Eberron Continued: What Is Canon?

I’ve got a lot of things I want to write about this week – Phoenix, Kickstarter, and more. However, a comment on the last Dragonmark raises an interesting question, namely “What is canon?”

Let’s start with the comment itself.

If you consider DDO to be canon in some way, there is two survivors from the Dragon/Giant war too: The Stormreaver and The Truthful One. They both died in the conclusion of the most recent game raid, but their history had been told since DDO launch.

Excellent point. But what really interests me is “if you consider DDO to be canon…” I am thrilled with everything that DDO has done and the stories that they have created. They have helped to keep Eberron alive over the years in which there’s been little new published material. But personally, I don’t consider that material to be canon… any more than I consider my own novels to be canon. Because in my mind, these are the same thing.

What COULD be considered canon? I could see a case for any of the following.

* Sourcebooks created by Wizards of the Coast.

* Articles created or authorized by Wizards of the Coast – the Dragonshards, Eberron Expanded, articles from DDI, Dragon, or Dungeon.

* Eberron novels authorized by Eberron.

* The lore created for D&D Online.

With that said, when the design team first created Eberron, we made the decision that novels wouldn’t be considered canon. A novel is a particular story that COULD happen in Eberron… but that doesn’t mean it WILL happen. In other words, just because a novel says that Lhesh Haruuc of Darguun dies in 999 YK doesn’t mean that you’ll ever see that mentioned or acknowledged in a sourcebook. In the Dreaming Dark Trilogy Pierce gets an artifact – the Docent Shira. When I wrote Secrets of Xen’drik, I included game stats for Shira. But I didn’t mention Pierce. Because if you want to use Shira in your campaign, I want YOU to decide what happens to her. So in a sense, SHIRA is canon – covered in a core sourcebook – while Pierce is not. In my opinion, DDO is in the same category as a novel. If DDO does something with the Lord of Blades that contradicts what you’ve done with him, you aren’t somehow wrong. DDO is one possible story, just like the novels. But it’s not any more important than your story.

This raises the bigger question: What is the purpose of canon? In my opinion, having canon material gives players and gamemasters a common language. It lets players from different groups share stories. It gives them something to expect. It can inspire stories and adventures. I can go into an Eberron game and tell the DM “What I really want to do is to investigate the Mourning.” Canon provides the major pillars that carry the setting… The Last War, the Mourning, the Treaty of Thronehold, the Dragonmarked Houses, the Prophecy. I may not know the specific details a DM has decided (such as the cause of the Mourning), but I know the Mourning is a major force in the world. Canon creates a CONTEXT. In my opinion, canon is most useful as a source of inspiration, when the ideas of the Lords of Dust or Lhesh Haruuc’s successor or the Race of Eight Winds or whatever gives you an idea for a story and gives the PCs context to fill in all the little details around it. What I don’t want is for it to limit you. Case in point, in the last Dragonmark someone asked if Eberron had legends of sunken lost continents. None of the material I’ve written does; in developing the setting I focused more on creating civilizations for the aquatic races than on having sunken surface nations. But as a DM, the LACK of canon information shouldn’t stop you from creating your own sunken nation. And regardless of what a novel says, you should feel free to kill Lhesh Haruuc, keep him alive, or just replace him entirely with this cool bugbear you’ve developed.

Beyond this: I might say “Sourcebooks are canon, but novels aren’t.” But the fact of the matter is that *I* don’t use everything in the sourcebooks. For example, I feel that the depiction of Thrane in The Forge of War runs counter to its depiction in other sources and to my personal vision of the nation… and thus, I ignore it. So in my campaign, The Forge of War isn’t canon. Meanwhile, you might decide that since you and your players love the Legacy of Dhakaan books, you want to make the events and characters in that book part of your story. So for you, it’s canon. When we talk about our respective campaigns, I can say “I’ve made DDO and the Thorn of Breland canon, but I’m ignoring the other novels”… and that lets you know what to expect, and gives you information you can use in creating your own character and story.

Ultimately, “canon” is a tool that helps you and your players understand the world. It creates a common language for storytelling. So what’s really important isn’t the broad generic canon, but the canon for your campaign. Personally, I’d suggest that you tell players what’s going to be canon when you start a campaign. If you like certain novels, you can say “These novels are canon.” If you hate a particular sourcebook, mention that you aren’t using it. What’s important is creating YOUR canon.

So… that’s my long rant on canon material. What do YOU think? Do you personally use the events of the novels and DDO in your campaigns? Do you feel that encouraging DMs to make the world their own is a strength of the setting, or a weakness?

Dragonmark 9/13: Cthulhu, Silver Flame, and More!

In the past, my posts have primarily been focused on Eberron. Moving into the future, that’s going to change. Eberron will continue to be a major topic of conversation, but I also want to discuss a broader range of gaming topics… and the new setting we’ve got in the works.

Today, however, I’m going to get to work on the Eberron backlog. There’s more questions than I have time to answer in one post, but don’t worry—I’ll get to everything eventually. As always, these answers are purely my opinions and house rules, and aren’t official in any way.

