As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from March!
Canonically, Karrnath has a significant halfling population. How does this affect its culture?
The cultures of the Five Nations are inherently cosmopolitan, woven from a tapestry of different species. Halflings make up a minimum of 4% of the population of all of the Five Nations, and have since the time of Galifar. So first and foremost, keep in mind that the culture of Karrnath as it is defined—a culture of martial discipline and warlords, the undercurrent of the Seekers—were all formed with halflings as part of that tapestry. There are halflings teaching at Rekkenmark and at the Atur Academy. The typical Karrnathi halfling is grim and stoic, and likely served in the military; a Thrane halfling is likely to be devoted to the Silver Flame; an Aundairian halfling may be a flamboyant wandslinger. They’re all halflings, but they’re also Karrns, Thranes, and Aundairians—and they are part of the gestalt that created those cultures to begin with.
With that said, Karrnath does indeed have a higher halfling percentage than most of the Five Nations—twice that of any other nation. So roughly half the halfling population of Karrnath reflects the typical widespread presence of haflings throughout Galifar, halflings who identify culturally as Karrns. But that leaves another 5% of the population. These halflings are concentrated in southeastern Karrnath, along the always loosely-defined border with the Talenta Plains. This region has a tumultous history. Before Galifar, there were times when Karrn warlords subjugated nomad tribes, and there were times when Talenta raiders struck deep into Karrnath. Galifar and modern Karrnath largely brought an end to both extremes, but also established this region as a buffer zone. Some nomad tribes chose to settle in the area, adopting agriculture and swearing fealty to warlords in exchange for protection and support. In the present day, these still exist. These small towns are communities that are almost entirely comprised of halflings, whose people think of themselves as Karrns but still retain some elements of the Talenta faith, speak both Common and Halfling in everyday life, and who may domesticate fastieth, glidewings, or hammertails.
In the wake of the Last War, this region has taken on new significance. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “… to curb continued aggression from the Valenar elves, Karrnath has established a separate alliance with the halfling clans of the Talenta Plains. This alliance has allowed Karrnathi troops to set up forts in halfling territory for the mutual protection of both nations.” So the buffer zone of halfling communities has existed for centuries, but in the wake of the Last War and this alliance, you have new Talenta tribes choosing to settle in this buffer region and adopting this hybrid lifestyle, as well as nomadic tribes who have shifted their migratory routes to pass through southern Karrnath, taking advantage of the alliance. Essentially, the border between Karrnath and the Talenta Plains is a spectrum whose inhabitants blend the traditions of both cultures. You have halflings who consider themselves Karrns and who are legally Karrnathi citizens, but who still maintain a number of Talenta tradititions (as well as unique traditions that have evolved through the merging of the two cultures)—and you also have nomads who consider themselves Talenta and aren’t Karrnathi citizens, but who are allowed to dwell in southwestern Karrnath due to the current alliance.
So small towns are Karrnathi communities—some of which have been around for centuries—and Karrns of any species are welcome in them. However, the practical fact is that these are mostly small communities, figuratively and literally; they are built by small humanoids for small humanoids. Medium humanoids can usually find shelter in a barn or church, and some villages have a dwarf or human family who may allow medium travelers to stay with them; but overall, these communities are on a smaller scale than the human-built Karrn towns. While many are small in population as well as scale, there are a few small towns of significant size along the Vulyar-Irontown road. The most notable of these is Sorallandan, a town of over ten thousand that has significant outposts of both House Ghallanda and House Jorasco; Sorallandan is a Halfling word meaning “The Hope For Comfort At The End Of A Lengthy Journey.”
Are there halfling warlords in Karrnath, or are these small towns governed by warlords of other species?
It’s a mix. The small towns around Odakyr and Vulyar owe fealty to human warlords, who are content to let the villages follow their own traditions as long as they meet their commitments as vassals. However, there are two domains along the stretch of land between Vulyar and Irontown that are held by halfling warlords. One of these warlord families—the Toralamars—were raised from the small towns centuries ago; Sorallandan is the Toralamar seat, and the family is committed to maintaining the traditions of the towns and ongoing cultural exchange with the Plains. By contrast, the Warlord Asta Vanalan commanded Fort Deepdark during final decade of the Last War, and Kaius recognized her service by granting her dominion over the nearby lands previously ruled by the ir’Jennrei line; while this technically ennobles her, Vanalan rarely employs the ir’ honorific. The Vanalan family has deep roots in Rekkenmark, and Asta is working to impose more traditional Karrnathi culture on the small towns within her domain; this includes an effort to convince Karrns from the west to resettle in the region. As a warlord, Asta has passed the daily duties of command of Deepdark to Brandin ir’Dulinch, but Deepdark remains the seat of her power.
Is there a group of kids in Khorvaire who wear sashes and sell cookies?
The first one that comes to mind are the Ghallanda Scouts. This organization is run by the Hosteler’s Guild of House Ghallanda. The mission of the Ghallanda Scouts is to build confidence and character. The primary focus is on wilderness skills—sharing the Talentan heritage of the house with all who wish to learn. However, it’s also well known for selling cookies, which both helps to raise funds and to hone business skills. Ghallanda Scout programs can be found anywhere where the house has a presence, and all children are welcome to participate; it’s not limited to halflings or Ghallanda heirs. If a character has the Outlander backgrounds, they could have been raised in the wild… or they could be a Sharn native who loved their time in the Ghallanda Scouts; just swap “A trophy from an animal you killed” for “A collection of merit badges.”
How common is the practice of Speak With Dead in the Five Nations?
There’s a few different aspects to this. Speak with dead is a service that exists in Khorvaire; the list of magewrights on page 318 of Rising From The Last War includes a medium who can perform Speak With Dead as a ritual, and elsewhere we mention a member of the Blackened Book—the mystical division of the Sharn Watch—using it as part of an investigation. So it’s a tool that is used in law enforcement, and I’ve previously mentioned it as a tool that would be used in archaeology. With that said, it’s not commonplace in the Five Nations, for a few key reasons.
It’s difficult and expensive. Third level spells are at the top tied of what’s commonly encountered as “everyday magic” and according to Rising, you’d have to pay a medium 100 gp to perform the ritual.
It doesn’t actually contact the spirit of the victim. You are drawing on trace memories attached to the corpse; you aren’t drawing their spirit back from Dolurrh. So it’s an effective way to gather information, but it’s not like you can have a normal conversation with your dead grandpa because you miss him.
It has to be cast on a corpse. Followers of the Silver Flame typically cremate their dead. Vassals bury them and generally don’t look kindly on people digging their relatives up. It’s typically used by investigators before corpses are buried; at the very least, you’re going to have to file some paperwork to get dispensation to dig up a corpse for questioning. Which ties to the fact that…
The people of the Five Nations don’t like necromancy. It’s not outlawed—and again, speak with dead is definitely used by investigators and archaeologists—but in the Five Nations, people think talking to skulls is CREEPY, and digging up the dead is worse.
So speak with dead exists and is used in the Five Nation, but it’s primarily used as an investigative tool prior to burial or as a scholarly tool on remains that have been recovered. Having said that, let’s talk about the exceptions.
Medium is listed as a magewright specialty. Magewrights have limited spell selection and can only cast spells as rituals, but they can also produce effects that are more dramatic than the standard spells. A magewright medium can certainly perform the standard speak with dead ritual—but a skilled medium can do more than that. In my campaign, a skilled medium can cast speak with dead without access to the corpse, provided they have access to strong emotional anchors—objects that were important to the deceased, and most of all, a living person with a connection to them. This is like a classic seance; it is a slow, lengthy process and the people who are close to the deceased have to actively participate in it.
If the deceased person hasn’t been dead for long, such a ritual may actually be able to reach their spirit in Dolurrh; but remember that spirits in Dolurrh are afflicted with ennui and are constantly losing their memories, so the longer they’ve been dead, the less of them will be left. The spell description notes that “Answers are usually brief, cryptic, or repetitive, and the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer.” In the case of reaching a spirit still in Dolurrh I’d require a skill check on the part of the medium (Arcana or Religion) and a Charisma check on the part of the petitioner—with advantage or disadvantage based on their relationship to the deceased and how long they’ve been dead; a good result on both checks might be able to give a semblance of actually having a conversation with the deceased. Of course, the other side of this is that there are some mediums who are simply charlatans—who use detect thoughts to determine what the petitioner wants to hear, and illusion magic to put on a spookshow.
The Seekers of the Divinity Within—AKA the Blood of Vol—have skilled necromancers and no sentimental attachment to corpses. In some Seeker communities, the skulls of people seen as particularly wise or who possess valuable information will be preserved in a sort of library ossuary, allowing a necromancer to consult them with questions. However, this is just standard speak with dead, not something more dramatic like the spirit idols of Aerenal. Mediums can draw on the trace memories that remain in the skulls, but they aren’t actually speaking to the spirits of the deceased.
Meanwhile, when you go to Aerenal speak with dead is a very common tool—but in Aerenal, spirits of the dead are often preserved in spirit idols that prevent them from the dissolution of Dolurrh. When interacting with a spirit idol, speak with dead allows the caster to have an actual conversation with the deceased spirit; it’s not limited to five questions, and provided the spirit likes the questioner, answers don’t need to be cryptic or short.
That’s all for now! If you’d like to present questions for future articles, join my Patreon—thanks to my patrons for their questions and support! I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss these ideas and what you’ve done in your campaign in the comments!
The ship is a shadow in the night, its darkwood hull all but invisible against the water. It is the sail that draws the eye. The black silk is adorned with a hundred crimson sigils, each burning with pale light. The sea is calm, but a groaning wind fills the sails. If you make your living on the Lhazaar Sea, you know what that vessel is. If you’re lucky, it’s a merchant vessel carrying the strange spices and other goods of Farlnen. If not, you’d be wise to make your peace with the Sovereigns. The Bloodsails are known to take prisoners, but they rarely take them alive.
Eye on Eberron: The Bloodsail Principality, Dragon 410
Thousands of years ago, the Undying Court and dragons of Argonnessen joined forces to eradicate the line of Vol. All elves who carried the blood of Vol were slain. But there were many elves who supported Vol despite having no blood ties to the line. The victors offered these defeated elves a choice: swear allegiance to the Undying Court or be exiled from Aerenal. A large force of these exiles traveled north and laid claim to the island of Farlnen, founding the Bloodsail Principality. A bleak and sunless land, Farlnen is charged with the energies of Mabar, allowing the people of this realm to perform remarkable feats of necromancy. Prince Shaen Tasil is the living ruler of Farlnen, but the greatest power on the island is the Grim, a council of mighty undead. Some of the Grim work for the benefit of the Principality, while others focus on their own esoteric interests and arcane research.
The members of the Grim are powerful undead. Canon lore includes one infamous member of the Grim: Lady Illmarrow, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Dead.” Few members of the Grim leave Farlnen; most make extensive use of the power of Mabar, and rely on retinues of skeletal and spectral servants. More than this, Farlnen is a safe haven. There are many would-be heroes—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, Paladins of Dol Arrah—who would be thrilled to destroy a Grim Lord. While few possess the power to accomplish such a thing, most of the Grim prefer to remain in their estates, protected both by powerful wards and by their peers. As a result, only a few of the Grim are known beyond Farlnen—and even those are obscured by legends and rumors. Here are a few unusual members of the Grim, lords whose tales are known in Lhazaar.
Lord Varonaen, The Bloody Gardener
Before the elves came, Farlnen was just bare rock and sand. The sun doesn’t shine there, and no living thing could prosper in that cursed place. But a land with no sun sounds mighty nice if you’re a vampire, like Lord Varonaen! He steers the elves to Farlnen, and when he gets there he breaks his ship to splinters and he scatters the splinters across the stony ground. He kills his own sailors and waters the wood with their blood, and they sprout up as darkwood trees and bloodstained roses. All the night-gardens of Farlnen, it was Varonaen who planted the seeds. And if the Bloodsails kill you on the sea? They’ll keep your bones to work an oar, but they’ll won’t let your flesh go to waste; cargoes of carrion make their way to Farlnen to feed the bloody gardens.
Lord Sylian Varonaen is the oldest member of the Grim. The Varonaen were allies of Vol long before the Mark of Death appeared, and Sylian was one of the first vampires created on Aerenal. Where Vol studied ways to imbue humanoid creatures with the energies of Mabar, Sylian Varonaen explored its effects on plants. Varonaen was fascinated by those strains of flora that managed to adapt to Aerenal’s Mabaran zones, and improved upon these with his own hybrids; it was he who refined the strain of darkwood that Aerenal exports to this day. It was no accident that Varonaen and his exiles came to Farlnen. The elves knew they needed powerful a Mabaran zone to continue their research, and Varonaen came prepared. The story quoted above is apocryphal, but it holds seeds of truth. Varonaen brought his hybrids with him across the Lhazaar Sea and established the first night gardens. He planted darkwood groves, and in the centuries that followed he developed entirely new strains of vegetation that could thrive in the unique conditions of Farlnen. While the stories are exaggerated, there is some truth to them. Darkwood isn’t watered with blood… but some of Varonaen’s creations do thrive when fertilized with the flesh of the dead. Some of his experiments are just plants, but others can be treated as both plants and undead; Varonaen has created assassin vines that drain the lifeforce of creatures they constrict and a shrieker that howls with the cry of a banshee.
Lord Varonaen played a vital role in founding Farlnen. The people rely on his hybrid plants as a source of both food and lumber, and the exotic spices and wines produced from his creations are unique exports sold by Bloodsail merchants. Despite his part in ensuring the survival of his people, Varonaen has never asserted his power over his peers; his plants are his sole obsession, and he has spent the centuries working on his gardens. He has the manner of a mild, friendly scholar—but he feels no compunctions about creating plantlife that feeds on the living, or sacrificing strangers in this work.
There was a time when Lord Varonaen traveled in search of exotic blooms. It was on such a journey that he was destroyed by the Deathguard of Aerenal. While his vampire form was reduced to ashes, Varonaen had bound his spirit to his garden much as a lich has its phylactery. He was reborn in Farlnen as a wraith (albeit a unique wraith with spellcasting abilities). While he often remains in this incorporeal form while doing his work, he has crafted a body from darkwood and can animate this vessel when he wishes to interact with the physical world. He hasn’t left Farlnen since his death, and it may be that he can’t travel far from this soul garden. However, adventurers could encounter his creations either in Farlnen or beyond, or have need of an exotic elixir that can only be produced from his undead plants. He could even have an interest in consulting with an adventurer renowned as a master alchemist or unusual druid.
You think you’ve looked death in the eye? Wait until you’ve stared into the empty sockets in the skull of a dragon turtle, after it’s capsized your ship and it’s coming right for you. I’m telling you now, you get too close to the Sunless Isle and pirates are the least of your worries. I know you’ve heard these stories before, but have you ever wondered where the Bloodsails GOT these bones so they could animate ’em? I can tell you in two words: Haeldar Krakensbane. He was a legend in life, a dragonslayer who fought alongside the rebel elves just for a chance to fight dragons. He got himself exiled for his troubles, and sailed north with the rest of ’em. His ship runs afoul of a bloody great kraken, which demands tribute from the fleet. The elves, they’re rightly terrified, and they all agree to pay its price. But Haeldar, he’s not having it. It’s his ancestor, see? Never would bend to a beast. So he siezes control of his ship, and no surprise, kraken sinks it and kills everyone aboard—including Haeldar’s children! You’d think that would be the end of it, but weeks later, as them elves are camped out on the sunless shore, they see a monster on the horizon. It’s the kraken; after it swallowed Haeldar, he refused to die, dug his way up through its heart and out its eye. Now here he is, riding the damn dead thing home.
That beast still patrols the waters of Farlnen today. And Haeldar… he spends much of his time mourning his lost children, but when the mood is upon him, he goes back to sea. He won’t force his own on the hunt, not again. But he’ll board another vessel, take command of it, and take it on another monster hunt. If he comes to your ship, hope you’re one of the lucky ones, that he takes down his prey with your vessel still intact. Haeldar Krakensbane never misses his mark… but the ships he sails rarely make it home again.
In life, Haeldar Arrael was a Tairnadal of the Draleus Tairn. He fought alongside the line of Vol not because he believed in their cause, but because it gave him the opportunity to fight dragons. Over the course of the conflict, he fell in love with an elf of the Vyrael line, and following the defeat of the line of Vol he sailed north in the company of his wife and kin. As the story says, when a mighty leviathan threatened his ship, Haeldar put his dreams of glory ahead of the safety of his family. He lost everything, including his own life—but his hunger for victory was so great that he returned as a death knight in the very belly of the kraken, slaying his enemy and animating its corpse.
