In the first days of the world, the children of Khyber rose from the darkness to reign over Eberron. The greatest among them were the overlords, who held dominion over a world of fear, war, and death until the children of Eberron and Siberys rose up against them. Armies of dragons fought against the fiends of Khyber. And though the overlords couldn’t be destroyed, the couatl sacrificed their lives to build a prison of celestial light: a silver flame that bound the overlords in Khyber once more. These bonds have held for countless generations, but the overlords still yearn to break free and reclaim the world above.Eberron: Rising From The Last War.
The overlords are one of the greatest threats in the Eberron campaign setting. They ruled the world in its first age, and they yearn to break their bonds and drag reality back to that age of demons. The Lords of Dust work to free the overlords, while the dragons of the Chamber oppose their efforts—and this long, cold war is one of the driving forces in the setting. I’ve written many articles about the overlords over the years, and this month I’ve received a host of questions concerning specific overlords from my Patreon supporters. I thought I’d revisit the topic and bring some of that scattered information together, as well as updating things to incorporate the ideas presented in Rising From The Last War and Exploring Eberron.
WHAT ARE THE OVERLORDS?
- The overlords are immortal fiends with immense power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an unbound overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they aren’t deities. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith.
- The overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the overlords and most of their minions.
- While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
- Each overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
- Even while bound, the overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their “dreams”. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are more aware and actively scheming.
- “Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”
The overlords are commonly referred to as the children of Khyber. The truth is slightly more complex; they are actually the architecture of Khyber. Beyond the physical tunnels and caverns that extend into the depths, Khyber is a matrix of demiplanes. These can be seen as the dreams of the progenitor, each reflecting a horrifying vision of a possible reality—realms defined by fear, bloodshed, and worse. While most are isolated, some—known as heart demiplanes—are able to leak out into the prime material plane, and this is where native fiends come from. The overlord is the defining spirit of the demiplane. When it is “released,” its power flows out into reality, slowly reshaping the world to mirror its heart plane. The entity that can be fought is an avatar of that force, but it’s just a projection; if that projection is destroyed, its power flows back into its heart plane, regenerates and returns. So physically defeating an overlord is only a temporary setback for it, and the physical form you encounter is merely a projection.
One common question is what differentiates overlords from the Dark Six. There’s a few major differences. First and foremost, the overlords absolutely exist. You can find the resting place of an overlord or go to its heart demiplane. If they’ve loosened their bonds, an overlord can manifest an avatar and you can actually fight it. So while you’ll never shake hands with Aureon or dine with the Devourer, there may be a time when you can punch Rak Tulkhesh in the nose or have tal with Sul Khatesh. The downside of this is that as powerful as they are, overlords have a limited sphere of influence. While bound they can only influence the regions around their prison or where their heart demiplane touches the world. When released, their power has a finite radius. Bel Shalor threw Thrane into chaos, but his power wasn’t felt in Sharn or even in Korth. Other overlords have different limitations: the Daughter of Khyber can reach across the world, but she can only influence dragons. A final important difference is that the overlords aren’t some sort of logically arranged pantheon. Some of their ideas overlap; Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku are both corruptors, Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka hold secrets, Masvirik deals with reptiles while the Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. There’s an overlord of cold, but we’ve never mentioned one associated with fire. They aren’t gods, they’re monsters. Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku overlap in concept, but they influence entirely different regions within the world. Rak Tulkhesh is infamously an overlord of war, but there could be an entirely different overlord associated with bloodshed or war in Sarlona. Overlords are epically powerful, but they are also finite. They don’t explain the existence of evil, they embody specific aspects of it.
Every edition that Eberron has been part of has provided statistics for some of the overlords, and these vary wildly in power. Under the 3.5 rules, overlords rivaled lesser deities; they possessed the equivalent of 7 divine ranks and 30-50 character levels. The 3.5 version of Sul Khatesh could cast counterspell as a free action, had spontaneous access to all wizard and sorcerer spells, and could destroy antimagic fields; she had innate true seeing as well as the ability to cast legend lore on anything she could see. By contrast, Rising From The Last War presents Sul Khatesh as a CR 28 threat with a fairly limited set of spells. How do these two interpretations relate to one another? The answer is that the lesser deity equivalent statistics reflect the full power that an entirely unbound overlord could wield, while the CR 28 interpretations of Sul Khatesh and Rak Tulkhesh reflect a weaker avatar, most likely manifested by an overlord who’s still partially bound. At the end of the day, overlords are essentially plot devices. They are the most powerful entities that exist on Eberron, and at their full power were able to face armies of dragons. They aren’t supposed to be balanced; the idea that player characters can face them directly and potentially win the fight would reflect limits placed on the overlord (IE partial binding), the fact that the player characters are vessels of the Prophecy, the impact of special preparations (Tira Miron might have bathed Kloijner in the waters of Irian or the heartsblood of Durastoran the Wymbreaker). Overlords wield apocalyptic levels of power, and any stat block should be seen as an inspiration for what an overlord might be capable of, not an absolute limit.
How Are The Overlords Bound?
