IFAQ: Smalltown Karrnath, Ghallanda Scouts, and Speaking with the Dead!

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 WithinAKA 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!

IFAQs: Seeker Crime, Targath, and the Dreaming Dark

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 like a 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!

IFAQ: September Lightning Round!

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!

IFAQ: Kaius and Lady Illmarrow

Image by Rich Ellis and Grace Allison, from Phoenix Dawn Command

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.

Dragonmark: The Blood of Vol

IFAQ: The Crimson Covenant

IFAQ: Malevanor

IFAQ: Mummies and the Blood of Vol

Erandis: Hot or Not?

That’s all for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: Blood of Vol, Malevenor, and Tairnadal Burial!

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 zaelshin tu:

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!

IFAQ: Elves and Pugs

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!

IFAQ: The Crimson Covenant

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!

IFAQ: The Emerald Claw

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. Today I want to look at a few questions about the Order of the Emerald Claw.

The Order of the Emerald Claw seem like terrible villains. While they’re sometimes compared to “The Nazis in Indiana Jones movies,” they don’t have the power base or support that made the Nazis a credible threat. If everyone hates them, how is it that they get away with anything? And what have they actually DONE that’s worse than the Swords of Liberty, anyway? The Kanon take on the Blood of Vol just makes this worse, because by the original 3.5 interpretation they at least had the support of the Blood of Vol religion, while Keith’s take on the Blood of Vol emphasizes that they don’t approve of the extreme actions of the Emerald Claw.

So, there’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, I want to drill down on the narrative purpose of the Order of the Emerald Claw. There are MANY villains to choose from in Eberron. On one side of the spectrum we have the Lords of Dust and the Dreaming Dark. Both of these organizations are extremely powerful. Both have fiendish agents that can pose a challenge even to epic-level characters. Both have vast resources and far-reaching plans, but both are masters of subterfuge. Quori mind seeds and overlord cultists can be found in any organization, often with no obvious indication of their true allegiance. Given this, they are intended to be long-term villains. At low levels, adventurers who clash with them won’t even know what organization they are dealing with; it’s only at higher levels that they will start to realize just how widespread these powers are. Both organizations have plans that could transform Khorvaire itself. And in both cases, even once adventurers know that they are dealing with, they are SO vast that you can’t expect to bring them down in a single fight. On a fundamental level, players can’t hope to DESTROY the Lords of Dust; they can only hope to kick the can down the road, stopping their current plans and forcing them to return to their schemes for another century.

For a second tier of villain, you can bring in Dragonmarked Houses or nations themselves. These forces aren’t otherworldly, and their motives often aren’t mysterious; but because of their vast support it can be difficult for adventurers to oppose them. And in the case of nations, their motives may not be evil. If the Royal Eyes of Aundair are trying to obtain a magical weapon to help Aundair win the Next War, it’s entirely conceivable that there might be a wizard among the adventurers who studied at Arcanix and who actually thinks Aundair SHOULD win the Next War. These forces DO have vast support and thousands of people who believe that their actions are justified, and adventurers may need to think about the consequences of choosing a side. And likewise, adventurers likely can’t expect that through their actions they will destroy House Deneith or the nation of Aundair.

But perhaps you’re just starting a new campaign. The low level characters aren’t capable of fighting rakshasa. They don’t yet know enough about the world to appreciate the deep schemes of the Dreaming Dark, or the impact of making an enemy of House Deneith. You need a villain that’s easy to understand and who operates on a scale small enough for people to understand. Lucky for you, there are three groups specifically designed for this purpose.

THE AURUM are classic Bond villains. They’re rich and powerful enough to hire thugs or adventurers, but they don’t have the vast resources and international influence of the Dragonmarked Houses. Their goals are PERSONAL and SELFISH. The average Aurum Concordian isn’t trying to RULE THE WORLD; they’re trying to get a particular artifact for their collection, or to crush a business rival, or to simply increase their own wealth. Their motives are easy to understand. They have enough power to make life difficult for adventurers, but they aren’t ancient immortals or as well connected as Dragonmarked barons; if the players make an implacable enemy of a Concordian, they can simple go to a new city for a while. In short, the Aurum are EASY and OBVIOUS villains: people with enough power to either threaten low level adventurers or to hire them, but intentionally NOT as powerful as Dragonmarked Houses, let alone the Lords of Dust. WITH THAT BEING SAID… If the adventurers love the Aurum and you WANT to have that low-level villain evolve into a greater threat over time, you can choose to engage the Cabinet of Shadows, revealing that the Aurum ISN’T just a collection of wealthy narcissists and DOES have a greater agenda. But that’s simply an option; MOST concordians aren’t part of the Cabinet, and their actions and motives can be as shallow as you want.

THE CULTS OF THE DRAGON BELOW are irrational and can appear ANYWHERE. They aren’t a vast, monolithic force; they are a myriad of small cells, and each one is driven by its own unique visions. Even two cults tied to the same daelkyr may have no awareness of or connection to one another. Their goals can be as grand or as focused as the story requires, and could be as simple as a handful of murder-sacrifices or as grand as a ritual that could destroy a city. But as every cell IS unique, they are a force whose goals are typically easily understood and that can be completely defeated. Defeating the Transcendent Flesh sect in Wroat doesn’t defeat DYRRN, but that particular cult can be conclusively eliminated. Again, in comparison to the Dreaming Dark or the Lords of Dust, you can think of them as “Monster of the Week” villains; their schemes AREN’T necessarily part of some vast grand scheme, they HAVEN’T anticipated your interference; and if you defeat them today, this particular cult WON’T be back to cause trouble. On the other hand, if you WANT that long term threat to evolve over the campaign, the daelkyr play the same role here that the Shadow Cabinet does for the Aurum. In fighting the cults, low-level adventurers will come to learn about the daelkyr, who are a greater threat that may challenge them at higher levels—but that doesn’t change the fact that they have conclusively triumphed over THIS ONE CULT.

