Dragonmarks: The Overlords Revealed

In the first days of the world, the children of Khyber rose from the darkness to reign over Eberron. The greatest among them were the overlords, who held dominion over a world of fear, war, and death until the children of Eberron and Siberys rose up against them. Armies of dragons fought against the fiends of Khyber. And though the overlords couldn’t be destroyed, the couatl sacrificed their lives to build a prison of celestial light: a silver flame that bound the overlords in Khyber once more. These bonds have held for countless generations, but the overlords still yearn to break free and reclaim the world above.

Eberron: Rising From The Last War.

The overlords are one of the greatest threats in the Eberron campaign setting. They ruled the world in its first age, and they yearn to break their bonds and drag reality back to that age of demons. The Lords of Dust work to free the overlords, while the dragons of the Chamber oppose their efforts—and this long, cold war is one of the driving forces in the setting. I’ve written many articles about the overlords over the years, and this month I’ve received a host of questions concerning specific overlords from my Patreon supporters. I thought I’d revisit the topic and bring some of that scattered information together, as well as updating things to incorporate the ideas presented in Rising From The Last War and Exploring Eberron.

WHAT ARE THE OVERLORDS?

  • The overlords are immortal fiends with immense power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an unbound overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they aren’t deities. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith. 
  • The overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the overlords and most of their minions.
  • While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
  • Each overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
  • Even while bound, the overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their “dreams”. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are more aware and actively scheming.
  • “Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”

The overlords are commonly referred to as the children of Khyber. The truth is slightly more complex; they are actually the architecture of Khyber. Beyond the physical tunnels and caverns that extend into the depths, Khyber is a matrix of demiplanes. These can be seen as the dreams of the progenitor, each reflecting a horrifying vision of a possible reality—realms defined by fear, bloodshed, and worse. While most are isolated, some—known as heart demiplanes—are able to leak out into the prime material plane, and this is where native fiends come from. The overlord is the defining spirit of the demiplane. When it is “released,” its power flows out into reality, slowly reshaping the world to mirror its heart plane. The entity that can be fought is an avatar of that force, but it’s just a projection; if that projection is destroyed, its power flows back into its heart plane, regenerates and returns. So physically defeating an overlord is only a temporary setback for it, and the physical form you encounter is merely a projection.

One common question is what differentiates overlords from the Dark Six. There’s a few major differences. First and foremost, the overlords absolutely exist. You can find the resting place of an overlord or go to its heart demiplane. If they’ve loosened their bonds, an overlord can manifest an avatar and you can actually fight it. So while you’ll never shake hands with Aureon or dine with the Devourer, there may be a time when you can punch Rak Tulkhesh in the nose or have tal with Sul Khatesh. The downside of this is that as powerful as they are, overlords have a limited sphere of influence. While bound they can only influence the regions around their prison or where their heart demiplane touches the world. When released, their power has a finite radius. Bel Shalor threw Thrane into chaos, but his power wasn’t felt in Sharn or even in Korth. Other overlords have different limitations: the Daughter of Khyber can reach across the world, but she can only influence dragons. A final important difference is that the overlords aren’t some sort of logically arranged pantheon. Some of their ideas overlap; Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku are both corruptors, Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka hold secrets, Masvirik deals with reptiles while the Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. There’s an overlord of cold, but we’ve never mentioned one associated with fire. They aren’t gods, they’re monsters. Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku overlap in concept, but they influence entirely different regions within the world. Rak Tulkhesh is infamously an overlord of war, but there could be an entirely different overlord associated with bloodshed or war in Sarlona. Overlords are epically powerful, but they are also finite. They don’t explain the existence of evil, they embody specific aspects of it.

Every edition that Eberron has been part of has provided statistics for some of the overlords, and these vary wildly in power. Under the 3.5 rules, overlords rivaled lesser deities; they possessed the equivalent of 7 divine ranks and 30-50 character levels. The 3.5 version of Sul Khatesh could cast counterspell as a free action, had spontaneous access to all wizard and sorcerer spells, and could destroy antimagic fields; she had innate true seeing as well as the ability to cast legend lore on anything she could see. By contrast, Rising From The Last War presents Sul Khatesh as a CR 28 threat with a fairly limited set of spells. How do these two interpretations relate to one another? The answer is that the lesser deity equivalent statistics reflect the full power that an entirely unbound overlord could wield, while the CR 28 interpretations of Sul Khatesh and Rak Tulkhesh reflect a weaker avatar, most likely manifested by an overlord who’s still partially bound. At the end of the day, overlords are essentially plot devices. They are the most powerful entities that exist on Eberron, and at their full power were able to face armies of dragons. They aren’t supposed to be balanced; the idea that player characters can face them directly and potentially win the fight would reflect limits placed on the overlord (IE partial binding), the fact that the player characters are vessels of the Prophecy, the impact of special preparations (Tira Miron might have bathed Kloijner in the waters of Irian or the heartsblood of Durastoran the Wymbreaker). Overlords wield apocalyptic levels of power, and any stat block should be seen as an inspiration for what an overlord might be capable of, not an absolute limit.

How Are The Overlords Bound?

