IFAQ: Dragonshards and Tharashk

When did dragonshards become important as magical fuel? House Tharashk was discovered in 498 YK. The lightning rail went into operation in 811 YK, but Tharashk only stepped up mining in the Shadow Marches & Q’barra in the past decade? What delayed them so long?

There’s two significant questions here: When did dragonshards become important and why did it take Tharashk so long to start major mining operations in Q’barra?

The spells, items, and services available in 998 YK represent the pinnacle of arcane science. Like any form of science, these things didn’t emerge into the world fully formed. The lightning rail of 811 YK was the result of decades of research and development—and it was quite different than the lightning rail of 998 YK. It originally used volatile Fernian ash as its fuel, and both the binding and the conductor stones had flaws.

Eberron dragonshards are found across Eberron. Xen’drik, the Shadow Marches, and Q’barra are especially rich sources of dragonshards, but there are dragonshard deposits across Khorvaire. Eberron dragonshards are an important element in the creation of magic items and in maintaining ongoing magical effects—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships. Eberron shards can be refined into a powdered form that can be used in place of any spell component with a cost.

So: it’s possible to perform most forms of arcane science without dragonshards; it just takes a range of different substance, which are usually more exotic and specific to the effect being produced. However, this uses refined Eberron dragonshard powder (also known as residuum). Raw dragonshards can be used, but unless they are processed and refined it’s inefficient; you’re significantly better off using the other alternative. Because of this, the process of refining dragonshards to create residuum was a crucial breakthrough that had cascading effects across the magical economy. While creating magic items still requires a range of additional rare elements, the universal nature of refined dragonshards allowed Cannith and others to dramatically increase both the range and scale of production. Using processed dragonshards as an energy source made the lightning rail safer and allowed Orien to operate more carriages. But again, this process of refining was a breakthrough that occured less than two centuries ago, and it’s a process that continued to be explored.

So: Eberron Dragonshards have always been a valuable source of magical energy, but it wasn’t until the last two centuries that they became as valuable and universal as they are today. Eberron dragonshards CAN be found across Khorvaire, and initially, that supply was sufficient to meet demands. But within the last century that demand has steadily grown—which has in turn driven people to find richer pools to draw on.

This brings us to House Tharashk. Why are their operations in Q’barra only a decade old? House Tharashk began as a house of hunters, not prospectors. For centuries its primary focus was on inquisitive work and bounty hunting. Prospecting is a relatively new path that arose both with the increased demand for dragonshards mentioned above and crucially with the creation of the prospector’s rod. As with many houses, the base powers of the dragonmark aren’t as important as the focus items that channel that power. As the speaking stone is to House Sivis, the prospector’s rod is to Tharashk: it is this tool that expands the powers of the mark beyond the simple scope of casting locate object and allows prospecting on an industrial scale.

In my Eberron, it’s a mistake to say that prospecting in the SHADOW MARCHES only began ten years ago. Dragonmarked calls out that House Sivis originally came to the Shadow Marches in search of dragonshards, and that the mineral wealth of the Shadow Marches has always been a secondary source of wealth for the house. That effort may have increased over the past decade as the house as a whole has realized that there’s more wealth and influence to be gained from dragonshards than bounty hunting, but it’s been something that has been scaling up over the course of the past century.

Q’barra, on the other hand, IS a new development. The world’s a big place, and Tharashk hasn’t been able to search all of it. Prior to the Last War, Q’barra was a shunned backwater thought filled with hostile scales. The Dragon articles call out that it was only ten years ago that settlers discovered rich deposits of dragonshards in Q’barra. Tharashk responded quickly to this discovery and has ramped up its efforts ever since. But why didn’t they go there earlier? Because they already had a rich source of dragonshards in the Shadow Marches and were still expanding their operations, and because no one knew there were dragonshards in Q’barra. It’s entirely possible that there are other rich deposits in Khorvaire that have yet to be discovered!

Ultimately, the key takeaway here is that the arcane industry in Eberron is just like industry and science in our world. It evolves and expands. The current state of things in 998 YK reflects the latest developments; drop back to 498 YK or 811 YK and the world will be a much different place.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going! I’ll be posting a poll to the inner circle soon to determine the subject of the next article.

When is a Crossbow not a Crossbow?

Given the overall sophistication of Eberron, it can seem strange that people use medieval weapons. In a world of airships and warforged, why haven’t people created more effective personal weapons? Rising From The Last War highlights the spread of wandslingers, soldiers who fight using damage-dealing cantrips. But becoming a wandslinger requires specialized training; you can’t just hand a peasant a wand. So the question remains: in a world that’s this sophisticated and has an industrial base, wouldn’t people develop effective weapons that anyone can use?

Gunpowder is one possible answer. The Dungeon Master’s Guide includes rules for firearms, and I present my thoughts on this in this article. But it’s not my preferred answer. One of the basic ideas of Eberron is that it’s not a setting that mixes magic and technology, but rather a world in which magic is used instead of technology. So rather than having the people of the Five Nations use gunpowder, I’d rather find an alternative that fills the same niche but is unique to Eberron. So: we’re looking for an affordable weapon that anyone can use without training. This weapon should be better than a medieval crossbow, but it doesn’t need to match a modern firearm; in general, Eberron’s advances are closer to the late 19th century than to what we had in the 20th. This ties to the simple point that this weapon shouldn’t break the balance of the game. If you introduce a cheap weapon anyone can use that does twice the damage of an offensive cantrip, you’ve just broken the balance of the magic system. Beyond that, weapons don’t NEED to do more damage. Hit points are an abstract system. Per the PHB, “Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.” If a character has 30 hit points, that’s not supposed to mean that you could stab them in the heart four times with a dagger and they’d laugh it off; it reflects the idea that you can’t land a killing blow until they run out of hit points. If they’ve got hit points, they’re able to parry an otherwise lethal blow, or a potentially deadly arrow only grazes them. 1d8 is all the damage it takes to kill a goblin or a commoner; the fact that you can’t kill a more powerful creature with a single shot isn’t necessarily the fault of the weapon, it’s the cinematic idea that you can’t land the lethal blow.

So with all that in mind, what are we actually looking for with a superior weapon? The weapons we have will already drop a commoner with one shot, so we don’t need better damage. Two obvious factors are range and rate of fire. We want our weapons to be faster and more effective than medieval weapons. But here’s the fun fact: they already are. The crossbow defined in the Player’s Handbook IS better than a medieval crossbow. The crank method for reloading a medieval crossbow limited an archer to about two shots per minute; using a light crossbow, you can fire ten bolts per minute. A modern crossbow in the hands of a skilled shooter has a range of about 240 feet; a light crossbow has a potential range of 320 feet, provided you’re skilled enough to hit at long range. The 1861 Springfield rifle—a common weapon in the American Civil War—could fire 2-4 shots per minute. Again, the crossbow isn’t a match for modern automatic weapons… but at ten shots per minute, it’s not a medieval weapon.

You can dismiss these statistics as unrealistic, designed for ease of play; after all, who would ever USE a crossbow if it took five rounds to reload it? But the alternative is to embrace it, to say that it’s not that these statistics are inaccurate: it’s that the weapons aren’t medieval. Perhaps the soldiers of Galifar I used medieval-style crossbows, with more limited range and a slow crank to reload; the crossbows used today are the result of centuries of Cannith engineering. So if we accept the idea that the statistics of the crossbow are sufficiently effective as a common weapon—the next question is how it delivers those things. How is it that you can fire and reload a crossbow in six seconds while also moving 30 feet in that time?

One thing I’d immediately throw out is the idea that Caniith crossbows use an integrated quiver… or clip, if you will. When you are loading a crossbow, you are performing an action that resets the bow and sets the next bolt in place. This is slow enough that you can’t fire two bolts in that six-second frame. But you don’t actually have to go through a process of drawing a bolt from a quiver and setting it into place by hand in addition to resetting the bow. I’m not suggesting that this eliminates the Loading trait (though see Accessories, below); I’m fine with the idea that the process of resetting the bow and advancing the clip is slow enough that you can only loose one bolt per round. But it’s still far more effective than a medieval crossbow and helps to justify that six-second move-fire-reload cycle. A quiver can hold up to 20 arrows; I’m just suggesting that the quiver is part of the weapon. With this in mind, crossbow bolts in Eberron could be smaller than we usually think of them—aerodynamic densewood quarrels—making the idea of an integrated quiver a little more manageable.

The next question is how the Cannith crossbow delivers that increased range—meaning the bolt has greater force—while simultaneously allowing you to load the bow more swiftly than a medieval weapon. I can see two ways to explain this, though there’s certainly more!

Mundane Weapon, Supernatural Methods. The Cannith crossbow isn’t a magic weapon… but it’s made using magical techniques. It may be made of wood, but Eberron has woods we don’t have access to—bronzewood, darkwood, densewood. The cord may be alchemically treated, stronger and more flexible than any mundane material. The reloading system is a clever and efficient design; there’s no strength requirement on a crossbow. This takes the idea that the crossbow looks like a traditional crossbow (aside from the possibility of an integrated clip); it’s just better than any crossbow we have.

Arcane Science. The crossbow isn’t a magical weapon… but it can still operate using magical principles. The concept of Eberron is that magic is a science. The spells of the wizard are one manifestation of that science… but that doesn’t mean they’re the only way magic can manifest. Magic can generate kinetic force, as shown by a number of spells. So, what if those principles were used to to add force to a physical bolt, as opposed to generating a bolt of pure force?

