Dragonmarks: The Astral Plane

This is actually a picture of Kythri. But, y’know, close enough.

Eberron is balanced between thirteen planes, each of which represents an iconic concept. All mortal creatures are influenced by these planes. We dream in Dal Quor and cast shadows in Mabar. We feel the martial call of Shavarath balanced by the tranquility of Syrania. Where these planes extend directly into the Material Plane they create manifest zones and wild zones, Shaping Eberron in their image. Counting those that are lost, there were thirteen planes, thirteen moons, thirteen dragonmarks.

What, then, is the role of the astral plane? What concept does it represent? Does it, too, shape the world? Why isn’t associated with a moon or with manifest zones?

While the astral plane is called a “plane,” it has little in common with the thirteen planes of the orrery. It wasn’t created to embody a concept, because it wasn’t created. The Astral Plane is the ultimate foundation of reality, the realm that existed before creation. If you interpret the creation myth literally, the astral plane was the canvas upon which the Progenitors painted existence as we know it. As such, it’s not part of creation; it’s the space that lies between and beyond it. It doesn’t have a purpose; it simply is.

With that said, the fact that the astral plane is the space between spaces gives it value. With a few exceptions—such as the Immeasurable Market of Syrania—the planes of Eberron exist as independent and isolated systems. There’s no direct path from Risia to Fernia, or from Mabar to Lamannia. All of the planes touch the material plane, but manifest zones that serve as gateways aren’t easy to find. Barring manifest gateways, travel between the planes involves passing through the astral plane. Plane shift and gate expedite this process, connecting through the astral in a blink of an eye. Without such magic, travelers must enter and depart the astral plane through the color pools. So why visit the astral plane? The first reason is to go somewhere else; the astral is just the road that will take you there. The second reason is to get away; disconnected as it is from reality and the ravages of time, the astral can serve as the ultimate sanctuary. The third reason is because you need to interact with the travelers or exiles who dwell there—or wish to explore the forgotten debris of previous ages, abandoned and forgotten in the astral plane.

Universal Properties

The astral plane is an endless silvery void. Wisps of silver and gray drift between motes of light—at first glance these seem like stars, but in fact they are the countless pools of color where the other planes bleed into the astral. There is no inherent gravity or orientation; you move by thinking about moving, and if you have no desire to move you will simply be suspended in the void. Some travelers embrace the idea of flying, while others choose to walk across the void even though there’s no ground beneath their feet.

Ancient and Enigmatic. Commune, augury, divination, legend lore and similar spells are unreliable in the astral plane. Many of the ruins and relics found in the silver sea are from previous incarnations of Eberron or predate creation itself, and spells of this age can’t unlock their mysteries.

Beyond Time and Space. Creatures in the astral plane do not age, and are immune to hunger and thirst. Time moves at the same pace within the astral plane as it does on Eberron, but creatures who spend an extensive amount of time in the astral plane often lose the ability to sense the passage of time; a hermit who’s been isolated in the astral plane for thousands of years might believe it’s been a single year.

Speed of Thought. While in the astral plane, a creature has a flight speed (in feet) equal to 3 x its Intelligence score. This replaces all other forms of movement the creature possesses, and overrides any spell or effect that grants or increases movement speed.

Suspended in the Void. Movement in the astral plane only happens by intention, and a creature that isn’t actively moving or being moved will float, suspended in the void. Thrown objects or ranged attacks travel the maximum distance they would travel in the material plane—driven by the intent of the person who launched them—and then come to a stop, floating in the air.

DENIZENS OF THE ASTRAL PLANE

There’s no native life in the astral plane. Those creatures encountered here are either immigrants, travelers passing through, or things that have been created and set here—most by beings or civilizations long forgotten. I’ll be posting a table of possible astral encounters as bonus content on my Patreon, but here’s a general look at the creatures you might find.

Travelers

While plane shift allows travelers to instantly traverse the astral plane, there are always travelers who make their way across the astral step by step. These include denizens of the outer planes, but not many; the planes are independent systems that are designed to function in isolation. With this in mind, it’s never normal for beings from the planes to be traveling through the astral, and if they are you can be sure there’s a story behind it. Perhaps an efreeti pasha wishes to serve shaved Risian ice at their next gala, and has dispatched a servant to fetch some. Perhaps a condemned archfey is being escorted from Thelanis to the Inescapable Prison of Daanvi, or an angelic Virtue of Knowledge is going to consult the Infinite Archive. Any of these things could happen, but all of them are remarkable events; it’s not like there’s a constant stream of immortals passing through the astral plane.

Mortal travelers from the material plane are likewise rare, but not unknown. The mages of the Five Nations know of the Astral Plane, but have not yet developed a sustainable form of astral travel. There are currently three civilizations that make use of astral travel.

  • The Dragons of Argonnessen. Long ago, a cabal of dragons sought to build within the astral plane; this experiment came to an end with the loss of Sharokarthel (see below). Today Argonnessen sees the astral plane purely as a conduit for travel. Since powerful wyrms will make use of plane shift, most dragons encountered in the astral plane will be in their middle years—accomplished enough to have needs that can only be met in other planes, but not capable of casting plane shift. Loredrakes (dragon scholars) may wish to consult the Infinite Archives of Daanvi or to speak with a particular immortal. Masters of the Hoard (collectors and merchants) may be seeking unique commodities, while Flames of the Forge (artisans and artificers) may be looking for resources that can only be acquired beyond reality.
  • The Elves of Aerenal. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the Astral Plane, working on the grand experiment of Pylas Var-Tolai. Beyond this celestial realm, the Aereni follow in the footsteps of the dragons. The greatest Aereni sages may consult with Virtues in Syrania or browse the Infinite Archive, and Aereni artisans may seek materials that can only be found in the planes. Where dragons found traveling in the astral are usually young, elf travelers are most likely among the most accomplished of their kind still living; astral travel is an established practice, but only the most capable elves will risk its many dangers.
  • The Venomous Demesne. Hidden in western Droaam, the Venomous Demesne is less than two thousand years old—a pale shadow in comparison to Argonnessen or Aerenal. But the humans and tieflings of the Demesne are brilliant mages who are pushing the bounds of arcane science. Over the course of the last century they’ve begun to dig deeper into the mysteries of the Astral Plane, both as a corridor through which to reach the planes and as a resource in its own right. Some mages of the Demesne seek to bargain with the Githyanki, while others hope to find forgotten treasures in the ruins of Sharokarthel. So the Demesne doesn’t yet have a large-scale presence in the Astral Plane, but adventurers could encounter Demesne mages either as fellow travelers or as rival explorers competing for plunder and secret knowledge.

Immigrants and Exiles

There’s no truly native life in the astral plane, but there are creatures—both mortals and immortals—who choose to live within the silver sea. Some have been stranded by mystical accidents. Others are prisoners exiled to the astral plane, cursed so that they cannot leave it; they are trapped in the timeless void, doomed never to return to the world that has forgotten them. There are hermits who have chosen this solitary existence: philosophers who appreciate having an eternity to contemplate the higher mysteries, inventors working on forbidden research, fugitives waiting for their enemies to die of old age. With no need for food or drink, some dwell in complete isolation; explorers could find a Cul’sir giant who has been meditating for the last five thousand years. Other creatures came to the astral plane in groups, and maintain some form of society in the silver sea. The most significant of these are the Githyanki, who escaped the destruction of a previous incarnation of Eberron and now dwell in fortress-ships the size of small towns. However, there are a handful of smaller communities scattered across the infinite void. Some come from lost realities, like the Gith. Others are remnants of fallen civilizations or followers of traditions that have been wiped out on the material plane. Adventurers exploring the deep astral could discover an outpost built by the dwarves of Sol Udar, or a Dhakaani garrison that knows nothing of the chaat’oor. Part of the point of these outposts is to explore the idea of isolation. They don’t need anything from the outside world; they have no need to seek out others and trade with them. Thus they can exist as flies in amber—a Dhakaani force even more isolated than the Kech Dhakaan, goblins who don’t even realize their empire has fallen. Adventurers could find an astral workshop where giants of the Sulat League have been perfecting a doomsday weapon they can use to take vengeance on the dragons, or the labyrinth-tower of an infamous prince of Ohr Kaluun, cast into the astral plane to escape the Sundering.

