Dragonmarks 6/14: Lightning Round 4!

Big week this week, but it may be two weeks before there’s another update; I’m getting ready to move back to Portland and there’s a lot of work to be done! As always, these are my personal thoughts and may not always mesh with canon sources. Take ’em for what they are worth.

Did you sneak any personal data into Eberron? Is “Eberron” the name of a favourite cat as a child? Is Merrix a best friend?

Bear in mind that not all the names are mine; many things changed in the big brainstorming phase when I was working with James Wyatt, Bill Slaviscek, Chris Perkins, and the rest, and many NPCs were developed in that phase. For example, I think it was Bill Slaviscek who came up with the name “Khorvaire”, so maybe someone in his family drove a Corvair. Everyone on the original design team left their marks on the world somewhere.

On my part, the only one that comes to mind is Greykeyll from Eye of the Wolf and City of Towers. In real life, Greykell is my adopted sister. The character in City of Towers essentially is her, dropped into Eberron. When I was developing ideas for the comic and decided to use a Cyran veteran, she seemed like a logical choice – and as I mentioned earlier, her background became much more interesting at that point. And hey, she’s got a great fantasy name!

The real Greykell!

Sharn and Stormreach are two cities that have seen a decent amount of source material. Are there any other cities that you would like to see fleshed out? Which ones and could you elaborate on what is interesting about those places?

I want to see EVERYTHING fleshed out. But I’ll pick out a few specific examples.

Graywall. I got started with this in this Dungeon Backdrop, but it’s one of my favorite cities and I’d love to do more. I love the frontier feel and the chance to explore monsters in a role beyond “the creatures you kill for treasure.” It’s also a great haven for dissidents, deserters, and war criminals. As I like to say, it’s Casablanca with more trolls.

Thaliost. It’s a powder keg right in the heart of the Five Nations, and a chance to take a deeper look at both Aundair and Thrane. it was something that was in the running for a 2012 Dragonshard, but Eston ended up winning the “undeveloped city” slot.

Pylas Talaear. This port city serves as the gateway to Aerenal. We haven’t taken a close look at what daily life is like in Aerenal, and what it’s like for foreigners who visit; I think it would be a great place to explore.

Atur. Ancient stronghold of the Blood of Vol in Karrnath. The crown has distanced itself from the faith, but Kaius still holds court in Nighthold. This is an interesting place to explore the full spectrum of the Blood of Vol and its relationship with Karrnath, and the conflict between the Emerald Claw and other elements of the faith.

Did you have explanation for the day of mourning when you first developed the setting?

No. I had half a dozen explanations that all made sense to me, which is essentially the approach you get with a lot of things in Eberron. To me, the cause of the Mourning was far less important than the impact it had on the world. The unsolved Mourning is what holds the Next War at bay and keeps the world in a cold war, and that interests me far more than an adventure in which people solve it. So here’s a few I considered:

* It was an environmental consequence of the amount of magic being used in the war – both war magic and increased production on the part of the houses. This is one thing driving the ceasefire; until people can be sure that using war magic won’t cause another Mourning, it’s hard to start firing the siege staffs again.

* It was a misfire of a weapon that was being developed, most likely by Cannith. The question then becomes if any of the current Cannith heirs know anything about it, or if all information was lost.

* It was a successful test of a weapon, and whoever did it is waiting to “reload” before they take credit for their actions.

* It was the result of the release of a demon Overlord or Daelkyr, who is currently sitting in the Mournland rebuilding its strength and studying the world. This could be an interesting blend with the Becoming God or Mournland Magebred.

* The Children of Winter are right: it is simply the beginning of the end. Whether or not it was triggered by magic, it is a catastrophic environmental failure that will soon start to spread across the world until the entire world is transformed; at that point, an entirely new world will be created.

* It’s the work of the Sovereigns – a warning to get people to stop and reconsider.

* It’s tied to the appearance of the Feyspires (see The Fading Dream).

… I could continue, but you get the idea. Any of these could be true. And as long as any could be true, people have to proceed as if they are all potential threats.

Some people may say “But in The Gates of Night it’s implied that Lei’s parents know what caused the Mourning! So that means you had an answer!” Well, if you read closely, they don’t say they know WHAT caused the Mourning, they say they know WHO caused the Mourning. They have a specific answer in mind, and it could apply to any of those explanations I’ve given above… and I’ll leave it at that.

If you have a ‘new favorite’ explanation of the day of mourning, and if so, what is it?

Clearly, it’s the Spellplague!

… OK, maybe not.

It’s sometimes mentioned that cultists of the Dragon Below have some kind of “promised reward” in the form of a wonderful place deep within Khyber. Have you ever fleshed out any details about what this promised land would be for them, or is this something that’s intentionally vague and/or subject to change depending on the particular cult?

A key principle of the Cults of the Dragon Below is that they aren’t monolithic in any way. The majority of cultists don’t even think of themselves as “cultists of the Dragon Below”; it’s a label that academics use to cover the diverse range of sects. Common elements are connections to or affection for aberrations; ties to Daelkyr or Overlords; and bizarre beliefs which may actually be schizophrenic in nature. I’ve talked about a sect that believes there’s a glorious kingdom below that you can only reach by paving the path with the blood of enemies. It could be that this is a literal, physical place. Khyber is supposed to include, essentially, demiplanes – there could be some bizarre wonder-world you can only get to through this cavern in the Shadow Marches. Or it could be utter lunacy. This same basic belief could appear in another cult across the nation, especially if it’s tied to the same Overlord or Daelkyr; but that doesn’t imply any communication between the two cults, and it’s possible cult two has an entirely different idea of their paradise… or that their paradise also exists but is a different demiplane.

Were there any other potential races you thought of for Eberron before settling on Changelings, Warforged, and Shifters? Also, regarding Changelings, what are your personal ways for keeping Changeling PC’s in check?

First, you left Kalashtar out of the list, and they were in from day one. Beyond that, there were no other NEW races in the original proposal. It was suggested that goblinoids should be viable characters. As for changeling PCs, it depends what they’re trying to do; I’ve played in quite a few games with changeling PCs without problems. Can you be more specific (in the comments) about exactly what problems you’re having (and what edition you’re using)? Their clothing and equipment doesn’t change, and in a society in which changelings exist people will pay attention to such things. In a city like Sharn, groups such as the Tyrants may actually police their own, as someone passing through and giving changelings a bad name will hurt them in the long term. Beyond that, though, anyone can be a changeling with a hat of disguise or first levelillusion spell – and there they can change clothes, too! Changeling abilities are useful, but they shouldn’t be foolproof – and bear in mind that this is a world where changelings, illusionists, rakshasa and more are simply known fact.

In a real society, the medieval urban elite would be bankers, traders, captains of industry. But in Eberron, industry and trade is dominated by the Dragonmarked. How do hypothetical non-Dragonmarked urban elites compete without the magical edge the Dragonmarked possess?

Not easily, which is why the Houses are typically described as having monopolistic power over their fields of industry. Thus, the simplest way for a non-dragonmarked urban elite to thrive is to run a business sanctioned by one of the houses; this is something described in the Dragonmarked sourcebook. Not every inn is a Ghallanda inn; but if it’s got the Ghallanda seal of approval, you know it’s of quality… and that it gives the house a share of its profits. To be licensed, you need to adhere to house standards (and put up with inspections) and pay your dues. But it’s possible for everyone to profit.

There are other options. You can find a niche that none of the houses cover. While we’ve never mentioned it, it’s possible Cannith has a line of clothes. But they aren’t competing with people like Davandi in the field of high fashion. You could specialize in a particular field; you can’t make smoothies as quickly as someone using a Ghallanda prestidigitation-based blender, but you have a special recipe that makes it worth the wait and higher price. This is the point of, say, The Oaks in Sharn. The food is simply better than you’ll get in the Gold Dragon Inn. But it’s due to the genius of that single chef. You could also possess a resource that the house needs and doesn’t have. The Mror lords are wealthy because they own the gold and steel mines.

I’ve talked about how the houses may bring their power to bear on someone who threatens their monopolies. The thing is, it has to really be a viable threat. Ghallanda doesn’t care if the Oaks is the best restaurant in Sharn; they still make fat dragons every day from all of their restaurants. It’s only if the Oaks’ chef tried to create a national chain and a series of low-end cheap eateries that they’d start to worry. Likewise, Cannith doesn’t need to drive every single smith out of business. However, if you buy from a smith who doesn’t have the Gorgon seal, you don’t know what sort of steel you’re getting!

Considering the masses of Warforged that have been produced , what countermeasures against Warforged have been created? How likely would it be for an influential Individual like Nolan Toranak to find/create them ?

Honestly, the masses of warforged still make up a relatively small number of the total troops fielded during the war. With that said, you don’t need something to be entirely developed to destroy warforged; anything that would be especially effective against armored infantry will work. Heat metal, some sort of corrosive cloud, a swarm of rust monsters… take your pick. And if you’re using 3.5 rules, you have a wide range of inflict damage/disable construct spells you can build into weapons. I don’t think Nolan Toranak could create them, but he could certainly buy them.

What do the leaders of Aerenal think about Xen’drik and the recent trend of expeditions looting all those giant relics? I can’t imagine them to be neutral about this, since they know better than almost anyone else what the ancient giants were capable of.

What are they going to do – blockade the Thunder Sea? There’s more humans than elves. I think the most likely approach would be for them to send their own forces – a specialized unit of the Cairdal Blades – to try to destroy the things they feel are too dangerous to be found. So when your adventurers have just found a really, really cool artifact, have some elves show up who want to destroy it.

What does the Dreaming Dark think of Aerenal? I imagine they must be pretty concerned with the power of the Undying Court, and the fact that the elves will likely know some of the stuff that happened back when the Quori invaded Xen’drik.

Maybe yes, maybe no. The Dreaming Dark seeks to impose order upon the chaotic minds of humanity because mortal dreamers affect Dal Quor. Elves don’t dream, therefore it’s quite likely that their actions have no impact on Dal Quor; and setting aside that tiff with Vol, Aerenal has shown itself to be an incredibly stable society that has barely changed in twenty thousand years. What more could the Quori want from it?Essentially, their best bet is to leave it alone and hope that nothing changes.

