Dragonmark: Mysteries of the Talenta Plains

My esteemed colleague’s suggestion of establishing vast farms in the Talenta Plains shows his ignorance of history and lack of common sense. Why do you suppose the Talenta tribes are nomadic, Danison? Why hasn’t House Ghallanda establish its own farms in its ancestral homeland, or brought home the arcane tools they use across the Five Nations? I’ll do you one better: Why didn’t Galifar settle the Talenta Plains? For a thousand years it was called Cyre on our maps. Yet when the Great King chose to resettle the nobles of old Metrol, did he send them to the Plains? No, he sent them all the way across the Blade Desert. Perhaps—perhaps—this could be attributed to wishing to put a desert between his daughter and possible rivals, but why in the century that followed did Cyrans not settle this vast realm? Dig deeper and you may find stories of a Scale empire that spread from what we now call Q’barra into the Plains—where is that empire today?

It’s no accident that the Talenta keep moving, Danison. It’s no coincidence that they’ve developed a mystical tradition that works with spirits, and choose to hold to this path instead of adopting the arcane science of the west. There are forces at play in the Plains you know nothing about… and you are better off not knowing.

Alina Lorridan Lyrris, Aurum Concordian

Over the last twenty years of Eberron, the Talenta Plains have largely been ignored… just as they have largely been ignored by the people of the Five Nations. The Talenta tribes pursue a nomadic lifestyle and employ a system of primal magic rather than embracing the arcane science of the west. This isn’t an accident. The Talenta developed their traditions because they are the key to survival and prosperity in the Plains. Consider House Ghallanda and House Jorasco, both of which build enclaves in the Five Nations and employ arcane science in those facilities—yet beyond Gatherhold they haven’t built enclaves in the Plains, nor pushed western wizardry or artifice onto their cousins. This is no accident. The Talenta tribes have honed their mystical and mundane traditions for countless generations, and these techniques allow them to accomplish things Cannith artificers and Vadalis magebreeders can’t even imagine.

But this article isn’t about the Talenta tribes… it’s about the Plains themselves. Remember always that Eberron isn’t our world. It’s a world shaped by supernatural forces, a world in which fiends, fey, and undead are real. It’s a world in which planar influence and epic curses have dramatic effects on everyday life. And now, lest it go without saying, we’re moving from canon lore into the realm of Kanon lore—what I do with the Plains in my campaign.

So let’s consider the basic facts. When humanity spread across Khorvaire, they didn’t settle the Plains. There’s no Dhakaani ruins in the Plains. The Trothlorsvek did expand from Q’barra into the Plains, because where else could they go? And yet, their empire collapsed (… with a little help from Masvirik). Dinosaurs thrive in the Plains and in Q’barra, yet aren’t widespread elsewhere in Khorvaire. The Talenta halflings have maintained a nomadic tradition for thousands of years, and employ primal spirit-driven magic rather than the arcane science of the Five Nations—and yet, when they leave the Plains (as seen by Jorasco, Ghallanda, the Boromars, and more) they don’t bring that system of magic with them. The Talenta traditions are a path to survival and to power within the Plains, because of unique aspects of the Plains outsiders don’t recognize or understand. So with that in mind… here’s the core principle I’m working with when I approach the Plains.

The Talenta Plains have always had strong connections to Lamannia, Thelanis, and Dolurrh. During the early Age of Giants, the Plains were the heart of a powerful draconic civilization. When this nation of dragons became corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber, it fell into a war with Argonnessen that ended with the corrupted civilization being utterly eradicated. The victorious dragons employed powerful forces to contain the fallout from that conflict and to prevent any repetition of the threat. When Argonnessen later laid waste to Xen’drik, it was drawing on experience and techniques that had first been employed in the razing of the Talenta Plains.

As such, the Talenta Plains are a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But that apocalypse happened tens of thousands of years ago. The devastation was thorough, and beyond that, the civilization was unlike that of any humanoid culture. The people of the present day don’t SEE the traces of that fallen nation and the evidence of its apocalyptic fall. And yet, it holds the core principles we’re familiar with from the post-apocalyptic tales of our media: people roaming across a ruined land, invisible lingering forces that affect everyday life, wonders of the fallen civilization waiting to be uncovered. In the Talenta Plains, those “invisible forces” are spirits rather than radiation… but the basic principles still apply.

So as I’m developing my campaign in the Talenta Plains, I’m thinking about Gamma World, Fallout, and Mad Max: Fury Road in addition to old folk tales… just replace the cars in Mad Max with dinosaurs. There have always been fey, elementals, and ghosts in the Plains because of the planar influences. But there are also relics of a draconic civilization—a civilization so advanced that we don’t even recognize its tools as tools—as well as scars of the weapons that destroyed it. A crucial difference between this and the Mournland is that the basic environment isn’t as relentlessly hostile as the Mournland. There is natural life in the Plains, and it’s possible to survive and thrive there—provided you know what you’re doing and know how to avoid its dangers. And one of the basic principles to that is to keep moving. A second aspect of this is that there are ruins and monsters in the Talenta Plains that you’d never find in the heart of a nation like Breland, because the Talenta know to avoid them. The paths the tribes use in their migrations are safe, but venture off the paths and you can find wonders—along with deadly danger.

THE SPIRITS OF THE PLAINS

At a glance the Talenta Plains often seem vast and empty. But there is far more to this realm than meets the mortal eye. It’s common knowledge that the Talenta traditions involve interacting with “spirits”; what outsiders don’t realize is that this general term actually covers a wide range of entities. There are five distinct classes of “spirit” that are widespread in the Plains. But beyond the type of spirit, an encounter can very dramatically based on the form of the spirit. Ambient spirits are invisible and intangible; they can’t be interacted with directly, but they may produce supernatural effects on the environment. Pure spirits can be physically perceived in their own shape—a spectral ghost, a fire elemental, a dryad. Incarnate spirits are tied to a physical form, whether that’s animal, vegetable, or mineral; this could be face in a pool of water or a talking clawfoot. Bound spirits are similar to incarnate spirits in that they are tied to something physical, but were bound against their will; they are often tied to objects or set as guardians. So let’s talk about the five common types of spirits, but in the context of how you would encounter one as an incarnate spirit tied to a clawfoot.

  • Elementals are raw primal forces, largely driven by pure instinct. An elemental clawfoot would be supernaturally strong and fast, but it wouldn’t speak or have a particular interest in interacting with humanoids. It’s just much more dangerous than a normal clawfoot.
  • Fey are spirits that bring magic and story into the world; essentially, their purpose is to make mortal lives more interesting. Fey spirits have a story or a purpose, which could be simple or complex. A fey clawfoot might guard a wondrous treasure, offer wise counsel, or have a thorn in its tail that it can’t get out—do you help it?
  • Undead of the Talenta Plains are typically spirits that haven’t fully reached Dolurrh. Some wish for rest; others are driven by powerful emotions or unfinished business. A haunted clawfoot might speak with your grandfather’s voice and ask you to fulfill a promise on his behalf… or it might be the corpse of a clawfoot driven by the hunter Orlasca’s vile hunger.
  • Fiends are malevolent spirits. Some are tied to the Cold Sun or the Daughter of Khyber; others are sparks of evil drifting directly from Khyber. They exist to inflict suffering on mortals, though each has a flavor of tragedy it prefers. A fiendish clawfoot might lure travelers into the darkness with the voices of loved ones, killing them one by one in horrifying ways.
  • Artificial spirits are relics of the fallen dragon nation that occupied this region tens of thousands of years ago. These are effectively sentient magic items, though they can be bound to fields of energy instead of solid objects. Artificial spirits aren’t usually encountered in animal forms, but there could be a spirit bound to a buried sphere of brass studded with Khyber shards which has the ability to dominate beasts, and uses these creatures to carry out its purpose—still patrolling the borders of an outpost that was ground to dust long ago.

An important point with fey, fiends, and elementals is that for the most path these are native spirits. The ambient energies of Lamannia and Thelanis are strong in this region, but it’s native influences that harness this power and form into spirits. So the fey clawfoot isn’t from Thelanis; it is Thelanian energy that has been shaped by the region and by deep archetypes. There are actually Thelanian manifest zones where travelers may interact with fey of Thelanis; but most of the fey spirits are native to Eberron. Likewise for the fiends; they are tied to overlords or to Khyber, not to Shavarath or Fernia.

So the first thing to known about the Talenta Plains is that they are full of spirits. The next question is… WHY? All of these classes and types of spirits CAN be found anywhere in the world. Why is there such an intense concentration of spirits in the Plains? The answer to that is…

A FORGOTTEN WAR

In the wake of the Age of Demons, the dragons exulted in their victory. They were few in number at that time, and it took them millennia to rebuild and to craft nations. But a time came when dragons set out to claim the world they had saved. The dragons laid down roots in Argonnessen, in Xen’drik, and in Khorvaire. Most began as explorers, artists, and scientists—unlocking the mysteries of the world they had saved. But slowly, a worm began to burrow into the collective heart of the dragons of Khorvaire. The Daughter of Khyber began to play on their pride and their arrogance. Why should they share this world with lesser beings—creatures who’d been so easily dominated by the fiends in the past? They were the children of Siberys. They were made to rule and to enforce their will upon reality. They quickly conquered the humanoids that existed in Khorvaire at the time. But what is now the Plains was the heart of their empire, where they experimented with magic and built terrifying weapons. And in this time, they themselves began to be corrupted, with spawn of Tiamat, abishai and other mockeries of dragonkind appearing. But enthralled as they were, the dragons justified this as a desired evolution and proof of their power and wisdom. When other dragons questioned them, it was proof that these rivals had to be subjugated and made to see the “light of Siberys.”

This isn’t the place to go into a long and detailed breakdown of a war between dragons. Ultimately the power of the Daughter of Khyber was broken, and the surviving dragons withdrew to Argonnessen. But the conflict shook the world. The forces unleashed in the war didn’t just shatter the cities of dragons, they tore at the fabric of reality itself. Part of the reason Argonnessen reacted so brutally to the actions of the Cul’sir Dominion in Xen’drik was because they themselves had come close to inflicting irreparable harm to reality.

Most evidence of this first draconic empire was destroyed in the conflict, and what was left has largely been erased by the passage of time. But there are still lingering consequences of that ancient war.

A Spiritual Cacophony. The barriers to the planes are worn thin. There are concrete manifest zones that have the standard effects, but beyond this the ambient energy of the planes generates an unusual amount of native spirits, as described above.

Rare Relics. Most traces of the draconic civilization were erased, and their magic was unraveled. But there are a few traces that have endured: eldritch machines that have resisted destruction, wards or guardian spirits placed by the victors, or abandoned weapons—the draconic equivalent of an unexploded blast disk. Most dramatically, there’s the potential for time capsules or fallout shelters—things specifically designed to survive the conflict and endure the passage of time.

An Arcane Menace. The civilization of the Imperial dragons was largely driven by arcane science. Over the course of the war, the enemies of the empire unleashed slow, inexorable weapons designed to undermine and break down that draconic civilization. The process is extremely slow by human standards, but it is inexorable. Any static community in the Talenta Plains will suffer the following effects.

  • It will draw ghosts and undead—tortured spirits unable to reach Dolurrh. The effect ramps up as it goes; the more restless spirits are in a region, the more newly dead spirits are drawn to this mass instead of to Dolurrh. At a glance this might sound like a good thing—isn’t Dolurrh oblivion?—but the spirits are disoriented and tormented. Hauntings can range from merely disturbing to concretely dangerous, and it continues to worsen over time. Think of every haunted house movie you’ve seen, and slowly amplify the effects.
  • Arcane magic is subtly corrupted over time. Systems may break down or malfunction. Living spells can manifest.

This effect is slow but inexorable. The Trothlorsvek dragonborn were able to resist it—as discussed in more detail later in this article—but the point is that it is dangerous to remain still and that traditional arcane science will slowly go wrong. This effect is slow enough that it doesn’t affect the wizard or artificer passing through to Plains, but it’s why Ghallanda and Jorasco don’t implement the arcane infrastructure of the Five Nations in the Plains. And it’s why the people of Metrol and Cyre didn’t settle in the Plains—They DID, but every settlement came to a miserable end and sages soon recognized that it was a concrete, real effect and that settlement was ill-advised.

WHAT ABOUT THE DRAGONBORN?

During the Age of Monsters, the dragonborn expanded out of Q’barra and into the Plains. They were able to establish an empire of their own, that lasted for a time; it ultimately collapsed when the partial release of the overlord Masvirik forced them to return to Q’barra. Historians will note that they never attempted to rebuild this empire and that there’s very little mention of dragonborn ruins in the Plains. Personally, I’d expand this history in a few ways. I’d say that the expansion of the dragonborn empire was part of the requirements for Masvirik’s release—that the fiends of Masvirik encouraged the spread of the empire knowing it would help their overlord. Likewise, I’d say that the Daughter of Khyber played a role as well. Normally she doesn’t influence dragonborn, but her claws were sunk deeply into the Talenta Plains and she has a greater presence there than anywhere else beyond the Pit of Five Sorrows. So the influence of Masvirik and the Daughter twisted the dragonborn, again unleashing abishai, spawn, and other horrors—along with Dolurrhi hauntings described above. It’s not simply that the Trothlorsvek had to abandon their holdings in the Plains; they had to destroy them in order to break the power of the Daughter and the Cold Sun. In my campaign there ARE definitely still ruins to be found, but they are isolated and limited—and rightly shunned by the Talenta tribes, whose paths of migration keep them far away.

SO… WHAT’S IN THE PLAINS?

The inspiration for this article was a question posed on my PatreonWhat are some interesting adventure sites or villains you would place in the Talenta Plains if you were running a game there? The point was that the Plains seems to be vast and empty, without a lot of real points of interest. Why would adventurers go there? Taking everything I’ve suggested above, here’s a few ideas.

Ruins

We don’t hear much about ruins in the Talenta Plains. In part that’s because the previous widespread civilizations were thoroughly and intentionally destroyed… and in part it’s because the few ruins that are left are bad, dangerous places that the Talenta learned to avoid thousands of years ago. There ARE still ruins out there if you leave the migratory paths followed by the tribes… but there’s good reason they’ve been left alone. Here’s a few ideas entirely off the top of my head.

The Temple of Tiamat. Once this was a vast citadel of followers of the Daughter of Khyber. All that’s left on the surface are the faintest traces of ancient walls and broken stone. But there is a passage that leads below—a cavern formed of pure demonglass, something even the dragons couldn’t destroy. The ruin is dead and silent… but as people explore it, it stirs to life. Carvings of abishai become real, pulling free from the walls and eager to torment mortals. And in the deepest layer, a demonglass dracolich—the Ancient Askannath—guards an hoard of treasures from the forgotten civilization. The fiends and their master can’t leave the demonglass sanctum, but the longer mortals remain within it, the more it comes to life. Why would adventurers go there? One possibility is that they stumble upon it by accident, when they choose to ignore halfling warnings about cursed lands. Another is that they are searching for a draconic relic — an artifact a sage has traced to this place. It could be this is purely a source of information or knowledge. Or it could be that an ancient weapon from the forgotten war remains intact. Are the adventurers sent to recover it for the good of their own nation? Or are they pursuing rivals—trying to stop the Emerald Claw from seizing the Stone of Doom?

Haunted Hastalar. Most of the cities of the dragonborn empire were destroyed. Most… but not all. The fortress-town of Hastalar remains perfectly intact. But it has long been shunned by the halflings, and with good reason: it is intensely haunted. Hastalar was attacked by a Dhakaani legion before the full collapse of the Trothlorsvek dominion, and lingering spirits of both Dhakaani dar and dragonborn soldiers remain, howling through the streets. There is a powerful duur’kala banshee here who song is louder and deadlier than that of the standard banshee. Poltergeist activity is a constant threat. There are countless ghosts and shadows, and anyone who sleeps in Hastalar may be possessed by a vengeful spirit that seeks to reenact the final struggle. But there are relics of both the Trothlorsvek and the Dhakaani here. A Dhakaani Kech may send a force here to recover a potent artifact; the Kech Nasaar could try to release the banshee and recruit her to their cause. The Trothlorsvek could ask a team of trusted adventurers to recover a relic of their own; the haunting has a more powerful effect on dragonborn and they need softskins to explore it.

The Planar Workshop. Another subterranean ruin of the forgotten war, this is essentially a fallout shelter and arcane workshop designed to harness and manipulate planar energies. It is shielded from divination and has been hidden even from the Chamber itself. The region around it is especially dangerous, and the workshop itself is filled with malfunctioning magic—deadly artificial spirits, living spells, and golems. It could be that there’s a specific artifact here to be discovered. Or perhaps there’s a Chardalyn dragon—a relic of the forgotten war—that rises up and starts menacing the Plains, and the secret to stopping it lies in this vault.