What are some of the inspirations for Eberron themes and locations (the cold war, Xen’drik and Africa or El Dorado legends?)

This could be a subject for an entire post, and I have other questions I’d like to answer today. So I’m going to keep it relatively concise, and only name a few. As with the countries themselves, there’s relatively few things in Eberron that are inspired by a single event or thing; instead, most draw on a combination of sources. With Khorvaire in the wake of the Last War, you have a touch of the malaise that followed World War One, combined with the cold war inspired by the nuclear bomb after WWII. Xen’drik takes elements from the legend of Atlantis, the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and any number of pulp movies or legends like El Dorado. Dhakaan draws on Rome and feudal Japan, blended with ideas specific to the goblins themselves. The Daughters of Sora Kell draw both on the Baba Yaga stories and the many myths that deal with three mystic sisters.

Beyond these sorts of things, you have elements of the setting that are inspired by elements of D&D itself: if medusas exist as a race, what sort of society would they create? If yuan-ti are serpentfolk, and the feathered serpent couatl are emissaries of the light, why not have feathered yuan-ti? Sending and whispering wind are useful spells for communication – what business model would arise around them?

This just scratches the surface, but again, I this could be the subject of a very long post – and should we reach a time when there’s no other questions, perhaps it will be.

Do you think it is possible to run a proper Eberron campaign using 2E rules?

Why not? I’ve run Eberron using Over The Edge rules. I know people who run it with GURPS and Savage World. It’s certainly possible. 2E uses Vancian magic, so it shouldn’t be too hard to adapt dragonmarks. I’d need to pull out 2E books to figure out how to deal with skills/feats and the degree to which it matters. But I’m sure it could be done without too much trouble.

 You’ve said The Queen of Stone is your favorite Eberron novel written by you. What’s your favorite Eberron game sourcebook penned by you?

Honestly? Probably the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide, simply because it was an opportunity to draw on many of my favorite elements of things I’d written elsewhere (for example, the Lords of Dust section draws on the “Eternal Evil” article I wrote for Dragon) and because it also highlights a few key themes of the setting that slipped by in the 3.5 ECS. So set aside the system and focus purely on the text, and it would be the 4E ECG.

Would your novel series be considered the canon Eberron series?

During the development of the setting, we decided that Eberron novels would serve as a source of inspiration as opposed to changing the setting itself. None of the novels are “canon” in terms of being material you are expected to use in your campaign, or being taken into account in future sourcebooks. For example, Pierce acquires an artifact in The Shattered Land. I present the statistics for that artifact in Secrets of Xen’drik, but never mention Pierce. If you want, you could say that Pierce exists in your version of Eberron and that he found that docent. Or you could have one of your players find Shira, using her depiction in the novel as inspiration for the role she might play in your own.

In terms of what novels are the best introduction to Eberron… I think that taken on its own, City of Towers is a fairly good choice. It brings up a number of critical elements of the setting – Sharn, the Last War, dragonmarked houses – and the appendices are useful for people who’ve never encountered the setting. However, as a series, I think that the Thorn of Breland series is somewhat more unique to Eberron. The themes – espionage in the wake of the Last War, the balance of power between dragonmarked houses and the nobility, aberrant dragonmarks – are tied closely to the setting, while The Dreaming Dark trilogy is a more traditional adventures-travel-the-world-to-fight-a-great-evil story.

As a side note, while the novels don’t transform the world, as authors we do our best to maintain continuity between the novels themselves. For example, when I was writing The Queen of Stone, I talked to Don Bassingthwaite about his plans in The Legacy of Dhakaan, and who would be a logical ambassador to Droaam in the time period of Queen of Stone.

In what ways did Cthulhu Mythos elements inspire & and appear in Eberron?

Good question. As you might have figured out from things like Cthulhu Fluxx and Cthulhu Gloom, I enjoy Lovecraft’s work. It’s certainly something that has influenced Eberron and will surely influence my future work. And really, many of the major villains of the setting has some touch of Lovecraft.

The Dreaming Dark reflect my long love of exploring dreams and the ways they can influence the world; my first published work was an Over The Edge piece called “Dreaming on the Verge of Strife” that could easily be adapted to Eberron. With that said, the idea that there is a strange dreamland you could explore? With a terrible horror at the center that can devour your soul? Filled with nightmare spirits and other terrors? There’s more to the Quori than Kadath, but The Dream-Quest isn’t a bad source of inspiration for Dal Quor adventures.

The Lords of Dust are more concrete in form than most of the Great Old Ones, and draw on mythological figures such as Mahishasura as much as Cthulhu. On the other hand, they are ancient evils older than humanity, waiting for that time when the stars are right and they can rise up and reduce everything to primordial chaos. There’s certainly an element of cosmic horror there… highlighted for Overlords like the Voice in the Night and the Heart of Winter.

The Daelkyr are horrors from beyond time and space. Some people have asked why they look so human, to which I say that they shouldn’t feel limited by the picture; that physical body is merely an aspect of the daelkyr, and may not actually appear the same way to multiple viewers. Instead, focus on the fact that they corrupt all that they touch, that they cause madness with their mere presence, and that in Xoriat they may not have humanoid forms at all.

