Dragonmark: Kethelrax and Shaarat Kol

Art by Julio Azevedo

KETHELRAX THE CUNNING

Kethelrax the Cunning is the warlord of Shaarat Kol. Sometimes known as the Goblin Prince, Kethelrax has been a rallying figure for people who have been oppressed throughout the history of the region. Kethelrax was born into one of the Khaar’paal kobold clans of the Graywall Mountains. Gifted with sorcerous power, these kobolds have largely remained in their fortified tunnels, ignoring both the humans to the east and the raiders to the west. Young Kethelrax was curious and keen to explore the western lands—but soon after he ventured into the Barrens, he was taken prisoner by an ogre chib who dominated a village of kobolds and goblins. For a time, Kethelrax served this ogre, learning the ways of the Barrens and his oppressed cousins. Before the Daughters exerted their influence over the land, the Barrens were violent and unstable; the ogre chib was in turn slain by minotaur raiders, who took Kethelrax and some of the others back with them to the fortress then known as Haalrac’s Fist. Kethelrax had many opportunities to escape; he’d been honing his sorcerous talents throughout his time in the western lands, and his captors had no idea of what he was capable of. But Kethelrax wasn’t content to escape alone. As a servant, he managed to manipulate the warrior Turakbar, playing on the minotaur’s ego. Kethelrax convinced Turakbar to slaughter the reigning clan lord, Haalrac, and in the ensuing chaos the kobold was able to free a host of goblins, kobolds, and others forced into service in Haalrac’s Fist. Kethelrax led this band south, hoping he could convince the Khaar’paal to take in these refugees. But during the long journey, Kethelrax was visited by a blind hag who urged him to take shelter in Dhakaani ruins in the foothills of the Graywall Mountains. Sora Teraza told Kethelrax that change was coming to the Barrens—and that there was a need for a leader who could inspire the small folk of the Barrens, rallying goblins and kobolds alike. Over the few years, Kethelrax and his band targeted weak chibs in the region, freeing their prisoners and building a significant force. It wasn’t easy, and Kethelrax suffered a number of bloody defeats—but he and his people remained strong. In 985 YK, Sora Katra came to Kethelrax. She explained the Daughter’s vision for the region, and made a bargain with Kethelrax: if he could seize the fortress now known as Shaarat Kol, he could hold it as a warlord of Droaam, creating a haven for goblins and kobolds. Kethelrax agreed, and over a decade later he reigns as the Goblin Prince of Shaarat Kol.

Ketherax the Cunning lives up to his epithet. He is both clever and charismatic, able to inspire his people but equally adept at deceiving his enemies. His primary motive is always to improve the lives of the kobolds and goblins of the western plains, and this has led him to be one of the most trusted allies of the Daughters of Sora Kell. While some warlords chafe at the Daughters’ rule and yearn for greater power, Kethelrax recognizes that a strong and united Droaam holds many opportunities for his people. He continues to improve Shaarat Kol, working to make it a haven for both smugglers and honest traders. With that said, he still has a number of old scores he’d like to settle with those chibs and warlords that have long oppressed the small folk. He has been unable to convince the Khaar’paal kobolds to ally with the Daughters, but he continues to work on it.

Kethelrax is a red-scaled kobold. He’s a charismatic speaker who possesses both arcane gifts and a knack with a knife. He’s known for his ability to conjure blades of flame (something that mimics both flame blade and fire bolt, as he can fling his fiery daggers). He prefers to outwit enemies rather than to rely on force to solve his problems… but he’s deadly when he needs to be.

Rumors About Kethelrax the Cunning…

  • Kethelrax is a champion of the Dark Six. The Fury has empowered him to avenge the suffering of the goblins, and the Mockery cloaks him in shadow when Kethelrax doesn’t want to be seen.
  • Kethelrax is no kobold at all: he is a dragon who has taken on kobold form. 
  • Kethelrax has sworn that he will kill Rhesh Turakbar by the end of 998 YK. 

SHAARAT KOL

Population: 6,600

In Brief: City of goblins and kobolds, smuggling and manufacturing center

Key Inhabitants: Kethelrax the Cunning (male kobold warlord)

Shaarat Kol is a city in southeastern Droaam, set against and into the western face of the Graywall Mountains. Like Cazhaak Draal, it is built on the foundations of an ancient Dhakaani city; unlike Cazhaak Draal, far more of the original city remains intact. The city was either abandoned or completely depopulated during the wars with the daelkyr. Those parts of the city that were above ground were damaged by battle and the passage of time. An ogre chieftain built a simple fortress within these ruins, and this changed hands many times over the centuries. But much of Shaarat Kol was underground, and in its last days its gates were sealed with both arcane locks and adamantine bars. None of the chibs and chieftains who claimed the fortress on the surface were ever able to delve below. None, at least, until Kethelrax the Cunning. In 985 YK Kethelrax was the leader of a band of goblins and kobolds—rebels hiding in the Graywall Mountains and raiding the thuggish chibs. Sora Katra came to his camp, and the two talked for hours. In the month that followed, Kethelrax led his followers in a daring attack against the ogres and their ettin chib who currently held the ruins of Shaarat Kol. It was a vicious fight, but Kethelrax’s forces won the day and claimed the fortress… and using the knowledge Katra had shared, Kethelrax was able to open the gates of the old city and discover the true face of Shaarat Kol. The name of the city is Goblin for “Forge of Swords” and it was once an industrial center of the Dhakaani, home to some of their greatest forge adepts. The city was largely intact and contained resources untouched for thousands of years; while some of these resources were lost to time, adamantine doesn’t age. However, the city was lost in war, and the ancient daashors left countless traps along with their treasures. There are amazing facilities and other wonders to be found in Shaarat Kol, but claiming them is a slow process. Even now, more than a decade later, the denizens of Shaarat Kol have only reclaimed an estimated 20% of the ancient city.

So at the moment, Shaarat Kol is essentially two cities. The Upper City is the surface, which is being expanded and rebuilt in the new Droaamite style seen in Graywall and the Great Crag. Most of the people of the city live in the Upper City and it’s where most business takes place. But there’s also the Undercity, which lies beyond the ancient gates. This is where Kethelrax holds court and where his most loyal and talented followers dwell. Should there ever be a serious attack, Kethelrax could seal the gates—and when those gates were last sealed, they held off intruders for thousands of years.

The Upper City of Shaarat Kol is a haven for trade, known for the vast Goblin Market. This is an even larger cousin of the Bloody Market found in Graywall. All manner of independent artisans, hunters, and magewrights sell goods and services. You can hire mercenaries, buy plunder from raiders, find trinkets scavenged from Dhakaani ruins or dangerous imports from the Venomous Demesne. The Goblin Market is a vast open space largely filed with tents and temporary housing. Looking to the permanent buildings, roughly two-thirds of the structures are built for the comfort of small creatures, with a another third of the city being designed to accommodate medium and large creatures. Kethelrax has sworn that Shaarat Kol will be a haven for goblins and kobolds, who have long been oppressed in this region; he’s building this city first and foremost for his people.

The Undercity of Shaarat Kol uses the intact infrastructure of the ancient Dhakaani city. This was an industrial center and it contains mines, foundries, and forges; Kethelrax and his people are working to restore these facilities and to make use of them. While some of the great daashors were hobgoblins, the golin’dar (goblins) were the primary artisans of the empire, and much of the city is designed for their comfort. As noted before, the process of reclaiming the Undercity is slow, and there are always teams at work exploring new sections and trying to clear out traps and defenses. But just in the area that’s been reclaimed Kethelrax has been able to get a foundry and an ore processing facility working, and they are learning a great deal about the process the Dhakaani used to create and work adamantine. This is only the start, but Shaarat Kol has the potential to play a very important role in the future of Droaam.

Unlike Graywall, Shaarat Kol has made little effort to welcome the Five Nations. There’s no Orien trade route and no Dragonmarked outposts in the City of Goblins. The coastline to the south is rocky and dangerous, and it is difficult for large ships to land. Kethelrax is actively working to build a safe port so that Shaarat Kol can rival Vralkek as an important shipping destination. For now there are a few safe havens for those who know them, but they only support small ships. All this means that the people of the Five Nations who come to Shaarat Kol are mainly smugglers. There’s all kinds of valuable goods available in the Goblin Market, including many that are taxed or prohibited in the Five Nations. Some use paths and hidden passages through the Graywall Mountains, while others dare the dangerous coastline in small boats. While Kethelrax and the Daughters haven’t tried to bring the Dragonmarked Houses to Shaarat Kol, he’s happy to deal with legitimate traders, hence his work on the port; he just wants to finish securing the Undercity and unlocking its potential before bringing easterners into the city in large numbers.

Goblins and kobolds make up nearly 90% of the population of Shaarat Kol. Many of these were formerly subjugated by brutal chibs, and either fled on their own or were released from their bondage by the Daughters and allowed to go to Shaarat Kol. There is a tremendous sense of camaraderie among the people of the city; throughout the city you’ll see people working together and helping their neighbors. There’s only a small (literally) city watch, but that’s because anywhere that there’s trouble a mob of citizens will come together to deal with the problem. There are a number of large trade schools that are teaching the skills needed to use the facilities of the Undercity, and Kethelrax has brought in mentors from the Khaar’paal kobolds to help kobolds harness their sorcerous potential. As a result, Shaarat Kol has far more magewrights than any other city in Droaam. The city is still growing and finding its footing, but there’s more casual comforts than one can find even in the Great Crag. The denizens of Shaarat Kol have largely embraced the faith of the Cazhaak Six, and there’s a temple maintained by the medusa priest Shalaasa and a number of Khaar’paal adepts. In general, Shaarat Kol is one of the safest cities in Droaam, as long as you don’t start any trouble. On the other hand, the camaraderie among the small denizens means that the criminals and con artists of Shaarat Kol ply their trade on the visiting tall-folk; keep an extra eye on your purse and don’t buy a deed to a Byeshk mine, no matter how good the price is.

 Interesting Things About Shaarat Kol

  • The Undercity of Shaarat Kol holds undiscovered wonders. There could be an armory stocked with Dhakaani artifacts, or the forge that was used to make them. There’s certainly an opportunity here for adventurers willing to brave the countless traps. But it’s also possible people who dig deeper will find that there are daelkyr forces left behind as well—as the Mror found when they dug too deep into their ancient past.
  • The Heirs of Dhaakan may be interested in reclaiming Shaarat Kol or at least recovering relics from the Undercity. This could lead to a deadly conflict between Kethelrax and the Kech Dhakaan. It’s quite likely that agents of the Shaarat’khesh are already hidden among the people of Shaarat Kol, evaluating the situation and passing information to the clans.
  • Kethelrax rose to power by fighting other chibs. He’s made many enemies, most especially Rhesh Turakbar. Any of these foes could attempt to assassinate Kethelrax or at least sabotage Shaarat Kol.  

This is an excerpt from Frontiers of Eberron, which I’ve been working on since I released Exploring Eberron. I’m currently running a poll on my Patreon to help me decide where I go from here—whether I continue to develop this book for Eberron and the DM’s Guild, or whether I use it as the foundation of an entirely new setting. There’s many factors in this decision and I won’t be making it quickly. Regardless of what happens, thanks to my patrons and to everyone else who’s supported Eberron over the years!

Haunts, Borders and Veils: The Ethereal Plane of Eberron

Technically, these are images of Irian and Mabar. But they COULD be a city and its ethereal border.

The cosmology of Eberron is often depicted as a vast orrery. Each of the thirteen planes embodies a particular concept, while the material plane is the nexus where all of their ideas are expressed—the realm of life and death, war and peace, story and stagnation. The Astral Plane is the space between and beyond them, embodying nothing. What, then, is the Ethereal Plane and how does it differ from the Astral?

First of all, forget everything you know from canon sources, Eberron or otherwise. This article is about how I use the Ethereal Plane in my campaign, which combines aspects of the traditional Ethereal Plane, the Plane of Shadow, the Shadowfell, and the Feywild… and builds from there. And the first difference is, don’t call it a plane. If you want to move between planes, or between Eberron and the rest of the Multiverse, you’ll travel through the Astral Plane. The Ethereal has no defining concept, and most importantly, it has no independent existence; it’s a shadow cast by another plane. With this in mind, most scholars in Eberron don’t call it the Ethereal Plane; they call it the Ethereal Veil. Think of it as the backstage of reality, a layer that lets you slip outside reality while still being close enough to observe it.