Overlords can’t be permanently destroyed. When an avatar is defeated its essence flows back into its heart plane and reforms. What the champions of the first age did was to bind that essence—preventing it from returning to its heart plane. Essentially, they severed the overlord’s brain from its heart; the heart demiplanes still exist, but the consciousness of the overlords are bound elsewhere and they can’t manifest their avatars or exert their full power. While the essence of each overlord is bound to a physical vessel, it is the power of the Silver Flame that actually keeps the overlord bound. A vessel can be damaged—Rak Tulkhesh is bound to a Khyber shard that’s been shattered—but this won’t release the overlord.

How Can They Be Released?

Releasing an overlord is no trivial matter. The prisons of the overlords are as indestructible as the fiends themselves. The only way for an overlord to be released is for a certain path of the Prophecy to come to pass. For this reason, the actions of the Lords of Dust are enigmatic. They cannot simply release their masters— they must bring history to a particular crossroads, a point at which the planes and moons are aligned and the darkness can rise again. It is up to you to decide just what is required for a particular overlord to be released. It could be something as grim as the downfall of a nation, or something as positive as the birth of a child.

Eberron Campaign Guide

This article goes into much more depth about the nature of the binding and how it can be broken. There’s a few things to keep in mind. The first is that the Prophecy is almost always tied to the actions of specific mortals. Despite all their power, the dragons and the Lords of Dust can’t resolve a situation with brute force; they need to guide the actions of mortal pawns. The second is that the Prophecy is always evolving. There is always a path for the release of an overlord. As soon as the Chamber severs one branch, a new one begins to take shape. There will never be a time when humanity doesn’t have to worry about the overlords; foiling the plans of the Lords of Dust buys time, as a new branch may take centuries to be uncovered and cultivated—but there is always a path to release Sul Khatesh and there always will be. And while the Lords of Dust and the Chamber are always working to cultivate these branches or to trim them, there’s always the chance that the events required to release an overlord will play out entirely on their own. Not all overlords have agents within the Lords of Dust, and the Chamber isn’t omnisicent; it’s always possible that the necessary events will simply happen, even if there’s no cult or fiend driving them.

How Do They Pose A Threat?

As long as the overlords are bound by the Silver Flame, they can’t physically manifest in the world. But each overlord embodies a particular aspect of evil, which grows in strength as their servants scheme to release their ancient masters. The overlords gain strength when mortals embrace the dark paths laid down for them. And as they grow stronger, they gain more influence.

Eberron: Rising From The Last War

If the bonds of an overlord can only be broken by a prophetic path, what does it mean for an overlord to “grow stronger?” Overlords threaten the world in two ways. If an overlord is released from its prison, it will transform a region of the world into a mirror of its heart demiplane. This may start slowly, but the end results can be dramatic. The Cold Sun will steal the light from the sky, while the Heart of Winter will blanket her domain in ice. Every overlord has a handful of fiends that walk the world… but if an overlord is unbound, greater forces will emerge from its demiplane. Beyond this, the overlord itself will be able to manifest a physical avatar, as shown in Rising From The Last War. An overlord is only able to affect the world directly if their bonds are broken. But even while bound, they still have the ability to influence mortals. Tiamat corrupts dragons, the Wild Heart corrupts nature, and Rak Tulkhesh drives people to spill blood. Essentially, bound overlords can still influence mortals—and the more mortals who succumb to their influence, the greater this power becomes. Sul Khatesh can’t walk the world and unleash and arcane armageddon, but she can still whisper secrets to warlocks and create cabals and cults, while Rak Tulkhesh can shatter peace and drive war. “Partial release” falls between these two. When partially released the Wild Heart was able to amplify the power of the curse of lycanthropy and assert control over all ‘thropes, and it may have been able to manifest an avatar in the heart of the forest; but we’ve never suggested that the Towering Woods themselves were physically transformed, or that the avatar of the Wild Heart was roaming freely and striking down its enemies. Ultimately, this is about the needs of the story. A bound overlord has a very limited ability to influence mortals. An unbound overlord can affect both mortals and the world itself, and can manifest an avatar wielding tremendous power. A partially released overlord falls somewhere in between, with whatever limitations you need to impose to make your story satisfying. The key point is that even when they aren’t trying to release their overlord, cults and fiends will often try to increase its influence—usually by playing out its core concept (war, undead, betrayal, sinister magic) in a region.

While bound, the overlords are effectively dreaming—or trancing, if you prefer, as they aren’t tied to Dal Quor and can’t be targeted by dream. The point is that they aren’t entirely conscious, nor are they fully comatose. Rak Tulkhesh revels in hatred and bloodshed, but it’s his speaker Mordakhesh who schemes across the centuries and who actively sows strife. Sul Khatesh does whisper to her warlocks and share dangerous secrets, but even this is essentially reflexive; it’s how her influence manifests, and not every warlock she deals with is part of a world-breaking scheme. The Lords of Dust understand the world and scheme to free their overlords; the overlords themselves are delighted when their influence grows, but are only partially aware of what is going on in the world. This is what makes their speakers—prakhutu—so important; Mordakhesh can commune with Rak Tulkhesh and divine what the Rage of War desires. (Hint: It’s war.)

WHO ARE THE OVERLORDS?

