encased in this Risian ice is kept in stasis, ignoring the passage of time. Travelers or entire ships could be found trapped in such an iceberg: fiends or dragons from the first age of the world, Sarlonan refugees fleeing the Sundering, or more recent sailors from Khorvaire. The shroud against divination makes it difficult to track such prisoners from afar… but there are wonders waiting to be found.

Known Threats and Dangerous Paths. Over the centuries, sailors have charted safe paths through the Barren Sea, identifying deadly manifest zones and plotting routes that avoid them. There are three primary routes used by Riedran ships and Lyrandar vessels, and with a reliable map and a good navigator you can follow such a path and avoid the planar threats. However, many independent captains—smugglers, spies, Adaran vessels avoiding Riedran patrols—pride themselves on knowing shorter paths. Such routes can save you time and avoid contact with other vessels… but a false map can lead you into still water or a shadowy end. Even if route is good, since these paths are less traveled there’s a greater chance of running across an intermittent manifest zone that was dormant when the cartographer passed through. When you leave the known paths you may encounter deadly threats—but it’s in these dangerous regions that you might find ghost ships laden with treasure or ancient wonders preserved in Risian ice.

Merchants and Soldiers. There is a regular stream of legitimate traffic across the Barren Sea. In the south, merchants and cargo ships travel between Dar Jin, Dar Qat, Stormreach, and Sharn. A northern route connects Dar Jin and Dar Kel to Aundair and points east. The majority of these ships are Riedran, though Lyrandar and other vessels are mixed in. Diplomats and scholars can also be found making their way across the sea. Riedran frigates patrol the trade routes, ever watchful for pirates and smugglers. While Riedran soldiers aren’t inherently hostile to the people of Khorvaire, they may stop and board any vessel they suspect of smuggling or of supporting the enemies of Riedra—notably, the kalashtar.

Smugglers, Spies, and Pirates. The steady stream of merchant vessels provide an inviting targets for pirates in the Barren Sea. Riedran frigates are ever vigilant, but the shrouding effect of the barren waters makes it possible for pirates to evade pursuit by plunging into uncharted waters. Of course, this means risking the dangers of a dead calm or still waters, but there are always those willing to take that risk. Given the dangers, the Barren Sea isn’t exactly teeming with pirates, but those who manage to thrive in these dangerous waters are often quite capable.

The shrouding effect also makes the Barren Sea a haven for smugglers—including the Dream Merchants of Riedran, Adarans making to or from Khorvaire, and others—and spies, whether they’re spying on Riedra, Droaam, or elsewhere. Conspiracy theorists claim that many dragonmarked houses maintain secret facilities on platforms in the Barren Sea, places where they can defy the Korth Edicts.

Sahuagin. The hypersalinity of the Barren Sea is just as deadly to the sahuagin as it is to other creatures, and the Eternal Dominion of the Thunder Sea doesn’t extend into these western waters. However, there are a few sahuagin clans scattered across the very edges of the Barren Sea. Each of these small enclaves have their own unique cultures; some are peaceful, others vicious and cruel. The most dangerous of these are the Sa’arlaath, “The All Consuming”; these sahuagin dwell on the coast of the Demon Wastes and have been twisted by fiendish powers. The Sa’arlaath raid vessels that pass over their terrain, but most of the sahuagin of the Thunder Sea remain in isolation in the deep, ignoring both the people of the surface and those who dwell in the deepest depths of the Barren Sea—the Kuo-Toa.

The Kuo-Toa: Dreamers in the Deep

The upper waters of the Barren Sea are deadly, but descend far enough and the salinity of the water drops. It is here that adventurers can discover the “sinister fiends that dwell in horrid cities far below the waves” mentioned in the Eberron Campaign Guide. Those creatures that dwell on the ocean floor aren’t literal fiends, but their realm is a terrifying array of nightmares. This is the domain of the Kuo-toa.

While the upper waters of the Barren Sea are close to Mabar and Risia, the depths of the ocean once held powerful manifest zones tied to Dal Quor, the region of dreams. A unique species evolved in this region. All mortals of Eberron possess a connection to Dal Quor, glimpsing the Realm of Dreams when they sleep. But these creatures possessed a far deeper connection; they existed in both realms simultaneously, perceiving both dream and reality at all times. They called themselves the Quor-Toa, the People of Dreams. Beyond their power to perceive Dal Quor, within the manifest zones below the Barren Sea, the Quor-Toa could draw the essence of Dal Quor into reality and shape it, sculpting tools, structures, and servants from the stuff of dreams. Their deep empire was a place of impossible wonders, of spectacles dragons and giants could only dream of. Yet because they could only work these wonders in manifest zones to Dal Quor, the Quor-Toa never sought to spread out into other lands or seas. They defended their territory, and it is for this reason that few giant explorers ever reached Sarlona; there are records in Cul’sir accounts that describe the glories glimpsed below the waves of the “Golden Sea” and of the godlike beings that defended it. In the end, the giants destroyed the Quor-Toa without even meaning to. Forty thousand years ago the giants severed the ties between Eberron and Dal Quor, as a way to end their conflict with the quori. In the process, they destroyed the Quor-Toa. As the manifest zones tied to Dal Quor were stripped of power, the dream-towers of the Quor-Toa melted away and the fishfolk themselves suffered devastating psychic trauma. Their civilization collapsed into chaos. It took generations to recover from the shock, and the survivors weren’t the people they had once been. Their knowledge had been storied in libraries of dreams, vaults that were shattered and lost. Their psychic gifts had been twisted. They were no longer the Quor’Toa; they had become kuo-toa, the fallen people.

Following Two Paths

The kuo-toa have never regained the power of their ancestors. The energies of Dal Quor no longer flow naturally into Eberron. But the kuo-toa still possess a stronger connection to Dal Quor than any other mortal creature. Most mortal creatures describe the kuo-toa as “mad”, but the truth is far more complicated. Where most mortals only glimpse Dal Quor when they sleep, the kuo-toa perceive both realms simultaneously; they are ALWAYS dreaming, experiencing the dream overlaid over reality. This has a few effects.

  • A kuo-toa can always be targeted by the dream spell, even while it is awake.
  • A kuo-toa experiences two realities at once—the physical world and Dal Quor. Thus, when a kuo-toa is dealing with an adventurer, it is also dealing with whatever dream occupies the same space as the adventurer in its vision. It could be holding a fish and describe it as a sword, because in Dal Quor, it is holding a sword. To the kuo-toa, both realities are equally real. It is a sword AND a fish. And the kuo-toa could be fighting a monster in Dal Quor while also talking to an adventurer; so while it appears to be waving a fish around, it is fighting a nightmare with a mighty sword.
  • This is the source of the Otherworldly Perception trait of the 5E kuo-toa; they perceive invisible and ethereal entities through their echoes in the dream.
  • If a kuo-toa is slain in Dal Quor, it loses its perception of Dal Quor until it completes a short rest. There’s no other negative consequence; it’s essentially no different from a human being killed in their dream and waking up.
  • The kuo-toa of Eberron speak Quori instead of Undercommon. They have no ties to the creatures of Khyber, and they learned Quori long ago from their dreams.

While they lack both the resources and the knowledge of their ancestors, the kuo-toa still possess supernatural powers tied to their dual existence. Kuo-toa seers have a sharpened form of their Otherworldly Perception, seeing dream visions that reveal secrets about the waking world; a seer might manifest true seeing—seeing a shapeshifter’s true form as a dream aura around it—or other divination effects. Kuo-toa shapers can cast illusion or conjuration spells by pulling dreams into reality, often without fully understanding that this is what they’re doing. This is just a shadow of the power they wield as a community, which is discussed below. But there’s a second aspect that’s crucial to understanding the kuo-toa. They experience Dal Quor and Eberron at once. But they don’t just dream any dreams. For whatever reason, nightmares are drawn to the kuo-toa. They aren’t just always dreaming, they’re always experiencing nightmares. And this in turn shapes the way they interact with the world.

Gods & Monsters

A single kuo-toa might have the power to draw a wisp of dream into reality to create a minor illusion. But as kuo-toa join together, their collective unconscious amplifies their nightmares—and they can bring these things into reality. Kuo-toa cities are ruled by gods they have dreamed into being, but these aren’t the gods they have chosen; they are deities built from their fears. Every kuo-toa deity is unique, and they shape their cities to match their nature. Hence, “sinister fiends that dwell in horrid cities beneath the waves”—for the gods of the kuo-toa make harsh demands on their people. Beyond their gods, the kuo-toa dream other horrors into existence. They may dream creatures that have the abilities of krakens or aboleths (though not their exact shapes or motivations), or entirely new abominations. Such monsters might serve the local deity, or they could simply rise to the surface to prey on unwary travelers. So in truth you never know what you’ll find in the Barren Sea… because the kuo-toa in the deeps could dream up a unique nightmare that’s never been seen before and which will never be seen again.

Kuo-toa and Quori

It might seem like the Dreaming Dark would love the kuo-toa and would exert power over them; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Consider than in the Age of Giants, the Quor-Toa were in a realm close to Dal Quor, and yet the Quori came to Xen’drik instead. Why not travel through this open gateway? Because the quori of the past feared the Quor-Toa, just as those of the present fear the koa-toa. Because the koa-toa shape dreams, pulling the essence of the Dal Quor into reality and bending it to their will. The kuo-toa gods began as quori—but they have no control over the situation, and are forced to play out the roles the kuo-toa have set for them. This isn’t something the kuo-toa do consciously, and they can’t choose NOT to do it. But the quori are aware of the kuo-toa and stay far away from the ocean deeps.

The Barren Truth

The beginning of this article raised a question: why is the Barren Sea so barren? What is the cause of the focused hypersalinity, and what is it that blocks divination? Scholars on land have advanced many theories. Clearly it’s the work of the dragons of Argonnessen, an epic curse like those unleashed against Xen’drik. Obviously it’s the handiwork of the Daelkyr. Or maybe there’s an unbound overlord in the water and this is its domain. Any of these ideas are plausible, and a DM could choose any one of them. But in my campaign, the Barren Sea is a nightmare of the kuo-toa. Collectively, they see the world as a barren place of death, and it is this shared nightmare that actively poisons the waters above them. This is part of the wounded psyche of the species, and it’s not something that could be changed by a few friendly conversations. On the other hand, if Dal Quor itself were to change—if il-Lashtavar were to give way to il-Yannah and an Age of Light—perhaps the Great Light could heal the kuo-toa and life could return to the Barren Sea.

So, back to the original question… What goes on in the Barren Sea? Pirates! Smugglers! Getting boarded by Riedran soldiers who want to inspect your cargo! Ghost ships filled with shadows! Finding an ancient couatl frozen in an iceberg! A secret Cannith research platform! A nightmare from the depths! Or, perhaps, a visit to a city deep beneath the waves, where a nightmare deity rules over people poised between two worlds…

What’s Common Knowledge?

The people of the surface world know almost nothing about the kuo-toa. They know exactly what the ECG suggested—that there are “fiends in horrid cities” at the bottom of the Barren Sea. To this point, the nightmare deities of the kuo-toa have kept their dreaming subjects in the depths—and the major trade routes used by Riedra and Khorvaire don’t pass over kuo-toa cities. So how will adventurers discover what lies below? Adventurers venturing through uncharted waters could be shipwrecked by a nightmare and drawn into the depths. A dragonmarked research platform could shift the focus of a kuo-toa god, causing it to focus its wrath on the world above. A kalashtar could be urged to venture below by visions from il-Yannah; could the kuo-toa play a vital role in the turning of the age? And what affect might the kuo-toa dreamers have on a kalashtar’s quori spirit?

Q&A

How powerful are the Kuo-Toa gods?

It depends on the community they’re tied to. A small outpost might have a “god” with the power of a pit fiend. For the major cities, I’d personally use this as an opportunity to repurpose the statistics of existing archfiends; this would be a fine place to have a version of Demogorgon or Asmodeus, thought I’d definitely give them some distinct kuo-toa flavoring. The main thing is that their power is definitely geographically limited; while Blibdolpoop/Demogorgon might be extremely powerful in their domain, they couldn’t leave it and go attack Sharn. It’s a little like the Undying Court, except that the kuo-toa gods feed on the nightmares of their people instead of on their love.

Maps are inconsistent across editions. Some maps show the Barren Sea extending all the way to the Dagger River; others present it further west. Where do you draw the line for the “Barren” waters?

The general description of the Barren Sea is that it is “west of Khorvaire, northwest of Xen’drik and east of Sarlona.” If you consider the most recent map—page 104-105 of Rising From The Last War—the labeling of the Thunder Sea is significantly southwest of the Dagger River and Manta Bay. I’m inclined to say that the barren waters start just to the west of Zarash Bay. So Zarash Bay has standard water, but the Bay of Madness and the western coastline of the Shadow Marches are barren water.

How does that even work? Shouldn’t currents disperse the high-saline water? Nature doesn’t just stop at an arbitrary border.

That is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. The point is that there is nothing natural about this. Hypersalinity is an effect that can be found in the natural world based on mineral deposits in closed bodies of water. But this ISN’T a bounded body of water and there’s no clear mineral deposits that could cause it. Likewise, the fact that it STOPS when you do deep enough is entirely unnatural. And keep in mind that once the giants referred to it as the “Golden Sea.” The hypersalinity is a natural effect that is being created and sustained by a supernatural force. When the waters of the Barren Sea are flow out of the Barren Sea, the charged salinity fades. If the science of this is troubling, you can just think of it as “magical death water.”

Since it’s so barren, what do the kuo-toa eat? Do they dream food into existence?

The Quor-Toa dreamt food into existence. The kuo-toa don’t have quite such perfect control; it’s possible that there are kuo-toa shapers who can cast effects like goodberry, create food, or even heroes’ feast by conjuring food from dreams, but this is a rare gift and isn’t enough to sustain a city. The main point is that the barren water ENDS when you go deep enough; there is flora and fauna in the depths. Much of it is unusual—shaped over time by kuo-toa nightmares—but there’s definitely edible plants and fish.

That’s all for now! I am traveling at the moment with limited internet and there is a good chance that I will not be able to answer many questions on this article, though I’m happy for people to pose questions and discuss them in the comments. Thanks to my Patreon supporters both for suggesting the topic and for making it possible for me to write it; it’s only this support that allows me to spend time on articles like this.

IFAQ: Whaling in Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

Where and how do you see whaling playing a part in Eberron?

The immediate question is are there whales in Eberron, because there’s no particular reason to assume that any random thing that exists in our world does exist in Eberron. As it turns out, whales have been mentioned; Exploring Eberron has this to say.

When dealing with the Thunder Sea, remember that it’s just as civilized as the Five Nations. It does have wilderness regions with feral beasts roaming at will, and you might find wild plesiosaurs, a scheming sea hag, or a hungry scrag. But in the areas above and around sahuagin city-states, such beasts have been tamed or destroyed. All cultures of the Thunder Sea farm fish like the people of the land farm sheep or cattle; a pod of whales may be carefully managed and cultivated, and their farmers will be quite angry with dryskins who poach their ichthyic livestock. 

So first of all, I don’t see whaling as being a common practice in the Thunder Sea, because blundering out and killing a random whale is a great way to get your ship sunk by an angry Karakala stormcaller. We’ve called out that agreements between the Five Nations and the powers of the Thunder Sea do allow fishing in close coastal waters, so you have Brelish fishing villages on the southern coast, but I wouldn’t make them whalers.