In this article, I’ll start with a general overview of the Ethereal Veil and then delve into two additional ways you can interact with the Ethereal: Haunts and Borders.

THE ETHEREAL VEIL

The Ethereal Veil is a gray shadow of the world. For the most part, the Veil functions exactly as described in canon.

While on the Ethereal Plane, you can see and hear the plane you originated from, which is cast in shades of gray, and you can’t see anything there more than 60 feet away. You can only affect and be affected by other creatures on the Ethereal Plane. Creatures that aren’t there can’t perceive you or interact with you, unless they have the ability to do so. You ignore all objects and effects that aren’t on the Ethereal Plane, allowing you to move through objects you perceive on the plane you originated from. The Ethereal Plane also disobeys the laws of gravity; a creature there can move up and down as easily as walking.

Standing in the Veil, you see a gray shadow of reality. You can see the misty forms of buildings, of trees, of people going about their business… but you cannot be seen or heard, and you cannot affect the adjacent reality. With few exceptions, the Veil is empty. It reflects the adjacent reality, but it holds nothing of its own, and for this reason people rarely stay there for long; there’s no food, no water, and most of the time, no people. As noted earlier, the Veil is an extension of whatever plane you’re currently on. Eberron has an Ethereal Veil, but so does Fernia and so does Syrania; the Veil of Fernia is a gray shadow of Fernia, where the fires are cold and you can pass through the obsidian walls.

Two important facts are that while you can see the images of things in the Material plane—what I’ll call echoes—you can’t affect them and can move through them. This includes the ground beneath your feet. As called out in the description above, “a creature there can move up and down as easily as walking.” This looks like walking, and uses the traveler’s standard movement speed; it’s simply that your feet find purchase wherever you want them to. This also means that you could, for example, just start walking straight down toward the core of the planet. However, you’re walking blind. If you hit a Border or a Haunt, the matter you’re dealing with may suddenly become impermeable, or gravity might reassert itself. And if your magic should fail, the standard rules say “You immediately return to the plane you originated from in the spot you currently occupy. If you occupy the same spot as a solid object or creature when this happens, you are immediately shunted to the nearest unoccupied space that you can occupy and take force damage equal to twice the number of feet you are moved.” If you’re deep in solid rock, that could be a very unpleasant return.

Breaching The Veil

The people of Khorvaire know the Ethereal Veil exists, but there’s limited ways to reach it. The two most common tools are blink (which has a maximum duration of one minute) and etherealness (a high level spell that lasts for up to eight hours). When you enter the Veil, the magic that keeps you there also affects the objects you bring with you. If you blink across the Veil and drop a Shard of Rak Tulkhesh it will return to the material plane as soon as the spell ends… so it’s not an easy dumping ground for cursed objects, nor is it an easy matter to build things there (though if you time things right, you might be able to drop a bomb in there just before it explodes… just ask Three Widow Jane in my Threshold campaign!).

Of course, the Veil isn’t much use if there’s no good way for adventurers to get there. Here’s a few options to consider.

  • Blink is one of the powers of the Dragonmark of Passage, and House Orien has been exploring the Veil since the mark first manifested. Throughout its history, the house has experimented with ways to increase the duration of Ethereal jaunts and to take advantage of their connection to the Veil. The oldest tool in their arsenal is the passage salve, an uncommon form of oil of etherealness that only takes 1 minute to apply; it can be used by any creature, but only an heir with the Mark of Passage can activate its power. The Veil torc allows the Passage-marked wearer to cast etherealness as if it was a 3rd level spell, though the duration is only one hour. The Twelve have been continuing to work on this and may well come up with prototype focus items or eldritch machines that can allow groups of people to linger in the Veil—and naturally, they’ll need bold adventurers to test these new developments!
  • The Guild of Endless Doors has always been interested in the Ethereal Veil, and they have been working on their own counterparts to Orien’s focus items. The Guild lacks the resources of the Twelve and anything they produce will be available on a smaller scale, but on the other hand, you won’t need a dragonmark to make use of it. And the Royal Eyes of Aundair could be pushing the Guild to fast-track Ethereal tools that can be used by Aundairian spies!
  • Ancient Secrets. Humanity may not have mastered the Veil… but the elves of Aerenal are more advanced than the people of the Five Nations, and the dragons of Argonnessen are more powerful still. Sul Khatesh may hold secrets of the Veil that she could share with her Court of Shadows… but at what cost? These paths could provide adventurers—or their enemies—with tools or rituals that support Ethereal exploration.
  • Breaking Reality. Reality is a toy in the clutches of the daelkyr. A cult of the Dragon Below might tear apart the Veil or even collapse a chunk of reality into it. Consider Stranger Things!

The Dangers of the Veil

Eberron is a world where the supernatural is part of nature. The Ethereal Veil is part of life, just like air and water—and just like fish adapt to water and birds soar through the air, there are creatures in Eberron who naturally interact with the Ethereal Veil. Phase spiders are a perfect example of this—a predator with a natural ability to cross the Veil at will. While blink dogs currently teleport directly from point to point, I like to take their name literally and imagine them darting through the Veil, if only for a moment.

Night Hags are another possible threat. Along with their nightmares, these fiends have always had free access to the Veil. Every night hag has at least one sanctum hidden in the Ethereal Veil, and most have left other markers and monuments scattered around it. An old iron lantern hidden in the veil might monitor dreams, calling to the hag who forged it when there’s something worthy of attention. A monolith might be a cache where a hag stores the (literal) nightmares she collects—or she might have a stable of equine nightmares hidden in the Veil. Given the vast scope of the Ethereal Veil, adventurers are unlikely to stumble upon hag creations by accident, but night hags can definitely be a source of deadly traps or enigmatic elements waiting to be found across the Veil.

Another traditionally Ethereal-dwelling species are the Ethergaunts. Originally they’re presented as an alien species with an advanced civilization in the Ethereal Plane. Canon lore suggested that they were tied to the Daelkyr. Personally, I’d take a different approach. I don’t want a powerful civilization in the Veil, and the Daelkyr have enough going on. But I love the idea of eerie alien scientists who are watching us from beyond the Veil—who could be in the room with you right now. I love the thought of an Ethergaunt triggering a series of bizarre and seemingly impossible events—a man killed, the pieces of his body discovered in different locked vaults—in pursuit of fear, or even of children’s toys appearing from nowhere as a way to trigger joy. With this in mind, I’d tie the Ethergaunts to Mordain the Fleshweaver. Mordain never leaves Blackroot. But I love the idea that he’s created a corps of agents who are active all over the world… but active on the other side of the Veil. I love the idea of a man being questioned about an impossible murder, and when the Medani inquisitve casts see invisibility they are shocked by the hideous creature watching the interrogation from across the Veil. And the point of this approach is that each ethergaunt has its own task. It’s not introducing another organized enemy; it’s an army of invisible terrors, each pursuing a unique and unpredictable goal as they gather data for their creator. The final piece of this puzzle is how Mordain created the ethergaunts. Were they made from raw materials? Or did Mordain kidnap Orien heirs—beneath their armor, do ethergaunts have a bizarrely evolved form of the Mark of Passage?

Beyond this, part of the role of the Veil is to be undiscovered and unknown. It is as vast as the reality itself, and there may be powers within it that humanity has simply never encountered. It’s an alien world waiting to be discover that is all around us, just beyond what our eyes can see.

All this deals with the broad swath of the Veil, the gray shadow of the reality. But there are places where the Ethereal takes a more concrete form; the two most common of these are Haunts and Borders.

ETHEREAL HAUNTS

As described in this article, most ghosts in Eberron are “souls trapped between Eberron and Dolurrh, driven to complete their unfinished business or held fast by emotions or memories they can’t let go. While they have at least some of their memories from life, most ghosts aren’t fully aware of their condition or the passage of time, and they generally can’t retain new information.” Let’s call these restless spirits lingering ghosts.

When a lingering ghost is bound to a location—typically due to traumatic events that occurred there—it resides in the Ethereal Veil. Most such ghosts aren’t aware of the passage of time. They linger in the ether until something pulls them across the Veil, typically something tied to the anchors keeping them from Dolurrh. Most of the time, a lingering ghost simply drifts through the shadows of the Ethereal Veil, endlessly retracing its steps until something triggers a reaction. However, a lingering ghost driven by exceptionally powerful emotions or memories can reshape the Veil, imposing its own memories upon the the shadows of reality. So it may be that the ir’Halan Manor is a crumbling ruin stripped by looters long ago—but if a warlock blinks into the Veil, they find themselves in a vibrant replica of ir’Halan Manor at its height. There’s a fire in the hearth, music in the air, and guests mingling and murmuring. This is a Haunt—a recreation of the night that Lady ir’Halan was betrayed and murdered. It’s here that her ghost dwells, endlessly recreating that final night. Ethereal travelers can interact with objects and effects that are part of the Haunt; someone who blinks into the memory of ir’Halan Manor will find that they can’t walk through the walls and that normal gravity is in effect, and that they can take a drink from the waiter passing by. However, for the most part the elements of a Haunt are only real within the Veil. A traveler can take a drink from a waiter and they can savor the flavor of it… but when they blink back to reality, the glass fades from their hand and the wine itself fades from their system. In many ways it’s like a powerful illusion; a popular arcane theory asserts that many illusion spells function by shaping the Veil and pulling it into reality. But while you’re in the Veil, a haunt seems real.

The classic Haunt is tied to a single ghost; if that ghost is destroyed or laid to rest, the Veil will return to its gray shadow of reality. However, a Haunt can also be shaped by a mass surge of emotions or pain so powerful that they leave psychic scars on reality. The site of a massacre, a prisoner of war camp, an orphanage… all of these can leave Haunts on the other side of the Veil. Where the ghost Haunts often perfectly recreate a moment from the past, traumatic Haunts are often more surreal. If you’re in the ruins of a village destroyed by brutal soldiers during the Last War, the Haunt on the other side of the Veil could be haunted by shadowy creatures that blend the traits of Brelish soldier and beast, using the statistics of worgs; the Veil remembers the terror and brutality, not the precise details. As with ghost Haunts, traumatic haunts feel real to people who enter the Veil; travelers can’t move through objects, people can’t walk through the air, and threats can inflict real damage.

While Haunts are usually tied to locations, a lingering ghost can also be tied to an object… or even to a particular event, such as a song. In such instances the ghost won’t completely transform the Veil, but it will leak elements of its anchoring trauma into the environment.

See invisibility is a 2nd level spell and allows the caster to peer beyond the Veil. As such, it’s an important tool for mediums and exorcists; as it’s a gift of the Mark of Detection, House Medani inquisitives may be called in to investigate suspected Haunts.

Beyond ghosts and trauma, there’s another force that can create Haunts within the Veil: the Overlords of the First Age. An unbound overlord can shape reality; a bound overlord might reshape the Veil in its image. The most logical place for this would be around an Overlord’s prison. If you cross the Veil near the prison of the Wild Heart, you might find that the echoes of the woods are not only solid but writhing and aggressive. The Veil in the vicinity of one of Rak Tulkhesh’s prison shards might be stained with blood and the refuse of recent battle… a foreshadowing of Rak Tulkhesh’s desires. Another possibility is that the devotions of a Cult of the Dragon Below could channel the influence of their overlord to shape the Veil in their place of power. Sul Khatesh’s Court of Shadows imagine a magical kingdom that exists beyond the world; it could be that through their devotion, a powerful chapter of the Court could create this shadow-kingdom on the other side of the Veil. If so, the question is whether Sul Khatesh allows her cultists to cross the Veil, or if they simply have the ability to SEE these umbral spires rising behind reality when others cannot. In a twist—in part because otherwise it would be all too easy for House Medani to monitor cults—in my campaign Overlord Haunt effects can’t be seen by see invisibility, though true seeing will reveal their presence; just as rakshasa resist low level spells, the influence of the overlords isn’t so easily revealed.