Legendary Beasts

Incarnate spirits can result in terrifying threats. The Talenta tribes largely avoid these dangers, but perhaps adventurers have a reason to deal with them. A few entirely random ideas…

  • Flamemaw, a swordtooth titan (tyrannosaurus rex) blended with a fire elemental; it has a burning aura and breathes fire.
  • The Red Eyes, a pack of clawfeet possessed by fiends. The Talenta avoid their hunting grounds, but perhaps their territory suddenly shifts. Alternately, a Talenta adventurer could wish to recover the weapon of a legendary hunter who fell fighting the pack…
  • The Great Hammertail is a legend of a massive ankylosaurus that has a town on its back. Think of this as Brigadoon, except on the back of a wandering dinosaur. Needless to say, this is a fey phenomenon. But there could be blessings and wonders to be found in this town! Alternatively, this could be a patron for a halfling warlock that uses the Genie archetype; instead of traveling into a bottle, their sanctuary is a tent on the back of the Hammertail!
  • Orlasca Ghouls are discussed in Chronicles of Eberron; essentially, these are ghoul beasts that are guided by a single predatory consciousness. They could arise anywhere, and if they spread over a large force—perhaps wiping out an entire small tribe and raising them as ghouls—they could be a terrible threat.
  • The Carver is a large predator that will bargain with potential prey. Is it a fey spirit that offers fair bargains, or a fiend that will bring only misfortune?
  • The Living Wish is an epic living spell, a dangerous relic of the forgotten war. It spends most of its time slumbering. Someone—perhaps an Aurum concordian?—learns of its existence and hires adventurers to try to locate it and use its power. What damage might it cause to reality?

Spirits

Spirits are a defining aspect of the Plains. Here’s a few ways they could inspire adventures…

  • Curses or Blessings. A Talenta adventurer could have a longstanding bond between a fey spirit and their family that is about to become due. This could be a good thing; on their twentieth birthday, if an heir of the Cascala bloodline can find and catch the silver fastieth, they will receive a boon of speed. Or it could be a bad thing; on their twentieth birthday an heir of the Cascala bloodline has one opportunity to catch the silver fastieth; if they fail, they will die.
  • Minor Fiends. Minor fiends can cause trouble anywhere in the Talenta Plains. The halflings know minor warding rituals and traditions that largely protect their tribes from loose fiends, but outsiders may have to deal with all sorts of minor harassments. Beasts could be possessed. Travelers could have nightmares, or be troubled by anything from illusions to phantasmal killers.
  • Guiding to Rest. The wandering undead of the Plains are largely tormented by their restless existence. Adventurers could be tasked to find a wandering spirit and help lay it to rest. Alternately, they could be tasked to find the spirit of someone important who died in the Plains and whose spirit was lost. The Cannith seneschal was touring the Plains. Now it seems his spirit’s bound to a clawfoot and he can’t be raised from the dead unless you find it.
  • Ancient Force. An artificial spirit from the forgotten war could hold priceless knowledge about draconic magic or the history of the first age. But what would convince their entity to help adventurers? And is it actually wise to give humans the knowledge this being possesses?

Villains

What villains might I use in a Talenta campaign? Once again, here’s a few entirely random ideas…

  • Tellan Narathun. A concordian of the Aurum, Tellan Narathun has made a fortune off of dangerous things his family has recovered from Sol Udar, and now he’s turning his attention to the relics of the Plains. Tellan could start out as a patron for a party of adventurers, but the more they work with him the clearer it becomes that he’s selfish and dangerous. It could be that he is purely driven by mortal greed… or over the course of the campaign he might make one too many bargains with fiends and become a host for an immortal threat. He’s experimenting with symbionts from Sol Udar, and the longer the campaign goes, the more alien he will become. As I said, he could start as a patron, or he could start as the patron of a group of rival adventurers the player characters clash with—either way, the longer it goes, the more dangerous he becomes.
  • The Scales. A cult of the Daughter of Khyber. They would start out seemingly innocent—perhaps a friendly dragonborn working with a willing tribe of halflings to investigate the fall of the Trothlorsvek empire—but over time would become corrupted, dragon-fiend terrors.
  • Oblivion. An artificial spirit from the forgotten war that seeks vengeance on Argonnessen. Once recovered, it would serve as a patron (possibly creating warlocks or draconic sorcerers) in a long slow quest that would start by targeting Chamber agents and build to something ever more dangerous. Along the way it would be recruiting both dragonborn and actual dragons, serving as a locus for the influence of the Daughter of Khyber.
  • Holy Uldra. Let’s not sleep on our existing villains. Uldra is a charismatic halfling lath who believes “following the path of the Five Nations is wrong and goes against the spirits of their ancestors and the beasts with which they share the Plains. She also rails against the dragonmarked houses for abandoning the ancient traditions of the tribes.” As it stands, she’s a cleric of the hunt. But in her ambitions to punish the houses and to strike agains the Five Nations, she could make bargains with fey or fiends, gaining increasingly dangerous powers (even as she drifts away from the ancient traditions herself). Part of the threat of Uldra is the idea that she can lure innocents to her cause and potentially cause war within the Plains itself. It’s not the case that all her followers are possessed or evil; some may have valid issues with the role foreign powers have taken in the Plains.

Supernatural Sites

Setting aside ruins and places that have already been named like Krezent and the Boneyard, what are some interesting locations I might use in the Plains? Before specifics, I’ll call out that the Plains have a number of large, strong manifest zones tied to Lamannia, Thelanis, and Dolurrh; in this current interpretation, I’d tie the Boneyard to Dolurrh instead of Mabar. In addition, incarnate spirits can be tied to plants, stones, soil, or other locations. Very briefling, consider the following…

  • A large pond inhabited by a water weird. This place is a hybrid of fey and elemental forces. The weird can serve as an oracle, but it demands a price for its wisdom and will drown anyone who seeks to reclaim the tribute thrown into its waters.
  • A grove of trees that moan in the wind. Each tree holds the essence of someone who died long ago, and speak with dead can be used to give a tree a clear voice for a short time. If trouble, the trees can wail with the same effect as a banshee’s howl.

BUT WHAT ABOUT…

… Krezent? It could be tied to the forgotten war, but I’m inclined to say that it remains as described—a relic of the couatl and the Age of Demons. The Shulassakar take care to contain the potential threats of Krezent, but they can’t guard every dangerous site in the Plains. However, the Shulassakar could be patrons or advisors for adventurers—or dangerous enemies who send a strike force to stop the adventurers if they are blundering around into dangerous territory. I’d also call out that the population of Krezent isn’t sufficient to count it as a “town” for purposes of triggering the ill effects; while it houses a population of Shulassakar, the ECS still identifies it as a “ruin” and not an active city.

... Gatherhold? If settlements in the Talenta Plains are slowly cursed, how does the town of Gatherhold survive? This is a mystery even to the Talenta themselves—the fact is that it does and always has. The most logical answer is that unlike the Mourning, whatever curses were laid upon the Plains long ago don’t perfectly conform to current political boundaries. Gatherhold is already on the edge of the Plains, on the shore of Lake Cyre; likely it’s simply outside whatever effect is responsible for the hauntings. The same is true of the “small towns” along the northern border. On the other hand, maskweavers and other mystics have long been performing rituals to draw in the favor of benevolent spirits to protect and preserve Gatherhold, and it could be that it is these traditions are responsible for its ongoing propsperity. Nonetheless, the fact remains that there’s a reason Gatherhold is an anomaly, and that the there aren’t towns spread throughout the Plains. With that said, it’s important to note that this affect is supposed to target TOWNS and COLONIES, and could spare small outposts. The Tolashcara monitor the Boneyard. The Shulassakar guard Krezent. But in both cases, these aren’t CITIES… and it’s also the case that the Shulassakar channel the Silver Flame and the Tolashcara specialize in necromancy, so both are able to deal with hauntings.

… Fire Ecology? Wildfires play an important role in environments such as the Plains, and that would be just as true in the Talenta Plains as it is in our world. Wildfires are a regular part of life in the Plains and another reason to keep moving. The twist I’d add to consider the ways in which Eberron isn’t our world is that I would have fire spirits in the Plains in addition to purely natural wildfires. These could include elemental wildfires, who largely act just like mundane wildfires but that might sing in Ignan as they burn, and which could respond to druids or bards; fey wildfires, which would play out stories—perhaps being mischievous, perhaps targeting heroes to make their life more challenging; or fiendish wildfires, which would be unnaturally dangerous, aggessive, and cruel.

IN CONCLUSION…

This truly just scratches the surface of what’s possible here, and every aspect of this could be expanded upon; hopefully this gives you some ideas. Again, all of this is KANON—this is what *I* would do if I focused on the Plains—but that doesn’t mean that YOU have to use it.

A few quick points, since I don’t have time to talk about the Talenta themselves…

  • Talenta “spirit traditions” cover a wide range of actual paths. The Maskweavers are one such path and primarily deal with fey and elemental spirits. The Tolashcara deal with undead. Talenta traditions could produce rangers, druids, warlocks, clerics, bards, monks, artificers, and more. The point is that they generate these effects through interactions with spirits: seeking guidance from them or bargaining with them, binding them, drawing on their ambient power, and more. Saying it again, these spirits aren’t tied to specific CLASSES. You can be a Talentan druid, warlock, or artificer and draw your powers from interacting with spirits! CANNITH artificers employ arcane science, but a Talentan artificer can produce the same EFFECTS by working with spirits of the Plains.
  • On a large scale, these traditions don’t work when you leave the Plains. This is why House Jorasco largely employs arcane science in the Five Nations rather than calling on healing spirits; the spirits aren’t THERE in Breland. However, a Talentan player character can still use class abilities wherever they are. This can be justified either by the player character being remarkable and maintaining a connection over a distance; by them having an attendant spirit that invisibly travels with them; or by them personally being able to work with local spirits.
  • I previously said that the Tolashcara deal with Mabaran undead; in this model I’d switch their focus to be on Dolurrh.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible! I won’t be answering questions on this article, but feel free to discuss it in the comments.

Dragonmarks: Radiant Idols

Image by Craig J. Spearing from Eberron: Rising From The Last War

“You said this was a fallen angel,” Thorn said. “How’s that different from a devil?”

Drego shook his head. “The two are completely different. Devils are tied to malevolent concepts – hate, fear, greed. What we’re dealing with is a radiant idol, an angel punished for pride by being imprisoned on Eberron. It still possesses its original appearance, more or less, and its powers are still tied to its original dominion.”

“So who are we dropping in on tonight?”

“Do not speak this name casually,” Drego said, and there was no trace of his usual levity. He traced lines in the air as he continued. “You must understand the sheer power of the being we face. He has likely influenced the lives of thousands of your countrymen, Thorn, and just speaking his name could draw unwanted attention to us.” He made a last flourish in the air, and Thorn could just make out a translucent pattern of rippling arcane energy that dulled all sounds beyond and kept Drego’s voice close. “Tonight we shall destroy Vorlintar, the Voice of the Innocent and the Keeper of Hopes, Fifth among the Fallen of Syrania.”

The shimmering glyph burst into flame, burning without substance, and then it was gone.

“Call him by his titles,” Drego said, “But do not speak his name.”

“Keeper of Hopes?” Brom said, and his chuckle echoed off the walls. “He doesn’t sound so terrible.”

“And he wasn’t, when he was a force for light. Now he holds to his dominions, but he has become a force for evil. He is indeed the Keeper of Hopes – the hopes that he has stolen from all those who fall under his sway. He devours innocence, leaving pain and despair. As we draw closer to his throne, you will feel his talons tearing at your mind. You must be strong and hold him at bay, for a clean death is far better than a life without hope.”     

– From The Son of Khyber

The Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook introduced a new threat to the Eberron campaign setting: the radiant idol. Sharn is closely tied to Syrania, and we thought it would be interesting to introduce a new sort of fallen angel cast out of the sky. The Sharn book has this to say…

A radiant idol is an angel that has been banished from Syrania and condemned to spend eternity on the Material Plane. Not all radiant idols are evil, and none are as thoroughly corrupt as the fiends of the lower planes. Their greatest sin, as a rule, is the desire to be worshiped by the humanoids they consider lesser beings, and most gather cults of devoted humanoid followers on the Material Plane—thus giving rise to their common name.

I expanded on this in Exploring Eberron, noting…

Many sages believe that touching Eberron’s ground makes angels vulnerable to the influence of Khyber and the overlords, while others theorize that mortal worship—the positive energy that sustains the Undying Court—is like a drug to the dominions. Whatever the cause, dominions who interact with mortals run the risk of becoming corrupted. Such immortals crave mortal adoration and often seek to dominate mortals by exercising the power of their sphere.  Not all dominions fall prey to this corruption, but once one does, there seems to be no way to undo it. Even if the angel is destroyed and reforms, the corruption remains. It’s unlikely that such an angel would be met in Syrania itself; typically, these corrupted angels are forever stripped of the power of flight and condemned to walk the Material Plane as radiant idols.

For me personally, a radiant idol brings a few interesting elements to a story. They have no connection to the major factions; they aren’t aligned with the Lords of Dust, the Daelkyr, or the Dreaming Dark. They don’t care about the Draconic Prophecy and they aren’t trying to take over the world; they just want to be adored. In a world where gods don’t walk the earth, it can be fun to have a cult where you can actually beat up their deity. Radiant idols are going to be a problem whenever you encounter them, but an idol is a problem you can solve—something that’s typically intensely regional. They make good monsters. And beyond that, they work well with the overall noir vibe of Sharn and Eberron overall… fallen angels; addicted to mortal worship; glorious and beautiful but bound to dirt and grime.

There are a many ways to base an adventure around a radiant idol…. here’s a few options.

Cult Mystery. The idol is actively recruiting and adventurers run across its spreading cult. Perhaps a friend or ally has a sudden change in behavior. The key question with a radiant cult is whether the cultists are being compelled supernaturally—forced to take a blood oath and terrified that the idol will torture or kill them if they reveal its presence, or simply compelled by charm—or whether they have simply been compelled by its innate charisma (and possibly dreams!) and truly believe in the idol. Perhaps they believe the idol will turn the world into a paradise. Perhaps they believe it will protect them from their enemies in exchange for their faith. In one adventure I ran, the idol convinced its followers that it could give the souls of people killed in a particular way eternal peace as opposed to the dissolution of Dolurrh, in a paradise far more pleasant than the grim lives they were living… compelling these cultists to murder their own loved ones believing the idol would preserve their spirits in a form of paradise (this is a variation of Kotharel the Harvester, an idol canonically imprisoned in Dreadhold). One of the things that distinguishes such a radiant cult from daelkyr cults is that their beliefs are usually very concrete: they interact directly with the source of their faith, whether it’s compelled by a blood oath or freely chosen. Daelkyr cults are typically driven by irrational belief; cultists of Dyrrn’s Transcendant Flesh will never meet Dyrrn and don’t even KNOW their group is tied to him; they are simply gripped by the belief that their flesh could be better. Members of Sul Khatesh’s Court of Shadows may revere the Queen of Shadows, but they will never MEET her. Radiant cultists interact directly with their idol. Which means that in a cult mystery story, the adventurers aren’t just investigating the cult; they can track it directly to its source and face the radiant idol. A few cult mystery points to consider…

  • What does it WANT? Radiant idols thrive on mortal adoration. But within that, what is the idol actually driving its cultists to DO? Are the actions of the cult something that must be stopped… or at the end of the day, are the actions of the idol harmless or even potentially beneficial? Vorlintar consumes hope. The Harvester drives people to murder their loved ones. These are things that should be stopped. On the other hand, the actions of an idol could be largely harmless—a Dionysian cult that engages in ecstatic raves, as the idol bathes in joy, but that doesn’t FORCE people to participate; or the idol could even be using its powers to protect or aid its cultists. Of course, there could be a twist even here; the idol has never used the blood oath to torture or kill its followers, but it could. So the initial investigation could suggest that the cult is benevolent… until the adventurers find proof that the idol has been using the blood oath to kill any cultist who does try to leave. Or perhaps the idol is broadly benevolent but has to kill a cultist every week to maintain its alter self. Essentially, there could be layers to the cult the adventurers have to dig through.
  • The Power of the Oath. The blood oath is a distinctive aspect of a radiant cult. The idol can scry upon its cultists, and torture or kill them if they defy it. So a friend could come to an adventurer saying “I’ve made a terrible mistake. The Blessed One, he’s not what he seems. The blessing—no, no, I feel him watching—aaaaagh!’ and die suddenly and horribly. Can the adventurers find a way to save those bound by a blood oath?
  • Perhaps to Dream… If you follow my (and 3.5’s) guidelines, a radiant idol has access to the dream spell. This can be used to recruit followers by manipulating their dreams; as a way to communicate with minions without directly interacting with them; or also as a way for the idol to confront adventurers without physical danger. If the adventurers are getting close to solving the mystery, the idol could appear in their dreams to warn them off—the “monstrous and terrifying” form of dream. This can also be a fun false flag for people familiar with the quori!
  • Office Hours. How often DO the cultists interact with the idol? Does it personally lead them in daily services, or does it mainly communicate through dreams and through its dominated high priest? Does the idol move around the city or does it remain in its anchor point?
  • Is it a Threat? A radiant cult can be a terrible thing. Vorlintar consumes hope. The soul-consuming idol in the example above encourages people to murder their loved ones. The blood oath can be used to torture or kill cultists. But some idols only want worship, and have gifts to offer in exchange. It can be an interesting twist to a cult mystery to discover that the cult isn’t actually a threat… something I’ll explore further below.

