IFAQ: August Lightning Round!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Sometimes these are weighty topics—like whaling or medusa reproduction—that require a full article. Others I just answer directly on Patreon. Here’s a few of those short answers from last month!

The warforged colossus Artorok is designated WX-73. Were there seventy three colossuses?

Nope! Every colossus has two names—So you have Artorok (WX-73), Arkus (WX-11), and so on. The name is the name of the BODY of the colossus. The numeric designation is actually the designation of the master docent that serves as the heart of the docent network that drives the colossus. “WX” stands for “Waylon/Xen’drik” and refers to the expedition that recovered the docent. So more than seventy-three docents were recovered from Xen’drik, but only a handful of those docents were intact and capable of maintaining a colossus. Personally, I think that Cannith had time to develop twelve colossuses; they were working on the thirteenth when the Mourning struck.

What is the difference in terms of magic advancement between the Dhakanni and the Dwarves of Sol Udar?

They’re vastly different. As called out in Exploring Eberron, “The dwarves of Sol Udar were an advanced civilization employing arcane science beyond that currently possessed by the Five Nations. The halls were shaped by elemental magic—an improved form of the move earth spell—and reinforced to be stronger than any natural stone. Barring any alien influence, the air is renewed by magic and remarkably fresh; a permanent prestidigitation effect keeps these halls clean after thousands of years and untold conflicts… Widespread magic was a part of daily life in Sol Udar.

By contrast, the Dhakaani are exceptional in many ways but DON’T have a tradition of wide magic. From Exploring Eberron: “Dhakaani daashor are the finest weaponsmiths on Khorvaire. Their traditions blend mundane skill and transmutation to create and manipulate remarkable alloys, including adamantine, mithral, and byeshk. Their skill at metallurgy outstrips even House Cannith, and Dhakaani champions often wield weapons forged from such material. Dhakaani equipment is designed for durability and efficiency, rarely gaudy or bejeweled. Likewise, armor is tough and flexible—often with the properties of mithral or adamantine armor—but not dramatic in style. Dhakaani magic items are either created by the daashor (who specialize in armor and weapons) or by gifted duur’kala. Dhakaani magic rarely focuses on evocation effects, and they have no tradition of elemental binding.”

So the Dhakaani make excellent WEAPONS AND ARMOR, but part of that is tied advances in mundane science. Beyond that, the items they have are created by duur’kala, with the key point being that the duur’kala are BARDS—primarily spiritual leaders and diplomats, NOT devoted to manufacturing. So the Dhakaani HAVE magic, but it’s NOT as widespread as magic in the Five Nations—let alone Sol Adar, which is considerably more advanced than the Five Nations. Essentially, the Dhakaani excel at things that are related to WAR… though even there, the point is that they don’t employ siege staffs, airships, or similar magical tools. The Dhakaani daashor make the finest SWORDS on Khorvaire… but they don’t have a strong tradition of WANDS. Now, the catch is that the ancient Dhakaani could create ARTIFACTS, as could the dwarves of Sol Udar. But these artifacts were extremely rare—the weapons of champions and tools of the Marhu—and they didn’t have a strong tradition of EVERYDAY magic.

The Sol Udar dwarves use air refreshing magic to sustain life in the depths… What do the Dhakaani do?

There’s three factors. The first is that the Dar as a species have adapted to thrive in a subterranean environment. Much as creatures in high altitudes adapt to the lower oxygen content, as creatures who evolved in the depths I’d expect Dar to be better suited to the challenges of a deep environment. I wouldn’t see this as having a strong game effect, but if I was running a long-term subterranean campaign and decided to develop environmental effects for bad air, I might give the Dar a ribbon similar to the Goliath’s Mountain Born—”You are acclimated to deep subterranean environments.” Note that I’m specifically saying the DAR—the Dhakaani who have remained in their deep vaults for thousands of years—as opposed to all goblinoids.

With that said, just because the Dar are more capable of surviving in such environments doesn’t mean they don’t need oxygen. I have always assumed that they engineer solutions that can bring fresh air to the depths—that just like creating aqueducts and mundane systems for channeling water, they use mundane (but remarkable) solutions to channel air to the depths. Thinking further, however, there’s a third factor: certain manifest zones and demiplane portals could well serve as oxygen sources in the deeps—and Dhakaani might build around these just as they would build around good sources of water. But the general principle is that while the Dhakaani aren’t as magically adept as some cultures, they are better at many forms of mundane science… which is also why I’ve said that if I was to add traditional firearms to Eberron, I’d start by giving them to the Dhakaani.

How does the Cazhaak Creed view the aberrant creations of the daelkyr, such as the illithid Xorchylic of Graywall? Are they considered children of the Shadow as much as any other aberration?

Through the sourcebooks, we have access to a lot of specific knowledge that people in world don’t have. WE know mind flayers are creations of Dyrrn the Corruptor. But most people—in Breland and Droaam alike—know nothing about mind flayers. For most of the people of Graywall, Xorchyllic is an entirely unique terror. Followers of the Cazhaak faith would likely say “Does it possess awesome powers? Are humans terrified of it? Check, check—seems like a child of the Shadow.”

This ties to the point that the Cazhaak traditions are about FAITH, not fact. If you presented a Cazhaak medusa with absolute proof that they were created by Orlassk, they would say “So what? This Orlassk may have sculpted our bodies, but it was surely the Shadow who guided its hands and who gave it the inspiration; thus, it is the Shadow who is our TRUE creator and who deserves our devotion.” Having said that, knowledge of the daelkyr is certainly present in Droaam. As will be called out in FRAG, the sages of Cazhaak Draal DO know of Orlassk, but they consider it a tyrant they broke free from, not a being they should worship. Again, their point is that it doesn’t matter if Orlassk physically created the first medusa; in doing so, it was merely a tool of the Shadow, and they owe nothing to Orlassk.

Back to the original question, Cazhaak sages who know of the daelkyr will generally extend the same understanding they have of themselves to others. THEY believe that they are children of the Shadow, regardless of any ties they might have to Orlassk. They embrace gargoyles as children of the Shadow, in spite of their ties to Orlassk. Mind flayers, dolgrims—they too are children of the Shadow. But if they choose to serve the daelkyr and seek to destroy other children of the Shadow, then that’s sufficient reason to consider them enemies and destroy them.

What does the release of an overlord due to the Prophecy actually look like? Does it just spontaneously happen, or does it trigger some sort of cascade of events leading up to the release?

The release of an Overlord isn’t instantaneous; it’s simply that once set in motion by the breaking of bonds, it is usually inevitable. So if we imagine the final stage of releasing Sul Khatesh is for the Broken Hero (a PC) to murder Queen Aurala at Arcanix with the Blade of Sorrows, first we’ve had a chain of events to get there. When the event finally occurs and the bonds are broken, SOMETHING will happen immediately—it’s clear that we’re in trouble. In this case, the towers of Arcanix might fall, or the region around Arcanix could be shrouded in supernatural darkness, which spreads over the next few days and weeks as Sul Khatesh regains her power. A concrete example of this comes in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide regarding Bel Shalor:

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. PCs are immune to this passive effect, but it might affect their ability to find allies. Within this sphere of influence, people grow pale and their shadows become clearer and more vivid even in poor lighting, often seeming to move of their own accord. It is said that the shadows conspire against their owners, telling Bel Shalor of their secret plans; you must decide if this claim is true.

The point is that it’s not just “A hole opens up and a big monster hops out!” The physical form of the overlord is just one aspect of it (which comes back to the point that destroying that physical form doesn’t permanently destroy the overlord). The first thing that will be felt is its INFLUENCE. If the bonds of Rak Tulkhesh are broken, the FIRST thing that will happen is that people in his sphere of influence will begin fighting one another. Eventually the Rage of War will physically manifest, but its PRESENCE will be felt before that happens.

Where is House Phiarlan’s Demesne of Shape? Some sources suggest it’s in Thaliost, while others say it’s in Wroat.

Even writers make mistakes, and that’s likely what happened here. However, my answer is “Both.” Thaliost is a crazy place to establish an important facility in the wake of the war. It’s deeply contested occupied territory. Wroat, on the other hand, is a very secure national capital. In my opinion, Viceroy Idal chose Thaliost specifically because they believe that a Phiarlan presence could help maintain peace and understanding in the city and because the Serpentine Table wants a strong Phiarlan enclave in this hotspot. So the Thaliost enclave is the official Demense of Shape. However, a rival within the house has also established an “understudy” Shape facility in Wroat, because they believe that the Thaliost demesne could get burnt down any day now.

How would you make the Kech Draguus distinct from the Draelaes Tairn?

The Kech Draguus is a very deep cut. They weren’t mentioned in Exploring Eberron, and I believe the only canon source for them is a Dragonshard article I wrote, which states “Long ago, a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. Now this Kech Draguus has emerged from hiding. With a corps of half-dragon goblinoids and a few full-blooded dragons at its disposal, the Kech Draguus are poised to reshape Darguun.” The Draleus Tairn, on the other hand, are dragon SLAYERS. Dragons of Eberron has this to say: “The Draleus faith holds that the warrior draws strength from victory, and passes this energy to his ancestors . . . and no victory is greater than the defeat of a dragon.” There are RUMORS that Draleus dragon slayers can gain draconic powers and could become half-dragons, dragon shamans, etc, but those are of course rumors.

So, the two are VERY different. The Draguus are a Dhakaani Kech, which is to say, a tightly disciplined military force. They work WITH dragons, and essentially, they’re the Dhakaani answer to the Targaryens; they are going to employ dragons as living siege engines on the battlefield. Their champions may be half-dragons, but if so they were created with the blessing of their dragon patron, who in all likelihood counsels the leaders of the Kech. As the Dragonshard says, they have an ALLIANCE with dragons. By contrast, if there’s a half-dragon Draleus warrior, they gained that power by killing a dragon and ritually bathing in its blood. There’s no alliance between the Draleus and dragons; rather, they are bitter enemies. Beyond that, as Dragons of Eberron calls out, “The Draleus Tairn rarely socialize with outlanders, or even other elves… due to their isolation and reputation, few elves trouble the dragon slayers.” So the Draleus Tairn are at best isolated warbands, and often LONE INDIVIDUALS pursuing their personal quests… while the Kech Draguus are a militaristic, disciplined city-state.

That’s all for now! If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, you might be able to find the answer on my Patreon. Thanks to my patrons for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: Medusas

The race of medusas was born in Khyber, but two hundred twenty years ago a clan emerged from the darkness and laid claim to the city of Cazhaak Draal in Droaam. The medusas have played an important role in Droaam’s rise as a nation. They are skilled stonemasons and architects, and their deadly gaze attack makes them dangerous warriors and valuable bodyguards.

This is what the original Eberron Campaign Setting had to say about medusas. It followed our general approach of questioning and considering previous assumptions. Traditionally, medusas were monsters, expected to hang around in statue-filled caves waiting for adventurers. But third edition didn’t present them as being created by a curse or otherwise existing in isolation—and further, the mental ability scores of the typical medusa were superior of those to the typical human. So why would these intelligent, powerful creatures hang around dank dungeons waiting to fight adventurers? Why wouldn’t they have a civilization of their own? Beyond this, it was easy to see how medusas could play an important role in Droaam. They’re smarter than humans, let alone ogres—and they have a power that even a gargoyle or minotaur has to respect. Breland might not think much of a city of ogres, but a city of medusas is a force anyone has to take seriously.

I expanded on the medusas of Eberron in this Dragonshard article, which added a few additional twists. The medusas of Cazhaak Draal use their serpent manes as secondary eyes, allowing them to see while their primary eyes are closed or covered. They’ve developed a language called Serpentine, which uses the hisses and motions of their serpents. Medusas can petrify other medusas (something that has varied by edition) though they’ve developed a ritual to negate the effects of their gaze. Within their own culture they use petrification as a tool, preserving elders or mortally wounded medusas. However, this article leaves many questions unanswered… a situation further complicated by the constantly shifting lore about medusas. Sharn: City of Towers has male medusas with the same capabilities (serpents, petrification) as females, while non-Eberron lore in some editions presents male medusas as a divergent species with entirely different abilities. Fifth edition presents medusas as isolated individuals rather than a distinct species; in 5E, medusas (male or female) are created as the result of a curse and they have no culture.

Eberron has always diverged from default lore; just look at gnolls, drow, and mind flayers. The fact that the default lore of medusas has changed in fifth edition doesn’t make any difference, because Eberron wasn’t using the lore of previous editions either; again, in S:CoT we have the male medusa Harash, who’s notably not a maedar. The medusas of Eberron are the medusas of Eberron: a unique species who emerged from Khyber to found a city-state on the surface, and who possess a distinct culture and language. In Eberron, vanity alone can’t make you a medusa. Which is fine, but it leaves many questions unanswered. Keep in mind that—like all of these articles—all of what I’m about to say is what I do in my Eberron campaign. Nothing here is canon, and it’s entirely possible I will contradict canon sources. This is how I use medusas; it’s a suggestion, not a fact.

What’s so interesting about medusas?

There’s many things I like about medusas.

  • They’re traditionally encountered as lone monsters, and I love turning that around and exploring the idea of medusas as a civilized people. Along with the Venomous Demesne, they have a sophisticated culture that predates Droaam, and they’re a power bloc the Daughters want to keep as allies.
  • Many of the creatures of Droaam—ogres, trolls—are creatures that rely on brute force. Medusas are more intelligent than humans. They’re an excellent tool for getting across the point that these things humans consider to be monsters may be alien, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.
  • At the same time, medusas ARE very alien, and I like exploring that. I like digging deeper into the serpent mane, and in playing up ways that human assumptions about them can be very off-base.
  • Medusas are POWERFUL and dangerous. The mere threat of their gaze is enough to change the dynamics of a conversation.
  • The Cazhaak medusas are a very spiritual people, and are the primary priests of the dominant religion in Droaam—a religion based on deities humanity fears. This is another source of power and potential story hooks, and something that can give a medusa goals that run counter to those of Droaam; Zerasha of Graywall places the her duty to the Shadow above the desires of the Daughters.

All of these things combined can make medusas excellent ambassadors, enigmatic priests, or Daask commanders. They can enforce order among dangerous and diverse minions, but they aren’t inherently bloodthirsty or brutish. They are a truly alien species, and for people who have never actually dealt with them before it’s fun to play with expectations and fears.

Where do the medusas of Eberron come from? Were they created by Orlassk?

The Cazhaak creed asserts that the Sovereigns created and cultivated weak creatures that they could dominate—pathetic, powerless creatures, like humans. It was the Shadow who gave the blessed creatures—those humans call “monsters”—their gifts. The oldest medusa myths maintain that their ancestors were slaves in the depths of Khyber—enslaved by a “stone tyrant,” most likely the daelkyr Orlassk—and that the Shadow gave them their powers and inspired them to break the yoke of their oppression and claim their freedom. Keep in mind that these are myths, passed down through oral tradition for centuries before they were even concretely codified. Gatekeepers and many modern scholars assert that it was most likely Orlaask who actually created the medusas, blending humans (Explorers? Some sort of colony?) with basilisks. But religion is about faith; even if they were presented with absolute concrete proof that Orlaask created the first medusa by merging a human and a basilisk, a medusa would say that Orlaask was simply a pawn guided by the Shadow, and that it was the Shadow who gave their ancestors the strength to rebel against the Stone Tyrant. The Cazhaak medusas know that they are children of the Shadow, and simple facts won’t shake this faith.

