House Tharashk is the youngest Dragonmarked house. The Mark of Finding first appeared a thousand years ago, and over the course of centuries the dragonmarked formed three powerful clans. It was these clans that worked with House Sivis, joining together in the model of the eastern houses. The name of the House—Tharashk—is an old Orc word that means united. Despite this, heirs of the house typically use their clan name rather than the house name. They may be united, but in daily life they remain ‘Aashta and Velderan.
House United: One, Three, and Many
The Dragonmarks are driven by more than simple genetics. In most dragonmarked houses, about half of the children develop some level of dragonmark. Over the course of a thousand years of excoriates and voluntary departures, many people in Khorvaire have some trace of dragonmarked blood. And yet, foundlings—people who develop a dragonmark outside a house—are so rare that many foundlings are surprised to learn that they have a connection to a house. Many houses allow outsiders to marry into their great lines, and the number of dragonmarked heirs born to such couples within the houses is dramatically higher than those born to excoriates outside of the houses. Scholars have proposed many theories to explain this discrepancy. Some say that it’s tied to proximity—that being around large numbers of dragonmarked people helps to nuture the latent mark within a child. Others say that it’s related to the tools and equipment used by the houses, that just being around a creation forge helps promote the development of the Mark of Making. One of the most interesting theories comes from the sage Ohnal Caldyn. A celebrated student of the Draconic Prophecy, Caldyn argued that the oft-invoked connection between dragonmarks and the Prophecy might be misunderstood—that rather than each dragonmarked individual having significance, the Prophecy might be more interested in dragonmarked families. It’s been over two thousand years since the Mark of Making appeared on the Vown and Juran lines of Cyre—and yet those families remain pillars of the house today.
This helps to explain the core structure of Tharashk, sometimes described as one, three, and many. There are many minor families within House Tharashk, but each of these is tied to one of the three great clans: Velderan, Torrn, and ‘Aashta. The house is based on the alliance between these three clans, and where most dragonmarked houses have a single matriarch or patriarch, Tharashk is governed by the Triumvirate, a body comprised of a leader from each of these clans.
When creating an adventurer or NPC from House Tharashk, you should decide which of the great clans they’re tied to. Each clan is tied to lesser families, so you’re not required to use one of these three names. A few lesser families are described here along with each clan, but you can make up lesser families. So you can be Jalo’uurga of House Tharashk; the question is which clan the ‘Uurga Tharashk are connected to. In theory, the loyalty of a Tharashk heir should be to house first, clan second, and family third. Heirs are expected to set aside family feuds and to focus on the greater picture, to pursue the rivalry between Deneith and Tharashk instead of sabotaging house efforts because of an old feud between ‘Uurga and Tulkar. But those feuds are never forgotten—and when it doesn’t threaten the interests of house or clan, heirs may be driven by these ancient rivalries.
To d’ or not to d’?Tharashk has never been bound by the traditions of the other houses, and this can be clearly seen in Tharashk names. Just look to the three Triumvirs of the house. All three possess dragonmarks, yet in the three of them we see three different conventions. Khandar’aashta doesn’t bother with the d’ prefix or use the house name. Daric d’Velderan uses his clan name, but appends the d’ as a nod to his dragonmark. Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk uses the d’ but applies it to the house name; no one uses d’Torrn. Maagrim’s use of the house name makes a statement about her devotion to the alliance and the house. Daric’s use of the ‘d is a nod to the customs of the other houses. While Khandar makes no concessions to easterners. He may the one of the three leaders of House Tharashk, but he is Aashta. As an heir of House Tharashk, you could follow any of these styles, and you could change it over the course of your career as your attitude changes.
Orcs, Half-Orcs, and Humans. By canon, the Mark of Finding is the only dragonmark that appears on two ancestries—human and half-orc. However, by the current rules, the benefits of the Mark replace everything except age, size, and speed. Since humans and half-orcs have the same size and speed, functionally it makes very little difference which you are. It’s always been strange that this one mark bridges two species when the Khoravar marks don’t, and when orcs can’t develop it. As a result, in my campaign I say that any character with the Mark of Finding has orc blood in their veins. The choice of “human” or “half-orc” reflects how far removed you are from your orc ancestors and how obvious it is to people. But looking to the Triumvirs above, they’re ALL Jhorgun’taal; it’s simply that it’s less obvious with Daric d’Velderan. In my campaign I’d say that Daric has yellow irises, a slight point to his ears, and notable canine teeth; at a glance most would consider him to be human, but his dragonmark is proof that he’s Jhorgun’taal.
Characters and Lesser Clans. The entries that follow include suggestions for player characters from each clan and mention a few lesser clans associated with the major ones. These are only suggestions. If you want to play an evil orc barbarian from Clan Velderan, go ahead—and the lesser clans mentioned here are just a few examples.
The Azhani Language.Until relatively recently, the Marches were isolated from the rest of Khorvaire. The Goblin language took root during the Age of Monsters, but with the arrival of human refugees and the subsequent evolution of the blended culture, a new language evolved. Azhani is a blending of Goblin, Riedran, and a little of the long-dead Orc language. It’s close enough to Goblin that someone who speaks Goblin can understand Azhani, and vice-versa; however, nuances will be lost. For purposes of gameplay, one can list the language as Goblin (Azhani). More information about the Azhani language can be found in Don Bassinthwaite’s Dragon Below novels.
Triumvir: Daric d’Velderan
Primary Role: Far trade, diplomacy and administration, inquisitives
Common Traits: Curiosity, Imagination, Charisma, Ambition
Before the rise of House Tharashk, most of the clans and tribes of the Shadow Marches lived in isolation, interacting only with their immediate neighbors. Velderan has always been the exception. The Velderan have long been renowned as fisherfolk and boatmen, driving barges and punts along the Glum River and the lesser waters of the Marches and trading with all of the clans. The clan is based in the coastal town of Urthhold, and for centuries they were the only clan that had any contact with the outside world. It was through this rare contact that reports of an unknown dragonmark made their way to House Sivis, and it was Velderan guides who took Sivis explorers into the Marches.
That spirit remains alive today. Where ‘Aashta and Torrn hold tightly to ancient—and fundamentally opposed—traditions, it’s the Velderan who dream of the future and embrace change, and their enthusiasm and charisma that often sways the others. Torrn and ‘Aashta are both devoted to the work of the house and the prosperity of their union, but it’s the Velderan who truly love meeting new people and spreading to new locations, and who are always searching for new tools and techniques. Stern ‘Aashta are always prepared to negotiate from a position of strength, but it’s the more flexible Velderan who most often serve as the diplomats of the house. While they work with House Lyrandar for long distance trade and transport, the Velderan also remain the primary river runners and guides within the Marches.
In the wider world, the Velderan are often encountered running enclaves in places where finesse and diplomacy are important. Beyond this, the Velderan are most devoted to the inquisitive services of the house; Velderan typically prefer unraveling mysteries to the more brutal work of bounty hunting. The Velderan have no strong ties to either the Gatekeepers or the “Old Ways” of Clan ‘Aashta; they are most interested in exploring new things, and are the most likely to adopt new faiths or traditions. Many outsiders conclude that the Velderan are largely human, and they do have a relatively small number of full orcs as compared to the other clans, but Jhorguun’taal are in the majority in Velderan; it’s just that most Velderan Jhorgun’taal are more human in appearance than the stereotype of the half-orc that’s common in the Five Nations.
Overall, the Velderan are the glue that holds Tharashk together. They’ve earned their reputation for optimism and idealism, and this is reflected by their Triumvir. However, there is a cabal of elders within the house—The Veldokaa—who are determined to maintain the union of Tharashk but to ensure that Velderan remains first among equals. Even while Velderan mediates between Torrn and ‘Aashta, the Veldokaa makes sure to keep their tensions alive so that they rarely ally against Velderan interests. Likewise, while it’s ‘Aashta who is most obvious in its ambition and aggression, it’s the Veldokaa who engage in more subtle sabotage of rivals. So Velderan wears a friendly face, and Daric d’Velderan is sincere in his altruism. But he’s not privy to all the plans of the Veldokaa, and there are other clan leaders—such as Khalar Velderan, who oversees Tharashk operations in Q’barra—who put ambition ahead of altruism.
Velderan Characters. With no strong ties to the Gatekeepers or the Dragon Below, Velderan adventurers are most often rangers, rogues, or even bards. Velderan are interested in the potential of arcane science, and can produce wizards or artificers. Overall, the Velderan are the most optimistic and altruistic of the Clans and the most likely to have good alignments—but an adventurer with ties to the Veldokaa could be tasked with secret work on behalf of the clan. Velderan most often speak Common, and are equally likely to speak Azhani Goblin or traditional Goblin.
Triumvir. Clan Velderan is currently represented by Daric d’Velderan. Daric embodies the altruistic spirit of his clan, and hopes to see Tharashk become a positive force in the world. His disarming humor and flexibility play a critical role in balancing the stronger tempers of Maagrim and Khandar. Daric wants to see the house expand, and is always searching for new opportunities and paths it can follow, but he isn’t as ruthless as Khandar’aashta and dislikes the growing tension between Tharashk and House Deneith. Daric is aware of the Veldokaa and knows that they support him as triumvir because his gentle nature hides their subtle agenda; he focuses on doing as much good as he can in the light while trusting his family to do what they must in the shadows.
Lesser Clans. The Orgaal are an orc-majority clan, and given this people often forget they’re allied with Velderan; as such, the Veldokaa often use them as spies and observers. The Torshaa are expert boatmen and are considered the most reliable guides in the Shadow Marches. The Vaalda are the finest hunters among the Velderan; it’s whispered that some among them train to hunt two-legged prey, and they produce Assassin rogues as well as hunters.
Triumvir: Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk
Primary Role: Prospecting and mining, infrastructure, primal magic
Common Traits: Stoicism, Stability, Wisdom
Torrn is the oldest of the Tharashk clans. The city of Valshar’ak has endured since days of Dhakaan, and holds a stone platform known as Vvaraak’s Throne. While true, fully initiated Gatekeepers are rare even within the Marches, the Torrn have long held to the broad traditions of the sect, opposing the Old Ways of ‘Aashta and its allies. Clan Torrn has the strongest traditions of primal magic within the Reaches, and ever since the union Torrn gleaners can be found providing vital services across the Marches; it was Torrn druids who raised the mighty murk oaks that serve as the primary supports of Zarash’ak. However, the clan isn’t mired in the past. The Torrn value tradition and are slow to change, but over the last five centuries they have studied the arcane science of the east and blended it with their primal traditions; there are magewrights among the Torrn as well as gleaners.
The Torrn are known for their stoicism and stability; a calm person could be described as being as patient as a Torrn. They refuse to act in haste, carefully studying all options and relying on wisdom rather than being driven by impulse or ambition. Of the three clans, they have the greatest respect for the natural world, but they also know how to make the most efficient use of its bounty. While ‘Aashta have always been known as the best hunters and Velderan loves the water, Torrn is closest to the earth. They are the finest prospectors of the Marches, and are usually found in charge of any major Tharashk mining operations, blending arcane science and dragonmarked tools with the primal magic of their ancestors. Most seek to minimize long-term damage to the environment, but there are Torrn overseers—especially those born outside the Marches—who are focused first and foremost on results, placing less weight on their druidic roots and embracing the economic ambitions of the house.
Most Torrn follow the basic principles of the Gatekeepers, which are not unlike the traditions of the Silver Flame—stand together, oppose supernatural evil, don’t traffic with aberrations. However, most apply these ideas to their own clan and to a wider degree, the united house. Torrn look out for Tharashk, but most aren’t concerned with protecting the world or fighting the daelkyr. Torrn miners may use sustainable methods in their mining, but they are driven by the desire for profit and to see their house prosper. However, there is a deep core of devoted Gatekeepers at the heart of Torrn. Known as the Valshar’ak Seal, they also seek to help Tharashk flourish as a house—because they wish to use its resources and every-increasing influence in the pursuit of their ancient mission. Again, most Torrn follow the broad traditions of the Gatekeepers, but only a devoted few know of the Valshar’ak Seal and its greater goals.
Within the world, the Torrn are most often associated with mining and prospecting, as well as construction and maintaining the general infrastructure of the house. The Torrn Jhorguun’taal typically resemble their orc ancestors, and it’s generally seen as the Clan with the greatest number of orcs.
Torrn Characters. Whether or not they’re tied to the Gatekeepers, Torrn has deep primal roots. Tharashk druids are almost always from Torrn, and Tharashk rangers have a strong primal focus; a Torrn Gatekeeper could also be an Oath of the Ancients paladin, with primal trappings instead of divine. The Torrn are stoic and hold to tradition, and tend toward neutral alignments. Most speak Azhani Goblin among themselves, though they learn Common as the language of trade.
Triumvir. Maagrim Torrn d’Tharashk represents the Torrn in the Triumvirate. The oldest Triumvir, she’s known for her wisdom and her patience, though she’s not afraid to shout down Khandar’aashta when he goes too far. Maagrim supports the Valshar’ak Seal, but as a Triumvir her primary focus is on the business and the success of the house; she helps channel resources to the Seal, but on a day to day basis she is most concerned with monitoring mining operations and maintaining infrastructure. She is firmly neutral, driven neither by cruelty or compassion; Maagrim does what must be done.
Lesser Clans. The Torruk are a small, orc-majority clan with strong ties to the Gatekeepers, known for fiercely hunting aberrations in the Reaches and for clashing with the ‘Aashta. The Brokaa are among the finest miners in the house and are increasingly more concerned with profits than with ancient traditions.
The ‘Aashta have long been known as the fiercest clan of the Shadow Marches. Their ancestral home, Patrahk’n, is on the eastern edge of the Shadow Marches and throughout history they’ve fought with worg packs from the Watching Wood, ogres and trolls, and even their own Gaa’aram cousins. Despite the bloody history, the ‘Aashta earned the respect of their neighbors, and over the last few centuries the ‘Aashta began to work with the people of what is now Droaam. The ‘Aashta thrive on conflict and the thrill of battle; they have always been the most enthusiastic bounty hunters, and during the Last War it was the ‘Aashta who devised the idea of the Dragonne’s Roar—brokering the service of monstrous mercenaries in the Five Nations, as well as the services of the ‘Aashta themselves.
The ‘Aashta are devoted to what they call the “Old Ways”—what scholars might identify as Cults of the Dragon Below. The two primary traditions within the ‘Aashta are the Inner Sun and the Whisperers, both of which are described in Exploring Eberron. Those who follow the Inner Sun seek to buy passage to a promised paradise with the blood of worthy enemies. The Whisperers are tied to the daelkyr Kyrzin; they’re best known for cultivating gibbering mouthers, but they have other traditions tied to the Bile Lord. The key point is that while the ‘Aashta are often technically cultists of the Dragon Below, they aren’t typically trying to free a daelkyr or an overlord. The ‘Aashta Inner Sun cultist is on a quest to find worthy enemies, to buy their own passage to paradise; they aren’t looking to collapse the world into chaos or anything like that. The Gatekeepers despise the cults for trafficking with malefic forces, and believe that they may be unwitting tools of evil, and it’s these beliefs that usually spark clashes between the two (combined with the fact that Gatekeeper champions are certainly ‘worthy foes’ in the eyes of the Inner Sun). But it’s important to recognize that these two paths have co-existed for thousands of years. That co-existence hasn’t always been peaceful, but they’ve never engaged in a total war. Since the union of Tharashk, both ‘Aashta and Torrn have done their best to work together, with Velderan helping to mediate between the two (… and with the Veldokaa occasionally stirring up the conflict).
The ‘Aashta are fierce and aggressive. They respect strength and courage, and take joy in competition. Having invested in the Tharashk union, they want to see the House rise to glory. It’s the ‘Aashta who pushed to create the Dragonne’s Roar despite the clear conflict with House Deneith. The ‘Aashta also recognize the power Tharashk has as the primary supplier of dragonshards, and wish to see how the house can use this influence. In contrast to the Veldokaa, the ‘Aashta are honest in their ambition and wish to see the house triumph as a whole. While they do produce a few inquisitives, their greatest love is bounty hunting, and most Tharashk hunters come from ‘Aashta or one of its allied clans.
While they aren’t as dedicated to innovation as Velderan and aren’t as invested in symbionts as the dwarf clans of Narathun or Soldorak in the Mror Holds, the ‘Aashta are always searching for new weapons and don’t care if a tool frightens others. Some of those who follow the Old Ways master the techniques of the warlock, while the Whisperers employ strange molds and symbionts tied to Kyrzin and produce gifted alchemists.
‘Aashta Characters. The ‘Aashta are extremely aggressive. While there are disciplined fighters among them—often working with the Dragonne’s Roar to train and lead mercenary troops—the ‘Aashta are also known for cunning rangers and fierce barbarians. Their devotion to the Old Ways can produce warlocks or sorcerers, and especially gifted Whisperers can become Alchemist artificers. Culturally, the ‘Aashta are the most ruthless of the clans and this can lead to characters with evil alignments, though this is driven more by a lack of mercy than by wanton cruelty; like followers of the Mockery, an ‘Aashta will do whatever it takes to achieve victory. Due to its proximity to Droaam, the people of Patrahk’n speak traditional Goblin rather than Azhani, as well as learning Common as a trade language; however, ‘Aashta from the west may prefer Azhani.
Triumvir. Khandar’aashta is bold and charismatic. He is extremely ambitious and is constantly pushing his fellow Triumvirs, seeking to expand the power of Tharashk even if it strains their relations with the rest of the Twelve. Khandar is a follower of the Old Ways; it’s up to the DM to decide if he’s a Whisperer, pursuing the Inner Sun, or if he’s tied to a different and more sinister tradition. While he is ruthless when it comes to expanding the power of the house, he does believe in the union and wants to see all the clans prosper.
Lesser Clans. Overall, the ‘Aashta have no great love of subterfuge. When they need such schemes, they turn to the ‘Arrna, a lesser clan who produces more rogues than rangers. While they are just as aggressive as the ‘Aashta, the ‘Aarna love intrigues and fighting with words as well as blades. The Istaaran are devoted Whisperers and skilled alchemists; they have a great love of poisons and have helped to produce nonlethal toxins to help bounty hunters bring down their prey. The ‘Oorac are a small clan known for producing aberrant dragonmarks and sorcerers; before the union they were often persecuted, but ‘Aashta shields them.
That’s all for now. I’m pressed for time and likely won’t be able to answer questions on this topic. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in shaping the topic of the NEXT article, there’s just four hours left (as of this posting) in the Patreon poll to choose it; at the moment it’s neck and neck between an exploration of Sky Piracy in Khorvaire and my suggestions for drawing players into the world and developing interesting Eberron characters in Session Zero. In addition, tomorrow I’ll be posting the challenge that will determine which Threshold patrons play in my next online adventure. If you want to be a part of any of that, check out my Patreon!
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, a number of questions circled around the same topic—how would I integrate gem dragons and gem dragonborn into my Eberron? In adding anything new to the setting, by question is always how it makes the story more interesting. I don’t want to just drop gem dragons into Argonnessen and say they’ve always been there; I want them to change the story in an interesting way, to surprise players or give them something new to think about. So here’s what I would do.
Dragons of Sardior
Eberron as we know it isn’t the first incarnation of the prime material plane. We don’t know how many times reality has fundamentally shifted, jumping to a new rat in the maze of reality. But we know of one previous incarnation because of its survivors. When their reality was on the brink of destruction, a rag-tag fleet of Gith vessels escaped into the astral plane. These survivors split into two cultures, with the Githzerai dwelling in vast monasteries in Kythri and the Githyanki mooring their city-ships in the astral plane. The transition of realities is a difficult thing to map to time. For us, our reality has always existed, going back to the dawn of creation. For the Gith, the loss of their world is still a thing some hold in living memory. They are hardened survivors. Some crave revenge on the daelkyr, while others are solely concerned with the survival of their people. But the Githyanki aren’t the only survivors of their reality. It was an amethyst greatwyrm who helped the Gith fleet break the walls of space, and a small host of dragons accompanied the survivors into their astral exile. But the dragons aren’t like the metallic and chromatic dragons of the world that we know. They are the gem dragons.
The Progenitors are constants across all versions of the material plane. They created the planar structure of reality, and the material plane is the end result of their labors. The Eberron of the Gith—let’s call it “Githberron”—started with the same primordial struggle. In the current Eberron, the dragons are said to have formed when Siberys’s blood fell onto Eberron. In Githberron, Khyber didn’t tear apart Siberys’s body; she shattered his mind. The gem dragons believed that fragments of Siberys’s consciousness were scattered through reality, and they sought to reunite these shards; just as arcane magic is said to be the blood of Siberys in Eberron, in Githberron psionic energy is called the dream of Siberys.
Where the dragons of our Eberron are concentrated in Argonnessen, the dragons of Githberron were spread across their world. However, they were culturally connected through a telepathic construct—a vast metaconcert, which they believed was a step toward reuniting the shattered Siberys. They called this psychic nation Sardior. So rather than Sardior being another Progenitor, Sardior was their answer to Argonnessen—and they believe it is the soul of Siberys. This idea involves a small but crucial chance to the gem stat block, which is that I’d add Trance (as the elf racial trait) to all gem dragons. When trancing, gem dragons would project their consciousness into Sardior. Today the survivors yearn to recreate Sardior, and each gem dragon carries their own piece of it within their mind; however, I’m inclined to say that there just aren’t enough of them to sustain a global (let alone extraplanar) metaconcert. Two gem dragons in the same place might be able to link their minds when they trance, to dwell together in a sliver of Sardior. But to truly restore the dream of Siberys, they need more dragons. But there’s a catch to that…
In modern Eberron, dragons reproduce as other creatures do. My gem dragons of Sardior, on the other hand, use one of the other methods described in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons:
Enlightened non-dragons (most often Humanoids) are transformed into dragon eggs when they die, when they experience profound enlightenment… Humanoids and dragons alike understand the transformation to be a transition into a higher state of existence.
The gem dragons of Sardior weren’t born in isolation; they are the evolved, transcendent forms of other denizens of Githberron. This means that they have a fundamentally different relationship with humanoids than the dragons of Argonnessen. In the current Eberron, dragons see humanoids much like mice; useful for experiments, but don’t feel bad if you have to exterminate them, and isn’t it cute when they think they’re dragons. By contrast, in the Gith Eberron, dragons all evolved from humanoids, meaning both that they have memories of their humanoid existence and that they rely on humanoids to propagate their species. This is one of the key reasons they work with the Gith, even if they don’t especially like the Githyanki raiding. Not only are the Gith the last survivors of their world, they may be the only species capable of producing new gem dragons.
So, what is this process of reproduction and enlightenment? First, it requires a certain degree of psionic aptitude. The dragons see psionic energy as the dream of Siberys, and to become a dragon you are essentially drawing the essence of Siberys into yourself; what it means to be a dragon is to become a refined shard of the mind of Siberys. This doesn’t requires all pre-dragons to be full psions, but you need to have some degree of psionic ability, even if it’s just one of the psionic feats from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The second aspect is more ineffable, and it involves unlocking your full potential—becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. In many ways this is similar to the idea of mastering the Divinity Within in the Blood of Vol, or becoming worthy of Ascension to the Undying Court in Aerenal, and it should be just as difficult; it’s usually the work of a lifetime, not something you can rush. And I’d combine the two aspects of the Fizban’s quote—the ascension requires both enlightenment and death, that on death you become a gem dragon egg. So the point is, become enlightened, live your enlightened life, and hope that when you die you’re reborn as a dragon—you don’t want to rush the process unless you’re really sure you’re sufficiently enlightened. It’s definitely something that could happen to a player character, but it would only happen when they die.
A second key aspect of this is the idea that the type of dragon you become reflects the path you walked in life. The reason sapphire dragons are warlike is because they were warriors in their first lives. Amethyst dragons were planar scholars devoted to fighting aberrations before they became dragons; if a Gatekeeper from Eberron became a gem dragon, they’d be amethyst. I’m inclined to say that some of the character’s original memories and skills are lost in the process of draconic ascension, since it would be a significant change to say that every gem wyrmling has the skills of a mortal paragon—but the essence of that first life remains and guides the dragon moving forward. While the wyrmling may not have the full skills of the mortal seed, they have its wisdom and determination, the experience of a life well lived.
In my campaign, there are less than a hundred dragons of Sardior in the current reality. They have a single greatwyrm—an amethyst dragon who played a crucual role in helping the Gith escape their doomed reality and who generally resides at and protects Tu’narath in the astral plane. But again, each gem dragons—even the Wyrmlings—has a rich story of a prior life. Some were Gith warriors who fought against the daelkyr. Some were sages or scholars. In building an encounter with a gem dragon, the first question for the DM should be who were they before they became a dragon?
Gem dragons work with the Gith—both Githzerai and Githyanki—for many reasons. Many of the dragons were Gith before their ascension (though there were many other humanoid species on their world) and they are the last remnant of their lost world. Beyond that, the dragons yearn to recreate Sardior, and the dragons don’t yet know if it’s possible for humanoids of this reality to undergo draconic ascension; the Gith may be the only source of new gem dragons. The dragons who join Githyanki on their raids are primarily sapphire dragons, many of whom were Gith warriors in their former lives and who want to keep their people sharp; amethyst dragons are typically found in the monasteries of the Githzerai, helping build their dream of striking at Xoriat. But not all gem dragons work with the Gith. Here’s a number of ways that adventurers could encounter a gem dragon in my Eberron.
The Guardian. These are the dragons who work with the Gith. Some can be encountered working openly with their Gith charges, fighting alongside Githyanki raiders or protecting a Githzerai monastery. Others could shadow their charges covertly—for example, working as a sort of guardian angel for a Gith adventurer.
TheDraconic Observer. These gem dragons are studying the native dragons of Eberron. They seek to understand the ways of Argonnessen and to see if there’s any chance that the metallic and chromatic dragons could become part of Sardior—not unlike the Dhakaani dar and the Ghaal’dar.
The Mentor. These gem dragons study the humanoids of this reality. Some merely observe, while others try to guide humanoids toward draconic ascension. This could be subtle and covert, but a mentor could be found training humanoids in the psionic arts—seeing this as the first step toward the enlightenment that could produce a gem dragon egg. Alternately, a sapphire or amethyst dragon could take a direct interest in the depredations of the daelkyr in this world, and could be working with Gatekeepers or Mror dwarves—most likely secretly, but anything is possible.
The Hedonist. The gem dragons have escaped the utter destruction of their reality. All of the dragon types mentioned above hope to rebuild Sardior, but there are surely some who want to look to the future instead of dwelling in the past, to enjoy the life that they have and to pursue whatever it is that brings them joy. This is the option for a gem dragon who has no ties to the Gith and no grand agenda. They could be dwelling among humanoids and experiencing simple joys; perhaps an undercover gem dragon has become an Aurum concordian! Or they could be found in isolation, gathering a hoard of whatever it is they treasure and enjoying the world around them.
The Native. In Githberron, gem dragons are born through a process of ascension. The DM must decide—is it possible for this to occur in the current incarnation of Eberron? If so, it’s reasonable to think that at some point it has occurred even among unguided mortals—that there are people who have become gem dragons on their own. These dragons would know nothing of Githberron or Sardior, and their motives would likely be tied to their own history and culture. Beyond this, the gem dragon stat blocks could also be used with other sorts of spontaneous dragons; moonstone dragons could essentially be draconic changelings, dragons of Argonnessen who’ve spent time in Thelanis and been altered by the experience.
While most of these paths are largely benevolent, there’s certainly room for any of these dragons to go down a sinister path. A guardian may place the survival of the Gith above all else, caring nothing for the damage they do to this cracked mirror in pursuit of their goals. A mentor could eliminate students who fail to live up to expectations—or kill them believing that they will become dragon eggs, only to discover that they weren’t ready.
A key question is how Argonnessen interacts with gem dragons, and whether gem dragons are vulnerable to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber. Given that they are from an alien reality and are so different in how they are formed, I am inclined to say both that gem dragons aren’t affected by the Daughter of Khyber and also that they don’t show up in the Draconic Prophecy. With this in mind, in my campaign, Argonnessen doesn’t know much about gem dragons. Because theycan and have spontaneously manifested over the course of history, Argonnessen dismisses isolated encounters with gem dragons as fluke occurrences, thinking they’re much like a draconic version of tieflings or aasimar; they haven’t yet realized that there is a civilization of gem dragons active in the world. This gives player characters the opportunity to have a front row seat for the full first and open contact between Sardior and Argonnessen. The Sardior dragons have been studying Argonnessen via their draconic observers and dealing with a few individual sympathetic dragons, but they haven’t yet dealt with the Conclave or the Chamber—and adventurers could be a part of this event when it occurs. Will the Conclave work with these alien dragons? Or will they view them as a threat that should be eliminated? A second plot thread I might explore is the idea that the gem dragons aren’t as vulnerable to the Daughter of Khyber as native dragons, but that they aren’t immune to her influence… that a gem dragon who remains on Eberron and exercises its power might slowly be corrupted by the overlord, turning a valued ally into an enemy. The main point is that I’d rather have these things occur as part of the story the player characters are involved in than to be something that occurred long ago.