As described in the tale, Haeldar spends much of his days in mourning. But he is also the source of many of the great beasts bound in undeath as guardians of Farlnen. Haeldar slays these creatures—serpents, dragon turtles, his eponymous kraken—personally, and it is his unique gift that animates those he slays; however, he turns control of these sentinels over to living necromancers upon his return to the island. And as the tale says, when he is in the mood for a hunt, Haeldar will set out on board a Bloodsail vessel—but he will board and sieze control of some other ship, ensuring that he doesn’t place more elves at risk in his relentless pursuit of challenges at sea. Adventurers on the water could encounter a vessel that’s been seized by Haeldar and is in the midst of a hunt—or they could be aboard a vessel when Haeldar commandeers it, and have to decide whether to fight the death knight or to assist him and hope to survive his hunt.
The Ship of Eldaraen
When I was just a boy in the rigging, my captain spotted a ship dead in the water near Farlnen. Beautiful elven vessel it was, not a soul aboard. We board the vessel, no sign of the crew, but it’s well loaded with treasures. The sailors, they took what they could carry; me, I was just a boy, and I’d heard all too much about Farlnen to see such a thing as luck. After looting what he could, my captain scuttles the ship and we watch it sink as he sails away. But late that night, the lass in the ‘nest calls a ship on the horizon. It was that same vessel, good as new, following us. The captain, he panics, starts prepping Zil fire he’d been saving to burn the cursed ship down. He launched six cannisters, and the riggings of the elf ship were all aflame. But then, as sure as I see you now, I saw a shadow amid the barrels we had left… and that’s all I saw before the explosion. I’m the only one who survived, and whatever loot my captain claimed, it should be spread across the bottom of the ocean. But I tell you this, and I’m telling you true: I remember my captain holding that same golden skull you have in your hand now, and that ship behind us, it’s the same one we sank so long ago.
Many see the days before Galifar as the golden age of piracy. Riedran ships were on the water, but there was no united Galifar and the dragonmarked houses had only a sliver of the power they wield today. In those days Bloodsail captain Vyra Eldaraen was the terror of the northern seas. She plundered the oceans for two centuries before her luck finally ran out. With all the plunder she’d amassed, Eldaraen was restored as an oathbound, and she chose to be bound to her ship. Though other members of the Grim warned against it, she sought to continue her career—and soon enough, the Deathguard and a brave captain—Bright Lorrister, a distant ancestor of the modern Prince of the Heavenly Fleet—destroyed Eldaraen and sunk her ship. But a century later, records reported a clear sighting of Eldaraen’s vessel, as good as new. It seemed that somehow, Eldaraen had become something more than any mere oathbound; she had become truly bound to the ship itself, and just as a lich’s body reforms after it is destroyed, the ship of Eldaraen will always return… even if no original part of the ship remains.
Stories of the Ship of Eldaraen vary, and it seems that it goes through stages. In some stories, the ship is actively populated by a crew of wights and shadows, with Eldaraen herself manifesting as a wraith among them. In others, as in the tale shared above, the ship appears to be empty… though in some stories, Eldaraen manifests aboard it in a form similar to a demilich. A few facts are consistent…
The Ship is immune to all forms of divination. Creatures can’t teleport into or out of the ship or use planar travel to enter or leave it, unless traveling to Mabar.
The Ship seems to have become a mobile manifest zone tied to Mabar, which extends 500 feet from the ship. Within that area. The radius of all light sources is halved; saving throws against necromancy spells are made with disadvantage; and undead have advantage on saving throws to avoid being turned or frightened.
The ship carries the plunder of centuries, but treasures taken from it often bring ill luck. Sometimes the items themselves are actively cursed. Other treasures cause the victim to be tracked by the Ship itself (as in the story above) or specters from its crew, or haunted by nightmares until the loot is flung back into the water. The details vary, but the treasures of Eldaraen always return to her eventually.
The Ship of Eldaraen is included in this article as it is a powerful undead entity tied to the Bloodsail Principality. However, Eldaraen is not believed to be an active member of the Grim; the ship follows its own path, and doesn’t appear to coordinate with the living. On the other hand, it’s possible that there is more to this than meets the eye. It could be that Eldaraen is in contact with other Lords of the Grim, communicating through sending or even interacting with them in the court of the Bone King of Mabar. Even if this is not the case, it’s possible that a living Bloodsail elf could track down the Ship and recruit Eldaraen to help her people should the Bloodsails have need of her.
The Vyrael Sisters
The Bloodsail Elves pursue undeath as a path to eternal life. Some are content to endure the red thirst of the vampire or undertake the vows of the oathbound. Others yearn for the power of the lich—but that power isn’t a gift that can be given. It can only be claimed by a being who possesses both tremendous will and arcane knowledge. Few individuals possesses these traits… but on Farlnen, there’s one example of a family claiming power no single member could achieve alone. The Vyrael were one of the largest and most powerful families among the exiled elves that set out for Farlnen. In the early days of the island, three sisters of the Vyrael line rose to prominence, working with Lord Varonaen to establish the night gardens and to lay the foundations of Farlnen. Centuries later, they knew their time was running out. Torae believed that she had mastered the ritual that granted lichdom, but she was certain her two sisters couldn’t survive the process… and she couldn’t bear to leave her siblings behind. Working together they became something entirely new—the first Skull Lord of Farlnen, three spirits bound together in a single form.
The Vyrael Sisters are one of the more active members of the Grim. Each sister has her own interests, and they take turns serving as the primary force of their shared body.
Torae Vyrael is the most accomplished wizard of the sisters. While she is in control of the body the DM should feel free to change the standard spells of the Skull Lord, and she should also possess a single 8th level spell slot and expertise with Arcana. Torae loves to spend her days studying obscure lore or mentoring accomplished Bloodsail necromancers. If an elf player character has Vyrael blood (knowingly or not) and arcane talent, Torae could reach out to them through sending and dream and offer to serve as a mentor; she would make an excellent Undead patron for a warlock.
Solae Vyrael is the most politically active of the sisters. While she is the dominant spirit, they have expertise with Insight and Persuasion. Solae advises Prince Shaen Tasil, and enjoys hosting salons and galas with Bloodsail captains and other interesting individuals. While foreigners are rarely welcome on Farlnen, exotic adventurers who visit the Sunless Isle might receive an invitation to such a salon. If so, they’d best prove entertaining; boring guests rarely survive the evening. Of course, spurning an invitation from Vyrael is even more dangerous than attending…
Vyla Vyrael is a scholar and philosopher, with expertise in History and Religion; while she is in control of the body, they can switch up to five spells for spells from the Cleric spell list. While she studies religions, Vyla herself draws her divine power through Mabar, shaped by her will. Nonetheless, she is fascinated by the concept of religion, and hopes to some day concretely prove the existence of the Sovereigns—though she largely subscribes to the view that if the Sovereigns exist, they are cruel. Should a group of adventurers be seeking the mysteries of the divine, it’s possible Vyla may have answers they seek. She also collects divine artifacts, and adventurers could clash with agents she’s dispatched to recover a new relic for her collection.
One of the Sisters always holds dominance over their shared body, and this is something that can be changed after a long rest. However, the other sisters are an active presence at all times. They can speak and offer opinions; but it is the active spirit that affects the capabilities of the body. The Sisters have a longstanding feud with Haeldar Krakensbane, whom they blame for the death of their aunt. While they have never engaged in any direct violence against Haeldar, it’s quite possible they’d provide surreptitious aid to adventurers clashing with the Krakensbane. The Sisters are essentially an unusual form of lich, and it’s quite possible that they have a phylactery and will return if they are destroyed; however, returning in this way would require the willpower of all three sisters, and if one sister lost her desire to cling to existence, they would all pass on.
The Grim Lords mentioned here are among the most unusual of their kind. Most members of the Grim are vampires, with oathbound (mummies) as the next most common form; there are only one or two liches aside from Illmarrow and the Lords Vyrael. These are all I have time to discuss now, but hopefully these give you some ideas to work with!
If Farlnen is such a powerful source of Mabaran undead and the Undying Court hates the practice of Mabaran necromancy, why hasn’t Aerenal done more to wipe out the Bloodsails?
Mabar consumes light and life. There are many who believe that anything that draws the energies of Mabar into Eberron is inherently destructive, and in particular that undead animated by the power of Mabar ambiently consume the lifeforce of Eberron itself. In many ways, this is analogous to the threat of global warming in our world. It’s a threat that is only expected to play out over a very long time with incremental impacts (such as grass withering around a garrison of skeletal warriors). Given this, there’s people who are concerned about it; people who are convinced it’s nonsense; and the vast majority of people who simply don’tcare.
The Aereni care, and they’ve created the Deathguard as a force that eliminates undead and polices the practice of Mabaran necromancy. But Aerenal is an extremely insular nation that takes almost no action in the world beyond its borders. Most notably, the original description of the Deathguard in the 3.5 ECS states that the Deathguard was “Created to battle the corrupted spirits of the realm…” which is to say, they mainly operate in Aerenal itself. Essentially, if you compare Mabaran necromancy to global warming, Aerenal has enacted extremely strict regulations within Aerenal itself… but they aren’t sending soldiers to Detroit to blow up automobile factories, let along smashing individual gas-guzzling cars in New Jersey. The key point here is Karrnath. The skeletons in the armies of Karrnath likely outnumber the entire population of Farlnen. Yet over the course of a century, the Deathguard hasn’t somehow brought down Karrnath or destroyed Fort Bones. What they have done is send agents—notably, a highly influential agent with direct access to the king, who has convinced Kaius III to break ties with the Blood of Vol and to limit military necromancy. But that’s a more typical path for the Deathguard to pursue in the wider world than direct military action.
The second key point is that Farlnen is in a strong Mabaran manifest zone. Mabaran manifest zones are a part of the world and always have been, offset by the presence of Irian manifest zones. The short form is that Mabaran necromancy has less impact on the environment when it’s practiced in such a manifest zone because you’re already halfway in Mabar. So making skeletons on Farlnen adds less to your carbon footprint than making them in Sharn. This ties to the fact that many of the major centers for necromancy—such as Atur—are in Mabaran zones. The Aereni don’t like any use of Mabaran necomancy, but they’re not very concerned about Atur, Odakyr, or Farlnen; we’ve called out before that necromancers channeling the energies of such a zone may actually reduce its overall environmental impact.
So cutting to the chase: destroying individual undead is really pretty small potatoes for Aerenal; they aren’t trying to hunt down every individual vampire in the world any more than environmental activists in our world blow up individual gas-powered cars. Occasionally, they WILL target what they see as high value targets. They took down Lord Varonaen a few centuries ago, and they killed Eldaraen—though there, note that they worked with a local hero to pull it off. But overall, they don’t mind the Bloodsails existing as long as they are largely confined to Farlnen. They would be far more concerned if the Bloodsails spread the practice of Mabaran necromancy throughout the Principalities, and that’s one reason the Bloodsails haven’t done that, and why they haven’t spread their culture beyond the island… but even if that occurred, as seen in Karrnath, Aerenal would be more likely to send a diplomat than an assassin to deal with the problem.
The short form is that Deathguard strikes can happen, but it’s extremely rare for them to occur outside of Aerenal—and when they do, it’s very likely that the Deathguard will try to work with some sort of local heroes, like Bright Lorrister in Lhazaar. All of which is to say that rather than solving a problem for the PCs, the Deathguard are likely to try to work with capable adventurers and deal with the problem together.
Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who selected this topic and who make these articles possible. If you want to have a voice in the topic of future articles—and potentially, to get to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign!—check out my Patreon!
October was a chaotic month for many reasons, and I’m also preparing for Pax Unplugged—my first convention in almost two years! As a result I haven’t been able to write much for the last few weeks. There’s an article on The Mockery in the works, but for now I wanted to share a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters last month.
Is there crime in Seeker towns and villages? Since the overall theme of the Blood of Vol seems to be “we only have each other/self-improvement” at it’s most altruistic, I wonder if the usual trigger for crime (lack of resources/access and a submarket growing to fill need) exists in a community that’s living very community minded.
All of the major religions of Eberron encourage strong communities. The Silver Flame encourages people to stand together in the face of supernatural threats, and to try to fight human evil with compassion and by example. The Blood of Vol teaches that we face a hostile universe and cruel gods and all we have is one another. The Sovereign Host urges us to obey Aureon’s laws, while Boldrei binds a community together. But within any community, not everyone will hold to one of these faiths, and even those who do may not live up to the ideals of their faith… or interpret them generously. There are many faiths in our world that encourage compassion and charity; but not everyone who follows those faiths shares their possessions with the poor. And this doesn’t begin to deal with crimes of passion and other unpremeditated crime. Beyond this, there’s the possibility of a Seeker criminal who emphasizes breaking the laws of the land to get the people of their community the things they need; there’s also a practice common in many grifter communities of only targeting outsiders. Everyone knows Joey is a pickpocket, but they also know he only targets tourists and adventurers passing through, so that’s fine; he may even tithe part of his take to the local church.
So I don’t think I’d say “There is no crime in Seeker communities.” Instead, I’d consider how crime might evolve in such a community—IE criminals who are acting in the best interests of the community or targeting outsiders—and also consider the likelihood that as with Karrnath in general, the forces of the law might be especially ruthless in a Seeker community; if you DO choose to prey upon your community, they’ll make a harsh example of you. This would actually be a potential contrast between Seekers and the Silver Flame. The Flame encourages us to show compassion and inspire by example—so you want to show mercy to the criminal and try to guide them to the light. I can see Seekers being considerably more pragmatic; if you prey on your community, you’ve made your choice and will suffer the consequences. The Silver Flame believes that noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, and thus tries to guide people to the light; the Blood of Vol knows this life is all we have and won’t waste time with such notions.
Targath doesn’t get much mention after being floated as a resource for periapts of health, reducing the risk of disease, and as a weapon against deathless in ECS. Since it’s a resource found in Northern Argonnessen do you have any thoughts for ways the dragons, Seren, and dragonborn could make use of targath for both benign purposes and as a weapon?
Targath is an exotic metal introduced in the 3.5 EBerron Campaign setting, along with byreshk, bronzewood, and others. Part of the point of targath is that it’s an exotic metal almost completely unknown in Khorvaire, and mined and used by a civilization that is all but unknown and dramatically more advanced than Khorvaire. in this, it is quite similar to vibranium in the Marvel Universe—a wondrous substance, but one the common people know almost nothing about, encountered in the weapons of champions. Odds are good that only a handful of sages and artificers in Khorvaire have even encountered targath, and those who have only in weapons recovered from remnants of the Dragonborn Empire or Seren champions. The Aereni are familiar with it, but for obvious reasons they would have no reason to encourage knowledge of it or spread it around. Among other things, this makes it a fun “miracle substance” for PC artificers to “discover”—WE know it just as a set of game mechanics, but for the PC artificer it’s a source of unknown potential and an obvious “power component” they could use to create items likea periapt of health. Even the Dragonborn of Q’barra have no traffic with Argonnessen, so their Targath items would be the regalia of champions, handed down over the course of thousands of years. Essentially, the point is that this is one way to concretely identify an item as belonging to the Trothlorsvek; it’s made from a metal unknown on Khorvaire.
Looking to the Serens, the question is whether the metal can be found on the islands, or only on mainland Argonnessen. If it’s on the islands, the Serens may use it in many ways, likely incorporating it into unenchanted decorations and ornaments. This could imbue a general degree of health across their population, even without the full effect of a magic item. The Serens aren’t an advanced culture, so I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of exotic mystical uses, but they may also have items given to them by their draconic patrons. As for the dragons, keep in mind that Targath is like dragonshards: it’s an exotic material that doesn’t exist in our world but that channels a particular form of mystical energy in undefined ways. It’s especially tied to HEALTH, so amulets of health and periapts of wound closure are obvious. But a belt of giant strength, armor of poison resistance, or cloak of protection forged in Argonnessen could all be described as having Targath strands woven through them. Potions of healing from Argonnessen could be identified by the traces of Targath infused into the potion, and it could be this that allows Argonnessen to produce potions of supreme healing, potions of longevity, and elixirs of health.
Ultimately, it’s an exotic substance that allows an alien culture to produce wonders we can’t produce in the Five Nations; you can work it into any sort of magical effect associated with supernatural health.
How suspicious are the major nations of Riedra beyond what you’d usually expect of a nation looking at another nation whose intentions you’re not fully sure of?
