At the dawn of creation, the blood of Siberys rained down upon the surface of Eberron, blending the essence of the two Progenitors. This union produced the first dragons. While mortal, they were infused with the mystical power of the Dragon Above; magic is as much a part of a dragon as blood or scale. When Siberys’s blood struck the high mountain peaks, the silver dragons were born. Where it struck the desert, brass dragons emerged from the sand. Where it fell into the oceans, bronze dragons emerged from the water. These glittering dragons were echoes of the perfection of the Progenitors. But they weren’t alone. Foul Khyber was bound beneath Eberron, and as the blood of Siberys soaked down into the soil, the influence of Khyber rose up. And so a second wave of dragons were born… still the children of Siberys and Eberron, yes, but touched by the essence of Khyber. Instead of the beautiful metallic scales of the first generation, these younger dragons had scales of flat, base colors—a visible sign of their weakness of body and spirit.
This is the bitter truth of our chromatic cousins: they carry the legacy of Khyber in their blood and on their scales. Consider the favored form of the Daughter of Khyber. Consider how much stronger her influence is over these dragons than we pure metallics—something seen even in the best of times in their aggressive temperaments and sharp tongues. We cannot blame our cousins for this weakness; we can only pity them, and be even vigilant lest they fall prey to their baser nature.-The Loredrake Ourenilach
When creating Eberron, we made a conscious decision to take new approaches to many well known monsters. Eberron has honorable gnolls and the orcs protect the world from demons and daelkyr. Halfling barbarians ride dinosaurs. Giants aren’t tied to the Ordning. As for dragons, the Eberron Campaign Setting says “Dragons come in all alignments; it is as common to encounter a good red dragon as it is an evil gold dragon. Usually, dragons aren’t monsters in the typical D&D sense; heroes won’t barge into a dragon’s lair looking to plunder its treasure. Instead, dragons are either aloof and unapproachable, or they are curious and manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes or trying to influence the world and the Prophecy in arcane ways.”
In this article, I want to address a number of questions about dragons. Do dragons in Eberron have the same personalities assigned to the colors in the Monster Manual? If not, what are the meaningful differences between chromatic and metallic dragons? What inspiration can I use for quick draconic encounters? Do all dragon follow the Thir faith? For more on dragons, I previously answered some questions tied to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons in this article; meanwhile, this article looks at why dragons usually aren’t our friends. This topic was proposed on my Patreon and addresses questions raised by patrons; check it out here if you want to influence future articles!
METALLIC AND CHROMATIC
In the default lore of Dungeons & Dragons, metallic dragons are the virtuous scions of Bahamut while chromatic dragons are the evil spawn of Tiamat. Beyond alignment, this is reflected in their regional effects and lair actions; Silver dragons generate zephyr winds around their lairs that gently catch innocent people who fall in the mountains, while blue dragons produce endless storms and malevolent dust devils. In fifth edition, black dragons aren’t just described as being evil, they FEEL evil, fouling nearby water supplies and inducing despair in the creatures around their lairs. But Eberron strips this away; you’re as likely to encounter a good red dragon as you are an evil gold. If that’s the case, why even have the distinction? What’s the meaningful difference between a black dragon and a copper dragon?
In Eberron, draconic alignment and behavior are a matter of choice. But lair actions and regional effects are biological, determined by the color of the dragon. A powerful blue dragon may choose to be heroic, but it’s still going to generate fierce thunderstorms anywhere it settles. A powerful black dragon fouls water sources regardless of the dragon’s alignment. Overall, the practical fact is that chromatic dragons shape the environment in ways that feel malevolent, while metallics typically have more positive effects. Among the dragons themselves, this is attributed to the influence of Siberys and Khyber. As presented by the loredrake Ourenilach at the start of this article, many dragons believe that the metallic dragons are the pure children of Siberys and Eberron—while the chromatic dragons are fundamentally corrupted by the touch of Khyber. Proponents of this theory point to the malign regional effects as evidence of this. And while any dragon CAN fall prey to the influence of the fiendish overlord known as the Daughter of Khyber, chromatic dragons are more susceptible to her influence; likewise, their eggs are more easily corrupted to create Spawn of Tiamat.
So black dragons DO foul water and generate entangling undergrowth. But that’s just part of being a black dragon, not the result of any actual malevolence of the dragon. It’s likely one reason Vvaraak chose the Shadow Marches as her beachhead in Khorvaire rather than the Towering Wood: as a powerful black dragon, she had less of an impact on the environment by settling in an existing swamp. It’s worth noting that only legendary dragons produce environmental effects… and this in turn is a reason for the Chamber to use younger dragons as its undercover operatives. If a powerful blue dragon settles in Sharn, the city will be lashed by powerful storms and plagued by dust devils.