Kalashtar, Adar, and the Dreaming Dark
One important question is how the dragons of Sardior interact with the psi-active forces of the current Eberron, notably Adarans, kalashtar, and the Dreaming Dark. If psionic talent is a cornerstone of the evolution into a gem dragon the kalashtar could be natural allies for Sardior; the Adaran shroud would also make Adar a compelling place to have a secure Gith creche for raising children. On the other hand, it’s possible that because kalashtar psionic talent is tied to an alien spirit that the kalashtar are a spiritual dead end or at least would have MORE trouble ascending than other humanoids. It could be that Adar is already home to one or more native gem dragons; it could be very interesting to reveal that there’s always been a gem greatwyrm hidden beneath Adar, helping to protect its people.
On the other side of things, gem dragons might be more interested in Riedra and the Inspired. Could the Hanbalani be hijacked to create a form of Sardior? On the other hand, once the gem dragons have revealed their presence, I could imagine the Dreaming Dark trying to capture and use them; this could be the source of an obsidian dragon.
The main point to me is that I’m always more interested in having interesting things happen NOW than setting them in the past. I’d rather have Adaran or Kalashtar players be actively involved when a Sardior emissary comes to Adar and asks to build a creche than to say that it happened a century ago… though I do love the idea of the revelation that there have always been a few native gem dragons in Adar who have helped to guide and protect the nation!
What About Gem Dragonborn?
In my Eberron, gem dragonborn are like gem dragons, in that they aren’t a species that reproduces with others of their kind; they must be created. For these purposes, I’d consider the half-dragon origins suggested in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. True Love’s Gift suggests that a bond of love between a dragon and another creature can produce a dragonborn, while Cradle Favor suggests that some gem dragons can transform an unborn child. How and why this could occur would depend on the nature of the dragon sharing their power. A guardian dragon could cultivate a squad of dragonborn soldiers. Likewise, a mentor could cultivate a small family of dragonborn to help with its mission. On the other hand, a secretive hedonist or mentor could produce a dragonborn through a bond of love, with the child and their mother never knowing the true nature of the draconic godparent. On the other hand, Fizban’s offers other possible paths to becoming a half-dragon… notably, the idea that “A creature that bathes in or drinks the blood of a dragon can sometimes be transformed into a half-dragon.” I wouldn’t make this reliable or easy technique… but it leaves the possibility that some of the Draleus Tairn hunt gem dragons for this reason, or that a dying gem dragon might choose to give the last power of its blood to a humanoid that finds it.
This provides a range of options for a gem dragonborn player character. If you’re tied to a guardian, it means that you have an active connection to the Sardior survivors and a Gith vessel. Why have you left your ship? Have you been exiled for some crime, and seek to clear your name? Do you have a specific mission, whether diplomatic or searching for a particular artifact? If you’re tied to a mentor, you could have a relationship with your draconic benefactor not unlike that of a warlock and their patron; your dragon seeks to gather information and to help elevate humaniodity, and you are their eyes and hands. On the other hand, it could be that you were born as a gem dragonborn but don’t know why—that part of your quest is to discover the dragon who transformed you and to learn why.
Thoughts For Gith…
Given my theory of Githberron, one might ask what this means for Gith player characters. Are all Githyanki survivors of Githberron? Do all Gith have to have a connection to the Astral or to Kythri? A few thoughts…
The timeless nature of the astral plane means that you could play a Githyanki character who’s a survivor of the lost world. Part of the idea of Githberron/Sardior is that psionic energy was more abundant there, so you could justify being a low-level character by saying that you were a more powerful psion in your own world and part of the reason you’re traveling is to learn to work with the lesser energies of this one. With that said, the Githyanki do want to continue to grow their population; in this article I suggest the existence of creche ships that serve this purpose. I imagine adolescent Githyanki having a sort of rumspringa period—they have to be out of the astral until they physically mature, and some ships might encourage their youths to explore the material plane in this time, learning about the wider world, honing their skills, and making potential allies. Meanwhile, Kythri ISN’T timeless—which among other things suggests that the only Githzerai who personally remember Githberron are monks who’ve mastered some form of the Timeless Body technique (which I’d personally allow some Githzerai NPCs to do even if they don’t have all the other powers of a 15th level monk). On the other hand, because we are dealing with events that defy the concept of linear time, if it suits the story a DM could decide that from the perspective of the Gith, it’s only actually been a few decades since Githberron was lost! Either way, I could also see the Githzerai having a wandering period where their adolescents experience life in the material plane, to understand existence beyond Kythri.
In any case, I would say that all Gith have a connection to either a city-ship or a monastery. So as a Gith, why might you be an adventurer? A few ideas…
You’re a Gith adolescent in your wandering time, honing your skills and seeing the world; you plan to return to your people in a few years.
You’re a Githyanki advance scout studying the people of this world so your ship can decide whether and where to raid in it.
You’re the child of a Githyanki who chose not to return after the Wandering, and you know nothing of your ancestors or their customs.
You are working with a gem dragon mentor, who’s requested your help in their work studying or attempting to uplift the humanoids of this world.
You’re on a personal mission to eliminate the mind flayer Xor’chyllic, who committed horrific war crimes in your reality. Your people refused to support your quest, so you’ve gone rogue and need to cultivate a team of local allies.
That’s all for now! I don’t have time to answer many questions on this article, but feel free to discuss your ideas and ways you’ve used gem dragons or Gith in the comments. If you want to see more of these articles, to have a chance to choose future topics, or to play in my ongoing online Eberron campaign, check out my Patreon!
These people fall into two distinct cultures: the farming folk of the eastern plains and the people of the woods. The farmers live on the eastern edge of the Towering Wood. Their ancestors were citizens of Aundair, but their grandparents and great-grandparents turned against the lords of Aundair during the Last War, when the princes of Galifar abandoned them. The plains folk live simple lives, but they are rugged and proud. Most have taken up the beliefs of the druids, and villages have druid advisors. The people of the woods hid from the eyes of Galifar, and most prefer the solitude of the Towering Wood to the bustle of the Five Nations. Shifters and centaurs sometimes live in their own isolated tribes, but most forest folk prefer to live in small mixed communities—human, elf, and shifter living side by side. They follow the faith of one of the druid sects, but only the most exceptional actually become druids or rangers, joining the patrols that guard woods and plains alike.
Player’s Guide to Eberron
The “Eldeen Reaches” has its roots in early Common and Druidic; it can be translated as “The Old Land” or, perhaps, “The Oldest Land.” The term has been used since the earliest days of the Five Nations, but until the Last War it wasn’t the name of a nation; it primarily referred to the land beyond civilization. The people who actually lived in this vast woodland region called their home the Towering Wood, and most still do. It was only in the midst of the Last War that the Eldeen Reaches became a nation, and that nation was and is something entirely new—the fusion of the traditions of former Aundairians with the shifters and druidic initiates of the Towering Wood. A crucial point is that the former Aundairians didn’t simply adopt the traditions of the Woodfolk, because the people of the Wood weren’t themselves united and besides, many of the woodland traditions couldn’t be directly applied to the agricultural lands of the east. The Wardens of the Wood helped the people of the farmlands secede from Aundair—and then, they worked together to build something entirely new for both of them. While the Eldeen Reaches are now a nation, more than anything they are an experiment, one that is very much still in progress.
Much has been written about the Eldeen Reaches in the present day, but I want to explore the history of the Reaches and of the Towering Wood—because the past can shed vital light on the present and on what the world within the Wood actually looks like.
The Forgotten Roots of the Towering Wood
The Towering Wood is ancient, and not even the trees know all of its secrets. But someone who studies the tales of the Moonspeaker druids, the chants of the Ghaash’kala, and the long-lost records of Dhakaan may piece together this tale of the Wood—a tale that may even be true.
The Towering Wood is as old as the world. Some say the greatpines were the first trees Eberron created, that the Wood was the first forest. In these tales, the Woods were home to the first humanoids, the Ur-Oc… the species we now know as orcs. Tale or truth, the archaeological record shows that orcs were once found across the west coast of Khorvaire, from the Shadow Marches to the Demon Wastes. But the first age was no time of peace. The Towering Wood may have been the first forest created by Eberron, but it was quickly claimed and corrupted by one of the vile children of Khyber—an archfiend known as the Wild Heart. From the Towering Wood, the Wild Heart fought ceaselessly with other overlords; its greatest rival was the Rage of War, Rak Tulkhesh, who held the Shadowcrags and the lands beyond. There are many stories that could be told of this time, tales of the endless battles between gnoll and orc, of how the orcs of the north were freed by the First Light and witnessed the birth of the Binding Flame. There are stories to be told of the dragons, of how they came to Khorvaire after the binding and how the Daughter of Khyber shattered all that they created. But these tales are in the deep and distant past, and our interest lies closer to the present. In the “Age of Monsters,” the goblins of Dhakaan became the greatest power in Khorvaire. They drove the orcs into harsh and dangerous lands, places the goblins didn’t want—high mountains, deep swamps, the wild and untamed woods. The orcs cared little, for they loved these primal lands. And so as the empire expanded, the orcs prospered in the Towering Wood. They lived in harmony with the fey of the Twilight Demesne, and kept the malevolent Gloaming at bay. They raised no cities and forged no empires, and felt no need for either.
So how is it that when humanity came to Khorvaire, there were no orcs in the Towering Wood?
A student of arcana might leap to a conclusion. Surely, it was the daelkyr! And in part it was. When the forces of Xoriat boiled into the world, the Twister of Roots sunk its tendrils deep into the Towering Wood. But the Gatekeepers—orcs druids, trained by the dragon Vvaraak—came north to the Towering Wood and shared their secret knowledge with their cousins. Together, druidic orc and Dhakaani goblin overcame the horrors of the daelkyr and drove the lords of Xoriat into the darkness. The daelkyr were bound in Khyber by primal seals, which took many forms. Some say that the seals had to match to the nature of the daelkyr. The Twister of Roots couldn’t be bound with stone or steel; Avassh could only be held at bay by a living seal of root and leaf, and so it was that the druids created the EldeenAda—Druidic for, essentially, the first trees—imbuing a handful of trees with sentience and primal power. The greatest of these, and the only one known in the wider world, is the Guardian of the Greenheart, the Great Druid Oalian. But there are other guardian trees spread across the Towering Wood. Some guide their own communities of druids and rangers. Others prefer the company of dryads or elemental spirits. At least one has grown bitter and despises humanoids. The Eldeen Ada have existed for thousands of years, and they have been an invaluable source of primal wisdom. If this tale is true, they are more than that. Oalian is one element of the living seal that keeps Avassh in Khyber. So it wasn’t the Twister of Roots that destroyed the orcs of the Towering Wood. And yet, a thousand years later, the Eldeen Ada would be the only remnant of those orcs. When humanity came to Khorvaire, the Wood was the domain of scattered shifter tribes and feral gnolls. What happened?
The tales of the shifter Moonspeakers never say how the shifters came to Khorvaire. They speak only of a time of chaos and terror, a time when shifters were feral beasts. According to this myth, it was Olarune who taught the first shifters to master the beast within, and who trained the first Moonspeakers. A historian who carefully traces these stories and compares them with the Dhakaani ruins in what is now the Eldeen Reaches could come to a clear conclusion: soon after the daelkyr were bound, something happened in the Towering Wood that utterly obliterated both the orcish culture within the Wood and the Imperial cities just beyond it. Centuries later, a handful of shifter tribes are living in the Wood, with tales of the moon goddess leading them out of terror. What could do such a thing? Why, the same power that almost did it again, thousands of years later. The evidence suggests that the Wild Heart broke free from its bonds and held dominion over what is now the Eldeen Reaches, possibly for centuries. All civilizations in the region were obliterated. Those humanoids that survived were taken by the Curse of the Wild Heart, becoming cruel, predatory lycanthropes driven by the will of the overlord. Somehow, centuries later, something broke this cycle. Something new emerged among the cursed victims of the Wild Heart—champions wielding primal power, who somehow returned the overlord to his bonds. And when peace returned to the Wood, there were no orcs left—there were only shifters.
This is a possibility, not absolute fact; other myths suggest that the first lycanthropes were cursed shifters, not the other way around. But this story explains the dramatic disappearance of the orcs and orcish culture in the region, and is is echoed by the events of the Silver Crusade. It’s simple fact that the overlords can escape their bonds; the near-release of Bel Shalor threw Thrane into chaos in the Year of Blood and Fire. Thrane’s travails are well documented because the civilization that dealt with it survived and still exists today. This dominion of the Wild Heart came as the Dhakaani Empire was collapsing and contributed to that collapse, and the orcs of the Towering Wood were completely destroyed by it. The only survivors of that time are the trees themselves. Oalian surely knows what became of the orcs, but in the few times they’ve been asked, they’ve said there are secrets that cannot be unspoken. This echoes the fact that we don’t know how the curse was brokenin the Silver Crusade… that there may have been a reason that the details of the victory were never shared and celebrated. Breaking the fourth wall for a moment, there’s a practical reason for this. If, as a DM, you decide to make the Wild Heart part of your campaign, one of the crucial challenges for the player characters will be finding out how it was defeated before and why those details were hidden. WHY won’t Oalian discuss it? Would sharing that knowledge widely somehow help the Wild Heart? Could it be something even stranger: in order to bind the Wild Heart, a group of templars and Moonspeakers had to become a new form of lycanthrope—another form of the living seal—and that to this day there is a secret group of lycanthropes at the heart of the Church of the Silver Flame, somehow evading all forms of divination? Have all the Keepers since that time been lycanthropes? Ultimately, the point is that the Wild Heart has been released before, and the eradication of the orcs and goblins of the region shows the stakes: fully unleashed, the Wild Heart would destroy the people of the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair. But should this threat arise again, people will have to learn how the Overlord was defeated before and why those involved kept those details hidden.
This story contains another important secret: who—or what—is Olarune? In the Moonspeaker tales, Olarune is the moon herself, descended from the heavens to guide the shifters and to free them from a time of chaos. The implication is that these proto-shifters were natural lycanthropes controlled by the Curse of the Wild Heart—which removes free will and enforces cruel, predatory behavior—and that “Olarune” somehow overcame the curse, while also making them shifters. Rather than being slaves to predatory instincts, they “mastered the beast within.” Who would and could do such a thing? One simple answer is a dragon. The dragon Vvaraak taught the first gatekeepers, and Olarune is said to have taught the first Moonspeakers. Could Olarune have been another Child of Eberron—or even Vvaraak herself, returned from a period of stasis? Another possibility is that Olarune was an archfey who came to the Towering Woods through the Twilight Demesne—that shifters may still have a literal faerie godmother in Thelanis. Perhaps Olarune was a manifestation of Eberron itself, a force of primal power. Or, just possibly, Olarune was a player character of her age—not an avatar of Eberron, but a natural lycanthrope who somehow channeled the power of Eberron, much as Tira Miron channeled the power of the Silver Flame. Again, this is a decision for each DM to make for themselves, should they decide to tell the story. The question is whether Olarune still exists—whether adventurers can find her in Thelanis or in Argonnessen, whether druids can reach her by communing with nature, or whether she was just a mortal—in which case it might be possible for a mortal champion of this age to assume her mantle.
The Coming of Humanity
Once upon a time, an orc culture was spread across the Towering Wood. When humanity came to what is now Aundair, the Towering Wood was inhabited by scattered shifter tribes; aside from the absence of orcs, the shifter population was far lower than that of the ancient orcs of the region. There’s two reasons for this. The first is understanding the desires of the Wild Heart. Look to the Silver Crusade: the overlord didn’t simply turn ALL of the people of the Towering Wood into lycanthropes. He turned some of the denizens into lycanthropes, and then set them on their former friends and neighbors. The Wild Heart isn’t in any way a spirit of nature; he delights in savagery andthe prey’s fear of the predator. If and when he was released before, he created servants and forced them to prey upon their former people. A grim possibility is that the reason he was eventually rebound—the reason Olarune was able to create the shifters—was because there were no innocents left to hunt, and that this weakened the overlord.
So first of all, the initial shifter population was just a fraction of the former orcs. The second point is that the Towering Wood was far more dangerous than it had been in the past. At the start of the Age of Monsters, the Wild Heart had been bound for tens of thousands of years, and the daelkyr had yet to arrive. The Wood as it exists today—and as humanity first found it— is quite a different place. Consider…
The Twister of Roots is the daelkyr that has the greatest influence in the Towering Wood, but Dyrrn the Corruptor touches it as well. While the daelkyr are bound, their minions and their influence can affect the surface. As noted in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, “For every dryad, there is a dolgrim; for every unicorn, there is a runehound.” Cults of the Dragon Below can manifest at any time, and countless denizens of the Wood have been corrupted by the daelkyr over the ages.
The Wild Heart held dominion over the region for centuries before being rebound, and its power rose again during the Silver Crusade. The scars of these conflicts remain. The woods are filled with dire and horrid beasts that act with unnatural aggression and cruelty. There are bands of feral gnolls still driven by the hunger of the Wild Heart. It seems that the power of the Curse of the Wild Heart may be growing again, and it could well be that the bite of a horrid beast could inflict an innocent with the curse.
All of this is added to the effects of powerful manifest zones… primarily to Lamannia and Thelanis, but with notable exceptions such as the Gloaming. Beyond this, despite their best efforts the Ghaash’kala can’t contain every element of evil that seeks to cross the Labyrinth; there are always a few fiends roaming the northern woods. The crucial point is that the Towering Wood are dangerous. In his Chronicle of Thaliost, the sage Dalen Book wrote that “The world ends at the Towering Wood.” The human settlers interacted with shifters on the edge of the Wood—sometimes trading, sometimes fighting—but after a few efforts they settled on the pleasant lands they called Thaliost and abandoned the idea of claiming the “Eldeen Reaches.” However, there were always some people who heard the call of the Wood.
This brings us to the druid sects we know today. The bulk of the shifter tribes follow the Moonspeaker tradition. But there were always a few drawn to different paths. Largely, these were tied to region—and most often to the guidance of one of the ancient trees. The Children of Winter have always been based in the Gloaming and helped to contain this sinister power. The Greensingers walk the edge of the Twilight Demesne. The Ashbound protect the northern Reaches from the fiends that cross the mountains. So the first druids of all of these sects were shifters, but slowly, new initiates trickled in from the newcomers settling to the east. It was at this point that Oalian formed the Wardens of the Woods, to protect the people of Thaliost from the Wood and to protect the Wood from civilization. The Wardens helped to mediate disputes between shifters and settlers, and earned the respect of both sides.
As centuries passed, the shifters of the Towering Wood maintained their traditions, while the people of Thaliost continued to expand and grow. But on the whole, it remained as Dalen Book had said; for all intents and purposes, civilization came to an end at the edge of the Towering Wood.
The Silver Crusade and the Lycanthropic Purge
Thaliost became Galifar, and under Galifar the Towering Wood and the land around it were all declared to be part of Aundair. The Eldeen Reaches was a term used to refer to all the lands west of the Wynarn River. It was a region of Aundair, known for its farmland—but it was on the edge of civilization and lacked the sophistication of Fairhaven or Thaliost, the arcane elegance that had come to define Aundairian culture. The nobles largely ignored reports of gnoll reavers, and the few times that the Carrion Tribes breached the Labyrinth in force, little was done until they threatened Varna. This disdain can be clearly seen in the ninth century. When werewolves terrorized the farmers of the Reaches, the lords of Aundair ignored their pleas for aid. It was the Church of the Silver Flame that responded, by launching the Silver Crusade. After a bad start based on ignorance and the work of cunning wererats, a tenuous alliance was formed between the templars and the inhabitants of the Towering Wood. Templars needed the support of shifter villages to carry the campaign deeper into the Wood, and it was only by working together that Moonspeakers and templars were able to break the power of the Wild Heart. This could have been a moment that forged a strong and lasting bond between the two forces. But for whatever reason, the details of that victory weren’t shared. The templars of Thrane left the region, and only the Pure Flame remained—Aundairians who embraced the Flame as a weapon, and who sought an outlet for their pain and someone to blame for their losses and suffering. Under the guise of hunting down every last lycanthrope—ultimately, an impossible task, as the lingering power of the Wild Heart can always create more—the Pure Flame carried out decades of cruel purges that drove a lasting wedge between shifters and the church.
As historians often focus on the tragedy of the Purge, there’s another important aspect of this period that’s often overlooked. The Pure Flame arose because Aundairians embraced the force they saw as saving them from the apocalyptic threat. But it wasn’t only the templars who fought that battle. Some farmers fought alongside shifters; others were saved from death by the druids and rangers of the woods, most notably the Wardens of the Wood. Even as some farmers embraced the Pure Flame and hunted for imaginary werewolves, others embraced the druidic mysteries and left their fields to serve as Wardens of the Wood. This moment laid the cornerstone for the modern Eldeen Reaches, increasing contact and interaction between the farmers and the Woodfolk and increasing the numbers of all of the Eldeen sects. One reason the people of the Five Nations know so little about the druids is because before the Silver Crusade there just weren’t enough of them to push beyond the Reaches. The Ashbound are an especially good example of this. TODAY they are infamous for raiding Dragonmarked facilities and sabotaging airships. Prior to the last century, they didn’t have enough contact to even know about the Dragonmarked Houses, let alone the numbers to plan such raids. Even as followers of the Pure Flame pressed deeper into the Wood in pursuit of their purge, other Aundairians learned about the primal mysteries. So all of the sects grew in power, the Wardens of the Wood most of all.
It’s important to understand that at this time, the people of the Wood weren’t in any way a NATION. If the Moonspeaker shifters had been united, they might have joined together to wipe out the Pure Flame; but they weren’t united. Some chose to retreat deeper into the woods; others fought the Pure Flame, played into the zealots’ narrative. Eventually the Wardens of the Wood worked with the Moonspeakers and other sects to draw a line the Pure Flame couldn’t cross, and it was this that brought the Purge to an end. Some of the people of Western Aundair were grateful to the Wardens, while to the followers of the Pure Flame it was proof than no druid could be trusted.
The Eldeen Secession
The Last War proved to be the undoing of the old order. As the conflict intensified, Aundair pulled its forces back to protect its heartland and eastern borders, leaving the Eldeen Reaches to fend for themselves. Bandit lords sponsored by Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities harried the farms west of the Wynarn River, using the forest as a base and staging ground. In the south, Brelish troops crossed the Silver Lake to occupy Sylbaran, Greenblade, and Erlaskar. As things went from bad to worse, an army of druids and rangers emerged from the forest. In 956 YK, the Wardens of the Wood rallied the farmers and peasants, crushing the bandit army before it knew what was happening. With order restored in the north, the Wardens turned their attention to the south. In 959 YK, they finally succeeded in driving the Brelish forces back across the lake.
Angry at the Aundairian crown for abandoning them, the people swore allegiance to the Great Druid, breaking all ties with the lords of Aundair and resisting several Aundair attempts to regain control. Since 958 YK, the people of the Eldeen Reaches have considered themselves to be part of an independent nation, and they were finally recognized as such with the signing of the Treaty of Thronehold. It remains to be seen whether Aundair will try to reclaim its old territories now that the Last War has ended.
Eberron Campaign Setting
The lords of eastern Aundair had long ignored the farmers on the edge of civilization, and this pattern continued in the Last War. The Eberron Campaign Setting presents the basic issue. Eastern Aundair looked to the west for taxes, for crops, and for conscripts; but they left the farmers to defend themselves from brigands, gnolls, even Brelish soldiers. For the most part, these were relatively minor incidents—in part because the Wardens of the Wood did act to deal with bandits that sought shelter in the Towering Wood or who came too close to the edge of the forest. But as the war went on, these provocations grew increasingly serious. State-sponsored brigands became better organized and armed… and at least some of these “brigands” were Pure Flame zealots. The Brelish advance across Silver Lake was the last straw.
The Eberron Campaign Setting presents the arrival of the Warden army almost as a surprise, with the farmers saying “What the heck! Let’s sign up with you!” a year later. This is a romantic image, but it oversimplifies things. The ties between the people of the west and the Wardens of the Wood had been growing for over a century, ever since the Silver Crusade. The intervention was the result not only of years of pleas from the east, but also of diplomacy within the Wood, as the Wardens convinced the woodland tribes and the other sects to join their cause. The appearance of the Wardens in 956 YK was carefully planned, and many of the farmers were already prepared to join the fight. The idea of secession was already on the table in 956 YK; it simply took the victories and the show of strength by the Wardens to convince the holdouts to embrace the cause. The Wardens won over a few of the landed nobles, even though it meant relinquishing their titles. Others were driven from their lands—though as most of these lords were already living in the cities of the east, it was easily done.
The Evolving Reaches
In considering with the Eldeen Reaches, it’s important to understand the degree to which the Towering Wood is still vast and untamed; the Player’s Guide to Eberron notes that “humanity barely has a foothold in that fortress of nature.” In many ways, the Towering Woods can be compared to the Lhazaar Principalities; the various sects and tribes respect Oalian and could be rallied again, but they’re spread wide and hold fast to their own traditions. The most unified part of the nation is the fields, because its people were unified as citizens of Aundair. As I said at the start, the Eldeen Reaches are an experiment, where the people of the fields are actively learning how to blend their old ways with the druidic traditions. There are still people in the Reaches who don’t support the new nation and who are rooting for Aundair to reclaim the land; they’re simply enough of a minority that they don’t exert power over any major community. These include followers of the Pure Flame, though many of these folk have moved east to Thaliost, delighted to have an ancient city ruled by one of their own.
The thing to always keep in mind is that the Eldeen Reaches have only existed in this current form for four decades. They’re still learning how to settle disputes and the most effective ways to employ druidic magic in everyday life. So far the Reaches are thriving, and most of the people of the land are proud of what they’ve created. But it’s evolving every day, and the shadows of the Towering Wood are just as dangerous as ever.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
As with any lore, it always comes down to the question… why does this actually matter to you, whether as player or DM? There’s a few points to consider here.
First, always consider the separation between the fields and the Wood. The fields are the focus of the great experiment, where the people of cities and villages are integrating the druidic traditions into everyday life. But Varna is far older than the Reaches as a nation. There are people in Varna who are either indifferent to this experiment and even some who actively oppose it. If you’re from one of the cities, where do you stand on this? Are you a fervent supporter of your nation, keen to help it realize its full potential and to serve as a beacon to the world, showing the wisdom of adopting the druidic traditions? Are you working to rally allies against the threat of Aundairian aggression? Or are you indifferent—you’re from the Reaches, but you’re not excited about it? Or are you actively opposed to “the Warden Occupation” and hope to help Aundair reclaim the region? If you’re from the Wood, are you deeply invested in the experiment of the fields, or are you from a deep forest tribe with no interest and little knowledge of the Five Nations?
All of this especially applies to a druid, ranger, or other character with a primal background. If you’re a druid, were you born into the sect or did you come from a family of farmers and choose this path yourself? Keep in mind that the reaches have only been around in their current form for forty years. If you’re an elf, you’re mostly likely older than the nation. Did you fight in the struggle for independence? Were you born in the Wood, or were you raised in Aundair?
As a DM, one of the most crucial things to remember is how mysterious and dangerous the Towering Wood is. As noted in the PGtE, humanity barely has a foothold in that fortress of nature… and the shadows of the wood are home to fiends, aberrations, monstrosities, fey, undead, and more. Neither the ancient orcs nor the Wild Heart built cities, but adventurers could still find ritual sites, cave dwellings, or other relics that reach back to the Age of Monsters or even the Age of Demons. Dhakaani soldiers fought alongside Gatekeeper druids, and there could be an undead dar troop still lost the Gloaming. And while the Gloaming and the Twilight Demesne are MASSIVE manifest zones, there are many, many smaller manifest zones scattered throughout the region. You can potentially encounter fey or undead anywhere in the Wood. The Wardens and the other sects do their best to locate and watch these, and a Thelanian zone might have a resident Greensinger… but again, the Wood is vast.
Next up, keep the events of the Silver Crusade and the Purge in mind. There’s surely remnants of villagers still haunted by innocent shifters slain during the Purge; but you could also find relics of battles where templars and shifters stood side by side. Beyond this, while the power of the curse was broken, the Wild Heart nearly broke free and the remnants of its power can still be felt. There are horrid animals that are crueler and more cunning than any natural beast should be, feral gnolls that are thralls of the Wild Heart, beasts that are actually hosts for fiends, and more. The Wood was also a stronghold of the daelkyr Avassh; you never know when you might stumble upon a cult or relics of the Twister of Roots
A final thing to keep in mind is whether the Eldeen experiment will take a dramatic turn in your campaign. Will Aundair try to reclaim the Reaches? And if so, how will the rest of Khorvaire react? Or is this danger a lurking problem for future generations?
While I don’t have time to answer every question people may have about the Eldeen Reaches, I do want to answer some questions posed by my Patreon supporters this month.
Any fiendish forces from the Wastes that bypass the Ghaash’kala will inevitably end up in the Reaches. Given that fiends and Carrion Tribes do sometimes break through, and the Ghaash’kala are ‘too corrupted’ to leave, is there an organization in the Reaches that deals with such incursions?
