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.

Lightning Round: Dragons, Tarkanan, and More!

Hi Everyone!

The last two months have been a whirlwind of travel and deadlines, and that’s kept me largely off the internet. In addition to traveling to GenCon, DragonCon, and XOXO, I’ve been working on Exploring Eberron—The Book Formerly Known As Project Raptor—and also on the game Twogether Studios is developing with the Adventure Zone. I’m also preparing to DM at Level Eater in Portland and G.A.M.E in Springfield!

In my next post I’ll talk more about all of these things, and about Eberron: Rising From The Last War, the Eberron hardcover that is  coming out in November. Today, I want to quickly answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters!

If Aberrant Marks can’t be passed on like normal Dragonmarks, what is life typically like for the children of House Tarkanan?

For those unfamiliar with aberrant dragonmarks or House Tarkanan, this article might be a useful crash course on some of the issues associated with them.

As for this question: remember that “House Tarkanan” is nothing like a Dragonmarked House. It’s a name this organization took in mockery of the Dragonmarked Houses, sort of like a gang calling themselves “The Kings of Callestan.” Just because they call themselves “Kings” doesn’t mean they actually have any sort of sovereign power! The Dragonmarked Houses are multinational guilds formed many centuries ago through the alliances of powerful families. They are dynasties as well as businesses with a presence in multiple nations and on multiple continents. By contrast, House Tarkanan was started less than a decade ago by the survivors of a disavowed Brelish commando unit. It has expanded its operations since then, but it is still a small organization and still fundamentally a criminal organization, NOT a dynasty. You aren’t born into House Tarkanan and you don’t need to marry into it; you’re simply recruited into it. Members often use the last name Tarkanan, but that’s an affectation. The leader of the gang often calls herself Thora Tarkanan, but her actual name is Thora Tavin.

So the main point is that there are no “children of House Tarkanan.” The organization thrives by recruiting new members, not by breeding them. If you’re a Tarkanan enforcer, you could marry a Morgrave librarian and have five kids; marked or unmarked, your spouse and children aren’t considered members of House Tarkanan unless they are recruited into it.

With that said, the issue behind the question is the idea that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary. And on that point, I’m going to change MY stance slightly. We’ve always said that the most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is to cross the bloodlines of two different houses—that this is more likely to produce an aberrant mark than a person with an aberrant mark having a child. And I stand by that, in general, with one exception: I think it’s fair to say that if both parents have aberrant dragonmarks, the odds of producing an aberrant child are the same as if you mixed two house bloodlines… that two aberrants ALSO produce a “mixed mark.” Since the War of the Mark, aberrant marks have been so rare that this has rarely been an issue. But now aberrant marks are starting to appear in greater numbers, and forces like House Tarkanan are concentrating them. So this is a factor that COULD lead to House Tarkanan producing more aberrant heirs.

But the critical question is… does it want to? 

Even if you have a more reliable way to produce an aberrant mark, one of the defining factors of aberrant marks is that they are unpredictable: even if two aberrant parents produce a child with an aberrant mark, most likely that mark will have NOTHING IN COMMON with the marks of the parents. The semi-canon example we have of this is in the novel The Son of Khyber. Tarkanan lieutenant Filleon is the son of Ghallanda-Jorasco parents and has a mark that gives him a lethal touch. His daughter Zae has a mark that lets her communicate with and control vermin… nothing to do with his mark, or Jorasco, or Ghallanda. The second key element is that fact that most aberrant marks have serious physical or mental side effects. In Son of Khyber, Filleon has a withered arm that’s a result of his mark, and accidentally killed his mother when his mark manifested. While Zae can communicate with rats, it appears that she can’t actually speak; Filleon himself says that her mark is a mental burden and that he feels pity for her. Essentially, if you’re a Cannith heir with the Mark of Making, there’s no reason not to pass that on to a child. If you’re an aberrant, you have no idea if your child will develop a mark they come to see as a curse, and you also know they’ll be ostracized and persecuted.

With player characters we tend to downplay the negative side effects of aberrant marks and leave it primarily up to the player to roleplay them. But the intent is that aberrant marks are difficult and dangerous. If we look to the X-Men as a comparison, consider Cyclops—the idea that if he loses his glasses, people may die. Or Rogue, unable to touch someone without draining their life force and memories. House Tarkanan wants to protect people with aberrant marks, and to train them to use their powers. But it’s a valid question if they’d actually want to dramatically increase the number of people with aberrant marks, given how often those marks can be a burden to the people who carry them.

Do aberrant marks follow the rules of if they are removed they will manifest again elsewhere on the body? Would they manifest with the same drawback? I know the novel dwarf has essentially regeneration backlash.

Aberrant marks are dragonmarks. As such, yes, if removed they will manifest elsewhere on the body. Essentially, the power doesn’t actually come FROM the physical mark; rather, the mark is a manifestation of the power. Cut the mark off, the power remains, and eventually the mark reappears. Whether the drawback remains the same depends on the drawback. In the case of the ratspeaker Zae, the idea is that her POWER is what drives her a little crazy; she hears whispering rats in her head all the time. As long as she has that power, it will be a burden. On the other hand, if Filleon cut off his withered arm, maybe that would be that… or maybe the power of the mark would cause ANOTHER one of his limbs to wither. There’s no absolute rules, and I don’t see that as something Filleon would be inclined to put to the test.

The dwarf Brom is an unusual character who would be difficult to create as a PC—an example of a greater or Khyber-level mark. He has essentially, a dramatic form of regeneration blended with reincarnation; when he’s injured, the cells regenerate, but typically as cells of a random humanoid. And certainly, if his mark was removed, it would return.

My general understanding is that the Aurum represents an ascendant merchant class that chafes at both Nations’ and the Houses’ powers – Something which puts them at least somewhat into alignment with Tarkanan. How do you think they would align and how would they conflict?

In many ways the Aurum and House Tarkanan are opposites. The Aurum is a collection of wealthy, privileged people who want even more wealth and power. By contrast, House Tarkanan was founded by betrayed soldiers, and represents an alliance of people scorned and feared by all, people who have endured poverty and hardship. Tarkanan is a very SMALL organization – per WGtE, a “small, elite force” and only just starting to establish itself beyond Sharn – while the Aurum is spread across Khorvaire. Members of House Tarkanan are united both by their marks and the persecution they’ve endured; they feel a sense of kinship and they generally do seek to help others with aberrant marks. Meanwhile, the Aurum is largely an alliance of convenience; they aren’t driven to help other wealthy people in need.

I could see two basic points. One would be straightforward. Tarkanan is a group of mercenary criminals. The Aurum are people with money who need mercenaries to do their dirty work. It is thus entirely reasonable for an Aurum mastermind to hire House Tarkanan to assist in an operation targeting a house,  and Tarkanan would be happy to take the job. The other possibility would be for a member of the Shadow Cabinet, such as Antus Soldorak, to recognize Tarkanan as a useful tool in their goal of destabilizing houses; with this in mind, they would offer Tarkanan gold and resources, while suggesting targets. Tarkanan is a small organization and would likely be happy to have that wealthy patron. I wouldn’t make the alliance any more direct than that. Thora would likely know very little about the patron, likely not even their name; part of the point would be that the Aurum could USE Tarkanan—known to have a grudge with the houses—as a catspaw to undertake missions they don’t want traced back to them.

If a dragonmarked heir became a warlord of Droaam somehow, would anyone call them out for violating the Korth Edicts?

Galifar I established the Korth Edicts, which forbid dragonmarked heirs from holding land, noble title, or maintaining military forces. In the wake of the Last War, it’s very unclear who could actually enforce the Korth Edicts. MOST people abide by them, because they carry the weight of centuries of tradition. But there’s a number of active examples where houses are violating the Edicts and nothing is being done. Essentially, sure, someone COULD call them out… and then what? Unless that person has powerful friends who take such an interest that they are willing to try to lean on the heir’s Baron to address the situation, odds are good it would be one more case where the Edicts are been violated and nothing is being done.

With that said, it’s also a weird issue because Droaam isn’t recognized as a sovereign nation. As such, being a warlord of Droaam likely wouldn’t be recognized as a “noble title” under the terms of the Edicts.

In an episode of Manifest Zone you (I think!) mentioned that the giants of Xen’drik were more like titans rather than the several sub-races that exist now. Could you expand on that at all? If the giants were like titans did the dragons curse the race when they destroyed their empire, deliberately fragmenting the race so they could not rise to dominance again?

That’s correct. This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebooks Secrets of Xen’drik and City of Stormreach. This is from City of Stormreach. 

In dealing with the giants of Xen’drik, it’s important to bear in mind that the giants have not always been such a divergent species. Many scholars claim that all modern giants—stone and hill, fire and frost—share a common biological ancestor, beyond the mythical titans. Some adventurers speak of encounters with primordial giants or eldritch giants, and this could be the answer to these stories. In any case, evidence exists that a few of the giant subspecies—such as the fire giants of the Sul’at League—existed prior to the great cataclysm. But others, most notably the hill giants, are said to be the result of curses unleashed in that war… powers unleashed by the dragons to prevent any giant nation from rising to its prior heights.

Titans were founders and leaders of many of the giant nations, while the “common” giants were more in the mode of storm giants or eldritch giants. The dragons unleashed epic curses—the Traveler’s Curse, the Durashka Tul, and more—and the modern giants are a reflection of these curses.

Are the half-giants a result of magebreeding or some sort of result of the curses like the hill giants? Are they actually “half” anything or are they simply the smallest giants?

The canon answer is given in the Player’s Guide to Eberron:

In the distant past, giant explorers from Xen’drik visited southern Sarlona. Their descendants are the half-giants described in the Expanded Psionics Handbook. It is unclear whether half-giants actually have human ancestry or are simply degenerate descendants of the titans of Xen’drik (as most giant kinds are believed to be).

This is echoed in Secrets of Sarlona…

Perhaps the most baffling of all the races on the continent, the nomadic half-giants of Sarlona are descendants of ancient giant explorers from Xen’drik. Some say the half-giants are degenerate offspring of the Xen’drik titans, while others contend they have a mixed human ancestry.

Are ogres and trolls actually related to the giants in the ways they are in other settings, or are they simply parallel creatures with similar traits (size, strength, ferocity) but different origins?

In my opinion, ogres and trolls are entirely unrelated to giants, which is one reason we suggests that the ogres and trolls of Khorvaire should speak Goblin instead of Giant. Trolls are likely part of the same biological path as orcs; ogres developed on Sarlona.

I am using Sarmondelaryx as a Patron for one of my players, in my campaign she has been sealed by Harryn Stormblade a couple of centuries prior to the start of our campaign. What kind of goals would you think she would be aspiring to for when she manages to get released? 

Sarmondelaryx is a character referenced in the Thorn of Breland novel series. She is a rogue red dragon possessing a set of powerful dragonshard artifacts; these help her avoid detection (and thus the Eyes of Chronepsis) and to bind souls, which has the effect of extending her life. She is infamous for having killed the first Prince Thrane and devastating the nation in the early days of Galifar.

So: Sarmondelaryx is a powerful, virtually immortal dragon with enemies in both Argonnessen and Ashtakala. She has consumed demons and slain dragons, and personally I would double down on her desire to make both sides suffer—to be a wild card in the ancient war between the Conclave and the Lords of Dust. I’d see her trying to stir up conflicts between the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, setting situations where they end up fighting each other while Sarmondelaryx (or her agent) escapes with whatever prize they were seeking. What does she want? She always wants to increase her own power… but as much as anything, I think she enjoys the game of outsmarting both of the superpowers, making her enemies suffer and proving her superiority.

The church of the silver Flame seems to have a lot of variance in its presentation by author. Structurally, it consistently has the big three orders of ministers/Templars/friars. Are other orders subsidiaries of those? Same organizational level but smaller and less prominent?

Certainly. The templars, ministers, and friars are the core roles of the church. The templar defends; the minister guides a particular community; and the friar remains in motion, bringing the light of the Flame to dark places. But within those three broad categories there are many orders and sects, many with narrower missions. For example, the Argentum is technically tied to the Templars, but it is tasked with seeking out dangerous magical relics. Some of these lesser orders are also specific to particular nations; the Argentum is a Thrane order.

That’s all for now—stay tuned for more on Exploring Eberron!

Dragonmarks: The Dragonmarked Houses

In the wake of the war, many nations still want to contain the power of the dragonmarked houses. The clearest example of this attitude is the provision of the Treaty of Thronehold that called for the destruction of the creation forges that House Cannith used to create the warforged. At the time the treaty was signed, House Cannith was divided, reeling from the loss of its baron and its Cyran holdings in the Mourning. Now, realizing that weakness and concession led to Cannith’s losses, the houses refuse to be so easily cowed, and no united Galifar remains to rein them in. The houses are not bound by national borders. With the threat of renewed war looming on the horizon, the possibility of losing the services of a house is one that few nations can afford. Indeed, some leaders are working to build close ties with the houses. Aundair granted Stormhold to House Lyrandar in a clear violation of the Korth Edicts, and that house’s activities in Valenar also overstep the law. House Deneith’s military forces at its headquarters in Korth have grown beyond even the more generous provisions granted to it in the edicts, but Karrnath has yet to challenge this state of affairs.

All this creates a situation rife with intrigue and ready for adventure, as player characters—especially those who bear dragonmarks themselves—negotiate the ever-changing alliances and plots among the houses and the nations. Aside from the individual intrigues of each dragonmarked house, you might also consider the growing influence of the houses as a whole. A century ago, the balance of power clearly lay in the hands of the monarchy. Today, the divided leaders of Khorvaire’s many nations squabble and work intrigues, weakening their influence over their economies. Meanwhile, the reach of the merchant houses grows stronger with each day. There are many who whisper that if the nations of Khorvaire are ever to be united again, it will not be a descendant of Galifar who sits on the throne, but a dragonmarked heir of one of the houses.

This text is from from the fourth edition Eberron Campaign Guide, and it reflects a few of our basic design goals in creating the dragonmarked houses. Eberron is a world where magic is a part of industry, where it provides services that are part of everyday life—communication, transportation, medical services. If you need healing, you don’t go to a temple, you go to a hospital—which is to say, a Jorasco healing house. Part of our goal in doing this was to contrast the traditional feudal fantasy kingdom with the modern multinational corporation… to explore the idea that in an industrial world, the barons of industry may be as powerful—or more powerful—than kings and queens. In part this was inspired by powerful corporate families throughout history, such as the Medici Bank or Thurn & Taxis. it was equally inspired by the megacorporations of the cyberpunk genre, which often envisions a world in which industry has largely supplanted nations, where brand loyalty may mean more than nationality. Eberron isn’t at that point YET, but it was always the idea that you could imagine it going there… that the houses are growing in power while the nations are tearing themselves apart. It’s a theme you see explored in the last two Thorn of Breland novels, among others.

You don’t have to explore this in your campaign. The basic principle of Eberron is that we present more threats than any one campaign could possibly deal with—daelkyr, Dreaming Dark, Overlords rising, dragonmarked dystopia, the Next War, the Queen of the Dead—and it’s up to the DM to decide which will play a factor in a campaign, and which are still decades or centuries away from being relevant. Just as the stars may not be right for the daelkyr to arise, it could be that in YOUR Eberron the houses have no sinister agenda and are simply friendly, reliable service providers. But the idea is there that the houses are forces with the power to rival nations, driven purely by the interests of their families and an endless hunger for profit.

To be clear, it’s not the case that the houses are supposed to be evil. They’re essentially self-regulated monopolies. Given that, they could engage in vicious price gouging. They could knowingly peddle substandard goods, or take advantage of their customers in any number of ways. In general, we present them doing the reverse: we call out that people prefer to go to a Cannith-licensed smith or a Ghallanda-licensed tavern because they trust the quality and pricing, whereas an unlicensed business could be peddling substandard wares. By default, we present the houses as having earned the trust of the public over the course of centuries of reliable service. Jorasco may charge for healing; but we’ve never suggested that they charge unreasonable rates, and we’ve said that it is the industry people are used to dealing with. By defaultand you can of course change this—the houses are essentially nations. They put the interests of their nation and their citizens above the good of outsiders; Jorasco is first and foremost considered with the stability and profitability of House Jorasco, just as King Boranel puts the interests of Breland ahead of the needs of the people of Thrane. The houses aren’t GOOD; they aren’t driven by compassion and they don’t engage in charity. And they do take ruthless action to preserve their power, just as a Breland will use the King’s Dark Lanterns to eliminate threats to the nation. But as a whole, the houses are working to provide quality services at a fair price… and they could do far worse if they chose.

With that said, while a house as a whole may not be a force for evil, there are cabals and factions WITHIN the houses that are certainly engaged in cruel or ruthless actions. Looking to Jorasco, we’ve discussed the idea that there are secret facilities engaged in bioweapons research. The nosomantic chiurgeons are an order that twist the power of the Mark of Healing to do harm rather than to prevent it. The Fading Dream shows a secret facility where innocent monsters are being tortured as part of Jorasco experiments. The point is that the typical Jorasco healer would be horrified by what’s going on in that facility… just as a typical Brelish citizen may not support the actions of the Dark Lanterns or the Swords of Liberty. The LEADERS of the Houses may well pursue ruthless agendas the common heir knows nothing about. House Cannith could have caused the Mourning… but that doesn’t mean every Cannith artificer was a part of it. As the opening paragraph suggests, the houses are a source of constantly shifting alliances and plots, and this is enhanced by the fact that they aren’t loyal to or accountable to any one nation.