Lingering Ghosts and Shades

Lingering ghosts usually don’t know that they’re ghosts. They linger because they’re trapped in a particular moment or by a powerful anchor, and they interpret all events through that emotional lens. Often when dealing with adventurers, a lingering ghost will fixate on one or more adventurers who bear some similarity to characters from their own personal drama—recognizing the bard as the lover who spurned them, or the rogue as the cousin who ruined them—and completely ignore the other adventurers. They generally can’t be reasoned with and simply won’t hear things that don’t fit their narrative. Persuasion and Intimidation often have little impact on them, because they essentially can’t change their minds… unless the speaker is actually invoking part of the ghost’s story, in which case a check might have advantage.

Lingering ghosts can use the standard ghost stat block from the Monster Manual, but they aren’t visible on the material plane while in the Veil; there could be lingering ghosts around you right now, but you’ll never know unless something pulls them across the Veil. Also, because lingering ghosts don’t know they’re ghosts, they don’t always take full tactical advantage of their capabilities in combat. They may use Horrifying Visage instinctively, manifesting their horrifying visage in a moment of anguish or rage. Possession is often used to seize control of an adventurer who has some similarities to the ghost’s living form; the ghost doesn’t recognize that they are possessing someone and believes the body is their own. However, the classic ghost stat block is only a starting point. Depending on the ghost’s scenario and the strength of its anguish, it could be a simple poltergeist or even something as powerful as a dullahan. While the core stat blocks are a good place to start, part of what makes encounters with lingering ghosts interesting is to vary them based on the story and unique nature of the ghost.

  • To harm the ghost, you must recreate the circumstances of its original death. The man who died in fire might be immune to all damage types except fire. A ghost who died in a fateful duel could be immune to all physical damage except from rapiers, and vulnerable to damage from the rapier that actually killed them. If a ghost has such extreme resistances, you might reduce the power of its withering touch—adventurers will need time to realize their attacks aren’t working and find an effective solution.
  • The ghost can’t attack as an action. Instead, it has three legendary actions it can use to attack an enemy who attacks it. It can taunt and provoke, but if people simply ignore it, it can’t initiate violence.
  • Instead of targeting everyone within 60 feet, apply the effects of Horrifying Visage to victims of the ghost’s physical attack. When the ghost touches a target, the victim has a flash of its anchoring trauma; this is what causes the fear. The aging effect could be removed or reduced to 1d4 years per attack, reflecting the sheer shock to the victim’s system.
  • The ghost has no physical attack, Horrifying Visage, or Possession. However, it can cast phantasmal killer at will, drawing the victim into the nightmare of the ghost’s own death. It will typically focus on one person at a time, ignoring all others while it psychically crushes its chosen victim.
  • Instead of Possession, the ghost has the power to draw a single victim into the Ethereal Veil. The victim’s physical body remains on the material plane, but their consciousness and likeness are pulled into the Veil, where they can interact with it as if they were physically present. So the victim’s companions can see the character struggling with an unknown foe, but they can’t perceive the ghost or interact with it in any way.
  • Instead of Possession, the ghost can cast dream, targeting creatures across the Veil. It may target someone it identifies with, forcing them to suffer visions of the ghost’s demise, or it could target someone it blames for its tragedy.
  • Rather than inflicting necrotic damage, a ghost’s attack could reflect something about their life. A duelist could inflict slashing damage with a spectral rapier; a pyromancer could inflict fire damage with a burning touch; a spurned lover could inflict psychic damage, literally breaking the heart of their victim.

Taking a scenario like the ir’Halan manor, the house may appear to be full of people, and the people in these crowd scenes aren’t full ghosts. They’re shades, memories plucked from the life of the lingering ghost. Often shades have no real existence. They’re essentially manifestations of the phantasmal force spell. Any direct attack or defense against such a shade should be resolved with a Wisdom saving throw against the spell DC of the lingering ghost; a shade’s attack deals 1d6 psychic damage. More potent shades could use the statistics of a shadow or a poltergeist; alternately, they could use the statistics of other creatures (such as the worg-soldiers in the massacre haunt). Like the lingering ghost, shades are bound to play out their roles and may not use abilities they possess if they don’t fit their role in the story.

A Haunt reflects the anchors that are binding the ghost to the world, which may not be related to the actual moment of their death. The ir’Halan manor scenario may reflect the night Lady ir’Halan was murdered, but the haunted Cannith foundry may reflect the day that Castar d’Cannith murdered his father or ruined his partner; even if Castar died a natural death, it’s his intense guilt over what he did in the foundry that binds him to the world. In dealing with anchors, consider the following questions.

  • Was the ghost the victim in the scenario—they were murdered, financially ruined, framed for a crime they didn’t commit? Or are they anchored by guilt for the wrongs they inflicted on others?
  • If the ghost was a victim, do they want bloody revenge? If they don’t want blood, do they want the wrongdoer to feel remorse or to publicly acknowledge what was done? Or do they just want the truth to be known by the general public?
  • If the ghost was a perpetrator, do they want to make reparations for the crimes that they committed? Do they want the truth to be known? Or do they refuse to acknowledge that they have done something wrong, and they actually want any lingering evidence of their guilt to be wiped out?
  • Another option is that the ghost died with a task unfinished. This could be very concrete—a letter that was never delivered, an arcane experiment that was never completed, a buried treasure that was supposed to be found. Or it could be more abstract—they wanted a town to prosper, a child to have a good home.

Loosening an anchor could be a task for an altruistic group of adventurers who want to lay a ghost to rest. However, it can also simply be used to set the tone and parameters of a haunt. A murdered many may not be able to rest until the entire family line of his murderer has been exterminated. The adventurers may consider this extreme and ruthless desire to be vile and cruel; the point is that the ghost’s haunt may reflect their hunger for bloody vengeance, and if one of the player characters is part of the murderer’s bloodline, it could drive the story.

THE BORDER ETHEREAL

The material plane is influenced by all of the other planes. Where this influence is especially strong, you find manifest zones. Traits of the outer plane bleed into the material, and planar energies may produce unusual flora or fauna. However, often manifest zones aren’t obvious to the naked eye. It’s the influence of Syrania that makes it possible for the towers of Sharn to scrape the sky, but if you never try flying, you might never notice its effects.

This changes when you cross the Veil. Where another plane touches the material, you’ll find the Border Ethereal—a dramatic blending of the two realms. The Border Ethereal generally reflects the reality of the material plane in its layout and structure; when you blink into the Veil from a tower in Sharn, you’ll still be in a tower with roughly the same shape. But the cliffs over the Dagger are now formed of thick cloudstuff. The towers themselves are formed of crystal and mist. You can see shadow angels circling in the skies, along with whorls of living cloud-stuff (the minor air elementals mentioned on page 152 of Rising From The Last War).

Likewise, imagine a Fernian manifest zone in the King’s Forest of Breland. In the material plane, this stretch of jungle is unseasonably warm and prone to flash fires. But when you cross the veil, you find that same forest, except that the trees are always on fire and yet never consumed. Mephits leap from tree to tree, delighting in the flames. While the trees are never consumed, their flames will burn any travelers who touch them, and the stifling heat is deadly to mortals.

In short, the Border Ethereal takes on some of the elements of the traditional Feywild (Thelanian Borders) and Shadowfell (Borders with Dolurrh or Mabar), while adding a host of other blended realms. However, the stories of the Border Ethereal are smaller in scope and scale than the stories of the planes; you might make a deal with a terrifying hag in a Thelanian Border, but if you want to deal with an archfey or dance in the Palace of the Moon, you need to go to Thelanis itself.

You can use any of the methods described in Breaching the Veil to reach a Border, but sometimes there are other options unique to the manifest zone. Dance in the ring of mushrooms when Rhaan is full and you might end up on the other side of the Veil. Sacrifice something you love in fire, and your grief might drag you across the Fernian border. These passages shouldn’t be easy—it’s not like the locals should have regular commerce with the Border Ethereal—and most zones don’t have them, but they can provide ways for adventurers to have an adventure across the Veil without having to spend a fortune on oil of etherealness, and a way to have a taste of the planes without entirely leaving home.

Denizens of the Border Ethereal

One of the major things that distinguishes the Border Ethereal from the planes they’re connected to are the inhabitants. The Border Ethereal resembles a blend of the two planes, and people can see shadows of the inhabitants on both sides of the veil. In the example given above, the angels that can be seen in the skies of the Border Ethereal in Sharn aren’t present in the border; they’re shadowy images of the denizens of Syrania, flying through their own skies. The borders of Shavarath appear war-torn and you may see misty images of conscripts and fiends, but the damage you see in the environment around you wasn’t actually caused by recent action. So for the most part, the Border Ethereal is empty and relatively safe for travelers. However, there are exceptions.

  • Anchors. Some Ethereal Borders are home to an anchoring entity, who plays the same basic role as a lingering ghost does with a haunt. This is usually a powerful immortal from the associated plane, but it’s rarely one of the most powerful beings in that plane. A Mabaran Border could be held by a Ultroloth servant of the Empress of Shadows, or a powerful banshee sworn to the Queen of All Tears. A forested Thelanian border might be bound to the tragic story of an exceptional dryad who is a daughter of the Forest Queen, but you won’t find the Forest Queen herself on the Border. A Lamannian Border might be anchored by a massive megafauna beast, while a powerful beholder might watch the world from the Border Ethereal. If it’s possible to pass through a border, the Anchor Lord may control the passage. Anchor lords typically can’t leave their borders, but those with an interest in the material might well recruit mortal agents; this could be an interesting, smaller-scale patron for a warlock, if a campaign is based in a particular region.
  • Denizens. Sometimes Borders will have a small population of native creatures from the associated plane. Mabaran Borders are often home to shadows, and sometimes when powerful undead are destroyed in Mabaran zones they linger in the Veil instead of going directly to the Endless Night; a slain vampire might continue to haunt their castle as a wraith in the Border Ethereal. Restless souls can linger on the edge of Dolurrh. A Thelanian Border might have a small population of native sprites… and a Xoriat Border may be home to aberrations. Again, Borders generally aren’t crowded, and the natives will be outnumbered by the misty reflections of the people on the material plane… but some are inhabited.
  • Shades. As with Haunts, Borders can manifest illusions relating to their story—creatures that seem so real that they can inflict slight damage, but which have no ongoing existence or logical ecology surrounding them.
  • Travelers. Especially in a Border with no Anchor, it’s always possible you’ll encounter other travelers. Set aside Night Hags, Chamber observers, Lords of Dust, or Ethergaunts and you could still find Orien heirs or Royal Eyes of Aundair using the latest tools from the Guild of Endless Doors to spy across the Veil. But in general the Ethereal Veil is a place you pass through—not a place where mortals dwell.

Passing Through

The Ethereal Veil extends from the plane its attached to, but no farther. There’s no Deep Ethereal, no curtains to other planes; the Astral Plane is the primary corridor for travel. However, the Borders are where planes come together, and it may be possible to move between material and the connected planes in such places. Anchor Lords often have the power to open passages for travelers. Otherwise, passages are often well hidden and may require particular actions to open. There might be a gate of rusted iron in a Shavarath Border that only opens when blood is spilled in anger, or a clearing in Thelanis that provides passage when adventurers tell the story of their destination.

The Effects of the Planes

Typically the Border Ethereal resembles the overlapping region in the Material Plane—the material foundation—transformed to reflect the influence of the outer plane. The Lamannian Border of a city will be overgrown; the Shavaran Border of a city will be shattered by war. The misty echoes of the creatures of the material plane can be seen moving around, and occasionally echoes of extraplanar beings can be seen as well.

A crucial feature of the Border Ethereal is that its structures are solid. Explorers can’t walk through the burning trees of a forest in a Fernian Border, or the fortified walls of a Shavaran Border. Gravity is also usually in effect in Borders, so people can’t walk through the air. Here’s a few elements you could find in the Border Ethereal; the planar traits referred to are described in Exploring Eberron.