Well, let’s compare Aerenal and Riedra. Both are distant nations. Both are isolationist cultures that don’t allow outsiders to freely travel through their lands. Both are older than Galifar and have rigid traditions. Both claim to have leaders who possess divine powers. Keep in mind that aside from its conflict with the Kalashtar, Riedra has never been a conquering power; it arose from the Sundering when the Inspired UNITED the common people to bring an end to the vicious conflict between the warring nations. So again, Riedra is older than Galifar, but has never engaged in any sort of obviously hostile action against Khorvaire. It’s been a reliable trade partner and has helped multiple nations over the course of the war. What reason is there to BE suspicious of it? The people of Khorvaire may find Riedran customs to be strange and oppressive, but overall the RIEDRANS are content; so again, what reason is there to be suspicious of them? And if there IS reason to be suspicious, would those same suspicions be applied to Aerenal? WE know about the Dreaming Dark and Riedran aspirations. But part of the point of the Dreaming Dark is that it can be a disruptive force in Khorvaire without directly employing Riedran agents. if anything, the main reason to BE suspicious of Riedra is that it’s TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE… it’s TOO friendly. Why were they so willing to help out Khorvaire during the war? Why aren’t they interested in spreading their culture or beliefs to Khorvaire? Why don’t they want outsiders roaming unrestricted in their lands?
So on a high level no one is particularly suspicious of either Riedra or Aerenal, because both are isolationist powers that don’t actually seem to WANT anything from Khorvaire. However, there may be INDIVIDUALS—spies, ministers, sages—who have personal suspicions and gut feelings they’re trying to justify. On the other hand, the Dreaming Dark can use dream manipulation to help improve their image. It’s amazing how many people have dreams about helpful, friendly Riedrans…
If the players found a way into Dal Quor, and took the fight to Tirashana (a powerful agent of the Dreaming Dark) in her home plane, where might they find her?
I think the main question is whether she’s expecting company. if so, I’d expect her to build her lair from the nightmares of the adventurers who are pursuing her. Dal Quor is a mutable reality, so her lair could include the childhood home of one of the adventurers, or the prisoner of war camp they were in during the Last War, or the site of a tragic loss. I’d look to the book/movie IT as a possible source of inspiration, in terms of what it means to attack a mistress of nightmares in the seat of her power. Likewise, you might want to read The Gates of Night, which has some general inspiration for adventures in Dal Quor. But the key point is that I would build her lair from the nightmares of the player characters. And to do that, I’d personally ask the players to help shape it. I’d ask THEM to tell me what’s so scary or creepy about a scene—because they know better than you what their character would find terrifying. One of the greatest strengths of RPGs is that they are COLLABORATIVE. Especially when it comes to horror, each player knows better than you what they would find terrifying and entertaining—and likewise, they know better than you the lines they don’t want to cross and the things they DON’T want to experience in a story.
Could describe your ideas for a Quori of Sloth? How would they effect dreamers? What is their position and role in hierarchy of Dreaming Dark?
“Sloth” isn’t quite the right word for a quori. The general idea is that quori specialize in developing and manipulating particular emotions or moods. So the key is that this quori—which I’ll call the Lluora—doesn’t embody sloth itself; rather, it specializes in SAPPING MOTIVATION. Consider all the tools of procrastination—creating distracting tasks or options; causing the mortal to endlessly question their decisions, paralyzing them with self-doubt; causing them to question their end goal; encouraging Whataboutism and “Why bother doing anything when nothing will ever really change?” I don’t think they’d be common. One possibility is that they’d be a sort of jailor, trapping mortals in their own mental prisons and preventing them from ever building up the motivation to escape. Another is that they’d advise kalaraq, suggesting ways to undermine mortal motivation.
So in short, the Lluora is a quori spirit that specializes in creating doubt, undermining self esteem, and similar tools. “Why bother doing anything at all?”
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible!
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few of the questions that came up this month!
In our world, some fairy tales heroes deal with/encounter undead: Ghosts, wraiths, skeletons, headless horsemen, etc. On the material plane, the hero would encounter them in manifest zones to Dolurrh or Mabar, but how would that story be told in Thelanis? Are there any fey in Thelanis that have to do with undead or necromancy?
First of all, you can find almost anything in Thelanis if it fits a story archetype. There’s a barony in Thelanis with a massive dragon in it, and a barony filled with ghosts. But the key point is that those ghosts were never living mortals, and that dragon likewise isn’t mortal (it’s an archfey!) and has no connection to Argonnessen or the dragons of Eberron. If a ghost story is about a ghost that lingers because of unfinished business, it’s likely tied to Dolurrh. If it’s about an aggressive undead being who consumes life or hope, it’s likely tied to Mabar. If it’s more about the abstract idea—a story that can be found repeated in many cultures, that’s more about the allegory than the specific actions of a historical undead creature—then it could be tied to Thelanis. You can have devils in Fernia, Shavarath, and Daanvi, but they’re very different from one another; likewise, you can have ghosts in Mabar, Dolurrh, or Thelanis, but they’re very different from one another. Thelanian undead aren’t actually the remnants of mortals; they’re the IDEA of remnants of mortals. It’s up to the DM to decide whether these creatures should even be considered to be undead for purposes of magical effects, or if they are in fact fey. personally, I’d probably be inclined to make Thelanian ghosts both undead AND fey; they ARE fey, but they react like you’d expect undead to react, because that’s the story.
Who is Lady Dusk of the Crimson Covenant?
The article on the Crimson Covenant notes that members of the Covenant “guide and protect other Seekers. The Crimson Covenant are the oldest and most powerful of these undead champions, some of whom were guiding the Seekers before Erandis Vol even knew the faith existed. ” It’s also long been noted that Seeker communities donate blood which is kept in barrels of preserving pine to sustain vampire champions. This practice began with Lady Dusk, believed by some to be the first human vampire in Khorvaire. Given her age and the secrecy with which she shrouds herself, few facts are known about her. The most common of these is that she was the daughter of a warlord in the first days of Karrnath; recent scholarly work suggests that she was a member of the House of the Ram, one of the warlord dynasties that would eventually merge into House Deneith. When elf refugees came west fleeing the destruction of the Line of Vol, the lady gave them shelter and fell in love with one of these refugees. When her family decided to exterminate these elves, Lady Dusk fought alongside them. She was executed by her family… but, according to the story, her lover had already shared her blood and Dusk rose as a child of the night.
Ever since then, Lady Dusk has followed the path of the undead champion—acting to guide and protect the Seekers of the Divinity Within. She’s the model of an undead champion of the faith and the reason communities began storing reserves of blood. With that said, this is dangerous work; over the centuries, most of her peers—including her lover—have been destroyed, and Dusk herself has narrowly escaped many times. As such she rarely acts openly; she disguises herself and works from the shadows. If something is threatening a Seeker community, she won’t just charge in with fangs bared; she will try to organize mortal resistance. It’s the idea of teaching someone to fish instead of fishing for them; Lady Dusk is a GUIDE, and those she assists may never know who their mentor was.
What do the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes eat to survive? Do they make use of Shadow Demiplanes for resources in the same way as the Ghaash’kala?
There’s flora and fauna in the Demon Wastes, it’s just highly aggressive and often poisonous or infused with fiendish power. Over many generations the Carrion Tribes have developed resistances to these natural and supernatural toxins, and they can eat things travelers can’t safely eat—though in part because of this diet, members of the Carrion Tribes have a very low life expectancy and their numbers remain relatively low. The Carrion Tribes aren’t as disciplined or well equipped as the Ghaash’kala and also rarely retain institutional knowledge; for all of these reasons, they don’t harness demiplanes as effectively as the Ghaash’kala. Essentially, there’s lots of things you can eat in the Demon Wastes, if you don’t mind hosting infernal parasites, shortening your lifespan and suffering hallucinations and severe mood swings; for the Carrion Tribes, that’s just a typical Tuesday.
How do you imagine the curriculum at Arcanix to be? Is the goal of classes specifically to teach how to cast spells in a practical manner, in which case I’d imagine most courses don’t go beyond the Third Circle, or are there classes in which the theory of higher level magic is studied even if the spell can’t be cast by the students? Accompanying this, I’m curious if there’s a presence by Wizard Circles in Arcanix similar to companies at universities trying to recruit talent near graduation.
The Strixhaven book coming out in a month is sure to have lots of suggestions about this topic, so I’m somewhat loathe to discuss it now. But first of all, arcane magic is a form of science, so to begin with, consider how any form of science is taught. You’re going to have base entry-level classes that teach the principles of Arcana along with the basics of arcane science and history. These will advance into practical magic, from there into study of specific schools of magic, from there into specialized topics within that field. Most students of Arcanix don’t become wizards, and there are some who can cast perform ritual magic that’s beyond the Third Circle, just more limited than what a wizard can do; so yes, there are definitely classes dealing with magical THEORY that goes beyond the practical limits of 3rd level spells. Keep in mind that Arcanix is always driving students to push beyond the limits of what’s currently possible; Third Circle may be the practical limit of everyday magic TODAY, but the students of Arcanix intend to change that.
Many of the students of Arcanix will never cast spells as a wizard or sorcerer does. However, Aundair has the highest percentage of wandslingers and war wizards in the Five Nations. Thus you have the War College within Arcanix, which focuses on practical battlefield magic. It’s here that you will get direct training in combat cantrips, arcane sparring, drills to hone concentration, and so on, along with classes in tactics and strategy.
Meanwhile, wizard circles aren’t COMPANIES. The equivalent to companies would be the dragonmarked houses or the Arcane Congress, both of which do send recruiters to Arcanix. But wizard circles are essentially fraternities; they don’t simply have recruiters at Arcanix, they have CHAPTERS at Arcanix.
How do the magic tattoos from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything fit into Eberron?
Like all magic items, magical tattoos are a set of mechanics, which can be flavored very differently based on the story and cosmetic elements associated with them. There’s no single form of magic tattoo or single culture associated with them; instead, there are a number of different forms of magical tattooing. Sigilry is the field of arcane science that is used to create scrolls, and master sigilists can create magical tattoos infused with arcane power. On Khorvaire, the Mark of Scribing has given Sivis the edge in creating magical tattoos, but Thuranni and Phiarlan also have a limited tradition of arcane tattoos. But magical tattoos can also be created using divine magic—such as the couatl tattoos of the Ghaash’kala, which I mentioned in a recent article. Such tattoos are in part empowered by the faith of the bearer and can usually only be attuned by a person who shares the faith of the creator. There’s also a primal tradition of tattooing, employed by the shifters of the Towering Wood; Races of Eberron discusses these tattoos, which shift in appearance when the bearer activates their shifting trait. So it’s the same way that many different cultures use wands, but the design of the wand and the powers channeled will vary based on the culture and their magical tradition.
What do the Valaes Tairn do when they aren’t fighting? Would there be a reason for a group of warriors to be in Sharn besides looking for an artifact of some kind?
What they do when not fighting depends on their patron ancestor. Tairnadal seek to emulate their patrons at all times, not just in battle; so what was their patrons known for? Were they explorers? Entertainers? Arcane researchers? With that said, as long as it doesn’t directly oppose what their patrons would do, Tairnadal can also pursue their own interests when there’s no clearly mandated path. So a group of Tairnadal in Sharn could be looking for work; they could be tourists passing the time between mercenary assignments; they could be pursuing a rogue Tairnadal who betrayed their warband; they could be following the example of their patron. There were grand cities in Xen’drik at the time of the elven rebellion; perhaps their patron was known for protecting the innocent in the shadows of the greatest city of the age. The Tairnadal have identified Sharn as the closest equivalent and are fighting crime in Lower Dura!
That’s all for now! If you have an infrequently asked question, I’ll be taking another round soon on my Patreon!
In my previous article, I answered questions my patrons posed about the Blood of Vol. In response to that, one of my patrons asked a question that had deeper roots reflected the changes to the setting over the course of three editions of D&D.
Could you please clarify the historical relationship between the vampiric Kaius, the Blood of Vol, and Erandis/Illmarrow under your current conception of their lore?
One of the most infamous “secrets” from the original Eberron Campaign Setting is that Kaius ir’Wynarn III, the King of Karrnath, is actually Kaius I—that he was transformed into a vampire by Erandis Vol and replaced his descendant. I say “secret” because this information was included in the basic description of Karrnath in the book, and because there have been images and miniatures of Kaius the Vampire… so while it was supposed to be a secret in the WORLD, most PLAYERS were aware of it. In describing this, the ECS says…
When the Last War was in full swing, Kaius I was approached by priests of the Blood of Vol. These priests promised to aid Karrnath against its enemies, provided Kaius agreed to a few minor considerations… First, the priests worked with Kaius’s own court wizards to perfect the process for creating zombie and skeleton troops to bolster Karrnath’s forces… Second, the priests provided an elite fighting force dedicated to both Vol and Kaius—the Order of the Emerald Claw.
That was in the ECS, the first Eberron book ever written. Over the course of fifteen years, the concept of the Blood of Vol, Erandis Vol, Lady Illmarrow, and the Order of the Emerald Claw all evolved. Lady Illmarrow is a spider who has agents spread among the Seekers—including priests and members of the Crimson Covenant—but the faith doesn’t serve her personally. Likewise, it has been established that the Order of the Emerald Claw was just ONE of the Seeker chivalric orders, but not the only one. So for a more detailed breakdown of the timeline as I personally run it…
Early in the war, plagues and famines wreak havoc in Karrnath. Priests of the Blood of Vol — possibly including Malevanor’s predecessor Askalor, or even a young and still living Malevanor — approach Kaius and propose an alliance between the Seekers and the crown, offering necromantic advancements and undead troops in exchange for elevating and celebrating the faith and developing the chivalric orders.
The Seekers celebrate this alliance and the common people grudgingly accept it. Over the course of decades, Seeker priests and necromancers work to find ways to enhance Karrnath’s military might through necromancy. This includes widespread use of common undead troops with their bone knight commanders, the development of the Seeker orders, and the perfection of the Odakyr Rites, creating the Karrnathi undead.
This continues until the Regent Moranna turns against the Blood of Vol, disbands the orders, and breaks ties between the faith and the crown. When Kaius III rises to power, he blames Karrnath’s troubles—including the plagues and famines that originally set the alliance in motion—on the Seekers, a populist strategy that salvages Karrnathi pride and seeks to solidify support behind Kaius; this is important because not all of the warlords support his desire for peace.
This all public-facing, well documented fact. What is NOT publicly known is what happened to Kaius I and the role of Lady Illmarrow. One of the intentional choices we made when writing Eberron Rising From The Last War was to leave the ultimate truth about this up to the DM. Specifically, Rising includes a newspaper article that says Maybe Kaius is a Vampire… Or maybe he isn’t! This is tied to an in-world conspiracy theory I personally subscribe to, but I’ll get back to that later. So the main point is that what I’m about to say isn’t a spoiler, because IT MAY NOT BE TRUE IN THE CAMPAIGN YOU ARE PLAYING IN, reader. But with the assumption that Kaius I is a vampire…
Long before the Last War, Lady Illmarrow worked to spread agents throughout the Seekers. She gained power over priests and even placed a number of her own loyal servants within the Crimson Covenant. While useful, this influence was limited by the fact that the Seekers had little political influence and no organized military; there was no equivalent to the Order of the Emerald Claw for her to use. As the Last War began, she used her influence with her Seeker agents to promote the idea of the alliance with the Crown. It’s worth noting that it is entirely possible that ILLMARROW is responsible for some of the plagues and famines, creating a situation where Kaius needed the alliance. Regardless of whether this is true, the priests who approached Kaius I largely did so in good faith, truly believing that their actions would benefit both their country and their faith—while Illmarrow’s loyalists made sure to include the idea of the Seeker chivalric orders. In the decades that followed, the elevation of the Seekers and their integration into the military served Illmarrow’s agenda in a number of different ways. Her agents within the Seekers gained more broad influence in the nation. She gained greater access to the Karrnathi military (remember, not all the members of the modern Emerald Claw are Seekers—many are just Karrnathi veterans and patriots!). She had access to the arcane resources of Karrnath to help her develop necromantic weapons. And with the development of the chivalric orders, she was able to build the core of a force that could serve as her personal strike force—the Order of the Emerald Claw.
Next, the ECS tells us this:
When Vol, the ancient lich at the heart of the Blood of Vol cult, appeared before Kaius to collect her “considerations” for the aid her priests provided him, he had no choice but to submit. In addition to allowing the cult to establish temples and bases throughout Karrnath, Vol demanded that Kaius partake in the Sacrament of Blood. Instead of the usual ceremony, Vol invoked an ancient incantation that turned Kaius into a vampire. Instead of becoming a compliant thrall, however, Kaius fought to keep his independence. Furious that the vampire refused to be humbled, Vol eventually forced the issue by triggering Kaius’s blood lust (something he had been struggling to control). When the crimson haze cleared, Kaius discovered that he had killed his beloved wife.