Overlords can’t be permanently destroyed. When an avatar is defeated its essence flows back into its heart plane and reforms. What the champions of the first age did was to bind that essence—preventing it from returning to its heart plane. Essentially, they severed the overlord’s brain from its heart; the heart demiplanes still exist, but the consciousness of the overlords are bound elsewhere and they can’t manifest their avatars or exert their full power. While the essence of each overlord is bound to a physical vessel, it is the power of the Silver Flame that actually keeps the overlord bound. A vessel can be damaged—Rak Tulkhesh is bound to a Khyber shard that’s been shattered—but this won’t release the overlord.
How Can They Be Released?
Releasing an overlord is no trivial matter. The prisons of the overlords are as indestructible as the fiends themselves. The only way for an overlord to be released is for a certain path of the Prophecy to come to pass. For this reason, the actions of the Lords of Dust are enigmatic. They cannot simply release their masters— they must bring history to a particular crossroads, a point at which the planes and moons are aligned and the darkness can rise again. It is up to you to decide just what is required for a particular overlord to be released. It could be something as grim as the downfall of a nation, or something as positive as the birth of a child.Eberron Campaign Guide
This article goes into much more depth about the nature of the binding and how it can be broken. There’s a few things to keep in mind. The first is that the Prophecy is almost always tied to the actions of specific mortals. Despite all their power, the dragons and the Lords of Dust can’t resolve a situation with brute force; they need to guide the actions of mortal pawns. The second is that the Prophecy is always evolving. There is always a path for the release of an overlord. As soon as the Chamber severs one branch, a new one begins to take shape. There will never be a time when humanity doesn’t have to worry about the overlords; foiling the plans of the Lords of Dust buys time, as a new branch may take centuries to be uncovered and cultivated—but there is always a path to release Sul Khatesh and there always will be. And while the Lords of Dust and the Chamber are always working to cultivate these branches or to trim them, there’s always the chance that the events required to release an overlord will play out entirely on their own. Not all overlords have agents within the Lords of Dust, and the Chamber isn’t omnisicent; it’s always possible that the necessary events will simply happen, even if there’s no cult or fiend driving them.
How Do They Pose A Threat?
As long as the overlords are bound by the Silver Flame, they can’t physically manifest in the world. But each overlord embodies a particular aspect of evil, which grows in strength as their servants scheme to release their ancient masters. The overlords gain strength when mortals embrace the dark paths laid down for them. And as they grow stronger, they gain more influence.Eberron: Rising From The Last War
If the bonds of an overlord can only be broken by a prophetic path, what does it mean for an overlord to “grow stronger?” Overlords threaten the world in two ways. If an overlord is released from its prison, it will transform a region of the world into a mirror of its heart demiplane. This may start slowly, but the end results can be dramatic. The Cold Sun will steal the light from the sky, while the Heart of Winter will blanket her domain in ice. Every overlord has a handful of fiends that walk the world… but if an overlord is unbound, greater forces will emerge from its demiplane. Beyond this, the overlord itself will be able to manifest a physical avatar, as shown in Rising From The Last War. An overlord is only able to affect the world directly if their bonds are broken. But even while bound, they still have the ability to influence mortals. Tiamat corrupts dragons, the Wild Heart corrupts nature, and Rak Tulkhesh drives people to spill blood. Essentially, bound overlords can still influence mortals—and the more mortals who succumb to their influence, the greater this power becomes. Sul Khatesh can’t walk the world and unleash and arcane armageddon, but she can still whisper secrets to warlocks and create cabals and cults, while Rak Tulkhesh can shatter peace and drive war. “Partial release” falls between these two. When partially released the Wild Heart was able to amplify the power of the curse of lycanthropy and assert control over all ‘thropes, and it may have been able to manifest an avatar in the heart of the forest; but we’ve never suggested that the Towering Woods themselves were physically transformed, or that the avatar of the Wild Heart was roaming freely and striking down its enemies. Ultimately, this is about the needs of the story. A bound overlord has a very limited ability to influence mortals. An unbound overlord can affect both mortals and the world itself, and can manifest an avatar wielding tremendous power. A partially released overlord falls somewhere in between, with whatever limitations you need to impose to make your story satisfying. The key point is that even when they aren’t trying to release their overlord, cults and fiends will often try to increase its influence—usually by playing out its core concept (war, undead, betrayal, sinister magic) in a region.
While bound, the overlords are effectively dreaming—or trancing, if you prefer, as they aren’t tied to Dal Quor and can’t be targeted by dream. The point is that they aren’t entirely conscious, nor are they fully comatose. Rak Tulkhesh revels in hatred and bloodshed, but it’s his speaker Mordakhesh who schemes across the centuries and who actively sows strife. Sul Khatesh does whisper to her warlocks and share dangerous secrets, but even this is essentially reflexive; it’s how her influence manifests, and not every warlock she deals with is part of a world-breaking scheme. The Lords of Dust understand the world and scheme to free their overlords; the overlords themselves are delighted when their influence grows, but are only partially aware of what is going on in the world. This is what makes their speakers—prakhutu—so important; Mordakhesh can commune with Rak Tulkhesh and divine what the Rage of War desires. (Hint: It’s war.)