As for the elves remembering the Quori invasion, there’s all sorts of issues there.

* It’s not like the elves who founded Aerenal were big on pre-war history. They don’t even have concrete info about the Qabalrin; the line of Vol was just using scraps of Qabalrin lore.

* The exact details of the Quori “invasion” are still very mysterious. While it’s logical to assume that they were seeking to evade the turn of the Age as the current Quori are, it’s entirely possible that they were trying to do this in a non-aggressive manner; the existence of the docent Shira shows the possibility that they simply sought to ESCAPE Dal Quor, but had no desire to conquer the people of Eberron. Another possibility that’s come up is that the giants – who were clearly aggressive – actually sought to conquer Dal Quor, and that the actions of the Quori were in fact self-defense.

* Any way you slice it, that war involved an entirely different age of Dal Quor, and the Quori were nothing like those of the present day. So even if there are elves who kept excellent records, those records describe interactions with a very different culture and species.

How would the Dreaming Dark feel about Warforged , since they do not sleep and therefore dont dream ?

See the above, and for that matter, read The Dreaming Dark trilogy. It was written by this Keith Baker guy – you might have heard of him. It’s out of print, but still available in ebook form: City of Towers, The Shattered Land, and The Gates of Night.

“Do warforged dream of humunculi sheep?” A question that came up in game recently when one character offered to show the warforged character her dreams. The warforged said that “they don’t dream.” Other than a “Blade Runner” type adventure, how do you interpret this concept?

How do *I* interpret it? Well, you might want to check out The Dreaming Dark trilogy. I hear it’s available on Amazon. Now in time for the holidays!

Could Karrnathi skeletons theoretically act autonomously like a warforged or do they require Karrnathi military orders to act?

Karrnathi skeletons can make autonomous decisions based on pre-existing orders. So if a Bone Knight tells his undead regiment “Hold this pass at any cost” and then dies, the regiment is capable of adapting their tactics to deal with whatever new threat comes along. However, they cannot do any of the following:

* Decide that they are sick of holding the pass and want to do something else.

* Conclude that circumstances have changed and that the pass is no longer strategically important.

* Compose poetry while they are waiting.

* Improve their skills – which is to say, gain class levels.

* Have any sort of emotional attachment to anyone or anything in their unit.

Karrnathi undead aren’t like vampires or liches. They can only be made from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers, but a newly risen Karrnathi skeleton is identical to every other Karrnathi skeleton; it has none of the memories of the original soldier. The ritual isn’t some cheap form of raise dead. One way to look at it: a warforged has a soul; Karrnathi undead do not. FOr more on Karrnathi undead and possible dark secrets about them, check out the Fort Bones Eye on Eberron article.

On the Ashbound: do you see there being room in the Ashbound doctrine for members who oppose not arcane magic, but the mundane pollution of Eberron?

Allow me to answer with a quote from the Player’s Guide to Eberron: “To the Ashbound, many things violate the natural order, with arcane magic at the top of the list. The Ashbound see such magic as the epitome of the unnatural, using formulas and rituals to twist the laws of nature and create deadly effects that were never meant to exist. Cities and other physical manifestations of civilization are next on the list, along with structured agriculture and the magebreeding of animals—twisted attempts to reshape the world.”

“Pollution” is just a symptom; civilization is the disease.

How would the Ashbound regard an arcane caster who draws their magic from nature, such as the Pathfinder witch?

That depends. How does it manifest, from a practical in-world standpoint? How does someone looking at the witch recognize that her magic is arcane in the first place, and how can they tell that it comes from a “natural source”? If she is using the verbal, somatic, and material components of a wizard, then the Ashbound will treat her like a wizard. If she looks more like a druid, then most will treat her like a druid; it would take some sort of magehunter who’s actually trained to sniff out arcane magic to recognize her and decide what to do.

What is a cutting disk, what does one look like & how did it come to be a kalashtar weapon?

One is shown here in the hand of the Atavist Lanhareth. The kalashtar prefer curved things to hard angles. In my opinion it was developed as a soulknife weapon long before it was used in steel. As a result, they come in many styles; any soulknife could come up with a different take on it.

If Eberron religions were replaced with Earth religions what would their analogues be?

The Sovereign Host is a pantheistic faith dealing with anthropomorphic deities, and as such could map to any number of Earthly religions. Frankly, the others weren’t intended to mirror Earthly religions and don’t map well at all.

The Church of the Silver Flame doesn’t worship an anthropomorphic deity. It doesn’t believe that its divine power created the world; rather, it believes that this power was created to combat the evil in the world. Add to that the fact that supernatural evil unquestionably exists. The current human church (as opposed to other Flame sects like the Shulassakar) was founded when Tira Miron was empowered by the Flame to defeat Bel Shalor. This is sort of like Godzilla appearing in North America and stomping on Texas and Oklahoma before being defeated by someone who was given a special gun by aliens and invited to join the Galactic Federation of Godzilla Binders. People don’t “worship” the Flame as such; the Flame is a source of power noble people can draw on to protect the innocent from evil, and the Church is the organization that coordinates that (and as the Shulassakar show, you don’t have to be part of the church to form a connection to the Flame). It has as much in common with the Jedi and the Men In Black as it does with Christianity.

The Blood of Vol is based on the question “What just god would allow suffering and death?” – with the conclusion “None, so the gods must be our enemies.” It’s tied to the fact that the people of Eberron KNOW what the afterlife is like, and it’s not pretty. The Elven religions seek to avoid going to Dolurrh; the Silver Flame believes its people join with the Flame; and the Vassals say “Well, we go to Dolurrh, but you just don’t understand what it really is.” The Seekers say “You’re kidding yourself. Dolurrh is extinction. But we have the divine spark within us. We can become gods – and even if we can’t, we will spit in the face of death.” Again, not a very direct map to anything.

Concerning religions, while the Silver Flame is certainly no direct analogue of a real-world religion, to my mind many of its elements are similar to Catholic and Christian elements. Aside from cardinals, the idea of sacrificing oneself for getting rid of evil (Tira Miron, etc.) and the existence of exorcisms are some of them.

Certainly. Note that I said “it has as much to do with the Jedi as Christianity” – which is to say, there are elements of each. The elements you mention are good examples – and bear in mind, long before Tira Miron was born, the Flame itself was formed by the sacrifice of the Couatl; the most fundamental principle of the Flame is noble sacrifice to defeat evil. It’s simply the case that while there are important similarities, there are also some very fundamental differences – people can be blinded by one and not see the other.

Blood of Vol is cult like, individual, secret. How do you reconcile that with a massive Monastery in Atur? How old is that?

I think we have very different views of the Blood of Vol. Have you read the Eye on Eberron article on Fort Bones? One pertinent quote: “The Blood of Vol has had a presence in Karrnath for many centuries, and followers of this faith served under Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar I.” There are many Karrnathi villages where it’s always been the dominant faith for over a thousand years, and in any major Karrnathi city it should be easy to find the neighborhood of the Seekers or the local priest; Atur has long been its urban stronghold. However, it was never endorsed or supported by the royal family, and this is what Kaius did – he made it the religion of the state and gave its priests real political power. Now he’s reversed that, disbanded the orders, and condemned the Emerald Claw. In my campaign, Moranna and Kaius are also using the Seekers as scapegoats for many of Karrnath’s troubles and defeats – why, their dark magics are probably why Karrnath had such troubles with the plagues in the first place, and then they tricked us to relying on them. This is an effort to undercut the power the faith gained during the war and to strengthen Kaius’ support by saying “all our past problems can be blamed on these people, and I’m taking steps to change that.”  So life can be difficult for the faithful. But it’s still not a crime to follow the faith, and most who follow it remain loyal to Karrnath even though their fortunes have changed; the commander of Fort Bones is a seeker.

As for being individual and cult-like, there’s two paths Seekers tend to follow. You have the hermit-like followers who carry out a solitary pursuit of the Divinity Within, which is after all a personal quest. However, most Seekers believe that you CAN’T find the Divinity Within in a human lifespan, which is precisely why they believe the Sovereigns created the curse of mortality – to prevent humans from attaining their true potential and becoming the equals of the Sovereigns. These Seekers hope that their undead martyrs (martyrs in that an undead creature can never attain the Divinity Within, which is tied to the blood and spark of life) and the champions of the church will some day break the chains of death for all people, Seekers and non-Seekers alike. In the meantime, the faith places a very strong emphasis on community. The universe is against us and death is the end. Therefore, hold tight to your friends and neighbors. Present a united front. Every death diminishes us, and we must stand together in the face of this. The most common religious rite is bringing the community together and sharing blood in a basin; this emphasizes that the community is one, and must stand together. I’ll also note that a cleric of the Blood of Vol is more likely to raise the dead than one of the Sovereign Host (who believes that Dolurrh is the gateway to joining the Sovereigns) or the Silver Flame (who believes noble souls strengthen the Flame). The Seeker cleric knows that nothing better is waiting for you, and if he can get you back, he will.

Now, the Order of the Emerald Claw is secret and cult-like. But it’s an extremist sect. Some Seekers support its actions even if they won’t join it; but others despise the Emerald Claw and oppose it when they can.

Where does the Emerald Claw keep finding those gullible kids to be their minions?

Who says they’re gullible? There’s a few different things that drive them.

* The principle of the Blood of Vol is that the ancient undead champions have the wisdom to guide the living towards the Divinity Within and that if anyone can defeat the Sovereigns and free the living from the curse of mortality, it’s them. And what undead champion is mightier than the Queen of Death? The sad part is that by canon, Erandis doesn’t care about that, but hey, they don’t know that. “There is no greater champion than the Queen of Death. She will usher in the new Age of Life.”