So the houses could be involved in a campaign in a number of ways…

  • As neutral service providers who shape the general landscape and flavor of the world, providing the everyday services adventurers come to rely on.
  • As forces whose ambitions drive adventure—either because they are seeking rare resources, exploring or seeking to establish a presence in new regions, or pushing the envelope of arcane science in dangerous ways. A group of Vadalis researchers may have no evil intent, but that won’t stop the war-beasts they’ve magebred from wreaking havoc. A Cannith artificer is creating warforged that appear human; she may have no evil purpose for them, but the Lord of Blades has a few ideas. Such situations could involve the player characters working as operatives for one of the houses, cleaning up a mess made by the house, or competing with house agents.
  • As opponents whose quests for profit or power puts innocents or allies of the PCs in danger. This could be something on a grand scale, or it could be quite specific: the PC artificer has made a remarkable discovery and House Cannith wants to either buy it or destroy it. Again, this may involve a specific faction within a house rather than the entire organization: a Traveler cult within House Cannith, a specific unit of assassins in House Thuranni, a Vadalis cabal magebreeding supersoldiers, or just a single ruthless baron with a vision and vast resources. You can even blend this with other forces, introducing a Cult of the Dragon Below or Dreaming Dark cell within a dragonmarked enclave.
  • If you want, you COULD explore the idea of the Twelve actively working to undermine the monarchies and leaders of the Thronehold Nations. As it stands, this is something that is largely happening organically; it’s not that the house are trying to take over the world, they’re just slowly pushing their limits. But if you WANT to jumpstart a dragonmarked dystopia, that’s up to you.

Needless to say, these ideas would usually involve a particular house or a cabal within a house… and could involve two houses working at cross-purposes. Here’s a few of the more significant house conflicts.

  • House Deneith resents House Tharashk for edging into the mercenary trade by brokering the services of monstrous forces.
  • House Orien is threatened by House Lyrandar’s introduction of air travel. Currently this is a very young and limited form of travel, but as it expands it could seriously hurt Orien’s monopoly on overland transportation.
  • House Thuranni split from House Phiarlan less than thirty years ago. While the two houses largely operate in different territories, there’s certainly a strong rivalry when their paths cross.
  • House Cannith lost its leaders during the Last War, and there’s currently three powerful barons vying for control of the house. It remains to be seen if one of them can unite the house behind them, or if it will shatter and follow the example of Thuranni and Phiarlan.
  • House Medani and House Tharashk are rivals in the Inquisitive business, and Medani and Deneith have overlap in personal protection. While they specialize in different things, there’s still room for rivalry.
  • All of the dragonmarked houses are made up of multiple family lines, and there can always be intrigue between them. The biggest example of this is the split of the Houses of Shadow, which occured when the Thuranni erradicated the Paelion, another Phiarlan line. But this is always a possible source of tension and intrigue.

The Twelve is an organization formed specifically to help mediate these sorts of disputes and to foster cooperation between the houses. House Sivis likewise actively works to keep the peace between and within the houses. But these are certainly points of tension that could form the basis of a plot.

Agent or Excoriate?

What does it mean to be a dragonmarked character? Are you complicit in the actions of your house or bound by its rules? Could you be a rebel, or a spy engaging in covert operations on behalf of the house? The answer is simple: what do you want your story to be? The houses are massive organizations with thousands of heirs. Are you close to the powers that run the house, or did you grow up working on the factory floor? Do you want to be limited by the rules of the house, or do you want to be on the outside?

The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents five different roles for player characters. Here’s a quick overview, along with my thoughts on how this relates to fifth edition.

The Agent

As an agent of a dragonmarked house, you have close ties to a house and its leaders. Depending on your status and accomplishments, you can draw on the authority and resources of the house—limited at first when you’ve yet to prove yourself, but increasing with your accomplishments. The flip side of this is that you have responsibilities and you’re accountable to the house. Your actions reflect upon it and you’ll be expected to follow its rules and regulations. In short, your ties to the house are a constant factor in your life, and will likely come up in every adventure—whether it’s because the house has given you a specific mission, or simply because your ties to the house affect your interactions with others. One topic that’s worth discussing with your DM is whether you want to be proud of your house and if you’d like it to be shown primarily in a positive light in the campaign… or if you like the idea of your house taking actions that force you to question your loyalty, and if you might uncover secrets you wish you didn’t know.

Your influence as an agent is based on your actions, so this is something you have to earn over time. However, there’s two backgrounds that make sense if you want this to be a long-term part of your character. House Agent from the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron reflects an ongoing role as an operative and troubleshooter for your house. You may not be close to the leadership, but you’re a recognized agent. Alternately, Noble reflects the idea that you are tied to one of the most powerful and influential families within the house… reflecting the idea that in Eberron, a dragonmarked baron has power to rival a prince or duke. Your Position of Power has a different flavor than that of an aristocrat, but you are still heir to wealth and power. Nobles may see you as new money, but they will respect your family’s influence.

In the novels, Lei d’Cannith begins as an agent of House Cannith. She’s a uniformed house operative serving alongside the Cyran military; she adheres to all house rules; and she has ties to important families and has been provided with an arranged marriage to solidify her position.

The Scion

As a scion you’re an heir in good standing with your house, but you aren’t actively working for a branch of the house, and you have little recognition or responsibility. At some point in your career you worked for one of the house guilds, but you’re currently out on your own. Effectively, if the houses were nations, you’d be a citizen: you have certain rights based on your citizenship, but the house will only pay attention to you if you draw attention to yourself. This is the simplest approach if you like the idea of being part of one of these powerful families, but don’t want to have a lot of responsibilities. As with the agent, it’s good to talk with your DM and discuss the role you’d prefer to see the house play in your story. Would you prefer to stay at a distance? Would you be interested in being drawn more deeply in over time as your reputation grows? The house could definitely take an interest in you as you gain influence and power. There could be intrigues with your family, or you could have prophetic significance you don’t know about. You could discover corruption within the house and have to decide whether to fight it or whether to simply break ties with it. You begin as a largely free agent, but there’s many ways your story could go.

While a scion could have any background, there are a few that could reflect your ties to your house. Guild Artisan is an obvious one, with your guild being the house guild that covers your particular trade; your Guild Membership feature means that you can call on the support of the house, even if it’s on a more practical level than the Noble or House Agent. If you’re Phiarlan or Thuranni, a background as an Entertainer may be a reflection of a career that began with the House Guilds, while if you’re a Spy you could be a former agent who’s still maintained a few contacts and covers. Soldier is a fine choice for House Deneith, and your Military Rank represents your honorable service within the Blademark mercenary corps. Lyrandar Sailors, Sivis Scholars, Tharashk Urban Bounty Hunters… all of these reflect the idea that you had an honest career within the house, but currently you don’t have any responsibilities to it.

The Orphan

As an orphan, you’ve chosen to break your ties with your house. This often happens when an heir wants to engage in actions forbidden by the Korth Edicts, such as marrying into a noble family. But it can also be driven by a matter of principle: a Jorasco heir wants to devote their life to charitable healing, or a Deneith soldier wants to fight for a particular cause instead of for gold. The main point is that you chose to cut yourself off. You’re not allow to wear the house insignia or to present yourself as an heir, but you’re not an excoriate. If your circumstances change, you could even potentially return to it. The main question to answer in creating your character is why did you leave? Was it driven by the Edicts? Was it a matter of principle? Was it tied to love, or to prevent a scandal?

In many ways being an orphan is the simplest way to play a dragonmarked character, if all you want is the abilities of the mark. You have no responsibilities, no access to house resources, and you can’t even use the house name… but you’re also not burdened by the infamy of excoriation. The main question is if you want the house to play a role in your life. If you left to avoid a scandal, do you want it to come back up? If you were driven away by love gone wrong, do you want to cross paths with your lover or your rival? If you left because of a principle, do you want that to be a theme as your story evolves? Or do you just want to focus on a career as an adventurer with a dragonmark, without getting into any of that?

An orphan can follow almost any background. The main point is that the benefits of your background will not reflect an active tie to your house. If you’re a Soldier and a Deneith orphan, you should either drop Military Rank, or say that it reflects your rank in a different military organization; you’ve broken all ties to the Blademark. If you’re a Noble, you don’t have a Position of Privilege within the house; instead, you or one of your parents could have married into the aristocracy. Of course, you could take the Noble background with the Retainers option, suggesting that you turned your back on your life of privilege but a few loyal retainers remain by your side.

In the Dreaming Dark novels, Daine is an orphan who left House Deneith in order to serve in the Cyran army.

The Excoriate

An Excoriate has committed a crime against the house and been formally cast out of it. This is far more severe than being an orphan. Your likeness is circulated; heirs of the house are forbidden from providing you with any sort of aid or assistance, and even members of other houses will usually shun excoriates. This punishment is reserved for serious offenses, and carries the weight of infamy, so the immediate question is what did you do? Did you actually commit treason or make an attack against your house? Did you deserve your excoriation, or is it the result of political maneuvering—you uncovered corruption or some other secret the house needed to keep hidden? If it was possible, would you want to find a way to return to your house, or do you despise your family and everything it stands for?

An excoriate is an orphan with an extra serving of drama. You aren’t simply ignored by the house, you will actively have to deal with the consequences of your infamy. If the adventure requires interaction with a house, you may have to disguise yourself or make yourself scare. On the other hand, perhaps you still have friends or contacts in the family… but are you willing to place them at risk by asking for their help?

While an excoriate can follow any background with the same limitations as the orphan, this is also a logical path for a Criminal; it could be that your criminal activities are what got you excoriated, or it could be that you were forced into a life of crime after being thrown from the house. It’s also a good match for a Folk Hero, especially if you were excoriated for doing something that hurt your house but helped the common people. A more unusual option would be Hermit or Haunted One; you have seen or discovered something the house doesn’t want known.

In the Dreaming Dark novels, Lei d’Cannith becomes an excoriate. In her case, she doesn’t know why she was driven from the house, and this is an ongoing mystery she slowly unravels over the course of her story.

The Foundling

As a foundling you never had a connection to a house. You’re presumably descended from an orphan or excoriate… or you might be the illegitimate child of a member of a house. You’ve grown up without any guidance from the house and you don’t know any of its traditions; you’ve learned to use the mark entirely on your own. As a general rule, the houses are quite happy to bring foundlings back into the family, so you COULD become a scion or agent if you ever wanted to… so the question is, why haven’t you? Is it that you’ve never had contact with a house—that you’re an Urchin, Hermit, or Outlander who has never been to a house enclave? Have you been recruited by some other organization keen to make use of your powers… so you might be a Spy or a Criminal, or an Acolyte who’s chosen your faith over your house? Or are you AFRAID of the houses… either because you know a terrible secret about them, or for purely irrational reasons?

A foundling has no immediate responsibilities; typically, the house doesn’t know you exist. Generally, the reason to play a foundling character is because you want to explore a relationship with the houses… or to play the idea of being a dragonmarked agent of another organization. If your reputation grows and your mark is revealed, your house may pressure you to join—is that a story that you want to explore? If not, you might be better off as an orphan.


This article began as a general Q&A with questions provided by my Patreon supporters—thanks for keeping this website going! Here’s answers to those questions. 

Why did you decide to limit dragonmarks to specific bloodlines as opposed to making them available to all members of a particular race? 

In part this was inspired by historical precedent—the Medici Bank, Thurn & Taxis, industrial dynasties like the Rockefellers. But there’s a few major reasons we chose to limit it. Tying the houses to families is a way to immediately ensure self-interest and to encourage the monopoly aspect: they began in one place, they had the immediate motive to ensure the prosperity of their families, and it’s not like someone halfway across the world could develop the mark independently and challenge their monopoly. The second aspect is the fact that families have drama. If you’re dragonmarked and there’s a villain in the house, they may be your uncle or your cousin. Essentially, if you have a dragonmark, you have a connection to the house, whether you’re a foundling, orphan, or agent; it’s not the case that you just developed it randomly on your own.

This is also something that clearly and concretely distinguishes the houses from aberrant dragonmarks, which do appear entirely at random.

Was it intentional for House Jorasco to come across as a heartlessly capitalistic organization? 

The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents a particularly heartless view of House Jorasco, requiring every heir to swear an oath never to heal without payment and suggesting that heirs can actually be excoriated for breaking this oath… when excoriation is elsewhere said as a rare punishment reserved for treason and similar acts. Personally, I consider this to be extreme, and that oath isn’t something I use in my Eberron. I definitely focus on the fact that the house is a business, not a charity. Again, think of the house as a nation; Breland is going to put the interests of the Brelish people ahead of Thranes, even if that means some Thranes may die. Jorasco’s position is simple. They don’t have the resources to heal everyone. They need to make a profit to prosper and continue to provide their services. Therefore, they will limit their services to those who can pay. And people KNOW that. I live in the US, and I know that I can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and demand that the doctor give me a free checkup; it’s just not how the system works. Would it be better if everyone had all the services they needed? Of course! But that’s not how the system works… and I don’t think my doctor is evil or heartless because of it. I don’t expect an auto mechanic to fix my car for free. I don’t expect the grocer to give me free food. In Eberron, Cannith doesn’t give away warforged and Orien doesn’t offer free rides on the lightning rail… and Jorasco only heals those who can pay for it.

With that said, I feel the oath as presented in Dragonmarked is too specific and strict. I DEFINITELY don’t support the idea of a Jorasco cleric saying “Sorry, fellow PC, I can’t use a healing word until you give me 5 gp. Oath, y’know.” With that said, I think it’s entirely appropriate for the house to insist that a Jorasco agent be compensated for healing they perform… but that compensation can take many forms. If the party is performing a service for the house, that’s the payment. Otherwise, does the agent feel that the actions of the party are increasing the reputation of the house? are they helping Jorasco allies? Essentially, the services of a Jorasco healer should never be taken for granted—but even the Dragonmarked chapter notes that alternative forms of payment are an option.

I find it hard to imagine a good-aligned Jorasco PC who doesn’t in some way chafe against their House, a chaotic-aligned Jorasco PC who isn’t an excoriate, or indeed much room for good-aligned or chaotic-aligned NPC Jorascos at all; again, was that intentional?

Again, I see this as being based on the Dragonmarked idea that a Jorasco heir could be actively punished for helping without payment, and as I said, I see that as extreme. While they are at a healing house, they have to follow the rules, just as a Cannith smith has to meet the standards and follow the pricing established by the house. But I don’t support the idea that if that halfling healer is walking home and a kid falls off a bike, the healer would say “I’d love to take a look at that, but it will cost 5 crowns.” SOME Jorasco heirs may be heartless and cruel, but I also feel there are Jorasco heirs who do care about their patients and who do the best they can… and if they can’t give away full services for free, they might at least point the patient towards charitable services.

I will say that it’s hard to see a chaotic individual becoming a house agent, but not impossible; “Damn it, Dravis! You broke a dozen house regulations, but I can’t argue with your results.”

With that said, the IS the point of the orphan or excoriate. While I don’t support the Dragonmarked oath, I definitely agree that a Jorasco healer isn’t allowed to give away the services of a house of healing, and there are some who will balk at that or at the fact that the house isn’t doing more to help as many people as possible. You could leave as an orphan to do your part; or perhaps you’re a folk hero and excoriate who gave away an entire shipment of healing potions to help save a village.

There’s two points I do want to call out here. One is the fact that while Jorasco is BEST known for its healing magic, the most COMMON and affordable services are mundane treatment enhanced by the power of the mark—which is to say, use of the Medicine skill with the intuition bonus granted by the mark. If you’ve got gold you can get a lesser restoration to remove an ailment instantly, but most treatments are long term and based on the healer’s skills. So in looking to the fact that they expect payment, most of what they do is an actual SERVICE—not just the work of a moment and a spell slot.

The second is that there are people who provide charitable healing. The Church of the Silver Flame and adepts of Boldrei sometimes operate free clinics. The critical points here…

  • These places look after people who are truly in need. This is Faela in Sharn, caring for the destitute people of Fallen. If you show up with gold in your purse just trying to avoid paying Jorasco costs you clearly could afford, they’ll tell you to get lost.
  • Most priests in Eberron aren’t divine spellcasters. These charitable clinics provide access to someone trained in the Medicine skill, but this isn’t a place you go hoping for a free restoration. They don’t have dragonmark focus items or the other resources of a Jorasco house.

Essentially, in a big city there will be some options for people in desperate need, but this doesn’t change the fact that Jorasco is seen as the standard and most reliable option.

How strong or fragile are the limitations of the Korth Edicts after the War?

