The night hags of Eberron are mysterious and enigmatic. The Princess Aundair asserted that night hags were fallen fey cast out of Thelanis; it was likewise Aundair who popularized the idea that night hags created nightmares by ripping the wings off of pegasi. The scholars of Galifar debunked both of these ideas, and established that night hags are native fiends of Eberron that have existed since the Age of Demons. But many questions remain unanswered. If night hags are fiends, why do they seem to have no sympathy for raksashas or other native fiends? How is it that on the one hand you have Sora Kell, who’s described as tearing apart armies with her talons and laying waste to a city with a single spell… and on the other, you have stories describing night hags who seem little more powerful than a typical troll? And if the night hags are native fiends, why do they have such an affinity for dreams and a talent for traveling to other planes?
The most reliable source on the topic is the Codex of All Mysteries, written by Dorius Alyre ir’Korran. The Codex makes the following observations.
Thirteen hags emerged in the First Night, old on their first day; they were called grandmothers even before the first mortal was born. Twelve of these night hags were bound in covens of three; even then, Sora Kell made her own path. Most fiends are tied to one of the dread overlords, and it would be easy to think that the first hags were children of Sul Khatesh, given their affinity for both secrets and magic. But there is no overlord in the First Night. Rather, it seems that the twelve and one collectively embody an idea. Many fiends embody concepts that mortals fear, and the simplest answer is that the night hags embody mortal fears of the night—both specifically of nightmares, but also of the unknown forces lurking in the darkness. The accounts of Jhazaal Dhakaan add a twist to this, suggesting that the night hags embody the curiosity of Khyber itself. Jhazaal observes that the night hags should be considered evil, as they will lead mortals into despair and doom without remorse. But she notes that the hags lack the greater malevolence of the overlords, that they have no desire to dominate mortals or the world; instead, they love to watch stories unfold, especially stories that end in tragedy. In the first days to the world, the night hags served as intermediaries between mortals, fiends, and the other great powers of reality. They took no sides in the many wars of that time, finding joy in moving stories along and watching the horrors that unfolded; they had no agenda, for this story needed no finger on the scales to tilt it toward disaster. The hags simply loved being in the midst of the chaos, and reveled in turning the pages of history.
Should we accept these stories, a night hag is many things at once. She is a shaper of nightmares, who takes joy in hand-crafting nocturnal visions so terrifying that a mortal might fear to ever sleep again. She is an ancient being who may have spoken with dragons, demons, and even overlords. And above all, she is a creature who delights in watching stories unfold and in seeing what happens next—especially when those tales end in tragedy.
What of the curious spectrum between night hags? How can we reconcile the legend of Sora Kell shattering an army with the tale of Sola the Smith outwrestling Sora Tenya? How can we account for the fact that a catalogue of night hags produces more than thirteen names? The answer may be found in another Dhakaani account. The dirge singer Uula Korkala blamed the hag Sora Ghazra for the tragedy that befell her city, and rallied the greatest champions of the age to her pursuit of vengeance. She worked with the legendary hunter Ur’taarka to track the hag and to create snares that could bind even the greatest of fiends. She worked with the daashors to enchant the chain of the mighty Guul’daask, creating a weapon that would shatter the hag’s spirit even as it crushed her bones. Korkala took her vengeance, and Sora Ghazra was defeated. But it is no simple thing to kill an immortal. The shards of Ghazra’s shattered spirit embedded themselves in her killers. Ur’taarka, Guul’daask, even Korkala herself—all were haunted by nightmares. Unable to sleep, they wasted away in body and mind. Eventually the magic of this curse reshaped them into hags—lesser versions of the primal crone they’d destroyed. This created a line of night hags, each bearing this curse. When any one of them dies, the killers will be consumed by nightmares. The curse grows weaker with each generation, and there are heroes who have survived this gauntlet of nightmares; but any who are broken by these terrors will become a weaker hag. Thus, should you encounter a night hag who seems not to live up to the terrifying legend of Sora Kell, she is likely one of Ghazra’s line; the threat she poses will depend on how far removed she is from her ancestor.
Dorius Alyre ir’Korran is a legendary scholar and diviner, known for his ambition to supplant Aureon himself; the Codex is the most trusted source of information on the hags. The actual entry includes far more information than just this, providing further details on many of the original thirteen hags and their covens. However, it is as always up to the DM to decide if any of this is true, or if it is still speculation or even misinformation spread by the hags themselves.
