Dragonmarks: The Barren Sea

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

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

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

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

The Eberron Campaign Guide adds this…

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

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

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

Calm and Still, Merchant and Spy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kuo-Toa: Dreamers in the Deep

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

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

Following Two Paths

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

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

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

Gods & Monsters

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

Kuo-toa and Quori

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

The Barren Truth

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

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

What’s Common Knowledge?

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

Q&A

How powerful are the Kuo-Toa gods?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A 5/18/18: Undead, Sarlona, and More!

May is a busy month. I’m swamped with writing and travel (I’m currently at Keycon 35 in Winnipeg), so I haven’t had time to write a proper article. However, I reached out to my Patreon supporters for questions for a quick Q&A, and here we are. Next week I may post some thoughts on Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and how I’d apply it to Eberron.

Before I get to the questions, I want to tell you about something else that’s going on this week: The Gauntlet. Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, Washington is hosting a massive gaming tournament that’s raising money for charity. My company Twogether Studios is competing in the Gauntlet, raising money for Wellspring Family Services, and we need your help. Any donation is appreciated—a $5 donation would be fantastic—but if you’re in Portland, Oregon or the vicinity of Seattle, Washington and have the ability to be more generous, I’m going to offer a crazy incentive: a chance to play a one-shot session of Phoenix: Dawn Command or 5E D&D (in Eberron) with me. Here’s how this works: If you’re in Portland, a game requires a donation of $400. If you’re in the Seattle area, it’s going to be $500 (all the money goes directly to charity, but since it’s more work for me, I’m setting the bar higher…). This doesn’t have to be all from one person: I will run a game for up to six people, and their combined donations have to hit the target number.

If you want to do this, you need to be part of a group that is going to hit the target number. After making your donation, email me (use the Contact Me button on this website) and let me know who your group is. I’ll work with your group to find a time to play. It may take a while—summer is an especially busy time for me—but I’ll make sure we get to play before the end of 2018. With that said, The Gauntlet takes place on May 20th, so there’s not a lot of time to donate. Again, the Twogether Studios donation link is here. Whether or not you have the ability to donate, thanks for reading!

Now, on with the Q&A…

I was wondering about bone knights and their place in Karrnath. Are they still a component of Karrnathi culture and society after the war? Were they created specifically for the Last War or did Karrnath have a longer history with these more military necromancers? Is Kaius opposed to the Blood of Vol generally or the Emerald Claw specifically, and if the former is the Bone Knight thing something he wants gone from Karrnath?

There’s a lot of topics to unravel. From a canon perspective, my take is laid out in City of Stormreach and more specifically, the Eye on Eberron article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195. Here’s the key points.

  • The core Karrnathi culture focuses on martial skill and discipline. It has nothing to do with necromancy or the use of undead.
  • The Seekers of the Divinity Within have long had a presence in Karrnath. This religion has a close association with necromancy and the practical use of the undead. The Bone Knight is specifically a Seeker tradition: an expert in commanding undead forces in combat. EoED195 calls out that Seekers of the Divinity Within served alongside Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar I. However, they were a minority faith and the army as a whole didn’t rely on or embrace their traditions.
  • When Karrnath faced plagues and famines during the Last War, the Queen of the Dead offered the assistance of the Blood of Vol. In exchange, the crown was obliged to recognized and elevate Seekers and to promote their faith. The chivalric orders of the Blood of Vol expanded. Undead were produced in greater numbers than ever before and became a critical part of Karrnath’s military strategy, resulting in a need for even more Bone Knights to command them.
  • Over time, the famines were brought under control and the balance of the war shifted. The traditionalist warlords despised both the erosion of Karrnathi military tradition and the increased political power of the Seekers. Furthermore, the use of undead disturbed the other nations. With the war closing, Kaius strengthened his position with the traditionalist warlords and the other nations by disavowing the Blood of Vol and stopping the production of undead, sealing the majority of the undead legions in the vaults below Atur. Most of the Seeker orders were disbanded, though some Seekers (and undead troops) have remained in service, most notably in Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. Kaius has continued to use the Blood of Vol as a convenient scapegoat to direct the frustration of his people, and has gone so far as to blame the Seekers for the plagues and famines that originally weakened the nation.