There is no complete list of overlords, and even their exact number is uncertainly; one canon source says “around thirty” while another says “a few dozen.” Likewise, even with the overlords that do exist, much is left vague. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu, and if so, do they consult with the Bleak Council of Ashtakala? Where is Tul Oreshka’s prison? Largely this is intentional, because the overlords are essentially plot devices. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu? Well, do you want it to? We know the location of Sul Khatesh’s prison, but Tul Oreshka’s is intentionally undefined so that it can be wherever you want it to be. Are their thirty overlords or thirty-six? The answer is how many do you need?

This is a list of all of the Overlords who’ve been mentioned in canon or kanon. It includes details on where they’ve appeared, but again, many of them simply don’t have much information available; in many cases, the information provided here is more than actually exists in canon. Don’t let that hold you back; use this as inspiration and build upon it to meet the needs of your campaign.

ASHTAKALA, The Demon City. Located in the Demon Wastes, Ashtakala is described in many sources as the last citadel of the Lords of Dust and the meeting place of their Bleak Council. In this article I present the idea that Ashtakala is itself an overlord, the immortal embodiment of the citadel of evil.

ASHURAK, The Slow Death. While never named in canon, the Slow Death is the patron of the Plaguebearers, one of the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. Ashurak revels in the horror of disease. The plagues they spread are agonizing and disfiguring, but never kill quickly; lingering suffering is the hallmark of Ashurak. While their prison is in the Demon Wastes, their influence can be carried by the diseases they creates and Plaguebearers have occasionally started cults in the Five Nations. While it might seem that these cultists would find allies among the Children of Winter, the truth is quite the opposite; the maladies of Ashurak are deeply unnatural and the druids battle these cults whenever they find them. Ashurak isn’t one of the most powerful or infamous overlords, but they do have representatives among the Lords of Dust; their speaker is Shalashar, a native oinoloth. (ECS)

BEL SHALOR, The Shadow in the Flame. Bound in Flamekeep, Bel Shalor is the most infamous overlord in Khorvaire, largely due to his well-documented devastation of Thrane and subsequent defeat at the hands of Tira Miron. Bel Shalor embodies our fear of one another and the capacity for even the most virtuous person to do evil. He thrives on paranoia and smiles anytime a good person harms an innocent or ignores their conscience. Bel Shalor’s speaker is the ak’chazar rakshasa Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, and his minions are a powerful force within the Lords of Dust. Where his influence was originally tied to Thrane, due to the conditions of his binding he can influence anyone who draws on the power of the Silver Flame; it’s entirely possible he wanted to be bound, that he always planned to become the Shadow in the Flame. (ECG, ExE)

THE DAUGHTER OF KHYBER, Tiamat. The Daughter of Khyber embodies the fear of dragons and the evil they can do—fears both of humanoids and of the dragons themselves. She is bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows in Argonnessen, but much like Bel Shalor and the followers of the Silver Flame, the Daughter of Khyber can touch the heart of any dragon wherever they may be. Her influence can be subtle, hidden within pride or even a desire to help lesser creatures—but once she sinks her hooks into a dragon’s soul, she can twist even noble desires toward evil ends. The Daughter of Khyber’s machinations have brought the world to the edge of disaster at least once since the Age of Demons, devastating ancient civilizations on Khorvaire that have now been forgotten; it is because of this that the dragons of Argonnessen place severe restrictions on how dragons exercise power in the wider world. Known to some as Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber has no involvement with the Lords of Dust, and if she has a speaker their identity is unknown. (Dragons of Eberron, ECG, ExE)

DRAL KHATUUR, The Heart of Winter. Bound in the Frostfell, Dral Khatuur embodies of all of the terrors of winter—endless night, the killing frost, the ice-encrusted face of a frozen friend. Her minions are frozen corpses, fiends sculpted from ice, and the howling, hungry wind. She despises all other creatures, including the other overlords; she had no ties to the Lords of Dust and waits in the Frostfell for anyone foolish enough to venture into her domain.

ELDRANTULKU, The Oathbreaker. As described in Dragon 337, Eldrantulku is a spirit of discord who turns allies into enemies and lovers into mortal foes. A master deceiver, his title comes from his ability to convince others to break their oaths. He is not a force of war—he corrupts the innocent, using ambition, jealousy, and paranoia as his tools. He is active within the Lords of Dust. Notable minions include Thelestes, an exiled Mabaran succubus and deadly assassin; and the devious rakshasa Kashtarhak, his prakhutu. The location of Eldrantulku’s prison is unknown.