THE ORDER OF THE EMERALD CLAW are classic pulp villains. When they are described as “Nazis in Indiana Jones Movies” the emphasis is on IN MOVIES, not “historical Nazis.” I think a better comparison is Cobra Command from the GI Joe franchise. The Emerald Claw doesn’t have the support of any nation. There is nothing sympathetic about its agenda. The Emerald Claw serves a narcissistic lich who is willing to drown innocents in blood if it helps her get the power she seeks. And like the Cults, the Emerald Claw is a “Monster of the Week” villain. Its schemes are focussed and often exactly what they appear. Its minions can come in all levels of power; a group of 1st level adventurers can face a changeling necromancer who’s just PRETENDING to be a vampire and his squad of goons, while a group of 10th level adventurers can face a squad of ACTUAL vampires. You could use the Emerald Claw as villains in a single adventure and then never use them again, or you can use them as recurring villains, until the adventurers ultimately find a way to destroy Lady Illmarrow herself… because unlike The Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, or even a dragonmarked house, it’s plausible that a group of adventurers COULD defeat Lady Illmarrow and truly destroy the Order of the Emerald Claw. The Emerald Claw is a FINITE villain, whose goals are petty and focused. And in specifically comparing it to the Swords of Liberty, the point is that the Swords of Liberty may use violent methods, but they have a rational goal; they want to affect political change. We never expect players to have any question that opposing the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do, any more than GI Joe will ever say “Huh, Cobra might actually have a good point” or than Indiana Jones will say “Maybe we SHOULD give the Nazis the Ark of the Covenant this time.”

So focusing specifically on the Emerald Claw, it’s INTENTIONAL that everyone hates them, that they don’t have the support of nations, that they can’t field an army. They are a terrorist force that can appear anywhere to cause chaos, but they DON’T have the power to, for example, conquer a nation (or even a large city). If you oppose them, YOU aren’t making an enemy of a nation or choosing a side in the Next War.

As for “What have they done that’s so evil,” what do you WANT them to have done? The point is that they are a terrorist organization that uses necromancy as a weapon. Using my OWN campaign as an example, I recently ran a campaign set in Callestan that involved the Emerald Claw…

  • In the first session, an agent of the Emerald Claw paid a PC courier to carry a time-locked bag bag of holding to a crowded tavern, thinking they were going to meet a client. Instead, the bag opened and turned out to be full of hostile skeletons, and the PCs had to protect the patrons from these undead.
  • Next, a friend of the adventurers was infected with a zombie virus set to trigger when the victim entered a micro-manifest zone tied to Mabar, which turned out to be in a local dreamlily den. The adventurers were able to contain the outbreak, but they couldn’t save everyone—and there was no saving their friend.
  • Next, the Emerald Claw used the micro-Mabar zone to throw a few blocks of Callestan into the Hinterlands of the Endless Night; the players had to find a way to escape, also openly clashing with agents of the Claw for the first time.

The point is that these acts were all SMALL SCALE. The Emerald Claw was testing necromantic weapons on a captive populace that no one (aside from the PCs) cared about. The EC could well be planning to unleash these techniques on a larger target—spreading a contagious zombie virus across Sharn itself—but the adventurers were dealing with a small, localized problem. And ultimately, they could locate and defeat the necromancer responsible for these tragedies. It could be that that necromancer WOULD return in a future adventure in a new undead form—with greater powers to challenge the more powerful player characters—but the adventurers could absolutely wipe out that CELL and feel a legitimate sense of triumph, which can be more difficult when dealing with the Lords of Dust and their far-reaching schemes.

But patriotism… OK, but haven’t we said that many of the soldiers of the Emerald Claw are Karrnathi patriots? Indeed… Karrnathi patriots who want the Queen of the Dead to take over Karrnath and then lead it to conquer Khorvaire. These “patriots” are extremists whose goals aren’t supposed to be sympathetic. This isn’t like the Swords of Liberty, where you might introduce a cell leader whose actions are driven by the cruel actions of a local noble who tormented their vassals. Likewise, if you WANT some shades of gray with your necromancy, you can use a Blood of Vol sect who AREN’T tied to the Emerald Claw, and who may have legitimate grievances. Whether or not they are driven by patriotism, Emerald Claw agents ultimately want the living people of Khorvaire to be ground under the skeletal bootheel of the Queen of the Dead; this isn’t supposed to be some kind of rational “OK, maybe they’re got a point here” situation. THIS is why kanon divorces them from the Blood of Vol; because as a faith, the Blood of Vol has many shades of gray and sympathetic aspects, while the Emerald Claw is supposed to be an absolute evil.

But Erandis is a tragic figure… Certainly! I’ve explored this in a number of other articles. But her personal tragedy isn’t supposed to justify the horrors she inflicts in pursuit of her goals. Again, from a design perspective, the Emerald Claw are supposed to be absolute villains; the players are never expect to say “Wait, we shouldn’t fight them until we know more.” While the personal tragedy of Erandis helps to explain how she went down this dark path, she still went down that path. What suggested with the saga of the Queen of the Dead is the possibility that if she achieves her goal and truly ascends, that she could BECOME a benevolent entity and perhaps even feel remorse for her actions, but that’s supposed to be a wacky twist, not a justification for the terrors she inflicted on innocents in her quest.