So, looking to the questions specifically: In my opinion, the Bone Knight is an old Seeker tradition, but one that was very uncommon before the Last War because the Seekers weren’t part of the Karrnathi military tradition; their numbers increased during the Last War in order to manage the undead forces. Kaius is publicly using the Blood of Vol as a useful scapegoat. He doesn’t NEED very many Bone Knights since he’s retired most of the undead; he’s dismissed most and allowed some to be persecuted as war criminals. However, regardless of this public image he’s not personally opposed to the Seekers. He’s maintained Fort Bones and Fort Zombie, and has a small cadre of Bone Knights and necromancers whose loyalty to the nation outweighs their anger at the treatment of their brethren.

Are Bone Knights mostly Seekers or would one devoted to the Dark Six or the Sovereign Host be capable of getting far?

There’s a number of factors. They’re mostly Seekers because it’s an ancient Seeker tradition, tied to their long-standing use of practical necromancy. Theoretically someone who follows another faith could fill that role, but it requires deep devotion to the necromantic arts. If you revere the Sovereign Host—honoring Dol Arrah and Aureon—how do you embrace this dark path? The Shadow and the Keeper are the Sovereigns who would guide you on this road, and that’s a viable path, but not exactly one that Karrnath would celebrate and encourage. So sure; I think someone devoted to the Dark Six could become an accomplished Bone Knight, but that faith won’t make them any more acceptable to the general public than the Seekers… and might even result in greater distrust and suspicion.

Is the Order of Rekkenmark’s opposition to necromancers something which would prevent a Bone Knight from excelling in their organization (as advisors to the King, movers and shakers politically)?

It’s something that would make it VERY DIFFICULT for a Bone Knight to advance in their organization, absolutely. But nothing’s impossible. It simply means that the Bone Knight in question would have to be a soldier of unparalleled accomplishment and skill, someone whose dedication to Karrnath and the king is beyond reproach. It’s possible Alinda Dorn, commander of Fort Bones, is a member of the Order of Rekkenmark. She’s an advisor to and confidante of the king in any case; it’s simply a question of whether he embraces that publicly, or prefers to keep his favor for her hidden from the traditionalist warlords.

Are the rituals for creating Mabaran undead and Irian deathless completely different, or do they look fundamentally alike except for the power source?

ALL rituals for creating undead and deathless are completely different from one another. The techniques used to create deathless are dramatically different from rituals used to create Mabaran undead. But there’s no ONE TRUE RITUAL for creating undead. Looking above, a Bone Knight who draws power from faith in the Shadow and the Keeper should use different trappings from one following the path of the Divinity Within. The techniques of a wizard will as a rule be entirely different from those employed by a cleric. One’s a form of arcane science; the other an act of extreme devotion. In my opinion, the Seeker traditions walk a line between these two sides, drawing on both devotion and a form of science. We’ve established that the Odakyr Rites used to create the sentient Karrnathi undead were a breakthrough developed during the Last War—and as such, themselves unlike the techniques used elsewhere.

Did the Dhakaani have any rites or rituals to create undead? 

Did the Dhakaani as a culture embrace the creation of undead or develop techniques for creating them? Definitely not. The Dhakaani were a culture driven by martial excellence. They were agnostic (thus lacking clerics) and had very limited interest in the arcane. So no, there were no institutionalized necromancers in the Empire. With that said, it was a vast civilization that lasted for thousands of years. During that time, could a small group have developed such techniques? Could there be a Kech Mortis that has perfected these techniques during its centuries of exile, which now claims the Imperial throne with its army of undead heroes? Sure, why not! But just like Karrnath, the traditionalist like the Kech Sharaat would like be disgusting by this strange deviation from the true path.

Did they have answers to the spawn-creating plagues like ghoul fever?

The primary arcane path the Dhakaani embraced was the path of the Duur’kala, which is to say the bard. The Duur’kala inspire heroes in battle, but they also used their abilities to heal and to enhance diplomacy. The bardic spell list includes lesser restoration and greater restoration. So, there’s your answer. Now again, if you like the idea of a Kech vault that was overrun by a zombie plague the duur’kala couldn’t contain—so PCs stumbling into an ancient Dhakaani fortress filled with undead—I’m all for it. As a culture they had a tool for it, that doesn’t mean everyone always had access to that tool.