  • DAANVI. Angles feel sharper. People naturally move to an underlying rhythm; the Plane of Truth and No Chance properties (ExE) are usually in effect. Structures or plants may be formed from metal, perfect and precise. Anything naturally chaotic—the patterns of ivy, clouds—are structured and reliable. Misty images of marching modrons can occasionally be seen.
  • DAL QUOR. The destruction of Crya severed Dal Quor’s direct connections to the material plane, and just as there are no manifest zones, there’s no Border Ethereal between Dal Quor and Eberron.
  • DOLURRH. At a glance, the Border of Dolurrh looks just like the rest of the Ethereal Veil—a grey echo of the material plane, perhaps with a little more mist clinging to the edges. Shades often linger in Dolurrhi borders. Some are husks whose memories have been stripped away, vague grey outlines of people. Others are the spirits of people who have recently died in the area—not so restless as to become lingering ghosts, yet still clinging to the world, unwilling to slip away. Like lingering ghosts, such spirits usually can’t comprehend their situation—but they know they have somewhere to be, something to do. The Dolurrh Border is a dangerous place; the Eternal Entrapment and Inevitable Ennui traits are in effect, and anyone who lingers too long can get trapped forever.
  • FERNIA. First and foremost, FIRE. Things burn without being consumed. Bodies of water may be replaced by magma or pure fire. Obsidian, brass, and igneous stone are common materials, and the air may be filled with smoke and ash. The Deadly Heat property of Fernia is in effect.
  • IRIAN. The Pure Light property of Irian means that there’s no darkness in an Irian Border. Colors are bright and cheerful. Plants and wildlife appear healthy and vibrant, and things seem fresh and new. Most Irian zones also have the Life Triumphant property; it’s a good place to take shelter when you’re pursued by undead.
  • KYTHRI. A Kythri border has a general resemblance to its material inspiration, but it’s always slowly changing. As one element drifts further away from the aspect of the material that cast it, another will drift back toward it; so again, overall, it resembles the material plane but is constantly shifting. Building materials are constantly in flux; if there’s a row of houses, one might be made from stone and another made from straw; give it an hour and they could both be made from hard candy. The Kythri border has the Constant Change and The Odds Are Odd properties.
  • LAMANNIA. Natural features are exaggerated and weather effects are more dramatic. If the border is in an urbanized area, it will resemble the Titan’s Folly layer of Lamannia: buildings will be overgrown, with roots cracking foundations and nature reclaiming the land. Even if there are no denizens in the Border, shadows of massive beasts can be seen moving through the land. It has the Primordial Matter property of Lamannia.
  • MABAR. The Eternal Shadows and Necrotic Power properties of Mabar can be felt in the Border Ethereal, consuming bright light and bolstering undead. The landscape resembles the material foundation, but plants are withered and dying and structures are decrepit and crumbling; it’s a vision of ruin and entropy. Shadows congregate in Mabaran Borders, often following the movements of people in the material world; sometimes their movements can be seen in mortal shadows.
  • RISIA. Everything is either formed from ice or encrusted with it. Liquids are frozen. Risian Borders have the Lethal Cold and Stagnation effects. There are rarely any creatures in a Risian Border; it is cold and empty.
  • SHAVARATH. Imagine the world at war. The Border resembles its material foundation, but cast through the lens of a bitter, prolonged conflict. Some buildings are ruined, others are fortified. There are craters and smoldering fires. While occasionally there are shades battling or misty visions of fiends and angels, more often than not it feels like an active war zone, as though the enemy could strike at any moment, but no one ever does. This Border has the Bloodletting property of Shavarath.
  • SYRANIA. Syranian Borders take different forms, reflecting the aspects of the plane that manifest in the connected zone. In the Border of Sharn, the Unburdened property is in effect and all creatures can fly; as mentioned earlier, structures are formed of crystal and mist and animate clouds drift around. Another Border might be more grounded, but have the Gentle Thoughts and Universal Understanding properties, allowing all spoken languages to be understood.
  • THELANIS. Every Thelanian Border has a story, and builds on the material foundation to sell that story. In one forest, the woods may grow darker and deeper, promising that wolves and far deadlier things lurk just off the path; in another forest, the trees may be full of dancing lights, with misty images of satyrs dancing in the groves. A city may become more beautiful and magical, or it could seem cruel and oppressive if the driving story is one of a bitter tyrant. The story of the Border will be well known to anyone who lives in the region. In the case of the bitter tyrant, the actual rulers may take pains not to resemble the cruel leader of the tale… or it may be that the Border seeps into reality and drives the locals to be cruel. Storybook Logic is in effect, and where there are fey, Words Have Power.
  • XORIAT. There is no predicting what a Xoriat border will look like, but it’s always strange and usually disturbing. One Xoriat border may perfectly resemble its material foundation until you realize that all the structures are actually made of flesh and blood; the buildings quiver when you approach, and that low moan isn’t the wind. In another, writhing tentacles stretch up from the earth, burrowing through buildings and grasping any travelers who come to close. Mirrors ripple and reveal unpleasant truths. Colors are disturbing and gravity is unreliable; the Strange Reality property of Xoriat is always in effect.

WHAT ABOUT…

  • The Plane of Shadow? In my campaign, the Ethereal Veil and the Plane of Shadow are two different words for the same thing. The Feywild is a term that could be used to describe Thelanian Borders, while the Shadowfell could describe Mabaran or Dolurrhi borders.
  • Plane Shift? The spell Plane Shift can’t transport you to the Ethereal Veil, as it’s not a plane.
  • Secret Chest? The spell Secret Chest is tied to the Astral Plane, not the Ethereal Veil—as previous discussed in the Subspace section of the Astral Plane article. In general, Ethereal travel takes you sideways to your current location. Any magical effect that creates a new extradimensional space or that connects planes together should be tied to the Astral Plane.
  • Wild Zones? The Wild Zones of Sarlona are exceptionally powerful manifest zones—often described as planar beachheads. My personal inclination is that Wild Zones don’t have Ethereal Borders—that the reason they are wild is that the Border Ethereal normally acts as a buffer between the planes, but has here collapsed and fused them directly together. This reflects a dramatic breakdown of the cosmic design and I’d also say it’s the source of the Reality Storms—raging surges of planar energy. How could such a thing happen? It’s a mystery, but it could well be tied to the Sarlonan Overlord Ran Iishiv the Unmaker, infamously driven to tear down reality; the Unmaker may have begun this process by tearing away the Ethereal Veil.
  • The Radiant Citadel? In my campaign, I’d put the Radiant Citadel in the Astral Plane. Personally, I’d make the civilizations of the Citadel legacies of previous incarnations of the Material Plane, just like Githberron. A key question would be if all or some of the civilizations came from the same world, or if each one comes from a different echo of the current reality. It could well be that the Citadel offered sanctuary to the Githyanki, but they spurned it. If I went with this approach, another important question would be the role of the Concord Jewels. Does each jewel hold a preserved version of the civilization even though its world has been lost? Or do the civilizations now only exist in the Citadel itself, while the Jewels take you to the broken worlds that are lost in the Maze of Realities?

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments, but I won’t be answering questions. If you’d like to ask me questions on this or other topics, check out my Patreon! And thanks to my patrons for making these articles possible.

Dragonmarks: Spelljammer in Eberron

The warforged captain stared at the great orange orb ahead of them. “This is it, my friends. We are about to be the first people to set foot on Olarune. Thanks to your courage and your tireless efforts, we will bring honor to Breland—and Sovereigns willing, profit.”

“Captain, ship ahead!”

“Impossible. “ The captain adjusted his ocular lenses. “We’re a day ahead of the Karrns—”

“It’s not the Blade. It’s an unknown design, sir. And it’s ascending from the surface.”

The deck crew ran to the rails. The approaching ship was like nothing they’d ever seen; it looked like a great oak uprooted and cast into the air, with tapestries of rainbows spun between its branches. In its own way, it was beautiful. But as it drew closer, the crew of Intrepid heard the sounds coming from it—the howls of hungry wolves.

Spelljammer intertwines fantasy and magic with spacefaring adventure. This dynamic setting has come to fifth edition, giving players the opportunity to set a course for Wildspace and distant stars. What does this mean for Eberron? What’s the best way to take your campaign to the skies and beyond?

Eberron: Rising From The Last War states that “Eberron is part of the Great Wheel of the multiverse… At the same time, it is fundamentally apart from the rest of the Great Wheel, sealed off from the other planes even while it’s encircled by its own wheeling cosmology. Eberron’s unique station in the multiverse is an important aspect of the world… it is sheltered from the influences and machinations of gods and other powers elsewhere in the Great Wheel.” Now, Rising also says that if you WANT to integrate Eberron with other settings you can; as a DM, you can say that whatever protections have hidden Eberron from the worlds beyond are failing. So there’s nothing stopping you from making a campaign where there’s regular commerce or even war between Realmspace and Eberron’s wildspace system—let’s call it Siberspace. But personally, I’m more interesting in combining the two concepts in a very different way—in finding an approach that adds depth to the moons, the Ring, and the existing cosmology of Eberron rather than leaving it behind.

EBERRON IN ISOLATION: THE SPACE RACE

One of the core principles of Eberron is that arcane magic is a form of science and that it evolves—that invention and innovation should play a role in the setting. With this in mind, in bringing Spelljammer into Eberron I’d emphasize that this isn’t a retcon, it’s a new development. The Five Nations have never had spelljammers until now. The adventurers aren’t the latest recruits in a vast, well-established spelljamming fleet; they are among the very first humanoids to venture into wildspace to try reach the moons of Eberron.

With this in mind, an important question is why no one’s gone into space. The Ring of Siberys is beyond the atmosphere, but what’s stopping me from putting on a ring of sustenance and pointing my broom of flying straight up? In my campaign, there are three major obstacles. The first is that the Ring and the moons are beyond Eberron’s atmosphere, so you need to be able to survive in wildspace. The second is that breaking free from Eberron’s gravity is a challenge, requiring a surge of energy a simple item like a broom of flying can’t produce. The third is that the Ring of Siberys radiates arcane energy. As discussed below, this specifically interferes with divination and teleportation, but it can overload any arcane system… and this seems to especially impact magic of flight. It’s almost like the Progenitors didn’t want people to leave the planet. But why take the hint? These are problems that can be overcome, and now they have; the people of Eberron have developed spelljammers that can reach the Ring and beyond. Still, the key is that this is all happening now, in 998 YK. And different nations are using very different techniques to overcome these obstacles—each of which could have unexpected problems.

Who’s Going To Space?

In developing a Spelljammer campaign based on the space race, a key question is who’s in the race? My preference is to focus on the Five Nations. No one won the Last War, and fear of the Mourning prevents anyone from restarting it; there’s still tension, resentment, and intrigue. So in addition to the excitement of going where no one has gone before, I’d emphasize the tension between nations and the impact triumphs in space could have back home. Just as in our world, the space race could become a proxy for this conflict, driven by national pride and the determination not to let another nation secure a tactical advantage in space. The Treaty of Thronehold still holds, and it would take intense provocation to cause an Aundairian ship to open fire on a Brelish ship—but the nations are bitterly competitive and will do anything short of war to get an edge over their rivals. Finding awesome space treasure is great, but forming alliances and establishing outposts could be the most important elements of an adventure.

So with this in my mind, I’d focus on three primary forces. The Dragonmarked Houses are willing to work with every nation, but this is also a chance to explore the growing division within House Cannith, suggesting that each of the three barons are backing a different nation and that the rivalry between these three is almost as strong as the cold war between the nations.  