So, where and how do I see whaling playing a part in Eberron? I see it as being focused on the Lhazaar Principalities, but the twist is that it’s not whaling. In our world, whales are the largest and most dramatic denizens of the sea, but this isn’t our world. In the Lhazaar Sea, the mighty creatures bold sailors hunt are dragon turtles. They aren’t the SAME dragon turtles described in the Monster Manual; they’re slightly smaller and weaker (commonly huge, though they can reach gargantuan size), they’re omnivorous, and they’re less intelligent, notably not speaking Draconic; we can call them drake turtles or softshell dragon turtles. But they are still built on the model of the dragon turtle. Building on this, I’d say that drake hunting is a major part of the Lhazaar economy. Drake (turtle) blood is a crucial component in industrial alchemy, part of what allows Jorasco and Cannith to produce mass quantities of healing and other potions. Drakebone could be used in everything from corsets to weaponry. In the Principalities, most medium armor makes use of drake turtle scales and heavy armor is typically made not from metal, but from drake turtle shells. Essentially, this not only creates an industry that parallels whaling, it also creates a unique flavor for Lhazaar fashion and tools and introduces the disturbing idea that many mass-produced potions use components drawn from a deeply questionable source. Because I’ve said that these are as intelligent as the standard dragon turtles of the Monster Manual… but less intelligent doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent. They don’t perform magic. They don’t speak Common or Draconic. But they sing… and anyone who knows the language (which very few land-dwellers do) will realize that they are singing in Aquan.

Part of the point of Eberron is that stories don’t always end well and that good people can do bad things. A druid adventurer may realize a drake turtle is singing in Aquan. But even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do—even if it is clear to the ADVENTURER that the turtles are intelligent, it may not be a simple matter to prove it. And there could always be the chance that while the turtles appear to sing in Aquan, they aren’t actually intelligent by the typical measures. Even if adventurers can prove it, the response of the common Lhazaar sailor will be “Who cares if drake turtles sing in Aquan? They’re MONSTERS. I need to feed my family. The healing potions Jorasco will make using that drake’s blood will save countless HUMAN lives. I chose my family and my species over the well-being of alien sea monsters.” Personally, I like the idea of placing player characters at the very forefront of this issue—making it THEIR discovery, because it’s their story—but you could also say that it’s something that’s been known for decades and is being actively debated. Druid activists could be blocking drake hunting boats. Principalities could be split, with some princes forbidding drake hunting, while other principalities are deeply dependent on the drake-hunting economy. It could be that ending dragon-hunting would be a major blow to industrial alchemy, unless Cannith and Jorasco can be pushed to find new methods of production. Ultimately, it’s a more dramatic and bloodier version of the ethical questions of elemental binding… and it could be that fighting over this issue could force people to reevaluate Zil binding as well.

So, going back to the original question, I’d place whaling in the Lhazaar Principalities and I’d make it an industry that has great impact within the region but also to the greater economy of Khorvaire, but I’d also make the creatures hunted an variant form of dragon turtles as opposed to whales. Not with that said, there’s nothing wrong with saying that there’s also traditional whaling in the northern Lhazaar Principalities. But personally, I’m more interesting in adding something that’s unique to the world—and in doing so, being able to add a unique twist to the economic impact of that creature. But if you want a story focus on traditional whaling, tell that story!

Do drake turtles have blowholes?

No, they don’t. However, they do have steam breath—though it’s weaker than that of a dragon turtle and takes longer to recharge. They need to vent this occasionally, and common drake hunter practice is to wait for such an exhalation before attacking, to strike while the breath is discharged. So you can still have a “Thar she blows!” moment.

Does Riedra have any interest in drake turtles?

Certainly! I think that drake’s blood is a useful basic alchemical component and that the shell, scales, bones, and teeth all have their uses. I definitely think fishing rights in the Lhazaar Sea is an lingering point of tension; it’s even possible there’s been an open conflict—similar to the Cod Wars—between Rhiavaar and one of the Principalities at some point in the past.

If drake turtles sing in Aquan, how can there be any doubt they’re intelligent? Why don’t people just use the Tongues spell or similar magic to talk to them?

A parrot can recite a poem in English; does that mean it possesses human intelligence? The drake hunters argue the same thing of drake turtles; it’s exotic behavior, but that doesn’t mean they’re PEOPLE. Which comes to a key point in my description: Even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do. My point is that if you know Aquan, when you hear the drake’s song you’ll recognize it as, for example, “Bluuuue sorrow delving deeeeep.” But if you row up to the drake turtle and say “Hi! My name’s Keith! What’s yours?” in Aquan (or using tongues) it will ignore you. Perhaps it doesn’t recognize the tiny non-turtle as a creature. Perhaps it doesn’t respond to simply spoken words; you need to SING your statement at a particular pitch for the drake to recognize it as an attempt at communication. Or perhaps it’s a parrot—it produces words it’s picked up from passing elementals but it doesn’t actually understand their meaning.

D&D has a tendency to treat any creature with a language as communicating exactly as humans do. I like to explore the idea that alien creatures may communicate in very different ways, something I’ve discussed in articles relating to elementals and lizardfolk. The point is that your Aquan speaker/tongues caster can understand the words the drake turtle is singing; but that doesn’t mean that you understand the meaning or how to effectively communicate back. The point of all this is because I’m interested in exploring the question of drake turtle intelligence as a STORY. Consider the movie Arrival; it wouldn’t have been much fun if the protagonist just walked in, cast tongues, and it was all over. I like the idea that people KNOW the drake turtles sing in Aquan, but because no one’s ever managed to have an effective conversation with one, the hunters can dismiss them as parrots. If the player characters get involved, their challenge is to figure out how the turtles communicate, beyond simply the words that they’re using. In OUR world there’s considerable debate about cetacean intelligence; my point is that I want it to be a possible story that adventurers can be a part of, because player characters are remarkable. If drake turtles are fully sentient, I want your character to be the protagonist of Arrival or Spock mind-melding with a whale; I want YOU to be the one who solves a mystery others have abandoned or dismissed. But if that’s not a mystery you want to explore, you can definitely resolve it one way or the other using NPCs or have it have been clearly established in the past.

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

IFAQ: 5N Fleets, Rune Arms, and the Next War

October was a busy month, between Threshold, Eberron Confidential, and my many non-Eberron projects. As a result, I have a backlog of interesting questions from my Patreon supporters; here’s a few of them.

How strong are the naval traditions of each of the Five Nations, and which one would have the strongest navy?

In considering this, keep in mind that the existing maps of Khorvaire do a poor job of showing rivers, and there are considerably more rivers and lakes than have been called out. Having said that, even with what we have seen keep in mind that during the Last War these rivers and lakes were likely more significant than sea travel. Scion’s Sound is a lengthy border that connected all of the Five Nations except Breland. Lake Galifar is a massive body of water that creates a front between Breland and Aundair, and fishing and shipping along Lake Galifar has always been an important part of life in Aundair. Beyond this, Karrnath was the primary seat of Galifar’s navy in the north—keeping watch on the Lhazaar Principalities—while Sharn was the main point of trade between Galifar and Stormreach. In general, though, Galifar had no need of a significant militarized navy. The Lhazaar Principalities didn’t present a united threat; the bulk of commercial trade was handled by House Lyrandar; and Galifar wasn’t especially devoted to intercontinental trade or exploration.

So when the Last War began, as with many elements of Galifar, people who’d served the united kingdom pulled back to their nations. So one question is who were the common sailors of Galifar? Karrnath provided most of the soldiers of Galifar; was there a nation that provided the majority of the sailors? Yes, and that nation was Aundair. While all of the nations had their coastal fishing trade, Aundair had two key factors: the central role of Lake Galifar and the presence of House Lyrandar. The Windwright’s Guild has its home in Aundair, and Aundair was always home to the largest shipyards and trade schools of the Windwright’s Guild.

So Aundair has always had the greatest expertise. However, Karrnath had the most significant force of warships in service as the war began, which gave it an early edge. Breland—which had a strong naval tradition based on the trade across the Thunder Sea and ties to the expert shipwrights of Zilargo—was able to quickly get up to speed.

As the war progressed, the naval forces of each nation evolved to reflect their nation strengths. Aundair generally had the best sailors, and warships well-outfitted with arcane weaponry and defenses. Karrnath had fewer ships, but relied on its exceptional marines. By the end of the war, Breland had a significant fleet, employing Zil elemental and alchemical weaponry. Cyre never had an especially strong fleet, but it generally had the cutting edge of Cannith developments; my novel The Fading Dream includes a Cannith breacher, an aquatic construct designed to attack ships from below.

What are your thoughts on Thrane’s role in Scion’s Sound? I feel like Thrane’s Navy is not only an opportunity to expand on how important Scion’s Sound was to Galifar, but also I feel like Thrane could use some more interesting facets to it.

Thrane definitely had was to exert its power over Scions Sound, but that wasn’t tied to its SHIPS. Thrane brought two unique elements to the Scion line. The first were lantern posts, lighthouse-like structures burning with silver flame; manned by devout priests, these towers could blast vessels that drew too close with bolts of radiant fire. Their second advantage was their air force. To the best of my knowledge, Thrane is the only nation canonically called out as conducting aerial bombardment. Through their wyvern cavalry and other tools, Thrane had air superiority over the Sound; they didn’t need to match Karrnathi ships on the water if they could destroy them from above.

So yes, Thrane had a significant role in Scion’s Sound and they had ships, but their ships weren’t the source of their power.

Besides Thaliost, what are the other ‘hot spots’ of Khorvaire that could trigger a new large scale war similar to the last war?

You’re not going to see a new large scale war until there’s an answer to the Mourning. The Mourning is, essentially, the equivalent of the nuclear deterrent in our world. And entire country was destroyed in a day, and one of the dominant theory is that it was caused by the cumulative effect of war magics used in the Last War — that the world could be a mystical powderkeg, and it could be that one barrage of siege staffs is all it would take to trigger another Mourning and destroy Breland. Another possibility is that it was an experimental weapon, in which case who built it and could they use it again? It is this fear that holds the great powers of Khorvaire in check, and they won’t risk a large scale conflict until it’s resolved. So until then, the threat is about SMALL conflicts. Thaliost is one example. The Eldeen Reaches is another; will Aundair seek to reclaim the eastern Reaches? Droaam and Breland is another potential hotspot. Valenar is actively provoking its neighbors and is another strong contender. The Heirs of Dhakaan could try to seize control of Darguun…. assuming the Ghaal’dar don’t fall into civil war when Haruuc dies. You could also see an uprising in Breland spearheaded by the Swords of Liberty when Boranel dies, or have Karrnathi warlords rise up against Kaius.

Assuming you’re set on a large scale war, the first thing you need to do is resolve the Mourning. Someone has to find out the answer. Was it a fluke that won’t happen again? Was it a weapon, and if so can it be replicated? Assuming that answer doesn’t prevent war, a major hotpot beyond the ones I mentioned before is Thronehold, which is currently divided between the four surviving nations.

What do you think of Rune arms and how would you handle them in-game?

Rune arms are something created for D&D Online. I haven’t personally played DDO since they were introduced, so I don’t have in-depth knowledge of them. But what I understand is that they’re an offhand weapon that allows the artificer to make an energy attack as a bonus action, with a secondary effect of adding elemental damage to the artificer’s main weapon attack.

So, how would you introduce the rune arm into fifth edition? Well, let’s look at it again: it’s an offhand weapon that can only be used by artificers and allows them to make a ranged attack as a free action. Well, my immediate thought is you just described the artillerist artificer’s Eldritch Cannon. In creating an Eldritch Cannon, an artificer can make it a tiny object that can be held in one hand. The artificer can use a bonus action to make an attack with the cannon. So… artificer-only one-hand weapon that can be used to make an attack as a bonus action… Sounds like a rune arm! Now, in DDO, adventurers can find rune arms that inflict a range of damage types or have greater power. But given that these items can only be used by artificers, my response to this would be to treat the rune arm object as a sort of schema—as long as it’s in the possession of an Artillerist artificer, it allows them to summon a different type of Eldritch Cannon. So it still uses the Eldritch Cannon ability and takes the place of the standard cannon, but could change the damage type or enhance the effect.

So that’s what I’d personally do: say that the rune arm is is the common tiny form of Eldritch Cannon used by Artillerist artificers, and create rune arm items that enhance the feature in various ways.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible!

Dragonmarks: The Gnomes of Lorghalen

In September, my Patreon supporters chose “Gnomes Beyond Zilargo” as the topic of the month. In the next few days, I’ll be discussing the gnomes of Lorghalen and the Feyspires.

Two years after the founding of Zilargo, a pamphlet was distributed explaining the existence of the Trust and the role that it would play in the nation moving forward. This tract concluded with the words To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours. Today, the Trust is universally accepted as part of Zilargo, and it’s estimated that at least a third of the population works for the Trust in some capacity. But despite what the Triumvirate would have you think, not all of the early Zil embraced the Trust with open arms. Some demanded accountability, insisting that this Trust be drawn into the light. Others called it a coup, urging their families to end the experiment of Zilargo and return to their prior independence. But few spoke out against the Trust for long; deadly accidents and unlikely misfortune quickly stilled to voices that challenged this new order. It seemed it was too late for those who opposed the Trust to remove it from their nation… And so, most chose to remove themselves, leaving their new nation behind.

Many of these dissidents immigrated into the Five Nations, and most who did so abandoned their old ways and fully embraced their new nations. A simple indicator of this is name. Zil gnomes use three names: A personal name, family name, and house name. Alina Lorridan Lyrris is Alina of the Lorridan family in House Lyrris. Even if they have distant blood connections to a Zil family, a gnome with no direct ties to Zilargo won’t be part of a Zil house. So if the gnome sage you meet in Aundair calls herself Talia Lorridan Lyrris, you know she considers herself Zil; if she’s just Talia Lorridan, she’s likely Aundairian.

Other dissidents had grander aspirations and took to the sea. The gnomes had long been accomplished sailors, and while they never had a colonizing spirit, they’d explored the coasts and made note of interesting and unclaimed lands. Now these sailors dreamt of creating their own new havens, whose glories might one day outshine the land they left behind. Sadly, most of these rebel colonies came to bad ends. Tolanen was located on the Shadow Marches; some years after its founding, a trading vessel docked to find the town completely depopulated. While the travelers blamed pillaging orcs, accounts later confirmed that there were no signs of conflict—and that the only looting was committed by the merchants themselves. New Zalanberg was established on the coast of Xen’drik, near the modern settlement of Zantashk. Over the course of decades, it prospered and grew. And then, within the span of a week, its people tore the town and one another to pieces—one of the notable examples of what has come to be recognized as the Du’rashka Tul. There were a handful of others, but only one still thrives to this day: the principality of Lorghalen.

Glancing at a map, you might wonder why Lorghalen was uninhabited when the gnomes claimed it. This tropical island seems far more inviting than the icy mountains of Orthoss and Farlnen. But names tell a story. The Tempest Strait is lashed by storms as powerful as any found in the Thunder Sea. The southernmost island is close to Mabar and Dolurrh, and there are strange ghosts and hungry shadows in the depths of the Dreadwood. The northern coastline of Lorghalen is lined with hidden reefs and unusual stone outcoppings. These threats are exacerbated by unpredictable “currents” that can dash a ship against the rocks… actually the work of the many water elementals that dwell along the coast. The safest landing is Hammer Bay, northeast of the small island. But “The Hammer” isn’t a natural island; it’s a massive earth elemental. It never ventures far from its mapped position, but it has no love of ships; any vessel that draws too close may be shattered by a hurled stone or a mighty fist.

Gnome explorers chronicled these threats long ago, and the gnomes who sailed east knew what they were heading into. The Lorghalen expedition included a number of sages specializing in elementals and Lamannia… Scholars who hoped they could convince the Hammer to let them land safely. And so they did, establishing the town of Cornerstone on the shore of Hammer Bay.