If you trust the Codex, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Night hags can have a vast range of power. The Challenge 5 night hag presented in fifth edition is likely a weak descendent of Sora Ghazra. Sora Kell was the most powerful of the primal night hags—the one who always stood alone—and likely has a Challenge rating over 20. Other hags—between the other primal hags and the greater descendants of Sora Ghazra—would fall somewhere within that spectrum. Because of Ghazra’s story, there’s no absolute limit on the number of night hags in the world. There may have only been thirteen primal night hags, but the extent of Ghazra’s brood is entirely up to the DM. The lesser hags of Ghazra’s brood DO NOT retain many memories of the hag that spawned them; they have a basic foundation, but a CR 5 hag doesn’t have memories of the Age of Demons and doesn’t retain all the contacts and connections of their parent hag.
Night hags largely view mortals as a form of entertainment. They typically have a cruel sense of humor, and they take joy in hand-crafting nightmares for people who catch their interest. Many of them do enjoy testing virtuous heroes and seeing if they can hold to their ideals. But at the end of the day, most are driven by cruel curiosity; if a hero DOES persevere and overcome adversity, they’ll chuckle and move on, making a note to check back in a few decades. They don’t CARE about the goals of the overlords or the Chamber; they just love good stories. The night hag Jabra sells goods in both Droaam and the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. Her goods won’t necessarily bring misfortune to the buyer; among other things, she sells dreams she’s collected over the centuries. But SOME of her goods are certainly bound to bring tragedy to someone, if not necessarily the person who purchases them. And more than anything, her work as a merchant is a way to while away the immortal hours while she waits for someone interesting to cross her path—a story she can delight in following to its end.
Night hags wield power in Dal Quor, as measured by their ability to manipulate dreams. They have an understanding with the quori; remember, the primal night hags once served as ambassadors to all the great powers, and they can be persuasive when they choose. Night hags can smell the touch of a quori on a mortal’s dream, and they will thus avoid interfering with dreamers who play critical roles in the plans of the Dreaming Dark. Beyond this, Dal Quor is vast; night hags and quori generally do their best to stay out of each others’ way. With that said, there have been stories of friendships, rivalries, and feuds between specific quori and night hags; a particular tsucora and a child of Ghazra might take turns tormenting a particular mortal, each trying to craft the most terrifying dream.
Night hags have a particular affinity for dreams and Dal Quor. For a night hag, shaping a dream is like playing an instrument; it’s both art and a satisfying hobby. A night hag doesn’t HAVE to have some grand agenda in deciding to haunt a particular mortal, any more than a writer has some specific vendetta against the sheet of paper they select on which to write a story. On the other hand, they may well focus on people who draw their attention. In Droaam, Jabra has been known to buy peoples’ dreams. The simple fact is that she can haunt someone’s dreams whether they agree to it or not; but Jabra enjoys convincing a victim to agree to their torment.
Primal night hags are immortal and have existed since the dawn of time. If slain, they will reform in the demiplane known as the First Night. Ghazra’s brood can be killed, at which point they infect their killers with their nightmare curse. Each such generation grows weaker, and it’s possible that the CR 5 night hag of the Monster Manual is simply too far removed from the source to curse its killers… or it might be that they have only to enduring a single nightmare or a few nights to overcome the curse.
Primal night hags don’t require a heartstone to become ethereal. A heartstone is a focusing item that allows one of Ghazra’s brood to tap into this power, concentrating their weaker spirit.
With all that in mind, let’s consider a few specific questions.
The ECS says that Night Hags are neutral, but here you say they’re evil. Which is it?
Many ideas in the ECS have evolved over time. When I wrote that original section in the ECS, the intent was to emphasize that the night hags aren’t allied with the Lords of Dust and the overlords—that they are, ultimately, neutral. However, in retrospect, I feel that they should both be fiends and should have an evil alignment. They were born in Khyber, and on a personal level, they delight in tragedies and will unleash nightmares without remorse. We’ve called out that good people can do evil things and that evil people can do good; in the case of the night hags, they are evil beings who choose not to serve a greater good or greater evil.