WHO ARE THE OVERLORDS?
There is no complete list of overlords, and even their exact number is uncertainly; one canon source says “around thirty” while another says “a few dozen.” Likewise, even with the overlords that do exist, much is left vague. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu, and if so, do they consult with the Bleak Council of Ashtakala? Where is Tul Oreshka’s prison? Largely this is intentional, because the overlords are essentially plot devices. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu? Well, do you want it to? We know the location of Sul Khatesh’s prison, but Tul Oreshka’s is intentionally undefined so that it can be wherever you want it to be. Are their thirty overlords or thirty-six? The answer is how many do you need?
This is a list of all of the Overlords who’ve been mentioned in canon or kanon. It includes details on where they’ve appeared, but again, many of them simply don’t have much information available; in many cases, the information provided here is more than actually exists in canon. Don’t let that hold you back; use this as inspiration and build upon it to meet the needs of your campaign.
ASHTAKALA, The Demon City. Located in the Demon Wastes, Ashtakala is described in many sources as the last citadel of the Lords of Dust and the meeting place of their Bleak Council. In this article I present the idea that Ashtakala is itself an overlord, the immortal embodiment of the citadel of evil.
ASHURAK, The Slow Death. While never named in canon, the Slow Death is the patron of the Plaguebearers, one of the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. Ashurak revels in the horror of disease. The plagues they spread are agonizing and disfiguring, but never kill quickly; lingering suffering is the hallmark of Ashurak. While their prison is in the Demon Wastes, their influence can be carried by the diseases they creates and Plaguebearers have occasionally started cults in the Five Nations. While it might seem that these cultists would find allies among the Children of Winter, the truth is quite the opposite; the maladies of Ashurak are deeply unnatural and the druids battle these cults whenever they find them. Ashurak isn’t one of the most powerful or infamous overlords, but they do have representatives among the Lords of Dust; their speaker is Shalashar, a native oinoloth. (ECS)
BEL SHALOR, The Shadow in the Flame. Bound in Flamekeep, Bel Shalor is the most infamous overlord in Khorvaire, largely due to his well-documented devastation of Thrane and subsequent defeat at the hands of Tira Miron. Bel Shalor embodies our fear of one another and the capacity for even the most virtuous person to do evil. He thrives on paranoia and smiles anytime a good person harms an innocent or ignores their conscience. Bel Shalor’s speaker is the ak’chazar rakshasa Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, and his minions are a powerful force within the Lords of Dust. Where his influence was originally tied to Thrane, due to the conditions of his binding he can influence anyone who draws on the power of the Silver Flame; it’s entirely possible he wanted to be bound, that he always planned to become the Shadow in the Flame. (ECG, ExE)
THE DAUGHTER OF KHYBER, Tiamat. The Daughter of Khyber embodies the fear of dragons and the evil they can do—fears both of humanoids and of the dragons themselves. She is bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows in Argonnessen, but much like Bel Shalor and the followers of the Silver Flame, the Daughter of Khyber can touch the heart of any dragon wherever they may be. Her influence can be subtle, hidden within pride or even a desire to help lesser creatures—but once she sinks her hooks into a dragon’s soul, she can twist even noble desires toward evil ends. The Daughter of Khyber’s machinations have brought the world to the edge of disaster at least once since the Age of Demons, devastating ancient civilizations on Khorvaire that have now been forgotten; it is because of this that the dragons of Argonnessen place severe restrictions on how dragons exercise power in the wider world. Known to some as Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber has no involvement with the Lords of Dust, and if she has a speaker their identity is unknown. (Dragons of Eberron, ECG, ExE)
DRAL KHATUUR, The Heart of Winter. Bound in the Frostfell, Dral Khatuur embodies of all of the terrors of winter—endless night, the killing frost, the ice-encrusted face of a frozen friend. Her minions are frozen corpses, fiends sculpted from ice, and the howling, hungry wind. She despises all other creatures, including the other overlords; she had no ties to the Lords of Dust and waits in the Frostfell for anyone foolish enough to venture into her domain.
ELDRANTULKU, The Oathbreaker. As described in Dragon 337, Eldrantulku is a spirit of discord who turns allies into enemies and lovers into mortal foes. A master deceiver, his title comes from his ability to convince others to break their oaths. He is not a force of war—he corrupts the innocent, using ambition, jealousy, and paranoia as his tools. He is active within the Lords of Dust. Notable minions include Thelestes, an exiled Mabaran succubus and deadly assassin; and the devious rakshasa Kashtarhak, his prakhutu. The location of Eldrantulku’s prison is unknown.