Visible Cult. Rather than being a mystery that needs to be slowly unraveled, a radiant cult could be an active force within its community that adventurers will encounter openly. It could be recognized as a fringe religion, with outsiders failing to realize the idol is real—the people in Tumbledown have some weird beliefs… don’t go there on a festival day, is all I’m saying. Or it could be that the idol backs a force that adventurers may not initially identify as a cult. A violent new street gang starts fighting Daask and Boromar thugs in Callestan, guided by a War idol. A district has a volunteer police force that’s picking up the slack from the corrupt Sharn Watch. If they’re doing a good job, does it matter that they worship an Order idol? Adventurers come to a small agricultural village and find it thriving due to the influence of a Nature idol. But does this “Father of the Harvest” demand some sort of price from its followers? This is a solid option for a Children of the Corn scenario. But the interesting point here is is the idol actually a threat, or is it helping its followers? If the Father of the Harvest demands that people kill their parents and use their remains to fertilize the soil, that’s a problem. But what if it doesn’t do that? What if it just wants them to sing its praises and dance in the fields? What if that Order idol is making peoples’ lives better with its volunteer force? Is the idol of Joy actually harming anyone with its dionysian revels? Personally, I like radiant cultists to have a dark twist—as I’ll discuss further below, I like to call out that idols are fundamentally corrupted even if their core concept is pure. But even with that twist, there can still be the question of whether the adventurers are right to interfere. Imagine a Life idol who uses its ability to raise dead to resurrect slain members of its cult… but because of the balance of life, they must pay for the resurrection not with diamonds, but with another life. Perhaps they actually take volunteers—an old man sacrificing himself to give life to a child who died young. Perhaps they impose a death penalty on criminals within their community—do adventurers have the right to interfere with this? Or perhaps they murder travelers to buy life for their own. But again, the idol isn’t forcing them to do this… so what do the adventurers do when they find out?

Hidden Monster. In the story that opens this paragraph, Vorlintar is simply a monster. He is anchored in a desolate place most people never go. He pulls innocents into his orbit and drains them of hope. It’s not a story of slow investigation, and he’s not in a place the adventurers would ever normally go; instead, they learn of his presence and must go to him, entering his lair and discovering the horror he’s been perpetrating in this forgotten corner of the city. This is a simple way to introduce a powerful foe, and the idol could easily have something the adventurers need—a book or blade brought down from Syrania, an angel’s tear… or it could just be that the idol is anchored in a place the adventurers need to be, drawn to a point of power that the adventurers have a different use for.

Power Player. I tend to have my idols anchored in a particular location; a spider lurking at the heart of its cult web. But you COULD have an idol… say, an idol of Trickery… who is less interested in direct worship and more in being part of the game. It needs to be part of a web of deception and intrigue to feel alive, and it’s playing all sides and perhaps stirring up new conflicts within the criminal underworld of Sharn or the rivalries of Aurum Concordians. It could be that it has its own small cult within this tapestry—a few agents in every faction bound by its blood oath—or it could be content to just manipulate on its own. A question here is whether the idol itself is walking around Sharn, using magic to appear human (and having to be careful not to crash skycoaches with its flightless aura)… or if it is acting through a dominated host most of the time, only appearing personally when it needs to exercise its full force. Keep in mind that when it DOES act directly it can use alter self to appear as the person it usually dominates. So you could have a fun twist where the adventurers see the idol using powerful magic and are baffled later when they confront the “idol” and find them to be mortal.

Anchor Points

Mechanically, radiant idols have no limitations on their movement. Just because they are often dropped in Sharn doesn’t mean that they have to STAY there. Sharn: City of Towers suggests that there can be up to six radiant idols in Sharn at a time, but it doesn’t explain why six is a magic number. In my campaign, it’s a territorial thing; idols can feel one another and if there’s more than six in one place if feels crowded, even if it’s a huge city and they aren’t stumbling over one another. So my murder-your-loved-ones idol was in Korth. The Father of the Harvest could be in a little farming village. Idols often start in Sharn but they don’t have to stay there. HOWEVER, I personally like my idols to have an anchor point—a place of power and security. They’re immortal embodiments of ideas, and their motivations aren’t like those of mortals; with the exception of “power players” as I described above, I see idols as wanting to sit on their anchors and bask in the adoration of their cultists. In Sharn, an anchor could be where they first appeared in the material plane. Or it could be a place that particularly resonates with their domain. So Vorlintar, an idol that consumes hope, is anchored in a ruined temple in the desolate distract of Fallen. It’s a double dose of despair, a place where faith failed to protect the people of the distract from a terrible calamity. An idol of war might be anchored beneath the Cornerstone of Sharn, drinking in the aggression of the duels and matches in the arena above… or in a district wracked by gang warfare. Where Vorlintar dwells in the lower city, I could imagine an idol of the tempest who is anchored in a high spire in Upper Sharn that draws lightning. Likewise, there could be a reason the Father of the Harvest has chosen a particular farming village as his anchor… what is it?

Mechanically, you could play up the place of power idea by giving an idol lair actions in its anchor point… or perhaps limiting it, saying it can only cast its highest level spells in its anchor. The 3.5 idol has greater teleport, and I like to allow an idol to teleport 1/day… but I only allow it to teleport to the location of either its anchor. So an idol that ventures out into the world can slip back to its anchor… but if you face it in its anchor point, there’s nowhere to run.

Appearance and Personality

The first thing she saw were the angel’s wings – outspread and glorious, with long feathers as dark as a moonless night. Now the source of the chimes became clear, for there were chains attached to every feather. Strange weights were bound to the ends of the chains, weights of many shapes and sizes, engraved with symbols Thorn didn’t recognize. Their purpose was clear; for all his glory, Vorlintar could not rise from the ground.

Radiant idols embody ideas. As presented in Sharn: City of Towers, each idol has a domain. But WAR or LIFE or NATURE are broad concepts. Exploring Eberron suggests that most idols began as dominions of Syrania, and a dominion has a focus within a domain—a dominion is the Angel of Swords, not the Angel of War. This article discusses immortal personalities and might be spark some ideas. “Swords” may be too broad a concept, but with an Idol of War I could imagine…

  • The Lady of Lightning, She Who Guides The First Strike. This idol knows all of the moments in history in which mortals made preemptive strikes. She enjoys seeing conflict unfold, but she revels in guiding the stroke that brings down an enemy before they have a chance to prepare. Her cultists will act with stunning precision, striking without warning and melting away. She could potentially pose as Dol Arrah, focusing on strategic precision and claiming that the targets they are sending their cultists to fight are servants of evil.
  • The Lord of Sacrifice. As an angel, this one watched over those who laid down their lives to protect others. Now as an idol he wants to drive people to sacrifice their lives in his name. Again, he is an idol of War; he doesn’t want his followers to simply die, he wants them to make heroic sacrifices. He may drive them to stir up conflicts in the region; his cult could be a neighborhood watch he’s driving to fight organized crime, or he could subvert a Boromar cell and drive them to doomed battle with Dassk… Or something more ugly, like forming a cult among Cyran refugees and driving them to doomed acts of defiance as they seek to “win the Last War for Cyre.”
  • The Giver of Strength. As a dominion, this angel watched over bullies and those who used their strength to dominate others. Now they encourage this behavior, and punish those who fail to live up to their standards. If the idol is lurking beneath Cornerstone Arena, it could offer blessings to those who fight as it wishes—perhaps granting the benefits of heroism to its chosen champions—but punish cultists who fail to live up to its standards with torment or death. So adventurers could investigate a general rise in the brutality of a small group of Cornerstone champions… along with the unexplained deaths of those defeated in nonlethal matches in the arena. This idol could potentially masquerade as Dol Dorn (or as a servant of Dol Dorn). Alternately it could drive aggressive behavior among a cult elsewhere in town, creating a district where might makes right. Here again, they could use dominate person to run things through their chosen champion, with the adventurers only discovering the true source of the cruelty on deeper investigation.

These are three ideas I made up ON THE SPOT, and I’m sure I could do better. But it gives that point of a narrow aspect of a broad domain. Beyond that, while it is not in any way required, *I* like to have a radiant idol reflect a slightly corrupted, greedy aspect of its core idea. As in the opening story, Vorlintar has gone from observing hopes to stealing them. The Lord of Sacrifice is pushing cultists to make unnecessary (if heroic) sacrifices. The Giver of Life needs someone to die before it can raise dead. I like the fact that all radiant cults aren’t automatically vile—again, the idea of the Giver of Life using its abilities to cure wounds and raise dead to protect its cultists, creating an idyllic healthy community—but that even there, you’ve got the ethical twist of that health comes at a cost.

So the first question with an Idol is what is its defining concept and personality. For me, its appearance flows from that. When in its true form, the key elements of a radiant idol are that it inspires awe—that high Charisma and Aura of False Divinity—and that it can’t fly, and that there is something suggesting it has been cast down. The simplest way to represent this is with maimed wings—severed, broken, withered, burnt—but there are other options, like Vorlintar’s weighted chains. The key point is that an idol is an idea; when someone sees it they should understand what that idea is. Of course, this is the point to idols having disguise or alter self; they can HIDE their fallen nature.

A last point here is that while it’s easiest for idols to use an existing clerical domain, that shouldn’t be an absolute limitation. There’s no Domain of Hope for Vorlintar. Likewise, I think JOY is a great domain for a radiant idol, inspiring bacchanalian frenzies. It could be that these could be linked to existing domains—Joy could be based on Peace or Life—but a DM can always just make up a spell list that fits a concept that doesn’t match a domain.

Immortality and the Idol

In Eberron, immortals can’t be permanently destroyed, and this is as true for radiant idols as it is for any other immortal. Notably, when an idol is destroyed and reforms, it is still a radiant idol; if their corruption could be undone by death, they’d be killed instead of cast out of Syrania. So radiant idols can’t be permanently destroyed. But we never say HOW QUICKLY THEY COME BACK. Part of what I like about idols is that they are a problem that can be solved. With that in mind, I’d consider the following options.

  • Slow Return. An idol will return—either to its anchor point or to the point in which it was cast down—but it takes centuries, possibly even millennia. This is a reflection of the fact that it was cast out of Syrania and doesn’t really belong anywhere. So even when adventurers encounter an idol that is JUST STARTING A CULT that doesn’t mean that it was only just now banished from Syrania; it could have been banished ten thousand years ago, and it’s only just reformed from the last time it was destroyed during the first days of Galifar. This is the approach I’d use as the default, though I’d add the option for cultists to be able to speed its return through rituals—so you do want to make sure you deal with the cult as well as the idol.
  • Lingering. An idol doesn’t return unaided, but its spirit lingers at its anchor point. Perhaps it can still cast dream or have other minor mystical effects. It can only reconstitute itself if mortal cultists perform rituals to summon it back… so it will try to push people to do this through dreams, or by guiding them to lore of its cult.
  • Swift, Unless… An idol will return in days or weeks of being destroyed, unless it is destroyed in a particular place—using a particular weapon, at a particular time, by a person meeting a particular condition. Essentially, it’s a minor prophecy path. If it’s destroying properly, its return will either be slow or lingering.
  • Binding. Idols aren’t actually THAT powerful, and I could see allowing them to be bound in iron flasks or similar forms of binding. They aren’t overlords!

This can vary by idol! Canonically, the radiant idol Kotharel the Harvester is sealed in Dreadhold because while it was defeated, it simply could not be destroyed. I could imagine an idol of Life who drains the life of an oath-bound cultist every time it’s dropped below 1 hit point; you can’t defeat it until you free its cultists from their bonds!

Gifts of the Idol

Radiant idols may claim to be gods, either Sovereigns or unique gods; alternately they could claim to be servants or representatives of Sovereigns. But they AREN’T gods. You can’t actually gain the powers of a cleric from a radiant idol. However, there’s a few possible loopholes. If a radiant idol impersonates a sovereign—the Lady of Lightning claiming to be Dol Arrah—then her cultists could be clerics or paladins of Dol Arrah, because they have faith in Dol Arrah; the power is still coming from a divine power source, it’s just not the idol itself. The point here is that the idol can’t take those powers away from them because it’s not given them the powers. Another option is to allow the radiant idol to cast its domain spells through cultists who have sworn a blood oath—so a Life idol could cure wounds through the hands of a cultist. The power is entirely controlled and drawn from the idol, but the cultist APPEARS to cast spells. I would also consider allowing an idol to produce a warlock following this same principle; the warlock’s powers come from the idol investing a fraction of its immortal essence in its servant.

Beyond this, I have no issue with allowing idols to break the rules to fit their story. As I suggested earlier, I’m fine suggesting that the Giver of Strength can give the benefits of heroism to anyone who’s sworn its Blood Oath. Each idol could give unique gifts to its cultists. But purely on a power level, radiant idols can’t create paladins or clerics; the best they could do is take advantage of someone’s faith, claiming credit for divine power that’s flowing from an actual divine power source.

A radiant idol could also be a source of magic items. Perhaps the idol’s blood acts as a magical potion (or a drug!), and it gives this to its cultists. In my adventure where the idol wanted people to murder those they cared about, it gave its cultists amulets they had to give to their victims, to ensure their spirits were channeled to the idol. I could see an idol of fire that could turn weapons into flame tongues by engraving its name on them… but when the idol is defeated, those things would likely lose power.

Relative Power

In both 3.5 and fifth edition, a radiant idol has a challenge rating of 11. They are powerful, yes, but not THAT powerful. In general, this is something I like about them. They’re powerful enough to be exciting, but weaker than daelkyr, the prakhutu of the Lords of Dust, or even powerful Inspired. However, that’s a base level, and radiant idols can be as powerful as you want them to be. In 3.5 canon Kotharel the Harvester is a 30 HD radiant idol who literally cannot be destroyed, hence his being stored at Dreadhold. The description of Vorlintar at the start of this article likewise suggests a level of power beyond the default radiant idol; radiant idols don’t generally have the ability to scry on people who speak their names, and Vorlintar also has what amounts to a feeblemind attack where he tears hope out from his victims and leaves them in a vegetative state. Just as Dyrrn and Belashyrra are more powerful than the generic daelkyr presented in the 3.5 ECS, you can create radiant idols that are more powerful than the base model. You can use a Planetar or Solar as a foundation for creating a more powerful radiant idol, shifting spell lists if necessary and adding the unique traits of the idol (including those I describe below)—Aura of False Divinity, Blood Oath, Flightless, Domain, Guide Thrall.

Let’s Talk About Stat Blocks…

Last but not least… The radiant idol was introduced in Sharn: City of Towers. There’s a stat block for radiant idols in Eberron: Rising From The Last War, but it doesn’t incorporate a lot of what I consider to be the defining elements of the 3.5 radiant idol—ideas I’ve mentioned often in this article. Let’s take a look at those.

INNATE MAGIC. Per Sharn: City of Towers, radiant idols had the following spell-like abilities: At will—alter self, charm person, dream, heroism, nightmare, rage; 3/day—confusion, greater dispel magic, mind fog, slow; 1/day—dominate person, eyebite, hold monster, song of discord, greater teleport (self only). Let’s consider the function of these spells. Alter Self gives the angel the possibility of moving among mortals, and it can reduce itself from large to medium; alternately, it can simply shift its appearance to better fit the image it is creating for its cult, concealing its disfigurement and adding details that fit its God of ____ storyline. Dream and nightmare (which in 5E were combined into a single spell) allow it to influence and lure followers from a distance, as well as giving missions to its loyal cultists; it’s a small-scale Dreaming Dark, and potentially a fun surprise for the player who immediately assumes that when they stumble on someone being manipulated by dreams that quori are responsible. Confusion, mind fog, hold monster, song of discord, and mind fog all play to the idea of the idol’s supernatural charisma and its ability to overwhelm mortal minds, while dominate person is a great way for the idol to directly control a cult lieutenant. Keep in mind that in 3.5 rules, dominate person had a duration of 1 day per caster level; it’s interended to be a long term effect, again, the sort of thing they’d use to telepathically control a minion. Radiant idols also have the inherent power of glibness, which provides a +30 bonus to Deception checks made to convince someone of their honesty and makes them immune to any magic that would force them to tell the truth or reveal the truth of their words.

DOMAIN. S:CoT gives radiant idols a special gift:

Each radiant idol chooses one cleric domain to represent the portfolio it claims in its masquerade of divinity. The radiant idol gains the granted power of that domain, and can use each spell up to 6th level in that domain as a spell-like ability. It can use 1st-level spells at will, 2nd- and 3rd-level spells three times per day each, and 4th- through 6th-level spells once per day each.

For me, this is a crucial aspect of a radiant idol. It’s not just a generic idol; it is an idol of FIRE or an idol of LIFE. In Exploring Eberron I call out that Syranian angels have domains; this reflects that idea. It’s something that adds flavor but also means its idol has a distinct set of spell like abilities.

CULTISTS. The 3.5 idol has a number of powers that specifically tie to its role as cult anchor. FIts Aura of False Divinity afflicts enemies with despair, but grants allies within 30 ft the effects of Good Hope: Each affected creature gains a +2 morale bonus on saving throws, attack rolls, ability checks, skill checks, and weapon damage rolls. This plays up the idea that the idol FEELS DIVINE—that it feels awesome and terrible, able to crush or inspire hope just with its presence. A more dramatic feature is the Blood Oath. After an extended ritual, a radiant idol can form a connection with a cultist that allows them to locate and scry on the cultist, cause them pain, or even kill them outright. This oath can even be forced on unwilling participants, if they are restrained throughout the ritual and fail enough saving throws. This can create an interesting situation where a victim doesn’t believe in the idol, but knows that if the idol could be watching them at any time and that if they defy it, they could suffer pain or death. Which in turn means that adventurers opposing a cult need to recognize that the cultists they are fighting may be innocent victims just trying to save their own lives or the lives of people they care about.