Regardless of the truth, the medusas are a relatively young species. In describing Cazhaak Draal, the Eberron Campaign Setting says that Cazhaak Draal “was abandoned after the daelkyr released a horde of basilisks, gorgons, and cockatrices from the depths of Khyber.” Note the lack of medusas in that description. Medusas generally resemble humans more than they do hobgoblins or dwarves (let alone gnolls), and their first historical appearance on the surface world is when they emerge to claim Cazhaak Draal. It seems likely that as a species, medusas are little over a thousand years old. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that there is a second culture of medusas that has yet to be encountered by humans—medusas who remained servants of the Stone Tyrant. So explorers in Khyber could discover a city of medusas still devoted to Orlaask, who know nothing of the Shadow or the Cazhaak creed.

What is the life cycle of medusas in your Eberron?

First of all, in my campaign maedar—the serpentless “male medusas”—are an entirely separate species. Fourth edition presented them as having a “venomous gaze” and I’d be more inclined to use these scaly, venomous humanoids as creations of the overlord Masvirik, the Cold Sun—an overlord noted for reptilian traits and poison. The medusas of Eberron are defined by their serpent mane and their petrifying gaze.

Cazhaak medusas can have a masculine or feminine appearance. Thus we have Queen Sheshka, but also the medusa Harash in Sharn, who is described as male. The majority of medusas—around 80%—have a feminine appearance. However, the fact is that medusa physiology is nothing like that of humanity and that this presumption of gender is misleading. “Female” medusas may have a feminine shape, but they don’t suckle their young and don’t actually have mammary glands. Medusa myths suggest that they were created (whether by Orlaask or the Shadow) from another humanoid species, and most likely their silhouette is an artifact of that forgotten past.

Medusa reproduction is nothing like human reproduction, and any two medusas can reproduce. After a period of foreplay that causes key chemicals to be released, two medusas entwine their serpent manes. They bite one another’s serpents, and those bitten in this way fall off of the head. The entwined, impregnated serpents undergo a metamorphosis, merging together into leathery “eggs,” eventually releasing a young medusa that blends the traits of both parents. A stranger aspect of this lifecycle is that there’s no absolute assurance how long it will take for a medusa’s egg to mature. It takes at least a year, but it’s not uncommon for an egg to take anywhere up to ten years to hatch… and some eggs never produce a child. Many medusas believe that a child has to want to emerge. Eggs are typically buried in warm sand, and it’s not uncommon for one parent to tend to their brood, singing to the eggs each night; it’s this caregiver who the medusas would call the “mother,” even though they don’t carry the children directly. This slow gestation is offset by a long lifespan. Medusas can live between three hundred to four hundred years before falling victim to old age; There are many medusas in Cazhaak Draal who were part of the expedition that originally claimed the city.

When interacting with other humanoids, medusas often adopt the pronouns people typically associate with their appearance; thus, Sheshka is a queen and uses she/her pronouns. However, the Serpentine language doesn’t use gendered terms. In Serpentine, Sheshka is simply leader, not queen.

Where did the medusas live before Cazhaak Draal? Do they live there still?

The medusas have never been a widespread or numerous people. Their myths speak of a long period of nomadic wandering following their escape from the Stone Tyrant, and describe periods of settlement in what seem to be different demiplanes—periods that always end in disaster, with the medusas being forced to move on. This exodus came to an end when they settled in a Dhakaani city deep below the surface, a vault whose keepers were slain long ago. The medusas call this city Niaanu Draal, the Mother City, and it was here that they wrote down their myths and established the traditions they carry on today. They remained in Niaanu Draal for over two centuries, before this, too, ended in tragedy. The forces of a daelkyr drove the medusas from Niaanu Draal. These enemies could not (or would not) follow the medusas to the surface, and so they came to Cazhaak Draal and claimed it as their home.

Which daelkyr did they fight? It’s possible that it was Orlaask, that the minions of the Stone Tyrant sought to reclaim its former subjects. It could be that Belashyrra was offended by these creatures with their deadly gaze, or that the crawling hordes of Valaara overran the Mother City. This battle took place centuries ago, and ultimately it only matters if a DM wants to run a story related to Niaanu Draal; as a DM, if you want to tell that story, it’s up to you to decide which daelkyr best suits the needs of your campaign. Note that this isn’t a mystery to the medusas themselves; there are medusa elders who took part in the battle, along with petrified elders who once lived in Niaanu Draal. It’s simply that there’s no reason for me to lock in a specific daelkyr here, when a different daelkyr might serve your story better. The medusas faced a great enemy they couldn’t defeat, but it has left them alone ever since. Given the enigmatic nature of the daelkyr, it’s entirely possible that this exodus was the daelkyr’s goal all along… that for some reason it wanted the medusas to rise up from Khyber.

Has Sheshka always been the Queen of Cazhaak Draal? If not, how did she gain the title?

It wasn’t Sheshka who led the medusas to Cazhaak Draal. In the novel The Queen of Stone, a warrior who’s been petrified for over a century recognizes Sheshka as “Lady Sheshka” and is surprised to discover that she is now queen. Sheshka inherited her title, but it is about more than just bloodline. Also from The Queen of Stone

“It’s not as simple as it seems.” Sheshka’s hand brushed against the silver collar that hung around her neck. “I am Sheshka, the Queen of Stone. To you, that may seem an arrogant title, an affectation of a woman who governs a city smaller than your Wroat or Passage. But it is not just a title of nobility: it is a statement of fact. I am the Queen of Stone. I hear the whisper of marble and granite…”

Essentially, Sheshka is the Queen of Stone because she IS the Queen of Stone. In a sense this is similar to the Keeper of the Flame. Medusas have varying degrees of natural affinity for stone. The regalia of the queen—the pendant Sheshka wears—amplifies this gift, but only one with the gift can attune to the collar. If Sheshka were to be killed, the medusas would search among their people for another with this gift—starting with Sheshka’s relatives, but continuing until a suitable medusa is found. So it’s as much a theocracy as it is a monarchy; Sheshka is considered to be blessed by the Shadow.

How do you see a medusa’s gaze working in general interactions. 5e’s gaze feature indiscriminately tries to petrify any qualifying targets in range…

Not exactly. Let’s look at the text…

When a creature that can see the medusa’s eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature…

There’s nothing indiscriminate about this. The medusa CAN force the creature to make a saving throw as long as the medusa can see the target, but it doesn’t HAVE to. My interpretation of this isn’t that a medusa can somehow make it safe for other creatures to look it in the eye, but rather that it’s a simple enough matter for a medusa to avoid meeting another creature’s gaze, using any of the methods I describe in this article. Notably, I still maintain that a medusa only petrifies with its primary eyes, and it can close them (or wear eyeblinders or a blindfold) and use its serpent mane for vision. In 3.5 I assigned a -2 penalty when a medusa uses its serpents for vision, and that’s an option here (fifth edition rarely does penalties, but disadvantage feels too severe). On the other hand, it’s also reasonable to say that the fifth edition medusa can choose not to petrify creatures, and that it does this by closing its main eyes and using its serpents—and therefore apply no penalty for doing so.

Fifth edition also says…

If the medusa sees itself reflected on a polished surface within 30 feet of it and in an area of bright light, the medusa is, due to its curse, affected by its own gaze.

I’m ambivalent about this. It seems very vague and ill-defined compared to the very specific degree of control the medusa has in dealing with enemies. A medusa can choose not to look at an adventurer (not forcing them to make a saving throw)—if that adventurer is holding a mirror, I’d assume it can avoid looking at that, too? I’m not adverse to the idea that a medusa could be affected by its own gaze—as the article suggests, medusas can petrify other medusas—but I think they’d be VERY used to the risks and good at avoiding them; and they’d be able to avoid the threat completely by closing their main eyes (or blindfold) and seeing through their serpents. I’d also hold closely to that “polished surface” and say that they don’t get petrified by, for example, looking at rhe rippling surface of a glass of water. So I’m fine with saying that if there’s a really well-executed plan it is POSSIBLE to petrify a medusa with their own gaze, but that it’s not something you can do casually by just wearing a mirror around your neck.

Cazhaak Draal is noted as being the spiritual center of Droaam. Do the medusas have an arcane tradition as well, and if so, what is that like?

The Cazhaak medusas have an arcane tradition. They are devoted to the Shadow, and the Shadow is a deity of KNOWLEDGE; according to Cazhaak myths, it was the Shadow who taught Aureon all that he knows. However, the Shadow is also about personal ambition and power, and rather than developing a shared system of arcane science that can support wizards and artificers (as seen in the Venomous Demesne), Cazhaak Draal is more a collection of individuals following their own secret paths to power.

Cazhaak Draal has both magewrights and adepts. Medusas have a natural affinity for stone, and their spellcasters often cast spells (or rituals) related to stone, earth, or poison. Cazhaak Draal thus has a strong corps of magewrights capable of casting mold earth and stone shape; working together and using arcane focuses they can cast move earth. More sophisticated spellcasters generally follow the model of bards (most often Whispers), sorcerers (typically Shadow or Storm), or warlocks (potentially any). In the case of warlocks, most Cazhaak warlocks believe their powers flow from the Shadow; they might have the powers of an Archfey of Great Old One patron, but those are the gifts the Shadow has bestowed upon them. However, medusa warlocks believe that the Shadow’s gift was connecting them TO their patron, and you could find a medusa warlock dealing with an archfey, a dao, or some other patron. The main point is that such spellcasters are remarkable individuals, each blazing their own trail—and thus, Cazhaak Draal overall doesn’t have the arcane infrastructure of the Venomous Demesne.

Does it bother you that mythologically, Medusa was a specific gorgon, while in D&D, medusas are a species and gorgons are an entirely different, unrelated creature?

Not really. D&D is full of such flawed mythological analogues. Greek Mythology is as irrelevant to the medusas of Eberron as the default lore of third or fourth edition. The medusas of Eberron are an alien species that share a name and a few cosmetic traits with medusa and the gorgons of mythology. (As a side note, I’ve always loved the name Euryale—one of Medusa’s sisters.)

In conclusion… What I enjoy about medusas is that they alien and intelligent, that they are spiritual but devoted to a tradition humanity shuns. Cazhaak Draal is a distinct faction within Droaam that has considerable power and influence, and I enjoy exploring its relationship with the Daughters. And I like the dramatic weight that comes with the medusa’s gaze, especially when dealing with a medusa in a non-combat situation.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who requested this topic and who are the only reason I can taker the time to write these articles!

Dragonmarks: Common Knowledge

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. One question that often comes up is “What do people in the world actually know about (subject)?” As players and DMs, we have access to a tome of absolute knowledge that tells us all about the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, the Empire of Dhakaan, and so on. We know that characters may know about these things if they have appropriate proficiencies and make successful skill checks. But what do people know WITHOUT making any skill checks? What things are just common knowledge?

This article reflects the common knowledge of a citizen of the Five Nations. Common knowledge will vary by culture, and I can’t account for every possible variation. People in Stormreach are more familiar with drow than people in Fairhaven. Shadow Marchers will have heard of the Gatekeepers, while Karrns won’t have. In general, you can assume that things that have a direct impact on the lives of people living in a region will be part of common knowledge. For example, the people of the Mror Holds don’t know a lot about the daelkyr in general, but they DO know about Dyrrn the Corruptor, because they’ve been fighting him for decades and he signed his name with Dyrrn’s Promise in 943 YK. So determining what things are common knowledge will often require the use of common sense.

With that said, the people of the Five Nations can be assumed to know the following things.

Planes, Moons, and Manifest Zones. Everyone knows the names of the planes and the moons, and the basic attributes of the planes (IE, Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and is filled with celestials and fiends fighting). Think of this a little like knowledge of the planets of the solar system in our world; most people can name the planets and know that Mars is the Red Planet, but only someone who’s studied them can tell you the names of all of the moons of Jupiter. The main point is that the planes have real, concrete effects on the world through their manifest zones and coterminous/remote phases, and people understand these things. A common person may not be able to tell you the precise effects of a Shavarath manifest zone unless they actually live by one, but they know Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and could GUESS what such a manifest zone might do.

The Creation Myth. Everyone knows the basic story: Khyber, Eberron, and Siberys created the planes. Khyber killed Siberys and scattered his pieces in the sky, creating the Ring of Siberys. Eberron enfolded Khyber and became the world. Whether people believe this is literally true or a metaphor, everyone knows the myth and everyone understands that magic comes from Siberys, natural creatures come from Eberron, and fiends and other evil things come from Khyber.

The Sovereign Myth. The Sovereign Host is deeply ingrained into daily life in the Five Nations. Even if you don’t BELIEVE in the Sovereigns, you know the names and basic attributes of the Nine and Six. Likewise, everyone knows the basic story that in the dawn of time the world was ruled by demons; that the Sovereigns fought them; and that the demons were bound. The Dark Six are largely only known by their titles—The Mockery, the Keeper—and their original names are something that would only be known by someone with a tie to a relevant cult or with proficiency in History.

The Silver Flame. Tied to this, everyone knows the idea that the Silver Flame is the force that binds demons. People do NOT know where it came from. Many vassals assume the Sovereigns created the Silver Flame. Those who follow the faith assert it is a celestial force that is strengthened by noble souls.

Dragons. Everyone knows that dragons exist and that they are terrifying and powerful creatures. People know stories of dragons guarding hoards of treasure, and if you’re from Thrane you know of the Bane of Thrane, the dragon who slew Prince Thrane. There are also a few stories about heroes making bargains with dragons, or dragons possessing secret knowledge. People know that Argonnessen is a land of dragons, but they know almost nothing about it beyond “Here there be dragons” and the fact that people who go there don’t come back. Some people know that dragons occasionally attack Aerenal, and know that the giants of Xen’drik were destroyed in some sort of war with dragons. So everyone knows that dragons exist; that they are extremely powerful; and that they can be deadly threats or enigmatic advisors. Most people don’t ever expect to see a dragon. The idea that there are dragons secretly manipulating humanity is a conspiracy theory on par with the idea that many world leaders in our world are secretly reptilian aliens; there are certainly people who believe it, but sensible people don’t take it seriously.

Evil Exists. Everyone knows that there are fiends, undead, aberrations, and lycanthropes in the world. They know that ghouls may haunt graveyards, that the creepy stranger in town could be a vampire or a werewolf, and that dangerous things could crawl out of Khyber at any time. This is why the Silver Flame exists and why templars are generally treated with respect even by people who don’t follow the Silver Flame; people understand that evil exists and that the templars are a volunteer militia who are ready to fight it.

