Worldbuilding 101: Taverns

There’s a lot of exciting things in the World of Keith. Phoenix: Dawn Command is now available on Amazon. The price is the same as getting it at your FLGS or from our website, so if your FLGS carries it that’s your best option. However, if you can’t get it locally, Amazon provides a way to avoid the high shipping costs that have been a problem in the past. I’m writing new Phoenix material right now, so you’ll see more of that in the months ahead!

But on to today’s topic. A few weeks back, someone said It’s easy to make Eberron feel like Eberron in the big cities. How do I do the same when visiting a tavern, or hamlet?” 

I addressed the main question in this Dragonmark article, but taverns are an interesting topic and I wanted to take the subject beyond Eberron.

A tavern can serve many functions in a campaign. Traditionally, it’s a place for adventurers to meet mysterious strangers in order to acquire quests. But there are many other ways to use an inn. In Casablanca, Rick’s Cafe is a neutral ground where people from all walks of life mingle; “Everybody comes to Rick’s.” While also in Casablanca, The Blue Parrot is where you go if you want to make a deal with underworld boss Ferrari. Consider…

  • GOODS AND SERVICES. Are you looking for a pilot? You’ll find the best in the cantina in Mos Eisley. Smugglers, traveling merchants, mercenaries, spies… Anyone without a legitimate storefront may sell their services in their favorite watering hole. And the choice of tavern tells you a little something about that person.
  • ONE NIGHT STAND. Your adventure may be taking you to Mordor, but a night at the Prancing Pony can add color and complications to the journey. It’s easy to gloss over travel, taking the “red line on the map” approach. But a night in an interesting inn can be a memorable scene. How do you spend the evening? Do you hide in your room? Sing an old Brelish song with the captains in the corner? Gamble with those mercenaries? When the tinker offers to sell you a lucky charm, do you take it or do you tell them to get lost?
  • DEN OF THIEVES. A tavern can be a home base for a particular group of people. It could be neutral ground: if you want to negotiate with the Boromar Clan, have a drink in Callestan. Or it may be that you’re taking your life in your hands when you go inside, and you’d better be prepared to fight your way out. The party’s rogue may have a bar where she meets fences or negotiates with higher-ups in the guild. In my last CCD20 adventure, the party is pursuing a war criminal who’s holed up in an inn in Graywall; can they dig him out without angering the locals? Cottonmouth’s club in Luke Cage is a good example of this.
  • HOME FROM HOME. A tavern can be a great base of operations for a group of adventurers, especially if they are freelance agents. This could be a location that develops organically over time, or it could be something you work into the initial backstory. It could be a family business associated with one of the player characters, perhaps operated by a parent or sibling. It could be owned by a friend, perhaps a soldier who fought alongside the adventurers during the war but retired from the adventuring life due to injuries. It might be simple business; the innkeeper provides the adventurers with free room and board in exchange for them dealing with any troubles that arise in the bar while they’re around. It could even be that the inn belongs to one of the PCs… consider Kote in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Having a set base of operations can help the players feel a stronger sense of attachment to the world, and you can work with them to develop details about the inn. What’s their favorite meal? What’s an interesting detail about the server? What’s the most unusual feature about their character’s room? And of course, once the players are attached to the location, it becomes a thing that can be threatened to generate dramatic tension…

SETTING UP SHOP

So you’ve some ideas of what to do with your tavern… now you need to describe it. Start by considering the following elements.

PURPOSE. Typically, the general purpose of a tavern is to provide a comfortable place for people to gather over food and drink; if it’s an inn, add lodging to the lineup. Does your establishment have any other purpose? Is it a casino? A brothel? A recruiting center for mercenaries? Is it operated by a church or other organization, and how does that affect decor and services?

CLIENTELE. Does this establishment serve the general population, or does it serve a more specialized niche? While this could be something like mercenaries or criminals, it could just as easily cater to fans of a particular sport, people who work at a nearby business (a quarry, a mill, a shipyard), or members of a particular faith. This decision can help you envision what sort of people might be around on a typical afternoon. If it serves a particular niche, do they welcome outsiders or drive them away? Will the hrazhak fans teach you the sport, or give you the cold shoulder? If you’re planning to use the place more than once, come up with names and descriptions for three regulars people can usually expect to find here.