The critical issue here is to understand the scale of the situation. The Ghaash’kala are able to stop large forces, which is why it’s been centuries since the Carrion Tribes have managed to cross the Labyrinth. But the Labyrinth stretches across hundreds of miles, and individual fiends or small groups of raiders can slip through. And when they do, what they reach is the Towering Woods—hundreds of miles of a land where “humanity barely has a foothold,” and where dolgrims, horrid beasts, feral gnolls and worse things abound.
Essentially, it’s unfeasible for the denizens of the Towering Wood to try to enforce order on regions of the Wood where they don’t actually live. It’s too large and filled with too many threats, and ultimately, what’s the point? Why lay down innocent lives to enforce order on land no one actually wants to use for anything?
So no, there is no organization in the Reaches that attempts to deal with EVERY INCURSION from the Demon Wastes; the fiends that make it across the mountains disappear into the host of threats the Wood has to offer. With that said, there are two organizations that seek to defend occupied territory from fiends. The first of these is the Wardens of the Wood, who have a broad mandate to protect the people of the Reaches from ALL threats (… as well as protecting the Reaches from the people!). and who cover the widest range. Meanwhile, the Ashbound particularly despise fiends, which they consider to be incarnations of unnatural magic; it’s for this reason that the Ashbound are concentrated in the northern woods. So the point is that even the Ashbound don’t try to catch EVERY FIEND that makes it through the Labyrinth. But they remain ever alert within the regions they inhabit, and hunt fiends whenever they find signs of their presence.
A secondary point to keep in mind here is that Eberron is designed to be a world in need of heroes. Rather than saying the Ashbound have a long-established alliance with the Ghaash’kala and work closely together to deal with threats, I’m inclined to say the Ashbound have a feud with the Ghaash’kala based over a misunderstanding that happened centuries ago and never work together. This is exactly the sort of thing that a diplomatic player character could resolve, but it makes it a problem that needs to be fixed if there’s a threat of a mass incursion from the Demon Wastes… as opposed to saying “Oh, no biggie, the Ghaashbound Alliance has it all under control.”
Who are some famous figures from across the Eldeen Reaches (including the area before it was the Reaches)? Any famous heroes or villains or organizers or leaders past or present that the players could point to and say hey, my character is inspired one way or another by this figure?
First and foremost is Oalian themself; initiates of every sect respect the wisdom of the Great Druid. Here’s a few other prominent figures who have been mentioned in canon.
Bennin Silverclaw is a shifter champion from the time of the Silver Crusade. He’s renowned for playing a crucial role in forging the alliance between an shifters and the templars. He fought alongside the templars during the Crusade and may well have been part of the force that finally broke the power of the Curse. He’s believed to have died pursuing a force of lycanthropes into the Demon Wastes.
Briar is a Khoravar Greensinger. In the decade leading up the the secession, he roamed the Reaches raising spirits and encouraging people to embrace independence. Even after the secession, he remained active on the Aundair-Eldeen border, rallying the Reachers and embarrassing the Aundairians. He was captured by Aundairian forces in 968 YK, and has spent the last 30 years in a silent cell. Note that this Briar is no relation to Briar of Threshold, and may well have been imprisoned before that Briar was born.
Faena Graymorn is a Khoravar druid. While Oalian is the spiritual leader of the Wardens, they’re a tree; Faena is the humanoid leader of the sect, conducting important business that requires hands and legs. She played a critical role in the secession and was involved in the negotiations that earned the Reaches recognition at the Treaty of Thronehold. She is a powerful druid; songs are sung about her deeds driving the Brelish from Sylbaran. However, the years are catching up to her. Today she’s primarily an administrator and diplomat; it’s been a decade since she’s called down lightning against a foe.
Stormclaw is an Ashbound shifter whose strength is legendary throughout the Reaches. He’s said to have crushed fiends with his bare hands, and even to have survived an armwrestling contest with Sora Maenya (before the rise of Droaam). Stormclaw is a bold and ruthless hunter; where his comrade Tasia hunts wizards in Aundair, Stormclaw reserves his wrath for the fiends he tracks in the northern woods.
Raven is one of the most powerful members of the Children of Winter. Where the Children have long contained the power of the Gloaming, Raven has harnessed it and can wield it in battle. She is one of the voices asserting that the time has come to cleanse the world—that the Mourning is merely the first sign, and that the only path to the new s\Summer lies directly through Winter.
Quite a few more notable members of the sects are mentioned in the Player’s Guide to Eberron; here’s one section that mentions a few other Wardens of the Wood.
Other notable members of the wardens include Root (NG male personality warforged fighter 2/druid 4), a spiritual soldier searching for his place in the natural world; Moselin (NG male human druid 7), advisor to the town of Cree and also an active hunter of aberrations; and Feralyn Wolf-tail (NG female gnome ranger 5/Eldeen ranger 1), a clever gnome who hunts poachers and bandits.
Player’s Guide to Eberron
These are just a handful. There are surely other heroes and martyrs of both the Silver Crusade and the struggle for independence, as well as other guardian trees. And if you’re a shifter, there’s Olarune herself!
Were Eberron’s centaurs ever integrated into Galifar or the Five Nations?
So… In my Eberron, the large monstrosity centaur and medium fey centaur are entirely different creatures with completely different backgrounds and cultures, just as I suggested that fey changelings are entirely different from humanoid changelings. In my Eberron, there are a few different species of Monstrosity centaur, including one that’s more equine and one that’s more tribex (including bone headplates and short horns). With all of these subspecies, their humanoid torso has a distinct appearance ; they are half-humanoid, but you’d never mistake such a centaur for a human or elf; they are CENTAURS. By contrast, Fey centaurs vary dramatically in both aspects of their appearance; they aren’t limited to being equine, and their humanoid elements typically DO resemble another mortal species. So you may find a fey centaur that’s half-human, half-horse; but you could also find one that’s half-dwarf, half-riding dog or half-elf, half stag. These are primarily cosmetic details that don’t affect their statistics, and they aren’t limited by genetics but rather by story. Fey cenaturs are usually found near Thelanian manifest zones, and may have a consistent phenotype related to the story of that zone; but when they venture away and out into the wider world that becomes less fixed. Just as two shifters can have a child whose beast doesn’t match either of them, a human/horse fey centaur who mates with a dwarf/riding dog centaur could produce an elf/stag centaur.
Canonically, no, centaurs haven’t been significantly integrated into the Five Nations. The one place I know of where they are specifically called out in canon is the Player’s Guide to Eberron, which states that there are a few nomadic tribes of centaurs in the Eldeen Reaches, noting that they “are most common in the western forests near the Twilight Demesne.” Given that they are canonically denizens of the Towering Wood as opposed to the planes and in particular that they are associated with the Twilight Demesne—the largest Thelanian manifest zone presented in canon—I would say that the Eldeen centaurs are fey centaurs. I’d imagine that each nomadic tribe could have a different phenotype—there might be a tribe of elf/stags near the Demesne, a tribe of human/horses near the border between wood and field, a tribe of gnome/wolves in the north—though as noted above, fey centaurs don’t have to be consistent. In MY Eberron, the Wood centaurs are much like shifters: some tribes have chosen to completely ignore what’s going on in the east and follow their old traditions in the deep Wood, while others joined the Wardens of the Wood (or other sects—I can definitely imagine a centaur Greensinger) and have become part of the experiment. So definitely, in my campaign the Eldeen Reaches has a force of (fey) centaur cavalry as part of its military. With this in mind, I think that you could encounter Eldeen centaurs across the Five Nations just as you can encounter Greensingers or Wardens of the Wood across the Five Nations—they are rare and exotic, but not completely unknown.
But what about the NON-Fey centaurs? We’ve still never mentioned them as having a significant presence in the Five Nations and I’m not inclined to change that. I mentioned a strain of tribex centaurs and a strain of equine centaurs. In my campaign I have the tribex centaurs in the Talenta Plains and the equine centaurs in the Barrens of Droaam; in the Last War, it was actually Droaam that had a small force of centaur cavalry. Monstrosity centaurs can thus be encountered working with House Tharashk, but they are few in number and again, exotic and interesting.
Do you see the Voice of the Flame advising the Keeper of the Flame at the end of the Lycanthropic Purge to issue a public and formal apology to the shifters of the Eldeen Reaches?
tl;dr No, I don’t see the Church issuing a formal apology at the end of the Purge; but I can DEFINITELY imagine Jaela Daran issuing a formal apology today, perhaps even having an in-person ceremony in Greenheart.
Why the shift? First, it’s important to separate the Silver Crusade from the Lycanthropic Purge, as discussed in more detail in this article. The templars didn’t come to the region to kill shifters, they came to defend the innocent from lycanthropes. This started poorly, due to the fact that the raiding lycanthropes were almost entirely cursed shifters and that the wererats were actively working both to convince the templars that all shifters were the enemy and to convince the shifters that all templars were the enemy. But again, the shifters were also fighting the lycanthropes, and thanks to the work of heroes like Bennin Silverclaw, the two forces were able to work together as the conflict continued. There were ongoing tragedies throughout the Crusade, because that’s part of having a conflict with an enemy that can not only hide among your allies, but can turn your allies into your enemies with a bite. But again: shifters and templars were both fighting the lycanthropes, who posed an existential threat to ALL civilizations in the region. By the end of the conflict, templars were laying down their lives to protect shifter villages. Individual commanders surely apologized for tragedies they were involved in and may have done their best to make restitution in the moment. But overall, I don’t see the Church feeling that in needed to make a big public apology; countless templars had died fighting to protect both shifters and the people of Aundair.
… And then we get the Purge. But the thing about the Purge is that it wasn’t dictated by Flamekeep, and it wasn’t terribly well organized. It was an ongoing, slow, horrible persecution that lasted for decades. Most of all, it’s quite likely that the world at large—including Flamekeep—knew very little about it. This isn’t world with TV or internet. No one in Breland or Cyre had any awareness of what was going on the shifters in the Towering Wood. The Pure Flame templars surely reported to Flamekeep that they were engaging in absolutely necessary ongoing vigilance. Surely, over time, some word must have reached Flamekeep—I can imagine a heroic shifter making their way across Aundair to plead for help for their people. It’s possible the Keeper of the time did nothing, but it’s also possible they just didn’t do ENOUGH. They could have sent a strongly worded edict, they could have excommunicated a particular Pure Flame leader—meaning well but not understanding the extent of the hatred and the horror being committed. But not long after that, the Last War began… and I doubt apologizing to shifters was on anyone’s mind in the midst of the war.
Now the war is over. And now that the Eldeen Reaches are a nation, I’m sure that information about the horrors of the Purge are far more widely known. So NOW I see Jaela reaching out to make a formal apology for the Purge—for lighting the fire of the Pure Flame and leaving without foreseeing the danger, and for failing to do more to stop it. The mission of the Silver Flame is to protect all innocents; despite the noble intentions of the crusade, through its actions the Church set in motion a brutal tragedy that result in suffering and death for countless innocents. So yes, I think Jaela would apologize. And as I said, I could imagine a big public ceremony in the Greenheart—which could be a dramatic drive for adventures in many ways, especially if Jaela felt it necessary to attend in person, away from the power she wields in Flamekeep.
As a side note, I don’t see the Voice of the Flame as literally telling a Keeper what to do. Tira is more like an extremely strong conscience; she “speaks” more directly to a Keeper than to anyone else, but it’s still more about FEELINGS than her just say “Yo, Keeps! You fixed that shifter thing yet?” The Keeper can use commune to speak to Tira, but even then it’s up to the Keeper to set the topic. So if a Keeper said Should I do more to acknowledge the suffering of the shifters the Voice would say yes, absolutely—but she can’t force the topic if it doesn’t come up.
If the shifters of the Towering Wood are isolated tribes and may not even have had contact with the people of the fields… why do they speak Common? Shouldn’t they have their own language?
There’s a number of possible answers to this. As called out in this article, languages are one of the places where most settings sacrifice realism for ease of play—because it’s not a lot of FUN to have sessions where you go into the Reaches but get tripped up because no one speaks the Woodland language that no one uses anywhere else in Khorvaire.
With that in mind—it definitely doesn’t make sense that the Woodland shifters, as a whole, would speak Common. SOME would, because they’d have learned it as a trade language; I’m sure the Wardens of the Wood teach Common as part of the Eldeen experiment. So there’s nothing wrong with a player character shifter speaking Common even if they come from the deep Wood. But what would they actually speak at home?
First of all, I WOULDN’T make the Deep Wood language Druidic. I’m of the opinion that Druidic is a magical language that can only be mastered by people who can work primal magic—that in some ways, the Druidic language is primal magic, but some rangers or initiates never master the whole thing. So there are definitely Moonspeakers who speak Druidic, but it’s not the language used by the Deep Wood shifters.
Two valid possibilities are Orcish or Goblin. This would be strong evidence that the shifters are in fact descended from orcs. The question is if they’d speak Goblin because their ancestors adopted it during the Dhakaani reign—or would they have held onto Orcish, which would be someone amusing since we’ve suggested it’s a dead language even in the Shadow Marches?
Another possibility would be that the Moonspeakers say Olarune taught them a language when they first mastered the Beast Within; this could be Sylvan or potentially Elven, if you use my ideas on Elven.
If I were to say “They have their own entirely unique language that isn’t spoken anywhere else in Khorvaire” I would likely give this to any shifter player character from the region as a bonus language, without making them spend a language slot on it. From a practical standpoint, it’s a question of how often will the character actually use this? If the only time it will come up is when their cousin shows up in Sharn or on the two sessions the group makes a trip into the Wood, I’m fine with just giving it to a character as a bonus—just as I suggest that the Karrnathi native might be able to have a conversation with Karrn villagers the Thrane paladin can’t follow.
There’s some evidence that shifters are native to Sarlona as well given their presence in the Tashana Tundra. Did shifters independently arise in two places, or might there be a strange link between Tashana and the Reaches through Khyber?
My thought was the latter. With the timeline suggested, the emergence of shifters in the Wood would have still been thousands of years ago—easily enough time for a group of shifters to discover a land-bridge (well, demiplane bridge) through Khyber and for the common roots to have been forgotten. Given that those roots appear to have BEEN forgotten, the implication is that this bridge is either very infrequently active or that the passage leading to it has either been lost or claimed by a deadly force (hello, daelkyr) that severed any possible ties between the two cultures. There’s also been some discussion in the past of a remarkable sea crossing! The main point is that it’s been a long time—more than three thousand years—and there’s certainly been time for shifters to make it across the sea.
Is there any particular story to elves settling in the Wood?
Elves are present in the Eldeen Reaches, but there’s never been any mention of them having a unique, independent cultural identity. None of the sects are uniquely elvish and there’s no mention of entirely Elvish communities; instead, PGtE notes “the forest folk prefer to live in small mixed communities—human, elf, and shifter living side by side.” If you actually look at the numbers given in the ECS, elves make up a smaller percentage of the population of the Reaches than they do in ANY of the Five Nations; only 3% of the Reacher population are elves, compared to 11% of the population of Aundair! This may be because the elves were always based around the major cities of the east, or it could be that because of their long lifespans, most of the elves of the region remained loyal to Aundair and left the Reaches during the secession.
While the Reaches have fewer elves than any of the Five Nations, half-elves make up a considerable portion—16%, the same percentage seen in Aundair. The Player’s Guide to Eberron notes that fully half of the Greensingers in the Reaches are Khoravar. Combined with the statement that humans and elves live side by side, what this suggests to me is that a relatively small number of elves heard the call of the wild and immigrated to the Towering Wood over the years, but that they have very large families. So I think elves could be found in any of the druidic sects, and that where they are found they will often be elders with multiple generations of Khoravar children; there may only be a few established families of full-blooded elves. If one uses the subrace and considers eladrin to be elves, you could also have a handful of eladrin from Shae Loralyndar spread throughout the sects. Many would likely be Greensingers, still serving as envoys of their Queen. But you could easily have a few who have become attached to the mortal world and chosen to leave the City of Rose and Thorn.
So elves make up a small percentage of the population of the Reaches, and I feel that this would be split between the elves of the Wood—who would be spread across the sects, each with their own story about what drew them to the wild—and the elves of the fields, who were born as Aundairian citizens and chose to support the uprising even when most of their cousins chose not to.
One issue with the Reaches climatically is there’s no good way for the water from the Towering Wood to be replenished—the Wynarn river flowing north is going to drain water out of the system with Lake Galifar faster than any rain coming from the ocean (even off the Barren Sea) would naturally replenish it. Is there a Lamannia zone or some well of water from Khyber that’s kept things going?
Eberron is fundamentally a supernatural world; manifest zones and other mystical forces produce effects that defy what one would expect. This is especially notable with the Reaches, where just across the mountain you have the deeply unnatural and inhospitable environment of the Demon Wastes, while the Eldeen Reaches are said to be remarkably fertile. It’s certainly reasonable to think that there’s subterranean aquifers drawing water from Lamannia. It’s also possible that the region is simply infused with primal power—that it is close to Eberron herself. But the real issue here is that the maps simply don’t show a realistic distribution of waterways. I assume that there are streams and rivers flowing into the Towering Wood from both the Byeshk Mountains and the Shadowcrags, and that there are some significant bodies of water in the Wood (if nothing on the scale of Lake Galifar). Certainly, I’d expect the Icehorn Mountains to have considerable snowpack (perhaps enhanced by Risia) which would further contribute to the region.
That’s all for now! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the Eldeen Reaches in the comments section, though I won’t be answering additional questions. Keep in mind that everything I write here is just what I would do in MY campaign and certainly contradicts some canon sources (I’m lookin’ at you, Forge of War). The idea that the shifters of the Towering Wood may be descended from orcs is a possibility, but not one you have to embrace. With that said, this ties to my general thought that half-orcs are a reflection of the remarkable adaptability of orcs rather than humans—that “half-orc” means orc and something else, not specifically orcs and humans. But that’s another story!
As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible! As a bookend to March’s article on the Lurker in Shadow, later this month I’ll be writing a Patreon-exclusive article on the Wild Heart.
In the first days of the world, the children of Khyber rose from the darkness to reign over Eberron. The greatest among them were the overlords, who held dominion over a world of fear, war, and death until the children of Eberron and Siberys rose up against them. Armies of dragons fought against the fiends of Khyber. And though the overlords couldn’t be destroyed, the couatl sacrificed their lives to build a prison of celestial light: a silver flame that bound the overlords in Khyber once more. These bonds have held for countless generations, but the overlords still yearn to break free and reclaim the world above.
Eberron: Rising From The Last War.
The overlords are one of the greatest threats in the Eberron campaign setting. They ruled the world in its first age, and they yearn to break their bonds and drag reality back to that age of demons. The Lords of Dust work to free the overlords, while the dragons of the Chamber oppose their efforts—and this long, cold war is one of the driving forces in the setting. I’ve written many articles about the overlords over the years, and this month I’ve received a host of questions concerning specific overlords from my Patreon supporters. I thought I’d revisit the topic and bring some of that scattered information together, as well as updating things to incorporate the ideas presented in Rising From The Last War and Exploring Eberron.
WHAT ARE THE OVERLORDS?
The overlords are immortal fiends with immense power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an unbound overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they aren’t deities. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith.
The overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the overlords and most of their minions.
While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
Each overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
Even while bound, the overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their “dreams”. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are more aware and actively scheming.
“Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”
The overlords are commonly referred to as the children of Khyber. The truth is slightly more complex; they are actually the architecture of Khyber. Beyond the physical tunnels and caverns that extend into the depths, Khyber is a matrix of demiplanes. These can be seen as the dreams of the progenitor, each reflecting a horrifying vision of a possible reality—realms defined by fear, bloodshed, and worse. While most are isolated, some—known as heart demiplanes—are able to leak out into the prime material plane, and this is where native fiends come from. The overlord is the defining spirit of the demiplane. When it is “released,” its power flows out into reality, slowly reshaping the world to mirror its heart plane. The entity that can be fought is an avatar of that force, but it’s just a projection; if that projection is destroyed, its power flows back into its heart plane, regenerates and returns. So physically defeating an overlord is only a temporary setback for it, and the physical form you encounter is merely a projection.
One common question is what differentiates overlords from the Dark Six. There’s a few major differences. First and foremost, the overlords absolutely exist. You can find the resting place of an overlord or go to its heart demiplane. If they’ve loosened their bonds, an overlord can manifest an avatar and you can actually fight it. So while you’ll never shake hands with Aureon or dine with the Devourer, there may be a time when you can punch Rak Tulkhesh in the nose or have tal with Sul Khatesh. The downside of this is that as powerful as they are, overlords have a limited sphere of influence. While bound they can only influence the regions around their prison or where their heart demiplane touches the world. When released, their power has a finite radius. Bel Shalor threw Thrane into chaos, but his power wasn’t felt in Sharn or even in Korth. Other overlords have different limitations: the Daughter of Khyber can reach across the world, but she can only influence dragons. A final important difference is that the overlords aren’t some sort of logically arranged pantheon. Some of their ideas overlap; Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku are both corruptors, Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka hold secrets, Masvirik deals with reptiles while the Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. There’s an overlord of cold, but we’ve never mentioned one associated with fire. They aren’t gods, they’re monsters. Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku overlap in concept, but they influence entirely different regions within the world. Rak Tulkhesh is infamously an overlord of war, but there could be an entirely different overlord associated with bloodshed or war in Sarlona. Overlords are epically powerful, but they are also finite. They don’t explain the existence of evil, they embody specific aspects of it.
Every edition that Eberron has been part of has provided statistics for some of the overlords, and these vary wildly in power. Under the 3.5 rules, overlords rivaled lesser deities; they possessed the equivalent of 7 divine ranks and 30-50 character levels. The 3.5 version of Sul Khatesh could cast counterspell as a free action, had spontaneous access to all wizard and sorcerer spells, and could destroy antimagic fields; she had innate true seeing as well as the ability to cast legend lore on anything she could see. By contrast, Rising From The Last War presents Sul Khatesh as a CR 28 threat with a fairly limited set of spells. How do these two interpretations relate to one another? The answer is that the lesser deity equivalent statistics reflect the full power that an entirely unbound overlord could wield, while the CR 28 interpretations of Sul Khatesh and Rak Tulkhesh reflect a weaker avatar, most likely manifested by an overlord who’s still partially bound. At the end of the day, overlords are essentially plot devices. They are the most powerful entities that exist on Eberron, and at their full power were able to face armies of dragons. They aren’t supposed to be balanced; the idea that player characters can face them directly and potentially win the fight would reflect limits placed on the overlord (IE partial binding), the fact that the player characters are vessels of the Prophecy, the impact of special preparations (Tira Miron might have bathed Kloijner in the waters of Irian or the heartsblood of Durastoran the Wymbreaker). Overlords wield apocalyptic levels of power, and any stat block should be seen as an inspiration for what an overlord might be capable of, not an absolute limit.
How Are The Overlords Bound?
Overlords can’t be permanently destroyed. When an avatar is defeated its essence flows back into its heart plane and reforms. What the champions of the first age did was to bind that essence—preventing it from returning to its heart plane. Essentially, they severed the overlord’s brain from its heart; the heart demiplanes still exist, but the consciousness of the overlords are bound elsewhere and they can’t manifest their avatars or exert their full power. While the essence of each overlord is bound to a physical vessel, it is the power of the Silver Flame that actually keeps the overlord bound. A vessel can be damaged—Rak Tulkhesh is bound to a Khyber shard that’s been shattered—but this won’t release the overlord.
How Can They Be Released?
Releasing an overlord is no trivial matter. The prisons of the overlords are as indestructible as the fiends themselves. The only way for an overlord to be released is for a certain path of the Prophecy to come to pass. For this reason, the actions of the Lords of Dust are enigmatic. They cannot simply release their masters— they must bring history to a particular crossroads, a point at which the planes and moons are aligned and the darkness can rise again. It is up to you to decide just what is required for a particular overlord to be released. It could be something as grim as the downfall of a nation, or something as positive as the birth of a child.
Eberron Campaign Guide
This article goes into much more depth about the nature of the binding and how it can be broken. There’s a few things to keep in mind. The first is that the Prophecy is almost always tied to the actions of specific mortals. Despite all their power, the dragons and the Lords of Dust can’t resolve a situation with brute force; they need to guide the actions of mortal pawns. The second is that the Prophecy is always evolving. There is always a path for the release of an overlord. As soon as the Chamber severs one branch, a new one begins to take shape. There will never be a time when humanity doesn’t have to worry about the overlords; foiling the plans of the Lords of Dust buys time, as a new branch may take centuries to be uncovered and cultivated—but there is always a path to release Sul Khatesh and there always will be. And while the Lords of Dust and the Chamber are always working to cultivate these branches or to trim them, there’s always the chance that the events required to release an overlord will play out entirely on their own. Not all overlords have agents within the Lords of Dust, and the Chamber isn’t omnisicent; it’s always possible that the necessary events will simply happen, even if there’s no cult or fiend driving them.
How Do They Pose A Threat?
As long as the overlords are bound by the Silver Flame, they can’t physically manifest in the world. But each overlord embodies a particular aspect of evil, which grows in strength as their servants scheme to release their ancient masters. The overlords gain strength when mortals embrace the dark paths laid down for them. And as they grow stronger, they gain more influence.
Eberron: Rising From The Last War
If the bonds of an overlord can only be broken by a prophetic path, what does it mean for an overlord to “grow stronger?” Overlords threaten the world in two ways. If an overlord is released from its prison, it will transform a region of the world into a mirror of its heart demiplane. This may start slowly, but the end results can be dramatic. The Cold Sun will steal the light from the sky, while the Heart of Winter will blanket her domain in ice. Every overlord has a handful of fiends that walk the world… but if an overlord is unbound, greater forces will emerge from its demiplane. Beyond this, the overlord itself will be able to manifest a physical avatar, as shown in Rising From The Last War. An overlord is only able to affect the world directly if their bonds are broken. But even while bound, they still have the ability to influence mortals. Tiamat corrupts dragons, the Wild Heart corrupts nature, and Rak Tulkhesh drives people to spill blood. Essentially, bound overlords can still influence mortals—and the more mortals who succumb to their influence, the greater this power becomes. Sul Khatesh can’t walk the world and unleash and arcane armageddon, but she can still whisper secrets to warlocks and create cabals and cults, while Rak Tulkhesh can shatter peace and drive war. “Partial release” falls between these two. When partially released the Wild Heart was able to amplify the power of the curse of lycanthropy and assert control over all ‘thropes, and it may have been able to manifest an avatar in the heart of the forest; but we’ve never suggested that the Towering Woods themselves were physically transformed, or that the avatar of the Wild Heart was roaming freely and striking down its enemies. Ultimately, this is about the needs of the story. A bound overlord has a very limited ability to influence mortals. An unbound overlord can affect both mortals and the world itself, and can manifest an avatar wielding tremendous power. A partially released overlord falls somewhere in between, with whatever limitations you need to impose to make your story satisfying. The key point is that even when they aren’t trying to release their overlord, cults and fiends will often try to increase its influence—usually by playing out its core concept (war, undead, betrayal, sinister magic) in a region.
While bound, the overlords are effectively dreaming—or trancing, if you prefer, as they aren’t tied to Dal Quor and can’t be targeted by dream. The point is that they aren’t entirely conscious, nor are they fully comatose. Rak Tulkhesh revels in hatred and bloodshed, but it’s his speaker Mordakhesh who schemes across the centuries and who actively sows strife. Sul Khatesh does whisper to her warlocks and share dangerous secrets, but even this is essentially reflexive; it’s how her influence manifests, and not every warlock she deals with is part of a world-breaking scheme. The Lords of Dust understand the world and scheme to free their overlords; the overlords themselves are delighted when their influence grows, but are only partially aware of what is going on in the world. This is what makes their speakers—prakhutu—so important; Mordakhesh can commune with Rak Tulkhesh and divine what the Rage of War desires. (Hint: It’s war.)
WHO ARE THE OVERLORDS?
There is no complete list of overlords, and even their exact number is uncertainly; one canon source says “around thirty” while another says “a few dozen.” Likewise, even with the overlords that do exist, much is left vague. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu, and if so, do they consult with the Bleak Council of Ashtakala? Where is Tul Oreshka’s prison? Largely this is intentional, because the overlords are essentially plot devices. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu? Well, do you want it to? We know the location of Sul Khatesh’s prison, but Tul Oreshka’s is intentionally undefined so that it can be wherever you want it to be. Are their thirty overlords or thirty-six? The answer is how many do you need?
This is a list of all of the Overlords who’ve been mentioned in canon or kanon. It includes details on where they’ve appeared, but again, many of them simply don’t have much information available; in many cases, the information provided here is more than actually exists in canon. Don’t let that hold you back; use this as inspiration and build upon it to meet the needs of your campaign.
ASHTAKALA, The Demon City. Located in the Demon Wastes, Ashtakala is described in many sources as the last citadel of the Lords of Dust and the meeting place of their Bleak Council. In this article I present the idea that Ashtakala is itself an overlord, the immortal embodiment of the citadel of evil.