The Githyanki

Most of the immigrants and exiles of the astral plane exist in isolation and timeless stagnation, content to be forgotten in the trackless expanse of the void. The Githyanki are the most notable exception to this rule. Tu’narath is a bustling city, fueled by the plunder Githyanki raiders bring in from other planes. The ships themselves are communities, from small vessels that house a dozen raiders to the fortress-ships that hold hundreds. With that said, between dwelling in the astral and pillaging immortal planes, the Githyanki themselves have lost track of time. This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both allow their population to grow and to give them an anchor in time. The naysayers argue that they don’t belong in the current creation—that they’ve been able to thrive in the astral because it is beyond reality, but that if the Githyanki stake a claim in the material it could trigger unknown metaphysical defenses. The argument continues; as a DM, if you decide to explore such an invasion, you’ll have to decide if there will be unforeseen consequences to a Githyanki incursion.

The Githyanki are warlike and proud. Their ultimate goal is to build their power until they can destroy Xoriat itself, regardless of the consequences this could have to reality. They have a deep competitive streak that could be seen as a need to prove themselves superior to the world that has replaced theirs. Whether merchant or warrior, Githyanki view all interactions through the lens of conflict; every situation has a winner and a loser, and the Githyanki will always be the victors. Note that this doesn’t mean mindless aggression; the Githyanki recognize the need to outwit their enemies, to employ careful strategies and preserve their limited resources. But they are always seeking a path to victory, and they have no compunction about taking anything they desire from the people around them; in the eyes of the Githyanki, only their people are real, and all the trappings of this age are just flawed reflections of their reality. This is one reason the Githyanki raid other planes while leaving the other denizens of the astral plane alone. Even if they are from other realities, the Githyanki recognize the other exiles as kindred in suffering—and beyond that, they prefer not to start battles on their home ground. So the Gith are constantly raiding through the color pools, but they avoid the ruins and outposts of other immigrants in the astral sea. They have limited contact with the Aereni. They feel no love for these creatures of the usurping reality, but see more value in trading with them than in starting a conflict in the void. However, if the Githyanki were to launch an attack against Eberron, it’s likely they would either negotiate a treaty with Aerenal before they begin… or that they would find a way to cripple the Undying Court and launch their conquest with a devastating first strike against the elves.

The Forgotten

Most of the denizens of the astral plane have a history that can be unraveled and explored. Some come from earlier incarnations, like the Githyanki. Others come from fallen nations—remnants of Xen’drik, Sol Udar, the Empire of Dhakaan. The ruins of Sharokarthel are almost a hundred thousand years old. But there are beings in the astral plane that predate even the age of demons, constructs built and abandoned by civilizations entirely unknown… civilizations that could even predate the Progenitors and the cosmology of Eberron itself. The terrifying Astral Dreadnoughts are one example of these forgotten entities. These gargantuan entities glide through the astral sea, destroying all that they encounter. Some believe that the dreadnoughts were created by the Progenitors to fight any beings that might come from beyond Eberron’s cosmology—that the dreadnoughts exist to fight any would-be gods that might seek a foothold in Eberron. Others believe that the dreadnoughts predate the Progenitors, that they are remnants of a world truly beyond mortal understanding. The dreadnoughts are just one example of those things that may be forgotten in the depths of the astral—powers waiting to be unleashed.

LAYERS AND LOCATIONS

The astral plane isn’t divided into layers. It is a singular, seemingly infinite void in which color pools are scattered like stars. Measured using the concepts of the material plane, Tu’narath and Sharokarthel could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles apart. This is why it’s possible to find an astral hermitage where a giant philosopher has remained undisturbed for thousands of years… because unless you know what you’re looking for, the astral plane is so vast as to make any particular location a single grain of sand on a vast beach.

It might seem like this distance would prevent any sort of meaningful travel in the astral plane. If Tu’narath and Sharokarthel are a hundred thousand miles apart, how is an adventurer to move between them? The catch is that movement in the astral plane isn’t measured in miles or even in space; it is purely a concept. The Speed of Thought trait determines a character’s speed in combat, where people must focus on the narrow moment. Outside of combat, movement across the Astral Plane is based on knowing where you wish to go and willing yourself to get there. Travel speed is largely arbitrary; the Dungeon Master’s Guide notes that it will take about 1d4 x 10 hours to find a color pool tied to a particular plane, with the risk of psychic wind increasing travel time. But that’s just to find a random pool; think of this as searching the skies for a green star and then willing yourself in its direction. Astral color pools are tied to locations within planes; finding a specific pool, or finding a location like Sharokarthel, is a different story. If you have been to the location before, it will usually take around 1d4 x 10 hours to reach it. If you’re proficient in Arcana, you can work with a description of a location (an Aereni map, a description from a Cul’sir tomb…). In such a case, it can take 1d8 x 10 hours to reach your destination. If you have no intended destination, you can try to navigate based on the constellations formed by the scattered color pools; you’ll eventually find something, whether it’s just a pool or some more interesting outpost or ruin. Someone familiar with astral travel can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check to speed travel; this is arbitrary, but a good result can reduce travel time and help the travelers avoid the psychic wind.

The elves of Aerenal are the most notable astral cartographers in Eberron. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court have spent countless hours exploring the astral sea as thought forms, recording the paths of its constellations and noting interesting ruins and hermitages. If adventurers wish to find adventure in the astral plane, they could just dive into the sea and start swimming… but a torn page from an Aereni atlas could be what they need to get started.

Ruins and Hermitages

The astral plane may in fact be infinite, and there’s no telling what could be waiting in that void. There’s at least one active city, Tu’narath. But there are many other points of interest scattered in the void. Most of these are ruins. Some are the remnants of actual cities once built in the astral plane, like Sharokarthel. Others are simply pieces of unknown civilizations or lands. These could be from the distant past of this Eberron. They could be remnants of a lost Eberron, such as the Eberron of the Gith. Or they could even be relics of previous creations, realities older than the Progenitors themselves. A few examples…

  • A dragon’s skull, ten miles long from snout to horn-tip. The shape doesn’t precisely match any known species of dragon.
  • A single tower, seemingly broken off of a larger castle.
  • A massive ship, apparently designed for sea travel—a distinctly different design than the Githyanki vessels.
  • A mountain peak formed from some sort of smoky crystal.
  • A mass of silvery clouds, soft but solid enough to stand on. They drift and shift, but never disperse or drift apart.
  • The empty shell of an immense dragon turtle.
  • Half of an immense bridge, sheered off sharply in the middle.
  • A manor house, preserved with mending magic and tended by unseen servants. It’s impossible to tell how long it’s stood empty.
  • A grove of colossal trees, whose roots and branches are intertwined.

