Dragonmark: The Families of House Tharashk

The Tharashk Triumvirate by Anne Stokes, from Dragonmarked

House Tharashk is the youngest Dragonmarked house. The Mark of Finding first appeared a thousand years ago, and over the course of centuries the dragonmarked formed three powerful clans. It was these clans that worked with House Sivis, joining together in the model of the eastern houses. The name of the House—Tharashk—is an old Orc word that means united. Despite this, heirs of the house typically use their clan name rather than the house name. They may be united, but in daily life they remain ‘Aashta and Velderan.

House United: One, Three, and Many

The Dragonmarks are driven by more than simple genetics. In most dragonmarked houses, about half of the children develop some level of dragonmark. Over the course of a thousand years of excoriates and voluntary departures, many people in Khorvaire have some trace of dragonmarked blood. And yet, foundlings—people who develop a dragonmark outside a house—are so rare that many foundlings are surprised to learn that they have a connection to a house. Many houses allow outsiders to marry into their great lines, and the number of dragonmarked heirs born to such couples within the houses is dramatically higher than those born to excoriates outside of the houses. Scholars have proposed many theories to explain this discrepancy. Some say that it’s tied to proximity—that being around large numbers of dragonmarked people helps to nuture the latent mark within a child. Others say that it’s related to the tools and equipment used by the houses, that just being around a creation forge helps promote the development of the Mark of Making. One of the most interesting theories comes from the sage Ohnal Caldyn. A celebrated student of the Draconic Prophecy, Caldyn argued that the oft-invoked connection between dragonmarks and the Prophecy might be misunderstood—that rather than each dragonmarked individual having significance, the Prophecy might be more interested in dragonmarked families. It’s been over two thousand years since the Mark of Making appeared on the Vown and Juran lines of Cyre—and yet those families remain pillars of the house today.

This helps to explain the core structure of Tharashk, sometimes described as one, three, and many. There are many minor families within House Tharashk, but each of these is tied to one of the three great clans: Velderan, Torrn, and ‘Aashta. The house is based on the alliance between these three clans, and where most dragonmarked houses have a single matriarch or patriarch, Tharashk is governed by the Triumvirate, a body comprised of a leader from each of these clans.

When creating an adventurer or NPC from House Tharashk, you should decide which of the great clans they’re tied to. Each clan is tied to lesser families, so you’re not required to use one of these three names. A few lesser families are described here along with each clan, but you can make up lesser families. So you can be Jalo’uurga of House Tharashk; the question is which clan the ‘Uurga Tharashk are connected to. In theory, the loyalty of a Tharashk heir should be to house first, clan second, and family third. Heirs are expected to set aside family feuds and to focus on the greater picture, to pursue the rivalry between Deneith and Tharashk instead of sabotaging house efforts because of an old feud between ‘Uurga and Tulkar. But those feuds are never forgotten—and when it doesn’t threaten the interests of house or clan, heirs may be driven by these ancient rivalries.

To d’ or not to d’? Tharashk has never been bound by the traditions of the other houses, and this can be clearly seen in Tharashk names. Just look to the three Triumvirs of the house. All three possess dragonmarks, yet in the three of them we see three different conventions. Khandar’aashta doesn’t bother with the d’ prefix or use the house name. Daric d’Velderan uses his clan name, but appends the d’ as a nod to his dragonmark. Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk uses the d’ but applies it to the house name; no one uses d’Torrn. Maagrim’s use of the house name makes a statement about her devotion to the alliance and the house. Daric’s use of the ‘d is a nod to the customs of the other houses. While Khandar makes no concessions to easterners. He may the one of the three leaders of House Tharashk, but he is Aashta. As an heir of House Tharashk, you could follow any of these styles, and you could change it over the course of your career as your attitude changes.

Orcs, Half-Orcs, and Humans. By canon, the Mark of Finding is the only dragonmark that appears on two ancestries—human and half-orc. However, by the current rules, the benefits of the Mark replace everything except age, size, and speed. Since humans and half-orcs have the same size and speed, functionally it makes very little difference which you are. It’s always been strange that this one mark bridges two species when the Khoravar marks don’t, and when orcs can’t develop it. As a result, in my campaign I say that any character with the Mark of Finding has orc blood in their veins. The choice of “human” or “half-orc” reflects how far removed you are from your orc ancestors and how obvious it is to people. But looking to the Triumvirs above, they’re ALL Jhorgun’taal; it’s simply that it’s less obvious with Daric d’Velderan. In my campaign I’d say that Daric has yellow irises, a slight point to his ears, and notable canine teeth; at a glance most would consider him to be human, but his dragonmark is proof that he’s Jhorgun’taal.

Characters and Lesser Clans. The entries that follow include suggestions for player characters from each clan and mention a few lesser clans associated with the major ones. These are only suggestions. If you want to play an evil orc barbarian from Clan Velderan, go ahead—and the lesser clans mentioned here are just a few examples.

The Azhani Language. Until relatively recently, the Marches were isolated from the rest of Khorvaire. The Goblin language took root during the Age of Monsters, but with the arrival of human refugees and the subsequent evolution of the blended culture, a new language evolved. Azhani is a blending of Goblin, Riedran, and a little of the long-dead Orc language. It’s close enough to Goblin that someone who speaks Goblin can understand Azhani, and vice-versa; however, nuances will be lost. For purposes of gameplay, one can list the language as Goblin (Azhani). More information about the Azhani language can be found in Don Bassinthwaite’s Dragon Below novels.

Clan Velderan

  • Capital: Urthhold
  • Triumvir: Daric d’Velderan
  • Primary Role: Far trade, diplomacy and administration, inquisitives
  • Common Traits: Curiosity, Imagination, Charisma, Ambition

Before the rise of House Tharashk, most of the clans and tribes of the Shadow Marches lived in isolation, interacting only with their immediate neighbors. Velderan has always been the exception. The Velderan have long been renowned as fisherfolk and boatmen, driving barges and punts along the Glum River and the lesser waters of the Marches and trading with all of the clans. The clan is based in the coastal town of Urthhold, and for centuries they were the only clan that had any contact with the outside world. It was through this rare contact that reports of an unknown dragonmark made their way to House Sivis, and it was Velderan guides who took Sivis explorers into the Marches.

That spirit remains alive today. Where ‘Aashta and Torrn hold tightly to ancient—and fundamentally opposed—traditions, it’s the Velderan who dream of the future and embrace change, and their enthusiasm and charisma that often sways the others. Torrn and ‘Aashta are both devoted to the work of the house and the prosperity of their union, but it’s the Velderan who truly love meeting new people and spreading to new locations, and who are always searching for new tools and techniques. Stern ‘Aashta are always prepared to negotiate from a position of strength, but it’s the more flexible Velderan who most often serve as the diplomats of the house. While they work with House Lyrandar for long distance trade and transport, the Velderan also remain the primary river runners and guides within the Marches.

In the wider world, the Velderan are often encountered running enclaves in places where finesse and diplomacy are important. Beyond this, the Velderan are most devoted to the inquisitive services of the house; Velderan typically prefer unraveling mysteries to the more brutal work of bounty hunting. The Velderan have no strong ties to either the Gatekeepers or the “Old Ways” of Clan ‘Aashta; they are most interested in exploring new things, and are the most likely to adopt new faiths or traditions. Many outsiders conclude that the Velderan are largely human, and they do have a relatively small number of full orcs as compared to the other clans, but Jhorguun’taal are in the majority in Velderan; it’s just that most Velderan Jhorgun’taal are more human in appearance than the stereotype of the half-orc that’s common in the Five Nations.

Overall, the Velderan are the glue that holds Tharashk together. They’ve earned their reputation for optimism and idealism, and this is reflected by their Triumvir. However, there is a cabal of elders within the house—The Veldokaa—who are determined to maintain the union of Tharashk but to ensure that Velderan remains first among equals. Even while Velderan mediates between Torrn and ‘Aashta, the Veldokaa makes sure to keep their tensions alive so that they rarely ally against Velderan interests. Likewise, while it’s ‘Aashta who is most obvious in its ambition and aggression, it’s the Veldokaa who engage in more subtle sabotage of rivals. So Velderan wears a friendly face, and Daric d’Velderan is sincere in his altruism. But he’s not privy to all the plans of the Veldokaa, and there are other clan leaders—such as Khalar Velderan, who oversees Tharashk operations in Q’barra—who put ambition ahead of altruism.

Velderan Characters. With no strong ties to the Gatekeepers or the Dragon Below, Velderan adventurers are most often rangers, rogues, or even bards. Velderan are interested in the potential of arcane science, and can produce wizards or artificers. Overall, the Velderan are the most optimistic and altruistic of the Clans and the most likely to have good alignments—but an adventurer with ties to the Veldokaa could be tasked with secret work on behalf of the clan. Velderan most often speak Common, and are equally likely to speak Azhani Goblin or traditional Goblin.

Triumvir. Clan Velderan is currently represented by Daric d’Velderan. Daric embodies the altruistic spirit of his clan, and hopes to see Tharashk become a positive force in the world. His disarming humor and flexibility play a critical role in balancing the stronger tempers of Maagrim and Khandar. Daric wants to see the house expand, and is always searching for new opportunities and paths it can follow, but he isn’t as ruthless as Khandar’aashta and dislikes the growing tension between Tharashk and House Deneith. Daric is aware of the Veldokaa and knows that they support him as triumvir because his gentle nature hides their subtle agenda; he focuses on doing as much good as he can in the light while trusting his family to do what they must in the shadows.

Lesser Clans. The Orgaal are an orc-majority clan, and given this people often forget they’re allied with Velderan; as such, the Veldokaa often use them as spies and observers. The Torshaa are expert boatmen and are considered the most reliable guides in the Shadow Marches. The Vaalda are the finest hunters among the Velderan; it’s whispered that some among them train to hunt two-legged prey, and they produce Assassin rogues as well as hunters.

Clan Torrn

  • Capital: Valshar’ak
  • Triumvir: Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk
  • Primary Role: Prospecting and mining, infrastructure, primal magic
  • Common Traits: Stoicism, Stability, Wisdom

Torrn is the oldest of the Tharashk clans. The city of Valshar’ak has endured since days of Dhakaan, and holds a stone platform known as Vvaraak’s Throne. While true, fully initiated Gatekeepers are rare even within the Marches, the Torrn have long held to the broad traditions of the sect, opposing the Old Ways of ‘Aashta and its allies. Clan Torrn has the strongest traditions of primal magic within the Reaches, and ever since the union Torrn gleaners can be found providing vital services across the Marches; it was Torrn druids who raised the mighty murk oaks that serve as the primary supports of Zarash’ak. However, the clan isn’t mired in the past. The Torrn value tradition and are slow to change, but over the last five centuries they have studied the arcane science of the east and blended it with their primal traditions; there are magewrights among the Torrn as well as gleaners.

The Torrn are known for their stoicism and stability; a calm person could be described as being as patient as a Torrn. They refuse to act in haste, carefully studying all options and relying on wisdom rather than being driven by impulse or ambition. Of the three clans, they have the greatest respect for the natural world, but they also know how to make the most efficient use of its bounty. While ‘Aashta have always been known as the best hunters and Velderan loves the water, Torrn is closest to the earth. They are the finest prospectors of the Marches, and are usually found in charge of any major Tharashk mining operations, blending arcane science and dragonmarked tools with the primal magic of their ancestors. Most seek to minimize long-term damage to the environment, but there are Torrn overseers—especially those born outside the Marches—who are focused first and foremost on results, placing less weight on their druidic roots and embracing the economic ambitions of the house.

Most Torrn follow the basic principles of the Gatekeepers, which are not unlike the traditions of the Silver Flame—stand together, oppose supernatural evil, don’t traffic with aberrations. However, most apply these ideas to their own clan and to a wider degree, the united house. Torrn look out for Tharashk, but most aren’t concerned with protecting the world or fighting the daelkyr. Torrn miners may use sustainable methods in their mining, but they are driven by the desire for profit and to see their house prosper. However, there is a deep core of devoted Gatekeepers at the heart of Torrn. Known as the Valshar’ak Seal, they also seek to help Tharashk flourish as a house—because they wish to use its resources and every-increasing influence in the pursuit of their ancient mission. Again, most Torrn follow the broad traditions of the Gatekeepers, but only a devoted few know of the Valshar’ak Seal and its greater goals.

Within the world, the Torrn are most often associated with mining and prospecting, as well as construction and maintaining the general infrastructure of the house. The Torrn Jhorguun’taal typically resemble their orc ancestors, and it’s generally seen as the Clan with the greatest number of orcs.

Torrn Characters. Whether or not they’re tied to the Gatekeepers, Torrn has deep primal roots. Tharashk druids are almost always from Torrn, and Tharashk rangers have a strong primal focus; a Torrn Gatekeeper could also be an Oath of the Ancients paladin, with primal trappings instead of divine. The Torrn are stoic and hold to tradition, and tend toward neutral alignments. Most speak Azhani Goblin among themselves, though they learn Common as the language of trade.

Triumvir. Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk represents the Torrn in the Triumvirate. The oldest Triumvir, she’s known for her wisdom and her patience, though she’s not afraid to shout down Khandar’aashta when he goes too far. Maagrim supports the Valshar’ak Seal, but as a Triumvir her primary focus is on the business and the success of the house; she helps channel resources to the Seal, but on a day to day basis she is most concerned with monitoring mining operations and maintaining infrastructure. She is firmly neutral, driven neither by cruelty or compassion; Maagrim does what must be done.

Lesser Clans. The Torruk are a small, orc-majority clan with strong ties to the Gatekeepers, known for fiercely hunting aberrations in the Reaches and for clashing with the ‘Aashta. The Brokaa are among the finest miners in the house and are increasingly more concerned with profits than with ancient traditions.

Clan ‘Aashta

  • Capital: Patrahk’n
  • Triumvir: Khandar’aashta
  • Primary Role: Mercenary trade, Droaamite relations, bounty hunting
  • Common Traits: Aggression, Courage, Strength

The ‘Aashta have long been known as the fiercest clan of the Shadow Marches. Their ancestral home, Patrahk’n, is on the eastern edge of the Shadow Marches and throughout history they’ve fought with worg packs from the Watching Wood, ogres and trolls, and even their own Gaa’aram cousins. Despite the bloody history, the ‘Aashta earned the respect of their neighbors, and over the last few centuries the ‘Aashta began to work with the people of what is now Droaam. The ‘Aashta thrive on conflict and the thrill of battle; they have always been the most enthusiastic bounty hunters, and during the Last War it was the ‘Aashta who devised the idea of the Dragonne’s Roar—brokering the service of monstrous mercenaries in the Five Nations, as well as the services of the ‘Aashta themselves.