ASHURAK, The Slow Death. While never named in canon, the Slow Death is the patron of the Plaguebearers, one of the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. Ashurak revels in the horror of disease. The plagues they spread are agonizing and disfiguring, but never kill quickly; lingering suffering is the hallmark of Ashurak. While their prison is in the Demon Wastes, their influence can be carried by the diseases they creates and Plaguebearers have occasionally started cults in the Five Nations. While it might seem that these cultists would find allies among the Children of Winter, the truth is quite the opposite; the maladies of Ashurak are deeply unnatural and the druids battle these cults whenever they find them. Ashurak isn’t one of the most powerful or infamous overlords, but they do have representatives among the Lords of Dust; their speaker is Shalashar, a native oinoloth. (ECS)
BEL SHALOR,The Shadow in the Flame. Bound in Flamekeep, Bel Shalor is the most infamous overlord in Khorvaire, largely due to his well-documented devastation of Thrane and subsequent defeat at the hands of Tira Miron. Bel Shalor embodies our fear of one another and the capacity for even the most virtuous person to do evil. He thrives on paranoia and smiles anytime a good person harms an innocent or ignores their conscience. Bel Shalor’s speaker is the ak’chazar rakshasa Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, and his minions are a powerful force within the Lords of Dust. Where his influence was originally tied to Thrane, due to the conditions of his binding he can influence anyone who draws on the power of the Silver Flame; it’s entirely possible he wanted to be bound, that he always planned to become the Shadow in the Flame. (ECG, ExE)
THE DAUGHTER OF KHYBER, Tiamat. The Daughter of Khyber embodies the fear of dragons and the evil they can do—fears both of humanoids and of the dragons themselves. She is bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows in Argonnessen, but much like Bel Shalor and the followers of the Silver Flame, the Daughter of Khyber can touch the heart of any dragon wherever they may be. Her influence can be subtle, hidden within pride or even a desire to help lesser creatures—but once she sinks her hooks into a dragon’s soul, she can twist even noble desires toward evil ends. The Daughter of Khyber’s machinations have brought the world to the edge of disaster at least once since the Age of Demons, devastating ancient civilizations on Khorvaire that have now been forgotten; it is because of this that the dragons of Argonnessen place severe restrictions on how dragons exercise power in the wider world. Known to some as Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber has no involvement with the Lords of Dust, and if she has a speaker their identity is unknown. (Dragons of Eberron, ECG, ExE)
DRAL KHATUUR, The Heart of Winter. Bound in the Frostfell, Dral Khatuur embodies of all of the terrors of winter—endless night, the killing frost, the ice-encrusted face of a frozen friend. Her minions are frozen corpses, fiends sculpted from ice, and the howling, hungry wind. She despises all other creatures, including the other overlords; she had no ties to the Lords of Dust and waits in the Frostfell for anyone foolish enough to venture into her domain.
ELDRANTULKU, The Oathbreaker. As described in Dragon 337, Eldrantulku is a spirit of discord who turns allies into enemies and lovers into mortal foes. A master deceiver, his title comes from his ability to convince others to break their oaths. He is not a force of war—he corrupts the innocent, using ambition, jealousy, and paranoia as his tools. He is active within the Lords of Dust. Notable minions include Thelestes, an exiled Mabaran succubus and deadly assassin; and the devious rakshasa Kashtarhak, his prakhutu. The location of Eldrantulku’s prison is unknown.
KATASHKA, The Gatekeeper. Katashka thrives on mortal fears of death and the undead. He is thought to have brought the first undead into the world, and certainly created the first liches and dracoliches. Katashka’s servants are part of the Lords of Dust, and his prakhutu is the dracolich Mazyralyx, thought by some to be the origin of many myths of the Keeper. The location of Katashka’s prison is a mystery. The Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes is a possibility, but it’s just as possible that this contains a connection to his heart demiplane. Katashka’s cults are more widespread than many other overlords, which suggests that his prison has been shattered and scattered like that of Rak Tulkhesh. As Katashka is known to create liches, one possibility is that pieces of his shattered prison are used as phylacteries by his lich champions, who spread his influence wherever they go. Katashka largely works with undead as opposed to fiends; his champions include the ancient wizard Kyuss and his spawn. (Dragon 337, ECG, ExE)
THE LURKER IN SHADOW. In the first age of the world, the Thunder Sea was the domain of a powerful overlord embodying the fear of the unknown and unknowable, of the unimaginable terrors lurking in the depths and in the darkness. Its true name is one more secret. Its servants call it Surash Ka, which is simply Abyssal for “The Deep Lord” or “The King Below;” the sahuagin and other denizens of the Thunder Sea avoid even that name, calling it the Lurker in Shadow or just the Lurker. It’s an exceptionally powerful overlord; when unbound, it dominated the Thunder Sea and even now its influence can be felt across the region. The Lurker in Shadow has no interaction with the Lords of Dust. Its servants include aboleths, shadow demons, and shark-aspected rakshasa, but stories say these are the least of the horrors it has spawned. While the Lurker has some overlap with Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka, Sul Khatesh is focused on arcane knowledge and personal secrets, while Tul Oreshka deals with secrets that can break people; the Lurker in Shadow deals with the things you can’t imagine, the forces that lie just beyond sight and that are waiting to pull you down. I’ll be providing more information about the Lurker in a follow up article.
MASVIRIK, The Cold Sun. Masvirik consumes the light, embodying our fears of all that slithers through the dark and cold. On the one hand, he embodies the warmblooded fears of reptiles and venomous vermin. On the other, he embodies reptilian fears of cold and death. His minions include corrupted lizardfolk, dragonborn, and kobolds, along with undead reptilian creatures and fiends who thrive on cold instead of heat. Masvirik is imprisoned beneath Haka’torvhak, and his influence is felt across Q’barra. His speaker, the dragon Rhashaak, is bound in Haka’torvhak; the reptilian rakshasa Asshalara represents Rhashaak on the Bleak Council of Ashtakala. (Dungeon 185)
RAK TULKHESH, The Rage of War. Rak Tulkhesh embodies the fear of war and bloodshed, whether as a victim of violence or losing oneself to bloodlust and rage. The cults of Rak Tulkhesh include brutal raiders who embrace lives of endless violence, but also those who spread hate and strife—anything that stirs up harsh conflict where there might otherwise be peace. The prison of Rak Tulkhesh has been shattered, and his influence is spread across Khorvaire; however, he has a strong presence in the Demon Wastes and his Carrion Tribes are always thirsty for bloodshed. His speaker, Mordakhesh the Shadowsword, is a respected member of the Lords of Dust and a brilliant military strategist. (Dragon 337, Dragon 416, ECG, ExE, Rising)
RAN IISHIV, The Unmaker. Bound beneath Adar, Ran Iishiv is a force of chaos and destruction. Some believe that Ran Iishiv reflects Khyber’s primal hatred of creation itself, the burning desire to tear down the material plane and start anew. Whatever the truth, Ran Iishiv was expecteptionally powerful and feared even by other overlords; it’s believe that the wild zones to Kythri in Adar reflect Ran Iishiv literally tearing through reality. Even while bound, the Unmaker’s fury is a powerful force. Ran Iishiv may be the source of the storms that batter Adar, and some accounts claim its rage created the volcano of Korrandor. Ran Iishiv has no allies among the Lords of Dust, and it’s even possible fiends tied to other overlords would help prevent the Unmaker’s release. Ran’s primary servants are the Endseekers, cultists who have heard the Unmaker’s dreaming whispers and seek to return reality to primordial chaos. (Secrets of Sarlona)
SAKINNIROT, The Scar That Abides. Those loyal to Sakinnirot say it was the first child of the Dragon Below but the last to be born. In many ways it embodies pure hatred—not the savage bloodlust of Rak Tulkhesh, but hatred that smolders and burns. Sakinnirot thrives on bloody feuds that only serve to deeping the need for revenge, on physical and spiritual wounds left to fester. It’s possible that Sakinnirot is nothing less that the patient fury of Khyber itself, the determination for vengeance upon the world that holds it prisoner. Whatever the truth, Sakinnirot is one of the most powerful overlords; during the Age of Demons, the Scar laid claim to all of Xen’drik and reveled in battling other overlords. It was bound even more tightly that most overlords, and few of its fiendish servants escaped into the world; both because of this and its feuds with other overlords, the Scar That Abides isn’t represented within the Lords of Dust. However, the rakshasa Lorishto—an Ak’chazar of Eldrantulku—has been seeking to weaken the binding of Sakinnirot, hoping to become the prakhutu of the Scar That Abides. (City of Stormreach)
THE SPINNER OF SHADOWS. Presented in D&D Online, the Spinner of Shadows is commonly associated with spiders; however, this reflects her wider role as an overlord of hidden schemes, of the careful vendetta and the joy of toying with a powerless foe. While she has significant overlap with Sakinnirot, the Spinner is less driven by burning hatred and more by hungry ambition—the schemer willing to climb a web formed of innocent corpses to achieve their desires. While not one of the most powerful overlords, one of her strengths is her talent for remaining hidden—reflected by the fact that she had her domain in Xen’drik despite Sakinnirot’s claim on the continent. because of this obsession with secrecy, it’s unlikely that the Spinner is involved with the Lords of Dust; her agents scheme along, hiding even from their fiendish cousins. (D&D Online—technically neither canon nor canon, but I’m including her on the list)
SUL KHATESH, The Keeper of Secrets.Per Rising From The Last War, “Sul Khatesh is known as the Keeper of Secrets and the Queen of Shadows. She embodies the fears and superstitions surrounding magic, from malevolent warlocks to mad wizards, from deadly curses to magical power that draws those who wield it deeper into darkness.” She may be bound beneath Arcanix, but she has found ways to spread her influence further. Her prakhutu—the First Scribe, Hektula—has written books of magic that can grant tremendous power but that also serve as a focus for her influence; these could mirror the effects of the Book of Vile Darkness or the Demonomicon. Likewise, Sul Khatesh spreads cabals and covens, and where her cultists come together to perform malefic rituals, Sul Khatesh can touch the world. While she often whispers to her warlocks and to other susceptible minds, Sul Khatesh is essentially dreaming; while her whispers rarely work out well for those who listen to them, they aren’t all tied toward one grand plan. The agents of Sul Khatesh are a strong force in the Lords of Dust. Hektula maintains the library of Ashtakala and often mediates disputes between the other speakers. (Dragon 337, City of Stormreach, ECG, ExE, Rising)
TOL KHARASH, The Horned King. There is a dark power bound beneath the fortress known as Turakbar’s Fist, and it has long spread its influence across the barren region now known as Droaam. Znir hwyri hunt those who fall too far down its path, while the minotaur clans see this power as their patron. Tol Kharash can easily be mistaken for Rak Tulkhesh, as both delight in bloodshed and war. However, Tol Kharash is a force of tyranny rather than rage. It drives the strong to oppress the weak… and the crueller they are, the better. The Horned King is the common name of the overlord and the aspect worshipped by Rhesh Turakbar and his clan, the Blood Horns; they raid and pillage in his name. However, each of the major minotaur clans has their own unique interpretation of the Horned King. The Red Hooves are devoted to He Who Walks Behind, and prefer sly ambushes to the howling assaults of the Blood Horns. The Blade Breaker clan worships One Horn, who rewards displays strength and courage. While the Blade Breakers are just as aggressive as the Blood Horns, they are less brutal; it’s just possible that while THEY think One Horn is an aspect of the Horned King, they are in truth drawing on a different power entirely—perhaps, the essence of Dol Dorn. Tol Kharash has relatively few fiendish minions. His greatest servants are possessed mortals as opposed to manifested fiends; he has no representatives in Ashtakala and doesn’t work with the Lords of Dust. (Tol Kharash appears in the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold)
TUL ORESHKA, The Truth In The Darkness. Tul Oreshka embodies our fear of secrets and the things we don’t know, of unbearable truths and feelings we’d kill to keep secret. These may be deeply personal—your mother wishes you’d died instead of your brother—or shocking cosmic revelations. She’s far more primal than Sul Khatesh; the words she deals with may not conjure fire or fiends, but they still have the power to shatter lives. People who pass by her prison may learn terrible things through ghostly whispers or vivid nightmares. Her cults take many forms, and are almost always driven by a compelling, infectious idea. While she doesn’t deal in traditional mystical knowledge as Sul Khatesh does, Tul Oreshka can reveal secrets that defy our previous understanding of magic or that alter the way we see reality; for example, a cult of Tul Oreshka might reveal that humans are all fiends, that humanity itself is collectively an overlord. While her agents are unpredictable, Tul Oreshka does participate in the Bleak Council of the Lords of Dust; her current speaker is a pit fiend named Korliac of the Gray Flame, though Tul Oreshka’s speakers rarely hold the position for long. The location of Tul Oreshka’s prison has never been established. (Dragon 337)
VAL GULTESH, The Shaper of Nightmares. Many overlords embody something that is feared; Val Gultesh feeds on fear itself. They thrive on paranoia and on lives torn apart by unfounded fears, and crafts nightmares that help spread terrifying and disruptive ideas. While they can shape nightmares, they do so from Eberron—effectively, using a powerful form of the dream spell that can potentially affect hundreds of people at once—as opposed to entering Dal Quor. The quori of the present age haven’t encountered an unbound Val Gultesh; it’s quite possible the overlord would pose a threat to them, especially to quori manifesting in Eberron as Inspired or Kalashtar. Val Gultesh is imprisoned somewhere in Zilargo, and it’s possible that should their power grow that they could corrupt the Trust to serve their purposes; however, the Trust could be aware of this threat, and may have ruthlessly eliminated cults of Val Gultesh in the past. The Shaper of Nightmares works with the Lords of Dust, but the nature of their speaker and the power of their faction have yet to be established. (Mentioned in the adventures “Curtain Call” and “Fear Reveals Truth”)
THE WILD HEART. The Wild Heart embodies mortal fears of the natural world. To some degree this embodies the sheer unknown that the wild represents, but it especially draws on the fear of predators—the unknown dangers lurking in the depths of the darkest wood. The Wild Heart is known both for their connection to gnolls and as one of the primary sources of lycanthropy; in Kanon, they were the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge. As a force that is fundamentally opposed to civilization, the Wild Heart uses no name and takes no part in the schemes of the Lords of Dust. Their speaker is a shapeshifting fiend known as Drukalatar Atesh, but its fiendish minions are more likely to possess or be fused with beasts than to act in fiendish form. (Novel: The Queen of Stone)
YAD-RAGHESH, The Fallen Rajah. The fiend known as Yad-Raghesh is a mystery; some loredrake scholars question whether they were actually an overlord, or whether they were an exceptionally powerful champion of Sakinnirot or Ran Iishiv. What is known is that during the wars of the Age of Demons, Yad-Raghesh fought in the form of a colossal two-headed rakshasa; that they were defeated with surprising ease; and that it was later discovered that they had somehow imbued their essence into the region in which they were slain, permanently corrupting it. The corpse of Yad-Raghesh remains in this vale, which seethes with hatred and fiends. There is no evidence that the consciousness of Yad-Raghesh remains as an active force, and they play no role in the Lords of Dust, but they have effectively transformed this “Vale of the Fallen Rajah” into a heart demiplane in the midst of Argonnessen. (Dragons of Eberron)
UNNAMED AND UNKNOWN. A number of overlords have been hinted at in canon sources but never described in detail. Secrets of Sarlona suggests that there are overlords imprisoned in the Kretok Peninsula and in Sustrai Mor, while the Player’s Guide to Eberron suggests that an overlord with power over the weather is bound on Tempest Isle. Some previous lists included Shudra the Fleshrender, a “mighty rakshasa” mentioned in Forge of War. However, Shudra is a rakhsasa champion on par with Mordakhesh and Hektula; he’s associated with the overlord Dhavibashta, who appears in James Wyatt’s novel In The Claws Of The Tiger. As mentioned at the start, this is not intended to be a complete list of overlords, and I would never want to create such a list; there should always be room in the world for an overlord who perfectly suits the needs of your story.
How Do These Overlords Relate to the Planes?
The overlords are spirits of Khyber and the material plane. As the material plane ties together all of the iconic concepts that define the outer planes, some of the overlords reflect ideas that are represented in the planes. Rak Tulkhesh is associated with war, and Shavarath is associated with war. Tul Oreshka and the Lurker in Shadows both deal with the unknowable and unnatural in ways that evoke Xoriat, and Val Gultesh shapes nightmares. But Val Gultesh isn’t a creature of Dal Quor and the Rak Tulkhesh isn’t from Shavarath. They are spirits of the material plane, and deal with mortals who fight and dream; but they influence those things in and from the material plane, and have no connection to or alliances with the denizens of the planes. In general, the power of an overlord will trump the power of any extraplanar entity while they are in the material plane; an unbound Val Gultesh might be able to control quori possessing human hosts. For this reason, extraplanar entities generally try to avoid conflict with overlords and the Lords of Dust.
Are The Overlords Allies?
Absolutely not. They often fought one another during the Age of Demons, and a few of those that have been named—Ran Iishiv, Sakinnirot, Dral Khatuur—have been specifically called out as being shunned by the Lords of Dust. Part of the point is that the overlords embody terrible things, and that all they desire is to express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh IS furious bloodshed and has no other way to the world; if you live next to Rak Tulkhesh, you KNOW he’s going to constantly attack you. Likewise, Eldrantulku is the embodiment of betrayal. The Lords of Dust who deal with him know that sooner or later any arrangement will have an unpleasant surprise; but because they know this, they can prepare and work around it. The key point is that the Lords of Dust aren’t the overlords, they’re the lesser fiends that serve them. Rak Tulkhesh is unreasoning war, but Mordakhesh is careful and calculating, and willing to scheme with the servants of other overlords. With that being said, the Lords of Dust always place the interests of their own overlord above all else… and many members of the Lords of Dust have long-standing feuds or rivalries with other fiends.
Why do the Lords of Dust serve the Overlords?
Given that the overlords ARE so firmly bound, it’s a reasonable question—why do the Lords of Dust serve the overlords? Why doesn’t Mordakhesh pursue his own interests? There’s a few aspects to this. The first is that the fiends are immortals, which makes them fundamentally inhuman. They were created as the physical embodiments of ideas, and they can’t change those ideas. Mordakhesh never chose to serve Rak Tulkhesh; it’s a fundamental aspect of what he is and he can’t change it. Furthermore, all native fiends are tied to heart demiplanes. When Mordakhesh dies, he returns to the Bitter Shield, the heart of Rak Tulkhesh. In essence, while he has his own unique personality, Mordakhesh is part of Rak Tulkhesh. Immortals CAN change—angels can fall, quori can become kalashtar—and it’s certainly possible to encounter a fiend that’s somehow shifted its allegiance or even become something other than a fiend. But it would be extremely unusual. Most fiends don’t choose to serve their overlord; it’s a fundamental part of who and what they are.
HOW CAN YOU USE THE OVERLORDS?
Eberron is balanced on a precipice. Should the overlords rise en masse, they’d destroy reality as we know it and drag the world back into the primal chaos of the Age of Demons. However, the release of a single overlord would be a devastating event that could destroy a nation—but it wouldn’t instantly herald the end of the world. We’ve seen examples of this before. In the Year of Blood and Fire, Bel Shalor devastated Thrane until he was rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. In thisarticle, I suggest that the Lycanthropic Purge was the work of the Wild Heart; as the Towering Woods were more remote than Thrane, the impact of their partial release and the sacrifices made to rebind them are less well known. It could even be that it was a release of an overlord.
Legacy. Overlords are sources of evil, and their existence can be used to explain why evil things existence in the world. The Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. The Wild Heart is one of the sources of lycanthropy, while Katashka creates many forms of undead. The overlords have the power to create artifacts; a sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh might grant great power while also spreading strife and hatred. An adventure or a campaign arc could involve creations of the overlords—a rogue dragon, a pack of werewolves, a clan of clever ghouls, a cursed artifact—without actually having anything to do with the overlord or its goals. The Book of Vile Darkness may have been written by Hektula and be a vector for the influence of Sul Khatesh; but it may be that Sul Khatesh’s plans are on hold for the next century, and the book is only dangerous by virtue of its innate power.
Cults and Influence. Even while bound, the overlords influence mortals. Exploring Eberron delves into the many forms these cults take—from ancient secret societies that actively work to release an overlord to deluded sects who have no idea of the power they’re tied to. The whispers of Bel Shalor are a threat to every follower of the Silver Flame. Followers of Rak Tulkhesh strive to cause strife, and the ghouls of Katashka feast on flesh beneath cities across Khorvaire. So adventurers can clash with a cult of the Whispering Flame or a cabal of Katashka’s ghouls even if the overlord has no greater role in the campaign.
Long-Term Plans. Prophetic paths that lead to the release of an overlord have many steps; they can take generations or even centuries for finally bear fruit. As discussed in this article, adventurers can be caught up in a scheme set up by one of the Lords of Dust, but regardless of the outcome, there’s no threat of an overlord actually being released. It may even be that a fiend wants to help an adventure acquire a powerful magic item—because the character needs to have that item to fulfill their role in the Prophecy. It’s also the case that the Lords of Dust have their own feuds and rivalries; adventurers could get a tip about a rakshasa scheming to take over a local guild, only to eventually realize it was another fiend that helped them.
Character Origin. Player characters can be tied to overlords. A Tome warlock could be tied to Sul Khatesh and the intrigues of her Court of Shadows. A Great Old One warlock might be receiving visions from Tul Oreshka, not knowing why they’ve been chosen by the Truth in the Darkness or what she wants with them. A barbarian character could have a sliver of Rak Tulkhesh’s prison shard bound to their flesh; the shard is what powers their rage, but by mastering that rage they help hold the overlord at bay. This could be vitally important if the campaign involves the potential release of the Rage of War… or it could be that there’s no risk of Rak Tulkhesh escaping this century, but the character may clash with cultists who want to claim the shard.
Threat of Release. The threat of an overlord’s release could be a driving arc for a campaign, building to a climactic clash in which the adventurers must fight against a doomsday countdown to prevent an overlord from escaping its binding. The key here is that if the players succeed, the overlord won’t be released. They’ll be dealing with cultists and Lords of Dust. It could even be that they face a weak avatar in the conclusion of that final battle, but it’s a battle that can be won.
So far, these ideas suggest ways to use overlords in minor roles… or how to use them as the ultimate challenge of a campaign. But there’s another option—to say that the campaign isn’t about stopping the release of an overlord, but rather dealing with the impact of it. Let’s look at a historical example…
THE YEAR OF BLOOD AND FIRE: Tira’s Campaign
When Bel Shalor broke his bonds in Thrane, he plunged the region into chaos—a period known as the Year of Blood and Fire. In my vision of things, Tira Miron didn’t simply ride up and smite him; it was a long road that led her from first touching the Flame to her final sacrifice. And while she may have made that sacrifice alone, she had companions on the journey. Canonically we’ve mentioned the avenger Samyr Kes, but in my opinion she had a full party of stalwart allies. In short, Tira was one of the player characters of her age. I see her campaign as going something like this…
When Bel Shalor first breaks his bonds, his power is weak. The Eberron Campaign Guide says “If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” This is the world in which the campaign begins—a Thrane in which people are drawn to darkness, where good people are tempted to commit atrocities. Tira begins as a paladin of Dol Arrah. She knows something is wrong, but she doesn’t know what it is. In her initial adventures, she fights the symptoms—clashing with newly-formed cults, with good people drawn to evil, and perhaps even with a few shadowy fiends—agents of Bel Shalor who helped with his release.
As the campaign proceeds and Bel Shalor’s power grows, the Year of Blood and Fire truly begins. Murder and arson spread across the realm. Cities burn. Innocents suffer. Fiends emerge into the chaos, gathering cults and preying on the innocent. And it is in this time—perhaps as she chooses her Oath—that Tira has a vision of a couatl and is first touched by the power of the Flame.
Along with her companions, Tira fights the horror spreading across the land. She learns to harness the power of the Silver Flame and uses it to protect the innocent. She establishes a haven in an Irian manifest zone, and develops techniques that can help her followers recognize and resist the insidious corrupting influence. Her and her allies discover the source of the darkness. Reaching it, they discover that Bel Shalor has broken his bonds but is not yet fully free; he can manifest a weak avatar but can’t yet leave the spot in which he’s been bound. Nonetheless, this avatar is far too powerful for Tira and her companions to defeat, and they are lucky to survive and flee. But now they know their enemy.
While they can’t defeat Bel Shalor, Tira and her allies are celebrated champions protecting a community of people. They continue to deal with Bel Shalor’s servants and those who’ve been corrupted by his influence, but they are also doing all they can to learn how Shalor can be defeated. In addition to the couatl, they receive assistance from a (secret) agent of the Chamber. They travel to Daanvi, seeking knowledge in the Infinite Archive, and to other planes as well. They take steps laid out in the Prophecy, though many of these challenges are enigmatic and set them directly at odds with agents of the Lords of Dust.
Guided by the Flame and the Prophecy, Tira obtains the greatsword Kloijner. A brutal cult is spreading across Thrane, but Tira presses to the heart of it and exposes Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, the speaker of Bel Shalor. The rakshasa kills her Chamber ally, but Tira takes him down with Kloijner. This battle is part of a prophetic path Tira has uncovered. She knows it will keep Durastoran from reforming for decades. But it also fully releases Bel Shalor, who now strides across Thrane as a vast force of shadow.
Tira knew the consequences of defeating Durastoran. She and her companions gather all those innocents freed from Shalor’s power in the Irian zone that has become their haven. She holds Durastoran’s heart, and beyond that she knows that the fully friend Shalor can’t stand to have a stronghold of light at the heart of his darkness. All of this has been foreshadowed by the Prophecy; though her Chamber ally has fallen, Tira knows that Bel Shalor will come to her and she knows what she must do. She rallies her allies, sharing the light of the Flame. Bel Shalor comes with an army of fiends and victims, and Tira’s faithful make their stand in the last bastion of light. Though the battle seems hopeless, Tira’s allies help her reach Bel Shalor himself—and it is in this moment that Tira and her couatl guide make their final sacrifice, binding Bel Shalor with the light of Tira’s soul and the power of the Flame, which surges forth as the column that can still be seen in Flamekeep to this day.
Now, this is MY vision of how this all went, and I’m sure there’s canon sources that tell the story another way. Furthermore, I’m writing this in the moment and I don’t have any more details about it. In my mind, Tira traveled to Irian and Daanvi as part of her adventures, but I don’t know exactly what she did in Irian. So I’m just saying: I’ve just sketched out an outline of the campaign Tira might have gone through, but it’s not like I’ve actually written any of the adventures.
Nonetheless, the point is that this isn’t a campaign in which Tira even has a chance to prevent Bel Shalor from being released. He’s already been partially released when the campaign begins—and if I was running the campaign, part of the point is that the players wouldn’t know it. In the session zero, I’d emphasize that something is wrong with the world, that they will be champions of the light trying to identify an infectious evil that is spreading across the land—that they’d be both warriors and investigators. During the campaign they not only uncover the true threat of Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker, they also must develop their own personal connections to the Silver Flame. The first tier of the campaign would be almost entirely spent dealing with cultists and corrupted innocents, trying to determine what power is behind it; they might initially think they can stop Bel Shalor from being released, only to reach that stronghold of evil and discover he’s already out. In tier 2 they are dealing with the increasingly apocalyptic consequences of his release, fighting fiends as well as cultists and the corrupted; this get more dramatic from there.
This is an apocalyptic scenario; we know from the start that it’s called The Year of Blood and Fire. There’s going to be burning cities and mass chaos. However, that flavor would depend on the overlord involved. A campaign based around the release of Sul Khatesh could be far more subtle. The Court of Shadows spreads, and as the campaign continues its dark vision of the world starts to become real, towers of shadow appearing across the nation. Common people start gaining arcane powers and resolving petty feuds and disputes with curses. Sly rakshasa offer tempting pacts. It builds to a point where civilization could collapse into outright arcane terror… but it can take time. Minister Adal might even forge an order of witchfinders and seize control of Aundair, little realizing that he too is just a pawn of Sul Khatesh, helping to spread delightful fear and terror. Every story will be different. The release of the Rage of War will involve brutal bloodshed; the release of the Oathbreaker could have very subtle effects.
That’s all for now, but look out for a Patreon-exclusive article delving deeper into the Lurker in Shadow. Thanks as always to my Patreonsupporters for asking the questions that inspired this article and for making all of these articles possible.
In the dawn times, the Sovereigns of the natural world chose to share their gifts with mortals. Arawai taught the first farmers, but she also showed us how to work with wood and heal with herbs. Balinor taught us both how to hunt game, and how to work with the horse and hound. Together these Sovereigns showed us how to harness these gifts of the natural world. Arawai and Balinor sought to lift us up, but there was another who sought to tear us down. The Devourer despised the first people and their civilization, seeing them only as prey. This struggle continues to this day. Arawai showed us how to harness the wind for sail and mill, but the Devourer sends winds that snap masts shatter buildings. Kol Korran taught us to build ships, and the Devourer delights in sinking them. Onatar showed us how to harness fire, but it’s the Devourer who smiles when the uncontrolled flame engulfs a city. The Sovereigns guide us when we work with nature—but we must always be careful and cautious, for the Devourer is ever ready to bring the power of the wilds down upon us.