KATASHKA, The Gatekeeper. Katashka thrives on mortal fears of death and the undead. He is thought to have brought the first undead into the world, and certainly created the first liches and dracoliches. Katashka’s servants are part of the Lords of Dust, and his prakhutu is the dracolich Mazyralyx, thought by some to be the origin of many myths of the Keeper. The location of Katashka’s prison is a mystery. The Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes is a possibility, but it’s just as possible that this contains a connection to his heart demiplane. Katashka’s cults are more widespread than many other overlords, which suggests that his prison has been shattered and scattered like that of Rak Tulkhesh. As Katashka is known to create liches, one possibility is that pieces of his shattered prison are used as phylacteries by his lich champions, who spread his influence wherever they go. Katashka largely works with undead as opposed to fiends; his champions include the ancient wizard Kyuss and his spawn. (Dragon 337, ECG, ExE)

THE LURKER IN SHADOW. In the first age of the world, the Thunder Sea was the domain of a powerful overlord embodying the fear of the unknown and unknowable, of the unimaginable terrors lurking in the depths and in the darkness. Its true name is one more secret. Its servants call it Surash Ka, which is simply Abyssal for “The Deep Lord” or “The King Below;” the sahuagin and other denizens of the Thunder Sea avoid even that name, calling it the Lurker in Shadow or just the Lurker. It’s an exceptionally powerful overlord; when unbound, it dominated the Thunder Sea and even now its influence can be felt across the region. The Lurker in Shadow has no interaction with the Lords of Dust. Its servants include aboleths, shadow demons, and shark-aspected rakshasa, but stories say these are the least of the horrors it has spawned. While the Lurker has some overlap with Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka, Sul Khatesh is focused on arcane knowledge and personal secrets, while Tul Oreshka deals with secrets that can break people; the Lurker in Shadow deals with the things you can’t imagine, the forces that lie just beyond sight and that are waiting to pull you down. I’ll be providing more information about the Lurker in a follow up article.

MASVIRIK, The Cold Sun. Masvirik consumes the light, embodying our fears of all that slithers through the dark and cold. On the one hand, he embodies the warmblooded fears of reptiles and venomous vermin. On the other, he embodies reptilian fears of cold and death. His minions include corrupted lizardfolk, dragonborn, and kobolds, along with undead reptilian creatures and fiends who thrive on cold instead of heat. Masvirik is imprisoned beneath Haka’torvhak, and his influence is felt across Q’barra. His speaker, the dragon Rhashaak, is bound in Haka’torvhak; the reptilian rakshasa Asshalara represents Rhashaak on the Bleak Council of Ashtakala. (Dungeon 185)

RAK TULKHESH, The Rage of War. Rak Tulkhesh embodies the fear of war and bloodshed, whether as a victim of violence or losing oneself to bloodlust and rage. The cults of Rak Tulkhesh include brutal raiders who embrace lives of endless violence, but also those who spread hate and strife—anything that stirs up harsh conflict where there might otherwise be peace. The prison of Rak Tulkhesh has been shattered, and his influence is spread across Khorvaire; however, he has a strong presence in the Demon Wastes and his Carrion Tribes are always thirsty for bloodshed. His speaker, Mordakhesh the Shadowsword, is a respected member of the Lords of Dust and a brilliant military strategist. (Dragon 337, Dragon 416, ECG, ExE, Rising)

RAN IISHIV, The Unmaker. Bound beneath Adar, Ran Iishiv is a force of chaos and destruction. Some believe that Ran Iishiv reflects Khyber’s primal hatred of creation itself, the burning desire to tear down the material plane and start anew. Whatever the truth, Ran Iishiv was expecteptionally powerful and feared even by other overlords; it’s believe that the wild zones to Kythri in Adar reflect Ran Iishiv literally tearing through reality. Even while bound, the Unmaker’s fury is a powerful force. Ran Iishiv may be the source of the storms that batter Adar, and some accounts claim its rage created the volcano of Korrandor. Ran Iishiv has no allies among the Lords of Dust, and it’s even possible fiends tied to other overlords would help prevent the Unmaker’s release. Ran’s primary servants are the Endseekers, cultists who have heard the Unmaker’s dreaming whispers and seek to return reality to primordial chaos. (Secrets of Sarlona)

SAKINNIROT, The Scar That Abides. Those loyal to Sakinnirot say it was the first child of the Dragon Below but the last to be born. In many ways it embodies pure hatred—not the savage bloodlust of Rak Tulkhesh, but hatred that smolders and burns. Sakinnirot thrives on bloody feuds that only serve to deeping the need for revenge, on physical and spiritual wounds left to fester. It’s possible that Sakinnirot is nothing less that the patient fury of Khyber itself, the determination for vengeance upon the world that holds it prisoner. Whatever the truth, Sakinnirot is one of the most powerful overlords; during the Age of Demons, the Scar laid claim to all of Xen’drik and reveled in battling other overlords. It was bound even more tightly that most overlords, and few of its fiendish servants escaped into the world; both because of this and its feuds with other overlords, the Scar That Abides isn’t represented within the Lords of Dust. However, the rakshasa Lorishto—an Ak’chazar of Eldrantulku—has been seeking to weaken the binding of Sakinnirot, hoping to become the prakhutu of the Scar That Abides. (City of Stormreach)

THE SPINNER OF SHADOWS. Presented in D&D Online, the Spinner of Shadows is commonly associated with spiders; however, this reflects her wider role as an overlord of hidden schemes, of the careful vendetta and the joy of toying with a powerless foe. While she has significant overlap with Sakinnirot, the Spinner is less driven by burning hatred and more by hungry ambition—the schemer willing to climb a web formed of innocent corpses to achieve their desires. While not one of the most powerful overlords, one of her strengths is her talent for remaining hidden—reflected by the fact that she had her domain in Xen’drik despite Sakinnirot’s claim on the continent. because of this obsession with secrecy, it’s unlikely that the Spinner is involved with the Lords of Dust; her agents scheme along, hiding even from their fiendish cousins. (D&D Online—technically neither canon nor canon, but I’m including her on the list)