So imagine the interior of the barrel of a crossbow engraved with arcane sigils. A quarrel is likewise engraved with symbols. When the quarrel moves against the barrel, the symbols create an arcane interaction—a formula that adds kinetic energy to the bolt. With this in mind, the only force the bow has to provide is the initial push of the bolt down the barrel; it’s a spark that triggers the arcane interaction. Which means that the reason it’s so much easier to reload a Cannith crossbow—why you can thumb-load a hand crossbow—is because the bow itself is actually WEAKER than a medieval crossbow, because the true power of the weapon doesn’t depend on the tension of the bow. This also means that the crossbow doesn’t have to LOOK like a crossbow as we’re used to it. It could be closer to a rifle—the longer the barrel, the longer the arcane interaction, thus the short range of the hand crossbow, and the heavy crossbow as the largest and longest weapon. The “bow” could be a relatively small component of the weapon. Essentially, it could resemble a firearm; the point is that the force of the weapon isn’t coming from a chemical reaction, but rather an arcane one. This wouldn’t make the standard crossbow a “magic weapon” for purposes of damage resistance. There’s nothing magical about the bolt itself; It’s simply the case of an arcane reaction generating force. The game mechanics are unchanged, it’s just a different way of presenting the weapon, reflecting the fact that it is superior to a medieval crossbow.

Now, if you DO follow this idea, one could ask why this arcane reaction isn’t being used in other ways. Well, who’s to say it isn’t? It could well be that the lightning rail operates on a similar principle—that the bound elemental provides initial motive force and enhances speed, but that the arcane interaction between coach and conductor stones is the same principle that provides the kinetic force of a Cannith crossbow. Beyond this, the central concept here is that magic is a science, and science evolves. The Five Nations DID use medieval crossbows, and they’ve discovered a technique that has allowed the creation of a more efficient weapon; they could be actively exploring other applications of this kinetic formula. Arcane magic can generate heat, force, and light. It can transmute objects or teleport them. Spells are examples of what can be done with arcane science, not its absolute expression.

All of which is to say that the wandslinger represents one application of magic in war—the idea that knowledge of combat cantrips is becoming more common, and that there are people who fight their battles with fire and lightning. But there can also be a path of arcane science that focuses on enhancing physical tools… building a more efficient versions of weapons people already use, creating tools that can be used even by people with no training or magical talent. Rather than feeling like the crossbow doesn’t fit your vision of the world, consider what could make the crossbow fit.

Accessories

Once we embrace the idea that the crossbow isn’t a medieval legacy, but rather a modern weapon that’s actively being improved, there’s lots of ways one could improve upon it. Consider a few ideas…

Bayonet. The light crossbow is a simple weapon that can be used without any training and that has an impressive range. Whatever form the weapon takes—whether you embrace the idea of arcane science or just keep it as a traditional crossbow built with superior techniques and materials—it makes sense that the light crossbow is the equivalent of the infantry rifle. With that in mind, it makes sense to have a form of bayonet—a fixed blade allowing a soldier to use the crossbow in close quarters even if they run out of ammunition. It wouldn’t have the reach of a long rifle, but it would still provide the archer with a melee option that doesn’t require them to drop their crossbow. Personally, I’d see this as a simple, two-handed weapon that inflicts 1d6 piercing damage—less effective than a spear (which can be thrown and inflicts 1d8 piercing when used two-handed), but still an effective weapon.

Spellbolt. Following the principle of an arcane reaction triggered as the bolt moves across the barrel, I could imagine a bolt that is designed with a specific arcane payload that’s triggered when the bolt is fired… effectively taking the place of a grenade launcher. The advantage of this would be the ability to project a spell effect farther than normally possible. A fireball normally has a range of of 150 feet; if you could attach a fireball to a heavy crossbow bolt and fire it 400 feet, it’s a dramatic improvement. The catch, of course, is that scrolls and wands require the user to be able to cast the spell (or at least require attunement by a spellcaster). That limitation could be preserved here; perhaps a spellbolt can only be used by a spellcaster, who takes a bonus action to prime the bolt before firing it. Or perhaps this is a new development, and the bolt can be used by anyone as long as it’s fired from a specially designed crossbow. If this is the case, I’d emphasize that this is a recent development; such spellbolts could be rare, and potentially volatile! Note that this is a different approach from the siege staff, which is essentially a long wand; a siege staff can only be used by a spellcaster or someone with specialized training, and projects a purely magical effect.

Silencer. Illusion can be used to create or dampen sound. It’s easy to imagine a magical device that could be attached to a crossbow to eliminate the sound produced by firing or loading the weapon. It would be up to the DM to decide how effective this would be—whether it could allow a well-hidden creature to remain hidden when firing, or whether it would simply prevent the shot from alerting anyone outside of line of sight.

Reload. While I’ve suggested an integrated quiver as part of the Cannith crossbow, my thought is that this justifies the rate of fire allowed by the Loading trait, not that it negates it. However, especially if you follow the idea of the crossbow empowered by arcane science, you could create a superior crossbow that replaces the Loading trait with the Reload trait associated with firearms in the Dungeon Master’s Guide:A limited number of shots can be made with a weapon that has the reload property. A character must then reload it using an action or a bonus action (the character’s choice).” The size of the clip would be up to the DM. Again, I wouldn’t personally make this a standard feature—but it would be interesting if, say, Cannith East had developed a new design that was being used by elite Karrnathi units. Likewise, I could see an advanced hand crossbow with Reload 6, allowing a dual-wielder to get a few shots before needing to reload.

In Conclusion…

This is probably more than anyone ever wanted to hear about Keith’s thoughts on the crossbow, especially since my primary point is the rules don’t have to be changed. But what I hope you take away is that something can be inspired by a medieval tool and still feel modern. Whether it’s a crossbow or a stagecoach, the people of Eberron use magical techniques to improve on the mundane; this can involve flashy effects like fire and lightning, but it can also simply involve something that appears to be mundane and yet is superior to what we’re used to.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support. My next major article will be on either the Znir Gnolls of Droaam or on Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead—right now, the Patreon poll is tied!

What have you done with ranged weapons in Eberron? Have you added firearms or explored other magical solutions? Post your ideas below!

Lightning Round Q&A: Manifest Zones and Magic

Hello, world!

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

MANIFEST ZONES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAGIC IN THE WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GENERAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Magewrights and Wand Adepts

One of the underlying principles of Eberron is that magic is a part of civilization. It’s not limited to a handful of mighty wizards in ivory towers; there’s an arcane locksmith down on Third Street, next door to the medium and the guy who makes everbright lanterns. With that said, this magic is widespread and useful, but not powerful. The streets may be lit with continual flame, but teleportation and resurrection are rare… and a wish is unheard of. It’s wide magic, not high magic.

The previous article looked at common magic items and magic item creation, and considered how to make that work in 5E D&D. But magic items are only part of the wide magic of Eberron. It also embraces the idea that spellcasting can be a job – not limited to full wizards or sorcerers, but also people who do nothing but make magic lanterns or speak to the dead. Now, you may look at this article and say “In 5E, anyone can get the Magic Initiate feat – doesn’t that mean magic is just scattered throughout the world without any of this?” It only means that if YOU decide it means that, because there are no rules about NPCs acquiring feats. A player character can be a Magic Initiate, but as a DM and world designer it’s up to you to decide how that’s reflected in the wider world. In Eberron, magic is a science. People don’t just wake up one day with a new feat and know how to cast light. These things take time and training – and that produces magewrights and wand adepts.

Magewrights

A wizard is extremely versatile. Your wizard can grab a spellbook, spend a few hours studying it, and cast a spell they’ve never seen before. That’s great, because wizards are exceptional people. But in Eberron, you can cast magic without having that degree of versatility. This is the magewright, someone who spends years learning how to perform the skills and spells associated with a particular trade. In 3.5 D&D this was an NPC class, but that’s not required in 5E; instead, you can simple state that an NPC magewright has the ability to cast the spells you want them to cast. Beyond this, we can also say that the spells the magewrights can perform are different from those used by PCs – typically, because they are more limited. For example, Prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, clean, soil, and more. Mending allows the caster to mend anything. But you can say that a magewright chef knows a limited version of Prestidigitation that only affects food – and that a launderer knows Prestidigitation and Mending, but can only work with cloth. The fact that the player character can mend anything is again a sign of their versatility and exceptional talent.

My idea of a magewright is that they can cast one to three cantrips or spells. They don’t require spellbooks or memorization; they have perfected these spells over the course of years. However, their cantrips may be limited (as noted above) and their spells can only be cast as rituals. So the arcane locksmith can cast Arcane Lock all day, but it takes time. I’ll talk more about ways in which these rituals differ from PC spells further below, but first, let’s take a look at a few Magewrights you could find in the world…

  • Chef: Prestidigitation, only affecting food; perhaps a form of Gentle Repose for preserving meals, or Purify Food and Drink. Proficient with cook’s utensils.
  • Healer: Detect Poison & DiseaseLesser Restoration, Spare the Dying. Proficient with Medicine and herbalism kits.
  • Launderer: Prestidigitation and Mending, both only affecting cloth.
  • Lamplighter: Light, Continual Flame. Uses tinkers’ tools to construct lanterns.
  • Locksmith: Arcane Lock, Knock. Proficient with thieves’ tools and tinkers’ tools.
  • Medium: Speak with Dead. Perhaps a form of Minor Illusion that produces an image of a dead person as they were in life. Possibly proficient in Insight and Persuasion, if they help bereaved make sense of a loss… or Insight and Deception, if they use grief to take advantage of mourners.
  • Oracle: Augury, Divination. Proficient in Insight and Investigation. This is definitely a case where I would adjust the magewright versions of these spells. In the hands of a magewright, Augury – which should be the bread and butter of a common oracle – should be able to predict outcomes farther in the future, though still only with the binary answer of woe or weal. An oracle who can perform full Divination should be rarer (it is a fourth level spell) and the ritual could take longer than usual and be more expensive.

These are just a handful of ideas; there are many possibilities. A suspicious noble could have a food taster who knows Detect Poison and Purify Food and Drink. The city watch in a major city could have a verifier who can cast Detect Thoughts and Zone of Truth. There’s also a critical spell from Eberron that’s missing in 5E, and that’s Magecraft – a spell that provides a bonus to a skill check related to crafting. So you begin to get a sense of the possibilities. But also consider the limitations.