Phthaso Mogan, High Priest of Sharn
You humans see the wilds as a thing that must be tamed. You fight it, caging it in your fields and binding it with leash and chain. We embrace the storm, running with the wind and dancing through the fire. We know that flame paves the way for new growth, that culling the weak strengthens the pack. You fear the Devourer; we ARE the Devourer.
Khaar’kala of the Great Pack
Arawai and Balinor embody mortal dominion over the natural world. Arawai grants power over flora, while Balinor grants power over fauna—guiding both the hunter and those who domesticate animals. But the Devourer is there to remind us that the wild can never be truly bound. We must never grow too arrogant or complacent; we must never forget to respect the power of nature. Because when we do, the Devourer will be there with wind, with flame, with tooth and with claw.
More than any other Sovereign, the interpretation of the Devourer varies dramatically from culture to culture, driven by the relationship of culture and species to the natural world. The Pyrinean interpretation of the Devourer reflects a fundamental fear of the untamed wild, while the sahuagin Sha’argon is the paragon of a species of carnivores who believe the strong should consume the weak. The Church of the Wyrm Ascendant depicts the Devourer as a dragon turtle while Arawai and Boldrei are traditional dragons; this reflects the fact that the Sovereigns walk among humanoids and guide them, while the Devourer lurks in bitter isolation in the deepest water, sinking ships and lashing the land with hurricanes. Ultimately, it’s a question of whether a civilization fears nature’s wrath, or whether it seeks to embrace primal power.
NATURE’S WRATH: The Pyrinean Creed
As described in the quote from Phthaso Mogan, the Pyrinean Creed asserts that the Sovereigns showed their vassals how to control the natural world. Arawai guides those who harvest, while Balinor guides those who hunt. Both reflect our power to impose our will on nature. In this vision of the world, the Devourer reflects the fact that we can’t ever fully control nature. The Devourer is the explanation for natural disasters and tragedies. It is the Devourer who sink ships and levels villages with wildfires and hurricanes. It’s the Devourer who guides the wolves who prey upon our sheep. The important thing to understand is that under the Pyrinean Creed, there is no benevolent aspect to the Devourer. The Devourer, Arawai, and Balinor are differentiated by the outcome, not by the tool that produces that outcome. It’s common for vassals to associate Arawai with gentle rains and the Devourer with scouring storms. But if gentle rains come in sufficient quantities to cause devastating floods, they are a tool of the Devourer; while if a region relies on monsoons to irrigate land, vassals will see those nuturing storms as gifts of Arawai. A shepherd curses predatory wolves as teeth of the Devourer, but might well have a magebreed wolf that’s been domesticated by House Vadalis guarding their flock; whether a wolf is associated with Balinor or the Devourer is determined by the outcome of interacting with it.
So under this view, there is nothing benevolent about the Devourer… and yet, he is part of everyday life. The farmer thanks Arawai for her guidance but is ever fearful of the Devourer’s wrath. Because of this, Vassals who regularly deal with dangerous natural forces often make placatory offerings to the Devourer. The principle is that the Devourer will have his due. If you benefit from working with the natural world, the Devourer will eventually come to even the scales; but if you make an offer willingly, he may accept it and pass you by. Among Vassals, it’s common to burn a fraction of the yield after a harvest; skeptics simply burn the dross, while devout Vassals base the burn on their own prosperity and what they have to lose. Vassal sailors trust Kol Korran to guide them, but many also cultivate a relationship with the Devourer and make an offering when their vessel reaches deep water. This could be anything from a single crown to a lock of hair, a poem, or something more precious; it depends on the perceived danger of the voyage and where they feel they stand with the Lord of the Depths. Again, there is no thought of benevolence here; it’s much like playing poker with a very dangerous opponent, with the question being how well you know your enemy and what you can get away with on this voyage. While common, this is still a superstition and there are some captains who won’t abide it on their ships, whether they assert that it’s a foolish waste of resources or that making offerings to the Devourer is more likely to draw his attention than to placate him.
The Three Faces of the Wild
The Three Faces of the Wild is a mystery cult within the Five Nations. Much like its counterparts, it honors members of both Sovereigns and Six: in this case, Arawai, Balinor, and Shargon. The Three Faces of the Wild acknowledge Shargon—the Devourer—as the primal force of untamed nature, but don’t depict him as inherently malevolent. Shargon demands people respect nature and maintain the balance between nature and civilization… and should they forget, or disrupt the balance due to greed or ignorance, he will remind them of nature’s might. Followers of the Three Faces of the Wild recognize that many disasters can be avoided—not by making a sacrifice or burning a field, but by understanding the interactions between civilization and nature. When a village suffers severe floods, rather than cursing the Devourer, perhaps don’t build your village in a flood plain. Followers of the Three Faces practice free range grazing and low-impact farming, and oppose techniques that they see as causing lasting harm to the world. This often leads them to oppose industrial advances that they see as threatening the natural world, and there have been clashes between Three Faces sects and House Vadalis or House Cannith enclaves, not to mention mundane damming and logging operations. Outright violence is rare; the sect prefers to solve problems with social engineering. However, this is still a potential source of environmental conflict in the heart of the Five Nations—and dangerous zealots can take root in an otherwise benevolent branch of this sect.
Champions of the Devourer
Beyond the Three Faces and placatory offerings, there’s little worship of the Devourer within the Five Nations; he’s a force to be feared and placated, not idolized. As a result, champions of the Devourer are rare and remarkable—and often dangerous.
The Storm Herald is a wandering priest who travels through agricultural regions. When a Storm Herald comes to a community, they will call together the Vassals and have them organize a communal feast. At this feast the Herald calls on people to discuss their profit and loss, the blessings they’ve received from the Sovereigns and what is owed to the Devourer. Sacrifices are made both through the feast itself and through additional burnt offerings at the feast. The principle is that the Storm Herald helps the community buy a period of prosperity, carrying disaster away when they leave. Storm heralds are extremely rare, mainly known through stories; in these stories, some are good people who are truly trying to help the innocents avoid disaster while others are extortionists running supernatural protection rackets—unless I am satisfied, there WILL be a disaster.
The Lightning Rod is another figure typically only encountered in stories or plays—someone blessed or cursed by the Devourer, who draws disaster wherever they go. Wherever they go, they are plagued by predators, bad weather, spontaneous fires, and other minor phenomena. The longer they stay in one place, the worse these manifestations will get. In stories, some lightning rods manage to weaponize this effect, becoming storm sorcerers or Ancients paladins—but even these champions need to keep moving, lest the disasters that dog their heels destroy the people they care about.
The Zealot is an extremist who despises civilization and industry. A typical zealot becomes infuriated by a particular manifestation of civilization—a new Tharahsk mine, a Vadalis ranch, a lightning rail line driving across their field, or even just a group of local farmers cutting down a tranquil grove—and their intense devotion to its destruction unlocks divine power. Devourer zealots generally have more in common with cults of the Dragon Below than with druidic sects. They typically lack organization or deep tradition—often involving a single divinely inspired individual—and are usually driven by an ever-growing obsession with the destruction of their target. Should a zealot achieve their goal, they could snap out of that obsession and return to normal life, or they could latch on to a new and even greater obsession; having destroyed the Orien ranch near their village, they’re now determined to destroy the house enclave in the nearby city, continually escalating until their finally fall in battle. While zealots can be tied to the Three Faces of the Wild, what characterizes the zealot is their obsession with destroying their target and the degree of supernatural power they wield; a Three Faces sect might try to negotiate with an environmental offender or to otherwise find a peaceful solution, while a zealot sees themselves as the vengeful hand of the wild.
House Lyrandar: The Kraken’s Brood
The basic doctrine of House Lyrandar maintains that the Mark of Storms is a blessing granted by Arawai and Kol Korran, a gift to help the Khoravar prosper. However, these is a sect within the house that claims that holds more sinister beliefs. These cultists say that their mark is a gift of the Devourer, and that it is intended to be used as a weapon—that the Khoravar are meant to assert their dominion over Khorvaire with hurricanes and lightning. This sect maintains that their greatest visionaries have become krakens who dwell in the deepest waters and guide their followers through visions; as such they call themselves the Kraekovar or “Kraken’s Brood.” Kraekovar heirs learn to use their dragonmarks in unusual and destructive ways, specializing in lightning. Other Lyrandar heirs say that this represents a fundamental corruption of the dragonmark—that the mark isn’t meant to be used as a weapon—and that this in turn causes the Kraekovar to become unstable and sociopathic. While the Kraekovar claim that their power ultimately flows from the Devourer, they don’t share any common cause with the Three Faces of the Wild or with zealots; they are loyal to their own elders—whom they believe to be immortal krakens—and to their vision of a nation ruled by Khoravar storm kings.
Nature and Tempest, Druid and Paladin
Champions of the Devourer can take many forms. One zealot might have the gift of wild shape and run with a pack of wolves—drawing on the Moon druid for inspiration—while another might be more like a Storm sorcerer, wielding shocking grasp and lightning bolts. One of the main potential points of confusion is the difference between a cleric or paladin of the Devourer, and one devoted to Arawai or Balinor. Can a priest of Arawai use the tempest domain? Can a champion of the Devourer have the Oath of the Open Sea? In short, yes. The Nature domain, Tempest Domain, Oath of the Ancients, Oath of the Open Sea—all of these could be suitable for Arawai or the Devourer. Remember that the Devourer isn’t the Sovereign of Storms; he’s the Sovereign of the destructive power of nature, while Arawai is nature harnessed in the service of civilization. So, a few points to keep in mind…
A servant of Arawai could be a Tempest cleric or a Storm sorcerer. Their devotion allows them to smite an enemy with lightning, but for them this is no different than the ability to plant a seed or to harness an oxen to a plow; they have been granted dominion over nature as a tool to serve the greater good. An Arawai Storm sorcerer will typically be calm—even serene—when using their powers, and will strive to minimize collateral damage. The same goes for a Paladin of the Open Sea; they may call lightning or unleash a tidal wave, but they will control these forces and seek to use them with precision, avoiding harm to innocents.
Where the priest of Arawai harnesses the power of nature for the greater good, the champion of the Devourer teaches us that nature cannot be controlled. They revel in the wild and primal nature of the powers that flow through them and make no effort to avoid collateral damage; they have been granted these powers to make people fear the power of nature.
The point is that even if two clerics are casting the exact same spell, it should feel different if it’s tied to Arawai or to the Devourer. Arawai’s lightning bolt will be focused and precise, while the Devourer’s should feel more wild and intimidating, as if the caster is barely in control of the bolt. Beyond this, especially when dealing with NPCs, keep in mind that the spells wielded by player characters don’t have to reflect the absolute limits of mystical power. It may be that a Storm Herald can curse a community with a promise of a devastating hurricane, or that the death of a champion of the Devourer will trigger a flash flood. Neither of these effects have the precision or speed of control weather or tidal wave… but that very unpredictability is what should make them interesting. This ties to the general ideas present in this article. With this in mind, even a player character who’s tied to the Devourer could be a lightning rod, drawing disasters wherever they go unless they ensure that the people around them make sufficient sacrifices.
PRIMAL POWER: The Cazhaak Faith
In Droaam nature has a single face, and it’s both beautiful and cruel. Ghaal’gantii—the Devourer—speaks through the storms that lash the land, through the fangs of the worg, through the stone beneath the hands of the medusa. This isn’t a tradition of shepherds; it’s the faith of the wolves. There’s no need to split the roles of hunter and predator, and no interest in a deity to bless the harvest; outside of the Gaa’ran, widespread agriculture is all but unknown. The Devourer embodies a view of a world that’s red in tooth and claw. He is the hunger that drives us to survive, but he places deadly obstacles in our way; those that can overcome the challenges of the Devourer grow strong and prosper, while the weak are swept away to make room for the strong.
For most who follow the faith, the Devourer is a force to be endured rather than celebrated. He will test you with a hurricane or a wildfire. He’ll lash you with thorns, and his hand is in the deadly currents of the rapids. You can certainly offer a prayer or a sacrifice, but what he wants is your strength. Survival isn’t something he will give you in exchange for a gift; he has given you tooth and claw, and he wants to see you use them. Because of this, many of the peoples of Droaam rarely invoke the Devourer; they acknowledge him, but they don’t make offerings to him as the Vassals do. The most notable exception to this are the purest predators of the region—the worgs and the lycanthropes of the Great Pack—who call on him to sharpen their senses and their fangs. This isn’t a petition, it’s an offer—join me in my hunt, that you may share my joy in victory. The Cazhaak Devourer has no need of weaklings who require his aid to survive; but a worthy hunter can draw his eye, and his favor with it. The only sacrifice that need be made is the kill itself. The Fury is often closely connected for such devotees. The Devourer is a source of physical strength, while the Fury is the source of instinct; both are important to the hunting worg.
Beyond the predators, the Devourer also draws the prayers of those who work with natural resources. Largescale agriculture may be uncommon, but Medusa stoneworkers and kobold apothecaries thank the Devourer for nature’s bounty. Even here, though, the tone is different than the thanks offered by the Vassal priests of Arawai. The Cazhaak faithful know that the Devourer gives nothing; he only offers you the chance to take it. Essentially, the Devourer puts the “hunt” in “hunter-gatherer.” Whether you’re an apothecary looking for bloodroot or a sculptor seeking the perfect place to strike the stone, you face a challenge; the Devourer will sharpen your eyes and give you the hunger to succeed, but you must still fight for your victory. The people of Droaam don’t sail, but if they did they would scoff at the placatory offerings of Vassal sailors. If the Devourer chooses to challenge you with a storm, he will; you honor him and earn his favor by facing that challenge without fear and surviving it. What the Devourer wants from you is strengthand skill, not trinkets tossed in the water.
Cazhaak Champions of the Devourer
Just as Vassal priests can perform services of all of the Sovereigns, a Cazhaak priestess of the Shadow will offer thanks to the Devourer. However, it’s rare to find a singularly devoted priest of the Devourer in a temple in Droaam, because the Devourer has little interest in cities and buildings. His most devoted priests are the worgs running with their pack and the harpies singing high on storm-wreathed peaks. Here’s a few examples of devoted champions of the Devourer.
The Huntmaster. The Great Pack is an alliance of worgs, lycanthropes, and other predators. Huntmasters are equal parts bard and priest, inspiring their comrades with wolfsong and guiding them on the hunter’s path.
The Stormsinger. While Huntmasters focus on the hunt, the Stormsinger embraces the furious power of hurricane and storm. Most Stormsingers are harpies, devoted equally to the Fury and to the Devourer. They dance through the winds, delighting in the deadly play of lightning. Largely Stormsingers are ecstatic mystics who praise the Six through song and flight, but they can also call down lightning on enemies in battle. If there is reason, they can draw away storms, luring the storm itself with their songs.
The Stoneshaper. Medusa architects invoke the Shadow and the Devourer. The Shadow wove stone into the medusa’s blood and shows them the secrets of working it, while they thank the Devourer for the raw gift of stone. Stoneshapers are specialized adepts capable of producing effects like stone shape, mold earth, and meld into stone.
The Wolfchild. Goblins and kobolds have long been oppressed in the Barrens of Droaam, being dismissed as small and weak by the ogres, trolls, and their kin. But there have always been those whose fury and determination to bring down their enemies—no matter their size—has drawn the favor of the Devourer and unlocked the predator within them. Known as the Gaa’taarka, these champions develop the gift of wild shape. While they are most often associated with wolf form, they aren’t limited to it; there are Gaa’taarka who can scout as hawks or fight as bears. The Gaa’taarka are broadly similar to Moon druids (and this would be a way to play a Wolfchild as a character) but most don’t possess the full spellcasting abilities of a druid. Those that can cast spells typically possess magic tied to working with beasts—beast sense, speak with animals, and similar spells. In the past, Wolfchildren have often served as champions defending their kin from would-be oppressors. In the present, a number of Gaa’taarka have joined the Great Pack, while others are serving with Maenya’s Fist. Technically, any devoted creature could become a Gaa’taarka; however, it’s still primarily associated with goblins and kobolds, hence their being described as “children.”
This is by no means a complete list—just a handful of examples of Droaamites touched by the Devourer.
OTHER VIEWS OF THE DEVOURER
As with all of the Sovereign and Six, many different interpretations of the Devourer can be found across the world.
In Xen’drik, the giants of Rusheme revere the goddessRowa of the Jungle Leaves, who incorporates aspects of both Arawai, the Fury, and the Devourer; according to City of Stormreach, Rowa is “the goddess of life and nature. Rowa is much beloved, but she is given to fits of passion that can drive her into a rage. As a result, storms, wildfires, and other natural disasters are attributed to ‘Rowa’s wrath.’”
As mentioned earlier, the Three Faces of the Wild respect Shargon as the untamed power of the wild, but don’t see him as malevolent; they seek to find the balance between Arawai and Shargon.
The sahuagin of the Eternal Dominion honor Sha’argon, saying that he began as a mortal hunter who stalked, killed, and devoured their interpretations of Arawai and Balinor, thus claiming dominion over nature. This vision of the Devourer is even more ruthless than their Cazhaak counterpart. The sahuagin razh’ash teach that Sha’argon “sets the laws of the world, and they are cruel. Life is an endless struggle. The weak will perish in the storm or be consumed by the mighty. Those with cunning and courage can conquer the world itself, and the victor has the right to devour their vanquished foe.”
These are just a few examples; there’s no limit to the number of sects that might be out there, each with their own unique interpretation of the Devourer. This also relates to the relationship between the Devourer, Arawai, and the Fury. There is a Pyrinean myth that suggests that the Fury is the child of Arawai and the Devourer—a metaphorical representation of the concept that a storm destroying a farm causes anguish to the farmer. On the other hand, Rusheme conflates the three into a single deity, while a Droaamite myth asserts that the Fury was born of Eberron’s cry of pain when she brought life into being. Priests create myths about the Sovereigns as a way to teach lessons, and those myths vary based on the culture that creates them and the lessons they’re passing on.
USING THE DEVOURER
One of the simplest ways to bring the Devourer into your campaign is to talk about the weather. It’s an important part of everyday life, but it’s something we often ignore in adventures—and it doesn’t help that the sourcebooks don’t go into much detail about what to expect in different parts of Khorvaire. So to some degree you’re on your own here. But if time after time you mention the gloomy rains of Sharn, you lay the groundwork for the slowly-building threat of a hurricane that somehow resists the power of the Raincaller’s Guild. Is a group of Devourer zealots responsible for this threat? Is it the work of the Kraken’s Brood (in which case the Raincaller’s Guild may have been sabotaged from within)? Can the adventurers find a Storm Herald, and if they do, what will the herald want in return? A storm at sea, a wildfire threatening to sweep over an adventurer’s home village… when these moments come, will the adventurers embrace the superstition and make an offering to the Devourer, or will they spit in the eye of the storm?
Followers of the Devourer can be an easy source of villains. Zealots can always turn up to shatter cities or strike at the Dragonmarked Houses. The Kraken’s Brood uses primal force in their pursuit of power. A Droaamite worg may honor the Devourer by hunting the most dangerous prey—and they’ve set their sights on one of the player characters. On the other hand, champions of the Devourer don’t have to be enemies. A medusa stoneshaper could prove an invaluable ally when adventurers are trying to get into a collapsed mine. The Three Faces of the Wild could draw attention to industrial activities that do threaten a local community. A Droaamite huntmaster could adopt the adventurers as their temporary pack and guide them through a dangerous region. They could also just be mysterious. If the adventurers have business in a small community, a Storm Herald could arrive and call for the Devourer’s Feast. They say that this is an innocent action which will help to protect the village from disaster. Will the adventurers help organize the feast, or will they oppose the Herald—and if so, will disaster indeed strike?
Player characters could follow any of the paths described above. An urban druid could be devoted to the Three Faces of the Wild. A goblin or kobold could play a Moon druid as one of the Gaa’taarka—have they been sent out on a mission from the Daughters of Sora Kell, or are they just following their instincts? A Lyrandar Fathomless warlock could have been raised in the Kraekovar cult… have they turned against the Kraken’s Brood, or are they trying to oppose its corruption from within the system? A Storm sorcerer could be a lightning rod, both cursed and blessed by the Devourer; they have also power over lightning and wind, but if they stay in one place for too long disaster will follow. Can they find a way to lift this curse… and if they do, will they lose their gifts as well?
That’s all for now. Note that this article reflects how I use the Devourer in my campaign and may contradict canon sources! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and for making these articles possible; follow the link if you want to have a voice in future topics! Because of serious IRL events I will not be able to answer many questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss your experiences and thoughts on the Devourer and to praise his Watery Deepness in the comments.
The ship is a shadow in the night, its darkwood hull all but invisible against the water. It is the sail that draws the eye. The black silk is adorned with a hundred crimson sigils, each burning with pale light. The sea is calm, but a groaning wind fills the sails. If you make your living on the Lhazaar Sea, you know what that vessel is. If you’re lucky, it’s a merchant vessel carrying the strange spices and other goods of Farlnen. If not, you’d be wise to make your peace with the Sovereigns. The Bloodsails are known to take prisoners, but they rarely take them alive.
Eye on Eberron: The Bloodsail Principality, Dragon 410
Thousands of years ago, the Undying Court and dragons of Argonnessen joined forces to eradicate the line of Vol. All elves who carried the blood of Vol were slain. But there were many elves who supported Vol despite having no blood ties to the line. The victors offered these defeated elves a choice: swear allegiance to the Undying Court or be exiled from Aerenal. A large force of these exiles traveled north and laid claim to the island of Farlnen, founding the Bloodsail Principality. A bleak and sunless land, Farlnen is charged with the energies of Mabar, allowing the people of this realm to perform remarkable feats of necromancy. Prince Shaen Tasil is the living ruler of Farlnen, but the greatest power on the island is the Grim, a council of mighty undead. Some of the Grim work for the benefit of the Principality, while others focus on their own esoteric interests and arcane research.
The members of the Grim are powerful undead. Canon lore includes one infamous member of the Grim: Lady Illmarrow, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Dead.” Few members of the Grim leave Farlnen; most make extensive use of the power of Mabar, and rely on retinues of skeletal and spectral servants. More than this, Farlnen is a safe haven. There are many would-be heroes—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, Paladins of Dol Arrah—who would be thrilled to destroy a Grim Lord. While few possess the power to accomplish such a thing, most of the Grim prefer to remain in their estates, protected both by powerful wards and by their peers. As a result, only a few of the Grim are known beyond Farlnen—and even those are obscured by legends and rumors. Here are a few unusual members of the Grim, lords whose tales are known in Lhazaar.
Lord Varonaen, The Bloody Gardener
Before the elves came, Farlnen was just bare rock and sand. The sun doesn’t shine there, and no living thing could prosper in that cursed place. But a land with no sun sounds mighty nice if you’re a vampire, like Lord Varonaen! He steers the elves to Farlnen, and when he gets there he breaks his ship to splinters and he scatters the splinters across the stony ground. He kills his own sailors and waters the wood with their blood, and they sprout up as darkwood trees and bloodstained roses. All the night-gardens of Farlnen, it was Varonaen who planted the seeds. And if the Bloodsails kill you on the sea? They’ll keep your bones to work an oar, but they’ll won’t let your flesh go to waste; cargoes of carrion make their way to Farlnen to feed the bloody gardens.
Lord Sylian Varonaen is the oldest member of the Grim. The Varonaen were allies of Vol long before the Mark of Death appeared, and Sylian was one of the first vampires created on Aerenal. Where Vol studied ways to imbue humanoid creatures with the energies of Mabar, Sylian Varonaen explored its effects on plants. Varonaen was fascinated by those strains of flora that managed to adapt to Aerenal’s Mabaran zones, and improved upon these with his own hybrids; it was he who refined the strain of darkwood that Aerenal exports to this day. It was no accident that Varonaen and his exiles came to Farlnen. The elves knew they needed powerful a Mabaran zone to continue their research, and Varonaen came prepared. The story quoted above is apocryphal, but it holds seeds of truth. Varonaen brought his hybrids with him across the Lhazaar Sea and established the first night gardens. He planted darkwood groves, and in the centuries that followed he developed entirely new strains of vegetation that could thrive in the unique conditions of Farlnen. While the stories are exaggerated, there is some truth to them. Darkwood isn’t watered with blood… but some of Varonaen’s creations do thrive when fertilized with the flesh of the dead. Some of his experiments are just plants, but others can be treated as both plants and undead; Varonaen has created assassin vines that drain the lifeforce of creatures they constrict and a shrieker that howls with the cry of a banshee.
Lord Varonaen played a vital role in founding Farlnen. The people rely on his hybrid plants as a source of both food and lumber, and the exotic spices and wines produced from his creations are unique exports sold by Bloodsail merchants. Despite his part in ensuring the survival of his people, Varonaen has never asserted his power over his peers; his plants are his sole obsession, and he has spent the centuries working on his gardens. He has the manner of a mild, friendly scholar—but he feels no compunctions about creating plantlife that feeds on the living, or sacrificing strangers in this work.
There was a time when Lord Varonaen traveled in search of exotic blooms. It was on such a journey that he was destroyed by the Deathguard of Aerenal. While his vampire form was reduced to ashes, Varonaen had bound his spirit to his garden much as a lich has its phylactery. He was reborn in Farlnen as a wraith (albeit a unique wraith with spellcasting abilities). While he often remains in this incorporeal form while doing his work, he has crafted a body from darkwood and can animate this vessel when he wishes to interact with the physical world. He hasn’t left Farlnen since his death, and it may be that he can’t travel far from this soul garden. However, adventurers could encounter his creations either in Farlnen or beyond, or have need of an exotic elixir that can only be produced from his undead plants. He could even have an interest in consulting with an adventurer renowned as a master alchemist or unusual druid.
You think you’ve looked death in the eye? Wait until you’ve stared into the empty sockets in the skull of a dragon turtle, after it’s capsized your ship and it’s coming right for you. I’m telling you now, you get too close to the Sunless Isle and pirates are the least of your worries. I know you’ve heard these stories before, but have you ever wondered where the Bloodsails GOT these bones so they could animate ’em? I can tell you in two words: Haeldar Krakensbane. He was a legend in life, a dragonslayer who fought alongside the rebel elves just for a chance to fight dragons. He got himself exiled for his troubles, and sailed north with the rest of ’em. His ship runs afoul of a bloody great kraken, which demands tribute from the fleet. The elves, they’re rightly terrified, and they all agree to pay its price. But Haeldar, he’s not having it. It’s his ancestor, see? Never would bend to a beast. So he siezes control of his ship, and no surprise, kraken sinks it and kills everyone aboard—including Haeldar’s children! You’d think that would be the end of it, but weeks later, as them elves are camped out on the sunless shore, they see a monster on the horizon. It’s the kraken; after it swallowed Haeldar, he refused to die, dug his way up through its heart and out its eye. Now here he is, riding the damn dead thing home.
That beast still patrols the waters of Farlnen today. And Haeldar… he spends much of his time mourning his lost children, but when the mood is upon him, he goes back to sea. He won’t force his own on the hunt, not again. But he’ll board another vessel, take command of it, and take it on another monster hunt. If he comes to your ship, hope you’re one of the lucky ones, that he takes down his prey with your vessel still intact. Haeldar Krakensbane never misses his mark… but the ships he sails rarely make it home again.
In life, Haeldar Arrael was a Tairnadal of the Draleus Tairn. He fought alongside the line of Vol not because he believed in their cause, but because it gave him the opportunity to fight dragons. Over the course of the conflict, he fell in love with an elf of the Vyrael line, and following the defeat of the line of Vol he sailed north in the company of his wife and kin. As the story says, when a mighty leviathan threatened his ship, Haeldar put his dreams of glory ahead of the safety of his family. He lost everything, including his own life—but his hunger for victory was so great that he returned as a death knight in the very belly of the kraken, slaying his enemy and animating its corpse.
As described in the tale, Haeldar spends much of his days in mourning. But he is also the source of many of the great beasts bound in undeath as guardians of Farlnen. Haeldar slays these creatures—serpents, dragon turtles, his eponymous kraken—personally, and it is his unique gift that animates those he slays; however, he turns control of these sentinels over to living necromancers upon his return to the island. And as the tale says, when he is in the mood for a hunt, Haeldar will set out on board a Bloodsail vessel—but he will board and sieze control of some other ship, ensuring that he doesn’t place more elves at risk in his relentless pursuit of challenges at sea. Adventurers on the water could encounter a vessel that’s been seized by Haeldar and is in the midst of a hunt—or they could be aboard a vessel when Haeldar commandeers it, and have to decide whether to fight the death knight or to assist him and hope to survive his hunt.