The Korth Edicts are the laws put in place by the united kingdom of Galifar to limit the power of the dragonmarked houses. These include restrictions on the houses holding land or maintaining military forces. The issue with the Korth Edicts is that Galifar is no longer a united entity. So if a house violates these terms… who’s going to enforce them? Cannith abided by the terms of the Treaty of Thronehold when it demanded the destruction of the Creation Forges, but that was a rare moment both of unity between all Thronehold nations and exceptional weakness for Cannith, which had just lost its leadership. But imagine if Aundair decided to call out Stormhome as Lyrandar violating the terms of the Edicts… and imagine Lyrandar saying “Of course! We completely understand your need to stand by these antiquated principles. But we were planning on Stormhome being the new center of our weather control operations, and if we can’t have the island we’ll have to discontinue this service in Aundair. It’s really too bad: I have it on good authority that you’re looking at a severe drought this summer without our help. We’ll also need to raise costs on airship travel out of Aundair to offset the costs… and House Sivis told us that if we raised our rates, they’d probably, they’ll have to increase the cost of communications across Aundair as well. Are you SURE that our little island is a problem? It would be so much simpler for all of us if we just kept things as they are.”

Essentially, the war weakened the nations and strengthened the houses. The Twelve are still testing the limits of the Korth Edicts. At the moment they aren’t violating them on a massive scale, but the main point is if they did, who would actually be able to do anything about it? This is a theme that comes up across the Thorn of Breland novels. Would the nations stand together to enforce limits on the houses? Or would the houses be able to exploit the divisions between the nations and continue to get what they want?

So the Korth Edicts are weakening. Is that how House Vadalis has land on which to put their compounds and Varna, Merylsward et al? I couldn’t think of who they pay rent to, now that the Reaches no longer under Aundairian rule. Did they just quietly claim ownership of the land?

The Player’s Guide to Eberron says “Since the houses do not own land, the edicts dictate a system of rents to be paid to the crown. In the wake of the Last War, the houses continue to operate under the edicts of Korth, treating the local ruler as the crown for purposes of the law.” Stormhome is called out as a special exception, where Aundair granted the land to Lyrandar in violation of the Korth Edicts.

The Eldeen Reaches are likewise an unusual case. Prior to the Eldeen secession, Vadalis was paying rent to the Aundairian crown for its holdings in Varna. Following the Eldeen secession, I believe that the Wardens of the Wood came to an arrangement with Vadalis, where the house holds the land in exchange for maintaining the local infrastructure and supporting the Eldeen secession. Much like the Valenar and House Lyrandar, the Wardens of the Wood have no interest in maintaining large cities, so it makes sense that they’d deputize the house to do so. Again, this is a violation of the Korth Edicts, but the Eldeen Reaches were never a part of the Korth Edicts, so why should they enforce them?

In the last book of Thorn of Breland, we see a covert joint operation between several of the Houses after Drix uses an Orien teleportation circle. What was the purpose of that operation and what are other “secret project” that the houses are working on ?

The houses are always working on joint projects; facilitating such cooperation is the primary purpose of the Twelve, along with presenting a unified front if a nation challenges the houses. The Kundarak vault network was a joint operation between Cannith, Kundarak, and Orien. Airships are a joint operation between Cannith, Lyrandar, and the Zil. In the case of The Fading Dream—and I say this because it’s not a major spoiler to the main plot of the story—they stumble into a facility that appears to be a joint Jorasco-Vadalis program seeking to unlock and replicate the supernatural abilities of various monsters. Jorasco would love to be able to replicate the regenerative powers of trolls, and Vadalis would be thrilled to be able to magebreed the harpy’s voice or medusa’s gaze into other species. House Cannith often gets dragged into things because the houses need them to build magic items or focus items… and this in turn is why they have traditionally been the most influential house within the Twelve. House Orien doesn’t especially need House Jorasco, but it relies on Cannith to produce conductor stones and coaches.

As for other secret projects, who can say? If Vadalis was magebreeding supersoldiers, I’d expect Jorasco to be involved. Likewise, we’ve hinted at the existence of Jorasco bioweapons programs, and that could likewise benefit from Vadalis insights. Each house has a specialty; in thinking of an interesting idea, consider which specialties would be required to bring it about.

House Deneith is the only House with rights, through the Treaty of Thronehold, to maintain an army. How does this contend with House Tharashk’s mercenary operation, if at all?

See the earlier discussion of the Korth Edicts. Tharashk doesn’t maintain an army in the same way that Deneith does with the Blademark; Tharashk simply brokers the services of independent monstrous mercenaries. It also generally bases these forces in Droaam or the Shadow Marches, neither of which are Thronehold nations. If it wants to establish a garrison in the Five Nations, that could be an issue.

Is there a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan?

Halas Tarkanan was the commander of one of the major aberrant dragonmarked forces during the War of the Mark. We know he had a consort, the Lady of the Plague. No canon source mentions them having children, and even if they did, one would presume that they died in the destruction of Dorasharn. House Tarkanan has never mentioned any sort of recognized Tarkanan bloodline; instead anyone with an aberrant dragonmark is considered to be a member of the house and to have a right to use the Tarkanan name. But the point is that no one knows, so this is entirely something for each DM to explore. Do you WANT a secret bloodline of Halas Tarkanan? Then come up with a story of how it survived the siege of Dorasharn and run with it.

With that said, this relates directly to the earlier question about the dragonmarked families. Aberrant dragonmarks are not reliably hereditary. The most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is by mixing pure dragonmarked lines. Aside from that, aberrant dragonmarks can appear on anyone, anywhere, regardless of heritage. We’ve said that children of aberrant parents aren’t assured of developing aberrant marks, and that those that do usually won’t inherit the abilities of their parents. In The Son of Khyber, Zae is the daughter of Fileon… but Fileon has a deadly touch, while Zae talks to rats. This is intentionally in direct opposition to the reliable, hereditary nature of “true” dragonmarks; aberrant marks are chaotic and impossible to control. So you COULD have a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan, but being an heir of Halas doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an aberrant mark, and even if you do it may have no resemblance to his mark.

According to D&D Beyond, a warforged character can have an aberrant dragonmark. Is this a mistake? 

The Wayfinder’s Guide placed no racial restrictions on aberrant marks. Changelings, shifters, or even warforged can have aberrant marks. An aberrant warforged would be highly unusual, and raise questions about how it happened and what it means. But with that said, there IS an warforged with an aberrant dragonmark in The Son of Khyber—and again, people there are puzzled and wonder what it means. The whole point of aberrant dragonmarks is that they are unpredictable and they AREN’T tied to bloodlines.

How did Thuranni get away with the Shadow Schism? What’s the common understanding of the mass-murder/disappearance of so many Paelions?

This is covered on page 82 of Dragonmarked. The Paelions were accused of plotting a massive wave of assassinations targeting the heads of nations and dragonmarked houses. Per Dragonmarked, To this day, Baron Elar d’Thuranni maintains that he acted out of loyalty to his own house and all the dragonmarked houses, quashing a plot that would have thrown all of Khorvaire into even greater upheaval”… And within the Twelve, there are many that believe him and support him, which is why Thuranni was accepted as a house by the Twelve.

As for the public understanding of the situation, bear in mind that this occurred in the middle of a war; that the Paelions were believed to be entertainers; and that the Thuranni are expert assassins with a great deal of experience covering their tracks. Depending on the situation, assassination could have been made to look like the result of military action (Aundarian arcane explosive accidentally brings down opera house!), the work of bandits (tragic loss as bandits senselessly murder traveling Phiarlan troupe!), or criminal activity (Were gambling debts behind the carnival massacre?). It’s not like the common people even know the difference between all the Phiarlan lines. You can be sure that there are conspiracy theorists that have pieced it together, but you can be equally sure Thuranni agents have spread a host of ridiculous theories that have clogged up those channels—the Paelions were a cult of the Dragon Below! They were secret agents of the Silver Flame slain by demons! But the short form is that the public was more concerned with war and not in a place to be terribly interested in the seemingly coincidental deaths of Phiarlan entertainers.

Beyond this, one theory is that the “Shadow Schism” was an amicable arrangement between Elar and Elvinor d’Phiarlan—that they both wanted to eliminate the Paelions, and that the entire schism is a sham. Don’t forget that these are the finest actors in Eberron; this could all be part of an elaborate play that’s going to take a century to play out… which is, again, not a lot of time for an elf!

The Dragonshard articles on House Phiarlan give different locations for the Five Demesnes (the primary house enclaves) than the Dragonmarked Sourcebook. Which is correct? 

The Dragonmarked sourcebook is the more accurate source.

Have you thought about putting an explicitly anti-House organization into the setting? 

There are a few specifically anti-house organizations… it’s just a question of whether it’s a pleasant answer. The Aurum is entirely an anti-house organization. The Ashbound are anti-house, along with anti-many other things. There’s a few others like that. But we intentionally didn’t put an entirely benevolent, well organized anti-house organization for the same reason the Gatekeepers are withered and fading: we don’t want the major problems of the world to be solved by NPC organizations. Typically where there are such organizations—notably the Church of the Silver Flame, a compassionate organization that does charitable work, provides free healthcare where it can, and seeks to fight supernatural evil—we call out problems that limit its ability to accomplish that mission. Because the world needs player characters to shift the balance. As it stands it’s a world with many problems and few solutions; it’s up to YOU to find the best answer.

While most people see the houses as directly dispensing the services they provide, isn’t it the case that most of those services are actually provided by the guilds—and that the members of the guilds aren’t necessarily part of the dragonmarked family? What are the interactions between high-ranking, unmarked guild members and those house leaders who govern their affairs? 

This is a good question, and it’s covered on page 11 of Dragonmarked. You are absolutely correct: the HOUSES are families, and the GUILDS are what provide services. However, there’s a Venn diagram here, because the Guilds govern three different types of businesses.

  • House Arms are businesses directly run by blood heirs / house agents on behalf of the house.
  • Bound Businesses are essentially franchises. They’re funded by the guild in exchange for a greater share of the profits, and they maintain a recognized guild identity—for example, the Gold Dragon Inn of House Jorasco. In many cases, a bound business will have to be run by a blood heir because the business may require the use of dragonmark focus items to provide its services, but many of the employees may be outside of the house. They have more independence than a house arm, but they have significant limtiations.
  • Licensed Businesses are businesses that uphold the standards of the guild, and are usually run by people trained by the guild, but they are not directly tied to the house and generally aren’t run by blood heirs.

The critical point here is that licensed businesses can’t provide the unique house services. You can have a licensed scribe who’s Sivis-trained, but they can’t manage a message stone. Meanwhile, most Sivis message stations are house arms, because the house actively maintains and expands the stone network.

So looking to Jorasco, a house arm is directly run by the house through the guild. It will have the best equipment and the largest number of blood heirs. A bound house will likely be run by a blood heir who can use dragonmark focuses, but will have less of those focuses and a significant number of unmarked staff. And a licensed house of healing will largely provide nonmagical services, but the people there will be Jorasco trained and maintain Jorasco standards, and they may sell Jorasco potions.

Generally speaking, I expect the leadership of the guilds to be largely comprised of blood heirs… though quite possibly UNMARKED blood heirs. Remember that only around half of the heirs develop even the least mark, and guild administration is an important position that doesn’t require a mark. You don’t HAVE to be an heir to rise to a position of authority, but there’s always going to be some degree of nepotism you’ll have to deal with. Still, it’s not the case that the Finder’s Guild is primarily run by outsiders who are going to negotiate with the house; leadership will still mainly be Tharashk heirs, even if they’re unmarked, and they will have the interests of the house at heart.

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 6-18

I’m dealing with a deadline and don’t have time to address a topic in depth, so here’s a quick lightning round of Eberron questions submitted by my Patreon supporters.

What were some of your plans for Greykell that never made it to print or comic?

For those who don’t know, Greykell ir’Ryc is a character who first appears in my novel City of TowersShe later became the protagonist of the comic Eye of the Wolf; the easiest way to find it now is in this collection.

Eye of the Wolf left a number of hooks I’d love to explore. In the last panel you can see that Greykell has the battlefist of her warforged companion, Mace, sitting on a bench. So if I’d picked it up, the immediate story would have been finding Mace and getting the band back together. Following that, the primary plotline would be unlocking the mystery of the Key to the Kingdom of Night, the artifact revealed in Eye of the Wolf. What is its purpose? Why does the Emerald Claw want it? Beyond this, there’s certainly questions to be resolved concerning Greykell’s lineage, her sword, and other things. So: that’s what I had in mind at the time. If I were to pick her story up again, I’d consider if there were any new directions I’d rather take.

How rare are dragonmarks and dragonshards, numerically? I can’t come up with a relatable analogy or real-world example. 1) How limited of a resource are dragonshards? Equivalent to Industrial Revolution coal? Or gold? 

Good question. Starting with dragonmarks, it depends on the type. Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy. In my opinion they are fairly common and are usually encountered in a refined, powdered form; you can almost think of this as Eberron’s answer to oil. What I’ve said before is that in magic item creation, it should be understood that a chunk of the “base GP cost” represents Eberron dragonshards—that pretty much any major act of creation will use them.

Siberys and Khyber shards are considerably rarer, and would be more in line with uranium. They are crucial for certain types of magic, but not generally used for trivial effects and much harder to come by.

Are dragonshards a renewable resource?

Yes and no. They are a form of crystal; it’s not implausible to say that Eberron shards form naturally over time. However, if this occurs, it’s not fast. The discover of new shard fields in Q’barra wouldn’t be as important if the existing fields were a never-ending cornucopia. Essentially, I’ve never intended there to be a storyline in which the world simply runs out of dragonshards, but it is the case that the discover of a new source of shards is supposed to be valuable and significant.

How often would you encounter someone with a dragonmark on the streets of Sharn, or in your modest village?

What we’ve said before is that about 50% of dragonmarked heirs develop the least manifestation of the mark. Someone who does develop a mark has a valuable skill and a tie to a dragonmarked house. So looking to your modest village, it’s relatively unlikely: unless they are performing a specific job in the village, why wouldn’t they take that mark to the big city and make some gold? As for Sharn, we actually did a dragonmarked breakdown when we were working on the Sharn: City of Towers book. I don’t remember the results, but there were definitely hundreds of least-marked heirs, if not thousands.

Both Shard and Mark are required to perform most of the abilities that run the Eberron economy, so how common are these “jobs,” of all jobs in the economy?

Of all jobs in the economy? Not very. An airship needs a pilot with the Mark of Storm (and maybe a co-pilot for a long flight); compare that the the number of people working maintenance or support on any flight. A Sivis message station needs an heir to operate the stone, but it’s not as those there’s a message station on every street corner. Cannith heirs run the creation forges and similar focus items, but there’s many more jobs that simply require magecraft or mundane talent.

Short form: The marked services are the things that give the houses their edge, since others simply can’t provide these services. But they are a small percentage of the actual jobs in the world.

How do you feel about the loophole in 3.5 that allows goodberry to provide healing in the Mournland? Is this something that should carry over to 5e, or other systems?

I’ve never considered it an absolute rule that healing doesn’t function in the Mournland, because I don’t think anything about the Mournland should be absolutely reliable. Given that, I’m fine with the idea of unusual resources and approaches (goodberries, healing potions brewed in the Mournland, etc) that healing possible. Essentially, what’s important to me is that the Mournland means that you can’t rely on the things you’re used to.

With that said, the goodberry effect wasn’t intentionally planned out, so I don’t care if that PARTICULAR loophole makes its way into 5E; I’m just saying that I’m amenable to DMs providing ways for PCs to heal in the Mournland, as long as it requires some effort.

Is there a holiday involving gift-giving in Eberron?

A simple option is Boldrei’s Feast (9 Rhaan), which is a celebration of community. Another possibility is Sun’s Blessing (15 Therendor) which is a day of peace and a time to set aside differences. Aureon’s Crown (26 Dravago) is a day for people to share knowledge.

Those are all in canon. Unofficially, I introduced a tradition in one of my campaigns which I just called “The Gifts of the Traveler,” which was effectively a Secret Santa exchange. In my campaign, the warforged paladin gave another character a collection of poems she’d written called Rust & Blood; given that none of us knew she was writing poems, it was kind of sweet.

Does the Blood of Vol have a “Martin Luther” character in its lore, that have experienced and rejected the machiavellian schemes of Vol and the Crimson Covenant, and seeks to create a more “pure” faith? 

Not by canon, but I think ALL the religions of Eberron should have this sort of thing. Part of the point of faith in Eberron is that there’s no one absolute authority on interpretation. We’ve talked about the Time of Two Keepers with the Silver Flame, not to mention the Pure Flame. We’ve already called out that the BoV has a few divergent paths—those who believe in a war against the Sovereigns, those interested solely in personal ascension, those loyal to the Queen of Death. So: there’s no existing NPC, but it’s a great story to explore.

Given the assumption that all arcane magic can be ultimately drawn from one of the planes, which plane do you think would manipulate time (slow, haste, time stop, etc.)

That’s not my personal assumption, but GIVEN that assumption, I’d either use Thelanis or Xoriat. Thelanis because of the idea that time is unpredictable in the fey realm and because it is about the world behaving in a magical way; Xoriat because it embodies things NOT working in accordance with nature, and if you’re breaking natural laws it’s a reasonable force to use.

Does Droaam have any kind of international trade aside from byeshk and brokering monsters through House Tharashk?

