In September, my Patreon supporters chose “Gnomes Beyond Zilargo” as the topic of the month. In the next few days, I’ll be discussing the gnomes of Lorghalen and the Feyspires.
Two years after the founding of Zilargo, a pamphlet was distributed explaining the existence of the Trust and the role that it would play in the nation moving forward. This tract concluded with the words To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours. Today, the Trust is universally accepted as part of Zilargo, and it’s estimated that at least a third of the population works for the Trust in some capacity. But despite what the Triumvirate would have you think, not all of the early Zil embraced the Trust with open arms. Some demanded accountability, insisting that this Trust be drawn into the light. Others called it a coup, urging their families to end the experiment of Zilargo and return to their prior independence. But few spoke out against the Trust for long; deadly accidents and unlikely misfortune quickly stilled to voices that challenged this new order. It seemed it was too late for those who opposed the Trust to remove it from their nation… And so, most chose to remove themselves, leaving their new nation behind.
Many of these dissidents immigrated into the Five Nations, and most who did so abandoned their old ways and fully embraced their new nations. A simple indicator of this is name. Zil gnomes use three names: A personal name, family name, and house name. Alina Lorridan Lyrris is Alina of the Lorridan family in House Lyrris. Even if they have distant blood connections to a Zil family, a gnome with no direct ties to Zilargo won’t be part of a Zil house. So if the gnome sage you meet in Aundair calls herself Talia Lorridan Lyrris, you know she considers herself Zil; if she’s just Talia Lorridan, she’s likely Aundairian.
Other dissidents had grander aspirations and took to the sea. The gnomes had long been accomplished sailors, and while they never had a colonizing spirit, they’d explored the coasts and made note of interesting and unclaimed lands. Now these sailors dreamt of creating their own new havens, whose glories might one day outshine the land they left behind. Sadly, most of these rebel colonies came to bad ends. Tolanen was located on the Shadow Marches; some years after its founding, a trading vessel docked to find the town completely depopulated. While the travelers blamed pillaging orcs, accounts later confirmed that there were no signs of conflict—and that the only looting was committed by the merchants themselves. New Zalanberg was established on the coast of Xen’drik, near the modern settlement of Zantashk. Over the course of decades, it prospered and grew. And then, within the span of a week, its people tore the town and one another to pieces—one of the notable examples of what has come to be recognized as the Du’rashka Tul. There were a handful of others, but only one still thrives to this day: the principality of Lorghalen.
Glancing at a map, you might wonder why Lorghalen was uninhabited when the gnomes claimed it. This tropical island seems far more inviting than the icy mountains of Orthoss and Farlnen. But names tell a story. The Tempest Strait is lashed by storms as powerful as any found in the Thunder Sea. The southernmost island is close to Mabar and Dolurrh, and there are strange ghosts and hungry shadows in the depths of the Dreadwood. The northern coastline of Lorghalen is lined with hidden reefs and unusual stone outcoppings. These threats are exacerbated by unpredictable “currents” that can dash a ship against the rocks… actually the work of the many water elementals that dwell along the coast. The safest landing is Hammer Bay, northeast of the small island. But “The Hammer” isn’t a natural island; it’s a massive earth elemental. It never ventures far from its mapped position, but it has no love of ships; any vessel that draws too close may be shattered by a hurled stone or a mighty fist.
Gnome explorers chronicled these threats long ago, and the gnomes who sailed east knew what they were heading into. The Lorghalen expedition included a number of sages specializing in elementals and Lamannia… Scholars who hoped they could convince the Hammer to let them land safely. And so they did, establishing the town of Cornerstone on the shore of Hammer Bay.
Exploring the island, the gnomes found that it was poised on the edge of Lamannia. The land was bountiful, fresh water was plentiful, and much of the island was alive. Lorghalen has the most intense concentration of elementals found beyond the wild zones of Sarlona. Stones roll of their own accord. The earth rumbles. What seems to be a peaceful pond might unexpectedly move to a new location. Most of the elementals of Lorghalen are spirits of earth and water, but there are storms that follow paths of their own choosing and pits of endless fire. These elementals are creatures of Lamannia, pure and inhuman; there are no dao or marids here. There are also a number of megafauna beasts in the deep jungle; sailors may occasionally spot rocs hunting whales off the coast of Lorghalen. This is why the island had never been colonized in the past; what city could survive the ravages of an avalanche of earth elementals? But the colonists came prepared. The leaders of the expedition had long studied elementals, convinced that it was possible to reason with these alien creatures. Using these techniques they were able to secure the region around Cornerstone. Over the course of generations, the Lorghalen gnomes developed and honed these techniques, learning how to live in harmony with the elementals and even to convince the spirits and beasts of the land to work with them. This lifestyle has consequences. Cornerstone is the only large city on the island; other gnomes live in family estates along the coast, or on the edge of the jungle. But the deep jungles of Lorghalen are left to the primal forces. The gnomes know what they can harvest without upsetting the balance, but they are careful not to push these limits.
After a few minor clashes in the region, the Lorghalen gnomes were recognized as one of the Lhazaar Principalities. Their small fleet primarily focuses on merchant trade within the Principalities. There are many unusual plants in the jungles of Lorghalen, and the Lorghali produce medicines, drugs, and potent spirits. The wood of Lorghalen is exceptionally strong, rivaling the densewood and bronzewood of Aerenal; the Lorghali don’t export lumber, but they sell fine wooden goods. While there are relatively few ships in the Lorghalen fleet, Lhazaar tread lightly around a Lorghali vessel; not only are the hulls of their ships exceptionally strong, but most vessels are accompanied by one or more water elementals. These friendly spirits help propel the vessel, allowing Lorghalen ships to match the capabilities of Lyrandar elemental galleons. In battle, Lorghalen ships are known for launching small earth elementals at opposing ships, stone missiles that continue to wreak havoc after impact. All together, the Lorghalen gnomes are known and respected within the Principalities, but are largely unknown beyond it. For the most part they do their trading within the islands, allowing others to carry their goods to distant lands.
WHO ARE THE GNOMES OF LORGHALEN?
The gnomes of Lorghalen and share some traits with their Zil cousins. They love clever oratory and prefer to solve their problems with words instead of swords. But where the gnomes of Zilargo dive deep into intrigue, the founders of Lorghalen based their society on principles of freedom and honesty. The founders of Cornerstone swore that there would be no secrets on their island: that all knowledge should be shared, and all problems drawn into the light, not removed in the shadows. Ties to previous Zil houses were dissolved, and all gnomes of the island consider themselves to be one house; so a gnome of the island might introduce themselves as Tara Tan Lorghalen.
Families are still important to the Lorghalen gnomes, and each family maintains an estate—a farming village based around a central long house. Each family is known for specific crops and skills, and Cornerstone is where they all come together. While families maintain funds for dealing with the world beyond Lorghalen, on the island the economy is largely driven by barter and the exchange of favors. All of the families have lodging in Cornerstone, and each family has three representatives on the Cornerstone Council, which governs the island and mediates disputes. The council is led by the Prince of Lorghalen, but this is an unusual position with less power than in other principalities. The Prince of Lorghalen is recognized as the cleverest gnome on the island, and as such someone whose voice should always be heard and opinion considered. But they have no power beyond that. Any Lorghali can claim the title by defeating the current prince in a series of duels of wit and strategy. Sometimes decades go by with no challenges; at other times, challenges have been a weekly or daily occurrence.
The Lorghali produce excellent mediators, apothecaries, and farmers. But what makes them truly remarkable is their tradition of primal magic and their relationship with the elementals of the region. As discussed in this article, the elementals of Lamannia are alien creatures whose thought processes and perception of reality are quite different from those of the humanoids of Eberron. Rather than binding elementals, the Lorghalen stonesingers manipulate elementals and natural forces by communing directly with the spirit and convincing it to help. At its simplest level—producing the sort of effects associated with druidcraft—this is barely more complicated than singing a few words in Primordial. More significant requests require a deeper communion with the spirits, which requires both concentration and an expenditure of will in addition to the song—urging the spirit to comply, impressing the request onto it. These things thus carry all the standard limitations of casting a spell.
The most common and important work of a stonesinger is to work with elementals. On a Lorghalen ship, a stonesinger literally sings to the elemental associated with the ship, encouraging it to move the vessel swiftly. If the stonesingers are killed, the elemental will still recognize the vessel as friendly, but it can’t be compelled to perform any particular action and it may simply wander off. On the island, stonesingers negotiate with the elementals to establish the territories where the gnomes can build, and convince earth elementals to plow their fields and water elementals to provide irrigation. Remarkable stonesingers can manipulate elemental and natural forces in more subtle ways—charming beasts, encouraging plants to grow, even conjuring fire or drawing lightning from a clear sky. Others learn the melodies that define their own bodies, learning how to heal injuries or even change their shape. Almost every Lorghalen gnome knows at least a few simple songs, but those who can work greater magics—those with the powers of bards or druids, discussed in more detail below—are greatly respected. While the stonesingers are a unique tradition that plays a central role in Lorghalen culture, they have nothing against other forms of magic; in particular, Lorghalen alchemists are able to perform wonders using the unusual plants of their island. The original immigrants included a handful of dissidents from the families of House Sivis, and while the Lorghali have made no particular effort to cultivate the Mark of Scribing, there are still a few gnomes in each generation who manifest the mark; such gnomes often become the most gifted wizards of the island.
Overall, the gnomes of Lorghalen have little interest in dealing with the outside world. They consider it to be a dangerous place driven by greed and dishonesty. However, some are drawn beyond the island by sheer curiosity, others by the challenge of matching wits with a dangerous world, and some by a need to obtain resources or techniques unavailable on Lorghalen. Most strive to remain true to the principles of their culture even in hostile lands, solving problems through open discussion rather than treachery and subterfuge. They aren’t fools; a Lorghalen gnome won’t spill every secret to a stranger, and even is a gnome doesn’t want to lie, they don’t have to say anything at all. But they prefer Persuasion to Deception—believing that they can convince an enemy of the proper path. Intimidation is also an acceptable tool, but this is largely a matter of tone—not making ideal threats, but rather making sure an enemy understands just how dangerous the wrong decision could be.
Gnomes make up the vast majority of the population of the island, though there are a few others who have immigrated over the years. Because of the dangers posed by the Hammer, usually the only way to reach Cornerstone is on a Lorghalen ship. The Lorghali are largely gracious hosts and curious gnomes are often eager to talk to outsiders, but the gnomes are aware that outsiders don’t share their traditions of honesty and watch strangers with both eyes. In particular, over the last century a number of Zil have reached out to Lorghalen. The islanders are especially suspicious of their cousins and do not trust the Trust, but there has been a little cultural exchange; notably, a fascination with the Lorghalen stonesinging techniques led to the rise of the Power of Purity movement in Zilargo.
You can play a gnome from Lorghalen using standard rules. However, here’s a few variants you could consider if both DM and player approve. These are as unofficial as can possibly be, and solely reflect what I’d do at my table.
The stonesingers of Lorghalen aren’t druids in the traditional sense. Notably, few have the ability to change shape, and they generally don’t speak the Druidic language. This ties to the idea that the stonesingers are largely channeling the power of Lamannia as opposed to Eberron, and channel this power through song and force of personality rather than faith. You could reflect this in two ways.
The typical stonesinger uses the bard class, but uses the druid spell list instead of the bard spell list. Stonesingers have no particular knack for illusion or enthralling humanoids; they use their songs to charm the elements themselves. The College of Eloquence and the College of Lore are both sound choices for stonesingers.
Lorghalen druids learn the Primordial language instead of Druidic, unless they already speak Primordial. Add Perform to the list of skill proficiencies available to the class. Shapeshifting stonesingers are rare, but the stories of those who can sing new shapes speak of singers who can assume elemental form, so Circle of the Moon is a reasonable choice.
Variant Gnome: Lorghalen
The standard rules for gnomes can be used for Lorghalen gnomes, especially Forest gnomes and those rare few with the Mark of Scribing. However, Lorghalen gnomes are known more for their charisma than their intellect, and for working with nature as opposed to weaving illusions. With this in mind, a DM and player could choose to represent a Lorghalen gnome by making the following changes to the Forest gnome.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1, and your Charisma score increases by 2. This trait replaces the Ability Score Increase traits of both the Gnome and the Forest gnome.
Song of the Elements. You know the Druidcraft cantrip. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it. In addition, you can speak, read, and write Primordial. This trait replaces the Natural Illusionist trait of the Forest gnome.
Any sea-related background can be an appropriate choice for a Lorghalen character. Lorghalen pirates are rare, but sailors, fishers, and shipwrights are all common on the isle. An entertainer could be the first stonesinger to actually perform on the stages of the Five Nations. A Lorghalen hermit’s discovery could involve something about Lamannia or elementals—perhaps a terrible secret about the elemental binding industry! Lorghalen gnomes generally use the forest gnome or Mark of Scribing subrace.
While stonesingers are the most distinct aspect of Lorghalen culture, a Lorghalen gnome could pursue any class. An Alchemist artificer could make their potions using strange herbs and elemental ores brought from the island. The Lorghali aren’t especially religious—they don’t see a divine hand at work in nature, instead interacting with the spirits directly—but a Lorghali paladin could present their Oath of the Ancients as being tied to Lamannia.
Of course, a crucial question for a Lorghalen gnome is why have you left? Most islanders are quite content on their elemental paradise. What’s cause you to travel into the deadlands of Khorvaire? The Reasons For Leaving Lorghalen table can provide some ideas.
As with anything in Eberron, the ultimate question is why does it matter? What can Lorghalen add to your game that you can’t find anywhere else? What could bring adventurers to travel to this isolated island, or to cause a stonesinger to cross their path? Here’s a few ideas.
While Lorghalen’s fleet is small, its ships and fast and powerful. Traditionally it hasn’t been deeply involved with the politics of the Lhazaar Principalities, but in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold the gnomes could play an important role in securing the position of the High Prince.
When adventurers stumble through a manifest zone to Lamannia, they re-emerge in Lorghalen. What will it take to return home?
The Lorghali dislike deception and rarely engage in piracy… until now. A Lorghali warship is terrorizing the region around the Dreadwood, supported by a host of elementals. Who is this pirate, and what are their motives?
There are many wonders in the deep jungles of Lorghalen: megafauna beasts, massive elementals, plants charged with the energies of Lamannia. Adventurers are sent to Lorghalen to retrieve something from the jungles. Perhaps a Cannith alchemist needs a legendary berry, or an Aurum showman wants them to capture a megafauna beast. Can they get past the Hammer? Will the Lorghali interfere with their quest?
The Lorghali have forged an alliance with the Power of Purity and the Ashbound druids and are launching a concerted effort to disrupt Zilargo’s elemental binding industry and sabotage elemental vessels. Is this just a matter of principle, or do they know a terrible secret that could lead to a far worse catastrophe?
A previous article on the Lhazaar Principalities said that the gnomes occupied Lorghalen before Lhazaar arrived, whereas this suggests they claimed the island after Lhazaar.
That’s correct. What I’m now saying is that early gnome explorers discovered Lorghalen long ago, but only settled it after the rise of the Trust.
Do the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts on Lorghalen?
They don’t have a significant presence on the island. I’d rather explore the story of the houses taking an interest in Lorghalen and actively trying to expand their presence there rather than have it be established. So there’s no Orien outpost or Lyrandar docking tower in Cornerstone. I might give them a Gold Dragon Inn that’s just opened in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold. It could also be interesting to have a Sivis outpost that’s recently established and working with Lorghali foundlings with the Mark of Scribing. House Sivis would certainly be interested in tapping a new supply of heirs—but the Council of Cornerstone is suspicious of Sivis and anything that could give the Trust a foothold on their island.
What’s the religion of the Lorghali?
The Lorghali follow a tradition of concrete animism. They live in a land that is literally alive with spirits; they refer to the lands beyond the island as “Deadlands” because of this, finding it depressing to wander in realms where the wind and waves aren’t singing back to them. There are a number of exceptionally powerful entities, including elementals like the Hammer and legendary megafauna beasts. So the Lorghali don’t believe in distant, abstract deities; instead, they focus on concrete, local spirits. They respect nature, but in a much more CONCRETE way that a druid who reveres Eberron as a whole; they have a personal relationship with the well that provides their water and the boulder that roles by every day, and they likely have festivals in which the greater spirits are invoked. But this isn’t about FAITH, it’s a practical, concrete relationship—which is why they tend toward primal magic as opposed to divine.
What are the Lorghali’s beliefs in regards to death and the afterlife then?
They’re largely laid back about it. They’re focused on living their best life, and when it’s over, it’s over; whatever happens next will happen. It’s essentially the opposite of Aerenal and the faiths that are obsessed with avoiding Dolurrh; at the end of the day, the Lorghali don’t care what happens after death, as long as they live a good life. Having said that, they also live right next to the Dreadwood, which is tied to Mabar and Dolurrh; I imagine there’s at least one story cycle that essentially presents Lorghalen as the isle of the living, and Dreadwood as the isle of the dead. But the ultimate point is that the Lorghali don’t care about the afterlife; they care about living their best life now.
How much strong do you see The Hammer in CR terms?
I don’t think you could measure the Hammer in CR terms. You’re talking about an earth elemental so large that it shows up on the map as an island. Imagine trying to destroy a mountain by hitting it with a sword; it’s a crazy concept. If I was to use it in an encounter, I’d be inclined to treat it almost as an environmental effect rather than a creature; every X rounds a boulder will impact, can you get out of range before destroys your ship? Or I’d have adventurer literally fight its hand… if they do enough damage to that, it retreats. But it’s on such a vast scale that I wouldn’t treat the Hammer itself as a standard creature.
That’s all for now. My next article will look at the gnomes of the Feyspires! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing these topics and keeping this site going—I’ll be posting the stat block for the Lorghalen cannonball on Patreon!
A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”
“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337
The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.
As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?
If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.
To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.
Friend or Foe?
The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.
Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.
The Battleground of Prophecy
The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.
One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.
It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to createthe Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.
Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.
Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.
The First War and You
So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.
As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.
Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.
Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.
Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.
Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.
The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.
Characters Bound to the Prophecy
The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…
So, a few examples to consider…
You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.
A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.
A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.
Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!
Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!
This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…
What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?
A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.
A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…
Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”
Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…
Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?
What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.
You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?
Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell.
If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?
There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?
That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.
It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?
There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.
Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.
But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?
One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.
The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.
How could this conflict come to an end?
Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.
You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.
So you’re making a character, and you take the Noble background. What does that actually mean? What are the titles commonly used within the Five Nations? Is a noble title purely hereditary, or can it be purchased? Do nobles have duties, or is it largely symbolic? This article answers these questions and more, exploring the practical impact of noble birth along with the role and form of the nobility in the nations of Khorvaire. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic; I’ll be posting a bonus “deleted scene” to the Inner Circle on Patreon, describing a few notable past rulers of Galifar and the Five Nations. Because of the scope of the topic, this article primarily deals with the Five Nations and other nations that have inherited the traditions of Galifar. If there is interest, a follow-up article could explore those nations of Khorvaire that have quite different approaches to nobility, such as Darguun and the Lhazaar Principalities.
PREFACE: DESIGN INTENT
From the very beginning, one of the goals of Eberron was to make sure that the experience of adventuring in the world still felt like D&D. This is why people still fight using swords and crossbows, why you still have knights in plate armor, and why you have nations ruled by kings and queens. We knew from the start that an important theme of the setting would be the steady rise of industrial power and the shifting balance of power between the dragonmarked houses and the established aristocracy. We knew that Breland in particular would be shifting away from the medieval vision of monarchy. But we wanted both of those things to be relevant in the campaign, in 998 YK. D&D is stereotypically medieval. Our goal was never to completely abandon that flavor, but rather to present a vision of a world that’s actively evolving and straining against it. As I discussed in my previous post, when making history you always want to know why it matters. In creating the setting we wanted adventurers to be caught in the middle of these changes, to have to deal with the Sword of Liberty and overreaching houses, to have to decide whether to challenge tradition or defend it. So while it may seem strange that the Five Nations still have as many medieval trappings as they do, that was always the intent—that Eberron would be a world actively caught between the traditional medievalism associated with D&D and the active pull of social and industrial evolution.
With that said, both Exploring Eberron and my previous article discuss the idea of Untold History. No one’s saying that the semi-feudal status quo of Galifar remained unchallenged for nearly a thousand years. In my opinion, there were many uprisings and social experiments. It’s entirely possible that there was a thirty year period in which Aundair broke away and existed as the Republic of Thaliost before being pulled back into Galifar; this early rebellion might have laid the foundation for the more successful secession of the Eldeen Reaches in the tenth century. So it was always the intent that as of 998 YK there are still traces of medieval flavor to the culture of Galifar; but you can always explore untold moments of history if it makes your campaign more interesting.
And as always: this article is my vision of the setting. While I’ve tried to remain consistent with canon where possible, canon sources aren’t always consistent and there are certain sourcebooks I disagree with. So make of this what you will, and as always, do what’s best for your story.
THE FOUNDATION: POSITION OF PRIVILEGE
What does it mean to be a noble? In most of the nations of Khorvaire, nobles are actively involved in the governance of a region, whether large or small. They collect taxes, maintain lands, manage tenants. Nobles may not administer justice directly within the Five Nations, but they are responsible for ensuring that there is justice within their domains, maintaining the courts and sustaining the forces of the law. In the wake of the Last War, nobles are working to repair the damage to their domains, to reintegrate soldiers into civilian life and deal with the impact of casualties, and to address the needs of refugees seeking shelter in their lands. The short form is that with great power comes great responsibility… and that as such, few landed nobles have the time to go on adventures. It’s not impossible to make the story work, if you and the DM are determined; perhaps you have a younger sibling who’s doing all the work, or a truly remarkable steward. But it’s more likely that a “noble” adventurer will be the scion of a powerful family—the heir, not the holder of the title. Your blood grants you prestige, but you don’t carry the responsibilities of your rank and you don’t have access to the full resources of your domain.
This is reflected by the benefits granted by the noble background. As a noble, you have proficiency with History and Persuasion. You have a set of fine clothes and 25 gp in your pocket. But you don’t have an army at your beck and call. You don’t have a treasury filled with coffers of coin… just as you don’t actually have to do the work of collecting taxes. What you do have is a benefit called Position of Privilege.
Thanks to your noble birth, people are inclined to think the best of you. You are welcome in high society, and people assume you have the right to be wherever you are. The common folk make every effort to accommodate you and avoid your displeasure, and other people of high birth treat you as a member of the same social sphere. You can secure an audience with a local noble if you need to.
So: the precise duties and powers of nobles vary by nation. But the defining, practical benefit of being a noble is respect. Note that this says nothing about “While in your home nation.” The principle is that as a noble—or even as a significant heir of a noble family—you will be recognized as a peer by local aristocrats and generally accommodated by “the common folk.” You’re not above the law. You can’t get away with murder. But people “are inclined to think the best of you,” believing that you are someone who will uphold the honor and dignity of your noble position. Just as in wartime, an enemy might be more inclined to ransom you than to simply kill you; your rank will be recognized even when you hold no actual authority in a region. Within the Five Nations, this is tied to the romantic notion that Galifar may someday be restored; all nobles are treated with respected because someday we’ll all be one kingdom again. Even in Darguun or the Mror Holds, you’re likely to be treated with respect because of your connections.
Having said that: Position of Privilege represents the respect and recognition that come from your position and title. But not all nobles receive that recognition. If you’re a noble from Cyre with this background benefit, it means that people DO still afford you the respect due your title, even though you no longer have your estate or your fortune; presumably your family was so beloved or well-connected that the respect lingers. But most Cyran nobles don’t receive this recognition. If you’re playing such a noble, you could take the variant Retainers benefit instead of Position of Privilege; your estates were lost to the Mourning, but you still have three loyal servants who are sworn to follow you to the bitter end. You could also say that you were an earl of Cyre, but having lost your fortune you were forced to turn to crime, and thus take the criminal background (or anything else) instead of the noble background; from a STORY perspective you were once a noble, but you don’t receive any practical BENEFITS from your lineage. The advantage is that this allows you to actually have BEEN the landed title-holder, as opposed to an heir; you HAD many duties and responsibilities in the past, but they were stripped away with your fortune, and now you are merely an adventurer.
This same principle can apply to a noble who’s lost their lands for any reason. Maybe you were a Lhazaar prince driven from your throne by a treacherous sibling. Perhaps your were the Lord of Stubborn, the Brelish settlement in Droaam now known as Stonejaw. Whatever the circumstances, the impact is the same. If you take the noble background and the Position of Privilege benefit, people still treat you with the respect due your rank. If you take the Retainers benefit, you no longer wield any authority but you still have an entourage sworn to serve you. And if you take any other background, it means that your nobility may be a plot point, but it will rarely have any direct impact in an adventure.