The Ship of Eldaraen
When I was just a boy in the rigging, my captain spotted a ship dead in the water near Farlnen. Beautiful elven vessel it was, not a soul aboard. We board the vessel, no sign of the crew, but it’s well loaded with treasures. The sailors, they took what they could carry; me, I was just a boy, and I’d heard all too much about Farlnen to see such a thing as luck. After looting what he could, my captain scuttles the ship and we watch it sink as he sails away. But late that night, the lass in the ‘nest calls a ship on the horizon. It was that same vessel, good as new, following us. The captain, he panics, starts prepping Zil fire he’d been saving to burn the cursed ship down. He launched six cannisters, and the riggings of the elf ship were all aflame. But then, as sure as I see you now, I saw a shadow amid the barrels we had left… and that’s all I saw before the explosion. I’m the only one who survived, and whatever loot my captain claimed, it should be spread across the bottom of the ocean. But I tell you this, and I’m telling you true: I remember my captain holding that same golden skull you have in your hand now, and that ship behind us, it’s the same one we sank so long ago.
Many see the days before Galifar as the golden age of piracy. Riedran ships were on the water, but there was no united Galifar and the dragonmarked houses had only a sliver of the power they wield today. In those days Bloodsail captain Vyra Eldaraen was the terror of the northern seas. She plundered the oceans for two centuries before her luck finally ran out. With all the plunder she’d amassed, Eldaraen was restored as an oathbound, and she chose to be bound to her ship. Though other members of the Grim warned against it, she sought to continue her career—and soon enough, the Deathguard and a brave captain—Bright Lorrister, a distant ancestor of the modern Prince of the Heavenly Fleet—destroyed Eldaraen and sunk her ship. But a century later, records reported a clear sighting of Eldaraen’s vessel, as good as new. It seemed that somehow, Eldaraen had become something more than any mere oathbound; she had become truly bound to the ship itself, and just as a lich’s body reforms after it is destroyed, the ship of Eldaraen will always return… even if no original part of the ship remains.
Stories of the Ship of Eldaraen vary, and it seems that it goes through stages. In some stories, the ship is actively populated by a crew of wights and shadows, with Eldaraen herself manifesting as a wraith among them. In others, as in the tale shared above, the ship appears to be empty… though in some stories, Eldaraen manifests aboard it in a form similar to a demilich. A few facts are consistent…
The Ship is immune to all forms of divination. Creatures can’t teleport into or out of the ship or use planar travel to enter or leave it, unless traveling to Mabar.
The Ship seems to have become a mobile manifest zone tied to Mabar, which extends 500 feet from the ship. Within that area. The radius of all light sources is halved; saving throws against necromancy spells are made with disadvantage; and undead have advantage on saving throws to avoid being turned or frightened.
The ship carries the plunder of centuries, but treasures taken from it often bring ill luck. Sometimes the items themselves are actively cursed. Other treasures cause the victim to be tracked by the Ship itself (as in the story above) or specters from its crew, or haunted by nightmares until the loot is flung back into the water. The details vary, but the treasures of Eldaraen always return to her eventually.
The Ship of Eldaraen is included in this article as it is a powerful undead entity tied to the Bloodsail Principality. However, Eldaraen is not believed to be an active member of the Grim; the ship follows its own path, and doesn’t appear to coordinate with the living. On the other hand, it’s possible that there is more to this than meets the eye. It could be that Eldaraen is in contact with other Lords of the Grim, communicating through sending or even interacting with them in the court of the Bone King of Mabar. Even if this is not the case, it’s possible that a living Bloodsail elf could track down the Ship and recruit Eldaraen to help her people should the Bloodsails have need of her.
The Vyrael Sisters
The Bloodsail Elves pursue undeath as a path to eternal life. Some are content to endure the red thirst of the vampire or undertake the vows of the oathbound. Others yearn for the power of the lich—but that power isn’t a gift that can be given. It can only be claimed by a being who possesses both tremendous will and arcane knowledge. Few individuals possesses these traits… but on Farlnen, there’s one example of a family claiming power no single member could achieve alone. The Vyrael were one of the largest and most powerful families among the exiled elves that set out for Farlnen. In the early days of the island, three sisters of the Vyrael line rose to prominence, working with Lord Varonaen to establish the night gardens and to lay the foundations of Farlnen. Centuries later, they knew their time was running out. Torae believed that she had mastered the ritual that granted lichdom, but she was certain her two sisters couldn’t survive the process… and she couldn’t bear to leave her siblings behind. Working together they became something entirely new—the first Skull Lord of Farlnen, three spirits bound together in a single form.
The Vyrael Sisters are one of the more active members of the Grim. Each sister has her own interests, and they take turns serving as the primary force of their shared body.
Torae Vyrael is the most accomplished wizard of the sisters. While she is in control of the body the DM should feel free to change the standard spells of the Skull Lord, and she should also possess a single 8th level spell slot and expertise with Arcana. Torae loves to spend her days studying obscure lore or mentoring accomplished Bloodsail necromancers. If an elf player character has Vyrael blood (knowingly or not) and arcane talent, Torae could reach out to them through sending and dream and offer to serve as a mentor; she would make an excellent Undead patron for a warlock.
Solae Vyrael is the most politically active of the sisters. While she is the dominant spirit, they have expertise with Insight and Persuasion. Solae advises Prince Shaen Tasil, and enjoys hosting salons and galas with Bloodsail captains and other interesting individuals. While foreigners are rarely welcome on Farlnen, exotic adventurers who visit the Sunless Isle might receive an invitation to such a salon. If so, they’d best prove entertaining; boring guests rarely survive the evening. Of course, spurning an invitation from Vyrael is even more dangerous than attending…
Vyla Vyrael is a scholar and philosopher, with expertise in History and Religion; while she is in control of the body, they can switch up to five spells for spells from the Cleric spell list. While she studies religions, Vyla herself draws her divine power through Mabar, shaped by her will. Nonetheless, she is fascinated by the concept of religion, and hopes to some day concretely prove the existence of the Sovereigns—though she largely subscribes to the view that if the Sovereigns exist, they are cruel. Should a group of adventurers be seeking the mysteries of the divine, it’s possible Vyla may have answers they seek. She also collects divine artifacts, and adventurers could clash with agents she’s dispatched to recover a new relic for her collection.
One of the Sisters always holds dominance over their shared body, and this is something that can be changed after a long rest. However, the other sisters are an active presence at all times. They can speak and offer opinions; but it is the active spirit that affects the capabilities of the body. The Sisters have a longstanding feud with Haeldar Krakensbane, whom they blame for the death of their aunt. While they have never engaged in any direct violence against Haeldar, it’s quite possible they’d provide surreptitious aid to adventurers clashing with the Krakensbane. The Sisters are essentially an unusual form of lich, and it’s quite possible that they have a phylactery and will return if they are destroyed; however, returning in this way would require the willpower of all three sisters, and if one sister lost her desire to cling to existence, they would all pass on.
The Grim Lords mentioned here are among the most unusual of their kind. Most members of the Grim are vampires, with oathbound (mummies) as the next most common form; there are only one or two liches aside from Illmarrow and the Lords Vyrael. These are all I have time to discuss now, but hopefully these give you some ideas to work with!
If Farlnen is such a powerful source of Mabaran undead and the Undying Court hates the practice of Mabaran necromancy, why hasn’t Aerenal done more to wipe out the Bloodsails?
Mabar consumes light and life. There are many who believe that anything that draws the energies of Mabar into Eberron is inherently destructive, and in particular that undead animated by the power of Mabar ambiently consume the lifeforce of Eberron itself. In many ways, this is analogous to the threat of global warming in our world. It’s a threat that is only expected to play out over a very long time with incremental impacts (such as grass withering around a garrison of skeletal warriors). Given this, there’s people who are concerned about it; people who are convinced it’s nonsense; and the vast majority of people who simply don’tcare.
The Aereni care, and they’ve created the Deathguard as a force that eliminates undead and polices the practice of Mabaran necromancy. But Aerenal is an extremely insular nation that takes almost no action in the world beyond its borders. Most notably, the original description of the Deathguard in the 3.5 ECS states that the Deathguard was “Created to battle the corrupted spirits of the realm…” which is to say, they mainly operate in Aerenal itself. Essentially, if you compare Mabaran necromancy to global warming, Aerenal has enacted extremely strict regulations within Aerenal itself… but they aren’t sending soldiers to Detroit to blow up automobile factories, let along smashing individual gas-guzzling cars in New Jersey. The key point here is Karrnath. The skeletons in the armies of Karrnath likely outnumber the entire population of Farlnen. Yet over the course of a century, the Deathguard hasn’t somehow brought down Karrnath or destroyed Fort Bones. What they have done is send agents—notably, a highly influential agent with direct access to the king, who has convinced Kaius III to break ties with the Blood of Vol and to limit military necromancy. But that’s a more typical path for the Deathguard to pursue in the wider world than direct military action.
The second key point is that Farlnen is in a strong Mabaran manifest zone. Mabaran manifest zones are a part of the world and always have been, offset by the presence of Irian manifest zones. The short form is that Mabaran necromancy has less impact on the environment when it’s practiced in such a manifest zone because you’re already halfway in Mabar. So making skeletons on Farlnen adds less to your carbon footprint than making them in Sharn. This ties to the fact that many of the major centers for necromancy—such as Atur—are in Mabaran zones. The Aereni don’t like any use of Mabaran necomancy, but they’re not very concerned about Atur, Odakyr, or Farlnen; we’ve called out before that necromancers channeling the energies of such a zone may actually reduce its overall environmental impact.
So cutting to the chase: destroying individual undead is really pretty small potatoes for Aerenal; they aren’t trying to hunt down every individual vampire in the world any more than environmental activists in our world blow up individual gas-powered cars. Occasionally, they WILL target what they see as high value targets. They took down Lord Varonaen a few centuries ago, and they killed Eldaraen—though there, note that they worked with a local hero to pull it off. But overall, they don’t mind the Bloodsails existing as long as they are largely confined to Farlnen. They would be far more concerned if the Bloodsails spread the practice of Mabaran necromancy throughout the Principalities, and that’s one reason the Bloodsails haven’t done that, and why they haven’t spread their culture beyond the island… but even if that occurred, as seen in Karrnath, Aerenal would be more likely to send a diplomat than an assassin to deal with the problem.
The short form is that Deathguard strikes can happen, but it’s extremely rare for them to occur outside of Aerenal—and when they do, it’s very likely that the Deathguard will try to work with some sort of local heroes, like Bright Lorrister in Lhazaar. All of which is to say that rather than solving a problem for the PCs, the Deathguard are likely to try to work with capable adventurers and deal with the problem together.
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Eberron is balanced between thirteen planes, each of which represents an iconic concept. All mortal creatures are influenced by these planes. We dream in Dal Quor and cast shadows in Mabar. We feel the martial call of Shavarath balanced by the tranquility of Syrania. Where these planes extend directly into the Material Plane they create manifest zones and wild zones, Shaping Eberron in their image. Counting those that are lost, there were thirteen planes, thirteen moons, thirteen dragonmarks.
What, then, is the role of the astral plane? What concept does it represent? Does it, too, shape the world? Why isn’t associated with a moon or with manifest zones?
While the astral plane is called a “plane,” it has little in common with the thirteen planes of the orrery. It wasn’t created to embody a concept, because it wasn’t created. The Astral Plane is the ultimate foundation of reality, the realm that existed before creation. If you interpret the creation myth literally, the astral plane was the canvas upon which the Progenitors painted existence as we know it. As such, it’s not part of creation; it’s the space that lies between and beyond it. It doesn’t have a purpose; it simply is.
With that said, the fact that the astral plane is the space between spaces gives it value. With a few exceptions—such as the Immeasurable Market of Syrania—the planes of Eberron exist as independent and isolated systems. There’s no direct path from Risia to Fernia, or from Mabar to Lamannia. All of the planes touch the material plane, but manifest zones that serve as gateways aren’t easy to find. Barring manifest gateways, travel between the planes involves passing through the astral plane. Plane shift and gate expedite this process, connecting through the astral in a blink of an eye. Without such magic, travelers must enter and depart the astral plane through the color pools. So why visit the astral plane? The first reason is to go somewhere else; the astral is just the road that will take you there. The second reason is to get away; disconnected as it is from reality and the ravages of time, the astral can serve as the ultimate sanctuary. The third reason is because you need to interact with the travelers or exiles who dwell there—or wish to explore the forgotten debris of previous ages, abandoned and forgotten in the astral plane.
The astral plane is an endless silvery void. Wisps of silver and gray drift between motes of light—at first glance these seem like stars, but in fact they are the countless pools of color where the other planes bleed into the astral. There is no inherent gravity or orientation; you move by thinking about moving, and if you have no desire to move you will simply be suspended in the void. Some travelers embrace the idea of flying, while others choose to walk across the void even though there’s no ground beneath their feet.
Ancient and Enigmatic.Commune, augury, divination,legend lore and similar spells are unreliable in the astral plane. Many of the ruins and relics found in the silver sea are from previous incarnations of Eberron or predate creation itself, and spells of this age can’t unlock their mysteries.
Beyond Time and Space. Creatures in the astral plane do not age, and are immune to hunger and thirst. Time moves at the same pace within the astral plane as it does on Eberron, but creatures who spend an extensive amount of time in the astral plane often lose the ability to sense the passage of time; a hermit who’s been isolated in the astral plane for thousands of years might believe it’s been a single year.
Speed of Thought. While in the astral plane, a creature has a flight speed (in feet) equal to 3 x its Intelligence score. This replaces all other forms of movement the creature possesses, and overrides any spell or effect that grants or increases movement speed.
Suspended in the Void. Movement in the astral plane only happens by intention, and a creature that isn’t actively moving or being moved will float, suspended in the void. Thrown objects or ranged attacks travel the maximum distance they would travel in the material plane—driven by the intent of the person who launched them—and then come to a stop, floating in the air.
DENIZENS OF THE ASTRAL PLANE
There’s no native life in the astral plane. Those creatures encountered here are either immigrants, travelers passing through, or things that have been created and set here—most by beings or civilizations long forgotten. I’ll be posting a table of possible astral encounters as bonus content on my Patreon, but here’s a general look at the creatures you might find.
While plane shift allows travelers to instantly traverse the astral plane, there are always travelers who make their way across the astral step by step. These include denizens of the outer planes, but not many; the planes are independent systems that are designed to function in isolation. With this in mind, it’s never normal for beings from the planes to be traveling through the astral, and if they are you can be sure there’s a story behind it. Perhaps an efreeti pasha wishes to serve shaved Risian ice at their next gala, and has dispatched a servant to fetch some. Perhaps a condemned archfey is being escorted from Thelanis to the Inescapable Prison of Daanvi, or an angelic Virtue of Knowledge is going to consult the Infinite Archive. Any of these things could happen, but all of them are remarkable events; it’s not like there’s a constant stream of immortals passing through the astral plane.
Mortal travelers from the material plane are likewise rare, but not unknown. The mages of the Five Nations know of the Astral Plane, but have not yet developed a sustainable form of astral travel. There are currently three civilizations that make use of astral travel.
The Dragons of Argonnessen. Long ago, a cabal of dragons sought to build within the astral plane; this experiment came to an end with the loss of Sharokarthel (see below). Today Argonnessen sees the astral plane purely as a conduit for travel. Since powerful wyrms will make use of plane shift, most dragons encountered in the astral plane will be in their middle years—accomplished enough to have needs that can only be met in other planes, but not capable of casting plane shift. Loredrakes (dragon scholars) may wish to consult the Infinite Archives of Daanvi or to speak with a particular immortal. Masters of the Hoard (collectors and merchants) may be seeking unique commodities, while Flames of the Forge (artisans and artificers) may be looking for resources that can only be acquired beyond reality.
The Elves of Aerenal. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the Astral Plane, working on the grand experiment of Pylas Var-Tolai. Beyond this celestial realm, the Aereni follow in the footsteps of the dragons. The greatest Aereni sages may consult with Virtues in Syrania or browse the Infinite Archive, and Aereni artisans may seek materials that can only be found in the planes. Where dragons found traveling in the astral are usually young, elf travelers are most likely among the most accomplished of their kind still living; astral travel is an established practice, but only the most capable elves will risk its many dangers.
The Venomous Demesne. Hidden in western Droaam, the Venomous Demesne is less than two thousand years old—a pale shadow in comparison to Argonnessen or Aerenal. But the humans and tieflings of the Demesne are brilliant mages who are pushing the bounds of arcane science. Over the course of the last century they’ve begun to dig deeper into the mysteries of the Astral Plane, both as a corridor through which to reach the planes and as a resource in its own right. Some mages of the Demesne seek to bargain with the Githyanki, while others hope to find forgotten treasures in the ruins of Sharokarthel. So the Demesne doesn’t yet have a large-scale presence in the Astral Plane, but adventurers could encounter Demesne mages either as fellow travelers or as rival explorers competing for plunder and secret knowledge.
Immigrants and Exiles
There’s no truly native life in the astral plane, but there are creatures—both mortals and immortals—who choose to live within the silver sea. Some have been stranded by mystical accidents. Others are prisoners exiled to the astral plane, cursed so that they cannot leave it; they are trapped in the timeless void, doomed never to return to the world that has forgotten them. There are hermits who have chosen this solitary existence: philosophers who appreciate having an eternity to contemplate the higher mysteries, inventors working on forbidden research, fugitives waiting for their enemies to die of old age. With no need for food or drink, some dwell in complete isolation; explorers could find a Cul’sir giant who has been meditating for the last five thousand years. Other creatures came to the astral plane in groups, and maintain some form of society in the silver sea. The most significant of these are the Githyanki, who escaped the destruction of a previous incarnation of Eberron and now dwell in fortress-ships the size of small towns. However, there are a handful of smaller communities scattered across the infinite void. Some come from lost realities, like the Gith. Others are remnants of fallen civilizations or followers of traditions that have been wiped out on the material plane. Adventurers exploring the deep astral could discover an outpost built by the dwarves of Sol Udar, or a Dhakaani garrison that knows nothing of the chaat’oor. Part of the point of these outposts is to explore the idea of isolation. They don’t need anything from the outside world; they have no need to seek out others and trade with them. Thus they can exist as flies in amber—a Dhakaani force even more isolated than the Kech Dhakaan, goblins who don’t even realize their empire has fallen. Adventurers could find an astral workshop where giants of the Sulat League have been perfecting a doomsday weapon they can use to take vengeance on the dragons, or the labyrinth-tower of an infamous prince of Ohr Kaluun, cast into the astral plane to escape the Sundering.
Most of the immigrants and exiles of the astral plane exist in isolation and timeless stagnation, content to be forgotten in the trackless expanse of the void. The Githyanki are the most notable exception to this rule. Tu’narath is a bustling city, fueled by the plunder Githyanki raiders bring in from other planes. The ships themselves are communities, from small vessels that house a dozen raiders to the fortress-ships that hold hundreds. With that said, between dwelling in the astral and pillaging immortal planes, the Githyanki themselves have lost track of time. This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both allow their population to grow and to give them an anchor in time. The naysayers argue that they don’t belong in the current creation—that they’ve been able to thrive in the astral because it is beyond reality, but that if the Githyanki stake a claim in the material it could trigger unknown metaphysical defenses. The argument continues; as a DM, if you decide to explore such an invasion, you’ll have to decide if there will be unforeseen consequences to a Githyanki incursion.
The Githyanki are warlike and proud. Their ultimate goal is to build their power until they can destroy Xoriat itself, regardless of the consequences this could have to reality. They have a deep competitive streak that could be seen as a need to prove themselves superior to the world that has replaced theirs. Whether merchant or warrior, Githyanki view all interactions through the lens of conflict; every situation has a winner and a loser, and the Githyanki will always be the victors. Note that this doesn’t mean mindless aggression; the Githyanki recognize the need to outwit their enemies, to employ careful strategies and preserve their limited resources. But they are always seeking a path to victory, and they have no compunction about taking anything they desire from the people around them; in the eyes of the Githyanki, only their people are real, and all the trappings of this age are just flawed reflections of their reality. This is one reason the Githyanki raid other planes while leaving the other denizens of the astral plane alone. Even if they are from other realities, the Githyanki recognize the other exiles as kindred in suffering—and beyond that, they prefer not to start battles on their home ground. So the Gith are constantly raiding through the color pools, but they avoid the ruins and outposts of other immigrants in the astral sea. They have limited contact with the Aereni. They feel no love for these creatures of the usurping reality, but see more value in trading with them than in starting a conflict in the void. However, if the Githyanki were to launch an attack against Eberron, it’s likely they would either negotiate a treaty with Aerenal before they begin… or that they would find a way to cripple the Undying Court and launch their conquest with a devastating first strike against the elves.
Most of the denizens of the astral plane have a history that can be unraveled and explored. Some come from earlier incarnations, like the Githyanki. Others come from fallen nations—remnants of Xen’drik, Sol Udar, the Empire of Dhakaan. The ruins of Sharokarthel are almost a hundred thousand years old. But there are beings in the astral plane that predate even the age of demons, constructs built and abandoned by civilizations entirely unknown… civilizations that could even predate the Progenitors and the cosmology of Eberron itself. The terrifying Astral Dreadnoughts are one example of these forgotten entities. These gargantuan entities glide through the astral sea, destroying all that they encounter. Some believe that the dreadnoughts were created by the Progenitors to fight any beings that might come from beyond Eberron’s cosmology—that the dreadnoughts exist to fight any would-be gods that might seek a foothold in Eberron. Others believe that the dreadnoughts predate the Progenitors, that they are remnants of a world truly beyond mortal understanding. The dreadnoughts are just one example of those things that may be forgotten in the depths of the astral—powers waiting to be unleashed.
LAYERS AND LOCATIONS
The astral plane isn’t divided into layers. It is a singular, seemingly infinite void in which color pools are scattered like stars. Measured using the concepts of the material plane, Tu’narath and Sharokarthel could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles apart. This is why it’s possible to find an astral hermitage where a giant philosopher has remained undisturbed for thousands of years… because unless you know what you’re looking for, the astral plane is so vast as to make any particular location a single grain of sand on a vast beach.
It might seem like this distance would prevent any sort of meaningful travel in the astral plane. If Tu’narath and Sharokarthel are a hundred thousand miles apart, how is an adventurer to move between them? The catch is that movement in the astral plane isn’t measured in miles or even in space; it is purely a concept. The Speed of Thought trait determines a character’s speed in combat, where people must focus on the narrow moment. Outside of combat, movement across the Astral Plane is based on knowing where you wish to go and willing yourself to get there. Travel speed is largely arbitrary; the Dungeon Master’s Guide notes that it will take about 1d4 x 10 hours to find a color pool tied to a particular plane, with the risk of psychic wind increasing travel time. But that’s just to find a random pool; think of this as searching the skies for a green star and then willing yourself in its direction. Astral color pools are tied to locations within planes; finding a specific pool, or finding a location like Sharokarthel, is a different story. If you have been to the location before, it will usually take around 1d4 x 10 hours to reach it. If you’re proficient in Arcana, you can work with a description of a location (an Aereni map, a description from a Cul’sir tomb…). In such a case, it can take 1d8 x 10 hours to reach your destination. If you have no intended destination, you can try to navigate based on the constellations formed by the scattered color pools; you’ll eventually find something, whether it’s just a pool or some more interesting outpost or ruin. Someone familiar with astral travel can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check to speed travel; this is arbitrary, but a good result can reduce travel time and help the travelers avoid the psychic wind.
The elves of Aerenal are the most notable astral cartographers in Eberron. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court have spent countless hours exploring the astral sea as thought forms, recording the paths of its constellations and noting interesting ruins and hermitages. If adventurers wish to find adventure in the astral plane, they could just dive into the sea and start swimming… but a torn page from an Aereni atlas could be what they need to get started.
Ruins and Hermitages
The astral plane may in fact be infinite, and there’s no telling what could be waiting in that void. There’s at least one active city, Tu’narath. But there are many other points of interest scattered in the void. Most of these are ruins. Some are the remnants of actual cities once built in the astral plane, like Sharokarthel. Others are simply pieces of unknown civilizations or lands. These could be from the distant past of this Eberron. They could be remnants of a lost Eberron, such as the Eberron of the Gith. Or they could even be relics of previous creations, realities older than the Progenitors themselves. A few examples…
A dragon’s skull, ten miles long from snout to horn-tip. The shape doesn’t precisely match any known species of dragon.
A single tower, seemingly broken off of a larger castle.
A massive ship, apparently designed for sea travel—a distinctly different design than the Githyanki vessels.
A mountain peak formed from some sort of smoky crystal.
A mass of silvery clouds, soft but solid enough to stand on. They drift and shift, but never disperse or drift apart.
The empty shell of an immense dragon turtle.
Half of an immense bridge, sheered off sharply in the middle.
A manor house, preserved with mending magic and tended by unseen servants. It’s impossible to tell how long it’s stood empty.
A grove of colossal trees, whose roots and branches are intertwined.
There are many planes in which odd structures can be found. What differentiates the ruins of the Astral Plane from the bizarre landscapes of Xoriat is the fact that ruins generally feel like they had a purpose—they may be encountered out of context, but once the ship was in water and the skull was part of an immense dragon. What makes them unlike the wonders of Thelanis is that while they may have a purpose, the ruins of the astral plane rarely have a story—at least, not one that can be easily discerned. The skull was once part of a dragon, but there are no further clues as to who that dragon was or how it died; if it was once part of a story, that story is long over.
Ruins are generally abandoned. When immigrants or exiles lay claim to a ruin, it becomes a hermitage. Given that creatures in the astral plane are immune to starvation and thirst, people can live in places that could never support life in the natural world. A massive dragon skull could be inhabited by a clan of winged kobolds, or by a trio of Seekers of the Divinity Within. Again, unlike Xoriat, the denizens of such a realm came from somewhere; if there’s kobolds in the skull, the question is whether they’re from Eberron, a previous reality, or a forgotten creation.
The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the astral plane—leaving their bodies behind and exploring through astral projection. In part, they are charting the near-infinite expanse; the Aereni have maps of many ruins and hermitages, even though they have left many of the hermits undisturbed. But astral cartography is a side project. Their true interest is something far grander. The astral plane is a place of beginnings. If the myths are true, it is here that the Progenitors laid the cornerstone of creation. The Undying Court seeks to follow in their footsteps—to create a new reality. They are still far from this goal, but using their gestalt power they have managed to create a region within the void—an island they call Pylas Var-Tolai.
The core of Pylas Var-Tolai is a vast, fortified monastery. This includes a scriptorium where monks draw maps of the astral sea, a vast library holding accounts of all the ruins they have explored, and a vault holding both wonders found in the astral and artifacts deemed too dangerous to be kept in the material plane. There is a council chamber at the center of it where the ascendant councilors commune with one another and exert their power. While the most important inhabitants of Var-Tolai are the astral forms of the ascendant councilors, there is a population of mortal elves—scholars, priests, and soldiers—who are physically present. While Pylas Var-Tolai is primarily a research outpost, it also serves as a waystation for Aereni who have business in the planes; as such it does have a small capacity for guests, and there are usually a handful of travelers along with the permanent staff. Whoever, the monastery is driven by research, not commerce. If adventurers come to the gates of Pylas Var-Tolai, the priests will be more interested in their stories than their gold.
The most important aspect of Pylas Var-Tolai is the gate at its center. This allows passage to the workshop of the Undying Court… the reality they are creating. This is very much a work in progress, fluid and unsustainable. But they are continuing to work at it. When adventurers visit, the realm on the other side of the gate could be a tiny island or a vast continent. It could be a perfect replica of Aerenal, or it could be a wondrous realm that defies the laws of physics. Visiting adventurers could be asked to explore the nascent realm—to test the creation of the councilors, and identify its flaws.
In the wake of the Age of Demons, the victorious dragons spread across the world. This lead to the first rise of the Daughter of Khyber, which led to a devastating war of dragons that destroyed the nations they’d created and forced them to withdraw later. Ten thousand years later, a loredrake presented a new idea. The Daughter of Khyber drew power when the dragons expanded across Eberron. But the Daughter herself was bound to Khyber. What, then, if the dragons spread not across the material plane, but across the outer planes? This impulse led to the creation of a number of outposts in the astral plane, culminating in the great city of Sharokarthel. This is a city built by dragons, for dragons—a city formed from magic and the immateria, unbound by gravity or weather. The dragons of Sharokarthel built arcane workshops and planar orreries, and amassed hoards drawn from across the planes. But ultimately the theory was proven wrong. The Daughter of Khyber couldn’t touch the dragons in Sharokarthel—but as their glory grew, she could corrupt those dragons still on Eberron, and these corrupted servants could carry the fight to the astral city. This led to the second great collapse. The Daughter was defeated once again, but the dragons were forced to abandon Sharokarthel. They didn’t destroy the glorious city, but they laid powerful wards and curses upon it, ensuring that no casual traveler could claim their abandoned glory.
There are a number of draconic ruins in the astral plane, but Sharokarthel is the grandest of them all. It surely holds untold wonders and treasures, but it’s protected by powerful curses and traps. Still, there are surely accounts of those defenses somewhere. Perhaps a human sage might stumble upon a book detailing a secret path into Sharokarthel… or perhaps a young dragon might recruit a group of adventurers to accompany them to the abandoned city, hoping to reclaim some treasure of their ancient ancestors.