  • What does it cost? Eberron treats magic as a science and magewrights as part of the economy. The lesser restoration spell has no cost, which is fine, because it’s NOT a ritual and player characters can’t use it that often; the “cost” is that it uses a limited spell slot. But if you’re going to introduce it as a service that can be performed by a magewright, you either need to ADD a cost or come up with an explanation for why disease still exists in the world. While every spell has unique components, it’s always been the idea that Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy, and that applies here. House Tharashk refines raw shards to produce residuum, glowing powder that serves as a fuel for most rituals – so a locksmith can use residuum instead of powdered gold dust when casting arcane lock. You can add whatever cost you want to set the price of a service. Does curing a disease cost ten gold pieces or a hundred? Even the launderer might have to sprinkle a copper’s worth of residuum over the cloth they wish to cleanse.
  • What does it look like? These are jobs people do. Mechanically they involve performing a ritual. But it’s up to you to add the color to that. An oracle can cast augury as a ritual. But what are they doing in that ritual? Are they reading cards? Palms? Auras? Are they studying star charts or patterns of the planes? A locksmith can cast arcane lock. Are they tracing elaborate patterns in the air with an iron wand? Just because these things are mechanically all “spells” doesn’t mean that the magewright just chews their lip and concentrates for a few minutes, regardless of what they are doing. Add flavor!
  • Who can do this? In Eberron in particular, it’s established that the Dragonmarked Houses dominate certain fields of magical industry. One possibility is that the Houses are where you go to learn the skills of the magewright – that most locksmiths are trained and licensed by House Kundarak. On the other hand, if you want to give the houses a tighter hold you can say that many magewright rituals are restricted to someone with a particular dragonmark… that only Kundarak dwarves can master the rituals of the arcane locksmith, that only Jorasco halflings can be magewright healers. The reason you don’t see a verifier at every watch station is because it requires the Mark of Detection. This is a way to truly emphasize the power and influence of a house; if you want a magic lock, Kundarak is your only option. Of course this is specifically about magewrights; your PC wizard can cast Arcane Lock, but do you really want to make a living doing it?

So that’s the idea of the magewright: that beyond magical items, there are people in the world who can perform magical services. It’s up to you how prevalent they are in your campaign. In a major city like Sharn, you’d see many magewrights performing all sorts of services. But in a small village, they probably do their laundry the old fashioned way. Their might be a single magewright in town; what service do they provide?

Divine Magewrights? 

Under 3.5, “magewright” was an NPC class that specifically dealt with arcane magic, counterbalanced against the adept NPC class which was a limited divine caster. Using the approach I suggest above, I don’t think it’s necessary to draw that line so sharply. Certainly any single individual is either practicing divine or arcane magic, but I think that you can use this same approach either way; you as DM simply need to be clear in your mind which is which. Specifically taking the Healer and the Oracle suggested above: either one of these could be presented as either arcane or divine. An arcane healer might be a Jorasco halfling who makes no prayers, but simply weaves rituals to cleanse the sick… while a divine healer might be a Silver Flame friar whose faith allows them to heal the sick. The oracle could be studying arcane patterns or asking the divine for guidance. Someone versed in Arcana or Religion should easily be able to tell which is which, but MECHANICALLY they are the same: an individual who can perform a few magical effects but who lacks the abilities or versatility of a spellcasting class.

Notably, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything adds a spell called Ceremony that allows a priest to imbue a religious ritual with divine power, adding a magical effect to a wedding or a coming of age ceremony. Following this magewright approach, you could easily have Ceremony, Thaumaturgy, and maybe Spare The Dying as a common set of spells known by a typical lead priest in a community – a halfway between an entirely mundane priest and a full spellcasting cleric.

Wand Adepts

When we initially developed Eberron wands were powerful and disposable magic items, and we made a conscious decision not to make them everyday tools; a fighter who wanted to kill someone across a room would still rely on a bow or a crossbow. We invented the eternal wand – a wand with only two charges, but that recharged over time and could be used with less restrictions. But even there, the cost of such a wand was too great to make it feasible as something every soldier would carry… and it still required some magical training.

However, I certainly like the IDEA of the Aundairian “musketeer” with a bandolier of wands. And with the various changes to magic over the last two editions – notably, the introduction of cantrips, the idea of wands as nonmagical arcane focus items, and the Magic Initiate feat – I think there’s a lot of room to introduce the casual wand.

A wand adept learns to perform a few offensive spells, but they require an arcane focus to channel those effects. A typical wand adept knows two offensive cantrips and a single first level spell they can perform once per long rest. But all of these require the arcane focus of a wand. So one wand adept might know acid splash, poison spray, and color spray; another might have ray of frost, fire bolt and burning hands. The critical point here is that the adept requires a wand to perform these spells, but the wand isn’t magical. It’s not a magic item worth hundreds of gold pieces; it’s an arcane focus costing ten galifars. While you COULD say that any wand will do, I would further say that adept wands are specialized by effect. Looking above, I might say that an adept uses the same wand for fire bolt and burning hands… but that ray of frost requires a different wand, one attuned to cold. So you can have the Aundairian duelist flinging fire from one wand and ice from the other, and if you disarm them of one wand they’re limited until they recover it.

The principle of this is drawn from the Magic Initiate feat; it’s simply adding an additional restriction that a player character isn’t bound by, because PCs are remarkable. It’s adding the idea that offensive magic is evolving… but that most of the time a wand is a focus, and that the fully magic wands are more significant and expensive.

Now with this said: the idea of a wand adept IS that learning to use a wand requires training and effort. This is common in a place like Aundair, which places a high value on magical talent. But just as a player character who wanted to use a wand like this would need to get the Magic Initiate feat (with the wand being there for color), the wand adept has invested resources learning to use the wand that could have been spent elsewhere. If I have an Aundairian soldier blasting her foes with wands, I might give the Karrnathi knight the benefit of Heavy Armor Master or make the expert Thrane archer a Sharpshooter. The skill isn’t in the wand, it’s in the person using it… and if I introduce wand adepts, I’d want to make clear that they could have invested that skill in other ways.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PLAYER CHARACTERS? Well, if you have the ability to cast an offensive cantrip, congratulations! You’re a wand adept. You’re so talented that you can cast your spell even without a wand, but nothing’s stopping you from using the wand for flavor. If you’re not a spellcaster, that’s what the Magic Initiate feat is for. Essentially, with the integration of cantrips as a reliable form of magical weapon, it’s more plausible to have people using magical attacks instead of mundane weapons – but at this point in time, the amount of training required to use a wand has prevented wands from replacing mundane weapons. And in that small Brelish village nobody knows how to use a wand, and they’ll consider your wand-wielding duelist to be an Aundairian hipster. If you and your DM want to embrace the idea of the wand adept, I could see a variation of the Magic Initiate feat that requires the use of a wand… perhaps in exchange for a +1 bonus to attack rolls or spell DC with these cantrips as a balance for requiring the focus.

Like magewrights, you COULD push beyond the limitations of the Magic Initiate feat. For example, putting the two concepts together, you could have a staff adept who can cast fireball as a ritual, but requires both a specialized staff and burns dragonshards with every casting. This is a way to compromise with the question of “How could the Five Nations afford to deploy magic items on the field?” It could be that the mystical artillery relied on the skills of the artillerists as much as on the power of the item… that a siege staff is just a big piece of carved wood if you don’t have someone who can use it. This of course gets into the question of war magic, as a fireball isn’t actually that useful in a truly large-scale military engagement… but THAT is a topic for another article.

Let’s Talk About Wands

Wands themselves serve a different role in 5E. When we created Eberron in 3.5, we introduced the idea of eternal wands as an evolution of “wand science” – a wand that wasn’t entirely disposable, and that could be used by a wider range of people. In 5E, that’s standard for a wand; the average wand has 7 charges and regains 1d6+1 charges every day. In addition, many wands don’t require the user to be a spellcaster; anyone can use a wand of magic missiles. This ties also to the introduction of at-will offensive magic over the last two editions… allowing for a character who prefers to rely on cantrips instead of ranged weapons. This idea of wand adepts is about incorporating the evolution of these mechanics into the setting in a logical way. If this is how magic works, this is how we would see it in the world.

With that said, this can cause some confusion about what exactly a wand IS. As I see it, there are three types of wands in the world.

  • Unaligned Focus Item. As described on pages 151 and 203 of the PHB. This is a wand that is generally designed for channeling arcane energy, but not for any particular purpose; a wizard can use that one wand for all of their spells. This has a base cost of 10 GP… but I’ll talk more about this later.
  • Aligned Focus Item. This is what a wand adept uses. The idea is that the design or components of the wand predispose it to channeling a particular type of energy; a “fire wand” might be made from charred wood harvested from a Fernian manifest zone. The wand has no innate power, but it’s easier to channel a particular type of energy through it, and a wand adept needs that boost. So the wand doesn’t grant you the ability to cast Burning Hands; it’s simply that if you’re a wand adept who knows how to cast Burning Hands, you still need a fire-aligned wand to cast the spell. This still has a base cost of 10 GP.
  • Actual Magic Item. This is a Wand of Fireballs or Wand of Magic Missiles. The magic is IN THE WAND… in the case of a Wand of Magic Missiles, ANYONE can use it. Many wands require “Attunement by a spellcaster” and I would allow the talents of a wand adept to count for this purpose – so if you’re a wand adept, you can attune a Wand of Lightning Bolts, even if it’s not a spell you can cast alone. You are trained in the science of wandcraft, and the power is in the wand. In 5E, a Wand of Fireballs is rare. So they definitely EXIST, but they are expensive and NOT things you’d see a common soldier carrying; We’re talking thousands of galifars, as opposed to the 10 gp aligned wand. Someone pulling out a Wand of Fireballs is like someone producing a bazooka.