Exploring the island, the gnomes found that it was poised on the edge of Lamannia. The land was bountiful, fresh water was plentiful, and much of the island was alive. Lorghalen has the most intense concentration of elementals found beyond the wild zones of Sarlona. Stones roll of their own accord. The earth rumbles. What seems to be a peaceful pond might unexpectedly move to a new location. Most of the elementals of Lorghalen are spirits of earth and water, but there are storms that follow paths of their own choosing and pits of endless fire. These elementals are creatures of Lamannia, pure and inhuman; there are no dao or marids here. There are also a number of megafauna beasts in the deep jungle; sailors may occasionally spot rocs hunting whales off the coast of Lorghalen. This is why the island had never been colonized in the past; what city could survive the ravages of an avalanche of earth elementals? But the colonists came prepared. The leaders of the expedition had long studied elementals, convinced that it was possible to reason with these alien creatures. Using these techniques they were able to secure the region around Cornerstone. Over the course of generations, the Lorghalen gnomes developed and honed these techniques, learning how to live in harmony with the elementals and even to convince the spirits and beasts of the land to work with them. This lifestyle has consequences. Cornerstone is the only large city on the island; other gnomes live in family estates along the coast, or on the edge of the jungle. But the deep jungles of Lorghalen are left to the primal forces. The gnomes know what they can harvest without upsetting the balance, but they are careful not to push these limits.

After a few minor clashes in the region, the Lorghalen gnomes were recognized as one of the Lhazaar Principalities. Their small fleet primarily focuses on merchant trade within the Principalities. There are many unusual plants in the jungles of Lorghalen, and the Lorghali produce medicines, drugs, and potent spirits. The wood of Lorghalen is exceptionally strong, rivaling the densewood and bronzewood of Aerenal; the Lorghali don’t export lumber, but they sell fine wooden goods. While there are relatively few ships in the Lorghalen fleet, Lhazaar tread lightly around a Lorghali vessel; not only are the hulls of their ships exceptionally strong, but most vessels are accompanied by one or more water elementals. These friendly spirits help propel the vessel, allowing Lorghalen ships to match the capabilities of Lyrandar elemental galleons. In battle, Lorghalen ships are known for launching small earth elementals at opposing ships, stone missiles that continue to wreak havoc after impact. All together, the Lorghalen gnomes are known and respected within the Principalities, but are largely unknown beyond it. For the most part they do their trading within the islands, allowing others to carry their goods to distant lands.

WHO ARE THE GNOMES OF LORGHALEN?

The gnomes of Lorghalen and share some traits with their Zil cousins. They love clever oratory and prefer to solve their problems with words instead of swords. But where the gnomes of Zilargo dive deep into intrigue, the founders of Lorghalen based their society on principles of freedom and honesty. The founders of Cornerstone swore that there would be no secrets on their island: that all knowledge should be shared, and all problems drawn into the light, not removed in the shadows. Ties to previous Zil houses were dissolved, and all gnomes of the island consider themselves to be one house; so a gnome of the island might introduce themselves as Tara Tan Lorghalen.

Families are still important to the Lorghalen gnomes, and each family maintains an estate—a farming village based around a central long house. Each family is known for specific crops and skills, and Cornerstone is where they all come together. While families maintain funds for dealing with the world beyond Lorghalen, on the island the economy is largely driven by barter and the exchange of favors. All of the families have lodging in Cornerstone, and each family has three representatives on the Cornerstone Council, which governs the island and mediates disputes. The council is led by the Prince of Lorghalen, but this is an unusual position with less power than in other principalities. The Prince of Lorghalen is recognized as the cleverest gnome on the island, and as such someone whose voice should always be heard and opinion considered. But they have no power beyond that. Any Lorghali can claim the title by defeating the current prince in a series of duels of wit and strategy. Sometimes decades go by with no challenges; at other times, challenges have been a weekly or daily occurrence.

The Lorghali produce excellent mediators, apothecaries, and farmers. But what makes them truly remarkable is their tradition of primal magic and their relationship with the elementals of the region. As discussed in this article, the elementals of Lamannia are alien creatures whose thought processes and perception of reality are quite different from those of the humanoids of Eberron. Rather than binding elementals, the Lorghalen stonesingers manipulate elementals and natural forces by communing directly with the spirit and convincing it to help. At its simplest level—producing the sort of effects associated with druidcraft—this is barely more complicated than singing a few words in Primordial. More significant requests require a deeper communion with the spirits, which requires both concentration and an expenditure of will in addition to the song—urging the spirit to comply, impressing the request onto it. These things thus carry all the standard limitations of casting a spell.

The most common and important work of a stonesinger is to work with elementals. On a Lorghalen ship, a stonesinger literally sings to the elemental associated with the ship, encouraging it to move the vessel swiftly. If the stonesingers are killed, the elemental will still recognize the vessel as friendly, but it can’t be compelled to perform any particular action and it may simply wander off. On the island, stonesingers negotiate with the elementals to establish the territories where the gnomes can build, and convince earth elementals to plow their fields and water elementals to provide irrigation. Remarkable stonesingers can manipulate elemental and natural forces in more subtle ways—charming beasts, encouraging plants to grow, even conjuring fire or drawing lightning from a clear sky. Others learn the melodies that define their own bodies, learning how to heal injuries or even change their shape. Almost every Lorghalen gnome knows at least a few simple songs, but those who can work greater magics—those with the powers of bards or druids, discussed in more detail below—are greatly respected. While the stonesingers are a unique tradition that plays a central role in Lorghalen culture, they have nothing against other forms of magic; in particular, Lorghalen alchemists are able to perform wonders using the unusual plants of their island. The original immigrants included a handful of dissidents from the families of House Sivis, and while the Lorghali have made no particular effort to cultivate the Mark of Scribing, there are still a few gnomes in each generation who manifest the mark; such gnomes often become the most gifted wizards of the island.

Overall, the gnomes of Lorghalen have little interest in dealing with the outside world. They consider it to be a dangerous place driven by greed and dishonesty. However, some are drawn beyond the island by sheer curiosity, others by the challenge of matching wits with a dangerous world, and some by a need to obtain resources or techniques unavailable on Lorghalen. Most strive to remain true to the principles of their culture even in hostile lands, solving problems through open discussion rather than treachery and subterfuge. They aren’t fools; a Lorghalen gnome won’t spill every secret to a stranger, and even is a gnome doesn’t want to lie, they don’t have to say anything at all. But they prefer Persuasion to Deception—believing that they can convince an enemy of the proper path. Intimidation is also an acceptable tool, but this is largely a matter of tone—not making ideal threats, but rather making sure an enemy understands just how dangerous the wrong decision could be.

Gnomes make up the vast majority of the population of the island, though there are a few others who have immigrated over the years. Because of the dangers posed by the Hammer, usually the only way to reach Cornerstone is on a Lorghalen ship. The Lorghali are largely gracious hosts and curious gnomes are often eager to talk to outsiders, but the gnomes are aware that outsiders don’t share their traditions of honesty and watch strangers with both eyes. In particular, over the last century a number of Zil have reached out to Lorghalen. The islanders are especially suspicious of their cousins and do not trust the Trust, but there has been a little cultural exchange; notably, a fascination with the Lorghalen stonesinging techniques led to the rise of the Power of Purity movement in Zilargo.

LORGHALEN CHARACTERS

You can play a gnome from Lorghalen using standard rules. However, here’s a few variants you could consider if both DM and player approve. These are as unofficial as can possibly be, and solely reflect what I’d do at my table.

Stonesingers

The stonesingers of Lorghalen aren’t druids in the traditional sense. Notably, few have the ability to change shape, and they generally don’t speak the Druidic language. This ties to the idea that the stonesingers are largely channeling the power of Lamannia as opposed to Eberron, and channel this power through song and force of personality rather than faith. You could reflect this in two ways.

  • The typical stonesinger uses the bard class, but uses the druid spell list instead of the bard spell list. Stonesingers have no particular knack for illusion or enthralling humanoids; they use their songs to charm the elements themselves. The College of Eloquence and the College of Lore are both sound choices for stonesingers.
  • Lorghalen druids learn the Primordial language instead of Druidic, unless they already speak Primordial. Add Perform to the list of skill proficiencies available to the class. Shapeshifting stonesingers are rare, but the stories of those who can sing new shapes speak of singers who can assume elemental form, so Circle of the Moon is a reasonable choice.

Variant Gnome: Lorghalen

The standard rules for gnomes can be used for Lorghalen gnomes, especially Forest gnomes and those rare few with the Mark of Scribing. However, Lorghalen gnomes are known more for their charisma than their intellect, and for working with nature as opposed to weaving illusions. With this in mind, a DM and player could choose to represent a Lorghalen gnome by making the following changes to the Forest gnome.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1, and your Charisma score increases by 2. This trait replaces the Ability Score Increase traits of both the Gnome and the Forest gnome.
  • Song of the Elements. You know the Druidcraft cantrip. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it. In addition, you can speak, read, and write Primordial. This trait replaces the Natural Illusionist trait of the Forest gnome.

Other Elements

Any sea-related background can be an appropriate choice for a Lorghalen character. Lorghalen pirates are rare, but sailors, fishers, and shipwrights are all common on the isle. An entertainer could be the first stonesinger to actually perform on the stages of the Five Nations. A Lorghalen hermit’s discovery could involve something about Lamannia or elementals—perhaps a terrible secret about the elemental binding industry! Lorghalen gnomes generally use the forest gnome or Mark of Scribing subrace.

While stonesingers are the most distinct aspect of Lorghalen culture, a Lorghalen gnome could pursue any class. An Alchemist artificer could make their potions using strange herbs and elemental ores brought from the island. The Lorghali aren’t especially religious—they don’t see a divine hand at work in nature, instead interacting with the spirits directly—but a Lorghali paladin could present their Oath of the Ancients as being tied to Lamannia.

Of course, a crucial question for a Lorghalen gnome is why have you left? Most islanders are quite content on their elemental paradise. What’s cause you to travel into the deadlands of Khorvaire? The Reasons For Leaving Lorghalen table can provide some ideas.

LORGHALEN ADVENTURES

As with anything in Eberron, the ultimate question is why does it matter? What can Lorghalen add to your game that you can’t find anywhere else? What could bring adventurers to travel to this isolated island, or to cause a stonesinger to cross their path? Here’s a few ideas.

  • While Lorghalen’s fleet is small, its ships and fast and powerful. Traditionally it hasn’t been deeply involved with the politics of the Lhazaar Principalities, but in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold the gnomes could play an important role in securing the position of the High Prince.
  • When adventurers stumble through a manifest zone to Lamannia, they re-emerge in Lorghalen. What will it take to return home?
  • The Lorghali dislike deception and rarely engage in piracy… until now. A Lorghali warship is terrorizing the region around the Dreadwood, supported by a host of elementals. Who is this pirate, and what are their motives?
  • There are many wonders in the deep jungles of Lorghalen: megafauna beasts, massive elementals, plants charged with the energies of Lamannia. Adventurers are sent to Lorghalen to retrieve something from the jungles. Perhaps a Cannith alchemist needs a legendary berry, or an Aurum showman wants them to capture a megafauna beast. Can they get past the Hammer? Will the Lorghali interfere with their quest?
  • The Lorghali have forged an alliance with the Power of Purity and the Ashbound druids and are launching a concerted effort to disrupt Zilargo’s elemental binding industry and sabotage elemental vessels. Is this just a matter of principle, or do they know a terrible secret that could lead to a far worse catastrophe?

GENERAL QUESTIONS

A previous article on the Lhazaar Principalities said that the gnomes occupied Lorghalen before Lhazaar arrived, whereas this suggests they claimed the island after Lhazaar.

That’s correct. What I’m now saying is that early gnome explorers discovered Lorghalen long ago, but only settled it after the rise of the Trust.

Do the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts on Lorghalen?

They don’t have a significant presence on the island. I’d rather explore the story of the houses taking an interest in Lorghalen and actively trying to expand their presence there rather than have it be established. So there’s no Orien outpost or Lyrandar docking tower in Cornerstone. I might give them a Gold Dragon Inn that’s just opened in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold. It could also be interesting to have a Sivis outpost that’s recently established and working with Lorghali foundlings with the Mark of Scribing. House Sivis would certainly be interested in tapping a new supply of heirs—but the Council of Cornerstone is suspicious of Sivis and anything that could give the Trust a foothold on their island.

What’s the religion of the Lorghali?

The Lorghali follow a tradition of concrete animism. They live in a land that is literally alive with spirits; they refer to the lands beyond the island as “Deadlands” because of this, finding it depressing to wander in realms where the wind and waves aren’t singing back to them. There are a number of exceptionally powerful entities, including elementals like the Hammer and legendary megafauna beasts. So the Lorghali don’t believe in distant, abstract deities; instead, they focus on concrete, local spirits. They respect nature, but in a much more CONCRETE way that a druid who reveres Eberron as a whole; they have a personal relationship with the well that provides their water and the boulder that roles by every day, and they likely have festivals in which the greater spirits are invoked. But this isn’t about FAITH, it’s a practical, concrete relationship—which is why they tend toward primal magic as opposed to divine.

What are the Lorghali’s beliefs in regards to death and the afterlife then?

They’re largely laid back about it. They’re focused on living their best life, and when it’s over, it’s over; whatever happens next will happen. It’s essentially the opposite of Aerenal and the faiths that are obsessed with avoiding Dolurrh; at the end of the day, the Lorghali don’t care what happens after death, as long as they live a good life. Having said that, they also live right next to the Dreadwood, which is tied to Mabar and Dolurrh; I imagine there’s at least one story cycle that essentially presents Lorghalen as the isle of the living, and Dreadwood as the isle of the dead. But the ultimate point is that the Lorghali don’t care about the afterlife; they care about living their best life now.

How much strong do you see The Hammer in CR terms?

I don’t think you could measure the Hammer in CR terms. You’re talking about an earth elemental so large that it shows up on the map as an island. Imagine trying to destroy a mountain by hitting it with a sword; it’s a crazy concept. If I was to use it in an encounter, I’d be inclined to treat it almost as an environmental effect rather than a creature; every X rounds a boulder will impact, can you get out of range before destroys your ship? Or I’d have adventurer literally fight its hand… if they do enough damage to that, it retreats. But it’s on such a vast scale that I wouldn’t treat the Hammer itself as a standard creature.

That’s all for now. My next article will look at the gnomes of the Feyspires! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing these topics and keeping this site going—I’ll be posting the stat block for the Lorghalen cannonball on Patreon!

FAQ: Exploring Eberron

Exploring Eberron is now available on the DM’s Guild. I wanted to take a moment to answer questions about the book, both general questions and some very specific ones…

GENERAL
What’s “Exploring Eberron?”

Exploring Eberron (ExE) is a 248 page sourcebook for the Eberron Campaign Setting, using the fifth edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s written by setting creator Keith Baker (hi!) along with Will Brolley, Wayne Chang, and Laura Hirsbrunner.

No, I mean what’s IN the book?

ExE is a deep dive into elements of Eberron that haven’t been explored in past sourcebooks, including the planes of Eberron, the aquatic civilizations of the Thunder Sea, Droaam, the Dhakaani goblinoids, the Mror Holds, and the Last War, along with Keith’s personal thoughts on the religions and races of Eberron. All in all, about 200 pages of the book are lore, with a heavy focus on how you can use this information to generate interesting stories or characters. The remaining 48 pages include new races, subraces, feats, backgrounds, archetypes. magic items, and monsters. You can check out the table of contents here.

Is it official content?

No. This is not produced by WotC and it does not match all previous canon sources. This is Keith’s personal view of Eberron and what he does in his Eberron campaigns.

Where can I get it? What formats?

Currently, Exploring Eberron is exclusively available on the DM’s Guild. It’s available as a PDF or as a print-on-demand hardcover. A bundle allows you to get the PDF for $5 when you buy the hardcover.

If I buy the PDF now and then want to buy the hardcover later, can I retroactively get the bundle?

No, the DM’s Guild doesn’t have a system in place that makes this possible.