Aundair: The Dragonhawk Initiative

Aundair dares, and that motto certainly applies to its spelljamming program. Rather than pursuing the established path of elemental binding, this branch of the Arcane Congress is blending cutting edge arcane science with Thelanian wonder. The Brelish say that Aundair traded an old cow for a spelljamming engine, and while that’s a mocking exaggeration, it’s not entirely untrue; the ir’Dalan line has a long association with the archfey known as the Mother of Invention, and the Archmagister Asta ir’Dalan has brought wizards and warlocks together in a unique alliance. The current Aundairian ships are the fastest and most maneuverable of the three main powers, and unquestionably the most beautiful. A few key notes about the Dragonhawk Initiative…

  • Romantic Explorers. The Dragonhawk Initiative is a branch of the Arcane Congress; it’s a scientific program rather than a military operation. While there’s a chain of command, discipline is far less intense than on a Karrnathi vessel. Dragonhawks love the story of being explorers into the unknown and embrace the romance of the adventure more than their counterparts—as befits a ship built in alliance with the fey. Dragonhawks are determined to prove Aundairian superiority and to seize strategic objectives, but they also are the most likely to be distracted by intriguing mysteries and shiny objects, and to embrace exploration for its own sake. Dragonhawk crew have relative freedom when it comes to personal expression, and Karrns often sneer that Dragonhawks are dressed for a gala rather than for space. As scientific vessels, Dragonhawks have the lightest armaments of the three powers but the greatest investment in divination magic and other research tools.
  • Arcane and Fey. Dragonhawk ships rely on a blend of concrete science and on improbable fey magic. A side effect of this is that each ship is unique. The tree-like Wayfinder uses a sail that catches “ethereal winds”, while the flagship Dragonhawk has actual wings of wood and gold that animate as it flies. Each ship has a fey spirit who’s part of the ship itself, much like a dryad is tied to a tree; this spirit can’t manifest independently as a dryad does, but it monitors the condition of the ship and its mood affects the vessel’s performance. Dragonhawk ships have a number of lesser fey that work directly with the spirit and maintain its systems; these are effectively chwinga with the mending and prestidigitation cantrips. As such, a Dragonhawk vessel has a Magister—the chief wizard and researcher, who maintains the arcane wards and other scientific systems, and an Arbiter—a warlock who has a pact with the spirit of the ship itself. The Arbiter is effectively an engineer, encouraging the ship when needed to boost performance and commanding the chwinga. However, Arbiters are also expected to mediate disputes within the crew and to serve as diplomats when required.  The explorers expect to face unknown dangers, and who better to handle first contact with alien beings than someone trained to negotiate with the fey?
  • Wondrous but Unpredictable. Each Dragonhawk vessel is unique. Their current ships are the fastest in the skies, but it’s possible the next ship they produce will be a clockwork dragon turtle that is slow but extremely durable. An unavoidable side effect of this is that each vessel can have its own unexpected problems. It’s just possible that Dragonhawk’s wings will melt if it gets too close to the sun, or that Wayfinder will run into an unexpected ethereal storm. Another way to look at this is that Dragonhawk vessels are ultimately stories. If the story of an expedition is exciting enough on its own, the ship will be fine… but if a tale starts to lag, something will happen to add drama to the story.  

As research vessels, the crew of a Dragonhawk ship focuses more on arcane sophistication and on skill than brute force. Every ship will have at least one wizard and one warlock. An eldritch knight could be appointed as security chief, but a battlemaster or barbarian would be an unlikely addition to the crew. Baron Jorlanna d’Cannith isn’t as closely involved with the Dragonhawk Initiative as her rival barons are with their nations, but Cannith West is manufacturing elements of the Aundairian spelljammers and could become more actively involved in the future.

Breland: The King’s Argosy

The Argosy is a branch of the King’s Citadel, formed in close alliance with Zilargo, Cannith South under Merrix d’Cannith, and House Lyrandar. Where the Dragonhawk Initiative is scientific and the Blade of Siberys is a branch of the military, the King’s Argosy is ultimately a commercial enterprise; its mission is to seek profit in the heavens, to secure unique resources and opportunities that can benefit Breland and its sponsors. Argosy ships rely on the established principles of the elemental binding; they are essentially bulkier, overpowered elemental airships, including the need for a Lyrandar pilot. Compared to the Dragonhawks, Argosy ships are ugly; but they are sturdy, and thanks to Breland’s industrial capacity the Argosy has the largest fleet of the Five Nations. A few core principles of the King’s Argosy…

  • Pragmatic. The Brelish aren’t here to enjoy beautiful alien sunsets or to get lost in the wonder of exploration. This is a job, and potentially a very lucrative one; every Argosy crewmember has a small stake in any whatever profits come from their voyage. An Argosy captain is empowered to negotiate for the Brelish crown, but each Argosy ship has an Optech—an opportunity technician—from the Twelve, whose job is to identify opportunities and exploitable resources others might overlook.
  • Industrial and Elemental. Brelish ships aren’t beautiful; they’re bulkier, chunky airships. The fact that they’re using an existing form of science has given Breland a head start, and the Argosy currently has the largest fleet. However, this quantity comes at the expense of quality; the drawback of using the existing tool is that it’s not necessarily the best tool, as it’s not designed specifically for the challenges of space. Due to the alliance with Merrix d’Cannith, Argosy ships also make liberal use of constructs. In addition to warforged and autognomes (see below), Argosy ships often have tiny prototype constructs that serve a similar role to the Dragonhawk chwinga.
  • Scrappy. Argosy ships may not be as elegant as their Dragonhawk counterparts, but the Brelish excel at coming up with creative solutions to problems, which is good because there’s almost always problems that need to be solved. Brelish ships share a common hull and basic design, but each has unique modifications implemented by the ship’s artificer. Think of an Observatory ship as the Millennium Falcon—it may seem like it’s constantly on the edge of breaking down, but you never know when it’s going to surprise you.

Argosy crews place a strong emphasis on skill expertise and versatility; there’s always a few jacks of all trades ready to step into the shoes of a fallen specialist. Brelish ships always have at least one warforged or autognome; a Lyrandar pilot; and an artificer, who could be Brelish, Cannith, or Zil. It’s worth noting that while the King’s Argosy is works closely with the Twelve, the two are still ultimately independent. By allowing an Optech on board, the Argosy maximizes the chances of forging profitable arrangements. But the Optech is an adviser who has no actual authority on the ship. And should Aundair or Karrnath come into possession of a valuable resource, the Twelve would negotiate with them. Breland is making business and industry the focus of its mission in space, and thus has encouraged a strong role for the Twelve, but it’s not an exclusive arrangement.

Karrnath: The Blade of Siberys

Where the King’s Argosy hopes to profit from the stars, the Blade of Siberys seeks only one thing: victory. An alliance between the Karrnathi crown and Cannith East (under Zorlan d’Cannith), the Blade is certain that there will eventually be a war in the stars—and when that comes to pass, Karrnath will hold the winning hand. Vital resources? Strategic positions? Alien weapons or allies? The Blade wants them all. A few details about the Blade of Siberys…

  • Aggressive. The Karrns aren’t here for gold or adventure; this is about the conquest of space. The Karrns are proud of their discipline and their martial skills; they consider the Aundairians to be soft and the Brelish decadent. Blade captains view anything unexpected as a potential threat, and Karrns are ready to fight any threat.   
  • Warships. The Blade of Siberys is a branch of the Karrnathi military. Martial discipline is enforced at all times and insubordination will not be tolerated. Blade vessels are armed with arcane artillery, mundane weaponry, and dedicated marines—usually supplemented by a squad of Karrnathi undead. Blade vessels aren’t fragile, but they rely on devastating offensive power over heavy armor. Argosy ships are more durable and Dragonhawks are faster, but were it to come to a sustained firefight neither could match the Blade of Siberys.
  • Necromancy. While the crown has officially broken its ties with the Blood of Vol, it hasn’t given up on the military potential of necromancy. Every Blade ship carries a squad of Karrnathi undead. Beyond this, Zorlan d’Cannith has devoted his life to finding new ways to harness the energies of Mabar and unexpected industrial applications of necromancy. Blade vessels are literal ghost ships, with moaning engines surrounded by a whirling morass of ectoplasm. Even the necromancers who maintain them don’t entirely understand the science involved; and the destruction of a Blade warship can unleash hungry shadows.

Every Blade vessel has a necromancer-engineer, and could have an oathbreaker paladin in charge of marines. While there are Karrn necromancers who aren’t part of the Blood of Vol, this could be a case where Seekers are given positions—a major opportunity to repair the relationship between the crown and the Blood of Vol. In general, the Karrns are more concerned with martial force than diplomacy, and strength over finesse. It’s important to keep in mind that the conflict between the Five Nations is still a cold war; with their heavy armament the Blade is prepared for that to change, but as things stand an attack on one of the other nations would be a political catastrophe. But the next war could start tomorrow, and even if it doesn’t, you never know what enemies might be waiting among the moons.

Other Forces

In this campaign, Aundair, Karrnath, and Breland are the three major powers in the space race; it takes the resources of a nation to get off the ground. However, over the course of the campaign other groups could make their way into space. Most of these would be operating on a smaller scale, with one or two ships rather than building up a fleet, but they could still pose unexpected challenges or become useful allies over time.

  • The Aurum can’t match the industrial capacity of the King’s Argosy, but a wealthy concordian could outfit a single ship to pursue their own pursuit of opportunities in space. This could be an excellent opportunity for a traditional rag-tag group of adventurers who aren’t bound to any one nation—essentially, Firefly.
  • Thrane isn’t part of the space race to begin with, but they could be a late entry. An engine powered by the Silver Flame could be maintained by the faith of its crew; it could be that they’re the only force the celestials of the Ring will deal with.
  • New Cyre doesn’t have the resources to support a space program. But what if Cyre and Eston were working on a spelljamming program BEFORE the Mourning? What if there’s a hidden underground facility that has two powerful spelljamming vessels—or possibly even a ship that can shift between the forms of a spelljammer and a warforged colossus? If such a thing exists, a team of Cyran adventurers could be sent into the Mournland to find this base and recover these ships for Cyre. Of course, the Lord of Blades will also be looking for these vessels…
  • Droaam is often underestimated, but given time they could have a unique entry into the space race. The core systems are developed by the Venomous Demesne, harnessing planar energies instead of elemental power; the first Droaamite spelljammer holds the essence of a pit fiend of Fernia. For the hull, the Demesne are working with the changelings of Lost to magebreed a unique, colossal facade—the massive mimics that serve as the buildings of Lost. In addition to being able to regenerate damage, this living ship could shift its appearance to mimic a ship of another nation!
  • Riedra may be content with its dominion over Sarlona. On the other hand, it’s possible there’s a fleet of crystal ships just waiting to be launched.
  • Aerenal hasn’t bothered with spelljammers and has instead focused directly on Pylas Var-Tolai and the colonization of the Astral Plane, as described in this article.

THE CANNITH AUTOGNOME

The Treaty of Thronehold specifically forbids the creation of warforged and the use of the creation forges, but it places no further restrictions on the creation of sentient construct. Over the last two years, Merrix d’Cannith has been working closely with the brilliant binder Dalia Hal Holinda to develop a new form of construct fused by an elemental heart. Over the last year this work has born fruit, but so far the bound heart can only sustain a small form; this is the origin of the autognome.

As of 998 YK, there are approximately 43 autognomes in existence. Each autognome is a hand-crafted prototype, and every one of them is unique; Merrix and Dalia are still experimenting, changing materials, designs, and technique. One autognome might have arcane sigils carved on every inch of its bronze skin. Another might be made with chunks of Riedran crysteel, which glow when the autognome is excited. What all autognome designs share is an elemental heart—a Khyber shard core inlaid with silver and infused with the essence of a minor elemental. This serves both as the heart and brain of an autognome, keeping it alive and also serving as the seat of its sentience. The minor elementals involved in this process aren’t sentient as humans understand the concept; but through the process of the binding, it evolves into something entirely new.

In creating an autognome character, begin by deciding the nature of your elemental heart. You may not remember your existence as a minor elemental, but the nature of your spark may be reflected by your personality. Are you fiery in spirit? A little airheaded? Do you have a heart of stone? What was the purpose you were made for, and how is this reflected in your design? Which of your class abilities are reflected by your physical design, and which are entirely learned skills? And most of all, what drives you? Are you devoted to your work, or are you driven by insatiable curiosity or a desire to more deeply explore your own identity?   

Autognomes aren’t widely recognized and may be mistaken for warforged scouts. If their existence becomes more widely known, will anyone will seek to amend the Code of Galifar to protect all constructs? Will the Lord of Blades see autognomes as allies in the struggle, or deny any kinship to these elemental constructs?

While I’m suggesting the Cannith autognome as the most common form of autognome, it’s not the only way to use this species. In my current campaign I’ve proposed an Autognome warlock as a crewmember on a Dragonhawk ship—a construct built with the ship, who serves as its Arbiter. But here again, this character is a unique construct who doesn’t resemble Cannith’s creations or feel any immediate kinship with them.

Siberspace: The Realm Above

In simplest terms, Khyber is the underworld, Eberron the surface, and Siberys the sky; as such, the crystal sphere containing Eberron and its moons is typically referred to as Siberspace. Korranberg scholars maintain that Berspace would be a more accurate term; “Ber” is thought to be an ancient word meaning “dragon” or “progenitor,” and as such Berspace could be seen as The Realm of the Progenitors. However, beyond Korranberg the idea was dismissed because people felt ridiculous saying “Brrr, space.”