STAFF. Who runs this place? Is the innkeeper or bartender the owner, or are these separate? Is there live music? Is there a single weary barmaid? A host of goblin servants? Bound spirits that handle domestic tasks? How does the bartender maintain order… a shotgun or wand behind the bar? A scary bouncer? The general love of the clientele?

DISTINCTIVE FEATURES. What makes this inn stand out? Why is it in this particular location in the first place? Who founded it? Is the bartender a former celebrity of some sort? Is there something remarkable about the structure? Is there something that serves a particular purpose… a fighting ring? A stage for performances? What about food and drink? In Eberron, there are Zil waterhouses that only serve water flavored with prestidigitation… what does this place serve, and why?

LOCATION. Why is there a tavern here? In a big city it might be one of a dozen, but if it’s out in the wilds it’s a valid question. Is it on a major trade road? Does it cater to pilgrims on their way to a nearby shrine? Is it the last outpost of civilization on the edge of a mystic wasteland?

Here’s a few examples to consider…

  • The Labyrinth. Located in the monstrous city of Graywall, the Labyrinth is built into an old quarry. A vast awning keeps rain from flooding the quarry, and customers descend a spiral ramp to get down to the common room. A medusa manages the bar, and the statues scattered around are a warning to those who might cause trouble. Goblins and gnolls surround the central firepit, cheering for the harpy performing mesmerizing torch songs. The rooms for rent are part of a vast network of caves that stretch below the quarry.
  • The Quill. Known as a refuge for authors and wizards alike, The Quill is named for the writing implement of a legendary mage, which is ensconced above the bar. The Quill serves the students and faculty of the nearby college of magic, and this is reflected in its fixtures; the rooms are lit by continual flames, and there are a number of unseen servants that perform menial tasks. Most of the servers are students themselves, while the bartender is a retired alumni who prefers mixology to magic. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent place to hear gossip or trade for rare components. Brave mages can compete in the creative cantrip competition that occurs every week.
  • The Crooked Tree. This inn is on the only road that runs through the deep forest. It’s built around the trunk of a gnarled tree, and while she lets the innkeeper handle business, the owner is the ancient dryad bound to this tree. It could be that most customers are mortals who use the main road, or it could be that the inn primarily caters to the fey that lurk in the shadows of the wood; if this is the case, you might have to pay for a drink with a secret, or pay for your room with a promise; gold is worth nothing beneath the Crooked Tree.

These details are great for building random scenes. Even if you’re just using the inn as a one night stand, is there an event going on when the players arrive? Is it a competition a player could take part in? Give that bard a chance to do what they do best! Or if it’s on a trade road or pilgrimage route, will a caravan roll up while the player characters are dining, and will it bring trouble?

Should a fight break out, these details can also add a lot of flavor. In games like d20, combat can sometimes feel very clinical… I rolled an 18 and did six points of damage. OK, but what did you DO? Think about bar fights in any movie. Are you hitting someone with a barstool? Tossing them through the window, or back into a rack of bottles? What I like to do in this sort of situation is to provide the players with a 3×5 card with a list of notable things in the bar… A Roaring Fire; A Barstool; A Plate Glass Window; A Chandelier; A Barmaid With A Tray Of Drinks. If the player can explain how they are using one of these elements as useful part of their action, they gain a benefit. In This is a core principle of Phoenix: Dawn Command, but it’s something you can use in any system; for many players this sort of prompt really helps them visualize the environment and get more creative with their actions. In Phoenix, using an environmental element lets you draw a card. In d20, a good use of a prop could provide advantage to a roll… or in the case of the Roaring Fire, shoving someone into the fire might add a little fire damage to the attack instead of advantage to the roll. Using an element doesn’t remove the element from the environment – the fire doesn’t go out, and people can still do things with it – but the advantage only goes to the first person to make use of an element.