The Overlords and the Lords of Dust. Everyone knows that the overlords were archfiends who dominated the world at the beginning of time. Regardless of whether you believe in the Sovereigns or respect the Flame, you know that the overlords are real because one broke out and ravaged Thrane a few centuries ago. Most people have heard stories of a few of the overlords and may know their titles—the Shadow in the Flame is the one most people have heard of—but would need to make checks to know more. But critically, everyone knows that there are bound archfiends that would like to get out and wreck things.

Most people have never heard of “The Lords of Dust.” People have certainly heard stories of shapeshifting demons causing trouble and know that this is a real potential threat, but the idea that there is a massive conspiracy that has been manipulating human civilization for thousands of years is up there with the idea that dragons have been doing the same thing. If you have credible proof that someone in town is actually a fiend or is possessed by a fiend, people will take the threat seriously; people know that such threats can be real. But few people actually believe that there’s a massive conspiracy that secretly controls the course of history, because if so, why haven’t they done anything more dramatic with it?

As a side point to this, most COMMON PEOPLE don’t differentiate between devil, demon, and fiend and treat these as synonyms. People know of rakshasas as “shapeshifting demons,” even though an arcane scholar might say “Well, ACTUALLY ‘demon’ refers specifically to an incarnate entity of chaos and evil, and the rakshasa is a unique class of fiend most commonly found on the material plane.” But the Demon Wastes could be called “The Fiend Wastes;” in this context, “Demon” is a general term.

Khyber and the Daelkyr. Tied to the creation myth and to the idea that evil exists, people know that BAD THINGS COME FROM KHYBER. They don’t know about demiplanes, but they know that if you find a deep hole there might be something bad at the bottom of it. Critically, most people just know that THE DRAGON BELOW IS THE SOURCE OF BAD THINGS and don’t actually differentiate between aberrations, fiends, and monstrosities. This is why the Cults of the Dragon Below are called “The Cults of the Dragon Below” even though a cult of Dyrrn the Corruptor really has nothing in common with a cult of Sul Khatesh; as far as the common people are concerned, they are cults that worship big evil things, and big evil things come from Khyber, hence, cult of the Dragon Below.

With this in mind, most common people don’t have a clear understanding of what a “daelkyr” is. Anyone who’s proficient with Arcana or History has a general understanding of the difference between the daelkyr and the overlords without needing to make a skill check. But for the common person, they are both powerful evil things that are bound in Khyber.

Fey and Archfey. Everyone knows that the fey exist. Everyone knows about dryads and sprites, and everyone knows that they’re especially common near manifest zones to Thelanis. Beyond this, everyone know FAIRY TALES about fey and archfey, and knows that there’s some basis to these stories. So people know STORIES about the Lady in Shadow and the Forest Queen, and they know that somewhere in the planes, you might actually be able to meet the Forest Queen. But they don’t actually EXPECT to every meet one. Most people have no way to easily differentiate between an archfey and some other type of powerful immortal. Notably, you could easily have a cult of the Dragon Below that’s bargaining with Sul Khatesh but BELIEVES it is bargaining with an archfey, or a cult of Avassh that thinks it’s blessed by the Forest Queen. If a cult worships “The Still Lord” or “The Queen of Shadows”, they don’t have some kind of special key that tells them whether that power is a fiend, a fey, or a celestial; that distinction is ACADEMIC, and would require a skill check.

Specific knowledge of the fey is more prevalent in regions that are close to Thelanis manifest zones or where people have a tradition of bargaining with the fey; notably, Aundairians know more about fey than most people of the Five Nations.

The Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Everyone knows that when you dream you go to Dal Quor. Everyone accepts the idea that “There are demons that give you bad dreams!” Very few people believe that those fiends are manipulating the world. People have had bad dreams FOREVER. If bad-dream-demons were going to take over the world, why haven’t they already done it? As with the Lords of Dust, people will listen to credible threats that a specific person could be possessed, but few will believe stories of a massive dream conspiracy bent on world domination.

Looking to Sarlona and the Inspired, everyone knows that the Riedrans have a strict culture and they’re ruled by beings who they say are channeling celestial powers. Few people have ever met a Riedran, let alone one of the Inspired. Those who have met kalashtar (which for the most part only happens in major cities) know that the kalashtar have been oppressed and driven from Sarlona, but largely assume this is about political and religious differences, not a war between dream-spirits. It’s relatively common knowledge that people from Sarlona study some form of mind-magic, but most people don’t know the precise details of how psionics are different from arcane or divine magic.

The Aurum. While it’s a stretch to say that everyone’s heard of the Aurum, it’s about as well known as, say, Mensa in our world. It’s generally seen as an exclusive fraternal order of extremely wealthy people. Because it IS exclusive and because many of its members are minor local celebrities, there are certainly lots of conspiracies theories about what it’s REALLY up to… but even if there’s people who SAY that the Aurum wants to overthrow the Twelve or that it engineered the Last War, at the end of the day people know it’s that fancy members-only club on Main Street that always donates generously to the Race of Eight Winds celebrations.

Secondary Religions. Aside from the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host, most of the other religious are relatively regional. The Blood of Vol is the best known of the secondary religions because of the role it played in Karrnath during the Last War, but outside of Karrnath most people think it’s some sort of Karrnathi death cult. Everyone knows druids exist, and the Wardens of the Wood are relatively well known because of their central role in the Eldeen Reaches, but the other sects are largely unknown outside of the areas where they operate; the Ashbound are likely the second best known sect because of sensationalized reports of their violent actions. The Path of Light is largely unknown aside from people who have direct interaction with kalashtar.

Goblins and the Empire of Dhakaan. Everyone in the Five Nations knows that goblins were on Khorvaire before humanity, and that they had an empire that fell long ago. Most people don’t know the name of this empire or exactly how it fell. People generally recognize Dhakaani ruins as being goblin creations, and know that many of the largest cities of Khorvaire are built on goblin foundations, but there’s certainly a lunatic fringe that asserts that those structures are clearly too sophisticated to be goblin work and must have been built by some forgotten human civilization. However, most people understand that these “forgotten human” stories are ridiculous conspiracy theories, on par with the idea that shapeshifted dragons are secretly manipulating the world.

The History of Xen’drik. People know that Xen’drik was home to a civilization of giants. Most people believe that the giants were destroyed in a war with the dragons. Many people know that the elves were originally from Xen’drik and fled this destruction. Without History proficiency, most people do NOT know the name of any of the giant cultures or that there were more than one, and they definitely don’t know anything about giants fighting quori. The idea that arrogant giants destroyed the thirteenth moon is a common folk tale, but it has many forms and it’s something most people know as a serious fact.

Spies. When people in the Five Nations talk about spies, they’re usually thinking of The Dark Lanterns or the Royal Eyes of Aundair. Both are well known spy agencies known to operate covertly in other nations, similar to the CIA and KGB during the height of our cold war. Most people in the Five Nations have heard of the Trust and understand that it’s some sort of secret police force that maintains order in Zilargo, but don’t know much more than that and they aren’t concerned about Zil spies. House Phiarlan and House Thuranni are known as providers of ENTERTAINMENT and aren’t generally seen as spies. The assertion that Phiarlan runs a ring of spies is like the idea that Elvis worked for the CIA; not IMPOSSIBLE, but not something people see as a particularly credible threat.

Exotic Player Species. Most people know that drow come from Xen’drik. People know that lizardfolk and dragonborn come from Q’barra, but most people in Khorvaire don’t know that these are two different species. Tieflings are generally understood to be planetouched; as discussed in Exploring Eberron, aasimar are generally so rare that they won’t be recognized by the general populace. With that said, overall people are fairly accepting of species they’ve never encountered. In a world where people DO deal with humans, orcs, shifters, goblins, warforged, elves, kalashtar, ogres, medusas, and more every day, people who’ve never seen a goliath before are more likely to say “Huh, never seen that before” than to panic because it’s some sort of alien giant-man; exotic characters will generally be targets of curiosity rather than fear.

Dragonmarks and Aberrant Dragonmarks. The dragonmarks have been part of civilization for over a thousand years. The houses provide the major services that are part of everyday life. Everyone in the Five Nations knows the names of the houses and the common twelve marks. Without proficiency in History, people won’t have heard of the Mark of Death. Common knowledge is that aberrant dragonmarks are dangerous to both the bearer and the people around them, and are often seen as the “touch of Khyber.” Without proficiency in History, they won’t know much about the War of the Mark, aside from the fact that the aberrants were dangerous and destroyed the original city of Sharn.

The Draconic Prophecy. Most people have heard of “The Draconic Prophecy” but know almost nothing about it aside from the fact that it’s, y’know, a prophecy. When such people talk about the Prophecy, what they’re usually talking about is the Caldyn Fragments, a collection of pieces of the Prophecy assembled by Korranberg scholar Ohnal Caldyn (described in City of Stormreach). Most people definitely don’t understand that it’s an evolving matrix of conditional elements or that it’s the key to releasing the overlords.

Aerenal, the Undying Court, and the Tairnadal. Aerenal is an isolationist culture that has little interest in sharing its traditions with others. However, the elves do trade with the Five Nations and there’s been enough immigration over the course of history to provide a general knowledge of their culture. Most people know that Aerenal is ruled by the Undying Court, and that the Undying Court is made up of ancient undead elves. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of the difference between deathless and other undead. In Five Nations, most people have never heard of “Tairnadal” and assume any Tairnadal elf is from Valenar. They know that Valenar elves are deadly warriors who are always looking for fights and who worship their ancestors, but they don’t know any specifics about patron ancestors or the Keepers of the Past.

Q&A

What do most people believe about the connection between shifters and lycanthropes?

Most people believe that there is some sort of distant connection between shifters and lycanthropes. Shifters are often called “weretouched,” and some people mistakenly believe that they get wild when many moons are full. However, few people few people believe that shifters are capable of spreading lycanthropy or are sympathetic to lycanthropes. Those negative stereotypes exist, especially in rural Aundair or places where people have never actually SEEN shifters, but they’re not common.

What do followers of the Silver Flame believe about the Sovereigns? What does the Church teach about them? Is it normal to venerate both, at least among the laity? Do they even believe the Sovereigns exist?

Nothing in the doctrine of the Church of the Silver Flame denies the existence of the Sovereigns. It’s entirely possible to follow both religions simultaneously, and templars are happy to work with paladins of the Host. However, the point is that the Church of the Silver Flame doesn’t CARE if the Sovereigns exist. Their general attitude is that if the Sovereigns exist, they are vast powers that are maintaining the world overall. Arawai makes sure there’s rain for the crops. Onatar watches over foundries. That’s all great, but SOMEONE HAS TO DEAL WITH THE GHOULS IN THE GRAVEYARD. It’s notable that the Church of the Silver Flame, for example, doesn’t have a unique creation myth because at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER where the world came from, what matters is that the people who live in it are threatened by supernatural evil and we need to work together to protect them.

I’ve said before that the Church of the the Silver Flame is more like the Jedi or the Men in Black than any religion in our world. It is EXTREMELY PRACTICAL. Evil exists, and good people should fight it. The Silver Flame is a real, concrete source of celestial energy that can empower champions to fight evil. Noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, so be virtuous. If you want to believe in some sort of higher beings beyond that, feel free. What’s important is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil, and faith in the Flame will help you to do that. So the Church doesn’t teach anything about the Sovereigns and it doesn’t encourage its followers to believe in them or incorporate them into its services in any way, but it doesn’t specifically deny that they exist or forbid followers from holding both beliefs.

That’s all for now! Feel free to ask about other general information topics in the comments, but I won’t have time to address every topic. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters who make these articles possible!

Dragonmarks: Avassh, the Twister of Roots


You call her the Twister of Roots, for you cannot see the beauty in her works. Open your mind and your body to the Bloody Cornucopia. Let her plant her seeds in your thoughts and your fertile flesh and show you wonders you cannot imagine.

Avassh is the terraformer of the daelkyr. Poisonous blooms unfold at its touch, and fungus spreads in its wake. Dhaakani accounts of the wars against the daelkyr speak of blighted fields where rotting crops rise up to consume the farmers, and jungles where the screaming trees drink goblin blood through barbed roots. The Dhakaani on the western frontier had to burn their dead to ensure that the corpses didn’t rise again, overflowing with fungal blooms. Those Dhakaani facing Avassh were ordered to be extraordinarily vigilant. Terrifying as Dyrrn’s mind flayers may be, when an illithid is slain the threat is over. Avassh’s minions often scatter spores when they are destroyed; unless preventative measures are taken, a single shambling mound could give birth to a new legion. The Gatekeeper druids helped the Dhakaani to contain Avassh’s influence, but there weren’t enough druids to protect the vast empire; in many regions, fields and forests had to be razed to utterly expunge this alien threat.

Today Avassh is bound in Khyber, and mercifully, its influence is severely restricted. Avassh is most active in the Towering Woods of the Eldeen Reaches; the Wardens of the Wood watch for its general influence, while the Children of Winter contain its threats in the Gloaming. However, it’s quite possible it has a foothold in some of the other vast untamed jungles of Khorvaire—or that adventurers could discover an alien oasis beneath the surface. Beyond this, there are seeds that were scattered across Khorvaire thousands of years ago still waiting for the right moment (or cult rituals) to bear deadly fruit. Some sages believe that the Barrens of western Khorvaire—the area now known as Droaam—was brutally defoliated to counter the influence of Avassh, and if so there may be many forgotten seeds there waiting to be recovered and cultivated.

THE TWISTER OF ROOTS

Avassh doesn’t embody mortal fears of nature; rather, it transforms nature to create alien terrors. This transformation appears to be the primary motivation of the daelkyr. Many of Avassh’s creations are deadly threats. Blights will kill creatures of flesh and corrupt natural vegetation. The compelling scent of Avassh’s blooms may be poisonous, or could carry a more insidious threat—psychic spores that take root as powerful psychoses. But some of the things that Avassh has created, while certainly unnatural, are actually quite useful. Brightwort is a faintly luminescent plant that is immensely useful in the creation of potions of healing or vitality. Most casual botanists assume that brightwort is connected to Irian—like Araam’s Crown, another potent medicinal herb. But unlike Araam’s Crown, brightwort doesn’t grow in Irian manifest zones, and there’s nothing natural about the way this herb promotes flesh to knit and blood to clot. Avassh’s creations will be unlike anything that exists in OUR world, but it’s possible these alien resources can be harnessed to serve the greater good. Avassh doesn’t care if its plants help you are harm you. Avassh is reshaping the world in its image, and whether or not you thrive in this new environment is incidental.