Is it going to be available on D&D Beyond? Roll20? Fantasy Grounds?

It’s not official content and will not be on D&D Beyond, for a host of different reasons. We are exploring the possibility of conversions on other online platforms. At the moment it is only available on the DM’s Guild.

THE PROCESS

What parts of Exploring Eberron were ideas you’d had for years as opposed to ideas you developed while writing the book?

It’s not quite so clear cut. Almost all of the topics in Exploring Eberron are subjects I’ve wanted to write about for a decade. I sketched out the Thunder Sea—with the balance of power between the powerful Sahuagin nation and the sea elf colony, with the neutral, nomadic merfolk—as part of the setting bible in 2003; that setting bible likewise included the idea of the nation of monsters that eventually became Droaam, and the idea of the goblins having lost a great empire. I developed the planes with Bill Slavicsek, James Wyatt, and Chris Perkins as we developed the ECS in 2004. But all I had were the basic IDEAS. I didn’t work out the SPECIFICS of the Sahuagin nation or name the noble line of sea elves. We knew Fernia was the Sea of Fire, but back in 2004 we DIDN’T know exactly how it differed from the elemental planes.

Over the course of the next decade, all of these things evolved in their own way. Writing The Queen of Stone and “Backdrop Graywall” gave me an opportunity to explore Droaam in more depth. I established the basic framework of Mabar in the article I wrote on this blog a few years ago. But that was essentially a first draft. Notably, I said that one of the powers of Mabar was the Queen of All Tears. But at the time, I didn’t know who she was. I had a general vision of a tragic undead figure. But it wasn’t until I was writing the Mabar section of Exploring Eberron that I decided she was once mortal, and thought about what tragic figure from established canon could fit that part. I always knew that the slaadi were residents of Kythri, but it wasn’t until working on ExE that I thought about what made them different from the slaadi of other settings.

So most of the BROAD concepts had been in place for decades; the primary exception would the the Mror Dwarves (with the Realm Below and Ruinbound dwarves), as that’s new angle we specifically developed in Rising From The Last War. But many of the specifics were developed over the last year, because I finally had an opportunity to spend sufficient time to really think them through.

Is there some chapter or meaningful content that didn’t make the final cut of ExE?

There’s not a lot of material that I WROTE that we didn’t use. There’s a few things, like the Shavarath denizens table I’ve posted as a Patreon exclusive. But keep in mind that the book is 80 pages longer than we originally planned, precisely because I DIDN’T want to cut a lot of ideas that I loved. However, it is the case that I had to limit the scope of some of my original ideas. For example, originally I planned to do a write up on each of the major warlords of Droaam, similar in scope and style to the write-up for the Cults of the Dragon Below: describing the warlord, their personality, their history, their minions, their story hooks. We actually commissioned a fantastic image of Sheshka, the Queen of Stone. But as things went on, I realized both that we didn’t have room and that it didn’t actually feel like the right content for what is largely a player-focused book… that it was more appropriate for a book that mainly focused on organizations, threats, monsters, etc. Honestly, that’s the biggest piece of restricted scope that comes to mind, and it’s something I definitely WILL write at some point; it just didn’t fit here. But again, it’s not that I WROTE it and then we cut it; it’s that I realized it didn’t fit, so I DIDN’T write it.

What is your favorite new thing in “kanon” that appears for the first time in this book?

It’s a difficult choice. I love all my children. I’m particularly happy with the Queen of All Tears; I always liked the concept of her, but when the final piece of her story fell into place, it was just such a perfect fit. In general, I’m thrilled with all of the planes; there were a number (Kythri, Risia, Fernia) where initially I wasn’t actually sure they would be especially compelling… but whn I sat down and actually explored the idea, something wonderful came together.

Insofar as you’re thinking ahead right now, are you planning on focusing on your non-Eberron, non-D&D work for a while? When you do your next project for DMG, do you anticipate an adventure pack, or a more focused book of lore? Do you envision ever doing another book on the scale of ExE, or is the prospect too horrifying to contemplate at the moment?

I’m still determining the answer to that question. Wayne and I started working on Exploring Eberron over a year ago, and until last week we didn’t actually know how well it would do. This is what I do for a living, so that matters; if it doesn’t make enough money, I HAVE to pursue work that will keep a roof over my head. So I didn’t make plans for another major book because I didn’t know if I could afford to. But I love writing about Eberron and there are many more elements of the world I WANT to explore; it’s always just been a question of what’s feasible.

I do have non-D&D projects I’m working on, including The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance and a new Gloom project I’m working on. And I do want to do SOMETHING with my roleplaying game Phoenix: Dawn Command; I love the system and I’ve wanted to revisit it for some time. However, I still love Eberron and don’t want to lose momentum. I will be continuing to work on this website and working to increase the value of being a Patreon supporter; the more supporters I have, the more I can do with the site.

So having said all of that: Wayne and I have already talked about a number of possible projects for KB Presents. I will say that I’m not going to jump right into another 240 page book; I want to work on a few smaller projects before diving into that again. But I think you’ll be happy with all of the things we’re considering, and I’ll share more once there’s something concrete to share.

I understand you’ve played characters in Eberron games using some of the subclasses in this book. Can you tell us about them?

The preface of Exploring Eberron has an image of a warforged druid. This was a gift commissioned by Wayne; it’s Rose, a warforged druid I played in a campaign run by my friend Dan Garrison, the co-designer of Phoenix: Dawn Command. The campaign began at a party in Metrol on the night of the Mourning, and Dan provided the players with a list of basic character concepts to choose from and expand upon. I chose the warforged companion of the Princess of Cyre, a special commission for the royal family; classes weren’t setting, and I decided the companion would be named Rose, and would have the capabilities of a druid. As I have long loved the idea of warforged druids turning into living construct animals, I did the first pass on what became the Circle of the Forged druid. Long story short: the party was epic; we danced the Tago with knives; Metrol was sucked into Mabar when the Mourning occurred; hijinks ensued.

So Rose actually predated Exploring Eberron by about a year, and the Circle of the Forged druid was the first subclass developed for it. The Maverick artificer was developed before I played one, driven by my love of the flexibility of the 3.5 artificer—specifically, of the 3.5 infusion spell storing item. I love the concept of the artificer as someone who can tinker what you need on the spot. So, when Dan started another campaign—this time set in Callestan, with the players assuming the roles of professional rat-catchers—I decided to play a Maverick. My character is a forest gnome urchin, born in the feyspire of Shae Joridal but orphaned and separated from his home in Ghaal’dar attack; he grew up on the streets of Lower Dura and doesn’t really understand the fey potential in his blood. With this in mind, he uses the Magical Thinking approach to artifice that I describe in ExE. One of my favorite elements is using the guidance cantrip, because every time I cast it I come up with a different explanation for what I’m creating based on the effect I’m assisting with. Someone’s about to make an Investigation check? Try these special spectacles I’ve put together. About to use Athletics to make a dangerous jump? Let me add my pep paste to the bottom of your boots!

(VERY) SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

Does House Ghallanda have any interest in recreating or importing the odder cuisines presented in the book to the Five Nations (perhaps homogenizing it in the process, see American “Chinese food”)?

I don’t think it’s been suggested, but I think it’s a fantastic idea. Of course, in order to introduce grist to Five Nations they’d have to figure out the secret of how it’s made, and bear in mind that while we’ve told YOU how grist is made, the people of DROAAM don’t even know what it is, and once that secret is uncovered, they have to figure out how the Daughters are making grist actually edible. But I could see a great Ghallanda heist one-shot based on stealing the secret formula for grist…

In Exploring Eberron, it talks about the daelkyr being trapped in specific demiplanes and unable to leave, but I was always under the impression that they were described as “trapped in Khyber” being free to move about in Khyber unlike the Overlords. Is this a shift from canon or did I miss or misunderstand something regarding to this?

It’s not a shift from previous ideas, it’s a clarification. The idea all along was that you can’t FIGHT a bound overlord; they are a spirit in a shard and do not physically manifest. They don’t have kingdoms in Khyber. By contrast, it was always the idea that the daelkyr ARE physically present in Khyber, that they DO have lairs and minions, and that you can go meet one. But it was never clearly explained how they were trapped or what limitations were on their movement. Likewise, the earlier sources suggested that Khyber was strange and wondrous, but never clear how its geography worked. Over the next decade, I presented the idea that Khyber contains many demiplanes—and that entrances to demiplanes can transcend normal space, which explains how Belashyrra could be fighting the Umbragen in Xen’drik and troubling people in the Shadow Marches. It’s not that the domain of the Lord of Eyes spans the Thunder Sea, it’s that the domain is a DEMIPLANE with entrances in both places.

So in ExE I just clearly state this idea. The daelkyr aren’t bound in the physical tunnels of Khyber. They are each bound in a unique DEMIPLANE in Khyber. Within that demiplane they have absolute freedom of movement, so each one rules their own bizarre kingdom. Their minions can leave the demiplane, and again, demiplanes have exits across the world. But the daelkyr can’t leave the demiplane, which finally gives a clear explanation of how they have SOME freedom of movement but can’t “leave Khyber.”

So the IDEA remains: the daelkyr aren’t stuck in shards like overlords. They have realms they rule and you can go meet one and fight one. But those realms are little pockets of reality, and the daelkyr can’t LEAVE them.

There are Krakens and Aboleths underwater, are there equivalents of the Gatekeepers or the Church of the Silver Flame? What about of the couatls themselves?

Underwater? Surely. In the Thunder Sea? No. I’m sure there was an aquatic counterpart to the couatl, and I’m just as sure that they were involved in the same celestial sacrifice that bound the overlords and created the Silver Flame. It’s likewise logical to think that there were serpent cults among the locathah of the Thunder Sea, but they were crushed by the Eternal Dominion and the Valraean Protectorate, both of which do not allow freedom of religion in their realms. You could certainly have a secret Silver Flame tradition lingering among locathah dissidents, but the basic philosophy of the sahuagin is fundamentally opposed to its principles; “the strong should make sacrifices to protect the weak” is NOT a theory that fits in the Eternal Dominion. This doesn’t mean that the sahuagin are unaware of or helpless against supernatural threats; but they are handled by the martial might of the Dominion, not by some religious cult.

The kalamer merfolk are druids who maintain the balance of manifest zones, so they are something of a parallel to the Gatekeepers, but they don’t share any specific traditions with them and have no history with the daelkyr.

Does the Undying Court know about the Queen of All Tears and does it care?

With any question like this, my answer is always what makes the story more interesting? In my opinion, it’s more interesting for this to be a secret the player characters can discover, leaving them to decide what to do with the knowledge, rather than saying “Oh, the Undying Court has known about that for centuries.” Among other things, if the Undying Court already knows about it, then either they don’t care or can’t do anything about it, because they HAVEN’T. If they don’t KNOW, then it leaves open the possibility that they will panic when they find out about it. But in general, I will always lean toward adventurers making a dramatic discovery NOW over NPCs making a dramatic discovery a thousand years ago.

Kind of as a broader version of this question, what level of knowledge do the Material Plane experts possess and to what degree is it relevant to daily living?

The book gives examples of what experts know when it quotes the Planar Codex and other scholars. The limits of what can be known through Arcana depend on where you are and on what the DM WANTS players to know. The Undying Court has spent thousands of years astrally traveling and gathering information, and they likely have the best knowledge of the planes; other scholars may have their information through Aereni accounts.

But in terms of what does EVERYONE know? Pretty much the names of the planes and their basic concepts, and they don’t always get those right. We’ve called out that the typical person thinks of Risia as the “Plain of Ice” and Irian as the “Plane of Light” and don’t understand the deeper symbolic roles of these places. People know about them because of manifest zones, but without an Arcana check they don’t know much.

Fernia and Risia seem to have moved away from the mildly evil aligned, while Syrania moved away from mildly good aligned. What led to those decisions?

I’d argue that Risia IS still mildly evil-aligned. Here’s a quote:

At first glance, Risia appears to be barren and empty. But some travelers have described a presence, a sense of being watched, and most feel this presence is malign. On the surface, the concept of Risia seems entirely neutral; there’s nothing inherently evil about ice. But there’s a hunger to Risia—an innate desire to consume warmth and to bury living things in ice. In the Planar Codex, Dorius Alyre ir’Korran calls this force the Killing Cold. 

Exploring Eberron, page 182

By contrast, my view of Fernia is that it explores all symbolic associations of fire, both benevolent and destructive, and shouldn’t be inherently evil. Syrania is primarily about commerce and knowledge and didn’t need to be inherently good; this also helps to clearly differentiate it from Irian. Beyond that, I didn’t assign those specific traits in the original ECS, and Exploring Eberron is about how I see things, not canon.

I’m a big fan of Sarlona, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen HOW the kalashtar are slipping Riedra’s net and getting to Khorvaire. Is this ever spelled out?

There’s no steady stream of kalashtar into Khorvaire. As for how immigrants have managed it, they’ve done it in small numbers and disguised as humans. They’ve made their way to Arhdman in the Syrkarn, or worked with smugglers using the secret port of Dvaarnava. Some have made a dangerous pilgrimage through Khyber. And there have been one or two bold strokes that have involved major operations to disrupt or draw away the Riedran blockades. But it’s NOT a trivial thing, and they never travel openly under a flag of Adar.

There’s a bit about magic making permanent changes to the body being a relatively common thing. How does this work with the description on identification papers?

Actually, permanent changes are NOT common. Here’s the text from the book, with a few highlights.

Minor cosmetic transmutation is quite common; most professional beauticians can change your hair or eye color. Unnatural effects are rarer, seen mainly in Aundair and Zilargo… The effects of cosmetic transmutation typically last a week, but if you’re dealing with a magewright of sufficient skill, you can extend the effect to one month. In some cities, you might even find an expert who can make the change permanent. The more complicated the transmutation, the more costly—and hard to find—the service becomes.

Exploring Eberron, Page 28

So first of all, permanent transmutation is not common. What’s common is turning your brown hair red for a month, or getting permanent eyeshadow for a week — the sort of cosmetic changes people get in OUR world, and I don’t have to update my driver’s license when I change my hair color. Exotic changes — like having, say, silver hair or cat’s eyes — are NOT common and are generally only seen in the cities of Aundair or Zilargo, where people are used to a higher degree of arcane experimentation. Permanent transformation is not only out of the price range of most people, but it’s also not something that’s available most places — again, in a major city, you might find someone who can do it. And as noted later in the section, “as with any magewright, beauticians are often specialized; a hairdresser might be able to give you permanent exotic hair but be unable to change any other feature.”

A second point is that identification papers aren’t something you need in everyday life. The ECS calls out that they’re typically carried by members of the middle and upper classes; so common laborers don’t even have identification papers. They’re primarily going to be used when crossing borders, using letters of credit, or similar situations; but you don’t need to show identification papers to buy a beer at the Gold Dragon Inn. If your papers are accurate except for your silver hair, no one’s going to question that you had your hair done. If you ARE going to engage in permanent, dramatic physical transformation—changing your apparent species, gender, height, or the like—you will want to get your papers updated. .

I had a question about the Dol Udar. Are the Gatekeepers at all aware of it?

Keep in mind that the Gatekeepers aren’t a powerful, modern faction with widespread resources. They’re the last remnants of an order that has been in decline for thousands of years, dwelling in a backwater with almost no contact with the modern nations, doing their best to maintain the ancient seals that keep forgotten evils at bay. With that in mind, consider that the Gatekeepers don’t NEED to know what the daelkyr are doing elsewhere in the world; they know that as long as they preserve the seals, the daelkyr cannot escape their prisons—and again, the seals are NOT geographically linked. There’s no Gatekeeper seals in the Mror Holds; the seals that exist prevent Dyrrn from leaving his demiplane, no matter where it touches the world.