When is a Noble not a Noble?
Just as you can be a noble without the noble background, you can also take the noble background even if you’re not part of the nobility. The Position of Privilege benefit means that you are treated as an equal by nobles, that you can request an audience with local authorities, and that common folk are generally impressed by you. This is often the case with especially wealthy or influential members of dragonmarked houses. As a dragonmarked “noble” you are either close to house leadership or part of an especially wealthy or powerful branch of the family, and critically, people know it; being this sort of “noble” means that you are a recognized celebrity. With that said, your Position of Privilege is a courtesy, not a right… it reflects the fact that people recognize the power of your family and show you respect because of it.
Noble may be a background, but just as adventurers can become soldiers or criminals during a campaign, it’s possible to be raised to the nobility. The traditions associated with this are described in later sections, but a greater question is the practical impact of this elevation. Does a new noble gain the benefits of Position of Privilege? What are their duties and responsibilities?
An adventurer could gain a noble title as a reward for service, or depending on nation, they might win their title through battle. A critical question is whether it is a substantive title—one that is associated with land and subjects, which can be passed down to heirs—or whether the title is simply a courtesy that doesn’t carry lands or duties. Being granted a knighthood may not confer the benefits of Position of Privilege, but it alway won’t get in the way of adventuring. Becoming a Lhazaar Prince might grant that privilege, but it also means that you need to manage your principality… or employ people to do it for you (the Valenar method) and hope they do a good job. Personally, if I grant player characters substantive titles in a campaign I’m running, I’m going to make the management and defense of their domain an integral part of the campaign moving forward. On the other hand, if Boranel grants someone the title of Shield of the East, it’s a symbolic courtesy that will carry significant weight with Brelish nobles (as it reflects the favor of the king) but carries no actual responsibilities and doesn’t have the impact of Position of Privilege in other nations.
… And Losing It
Just as a lowborn adventurer can gain a noble title, a highborn character can lose it. The simplest path to being stripped of a title is to be convicted of treason. However, in the Five Nations nobles have duties, and if the family fails in those duties the sovereign can strip them of their title and property. In the Lhazaar Principalities, a character could lose their title because someone else takes it by force. And, of course, countless Cyran nobles lost their holdings in the Mourning, and the Treaty of Thronehold effectively stripped them of their privileges. Should a player character be stripped of their title, it’s up to the player and DM to decide how this affects their Position of Privilege. If the character is widely known and beloved, it’s possible to say that the benefit lingers based solely on that goodwill, as with a PC Cyran noble who takes the benefit. As a DM, if I was to remove the benefits of Position of Privilege, I would grant a new benefit to replace it, based on the circumstances of its loss. Was the noble convicted of treason because they opposed a tyrant? They might lose Position of Privilege but gain the Rustic Hospitality of a folk hero… or perhaps the infamy of their deeds will earn them the Bad Reputation of a pirate, or a Criminal Contact. Shifting benefits can be an interesting way to have the character’s capabilities reflect the story; the shift from Position of Privilege of Bad Reputation gives real weight to events that may have taken place off-screen. This sort of shift can also be a great way to drive a new arc of the campaign: if their family was unjustly convicted of treason, can the adventurer redeem their honor and restore their title?
THE TRADITIONS OF GALIFAR
The culture of the Five Nation is a blend of the united traditions of Galifar and the preserved traditions of each nation. There are two vital things to bear in mind. The first is that the Last War was fought in an attempt to reunite Galifar; it wasn’t a war of independence, it was a war fought to determine who would rule the united kingdom. With a few notable exceptions (Thranish theocracy, the Code of Kaius) the Five Nations intentionally preserved the traditions of Galifar, because they always hoped that within another year or so their ruler would be the sovereign of the reunited Galifar.
A second important point is that Galifar was a united kingdom, but not a single monolithic culture; the idea of “the Five Nations” was a constant throughout its history, and people thought of themselves as Thranes and Aundairians even while they also considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar. Galifar I began by conquering the neighboring kingdom of Metrol, and Metrol was almost entirely transformed in its transition to Cyre. Galifar displaced existing nobles and instituted new systems, making Cyre the heart of Galifar. But the other three nations were ultimately brought into Galifar by diplomacy, not by absolute conquest (though Galifar’s clear military superiority was the iron fist that drove these negotiations). Galifar instituted changes at the highest levels of society, appointing his children as the rulers of each nation; but he largely did this by marrying them into the families of the existing rulers, building upon the existing structures of authority. So Galifar redirected the existing feudal structures of the Five Nations, making clear that all power ultimately flowed from the sovereign of Galifar. Over time, he streamlined systems and added new universal concepts—the Galifar Code of Justice, expanded education—while also nationalizing and expanding the role of institutions such as the Arcane Congress, the King’s Citadel, and Rekkenmark. He instituted a standardized currency—the crown-sovereign-galifar-dragon values still used today—and established the Karrnathi dialect as the Common tongue used today. So all the nations of Galifar were united by a vital set of shared customs and laws, but they also still maintained their own unique traditions and quirks, some of which will be discussed later in this article.
Sovereigns and Sovereigns
The faith of the Sovereign Host played a crucial role in the foundation of the united kingdom. Galifar I believed that he was guided by Aureon, and was fulfilling a destiny laid out by the Sovereign; given his remarkable successes, it’s entirely possible that Galifar I was a paladin of host, possibly even a subtle aasimar. This is a vital cornerstone of the Galifar monarchy: the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon. It’s this bedrock principle that prevents a consort from claiming the crown and that has stood against uprisings and would-be usurpers. This is not something that’s called out often in the present day, and the modern monarchs vary in their piety, but the belief underlies the traditions of Galifar. The Galifar Code of Justice invokes Aureon, and there are other aspects of law where a casual faith in the Sovereigns is assumed. The faith of the Sovereign Host has never been a monolithic or powerful institution in the same way as the Church of the Silver Flame, but just as nobles are required to maintain courts, collect taxes, and levy troops within their domains, they’re required to sustain the Vassal faith. Based on the size of a community, this could involve maintaining a grand temple; a small temple with a single priest; or just a small shrine. For most nobles of Galifar this wasn’t seen as a hardship, but rather as an opportunity to display piety; especially zealous nobles would lavish resources on their favored temples, or raise monuments or shrines to a particular Sovereign. Vassal dukes often competed to lure the most accomplished scholars to their seminaries. Within the Sovereign faith anyone seen as guided by the Nine can fill the role of priest, and there are have been a number of renowned nobles who have also acted as priests of the Sovereign Host.
Despite his deep faith, Galifar never sought to FORCE his beliefs on others. The principles of Galifar presume simple faith in the Sovereigns, and nobles must support the faith, but they aren’t actually required to practice it and Galifar never sought to stamp out divergent sects. Throughout the untold history of Galifar, there have been pious nobles who have gone further—hunting down and publicly executing followers of the Dark Six (real or imagined), or persecuting “heretical” sects; historically this has included the Three Faces sects, which are why these tend to operate as mystery cults. So today the Five Nations are largely tolerant and many of the monarchs aren’t especially devout, but the principle of Aureon’s Blessing remains at the heart of the myth of Galifar.
The Role of the Nobility
When Galifar was founded, the Five Nations all employed forms of medieval feudalism. Nobles governed lands tended by tenant farmers in exchange for providing taxes and military service to the leader of the nation. In many nations, the nobility was also responsible for the administration of justice. Galifar was built on this framework. It was acknowledged that all power and authority flowed from the sovereign, through the princes and princesses that governed the land, and then down through local nobles and administrators. Throughout Galifar, the nobility remained the foundation of the united kingdom. Nobles were responsible for maintaining their territory, including collecting taxes and raising levies for military and national service. Under the Galifar Code of Justice, the nobles didn’t administer justice, but it was their duty to maintain the system, appointing justices and maintaining the local courts. As the kingdom expanded and as life became increasingly more complicated, this produced a class of dedicated civil servants and landowners—initially ennobled viscounts and crown reeves, but ultimately expanding into gentry and merchant classes. But at the start of the Last War, it remained the case that the majority of property was associated with a noble’s domain, and that it was the local lord who appointed justices, mayors, and other officials. A crown reeve was responsible to the count, the count to their duke, the duke to the prince, the prince to the king.
As noted earlier, there has always been a distinction between courtesy titles—titles that carry respect and prestige, but nothing more—and substantive titles, which are associated with land and the duties of maintaining it. The eldest child of a duke or duchess is allowed to use the title of count or countess, the second heir has the title of viscount, and other children are lords or ladies… but these titles are merely courtesies, and the heir has no actual authority over the domain. Likewise, an important administrator might be granted a courtesy title to reflect their service, but no land would be tied to that title. Typically courtesy titles are tied to the holder and cannot be transferred to heirs. Courtesy titles allow an adventurer to be a count or shield of the realm without having to make sure that roads are being maintained and taxes collected in their domain.
Noble Ranks and Titles
The following titles were instituted by Galifar I, and remain the common ranks of nobility to this day, listed in descending order of status. This also reflects the practical reality of land ownership and chain of command. A crown reeve holds territory within a county, and is responsible to a count. Counties are tied to duchies, and counts are bound to dukes. Anyone holding one of the ranks given below is allowed to use the ir’ prefix with their surname.
King / Queen. The ruler of the united kingdom of Galifar.
Prince/Princess. A child of the king or queen. As a governor of a nation, uses the title “Prince/ss of (nation).”
Archduke/Archduchess. A duke or duchess married to a prince or princess.
Grand Duke/Duchess. A duke or duchess governing a palatine region.
Duke/Duchess. The ruler of a duchy. Originally synonymous with “Warlord.”
Shield. Ruler of a county seen as a dangerous border. Such a noble typically uses count/ess as a courtesy, but is styled Shield of (county) in formal address.
Count/Countess. Ruler of a county.
Viscount/Viscountess. This is an appointed, nonhereditary title, typically granted by a count or duke to someone performing important administrative duties within their domains.
Crown Reeve. This is the lowest rank of nobility, roughly equivalent to the traditional use of baron. Crown reeves typically administer lands within a county, but this title was also given to members of the gentry who purchased lands from the crown. In common speech, a crown reeve is addressed as “lord” or “lady.” This rank can be hereditary (as in the case of the landed gentry) but is often tied to service.
Knighthood is an honor, not a title of nobility. Traditionally, a duke or higher noble can appoint a knight; this carries status as it reflects service to the nation, but it isn’t hereditary and it isn’t associated with land. So while there were Karrnathi nobles among the original Order of the Emerald Claw, many members of the order came from the gentry; among the Karrnathi chivalric orders, the Order of the Inviolate Way is noted as only accepting members who are also of noble blood. Many other titles fall into the category of honor or office: for example, in Aundair Darro ir’Lain is the Duke of Passage and Second Warlord of the Realm. That second title is an office he holds, not something he carries for life. If he falls out of favor with Queen Aurala, there would soon be a new Second Warlord. Likewise, “Minister of Magic” is an office, not a noble rank.
Princes, Archdukes, and Grand Dukes
The succession traditions of Galifar are a tangled web, and it’s a miracle that the united kingdom endured as long as did. The principle is this.
Each of the Five Nations was divided into duchies.
Each of the Five Nations was governed by one of the five eldest children of the Wynarn ruler of Galifar. When this child came of age, they would be married into one of the duchies of that nation. They would be acknowledged prince/ss of that nation, and the previous prince/ss would become a duke or duchess. If the reigning monarch didn’t produce five heirs, the title would remain with the current prince/ss and their heirs; there were certainly cases where a governing prince survived multiple kings.
The leader of the duchy the prince/ss married into became the archduke of that nation, taking this title from its previous holder. Should death create a vacancy with no Wynarn heir of age to rule as prince/ss, the archduke would reign until a prince/ss came of age.
The net result of this is that the balance of power between duchies would regularly shift, with the rise of a new king or queen ultimately displacing the current prince and often the current archduke or archduchess as well. As we’ve noted, the Last War wasn’t the first time a nation or duchy resisted this change. The current Archdukes are thus those duchies associated with the princes who governed when the Last War begin; there are archdukes of Fairhaven, Korth, Wroat, and Sigilstar.
Grand dukes are rulers of palatinates, more typically referred to as grand duchies. These are regions recognized as holding a degree of independence from the surrounding nation and having a direct relationship with the sovereign, thus having the right to enforce local laws and practice customs that might be at odds with those of the surrounding nation. The first palatinate was the Grand Duchy of Atur in Karrnath, but the most significant palatinate was Zilargo. When the armies of Galifar passed the Howling Peaks, they were met by Zil diplomats. These envoys negotiated the incorporation of the region into the overall mantle of Breland, but as three grand duchies—with the net result that the Zil became part of Galifar while still maintaining nearly complete autonomy. The three grand duchies of Zilargo were Zolanberg, Trolanport, and Korranberg; further impact of this is discussed in the Zilargo section below. It is up to the DM to decide if there are any other grand duchies in Khorvaire.
Gaining a Title: Elevation, Inheritance, and Marriage
Under the traditions of Galifar, a hereditary title passes to the oldest child of the title-holder regardless of gender. If there is no living heir, it passes to the siblings of the noble or their heirs; failing that, it falls to the noble who oversees the domain to reassign it. A number of royal lines were lost in the Last War (or convicted of treason and stripped of rank) so there are dukes with counties to dispense and counts in need of qualified crown reeves. While the local noble has the power to make such appointments, they must always be ratified by the sovereign.
In most of the Five Nations, marriage doesn’t convey title. This stems from the principle that only a Wynarn can rule; when the Wynarn monarch dies, their consort has no claim to the throne. Often, a noble consort is granted a courtesy title, as seen with Queen Etrigani of Karrnath; but if Kaius III were to die, the crown of Karrnath would immediately pass to his eldest heir, not to Etrigani. This principle generally holds throughout the ranks. Someone who marries into a royal family is a consort. They may be granted a courtesy title, but they are not the equal of their noble spouse and it is up to the DM to decide if their status is sufficient to justify gaining Position of Privilege. This would largely depend on public perception: do the nobles and common folk respect the consort? While many nobles limit themselves to a single consort, this isn’t enforced by law. A monarch could have multiple consorts, and the child of any official consort would be considered an heir. There was a lengthy period in which it was accepted tradition for a reigning sovereign to have a consort from each of the Five Nations, in part to spread out the burden of producing five heirs. In the wake of the Last War, some of the nobles have continued this tradition—Kaius III of Karrnath maintains harem, though only Etrigani carries the title of queen. On the other side of things, Queen Aurala of Aurala has a single consort, but has not granted him any title.
In most of the nations of Khorvaire, only the sovereign can create a new title. Lesser nobles can assign vacant titles within their domains, though this requires the approval of the sovereign. Many domains are associated with a specific set of courtesy titles that can be dispensed at the discretion of the local noble. For example, the Count of Threeshadows may have the authority to appoint a Viscount Threeshadows and two knights… though again, these are honors that aren’t passed on to heirs.
In most nations, it is illegal for anyone to sell a title, whether it is their own or a domain within their jurisdiction; Breland is a notable exception to this rule.
What About Dragonmarks?
The Korth Edicts prevent members of dragonmarked houses from owning land or holding titles. A noble can marry a dragonmarked heir, but one of them must completely sever all legal ties to their family. A noble who marries into House Deneith must renounce their title and rights, while for a Deneith heir to marry into a noble family they must cut all ties to their house, including their family name. Of course, this doesn’t prevent such a union from having important diplomatic implications. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting observes…
Some tension exists between the houses and the crown since the marriage of Queen Aurala to Sasik of House Vadalis. Traditionally, the dragonmarked houses and the royal families have avoided mixing to maintain a division between rulership and commerce. Even though Sasik, as the royal consort, has severed his claims to the House Vadalis fortune, he nevertheless maintains ties that make the other houses nervous about what advantages Vadalis might be gaining in its dealings with Aundair.
It’s also the case that not all nations care about the Korth Edicts. The elves of Valenar are effectively appointing Lyrandar viscounts, though they aren’t using that title; these Lyrandar administrators don’t severe ties to their houses. To date this has gone unchallenged, in part because it’s not entirely clear who would challenge it and in what forum; this is touched on in this article. Even though dragonmarked heirs had to abandon their house ties to marry into noble families, they brought their blood, and this means that there have been nobles who carried dragonmarks. However, the frequency with which dragonmarks appear in the houses reflect the intentional mingling of strong dragonmarked bloodlines. We’ve noted before that foundling marks are quite rare, to the point that someone who develops a mark may not even realize that they had a connection to a house in their history. So the dragonmarked nobles are possible, but by no means common.
The Wynarn Family
Galifar Wynarn believed that he has been blessed by Aureon, and this belief underlies the united kingdom that he built. Only someone of the Wynarn bloodline could hold the throne. An underlying question is what defines the Wynarn bloodline? There are nobles of all races, and there have been a few Khoravar reigns; however, these have often ended poorly, with rival heirs using this as a basis to say that the sovereign isn’t truly of Wynarn blood. Following a short but brutal civil war in the seventh century, all Wynarn sovereigns have been human. Kaius III has declared the elf Etrigani to be his queen, but he has yet to produce an heir with her. Kaius III maintains a harem, and it’s largely assumed that this is to ensure that he has a human heir, though he has yet to either produce an heir or appoint an official consort within this harem.
Under the traditions of Galifar, every duchy was obliged to contribute a certain number of soldiers to the Army of Galifar. Soldiers were paid a wage, and often this quota could be met with volunteer forces. If not, it was the responsibility of the duke/duchess (who might delegate to counts) to make up the shortfall, by whatever methods they deemed necessary. While conscription occurred in the earliest days, in time it became common practice for nobles in peaceful regions to pay for Karrnathi troops to enlist in their name; as Karrnathi had a tradition of mandatory military service, this worked out well for all sides.
With the outbreak of the Last War, sovereigns continued to rely on nobles to levy troops. Thrane and Karrnath had little trouble meeting quotas, but other nations did fall back on conscription when necessary. In the present day, most nations are reducing their current forces. Nobles are responsible for maintaining the local watch in their domains, and are entitled to maintain a household guard, though numbers are limited (with the amount varying by nation).
Why Does This Matter?
As with any element of lore, a key question remains: why does any of this matter? Why should player characters care about the laws of inheritance or the difference between a grand duke and an archduke? Here’s a few possibilities.
If an adventurer is from the Five Nations and isn’t a noble themselves, they grew up in the domain of a noble. Who was their lord? What’s their relationship with them? Were they a fair ruler the adventurer might try to help, or who might serve as a patron for the party? Or does the adventurer want to expose the lord’s cruelties or crimes?
Perhaps an adventurer’s family use to hold title or land within a nation, but lost it due to treason, war, or treachery. The How Did You Lose Your Title table provides ideas. Does the character want to reclaim their title? If so, what would it take?
An adventurer who follows the Blood of Vol could have ties to the Grand Duchy of Atur. The grand duke fears that the warlords are preparing to formally conquer the duchy and assimilate it into Karrnath. Can the adventurers prevent this conflict from occurring?
When a noble character comes into their inheritance, they’re suddenly responsible for the maintenance of the domain. How will they balance this with their adventuring life? Will they find a steward to administer the lands in their name… and if so, can the steward be trusted? Will they abdicate the title in favor of a younger sibling?
For service to the crown, an adventure is granted a title and domain… but the domain is land seized during the war, and the adventurer is expected to quell unrest. How will they handle this? Can they justify and enforce their sovereign’s claim to the region?
The adventurer is involved in a romance or business affair that can’t proceed unless the character acquires a title (even if it’s just a courtesy title). What can they do to gain status?
THE FIVE NATIONS
What’s been described is the standard traditions of Galifar. However, even while Galifar was united the nations had their own unique customs, and there have been further changes over the course of the last century. What’s the different between nobles of Breland and Karrnath? Find out below.
Aundair has held closely to the old traditions of Galifar, and its people have a romantic view of the nobility. Perhaps it’s due the influence of Thelanis; whatever the reason, Aundairians have always entertained the notions of noblesse oblige and chivalry. The common folk value self-reliance and ambition, but most believe that the nobility is noble in all senses of the word, that their leaders will do what’s best for the country and for their people. This idealism doesn’t extend to all nobles; Aundairians have long believed that their people—both nobles and commoners—possess a dignity and decency beyond their neighbors. With that said, over the last two centuries a rift formed between the farmers of the west and the grand cities of the east; this led first to the embrace of the Pure Flame, and eventually culminated in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. Nonetheless, most remaining Aundairians are proud of their rulers and feel a bond to their local lords.
Noble Ranks. Aundair uses the standard ranks of Galifar. Accomplished arcane spellcasters will also often add a title that describes their primary school of magic, along with a designator indicating the highest level spell they can cast; so a noble might be introduced as Alara ir’Lain, Countess of Askelios, Diviner of the Fourth Circle. Bear in mind that NPC spellcasters may not have the full capabilities of a PC class. Countess Alara is capable of casting at least one 4th level divination spell, but that doesn’t mean she has all the versatility of a 9th level wizard; it’s also possible that she casts her spells as rituals, like a magewright.
Playing an Aundairian Noble. Aundairians have high expectations of their nobles. Aundair is a land that values wit, knowledge, and arcane talent, and a noble is expected to possess all of these. Nobles may not be accomplished spellcasters, but if you can’t at least perform a cantrip your peers will chuckle and your parents will push you to study harder. Likewise, Aundairian nobles have high standards of honor and duty, and crass or selfish behavior will reflect poorly on your family.
Noble is a logical background, but if you’re a second child or further down the line, both soldier and sage are good choices for Aundairian nobles; many Aundairian officers were drawn from noble families. You could also be one of the “Lost Lords,” nobles whose domains were lost in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. While a few of the Lost Lords still have enough influence to justify a Position of Privilege, this is a sound basis for taking the Retainers benefit instead; if your retainers are members of long-lived species, they might have served your family long before the Eldeen rebellion.
Aundair has a significant population of elves and Khoravar, and these are folded into its noble families; there are also a few noble families of comprised of gnomes. A significant number of noble estates are close to manifest zones tied to Thelanis, and many of the oldest families claim to have ancient agreements with fey (which could range from a formal pact with an archfey to a simple understanding with a dryad who dwells in the local wood). It’s also the case that Sul Khatesh is bound beneath Aundair, and some families have secret ties to the Queen of Shadows. In creating an Aundairian noble, consider whether your family has any ancient compacts in their history, and if so if this is a point of public pride or a secret.
The kingdom of Wroat was founded by reavers and bandits, and its rulers held their power through a blend of charisma, cunning, and force. Wroat was a collection of city-states, loosely aligned under Wroat as the greatest power in the region. It was clear from the start that Wroat would ultimately fall to Galifar’s disciplined forces; those leaders who wisely chose to ally with the invader became the nobles of the newly-forged Breland.
While Breland accepted the feudal structure of Galifar, its people never fully embraced the nobility. It’s always been said that a Brelish farmer sees themselves as the equal of any king; they accepted that the nobles had the power, but never bought into romantic ideals of divine bloodlines. This was tied to the fact that Breland was an active frontier. When Galifar was formed, the lands west of the Dagger were still home to ogres and gnolls, and goblins and gnomes held the lands to the east. Zilargo was quickly incorporated into the united kingdom, but it took centuries for Breland to achieve its current borders. The shield lords of the west were far more practical than the grand lords of Aundair. The common folk relied on the nobles to direct military action and to bring the resources of the crown to bear, while the lords relied on the people to be more self-directed than in other nations; Brelish communities chose their own reeves and lesser officials, and even simple matters of justice would be resolved by the people instead of going to the courts.
Throughout the history of Breland it was vital for the nobles to maintain the respect of their subjects, not merely to rely on tradition to keep them in place. As long as they respect their leaders, Brelish are proud and loyal; but Breland has also seen more minor uprisings than any of the other Five Nations. The Brelish Parliament existed before the Last War, and was established as a representative body that advised the Prince of Breland. At the outbreak of the Last War, Princess Wroaan ir’Wynarn promised to make Breland a place where “People would be judged by word and deed instead of social class.” In 895 YK Wroaan granted greater powers to the Brelish Parliament, granting it the authority it has today; the parliament makes the laws, and the crown enforces them—as well as conducting all business related to foreign affairs and national security. As noted throughout the canon sources, King Boranel is an exceptionally popular ruler, but there is a strong movement that believes that the Brelish monarchy should come to an end with Boranel’s reign—or at least be relegated to a purely symbolic position.