A side effect of this is that there often ARE more evil chromatic dragons than evil metallic dragons—because being a chromatic dragon is HARDER than being a metallic dragon, and it can take a toll on the psyche of the dragon. As a blue dragon it can be depressing living under constant storm clouds, and those dust devils are kind of like draconic lice. Meanwhile, everyone loves Shiny the Silver and their life-saving zephyrs. So this can contribute to chromatic dragons being more likely to be angry or cruel than their metallic cousins. But most shrug this off… and as we see with Vvaraak, Ourelonastrix and Dulahrahnak, chromatic dragons can be champions.
While only legendary dragons produce full six-mile radius environmental effects, most older dragons generate these effects to some degree; they are a reflection of the raw arcane power of the dragon. Within Argonnessen, these effects have been harnessed in many ways. Storm spikes catch lightning and store it as arcane energy; you’ll find these spikes anywhere powerful blue dragons dwell. Gold dragons often act as dream guides, and it was a team of gold dragons that created the epic Draconic Eidolon in Dal Quor. Meanwhile, communities that support black dragons use powerful cleansing stones to maintain pure water supplies; it’s quite possible that a Chamber agent helped the architects of Sharn develop the water purification systems of the city precisely so they wouldn’t be fouled by a resident black dragon.
When thinking about a personality for a dragon from Argonnessen, consider the archetypes presented in Dragons of Eberron. The religion of Thir maintains that dragons have the potential to ascend and become divine beings—to become the Sovereigns, governing reality until a new aspirant takes on the mantle. Even if a dragon isn’t striving to become a Sovereign, the archetypes still offer a clear path in life. And an archetype can be an easy way to give a dragon goals. Most dragons may not care about amassing wealth, but a Master of the Hoard is defined by their treasures. A Loredrake is always interested in arcane knowledge. So, consider the following…
- A Child of Eberron may seek to protect the natural world and its creatures, as Vvaraak did. They might seek to cultivate a region—maintaining a vast preserve or zoolological garden in Xen’drik or Argonnessen. Or they could follow the path of the Devourer, embodying the destructive power of nature. Imagine a legendary storm that manifests in Khorvaire every year and moves along a particular path… but when they are caught in the storm, the adventurers discover that there is an ancient blue dragon at the heart of it.
- The Flames of the Forge are artists and artisans. Within Argonnessen, these dragons create eldritch machines and epic wonders. But perhaps there is a Prometheus like dragon who is leaking secrets of artifice to lesser creatures… or who simply enjoys watching the younger species pursue knowledge. Such a dragon might take a particular interest in an artificer adventurer whom they see as the genius of the age. Or perhaps the adventurers stumble into the workshop lair of a rogue Flame of the Forge who died centuries ago… but who left behind a lair filled with eldritch tools and deadly traps. Do you want to introduce a construct that has no logical place in the region? Perhaps it escaped from that abandoned dragon’s forge…
- Fortune’s Fangs are social dragons who enjoy traveling and seeing the world. Many serve as spies for the Chamber or help to push particular paths of the Prophecy. But they might also become patrons of the arts, amused by the work of the younger races (“If you set a ten thousand humans writing, eventually one might produce the works of Shakespearatryx.”). Others simply want adventures of their own—seeking there own excitement in Xen’drik, the Mournlands, or other dangerous places where their actions won’t impact the younger species.
- Guides of the Weak likewise often serve as spies for the Chamber, subtly helping communities of humanoids. When they go bad, this is where you could have a rogue dragon who sets themselves up as a tyrant over a small, isolated community. Typically dragons get these impulses out in the safe space of the Vast of Argonnessen; among other things, embracing tyranny opens a door for the Daughter of Khyber. But a young dragon might defy tradition and ignore the risks… which could then lead to their becoming a servant of the overlord.
- Lightkeepers enforce order within Argonnessen, and who fight the cults of the Daughter of Khyber that emerge there. They are usually quite strict about not interfering with the younger species, but there are a few hidden among humanity and the other species. Keep in mind that the terms of the Prophecy often require humanoids to solve their own problems; a dragon might be able to defeat a particular villain easily, but they need to push the adventurers to do it themselves.
- Loredrakes are the scholars and arcane researchers of Argonnessen. Most work within Argonnessen, as both sages and scientists. Loredrakes are the most ardent students of the Prophecy. But the pursuit of knowledge can lead to villains such as Zenobaal or lesser rogues—those who follow the path of the Shadow and research paths of magic forbidden by the Conclave of Argonnessen. Such things might not even be directly relevant to adventurers; a loredrake’s work could be SO esoteric that a common wizard can’t even understand it. On the other hand, it could be that a group of adventurers who stumble into a Loredrake’s lair could recover a spellshard holding a civilization-changing secret—how to mystically split the atom, for example. Imagine Stranger Things, but instead of it being the government running experiments on the edge of town, it’s a rogue loredrake experimenting on mortals beneath it. It all goes smoothly until they somehow open a portal into Xoriat. The adventurers must deal with both the creatures that have come through the portal, the innocent subjects of the dragon’s experiments, and ultimately a dragon twisted by exposure to Xoriat.