There are many effects—magnificent mansions, bags of holding, portable holes—that make use of extradimensional spaces. Typically, these are presented as tiny demiplanes, isolated and unconnected; some, such as secret chest, mention the ethereal plane. However, one possibility is that these extradimensional spaces are in fact in the astral plane. A bag of holding can be encountered as a floating force bubble containing objects… while a magnificent mansion is a mansion suspended in the void. If this is the case, someone might be able to find and penetrate those spaces from the outside. Of course, keep in mind that finding a bag of holding in the astral plane would be like finding a bottle dropped into an ocean; the astral plane is potentially infinite. But if a DM follows this route, they could decide that items created with the same technique occupy the same region of the astral plane; that there is a constellation of Cannith bags of holding, a neighborhood of Ghallanda magnificent mansions, or an island formed by the Kundarak Vault network. If this is the case and someone DOES find a way to access any of these things from the outside, it could cause chaos and force the houses to deploy additional security. But it could certainly make for an epic astral heist!
In their early days in the astral plane, the Githyanki discovered an immense six-fingered hand floating in the void. This severed hand is charged with arcane power, not unlike Eberron dragonshards. The origins of the hand remain a mystery, but the Githyanki recognized it as a useful resource and a suitable foundation for an anchorage. Most Githyanki prefer to dwell in their ships, but Tu’nararath is the port where the city-ships come together, where the Githyanki unload their planar plunder and tell tales of their glorious battles. And should they plan a conquest, it is here that they will mass their forces.
The Githyanki have no love of outsiders; if you want a friendly place to conduct commerce, go to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. However, the Sixth Finger is essentially a foreign quarter where travelers can find shelter and sample some of the wonders the Gith have claimed from across reality. It’s a very rough neighborhood, where you will find exiles, astral prisoners, and worse—but if you’re looking for an astral guide or some exotic planar plunder, you could make a landing at Tu’narath.
Here are ways that the astral plane can affect the material plane.
Manifest Zones, Coterminous and Remote
The astral plane doesn’t produce manifest zones on the material plane, and it never becomes coterminous or remote. It touches all of the planes at various points. These are visible in the astral plane as color pools and allow travelers to exit the astral plane into the connected region. However, these points are generally imperceptible on the other side of the pool. Identifying the astral point and opening the gate requires magical tools that the people of the Five Nations have yet to master. The three civilizations mentioned earlier—Argonnessen, Aerenal, and the Venomous Demesne—have ways to do this. This could involve a specialized ritual, or it could use an astral key that can open color pools from either side—either linked to a particular pool or potentially able to open any pool-point the adventurers can find. Using such methods, a Chamber agent could open an astral gateway to allow adventurers to escape disaster or to quickly pass between distant points in the material plane. Lacking such magic, the only ways to enter the astral plane are to use plane shift, gate, astral projection, or similar spells. With that said, a DM could always decide that there are circumstances under which unwary travelers can fall into the astral plane. Perhaps there’s a graveyard of ships, a point in the Thunder Sea where under the right circumstances, a maelstrom can draw ships entirely out of reality.
The astral plane produces nothing on its own, and it has no unifying theme. But it is filled with the ruins and remnants of countless civilizations and worlds. Githyanki plunder can provide treasures drawn from across the planes. Ruins and hermitages could provide relics from the past; adventurers could recover titans’ treasures from a Cul’sir outpost, Dhakaani weapons from a floating piece of an Imperial garrison, draconic wonders from the ruins of Sharokarthel. Beyond that there is the possibility for astral explorers to discover tools or resources that truly have no place in this creation. This could be anything from a new form of dragonshard or some other material that simply doesn’t exist on Eberron… to an iron flask holding an entity who comes from a previous iteration or Eberron or another creation entirely.
One uniquely astral tool is the astral key, an object that allows the bearer to open an astral color pool from either side. This allows access to the astral plane, but only from a specific point. Depending on the power of the item, the key could be tied to a single specific point or it could have the power to open any pool the bearer can find. Note that the people of the Five Nations don’t currently possess astral keys; such an item could be a relic of one of the civilizations that has mastered astral travel, or it could be a unique prototype or breakthrough. Despite the name, an astral key could be any shape; it could be a dagger that slices through the veil of reality or a paintbrush they must use to paint a doorway in the air.
For most creatures, the astral plane is simply the space that lies between the planes. It’s a path to be traveled, not a destination. But there are many ways that it can drive a story on its own. The adventurers might have to pursue a fugitive who’s slipped through a pool point and into a ruin. They could be tasked to explore a region of the astral sea, to bargain with a Githyanki smuggler, or to help a mad scholar who’s determined to reach Sharokarthel. They could acquire an iron flask holding some unknown spirit from a previous world—what will it take to open it, and would it be better left alone? Here’s a few other ideas.
An Ancestor’s Call. An Aereni adventurer is ordered to bring their adventuring companions to Shae Mordai, and from their send to Pylas Var-Tolai. An ascendant councilor—one of their distant ancestors—is conducting experiments in creation, and wants their descendant to test the lands beyond the portal. Is this just coincidence, or does the ascendant councilor know something about their descendent as yet undiscovered by the living?
Storming the Castle. An enemy of the players has built a fortress in the Astral Plane. Using a spell similar to magnificent mansion, they can retreat to their fortress from any location; this allows them to have their evil lair wherever the adventure is taking place. The adventurers could be on a desert island or in a small rustic village, but they’ll still have to pursue the necromancer Demise into her Tower of Death when things go wrong.
The Undiscovered Country. A Morgrave scholar has discovered three astral keys. One opens a pool-point in Sharn, and they want a group of adventurers to help them explore the other side. The pool-point leads to a Cul’sir outpost in the astral plane. Is it abandoned, or are their ancient giants still lingering in this place? Was it just good fortune that the scholar found the keys, or does someone want the adventurers to stumble into the forgotten outpost?
This article presents my vision of the astral plane and how I will use it in my Eberron. It surely contradicts various canon sources—Eberron or otherwise—regarding the Astral Plane, and I’m not going to try to reconcile every contradiction; it’s up to the DM to decide how to handle such things in their campaign.
What’s the deal with silver cords and spirit forms?
There are multiple ways to enter the astral plane. It is possible to enter it physically by using plane shift, gate, or by opening a pool portal (using an item like an astral key). In this case, the traveler is physically present and can suffer lasting harm and death. On the other hand, astral projection separates the caster’s spirit from their body and allows them to enter the astral plane as a spirit form tethered to their body by a silver cord. The advantage of this form of travel is that you can’t be permanently harmed while in “astral form”; if you’re reduced to zero hit points, you return to your physical body.
The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court typically travel the astral plane in spirit form, which allows them to venture into unknown regions without fear.
What about the psychic wind?
What about it? It’s a dangerous local weather condition that operates just as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
If creatures in the Astral Plane do not age, do some people travel there simply to avoid death? It seems more hospitable than Risia for such a purpose.
Absolutely! I’ve called out a few examples of this—the trio of Seekers in the dragon skull, the prince of Ohr Kaluun. You could have a Khunan archmage, another remnant of a long-forgotten society. Keep in mind that this trait isn’t unique to the astral plane of Eberron; it comes directly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide: “Creatures on the Astral Plane don’t age or suffer from hunger or thirst.” So there are certainly hermits who come to the Astral Plane to experience immortality. But there’s a number of reasons why it’s not commonplace.
It’s actually easier to reach Risia than it is to physically enter the astral plane. Manifest zones can serve as gateways to Risia; entering the astral requires the use of powerful magic or an astral key. The people of the Five Nations don’t have access to such magic; you can’t just decide to go to the Astral Spa.
The Aereni don’t actually want eternal LIFE; they seek spiritual evolution and believe life and death are part of that journey. The ultimate path of the Undying Court is to become an ascendant councilor; they spend most of their time in astral form because they are no longer bound by their physical form and exist as part of the divine gestalt. There are certainly Aereni outposts; I can imagine a tower where an Aereni poet has been working on a particular poem for a century. But for most Aereni, such a retreat would be a temporary measure, not an ideal way to spend eternity. The living elves of Pylas Var-Tolai certainly cycle out every few decades or centuries.
The Astral Plane is essentially a vast, vast desert. If you live there you won’t age and you won’t know hunger and thirst; but you’ll also live isolated from all contact with mortal society, in a vast empty void. There are unquestionably people for whom that’s a worthwhile trade, and that’s the point of hermits; if all you want to do is to study conjuration for a thousand years, building an astral workshop is an alternative to becoming a lich. But offered the casual choice, not everyone would be interested in eternal life if it means sacrificing all contact with the world and living in an endless gray void.
As noted in the traits, if you spend too much time in the astral plane you actually start to lose track of time—as noted with the giant who doesn’t realize that thousands of years have passed. It’s immortality, certainly, but it does have a psychological price.
So the short form is that there definitely are hermits in the Astral Plane who dwell there because they desire immortality. There’s philosopher dragons, old Sarlonan wizards, a handful of giants. But they’re a few grains of sand in a vast desert; the odds you’ll actually encounter them when you travel in the astral plane are quite low, unless you have some hint as to where their hermitages lie.
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The principles of the Sovereigns are the cornerstone of our civilization. Boldrei brings us together. Aureon’s laws allow us to coexist in peace. When peace is not an option, Dol Dorn gives us the strength to defend ourselves, and Dol Arrah teaches us to use that strength wisely and with compassion. Why should the strong protect the weak? Why spare civilians and fallen foes? Because if we all live by those principles, we all prosper. War isn’t just about victory—it’s about being able to live with the aftermath. —Phthaso Mogan, Sovereign priest of Sharn
‘Why should the strong protect the weak?’ It’s a question posed by those who wish you to believe that they are strong and you are weak, that you would be helpless without them. These are the words of people who only know one way to play the game of war, and who are desperate for you to play by the same rules. Our lord shows the truth: the strong protect the weak because they don’t want the ‘weak’ to realize how strong they can be. Imagine a hundred hounds pursuing two wolves. The hounds call out, challenging the wolves to face them in honorable combat. The brave wolf turns and fights beneath the bright sun, and they are torn into a hundred pieces. The wise wolf knows a simple truth: I cannot beat them at once, but in the shadows my teeth are as sharp as any of theirs. Every night, the wolf comes with the shadows and kills one of the hounds. The hounds may curse the wolf for his cowardly, dishonorable actions… but in a hundred days, the wolf stands triumphant. Which wolf are you? Will you fight in the sunlight, and die with honor? Or will you follow the path that leads to victory, even if it leads you through shadows?” —’Redblade‘ Rrac, of the Deathsgate Adventurer’s Guild
In the first age of the world, three siblings challenged the Lord of Death. They rallied their forces, and swore to meet Death on the battlefield at dawn. When Death came with his army of corpses, the eldest brother was nowhere to be seen; he lacked the courage to face this dreadful foe. The mortal soldiers quaked, seeing comrades who had fallen in battle now serving in the army of the dead. But the young brother filled them with courage and inspired them with his strength, scattering the forces of the dead. And the sister called on the light of the sun, blinding Death until her soldiers could safely retreat. Though the battle was lost, the champions were able to save most of their soldiers. They learned that their elder brother had used the distraction to steal a great treasure from the Citadel of the Dead, caring more for his personal enrichment than for the lives of his siblings, their soldiers, or his own oath.
This is the story of the Mockery. It can be found in many forms across many cultures, and the details are always different. In some versions of the story, it is Aureon who orders that the Mockery be stripped of both his name and his skin, his truth laid bare for the world to see. But in the Cazhaak myth, the elder brother fools his siblings by shedding his skin and using it as a decoy; going forward, he often strips the skin off his enemies and wears it to fool their friends. Likewise, the reason for the Mockery’s betrayal also varies. In the common story, the Mockery betrays his siblings due to cowardice and envy, further using the opportunity to enrich himself. The implication is that if he had bravely stood with his siblings, Death could have been defeated. But the annals of the Three Faces of War say that Dol Azur believed the battle to be a fool’s errand from the beginning, asserting that it wasn’t possible to defeat Death; rather than fighting a battle that couldn’t be won just because he’d sworn an oath to do so, Dol Azur used the distraction to steal a mighty weapon from the enemy’s citadel. So his action was unquestionably a dishonorable betrayal; but he also accomplished a tactically significant objective, rather than fighting an “honorable” fight that couldn’t be won.
Such shifting interpretations are common with the Sovereigns and Six, reflecting the values of the cultures and individuals who worship or revile them. Within Khorvaire, there are three common approaches to the Mockery. The common Vassals blame him for the excesses of war and for cruel betrayal. Some emulate him, seeking to earn his favor through acts of cruelty. And others see him not as the Lord of Betrayal, but as the Sovereign of Victory—a deity who can always show you the way to overcome your enemies, even if it is a dark path.
Bloodshed and Betrayal
The Vassals of the Pyrinean Creed believe that the Sovereigns act through mortals, that they guide us and inspire us. Onatar doesn’t craft a sword; he guides the mortal smith, and if the smith listens she will forge a finer blade. Dol Dorn is a source of strength each soldier can find within, a whisper of courage in the darkest moments. For the Vassals, the Dark Six explains the darker impulses of mortals. The Keeper inflames our greed, whispering to us of the things that could be ours. The Fury overwhelms us with anger and passion. And the Mockery urges us to be cruel—to revel the suffering of others and our power to inflict it. The Mockery scoffs at courage and honor, telling us that all that matters is survival and victory, no matter the cost. It’s Boldrei who tells us we’re stronger as a community, Aureon who teaches that laws can benefit us all; the Mockery urges us to place our own needs above anything else, to see others solely as tools to be used. So under the Pyrinean Creed, the Mockery and others of the Dark Six inspire our base instincts; the Sovereigns show us how to be better, and how to prosper as a community.
With this in mind, the Mockery covers two distinct spheres, as called out in his title of bloodshed and betrayal. On one level he is a WAR god—specifically calling out all the darkest elements of conflict and combat. Bloodlust, unnecessary cruelty, dishonorable strategies; all of these are tied to the Mockery. But the Mockery isn’t confined to the battlefield. The assassin who kills without warning, the bully who beats smaller children—these two are guided by the Mockery. Any time blood is shed in cowardly or cruel ways, the Mockery smiles. The Fury inspires rage, the Keeper drives greed, but when the actual blade is drawn it’s the Mockery who guides the hand of the murderer. Beyond bloodshed, the Mockery also delights in betrayal. He takes the greatest pleasure when the betrayal runs deep—a sibling betraying a sibling, a lover turning on their paramour. But on the simplest level, this aspect of the Mockery is tied to deception with the intent to cause pain to others. The Traveler also delights in deception, but the Traveler is the Sovereign of chaos and change. The Mockery uses deception in the pursuit of pain. So the changeling grifter may see the Traveler as their patron, but the assassin who uses disguise self to get close to their victim is guided by the Mockery.
Among Vassals, the Mockery is primarily seen as an explanation for cruelty in the world. Virtuous Vassals never offer prayers to the Mockery; they pity the brutal people who are swayed by his whispers and drawn down cruel and criminal paths. Those who actively revere the Mockery in this aspect are people who willfully embrace a dark path and acknowledge their actions as selfish and cruel. A King’s Dark Lantern who kills for the good of their nation and their people will ask Olladra for luck, even though they are deceiving others and spilling blood. The assassin who invokes the Mockery knows that they are spilling blood solely for their personal gain, and takes pride and delight in their power to inflict pain. The monks of the Flayed Hand are an example of this: they acknowledge the Mockery as the Sovereign of Bloodshed and Betrayal, but worship him still, and believe that they commune with the divine by inflicting pain. And for this reason, the Flayed Hand is a secretive order and the monks hide their devotional scars; those who knowingly employ the Flayed Hand are comfortable with cruelty.
One aspect of the Mockery that’s not always recognized is the use of Fear. Dol Dorn inspires courage in the soldier’s heart; the Mockery shows them how to inflict terror on their enemies. This ties to the idea that the Mockery delights in causing pain—psychological as well as physical. This leads to one of the few potential paths for a player character who honors the Mockery: the hero who uses fear as a weapon, such as Batman or the Shadow (the pulp hero, not the deity!). This is a dark path to follow, as the fearmonger knows they are inflicting suffering on their enemies. This can tie to the idea that my enemies don’t deserve to be treated with honor—that it’s acceptable to engage in a brutal war on evil, to fight fire with fire. The main point is that the Mockery believes that no weapon is too vile to use in battle, and fear or other forms of psychological warfare are certainly valid. Most likely, a vigilante who embraces the Mockery in this way believes that the law is ineffective—that Aureon’s laws and Dol Arrah’s honor has failed, and that only cruelty and fear can overcome the threats the character is facing or avenge the wrong that’s been done to them.
The Lord of Victory
The Pyrinean Creed casts the Mockery as a force of pure evil—the cruel betrayal who delights in the suffering of innocents. But there are many ways to look at the world. The Cazhaak faith calls the Mockery the Lord of Victory. The Pyrinean interpretation chooses Dol Arrah over the Mockery, saying that war can and should be fought honorably. The Cazhaak interpretation says there is no honor in war. War is brutality and bloodshed. Once you see this—that someone ALWAYS suffers in war—you’ll realize that it’s better to be the one holding the blade rather than the one who bleeds. The Cazhaak Creed values cunning over brute strength; ultimately, survival is the proof of righteousness. If the goblin defeats the ogre, it doesn’t matter if they used poison or treachery; they should be celebrated for finding a path to victory.
The Cazhaak creed promotes a harsh, ruthless vision of the world: you should always be ready for betrayal. You should always be watching for weakness in those you deal with. One might think that this philosophy would undermine any form of community. But the Cazhaak creed does create communities, just in a very different way from Boldrei’s love and Aureon’s laws. The Cazhaak community is a wolf pack. Leaders must command respect with their cunning and power. If people don’t betray their leaders, it’s not because of honor or duty; it’s because they think it’s in their own self-interest to serve the leader, or believe that they couldn’t get away with the betrayal. You follow your leader because you believe you will prosper under her rule. In a society driven by the Cazhaak principles, no agreement can be based purely on trust. Words alone mean nothing; they have to be backed up by fear, by the knowledge that betrayal will carry a terrible cost. Look to Droaam as a whole; while Katra inspires with her voice, Maenya’s fist is always ready. It is a cruel way to view the world, but it makes sense to those who follow it. To the Cazhaak vassal, the ideals of Dol Arrah are childish; war isn’t a game with rules. With that said, it’s important to recognize that while the Cazhaak faith can support communities, historically it has never been tested on a wide scale. Droaam is a new nation, and in the centuries prior the Barrens were ruled by small communites and city-states. The Pyrinean scholar might argue that why Aureon’s laws and Dol Arrah’s ideals matter is because international relations rely on trust and on law. The armies of Droaam rely on guerilla warfare and small-unit tactics, where the cunning of the squad leader can turn the tide of battle. It remains to be seen if their ruthless principles can support global relationships.
Some who follow the Cazhaak path draw in the more extreme elements of the Lord of Bloodshed and Betrayal. There are those who revel in displays of cruelty; the Skinners of Graywall prey on despised foreigners and wear the tanned hides of their victims as grisly trophies. But for most who follow the Cazhaak path, the point is more that the world is cruel, and you must be strong and cunning to survive it; do whatever you must to bring down your foes.
If you’re a player character who follows the Cazhaak creed, a key point is that you expect betrayal and cruelty from others. You believe that you need to display your strength or cunning to ward off challenges; you aren’t used to kindness or pure altruism and you don’t expect people to keep their word if it becomes an inconvenience to them. You expect people to be driven by self-interest. The key to a lasting bargain isn’t a word of honor; it’s making sure that neither party dares to break the agreement.
The Three Faces of War
The Three Faces of War is a mystery cult found across the Five Nations. Exploring Eberron has this to say…
The Three Faces of War honors Dol Arrah, Dol Dorn, and Dol Azur (the Mockery). It was part of the united armies of Galifar, and cult chapters can be found in all of the armies of the Five Nations. Sect meetings provide a place for soldiers and veterans to interact as friends and equals, regardless of rank or nationality. The cult asserts that honor and courage are to be valued, but there is also a time and place for cunning and cruelty, even if it is never to be desired.
As depicted by the Three Faces of War, Dol Azur is a less intense version of the Lord of Victory. The Three Faces of War acknowledge that his actions are dishonorable and cruel, that the world is a better place if we all live in Dol Arrah’s light. But followers of the Three Faces acknowledge that the world is cruel, and that there are times when victory must come before honor. The Three Faces of War notably downplay the aspect of betrayal and focus on Dol Azur’s role on the battlefield; at the same time, followers of the Three Faces of War are definitely feel that while treaties play an important role in international relationships, a commander must always be prepared to violate a treaty when the moment is right. The Three Faces of War also recognizes the power of psychological warfare, of using fear to demoralize a foe. The key point is that followers of the Three Faces honor Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn; they do believe that honor has a place on the battlefield. But they believe that every tactic has its time and place—that we should strive to fight just wars, but be prepared for them to get ugly. Members of the Three Faces often feel that they have a particular affinity for one of the Sovereigns; those who feel they are guided by Dol Azur may still seek to using their powers for good, but they acknowledge that they have a knack for sowing terror or ruthless action when it becomes necessary. Within the sect, steel is used to represent Dol Dorn, gold to represent Dol Arrah, and leather to represent Dol Azur; if a soldier wears a leather ring, it might be a sign that they feel they are guided by the Mockery.
The Three Faces of War is a hidden sect, but its existence is a fairly open secret. It has members in all of the armies of the Five Nations. Allegiance to the Three Faces definitely doesn’t supercede national loyalty, but provided that it doesn’t violate that loyalty, it provides a foundation for friendship between soldiers of different nations. If a player character with the Soldier background chooses to be an initiate of the Three Faces of War, this can be used to explain how the benefits of the Military Rank feature apply when dealing with soldiers of other nations; even if they fought one another in the Last War, they respect the character as an initiate into the mysteries. And again, a player character could decide that they are guided by Dol Arrah and wear gold to show it; just because they accept that Dol Azur is part of war doesn’t mean that they have to embrace his path.
Using The Mockery
So how can you use the Mockery in a campaign? Well, in a world filled with shades of grey, followers of the Sovereign of Bloodshed and Betrayal are a good source of absolute villains. When you’re running a pulp campaign and you want someone who feels capital-E EVIL, a Flayed Hand monk is certainly an option. Someone who is guided by the Pyrinean creed but nonetheless chooses to embrace the Mockery is something who delights in cruelty and who believes that they gain strength by inflicting suffering on others. I could imagine a serial killer warlock who believes their power flows from the Mockery, and whose Mask of a Thousand Faces ability requires a strip of skin from the person they wish to impersonate. On the other hand, you could explore the idea of a group of ruthless vigilantes who believe that the terror tactics of the Mockery are the only way to combat rising crime… or the once-virtuous person who’s turned to the Mockery and the Fury to take vengeance for a crime Aureon’s laws failed to stop. Turning to the Lord of Victory, this can work anywhere you have a wolf pack, a group that will do whatever it takes to survive and overcome a foe. Aside from this, it can be a generally interesting way to contrast a soldier of Droaam from one of the Five Nations. Those who follow the Cazhaak path genuinely see the idea of honor in war as a childish concept. This doesn’t make them EVIL. Just because the world is cruel doesn’t mean they have to be unnecessarily cruel. but it means that they will do whatever is required to survive, that they will show mercy only if they see some clear benefit down the road. Meanwhile, the Three Faces of War is an old tradition that seeks to forge a bond between soldiers of all nations, and if one or more of the player characters is a veteran of the Last War, an influential member of the Three Faces could be a useful patron. Alternately, while the cult overall isn’t malevolent, an influential Azur-touched initiate of the Three Faces of War could use the organization to rally other Azur-touched for some sinister purpose.
Is someone who “fights dirty” in a direct sense (leverage, gouging, cheap shots) fighting more in the vein of Dol Dorn or the Mockery?
It’s important to remember that Vassals see the Dark Six as part of everyday life. When your anger gets the better of you, you let the Fury take hold for a moment. The Keeper drives our greed, and the Mockery urges us to take the cheap shot. If you’re watching a fight and there’s a move that makes everyone go “Ooooh—that’s a dirty trick!” then yes, that’s guided by the Mockery. The point is that Dol Dorn gives you the strength and skill you need to win in a fair fight, and the Mockery can show you how to win when you can’t win a fair fight. But throwing one sucker punch doesn’t make you a cultist of the Mockery. Think of people saying “The Devil made me do it” in our world—that’s not the same as saying “I am now a warlock devoted to dark powers.”
The key aspect is that people use the Dark Six to explain why there is evil in the world. Atrocities happen in war, just as rage or passion can drive people to violence in everyday life. People condemn those actions and blame them on the corrupting influence of the Dark Six, but that doesn’t mean they believe everyone who takes such an action consciously chose to serve the Six. The voices of the Six are with us all the time; the virtuous Vassal should overcome them and heed Aureon’s law and Dol Arrah’s light.
Rising calls out the divine domains of the Mockery (Trickery and War), but what subclass would you suggest for a Paladin of Dol Azur or for a Warlock who sees the Mockery as their patron?
For a Paladin, my immediate choice would be Conquest. FEAR is one of the traits of the Mockery, and beyond having fear on their spell list, Conquering Presence and Aura of Conquest are both fear-related abilities. Vengeance is possible, but I’d be more inclined to give it to a paladin of the Fury. Likewise, Oathbreaker is an option, but given the association with undead I’d be more likely to use it for a paladin of the Keeper.
For a warlock, my inclination would be Hexblade. The Mockery is a Sovereign of War, after all; the Shadow is a more logical source of general malevolent magic.
Why can a Karrnathi soldier not openly declare themselves to belong to the Three Faces of War, following in the footsteps of Karrn?
The existence of the Three Faces of War isn’t a secret. It’s been around for around two thousand years. Everyone knows that it exists and that it’s part of the armies of the Five Nations, and there’s never been an inquisition to wipe it out. It’s not seen as a threat or as a cult of the Dragon Below. The reason you don’t announce it is because it’s a MYSTERY CULT. Only those who have been initiated into its mysteries understand it, and only they DESERVE to know about it. The Karrn soldier doesn’t hide the fact that they belong to the Three Faces of War because it’s a crime; they hide it because the uninitiated don’t deserve to know about it. Beyond that, it’s a known fact that the Three Faces cults involve veneration of the Dark Six. Initiates understand the context of this and WHY they accept their chosen member of the Six as worthy of veneration—but they know that those who don’t understand the mysteries will not. So, the first rule of the Three Faces is that you don’t talk about the Three Faces.
What is the relationship of the goblinoids of Darguun to the Mockery and the Three Faces of War?
The Ghaal’dar hobgoblins and the Maargul bugbears both revere the Mockery. Much like the minotaurs of Droaam and the Horned King, each tribe and clan has its own interpretation and unique traditions, but they fall on a spectrum between the Sovereign of Betrayal and Bloodshed and the Lord of Victory. Since taking power, Lhesh Haruuc has been working to promote the worship of Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah, blending this with the existing worship of the Mockery. The simple fact is that this is about optics more than faith. Haruuc recognizes that most people of the Five Nations see worship of the Mockery as evil, and shifting the conversation to say that Darguuls worship all of the Sovereigns of War makes things a little more palatable for outsiders. Having said that, Haruuc believes that there are lessons to be learned from each of the Sovereigns, and feels a particular affinity for Dol Dorn—so his efforts aren’t entirely insincere. At the moment, there has been no concerted effort by the Three Faces of War to initiate Darguuls, but it’s possible that there are mercenaries who were initiated by comrades during the war.
What’s the Orb of Dol Azur?
The Orb of Dol Azur was first mentioned in an article I wrote in 2004. Since then, it’s been my go-to MacGuffin, an easy placeholder to drop in any time people are looking for something mysterious and powerful. I’ve never actually used it in a campaign or ever said what it does, though by all accounts it’s powerful and dangerous. Dragons of Eberron establishes that the draconic champions fought the overlord known as Katashka the Gatekeeper during the Age of Demons, and it’s entirely possible that this is the actual basis of the myth of the Dols fighting Death. If you accept this, it’s an easy step to think that the Orb of Dol Azur could actually be an artifact the proto-Mockery stole from the citadel of the Overlord. Katashka the Gatekeeper embodies our fears of death and the undead. With that in mind, people on the Eberron Discord server have made a number of interesting suggestions as to what the Orb could be…
The Orb of Dol Azur is one of the eyes of the Overlord Katashka. By default it’s the size of a dragon’s eye—quite large—but the proper ritual could cause it to shift to a size appropriate to the bearer. In short, this would be a way to use the mechanics of the Eye of Vecna in a form that fits the lore of Eberron.
When you kill someone with a Keeper’s Fang—a magical weapon that prevents resurrection—their soul is bound to the Orb of Dol Azur. At this point, the Orb holds the spirits of countless mortals and lesser fiends trapped over the course of history.
I doubt I’ll ever give an official answer, because I enjoy having a vague MacGuffin… but I think both of those are interesting possibilities!
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and for making these articles possible!
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Anyone who’s been to a church of the Silver Flame has seen the image of Tira and the couatl. But what are the couatls, and what do people actually know about them? How can you encounter them in the present day?
What are Couatls?