There are many planes in which odd structures can be found. What differentiates the ruins of the Astral Plane from the bizarre landscapes of Xoriat is the fact that ruins generally feel like they had a purpose—they may be encountered out of context, but once the ship was in water and the skull was part of an immense dragon. What makes them unlike the wonders of Thelanis is that while they may have a purpose, the ruins of the astral plane rarely have a story—at least, not one that can be easily discerned. The skull was once part of a dragon, but there are no further clues as to who that dragon was or how it died; if it was once part of a story, that story is long over.

Ruins are generally abandoned. When immigrants or exiles lay claim to a ruin, it becomes a hermitage. Given that creatures in the astral plane are immune to starvation and thirst, people can live in places that could never support life in the natural world. A massive dragon skull could be inhabited by a clan of winged kobolds, or by a trio of Seekers of the Divinity Within. Again, unlike Xoriat, the denizens of such a realm came from somewhere; if there’s kobolds in the skull, the question is whether they’re from Eberron, a previous reality, or a forgotten creation.

PYLAS VAR-TOLAI

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the astral plane—leaving their bodies behind and exploring through astral projection. In part, they are charting the near-infinite expanse; the Aereni have maps of many ruins and hermitages, even though they have left many of the hermits undisturbed. But astral cartography is a side project. Their true interest is something far grander. The astral plane is a place of beginnings. If the myths are true, it is here that the Progenitors laid the cornerstone of creation. The Undying Court seeks to follow in their footsteps—to create a new reality. They are still far from this goal, but using their gestalt power they have managed to create a region within the void—an island they call Pylas Var-Tolai.

The core of Pylas Var-Tolai is a vast, fortified monastery. This includes a scriptorium where monks draw maps of the astral sea, a vast library holding accounts of all the ruins they have explored, and a vault holding both wonders found in the astral and artifacts deemed too dangerous to be kept in the material plane. There is a council chamber at the center of it where the ascendant councilors commune with one another and exert their power. While the most important inhabitants of Var-Tolai are the astral forms of the ascendant councilors, there is a population of mortal elves—scholars, priests, and soldiers—who are physically present. While Pylas Var-Tolai is primarily a research outpost, it also serves as a waystation for Aereni who have business in the planes; as such it does have a small capacity for guests, and there are usually a handful of travelers along with the permanent staff. Whoever, the monastery is driven by research, not commerce. If adventurers come to the gates of Pylas Var-Tolai, the priests will be more interested in their stories than their gold.

The most important aspect of Pylas Var-Tolai is the gate at its center. This allows passage to the workshop of the Undying Court… the reality they are creating. This is very much a work in progress, fluid and unsustainable. But they are continuing to work at it. When adventurers visit, the realm on the other side of the gate could be a tiny island or a vast continent. It could be a perfect replica of Aerenal, or it could be a wondrous realm that defies the laws of physics. Visiting adventurers could be asked to explore the nascent realm—to test the creation of the councilors, and identify its flaws.

Sharokarthel

In the wake of the Age of Demons, the victorious dragons spread across the world. This lead to the first rise of the Daughter of Khyber, which led to a devastating war of dragons that destroyed the nations they’d created and forced them to withdraw later. Ten thousand years later, a loredrake presented a new idea. The Daughter of Khyber drew power when the dragons expanded across Eberron. But the Daughter herself was bound to Khyber. What, then, if the dragons spread not across the material plane, but across the outer planes? This impulse led to the creation of a number of outposts in the astral plane, culminating in the great city of Sharokarthel. This is a city built by dragons, for dragons—a city formed from magic and the immateria, unbound by gravity or weather. The dragons of Sharokarthel built arcane workshops and planar orreries, and amassed hoards drawn from across the planes. But ultimately the theory was proven wrong. The Daughter of Khyber couldn’t touch the dragons in Sharokarthel—but as their glory grew, she could corrupt those dragons still on Eberron, and these corrupted servants could carry the fight to the astral city. This led to the second great collapse. The Daughter was defeated once again, but the dragons were forced to abandon Sharokarthel. They didn’t destroy the glorious city, but they laid powerful wards and curses upon it, ensuring that no casual traveler could claim their abandoned glory.

There are a number of draconic ruins in the astral plane, but Sharokarthel is the grandest of them all. It surely holds untold wonders and treasures, but it’s protected by powerful curses and traps. Still, there are surely accounts of those defenses somewhere. Perhaps a human sage might stumble upon a book detailing a secret path into Sharokarthel… or perhaps a young dragon might recruit a group of adventurers to accompany them to the abandoned city, hoping to reclaim some treasure of their ancient ancestors.

Subspace

There are many effects—magnificent mansions, bags of holding, portable holes—that make use of extradimensional spaces. Typically, these are presented as tiny demiplanes, isolated and unconnected; some, such as secret chest, mention the ethereal plane. However, one possibility is that these extradimensional spaces are in fact in the astral plane. A bag of holding can be encountered as a floating force bubble containing objects… while a magnificent mansion is a mansion suspended in the void. If this is the case, someone might be able to find and penetrate those spaces from the outside. Of course, keep in mind that finding a bag of holding in the astral plane would be like finding a bottle dropped into an ocean; the astral plane is potentially infinite. But if a DM follows this route, they could decide that items created with the same technique occupy the same region of the astral plane; that there is a constellation of Cannith bags of holding, a neighborhood of Ghallanda magnificent mansions, or an island formed by the Kundarak Vault network. If this is the case and someone DOES find a way to access any of these things from the outside, it could cause chaos and force the houses to deploy additional security. But it could certainly make for an epic astral heist!

Tu’narath

In their early days in the astral plane, the Githyanki discovered an immense six-fingered hand floating in the void. This severed hand is charged with arcane power, not unlike Eberron dragonshards. The origins of the hand remain a mystery, but the Githyanki recognized it as a useful resource and a suitable foundation for an anchorage. Most Githyanki prefer to dwell in their ships, but Tu’nararath is the port where the city-ships come together, where the Githyanki unload their planar plunder and tell tales of their glorious battles. And should they plan a conquest, it is here that they will mass their forces.

The Githyanki have no love of outsiders; if you want a friendly place to conduct commerce, go to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. However, the Sixth Finger is essentially a foreign quarter where travelers can find shelter and sample some of the wonders the Gith have claimed from across reality. It’s a very rough neighborhood, where you will find exiles, astral prisoners, and worse—but if you’re looking for an astral guide or some exotic planar plunder, you could make a landing at Tu’narath.

PLANAR MANIFESTATIONS

Here are ways that the astral plane can affect the material plane.

Manifest Zones, Coterminous and Remote

The astral plane doesn’t produce manifest zones on the material plane, and it never becomes coterminous or remote. It touches all of the planes at various points. These are visible in the astral plane as color pools and allow travelers to exit the astral plane into the connected region. However, these points are generally imperceptible on the other side of the pool. Identifying the astral point and opening the gate requires magical tools that the people of the Five Nations have yet to master. The three civilizations mentioned earlier—Argonnessen, Aerenal, and the Venomous Demesne—have ways to do this. This could involve a specialized ritual, or it could use an astral key that can open color pools from either side—either linked to a particular pool or potentially able to open any pool-point the adventurers can find. Using such methods, a Chamber agent could open an astral gateway to allow adventurers to escape disaster or to quickly pass between distant points in the material plane. Lacking such magic, the only ways to enter the astral plane are to use plane shift, gate, astral projection, or similar spells. With that said, a DM could always decide that there are circumstances under which unwary travelers can fall into the astral plane. Perhaps there’s a graveyard of ships, a point in the Thunder Sea where under the right circumstances, a maelstrom can draw ships entirely out of reality.