Now, there’s definitely room for middle ground here… and that’s the enhanced focus item. As it stands, a fire-aligned focus item is simply restrictive – saying that the wand adept MUST have a fire-aligned wand to cast fire spells. But you could also have fancy aligned wands that provide BENEFITS when you channel certain types of spells. For example, a darkwood wand studded with Mabar crystals that adds +1 DC to any necromancy spells you cast using the wand. That should cost more than 10 GP, but certainly less that 4,000 GP. A wand adept could use it as a focus for necromancy spells, but I’d generally allow a wizard to use it with ANY spells – it’s just that necromancy spells get a bonus.

Post your thoughts and questions below. In my next article I’ll be getting back to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and how I’d incorporate it into my Eberron campaign. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this site.As always, bear in mind that nothing I say on this site is canon; these are simply ideas that I’m exploring.

Dragonmarks: Common Magic, Part One

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was released recently, and it includes a host of options for players and gamemasters. Over the next month I’ll explore how I’d incorporate some of these ideas and options into Eberron. Right now I want to tackle a subject that intersects only partially with XGtE: the question of how Eberron can coexist with the limited magic of default 5E D&D.

The first thing to bear in mind is that Eberron is not a high magic setting – it’s a wide magic setting. Eberron is built upon the premise that arcane magic behaves as a science and would thus become integrated into the world in a scientific manner. But one of the other basic principles of Eberron is that high-level characters are rare… and this ties to the magic that’s available. Here’s a few basic principles to consider.

  • In comparing Eberron to our world, we’ve always said that it’s closer to the late 19th century than to the present day. We have magical equivalents to the telegraph and the railroad and we’re just getting started with air travel. But we don’t have widespread equivalents to automobiles, telephones, or the like.
  • Wide magic generally includes effects that mimic spells of up to third level. Spell effects of up to fifth level – teleportation, raise dead, cloudkill – are known, but rare. Higher level effects are still “magical.”
  • Making a breakthrough in magic is exactly as difficult as making a breakthrough in science. Why hasn’t someone invented an airship anyone can fly? Because they haven’t figured out how to do it, just like WE haven’t figured out cold fusion or time travel.

Which brings us to two issues: magic items in the world and magic item creation. Under third and fourth edition, magic item creation and costs are very concrete and mechanical, and this lent itself to a vision of a world where you could go to a store and buy a +2 flametongue (and maybe ask the smith to customize the flames for you). Fifth edition initially didn’t have rules for creating magic items and ran with the idea that even a +1 weapon was a remarkable treasure. For some, this meant it was impossible to reconcile Eberron with the system. For me, it’s all about setting expectations: what is common magic? 

I mentioned earlier that “wide magic” involves spell effects between 0-3rd level. Just start at the bottom and look at what you can do with those effects. My favorite spell for this is prestidigitation. Using this cantrip, you can…

  • Light a mundane fire.
  • Instantly clean an object of limited size.
  • Instantly chill, warm, or flavor food.

If we accept that these are basic principles of magic – that we’ve figured out how to use magic to produce these effects using trivial (cantrip) amounts of magic – and you have the principles you need to create magical counterparts to the refrigerator (chill food), microwave (warm food), vacuum cleaner (clean room), lighter (firestarter) and washing machine (clean clothes). These things won’t look like our tools, and they won’t act like them. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, you might have a Sorcerer’s Apprentice broom that sweeps itself, of a fancier whisk broom that simply vaporizes dirt when you wave it over a floor. Such items won’t be cheap, but they also needn’t be ridiculously expensive; what you’re talking about is an object that only does a sliver of an effect of a cantrip.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents a host of items with this level of power, which it calls common magic itemsClothes of Mending automatically mend themselves at the end of each day. The Ear Horn of Hearing negates the deafened condition while it’s in use. Some of these common items already exist in Eberron. The Instrument of Illusions is essentially the Thurimbar Rod, an illusion-based instrument developed in Zilargo; and the shapeshifting Cloak of Many Fashions is similar to Eberron’s shiftweave, if somewhat more versatile. As I mentioned in a previous article, something that’s often overlooked in Eberron is the idea of glamerweave – fabric infused with illusion. You could have a cloak with a lining of stars, or a blazer emblazoned with what appear to be actual flames.

The short form is that the common magic items of XGtE are a good model for things that could be common in Eberron – and something you can use as inspiration in creating other items or setting a scene. For me, the key is to look for principles demonstrated by a low level spell and consider how that could be harnessed as a tool. For example, the Sivis sending stone is based on the principle of the spell whispering wind, which delivers a short message to a specific distant location – more limited than sending, but lower level. When you do create a new item or effect, one thing to consider is that if it’s TOO useful, it might be something that’s only found as a dragonmark focus item, especially if the effect is clearly related to a dragonmark’s sphere. Whispering wind is a simple effect – but I still decided to limit it to Sivis, because from a story perspective it’s interesting to have the house have a near-monopoly on swift communication.

So common magic items could indeed be common. With that said, I think it’s reasonable for uncommon items to be uncommon — not something you see in every household, but things that CAN be manufactured and purchased. When you go to rare and legendary items, you can keep them rare and legendary. Perhaps they’re relics of fallen civilizations, or creations of advanced ones (such as the Chamber or the Lords of Dust). Perhaps they are one of a kind things created under special circumstances — during particular planar conjunctions, using unique Siberys shards, or even fashioned in other planes. Perhaps that Elven blade was forged by a member of the Undying Court and imbued with a fraction of her spirit. In short, there’s room for magic to be both commonplace and truly magical. That everburning torch is just a tool you can buy at any Cannith forgehold… but that Vorpal Sword is a legendary weapon spoken of in song and story. Meanwhile, magical weapons can have lesser magical effects – a self-sharpening sword, an axe that glows on command – things that are useful and magical, but don’t have to have the same impact as a bonus to attack and damage. I have many thoughts about wands, but I’ll delve into that in my next article.

In considering these things, XGtE also helps with its classification of magic items as major or minor in addition to the rarities. Minor uncommon items should be easier to acquire than major uncommon items. The short form is to think about what it means for a magic item to be something that can simply be purchased. If that thing is a reliable tool that exists in the world for anyone who has enough money to acquire it, how should it impact your story?

MAGIC ITEM CREATION

So we’ve established a general yardstick for what exists in the world. The next question is what can player characters create, and how can they create it? The first thing to point out here is that whatever system House Cannith uses to make wands isn’t going to be the same system a player character uses. While Eberron doesn’t have full-on manufacturing plants, the creation of magic items is an industry. Creation Forges are the most dramatic tools available to House Cannith, but they have a host of lesser ways to improve the process of production. They may literally have enchanted assembly lines — not automated, but still, facilities designed to efficiently produce a particular type of item and enhanced with various magical effects. They acquire rare components in mass quantities – which ties to another largely unrealized idea in Eberron, that dragonshards are a critical part of creating magic items and serve as the fuel of the magical economy. Cannith may have lesser focus items that channel the Mark of Making. And they certainly have secret techniques or patterns for making specific items as efficiently as possible (which is to say, schema).

Meanwhile, your wizard or artificer is literally a guy making a thing in a garage. Cannith can make a wand of fireballs faster and cheaper than you can. But the one you make is going to be entirely unique. And perhaps you can make something they’ve never figured out how to make – because you’re an innovator, not just working on the assembly line.

All of which is to say that this actually works well with the model of magic item creation presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything… making the creation of a magic item part of an adventure as opposed to simply a formula you fill out with gold and XP. You can’t replicate the process Cannith uses to make a wand of fireballs, because you don’t have their facilities, resources or specialized expertise. BUT, if you could get ahold of an elemental heart from Fernia, you could use that to create your wand! And what do you know, you’ve heard that you can acquire such a thing by hunting drakes in a Fernian manifest zone in the Blade Desert. If you can get that heart, a thousand GP worth of refined Eberron shards, and a good piece of darkwood you can carve into a wand – give it a few weeks and you can make it happen.

So I like the XGtE model; just bear in mind that what you are doing ISN’T the same thing House Cannith does when they are producing something. What you are creating will be unique – and again, for that reason and because PCs are remarkable, it may be that you can create something that Cannith cannot create.

In my next article I’ll write about magewrights and wand adepts. Until then, post your questions and thoughts below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Dragonmarks: Locks and Wards