- Looking for a dragon with a trove of treasure? The Master of the Hoard is just what you need. A Hoarder might get involved in commerce within a particular town, using the younger species to play out its archetypal role. Or it could be obsessed with collecting something in particular—like the default black dragon in the Monster Manual who “collects the wreckage and treasures of fallen peoples.” Such a dragon could be entirely harmless if left alone; it only wishes to enjoy its hoard and acquire all of its treasures through legitimate trade. But it could be the adventurers have a desperate need for one of the treasures in the dragon’s hoard; can they bargain with the Master of the Hoard or will they attempt theft? Beyond this, dragons can be driven by greed just as humans are. I could see reenacting Beowulf or the story of Smaug in a remote part of the Lhazaar Principalities, with a young dragon laying claim to the vast wealthy acquired by a greedy prince.
- Dragons of Eberron presents Passion’s Flame in a relatively negative light, focusing solely on the aspect of the Fury. I think it can be more broadly expanded to fill the same role as the Three Faces of Love in Khorvaire. Within draconic society, Passion’s Flames serve as matchmakers, midwives, and entertainers—helping to bring dragons together. Passion’s Flames organize festivals and celebrations, much like Cazhaak priests of the Fury. Those encountered beyond Argonnessen can be on the wilder side—unconventional artists who use humanoids as their medium, rogue prophets with wild visions—but I also envision Passion’s Flames within the Chamber as specialists who understand how to manipulate humanoid emotions. For example, if the Prophecy requires Prince Oargev to fall in love with a particular person, it would be a Passion’s Flame who would study the situation and try to create a path that would bring those two crazy kids together.
- Stalking Wyrms seek challenging prey and as such rarely spend much time among humanoids. But adventurers in Xen’drik could accidentally come between a Stalker and her prey, or be themselves pursued by a rogue Stalker who considers them worthy of a hunt.
- Like Lightbringers, Wyrms of War usually serve the Conclave or the Light of Siberys. But as I’ve suggested with the Flames of the Forge, a Wyrm of War might find some pleasure in training the finest warriors of the younger species, or in observing their battles without interfering. A rogue Wyrm of War could spar with an agent of Rak Tulkhesh, playing a game of Conqueror with living pawns… though such a dragon would be in dire risk of being corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber.
USING THE MONSTER MANUAL…
A patron observed that because Eberron’s dragons throw out the good and evil stereotypes presented in the Monster Manual, it can be difficult to use existing adventures or material. I sympathize with this in principle. You’re in a hurry, you like the description of the black dragon in the Monster Manual, and you just want to throw it in an adventure… but are you somehow breaking Eberron by doing it? Well, there’s a place for everything in Eberron. The gnolls of the Znir Pact defy the gnoll lore of the Monster Manual, but you can apply that lore to the gnolls who are still bound to one of the overlords.. Looking back to the ECS, it said that USUALLY dragons aren’t monsters in the typical sense; they are masterminds and manipulators, scholars and observers. But if you just want to have a black dragon sitting on a hoard in a swamp? There’s a few ways to handle this.
The Monster Manual provides a lot of flavor for different types of dragon. According to the MM, black dragons “collect the wreckage and treasures of fallen peoples. These dragons loathe seeing the weak prosper and revel in the collapse of humanoid kingdoms. They make their homes in fetid swamps and crumbling ruins where kingdoms once stood.” A black dragon “lives to watch its prey beg for mercy, and will often offer the illusion of respite or escape before finishing off its enemies.” In Eberron, this definitely doesn’t apply to ALL black dragons. But it could be true of a particular black dragon. While we’ve only named a few in canon, there are supposed to be rogue dragons who have spawned terrifying legends throughout history. You could use this to explain the Monster Manual lore—to say that that lore is taken from an in-world draconomicon that asserts that all black dragons are cruel and all blue dragons are tyrants based on the actions of individual rogue dragons encountered in history. So, to make up a few rogues…
- Hazcoranar the Gravedigger is a black dragon and a Master of the Hoard. He is infamous for appearing after horrific battles and looting the corpses of the dead—adding to his hoard of treasures from fallen or falling humanoid civilizations. Aside from the treasures of Galifar, he has gathered artifacts from the Empire of Dhakaan, the Cul’sir Dominion, and the pre-Sundering kingdoms of Sarlona. In tales he often appears at the end of a battle, finishing off dying survivors (and enjoying their pleas for mercy) but his title of the Gravedigger comes from the fact that he has desecrated and stolen from a number of great tombs.