Astral Artifacts

The astral plane produces nothing on its own, and it has no unifying theme. But it is filled with the ruins and remnants of countless civilizations and worlds. Githyanki plunder can provide treasures drawn from across the planes. Ruins and hermitages could provide relics from the past; adventurers could recover titans’ treasures from a Cul’sir outpost, Dhakaani weapons from a floating piece of an Imperial garrison, draconic wonders from the ruins of Sharokarthel. Beyond that there is the possibility for astral explorers to discover tools or resources that truly have no place in this creation. This could be anything from a new form of dragonshard or some other material that simply doesn’t exist on Eberron… to an iron flask holding an entity who comes from a previous iteration or Eberron or another creation entirely.

One uniquely astral tool is the astral key, an object that allows the bearer to open an astral color pool from either side. This allows access to the astral plane, but only from a specific point. Depending on the power of the item, the key could be tied to a single specific point or it could have the power to open any pool the bearer can find. Note that the people of the Five Nations don’t currently possess astral keys; such an item could be a relic of one of the civilizations that has mastered astral travel, or it could be a unique prototype or breakthrough. Despite the name, an astral key could be any shape; it could be a dagger that slices through the veil of reality or a paintbrush they must use to paint a doorway in the air.

Astral Stories

For most creatures, the astral plane is simply the space that lies between the planes. It’s a path to be traveled, not a destination. But there are many ways that it can drive a story on its own. The adventurers might have to pursue a fugitive who’s slipped through a pool point and into a ruin. They could be tasked to explore a region of the astral sea, to bargain with a Githyanki smuggler, or to help a mad scholar who’s determined to reach Sharokarthel. They could acquire an iron flask holding some unknown spirit from a previous world—what will it take to open it, and would it be better left alone? Here’s a few other ideas.

An Ancestor’s Call. An Aereni adventurer is ordered to bring their adventuring companions to Shae Mordai, and from their send to Pylas Var-Tolai. An ascendant councilor—one of their distant ancestors—is conducting experiments in creation, and wants their descendant to test the lands beyond the portal. Is this just coincidence, or does the ascendant councilor know something about their descendent as yet undiscovered by the living?

Storming the Castle. An enemy of the players has built a fortress in the Astral Plane. Using a spell similar to magnificent mansion, they can retreat to their fortress from any location; this allows them to have their evil lair wherever the adventure is taking place. The adventurers could be on a desert island or in a small rustic village, but they’ll still have to pursue the necromancer Demise into her Tower of Death when things go wrong.

The Undiscovered Country. A Morgrave scholar has discovered three astral keys. One opens a pool-point in Sharn, and they want a group of adventurers to help them explore the other side. The pool-point leads to a Cul’sir outpost in the astral plane. Is it abandoned, or are their ancient giants still lingering in this place? Was it just good fortune that the scholar found the keys, or does someone want the adventurers to stumble into the forgotten outpost?

Q&A

This article presents my vision of the astral plane and how I will use it in my Eberron. It surely contradicts various canon sources—Eberron or otherwise—regarding the Astral Plane, and I’m not going to try to reconcile every contradiction; it’s up to the DM to decide how to handle such things in their campaign.

What’s the deal with silver cords and spirit forms?

There are multiple ways to enter the astral plane. It is possible to enter it physically by using plane shift, gate, or by opening a pool portal (using an item like an astral key). In this case, the traveler is physically present and can suffer lasting harm and death. On the other hand, astral projection separates the caster’s spirit from their body and allows them to enter the astral plane as a spirit form tethered to their body by a silver cord. The advantage of this form of travel is that you can’t be permanently harmed while in “astral form”; if you’re reduced to zero hit points, you return to your physical body.

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court typically travel the astral plane in spirit form, which allows them to venture into unknown regions without fear.

What about the psychic wind?

What about it? It’s a dangerous local weather condition that operates just as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

If creatures in the Astral Plane do not age, do some people travel there simply to avoid death? It seems more hospitable than Risia for such a purpose.

Absolutely! I’ve called out a few examples of this—the trio of Seekers in the dragon skull, the prince of Ohr Kaluun. You could have a Khunan archmage, another remnant of a long-forgotten society. Keep in mind that this trait isn’t unique to the astral plane of Eberron; it comes directly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide: Creatures on the Astral Plane don’t age or suffer from hunger or thirst.” So there are certainly hermits who come to the Astral Plane to experience immortality. But there’s a number of reasons why it’s not commonplace.

  • It’s actually easier to reach Risia than it is to physically enter the astral plane. Manifest zones can serve as gateways to Risia; entering the astral requires the use of powerful magic or an astral key. The people of the Five Nations don’t have access to such magic; you can’t just decide to go to the Astral Spa.
  • The Aereni don’t actually want eternal LIFE; they seek spiritual evolution and believe life and death are part of that journey. The ultimate path of the Undying Court is to become an ascendant councilor; they spend most of their time in astral form because they are no longer bound by their physical form and exist as part of the divine gestalt. There are certainly Aereni outposts; I can imagine a tower where an Aereni poet has been working on a particular poem for a century. But for most Aereni, such a retreat would be a temporary measure, not an ideal way to spend eternity. The living elves of Pylas Var-Tolai certainly cycle out every few decades or centuries.
  • The Astral Plane is essentially a vast, vast desert. If you live there you won’t age and you won’t know hunger and thirst; but you’ll also live isolated from all contact with mortal society, in a vast empty void. There are unquestionably people for whom that’s a worthwhile trade, and that’s the point of hermits; if all you want to do is to study conjuration for a thousand years, building an astral workshop is an alternative to becoming a lich. But offered the casual choice, not everyone would be interested in eternal life if it means sacrificing all contact with the world and living in an endless gray void.
  • As noted in the traits, if you spend too much time in the astral plane you actually start to lose track of time—as noted with the giant who doesn’t realize that thousands of years have passed. It’s immortality, certainly, but it does have a psychological price.

So the short form is that there definitely are hermits in the Astral Plane who dwell there because they desire immortality. There’s philosopher dragons, old Sarlonan wizards, a handful of giants. But they’re a few grains of sand in a vast desert; the odds you’ll actually encounter them when you travel in the astral plane are quite low, unless you have some hint as to where their hermitages lie.

That’s all for now! This topic was chosen by my Patreon supporters, and it’s only their support that makes articles like this possible; if you’d like to see more articles like this or have a voice in future topics, follow the link.

Dragonmarks: Arcane Science


Arcane magic is a form of science. There are predictable rules that shape reality, and with proper study and force of will, anyone could potentially perform arcane magic. This is what makes arcane magic the foundation of civilization in the Five Nations: it can be taught, and once learned, it is entirely reliable. Arcane magic involves channeling ambient magical energy—the powers of the planes, the emanations of the Ring of Siberys—and focusing it to alter reality. The components of a spell—like verbal incantations, somatic gestures, and focus items—help this process, but the most important element of spellcasting is mental focus. Though a fighter could perfectly duplicate the words and gestures of a wizard, nothing would happen. You must cast the spell in your mind, harnessing and shaping mystical energy, and this is dangerous and exhausting; this is why most spellcasters are limited in how many spells they can cast each day.