It’s a busy month. I’m working on a Phoenix article, and Illimat is being released next week! But in the meantime, I wanted to address a few more questions from my Patreon supporters.
I always tell my players that thieves’ tools in eberron look more like specialized artificer’s tools than lockpicks. What are some examples of locks of different qualities that might exist in a society where magic is a science & spells like knock exist to trivialize purely mechanical locks?
I’m going to start by addressing the general principle of locks in the setting, and then move on to specific examples of locks and tools. First of all: The existence of a tool — the knock spell — that can bypass any mundane lock doesn’t mean that people will suddenly give up on using mundane locks. There’s an increasing number of tools – both technological and mundane – that can unlock a lock on a car door, and failing that anyone can put a rock through a window; and yet we still lock our cars. We haven’t equipped every car with a new impregnable lock and we haven’t just given up on locks entirely. Instead, we accept that our lock isn’t perfect, but it will keep out any casual intruder — at least requiring some degree of effort or skill.
The same principle applies to Eberron. Go to a typical village and people will be using bars or mundane locks, because they don’t expect people to be running around with fancy knock spells, and if they do have them spells, well, there’s nothing you can do about it. My barn might get struck by lightning and burn down, but I can’t afford a lightning ward, so it goes.
But let’s assume that you’re serious about security. Your lock isn’t just a delaying tactic, it’s supposed to keep people out. Here’s some options.
  • Arcane Lock. The standard in security, available from any good Kundarak locksmith. This enhances the difficulty of forcing/picking a lock by mundane means. A knock spell suppresses an arcane lock, but if the arcane lock is combined with a mundane lock they’ll still have to bypass that, even if it’s at normal difficulty.
  • Multiple Mundane Locks. Each casting of a knock spell only opens one lock (according to the 5E SRD). Stick five locks on your door and you’ll at least make it costly for a caster.
  • Alarm. This doesn’t make a lock harder to open, but it warns you when it is opened. It’s not affected by knock. See notes below.
  • Glyph of Warding. Typically this is a one-shot spell, but Kundarak can certainly make reusable glyphs that recharge after a period of time. A GoW isn’t affected by Knock, so it’s your ultimate deterrent against the person who thinks their wand of knock is a key to all doors. Bear in mind that most people aren’t going to want to set off explosions in their homes, but a GoW can produce any spell effect of 3rd level or below. I’d make the price of a Kundarak recharging glyph vary based on the level of the associated effect, so more people would have a 1st level GoW than a 3rd. Any sort of targeted offensive spell is an option for an aggressive lock, but here’s a few other ideas…
    • Guilt Trap. Charm Person/Suggestion variant that makes the victim feel shame for their actions and causes them to dissuade other would-be thieves, or even to try to defend the house from them if necessary.
    • Unwelcome Mat. A simple Command effect that targets anyone that can hear it, ordering them to leave!
    • Sleeper. A Sleep spell, which would generally be combined with an Alarm to summon guards. Web or Hold Person are other options.
    • Guardians. While Conjure Animals is an option, Spirit Guardians are cleaner and harder to deal with – an excellent option to make life difficult if there are additional locks that need to be bypassed.
The magical options — alarm, GoW and arcane lock — all have a wide range of options for how they can be disarmed. A password is the simplest option, allowing anyone who knows the password to use the door. But they can also be keyed to virtually any sort of biometrics — to individuals, to particular races, to possessing a particular object. Kundarak certainly produces combination arcane/mundane locks where the trigger that deactivates the arcane lock simultaneously unlocks the mundane lock, so you can have a place where even these fancy locks can be opened with just a word or a touch of a hand, instead of requiring an additional key… though if the magic is deactivated by knock, this combo lock would be stuck in the locked position.
So looking back to the original question: what do locks look like?
  • Simple, mundane locks or bars. Common in any place that simply isn’t that concerned about serious security.
  • Multiple mundane locks or bars. We’re concerned about security, but not enough to pay for magic.
  • A simple combination arcane/mundane lock. We’ve got money and we take things seriously. The arcane lock could be keyed to a phrase or a keycharm.
  • Lockless doors sealed purely by arcane locks. Opened when someone who meets the right conditions (could be biometric, could be carrying a key charm) touches the door. Looks cool, but a knock spell will get you right inside… though the door could also have an alarm triggered if anyone opens the door without properly unlocking it.
  • A serious door could be more formal. Take a Kundarak Manticore lock. There’s a Manticore bust by the door. You need to place your hand on the bust and speak the keyword; it check both biometrics (say, Kundarak dwarf) and the phrase. If you fail to meet either condition it triggers the glyph of warding. Meanwhile, the door has four mundane locks and an arcane lock. Take that, knock spell. If I was having a rogue disarm it, I’d give them a chance at a high DC to disarm the entire system at once — or they could work on each system and lock separately, but it would take a lot of time and the risk of the alarm or glyph reactivating if they take too long.
The manticore is simply one example of a fancier system. A magic mouth could demand the password. An emplaced illusion could appear, threatening intruders with consequences. But critically, you’re looking at combinations of GoW, arcane lock, alarm, and mundane locks.
In a large city, you’re also going to have an option of a Kundarak alarm system. When the alarm on the door is triggered, you’re alerted but it also triggers an alert at a Kundarak enclave, who will dispatch a Deneith squad to respond to the intrusion.
Now given all this: I hold to the 3.5 approach under which a trained rogue has the ability to attempt to bypass magical wards and locks. Given that, I agree with the secondary aspect of the original post. In the Thorn of Breland books, Thorn’s lockpicking tools include lengths of mithral wire, vials of Mabar-infused water, divinatory powders, and other tools that are specifically tied to detecting and disarming mystical systems as well as tools for picking a mundane lock.

My players are on track to break into a lesser Kundarak vault in Korranberg, Sharn. Aside from your standard locks and wards and the Silver Guard, what are some quick hits of other challenges they could conceivably face? 
Well, as noted above there’s going to be various arcane systems that can be easily bypassed if they have the right things — passwords, keycharms, someone who meets the biometric restrictions (“Kundarak dwarf”, probably). There will certainly be alarm spells, and likely a nonlethal glyph of warding (Say, a 9d8 sleep spell tied to an alarm). What else?
  • An iron defender is a nice guardian who doesn’t require food or regular care, who will react aggressively if anyone enters without someone it recognizes.
  • Alternatively, you can have a living creature on guard; Kundarak likes their manticores.
  • Consider an illusion that conceals a critical part of the chamber… or the simpler, mundane secret door. Another option would be a particular object or safety deposit box tied to another glyph of warding effect; the staff know you never touch this thing.
  • When an inner alarm is triggered, it restores and reactivates the arcane lock on the outer door – potentially trapping troublemakers in the vault, if they’ve expended their resources.
  • Following principles of prestidigitation and arcane mark, I think it would be relatively simple for Cannith and Kundarak to come up with something similar to a paint bomb — something that would mystically mark people with an indelible marker. Can they find some way to dispel the marker before they’re caught? This presents a different challenge depending if the marker is visible to everyone and everyone knows the significant (you’re running around covered in purple) or if it’s invisible except to Kundarak trackers.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but hopefully it gives you some ideas. Post your own thoughts below!

Dragonmarks: Magicians

It’s busy as always here. Renegade Games just announced the Scott Pilgrim game I’ve been working on, and I just got back from a trip to LA where I did some things with Maze Arcana, Saving Throw, and Geek & Sundry. I don’t have time for a big article, but an interesting question came up during the week and wanted to explore it.

Before I start I want to take a moment to address the limitations of this format. Eberron is the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast, and at the moment, only WotC can create new material for Eberron. What I can do – both here and on Manifest Zone – is to clarify the material that does exist, as well as talk about how I use it and interpret it. But I can’t create entirely new material. So for example: I’d really like to write more about the planes, but I can’t precisely because so little has been written about them – and it’s a logical subject for an official sourcebook or series of official articles at some point in the future. This is why I’m planning to post more Phoenix material here in the future. I can’t create new material for the Shadow Marches, but I can create material for the Fens in Phoenix… and give some tips as to how you could adapt that to the Shadow Marches. So keep an eye out for that. And in the meantime, the best thing you can do for Eberron is to continue to voice your interest and support – to be sure that WotC knows there is ongoing interest in new material!

This question came up in a discussion earlier this week, and it pushes a lot of my buttons, so…

I’ve always felt the sorcerer is a strange class. They don’t “understand magic,” but they can read scrolls, use wands, and have Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana in their skill list. Theoretically you could have a sorcerer with Charisma 18 and Intelligence 3, who can barely read but can still use scrolls… Finally, specifically for Eberron, do they immediately control their power or do they have the same problem as aberrant dragonmarks, where they could accidentally harm friends or family? And aren’t they persecuted as “Hidden Aberrants?”

The first issue here is how you view classes. Are classes a construct that exists in the world exactly as they exist in the rules? Does every member of a class have access to all the choices within that class? Or are they simply mechanical tools that allow us as GMs and players to model the characters we want to play? Does every sorcerer in the world recognize “I am a sorcerer?” Or is that a term we use to identify anyone using this rule set, but not something they would recognize?

To me, what’s important is to start with an idea of who a character is and what their role is in the world. Then I will apply a class and break it down from there. Each class has a core, basic mechanical principle; the sorcerer’s is I cast arcane magic from a very limited list of spells, but with greater flexibility in casting than a wizard. The wizard has to memorize spells in advance, but has the ability to use any spell they can acquire; the sorcerer is limited to a very specific set of spells. Bear in mind that arcane magic is an ambient force that exists in the world of Eberron. The power is there, and it can be manipulated by tools, by formulas, by innate talent. A sorcerer interacts with this power in a fundamentally different way than a wizard – but within that framework (spontaneous arcane casting) there’s room for a lot of different concepts and stories.

  • Harry ir’Potter. There are people in Eberron who simply have a natural potential to channel the ambient arcane power in the world, but it’s a gift that they’ll never manifest unless they learn to harness is. Arcanix seeks out these sorcerers. By studying the principles of magic and engaging in a focused curriculum, they learn to produce specific magical effects. This character possesses both Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana, reflecting their disciplined study of magic. Their spells have no particular relation to one another, because they have chosen exactly what spells they want to cast as part of their studies; they understand their talent and its limitations. These characters are called sorcerers at Arcanix, though many wizards refer to them as “living wands”, mocking their inability to master a spell from a spell book.
  • Touched By Fire. Irilask is a tiefling conceived in a manifest zone tied to Fernia. She is a living conduit to Fernia, and she has developed the ability to channel its eternal flames. All her spells have to do with fire; as DM, I may allow her to cosmetically shift some spells to reflect this, so maybe her ghost armor is made of solidified flames. She could know Spellcraft or Knowledge: Arcana, but it’s up to the player; her spells aren’t tied to arcane study and there’s no reason she needs to have these skills.
  • Dragonmarked Savant. Haskal d’Lyrandar is a dragonmarked scion with the Mark of Storms. While he only possesses the Least Mark of Storms, he has connected to the mark in a deeper way that most heirs ever do. His mark is a lens through which he focuses arcane power related to winds and lightning; he levitate on a cushion of wind, or strike his foes with lightning or shocking grasp. Again, these are powers most heirs can never develop (and more destructive than the typical mark powers); the point is that the mark helps him understand and focus arcane power. Like Irilask, he doesn’t need to understand how magic works, because the mark is the tool that allows him to use it. He could study Spellcraft, but he doesn’t have to.
  • Deadly Aberrant. Tesha possesses an aberrant mark with power not seen in centuries. Like Haskal, she has a base mark (Inflict Wounds)… but like Haskal, I’m using the sorcerer class to represent the unusually powerful and versatile nature of her mark, which does far more than simply granting a single spell-like ability once in a day. Just as in the stories, Tesha’s abilities manifested when she was young and were never under control, and she killed her family before she knew what she was doing. Even now, these powers frighten her… and yet, they continue to grow stronger (as she gains new spells). If Tesha was a PC, I might provide her with a mechanical benefit (say, +1 to save DCs) in exchange for the downside that as GM, I can trigger her abilities without her permission. Meanwhile, she knows absolutely nothing about Spellcraft or Knowledge: Arcana; she doesn’t understand her powers or CHOOSE to make them grow stronger, they simply do.