The immortals of Eberron draw from a finite pool of energy and don’t reproduce. But Sora Kell has daughters, and there’s also hagblood characters. How’s this work?
Night hags can reproduce, but this doesn’t follow normal biological science and most never do. Essentially, what a night hag does in creating a child is much like how they create a nightmare; each of the Daughters of Sora Kell are, essentially, nightmares made real. It’s quite likely that the hag has to invest a certain amount of her own essence in her children, not unlike the story of Sora Ghazra. If so, Sora Kell is likely no longer as powerful as she once was, and this could explain why she’s been missing for so long.
Sora Ghazra’s children are created when a sliver of her spirit reshapes a mortal body. The weaker the are, the more mortal they are; the least of these hags might be able to have children in the normal way, though these children wouldn’t be night hags.
Night hags can trap mortal souls in soul bags. Why do they want mortal souls?
Trapping souls is hardly unheard of in Eberron. Sora Maenya isn’t a night hag, but she’s known for trapping the souls of her victims in their skulls and keeping them. She doesn’t DO anything with them; she just likes collecting them. Sora Teraza traps souls in books, cataloguing the life of the subject. This is the model for night hags. Some may bind captured souls into objects, keeping a collection of soul-bound dolls, for example. Others may weave the souls into acts of magic. For example…
What’s the origin of nightmares (the monsters) in Eberron? Do they have a connection to night hags?
Nightmares are fiends that protect their riders from fire and allow them to travel between the planes. The first nightmares were created by Sora Azhara, a primal night hag with a particular love of Fernia. She crafted the first nightmares by fusing literal nightmares with the ashes of the Demon Wastes and mortal souls. A few of her sisters admired her creations, delighting in their ability to carry mortals into dangerous places, and created nightmares of their own. Any creature capable of casting nightmare could potentially learn the ritual for creating a nightmare. This requires a bound mortal soul slain by nightmares; ashes from the Demon Waste; and a living equine creature, which serves as the physical framework. This is the origin of the tortured pegasus story—but the victim doesn’t have to be a pegasus. A creature who’s soul is bound into a nightmare can’t be raised from the dead by any means until the nightmare is destroyed; the soul is however preserved from Dolurrh while bound. Typically, the mortal spirit is unconscious and oblivious to the passage of time during this binding.
What does it mean that the primal night hags serve as ambassadors? If there were thirteen of them, did they have ties to specific planes?
“Ambassador” isn’t an official title. Night hags are capable of moving across planes, something that’s uncomfortable for most native immortals. Essentially, they spend a lot of time traveling—they are in part driven by curiosity—and they know people. The dragons and fiends of the Age of Demons found it useful to have a recognized neutral force, and the night hags enjoyed being a part of the story. This continues today. The night hag Jabra knows thousands of immortals through the time she’s spent at the Immeasurable Market. A random lesser night hag may know a number of quori—some friends, some rivals. Sora Azhara has a love of Fernia and is a regular guest at the parties of the efreet. But this is ultimately an informal role, more “I know a hag who knows a guy” than being officially appointed by the Progenitors or anything like that.
That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters both for making these articles possible and for suggesting the topic; in my monthly call for questions, someone asked “Night Hags! Just Night Hags!“… So here we are! If you want to have a chance to shape future topics and help insure that there are more articles, pitch in at my Patreon.
Also: I am continuing to work on Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, and TONIGHT (Wednesday September 8th) I’m kicking off a new stream to playtest the material. It’s part of the Fugue State stream, which I play in with Colin Meloy and Chris Funk of the Decemberists, Charlie Chu of Oni Press, Han Duong, and Jennifer Kretchmer. It’s going to run for about six weeks and the first episode is TONIGHT, so if you want to see it kick off, drop by the Twogether Studios Twitch channel at 7:30 PM Pacific Time! This is a very casual stream—basically just our home game in action—but I’m sure it will be fun!
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions from patrons. Here’s a recent one…
Is there anything going on in the Barren Sea beyond well… A lack of anything really? What would that be?
Good question! The Player’s Guide to Eberron has this to say:
The Barren Sea is so called because it is poor for fishing and devoid of apparent life. Hideous monsters are said to inhabit its depths—but sailors make that claim about all ten seas. In fact, sailors have more to fear from storms, icebergs in the north, and unpredictable winds than they do from any living thing in the Barren Sea. In addition to the mundane risks of storm and calm, the Barren Sea is known for scattered areas of dead calm—areas of perfectly still water, sometimes suffused with negative energy that attracts undead.