The ‘Aashta are devoted to what they call the “Old Ways”—what scholars might identify as Cults of the Dragon Below. The two primary traditions within the ‘Aashta are the Inner Sun and the Whisperers, both of which are described in Exploring Eberron. Those who follow the Inner Sun seek to buy passage to a promised paradise with the blood of worthy enemies. The Whisperers are tied to the daelkyr Kyrzin; they’re best known for cultivating gibbering mouthers, but they have other traditions tied to the Bile Lord. The key point is that while the ‘Aashta are often technically cultists of the Dragon Below, they aren’t typically trying to free a daelkyr or an overlord. The ‘Aashta Inner Sun cultist is on a quest to find worthy enemies, to buy their own passage to paradise; they aren’t looking to collapse the world into chaos or anything like that. The Gatekeepers despise the cults for trafficking with malefic forces, and believe that they may be unwitting tools of evil, and it’s these beliefs that usually spark clashes between the two (combined with the fact that Gatekeeper champions are certainly ‘worthy foes’ in the eyes of the Inner Sun). But it’s important to recognize that these two paths have co-existed for thousands of years. That co-existence hasn’t always been peaceful, but they’ve never engaged in a total war. Since the union of Tharashk, both ‘Aashta and Torrn have done their best to work together, with Velderan helping to mediate between the two (… and with the Veldokaa occasionally stirring up the conflict).

The ‘Aashta are fierce and aggressive. They respect strength and courage, and take joy in competition. Having invested in the Tharashk union, they want to see the House rise to glory. It’s the ‘Aashta who pushed to create the Dragonne’s Roar despite the clear conflict with House Deneith. The ‘Aashta also recognize the power Tharashk has as the primary supplier of dragonshards, and wish to see how the house can use this influence. In contrast to the Veldokaa, the ‘Aashta are honest in their ambition and wish to see the house triumph as a whole. While they do produce a few inquisitives, their greatest love is bounty hunting, and most Tharashk hunters come from ‘Aashta or one of its allied clans.

While they aren’t as dedicated to innovation as Velderan and aren’t as invested in symbionts as the dwarf clans of Narathun or Soldorak in the Mror Holds, the ‘Aashta are always searching for new weapons and don’t care if a tool frightens others. Some of those who follow the Old Ways master the techniques of the warlock, while the Whisperers employ strange molds and symbionts tied to Kyrzin and produce gifted alchemists.

‘Aashta Characters. The ‘Aashta are extremely aggressive. While there are disciplined fighters among them—often working with the Dragonne’s Roar to train and lead mercenary troops—the ‘Aashta are also known for cunning rangers and fierce barbarians. Their devotion to the Old Ways can produce warlocks or sorcerers, and especially gifted Whisperers can become Alchemist artificers. Culturally, the ‘Aashta are the most ruthless of the clans and this can lead to characters with evil alignments, though this is driven more by a lack of mercy than by wanton cruelty; like followers of the Mockery, an ‘Aashta will do whatever it takes to achieve victory. Due to its proximity to Droaam, the people of Patrahk’n speak traditional Goblin rather than Azhani, as well as learning Common as a trade language; however, ‘Aashta from the west may prefer Azhani.

Triumvir. Khandar’aashta is bold and charismatic. He is extremely ambitious and is constantly pushing his fellow Triumvirs, seeking to expand the power of Tharashk even if it strains their relations with the rest of the Twelve. Khandar is a follower of the Old Ways; it’s up to the DM to decide if he’s a Whisperer, pursuing the Inner Sun, or if he’s tied to a different and more sinister tradition. While he is ruthless when it comes to expanding the power of the house, he does believe in the union and wants to see all the clans prosper.

Lesser Clans. Overall, the ‘Aashta have no great love of subterfuge. When they need such schemes, they turn to the ‘Arrna, a lesser clan who produces more rogues than rangers. While they are just as aggressive as the ‘Aashta, the ‘Aarna love intrigues and fighting with words as well as blades. The Istaaran are devoted Whisperers and skilled alchemists; they have a great love of poisons and have helped to produce nonlethal toxins to help bounty hunters bring down their prey. The ‘Oorac are a small clan known for producing aberrant dragonmarks and sorcerers; before the union they were often persecuted, but ‘Aashta shields them.

That’s all for now. I’m pressed for time and likely won’t be able to answer questions on this topic. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in shaping the topic of the NEXT article, there’s just four hours left (as of this posting) in the Patreon poll to choose it; at the moment it’s neck and neck between an exploration of Sky Piracy in Khorvaire and my suggestions for drawing players into the world and developing interesting Eberron characters in Session Zero. In addition, tomorrow I’ll be posting the challenge that will determine which Threshold patrons play in my next online adventure. If you want to be a part of any of that, check out my Patreon!

IFAQ: Smalltown Karrnath, Ghallanda Scouts, and Speaking with the Dead!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from March!

Canonically, Karrnath has a significant halfling population. How does this affect its culture?

The cultures of the Five Nations are inherently cosmopolitan, woven from a tapestry of different species. Halflings make up a minimum of 4% of the population of all of the Five Nations, and have since the time of Galifar. So first and foremost, keep in mind that the culture of Karrnath as it is defined—a culture of martial discipline and warlords, the undercurrent of the Seekers—were all formed with halflings as part of that tapestry. There are halflings teaching at Rekkenmark and at the Atur Academy. The typical Karrnathi halfling is grim and stoic, and likely served in the military; a Thrane halfling is likely to be devoted to the Silver Flame; an Aundairian halfling may be a flamboyant wandslinger. They’re all halflings, but they’re also Karrns, Thranes, and Aundairians—and they are part of the gestalt that created those cultures to begin with.

With that said, Karrnath does indeed have a higher halfling percentage than most of the Five Nations—twice that of any other nation. So roughly half the halfling population of Karrnath reflects the typical widespread presence of haflings throughout Galifar, halflings who identify culturally as Karrns. But that leaves another 5% of the population. These halflings are concentrated in southeastern Karrnath, along the always loosely-defined border with the Talenta Plains. This region has a tumultous history. Before Galifar, there were times when Karrn warlords subjugated nomad tribes, and there were times when Talenta raiders struck deep into Karrnath. Galifar and modern Karrnath largely brought an end to both extremes, but also established this region as a buffer zone. Some nomad tribes chose to settle in the area, adopting agriculture and swearing fealty to warlords in exchange for protection and support. In the present day, these still exist. These small towns are communities that are almost entirely comprised of halflings, whose people think of themselves as Karrns but still retain some elements of the Talenta faith, speak both Common and Halfling in everyday life, and who may domesticate fastieth, glidewings, or hammertails.

In the wake of the Last War, this region has taken on new significance. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “… to curb continued aggression from the Valenar elves, Karrnath has established a separate alliance with the halfling clans of the Talenta Plains. This alliance has allowed Karrnathi troops to set up forts in halfling territory for the mutual protection of both nations.” So the buffer zone of halfling communities has existed for centuries, but in the wake of the Last War and this alliance, you have new Talenta tribes choosing to settle in this buffer region and adopting this hybrid lifestyle, as well as nomadic tribes who have shifted their migratory routes to pass through southern Karrnath, taking advantage of the alliance. Essentially, the border between Karrnath and the Talenta Plains is a spectrum whose inhabitants blend the traditions of both cultures. You have halflings who consider themselves Karrns and who are legally Karrnathi citizens, but who still maintain a number of Talenta tradititions (as well as unique traditions that have evolved through the merging of the two cultures)—and you also have nomads who consider themselves Talenta and aren’t Karrnathi citizens, but who are allowed to dwell in southwestern Karrnath due to the current alliance.

So small towns are Karrnathi communities—some of which have been around for centuries—and Karrns of any species are welcome in them. However, the practical fact is that these are mostly small communities, figuratively and literally; they are built by small humanoids for small humanoids. Medium humanoids can usually find shelter in a barn or church, and some villages have a dwarf or human family who may allow medium travelers to stay with them; but overall, these communities are on a smaller scale than the human-built Karrn towns. While many are small in population as well as scale, there are a few small towns of significant size along the Vulyar-Irontown road. The most notable of these is Sorallandan, a town of over ten thousand that has significant outposts of both House Ghallanda and House Jorasco; Sorallandan is a Halfling word meaning “The Hope For Comfort At The End Of A Lengthy Journey.”

Are there halfling warlords in Karrnath, or are these small towns governed by warlords of other species?

It’s a mix. The small towns around Odakyr and Vulyar owe fealty to human warlords, who are content to let the villages follow their own traditions as long as they meet their commitments as vassals. However, there are two domains along the stretch of land between Vulyar and Irontown that are held by halfling warlords. One of these warlord families—the Toralamars—were raised from the small towns centuries ago; Sorallandan is the Toralamar seat, and the family is committed to maintaining the traditions of the towns and ongoing cultural exchange with the Plains. By contrast, the Warlord Asta Vanalan commanded Fort Deepdark during final decade of the Last War, and Kaius recognized her service by granting her dominion over the nearby lands previously ruled by the ir’Jennrei line; while this technically ennobles her, Vanalan rarely employs the ir’ honorific. The Vanalan family has deep roots in Rekkenmark, and Asta is working to impose more traditional Karrnathi culture on the small towns within her domain; this includes an effort to convince Karrns from the west to resettle in the region. As a warlord, Asta has passed the daily duties of command of Deepdark to Brandin ir’Dulinch, but Deepdark remains the seat of her power.

Is there a group of kids in Khorvaire who wear sashes and sell cookies?

The first one that comes to mind are the Ghallanda Scouts. This organization is run by the Hosteler’s Guild of House Ghallanda. The mission of the Ghallanda Scouts is to build confidence and character. The primary focus is on wilderness skills—sharing the Talentan heritage of the house with all who wish to learn. However, it’s also well known for selling cookies, which both helps to raise funds and to hone business skills. Ghallanda Scout programs can be found anywhere where the house has a presence, and all children are welcome to participate; it’s not limited to halflings or Ghallanda heirs. If a character has the Outlander backgrounds, they could have been raised in the wild… or they could be a Sharn native who loved their time in the Ghallanda Scouts; just swap “A trophy from an animal you killed” for “A collection of merit badges.”

How common is the practice of Speak With Dead in the Five Nations?

There’s a few different aspects to this. Speak with dead is a service that exists in Khorvaire; the list of magewrights on page 318 of Rising From The Last War includes a medium who can perform Speak With Dead as a ritual, and elsewhere we mention a member of the Blackened Book—the mystical division of the Sharn Watch—using it as part of an investigation. So it’s a tool that is used in law enforcement, and I’ve previously mentioned it as a tool that would be used in archaeology. With that said, it’s not commonplace in the Five Nations, for a few key reasons.

  • It’s difficult and expensive. Third level spells are at the top tied of what’s commonly encountered as “everyday magic” and according to Rising, you’d have to pay a medium 100 gp to perform the ritual.
  • It doesn’t actually contact the spirit of the victim. You are drawing on trace memories attached to the corpse; you aren’t drawing their spirit back from Dolurrh. So it’s an effective way to gather information, but it’s not like you can have a normal conversation with your dead grandpa because you miss him.
  • It has to be cast on a corpse. Followers of the Silver Flame typically cremate their dead. Vassals bury them and generally don’t look kindly on people digging their relatives up. It’s typically used by investigators before corpses are buried; at the very least, you’re going to have to file some paperwork to get dispensation to dig up a corpse for questioning. Which ties to the fact that…
  • The people of the Five Nations don’t like necromancy. It’s not outlawed—and again, speak with dead is definitely used by investigators and archaeologists—but in the Five Nations, people think talking to skulls is CREEPY, and digging up the dead is worse.

So speak with dead exists and is used in the Five Nation, but it’s primarily used as an investigative tool prior to burial or as a scholarly tool on remains that have been recovered. Having said that, let’s talk about the exceptions.

Medium is listed as a magewright specialty. Magewrights have limited spell selection and can only cast spells as rituals, but they can also produce effects that are more dramatic than the standard spells. A magewright medium can certainly perform the standard speak with dead ritual—but a skilled medium can do more than that. In my campaign, a skilled medium can cast speak with dead without access to the corpse, provided they have access to strong emotional anchors—objects that were important to the deceased, and most of all, a living person with a connection to them. This is like a classic seance; it is a slow, lengthy process and the people who are close to the deceased have to actively participate in it.

If the deceased person hasn’t been dead for long, such a ritual may actually be able to reach their spirit in Dolurrh; but remember that spirits in Dolurrh are afflicted with ennui and are constantly losing their memories, so the longer they’ve been dead, the less of them will be left. The spell description notes that “Answers are usually brief, cryptic, or repetitive, and the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer.” In the case of reaching a spirit still in Dolurrh I’d require a skill check on the part of the medium (Arcana or Religion) and a Charisma check on the part of the petitioner—with advantage or disadvantage based on their relationship to the deceased and how long they’ve been dead; a good result on both checks might be able to give a semblance of actually having a conversation with the deceased. Of course, the other side of this is that there are some mediums who are simply charlatans—who use detect thoughts to determine what the petitioner wants to hear, and illusion magic to put on a spookshow.

The Seekers of the Divinity WithinAKA the Blood of Vol—have skilled necromancers and no sentimental attachment to corpses. In some Seeker communities, the skulls of people seen as particularly wise or who possess valuable information will be preserved in a sort of library ossuary, allowing a necromancer to consult them with questions. However, this is just standard speak with dead, not something more dramatic like the spirit idols of Aerenal. Mediums can draw on the trace memories that remain in the skulls, but they aren’t actually speaking to the spirits of the deceased.

Meanwhile, when you go to Aerenal speak with dead is a very common tool—but in Aerenal, spirits of the dead are often preserved in spirit idols that prevent them from the dissolution of Dolurrh. When interacting with a spirit idol, speak with dead allows the caster to have an actual conversation with the deceased spirit; it’s not limited to five questions, and provided the spirit likes the questioner, answers don’t need to be cryptic or short.

That’s all for now! If you’d like to present questions for future articles, join my Patreon—thanks to my patrons for their questions and support! I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss these ideas and what you’ve done in your campaign in the comments!

IFAQ: Lightning Round!

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters for short questions. Normally I’d spread these out over a lot of short articles, but September kept me busy and I didn’t have a chance. So, here’s an assortment of infrequently asked questions, dealing with dwarves, Dar, the Dark Six, numerology, electrum, and much too much more!

Are the Dark six truly evil? Or are they just misunderstood by the civilized people?