Brightwort is a fairly minor and benevolent example of Avassh’s work. Other creations of the Twister of Roots range from dangerous to bizarre. The classic mandrake—a plant with a human-shaped root that screams when it’s dug up—could definitely be in Avassh’s garden. Carnivorous plants, flowers that smell like your most painful memories, angry trees with razor leaves—these are just a few of Avassh’s creations. Consider these possibilities…

  • Mourning Roses. These flowers cry in the darkness, a haunting sob designed to lure people. The thorns on its vines are charged with a powerful venom; those who search for the source of the cries will usually fall prey to the poison, and their corpses will fertilize the roses. The plant only cries when it is in bloom, and it is actually a psychic effect rather that actual sound; the voice feels familiar, even though it’s impossible to identify.
  • Bone Orchards. Bone orchards sprout from humanoid bones. They appear to be dead trees, with closely interlaced, leafless boughs. However, their bark has the texture of bone. The trees feed on the last vestiges of spirit that linger in the bones that spawned them. A bone tree counts as the source corpse for purposes of speak with dead, and even without the spell, the whispers of the dead can often be heard in a bone orchard. These are typically found on ancient Dhakaani battlefields or mass graves, but new orchards can be found in areas with active Avassh cults or places close to the daelkyr’s prison.
  • Tree of Knowledge. Each of these trees is unique—deciduous in appearance, but often strange in color and texture. A tree of knowledge might appear to be made of glass, or it could bleed if its bark is cut. As its name suggests, the fruit of a tree of knowledge imparts information, something the person who consumes the fruit knows to be absolutely true. Each tree holds a particular piece of knowledge, and it’s possible that this information could be entirely useful; a tree of knowledge could grant understanding of the Goblin language, or proficiency with woodcarver’s tools. But a tree could also grant absolute understanding of secrets mortals weren’t meant to know—secrets that might drive someone to start a cult devoted to the Twister of Roots, for example. This is often how Avassh cults spread, and NPCs may be powerless to resist such infection. However, if a player character encounters such fruit, they should be granted a Wisdom save to resist its effects (which are to be charmed by other Avassh cultists), and be able to repeat the saving throw if they are harmed by Avassh cultists and after each long rest.

These are just a few examples. The Twister of Roots also creates many plant monsters, described in the Forces section below.

THE BLOODY CORNUCOPIA

While Avassh creates new foms of plantlife, it also explores the line between animal and vegetable, often creating strange hybrids of the two. This can be reflected by its symbionts (see the Gifts section below), but it often involves an actual transformation rather than the use of a temporary symbiont. Most cultists welcome such transformations, seeing it as ascension to a higher state. Here’s a few examples of cult transformations.

  • Wooden Soldiers. While the cultist appears normal, beneath the skin their muscles become flexible roots and their organs transform into wood. These wooden soldiers use the statistics of warforged. They don’t have the ability to attach armor, but they gain the +1 AC bonus of Integrated Protection while wearing armor and when they are wearing no armor they have an AC of 13 + their Dex Modifier. They are considered to be both plants and aberrations.
  • Rootbound. The cultists become bound to a wooden object—typically a living tree, but there are cases where cultists have been bound to the wooden structure of a building. These cultists cannot venture more than a few miles from the object they are bound to. They use the statistics of dryads, but are considered to be plants and aberrations rather than fey, and speak both the languages they knew in their prior life and Deep Speech. Rootbound dryads can’t cast druidcraft or shillelagh, but they know the primal savagery and acid splash cantrips (spitting the acids from their mouths). The rootbound’s “Fey Charm” can target one humanoid and up to three plants or aberrations at a time; it doesn’t affect beasts.
  • Dolgaunts. While Avassh has servitors with the abilities of dolgaunts, they are quite different from those created by Dyrrn the Corruptor. Avassh’s dolgaunts begin with a seed being implanted in the spine of a cultist. The seed grows and spreads roots throughout the cultist’s body; two of these pierce the skin, becoming the long tentacles of the dolgaunt. The cultist’s eyes turn into dead wood, and are eventually pushed out of their sockets by roots. By this point, the original cultist is dead and what’s left is a dolgaunt servant of Avassh. These dolgaunts are both plant and aberration.
  • Myconids. There have been a few cases of cults that have voluntarily infected themselves with a consuming fungus and become myconids. These cults are often peaceful, interested only in their own fungal communion; however, they may decide to aggressively share this bliss with others. Avassh myconids are discussed further under Forces.

THE FORCES OF AVASSH

Avassh’s cults typically begin with a seed. Sometimes this is a relic of the Dhakaani conflict that suddenly sprouts—perhaps watered by a particular emotion or simply by contact with humanoids. In other cases a cultist might be compelled to perform rituals that create the seed without truly knowing what they are doing. The form of the cult depends on what seed they have sprouted. Cults that know Avassh as the Bloody Cornucopia are similar to Dyrrn’s Transcendent Flesh cults, yearning for an unnatural transformation. Cults that know Avassh as the Twister of Roots may cultivate deadly gardens. It could be that this is all that they do—that they cultivate a garden of mourning roses but have no sinister plans—or it could be that they are tending a blood mother (see below), caring for it until it can unleash a blight.

Transformed cultists have been described above, but here are other creations of the Twister of Roots. These forces could be found working with cults, or could be encountered on their own in regions influenced by Avassh.

Blights. Blights are a bioweapon originally unleashed against Dhakaan. Blights kill humanoids and transform the vegetation of their region, spreading poisonous brambles, slimy vines, and other disturbing vegetation. The Dhakaani called the trees that spawn blights khaar’niianu, “blood mothers.” The sphere of influence of a blood mother is based on its size and age. Most ancient blood mothers were destroyed by the Dhakaani. Occasionally a new tree sprouts—a relic of the Dhakaani conflict that never germinated, or the result of cult rituals—but such young trees have a limited range. A new blood mother might destroy Sharn, but a single young tree couldn’t engulf Breland.

Gas Spores and Dolgaunts. Avassh created the first gas spores. Some scholars believe that this is a key to understanding the relationship between daelkyr—that the gas spores are in some way a reflection of the relationship between Avassh and Belashyrra—but there is a continuing debate as to whether this reflects cooperation or if it is a form of mockery or humor. This is also reflected by Avassh’s dolgaunts; as described earlier, they resemble dolgaunts but are actually a fusion of plant and animal; they are considered to be both plants and aberrations.

Myconids. The only known account of a civilization of myconids comes from Boroman ir’Dayne, who describes a subterranean expedition that discovered an ancient Dhakaani vault inhabited by these creatures. Boroman describes the creatures existing in a state of “ecstatic union” and says that they were awaiting the coming of “The Harvester”, who had sown them long ago and would one day harvest them to serve a greater purpose. Boroman theorized that these myconids (a term coined by ir’Dayne and not used by the creatures themselves) were the remnants of a Dhakaani kech that had been targeted by Avassh—possible centuries after the downfall of the empire on the surface. While this is the only account of a myconid civilization, myconids can be encountered in Avassh’s cults—as described above—and as unique creatures spawned by the Mourning or created by Mordain.

Shambling Mounds. The shambling mounds of Avassh form around the bones of dead sentient creatures. Most are just rough shapes, but occasionally a shambler more closely recognizes its original form; there’s at least one case of an Avassh cult leader being restored as a shambling mound and retaining his memories of his mortal life. As with treants and other creatures, these are Avassh’s shambling mounds; shamblers can also be created by primal forces, and such shambling mounds aren’t associated with bones.

Shriekers. Little is known about shriekers. Most sages believe that they are nonsentient fungi that only react to the presence of light and motion. However, Boroman ir’Dayne reports hearing a “haunting choir of shriekers” that seemed to be singing to one another across great distances, though he was unable to make any sense of the song or induce individual shriekers to replicate it or to communicate in any way. There have also been a few examples of “shrieking cults”—a seeming variation of Kyrzin’s gibbering cults—who use the bodies of their dead to fertilize shriekers and claim to be able to hear the voices of their loved ones in the shrieks. It’s possible that Avassh is linked to shriekers, and can speak through any shrieker—if it ever has any reason to speak to adventurers. If this is true, Boroman’s mysterious choir could be the equivalent of Avassh humming to itself…

Treants. During the Xoriat incursion, Dhakaani fortresses in what is now Aundair were assaulted by living siege engines they called the Gaa’avassh, the “Children of Avassh.” Since then, these creatures have been encountered in the depths of the Gloaming and other jungles and forests touched by Avassh. Most gaa’avassh have the broad appearance of classic treants blended with willow trees; however, their bark has a slick texture, they have nothing resembling a human face or head, and the dangling “willow branches” are actually a mass of prehensile tendrils. Mechanically, they grapple any smaller creature they strike with their Slam attack (DC 18 to escape); they can grapple up to six creatures at a time. The only language they all know is Deep Speech; ancient gaa’avash will know Goblin, and may have learned other languages from the creatures around them. The consider animals of all types to be an infestation, and see no difference between humans and squirrels. They are reclusive creatures that largely dwell in the deepest woods. While this describes the traits of the common gaa’avassh, there are certainly more exotic examples. One Dhakaani account speaks of a massive gaa’avassh that also served as the blood mother of a blight infestation, and there is an old Aundairian folk tale that seems to describe a gaa’avassh that falls in love with a parasitical dryad.

Assassin vines, violet fungus, and similar creatures can all be attributed to Avassh, and cults of the Twister of Roots may cultivate such creatures and even have the ability to control them psychically. it’s possible that there are other plants with similar statistics that have other origins, but any dangerous and unnatural plant could be the work of Avassh.

THE GIFTS OF AVASSH

The most common gifts of Avassh are potions—elixirs brewed using the alien properties of Avassh’s creations. Typically cult herbalists are driven by unnatural intuition and don’t really understand the alchemy they are working. While Avassh’s potions are potent, they may well have side effects ranging from minor hallucinations while the potion is in effect (you hear strange music whenever you come close to a living plant) to actual physical transformations. These effects could be very minor on a single dose—so an adventurer can use the potion of giant strength they obtained from a cultist and only have green skin for a few hours—but repeated doses of the same potion will come with more serious side effects, which explains why adventurers won’t want to embrace an Avassh cult as a friendly pharmacy.

Symbionts of Avassh are made of wood or other vegetable matter. As discussed in Exploring Eberron, any existing magic item could be flavored as an Avassh symbiont. A symbiont cloak of protection might be made of interlocked leaves; it feeds off the blood of its host, which can be seen in the veins of the leaves. Avassh cultists may use hungry weapons made of wood and studded with thorns, or a tongueworm that’s a thorn-tipped vine. Nonsymbiont tools of Avassh could include enchanted prosthetics, or a dagger of venom made of an Avassh variant of livewood. If you are using Magic of Eberron, Avassh could definitely be a source of plant grafts.

CHARACTER IDEAS

Avassh cultists aren’t all destructive; some wish to pursue their own vegetative communion or evolution and have no interest in letting you in on the action. On the other hand, a character could be a former cultist who’s broken free from Avassh’s influence but retained the powers they gained in the process. Consider the following ideas…

  • With your DM’s permission, you could play a wooden soldier of Avassh using the statistics of a warforged. You can’t attach armor, but you can wear it normally and gain the +1 bonus of Integrated Protection when you do. To you enjoy your wooden condition, or are you searching for a way to return to your original form?
  • As an alchemist artificer, you could be drawing your magic from the strange herbs of Avassh. Are you a cultist who cultivates your own sacred garden, or are you a scholar who recovered plants grown by an Avassh cult and seeing what you can do with them?
  • As a diviner, you could draw your talent for divination from an elixir made from a tree of knowledge. Do you have ongoing access to the tree, or are you worried what will happen when you run out?
  • With your DM’s permission, you could play a Circle of the Moon druid who wildshapes into plant forms instead of animal forms. You gained your gifts through communion with Avassh; do you still believe that the Bloody Cornucopia is benevolent, or do you now oppose the Cults of the Twister of Roots?

STORY IDEAS

Avassh isn’t hard to work into a story. If adventurers wander into a deep, untamed region—the Towering Woods, the King’s Forest—they could discover that Avassh has influence in the area. Alternately, they could have to deal with a cult or a war-seed that has sprouted in a town or city and needs to be dealt with. Here’s a few other ideas.

  • The adventurers find an ancient Dhakaani ruin that was destroyed long ago in conflict with Avassh. It could be occupied solely by aggressive plants, or it could have myconids or wooden soldiers based on the original inhabitants. One canon example of this is in Five Nations—Yarkuun Draal, a Dhakaani fortress in Breland. Five Nations says that the ruin is held by “the daelkyr Bhodex’av’gr” but I would personally say that Bhodex’av’gr isn’t a daelkyr, but rather an ancient, evolved cultist of Avassh—a powerful lieutenant who may not be a daelkyr, but is something very powerful and inhuman.
  • The adventurers find the ruins of a cult stronghold wiped out sometime during the golden age of Galifar. Texts in the ruin speak of the gifts of the Garden of Knowledge, and the adventurers find that at least one tree of knowledge remains intact. Will anyone taste its fruit?
  • After clashing with wooden soldiers, a PC artificer notices a disturbing similarity between the root-like musculature of the fallen soldiers and the body of a warforged. Is House Cannith drawing on Avassh’s power to create the warforged, and if so, do they know it? Could the warforged be controlled by Avassh?
  • Adventurers stumble upon evidence that proves that Oalian, the Great Druid of the Eldeen Reaches, is a creation of Avassh. Can they determine whether Oalian is a plant—a long, long-term mole waiting to enact an ancient scheme—or if the Great Druid is truly as noble as it seems?

What would you use as a stat block for Avassh?

I don’t have the time to develop a full stat block for her. However, you can cobble something serviceable by combining Zuggtmoy’s block from Out of the Abyss with Dyrrn from Eberron Rising From The Last War. Start with Zuggtmoy’s base block, and make the following changes:

  • Avassh should be a medium aberration as opposed to a large fiend.
  • Add the Alien Mind and Teleport traits from Dyrrn.

That will WORK. It’s not ideal; personally, I’d be inclined to give Avassh more transformation or summoning powers. Zuggtmoy is heavily infested in the fungal/spore theme, which is fine; the mind control abilities aren’t INappropriate for a daelkyr. But I’d like to see Avassh invest more strongly in the idea of CHANGING or CREATING things.

That’s all I have time for now, but I’m including a table of trinkets tied to Avassh as a bonus for the inner Circle on my Patreon! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and for making these articles possible. Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments, but I am dealing with major deadlines at the moment and most likely won’t have time to address complex questions.

IFAQ: Immortal Alliances

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today I want to answer a few questions about immortals in Eberron.

In the past I’ve said that one of the most important differences between mortals and immortals in Eberron is that immortals lack free will. With a few notable exceptions, immortals can’t change. They may LOOK like humans (or humanoids), but they are essentially cogs in a metaphysical machine: created to serve a specific purpose. The gear in a watch didn’t DECIDE to be a gear, and it can’t suddenly quit being a gear; in the same way, the typical angel of Shavarath didn’t DECIDE to fight in the war, nor could it choose to stop.

So: immortals come into existence with an established purpose and with the knowledge and tools needed to play that role. The deva in Shavarath didn’t have to learn how to use a sword, and more important, over the course of hundreds of thousands of years of war, it’s never gotten any better at it. Again, one of the strengths of mortals is that they can change. They begin with no skills whatsoever, but they can follow any path they choose. This isn’t to say that immortals can’t learn new facts. And this does vary by immortal. Hektula, the rakshasa Librarian of Ashtakala, has surely learned new spells over the last hundred thousand years. However, she may not have gained any new class levels in that time. She’s broadened her knowledge, but she is at the peak of her potential and can’t push beyond it.