These are just a few concepts off the top of my head. A sorcerer could be someone twisted by the power of the Mourning. They could be the beneficiary of some sort of fey boon, or the result of mysterious magebreeding experiments. A sorcerer could have a connection to one of the Progenitor dragons, something I explored in a Dragon article back in the day. Of all these examples, Harry Potter is the only one who would think of himself as a “sorcerer” – it’s simply that *I* will use the class to mechanically represent the concepts I’ve come up with. Most likely an expert in the arcane will use the term “sorcerer” to identify “spontaneous arcane caster”, and HE might call Tesha or Irilask sorcerers, but THEY don’t identify that way.

Let’s revisit a few specific points…

They don’t “understand magic,” but they can read scrolls, use wands, and have Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana in their skill list.

First of all: a sorcerer doesn’t have to understand magic. That doesn’t mean they don’t. Looking to the examples I gave above, Harry Potter DEFINITELY understands magic and based on his concept he should have Spellcraft and Knowledge: Arcana. Haskal and Irilask don’t have to understand magic, but they could if you wanted to take the character in that direction – in which case they should take the skills reflecting it. Tesha definitely doesn’t understand magic and her powers have nothing to do with Spellcraft or Knowledge… so I wouldn’t give her the skills. The fact that they are on the skill list is a tool we can choose to use; but if it doesn’t make sense with the concept, don’t give them those skills.

The second question does follow, though: Tesha could be an illiterate peasant. So how is it that she can use a scroll?

The question you have to ask here is what is a scroll? Being literate doesn’t allow you to use it; a normal person can’t read a scroll and produce a magical effect. A scroll isn’t written in any sort of normal language, hence the existence of the read magic spell. Instead, a scroll is about sigils and symbols that contain pure arcane magic… and once you activate the scroll, the magic is GONE. So again, it’s not simply about words; a scroll is a spell that’s been frozen midcast and bound to paper. In my opinion, the ability of a sorcerer to use a scroll doesn’t represent them literally reading it the way you might read a book; it represents them connecting with the magic, feeling the locked progress, and having the power to unlock it and release the power inside. The same principle holds true for a wand. A wand doesn’t have a button; you have to understand how arcane magic works. A wizard may have a disciplined, technical approach to using a wand. In the case of Tesha, whether she’s using a wand or a scroll, she doesn’t understand what she’s doing in a scientific way. She just holds the scroll and she can feel the power within it, see the pattern in her mind… and she somehow knows that if she completes that unfinished pattern, makes that connection, the power bound to the page will be unleashed.

Because they approach it technically, a wizard can look at a scroll and copy the concept into their spell book. They look at the frozen spell and say “I get it – I understand the principle here and I think I can replicate that.” The sorcerer can’t do that, but they can still unleash the frozen spell.

Finally, specifically for Eberron, do they immediately control their power or do they have the same problem as aberrant dragonmarks, where they could accidentally harm friends or family? And aren’t they persecuted as “Hidden Aberrants?”

As outlined above, this entirely depends on the story of your sorcerer. Harry ir’Potter will never manifest magic if he doesn’t get training. Irilask is in some ways like an aberrant, having the ability to spontaneously produce fire, but the fact that it IS entirely under her control and has no negative consequences is what makes her NOT an aberrant. Meanwhile, Tesha IS an aberrant, and her sorcerer levels are simply a reflection of her aberrant power; and it’s part of her story that these powers are dangerous, and thus she WILL be persecuted.

Bear in mind that people with PC class levels are rare in Eberron, and add to that the idea that there is no one set of rules governing how a sorcerer’s abilities manifest. Even with aberrant dragon marks, it’s STORY that says that they are dangerous to the bearer and those around them. Mechanically nothing says an aberrant mark can trigger on its own; it’s a choice we ENCOURAGE because it’s part of the flavor of the setting, and that STORY is why aberrants are feared.

I almost always have low level NPCs call their spells by other names, until some bookish wizard gets a chance to correct them. 

At my table, the spell the sorcerer casts may not BE the same “spell” that the wizard uses. In the examples above, the way Irilask casts her fireball will be quite different to what Harry would do, let alone a wizard. These spells have to have the same limitations laid out in the rules: verbal components, somatic components, etc. And someone can use Spellcraft to recognize a spell from these things. But that doesn’t mean that there is one single incantation that is the only way to cast a fireball, and that Irilask has somehow spontaneously stumbled onto it thanks to her connection to Fernia. Irilask has to have SOMETHING that matches the limitations of a verbal component; but in her case, that could be a strange sort of throat-singing that helps her focus her power, while Harry DOES use the same incantation an Arcanix wizard would use. Spellcraft is about recognizing patterns of magic as much as specific words.

This ties to my idea that Aereni arcane magic presents very differently from Aundair’s path. At my table the idea is that the Aereni use a definitive lexicon of magical incantations, and that as an Aereni wizard you not only learn the 82 words for fire and the proper conjugation, you also learn to enunciate them with the exact pronunciation the elf who first scribed the spell… while Aundair’s Path is that each wizard works from a basic toolset but personalizes it. So four wizards from Arcanix are all using the same fundamental incantation for their fireball, but they are emphasizing different syllables, and they’ve added or dropped a few words to find out what works best for them. Their gestures are similarly unique. Think of it as the magical equivalent of music. The Aereni are a classical symphony orchestra, where each piece has to work just so; Arcanix teaches jazz, and every time you cast a spell the casting might be slightly different, as you adjust to the feelings of the moment. Which is why an Aereni spends a century learning the same foundation a human can master in a decade. It’s not that the elf is stupid; it’s that their wizardry is literally more ARCANE, and human wizardry is more “figure out what works and run with it.” I think the Aereni are appalled by human wizards and amazed that they somehow produce magic with their clumsy, kluge-y methods. Meanwhile, those same methods are why human wizards are coming up with things that the elves have never tried in twenty thousand years of working spells… because their approach to magic encourages creativity.

With planes like Lamannia and Thelanis, is it possible that “sorcerer druids” would appear in the Eldeen Reaches and similar places, essentially treating primal magic like normal sorcerers would arcane?

I have no object to the concept of a spontaneous primal caster. The point of the sorcerer vs the wizard is that arcane energy exists in the world waiting to be manipulated, and the two classes represent two different ways of manipulating that energy. Primal magic is also a force that exists in the world, and I am entirely open to the idea that there are different ways to manipulate that. With that said, I seen Thelanis as more tied to arcane magic than to primal magic… back to my previous posts on Thelanis, I don’t see there being anything natural about Thelanis. A dryad is a fey creature, not an elemental. She’s not a natural entity; she’s about the magic we imagine could be part of the world. So it’s more that I see there being Greensingers with levels in Sorcerer and Bard, who supplement their primal magic with arcane illusion and enchantment, than I see Thelanis producing primal sorcerers. Lamannia is a stronger possibility, but personally, I’d see a primal sorcerer as someone who has simply developed an innate connection to Eberron itself. On some level I could see this in the Rothfuss style of someone who knows “the name of the wind” – they don’t know any of the standard druidic rituals or tradition, but they have found a way to directly interact with primal forces.

How do you conceptualize progress as a wizard (i.e. levelling up) versus society’s progress in arcane magic as a whole in a world where magic is a scientific discipline?

Good question. Check out this post if you haven’t. The main issue is that arcane magic IS fundamentally different from our science and technology. It behaves in a scientific fashion: it is reliable, repeatable, predictable. However, it is something that incorporates a living component in a way that’s not easily defined. A 5th level wizard may be more intelligent than a higher level wizard, and could have a better understanding of magical theory (Spellcraft) than that wizard. They can read a 7th level spell and understand the concept, but they can’t cast it. Further, even the higher level wizard has to memorize that spell and then they can only cast it once before they need to prepare it again. Which means that it’s not simple science like a software engineer coding a piece of software or a scientist making a calculation. The wizard is a direct living component of this effect. The basic idea of arcane magic is that there is ambient energy in the world that can be channeled to alter reality. But beyond understanding theory, I believe that this requires significant willpower and takes a certain toll on the mind of the user. Note that a wizard’s Will Saving Throw goes up as they increase in level. In memorizing a spell, a wizard is balancing forces, weighing energy, both making mental calculations and potentially performing sub-rituals that are triggered when the final spell is released. But the short form is that a lower level wizard literally cannot cast that higher level spell. Something about their brain simply isn’t capable of serving as a channel or focus for the power that’s being unleashed. And that right there is something scientists in our world don’t generally have to deal with.

So first of all: It is certainly the case that if you go to Arcanix, they have a library of spells that almost no one can cast. They’ve had high-level wizards (like Mordain) in the past. And there are a few 12th level wizards floating around Aundair over the course of the war. They know this power exists, but most people simply cannot perform these spells. And you can be sure that they’re researching ways to make that possible.

WITH ALL OF THAT SAID: A fundamental pillar of Eberron is that player characters are exceptional. This is reflected by action points, by the fact that they use player character classes, and by the fact that they can both quickly advance in level and attain levels far beyond the masses. So if a wizard is a scientist, your PC IS Tesla or Einstein. The fact that YOUR wizard can create new spells doesn’t mean that EVERY wizard in the world can do it so easily; your character may make arcane breakthroughs people have been struggling with for centuries.