PASSING THE TIME

So: the adventurers stops in the Chattering Skull en route to the Mournland. It’s a Karrnathi bar, and the animated skull of the original owner rests on the bar. They’re there for the night. As GM, what can you do to make it interesting?

  • Games. How do the locals pass the time? If you feel so inclined, you could take a pause to actually play a game you feel resembles something people might play in the region. If you prefer to keep things short, you can use a few quick rolls to resolve the outcome. A bluffing game would be a test of Deception and Insight. A game like darts could be a series of opposed attack rolls; the person who makes the three best ranged attacks wins. Armwrestling? Sounds like a Strength/Athletics check. Drinking contest? Constitution/Endurance. With any of these, don’t rely entirely on the die roll; describe the game, and give a player a bonus for an entertaining description. Typically, the amount of money normal people would wager won’t be significant for PCs, but it can still be a good story and help PCs connect with the locals.
  • Entertainment. Is there entertainment at the tavern? A traveling bard could share local news or a stories of the region… either of which could potentially be useful if the actual adventure takes place nearby. if one of the players is an entertainer, they could be asked to fill this role themselves. Or there could be a competition, whether musical or magical!
  • Stranger Danger. You’re enjoying your dinner when a group of loud, arrogant Emerald Claw soldiers show up and start throwing their weight around. They aren’t here for a fight, and technically they aren’t breaking any laws. Are you going to be the one to engage in violence, potentially bringing harm to the innkeeper? If not, this can be a fun opportunity to interact with people who are usually villains in a non-violent context.
  • Mysterious Opportunity. A traveling peddler offers a good luck charm or an ancient map. A stranger approaches and says something that’s clearly a code phrase, and hastily backs away when the PCs don’t know the right response. A smuggler offers rare goods at a low price – the PCs don’t need the goods now, but do they want to miss the opportunity? A fight breaks out between two strangers at the next table… will the PCs interfere? A stranger – secretly a spy – suddenly collapses from poison. Will the PCs get involved? And there’s always the possibility for romance…
  • Ask The Players. A simple answer is to ask your players what happens. They’re spending an evening in a tavern… what do they think should happen? This gives the players an easy opportunity to shape the story… whether to introduce a new plot thread or simply to describe their armwrestling victory.

BUT WHAT ABOUT EBERRON? 

The original question was about taverns in Eberron. The first issue is definitely location; looking at the examples above, The Labyrinth is in Droaam; The Quill is near Arcanix; and The Crooked Tree is in Thelanis, though you could drop it in a manifest zone. Everything that I’ve said up to this point applies, but you want to answer specific questions tied to Eberron. How does magic apply? What impact has the war had? Is there a warforged bouncer? Did the bartender lose his arm during an Aundairian bombardment? Is there a way to involve a magical beast – the hearth is in a gorgon’s skull, or there’s a giant owl who’s taken up residence there? If there’s shifters in the region, are people arguing about the shifter sport hrazhak? Perhaps the bartender is a changeling, who has different faces for different moods… Max is always up for conversation, but when you see Mildred at the bar, just order your drink and don’t ask questions?

And as long as we’re talking about taverns in Eberron, we have to discuss the GOLD DRAGON INN. While Ghallanda licenses inns of all sorts, the Gold Dragon is their primary franchise operation. Just like in our world, the whole point of the Gold Dragon is that people know exactly what to expect when they go into one. So play that up. Add your own details about what defines a Gold Dragon Inn, and make sure to highlight that every time the players stop at one. Here’s a few I’m literally making up right now.

  • The Gold Dragon Inn has a mascot, Goldie the Dragon. Every GDI has a mural inside of Goldie wrapped around the inn, looking down at you with a wink and a grin. Some inns have a Goldie costume – which involves three halflings – that they bring out on special occasions.
  • The Gold Dragon Inn always has a greeter, typically a halfling barmaid who says something along the following lines. “Welcome to the Gold Dragon Inn, where our guests are our greatest treasure! Would you like a tankard of our Copper Egg ale?”