With all that in mind, the whole point is that THIS IS WHY THEY NEED PLAYER CHARACTERS. What’s a more compelling story—the Gatekeepers having vast resources and knowing exactly what’s going on? Or the Gatekeepers knowing that they DON’T know exactly what’s going on in the wider world and needing to send a young, promising champion—a player character—to investigate the disturbances they’ve felt in the distant east? With that said, if you DON’T have a PC in this role and your player characters are active in Dol Udar, you could introduce an NPC in that role—a Gatekeeper agent who’s been sent to investigate the situation and provide assistance. But I’d still play that as they don’t KNOW what’s going on, so they’ve sent an agent to find out as opposed to they’re entirely aware of the situation and have already made plans to deal with it.

If you have questions about Exploring Eberron, post them below and I’ll answer when I can!

Exploring Eberron: The Thunder Sea

Art by Vincentius Matthew

Since Eberron began, I’ve wanted to explore aquatic civilizations. Merfolk, sahuagin, locathah—these creatures are just as intelligent (or more so) than humans. So what are their civilizations like? How do they interact with one another, and with the world above? With that said, there’s more land below the water than there is above, and no reason to think its cultures aren’t just as diverse as those of the surface dwellers. Dealing with every aquatic nation of Eberron would be a book in itself. So in Exploring Eberron I focus on the Thunder Sea, which lies between Khorvaire. Aerenal, and Xen’drik. Sharn and Stormreach are two of the ports adventurers are most likely to deal with; this explores the sea that lies between them and what you can find below it.

These two pages provide an overview of the chapter, and I’m not going to expand on it in depth here because the book itself will do that soon. But I can say that these two pages are literally the tip of the iceberg. The Eternal Dominion, the merfolk of Karakala, the Valraen Protectorate, the mysterious kar’lassa—all of these are dealt with in this section, and each provides a host of interesting hooks for adventures or adventurers.

The raw text of Exploring Eberron is complete, but I’m not going to predict a release date until layout is complete. The final text is still going through editing, and with a book of this size layout and review will take time. So we haven’t crossed the ocean yet, but we can see land on the horizon!

Lightning Round 2/26/18: Languages, Elementals and Pirates!

I’ve just returned to dry land after organizing gaming on the JoCo Cruise. I’ve got lots of things I need to work on, but I have time to answer a few more questions from the last lightning round. As always, this is what I do in MY Eberron, and may contradict canon material. 

What are your thoughts on extraplanar languages?

The big question I’d start with is how do languages make a game interesting? D&D isn’t a perfect simulation of the real world; it’s a fantasy. We don’t need to have as many languages as we do in our world… just as we have fewer nations that we have in our world. So what is the point of having exotic languages? Do you want PCs to have to hire a local guide or work with a translator? Do you want to have ancient inscriptions that can only be read by a sage? Both of these things are valid, but you can have these with a relatively small number of languages. So I prefer to limit the number of languages I use, but also to play up the idea of regional dialects and slang. Common draws on all of the old languages of pre-Riedran Sarlona, so you can definitely get variation from place to place. When the paladin from Thrane is in a small Karrnathi village, he might have to make an Intelligence check to perfectly understand the conversation of the locals or a Charisma check to communicate clearly… unless, of course, he has a local guide to help out. It allows for the challenge and potential humor of limited communication while still allowing for the possibility of communication with no help. If a character has the Linguist feat or is from the region, I’d allow them to act as that local guide — so we’ve got a little fun flavor because the Karrn PC can joke with the locals at the expense of the Thrane.

With that said… per page 46-47 of the Eberron Campaign Setting, each plane has its own language. There’s Infernal, Risian, and a language called “Daelkyr.” But that’s not how I do things in my campaign… because again, how is it fun? Are your characters supposed to devote one of their limited language slots to the language of Irian? How often is that actually going to be useful? And if no one takes it, do they make a perilous journey to Irian only to find that they can’t speak to any of the inhabitants? Is that fun?

So personally, I do a few things in my campaign. First, most powerful outsiders can essentially activate a tongues effect. If an angel of Syrania wishes to be understood, you simply understand what it is saying. Lesser inhabitants of the plane likely won’t have this ability and will speak the planar language. With that said, I reduce the number of languages in existence, planar and otherwise. In my campaign, I use the following major languages.

  • Common is the shared language of the humans of Khorvaire. Originally people spoke a number of regional languages from Sarlona, but when Galifar was established a single language was set as the Common tongue and use of the others was discouraged; traces of these linger in regional dialects and slang. 
  • Riedran is the dominant language of Sarlona. It was established by the Inspired after they unified Riedra. It is sometimes called Old Common, because there’s a few places in Khorvaire (notably Valenar) where people speak it; but it’s simply a different regional language from the old kingdoms of Sarlona. 
  • Goblin can be considered Dhakaani Common. It spread across Khorvaire during the long reign of the Dhakaani Empire and smothered most existing languages, and it remains the dominant language of the pre-human “monstrous” inhabitants of Khorvaire — goblins, orcs, ogres, gnolls, etc. Many of the inhabitants of Droaam and Darguun don’t speak Common, but they all know Goblin. 
  • Giant can be seen as Xen’drik Common and is understood by most of the civilized peoples of the Shattered Land. This isn’t to say that the bee-people won’t have their own language, but Giant is the recognized trade language. 
  • Draconic is — surprise! — Celestial Common. While it is spoken by dragons, it is also spoken by a majority of celestials (including denizens of Syrania, Irian and Shavarath); most likely the dragons learned it from the couatl. Some scholars call it the language of Siberys, and it also forms the foundation of many systems of arcane incantation;  as a result, many wizards and artificers understand Draconic but never actually speak it.
  • Abyssal can be considered Fiendish Common and is sometimes considered the language of Khyber. It’s spoken by most fiends, including both the rakshasa and the fiends of Mabar and Shavarath. Native aberrations could also speak Abyssal.
  • Undercommon is the language of Xoriat, and is spoken by the Daelkyr and most aberrations that have a connection to Xoriat. Undercommon seems to constantly evolve, but anyone who understands it understands the current form of it. Curiously, this means that ancient inscriptions in Undercommon can actually take on new meanings because of this linguistic evolution.
  • Elven is the language of Thelanis, and in my Eberron it essentially combines traditional Elven and Sylvan; it’s the language of Aerenal, but also spoken by most Fey.

I call these major languages because pretty much anything you meet will speak one of them. In Khorvaire, you can talk to almost anyone using either Common or Goblin. The other languages are regional — and members of those communities will generally either speak Common or Goblin. Such regional languages include Dwarven in the Mror Holds, Halfling in the Talenta Plains, Gnomish in Zilargo, and the tongue of the Gnolls. Speaking one of these languages essentially allows you to have private conversations with a member of that community and can win you some social points… but Mror children learn Common as well as Dwarven, and in many holds Common is the first language used. A mechanical side effect of this is that if a player is making a character who’s biologically of one species but raised in a different culture — IE, a dwarf raised in Zilargo or a halfling from Sharn — I may let them drop their “racial” language for something more common to their background. The Zil Dwarf might know Common and Gnomish, while the Sharn halfling might speak Common and Goblin. As it stands I’ve had the Ghaash’kala orcs speak Goblin… but on consideration, it might make more sense for them to speak Draconic or Abyssal, as they had very little contact with the Dhakaani.

While most creatures respond to one of the common languages, the more obscure languages come up in exploration and adventure. Go exploring the ruins beneath the Mror Holds and you’ll only find Dwarvish (or Undercommon!). You could find an isolated tribe of orcs that still speak the long-dead Orcish tongue. Go to Sarlona and you might find old scrolls written in the lost language of Pyrine, requiring magic to decipher. PCs may not encounter dragons or demons often, but any artifacts or ruins from the Age of Demons will use one of their languages.

And as I mentioned above, I do consider the Quori to have their own language… but Quori immortals definitely fall into the category of “If they want you to understand them, you do.” They may be speaking Quori, but you’ll hear it as the language you know best.

Certain languages, such as Draconic, are usually important for magic. Would you say this is an innate property of the language or a result of early users and traditions?

Consider this: mortal languages were created by mortals. Human developed their own languages over time. The languages of immortals — which per my list include Draconic, Abyssal, Undercommon, Elvish and Quori — are part of the fundamental structure of reality. There wasn’t a time when primitive angels slowly developed language; they were created with inherent knowledge of Draconic, hence some calling it “the tongue of Siberys.” With this in mind, yes: I would say that both Draconic, Elvish and Abyssal are mystically relevant languages. They are often found in systems of mystical incantations because they do have more inherent power than mortal languages.

If the former, might there be useful information about magic or psionics in other languages?

Certainly. As I said, Abyssal and Elvish are equally relevant for arcane magic. I could see both Undercommon and Quori being tied to psionics; Psions might use mantras in one of these languages to focus their thoughts, even if they don’t know that’s what they are using. Xoriat is more connected to the tradition of the Wilder — ecstatic psionic power — while Dal Quor is tied to the more typically disciplined approach of the psion. This also ties to the idea of Undercommon constantly changing. There is something inherently unnatural and supernatural about Undercommonand knowing it changes your brain. 

Do you think that some of the more exotic “racial” languages might offer insight into the psychology of their originators? 

Certainly. I think any mortal language will tell you something about the culture that created it.

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

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.

Are there any people of color in Eberron? Where?

Sure! They’re everywhere. Humans aren’t native to Khorvaire. They came from Sarlona, which is a land with a range of extreme environments. You have tropical Corvagura, the Sykarn deserts, the Tashana Tundra, temperate Nulakhesh, and more. As humans adapted to these environments, they’d logically develop different pigmentation as we see in our world. Beyond this, I’d imagine that people born in manifest zones might develop pigmentations never seen in our world… fiery Fernians, Lamannians with green hair or skin, and so on. The people who settled Khorvaire came from all these regions, and under unified Galifar they blended and merged. So we’ve also embraced the idea that you can find humans of any color across Khorvaire. Given this sort of diversity, not to mention the many different SPECIES people deal with on a daily basis — Gnolls! Lizardfolk! Elves! — we’ve never presented skin color alone as something that is a source of prejudice in Eberron. Like sexual discrimination, this is another place where we prefer to present the world as we’d like it to be as opposed to trying to present all the flaws of our world. If for some reason you’re looking to have a location that has a population of a particular ethnicity, you can either return to Sarlona or simply assert that this particular community traces its roots back to a particular region and hasn’t had the same degree of integration as most of Khorvaire… such as the ethnic Khunan humans of Valenar.

If airships weren’t an option, how would House Lyrandar transport a large amount of cargo from Sharn to Karrnath? Would they go around the Lhazaar Principalities despite the reputation for piracy, or be more likely to risk the Demon Wastes in spite of a lack of friendly ports and crazy monsters? 

There’s a few issues here: rivers, pirates, and cooperation between houses.

First of all: Rivers. I’m not a cartographer, and I didn’t personally draw all the maps for Eberron. Reviewing them today, I’d say that if I did, I’d add more rivers. Notably, I’d extend the Brey River to connect to the Dagger… which is to say, I’d have the Brey run across Breland, and we just call it “The Dagger” around Sharn. So normally there is a river that crosses through, but it does run along the Mournland now which is a little dangerous. But river barges should be a significant thing.

Second, let’s talk about pirates. The Lhazaar are known to engage in piracy, but they ALSO engage in legitimate merchant trade. And Lyrandar, like any Dragonmarked House, isn’t entirely staffed by members of the family. The ECS notes that “many of the dragonmarked houses and other enterprises hire Lhazaar ships and crews to move cargo from one destination to another…” So many Lyrandar vessels traveling along the east coast ARE Lhazaar — either licensed Lhazaar vessels or elemental galleons with Lhazaar crews. Which is mainly just a point that not all Lhazaar sailors are pirates — and that many of the ships targeted BY piracy are themselves Lhazaar vessels. Beyond this, the answer is simple: be prepared for piracy. A typical licensed vessel may be an easy target, but attacking an elemental galleon is no trivial thing for a mundane pirate; not only is the ship faster than yours, the captain can control the wind. It can be done — but it’s no trivial thing! Likewise, Lyrandar employs privateers — many of them Lhazaar! — to protect their ships. Piracy is a threat in Lhazaar waters or the Thunder Sea, but that doesn’t mean it’s a constant or inescapable thing.

Finally, don’t forget cooperation between houses. The whole point of the Twelve is to find ways for houses to work together and accomplish things none of them could do along. Lyrandar and Orien are in competition, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t cooperate in situations where they both can make a profit. So you will definitely have situations where cargo would be taken upriver by a Lyrandar barge, and then transferred to a Orien caravan or lightning rail to cross a stretch of land.

Eberron is a world where changelings and rakshasa exist. What precautions have people developed to deal with imposters? In 3.5 the spell discern shapechanger from Races of Eberron is a third level sell — do you see this spell existing and being implemented?

We’ve presented Eberron as a world in which rakshasa and dragons DO hide unseen and pull strings. While we added magic items like the Mask of the Misplaced Aura precisely to help deep cover agents avoid True Seeing, the fact that such hidden agents are part of the world implies to me that the ability to detect shapechangers IS NOT a trivial, commonplace thing. I think House Medani has produced a dragonshard focus item that duplicates the effect of discern shapechanger, and you can hire a Medani guardian equipped to watch for shapechangers… but it’s not a trivial thing, and you won’t find such agents in small communities.

With that said, Eberron is also a world in which changelings exist, and people know it. So turn it around to OUR world. We have the ability to test DNA and the like, but such technology isn’t available to the average person on the street. So if you knew shapechangers existed, what would YOU do? First of all, changelings can’t duplicate equipment. So, I suspect many people would have some sort of distinctive item that friends would recognize — a ring, a locket, a pin. Their friends would know this totem item, and if someone behaved strangely, the first thing they’d do is say “Is Johnny wearing his totem ring?” Aside from this, paranoid people might also fact check before they engage in risky behavior. “Where did we last meet?” A group of adventurers might establish code phrases that they regularly drop into conversation. This doesn’t have to be full on spy talk; it can be just as simple as friends having a funny call and response or an elaborate handshake. But if Bob suddenly doesn’t remember the handshake, that’s going to raise suspicions.

With that said, changelings are supposed to be able to deceive people. If society has an ironclad way to spot changelings, what’s the point of playing one? People will have customs that tie to this… but this is where changelings need to use Insight to guess the proper response or Deception to shift suspicion. When you’re trying to break into Dreadhold, you can bet they will have True Seeing and many other magical security systems. But in the village grocery, they aren’t equipped to flawlessly spot your changeling.

I’m confused about how the Galifar succession worked… or rather, how it managed to function for nearly nine hundred years before someone’s dispossessed siblings said “Enough!”

There’s two major factors here. First of all, it’s not like it was a surprise when a new ruler took over, with everyone in suspense about who it would be. The eldest heir would be Prince/ss of Cyre, understood to be heir to the throne. Subsequent siblings would be appointed as the Prince/sses of Breland, Karrnath, Thrane and Aundair, and would take over those roles whenever the current governor passed. If the Cyran heir died, the next eldest would shift up to fill the role; if there weren’t enough heirs to fill the governorships, you’d draw on the extended Wynarn family. So each sibling had an important role… and they weren’t raised to think they had a right to the throne. 

Second: who says it DID function for nine hundred years without incident? We’ve never delved deeply into the history of Galifar. Nine hundred years is a tremendously long time. Overlords have nearly broken free. Dragons have ravaged kingdoms. A false Keeper of the Flame split the faithful. Aundair was threatened by a plague of lycanthropy. And I’m SURE there have been attempted secessions, coups, and all many of usurpations. It’s just that the Last War was the one that finally brought the whole thing down. I’d love to delve more deeply into the history of Galifar when there’s an opportunity.

How many Wynarns are there in Khorvaire today, aside from the current royal families?