The Eberron Campaign Guide adds this…
The Barren Sea is home to dark and sinister fiends that dwell in horrid cities far below the waves… and tremendous storms send ships to splinter against the rocky shore (of the Demon Wastes).
The Thunder Sea is home to powerful civilizations, and those who cross it will have to deal with the sahuagin or sea elves. The Lhazaar Sea is more chaotic, home to pirates, drake hunters, elemental islands, and all manner of monstrosities. The Barren Sea tells a different story. As its name suggests, it seems to be almost lifeless. The Barren Sea isn’t a resource to be harvested; it’s a deadly obstacle to be crossed, an aquatic desert. It’s for this reason that you don’t see the equivalent of Rhiavhaar or the Lhazaar Principalities on the coasts around the Barren Sea; there’s no fishing, nothing to draw people into the water. The people of Ohr Kaluun, Nulakhesh, and the lands now known as Droaam largely ignored the Barren Sea. Today, the Riedran province of Corvagura is an important port that supports shipping to and from Riedra’s interests in western Khorvaire and Xen’drik, and many of Riedra’s merchant sailors are Corvaguran; but there are no fishing boats in the Barren Sea.
So why is the Barren Sea so barren? The practical explanation is hypersalinity. The waters of the Barren Sea have almost ten times the salt content of the other seas of Eberron. Few plants or animals can survive in these waters. A side effect of this is that the waters of the Barren Sea are surprisingly buoyant; anyone swimming in the Barren Sea has advantage on checks made to stay afloat. But while the salt content explains why the sea is devoid of life, the larger question is why is the water so salty? Hypersalinity is usually caused by mineral deposits, but that’s not a factor here. The mystery is further compounded by the fact that the majority of the Barren Sea is shielded from divination (including the psionic clairsentience techniques employed by Riedrans). A massive nondetection effect blankets the barren waters and anything upon them. Sages can’t explore the Barren Sea with scrying, Tharashk prospectors can’t sense what lies beneath the waves, and even commune can’t unlock the secrets of the Barren Sea. Mystical navigation tools become unreliable in barren waters, and navigators must be prepared to use mundane techniques. Taken together, the hypersalinity and nondetection effect are clearly unnatural. The cause of these effects is explored later in this article.
Calm and Still, Merchant and Spy
So, back to the original question… What goes on in the Barren Sea? You won’t encounter dragon turtles or merfolk there, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean that it’s boring and uniform. Here’s a few of the things you can find.
Deadly Storms. The Player’s Guide to Eberron calls out the risk of storms and “unpredictable winds.” it later specifies that these are “mundane risks”—so while storms are always a risk on the Barren Sea, they aren’t as dramatic as the Lamannia-fueled storms of the Thunder Sea. The exception is to the north, where the ECG notes the “tremendous storms” that can dash a ship against the Demon Wastes; along this cursed coast, the weather is enhanced and twisted by the malevolent powers bound in the Wastes.
Dead Calm. The southern Barren Sea holds a number of large manifest zones tied to Mabar. Normally Mabaran manifest zones can be recognized by their impact on flora and fauna, but in the Barren Sea there’s no native life to use as a yardstick. As called out in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, these Mabaran zones create areas of unnatural calm. Winds die and currents are diverted. Some of these share Mabar’s trait of Eternal Shadows; in such regions all bright light is reduced to dim light, and ships must make their way through this gloom.
As noted in PGtE, regions of dead calm are often inhabited by undead. Zombies, skeletons, and other undead can be found—animated corpses both of travelers and of strange creatures from deep below the poisoned waters. However, the most common form of undead are shadows. Superstition holds that within the dead calm, the shadows of sailors can come to life and kill their owners, persisting even after killing the mortal who cast them. There are countless tales of merchants stumbling on ghost ships inhabited solely by shadows. In the annals of the Wayfinder Foundation, Lord Boroman ir’Dayne discovers a massive graveyard of ships in the Barren Sea, including vessels that seemed to be the ships of giants and Dhakaani galleys. According to the story, Boroman’s own ship was overrun by shadows and he was forced to abandon his vessel and flee. His dinghy was overturned and his friends consumed by “shadow sharks,” but—at least according to the tale—Boroman managed to swim for days and made landfall in the Demon Wastes (which is a story in its own right). Though he tried, ir’Dayne was never able to find the graveyard again.