Like Darguun, I see Droaam as still focusing on establishing its own infrastructure. They’re building and expanding their own cities and working on producing or acquiring the resources they need to keep the nation going. Mercenaries services and Byeshk are two known commodities that already have a market. Beyond these, they are still figuring out what surpluses they may have or what they can produce. So right now, I don’t see them as offering much more (aside from things like Dragon’s Blood, which is under the table). But if you want to INTRODUCE something as a new development, that makes perfect sense. And bear in mind that “mercenary” is a loaded term that sounds like it’s solely about soldiers. Most of the “monstrous mercenaries” Tharashk manages in Sharn are ogre laborers, gargoyle couriers, and other nonviolent services.

A side note here: Many of the dragonmarked houses are interested in Droaam BECAUSE it’s largely undeveloped and it’s not yet known what resources they possess. So there’s certainly merchants in Graywall both looking to sell the things that Droaam needs and to see if they can make deals to get unique resources that haven’t yet been fully tapped.

Have you ever used Argonth or any of the floating fortresses in any of your games? 

I never have! I’ve thought about it a few times—in developing games for CCD20, “Die Hard on Argonth” has been on my list—but no, I never have.

Are you going to be allowed to talk about converting Waterdeep: Dragon Heist for Eberron when the time comes?

I don’t think I’m forbidden from talking about anything. What I’m not allowed to do is to produce concrete material: adventures, race conversions, etcSo I could do an article on this site about a general conversion, as long as I had the time to do it. I just couldn’t actually convert NPC stats to Eberron or present my version of Dragonmarks as part of it.

That’s it! Feel free to post additional questions below—though as I am very busy, I can’t promise they’ll be answered.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes for 5e shows that Mordenkainen (who in 3e was a 27th level wizard) is aware of Eberron and the Last War. What would you do with the implication that high level wizards like Elminster, Murlynd and Dalamar do visit Eberron?

Well, Mordenkainen could be aware of Eberron without actually having visited it. Setting aside epic scrying magic, he could have consulted with other travelers—plucked images of Eberron from the memories of a mind flayer.

I have two main caveats concerning any connection between Eberron and other planes. The first is that it has to be optional. The flip side of “There’s a place for everything in Eberron…” is “… but you get to decide whether you use it.” If someone WANTS to put Elminster in Eberron, more power to ’em—but *I* don’t.

But assuming you DO: one of the design principles of Eberron is that there’s no powerful good guys. If the Tarrasque attacks Sharn, there’s no 27th level wizards sitting around waiting to teleport in and solve the problem. Where there ARE powerful benevolent NPCs—The Keeper of the Flame, the Great Druid—they are limited in some way. Jaela loses her powers if she leaves Flamekeep. Oalian is a giant tree. So if I were to add Elminster into Eberron, I’d want to add a similar handicap. Two options come to mind. The first is that he can’t exercise his full powers without disrupting some sort of balance—whenever he uses his magic in Eberron, Sul Khatesh learns one of his secrets, and once she learns them all she’ll be freed (and he knows this). The second option—which can be combined with the first—is that the Chamber is aware of him and will act to eliminate him if he threatens to disrupt the balance. Even a 27th level wizard should tread lightning around a host of epic level dragons.

So I’m fine with saying that they’ve been around but tread lightly… or exploring the consequences of them NOT treading lightly. For example, I’d love to say The Daelkyr Incursion was the result of Mordenkainen coming to Eberronwhatever method he used to breach the planes drew the attention of the Daelkyr and ultimately destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan.

You may have mentioned this in a prior post, but what do you use/think for the religious views of the jhorash’tal orcs?

Personally, I see the Jhorash’tal orcs as culturally distinct from the orcs of both the Shadow Marches and Demon Wastes. I use a blend of Sovereigns and Six—similar to the Three Faces of War, but encompassing some of the others as well.

what do you think of animal familiar in Eberron? What does it say on magic the fact that every wizard and every sorcerer has one?

Two things there: whether EVERY wizard and sorcerer has one is a function of the edition you’re playing. Even if that is the case, remember that both wizards and sorcerers are rare in Eberron. Most professional spellworkers are magewrights. So familiars will be rare even if every wizard has one.

Second, there critical question is what is a familiar? The traditional familiar is a normal animal that becomes a magical beast when summoned to service. In essence, a minor spirit of some sort possesses the animal body. You could present this as being extraplanar (and in the case of a warlock, an emissary of the warlock’s patron). However, I’m more inclined to say that it’s a manifestation of the spellcaster’s subconscious mind. Especially if ALL wizards have one, I’d argue that when you unlock the part of your mind that allows you to master arcane magic—shaping reality with your thoughts and words—that it allows your subconscious to manifest through a local vessel. The familiar is literally the voice of the piece of you that understands magic.

But that’s just my idea.

Eberron turns Thirteen!

I first began working on Eberron in 2002, but the Eberron Campaign Setting was released in June of 2004. So the setting has just turned thirteen, and anyone who knows Eberron will know that thirteen is a number with special significance. There are thirteen planes, thirteen moons, thirteen dragonmarks… although all too often, one of these thirteen is destroyed or lost. While here in the United States we’re still waiting for Eberron to be unlocked for 5E, a gaming community in Peru organized a month-long Eberron celebration in honor of its 13th anniversary. The tome pictured above is a cake produced for that celebration, and it is one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever seen.

While I couldn’t make it to Peru for the party, I did appear in video form, and I promised to answer a question chosen by the group. I’ll get to that at the end of this post, but before I do I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who have kept Eberron alive for the past thirteen years. I hope that we will see Eberron officially revived for 5E, but until that time it means a great deal to me that there are still those of you out there who are enjoying the world. My favorite thing about RPGs is the ability to create new stories — and I love that you are out there creating Eberron stories of your own.

At this time, I still have no official news about support for Eberron. I’ll continue to answer questions on this site, but I cannot produce new material here. With this in mind, I am and will be continuing to produce new setting material for my own RPG, Phoenix: Dawn Command. Even if you don’t play Phoenix, my hope is that you may find this material to be useful in your Eberron campaign. The main article I’ve produced is about The Fens, and this follow-up article talks about how you can use the Fens in Eberron.

With that said, there are many people working to keep Eberron alive, and I wanted to call out some of these. I am part of the monthly Manifest Zone podcast; each month we explore a particular aspect of the setting. On Facebook I’m aware of the Eberron Enthusiasts and Sages of Eberron groups, and beyond that The Piazza is the primary Eberron forum I keep an eye on. If you’re into live play, Maze Arcana is a livestream working with Wizards of the Coast, and you can get more Eberron in Role Out.

That’s all I have time to say at the moment, but I’d love to hear more from all of you. What’s your favorite moment from your time with Eberron, or your favorite thing about Eberron itself? What do you want to see in the future?

Meanwhile, here’s the two questions from the party in Peru…

How would you organize a campaign around a party of Dragonmarked characters? What could possibly bring them to work together? 

One obvious answer is the thing that brings all the houses together: The Twelve. This organization serves as a sort of United Nations for the Dragonmarked Houses. It exists to mediate grievances and resolve disputes, but also to unite the houses to accomplish things they couldn’t do alone. The Kundarak vault system – which required the talents and marks of House Orien and House Cannith to create – is a prime example of such cooperation. So, a party of adventurers could easily be elite troubleshooters for the Twelve – nominated by each of their individual houses and dispatched by the Twelve to handle problems or investigate opportunities that matter to all of the houses. Just a few examples of things that could fall into this category…

  • Investigating ancient magic that might be something the houses can use or reverse-engineer, such as evidence of warforged and elemental binding in ancient Xen’drik.
  • Investigating or shutting down operations of House Tarkanan.
  • Investigating a house enclave that has mysteriously gone dark.
  • Recovering valuable treasure from house enclaves in the Mournland.
  • Helping house operations that are threatened – for example, dealing with the Poison Dusk forces threatening a House Tharashk mining operation in Q’barra.
  • Mediating a dispute between two houses.
  • Deal with a house experiment gone wrong – a rogue Cannith construct, Vadalis magebreeding mistake, plague unleashed by Jorasco – without revealing the true nature of the problem to the public.

… And that’s all literally off the top of my head. This provides the PCs with an immediate powerful patron that will always be ready with a new assignment. If you want to complicate things, each of the houses the players are personally tied to could have their own agendas, and players could be torn between their own beliefs, the common goals of the Twelve, and the desires of their house.

A completely different approach would be to focus on a party of adventurers who are all excoriates – the EX-Dragonmarks. This could be unjustified – making them the Dragonmarked equivalent of the A-Team – or they could actively opposed the agendas of the houses they are from. They’re united because they are all outsiders, and the question is whether they are trying to redeem themselves and get back into their houses… or whether they are on an ongoing mission to expose corrupt and illegal activities tied to the Houses, whether these reflect the house as a whole or are the work of a small group of corrupt barons.

There’s three ideas – hopefully that’s enough to get you started.

What is the reach of Zilargo? Does the Trust meddle in other nations if Zilargo’s interests are at stake? 

Absolutely! In my opinion the Trust is one of THE most efficient espionage agencies in Khorvaire. The Zil have always embraced intrigue and cunning over military power as their primary means for affecting change in the world… and with their natural talents for illusion gnomes can be very efficient spies. The Trust doesn’t have the same degree of power or coverage in the Five Nations that it has in Zilargo, but it’s still very efficient. Likewise, the Trust won’t be as blasé about assassination elsewhere as it can be in Zilargo, but it definitely employs assassination when it has to. One of the most dangerous characters in the Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook is Madra Sil Sarin, one of the Trust’s top assassins. Madra has rings of sustenance and invisibility, and communicates with her superiors via telepathic bonds. As a result, she is a ghost: she spends her life in silence and invisibility, moving unseen through the city while waiting for a telepathic call to action.

While agents like Madra are ready to take direct action when it’s called for. the Trust PREFERS to act indirectly. The Zil maxim is Five words can defeat a thousand swords — and the trick is saying the right five words to the proper people. Just as hacking is becoming an increasing concern in modern politics, Zilargo can manipulate things very effectively simply by revealing secrets in the proper place and time. Does Zilargo support the Brelish monarchy or not? Do they support Kaius of Karrnath, or do they want to see rival warlords bring him down? Do they support the theocracy of Thrane, or might they help the monarchy by revealing evidence of corruption within the church?

But to deal with the question: Yes, Zilargo definitely meddles with other nations if their interests are at stake. However, more often than not they will meddle by exposing secrets… doing so in a way that furthers their own agenda, but at the same time, it’s an action that’s hard to trace to Zil actors.

If you’re dealing with PCs who are Zil agents, the most common thing they will be called upon to do is to acquire information – as secrets are the primary weapons in the Zil arsenal.

Manifest Zone: Dragonmarks

The latest episode of the Manifest Zone podcast deals with Dragonmarks and the Dragonmarked Houses. I want to follow up with a quick overview of the topics discussed and provide an opportunity to deal with questions you may have after listening to the episode. I don’t want to retread too much old material, so if you know nothing about the marks, you may want to check out these previous posts on The Dragonmarked Houses and Aberrant Marks.

Dragonmarks are sigils that appear on the skin, reflecting a magical talent possessed by the bearer of the mark. There are thirteen “true” dragonmarks. These are called true marks because they have a consistent appearance, range of abilities and progression; if you have the Least Mark of Making, it’s not going to suddenly mutate into the Lesser Mark of Finding. In addition, the true marks are tied to specific races and bloodlines. They only appear on people with some connection to a dragonmarked bloodline, and someone with a dragonmark can pass that mark to a child.

Per the original 3.5 rules, a dragonmark provides a few concrete mechanical benefits.

  • It allows use of a specific spell like ability (chosen from a short list) a number of times per day.
  • It provides a bonus to a specific skill (so the Mark of Detection provides a +2 to Spot checks, the Mark of Making provides a +2 to Craft checks, etc).
  • It allows the bearer to use dragonshard focus items tied to their mark. From an economic perspective this is the most important aspect. The fact that a gnome with the Least Mark of Scribing can use whispering wind once per day is a cool party trick. The fact that he can operate a speaking stone is what gives the houses their power.

These are the basic abilities of the mark. They are tied to bloodlines. Over the course of centuries, the bloodlines that carried specific marks joined together to form houses, and ultimately those houses came together to form the organization known as The Twelve. So a critical point here is that all of the dragonmarked houses include multiple bloodlines, and over the course of generations new lines have evolved within the houses. So the fact that you have the Mark of Making doesn’t mean you’re directly related to every Cannith heir; it means you’re tied to one of the Cannith lines.

The next important thing to understand is that Eberron treats magic as a science. Which means that you can’t just create something just because you want to, any more that we can create a teleporter today. The fact that it takes a Lyrandar heir to pilot an airship isn’t some sort of scheme on the part of Lyrandar; it’s simply that no one’s been able to mass produce a wheel that unmarked people can use. You can certainly add one in if you want an airship an unmarked pilot can fly – but understand that within the canon assumptions of the setting, that’s a remarkable treasure that can’t be easily reproduced.

So: Each dragonmarked house has a monopoly on a particular magical service because they are the only force that can provide that service. If you want to get a message across the continent in an hour, House Sivis is your only option. In addition to these core services, each house maintains the guilds that dominate the mundane aspects of their specialty. These guilds are a source of training and resources, and most businesses in this field will be licensed by the guild so they can get access to these things. A licensed business shares profits with the guild and must also meet the standards set by the guild. If you’re a tavern licensed by Ghallanda, you have to abide by their standards on sanitation and pricing. As a result, a license – represented by the house seal on a sign – has real value to potential customers as an assurance of the quality of the service. So licensing isn’t just a power play by the houses; the common people trust the quality of guild services, and an unlicensed business will have to earn the trust of its potential clients.

All of which is to say that the houses have real, concrete power in the world. Their heirs can provide services no one else can, and they are the cornerstones of Khorvaire’s economy.

As a player character with a dragonmark, there’s a few things to consider.

  • What is your relationship with the house that carries your mark? Are you a proud scion of your house, working to advance its power and influence in the world? On the other end of the spectrum, are you an excoriate banished from your house for some terrible transgression, or a foundling whose mark has only just manifested… and if the latter, are you excited about your good fortune?
  • The houses have power and influence… these days, dragonmarked heirs could assert that their houses are more powerful than the broken nations of Galifar. Do you embrace that and act like royalty? Or are you more down to earth? Are you proud of your heritage or do you have issues with house leadership?
  • The mark is more than just a spell-like ability. The idea behind the mark giving you a skill bonus is that the mark gives you supernatural insight into the area of expertise. As an heir with the Mark of Making, you understand how things fit together, reflected by your talent for crafting. With the Mark of Scribing, languages make sense to you and you can see the meaning in strange script when others cannot. This is likewise the idea behind your ability to use dragonshard focus item. It’s not that the object just lights up when you touch it; it’s that the object connects to and amplifies an aspect of your mark. It allows you to focus the mark to accomplish something special.

The latest episode of Manifest Zone talks about ways to use the houses as a player or as a gamemaster, and I won’t retread that. But here’s a few questions that have come up.

One thing is missing both here and in the podcast: do you exclude the possibility of using one of the houses as an essentially good/philanthropic organization?

As presented in canon sources, the houses are not essentially philanthropic organizations. They are businesses whose first and foremost purpose is to increase the wealth and power of their founding families. For more than a thousand years they have taken actions necessary to maintain and enforce their monopolies over their fields. Jorasco doesn’t have free clinics that perform charitable healing, something we’ve mentioned the Silver Flame and priests of Boldrei sometimes maintaining.

So: I do exclude the possibility of using one of the houses as essentially a good and philanthropic organization. That’s not their fundamental purpose or nature. If they were inherently good we’d see more charitable works, we’d see more sharing of power within their field. We have multiple examples of Dragonmarked heirs leaving their houses because they want to pursue purely altruistic actions.

With that said: Just because a house isn’t essentially good or philanthropic doesn’t mean that individual people within it can’t be both philanthropic and good. An influential Cannith heir could be working to help warforged within the framework of the house. A particular Jorasco heir could be pioneering new techniques to reduce the costs of healing for all… even though the house may never offer its services for free. Any number of houses could be working on things they feel will make the world a better place. As an agent of the house, a PC could be working with such a patron who has noble goals. Or even if those goals are less noble, they could still involve fighting forces that are unquestionably evil. The houses may not be essentially good, but neither are they essentially evil. They are businesses that have done what has been necessary to survive and thrive over the course of centuries. They are driven by self-interest… and there will certainly be times when that self-interest can serve a greater good.

The Dragonmarked Houses each have their own version of the Test of Siberys specific to the effects and role of their mark and house. The method seems pretty clear for some, such as the Mark of Sentinel/Storm/Shadow/Passage, while it seems odd that there would be a life-threatening reproducible test for Scribing, Making, or Hospitality. Would you mind expanding on the possible methods used in these Tests of Siberys?

This is a topic covered in this previous blog post, but I’ll repost the critical piece here.