I can’t give you a count off the top of my head, but there’s certainly a number of Wynarns in all of the Five Nations. I’ll point out that one of the significant characters in The Queen of Stone is Beren ir’Wynarn, one of Boranel’s cousins.

That’s all for now! Feel free to ask questions below, but I am extremely busy this week and new questions may end up being added to the list for the next lightning round. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible.

Eberron Flashback: Under The Sea

While the sahuagin have been touched on in City of StormreachSecrets of Xen’drik and my novel The Shattered Land, the oceans of Eberron remain shrouded in mystery. With this in mind, I wanted to revisit a post from a few years ago. As always, bear in mind that everything I post here is entirely unofficial and may contradict canon information: this is what I do in my home campaign. With that said…

Are there any aquatic races other than the sahuagin that see non-hostile contact with land-dwellers? I may be doing a pulp game that’s heavier on the Sea Stuff™ than expected, and I imagine the political scene is just as busy below the waves as it is above. Especially curious about kuo-toa and aquatic elves, but anything you have helps.

I don’t believe that any of the aquatic races besides the sahuagin have been mentioned in canon Eberron sources. But I did come up with other ideas when I was developing the world, and I suppose I can mention those briefly. In my original draft I asserted that the two primary undersea races were the sahuagin and the merfolk, with a smaller but critical role for aquatic elves.

In this model, the sahuagin are a largely monolithic culture: a widespread ancient empire older than even Aereni civilization. In this you could see the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft as a model; they worship a deity that others fear (the Devourer), and they have an ancient and sophisticated civilization that is almost entirely unknown to the people of the surface world. While I refer to this as an “empire”, my thought is that its borders have been stable for thousands of year; it’s not an especially aggressive power. With that said, if I was to bring in kuo-toa or locathah, one of the first places I’d be likely to put them is as subject states within the Sahuagin empire.

Now, how’s this work if you want savage or uncivilized sahuagin raiders? Well, while the sahuagin empire might be widespread, there’s always room for barbarians who’ve never embraced it. Furthermore, there’s a lot of room for Lords of Dust / Cult of the Dragon Below action among the sahuagin. Note that per City of Stormreach the sahuagin colonized Stormreach long before humans did, but pulled back after a terrible ancient force corrupted the settlement. You can easily introduce savage bands of sahuagin barbarians (literally) who revere the Overlords of the First Age and seek to restore their dominion.

Let’s move on to the Aquatic Elves. My thought here was that around ten thousand years ago, there was a movement among a number of Aereni lines to colonize the ocean around Aerenal. The original aquatic elves were created through mystical rituals, though they are a self-sustaining race. Thus, there is a significant undersea region around Aerenal that is under Aereni dominion. In my original model the populace was largely comprised of sahuagin, but you could add any other aquatic races you wanted; the main point is that these races adhere to Aereni culture, revering the Undying Court. My assertion was that there remained a long-standing bitter enmity between the Sahuagin Empire and the Aereni Territories. The power of the Undying Court makes it nearly impossible for the sahuagin to reclaim the region… but as that power is geographically limited, the elves can’t extend their dominion further. Thus you have the malenti, sahuagin mystically altered to appear to be aquatic elves; these are covert operatives used in acts of espionage and covert aggression within the Aereni Territories.

The rest of the ocean is dominated by the Merfolk. Where the sahuagin have a vast, monolithic and ancient culture, I’ve always considered the merfolk to be as diverse as humanity and less bound to a single ancient tradition. Thus my original model had multiple merfolk territories and a range of cultures.

In my model, the Sahuagin Empire was concentrated in the Thunder Sea, the region between Khorvaire and Xen’drik; thus you would deal with the sahuagin if you were going from Khorvaire to Xen’drik, and with the merfolk if you were going from Khorvaire to Sarlona. The merfolk are also the dominant race in Lhazaar waters. With that said, the merfolk of the western coast are quite different from those of the eastern coast.

Say you wanted to present sahuagin as a viable character option. Would you have any brief roleplaying tips, suggested classes, and what gods they might worship?
As mentioned about, when I look to a literary analogy for the Imperial sahuagin, I think of the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft. Their god is the Devourer, the embodiment of the destructive power of nature; you see the Devourer’s hand in the tempest and the storm. He is a grim patron who strengthens the faithful through harsh trials; but survive and you will be the shark amongst the prey.
So one part of the Deep One analogy is that their god is a harsh and fearful deity who most people fear. The second is the fact that they are both wise and intelligent; per the 3.5 SRD, a typical sahuagin has an Intelligence of 14 and a Wisdom of 13. In my opinion they have an ancient culture, and have their own traditions of arcane and divine magic. So when it comes to classes, any combination of fighter, cleric and wizard make sense. As they have an affinity both for sharks and for hunting, ranger is another logical choice. From a racial perspective, their only weakness is Charisma… so I don’t see a lot of sahuagin bards or sorcerers.
Looking to roleplaying tips, one start is to look at places the sahuagin are mentioned in canon. Their religion is discussed in City of Stormreach
The doctrine of this sect holds that it was the Devourer alone who defeated the fiends of the first age, and that the force of this battle raised the lands above the sea. The faithful are taught to embrace the fury of nature, preparing for the time when the Devourer will scour the earth and draw all back beneath the waves.
A critical point is the description of the relationship between the sahuagin priests and human followers of the sect…


These priests consider humans to be flawed cousins, stripped of scale and weak of lung, but they pity these humans and consider it an act of charity to help them find the right path.

The key points here is that these Imperial sahuagin who regularly interact with the humans of Stormreach approach them with an attitude of condescension and pity. Compare a typical human to a typical sahuagin. Per the SRD, a sahuagin is superior in every ability score save Charisma; they are smarter, faster and stronger than their human counterparts. The sahuagin has significant natural armor (+5 natural AC bonus) and natural weapons… and again, an average 14 Strength and 14 Intelligence. By comparison, humans are weak, slow-witted and woefully unfit for battle. Add to this the idea that the sahuagin have a remarkable and ancient culture under the waves that humans know nothing about (because your poor little lungs are too weak to endure it… while by contrast, a typical sahuagin can at least survive for 6 hours on land without magical assistance).

So personally, if I was playing an Imperial sahuagin character I’d emphasize the intelligence and ancient culture of the sahuagin and be somewhat arrogant and condescending to my soft-skinned, slow-witted mud-cousins… but that’s me.

Now, two more things you might want to consider. City of Stormreach also notes that “The holy texts speak of devouring the strength of fallen foes…” While this is a metaphor, I have always intended that certain significant sahuagin rituals involve the literal consumption of a thing to gain its strength. My idea of both the malenti and the four-armed sahuagin warriors is that these are accomplished through mystical rituals of devouring… that you become a malenti by consuming an aquatic elf.

With that said, following the model I outlined above, there’s two other paths for sahuagin characters. You could be a sahuagin from the Aereni Territories, who has fully embraced Elven culture and is a loyal servant of the Undying Court. Or you could be a savage sahuagin from beyond the Empire; this would be somewhat analogous to playing an orc cultist of the Dragon Below from the Shadow Marches.

Would you be sympathetic to a little more HPL in allowing “half-sahuagin” (or even half-aquatic elves, come to think of it) to emerge from humans who may or may not know of their ancestry a la “Shadow Over Innsmouth”?

Certainly. I think the most logical path for this would be the malenti. By core rules, malenti are sahuagin that are physically indistinguishable from aquatic elves. It seems reasonable to me to suggest that the offspring of a human and a malenti could produce a creature that appears to be a normal half-elf, but who develops sahuagin traits over time… eventually becoming a full sahuagin. I think you could easily place a village like Innsmouth along the southern coast of Breland.

If you fashion Sahuagin culture as imperial, have you ever given thought or description to the Emperor or Empress? Are they ruled by a singular monarch or a dynasty of imperial mutant families?

Personally, I see it as a dynasty with nobles reigning over different provinces. Incorporating the mutants into this is a very logical step; the four-armed sahuagin could be a particular noble bloodline, with other families having similarly distinctive traits that have simply never been seen by surface-dwellers.

And how many of the themes of Eberron do you think are able to be translated into an under-sea environment? Would you put submarines similar to airships under the sea or have things similar to lightning rails on ocean floors? Could there be aquatic versions of the warforged?

Some of these things already exist. Submersible elemental vessels have appeared in a number of sources, from Grasp of the Emerald Claw to my novel The Fading Dream. Warforged are capable of operating underwater, and The Fading Dream has a Cyran aquatic construct still patrolling the waters around the Mournland.

Looking to the lightning rail, I’m not sure whether you’re asking if humans have created such a thing, or if it might already be in use by aquatic nations. Addressing the first point, I don’t see such a thing happening any time soon… in part because the ocean floor is inhabited, and I don’t see the sahuagin being keen on Orien running a rail through their homeland. As the sahuagin are an ancient and sophisticated culture, they should have their own answers to long-distance transportation and communication, but these could take many forms. They could have harnessed or bred special creatures to assist in transportation… or they may have come up with their own techniques for binding water elementals. As it’s not something that was picked up in canon Eberron, it’s not something I ever explored in great detail.

Are there any long lost civilizations, perhaps currently unheard of in Khorvaire, whose remains are underwater? Apart from giants from Xen’drik, that is.

There certainly could be. In the conversion notes for Lords of Madness I suggest that the aboleths were a civilization that existed during the Age of Demons, so you could easily have ancient aboleth ruins holding remnants of powerful magic… essentially, the undersea equivalent of Ashtakala and the Demon Wastes. Aside from that, this could be an interesting path to take with one of the other aquatic races, such as the Kuo-Toa. Perhaps the Kuo-Toa were once even more widespread and powerful than the Sahuagin, until SOMETHING devastated their civilization; now they are savages and subjects of the other races, and their ancient cities are haunted ruins. If you want to get really crazy, you could have undersea explorers discover a region below the sea that is clearly analogous to the Mournland, suggesting that the ancient Kuo-Toa civilization triggered (and was destroyed by) their own Mourning millennia ago.

Eberron has a lot of interesting features on the maps of its *surface* continents. What sort of variation in environment do you think there would be across the seas and oceans of Eberron?

For a start I’d look to all of the interesting ocean environments that exist in our world, such as the Mariana Trench, the Sargasso Sea and the Great Barrier Reef. From there, I’d consider the fact that there are manifest zones below water as well as on the surface, and manifest zones can create both exotic regions and areas that would lend themselves to colonization or adventure. A manifest zone to Fernia could give you fire underwater, while a manifest zone to Lamannia could be a source of unusually massive sea creatures or dramatic growth of vegetation; I could see a Lamannia zone at the heart of an especially dramatic Sargasso region. Zones to Thelanis would produce regions like the Twilight Desmesne in the Eldeen Reaches, with aquatic fey and water spirits. And so on. Beyond this you could have any number of regions affected by the actions of the ocean inhabitants… such as the idea of a Kuo-Toa Mournland.

How do the Inspired feel about the merfolk or do they even realize they’re there?

I think the existence of a quori client state among the merfolk is a great idea. With that said, I wouldn’t actually connect them directly to the Inspired. The point of quori subversion is to work from within and create a structure within the target culture that supports their rule. So if they conquered Khorvaire, they wouldn’t actually try to impose Riedran culture on it; instead, they’d do something like instigate a brutal civil war that devastates the existing order and then have their own (secretly Inspired) saviors rise up to fix it. That’s how they came to rule Riedra to begin with – the Inspired brought the Sundering to an end. If this sounds like the Last War is a quori plot, it would make a lot of sense; the question is who they would use as puppets in Khorvaire.

So in other words, I think a merfolk-quori state makes perfect sense, but I’d have them be merfolk “guided by the Voice of the Ocean” or something like that… and it would take someone familiar with the Quori to say “Hey, they’re using psionics… I think they’re Inspired!”

Could you elaborate on Sauhagin who are part of Aereni culture? With how tied to ancestors many aspects of that culture are, what are some differences in how Sahaugin experience service to the Undying Court? 

As a question of world design, this is a point where you have to decide if you are creating an idealized world — the way we want things to be — or if you’re going to create a flawed world. Typically, a flawed world presents has more need of adventurers, and that’s the path I followed. So in MY Eberron, things aren’t perfect for the sahuagin of the Aereni Territories. It’s a model of colonization — with the elves justifying their actions out of a need to create a buffer zone for Aerenal — as opposed to enlightened integration. As such, the Aereni sahuagin are taught to respect and serve the Undying Court, which protects them from harm and preserves civilization as we know it… but they are not presented with a path to become deathless themselves. Rather, this is one of the principles the aquatic elves use to justify their rule; they are literally envoys of divine power, and the fact that the deathless are all elves is proof of elven superiority.

Essentially, this is a case where I WANT the adventurers to be creeped out by this society and by the fact that Aerenal condones (or at least ignores) this. I want players to potentially find themselves sympathetic to the Imperial sahuagin and their malenti agents. Following Eberron’s general principle that “the bad guys aren’t always monsters and the monsters aren’t always bad guys,” I like this as a situation where the aquatic elves are in many ways more monstrous that the sahuagin.

Having said that, this is my vision of the society as a whole. It’s also the case that I think the surface civilization largely ignores what’s going on underwater as opposed to explicitly condoning it. So there’s an opportunity for player action to set change in motion… and for the issue to create division within the nation, either above or below. I like the idea that there are sahuagin who have embraced the values of this civilization; sahuagin who despise their elven rulers, and who work with Imperial malenti to undermine them; and sahuagin who are working with sympathetic aquatic elves to create a new united society. And I could see that society splintering off – having a new state formed by aquatic elves and sahuagin seeking to build something together, separate from both Aerenal and the Empire. But I’d prefer to explore that as part of a campaign as opposed to presenting it fully formed.

Is there a cadre of Undying who are aquatic, and if so are any of them Sahaugin?

My thought is that there are a few deathless aquatic elves, and that the governors of the region would be deathless, but that they’re a very small percentage of the Undying Court – just as they’re a small population of elves. And as I said above, my thought is that at the moment there are no sahuagin deathless. But the appearance of a sahuagin deathless could be the spark that sets change in motion!

It has been mentioned that the Dhakaani Empire did not have much in the way of a navy. Were there ever any clashes or agreements between goblin and sahuagin empires?

Do you WANT there to have been? The Age of Monsters lasted for tens of thousands of years. All you need is to come up with a logical explanation. Perhaps a crazy Emperor swore to conquer the oceans and bred legions of Koalinth (that’s aquatic hobgoblins for those not in the know), and fought a campaign that failed miserably and is WHY the Dhakaani weren’t a seafaring nation… because following this failed conflict, the sahuagin would sink any goblin vessels that entered their territory.

Of the surface power groups, who do you think is most likely to be the first to reach out to the underwater nations? Who made deals with the Shargon sahuagin? Galifar, House Lyrandar, House Sivis?

All of the above. Anyone who crosses the Thunder Sea on a regular basis has to deal with the sahuagin. Galifar certainly had an arrangement — though that arrangement was largely establishing a system by which individual captains negotiate passage. So it’s not a formal alliance or especially close bond. Currently the Five Nations are coasting on that casual agreement. If any of them were to want to make a new arrangement it would presumably be Breland, as it shares a border and is responsible for the most sea traffic in the region.

Do you think that the merfolk in the Lhazaar Principalities would agree to being part of the Principalities, in their current state or a unified country?

To me, the question is why. What do they have to gain from it? Sahuagin are at least amphibious. Assuming you’re using traditional merfolk as opposed to tritons, they’re aquatic creatures. In the original Setting Search submission I had three different maps. One was a surface map, with the oceans as vast blue. Another was an aquatic map, in which the land masses were undifferentiated black. Because if you’re casual merfolk, it really makes do difference to you what’s up on the land, because you’re never going to go there. Trade certainly makes sense, but why would a merfolk nomad accustomed to the absolute freedom of the waters bind themselves to the customs of surface-dwelling princes? I’m not saying it’s impossible; I’m just saying that’s the question that needs to be answered to have it make sense. How does it benefit the merfolk to form such an arrangement?