Still Water. While there are Mabaran manifest zones across the Barren Sea, to the north they are outnumbered by manifest zones tied to Risia. These zones are unnaturally cold, home to unexpected icebergs and creeping ice that can potentially trap slower vessels. Such zones have Risa’s Lethal Cold trait as described in Exploring Eberron. A few of the largest manifest zones have the Preservation trait; any creature or object that is completely encased in this Risian ice is kept in stasis, ignoring the passage of time. Travelers or entire ships could be found trapped in such an iceberg: fiends or dragons from the first age of the world, Sarlonan refugees fleeing the Sundering, or more recent sailors from Khorvaire. The shroud against divination makes it difficult to track such prisoners from afar… but there are wonders waiting to be found.
Known Threats and Dangerous Paths. Over the centuries, sailors have charted safe paths through the Barren Sea, identifying deadly manifest zones and plotting routes that avoid them. There are three primary routes used by Riedran ships and Lyrandar vessels, and with a reliable map and a good navigator you can follow such a path and avoid the planar threats. However, many independent captains—smugglers, spies, Adaran vessels avoiding Riedran patrols—pride themselves on knowing shorter paths. Such routes can save you time and avoid contact with other vessels… but a false map can lead you into still water or a shadowy end. Even if route is good, since these paths are less traveled there’s a greater chance of running across an intermittent manifest zone that was dormant when the cartographer passed through. When you leave the known paths you may encounter deadly threats—but it’s in these dangerous regions that you might find ghost ships laden with treasure or ancient wonders preserved in Risian ice.
Merchants and Soldiers. There is a regular stream of legitimate traffic across the Barren Sea. In the south, merchants and cargo ships travel between Dar Jin, Dar Qat, Stormreach, and Sharn. A northern route connects Dar Jin and Dar Kel to Aundair and points east. The majority of these ships are Riedran, though Lyrandar and other vessels are mixed in. Diplomats and scholars can also be found making their way across the sea. Riedran frigates patrol the trade routes, ever watchful for pirates and smugglers. While Riedran soldiers aren’t inherently hostile to the people of Khorvaire, they may stop and board any vessel they suspect of smuggling or of supporting the enemies of Riedra—notably, the kalashtar.
Smugglers, Spies, and Pirates. The steady stream of merchant vessels provide an inviting targets for pirates in the Barren Sea. Riedran frigates are ever vigilant, but the shrouding effect of the barren waters makes it possible for pirates to evade pursuit by plunging into uncharted waters. Of course, this means risking the dangers of a dead calm or still waters, but there are always those willing to take that risk. Given the dangers, the Barren Sea isn’t exactly teeming with pirates, but those who manage to thrive in these dangerous waters are often quite capable.
The shrouding effect also makes the Barren Sea a haven for smugglers—including the Dream Merchants of Riedran, Adarans making to or from Khorvaire, and others—and spies, whether they’re spying on Riedra, Droaam, or elsewhere. Conspiracy theorists claim that many dragonmarked houses maintain secret facilities on platforms in the Barren Sea, places where they can defy the Korth Edicts.
Sahuagin. The hypersalinity of the Barren Sea is just as deadly to the sahuagin as it is to other creatures, and the Eternal Dominion of the Thunder Sea doesn’t extend into these western waters. However, there are a few sahuagin clans scattered across the very edges of the Barren Sea. Each of these small enclaves have their own unique cultures; some are peaceful, others vicious and cruel. The most dangerous of these are the Sa’arlaath, “The All Consuming”; these sahuagin dwell on the coast of the Demon Wastes and have been twisted by fiendish powers. The Sa’arlaath raid vessels that pass over their terrain, but most of the sahuagin of the Thunder Sea remain in isolation in the deep, ignoring both the people of the surface and those who dwell in the deepest depths of the Barren Sea—the Kuo-Toa.
The Kuo-Toa: Dreamers in the Deep
The upper waters of the Barren Sea are deadly, but descend far enough and the salinity of the water drops. It is here that adventurers can discover the “sinister fiends that dwell in horrid cities far below the waves” mentioned in the Eberron Campaign Guide. Those creatures that dwell on the ocean floor aren’t literal fiends, but their realm is a terrifying array of nightmares. This is the domain of the Kuo-toa.