* The Blood of Vol came to the aid of Karrnath in its hour of need. Seekers who could have stayed out of harm’s way joined the battle because their priests called on them to do so. They shared secrets of the faith with the king, created Fort Zombie and Fort Bones, helped the nation to survive. Now the King has turned on them and condemned them without reason. He ignores their good works and blames his own failings on them. “My father gave his life for this kingdom! He spilled his blood on its soil! And this king spits upon his sacrifice? i will give MY loyalty to a Queen who will never betray us.”

* Most Seekers don’t actually WANT to be undead. They want the Divinity Within; being a corpse driven by a blood-thirst that cannot be slaked pretty much sucks next to that. However, there are some who are purely driven by a desire for personal immortality and power, and Erandis plays to that. “The Queen of Death has promised that I shall be one of her next blood lords if I succeed at this mission!”

* Kaius’ actions have angered many of the non-Seeker warlords. His efforts to broker a peace are seen as weakness. Many Emerald Claw recruits aren’t seekers at all; they have simply been lured by the idea that this Queen of Death will overthrow Kaius and place their warlord of choice (who might be one of those she’s promised to make a vampire, or even Erandis herself) on the throne of Galifar. “I fight for Karrnath! This lily-white king is sucking the blood from our country – the Queen of Death shall lead us all to victory!”

I could go on, but I do have to do some work that pays bills sometime. But you get the idea.

Are you aware of any 4e conversions of the Master Inquisitive?

Not personally. I’d make it a theme. Have a base ability that helps with investigation and utilities tied to Perception, Insight, and Steetwise (look to the skill powers for inspiration). Not sure about what I’d do with the combat powers, you could tie it to the way they handle Sherlock Holmes in the Downey movies – using Insight to anticipate an opponent’s moves and make a more effective attack.

Do representitives from Adar / Kalashtar not speak to the nations of Khorvaire?  Do they not say ‘Hey guys Riedra is ruled by extra planar denizeniens bent on world (means everyone) domination, we should do something!’   Does no one care?

This is covered in more detail in sources like ​Races of Eberron. To a certain degree, the kalashtar suffer from a level of cultural arrogance; “This is our battle to fight.” There’s also the fact that most of the kalashtar of Adar don’t approve of active warfare in the first place; they believe that it is through their continued passive resistance that they will force the turn of the age, and THIS is what will win the war. if you want to do something to help, stop fighting your wars and letting the quori turn you against one another, because THAT is how they conquered Sarlona. However, there are kalashtar in Khorvaire who want to do more. Some of these might try to raise awareness. But here’s the problems with that:

  • Riedra is a global superpower. It is a valuable ally and trade partner, and many nations received Riedran aid during and since the Last War. In short, nations have good reason to want to keep Riedra as an ally.
  • Riedra has taken no offensive action against any nation in Khorvaire.
  • Riedra asserts that the Adarans are religious fanatics and terrorists, much like the Order of the Emerald Claw – something the common folk of Khorvaire can identify with.
  • The leaders of Riedra are demons trying to enslave us all!” If this is true, why hasn’t Riedra tried to enslave anyone? Even the history of Riedra is one of the common people embracing the Inspired as their saviors, not one of conquest. Beyond this, bear in mind that the leaders of Riedra don’t deny that they are possessed; they simply assert that the spirits that possess them are benevolent ancestors. It’s not particularly different from the Tairnadal or the Undying Court.
  • No-one is especially concerned about having Adar as an ally.
  • The Dreaming Dark is careful to keep its operations entirely separate from Riedran ambassadors, and the Dreaming Dark has no recognized authority in Riedra; if the action can be traced to Riedra at all, it would be something the Inspired could dismiss as criminal.
  • There are mind seeds and quori agents scattered across Khorvaire, some in positions of power. Essentially, the Kalashtar who goes to the Duke and announces his suspicions about a local Dreaming Dark plot may simply be exposing himself to the agents of the Dark.

So: Riedra has in the past shown itself to be a valuable ally to Khorvaire. Adar can’t prove any claims it might make, and drawing itself into the spotlight actually makes it easier for the Dreaming Dark to use propaganda against it. The kalashtar believe that it’s their task to oppose the Inspired. Some feel that they do this simply by surviving and continuing their devotion to the Path of Light. Others seek to identify, expose, and destroy individual operations of the Dreaming Dark (which, remember, more often then not have no obvious connection to Riedra). Experience has shown that it’s more effective to gather a small skilled force – say, a party of adventurers – and handle things directly.

Kalishstar resemeble humans so much, how evident would it be for someone to identify a character as Kalishtar instead of human …

Following 3.5 rules, a kalashtar receives no penalty if it attempts to disguise itself as human. So if they TRY to appear human, it’s not very hard for them to do. If the kalashtar makes no effort to conceal its identity, its mannerisms, appearance (unnatural symmetry, etc), and potentially clothing will make it stand out as unusual, even if the observer isn’t familiar enough with kalashtar to recognize it for what it is.

You mentioned the Duke being controlled by a “mind seed.”

A mind seed is a psychic infection that rewrites the personality of the victim to that of a quori. So the mind seed isn’t controlling the Duke as such; he’s become a willing servant of the Dark.

Aren’t all Kalashtar seen as enemies of the Dreaming Dark? Therefore he wouldn’t even have to talk to the infected Duke, merely be seen by him … or would that Duke necessarily immediately know if someone was Kalishtar or Human by sight?

To address the second part first, if the kalashtar disguises his appearance – wearing a hooded robe, taking some effort to adjust his body language – he can easily pass as human. Beyond that, does the duke actually see every traveler who passes through his domain? However, if he walks up to the duke and says “I am a lightbringer of Adar, and I tell you that there is evil in this place!” – well, the cat-of-light’s out of the bag at that point.

As to the first question: is every kalashtar seen as an enemy? Every kalashtar is connected to a rebel quori, and as such the Dark would be happy to destroy every kalashtar of a line in order to reclaim that spirit. However, on a daily level, not every kalashtar is actively engaged in conflict with the Dreaming Dark, and of those who are the vast majority do so simply by performing the rituals of the Path of Light, which are ever-so-slowly keeping the wheel of the age turning. The net result of this is that yes, the Dark is always a potential threat to a kalashtar, which is why they generally live in Adaran communities and draw little attention to themselves. But in practice, the death of any single random kalashtar is a very very low priority to the Dreaming Dark. So let’s go back to that infected duke. He’s a very valuable tool for the Dreaming Dark and likely engaged in long-term political schemes. He sees some random kalashtar on the street. Risking exposure and the upset of all his plans just to kill some random, possibly harmless kalashtar isn’t remotely worthwhile. On the other hand, if that kalashtar is either drawing attention to himself or directly threatening the operations of the Dark – suddenly it may be worthwhile to risk exposure in order to eliminate him. Of course, they’d try to eliminate him in a way that DIDN’T risk exposure – frame the kalashtar for a crime, for example, so the duke can execute him legally. But if the kalashtar stays in the shadows, keeping a low profile and concealing his true nature from those he doesn’t know, he’s far safer than if he walks around saying “LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE DREAMING DARK!” – which is why they don’t do it.

Another way to look at the lightbringers’ approach to the Dreaming Dark is very much Tommy Lee Jones’ statement to Wil Smith in the original Men in Black. Why don’t they tell the world about all the aliens? Because ignorance is what lets these people live their normal, happy lives. If you tell them that there are evil monsters in their dreams they are never going to sleep soundly again, and yet that won’t help one bit in making those dreams safer. The Lightbringers are aware the threat. They will identify it and deal with it. If you’re a capable adventurer, perhaps you can help. But revealing it to the world will only cause panic for no purpose. There’s a certain arrogance to this – they frankly think they can handle this better than you can, paladin of the Silver Flame – but there it is.

Look for more about the Dreaming Dark in an upcoming Eye on Eberron article!

As always, I’d love to hear what you’ve done in your campaign or your thoughts on any of these things. The next Q&A is going to concern the nobility of the Five Nations – feel free to ask questions here!

Bonus Dragonmark: Zilargo vs House Cannith!

This began as a question on the Dragonmarked post, and was expanded in questions from the WotC forums. While it deals with a dragonmarked house, it’s also about Zilargo and its goals and reach, and given the scope of it I decided to move it to its own post. Even more than usual, this is MY Eberron. It’s not that you missed all of this in the books; this is my take on these things and how they make sense to me. So, with that said…

I have always been curious as to why the Zils bind the elementals and not Cannith? It seems from nearly every Eberron source that Cannith has the top Artificers and Wizards, from above it sounds like you believe that the Mark of Making sound give them a HUGE advantage in this area. Plus it doesn’t seem to be magic that would be all that complex for Cannith to pull off, Cannith did create a new sentient race, creation forges, and genesis forges for goodness sake!

I’ve underlined the key point here. It’s related to the last question in this post – the fact that in Eberron, magic is treated like science. One of the key points here is that different forms of magic are as diverse as different fields of science. You can be the best metallurgist in the world; that doesn’t somehow make you an amazing biologist. The priests of the Blood of Vol are experts at necromancy. No one’s come close to matching Mordain’s understanding of transmutation. And the Zil are Khorvaire’s foremost experts on alchemy. And strange as it sounds, elemental binding is a highly magical form of alchemy; it’s based on understanding the elemental nature of things and the ways in which the elements interact. Cannith excels at creation. They are the house of Making. The Genesis forge is a tool that allows production of finished goods from raw materials. The creation forge assembles warforged. Cannith plays a role in the creation of the focus items used by most other houses – but they can’t create those items alone; they need the unique magicks of the other houses.

Don’t get me wrong: Cannith has alchemists. In 4E, it’s a possible benefit of the Mark of Making, and it’s something we’ve mentioned as a focus of Cannith West. I’m just saying that in my mind, it’s a Zil specialty – something they developed before the first Cannith tinker developed his mark, and the secret weapon they’ve always had. It ties into everything from their exceptional love of poison to the weapons they sold to Breland during the war. The Zil can’t pull together an army to match any of the Five Nations, but they’ve got many a basement vault full of wildfire! Quoting the ECG entry on Zilargo: “Though the gnomes committed few troops to the war effort, their alchemical and elemental weapons were devastatingly effective, and Zil spies were said to provide substantial intelligence to Breland.”