Essentially, the Overlords are the VAST HORRORS THAT WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING WHEN THEY RISE, and the Daelkyr are so alien that mortals cannot bear their presence without suffering… two different aspects of Lovecraft’s cosmic entities.

Meanwhile, the Cults of the Dragons Below cover the full range of cult archetypes. You have groups like the Finch Family (actually created by Ari Marmell, but certainly in line with my vision), to the wilder cultists and corrupted beings like the people of the Inner Sun.

I have a question regarding the Silver Flame. It is a cosmic force that stretches all across Eberron to hold back the Overlords. However according to Five Nations, Keeper Jaela is only specially empowered by the Flame while she is in the Flamekeep cathedral. What is it that makes that location special? Is Tira Miron as the Voice of the Flame limited in a way the Flame itself is not so that she can only commune with Jaela in a particular place?

Essentially. The Silver Flame has existed since the couatl kindled it with their original sacrifice. The traditions of the Ghaash’kala orcs predate the arrival of humanity on Khorvaire, as do the Shulassakar. However, the Silver Flame can’t speak to all souls. Due to her spiritual nature and nobility, Tira Miron was a suitable vessel for its power – and her sacrifice allowed her to become the Voice of the Flame, speaking to her people. In some ways, Jaela is less the Keeper of the entire Flame and rather the mortal intermediary of the Voice of the Flame… the living conduit that allows the Voice of the Flame to speak to other mortals. Flamekeep isn’t the only place she can commune with Jaela, but it’s the only place she can channel her power to the Keeper. And incidentally, it’s also where Bel Shalor’s power is the strongest, which is why Melysse Miron is stronger there.

Are there other places of power where the Keeper would be equally empowered? Or something else entirely?

There are other places where OTHER Keepers would be equally empowered. While we’ve never spelled it out, I believe that the Ghaash’kala and Shulassakar have their own Voices and Keepers, and likely there are others as well.

Is it far-fetched to think that a follower of the Silver Flame may somehow convert Kaius or forge an alliance with him against the Blood of Vol undead?

Far-fetched? Absolutely. Impossible? No. The feud between Thrane and Karrnath is one of the strongest within the Five Nations. Kaius has already made some unpopular decisions, and even if this didn’t involve a political alliance with Thrane, it would likely be perceived that way. With that said, the purpose of the Silver Flame is to defend the innocent from supernatural evil. The church came to the aid of Aundair during the Purge. If the Emerald Claw/Blood of Vol posed a clear and obvious large-scale threat to innocents, the Church would likely offer its assistance; it’s up to you to decide if Kaius would accept it… and if, as happened in Aundair, this might give the church a stronger foothold in the region.

The Silver Flame is in my opinion the most interesting take on religion in DnD ever, and so would love you to write a novel or short story with a heroic flame paladin, since Eberron novels seem to focus on antiheroes (Thorn, Sabira or Abraxis Wren) but seldom on noble heroes and even less on flamers despite the pulp and heroic elements of Eberron apart from noir ones and the relevance of the Silver Flame.

Have you read Legacy of Wolves by Marsheila Rockwell? That has a Silver Flame paladin as a protagonist. For my part, I’d be interested in writing a story with a more heroic lead, but at this point it’s not up to me. I don’t know what plans WotC has for future Eberron fiction, and without their authorization I can’t write stories in the world.

I`m currently running an Eberron game in the Kingmaker adventure path, in which the characters build up their own nation. I had the campaign set in northern Xen`drik, ignoring that bit about “no maps of the continent” (but it could be on Q`Barra or the Eldeen Reaches). In this regard, how would the other nations react? Maybe the elves would see this as an invasion in their ancestral homeland? The Tairnadal would like to test their might against the newcomers? Cyrans would move to a new land of opportunities? And what about Dragonmark houses?

Personally, my gut for a “new nation” campaign would be to set the adventurers up in charge of a Lhazaar Principality, keeping them in the middle of things and giving lots of room to deal with intrigue and challenges from the surrounding princes. Q’barra is another option, but I prefer to use that for frontier-village Deadwood-style games as opposed to nation-building. But assuming you go with Xen’drik, my immediate thought is that the other nations wouldn’t have a major reaction. Xen’drik is largely perceived as a place that cannot be settled, and I’d think people would say “They won’t last three years” as opposed to “WE MUST STOP THEM NOW!” Now, this would change if you discovered something incredibly valuable all the other nations wanted – say, the largest field of Siberys shards ever seen – but just on its own, I don’t see declaring a nation in Xen’drik as being a cause for war. Dragonmarked houses could certainly be interested, if you seem like a significant enough force to make a real go at it, but they’d also likely want to found your relationship on better terms than the Korth Edicts. As for the Tairnadal, attacking a fledgling settlement seems like a weird way to honor your guerilla-resistance ancestors; I think it would be more likely that the Sileus Tairn might offer to help you in exchange for using your country as a home base in their new campaign against the giants and other challenges of Xen’drik.