While the upper waters of the Barren Sea are close to Mabar and Risia, the depths of the ocean once held powerful manifest zones tied to Dal Quor, the region of dreams. A unique species evolved in this region. All mortals of Eberron possess a connection to Dal Quor, glimpsing the Realm of Dreams when they sleep. But these creatures possessed a far deeper connection; they existed in both realms simultaneously, perceiving both dream and reality at all times. They called themselves the Quor-Toa, the People of Dreams. Beyond their power to perceive Dal Quor, within the manifest zones below the Barren Sea, the Quor-Toa could draw the essence of Dal Quor into reality and shape it, sculpting tools, structures, and servants from the stuff of dreams. Their deep empire was a place of impossible wonders, of spectacles dragons and giants could only dream of. Yet because they could only work these wonders in manifest zones to Dal Quor, the Quor-Toa never sought to spread out into other lands or seas. They defended their territory, and it is for this reason that few giant explorers ever reached Sarlona; there are records in Cul’sir accounts that describe the glories glimpsed below the waves of the “Golden Sea” and of the godlike beings that defended it. In the end, the giants destroyed the Quor-Toa without even meaning to. Forty thousand years ago the giants severed the ties between Eberron and Dal Quor, as a way to end their conflict with the quori. In the process, they destroyed the Quor-Toa. As the manifest zones tied to Dal Quor were stripped of power, the dream-towers of the Quor-Toa melted away and the fishfolk themselves suffered devastating psychic trauma. Their civilization collapsed into chaos. It took generations to recover from the shock, and the survivors weren’t the people they had once been. Their knowledge had been storied in libraries of dreams, vaults that were shattered and lost. Their psychic gifts had been twisted. They were no longer the Quor’Toa; they had become kuo-toa, the fallen people.
Following Two Paths
The kuo-toa have never regained the power of their ancestors. The energies of Dal Quor no longer flow naturally into Eberron. But the kuo-toa still possess a stronger connection to Dal Quor than any other mortal creature. Most mortal creatures describe the kuo-toa as “mad”, but the truth is far more complicated. Where most mortals only glimpse Dal Quor when they sleep, the kuo-toa perceive both realms simultaneously; they are ALWAYS dreaming, experiencing the dream overlaid over reality. This has a few effects.
A kuo-toa can always be targeted by the dream spell, even while it is awake.
A kuo-toa experiences two realities at once—the physical world and Dal Quor. Thus, when a kuo-toa is dealing with an adventurer, it is also dealing with whatever dream occupies the same space as the adventurer in its vision. It could be holding a fish and describe it as a sword, because in Dal Quor, it is holding a sword. To the kuo-toa, both realities are equally real. It is a sword AND a fish. And the kuo-toa could be fighting a monster in Dal Quor while also talking to an adventurer; so while it appears to be waving a fish around, it is fighting a nightmare with a mighty sword.
This is the source of the Otherworldly Perception trait of the 5E kuo-toa; they perceive invisible and ethereal entities through their echoes in the dream.
If a kuo-toa is slain in Dal Quor, it loses its perception of Dal Quor until it completes a short rest. There’s no other negative consequence; it’s essentially no different from a human being killed in their dream and waking up.
The kuo-toa of Eberron speak Quori instead of Undercommon. They have no ties to the creatures of Khyber, and they learned Quori long ago from their dreams.
While they lack both the resources and the knowledge of their ancestors, the kuo-toa still possess supernatural powers tied to their dual existence. Kuo-toa seers have a sharpened form of their Otherworldly Perception, seeing dream visions that reveal secrets about the waking world; a seer might manifest true seeing—seeing a shapeshifter’s true form as a dream aura around it—or other divination effects. Kuo-toa shapers can cast illusion or conjuration spells by pulling dreams into reality, often without fully understanding that this is what they’re doing. This is just a shadow of the power they wield as a community, which is discussed below. But there’s a second aspect that’s crucial to understanding the kuo-toa. They experience Dal Quor and Eberron at once. But they don’t just dream any dreams. For whatever reason, nightmares are drawn to the kuo-toa. They aren’t just always dreaming, they’re always experiencing nightmares. And this in turn shapes the way they interact with the world.