Basically, any time the players are wandering around and happen to stop for the night, what do you know, it’s a Gold Dragon Inn! With the exact same greeter speech! And friendly, helpful staff who are happy to provide you with useful information about the region! The place is amazingly clean, as the staff uses a minor dragonmark focus item that ties to the Mark of Hospitality, using a prestidigitation effect to wipe away dirt and grime with the wave of a wand. And then, once people have gotten used to it, have them end up in a bad part of Karrnath where there’s no Gold Dragon Inn. The tavern they end up in is grimy and there’s holes in the roof from Thranish air raids (“Never had the gold to fix ’em,” the owner says. “Don’t worry, I moved the bed out from under.”). The owner lost a forearm in one of those raids but has a skeletal prosthetic. He’s probably not going to kill you in your sleep. Probably.

JT: Are there any major inns or taverns that operate without Ghallanda’s backing, or as open competition to the House’s industry?

SD: Dragonmarked’ makes it seem like other establishments certainly exist, but if they’re not at least sponsored by the Hosteler’s Guild, they’re regarded in the Five Nations as second-rate or questionable. If an exception existed that posed a serious threat to Ghallanda interests in an area, unsavory repercussions might occur.

I’m including SpoonDragon’s answer because it hits the nail on the head. The Dragonmarked Houses dominate their fields, and have established and maintained that dominance over the course of centuries. But that doesn’t mean every inn is a Gold Dragon Inn. You have three classes of business, as established in Dragonmarked: businesses directly run by the house; businesses bound to the house, which are essentially franchises like the Gold Dragon Inn; and licensed business, which pay a percentage and agree to meet the industry standards established by the house in exchange for being able to use the house seal. MOST inns and taverns are licensed. The critical thing is that this isn’t just a scam run by the houses. They DO establish and enforce industry standards, a role that is usually handled by the government in our world. A tavern has to pay Ghallanda for the license, but it ALSO has to meet the house standards for hygiene and health, and that’s the real VALUE of the license: potential customers know they can trust it. That shabby Karrnathi inn described above COULDN’T be a licensed business, because it doesn’t meet the standards. So a really successful and well-established business – like The Oaks in Sharn – could run without a license, trusting in its established reputation. But it’s sort of like posting a sign on your door saying “We’ve never had a health inspection.”

Generally the houses won’t act against lone businesses that choose to operate outside their scope. However, if someone truly poses a serious threat to their market dominance, they will take steps to deal with it… starting with negotiation, then negative propaganda, then more severe methods. A Ghallanda Black Dog (from Dragonmarked) can poison food or drink just by looking at it; this is a handy person to have in your back pocket when you want to give a rival restaurant a reputation for food poisoning.

I have always wondered about Gold Dragon Inns, starting with the price point. Are we talking Super 8, or Hamton, or Hilton, or Fairmont, or what? How big is the common room (in terms of area or number of patrons)? Is there both a tavern and a restaurant? What sort of food is served? How many rooms? How many of those rooms cater to small creatures like gnomes and halflings? Are there any other services provided? What sort of security is present – for valuables, or common areas, or private rooms?

This was cut for space from Dragonmarked, but addresses this a bit…

Two Ghallanda-licensed taverns in Sharn may have nothing in common beyond the house seal. But the Hostelers Guild maintains a number of bound businesses with outposts across Khorvaire. These strive for uniformity, and a traveler knows exactly what he can expect when he goes to a Gold Dragon Inn. 

          The Gold Dragon Inn. A home away from home for the frequent traveler, the Gold Dragon Inn provides reliable (if not exceptional) services at reasonable rates. Every Gold Dragon Inn possesses a heavy safe secured with arcane lock, and a soundproofed back room that can be rented for private events or important negotiations. House Ghallanda works with House Thuranni and House Phiarlan, and a Gold Dragon Inn will always have some sort of guild-licensed entertainer on hand.