The sourcebook Five Nations has this to say about the modern Brelish:
The people of Breland have a strong tradition of independence and free thought. They are fiercely loyal to the kingdom and to the Brelish crown, but at the same time they don’t want the laws interfering with their daily lives. The Brelish always speak their minds, and while they treat aristocrats and officers with the respect due to rank, they still consider themselves to be the equal of any other person. While the Brelish expect their voices to be heard, they also take the time to listen to others, and they are known for their tolerance. There is also a strong strain of skeptical pragmatism in the Brelish character; the Brelish always try to find the catch in every deal, question what others take on faith, and look for a personal advantage in any situation. This attitude has its dark side, and the major cities of Breland have the highest crime rates in Khorvaire.
Noble Ranks. Breland uses the traditional ranks of Galifar, but there are a significant number of shields, especially west of the Dagger. Even though most of these counties have been secure for centuries, the shield lords still take pride in their titles and the deeds of their ancestors. Most cities and large communities have a council that manages local affairs, and in many counties these councils actually appoint viscounts, rather than the noble lord; a canon example of this is the Lord Mayor of Sharn, a viscount appointed by the city council.
Breland is the only one of the Five Nations that allows nobles to sell their titles and domains. Any such transaction must be approved by the sovereign, and the crown takes a cut of the proceedings. The new noble is required to fulfill the duties of their position and it can be stripped away should they fail. Notably, this is how Antus ir’Soldorak of the Aurum obtained his ‘ir’.
Playing a Brelish Noble. Brelish nobles need to be popular with their people to rule effectively. If you’re a noble with Position of Privilege, what’s the foundation of your popularity? Are you charismatic, or have you or your family performed great deeds that ensure the love of your people? Is there a song the local bards sing about you? Are you from a core county that’s always been part of the realm, or are you a shield lord whose ancestors took your lands from the monsters of the west? Is your domain secure now, or are you along the edge of the border with Droaam—in which case, why are you adventuring instead of standing with them? Can your family trace its roots back to the foundation of Galifar, or did they buy their title?
If you don’t want to take the noble background, one possibility is that your lands were west of the Graywall mountains and was lost in the rise of Droaam; perhaps Graywall itself was your family’s domain! As a minor Brelish noble popular with the people, you might take the folk hero background instead of noble; your deeds supporting the common folk are so well known that you’re celebrated even in other nations. Alternatively, if you’re from a small county with relatively little influence, you might take the criminal background instead of noble. Is this because your noble family has deep dealings with the criminal community? Or are your family criminals who’ve bought a minor title?
The conquest of Metrol was Galifar’s first step in establishing his united kingdom. It was his bitterest enemy, and the realm that was most completely transformed in defeat. Hand-picked by Galifar I, the nobles of central Cyre were devoted to the ideals of the united kingdom and believed that they embodied those ideals—and that “What our dreams imagine, our hands create.” While some will argue that these dreamers were decadent and soft, they were devoted to arts, sciences, philosophy—though not to challenging the concept of the monarchy itself. To the Cyrans, the crown was the bedrock foundation of Galifar, and all of their dreams were built on that foundation.
Of course, things were quite different for the nobles of southern and eastern Cyre. To realize his dreams for central Cyre, Galifar claimed the lands to the south and east to resettle the nobles. The lands to the south were inhabited by goblins, and the distant region across the Blade Desert by farmers who traced their roots back to the Khunan region of Sarlona. Neither of these forces were organized into nations, and neither had the power to resist Galifar, but both regions were claimed by conquest. While outright slavery was forbidden, Galifar was willing to overlook the excesses of feudal serfdom. Central Cyre may have embodied the ideals of Galifar, but eastern Cyre was its antitheses. Due to its isolation, it was simply ignored by the rest of the united kingdom, its nobles allowed to rule their petty fiefdoms as they wished.
Following the outbreak of the Last War, the Cyrans continued to hold to the traditions of Galifar; after all, they were the rightful heirs of the true kingdom, and were fighting to defend it. Eastern and Southern Cyre were lost in the uprisings that formed Valenar and Darguun, and then central Cyre fell in the Mourning. As a result, most Cyran nobles now have little but their pride. The Treaty of Thronehold established Cyre as a fallen nation, and its nobles had no voice in shaping the treaty. While Boranel has granted Prince Oargev the land now known as New Cyre, the only power Cyran nobles now wield is what others choose to give them.
Noble Ranks. Cyran used the standard ranks of Galifar. Nobles of southern Cyre were often shields, as the land was taken from the goblins and there were ongoing conflicts over the centuries.
Playing a Cyran Noble. Position of Privilege is extremely rare among Cyran nobles. If you take the noble background, the Retainer benefit makes more sense. If you have a Position of Privilege, it means that your family is so well known and liked that people grant you respect even though your family has lost its privilege; why is that? If you’ve fought to help the refugees, you might instead be a folk hero who can find shelter in any refugee community. Otherwise, with the approval of your DM, you could take any background and add a lost Cyran title to your story; you should be the Count of Woodbridge, but instead you were forced to become a criminal. In developing the story of a Cyran noble, an important question is whether your domain is within central Cyre (the Mournland) or whether it was in southern Cyre (Darguun) or east Cyre (Valenar). Valenar and Darguun were lost almost four decades ago, and if you’re human you may have never known these lands. On the other hand, if you’re from one of these regions your lands still exist and are in enemy hands; do you yearn to reclaim them from the elves or goblins?
Where I normally suggest that adventurers should be heirs as opposed to actively holding a title—explaining why you’re not bound by the duties of your rank and why you don’t have access to its resources—Cyre provides another answer to this. It could be that you were the Duchess of Eston, that you were part of Dannel’s councils—and now, you’re a refugee with only three loyal retainers left to show for it. Again, unless you have Position of Privilege, your title doesn’t mean much; once you may have been Duchess of Eston, but now you’re just a woman with a well-worn sword and the skills to use it.
While first settled by raiders from Rhiavhaar, the seeds that blossomed to form Karrnath can be traced back to the ancient nation of Nulakesh. The Karrns are a hard people who have always valued martial discipline and strict order. It was Karrn the Conqueror whose deeds secured human dominance over Khorvaire, even though he failed to hold that power himself; and Galifar himself was a son of Karrnath. The Cyrans believe that they are the rightful heirs of Galifar because of the traditions of succession; but the Karrns know that it was their people who created Galifar, their language that is now the common tongue. And if Kaius III can’t reclaim the throne of the united kingdom, perhaps another capable Karrnathi warlord will be the next Galifar and start the cycle anew.
In Karrnath, the Galifar Code of Justice has been supplanted by the harsh Code of Kaius, a form of harsh martial law. This met little resistance and remains in place even today, in part because it reflects the overall character of the Karrns and the culture they had in place before Galifar I crafted a more enticing foundation for his united kingdom. While there are certainly exceptions, most Karrns are proud of their strict laws and view the other nations as soft and corrupt. This tendency is reinforced by the fact that all Karrns serve a term in the military and are thus used to operating within a chain of command. One might ask what Karrnath needed with such a sizable army, especially during the most peaceful years of Galifar; the answer is that the Karrnathi army is used for many purposes within the nation. Local law enforcement is largely provided by soldiers, with a small corps of career officers who maintain continuity of service. Soldiers perform public works. A term in the army is a term of service to the nation, where you are prepared to go in harm’s way for the good of your people; but the precise form of that service is up to your sovereign and the warlord.
Karrnath is notable for the Grand Duchy of Atur. This region’s independence was negotiated long ago in recognition for the work it does in containing the dangerous influence of the powerful Mabaran manifest zone at the heart of the region, and was reinforced in agreements with Kaius I in exchange for the support of Atur’s elite necromancers. This is why Atur remains a public stronghold of the Blood of Vol even after Regent Moranna and Kaius III turned against the faith. Atur is still home to the finest necromancers in the nation, and most of Karrnath’s undead troops are stored in its vaults. There are warlords who despise the Blood of Vol or who fears that the undead it maintains could be turned against Karrnath. But these nobles know that seizing Atur would prove disastrous unless they had the knowledge necessary to contain the power of the manifest zone, and so the City of Night remains inviolate.
Noble Ranks. Karrnath uses the standard ranks of Galifar. It’s common for dukes to use the title of warlord, but both titles are valid. Counts along the new borders of the nation take pride in the title of shield. Nobles are expected to levy a specific number of troops for the service of the crown, but they may maintain additional forces as they see fit within their realms; likewise, it’s understood that they are lending soldiers to the crown, and that those troops retain their loyalty to their duke.
Playing a Karrnathi Noble. As a Karrnathi noble, consider carefully whether you want the noble background or the soldier background. All Karrns serve in the military, and nobles were often officers (though only if they actually possessed the skills required to lead). The Position of Privilege benefit of the noble background reflects greater diplomatic influence; the Military Rank benefit of the soldier background reflects respect earned on the battlefield, deeds that will be respected even by enemy soldiers. Which is a better fit for your noble Karrn?
A second question for any Karrnathi noble is where you stand on the Blood of Vol and the use of undead. The faith has always had deep roots in Karrnathi. It spread when it was embraced by the crown earlier in the war, adn then withered when Regent Moranna turned against it. Are you from a proud Seeker family, perhaps tied to the Grand Duchy of Atur, and if so, how has the turn against the faith affected your family? Did your embrace the faith only to abandon it—and if so, are you still a believer in spite of your faithless forbears? Or are you a true vassal devoted to Dol Dorn and the Sovereigns, who believes that the use of undead in battle was a crutch proud Karrnath never needed?
Another question is where you stand on Kaius III and his efforts to strengthen peace. Do you believe that the current peace is best for all? Do you trust that your king is doing what’s best for the nation, even if you hope this is merely a stratagem in a longer game? Or do you believe that Kaius is squandering Karrnathi might, and hope that a new warlord will lead your nation to greatness? Do you think you could be that warlord, given time?
Daskara was a nation devoted to the Sovereign Host, reflecting the influence of ancient Pyrine and to a lesser extent, Irian. Just as Karrnath has a number of powerful manifest zones tied to Mabar, Daskara (now Thrane) has a few noteworthy zones tied to Irian, notably the region where Flamekeep now stands. Like Galifar I, the people of Daskara believed their rulers were blessed by the Sovereigns and governed with divine right. This faith was shaken by their defeats at the hands of Galifar’s forces, but Galifar I was able to convince most that his united kingdom was part of the divine plan, that their blessed lords were meant to kneel to the Wynarn king; Galifar further strengthened this by establishing Daskara as the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host, the greatest temple in the lands. However, this new pillar was broken when the dragon Sarmondelaryx ravaged the newly christened Thrane, killing its prince and burning the Grand Temple.
These challenges didn’t shatter the faith of the Thranes, but they strained them. It took the overlord Bel Shalor to change everything. It wasn’t a prince who saved the nation from terror, nor the Sovereigns; it was a warrior of lowly birth strengthened by courage and the power of the Silver Flame. In the years and centuries that followed, the people of Thrane largely abandoned the Sovereign Host and embraced the Silver Flame. The Grand Temple of the Host had been destroyed by the forces of Bel Shalor, and the people chose to replace it with the citadel of Flamekeep; the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host in Metrol became the new seat of the Vassal faith.
This shift left the nobles of Thrane in an odd position. They had long touted their supposed divine blessing… but now the people were shifting away from the faith that supported it. Many nobles responded to this by embracing the Silver Flame—sharing the faith of the people and further, acknowledging the power that saved their nation. Others sought to balance both traditions; even if the Grand Temple was never rebuilt, the faith of the Silver Flame didn’t deny the possibility that the Sovereigns might exist and might have blessed the noble lines. And a few clung bitterly to the old ways and refused to acknowledge the new faith, struggling to limit the power of the church within their domains.
Following the death of King Thalin in 914 YK, Thrane officially became a theocracy led by the Keeper of the Silver Flame and the Council of Cardinals. The lands once held through the crown were now considered the property of the church, and both civil and military administration were taken over by the church. The roles of viscounts and blood regents were dissolved and taken over by church functionaries. Higher nobles were allowed to retain a single manor and estate, but no more. Many chose to work with the church, helping with the transition and earning rank within the theocracy through faith and service. Others were willing to remain in a decorative, ceremonial role. This is the position that Queen Diani ir’Wynarn finds herself in today. In theory, she is the Blood Regent and serves as adviser to the Keeper and the Cardinals. In practice, she is largely ignored. While she smiles at the services she attends, Diani believes that Aureon and Dol Arrah have plans for her, and there are loyalists—known as Throneholders—who dream of restoring the monarchy to its rightful place.
Noble Ranks. The nobility of Thrane uses the standard ranks, but there are no viscounts or crown reeves. Only the eldest heir of a Thrane noble receives a courtesy title. Thrane nobles cannot create titles or take any action that would require the approval of the sovereign. and most have no authority beyond their estates unless they also serve in the church.
Playing a Thrane Noble. If you want to play someone of influence in Thrane, the best choice is to take the acolyte or soldier background. An acolyte is the equivalent of a civil servant, and Shelter of the Faithful gives you the same sort of influence among the faithful and within the church that Position of Privilege gives with nobles. As a soldier, Military Rank reflects your role either with the templars or the general army of Thrane; either way, your deeds were significant enough that you are respected even by the soldiers of other nations. What did you do to earn this respect? What was your most noteworthy battle?
Should you wish to plan a disenfranchised noble, the Retainer benefit makes more sense than Position of Privilege. Beyond your retainers, your family still has an estate you can return to, but they have little influence or resources to spare. As a noble of Thrane, are you devoted to the Silver Flame, supporting the new direction of the nation? Or are you a bitter Throneholder determined to restore the old order? For a more dramatic twist, you might believe that you have been chosen by one or more of the Sovereigns for some divine purpose; is this the restoration of the nobility, or do the Sovereigns have a purpose for you that doesn’t actually place you at odds with the church?
While most of the other nations of Khorvaire have their own unique traditions of nobility, a few have inherited some elements from Galifar, and these are briefly addressed below. A critical point to consider with any of the other nations is that the Position of Privilege benefit reflects a broad recognition of your authority. If you wield great power within a Lhazaar principality but don’t have any influence beyond it, you don’t need to take the noble background; you can be a sailor or a pirate, and work out the other elements of your backstory with your DM. Your background benefit reflects the aspect of your background that will regularly come into play. If you want to have an interesting story hook that may well never actually come up in the campaign, that comes down to the approval of your DM.
The Eldeen Reaches
The Eldeen Reaches seceded from Aundair in 958 YK, and its people swore their allegiance to the Great Druid Oalian. The Eldeen Charter affirmed that the land now belong to the Eldeen people and that the titles and claims of the nobility of Aundair were no longer recognized. Many nobles weren’t in residence at the time (which was part of the reason for the secession). Others fled to Aundair, becoming the Lost Lords mentioned earlier. But a few chose to stay with the people and to start a new life, working to be good community leaders even without the titles and privileges of their former lives.
Because of the timeframe, a human adventurer likely wouldn’t have actually held power in the Eldeen Reaches before the uprising. But as an elf or Khoravar, you could easily have been a noble in the Reaches. Are you a Lost Lord hoping to reclaim your birthright? Or have you embraced your new nation and worked to strengthen it?
Q’barra: New Galifar
The nation of Q’barra was founded by Ven ir’Kesslan of Cyre, once duke of the Dollen region. Ven named his settlement New Galifar, and claimed his intention to recreate the noble model of Galifar in this untamed land. The former duke thus became the first king of New Galifar, despite not being tied to the Wynarn bloodline. Those few counts that had supported his cause became dukes, and wealthy donors who had funded the expedition became counts. Having said that, New Galifar is small and still actively expanding. Newthrone is the royal seat, and the only two actual “duchies” are Whitecliff and Adderport. Q’barran counts rule over villages that would barely justify a crown reeve in the Five Nations. Most nobles are “claim lords”—they’ve been granted titles and parcels of land by the King of Q’barra, but they haven’t actually claimed or cultivated those lands. Adderport and Newthrone together have a kingdom’s worth of dukes and counts, but most only over a handful of retainers and a small city estate.
A Q’barran title currently means little in the wider world, and it’s unlikely that a Q’barran noble would have a Position of Privilege unless they were tied to some other office, such as being an appointed ambassador. With your DM’s approval, your character could be a claim lord, regardless of your actual background; as such you have a title and some influence when you’re actually in Newthrone, but it has no real significance elsewhere. While this would not provide you with the benefits of a Position of Privilege, your king could charge you to perform services in the name of New Galifar.
As far as the outside world can tell, the Host of Valenar seized the lands of eastern Cyre, drove out the Cyran nobility, and replaced them as feudal overlords. High King Vadallia granted the fiefs to his war leaders, so there is a Count of Moonshadow and a Duke of Pylas Maradal. However, this was largely a show for the rest of the world; the Valenar have never cared about holding land or titles, as the ancestors they emulate didn’t rule petty fiefdoms. The Valenar nobles are rarely found in their supposed domains, and it is Khoravar immigrants who make up the civil service and administer justice in their names.
There’s little logical basis for using the noble background for a character from Valenar. Being the Count of Moonshadow won’t get you the benefits of a Position of Privilege in the wider world. If you want to be a person of influence within the Host of Valenar, use the Soldier background; among the Tairnadal, Military Rank is more important than some noble’s title. If you want to be a former Cyran lord yearning to reclaim your lands, you could take the noble background with the Retainer feature (bearing in mind that Valenar was seized 42 years ago)… or almost any background and simply say that your family has claim to a title in Valenar, if your DM supports the idea.
As described earlier in this article, when the forces of Galifar advanced to conquer the lands beyond the Howling Peaks, they were met by gnome negotiators. After lengthy discussions and a wide array of offers and enticements (many of which turned out to favor the gnomes more than they originally appeared), the region of Zilargo was recognized as the Grand Duchies of Korranberg, Trolanport, and Zolanberg, with the region being governed by triumvirate with a representative from each duchy. While ostensibly part of Breland, their status as a grand duchies allowed them to largely remain autonomous. To this day, there are three noble families in Zilargo—the ir’Korrans, the ir’Trolans, and the ir’Zolans—and heirs happily compete for the title of grand duke and hold elaborate coronations. But grand duke is a symbolic role that was largely only brought out for special interactions with nobles of Galifar, while the Triumvirate, the Councils of Nine, and of course the Trust actually maintain the nation.
In the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold, the Grand Dukes are even more toothless than they were before. The three ducal families are among the most powerful families in Zilargo, but the title of Grand Duke is more of a toy than an actual position of significance; these families often hold elabroate duels or games, with the victor claiming the title for a year. The actual positions of authority within Zilargo are elected offices—though these elections are often decided by vast webs of intrigue.
That’s all for now! As this article is already 11,000 words, I’m going to post answers to questions about it in a follow-up article as opposed to adding them to the end of this one. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and keeping this site going, and I’ll be posting a Patreon exclusive article about a few notable nobles of Galifar soon for the Inner Circle. And if you’d like to know more about Cyre and the ruling clans of the Mror Holds, check out Exploring Eberron on the DM’s Guild!
The last few articles have dealt with Riedra in 5E, the provinces of Riedra, and the Inspired. Before we leave the region, I want to address a few questions about the cities of Riedra. In describing the city of Dar Jin, Secrets of Sarlona says that “the people… go about their business silently, speaking only when it is absolutely necessary.”
In light of this, people have asked: What is life like in the cities of Riedra? Is it like being in a city of zombies? Why does Riedra even HAVE cities?
Cities and Villages
Riedra is largely split into two types of communities: small villages that serve a specific function (typically agriculture or mining), which are spread out around a central massive city, known as a bastion. The bastion serves as a military garrison and houses the Inspired who govern the region. Crucially, every bastion has a teleportation circle, typically connected to Durat Tal. So if you’re on official business for the Inspired and need to travel quickly, you’ll travel to the nearest bastion, use the circles to reach the bastion closest to your destination, and then go from there.
What’s the purpose of Riedran cities?
Bastions serve as military strongholds and transportation hubs. They are also the centers of industry. Most villages gather raw materials, while the bastions contain the factories that produce goods. Wait, factories? Riedra has factories? Yes. Reidra doesn’t have the wide magic of Khorvaire, and its factories are more primitive than their Cannith counterparts in Khorvaire; work is done by hand, without the aid of constructs or arcane tools. But you don’t have a lot of individual blacksmiths; instead, the bastion has a massive foundry, with a hundred smiths all working together. Assembly lines are common, with each individual focused on a single task. And while you don’t see the magecraft or arcane tools of Cannith, there are psionic tools at play. Riedran factories employ background telepathic projection. In some cases, this is simply a tool that helps the workers clear their minds and focus on a task. In others, the projection actually guides the hands of the worker, operating as a constant form of magecraft.
The most unusual form of factory are the sentira production facilities. Sentira is a form of solidified ectoplasm formed from intense emotion. Where tools of crysteel and steel can be created by mundane workers, sentira can only be worked by shaper psions, using a powerful psionic form of fabricate. The role of the common worker in a sentira factory isn’t to produce the finished goods, but rather to feel; the Inspired need concentrated emotion to create raw sentira. Different emotions create different forms of sentira, and factories that focus on hatred or sorrow are usually also prisons; the Inspired have no desire to force loyal citizens to feel miserable, but this is a perfect use for dissidents. So if a group of adventurers is looking for a force of possible allies, they should find a sentira factory with an unpleasant aura…
In addition to being centers of industry, military fortresses, and transport hubs, the bastion cities are administrative centers. Chosen and Inspired monitor events in the Bastion sphere, tracking production, transport of supplies, dissident activities, and other critical information. While paper is used to some degree, information is primarily stored in crystal form, a system similar to spellshards. Administrative centers have large crystal repositories that are managed by psychic figments created by the Inspired—simple personalities (not unlike the 3.5 psicrystals or the spirits associated with the UA archivist artificer) that assist and manage data access, as well as performing other minor administrative functions. Each center has a figment capable of moving between Dal Quor and Riedra, and all records are also stored in a central repository in Dal Quor; if an Inspired in Dar Jin needs to know about troop requisitions in Dar Ulatesh, the figment clerk can quickly retrieve that information from Dal Quor.
Life in a Riedran City
Dar Jin is larger than any city in Khorvaire. It is composed of five spherical wards, each a metropolis in its own right. Four of the wards are almost identical. The streets are paved with smooth black cobblestones, interspersed with squares of clear crysteel. When darkness falls, the crysteel blocks glow with a soft light. Workhouses, dormitories, and storehouses are made of blocks of black and white stone; crysteel panels serve as skylights during the day and glowing lanterns at night. Most buildings are curved or whorled; hard angles are few and far between. The city is beautiful in its way, but is extremely repetitive; every dormitory looks exactly the same.
Secrets of Sarlona, Page 72
As mentioned in the previous article, casual psionic projection is used to identify streets and buildings. At a glance, it seems like it could be impossible to find your way. But if you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that you know where you are. It’s an alien memory nestled in your subconscious, but one you’re aware of it this casual projection makes it easy to find your way around. Likewise, the dormitories look exactly the same, but you know which one is Jhora Hall and which is Ula Hall.
Secrets of Sarlona calls out the fact that Riedrans go about their business silently, speaking only when necessary. This doesn’t mean they act like zombies! Riedrans are focused on their tasks. They know exactly what they need to do, and they are determined to do the best job they can; they don’t have time for small talk. But this doesn’t mean that they’re emotionless robots. Riedrans may smile or nod to each other in passing. If someone drops what they are carrying, the people around them will likely stop to help pick it up. They may not SAY anything, because nothing needs to be said; it is understood that we are all working together, we are here to help you. The key point is that the silence of Riedra isn’t OPPRESSIVE; it occurs because most of the time, nothing needs to be said. Most Riedrans are comfortable with their lives. They feel that they share a common cause with the people around them. So they aren’t shuffling, emotionless zombies; most are content, determined to work as hard as they can and to earn their advancement on the Path of Inspiration.
A key part of this is that for a Riedran citizen, daily life is very predictable. You work with the same people in the same building following the same general schedule. You all dream the same dreams; you all receive the same messages from the Voice. Again, this doesn’t make Riedrans zombies, it just means that they have safe, reliable patterns. This is a critical reason that adventurers make most Riedrans uncomfortable: they are disrupting that pattern. Riedrans know what to expect from one another. They have no idea what to expect from a warforged, an elf, and a dragonmarked human—all the worse if these three appear to be armed and prepared for violence!