Or course, there are exceptions! The radiant idols are fallen angels of Syrania. The kalashtar are bound to quori who rebelled against il-Lashtavar. It’s possible that you could find an angel of Shavarath who has abandoned the eternal war. But these are exceptionally rare. We’ve never said how many quori exist, but for sake of argument, let’s say there’s a hundred thousand… mostly lesser spirits like the tsoreva, and mostly devoted to duties in Dal Quor. From the perspective of the quori, the current era of Dal Quor has lasted for 400,000 years. In all that time, we’ve called out 67 quori who rebelled to become kalashtar. Let’s imagine there’s another 33 who were either caught and destroyed or who have managed to remain undetected. That’s still around a .1% rebellion rate over the course of 400,000 years… not too bad. Essentially, these are malfunctions. They’re gears that came into existence with the wrong number of teeth. Which is why the Dreaming Dark seeks to destroy rebel quori — to that energy can be drawn back into Dal Quor and reforged into a proper, compliant spirit.

So, keep these basic principles in mind. Most immortals come into existence with a clear purpose and with the skills they need to accomplish that function. They choose how they pursue that purpose, but they cannot change it. They are powerful, but they cannot learn new things as mortals can. Some of them have existed for a million years of subjective time. They don’t grow bored; they don’t desire change. They are what they are.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few questions.

How common is it for a fiend or cult to serve multiple overlords?

This depends on your definition of “Serve.” Most lesser fiends are bound to their overlord in the same way that the quori are bound to il-Lashtavar. Mordakhesh didn’t DECIDE to work for Rak Tulkhesh; the Shadowsword is essentially an extension of Rak Tulkhesh, the embodiment of one of the many ideas that falls under the Rage of War. Serving Rak Tulkhesh is part of his spiritual DNA; it’s not a choice, it’s what he IS. Thus, he will never feel that same loyalty to another overlord; it’s not in his nature.

HOWEVER: It’s possible that Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh could have a common goal, and that they might work together to create a cult that serves both of them. The mortals in that cult might feel equal loyalty to both overlords, just as devotees of the Restful Watch revere both Aureon and the Keeper. The fiends associated with the cult might work toward its common goals, but it doesn’t change the fact that every one of those fiends is devoted to EITHER the Rage of War or Keeper of Secrets, not both. They pursue the alliance because it serves the purposes of their overlord, but there is never any question that THEY serve their overlord and only their overlord.

Ultimately, this sort of alliance is why the Lords of Dust came into existence—to facilitate cooperation between the servants of different overlords. With that said, it’s more common that this simply extends to preventing fiends from fighting one another as opposed to actual alliances like I’ve described above. In fact, I’m not sure there IS an example in canon of two overlords working together in that way. Part of it is because their natures are SO different that it is hard for them to forge a lasting alliance; a second aspect is that the things the overlords require for their freedom—the Prophetic “combinations” to their chains—typically have nothing in common. Keep in mind that the reason the overlords were defeated was because they wouldn’t cooperate… and that while we mortals would learn from that mistake, immortals can’t change. So it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to have a fiendish cult that serves two overlords, but it’s not common and not likely to be long-lived.

In theory, it’s MORE plausible with the daelkyr, because the daelkyr were all originally on the same side. They have shared resources; Dyrrn created the dolgrims and Belashyrra created beholders, but both can be found serving any daelkyr. However, it’s also the case that most daelkyr cults are shaped by the mental influence of their daelkyr patron, and this is a powerful and unique force; a mortal bound to both Dyrrn and Belashyrra would be mentally torn in two very different directions. So again, it’s more likely than an alliance between overlords, but still not likely to be a long-term alliance.

There’s one wild card here: non-native fiends. NATIVE fiends have a bond to a particular overlord. But we’ve called out the fact that there are immortals from the planes who have broken from their planes and joined with the Lords of Dust… essentially, rather than a fiend rebelling to become an angel, it’s a fiend rebelling to be a fiend somewhere else. Two canon examples of this are Thelestes, a succubi who serves the overlord Eldrantulku; and Korliac of the Gray Flame, a Fernian pit fiend allied with Tul Oreshka. Such fiends are already outliers, because they have broken their original path, which again most immortals can’t do. As such, there’s nothing that prevents them from choosing yet ANOTHER path. CURRENTLY Thelestes serves Eldrantulku… but she could decide to serve Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker as well, or to simply break her ties to the Oathbreaker. Ultimately, as with all things, the end answer is do what’s best for your story. Most quori can’t rebel against il-Lashtavar, but SOME CAN; if you want a new rebel quori in your story, then there’s a new rebel quori! If you decide that the Wyrmbreaker is betraying Bel Shalor and working with Eldrantulku, so be it (though like the Devourer of Dreams, it’s not entirely odd to think that the chief servants of spirits of betrayal and corruption might themselves betray their masters!).

Can immortals be promoted or demoted? Can an immortal gain power?

Yes, just not in the same way that mortals can. Time and experience aren’t how immortals improve. Essentially, the way to think of any particular group of immortals—the quori, the angels of the Legion of Justice, the fiends of Rak Tulkhesh—is as a pool of energy. The amount of energy in that pool is static and cannot change. If there are a hundred thousand quori, there will always be a hundred thousand quori. Kill one—or a hundred—and their energy flows back to il-Lashtavr, which eventually reconstitutes that energy and spits out replacements. This is why people bind immortals instead of killing them; you can’t destroy that energy, but if you can take it out of circulation, that’s a win.

So: this pool of energy is static. But it’s not distributed equally. A powerful immortal like Mordakhesh holds more of that energy than a typical Zakya rakshasa. A powerful immortal can redistribute that energy. So it is POSSIBLE for a deva in Shavarath to be elevated to the position of planetar… but only if a planetar is demoted to deva, or if the deva is taking the place of a planetar that was destroyed rather than it being reconstituted. Likewise, Rak Tulkhesh could STRIP Mordakhesh of some of his power, and then invest that power into another fiend. So yes, the higher powers CAN elevate or promote the immortals below them; but only by redistributing that energy from somewhere else. There will always be devas in Shavarath; Justice Command can’t just promote them all to the rank of solar.

However, there’s one other possible twist. The energy within a pool is static. But the other way for an immortal to gain power is to TAKE energy from somewhere else. This is the idea of the Devourer replacing il-Lashtavar: that an immortal could USURP another immortal’s power. Another possibility is that an immortal could somehow draw power from an artifact or some other outside source. So Mordakhesh doesn’t gain levels just by killing things. But if he found some way to literally absorb the essence of a coautl, maybe he COULD gain strength. The main thing is that this would be a momentous event that is shaking the metaphysical balance of the multiverse. It’s quite possible that it would be dangerous and potentially unstable… that there would be some way to restore the couatl, pulling the power back out of the fiend.

What are the attitudes of the Daelkyr and the Dreaming Dark towards one another? What about the Lords of Dust?

The Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, and the daelkyr are the three most powerful malevolent forces in the setting. Their ultimate goals are mutually exclusive. The Dreaming Dark seek a stable world dreaming their dream. The overlords seek a return to primordial chaos. The daelkyr seek to transform reality into something unrecognizable. There’s no vision of victory that will allow two of these groups to both be satisfied. It is also the case that they are DANGEROUS. A rakshasa doesn’t fear death; it knows it will return. But can a daelkyr change the ESSENCE of a rakshasa—driving it mad or turning it into something new and horrifying? If you’re a rakshasa, you don’t want to find out. Essentially, NO ONE in their right mind, immortal or otherwise, wants to fight the daelkyr if they can avoid it.

These groups don’t actually know much about one another. The daelkyr and fiends don’t dream, so the quori can’t spy on them that way. The Dreaming Dark holds its councils in Dal Quor where none can spy of them. Riedra is hidden from the Draconic Prophecy. The daelkyr don’t care what the other two are up to, and their actions are inscrutable. Dreaming Dark mind seeds and daelkyr cults can appear anywhere, subverting long-established Lords of Dust agents without even realizing it. So more often than not these groups will stumble onto one another accidentally—and when they do, the first one to realize it will usually act to eliminate the threat. Consider that the Edgewalkers of Riedra are specifically trained to fight fiends and aberrations!

On the other hand, if you WANT these groups to work together in your campaign, go for it. The main question is why. The easiest ally is the Lords of Dust, because their goal of manipulating the Prophecy could require one of the other factions’ schemes to succeed. The main thing is that in any sort of alliance, each faction likely thinks it’s coming out ahead in the exchange… because in the end, they can’t both get what they want.

Personally, I rarely use all three of these as equal threats groups in the same campaign. All of these factions have been scheming for centuries or even thousands of years. There’s no reason that all of their schemes have to come to a tipping point in 998 YK. It’s entirely reasonable to say that the stars won’t align for the Lords of Dust for another decade, or that the daelkyr are currently dormant. So you can have alliances or conflicts between them, but you also can choose to ignore one or more completely.

You could also have the groups work against one another, using PCs as pawns.

Certainly. As noted above, in my opinion if their plans conflict, they will oppose one another, and the player characters could be caught in the middle of that. The main thing in MY Eberron is that the Chamber and the Lords of Dust are actively at war (though a very cold war). They are playing a game on the same board—manipulating the Prophecy—and they understand one another. By contrast, neither the Chamber nor the Lords of Dust really have a clear picture of the daelkyr or the Dreaming Dark. So they eliminate these threats when they interfere with their plans, but they don’t see the big picture of what they are trying to accomplish — while the dragons and fiends DO have that picture with one another.

What’s a “native outsider?” Are they basically the same as immortals that live on other planes, only native to Eberron, or is there more to them than that?

“Native outsider” is a holdover term from 3.5 and can be thought of as “native immortal.” It means that the immortal is a product of the material plane. Native fiends are apocryphally said to be children of Khyber, while native celestials are children of Siberys. First of all, this means that when the immortal dies, it will be reborn on Eberron——while if you destroy a Shavaran devil on Eberron, it will be reborn on Shavarath. It’s also the case that immortals in some way embody the concept of their planes of origins. So take a pit fiend. If it’s from Shavarath it is ultimately a spirit of WAR and tyranny. If it’s from Fernia it is first and foremost a fiend of FIRE. If you just want a generic “I’m eeeeevil” pit fiend, than it should be a native immortal tied to one of the overlords, such as Bel Shalor. As a side note, the night hags of Eberron are native immortals, but aren’t tied to the overlords; they are their own faction.

Regarding stuff like efreet, salamanders, or similar entities, would you have them all follow the same template as fiends and celestials in that they generally maintain a particular alignment or distribution of alignments, or is this not a fundamental aspect of some groups of immortals and the alignment of a group is more dynamic in some cases?

My definition of “Immortal” means the following: the creature is tied to a specific plane; it came into existence with its skills and knowledge in place, and did not need to learn; it does not reproduce naturally; it has a static population, and when it is destroyed, either it will be reborn or a new creature of its type will appear to take its place. As long as it meets these criteria it doesn’t matter if a creature is a celestial, elemental, fiend, or aberration. If it does NOT meet these criteria, it is not immortal under these terms. Thus, for example, a vampire is immune to aging, but it won’t be replaced if it is destroyed and it has a method of reproduction. It’s not an immortal; it’s a mortal that is channeling the power of Mabar, which sustains its life.

Immortals are SYMBOLS more than they are living creatures. They have purpose, even if often that purpose is simply to represent an idea. The basic definition of “fiend” is that it embodies an EVIL aspect of an idea, while a “celestial” embodies a GOOD aspect of an idea. Shavarath is the plane of WAR. Devils represent war fought in pursuit of tyranny; angels, war fought in pursuit of justice. So for these spirits, alignment is part of their core concept. Elementals aren’t as clear cut and don’t have an automatic alignment bias. But as they are immortals, they represent IDEAS. So the key question is “What is their idea?”

In MY Eberron, what the efreeti represent is the beauty and glory of fire… but also its capricious and deadly nature. The raging bonfire is beautiful and awe-inspiring, but if you are careless it can burn all you hold dear. So too with the efreeti. They are glorious and powerful. But anger them and they will burn you in the blink of an eye. What we’ve said in Eberron is that alignment doesn’t tell us WHAT you’ll do, it tells us HOW you’ll do it. You can have an evil king who wants peace or a good queen who pursues war; it’s just that the evil king will be ruthless in his pursuit of peace while the queen will be kind as she pursues war. Efreeti don’t necessarily want to DO things we would consider evil. They want to celebrate their wealth and power. They want to outshine their rivals. An efreet might invite you to a grand gala in its brass citadel, with no hostile intent. But if you insult it, or embarass it by using the wrong fork, it will burn you with no remorse. THAT is what makes efreeti evil. It’s not that they are all conquerors or torturers; it’s that like fire, they have no mercy and no empathy. They BURN, bright and beautiful, and if you aren’t careful they will burn you.

So efreeti are not universally pursuing an evil CAUSE in the same way that the devils of Shavarath are. But they still have evil ALIGNMENTS because it’s in their nature to be merciless and unrelenting… even if a particular efreeti has no grand designs we would see as evil. Meanwhile, the beings who embody the purely benevolent aspects of fire are celestials, and those who embody SOLELY its destructive aspects are fiends. The Azer are spirits of industry and are neutral. Efreeti are both the beauty of fire but also its danger; they won’t necessarily pursue evil goals, but they have no remorse when their actions cause suffering.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going!

IFAQ: Moons and Lycanthropes

I’m still working on the article about Riedra in Fifth Edition. It’s a very long article and I still have a ways to go with it, so I wanted to break things up with a quick question from one of my Patreon supporters.

How do the multiple moons of Eberron affect lycanthropes?

The canon answer is simple: lycanthropes are affected by all of the moons equally, and this is one reason the Lycanthropic Surge was such a threat; it’s common to there to be at least one full moon at any time.

Now, that’s the canon answer. Personally, I say that the answer is more complicated and tied to the fact that we’ve never provided a canon explanation for the cause of lycanthropy. After all, if lycanthropy was created by an overlord, why are there ANY good lycanthropes? So my answer is that there are multiple forms of lycanthropy, each with a different relationship to the moons.

The most benign form of lycanthropy is Olarune’s Blessing. This is a condition that spontaneously manifests: it’s not hereditary and it cannot be transmitted by bite (or any other method). It’s primarily been observed among shifters of the Towering Wood, who believe that it is a sign of being called to service by Olarune, charged to protect innocents from the threats of the wild and to protect the wild itself from threats. Just as vampirism tends to pull someone toward an evil alignment, Olarune’s blessing draws a person toward good alignment; they feel a drive to embody the most positive aspects mortals associate with their animal form. However, this is not the absolute eradication of personality that can be seen in other strains, and those carrying Olarune’s blessing can choose their own paths. A lycanthrope carrying Olarune’s blessing is only affected by the moon Olarune. In my Eberron, most werebears are the result of Olarune’s blessing—but the blessing can be tied to any form.