FLIGHTLESS. Radiant idols cannot fly through any means. In addition, per S:CoT, Spells that grant flight to other characters fail within 30 feet of a radiant idol, as if it were at the center of an antimagic field, but only magic related to flight is affected. Magic items that grant the power of flight likewise fail. Even creatures with a natural ability to fly feel uncomfortable near a radiant idol.

HOW’S RISING STACK UP? The radiant idol in Rising From The Last War is a watered down version of the original idea. Its Aura of False Divinity can charm anyone within 30 feet. This is effective against enemies and implies supernatural charisma, but it lacks the original aspect of inspiring allies, which helps with the cult aspect of the story. There’s no mechanical aspect to being flightless; the idol doesn’t have a flying speed, but there’s nothing saying it can’t fly and nothing that stops other creatures from flying around it. Meanwhile, there’s some overlap in the spell list; the Rising Idol can use charm person at will and dominate person once per day, and mass suggestion is in the same sort of mood as dominate and charm, and replaces the nonexistent mind fog and song of discord. But then it has some very specific spells—raise dead, cure wounds at will, commune, insect plague. There’s no clear theme to these; raise dead is handy and insect plague is good for wrathful god, sure, but how do they relate to one another? Meanwhile, they notably lack dream, which is a great tool for a manipulative cult leader.

SO WHAT WOULD I DO? Without entirely redesigning the stat block, I’d change a few of its existing traits and add a few others, as outlined below.

  • If the idol has an evil alignment, I’d change its creature type to fiend. In my campaign, the definition of “fiend” is “evil immortal”; there’s no such thing as an evil celestial or a good fiend. If the alignment changes, their type changes with it; they are incarnate ideas.
  • Aura of False Divinity. Allies within 30 feet of the radiant idol have advantage on saving throws made to avoid being charmed or frightened by other creatures. Any enemy of the idol that starts its turn within 30 feet of it must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw, provided the radiant idol isn’t incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature is charmed by the radiant idol. A creature charmed in this way can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. Once it succeeds on the saving throw, a creature is immune to this radiant idol’s Aura of False Divinity for 24 hours.
  • Innate Spellcasting. The radiant idol’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 17). The radiant idol can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components: At will: alter self, charm person, dream, thaumaturgy; 1/day: confusion, dispel magic (6th level slot), mass suggestion, teleport (self only, only to anchor point). The idol may use alter self to assume the shape of a large or medium humanoid.
  • Domain Powers: Choose one cleric domain to represent the radiant idol’s sphere of influence. The radiant idol can cast the domain spells associated with that domain, without requiring material components; its spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell ssave DC 17) It can use 1st-level spells at will, 2nd- and 3rd-level spells three times per day each, and 4th- through 6th-level spells once per day each. For example, a radiant idol of Life uses the Life domain and adds the following spell-like abilities: At Will: bless, cure wounds; 3/day: beacon of hope, lesser restoration, revivify, spiritual weapn; 1/day: death ward, guardian of faith, mass cure wounds, raise dead. As I’ve suggested before, I might modify these spells to reflect the nature of the idol—as with the example of the Life idol needing to take a life to cast raise dead rather than needing material components. Idol spells could have unusually long durations, be able to be cast on oathbound cultists regardless of range, etc—though they could also be limited, perhaps ONLY being able to be cast on oathbound cultists, only cast at the idol’s anchor point, and so on.
  • Glibness. The radiant idol has advantage on Charisma ability checks and is immune to any magical effect that would allow a creature to determine the truth of its words or that would force it to tell the truth.
  • Flightless. A radiant idol cannot fly by any means. No spell intended to grant flight (even levitate) functions with a radiant idol as its target. A spell (such as polymorph) that changes a radiant idol into a form with the natural ability of flight works normally, but the radiant idol cannot fly in that form. If changed into a form that has only a fly speed (no land speed), the radiant idol can only move along the ground in that form. Spells that grant flight to other characters fail within 30 feet of a radiant idol, as if it were at the center of an antimagic field, but only magic related to flight is affected. Magic items that grant the power of flight likewise fail. (This is verbatim from Sharn: City of Towers.)
  • Blood Oath. A radiant idol has the ability to perform a ritual of initiation that binds cult members to its service.This requires 24 hours of preparation, and the ritual itself lasts for 2 hours plus an additional 10 minutes for each initiate involved. If a participant wishes to resist the connection, they may make a Wisdom save (DC 19); however, the idol knows whether or not the bond was properly formed. Once a bond is established, it can only be severed by the use of greater restoration on the victim or by the destruction of the idol. As an action, the idol may invoke one of the following powers, targeting a creature on the same plane that is bound by its oath. These saving throws are Charisma-based.
    Locate Cultist. This functions as locate creature, with unlimited range.
    Scry on Cultist. This functions as scrying. If the target wishes to resist they can make a Wisdom saving throw (DC 24); if they succeed, the idol cannot observe them in this way for 24 hours.
    Torture Cultist. The victim must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 17). If they fail, they are wracked with pain and poisoned for 1 minute.
    Kill Cultist. The victim must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 17). If they fail, they are reduced to zero hit points. If the save is successful, the victim takes 3d6+6 necrotic damage.
  • Guide Thrall. Once per day, the radiant idol can cast dominate person on a creature bound by its blood oath. The idol doesn’t have to see the victim, but must be on the same plane of existence. This ability doesn’t require concentration and lasts until the idol uses the ability again or until the victim makes a successful Wisdom saving throw (DC 17, Charisma based). The victim may attempt a saving throw when the effect is first used, and then again at dawn or whenever they take damage. Once it succeeds on the saving throw, a creature is immune to this radiant idol’s Guide Thrall for 24 hours.

Random Idols

Roll twice on the name column and combine the names together: Ranrael, Kastar-Ular. The wings column describes why it can’t fly but also suggests general appearance. Domain and Cult Focus gives a broad domain and a possible cult direction.

d8 NameWingsDomain/Cult Focus
1KastarSeveredOrder. The cult seeks to bring order to the idol’s sphere of influence, stopping violence and crime, but also enforcing a dress code and restricting free speech.
2RaelPetrifiedForge. The cult is building a monument or weapons—or a monument that is also a weapon—that honor the idol.
3UlarChainedDeath. The idol promises a peaceful eternity to victims killed in a ritual manner; their souls are contained within the idol, preventing resurrection until the idol is destroyed.
4AstulFrozenLife. The idol uses its magic to provide perfect health to its cultists—but for every cultist it heals, an innocent person suffers the malady removed.
5RanBurntPeace. Cultists of the idol exist in a state of perfect, serene peace; however, they are incapable of taking any remotely aggressive action, even in the most desperate situations.
6AvarGlassTrickery. The idol yearns to see intrigues unfold in the community, and dispatches its cultists to infiltrate factions and guilds to sow discord.
7TusBrokenKnowledge. The cultists of the idol cannot lie and others find they cannot lie to the cultists. What chaos will this bring to a community that has a lot of skeletons in its closets?
8ValaSpectralNature. The idol can provide a community with bountiful crops and healthy stock… but there is a price for this supernatural prosperity.

Q&A

When I have time I answer questions from my Patreon supporters, as this support is what allows me to continue to create Eberron content. Here’s a few questions patrons posed on this article.

In Sharn the presence of Radiant Idol cults seems fairly prominent. With Idols being Large and likely not having subtle falls from grace, how does the city handle this eventuality? Are members of the Blackened Book prepared to handle a “live idol fall” or is their cast to the material more subtle? Does the Sharn Watch have methods of detecting the gravity well the Idols generate, etc?

In my Eberron, they aren’t that obvious. Being “cast down” to the material plane doesn’t mean they literally fall from the sky. In my game they appear in a place that’s suited to their nature—IE, the Giver of Strength might have appeared under Cornerstone, while Vorlintar appeared in Fallen. So you don’t have weather-oracles saying “There’s a 50% chance of falling idols today.” Likewise, I tend to have their cults manifest in places that aren’t all that obvious; the point of Vorlintar in The Son of Khyber is that no one cares about Fallen and so the cult goes unobserved… or in the case of the Giver of Strength, it could be that it takes a player character to notice the strange pattern of deaths. This ties to my general point that the world needs heroes—I want ADVENTURERS to deal with idols, not to have them just make a sending call to the Blackened Book’s Idol Squad. Canonically we know that Kotharel the Harvester was defeated by the Knights of Dol Arrah—which in my opinion was a legendary order of champions who might just as well have been player characters. Essentially, if a idol is too obvious in its manifestation and is causing havoc crashing lifts and skycoaches, the city could send the Redcloaks and Blackened Book to deal with it—but first, that’s why most idols WON’T be that clumsy and obvious and second, that’s going to be a tough fight for the forces of the law. This is a job for Harryn Stormblade, or at least the Harryn Stormblade of today, and that’s all of you. Regarding size, this is where magic comes into play. Rising stats only give them disguise self, but 3.5 let them alter self—which, in 3.5 allowed you to shrink a size category. So ORIGINALLY they were supposed to be able to move among humans unnoticed. I’d personally allow still them to do that; and if I didn’t, that’s the point of Guide Thrall, allowing them to telepathically control a cultist who can serve as their hands and eyes among the common people.

I certainly think that the Blackened Book KNOWS about radiant idols and has records of idols that have threatened the city in the past. But I don’t think that they are aware that there’s six idols in Sharn at any given time. And if you go to the Blackened Book and say There’s a radiant idol in Fallen! in my game, they’ll say Thank goodness it’s somewhere where we can ignore it! Last time one of those things turned up, it wiped out an entire watch station and it was only stopped when Boranel himself came and punched it into Dolurrh. Likewise, the Silver Flame has records of radiant idols, but in Sharn Ythana Morr will probably ask how much you’re willing to pay to have it dealt with (What? It’s in Fallen? Why would anyone even care?) while Mazin Taza would WANT to help you deal with this threat, and might even try to take it on himself… but he doesn’t have the power to deal with a radiant idol, and trying will just get him killed. This is on you, adventurers!

How do other cultures deal with radiant idols, either cases like the Mror or the Zil that may view them differently or outlying cultures like the Dhakaani? 

Radiant idols aren’t COMMON and I think it’s entirely plausible that there’s never been a radiant idol in the Mror Holds. If there has been, odds are good that it was JUST ONE — something that spawned a particular story about the bold deeds of Mroranon crushing the wingless angel, but not that has created a cultural attitude.

With the Zil, I could go in one of three very different directions. The first would be to say that the Trust would swiftly identify an idol and eliminate it as quickly as possible whenever it appeared. Why do I say this is possible in Zilargo when it’s beyond the Blackened Book in Sharn? Because it’s THE TRUST, and that’s kind of the point of the Trust; they are terrifyingly efficient and effective, and they are scarier than an idol. The second option is to say that an idol of Knowledge or Trickery might actually find a comfortable home in Zilargo — that a particular Zil family could have a symbiotic relationship with a hidden idol, providing it the adoration it craves in exchange for its knowledge or gifts. Again, I see most idols as having a maximum effective range; they aren’t TRYING to conquer the world, and a radiant cult could happily thrive in a particular village for centuries without ever being known to the outside world. So there could easily be a Zil family who has worked out a decent arrangement with “Grandfather”… as long as you don’t reveal the secrets, he won’t kill you through your blood oath, and everyone’s happy! The final option is to combine the two: the Trust is aware of radiant idols and THE TRUST has absorbed idols of either Knowledge or Order and made them part of their whole system. Are adventurers about to interrogate a Trust agent with amazingly important secrets? Too bad, Oversight just activated his blood oath and killed him.

The Dhakaani have absolutely dealt with radiant idols, because Sharn is a nexus of idols and Sharn began as a Dhakaani city. Part of my point is that defeated idols may take centuries to reform… and have reformed and been destroyed multiple times throughout the history of the city. So there could be Dhakaani tales of Vorlintar or the Giver of Strength, and their appearances in the present day are just their latest of many incarnations.

How do radiant idols clash with other supernatural forces? For instance, how do bonded cultists interact with daelkyr influence, and how do radiant idol dreams conflict with quori dreams?

Radiant idols are unique individuals. They have no particular means to be aware of daelkyr influence or quori schemes, or to be given special treatment by these greater powers. The idol’s ability to influence dreams is the dream spell, no more or less. So if both the quori and an idol are trying to influence the same person, both can; it’s going to be frustrating for both of them realizing that they are playing tug of war. I think it’s quite valid for a party of adventurers to be tipped off about a radiant idol by a Dreaming Dark agent who wants them to get rid of this immortal interloper who’s stumbled into their sandbox. Likewise, there’s no rules or limits regarding what the daelkyr can do. You could have a cult that’s both influenced by a daelkyr AND bound by an idol’s blood oath. You could say the daelkyr influence breaks the blood oath. Or you could have Dyrrn twist an idol and create something horrible and new, blending the traits of the daelkyr and the idol.

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments, but I won’t be answering further questions. Thanks again to my Patrons for making these articles possible!

A Draconic Miscellany

At the dawn of creation, the blood of Siberys rained down upon the surface of Eberron, blending the essence of the two Progenitors. This union produced the first dragons. While mortal, they were infused with the mystical power of the Dragon Above; magic is as much a part of a dragon as blood or scale. When Siberys’s blood struck the high mountain peaks, the silver dragons were born. Where it struck the desert, brass dragons emerged from the sand. Where it fell into the oceans, bronze dragons emerged from the water. These glittering dragons were echoes of the perfection of the Progenitors. But they weren’t alone. Foul Khyber was bound beneath Eberron, and as the blood of Siberys soaked down into the soil, the influence of Khyber rose up. And so a second wave of dragons were born… still the children of Siberys and Eberron, yes, but touched by the essence of Khyber. Instead of the beautiful metallic scales of the first generation, these younger dragons had scales of flat, base colors—a visible sign of their weakness of body and spirit. 

This is the bitter truth of our chromatic cousins: they carry the legacy of Khyber in their blood and on their scales. Consider the favored form of the Daughter of Khyber. Consider how much stronger her influence is over these dragons than we pure metallics—something seen even in the best of times in their aggressive temperaments and sharp tongues. We cannot blame our cousins for this weakness; we can only pity them, and be even vigilant lest they fall prey to their baser nature. 

-The Loredrake Ourenilach

When creating Eberron, we made a conscious decision to take new approaches to many well known monsters. Eberron  has honorable gnolls and the orcs protect the world from demons and daelkyr. Halfling barbarians ride dinosaurs. Giants aren’t tied to the Ordning. As for dragons, the Eberron Campaign Setting says “Dragons come in all alignments; it is as common to encounter a good red dragon as it is an evil gold dragon. Usually, dragons aren’t monsters in the typical D&D sense; heroes won’t barge into a dragon’s lair looking to plunder its treasure. Instead, dragons are either aloof and unapproachable, or they are curious and manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes or trying to influence the world and the Prophecy in arcane ways.” 

In this article, I want to address a number of questions about dragons. Do dragons in Eberron have the same personalities assigned to the colors in the Monster Manual? If not, what are the meaningful differences between chromatic and metallic dragons? What inspiration can I use for quick draconic encounters? Do all dragon follow the Thir faith? For more on dragons, I previously answered some questions tied to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons in this article; meanwhile, this article looks at why dragons usually aren’t our friends. This topic was proposed on my Patreon and addresses questions raised by patrons; check it out here if you want to influence future articles!

METALLIC AND CHROMATIC

In the default lore of Dungeons & Dragons, metallic dragons are the virtuous scions of Bahamut while chromatic dragons are the evil spawn of Tiamat. Beyond alignment, this is reflected in their regional effects and lair actions; Silver dragons generate zephyr winds around their lairs that gently catch innocent people who fall in the mountains, while blue dragons produce endless storms and malevolent dust devils. In fifth edition, black dragons aren’t just described as being evil, they FEEL evil, fouling nearby water supplies and inducing despair in the creatures around their lairs. But Eberron strips this away; you’re as likely to encounter a good red dragon as you are an evil gold. If that’s the case, why even have the distinction? What’s the meaningful difference between a black dragon and a copper dragon? 

In Eberron, draconic alignment and behavior are a matter of choice. But lair actions and regional effects are biological, determined by the color of the dragon. A powerful blue dragon may choose to be heroic, but it’s still going to generate fierce thunderstorms anywhere it settles. A powerful black dragon fouls water sources regardless of the dragon’s alignment. Overall, the practical fact is that chromatic dragons shape the environment in ways that feel malevolent, while metallics typically have more positive effects. Among the dragons themselves, this is attributed to the influence of Siberys and Khyber. As presented by the loredrake Ourenilach at the start of this article, many dragons believe that the metallic dragons are the pure children of Siberys and Eberron—while the chromatic dragons are fundamentally corrupted by the touch of Khyber. Proponents of this theory point to the malign regional effects as evidence of this. And while any dragon CAN fall prey to the influence of the fiendish overlord known as the Daughter of Khyber, chromatic dragons are more susceptible to her influence; likewise, their eggs are more easily corrupted to create Spawn of Tiamat. 