So what is life like in a Bastion city? As called out in Secrets of Sarlona, there are many people but little conversation. People aren’t standing around, they aren’t shopping or killing time. They act with a sense of purpose. They know where they are going, they know what they have to do, and they are always moving toward that goal. They rarely speak, but that doesn’t mean they won’t acknowledge one another; and again, if someone stumbles or if there’s an accident, the closest people will provide assistance. When adventurers enter the picture, they will find that people keep their distance. Civilians will typically avoid eye contact; soldiers will watch adventurers closely, clearly concerned that these outsders may be up to something dangerous. If forced to interact, most Riedrans will be polite to adventurers but seek to end the conversation as quickly as possible; they have somewhere they need to be.
A secondary point is that Riedran cities aren’t designed for tourists or consumers. There are no shops or restaurants; Riedrans eat in their dormitories or garrisons. There are no theatres, no gambling. There are gardens of reflection and memorials that share memories of tragic events or grand triumphs. There are statues of the Inspired that radiate awe, plazas where priests of the Path of Inspiration inspire the crowds, spaces where soldiers drill or people engage in group exercise. But there’s no luxuries, nothing that’s designed for pure leisure; everything serves a purpose.
But what about the Jhodra?
So, life in a Riedran city is stable and predictable. The people are quietly devoted to their work. They largely ignore outsiders, and adventurers are seen as a curiosity at best and as threats at worst. Which is why Dar Jin and Dar Ulatesh—the two major ports where foreigners are welcome—have foreign quarters that cater to the needs of outsiders. The Jhodra is the foreign quarter of Dar Jin. It has dragonmarked enclaves and embassies of a number of nations of Khorvaire. There are theatres, shops, and taverns; however, most of these are actually run by the dragonmarked houses. So the good news is that after your long journey across the sea to the mysterious empire of the Inspired, you can still get a bowl of tribex stew at the Gold Dragon Inn (Disclaimer: The tribex stew served at the Jhodra Gold Dragon Inn is not actual tribex, but rather a pomow-based meat substitute being tested by House Ghallanda).
Most Riedrans are forbidden from entering the Jhodra. Those who work in the foreign quarter are trained and prepared to deal with foreigners, and thus don’t display the discomfort seen elsewhere. There are many guides, always watching for travelers who seem lost or confused, always ready to provide assistance; there are even some who are only guides, as opposed to agents of the Thousand Eyes!
So in imagining a scene in the Jhodra, keep that cosmopolitan population in mind. Walking through the Jhodra, you’ll have that odd sensation of knowing where you are—of remembering the name of the street even though you’ve never read it. Most Riedrans are going about their business: sailors headed for the docks, envoys headed to an embassy, all moving quietly and with purpose. Dragonmarked heirs share jokes with embassy staffers. An expat grabs you—Did you just get off the Sharn boat? You don’t have any of Mazo’s shaat’aar, do you?—and perhaps they have a story to share, or a risky opportunity for a few capable people. You see a statue of the Inspired, and you can’t help but be impressed… but is that your actual feeling, or just a projection of the statue? And perhaps… though it’s unlikely… one of those silent, hardworking Riedran gives you a look or makes an odd gesture. What are they trying to convey? Do they want to find a way to speak to you alone? Is there something going on? Or is it an agent of the Thousand Eyes, testing you to see if you are searching for dissidents?
Crime is almost unheard of in Riedran communities—in part because most people have little to steal. There are criminals in the Jhodra, but they’re mostly from Khorvaire and focus their attentions on fellow travelers. However, the Jhodra is well defended, both by soldiers of the Harmonious Shield and the imposing oni of the Horned Guard. The Jhodra also has an unusual number of Inspired, who help monitor the area and support the soldiers if needed. In most places, the priest in a garden of reflection will be an unoccupied Chosen or even a mundane human. In the Jhodra, it will be a hashalaq Inspired with significant powers of coercion and empathy.
Secrets of Sarlona discusses Dar Jin and the Jhodra in more detail, including the mercantile center, the tower of the Thousand Eyes, and the exotic Song of Skin—a talhouse catering to changelings.
How do you LEAVE the Jhodra?
Previous articles have discussed secret ways to enter Riedra: traveling through Khyber, passing through another plane, working with the Dream Merchants or other smugglers. But if you truly have a good reason to explore another part of Dar Jin or to travel across Riedra, all you have to do is ask. Secrets of Sarlona says the following…
In order to explore Riedra, a traveler must acquire a transit visa from the Iron Gate, the foreign relations office, in Dar Jin or Dar Ulatesh. This scroll provides a description of the travelers, states the nature of their business, and delineates any restrictions on travel. A bearer might be limited to traveling in specific provinces or spheres, and the visa usually has a set expiration date… The Iron Gate does not charge for transit visas, but it rarely grants them. Riedra isn’t for tourists. Travelers must provide a valid reason for entry and show that they have no criminal tendencies or intent, as well as enough knowledge to avoid accidentally breaking Riedran laws. A successful DC 30 Diplomacy check is sufficient to get an entry request considered, but even then the reason must stand on its own. Finally, mind probe (EPH 119) is often brought into play to ensure that the travelers have no hidden motives. If the request is especially intriguing or risky, the Iron Gate might allow travel but send a member of the Thousand Eyes along as a chaperone and observer. Unless the party is deemed a serious risk, this observer is a Chosen; the controlling spirit only takes possession of the vessel every few hours to check on the situation.
Secrets of Sarlona, pages 45-46
Do the planes play into the sentira factories? I imagine it’s hard to have a prison-factory of despair in Khalesh.
Absolutely! Most sentira factories only focus on a single emotion. Part of the point of having a mass teleportation network is that factories can specialize like this, because it’s easy enough to transport such specialized goods across the Unity. So certainly, you don’t put your despair factory near a wild zone to Irian.
Sentira is a MASSIVELY cool material. Would you see it made and used in Adar, too? Or is it something that you need psions on the level of the Inspired to create, and thus it’s harder to make useful quantities in Adar?
Secrets of Sarlona calls out that Adaran kalashtar also work with sentira, but they don’t have the facilities or resources to produce it in the same quantities as the Inspired. So you can fine sentira items in Adar — notably, the horned headdresses kalashtar are often shown wearing are supposed to be sculpted from sentira — but you don’t see buildings made of it.
Is loving/adoration sentira a genuine reflection of emotion or artificially sustained?
That’s a good question. With any sort of sentira factory, can the emotion be artificially induced? Can you create love with a charm effect, or generate fear with psychic power? The simple answer is yes, but I think it’s more INTERESTING if the answer is NO: if the emotion has to be sustained and natural. This makes a factory that deals in fear more horrifying, because they can’t simply cast fear; they have to truly make you terrified for an extended period of time. And this would also lean toward certain emotions being much harder to produce. It could be that Love sentira is quite rare in Riedra—but that it can be found in Adar, whereas Adarans are almost never found using fear or hate sentira.
Could you elaborate on Riedran families? Riedrans seem to live in various communal housings by what you say. If people are silent much of the time, when do they converse and get to know each other?
This is covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Here’s two relevant passages; SoS elaborates on both of these topics, as well as describing a day in the life of a Riedran villager.
Time away from work is usually spent with other members of the community. Riedrans dine together in central halls, participate in group athletic exercises, and gather in the evenings for storytelling and religious instruction. They are allowed a brief amount of unstructured time each day, ostensibly for meditation on the day’s events; however, many prefer to remain among friends even during this private time. Privacy is not something the Riedrans treasure—solitude can be a painful and disturbing experience for a Riedran. Young Riedrans are raised communally. They are often transported to new villages as soon as they are old enough to travel, to prevent birth parents from forming an unhealthy bond with the child. Youths live in segregated dormitories, tended by dedicated caregivers (part of the Guiding Path). As they grow, children serve as apprentices to other members of the community, allowing the caregivers and priest to determine their aptitudes. A youth is usually set on his path in his thirteenth year and moves into an adult dormitory at this time.
Riedrans are largely silent while they are focused on their work, unless that work requires conversation. But they talk with one another when they don’t have other tasks that demand their attention. As noted above, they enjoy the company of others; but often being around friends is sufficient, even if there’s nothing you need to talk about.
Can you talk about subversive activities in a city of Riedra? I am not asking about big things like spies or revolutionaries, but small things as places to do things not encouraged by Inspired (maybe play a game, buy a book, etc…). On what level do you think that this happens, is there is races with more probability of do this kind of thing, graduation of the punishment, etc…
First of all, consider that most Riedrans don’t have any frame of reference to understand these concepts. The majority of Riedrans are illiterate and most villagers have never seen a book. They have assigned activities; why would they “play a game?” Part of the challenge of driving revolution in Riedra is that the people don’t see why they’d WANT all the freedoms the people of Khorvaire take for granted.
Hard as these things are in general, they are exceptionally difficult to perform in a Riedran city. There ARE no private spaces. Almost all activities are group activities. There are people everywhere, and it’s generally believed that the Thousand Eyes are always watching.
Does this mean these things are impossible or never occur? Of course not. Secrets of Sarlona presents many groups that tie into these things. The Broken Throne is a faction that seeks to recover the knowledge of pre-Sundering Sarlona; they specifically teach members to read, and might treasure ancient games. The Dream Merchants are a network of smugglers, and they will happily sell books to members of the Broken Throne… though, of course, Riedrans have no money, so they’ll have to find something of value they can trade. But it’s still exceptionally difficult to find a safe space in a Riedran city. Perhaps, if the city is built on an old foundation, there’s an ancient chamber hidden below (… but can you be sure the Thousand Eyes don’t know about it? That they haven’t left it intact specifically to lure such dissidents?). Perhaps there’s a part of a factory that was abandoned after an accident. There’s nothing RELIABLE or safe; every cell has to find its own sanctuaries. A more unusual resistance movement is that of the Unchained, a group that practices free dreaming and communicates using the dreamspace. But again, if you want more information about any of these organizations or Sarlona in general, refer to Secrets of Sarlona.
Now it’s time to leave Riedra! My Patreon supporters have chosen the Nobility of Khorvaire as my next major topic; as with Riedra, I will likely post some Patreon-exclusive content as part of this. Thanks to those supporters for keeping this site going!
In June, my Patreon supporters called for an article about Sarlona. The first part dealt with the role of Riedra and how to bring it into fifth edition. To conclude, I’m delving deeper in a subject that is only touched on in Secrets of Sarlona: the history and unique elements of the eight provinces of Riedra. I am posting the full article for inner circle patrons on my Patreon, but here’s the introduction and the first two provinces: Borunan and Corvagura.
The Unity of Riedra is a single political entity. It’s one nation. But it’s made up of eight provinces, and each of these provinces were once unique nations. Those nations were shaped by environmental factors, by religions, arcane discoveries, and most of all, by planar influences. While they are now unified—and while the Inspired work to discourage any strong sense of provincial nationalism in modern Riedra—understanding these fallen nations is crucial both to understanding the landscape of Riedra, the history of the Five Nations, and the secrets or wonders that adventurers might travel to Riedra to uncover. RIEDRA may be one nation, but you’ll have very different adventures in Borunan and Ohr Kaluun.
Secrets of Sarlona implies that the old kingdoms were fairly advanced—that they had wizards, sorcerers, divine champions. If so, why did these techniques not travel to Khorvaire? And in general, why don’t the Five Nations show their Sarlonan roots more strongly? We’ve said that while most followers of the Sovereign Host in the Five Nations know that their faith is “the Pyrinean Creed,” very few actually know that this means it originated in the Sarlonan nation of Pyrine. Why have these nations been forgotten?
There’s two important factors. The first is that the Sarlonan “settlers” of Khorvaire weren’t the paragons and pride of their nations. We’ve called out that Lhazaar was a pirate, and it’s no accident that her lieutenant Malleon was known as “The Reaver.” Many of those who followed Lhazaar were outlaws, renegades, or rebels of one brand or another. Later waves of colonization were largely driven by refugees. These weren’t organized efforts to preserve the culture and achievements of the old kingdoms. Equally important is the fact that they couldn’t transport many of their greatest achievements, which is another reason why there weren’t more active programs driving colonization. Because one thing Sarlona has in greater amounts than any other continent is planar influence. Manifest zones, wild zones, reality storms, and more—Sarlona is closer to the planes than Khorvaire. This creates both threats and opportunities. Depending on their traits, manifest zones and wild zones can be extremely dangerous—but as seen in Sharn, Shae Mordai, and Dreadhold, they can also enable wonders that can’t be replicated in the mundane world. Manifest zones can be a source of unusual flora, fauna, or other resources. The drug known as absentia is created using a root that grows in certain Xoriat manifest zones, while the pomow plant—the mainstay of the Riedran diet—was developed in Lamannian zones. Beyond this, the more powerful zones leak planar energies into the surrounding region. This can be tapped to produce magical effects, and can also subtly shape the personality of mortals. Creatures that live in the vicinity of a Shavarath wild zone are more likely to be aggressive—and to have an instinctive knack for developing martial skills. So the wizards of Khunan and the sorcerers of Corvagura were channeling planar magic… and when Khunan wizards fled to what’s now Valenar, they found that their magic didn’t work there. So the reason the Five Nations don’t seem to be that much more advanced than the fallen kingdoms of Sarlona is because they had to rebuild their arcane science… in the process, creating forms of magic that are more reliable and versatile. Nonetheless, it is possible that adventurers sifting through the ruins of the old kingdoms may find rituals, relics, or spells that are a match or even superior to modern techniques… though it might take the skill of an exceptional arcanist—or a player character—to adapt these techniques to the modern style! (Side note for the Arcana-proficient: the old Sarlonan style of magic—drawing on planar energies—is referred to as “Externalist” or “wielding external forces.” The most common form of arcane science employed by the Five Nations is “Siberyan,” and manipulates energies exuded by the Ring of Siberys.)
So what follows focuses on aspects not covered in Secrets of Sarlona: the impact of the planes and interesting aspects of the old cultures. But always remember that the Inspired have worked to suppress the old traditions. In particular, the Edgewalkers are an elite order tasked to protect innocents from extraplanar threats, and one of their major duties is patrolling the borders of wild zones. Many zones do contain deadly threats; but in other cases the Inspired don’t want the locals to find ways to use the zones as their ancestors did, or to be influenced by the zone.
Note that manifest zones to all planes (save Dal Quor) can be found anywhere in Riedra. What are called out in these sections are the most common and powerful planar influences in a region, and the common wild zones. But manifest zones to Thelanis can be found in any province, for example; in the novel The Gates of Night, the protagonists travel between Xen’drik and Sarlona using manifest zones tied to Thelanis.
In Borunan, you might…
Be drawn into the schemes of oni and ogres plotting rebellion.
Find an ancient forge where oni crafted weapons for ogre champions.
Be forced into an extension of Shavarath, where celestials and fiends fight an endless war.
Use a passage from Khyber to enter Riedra.
In the days of the old kingdoms, the ogres of Borunan were peerless warriors. The champions of Borunan possessed inhuman strength, martial discipline, unshakeable courage, and weapons forged in Fernian flame. Time and again, they repelled the legions of Nulakesh and the crusaders of Khalesh, and yet Borunan never sought to conquer any of its neighbors. Some might wonder why this was. Borunan is a harsh land; did the ogres never consider claiming the more fertile fields of Nulakesh? What kept their population so low that they never needed to expand?
It’s commonly known that the people of Borunan considered their neighbors to be “unworthy foes” and the common assumption was that the ogres were cruel brutes who constantly fought one another. In fact, the ogres were waging a truly divine war—fighting alongside angels in an endless struggle against devils. The center of Borunan contains a wild zone to Shavarath where a fragment of the Eternal Battleground extends directly into the material plane, and the ancient ogres devoted their might not to conquest, but to defending this keep against the forces of tyranny.
Borunan contains multiple wild zones tied to Fernia and Shavarath, along with multiple passages into Khyber. The forerunners of the ogres emerged from a demiplane within Khyber; tectonic activity destroyed this passage, leaving them stranded in this barren region of rocky desert and hills. Of the Shavaran wild zones, only the one—known to the ogres as Gul Dol, the Gate of War—is a direct passage to the Eternal Battleground. But the ogres built their fortresses in the other Shavaran zones, and over generations the influence of Shavarath helped shape them into fierce warriors. The origin of the oni is a secret long forgotten, but one possibility is this: just like the rakshasa and the overlords, the immortals of Shavarath cannot be permanently bound. But during their service in Gul Dol, the champions of Borunan found a way to bind defeated fiends to their own bodies—sort of an involuntary version of the process that created the kalashtar, trapping a fiend within a bloodline of ogres. Thus the supernatural powers of the oni may be tied to the essence of devils bound to the bloodlines. This could be why many oni are drawn toward evil; but the oni of Borunan resisted those sinister instincts, using the power of their defeated foes to fight alongside celestials.
In addition to being fierce warriors, the oni of Borunan forged their weapons in the Cauldron, a wild zone tied to Fernia. Their weapons weren’t as well-crafted as the arms and armor of the Dhakaani, but the oni spell-smiths were able to channel the energies of Shavarath and Fernia to imbue their creations with powerful magic. While most of these weapons were destroyed long ago—not to mention being designed to be wielded by ogres and oni—legendary items or even artifacts could remain in Gul Dol, the Cauldron, or other ancient ruins.
The ogres of ancient Borunan cared nothing for the Sovereigns or the Silver Flame. They were entirely devoted to the battle for Gul Dol. The angels of the Legion of Freedom battle the devils of the Legion of Tyranny for control of this massive fortress, which is broken into multiple rings and wings. The angels believe that the balance of this war reflects the balance between tyranny and freedom across the multiverse. Of course, this is only one of countless fronts in the eternal war between these forces, but the ogres embraced this idea and believed that in fighting alongside the angels they were fighting for freedom for all people.
The Fall of Borunan. Despite the might of its champions, Borunan was easily laid low by the Dreaming Dark. The humans of the surrounding regions had long feared the ogres, and it was easy for the quori to fan these flames. Within Borunan itself, the quori sowed doubts and created feuds, shattering centuries of unity. Were the oni secretly in league with devils? Was the battle for Gul Dol a pointless sacrifice? Civil strife decimated Borunan and left it vulnerable to outside attack.
Borunan Today. In the present day, the ogres of Borunan are kept from the wild zones that served as the strongholds of their ancestors, and largely kept from any form of war; they use their strength for manual labor as opposed to battle. The oni are raised to believe in a twisted form of their actual history. Riedran oni are taught that their gifts are the result of being living prisons for fiends; it is the duty of the oni to redeem the fiend within them through their own devoted service to the Inspired. Largely, this has proven successful, and the Horned Guard—an elite corps of oni soldiers—is one of the most powerful weapons in the Riedran arsenal. However, over the course of the last two decades a group of Borunan rebels has been forming a resistance movement, the Horned Shadow, that seeks to protect the ogre-kin (ogres, oni, eneko). This is still a young movement, struggling to build power while avoiding the gaze of the Thousand Eyes. It’s up to the DM to decide if the Horned Shadow is entirely heroic—a throwback to the champions of ancient Borunan, who devoted their lives to defending freedom from tyranny—or if the oni leaders are driven by fiendish impulses and have malevolent goals.
Keep in Mind. Borunan has many passages to Khyber. These could provide ways for adventurers to cross from Khorvaire into Riedra, intentionally or by accident. This could also be a vector that could bring the minions of a daelkyr into Riedra. The Edgewalkers monitor these passages, and have sealed those that can be sealed. The public is kept away from the wild zones that hold the ancient ruins of Borunan, and believe them to be the domain of foul altavars (the Riedran term for fiends). The two most powerful zones are the Cauldron (a Fernian zone in the Broken Blade Mountains and the seat of old Borunan’s oni spell-smiths) and Gul Dol. Today, the majority of the Gate of War is in the hands of the Legion of Tyranny, but the angels still hold an isolated keep. Their forces include a number of Borunan sword wraiths—the spectral vestiges of the ogrekin champions that fought and died alongside them.
The ogres of Borunan are generally more intelligent than their cousins in Droaam, with an average Intelligence of 9. It’s likely that the ancestors of the ogres and oni of Khorvaire were transported by a planar anomaly; this might explain their reduced Intelligence and the lack of any Borunan traditions. Another possibility is that the ogres of Khorvaire are a separate branch of the species—that they came from the same demiplane but emerged in Khorvaire instead of Sarlona, and were untouched by the influence of Shavarath.
In Corvagura, you might…
Seek to sabotage the teleportation network of Durat Tal.
Explore a mysterious magebreeding facility in a Lamannian wild zone.
Try to save a youth who’s manifested sorcerous powers.
Explore the tomb of a forgotten sorcerer-king.
Corvagura is a tropical region marked by deep jungles and lush fields. It has long been the most densely populated region of Sarlona, and it was one of the most powerful and influential of the old kingdoms. Corvagura includes manifest zones and wild zones tied to Lamannia, Mabar, and Thelanis. It’s the influence of Lamannia that lends unnatural fertility to the region and its inhabitants. The influences of the other planes were made manifest in two powerful lines of sorcerers. Anyone born within the sphere of influence could potentially develop sorcerous powers; Corvagura was born when leaders rallied these sorcerers into two noble houses, and used their powers to conquer the city-states in the region.
The House of the Sun drew its power from Thelanis. Its members had the Wild Magic origin. Their magic tended towards glamour and glory, twisting the thoughts and emotions of others or striking down foes with bolts of flame. Though biologically human, members of the House of the Sun often had fey features and could be mistaken for Khoravar. The sorcerers of the House of the Sun were taught to be proud and glorious, demanding adoration from their subjects.
The House of the Moon drew its power from Mabar. Its members had the Shadow origin, and their magic drew on darkness and inspired fear. They never animated the dead, but they could command shadows and summon specters. The sorcerers of the House of the Moon were taught to be calm and cruel, instilling terror in any who might challenge them.
While these houses were presented as families, position was based entirely on sorcerous power. Anyone who manifested such powers would be adopted into the appropriate house, while any heir who failed to show sorcerous talent by their 18th birthday was cast out. The majority of the sorcerers of Corvagura were convinced that their powers elevated them above the common people, and were infamous for their casual cruelty and tyrannical rule. But they did protect the common people from a number of deadly threats, from the colossal beasts that emerged from Lamannian wild zones to the restless dead and capricious fey unleashed by the other wild zones.
The Fall of Corvagura. The quori attacked Corvagura on three fronts. They encouraged the cruelty and narcissism of the worst of the sorcerers, pushing their subjects past the limit of what they would endure. They created a deep, paranoid rift between the houses, leading to destructive vendettas. And they encouraged the spirit of revolution among the people—culminating in the appearance of early Inspired, commoners wielding supernatural powers capable of defeating the sorcerers.
Corvagura Today. Today Corvagura is the heart of Riedra, both in terms of population and administration. It’s home to both the capital city of Durat Tal and the primary eastern port, Dar Jin, along with a number of other important bastion cities. The influence of wild zones tied to Mabar and Thelanis are largely contained by the Edgewalkers; the Shanjueed Jungle has been called out as the largest Mabaran manifest zone in Eberron, dwarfing even the Gloaming of the Eldeen Reaches. Lamannian wild zones and manifest zones have been tapped to contribute to the agricultural programs of Riedra; this includes the creation of unusual hybrids, such as the pomow plant. As the Inspired keep people out of the wild zones and work to contain their influence, plane-touched sorcerers are rarely born in Corvagura. People know what to watch for and know that such sorcerers are vessels for Altavars, responsible for chaos and bloodshed in the days before the Unity, and sorcerers identified by the Thousand Eyes will either be killed or forced into service with the Edgewalkers. However, as with other provinces, there may well be a few who have managed to conceal their powers or who managed to flee into wild zones and survive there—rebels who could assist player characters. On the other hand, some such sorcerers have internalized the teachings that these powers are the gifts of fiends, and believe that the path to greater power lies in performing vile acts; such criminals are exceedingly dangerous. It’s worth noting that while the sorcerer-princes of ancient Corvagura were human, there’s nothing stopping a Corvaguran changeling, shifter, or member of another species from developing such powers.
Keep in Mind. Corvagura is the heart of Riedra. Dar Jin is a center for trade and diplomacy. Durat Tal is the administrative center of the Unity, and it is also the hub for the network of teleportation circles that allow the Inspired to swiftly move troops and supplies across the length of their realm. Because of this, Corvagura has the largest number of hanbalani monoliths and the greatest effort made to ensure the loyalty of its people; while there could be a few rogue sorcerers, Corvagura is a difficult place to find support for any sort of rebellion.