The second would be Dyrrn’s Corruption. The daelkyr Dyrrn took twisted Olarune’s blessing to create this form of lycanthropy, which is both hereditary and infectious. Each strain of Dyrrn’s corruption associates an alignment (typically neutral or evil), a form, and a moon—neutral tigers tied to Rhaan—and overwrites the personality of the victim. So there may be neutral werewolves, and they will create new neutral werewolves when they spread the affliction. While Dyrrn’s corruption is infectious, it can only spread one step; natural lycanthropes can infect new people, but victims of the affliction can’t spread it themselves. So can spread, but not rapidly. When Dyrrn’s corruption fully takes hold, it destroys the personality and many of the memories of the victim; while there are neutral strains, they are alien in their outlook, and a player character overtaken by Dyrrn’s affliction would likely become an NPC. Each strain of corrupted lycanthropy is driven by its own inscrutable (and unnatural) instincts. Some pursue dangerous activities, acting as Cults of the Dragon Below; others are simply enigmatic, creating strange monuments in the wild or howling in eerie choirs. It’s also the case that Dyrrn’s while Dyrrn’s lycanthropes could be physically indistinguishable from other lycanthropes, they could be more alien in appearance or horrific in their transformations. Perhaps the corrupted werewolf transforms into a skinless wolf. Maybe only Dyrrn produces werespiders, and they aren’t actually natural spiders but rather alien, chitinous horrors. Or maybe the lycanthrope appears to take the form of a mundane wolf, but when you cut it tentacles reach out from the wound, or its blood has a life of its own!

The final form is The Curse of the Wild Heart. The Wild Heart is an archfiend, an overlord of the first age who embodies mortal fears of the wild. This is both hereditary and infectious. Regardless of the form, it enforces an evil alignment upon its victim, driving them to become predators; this is the infamous curse that will cause a werewolf to prey upon their own family and loved ones. Victims of the curse don’t embody any actual traits of their associated animal, but rather are driven to embody the darkest fears and superstitions associated with them. Victims of the curse of the Wild Heart are affected by ALL moons equally. The trick of the curse of the Wild Heart is that it fluctuates in power based on the current status of the Wild Heart itself. When the Wild Heart is dormant or distant, the curse only has the one-step affliction of Dyrrn’s corruption (natural lycanthropes can pass it, but afflicted victims can’t). When the Wild Heart is stirring—or if someone is near to its prison—the curse grows stronger. Under these circumstances any lycanthrope can spread the curse and the drive toward cruel and predatory behavior is amplified.

The behavior of creatures afflicted by the curse of the Wild Heart is extreme and predatory; this is the source of the terrifying tales of lycanthropic bloodshed. Natural-born cursed lycanthropes are still driven toward predatory cruelty, but they can learn to control these impulses. A key example of this is cursed werewolf Zaeurl, the leader of the Dark Pack of Droaam. She is a born predator and a ruthless hunter, but she isn’t controlled by the curse and doesn’t serve the Wild Heart; she chooses her own path.

The final catch is that the power of the Wild Heart trumps that of Dyrrn or Olarune. During the Lycanthropic Surge, the Wild Heart was close to breaking its bonds. And at that time, it co-opted ALL lycanthropes as its thralls. Even good-aligned champions of Olarune and neutral carriers of Dyrrn’s corruption became cruel predators bound to serve the Wild Heart. These lycanthropes returned to their previous states when the power of the Wild Heart was broken, but the threat remains.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to identify the form of lycanthropy you’re dealing with when you meet a lycanthope, aside from letting them bite you and see if you become infected. The short form is that if a lycanthrope seems to embody the noble aspects of the beast it’s bound to it is likely one of Olarune’s blessed; if it embodies the worst superstitions and acts in a predatory manner it carries the curse; and if it just acts in an unpredictable manner, it’s one of Dyrrn’s. Olarune’s blessed do not spread the curse of lycanthropy. Those cursed by the Wild Heart can currently spread it freely (using the standard 5E rules for lycanthropes!)… which suggests the power of the Wild Heart is again on the rise! Only natural-born corrupted lycanthropes can spread the curse.

Can shifters contract lycanthropy?

Yes, shifters can contract any of the forms of lycanthropy described above. The Towering Wood is a nexus for all forms of lycanthropy, and one reason it was so easy for the servants of the Wild Heart to turn the templars against the shifters during the Silver Crusade is because the vast majority of the lycanthropes in the first wave of the surge were cursed shifters. The shifters had been fighting the cursed lycanthropes well before the templars even knew of the danger. With the arrival of the templars, the servants of the Wild Heart knew they couldn’t allow shifters and templars to become allies, so they staged events and spread lies. Imagine that a werewolf leaps into a village and starts slaughtering people. When it’s finally brought down by templars, it reverts to its natural form—the form of a shifter. A local hunter swears that she’s seen whole villages of these things roasting farmers and howling at the moons. The hunter’s a wererat or a rakshasa, and the story is entirely untrue—but this was a time of sheer terror, when ANYONE you knew could secretly be a murderous lycanthrope waiting to strike, and it was all too easy for fiends to sow fear and hate. This in no way excuses the deaths of innocents; but it’s an example of the fact that in Eberron stories aren’t supposed to be simple. Innocents suffer. Stories end badly. If not for the Silver Crusade, the Wild Heart would have risen and destroyed civilization; but that’s cold comfort to the innocents who suffered and died.

So which type of lycanthropes escaped to Lamannia?

You could find any of the three forms of lycanthrope as refugees, though I’d say that it would be Olarune’s blessed who would have been most keen to find a sanctuary that would keep them from having to fight or kill innocents. I’ve said here that Olarune’s blessing is NOT hereditary; one interesting possibility would be to say that it IS hereditary in Lamannia, so that there are communities of blessed lycanthropes in the Twilight Forest.

Is there any geographic basis for the different forms of lycanthropy?

Any form of lycanthrope could be found anywhere in Eberron. Olarune’s blessing is the rarest of the three but could manifest in any place where primal magic is especially strong; this is often tied to manifest zones connected to Lamannia. Again, though, even in such regions the blessing rarely occurs. Dyrrn’s corruption typically spreads from a passage to Khyber connected to Dyrrn’s realm (while we haven’t suggested it, it might well be an issue in the Mror Holds!). Because of the nature of Khyber and demiplanes, this could be found anywhere. Likewise, while creatures afflicted with Dyrrn’s corruption can’t spread the curse, a natural-born lycanthrope can start a cult and spread the corruption to their followers. The curse of the Wild Heart is strongest above the Wild Heart’s prison—which is presumably in the Towering Wood of the Eldeen Reaches—but it is the most contagious curse and could easily spread. The Wild Heart also has rakshasa and other fiendish servants, and its more powerful servants may have the power to spread its curse. So all three forms are especially prevalent in the Towering Wood of Khorvaire, but lycanthropes can be found anywhere.

Do you see these as the only forms of lycanthropy?

Not at all. Of the top of my head, I can immediately imagine two more forms. I could see a form of lycanthropy tied to Thelanis, literally based on the STORIES of people becoming beasts. Beyond that, we’ve called out the existence of a cabal in House Vadalis called the Feral Heart (no relation to the Wild Heart!) that strives to create living weapons; I could easily see them developing their own strain of lycanthropy. In each case, I’d probably add a unique twist based on the strain. It could be that Thelanian lycanthropes are vulnerable to cold iron instead of silver, or that Vadalis lycanthropes aren’t tied to the moons at all. And that’s just what I came up with now; I’m sure I could develop other interesting options if I put my mind to it. Perhaps House Ghallanda has a secret line of lycanthropic blink dogs! Don’t be limited by the idea that all lycanthropes have to share a common origin and identical abilities; if you have an interesting story, change the rules to match it!

And to be clear: none of these ideas are canon. Within a particular campaign you might decide that it is only the Wild Heart who is responsible for lycanthropes, or only the daelkyr. I like having both out in the world, but there no reason not to just pick one form of lycanthropy and leave it at that.

That’s all for now! Next up: Riedra! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible!

ExE: Cults of the Dragon Below

The Cults of the Dragon Below have been a part of Eberron from the very beginning, but there’s never been much detail about them. The basic idea has always been that “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term applied to a vast array of disparate sects driven by delusions or by ties to a dark power (typically a daelkyr or an overlord). But there’s only been a few cases where we have concrete examples of specific Cults of the Dragon Below. The Whisperers and the Inner Sun have both been mentioned in Dragon articles, while the cult in Khyber’s Harvest are traditional loyalists tied to Belashyrra. In Exploring Eberron, I wanted to go deeper—to give very concrete examples of cults and the powers behind them. How do the cults of Dyrrn differ from the followers of Valaara or Sul Khatesh? Beyond the basic introduction shown above, this section presents ten of the dark powers that create Cults of the Dragon Below and explores their goals, methods, and beliefs.

One statement that may come as a surprise to people is the idea that “Only a fraction of the Cults of the Dragon Below knowingly serve a daelkyr or overlord.” There’s basically three levels of this understanding.

  • Many corrupted cults are influenced by a dark power but don’t recognize this and don’t worship that power. In the example given above, the Vigilant Eye is a cult that is connected to Belashyrra, and SOME Vigilant Eye cults recognize this and offer prayers and bloody sacrifices to the Lord of Eyes. But you could easily have a Vigilant Eye cult in the Sharn Watch whose members believe that their new eyes are a blessing from Aureon, and that its visions reveal hidden evils in peoples’ hearts. This is a threat, because these false visions may guide the cultists to murder innocents—but the cultists don’t worship Belashyrra and truly believe that they are serving a righteous cause.
  • Traditional cults worship an entity… but they may not acknowledge the true nature of that being. In the Shadow Marches, most people know Kyrzin as a dangerous threat; in local folktales it’s typically known as the Prince of Slime or the Bile Lord. The Whisperers worship Kyrzin by the name the Regent of Whispers, and say that the Regent grants the gift of immortality to the faithful through the medium of the Gibbering Beasts. Neither of these two groups—common Marchers, Whisperers—may know that the creature they are worshipping or cursing is a daelkyr. The daelkyr incursion took place thousands of years ago, long before humanity even arrived on Khorvaire. So the Whisperers knowingly worship a being that others fear, but a) they believe that Kyrzin is benevolent force and b) they don’t know that it’s a daelkyr. Because that’s not relevant to their beliefs; what matters is that the Regent creates gibbering mouthers and shows them the path to eternal life.
  • Loyalists and most transactional cults knowingly traffic with dark powers and may well know the name and nature of the being they are dealing with. This is your path for the Carrion barbarians who howl prayers to Rak Tulkhesh as they charge their enemies, or the warlock bargaining with Sul Khatesh for forbidden arcane secrets.

These are the fractions—those with no real knowledge of the force they serve, those who interpret that force in a different way than others, and those that knowingly embrace a daelkyr or overlord. Ultimately, it’s up to the DM to decide the balance between those three, and which is the most common.

As you can see, editing and layout is continuing (thanks to the tireless efforts of Wayne Chang and Laura Hirsbrunner). However, I am also still writing: the various complications I’ve been dealing with are ongoing (… and the book is getting longer…) and I don’t have a firm release date yet. I’ll post a date as soon as I have one I’m sure of.

In the meantime, thanks again to my Patreon supporters who keep this blog going—a gnoll article is on the way soon!

Q&A: Daelkyr and the Prophecy

There’s a lot going on this week. I’m getting ready for GenCon (see more about my plans here). I’ve just made an announcement about my next big Eberron project. But beyond that, i’m going to be doing a series of small articles addressing questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So, let’s get to it!

How do the Daelkyr interact with the Draconic Prophecy (if at all)? Are they “outside” the prophecy? Did the prophecy foretell their arrival in Eberron?

The Prophecy certainly foretold their arrival on Eberron, and that’s why we have the Gatekeeper druids. From the 3.5 ECS:

Over fifteen thousand years ago, the green dragon Vvaraak came to the Shadow Marches and gathered followers around her. She had foreseen a cataclysm that only the younger races would be able to avert, and so she taught the orcs how to work with earth and wood…

How do they interact with it? As with most things related to the daelkyr, it’s difficult to know. They don’t appear to study it the way the dragons and Lords of Dust do. There’s two important factors to consider in this.

The first is the daelkyrs’ relationship with time. In my Eberron, I emphasize that the daelkyr are fundamentally alien entities. It’s not just that they are gooey and like things with extra eyes; it’s that we don’t experience reality in the same way that they do. Using the 3.5 game stats, a daelkyr can cause confusion at will and anyone who tries to read the mind of a daelkyr may go insane. To me, that confusion effect isn’t that they are casting a spell; it’s that their focused attention literally breaks your brain, and trying to thing like they do severely damages a normal mind. In particular, I assert the idea that the daelkyr don’t experience time in a linear fashion. Rather, they are simultaneously aware of their entire timeline. The reason the daelkyr aren’t in a hurry to break the seals is that from their perspective, the seals are already broken… even if that won’t happen for another five thousand years from our linear perspective. They don’t fear death the way other creatures do, because they already know how they will die. One could look at this and say “But doesn’t that mean that they should be able to outwit everyone, because they already know what you’re going to try to do to stop them?” No… because they only know about it because that’s how you stop them. Again, the whole point of this is that they don’t think the way we do; they don’t fight their future because for them, it’s not the future. So other creatures interact with the Prophecy to try to predict or shape the path of the future. The daelkyr have no reason to do this, because from their perspective, past and future are meaningless concepts.

Now, one could ask if this implies absolute predestination. If the daelkyr knows how it will die, then there’s no way for players to change the outcome, right? Wrong. The future can always be changing; but the daelkyr always knows what it is, and for the daelkyr, that new future is what it’s always been. Doesn’t make sense? That’s the point. Again, if you read its mind and try to experience reality through its eyes, it will shatter your sanity. Dragons, rakshasa, quori—they may be inhuman, but we can still fundamentally understand how they think. The daelkyr are entirely alien.

This ties to my idea of how daelkyr perceive mortals. Imagine that you are immortal. You are aware of the flow of time over tens of thousands of years. From that perspective, a human is essentially an ant… the tiniest blip on your radar, present only for the briefest moment of existence. Beyond this, it’s an ant with no understanding of the true nature of reality. Daelkyr feel no more remorse killing or twisting mortal lives than we do working with fruit flies; you have to experiment on something. What they DO recognize are civilizations. The daelkyr didn’t care about individual goblins, but they recognized the Empire of Dhakaan itself as an entity – massive thing that lasted for thousands of years. And even though we see the Daelkyr as having been defeated, they succeeded in transforming and destroying Dhakaan. In my opinion, they don’t see individual humans as sentient creatures; what they recognize is human civilizations. What they do to you personally is again, like a scientist breeding fruit flies or an artist who uses insects as part of their work.

Not that this is not true of the SERVANTS of the daelkyr. This is why we’ve called out that in some ways it seems like the mind flayers are more concerned with breaking the seals than the daelkyr themselves are. Most of the servants of the daelkyr are themselves mortal. They are touched by Xoriat and have a greater understanding of its mysteries than humans do, but you’ll have an easier time talking to a dolgaunt than to Dyrrn the Corruptor.