SUL KHATESH, The Keeper of Secrets. Per Rising From The Last War, “Sul Khatesh is known as the Keeper of Secrets and the Queen of Shadows. She embodies the fears and superstitions surrounding magic, from malevolent warlocks to mad wizards, from deadly curses to magical power that draws those who wield it deeper into darkness.” She may be bound beneath Arcanix, but she has found ways to spread her influence further. Her prakhutu—the First Scribe, Hektula—has written books of magic that can grant tremendous power but that also serve as a focus for her influence; these could mirror the effects of the Book of Vile Darkness or the Demonomicon. Likewise, Sul Khatesh spreads cabals and covens, and where her cultists come together to perform malefic rituals, Sul Khatesh can touch the world. While she often whispers to her warlocks and to other susceptible minds, Sul Khatesh is essentially dreaming; while her whispers rarely work out well for those who listen to them, they aren’t all tied toward one grand plan. The agents of Sul Khatesh are a strong force in the Lords of Dust. Hektula maintains the library of Ashtakala and often mediates disputes between the other speakers. (Dragon 337, City of Stormreach, ECG, ExE, Rising)

TOL KHARASH, The Horned King. There is a dark power bound beneath the fortress known as Turakbar’s Fist, and it has long spread its influence across the barren region now known as Droaam. Znir hwyri hunt those who fall too far down its path, while the minotaur clans see this power as their patron. Tol Kharash can easily be mistaken for Rak Tulkhesh, as both delight in bloodshed and war. However, Tol Kharash is a force of tyranny rather than rage. It drives the strong to oppress the weak… and the crueller they are, the better. The Horned King is the common name of the overlord and the aspect worshipped by Rhesh Turakbar and his clan, the Blood Horns; they raid and pillage in his name. However, each of the major minotaur clans has their own unique interpretation of the Horned King. The Red Hooves are devoted to He Who Walks Behind, and prefer sly ambushes to the howling assaults of the Blood Horns. The Blade Breaker clan worships One Horn, who rewards displays strength and courage. While the Blade Breakers are just as aggressive as the Blood Horns, they are less brutal; it’s just possible that while THEY think One Horn is an aspect of the Horned King, they are in truth drawing on a different power entirely—perhaps, the essence of Dol Dorn. Tol Kharash has relatively few fiendish minions. His greatest servants are possessed mortals as opposed to manifested fiends; he has no representatives in Ashtakala and doesn’t work with the Lords of Dust. (Tol Kharash appears in the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold)

TUL ORESHKA, The Truth In The Darkness. Tul Oreshka embodies our fear of secrets and the things we don’t know, of unbearable truths and feelings we’d kill to keep secret. These may be deeply personal—your mother wishes you’d died instead of your brother—or shocking cosmic revelations. She’s far more primal than Sul Khatesh; the words she deals with may not conjure fire or fiends, but they still have the power to shatter lives. People who pass by her prison may learn terrible things through ghostly whispers or vivid nightmares. Her cults take many forms, and are almost always driven by a compelling, infectious idea. While she doesn’t deal in traditional mystical knowledge as Sul Khatesh does, Tul Oreshka can reveal secrets that defy our previous understanding of magic or that alter the way we see reality; for example, a cult of Tul Oreshka might reveal that humans are all fiends, that humanity itself is collectively an overlord. While her agents are unpredictable, Tul Oreshka does participate in the Bleak Council of the Lords of Dust; her current speaker is a pit fiend named Korliac of the Gray Flame, though Tul Oreshka’s speakers rarely hold the position for long. The location of Tul Oreshka’s prison has never been established. (Dragon 337)

VAL GULTESH, The Shaper of Nightmares. Many overlords embody something that is feared; Val Gultesh feeds on fear itself. They thrive on paranoia and on lives torn apart by unfounded fears, and crafts nightmares that help spread terrifying and disruptive ideas. While they can shape nightmares, they do so from Eberron—effectively, using a powerful form of the dream spell that can potentially affect hundreds of people at once—as opposed to entering Dal Quor. The quori of the present age haven’t encountered an unbound Val Gultesh; it’s quite possible the overlord would pose a threat to them, especially to quori manifesting in Eberron as Inspired or Kalashtar. Val Gultesh is imprisoned somewhere in Zilargo, and it’s possible that should their power grow that they could corrupt the Trust to serve their purposes; however, the Trust could be aware of this threat, and may have ruthlessly eliminated cults of Val Gultesh in the past. The Shaper of Nightmares works with the Lords of Dust, but the nature of their speaker and the power of their faction have yet to be established. (Mentioned in the adventures “Curtain Call” and “Fear Reveals Truth”)

THE WILD HEART. The Wild Heart embodies mortal fears of the natural world. To some degree this embodies the sheer unknown that the wild represents, but it especially draws on the fear of predators—the unknown dangers lurking in the depths of the darkest wood. The Wild Heart is known both for their connection to gnolls and as one of the primary sources of lycanthropy; in Kanon, they were the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge. As a force that is fundamentally opposed to civilization, the Wild Heart uses no name and takes no part in the schemes of the Lords of Dust. Their speaker is a shapeshifting fiend known as Drukalatar Atesh, but its fiendish minions are more likely to possess or be fused with beasts than to act in fiendish form. (Novel: The Queen of Stone)