KATASHKA, The Gatekeeper. Katashka thrives on mortal fears of death and the undead. He is thought to have brought the first undead into the world, and certainly created the first liches and dracoliches. Katashka’s servants are part of the Lords of Dust, and his prakhutu is the dracolich Mazyralyx, thought by some to be the origin of many myths of the Keeper. The location of Katashka’s prison is a mystery. The Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes is a possibility, but it’s just as possible that this contains a connection to his heart demiplane. Katashka’s cults are more widespread than many other overlords, which suggests that his prison has been shattered and scattered like that of Rak Tulkhesh. As Katashka is known to create liches, one possibility is that pieces of his shattered prison are used as phylacteries by his lich champions, who spread his influence wherever they go. Katashka largely works with undead as opposed to fiends; his champions include the ancient wizard Kyuss and his spawn. (Dragon 337, ECG, ExE)
THE LURKER IN SHADOW. In the first age of the world, the Thunder Sea was the domain of a powerful overlord embodying the fear of the unknown and unknowable, of the unimaginable terrors lurking in the depths and in the darkness. Its true name is one more secret. Its servants call it Surash Ka, which is simply Abyssal for “The Deep Lord” or “The King Below;” the sahuagin and other denizens of the Thunder Sea avoid even that name, calling it the Lurker in Shadow or just the Lurker. It’s an exceptionally powerful overlord; when unbound, it dominated the Thunder Sea and even now its influence can be felt across the region. The Lurker in Shadow has no interaction with the Lords of Dust. Its servants include aboleths, shadow demons, and shark-aspected rakshasa, but stories say these are the least of the horrors it has spawned. While the Lurker has some overlap with Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka, Sul Khatesh is focused on arcane knowledge and personal secrets, while Tul Oreshka deals with secrets that can break people; the Lurker in Shadow deals with the things you can’t imagine, the forces that lie just beyond sight and that are waiting to pull you down. I’ll be providing more information about the Lurker in a follow up article.
MASVIRIK, The Cold Sun. Masvirik consumes the light, embodying our fears of all that slithers through the dark and cold. On the one hand, he embodies the warmblooded fears of reptiles and venomous vermin. On the other, he embodies reptilian fears of cold and death. His minions include corrupted lizardfolk, dragonborn, and kobolds, along with undead reptilian creatures and fiends who thrive on cold instead of heat. Masvirik is imprisoned beneath Haka’torvhak, and his influence is felt across Q’barra. His speaker, the dragon Rhashaak, is bound in Haka’torvhak; the reptilian rakshasa Asshalara represents Rhashaak on the Bleak Council of Ashtakala. (Dungeon 185)
RAK TULKHESH, The Rage of War. Rak Tulkhesh embodies the fear of war and bloodshed, whether as a victim of violence or losing oneself to bloodlust and rage. The cults of Rak Tulkhesh include brutal raiders who embrace lives of endless violence, but also those who spread hate and strife—anything that stirs up harsh conflict where there might otherwise be peace. The prison of Rak Tulkhesh has been shattered, and his influence is spread across Khorvaire; however, he has a strong presence in the Demon Wastes and his Carrion Tribes are always thirsty for bloodshed. His speaker, Mordakhesh the Shadowsword, is a respected member of the Lords of Dust and a brilliant military strategist. (Dragon 337, Dragon 416, ECG, ExE, Rising)
RAN IISHIV, The Unmaker. Bound beneath Adar, Ran Iishiv is a force of chaos and destruction. Some believe that Ran Iishiv reflects Khyber’s primal hatred of creation itself, the burning desire to tear down the material plane and start anew. Whatever the truth, Ran Iishiv was expecteptionally powerful and feared even by other overlords; it’s believe that the wild zones to Kythri in Adar reflect Ran Iishiv literally tearing through reality. Even while bound, the Unmaker’s fury is a powerful force. Ran Iishiv may be the source of the storms that batter Adar, and some accounts claim its rage created the volcano of Korrandor. Ran Iishiv has no allies among the Lords of Dust, and it’s even possible fiends tied to other overlords would help prevent the Unmaker’s release. Ran’s primary servants are the Endseekers, cultists who have heard the Unmaker’s dreaming whispers and seek to return reality to primordial chaos. (Secrets of Sarlona)
SAKINNIROT, The Scar That Abides. Those loyal to Sakinnirot say it was the first child of the Dragon Below but the last to be born. In many ways it embodies pure hatred—not the savage bloodlust of Rak Tulkhesh, but hatred that smolders and burns. Sakinnirot thrives on bloody feuds that only serve to deeping the need for revenge, on physical and spiritual wounds left to fester. It’s possible that Sakinnirot is nothing less that the patient fury of Khyber itself, the determination for vengeance upon the world that holds it prisoner. Whatever the truth, Sakinnirot is one of the most powerful overlords; during the Age of Demons, the Scar laid claim to all of Xen’drik and reveled in battling other overlords. It was bound even more tightly that most overlords, and few of its fiendish servants escaped into the world; both because of this and its feuds with other overlords, the Scar That Abides isn’t represented within the Lords of Dust. However, the rakshasa Lorishto—an Ak’chazar of Eldrantulku—has been seeking to weaken the binding of Sakinnirot, hoping to become the prakhutu of the Scar That Abides. (City of Stormreach)