            The Drum and Lyre. These taverns specialize in spicy Talentan cuisine, and serve as venues for music and dance. Three nights of the week are reserved for halflings performing traditional Talentan works; three nights are filled by performers from House Phiarlan or House Thuranni; and one night is held for amateurs and independents, which can be an opportunity for PC bards to hone their skills and make a little silver. Occasionally musical performances are set aside for athletic events, including sporting matches between miniature clawfeet and other Talentan beasts.   

As I’ve said before, the Dragonmarked Houses essentially set the industry standards, which is to say the prices in the rule book. So if you look on page 158 pf the 5E Player’s Handbook, the Gold Dragon Inn generally would be considered Modest accommodations (5 SP/night) while the best suite in a GDI would be Comfortable (8 SP/night). I generally think of the GDI as having a simple tavern attached, but some might have a full restaurant (perhaps a Drum & Lyre!). The size and number of the rooms will be based on the expected clientele; a GDI in Zilargo will have lots of rooms for small guests, while one in Breland will be predominantly designed with medium guests in mind. A GDI could have six rooms or a hundred rooms, based on the logical ability of the region to support it and the needs of your story.

Now, as noted above, the GDI is not the only sort of inn Ghallanda runs. It’s a known quantity, but many Ghallanda heirs prefer to run their own unique licensed business. The house itself runs a number of more luxurious inns, such as the Twilight Palace in Graywall; these would be in the Wealthy to Aristocratic class of lodging, and include services provided by other Dragonmarked houses – a Sivis message station in the hotel, an Orien courier on call, etc.

HOW ABOUT PHOENIX?

I can’t create new material for Eberron, but I can create anything I want for my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. I think this post has gone on long enough, but I’ll do a follow-up next week that highlights the role of the tavern in Phoenix, with a few different locations you could use in your campaign.

Dragonmarks 1/30: Dreams, Werewolves, and DM Etiquette

The last post generated quite a few interesting questions, so I decided to push ahead with another round. As always, these are purely my opinions and may contradict canon material.

In general, how much is it worth correcting players who, during play, misremember aspects of a setting?

This depends on a number of different factors.

  • Is the element directly important to the current adventure? Will the flawed recollection interfere with players’ ability to enjoy the story?
  • How will your players respond to being corrected? Will it be a welcome clarification, or cause irritation?
  • Is the misremembered element something that is especially important to you or your interpretation of Eberron? Is it something fundamental (the Last War was fought between the Five Nations, not between Galifar and Riedra) or a point of trivia that actual people in Eberron might not know (according to Faiths of Eberron, House Medani helped end the lycanthropic purge by creating a focus item that identified lycanthropes).

As someone who travels the world running Eberron games, I often have players who aren’t familiar with the setting. Perhaps I’ve got a player in a one-shot who is treating his warforged like a robot. I know that there’s lots of differences between warforged and robots. But his interpretation isn’t going to interfere with the one-shot adventure, and my explaining the differences will frustrate him rather than improve his enjoyment of things. On the other hand, if I had that same player in a campaign that was going to last for a year and involve interactions with other warforged, House Cannith, and the Lord of Blades, I probably would explain the differences so he’d have the proper context for his interactions with these forces. And if someone said “This ‘Last War’ was fought against the goblins, right?” I’d explain it right away.

Codex sounds very interesting. When will we be able to know more about it? I’d like to know if you’ll create it entirely on your own or if supporters will somehow participate, as happened with the Midgard campaign setting.

I will be writing a longer post about it sometime within the next week; I have a few deadlines I need to deal with first. I’ll address the design process in that post.

Concerning colonization… wasn’t Stormreach originally a colonial post of Galifar?

No. This is discussed in more detail in City of Stormreach. It was established as an outpost by pirates and legitimized by a compact with Galifar, but it was never subject to Galifar’s laws or authority, and it wasn’t settled according to any sort of royal plan.

Secondly, is there room for unknown continents in Eberron?

There’s room for anything in Eberron if you want to come up with a story for it. But a mystery continent is a big add, because Eberron has been well-explored. From dragons to gnomes to elves, you’ve had a host of intelligent, sophisticated races exploring the world. How did this continent go undiscovered? Was it hidden by magic? Has it just risen from the ocean floor? Or have people known about it but never gone there, and if so, why has that changed?