I think you’ve spoken before about how the Daelkyr could be responsible for aberrant marks if they are trying to corrupt the Draconic Prophecy…

Not exactly. The idea that’s come up is that the daelkyr could be responsible for ALL DRAGONMARKS. A dragonmark is a manifestation of the Prophecy on a physical creature. The Prophecy is part of the underlying code of reality, but dragonmarks only appeared a few millenia ago—and the dragons were taken entirely by surprise. This means it’s entirely reasonable to think that they could have been created by an outside force. The daelkyr specialize in transforming creatures. They interact with time—and thus the Prophecy—in a fundamentally different way than others. So they would be well positioned to perceive that there IS a Draconic Prophecy and to try to do something completely unpredictable with it.

The critical question is: if the daelkyr created dragonmarks, why did they do it? A few possibilities…

  • Because they could. This is part of the point of the daelkyr. Unlike the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, or the Chamber, their actions don’t always have motives that make sense to us. We’ve described the daelkyr both as alien artists and as scientists. They could have simply been intrigued by the Prophecy and bound it to flesh because it’s a beautiful expression of its nature.
  • To shape civilization. I’ll touch on this further below, but Daelkyr don’t really consider humans and their kin as individuals; they are interested in civilizations. They may have made dragonmarks in order to fundamentally change the civilizations of Khorvaire, just as they sowed seeds of madness that brought down Dhakaan.
  • To destroy the Prophecy. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that they DID do it as an attack on the Prophecy… that by existing, dragonmarks are slowly transforming or corrupting the Prophecy. If Argonnessen confirms this, the dragons could conclude that it’s necessary to utterly eradicate the dragonmarked houses, as they did with the Line of Vol. How would they do it? A brute force attack on Khorvaire? Something more subtle? In either case, the devastation and chaos that would cause could also have been the daelkyrs’ goal all along.

With this in mind, aberrant marks take on an entirely new meaning. It could be that they are simply an organic part of the experiment. It could be that one daelkyr created the core marks, and another created aberrant marks to destabilize it. Or it could be that ABERRANT marks are actually a manifestation of the Prophecy itself, reflecting the Prophecy fighting back and attempting to destroy this unnatural infection.

Do the daelkyr cooperate, or did they during the invasion? Was it a unified group effort to twist the civilization of Dhakaan or a competitive race between artists to see whose creation would come to fruition?

This is a question for you, based on the role you want the daelkyr to play in your game. What is clear in canon is that they cooperate on SOME level. Notably, Dyrrn the Corruptor created the dolgaunts and dolgrims, but almost all daelkyr make some use of them. Beholders are children of Belashyrra, but again, they can be found as allies of other daelkyr. They appeared to be somewhat unified in their physical attacks against Dhakaan. BUT, the critical point is that the physical attacks may have been incidentalthat the real attack may have been the actions they took to dissolve the eusocial bond of the goblinoids, leading to the long term collapse of the civilization. Was that something all the daelkyr were involved in, or was that the work of Dyrrn alone? Belashyrra and Kyrzin play the most significant role in the Shadow Marches—are they the only daelkyr interested in orcs, or are they just assigned to that post?

I think it’s entirely reasonable to say that the different daelkyr are pursuing their own experiments, and that these may appear to set them at cross purposes. But I would emphasize that this is very different than feuds between the Lords of Dust. Again, the core principle of the daelkyr is that it’s almost impossible to understand their reasoning.

Canonically, are the Daelkyr only interested in Khorvaire? The Gatekeepers were founded by a dragon to combat them, but does the Chamber in general care? The Undying Court was around for the fall of Dhakaan – did they notice? The Inspired lords of Sarlona are all about (enforced) stability – would they consider Daelkyr meddling a threat? 

The daelkyr are bound to KHYBER. Khyber doesn’t directly match the geography of Eberron. Belashyrra is known to have touched the Shadow Marches, but is also canonically active in Xen’drik, where it’s fighting the Umbragen drow. In short, they can show up wherever you want them so show up, but as long as the Gatekeeper seals remain intact they can’t leave Khyber.

Regarding the dragons, Dragons of Eberron addresses this at length.  From DoE: 

A true child of Eberron, Vvaraak foresaw a disaster that would wound the world itself. The Conclave had no interest in this struggle; just as the dragons had stood aside while the giants of Xen’drik battled Dal Quor, the elders of the Conclave told Vvaraak that they would act when a clear threat to Argonnessen existed, and not before.

As a rule, the dragons are not your friends. Remember that when they DID finally decide the giants of Xen’drik posed a threat, they destroyed all civilizations on Xen’drik. The Chamber opposes the machinations of the Lords of Dust; they aren’t generally interested in the problems of humanity. This is what makes Vvaraak remarkable: that she actually cared about lesser beings. So you can have dragons like Vvaraak, but they are the exception; in GENERAL, no, dragons don’t care unless Argonnessen itself is threatened. And if it IS threatened, they will act with force that can level civilizations.

As for the others, any nation could potentially be threatened by the daelkyr. The Undying Court may well have expunged daelkyr corruption over the course of past centuries. The Thousand Eyes watch for ALL forms of subversion in Riedra, and the Edgewalkers are Riedra’s answer to the Gatekeepers and the Silver Flame. However, in both cases these are again forces that are isolationist and only concerned with protecting THEIR people. This ties to the basic principle of Eberron: If the daelkyr are threatening Breland, the Undying Court won’t show up to solve the problem for you.

While we’re on the topic of the daelkyr and their works, I’m curious about the lifecycle and reproduction method of the dolgrim. It’s stated canonically that the first dolgrims were created by Dyrrn the Corruptor merging two goblins together, resulting in the four-armed, two-faced, two-brained mishmash that we know. But how are “modern”, “young” dolgrims created? 

The dols—dolgrims, dolgaunts, and the other creatures the daelkyr created from goblin stock—are self-sustaining. Dyrrn isn’t continuously kidnapping goblins to make more. However, part of the concept of aberrations is that they are fundamentally unnatural. 5E suggests that beholders may form other beholders through dreaming, though I’ll specifically call out in Eberron I’d expect these “dreams” to be tied to Xoriat as opposed to Dal Quor. As for the Dols, there is no canon answer. But here’s my thoughts.

  • Dolgrims reproduce through parthenogenesis. They split just above the lower mouth; the “grimling” thus has a mouth, eyes, and a single pair of arms, while the lower half keeps a pair of arms, legs, and mouth, along with vestigal eyes that quickly grow in. Over the course of a month, each piece regrows the missing chunk of body. Most daelkyr territories in Khyber have grimling pits filled with regenerating spawn.
  • Dolgaunts have hollow eyesockets filled with cilia. When a dolgaunt is prepared to spawn, it grapples a humanoid and injects a number of these cilia into the victim’s eyes. The cilia-worms consume the eyes and burrow into the victim’s body, taking root in the brain; this causes the victim to fall into a coma. The body then undergoes a process of cellular transformation, ultimately becoming a clone of the spawning dolgaunt. Note that this isn’t a swift process, and can’t be used as a regular attack; it can only be performed against a helpless or unconscious creature, and is essentially a sort of coup de grace.

In both cases, the “newborn” dol is using the memory template of the dol that spawned it; so among other things, there’s no “Dolgrim Kindergarten” in Khyber. This also means that they can spawn quite rapidly when they need to bolster their numbers. Typically, a dol population is maintained at a particularly level in a region, and they only spawn to repopulate losses.

If you have questions about the daelkyr or the Prophecy, post them below. You may also want to check out my previous articles on the daelkyr and Xoriat.

Dragonmarks: Lycanthropes

I’m hard at work on many projects, but I’ve had a few questions tied to lycanthropes… and with Halloween around the corner, it seems like an appropriate topic to address! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for supporting the blog.

I’ve been listening to the stories of the Werewolf Trials of the Middle Ages. Was the Eberron purge based on these, or is this just a coincidence?

For those of you unfamiliar with the setting, the Lycanthropic Purge is an event that occurred around two centuries before the default Eberron campaign. The Church of the Silver Flame sent an army of templars into western Aundair and what is now the Eldeen Reaches to combat a rising tide of lycanthropy. Following a brutal conflict, the church supported an ongoing campaign to root out and cure or exterminate all lycanthropes that could be found. This conflict is also the root of the Pure Flame, a zealous sect of the Church of the Silver Flame that engages in ruthless and often violent behavior.

People often think of the Purge as a sort of inquisition, similar to the Salem Witch Trials or the Werewolf Trials mentioned above. It certainly ENDED that way, with the newly minted zealots of the Pure Flame trying to hunt down every last lycanthrope… and in the process, targeting many shifters and other innocents. So you can certainly use werewolf trials as inspiration for this period. But that wasn’t how the Purge BEGAN; it’s how it ENDED, a cruel inquisition carried out by people who had suffered through a decade of terror and loss and who were hungry for bloody vengeance. So how did it start?

Under the rules of third edition D&D—the edition that existed when Eberron was created—lycanthropy was a virulent curse. Under the rules of the time, any lycanthrope could spread lycanthropy. If one wererat creates two victims, and each of them infect two others, within five cycles of infection you have 243 wererats… and that assumes each one only has two victims! Essentially, in lycanthropy as presented you have the clear potential for a zombie apocalypse: a massive wave that could result in untold death and ultimately destroy civilization as we know it. The Purge ENDED in a cruel inquisition. But it BEGAN as a noble, selfless struggle to save the world from collapsing into primal savagery. Thousands of templars gave their lives in the Towering Woods, fighting to protect the people of Aundair from supernatural horror.

Under the rules of 3.5 and 4th Edition, afflicted lycanthropes can’t spread the curse. This eliminated the threat of exponential expansion that made the Purge so necessary. Personally, I make this a part of history. At the time of the Purge, lycanthropy was more virulent. By the end of the Purge, the power of the curse had been broken. The question is: Was this tied to some specific victory, to ann Overlord being rebound or an artifact that was destroyed? Or was it simply tied to the number of lycanthropes—when the population grows, so does the power of the curse? And this is important, because in FIFTH edition, all lycanthropes can spread the curse again! Personally, I’m embracing this as the continued evolution: whatever cause the power to wane, it’s rising again. A werewolf apocalypse is a very real threat. Could another purge be called for?

What Makes Lycanthropy A Curse?

Lots of people like lycanthropes. They see lycanthropes as champions of nature, and as the persecuted victims of the purge. So why am I insistent about it being a curse?

First, there’s a simple logic to the decision. Lycanthropes possess amazing abilities. They can transfer these gifts to others, quite easily. So if there’s no downside to being a lycanthrope, why aren’t we all lycanthropes? Why isn’t this gift embraced and shared? If one member of a party contracts lycanthropy, why shouldn’t every member of the party get in on it?

With this in mind, D&D has generally inherited its view of lycanthropy from the Universal monster, not from the World of Darkness and its champions of Gaea. Even a man who’s pure of heart and says his prayers by night can become a wolf when the moon is full. It’s the vision of werewolves that chain themselves up as the moon grows close for fear of killing innocents. The third edition rules were very clear about this. Initially, when a victim falls prey to the curse, THEY BECOME AN NPC for the duration of the event and act according to their lycanthropic alignment. You lose all control and don’t know what you’ll do.

The rules specify that if this goes on long enough, the alignment change becomes permanent and it’s possible for the player to take over. But this isn’t a casual thing. In Eberron, an evil person can have a valid role in society. But 3E called out that an evil lycanthrope isn’t just “evil;” they’re murderers who enjoy preying on their former family and friends. Likewise, a good lycanthrope isn’t just a nice person; they are compelled to abandon civilization to live in the wilds. Fifth Edition echoes this. Consider the following quotes from the fifth edition Monster Manual:

  • Evil lycanthropes hide among normal folk, emerging in animal form at night to spread terror and bloodshed, especially under a full moon. Good lycanthropes are reclusive and uncomfortable around other civilized creatures, often living alone in wilderness areas far from villages and towns.

  • Most lycanthropes that embrace their bestial natures succumb to bloodlust, becoming evil, opportunistic creatures that prey on the weak.

The point here is simple: no player character should WANT to become a lycanthrope. It’s a terrifying burden; even good-aligned lycanthropy will destroy your original personality and turn you into someone else.

Eberron generally takes a broad approach to alignment. But lycanthropy is a special case: it is a supernatural force that IMPOSES an alignment, and this overrides the victim’s ability to choose their own path. What we do say is that there are different strains of lycanthropy, and that alignment is tied to strain. So it is possible to have a good-aligned werewolf… but if they infect someone that person will become a good-aligned werewolf. Here again, I can’t emphasize enough that being a good-aligned lycanthrope isn’t just about being a virtuous person. If it was, the Silver Flame would support it. But just look back at that quote from the Monster Manual: Good lycanthropes are “reclusive and uncomfortable” around civilization. Good or evil, the curse fundamentally changes who you are and enforces a powerful set of instincts and drives.

I feel that natural lycanthropes have a greater ability to adapt and evolve personalities around the behavior dictated by the curse. But it’s important to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between a natural lycanthrope and, say, a gnoll or a shifter. The lycanthrope isn’t just bestial in appearance; they are a vessel for a powerful supernatural force that shapes and drives their behavior. A natural werewolf can fight those urges, but the urges will always be there.

The Origin of Lycanthropy

The origins of lycanthropy are shrouded in mystery. As with the Mourning, I don’t think this is something that needs to be established in canon. I’d rather present a few different ideas, and let each DM decide which one they prefer. So consider the following.

The Gift of Olarune. Common belief is that shifters are thin-blooded lycanthropes. But there are shifters who say that their kind came first. Shifters are touched by Eberron and Olarune, tied to the natural world. Olarune empowered her champions with a stronger bond to nature, blessing them with enhanced vitality, animal form, and other gifts. According to this legend, this gift was corrupted by a dark power—one of the other forces presented below. This explains why lycanthrope traits don’t reflect the natural animal. The wolf isn’t a cruel murderer; but the werewolf embodies our fears of the savage predator that lurks in the darkness. The rat doesn’t scheme to spread disease and undermine cities… but the wererat does.

This means that there was a proto-lycanthropy that was entirely benevolent… and it allows players to have a quest to restore this, cleansing the curse as opposed to wiping it out. In my opinion, this “pure” lycanthropy wasn’t infectious—it would only produce natural lycanthropes, assuming it was hereditary at all. Alternately, it might not even resemble lycanthropy; these blessed champions could be a form of druid.

I have no objection to the idea of there being a small population of these blessed lycanthropes in the world—but again, I’d probably make them non-infectious. The blessing is something you earn, not something you get from a bite. This removes the issue of “Why don’t we all become blessed lycanthropes?”

Overlords: The Wild Heart. The novel The Queen of Stone suggests that lycanthropy is tied to one of the fiendish Overlords of the First Age, a mighty spirit known as the Wild Heart. If this is true, lycanthropy has been around since the dawn of time… and the waning and waxing of the power of the curse likely reflects the strength of the Overlord’s bonds. If you want positive lycanthropes in the world, the Wild Heart could have corrupted Olarune’s Gift… or you could reverse it and say that Olarune’s Gift is a variant that released some of those cursed by the Wild Heart.