I read somewhere that the Zils brought back the technique from Xen’drik and reverse engineered it, which is silly to me since if a bunch gnomes can reverse engineer a thousnd year old relic, the Cannith should have no problem reverse engineering the actual working device they see everyday.

The first part is a misunderstanding. The Zil didn’t simply find a Sulatar firesled and say “Oh! Why don’t we do that?” Zil binding isn’t a copy of Xen’drik techniques. Rather, the discovery in Xen’drik was like Newton’s apple – the inspiration that helped a genius make a mystical breakthrough, which built on the pre-existing alchemical traditions of the Zil. You’ll note the Sulatar don’t have airships, and they’ve had their form of binding for thousands of years; they are stuck at a more limited level of development.

As for the second part: Why doesn’t Cannith just reverse engineer the object in front of them? Because it’s more complex than just taking apart the gears of a watch. Cannith can look at an airship and say “OK, that’s clearly a class three ward; that’s a omega level elemental. We can create the ward, we can summon an elemental… but how in Onatar’s name are they getting the damn thing to interact with the ship?” Think of it as building a nuclear reactor. If you don’t understand the science behind it, you’re going to have some trouble just understanding what the components are for. And even if you do figure out the science, you still need fissionable material – which brings us back to the fact that the Zil are the best alchemists in Khorvaire. There is a secret to Zil binding that Cannith can’t crack; essentially, it’s the Philosopher’s Stone – a substance that can only be created using Zil alchemy. Then you get to the fact that the Zil do have one of the most efficient network of assassins in Khorvaire and they are very willing to kill to keep their nation’s monopoly on elemental binding.

So short form: You can be absolutely sure that Cannith has tried to crack the elemental binding code, and that more than one Cannith research team has met with an unfortunate end in the process thanks to the Trust (those substances are very volatile – it’s too bad the workshop blew up!). For now, it’s easier for Cannith to continue to do the things they do best and that the Zil cannot match than to fight to master every field of science.

Now moving on the the WotC forum expansion of this discussion…

If a Cannith heir cracked the method of binding elementals, what would the fallout of that be?  Would it spark a Hatfield-McCoy type feud?  What side (if any) would any nations or other Dragonmarked Houses take?

This was clarified…

I meant a scenario where Cannith figures out how to bind elementals, so the house as a group knows.  Thinking about it I would think the gnomes would be powerless to do anything about it.  Not that they couldn’t try an assassination or two, or even succeed.  But politically NO ONE else can afford to alienate themselves with House Cannith, nations need them in case the current cold war ever goes hot, and the dragonmarked houses need them for items to keep their competitive advantage.  On the other hand no one really needs Zilargo.

Before I answer the question of what Zilargo could do if Cannith fully mastered elemental binding, I want to look at what it would take to get to that point. Let’s talk about that “Philosopher’s Stone” I mentioned above. Essentially, there’s two vital things you need to do to make elemental binding work. You need to understand the techniques of binding the elemental – but you also need the right substance to bind that elemental to, and that is a substance that simply doesn’t exist in nature: A Khyber dragonshard altered through alchemical techniques. And bear in mind that one of the things Zilargo is noted for is its mines. So, posit this:

  • While Zilargo is publicly known for its jewel mines, its deep mines are one of the richest existing sources of Khyber shards in Khorvaire.
  • The Zil have developed the technique for transforming Khyber shards into suitable vessels for elemental binding.
  • They have built up a considerable stockpile of these altered shards.

So Cannith doesn’t just have to learn how to bind the elementals to the altered shards and integrate those shards into the control systems of an enchanted object; it has to learn how to manufacture the shards themselves and build up a sufficient supply to use in its initial tests and eventual production runs (or, of course, acquire them from Zilargo). Can it do this? Certainly, given enough time. As noted, Cannith artificers are exceptionally talented. Once they know what they need, they can hire House Tharashk to search for new sources of suitable Khyber shards. But this is not something that could possibly happen over night. They have to learn enough of the one technique simply to know they need the unknown shards; they have to learn what the base shards are, and figure out how to synthesize the philosopher’s stone; they have to develop a mine that produces the base shards. And because magic operates like science, this is going to require trial and error. It’s going to require tests, and facilities constructed for testing.

In short, it really is very much like a new nation deciding to develop a nuclear weapons program in our world. It’s absolutely possible, if you have scientists who understand the concepts, if you can build the facilities required, and if you can acquire sufficient fissionable material… but even once you’ve done these it will take time for you to put it all together. And in the meantime, the Zil will likely use the same techniques modern nations use to deal with new nations developing nuclear weapons.

Diplomacy. Remember the Zil maxim: five words can stop a thousand swords. They’ve got sticks and carrots. Until it has its own program, Cannith does rely on Zilargo for their elemental tools. The Zil can threaten an embargo, or offer better terms if Cannith will stand down. Then there is the other currency of the Zil: Information. You can bet that the Zil have been gathering dirt on all the leaders of the Dragonmarked houses. They don’t need to assassinate a Cannith leader if they can ruin him by exposing his secrets (say, an illegal creation forge being maintained under a certain major city)… or alternately, they can offer to ruin one of his rivals, which given Cannith’s political situation could be quite valuable. Carrot and stick. Beyond this, there’s the issue of what nation would choose to take the side of the Zil over Cannith. Well, none would voluntarily. But again, what sort of stick can the Trust bring to bear? Say they tell Kaius III “We know your secret, and we’ve liberated a certain prisoner from Dreadhold. Tell Cannith you don’t support their elemental research and that you won’t purchase elemental goods from them, or we’re going to make the political situation in Karrnath very interesting.” Last but not least, don’t forget that Zilargo produces the most trusted chronicles. Does Cannith really want the Korranberg Chronicle delving too deeply into its questionable business practices?
Sabotage. ​No one understands binding and the techniques involved as well as the Zil. So, no one is as well qualified as they are to sabotage a developing program while leaving few traces. I’ll point to the computer virus used to interfere with the centrifuges in the Iranian nuclear program; that’s the sort of subtlety you’d get from the Zil.
Assassination. ​Personally, I think they’d try diplomacy before assassination, because they’d rather have Cannith as an ally than an enemy. But if it’s a matter of eliminating a program in early development, and if it can be pinned on someone else (Aundair, the Lord of Blades, Dragons, Lords of Dust, whatever) they are certainly very very good at it. I’ll point to Madra Sil Sarin in Sharn: City of Towers – one of the highest level characters in the city, an assassin who always wears rings of sustenance and invisibility, receiving her orders via a telepathic bond with her superiors; she’s a deadly ghost.

This brings us to a vital question: ​Just how close IS House Sivis to the Trust? ​The recent Trust Eye on Eberron suggests the following possible adventure hook: The adventurers discover evidence that the current Proctor is a Sivis lord and that House Sivis has secretly controlled the Trust for centuries. Personally, that’s what I play with. Which helps address the question of Zilargo’s influence and just how effective the Trust is at gathering information: they’re tapping the phone lines. This has a few impacts. Set aside Zilargo negotiating with House Cannith: what you’d get is Sivis negotiating with them. And Sivis can threaten an embargo of its own; loss of long-distance communication is a serious blow. Neither house would want to lose the services of the other, but this leads us to the question: just how important is it to Cannith to have this secret? As it stands, they can get elemental binding services from the Zil. If they are talking about starting a shadow war with one of Khorvaire’s deadliest leagues of assassins and potentially alienating Sivis and breaking the Twelve… is it worth it? Even if in the end they’d win – is it worth the cost of the struggle?

Let’s assume it is, and lets assume they DO make it through all these hurdles, figure out the techniques, and start producing their own bound elemental goods. What can Zilargo do at that point? They certainly can’t engage in open war. As you say, no one is going to completely sever ties with Cannith to maintain relations with Zilargo. But again, what the Zil have always excelled at is subterfuge and intrigue. Go back up to the point on Diplomacy and consider what I said about Kaius. They don’t have to threaten Cannith if they can threaten all of its customers. They don’t have to demand that people break ties with Cannith completely as long as they insist people don’t purchase their elemental goods. The short form is that Zilargo’s power is subtle and rarely brought to bear, but if they are pushed to the edge they could do some very destructive things. Could they win a “war” against Cannith? Perhaps not. But is it worth it for Cannith to start that conflict? I don’t think so. Now that we’ve examined the issue in more detail, I think the most likely scenario is that a brilliant PC artificer might crack the first piece of it, and go to the Patriarch with this exciting news… only to have the Patriarch shake his head and say “Forget it. Drop it. We started down this path a century ago and it was a terrible mistake – we’re not going there again.”

Again, that’s just MY take.

On the other hand no one really needs Zilargo.

Well, no one needs Zilargo once Cannith has mastered all their techniques. Until then, they do. Beyond that, remember the other things that Zilargo provides. As noted above, they are the foremost alchemists of Khorvaire. Airships aside, they produce a range of elemental weaponry. They are a source of precious stones, both raw and fashioned. They are a source of information, both secret and through the medium of the chronicles. If Sivis stands with Zilargo, its services are a vital part of modern life. And most of all, it’s all about the damage Zilargo can do if you piss it off. Again, you don’t see the power of the blackmailer until he has reason to blackmail you. Zilargo prefers to keep its power hidden until its needed… but the power is still there.

How could Sivis negotiate with Cannith on this matter? I’m fine with the idea that Sivis runs the Trust, which is really cool, but Sivis relies greatly on the trust of others and their own position of neutrality. If Sivis let it slip that they were connected to the Trust, or far worse, actively feeding information to the Trust, then their business would be devastated. No one is going to use your service if you’re feeding everything they say to an intelligence network.