By contrast, Codex is set during a period of exploration, and the potential to discover new lands is one opportunity for people to add their own flavor to the setting.

Are there concepts or facets of Eberron that seem intrinsically influenced or tied to certain editions, such as 3E where it was debuted and 4E where it got its (arguably) first big makeover? As a DM I feel pretty confident in my ability to fit rules, story and player expectations into a package everyone will have fun with, but I’m curious if the issue’s ever come up with the mighty Hellcow.

Not big ones, but sure, there’s a lot of little things. A few examples:

  • Eberron was originally designed for D&D 3E, but by the time it was released D&D was up to 3.5. The changes might seem fairly minor, but they can still have an impact. Notably, in 3E, any lycanthrope can spread the curse; if you’re bitten by a werewolf and turned, you can bite me and turn me. This was the impetus for the Lycanthropic Purge: lycanthropy is a dangerous contagious curse that could easily spread out of control if not contained. But 3.5 changed this so that only natural-born lycanthropes could spread the curse; a true werewolf could bite you and turn you, but you couldn’t pass it to me. This completely changes the exponential threat potential and makes the Purge seem like overkill. Hence we shifted the story to say that back in the time of the Purge, the curse was stronger and all ‘thropes were infectious; the Purge weakened it, so it’s no longer the threat it once was.
  • The first Thorn of Breland novel was written during the 3.5 era. In 3.5, dragons possess blindsight, and this plays a role in the story. Likewise, Thorn is very much a 3.5 Assassin; if she gets a little while to watch you, she can do a sudden death strike, and she knows a handful of spells (disguise self, spider climb, etc). In 4E, dragons DON’T possess blindsight, and at the time of the second novel, there were no rules for assassins. I ended up simply ignoring most of these things… though I did address the Eladrin in the third Thorn novel.

Races would probably be the biggest change; with 4E, we wanted a place for the new core PHB races – dragonborn and eladrin. I feel we did a reasonably good job of fitting these in without dramatically changing the world, and I like the role of the Eladrin. But it did take some thought.

In general, Eberron was designed with 3E D&D in mind – but it can certainly be adapted to any system.

All this time I thought it was the Silver Flame Church who started the anti-Lycanthrope purge, not the Flame itself/Tira!

If you haven’t read it, I’d take a look at this Dragonshard article about the Purge. A lot of people have the wrong idea about the Purge, and think that the Keeper got up one day and said “You know what I feel like doing? Hunting down lycanthropes who are minding their own business.” In fact, the Purge began as a war of defense and containment after there was an exponential surge in lycanthropy in what is now the Eldeen Reaches. Waves of lycanthropes were raiding Aundair, and at that time the curse was highly contagious. I like to describe it as “28 Days Later with werewolves instead of zombies.” The first days of the “Purge” were much like the marines versus the xenomorphs in Aliens: brutal and terrifying. One to one, very few templars were a match for a lycanthrope, and one bite is all it takes to turn an ally into an enemy. After years of bloody conflict the tide turned in favor of the Silver Flame, but it was no easy battle. The decades of persecution that followed were fueled by a hunger for revenge, especially on the part of the Aundairians who had lost homes, friends, and family to the lycanthrope plague. This is why the Aundairian Pure Flame are the most zealous and aggressive followers of the Silver Flame; their branch of the faith was born in war and vengeance.

And lastly, it says in Faiths of Eberron that the Lycanthropic Purge ended shortly after House Medani invented a dragonshard focus that could detect lycanthropes. Do you have any thoughts on how this item would function?

I didn’t work on Faiths of Eberron, so I don’t know what the author had in mind. As a dragonshard focus item, it would require an heir of the house to operate it. Other than that, I’d have it function as best fits your story. It could be a tracker a la Aliens, which notes general position and distance, but not complete details; this would allow you to maintain some mystery. “There’s definitely a werewolf in this room… but which of us is it?” If you want to kill that mystery, it could be a monocle that reveals the lycanthrope’s true shape, but thus only works with line of sight.