Even with the many changes over the years, in my campaign the basic idea of this is the same. As the price of the continued Seeker alliance—something Illmarrow could control through her agents—Kaius was forced to become a vampire. This should have made him a thrall forced to do Illmarrow’s bidding, but somehow he was able to resist her control… though not before killing his wife. We know that what happened next is that he went into hiding. There’s likely two reasons for this: the first being that the world wasn’t (and still isn’t) ready to put a vampire on the throne of Galifar, and the second being that whatever allowed him to resist Illmarrow’s control wasn’t reliable; he had to go into hiding until he found a way to protect himself from her influence. The ECS tells us “Now, after eighty years of hiding and secretly working to break all ties with the Blood of Vol, Kaius has returned to govern his nation. He has taken the place of his great grandson, pretending to be Kaius III.” Looking back to the public-facing facts, it is at this time that Karrnath breaks ties with the Seekers and disbands the chivalric orders. It’s up to you how far this goes; as I say above, in my campaign Kaius III is now using the faith as a straw man to build support. Regardless of whether you follow that path, Kaius III has taken an anti-Seeker stance and opposes Illmarrow, while Illmarrow has reformed the Order of the Emerald Claw as her personal army, including both original Seeker members and Karrnathi fanatics who believe she will return Karrnath to greatness (unlike peace-loving Kaius III).
The question that remains is who is Kaius III? It is possible that he’s Kaius I the vampire pretending to be Kaius III. I personally like the theory that he’s Kaius III pretending to be Kaius I pretending to be Kaius III—that the reason Illmarrow can’t control him is because he’s NOT really Kaius I, but rather Kaius I is remaining in hiding and working through K3 until they can find a way to break Illmarrow’s hold over him. This ties to the next question, which is assuming K1 is a vampire, what IS Illmarrow’s hold over him? The ECS account implies that Erandis used a ritual to turn K1 into a vampire. *I* prefer the idea that she turned him the old fashioned way—that one of her top vampire lieutenants sired Kaius, and that it is actually that lieutenant who can control Kaius, using the standard bond between sire and spawn. One of the main reasons I prefer this is because it means killing that vampire is the key to breaking Illmarrow’s hold over Kaius, and that’s a story adventurers could get involved in.
If you follow the original narrative in which Kaius I is a vampire who replaces Kaius III, what to you think he did in all the years between disappearing and becoming Kaius III? It is almost 100 years for a ex-king vampire probably with none or few allies.
First of all, I COMPLETELY disagree with the idea that Kaius I had “no or few allies.” He didn’t just run away. His disappearance would have been very carefully planned. To my knowledge the exact circumstances have never been described, but I expect that he faked his own death, used cosmetic transmutation to enact a long term disguise, and then went into hiding among a carefully established network of supporters. For the sake of absolute secrecy it’s quite likely that many of the people sheltering him didn’t know who he was, but they would know that he was a loyal servant of the former king. He would have retained contact with followers with influence in court, and in MY Eberron he was certainly continuing to manipulate events in Karrnath from hiding, offering guidance to generals and nobles who remained loyal to him and likely dealing with political rivals from the shadows. Ultimately, this culminated with his working closely with Moranna to plan the Regency and his return. Again, aside from Moranna many of the people he worked with may not have had known exactly who they were dealing with, but they certainly respected and valued his advice.
Beyond that, one of the most important things he was doing was learning everything he could about vampires. He was surely working to master his own abilities, but also to understand his weaknesses and particularly to understand the methods Illmarrow could use to control him and what he could do to block them. In this, I expect that he was working closely with Seekers. Remember that Kaius has been called out as having a loyal cabal of Seeker followers who, among other things, provide him with blood. Part of the idea is that even though Kaius PUBLICLY denounces the Seekers—because it’s politically expedient to do so—he maintains ties with a devoted sect OF Seekers. Why would they follow him? Because they recognize that Illmarrow holds a poisonous influence within their faith and that Kaius opposes her—they believe that in the long term, Kaius WILL help the Seekers. Time will tell if they are correct.
But to the short form, I believe that the vampire Kaius I was always pursuing his return, which required him to learn more about the nature of vampires and to manipulate events from the shadows. He built alliances, destroyed enemies, and studied the nature of the undead.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
All this may be fun for folks who like quibbling over inconsistencies in canon sources, but as a DM or player, why does any of this matter to you? Here’s the key breakdown.
The Order of the Emerald Claw is a force that is directly loyal to Lady Illmarrow. Its forces include Seekers with elite military training—bone knights, battlefield necromancers—as well as Karrnathi veterans who aren’t Seekers but who are fanatically devoted to Illmarrow.
While there are still necromantic forces integrated into the Karrnathi military—non-Seeker Karrns learned necromancy during the time of the alliance—a significant portion of this strength was lost when the crown broke ties with the Seekers. The bulk of the Karrnathi undead were sealed in subterranean vaults, and some of the warlords are afraid that they cannot be trusted.
As a Karrnathi Seeker, you may have to deal with hatred from your own people, who have been encouraged to blame the Seekers for all of Karrnath’s woes. Some Seekers are angry about this and have turned against the Crown, and it’s many of these Seekers who support the Emerald Claw. However, other Seekers are still devoted to Karrnath and trust that this time will pass.
Kaius III opposes Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. It may be that Kaius is a vampire who has found a way to resist her control; that he isn’t a vampire at all; or that he is actively carrying out a plan to break her power (IE destroying his sire). Illmarrow seeks to undermine Kaius; her loyalists in the Emerald Claw accuse him of being weak, of robbing Karrnath of its rightful victory by pursuing peace, and so on.
It also ties to the most basic question of whether Kaius is a potential ally or whether he’s a dangerous enemy. If adventurers oppose Lady Illmarrow, Kaius could be a powerful friend. On the other hand, while he may want a peaceful solution, in my opinion Kaius still wants to rule Galifar; remember that if he is the vampire Kaius I, he’s one of the five rulers who STARTED the Last War. I believe that he pursues peace because he doesn’t feel Karrnath can win and reunite Galifar through force, at least for now. But in my opinion he is a ruthless man and a brilliant strategist who has been scheming for a year. He may be the enemy of your enemy if you’re opposing Illmarrow, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have sinister plans of his own… it’s just that where Aurala is willing to restart the Last War, I think Kaius is searching for a different path to the throne of Galifar.
As a Karrnathi Seeker player character, an important question is whether you are angry at Kaius III for turning on your faith (and if so, if you actually have a positive opinion of the Order of the Emerald Claw); whether you simply have no opinion; or whether you are actually loyal to your king in spite of this betrayal. If you choose the latter approach, one option is that you are actually part of the king’s inner circle (even if only at the lowest level)—that you are sworn to help him find a way to break Lady Illmarrow’s poisonous influence within the faith.
As an example of this: In a campaign I ran, a player created a paladin of the Blood of Vol. His backstory was that his parents were members of a Seeker chivalric order and were killed when Moranna turned on the faith. As a child, the PC was taken in and raised by Lady Illmarrow, taught to harness his powers and led to believe that Kaius III betrayed his faith and was responsible for the death of his parents. As a PC, his initial arc was to build his power and gain allies to help him bring down Kaius III. That was the PC’s goal, but what the PLAYER knew from the start was that his character was a dupe and that Kaius III wasn’t truly guilty. His whole idea was that, assuming he succeeded in killed Kaius, it would through Karrnath into chaos and the PC would realize Illmarrow had lied—that the SECOND arc of his story would be undoing the damage he’d done and bring down Lady Illmarrow. We never actually reached that second arc in the campaign, but I appreciated the idea—that he KNEW his character’s goal was something foolish that would have disastrous consequences, but that his long-term character arc would be cleaning up that mess. And in this story you can see something I talked about in the previous article—that it may be that any number of Illmarrow’s agents serve her because they believe she has the best interests of the Seekers or of Karrnath at heart, and that if they discover absolute proof that this is not the case, they could turn against her.
You used to talk about Erandis Vol as quite a sympathetic character, murdered and robbed of her birthright while still a teenager, but your presentation of “Lady Illmarrow” is quite different; she seems more unambiguously evil.
There’s a few important elements here. From the very beginning Erandis Vol was intended to be one of the major antagonists of the setting. Eberron draws on Pulp and Noir themes, and Erandis and the Emerald Claw were always intended to weigh on the pulp side of that spectrum. They’re the Nazis in an Indiana Jones movie, Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, COBRA in GI Joe. What I’ve always said is that the Emerald Claw are the villains adventurers can always feel good about opposing: you never need to stop and say “I wonder if we should actually let the Nazis have the Ark of the Covenant” or “Maybe COBRA has some good points.” The SEEKERS have a far greater degree of moral complexity and depth of story, and SEEKERS can be allies or enemies. But Erandis and the Emerald Claw are supposed to be some of the most reliable, straightforward villains you can encounter in the world.
Having said that: I see Erandis as a TRAGIC character, and I always have. I LIKE villains to have depth and motivations we can understand. Erandis has endured horrors and carries an enormous burden. I can understand why she commits atrocities. But the key point there is that she commits atrocities. We may feel sympathy for her loss, we may understand her drive to reclaim her birthright, but the simple fact is that she will destroy nations and slaughter countless innocents in pursuit of that goal. She’s a tragic villain, but the key word there is VILLAIN.
The second important point here is that the people who work for her DON’T KNOW HER TRAGEDY. And that’s what underlies this question and WHY we introduced the identity of Lady Illmarrow. Erandis Vol is the woman murdered as an adolescent, who saw her entire bloodline unjustly eradicated because of a mark she bears on her skin but cannot use, who cannot even choose oblivion but is bound to an eternity to contemplate her failings and the stolen legacy of her line. It is Erandis who must hide her name and nature lest the forces that eradicated everyone she cares about come after her again. She CAN’T share her burden. She can’t even declare her name with pride lest she bring down ruin on all she has accomplished. And thus, she created Lady Illmarrow, a Grim Lord who has risen to power among the Bloodsails entirely on her own merits, unburdened by ancient tragedy. Lady Illmarrow is infamous not for the deeds of her family, but for her own deeds and power. She is respected and feared by her minions, even those who have no knowledge of her true past and potential.
It could well be that Erandis uses Illmarrow to channel her darkest impulses and to be the ruthless tyrant she needs to be to achieve her destiny, while Erandis remains the murdered adolescent still mourning her family. She’s been alive for thousands of years and has suffered through immense tragedy; it could well be that Illmarrow is in some ways an independent persona, that the mask Erandis created has taken on a life of its own and in this way allows the core of Erandis to retain some innocence. However, the ultimate point is that whether she’s Erandis or Illmarrow, she is a dangerous villain who will break the world if it allows her to achieve her goals.
If Erandis Vol wants to die (“she cannot choose oblivion”) why doesn’t she just reveal her presence to the Deathguard and let them destroy her?
First of all, just because Erandis may hate her existence doesn’t mean that she wants the DEATHGUARD to end it. The Undying Court destroyed her entire bloodline and she is all that’s left of their legacy. If she was to be destroyed without mastering her mark, all of that would be for nothing. And she will NOT allow the Undying Court to win this struggle.
Second: the Deathguard can’t destroy her. Since Rising From The Last War, it is canon that the elocation of Erandis’s phylactery is unknown; if her body is destroyed, she will reform in a random location hundreds of miles away. So the Deathguard can’t grant her oblivion. What it CAN do is slaughter all her allies, steal or destroy all the relics she’s gathered, and ruin all the plans she’s carefully built up over centuries. The danger they pose isn’t to her personally, but rather to everything she has managed to accomplish. Imagine you’d spent 800 years building up a plan; would you want a bunch of $&%* paladins to suddenly drop in, destroy everything, and leave you in a new body hundreds of miles away having to spend centuries to rebuild everything you’ve lost?
I’ve written a number of articles that are quite relevant to this topic, so for people who HAVEN’T been reading this blog for years, here’s a few you might want to check out.
It’s been a very busy month, but as time permits I like to answer short questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few questions related to the Blood of Vol, the mummy priest Malevanor, and the burial customs of the Tairnadal elves.
Malevanor—the Blood of Vol’s high priest of Atur—seems to have genuine faith and sits between Erandis, the Crimson Covenant, and the Seeker community. What makes him tick? Is he good, bad, or in between?
In life, Hass Malevanor was a Seeker priest and student of necromancy. A Karrnathi patriot, he devoted his life to helping to develop superior combat applications of necromancy. Along with Gyrnar Shult, Malevanor played a key role in the development of the Odakyr Rites—the rituals used to create Karrnathi Undead. The basic principles of the Blood of Vol maintain that the universe is cruel and that we must stand together; Hass fought for the good of both his people and his nation. Exploring Eberron says “The former high priest of Atur was the mummy Askalor, who held the post for over four hundred years—but he was weary of his long undead existence. When Malevanor was grievously injured during the Last War, Askalor transferred his power and his undead existence to his apprentice.” This ties to the point that Seeker undead—especially the Oathbound—are expected to guide and protect the living. As both High Priest and Oathbound, this is the role Malevanor sees for himself. It is his duty to guide and protect living Seekers. As an Oathbound, he can never truly find the Divinity Within—but he can help the living Seekers and seek to find and aid those who may yet be the greatest living champions of the faith.
I personally believe that Hass is still a patriot who loves the idea of Karrnath, but it’s also the case that Karrnath has betrayed him and his people. He will always put the good of the Seekers above all else—but if he CAN help Karrnath along the way, he will.
So in Kanon, what’s his relationship with Lady Illmarrow?
I think that Malevanor believes Illmarrow is dangerous and that he questions her devotion to the faith, but he also realizes her POWER, and both a) doesn’t want to have her as an enemy and b) wants to see that power used for the good of his people. So he’s trying to maintain an alliance with Illmarrow, but it’s an uneasy relationship. Ultimately, he is OATHBOUND. I believe that his oaths are just what it says on the tin: that he is bound to protect the Seekers, help them find the Divinity Within, and to maintain and protect Atur. Which is an interesting contrast with the lich Illmarrow. I don’t think Malevanor COULD betray the faith for his own personal gain, because the oaths that sustain his undead existence are predicated on doing his duties as high priest and protecting his people.
Could Malevanor be a warlock patron (say, Undead or Undying)?
Sure, Malevanor could definitely be a warlock patron for a Seeker warlock. I’d love to do a campaign with a PC Seeker warlock who’s essentially Malevanor’s undercover agent working against Illmarrow. The main thing I’d emphasize in this case is that it’s not that Malevanor is giving the warlock powers, it’s that the warlock’s powers come from their own Divinity Within and that maelvanor is just helping them to unlock those powers. Because that is literally what he’s supposed to do: help Seekers harness the power of the Divinity Within.
In most of the Five Nations, the Blood of Vol is a series of independent covert cults without any clear connection or hierarchy between them. How does the Crimson Covenant or Lady Illmarrow find or get in contact with these cults?Or does Illmarrow mainly rely on the Order of the Emerald Claw?
Exploring Eberron has this to say:
The (Blood of Vol) isn’t as formally structured as the Church of the Silver Flame or even the Sovereign Host. For the most part, Seekers keep to themselves, living in their own villages and small towns or in isolated neighborhoods of larger communities, where they can practice their traditions without drawing the ire of their neighbors… Outside Atur, for the most part, each Seeker community relies on their abactor—the priest that oversees a temple or community—and they rarely reach out to the world beyond. The largest temple in a region serves as a hub, coordinating with the other Seeker communities around it.
With that in mind, the important thing to understand is that the Blood of Vol is a religion that Seekers follow because it helps them make sense of their lives, providing meaning and strengthening their community. Most Seekers don’t know who Lady Illmarrow is and don’t have any interest in helping her with her grand schemes. Illmarrow has agents scattered throughout the faithful who do support her—from agents in the Crimson Covenant down through hub temples or villages—and these specific agents may provide support to her schemes. But OVERALL Illmarrow doesn’t control the faith and most Seekers don’t serve her purposes; some actively despise and oppose the Order of the Emerald Claw. Meanwhile, the members of the Order are Illmarrow’s active agents; some are extremist Seekers, while others—including Illmarrow herself—aren’t Seekers at all.
So: Illmarrow’s active agents are almost entirely in the Emerald Claw. Agents of the Emerald Claw may be able to get support from a local Seeker community but that is not at all a sure thing; it will depend in Illmarrow has supporters or sympathizers within that specific community.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Covenant is something that even Seekers generally know of only as a rumor. One thing I’ve suggested is that when a Seeker priest uses commune, they could actually get their answers from the Covenant. For more on the Crimson Covenant, refer to this article.