The manifest and wild zones tied to Mabar and Thelanis provide all sorts of potential for adventures. These zones may contain ruins associated with the Houses of the Sun and Moon, along with the forgotten treasures of the sorcerer-kings. Mabar zones may yet be haunted by the specters of ancient tyrants or by newly animated undead. The Edgewalkers are dedicated to keeping fey and undead contained, and the Thousand Eyes ensure that no one tells the stories of the fey. But this can still be another way to enter Riedra; Thelanian zones often allow passage to the Faerie Court under the right circumstances, and adventurers exploring the Twilight Demesne in Khorvaire could accidentally end up facing Edgewalkers on the edge of a forest in Corvagura.
That’s all for now! The full article—covering Dor Maleer, Khalesh, Nulakesh, Ohr Kaluun, Pyrine, and Rhiavhaar—is available to inner circle Patreon supporters. I’ve spent far more time on the last two articles than on anything I’ve ever written for the site, and it’s only the support of my patrons that makes that possible. Thanks to all of you who have shown your support!
Rising From The Last War focuses on the continent of Khorvaire. Humanity thrives on Khorvaire, but it didn’t begin there; humanity came from the continent of Sarlona. Today, Sarlona is largely a mystery to the people of the Five Nations. It is dominated by the Unity of Riedra, and while this nation isn’t hostile to the Five Nations—indeed, it provided humanitarian aid and assistance to many nations during the Last War—its borders are largely closed, with outsiders only welcome in the port cities of Dar Jin on the east coast and Dar Ulatesh to the west. Most people know that Riedra is ruled by the Inspired, nobles said to be be bound to celestial spirits; and many have heard stories of the strange forms of magic used in Riedra. But most commoners know nothing more about the realm of the Inspired.
Sarlona is described in detail in the 3.5 sourcebook Secrets of Sarlona. I personally wrote the Riedra section of that sourcebook, and my vision of the rest of Sarlona doesn’t perfectly match the canon depiction. My current goal is to expand on Secrets of Sarlona rather than to rewrite it. I may present my approach to Adar, Syrkarn, and Tashana in future articles, but these articles focus on Riedra. This article explores the narrative role of Riedra and the Inspired, and how to approach both of these in fifth edition given the limitations of the current mechanics.
THE PURPOSE OF RIEDRA
What does Riedra add to the world of Eberron? Why did we create it in the first place, and what does it offer to a campaign? Before we consider what it is, let’s take a moment call out what it isn’t. Riedra is not intended to reflect any nation or culture on Earth. It’s home to psychic warriors and soulknives, not to samurai and ninja. It’s not supposed to be some sort of version of the Soviet Union—in Eberron, the cold war is being fought between the Five Nations, not between Khorvaire and Riedra. From the beginning Riedra was always supposed to be unique and alien. It’s a culture shaped by overlords from the Realm of Dreams. It’s a realm where people craft tools and towers out of solidified emotions and where the rulers weave dreams for their subjects. It fills the pulp trope of “mysterious, isolated nation with exotic traditions.” But in looking for inspiration, don’t look to our world or our history. Look to your imagination; this is a realm that should feel as if it’s shaped from dreams and nightmares.
The core idea of Khorvaire and the Five Nations was civilizations where arcane magic has been incorporated as part of society. The most basic, core idea of Riedra was a civilization where psionics are the foundation of society. With Eberron we wanted to look at the logical consequences of magic existing; with Riedra, we wanted to do the same for psionics. At the same time, knowing that many DMs don’t LIKE psionics and feel that they clash with classical fantasy, it felt appropriate to make Riedra isolated and mysterious. DMs who WANTED to delve into psionics could either take adventures to Sarlona or simply have more contact with Riedran and Adaran characters. But that core idea was simple. Psionics are a well-established part of D&D that feel out of place directly alongside arcane magic. Let’s create a place where psionics BELONG—where they are a key tool of civilization.
The second purpose of Sarlona and Riedra is as the birthplace of humanity. We decided from the start that humans weren’t native to Khorvaire; that while they are the dominant species on Khorvaire, they are colonizers and on a fundamental level they are on the wrong side of history. But while humanity came from Sarlona, it’s no longer the land they left behind. In Riedra we have a new nation built upon the bones of those ancient realms, with many forgotten secrets waiting to be found.
Riedra is a dystopia where tyrants even control the dreams of their subjects. Or is it a utopia without crime, hunger, or doubt? We as players and DMs know that it’s an oppressive dictatorship, and yet it’s not the enemy of Khorvaire and many nations want its aid, which is again part of its story role: what do you do when your country allies with an oppressive nation? One of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that things aren’t supposed to be simple. WE know that the quori have stolen the freedom of the people of Riedra, but the greatest trick of the Dreaming Dark was convincing the people to build their own chains; the Riedrans don’t WANT your freedom. So we look at Riedra and feel that they SHOULD be the enemy; they are an oppressive dystopia, a vast and alien empire. But by default, they aren’t the enemy. So how do you deal with them? It’s the base of the Dreaming Dark, but the common people of Riedra don’t even know the Dreaming Dark exists.
So from a design perspective, here are the things Riedra brings to the world and to a campaign.
It’s a source for psionic content. Characters with psionic classes or abilities can be from Sarlona or have learned from a Sarlonan teacher. It provides an opportunity to introduce psionic villains and it’s a source for psionic artifacts. If you want a deep psionic campaign, it’s a place to run it. While that’s currently complicated by the lack of deep psionic rules, those rules are under development. I suggest alternatives later in this article, but if you do want to use the psi knight fighter or the soulknife rogue, this is where they belong.
It’s a dystopian tyranny, more inspired by 1984 or The Giver than any nation in our history. If you want to play out an underdogs-against-the-empire campaign, it’s better suited to that than any nation in Khorvaire… whether on the Adaran front, as a band of Akiak commandos, or a group of unchained dreamers hiding in the heart of the empire. Yet Riedra is also a place to explore what would we give up for security? Riedra has no crime, no hunger, no doubt. Are we so sure Khorvaire is better, with its greedy Houses, warring Wynarns, and Boromar Clan?
It holds the hidden bones of the nations that gave birth to humanity. Which means that it may hold many secrets lost in the Sundering. What did Khalesh know about the Silver Flame that the people of Thrane have yet to discover? Did the Pyrineans have ways to invoke the Sovereigns—new divine spells—that never made it to Khorvaire? What wonders and terrors are hidden in the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun?
It’s closer to the planes than any other continent. In addition to massive manifest zones, it has wild zones—regions where a plane essentially projects into the material—and reality storms. This is a point that will be explored in greater detail in the upcoming article on the provinces.
Tied to a number of these points, Riedra is alien. It is shaped by spirits from another plane. It uses a supernatural science that’s all but unknown in Khorvaire, and it’s built on a foundation of nations that tapped the planes in strange ways. After a thousand years of Galifar, Khorvaire is known; Riedra is home to thriving civilizations, yet still unknown.
So in bringing Riedra into a campaign, you have a number of choices. If you have no interest in psionics you can ignore it completely. You can use it in the background, as a source for psychic characters and tools—the home of a single recurring villain or PC. You can highlight its role as an enigmatic ally—highlighting its presence in Q’barra, dealing with the Inspired ambassador at the Tain Gala—noting that it is a force that is technically helping and that the Five Nations want good relationships within, while also invoking its alien nature and dystopian aspects; if the Inspired ambassador offers aid, do the adventurers take it? If you choose to make the Dreaming Dark a major foe in the campaign, Riedra can become far more important, as diplomatic immunity and embassies serve as shields for Riedran villains. You could take the campaign to Riedra; perhaps the adventurers are fighting the Dreaming Dark or working with the Adarans, or perhaps they need to find a relic lost in a ruined temple in Khalesh or hidden in a war-maze in Ohr Kaluun. Or you could set your entire campaign in Riedra, focusing on the struggle against an all-powerful alien dictatorship that holds the common people in its thrall.
A RIEDRAN INVASION?
Riedra is a massive, tyrannical empire. The Dreaming Dark yearns to control all mortal lives. On the surface, this seems like it’s a set-up for a vast invasion. And if that’s a story you really want to tell in your campaign, your ally is Lord Zoratesh, the kalaraq quori who commands Riedra’s armies. However, in canon Eberron, it’s not a scenario that’s likely to occur. Secrets of Sarlona says…
Both the Devourer of Dreams (leader of the Dreaming Dark) and Lady Sharadhuna (leader of the Thousand Eyes) believe that (open war with Khorvaire) would be disastrous, providing a common enemy to unite the people of Khorvaire, destabilizing Riedra, and risking the ire of the dragons, the Lords of Dust, and other conspiracies currently watching from the shadows.
Lady Sharadhuna believes that the quori don’t need Khorvaire—that dominating Sarlona is sufficient for their needs. The Devourer of Dreams does plan to conquer Khorvaire, but not through brute force. Secrets of Sarlona notes that “The unity of Riedra succeeds because the people believe that the Inspired are saviors, not conquerors.” The quori created Riedra through manipulation. They tricked the old kingdoms of Sarlona into fighting each other, eroded faith in the old religions, played on prejudices and fears. And then they created the Inspired as champions who rose up from among the common people, uniting the people to fix the disasters the quori had carefully engineered. So the PEOPLE believe that the Inspired are heroes—legends who guided them through a terrible age of darkness and into a golden age.
The Devourer of Dreams plans to use the same script in Khorvaire… and most likely is already doing it. Over the last century, a stable kingdom collapsed into chaos and civil war. This war was driven by the paranoia of the last king and by the ambitions of the heirs—exactly the sorts of emotional states that could be engineered or enhanced by quori manipulation. We’ve never said conclusively that the Dreaming Dark DID cause the Last War, because ultimately we want each DM to make that decision themselves. But it certainly fits their style. They don’t conquer with invading armies; they conquer by tricking people into tearing their own nations apart. The trick here is that if the quori DID ignite the Last War, they surely DIDN’T cause the Mourning. It’s the Mourning that has brought a sudden and immutable end to the war, as the nations are afraid to continue their battles until the mystery is solved. So if the Dreaming Dark caused the war, the Mourning is surely a deep source of frustration for them… and they are likely trying to solve this mystery themselves!
But if you want to explore the quori conquest, there’s a crucial second piece of the puzzle. The quori don’t need the people of Khorvaire to adopt Riedran customs. The Dreaming Dark wants to create a stable civilization where it controls the dreams of the public, using a system similar to the hanbalani monoliths in Riedra. But they don’t NEED people to worship the Inspired or to follow the Path of Inspiration. They created the Inspired because it fit the situation they’d created—because they were saviors who rose from within to solve the problem. If they’re using the same script in Khorvaire, they will create something local and new—a force that the people of Khorvaire will accept as their saviors. Consider a few possibilities…
The Sovereign Swords. Presented in Dragon 412, the Sovereign Swords are an order of selfless heroes guided by the Sovereigns and strengthened by their angels. Or are they? The Swords truly are devout champions who seek to aid those in need. But are their powers and visions coming from the Sovereigns? Or are their “angels” actually quori, and their visions carefully scripted by the Dreaming Dark? The original Inspired were heroes who rose up within the common people, guided and strengthened by celestial powers. The Sovereign Swords could be unwitting tools of the quori, following the same script… but how can adventurers be sure?
The Dragonmarked Houses. Again, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t need Khorvaire to resemble Riedra; it just needs the situation to be stable and it needs people to accept their quori-designed monolithic dreams. One of the basic themes of Eberron is the balance of power between the old monarchies and the dragonmarked houses. Perhaps the quori are working within one or more houses to drive this—pushing for a future in which the common people accept that the old nations are irrelevant and that the houses are the future—creating a functional dictatorship run not by godlike Inspired, but simply by gold. In such a future, the monolithic dreams could be presented as a SERVICE: House Cannith and House House Sivis working together to provide you with OneDream™, the latest in somnambulant entertainment! Tasker’s Dream is a House Sivis think tank working on the potential of telepathy; could it be a quori front?
The Once and Future King. Alternately, the Dreaming Dark could have helped to tear down Galifar in order to rebuild it… to its own design. The Dreaming Dark could choose one of the existing candidates and work to present them as the true, destined savior who will restore Galifar. Queen Aurala is a possibility since she is known to want to restore Galifar, but an exotic option would be Prince Oargev of Cyre—if the Dreaming Dark helps to create a narrative of how the prince who lost everything is the one destined to save us all. This option is a way to have a LITTLE bit of a Riedran invasion, since Riedra could lend troops to support Oargev’s claim—but again, the goal of the Dreaming Dark would be to convince the common people to support Oargev; they don’t want to CONQUER, they want the people to build their own cage. So using dreams and agents, they’d work to convince people that Oargev IS blessed, that the Sovereigns are behind him, that he’s the one who can sweep away the corruption and terrors of the war and restore a golden age, where even dreams are always happy.
The net point is that Riedra is a looming and powerful force, but it doesn’t want outright war with Khorvaire; instead, the Dreaming Dark seeks to rebuild from within. But who will be their figureheads and catspaws?
RIEDRA AND THE INSPIRED IN FIFTH EDITION
The basic concept of Riedra is that it’s a society built on a foundation of everyday psionics… and there’s no system for psionics in fifth edition. What’s the answer? How can you make a Dreaming Dark assassin feel suitably different from a mundane rogue? How do you make Riedra feel truly alien?
Psionic Characters and NPCs
While the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t have finalized rules for D&D, Unearthed Arcana has explored a number of different approaches to psionics. Here’s the latest version, which includes a Soulknife archetype for rogues, a Psi-knight fighter, and a Psionic Soul archetype for sorcerers. The article also calls out that the Great Old One warlock has always had “psi-themed powers”—its class features grant telepathy, a thought shield, and the ability to mentally dominate a thrall.
So you can work with the options in Unearthed Arcana. If you want a psionics system that’s as entirely unique as the third edition system, there are third party options available on the DM’s Guild. But my personal approach is simpler. If you separate class mechanics from the default flavor associated with them, you have the tools to create a wide assortment of characters. A barbarian doesn’t have to be angry. A bard doesn’t have to be an entertainer. Consider the following ideas, which could be agents of the Dreaming Dark or heroic PCs.
Tactile Telekinetic. This is a human child—an urchin living in a bad part of Sharn, ignored by the world. Despite their childlike appearance, they display surprising strength—because they are channeling telekinetic ability through their body. When they are forced into battle, they’re surrounded by a translucent field of energy—a force field that reduces damage from physical attack and increases the damage of their melee attacks. As long as they are aware of threats, they can try to use their gift to shield them from threats that require a Dexterity save. That’s the STORY. Mechanically, this character is a halfling urchin barbarian. The halfling race is used to represent “young human”—small and quick. Mechanically, the character has a high strength, but they don’t LOOK like it; nothing says that a strong character has to have big muscles! The telekinetic shield is reflected by Unarmored Defense, temporarily supercharged when the character activates “Rage.” They describe “Danger Sense” as being able to deflect threats with their shield. Fast Movement? Kinetic enhancement. The point is that what Rage DOES is provide you with a temporary boost to melee damage, resistance to physical attacks, and advantage on Strength checks. It’s up to you what that looks like—whether it’s primal fury that allows you to only take half damage from physical attacks, or if you’re generating a telekinetic shield.
Thoughtstealer. This clever agent blends exceptional training with coercive telepathic power. They carry no weapons, preferring to strike their enemies with disorienting psychic blasts. They can use their telepathic gifts to guide the actions of their allies or to disable their enemies. And above all, they excel at beguiling their foes. This is a bard of the College of Lore, who fights with vicious mockery and describes Bardic Inspiration and Cutting Words as telepathic guidance or interference. Friends, charm person, and suggestion round out their powers of mental coercion; they could add sleep as the power to shut down enemy minds, and detect thoughts is an obvious choice. Bardic Inspiration and vicious mockery are limited by the fact that the victim has to be able to hear the target, but in MY campaign, if the bard is a kalashtar, I’d allow this to combine with their racial Mind Link power; the caster doesn’t have to speak aloud if the target is within range of their Mind Link.
Mindbreaker. Perhaps I want a more aggressive psion. Though they carry no weapons and wear no armor, this Inspired commando can shield themself with a kinetic shield, blast enemies with telekinetic force, and unleash devastating blasts of psychic power. When an enemy strikes them, empathic feedback causes the attacker to share their pain. This is a warlock, flavoring eldritch blast as telekinetic force bolts and mage armor as a kinetic shield. To add some flavor I’ve changed some damage types; the “empathic feedback” is armor of Agathys but dealing psychic damage instead of frost damage. The character is a Fiend pact warlock, but I’m changing the damage type on all their fire spells—burning hands, scorching ray, fireball—to psychic damage and saying that they don’t cause any damage to nonliving creatures… so the Mindbreaker can unleash a psychic blast that devastates a crowd (psychic fireball) but doesn’t burn down the building.
You can apply this principle to any character, PC or NPC. Mage armor or stoneskin? Wall of force or Bigby’s hand? Telekinesis. Detect thoughts or enthrall? Telepathy. Even disguise self could be described as planting a telepathic image in the minds of viewers; to add flavor, a DM could say that this spell won’t affect someone protected by a ring of mind shielding or creatures immune to being charmed. A fighter could describe Second Wind as psychometabolic healing, and Action Surge as momentarily altering their perception of time. A monk can easily present their qi-related abilities as being psionic disciplines, and for this reason we’ve always presented monks as being more common in Sarlona. Sometimes it makes sense to change a damage type or a detail of an effect; perhaps a Kalashtar quori-hunting paladin deals psionic damage instead of radiant damage with their smite, and Divine Sense and Divine Smite are effective against aberrations instead of undead. On some levels, this is a question of balance; radiant damage is a powerful tool against undead, and if my campaign was going to be all about fighting the Emerald Claw, I wouldn’t make that change to a PC. But if DM and player approve, there’s nothing wrong with having a “paladin” who smites with the power of their mind and lays on hands using a psychometabolic discipline. The EFFECT is extra-damage-on-melee-attack and heal-on-touch; nothing says it HAS to come from a divine power.
The default with this approach is that “psionic spells” are still treated as magic for purposes of detect magic, antimagic field, etc. The essential principle is that all forms of supernatural power—divine, arcane, primal, psionic—are different ways of manipulating energy, but that the results are similar enough to overlap. On the other hand, if a DM chooses, they could change the rules. Perhaps psionic spells can’t be countered with counterspell or negated with an antimagic field—in which case I’d likewise say that a psionic version of counterspell would only work on other psionic spells. This is a way to emphasize the alien nature of psionics—the diviner can’t even sense them!—but can raise balance issues.
So the primary question is what do you want from psionics in your game? If you WANT them to be entirely unique and to have nothing in common with other forms of magic, the best bet will be a third party approach. If what you are looking for is unique flavor, you can add that directly. So personally, I don’t have any problem using the Dreaming Dark in the current system; I just make a few changes to the creatures and characters I use as a base.
An Inspired as a PC? It’s possible someone could be set on playing an Inspired as a player character. While the obvious answer is to have them be a rogue Chosen who’s wearing a charm that protects them from being possessed by their quori spirit, perhaps they WANT to play an active Inspired. This isn’t as impossible as it sounds. There are factions within the Dreaming Dark; Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes believes that the Inspired don’t NEED to conquer Khorvaire and that the Devourer of Dreams is chasing their own personal ambition, not working for the good of all quori. A PC could easily be a Chosen vessel of Sharadhuna or one of her top lieutenants, sent to Khorvaire to monitor and potentially interfere with the Devourer’s schemes. They’d be entirely loyal to Riedra and to their Quori spirit, but that doesn’t mean they are evil or intend any harm to the people of Khorvaire. Personally, I’d design this character as a kalashtar warlock—either using the Fiend patron and the Mindbreaker model I suggest above, or the Great Old One patron and more of a telepath/manipulation spell set. The point of the Inspired is that the powerful spirits have multiple Chosen hosts, intentionally spread around; so the character’s patron might BE Sharadhuna, but she very rarely actively possesses the character aside from to give them direction; she’s got far more important things to take care of in Riedra. As with any warlock patron, they teach the character to use their supernatural abiolities and give them direction; and the DM has the OPTION to have the character be fully possessed (temporarily gaining a boost in power) if it serves the needs of the story, but the character can’t trigger this.
Here we run into a more basic problem. If we are using reflavored spell effects to represent psionics, than how is the psionic society of Riedra any different from the wide magic society of the Five Nations? And wasn’t that the whole point of Riedra?
The saving point here is that unlike Khorvaire, the economy and society of Riedra isn’t based on the widespread presence of low-level casters. Sarlona doesn’t rely on the psionic equivalent of magewrights. Psionic training and power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of extremely powerful people—the Inspired. Essentially, we always say that Khorvaire is “wide magic” instead of “high magic,” because it’s about a vast number of people employing low level magic, while high level spellcasters are very rare. Riedra is the opposite. It’s high psionic—a nation where a privileged corps of extremely powerful immortals have used their powers to create the infrastructure. Under 3.5 rules, there are 20th level psions among the Inspired; by comparison, Merrix d’Cannith is a 12th level character. Because of this, it’s less about what effects are used on a daily basis? What psionic powers might a local merchant use? and more what massive wondrous systems have been put in place by the metaconcert of the Inspired? This ties to the point that most dragonmarked tools require a dragonmarked heir to operate them. In Riedra, the infrastructure systems are powered by the psychic energy gathered by the monoliths; they don’t NEED the common people to do anything. Again, rather than widespread low-level casters, Riedra relies on the small corps of extremely powerful individuals creating self-sustaining systems.
The main point is that the infrastructure systems described in Secrets of Sarlona can be used as described even if we don’t have a perfect psionics system underlying them—because most of their effects are story effects as opposed to magewrights actively casting spells. Let’s take a quick look at the psionic infrastructure in place in Riedra.
The Hanbalani Altas. The most iconic element of Riedra is the massive ovoid monoliths spread across the landscape. These monoliths draw on the thoughts and emotions of the surrounding populace and convert this into psychic energy, which is used to power most of the effects described below. They are also planar anchors, slowly helping to bring Dal Quor back into alignment with the material plane. Where most of the services in Khorvaire are provided through individual dragonmarked enclaves and different focuses, the hanbalani represent a chokepoint for the Inspired; disabling a hanbalan is a way to essentially “cut power” to a region. This ties back to the basic point that the Inspired have great power in their SYSTEMS, but that power isn’t spread throughout the populace.
Nondetection. Each hanbalan is the center of a massive nondetection effect that prevents outsiders from scrying on Riedra. Once people are within the field, scrying and divination work normally, and people within the field can scry on those beyond it. But this field prevents diviners in Khorvaire from spying on the Inspired.
Dreamshaping. The quori believe that by stabilizing the dreams of mortals they can stabilize Dal Quor itself, preventing the prophesied turning of the edge that will end il-Lashtavar and reshape all quori. One of the most important functions of the monoliths is to broadcast the dream programming that is shared by all the people of Riedra. From Secrets of Sarlona: “The typical Riedran dream is soothing and vague, blending images to project the wonder of Riedra, the joys of being part of a greater whole, and the celestial benevolence of the Inspired. Every so often, these soothing visions are interspersed with flashes of the dark horrors that lurk outside the borders of Riedra.” These dreams can be fine-tuned, targeting a region or village with a specific village, but the purpose is to have a single dream whenever possible.
The Voice of Riedra. Just as they broadcast dreams, the hanbalani allow the Inspired to broadcast telepathic messages over a wide area. Through the network, a message can be broadcast across the entire Unity. However, messages are usually tailored to a specific region or even a particular village. The Voice provides news, instructions, and encouragement throughout the day. It allows the Inspired to mobilize a region against a problem—for example, sharing a description of a dangerous group of rogue adventurers. It also provides the sense that the Inspired are always watching, even though the Voice is just an outward projection.
Teleportation. Swift transit is an important area in which Riedra has a significant advantage over Khorvaire. Riedra has a network of massive teleportation circles that connect points in space. There are two very important distinctions between the psionic circles of Riedra and the teleportation circle network House Orien is developing in Khorvaire. The Riedran circles connect two specific gates. The circle in the fortress of Kintam Lar connects to the city of Durat Tal and that’s all; it can’t be adjusted to teleport to Dar Jin. While that’s inherently more limited than the typical teleportation circle, where it has an enormous advantage is that it’s always on. As long as the portal can draw power from the hanbalani, it is always active. The Inspired can move entire armies across the continent, or transport vast quantities of food and supplies. Durat Tal is the central hub for this network—so in moving that army, it will march through the gate at Kintam Lar, arrive in Durat Tal, and then enter another gate to, say, reinforce Kintam Keera in Borunan. The kintam fortresses and bastion cities are thus connected by teleportation networks, and caravans deliver goods or troops from these hubs to surrounding villages. By contrast, House Orien is developing a system that works using the teleportation circle spell. This allows one Orien circle to connected to any other Orien circle, but an heir must have the ability to cast the spell to open the circle and it only remains open for one round. So currently the system is a novelty—a way for wealthy clients to move swiftly, but not a system that can be used to move armies or replace the lightning rail as a means of transporting goods. A key point of the Riedran system is that the gates are all heavily guarded and that this service isn’t available to the general public; Riedrans aren’t SUPPOSED to travel. But this ability to swiftly move forces across the length of Riedra is one of the most powerful tools of the Inspired.