So black dragons DO foul water and generate entangling undergrowth. But that’s just part of being a black dragon, not the result of any actual malevolence of the dragon. It’s likely one reason Vvaraak chose the Shadow Marches as her beachhead in Khorvaire rather than the Towering Wood: as a powerful black dragon, she had less of an impact on the environment by settling in an existing swamp. It’s worth noting that only legendary dragons produce environmental effects… and this in turn is a reason for the Chamber to use younger dragons as its undercover operatives. If a powerful blue dragon settles in Sharn, the city will be lashed by powerful storms and plagued by dust devils. 

A side effect of this is that there often ARE more evil chromatic dragons than evil metallic dragons—because being a chromatic dragon is HARDER than being a metallic dragon, and it can take a toll on the psyche of the dragon. As a blue dragon it can be depressing living under constant storm clouds, and those dust devils are kind of like draconic lice. Meanwhile, everyone loves Shiny the Silver and their life-saving zephyrs. So this can contribute to chromatic dragons being more likely to be angry or cruel than their metallic cousins. But most shrug this off… and as we see with Vvaraak, Ourelonastrix and Dulahrahnak, chromatic dragons can be champions. 

While only legendary dragons produce full six-mile radius environmental effects, most older dragons generate these effects to some degree; they are a reflection of the raw arcane power of the dragon. Within Argonnessen, these effects have been harnessed in many ways. Storm spikes catch lightning and store it as arcane energy; you’ll find these spikes anywhere powerful blue dragons dwell. Gold dragons often act as dream guides, and it was a team of gold dragons that created the epic Draconic Eidolon in Dal Quor. Meanwhile, communities that support black dragons use powerful cleansing stones to maintain pure water supplies; it’s quite possible that a Chamber agent helped the architects of Sharn develop the water purification systems of the city precisely so they wouldn’t be fouled by a resident black dragon. 

SOVEREIGN ARCHETYPES

When thinking about a personality for a dragon from Argonnessen, consider the archetypes presented in Dragons of Eberron. The religion of Thir maintains that dragons have the potential to ascend and become divine beings—to become the Sovereigns, governing reality until a new aspirant takes on the mantle. Even if a dragon isn’t striving to become a Sovereign, the archetypes still offer a clear path in life. And an archetype can be an easy way to give a dragon goals. Most dragons may not care about amassing wealth, but a Master of the Hoard is defined by their treasures. A Loredrake is always interested in arcane knowledge. So, consider the following…

  • A Child of Eberron may seek to protect the natural world and its creatures, as Vvaraak did. They might seek to cultivate a region—maintaining a vast preserve or zoolological garden in Xen’drik or Argonnessen. Or they could follow the path of the Devourer, embodying the destructive power of nature. Imagine a legendary storm that manifests in Khorvaire every year and moves along a particular  path… but when they are caught in the storm, the adventurers discover that there is an ancient blue dragon at the heart of it. 
  • The Flames of the Forge are artists and artisans. Within Argonnessen, these dragons create eldritch machines and epic wonders. But perhaps there is a Prometheus like dragon who is leaking secrets of artifice to lesser creatures… or who simply enjoys watching the younger species pursue knowledge. Such a dragon might take a particular interest in an artificer adventurer whom they see as the genius of the age. Or perhaps the adventurers stumble into the workshop lair of a rogue Flame of the Forge who died centuries ago… but who left behind a lair filled with eldritch tools and deadly traps. Do you want to introduce a construct that has no logical place in the region? Perhaps it escaped from that abandoned dragon’s forge…
  • Fortune’s Fangs are social dragons who enjoy traveling and seeing the world. Many serve as spies for the Chamber or help to push particular paths of the Prophecy. But they might also become patrons of the arts, amused by the work of the younger races (“If you set a ten thousand humans writing, eventually one might produce the works of Shakespearatryx.”). Others simply want adventures of their own—seeking there own excitement in Xen’drik, the Mournlands, or other dangerous places where their actions won’t impact the younger species. 
  • Guides of the Weak likewise often serve as spies for the Chamber, subtly helping communities of humanoids. When they go bad, this is where you could have a rogue dragon who sets themselves up as a tyrant over a small, isolated community. Typically dragons get these impulses out in the safe space of the Vast of Argonnessen; among other things, embracing tyranny opens a door for the Daughter of Khyber. But a young dragon might defy tradition and ignore the risks… which could then lead to their becoming a servant of the overlord. 
  • Lightkeepers enforce order within Argonnessen, and who fight the cults of the Daughter of Khyber that emerge there. They are usually quite strict about not interfering with the younger species, but there are a few hidden among humanity and the other species. Keep in mind that the terms of the Prophecy often require humanoids to solve their own problems; a dragon might be able to defeat a particular villain easily, but they need to push the adventurers to do it themselves. 
  • Loredrakes are the scholars and arcane researchers of Argonnessen. Most work within Argonnessen, as both sages and scientists. Loredrakes are the most ardent students of the Prophecy. But the pursuit of knowledge can lead to villains such as Zenobaal or lesser rogues—those who follow the path of the Shadow and research paths of magic forbidden by the Conclave of Argonnessen. Such things might not even be directly relevant to adventurers; a loredrake’s work could be SO esoteric that a common wizard can’t even understand it. On the other hand, it could be that a group of adventurers who stumble into a Loredrake’s lair could recover a spellshard holding a civilization-changing secret—how to mystically split the atom, for example. Imagine Stranger Things, but instead of it being the government running experiments on the edge of town, it’s a rogue loredrake experimenting on mortals beneath it. It all goes smoothly until they somehow open a portal into Xoriat. The adventurers must deal with both the creatures that have come through the portal, the innocent subjects of the dragon’s experiments, and ultimately a dragon twisted by exposure to Xoriat. 
  • Looking for a dragon with a trove of treasure? The Master of the Hoard is just what you need. A Hoarder might get involved in commerce within a particular town, using the younger species to play out its archetypal role. Or it could be obsessed with collecting something in particular—like the default black dragon in the Monster Manual who “collects the wreckage and treasures of fallen peoples.” Such a dragon could be entirely harmless if left alone; it only wishes to enjoy its hoard and acquire all of its treasures through legitimate trade. But it could be the adventurers have a desperate need for one of the treasures in the dragon’s hoard; can they bargain with the Master of the Hoard or will they attempt theft? Beyond this, dragons can be driven by greed just as humans are. I could see reenacting Beowulf or the story of Smaug in a remote part of the Lhazaar Principalities, with a young dragon laying claim to the vast wealthy acquired by a greedy prince.  
  • Dragons of Eberron presents Passion’s Flame in a relatively negative light, focusing solely on the aspect of the Fury. I think it can be more broadly expanded to fill the same role as the Three Faces of Love in Khorvaire. Within draconic society, Passion’s Flames serve as matchmakers, midwives, and entertainers—helping to bring dragons together. Passion’s Flames organize festivals and celebrations, much like Cazhaak priests of the Fury. Those encountered beyond Argonnessen can be on the wilder side—unconventional artists who use humanoids as their medium, rogue prophets with wild visions—but I also envision Passion’s Flames within the Chamber as specialists who understand how to manipulate humanoid emotions. For example, if the Prophecy requires Prince Oargev to fall in love with a particular person, it would be a Passion’s Flame who would study the situation and try to create a path that would bring those two crazy kids together.
  • Stalking Wyrms seek challenging prey and as such rarely spend much time among humanoids. But adventurers in Xen’drik could accidentally come between a Stalker and her prey, or be themselves pursued by a rogue Stalker who considers them worthy of a hunt. 
  • Like Lightbringers, Wyrms of War usually serve the Conclave or the Light of Siberys. But as I’ve suggested with the Flames of the Forge, a Wyrm of War might find some pleasure in training the finest warriors of the younger species, or in observing their battles without interfering. A rogue Wyrm of War could spar with an agent of Rak Tulkhesh, playing a game of Conqueror with living pawns… though such a dragon would be in dire risk of being corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber.  

USING THE MONSTER MANUAL…

A patron observed that because Eberron’s dragons throw out the good and evil stereotypes presented in the Monster Manual, it can be difficult to use existing adventures or material. I sympathize with this in principle. You’re in a hurry, you like the description of the black dragon in the Monster Manual, and you just want to throw it in an adventure… but are you somehow breaking Eberron by doing it? Well, there’s a place for everything in Eberron. The gnolls of the Znir Pact defy the gnoll lore of the Monster Manual, but you can apply that lore to the gnolls who are still bound to one of the overlords.. Looking back to the ECS, it said that USUALLY dragons aren’t monsters in the typical sense; they are masterminds and manipulators, scholars and observers. But if you just want to have a black dragon sitting on a hoard in a swamp? There’s a few ways to handle this. 

Bad Apples

The Monster Manual provides a lot of flavor for different types of dragon. According to the MM, black dragons “collect the wreckage and treasures of fallen peoples. These dragons loathe seeing the weak prosper and revel in the collapse of humanoid kingdoms. They make their homes in fetid swamps and crumbling ruins where kingdoms once stood.” A black dragon “lives to watch its prey beg for mercy, and will often offer the illusion of respite or escape before finishing off its enemies.” In Eberron, this definitely doesn’t apply to ALL black dragons. But it could be true of a particular black dragon. While we’ve only named a few in canon, there are supposed to be rogue dragons who have spawned terrifying legends throughout history. You could use this to explain the Monster Manual lore—to say that that lore is taken from an in-world draconomicon that asserts that all black dragons are cruel and all blue dragons are tyrants based on the actions of individual rogue dragons encountered in history. So, to make up a few rogues…

  • Hazcoranar the Gravedigger is a black dragon and a Master of the Hoard. He is infamous for appearing after horrific battles and looting the corpses of the dead—adding to his hoard of treasures from fallen or falling humanoid civilizations. Aside from the treasures of Galifar, he has gathered artifacts from the Empire of Dhakaan, the Cul’sir Dominion, and the pre-Sundering kingdoms of Sarlona. In tales he often appears at the end of a battle, finishing off dying survivors (and enjoying their pleas for mercy) but his title of the Gravedigger comes from the fact that he has desecrated and stolen from a number of great tombs. 
  • Prince Golan Thunder was an elf prince of Stormkeep, a domain in the mainland Lhazaar Principality. He was a tyrant who maintained power through an alliance with a blue dragon who dwelt in the mountains above the Principality, who destroyed anyone who challenged him. While Stormkeep was a small domain, Golan built it up in remarkable ways, recruiting exceptional mercenary soldiers, a court wizard, fine artists—playing to the blue dragon stereotype of wanting exceptional minions. In fact, Golan WAS the dragon—Golantyx the Thunderer, a tyrannical Guide of the Weak. He ruled for over a century, but he eventually fell prey to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber and sought to conquer the surrounding principalities. One of the champions of the age (perhaps Harryn Stormblade) challenged the tyrant, first in elf form and then as a dragon, and Golantyx was forced to abandon his domain. 
  • Why is the Dragonwood of Breland called “The Dragonwood”? Because of Mazalaryn, known variously as the Viper Queen and the Wyrm of the Woods. This green dragon appeared during the reign of Galifar the Dark and announced her claim to what was then called the Daggerwood. She would often appear in human guise at the galas of neighboring nobles. For a time, she demanded a strange tribute from neighboring nobles—every 25 years, each family had to send a champion into the woods to find her lair, dealing with the countless hazards in the forest maze. If a champion survived the challenge, she would advise the family for the next 25 years; if a family refused to participate, she would raid their holdings in dragon form. Over time, she created a culture driven by vicious vendettas and the use of poison, and the ir’Calan line was completed wiped out in these feuds. Templars and other champions often entered the Dragonwood to slay the Viper Queen; few ever returned from the woods. It’s possible that Mazalaryn is a rogue who is simply playing with humanoids as if they were toys. Or it may be that she’s an agent of the Chamber who is carefully setting up paths of the Prophecy. It could be that she’s still active today, or it may have been a century since she’s been seen. If so, she could have been targeted by one of the Lords of the Dust or even caught in an accidental bombardment during the Last War. 
  • In the annals of the Five Nations, the most infamous red dragon of legend is Sarmondelaryx, the Bane of Thrane. Long before the Year of Blood and Fire and the rise of the Church of the Silver Flame, Sarmondelaryx terrorized the region, ultimately killing Prince Thrane ir’Wynarn. However, there is another red dragon that made his mark on history. The Kech Volaar have records of Jharaashta, also known as the Marhu’kor (Crimson King). Jharaashta dominated a region of central Khorvaire before the rise of the Dhakaani Empire. It’s said that his mountain domain contained countless treasures, both things he collected as tributes and artifacts of ancient times that he jealously hoarded—artifacts from the Age of Demons, relics of the Sovereigns. The legendary Jhazaal Dhakaan negotiated a peace between the dragon and the young empire—and it was Jhazaal who convinced Jharaashta to surrender the horn that later became the artifact Ghaal’duur. While the Dhakaan were able to buy ongoing peace with Jharaashta, it came at a considerable price, and his lair is said to contain incalculable wealth. Jharaashta hasn’t been seen for nine thousand years. Most likely he’s long dead of old age; another possibility is that he was a Master of the Hoard and that he is the spirit currently embodying Kol Korran or the Keeper! Likewise, his lair could still remain intact, holding countless Dhakaani and pre-Imperial artifacts; if so it would be of great interest to the Heirs of Dhakaan. On the other hand, it is possible it was looted thousands of years ago. But Jharaashta contributes to the legend of the red dragon as vain and greedy.
  • In the Lhazaar Principalities, it’s said that the isle of Orthoss used to be a tropical paradise… until the white dragon known only as Rime settled there. There are countless stories of Rime trapping ships in ice and stealing their cargoes, or demanding sacrifices in exchange for mercy. Rime could be a Child of Eberron, following the path of the Devourer; they embody the harsh hand of winter. Rime has been silent for over a century, following a clash with the heroes of a previous age. But the people of Orthoss remember the dragon-fear, and many swear they will return. If you want to run Rime of the Frostmaiden in Eberron, you could potentially set the game in Orthoss and use Rime as a stand-in for Auril. 

These five ideas all play to the Monster Manual stereotypes… the sadistic black dragon hoarding relics of a previous age, the blue tyrant, the treacherous green. But these are specific individuals who happen to have those personality traits. It’s not that all red dragons are greedy—it’s that JHARAASHTA was greedy, and because he’s a rogue who actually interacted with humanoids, scholars assert that all reds are greedy. This ties to the point that you could take the personality traits or hooks presented in the Monster Manual and apply them to ANY dragon. Even here, Rime could be a silver dragon instead of a white, if for some reason that better suits the story you want to tell. 

Prophecy Actors

“Random Dragons” could be foundlings who never had the education of a child of Argonnessen. They could be rogues or exiles. But perhaps there’s more to their actions than first meets the eye… perhaps the dragon that’s been sitting on the hoard in the Burning Hills for the last two centuries has actually been stationed there waiting for the adventurers to arrive, because this is the moment when the Son of the Storm has to overcome adversity and sieze the Blade of the Falling Star. For the adventurers, they think they are fighting a monster and stealing its hoard. The dragon can’t just give them the sword; to fulfill the Prophetic condition they have to fight for it. But boy, after spending the last 200 years establishing this set piece, the dragon is going to be SO glad when the damn adventurers finally steal the sword and they can go home. Even the Bad Apples described above could be actors; building up the reputation as “Rime” because that’s somehow necessary to lock in a particular Prophetic path. 

Storybook Dragons

Are you looking for a dragon to be the classic villain in a simple tale, jealously guarding its hoard or protecting a legendary artifact? Thelanis is the answer to your problem. Consider the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. As a Thelanian manifest zone, it could be unnaturally rich in resources… the story of “wondrous wealth”. But as that’s discovered and people pour in, the story shifts to “deadly greed” and the dragon manifests to kill the miners and claim the hoard. In this version of the story, the Arkenstone could be a Thelanian artifact — the stone of impossible beauty — but the hoard could also contain lesser magic items created by the miners before the dragon came for the hoard. The point here is that Smaug exists because this is a story about a hoarding dragon. He didn’t fly in from somewhere else and he has no ties to Argonnessen; he appeared when the story needed a dragon, and now he remains because the dragon guarding the hoard continues to be a good story. While he is a product of Thelanis and the manifest zone, he has become real; he COULD fly away from the mountain to ravage Laketown. But it’s not something he could or would do casually; looking at The Hobbit, the idea would be that the people of Laketown celebrating the dwarves and THINKING about the mountain and the treasure draws the dragon to them, playing out the story. If the dragon was somehow kept out of the manifest zone for a long time it might shrivel or weaken — but it could dart out for a raid and return. 

What differentiates these Storybook Dragons from the Bad Apples described above? Largely it would be about the complexity of the character. The Venom Queen is a little like Maleficent—the powerful mystical neighbor who might get pissed if she’s not invited to the christening. But most of the Bad Apples ended up getting involved in local politics and history. Jharaashta dealt with the Empire on an ongoing basis. The point of Storybook Dragons is that they ultimately aren’t REAL; they’re just the IDEA of a dragon. And lest it go without saying, this same concept could apply to any other creature. You could have a cloud giant tied to an airborne Thelanian manifest zone who embodies the idea of a monster in the sky but who doesn’t actually interact with the world below in any meaningful way.  