There’s no absolute answer, because the Sovereigns and Six can’t be judged independently of their followers. The Sovereigns and Six are IDEAS. To people who follow the Pyrinean Creed, the Dark Six are literally symbols of evil. The Devourer is the source of the destructive powers of nature. The Shadow creates monsters and lures people down dark paths. While to someone who follows the Cazhaak traditions, the Devourer tests us and weeds out the weak, and the Shadow helps us unlock our true potential. But the whole point of religion in Eberron is that there is no absolute proof that one of these beliefs is right and that the other is wrong. The question is which YOU believe to be true, and what you will do because of those beliefs. So, are the Dark Six truly evil? It depends who you ask. I’ve written a number of articles that talk about how different groups view the Dark Six; these include articles on the Shadow, the Keeper, the Fury, and the Traveler.

How well known is the commonality of the 13-1 in Eberron? Is it common numerology? Does it cause issues with there being 15 member of the Sovereign Host?

People within the setting are aware of the patterns that link certain phenomena. The ones most people know about are the moons, the planes, and the Dragonmarks. Most people believe that this is because there is a relationship between these things—that the moons are linked to the planes or to the dragonmarks in some meaningful way. Most people don’t believe that EVERYTHING is somehow tied to a baker’s dozen, so no one things it’s strange that there’s 15 deities in the Sovereign Host or that there’s only eight beasts in the Race of Eight Winds. And while most people do believe that the numerology of moons, marks, and planes is significant, MOST will say that some of the other baker’s dozens—the number of Mror Holds for example—are surely just a bizarre coincidence, though others will claim that it’s tied to the Prophecy. So people are AWARE of it, but they don’t believe that it does or should apply to every aspect of the world.

You once said “Antus ir’Soldorak recently began minting electrum coins called “Eyes” (due to the stylized eye on one face).” What are the public/private reasons for that eye and what has been the public reaction(s)?

So setting aside the IN-WORD explanation, there’s two explanations for why *I* made those decisions. Electrum pieces have been a weird outlier since AD&D; 4E dropped them completely. I wanted to give them an actual concrete role in the setting, along with a reason why they WEREN’T used in 4E — that they are actually new in the world. As for “Eye”, the MAIN reason for this is to fit the pattern of the coin name matching the letter of the metal: copper crowns, silver sovereigns, gold galifars, electrum eyes. Of course, I chose “Eyes” —rather than, say, “Elephants”—because I liked the idea that perhaps there IS a greater significance to it. The Player’s Guide to Eberron introduces an enchantment spell created by the Aurum that uses a platinum piece as a component; it seemed very in line with Soldorak’s ambitions to create a coin that could be used, perhaps, as a specialized scrying target… that in spreading this new currency across the Five Nations, he’s actually laying the groundwork for a vast spying network.

Is that true? That’s up to you to decide, based on the role of the Aurum in your campaign. Likewise on the reaction to the coins themselves. Personally, I think the reaction would vary from indifference to disdain—with some people seeing it as a publicity stunt and others seeing it as unnecessary. On the other hand, Soldorak could create a publicity campaign suggesting that his electrum coins are more reliable than others—especially if this was combine with a surge in counterfeiting of traditional currencies with base metals.

What’s Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax like? Do the kobolds and goblins have the same culture, or are kobolds as described in Volo’s?

In brief: This article discusses the most widespread kobold culture in Eberron. Droaam in particular has a number of micro-cultures created by the interactions between kobolds, goblins, and the other inhabitants of the regions, so there are isolated kobold clans and bands of goblins that have entirely unique traditions. However, most of the kobolds and goblins of the region have a shared history of being oppressed and dominated by other creatures, which has established a strong bond between the two species and a number of common traditions. This is the foundation of Shaarat Kol: it is a dominion formed from the ground up by kobolds and goblins freed from subjugation and working together to CREATE their own culture. It blends together a number of different micro-cultures, and it’s still finding its identity. Full details on Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax could be a topic for a future Dragonmark article.

Do magebred flowers and plants exist and what uses could they have?

Eberron possesses a host of flora not seen on our world. The most common source of such unusual plant-life is the influence of manifest zones. We’ve already talked about many such plants over time: livewood, Araam’s crown, dawn’s glory. The pommow plant of Riedra is specifically called out as being actively magebred—not merely “naturally” occurring in a manifest zone, but developed by the Inspired. A more detailed exploration of magebred and supernatural plants could be a subject for a future Dragonmark article.

What is the path to citizenship in the Five Nations?

Galifar is based on feudal principles, and most nations retain that basic foundation. To become a citizen of such a nation requires an audience with a local noble. The applicant swears fealty to the nation and its ruler, and also direct allegiance to that local noble; the noble in turn formally accepts them as a subject. This means that the noble is accepting responsibility for that individual, and the individual is promising to obey that noble, pay taxes, and answer any call for conscription, as well as to respect the laws of the land. The noble doesn’t HAVE to accept an offer of fealty, and most won’t unless the potential subject intends to reside within their domain. So it’s entirely valid for a Brelish noble to refuse to accept the fealty of an ogre from Droaam because either they don’t believe the ogre will uphold the laws or they don’t believe that the ogre intends to remain within their domain. Likewise, back before Droaam, the Barrens were considered to be part of Breland but the inhabitants of the region weren’t Brelish citizens, because they’d never sworn fealty to any Brelish lord; legally (from the perspective of Galifar) they were outlaws squatting in Brelish land.

In the modern age, much of this process is handled by bureaucracy, especially in the case of children of existing citizens. In some regions there are annual ceremonies where each child swears an oath to the local lord before being recognized as an adult. But in a populous region like Sharn, the parents will file paperwork when the child is born, and when the child becomes an adult they’ll file their own statement. But the underlying principle remains the same: someone needs to make a decision on behalf of the local lord as to whether to accept the offer of fealty, and this will be based on the applicant’s residence, reputation, family, and other factors.

How do governance and taxation work in the biggest principalities in Lhazaar? Are there any established checks on the princes’ powers, or are they all like little autocracies?

Every principality is unique, and the laws of a principality can dramatically change from prince to prince. As shown by the recent article on Lorghalen, the culture and traditions of the gnome islanders have nothing in common with the Bloodsails. The idea of the Principalities as a truly formalized alliance with a single leader and a more unified set of laws is a very new concept; Ryger ir’Wynarn is striving to bring the Principalities together, but that’s very much a work in progress.

What makes the dwarves of the Realm Below concretely different from the dar of Dhakaan? They’re both subterranean empires. If I want to have adventurers have to deal with daelkyr forces massing in a subterranean ruin, why would I use one instead of the other?

One reason to use one culture instead of the other is the location of the story. Sol Udar occupies a small region, primarily just the land under the Ironroot Mountains. Under most of Khorvaire, the Dhakaani were the only advanced subterranean nation. In Xen’drik you don’t have Dhakaani or Udar; instead you might find the Umbragen drow or Giant ruins. As for cosmetic differences, the appearance of the Realm Below is discussed on page 119 of Exploring Eberron. The civilization of Sol Udar was a highly magical civilization that incorporated cantrip effects into daily life. An Udar ruin will have magical lighting, illustrate music, climate control. The Dhakaani are primarily a martial society: their forge adepts created magical weapons, but they didn’t have arcane air conditioners or magical jukeboxes. Dhakaani structures are stark and brutalist in design, though extremely durable; from the ground up, they were designed for WAR. The Udar weren’t so warlike, and their homes have a lot more cosmetic comforts. The second aspect is the degree to which the Udar specialized in working with demiplanes—meaning that for any Udar ruin you want to establish what demiplane it’s attached to and how those effects manifest in the ruin.

In Exploring Eberron, Jhazaal Dhakaan is said to have created the Ghaal’duur horn, but she’s also described as a bard. How does this fit with the fact that the Dhakaani have a strong tradition of artificers?

It’s not just Exploring Eberron; the Ghaal’duur is first mentioned as a creation of Jhazaal in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting. It’s always been assumed that the duur’klala create magic items, but they create magic items associated with bardic magic. Duur’kala create items associated with enchantment, inspiration, and healing, while the daashor generally create armor and weapons of war. Now, the daashor CAN create any sort of item. Jhazaal created the First Crown, which is an artifact tied to inspiration; but it was a daashor who created the Rod of Kings. Still, the general principle is that the forge adepts create the tools of war, while the dirge singers create items associated with peace.

Do the Dragonmark houses view The Twelve as an authority or an advisory body?

The Twelve is technically a RESOURCE. It’s an arcane institute devoted to developing tools and techniques that benefit all of the dragonmarked houses. Dragonmarked heirs learn the arcane arts from the Twelve, and many important tools—such as the Kundarak vault network and most dragonmark focus items—were developed by the Twelve. The Council of the Twelve discusses issues of interest to all houses and helps to mediate disputes, but it has no AUTHORITY… though because its work is of great value to all of the houses, no house would want to take actions that would cause it to be cut off from the institute.

What stands out about Eberron’s transitive planes? Or are they just part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality, and a shortcut to the other planes in the Deep Ethereal and the Astral?

They’re primarily a part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality. In the 3.5 ECS the transitive planes were called out as functioning normally, and we’ve never suggested that they were created by the progenitors; instead, they are part of the basic metaphysical framework that the progenitors built upon. So they are largely supposed to fill the same function as they do in other settings.

What was the family of Mordain Fleshweaver inside House Phiarlan?

This is the sort of question I prefer not to answer. The answer has no significance for me. I could make a D6 table of named Phiarlan families and randomly say “Shol”, because hey, that’s a Phiarlan family. But that doesn’t make anyone’s story BETTER. The question is what do you WANT his family to be? If one of your player characters is a Thuranni, you might say that Mordain is also Thuranni, and might take an interest in the character because of that. Or you could say he was Paelion and will have a vendetta against the PC for that reason. But perhaps you’ve got a character who’s a Shol from Phiarlan… well, maybe Mordain is a Shol! Essentially, Mordain’s specific lineage isn’t an important part of his story, so I don’t want to make a choice that has no meaning for me but might get in the way of YOUR story. Since you’re asking the question, you presumably have a situation where it’s going to matter; so what do you WANT the answer to be? What will be the most interesting answer for your campaign?

That’s all for now! I’ll be asking my Patreon supporters for October questions soon, and I have a new Patreon experiment I’ll discuss next week!

Sidebar: Aurum Concordians

While few outsiders know what goes on inside an Aurum hall, the existence of the organization is no secret; most members proudly wear the eight rings of their concord. If you asked a member of the Aurum to describe it, they’d say that it’s a fraternal order with a hall in every major city in the Five Nations. They’d brag about how the Aurum strengthens local communities through philanthropy and charitable work. They’d call out that the Aurum is an organization where people with different political and religious beliefs can set those differences aside and talk as friends: that it’s an organization for people who want to make a difference in the world, who can reach beyond class and nation. However, at the end of the day few can argue that one practical purpose of the organization is to increase the wealth and power of its members. Friends do favors for friends—and everyone’s friends in the Aurum. You have a problem with the Sharn Watch? Let’s have a drink with Commander Yorgan and see if we can work something out.

Push farther, and some concordians will acknowledge that one of the founding principles of the Aurum is that the existing system within Khorvaire is oppressive: the dragonmarked houses have tyrannical economic monopolies and the monarchies of the Five Nations are outdated. The Aurum brings together the finest and most capable people outside that structure, and helps them to achieve the opportunities they deserve. Now, you may have heard rumors of a “Shadow Cabinet” that seeks to tear down the houses or overthrow monarchies, but that’s just ridiculous. The Aurum is a social club. Last night we had a delightful performance from the Diva Laria. Provost Salar gave an impromptu lecture on the Sulat League and Councilor Evix discussed a Xen’drik expedition they’re funding. No one tried to conquer the world.

Anyone who’s read the sourcebooks knows that—spoiler alert—the Shadow Cabinet DOES exist. But the important point is that most members of the Aurum itself don’t actually know that. The Aurum is what it appears to be: an alliance of wealthy and influential people who enjoy each other’s company and who use their wealth and influence to help each another. Sure, many are evil in alignment, and those people are especially likely to take advantage of the connections offered by the Aurum to strengthen their positions and gain power, even if this circumvents the law or steals those opportunities from others. But there are concordians who are truly good, who do seek to use the Aurum’s influence to strengthen the local community. And many are squarely neutral, enjoying the camaraderie of the society and happy to help their fellow concordians where they can, but having no grand aspirations of their own.

So there’s a few roles an Aurum concordian can serve in a story.

  • Patron. Are you looking for someone who wants to fund an expedition? Someone who wants to pay a group of adventurers to do something that doesn’t quite fall within the law but isn’t entirely criminal, either? This is the role of the concordian. They have gold, and they have enough connections to arrange for watch patrols to be light around the entrance to Old Sharn, or to get you past customs when you land with contraband artifacts. But they don’t have the resources of a dragonmarked house or a spy agency; they need adventurers to run their errands. And these tasks don’t have to shake the world or threaten the city. A concordian may simply be indulging a personal (perhaps slightly illegal) hobby: adding to their collection of (contraband) Sulat elemental seals, or taking actions to humiliate a professional or social rival. Concordians are people who have enough wealth and power to be able to hire and help adventurers—but not so much power that adventurers become irrelevant.
  • Rival. If adventurers get on the wrong side of a concordian, it can cause a lot of trouble for them… but still, not as much trouble as making an enemy of a dragonmarked house or the King’s Citadel. A concordian may have wealth and they will certainly have contacts, but especially if they’re in the lower concords there’s a limit to how many favors they can call in. Consider Ambrose Jakis in The Name of the Wind; he’s a perfect example of how an Aurum conordian could make trouble for an adventurer who’s earned their ire. To a lesser extent, a concordian could serve as a patron for a rival group of adventurers, who thus get a lot of unfair advantages because of the wealth and influence of their patron.
  • Member. A player character could be given a chance to JOIN the Aurum. An existing member (perhaps a patron) would have to sponsor them, and they’d begin in the Copper Concord. As such, they wouldn’t have a lot of pull right away—but if they do favors for concordians, others will do favors in return. They may receive opportunities they’d never have gained on their own, and have access to gossip and secrets they’d never have been able to learn. It’s a great opportunity… but they will be expected to do favors for the higher ranking concordians.

But what about the Shadow Cabinet?

From a design perspective, the Aurum is designed to be an easy source of patrons and rivals. The connections of the Aurum make a concordian a dangerous enemy or a powerful ally, but part of the point of the Aurum is that it’s NOT a tightly knit conspiracy; members have to pay for favors with favors, and there are members of the Aurum who aren’t friends with one another. It’s not as tightly knit as the Dreaming Dark or even as a dragonmarked house. It’s a quick source of influential figures, but these are people low-level adventurers can deal with.