In 3.5, every dragonmark provides a bonus to one skill. The Mark of Finding gives you a +2 bonus to Search. The Mark of Making provides you with a +2 bonus to Craft checks. These are powers of the mark! Whether you use the spell-like abilities of 3.5 or the rituals of 4E, there’s no telling what the first power a marked individual will develop will be. So you can’t force a Cannith heir to repair a warforged and hope that he’ll turn up with repair light damage; even if he manifests the mark, it might give him mending. But you can rely on the fact that he will be better at Craft, or that the Tharashk heir will be better at Search. So that’s what you base your test on. Stress doesn’t have to mean a life-or-death situation; it can easily be derived from the threat of social humiliation or professional ruin. So, you’re put in a room with a tool box with only half the tools you need and told to fix something. It’s a nearly impossible task. Can you push your Craft skill to levels you didn’t know you possessed? Even if you can’t, will the stress of trying unlock the crafting talent within you? Likewise for Finding: It’s ultimately a test of the Search skill. And it’s THE test of the Search skill. You have one shot to have your best hunt ever, and if you fail, you shame your family. You don’t have to develop the Mark to succeed, but it would sure make it easier!

Bear in mind that this means it is possible to succeed at the Test without actually developing the mark. While this would be a disappointment to the heir, it’s still an important demonstration of the core skills of the house. So again, think of a way to test the skill. Make it difficult and consider the immense social pressure placed upon the heir. Come up with any way possible to add to the stress of the situation. But it doesn’t have to literally be life or death.

Keith mentioned that the standard houses began the War of the Mark partially to suppress the “source of power” coming from aberrant marks. What economic threat did the aberrant marks pose to the houses? I get that there must have been a popular fear of the real danger posed by aberrant marks, but if that’s the inciting factor in the War of the Mark why was the main opposition towards Aberrants coming from the Twelve? Why not a religion (Silver Flame, in the vein of the lycanthropic purge, perhaps) or the secular monarchy?

In dealing with the War of the Mark, it’s important to understand the world in which it took place. The War of the Mark happened fifteen hundred years before the present day. That’s five hundred years before Galifar and almost eight hundred years before the Church of the Silver Flame was established. It was a world with no lightning rail and no speaking stone network. There was no common code of laws uniting the nations. Humanity’s understanding of arcane magic was far more limited and no one had spells such as sending. The followers of the Sovereign Host had no army, and the nations didn’t perceive the aberrants as a threat that required the mobilization of an army.

What people know about the War of the Mark today is based on centuries of House propaganda. Even calling it a “war” is disingenuous, conjuring images of armies of aberrants wielding dark powers facing off against house armies in dramatic battles. In truth, most of the aberrants were noncombatants and the “war” was an organized and ongoing purge as opposed to an actual conflict. Halas Tarkanan and his peers could singlehandedly cause massive destruction, and they had small units of skilled warriors who did engage with house forces – but these were the exception, and conflict was always more guerilla war than anything else. There’s more details about this in this previous blog post.

The War of the Mark was preceded by a dramatic rise in the number of aberrant marks in the world, and those marks were considerably more powerful than those seen in the world today. So the marks were known and those who bore them were known to be dangerous, and knights of Dol Arrah or local soldiers might deal with a specific problem when it arose. But the idea of them presenting a serious large-scale threat was a new concept. And it was a concept pushed by the houses at the time. Why? Largely as a means for the houses themselves to consolidate their power. This is addressed in Dragonmarked on pages 56-57: “The War of the Mark transformed the dragonmarked houses into their modern form. It solidified the early influence of House Cannith and House Deneith, both of which brought significant military force to bear in the struggle.” … and…  “However, scholars claim that the so-called war was largely fought to secure the power and prominence of the true dragonmarked bloodlines and to eliminate a possible source of competition.” 

Note the word possible in that second quote. Essentially, the aberrants were a convenient foe for the houses to rally against… and the fact that they could position it as “good marks versus bad marks” helped their branding. But it was as much about uniting the houses themselves as anything else, and the result of this was the Twelve and the house structure we see today.

Usually, in canonical sources, characters are simply named as Soandso d’House, rather than Soandso Surname d’House. Is there some pattern to this usage? 

It varies by house and is discussed in more detail in Dragonmarked; notably, Sivis heirs always use line name, and Tharashk heirs typically use their clan name instead of the house name. The general idea is that Soandso Surname d’House is the character’s full name and would be used in formal occasions within the house, where people understand the significance of it… while when dealing with the common folk they drop the surname because the house name is the one people know and respond to. So Lady Elaydren IS Eladyren Vown d’Cannith, but she generally goes by Elaydren d’Cannith outside the house.

Also, the d’ can be used with the surname or house name. Thus you have Tharashk triumvir Varic d’Velderan.

What was, in unified Galifar, the relationship between the House of Shadow and the Citadel?

It’s the same sort of relationship you see in our world today between a national army and a private security force like Blackwater. Consider the following…

  • The Entertainers’ Guild is the foundation of Phiarlan’s reputation and its primary face in the world. This is a legitimate business, and most of the people working for it have no connection with the Serpentine Table.
  • Looking to the Serpentine Table: the Citadel is an arm of the government. It serves the needs of the crown and isn’t available for hire. The Serpentine Table primarily serves the needs of wealthy private citizens, who are primarily engaged in acts of espionage targeting other private citizens.
  • On the other hand, just as the US government might employ private security forces for particular situations, there could be times when someone within the Citadel might engage the services of the Serpentine Table. Perhaps they’re investigating corruption in the Citadel itself. Perhaps they are taking action against a noble family or foreign government and want deniability. Perhaps they have reason to believe Phiarlan has vital sources for their particular task that they don’t have.

So, what’s the relationship? Use them when they are useful. Stomp on any agents you catch with their fingers in one of your cookie jars.

An issue here is that many people have the sense that entertainment is simply a cover for Phiarlan, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Here’s a quote from one of my early Dragonshard articles:

The first and most important thing to know about House Phiarlan is that most of the people of Khorvaire have no idea that the house is engaged in espionage work. The role of entertainer is not simply a cover. It is a tradition that dates back tens of thousands of years, and for many members of the houses, it is the only trade that they follow. Certainly, rumors state that the elves are spies and assassins, but to most people this is an urban legend. Where would the virtuoso soprano find the time to be a spy? She’s known across Khorvaire for her talents — do you really think she sneaks out and kills people during the intermission? And if you walk into a Phiarlan enclave and ask to hire a spy, the coordinator will advise you to hire a Tharashk inquisitive. Phiarlan does possess one of the finest intelligence networks in Khorvaire, rivaled only by the Trust of Zilargo, but these services are available only to guildmasters and nobles, which are forces Phiarlan recognizes as players in the great game of politics and power.

What would be a good way to show a Siberys Mark at lower levels?

It’s an odd question. The defining aspect of a Siberys Mark is that there ARE no low levels: it grants an extremely powerful ability – on par with a 7th-9th level spell. It does so without warning, manifesting suddenly on someone who’s had no mark prior. Granting a low level character the ability to produce a ninth level spell effect is surely going to throw off the balance of your game… and if they DON’T possess that degree of power, they don’t actually have a Siberys Mark. So my main question is the story you’re actually trying to tell here. I’m going to assume that it’s “I want a PC who is marked for greatness and has an important role to play within the house, but I want to start that story at an early level.”

Given that, there’s a few things you could do. We’ve said of Erandis Vol’s apex mark that she never managed to fully control in her mortal life. Now, her mortal life was quite short after she developed the mark, but nonetheless, there is precedent for someone developing a powerful mark and not being able to immediately control its power. So, a few things you could do.

  • The character physically has the mark, but has no power at all.
  • The character has the mark and can’t control it, but you the GM can occasionally spontaneously have the full power of the Mark manifest. Since you decide when it happens, you control how it affects the balance of the game.
  • The character physically has the mark, and you use it to justify the class powers that she possesses. If she has the Mark of Healing, you can make her a Life Cleric and say that she doesn’t pray at all – that all her powers are simply manifestations of the power of her mark, which she’s slowly unlocking. This gives her a far wider range of powers than a Siberys mark normally provides… but so what? In my opinion it’s an interesting character concept and I don’t care if it doesn’t line up with the typical ability of the Mark; perhaps the character is more in tune with the mark than other Siberys heirs have been. The Mark of Storm could produce something like a sorcerer or druid. The Mark of Shadow might produce a rogue with some illusion ability.

If you’d suggest that the answer would be to flavor other features of the character (spells or powers or feats or skills or whatever) as coming from the dragonmark, how would you (roleplay-wise) differentiate that from a character with a less-powerful mark but which features similar character-building choices?

I would probably limit some of the mechanical choices of the character, potentially compensating for that with a bonus. So the life cleric whose powers come from the Mark of Healing shouldn’t be able to cast Flame Strike or any spell that can’t in some way be logically defined as coming from the Mark; but I might compensate with a bonus to caster level or something similar. Meanwhile, the actual cleric who happens to have the Lesser Mark of Healing has no such restrictions… and furthermore, THAT cleric is actually a cleric and connected to a divine power source, and has something in common with other clerics who share their faith. To get more specific I’d really have to know exactly which mark we’re discussing, because each one would be different. Looking at the sorcerer with the Mark of Storm, I’d likewise limit spell choices to things related to wind, weather, and storm… though I’d also be willing (and I’ve done this in a campaign) to reflavor spells to fit with the mark, so letting them have a ball lightning spell that’s essentially a fireball dealing lightning damage. From a roleplaying perspective, I’d emphasize to the player that they feel a connection to a primal force and that their abilities come from it; that they don’t fully understand it and don’t entirely feel in control, that they know there’s greater power still untouched and they don’t know if it could all come boiling out sometime.

Another example would be an artificer with the Mark of Making. A normal artificer starting off with the Least Mark of Making is a typical trained artificer. Their mark gives them insight into artificing, and the player could cosmetically describe it enhancing the character’s actions, but they are fully trained at the job. By contrast, if I had a “latent Siberys” artificer I’d emphasize that he doesn’t understand the science of what he’s doing at all; he experiences it in a primal way and his mark makes the things he’s trying to do happen. He can’t explain it and he doesn’t really understand it; he can just DO it.

What is the in-setting role that a Siberys heir, regardless of character level, plays in a House? Are they the only ones that can use certain powerful Shard Focus Items, or is it just that they have access to some of the most powerful spell effects available to a House?

What works best with the story you want to tell? We’ve never defined a shard item that can only be used by a Siberys heir, but if you want the Siberys-marked PC to have a vital role in the house you could absolutely say that there’s a important focus item that can only be used by Siberys Heirs – and that can’t be used by the PC until she fully masters her mark. As it stands, it’s largely ornamental – a symbol of the house’s power. Spells of 7th-9th level are not normally available in the general public, and a power like True Creation could be tremendously useful if Cannith needs to get a rare resource instantly. On the other hand, Storm of Vengeance doesn’t serve a useful economic function for Lyrandar – but dang, isn’t it impressive that she can do that?

So like many things, it’s a matter of doing what works best for your story. If you just want them to be a symbol, that’s easy. If you want them to be integral, create something that only they can use.

And further; if Siberys marks requiring high levels of experience isn’t intrinsic to them, why would a House allow a Siberys Heir to be an adventurer?

We’re dealing with multiple layers of hypothetical here, because you’re having to change the existing rules to have an unskilled character with a Siberys mark. However, assuming that you’re letting a low-level character have a Siberys mark and you’ve come up with a way to represent it: I don’t think they’d just say “Go out there! Have fun! Kill a goblin or something.” But why could they be encouraged to be an adventurer?

  • All dragonmarks have relevance in the Prophecy. Siberys dragonmarks are incredibly rare and can almost always be assumes to have significant prophetic relevance. There are those in the houses who study such things, and in your campaign such an individual could hold power within the house and have declared that the marked character has to be an adventurer – because it is tied to their prophetic destiny (the details of which may not be shared with the character). Bear in mind that such a scholar could easily be a disguised agent of the Chamber or the Lords of Dust.
  • One of the main values of such a character is as a symbol of the house. Therefore, if the adventures the character is being sent on in some way serve a greater good or at the least reflect well upon the house, they could again demand the character become an adventurer. And again, this could be a case where it’s less important that the thing happen – it’s possible the House could accomplish the task more easily with elite forces – but because they want to build the PC up as a public face.
  • Once the character is skilled, part of their value to the house is as “You’re one of the most powerful agents we have” and then we get into being sent on missions that are important to the house.

Dragonmark Houses are powerful. The Twelve have a foothold on Khorvaire but who is against them? Who’s the enemy of the Twelve? It seems like they have no overall threat against them other than each other and other businesses. Do they have an enemy or is it a House by House basis? Is anyone trying to end the Houses and if so, why?

It is part of the intentional design of the setting that the houses don’t have true economic rivals in 998 YK. It’s an exploration of the theme of monopolistic power and the balance of rising economic power versus an ailing traditional monarchy. As it stands, the houses have a true monopoly on many important services and they’ve had a thousand years to solidify their reputation. We don’t have to like the idea – don’t – but it was the intention of the setting.

By and large, the enemies of the houses are found on a house to house basis. Consider the following.

  • House Conflicts. Phiarlan and Thuranni. Tharashk and Deneith. Cannith and Cannith. A number of the houses have longstanding rivalries, and you can always introduce new ones.
  • Internal Rivalries. Setting aside dramatic schism as you have in Cannith, individual heirs can have feuds. These could be tied to business – a Cannith artificer wanting to steal or spoil a rival’s work – or driven by passion or other exterior factors.
  • Exterior Foes. Many houses have specific enemies. The Ashbound hate House Vadalis. While they are largely isolated from it, the Children of Winter certainly despise the concept of House Jorasco. The Lord of Blades hates Cannith. We’ve presented situations where the Lords of Dust and the Dreaming Dark are manipulating specific enclaves or heirs.
  • Progress. Magic is a science. At the moment, the houses have monopolies on many important services. But all across Khorvaire people are searching for better ways to solve those problems. The Arcane Congress is definitely working on ways to replicate or evolve beyond the methods used by the houses, and right now a Zil binder could be inventing an airship anyone can pilot. The houses will certainly fight to maintain their dominance – but if you want, you can certainly present a dramatic advance that threatens the position of one or more houses.

As for the houses as a whole, there’s two organizations that could fit the bill.

  • The Aurum is a cabal of powerful and wealthy people, specifically to give these people the power to deal with their dragonmarked rivals. Not every Aurum Concordian has it in for the houses, but many of them would like to see the Twelve broken.
  • House Tarkanan can be a rival if you want it to be. Under the leadership of Thora Tavin it’s mainly an underworld organization that seeks to provide a haven for the aberrants and to build power. The Son of Khyber has grander schemes, and when the time is right he may lead the house to take vengeance on the Twelve.

About House Kundarak: I read recently your article on Dreadhold, the Kundarak prison… I was surprised of having so many 10-13 level pngs working there. At that level you are almost a legend in Eberron and you accept to live in a sad desert island?

Dreadhold isn’t a “sad desert island.” It is one of the most important enclaves of House Kundarak, second only to Korunda Gate. It holds some of the most infamous and dangerous prisoners in history, from the false Keeper Melysse Miron to an immortal incarnation of death. As the article says, “it is more than just a prison: it is a stronghold of House Kundarak, and many treasures are hidden in its deep vaults.” Later it’s noted: “Kundarak conducts most of its of its secret research at Dreadhold, and there may be up to twenty additional artificers, wizards, or magewrights working on secret projects on behalf of the house.”

So: Lord Warden Zaxon d’Kundarak is a legend – and it is for that reason that he is entrusted with the awesome responsibility of overseeing Dreadhold. Beyond this, a reason you have one of the finest wizards in Eberron in Dreadhold – along with Warden Darunthar, an excellent artificer – is in part to maintain the defenses and to be able to personally handle any threats; and in part again because Dreadhold is a center for Kundarak’s mystical research. And much of Kundarak’s mystical research is about crafting improved wards and vaults — all of which can be immediately put into effect in Dreadhold.

Dragonmarks 6/25/14: House Heraldry

I’ve been traveling for the last few weeks and haven’t had a lot of time. There’s a lot of good questions in the Q&A slush pile, and I still have other features I want to work on. But last time I said I’d finally address the question of Dragonmarked Heraldry, so that’s what I’m doing today. As always, this is just my personal opinion, and it may contradict existing or future canon material.

A question regarding the emblems of each Dragonmarked House…. why did each house choose each particular magical beast?

Flip open the ECS or ECG and turn to the section on Dragonmarked Houses, and you will see the seals of the houses. Each house has a particular beast, such as House Orien and its Unicorn. But why exactly does Kundarak use a manticore? What’s the basis behind these?

The current structure of the Dragonmarked Houses is an artificial construct established at the founding of the Twelve. Some of the houses were already operating as monolithic guilds, but others were more scattered; there were tinker families with the Mark of Making that weren’t tied to the influential Vown artificers. While every house has unique traditions, the Twelve worked to establish a unifying foundation, codifying the system of licenses and bound businesses; adoption of foundlings and excoriation; patriarchs and seneschals; and so on. Part of the purpose of this was to establish the houses as a united front in the face of kings and lesser guilds. The Guild seals were thus established in deliberate emulation of noble heraldry, with a unifying theme: the use of magical beasts, creatures who—like the Dragonmarked themselves—possessed innate mystical powers that set them apart from mundane wolves and bears.