I like the idea of the Crimson Covenant being influenced by Lady Illmarrow, but not under her full control. But how could adventurers free it over her influence without having to destroy the mummies and liches that are loyal to her?
This depends entirely on how you decide to present the members of the Crimson Covenant who are loyal to Illmarrow. WHY are they loyal to her? It could be that Illmarrow is deceiving them, and that if adventurers can expose the truth these members of the Covenant will turn against her. Or it could be that these members of the Covenant are themselves merely hungry for power and not concerned with the good of the Seekers; if adventurers could prove this to the other members of the Covenant, then the truly faithful might clean house.
The Blood of Vol is a religion that values basically faith in your inner self. It seems there would not be much of value to Seeker cleric besides their own life (and maybe life of others). What would a BoV cleric refer to as “sacred”? Does this notion even apply to the Blood of Vol?
Looking up “Sacred”, I found this definition: connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration. So with this in mind, what does a Seeker priest consider to be sacred?
Life. First and foremost, the Blood of Vol is based on the idea that mortals possess a spark of divinity within. We ARE the gods we venerate—or at least, we have the potential to be.
Blood. More specifically, the Seekers consider blood to be the channel of the Divinity WIthin.
Survival. This one’s a little more abstract and not shared by all sects, but the general idea is that death is unnatural—that mortality is a curse invented to prevent us from unlocking the Divinity Within. With this in mind, fighting death is a sacred activity. Don’t give up, and do all you can to protect the people you love.
One of the central rituals of the Blood of Vol is the communal sharing of blood as a way of establishing the bond between a community. What we have called out is that while Seekers believe that life is sacred and death is a tragedy, they recognize that you can’t save everyone and their focus is on protecting their own communities and people. Any death is a tragedy, but if bandits attacks your village, you need to put your OWN survival ahead of those who are trying to kill you and the people you care about. But I could very well see some Seekers who actively try not to kill their enemies, believing that any death is a loss.
Though again: There are many sects in the Blood of Vol. The Thieves of Life largely care only about their OWN lives and Divinity Within, and are all too happy to sacrifice others in pursuit of their own ascension.
And now for something completely different…
How do the Tairnadal/Valenar elves bury their dead? Especially when they’re in the field or engaged in battle?
So: The Tairnadal are a nomadic culture. They are essentially always engaged in battle and on the move, and generally don’t place a lot of importance on physical monuments. Likewise, they don’t place much importance on corpses. They’re concerned with the SPIRIT, believing that the spirit can live on through devoted followers. For revenant blades of Cardaen, Cardaen’s spirit is with them at all times; it doesn’t matter where his bones are.
Having said that: we’ve talked about revenants who treasure relics of their patron ancestors. Notably, the Player’s Guide to Eberron talks about the zaelshintu:
Every Valenar warrior reveres his ancestors and carries a zaelshin amulet bearing the sigil of his patron ancestor with him at all times. With a zaelshin tu, you do more than that: You carry a physical relic of your patron ancestor—a tooth or sliver of bone brought from Xen’drik to Aerenal and encased in your zaelshin amulet.
The two noteworthy points here are that champions carry a piece of their patron—so again, not burying them in some grand tomb—and that these are described as teeth or slivers of bone; we’ve never described them as using, say, bonecraft armor.
With this in mind, I think that the common Tairnadal practice is to burn the dead, and then to collect ashes, teeth, and slivers of bone that survive the fire, which would be carried by other members of the fallen elf’s warband and possibly passed on to the Keepers of the Past. You don’t want to leave something behind an enemy could desecrate, and all you need is a sliver that can help serve as a beacon to their spirit.
That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters for their questions and support!
In the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, elves can live to be up to 750 years old. In the past I’ve written many articles about the elves of Valenar and Aerenal and how their long lifespans have affected their culture. But what about the elves of the Five Nations, who are part of a culture driven by short-lived humans? This month, my Patreon supporters posed a number of interesting questions on this topic.
An adult elf of the Five Nations is not only older than the current monarch of their nation, they’re older than the NATION, given that Galifar only dissolved a century ago. How does their long lifespan affect their national loyalty?
First of all, we’ve always said that most demihumans of the Five Nations tend to put their national identity before their species. A third-generation Brelish halfling might support the Glidewing in the Race of Eight Winds as a nod to their Talentan heritage, but they consider themselves Brelish, not Talentan. So that’s the first point to consider: elves born in the Five Nations generally embrace that culture. Which comes to the second point: until the Last War, the Five Nations were united as Galifar. But there were still Five Nations, each of which was culturally distinct and maintained traditions that predated Galifar; Galifar united them under a single ruler and code of laws, but it didn’t erase that cultural identity. The point of this is that not only does your 300-year-old Brelish elf think of themselves as Brelish, they’ve thought of themselves as Brelish far longer than a 30-year-old human; they’ve had far longer to invest in the traditions of Breland and to have a very strong sense of what it means to be Brelish. Which ties to the second point. Because their long lifespan means they’ll outlive the humans around them—whether we’re talking about their monarch or their neighbor—the elves of the Five Nations tend to invest in institutions and customs more than in individual humans. An elf invests in the concept of Breland more deeply than in any one ruler. Likewise, they invest in families more than individuals, seeing the living members of the family as the latest incarnation of that beloved family. For an off the cuff example, consider the relationship between humans and dogs. My household is a pug household. We had a pug we loved, and when he passed away we got a new pug—who is very much his own person, but also very much a pug. And when he passes away, I expect we’ll get another pug. We love our pugs, and in the moment, we love our current pug most of all. But we also know that barring tragedy we will outlive him. So we love him in the moment, we give him the best life that we can, and when he passes we’ll honor him by bringing a new pug into our lives. What we’re NOT going to do is suddenly decide to get a St. Bernard; we’ve become pug people, and we don’t WANT a different dog.
This basic principle applies both to national identity and to an elf’s personal relationships with shorter lived races. Breland in this instances is “Pugs” while King Boranel is “The Current Pug.” The elf who has chosen to live in Breland for three centuries loves Breland more than any other nation. Most likely, they also love Boranel; they may fondly remember Wroaan or other rulers, but Boranel is alive and with them now; they will always honor Wroaan’s memory, but they support the current king. Unless, of course, they don’t like Boranel, in which case they may grumble and think “There’s always a bad one in the litter, but in another ten yeas we’ll get a new one that will be better.” That elf doesn’t want to go live in Thrane any more than I want to get a St. Bernard; they’ve become comfortable with Breland and it’s become part of their identity. With this in mind, I would also say that Brelish elves in particular likely strongly oppose the Swords of Liberty and the anti-monarchy movement, because the four hundred year old elf is far more invested in the institution of the Brelish monarchy than the human who’s only lived with it for twenty years. They’ve invested in the idea of Breland for centuries, and part of that idea of Breland is that it’s a monarchy.
As I said, I’d extend this to an elf’s personal relationships with humans. In playing an elf character, I’d consider whether I know the ancestors of one or more of the other player characters. I might ask one of the other players (it’s a collaborative story and I want to work with them, not impose my story on them ) if they’re OK with the idea that my character has had a long relationship with their family. Throughout the campaign, I might discuss my experiences and adventures with their ancestors. It might even be that the reason I’m part of the adventuring party is to look after that character—because their grandfather would never forgive me if anything happened to them. If you’re familiar with Deep Space Nine, there’s a touch of this in the way Dax refers to their previous hosts. As an elf, play up the fact that you may have known Queen Wroaan or met Kaius I. When you’re at a store in Sharn, mention how it use to be a restaurant a century ago and had the best fried spider legs in the city—they just don’t make them like that any more.
It’s suggested that some elf immigrants to Khorvaire came with a plan to marry into human families and essentially outlive their way to power, inheriting family fortunes from their short-lived spouses. Canon lore suggests that this was abandoned out of an initial revulsion for the Khoravar, but how has it played out in the present day?
The canon answer is clear: elves haven’t taken over all the noble families of Galifar, and in fact, very few elf nobles are mentioned. The question, then, is WHY. The answer is that people of Galifar are well aware of the disparate lifespans of their neighbors and that the laws of the land take it into account. Any position with a lifetime appointment will have clauses that allow for the holder to be removed, so you can’t just appoint a warforged to a lifetime position and then have no way to remove them ever. Meanwhile, nobles will always has pre-nuptial agreements to address this; I think the standard one is simply that a spouse doesn’t inherit the title. It passes to the eldest child or, failing that, to a sibling.
Looking at an example of this in play, Kaius III of Karrnath is married to Etrigani, an Aereni elf. As long as Kaius is alive, Etrigani carries the title of queen. When Kaius dies, however, the crown of Karrnath would pass to their eldest child, not to Etrigani. If they have no children (and currently they don’t), it would pass sideways along the line to Kaius’s sister Haydith. A spouse could likely serve as a regent while waiting for a child to come of age, but they can’t claim the title as their own… thus preventing an elf from marrying into a family of human nobles and holding the title for the next five centuries.
There are a few elf nobles in the Five Nations, and it’s certainly the case that if you’re an Aundairian elf with the noble background, you may be waiting a LONG TIME before the title falls to you.
This raises another question. If my elf character is two hundred years old and knew the wizard’s grandfather, how come I’m only a first level character?
The long-lived races are always a problem in this regard, and I’ve talked about this before in this article. First of all, I’ll call out the fact that in REAL LIFE, skill doesn’t progress in a continuously upward line as we grow older. I learned Latin in college, I haven’t used that skill in two decades, and at this point I can recognize some words but I couldn’t write a sentence in Latin. In another 20 years I may have forgotten it entirely, and that’s nothing like an elf living for centuries. Generally speaking, we reach plateaus with skills and have to work to maintain them. I also fenced in college. Guess what? I’m older now and while I still know some tricks, I’m not a better fencer than I was. Admittedly I multiclassed and took levels of writer instead of fighter, but the point remains: age alone doesn’t equate to skill. A second point is simple: How good is your grandfather at making TikTok videos? Now, replace “TikTok videos” with “Modern Techniques of Arcane Spellcasting.” You could absolutely say that your 1st level elf wizard was a cutting edge wizard 300 years ago, but he’s been out of the game for a while—writing novels, perhaps—and now his spellcasting techniques are incredibly out of date and he can’t figure out these fancy somatic components the kids are doing these days. “That thing! With the fingers!”
While that’s a FUNNY option, I would personally be more likely to use my elf character being 1st level to add a hook to their backstory: WHY are they 250 years old and only first level? My immediate inclination is just what I said above but without the comical agism. My elf character trained as a wizard 200 years ago, and then spent the last 200 years as a novelist or a poet—some career that essentially has no concrete bearing on the skills I use while adventuring—and I need to get back in practice. I remember the basics, and it’s all going to come back to me quickly once we get going, but come on people, I haven’t even cast a cantrip since before you were born.
A more dramatic option would be to justify my temporary low level as a form of injury. Perhaps I served in the Last War—possibly even serving with the parents or grandparents of one of the other characters—and suffered “spellshock” from an arcane attack. Or perhaps I was caught in the Mourning and was found in a coma—I’ve recovered, but my whole body feels numb and I haven’t fully recovered my spellcasting ability. OR, perhaps I was on an epic adventure (again, could be with an ancestor of one of the PCs) and was cursed by an archfey. Breaking that curse could be an ongoing story hook, or it could be something that is broken BECAUSE I’m adventuring with the descendant—allowing me to regain my skills. All three of these options would allow me to say that I WAS a fairly high level character a century ago but I’ve temporarily lost those skills. While other characters may feel like they’ve dramatically improved by the time they reach 9th level, I feel like I’ve only just gotten my sea legs back.
The main point here is that you shouldn’t look at the old dwarf or elf and say “It makes no sense that I’m 120 and still have the same skills as a 20 year old human.” First of all, remember that in Eberron ANY player character is remarkable. Second, don’t just say “it makes no sense”—figure out a way that it COULD make sense. An injury, a curse, a century away from adventuring. The fact that you’re only 1st level NOW doesn’t prevent you from having BEEN higher level at some point in the past.
Do the longer lived races like the elves and dwarves view the Blood of Vol differently (insofar as their lives are not as short, cruel and hopeless as the oppressed humans who latched onto it a couple millennia ago)?
This raises an important point: the fact that you CAN live to be seven hundred years old doesn’t mean that you WILL. Elves are just as susceptible to disease and to cold as humans are. They may not sleep, but they certainly need to eat. So if you’re an elf farmer in Karrnath surprised by a sudden frost, you can still be worried that you’re hungry, that your children are freezing and one has a fever, and that if the frost kills your crops there’s no knowing how you’ll get the money you need to survive. Even if you do somehow live through it, the fact that you get to look forward to hundreds of years of watching your friends die may not feel like a blessing. Those people who founded the Blood of Vol, who felt that life was short, cruel, and helpless, weren’t dying of old age. So no, I don’t think it has a notable effect. And also, the Blood of Vol has never been widespread in the Five Nations. The Brelish elf may not see the appeal to the Blood of Vol, but most Brelish HUMANS don’t see the appeal either.
That’s all for now! I am VERY busy with writing deadlines and family matters and I likely won’t have times to answer questions on this topic. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making this website possible!
What are the stories that the people of the Five Nations tell during the nights of Long Shadows? Who are the equivalents of Dracula or Strahd, infamous undead whose tales are told across Khorvaire?
In looking to the bogeymen of Eberron, an immediate answer is the Daughters of Sora Kell. Consider the following exchange from the novel The Queen of Stone:
“It was Zarantyr of 972 when she came to our gate. She was a refugee. She told us that her husband and children had been killed by trolls. I’ll never forget her: Tall and thin, hair as black as a crow’s wing and just as ragged, surrounding her like a shroud woven from the night itself. I could see that her skin was flawless beneath the dirt, and her eyes were as dark as her hair.
“But it was her spirit that impressed me the most—the determination that had carried her out this far from Sharn and Wroat, the courage that kept her going after her family was destroyed. She said she was hungry, and asked if she could stay the night beneath our roof before continuing east. The commander agreed. But I didn’t stay for the evening meal. Cainan and I were sent on a scouting mission, to search for our lady’s village and to track the aggressive trolls.”
“And what did you find?” Thorn said.
Beren studied the cold fire dancing along his enchanted torch. “There was no trail to follow. It was Zarantyr, and it had snowed the day before, but there were no tracks save ours… and the snow was stained with blood. Yet there were no signs of struggle. No smashed doors, no burned buildings. Just the bones of twelve settlers, picked perfectly clean and stacked neatly by the town well. Every bone… except for the skulls. Those were nowhere to be found.”
“And the woman?”
“We returned as quickly as we could, but it was past midnight by the time we arrived. I’d called on Dol Arrah, begged the Sovereigns to let that woman be a ghost, a restless spirit who’d simply wanted her remains to be found. But I knew what we were going to find. We’d left thirty people in that fort, veteran soldiers among them. All that awaited us on our return was bones, picked clean and stacked on the table in the great hall. The skulls were gone. She’d told us the truth: She was hungry.”
This is a story of Sora Maenya. Another section of the book relays a shorter tale about her:
Maenya eats the flesh and drinks the blood, but she saves the soul, binding it forever to the bones of her victim. She sleeps on a bed made from the skulls of children, and their ghostly cries ring through the cavern, now and through the end of time…
Sora Katra is less of a brute, but also the subject of terrifying stories. Typically her tales involve the deadly consequences of making foolish bargains or trying to outwit her. But it’s often said that she weaves curses on her loom, and that she can see the moment of your death when she looks at you—“See it, or set it in stone.”
So the Daughters of Sora Kell are certainly the subject of scary stories and campfire tales. But they aren’t ghost stories. In this article I want to look specifically at the undead. Because of the limits of time and space, I am not going to actually write full stories about these figures, as we have with Sora Maenya; but I want to take a look at some of the major types of undead, with infamous example of each.
The Reality of Undead
One of the first things to keep in mind is that Eberron is not our world. It is a world in which the undead are an absolute, concrete fact. Karrnath fielded LEGIONS of the dead during the Last War. Ghouls are a public menace. There are concrete examples of villages that have been destroyed by wights. This is an important aspect of the Church of the Silver Flame; while it is a religion, it’s also very much a volunteer militia prepared to protect the innocent against the undead and other unnatural threats. Because of the efforts of the templars and the paladins of Dol Arrah, most people hope that they never will be menaced by undead. Most people haven’t actually ever seen a vampire, let alone a lich. But they still know that these things are real—and if someone says a place is haunted, people will take it seriously.