Gods & Monsters
A single kuo-toa might have the power to draw a wisp of dream into reality to create a minor illusion. But as kuo-toa join together, their collective unconscious amplifies their nightmares—and they can bring these things into reality. Kuo-toa cities are ruled by gods they have dreamed into being, but these aren’t the gods they have chosen; they are deities built from their fears. Every kuo-toa deity is unique, and they shape their cities to match their nature. Hence, “sinister fiends that dwell in horrid cities beneath the waves”—for the gods of the kuo-toa make harsh demands on their people. Beyond their gods, the kuo-toa dream other horrors into existence. They may dream creatures that have the abilities of krakens or aboleths (though not their exact shapes or motivations), or entirely new abominations. Such monsters might serve the local deity, or they could simply rise to the surface to prey on unwary travelers. So in truth you never know what you’ll find in the Barren Sea… because the kuo-toa in the deeps could dream up a unique nightmare that’s never been seen before and which will never be seen again.
Kuo-toa and Quori
It might seem like the Dreaming Dark would love the kuo-toa and would exert power over them; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Consider than in the Age of Giants, the Quor-Toa were in a realm close to Dal Quor, and yet the Quori came to Xen’drik instead. Why not travel through this open gateway? Because the quori of the past feared the Quor-Toa, just as those of the present fear the koa-toa. Because the koa-toa shape dreams, pulling the essence of the Dal Quor into reality and bending it to their will. The kuo-toa gods began as quori—but they have no control over the situation, and are forced to play out the roles the kuo-toa have set for them. This isn’t something the kuo-toa do consciously, and they can’t choose NOT to do it. But the quori are aware of the kuo-toa and stay far away from the ocean deeps.
The Barren Truth
The beginning of this article raised a question: why is the Barren Sea so barren? What is the cause of the focused hypersalinity, and what is it that blocks divination? Scholars on land have advanced many theories. Clearly it’s the work of the dragons of Argonnessen, an epic curse like those unleashed against Xen’drik. Obviously it’s the handiwork of the Daelkyr. Or maybe there’s an unbound overlord in the water and this is its domain. Any of these ideas are plausible, and a DM could choose any one of them. But in my campaign, the Barren Sea is a nightmare of the kuo-toa. Collectively, they see the world as a barren place of death, and it is this shared nightmare that actively poisons the waters above them. This is part of the wounded psyche of the species, and it’s not something that could be changed by a few friendly conversations. On the other hand, if Dal Quor itself were to change—if il-Lashtavar were to give way to il-Yannah and an Age of Light—perhaps the Great Light could heal the kuo-toa and life could return to the Barren Sea.
So, back to the original question… What goes on in the Barren Sea? Pirates! Smugglers! Getting boarded by Riedran soldiers who want to inspect your cargo! Ghost ships filled with shadows! Finding an ancient couatl frozen in an iceberg! A secret Cannith research platform! A nightmare from the depths! Or, perhaps, a visit to a city deep beneath the waves, where a nightmare deity rules over people poised between two worlds…
What’s Common Knowledge?
The people of the surface world know almost nothing about the kuo-toa. They know exactly what the ECG suggested—that there are “fiends in horrid cities” at the bottom of the Barren Sea. To this point, the nightmare deities of the kuo-toa have kept their dreaming subjects in the depths—and the major trade routes used by Riedra and Khorvaire don’t pass over kuo-toa cities. So how will adventurers discover what lies below? Adventurers venturing through uncharted waters could be shipwrecked by a nightmare and drawn into the depths. A dragonmarked research platform could shift the focus of a kuo-toa god, causing it to focus its wrath on the world above. A kalashtar could be urged to venture below by visions from il-Yannah; could the kuo-toa play a vital role in the turning of the age? And what affect might the kuo-toa dreamers have on a kalashtar’s quori spirit?
How powerful are the Kuo-Toa gods?
It depends on the community they’re tied to. A small outpost might have a “god” with the power of a pit fiend. For the major cities, I’d personally use this as an opportunity to repurpose the statistics of existing archfiends; this would be a fine place to have a version of Demogorgon or Asmodeus, thought I’d definitely give them some distinct kuo-toa flavoring. The main thing is that their power is definitely geographically limited; while Blibdolpoop/Demogorgon might be extremely powerful in their domain, they couldn’t leave it and go attack Sharn. It’s a little like the Undying Court, except that the kuo-toa gods feed on the nightmares of their people instead of on their love.