Light and Heat. In Khorvaire, light is provided by individually enchanted everbright lanterns. In Riedra, the energy of the hanbalani flows into specially treated crysteel (a substance that has properties of both crystal and metal) and causes it to glow. In villages light comes from mounted crystal globes, while in larger communities the buildings themselves shed light; seen from afar, a bastion city is a stunning vision of glowing domes and spires. This same system can provide climate control, heating buildings in the chill north or cooling them in the tropical regions of the south. As such, fire is rarely seen in a Riedran community; light and heat are gifts of the Inspired.
These are systems that are immediately obvious, even to outsiders. Other systems are more subtle; the Thousand Eyes has a network of remote viewing (psionic scrying) that dwarfs the capabilities of even House Phiarlan or the Trust. The Inspired also have an interesting advantage in terms of communication, which is that any Inspired can leave its current vessel and return to Dal Quor at any time. There are Inspired whose sole role is to deliver messages; they have host Chosen in every major city and fortress, and can move between them to get news where it needs to go within seconds.
So in comparing Riedra to the Five Nations, the INSPIRED have capabilities that far outstrip the nobles of Khorvaire. They have a system of swift communication, a vast network of observation, the ability to transport forces across the continent in a brief time. But the common people don’t have access to any of these services, and daily life is more limited than life in the Five Nations. There’s no casual equivalent to the widespread magewrights and wandslingers of Khorvaire. While there are humans trained in psionics or magic, they are devoted to very specific roles—notably the Edgewalkers who protect the people from supernatural threats. The people benefit from crystal illumination, the guiding Voice, the unifying dreams. But they are dependent on the Inspired for these services… and if a hanbalani is deactivated, these services will be lost.
Casual Telepathy. One more point to consider when working to present the alien flavor of Riedra and the everyday role of psionics is the casual, institutional use of telepathy. Street signs don’t bother with names (and many Riedrans are illiterate); instead, a subtle telepathic signal means that you always know where you are in a Riedran city, if you stop to think about it. Riedran monuments project feelings or images; in studying a statue of a hero you may feel a swell of pride at their achievements, and when you visit a memorial you may find that you remember the tragedy that it commemorates, as if you were there. All of this is perfectly normal to a Riedran, but it can feel intrusive or unsettling to people from Khorvaire.
While Riedrans make use of wood, metal, leather, and other materials commonly found in Khorvaire. However, they use a few materials that are less common. Crystal is a useful medium for psionic energies; as noted, crystal spheres provide illumination in most Riedran villages. Crysteel is a substance that has the appearance of crystal, but the durability and flexibility of metal; it is an excellent channel for psionic power and is used both to make buildings, tools, and weapons. Sentira is a substance that has the appearance of polished shell; it is actually a form of ectoplasm, created from pure, solidified emotions. Sentira is a critical part of Reidran tools, as it is an excellent channel for psionic effects tied to its associated emotion.
Should you use a unique psionic system, Riedra is the logical source for psionic tools. But as with character abilities, you can create things that feel like psionic tools but that use the rules for traditional magic items… perhaps with a twist or two. Consider the following…
A flame tongue sword that inflicts psychic damage instead of fire damage; it channels the rage of the bearer and directs it at the target.
A crystal that serves as a wand of fireballs, but deals psychic damage instead of fire damage and causes no damage to nonliving targets.
A shard of crystal that serves as a psionic equivalent of a scroll, holding a single charge of a psionic spell effect.
A psionic tattoo. This can be transferred to a willing creature by touch, and triggered as a bonus action; it duplicates the effects of a potion, and vanishes when its power is used.
A crystal figurine of wondrous power. When activated, the statue doesn’t grow or animate; instead, it projects an ectoplasmic construct of the associated creature around the crystal core.
… And so on. Effects that can be easily identified as telepathy, telekinesis, or teleportation are logical. It makes sense for a Dreaming Dark spy to have a cape of the mountebank, a ring of mind shielding, and perhaps a sword of life stealing that deals psychic damage instead of necrotic damage. Riedran wings of flying might work through telekinetic force rather than by becoming actual wings. An important limitation is that many “psionic magic items” can only be attuned or activated by people with some degree of psionic talent. Depending on how the DM decides to implement psionics, this could be a negligible issue; on the other hand, it could be a way to provide agents of the Dreaming Dark with powerful tools that can’t be immediately used by the adventurers (even if they can surely find people in House Cannith or Sivis who will be happy to pay for them!).
Speaking to the overall alien aesthetic of Riedra, most structures are built from stone, sentira, and crysteel. Structures are often shaped through metacreative techniques; spheres are more common than sharp angles, and sentira tools have the look of horn or shell—more grown than built.
This covers the most basic issues, but there’s certainly other questions one might ask regarding Riedra in fifth edition…
What about elans and dromites?
Elans and dromites are races that were added in the 3.5 Psionics Handbook and given a place in Sarlona. Immortal elans were described as being living prisons for exiled quori, while the insectoid dromites leave deep below Sarlona and fight an ongoing war with the Inspired. Elans play such a trivial role in the setting that it’s not something I’ve personally taken steps to correct. For dromites, the simplest answer at the moment is to use the psionic version of the thri-kreen to represent them. It’s not perfect (among other things, dromites are a small race) but if you don’t want to design a new version of the dromites or use a third party resource, thrikreen are an existing option. I’d love to write more about my vision of dromite culture in Sarlona, but that’s another topic.
Do you see a way for PCs of Khorvaire to enter Riedra without being sneaky? A more lawful or proper way?
Sure, this is discussed on page 46 of Secrets of Sarlona.
The Iron Gate does not charge for transit visas, but it rarely grants them. Riedra isn’t for tourists. Travelers must provide a valid reason for entry and show that they have no criminal tendencies or intent, as well as enough knowledge to avoid accidentally breaking Riedran laws. A successful DC 30 Diplomacy check is sufficient to get an entry request considered, but even then the reason must stand on its own. Finally, mind probe (EPH 119) is often brought into play to ensure that the travelers have no hidden motives. If the request is especially intriguing or risky, the Iron Gate might allow travel but send a member of the Thousand Eyes along as a chaperone and observer. Unless the party is deemed a serious risk, this observer is a Chosen; the controlling spirit only takes possession of the vessel every few hours to check on the situation.
I would also be interested in finding out more about means for PCs or other characters to being able to lay low in Riedra after becoming targets. It sounds like they can be scryed up pretty easily.
Remote viewing essentially functions like scrying. So using the 5E rules, first the viewer must know SOMETHING about the target; they can’t just say “There’s some foreigners somewhere.” If the scrying force is simply working off a description of the character, the target gets a +5 saving throw versus the attempt and if they succeed, it can’t be repeated for another day. So I’d start with that; they’d have to deal with a daily scrying attempt.
If they can find allies among the Unchained or the Dream Merchants, they could potentially either acquire the equivalent of a Ring of Mind Shielding or something else that could help them hide. Perhaps a sentira ring with a strong resonance can essentially mask the wearer’s personality signature—not making them IMMUNE to divination, but providing a large bonus to saving throws against scrying. I could also see manifest zones as interfering. Scrying can only target creatures on the same plane of existence, and wild zones are described as essentially a chunk of the plane intruding into Eberron; I think it’s reasonable to say that the Thousand Eyes cannot scry into wild zones, so those become sanctuaries for rogues and rebels alike.
The kalashtar believe that by doing good works and promoting peace through the Path of Light, they will bring about the turning of the Age and create Il-Yannah, the Great Light. By that logic, one would think that the way to preserve Il-Lashtavar would be to spread war and suffering.
That’s not actually how it works. If that’s what the kalashtar believed, they’d be wandering across the world trying to spread peace and goodwill, and they notably ARE NOT DOING THAT. The Adaran kalashtar have remained in isolation for centuries, and even the Kalashtar in Khorvaire are called out as largely remaining in their isolated communities, not actually traveling around spreading goodwill. Those few who DO take this sort of direct action are the shadow watchers, and are called out as being few in number.
Here’s the idea. All quori believe that the Quor Tarai — the spirit of the age — has a natural lifecycle. It WILL change, regardless of what mortals do. It gets thirty or forty thousand years (as Eberron measures time) and then it changes. That’s just a scientific fact of how Dal Quor works, just like how the planes orbiting. So there is a clock counting down to the turn of the age. The kalashtar want to keep that clock counting down or, if possible, to speed it up. The Inspired want to break the clock – to freeze it and stop the hands from moving.
Here’s a crucial piece from Races of Eberron: The majority of kalashtar devote themselves to spiritual warfare. These kalashtar, called lightbringers, believe that the only way to truly destroy the Dreaming Dark is through spiritual change, that through their religious rituals they are slowly turning the wheel of the age, banishing the dark and bringing in the light. Thus, most kalashtar appear to be peaceful mystics, but in their minds, they are soldiers in the midst of a war.
A second point: The kalashtar want to reshape Dal Quor, and they believe that with their continued devotions they are doing so.
The Path of Light embodies the values of il-Yannah, so those who follow it actively seek to embody those values. But they aren’t trying to impose them on others, because that’s not necessary. THROUGH THEIR MEDITATIONS they continue to turn the wheel; and when it finally changes, the world will BECOME a better place.
Likewise, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t believe that they NEED to spread darkness. This is an age of darkness. What they need to do is to stop the clock. The Inspired are trying to cheat and freeze time by essentially freezing mortal dreams—creating a shared, static dream and simply stopping change. But they are still AFRAID that the kalashtar, through their meditations, are moving it forward — and so, they seek to destroy the kalashtar.
The point being that to US it seems like the Adaran kalashtar are trapped in their mountains and accomplishing nothing. But THEY believe that they are winning their war, because every day they continue their devotions moves us closer to il-Yannah.
How does this affect the two sides in their ongoing war? Do either have some kind of proof or evidence that their way is working? What else could this mean?
No, they have no way to measure success. Like all the religions of Eberron, this is entirely a question of faith. This is the point of the disagreement between the quori leadership. Lady Sharadhuna doesn’t think the Inspired NEED to conquer Khorvaire; she thinks they’ve already won the war. Zulatar thinks they must conquer Khorvaire. And the Devourer of Dreams may be pursuing its own agenda.
It’s possible that the idea that the Kalashtar believe they need to promote peace comes from Faiths of Eberron. I didn’t work on that book and I don’t actually recall what it says about the Path of Light. But by other canon sources, the kalashtar who actively meddle in the world are the shadow watchers, and they are a minority; the majority of the kalashtar believe that they are fighting the war by meditating in their monasteries.
Obviously this only scratches the surface of Riedra, but that’s what I have time to address here. This isn’t intended to invalidate Secrets of Sarlona, so you can find more information there. My next article will dive into the provinces of Riedra. Because of the length of that article (which is considerably longer than this one), I’ll be posting an excerpt of it here on the site, and posting the full text to the Inner Circle of my Patreon. Thanks to the Patreon supporters who keep this site going and who chose this topic!
It’s hard to talk about dragonmarks and the dragonmarked houses without also discussing aberrant dragonmarks and the War of the Mark. I posted a sidebar article about Aberrant Dragonmarks not too long ago, but my Patreonsupporters recently raised a number of questions recently about the aberrant champions of the War of the Mark, notably Halas Tarkanan.
For a quick refresher: Long ago aberrant dragonmarks were more widespread than they are today, and they were also more powerful than the common aberrant mark known today—the simple powers granted by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat. The dragonmarked houses—quite young at the time—used the fear of aberrant dragonmarks as a scapegoat, both as a cause that helped to unite the houses themselves and to strengthen public opinion that “true” dragonmarks were good, and aberrant dragonmarks were the foul touch of Khyber… and lest it go without saying, many members of the houses believed the tales they spread. There’s no cure for an aberrant dragonmark, and this led to mob violence and from there to more organized persecution on the part of the houses. “The War of the Mark” implies a conflict between two even sides, and this was anything but. Due to house propaganda, people with aberrant marks were feared and ostracized, and this was more of a witch-hunt than a war. However, as it drew on, a number of leaders emerged among the aberrants—people with the charisma to lead and the foresight to plan, and with enough raw power that even the houses came to fear them. These leaders gathered bands of aberrants around them and sought to establish sanctuaries or hold off her houses.
The band whose exploits are best known was tied to three powerful aberrants. Halas Tarkanan was known as “The Earthshaker,” and his aberrant mark gave him power over elemental forces. His two greatest allies were known only by titles. The Lady of the Plague controlled vermin and disease, and was widely seen as the most dangerous of the aberrants. The Dreambreaker wielded vast psychic power and could crush lesser minds. Beyond his personal power, Tarkanan was a master strategist. Under his guidance, they seized the city of Sharn (which far smaller than it is today) and established it as a haven for the aberrant. But the houses had superior numbers, resources, and discipline. Sharn was besieged, and when it became clear that the battle was lost, Halas determined to make the victory as costly as possible. The three aberrant leaders gave their lives and poured their essence into terrible death curses. Little is known about the impact of the Dreambreaker’s curse. But Tarkanan’s curse shook the earth and collapsed the old towers, while the Lady of the Plague spread deadly disease throughout the ruins and called up strange forms of vermin. Those few soldiers who survived the attack lingered just long enough to carry the plagues to their comrades; even in death, the Lady of the Plague inflicted a lasting blow on the house forces. Today it’s her curse that is still felt. The region known as “Old Sharn” is sealed off because it’s believed that her plagues still linger in the depths, and there are forms of vermin found in Sharn that aren’t seen anywhere else in Khorvaire.
In considering the aberrant leaders, there’s a few things to bear in mind. The first is that they possessed aberrant marks of a level of power not yet seen in the present day—aberrant dragonmarks comparable to the Siberys dragonmarks of the houses. But beyond that, just like the house of today, their greatest powers came not simply from their dragonmarks, but from tools that focused and amplified the powers of these marks. Tarkanan channeled his power through a gauntlet he called the Earth’s Fist. The Dreambreaker used the Delirium Stone to focus his mental energy. And the Lady of the Plague wore a cloak she called Silence. So it’s not that Halas destroyed a city with his mark alone; just Cannith has creation forges and Lyrandar has its storm spires, it was the Earth’s Fist that allowed Tarkanan to level Sharn. And while these leaders died, it’s quite possible these artifacts survived. Each one was designed to interface with the unique marks of the champions who carried them, but it’s possible that a modern creature with a similar aberrant dragonmark could attune to one of these deadly artifacts.
So who were these aberrant champions? The short answer is that no one knows for sure. They lived over fifteen centuries ago, most were outcasts, and of course, the winners write history. Any serious scholar has to eliminate the propaganda circulated by the houses at the time—stories that present Tarkanan and his allies as monsters. Sivis propaganda suggested that Tarkanan was an avatar of the Devourer—a story supported by his elemental power—sent to bring suffering to innocents. Other tales claimed that all of the aberrant leaders were “lords of dust,” lingering fiends from the Age of Demons that delighted in chaos and bloodshed. So the short form is that it’s hard to be certain of anything and that adventurers could always discover new answers over the course of their adventures. What follows is the answer in my Eberron—the truth that could be found by a diligent sage—but that doesn’t mean it’s the absolute truth.
Halas Tarkanan was the son of Ilana Halar d’Deneith, an heir of House Deneith, and Grayn Tarkanan, a mercenary licensed by the house. Ilana commanded the mercenary regiment Grayn served in, and the two fell in love. When Grayn developed an aberrant dragonmark his contact with the house was severed and Illana was ordered to end her relationship with him. She refused and was excoriated. Ilana and Grayn left Korth behind, working as independent mercenaries in southern Wroat (the region that’s now Breland), where Deneith had yet to fully establish its presence.They served the self-appointed King Breggor III in a series of bitter conflicts between Wroat lords, and Halas was raised on the battlefield. Ilana taught her son the arts of war, and he was as capable as any Deneith heir. A Sivis account says that Halas murdered his parents, but the truth is more complex. In this time the houses were expanding their whispering campaign against aberrants, and House Deneith was expanding its operations in Wroat. Deneith promised to support Breggor, but first he had to rid himself of his aberrant and excoriate champions. Illana’s troop was sent into an ambush and trapped on a now-forgotten bridge over the Dagger River. They were surrounded by enemies when Halas’s aberrant dragonmark manifested. Its power collapsed the bridge, killing both his family and their enemies, and Halas himself was presumed dead; the destruction of the bridge was held up as yet another example of the dangers posed by aberrant dragonmarks. But Halas survived.
There’s few concrete records of the next decade of Tarkanan’s life. Some say that he secretly made his way to Rekkenmark, and served in the armies of Karrnath; in these stories, some of his unmarked comrades in arms later joined his struggles in Wroat. Certainly, he eventually fought a one-man war against Breggor and House Deneith’s operations in Wroat, gaining greater control over his powers with each guerrilla attack. He obtained the Earth’s Fist during this time, presumably by working with the Tinker. He met the Lady of the Plague in this time, but none know exactly how. Within House Tarkanan, one story says that the Lady found Halas dying of infected wounds and saved his life; another tale says that the two were both sheltering in the same village during an aberrant purge. Whatever the truth, they were already partners when the houses and their supporters began executing aberrants.
Halas was a gifted tactician, and the Lady of the Plague seems to have been a persuasive speaker; together, they executed an exodus through southern Wroat, rallying aberrants from across the region around Sharn. The rest is history; in the novel The Son of Khyber, a contemporary says of Halas “I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.”
So: what’s known of Halas Tarkanan? He was the child of a Deneith excoriate and hated House Deneith above all others. He was skilled with a sword, but his talents as a commander were more important than his skills with a blade. He was ruthless when he had to be, and was willing to make sacrifices when it was the only way to hurt his enemy. And not only did he possess an aberrant mark of great power, he knew techniques that allowed him to manipulate his mark in ways unknown in the present day… as shown by the “death curse” that leveled old Sharn. Many dragonmarks place a burden—physical or mental—on the bearer. There’s no records of what price Halas paid for his power, but some stories suggest that his mark may have reacted to his mood—that he was always calm, because his anger could shatter the world. But as with so much about him, this is largely conjecture. There are no records of him having children, but if any existed it’s likely he would have kept their existence as secret as possible. Certainly by the end of the War of the Mark, the houses claimed to have completely eliminated the “blood of Khyber”—but as as aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary in the same way as true marks, it’s possible he could have had an unmarked child who slipped past the divinations of the Twelve.
The Lady of the Plague
If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.
This is the most detailed description of the Lady of the Plague, drawn from this (noncanon) article on aberrant dragonmarks. On a small scale, the Lady could use her mark to inflict effects similar to harm and insect plague. But her greater gift was the power to create virulent diseases—plagues that could spread across entire cities. However, she had no ability to cure the diseases she could create. Unleashing a disease was like setting a fire; it could spread farther and faster than she intended. She was one of the most infamous aberrants of the age; the destruction of Sarus was a regular feature in the propaganda of the Twelve, carrying the warning that sparing one aberrant could doom your entire city.
Halas Tarkanan was a strategist and a warrior, and is usually seen as the leader of the Wroat aberrants. But sages who dig deep will find that while Halas was the warrior, the Lady was the visionary—that it was her impassioned speeches that rallied the refugees when spirits were low, and she who convinced people to follow and fight alongside them. While Sivis accounts typically depict the refugees as all aberrants, the fact is that there were many unmarked people who joined the aberrant cause. Some were relatives or lovers of the marked, but others were compelled by the Lady’s words, and made the choice to stand by those innocents being hunted by the houses. Halas and the Lady rallied other oppressed people, and many Wroat goblins joined their cause. When the Twelve finally laid siege to Sharn, only about half of the people in the city had aberrant marks, but all chose to stand and fight.
It’s known that the Lady had unusual theories about the nature and purpose of aberrant dragonmarks. It’s possible she had some inkling of the Draconic Prophecy, but she may have simply believed that aberrant marks and those who carried them had a role to play in the grand order of things. There are no known recordings of her beliefs… but perhaps one of her journals remains hidden in Old Sharn, or even somewhere in Aundair.
Like Halas, the Lady of the Plague possessed the ability to enhance her power through her own pain, and her death curse lingers to this day. Her cloak Silence helped her contain her power and prevent accidental infection of innocents, but it also amplified her abilities.
The Dreambreaker was a gnome born in what’s now Zilargo. His aberrant mark allowed him to shatter the minds of people around him and some accounts suggest that he could twist time and space. However, his power also affected his own perception of reality. It’s said that he believed the Wroat aberrants were actually fighting the Sovereigns, and that the houses and their mortal minions were simply manifestations of this greater cosmic struggle. He was devoted to the aberrant cause and his sheer power was a vital weapon in their arsenal, but his instability prevented him from leading forces on his own. Like the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker was often featured in anti-aberrant propaganda; Sivis spread wild tales of his abilities to crush minds and claimed that he could murder innocent people in their dreams.
The Dreambreaker possessed a focus item called the Delirium Stone, presumably created by the Tinker. He is presumed to have died in the siege of Sharn, but he is known to have been fighting in a different tower than Halas Tarkanan and some accounts suggest that he planned to twist time, stealing the future from the houses… but nothing was ever heard from him following the destruction of Sharn.
Halas Tarkanan, the Dreambreaker, The Lady of the Plague, Kalara of the Ten Terrors, and more—the most infamous champions of the War of the mark all possessed artifacts that channeled and focused the powers of their aberrant marks. But where did these tools come from? Halas was no artificer, and the aberrants didn’t have the resources of House Cannith. Or did they? It’s recorded that Halas ascribed the Earth’s Fist to “the tinker,” and storytellers have used that to create a mysterious figure—an aberrant heir of House Cannith! Whose dragonmark allows them to consume or twist the enchantments of objects! Others say that this tinker must have been a fiend—able to create tools to channel the power of Khyber because they themselves were one of the true children of Khyber. Either of these are possible, but there is a simpler possibility: that “the tinker” may have been a term referring to a number of sympathetic artificers within House Cannith who opposed the War of the Mark and sought to aid their aberrant foes.
The true identity of the Tinker could be an interesting mystery to solve—especially if House Tarkanan starts receiving aberrant focus items in the present day. Are these gifts from the original Tinker, somehow preserved through centuries? Or is this the legacy of a movement in House Cannith—perhaps tied to the humble Juran line—that has hidden in the shadows of the house?
Why Does This Matter?
For centuries after the War of the Mark, aberrant dragonmarks were all but unknown. Over the age of Galifar they slowly began to return, but their powers were trivial in comparison to the might of Halas Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. Within the last century aberrant dragonmarks have been appearing at an unprecedented rate, and a few with greater power have been reported. Is this the work of the daelkyr? A sign that an overlord is close to breaking its bonds? Or could it be a manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy: could the aberrants have a vital role to play in the days ahead?
While there are no concrete mechanics for powerful aberrant marks, as with an dragonmark a player character could ascribe their class features to an aberrant dragonmark. A sorcerer’s spells could be drawn from their mark; a warlock could take their aberrant mark as their patron, perhaps even hearing it whisper or receiving strange dreams. Even a barbarian could say that their rage is the power of their aberrant mark. I personally played a character in a campaign who believed that he had inherited Halas Tarkanan’s mark, and that it was his destiny to rally and protect the aberrants of the present day. That’s one possibility: the idea that the essence of one of these champions could be reborn in the present. Another possibility is that the Dreambreaker could have been right all along; that he did have the power to twist time and space, and that he channeled the essence of the aberrants to the present day (a variation of this is explored in the old RPGA adventure “The Delirium Stone”). Alternately adventurers could encounter a ghost or some other legacy of one of these champions—or perhaps find a journal of the Lady of the Plague, containing strange insights.
Were aberrant marks always ostracized? When Cannith and Sivis began to rally the other bloodlines into the Houses, were mixed marks thought of as undiscovered new marks, or were their destructive abilities quickly categorized into the realm of dangerous and taboo?