- Prince Golan Thunder was an elf prince of Stormkeep, a domain in the mainland Lhazaar Principality. He was a tyrant who maintained power through an alliance with a blue dragon who dwelt in the mountains above the Principality, who destroyed anyone who challenged him. While Stormkeep was a small domain, Golan built it up in remarkable ways, recruiting exceptional mercenary soldiers, a court wizard, fine artists—playing to the blue dragon stereotype of wanting exceptional minions. In fact, Golan WAS the dragon—Golantyx the Thunderer, a tyrannical Guide of the Weak. He ruled for over a century, but he eventually fell prey to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber and sought to conquer the surrounding principalities. One of the champions of the age (perhaps Harryn Stormblade) challenged the tyrant, first in elf form and then as a dragon, and Golantyx was forced to abandon his domain.
- Why is the Dragonwood of Breland called “The Dragonwood”? Because of Mazalaryn, known variously as the Viper Queen and the Wyrm of the Woods. This green dragon appeared during the reign of Galifar the Dark and announced her claim to what was then called the Daggerwood. She would often appear in human guise at the galas of neighboring nobles. For a time, she demanded a strange tribute from neighboring nobles—every 25 years, each family had to send a champion into the woods to find her lair, dealing with the countless hazards in the forest maze. If a champion survived the challenge, she would advise the family for the next 25 years; if a family refused to participate, she would raid their holdings in dragon form. Over time, she created a culture driven by vicious vendettas and the use of poison, and the ir’Calan line was completed wiped out in these feuds. Templars and other champions often entered the Dragonwood to slay the Viper Queen; few ever returned from the woods. It’s possible that Mazalaryn is a rogue who is simply playing with humanoids as if they were toys. Or it may be that she’s an agent of the Chamber who is carefully setting up paths of the Prophecy. It could be that she’s still active today, or it may have been a century since she’s been seen. If so, she could have been targeted by one of the Lords of the Dust or even caught in an accidental bombardment during the Last War.
- In the annals of the Five Nations, the most infamous red dragon of legend is Sarmondelaryx, the Bane of Thrane. Long before the Year of Blood and Fire and the rise of the Church of the Silver Flame, Sarmondelaryx terrorized the region, ultimately killing Prince Thrane ir’Wynarn. However, there is another red dragon that made his mark on history. The Kech Volaar have records of Jharaashta, also known as the Marhu’kor (Crimson King). Jharaashta dominated a region of central Khorvaire before the rise of the Dhakaani Empire. It’s said that his mountain domain contained countless treasures, both things he collected as tributes and artifacts of ancient times that he jealously hoarded—artifacts from the Age of Demons, relics of the Sovereigns. The legendary Jhazaal Dhakaan negotiated a peace between the dragon and the young empire—and it was Jhazaal who convinced Jharaashta to surrender the horn that later became the artifact Ghaal’duur. While the Dhakaan were able to buy ongoing peace with Jharaashta, it came at a considerable price, and his lair is said to contain incalculable wealth. Jharaashta hasn’t been seen for nine thousand years. Most likely he’s long dead of old age; another possibility is that he was a Master of the Hoard and that he is the spirit currently embodying Kol Korran or the Keeper! Likewise, his lair could still remain intact, holding countless Dhakaani and pre-Imperial artifacts; if so it would be of great interest to the Heirs of Dhakaan. On the other hand, it is possible it was looted thousands of years ago. But Jharaashta contributes to the legend of the red dragon as vain and greedy.
- In the Lhazaar Principalities, it’s said that the isle of Orthoss used to be a tropical paradise… until the white dragon known only as Rime settled there. There are countless stories of Rime trapping ships in ice and stealing their cargoes, or demanding sacrifices in exchange for mercy. Rime could be a Child of Eberron, following the path of the Devourer; they embody the harsh hand of winter. Rime has been silent for over a century, following a clash with the heroes of a previous age. But the people of Orthoss remember the dragon-fear, and many swear they will return. If you want to run Rime of the Frostmaiden in Eberron, you could potentially set the game in Orthoss and use Rime as a stand-in for Auril.
These five ideas all play to the Monster Manual stereotypes… the sadistic black dragon hoarding relics of a previous age, the blue tyrant, the treacherous green. But these are specific individuals who happen to have those personality traits. It’s not that all red dragons are greedy—it’s that JHARAASHTA was greedy, and because he’s a rogue who actually interacted with humanoids, scholars assert that all reds are greedy. This ties to the point that you could take the personality traits or hooks presented in the Monster Manual and apply them to ANY dragon. Even here, Rime could be a silver dragon instead of a white, if for some reason that better suits the story you want to tell.