A second thing to keep in mind is the two most common sources of undead: manifest zones related to Dolurrh or Mabar. Exploring Eberron has this to say…
Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh… are still close to the Realm of the Dead and exceptionally haunted, though not blighted, as Mabaran zones typically are. Shadows move in disturbing ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out. The restless spirits of Dolurrh yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in manifest zones. They might manifest as ghosts, or animate the corpses of people buried in the zone, causing them to rise as revenants or zombies.
The key points about Dolurrhi zones and undead is that they don’t share the blighted aspect of Mabaran zones and that Dolurrhi undead aren’t driven to harm the living. Dolurrhi undead are restless, pulled toward Dolurrh and yet somehow kept from it. This can be the classic trope of unfinished business; they can’t rest until they have revenge, or until their fiancee knows the truth, or until their treasure is found. It could be a powerful emotion that keeps them tied to the world. The main thing is that Dolurrhi undead aren’t necessarily hostile or evil, but they also are often incomplete. They don’t possess the full memories or sentience they had in life; they are clinging to one sliver of their life and that utterly defines them. Tied to this is the fact that most Dolurrhi undead don’t realize they’re undead; again, they have a limited form of sentience and can’t necessarily process or retain new information. So the classic ghost-lingering-in-the-house-wanting-the-truth-about-its-murder-to-be-revealed is a Dolurrhi ghost. It doesn’t WANT to hurt anyone (except perhaps the murderer), it’s incapable of making grand schemes, and it has no opinion about, say, the destruction of the Brelish monarchy. It’s defined by the ONE STORY that is holding it from Dolurrh and as soon as that story is resolved it can finally rest. This also ties to a key point in the general discussion of undead: the Aereni believe that Mabaran undead inherently pose a threat to the living. They don’t believe that the same is true of Dolurrhi undead. But the point is that you shouldn’t aspire to become a Dolurrhi undead. A vampire or lich has its full consciousness and memories from its life. A Dolurrhi ghost is just a fragment, trapped between worlds; it’s not a satisfying alternative to life.
As for Mabar, here’s what Exploring Eberron has to say about Mabaran manifest zones…
Mabaran manifest zones are infamous and almost universally shunned, for nearly all are harmful to the flora and fauna of the region. In some zones, life withers and dies. In others, it’s twisted in strange ways; plants may seek the blood of living creatures, or grow unnaturally pale and cold. Rot and decay are often accelerated, and disease can thrive… While Mabaran manifest zones rarely serve as gateways to the plane, they are powerful sources of negative energy and produce undead. Skeletons, zombies, and ghouls can all spontaneously rise in Mabaran manifest zones, and more powerful undead can be created under the proper circumstances.
Mabar is the embodiment of entropy and despair. It seeks to consume light, life, and hope. As such, those undead produced by Mabar are driven to prey on the living. A Dolurrhi zombie may not be hostile, and could just try to complete some lingering task from its life. But barring the influence of some form of necromancer, a zombie spontaneously created by Mabar will be hostile toward living creatures; it can sense their spark of life and mindlessly seeks to extinguish it. Undead raised by necromancers elsewhere won’t automatically have this killer urge, and Seeker communities in Karrnath use zombies and skeletons for manual labor; but those that are spontaneously raised by the power of Mabar are driven by its malevolent hunger.
The major point here is that many ghost stories are likely to be tied to manifest zones to Dolurrh and Mabar. There are definitely other options—independent necromancers, the overlord Katashka—but if you’re looking for an infamously haunted castle, well, perhaps it was unintentionally on a manifest zone tied to Dolurrh. If you consider Pet Semetary where “The ground’s sour” and those buried there return as malevolent undead—that’s a Mabaran manifest zone, for sure.
Why are some undead sensitive to sunlight while others aren’t?
Sunlight is a dilute form of positive energy, and exposure to sunlight can disrupt the negative energy that sustains Mabaran undead. This effect is especially strong in certain undead, especially wraiths and specters (who are essentially pure negative energy) and vampires. Others, like skeletons and zombies, have a weaker connection to Mabar; this is also reflected by the fact that their touch doesn’t drain life energy. Such creatures may not lIKE being exposed to sunlight, but it has no mechanical effect on them. Ghosts typically aren’t actually connected to Mabar.
How does the spell create undead factor into this? Wouldn’t people be used to ghouls?
Create undead is a 6th level spell, which means that it’s beyond the standard limits of everyday life in the Five Nations (under which 1st-3rd level spells are reasonable common and 4th-5th spells are known of but rarely seen). The ability to create ghasts or wights requires an 8th level spell, which is even more rarely seen. So this is not how these creatures are normally encountered in the world.
Skeletons and Zombies
Mindless skeletons and zombies are the workhorses of any necromancer. They CAN be spontaneously animated in Mabaran manifest zones, and such undead are malevolent. However, after a century of war with Karrnath most people are familiar with the concept of skeletons and zombies that are bound to mortal’s will. There’s two factors that a necromancer will have to deal with.
Even though people know skeletons and zombies aren’t necessarily dangerous, few commoners LIKE being around them. Outside of Karrnath, many businesses refused to allow such undead on their premises.
Most people associate skeletons and zombies with Karrnath. Thus, if the townsfolk suffered at the hands of Karrnath during the Last War, they’ll transfer that aggression to the necromancer.
While necromancy isn’t ILLEGAL under the Code of Galifar, grave robbing is. While it’s rarely enacted, an officer of the law could demand that a necromancer present proof of their ownership of the corpses in their entourage. Karrnathi necromancers authorized by the Ministry of the Dead are issued warrants that authorize them to “compel the corpse of any Karrnathi citizen into service” and that will be recognized as legitimate. Likewise, established precedent allows priests of the Blood of Vol to raise the corpses of followers of the faith. But if you kill someone and then raise them as a zombie, the Sharn Watch can prosecute you as a corpse robber; this will usually result in a fine and the confiscation (and destruction) of the zombie.
A typical zombie story is driven by the Dolurrhi zombie, who despite its limited intellect doesn’t realize it’s dead and strives to complete one last task or to reach a loved one. However, there is one popular zombie tale currently in circulation. The Late Count is a comic opera by the bard Kessler; this tale revolves around a Karrnathi count whose servants resurrect him as a zombie, attempting to use the undead noble as a puppet while they have the run of the estate. Thanks to the popularity of The Late Count, zombies currently have some comic appeal in Sharn and Wroat; if a necromancer is accompanied by a single zombie dressed in fancy clothes, they can play it off as a hilarious jest.
Ghouls and Ghasts
The halflings of the Talenta Plains tell the stories of the Hungry Hunter, Oralasca. The greatest hunter of his age, Oralasca swore to eat every creature that he killed. When he was forced to kill another hafling, his oath compelled him to consume his enemy… and he developed an insatiable appetite for halfling flesh. After he slew his own tribe, Orlashka was finally slain. But so great was his hunger that his spirit lingered, slipping into the forms of weaker creatures and trying to work its way up to halfling form. One of the basic Talenta taboos is never consume the flesh of a creature that eats its own kind—because that allows the spirit of Oralasca to pass into you and transform you into a ghoul.
Ghouls are the most commonly encountered undead threat in the Five Nations. They are especially common in Mabaran manifest zones, but they can spontaneously spawn when Mabar is coterminous, when powerful necrotic forces are unleashed, or seemingly, anywhere where large numbers of people die at once; massive battlefields often spawn ghouls prowling among the corpses. While technically sentient, Mabaran ghouls have no memory of their former lives and are driven by their hunger. The Restful Watch and the templars of the Silver Flame both patrol cemeteries and sewers watching for ghouls, and most cities in the Five Nations have a bounty on ghouls, the value of which varies based on the extent of the threat. After skeletons and zombies, ghouls are the easiest undead to create; it’s largely a matter of binding a corpse to Mabar. However, such ghouls are more aggressive than zombies or skeletons, and unless they are directly controlled they will seek to sate their endless hunger. Karrnath experimented with ghoul forces during the Last War, but the resources required to control them were too great; however, on a few occasions they used bags of holding to drop packs of ghouls behind enemy lines, sowing terror among their enemies.
While Mabaran ghouls are savage, there are other strains of ghoul. There are ghouls in the Talenta Plains that inhabit the forms of beasts, and the Talenta say that all of these creatures are guided by the spirit of Orlasca; this can result in surprising cunning and pack tactics, or a pack of ghouls all speaking with one voice (note that Orlasca ghouls speak Halfling, not Common).
Another strain of ghoul can be found among the cults of Katashka the Gatekeeper. These cults revolve around the idea that the practice of ritual cannibalism will protect the cultists from disease, aging, and death. And it does—but over time, the rituals transform the cultists into ghouls. These ghouls retain their full memories and intellect, but are increasingly consumed and driven by their unnatural appetites. Some of Katashka’s ghouls can maintain their original mortal appearance as long as they are well fed, but if they food supply dwindles, their undead nature becomes increasingly apparent. Such ghouls can potentially form mutually beneficial partnerships with vampires; the vampire needs the blood of the living, and the ghouls consume the flesh that remains.
Ghasts are for the most part old ghouls. The longer a ghoul survives, the deeper the power that animates it sinks into its flesh. Mabaran and Orlasca ghasts have greater intellect than ghouls, and can make more cunning plans. Katashka ghasts retain their mental ability scores from their former life, and also have the ability to control their foul odor; they are typically leaders of ghoul cults.
Wights and Wraiths
The people of the Lhazaar Principalities tell tales of the Ship of Bones, not to mention the haunted vessels of the Bloodsails. But the sailors of Stormreach speak of the Crimson Shadow. It is the name of both a vessel and its captain, a Khoravar pirate with a swift sloop. Rather than taking a vessel in open conflict, the Crimson Shadow would approach a target under cover of darkness. In some tales the Shadow had a crew of swift and silent killers, but most say that the Crimson Shadow would board an enemy vessel on her own and kill its entire crew—taking its most precious cargo aboard her sloop, and abandoning the vessel to drift lifeless. The Crimson Shadow was revealed to be Jola Wylkes, daughter of the Harbor Master of Stormreach. Her lineage couldn’t save her, and she was hanged for her crimes. But two months later another ship was found adrift, its crew butchered. The common tale is that the Keeper recognized talent when he saw it—and that he returned the Crimson Shadow to the seas, for as long as she continues to send him new souls and the treasures he desires.
A wight is a mortal that has made a bargain with a dark power after death. Wights were invariably effective killers in their mortal life; some wights are bandits or serial killers, but over the course of the Last War warrior wights rose in every nation. One of the deadliest wights of the last century is Azael Vadallia, a Valenar wight who’s said to be searching for warriors worthy to join his undead warband.
The typical bargain of a wight is simple: you continue to exist as an undead creature as long as you continue to kill. However, different wights operate under different restrictions, and their powers may vary as a result. The default wight of the Monster Manual reflects a typical warrior or bandit. However, wights retain much of their memories and skills from life, and can be considerably more dangerous. According to the Monster Manual, a wight raises its victims as zombies, and is limited to twelve of them. But historically, Malleon the Reaver is said to have led an army of thousands when he rose as a wight. And Azael Vadallia has only raised a few of his victims, but the members of his warband are also wights, not zombies.
In common folklore, wights are thought to make their bargains with the Keeper. However, most wights actually forge their pacts with the Bone King of Mabar, one of the Dark Powers of the Endless Night. Some wights remain continuously active, but most wights go through periods of torpor that can last for years or decades; during this time, the wight’s body appears to be a corpse, while its spirit resides in the Kingdom of Bones in Mabar. This often leads to wights being dismissed as folktales, because the wight can disappear for a generation before returning to kill again. When the wight is finally destroyed, its spirit remains in the Kingdom of Bones; an exceptionally strong-willed wight may eventually return as a wraith.
One question is what fate befalls those killed by a wight. If the victim is merely allowed to die, its soul travels to Dolurrh. But if the victim’s corpse is raised by the wight, the victim’s soul may be claimed by the wight’s patron—bound in miserable service in the Kingdom of Bones, or perhaps trapped in the Lair of the Keeper. If a DM chooses to enact this rule, then the only way to raise such a victim from the dead is to free its spirit from this bondage.
The defining feature of a wight is that it was a killer in life and continues to kill in undeath. While many wights were soldiers or bandits, a wight could have been a serial killer, a pirate, an assassin—anyone whose achievements draw the attention of a dark power and is willing to bargain with it. It’s possible that there could be a templar wight who is determined to pay its tithe to its patron with the blood of evildoers, but the wight is suffused with the essence of Mabar and bound to its Dark Power, and this tends to erode any compassion or empathy the victim once had.
Wraiths and Specters
A wraith is a spirit that has become deeply intwined with Mabar and that is unable to ever truly find oblivion in Dolurrh. Wraiths are often the end result of other forms of undead; wights, mummies or vampires whose physical forms degrade or are destroyed may linger as wraiths.
A wraith’s behavior and abilities often depend on its original form. Wraiths formed from mummies continue to be bound by the oaths that hold them on Eberron. Wraiths formed from wights likewise continue to be bound by their pacts with their patron. Such wraiths are generally tied to the Bone King or the Queen of All Tears, and like wights they can be pulled into Mabar for extended periods of time; eventually, most are permanently drawn into the Endless Night. This is the classic source of the wraith who only manifests when its tomb is disturbed; at other times, it dwells in Mabar.
The Bloodsail elves of Farlnen have devised rituals that can transform a mortal creature into a wraith. Such wraiths aren’t bound by the oaths and pacts of wights or mummies, but they this means that they sustain their existence with pure will; essentially, the wraith only endures as long as they can remember who they are, and over time many lose cohesion and fade, becoming specters. Lady Illmarrow knows the techniques to create wraiths, and has created a number to serve her in the Emerald Claw. Many of these lack the will to maintain their existence for decades, but they serve her purposes for now. The most infamous wraith of the Bloodsails is the Grim Lord Varonaen, one of the founders of the principality; though his physical form was destroyed in a clash with the Aereni Deathguard, through sheer will he persists as a wraith.
Specters are a lesser form of wraith. As described in the Monster Manual, “A specter is the angry, unfettered spirit of a humanoid that has been prevented from passing to the afterlife. Specters no longer possess connections to who or what they were, yet are condemned to walk the world forever.” Specters possess traces of memory from their mortal life, but unlike a wraith they don’t possess full consciousness or memory, and lack the skills of their mortal life; they can remember just enough to be tormented by what they’ve lost, and they are drawn to consume the life energy of mortals, destroying what they cannot have. Another form of specter is the never-living; these are pure extensions of Mabar, negative energy shaped into a humanoid form. Mechanically identical to those who were once mortal, such specters have no human memories and seek only to feed. Never-living wraiths can be generated by powerful necromancers, and can be found serving Katashka cults or lingering in the domain of the Keeper.
Ghosts, Banshees, and Dawn Specters
Ghosts are typically tied to Dolurrh, as discussed earlier in this article. In Khorvaire, ghost stories are as plentiful as they are in our world, and tell similar tales; souls trapped between Eberron and Dolurrh, driven to complete their unfinished business or held fast by emotions or memories they can’t let go. While they have at least some of their memories from life, most ghosts aren’t fully aware of their condition or the passage of time, and they generally can’t retain new information. They are a remnant of someone who has died, but existence as a ghost isn’t something most people would aspire to; it’s a half-life. Even where there are unusual ghosts with greater consciousness and awareness, most are bound to something—a location, an object, a bloodline—and they can’t roam freely. Ghosts have no connection to Mabar and no innate desire to harm the living. Some may, especially if they are driven by anger or were hateful in life, but being a ghost is driven by the bond that keeps them from Dolurrh, not be a hunger to harm the living.
The typical banshee is a form of ghost, tied to Dolurrh rather than to Mabar. A banshee is bound to Eberron by an intense tragedy. It’s the pain of this tragedy that drives the banshee to lash out at the living (reflected by its typically evil alignment), and it’s this intense, focused pain that empowers the banshee’s wail; it’s not that it drains the life from its victims, but rather that it inflicts such intense emotional trauma that most creatures die of heart attacks or are rendered catatonic. Like most ghosts, banshees are generally trapped in their tragedy and largely unaware of the passage of time, unable to fully process new things.
Dolurrhi banshees can be formed from humanoids of any species or gender; one of the classic Dhakaani ghost stories is of the dirge singer who will not die. In creating a Dolurrhi banshee, replace Elvish with Languages known in life. However, the Dark Power known as the Queen of All Tears has created a strain of Mabaran banshees specifically drawn from elf woman who have suffered great tragedies. These handmaidens of sorrow have more in common with wraiths than with ghosts. They are typically fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, and they split their time between haunting the place of their sorrow and the Court of Tears in Mabar.
