Dragonmarks: Familiars, Homunculi, and Animal Companions

A wizard walks into a tavern with a raven on his wrist. A Cannith heir is close behind, followed by her gleaming steel defender. The Eldeen ranger is waiting for them, with his wolf curled up under the table.

All three of these are plausible player characters in an Eberron campaign. But how do these things—familiars, animal companions, homunculi—fit into the world? How do people react to them, and what do people know about them? Would any of them actually be allowed in a tavern, and would a typical person actually be able to tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion?

Familiars, homunculi, and animal companions play different roles in the game and in the world, and I want to explore each one of them. But to begin with, let’s answer the quick questions. In the Five Nations…

  • Familiars are most common in Aundair and (previously) Cyre, but they have been employed throughout the Five Nations for centuries. They are also found in Zilargo and the Eldeen Reaches.
  • Even beyond these four areas, people are familiar with the basic idea of familiars and most people know at least some of the following facts: Familiars can communicate with their companion; their companion can see through their eyes; familiars can potentially channel touch spells; they can be easily dismissed and resummoned; they can be resummoned if killed.
  • People generally assume that familiars are extensions of a spellcaster (discussed in more detail later in this article) and don’t consider them fully independent beings. Along with homunculi, they are seen as tools. In the eyes of the law, a character is responsible for the actions of their familiar/companion/homunculus, and you can’t get away with murder by casting the killing spell through your familiar.
  • While most people can’t tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion, most know that familiars are usually limited to tiny forms. The common assumption is that a tiny animal companion is a familiar, and a small or larger animal companion is a beast.
  • If an establishment allows patrons to carry weapons, it will generally allow well-behaved familiars, homunculi, or animal companions, unless the creature seems especially unsanitary or aggressive. In part, this is a metagame conceit: we are still playing a game, and the Beast Master ranger or Battlesmith artificer shouldn’t be crippled every time the adventurers go indoors. But it also ties to the idea that people recognize these things as tools. So in my opinion, any place that will allow the barbarian to carry his greataxe will allow the battlesmith to bring her steel defender… And conversely, a fine restaurant like the Oaks in Sharn isn’t going to let you bring your axe or your steel defender to your table.
  • Most people know that a spellcaster can spy through the eyes of a familiar, just as they know that someone with the spell beast sense (druid, ranger, Vadalis heir) can see through the eyes of a mundane animal. People don’t assume that every rat is a spy, but they know it’s a POSSIBILITY… so tiny animals showing up in highly secured areas or behaving in a clearly unnatural manner may be dealt with as if they’re spies.
  • In major cities with a significant population of magewrights or arcane universities, you may find businesses that cater to characters with familiars—the bring-your-own-sassy-magical-cat cafe.
  • While most people assume familiars are extensions, they also recognize traditional imps and quasits as fiends. Having a quasit as a familiar isn’t ILLEGAL, but it definitely makes a statement; even if you’re not actively associating with fiends, you’re choosing one to represent you. Some people will see that as cool and edgy, some people will see it as a sign that you’re a scumbag, and some people will see it as pretentious— “LOOK AT ME! I CONSORT WITH DEEEEEMONS!” It will definitely be noticed, and it’s up to the DM to decide how people will react. But again, people see familiars as tools, so they aren’t going to burn you just for having an imp; but it’s similar to whether your fighter has a greatsword of plain steel or whether he’s carrying a rune-carved sword that moans softly. You can’t get arrested for it, but people will make judgements because of it.

So key takeaways: People are familiar with the idea of familiars and homunculi. They largely see them as tools and will treat them accordingly. If a tiny animal behaves in an unusual manner, people may assume that it’s a familiar or otherwise being manipulated by magic. With those general things settled, let’s take a quick look at the differences between these three categories of companion…

FAMILIARS

Mechanically, familiars have a common foundation—the find familiar spell. Warlocks, wizards, and druids all acquire their familiars by using this spell, and this establishes the core rules that all familiars follow—shared senses, telepathic communication, can be dismissed and resummoned, and so on. But while this provides a concrete baseline for the mechanics of a familiar, from a story perspective the familiars of a wizard, a warlock, and a druid may be very different. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here’s three important categories of familiar.