“Random Dragons” could be foundlings who never had the education of a child of Argonnessen. They could be rogues or exiles. But perhaps there’s more to their actions than first meets the eye… perhaps the dragon that’s been sitting on the hoard in the Burning Hills for the last two centuries has actually been stationed there waiting for the adventurers to arrive, because this is the moment when the Son of the Storm has to overcome adversity and sieze the Blade of the Falling Star. For the adventurers, they think they are fighting a monster and stealing its hoard. The dragon can’t just give them the sword; to fulfill the Prophetic condition they have to fight for it. But boy, after spending the last 200 years establishing this set piece, the dragon is going to be SO glad when the damn adventurers finally steal the sword and they can go home. Even the Bad Apples described above could be actors; building up the reputation as “Rime” because that’s somehow necessary to lock in a particular Prophetic path.
Are you looking for a dragon to be the classic villain in a simple tale, jealously guarding its hoard or protecting a legendary artifact? Thelanis is the answer to your problem. Consider the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. As a Thelanian manifest zone, it could be unnaturally rich in resources… the story of “wondrous wealth”. But as that’s discovered and people pour in, the story shifts to “deadly greed” and the dragon manifests to kill the miners and claim the hoard. In this version of the story, the Arkenstone could be a Thelanian artifact — the stone of impossible beauty — but the hoard could also contain lesser magic items created by the miners before the dragon came for the hoard. The point here is that Smaug exists because this is a story about a hoarding dragon. He didn’t fly in from somewhere else and he has no ties to Argonnessen; he appeared when the story needed a dragon, and now he remains because the dragon guarding the hoard continues to be a good story. While he is a product of Thelanis and the manifest zone, he has become real; he COULD fly away from the mountain to ravage Laketown. But it’s not something he could or would do casually; looking at The Hobbit, the idea would be that the people of Laketown celebrating the dwarves and THINKING about the mountain and the treasure draws the dragon to them, playing out the story. If the dragon was somehow kept out of the manifest zone for a long time it might shrivel or weaken — but it could dart out for a raid and return.
What differentiates these Storybook Dragons from the Bad Apples described above? Largely it would be about the complexity of the character. The Venom Queen is a little like Maleficent—the powerful mystical neighbor who might get pissed if she’s not invited to the christening. But most of the Bad Apples ended up getting involved in local politics and history. Jharaashta dealt with the Empire on an ongoing basis. The point of Storybook Dragons is that they ultimately aren’t REAL; they’re just the IDEA of a dragon. And lest it go without saying, this same concept could apply to any other creature. You could have a cloud giant tied to an airborne Thelanian manifest zone who embodies the idea of a monster in the sky but who doesn’t actually interact with the world below in any meaningful way.
We know very little about draconic culture and history. A broad implication is that it’s been a monolithic force since the Age of Demons. Personally, I don’t think it was monolithic then, and I don’t think it’s continued in an unbroken path. The reason the dragons remain isolated in Argonnessen is because of their fear of the Daughter of Khyber, and I don’t think you adhere to that for tens of thousands of years unless you’ve had clear evidence that it’s an existential threat. Personally, I think there’s been two serious cataclysms within draconic civilization that have rocked even Argonessen, and likely a few smaller collapses that only affected outposts established beyond it. I’ve already said that I think there was a widespread dragon civilization on Khorvaire sometime before the Age of Giants that collapsed due to the Daughter. It’s even possible that the destruction of Xen’drik had terrible consequences for Argonnessen—that such a dramatic exercise of their power caused a surge of cult activity on Argonnessen and a bitter civil war. Why does this matter? Because it means there could be draconic artifacts on Khorvaire tied to a civilization that no longer exists, things unknown even to Argonnessen. This could be an opportunity for adventurers to stumble across something even the Chamber has forgotten. And if it’s tied to a forgotten civil war between dragons, it could be a threat to the wyrms of the present day. While Ourenilach suggests that chromatic dragons are most vulnerable to the Daughter of Khyber, I like the idea that even if this is true, chromatic dragons of the past (such as Ourelon) could have crafted magic items to help them resist this, meaning that it could have been arrogant metallics who were the villains in the first great world war between Argonnessen and the dragons of Khorvaire…
WHAT ABOUT ARGONNESSEN?
An in-depth look at Argonnessen is beyond the scope of this article, but I want to touch on a few points that should help inform encounters with dragons from Argonnessen. Dragons of Eberron covers Argonnessen and I did work on that sourcebook, but I feel it doesn’t hit all the notes I’d like to hit if I were writing it alone, so here’s a few thoughts.