Is it very difficult to travel across the Barren Sea? Are there ports in, say, the Shadow Marches that get trade directly from Sarlona?

This is largely covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Riedra strictly limits contact with foreigners, and Dar Jin is the only port that accepts general commerce. Other than that, there are a few outposts in Ohr Kaluun and a harbor in Adar. So, it’s not so much that it’s difficult as it is that there’s very few places to go.

Zarash’ak is the only major port in the Shadow Marches, though you could certainly introduce a smuggler’s outpost on the coast near Slug Keep. It’s certainly reasonable to think that Zarash’ak could have traffic with Riedran ships from Dar Jin.

And does the majority of trade between, say, Karrnath and Breland go via boats through the Lhazaar Principalities, or is the faster/cheaper to use overland shipment?

I addressed this specific question in a previous Q&A, so check that out. River barges, lightning rails, and airships are all options, though the Lhazaar route is also a possibility.

Do you have any brief tips for involving the Venomous Demesne into a campaign?

The Venomous Demesne is a Tiefling city-state on the far side of Droaam. They’re isolationists and largely unknown in the Five Nations. I discuss hooks for characters from the Venomous Demesne in this article. As for ways to use it in a campaign, here’s three ideas entirely off the top of my head.

  • The Venom Lords are working on an Eldritch Machine. They’ve sent agents into the wider world acquiring the rare components required for this device. Are they working on behalf of the Daughters of Sora Kell, or does the device have a more sinister purpose?
  • The vaults of the Venomous Demesne hold secrets that date back to the ancient nation of Ohr Kaluun. The player characters could need to acquire Kaluunite lore for an unrelated plot: tied to another Eldritch machine, to a path of the Prophecy, or perhaps to understanding some sort of demonic threat. To get what they need, they’ll have to go to the Venomous Demesne and earn the trust of its lords.
  • A variation of the previous idea is needing something that can only be obtained or acquired in the Venomous Demesne: a particular magic item or artifact, learning a spell, etc.
  • The lords of Ohr Kaluun made pacts with a wide variety of extraplanar and fiendish forces. If you want to do something with some sort of archfiend (such as demon lords from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes), one of the lines of the Demesne could work as its agents (or be opposed to it, but still know its secrets). Personally I’d use such a being as a powerful force in Khyber—below the level of an Overlord, but nonetheless a powerful threat that has recently broken loose from binding and is just starting to rebuild its influence in Eberron.

Is there any possibility of getting a (rough) timeline of when the events of human/Sarlonan history occurred? Were there any trade relations between Dhakaan and Khorvaire at some point, or was Lhazaar the first human to see the shores of Khorvaire?

The ancient nations of Sarlona are left intentionally vague so that they can fill the role you want them to fill. I see no reason that Lhazaar should be the first human to have set foot on Khorvaire; in all likelihood, she set out for Khorvaire because she’d heard stories of the land from previous explorers. The idea of canon is that Lhazaar’s expedition marked the first sustained and successful contact between the two. If you want to have players stumble across the ruins of an Uorallan outpost in the Shadow Marches — evidence of a settlement completely lost to history — do it. But I don’t think we’ll be defining those pre-Lhazaar civilizations in significantly more detail in a canon source.

(The founder of the Kalashtar) Taratai is female in Races of Eberron, and male in Secrets of Sarlona. Which is it?

It’s a legitimately confusing issue. Here’s a quote from “The Legend of Taratai” in Secrets of Sarlona (page 24):

She led sixty-seven spirits that became the kalashtar to Adar, where the monk Hazgaal and his students accepted them. In Hazgaal’s body as Haztaratai (though many stories still call her Taratai), she taught and wrote the precepts of the Path of Light… 

So: both SoS and RoE agree that the kalaraq quori Taratai identified as female. However, per SoS she bonded with the human monk Hazgaal, who was male. This means that the spiritual lineage of Taratai were male kalashtar, though they were bound to a female spirit. Quite a few kalashtar lines have this sort of disconnect, which results in a great deal of gender fluidity within kalashtar culture.