If you incorporate tritons from Volo’s Guide it becomes a different story. It could be very interesting to introduce a clan of tritons who have migrated from the deep sea and who are LOOKING to join a principality — what will the princes offer to earn their fealty, and how will this affect the balance of power? To me, the merfolk are less likely to make such an arrangement because they are entirely bound to the water. Alliances, sure… but formally joining a principality seems less likely to me.

Do you think the Sahuagin Empire has a diplomatic presence on land anywhere?

I’ve always seen Sharn as the primary point of contact. As I’ve said before, my original vision of Sharn included a partially submerged spire in the harbor. With that said, the question is how extensive that contact is… which again should be defined by the type of story you want to tell. Personally, I’m more inclined to say that the Empire largely considers the surface a curiosity and a backwater; the Sharn outpost is about negotiating travel rights, not about deep diplomatic negotiations. The post in Stormreach is essentially a distant foreign mission whose priests feel sorry for the soft-skins. The point here is to leave the sahuagin largely shrouded in mystery so that player characters have a lot of room for discovery. I’d rather have the PCs be the first surface-dwellers to ever visit the Imperial Court than to say that Boranel has a direct line to the Empress. But that’s me; you could certainly posit a closer and more active role if you want to tell a different story.

With that said, I’d question how significant a presence it is. It’s a point of contact for Breland (and previously Galifar) to negotiate passage; but the question is whether they are actually interesting in close contact with humanity or whether they essentially consider Breland a backwater populated by softskinned bumpkins.

How do you separate “negotiating travel rights” to the idea of a least basic “diplomatic negotiations”? It seems to me that the very idea of negotiating travel rights implies a sort of “peer to peer” relationship – the acknowledgement that one deals with another political entity.

Certainly. The point is that the current system was put in place by the founders of Galifar and the Dragonmarked Houses and has been operating for centuries. The first step would be establishing corridors of safe passage, which are maintained by some form of tributary payments. This is the equivalent of a canal: softskin ships are left alone as long as they don’t deviate from this approved corridor. So a casual captain doesn’t even have to negotiate; he just knows that you stay on this course. If for some reason you have to deviate from those paths, you visit the sahuagin representative and present your travel plan; they redirect you as necessary, and charge you a few to outfit you with tokens that will ensure safe passage, or tell you where you’ll have to stop along the way to make those arrangements. Looking to The Shattered Land, it’s established that the sahuagin mark certain points on the surface of the water where ships can call for an envoy or guide to ensure passage between especially hazardous regions.

The critical point is that there was a time when this involved first contact between Galifar and the Empire, when this was a point of tense negotiation. But that was centuries ago, and now it’s the province of the third undersecretary of barbarian affairs. The arrangement is simple: pay your tribute and stick to your approved paths and we won’t destroy your ships. Fail to follow established protocol and we will destroy your ships. This is how things are presented in canon: it’s a well-established and currently stable situation. Could something dramatically shake up that arrangement and require more involved negotiations? Certainly. I’m just saying that this is the sort of thing I’d prefer to make part of a campaign — with the player characters at the heart of the upheaval or playing a critical role in the negotiations.

I’ll also note that this current distant status quo exists because WotC wasn’t interested in developing the undersea civilizations in depth. We know they are there, but we know very little about them. Thus, the status quo exists to justify that distant relationship and degree of mystery. For me, forging a closer relationship requires knowing more about the situation under the sea – the factions, politics, goals; the resources they have and the things they want. That’s something I’d like to explore, but again, it wasn’t in the cards initially – and without having things built out, the distant relationship is what makes the most sense with what’s currently available. Once more information IS available, that’s where I’d personally introduce that information by having a group of PCs get entangled in some aquatic shenanigans — so it’s not simple about dropping new exposition on the world, it’s about it impacting the PCs in a meaningful way.

Post questions or what you’ve done with the oceans of Eberron below!

Dragonmarks 12/26/14: Under The Sea

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope that the end of 2014 finds you all well. Jenn and I have been tremendously busy doing work for our new company, Twogether Studios. For the last year we’ve been developing a new RPG called Phoenix: Dawn Command. We’re going to be launching a Kickstarter for Phoenix early in 2015, and I’ll be posting much more about it over the next few months. If you want to make certain you’re in the loop, go to the Twogether Studios site and get on the Mailing List! I’m very excited about Phoenix, and I look forward to discussing it in more detail. You can get a little taste of it by checking out my recent interview on the Tome Show’s Gamer to Gamer podcast.

But before I dive into Phoenix, I wanted to round out the year with one more Eberron Q&A. Currently, I don’t have any news on Eberron support in 5E D&D, but I am confident that there will be news in 2015, and I will definitely post it here. But today I’m going to deal with a subject that people have been asking about for a long time… the undersea civilizations of Eberron. As always, bear in mind that everything I post here is entirely unofficial and may contradict canon information: this is what I do in my home game, nothing more. With that said…

Are there any aquatic races other than the sahuagin that see non-hostile contact with land-dwellers? I may be doing a pulp game that’s heavier on the Sea Stuff™ than expected, and I imagine the political scene is just as busy below the waves as it is above. Especially curious about kuo-toa and aquatic elves, but anything you have helps.

I don’t believe that any of the aquatic races besides the sahuagin have been mentioned in canon Eberron sources. But I did come up with other ideas when I was developing the world, and I suppose I can mention those briefly. In my original draft I asserted that the two primary undersea races were the sahuagin and the merfolk, with a smaller but critical role for aquatic elves.

In this model, the sahuagin are a largely monolithic culture: a widespread ancient empire older than even Aereni civilization. In this you could see the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft as a model; they worship a deity that others fear (the Devourer), and they have an ancient and sophisticated civilization that is almost entirely unknown to the people of the surface world. While I refer to this as an “empire”, my thought is that its borders have been stable for thousands of year; it’s not an especially aggressive power. With that said, if I was to bring in kuo-toa or locathah, one of the first places I’d be likely to put them is as subject states within the Sahuagin empire.

Now, how’s this work if you want savage or uncivilized sahuagin raiders? Well, while the sahuagin empire might be widespread, there’s always room for barbarians who’ve never embraced it. Furthermore, there’s a lot of room for Lords of Dust / Cult of the Dragon Below action among the sahuagin. Note that per City of Stormreach the sahuagin colonized Stormreach long before humans did, but pulled back after a terrible ancient force corrupted the settlement. You can easily introduce savage bands of sahuagin barbarians (literally) who revere the Overlords of the First Age and seek to restore their dominion.

Let’s move on to the Aquatic Elves. My thought here was that around ten thousand years ago, there was a movement among a number of Aereni lines to colonize the ocean around Aerenal. The original aquatic elves were created through mystical rituals, though they are a self-sustaining race. Thus, there is a significant undersea region around Aerenal that is under Aereni dominion. In my original model the populace was largely comprised of sahuagin, but you could add any other aquatic races you wanted; the main point is that these races adhere to Aereni culture, revering the Undying Court. My assertion was that there remained a long-standing bitter enmity between the Sahuagin Empire and the Aereni Territories. The power of the Undying Court makes it nearly impossible for the sahuagin to reclaim the region… but as that power is geographically limited, the elves can’t extend their dominion further. Thus you have the malenti, sahuagin mystically altered to appear to be aquatic elves; these are covert operatives used in acts of espionage and covert aggression within the Aereni Territories.

The rest of the ocean is dominated by the Merfolk. Where the sahuagin have a vast, monolithic and ancient culture, I’ve always considered the merfolk to be as diverse as humanity and less bound to a single ancient tradition. Thus my original model had multiple merfolk territories and a range of cultures.

In my model, the Sahuagin Empire was concentrated in the Thunder Sea, the region between Khorvaire and Xen’drik; thus you would deal with the sahuagin if you were going from Khorvaire to Xen’drik, and with the merfolk if you were going from Khorvaire to Sarlona. The merfolk are also the dominant race in Lhazaar waters. With that said, the merfolk of the western coast are quite different from those of the eastern coast.

Say you wanted to present sahuagin as a viable character option. Would you have any brief roleplaying tips, suggested classes, and what gods they might worship?
As mentioned about, when I look to a literary analogy for the Imperial sahuagin, I think of the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft. Their god is the Devourer, the embodiment of the destructive power of nature; you see the Devourer’s hand in the tempest and the storm. He is a grim patron who strengthens the faithful through harsh trials; but survive and you will be the shark amongst the prey.
So one part of the Deep One analogy is that their god is a harsh and fearful deity who most people fear. The second is the fact that they are both wise and intelligent; per the 3.5 SRD, a typical sahuagin has an Intelligence of 14 and a Wisdom of 13. In my opinion they have an ancient culture, and have their own traditions of arcane and divine magic. So when it comes to classes, any combination of fighter, cleric and wizard make sense. As they have an affinity both for sharks and for hunting, ranger is another logical choice. From a racial perspective, their only weakness is Charisma… so I don’t see a lot of sahuagin bards or sorcerers.
Looking to roleplaying tips, one start is to look at places the sahuagin are mentioned in canon. Their religion is discussed in City of Stormreach
The doctrine of this sect holds that it was the Devourer alone who defeated the fiends of the first age, and that the force of this battle raised the lands above the sea. The faithful are taught to embrace the fury of nature, preparing for the time when the Devourer will scour the earth and draw all back beneath the waves.
A critical point is the description of the relationship between the sahuagin priests and human followers of the sect…


These priests consider humans to be flawed cousins, stripped of scale and weak of lung, but they pity these humans and consider it an act of charity to help them find the right path.

The key points here is that these Imperial sahuagin who regularly interest with the humans of Stormreach approach them with an attitude of condescension and pity. Compare a typical human to a typical sahuagin. Per the SRD, a sahuagin is superior in every ability score save Charisma; they are smarter, faster and stronger than their human counterparts. The sahuagin has significant natural armor (+5 natural AC bonus) and natural weapons… and again, an average 14 Strength and 14 Intelligence. By comparison, humans are weak, slow-witted and woefully unfit for battle. Add to this the idea that the Sahuagin have a remarkable and ancient culture under the waves that humans know nothing about (because your poor little lungs are too weak to endure it… while by contrast, a typical sahuagin can at least survive for 6 hours on land without magical assistance).

So personally, if I was playing an Imperial sahuagin character I’d emphasize the intelligence and ancient culture of the sahuagin and be somewhat arrogant and condescending to my soft-skinned, slow-witted mud-cousins… but that’s me.

Now, two more things you might want to consider. City of Stormreach also notes that “The holy texts speak of devouring the strength of fallen foes…” While this is a metaphor, I have always intended that certain significant sahuagin rituals involve the literal consumption of a thing to gain its strength. My idea of both the malenti and the four-armed sahuagin warriors is that these are accomplished through mystical rituals of devouring… that you become a malenti by consuming an aquatic elf.

With that said, following the model I outlined above, there’s two other paths for sahuagin characters. You could be a sahuagin from the Aereni Territories, who has fully embraced Elven culture and is a loyal servant of the Undying Court. Or you could be a savage sahuagin from beyond the Empire; this would be somewhat analogous to playing an orc cultist of the Dragon Below from the Shadow Marches.

Would you be sympathetic to a little more HPL in allowing “half-sahuagin” (or even half-aquatic elves, come to think of it) to emerge from humans who may or may not know of their ancestry a la “Shadow Over Innsmouth”?

Certainly. I think the most logical path for this would be the malenti. By core rules, malenti are sahuagin that are physically indistinguishable from aquatic elves. It seems reasonable to me to suggest that the offspring of a human and a malenti could produce a creature that appears to be a normal half-elf, but who develops sahuagin traits over time… eventually becoming a full sahuagin. I think you could easily place a village like Innsmouth along the southern coast of Breland.

If you fashion Sahuagin culture as imperial, have you ever given thought or description to the Emperor or Empress? Are they ruled by a singular monarch or a dynasty of imperial mutant families?

Personally, I see it as a dynasty with nobles reigning over different provinces. Incorporating the mutants into this is a very logical step; the four-armed sahuagin could be a particular noble bloodline, with other families having similarly distinctive traits that have simply never been seen by surface-dwellers.

And how many of the themes of Eberron do you think are able to be translated into an under-sea environment? Would you put submarines similar to airships under the sea or have things similar to lightning rails on ocean floors? Could there be aquatic versions of the warforged?

Some of these things already exist. Submersible elemental vessels have appeared in a number of sources, from Grasp of the Emerald Claw to my novel The Fading Dream. Warforged are capable of operating underwater, and The Fading Dream has a Cyran aquatic construct still patrolling the waters around the Mournland.

Looking to the lightning rail, I’m not sure whether you’re asking if humans have created such a thing, or if it might already be in use by aquatic nations. Addressing the first point, I don’t see such a thing happening any time soon… in part because the ocean floor is inhabited, and I don’t see the Sahuagin being keen on Orien running a rail through their homeland. As the Sahuagin are an ancient and sophisticated culture, they should have their own answers to long-distance transportation and communication, but these could take many forms. They could have harnessed or bred special creatures to assist in transportation… or they may have come up with their own techniques for binding water elementals. As it’s not something that was picked up in canon Eberron, it’s not something I ever explored in great detail.

Are there any long lost civilizations, perhaps currently unheard of in Khorvaire, whose remains are underwater? Apart from giants from Xen’drik, that is.

There certainly could be. In the conversion notes for Lords of Madness I suggest that the aboleths were a civilization that existed during the Age of Demons, so you could easily have ancient aboleth ruins holding remnants of powerful magic… essentially, the undersea equivalent of Ashtakala and the Demon Wastes. Aside from that, this could be an interesting path to take with one of the other aquatic races, such as the Kuo-Toa. Perhaps the Kuo-Toa were once even more widespread and powerful than the Sahuagin, until SOMETHING devastated their civilization; now they are savages and subjects of the other races, and their ancient cities are haunted ruins. If you want to get really crazy, you could have undersea explorers discover a region below the sea that is clearly analogous to the Mournland, suggesting that the ancient Kuo-Toa civilization triggered (and was destroyed by) their own Mourning millennia ago.

Eberron has a lot of interesting features on the maps of its *surface* continents. What sort of variation in environment do you think there would be across the seas and oceans of Eberron?

For a start I’d look to all of the interesting ocean environments that exist in our world, such as the Mariana Trench, the Sargasso Sea and the Great Barrier Reef. From there, I’d consider the fact that there are manifest zones below water as well as on the surface, and manifest zones can create both exotic regions and areas that would lend themselves to colonization or adventure. A manifest zone to Fernia could give you fire underwater, while a manifest zone to Lamannia could be a source of unusually massive sea creatures or dramatic growth of vegetation; I could see a Lamannia zone at the heart of an especially dramatic Sargasso region. Zones to Thelanis would produce regions like the Twilight Desmesne in the Eldeen Reaches, with aquatic fey and water spirits. And so on. Beyond this you could have any number of regions affected by the actions of the ocean inhabitants… such as the idea of a Kuo-Toa Mournland.

How do the Inspired feel about the merfolk or do they even realize they’re there?

I think the existence of a quori client state among the merfolk is a great idea. With that said, I wouldn’t actually connect them directly to the Inspired. The point of quori subversion is to work from within and create a structure within the target culture that supports their rule. So if they conquered Khorvaire, they wouldn’t actually try to impose Riedran culture on it; instead, they’d do something like instigate a brutal civil war that devastates the existing order and then have their own (secretly Inspired) saviors rise up to fix it. That’s how they came to rule Riedra to begin with – the Inspired brought the Sundering to an end. If this sounds like the Last War is a quori plot, it would make a lot of sense; the question is who they would use as puppets in Khorvaire.