Spellcasting using Intelligence is grounded in knowledge and logic. For these characters, casting a spell is like solving an equation—harnessing and carefully channeling the precise quantity of mystical energy required to produce the effect you’re looking for. A wizard may use words of power and mystic gestures to generate power, while an artificer instead relies on tools. But either way, you fundamentally know what you’re doing, which is why both artificers and wizards can prepare new spells each day. Arcane magic is a science, and you’re a scientist.

Exploring Eberron

The idea that arcane magic is a form of science is a fundamental principle of the Eberron campaign setting. It’s something you see in the everyday magic of Khorvaire in 998 YK. We have airships. There are warforged and sending stones. The streets are lit with continual flame. What’s missing is a clear sense of how we got to this point. Imagine that your group of adventurers travels back in time a thousand years and gets caught up in Galifar’s War of Unification. What sort of magic are people using back then? How has magic CHANGED over the course of a thousand years? We’ve called out a few key developments—the first airships went into service in 990 YK, while the first true warforged were developed thirty years ago. What were other key developments? The streets of Galifar are lit with continual flame… But WHEN did that innovation take place, and what were things like before that?

This is an academic discussion, which is why it hasn’t been covered in detail before. What matters most in 998 YK is how things work in 998 YK. If I’m running a modern-day spy thriller I don’t actually NEED to know the history of electric lighting; I just need to know that there is electric lighting. You might decide to do that time travel adventure, but time travel isn’t an integral part of the campaign, and as a general rule we don’t need to know how magic worked a thousand years ago. But it’s still interesting to consider. Beyond that, understanding how magic has evolved helps us to understand how magic can evolve—what we can expect to see in the future. Beyond this, having a clear sense of the state of magic in Khorvaire helps to understand how magic items and spells fit into the game. The rules tell us, for example, that a broom of flying is an ‘uncommon’ item with a flight speed of 50 feet. But they don’t tell us who—if anyone—makes them in Khorvaire or if they need to look like brooms. Even ‘uncommon’ is primarily a description of how powerful the item is and how expensive it should be, if it can even be purchased; it’s up to us to decide if it’s actually uncommon or if it even exists in the world. People often ask me how to add creatures to the world—Where do tabaxi fit into Eberron? How would you add Illumians?—the exact same principle applies to magic items and spells. The fact that we we have rules for something simply means that we COULD use it in the world; it doesn’t mean that it has to be here.

This is a big topic and it’s going to take three articles to cover it. This article is the most abstract, examining the theory of arcane magic within the world. Later in the month, I’ll write about arcane industry—both the role of magic in general industry, and the industry of magic and magic items. The final article will look at the history of magic in Khorvaire, considering how we got to where we are today and where we could go from here. As always, these articles are kanon—what I’m doing do at MY table, regardless of what’s said or not said in an official book. It’s entirely possible something I say here will contradict some aspect of Magic of Eberron, or something you’ve established in your own campaign, and that’s fine in both cases. Eberron lore is intended to be a source of inspiration, not something that limits you; use what’s inspiring, change what gets in the way.

Threshold’s Wandslinger by Julio Azevedo

Principles of Arcane Science

Arcane magic involves the manipulation of vast, ambient mystical energies that permeate Eberron. These forces are largely omnipresent and invisible, not unlike gravity; they’re fundamental elements of the world, and in the course of time most cultures find some way to harness and manipulate them. Like most forms of science, there are different theories about how this science works, and specifically what force is being manipulated.

SIBERYAN THEORY

Siberyan theory is the dominant arcane tradition of the Five Nations. This asserts that arcane magic taps energies that flow from the Ring of Siberys. This power—sometimes called the blood of Siberys—is the same fundamental force the Progenitors used to shape reality; arcane magic essentially reshapes reality to produce the desired result. Certainly, the blood of Siberys can be used to create a fireball; once upon a time, that same power was used to create THE SUN.

Siberyan magic is in some ways the most scientific approach to magic, and can in a sense be seen as analogous to programming; the wizard is rewriting the code that defines reality. Its invocations are words of power that activate specific energies—fire, vast, distance—while its gestures shape and focus those energies. But ultimately, the forces flow through the spellcaster and it is a mental exertion—both intense calculations and an exertion of will—that generates the change. This explains the various limitations of a wizard, both spell slots and spell level. A wizard can look at a spellbook and understand the theory behind a higher level spell. They can gather the right materials, make the appropriate gestures, say the right words. But if they don’t have enough experience and talent, they can’t perform the mental work required; they understand the concept but they can’t do the work required to produce the result. Meanwhile, spell slots reflect the mental and physical toll of spellcasting. While there is no other effect—spellcasters don’t gain levels of exhaustion from casting spells—the idea is that channeling arcane power takes a toll, and their comes a point where you just don’t have it in you to grasp and shape that power. If your spellcaster is completely out of spell slots, you don’t suffer any penalties, but it still means that you are spent, and that’s something you could choose to work into your roleplaying.

Siberyan theory is the most widespread form of magic, used across the Five Nations and in Aerenal. However, it’s a broad field of magic and there are different techniques within it. The wizards of Aerenal and those of Arcanix both use verbal components that invoke the same, fundamental words of power. However, the Aereni techniques are highly formalized and precise—it’s a highly effective technique, but it takes decades to master. Since most humans don’t have decades, Arcanix helps students develop idiosyncratic techniques—to figure out what resonates with them. This works, but the Aereni find it disturbingly sloppy and haphazard.

The commonly accepted theory is that arcane energy—”the blood of Siberys”—was part of the Progenitors. According to the primal myths, the Ring of Siberys IS Siberys; this energy is simply the residual primordial power of a cosmic entity. This is supported by the fact that siberys dragonshards are highly effective at focusing arcane energies. Many spellcasting focuses use siberys shards in some way; the crystal is obvious, but a staff may have an embedded dragonshard sliver that helps focus power. However, there is an academic faction that asserts that there is no reason to believe that the Progenitors were cosmic dragons or even immortal. These sages believe that the Ring of Siberys might have predated the Progenitors, and that they could have been a trio of mortal wizards of exceptional skill—wizards who used the same basic principles a modern wizard uses to create a fireball to shape a sun. Those who follow this path generally assert that the Sovereigns were either remarkable mortals or that they were simply immortal entities—like the celestials and fiends—created by the mortal Progenitors as part of their vast work. These scholars believe that this shows the limitless potential of arcane magic—that wizards who unlock its greatest secrets could create new worlds or even shape planes of existence.

Siberyan verbal components are grounded in the Draconic language, though there is more to a verbal component than simply speaking in Draconic; ultimately it is about the invocation of words of power that aren’t used in everyday speech. A wizard doesn’t have to understand Draconic to perform magic, but it helps provided deeper insight into the workings of a particular spell.

EXTERNALISTS

The energy of the planes permeates Eberron, and Externalist wizards shape their spells by drawing on this power. Where a Siberyan harnesses ambient energy and shapes that into fire, an Externalist draws primal fire directly from Fernia. The elements of this magic—the components—are similar to those used in Siberyan magic. Words of power summon specific energies and eldritch gestures help to shape those forces, and ultimately it is the mind of the wizard that weaves these elements together and channels the power. But the Externalist asserts that the most effective source of power isn’t the blood of Siberys; it is the energy of the planes.