Really? Let’s look to our world. In the US, the fact of the matter is that the NSA can monitor any phone call. They can do searches for particular words. Meanwhile, Google is dissecting my searches and mails to figure out things I like. And yet… I’m still using my phone. I’m still on Google. In part, because I have nothing to hide. In part, because even if they can, that doesn’t mean they are. And in part, because what else am I going to do? Could I just stop using the phone and the internet? All of this applies to the idea of Sivis and the Trust. How many communications actually DO matter to Sivis or the Trust? Zilargo is a neutral country, and really, the secret of elemental binding is pretty much the only thing they have to protect – which is precisely why it’s a hornet’s nest Cannith shouldn’t kick. Is the tenth lord of Somethingsville having an affair? They don’t really care. Hence the point that if provoked, they potentially have access to vast power… but the odds of them ever using it are very, very low.

And bear in mind, Sivis would never say “Oh, we’re allied with the Trust.” They say something like this. “Merrix, our friends in the Triumvirate have asked us to talk to you about the elemental binding program you’ve got going under Wroat. As you know, elemental binding is a crucial industry for our people, and while we may be mere merchants, we feel a sense of loyalty to our nation and are deeply disappointed you’d seek to undermine them in this way after working together for so long. While we’d never condone such things, we’re concerned as to what consequences this could have for you – we don’t have to tell you how ruthless the Trust can be in protecting our national interests. Perhaps we can work as mediators to solve this problem. If you abandon this effort, we think we can get the Binder’s Guild to lower their rates by 5% for the next 20 years. If not… well, I’m afraid we really can’t support this effort to steal our nation’s one great gift. We’d hate to have to sever our bonds to Cannith South… especially since Jorlanna’s been so reasonable recently.” Note that they’ve said the Triumvirate came to them with the information; not that they passed it along. Spies have all sorts of ways to get information in the world. Heck, perhaps they hired Thuranni.

Another problem is how exactly Sivis is supposed to reveal that they know about Cannith’s experiments, and how they know. You can just threaten to reveal the creation forge in Sharn, but now Cannith knows that Sivis can’t be trusted. They levy their own embargoes against Sivis…

Again, Sivis doesn’t say “The Trust knows because we told them”; they say “We know because the Trust told us.” So first of all, that’s not how the conversation goes. Second… Cannith DOES know that Sivis can’t be trusted. The houses are ALWAYS engaged in this kind of delicate balance. And you are absolutely right about the consequences… that’s what I meant when I said “do they want to break the Twelve” above. If Cannith and Sivis go to outright war, the other houses will have to take sides, and they won’t all choose Cannith. Kundarak is closely tied to Sivis. Tharashk doesn’t rely on Cannith’s services as much as the other houses, and it’s got the biggest aspirations to power; the opportunity to weaken Cannith would be extremely appealing… which in turn means that Deneith would side with Cannith, as they hate Tharashk. Likewise, you’d probably see Lyrandar and Orien on different sides – one trusting Cannith, the other hoping that the gnomes will provide an elemental vessel that doesn’t require Cannith in the equation and generally willing to spit on their own personal rival. This would be terrible for EVERYONE. Which is exactly why I don’t think it’s worth it for Cannith to pursue it, especially at this point in their history. There’s more or less nothing else that would provoke the Zil to this extreme. It’s a service Cannith has access to at a reasonable cost – and again, a simple answer is to use an agreement not to pursue research as a way to drive down the cost of that service. Why kick that hornet’s nest when there’s so many other fields of magic to research?

Beyond that, in the situation described above, I think Cannith would simply fall apart. Assume it’s Jorlanna doing the research; Cannith West has always been the stronghold of Cannith alchemy. Why on Eberron should Merrix back her in this insane civil war when he could just step in and say “I condemn my greedy cousin’s behavior. I am glad to work with the binders of Zilargo in a fair manner, and ask this council of the Twelve to join me in sanctioning Jorlanna and recognizing me as the one true representative of my house.” Soon you have another Shadow Schism, only with House Jorlanna as one no one wants to do business with. And when it comes to spreading rumors, remember that Zilargo and Sivis essentially maintain the press and the phones. The other major player in that game is Ghallanda. But spreading rumors isn’t a Cannith specialty…

All their blackmail and secret hoarding seems like a double-edged sword, because once they reveal ‘what’ they know, they’ve revealed ‘that’ they know, and screwed their own neutrality.

Sivis wouldn’t engage in blackmail. They’d only engage in mediation, and even then only with their business partners, House Cannith. Any action beyond that would be performed by agents of the Trust or Zil diplomats, depending who they are talking to and the nature of the discussion.Which would hardly come as a surprise, any more than the Citadel acting on behalf of Breland. So it’s likely a representative of Zilargo who comes to Kaius and makes that statement. It’s a matter of national security, and Kaius has already shown that he is just as ruthless in his policies; frankly, of all the leaders, he’s the one most likely to appreciate the move.But you’re right; once you make the move, they know that you know and can start coming up with contingencies. So you don’t do it unless you have to. The question is whether Cannith would be foolish enough to push them that far.

There’s only so far you can push someone with blackmail, at a certain point the fact that they have more guns than you is going to come into play.

That depends on your threat. Consider the threat I’ve suggested about Kaius. If they could back that up, how do any of his guns help him? If they can truly unleash that, suddenly half those guns – or more – will be pointed at Kaius. Karrnath is already a highly unstable region; many of Karrnath’s warlords don’t like their king’s policies and would love an excuse for change. You are correct that there’s only so far you can push… so don’t push that far. Note that I never said they’d tell him not to trade with Cannith; I said they’d tell him not to support or purchase any Cannith elemental goods. If Cannith can’t sell those goods, why make them?

I would think that deep down the Zils knew that Cannith would unlock all their secrets someday. After over 2,000 years Cannith are hardly upstarts, and as you said they are pretty sharp. Plus being dragonmarked seems to mean you are chosen by the gods, the multiverse, or random dumb luck to be the apex of something… In accordance with the power of their mark, a dragonshard focus item for crafting alchemical items could likely be developed, further putting the Zils behind. In the end the gnomes remind me of a mom and pap store on main street trying to stay in business selling the same goods against Wal-Mart. They might have a few connections, bring up some zoning issues, appeal to the masses, but in the end are just delaying the inevitable.

As I said in my mind the question isn’t whether Cannith can do it – it’s whether it’s worth the trouble of doing it. Someday it might be. With everything going on – and the house at its weakest moment politically in pretty much its entire history – it doesn’t seem like the best time to be trying to steal the livelihood of a powerful partner.

To be clear: Cannith has the potential to not only learn the secrets of the Zil but to improve upon them. There’s no question in my mind that they could create a dragonshard focus item for converting shards, for example… and that once created, it would be far more efficient than the Zil technique the Zil are using. That’s what gives the houses their power: the dragonmarks simply let them do things others can’t match with mundane techniques. But it’s still a science. You can’t create an entirely new dragonshard focus item overnight; it can take years or even decades to develop a new tool, especially one dealing with an unfamiliar and advanced form of magic. They could do it, but it would be something that would require a research center, a supply of shards, a handful of highly capable artificers, and time. And if you couldn’t keep it hidden from the Trust (and possibly Sivis) throughout that time, you’d have to be able to defend it. The Trust doesn’t have to go to war with the house if they can simply sabotage every effort to create that focus item. And as long as they can, that research effort becomes a costly process. And who’s funding it? Remember, Cannith is on the verge of a three-way schism. You’re Merrix. You’re engaged in a bitter political struggle with Zorlan and Jorlanna. You’re sitting on a big secret that you don’t really want exposed. Is this the best time to devote your resources to a project that a) is likely to be sabotaged; b) duplicates services you CAN buy right now; and c) is likely to cause a very powerful intelligence agency to work to ruin you and aid your two rivals?

Long term? Sure. They CAN do it. But I don’t see it happening until Cannith is reunited and the benefits outweigh the many risks. And as for being dragonmarked meaning you’re chosen by the gods, well, tell it to Erandis Vol. Being destined to be the best at something doesn’t mean things will always work out the way you want them to…

Dragonmarks 5/3: Aberrant Dragonmarks

This began as a side discussion on the Dragonmarked house post, but it’s expanded far enough that I’m moving it to a separate post. Feel free to add questions or comments about aberrant dragonmarks here!

I was always perplexed about the detail of the War of the Mark. First, there is an apparent lack of public opposition to the persecution of aberrants. Hundreds or even thousands of them must have been killed across the continent for no other reason than manifesting the wrong version of the dragonmarks. Of course, the Houses’ propaganda painted them as evil, but there is just that much propaganda can do. Most of those people had families and friends who knew otherwise. I doubt that aberrants have any bigger tendency to become criminals due to destructive powers of their marks than, say, sorcerers, who learn how to cast burning hands and magic missiles.

If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.

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

Before I continue, have you read any of the following?

* The RPGA adventure The Delirium Stone, in which players actually experience a flashback to the War of the Mark.

* The Children of Khyber Dragonshard article.

* The novels The Son of Khyber or The City of Towers, in which we interact with modern aberrants and get to see some of them. They’re not all bad people. But many of them are strange or disturbing. Little “Junior Lady Of The Plague” Zae who only talks to rats. Brom with his troll’s arm. Crippled Filleon with his deadly touch.

Here’s a quote from the Dragonshard article, describing what it’s like to have a powerful aberrant mark:

You can feel your power festering within you. It’s different for every child of Khyber. One feels a chill no warmth can push away, while another complains of fire burning beneath his skin. An heir with the power of confusion feels the force of madness in his mind, trying to claw its way out and feast on the thoughts of others. Your mark may bring you pain. It may whisper to you as you try to sleep. But it is a part of you.

You say “Why would an aberrant be any more likely to be a criminal than a sorcerer?” The answer is that a sorcerer chooses his path. Sorcery may be a natural talent as opposed to wizardry, but the sorcerer applies himself to its study and chooses the path he wants to follow. The aberrant doesn’t. His power chooses him, and often in a very unpleasant way. If the aberrant has burning hands, odds are good it manifested for the first time when he was angry at someone. Was that in a lover’s quarrel? When he was arguing with a parent? A friend? What death is on his conscience? And whenever he gets angry, can he hold the flames in? Likewise, for a sorcerer the power isn’t a burden; it’s a tool he learns to use. For an aberrant it’s something he must master and control, lest it drive him mad or harm those around him.