Extensions

The most common form of familiar—the form used by most wizards and magewrights in the Five Nations—is an externally manifested aspect of the spellcaster’s personality. A few aspects of this…

  • As an extension of you, your familiar doesn’t know anything that you don’t know—but it’s drawn from your subconscious, and may know things you’ve forgotten or draw conclusions you haven’t consciously made.
  • All familiars must obey the spellcaster’s commands. An extension doesn’t resent this; they’re part of you. If they do have any personal goals, they’re likely things you actually want, even if you haven’t consciously realized it.
  • When an extension is dismissed or slain, it returns to your subconscious. This isn’t unpleasant for the familiar, and most extensions don’t resent being dismissed.
  • An extension is drawn from you. Most extensions have the fey creature type; in many ways, they are manifested stories. Extensions would only manifest as celestials or fiends if they are tied to remarkably virtuous or deeply vile people.
  • If you wish, you and your DM could decide that the familiar represents a specific aspect of your personality, which could in turn flavor its personality and demeanor. This could also be reflected by its shape, which you can change by casting the spell. It could be that as a cat it reflects your curiosity, while as a hawk it’s your courage and as a weasel it’s your cunning. A secondary question is whether each of these three would present themselves as having different names—if they essentially identify as three familiars—or whether they maintain a single identity even though their shape and personality changes.

In many ways, an extension is like a character in your dreams. They have distinct personalities, you can have interesting conversations with them, they FEEL real—but ultimately they’re a manifestation of your own mind. This doesn’t stop them from being fun and interesting individuals; it could be that your rat familiar embodies your sense of humor! But they can’t be killed because they’re a part of you; and conversely, if you die, they will die with you.

Extensions are the most common form of familiar in the Five Nations. They are a product of arcane science. On some levels (especially in Aundair), a familiar is both a tool and a status symbol for an accomplished spellcaster; wizards are rare, but some magewrights and demi-wizards manifest familiars for this reason. However, the most common users of familiars in the Five Nations are falconers. This is a magewright specialty that masters a narrow form of find familiar. A falconer can only summon a single shape of familiar—so if they can summon a hawk, they can’t turn it into a cat—but they can maintain telepathic communication and a sensory link with their familiar over a far greater distance than usual. The typical range of a falconer is one mile, but an exceptional falconer can go even farther. Falconers typically served as scouts and skirmishers in the Last War, and as the name suggests, most summon birds (typically hawks or falcons, though owls and ravens are also used). There are other magewrights who use this specialized form of find familiar in different ways—ratcatchers who conjure cats, even assassins who can conjure poisonous snakes. All of this ties to the basic point that people see extensions as tools—you learn to manifest an extension because you have a use for it.

Emissaries

When a warlock acquires a familiar, it’s generally not an extension of the warlock—it’s an emissary of the warlock’s patron, an independent entity whose services are granted to the warlock as a gift. However, this can also be an appropriate choice for a conjurer wizard or any other character who has made bargains with a powerful supernatural being. Important details about emissary familiars…

  • An emissary is an independent spirit with its own history and agenda. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what that agenda is. It may be that the emissary is entirely benevolent and has been sent solely to assist you and protect you. But it could be that the emissary is sent to watch you—to see if you’re living up to expectations, to remind you of agreements you’ve made with your patron, or to serve as an intermediary for communication; the patron might temporarily possess the familiar when they want to communicate with you.
  • Tied to this: an emissary familiar has to follow your orders when it comes to taking physical actions, but it doesn’t have to share all of its information with you. Unlike an extension, an emissary may have knowledge you don’t have—but it’s only going to share that information with you if it serves the interests of the patron.
  • The creature type of the emissary will generally reflect the creature type of the patron. If you’re working for Sul Khatesh she’ll give you a fiend, while a celestial warlock channeling the power of the Silver Flame will have a celestial familiar. A DM may choose to tweak type and details to fit a particular patron. For example, an efreeti patron could give a warlock a familiar that’s mechanically an imp, but with the elemental type and knowledge of Primordial instead of Infernal; they might even say that its sting inflicts fire damage instead of poison damage, causing the victim to burn from within. An undead patron could likewise give an “imp” that’s got the undead type and inflicts necrotic damage with its sting.
  • Emissary familiars CAN assume a mundane animal form, but even those that take the form of animals may have a “natural” form that reflects their origins. A raven gifted by an efreeti could choose to appear as a tiny phoenix wreathed in cold flames, or just as a mundane bird.
  • It’s up to the DM to decide what happens to the emissary when it is dismissed/killed. It may be that it returns to the domain of its patron; if this is the case, it may actually WANT to be dismissed occasionally to go and take care of its own business. Or it may be that as long as it’s bound to you, it is bound to your spirit and retreats into you when dismissed. If this is the case, it may still be aware of what is going on around you, even if it can’t take any actions.