But what about the Shadow Cabinet? This follows the idea of the Illuminati or SPECTRE: an hidden organization of powerful people who intend to shift the balance of power. Members of the Shadow Cabinet ARE more tightly connected, and do freely share resources—making them far more dangerous than just an individual Silver Concordian. They want to disrupt or control monarchies, to break the power of the dragonmarked houses; a DM who wants a dramatic twist could reveal that the Shadow Cabinet was responsible for the Shadow Schism that divided House Phiarlan (whether working with or framing the Paelions)—and that they are now actively encouraging the rivalries between the three Cannith factions, hoping to permanently split that house as well. One might well say “If I want a plutocratic villain, why not just use a dragonmarked house? They seem to have more power and cooler gimmicks. And that’s correct: the houses DO have far more power. The point of the Shadow Cabinet is that they ARE the upstarts and the underdogs—that they are FIGHTING the established great powers of the monarchies and houses. For all his wealth and power, Antus ir’Soldorak still needs Lyrandar excoriates to fly his grand airship. He doesn’t have all the power he wants: which is why he’s fighting to disrupt the Twelve. This is a struggle that will surely take decades to bear meaningful fruit. Again, it’s possible that the Shadow Schism was a great victory for the Aurum, and that took place 26 years ago. I don’t expect the Shadow Cabinet to have any chance to actually take over the world in the course of campaign; if they COULD somehow destroy the dragonmarked houses in a year, Khorvaire would collapse into chaos. The power is that they are trying. They are working to disrupt the order, to turn houses against one another, to fund innovations that would reduce their power. They are actively trying to shake the status quo, and this can drive the events of an adventure. But their role in the story is to be the disruptive underdogs, not to actually be on top. With that said, a very important point that differentiates the houses and the Shadow Cabinet is that a dragonmarked hosue has massive power and influence within a single field. The Shadow Cabinet has agents spread across society, in places the houses can’t touch. They have concordians in the military, in the judiciary, in the arts. Their power is less CONCRETE than that of the houses, but it is more subtle; a concordian customs inspector can cause a lot of trouble for local house operations!

Hearing all of this raises an interesting option: the Shadow Cabinet COULD be presented in a heroic light. The dragonmarked houses DO wield oppressive monopolistic power. The monarchies of the Five Nations could be seen as outdated. It is entirely possible to present the Shadow Cabinet as a heroic alliance that is trying to make change—that is fighting to help the artificer working on an airship that anyone could pilot, or to push democracy in the Five Nations. By default, canon presents the Shadow Cabinet as being driven by purely selfish goals: it doesn’t actually want to make the world a better place, it wants to make it a better place for members of the Shadow Cabinet. But it is entirely possible to present it in a more altruistic light. And the reason I’m saying this with no spoilers is because, as a player, you don’t know what your DM is doing with them. When you spot someone wearing eight rings, you know they’re in the Aurum. But are they secretly plotting to throw the Five Nations into chaos? Are they fighting a secret battle in pursuit of economic innovation and democracy? Or are they a casual member who just enjoys a good game of Conqueror at the club? And as a DM, if you want to maintain that mystery, the point is to use concordians in those different capacities. Have the adventurers benefit from Aurum philanthropy. Have them need to protect an orphanage that was built with Aurum donations. When the concordian comes to them with a seemingly innocent job, is it exactly what it appears to be… or could it be serving a hidden agenda? W

Who’s In The Aurum?

The common impression is that the Aurum is an alliance of the wealthy and powerful, because it’s those wealthy and powerful members who attract attention. And usually by the time someone is in the Gold or Platinum Concords they will be wealthy or powerful… but they may not have started out that way. The Aurum doesn’t look for wealth: it looks for influence and potential. The Copper Concord includes people who don’t have power yet—but their sponsor sees a way that they could, if the right strings are pulled. Officers in the military or the watch. Civic officials. Up and coming artists. Promising artisans. The further up you go, the more wealth and influence the concordian is likely to have. They’re not a watch officer, they command a district garrison. They aren’t an aspiring playwright, they’re an international sensation. Or they could be a wealthy collector of rare Sarlonan antiquities—but if they’re in the Gold or Platinum Concords, they will be VERY wealthy…

The Aurum Concordian table provides a quick way to generate a random concordian. You’ll have to establish the basic details—this concordian is an old Brelish dwarf—but the table helps to establish that he’s an ambassador who profited off the Last War and has close ties to the Brelish military. These are basic prompts, and it’s up to you to decide how he profited off the war, or what those close ties are like—does he have personal sway with a single military unit (he can call on the Redcloak Battalion in Sharn) or does he have broader ties to Brelish military leadership?

To be clear, the Aurum seeks to shake the status quo and thus tends to reject members who are powerful nobles or well-placed dragonmarked heirs. However, a concordian could be from a lesser noble family (a minor Lhazaar prince), or as in the case of Antus ir’Soldorak, could have bought a noble title. Likewise, concordians won’t include members of powerful dragonmarked families, but they can include excoriates or members of families that have fallen into disfavor and are unhappy with the Twelve… and the Aurum includes many people who run businesses licensed by the houses, but who aren’t tied to the house by blood and chafe under its yoke.

So again, an Aurum concordian can be a useful patron, a dangerous rival, someone seeking to help strengthen their community or someone determined to increase their own power at all costs. Invoking the Aurum is a quick way to establish that someone has wealth and influence… but it shouldn’t automatically establish someone as a VILLAIN. The Aurum is intended to be a source of easy foes for low-level adventures, but it can be just as useful as a source of patrons. In the novel The City of Towers, the down-on-their-luck adventurers turn to a member of the Aurum for work. And while concordians COULD turn to organizations like the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan, or House Deneith, some members prefer not to deal with actual criminals or economic rivals… and that’s where adventurers come in!

What’s Your Connection?

The table above is a quick way to generate a random concordian. But perhaps you want an adventurer to have a concrete connection to that character. The following tables (originally posted in this article) help with that. It turns out that one of the adventurers was childhood friends we the ambassador, and that the ambassador pulled strings a year ago to get them out of jail… but now the ambassador is being targeted for assassination and they’re calling in that favor. The Aurum Concordian table takes the place of the “Aurum Member” table below, but I’m leaving that column in below, as it gives some quick and concrete examples.

General Q&A

Does a member of the Copper Concord who’s also in the Shadow Cabinet outrank a member of the Gold Concord who’s not in the Cabinet?

The Shadow Cabinet—if it even exists!—is a secret even to members of the Aurum. So no, the copper concordian can’t make demands of the gold concordian, because the gold concordian doesn’t recognize their authority. However, the people IN the secret society work more closely together than most members of the Aurum. So a member of the Platinum Concord may go out of their way to help the copper, in a way that seems unusual—because both are in the Shadow Cabinet, and it serves the purposes of the Cabinet. But it’s always possible a DM could decide to use the Aurum WITHOUT the Shadow Cabinet… or they could decide that there’s no difference between the two, and that all members of the Aurum pursue the goals of the Cabinet.

Is there an initiation ceremony or ritual involved with joining the Aurum? If so, what is that like?

Like most fraternal orders, the Aurum undoubtedly has a vast number of secret ceremonies and rituals. What are they like? SECRET. This is a level of detail you’re not likely to ever see in canon because we could easily write an entire book about the rituals of the Aurum, but for most campaigns it will never matter. Should the adventurers ever happen to witness an Aurum initiation, you can invent the rituals or even ask your players to suggest details. But certainly, it’s a solemn, complicated ceremony and it likely involved swearing oaths under a zone of truth.

When someone joins the Aurum, they join a particular hall. We use the concord rank (gold, silver, etc) as a general indicator because it’s all that most adventurers will ever have to deal with, but you can be sure that there are a vast number of internal honors and titles used within a hall. Someone’s not just a gold concordian, they’re a “Faithful Warden of the Gold Concord” —which is itself a step up from being an “Honored Initiate of the Gold Concord.” The one that matters most is the Keeper of the Hall, who is the ultimate local authority (and almost always a member of the Platinum Concord). While I’m not going to try to suggest all the secret rituals that go on as part of initiation or advancement, I will say that in either case the initiate receives the eight rings of their concord and they also receive a concordian’s coin of the metal of their concord. The rings are produced locally; every hall has their own variation on the basic design, but they are mundane metal. A concordian’s coin is a magic item produced by the Soldorak Mint. The coin has the Aurum seal on one face (the chained crown) and a profile on the other (see below). A concordian’s coin has the following properties.

  • The coin is initially unbound. When someone holds the coin in the fist and recites a specific oath, the coin is bound to that person; the only way to break this bond is to destroy or disenchant the coin. Initially, the profile on the face of the coin is a blank silhouette. When the coin is bound, it takes on the appearance of the person it’s bound to.
  • Only the person the coin is bound to can hold the coin. Anyone else who touches it will receive an unpleasant arcane shock. This doesn’t cause permanent damage, but if someone picks up or holds a concordian’s coin they must make a DC 10 Wisdom save each round to keep from dropping it.
  • The person the coin is bound to can use it as an arcane focus. It can also be used as a holy symbol by a cleric of the Sovereign Host (specifically Kol Korran or the Keeper).
  • A concordian’s coin is a common magic item. Coins of the gold and platinum concords often carry additional enchantments; a concordian’s coin might be enchanted to serve as an amulet of proof against detection and location, for example.

Beyond this, there is also a series of protocols involving both coins and rings. For example, when shaking hands on first meeting, a concordian will tap a particular finger against the finger of the other concordian, who will answer with a different tap based on the respective ranks of the members. Likewise, at a meal between concordians they may place their coins on the table; placing them in certain configurations (crown up, to the left of a drink) can convey hidden messages.

How distinctive are the rings and coin of an Aurum concordian?

Each hall has a unique ring design. However, these rings are pure metal and the designs aren’t so complex; part of the point of the ring is that another ring can be easily worn above it (like many engagement rings). So Aurum rings wouldn’t be that hard to fabricate, especially if the people you’re dealing with aren’t familiar with the hall designs. The coin is another matter. Each one is unique to the bearer, and if someone is familiar with the Aurum and has any doubts about your identity, one of the first things they’ll do is touch your coin to see if they get a shock. All concordian’s coins are made at the Soldorak Mint; counterfeiting one isn’t just about craftsmanship, it’s about calibrating the shock to feel like the Solodrak shock. It’s something a capable artificer with proficiency in forgery could accomplish, but it’s not a trivial thing. Of course, all of this comes to the question of if you’re trying to fool a member of the AURUM. Most people don’t even know concordians carry coins, let allow that they’ll shock you.

Would the Aurum take action against someone falsely claiming to be a concordian?

ABSOLUTELY. This is a highly exclusive organization of rich and powerful people. They will NOT take kindly to people seeking to profit off their reputation. Of course, they have to find out about the hoax to take action… so a charlatan could get away with it for as long as they can get away with it. But the local hall will NOT be happy with charlatans passing themselves off as concordians.

That’s all for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! The Patreon poll to determine the subject of the next major article ends soon—currently it’s neck and neck between Sarlona and the nobility of Khorvaire.

Sidebar: Aberrant Champions

It’s hard to talk about dragonmarks and the dragonmarked houses without also discussing aberrant dragonmarks and the War of the Mark. I posted a sidebar article about Aberrant Dragonmarks not too long ago, but my Patreon supporters recently raised a number of questions recently about the aberrant champions of the War of the Mark, notably Halas Tarkanan.

For a quick refresher: Long ago aberrant dragonmarks were more widespread than they are today, and they were also more powerful than the common aberrant mark known today—the simple powers granted by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat. The dragonmarked houses—quite young at the time—used the fear of aberrant dragonmarks as a scapegoat, both as a cause that helped to unite the houses themselves and to strengthen public opinion that “true” dragonmarks were good, and aberrant dragonmarks were the foul touch of Khyber… and lest it go without saying, many members of the houses believed the tales they spread. There’s no cure for an aberrant dragonmark, and this led to mob violence and from there to more organized persecution on the part of the houses. “The War of the Mark” implies a conflict between two even sides, and this was anything but. Due to house propaganda, people with aberrant marks were feared and ostracized, and this was more of a witch-hunt than a war. However, as it drew on, a number of leaders emerged among the aberrants—people with the charisma to lead and the foresight to plan, and with enough raw power that even the houses came to fear them. These leaders gathered bands of aberrants around them and sought to establish sanctuaries or hold off her houses.

The band whose exploits are best known was tied to three powerful aberrants. Halas Tarkanan was known as “The Earthshaker,” and his aberrant mark gave him power over elemental forces. His two greatest allies were known only by titles. The Lady of the Plague controlled vermin and disease, and was widely seen as the most dangerous of the aberrants. The Dreambreaker wielded vast psychic power and could crush lesser minds. Beyond his personal power, Tarkanan was a master strategist. Under his guidance, they seized the city of Sharn (which far smaller than it is today) and established it as a haven for the aberrant. But the houses had superior numbers, resources, and discipline. Sharn was besieged, and when it became clear that the battle was lost, Halas determined to make the victory as costly as possible. The three aberrant leaders gave their lives and poured their essence into terrible death curses. Little is known about the impact of the Dreambreaker’s curse. But Tarkanan’s curse shook the earth and collapsed the old towers, while the Lady of the Plague spread deadly disease throughout the ruins and called up strange forms of vermin. Those few soldiers who survived the attack lingered just long enough to carry the plagues to their comrades; even in death, the Lady of the Plague inflicted a lasting blow on the house forces. Today it’s her curse that is still felt. The region known as “Old Sharn” is sealed off because it’s believed that her plagues still linger in the depths, and there are forms of vermin found in Sharn that aren’t seen anywhere else in Khorvaire.

In considering the aberrant leaders, there’s a few things to bear in mind. The first is that they possessed aberrant marks of a level of power not yet seen in the present day—aberrant dragonmarks comparable to the Siberys dragonmarks of the houses. But beyond that, just like the house of today, their greatest powers came not simply from their dragonmarks, but from tools that focused and amplified the powers of these marks. Tarkanan channeled his power through a gauntlet he called the Earth’s Fist. The Dreambreaker used the Delirium Stone to focus his mental energy. And the Lady of the Plague wore a cloak she called Silence. So it’s not that Halas destroyed a city with his mark alone; just Cannith has creation forges and Lyrandar has its storm spires, it was the Earth’s Fist that allowed Tarkanan to level Sharn. And while these leaders died, it’s quite possible these artifacts survived. Each one was designed to interface with the unique marks of the champions who carried them, but it’s possible that a modern creature with a similar aberrant dragonmark could attune to one of these deadly artifacts.