So the Emerald Claw aren’t SUPPOSED to be the most powerful or nefarious villains of the setting; on the contrary, they are specifically useful BECAUSE they operate on a small scale, with actions that are typically both clearly reprehensible (starting a zombie outbreak in an innocent neighborhood) and small enough that they can be dealt with by a party of adventurers. They’re an opening act who can appear any time you need a quick and easy villain and who help prepare the players to take on the REAL villains of the campaign, whose schemes are more subtle and far-reaching. Likewise, all of these three groups—the Aurum, the Cults of the Dragon Below, the Emerald Claw—could themselves turn out to be unwitting tools of the Lords of Dust!

Were all of the original members Karrnathi knights or have there been supporters and laymen members from its creation?

The organization takes its name from the Seeker chivalric order that served in the war, and uses the reputation of that original order to present its members as Karrnathi patriots opposing the weak leadership of Kaius III. But from the very beginning, the actual members of that order were only a fraction (albeit an elite core) of the new Order of the Emerald Claw. Lady Illmarrow had been building her power for centuries, and the Emerald Claw is just a convenient rallying point for her forces… and remember that Illmarrow herself isn’t a Seeker of the Divinity Within! So from the very begining, Illmarrow’s operatives included undead lieutenants and retainers from her domain in Farlnen, along with thugs recruited From Lhazaar Seeker offshoots… reinforced with Karrns angry about Kaius’s peace initiative and lured by dreams of power in the new Empire of the Queen of the Dead. Essentially, there ARE misguided Karrnathi patriots and Seekers in the Order, including original members of the Chivalric Order. But many of its members—especially in its inner circle—seek only personal power in the service of Lady Illmarrow and have no interest in Karrnath or the Divinity Within. The cause of Karrnathi patriotism is a convenient figurehead that lets the order APPEAR to have a legitimate political motive, but they ultimately serve only the Queen of the Dead.

Would you run a campaign of emerald claw player characters fighting Kaius since he is not a real patriot nor a real bov believer?

Now, I wouldn’t. When I want to run a story that’s about patriotic Seekers whofeel betrayed by Kaius, I use the Order of the Onyx Skull—another Seeker chivalric order that was disbanded. These are my go-to group to explore anyone with legitimate grievances who are actually trying to make Karrnath a better place and to help Seekers. From a design perspective, the Emerald Claw isn’t SUPPOSED to have this sort of depth. It’s a front that has been entirely corrupted to serve the purposes of Lady Illmarrow, who is neither a Karrnathi patriot nor a believer in the Divinity Within, and anyone who serves her is either a willing tool or a dupe.

With that said, I ran a campaign in which one of the PCs WAS a paladin of the Blood of Vol who had been trained by Lady Illmarrow and who specifically wanted to bring down Kaius because he’s not a real patriot or a real BoV believer. But from the very beginning the PLAYER knew that his character was a dupe being used as a tool by Illmarrow. His whole idea for his story arc was that if he succeeded in bringing down Kaius he’d REALIZE he’d made a terrible mistake and would ultimately have to battle Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. So the character wasn’t somehow proving that the Emerald Claw wasn’t so bad; the player KNEW the character was a fool and a tool, but wanted that revelation and redemption to be part of his story arc.

For Emerald Claw members who know that the order is loaded by Vol, what are their motivations?

Forget the name “Vol” for a moment. Most members of the Order of the Emerald Claw know that their order is led by Lady Illmarrow, the infamous lich also known as the Queen of the Dead. Some believe that Illmarrow will take over Karrnath and then lead Karrnath to conquer Khorvaire. They want this because they believe their leaders are weak and because they believe that they will hold positions of power in this future empire of the undead. Many others don’t care about Karrnath or the Blood of Vol, and are interested PURELY in the personal power they can gain. Some are necromancers who yearn for the arcane secrets Illmarrow can teach them. Others simply hunger for the power and immortality of the vampire or the death knight. Their motivations aren’t supposed to be sympathetic; again, if I want a complex story, I’ll use the Onyx Skull. So if your brother has joined the Emerald Claw, it means your brother dreams of living in a world ruled by a ruthless lich-queen and is willing to kill innocents to make it come to pass. Maybe he hates life. Maybe he thinks mortal rulers are weak and misguided. Maybe he wants revenge on someone. But again, if he’s joined the Emerald Claw, it’s because he is willing to kill innocents so a ruthless lich-queen might someday rule the world.

You mentioned there could be other Seeker chivalric orders besides the Emerald Claw and Ebon Skull. If you were to make new seeker orders in what ways could they be different? Like could there be orders more focused on healing or fighting cults of dragon below ? Maybe one led by Alhoon, a undead mind flayer?

First of all, I made a mistake before; the honorable Seeker order I mentioned is the Order of the Onyx Skull, not Ebon; I’ve fixed it above. To the point, though: There are other Karrnathi chivalric orders. The sourcebook The Forge of War describes six of them: The Adamant Fang, the Blackened Sky, the Conquering Fist, the Emerald Claw, the Inviolate Way, and the Onyx Skull. While these do have some specialization—the Adamant Fang is light cavalry, the Blackened Sky focused on artillery, the Onyx Skull were the foremost necromancers—they are all general military forces, so I wouldn’t go too specialized. It’s logical to think that Karrnath had medics, but I don’t think they were part of a chivalric order. So, you can definitely create new orders, using Forge of War as inspiration. Note that only those closely associated with Seekers were actually disbanded; per FoW, the other four (Fang, Fist, Sky, Way) are all still in service.