So what awaits in the Realm Above? Compared to the endless expanse of the Multiverse, it may seem relatively limited, but there’s many opportunities for adventure.

The Ring of Siberys

The first step into the sky is the Ring of Siberys, the glittering belt of golden stones that’s wrapped around Eberron. The Ring has long been an enigma. It is a powerful source of arcane energy, and this ambient radiation—commonly referred to as the blood of Siberys—has a number of effects.

  • Mysterious. The Ring blocks divination magic, mirroring the effects of nondetection across the ring. This makes it difficult to locate Siberys shards or other valuable mineral deposits, and allows ships to hide in the cover of the ring’s field.
  • Anchoring. The Ring blocks all forms of long-distance teleportation. It’s impossible to teleport to Eberron or one of the moons from the Ring; this also prevents direct teleportation from a moon to Eberron. It doesn’t block short-range teleportation—such as misty step—within the Ring, and it also doesn’t block plane shift; however, plane shift is beyond the scope of the everyday magic of the Five Nations, and isn’t an alternative to spelljamming.
  • Difficult Approach. Gravity and the power of the Ring combine to make the approach difficult. It takes a surge of arcane power to push beyond the atmosphere. Most flying items can’t produce this power, or will burn out if they try. Spelljammers can—that’s what makes a spelljammer a spelljammer—but it still requires a supply of Siberys shards to generate the necessary energy.

The Blood of Siberys is an obstacle, but it can be overcome. Elemental airships couldn’t reach the Ring, so the Five Nations developed spelljammers. The Mysterious and Anchoring effects can surely also be overcome with research and development; this is an opportunity to reflect the evolution of arcane science. Most likely this would come in stages rather than all at once; the Dragonhawk Initiative learns to cast detect magic through the Mysterious interference, then any 1st level divination, then any 2nd level, and so on. The breakthrough could involve a rare resource, such as a previously unknown mineral only found in the Ring; deposits of this mineral would quickly become be important strategic objectives. Can House Orien create a focus item that allows them to teleport to the Ring? Who will penetrate the shrouding effect first—Aundair or House Medani?

So to this point, the people of Khorvaire haven’t been able to use divination to study the Ring, and they haven’t had ships that could reach it. What will the first spelljammers find? Legend has long held that the Ring of Siberys is comprised entirely of Siberys dragonshards; the King’s Argosy will be disappointed to learn that this is only a myth. There are Siberys shards spread throughout the Ring of Siberys, but the bulk of the ring is comprised of massive chunks of stone and ice surrounded by fields of smaller shards. The Ring is airless and cold—or so it first appears. The blood of Siberys doesn’t just shield the Ring; it makes the impossible possible. Some of the larger stone shards have some combination of gravity, breathable air, safe temperatures, or even fertile soil (though based on other conditions, it might be impossible to grow typical crops of the world below). Usually these features are only found on the interior of a sky island; it’s barren and airless on the surface, but if you find a passage there’s a hidden oasis within. Such an oasis will be an incredible discovery for exploring spelljammers, but there’s a complication: the Five Nations aren’t the first civilizations to explore the Ring. Some of the larger shards—shards the size of Lhazaar islands—contain ruins of civilizations that died long ago. Some hold stasis fields or extradimensional spaces, waiting for an explorer to deactivate the wards or unlock the space. These can contain powerful artifacts or priceless arcane secrets… or they could contain magebred beasts, ancient plagues, or even entire outposts held in stasis. Consider a few possible origins for such things…

  • Dragons. The dragons colonized the Ring back in their first great age of expansion following the Age of Demons. But even held tight by Siberys, they couldn’t escape the influence of the Daughter of Khyber. The colonies were destroyed or abandoned, but explorers could find a forgotten dracolich, or the degenerate remnants of those corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber.
  • Giants. Both the Cul’sir Dominion and the Group of Eleven established outposts in the Ring. These were crippled when Xen’drik was devastated by the dragons. Adventurers could find empty ruins; giants that collapsed into savagery but have built new (non-spelljamming) cultures in the ruins of their ancestors; or an outpost perfectly preserved in stasis—an outpost of ancient giants who remember the fall of Xen’drik as if it was yesterday, who hunger for revenge on Argonnessen, and who could still have access to the same magic that once destroyed a moon.
  • Celestials. It’s always been said that Khyber spawned native fiends and that native celestials were born from the blood of Siberys. The couatl are known as the children of Siberys, and sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame. But there could be other celestials that never descended from the sky to assist the mortals below. Perhaps the lilends dwell in hidden halls in the Ring, contemplating the struggle of the Progenitors and awaiting their Silent Hour. Whatever their nature, celestials of the Ring have remained aloof, disinterested in the mortal world. They might be incarnations of celestial ideals, but they could well see the people of Eberron as hopelessly corrupted, possibly even defiling the Ring with their presence. Breaking past this prejudice and forging an alliance with one or more native celestials would be quite a coup for explorers.
  • Humans. Perhaps the magi of Ohr Kaluun managed to teleport an entire war maze into the ring to escape the Sundering. Maybe there was a human civilization entirely unknown to the scholars of the present day, whose history can only be found in the ring.

Personally, I’d be inclined to say that native fiends have a minimal presence in the Ring of Siberys. The overlords are part of the architecture of Khyber. They might be able to influence people in the Ring, as with the Daughter of Khyber corrupting dragons; but there are no overlords bound in the ring itself.

Overall, the Ring of Siberys is the first frontier. It is vast—it stretches around the entire world, and has room for countless shards the size of cities or even islands. Mineral deposits and stasis caches are tempting treasures, and a habitable oasis would be an invaluable foothold in space. However, the block against divination limits the ability to swiftly locate these things… and that’s where adventurers come in.

The Mysterious Moons

The people of the Five Nations have never reached the moons of Eberron, and there are many theories about them. Some assert that the moons must be airless, arid chunks of rock. Others say that the moons aren’t actually physical objects, but rather massive planar gateways—that a ship that tries to land on Vult will actually find itself in Shavarath. In my campaign, the answer lies between these two options. The moons are essentially manifest worlds. Each moon is closely tied to a particular plane, and the entire moon has traits that are typically associated with manifest zones of that plane. All of Sypheros is blanketed in Eternal Shadows of Mabar, while Barrakas has the Pure Light trait of Irian. The moons have atmosphere and gravity. Vegetation varies—Sypheros and icy Dravago are quite barren, while Barrakas and Olarune and lush and overgrown. While each moon is suffused with planar energies, these are concentrated in specific spaces. All of Eyre has the Deadly Heat trait of Fernia, but there are only a few places regions with the Fires of Industry trait—and those spaces would be quite desirable as outposts. However, it’s quite possible that these valuable locations have already been claimed. The moons support life, and it’s up to the DM to decide exactly what’s already there. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because this is where the exploration comes in. Here’s a few general options…

Savage and Untamed. There’s no civilization on this moon, but there is life—powerful and dangerous life. Any nation that hopes to establish an outpost or to explore extensively will have to deal with any combination of deadly monsters, supernatural hazards, dramatic weather effects, and more. It’s quite possible that one or more of these effects are so dangerous that it’s essentially impossible to maintain an outpost or establish a colony on the moon. If Zarantyr has the Constant Change or Chaotic Time traits of Kythri it could be very dangerous to remain there for long, while Olarune could be like the Titan’s Folly layer of Lamannia—any attempt to impose order upon the natural world will be overcome.

Lunar Empires. A moon could be home to one or more powerful civilizations. Perhaps the Giff have an imperial civilization on Vult, with fortresses spread across the moon. The moons are smaller than Eberron, so even a powerful lunar civilization will be limited in scope; but this is still an important opportunity for first contact and ongoing diplomacy. These societies could have technology or magic unknown on Khorvaire. If the Giff are on Vult, they could have their faithful firearms! A crucial question is whether these lunar civilizations have spelljammers of their own, or if they are landbound. The fact that none of these nations have made contact with Eberron suggests that they don’t have space travel, but it’s always possible that they have limited spelljammers that can cross between moons but can’t get past the Ring. This would allow the Giff of Vult to be engaged in a bitter war against the Plasmoids of Zarantyr and for the spelljammers of Eberron to get caught up in this conflict and to engage in battles in space, but this conflict can’t reach Eberron… at least for now!

Small Civilizations. A moon could have one or more civilizations that could interact with explorers, but that aren’t so vast and advanced as to truly dominate their moon. Perhaps there’s a few clans of Hadozee on Olarune—each carrying a different form of lycanthropy! Each claims a region within Olarune, and explorers will need to negotiate with multiple clans… being careful to learn and respective their dramatically different cultures! This sort of division could also lead to the different nations finding different allies on the same moon. On Olarune, the Blade of Karrnath could forge a bond with the powerful Wolf clan, while the King’s Argosy negotiates with the Tigers and Bears.

Planar Extensions. Personally, I want the moons to be unique worlds that are influenced by their associated planes, but that are distinctly different from what you’d find in those planes. I’d rather have Vult have a Gith empire than to just make it another front in the war between the celestials and fiends of Shavarath. However, a moon could certainly have a region that is either a direct extension of a plane or that hosts the denizens of the plane. It could be that the Feyspires of Thelanis appear on Rhaan as well as on Eberron, and that explorers could find Pylas Pyrial waiting for them when they land. Or people could land on Aryth to discover a city inhabited by the ghost of their lost loved ones… but is it real, or some sort of deadly trick?

I don’t want to know all the answers; that’s why we have a journey of discovery. But there’s at least twelve moons to explore, and each one can present very different challenges and hold different rewards. Will the adventurers be drawn into intralunar wars? Will they engage in high stakes first contact with alien civilizations? Or will the greatest challenge be surviving an expedition?

Wroat, We Have A Problem…

The moons and the Ring are the main real estate, but the space race isn’t just about the destination—it’s all about the journey, and the many, many things that could go wrong in space. In my campaign, I’d want to emphasize that space travel is new. Every ship is a protoype, and the people of Khorvaire simply don’t know what threats are waiting for them in space. In addition to the hazards presented in Spelljammer content, adventurers could run across manifest zones, wild zones, or supernatural threats never encountered planetside. A Shavaran bloodstorm could induce homicidal aggression in humanoids that pass through it, while a Lamannian sargasso could bury its roots in any ship that draws too close. There’s a giant Khyber crystal floating in space… is it a valuable resource or does it contain an incredibly dangerous spirit? And just in general, what do the adventurers do when something goes wrong with their ship? And do they think it’s just a legitimate malfunction—a lesson artificers can learn from—or is it sabotage? Is there a spy among their crew… or has an alien threat come on board?

What Lies Beyond

As depicted in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, Wildspace bleeds naturally into the Astral Sea; all you need to do is sail far enough. However, as called out in Rising From The Last War, Siberspace is isolated from the rest of the Multiverse. Exploring Eberron suggests that Eberron is the only planet in its material plane—that the stars are in fact glittering points on a crystal sphere, surrounded by the vast astral void. In my Space Race campaign, the first Spelljammers won’t be capable of reaching any form of the Astral; they’ll have to discover the limits of Siberspace and find out how to pass beyond it. This could be driven by encounters with Githyanki raiders, or require the adventurers’ patrons to bargain with Aerenal. But even when they pierce this veil, I wouldn’t take them to the full expanse of the Astral Sea. This article presents a version of the Astral Plane holding countless ruins, timelost hermitages, and outposts like Pylas Tar-Volai and Tu’narath. But it’s still an interpretation concretely tied to Eberron, home to the Githyanki survivors of a lost reality and the experiments of the Undying Court. Personally, I’d say that this version of the Astral Plane is still part of Siberspace—that just as there’s a barrier around Eberron’s material plane, its astral plane is also a shielded pocket within the greater Astral Sea.

Another point is that Siberspace can be larger that people thought. Exploring Eberron says that Eberron is the only true planet in its system. But if the twelve moons and the Astral plane aren’t enough for your adventures, there could always be one or more planets in the system that astrologers have somehow overlooked. Perhaps the Illithids of Thoon live on the dark side of a world that’s been completely blacked out, invisible and deadly.

Where is (New Monster)?