So who were these aberrant champions? The short answer is that no one knows for sure. They lived over fifteen centuries ago, most were outcasts, and of course, the winners write history. Any serious scholar has to eliminate the propaganda circulated by the houses at the time—stories that present Tarkanan and his allies as monsters. Sivis propaganda suggested that Tarkanan was an avatar of the Devourer—a story supported by his elemental power—sent to bring suffering to innocents. Other tales claimed that all of the aberrant leaders were “lords of dust,” lingering fiends from the Age of Demons that delighted in chaos and bloodshed. So the short form is that it’s hard to be certain of anything and that adventurers could always discover new answers over the course of their adventures. What follows is the answer in my Eberron—the truth that could be found by a diligent sage—but that doesn’t mean it’s the absolute truth.

Halas Tarkanan

Halas Tarkanan was the son of Ilana Halar d’Deneith, an heir of House Deneith, and Grayn Tarkanan, a mercenary licensed by the house. Ilana commanded the mercenary regiment Grayn served in, and the two fell in love. When Grayn developed an aberrant dragonmark his contact with the house was severed and Illana was ordered to end her relationship with him. She refused and was excoriated. Ilana and Grayn left Korth behind, working as independent mercenaries in southern Wroat (the region that’s now Breland), where Deneith had yet to fully establish its presence.They served the self-appointed King Breggor III in a series of bitter conflicts between Wroat lords, and Halas was raised on the battlefield. Ilana taught her son the arts of war, and he was as capable as any Deneith heir. A Sivis account says that Halas murdered his parents, but the truth is more complex. In this time the houses were expanding their whispering campaign against aberrants, and House Deneith was expanding its operations in Wroat. Deneith promised to support Breggor, but first he had to rid himself of his aberrant and excoriate champions. Illana’s troop was sent into an ambush and trapped on a now-forgotten bridge over the Dagger River. They were surrounded by enemies when Halas’s aberrant dragonmark manifested. Its power collapsed the bridge, killing both his family and their enemies, and Halas himself was presumed dead; the destruction of the bridge was held up as yet another example of the dangers posed by aberrant dragonmarks. But Halas survived.

There’s few concrete records of the next decade of Tarkanan’s life. Some say that he secretly made his way to Rekkenmark, and served in the armies of Karrnath; in these stories, some of his unmarked comrades in arms later joined his struggles in Wroat. Certainly, he eventually fought a one-man war against Breggor and House Deneith’s operations in Wroat, gaining greater control over his powers with each guerrilla attack. He obtained the Earth’s Fist during this time, presumably by working with the Tinker. He met the Lady of the Plague in this time, but none know exactly how. Within House Tarkanan, one story says that the Lady found Halas dying of infected wounds and saved his life; another tale says that the two were both sheltering in the same village during an aberrant purge. Whatever the truth, they were already partners when the houses and their supporters began executing aberrants.

Halas was a gifted tactician, and the Lady of the Plague seems to have been a persuasive speaker; together, they executed an exodus through southern Wroat, rallying aberrants from across the region around Sharn. The rest is history; in the novel The Son of Khyber, a contemporary says of Halas “I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.”

So: what’s known of Halas Tarkanan? He was the child of a Deneith excoriate and hated House Deneith above all others. He was skilled with a sword, but his talents as a commander were more important than his skills with a blade. He was ruthless when he had to be, and was willing to make sacrifices when it was the only way to hurt his enemy. And not only did he possess an aberrant mark of great power, he knew techniques that allowed him to manipulate his mark in ways unknown in the present day… as shown by the “death curse” that leveled old Sharn. Many dragonmarks place a burden—physical or mental—on the bearer. There’s no records of what price Halas paid for his power, but some stories suggest that his mark may have reacted to his mood—that he was always calm, because his anger could shatter the world. But as with so much about him, this is largely conjecture. There are no records of him having children, but if any existed it’s likely he would have kept their existence as secret as possible. Certainly by the end of the War of the Mark, the houses claimed to have completely eliminated the “blood of Khyber”—but as as aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary in the same way as true marks, it’s possible he could have had an unmarked child who slipped past the divinations of the Twelve.

The Lady of the Plague

If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.

This is the most detailed description of the Lady of the Plague, drawn from this (noncanon) article on aberrant dragonmarks. On a small scale, the Lady could use her mark to inflict effects similar to harm and insect plague. But her greater gift was the power to create virulent diseases—plagues that could spread across entire cities. However, she had no ability to cure the diseases she could create. Unleashing a disease was like setting a fire; it could spread farther and faster than she intended. She was one of the most infamous aberrants of the age; the destruction of Sarus was a regular feature in the propaganda of the Twelve, carrying the warning that sparing one aberrant could doom your entire city.

Halas Tarkanan was a strategist and a warrior, and is usually seen as the leader of the Wroat aberrants. But sages who dig deep will find that while Halas was the warrior, the Lady was the visionary—that it was her impassioned speeches that rallied the refugees when spirits were low, and she who convinced people to follow and fight alongside them. While Sivis accounts typically depict the refugees as all aberrants, the fact is that there were many unmarked people who joined the aberrant cause. Some were relatives or lovers of the marked, but others were compelled by the Lady’s words, and made the choice to stand by those innocents being hunted by the houses. Halas and the Lady rallied other oppressed people, and many Wroat goblins joined their cause. When the Twelve finally laid siege to Sharn, only about half of the people in the city had aberrant marks, but all chose to stand and fight.

It’s known that the Lady had unusual theories about the nature and purpose of aberrant dragonmarks. It’s possible she had some inkling of the Draconic Prophecy, but she may have simply believed that aberrant marks and those who carried them had a role to play in the grand order of things. There are no known recordings of her beliefs… but perhaps one of her journals remains hidden in Old Sharn, or even somewhere in Aundair.

Like Halas, the Lady of the Plague possessed the ability to enhance her power through her own pain, and her death curse lingers to this day. Her cloak Silence helped her contain her power and prevent accidental infection of innocents, but it also amplified her abilities.

The Dreambreaker

The Dreambreaker was a gnome born in what’s now Zilargo. His aberrant mark allowed him to shatter the minds of people around him and some accounts suggest that he could twist time and space. However, his power also affected his own perception of reality. It’s said that he believed the Wroat aberrants were actually fighting the Sovereigns, and that the houses and their mortal minions were simply manifestations of this greater cosmic struggle. He was devoted to the aberrant cause and his sheer power was a vital weapon in their arsenal, but his instability prevented him from leading forces on his own. Like the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker was often featured in anti-aberrant propaganda; Sivis spread wild tales of his abilities to crush minds and claimed that he could murder innocent people in their dreams.

The Dreambreaker possessed a focus item called the Delirium Stone, presumably created by the Tinker. He is presumed to have died in the siege of Sharn, but he is known to have been fighting in a different tower than Halas Tarkanan and some accounts suggest that he planned to twist time, stealing the future from the houses… but nothing was ever heard from him following the destruction of Sharn.

The Tinker

Halas Tarkanan, the Dreambreaker, The Lady of the Plague, Kalara of the Ten Terrors, and more—the most infamous champions of the War of the mark all possessed artifacts that channeled and focused the powers of their aberrant marks. But where did these tools come from? Halas was no artificer, and the aberrants didn’t have the resources of House Cannith. Or did they? It’s recorded that Halas ascribed the Earth’s Fist to “the tinker,” and storytellers have used that to create a mysterious figure—an aberrant heir of House Cannith! Whose dragonmark allows them to consume or twist the enchantments of objects! Others say that this tinker must have been a fiend—able to create tools to channel the power of Khyber because they themselves were one of the true children of Khyber. Either of these are possible, but there is a simpler possibility: that “the tinker” may have been a term referring to a number of sympathetic artificers within House Cannith who opposed the War of the Mark and sought to aid their aberrant foes.

The true identity of the Tinker could be an interesting mystery to solve—especially if House Tarkanan starts receiving aberrant focus items in the present day. Are these gifts from the original Tinker, somehow preserved through centuries? Or is this the legacy of a movement in House Cannith—perhaps tied to the humble Juran line—that has hidden in the shadows of the house?

Why Does This Matter?

For centuries after the War of the Mark, aberrant dragonmarks were all but unknown. Over the age of Galifar they slowly began to return, but their powers were trivial in comparison to the might of Halas Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. Within the last century aberrant dragonmarks have been appearing at an unprecedented rate, and a few with greater power have been reported. Is this the work of the daelkyr? A sign that an overlord is close to breaking its bonds? Or could it be a manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy: could the aberrants have a vital role to play in the days ahead?

While there are no concrete mechanics for powerful aberrant marks, as with an dragonmark a player character could ascribe their class features to an aberrant dragonmark. A sorcerer’s spells could be drawn from their mark; a warlock could take their aberrant mark as their patron, perhaps even hearing it whisper or receiving strange dreams. Even a barbarian could say that their rage is the power of their aberrant mark. I personally played a character in a campaign who believed that he had inherited Halas Tarkanan’s mark, and that it was his destiny to rally and protect the aberrants of the present day. That’s one possibility: the idea that the essence of one of these champions could be reborn in the present. Another possibility is that the Dreambreaker could have been right all along; that he did have the power to twist time and space, and that he channeled the essence of the aberrants to the present day (a variation of this is explored in the old RPGA adventure “The Delirium Stone”). Alternately adventurers could encounter a ghost or some other legacy of one of these champions—or perhaps find a journal of the Lady of the Plague, containing strange insights.

General Q&A

Were aberrant marks always ostracized? When Cannith and Sivis began to rally the other bloodlines into the Houses, were mixed marks thought of as undiscovered new marks, or were their destructive abilities quickly categorized into the realm of dangerous and taboo?

There was certainly a time when aberrant marks weren’t as feared as they are today, let alone the crazed fear that drove the War of the Mark. We’ve called out that the houses actively fanned the flames of fear and built up that hatred for decades before the War of the Mark finally took place. But while it may not have been as intense, they were always feared, because as called out in the other linked articles, they ARE dangerous. The Lady of the Plague DID destroy multiple communities before learning to master her power—and there are many aberrants who never learn to master their powers. It was easy for the houses to amplify the fear because people were already afraid, and the houses encouraged this instead of working to bring people together. But there were also surely communities that refused to give into that fear—villages that were havens for those with aberrant dragonmarks. Such communities would have provided the bulk of the numbers in the Wroat exodus, both of marked and unmarked refugees; while the people in these communities stood together, they also knew that they couldn’t fight house forces.

Regarding why the marks weren’t seen as undiscovered new dragonmarks, and why they quickly became taboo, there’s two factors. Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary and don’t have a common appearance. Three marks that grant burning hands could all manifest in entirely different ways. It’s rare to find any two aberrant marks that are identical, let alone that resemble the “true” marks, so people were pretty quick to conclude that these weren’t just some undiscovered new mark. Beyond this, the issue is that not only is an aberrant mark not hereditary, manifesting an aberrant mark severs your connection to any other dragonmark. When the child of an Orien and Cannith manifests an aberrant mark, it also eliminates any possibility that their children could manifest the Mark of Making or Mark of Passage. As the houses were still working to build their numbers and the strength of their lines, this revelation was as significant a factor in banning inter-house liasons as fears of the mixed marks themselves.

How do you see the participation of the Houses that existed at the time playing out in the War of the Mark?

Part of the purpose of the war was to strengthen the ties between the newly minted houses—creating a common foe they could fight together. This was also a way to familiarize the people of Khorvaire with houses that had previously been limited to a particular region and to help them spread. There were houses that didn’t exist—Thuranni, Tharashk. The Mark of Detection had only just appeared, and it’s quite possible that Medani was formed during the war, as the hunt for aberrant marks would certainly have discovered this new true mark. But Phiarlan performed reconnaissance, Deneith provided the bulk of the soldiers, Cannith armed them, Jorasco healed them, Ghallanda supported them. Vadalis provided mounts to ride and beasts to track the foe. Sivis most likely focused on logistics and propaganda. In the adventure “The Delirium Stone” (EMH-7), adventurers encounter a squad of soldiers including Deneith infantry, a Phiarlan archer, and a Jorasco healer supporting the unit. Later encounters include a Vadalis magebred swarm and a Cannith construct.

Ghallanda is an interesting question. While I expected it was pressured to support the action and likely helped with supplies, I can definitely imagine individual Ghallanda heir providing sanctuary to aberrant refugees, holding their principles over the goals of the alliance.

In Dragonmarked it’s said that the Medani were originally thought to be aberrants, and that they were subsequently coerced into joining the Twelve.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that there was any significant length of time in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. Aberrant dragonmarks and true dragonmarks are dramatically different. All true dragonmarks share the same general coloration, sizing, and overall design; the Mark of Detection is distinctly different from the Mark of Making, but at a DISTANCE it looks the same. Aberrant marks vary wildly in color and design. They aren’t hereditary and two marks that grant the same power may be dramatically different in appearance. Even if someone believed that despite looking just like a true mark that a mark was aberrant, the moment they saw that the person had a brother with the same mark they should know something was up. And remember that the Twelve were LOOKING for additional true marks; they called themselves “The Twelve” before they’d found twelve marks, because they were convinced there were others out there waiting to be found.So I have great trouble imagining a widespread series of events in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. One or two minor incidents, sure, But even at a distance, if someone saw the blue-purple mark they likely wouldn’t say “No, wait, that’s not exactly like one of ours”—they’d say “Damn, that half-elf has a dragonmark! Who let a Lyrandar in here?”

With that said: The Mark of Detection manifested during the War of the Mark. So those who carried it lived alongside aberrants, and could easily have been caught up in the purges that targeted them. As such, I can see many Medani having sympathy for the aberrants and choosing to stand alongside them: “Why do you treat me differently than her, just because my mark is blue and the same as my father’s?” So I think it’s quite plausible that a number of early Medani rejected the Twelve and actually fought alongside the aberrants; but that’s not the same as being mistaken for aberrants. And I do think that overall, the Medani were pressured—even threatened—by the other houses to join the Twelve, and that this underlies their attitude toward the Twelve to this day.

That’s all I have time for now. Have you used aberrant dragonmarks or the champions of the War of the Mark in your campaign? If so, share your stories below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going; supporters are currently voting on the topic of the next major article (Sarlona is currently in the lead!).

IFAQ: The Houses At War

Today I want to continue the discussion of the Dragonmarked Houses with a few questions raised by my Patreon supporters. The first comes from Joseph:

My understanding is both Lyrandar and Orien participated in the supply lines of the nation’s militaries, not just civilian supplies. Was their neutrality respected? Was that part of the price? Or did attacks happen, probably while trying to disguise the source?