FALLEN CIVILIZATIONS

We know very little about draconic culture and history. A broad implication is that it’s been a monolithic force since the Age of Demons. Personally, I don’t think it was monolithic then, and I don’t think it’s continued in an unbroken path. The reason the dragons remain isolated in Argonnessen is because of their fear of the Daughter of Khyber, and I don’t think you adhere to that for tens of thousands of years unless you’ve had clear evidence that it’s an existential threat. Personally, I think there’s been two serious cataclysms within draconic civilization that have rocked even Argonessen, and likely a few smaller collapses that only affected outposts established beyond it. I’ve already said that I think there was a widespread dragon civilization on Khorvaire sometime before the Age of Giants that collapsed due to the Daughter. It’s even possible that the destruction of Xen’drik had terrible consequences for Argonnessen—that such a dramatic exercise of their power caused a surge of cult activity on Argonnessen and a bitter civil war. Why does this matter? Because it means there could be draconic artifacts on Khorvaire tied to a civilization that no longer exists, things unknown even to Argonnessen. This could be an opportunity for adventurers to stumble across something even the Chamber has forgotten. And if it’s tied to a forgotten civil war between dragons, it could be a threat to the wyrms of the present day. While Ourenilach suggests that chromatic dragons are most vulnerable to the Daughter of Khyber, I like the idea that even if this is true, chromatic dragons of the past (such as Ourelon) could have crafted magic items to help them resist this, meaning that it could have been arrogant metallics who were the villains in the first great world war between Argonnessen and the dragons of Khorvaire…

WHAT ABOUT ARGONNESSEN?

An in-depth look at Argonnessen is beyond the scope of this article, but I want to touch on a few points that should help inform encounters with dragons from Argonnessen. Dragons of Eberron covers Argonnessen and I did work on that sourcebook, but I feel it doesn’t hit all the notes I’d like to hit if I were writing it alone, so here’s a few thoughts.

Advanced Aliens, Not Monsters

My touchstone for the dragons of Eberron are the Vorlons of Babylon Five—an incredibly ancient and powerful civilization that remains in isolation from the younger races while conducting its enigmatic war against the Shadows (IE, the Lords of Dust). By the rules of 3.5 dragons were not only incredibly intelligent, they were all innate spellcasters. Even without taking any class levels (and 3.5 had classes designed specifically for dragons!) a typical great wyrm could cast 9th level sorcerer spells. And one of the basic principles of Eberron is if Arcane magic existed, wouldn’t it become a tool of civilization? So think of the everyday magic of Khorvaire, and now imagine that EVERYONE in society can perform arcane magic—and that if you live long enough, you might be able to cast wish just using your own inherent power. 

With this in mind, I feel that this takes the idea that sufficiently advanced science would seem like magic in a different direction: sufficiently advanced MAGIC would seem like magic. Meaning that the magic of the dragons is so advanced (and often, drawing on their own innate power) that wizards and artificers can’t comprehend the techniques. This ties to the idea that dragons can create artifacts and eldritch machines—things that go beyond what can be done with simple artifice. They can curse entire continents, leaving effects that still remain in force tens of thousands of years later. Within Argonnessen itself, there could be an arcane infrastructure that is all but invisible. Imagine seeing what seems to be a simple valley flanked by hills and caves. But should you detect magic, you’ll sense the massive energy flowing through artificial ley lines (generated by blue dragons and storm spikes…) and when the local dragon council gathers for their meeting a structure formed of walls of force will shimmer into existence. How does Argonnessen support its large dragon population? Well, if we assume dragons actually eat standard food, there’s a few options. Those who enjoy eating can conjure the food they need; the dragons of the Vast use the magebred bolatashi to keep the region stocked with dinosaurs and other suitable prey. But the dragons also long ago learned to mass produce goodberries—or, more likely, crafted wells imbued with the same life-sustaining magic, so a single drink provides all the sustenance you need for a week. And here again, the point is that this may not LOOK advanced to the casual observer; oh look, it’s a marble well. But look closer and you’ll recognize it’s an eldritch machine that can sustain a city. 

Again, the key point here is that in setting up Eberron, we made the decision that for the most part, its dragons weren’t monsters; they are “either aloof and unapproachable, or they are curious and manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes or trying to influence the world and the Prophecy in arcane ways.” Consider the common trope of advanced aliens interacting with pre-warp civilizations. Some are observers trying not to interfere with the lives of the creatures they are studying; others are rogues using the younger species for entertainment.  

Greater Diversity

Dragons of Eberron gives the sense that Argonnessen is very monolithic—for example, that all of the dragons of Argonnessen embrace Thir. DoE suggests that the Thousand is just made up of different families; I see it as being comprised of different cultures. Again, I don’t have the time to explore this in depth now. But I’d definitely imagine…

  • A culture driven by Children of Eberron that employs advanced primal magic (likely the birthplace of Vvaraak)
  • A magebreeding culture that created the bolatashi—and possibly, that created many other species found across Eberron
  • A culture that has focused on the planes and demiplanes, the source of planar orreries. 
  • A culture focused on artifice.
  • A culture dedicated to the study of immortals—dealing with elementals, celestials, etc. They would be the experts on the overlords and would also be the main source of dragon warlocks. 

… That’s just a start. All of this is on top of the Light of Siberys—which you can think of as Starfleet, a force that serves the United Federation of Dragons—and the Tapestry, which is where dragons of different cultures actively work together and share their philosophies. And on the other end you have the Vast, which is specifically maintained as a preserve where any dragon can live as they choose… in some ways, it’s the dragon equivalent of The Purge

Humanoids in Argonnessen

Argonnessen isn’t only inhabited by dragons, and Dragons of Eberron discusses the role of nondragons in each of the major regions. The most populated and diverse is the Vast…


The Vast has the highest nondragon population of any of the territories. These lesser races have been brought to Argonnessen over the course of a hundred thousand years. Hobgoblins, whose ancestors were saved from the downfall of the Empire of Dhakaan, still sing the songs of the duur’kala… Elves, whose ancestors were brought from the shores of Xen’drik long before the elf–giant wars, know nothing of the Undying Court or the Tairnadal. There are nondragons never seen in Khorvaire, members of races that were exterminated by the giants or the daelkyr. The range of communities that can be found are dizzying. Some are metropolitan, with members of a dozen races living under one roof. Other communities are genetically isolated, steadfastly preserving secrets of their forgotten cultures. 

Humanoids in the Vast are essentially toys for the dragons that live there. “To a dominion lord, nondragons are an extension of his hoard.” Guides of the Weak often interact directly with humanoids, either dominating them as tyrants or working as mentors. Wyrms of War play wargames with humanoids, whether pitting their humanoids against those of other Dominion Lords or engaging in direct dragon-to-dragon conflict to seize humanoid holdings. Here’s a table you could use to generate a community players encounter in the Vast…

Humanoids in the Vast

d12SpeciesWho…
1Dhakaani Dar… have perfectly preserved their original culture
2Borunan Ogres… have half-dragons incorporated into their culture
3Xen’drik Giants… have been reduced to feral savagery
4Ghaash’kala Orcs… are pacifists protected by their dominion lord
5Dragonborn… have a ruthless culture devoted to war
6Lizardfolk… are more arcanically advanced than modern Khorvaire
7Xen’drik Elves or Drow… employ powerful primal magic
8Sarlonan Humans… worship their dominion lord as a deity
9Five Nations Blend… have been altered by a powerful manifest zone
10Forgotten Species… have just been seeded in their current location
11Other… have a unique culture that’s survived for millennia
12Roll TwiceRoll Twice

Forgotten species is the idea of a form of humanoid that is entirely unknown in the present day, such as the proto-Dar I’ve mentioned a few times. “Other” could include yuan-ti, shulassakar, Lorghalen gnomes, Tairnadal elves, dwarves from the Realm Below… or even a unique species magebred by the dragons that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

In other regions, humanoid civilizations always serve some sort of draconic purpose. The Light of Siberys maintains an army of dragonborn and giants, ready should they ever be needed. Within the Tapestry and the Thousand, there’s a few different purposes for humanoid civilizations…

  • Lab Rats. This could be a particular unpleasant scenario in which some form of arcane magic is being actively and aggressively tested on a humanoid population. On the other hand, it could be an entirely peaceful experiment that will take centuries to play out… for example, a line of dragons is studying divine magic and has created a religion, and wants to see if their humanoid subjects develop the ability to cast divine spells through belief in this artificial faith.
  • Factory Workers. Because of how advanced the dragons are, menial labor is usually accomplished with magic. However, there could be a particular reason to use humanoids to maintain some sort of arcane system—whether it’s a production facility or simply part of the infrastructure, such as maintaining a nexus of artificial ley lines. This would make particular sense with an arcane system or manifest zone that has dangerous long-term effects; dragons don’t want to be exposed to it, but humans don’t actually live long enough to experience the negative effects.
  • Companions. Humans keep cats and dogs; some dragons keep humans. This could be a direct relationship, or it could be more like a garden; the dragons remain aloof but enjoy providing for and observing their humanoid community. “You must come and visit—the orcs are in bloom.”
  • Artwork. A twist on this is that a humanoid community could be a palette for a dragon artist—essentially, a living poem or concept given form. One option is that such a society would be kept stagnant to preserve the artistic vision; another is that it is a short term project, and that the artist plans to clear their canvas and start again in a century or two.
  • Valets. Exceptional humanoids could work directly with dragons—if not as equals, at least as respected servants. This is similar to Factory Workers but with more direct interaction between dragon and humanoid. I could imagine a primal society where humanoid gleaners and druids work closely with Children of Eberron, or a planar orrery where humanoid magewrights are tracking specific signs for dragon sages. I say “Valet” because the relationship here definitely isn’t one of equals—but the dragons involved have more respect for the humanoids than in the other examples, and won’t just throw them away. With this in mind, this sort of relationship would be most common within the Tapestry (the home of the Chamber); among other things, I can certainly imagine a humanoid community where the Chamber trains bother humanoid agents to serve as moles in the wider world, while also serving as a training ground for dragons who are preparing to go undercover themselves.

WHAT’S THE STORY WITH THE KECH DRAGUUS?

This question came up on my Patreon, and it’s a very deep cut. But since it deals with dragons, I’ll add my answer here. The Kech Draguus weren’t mentioned in Exploring Eberron, and I believe the only canon source for them is a Dragonshard article I wrote, which states Long ago, a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. Now this Kech Draguus has emerged from hiding. With a corps of half-dragon goblinoids and a few full-blooded dragons at its disposal, the Kech Draguus are poised to reshape Darguun.

Fifth edition adds a twist that adds an entirely new aspect to the Kech Draguus. In fifth edition, gold dragons have an affinity for dreams. A legendary gold dragon has the following regional effect: Whenever a creature that can understand a language sleeps or enters a state of trance or reverie within 6 miles of the dragon’s lair, the dragon can establish telepathic contact with that creature and converse with it in its dreams. The creature remembers its conversation with the dragon upon waking. Such a dragon also has the following Lair Action: One creature the dragon can see within 120 feet of it must succeed on a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be banished to a dream plane, a different plane of existence the dragon has imagined into being. Now, the first key question is what is meant by “A dream plane”. Is this Dal Quor or just a completely isolated demiplane of the dragon’s imagination? Personally, I would use it as banishing the victim to Dal Quor, to an island in the Ocean of Dreams that has been imagined by the dragon. So, taken together, legendary gold dragons have a strong tie to Dal Quor: they can create dream islands and send people there temporarily, and they can find and communicate with mortal dreamers who dream nearby, causing the dreamer to remember the conversation — meaning, they induce lucid dreaming in the people they interact with. 

First of all, this idea says to me that in fifth edition Eberron, gold dragons played a crucial role in the creation of the Draconic Eidolon—the draconic gestalt that can preserve dragon souls after death. Second, while the Lair Action is primarily intended as a short term, temporary attack, I would allow a gold dragon to transport a willing mortal for a longer period of time — meaning, if you have a need to physically get to Dal Quor, you need to find a legendary gold dragon. With all THAT in mind, let’s get back to the Kech Draguus. 

The canon information is that a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. The dreaming abilities of gold dragons are regional, so I would shift “clan” to “city”. This dragon forged an alliance with a Dhakaani city, protecting the city in the waking world and guiding its citizens in their dreams. This dragon admired the Uul Dhakaan and the Dhakaani principles, and worked with the Kech Uul. However, its love and loyalty were first and foremost for the city it had formed an attachment to; it was respected by the Kech Uul but didn’t work closely with them. Then the Xoriat incursion comes along. The dragon helps to protect its “children” but it can only do so much. The dragon works with the leaders of the city to prepare the sanctuary vault, and in time they flee into the depths and the long isolation—becoming the Kech Draguus. 

Here’s where things get interesting. The canon line says that the Draguus have a FEW full-blooded dragons, along with HALF DRAGONS. As far as I know, fifth edition doesn’t have half-dragons in the same way 3.5 did — creatures that are genetically part dragon, anything from humans to rats. Our most infamous half-dragon in Eberron is Erandis Vol, and some people have assumed that means Argonnessen will exterminate all half-dragons. That wasn’t actually meant to be the case; the issue with Erandis was the attempt to produce an Apex Mark and to move it onto dragons. Many Argonnessen dragons find half dragons to be CREEPY, but they aren’t Kill On Sight. There are some half-dragons among the Serens and in the Light of Siberys; some lords of the Vast likely create their own half-dragons. For purposes of easily dropping half-dragons into the Kech Draguus, I might just make them dragonborn sorcerers. But I like the idea of playing with the regional effects of the gold dragon and saying that gold half-dragons are innately lucid dreamers. Meanwhile, looking to the idea that the Kech has a few full-blooded dragons, I’d make those children of the founder… but the fact that there’s more than one means that they have the potential to spread out while still maintaining a presence in both the waking world and the Uul Dhakaan. So if I were to do something with the Kech Draguus, I’d play up the idea that they dwell both in the physical world and in the Uul Dhakaan itself and that because of this they consider themselves to be the most true to the core ideals of the Empire. It could be that they are just trying to reestablish the Empire as it was in the present day… But they could have a more exotic goal. Perhaps they want to help all Dhakaani permanently, physically immigrate to the Uul Dhakaan! A second question is how they interact with the Dreaming Dark. It could be that the quori leave them alone; the Uul is a stable mass dream, and that’s good for il-Lashtavar. It could be that the Kech Draguus is actively fighting quori forces that are laying siege to the Uul. OR… it’s quite likely that the Turning of the Age will destroy or at the very least transform the Uul Dhakaan. Perhaps the Devourer of Dreams has demonstrated this to the leaders of the Kech Draguus, both human and dragon—and they now are aligned with the Dreaming Dark in doing whatever they can to prevent the turning of the age! 

Another question: 2600 years ago isn’t that long for dragons. Are there living dragons on Argonnessen who opposed the destruction of the line of Vol?

Certainly. The green dragon known as the Emerald Claw didn’t act alone. There was a faction of dragons within the Thousand that supported the efforts of the Emerald Claw, and there was a fullscale conflict between dragons that took place in Argonnessen even as battles were raging on Aerenal. Many of the dragons who supported the experiment were slain, but there are certainly some who chose to stand down. However, it’s important to recognize that these dragons weren’t in an way acting for the good of elves or the younger races. They were working to create a half-dragon with an apex dragonmark, because they saw this as a crack in the door to potentially control the Prophecy itself. The supporters of this project believed that it could at the very least allow them to defeat the overlords and Lords of Dust once and for all, and potentially to gain the power of the Progenitors themselves; the majority that opposed it felt that it was both hubris and far too dangerous, with the potential to destroy Argonnessen itself. But there were a significant number of dragons who opposed the destruction of the Line of Vol—including some who actually fought against it.

That’s all the time I have. I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss it in the comments. if you do have questions for me, join my Patreon—thanks to the patrons who make these articles possible!

Dragonmark: Denizens of the Age of Demons

An image of demons and dragons locked in battle.
Art by Eldon Cowgur from Chronicles of Eberron

Imagine that your world is a plaything for cruel gods. There’s no escaping them; every corner of reality falls under the dominion of one of these fiendish overlords. Their power manifests in countless horrifying ways. In the domain of the Gatekeeper, you can hear lost souls wailing in the wind… and you know that if you die, yours will join them. In Bel Shalor’s realm, your shadow conspires against you… and some day, it will kill you and claim your body as its own. Dral Khatuur brings slowly advancing, inevitable ice. But the greater and more subtle threats strike at your mind. Within the realm of Rak Tulkhesh you’ll find your anger surging. You find yourself gripping a knife you don’t remember picking up. You keep thinking about your enemies. A week ago you didn’t even know you had enemies… but now it’s hard to think about anything else. The hatred is like fire in your blood, and the only thing that will sate your rage is violence. Perhaps—perhaps you can overcome this brutal haze, to realize that these aren’t your thoughts. But the longer you stay, the more your own memories and motives will fade away in the bloodthirsty fog. This is the power of the overlords. You’ve never seen Rak Tulkhesh, but he’s in you… and soon you’ll be ready to kill for him.