Powerful aberrant marks are dangerous to the bearer. They often cause disfigurements or madness. Yes, with training these dangers can be controlled or limited, and that’s something Tarkanan was trying to do. But to your question of “Why didn’t people care? Why did people believe the propaganda?”… look at the Salem witch trials and imagine that these things were unquestionably real. That someone has a livid red mark on their skin and that they burned their mother to death – and that you’ve HEARD the stories about how these people are touched by Khyber, how they are all monsters. Are you going to say “Oh, he didn’t mean it, he just needs to learn to control it. So he killed my wife – mistakes happen.” Or are you going to sending a messenger out to find the nearest Deneith extermination squad? And again, in terms of just how dangerous these marks could be, I’ll note that Halas Tarkanan destroyed a city when he unleashed his mark – and that the curse of the Lady of the Plague still lingers over a thousand years after. Far from trying to STOP the Dragonmarked from persecuting the aberrants, most local authorities were glad they were there.

The aberrant marks seen today – the “least” aberrant marks, if you will – don’t carry the same restrictions or power. You can have an aberrant mark without being a madman or a cripple. And you’re not going to use that mark to destroy a city. But the stories haven’t been forgotten, and the houses simply keep them alive. And now the more powerful marks are starting to return… so what happens next?

So you are basically saying that abberant dragonmarks do tend to make people outcasts and criminals…

Aberrant dragonmarks certainly make people outcasts. They don’t necessarily make them criminals; being outcasts may, however. The point is that there’s a significant difference between having an aberrant mark that produces burning hands and being a sorcerer who can do it. For the aberrant, it begins as a dangerous burden. Some are driven mad. Some inadvertently take actions that lead to their deaths (unleashing burning hands in a public place and getting lynched as a result). Those that survive learn to control their powers – but it’s not an easy or comfortable thing.

But the logical conclusion would be that the society had been trying to deal with this threat long before War of the Mark. If I knew a kid who caused a whole village to die from disease and another kid who torched his mom in anger and they both had those scary red marks on their skin, I would probably vote for a kill-on-sight policy for anyone with a similar mark. I would have had a lynching mob go after such people. And if it were too dangerous, I would call on my liegelord to send a squad of archers and shoot the baddie from a safe distance.

Society would only have to deal with this threat “long before the War of the Mark” if aberrant marks existed in significant numbers long before the War of the Mark… and they didn’t. Mixed marks appeared in small numbers when houses mingled; this is how the houses discovered these existed and how “the threat” became known. At the time the houses set their policy, it was largely the way we have incest laws: mingling the blood of two houses has unsavory results, don’t do it. Then the marks began spreading – yet not tied to lineage or any predictable pattern. The first of these were the equivalent of least marks. Stories begin to spread… but bear in mind that there were no airships, lightning rails, or speaking stones at this time, so word certainly didn’t spread as fast as it once did. A boy burned his mother, and he had a mark like those of the Twelve, but traced in blood. More powerful marks begin to appear, but still nothing on the level of Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. People say it’s Khyber stirring in the depths. There are more stories of marks driving their bearers mad, and the deaths that have resulted are sensationalized. Ghallanda spreads the word through the inns. Orien passes it along the trade roads, and Lyranar the seas. Phiarlan sings songs of the unsavory aberrants… and it’s now that the Lady of the Plague appears, and her tale is one that terrifies the public. Families that have been hiding their aberrant kid begin to question their actions. And the marks keep appearing in greater numbers, and becoming increasingly dangerous. Now Deneith-backed squads show up promising to protect people from these unclean children of Khyber – and now is the time that people start calling on them for help, or organizing lynch mobs of their own. But…

… remember that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t predictable. They can appear on anyone at any time. It’s not just “a kid” who has the mark. It could be a soldier. A Duke. A powerful priest. Anyone could get an aberrant mark, and as society turned on the aberrants in fear, those who developed aberrant marks knew exactly what fate awaited them. The boy who burned a parent wouldn’t turn himself in; he would run. The duke would try to conceal his mark, fortify his stronghold and hide from the world. This degree of versatility meant that aberrant forces could have unexpected skills and resources. And then you have Halas Tarkanan. He was a Karrnathi officer before he developed his mark, a brilliant soldier who learned the arts of war at Rekkenmark and the ways of House Deneith from his mother. His forces weren’t solely aberrants; many of his unmarked soldiers stood by him, and he won others to his cause… as well as taking in goblins and other oppressed forces.

My point is – there wouldn’t be enough abberrants hiding out there to form a force capable to wage a regular war under Tarkanan. That would require a sudden surge of aberrant powers similar to what is happening in the world in present-day, which is quite possible actually.

First off, the current surge is far less than what was seen in the century leading up to the War of the Mark. It appears to be starting again, and a DM can take it that way. But at the moment, there’s neither the number or power level seen in the past. In canon sources (remember, novels aren’t canon), no one has been described as possessing an aberrant mark matching the power of Halas Tarkanan or his lieutenants… and it was the power of these marks that kept the aberrant forces alive.

Beyond this, bear in mind that they never fought a “regular war.” You never had formations of aberrant soldiers facing off against dragonmarked house armies. While Halas did his best to provide basic training, the majority of the aberrants were noncombatants, though with their marks they could put up a defense when cornered and forced to fight. Somewhat to my surprise, the best analogy I can think of is Battlestar Galactica. Think of the aberrants as fleets of largely civilian vessels, huddling around an individual like Tarkanan or the Dreambreaker – their battlestar, whose power was singlehandedly great enough to disperse conventional forces. You then have a small group of trained soldiers and people with lesser/greater marks – the vipers of the Battlestar analogy, able to carry out their commander’s will. But they were still always on the run, relying on the raw power of their commanders (and Tarkana’s tactical genius) just to survive, always searching for some lasting sanctuary. They were occasionally able to gather small elite units for their own commando strikes, but they never faced the houses with proper armies. And in the end, despite Tarkanan’s best efforts, they were herded to Shaarat and forced to make a final stand. And again, you can see a little of what that’s like in the RPGA adventure The Delirium Stone.

Is this what’s happening today? Aberrant marks are manifesting in ever-greater numbers, but are they going to reach the same level of power as Tarkanan possessed? And if so, is this a natural cycle? Part of the Prophecy? Or is it being actively manipulated by the Lords of Dust or some other force? That’s up to you…

I’d like to revisit one point…

If I knew a kid who caused a whole village to die from disease and another kid who torched his mom in anger and they both had those scary red marks on their skin, I would probably vote for a kill-on-sight policy for anyone with a similar mark.

Bear in mind that nothing about aberrant marks is predictable. The red and black marks that we’ve shown are the most common sort of aberrant mark, but aberrant marks can take a vast array of forms. The lines of a burning hands mark might be formed from livid scar tissue. An aberrant mark that grants charm person could actually be a shining array of glowing white lines that’s almost hypnotic to look at… while another charm person mark is red and black. Aberrant marks are, well, aberrant. So this helped slow things down. Sure, the kid with the scary scar mark burned his mom, but our daughter’s mark is beautiful. And she’s not hurting anyone, is she? Really?

Ultimately people would decide that yes, the charmer was hurting people – that mind controllers are scary. But again, this combination of diversity and limited long-distance communication added to the amount of time it took for public opinion to form.

In conclusion…

Aberrant marks originally existed in small numbers and low power. In the century leading up to the War of the Mark, they rapidly increased in number and power. There was excellent reason for people to fear the marks. If Tarkanan had been born earlier and been a diplomat instead of a soldier, he might have convinced people that the aberrants weren’t at fault – that if they were taught to control their marks, they could peacefully coexist (though some were, of course, mad or sociopathic). But most of the media of the time was in the hands of the houses, and when the fear was spreading there was no spokesperson for the aberrants. The “war” began as a simple witchhunt and purge. Tarkanan organized survivors into small guerrilla forces with enough firepower to defend themselves as they fled. Ultimately they were caught and erradicated.

In the centuries that followed, aberrant marks appeared in small numbers and only at the lowest level of power. But the stories remained and grew with each telling. People don’t run in terror from aberrants, because it’s been over a thousand years since the Lady of the Plague laid her curse on Shaarat. But they still know the stories, and aberrants are still shunned and treated with suspicion. And now the numbers of marks are growing again, and their power with them. But this is new and unusual. House Tarkanan has noticed it, and it is acting to gather the aberrants. But society as a whole hasn’t yet noticed exactly what’s going on. aberrants are an old bogeyman; even the houses are only just now looking at House Tarkanan and trying to figure out what’s happening.

Moving to more general discussion about the marks…

“Aberrant” seems like it’s shifted in meaning since the setting was originally published, and it was always kind of broad to begin with.

It’s something that was never developed as far as I wanted. I actually had a full system for aberrant marks developed for the Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook, but it ended up being cut for space. It is the case that a number of the SLAs in the original 3.5 sourcebook do NOT, in my mind, qualify for my vision of aberrant marks. I don’t see feather fall or detect secret doors as aberrant marks. To me, a core difference between aberrant and normal dragonmarks is that aberrant marks channel destructive or aggressive forces, while true marks are constructive. With that said, we’ve seen that true marks can be used in aggressive ways – from Lyrandar slamming you with a gust of wind to the Orien assassin teleporting behind you and killing you. But note that when aberrant marks were expanded in Dragonmarked the lists didn’t include superior flight or expanded detection capabilities.

What I’m wondering is if there’s some kind of substantive difference between Aberrant Marks and Mixed Marks. For example, would mixed marks tend to appear more as a mixture of the true marks? And would such a mark exhibit powers that call to mind the two true marks involved? Or is it more like the mixture of the marks corrupts their fundamental nature and creates some bizarre, unrelated effect?