There was certainly a time when aberrant marks weren’t as feared as they are today, let alone the crazed fear that drove the War of the Mark. We’ve called out that the houses actively fanned the flames of fear and built up that hatred for decades before the War of the Mark finally took place. But while it may not have been as intense, they were always feared, because as called out in the other linked articles, they ARE dangerous. The Lady of the Plague DID destroy multiple communities before learning to master her power—and there are many aberrants who never learn to master their powers. It was easy for the houses to amplify the fear because people were already afraid, and the houses encouraged this instead of working to bring people together. But there were also surely communities that refused to give into that fear—villages that were havens for those with aberrant dragonmarks. Such communities would have provided the bulk of the numbers in the Wroat exodus, both of marked and unmarked refugees; while the people in these communities stood together, they also knew that they couldn’t fight house forces.
Regarding why the marks weren’t seen as undiscovered new dragonmarks, and why they quickly became taboo, there’s two factors. Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary and don’t have a common appearance. Three marks that grant burning hands could all manifest in entirely different ways. It’s rare to find any two aberrant marks that are identical, let alone that resemble the “true” marks, so people were pretty quick to conclude that these weren’t just some undiscovered new mark. Beyond this, the issue is that not only is an aberrant mark not hereditary, manifesting an aberrant mark severs your connection to any other dragonmark. When the child of an Orien and Cannith manifests an aberrant mark, it also eliminates any possibility that their children could manifest the Mark of Making or Mark of Passage. As the houses were still working to build their numbers and the strength of their lines, this revelation was as significant a factor in banning inter-house liasons as fears of the mixed marks themselves.
How do you see the participation of the Houses that existed at the time playing out in the War of the Mark?
Part of the purpose of the war was to strengthen the ties between the newly minted houses—creating a common foe they could fight together. This was also a way to familiarize the people of Khorvaire with houses that had previously been limited to a particular region and to help them spread. There were houses that didn’t exist—Thuranni, Tharashk. The Mark of Detection had only just appeared, and it’s quite possible that Medani was formed during the war, as the hunt for aberrant marks would certainly have discovered this new true mark. But Phiarlan performed reconnaissance, Deneith provided the bulk of the soldiers, Cannith armed them, Jorasco healed them, Ghallanda supported them. Vadalis provided mounts to ride and beasts to track the foe. Sivis most likely focused on logistics and propaganda. In the adventure “The Delirium Stone” (EMH-7), adventurers encounter a squad of soldiers including Deneith infantry, a Phiarlan archer, and a Jorasco healer supporting the unit. Later encounters include a Vadalis magebred swarm and a Cannith construct.
Ghallanda is an interesting question. While I expected it was pressured to support the action and likely helped with supplies, I can definitely imagine individual Ghallanda heir providing sanctuary to aberrant refugees, holding their principles over the goals of the alliance.
In Dragonmarked it’s said that the Medani were originally thought to be aberrants, and that they were subsequently coerced into joining the Twelve.
It’s difficult for me to imagine that there was any significant length of time in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. Aberrant dragonmarks and true dragonmarks are dramatically different. All true dragonmarks share the same general coloration, sizing, and overall design; the Mark of Detection is distinctly different from the Mark of Making, but at a DISTANCE it looks the same. Aberrant marks vary wildly in color and design. They aren’t hereditary and two marks that grant the same power may be dramatically different in appearance. Even if someone believed that despite looking just like a true mark that a mark was aberrant, the moment they saw that the person had a brother with the same mark they should know something was up. And remember that the Twelve were LOOKING for additional true marks; they called themselves “The Twelve” before they’d found twelve marks, because they were convinced there were others out there waiting to be found.So I have great trouble imagining a widespread series of events in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. One or two minor incidents, sure, But even at a distance, if someone saw the blue-purple mark they likely wouldn’t say “No, wait, that’s not exactly like one of ours”—they’d say “Damn, that half-elf has a dragonmark! Who let a Lyrandar in here?”
With that said: The Mark of Detection manifested during the War of the Mark. So those who carried it lived alongside aberrants, and could easily have been caught up in the purges that targeted them. As such, I can see many Medani having sympathy for the aberrants and choosing to stand alongside them: “Why do you treat me differently than her, just because my mark is blue and the same as my father’s?” So I think it’s quite plausible that a number of early Medani rejected the Twelve and actually fought alongside the aberrants; but that’s not the same as being mistaken for aberrants. And I do think that overall, the Medani were pressured—even threatened—by the other houses to join the Twelve, and that this underlies their attitude toward the Twelve to this day.
That’s all I have time for now. Have you used aberrant dragonmarks or the champions of the War of the Mark in your campaign? If so, share your stories below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going; supporters are currently voting on the topic of the next major article (Sarlona is currently in the lead!).
Nearly a quarter of Exploring Eberron is devoted to the planes of Eberron, providing a deeper look into these different layers of reality. While this addresses the supernatural cosmology of Eberron, my Patreon supporters have posed a number of questions tied to the Material Plane. What do the people of Eberron know about the physical universe beyond Eberron? What is the nature of the moons? Could there be a space race in Eberron? Others have raised more practical questions: how do the many moons of Eberron affect its tides? Wouldn’t the destruction of a moon have had even more cataclysmic results than have been suggested?
Ultimately, this begins with a crucial question: what is the Material Plane? In the myth of the Progenitors—a tale told in some form by nearly every culture—the three Progenitors work together to create thirteen planes, each one an idealized exploration of a particular concept: Life, death, war, peace. Following this effort, they rest in the emptiness that lies at the center of the planes. There the Progenitors quarrel. Khyber kills Siberys and tears him apart. Eberron enfolds Khyber and becomes the world itself, forming a living prison she cannot escape.
Whether this is truth or metaphor, it is a basic explanation for natural phenomenon.
Eberron is the world and source of natural life. It is surrounded by the shattered Ring of Siberys, and it contains Khyber. Whether or not Eberron was once a noble dragon who imprisoned another dragon, it is a natural world that surrounds and imprisons a source of fiends and aberrations.
Eberron—and its Material Plane—lies between the thirteen planes. It is influenced by all of them but it’s not part of any of them. It’s a world that knows both war and peace, life and death.
By canon (Rising p. 228), Eberron is the sole planet in its Material Plane. Beyond this, when people dream in Eberron, their spirits go to Dal Quor. When they die, they go to Dolurrh. There are no accounts of people encountering spirits from OTHER material worlds in either plane.
So the first thing to bear in mind: There is nothing natural about the universe of Eberron. The story of the Progenitors might be fact or it could be mere myth. But Eberron does appear to be the center of its Material Plane. It is the fulcrum of the 13 planes, the point where they all intersect — and as shown by Dal Quor and Dolurrh, the creatures of the Material Plane are tied to the other planes. Dig below the surface of Eberron and you won’t simply find a molten core; you’ll find the demiplanes of Khyber. You can go down a tunnel in the Mror Holds, walk five miles, and come out in Xen’drik. Which is to say, this is a supernatural reality. Arcane and divine magic are side effects of this; Eberron is suffused with a fundamental force that doesn’t exist in our world. Now, this may be because Eberron as a setting is a created artifact—that some form of the myth of the Progenitors is true. Or it could be the result of undirected evolution… but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a supernatural reality, fundamentally different from the universe that we know.
This initial section examines the known facts about the celestial objects of Eberron. This is followed by a discussion of the possible space race, which goes into more detail about what might be found on the moons or in the ring. Lest it go without saying, this is my vision of Eberron and may contradict existing sourcebooks.
The Sun and the Stars
In the Progenitor Myth, the three Progenitors rested in the Material Plane after creating the planes. They created the sun, Arrah, much as mortals might kindle a campfire. This fire remained even after their battle, and continues to provide light, heat, and comfort to the world. Arrah is rarely mentioned because it functions much like the sun we’re used to; it’s good that it’s there, but you definitely wouldn’t want to visit it. In the Sovereign Host, Dol Arrah is the Sovereign of Sun and Sacrifice; her name is, essentially, “The Warrior Sun.”
As for the stars, there are stars in the sky of Eberron, but they aren’t the anchors of distant solar systems. There are limits to the Material Plane, and the stars mark those limits; whether or not you embrace the concepts of Spelljammer, you can think of them as glittering points in the shell of a crystal sphere. The common constellations are figures of ancient dragons—Io, Tiamat, Chronepsis—though most people can’t actually say where these names come from. It’s generally assumed that they were handed down by one of the ancient kingdoms of Sarlona, or established by the ancestors of the Aereni; in fact, this is a tradition that was spread by dragons, as they moved secretly among the lesser races.
The Ring of Siberys
The closest celestial object is the Ring of Siberys, a brilliant equatorial band of light that dominates the sky. We know that the Ring is comprised of siberys dragonshards, because it’s where those dragonshards come from. Most fallen shards are quite small, but it’s there are definitely larger shards in the Ring; the civilization of the Qabalrin elves of Xen’drik was destroyed when the Ring of Storms was struck by a massive dragonshard now known as the Heart of Siberys. It’s possible that the entire ring is made up of pure dragonshards, or it could be that there are shards embedded in a more inert material—perhaps the petrified flesh of an ancient cosmic dragon.
One of the more popular schools of arcane thought maintains that all arcane magic (and perhaps divine magic as well) manipulates energy that radiates from the Ring—that magic itself is the “Blood of Siberys.” Whether or not this is true, siberys dragonshards are an extremely valuable resource. Siberys shards are used for dragonmark focus items, but per Rising From The Last War they are also used for “eldritch machines or the creation of legendary items or artifacts.” A nation or house that can secure a reliable source of siberys shards will have a huge advantage in advancing arcane science. It’s also possible that an outpost in the Ring could harness the ambient energy of the Ring itself to perform epic magic. So the Ring of Siberys is close to Eberron and unquestionably valuable; if a space race begins, it’s the logical first step.
Twelve orbiting moons are visible from Eberron. Each moon goes through standard lunar phases, and during the month that shares its name, the moon enters an “ascendant phase”; during this time the moon is brighter than usual. Each moon is associated with certain personality traits, and it’s believed that people are influenced by the moon that is ascendant at the time of their birth. Canon descriptions of the moons can be found in this article. Moving beyond canon (something suggested but never defined) there’s a further complication, because the moons are also tied to the planes—and each moon enters its ascendant phase when its associated plane is coterminous, and becomes unusually dim when the plane is remote. So while unusual, it’s possible for there to be two or three ascendant moons at a particular time, if multiple coterminous periods converge.
The connection between the planes and the moons is reinforced by the fact that within a plane, the associated moon is the only one that can be seen in the sky (assuming that any moon can be seen; not all planar layers have a visible sky). However, the phase of the moon doesn’t match its current phase on Eberron. It may be fixed in a single phase—such as in Lamannia, where the moon is always full, or it could change from layer to layer.
By canon lore, no humanoid has ever visited one of the moons. Because of this, their nature remains a mystery. They could be similar to the moon of Earth—harsh and barren. It’s possible that they aren’t planetoids at all, but are in fact planar gateways—that a vessel that tries to land on Dravago will find itself in Risia. This would explain why the moons don’t have the expected impact on tides; it may be that they don’t actually have any mass! A third option lies between these two: that the moons are habitable planetoids that are strongly influenced by the planes they are tied to. The moon Vult isn’t inhabited by the angels and demons of Shavarath, but it could be home to societies of tieflings and aasimar locked in an endless war… though unlike the immortals of Shavarath, the people of Vult might decide to turn their aggressive attention to Eberron!
THE SPACE RACE
By canon, Eberron is the only planet in its material plane. Between the planes and the demiplanes of Khyber, there’s ample opportunity for adventurers to explore strange new worlds, and deep space exploration was never planned as part of the setting; we don’t need to have alien invaders come from a distant planet when we already have alien invaders crawling out of Xoriat. Nothing’s stopping the DM from going full Spelljammer and breaking through the wall of stars. But by default, that’s not the story Eberron was designed to tell.
However, you don’t have to go into deep space to have a space race. The Ring of Siberys is a clear target for any advanced nation. Siberys dragonshards are an immensely valuable resource; now that the Five Nations are using dragonshards in an industrial capacity and can see the potential of siberys shards, it’s only logical that people would be looking to the skies and dreaming of the power waiting to be claimed. Beyond the ring you have the moons. Perhaps they’re barren orbs. But if they’re planar gateways they could be the key to serious planar exploration, and if they’re manifest worlds they could hold unknown wonders. So there’s clearly something to be gained from reaching for the sky. And just as in our world, a space race gives a clear, tight focus for the current cold war. The people of the Five Nations may be afraid to start the Last War anew… but which nation will be the first to plant their flag in the Ring of Siberys?
In dealing with the space race, there’s a few questions to consider. What are the obstacles that have to be overcome? Who’s in the race? Who’s already up there? And what might people find?
If all that it takes to reach the moons is to fly straight up, people would have done it long ago. Even though airships are a relatively recent innovation, surely in three decades SOMEONE has determined just how high they can go… and while airships may be new, brooms of flying and similar devices have been around. If there’s no obstacles, there’s no tension and it’s hard to explain why it hasn’t happened. Yet at the same time, this isn’t our reality and there’s no reason that the obstacles to space travel should be the SAME obstacles that we had to overcome. So as a DM planning a space race, consider the following factors.
Gravity. If you have to escape the gravity of Eberron to reach the Ring of Siberys, it’s easy to say that no standard methods of flight provide sufficient velocity to accomplish this. This provides room for different nations to be exploring different approaches to attaining that velocity. Elemental binding is an option; how many elementals can you bind to a vessel? Another option is to expand on the arcane principles of levitation, perhaps burning siberys shards to provide a temporary surge of energy. A more exotic option would be to abandon flight in favor of teleportation; imagine flinging a teleport circle anchor at the target.
Cosmic Rays. The Ring of Siberys is thought by many to be the source of arcane energy. If so, this radiation could be lethal without proper protection. Alternately, the energy might be harmless, but it could overload unprotected enchantments: until people figure out how to protect against this surge, all magical systems could burn out and shut down in the vicinity of the Ring of Siberys. This could form a deadly layer around the entire planet, or this could be a way to explain why people are aiming for the moons instead of the Ring; because they can’t safely get close to the Ring, but they can avoid it.
Oxygen. At what point does the air become too thin to breathe? Is there a vacuum between Eberron and the moons? Because this isn’t natural space, it could be that there IS breathable air throughout the entire system, or that the Ring or the moons have atmosphere—or it could be that the atmosphere largely behaves the way that we’re used to. If oxygen is an obstacle, it doesn’t affect the design of a vessel, but travelers will need to have a solution. Spells and magic items that allow people to breathe underwater could be adapted for this purpose; it’s possible that the same item could work both underwater or in the Ring of Siberys.
Hostile Environment. In our world, space travel may require you to deal both with extreme cold or heat. Is the Ring of Siberys shrouded in bitter cold, or is it mysteriously maintained at a comfortable temperature? Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides basic guidelines for dealing with extreme cold, extreme heat, or high altitude. These could be intensified to reflect a truly alien environment, either reducing the time between required saving throws or amplifying the effects of failure. This could also be a factor in vessel design. Airships are made of soarwood; will a wooden ship burn up on re-entry?
Who’s In The Race?
The idea of a space race is that there’s a sense of tension and competition. The Ring of Siberys is too vast for any nation to claim dominion over it. But the first nation to establish an outpost in the Ring or on the moons with have the first opportunity to explore the environment, to harness its resources, and to establish contact with whatever creatures could be found there. The idea is that no nation or dragonmarked house has had unlimited access to Siberys shards; no one knows what could be done with that reliable source. So for purposes of the story, people should KNOW who’s in the race; adventurers could involve helping an allied power gain the resources it needs to advance or acting to block a rival power. So who’s in the race?
One option is to focus on the Five Nations: this is about Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath racing to the sky. A second option is to make it a rivalry between house and nation; perhaps it’s about the Twelve competing against the space program of the Arcane Congress.
Personally, my inclination is to focus on the Five Nations—emphasizing that the Last War has been replaced by a cold war. But I’d also throw in additional alliances. House Cannith is involved with everyone; it’s split in three and the house thus wins in any scenario, but part of the question is who wins; it could be generally understood that the Cannith faction that wins the space race will also claim the leadership of the house. So here’s the factions I’d use in MY space race.
Aundair: The Dragonhawk Initiative. Aundair’s space program is an alliance between the Arcane Congress, Cannith West (under Jorlanna d’Cannith), and House Orien. While they are exploring all possibilities, the Dragonhawk Initiative is focusing on teleportation. There are three current paths under investigation: direct teleportation (which also requires scrying to confirm the target point); physical projection of an object that serves as a teleportation circle; or using a passage through a plane to cross space. Thelanis and Xoriat are the planes most tied to these efforts. There is a branch of the Dragonhawk exploring traditional levitation, but leadership is convinced that teleportation is the cleanest and safest approach.
Breland: The King’s Observatory. The Observatory is a branch of the King’s Citadel, formed in alliance with Zilargo, Cannith South (under Merrix d’Cannith), and Hosue Lyrandar. While they are exploring traditional levitation techniques, the Observatory is primarily focused on building a better elemental airship, overcoming the obstacles with elemental binding and Cannith ingenuity. Merrix has been experimenting with living ships—a step that could render Lyrandar pilots obsolete. Syrania and Fernia are the planes most associated with their efforts.
Karrnath: The Blade of Siberys. The Blade is an alliance between the Karrnathi crown, Cannith East (under Zorlan d’Cannith), and a number of wealthy individuals. Antus ir’Soldorak brings tremendous wealth and mineral resources to the table; Alina Lorridan Lyrris is an expert transmuter and owns the richest khyber shard mines in Khorvaire. The fact that they’re both members of the Platinum Concord of the Aurum is a remarkable coincidence. The Blade of Siberys is primarily interested in reaching the Ring rather than the moons. It is focused on traditional magic of flight, but Zorlan is exploring ways necromancy could be used to solve this problem: ghost astronauts? A shadow engine that draws on the power of the Endless Night? These efforts involve the Mabaran manifest zones in Karrnath, but they are considering the potential of other planes. The Blade is also very focused on the military potential of this program, and any Karrnathi space vessel will be heavily armed.
Thrane is currently a minor player in the race, though the Argentum is exploring the possibilities for an engine that harnesses the power of the Silver Flame itself. Likewise, New Cyre lacks the resources to compete with these main players… but Oargev dreams of establishing a true new Cyre on Olarune.
Who’s Already Up There?
The Five Nations may be working to win the space race, but someone else likely won that race long ago. The dragons of Argonessen are an ancient and advanced civilization, and believe themselves to be the children of Eberron and Siberys; if it’s possible to reach the Ring of Siberys, they surely did it long ago. They could use outposts in the Ring to watch for the appearance of Prophecy marks, and the epic magics unleashed in the destruction of Xen’drik may well have been channeled through siberys shards harvested from the Ring. However, the Ring of Siberys is vast and the dragons are secretive; their outposts are surely well hidden, both physically and magically. Having said that, the dragons may not have bothered to explore the moons—so they could be a truly unexplored frontier.
The giants of ancient Xen’drik were also powerful and advanced. Both the Cul’sir Dominion and the Group of Eleven explored the planes; either one could have ventured into space. Any giant outposts in the Ring of Siberys would have been destroyed by the dragons when they laid waste to Xen’drik, but there could be still be ruins in the Ring. And if a DM wants to introduce a powerful force of giants or empyreans, they could have used a powerful sequester effect to conceal a base in the Ring or on one of the moons.
The Undying Court aren’t involved in the space race. The Ascendant Counselors explore the universe in astral form and have no need to do it physically. The Lords of Dust don’t have any outposts of their own, but they are surely watching all the participants in the space race. As the fiends are the children of Khyber, it’s possible that the pure essence of Siberys is especially repellant to them—that any fiend that approaches the Ring will be destroyed.
These are creatures of Eberron who might have settled above it; possible natives are discussed below.
Exploring the Ring of Siberys
The Ring of Siberys is the logical first stop in the space race, being closer than the moons and having a clear strategic value. If the DM would rather focus on the moons, the magical energies of the Ring can be deadly to living creatures. If the Ring is the destination, the first question is whether the Ring has gravity and atmosphere. This is the most magical place in existence, so anything is possible. The next question is whether the Ring is in fact entirely comprised of massive dragonshards, or if the bulk of it is some other material; it could be a soft stone, that some might see as the calcified flesh of an ancient dragon. Even if there is an atmosphere, the Ring is entirely barren. People may be able to dig into it or build structures on the surface, but there’s no natural sources of food or water; travelers will need to either have strong supply lines, or more likely, to come prepared with ways to magically create food and water.
Magic is dramatically enhanced within the Ring. One option is that all spells cast in the Ring benefit from the Distant Spell and Extended Spell Metamagic options presented in the sorcerer class. But it’s difficult to channel this power; if the DM uses this option, all spellcasting carries the risk of a sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge. With time, it could be that spellcasters could learn unique spells that can only be cast in the magic-rich environment of the Ring.
Even if the energies of the Ring aren’t directly lethal, they can produce many dangerous effects. Just as the energies of the Ring can be used to produce fireballs and lighting bolts, the Ring produces dramatic, unnatural weather effects—bursts of fire, acid rain, illusory manifestations, psychic storms. The Ring also produces living spells, which linger for a time before being absorbed back into the Ring. Other native creatures are rare, given the difficulty of surviving in the RIng. However, just as the rakshasa are said to be the children of Khyber, the native celestials of Eberron—the couatl—are said to have been born of Siberys. While most of the couatl sacrificed their existence to bind the overlords, there could be a few powerful celestials still bound to the Ring. Given that Thrane isn’t a major player in the space race, the first explorers could be surprised to discover embodiments of the Silver Flame itself in the Ring of Siberys.
There’s another exotic possibility. Legends speak of the Irsvern—winged kobolds said to be blessed by Siberys. According to these tales the Irsvern live on the peaks of the tallest mountains; but what if they’re actually natives of the Ring of Siberys? What powers might these children of the Ring possess?
Exploring The Moons
Exploring Eberron provides more details about the planes, and will prove a useful resource whether the moons are planar portals or merely strongly influenced by planes. The main difference between the planar portal and the idea of the manifest world is the degree to which the adventurers can have a lasting impact, and the degree to which the world is an entirely new frontier. The planes are known, even if mortals don’t visit them regularly; and the planes cannot be fundamentally changed. On the other hand, manifest worlds are an opportunity to explore entirely new and alien realms—to have first contact with unknown cultures. This is another a way to introduce exotic races or elements from other settings; perhaps loxodons are from Olarune!
Does Arrah orbit Eberron? If so, is it much further away than the moons?
There’s no canon answer to this. What we know is that Eberron has traditional seasons (as defined by the calendar)—that Arrah FUNCTIONS in the way we’re used to a sun working. On the one hand, there’s some logic to Eberron being stuck in the center of its sphere (though it could well be that it rotates in that central point and that Arrah is fixed!).
But let’s consider the Progenitor myth, which again, may or may not be exactly true but is still the closest thing we have to an explanation. In the myth, the Progenitors finish their work and rest in the Material Plane. They kindle Arrah as a campfire. They then fight: Siberys is killed, Eberron and Khyber entwined. Arrah exists BEFORE Eberron becomes a world, and I think it’s perfectly logical to say that ARRAH is at the very center of the plane and that Eberron orbits it. Though another sage could argue that the Progenitors were clearly the focal point of creation and that Arrah would have been pulled into their orbit. So like many things in Eberron, I expect that it’s something sages are actively debating in the world itself.
How do the multiple moons of Eberron affect lycanthropes?
The origin of lycanthropy remains a mystery. All lycanthropes are influenced by the moons, but not all in the same way; this suggests that there may be multiple strains of lycanthropy with different origins. The first strain is only affected by the phases of the moon Olarune; this is typically associated with good-aligned lycanthropes. The second strain of lycanthropy is affected by all of the moons, and multiple full moons can cause extreme behavior; this is the effect reported by the templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and it encourages aggressive behavior and drives victims to quickly succumb to the curse. The third strain of lycanthrope is affected by the moon(s) that were ascendant at the moment of its birth or at the moment it was afflicted; this is common among natural lycanthropes. When adventurers encounter lycanthropes, the DM will have to decide which strain they’re dealing with.
In the past you’ve said that the Gith come from another world… could this be one of the moons?
It’s a possibility, but not the one I personally use. Exploring Eberron goes into more detail about how I use the Gith in my Eberron.
How do the shifter Moonspeakers see the moons? Are they planar portals or more like spiritual guides?