I wouldn’t see an alhoon as being placed in charge of an actual Karrnathi chivalric order. That would be like the Pentagon appointing an actual Martian as a general. The Chivalric orders are literally the pride of Karrnath; appointing an alien monster as a commander would be a very bizarre choice. However, I could definitely see Lady Illmarrow working with an alhoon and giving it command of a branch of the Emerald Claw. So I wouldn’t make that a DIFFERENT order, I’d make it a specific unit of the Emerald Claw, which has cells and units scattered across Khorvaire.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going!

iFAQ: Warforged, Blood, and the Blood of Vol

People ask me a lot of questions about Eberron. While I’ve typically answered the most frequently asked questions at sometime in the past, every now and then there’s an INFREQUENTLY asked question that still seems like it’s worth answering. Over the last few weeks two of those have come my way. How could a warforged become a cleric of the Blood of Vol? And can a warforged become a vampire?

Could a Warforged Become a Cleric of the Blood of Vol?

The Blood of Vol is based on the principle that the blood of the living holds a spark of divine power, and that all mortals have the potential to harness and evolve that Divinity Within. A Seeker cleric believes they are drawing on their own divine spark when they cast spells.

Warforged don’t have blood. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that they don’t have the spark of the Divinity Within. So why would they follow the Blood of Vol, and how could a warforged Seeker paladin or cleric justify their divine magic?

To begin with, let’s start with the WHY. Ultimately, the Blood of Vol faith is grounded in the question what just god would allow death and suffering, with the conclusion none; the fact that we suffer shows that if there are gods, they are cruel. All we have is each other, and we must stand together and defy death. The Seekers place a strong emphasis on community and protecting the weak. Any death is tragic. They use undead because once the spark is gone, there’s no reason NOT to use the corpse if it can help protect the living. More powerful undead—vampires, mummies—know that they will never achieve divinity, as they lost their divine spark when they died; but they can still fight to defend and to guide the living, to be champions of life… and perhaps someday topple the Sovereigns themselves and free the entire world from the curse of mortality. This is where the warforged Seeker comes in. They have no blood, and presumably no divine spark. But they are immune to disease and to the ravages of time. A warforged is in many ways much like a mummy. They can’t achieve true divinity, but they can protect and guide others. So the warforged Seeker priest isn’t driven by a desire for personal power; rather, they are driven by compassion and the desire to protect their community from suffering and death.

But what about the HOW? If Seeker clerics draw their power from their own blood, how do they get magic? Well, first of all, remember that the “drawing power from within” is an article of faith. They don’t KNOW the power comes from within with any more absolute certainty than a paladin of Dol Arrah knows that their power comes from Dol Arrah. So one option is to simply say “It works, don’t question it.” But the other example is to look to the mummy. Malevanor, the high priest of the Blood of Vol in Atur, is a mummy. He has no blood. So how does he cast spells? There’s two simple answers. The first is the idea that he draws on the divinity of the people around him. This ties to the strong community focus of the Blood of Vol; he can’t attain personal divinity, but he can draw on that potential within you and use that power to protect or heal you. With that said, what happens if you’re not around? Well, Seeker communities donate blood to sustain their champions. Vampires drink this blood, and while it is within them this connects them to the sparks of the living. Seeker mummies and liches BATHE in the blood of the faithful, and this charges their power for a short time.

So for your warforged cleric, the simplest answer is that they draw their power from the rest of the party! If you want to be creepy about it and the rest of the characters are willing, they could actually get blood donations from the party. But you could also just say that the proximity spark does the trick. On the other hand, you could also just say that they don’t KNOW how it works, but it does work… and that they BELIEVE it’s because they (and presumably all other warforged) have divinity within as well, despite having no blood. This would certainly be an interesting long term arc to explore!

Having said all that, back around 2005 I worked with David Esbri—who was at the time doing illustrations for the RPGA—on an early concept for an Eberron comic. One of the villains in that was a Warforged tied to the Emerald Claw who had embedded components allowing it to drain blood from its victims… essentially, an artificial vampire who believed that he could use this blood to become divine. So you could always explore a more exotic path!

Can Warforged Become Vampires?

There’s many answers to this question. The simple answer is that under the rules of 3.5 they couldn’t; “vampire” was a template that couldn’t be applied to constructs, and 3.5 warforged were constructs. The 5E rules have changed, however, and by the rules as written a warforged can become a vampire. However, the rules are guidelines, not absolute and inflexible! In my opinion, this is a case where the DM has to decide what they want from the STORY. Does it make SENSE for a warforged to be able to become a vampire, when it has no blood and doesn’t eat in the first place?

In my campaign, I would say that no, a warforged cannot become a vampire. A vampire can drain the LIFE FORCE from a warforged, but it has no blood for a vampire to drink. Vampire spawn rise when “buried in the soil”—I don’t see this having much meaning for a warforged. I DO think that warforged can become undead—that they can become vessels for the power of Mabar, channels through which it can consume the essence of the living—but I would be inclined to create a unique warforged expression of vampirism, rather than just forcing the standard bloodthirsty form onto them. I’d see it as draining energy like a wight as opposed to drinking blood, and I’d consider which of the traditional vampire powers made sense and what it might have instead.

That’s all I have time for today! Have you used warforged seekers or undead in your campaign?

Sidebar: Elves of Eberron

While I’m dealing with deadlines, I’ve reached out to my Patreon supporters for questions that can be addressed in short articles, and I’ll be addressing these as time allows. To begin with, I want to take a quick look at the Elves of Eberron.