Advanced Aliens, Not Monsters
My touchstone for the dragons of Eberron are the Vorlons of Babylon Five—an incredibly ancient and powerful civilization that remains in isolation from the younger races while conducting its enigmatic war against the Shadows (IE, the Lords of Dust). By the rules of 3.5 dragons were not only incredibly intelligent, they were all innate spellcasters. Even without taking any class levels (and 3.5 had classes designed specifically for dragons!) a typical great wyrm could cast 9th level sorcerer spells. And one of the basic principles of Eberron is if Arcane magic existed, wouldn’t it become a tool of civilization? So think of the everyday magic of Khorvaire, and now imagine that EVERYONE in society can perform arcane magic—and that if you live long enough, you might be able to cast wish just using your own inherent power.
With this in mind, I feel that this takes the idea that sufficiently advanced science would seem like magic in a different direction: sufficiently advanced MAGIC would seem like magic. Meaning that the magic of the dragons is so advanced (and often, drawing on their own innate power) that wizards and artificers can’t comprehend the techniques. This ties to the idea that dragons can create artifacts and eldritch machines—things that go beyond what can be done with simple artifice. They can curse entire continents, leaving effects that still remain in force tens of thousands of years later. Within Argonnessen itself, there could be an arcane infrastructure that is all but invisible. Imagine seeing what seems to be a simple valley flanked by hills and caves. But should you detect magic, you’ll sense the massive energy flowing through artificial ley lines (generated by blue dragons and storm spikes…) and when the local dragon council gathers for their meeting a structure formed of walls of force will shimmer into existence. How does Argonnessen support its large dragon population? Well, if we assume dragons actually eat standard food, there’s a few options. Those who enjoy eating can conjure the food they need; the dragons of the Vast use the magebred bolatashi to keep the region stocked with dinosaurs and other suitable prey. But the dragons also long ago learned to mass produce goodberries—or, more likely, crafted wells imbued with the same life-sustaining magic, so a single drink provides all the sustenance you need for a week. And here again, the point is that this may not LOOK advanced to the casual observer; oh look, it’s a marble well. But look closer and you’ll recognize it’s an eldritch machine that can sustain a city.
Again, the key point here is that in setting up Eberron, we made the decision that for the most part, its dragons weren’t monsters; they are “either aloof and unapproachable, or they are curious and manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes or trying to influence the world and the Prophecy in arcane ways.” Consider the common trope of advanced aliens interacting with pre-warp civilizations. Some are observers trying not to interfere with the lives of the creatures they are studying; others are rogues using the younger species for entertainment.
Dragons of Eberron gives the sense that Argonnessen is very monolithic—for example, that all of the dragons of Argonnessen embrace Thir. DoE suggests that the Thousand is just made up of different families; I see it as being comprised of different cultures. Again, I don’t have the time to explore this in depth now. But I’d definitely imagine…
- A culture driven by Children of Eberron that employs advanced primal magic (likely the birthplace of Vvaraak)
- A magebreeding culture that created the bolatashi—and possibly, that created many other species found across Eberron
- A culture that has focused on the planes and demiplanes, the source of planar orreries.
- A culture focused on artifice.
- A culture dedicated to the study of immortals—dealing with elementals, celestials, etc. They would be the experts on the overlords and would also be the main source of dragon warlocks.
… That’s just a start. All of this is on top of the Light of Siberys—which you can think of as Starfleet, a force that serves the United Federation of Dragons—and the Tapestry, which is where dragons of different cultures actively work together and share their philosophies. And on the other end you have the Vast, which is specifically maintained as a preserve where any dragon can live as they choose… in some ways, it’s the dragon equivalent of The Purge.
Humanoids in Argonnessen
Argonnessen isn’t only inhabited by dragons, and Dragons of Eberron discusses the role of nondragons in each of the major regions. The most populated and diverse is the Vast…
The Vast has the highest nondragon population of any of the territories. These lesser races have been brought to Argonnessen over the course of a hundred thousand years. Hobgoblins, whose ancestors were saved from the downfall of the Empire of Dhakaan, still sing the songs of the duur’kala… Elves, whose ancestors were brought from the shores of Xen’drik long before the elf–giant wars, know nothing of the Undying Court or the Tairnadal. There are nondragons never seen in Khorvaire, members of races that were exterminated by the giants or the daelkyr. The range of communities that can be found are dizzying. Some are metropolitan, with members of a dozen races living under one roof. Other communities are genetically isolated, steadfastly preserving secrets of their forgotten cultures.