So in other words, I think a merfolk-quori state makes perfect sense, but I’d have them be merfolk “guided by the Voice of the Ocean” or something like that… and it would take someone familiar with the Quori to say “Hey, they’re using psionics… I think they’re Inspired!”

That’s all for now. Happy New Year to you all, and I’ll be back in 2015 to talk about Phoenix: Dawn Command!

Dragonmarks: Lost Lands and Obscure Places

Do you want to know what’s going to happen with Eberron in D&D Next? So do I. There’s still no official answer, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see support for the setting in some form. With that in mind, I’m finally getting into a Next Eberron campaign. The gamemaster is my friend Galen Ciscell, designer of Atlantis Rising… which means I actually have a chance to PLAY in Eberron, which doesn’t happen often.

Playing DDN in Eberron means that we’re making up house rules for things as we need them. I’m playing a changeling rogue, and over the last few weeks I’ve developed changeling racial stats and a background and rogue path for Inquisitives. I want to wait until I’ve had a chance to do some playtesting before I post any of these, but if there isn’t OFFICIAL support for Eberron you may at least get my house rules. It’s also been an opportunity for me to expand on my personal take on changelings. I’ve always loved changelings and doppelgangers; one of my first D20 products was The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers by Goodman Games. I didn’t work on the Changeling chapter of Races of Eberron, and I’ve got different ideas about changeling culture… so I may post those one of these days. The first session is tomorrow – we’ll see how it goes!

My next post will be about Phoenix. But today I’m going to tackle some lingering Eberron questions.

Are there legends of mysterious lost lands underwater like Atlantis in Eberron?

There’s many “lost lands” in Eberron. The Mournland and Noldrunhold are lost lands right in Khorvaire, while Xen’drik is an entire lost continent (Hmm, that sounds like a promising title for an MMORPG…). However, in canon material, there’s no SUNKEN lands like Atlantis. In part, this is because the original design had considerably more detail on the aquatic civilizations. So the oceans were essentially other countries – nations you didn’t visit often, certainly, but places you can find on a map; you could go to Sharn and talk to ambassadors from the Sahuagin nations of the Thunder Sea.

Of course, there’s no reason at all that you can’t add a lost sunken continent. But it’s not something I’ve ever encountered in canon material.

Concerning Xen’drik, did the giants ever deal a serious blow to the dragons?

No. The giants never FOUGHT the dragons. The dragons launched a massive preemptive strike while the giants already had their back against the wall fighting the elves. And consider the nature of that strike; we’re not simply talking about a physical assault, we’re talking about epic magic on a scale that hasn’t been seen since. The Du’rashka Tul collapsed most major population centers into bloodthirsty savagery. The Curse of the Traveler crippled communication and travel. By the time the giants knew what hit them – if they EVER did – it was too late.

As a side note, this is a subject modern scholars often debate with regard to Aerenal. Given the astonishing force the dragons unleashed against Xen’drik, how is it that the Aereni have held their own in conflict with Argonnessen? There’s two standard theories on this. The first is that this speaks to the massive power of the Undying Court. Taken as a gestalt entity, the UC is essentially an incarnate deity and Aerenal is its divine domain; it can’t extend that power to make an aggressive strike against Argonnessen, but it can defend Aerenal against any threat. That’s the elf-friendly theory. The other (mentioned in Dragons of Eberron) is that the dragons have never actually tried to defeat Aerenal. The “war” has simply been the actions of a small faction of dragons who are actually trying to hone the skills of the elves for some future purpose. It’s not a war of destruction; it’s like sharpening a blade.

But did the giants ever successfully retaliate against some dragons? Or… Will they?… Could they?

Bear in mind that Xen’drik fell over THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND YEARS AGO. The rulers of Xen’drik weren’t even the giants we know today; Emperor Cul’sir was a titan. All the dragons involved in the conflict are long, long dead. The situation is somewhat like us deciding to attack Mars in retaliation for something done to the Neanderthals: beyond our capabilities and seeking vengeance for something that has absolutely no bearing on our modern life.

WITH THAT SAID… If I wanted to do such a plot, here’s what I’d do. I’d say that the Emperor Cul’sir avoided death by becoming a vestige. I’d then have HIM return. His entire purpose at this point is vengeance. I’d have him reactivate all kinds of ancient magic, enhanced by the power he’s built up as a vestige (including warlock followers of many races) and uplift many of today’s pathetic degraded giants into titans, and make a huge XEN’DRIK RISING campaign out of it.

Is the Galethspyre that gives the town its name, the “narrow sliver of blue stone jutting up over 600 feet from the bank of the Dagger River”….any idea what this is meant to be? Some kind of plinth or monolith from the Dhakaani Empire or something older? I know you didn’t work primarily on The Five Nations, but I’m wondering if you have/had any ideas about this feature. The text has nothing more than that and I know my PCs will totally want to investigate the town’s namesake, especially if it’s ancient and magical.

Honestly, I’d never heard of Galethspyre until this question came up. If you haven’t heard of it either, you’ll find it on page 63 of Five Nations, where it’s described as a significant port city on the Dagger river with, you guessed it, a 600 foot blue spire. But just because I didn’t make it doesn’t mean I can’t come up with ideas. A few things came to mind.

1. Why’s the city a thriving city? It’s a port, which is a concrete practical reason. But this being Eberron, one of the major reasons to establish a city is to take advantage of some sort of natural magical resource, typically a manifest zone. Thus it could be that the spire is the result of a manifest zone, a marker placed so people can find the manifest zone, or an artifact with a useful effect on par with a manifest zone.

2. Why build a 600 foot blue spire? Nothing about it says “Dhakaani Monument” to me. That leaves a few interesting possibilities.

* It’s a natural occurrence, or a natural result of a manifest zone.

* It’s a creation of a pre-Galifar human civilization, though given that there’s no other blue spires mentioned, presumably something isolated – a Cult of the Dragon Below or a brilliant lone wizard.

* It’s an artifact of the Age of Demons, either generated by an Overlord or placed by the dragons to mark the location of an Overlord.

* It’s a creation of the Shulassakar, perhaps tapping into a natural point of power of the Silver Flame.

* Some combination of the above.

PERSONALLY, I’d go with the following:

The Galethspyre is an artifact of the Age of Demons. It serves as a lightning rod for the ambient energy of the Silver Flame – not so significant as the fountain in Flamekeep, but still noticeable. The area was originally settled by a group of Khaleshite* explorers, who were guided to it by signs; unbeknownst to the settlers, their priest was a Shulassakar halfblood, and there has been a hidden Shulassakar presence in the city ever since. The energy of the Galethspyre manifests in many subtle ways; the waters are usually well stocked with fish, weather is remarkably mild, and Flamic visions are clearer and more common than usual.

The Khaleshite faith was always at odds with the Pyrinean faith that came to dominate the region (which is to say, the Sovereign Host) and the people of the Spire maintained a low profile during pre-Galifar days. Today, Galethspyre continues to practice its own personal version of the Silver Flame, one of the few places where fragments of the Khaleshite faith has been preserved. While they acknowledge the Keeper and maintain the basic standards of the church, the rituals are older and the priests use Old Common in their rituals.

So there’s something to play with. Beacon for generally positive divine energy; secret family of Shulassakar priests; splinter sect of the Flame; possible Lord of Dust desire to destroy it.

Umm, that’s great. but what’s a “Khaleshite?”

Khalesh is one of the old human nations of Sarlona that predate human settlement in Khorvaire. You can read about it in Secrets of Sarlona, though the information is limited. Short form: the Khaleshite faith is what modern scholars call a “serpent cult.” It shared the same basic outlook and goals as the modern Church of the Silver Flame, but specifically revered the couatl as agents and symbols of the divine light. It was somewhat more aggressive that the modern church, in terms of aggressively seeking to eliminate the foul practices of, say, Ohr Kaluun. Most of the noble families had shulassakar blood, and this was used against them in the Sundering.

So looking at a modern Khaleshite sect:

* It would camouflage itself as a regular CotSF.

* It would respect the modern Church as a branch of the true faith, but feel that they’re “new money” if you will. Tira and the Keepers are all fine and well, but the Shulassakar were around long before Tira, and are directly touched by the ultimate source of the Flame.

* Nonetheless, they do believe in the same basic goals: protect the innocent from supernatural evil.

* There could be a line of Shulassakar hidden within the community.

* There would be lots of couatl imagery, and the services would be performed in Old Common.

 

How would you envision the architecture, look, and feel of Gatherhold?

Another obscure corner heard from! The Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about Gatherhold, the only permanent halfling settlement in the Talenta Plains: “House Ghallanda built and maintains Gatherhold, both as its headquarters and as a place where all the Talenta tribes might gather and meet as equals.” A few things that immediately come to to mind:

The town is built into a rocky outcropping on the shore of Lake Cyre. “Built into” includes a number of structures that extend into the hill, hobbit-hole style. It also includes a large natural amphitheater; nature and magic combine to provide excellent acoustics, so while you may have thousands gathered here, someone who stands on Speaker’s Rock can be heard by all.

The Ghallanda enclave is largely dug into the hill. This makes it very secure; it’s generally cozier than subterranean structures of dwarves or goblins. Outsiders aren’t generally invited into the heart of the enclave, and it’s not built to accommodate medium creatures.

Along the base of the hill, you have buildings designed for outsiders, many of which are sized for medium creatures. These include a large Gold Dragon Inn and significant Jorasco and Deneith enclaves. The Deneith enclave was built by Deneith and is a notably different architectural style. I’d envision the traditional Talentan structures as being adobe structures with rounded edges, while Deneith is a stone fortress with hard edges.

Beyond this cluster of buildings you have a host of tents and wagons. 80% of the population of the city is found in this area; even the permanent halfling residents prefer tents to the hard walls of the enclave. Wagons and caravans are always coming and going, and the layout changes regularly. There’s always an open market and a festival of some sort, but the location and the theme is constantly changing. Some days there’s theater with masked storytellers; some days there’s races or jousting; some days its competitions around food or drink. The key is that it’s fluid and changing. And don’t forget dinosaur herds! The stock show is a great time to get into town.

I can’t find much on the King’s Dark Lanterns nor the King’s Shadows. How does one join? What kind of adventures or missions would one go on? From what I can tell, the Dark Lanterns are kind of like professional CIA, while the Shadows are like… problem solvers of the lethal kind. A bit like SPECTRES from Mass Effect.

Funny you should mention Mass Effect, since both Lanterns and Shadows are agents of the King’s… Citadel (entirely a coincidence, I assure you!).

The primary sources for information on the Citadel are Five Nations, Sharn: City of Towers, and the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. The Dark Lanterns are the covert arm of the Citadel. Their primary job is the acquisition of intelligence, hence the name; they are the lantern that shines a light on things the King needs to know. However, as shown in the Thorn of Breland novels (which are out of print, but still available in kindle and Audible formats), Dark Lantern missions can cover anything from observation to theft to assassination. Lanterns can also duplicate the tasks of other branches (such as Thorn protecting Prince Oargev, nominally a task for a King’s Shield) when there’s something particularly sensitive about the job. The King’s Shadows aren’t really a separate division; rather, they are the most trusted and elite agents, assigned the MOST secret and sensitive missions. According the the ECG, “only the captain, commander, and king know its operatives’ identities.” You’d never introduce yourself as a King’s Shadow; you’d always have some other cover. It’s possible that Thorn herself is a Shadow as opposed to a Lantern.

How do you become a Lantern or Shadow? Well, the Citadel is an arm of the Brelish government; the Lanterns are a covert arm of the Citadel; and the Shadows are the most elite Lanterns. So first you have to earn the trust of the Brelish Crown and be willing to swear yourself to its service; then display enough skill and loyalty to earn the title. There’s no such thing as a “Freelance Lantern”; it’s a fulltime job. With that said, if you’re an amazing rogue who saves Breland or the king on multiple occasions, it’s possible you could be declared an honorary Shadow. It’s not exactly like being a Spectre in MA, in that you wouldn’t exactly have any authority and couldn’t advertise your position; but you could get cooperation from the other arms of the Citadel and be called in for special missions. If you like the idea of being a Spectre, you might be better off as a Sentinel Marshal, since their authority is recognized by multiple nations; the King’s Shadows are very specifically agents of the Brelish crown.

How would you integrate eyekin and non-evil beholders from your Complete Guide to Beholders into Eberron? Would they be enemies of the Daelkyr?

This ties to my recent post on the Daelkyr, which is to say that their actions are often inexplicable to humans. Personally, I could easily see Belashyrra as having created ALL the different types of beholders in the guide and sent them out in the world in intentional opposition to one another. Why? Does this advance his goals in any way? Maybe. Or maybe it’s like throwing paint at a wall because the patterns are beautiful. Alternately, you could get really weird and say that ONE of the types of beholder is the original, that they come from another material world, and that the Daelkyr actually destroyed their world and created all the other beholders just as they made dolgaunts from hobgoblins and mind flayers from gith. In which case THOSE beholders would be fervent enemies of the Daelkyr and dedicated to avenging their lost world. The Eyekin could easily be agents of Belashyrra, or you could align them to this “True Beholder” faction.

A few more questions about the Dragon-Giant conflict…

I must confess that I had alwayes before misinterpreted the fall of giant civilization because I thought that the giants and dragons direcly clashes at least once. Could it be that having inflicted terrible curses in Xen’drik the dragons brought upon themselves or attracted dome evil?

The giants and dragons DID directly clash once. But it’s hard to qualify it as a “war”, as that term suggests that the giants were able to respond to it, plan defensive and offensive actions, and that it lasted for a significant amount of time, much like the Giants’ conflicts with the Quori and the elves. It didn’t. Personally, I’d guess the conflict was measured in weeks. It was a sneak attack that combined epic magic on a scale beyond that known to the giants with brutal coordinated physical assaults. The giants were already crippled by their long conflict with the elves and were lucky to even put up a decent struggle in some places, let along launch a coordinated assault back at Argonnessen.

With that said, if you WANT to explore that story, there’s nothing stopping YOU from saying some giant wizard set all his talent and skill to creating a doomsday device to take revenge on the dragons. It simply raises the question of why it’s taken 40,000 years to take effect.

As for the dragons attracting evil, certainly. That evil is called “Tiamat.” The whole point of Tiamat is that she is the embodiment of all the worst elements of dragonkind: pride, aggression, hubris. When the dragons use their powers to oppress or destroy, Tiamat grows stronger. That’s why the dragons went right back to Xen’drik after the assault instead of colonizing it, and it’s why they’ve never taken similar action since. It was an act of desperation because they believed that the giants were about to inflict irreparable damage in their war against the elves; the Dragons destroyed them before this could happen. But it surely strengthened Tiamat, and they retreated to Argonnessen to continue to contain her. If you haven’t read Dragons of Eberron, the story’s in there.

If you consider DDO to be canon in some way, there is two survivors from the Dragon/Giant war too: The Stormreaver and The Truthful One. They both died in the conclusion of the most recent game raid, but their history had been told since DDO launch.

It was careless of me to suggest that all giants and dragons from this period are dead. The point is that the natural lifespan of a giant or dragon is such that any that were around in the Age of Giants would be long dead. But there’s lots of ways they could survive past their natural lifespans. In DDO, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One are reserved by a unique enchantment that binds their lives together. Emperor Cul’sir is a Vestige. Antaegus (from City of Stormreach) was held in suspended animation. There’s many ways to create exceptions, if you want to.

However, the core point is that there never really WAS an “Dragon/Giant War”; when the dragons assaulted Xen’drik, it was a cataclysmic, one-sided attack. If my DDO lore is correct, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One both come from the Giant-Quori Conflict, which happened two thousand years before Argonnessen’s brutal assault.

This does touch on a greater question: What is canon? I’ll get to that in my next post.