Primitive Externalist techniques require a direct connection to the planes. Such magic can only be performed in or near a manifest zone or during a coterminous period. This is an important factor in the overall dominance of Siberyan magic; the people of Sarlona discovering that their spells no longer worked in new lands, and developing new approaches. However, the energies of the planes do permeate the world, albeit to a lesser degree… and more important, creatures are themselves tied to the planes. This is most clearly demonstrated when a mortal creature dreams—passing along its innate connection to Dal Quor—but can also be seen in the conscripts of Shavarath and the shadows of Mabar, echoes of mortals in the planes. So sophisticated Externalist wizards don’t require access to manifest zones or gain additional benefits from them (aside from whatever benefit the zone provides to all spellcasters); it’s primarily an academic point that the energy is flowing from an extraplanar source.

Externalist verbal components draw on elements of planar languages; depending on the power being shaped, it could use root syllables from Primordial, Celestial, Abyssal, or even Quori. As with Siberyan theory and Draconic, the spellcaster doesn’t have to understand these languages.

SYMPATHETIC MAGIC

This arcane theory maintains that an effect produced can be magnified; to create a fireball, burn a ball of flammable guano. A secondary aspect is the idea things that have once been in contact maintain a connection—a leaf is still connected to a tree, a lock of hair is still connected to the creature it came from—and magic can flow along this connection. Sympathetic magic still relies on words of power for its verbal components, but its material and somatic components are often quite different from the preceding techniques; rather than tracing sigils in the air, a sympathist wizard might light a match to produce a fire bolt, or plunge a needle into a wax figure to cast crown of madness.

Sympathetic magic isn’t taught at Arcanix. It’s generally seen as a primitive form of Siberyan magic—that the wizard is channeling the Siberyan energy, but using the sympathetic focus as an alternative to the more complex Siberyan techniques. This is effective, but not as versatile; it relies on the ability to create a sympathetic construct of the desired result. As a result, sympathetic magic is often found used by self-taught “hedge mages” or clans or tribes that have stumbled onto these techniques in isolation. Again, they are effective, but practitioners may be limited in their range of spells or ability to incorporate new ideas.

A second form of sympathetic magic is tied to the magical thinking approach to artifice mentioned in Exploring Eberron. Rather than being a different approach to Siberyan magic, magical thinking is actually a form of Externalist magic that draws on the power of Thelanis to temporarily enforce fey logic on reality. The main thing is that this is more often associated with warlocks and sorcerers than with wizards. As a warlock or sorcerer, a character knows a specific trick that always works. A wizard has the ability to change out their spells and to learn from other wizards. Does that seem plausible with this character? Or would they be better represented as a warlock?

Verbal components in sympathetic magic vary based on the powers being wielded. A fundamentally Siberyan approach may use Draconic syllables, even if the caster has just stumbled upon the sounds that produce effective results. Magical thinking could use Sylvan phrases. On the other hand, sympathetic magic can also involve a chant or a poem describing the desired outcome; essentially, it’s a longer and less efficient process that combining three syllables of power, but it’s something someone can stumble onto even when they don’t know those syllables of power.

DOMINION THEORY

Dominion theory walks the line between arcane and divine magic. It has some broad overlap with Siberyan magic, using word and gesture to channel ambient arcane power. However, it asserts that all magic flows directly from the Sovereigns. It is still approached in a scientific manner; the difference between the Vassal cleric and the Dominion wizard is that the cleric asks the Sovereigns to grant a miracle, while the wizard employs formulas that let them draw on the fires of Onatar’s forge or Aureon’s law. The Dominion wizard doesn’t need faith in the same way that a cleric does, which is why their spells are cast using Intelligence instead of Wisdom. But if they see arcane magic as manipulating the pieces of a great machine, they believe that the Sovereigns ARE that machine, and their verbal components generally invoke one or more of the Sovereigns by name. So they don’t REQUIRE faith—but they still have it.

Dominion theorists can be found in the Five Nations, even in Arcanix. However, this theory is usually dismissed as superstition by both Siberyan mages, who say that Dominion spellcasters are simply drawing on Siberyan power and adding unnecessary ritual. While the Sovereign Host is the dominant faith of the Five Nations, the standard vassal tradition incorporates the myth of the Progenitors. Siberyan vassals believe that Aureon (or the Shadow) guides those who use magic, but that Aureon isn’t actually the SOURCE of magic… That Aureon can show the wizard how to create fire with a spell, but that the fire isn’t drawn directly from Onatar’s forge. So many wizards are also faithful vassals; Dominion theory is an unusual extreme.

OTHER TRADITIONS

Siberyan theory is the dominant tradition of the Five Nations. Externalism has significant support and is a respected tradition. Sympathetic and Dominion techniques are fringe techniques, more often found in isolation. But there are many other theories. Here’s just a few…

  • Consensualists say that belief is the source of arcane magic; like Dominion wizards they manipulate that power in a scientific fashion, but they maintain that magic works as it does because people believe in that system—and that it’s possible that a paradigm shift in belief could completely change the laws of magic.
  • Pact magic is an offshoot of Externalism, drawing power not from a plane, but rather from a specific entity (such as an archfey or an overlord). Typically this is associated with warlocks, who are granted the ability to cast specific spells; but it’s possible that a powerful entity could grant a wizard more general access to their power. Like Dominion wizards, Pact wizards will generally call out the source of their power in their invocations.
  • Animists work with spirits, often fey, elementals, or ghosts; an animist might have a minor fire elemental that manifests when called on in the form of fire bolt or burning hands. However, animists are often sorcerers as opposed to wizards; again, the question is whether the animist with burning hands can swap that out for a new spell, or if they only know a few tricks—whether they are using science, or whether they’ve just made friends with an elemental.
  • Prophets are one of the most obscure traditions; they maintain that the Draconic Prophecy is essentially the source code of reality, and while they may not be able to see the big picture they can effect immediate changes by effectively rewriting the present. Again, this is a very rare path well suited to the Scribe wizard presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. If a DM introduces this into a campaign, they’ll need to decide if this form of magic is despised by the Chamber, who see Prophets as parasites on the Prophecy—or whether, in fact, the Chamber CREATED this style of magic and teaches it to their agents.
  • Silver Pyromancers fall between Dominion Theory and Externalists. They draw their arcane power from the concrete source of the Silver Flame, but this isn’t an easy thing to do. The Flame responds more easily to the draw of faith than to scientific manipulation, and Silver Pyromancers generally need both; they manipulate the Flame using scientific principles, but it is still their faith that allows them to grasp the power to begin with.

Most “respectable” arcane scholars focus on the ultimate source of power—as such, sympathetic magic is generally seen as a Siberyan technique, while magical thinking is Externalist.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

All of this may sound interesting, but what does it actually mean? What difference does it make whether YOUR wizard is a Siberyan or an Externalist? At the end of the day, not much. These aren’t class archetypes; you can be an evoker or an illusionist regardless of whether you’re relying on Dominion Theory or Siberyan. More important, under the core, basic rules your Siberyan wizard can copy a spell from the spellbook of a Dominion wizard; you’re able to adapt the principles of their spell to your preferred style of magic.