A 20th level wizard living in the present is going to be able to call down meteor swarms just as a 20th level wizard living in pre-Galifar Khorvaire 1,500 years earlier would be. The GM could restrict the spell list for the earlier wizard but does that still leaves us with phenomenally powerful spells available in the present (and also probably upsets the player of the ancient high level wizard)?

There’s a few ways to look at this. In the case of non-human civilizations, that’s correct. Giants, dragons and Aereni were all throwing around meteor swarms long ago. With HUMAN civilization, there’s room to play with this. Some day I’d like to do a deeper look at the evolution of arcane magic, and to identify the breakthroughs and legendary wizards who made them. But here’s the simple answer I came up with using 3.5 rules to consider how magic might have evolved in Galifar: Components. In 3.5 there are meta magic feats – Still Spell, Silent Spell – that let you cast a spell without verbal or somatic components… by increasing the slot of the spell by one level. This means it is POSSIBLE to perform those effects without gestures or incantations. In MY Eberron, those gestures and incantations didn’t appear out of the blue: they were painstakingly developed over centuries of research. The fact that proper gestures help to efficiently channel arcane energy was a revelation, and then generations of human wizards worked to refine those gestures. Likewise with incantations. So go back a thousand years and a wizard would be casting many of the same spells, but he’d be doing it without somatic or verbal components, and the spell slot would be two higher. So back in the day, Magic Missile was a third level spell. When your future wizard pops back, flinging magic missiles around like they’re nothing, it’s AMAZING to past wizard… even though he recognizes the principles you’re using. Meanwhile, in the present day, we’ve become so dependent on incantations and gestures that most wizards can’t even imagine casting a spell without them without special training (metamagic feats)… just as now we have matches and lighters, most people don’t know how make a fire without them.

How do NpC adepts fit into the mix, especially in 3.5 when they get familiars? If they are a healer, does their magical companion strike anyone as out of the ordinary?

First of all: just as I’ve outlined with sorcerers, the adept is a tool you can use to represent a certain type of character. Just because it has a particular spell on its spell list or skill in its skill list doesn’t mean that EVERY adept has access to that spell in the context of the world. And looking to familiars, note that per the SRD, they may call a familiar; it doesn’t automatically appear if they never call it. So, for example, most Jorasco healers are adepts. Some revere Arawai or Boldrei, while others are agnostic and draw their healing power through the lens of their dragonmark. A Jorasco adept whose power is justified as coming from his mark will simply never take spells like Burning Hands or Wall of Fire; those spells are on the adept spell list, but they don’t make logical sense for THIS adept.

So within the world, adepts are healers, both secular and religious. They are found in all of the major faiths as a step between the mundane priest and the full cleric; they are able to touch the divine, but not with the full power of a cleric, just as the magewright understands the principles of magic but not so well as the wizard. They can also be found in places like the Elder as a simple village healer… though I also created the Gleaner to serve this role.

As for familiars, there are wizards and sorcerers in the world. Familiars exist. And hey, in 3.5 gnomes can talk to animals… not to mention Vadalis magebreeding. Familiars may draw attention, but it’s not like people will freak out about them; it’s a recognized magical talent.

Would 4E/5E rituals be the natural culmination of the process of greater spell acessibility at the cost of more complex spell components? It seems to me that rituals almost all but eliminate the caster themselves as a living component.

I’ve written about rituals before. The basic CONCEPT of rituals is a far better match for Eberron’s vision of a magical economy than Vancian magic. It’s hard to imagine a magewright making a living making arcane locks if he can only make two per day; what’s he do for the rest of the day? This is what led to Dragonmark Focus Items in 3.5 – the point that while a Sivis Gnome can cast Whispering Wind once per day with his mark alone, what is economically important is that it lets him use a Speaking Stone and communicate more frequently. In addition, the idea has always been that Eberron dragonshards are the “fuel” of the magical economy. If you consider 4E’s residuum to be crushed and refined Eberron dragonshards (something I discussed in the Q’barra Dragon backdrops, IIRC) then that works. The magewright can cast arcane lock as often as he wishes during a day, provided he has the time (15 minutes per ritual) and a sufficient supply of dragonshards,  and he marks up the costs to make his profit.

So: the basic principle of rituals is very good for Eberron. However, what I HATE about 4E rituals is the idea that it’s all about just essentially reading them off a book. Because Magewrights and Eberron are about the idea that performing a particular ritual or set if rituals is a JOB – that you have an arcane locksmith who knows knock and arcane lock, an augur who can perform divinations, a lamplighter who makes continual flames… not that these guys could pass books around and suddenly trade jobs. So what I do in 4E is to say that Magewright is a feat allowing the individual to perform three rituals without a ritual book. So PCs with the Ritual Caster feature are prodigies who are so talented that they can just look at a book and perform the ritual on the spot; but most people in the world spend years studying a book and mastering the ritual. They don’t need the book to perform the ritual, but they also can’t just spot-read a different ritual.

Having said all of that, how do rituals eliminate the caster as a component? The ritual can’t cast itself. It’s a pattern that produces an effect… but you still need the ritual caster to perform that ritual, channel and focus the energy, and make it happen. Even dragon mark focus items require a character with a dragonmark to operate them.

Tied to “Greater Spell Accessibility”, in my 4E Eberron I also restricted a significant number of rituals to the dragonmarked… essentially having rituals take on the role of the Dragonmark focus items in 3.5, but with the idea that the Arcane Congress is always looking for ways to replicate these effects with rituals anyone can learn. This is discussed in far more detail in this post.

How have you used sorcerers and magic in YOUR games?

Dragonmarks: Rural Eberron

I’m working on a lot of projects right now. Over the next few months I’m going to be putting most of my energy into Phoenix: Dawn Command. Part of the point of developing a new setting and system is that I’m free to develop it in a way I can’t currently develop Eberron. However, my intention is to include conversion notes and to develop ideas that could fit into Eberron or another world, so you can get the most out of whatever I’m doing.

I’m also part of a new Eberron podcast called Manifest Zone. We recently sent out a call for questions. Many of the questions we received are too narrow or specific for what we want to do with the podcast… but they’re still some great questions that I wanted to address. Here’s on that stood out for me.

It’s easy to make Eberron feel like Eberron in the big cities. How do I do the same when visiting a tavern, or hamlet?

It’s an excellent question. I’m going to start with the general topic of rural Eberron, and deal with taverns in a second post – because I actually have a surprising amount to say about taverns. But starting with the general issue: What makes a farm in Breland different from one in the Dalelands of the Forgotten Realms? What is it that makes that small Aundairian village different from a generic Tolkien scene? As a gamemaster, what can you do to draw people into the setting? Well, let’s look at a few of the pillars of the setting.

Magic is a part of everyday life.

Remember: Eberron isn’t about high magic and the works of epic wizards. It’s about wide magic – the widespread use of low-level magic to solve problems that we’ve solved with technology. Everyone needs light. Farmers might not people able to afford everbright lanterns in every room, but I’d still imagine a farm would have at least two. Of course, rural magic depends on where you are. In Karrnath, a Seeker community will have skeletons performing menial tasks. In Aundair, a farm might have a floating disk that serves some of the same purposes as a tractor. In the Eldeen, you might have gleaners – the druidic equivalent of magewrights, with farmers knowing a simple druidic ritual or two to help with the crop. And consider that even one level of magewright gives access to the magecraft spell, which provides a +5 to Craft checks. From the ECS:

Every magewright worthy of the name knows the magecraft spell (see page 113). Truly expert coopers recite the magecraft  spell over their barrels, the best blacksmiths chant it as they hammer hot iron, and the finest potters cast it while they spin their clay. 

Magewrights aren’t limited to the big city; it’s an NPC class for a reason. So again, in describing a blacksmith, mention the magical gestures he makes over his forge and the sigils engraved in the anvil (designed to effectively channel the magecraft effect).

Beyond this, communities will be built around useful magical resources. Any thriving community will have a central well enchanted with a purify water effect. One of the most useful spells is a cantrip: prestidigitation. With this spell you can clean, heat, cool, flavor. Given that these principles exist, it’s easy to envision minor magic items that do just one of these things… and now you have mystical refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, washing machines, and more. In a small town people may not own personal magic items, but a large farm may still have an ice room. We’ve mentioned before that Aundairian villages often have cleansing stones, a central fountain-like structure where you can bring laundry to have it instantly cleaned.

Even where people aren’t using magic themselves, consider manifest zones. Sharn exists because it’s built on a manifest zone that makes the towers possible. Dreadhold is built on a manifest zone that strengthens its stone, while it’s the zones to Irian that make the Undying Court possible in Aerenal. Manifest zones are natural resources, and where there are manifest zones with beneficial effects people will take advantage of them. A manifest zone to Fernia could be unnaturally temperate, or it could be that within the stone, basalt grows unusually warm – so the people in the zone heat their houses and foods with these stones. Use your imagination: what could be a beneficial manifestation of a particular plane, and how would people harness it?

Finally, consider the ambient impact of the greater magical economy. Mention the airship this passes overhead; perhaps the old farmer hates the damn things (remember that airships haven’t been around that long!). Perhaps a House Orien representative is in town negotiating a new lightning rail that’s going to pass through the area.

If it’s in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron.

Khorvaire isn’t our world. It’s a world where ogres and griffons and medusas are part of nature, and that’s before you get into the possibilities of magebreeding (Cows that produce chocolate milk? Hens that lay hardboiled eggs?). That Aundairian ranch might be breeding dragonhawks instead of horses. When you pass by a field in Breland you might see an ogre pulling a plow on his own. His name’s Bargh; he was a mercenary with Tharashk during the war, and liked the area so much he just stayed behind afterwards and was taken in by the local farm. Which leads to…

Consider the impact of the war.