Humanoids in the Vast are essentially toys for the dragons that live there. “To a dominion lord, nondragons are an extension of his hoard.” Guides of the Weak often interact directly with humanoids, either dominating them as tyrants or working as mentors. Wyrms of War play wargames with humanoids, whether pitting their humanoids against those of other Dominion Lords or engaging in direct dragon-to-dragon conflict to seize humanoid holdings. Here’s a table you could use to generate a community players encounter in the Vast…
Humanoids in the Vast
|… have perfectly preserved their original culture
|… have half-dragons incorporated into their culture
|… have been reduced to feral savagery
|… are pacifists protected by their dominion lord
|… have a ruthless culture devoted to war
|… are more arcanically advanced than modern Khorvaire
|Xen’drik Elves or Drow
|… employ powerful primal magic
|… worship their dominion lord as a deity
|Five Nations Blend
|… have been altered by a powerful manifest zone
|… have just been seeded in their current location
|… have a unique culture that’s survived for millennia
Forgotten species is the idea of a form of humanoid that is entirely unknown in the present day, such as the proto-Dar I’ve mentioned a few times. “Other” could include yuan-ti, shulassakar, Lorghalen gnomes, Tairnadal elves, dwarves from the Realm Below… or even a unique species magebred by the dragons that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
In other regions, humanoid civilizations always serve some sort of draconic purpose. The Light of Siberys maintains an army of dragonborn and giants, ready should they ever be needed. Within the Tapestry and the Thousand, there’s a few different purposes for humanoid civilizations…
- Lab Rats. This could be a particular unpleasant scenario in which some form of arcane magic is being actively and aggressively tested on a humanoid population. On the other hand, it could be an entirely peaceful experiment that will take centuries to play out… for example, a line of dragons is studying divine magic and has created a religion, and wants to see if their humanoid subjects develop the ability to cast divine spells through belief in this artificial faith.
- Factory Workers. Because of how advanced the dragons are, menial labor is usually accomplished with magic. However, there could be a particular reason to use humanoids to maintain some sort of arcane system—whether it’s a production facility or simply part of the infrastructure, such as maintaining a nexus of artificial ley lines. This would make particular sense with an arcane system or manifest zone that has dangerous long-term effects; dragons don’t want to be exposed to it, but humans don’t actually live long enough to experience the negative effects.
- Companions. Humans keep cats and dogs; some dragons keep humans. This could be a direct relationship, or it could be more like a garden; the dragons remain aloof but enjoy providing for and observing their humanoid community. “You must come and visit—the orcs are in bloom.”
- Artwork. A twist on this is that a humanoid community could be a palette for a dragon artist—essentially, a living poem or concept given form. One option is that such a society would be kept stagnant to preserve the artistic vision; another is that it is a short term project, and that the artist plans to clear their canvas and start again in a century or two.
- Valets. Exceptional humanoids could work directly with dragons—if not as equals, at least as respected servants. This is similar to Factory Workers but with more direct interaction between dragon and humanoid. I could imagine a primal society where humanoid gleaners and druids work closely with Children of Eberron, or a planar orrery where humanoid magewrights are tracking specific signs for dragon sages. I say “Valet” because the relationship here definitely isn’t one of equals—but the dragons involved have more respect for the humanoids than in the other examples, and won’t just throw them away. With this in mind, this sort of relationship would be most common within the Tapestry (the home of the Chamber); among other things, I can certainly imagine a humanoid community where the Chamber trains bother humanoid agents to serve as moles in the wider world, while also serving as a training ground for dragons who are preparing to go undercover themselves.
WHAT’S THE STORY WITH THE KECH DRAGUUS?
This question came up on my Patreon, and it’s a very deep cut. But since it deals with dragons, I’ll add my answer here. The Kech Draguus weren’t mentioned in Exploring Eberron, and I believe the only canon source for them is a Dragonshard article I wrote, which states Long ago, a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. Now this Kech Draguus has emerged from hiding. With a corps of half-dragon goblinoids and a few full-blooded dragons at its disposal, the Kech Draguus are poised to reshape Darguun.
Fifth edition adds a twist that adds an entirely new aspect to the Kech Draguus. In fifth edition, gold dragons have an affinity for dreams. A legendary gold dragon has the following regional effect: Whenever a creature that can understand a language sleeps or enters a state of trance or reverie within 6 miles of the dragon’s lair, the dragon can establish telepathic contact with that creature and converse with it in its dreams. The creature remembers its conversation with the dragon upon waking. Such a dragon also has the following Lair Action: One creature the dragon can see within 120 feet of it must succeed on a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be banished to a dream plane, a different plane of existence the dragon has imagined into being. Now, the first key question is what is meant by “A dream plane”. Is this Dal Quor or just a completely isolated demiplane of the dragon’s imagination? Personally, I would use it as banishing the victim to Dal Quor, to an island in the Ocean of Dreams that has been imagined by the dragon. So, taken together, legendary gold dragons have a strong tie to Dal Quor: they can create dream islands and send people there temporarily, and they can find and communicate with mortal dreamers who dream nearby, causing the dreamer to remember the conversation — meaning, they induce lucid dreaming in the people they interact with.