Do the Kalashtar believe in reincarnation, like the Riedrans do?

Sort of, but they aren’t as concerned with it as the Riedrans are. First of all, as a kalashtar you are already part of something immortal. You are bound to the quori spirit, and your memories and experiences remain with the spirit even after your physical body dies; so the kalashtar don’t see death as an absolute end. Beyond that, SoS notes that the Path of Light maintains that “Dolurrh is a place where the ego dies, but the spirit is immortal, and it returns to the Material Plane again and again.” LIFE is eternal. The soul is part of the celestial machine of the universe. But it’s not about YOU, and they don’t believe that the form your spirit takes in its next incarnation is somehow tied to your actions in your previous life, as the Path of Inspiration states. It’s not a reward or a punishment; it’s just the nature of the universe. Your legacy remains with your lineage, and the soul that was yours continues on its journey.

Why didn’t the Inspired seize Syrkarn as well as the other ancient kingdoms, instead satisfying themselves with a shallow “protectorate” title and some behind-the-curtain schemes?

The Inspired have no interest in conquering Syrkarn. The territory is too large, the population too low, and they are still concerned about the lingering threat of the rakshasa rajah buried beneath the realm. The Inspired don’t feel a need to control every single individual; they are looking to control massive populations. There’s not enough people in Syrkarn to be worth the effort, doubly so when combined with the vast stretches of relatively barren land… not to mention the threat of the Overlord.

More generally, what makes Syrkarn interesting, according to you, as a playground?

First of all, it’s a part of Sarlona in which people can move freely. Second, I’d look to page 86 of Secrets of Sarlona. Scheming yuan-ti! An Overlord stirring! Karrak cults! The Heirs of Ohr Kaluun and the Horned Shadow! Relics from pre-Sundering Sarlona! Tribal conflicts (perhaps stirred up by the yuan-ti or the Overlord)! Possibly even surprising ties to the giants of Xen’drik, lingering through the eneko.

From a game design point of view, why define Sarlona as being a blind spot in the Draconic Prophecy? 

It’s summed up on page nine of Secrets of Sarlona: “The dragons of the Chamber shun Sarlona, but they want to know what is transpiring beyond its shores. PCs who have ties to the Chamber, the Undying Court, or even the Lords of Dust could be sent to explore mysteries related to the draconic Prophecy.” By making it a region where dragons fear to tred, we add a reason why player characters should go there; it provides a range of potential story hooks you don’t have in other lands.

Adar is wider than Aundair or Thrane (while understandably less populated). Now that the kalashtar can see the Inspired openly moving unto Khorvaire, how comes Adar didn’t make itself known too, nor officially voice some warning?

First of all, per SOS it’s population density is around one person for every two square miles of land—lower than Alaska or Tibet. Its people have been described as “insular to the point of xenophobia.” Direct travel between Adar and Khorvaire is extremely difficult, meaning that you have no regular stream of commerce or communication, nor any particular interest in such commerce. We’ve established that the Adaran kalashtar believe that the battle against il-Lashtavar will be won by their persistence and devotion: they don’t NEED to get the world on their side, they just need to hold their ground and continue what they are doing.

Many kalashtar in Khorvaire hold to the same general belief: we will triumph through perseverance. What’s important is protecting our community and continuing our devotions. Some younger kalashtar have embraced more active intervention, but even they largely believe that this is their war to fight, and that the humans wouldn’t listen to them or believe them. And they’re likely right. Riedra is a valuable trade partner, and it has come to the assistance of many nations during the Last War. There is a concrete benefit to working with Riedra. By contrast, Adar has virtually no recognition and nothing to offer. Even if I believe your story about the leaders of Riedra being aliens, the leaders of the Aereni are DEAD and we deal with them. And you may SAY that they want to conquer the world, but I’m not seeing it happening, and trust me, crazy monk, if they start any trouble, we can handle it. So: self-interest and arrogance are likely to outweigh the stories of the few kalashtar who do speak out against Riedra.