Elven civilization began on Xen’drik. It’s said that the giants sacked one of the great Feyspires of Thelanis, severing its ties to the Faerie Court and scattering and enslaving its people—and that over generations, these refugees became the elves. Many elves served as slaves of the giants, and this continued for thousands of years. But when the conflict with the Quori weakened the nations of the giants, the elves rose up against them. This was a long and bitter struggle fought over the course of generations. The elves lacked the resources or raw power of the giants, and couldn’t face them in the field; for the most part it was driven by guerrilla war, with heroic bands of elven champions striking against the giants and disappearing into the wilds. The Sulat giants created the Drow to hunt the elves, following them into places giants couldn’t go. There was never a point at which the elves truly stood a chance of defeating the giants, but the escalating cost of the war (both financially and in lives) eventually became unbearable. The Cul’sir giants prepared to unleash devastating, epic magic against the elves—magic on the same scale as they’d employed against the Quori, forces that destroyed a moon and threw a plane off its orbit. And in so doing, they went too far. The dragons of Argonnessen didn’t care about the elves, but they would not allow the giants to threaten Eberron itself. Flights of dragons devastated Xen’drik—giant and elf alike—and employed epic magics to ensure that no great civilization would ever rise again in the shattered land.

The prophet Aeren is known not for their deeds during the war, but for foreseeing how it would end. Aeren gathered together elves of many different clans and traditions, and convinced them to abandon Xen’drik and escape this coming apocalypse. This rag-tag fleet eventually reached a massive island, but Aeren did not survive the journey. Aeren was interred in soil of the new land, which was named Aerenal—”Aeren’s Rest.”

One of the key points in understanding the elves is that the description of their history is often simplified.The common story is Elves were enslaved by giants. Elves rebeled and eventually fled. The mistake is in thinking that “elf” and “giant” describe singular, monolithic cultures—that ALL elves were slaves of the giants, or that “the giants” were themselves a single monolithic force. Neither of these things are true. The giants had three major nations—the Sulat League, the Cul’sir Dominion, and the Group of Eleven—along with many lesser nations. There were elves who labored as slaves of the giants, but there were others who were never directly under giant rule. The Qabalrin elves maintained a city-state in the Ring of Storms that was a match for even the Cul’sir; it was destroyed not by giants, but by the cataclysmic fall of a giant Siberys dragonshard. The ancestors of the Tairnadal elves were largely nomadic tribes, fleeing further into the wilds as the giants expanded. The “Elven Uprising” involved an alliance of the nomadic tribes, seeing the vulnerabilities following the Quori conflict, combined with an internal uprising and acts of sabotage among the slaves. It was vast and long, fought on many different fronts and between many different nations, and was properly less a war and more an extended period of upheaval. It’s quite possible that the giants themselves fought one another during this time; it may well be that the Sulat League created the Drow not merely to hunt other elves, but also to strike against rivals in the Cul’sir Dominion.

The point is that the elves that followed Aeren were drawn from different nations and traditions. The elves now known as the Aereni were largely those enslaved by the giants, while the Tairnadal are descended from the nomadic warriors. This is one reason that the Aereni have a stronger arcane tradition (inherited from their giant oppressors) while the Tairnadal have a stronger role for druids and rangers. Meanwhile, the line of Vol could trace its roots back to the Qabalrin, and clung to some of their necromantic secrets. Aeren’s vision united them, but with Aeren’s death they split apart… and each pursued their own path to ensure they never lost their greatest champions. The Tairnadal preserve their heroes by serving as mortal avatars for their spirits. The Aereni learned to use the Irian manifest zones of Aerenal to create the deathless, preserving their greatest champions as positive undead; as it took thousands of years to accomplish this, it was far too late to use these techniques on Aeren. And the line of Vol and its allies perfected their techniques of Mabaran necromancy, preserving their greatest as vampires, liches, and mummies. A bitter rivalry built between the Aereni and Vol, culminating in the utter destruction of the Line of Vol—a conflict justified by their attempts to perfect the Mark of Death. Meanwhile, the Tairnadal and the Aereni have continued to exist side by side, following different paths without hostility.

If you’d like to know more about any of this, here’s a number of articles:

General Q&A

GENERAL QUESTIONS

In general, Darwinian evolution doesn’t play a major role in Eberron. How did the eladrin become elves?

The ancestors of the elves were the eladrin of Shae Tirias Tolai, and they didn’t become elves through a process of natural evolution. When the giants sacked the Feyspire, they did something to prevent the Eladrin from escaping. Remember that the giants wielded epic level magic and have been shown on multiple occasions to be able to sever planar bonds—on a small scale with the Citadel of the Fading Dream, and on a larger scale with Dal Quor itself. So they somehow severed the eladrin from Thelanis. We don’t know exactly what they did, but the result was that the children of those surviving eladrin were born as elves.

Due to the conflict of lore regarding Aeren’s pronouns between the Dragonshard (and 4E Eberron Campaign Guide) and Magic of Eberron, would it be plausible to say they’re both right, in a way, and that Aeren was genderfluid?

Sure! That seems entirely plausible. With that said, there’s a few larger issues with the MoE depiction of history. It focuses solely on those elves enslaved by the giants, and depicts the entire struggle as being about escape from Xen’drik. It’s depicted as a prison break on a massive scale—”But secrecy… was vital, lest betrayal ruin all their years of hidden labor.” There’s no mention of the active conflict between elves and giants, the struggles that established the legends of the Tairnadal ancestors. Compare this to the original ECS description of the Age of Giants…

The remaining giant kingdoms never quite recover from the events of the quori invasion. Horrible curses and plagues sweep through the land, and the elves use the opportunity to rebel. In desperation, the giants again turn to the same magic they used to stop the quori. Before they can unleash such destruction a second time, the dragons attack. Giant civilization crumbles, the drow go into hiding in the Xen’drik countryside, and the elves flee to the island-continent of Aerenal.