THE SPINNER OF SHADOWS. Presented in D&D Online, the Spinner of Shadows is commonly associated with spiders; however, this reflects her wider role as an overlord of hidden schemes, of the careful vendetta and the joy of toying with a powerless foe. While she has significant overlap with Sakinnirot, the Spinner is less driven by burning hatred and more by hungry ambition—the schemer willing to climb a web formed of innocent corpses to achieve their desires. While not one of the most powerful overlords, one of her strengths is her talent for remaining hidden—reflected by the fact that she had her domain in Xen’drik despite Sakinnirot’s claim on the continent. because of this obsession with secrecy, it’s unlikely that the Spinner is involved with the Lords of Dust; her agents scheme along, hiding even from their fiendish cousins. (D&D Online—technically neither canon nor canon, but I’m including her on the list)
SUL KHATESH, The Keeper of Secrets. Per Rising From The Last War, “Sul Khatesh is known as the Keeper of Secrets and the Queen of Shadows. She embodies the fears and superstitions surrounding magic, from malevolent warlocks to mad wizards, from deadly curses to magical power that draws those who wield it deeper into darkness.” She may be bound beneath Arcanix, but she has found ways to spread her influence further. Her prakhutu—the First Scribe, Hektula—has written books of magic that can grant tremendous power but that also serve as a focus for her influence; these could mirror the effects of the Book of Vile Darkness or the Demonomicon. Likewise, Sul Khatesh spreads cabals and covens, and where her cultists come together to perform malefic rituals, Sul Khatesh can touch the world. While she often whispers to her warlocks and to other susceptible minds, Sul Khatesh is essentially dreaming; while her whispers rarely work out well for those who listen to them, they aren’t all tied toward one grand plan. The agents of Sul Khatesh are a strong force in the Lords of Dust. Hektula maintains the library of Ashtakala and often mediates disputes between the other speakers. (Dragon 337, City of Stormreach, ECG, ExE, Rising)
TOL KHARASH, The Horned King. There is a dark power bound beneath the fortress known as Turakbar’s Fist, and it has long spread its influence across the barren region now known as Droaam. Znir hwyri hunt those who fall too far down its path, while the minotaur clans see this power as their patron. Tol Kharash can easily be mistaken for Rak Tulkhesh, as both delight in bloodshed and war. However, Tol Kharash is a force of tyranny rather than rage. It drives the strong to oppress the weak… and the crueller they are, the better. The Horned King is the common name of the overlord and the aspect worshipped by Rhesh Turakbar and his clan, the Blood Horns; they raid and pillage in his name. However, each of the major minotaur clans has their own unique interpretation of the Horned King. The Red Hooves are devoted to He Who Walks Behind, and prefer sly ambushes to the howling assaults of the Blood Horns. The Blade Breaker clan worships One Horn, who rewards displays strength and courage. While the Blade Breakers are just as aggressive as the Blood Horns, they are less brutal; it’s just possible that while THEY think One Horn is an aspect of the Horned King, they are in truth drawing on a different power entirely—perhaps, the essence of Dol Dorn. Tol Kharash has relatively few fiendish minions. His greatest servants are possessed mortals as opposed to manifested fiends; he has no representatives in Ashtakala and doesn’t work with the Lords of Dust. (Tol Kharash appears in the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold)
TUL ORESHKA, The Truth In The Darkness. Tul Oreshka embodies our fear of secrets and the things we don’t know, of unbearable truths and feelings we’d kill to keep secret. These may be deeply personal—your mother wishes you’d died instead of your brother—or shocking cosmic revelations. She’s far more primal than Sul Khatesh; the words she deals with may not conjure fire or fiends, but they still have the power to shatter lives. People who pass by her prison may learn terrible things through ghostly whispers or vivid nightmares. Her cults take many forms, and are almost always driven by a compelling, infectious idea. While she doesn’t deal in traditional mystical knowledge as Sul Khatesh does, Tul Oreshka can reveal secrets that defy our previous understanding of magic or that alter the way we see reality; for example, a cult of Tul Oreshka might reveal that humans are all fiends, that humanity itself is collectively an overlord. While her agents are unpredictable, Tul Oreshka does participate in the Bleak Council of the Lords of Dust; her current speaker is a pit fiend named Korliac of the Gray Flame, though Tul Oreshka’s speakers rarely hold the position for long. The location of Tul Oreshka’s prison has never been established. (Dragon 337)
VAL GULTESH, The Shaper of Nightmares. Many overlords embody something that is feared; Val Gultesh feeds on fear itself. They thrive on paranoia and on lives torn apart by unfounded fears, and crafts nightmares that help spread terrifying and disruptive ideas. While they can shape nightmares, they do so from Eberron—effectively, using a powerful form of the dream spell that can potentially affect hundreds of people at once—as opposed to entering Dal Quor. The quori of the present age haven’t encountered an unbound Val Gultesh; it’s quite possible the overlord would pose a threat to them, especially to quori manifesting in Eberron as Inspired or Kalashtar. Val Gultesh is imprisoned somewhere in Zilargo, and it’s possible that should their power grow that they could corrupt the Trust to serve their purposes; however, the Trust could be aware of this threat, and may have ruthlessly eliminated cults of Val Gultesh in the past. The Shaper of Nightmares works with the Lords of Dust, but the nature of their speaker and the power of their faction have yet to be established. (Mentioned in the adventures “Curtain Call” and “Fear Reveals Truth”)