Daelkyr: Dyrrn the Corruptor. The Daelkyr are known for transforming victims and creating monsters. Not all of their creations are aberrations; the daelkyr Orlassk is credited with creating medusas and basilisks. Dyrrn the Corruptor is especially know for, well, corruption; this certainly fits with a curse that transforms people both physically and mentally and turns victims into predators that prey on their own friends and family. This could have been something created from scratch… or they could have corrupted the existing primal gift.

So personally, I see even good lycanthropes as victims, and as people who don’t want to spread their curse because it WILL destroy the original personality of the victim. I have run a campaign in which a druid was working to restore the curse to its original blessed form.

But looking to all of this: this is how I run lycanthropes. It’s in line with the depiction in the Monster Manual, which emphasizes lycanthropy as a curse that drives unnatural behavior (whether good or evil). I personally like the idea of the lycanthrope as an alien entity, a being whose behavior is shaped by an unknown supernatural power. Essentially, D&D has a LOT of half-animal humanoids. Tabaxi, gnolls, giff… I like to make lycanthropes feel very different than all of these. Whether in human, hybrid, or animal form, a werewolf is a magical weapon, shaped and empowered to prey on the innocent (or to defend them, if it’s a good strain). Natural lycanthropes can take control of this; Zaeurl of the the Dark Pact is a brilliant warlord. Zaeurl isn’t wild or uncontrolled, she isn’t a slave to her instincts. But she is still a vessel for a power that makes her a supernatural predator, and those murderous instincts are always there. The same is true of the good lycanthrope: they aren’t cruel or murderous, but there is a deep primal core to their personality calling them to retreat to the wilds, to defend their territory.

But again: I embrace this because I LIKE it… because I LIKE lycanthropes, regardless of alignment, to feel dangerous and alien. I want my players to be terrified of contracting lycanthropy, not looking forward to it. If you want to do something different in your campaign, follow the path that’s going to make the best story for you and your players.

The Timeline of the Purge

Here’s a quick overview of the Lycanthropic Purge, pulled from one of my earlier posts.

  • Lycanthropes have been present throughout the history of Galifar. However, they rarely acted in any sort of coordinated fashion; afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the curse; and natural lycanthropes would generally avoid spreading the curse. They were dangerous monsters and something that templars or paladins of Dol Arrah would deal with, but not perceived as any sort of massive threat… more of a bogeyman and reason to stay out of wild areas.
  • Around the Ninth Century, there was a shift in Lycanthropic behavior. Packs of werewolves began coordinating attacks. Eldeen wolves began raiding Aundair, and wererats established warrens beneath the cities of western Aundair. More victims were left alive and afflicted. While terror spread among the common folk of western Aundair, the nobles largely dismissed the claims.
  • Sages in the Church of the Silver Flame confirmed that afflicted lycanthropes could now spread the curse. They realized that the raids and urban actions might not be as random as they appeared – that this could be the groundwork and preparations for a serious large-scale assault. Combined with the risk of exponential expansion, this was a potential threat to human civilization.
  • Templars were dispatched to Aundair, and fears were confirmed; there were more lycanthropes than anyone guessed, and they were better organized than had been seen in the past. What followed was a brutal guerrilla war; the templars had numbers and discipline, but they were fighting an unpredictable and extremely powerful foe that could hide in plain sight and turn an ally into an enemy with a single bite. Thousands of Aundairians and templars died in these struggles. Cunning lycanthropes intentionally sowed suspicions and fomented conflict between templars and shifters, resulting in thousands of additional innocent deaths.
  • The precise details of the war aren’t chronicled in canon and likely aren’t known to the general public. I expect it happened in waves, with periods where the templars thought the threat had finally been contained… only to have a new resurgence in a few years. Again, canon doesn’t state what drove the power of the lycanthropes. Whatever it was – demon, daelkyr, shaman – the templars finally broke it. Afflicted lycanthropes could no longer spread the curse, and all lycanthropes were freed from whatever overarching influence had been driving their aggression.
  • While the threat was largely neutralized at this point, people didn’t know that. There’d been ups and downs before. Beyond this, the Aundairian people had suffered through decades of terror and they wanted revenge. This is the point at which the Purge shifted from being a truly heroic struggle and became something more like a witch hunt, with mobs seeking to root out any possible lingering lycanthropes. Tensions with shifters continued to escalate as bloodthirsty mobs sought outlets for their fear and anger. A critical point here is that at this point, most of the aggressors were no longer Thrane templars. The primary instigators were Aundairians who had adopted the ways of the Silver Flame over the course of the Purge. For these new believers, the Silver Flame wasn’t just about defense; it was a weapon and a tool for revenge. This is the origin of the sect known as the Pure Flame, and its extremist ways can be seen in priests like Archbishop Dariznu of Thaliost, noted for burning enemies alive.

The take-away here is that the Purge began as a truly heroic struggle against a deadly foe, and the actions of the templars may have saved Galifar from collapsing into a feral savagery. But it ended in vicious persecution that left deep scars between the shifters, the church, and the people of Aundair. And now, it may be happening again.

Q&A

How prevalent were lycanthropes during the Dhakaani Empire?

That depends on the origin you chose for them. If you follow the idea of an Overlord, than the curse would exist during the Empire. However, I think it would be extremely rare. Consider a) the Dhakaani are highly civilized and city based, and b) the Dhakaani were a highly regimented and ruthless culture. Essentially, I would see the Dhakaani as being VERY quick to completely cauterize any nest of lycanthropes, just as they would quickly wipe out any form of biological disease. Now, lycanthropes could have still flourished in the wilds— the Towering Woods, the Shadow Marches—but they wouldn’t be seen in the Empire.

On the other hand, if lycanthropes were created by Dyrrn the Corruptor, they would have been a weapon unleashed in the Xoriat Incursion. There could well be historical evidence of a stretch of the western empire that was almost completely wiped out in a lycanthropic exponential expansion. Given this, if you wanted to present a Kech of the Heirs of Dhakaan that have somehow adapted and controlled their lycanthropy, it could be an interesting story—though the other Kech might see these things as abominations.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

We’ve never discussed this in canon. There’s certainly precedent for it with the Moonspeaker druid. We’ve suggested the idea that Olarune has the greatest influence over lycanthropes, but I think it would be very interesting to say that different moons drive different impulses or moods. Another option would be to tie each strain to a particular moon.

I’m very curious about how lycanthrope genetics work. I know it’s a supernatural thing and probably don’t follow any scientific logic at all, but bloodlines and heritage are still strong symbolic themes to play with. 

It’s a good question. If a natural evil werewolf has a child with an afflicted good werebear, what’s the child? You’re correct to keep in mind that this is fundamentally magic and that science isn’t the factor here. I’m inclined to follow the precedent of the kalashtar, and to say that while the child may inherent genetic traits from both parents, they only inherent the supernatural lineage of one of them. In the example above, they don’t produce some sort of neutral wolfbear; the child is either a good werebear or an evil werewolf. In the kalashtar, this is predictable and tied to gender; the child inherits the curse from the parent of the same gender. But you could just as easily make it random, or assert that one of the strains (I’d tend to say the evil one) is dominant.

I will say that I don’t consider natural or afflicted to be a factor in this. Once you have the curse you have the curse. It’s more deeply rooted in the natural—it can’t be removed, and it’s shaped them psychologically since birth—but in terms of passing it to a child, I think there’s no difference.

Is it correct to assume that the children of a natural or afflicted lycanthrope with a humanoid is a shifter (albeit one with far more obvious bestial traits than average)?

No, that’s not what I’d say at all. In my opinion, the connection between lycanthropes and shifters is more nebulous than that—and as I suggest above, it could be that shifters actually predate lycanthropes. We’ve called out that with shifters it’s not necessarily clear what animal they are tied to, and that shifter traits aren’t hereditary. If shifters are related to lycanthropes, I think it’s the process of many generations.

So personally, I would say that the child of a humanoid and lycanthrope is a going to be a natural lycanthrope. The curse isn’t natural and isn’t limited by genetics; it’s a curse. WITH THAT SAID… I can see some strong story potential to making it not an absolutely sure thing, which would allow you to have a character who appears to be normal only to develop lycanthropy spontaneously late in life (Shadow over Innsmouth style).

With that said, if you want to use shifter mechanics to represent a hybrid child of a human and lycanthrope, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d just personally say that the character isn’t a traditional shifter—that the MECHANICS are the same, but that there will be obvious physical differences (this character would be more obviously linked to the particular animal, would be driven to a specific subrace, etc).

One sourcebook (was it Secrets of Sarlona?) mentioned that shifters and lycanthropes originated from Sarlona, more specifically from the Tashana Tundra. If so, shouldn’t the daelkyr hypothesis be ruled out?

The sourcebook in question is Secrets of Sarlona. There’s a few factors to consider here.

  • Secrets of Sarlona suggests that shifters began on Sarlona, but gives no explanation of how they came to Khorvaire.
  • It specifically presents this Tashan origin as a surprise to both the humans and shifters of Khorvaire.
  • Neither shifter culture seems to have the motives or resources to organize a vast migration by sea, and the Eldeen shifter culture isn’t strongly intertwined with humanity.

Putting these three factors together suggests that shifters arrival in Khorvaire predates humanity, and was unusual in its origin. So I’ll present one hypothesis: Perhaps a large group of shifters entered one of the Wild Zones of Sarlona and were thrown into Thelanis. There, an Archfey—who called herself Olarune, after the moon—guided them through the Faerie Court, leading them out through another manifest zone into Khorvaire. This provides the basis for folktales of shifters as the chosen people of Olarune and gives them a migration that’s entirely unconnected to humanity. This could have occurred long before humanity crossed the ocean. And if we posit the Towering Wood as their landing point, it’s a wild region that was never tamed by Dhakaan; so it’s entirely possible they could have been present during the Daelkyr conflict.

WITH THAT SAID: A daelkyr wouldn’t have to cross thousands of miles to threaten Sarlona. We’ve discussed the Umbragen of Xen’drik fighting daelkyr. Remember that Khyber contains a myriad of demiplanes, which don’t follow natural law. So you could easily descend into Khyber in the Eldeen Reaches and emerge in Xen’drik, if you found the right passage.

Also: Secrets of Sarlona DOESN’T provide any explanation for the origin of lycanthropy. It seems to have had no significant impact on the history of Sarlona and is barely mentioned. It presents the possibility that it’s the result of an exposure to wild zones, but this is clearly called out as simply one possibility, not concrete fact… and I find it to be a weak story compared to the other options.

This is very well-timed, not just for Halloween, but because the shifter and the Silver Flame warlock in my group are sort of eyeing each other warily…

It’s worth exploring this a bit. The shifter tribes of the Towering Woods have far more experience with lycanthropes than humans do. They know that the good strains don’t pose a threat, and many clans would work in harmony with good-aligned lycanthropes. However, they despise EVIL lycanthropes. Again, per core rules, an evil lycanthrope is compelled to prey on the weak and innocent, even taking joy in targeting former friends and family members. The shifters understood this threat better than anyone, and had no desire to shield evil lycans. But they also understood that there were good strains as well.

So in principle, shifters and templars could have worked together against the common foe. But cunning lycans (especially wererats) worked to destroy this possibility before it could be realized. These agents intentionally sowed the idea that shifters were weretouched and supported all lycanthropes, actively working to set the templars and shifters against one another. The damage done by this lingers to this day. Many shifters hate the church, and followers of the Pure Flame hold to the idea that all shifters are weretouched or lycan sympathizers.

With that said, this isn’t universal. Many people on both sides understand that this was a trick, misinformation to turn allies against one another. There were shifters and templars who fought side by side during the Purge, and shifters who have become champions of the church in the decades that have followed.

All of which is to say: It’s up to your players to decide where they stand on this. Either one could be blinded by superstition and prejudice. Or they could understand that this hatred was engineered by a mutual foe, and be trying to work past it.

During development, was the purge specifically created to offset the “They’re heroes!” mentality that might come from such a “Holy Glorious Shenanigan” mindset otherwise?

Yes and no. The Purge was inspired by historical events, certainly: crusades, the Inquisition, wiping out smallpox. But in these situations, it’s vital to remember that Eberron isn’t our world. When we think of witch trials, we inherently assume that this involves the paranoid persecution of innocents, because (we believe) witches aren’t real. By contrast, the Purge was driven by an absolute concrete apocalypse level threat. Whatever you think about lycanthropes generally—even if you believe that lycanthropy is a blessing creating champions of the natural world—the lycanthropy presented in the rules of third edition was a curse, a supernatural force that could turn the noblest soul into a cruel murderer with the power to create more murderers. The curse that set the Purge in motion was a real, concrete supernatural threat that would have collapsed human civilization into primal murderous savagery. This is why it’s logical to think that this curse was created by the daelkyr or an Overlord: because it’s a weapon perfectly designed to tear apart a civilization from within and without.

So at its core, the Purge WAS a Holy Glorious Shenanigan. People ask why the Church didn’t put more effort into curing the victims, why it was so ruthless. To me, this fails to grasp the brutality of the situation. In my mind, we are talking about a horrific, terrifying struggle. Lycanthropes are powerful and deadly, and one-to-one the Templars were badly outmatched. Take the movie Aliens and set it in a redwood forest: that’s how I see the early days of the Purge. Add to this the idea that any village you find could be riddled with wererats scheming to poison you or turn you against innocents… or the entire village could BE innocent, and YOU DON’T KNOW. There could have been periods of peace, but when a surge occurred it would be sheer apocalyptic horror. In this phase, the templars weren’t cruel inquisitors. They weren’t in the position of power. They were heroes laying down their lives to protect the innocent people of Aundair.

After years of conflict, the tide finally turned. The power of the curse was broken. Suddenly the numbers of lycanthropes began to dwindle as they were defeated. But as noted in my timeline, this had happened before; no one knew that this time the threat was truly over. Now that the outright war had been won, the focus shifted to rooting out the survivors… those lycanthropes still hidden among the population. THIS is where we shift to the cruel inquisition and the paranoid witch hunt, taking the story we’ve seen play out many times in our history. But it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with a population that had suffered through a generation of blood-soaked terror, people who’d had lost countless loved ones to murderous lycanthropes. And remember that WE have the benefit of a rulebook that tells us with absolute authority how lycanthropy works, how it can be cured, that a good lycanthrope only creates other good lycanthropes. They had none of these things: what they had were countless conspiracy theories and superstitions born of terror and rage. And this was the foundation of the Pure Flame: a sect who saw the Silver Flame as a weapon, a tool not simply to protect the innocent but to punish the enemy, a force that had saved them from annihilation and could now make the forces that caused such terror pay for it.

So if anything, the Purge is a reflection of the moral complexity of the setting. It’s an event that can’t be painted as entirely good or purely evil. It was a conflict fought for the noblest of reasons that may have saved human civilization; and it was a ruthless persecution that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents and set an ember of hatred and suspicion between shifters and the church that still burns today. It is a stain upon the Church of the Silver Flame because of the innocents who died; but it’s also a symbol of selfless courage, of templars placing themselves in harms way to protect hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

That’s all for now… happy Halloween!