By contrast, Magic of Eberron says nothing about giant civilization being crippled from the quori conflict. It doesn’t present an active war between elves and giants, the conflict that gave birth to the patron ancestors of the Tairnadal. The rebel elves launch a single massive attack and then immediately flee. There’s no mention of the Tairnadal and no mention of what causes the apocalyptic attack of the dragons. It’s fairly easy to resolve this; look to the MoE account as describing sabotage going on within the Cul’sir Dominion at the same time as the Tairnandal attacks, and something that further pushed the giants to that point f desperation. But the point is that the rebellious elves weren’t originally planning to flee; Aeren is noteworthy for foreseeing the actions of the dragons and for bringing together elves of many traditions—not just the Cul’sir slaves—and convincing them to join the exodus.

Magic of Eberron then goes on to say that Aeren became the first of the deathless, developing the techniques while on Xen’drik. The other canon sources maintain that the rituals required to develop the deathless were developed on Aerenal thousands of years after the exodus, in part because they required the powerful Irian manifest zones in that land and in part because this work was driven by the loss of Aeren—and a determination never to lose so great a soul again.

TAIRNADAL AND VALENAR ELVES

What do the Talenta halflings and the Valenar elves have to fight about? They’re both pastoral herding cultures separated by an inhospitable desert. Numerous sources mention Valenar incursions looking for a good fight. I understand why players would want to deal with a culture like that, but why would a culture encourage it on one side, and the other side, not discourage it ‘with extreme predjudice’?

It’s a mistake to think of the elves of Valenar as a “pastoral herding culture.” They are an army, in Khorvaire for the sole purpose of fighting a war that has not yet begun.

As described above, the ancestors of the Tairnadal fought against the giants of Xen’drik. It was a daring conflict against impossible odds, but through remarkable skill, strategy, and cunning the elves won remarkable victories and ultimately drove the giants to the rash actions that brought about their doom. Later the Tairnadal came to Khorvaire, where they fought the Dhakaani goblins at the height of their power. Once again, the elves performed heroic deeds in battle against an overpowering foe. In the end, they weren’t defeated; they were forced to retreat from Khorvaire to run towards an even greater battle, fighting the dragons that were attacking their homeland.

The Tairnadal elves are driven by these ancient conflicts. They believe that every Tairnadal elf is chosen by the spirit of a patron ancestor, a legendary hero tied to these wars with the giants, goblins, or dragons. The mortal elf serves as an avatar of the ancient hero. The more closely the elf emulates the ancestor, the stronger this bond becomes. This is both a duty—preserving the spirit of the ancestor from being lost to Dolurrh—and a privilege, as they believe that through the bond the elf inherits the skills and wisdom of the ancestor. And the greatest aspiration of all is to perform such glorious deeds that the living elf will be venerated as a patron ancestor by the generations yet to come.

The Tairnadal made a pledge to Dhakaan, a promise that they would not return to Khorvaire in force unless invited. During the Last War, Cyre issued that invitation. The elves didn’t come to Khorvaire because they wanted land in which to herd horses. They didn’t come because they wanted or needed the wages Cyre was paying them. They returned in search of a glorious battle, a conflict that would allow them to match the deeds of their ancestors. But they soon concluded that their work as mercenaries wouldn’t give them that. So Shaeras Vadallia seized what is now Valenar as an intentional provocation. Since the Treaty of Thronehold, these Valenar elves have been breaking the terms of the treaty and raiding their neighbors. Why? In part it’s to keep the skills of their warriors fresh. In part it’s because the members of those individual warbands seek opportunities to strengthen their bond to their ancestors in battle. But most of all, it’s because the elves want someone to attack them. Their ancestors weren’t conquerors or mercenaries; they were guerrilla warriors fighting against an overpowering foe. The Valenar want to provoke a mighty enemy—perhaps Karrnath, or a resurgent Dhakaan—into attacking them in Valenar. As elves, they are perfectly happy to wait a century for this plan to play out, and in the meantime they are learning the lay of the land in Valenar, finding ambush points, laying traps. The Tairnadal don’t care about Valenar as a colony; for them it’s a killing ground, and they are just kicking hornet’s nests and waiting for someone to take the bait.

So why raid the halflings? Largely, because they’re there. The Valenar forces in the Talenta Plains aren’t acting on Vadallia’s orders. These warbands are self-sufficient units sent off on their own recognizance. They are searching for worthy foes and violating the Treaty of Thronehold… again, provoking the other nations. These warbands aren’t primarily interested in plunder, and they generally avoid attacking civilian populations; whenever possible they are looking for WORTHY opponents. They’re also attacking swordtooth titans and other deadly dinosaurs. And some are even crossing the Plains to launch attacks into Karrnath… as that’s one of the forces they’d really like to provoke to attack Valenar.

For their part, the halflings have no interest in conflict with the Valenar. The tribes are only loosely aligned and aren’t driven by war. They seek to defend themselves against raiding warbands, but they aren’t prepared to go to war with Valenar. Now again, for this very reason, this is why the Valenar AREN’T particularly interested in fighting the halflings. They provoke them in order to try to draw out their best warriors and hunters, to try to have a challenging fight. But they would RATHER battle the full might of Karrnath, or something similar. The halflings just have the misfortune of being between the two.