YAD-RAGHESH, The Fallen Rajah. The fiend known as Yad-Raghesh is a mystery; some loredrake scholars question whether they were actually an overlord, or whether they were an exceptionally powerful champion of Sakinnirot or Ran Iishiv. What is known is that during the wars of the Age of Demons, Yad-Raghesh fought in the form of a colossal two-headed rakshasa; that they were defeated with surprising ease; and that it was later discovered that they had somehow imbued their essence into the region in which they were slain, permanently corrupting it. The corpse of Yad-Raghesh remains in this vale, which seethes with hatred and fiends. There is no evidence that the consciousness of Yad-Raghesh remains as an active force, and they play no role in the Lords of Dust, but they have effectively transformed this “Vale of the Fallen Rajah” into a heart demiplane in the midst of Argonnessen. (Dragons of Eberron)

UNNAMED AND UNKNOWN. A number of overlords have been hinted at in canon sources but never described in detail. Secrets of Sarlona suggests that there are overlords imprisoned in the Kretok Peninsula and in Sustrai Mor, while the Player’s Guide to Eberron suggests that an overlord with power over the weather is bound on Tempest Isle. Some previous lists included Shudra the Fleshrender, a “mighty rakshasa” mentioned in Forge of War. However, Shudra is a rakhsasa champion on par with Mordakhesh and Hektula; he’s associated with the overlord Dhavibashta, who appears in James Wyatt’s novel In The Claws Of The Tiger. As mentioned at the start, this is not intended to be a complete list of overlords, and I would never want to create such a list; there should always be room in the world for an overlord who perfectly suits the needs of your story.

How Do These Overlords Relate to the Planes?

The overlords are spirits of Khyber and the material plane. As the material plane ties together all of the iconic concepts that define the outer planes, some of the overlords reflect ideas that are represented in the planes. Rak Tulkhesh is associated with war, and Shavarath is associated with war. Tul Oreshka and the Lurker in Shadows both deal with the unknowable and unnatural in ways that evoke Xoriat, and Val Gultesh shapes nightmares. But Val Gultesh isn’t a creature of Dal Quor and the Rak Tulkhesh isn’t from Shavarath. They are spirits of the material plane, and deal with mortals who fight and dream; but they influence those things in and from the material plane, and have no connection to or alliances with the denizens of the planes. In general, the power of an overlord will trump the power of any extraplanar entity while they are in the material plane; an unbound Val Gultesh might be able to control quori possessing human hosts. For this reason, extraplanar entities generally try to avoid conflict with overlords and the Lords of Dust.

Are The Overlords Allies?

Absolutely not. They often fought one another during the Age of Demons, and a few of those that have been named—Ran Iishiv, Sakinnirot, Dral Khatuur—have been specifically called out as being shunned by the Lords of Dust. Part of the point is that the overlords embody terrible things, and that all they desire is to express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh IS furious bloodshed and has no other way to the world; if you live next to Rak Tulkhesh, you KNOW he’s going to constantly attack you. Likewise, Eldrantulku is the embodiment of betrayal. The Lords of Dust who deal with him know that sooner or later any arrangement will have an unpleasant surprise; but because they know this, they can prepare and work around it. The key point is that the Lords of Dust aren’t the overlords, they’re the lesser fiends that serve them. Rak Tulkhesh is unreasoning war, but Mordakhesh is careful and calculating, and willing to scheme with the servants of other overlords. With that being said, the Lords of Dust always place the interests of their own overlord above all else… and many members of the Lords of Dust have long-standing feuds or rivalries with other fiends.

Why do the Lords of Dust serve the Overlords?

Given that the overlords ARE so firmly bound, it’s a reasonable question—why do the Lords of Dust serve the overlords? Why doesn’t Mordakhesh pursue his own interests? There’s a few aspects to this. The first is that the fiends are immortals, which makes them fundamentally inhuman. They were created as the physical embodiments of ideas, and they can’t change those ideas. Mordakhesh never chose to serve Rak Tulkhesh; it’s a fundamental aspect of what he is and he can’t change it. Furthermore, all native fiends are tied to heart demiplanes. When Mordakhesh dies, he returns to the Bitter Shield, the heart of Rak Tulkhesh. In essence, while he has his own unique personality, Mordakhesh is part of Rak Tulkhesh. Immortals CAN change—angels can fall, quori can become kalashtar—and it’s certainly possible to encounter a fiend that’s somehow shifted its allegiance or even become something other than a fiend. But it would be extremely unusual. Most fiends don’t choose to serve their overlord; it’s a fundamental part of who and what they are.

HOW CAN YOU USE THE OVERLORDS?

Eberron is balanced on a precipice. Should the overlords rise en masse, they’d destroy reality as we know it and drag the world back into the primal chaos of the Age of Demons. However, the release of a single overlord would be a devastating event that could destroy a nation—but it wouldn’t instantly herald the end of the world. We’ve seen examples of this before. In the Year of Blood and Fire, Bel Shalor devastated Thrane until he was rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. In this article, I suggest that the Lycanthropic Purge was the work of the Wild Heart; as the Towering Woods were more remote than Thrane, the impact of their partial release and the sacrifices made to rebind them are less well known. It could even be that it was a release of an overlord.