We’re two years out from a devastating century of war, which involved a wide range of magical weapons. You could have the equivalent of a magical minefield – a stretch of land that’s been abandoned because of explosive wards still scattered across the countryside. You could come to a place where a bridge is being rebuilt and you have to take ferries across; the Brelish ferryman curses the damn Cyrans, and complains about how they ruined his town and now Boranel is buying them dinner. You might find craters from powerful war magics, ruins that have never been rebuilt, a hamlet that was once a prosperous town before the war took most of its population… or another town that’s home to a large refugee population, and tensions are high.

Consider Religion. 

In a village in Thrane, you might find the townsfolk practicing archery on the green while a cantor sings praises to Tira. Next door in Breland you may have a village that has no priest, but everyone believes the oldest farmer is blessed by Arawai, and he speaks on her behalf at village gatherings. Shrines to Sovereigns can take many forms. Daca sits on a pillar in Sharn, but you could just as easily find a pillar saint in a small town.The central square in a Karrnathi hamlet contains a bloodstained stone basin, used for the ritual sharing of blood. In western Breland you might find a cairn made from shards of shattered statues; this dates back to a time when the Znir gnolls lived in the region, but the locals have continued to add stones to it.

Presumably, small villages are less diverse than great cities like Sharn, but how much so? Do non-humans tend to have their own communities in rural areas, or are they integrated with the majority human population?

I believe that most communities are integrated in the Five Nations. It varies by nation – Humans make up 70% of the population in Thrane, while they are less than half of the populace of Breland. Tied to this, through the Dragonmarked Houses every common race has a critical role in the economy that helps their position in society. There’s surely racisim in Khorvaire, and you can play that up from any angle you like; but it’s still the case that I’m used to having halflings running the inn the hospital, and gnomes sending messages. And this has been true for a thousand years. Dwarves built the towers of Sharn. So in my opinion, while racism is definitely out there, in the Five Nations nationalism is stronger. If I’m from Breland, I care more about the fact that you’re Brelish than that you’re a dwarf; that piece of things will come second.

So for the most part, I believe you see diversity in communities. In Breland, if there’s ten families in a village, you can expect at least two of them to be dwarves or gnomes. With that said, you’re likely to see SOME concentration simply because it’s necessary to sustain a community. Which is to say, if each village was a perfect microcosm you’d have one gnome family, one dwarf family, one halfling family… and what happens when the children are looking for mates? So I suspect you have village A that’s blended dwarves and humans, village B that’s gnomes and humans, etc… but people aren’t going to freak out if a halfling moves in. Probably.

You certainly could have entire villages of a particular race, but I don’t think it’s the norm.

Are there any significant numbers of warforged outside of the cities, e.g. the village with the warforged named Smith who was welcomed because the former village smith died in the War?

I’d expect warforged to congregate in the cities. Lacking clear direction and purpose and owning no property, it’s easier for them to make a start around others of their kind. And warforged are both new and created as weapons of war – so it’s far more logical to see prejudice against warforged than against the races that have been part of your civilization for centuries. With that said, I think you see warforged in small communities where they have attachments to people who live there. When the soldier came home to his farm after the war, his warforged companion came with him and works on the farm. In the local tavern, a warforged remains as the bouncer. And I think an entire village of warforged – a gift of land from a noble grateful for their service – is an intriguing story idea. As for your smith (and I played a warforged artificer named Smith for a while), some villages would welcome him and others might drive him away; again, prejudice against warforged is more common than any of the demihumans.

Could a kalashar thrive in a hamet where she is the only psion for miles, or would she feel the need to conceal her talents? Similar question for changelings?

I think a kalashtar could do just fine. It’s easy for kalashtar to disguise themselves as humans if they want, but I also don’t think we’ve established fear of psionics as a big thing in the Five Nations; most people would just assume it’s some sort of mind magic. Changelings are another question and one I’ll address at more length at some places. Breland is fairly accepting of changelings and they may live openly. In other places you’ll oftn see changelings concealing their true nature; bear in mind, the reason they are called “changelings” dates from people having children with a disguised shapeshifter, and when the child is born a changeling, believing that their actual baby has been stolen away. And you also have small communities that are entirely changelings – though you won’t know it passing through. So it depends on the place: changelings will often hide, but a trusted changling whose family has been part of the community for a while may just live out in the open.

These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are endless, especially when you get into the different nations and their own unique elements, but that’s all I have time for now. Feel free to share ways you’ve presented the flavor of the world below!

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

Cleric Octogram

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

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

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

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

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

ARCANE MAGIC

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

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

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

DIVINE MAGIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRIMAL MAGIC

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

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

 

ARCANE AND DIVINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RANDOM QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks 11/1: Sports, Holidays, and More!

Time for more Eberron questions!

Are there any Khorvairian analogs to real world holidays or festivals, say if we wanted a Christmas themed game?

It depends what you mean by “direct” analogs. There’s no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny in canon Eberron. With that said, there are some holidays that could be used to give a game a similar favor. A few examples:

  • Wildnight (18-19 Sypheros). The festival of the Fury, a time when passions run high and people cast aside inhibitions. Blend Mardi Gras with a divinely inspired bacchanal and you’re on the right track.
  • Long Shadows (26-28 Vult). Three nights when the Shadow reigns supreme. Most stay indoors by the fire, but it is a time for minions of darkness to take to the streets and celebrate. If you want a Halloweenish tradition, you could say that some people choose to dress as monsters to frighten their friends… though that’s a dangerous game on a night when true monsters are abroad.
  • Boldrei’s Feast (9 Rhaan). A time for a community to come together and strengthen its ties. Certainly a time in which people give thanks, if you take my meaning. Also a traditional day for elections and government appointments.
  • The Ascension (1 Sypheros). The most important celebration in the calendar of the Church of the Silver Flame, the Ascension commemorates Tira’s sacrifice and transformation into the Voice of the Flame.

All of these are described on pages 30-32 of Sharn: City of Towers, along with ten other holidays and festivals.

We rarely hear of “sports” in fantasy. Are bloodless sports a big Eberron thing? Breland Monarchs vs Karrnath Bats” style?  

Funny you should ask, as some sports are covered on pages 32-33 of Sharn. The sport that’s received the most coverage is The Race of Eight Winds, an annual aerial race that involves eight different species of flying creatures. Combat is allowed in the Race, so it’s not entirely bloodless. However, combat isn’t the focus, and many riders will do their best to avoid it; it’s simply the case that if you’re the Griffon, you’ve got a better chance of beating the Pegasus by literally beating the pegasus than you do outflying it. There are certainly bloodless races – pegasus versus pegasus, for example – as well; the Ro8W is simply the biggest sporting event of the year.

As for team events, the only one that’s been mentioned by name is hrazhak (Sharn, page 32), a team sport with its roots among the Eldeen shifters. Again, this is a full-contact sport, but the goal of the game isn’t the elimination of the opposition and only natural weapons are allowed; it’s a rough game, but I wouldn’t define it as a bloodsport. Because of the nature of the game, human players will be at a disadvantage; however, it could still be something that could gain popularity and become a national sport.

There could easily be other organized sports, but none have been mentioned in canon that I’m aware of.

I was wondering, can a half-elf born of elf and human in Eberron develop either half-elf dragonmark, if any at all?

Well, anyone can develop any Dragonmark, if the Prophecy turns that way. However, per canon and tradition, the only way to manifest a dragonmark is if the person with the mark is part of a bloodline that already carries the mark. So the question here is whether the union of a human and half-elf has the potential to produce a human child, or if all the children will be Khoravar. If a human-Khoravar union can produce a human child, then this simply means that the human parent of your half-elf character has a connection to the house in question somewhere down the line.

Note that if a half-elf/human union can produce a human child, this wouldn’t allow a human to develop the mark of Storm, any more than a Tharashk orc can develop the mark of Finding; it’s just latent in his bloodline.

Also, do half-drow have a place in Eberron?

Sure. In my novel The Shattered Land, the protagonists employ a half-drow guide named Gerrion in Stormreach. It’s simply the case that because there is so little interaction between drow and other species there aren’t very many half-drow, and thus they aren’t a cultural force the way the Khoravar are.

Keith, I’ve been enjoying your take on 4e Eberron (which I’m calling Eberron 4.K) but I’m trying to deal with the cost of rituals. Magewrights can learn one or two rituals but how do they handle component costs? I’ve been thinking of the lamplighters, walking around Sharn with Continual Light rituals and re-casting every 24 hours but the ritual is 20 gold or a healing surge. Adventurers can pay that but that’s something like the annual income of the average laborer to power one lamp.

That’s a case of the ritual being poorly designed for Eberron. You’re right; there’s no way people are paying 20 gp/day to keep a streetlight going. I think the answer lies in the streetlamp itself. The ritual allows you to place a continual light on ANYTHING. I can make my boot glow… but it only lasts for an hour. Now think of it as oil. I can pour oil on my boot and set it on fire, and it will provide light for a little while until it burns up the boot. However, if I use that same amount of oil in an oil lantern, it’s going to last far longer, because it’s a tool designed for that purpose.

So, in the case of Continual Light, what I’d say is that the streetlights are designed with dragonshard “wicks” that hold and channel the power of the ritual for an extended period of time. You pay the base cost to start it up the first time; from that point forward, you have a mini-version of the ritual that simply uses a pinch of residuum to keep it going. So the typical lamplighter is going around recharging, but only spending a small amount – which would come from municipal taxes. The “recharge” ritual isn’t a full ritual in its own right, it’s something anyone who knows Continual Light can perform.

As for the general costs of rituals (like arcane lock), the Magewright would simply have to charge enough for her services to cover the cost of the components and generate a profit.

What if dragonmarks started popping in the real world?

I don’t think there’d be a vast immediate impact. Bear in mind that much of what gives the dragonmarks their power is the tools that are designed to focus and channel that power. On its own, the Least Mark of Making lets you cast Mending once per day. That’s handy to be sure, but it’s the ability to use things like the creation forges that makes the mark a true force to be reckoned with. The marks have been around in Eberron for over a thousand years, but their influence has grown considerably over the last few centuries as the houses have developed superior tools and techniques; I’d expect the same if they appeared here.