THE WILD HEART. The Wild Heart embodies mortal fears of the natural world. To some degree this embodies the sheer unknown that the wild represents, but it especially draws on the fear of predators—the unknown dangers lurking in the depths of the darkest wood. The Wild Heart is known both for their connection to gnolls and as one of the primary sources of lycanthropy; in Kanon, they were the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge. As a force that is fundamentally opposed to civilization, the Wild Heart uses no name and takes no part in the schemes of the Lords of Dust. Their speaker is a shapeshifting fiend known as Drukalatar Atesh, but its fiendish minions are more likely to possess or be fused with beasts than to act in fiendish form. (Novel: The Queen of Stone)
YAD-RAGHESH, The Fallen Rajah. The fiend known as Yad-Raghesh is a mystery; some loredrake scholars question whether they were actually an overlord, or whether they were an exceptionally powerful champion of Sakinnirot or Ran Iishiv. What is known is that during the wars of the Age of Demons, Yad-Raghesh fought in the form of a colossal two-headed rakshasa; that they were defeated with surprising ease; and that it was later discovered that they had somehow imbued their essence into the region in which they were slain, permanently corrupting it. The corpse of Yad-Raghesh remains in this vale, which seethes with hatred and fiends. There is no evidence that the consciousness of Yad-Raghesh remains as an active force, and they play no role in the Lords of Dust, but they have effectively transformed this “Vale of the Fallen Rajah” into a heart demiplane in the midst of Argonnessen. (Dragons of Eberron)
UNNAMED AND UNKNOWN. A number of overlords have been hinted at in canon sources but never described in detail. Secrets of Sarlona suggests that there are overlords imprisoned in the Kretok Peninsula and in Sustrai Mor, while the Player’s Guide to Eberron suggests that an overlord with power over the weather is bound on Tempest Isle. Some previous lists included Shudra the Fleshrender, a “mighty rakshasa” mentioned in Forge of War. However, Shudra is a rakhsasa champion on par with Mordakhesh and Hektula; he’s associated with the overlord Dhavibashta, who appears in James Wyatt’s novel In The Claws Of The Tiger. As mentioned at the start, this is not intended to be a complete list of overlords, and I would never want to create such a list; there should always be room in the world for an overlord who perfectly suits the needs of your story.
How Do These Overlords Relate to the Planes?
The overlords are spirits of Khyber and the material plane. As the material plane ties together all of the iconic concepts that define the outer planes, some of the overlords reflect ideas that are represented in the planes. Rak Tulkhesh is associated with war, and Shavarath is associated with war. Tul Oreshka and the Lurker in Shadows both deal with the unknowable and unnatural in ways that evoke Xoriat, and Val Gultesh shapes nightmares. But Val Gultesh isn’t a creature of Dal Quor and the Rak Tulkhesh isn’t from Shavarath. They are spirits of the material plane, and deal with mortals who fight and dream; but they influence those things in and from the material plane, and have no connection to or alliances with the denizens of the planes. In general, the power of an overlord will trump the power of any extraplanar entity while they are in the material plane; an unbound Val Gultesh might be able to control quori possessing human hosts. For this reason, extraplanar entities generally try to avoid conflict with overlords and the Lords of Dust.
Are The Overlords Allies?
Absolutely not. They often fought one another during the Age of Demons, and a few of those that have been named—Ran Iishiv, Sakinnirot, Dral Khatuur—have been specifically called out as being shunned by the Lords of Dust. Part of the point is that the overlords embody terrible things, and that all they desire is to express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh IS furious bloodshed and has no other way to the world; if you live next to Rak Tulkhesh, you KNOW he’s going to constantly attack you. Likewise, Eldrantulku is the embodiment of betrayal. The Lords of Dust who deal with him know that sooner or later any arrangement will have an unpleasant surprise; but because they know this, they can prepare and work around it. The key point is that the Lords of Dust aren’t the overlords, they’re the lesser fiends that serve them. Rak Tulkhesh is unreasoning war, but Mordakhesh is careful and calculating, and willing to scheme with the servants of other overlords. With that being said, the Lords of Dust always place the interests of their own overlord above all else… and many members of the Lords of Dust have long-standing feuds or rivalries with other fiends.
Why do the Lords of Dust serve the Overlords?
Given that the overlords ARE so firmly bound, it’s a reasonable question—why do the Lords of Dust serve the overlords? Why doesn’t Mordakhesh pursue his own interests? There’s a few aspects to this. The first is that the fiends are immortals, which makes them fundamentally inhuman. They were created as the physical embodiments of ideas, and they can’t change those ideas. Mordakhesh never chose to serve Rak Tulkhesh; it’s a fundamental aspect of what he is and he can’t change it. Furthermore, all native fiends are tied to heart demiplanes. When Mordakhesh dies, he returns to the Bitter Shield, the heart of Rak Tulkhesh. In essence, while he has his own unique personality, Mordakhesh is part of Rak Tulkhesh. Immortals CAN change—angels can fall, quori can become kalashtar—and it’s certainly possible to encounter a fiend that’s somehow shifted its allegiance or even become something other than a fiend. But it would be extremely unusual. Most fiends don’t choose to serve their overlord; it’s a fundamental part of who and what they are.