However, there’s a number of important things to consider here. The first is that it’s always been a basic, core principle of Eberron that player characters are remarkable and that most NPCs don’t have the abilities of player characters. Most arcane spellcasters aren’t wizards; they are variations of magewright. I’ll talk more about this below, but the key principle of this is that just because your player character can copy a spell from an NPC’s spellbook doesn’t mean that an NPC can. Most magewrights don’t even USE spellbooks; they spend years learning to cast a single ritual. The idea that a PC wizard can just grab someone’s spellbook and say “Mmhhm, mhhm, I see what you’re doing there, yes, I can do that” is supposed to reflect an exceptional aptitude for arcane science. So with that in mind…

  • A PLAYER CHARACTER who sees themselves as an Externalist may be able to scribe a Siberyan spell, because again, they’re so sharp they can just translate it to their style of magic. But an NPC Sibeyrian mage may not be able to copy any spells from the PC’s spellbook; it’s another style of magic. If a DM wants to add more weight to this, they could require the PC to make an Intelligence (Arcana) check (say, DC 8 + twice the spell’s level) to convert it; if they fail the check they need to keep studying, and can try to scribe it again after completing a long rest.
  • The above principle ties to the basic idea that when dealing with NPCs who DO have spellbooks, an NPC wizard might have a narrow focus. The Sulatar drow wizard may have spells entirely related to fire. In THEORY they could learn a spell that generates cold damage, and in theory a Sulatar could become a diviner; but in practice they’re almost always evokers and conjurers and they’ve never developed any spells associated with cold.
  • A DM may decide that non-player characters require spellcasting focuses to perform their magic—that a particular Siberyan NPC can’t cast spells unless they have a Siberys crystal focus, or that a Sympathetic wizard needs their component pouch to perform magic. A wandslinger may need a wand to perform a cantrip.
  • Likewise, while an Externalist or Sympathetic wizard PC can learn any spell and cast anywhere, a DM could say that an Externalist NPC can’t cast spells beyond their particular sphere of influence or that a Sympathetic wizard can’t cast spells unless they’ve met certain sympathetic conditions. For example, you could have a powerful sympathetic NPC mage who can cast bane, bestow curse, or dominate monster… but only if they have a hair, tooth, or nail from their target. PLAYER CHARACTERS are remarkable and can overcome these limitations. But NPCs may be working with more limited or primitive traditions and deal with limitations player characters don’t have.
  • The flip side of this, of course, is that NPCs may be able to produce effects player characters can’t, precisely because they are deeply specialized. In Rising From The Last War we mention that a magewright oracle may be able to cast a form of augury that can look a week into the future. Perhaps the sympathist needs a lock of hair from their victim… but can cast bestow curse on that victim from across town. Again, this plays to the idea that player characters are incredibly flexible—but that NPCs may be deeply specialized in ways that PCs just don’t have the time to master.

So the main point is that “Siberyan” and “Externalist” aren’t concepts that have a concrete mechanical effect. They’re things that can add flavor to a story—whether a wizard calls out the Draconic name of fire and trace a sigil in the air when they cast fire bolt, or whether they strike a match and command their victim to burn! You don’t HAVE to do anything with any of this; it all means exactly as much—or as little—as you want it to.

Wizards and Artificers, Magewrights and Wandslingers

The idea of “Arcane Science” primarily applies to wizards and artificers: Intelligence-based spellcasters whose flexibility reflects their ability to apply scientific principles in new ways. Sorcerers and warlocks may manipulate the same forms of energy, but at the end of the the day they don’t truly understand what they’re doing and are limited in the effects they can produce. A sorcerer has an innate aptitude for specific effects, while a warlock is either taught specific spells or granted supernatural powers by their patron; but two warlocks can’t trade spellbooks and learn each other’s spells. Given that, let’s take a look at the different characters who do use these scientific techniques.

WIZARDS

Whatever your preferred source, the fact of the matter is that there is an invisible, fundamental force that suffuses Eberron—a power that can be harnessed to reshape reality. A sailor harnesses the wind and water. A smith works with earth and fire. As a wizard you channel the fifth element, bending reality to your will.

The basic point of Eberron is that the people of Khorvaire know this power exists and have harnessed it to help in their everyday lives. But most people can’t master more than a few spells. It takes years for a magewright to learn the spells that define their trade; the arcane locksmith can’t just spend an evening reading a book and wake up as a lamplighter. At the end of the day, this is because the magewright has only learned how to cast their few spells; they don’t truly understand the deep principles beneath them. It is this deeper understanding combined with remarkable talent that gives a wizard their full flexibility. A magewright has learned to play a few songs on the piano; a wizard is Mozart or Beethoven, able to envision new symphonies.

With that said, perhaps that’s not how you see your character… and that’s fine. As a wizard you possess talents and flexibility other spellcasters don’t… but that doesn’t mean you fully appreciate your own talent. And let’s face it, at first level you ARE quite limited in your capabilities. It’s remarkable that you CAN copy any spell from a spellbook you find, but at the moment you can only CAST first level spells, and you haven’t found a how lot of spellbooks. So perhaps your evoker operated arcane artillery in the war, or your diviner planned to make a living as an oracle. Here we even hit the limits of the wizard: Magewrights lack flexibility, but they are very good at those few things they do. As a player character, your diviner wizard isn’t quite as good at augury as the magewright oracle; you just can’t seem to push beyond that 30 minute window. So your character could even see themselves as a failure… because you haven’t yet had the experiences that will reveal your amazing potential.

So that’s certainly something to consider in making your wizard. Do you know you’re better than a magewright, or will you be surprised by your limitless potential? Do you believe that you’re a prodigy, or did you expect to be a simple magewright? Do you love exploring the mysteries of arcane science… or is it just that you happen to be remarkably gifted, though you yourself don’t really appreciate how gifted you are? Here’s a few ways to approach a wizard…

  • The Wandslinger. You are an arcane engine of destruction. You take pride in your ability to wield fire and lightning, and you may be as aggressive as any fighter; after all, they can only wield steel, while you have a weapon with unlimited potential. A wandslinging wizard could have the soldier background reflecting a distinguished military career even before unlocking your true power.
  • The Scholar. It could be that you love the idea of magic and you’re fascinated with its potential, but you never particularly expected to, you know, USE IT to blast enemies with fire. This is a way to reflect an older, experienced character starting at first level: you may have been STUDYING magic for decades, but you never actually used it it battle until now and you’re only just learning how to put your abstract knowledge to practical use. So where the Wandslinger struts and is proud of their power, the Scholar might actually be continuously surprised and delighted when they cast a new spell for the first time or defeat an enemy. Sage is a logical background for such a character, but guild artisan also makes sense for the wage mage who thought they were going to be a simple magewright.
  • The Artist. Magic is an invisible force with limitless potential. The Wandslinger sees it as a weapon. The Scholar recognizes it as an invaluable tool. The Artist sees that it is beautiful. They see the wonder of magic, and take joy in the casting of a spell as another might delight in a dance. It could be that the Artist actually seeks to use their magic to entertain; an Illusionist with the entertainer background may already have a following for their remarkable performances (and may have ties to House Phiarlan). Or it could be that they’ve used their magic in battle, but they still delight in the artistry of it; this is a possible path for a Bladesinger. The key point with the Artist is that they may understand the science of magic—but they still take joy in the wonder of it.
  • The Acolyte. Dominion theory teaches that arcane magic is Aureon’s gift. The Acolyte understands the science of it, and they work their wonders with intellect rather than with the sheer force of their faith. But they still believe that the powers they wield are both a gift of the Sovereigns and evidence of their benevolence, and they seek to use these powers as a true servant of the Sovereigns: protecting the weak in Boldrei’s name, enforcing Aureon’s laws, and bringing the light of Dol Arrah to the darkness. Alternately, you could be a Silver Pyromancer, using your faith to weave spells from the Silver Flame. Either way, this is a path for an acolyte or hermit.