So in part, bear in mind that the Valenar elves aren’t a culture as such; they are a Tairnadal army in the field, biding their time as they wait for a more powerful foe to take the bait and attack them in Valenar.

Do the Tairnadal take the namesake of the ancestor they emulate?

Many do, though not all. For example, High King Shaeras Vadallia is an avatar of Vadallia, who was described in the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon #407. But it’s not a requirement, and some consider it to be pretentious.

Are the Tairnadal ancestor spirits literally biological ancestors of the elves that they choose? Or is it more of a cultural line of descent?

It’s more of a cultural line of descent. As noted in the previous question, Tairnadal families are very fluid to begin with. Plus, the original ancestors lived around forty thousand years ago. The lifespan of an elf is about ten times that of a human; can you trace your ancestors back four thousand years? So it’s largely assumed that MOST Tairnadal are related to many of the patron ancestors, and there’s no particular fear of a bloodline dying out. UNLESS, of course, that’s a story you want to explore in your campaign!

Tairnadal ancestors choose their heirs – Why do they pick who they pick? Can there be conflicts between multiple ancestors for one heir?

By default, the patron ancestors move in mysterious ways, and mortals don’t get to know the answers to these questions. It’s up to you as a DM to decide if you want to personify the ancestors more concretely and allow PCs to find these things out. In one campaign I DM’d, one of the PCs was a Valenar ranger. His idea was that he always believed he was going to be chosen by a legendary swordsman, and he’d instead been picked by a champion archer. Furious, he’d stolen the blade of his ancestors and deserted, determined to find his own path… in spite of the fact that he had a bond to the archer and couldn’t force a bond to the swordsman. While we never completed the campaign, the idea of the story was to explore whether he would eventually choose to embrace the archer… or whether he could find some way to change his stars and forge a bond to the swordsman. Had this continued, it would have likely involved a deeper interaction with the spirits themselves and an exploration of why the archer chose him.

It’s also been mentioned that ancestors are chosen for the elf, not by the elf. I’d assume there are some cases of rejection among them, elves who do not want to follow this particular ancestor for whatever reason. What do the Valenar do about these cases?

See the previous answer! This is covered in detail in this article under the heading “Why Should I Do It?” Bear in mind that it’s not that your ancestor is chosen for you, it’s that you are chosen BY an ancestorThe spirit of a champion of legend says “This one’s mine.” You are a soldier in an army being given a command by the highest authority, and you’re a follower of a religion devoted to honoring these spirits. But yes: this means that you could be someone who believes in honor and chivalry, and then you could be chosen by the Butcher and told you must not only be ruthless and cruel, but you must do your best to EXCEL at it. If you say no, you’re a soldier refusing a command and an acolyte turning your back on your faith. So you can expect to be discharged from the army—which means being severed from your culture—and shunned by former people.

In short, it’s a great path for a player character who needs to explain why they are out adventuring instead of serving with a warband. Will you reconcile and accept the spirit that chose you? Will you find a way to forge a bond with a different ancestor? Or will you remain an outcast?

Are there any actions the Valenar do not tolerate in warfare? Things they would consider war crimes? If their patron ancestor would do things considered by society to be immoral, even in war, would they share any of those views?

The Valenar believe it is their duty to emulate the patron ancestors. If you compare it to the Sovereign Host, some of the ancestors are more like Dol Arrah, some closer to Dol Arrah, and a few could be compared to the Mockery. The elves of Xen’drik fought a guerilla war against a vastly superior foe, and there were many who relied on cunning, deception, and terror to accomplish their goals. So there are Valenar who believe in absolute chivalry and honor on the battlefield, and there are ruthless Valenar feel that deception and terror are necessarily tools—who feel they have a religious duty to strike fear into their foes. The point is that a Valenar commander KNOWS what behavior to expect from their troops. They’ll use the Dol Arrahs on the open battlefield, and they’ll use the Mockeries as commandoes and skirmishers… and they definitely won’t put the two side by side. The honorable Valenar are disgusted by the butchers, but they know that the butchers are required to be butchers.

So for example, MOST Valenar won’t kill civilians. But there are then there are a few who will specifically target civilian populations, because that’s something their ancestor was known for doing. The commander knows this, and won’t put that unit in the field unless that’s what they expect of them.

Three subgroups of Tairnadal have been described. The Valaes Tairn believe that glory in battle is the highest goal, regardless of the nature of the foe. The Silaes Tairn are determined to return to Xen’drik and reclaim the ancient realm of the elves, and the Draleus Tairn wish to destroy the dragons of Argonnessen. Do Tairnadal elves choose which group to be in or do they all grow up and stay with their group?

The Valaes Tairn are by far the largest of these three groups. They also receive the most attention because they’re the only ones who generally come to Khorvaire. The Silaes are focused on Xen’drik, and the only reason for a member of the Draleus Tairn to come to Khorvaire is a dragon hunt… and the dragons of Khorvaire generally keep a very low profile.

The first and primary factor in which group you follow is your patron ancestor. If your patron is a legendary dragon hunter, you’re likely to join the Draleus Tairn. Otherwise, the default is the Valaes Tairn, but it’s largely about what you feel your patron ancestor is calling you to do, which is something you might discuss with one of the Keepers of the Past. If you have the support of a Keeper, people will respect your decision.

Bear in mind that you won’t generally “grow up” with one of these groups. They’re all essentially military units, and until you’ve reached adulthood and the Keepers have identified your patron ancestor, you’re essentially not equipped to travel with a warband.