Dawn specters are a variety of ghost commonly found in Aereni; they’re a form of deathless. Dawn specters must be bound to something—either a location or a spirit idol. Beyond this, a dawn specter’s ability to manifest is tied to the devotion it receives from the people of a community. So you might find the dawn specter of a bard entertaining patrons in an Aereni tavern; the joy of the patrons is what allows it to maintain its form and interact with world. A dawn specter uses the stat block of a ghost, with the following changes: it has no immunity to necrotic damage and is immune to radiant damage. Its Radiant Touch is similar to the Withering Touch of the ghost, but deals radiant damage rather than necrotic. Instead of Horrifying Visage, its Glorious Visage charms victims rather than frightening them, and there is no threat of aging. A dawn specter can possess a mortal, just like a ghost; however, most dawn specters can’t go more than 10 miles from the object or location they are bound to, even while possessing a mortal. Some Aereni willingly allow dawn specters to possess them, to allow the dead elf to interact directly with its descendants; however, there are limits on how long the spirit can maintain such possession.
Surely you’ve heard of Haldon d’Cannith, the Vampire Prince of Starilaskur? When he took over the post of Cannith viceroy, he began running his factories at all hours to meet the demands of the war. He chained his workers to their stations, and those who challenged him were publicly tortured… and he drank the blood from their wounds. The common folk begged the duke for aid, but he was deeply Haldon’s thrall and turned a deaf ear to their cries. Later, Haldon began using prisoners of war in his factories, and that was when he truly began working his people to death… and who cared what became of their corpses and their delicious blood? Here we are sixty years later, and Haldon is still viceroy. He can’t use prison labor any more, but I hear he’s taken on Cyran refugees…
While most people have never seen a vampire, everyone knows about them. As a result, it’s common for people to see vampires where none exist. Is something especially cruel or bloodthirsty? Have they lived longer than seems plausible? Sounds like a vampire to me! Haldon d’Cannith might well be a vampire, who uses his workers to slake his thirst. On the other hand, he could simply be a ruthless industrialist, and all those stories of his imposing a blood tax on his workers are just sensational rumors. If he truly has held his post for sixty years, it could be that he’s been taking experimental alchemical treatments to extend his life… or it’s possible that the current Haldon d’Cannith is the SON of the man who inspired the tales, and the rumor-mongers just ignore that aspect of the story. Essentially, people SAY Haldon is a vampire… only the DM knows if he actually is.
Vampires don’t occur naturally, which is to say that they aren’t generated spontaneously by Mabaran manifest zones. Creating a vampire is an act of epic necromancy that infuses a humanoid creature with the power of Mabar. The first known vampires were created by the Qabalrin elves in the Age of Giants, and the line of Vol resurrected these techniques to create a number of vampire bloodlines on Aerenal. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol, its allies were allowed to flee; some settled on the island of Farlnen and founded the Bloodsail Principality, while others spread west, helped to establish the Blood of Vol in what’s now Karrnath. These elves brought vampires with them, and most vampires in Khorvaire can ultimately trace their bloodlines back to Aerenal. With that said, there were vampires in the line of Vol for tens of thousands of years, and some came to Khorvaire long before the Mark of Death appeared in Aerenal. One of the oldest vampires on Khorvaire is the hobgoblin dirge singer Iraala of the Kech Nasaar, who became a vampire through dealings with the line of Vol before the Empire fell. So it’s possible that a vampire in western Khorvaire could trace their lineage to the Nasaar bloodline—but ultimately, that too leads back to Aerenal.
Once you have one vampire, it’s easy to make more. So why aren’t vampires more common? The primary reason is that it’s not easy being a vampire. A vampire is bound to Mabar, and Mabar is hungry. It is this that fuels a vampire’s thirst for both the blood and life energy of the living. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult for a vampire not to see all living creatures as prey. A weak-willed vampire will quickly devolve into a feral predator; such creatures use the statistics of vampire spawn, but their Intelligence is more a measure of cunning than of rational thought. It takes strong will to maintain your personality as a vampire, and stronger still to maintain any empathy or compassion for other creatures. This is why vampires are seen as monsters; many do become ghoulish killers that need to be hunted down by templars of the Silver Flame, the knights of Dol Arrah, or the Aereni Deathguard. This is an additional reason most vampires don’t make legions of spawn; all it takes is one spawn going feral and drawing templars to town to lead to a deep purge. Undead have no rights under the Code of Galifar, and destroying a vampire isn’t considered murder; you’d just better be sure your target is a vampire before you kill the mayor.
The Qabalrin are the common source of vampires, but there are other paths…
The Bone King of Mabar can transform a mortal into a vampire. Such vampires cannot spawn other vampires; most instead transform victims into ghouls. When they are destroyed their spirits are drawn to the domain of the Bone King, where the exist as wraiths.
There are a few examples of devotees of the Keeper becoming vampires. Such vampires cannot create spawn at all. Their hunger is a manifestation of the greed of the Keeper, and the souls of creatures they slay may be bound, similar to the effect of a Keeper’s fang.
At the DM’s discretion, these three strains—Bone King, Keeper, Qabalrin—could have different weaknesses. For example, it could be that the vampires of the Bone King aren’t harmed by running water, but are vulnerable to fire; while it may be that the Qabalrin vampires don’t require permission to enter a dwelling, but also can’t assume bat form or control bats. I’m not personally going to assign these things, in my opinion it’s best for the DM to decide and for players do have to discover these using the Arcana or Religion skills of their characters. But it’s definitely reasonable to say that there are unique aspects to different bloodlines, and that things that are commonly accepted as weaknesses may not apply to all vampires—though if I remove a weakness, I’d be sure to add a new one.
Other forms of vampire—such as the penanggalan—are tied to rituals developed by different cultures, and simply aren’t as widespread as the Qabalrin techniques. In adding such variant vampires, consider the source. Are they tied to an overlord, like Katashka the Gatekeeper? Were they created by one of the princes of Ohr Kaluun?
Most people are familiar with the concept of undead guardians bound to protect tombs or temples. The people of Karrnath have more practical experience with these oathbound, as they are the most common form of sentient undead associated with the Blood of Vol; the Crimson Monastery of Atur has been staffed with mummies since before the founding of Galifar. While they may be the most common form of undead, they still aren’t COMMON and even most Karrns have never met one; they just are familiar with the concept of oathbound, and know that they’re generally guardians as opposed to ravening monsters.
Mummies are discussed in more detail in this article. Many different cultures and traditions have produced mummies, and like vampires their abilities could vary based on the culture that produced them and the oaths that bind them to undeath.
Lady Illmarrow is older than bones. Some say she came to Khorvaire with the elves, but the way I’ve heard it, she was a queen of the Forgotten People, the humans who ruled this land before there ever were goblins or orcs. She’s forgotten more about magic than the wizards of Arcanix have ever learned. People say she weaves a grand tapestry made from souls—that when she’s quiet, it’s because she’s got all she needs to keep her busy, but when she runs out of thread it’s time to harvest more. It was Lady Illmarrow who set the Talons of Ice ravaging the north during the reign of Marala ir’Wynarn, and she’s made the boneclaw wyverns that nest in the Icewood. What’s that? Why hasn’t some bold hero faced this villain? Oh, many have, and many are frozen into the walls of her palace. Haryn Stormblade surely did slay Lady Illmarrow, and brought her crown to his king. But you can’t kill a thing that’s already dead, and it was Illmarrow that created the shadow plague that killed the king—and it was her shadow that reclaimed her crown. Illmarrow can’t die, and if she’s stirring again, all we can hope is to wait it out.
Common folk aren’t familiar with the specific abilities of the lich, but people understand the basic concept of ancient undead wizard who can’t die. With that said, liches are among the rarest of all undead, rivaled only by death knights. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the idea is that a necromancer can’t make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And even more so than a vampire, becoming a lich requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction. The oldest member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, began as a lich and has become a demilich over time. But he can’t just make other Seekers into liches; he can teach the rituals, but the aspirant has to be able to perform them.
The default lich in the Monster Manual is presented as an arcane spellcaster, but there is certainly a divine path to lichdom. The people of the north know about Lady Illmarrow, but the Brelish tell stories of Gath. In life, Hogar Gath was the high priest of the Sovereign Host, infamous for his love of luxuries. After his death it was revealed that Gath had also been leading a cult of the Keeper in lower Sharn… and that he was still leading it. Champions of the Silver Flame rallied and destroyed the undead priest. But thieves who sought to pillage his “mausoleum”—effectively a mansion he’d built in Sharn’s City of the Dead—rarely returned. Typically this was attributed to the deadly wards and traps, the finest and most expensive House Kundarak could survive. But stories circulated that Gath himself had risen again, and still dwelled in the mausoleum. This was a pattern that would continue for centuries. Once he was revealed to be behind a new criminal organization that was challenging the Boromar Clan. Another time he was exposed as the force behind a smuggling ring being run out of the Pavilion of the Host itself. Sometimes he’s destroyed, sometimes he flees; whatever happens, he always returns eventually.
The typical lich must be a master of arcane science, and most are consumed by their obsession with eldritch knowledge. Divine liches are rarer and more unique. Gath didn’t become a lich by accident. He prepared for it, which is one reason his mausoleum was so richly appointed and heavily secured. And those preparations required him to perform sacrifices that were both horrific and expensive. His love of luxuries is just a surface manifestation of his absolute and relentless GREED—which is ultimately what makes him such an effective servant of the Keeper. Where the arcane lich is sustained by will, in many ways Gath is sustained by that greed—by the desire to expand his hoard, to have the finest things; in many ways, he is more akin to the classic dragon than any dragon of Argonnessen. He doesn’t care about conquest and has no inherent desire to kill others: but he will do ANYTHING to satisfy his greed, and he will NEVER be satisfied with what he has. He does also continue to serve as a talon of the Keeper, training new priests and serving as an intermediary for those who would bargain with the Sovereign of Death and Decay. And adventurers could be surprised to find that the mysterious patron who funded their expedition wants them to deliver the treasure they recovered to the City of the Dead. He is absolutely EVIL, but his schemes are always driven by greed, and might not actually pose a threat to the world at large… and he can pay his agents VERY well. Gath uses the stat block of a lich, but his spells should be chosen from the cleric spell list (along with those spells available to the Trickery domain).
The Nightwood didn’t always stretch as far north as it does today. Back before Galifar, it was the domain of a family long devoted to the Blood of Vol. The rulers, they were champions of the Blood of Vol, and those around ’em didn’t think much of that. But the lord and lady, they were unmatched on the battlefield. Came a time that they were fighting a plague of warlocks, foul cultists sworn to the Queen of Shadows. The lady, she cuts her way through them, but the last one speaks with the voice of the Queen and curses her: if she says even one word, her children will die. Now, this victory over the warlocks was a glorious thing, and the lord insists that they have a grand celebration. Warlords come from all about, and in the midst of the feast, the lady sees an assassin drawing a knife by her husband. She’s got time to shout a warning, but she puts her children before her lover and holds her tongue, has to watch him die. It’s a massacre; the lord and lady are killed, the castle razed, the land itself shunned and soon overrun by the Nightwood.
Not an uncommon story in old Karrnath. Except for the fact that over the next year, each of the scheming warlords was slain—and no one ever saw or heard them die, even those just on the other side of a door. There’s them that say that it was the lady, risen to take vengeance, and that she still rules over her ruined castle in the Nightwood. But the curse is still on her, that if she speaks her children—or their descendants now—will die. So you’d best not harm any Seeker child that you meet; if you do, the Silent Knight will come for you. Nothing will stand in her way, and no one will hear you die.
The rarest of all undead, a death knight blends aspects of ghost and wraith. A death knight is forged when someone of deep devotion and martial skill—typically, a paladin—suffers intense tragedy leading to their death. This tragedy typically involves the character breaking their own oaths, blending loss with shame. A death knight can’t rest, in part because they won’t allow themselves to forget their shame. The divine power they once channeled is replaced by the pure power of Mabar. Some find brief solace in taking vengeance on mortal enemies, but largely a death knight spends its time meditating on its pain.
The Silent Knight is one known death knight, and she is a member of the Crimson Covenant of the Blood of Vol. She still acts to protect her descendants, but she’s also believed to have killed descendants who have in her eyes brought shame to their house—perhaps by abandoning the Seeker faith, by becoming a warlock, or by forming a romantic attachment to someone of one of the bloodlines that betrayed her. She does not speak and can extend an aura of magical silence at will, though this silence doesn’t prevent her from casting spells.
Another infamous death knight is Prince Moren of the Lhazaar Principalities. Once a bold swashbuckler and beloved prince, he betrayed his beloved and his treachery resulted in the destruction of his principality. Murdered by his own crew, he now he sails the Lhazaar Sea in a ship of bones, hunting treacherous captains and forcing them to serve his vessel.
That’s all for now! I know that this doesn’t cover every possible type of undead, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to go into further detail; if you’ve done something interesting with other undead in your Eberron, tell the story in the comments!
This topic was chosen by my Patreon backers, whose support makes it possible for me to spend the time it takes to write articles like this. The main topic for November will be determined by a poll on Patreon, which I’ll be posting shortly!
My last IFAQ dealt with the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol. This ties into another question that’s equally relevant to the season: How would you use the Crimson Covenant in your Eberron?
Information about the Blood of Vol is wildly inconsistent across canon material. You can find some of my thoughts on this in this article. My vision of the Blood of Vol is articulated in Exploring Eberron. In short, the Blood of Vol was created in Eberron, when exiled elves fleeing the destruction of the line of Vol settled among humans and dwarves living in a harsh land, long oppressed by tyrants who used the Sovereign Host to justify their rule. The elves shared a tale of a champion who attained divine power only to be crushed by the existing gods, and the humans recast that to fit their reality. In their story, Vol isn’t an elf with a dragonmark who fights the Undying Court, but rather is a human who finds a spark of divinity within and fights the Sovereign Host. The NAME is there and the bones of the story can be seen, but the truth that iinspired it is long forgotten. The elves shared some of their necromantic traditions with the humans, and that aspect of the faith has its roots in Aerenal. But it was only in the synthesis of the cultures and traditions that the faithful actually found the Divinity Within. The Aereni line of Vol were NECROMANCERS; they never harnessed this power.
So: the Blood of Vol was is something entirely unique to Khorvaire, something formed by the blending of Vassal heretics and exiled elves. When this religion was taking root, Erandis Vol was hiding from the Undying Court and building her strength; it was many centuries before she would stumble across the faith that carried her family’s name. She sees the Blood of Vol as a useful tool and is happy to manipulate them, and the result of this is the Order of the Emerald Claw. But she didn’t create their faith and she doesn’t share it. She aspires to be a goddess, but it is her apex dragonmark that is her path to divine power, not some universal Divinity Within.
The Blood of Vol has always been a religious of the downtrodden, of those who believe that the gods are cruel and the universe is unforgiving. Its strongholds lie in Mabaran manifest zones, shunned lands no one else could tame. As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the structure of the faith is far looser than that of the Church of the Silver Flame. Some priests are trained in one of the great temples such, such as the Crimson Monastery of Atur; others have never met a priest from beyond their village, and learned the faith from their local abactor. So, what then is the Crimson Covenant?
The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that every mortal holds a spark of divinity within their blood, and the goal is to unlock that Divinity Within. But few can accomplish that in their lifetime, and death is oblivion. Some champions of the faith become undead—typically vampires and oathbound mummies—to live beyond what their mortal span would allow. This is a form of martydom; an undead creature has no spark of life, and loses the Divinity Within. But they gain time, and can guide and protect other Seekers. The Crimson Covenant are the oldest and most powerful of these undead champions, some of whom were guiding the Seekers before Erandis Vol even knew the faith existed.
Among most of the faithful the Crimson Covenant is little more than a legend; most seekers believe that Hass Malevanor, High Priest of Atur, is the greatest spiritual leader of the faith. There is good reason for this secrecy. First and foremost, there are many—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, paladins of Dol Arrah, and other champions of the light—who would see these elders as monsters to be destroyed. But there is another aspect: all undead aren’t created equal. We think of things in terms of stat blocks and rules, under which a lich is a lich is a lich. But the necromancy of the early Seekers was adapted from Aereni techniques; it was never as sophisticated as the techniques used by the Bloodsails or the Line of Vol, and has its own quirks. The most ancient member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, was its first lich; but while his will is strong, his enchantments are unable to maintain his body and he exists now as a demilich. Most of the members of the Crimson Covenant are oathbound, and many of their oaths are quite restrictive. Beyond this, many members have had their humanity slowly worn away by the passage of time, and they know it; it is difficult for them to interact directly with the living. With this in mind, Malevanor ISN’T a member of the Crimson Covenant; he is still young, still comfortable with the world. But he and other priests protect the Covenant and rely upon it for guidance, and the Covenant does perform the most sacred rituals of the faith. The core of the Covenant resides in the catacombs below Atur, and it is their devotions that contain and channel the dreadful powers of this sunless land.