While religions are not required to comment on the truth or falsity of each other’s doctrines, are there any Adaran scholars aware of the Valenar and their apparent reality of the potential continuity of identity their (in purely mechanical terms) higher average levels indicate?

Possibly. There’s not a lot of overlap between them, geographically or culturally. But I don’t think there’s much to debate. Spirits exist; devotion creates positive energy that can sustain a spirit, as proven by the concrete example of the Undying Court; devoted Valenar display a level of skill that seems to support guidance from ancestral spirits. I could see a follower of the Blood of Vol saying “But how do you know that the spirit isn’t just a manifestation of YOU? The power comes from within you; you’re just creating this myth of your ancestor to help you interpret it.” I could see someone else saying “You’re getting guidance from a spirit, but are you sure it’s not some kind of demon or something masquerading as your ancestor?” Essentially, i don’t think there are many people saying that the Tairnadal religion has no grounding in reality; but I could imagine people arguing that some of the DETAILS might not be what the Valenar believe them to be.

How much of the ancient history of the Giant Empire is known in Khorvaire, and since when? On the one hand, it makes plenty of sense, both in-world and for game purpose, that it’s still shrouded in mystery, that only a few scholars and daring explorers start to poke at. But on the other hands, there are elves assimilated in Khorvaire since centuries, and their whole culture revolves about perpetuating tradition: why would they hide their stories from the other races?

There’s quite a few factors here.

  • The elves know THEIR history. That doesn’t mean they know the history of the giants. Consider the tale of Cardaen. “He was born in a high tower, and Cul’sir made sure his feet never touched the ground.” That’s quite different from “He was born in the city of Aulantaara in the year 14,004 RTC, where he served as an arcane adjunct to the Cul’sir College of Evocation, eventually rising to the Fourth Circle.” The Elves have preserved STORIES about the giants; that doesn’t mean they ever knew the absolute FACTS.
  • The elves are isolationist by nature. Their history and the tales of the ancestors are part of the foundation of their religion, and we’ve never suggested that they want members of other species to adopt their religion. I think they’d spread some details out of pride, but at the same time, I think there’s a certain level of “Our history is none of your business.”
  • The civilizations of the giants fell forty thousand years ago on another continent. How much does the typical westerner know about Sumerian history? If someone threw a musical version of the myth of Gilgamesh onto Broadway, do you think it would dethrone Hamilton? I’m sure SCHOLARS know as much as is known about the history of the giants, and that reflects the information you could get with a History check. But I think most humans just don’t care about the history of the giants; it’s an obscure ancient civilization that has virtually no relevance to their modern lives.

So, COULD a modern playwright produce a play about the story of Vadallia and Cardaen? Absolutely. I’m sure that there’s multiple versions of just such a play created over the millennia by phiarlans. But is such a play going to appeal to a modern human audience, or would they rather see a tale of Lhazaar, or Karrn the Conqueror, or Aundair’s forbidden love, or the sacrifice of Tira Miron? It’s possible that it would succeed—that it would be exotic and unusual and people would latch onto it. But even so, what people would then know about the giants is the same as a human who knows about early American history because they watched Hamilton; they know Cardaen was a slave who worked magic, but that doesn’t mean they know much about the actual structure of the Cul’sir Dominion, beyond the name of its evil titan king. Personally I think it’s the same general model as what the typical Westerner knows about Sumer, or ancient Egypt: the names of a few of their rulers, sure. A few stories that have been featured in popular culture or enshrined by scholars. But if you stopped someone on the street, do you think they could tell you about the structure of the Egyptian military under the Pharaoh Snefru? How many pharoahs could they name? Could they tell you how many dynasties their were? And that’s a human culture that existed just five thousand years ago.

So: I don’t think the history of the giants is an ABSOLUTE mystery. I think the common person knows that there were multiple giant cultures; that they enslaved the elves; that there was an elvish uprising and the giants were destroyed by dragons. They might know the name Cul’sir specifically because they’ve encountered it in Elvish tales, the way many Westerners know Cleopatra because of her role in popular culture but have never heard of Menes… or they might just know him as “that evil titan king.” But I doubt the common person knows much more than that.

If you have questions on these or other topics, ask below!