Why aren’t the Silaes Tairn the major sect? Obviously, dragon-slayer heir would want to fight dragons, but aren’t the majority of the ancestors giant-slayers (or drow slayers)? And are the Valaes Tairn the largest sect historically?

Because Xen’drik is a cursed ruin; the giants and the drow aren’t the same as those the ancestors fought. The Valaes Tairn believe that it doesn’t matter WHAT you fight or WHERE you fight; what matters is that you act as your ancestor would act if they were in your place. This is inherently more flexible, and that’s why it’s the most widespread belief. Someone who’s ancestor is legendary for fighting drow COULD feel drawn to the Sileus Tairn, because they want to fight drow; but they could easily say “What defines my ancestor is her courage and her techniques for fighting multiple enemies at once, and I can demonstrate both of those fighting goblins.” Essentially, most see the Silaes Tairn as slightly crazy extremists; the Valaes are the most moderate sect.

ELVES OF KHORVAIRE

What are the religious views of the elves of House Phiarlan? Did they follow the path of Vol, the Undying Court, or the Tairnadal? Do they still follow these traditions? 

Excellent question. This is covered in this Dragonshard article. Here’s part of the relevant text.

The houses of shadow can trace their roots back to the Elven Uprising, the ancient war between the giants of Xen’drik and the ancestors of the modern elves. Many assume that this was a conflict between two monolithic entities, but neither elves nor giants were unified forces. Many different giant nations existed, and there were dozens of sects of elves, ranging from former slaves to guerillas who had fought the giants for millennia. Over the course of the uprising, some elves served as liaisons between the many different tribes. These travelers saw their role in war as being more spiritual than physical: Their task was to uphold morale and maintain the alliances between the scattered soldiers. They called themselves phiarlans, or “spirit keepers.” These phiarlans learned the traditions and customs of all elven sects, and a phiarlan bard could inspire warriors from any tribe. The phiarlans were not generals or military strategists, but their motivational work and the intelligence they carried from place to place was an invaluable part of the military effort.

The article goes on to describe how the Phiarlans continued to serve this role in Aerenal—serving as envoys and mediators for elves of all lines and cultures. In essence, they acknowledged and understood all of the traditions, but they never fully embraced them. A Phiarlan bard knows the stories of the Tairnadal ancestors, but doesn’t seek to embody an ancestor. And looking to the Undying Court, the Phiarlans acknowledge that exists, but they turned their back on it when they left Aerenal; they don’t believe it watches over them and they aren’t aspiring to join it.

Overall, the elves of the House of Shadow typically aren’t very religious. They seek to understand all faiths but rarely commit to one. There are some who embrace the Sovereign Host or the Dark Six, but in general they are a pragmatic people devoted more to their work and their traditions than to abstract forces.

Is there a particular culture and history for Khorvaire elves among other regions, such as in cities or the Five Nations? How did it come to be that those elves left their Valenar and Aerenal roots, to the point that half-elves were in large enough numbers to be considered their own distinct race (Khoravar)?

As the Undying Court rose to power, there were always elves who opposed it and chose to leave Aerenal to explore other opportunities. There was a greater wave of migration following the eradication of the Line of Vol. The Vol bloodline was the only one that was exterminated; her allies had to choose exile or to swear oaths to the Court, and many chose exile. While others, like the Phiarlans, were disturbed by the conflict and left of their own accord. That was 2,600 years ago. So there are places like House Phiarlan and the Bloodsail Principality where elves maintain a unique culture, but many of these immigrants fully integrated into their nations. A typical Brelish elf is Brelish first, elf second. Elves in Thrane are likely to be devoted to the Silver Flame; it’s just that an elf elder devoted to the Flame might have personally known Tira Miron. But the short form is that elves in Khorvaire could trace their roots back to followers of Vol or immigrants driven by curiosity, but for most those roots are long buried and they have assimilated into the local culture.

Meanwhile. the reason half-elves are considered their own distinct race is because they ARE their own distinct race. Most Khoravar are children of Khoravar, and their original elven ancestors could be buried so deeply in their family trees that they don’t even know who they were. Khoravar are more fertile than elves, and so over the course of thousands of years, they’ve spread more rapidly.

Do elves still constitute a sizable portion of the Blood of Vol’s faithful and if so do they have a different take on the religion as they are only a few generations separated from the initial mixing with humans in Lhazaar?

It’s important to recognize that the religion known as “The Blood of Vol” was never practiced by the line of Vol. This is a critical point about Erandis, because she doesn’t follow the faith. The Blood of Vol is a religion that emerged over the course of centuries, inspired by the words of Vol’s allies who settled in the Lhazaar Principalities, but interpreted and adapted by the humans… and then continuing to evolve as it traveled into Karrnath, which became its heart. So no, elves don’t constitute a sizeable portion of the Seekers. Some of these refugee elves fully integrated with the cultures they joined. The place where they’ve held to their traditions—and where they still practice the ORIGINAL teachings of the line of Vol—is in the Bloodsail Principality in Lhazaar, based on the island of Farlnen. The Bloodsails were described in detail in the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 410.

With that said, it’s been more than just a few generations. An elf can live up to 750 years, but by the 3.5 tables they are considered “Venerable” — the most extreme age category — at 350. It’s been 2,600 years since the line of Vol was wiped out. If we set the generational length at 350 (which is somewhat generous, as the human equivalent of venerable is 70, but we typically set human generations at around 25), we’re still talking over seven generations. The issue is that in following the traditions of Vol, Farlnen is home to many vampires and liches who have unliving memory of the past and maintain those ancient traditions.

 

If you have questions or thoughts about the elves of Eberron, post them here!