ARTIFICERS

Magic is an invisible force that’s all around us. A wizard grasps the power directly, binding it with word and gesture. But it takes deep training even to become a magewright, let alone a wizard… and that’s why we have magic items, tools that can allow anyone to benefit from the power of magic. And a world that relies on magic items needs people to create and repair them—engineers and inventors, the people who develop and maintain the infrastructure that drives modern civilization.

A central difference between an artificer and a wizard is that the artificer uses tools. They use tools both to produce magical effects, and also imbue tools with magical power. The wizard molds magic with word and gesture alone; the artificer creates a wand or potion. Part of the point is that that as a player character, an artificer is capable of jury-rigging temporary versions of the reliable tools we see every day. A wand or a potion is a completed, stable tool. But when an Alchemist artificer uses their alchemist’s tools to cast fire bolt, they may be whipping up an instant, unstable potion. An Artillerist essentially creates a temporary wand, something that only works for them. So in the Artillerist we see the science of the wand at work, and in the alchemist we see the potion. One path of established arcane science that doesn’t yet have an archetype is that of sigilry, the science of scrolls. This is what you see in an artificer who uses calligrapher’s tools as a spellcasting focus; their spells are produced by enscribing mystic symbols, it’s just that it takes more effort to stabilize that power into the final form of a spell scroll.

Page 29 of Exploring Eberron discusses a few traditions of artifice, and these overlap with the broader arcane theories. Cannith Traditional is essentially Siberyan theory: a set of established principles, creating items that draw on the ambient energy of the Ring of Siberys. Planar Influences relates to the Externalist Theory, while Magical Thinking is likely drawing specifically on Xoriat, Thelanis, or perhaps Dal Quor. An Actual Science artificer may be pioneering something entirely new. And this ties to the same point as the wizard: as a player character, an artificer is remarkable. NPCs who perform artifice are functionally magewrights: they may be able to create a specific type of potion or maintain cleansing stones. The Cannith tinker can perform magecraft and mending. But as an artificer you’re not just a a magical electrician: you’re Tesla, or Tony Stark. You are brilliant and unorthodox, and the methods you use—whether you’re creating a temporary infusion or a permanent item, whether or not you recognize your full talent and potential—are a product of your own unique genius. I’ll talk more about this in the discussion of Arcane Industry, but the crucial point is that just because your artificer can do something doesn’t mean that normal people can do it, or that your techniques could be translated to mass production. You’re the genius in your garage, making a working palantir out of coconuts and lint; it MIGHT be possible to translate that idea into a viable product, but it’s not a trivial thing.

Exploring Eberron examines different possible paths for artificer characters, so you can find more ideas there.

MAGES, MAGEWRIGHTS, AND ARTIFICERS

What we’ve said from the start is that most spellcasters aren’t wizards and clerics—they’re magewrights and adepts. The idea of arcane science is that it IS A SCIENCE. It’s a rational, reliable tool, which means that anyone has the potential to master it with sufficient time and training. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can become a wizard or an artificer. Anyone can learn to play the piano, but not everyone can be Mozart. Magewrights devote themselves to mastering specific spells. This devotion pays off in various ways. Magewrights don’t need spellbooks. They cast spells as rituals, even spells that don’t normally have the ritual tag; the drawback is that aside from cantrips, they can ONLY cast spells as rituals. And, as noted, they may be able to cast enhanced versions of spells, such as the augury that can predict events farther in advance. The player character wizards is a brilliant jack of all trades; the magewright is a master of a very specific set of skills.

The NPC wandslinger falls into a similar mold. A typical wandslinger essentially has the benefits of the Magic Initiate feat: they know a few cantrips—usually combat-oriented—and may be able to cast one or two low-level spells on top of that, surprising an opponent with burning hands or a shield. Generally, an NPC wandslinger needs an arcane focus to cast spells or cantrips; again, they are more limited than PCs. This training and techniques have become more common in the wake of the Last War, but they are still more limited than player characters.

But what about NPCs who ARE better than wandslingers or magewrights? What’s the point of a wizard being able to copy new spells from a spellbook if NPCs don’t use spellbooks? First of all, just because MOST NPCs don’t have the power of a player character doesn’t mean that NONE do. The Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide has stat blocks for NPCs with full caster abilities. The point is simply that anyone who has the full abilities of a PC is a remarkable individual. Such people make worthy rivals and foes for PCs; the point is just to recognize that they, too, are remarkable, not common.

And finally there is room for that middle ground: People who have powers far beyond the typical magewright, but who don’t have the full capabilities of a PC class. A professor at Arcanix may have the ability to cast cloudkill. Another may be able to cast summon fiend—but only as a ritual, and with a far greater component cost. Even looking to the NPC caster blocks, you might say that there’s an NPC evoker, and that they do prepare spells from a spellbook—but that, like the Sulatar I mentioned before, they can’t prepare spells that deal with cold or lightning. They have many of the abilities of a PC, but they are still fundamentally limited; they don’t have the flexibility or broad genius of a player character. In my campaign, I call such characters mages. They can have significant POWER, and may actually be able to do things PCs can’t—but they still don’t have the full flexibility of a wizard or artificer.

Q&A

Why is Siberyan Theory the dominant theory? Wouldn’t Aerenal or Karrnath rely on Externalist magic because of their use of Irian or Mabaran manifest zones?

There’s a few things to consider here. The first is that many arcane traditions evolve in isolation. Externalist magic is easier than Siberyan magic if you’re drawing on one specific form of magic. So for example, there were SURELY Externalist necromancers in pre-Galifar Karrnath, because all that Mabaran power is right their waiting to be used. The problem is that you can’t use that Mabaran energy to light a fire or to generate light at all… And further, if you’ve based your system of magic off easy access to that manifest zone, when you go somewhere else you suddenly don’t have that power and your magic doesn’t work. Siberyan energy is universal—it pervades Eberron—and can be used to produce any sort of effect, whether it’s animating the dead, creating a fireball, or generating light. So essentially, it is more reliable and versatile, and thus more widespread. Now, what I’ve suggested is that if you want to PLAY an Externalist wizard, you can say that you’re using more advanced Externalist techniques that draw on residual planar energies or on your personal connection to a plane and thus you don’t lose your magic when you’re not by a manifest zone. But the point is that the more basic forms of Externalist magic DO have those limitations, while Siberyan magic doesn’t.

However, there’s a second point: manifest zones don’t care what kind of magic you’re using. As called out in Exploring Eberron, many manifest zones enhance a particular form of magic. It’s easier to animate the dead in a Mabaran manifest zone, regardless of whether you’re a wizard, a sorcerer, or a cleric. An Externalist draws ALL of their power from the planes; but a Siberyan wizard—or a divine spellcaster, or a warlock—will all still find their abilities enhanced by the energies of the manifest zone. So looking to Aerenal, their overall tradition of magic is Siberyan, but their traditions are also tied to unique rituals that are only possible because of the Irian zones. Their tradition isn’t based on Irian; it just incorporates it. Likewise, modern Karrnathi necromancers rely on Mabaran manifest zones and have created rituals that can only be performed in those zones, but that doesn’t mean that their overall tradition is Externalist; it’s largely Siberyan, with certain rituals that rely on an additional infusion of Mabaran energy.

That’s all for now, and again: this is what I do in my campaign, and if you don’t like it, don’t use it! Arcane Industry and Arcane History will come later in the month. And thank you as always to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic: articles like this take a lot of time, and I simply couldn’t afford to spend that much time on this without your support. The Wandslinger image above is one of the player characters in my Threshold campaign, which will be starting later this month; thanks against to those of you who have been supporting and participating in that!