Whether they twist your thoughts or the environment around you, there’s no escaping the influence of the overlords. But you have more direct threats to worry about. To Rak Tulkhesh you’re one of hundreds of thousands of fleas; his hungry wrath sweeps over you, but he won’t manifest personally to strike you down. And he doesn’t have to, because the world is filled with fiends. Some flaunt their horrifying forms and delight in spreading terror and bloodshed; others conceal their true nature and wear the faces of people you love or trust. Demons can possess corpses or beasts… or, for that matter, your body. Perhaps you’ll have to watch as one of Tul Oreshka’s vicious children uses your hands to murder your best friend and then paints a perfect, heartbreaking portrait of them using your fingers and their blood. Fiends could be in the plants around you, in the words you read, in the sword in your hand. If you’re lucky you’ll still have a strong enough sense of self to be able to feel fear and horror at what’s happening around you. 

This is life in the Age of Demons. But who are you in this time? You might live in a thatched hut with your extended family. You might be hiding in a network of caves with two other survivors, and you’re pretty sure one of them is possessed. Or you might live in an ancient, crumbling city filled with scheming factions. Your may feel that your time is coming, but the oracle has seen a vision of dragons filling the sky with fire; she says that by nightfall tomorrow, your city will be in ruins. All of this depends on the whims of the overlords. Over the course of a hundred thousand years, the inhabitants of the realm of the Wild Heart have never been anything other than prey. While in the domain of Sul Khatesh there have been a dozen civilizations in that same period, each of which eventually followed a path of arcane science that ultimately destroyed it. But even where you find civilizations, they aren’t free. The subjects of Sul Khatesh can’t resist abusing magic any more than the subjects of Rak Tulkhesh can avoid war. You might ask why Sul Khatesh and her children would do this, why they’d allow a civilization to rise up only to wipe it out in an instant with an arcane cataclysm or over the course of a century through a brutal inquisition. Is it an experiment or art, like the daelkyr? Is it part of a master plan? No. Ultimately, it’s more like food, or perhaps music. The only thing an overlord truly desires is the joy it receives from tormenting mortals. Why? Because mortal souls have power. Gods in some settings need mortals to worship them. In Aerenal, it is the devotion of the living that sustains the Undying Court. The overlords don’t want worship; they want fear, and they want mortals to experience their vision of the world. Rak Tulkesh wants to see hatred and war. Sul Khatesh delights in the fear of magic, and so she creates scenario after scenario in which magic is abused and leads to cruelty, terror, and ultimately destruction.  Dral Khatuur wants people to live in fear of the creeping cold. They don’t have an endgame, because they are immortal and endless. They don’t want to ever completely destroy the mortals, because it is torturing mortals that bring them joy. And so it was for millions of years. Some domains saw millions of years of brutal chaos; others saw civilizations rise and fall, but those civilizations were always under the psychic sway of the ruling overlord (whether they knew it or not) and would inevitably be destroyed. 

That’s the backdrop to keep in mind when thinking of the Age of Demons. It was a world that was utterly dominated by immortal overlords, where fiends roam freely in the world, both openly and covertly. Civilizations only existed to serve the appetites of the overlords and were wiped out when they lost their savor. Overlords had broadly stable domains, but the borders of their realms were constantly in flux; among other things, the people of a neighboring territory aren’t as used to the terrors of a rival overlord, and their fear is sweeter. Dral Khatuur wants people to fear the advancing ice, not just to learn to survive in it; as such, she would choose to let her borders ebb and flow. The side effect of this is that the overlords were constantly warring with one another.   

Now I’ve painted a picture of the Age of Demons, let’s look at a few questions my Patreon supporters have raised this month. 

What was the relationship between the Couatls and Dragons during the Age of Demons? Did they respect each other as equals, or did they have conflicts? 

The Age of Demons lasted for millions of years. In the final ten thousand years of the Age, there was a powerful draconic nation that called itself Argonnessen. Its disciplined flights of dragons trained to incinerate armies and to raze cities. And these mighty creatures were utterly devoted to the Daughter of Khyber. This overlord is an immensely powerful being. The dragons of the present day have to go to great lengths to avoid falling under her influence, and that’s while she’s bound. During the Age of Demons she was at the height of her power, and the dragons were her tools; she used them to terrify mortals and to attack the domains of other overlords. So there was no powerful nation of dragons that fought the overlords, because any powerful force of dragons would be corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber. The dragons opposing overlords were a small band of scrappy rebels who had been shielded from the influence of the Daughter of Khyber by their allies, the native celestials. Let’s consider each of those forces. 

NATIVE CELESTIALS

It’s said that Khyber created fiends, Siberys created celestials, and Eberron created natural life. But Khyber slew Siberys. This is why the native celestials are so much weaker than their counterparts, and why there are no celestial equivalents to the overlords. The celestials that exist are just a faint echo of what would have been had Siberys had an active hand. 

Native celestials embody the broad concept of goodness in the world. Compassion, justice, defense, wisdom, love; these are the sorts of concepts personified by the celestials. Just as the fiends exist to prey upon and terrify mortals, the purpose of the celestials was to guide and protect them. Given that the celestials were massively overpowered and outnumbered by the fiends, this was something they did subtly—working to inspire people or to guide key mortals who could help others… teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish. Whenever celestials were exposed, fiends would swarm in to destroy the interlopers and whatever they had accomplished; subtlety was vital. However, keep this section from Chronicles of Eberron in mind… 

Glance across a Khalesh plain and you may see what looks to be a giant bone projecting from the earth—a fallen column of something like polished ivory. The locals call these “dragon bones,” saying they’re the bones of Eberron herself. But search further and you may find patches of wall, foundations, or even small buildings formed from this dragonbone. It’s virtually indestructible and seemingly immune to the passage of time. In truth, this isn’t made from the bones of the earth; it’s a building substance used by the ancient couatl, the most numerous of the native celestials of Eberron. Khalesh is one of the places that the couatl came into the world in the Age of Demons, one of the anchors where these immortals would reform if they were destroyed. In a sense, it’s the celestial counterpart to the Demon Wastes of Khorvaire; a place suffused with lingering celestial power. 

The fiends vastly outnumbered the celestials, and over the course of millions of years they learned where most of these celestial anchors were. But they couldn’t actually DO anything about them. The celestials are as immortal as the fiends, and when destroyed they would eventually return. Given a good reason—for example, if the couatls tried to foster a mortal civilization in their spire—the fiends would bring sufficient forces to bear to destroy everything in a celestial spire. While the immortals would return the mortals would be lost. For that reason, the celestials kept their work subtle, working with individuals or small groups of mortals who then worked with others. The celestial guides could shield mortals from the psychic influence of the overlords. They could teach them, helping mortals master magic or other skills. They could even channel their power into a mortal, a form of voluntary possession. However, throughout most of the Age of Demons, they were never able to affect any grand change. The final rebellion wasn’t the only rebellion; it’s just the only one that had lasting results. 

While it’s never been mentioned in canon, in my Eberron Flamekeep is built on dragonbone foundations and that the font of the Flame is a celestial anchor point. Likewise, there is a celestial anchor in the Labyrinth around the Demon Wastes; this is a sacred haven of the Ghaash’kala orcs. 

Throughout this I’ve been saying celestials instead of couatls. Any celestial statblock could be reskinned to reflect a native celestial of Eberron. Just as the native fiends have a certain fondness for feline forms, the native celestials often have some blend of serpentine features or prismatic feathers. The couatl are by far the most common form of native celestial, but adventurers could encounter a deva with rainbow wings or a ki-rin with prismatic scales and a serpentine head. Compared to their counterparts in Shavarath or Syrania, these celestials are still guided by the basic principle of embodying positive ideas—of protecting and inspiring mortals as the Silver Flame continues to do today. Throughout most of the Age of Demons, these native celestials were only loosely aligned and largely sought to express their nature as individuals. They didn’t try to act as a host, because all that would accomplish would be creating a target to rally the fiends; they worked subtly and on their own. Which brings us to…

DRACONIC CHAMPIONS OF THE AGE OF DEMONS

In the last era of the Age of Demons, Argonnessen was a tool of the Daughter of Khyber. But there were small groups of dragons who evaded the Daughter’s control—first through celestial intervention, and then through the use of rituals and spells that they created. Dragons possess innate arcane power. The celestials helped the dragons understand their potential, but the rebels developed their own tools and techniques. Different cells specialized in different things. Dularanahk and her brothers led groups of warrior dragons and titans, capable of unleashing devastating force when it was required. Ourelonastrix worked with a cabal of dragons studying arcane science. Think of this as a hacker collective that provided logistical support and facilitated communications between the cells. All of this built on the work of previous generations; Ourelonastrix didn’t single-handedly master the secrets of arcane magic. But working with the couatl Hezcalipa, he made a crucial breakthrough that would ultimately bring the Age of Demons to an end: he discovered the Draconic Prophecy. What followed likely took centuries, as Ourelonastrix rallied the disparate dragons and Hezcalipa called on scattered celestials to help find Prophecy signs, gathering enough data to understand the power and possible paths of the Prophecy. Up to this point, the rebels had no real goal other than survival; without a way to permanently defeat an overlord, there was no reason to start a war. Now there was a glimmer of hope—a path through the Prophecy that could lead to victory. 

The dragons who challenged the overlords weren’t a nation or a massive army. They were remarkable individuals, leading small bands of other remarkable mortals—including dragons, giants, titans and more. Ourelonastrix was the greatest expert on magic and knowledge. The Dols led militant cells, while Kolkonoran facilitated logistics and support, moving supplies between the cells. Eventually the studies of the Prophecy revealed a possible path to victory. And this is when the war began in earnest. This is where we have Dularanahk facing the Lord of Death, and other clashes in which the rebels gathered all their military might together—because they needed to win battles, acquire artifacts, or even potentially to lose key battles in order to lock in the future Ourelonastrix had discovered. The final key element was the sacrifice of the celestials to create a force that could bind the overlords. But even this wasn’t an instant victory. Once the celestials kindled the Silver Flame, the overlords were severed from their heart demiplanes; when their avatars were destroyed their essence would be bound into the prison shards. But each one had to be individually defeated… and even though they were weakened, this was no small task, especially without the help of the departed celestials. The first target was the Daughter of Khyber; once she was bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows, her hold over Argonnessen was broken. And now there was a true army of dragons fighting to bring down the remaining overlords, one by one. 

OK… BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEM? 

The original question was What was the relationship between the Couatls and Dragons during the Age of Demons? Did they respect each other as equals, or did they have conflicts? The important thing to understand is it wasn’t about the relationship between THE DRAGONS and THE CELESTIALS. It was about the relationship between Ourelonastrix and Hezcalipa, between Dularanahk and Azcalanti, and others. Because you aren’t talking about nations, you’re talking about remarkable individuals. Within that framework, it was the purpose of the celestials to guide and protect the mortals. There were many conflicts between them—disagreements over actions that endangered innocents, dragons believing the celestials were holding back, celestials trusting tradition while Ourelonastrix urged them to follow his instincts. Likewise, there were celestials who opposed the sacrifice that kindled the Flame, even if they ultimately took part. But again, these agreements and disagreements were between individuals, not cultures. While the celestial anchors resemble cities, the couatl never had a nation

You’ve mentioned native celestials… What are native fiends like? 

Fiends are incarnations of evil concepts. In the planes, they are tied to the central idea of their plane. A Shavaran devil reflects the idea of evil in war. A Daanvi devil embodies tyranny or oppressive order. A Fernia balor represents the cruel, chaotic destruction of fire. The native fiends more broadly represent evil in the world. Their purpose is to tempt and torment mortals, wreaking Khyber’s vengeance against the children of Eberron with a hundred thousand tiny cuts. All native fiends are tied to Khyber; most are specifically part of an overlord and its heart demiplane, but there are some time to demiplanes without overlords. Native fiends generally reflect an aspect of their overlord’s defining concept. Fiends tied to Rak Tulkhesh are tied to some aspect of hatred or war. Those associated with Sul Khatesh are more likely to be associated with magic or dangerous secrets. However, they can approach this in different ways. A raskhasa serving Rak Tulkhesh may excel at inspiring mortals to go to war—using its talents for deception to set conflict in motion. While a goristro bound to Rak Tulkhesh is a fiendish engine of war waiting to be unleashed on the battlefield. 

A goristro? Absolutely. Just as couatl are the most common celestials but not the only celestials, rakshasa are the most numerous of the fiends but far from the only ones. Any fiendish stat block could be used for a native fiend, with a little cosmetic reflavoring. In the image that accompanies this article, the multiarmed figure on the left is a native marilith. Feline features are in fashion among the native fiends, but in describing a fiend, don’t feel you need to make it mundane. What differentiates a rakshasa from a weretiger? Canonically, the rakshasa Mordakhesh has stripes of blazing flame across his black fur. The First Scribe, Hektula, has arcane sigils on her fur. Remember that fiends aren’t natural creatures; when they are revealed in their full power, they should have obviously supernatural aspects. 

Beyond this, I’ve suggested that feline features are a fashion. Rakshasas are natural shapechangers, and they are immortal embodiments of ideas, not creatures of flesh and blood. There may have been a time when the Lords of Dust wore shark heads, or even draconic features; the present use of feline features may be a fun retro reference to the Age of Demons. With this in mind, when adventurers in my game use True Seeing on a fiend, they don’t see its tiger form. Someone looking at Mordakhesh with Truesight will see him as a figure of shadows striped in flame and as a bloodthirsty sword, all at once. They will see that he has killed tens of thousands with his own hands, and feel his all-consuming appetite for war. Because THAT is the truth of Mordakhesh. For fiends and celestials, truesight doesn’t just strip away disguise self; it reveals their truth. Depending on the power of the fiend and the circumstances, I may make the individual with Truesight make a saving throw to avoid psychic damage or a condition; it can be dangerous to look too closely at a powerful immortal. 

Just for fun, here’s a table you can use to add some random flare to a rakshasa or other native fiend…

Fiendish Features

d8
1BurningStripes
2BloodyHorns
3SteelTeeth
4ShadowyScales
5OozingTalons
6IcyEyes
7RottingWings
8ManyTentacles

Was there a time before the Age of Demons? 

There was a brief time, yes. If you believe the myth, Eberron defeated Khyber by constricting her and then becoming the world. The principle is that Khyber’s children were able to slip through Eberron’s coils. But this wouldn’t have happened instantly, and even once the overlords were out in the world it surely took some time for them to sink their roots into reality and to establish their dominions. So, there was a period in which natural life flourish before being dominated by the overlords. What was it like? Who knows. Keep in mind that this was millions of years ago and that most likely, cultures didn’t appear fully formed. How long did it last? Were there any significant cultures in place before the overlords claimed the world? Largely, that’s a question you need to answer based on the needs of your story. Morgrave professor Cord Ennis suggests one possibility in this article about sphinxes:

While intriguing, Ennis admitted that there was one piece of the puzzle that still escaped him. When do these time-traveling sphinxes come from? His first thought was the distant future—that they could even be some sort of mystically evolved descendants of the modern races. Yet if that were the case, is there no risk of their meddling changing their own future? Given this, he ultimately favors the idea that the sphinxes are from the very distant past—that they could potentially be the citizens of the FIRST civilization of Eberron, a society that predates the Age of Demons and whose existence was wiped from history by the dominion of the overlords. With this as a foundation, Ennis suggests that the actions of the sphinxes might not be the absolute demands of destiny one would expect from embodiments of the Prophecy, but rather a grand game. As their time is long past, the sphinxes don’t actually care about the ultimate outcome; whether the overlords rise again or the daelkyr are unleashed doesn’t actually hurt them. Ennis further suggests that this could reflect the different techniques seen among sphinxes. The “divine” sphinxes—those wielding clerical abilities—could see their actions as being a divine mission, potentially even one mandated by the Progenitors (because what other gods were there at the dawn of time?) while the “arcane” sphinxes could be the scientists of their time. Thus, Flamewind could be in Sharn because she knows it is a nexus of elements she wants to deal with—events or people she wants to observe or influence—but that between those key events she is simply enjoying studying this time and place, so alien to her native time.

The key point of this idea is that the Sphinx civilization is so far back in time that no evidence of it remains, and that its downfall is utterly inevitable. The sphinxes can’t save themselves; all they can do is to play games in the future. 
That’s all for now! I have very limited time at the moment and most likely will not answer questions posted in the comments, but feel free to discuss them yourselves. I do answer questions on my Patreon, and in fact, I will be hosting a live Q&A on my Patreon Discord at 9 AM Pacific Time on Saturday, July 22nd. So check out my Patreon if you want to participate in that! Your support directly determines how much time I can spend creating Eberron content, so thanks to my current patrons for making this article possible.

Dragonmarks: Sky Pirates in Eberron

Captain ir’Bit was drawn for my Eberron/Spelljammer campaign, but he’d make a fine captain in the Aundairian Sky Navy. Art by Matthew Johnson.

“We’re approaching the Strait of Shadows, Captain.” 

With a face forged from steel, the warforged captain couldn’t scowl… but his crystalline eyes glowed brighter for a moment. “I know, Mister Darro. Get the passengers below and arm the crew. If the Cloudreavers are in the sky today, this is where they’ll strike.” 