To begin with, it’s important to consider the nature of the Last War. It was never a total war, fought with the intent to utterly annihilate the enemy. The goal of every nation was to place their ruler upon the throne of a reunited Galifar… which in turn meant that severe destruction of infrastructure and attacks on civilians were discouraged, because ultimately you’re hoping that all of it will be YOUR infrastructure and that those civilians will accept your leader’s right to rule. So to begin with, just consider our rules of war. We can be sure that the Five Nations were operating under similar restrictions, if not necessarily identical: Targeting civilians was a war crime, and civilians, aid workers, and medical personnel should be protected. In the early days of the war, the Twelve established a basic set of principles with the leaders of the Five Nations. Essentially, house forces were to be treated as noncombatants, even if on the battlefield… and in turn, would not be expected to engage in combat. A Cannith artificer might be present with a unit of soldiers to maintain the warforged and artillery, but they wouldn’t engage in active combat and offer no resistance to an enemy. A Jorasco healer would only heal soldiers of the nation that contracted their services, but again, they wouldn’t fight members of an opposing nation. This would in turn apply to their vehicles as well. The lightning rail and Orien carriages were forbidden targets. If a coach was transporting military personnel or supplies, it could be STOPPED and those supplies could be confiscated or personnel taken prisoner, but the coach and its Orien crew should be allowed to pass.

That’s the basic principle, and it further increased the value of those services; a purely Karrnathi coach is a valid target for Cyran attack, while an Orien coach is inviolate. Of course, this is the PRINCIPLE, but there’s a number of additional factors.

  • There were always commanders and soldiers willing to disregard the rules of war (just consider the destruction of the White Arch Bridge or the bombardment of Korth). Just because you weren’t supposed to target the lightning rail doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
  • Any House personnel or vehicles actively engaging in conflict forego this protection. So first of all, Deneith mercenaries are treated like any other combatant. A Orien coach that’s got a mounted weapon and fires on soldiers can be destroyed. And if the Cannith artificer disobeys House orders and fights alongside the unit they’re embedded with, they become a valid target. Certainly, there were times when soldiers would claim House personnel offered resistance even when they hadn’t.

With both of these things in mind, bear in mind that the primary incentive against this behavior was financial. House personnel serving with the enemy were not to be killed, but they would be taken prisoner and ransomed back to the house. There was a clearly established rate of exchange and this would be applied against that nation’s bills with the house. Meanwhile, the houses would impose financial penalties and raise rates when nations violated their rules. So As a soldier, if you kill a Jorasco healer, you’re costing your nation gold—while if you take them prisoner, you’re saving money. It’s not simply a good idea; officers would enforce this seriously.

So in short: people generally respected the neutrality of the Dragonmarked houses. It was rare that they would, for example, blow up an Orien caravan even if it was carrying military supplies. However, they could STOP the caravan and confiscate those supplies. Or they COULD blow it up, likely trying to pin the crime on another nation. But if it was the truth was discovered, they would suffer financial penalties. So you can be sure it happened, just not constantly.

A secondary point to consider here is the fact that the houses wield monopolistic power unrivaled by any corporation in our world (because we have laws preventing it!). For many of the services they provided, there simply was no reliable alternative. Nations certainly worked at it: the Arcane Congress surely worked to develop a system of arcane communication that could take the place of the Sivis speaking stones, Thrane assembled a corps of adept healers, etc. But none of these had the full scope of the services the houses could provide. You couldn’t just buy your warforged from somewhere else, and if you didn’t work with Orien your goods would take longer to reach their destination. Every nation relied on the services of at least SOME of the houses. There was undoubtedly at least one incident where an officer seized control of house facilities, essentially seeking to nationalize them—or even just used a house facility as a shield for military operations. This is where the Twelve was vitally important, because while ONE house might have trouble challenging a nation, no nation could make do without the services of all twelve. So an attack on a Vadalis facility could result in a rate increase from all houses—or even a service blackout for a particular region. Again, these things surely happened—and there were consequences when they did.

Deneith seems like it would have substantially higher casualties than the other houses due to its focus. Do they ransom their heirs if they’re captured during house business? Do they do anything special to keep their numbers up?

As noted above, Deneith personnel serving as soldiers are valid targets and don’t receive the same protections as a Sivis stonespeaker or a Jorasco healer. With that said, the general rules of war likely prohibited killing soldiers who are too injured to fight or who surrender (again, that doesn’t mean it didn’t HAPPEN, just that people were supposed to accept surrender). So Deneith soldiers would have to fight fiercely enough that people would actually want to hire them: but they could surrender if seriously injured. And just as with all house personnel, there was surely a system of ransom for them. The rate would vary based on the position of the person: a marked Deneith heir would bring in a good ransom, while a mercenary with no blood tie to the house would command a fairly low rate. But soldiers would know that if you could take a Deneith officer alive, it’s best to do so.

Having said that, it’s also important to remember that the bulk of Deneith soldiers aren’t blood heirs of the house: they are mercenaries licensed and trained by the house. In some cases—look to the Ghaal’dar and the Valenar—they weren’t even trained by the house; the house simply served as a broker for their services. So losing a Blademark unit is a loss to the house because they’ll have to recruit and train new soldiers—but they’d only lose a few blood heirs in the process. So they certainly had higher casualty rates than the other houses, but not every slain mercenary was a Deneith heir.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! I’ll be posting the topic poll for the next major article soon.

IFAQ: Before The Houses

When time allows, I like to answer interesting questions submitted by my Patreon backers. This week, I’m going to answer a few questions about the Dragonmarked Houses. Today’s question comes from Alex. According to the 3.5 Dragonmarked sourcebook, the Mark of Sentinel was the first dragonmark to appear among the humans of Khorvaire. The Deneith warlords ruled the region around Karrlakton for around four centuries; it then fell into two centuries of warfare, which came to an end when Karrn the Conqueror united the region and established the nation of Karrnath. Alex asks:

Given that they were in power for 400 years, should we assume that some of Karrnath’s culture is actually the culture of the Deneith bloodline?

While the subject is Deneith, this is a question that applies to all of the houses. Where did the houses come from? To what degree do their cultures reflect those of the nations in which they first appeared, or vice versa? A critical factor is that the houses didn’t begin as HOUSES. The houses as they exist today evolved over time. Consider this passage from the 3.5 sourcebook Dragonmarked.

It is often assumed that each house has a single founder: that some ancient Master Cannith was the first person to develop the Mark of Making, with House Cannith born of his children. The truth is not so simple. Each dragonmark first appeared within multiple families, although the marks were bound to specific races and regions. The Mark of Sentinel appeared among the people of Khorvaire’s northern coast, while the Mark of Making was found in the region that would eventually become Cyre. It took generations for these first dragonmarked to realize the significance and power of their marks.

It continues…

The Lyrriman gnomes of House Sivis claim that their forebears were the first to identify and unify the dragonmarked families, while members of the Vown family of House Cannith make similar claims. Seven dragonmarks were known by the time Karrn the Conqueror sought to bring all Khorvaire under his rule, though the families that bore them were not yet unified. The Sivis League, the Tinkers Guild of Cannith, and the Phiarlans of Aerenal had all laid the groundwork for their future houses, but the Sentinel families of the north were still divided. Some fought alongside Karrn, while others were among his strongest foes.

So: the Mark of Sentinel didn’t appear on House Deneith, because House Deneith didn’t exist at the time. Each mark appeared on multiple families. These families were united by their species and by their general region, and also by their aptitudes. The Aashta and Torrn clans of the Shadow Marches were already renowned hunters before they developed the Mark of Finding . On Aerenal, the Elorrenthi and Thuranni had served as phiarlans (essentially, traveling bards) for tens of thousands of years before appearance of the Mark of Shadows. In a few cases—scribing, shadows—the marked families already had close ties. But more often than not, the families had no ties; and even if they shared a broad occupation, they might approach it in different ways. Looking at the Mark of Making, the Vown family were wealthy and respected artisans even before they developed the dragonmark. But the Jurans were a rootless family of itinerant tinkers with little wealth or influence. The Mark of Making was a boon to the traveling Jurans, allowing them to mend broken things with a touch; but they were still on a very different path from the wealthy Vowns.

Over the course of generations, early dragonmarked barons were able to confirm that the child of two parents who bore the same dragonmark was more likely to develop that mark, and this drew the families together. Other dragonmarked opportunists saw the benefit of uniting those that carried the marks—of consolidating this power behind a single house. But this idea wasn’t universally or immediately accepted. In the Shadow Marches, the Torrn and Aashta clans were bitter rivals, in part due to their respective ties to the Gatekeepers and the Cults of the Dragon Below. Other families simply didn’t recognize the value of unity; it took the efforts of the young House Sivis and House Cannith to convince the bearers of the other marks to follow their example and to join together. Many of the things now seen as standard practices of the houses are traditions developed by House Sivis and incorporated into the foundation of the Twelve.

So now, let’s come back to the original question and take a look at the young House Deneith. We’ve never mentioned any of its families by name. Dragonmarked contains a seeming internal contradiction in canon. The introduction clearly talks about the Sentinel families and notes that these families were deadly rivals. On the other hand, the Deneith chapter says the following:

House Deneith was founded centuries ago from a family of warlords… The skill of Deneith warlords in battle was already well known, and when the mark appeared in their bloodline, it only added to their fearsome reputation. For over four hundred years, they ruled over the area near modern-day Karrlakton. Then war and a cycle of famine weakened the Deneith leadership and allowed rival factions to challenge it… Legends tell of how the leaders of House Deneith pledged themselves to Karrn even before he began his quest for power, though their reasons for doing so have been lost to time.

I didn’t write this section, so I can’t speak to the intention behind it. But there’s a very simple way to reconcile the apparent contradiction. The introduction says that there were multiple Sentinel families, and that some fought alongside Karrn while others fought against him. The Deneith chapter specifically talks about Deneith warlords and how they allied with Karrn. The logical answer is that DENEITH is the name of ONE of the Sentinel families—the family that was established in the region of Karrlakton. But there were other Sentinel families near what is now Korth, Vedakyr, Vulyar. And note that the chapter text above doesn’t claim that these Deneith ruled what is now KARRNATH; they only ruled the region around KARRLAKTON. So they were never more than local warlords. Following “war and a cycle of famine” they lost that concrete position and ultimately allied with Karrn. How I’M going to interpret that is that for a time they were warlords, but after their downfall they became mercenaries. Because even though they allied with Karrn and he was victorious, they didn’t become Karrnathi warlords.

So how I see it is this. Deneith was a powerful family with a strong martial tradition that ruled the region around Karrlakton. However, they were better soldiers than rulers. They weren’t great at managing peasants or handling famines, and they were forced to abandon Karrlakton following famine and rebellion. However, the core of the family remained intact as a remarkable mercenary company, their skills enhanced by the Mark of Sentinel. They were rivals with a number of other Sentinel families; every warlord wanted their own “Sentinel Guard.” In allying with Karrn, Deneith wasn’t seeking land; they sought dominance over the other Sentinel families that served Karrn’s enemies. And as Karrn united the warlords under his rule, the Sentinel families were forced to submit and serve with the Deneith Blademark—forming the foundation of the house as it exists to day. Integration with the Twelve restored a little more sense of balance between the families of the house, but it nonetheless bears the name of Karrn’s victorious allies.

Consider also the symbol of the house: the three-headed chimera. To me it makes sense that this represents the fact that there are three major families within the house, each of which identifies with one of the beasts. Deneith is the Dragon, the heart of the house, and has its roots in Karrlakton. The other two heads were its ancestral rivals; I’ll say that the Lion was based in what is now Rekkenmark, while the Ram was based in Vedykar—so the house seal is also a sort of marp of the house roots on the map, with the lion in the west, the dragon in the center, and the Ram in the east. Having said that, there are certainly lesser families within the house—just as Tharashk has three major families (Torrn, Aashta, and Velderan) but additional lesser families. And again, these Sentinel families are now all united—but looking to the seal, the Deneith dragon is definitely the first among equals.

Which brings us to the second part of the question. Is Karrnath’s culture actually Deneith culture? Yes and no. Deneith never ruled Karrnath, it simply dominated the area around Karrlakton… and they were deposed two centuries before Karrn the Conqueror established Karrnath itself. I think there’s no question that Deneith is strongly defined by its Karrnathi roots, but I think that they were shaped by proto-Karrn culture as opposed to concretely defining it. And I do think that even before the reign of Karrn they had chosen the path of the mercenary over that of the landed warlord. It could well be that in establishing the Korth Edicts, Galifar ir’Wynarn (who was himself a Karrn, don’t forget!) was inspired by the existing relationship between the Karrnathi warlords and House Deneith—that he essentially said “What if you were all like Deneith—mercenaries who provide a service rather than nobles and landowners?

So I do think that Deneith is proud of its ancient roots and its ties to Karrnathi history. But I also think that Deneith has its own unique culture—something that has evolved tied to its centuries of service as the house of mercenaries and trusted enforcers of the law.

I’ll answer additional questions about the Dragonmarked Houses later in the week. Thanks to Alex and the rest of my Patreon backers, who keep this blog going!

IFAQ: Houses and Politics

I’m still busy working on Exploring Eberron, but I like to take time to answer questions from my Patreon supporters when I can. Today’s question comes from Reighndragon:

How far do the dragonmarked houses involve themselves in national politics? How do they view the restrictions imposed on them by the Korth Edicts? In specific: Is it possible for a dragonmarked gnome of House Sivis to take a seat in the advisory council of the king of Q’Barra? Would House Lyrandar be inclined to send an airship for the Aundairian army to perform a paratrooper invasion of Thaliost?

First of all, I suggest reviewing this article for a deeper look at the houses overall, including a discussion of the Korth Edicts. Let’s look at the basic points.

  • The houses are first and foremost BUSINESSES. They are interesting in making a profit.
  • They do business with and have holdings in most of the nations of Khorvaire.
  • In many cases—especially Sivis and Kundarak—their business depends on their customers believing that they are neutral, reliable forces. If it was revealed that House Sivis was sharing all its data with the Royal Eyes of Aundair, it would be a disaster for the house.

So this is a simple equation: What does a house gain from getting involved in politics, and what does it have to lose? In the long run, will this help its profits, or hurt them? Let’s look at the two examples.

Can a Sivis gnome take a seat on the advisory council of the King of Q’barra?

Certainly. This doesn’t even violate the Korth Edicts, which prevent a member of a dragonmarked house from owning land, holding a noble title, or maintaining an army. If a King wants ADVICE, where’s the harm in that? Corporations in our world hire lobbyists and get included on advisory boards all the time. The only reason it would be a problem is if word got out that this advisor was sharing Sivis customer secrets; if that were to happen, I would expect the advisor to be very publicly excoriated from the house, and possibly be faced with more severe punishments for scarring the reputation of the house.