First of all, this idea says to me that in fifth edition Eberron, gold dragons played a crucial role in the creation of the Draconic Eidolon—the draconic gestalt that can preserve dragon souls after death. Second, while the Lair Action is primarily intended as a short term, temporary attack, I would allow a gold dragon to transport a willing mortal for a longer period of time — meaning, if you have a need to physically get to Dal Quor, you need to find a legendary gold dragon. With all THAT in mind, let’s get back to the Kech Draguus.
The canon information is that a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. The dreaming abilities of gold dragons are regional, so I would shift “clan” to “city”. This dragon forged an alliance with a Dhakaani city, protecting the city in the waking world and guiding its citizens in their dreams. This dragon admired the Uul Dhakaan and the Dhakaani principles, and worked with the Kech Uul. However, its love and loyalty were first and foremost for the city it had formed an attachment to; it was respected by the Kech Uul but didn’t work closely with them. Then the Xoriat incursion comes along. The dragon helps to protect its “children” but it can only do so much. The dragon works with the leaders of the city to prepare the sanctuary vault, and in time they flee into the depths and the long isolation—becoming the Kech Draguus.
Here’s where things get interesting. The canon line says that the Draguus have a FEW full-blooded dragons, along with HALF DRAGONS. As far as I know, fifth edition doesn’t have half-dragons in the same way 3.5 did — creatures that are genetically part dragon, anything from humans to rats. Our most infamous half-dragon in Eberron is Erandis Vol, and some people have assumed that means Argonnessen will exterminate all half-dragons. That wasn’t actually meant to be the case; the issue with Erandis was the attempt to produce an Apex Mark and to move it onto dragons. Many Argonnessen dragons find half dragons to be CREEPY, but they aren’t Kill On Sight. There are some half-dragons among the Serens and in the Light of Siberys; some lords of the Vast likely create their own half-dragons. For purposes of easily dropping half-dragons into the Kech Draguus, I might just make them dragonborn sorcerers. But I like the idea of playing with the regional effects of the gold dragon and saying that gold half-dragons are innately lucid dreamers. Meanwhile, looking to the idea that the Kech has a few full-blooded dragons, I’d make those children of the founder… but the fact that there’s more than one means that they have the potential to spread out while still maintaining a presence in both the waking world and the Uul Dhakaan. So if I were to do something with the Kech Draguus, I’d play up the idea that they dwell both in the physical world and in the Uul Dhakaan itself and that because of this they consider themselves to be the most true to the core ideals of the Empire. It could be that they are just trying to reestablish the Empire as it was in the present day… But they could have a more exotic goal. Perhaps they want to help all Dhakaani permanently, physically immigrate to the Uul Dhakaan! A second question is how they interact with the Dreaming Dark. It could be that the quori leave them alone; the Uul is a stable mass dream, and that’s good for il-Lashtavar. It could be that the Kech Draguus is actively fighting quori forces that are laying siege to the Uul. OR… it’s quite likely that the Turning of the Age will destroy or at the very least transform the Uul Dhakaan. Perhaps the Devourer of Dreams has demonstrated this to the leaders of the Kech Draguus, both human and dragon—and they now are aligned with the Dreaming Dark in doing whatever they can to prevent the turning of the age!
Another question: 2600 years ago isn’t that long for dragons. Are there living dragons on Argonnessen who opposed the destruction of the line of Vol?
Certainly. The green dragon known as the Emerald Claw didn’t act alone. There was a faction of dragons within the Thousand that supported the efforts of the Emerald Claw, and there was a fullscale conflict between dragons that took place in Argonnessen even as battles were raging on Aerenal. Many of the dragons who supported the experiment were slain, but there are certainly some who chose to stand down. However, it’s important to recognize that these dragons weren’t in an way acting for the good of elves or the younger races. They were working to create a half-dragon with an apex dragonmark, because they saw this as a crack in the door to potentially control the Prophecy itself. The supporters of this project believed that it could at the very least allow them to defeat the overlords and Lords of Dust once and for all, and potentially to gain the power of the Progenitors themselves; the majority that opposed it felt that it was both hubris and far too dangerous, with the potential to destroy Argonnessen itself. But there were a significant number of dragons who opposed the destruction of the Line of Vol—including some who actually fought against it.
That’s all the time I have. I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss it in the comments. if you do have questions for me, join my Patreon—thanks to the patrons who make these articles possible!