IFAQ: Hearing Aids, Smugglers, and Dreamlily

Every month I answer questions posed by my patrons on my Patreon site. Here’s a few that have come up this month…

What options does Eberron provide for people who are deaf or hard of hearing? Are there magical hearing aids? Is sign language common place?

There are a variety of tools and options. There are three primary sign languages in use in Khorvaire. Aelada is the oldest visual language that’s still in use today. It is employed by both the Aereni and the Tairnadal, as well as the Bloodsail elves of the Lhazaar Principalities. Kaasvola is a visual language developed by the Dhakaani dar, and is dominant in Droaam, Darguun, and the Shadow Marches. However, the primary form of sign language used in the Five Nations is SSL, Sivis sign language. Aelada is quite complex; Sivis wordsmiths adapted some of its principles, but worked to develop a visual language that was more intuitive and adaptable.

The most common form of hearing aid is the tin ear. Typically taking the form of an earring, this is a common magic item that uses principles of minor image and prestidigitation to compensate for hearing loss. There’s a variety of forms of the tin ear produced by House Cannith, the Arcane Congress, and others, but they operate on similar principles.

Anyone can use a tin ear, but there is another option: a familiar. This article discusses the role of familiars in everyday life in more detail. As described in find familiar, a character with a familiar can can see through their familiar’s eyes and hear what it hears. Normally this requires ongoing concentration, but some people learn a specialized form of the spell that allows them to use the familiar’s senses instead of their own without having to take an action to do so, but only if they are in physical contact with the familiar—so they see or hear through the crow on their wrist or the cat on their shoulder. Some people who use familiars in this way will speak through their crow, raven or parrot familiars.

My campaign involves a criminal mastermind running smuggling operations in the Lhazaar Principalities trying to make a name for themself and become fabulously wealthy. What would they be smuggling, and who would be trying to stop them?

On the whole, the majority of smuggling in Khorvaire deals with relatively mundane goods that are highly taxed in the Five Nations. For every smuggler carrying dreamlily in western Khorvaire, there’s three smuggling harpy sugar… an exotic sweetener from Droaam that happens to be in vogue in Sharn and that’s taxed accordingly. And this is a great option for player characters with a smuggling background. You could have been transporting medical supplies (which is, after all, how the dreamlily trade began…) through blockades. You could have been bringing Marcher moonshine into Sharn, evading the highly unjust Brelish tariffs on this totally innocent beverage (which does NOT make you go blind, or contain Kyrzin-brewed sentient fluids. Honest.) But in this case we aren’t looking for what’s USUALLY smuggled. You might make money smuggling harpy sugar, but you’e not going to make a fortune or develop an infamous reputation. So what’s something dangerous or reprehensible? Something that will generate outrage or make headlines? Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head.

  • Dragon’s Blood from Droaam, a dangerous, addictive drug that temporally grants or enhances sorcerous power.
  • Experimental Jorasco/Vadalis drugs that were condemned as being too risky or harmful.
  • Surplus Cannith weapons developed for Cyre during the Last War, doubly so if they might be unreliable. Probably smuggled out of the Mournland, which further adds the risk that they have been affected by the Mourning in unpredictable ways.
  • Cyran fine art or Cyran cultural treasures smuggled out of the Mournland.
  • Spirit idols from Aerenal, which could perhaps have some value to unscrupulous necromancers (such as the elves of the Bloodsail Principality)—there may be ways to essentially bind the spirit in the idol to create various forms of undead servants.
  • Karrnathi undead that have supposedly been stored in the vaults under Atur, sold with magic items that supposedly allow the bearer to control the undead.

All of the things I mentioned would be illegal under the Code of Galifar or restricted under the Treaty of Thronehold, so any national coast guard would interfere. Aerenal would be especially interested in shutting down the theft of spirit idols, and the Karrns would take the smuggling of undead seriously… though if the smuggler is operating in the Lhazaar Principalities, Karrnath would already be their primary concern.

What about dreamlily? It comes from Sarlona, but the Boromar Clan maintains dens where you can take it, much like opium dens. Do they have experts who have studied and tried to understand it? If so, what have they managed to figure out? What sorts of skills would such experts have?

Dreamlily was introduced to the setting in Sharn: City of Towers, which notes:

Healers first used essence of dreamlily, a powerful opiate from Sarlona, during the Last War. Once the Brelish Crown realized the dangers of addiction, use of this elixir was quickly outlawed. This has not erased the demand for the drug, and the control of the dreamlily trade is a source of significant strife in the Lower-City. Essence of dreamlily is an iridescent, psionically active liquid. It draws on the mind of the user, and tastes like his favorite beverage. Each use of the drug can potentially lead to an overdose, especially for those addicted to it.

If I were to do a quick conversion of dreamlily to fifth edition, I’d say that someone under the influence of Dreamlily is immune to the Frightened condition. They cannot take reactions, and on their turn, they can use either an action or a bonus action, not both. In third edition rules, dreamlily allowed someone to continue to operate normally even when they had 0 to -5 hit points; a similar way to model this would be to grant the user 5 temporary hit points. It’s not supposed to be something adventurers would want to take, though it could be interesting for adventurers to dose themselves with dreamlily before facing a creature that causes fear.

I didn’t mention dreamlily in the preceding answer, because LOTS of smugglers deal in dreamlily—it’s not a commodity that will make a master criminal stand out from the crowd. With that in mind, the general tone of Eberron is more late 19th century – early 20th century than present day, and the dreamlily trade is more like the old opium trade than a modern drug trade with people synthesizing knock offs and variants. In general, the idea is that Sarlonan drugs like dreamlily and absentia (another drug from Sharn: City of Towers, which allows the user to experience the world through another creature’s senses) are mysteries that can’t be replicated in Khorvaire, because in Sarlona you’re dealing both with wild zones and psionics; essentially, they are working with a form of science we don’t understand and have access to (super)natural resources that don’t exist in Khorvaire. The Boromars can’t figure out how to synthesize deamlily because it requires psionic disciplines and plants cultivated in a wild zone.

With that said, if I wanted to do a Breaking Bad story I could imagine someone working with a rogue gleaner (primal magewright) or alchemist artificer — or both — to enhance dreamlily. They still get the core product from Sarlona, but give it a unique twist that makes their product superior to what’s otherwise in the market. On the other hand, I could also imagine Jorasco, Cannith West, and Vadalis working together (this kind of cooperation is why the Twelve exists) to create a new narcotic as a native Khorvairian alternative to dreamlily, which could lead into an opioid epidemic if that’s a story you want to explore.. But again, that’s a generally more modern concept than the canon setting aims at; dreamlily is supposed to be more opium than fentanyl.

That’s all for now! If you’ve got questions of your own, you can pose them on my Patreon. I also hold a live Q&A each month of patrons, and patrons at the Threshold level have a chance to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign. You can check my Patreon out here—and if you’re already a patron, thanks for your support!