It says in the Eberron Campaign Setting that “when mortals dream, they psychically project their minds to Dal Quor.” What about immortals? Could a bound rakshasa rajah in suspended animation find a way to project his mind to Dal Quor?

The basic idea is that mortal spirits are influenced by all of the planes, and pulled between them. We slip into Dal Quor when we dream. We’re pulled to Dolurrh when we die. Beyond this, we are creatures of body and soul; it’s the spirit that visits Dal Quor when you dream, leaving your body behind.

Meanwhile, immortals are physical embodiments of ideas. This has two aspects. First, the immortal doesn’t dream the way mortals do. Its body isn’t mere flesh: it’s a physical representation of its spirit. The two don’t separate. If it wants to go to Dal Quor, it goes there in one piece. So it doesn’t “dream”, but it could planar travel. This ties to the second point. The mortals of Eberron are touched by all planes. War and peace, light and darkness, madness and dream; all of these things shape mortal minds. An immortal is a creature of one shade. It is PURE war, unadulterated madness or dream. It is a physical embodiment of the core ideas of its plane. A rakshasa or a Fernian balor has no innate connection to Dal Quor; dreams aren’t part of their core identity.

Having said that, could a Khyberian Overlord find a way to project itself into Dal Quor? Sure. If that’s the story you want to have happen, make an explanation. Perhaps Bel Shalor’s connection to the Silver Flame lets it ride mortal spirits into Dal Quor. Perhaps the followers of the Voice In The Darkness have created an eldritch machine that lets her push into the realm of dreams. If you want it to happen, decide what it takes. But it’s not normal, and it would be a significant event.

Furthermore, it also states that “the only way to reach Dal Quor from the Material Plane is through the psychic projection of dreaming.” Does this mean that only mortals on the material plane dream? What about mortals on other planes? What about mortals from the material plane traveling to other planes?

As noted above, creatures of Eberron are inherently shaped by all of the planes, and it its this connection to Dal Quor that lets us go there when we dream. Many of the planes don’t HAVE mortal inhabitants… or their mortal inhabitants are immigrants (or descendants of immigrants) from the material plane. I would say that most native mortals don’t go to Dal Quor when they sleep; in this I’ll point to the Eladrin, who don’t dream. Do traveling mortals dream? I’d say it depends on the plane. In Fernia, you might dream in Dal Quor; however, planes such as Baator (well, demiplanes) or Dolurrh might have a spiritual gravity that prevents you from escaping through dreams.

Do some noble lords have their own armies, as in feudal societies?

Yes and no. If you look to Karrnath, while the army has a national command structure, individual forces are raised and maintained by the noble families; the leaders of each family are known as warlords. So while the army typically serves the coordinated vision of the king, every soldier is personally loyal to a specific warlord, and any warlord could choose to remove his support from the king – something Kaius has to keep in mind. While this has been specifically called out in Karrnath, I imagine it’s the basic model for most of the nations: nobles are charged to raise and maintain elements of the national armies. Beyond this, there’s nothing stopping nobles from having their own private forces. The only restriction that’s ever been mentioned is the Korth Edicts, which prevent Dragonmarked Houses from having armies. If a noble of Galifar wants an army and can afford to maintain it, that’s their business.

 

RPGs: Established Settings vs Homebrew Campaigns

The following question came up at one of my panels at PAX. I didn’t have time to address it there, but it’s a great topic and I’d like to hear all of your thoughts on the matter. But hey, as it’s my name on the website, I’ll start with my own…

Do you have any thoughts on the pros and cons of running a game in an established setting versus creating your own setting?

I’ve never actually run a game in any of the established D&D settings aside from Eberron. However, I’ve participated in those settings in other ways. I’ve read books set in the Forgotten Realms, and played Pools of Radiance and Baldur’s GatePlanescape: Torment may be my favorite CRPG, though I didn’t much care for the Blood Wars CCG. I read the initial Dragonlance novels and modules, and experienced Birthright through the strange lens of The Gorgon’s Alliance.