HOW CAN YOU USE THE OVERLORDS?
Eberron is balanced on a precipice. Should the overlords rise en masse, they’d destroy reality as we know it and drag the world back into the primal chaos of the Age of Demons. However, the release of a single overlord would be a devastating event that could destroy a nation—but it wouldn’t instantly herald the end of the world. We’ve seen examples of this before. In the Year of Blood and Fire, Bel Shalor devastated Thrane until he was rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. In this article, I suggest that the Lycanthropic Purge was the work of the Wild Heart; as the Towering Woods were more remote than Thrane, the impact of their partial release and the sacrifices made to rebind them are less well known. It could even be that it was a release of an overlord.
Legacy. Overlords are sources of evil, and their existence can be used to explain why evil things existence in the world. The Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. The Wild Heart is one of the sources of lycanthropy, while Katashka creates many forms of undead. The overlords have the power to create artifacts; a sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh might grant great power while also spreading strife and hatred. An adventure or a campaign arc could involve creations of the overlords—a rogue dragon, a pack of werewolves, a clan of clever ghouls, a cursed artifact—without actually having anything to do with the overlord or its goals. The Book of Vile Darkness may have been written by Hektula and be a vector for the influence of Sul Khatesh; but it may be that Sul Khatesh’s plans are on hold for the next century, and the book is only dangerous by virtue of its innate power.
Cults and Influence. Even while bound, the overlords influence mortals. Exploring Eberron delves into the many forms these cults take—from ancient secret societies that actively work to release an overlord to deluded sects who have no idea of the power they’re tied to. The whispers of Bel Shalor are a threat to every follower of the Silver Flame. Followers of Rak Tulkhesh strive to cause strife, and the ghouls of Katashka feast on flesh beneath cities across Khorvaire. So adventurers can clash with a cult of the Whispering Flame or a cabal of Katashka’s ghouls even if the overlord has no greater role in the campaign.
Long-Term Plans. Prophetic paths that lead to the release of an overlord have many steps; they can take generations or even centuries for finally bear fruit. As discussed in this article, adventurers can be caught up in a scheme set up by one of the Lords of Dust, but regardless of the outcome, there’s no threat of an overlord actually being released. It may even be that a fiend wants to help an adventure acquire a powerful magic item—because the character needs to have that item to fulfill their role in the Prophecy. It’s also the case that the Lords of Dust have their own feuds and rivalries; adventurers could get a tip about a rakshasa scheming to take over a local guild, only to eventually realize it was another fiend that helped them.
Character Origin. Player characters can be tied to overlords. A Tome warlock could be tied to Sul Khatesh and the intrigues of her Court of Shadows. A Great Old One warlock might be receiving visions from Tul Oreshka, not knowing why they’ve been chosen by the Truth in the Darkness or what she wants with them. A barbarian character could have a sliver of Rak Tulkhesh’s prison shard bound to their flesh; the shard is what powers their rage, but by mastering that rage they help hold the overlord at bay. This could be vitally important if the campaign involves the potential release of the Rage of War… or it could be that there’s no risk of Rak Tulkhesh escaping this century, but the character may clash with cultists who want to claim the shard.
Threat of Release. The threat of an overlord’s release could be a driving arc for a campaign, building to a climactic clash in which the adventurers must fight against a doomsday countdown to prevent an overlord from escaping its binding. The key here is that if the players succeed, the overlord won’t be released. They’ll be dealing with cultists and Lords of Dust. It could even be that they face a weak avatar in the conclusion of that final battle, but it’s a battle that can be won.
So far, these ideas suggest ways to use overlords in minor roles… or how to use them as the ultimate challenge of a campaign. But there’s another option—to say that the campaign isn’t about stopping the release of an overlord, but rather dealing with the impact of it. Let’s look at a historical example…
THE YEAR OF BLOOD AND FIRE: Tira’s Campaign
When Bel Shalor broke his bonds in Thrane, he plunged the region into chaos—a period known as the Year of Blood and Fire. In my vision of things, Tira Miron didn’t simply ride up and smite him; it was a long road that led her from first touching the Flame to her final sacrifice. And while she may have made that sacrifice alone, she had companions on the journey. Canonically we’ve mentioned the avenger Samyr Kes, but in my opinion she had a full party of stalwart allies. In short, Tira was one of the player characters of her age. I see her campaign as going something like this…
- When Bel Shalor first breaks his bonds, his power is weak. The Eberron Campaign Guide says “If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” This is the world in which the campaign begins—a Thrane in which people are drawn to darkness, where good people are tempted to commit atrocities. Tira begins as a paladin of Dol Arrah. She knows something is wrong, but she doesn’t know what it is. In her initial adventures, she fights the symptoms—clashing with newly-formed cults, with good people drawn to evil, and perhaps even with a few shadowy fiends—agents of Bel Shalor who helped with his release.