The basic question between having an extension or an emissary is whether you want your familiar to be entirely loyal and reliable, or if you LIKE the idea that your familiar may have secrets and agendas you don’t know about. An extension may have a semblance of personality, but at the end of the day it really is a puppet; an emissary is a truly independent entity who is only working with you for now, and who could have their own significant role to play at some point in the campaign.

Emissary familiars are rare. You can go to school to become a falconer, but there’s no common magewright paths that teach people to make bargains with overlords. As noted above, people generally assume that familiars are extensions, so having an imp as a familiar doesn’t automatically mean you’re making deals with demons, but to a common person what it means is that THE PROJECTION OF YOUR PERSONALITY IS A FIEND and people will judge you accordingly. And if people DO realize that no, this is an actual emissary of Sul Khatesh and you are getting advice from it, that’s not going to be great; so usually, you’re going to want your imp to be in an animal form.

Primal Spirits

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduces the Wild Companion feature, allowing a druid to cast find familiar by using a charge of wild shape. Such a familiar has the fey creature type. It’s worth noting that beasts summoned with the conjure animals spell also have the fey creature type. This doesn’t mean that they are from Thelanis. If you’re a Greensinger, they might be; but typically, these are primal spirits. These can be seen as native fey, in the same way the Lords of Dust are native fiends. They are essentially stories made real—the idea of a beast given temporary form. A few details…

  • Primal spirits don’t have individual identities in the same way as emissaries or extensions. They are more iconic beings. Your raven embodies the idea of “raven” and will behave as you expect a raven to act in a fable or folktale. A cat may be curious, a raven may be wise. But the cat embodies the idea of CAT, not of your personal curious Graymalkin.
  • Primal spirits generally only remain for as long as they are needed; when they die or are dismissed they simply return to the transcendent essence of Eberron.
  • Primal spirits generally have no desires other than to help the summoner. They don’t NEED anything and generally look forward to returning to the heart of Eberron.
  • Druids and rangers typically employ primal spirits to avoid placing living animals in danger. They don’t feel any compunctions about sending summoned animals or familiars to their deaths because they aren’t really alive; you can’t kill an idea, and ultimately that’s what they are.

Primal spirits are typically only found in communities with strong primal roots—the Eldeen Reaches, the Qaltiar drow, the Lorghalen gnomes. In such places, you may find the equivalent of Falconer magewrights—gleaners who can conjure a specific familiar spirit, and who can maintain their bond with it over an unusually long distance. Primal communities often also involve animal companions, but people working with living beasts will generally be much more conscientious about placing their companions in dangerous situations—whereas primal spirits suffer no lasting harm from death.

In Conclusion…

Familiars are the most common class of companion, and extensions are the most common class of familiar. Falconers and similar magewrights use familiars as practical tools, while arcanists use often familiars as companions and assistants. Emissaries are rare and thus rarely recognized for what they are, but most people won’t be thrilled if you reveal that your companion is an actual fiend given to you because you made a bargain with a malefic power.