The upshot of all this is that some of the houses had a preexisting attachment to their chosen symbol… while others literally chose a beast on the spot because it was the structure that had been agreed upon. So Kundarak actually does have a strong ongoing relationship with manticores, while Thuranni has no attachment to real displacer beasts. Needless to say, in the centuries that followed the selection of these symbols some houses have developed an attachment to their patron creature or superstitions connected to it, like the claim that Orien heirs need to remain virgins until the Test of Siberys to “attract the Unicorn.” But many of the houses had no pre-existing connection to the beast they chose. Anyhow, here’s my thoughts on the origins of these symbols…


Cannith are artificers, who weave magic into steel. The bull has long been a symbol of power and triumph. What better symbol for this industrial house than a steel bull? The core Cannith guild was already using this symbol, and it was Cannith that proposed the magical-beast tradition; Sivis latched onto the idea and helped them push it through.


The families that founded House Deneith had each prospered as independent mercenary companies. Each company had its own heraldic beast. While they couldn’t preserve each of these traditional symbols, they embraced the idea that like the chimera, their new house bound multiple beasts together into an even more fierce form.


As described in Dragonmarked, “Ghallanda” is the Talenta name for the blink dog. Talenta tales identify the blink dog as a helpful creature who appears to help stranded travelers: “The helpful hound who appears where needed the most.” It’s Eberron’s answer to the Saint Bernard with the barrel of booze on its neck.


The Jorasco leaders wanted to use the Glidewing as their symbol, but the majority insisted on a unified theme of magical beasts. The Jorasco matriarch had seen a painting of griffons descending on a battlefield to help the wounded, and it stuck with her; this was accepted by her kin and the Twelve. As it turns out, the image was actually of griffons descending on a battlefield to feed on carrion, so it’s often been seen as an odd choice, but the house has stuck by it.


As noted in Dragonmarked, this is tied to a legend of an early alliance between the clan and the manticores of the Ironroot Mountains. The house maintains this alliance to this day, and employs manticore cavalry in the mountains.


Also called out in Dragonmarked; a common legend of the house founder holds that a kraken emerged from the depths to save him when he was attacked by pirates. Beyond this, a hidden sect within the house maintains that the founders of the house continue to exist as immortal krakens, though this tale is largely unknown outside the house.


Medani’s power is observation. They will see your enemies before they can harm you. They will spot threats… and eliminate them. Thus, a creature with a deadly gaze was a logical choice.


Pretty straightforward: the Unicorn is a swift land creature, a strong image, and it has the ability to teleport (check the SRD!). ‘Nuff said.


Also covered in Dragonmarked. The five heads of the Hydra represent the five artistic demesnes of the house, and they also appreciate its general reputation for resilience.


The power of Sivis lies in words; thus, the a creature with a “deadly quill” seemed to be an appropriate choice.


Again, from Dragonmarked: The Dragonne is a deadly hunter touched by dragons, long respected by Marcher hunters.


Like Orien, it’s pretty straightforward; a feared predator who’s never where you think it is. What better symbol for a house of shadowy assassins?


House Vadalis claims to have bred the first hippogriff. Whether or not this is true, they were certainly the first to domesticate the creatures and sell them as mounts; this was a strong part of their early success and an obvious choice for house symbol. However, as the house breeds many flying mounts, it’s not considered gauche for a Vadalis to back a different creature in the Race of Eight Winds.


When Thora Tavin and her allies established House Tarkanan, they deliberately adopted some of the trappings of the Dragonmarked Houses. However, rather than choosing a magical beast, they chose one of the mightiest aberrations. This works on multiple levels. Obviously it’s a powerful creature feared by others; it also ties to the fact that aberrants are often treated as monsters or abominations by the “pure” dragonmarked.

I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind recapping some of your ideas for the beast that the Mark of Death would use if it hadn’t been scrubbed away into obscurity and (nigh) extinction.

As noted before, the Line of Vol was never a “Dragonmarked House”; it was erradicated centuries before the Twelve came into existence. As such, it never had any reason to follow the magical beast tradition, and would have been more likely to use the traditional elven seal of the line, or a creature more traditionally associated with psychopomps or the dead (such as a raven). If for some reason it had to follow suit, one possibility would be the Catoblepas, which is a “magical beast” and death-themed. However, the Catoblepas is deadly as opposed to being associated with death, and the Mark of Death is more about understanding and interacting with the dead than killing things, so it’s not a very good match. If I had to pick a magical beast for them, I’d personally choose the Sphinx; hidden knowledge is more appropriate for line than a deadly gaze.

You mention how some of the Houses have adopted their beast, but as many of the beasts are intelligent as well, how do they feel about representing a humanoid structure of power? Do Displacer Beast Packlords revel in their feline authority to see themselves plastered on flags, if they know how to interpret such things? Do unicorns accept their majesty being condensed into a symbol of travel and transport?

I don’t see it as a serious concern. Despite their varying intellects, none of these creatures have been presented as having anything on par with a nation. The Kundarak dwarves made a pact with a particular manticore tribe, but we’ve never presented manticores as having any remote political or cultural impact; it’s sort of like saying “Does Karrnath worry that wolves don’t like their being used on the flag?” Taking unicorns, I think it’s going to vary by unicorn; some may be amused, some may be insulted, most probably won’t care in the slightest. But there’s no unicorn nation that is going to band together and raise some sort of concerted outcry about it. And at the end of the day, the images being used aren’t especially offensive or specific to any particular cultural group among those species; it’s essentially the equivalent of having a sports team called “The Human Beings.”

Back on the previous point, some of the houses actually do interact with their heraldic beasts. Vadalis breeds manticores. Some Talenta-based Ghallanda have friendships with local blink dog packs. Kundarak still deals with Ironroot manticores. But even there, MOST Ghallanda have never seen a blink dog, and a Kundarak dwarf doesn’t have some sort of special in with a manticore from Droaam, any more than having human friends from Karrnath will help you when some thugs from Thrane want to beat you up.

Dragonmarks: Spies, Heraldry, and a Lightning Round

When I put out a call for questions last week, I didn’t expect to get fifty of them. This has inspired me to get to work organizing previous posts, both because some of the questions people asked have already been answered and because it would be nice to have all the answers on Droaam or The Mark of Death in one place. I’m going to answer a few topics in detail today, and then do a lightning round of short answers. If your question isn’t dealt with here, it may be addressed in the upcoming reorg.

As always, my answers are entirely unofficial and may contradict canon sources. If you’re looking for official answers, you might check the Dragonshard Archive, Eberron Expanded, or Eye on Eberron.

So on to the questions!

Does Eberron have a place in the next edition? Will we ever see more novels?

Eberron certainly has a place in the new edition, but I don’t have any concrete new information about what that place will be. Warforged appeared in the playtest material, and James Wyatt has mentioned Eberron a number of times in his articles about D&D Next. However, I don’t yet know exactly what that place will be or how much support you can expect, and whether novels will be a part of it. I’ll make an announcement as soon as there is concrete news.

How’s your experience been with D&D Next? And how do you run changelings in your campaign, as a player or DM?

Given that I’m playing a changeling in the D&D Next campaign I’m in, these two questions are directly related. I’m planning to write an entire post on my adventures in DDN, and I’ll cover both these questions there.

I’m hoping for advice on two fronts; I want to diversify the various intelligence agencies (Dark Lanterns, Royal Eyes, and… who do Thrane and Karrnath have?)…

First, bear in mind that the King’s Citadel isn’t just the intelligence service of Breland. back in the day, the Citadel was the intelligence service of GALIFAR, just as the Arcane Congress was the center for mystical research for Galifar, and Rekkenmark the center for training for the armies of the united kingdom. While the Citadel employed agents from all Five Nations, the bulk of its resources and command structure were based in Breland, and the vast majority of its agents were from Breland. Just as Rekkenmark reflects the martial culture of Karrnath and Aundair’s love of the arcane is tied to the presence of the Congress, the Citadel was a source of national pride for Breland and a reflection of their pragmatic culture, and the vast majority of Citadel agents were Brelish. So the reason you hear more about the Citadel than about the agencies of other nations is because it is the oldest and largest force. Prior to the Last War, Karrnath didn’t HAVE a national intelligence agency; it had the King’s Citadel. Its current agency was built at the start of the war using those Karrnathi agents who’d worked with the Citadel and the bits of infrastructure it was able to seize. But the Citadel is a national strength of Breland… just as the Arcane Congress, Rekkenmark, and Flamekeep are all institutions that once served all nations but now benefit their home nation.

So: at the start of the Last War, the Five Nations had to come up with an individual approach to intelligence. Here’s how it broke down.

Aundair. The Royal Eyes were established by Aundair herself at the dawn of Galifar. They were her personal corps of spies established to spy on the leaders of the other nations (which is to say, Aundair’s own siblings). They maintained this mission over the centuries, an have an exceptional talent for intelligence-gathering augmented by the finest arcane divination techniques and equipment in the Five Nations. Since the Last War they have expanded their numbers and the scope of their operations. However, they don’t have the numbers or resources of the Citadel, and their strength is still divination.

Breland. The Dark Lanterns and King’s Shadows once encompassed all of Galifar. As such, they have centuries of resources and techniques at their disposal. Many of their foreign safehouses and moles were identified and eliminated over the course of the Last War – but not all of them. Their agents are both more versatile and more numerous than those of the other Five Nations, and they have no particular specialty; they can carry out any sort of operation. Breland’s strong ties to House Medani and good relationship with Zilargo are additional strengths. Short form: A Dark Lantern may not be as tough in a fair fight as a Karrnathi agent and may not have the specialized magic of a Royal Eye, but they have exceptional training and strong mission support. Karrnath has warriors, Aundair has wizards, and Breland has rogues.

Cyre. Each nation had its own strengths. Breland had the Citadel. Karrnath had Rekkenmark. Cyre had the royal treasury and mint. Initially, Cyran intelligence relied heavily on House Phiarlan and House Tharashk. As the war progressed, Cyre built up its own agencies using their own ex-Citadel agencies. One that has been mentioned in the novels is the Fifth Crown, an urban strike force specializing in infiltrating enemy territory. Cyran agencies were small and had limited strategic resources (safehouses, generational moles, etc) but were generally extremely well equipped.

Karrnath. The people of Karrnath take pride in military discipline and skill, and think little of those who would skulk in the shadows; before the Last War, few Karrns service with the King’s Dark Lanterns. In the wake of the war, Karrnath established the Twilight Brigade as a special division of the White Lion police force; members of the Twilight Brigade are sometimes called “Dark Lions”. The Brigade specializes in counterintelligence, devoting its efforts to identifying and eliminating enemy operatives; it also serves the function of “secret police”, gathering information on Karrns on behalf of the king. Karrnath thus has a limited reach when it comes to gathering intelligence in foreign nations, often relying on Phiarlan and Thuranni for such purposes; its philosophy is to deny intelligence to the enemy and then rely on its own martial strength. With that said, during the war it made use of the Raven Corps, an organization formed from Blood of Vol mystics who specialized in gathering intelligence through the use of necromancy – interrogating corpses, using shadows as spies, and so on. The Raven Corps was a volunteer force, and was disavowed and disbanded at the same time as the Emerald Claw and other Seeker orders.

Thrane. The Argentum is a branch of the Church of the Silver Flame tasked with identifying, locating, and obtaining powerful or dangerous artifacts… by any means necessary. The Argentum has carried out this mandate for centuries, and this talent for covert operations made it the logical choice to serve as the foundation for Thrane’s intelligence agency in the war. In this, the Argentum is similar to the Royal Eyes. It is a small, specialized organization that has been operating for centuries and is highly skilled at a specific type of mission, which has now been given greater resources and drafted to perform other operations. As such, it’s on par with the Royal Eyes in terms of resources and scope, and still trailing behind the Citadel. Where the Royal Eyes specialize in information gathering, the Argentum excels at theft and extraction, and has access to the warehouse of dangerous artifacts its gathered over the centuries.

… and need a little help coming up with potential hot spots in a cold war across Khorvaire.

A personal favorite of mine isThaliost. Once a major Aundairian city, it’s now controlled by Thrane. They placed an Aundiarian bishop in charge of the city, but his zealous excesses have exacerbated a delicate situation. Violence is inches away, and there’s certainly opportunity to push things one way or the other and to threaten Thrane or Aundair.

Droaam is also good, as you can see in my novel The Queen of Stone. There’s all sorts of topics that could come up: its desire to be recognized, the threat of hostility against Breland, the activities of Daask, Droaam harboring war criminals or political refugees, a nation trying to secure a military or economic alliance with Droaam (which is sitting on many useful resources), or even Sora Teraza announcing that she has a collection of secrets that could topple governments and she’s going to release it next week – do you steal it? Destroy it? Protect it from other nations?

Stormreach has many of the same possibilities as Droaam. A nation could be pursuing a strategic resource in Xen’drik, funding an extremist group operating out of Stormreach, conducting secret business with Lyrandar, etc.

Beyond that, you can have themes that could occur anywhere. Any sort of serious research on the cause of the Mourning is a serious cold war threat; it’s the Manhattan Project all over. Any form of significant arcane research could be nearly as significant an issue – anyone creating something that could give them a position strong enough to start the war anew. This could be creation of a new spell or weapon, an alliance with Argonnessen, Aerenal, or Riedra, something that would cripple another nation (say, extinguishing the Silver Flame), etc.

Do the Dragonmark Houses place any honor, taboo, or significance on their standard beast? For example, would a Thuranni killing a displacer beast be seen as bad form?

It varies by house. The tradition of house heraldry is tied to the Twelve; bear in mind that Thuranni, for example, was Phiarlan until just a few decades ago, so they haven’t had long to build up a particular attachment to their heraldic beast. In some cases the beast was chosen by the house because it was a creature they already had an attachment to or use in some way. For example, in the Talenta Plains the blink dog has a reputation for helping stranded travelers; “ghallanda” actually means “helpful hound who appears where needed the most.” House Tharashk took the dragonne both because it is a fierce predator, but also because it’s a “dragon-that’s-not-a-dragon”; this is a reflection of their general view of themselves as outsiders (also reflected by their willingness to overlap Deneith and Vadalis in their dealings with Droaam). The cockatrice of Sivis can be seen as “the deadly quill.” For the most part the beast is chosen for what it represents, not because the house has a literal relationship with it. However, Kundarak does make use of manticore cavalry, and Lyrandar legends say that the spirits of Lyrandar elders linger as krakens in the depths.

So for the most part, a Thuranni killing a displacer beast would be like a Republican killing an elephant – a humorous coincidence, but not a dishonorable act.

However, if you WANTED to take it further you could certainly decide that there is a greater significance to the beasts. Perhaps each house truly does have a totem spirit, something that revealed itself to the founders of the houses… an incarnation of the power of the mark that can choose to manifest in the wild beasts. So not every gorgon has a tie to Cannith… but any gorgon could suddenly speak to a Cannith heir and offer them advice or call on them for a favor. It could be very interesting to say that there IS a sentience to each mark; the real question then is what it means that the Mark of Shadow has two beasts.

What, if any, was the totem beast for the Mark of Death? Or was the mark eradicated before it had a chance to be a proper House?

Per canon, the line of Vol was never a “Dragonmarked House”. The traditions of the houses were established and standardized by the Twelve, and the line of Vol was exterminated long before that. If you run with the idea that the beasts are more than mere symbols, then it would make sense for the mark to have a totem beast. One possibility would be for that beast to be undead, but I wouldn’t go that way; all the others are magical beasts, and I’d look for a beast that is in some way associated with the dead.

OK: there’s a lot of good questions, but too many for me to answer in depth. So it’s time for a LIGHTNING ROUND! When I do the reorg I may expand on some of these, but for now I’m keeping it quick.

Since the code of Galifar is not applicable in Xen’drik, do the Sentinel Marshals find obstacles and is their jurisdiction denied by the storm lords in Stormreach?

Sentinel Marshals have no official jurisdiction in Stormreach and the Storm Lords could block them. However, consider that Sentinel Marshals are honored members of House Deneith. Blocking the actions of a Marshal is thus spitting on House Deneith… which could be seen as insulting the Twelve. Is this situation worth the danger of economic reprisals from the Houses? In short, the Storm Lords COULD block a marshal, but I’d only expect them to do it for a VERY good reason.

What Icons would you use for an Eberron 13th Age game?

Lucky for you, I addressed this in a previous post!

Eberron and 13th Age

Can you get Randy Lander to start up our game again?

Yes. If he knows what’s good for him. I’ve got your number, Randy.

Where can I find out more about Darguun? What is society like there? Tech level? Cultural idiosyncrasies?

At the moment, your best bet is to read Don Bassingthwaite’s novels, such as Legacy of Dhakaan.

Was the Undying Court ambivalent to the daelkyr invasion of the Dhakaani empire? Or busy with some other pressing business at the time?

Excellent question that deserves more than a lightning round answer, but that’s all the time I’ve got for it. Short answer: The power of the Undying Court is concentrated in Aerenal. They undoubtedly took action to defend Aerenal from the incursion. The Dhakaani had already fought the Tairnadal and driven them from Khorvaire, so there was no love between elf and goblin; even if the Court had the power to help Dhakaan, it’s not much of a surprise that they chose to focus on their own defense.