Where are the Giff in Eberron? Where could we find a megapede? In general, this is where exploration comes into play. Who knows what the adventurers will find on the moons? In my campaign, at least a few of the moons will have significant civilizations, who may well have intralunar travel and simply never have crossed the Ring of Siberys to reach Eberron. I’ve suggested the idea of the Giff as an imperialistic society on Vult—with the moon’s ties to Shavarath fueling their warlike nature—or the plasmoids being found on Zarantyr, with their fluid forms reflecting the chaos of Kythri—but those are just possibilities. There could be a single city of Mercanes on Therendor, with a gate connected to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania; they carry the goods of the Market to other moons. Neogi could have a civilization on Lharvion, or they could actually be the remnants of some long-forgotten civilization on Eberron itself, and dwell in outposts hidden in the Ring of Siberys. Space Hamsters could be found on Olarune, with other Lammania-influenced megafauna. A few other random ideas…

  • Aartuks are canonically come from a world destroyed by beholders. In Siberspace, they could be the survivors of a former Eberron destroyed by the daelkyr—an Eberron dominated by plant-based lifeforms. On the other hand, it’s just as reasonable to think that aartuks are creations of the daelkyr Avassh, spread into space like seeds on the wind.
  • Mind Flayers are typically associated with the daelkyr; why wouldn’t spacefaring illithids try to help their masters on Eberron? In my campaign I’d suggest that the Illithids found in space have broken away from the Overmind of Dyrrn and have formed an independent society in defiance of the Daelkyr; as noted above, this would be an excellent place to explore the concept of Thoon. These mind flayers may actively avoid Eberron for fear of falling prey to Dyrrn’s influence. On the other hand, it could be interesting if Xorchyllic—the mayor of Graywall in Droaam—is secretly from the stars. Did they crash, or do they still have their nautiloid hidden away?
  • Murder comets could be the remains of the Argosy’s first efforts to create elemental spelljammers; the ships were destroyed by the radiation of the Ring of Siberys, and the comet is a blend of the ships’ elementals and the restless ghosts of the dead crew.
  • Solar Dragons could dwell in Arrah itself, or one might lair in one of the largest shards of the Ring of Siberys. We know of the Daughter of Khyber down below; perhaps there’s a truly immense solar dragon in the Ring who calls itself the Son of Siberys!

Again, all of these are just possibilities; if you want space hamsters to have a mighty empire on Therendor, follow that story! Meanwhile, if you want to play a giff, hadozee, or any of the other new species, that’s what the Astral Drifter and Wildspacer backgrounds are for. I especially like Astral Drifter; your character was marooned in the Astral and lost for countless decades. You finally escaped into Eberron, where your stories of space may have inspired the current drive to reach space. But because you’ve been gone for so long, you don’t know what you’ll find when you return to your home moon. If could be that your Giff character remembers your great empire on Vult, but that since you’ve been gone it’s been entirely obliterated by illithids and neogi!

One last thing: people may say Do Giff have guns in Eberron? Why wouldn’t they? I’ve never had any issue with the existence of firearms; in a previous article I’ve suggested that the Dhakaani could use them on Eberron. I just prefer to focus the Five Nations on wandslingers and other arcane alternatives. With that said, I might still think about ways to make Giff firearms feel unique to the setting. If the Giff are based on Vult, perhaps their firearms use the powdered remnants of angels instead of gunpowder; the ashes of the eternal wars of Shavarath drift across the surface of the moon.

Playing With Time and Space

As I’ve said above, part of what I love about the Space Race campaign is the idea that it’s happening right now and that the action in space should have real consequences on the planet below. With this in mind, I’d personally play with the passage of time in a different way than in most of my campaigns.

  • When the campaign begins, spelljamming is in its infancy. I’ve suggested that the King’s Argosy has more ships than the other powers; but that may mean that as the campaign starts, Breland has three spelljammers, the Dragonhawk Initiative has two, and Karrnath only has a single powerful warship. The first session might be that nation’s first mission to successfully reach the Ring of Siberys!
  • While a particular mission might take more than one session to complete, between each mission I would establish a significant passage of time. I’d present the players with downtime options; these might just involve what their characters do on their time off, but they could also reflect what the adventurers’ organization does in that time. Do they focus on fortifying the outpost the adventurers established in the Ring, or do they devote their resources to building a new ship? Do they negotiate with one of the other spacefaring powers or attempt to sabotage their efforts?
  • The opening of each new mission would thus involve a recap of how things have evolved between sessions. What’s become of the joint Brelish-Aundairian outpost? What’s the challenge we face in the effort to reach Zarantyr, and what’s it going to take to overcome it? Has the Dragonhawk Initiative found a way to overcome the divination-blocking effects of the Ring of Siberys? This is also where we could see latecomers to the space race; it might be around the sixth or seventh sessions that the Aurum or Prince Oargev manage to get a ship in the air.
  • This could also lead to adventurers having a surprise land-bound adventure, as they’re called to participate in an international summit or sent on a mission to acquire a vital, rare resource! Depending on the outcomes of the missions, there could also be increasing tensions on the surface. How would the death of King Boranel affect the Argosy?
  • If I wanted things to be REALLY dramatic, the endgame could involve an existential threat to Eberron itself. Perhaps the Mourning begins to spread, or multiple Overlords break their bonds—Eberron can’t BE saved, and the goal now is to lead an exodus into space! But which moon could support the survivors?  

Another way to approach this would be to have each player make two characters—a member of the spelljammer crew and someone who’s involved in the diplomacy, administration, or research efforts on the ground. These planetbound characters might not be as combat-capable as the explorers, but they each have vital resources and influence; they’ll never actually get into a battle on a grid map, but they’ll be making the crucial decisions that determine the greater arc of the campaign. These could be people who are important but not the top decision makers, or they could actually be the central players; if you’re running an Argosy campaign, one of the players could be King Boranel, another Merrix d’Cannith, another the head of the Zil binders. Again, these characters wouldn’t actually have full stats and character sheets, but the players would have to play them in negotiations and decide what they commit to during downtime—does Merrix support the colony or does he devote his resources to building a better autognome?

Other Paths

As I said, this is the campaign I want to run. But Spelljammer is designed to allow adventures across the multiverse, and if that’s the story you want to tell, tell it! There’s nothing wrong with having your spelljammers crash land on Krynn. If you want to retrofit the two together, you could say that Galifar had a long-established spelljamming fleet with outposts in the Ring of Siberys; during the Last War, the Ring seceded and now exists as its own independent force that protects Siberspace from outside threats and continues to explore the multiverse. There are some cosmological questions you’ll have to resolve, but again, if that’s the story you want to tell, there’s always answers!

Would You Like To Know More?

I’m juggling many things, and I won’t be answering questions on this article. But if you’d like to see more of how I’d run such a campaign, you can—and you can even play in it! For the rest of the year, I’m shifting my Threshold Patreon to running a Siberspace campaign. Every month I run and record a session. The characters and the story are persistent, but the players change each session; every Threshold patron has a chance to get a seat at the table. Even if you never get a seat at the table, you have access to the recorded sessions and you have an opportunity to shape the story through polls, Discord discussions, and story hours. Currently I’m going through the Session Zero with the patrons; we’ve decided to base the campaign on the Dragonhawk Initiative, and we’re developing the player characters. If you’d like to be a part of it, become a patron!

Thanks as always to my patrons for making these articles possible, and good luck to all of you in your adventures in space!

Dragonmark: The Families of House Tharashk

The Tharashk Triumvirate by Anne Stokes, from Dragonmarked

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

House United: One, Three, and Many

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clan Velderan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clan Torrn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clan ‘Aashta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Gem Dragons, Gem Dragonborn, and Gith!

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…

Reproduction

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.

Encounters

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.
  • The Draconic 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 they can 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!

Dragonmark: The Roots of the Reaches

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 Eldeen Ada—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 broken in 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 and the 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?

Q&A

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.

Dragonmark: Couatls and the Silver Flame

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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.

Encountering Couatls

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 of visions 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.

Dragonmarks: Night Hags and Nightmares

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!

Dragonmark: Priests, Krozen and Zerasha

July is quickly fading, but as time allows I want to answer a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, people asked about a pair of priests—High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane and Zerasha of Graywall.

Dealing with the Divine

Krozen and Zerasha are both powerful divine spellcasters. In third edition, Krozen was defined as a 12th level cleric of the Silver Flame, making him one of the most powerful clerics in canon Khorvaire. While never defined, Zerasha is supposed to be similar in her power—a priest respected and feared by a city of monsters and the mind flayer who governs it. Given that most priests in Khorvaire are adepts—or don’t even cast spells at all—I want players to feel how remarkable these individuals are when they encounter them. A powerful wizard is essentially a scientist, someone who uses logic and knowledge to break the laws of reality. A powerful divine caster is something else. Both Zerasha and Krozen are the chosen agents of cosmic powers. The Sovereigns and Six are omnipresent forces. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals, and Zerasha is one of its chief agents. Krozen can command the dead to return to life or call celestials from the essence of the Silver Flame. We can debate the existence of the Sovereigns, but the Silver Flame is the force that stands between Eberron and the overlords, and Krozen is a conduit for its power. These aren’t just people who have learned how to perform magic tricks. They are the chosen agents of vast cosmic forces. If you’ll pardon the phrase, they are burdened with glorious purpose.

But how do you make the powerful priest feel different from a wizard or a prince? This is something I discuss at more length in this article. One of the key points is to separate the way divine NPCs cast spells from how player characters do it. We need the structure of the classes for player characters because we need tactical precision, and I’m fine to say that in combat, Krozen casts spells as a 12th level cleric. But outside of combat I don’t feel that he needs to engage with his magic in the same way as a player character. The most common divine spellcasters—adepts—function much like magewrights; they have a specific set of cantrips and spells they can cast and that’s all they can cast. A typical spellcasting priest might be able to cast thaumaturgy, light, and ceremony. There are specialist adepts—oracles who can cast divination, healers who can perform lesser restoration—but the oracle can’t just decide to become a healer in the morning. They have been granted a divine gift, and they can’t exchange it for another one. More powerful spellcasters like Zerasha and Krozen aren’t limited like this, but they also don’t call their divinity on the phone each morning and make spell requests. Their divine power source grants them the spells they need when they need them, provided the request is justified. Krozen doesn’t prepare zone of truth ahead of time, but if he formally demands you speak the truth in the light of the Flame, zone of truth happens. Essentially, his spells are selected on the fly to match the situation he finds himself in. But the contrast is that he doesn’t have the freedom a PC has to request any spell. The Flame may empower Krozen to raise someone from the dead or to smite them with a flame strike, but in spite of his effective level it’s not going to grant him the power to create undead or to cast contagion; these aren’t the tools of a righteous servant of the Flame, and if you DO see a Flame priest using such spells, it’s a clear sign that they are actually a servant of the Whispering Flame or a warlock hacking the Flame. Krozen may take actions we consider evil, but he believes his actions are righteous in the light of the Flame; he’s not drawing on malefic powers.

Divination is another important example. With the spellcasting power of a 12th level cleric, Krozen could technically cast commune three times a day, along with a batch of auguries. And that’s how things work for PCs. But Krozen doesn’t just have some magic hotline that he can dial three times per day. He can’t just call up Tira Miron and say “Does Boranel dye his hair? Yes? I KNEW it!” It’s not some sort of abstract, scientific tool that he can just use for whatever random, trivial detail he wants to know. But the flip side is that he may simply receive information that he needs—that he can receive divine visions. Even when he doesn’t cast augury, he may suddenly KNOW that a decision he’s about to make could lead to disaster. Even without commune, he might KNOW the truth about a situation. This is especially relevant for Zerasha, because part of what defines the Shadow is dangerous secrets. Consider this description of the Shadow from this article:

As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost.

So It’s not that Zerasha sits down and says “I want to know secrets about this player character” and casts commune or some other divination spell; it’s that when the players come before her, she simply DOES know who killed the paladin’s parents and why the rogue murdered their partner, because that’s part of what it means to be the voice of the Shadow.

The short form is that when dealing with NPCs who are powerful divine spellcasters, I want them to FEEL like they are conduits to powers far greater than they are. When Krozen demands that you speak the truth, zone of truth happens. When he barks out an order, it may become a command, because that’s the power that flows through him. I want the powerful priest to feel larger then life, because at the end of the day they are the conduits for something that IS larger than life.