So for the most part the Crimson Covenant are masterminds and advisors. They can cast spells and perform rituals that are far beyond Malevanor’s powers—but only a few of them are actually capable of freely moving within the world. As such, they generally support the faith by creating magic items, raising undead (they were certainly an important part of raising the first armies for Karrnath), and casting divinations and other rituals. They teach the most promising students in the Crimson Monastery. But there are only a few—such as the Silent Knight and Lady Dusk—who often act in the outer world. There have been others—there were a few members of the Crimson Covenant who rose from their chamber to lead Seekers in the Last War—but they have been destroyed.
So, to go back to the original question, How would I use the Crimson Covenant in my Eberron? I would use it as something the adventurers hear of in whispers. Seekers may receive guidance from the Crimson Covenant; I might even choose to say that when a Seeker priest casts commune, it’s the Covenant that answers. Its possible they won’t even believe it exists until one of these ancient champions actually DOES appear to assist a group of seekers… or alternately, until one of them is discovered and destroyed, and the Mabaran manifest zone they were containing becomes a threat. Beyond that, it would depend on the relationship between the adventurers and the Seekers. If the adventurers are fighting the Emerald Claw, I’d probably start by having them believe that the mysterious Crimson Covenant is their enemy, perhaps the true leaders of the Emerald Claw. But eventually they would finally meet the Covenant, and if they walked the proper path it could be a powerful ally in the question to put an end to the threat posed by the Claw. With that said…
What’s the relationship between Lady Illmarrow and the Crimson Covenant?
Originally, none. The Crimson Covenant are elder Seekers, many of whom have served the faith for longer than Illmarrow has been aware of it. However, Lady Illmarrow is a mastermind, and over the course of centuries some of her handpicked agents have risen to join the Crimson Covenant. It is through these agents that Illmarrow knows the plans of the abactors and influences the faith to her own ends. It is Illmarrow’s agents who have prevented the Covenant from taking any action against the Emerald Claw, convincing the others that they must wait and see, and that perhaps Illmarrow is acting as a champion of the faith. Some of those councilors slain in the Last War were victims of schemes laid by their fellow councilors, because they posed a threat to Illmarrow’s plans. So the point is that Lady Illmarrow doesn’t control the Crimson Covenant… But she is influencing it, and in many ways slowly poisoning it to help with her agenda. So again, if I were running a campaign in which the adventurers were fighting Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw, an important piece of the endgame would be identifying and destroying her agents in the Crimson Covenant, at which point its surviving members could be valuable allies.
Likewise, I could certainly see a member of the Crimson Covenant who is suspicious of Illmarrow’s influence but unable to act openly serving as a patron for a group of adventurers—potentially using the Immortal Being group patron, or serving as an Undying patron for a warlock or a personal spiritual guide for a Seeker paladin or cleric. Such a patron could direct adventurers to operations of the Emerald Claw or to expose other agents of Illmarrow within the faith.
What’s the relationship between the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principality? Also, the article “Dolurrh’s Dawn” has an individual named Ashalyn Vol who’s said to have created some of the core principles of the Blood of Vol. How’s that work with this interpretation?
Well, I DID say canon was inconsistent! Having said that, let’s take a look at what the canon Bloodsail article says.
The religion known as the Blood of Vol is a bastardized version of the beliefs of the elves of Farlnen, and it has grown and changed over the centuries. Bloodsail priests are far more pragmatic than are their Karrnathi counterparts. They shape their divine spells from the raw energy of Mabar, and whereas the Seekers of Atur try to unlock the immortal potential of the Divinity Within, the priests of Port Cairn are content with the simpler immortality of undeath. Nonetheless, the two faiths share some common practices, and followers of the Blood are treated with respect in Farlnen.
The bolded element is the key. After the line of Vol was eradicated in Aerenal, the Undying Court allowed elves allied to the line but who didn’t carry its blood to either swear fealty to the Court or to accept exile. Some of these went directly north to Farlnen and became the Bloodsails. Others landed in Lhazaar and migrated west, mingling with humans and dwarves. The Blood of Vol arose from that mingling of traditions, and the Divinity Within was a discovery of this new faith. So Ashalyn Vol WAS a cleric and did set the first cornerstones of the faith. But those cornerstones were about channeling the power of Mabar, not about finding the Divinity Within. The idea of fighting against death was there, but how you do it is very different. The Seekers see undeath as a sacrifice; the Bloodsails see it as entirely satisfactory and don’t believe in a divine inner spark; they don’t believe the oathbound gives anything up by becoming undead, and their divine magic isn’t drawn from the same source as that of a Seeker priest. So as noted, the Bloodsails RESPECT the Seekers and recognize their common roots; but they also think the Seekers are, well, crazy humans with bizarre conspiracy theories. “The Sovereigns cursed people with mortality, so they couldn’t become gods themselves” — that’s just a ridiculous idea!
Part of the point of this is to challenge the concepts of Elven Exceptionalism and that Things Were Always Better In The Old Days. I like the idea that the blending of elf and human beliefs and ideas created something new—that this fusion allowed them to DISCOVER the Divinity Within, which is a real divine power source that the line of Vol never knew about or harnessed. To me this is more compelling than saying “Oh, an elf discovered it five thousand years ago – we’re just following in their footsteps and we’ve never really made any sort of improvements.” The Bloodsails ARE just following in Ashalyn’s footsteps, because that’s what elves do; they cling to the traditions of their ancestors. But the Blood of Vol did something NEW. And part of MY idea is that they are continually improving their techniques—that Duran the demilich is a demilich because their original lich technique was flawed and that they’ve gotten better at it — that the techniques used to produce Malevanor were superior to the oathbound rituals they used centuries ago.
What’s the relationship between the Crimson Covenant and Kaius III? How does the Covenant feel about Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw?
In thinking about the Crimson Covenant, it might be helpful to look at the US Supreme Court. It’s a small body of people who are experts at what they do (we hope) but who have differing opinions and who were appointed in very different times. It’s a lifetime position, and in this case, when we say lifetime, we mean eternity—or until you get taken down by a paladin of Dol Arrah. There are members of the Crimson Covenant who are older than Galifar, and at least one who’s older than Karrnath. For these people, the events of the last ten years—the Order of the Emerald Claw, Kaius III—are a tiny drop in the bucket of time. It’s only been a decade; let’s see how it plays out in another decade.
You definitely have factions in the Covenant. There are those who argue that the Covenant should be focused on teaching the living—that it’s not its place to intervene directly. There are those who say that they should be trying to find a way to destroy the Sovereigns directly, those who say they should undermine the institutions that encourage worship of the Sovereigns, and those that say that all this discussion of the Sovereigns is ridiculous, because they don’t exist. There are those who believe Lady Illmarrow poses a threat to the faith, and those who argue that she’s a champion and that the Covenant should be supporting her—along with those who say “Let’s see what happens in the next ten years.”
So there are definitely enough members on the Covenant who support Illmarrow or at least want to wait and see to keep the Covenant as a whole from acting against her. But there’s certainly members of the Covenant who ARE worried about Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. Such a member might well be secretly working with Kaius III, and might very well work as a patron for an adventurer or a party of adventurers. They can’t convince the majority of the Covenant to take action, but they do believe that something should be done.
What stops the Crimson Covenant from using some preexisting D&D 5e methods of achieving effective immortality, such as the Reincarnate and Clone spells?
Part of the idea of Eberron has always been to consider magic as a tool and a science—which means that we add limitations to it that aren’t necessarily obvious from the rules. If you’re making a character you can be a druid, just like that. But in the WORLD, druidic magic comes from ancient traditions. A random person in Sharn can’t just say “I’m going to be a druid” and start casting thorn whip; they need to LEARN these traditions from someone else. There is no established druidic tradition in Karrnath, therefore, the Crimson Covenant has no druids and no idea how to cast reincarnate. On the other side, clone is an 8th level spell, which is far outside the common power level of the Five Nations—which is normally 1st-3rd level spells are common tools, 4th-5th are attainable but rare. On that scale, clone is the stuff of legends. Even if we assume that there are a few members of the Crimson Covenant who have gained the power to cast 8th level spells, the next point of considering arcane magic as a science is that just because there’s rules for a spell doesn’t mean that every culture has developed every spell. This is something we called out in earlier editions with the idea of limiting certain rituals to character with dragonmarks. As a PLAYER CHARACTER, your wizard can learn any spell on the wizard spell list. And in my Eberron you can be sure that Mordain the Fleshweaver has discovered clone. But beyond that, it’s up to the DM to decide what spells are available to NPCs. If you want to have a member of the Covenant who uses clone as a path to immortality, tell that story! But in my campaign, no one in the Covenant has discovered how to cast that spell.
Ultimately, remember—the rules are a tool for the DM to use to tell a story. It’s always up to us to decide which elements we want to use and which we choose to ignore. I prefer to think of each wizard spell as a scientific discovery, and to consider that different traditions—the Twelve, Arcanix, Aerenal, the dragons—may know spells that the others haven’t yet mastered. Again, player characters can choose any spell—but that’s part of what makes them remarkable.
That’s all for now! My next major article (as chosen by my Patreon supporters) will deal with Ghost Stories of Eberron. And tomorrow I’ll have a few announcements about other things I’m working on!
I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. This Friday I’ll be playing my new Adventure Zone game with Justin McElroy, Hrishikesh Hirway, and Becca Scott on the Twogether Studios Twitch channel. I’m working on a secret Eberron project and I’ll be doing my first post about Threshold later this week. But as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So…
What’s the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol?
The traditions of necromancy practiced by the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principalities are known to be able to produce three forms of sentient undead: mummies, vampires, and liches. Note that I don’t include the Karrnathi undead in this list, because while they are seemingly sentient, they don’t have the personality or memories of a living person. If you want to extend your own existence, these are your three options.
Of these, liches are the rarest and most difficult to produce. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the general idea is that a necromancer can’t just make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And again, in my campaign, becoming a lich also requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction.
On the other end of the spectrum, vampires are the easiest sentient undead to produce, because if you have one vampire, they can produce more vampires. So an obvious question is why don’t they? Yes, the Blood of Vol generally believes that undeath is an inferior state that severs your connection to the Divinity Within. But still, it is trivially easy for a vampire to create more vampires. Why aren’t all of the leaders of the Emerald Claw vampires? We know that the Emerald Claw ISN’T flooded with vampires, so this is a simple logic problem: If you could turn an ally into a vampire, why wouldn’t you? In my campaign, the answer is that being a vampire isn’t easy. Of the lich, mummy, and vampire, the vampire is a PREDATOR. It is a conduit to Mabar, and Mabar is HUNGRY. The vampire needs to drain the blood and life force of other creatures, not simply in the practical way that a human needs food and water, but as a consuming drive that is always burning. This is a critical reason most vampires are evil: because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out, eroding their empathy and transforming them into pure predators. So, why doesn’t the Emerald Claw turn everyone into vampires? Because most people can’t take it. Just as it takes a powerful will to become a lich, to endlessly defy the draw of Dolurrh, it takes a powerful will to retain your own identity as a vampire. Most vampires degrade into inhuman creatures driven purely by their hunger—creatures with the statistics of Vampire Spawn, but without true human sentience. So you don’t want to just turn all of your friends into vampires because you don’t know if they will survive the experience. Their bodies will survive—but they may no longer be the people they were, or even people at all.
Which brings us to the original question: what’s the role of mummies? First of all, let’s consider that word. Mummies are indeed produced by rituals that include, among many other factors, ritualized embalming and mummification. But that’s just a physical aspect and not what Seekers see as their defining principles. Thus, Seekers and Bloodsails call them oathbound, for reasons that will soon become clear. Anyone can become oathbound; it involves a conduit to Mabar, an expert necromancer, a series of rituals including the embalming process, and a number of rare and expensive components… Which are the major limiting factor on the number of mummies in existence. But there is a second, critical component to creating a mummy: its oaths. The 5E Monster Manual says that a mummy “obeys the conditions and parameters laid down by the rituals that created it.” These conditions aren’t an extra piece added onto the ritual; they are an integral part of it. A mummy is bound by a set of oaths that it must obey, and it is these oaths that bind its essence to its body and prevent it being dragged to Dolurrh. This is how you end up with a mummy bound to protect a specific tomb; even if it’s intelligent, it CAN’T just choose to leave the tomb and forget about it; that role of tomb guardian is what defines it and preserves it. Most mummies are bound by restrictive oaths; many Bloodsail mummies are bound to their ships. The looser these oaths, the more power and components are required for the ritual. So Malevanor, the High Priest of Atur, has far fewer restrictions than most oathbound; but it’s not a simple matter to create mummies with such freedom. Of liches, vampires, and mummies, the oathbound are the most common form of undead within the Blood of Vol, but many of the oathbound are never SEEN; mummies are often bound to temples or villages. There are hundreds of mummies in Atur, but most dwell in the vaults and temples of the City of Night, tirelessly performing their duties.
OK, but… The default mummy in the Monster Manual has an Intelligence of 6. That doesn’t SEEM like it’s an ideal alternative to, say, a vampire. In my Eberron, that base MM Mummy is a classic tomb guardian. As the lore suggests, it’s someone bound to be a mummy as a sort of curse, forced by their oaths to battle intruders; they haven’t tried to retain their humanity. However, oathbound such as Malevanor retain their mental ability scores, their proficiencies, and some of their class abilities; Malevanor is the high priest of Atur and can perform divine magic. The Monster Manual mummy is created to be a physical powerhouse, but I think there are oathbound who aren’t as physically powerful but are sustained by the same rituals and power; I’m posting a stat block for an oathbound priest for my Patreon supporters.
Now: oathbound aren’t driven by the hunger of the vampire. They don’t need to consume to survive. However, they are sustained by and suffused with the power of Mabar. This is why the touch of the mummy causes flesh to rot and why its gaze causes dread; it is a vessel for Mabar, which embodies the death of all that lives and the end of all hope. While it’s not as dramatic as the vampire, the influence of Mabar still does erode the compassion and the empathy of the oathbound. This is why most mummies have an evil alignment. As is always the case in Eberron, they can have an evil alignment and still be driven to DO GOOD—but because of that lack of empathy, they may do good deeds in an evil way. A mummy forgets pain, and so it doesn’t care about causing pain to others. You can have a good or neutral mummy, but there’s a reason that they are rare… and why mummies tend to be crueler than the deathless of Aerenal, who are sustained by positive energy. The rotting touch of the mummy is something the Aereni point to in asserting that the oathbound do consume the life force of the world—that even though they don’t actively feed on others as vampires do, they are still slowly destroying the world merely by existing.
So within the Emerald Claw and the broader Blood of Vol, liches are rare and remarkable. Vampires aren’t very common, but they are often found as active agents in the field because they have freedom of movement and need to find new prey. Oathbound are the most common sentient undead, and if adventurers encounter an undead priest of the Blood of Vol, it’s most likely a mummy; however, it may be bound to its temple or its village (and it may be a lesser oathbound, weaker than the default mummy). In creating one of the oathbound, the critical question is what are the oaths that bind it? What are the restrictions on its actions and choices? Who was it in life, and what key skills has it retained in its undeath? Has it retained its sense of mercy and empathy, or has this been worn away?
How do wights figure into this?
I prefer not to lump all undead into a single basket. There are different sources of undead—Qabalrin traditions, Katashka the Gatekeeper, the raw power of Mabar—and to me, a story is more interesting if those different traditions produce different undead, rather than the only difference being CR. With this in mind, the basic lore of 5E notes that wights are mortals transformed by a dark power with the goal of making eternal war on the living. With this in mind, I say that wights AREN’T created by mortal necromancers; they can be created either by Katashka the Gatekeeper or by one of the Dark Powers of Mabar, and they directly serve the agenda of the force that created them (even if they don’t know what that agenda is).
What do you think happens if an oath is broken? Would the mummy just cease to function or would it be compelled magically to restore its oath?
It’s a matter of will. I think that most oathbound simply cannot violate their oaths, and if they are somehow forced to (a guardian removed from its tomb by force) it must attempt to rectify the situation immediately. If it can’t, this will weaken the bonds that sustain its undead existence, and it would ultimately disintegrate. Having said that, there can always be exceptions. A mummy with the strength of will to break its oath might become something else—finding a new way to sustain itself—potentially becoming something like a death knight or a wight, depending on the power of the spirit and its personal story.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.