A quick point of comparison is Valenar. House Lyrandar essentially runs the administration of the nation on behalf of the Tairnadal. But they don’t actually hold noble titles or own the land; it’s a simple arrangement where they do work the Tairnadal don’t want to do, while allowing them to create opportunities for Khoravar immigrants. But here’s the big thing: they don’t give the Tairnadal free shipping. Their administrative work is a separate business transaction; but if the Tairnadal want to use Lyrandar airships, they pay just like anyone else. Which brings us to the next question…

Would House Lyrandar be inclined to send an airship for the Aundairian army to perform a paratrooper invasion of Thaliost?

House Lyrandar is a BUSINESS. They can and did provide transport services to ALL nations during the war. The opening of my novel City of Towers involves a Cyran force defending against an airship attack. But that isn’t a political move on the part of Lyrandar, because they serve anyone who can pay for the service. So sure, they’d allow Aundair to charter an airship for their paratroops, and then they’d let Thrane charter a ship for its counter attack. They aren’t choosing a side; they’re selling their services to anyone with the gold.

Now, COULD they decide to take sides and offer their services to Aundair for free? Sure, they could, but WHY? How does this help their bottom line, when it invites distrust and possible retaliation from the rest of the Five Nations? Their neutrality is their shield and maximizes their profits; once they choose sides, they are narrowing their markets. Why is this a sound business decision? What is Aundair offering that’s worth risking their business? We’ve called out that Aurala is friends with the Matriarch of the house, and Aurala could offer them a second grant like Stormhome (which ALSO violates the Edicts…). But essentially, why wouldn’t they just ask Aundair to PAY for the ship? Aurala can definitely afford it, and that’s what Lyrandar does.

So: at the end of the day, houses are going to make their choices driven by profit. At the moment, they work with anyone willing to pay for their services. They definitely can and will do favors for allies—see House Jorasco’s ties to the Boromar Clan in Sharn—but that is always measured on the balance of will this help our hurt our profits? Now let’s hit one more part of the question…

How do they view the restrictions imposed on them by the Korth Edicts?

Again, check out this article for a deeper look at this question. One of the key story elements of Eberron is the idea that it may no longer be possible to enforce the Korth Edicts. If Breland makes a Deneith heir a duke, who’s actually going to do something about it? Queen Aurala’s consort is a Vadalis heir, and though he holds no title it’s pretty sketchy. The Korth Edicts worked when Galifar was united; now, it’s possible no single nation can enforce them, and we’ve called out examples of houses that ARE pushing against them. One concrete example is House Tharashk; in brokering the services of Droaamite services, they are likely breaking the “no armies” clause. But who’s going to try to stop them… especially when everyone wants to hire their monster mercenaries? So again, it’s all about will this help or hurt their profits?

The other big thing people often forget about the Korth Edicts is that they weren’t simply a burden on the houses; they were an opportunity. Essentially, they were a deal with Galifar: If the houses agreed not to challenge him politically (no titles of nobility) or militarily (no land, no armies) he wouldn’t challenge them economically. The houses hold monopolies on a scale that’s illegal in the US today, and under the Edicts they regulate their own industries. So they don’t particularly want to throw out the Edicts, because for House Sivis, the lack of antitrust laws is far more important to their bottom line than being able to have a noble title. This ties to one last question that came up in another discussion. Paraphrased…

My character was hired by House Cannith to do a job that involved me being locked in a room with no way to leave. While I was doing this job, a bunch of cultists teleported in and because I couldn’t leave, my friends and I were nearly killed. Can I sue Cannith for negligence? And if I do, would they be more likely to settle or to do something dramatic like assassinate me?

The good news is that they probably wouldn’t assassinate you. The bad news it that it’s because you don’t have a case. There’s no worker protection laws in Eberron. The Korth Edicts specifically protect the nobility—the houses can’t raise armies against them or create rival kingdoms—but they aren’t about protecting the commoners. On the contrary, the Edicts specifically lay the foundation for the house monopolies. This is far more like The Jungle than the world we live in today. Having said that, this isn’t to say that they houses are intentionally careless with the lives of their employees, especially heirs of their own house; part of being family businesses is that they don’t want their own children to die. If a Lyrandar heir is injured on the job, they likely will be taken care of. But this is driven by their own self-interest, not the law; and if a random “adventurer” is hurt while working for them… isn’t that why they call them adventurers?

Now: I said they wouldn’t assassinate you… which is BECAUSE you have no case. If you did, or at least were posing some other sort of threat to them? Then it’s at least on the table. We’re back to that original question: how will this affect their bottom line? Are you a hero whose actions matter and whose death would be noticed? Do they NEED to assassinate you, or can they just threaten you? Slander you? Buy your company and have you fired? We’ve said before that the houses will do terrible things to maintain their power. The question is always back to the balance sheet; how much are you going to cost them, and what’s the best way to minimize that number? It’s also definitely the case that some houses are worse than others, and that ultimately it will come to who’s in charge of the region. I think the majority of Lyrandar heirs would be horrified at the idea of their house sanctioning assassination. But Calynden d’Lyrandar, the Kraken of Stormreach? That dude has Thuranni on speed dial.

To be clear: this is a terrible terrible situation… and that’s the point. Overall, the houses are amoral corporate entities driven by profit and possessing potentially unchecked power. Because one of the other core principles of Eberron is that it’s a world that needs heroes. Some heroes fight demons; others battle corrupt corporations. Which story do you want to explore? Note that if it’s a story you DON’T want to explore, you can push a more positive view of the houses. But the current situation is intentionally imperfect.

Why did the Twelve permit Cannith to agree to the shutting down of the creation forges in the Treaty of Thronehold? Beyond producing warforged it seems like that is a huge hit to their ability to produce goods on a massive scale.

Excellent question, and also discussed in the other linked article. Here’s the factors.

  • The Treaty of Thronehold represented a rare moment of unity. The reason the Korth Edicts are difficult to enforce is because no one nation can enforce them alone. This was a demand made by ALL THE NATIONS.
  • House Cannith’s leadership and its major operations were lost in the Mourning, and the house is STILL reeling from that blow. Starrin d’Cannith, the patriarch lost in the Mourning, might well have found a way to counter the demand. But as of the Treaty of Thronehold, Cannith doesn’t even HAVE a patriarch.
  • The warforged are seen as weapons. Most nations were uncomfortable with Cannith having the capability of producing its own private army of constructs, given that the war was now over. The recognition of warforged as sentient, free beings was a further nail in this coffin: It could be seen as violating both the Korth Edicts (no house armies) AND the Code of Galifar (no slaves).
  • Last but not least: Cannith had always dominated the Twelve. Many of the other houses were HAPPY to see Cannith taken down a peg. So they weren’t fighting as fiercely as they might have against other restrictions.

Bear in mind, the creation forges are NOT the primary tool that Cannith uses for mass production of mundane goods; they have other eldritch machines and focus items that assist general mass production. Rising From The Last War specifically identifies the forges as producing warforged (page 280) while the Eberron Campaign Guide says “These enormous contraptions… are designed to churn out mechanized soldiers.” They were also used to produce titans and homunculi, but again, they WEREN’T the be-all end-all of Cannith’s production facilities, and there are “Forgeholds” that don’t have creation forges.

So this article paints the Dragonmark Houses in a bleaker and more corporate light than most… but they’re definitely not monolithic. So I’m curious as to which of the Houses you think is more willing to incidentally hurt people on their way to profit (aka less empathy), versus those with more empathy involved in their methods.

This is a good question. I am presenting the houses in a harsh light here, because the point is that they could do terrible things if they chose. The theme we wanted to explore with them from the start is that in the wake of the Last War, are the houses more powerful than nations? But the fact that there are few checks on their power isn’t supposed to make them monsters. The idea is that over centuries, most people have come to trust and rely on the houses, because they’ve been reliable. You believe that Sivis will keep your secrets safe, that Kundarak protects your goods, that you’ll get the best sword at a smith with the Cannith seal and you won’t get food poisoning at the Ghallanda inn. I call out that they regulate their own industries as a sign of the power they possess; but the twist is that they actually DO regulate their own industries. There’s tremendous potential for abuse, but that doesn’t mean it’s common. In general, MOST PEOPLE view the houses as reliable businesses, not as terrifying corporate tyrants. It’s just that, again, they DO have unchecked power and COULD abuse it… and what happens if and when they do?

So the question is: What houses are willing to hurt people in the name of profit? Which generally lack empathy? As the question notes, houses aren’t monolithic. So I’ll call out that I think Cannith is near the top of the “low empathy” list. During the war they manufactured weapons for all sides, and they essentially created a slave race that they threw onto the front lines of that war. On the other hand, I’ll note that Aaren d’Cannith—the creator of the modern warforged—left the house in protest of the treatment of the warforged. Of the current Cannith contenders I’d say that Jorlanna is probably the best of them; both Zoraln and Merrix are pretty ruthless.

So Cannith is up there. Thuranni surely is as well; it’s a house who’s specialty IS assassination. Calynden may make the order, but it will be a Thuranni heir who actually fires the crossbow. Phiarlan is somewhat better, and again, there are a significant number of Phiarlan heirs who truly believe in the ARTISTIC mission of the house and don’t work with the Serpentine Table.

I’d put Vadalis on the low-empathy side, as well. They are essentially about manipulating animals for the benefit of humanity, and I don’t think PETA would approve of their methods. Sivis is tricky because they definitely place the APPEARANCE of neutrality as paramount… but they’re also Zil gnomes, so they live in a society that embraces the idea of assassination as an acceptable tool in pursuit of the greater good. I tend to think of Sivis as one of the nicer houses, but in part that’s because they DON’T have a lot of competition; if something came up, we’d likely see a darker side pretty quickly.

So which are the nicest houses? I think Kundarak is pretty much what it says on the can: they are honest folk who want to keep your stuff safe for you. Ghallanda is literally in the business of hospitality, and their name means “The Helpful Hound That Appears Where Needed The Most”; i think they are the most inclined to offer empathy and even charity when called for; at the end of the day, I think Ghallanda likes people. I think Medani is a reasonably empathetic house and tries to do what it feels is right, which is also why they’re one of the less influential houses. I tend to think that Orien is another house that basically just tries to provide a useful service; they haven’t tried to destroy Lyrandar’s airship business…. yet.

The others all fall in the middle. I think Lyrandar is generally a friendly house. But if someone started developing airships anyone can fly? People like Calynden would go to great extremes to eliminate that threat. Individual Tharashk inquisitives can be great, but the house as a whole is very ambitious. Jorasco is very complicated, and discussed at more length in the article linked earlier; there are many Jorasco HEIRS who are driven by empathy and want to help however they can, but there’s also ruthless people determined to ensure that the house thrives as a business.

I’m going to stop there, because this has already gone on WAAAY too long for an IFAQ. BUt the ultimate answer is this: The houses are as ruthless and frightening as you want them to be. The framework is there to run a campaign in which the houses are ruthless dystopian megacorporations, and it’s questionable who could stop them if they go in that direction. But you CAN also just focus on them as reliable service providers, and just ignore the lack of outside oversight or labor laws.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters! Per the latest Patreon poll, the next major article will explore Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead!

Dragonmarks: Modern Medicine

Could there be a pandemic in Eberron? A plague spread by the Children of Winter, or a bioweapon created by the nosomantic chiurgeons of House Jorasco? How does disease even work in a world where lesser restoration can remove any disease? Given events in our world, these things are on my mind and I thought I’d tackle them with a series of articles. This post will take a quick look at medicine in the Five Nations; a follow-up article will explore the role of disease and plagues in campaigns.

HEALTH AND HEALING

Fifth edition presents a largely abstract view of health. As I’ve mentioned before, hit points are a very nebulous concept—a blend of actual physical health and luck, skill, or willpower. A character can regain hit points by spending hit dice during a short rest, and is fully restored after a long rest. When you use the Medicine skill, all you need to do is role a die. But remember that when we play D&D, we are building a story together. The rules provide a foundation for that story, but it’s up to the DM and players to add the details. MECHANICALLY you’re as good as new after a long rest, and you don’t have to do anything other than hang out for eight hours to get that benefit. But if there’s a character with the Medicine skill in your party, you might tell the story of how that character worked to patch you up during that long rest—how they had to stitch up a particularly deep wound, how they gave you a shot of Irian-infused water to keep you on your feet or rubbed a Mabaran salve on your arm to numb the pain. When someone uses the Medicine skill or an herablism kit, they or the DM can DESCRIBE them as using medical tools or techniques, even if all the PLAYER does is roll a die. The point is that the rules keep things simple; we don’t WANT player characters to spend a long time sitting on the sidelines recovering from a sprained ankle or a broken rib. But you can DESCRIBE that process of recovery in as much detail as you want.

Also, remember that in fifth edition the rules that apply to player characters don’t necessarily apply to NPCs! YOU may recover fully after a long rest, because you’re the protagonist of the story; you’re the hero in the action movie who keeps pushing on after enduring ridiculous amounts of damage. But the DM can say that an NPC takes longer to recover from a serious wound—that a city guard will need days of bedrest to recover after being dropped to zero hit points, even if they were stabilized and healed. Player characters are remarkable. We can highlight this by showing that other people DO need more time to recuperate than player characters… or their particularly remarkable opponents.

JORASCO SERVICES

In the Five Nations, most people rely on House Jorasco for medical services. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, priests in most temples and churches aren’t spellcasters; they provide spiritual guidance, not spellcasting services. So the Jorasco healing house serves the common role of a clinic or hospital in our world. Villages or communities that don’t have a dedicated healing house will still usually have a Jorasco-trained healer, whether it’s an heir of the house or someone who learned their skills from the Healer’s Guild.

Page 10 of Rising From The Last War lists the services you can obtain from House Jorasco. The first two are tied to the Medicine skill: Minor nonmagical care or major nonmagical care. This ties back to the idea that just because PLAYER CHARACTERS don’t have to deal with sprains, concussions, broken bones, and such, these things still exist in the world! Likewise, most people rely on nonmagical treatment for diseases. Lesser restoration provides an instant cure, but the 50 gp cost is beyond the reach of most commoners. But again: there’s nothing wrong with nonmagical care. The skill is called MEDICINE; it reflects the use of medicines and medical techniques—setting broken bones, disinfecting wounds, treating fevers, and on and on. Again, most player characters never need these things; but the common people do, and Jorasco provides these services.