The Moonspeaker druids view the moons as spiritual guides. This doesn’t invalidate the possibility that they are planetoids or portals; the Moonspeakers invoke the spiritsof the moons, just as some other druids invoke the spirit of Eberron. With that said, it’s worth noting that this material contradicts the Moonspeaker’s assignment of the moons; I didn’t design the Moonspeaker and I don’t agree with all of its choices.
While the moons correlate with the planes, is there really a correlation with the Dragonmarks, too? The lost moon is tied to Dal Quor, but the lost mark is the Mark of Death, which would have been tied to the same moon as Dolurrh, I would have thought.
There’s a few basic points here. The moons and the planes are both part of creation; they have both existed since the dawn of time. The Dragonmarks have barely existed for three thousand years, and it’s quite possible they were created by the daelkyr. Consider that Crya was lost tens of thousands of years before the Mark of Death even existed! So the ultimate point is that the association of dragonmarks and moons isn’t a concrete, natural FACT as the association of planes and moons is; it’s a superstition, where people have ASSIGNED marks to moons, because hey, twelve marks, twelve moons. And the people who made those assignments may not even know that there once was a thirteenth moon! So it’s possible that people have stumbled onto a cosmic truth in linking these together‚that even those the marks are recent, they tied into this cosmic code. But it could also be entirely speculative.
Having said that, consider what Dolurrh actually is. It’s NOT the “Plane of Death.” Many believe that it is the plane of transition, where the soul leaves its burdens behind and ascends to a higher realm. Aryth is “The Gateway” — and the dragonmark associated with it is the Mark of Passage. The point of this association is that Dolurrh ISN’T actually the destination; it’s a pathway to the unknown realm that lies beyond.
The moons of Eberron are tied to the planes. What about the sun? What’s it tied to?
There is no canon answer to this question, and I’m sure that sages debate it at Arcanix and Korranberg. I’ll give you three answers that all likely have supporters. One is that it represents nothing. It was created by the Progenitors to serve a utilitarian function; it’s the divine campfire. Another is that just as the moons are tied to the planes, the sun represents the MATERIAL plane. A third is tied to the theory that Dolurrh is a gateway that allows people to transition to the Realm of the Sovereigns, a higher realm no mortal can know; some surely believe that Arrah is tied to THAT plane, which is why it’s so much brighter than the moons; it’s a glimpse of the truly celestial realm.
Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and who keep this blog going! How have you used the moons or the space race in your campaign?
Eberron is a world where you have the lightning rail, where warforged can be mass-produced, where the towers of Sharn scrape the sky. But it’s also a world where your character might be a knight in plate armor hitting things with a sword. So what does that look like? Does the world feel medieval, or is the aesthetic closer to World War I?
In creating Eberron, the design team made a conscious decision to keep the experience of the world grounded in D&D. This meant that people would still wear plate armor. They’d ride horses instead of motorcycles. They’d fight using swords and bows rather than using a version of firearms. So part of the point is that we didn’t want to make classic armor or weaponry obsolete. With the introduction of the wandslinger in fifth edition it’s possible to see how the world is moving in that direction—one of my favorite quotes from the Wayfinder’s Guide is the Aundairian exclaiming “Sovereigns above, Wyllis. We’re days away from the Eleventh Century and you’re still shooting people with pointed sticks?” So we are REACHING a point where the warlock wearing leather armor and carrying a wand is just as plausible a soldier as the fighter in plate with sword and shield. But for now it is still a world where armies clash with sword and spear.
With that said, the basic concept of Eberron is that it is a world in which magic has taken the place of the science we know. It’s a world that has trains, yes: but that train doesn’t use steam or gears, it’s a series of stagecoaches that ride a line of lightning. It’s NOT our world, and while the tools people use may have medieval names, that doesn’t mean they are medieval in form. I discussed this in a previous article dealing with crossbows, but it is equally important when thinking about armor. Heavy armor became obsolete in our world because crossbows and gunpowder weapons could easily penetrate it, and the protective value of the armor no longer offset its limitations on movement. But consider a few facts about armor in D&D…
Heavy armor provides equal protection against all weapons. Plate armor provides significantly better protection than leather armor, regardless of whether your attacker is using a sword, a heavy crossbow, or even a modern firearm (if you use the rules provided in the DMG).
Heavy armor is remarkably flexible. As long as you meet the Strength requirement, the only limitation it imposes is disadvantage on Stealth checks: it’s NOISY. But unlike previous editions, it doesn’t reduce your movement speed. And it doesn’t impose disadvantage on, say, Acrobatics or Sleight of Hand checks. That implies remarkable ease of movement. And, you can wear it all day without worrying about sores or other problems.
You can choose to look at these as the limitations of a casual rules system. But the alternative is to accept the idea that this isn’t medieval armor. It is “plate” armor, yes. It’s literally heavy and it requires a certain level of Strength to use it effectively. In terms of its materials and appearance, it’s not medieval. The same concept applies to other “medieval” things. Orien couriers use a form of horseshoes of speed that channel the power of their dragonmark (thus reducing the rarity) to give a mount greater speed and durability. So yes, people are riding horses instead of motorcycles, but that Orien courier can tear past you with blue light flashing from the hooves of the horse; less frequently you might even see a courier with horseshoes of a zephyr riding a horse across the surface of a river. It’s a MAGICAL world; don’t just think “No cars means it’s primitive”, highlight what they’ve developed instead. Mention the squad of Vadalis hippogriffs passing overhead, or the street performer weaving wonders out of illusion; it’s not medieval, it’s magical.
Magic is a part of life, and is very much a part of fashion. Glamerweave is a form of common magic item that imbues clothing with illusion. A sorcerer may wear a cloak that’s lined with a starry sky. A former soldier could have glowing sigils representing the medals bestowed upon them in their service etched into their armor. Consider also shiftweave, a common magic item that allows the wearer to shift between multiple outfits—so someone who can afford a common magic item can shift between their traveling outfit and a shimmering gown with a snap of their fingers. Exploring Eberron will also discuss cosmetic transmutation—the idea that you can go to a cosmetic illusionist and add magical details to your appearance. In Aundair in particular you can expect to see people with glowing eyes, metallic hair, or other cosmetic details that are obviously the product of magic.
Pulling back to armor and common appearance for a moment: Consider that Khorvaire is just two years out from decades of war. All genders served in the armies of the Five Nations. Combined together, you’ll see a trend toward practical clothing that allows freedom of movement. The closer you were to the front lines, the more you wanted to be ready for anything. Nobles might embrace fashions that restrict movement to make a statement—my fancy gown shows that I’m NOT going to fight, or that if I do it will be with magic, not muscle—but that would stand as an exception. Tied to this, armor has become a part of everyday life. Especially in the case of light armor, leather and even studded leather can be designed to be stylish and comfortable. Many former soldiers wear a modified form of their service armor. Think of it a little bit like gunslingers in westerns; carrying a pistol suggests you can handle yourself, but it’s not going to immediately raise alarm. The same is true of armor; heavy armor is definitely making a statement, but people won’t blink at someone causally wearing light armor.
So with that in mind, consider that the names of armors in D&D are arbitrary. A deeper system might explore the advantages and disadvantages of chainmail versus rigid armor; current D&D doesn’t. So consider chain shirt, scale mail, and breastplate:
These are all “metal armor” for spells and effects that target metal armor.
“Scale mail” is 20 lbs heavier and applies disadvantage to your Stealth Check, but provides better protection.
A “breastplate” is the same weight as a “chain shirt” but provides the same protection as “scale mail” while not imposing disadvantage on Dexterity checks.
Mechanically, these are the factors that matter: weight, AC, disadvantage on Stealth, metal armor… and the fact that someone who examines you can recognize those things. Everything else is story. There’s no reason that you can’t say that the Doldarun dwarves produce exceptionally strong, light chainmail that has the same characteristics as a breastplate rather than being heavy armor. Essentially, there’s no reason that “breastplate” armor has to BE a breastplate—as long as someone looking at the wearer can recognize the qualities of their armor. This likewise applies to, say, “studded leather.” It doesn’t have to actually involve STUDS; it is leather armor reinforced with metal, but that could be strips, metal vambraces and shinguards, etc; what’s important is that someone can say “Oh, it’s reinforced leather armor, that’ll have the stats of studded.”
Putting all of this to practical purpose, let’s talk about the common uniforms of soldiers of the Five Nations. Consider that they all BEGAN as soldiers of the army of Galifar, so while nations would evolve their own styles over the course of the war, it’s reasonable that they’d have a common base style used for conscripts. I imagine leather armor as either a leather greatcoat or, as shown with Greykell in the image above, a leather tunic supplemented with gauntlets or vambraces and high boots or shinguards. Advancing to studded leather you’d add metal to the vambraces and shinguards, and studs or strips of metal to the leather. Moving to medium armor, you’d add a metal helmet and breastplate. The standard model would MECHANICALLY be “scale mail”—but it’s a metal cuirass that’s heavy enough (that extra weight) that it applies the Stealth penalty. The improved model —the “breastplate”—is the same basic design, but uses stronger alloys to produce a thinner, lighter model that doesn’t impose the Stealth penalty. Advancing to heavy armor, I’d still keep the same cuirass design, but add chain beneath it. Now, this is definitely where you’d start to see national variation; the Karrns have always been the finest armorers of the Five Nations and will make more use of heavy armor, both in their armies and among their nobles; this can be more stylized, and even aside from the infamous bone knights you can expect gothic styling or details tied to a family crest. Meanwhile, actual chainmail would be more common in the Mror Holds and the Lhazaar Principalities… and again, I could imagine a Mror champion with reinforced double-chain that is effectively plate armor, even though it’s described as heavy chainmail.
All of this has been a very long way to say a simple thing: Just because people in Eberron use tools WE think of as medieval doesn’t mean they are medieval. You can adjust the appearance of everything from a crossbow to plate armor to make it feel more modern in its design, and you shouldn’t feel limited by the NAME of a type of armor as long as you logically maintain its STATISTICS and that someone can recognize that—again, nothing wrong with a Mror champion having chainmail “plate” as long as people KNOW that they’re fighting someone with the capabilities of plate armor.
I don’t have time to get into the individual fashions of each of the Five Nations now, but if patrons are interested in the topic, bring it up on Patreon and I may address it in an IFAQ or as a poll topic. But here’s a very high-level overview:
Aundair is the most magical of the Five Nations. They have the most significant number of wandslingers, and you’ll see more of a focus on the classic “musketeer”—lighter armor and wand. While mobility is key, Aundairians are definitely concerned with appearance and fashion, and are the most likely to use glamerweave or cosmetic transmutation to produce exotic effects. In general, Aundairians favor grace, mobility, and skill over heavy armor and brute strength.
Breland has always been called out for its industrial capacity and pragmatic nature. I see them as holding to the standard leather-and-cuirass design. People like to have some touch of personal flair, but they aren’t going to be as exotic about it as Aundairians or Cyrans.
Cyre falls between these two: not as dramatic as the Aundairians, but placing importance on personal style. In the past we’ve called out that Cyran fashions incorporate gloves and cloaks, with varying styles for the occasion—heavy cloak for traveling, short cloak for socializing, light long cloak with a glamerweave lining for the gala. Jewelry is likewise important for Cyrans—not necessarily holding great value, but as a form of personal expression. The fashion of “Mourningwear” is to maintain this style, but in black.
Karrnath is both gothic and martial in its overall style. It’s common to wear some form of armor, and heavy armor is more commonly used both on and off of the battlefield. Armor and helmets are designed to intimidate; in contrast to Aundair, in Karrnath strength is emphasized. The flag of Karrnath is black and red, and both these colors are common in their fashions.
Thrane is the most practical and least pretentious of the Five Nations. Templars may wear heavy armor, but the common peasant militias relies on light armor and bows. Light clothing is common, but subdued; cosmetic transmutation and glamerweave are rare. Followers of the Silver Flame will usually display a symbol of their faith, whether pendants, brooches, or painted designs.
That’s all I have time for today! Hopefully it’s been interesting. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going, and to patron dglover for the question that inspired this post. The next major article—as chosen by the patrons—will be on the moons and the space race in Eberron, though there may be another short article before that. Add your thoughts on fashions in Eberron in the comments!
A staff serves as a channel for destructive powers. A scroll holds words that can alter reality when read allowed. A potion is imbued with energies that can transform whoever drinks it. These treasures don’t simply appear in dungeons. In Eberron, magic is a form of science. Magic items are technology, and artificers are the engineers who work with these tools.
For the last two months I’ve been writing about the Dark Six. I’m tied up with multiple deadlines, and I will finish the Dark Six series as soon as I can. However, Wizards of the Coast just released a new version of the Artificer and I want to share my thoughts on it right away. Thanks as always to my Patreonsupporters, who keep this website going!
This latest version of the artificer was designed with Eberron in mind, however the goal wasn’t to precisely replicate either the third or fourth edition versions of the artificer. An artificer is an arcane engineer who channels magic through tools, and who expresses creativity in a number of ways. Bear in mind that Unearthed Arcana is playtest material and that it specifically calls out that the next month’s UA article may contain additional content for the artificer. So the subclasses and content presented aren’t intended to be comprehensive or final. With that in mind, let’s explore a few things.
Artificers and Spells
Some people are disappointed that the artificer casts spells, and wish that it had a unique system of its own. A few things to bear in mind…
Scrolls and wands are examples of the technology artificers work with. What’s a scroll? A tool that casts a spell. The idea that the artificer produces spell effects through using tools is the logical extension of this. If an artificer created chemical explosives or firearms, it would make sense for them to use some other system. But they create items that produce spell effects, so it makes sense that the class can produce those effects.
The third edition artificer also cast spells. They were called “infusions” and had to be placed in objects, but aside from a few cosmetic aspects, they were spells.Now, the artificer had access to some unique effects, and we’ve already introduced one of these; arcane weapon is a variation of personal weapon augmentation. And there could be additional unique artificer spells in the future. But there’s no need to create an entirely separate system of mechanics for an artificer to heal when cure wounds is a simple, functional option. I’ll note that the artificer Lei in my novels frequently heals people; in 3E terms she’s using spell-storing item to create a cure wounds item, but the end result was that she was using a tool to cast cure wounds.
The critical point here is about flavor. From a STORY perspective, an artificer isn’t “casting a spell” like a wizard or cleric does—they are using tools to produce magical effects. As the Magic of Artifice sidebar calls out, while this follows the tried and true rules of spellcasting, from a story perspective it’s quite different. An artificer has to use a tool to perform magic, and the question is what that looks like. MECHANICALLY, an artificer gains no benefits and suffers no penalties from the fact that they are performing magic in a different way. But as long as you don’t demand something that should change the rules, this is an opportunity for you to add flavor to your particular artificer.
The Tools of Magic
Most artisans’ tools aren’t a single object. You’re not proficient with “a hammer”; you’re proficient with smith’s tools. So when you use a tool to cast a spell, it’s not that you just have a single magic hammer that you wave. Which elements of your tool are you using? What are you producing that creates the effect? Consider a few ideas…
Tinker’s Tools. This is a general catchall, as you can justify almost any sort of odd gadget with tinker’s tools. When using tinker’s tools, the idea isn’t that you’re producing your effect with the tools themselves (unless you’re casting mending or something similar), but rather that you’ve tinkered together some sort of prototype item. For example, my tinker artificer might use a dragon-shaped sidearm to produce fire bolt, or use a modified gauntlet to deliver shocking grasp. The point is that these things are unstable prototypes that can’t be used by anyone else and that I have to constantly tinker with to maintain. So I have to possess my tinker’s tools; I have to have a tool in hand to produce the spell effect; but that “tool” can be a dragon-gun as opposed to a pair of pliers. Regardless of what it LOOKS like, bear in mind that it is inherently magical. I might cast cure wounds using a tiny metal spider I’ve tinkered. But while it may LOOK like a clockwork construct, it’s magic that allows it to move and think. Mundane engineering may be a part of a tinker’s creations, but magic is what makes them work.
Alchemist’s Supplies. Alchemy blends chemical reaction with magic. This is the underlying principle behind most potions; the challenge of creating a potions is to suspend the mystical reaction so it can be consumed at a later date. It’s much easier to trigger an instant effect, and that’s what you’re doing when you use alchemist’s supplies to cast your spells. Your firebolt could be a thrown flask or some sort of dragon-gun like the tinker; in your case, it’s activating and spitting your flaming concoction. Poison spray is easily justified as flinging foul substances. Cure wounds, false life, water breathing could all be potions you mix and serve on the spot: disguise self or alter self could be mystically charged cosmetics.
Calligrapher’s Supplies. Sigilry channels arcane power through symbols and sound, using special inks and techniques. As alchemy is to potions, sigilry is to scrolls; it’s much easier to produce an instant effect than to suspend and sustain it as a scroll. When you cast fire bolt, it could be that you use your quill to trace the name of fire in the air before you; or if could be that you have the sigil written down, and all you have to do is read it to produce the effect. Whether you draw sigils onto things or craft simple scrolls and read them, your pen is mightier than most swords.
Cartographer’s Supplies. This is a twist on the sigilist. On the one hand, you could just use your tools in the same way, drawing sigils. But if you want to be more exotic about it, you could specialize in calculating ley lines and the relationships between the planes. Essentially, the world is filled with mico-manifest zones waiting to be triggered; you’re using your tools to calculate the proper alignments to channel the energies you need.
Painter’s Supplies. If you want to be fanciful about it, you could paint what you need into reality. When you cure wounds, you’re literally painting over the injury; when you cast fire bolt, you paint the flame in the air and it flies towards your opponent. This is a variation of sigilry, but the same underlying principles apply. You might even create scrolls that are images rather than words!
Thieves’ Tools. All artificers are proficient with both thieves’ tools and tinker’s tools, and the point is that you largely use them in the same way. Thieves’ tools are picks and other fine manipulators. It’s not that you cast a fire bolt by pointing a lockpick at someone; it’s that you can use the lockpick to clear out that problematic valve on your dragon-pistol. Of course, if you WANT to come up with some lock-based form of artifice you can.
Woodcarver’s Tools. Wands, staffs, and rods are one of the most basic forms of arcane focus. As with tinker’s tools, if you perform magic with woodcarver’s tools, you aren’t actually blasting someone with a saw. Instead, you are using experimental, exotic, or otherwise temporary wands or rods. Again, the effect is that you have to have a tool in your hand and you have to possess woodcarver’s tools to perform your magic, but the exact nature of the tool in your hand is up to you. It could appear to be a traditional wand, or you could have come up with some new revolutionary form of wand/staff/rod.
Use your imagination, and remember that while you need a tool, you don’t have to work your magic with the tool itself; it’s that it enables you to use whatever you actually have in your hand to produce the effect. You don’t fling your alchemist’s tools at your enemy; you throw a temporary potion created using your alchemist’s tools. But you still have to have alchemist’s tools and a free hand to do this.
Spell Preparation and Infusions
During a long rest, an artificer prepares a number of spells equal to their Intelligence modifier + half their artificer level. They can also swap out one of their cantrips. But this isn’t a wizard reading a book. When an artificer prepares spells, it’s about putting together the specialized supplies and tools you need for the things you want to do. You can’t create a scroll with just ANY ink; a sigilist has to mix entirely different inks based on the type of effects they’re going to produce. Likewise for an alchemist, who prepares special reagents that they’ll combine to produce spell effects. If you’re a tinker, you’re creating and fine tuning your gadgets. The same is true of your cantrip; if you switch light for fire bolt, you’re apparently weaponizing your torch. All of this also explains the idea of spell SLOTS. The reagents you’ve prepared are tricky to produce and don’t last forever. You’re preparing as much as you can, but once you go through all your mystic inks you can’t produce another scroll effect until you have a few hours to work on it. Effectively, your spells use temporary magic items that only you can use—and you prepare those during your long rest.
Meanwhile, infusions allow you to create longer-lasting tools that your friends CAN use. This is a compromise with the generally low-magic approach of 5E and the idea that artificers should be able to create magic items. You CAN create items, but you can’t flood the party with them; it’s up to you what you do with this limited resource.
Turrets and Homunculi
We’ve said before that Eberron is a world where the weapons of war are magical. I’ve talked about siege staffs, tree-trunk sized staffs that can produce evocation effects far beyond the typical fireball or lightning bolt. First of all, you can assume that the artillerist is capable of maintaining and operating siege staffs.
Then we come to the turret. A turret is “a magical object that occupies a space and has crablike legs.” This base design reflects the apparatus of Kwalish and the arcane ballista seen in some previous designs. The main point is that it is fundmantally magical. It may have crablike legs, but it’s magic that animates them.
Beyond this, though, you and your DM can work out the exact form of YOUR turret. The main point is that it can produce the effects described and that it has a walking speed of 15 feet. Your force ballista could look like a mundane ballista that fires bolts of energy instead of physical projectiles. But it could also be a metal dragon that spits energy bolts. it should reflect YOUR personal style of artifice. Likewise, the Alchemical Homunculus of the alchemist is a tiny construct that can fly and that produces alchemical salves or splashes of acid. It could be a metal dragonfly that secretes salves, or it could be a tiny floating cauldron! Whatever it is, it’s a construct designed to deliver alchemical substances.
Styles of Artificer
As with any other class, there’s many ways to interpret the artificer and many different stories you can tell. Here’s a few ideas.
Wage Mage (Guild Artisan). You learned your trade from House Cannith, whether as an heir or in one of their trade schools. You put in your time in a house enclave or factory, and you’ve still got contacts in the business. Your artifice is functional and by the book, using the latest principles of accepted arcane science… unless, of course, your were thrown out of your job because you tried to push beyond the envelope.
Siege Engineer (Soldier). You operated and maintained the engines of war. Which nation did you serve? Are you haunted by the memory of blasted battlefields, or are you proud of your deeds? The Military Rank of the soldier background implies that you served with distinction, but you could be a Folk Hero who deserted during the war, or a mercenary veteran.
Innovator (Sage). You don’t do well with authority, and you never got along with House Cannith. As far as you’re concerned, the standard techniques of the magewrights and guild artisans are antiquated. You do things your way… though it’s up to you to say that the difference is! You could be a devotee of the Traveler, working on ideas that could shatter the current industrial paradigm. Or you could just be working with unusual materials or techniques.
Tool of War (Warforged Envoy). As a warforged, you were built to maintain other magical systems. Are you an experimental prototype, or a maintenance worker whose abilities outshone any expectations? Are you just doing a job, or do you hope you can use your skills to help all warforged? As an envoy, your Integrated Tool allows you to have your spellcasting focus embedded in your body, but bear in mind that you still have to devote a hand to using that tool; this doesn’t allow you to perform magic hands-free.
Thelanian Tinker (Entertainer or Outlander). In your youth you slipped through a manifest zone to Thelanis, and during your time there you learned unusual fey techniques. Like any other artificer, you use tools to produce magical effects and you can create temporary magic items. But your techniques are entirely UNscientific. You may sing to your tools, or talk to them as if they were alive; you replicate boots of flying by CONVINCING your boots that they are actually birds. Your turret or homunculus may be animated by a minor fey—perhaps a friend from your childhood.
This latest iteration of the artificer is just that—an iteration. It will surely continue to evolve, and your feedback could be part of that. But in use it as it stands, the key point to me is to recognize the creativity inherent in the class. Whether you’re swapping a cantrip or preparing entirely new spells, it reflects your character’s creative nature. You use the same basic rules for spellcasting as other classes, but from a story perspective it’s about you producing those effects with innovative techniques and tools. And while the ability to create permanent magic items is limited—a necessity given the basic assumptions of 5E—infusions allow you to create and modify your own unique items.
Currently, the rules state “You must have a spellcasting focus—specifically thieves’ tools or some kind of artisan’s tool—in hand when you cast any spell with this Spellcasting feature.” Do you think it’s fair to amend that to say “Or an item crafted by your artisans’ tools?”
I think that the wording should be clarified, yes; again, it’s a playtest. However, my point is that tools are inherently abstract objects. “Tinker’s tools” weigh ten pounds. That’s not a single solid ten pound tool; it’s a tool KIT that has a lot of separate components. My argument is that when the text says “You have to have an artisan’s tool in hand” it doesn’t mean that you have to be holding your entire toolbox; you have to have the kit in your possession, and you have to have a hand free to make use of that tool. If you accept that, then I’m saying that the dragon pistol or alchemical salve is PART of the tinker’s tools or alchemist’s supplies.
Essentially, you have to have the tool in your possession and you have to have a hand dedicated to using that tool. If these conditions are met, what does it matter what the thing in your hand actually looks like? But with that said, I agree that it should be clarified if this is the desired outcome.
Post your thoughts and questions about this latest version of the artificer below!