Now, reading all this, you might say “But I thought Eberron was the setting where we don’t know if the gods even exist.” We know that deities don’t walk the world in Eberron. You will never have a chance to punch Aureon in the face. But we know that divine power sources exist. We know that priests have been drawing on the POWER of Aureon for tens of thousands of years, and that in part because of this, most people believe divine forces exist. They may argue about details; the Cazhaak interpretation of the Dark Six is quite different from how they’re depicted in the Pyrinean Creed. But most people believe in SOME form of divinity, and part of the reason for that is the fact that divine magic exists.

With all of this in mind, you might say “If that’s how you handle NPC priests, why don’t you deal with player character clerics in the same way?” I offer some suggestions in that direction in this article. But fifth edition embraces the idea that NPCs and PCs don’t have to follow the same rules. Part of being a player character is having flexibility and tactical control. It’s about having the ability to make choices. I’ve played campaigns in which divine characters CHOSE to give me more control over their spells—embracing the idea that the powers were gifts they didn’t fully control—but that was a choice they made that fit the story of that character. But one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable, and I have no problem with them having a greater degree of versatility and precision than most other servants of the divine.

Having worked through that, let’s talk about the two specific priests that people have asked about…

Who is High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane?

Our blessed child is the Keeper of the Flame and shows us all the path to the light. But I am the keeper of the nation, and if I must toil in the darkness to ensure its prosperity, so be it.

High Cardinal Krozen

People have lots of questions about Cardinal Krozen of Thrane. What’s his first name? Does he realize he’s evil? Does he believe in a greater good—or for that matter, does he even believe in the Silver Flame? What makes him more important than the other 11 High Cardinals of the Church? These are all good questions. I’ve always liked Krozen, but my vision of him is quite different from how he’s evolved in canon sources. I know what I originally planned for him when we first created the character, and that’s how I use him, so I’ll lay that out here. Keep in mind that this directly contradicts multiple canon sources (which, admittedly, contradict themselves on some points). This is MY interpretation and I am not going to reconcile it with what other authors have done with the character; it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer.

My original vision of High Cardinal Thrane was loosely inspired by Cardinal Richelieu as depicted in The Three Musketeers—a ruthless man who is engaged in sly intrigues, but who is nonetheless an extremely capable leader, perhaps moreso than the king the protagonists serve. It was always my vision that Cardinal Krozen was devoted to Thrane and that he performs his duties exceptionally well—that he is a brilliant strategist and a charismatic orator. But this is tied to the idea that he truly believes that he knows what is best for the nation. The basic dictate of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Where Jaela recognizes that this applies to ALL innocents, regardless of their faith or nationality, Krozen believes that you aren’t innocent unless you’re a Thrane and a servant of the faith, and don’t oppose him. He DOES fight to protect the innocent—but only those HE decides are innocent.

So I see Cardinal Krozen as a remarkable man—one of the player characters of his generation. He’s human and I see him as being about fifty years old. The details of his youth—and, in fact, his first name—aren’t generally known; the general story is that he lived on the Aundairian border and that the Flame granted him the power to perform great deeds, first in the defense of his village and then as a templar. He was always charismatic and intelligent, but beyond that, his divine power was always remarkable; when he called on the Flame, he gained the power to smite his foes. In his early twenties he rose out of the templars and into the hierarchy of the church, turning his gifts to leadership behind the scenes rather than fighting on the battlefield. From there, his star rose and rose; those who opposed him were either won over by his charisma or driven from his path, one way or another.

Part of the core idea of Krozen is that he represents the danger of Thrane becoming a theocracy—that in doing so it drags the church into the management of temporal matters and political concerns. The idea of Thrane is that Jaela Daran represents the pure ideals of the faith—while Cardinal Krozen deals with political realities. Again, Jaela does believe that “protect the innocent” applies to all people—that Krozen believes that it can only be applied to the faithful and to Thranes. It’s not that he is a vile, selfish person; but he has blended his faith with his devotion to his nation and places the good of Thrane over all others. Beyond this, Krozen very much has a Chosen One mentality. He possesses immense divine power, and in his mind this proves his righteousness. He believes he was given this power to serve the interests of Thrane, and the fact that he still wields that power proves that he is right to do so. He will crush others who get in his way—even other priests or templars—because he believes, again, that those who oppose him aren’t innocent.

In considering all this, take a moment to think about the Shadow in the Flame. There are those—the Whispering Flame cultists—who knowingly choose to serve Bel Shalor. But the true power of the Shadow in the Flame is its ability to piggyback on the Voice of the Flame and to pour poison in the ears of the truly faithful. Bel Shalor loves to erode empathy and to convince people to do evil when they only seek to do good. The Shadow in the Flame reveled in the suffering caused by the Silver Crusade, and Bel Shalor undoubtedly sees Cardinal Krozen as a valuable tool. The question for the DM to decide is how much of a hold does Bel Shalor have over the Cardinal? In MY Eberron, Krozen KNOWS the dangers posed by the Shadow of the Flame; all the faithful do. And with that in mind, he does his best to resist those impulses; he knows that he does questionable things (like, you know, torture and murder…) but he truly believes that he is acting for the greater good and that he’s NOT a tool of the Shadow in the Flame. But in your campaign you could decide that he HAS fallen prey to Bel Shalor’s whispers and no longer realizes the evil he is doing… or even go further and decide that he is a priest of the Whispering Flame. Personally I prefer to follow the shades-of-grey model, to say that while Krozen does evil things, he only does them when pursuing the interests of Thrane—that he always believes his actions are justified. I like the idea that Krozen knows he walks a dark path, but that he believes it is the path the Flame has set him on, and that at the end of the day he is protecting the innocent—even if he has had to sacrifice his own innocence to do it.

Now, some people may be say “That’s all fine, but who IS he?” Krozen is one of the high cardinals of Thrane. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting…

This group of powerful church leaders administers both the workings of the church and the functions of the government. In theory, the cardinals answer to the Keeper of the Flame. In practice, they run the church and the government, only dealing with the Keeper on issues that require divine attention and interaction with the Voice of the Flame. The cardinals believe that they know best when it comes to running the government and the church, and they leave the Keeper to deal with the well-being of the spirit of the nation. This arrangement has led to problems between the Council and the Keeper in the past, but the current Keeper seems interested more in divine and spiritual matters than the intricacies of secular administration.

There may be twelve High Cardinals, but Krozen is the effective leader of the Council—and thus, of Thrane. If you have a divine problem, talk to Jaela. But if you’re looking into the deployment of Thrane troops or about getting more resources for Rellekor, it’s Krozen who can get things done. The general idea is that Krozen is in many ways the opposite of Jaela. Where the Keeper is compassionate, the Cardinal is ruthless. The Cardinal is a master of political intrigue, while Jaela prefers honest dealing. Jaela wants what’s best for all innocents; Krozen cares only for Thrane.

The final thing I’ll call about about Krozen is this: If there’s twelve high cardinals, why is he the leader? What makes him special? The short answer is that what makes him special is that he IS special. Again, not all priests are spellcasters at all, and in a world where everyday magic goes to 3rd level, a 12th level spellcaster is remarkable. He can raise the dead! Those who oppose him are struck down by flame strikes! You’ve seen him shape celestials from the pure power of the Flame! And as I said, while I don’t just let him cast commune three times a day, he hears the Voice of the Flame in ways that others do not (and, of course, potentially the Shadow in the Flame as well). There’s surely other spellcasters among the cardinals, but Krozen stands out; if you look to the 3.5 statistics, he’s notably a more powerful spellcaster than the high priest of the Host and Archierophant Ythana in Sharn: City of Towers. Power alone isn’t everything, but the whole idea is that this power is matched with passion and charisma—that just like a player character, Krozen is remarkable. With this in mind, he doesn’t command the Council of Cardinals, but he has won the loyalty of the majority of its members and thus is the EFFECTIVE leader of the council. In my opinion, there’s four cardinals who are utterly devoted to him; three who believe he’s doing what’s best for Thrane; and four who don’t support him. Of these four, all believe that the Keeper shows the proper path for the nation and that Krozen’s actions are concerning; one or two may have deeper concerns, or believe that he is serving the Shadow in the Flame. So Krozen DOESN’T have absolute control of the council, but he’s effectively the leader.

Krozen as a Villain

As I’ve just spent a lot of time insisting that Krozen believes he’s acting for the good of Thrane and that he is an effective leader, you might wonder if I actually see him as a villain. I do, generally—just a villain with many layers. He performs evil deeds in pursuit of the greater good, and more than that, he is only concerned with the greater good of THRANE. When I use Krozen, I want it to be clear why people support him. I want Thranes, in particular, to feel conflicted because Krozen IS good at his job—that if the nation was guided purely by the idealistic Jaela, it would be easy prey for the machinations of Kaius, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, and the Dark Lanterns. Krozen is effective; but is that enough to justify his methods? And IS he a tool of the Shadow in the Flame, even if he refuses to see it?

Zerasha, the Voice of the Shadow

You think you know why you’re here. You think we have to be enemies. But that’s the voice of your petty and jealous Sovereigns, who fear what you could become if you follow the paths I could show you.

Zerasha of Graywall

The medusa Zerasha is a priest of the Shadow in the city of Graywall. She’s mentioned in a Dragon article, which says…

The street ends at the Eye of the Shadow, a small windowless temple formed from black stone. The medusa priestess Zerasha holds court here. A fearsome combatant and skilled ritual caster, Zerasha is the most influential voice in Graywall after Xorchylic; the people of the town have come to trust her oracular gifts. At the moment, she is an ally of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but her first loyalty is to the Shadow and to her own warlord, the Queen of Stone. Should there ever be a civil war in Graywall, the black-scaled medusa will be a force with which to be reckoned. 

Backdrop: Graywall, Dragon 368

That’s the only canon information that exists on her. Since I wrote that article, people have asked: What is the priestess Zerasha’s relationship with Xorchylic? What are her goals, and what might cause those goals to become so misaligned with Xorchylic’s as to cause open conflict?

In my mind, Zerasha is truly devoted to her faith and to her Queen, in that order. As described in this article, she believes that the Shadow is the guide and guardian of those creatures followers of the Sovereigns consider monsters. Beyond this, she is what the article describes as a mentor. Acting on behalf of the Shadow, she seeks to help the faithful achieve their ambitions—even if that means following the darkest possible paths to do so. Beyond that, the Shadow is the Sovereign of secrets. As described above, she is an oracle—not as gifted in this regard as Sora Teraza, but certainly the most powerful oracle in Graywall. She knows secrets. Having said that, as I called out above, her knowledge comes from the Shadow and she doesn’t know things until she needs to know them. When she meets a player character, the Shadow may tell her their secrets; but it’s not like she just randomly knows everyone’s secrets all the time. And again, if the Shadow shares a secret with Zerasha, it’s so she can DO something with that secret.

So in terms of her goals, I believe that Zerasha’s goals are first and foremost to offer spiritual guidance to the people of Graywall and to help them achieve their true potential. Beneath that, her goals are whatever tasks the Shadow sets before her; it’s quite common for her to feel that there is a particular individual the Shadow wishes her to focus on, someone who needs to be guided on the proper path. And beneath that, her loyalty is to her queen, the medusa Sheshka, and to the people of Cazhaak Draal.

Her relationship with Xorchyllic largely depends on what the DM decides Xorchyllic is truly up to. As long as Xorchyllic is pursuing the greater good of Graywall and Droaam, Zerasha will support him. But we’ve called out that the Flayer Guard of Droaam serve the interests of the governor first and the common folk second. If Xorchyllic is somehow oppressing or harming a portion of the city in pursuit of his personal agenda, that could bring him into conflict with Zerasha. Ultimately, the question is what is the interest of the Shadow? If the Shadow supports Xorchyllic and wants the illithid to achieve its ambitions, Zerasha could work closely with the governor. On the other hand, if the Shadow is most interested in helping a lowly kobold on the Street of Shadows achieve her ambitions of overthrowing Xorchyllic and becoming a new warlord, than Zerasha would oppose the mind flayer. The same is true for player characters. What does the Shadow think of them? It could be that it favors their enemies, in which case Zerasha will oppose them. Or it could be that the Shadow has an interest in one of the adventurers and wants to show them the path to power—in which case, Zerasha who seek to serve as their mentor. But again, a mentor of the Shadow will always lead you down dangerous paths…

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.