Legacy. Overlords are sources of evil, and their existence can be used to explain why evil things existence in the world. The Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. The Wild Heart is one of the sources of lycanthropy, while Katashka creates many forms of undead. The overlords have the power to create artifacts; a sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh might grant great power while also spreading strife and hatred. An adventure or a campaign arc could involve creations of the overlords—a rogue dragon, a pack of werewolves, a clan of clever ghouls, a cursed artifact—without actually having anything to do with the overlord or its goals. The Book of Vile Darkness may have been written by Hektula and be a vector for the influence of Sul Khatesh; but it may be that Sul Khatesh’s plans are on hold for the next century, and the book is only dangerous by virtue of its innate power.

Cults and Influence. Even while bound, the overlords influence mortals. Exploring Eberron delves into the many forms these cults take—from ancient secret societies that actively work to release an overlord to deluded sects who have no idea of the power they’re tied to. The whispers of Bel Shalor are a threat to every follower of the Silver Flame. Followers of Rak Tulkhesh strive to cause strife, and the ghouls of Katashka feast on flesh beneath cities across Khorvaire. So adventurers can clash with a cult of the Whispering Flame or a cabal of Katashka’s ghouls even if the overlord has no greater role in the campaign.

Long-Term Plans. Prophetic paths that lead to the release of an overlord have many steps; they can take generations or even centuries for finally bear fruit. As discussed in this article, adventurers can be caught up in a scheme set up by one of the Lords of Dust, but regardless of the outcome, there’s no threat of an overlord actually being released. It may even be that a fiend wants to help an adventure acquire a powerful magic item—because the character needs to have that item to fulfill their role in the Prophecy. It’s also the case that the Lords of Dust have their own feuds and rivalries; adventurers could get a tip about a rakshasa scheming to take over a local guild, only to eventually realize it was another fiend that helped them.

Character Origin. Player characters can be tied to overlords. A Tome warlock could be tied to Sul Khatesh and the intrigues of her Court of Shadows. A Great Old One warlock might be receiving visions from Tul Oreshka, not knowing why they’ve been chosen by the Truth in the Darkness or what she wants with them. A barbarian character could have a sliver of Rak Tulkhesh’s prison shard bound to their flesh; the shard is what powers their rage, but by mastering that rage they help hold the overlord at bay. This could be vitally important if the campaign involves the potential release of the Rage of War… or it could be that there’s no risk of Rak Tulkhesh escaping this century, but the character may clash with cultists who want to claim the shard.

Threat of Release. The threat of an overlord’s release could be a driving arc for a campaign, building to a climactic clash in which the adventurers must fight against a doomsday countdown to prevent an overlord from escaping its binding. The key here is that if the players succeed, the overlord won’t be released. They’ll be dealing with cultists and Lords of Dust. It could even be that they face a weak avatar in the conclusion of that final battle, but it’s a battle that can be won.

So far, these ideas suggest ways to use overlords in minor roles… or how to use them as the ultimate challenge of a campaign. But there’s another option—to say that the campaign isn’t about stopping the release of an overlord, but rather dealing with the impact of it. Let’s look at a historical example…

THE YEAR OF BLOOD AND FIRE: Tira’s Campaign

When Bel Shalor broke his bonds in Thrane, he plunged the region into chaos—a period known as the Year of Blood and Fire. In my vision of things, Tira Miron didn’t simply ride up and smite him; it was a long road that led her from first touching the Flame to her final sacrifice. And while she may have made that sacrifice alone, she had companions on the journey. Canonically we’ve mentioned the avenger Samyr Kes, but in my opinion she had a full party of stalwart allies. In short, Tira was one of the player characters of her age. I see her campaign as going something like this…