Then we get to magical services. Lesser restoration costs 50 gp; remove curse is 75 gp; greater restoration is 150 gp. Who provides these services? What does this help actually look like? Here again, player characters are remarkable. The typical Jorasco healer isn’t a cleric; they’re a magewright. Per page 318 of Rising From The Last War, a magewright casts lesser restoration as a ritual that takes an hour and that requires “additional material components” that cost up to 40 gp. MECHANICALLY this is a “ritual that requires components.” But this is where the idea of arcane science enters the picture. I don’t see a Jorasco healer as sitting next to you chanting for that hour, and then POOF you’re healed. In my opinion, the “ritual” reflects medical work. They may be using divining rods and Irian salves instead of CAT scans and antibiotics, but they are starting with a foundation of mundane skill and then ADDING magic to accelerate the effects and perform healing that is impossible with skill alone. You can have the Jorasco chiurgeon shouting “I need a Lamannian rod and 5 cc’s of Mabaran moss, STAT!” as they work to break your curse or cure your disease. Likewise, the spell uses “40 gp of additional components”—but those components might be ENTIRELY DIFFERENT depending on WHAT they are treating. So: mechanically, a Jorasco healer can cure cackle fever or sewer plague by casting lesser restoration. But how they cure these two different diseases might LOOK entirely different. And once you accept the idea that different diseases require different components to treat them, you have the possibility that a Jorasco house could run out of the components needed to cure a specific disease! Now, refined Eberron shards can take the place of any costly component, and this can help with an outbreak; but if you’re in an isolated village, residuum could be harder to find than Mabaran moss. To be clear, this isn’t a concern for player characters. When your cleric casts lesser restoration it’s NOT a ritual and doesn’t require components… but again, that’s because player characters are remarkable!

How does the Mark of Healing factor into this? The simple answer is that most magewrights with the Healer specialty are assumed to be halflings with the Mark of Healing; they are able to master this specialty because they have the mark, and they are channeling the powers of the mark any time they cast their rituals. This is the same as the concept that you could play a Jorasco Life cleric who presents their healing magic as being drawn from their mark as opposed to religious faith. So they ARE using the mark to heal; it’s just that this uses standard magewright mechanics.

All of these same principles apply to the other services that Jorasco offers. Remove curse can be presented as a sort of magical infection. It’s not that the Jorasco healer mumbles for an hour and the curse stops; it’s that they perform a sort of mystical surgery, literally carving the curse out of your aura. While the RULES say remove curse never fails when cast on a player character, it’s still possible that it doesn’t always work on NPCs and that it’s normally potentially dangerous! Note that greater restoration is a 5th level spell—beyond the standard wide magic available in the Five Nations—and that Rising notes that only Jorasco’s finest healers can perform the ritual.

And finally, there’s raise dead. This is supposed to be a rare service, something available only at the finest Jorasco houses. This is typically tied to a focus item, the altar of resurrection. But there’s a number of points that have been spread out across various sourcebooks. The first is the idea that again, while Raise Dead always works on PLAYER CHARACTERS, it’s NOT reliable for NPCs! First of all, memory starts to fade as soon as a soul reaches Dolurrh. Someone has to CHOOSE to return to life… and if they’ve spend too much time in Dolurrh, they may no longer remember why they want to return. Even if they wish to return, sometimes the spell just doesn’t work. Sometimes it can restore life but draw the wrong soul back into the body. Or it may summon a number of hostile ghosts while leaving the corpse dead… or draw a marut that seeks to destroy the would-be healer. This is why wealthy people AREN’T automatically raised immediately after death; because for most people it simply isn’t a valid argument. What we’ve said is that IF a Jorasco house has the ability to raise the dead, they will always cast augury before raise dead… and if the proposed resurrection draws a result of woe, they will refuse to take the case. Essentially, raise dead is a tool that lets us bring player characters and crucial villains back from the dead; but it’s not a service for everyone! This is a topic I’ve discussed in more detail before: this article explores resurrection and alternatives to death, while this article considers the idea that you could add a personal price to resurrection beyond the components of the spell.

WHAT ABOUT FAITH HEALING?

As I’ve said: in the Five Nations, people don’t go to temples to be healed, they go to hospitals. But what about places like Thrane, where divine magic is more widespread? Or the Eldeen Reaches, where there’s more of an emphasis on primal magic than on the industrial magic of House Jorasco?

The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron discusses the idea of adepts, divine or primal counterparts to arcane magewrights. Page 127 of Rising notes that “divine adepts provide important services.” There still ARE Jorasco houses in Thrane, it’s simply that divine magic IS more widespread. You still wouldn’t go to the temple and ask the priest to cure you, but there are clinics tied to the Church of the Silver Flame where adepts can heal you. Such clinics can also be found in other nations, typically tied to adepts of Olladra; in the Eldeen Reaches, there are druidic adepts—often called gleaners—who may be able to perform healing rituals. The magic of an adept LOOKS different than that of a magewright; a Silver Flame adept will chant while they treat you, while seeking to excise malign influences with blades of light. But a critical point is that mechanically there’s no difference between an adept and a magewright, which means that this healing still takes an hour to perform and still costs the adept 40 gp. The components may be DIFFERENT than those used by the arcane magewright, but the point is that magically healing generally can’t be offered for free because it’s not free for the caster. In the Eldeen Reaches, it’s not that a druid spends 40 gp to buy components; it’s that the ritual consumes rare roots and herbs (likely charged with the essence of Lamannia or Irian) that would have such a value if they had to buy them. Usually people rely on the Medicine skill because magic has a price.

Q&A

Is the germ theory of disease known in Eberron? Or is there some truth to the humoral theory in a fantasy world where the four elements are more of a real thing than in our own? This would come into play in order to determine such behaviour as hand-washing and sterilisation of instruments or blood letting. For that matter, is there room for alternative medicines, rejecting that of Jorasco?

To answer the last question first, there’s DEFINITELY room for alternative theories and approaches to medicine. I expect that Riedra and Aerenal have dramatically different approaches to medicine. However, the crucial point is that MECHANICALLY this all works out to using the Medicine skill and to the benefits of resting. You can DESCRIBE it with exotic color, but at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER if your healer is using Jorasco traditions or Riedran qi manipulation; the result is the same.

Going back to the first part of the question, this touches on an interesting point. Because it’s not simply whether the people of Eberron are familiar with germ theory, it’s the question of are most diseases in Eberron actually caused by germs? This is a world where werewolves, undead, and fiends are REAL THREATS. Lycanthropy isn’t caused by germs, and there could be any number of other diseases in Eberron that are actually cause by a mild form of demonic possession or by transmutation effects. There’s definitely a school of medicine that is based on the balance between planar influences, asserting that if you have a fever it’s because your Fernian influences are too high and you need to be treated with Risian ice… And in Eberron, that may be true. So there are germborne diseases in Eberron, but it’s not the ONLY form of disease out there and may not be the foundation of Jorasco treatment. I’ll talk more about kinds of diseases in the follow-up article, but the main point is, again, that this is somewhat cosmetic. Whether the disease is caused by a germ or an evil spirt, you counter it with rest, Medicine, or lesser restoration. These treatments are all tied to theories of medicine, but whichever theory you use, it will work according to the rules. Though you’re certainly free to say Bloodletting is a terrible principle that DOESN’T work, and while there are healers who perform bloodletting, they aren’t proficient in the Medicine skill and provide no actual benefits! Likewise, Jorasco potions of healing are reliable, but if you buy your healing potions from some unlicensed charlatan, you could find that all you’ve bought is snake oil. Trust that Jorasco logo!

Do the people of Eberron know how to prevent/treat scurvy or what it really is? 

This is similar to the preceding question, and could ultimately be asked about any disease from our world. But Eberron’s not our world. For all we know, the Ring of Siberys could radiate an aura of vitamin C, and it could be impossible to have a C deficiency in Eberron. There’s no rules for scurvy in 5E, and it’s never been mentioned as a problem in any sourcebook, so the default is that it’s not a problem—either because it’s been identified and people know how to deal with it, or because for some reason ((C-rays from the Ring of Siberys!) it’s just not an issue. I’ll talk about this more in the follow-up post, but the short form is that you need to decide what diseases you want to be threats, and ultimately what makes a good story. Personally, I don’t feel that players running out of oranges and catching scurvy is a story I want to tell, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing so!

If magewrights can carve a curse out of a person’s aura, was this ever suggested as a solution during the Lycanthropic Inquisition by Jorasco or the Silver Flame’s own minor healers?

Certainly. Under the rules of fifth edition, that’s EXACTLY how you treat lycanthropy: you cast remove curse, and if you’re doing it as a magewright ritual that means you’re performing just this sort of spiritual surgery. However, there’s a few factors here as regards the Silver Crusade…

  • Bear in mind that especially early on, I’m sure the templars DID cure people when they had the ability to do so. It simply wasn’t viable as an overall solution to the problem, based on resources, the number of lycanthropes, and the fact that you would have to capture and hold lycanthropes alive to do this—and especially in the early days of the Purge, the odds were stacked against the Templars. They didn’t have the luxury of trying to take most of their enemies alive; they were lucky if THEY could stay alive.
  • If you’re using magewrights or adepts, you need 60 gp worth of specialized components to cast that ritual. What are those components? Are they specialized to each type of lycanthropy (IE, you need to treat a wereboar with different herbs than a wererat), or general? It’s quite reasonable to say that when the Crusade began the templars didn’t have either full knowledge of proper treatment or that they simply didn’t have access to sufficient supplies of the appropriate components—and this was before the residuum revolution which lets you use refined dragonshards instead of any component.
  • Critically: Lycanthropy during the Purge was different from lycanthropy as it exists today. This is literally true, as the rules for curing lycanthropy in 3.5 rules are far more difficult that just casting remove curse. It either has to be done by a 12th level cleric within three days of the affliction (and 12th level clerics are VERY rare in Eberron) or it has to be attempted during a full moon… and the victim has to make a DC 20 Will save for it to work. Eberron gets a lot of full moons, but still, that’s a lot of time and resources for a ritual that has a very high chance of not working.

The simplest explanation for the change in the rules of lycanthropy is that lycanthropy itself has changed: that the power of the curse is now weaker than it was during the purge, because the influence of the overlord or daelkyr behind the surge has faded… or alternatively, because techniques for treating lycanthropy have advanced significantly over the last century. Either way, lycanthropy can now be effectively treated by a magewright performing remove curse; that doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t a viable solution to the problem at the height of the purge.

That’s all for now! When time allows, I’ll write a follow-up article about using disease in an Eberron campaign, but my Patreon supporters will decide the topic of the next article. Until then, wash your hands!

IFAQ: Dragonshards and Tharashk

When did dragonshards become important as magical fuel? House Tharashk was discovered in 498 YK. The lightning rail went into operation in 811 YK, but Tharashk only stepped up mining in the Shadow Marches & Q’barra in the past decade? What delayed them so long?

There’s two significant questions here: When did dragonshards become important and why did it take Tharashk so long to start major mining operations in Q’barra?

The spells, items, and services available in 998 YK represent the pinnacle of arcane science. Like any form of science, these things didn’t emerge into the world fully formed. The lightning rail of 811 YK was the result of decades of research and development—and it was quite different than the lightning rail of 998 YK. It originally used volatile Fernian ash as its fuel, and both the binding and the conductor stones had flaws.

Eberron dragonshards are found across Eberron. Xen’drik, the Shadow Marches, and Q’barra are especially rich sources of dragonshards, but there are dragonshard deposits across Khorvaire. Eberron dragonshards are an important element in the creation of magic items and in maintaining ongoing magical effects—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships. Eberron shards can be refined into a powdered form that can be used in place of any spell component with a cost.

So: it’s possible to perform most forms of arcane science without dragonshards; it just takes a range of different substance, which are usually more exotic and specific to the effect being produced. However, this uses refined Eberron dragonshard powder (also known as residuum). Raw dragonshards can be used, but unless they are processed and refined it’s inefficient; you’re significantly better off using the other alternative. Because of this, the process of refining dragonshards to create residuum was a crucial breakthrough that had cascading effects across the magical economy. While creating magic items still requires a range of additional rare elements, the universal nature of refined dragonshards allowed Cannith and others to dramatically increase both the range and scale of production. Using processed dragonshards as an energy source made the lightning rail safer and allowed Orien to operate more carriages. But again, this process of refining was a breakthrough that occured less than two centuries ago, and it’s a process that continued to be explored.

So: Eberron Dragonshards have always been a valuable source of magical energy, but it wasn’t until the last two centuries that they became as valuable and universal as they are today. Eberron dragonshards CAN be found across Khorvaire, and initially, that supply was sufficient to meet demands. But within the last century that demand has steadily grown—which has in turn driven people to find richer pools to draw on.

This brings us to House Tharashk. Why are their operations in Q’barra only a decade old? House Tharashk began as a house of hunters, not prospectors. For centuries its primary focus was on inquisitive work and bounty hunting. Prospecting is a relatively new path that arose both with the increased demand for dragonshards mentioned above and crucially with the creation of the prospector’s rod. As with many houses, the base powers of the dragonmark aren’t as important as the focus items that channel that power. As the speaking stone is to House Sivis, the prospector’s rod is to Tharashk: it is this tool that expands the powers of the mark beyond the simple scope of casting locate object and allows prospecting on an industrial scale.

In my Eberron, it’s a mistake to say that prospecting in the SHADOW MARCHES only began ten years ago. Dragonmarked calls out that House Sivis originally came to the Shadow Marches in search of dragonshards, and that the mineral wealth of the Shadow Marches has always been a secondary source of wealth for the house. That effort may have increased over the past decade as the house as a whole has realized that there’s more wealth and influence to be gained from dragonshards than bounty hunting, but it’s been something that has been scaling up over the course of the past century.

Q’barra, on the other hand, IS a new development. The world’s a big place, and Tharashk hasn’t been able to search all of it. Prior to the Last War, Q’barra was a shunned backwater thought filled with hostile scales. The Dragon articles call out that it was only ten years ago that settlers discovered rich deposits of dragonshards in Q’barra. Tharashk responded quickly to this discovery and has ramped up its efforts ever since. But why didn’t they go there earlier? Because they already had a rich source of dragonshards in the Shadow Marches and were still expanding their operations, and because no one knew there were dragonshards in Q’barra. It’s entirely possible that there are other rich deposits in Khorvaire that have yet to be discovered!

Ultimately, the key takeaway here is that the arcane industry in Eberron is just like industry and science in our world. It evolves and expands. The current state of things in 998 YK reflects the latest developments; drop back to 498 YK or 811 YK and the world will be a much different place.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going! I’ll be posting a poll to the inner circle soon to determine the subject of the next article.