But I’ve never run a game in one of these worlds. I’ve always created my own campaign worlds. Well, unless you count the times I’ve run Call of Cthulhu… or Stormbringer… or the year I spent as a storyteller on a World of Darkness MUSH… or the many campaigns of Over The Edge I’ve run in the default setting of Al Amarja.

Whether you look at the worlds I’ve run in or the ones I’ve simply participated in, for me the preceding paragraphs address one of the biggest draws of an established setting… the ability to participate in it on multiple levels. I’ve never run a game in the Forgotten Realms. But because of the novels I’ve read and the computer games I’ve played, I could sit down with you and have an interesting conversation about the impact of the Time of Troubles or the Spellplague. We can play Lords of Waterdeep together, and even if we’ve never played a game of D&D together, we can both recognize the people and places referenced in the game. A friend of mine told me that his favorite thing about RPGs is that they create a personal mythology shared by a group of friends… a set of stories that bind that group together. When we utilize an established setting, we are sharing that mythology with thousands of tens of thousands of other people. We can draw on the wealth of material that’s been created by others, be it canon or otherwise. This last point is important because many of us are hard-pressed to find the time to come up with this week’s adventure, let alone to develop five different Cults of the Dragon Below or a glossary of the Goblin language. In the shared setting, these things have already been done for us.

So… advantages of the shared setting include the ease of acquiring material with a minimal investment of time; the potential to engage with the world in different mediums (not all established worlds have novels and computer games!); and the opportunity to draw inspiration from existing material, among others.

And yet, one of my favorite things about roleplaying is the opportunity to create and explore new worlds. I like taking an idea and considering the ramifications of it; developing cosmologies and conspiracies; considering paths of history. And most of all, I love seeing where a group of players go with those ideas. Creating a new setting gives you the opportunity to do things that no one else has thought of yet – to offer your players a chance to experience stories that simply can’t be told in Eberron or the Realms. Ravenloft, Planescape, Spelljammer, and Greyhawk all offer completely different experiences; you can certainly come up with one that’s different from all of them.

Playing in an established setting can also be a problem if the players know too much about the world–if the moment you introduce an NPC one of them says “Oh, he’s actually a spy for Cormyr, isn’t he?” and another says “No, no, he’s really a double agent for the Red Wizards.” Worst of all is if the established setting restricts what you can do – if you end up with a player saying “Didn’t you read novel X or sourcebook Y? That’s not how that works.” Obviously this sort of thing won’t happen in your own private world.

With that said, this sort of of thing never has to happen at all… as long as you view an established setting as a source of inspiration as opposed to canon you must abide by. This was what I enjoyed about Over The Edge, and the reason it’s the established setting I’ve used the most; yes, I’ve used the framework of it, but my Al Amarja and yours are sure to be different in many ways. This same principle carried over into Eberron. From the start, we’ve said that Eberron material should be a source of inspiration, but that you should always feel free to make the world your own. Do the gods exist? What caused the Mourning? Where’s the Tarrasque fit in the world? These questions are intentionally open, but even with the things that are defined in canon material I always encouraged people to change whatever they want. Do you want the Kalashtar to be the true evil fighting the virtuous Inspired? Run with it!

You’ll see this same principle in the new setting I’m developing… and I’ll be talking about that in more detail shortly. In creating the world, I want to give you a fascinating framework for creating stories, and a foundation that you can share with other people playing in the world. But I always want you to feel that this is inspiration rather than limitation – that you have room to explore your own ideas, to overwrite canon when it suits your needs, and to share your ideas with others who may prefer them to mine. A shared world gives us a common language and history, not to mention fiction, art, and other sources of inspiration. But at the end of the day, the individual stories will be created at your own table… and you should do whatever you want to make them your own.

Now, to answer the original question… what I enjoy about using established settings is the easy access to material that can add depth to the world, and the ability for my players to come to the table with a deeper understanding of and investment in the world. What I like about creating new worlds is the ability to do something unique and to give my players an experience they can’t get anywhere else. At the end of the day, what I generally end up doing is both: if I use an established setting, I will still change things to make it my own.

How about all of you?