Is there any evidence to support the claim that the daelkyr were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron and that the Dhakaani empire was the one to initiate hostilities, forcing the daelkyr to respond in self defense?

None at all. You may be thinking of the theory that the Quori were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron when they were attacked by the Giants; there’s a fair amount of evidence suggesting that, and more important, neither culture survived to the present day, so there’s no way to verify it. Meanwhile, we have the Gatekeepers, Heirs of Dhakaan, and the Daelkyr themselves as multiple living threads attesting to the hostile intent and actions of the Daelkyr. With that said, it can be argued that the Daelkyr don’t consider collapsing civilizations and warping creatures into new forms to be a hostile act. You might consider this Dragonmark:

The Daelkyr and their Cults

Are there Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr?

Certainly. “Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr” is an entirely valid foundation for a Cult of the Dragon Below. Consider the link above.

What would it take for Droaam to be accepted as a nation the way Darguun has been?

Good question, and one that’s explored in my novel The Queen of Stone. You might also look at the following Dragonmark:

Droaam and the Daughters of Sora Kell

Who fathered the Daughters of Sora Kell? Do they have any favorite children of their own?

They each have different fathers, which is why they are all different types of hags. The identities of their fathers have never been revealed in any canon source. No children have ever been mentioned in a canon source, though you might find a possibility in the comic Eye of the Wolf.

How would the Daughters of Sora Kell react if the Queen of Stone was assassinated?

The main question is if they were aware of it in advance or orchestrated it themselves. Remember that Sora Teraza is the most gifted oracle of the age, so you can be sure SHE’D know; the question is if she shared the information with her sisters. Personally, my feeling is that if they allowed it to happen it’s because it helps them in some way. They could have allowed it in order to replace her with a more pliable warlord. It could be a calculated move to create a martyr to inspire their forces or to demand concession from the nation of the assassins. I’d check that Dragonmark about and consider what the motives of the Daughters are in your campaign.

I watched Game of Thrones seasons 1-3. I noticed quite a lot of parallels between it and the Eberron setting. Is Eberron more than just a little inspired by A Song Of Ice And Fire?

My original pitch for Eberron was “Lord of the Rings meets Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon.”  If I wrote that today, I’d probably substitute Song of Ice and Fire for LotR, because there are lots of similar aspects; stories don’t always end well, there’s more shades of gray than black and white morality, and hey, a terrible civil war. I can only imagine that I hadn’t really gotten into SoI&F when I was first working on Eberron. With that said, there are major differences. One of the central themes of Eberron is exploring the impact of magic on civilization, while Westeros is a low-magic society. SoI&F has three dragons; Eberron has an entire continent of them. SoI&F is more about the balance of power between kings, while Eberron is more about the balance between the aristocracy and the mercantile Dragonmarked Houses. Essentially, I think Game of Thrones is a great inspiration for a martial or political Eberron campaign, but it wasn’t a driving factor in the original development of the world.

What would a Warforged god be like? Domains? Favored weapon?

Faiths of Eberron includes two: the Becoming God and the Lord of Blades. That’s a place to start.

Is it settled that warforged have souls?

No, it’s not settled. This is a quote from an old HDWT post:

This is one of the key mysteries of the setting, and one that should never be given a canon answer. The artificers of House Cannith generally assert that (the spark of life in a warforged) is something artificial that they have created; others, such as the kalashtar, maintain that this is impossible, and that no mortal agency can create a soul. With this in mind, a number of theories are out there. One is that they are reincarnated spirits of soldiers who died during the war, thus explaining their natural talents for war. Another is that they are quori vessels waiting to be filled; it’s a back-up plan that would allow the quori to escape Dal Quor if the age turns, and the soul is a sliver of the quori. For a third, turn to the Sovereign Host theory that the spirits found in Dolurrh are just the husks of the true souls, which must strip away these worldly trappings to ascend to the realms of the Sovereigns… so the Warforged soul is essentially the recycled compost of a previous soul. Anyhow, there’s a few possibilities – I’m sure you can come up with more!

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW… I’d love to answer more questions, but I need to sleep and do some actual work. Upcoming posts will address Phoenix, my experiences playing D&D Next, and the next Dice Story – along with working on organizing old Dragonmarks.

Got more questions or thoughts on these topics? I’d love to hear them!




Dragonmarks: JorascoCare and the Mark of Snails

It’s still convention season for me. I just got back from a fantastic weekend at G.A.M.E. in Missouri, and next weekend I’ll be in Seattle for GeekGirlCon. I look forward to writing about G.A.M.E. and about Phoenix, which I tested there and will be testing at GGC. But today seemed like a good time to address one player’s concerns about the deplorable state of healthcare in Eberron, so it’s time for another Q&A! As always, everything said here is just my opinion based on my personal campaign, and it may contradict canon sources.

I have a real problem with the ability of Artificers to outright heal people. I see Artificers as the inventors and creative geniuses of the magic world, being able to see the very essence of magic and it’s wondrous patters to infuse that energy into ‘wonderful’ toys. When I say magic I mean Arcane, as Divine is just something that is beyond the knowledge of the mortal being and unable to be manipulated.

Am I missing something? How is House Jorasco the ‘House of Healing’ if any artificer can throw around healing magic. I don’t see how Jorasco is still around with the prevalence of Artificers in the setting.

You don’t say what system you’re playing now, so I’m going to start with universal principles and then move to system specifics.

First major issue: There’s no such thing as “the prevalence of artificers.” The player character classes are rare and exceptional. If you go to the average temple, you won’t find a cleric or a paladin there; the priest will most likely be an expert trained in Religion, Diplomacy, History, and similar skills – someone who offers spiritual guidance, not magic. Where you do have magical healers – whether at Jorasco or in a charitable clinic dedicated to Boldrei or the Silver Flame – they’ll be adepts, not clerics. The vast majority of spell-workers employed by House Cannith (or anyone else) are magewrights. You said it yourself: Artificers are the inventors and creative geniuses of the world. The magewright is the magical equivalent of an electrician; an artificer is someone like Nikolai Tesla or Merrix d’Cannith—an innovator who can challenge the way people think about magic. There are AT LEAST a hundred Jorasco heirs for every artificer in the world… possibly considerably more.

Next, to quickly look to the original 3.5 artificer, there are no infusions on the default list that can directly heal organics. There’s only one way for an artificer to do this: to create a spell storing item. The whole idea of this is that you are literally creating a new prototype magic item on the spot—one that’s unstable and is going to be destroyed after one use. You have to make a UMD check to have it work at all, and if it fails, it might blow up in your face. Furthermore, it requires you to spend XP, which means it’s entirely possible that an NPC can’t use it at all, since NPCs don’t necessarily HAVE XP the way PCs do. Spell Storing Object is the infusion that truly represents the idea of an artificer as a creative genius: you are creating an item that CAN’T be created by a wizard, and you’re making it out of lint and pure determination. A wizard CAN’T create a wand for that – but you just did. It’s not a casual thing. It’s dangerous—and just as dangerous the second time as the first—and it costs you to do it.

If you’re talking about the 4E artificer, I can’t help you there. I didn’t work on the 4E Eberron Player’s Guide. The artificer isn’t my design; it was chosen to be a “leader” class, and leaders heal. But what I will point out is that healing in 4E means something very different than it does elsewhere. A warlord can heal you with an INSPIRING WORD. Literally. That’s not magic, it’s him being so encouraging that you get the will to get back up and get in the fight. So think of the 4E artificer’s healing as being more like that of the warlord than that of the cleric; it’s more that he’s giving you a shot of adrenaline than divinely removing your wounds. With that in mind, don’t think of “healing” as literally wiping away serious injuries; “hit points” are a very abstract thing representing morale, determination, and the strength to keep on fighting. Which brings me to the next major point…

MOST PEOPLE DON’T GO TO JORASCO FOR CURE LIGHT WOUNDS.  Loss of hit points is, by and large, a problem suffered by adventurers. Frankly, they make no sense when it comes to the idea of the health care industry. Consider that 90% of the population are either 1st level commoners or experts, and thus have three or four hit points. A sixth level dwarf fighter might have sixty hit points. What does that even mean? Can the dwarf literally stand there and get shot with a dozen arrows and just walk it off? Or are hit points a measure of his martial skill and ability to avoid damage in the first place? The short form is that a cure spell that heals 3d8+6 hit points isn’t a service that first level expert will ever require, and it’s questionable what it even MEANS in a physical sense. Most people are going to go to Jorasco for the same reason WE go to a hospital. You’ve got the flu. There’s a weird pain in your side that won’t go away. You broke your arm. Now, Jorasco DOES have the power to make these troubles go away instantly with magic, but frankly, most people can’t afford to pay for that, and most people don’t NEED the problem to go away instantly. They don’t go to Jorasco for magic; they go there for the mundane services of the Heal skill. When you go to a Jorasco healing house, you know that the people are professional healers; and you know exactly what to expect in terms of prices, because they are standardized.

Looking back to system, when the people of 4E go to Jorasco, if they aren’t just going for mundane healing they are likely going for a healing RITUAL, like Cure Disease or Remove Affliction. As noted in this Dragonmark, I actually restrict key rituals like that to the Dragonmarked. In the case of healing, I would make an exception for certain especially holy divine healers – but in my campaign, a cleric of Dol Dorn couldn’t actually learn the Cure Disease ritual. A cleric might be well versed in the Heal skill, and be able to help you through the disease that way – but the instant cure only comes from Jorasco.

Although given your concerns about arcane healing in general, I’ll note that you’ve got problems beyond Eberron; the 3.5 Bard is an arcane caster with cure spells on his list, which is the loophole that does let the artificer make an arcane wand of cure light wounds.

Now, given that we’re talking about Dragonmarks, I’ll throw an extra question in…

Do Aberrant Dragonmarks only do big dangerous things? Or are they just the ones talked about? Would people fear a rubbish one? If an Aberrant Dragonmark allowed me to control the actions of snails, would the cultural fear of the mark exile me?

The core idea is that true dragonmarks are constructive, while aberrant dragonmarks are destructive. The true dragonmarks deal with healing, communication, creation—and they do so in predictable ways. Aberrant dragonmarks deal with fire, plague, madness and more, and beyond that do so in unpredictable ways. One person’s aberrant fire mark lets them spontaneously generate flame; another burns enemies up from within; a third sets anything the bearer touches on fire. Furthermore, aberrant dragonmarks are often difficult or dangerous to the bearer. The person with the flame mark may suffer painful burns any time they use the mark, or it may activate spontaneously in times of stress.

There are exceptions to these rules; for example, the Mark of Storm has some offensive applications. But the mark is still predictable and doesn’t harm its bearer. On the flip side, take Brom’s mark in The Son of Khyber. It’s essentially localized reincarnation; he can survive almost any injury, but the wound heals with the flesh of a random species… so he has the arm of a troll, and it’s called out that he often regrows internal organs that don’t work with the rest of his physiology, requiring the medic to cut them out until they regrow in a compatible form.

Coercion is certainly a valid form of aberrant power. So it’s POSSIBLE you could have an aberrant mark of snail control. However, the key point is that aberrant marks are entirely unpredictable and never take exactly the same form. So no one is capable of looking at your mark and saying “Oh, that’s snail control.” All they know is that it’s aberrant, and that aberrant marks CAN spread disease, control minds, cause fire, and worse, and often cause the bearer to go mad. So yes, you will be ostracized and feared by many.

Some point out that the powers of least marks are easily mimicked by, say, a low-level sorcerer, and that’s true. The point is that generally, a sorcerer has to learn how to perform sorcery; it’s the result of training and discipline. An aberrant mark is thrust on the owner; is often difficult to control; and may cause pain or madness to the bearer. Essentially, people don’t automatically assume a sorcerer is a sociopath—while they tend to jump to that conclusion with aberrants.

With regard to the matter of true dragonmarks I have a question. If true dragonmarks are constructive in nature, what does that say about the Mark of Death? In terms of its role in the Prophesy/cosmology, is the act of creating undead a creative, potentially civilizing force? Or did the Mark have other applications and House Vol was simply doing it wrong?

I’ve written about this subject at length in a previous post on The Mark of Death. Here’s two key quotes:

…the Mark of Death should be about interacting with death and the undead, but I wouldn’t make it about KILLING, because that’s an aberrant path. Things like speaking with the dead; animating the dead; controlling or even laying undead to rest; these all fit. It could be that a dragonshard focus item could be created that would harness that power in a destructive fashion – but that’s not the innate power of the mark.

In 4E, I will say that in addition to providing access to focus items and any logical rituals, I’d probably allow someone with the mark to perceive ghosts and to use speak with dead as a skill challenge as opposed to a ritual. I’d likely put a limit on length of death, but I’d personally have the Mark of Death involve interaction with the dead… not to be confused with the Mark of Healing, which prevents people from dying.

Addressing your question specifically, look at your own phrase – “the act of CREATING undead.” Right there, it’s a creative act as opposed to a destructive one. Note that the Blood of Vol frequently uses undead to perform useful domestic labor; skeletons or zombies don’t HAVE to be used for aggression. Now, the Undying Court maintains that the creation of Mabaran undead harms Eberron itself – that negatively charged undead inherently consume the ambient energy of the world. But that’s a particular religious view that’s essentially like worrying about your carbon footprint; the UC believes it’s a serious threat and the BoV asserts that it’s nonsense.

Short form, though: The Mark of Death shouldn’t be about CAUSING death; it should be about INTERACTING with death and with the dead, just as the Marks of Handling and Healing interact with the living.

In light of your response, could the Mark of Death have been used to create undying, as opposed to Mabaran undead?

It’s possible. The line of Vol had been invested in the pursuit of Mabaran necromancy for thousands of years prior to the appearance of the mark. I wouldn’t say that the mark was inherently oriented towards Irian necromancy, but it could be that the mark was essentially “neutral” and Vol only explored its Mabaran applications.

With that said, bear in mind that there are some deep and fundamental differences between the two styles, which drive the reasons the different factions pursued each style.

First, there’s a basic mystical concept: creatures need energy to survive. An undead creature isn’t a zero-sum proposition; it has to have an ongoing source of energy to sustain its undead existence.

Negative necromancy is self-contained. You create a vampire and you let him go… from that point on he is self-sufficient and doesn’t need you to survive. Negatively-charged undead get the life force they need to survive by consuming it. In some cases this is obvious – the vampire drinking blood, the ubiquitous level drain. The Undying Court maintains that it is in fact the case with ALL Mabaran undead, even when it’s not obvious. A skeleton doesn’t APPEAR to be consuming anyone’s life force; but Court scholars assert that the skeleton actually absorbs ambient life energy from its environment – a theory that seems to be born out by the blighted areas around Fort Bones. In short, the UC believes that negative undead cause environmental damage just by existing.The key point, however, is that negative undead TAKE the energy they need to survive.

By contrast, positive necromancy requires energy to be given. The deathless can’t survive on their own. Deathless can be sustained by ambient energy in an Irian manifest zone, and many of the major Aereni cities (notably Shae Mordai) were constructing in Irian zones for exactly this reason. However, their primary source of sustenance is mortal devotion. The faithful of the Undying Court channel positive energy through their adoration of their elders. No one is harmed in this process – but it’s not something that can be forced. So if all the Aereni died or simply turned away from the faith, the spirits of the Court would dwindle and fade, clinging to their manifest zones just to survive.

The whole purpose of the Elven faiths was to prevent the future loss of the greatest souls of the elves. The line of Vol asserts that the Irian approach fails because it relies on continued devotion from the living… while a lich never runs out of power. While the Undying Court maintains that this is only because the lich preys on the living – and that if the people aren’t willing to sustain the undead of their own free will, it doesn’t deserve to continue.

Short form: Even if the Mark of Death COULD be used to create positive undead, bear in mind that those undead would still require Irian energy or mortal devotion to survive long-term; that’s the nature of positive necromancy.

Dragonmarks: The Dragonmarked Houses, pt 2

As always, this material represents my own personal opinions; it’s not canon and may contradict canon sources. I still don’t have any new information about official Eberron support in D&D Next, but I hope to have news soon.

I’ve talked about the Dragonmarked Houses and Aberrant dragonmarks before. Before getting to the current questions, I want to bring up a key point from the earlier article.

The power of the houses comes from the fact that they offer services that are unavailable elsewhere, at least on the scope and scale they can provide. While some houses do work to eliminate competition, for many of their services there simply isn’t significant competition. While clerics can heal, there aren’t a lot of spell-casting priests in Eberron, and they generally have a divine calling and a purpose in the world; it’s not viable to fully replace Jorasco healing houses with clerics. Likewise, while an individual spellcaster could learn and cast sending, that’s trivial compared to the network of Sivis speaking stones that deliver thousands of message each day. Magic is a form of science, and new discoveries require innovation; and it’s always easier to create a tool that enhances an existing power than to make one that generates the same effect from nothing.

So it is a default assumption of the setting that people simply haven’t found a way to create magic items that duplicate the effects of most dragonshard focus items without the need for a mark. In 4E, I suggest restricting many rituals to the Dragonmarked to reflect this. Groups like the Arcane Congress are always working on this, and your PC might be an innovator who can make some of these effects no one has until now. But the key point is that while the houses are monopolies, this is often because no one knows how to replicate what they can do on an international scale; only a few have to actively deal with serious competition.