  • When Bel Shalor first breaks his bonds, his power is weak. The Eberron Campaign Guide says “If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” This is the world in which the campaign begins—a Thrane in which people are drawn to darkness, where good people are tempted to commit atrocities. Tira begins as a paladin of Dol Arrah. She knows something is wrong, but she doesn’t know what it is. In her initial adventures, she fights the symptoms—clashing with newly-formed cults, with good people drawn to evil, and perhaps even with a few shadowy fiends—agents of Bel Shalor who helped with his release.
  • As the campaign proceeds and Bel Shalor’s power grows, the Year of Blood and Fire truly begins. Murder and arson spread across the realm. Cities burn. Innocents suffer. Fiends emerge into the chaos, gathering cults and preying on the innocent. And it is in this time—perhaps as she chooses her Oath—that Tira has a vision of a couatl and is first touched by the power of the Flame.
  • Along with her companions, Tira fights the horror spreading across the land. She learns to harness the power of the Silver Flame and uses it to protect the innocent. She establishes a haven in an Irian manifest zone, and develops techniques that can help her followers recognize and resist the insidious corrupting influence. Her and her allies discover the source of the darkness. Reaching it, they discover that Bel Shalor has broken his bonds but is not yet fully free; he can manifest a weak avatar but can’t yet leave the spot in which he’s been bound. Nonetheless, this avatar is far too powerful for Tira and her companions to defeat, and they are lucky to survive and flee. But now they know their enemy.
  • While they can’t defeat Bel Shalor, Tira and her allies are celebrated champions protecting a community of people. They continue to deal with Bel Shalor’s servants and those who’ve been corrupted by his influence, but they are also doing all they can to learn how Shalor can be defeated. In addition to the couatl, they receive assistance from a (secret) agent of the Chamber. They travel to Daanvi, seeking knowledge in the Infinite Archive, and to other planes as well. They take steps laid out in the Prophecy, though many of these challenges are enigmatic and set them directly at odds with agents of the Lords of Dust.
  • Guided by the Flame and the Prophecy, Tira obtains the greatsword Kloijner. A brutal cult is spreading across Thrane, but Tira presses to the heart of it and exposes Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, the speaker of Bel Shalor. The rakshasa kills her Chamber ally, but Tira takes him down with Kloijner. This battle is part of a prophetic path Tira has uncovered. She knows it will keep Durastoran from reforming for decades. But it also fully releases Bel Shalor, who now strides across Thrane as a vast force of shadow.
  • Tira knew the consequences of defeating Durastoran. She and her companions gather all those innocents freed from Shalor’s power in the Irian zone that has become their haven. She holds Durastoran’s heart, and beyond that she knows that the fully friend Shalor can’t stand to have a stronghold of light at the heart of his darkness. All of this has been foreshadowed by the Prophecy; though her Chamber ally has fallen, Tira knows that Bel Shalor will come to her and she knows what she must do. She rallies her allies, sharing the light of the Flame. Bel Shalor comes with an army of fiends and victims, and Tira’s faithful make their stand in the last bastion of light. Though the battle seems hopeless, Tira’s allies help her reach Bel Shalor himself—and it is in this moment that Tira and her couatl guide make their final sacrifice, binding Bel Shalor with the light of Tira’s soul and the power of the Flame, which surges forth as the column that can still be seen in Flamekeep to this day.

Now, this is MY vision of how this all went, and I’m sure there’s canon sources that tell the story another way. Furthermore, I’m writing this in the moment and I don’t have any more details about it. In my mind, Tira traveled to Irian and Daanvi as part of her adventures, but I don’t know exactly what she did in Irian. So I’m just saying: I’ve just sketched out an outline of the campaign Tira might have gone through, but it’s not like I’ve actually written any of the adventures.

Nonetheless, the point is that this isn’t a campaign in which Tira even has a chance to prevent Bel Shalor from being released. He’s already been partially released when the campaign begins—and if I was running the campaign, part of the point is that the players wouldn’t know it. In the session zero, I’d emphasize that something is wrong with the world, that they will be champions of the light trying to identify an infectious evil that is spreading across the land—that they’d be both warriors and investigators. During the campaign they not only uncover the true threat of Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker, they also must develop their own personal connections to the Silver Flame. The first tier of the campaign would be almost entirely spent dealing with cultists and corrupted innocents, trying to determine what power is behind it; they might initially think they can stop Bel Shalor from being released, only to reach that stronghold of evil and discover he’s already out. In tier 2 they are dealing with the increasingly apocalyptic consequences of his release, fighting fiends as well as cultists and the corrupted; this get more dramatic from there.

This is an apocalyptic scenario; we know from the start that it’s called The Year of Blood and Fire. There’s going to be burning cities and mass chaos. However, that flavor would depend on the overlord involved. A campaign based around the release of Sul Khatesh could be far more subtle. The Court of Shadows spreads, and as the campaign continues its dark vision of the world starts to become real, towers of shadow appearing across the nation. Common people start gaining arcane powers and resolving petty feuds and disputes with curses. Sly rakshasa offer tempting pacts. It builds to a point where civilization could collapse into outright arcane terror… but it can take time. Minister Adal might even forge an order of witchfinders and seize control of Aundair, little realizing that he too is just a pawn of Sul Khatesh, helping to spread delightful fear and terror. Every story will be different. The release of the Rage of War will involve brutal bloodshed; the release of the Oathbreaker could have very subtle effects.

That’s all for now, but look out for a Patreon-exclusive article delving deeper into the Lurker in Shadow. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking the questions that inspired this article and for making all of these articles possible.

Dragonmarks: The First War

A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”

“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337

The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.

As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?

If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.

To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.

Friend or Foe?

The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.

Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.

The Battleground of Prophecy

The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.

One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.

It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to create the Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.

Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.

Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.

The First War and You

So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.

As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.

Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.

Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.

Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.

Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.

The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.

Characters Bound to the Prophecy

The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…

So, a few examples to consider…

  • You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
  • You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
  • You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
  • You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
  • You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.

A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.

A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.

Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!

In Conclusion…

Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!

Q&A

This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…

What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?

A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.

A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…

Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”

Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…

Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?

What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.

You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?

Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell. 

If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?

There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?

That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.

It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?

There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.

Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.

But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?

One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.

The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.

How could this conflict come to an end?

Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.

You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. And if you haven’t seen them already, check out Exploring Eberron and Magic Sword: An Eberron Adventure Seed on the DM’s Guild!

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.