The original idea is definitely the latter. Aberrant marks are entirely unpredictable. If you knew that Orien + Lyrandar = feather fall, then it’s not an aberrant mark anymore; it’s “the Mark of PassageStorms.” The idea of the mixed mark was simply that it was and is the only reliable way to produce an aberrant mark – but that there’s no telling what that mark will be. Likewise, this is part of the 3.5 aberrant mark system in Dragonmarked. You can have charm person as your least power and poison as your lesser power. You might have an aberrant individual who develops powers along a specific theme – all fire, all fear – but unlike the true marks this isn’t a given.

Now again, this is how it’s been presented. If you want to do things differently – and for that matter, play up existing elements like the feather fall aberrant mark – go for it!

Dragonmarks 5/1: The Dragonmarked Houses

The concept of magic as an industrial force is at the heart of the Eberron campaign setting, and the dragonmarked houses are an integral part of that. From the start, the idea was that the dragonmarks were hereditary traits that had allowed the families that possessed them to gain monopolistic power over a particular aspect of the magical economy. Tied to this is the idea that back in the day, a united Galifar was able to impose sanctions on the dragonmarked houses… but that with the advances in arcane sciences and the collapse of Galifar, it is an open question whether any nation is prepared to make an enemy of one of the houses.

With this said, there are a number of questions that have come up both recently and in the past concerning dragonmarks and the houses. Before I get to these, I want to call out one of my personal ideas about the dragonmarks… and a house rule I use to reflect it in 4E. These are based on one simple principle: the spell-like ability derived from a dragonmark is actually the least important benefit it provides. Obviously this refers to the 3.5 Dragonmarks – but the principle carries forward into 4E. Looking to 3.5, a character with the Least Mark of Scribing can use whispering wind once per day. Someone with the Least Mark of Making can Repair Light Damage once per day. Nifty! But this level of power can be mimicked by any magewright and surpassed by any wizard or artificer. This alone is hardly sufficient to give the houses the power they possess. That power comes from the tools that only the dragonmarked can use: Dragonshard focus items. Economically, it’s essentially irrelevant that a gnome with the Mark of Scribing can perform whispering wind once per day. What’s vital is the fact that his mark allows him to use a speaking stone – and the speaking stone network is the cornerstone of international communication. Speaking stones. Creation forges. Airships and lightning rails. These and many other tools can only be used by the dragonmarked – and THIS is what gives them control.

In 4E, I take this in a different direction. The existing 4E version of the dragonmarks allow the person who possesses a dragonmark to perform certain rituals without the ritual caster feat. I add a few things to this.

First: The listed rituals are innate powers of the dragonmark. Someone with the Mark of Healing doesn’t need a ritual book to perform cure disease; they simply have to learn how to use the mark in that way. Such training costs the same price as the market cost of the ritual, but once the training is complete the ritual cannot be taken away. It still requires time and components (note that I consider residuum to be the highest grade of refined Eberron dragonshards – the basic fuel of the magical economy), but the power is part of the mark. I generally provide one of the lowest level rituals associated with the mark to the character for free. This is the equivalent of the 3E spell-like ability. So a Kundarak dwarf with the mark can use it to make an arcane lock, and a Sivis gnome starts off knowing how to comprehend languages (provided they have time and dragonshards to burn!).

Second: I restrict many significant rituals to the dragonmarked. I don’t have a complete list to throw up here now, and frankly, it’s something you’d want to carefully consider for your own campaign – especially if you don’t have any dragonmarked PCs in your group. But for a few examples, in my campaign you need the Mark of Healing to perform cure disease; the Mark of Warding to produce an arcane lock; the Mark of Passage to use linked portal. If you go to a temple, the priests may be skilled with the Heal skill and tend you in that way; but if you absolutely want to have your disease cured RIGHT NOW, you have to find someone with the Mark of Healing. Again – magical monopolies. Now, there are always exceptions – especially for divine magic, because it’s less scientific. You can have the amazing holy man who can cure disease – but he can’t teach you how to do it.

Why? Why hasn’t someone just made an airship anyone can steer? Why wouldn’t someone just make the arcane lock ritual? Because one of the basic ideas of Eberron is that magic is a science… and you don’t get scientific breakthroughs just because you want them. Right now people are TRYING to make an airship anyone can steer. They’re trying to make a creation forge that doesn’t require the Mark of Making, or a teleportation circle anyone can use. And if your campaign, they just might do it. If you’re playing an artificer, you could be the Tesla or Edison of the age. You could be the genius who creates the linked portal ritual so you can hack into Orien’s existing circle network. On the other hand, the houses have a vested interest in preventing such breakthroughs. Lyrandar doesn’t want just anyone to be able to steer an airship. How far will it go to maintain that monopoly?If it’s just your party hacking the teleportation system or if you have a single free-use airship, you’re probably safe. But if you try to establish yourself as a rival business, that’s another story!

At the end of the day, it’s up to you how far you want to take this. You can leave cure disease as something any ritual caster can do. But personally, I like the flavor of having specific, important magical services bound to these families.

Which brings us to the first question from the audience…

Will 5E Eberron to reverse the ‘anyone can have a Dragonmark’ issue? This was the biggest change I saw in 4E Eberron, and I really disliked it.

Personally, I never considered this to be a change, by which I mean I don’t accept that “anyone can have a dragonmark” is a concrete description of the setting.

Looking at the 4E ECG:
* On page 17, in the section describing the Dragonmarked, it states “There are twelve recognized dragonmarks, each one associated with a specific bloodline that appears in a single humanoid race… Dragonmarks that appear outside these bloodlines are called aberrant marks, whether they’re recognized marks appearing on people not connected to the mark’s normal bloodline, or unusual marks beyond the recognized twelve.”
* On page 18 it states “(a dragonmarked character) might be a member of a race unconnected to the dragonmarked houses, even a race such as warforged or kalashtar (races that don’t normally manifest dragonmarks). Such a mark has nothing to do with bloodline and everything to do with the touch of the Prophecy. These characters are extremely rare—it’s not recommended that you create NPCs who fall into this category unless the story of your campaign demands it. The houses might not be sure what to do with a character like this—the character is probably the first such case they’ve ever seen, so there’s no precedent to fall back on. Some people would probably try to recruit the character into the house, while others would argue for the character’s extermination to keep the house’s bloodline—and its economic monopoly—secure.”

Putting those two statements together, what we get is this. Any player character could have a dragonmark outside of the bloodline. First of all, it would be considered an aberrant mark. Second, it is likely the first time in history this has every happened; it represents the character’s significant role in the Prophecy; and it potentially marks the character for extermination.

As such, it doesn’t change the PAST of the setting, because it’s stated that this may never have happened before and that even the DM shouldn’t casually create NPCs like this. Eberron remains a world in which dragonmarks are tied to bloodlines; it’s simply the case that players can be the bizarre, remarkable exceptions because that’s what player characters are.

I’ll note that you’re never going to see a character with no connection to a bloodline ever manifesting a pure dragonmark in an Eye on Eberron article; again, I don’t consider it to be a part of the default setting. With that said, I can think of two cases in my own novels where warforged appear to manifest dragonmarks (one pure, one aberrant)… though I’ll say that in both those cases, the whole point is for people to say “Wait, what?” and not “Oh, yeah, that’s just normal.”

… which is not to downplay your concern about the issue, but rather to say that whether in 4E or D&D Next, you shouldn’t see a setting in which the world is filled with out-of-house pure dragonmarks, even if it’s left as an option people can explore.

I always wondered about the Test of Syberis. Depending on the stress of the test, a heir may or may not develop a dragonmark according, but it’s hard for me to imagine a stressful situation involving the marks of Making or Finding. Have you used any of those in a campaign?

Depending on your edition, a mark provides you with a variety of concrete benefits. Ritual access. A spell like ability. A bonus to skill checks. Let’s focus on that last one. In 3.5, every dragonmark provided 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!

Once, in my campaign, i had this Lyrandar heir comissioned to infiltrate the Twelve and sabotage some Cannith ultrasecret project. The question is: if he would have been caught, who do you think will be the authority to judge him? Can House Lyrandar lobby in his favor in some way? How often do you think these entrapments happen?

The first authority to judge him would have been the legal authorities of the country in which the crime took place. At the current time, the houses aren’t authorized to enforce the law. If the Cannith ultrasecret project is in Sharn, then Cannith should turn the saboteur over to the Sharn watch and prosecute him according to the Code of Galifar.

Of course, having said that, there would also be a trial within the Twelve. Cannith could demand restitution from Lyrandar; threaten to raise prices on airships or elemental galleons (remember that the Zil bind the elementals, but it’s Cannith that makes the dragonshard focus items that let the heirs control their ships!); or demand that the heir in question be fined or excoriated. But this isn’t a LEGAL trial; these are business negotiations.

Could Lyrandar lobby in his favor? Sure, in both courts. They could grease palms in Sharn. And they could make some sort of concession to Cannith to smooth things over. The main thing is that negotiations in the Twelve are backs by practical considerations beyond abstract law. Lyrandar needs Cannith to keep producing Wheels of Wind and Water. There’s limits to how far it can afford to push the House of Making without threatening its own business.

How is it that two radically opposing philosophies can exist within the Triumvirate of House Tharashk? I would expect that Team Daelkyr and Team Gatekeepers would be actively trying to murder each other, not work together to further the ends of their mercantile empire. Thanks!

Well, the key answer is that the philosophies aren’t as “radical” as you might think. The Daelkyr have been sealed away for SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS. They were bound before humans even had significant civilizations on Sarlona, let alone before they settled in the Marches. Most people who follow one of these faiths aren’t actually trying to free the Daelkyr or to actively defend their seals, any more than most people in our world are actively preparing for Judgement Day or pushing for it to happen. There are extremists on both sides – the actual Gatekeeper druids, particularly active Cults of the Dragon Below. But for most people it’s a matter of the songs they sing and the stories they tell. Bear in mind also that the “Cults of the Dragon Below” are NOT in any way monolithic. Some believe that the lords of the inner earth will one day return to the surface to transform the world into a paradise (though they generally have strange aesthetics…). Some believe that when they die their souls will descend to the paradise within Khyber, provided they pave the road with the blood of their enemies. Some don’t care about the daelkyr or Khyber at all; they revere the gibbering mouther who lives in the basement and who ritually devours any family member who reaches the age of 50. On the other side, members of “Team Gatekeeper” know that the night is dark and full of terrors, and that it is by following the teachings of the druids that they help hold that evil at bay.