How would I handle sky piracy in Eberron? It’s a question that’s come up on my Patreon a number of times over the course of the last year, and it finally won a decisive victory in the poll to determine article topics. But it’s a tricky question, because the outright answer is that I wouldn’t explore sky piracy in canon Eberron. By canon, elemental airships have only been in service for eight years. Air travel is a very recent development and there’s just not a lot of traffic in the sky; I’d expect the most common form of aerial crime to be skyjacking. Which isn’t to say that I couldn’t or wouldn’t run a sky pirates campaign in Eberron; it’s that the first thing I’d do would be to change canon to support it. What follows are ideas I would implement for a sky pirates campaign—not just not canon, but not something I’d necessarily use in a standard kanon campaign unless I wanted air travel to play a significant role. So none of this is canon, and I may end up incorporating some of these ideas into the new setting I’m developing for Threshold. Having said that, let’s delve into the Eberron I’d run my Sky Pirates campaign in…

THE WORLD ABOVE

Look into the skies above our world and you’ll mostly find air and water—storms, clouds, and gales. You won’t find things that are solid and permanent. You won’t find lines of fire burning in the sky, or patches of eternal night. And you won’t see castles in the clouds, or chunks of stone or soil suspended in the air. In Eberron, all of those are part of the skyscape… and that’s only the beginning. Manifest zones are places where the planes bleed into the material world, and manifest zones aren’t limited to the surface of Eberron. The Strait of Shadows are a massive aerial zone tied to Mabar—a stretch of air that consumes light, creating a region of endless night filled with banks of roiling shadows. Firefalls are rifts in the sky where Fernian flame cascades down toward the surface. The flames fade before they reach the ground, but a firefall can be a deadly hazard to a vessel in the air. Here’s a few important things that can be encountered in the skies above Eberron. 

Walking on the Clouds 

While most of the clouds in the sky are insubstantial vapor, there are two planes that can produce solid cloudstuff. Syranian clouds are identical to mundane clouds—typical stratus or cumulus in form—but they are soft, solid, and stable. They generally lack any sort of indigenous life, making them a solid base for aerial colonization; the floating district of Skyway in Sharn is built on a foundation of Syranian cloud. 

Where Syranian clouds are generally uniform in design, every Thelanian cloud is unique—each held together by a story. Mistone Keep is a massive castle, with walls formed from the same cloudstuff as the “ground” it rests upon. It’s sized for giants, but it was empty when it was found and its original owners have never returned… though some wonder if they yet may, and if so what they will make of the people of Aundair who have colonized their castle. Thunderholt is a storm cloud, with lightning forever rippling in its murky depths. The surface of the cloud is filled with canyons and caves, and there are streams of lightning in its depths. Some claim that the archfey known as the Forge Maiden has a workshop in the depths of Thunderholt, where she harnesses the lightning; it’s said that the thunder is the sound of her hammer on the forge. Silverwood is a forest growing out of the clouds. Its trees are unique; some have snowflakes budding on their branches, others bear flowers made of mist. The heart of this cloud island is a massive tree of bone, with brilliant crimson leaves; the dryad tied to this tree is an oracle, but she will only answer questions for those who water her roots with blood. These are just three examples. Some Thelanian clouds are uninhabited, like the empty castle of Mistone Keep. Some, like Silverwood, have indigenous fey that are willing to coexist with mortal settlers. Others have denizens who have no interest in sharing their islands with others. Graystorm is home to the silver dragon of the same name; while he has been dormant for centuries, in the past Graystorm has pillaged cities below and its said that his hoard contains artifacts from Dhakaan and ancient Wroaat—possibly even the axe of Malleon the Reaver. While Graystorm is mechanically a dragon, he is functionally an immortal fey and has no ties to Argonnessen, nor any interest in the Chamber or the Lords of Dust. Cloud giants are an open question. A cloud giant could follow the model of Graystorm, being an immortal Thelanian creature tied to the story of their cloud. Alternately, cloud giants could be a colonizing force who have laid claim to the clouds over Xen’drik, a few of which have made their way to Khorvaire. 

Clouds spawned by manifest zones are stationary, bound to the zone that generates them. Cloudstuff will turn to vapor when removed from the zone, and a damaged cloud will regenerate over time. However, Thelanian clouds may produce unique resources that can be harvested and removed. The trees on Silverwood won’t grow anywhere else, but their fruit can be carried down to the world below. 

Islands in the Sky 

Lamannia sometimes projects pieces through its manifest zones, creating floating islands of soil and stone. Sometimes, these are extremely small; there are chunks of Lamannian sky-stone barely large enough for a single watchtower. Others are large enough to support entire towns, such as the seat of the Lyrandar enclave over Stormhome. Korran’s Belt is a massive field of small chunks of earth and stone found on the border of the Ironroot Mountains and the Lhazaar Principalities; sages theorize that at one point it was a single mass but that something caused it to shatter into hundreds of smaller stones. For the most part, Lamannian sky islands have the same qualities as mundane land; what’s remarkable is their ability to sustain an ecosystem even in an impossibly small space. They are essentially projections from Lamannia, and are not bound by mundane limits. A Lamannian island might have a pool of water that never runs dry, or a river that forever flows off the edge of the island and spilling down onto the world below; both are replenished from Lamannia, and have the purity imbued by the Primordial Matter trait of that plane. 

Lamannian islands can be verdant and fertile, making them excellent outposts for colonies in the sky; there are a number of sky towns in the Five Nations. Smaller islands may have been claimed by a particular family; in Breland, the ir’Tains summer on Griffon Crown, an island south of Wroat. However, there are many small and remote islands that are unclaimed in the present day. Some are home to untamed beasts, including megafauna creatures; if you’re looking for a place to put a roc in Eberron, look no further. Others could have outposts from fallen civilizations that once claimed the island; a sky island over Q’barra could have relics from the ancient dragonborn empire. These small islands can be excellent havens for smugglers and sky pirates; Korran’s Belt is filled with hidden harbors, some active and some long forgotten. 

Syranian Spires

Much like the Feyspires that phase in and out of alignment with Eberron, there are stories of Syranian towers appearing in the skies for brief periods of time. These towers are typically the seats of angelic dominions, holding secrets tied to the dominion’s sphere of influence. In some of these tales, explorers bargain with the master of the tower; in others, the spire appears to be abandoned. The only thing the tales agree on is that Syranian spires never stay in the material plane for long; if you find one, you’ll want to act quickly or pass it by. 

Wonders and Hazards

Manifest zones usually impose one or more of the universal traits of their associated plane. As such, manifest zones related to the same plane can produce dramatically different effects. The Straits of Shadow have the Eternal Shadows trait of Mabar, but don’t consume life. On the other hand, there are stories of regions where the Hunger of Mabar trait can trigger without warning, swiftly killing living creatures and leaving shadows in their place. Such zones create graveyards of haunted airships; new ships pause to investigate the derelicts, only to suffer the same fate when the Hunger of Mabar manifests once more. Risian zones that manifest the Lethal Cold trait of the plane are eternal blizzards, but a Risian zone that has the Stagnation effect might be less obvious to observers. Kythri zones can produce bizarre, psychedelic forms of weather—and vessels that pass through these prismatic storms can be affected by the Constant Change trait of the plane, suffering unexpected transmutation effects. And in addition to having chunks of stone that simply serve as obstacles for ships, a Lamannian zone could produce intense hurricanes or storms, or even an airport Sargasso that seeks to entangle ships with rapidly growing vines. These are just a few examples; there are countless possibilities, and zones can be of any size. A massive Fernian firefall may be a major obstacle travelers have to skirt around; on the other hand, there could be a Kythri zone that’s so small it’s never actually been noticed and recorded, but it’s enough to cause trouble when your ship passes through it. These environmental manifest zones are often hazards to be avoided, but some can produce valuable resources with uses in arcane industry… while others can serve as shelters or blinds for travelers with nefarious intent.  

THE SKYLINES

Islands, cloud castles, and manifest wonders all give a reason for people to reach for the sky. In canon Eberron, air travel is quite limited and dominated by House Lyrandar. And in my campaign, the elemental airship as we know it remains a recent development and the pride of House Lyrandar. But there is another form of common air travel that forms the basis of commerce and the target of piracy, and that’s tied to the Skylines. Also known as planar currents, skylines are vast, invisible channels of energy that connect major aerial manifest zones. The strongest currents weave together threads of different planes, but there are lesser currents branching off to minor the least zones. 

Ships capable of traveling along the Skylines are properly called manifest vessels, though ‘airship’ remains the common word for all large air vehicles. Manifest vessels don’t hover under their own power. Instead, they are buoyed by the energy of the skyline. While within a skyline, a manifest airship is much like a submarine (immersed within the medium it travels through as opposed to traveling on the surface of it). Left untended, a manifest airship will remain suspended in the line. However, should a vessel travel out of the skyline, it will fall to the earth. The energy of the line grows weaker the closer you get to the edge, which in turn slows the ship; any capable navigator can recognize the warning signs and keep their ship safely in the current. But it is possible to sail a ship out of the current and into the open—and unsupportive—air. Skylines vary in size; the largest is about a mile in diameter, while the smallest skyline might be just fifty feet across—though they can have “shallows” extending farther for vessels willing to risk them.  

The larger a vessel is, the stronger the current needs to be to support it. So while there are small skylines that connect lesser manifest zones, a large vessel can’t travel along these lines, just as a supertanker can’t travel along a stream. This means that a small, fast vessel can travel along lesser lines that trade ships can’t take—or just skirt the edges of a line, where the currents are too weak to support a larger ship, just as a water vessel would need to be careful to avoid running aground in shallow water. All of these things combine to support aerial piracy. The first element is that there are recognized, established trade routes and that large vessels have to stick to these paths. This is also how things like firefalls and the Strait of Shadows come into play. If you take the major skyline from Rekkenmark to Vedakyr, you’re going to pass over the Nightwood and the Strait of Shadows; avoiding it would require following a different set of skylines that will add a few days to your travel time, and they will likely have other hazards you’ll have to deal with. But it’s also the case that smaller vessels can travel along lesser lines—allowing them to take direct paths and also, allowing raiders to strike a ship on a main line and then flee along the lesser currents.

In setting up an aerial campaign, an important question is how ships REACH the Skylines. If you want to keep it simple, major aerial manifest zones can drop pillars down to the surface—so you can descend from Silverwood to the ground safely. On the other hand, this could be limited to specific manifest zones; for example, it could be that Syranian manifest zones like Sharn become crucial ports where major manifest vessels can descend to the surface, while in lesser zones only small ships can descend, leading to systems of tenders or away teams using skystaffs or flying mounts.  

Skylines are largely stable and predictable, but manifest zones can be unpredictable. A major skyline usually has a number of minor zones along its path that fluctuate in strength, like the Mabar or Kythri zones mentioned above. Thus you can have the equivalent of weather, as a Kythri zone that’s long been dormant suddenly flares up with a prismatic storm. It’s also the case that a skyline is still subject to MUNDANE weather; when you aren’t dealing with rocs or firefalls, you’ll still have to handle thunderstorms and blizzards! 

There are maps of the major skylines across Khorvaire, but there may still be skylines that have yet to be explored, especially those tied to minor currents or remote zones. Adventurers could discover a new line or be hired to accompany a vessel exploring a new line, not knowing what zones or threats they will encounter along its path. 

COMMERCE AND TRAVEL

The manifest airship is the main form of traffic along the Skylines. Most manifest vessels have a top speed between ten to sixteen miles per hour. The most energy efficient way to travel is using manifest sails, which can be arranged to catch the planar currents; such vessels are typically on the slower side unless they can also harness wind. Faster ships use a manifest engine that burns dragonshards to produce motive power; House Cannith produced the first manifest engine, but the Arcane Congress produced its own form of it. House Lyrandar doesn’t have a monopoly on manifest travel, but they have produced small vessels capable of combining wind power and manifest sails, enabling them to move swiftly at lower cost than other ships.

The skylines and manifest travel are the most COMMON form of air travel, but not the only one. The timeline for the development of the elemental airship remains the same; House Lyrandar launched the first commercial airship eight years ago. With a typical cruising speed of twenty miles per hour and the ability to follow any path—completely ignoring the established skylines—the elemental airship stands ready to upset the established balance of power. However, Lyrandar’s fleet of elemental airships is still quite small, and their manifest sails are still less expensive to operate—so Lyrandar continues to sail the Skylines in addition to charting new paths with their elemental ships. 

While manifest ships remain the most reliable way to travel over long distances, there are many short-range options and flying mounts. This article discusses some of those. I’d make skystaffs (brooms of flying, just not shaped like brooms) more widespread in a campaign with a strong aerial focus. Hippogriffs have long been the traditional canon mount, though fifth edition swapped the balance and made hippogriffs slower than both griffons and giant eagles; if you want to preserve the older balance, you could introduce a Vadalis hippogriff that has an flight speed of 90 ft but only inflicts 1d8 with its bite attack and 2d4 with its claws. Likewise, Syranian manifest zones that enhance flight—like the zone in Sharn and most regions with Syranian clouds—will support skycoaches and other local flying vehicles. As a note, if you find that the speeds of the ships feel too slow, feel free to increase them. A modern cruise ship travels at an average speed of 20 miles per hour, and I’m using naval speeds as a benchmark here. I could see doubling those speeds, but if you get to the sorts of speeds we see in modern air travel, among other things, ships don’t stay in the air that long and you don’t have as much opportunity for piracy! 

So in this version of the setting, Skylines become a secondary form of river—paths that connect communities and serve as paths of transit and commerce. Many major cities are built near or under Syranian clouds or Lamannian islands, while other sky islands serve as hubs in their own right. In this version of the setting, Arcanix was built in its current location rather than being moved; if Aundair DID seize Arcanix from Thrane during the war (as presented in canon history), it likely belongs to Aundair/Thaliost at some previous point and was lost to some form of bureaucratic motion during the long history of Galifar. Had I time, I would go deeper into the flavor of the skies of each nation. I’ve always called out Aundair as having strong ties to Thelanis, which would make Thelanian clouds more common there. Karrnath is home to the Strait of Shadows and other Mabaran zones, and I would see it having some rocky Lamannian islands; Breland has more Syrannian clouds and a few resource-rich Lamannian islands that are being harvested to support its industry. The Lhazaar Principalities are home to Korran’s Belt and other small islands—some claimed by Principalities, others left empty. Which brings us to…

PIRATES AND ADVENTURERS

In this vision of the setting, air travel is a common activity. Lyrandar has the fastest and most efficient ships, but every nation has ships in the air, along with countless independent merchants. The Skylines create established shipping lanes… which in turn create targets for piracy. It’s up to the DM to decide just how crowded the sky is. It could be that sky islands are relatively rare, or it could be that formations like Korran’s Belt are actually found across Khorvaire; if these Lamannian chains have valuable (and possibly renewable) resources, sky mining could be an important commercial activity. 

With this in mind, sky piracy would operate much like piracy on the sea. Pirates would find vulnerable spots in the shipping lanes, places where it’s easy for a raiding ship to hide. Pirates would likely use smaller manifest vessels, focusing on speed and the ability to go into shallow currents or along lesser lines where other ships couldn’t follow. On the other hand, you could easily have gangs of skystaff raiders or beast riders operating over short distances, boarding a vessel and then seizing control of it to take it to a nearby friendly port. I can also imagine a well-established Skyline that runs through particularly dangerous territory—with a significant number of mini-Kythri zones generating prismatic storms, Mabaran graveyards, chunks of Lamannian rock that are barren but dangerous—which is thus shunned by legitimate travelers but has become a haven for smugglers, pirates, and others willing to run the dangerous path. Let’s call that The Gray Road—and saying that someone “takes the Gray Road” is a slang term for up to no good. And again, the places where the Gray Road intersects with other skylines would be prime spots for piracy. 

In general, the principle of the Gray Road gives room for adventure. There can be known skylines that aren’t used by commercial traffic because they’re just too dangerous—so people know about paths that ships can take, but they haven’t been thoroughly explored. Beyond this, there can be lesser lanes that can’t support large ships… but the player characters have obtained a revolutionary vessel that can stay aloft in the shadows, and they’ve been charged to do some exploration and trailblazing. What’s the story of that Thelanian island? Can you steal an artifact from Graystorm’s hoard? Alternately, adventurers can be bounty hunters or privateers, venturing down the Gray Road or into other dangerous currents in pursuit of known pirates or war criminals. 

Looking to pirates, the simplest thing is to make use of the pirates we already know. The Lhazaar Principalities raid the seas because that’s all that’s available. But in this campaign, the Principalities could extend into the air. The Wind Whisperers might have the fastest ships, but the Cloudreavers could be the most brutal of the sky raiders. And despite the captain’s comment in the opening quote, the Bloodsails would likely love to linger in Mabaran zones like the Strait of Shadows. Over Droaam you’ll have to worry about harpies and gargoyles, not to mention the concept of a wyvern-riding Dassk force. In the Mror Holds there could be a gang of manticore-riding brigands. And worst of all, who knows what’s become of the skies over the Mournland? Have the effects of the Mourning destroyed the skylines above Cyre, or have they been transformed or seeded with monsters? 

Obviously this is only the tip of the floating iceberg, but I’m afraid it’s all the time I have for the topic. You may want to read my article on Airships or Flight in Eberron, though neither considers the concept of widespread flight. As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing the topic and making these articles possible! 

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?

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