What would happen to Eberron if all the Dragonmarks suddenly went dormant?

It would be a serious blow to the culture of the Five Nations. Swift long distance communication relies on Orien and Sivis. Orien and Lyrandar are cornerstones of mass transit and freight. Loss of Jorasco removes basic medical services, which would likely lead to plagues. Between loss of transit and Lyrandar weather control, you’d probably end up with famines when crops fail or food can’t be delivered. Loss of Cannith brings mass production of common goods and primary creation of magical goods to a halt. Breaking the Kundarak vault system suddenly cuts many people off from their wealth, which could seriously impact some nobles. If you look at my list of restricted rituals in 4E, suddenly those rituals just don’t exist in the world.

Now, it’s not the end of magic or civilization. You’ve still got magewrights out there; check this article for examples of services magewrights provide. The lamplighters who keep the streets lit aren’t using dragonmarks to do it. Some standard magical services would remain intact. Furthermore, there ARE skilled wizards and artificers outside of the houses. Nobles would still have access to some of those old services by hiring the best independent mages money can buy. But much of the system that provides magical services to the middle class would fall apart, and people would have to implement mundane systems to take their place.

Aundair would be in a strong position because of the Arcane Congress and the general effort to bring arcane magic into everyday life. Thrane has the highest percentage of divine casters and would thus have the best ability to counter the loss of Jorasco healing. Karrnath has a decent war magic program, but would be hurt by the loss of things like communication, transportation, and weather control.

I get the impression that the houses are everywhere, and if you open a business that’s within their “domain”, you either have to join the house or get stomped on. If my character starts a mercenary Company, would they have to eventually join with house Deneith? The problem with that, is that, if my character don’t possess a dragonmark or family within that house, he’ll only be able to climb so far within it.

First: It is entirely possible to operate a business without being affiliated with a house. There’s many independent mercenary companies, many smiths who don’t work for Cannith, many inns that aren’t tied to Ghallanda. One wizard who can cast Sending doesn’t pose a threat to House Sivis; it’s only if he actually comes up with a way to offer service on the same scale that they do that he becomes a real threat.

So, one independent mercenary company of 100 people based in Sharn doesn’t pose a threat to Deneith. But an independent mercenary army of 10,000 people with branches in multiple cities DOES pose a threat to Deneith, and they would attempt to stop it or assimilate it before it reached that level.

With that said, assimilation is always the preferred path. Most houses would rather just get a share of your profits that wipe you out. As described in Dragonmarked, Guild membership comes in three flavors. Most businesses are licensed. They pay a small percentage of profits and vow to uphold guild standards, and in exchange they get to show the guild stamp. So the average inn isn’t OWNED by Ghallanda, but it’s licensed by Ghallanda; the seal of the Hosteller’s Guild is an assurance that you won’t get food poisoning, be killed in the night, etc. Bound businesses are essentially franchises, and the nature of the services they offer are dictated by the guild. So an inn licensed by Ghallanda can serve whatever food it wants, as long as the quality meets Guild standards; but a Gold Dragon Inn has to serve the same core menu as all other Gold Dragon Inns.

So back to you: You want to start a mercenary company. You could be entirely independent and do your own thing, and as long as you don’t seriously threaten Deneith’s business they’ll leave you alone. However, you might find that clients pass you up and hire licensed Deneith mercenaries instead, because the Deneith seal assures them that the soldiers meet Deneith standards of training and discipline, and because they can go to the house for compensation if the mercs fail to perform. And if you decide to be licensed by Deneith, they aren’t going to try to limit your success; they’ll even send work your way. They’ll simply expect a share of your profits.

The houses do work to maintain their monopolies, but they’d rather be making money from you than spending money crushing you. They’ll only take ruthless action if they truly see you as a mortal threat to their overall success.
How do the different houses respond to a dragonmark going from least to lesser, lesser to greater, etc? There are system reasons why it happens, but does anyone in the game world have theories? Does anyone do anything to try to encourage/suppress the progression?

Well, now we venture into the realm of house rules. MECHANICALLY, marks are clearly delineated into four sizes. We have pictures of each of those four sizes. However, I personally don’t believe that you go to sleep with a Least Mark and wake up with a Lesser. I believe that marks grow organically over time. So take three people with Least Marks and they might all be different sizes and shapes – all clearly recognizable as somewhere between Least and Lesser, but different stages of development. You know you’ve reached the next stage when you are capable of performing the magic associated with the next stage, or using a focus item that requires that level of mark.

Now, that doesn’t change the question of why people think Marks grow and what affects someone’s potential. Most people believe it’s largely genetic, and that a child whose parents have powerful marks will be more likely to develop a powerful mark of their own; this also ties to the belief that children of two houses will develop aberrant marks. However, there are any number of other theories, ranging from diet and mental exercise to planar alignment and the influence of the Prophecy.

Which houses meddle in their members’ love lives, and why?

In dealing with this, it’s vitally important to remember that houses aren’t monolithic  entities. Every house is made up of multiple families; the Shadow Schism that created House Thuranni was a civil war between the Phiarlan families. The different Cannith factions are likewise largely divided along family lines. So with this in mind, I’ll give you some reasons, but interfering with your love life is something that’s more likely to be done based on the policies of your FAMILY than your house. One Cannith family may go out of its way to arrange political alliances or bring new blood into the house; if you’re the best artificer of the age & not dragonmarked, they’d like to convince you to marry into the family. Meanwhile, a different Cannith family may strictly forbid people marrying outside the house. Now, why might they interfere?

  • Dragonmarks. You’ve got a Siberys mark. You think we’re going to let you  waste that on unmarked trash? Elaydren Vown has a greater mark, and we’ve already made arrangements.
  • Race. You may love this elf, but think of your children. If they aren’t fully human, there is no chance they will manifest a mark. Will you damn them for your own selfish desire?
  • Politics. We have an opportunity to secure a connection with the Brelish aristocracy/end the feud with the Vowns/Arcane Congress etc. We’re not letting you waste yourself on some guttersnipe ex-soldier.
  • Recruitment. Flega is the finest artificer in the Five Nations. We need to bring her into the house, and you’re going to do it.
  • Prejudice. Your father was killed in the attack on Shadukar. I’ll see you excoriated before you sleep with a Thrane.

Vadalis is highly likely to arrange marriages for marks. Tharashk is remakably liberal and sees outside marriage as a good way to increase its influence. But beyond that, it’s really about your personal family.

Dragonmarks are seen only on the peoples living on Khorvaire. Why are there none on the goblin race, who lived before humans?

Good question. And why do they appear on half-orcs but not full orcs? And why not on gnolls or shifters or changelings? Nothing about the marks is clear. Bear in mind that they didn’t all appear at once; marks appeared on the Aereni and Talenta Halflings more than five centuries before they appeared on humans, and more than TWO THOUSAND YEARS before the Mark of Finding appeared on half-orcs. Who’s to say that the goblins won’t suddenly manifest a mark no one’s seen before?

And, of course, one answer is that the marks have only appeared at certain times and on certain races because they are an experiment of, say, the Daelkyr; they are actively picking and choosing who gets what mark.

Is there any reason why Greater Aberrant marks aren’t as common any more? Is the ‘bloodline’ that much weaker or another reason?

No one knows for certain. The common belief is that the strongest bloodlines were wiped out in the War of the Mark and that strength is simply gone from the world. But aberrant marks have never been strictly tied to bloodline, so it’s a little odd. So a secondary question would be “Why are aberrant marks becoming more common now?” I’ll give you a few possible answers for that:

  • The Mourning has wounded nature and increased the number of aberrant marks.
  • It’s a sign of the increased power of an overlord.
  • It’s dictated by the Prophecy.
  • It’s the work of the Daelkyr.
  • It’s just natural; the aberrant lines were weakened in the War of the Mark, and now it’s finally regaining strength.

If another house started to form, under what kind of mark do you think would be new and novel?

I’d probably start by saying that there’s been a changeling Dragonmark for over a century, but unlike most marks they can hide it by shapeshifting, so no one KNOWS about the changeling Dragonmarked House. I’d also consider the idea of the goblins developing a mark. With that said, I like the 13-1 structure… so what I might do is to have one of these two races develop the Mark of Death. There’s only 13 marks; the elves had their time with the Mark of Death; now it’s moving to another race. Is this a sign? Will the other marks start migrating too? If it’s about how long they’ve been around, the Mark of Shadow and the halfling marks would be the next to go…

Are there any houses /marks you would redesign or replace if you could? Any reason why, or ideas to that effect?

I’ve never been happy with the mechanics for aberrant dragonmarks; I’d change those if I had the opportunity. And I’ve already redesigned the relationship between marks and rituals in 4E, as noted in the previous articles. As for the houses themselves, I’m generally happy with them. I don’t think Orien has ever had the attention it deserves, and I could see doing more with Vadalis and eugenics. In general, I’d love to look at ALL of the houses in more detail, but I’m happy with the fundamental concepts.

I wonder what it’s like for non-creepy Vadalis who just want to breed a better pig.

Which is most of them. For that matter, magebreeders are only a small segment of the house; most heirs are ranchers, teamsters, veterinarians, handlers, jockeys, and more; people who love working with animals and whose animals can do amazing things.

Which house do you think has most potential as an outright villain? Would your answer be different for adventure v. campaign?

Certainly. Again, I think Vadalis has a lot of long-term potential because magebred humans are creepy (and an extremely logical source of homegrown Inspired for the Dreaming Dark to use). Lyrandar has tremendous ambition. And hello, by canon (which you can of course ignore) Zorlan d’Cannith of Cannith East is a seeker of the Blood of Vol; you could easily make him an ally of the Emerald Claw.

What is Cannith East’s greatest strength?

In my opinion? War. Cannith South specializes in warforged and manufacturing, but I’ve always considered Cannith East to be the arms specialists. They may not have manufacturing facilities to match South, but their unique form of ingenuity is building better weapons. Aside from that, they’ve been experimenting with undead, so consider the weird things you can do with that.

If all marks of a kind are the same, what about the Draconic Prophecy? Not every Mark of Making can indicate the same destiny, can it?

Not at all. First of all, speaking GENERALLY, the prophetic significance of dragonmarks isn’t tied to the individual; it’s about patterns. Think of dragonmarked individuals as tarot cards or runes. Someone who knows the Prophecy may walk into a bar, say “OK, I see Greater Storm, Lesser Making, and three of Least Healing. Which means… it’s going to be a bad day.” That bad day may not even involve any of the marked individuals; they’re just signposts for someone who knows how to read them. Having a Dragonmrk doesn’t automatically mean that YOU are significant to the Prophecy; in means that you are now a tea leaf others can use to read it. If you ARE personally significant to the Prophecy, your mark will be one of the things that identifies you, but it won’t be the only thing.

Do you think there is tension or rivalry between houses Tharashk and Medani given how both work with inquisitives?

Certainly. However, one issue here is that Medani is a very subtle house; its services also overlap with Deneith when it comes to bodyguards. Medani is the warning guild. Its specialty is counterintelligence and predictive work. You hire a Deneith bodyguard when you want muscle at your side; you hire Medani for defense when you want them to identify and neutralize the threat before it actually manifests. The same is true of inquisitives. Tharashk inquisitives are more of your classic private eyes. They are the people the innkeeper will hire to find out who stole his valuables, or who’s dating his wife. Medani’s inquisitives deal with more complex problems and generally, wealthier clients. They’re who you call in to negotiate with a blackmailer – or to prevent blackmail when you’re vulnerable but it hasn’t happened yet. Think someone might have spies watching you, or an assassin after you? Hire Medani. Short form: Medani inquisitives handle complex cases for wealthy clients; Tharashk inquisitives solve basic problems for a broader client base.

Likewise, Tharashk’s monstrous mercenaries overlap with Deneith, but don’t really fill the same space. Most of Deneith’s best clients won’t turn to ogres and gnolls instead of Deneith’s reliable forces.

While Tharashk is stepping on toes, it’s also the best source for the single most valuable resource in the magical economy: dragonshards. As a result, while Deneith and Medani are rivals with Tharashk, they don’t really want to get into an all-out feud with the house, and many other houses are willing to support Tharashk in conflicts.

I wonder why house Phiarlan does not seek to outlaw Thuranni. After all, both houses have the same dragonmark.

Among other things, because they are family. The Shadow Schism only occurred a few decades ago. The Mark of Shadow has been around for thousands of years, and elves themselves live for centuries. There are still members of the Thuranni families in House Phiarlan and vice versa. They are now professional rivals, and the wounds of the schism run deep for some; but they are still brothers and sisters. What they have largely done is divide up Khorvaire, so for the most part they aren’t directly competing in the same territories.

Moreover, why do not the sentinel marshals or national authorities imprison and prosecute those they know are killers from Thuranni? Granted, in the shadow war there is a place for spies and assassins, but an overt assassin organization should be frowned upon by the populace, and despite their alibies, many are aware of the true business of house Thuranni.

First, it’s the same principle as the Mafia or other major organized crime organizations: you may KNOW they do bad things, but can you actually catch them doing them? And as the Captain of the local city watch, do YOU really want to make a personal enemy of a family of professional assassins? Someone who starts a crusade to bring down Thuranni assassins will immediately become a target. Beyond that, their “alibis” are more than just alibis. You say that many people should be aware of the “true business” of Thuranni. But assassination ISN’T the “true business” of Thuranni. The Shadow Network is a guild of entertainers and artists, including many of the finest performers in Khorvaire. While the Network supports the covert ops that the house engages in, this doesn’t change the fact that the day-to-day business of the house is entertainment. As a normal person on the street, you can’t simply go to a Thuranni enclave to hire a spy or assassin; you go to the enclave to purchase art, to take classes (in music, acting, or other forms of art), or to engage the services of entertainers. If you want those other services, you have to know the right channels to take, and they will reach out to YOU.

With that said, if a Thuranni assassin just walked up on the street and stabbed the Mayor of Sharn in front of witnesses, Sentinel Marshals and Dark Lanterns WOULD be dispatched to bring them in (or simply kill them). Being in Thuranni isn’t a license to break the law. Again, it’s like organized crime in our world. You can get away with it if you’re careful and play by the rules that have been established, but if you’re clumsy you will get caught and pay the price.

Now for a perennial question…
Also, what happened to Cyre, really? You must have a personal Canon, right?

As I just said at DragonCon, no… I actually don’t. To me, the Mourning is much more powerful as a mystery. Once the answer is defined, it is possible to predict if it can happen again and whether it can be harnessed. Once that information becomes public, it will completely change the balance of the cold war between the Five Nations. I like the current balance of power, so I’ve never felt a need to run a campaign in which the answer is found. Meanwhile, I can think of a dozen answers that all could be true. One appears in The Fading Dream. But it could have been a Cannith weapon, possibly tied to trying to harness the power of an Overlord; or it could have been the release of an Overlord; or it could have been the natural result of using too much war magic; or it could have been the harbinger of Xoriat coming back into alignment with Eberron for the first time in thousands of years; or it could have been the beginning of the end that the Children of Winter have been talking about; or it could have been Khyber Herself finally straining against Eberron’s bonds; or it could have been a creation of the Lord of Blades, building a new homeland for his people, and he’s just about got Mourning Mk II ready to go; or… you get the idea.

I’ve always felt like the reason presented for the Mourning in The Fading Dream was not, in fact, the reason, so much as it was the “tea leaves” that indicated an event in the Prophecy was about to occur… I have always felt like the physical cause of the Mourning was still undetermined in the Thorn continuity.

The cause of the Mourning is DEFINITELY undetermined in the Thorn continuity. The Eladrin have advanced a theory, but Thorn herself doesn’t buy it. With that said, you are exactly right: this is exactly the way Prophetic manipulation would work. There could be an aspect of the Prophecy that says something to the effect of “If the Silver Queen wounds the Unknown Prince, his land shall share his pain.” Meanwhile, the Mourning itself could be caused by a Cannith weapon malfunction. What the Prophecy does is says “If event A occurs, event B will follow.” To us, there is nothing directly relating these two things – but the Prophecy lets you control one by controlling the other.

This last question is something of a spoiler for my novel The Son of Khyber. Skip over it if that concerns you.

The Son of Khyber appears in another novel prior to his appearance in The Son of Khyber. What happened between the two appearances?

If it’s not entirely clear, the individual in The Son of Khyber ISN’T the same person you’ve encountered before; he’s another soul occupying that person’s body. He’s the spirit of an aberrant leader from the War of the Mark, an ancestor of the body he occupies. He made his way back to Khorvaire, found House Tarkanan, and essentially took over. The house was a small organization, and the Son of Khyber has significant experience as a military leader, more knowledge of aberrant marks and especially aberrant focus items than anyone in the modern age, and a mark that’s more powerful than any modern aberrant. Having stepped out of time as the aberrants were being hunted down, he was pretty driven to turn things around.

Now, the other side of this coin is what happened to the original spirit that occupied that body, and that’s a good question. I had thought about him and his Jorasco companion making an appearance in The Fading Dream, as Taer Lian Doresh is both on Dal Quor and Eberron, but it was too much to fit in. But he’s still around on Dal Quor, and you can be sure his other companions are trying to get him back.