Short form: for the most part the members of the house aren’t radicals or extremists. They disagree on these matters, but neither believes that the beliefs of the other are a clear and present danger. Essentially, it’s much like Democrats and Republicans working together in our world. You may think your co-worker’s beliefs are moronic; you may think that the more powerful people who share his beliefs are a threat; but at the same time, he’s your cousin/countryman/coworker. So just don’t discuss politics and try to get the job done.

Comparing faiths and the dragonmarked houses, though, I have always had the feeling that given their powers and benefits dragonmarked may appear to be much more powerful than others, and think that Flamer characters, for instance, should receive additional benefits due to divine forces that make them stand apart from dragonmarked and perhaps even “envied” by them.

Sure! In my campaign, I call that benefit “divine magic.” You suggest that Jorasco can’t do exorcisms, and I agree. Most Jorasco healers have the mark and nothing else. They can’t call down fire or turn undead. They have no special power to smite evil. They can’t shield others from harm (that’s what House Deneith is for). A Jorasco house with a true cleric (likely dedicated to Arawai and Kol Korran) is a rare exception. Given this, I’ve never felt a need to give the faiths additional powers, because what they have is the powers that come with faith. Now, you suggest that they could benefit from miracles at the discretion of the DM, and there’s never anything wrong with that; for example, Tira Miron received divine aid from the couatl to battle Bel Shalor. No couatl’s going to pop into Jorasco House #153 to help with Farmer John’s hemorrhoids.

The main thing is that in creating Eberron, I wanted to break with the tradition I’d seen in the past of temples being places adventurers went to in order to throw money at the altar and get healed. Eberron is like our world. If you want to get healed, go to a hospital. If you want spiritual guidance, go to a church. But if you just walked into a church you’d never been to, handed the priest a thousand dollars, and said “I cut my leg, fix it” – how do you think that would work out for you? With that said, the Church of the Silver Flame does “heal for free.” They operate free clinics and do charitable work among the needy, as do some (non-Jorasco) priests of Boldrei and Arawai. The point is that this is generally use of the Heal skill as opposed to magic. In 4E, even if they COULD perform the cure disease ritual, it costs 150 gp to perform it; they couldn’t afford it to just wander around fixing the peasants. And frankly, for commoners, the Heal skill is going to handle most of their problems; it’s just not instant. Like our world, there are faith healers who can miraculously heal with a touch – but like our world, those are few in number in comparison to hospitals or clinics.  

This relates to the idea that player character classes are rare. The cleric IS that faith healer – the rare and remarkable individual whose faith is so great that he can heal you with a prayer. But the priest in the typical church isn’t a cleric; he’s most likely an expert trained in Diplomacy, Heal, History, Sense Motive, and of course Religion. He can preach; he can listen and counsel you; but he doesn’t do magic. In Jorasco, you don’t have clerics either. What I like about 4E with its rituals is that it finally allows a Jorasco heir to be a healer without ANY divine magic, which is how I prefer it. Jorasco house can heal, but they general can’t provide any other divine services – because they are businesses, not places of worship.

I’ll also point out that nothing prevents a Jorasco heir from joining the Church of the Silver Flame! In my campaign, one of the greatest healers is a Jorasco heir dedicated to the Silver Flame, who left the house to follow his faith. Beyond this, I would definitely consider letting a player character cleric learn the rituals normally restricted to the dragonmark, because that’s part of what makes her extra-holy and amazing.

I know about the speaking stones that only sivis can use, the airships that only lyrander can fly, the lightning rail that only orien … etc. What about Deneith, House of Shadow, etc … what tools give the other houses a financial edge in the world.

First of all, in 4E look to rituals. Certain rituals may be restricted to the Dragonmarked… and a common dragonmarked focus item would be an object that allows you to use that ritual at reduced cost or casting time. So House Kundarak has the Warder’s Key that allows a more efficient production of arcane locks – a useful thing if you’re securing an entire castle. Looking to the Shadow houses, some of the canon examples that have been mentioned are the Serpentine Mirror and the Shadow Eye – scrying tools described in Dragonmarked. But let’s take the Houses of Shadows as an example. The powers of the mark are illusion, observation, and movement through shadows. The business of the house is entertainment and espionage. How could you amplify those innate powers to create a tool that would help the business? A few thoughts:

* The crystal theater: A giant crystal ball on a stage. An heir of the Mark of Shadows can tune it to observe one of five different locations (using anchor items similar to the shadow eye); these five locations are stages where the house holds performances. So think of it as a movie theater, but instead of having a recorded image or receiving a transmission, they are scrying on a live performance.

* The Orchestra of Shadows: A similar tool – a magical stage that allows the shadow-marked operators to sculpt ongoing illusory images. As opposed to the crystal theater, this is essentially an instrument requiring skilled users. But do you want a play where a dragon actually swoops down and breathes fire? They can produce it.

* Shadowgates: An amplified version of the shadowstep power, these are linked pits of absolute darkness hidden in the recesses of a handful of enclaves. Many were sealed off after the Shadow Schism. An heir can move between them… but some say they can be lost in Mabar!

I’m going to stop there, but you get the idea. Look at what the mark does and what the house does; think about how that power could enhance the business; go from there.

Are dragonmarks mutable? I play mark of making artificer, human, who now has a homebrew silver flame paragon path… complete with silver quetzalcoatl blood. Would this change the mark of making… or turn it aberrant?

In my opinion, no. What defines the “true” dragonmarks is that they are predictable and recognizable. Even the infusion of dragon blood into the line of Vol didn’t change the Mark of Death into something aberrant, it just allowed the development of a superior version of the mark. With that said, that’s MY opinion: the mark shouldn’t casually mutate. That doesn’t mean that your silver-blood artificer might not find new ways to USE the mark by channeling the power of his altered blood through it. So as a DM, I’d be willing to explore new abilities and stories tied to it. But I wouldn’t change it to the Least Mark of Fire-Making or something like that.

Please tell us how you portray the participation of the Silver Flame during the last war and whether there religious discrimination or conflict against flamers in Karrnath or Breland.

What does this have to do with dragonmarks? Nothing. But it’s been asked often enough that I’m adding the answer to the end of the Faith post, so if you’re interested look for it there.

Aren’t Medani’s ties to Breland too close as to breach the Korth edicts?

Not really. The Korth Edicts prevent the houses from having noble titles, land, or military forces. Medani has none of these.

I’m confused. The Forge of War says “If any house truly violated the edicts of neutrality during the Last War, it was House Medani.”

First off, I didn’t work on The Forge of War, and there are multiple topics where I feel it is inaccurate…. notably, it’s depiction of Thrane. It states that Thrane had poor archers, when in my opinion and previous sources, Thrane’s peasant archers were one of its greatest strengths in the war; it’s been clearly stated that archery is taught by the church and considered a form of devotion. In general it depicts the people of Thrane as being zealous mobs, which again is at odds with the character of the Church and Thrane’s actions from other sources.

However, the question here isn’t about Thrane. The key is that it doesn’t mention the KORTH edicts; it says “the edicts of neutrality.” The Korth Edicts aren’t edicts of neutrality; they were put in place by Galifar I, at which point the Five Nations were unified as a single kingdom. The best source for the Korth Edicts (and written by me) is page 47 of The Player’s Guide To Eberron, which says:

The so-called edicts of Korth forbid any member of a dragonmarked house from holding a grant of land, and place limits on the size of house enclaves and the armed forces that can be garrisoned at an enclave. Special provisions are made for House Deneith, which has the right to assemble military forces for mercenary service. The edicts further specify that no member of the aristocracy of Galifar can be bound to a member of a dragonmarked house in marriage without one of the two giving up all heritage and rights.

As I said before, Medani wasn’t granted land, noble titles, or allowed to garrison military forces; it simply chose to provide superior service to Breland.

Now, TFoW says “edicts of neutrality.” One could assume that this was some sort of agreement not to take sides in the war. However, nothing like this has ever been mentioned before. In general, I don’t see when it would have been put into place or why it would be necessary. For example, House Sivis hasn’t signed some edict of “we won’t share your messages with others” – but if it was ever revealed that they DID, no one would ever trust them again. Favoring one country over another has simple economic consequences. If the house is willing to accept those consequences, that’s its choice. By contrast, let’s look at House Cannith. For much of the war, Cyre was its primary client; Cyre certainly employed more warforged than anyone else. There was no rule saying that Cannith had to stop selling warforged to Cyre until other nations had an equal quantity; that was up to the other nations to put up gold and offer a competitive price.

Now, Medani has been called out as providing exceptional service at a unusually low rate to Breland, based in part on the friendship of Boranel and the patriarch. However, I don’t believe that it’s been stated anywhere that Medani betrayed other clients in the process. They may have provided exceptional aid to the Citadel, but I’ve never seen it explicitly stated that they intentionally failed other clients – IE, failing to protect people who hired them, etc. If that was the case and was publicly known, I would expect it to cripple the house’s ability to operate outside of Breland and to for all intents and purposes leave the house as an arm of the Citadel. As is, I think people know that Medani was of great assistance to Breland & provided it with access to the bulk of its resources, but I don’t believe the services they provided to other nations was substandard… just like Cyre had more Cannith warforged than any other nation, but the warforged sold to other nations were just as capable as those sold to Cyre.

So personally, I think this is a case of TFoW either misunderstanding the nature of the Korth Edicts (and I’ll note that PGtE predates TFoW) or suggesting the existence of a neutrality treaty that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else.

As always, these are my personal opinions and aren’t canon in any way. They may be contradicted by canon Eberron sourcebooks – go with what you like. Please post your own thoughts, experiences, and questions about the Dragonmarked houses below, and if you have questions on other topics, post them in this thread!