HOMUNCULI AND CONSTRUCT BEASTS

A homunculus is a construct, typically created by an artificer or wizard. They notably don’t follow the rules of find familiar; a homunculus can’t be simply dismissed and recalled at will. The most common form of homunculus player characters deal with is the homunculus servant, which is created using an artificer infusion. The servant is a tiny construct, and notably the shape of the homunculus is up to the artificer. The intention of this is that the appearance of the homunculus should reflect the techniques of the artificer. A Cannith Traditionalist may create a steel dragonfly with crystal wings—a creature similar to a warforged, perhaps with metal threads or gears instead of root-like tendrils. An artificer from Pylas Pyrial may use Thelanian logic to create a flying teapot. And an alchemist who’s experimenting with daelkyr fleshcrafting techniques could create a tiny platypus with one eye and three wings. A Battle Smith artificer gets to create a more powerful homunculus, a steel defender. Again, what’s specifically noted is that the shape and design of the defender is up to the artificer, including the choice as to whether it has two legs or four. This reflects the idea that all of these homunculi are extremely unique. The fact that the artificer can only have one of each type of homunculus at a time reflects the idea these creatures aren’t entirely stable—that the artificer has to continue to maintain their companion and to maintain the reserve of arcane energy that sustains it. As noted, homunculi can’t be dismissed and resummoned with the ease of a familiar, but if one is destroyed it can be rebuilt.

So a key point is that the homunculi of player characters aren’t supposed to be as familiar as a raven or even an imp. They’re supposed to stand out; they’re reflections of the unique genius of the artificer character. Unlike familiars and falconers, there isn’t a class of magewrights that creates homunculi; again, familiars ultimately come from a 1st level spell, while homunculi are derived from an artificer class feature. They’re more exotic than familiars. At the same time, people understand the CONCEPT of homunculi. Sentient magic items exist. Constructs exist. The Clockwork Menagerie of Eston was one of the wonders of Cyre centuries before House Cannith perfected the warforged. And with that said, the Last War involved a constant escalation in the development of constructs leading up to the Last War. Animated weapons have been developed, ranging from the tiny arbalester to the arcane ballista. Warforged titans stormed across the battlefield decades before their smaller cousins. And House Cannith does create construct beasts; the iron defenders of House Cannith can be produced as autonomous constructs (though they are typically considerably weaker than the steel defender of an accomplished Battle Smith). These creatures are still EXOTIC, but they aren’t unheard of and people generally won’t be frightened by them. They’ll draw attention, certainly, but attention isn’t always bad. With that said, the daelkyr-inspired fleshcrafted homunculus will generate the same sort of reaction as the imp familiar; people may not run you instantly out of town for having a creepy homunculus, but they will judge you by the company you keep.

I’ll be posting a table of random ideas for homunculus servants on my Patreon as an exclusive bonus for Inner Circle and Threshold patrons later in this week, so if you’re a supporter, keep an eye out for that!

ANIMAL COMPANIONS

What about the ranger and his wolf? Well, beasts are a part of everyday life in Eberron. From horses and tribex to the giant owls of Sharn or the Valenar hounds, there’s nothing strange about seeing someone with an animal companion. Magewright falconers conjure their companions, but Vadalis farriers can cast animal friendship, speak with animals, and beast sense, and gleaners (primal magewrights) in the Eldeen Reaches also develop these talents. Many gnomes cultivate the gift of speaking with small beasts. Exotic beasts are often rarer in major cities simply because of the difficulty of maintaining them, but people aren’t especially SURPRISED to see a ranger with a wolf companion; the fact that there are people who can befriend and speak with animals is a simple fact of life, and has been for centuries.

Animal companions aren’t exactly tools in the same way as familiars, because they’re independent living creatures. A Beast Master can replace an companion that dies, but an animal still died… while familiars and conjured beasts can be put in harm’s way with no lasting risk. Nonetheless, to the world at large they are still largely seen as tools and treated accordingly, so the same rule applies. If the ranger is allowed to bring his sword and his bow into a place of business, he’s probably allowed to bring his wolf; and if the wolf bites someone, the ranger will be held responsible, just as if he’d stabbed the victim with a sword.

Some might wonder if the existence of speak with animals would drive an overall greater wave of ethical behavior regarding the treatment of animals. Sadly, this is not the case in the Five Nations. Speak with animals exists, but MOST people can’t cast it. People will still take a tribex-drawn carriage down to a restaurant where they’ll eat a steak, without stopping to think “Was that tribex happy? Did the cow I’m eating live a good life?” The general attitude of House Vadalis is that they’ve been granted dominion over beasts, and it is their right to exploit that power. This is quite different in wide primal societies—such as the Eldeen Reaches and Lorghalen—but in the Five Nations beasts are still primarily treated as property and tools.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping to choose this topic and for making these articles possible.

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!