- As the campaign proceeds and Bel Shalor’s power grows, the Year of Blood and Fire truly begins. Murder and arson spread across the realm. Cities burn. Innocents suffer. Fiends emerge into the chaos, gathering cults and preying on the innocent. And it is in this time—perhaps as she chooses her Oath—that Tira has a vision of a couatl and is first touched by the power of the Flame.
- Along with her companions, Tira fights the horror spreading across the land. She learns to harness the power of the Silver Flame and uses it to protect the innocent. She establishes a haven in an Irian manifest zone, and develops techniques that can help her followers recognize and resist the insidious corrupting influence. Her and her allies discover the source of the darkness. Reaching it, they discover that Bel Shalor has broken his bonds but is not yet fully free; he can manifest a weak avatar but can’t yet leave the spot in which he’s been bound. Nonetheless, this avatar is far too powerful for Tira and her companions to defeat, and they are lucky to survive and flee. But now they know their enemy.
- While they can’t defeat Bel Shalor, Tira and her allies are celebrated champions protecting a community of people. They continue to deal with Bel Shalor’s servants and those who’ve been corrupted by his influence, but they are also doing all they can to learn how Shalor can be defeated. In addition to the couatl, they receive assistance from a (secret) agent of the Chamber. They travel to Daanvi, seeking knowledge in the Infinite Archive, and to other planes as well. They take steps laid out in the Prophecy, though many of these challenges are enigmatic and set them directly at odds with agents of the Lords of Dust.
- Guided by the Flame and the Prophecy, Tira obtains the greatsword Kloijner. A brutal cult is spreading across Thrane, but Tira presses to the heart of it and exposes Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, the speaker of Bel Shalor. The rakshasa kills her Chamber ally, but Tira takes him down with Kloijner. This battle is part of a prophetic path Tira has uncovered. She knows it will keep Durastoran from reforming for decades. But it also fully releases Bel Shalor, who now strides across Thrane as a vast force of shadow.
- Tira knew the consequences of defeating Durastoran. She and her companions gather all those innocents freed from Shalor’s power in the Irian zone that has become their haven. She holds Durastoran’s heart, and beyond that she knows that the fully friend Shalor can’t stand to have a stronghold of light at the heart of his darkness. All of this has been foreshadowed by the Prophecy; though her Chamber ally has fallen, Tira knows that Bel Shalor will come to her and she knows what she must do. She rallies her allies, sharing the light of the Flame. Bel Shalor comes with an army of fiends and victims, and Tira’s faithful make their stand in the last bastion of light. Though the battle seems hopeless, Tira’s allies help her reach Bel Shalor himself—and it is in this moment that Tira and her couatl guide make their final sacrifice, binding Bel Shalor with the light of Tira’s soul and the power of the Flame, which surges forth as the column that can still be seen in Flamekeep to this day.
Now, this is MY vision of how this all went, and I’m sure there’s canon sources that tell the story another way. Furthermore, I’m writing this in the moment and I don’t have any more details about it. In my mind, Tira traveled to Irian and Daanvi as part of her adventures, but I don’t know exactly what she did in Irian. So I’m just saying: I’ve just sketched out an outline of the campaign Tira might have gone through, but it’s not like I’ve actually written any of the adventures.
Nonetheless, the point is that this isn’t a campaign in which Tira even has a chance to prevent Bel Shalor from being released. He’s already been partially released when the campaign begins—and if I was running the campaign, part of the point is that the players wouldn’t know it. In the session zero, I’d emphasize that something is wrong with the world, that they will be champions of the light trying to identify an infectious evil that is spreading across the land—that they’d be both warriors and investigators. During the campaign they not only uncover the true threat of Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker, they also must develop their own personal connections to the Silver Flame. The first tier of the campaign would be almost entirely spent dealing with cultists and corrupted innocents, trying to determine what power is behind it; they might initially think they can stop Bel Shalor from being released, only to reach that stronghold of evil and discover he’s already out. In tier 2 they are dealing with the increasingly apocalyptic consequences of his release, fighting fiends as well as cultists and the corrupted; this get more dramatic from there.
This is an apocalyptic scenario; we know from the start that it’s called The Year of Blood and Fire. There’s going to be burning cities and mass chaos. However, that flavor would depend on the overlord involved. A campaign based around the release of Sul Khatesh could be far more subtle. The Court of Shadows spreads, and as the campaign continues its dark vision of the world starts to become real, towers of shadow appearing across the nation. Common people start gaining arcane powers and resolving petty feuds and disputes with curses. Sly rakshasa offer tempting pacts. It builds to a point where civilization could collapse into outright arcane terror… but it can take time. Minister Adal might even forge an order of witchfinders and seize control of Aundair, little realizing that he too is just a pawn of Sul Khatesh, helping to spread delightful fear and terror. Every story will be different. The release of the Rage of War will involve brutal bloodshed; the release of the Oathbreaker could have very subtle effects.
That’s all for now, but look out for a Patreon-exclusive article delving deeper into the Lurker in Shadow. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking the questions that inspired this article and for making all of these articles possible.