Couatls are native celestials, the last children of Siberys. They were born in the first age of the world, and they helped the mortal species of that time in their struggles against the fiendish overlords. The balance of power dramatically favored the fiends, and the children of Siberys realized that the only path to victory was through sacrifice. Working together, the native celestials abandoned their individual forms and fused their immortal essence together, creating a well of pure divine energy. As the dragons and other mortals defeated the overlords, this Silver Flame was able to bind them. Since that point, the Flame has been strengthened by the addition of millions of mortal souls, but it began with the sacrifice of the native celestials, and that immortal essence is the foundation of the Flame.
The question of the imbalance of power between fiends and celestials is one that is often discussed by sages and theologians. Why are fiends found across the world, while the celestials seemingly abandoned it… especially when planes such as Shavarath and Daanvi have a more even division between fiends and celestials? In his Codex of All Mysteries, Korran asserts that the answer is simple: Khyber slew Siberys. Through treachery, Khyber slew Siberys even before the world was formed and the native celestials are a reflection of the final spark of Siberys. In that time so long ago, the native celestials realized that as the balance of power tilted so dramatically toward the fiends that what they could accomplish as isolated individuals was trivial. But in fusing their essence into one great gestalt they could generate a power that could at least bind the overlords, and which could empower mortals to battle the fiends themselves. This ties to a crucial underlying theme of the setting: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The Silver Flame is the greatest force of light in the world, but it cannot act on its own; it depends on mortal champions to carry its light against the darkness. A small handful of independent celestials remain in the world, and this will be discussed later in this article. But the bulk of celestial power in Eberron is concentrated into the Silver Flame—a tool and a weapon for mortals to wield.
Now, couatls aren’t the only form of native celestial. But just as the rakshasa are the most common form of fiend, the couatls are the most common form of celestial on Eberron. Any other form of celestial could potentially be used as a native celestial, but most such spirits will share some cosmetic elements with couatl: prismatic coloring, feathers, serpentine characteristics. So a native deva might have rainbow-feathered wings and fine iridescent scales. Why these traits? One theory is that this is a reflection of Siberys himself; the nation of Khalesh used a banner that showed Eberron and Khyber as dragons entwined, with Siberys as a winged serpent encircling the struggling wyrms. This is purely speculative, the coloring and other traits are common among native celestials and are sometimes inherited by mortal creatures infused with celestial energy, such as the Shulassakar or aasimar tied to the Silver Flame.
One complication in dealing with couatls is their shifting power level in different editions of Dungeons&Dragons. The 3.5 couatl had a challenge rating of 10, with the note that it was possible to encounter a huge couatl with up to three times as many hit dice as that CR 10 version. However, the 5E Monster Manual presents the couatl as a fairly minor celestial, with a Challenge rating of 4. The trick is that in Eberron, “couatl” is like “rakshasa”—it’s a category, spanning spirits with a wide range of power. Looking to the rakshasa, not only are there different classes—the standard rakshasa, the ak’chazar, the naztharune, the zakya—but you also have unique individuals with far greater power than the rank and file. Just as Mordakhesh is dramatically more powerful than the typical Zakya rakshasa, the couatl Hezcalipa (the ally and mentor of the dragon Ourelonastrix, who might be the inspiration for the Sovereign Aureon) was dramatically more powerful than a typical CR 4 couatl. But what do you do with this in fifth edition, which only provides statistics for the CR 4 couatl? There’s a few options.
Reskin other celestials. Couatl aren’t the only native celestials. You could introduce a deva or a ki-rin as a child of Siberys. But you could also take the stat block of one of these more powerful celestials and just describe the entity as a winged serpent instead of as a winged humanoid or golden-scaled beast. A deva attacks with a mace, inflicting 1d6+4 bludgeoning damage plus 4d6 radiant damage; you can have the deva-couatl attack with a bite that deals 1d6+4 piercing damage and “floods their body with radiant venom” which deals 4d6 radiant damage. Yes, this is different from the poison effect of the CR 4 couatl, and the deva doesn’t have the ability to constrict its foe; but just as not all serpents constrict or produce venom, not all couatl do either. So make the simplest changes—swapping the bludegoning damage of the mace to piercing for fangs, because that’s obvious—but otherwise, just change the way you describe the creature and its attacks. This doesn’t have to be limited to celestials; you could easily take the guardian naga stat block, change it from monstrosity to celestial, and describe it as a wingless couatl.
Blend old and new. You can follow the same basic idea, but actually change a few abilities to more closely reflect the couatl. It makes sense that any form of couatl would have the Shielded Mind trait of the CR 4 couatl. For a couatl ki-rin you could describe the Horn attack as a bite attack (which just doesn’t produce venom), but replace the two hoof attacks of the ki-rin with a single Constrict attack, following the model of the CR 4 couatl—perhaps raising the DC to escape to DC 17, reflecting the Ki-rin/Couatl’s higher CR and Strength. Likewise, you could swap out spells on the Ki-Rin’s spell list to include all the spells on the CR 4 couatl’s spell list. But overall, you can still us the ki-rin stat block to reflect the more powerful creature.
Create something new.If you have the time, you can use the CR 4 as a blueprint to create your own unique powerful couatl. It’s not something *I* have time to do right now, but I think it makes perfect sense to create couatl with distinct abilities—a loremaster couatl (such as Hezcalipa), perhaps a warlike couatl guardian shrouded in (silver) flame.
Likewise, keep in mind that couatl don’t have to be as powerful as the CR 4 version! A Celestial warlock with the Chain pact could have a tiny couatl as a familiar. Use the statistics of a pseudo-dragon, but describe it as a couatl; this has the same relationship to a standard couatl that an imp does to a more powerful devil. Remember that as celestials, couatls are essentially divine tools and ideas given form. The tiny couatl is simply a minor spirit of light; it’s not biologically related to the more powerful couatl.
This ties to one other point, which is that immortals are tools and concepts. They exist for a reason, and they don’t choose that path as mortals can. The tiny couatl familiar exists to advise the warlock; you could play it as a minor spirit of wisdom or as a guardian angel. But every couatl has a purpose and/or embodies a concept. Where the immortals of the planes embody concepts tied to their planes (War, Hope, Law, etc) the immortals of Eberron are more broadly “good” and “evil.” In creating a specific couatl, a DM could decide that it’s a spirt of truth, or courage, or wisdom—and play its personality accordingly. Swapping out spells is another simple way to reflect this and give a particular couatl some unique flavor.
What Do People Know About Couatls?
Anyone in a nation where the Silver Flame has a presence is familiar with the basic idea of the couatls—their appearance and the fact that they’re celestial emissaries of the Silver Flame. In this, they are much like angels in OUR world; almost everyone can look at a picture of one and say “That’s an angel,” but not everyone believes they exist, and even those people who DO believe they exist don’t generally expect to meet one. Couatls are part of the mythology of the Silver Flame. Tira Miron was guided by a couatl, and the templars use rainbow fletching on their arrows to emulate the swift-flying couatl. Couatls are often also part of the manifestations of divine magic tied to the Silver Flame. When a cleric of the Flame casts spirit guardians, the guardians are often couatl-like shapes formed of silver fire. Summon celestial and planar ally typically manifest couatls or other creatures with couatl-like attributes. These spells aren’t commonplace, but the point is that people associate couatls with the Silver Flame, and if they see one they will say “That’s a couatl! Like the one that guided Tira!” as opposed to “What’s that?”
With that said, Khorvaire’s Church of the Silver Flame isn’t actually that old… and couatls have been known since the dawn of time. Anyone proficient in History or Religion may know that couatls have been revered by many cultures. As mentioned earlier, the pre-Sundering nation of Khalesh in Sarlona was devoted to the celestial serpents. The orc kala’sha paladins of Ghaash’kala often tattoo a couatl wound around one of their arms; they know the couatl as emmissaries of the Binding Flame.
So almost everyone in the Five Nations knows what a couatl is. Again, think of it as analgous to angels in our world. Anyone can recognize a picture of one, but it’s going to take a Religion check to explain the difference between a cherub or a seraph.
Silvertide and Serpent Cults
So: in kanon, everyone knows what a couatl is. Everyone’s seen that picture of Tira and the couatl. However, canon has some inconsistencies in this regard. On the one hand, page 70 of City of Stormreach says this of a priest…
He only speaks of it to his most trusted parishioners, but (the priest) practices the traditions of an ancient serpent cult, passed down to his father by a feathered yuan-ti. Although the values are similar to those of the modern church, this faith teaches that the Silver Flame was kindled by the sacrifice of the couatls in the dawn times; Tira Miron and the Keeper of the Flame are stewards who bring the light of the Flame to humans too limited to see the ancient force on their own. Guin has served as an intermediary for the shulassakar yuan-ti in the past, and this could serve as the basis for an adventure.
This isn’t the heresy that has caused the Stormreach church to be severed from Flamekeep; the section specifies that it’s the opposition to the theocracy that’s the major problem, and the quote here specifies that the priest only speaks of his beliefs to those close to him. It’s not that these beliefs are heretical, but they are unusual. However, the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide introduces the concept of Silvertide, saying “This highest holy day of the faith celebrates the sacrifice of the couatls and the birth of the Silver Flame.” So Stormreach says that the idea of the couatl sacrifice is a secret the priest only shares with his most trusted friends, while the ECG says it’s the basis of the most important holy day the church has. How do we reconcile this contradiction?
The Age of Demons ended a hundred thousand years ago, the precise details of what happened then frankly aren’t as important to most of the people of Khorvaire as the things that happened a few centuries ago. In my opinion, the tales of the Age of Demons and the story of Tira’s sacrifice can be seen as similar to the Old and New Testaments. While the two are directly related, different religions place different weight on the two books. The Serpent Cults are primarily interested with the ORIGINAL story and see Tira’s sacrifice as a recent and relatively minor development. But to the people of the Five Nations, Tira’s sacrifice is the most important story, because it happened to them. Tira saved the people of Thrane from a fiendish apocalypse, and as the Voice of the Flame, she continues to guide them today. They know the general stories about how the Flame was kindled in the dawn of time to bind the overlords and they are grateful for that first sacrifice, but it’s just too long ago to have deep personal meaning; while Tira is the Voice that speaks to them today, and her sacrifice is the reason Thrane even exists.
With this in mind, you can see how I describe the festival of Silvertide on my ongoing Threshold campaign. A key point is that the priest doesn’t actually describe that original sacrifice as the COUATL sacrifice, because those details are largely irrelevant; she speaks of the battle between the forces of light and darkness and of the sacrifice of those first champions to kindle the Flame. Because the LESSON of Silvertide is the power of sacrifice—to respect the first champions whose sacrifice lit the Flame; Tira, whose sacrifice allows us all to draw upon it; and anyone whose sacrifices have made a difference in your own personal life. A key part of the festival is to call out and honor sacrifices others have made for you, and to consider what sacrifices you can make for others. So as the ECG says, it IS a festival that honors the couatl sacrifice; but it honors the SACRIFICE, not the COUATL.
This brings us to the idea of serpent cults. A number of canon sources describe serpent cults—sects found across the world and throughout history. What differentiates a serpent cult from a Silver Flame faith is the direct focus on the couatl as opposed to the Flame. A Flame sect focuses on the Silver Flame as it exists today—a conglomeration of countless noble souls of many species. Most honor the couatl as emissaries and servants of the Flame, but they are secondary to the Flame itself. A serpent cult focuses on the couatl, honoring them as the first children of Siberys and emphasizing their role in creating the Flame. Serpent cults often downplay the idea that other creatures can join the Flame and instead emphasize the Flame as the pure light of the couatl. Looking at key named sects, the Sarlonan nation of Khalesh was a serpent cult devoted to the couatl; the Ghaash’kala, on the other hand, are a Flame sect. They may call it the Binding Flame instead of the Silver Flame, but it is the FLAME that they honor above all; couatl are its tools.
So looking back to Stormreach, again, the priest’s beliefs aren’t dire heresy; they’re just unorthodox views that most followers of the modern Church don’t share or care about. To the typical Thrane parishoner, emphasizing that the first sacrifice was entirely couatl would be a slightly eccentric belief that undermines the moral of the story—that we all have the power to make a difference through our sacrifices, and that any noble soul can strengthen the Flame. This is reflected in the original statement on page 303 of the Eberron Campaign Setting…
Ultimately the couatls sacrificed most of their number in order to seal the overlords within their combined souls. Scholars have theorized that this is the ultimate source of the force worshiped by the Church of the Silver Flame. The Church ministry is ambivalent about this theory, stating that regardless of how the Flame was first kindled, there is a place within the Flame for all noble souls.
There’s three main ways to encounter a couatl in the present age.
Ancient Guardian. The quote from the ECS states that most of the couatl joined together to found the Flame. Most isn’t all; a handful remained as incarnate individuals to accomplish vital tasks that couldn’t be entrusted to mortals. Keep in mind that they use mortal agents when they can—the shulassakar, the Masivirk’uala lizardfolk, and the Ghaash’kala, even Tira Miron are all examples of this. A few reasons you might need an actual couatl are to preserve knowledge that can’t be trusted to a mortal; to oversee a project that will take many generations to unfold; do accomplish a task that requires the innate celestial powers of the couatl; or to guard an area that’s either too hostile, isolated, or corruptive to entrust to a mortal. An ancient guardian is an immortal who has existed since the Age of Demons; they don’t have heart demiplanes and typically are reborn in the location where they are destroyed, with the length of time this takes depending on the strength of the couatl and the manner in which it is destroyed. While they are incarnate spirits of light, the fact that they have usually existed in intense isolation can make these guardians more intense than their temporary counterparts; they often have tunnel vision tied to their vital task. A temporary couatl has watched humanity grow; a guardian may not have seen another living creature since before human civilization existed.
Temporary Emissary. When a priest of the Silver Flame casts summon celestial, they aren’t pulling a couatl from some other location in the world. Instead, the spirit is directly manifesting from the Silver Flame itself, and when its work is done it will return to the Flame. The Silver Flame is a mass of hundreds of thousands of souls, but within the Flame those spirits exist as a transcendent gestalt, not as individual personalities. When a temporary couatl manifests, it will employ the personality of one of the original couatl; this could allow adventurers to actually speak with Hezcalipa, for example. But Hezcalipa doesn’t exist as an individual while she’s part of the Flame, and her actions when she does appear are moderated by being part of that gestalt; she is first and foremost an emissary of the Flame, shaped by the memories of a couatl who sacrificed itself long ago.
Channeling and Visions. You don’t have to meet a couatl in the flesh. The CR 4 fifth edition couatl can cast dream, a useful tool for guiding and advising mortals. The 3.5 ECS also explored the idea of divine channeling…
A mortal who channels a celestial becomes a mortal manifestation of the celestial’s power. The celestial can draw on all the mortal’s memories, and the celestial senses what the mortal senses. The mortal and the celestial can communicate telepathically, but neither has complete access to the current thoughts of the other.
Looking to the tale of Tira Miron, the original idea was that most of the time Tira was channeling the couatl; it was guiding her, but it wasn’t just flying along next to her. In other places we’ve suggested that her guiding couatl was actually bound with her sword Kloijner. This is why in the image above, you can’t see the rainbow feathers of the couatl; it’s a spiritual presence. When it comes to a dream vision or channeling a couatl, there’s still the question of whether the spirit is an ancient guardian that has always been separate from the Flame or if it’s a temporary emissary sent out into the world to accomplish this task. In the case of emissaries, an emissary who grants dreams might never fully manifest as a physical couatl; think of it as an antenna extended from the Flame to broadcast a signal, after which it is retracted.
With any use ofvisions in dreams,a valid question is how this relates to Dal Quor. In my opinion, couatl visions don’t occur in Dal Quor; they effectively intercept the dreaming spirit before it reaches Dal Quor. This ties to the idea that they actually isolated the dreams of the Masvirik’uala, as described in this article. If you embrace this idea, it’s possible that they could actually give visions to mortal who sleep in some way but don’t actually dream, such as Kalashtar or elves—but that’s definitely up to the DM to decide. The general idea is that couatls have an affinity for mortal minds, something reflected in earlier editions by their psionic abilities; but they are native celestials, not creatures of Dal Quor. With that said, a scheming quori could definitely impersonating a couatl when manipulating someone with its own dream visions…
So, how can you encounter a couatl? You might find one as the guardian of an ancient vault, sworn to keep the cursed items within from falling into mortal hands… or to guide mortal champions to reclaim these deadly artifacts after the vault is breached. You could be visited by a couatl who has emerged from the Flame to assist you in overcoming a great threat, but it can only remain at your side for a brief time—or, potentially it can only assist you through dreams, or a moment of divine channeling. The main thing to keep in mind is that all of these are incredibly rare. There are only a handful of ancient guardians in existence, and they are dealing with tasks no mortal could handle. As for emissaries, the Silver Flame is a machine designed to do two things: to bind overlords and to empower mortal champions. Short term spells like summon celestial are part of that machine—tools that work through mortals and lasts briefly. For a couatl emissary to emerge from the Flame is like pulling a random gear off the machine; it’s difficult and potentially dangerous to the machine itself. It’s the sort of thing that happens to people like Tira Miron—heroes who can change the fate of the nation or the world. But overall, the Silver Flame deals with problems by empowering mortals, not by deploying celestials. This ties to that fundamental principle: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The physical appearance of an emissary is a legendary event… but player characters have the potential to be legends.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.
The night hags of Eberron are mysterious and enigmatic. The Princess Aundair asserted that night hags were fallen fey cast out of Thelanis; it was likewise Aundair who popularized the idea that night hags created nightmares by ripping the wings off of pegasi. The scholars of Galifar debunked both of these ideas, and established that night hags are native fiends of Eberron that have existed since the Age of Demons. But many questions remain unanswered. If night hags are fiends, why do they seem to have no sympathy for raksashas or other native fiends? How is it that on the one hand you have Sora Kell, who’s described as tearing apart armies with her talons and laying waste to a city with a single spell… and on the other, you have stories describing night hags who seem little more powerful than a typical troll? And if the night hags are native fiends, why do they have such an affinity for dreams and a talent for traveling to other planes?
The most reliable source on the topic is the Codex of All Mysteries, written by Dorius Alyre ir’Korran. The Codex makes the following observations.
Thirteen hags emerged in the First Night, old on their first day; they were called grandmothers even before the first mortal was born. Twelve of these night hags were bound in covens of three; even then, Sora Kell made her own path. Most fiends are tied to one of the dread overlords, and it would be easy to think that the first hags were children of Sul Khatesh, given their affinity for both secrets and magic. But there is no overlord in the First Night. Rather, it seems that the twelve and one collectively embody an idea. Many fiends embody concepts that mortals fear, and the simplest answer is that the night hags embody mortal fears of the night—both specifically of nightmares, but also of the unknown forces lurking in the darkness. The accounts of Jhazaal Dhakaan add a twist to this, suggesting that the night hags embody the curiosity of Khyber itself. Jhazaal observes that the night hags should be considered evil, as they will lead mortals into despair and doom without remorse. But she notes that the hags lack the greater malevolence of the overlords, that they have no desire to dominate mortals or the world; instead, they love to watch stories unfold, especially stories that end in tragedy. In the first days to the world, the night hags served as intermediaries between mortals, fiends, and the other great powers of reality. They took no sides in the many wars of that time, finding joy in moving stories along and watching the horrors that unfolded; they had no agenda, for this story needed no finger on the scales to tilt it toward disaster. The hags simply loved being in the midst of the chaos, and reveled in turning the pages of history.
Should we accept these stories, a night hag is many things at once. She is a shaper of nightmares, who takes joy in hand-crafting nocturnal visions so terrifying that a mortal might fear to ever sleep again. She is an ancient being who may have spoken with dragons, demons, and even overlords. And above all, she is a creature who delights in watching stories unfold and in seeing what happens next—especially when those tales end in tragedy.
What of the curious spectrum between night hags? How can we reconcile the legend of Sora Kell shattering an army with the tale of Sola the Smith outwrestling Sora Tenya? How can we account for the fact that a catalogue of night hags produces more than thirteen names? The answer may be found in another Dhakaani account. The dirge singer Uula Korkala blamed the hag Sora Ghazra for the tragedy that befell her city, and rallied the greatest champions of the age to her pursuit of vengeance. She worked with the legendary hunter Ur’taarka to track the hag and to create snares that could bind even the greatest of fiends. She worked with the daashors to enchant the chain of the mighty Guul’daask, creating a weapon that would shatter the hag’s spirit even as it crushed her bones. Korkala took her vengeance, and Sora Ghazra was defeated. But it is no simple thing to kill an immortal. The shards of Ghazra’s shattered spirit embedded themselves in her killers. Ur’taarka, Guul’daask, even Korkala herself—all were haunted by nightmares. Unable to sleep, they wasted away in body and mind. Eventually the magic of this curse reshaped them into hags—lesser versions of the primal crone they’d destroyed. This created a line of night hags, each bearing this curse. When any one of them dies, the killers will be consumed by nightmares. The curse grows weaker with each generation, and there are heroes who have survived this gauntlet of nightmares; but any who are broken by these terrors will become a weaker hag. Thus, should you encounter a night hag who seems not to live up to the terrifying legend of Sora Kell, she is likely one of Ghazra’s line; the threat she poses will depend on how far removed she is from her ancestor.
Dorius Alyre ir’Korran is a legendary scholar and diviner, known for his ambition to supplant Aureon himself; the Codex is the most trusted source of information on the hags. The actual entry includes far more information than just this, providing further details on many of the original thirteen hags and their covens. However, it is as always up to the DM to decide if any of this is true, or if it is still speculation or even misinformation spread by the hags themselves.
If you trust the Codex, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Night hags can have a vast range of power. The Challenge 5 night hag presented in fifth edition is likely a weak descendent of Sora Ghazra. Sora Kell was the most powerful of the primal night hags—the one who always stood alone—and likely has a Challenge rating over 20. Other hags—between the other primal hags and the greater descendants of Sora Ghazra—would fall somewhere within that spectrum. Because of Ghazra’s story, there’s no absolute limit on the number of night hags in the world. There may have only been thirteen primal night hags, but the extent of Ghazra’s brood is entirely up to the DM. The lesser hags of Ghazra’s brood DO NOT retain many memories of the hag that spawned them; they have a basic foundation, but a CR 5 hag doesn’t have memories of the Age of Demons and doesn’t retain all the contacts and connections of their parent hag.
Night hags largely view mortals as a form of entertainment. They typically have a cruel sense of humor, and they take joy in hand-crafting nightmares for people who catch their interest. Many of them do enjoy testing virtuous heroes and seeing if they can hold to their ideals. But at the end of the day, most are driven by cruel curiosity; if a hero DOES persevere and overcome adversity, they’ll chuckle and move on, making a note to check back in a few decades. They don’t CARE about the goals of the overlords or the Chamber; they just love good stories. The night hag Jabra sells goods in both Droaam and the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. Her goods won’t necessarily bring misfortune to the buyer; among other things, she sells dreams she’s collected over the centuries. But SOME of her goods are certainly bound to bring tragedy to someone, if not necessarily the person who purchases them. And more than anything, her work as a merchant is a way to while away the immortal hours while she waits for someone interesting to cross her path—a story she can delight in following to its end.
Night hags wield power in Dal Quor, as measured by their ability to manipulate dreams. They have an understanding with the quori; remember, the primal night hags once served as ambassadors to all the great powers, and they can be persuasive when they choose. Night hags can smell the touch of a quori on a mortal’s dream, and they will thus avoid interfering with dreamers who play critical roles in the plans of the Dreaming Dark. Beyond this, Dal Quor is vast; night hags and quori generally do their best to stay out of each others’ way. With that said, there have been stories of friendships, rivalries, and feuds between specific quori and night hags; a particular tsucora and a child of Ghazra might take turns tormenting a particular mortal, each trying to craft the most terrifying dream.
Night hags have a particular affinity for dreams and Dal Quor. For a night hag, shaping a dream is like playing an instrument; it’s both art and a satisfying hobby. A night hag doesn’t HAVE to have some grand agenda in deciding to haunt a particular mortal, any more than a writer has some specific vendetta against the sheet of paper they select on which to write a story. On the other hand, they may well focus on people who draw their attention. In Droaam, Jabra has been known to buy peoples’ dreams. The simple fact is that she can haunt someone’s dreams whether they agree to it or not; but Jabra enjoys convincing a victim to agree to their torment.
Primal night hags are immortal and have existed since the dawn of time. If slain, they will reform in the demiplane known as the First Night. Ghazra’s brood can be killed, at which point they infect their killers with their nightmare curse. Each such generation grows weaker, and it’s possible that the CR 5 night hag of the Monster Manual is simply too far removed from the source to curse its killers… or it might be that they have only to enduring a single nightmare or a few nights to overcome the curse.
Primal night hags don’t require a heartstone to become ethereal. A heartstone is a focusing item that allows one of Ghazra’s brood to tap into this power, concentrating their weaker spirit.
With all that in mind, let’s consider a few specific questions.
The ECS says that Night Hags are neutral, but here you say they’re evil. Which is it?
Many ideas in the ECS have evolved over time. When I wrote that original section in the ECS, the intent was to emphasize that the night hags aren’t allied with the Lords of Dust and the overlords—that they are, ultimately, neutral. However, in retrospect, I feel that they should both be fiends and should have an evil alignment. They were born in Khyber, and on a personal level, they delight in tragedies and will unleash nightmares without remorse. We’ve called out that good people can do evil things and that evil people can do good; in the case of the night hags, they are evil beings who choose not to serve a greater good or greater evil.
The immortals of Eberron draw from a finite pool of energy and don’t reproduce. But Sora Kell has daughters, and there’s also hagblood characters. How’s this work?
Night hags can reproduce, but this doesn’t follow normal biological science and most never do. Essentially, what a night hag does in creating a child is much like how they create a nightmare; each of the Daughters of Sora Kell are, essentially, nightmares made real. It’s quite likely that the hag has to invest a certain amount of her own essence in her children, not unlike the story of Sora Ghazra. If so, Sora Kell is likely no longer as powerful as she once was, and this could explain why she’s been missing for so long.
Sora Ghazra’s children are created when a sliver of her spirit reshapes a mortal body. The weaker the are, the more mortal they are; the least of these hags might be able to have children in the normal way, though these children wouldn’t be night hags.
Night hags can trap mortal souls in soul bags. Why do they want mortal souls?
Trapping souls is hardly unheard of in Eberron. Sora Maenya isn’t a night hag, but she’s known for trapping the souls of her victims in their skulls and keeping them. She doesn’t DO anything with them; she just likes collecting them. Sora Teraza traps souls in books, cataloguing the life of the subject. This is the model for night hags. Some may bind captured souls into objects, keeping a collection of soul-bound dolls, for example. Others may weave the souls into acts of magic. For example…
What’s the origin of nightmares (the monsters) in Eberron? Do they have a connection to night hags?
Nightmares are fiends that protect their riders from fire and allow them to travel between the planes. The first nightmares were created by Sora Azhara, a primal night hag with a particular love of Fernia. She crafted the first nightmares by fusing literal nightmares with the ashes of the Demon Wastes and mortal souls. A few of her sisters admired her creations, delighting in their ability to carry mortals into dangerous places, and created nightmares of their own. Any creature capable of casting nightmare could potentially learn the ritual for creating a nightmare. This requires a bound mortal soul slain by nightmares; ashes from the Demon Waste; and a living equine creature, which serves as the physical framework. This is the origin of the tortured pegasus story—but the victim doesn’t have to be a pegasus. A creature who’s soul is bound into a nightmare can’t be raised from the dead by any means until the nightmare is destroyed; the soul is however preserved from Dolurrh while bound. Typically, the mortal spirit is unconscious and oblivious to the passage of time during this binding.
What does it mean that the primal night hags serve as ambassadors? If there were thirteen of them, did they have ties to specific planes?
“Ambassador” isn’t an official title. Night hags are capable of moving across planes, something that’s uncomfortable for most native immortals. Essentially, they spend a lot of time traveling—they are in part driven by curiosity—and they know people. The dragons and fiends of the Age of Demons found it useful to have a recognized neutral force, and the night hags enjoyed being a part of the story. This continues today. The night hag Jabra knows thousands of immortals through the time she’s spent at the Immeasurable Market. A random lesser night hag may know a number of quori—some friends, some rivals. Sora Azhara has a love of Fernia and is a regular guest at the parties of the efreet. But this is ultimately an informal role, more “I know a hag who knows a guy” than being officially appointed by the Progenitors or anything like that.
That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters both for making these articles possible and for suggesting the topic; in my monthly call for questions, someone asked “Night Hags! Just Night Hags!“… So here we are! If you want to have a chance to shape future topics and help insure that there are more articles, pitch in at my Patreon.
Also: I am continuing to work on Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, and TONIGHT (Wednesday September 8th) I’m kicking off a new stream to playtest the material. It’s part of the Fugue State stream, which I play in with Colin Meloy and Chris Funk of the Decemberists, Charlie Chu of Oni Press, Han Duong, and Jennifer Kretchmer. It’s going to run for about six weeks and the first episode is TONIGHT, so if you want to see it kick off, drop by the Twogether Studios Twitch channel at 7:30 PM Pacific Time! This is a very casual stream—basically just our home game in action—but I’m sure it will be fun!