Maps are inconsistent across editions. Some maps show the Barren Sea extending all the way to the Dagger River; others present it further west. Where do you draw the line for the “Barren” waters?
The general description of the Barren Sea is that it is “west of Khorvaire, northwest of Xen’drik and east of Sarlona.” If you consider the most recent map—page 104-105 of Rising From The Last War—the labeling of the Thunder Sea is significantly southwest of the Dagger River and Manta Bay. I’m inclined to say that the barren waters start just to the west of Zarash Bay. So Zarash Bay has standard water, but the Bay of Madness and the western coastline of the Shadow Marches are barren water.
How does that even work? Shouldn’t currents disperse the high-saline water? Nature doesn’t just stop at an arbitrary border.
That is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. The point is that there is nothing natural about this. Hypersalinity is an effect that can be found in the natural world based on mineral deposits in closed bodies of water. But this ISN’T a bounded body of water and there’s no clear mineral deposits that could cause it. Likewise, the fact that it STOPS when you do deep enough is entirely unnatural. And keep in mind that once the giants referred to it as the “Golden Sea.” The hypersalinity is a natural effect that is being created and sustained by a supernatural force. When the waters of the Barren Sea are flow out of the Barren Sea, the charged salinity fades. If the science of this is troubling, you can just think of it as “magical death water.”
Since it’s so barren, what do the kuo-toa eat? Do they dream food into existence?
The Quor-Toa dreamt food into existence. The kuo-toa don’t have quite such perfect control; it’s possible that there are kuo-toa shapers who can cast effects like goodberry, create food, or even heroes’ feast by conjuring food from dreams, but this is a rare gift and isn’t enough to sustain a city. The main point is that the barren water ENDS when you go deep enough; there is flora and fauna in the depths. Much of it is unusual—shaped over time by kuo-toa nightmares—but there’s definitely edible plants and fish.
That’s all for now! I am traveling at the moment with limited internet and there is a good chance that I will not be able to answer many questions on this article, though I’m happy for people to pose questions and discuss them in the comments. Thanks to my Patreon supporters both for suggesting the topic and for making it possible for me to write it; it’s only this support that allows me to spend time on articles like this.
July is quickly fading, but as time allows I want to answer a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, people asked about a pair of priests—High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane and Zerasha of Graywall.
Dealing with the Divine
Krozen and Zerasha are both powerful divine spellcasters. In third edition, Krozen was defined as a 12th level cleric of the Silver Flame, making him one of the most powerful clerics in canon Khorvaire. While never defined, Zerasha is supposed to be similar in her power—a priest respected and feared by a city of monsters and the mind flayer who governs it. Given that most priests in Khorvaire are adepts—or don’t even cast spells at all—I want players to feel how remarkable these individuals are when they encounter them. A powerful wizard is essentially a scientist, someone who uses logic and knowledge to break the laws of reality. A powerful divine caster is something else. Both Zerasha and Krozen are the chosen agents of cosmic powers. The Sovereigns and Six are omnipresent forces. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals, and Zerasha is one of its chief agents. Krozen can command the dead to return to life or call celestials from the essence of the Silver Flame. We can debate the existence of the Sovereigns, but the Silver Flame is the force that stands between Eberron and the overlords, and Krozen is a conduit for its power. These aren’t just people who have learned how to perform magic tricks. They arethe chosen agents of vast cosmic forces. If you’ll pardon the phrase, they are burdened with glorious purpose.
But how do you make the powerful priest feel different from a wizard or a prince? This is something I discuss at more length in this article. One of the key points is to separate the way divine NPCs cast spells from how player characters do it. We need the structure of the classes for player characters because we need tactical precision, and I’m fine to say that in combat, Krozen casts spells as a 12th level cleric. But outside of combat I don’t feel that he needs to engage with his magic in the same way as a player character. The most common divine spellcasters—adepts—function much like magewrights; they have a specific set of cantrips and spells they can cast and that’s all they can cast. A typical spellcasting priest might be able to cast thaumaturgy, light, and ceremony. There are specialist adepts—oracles who can cast divination, healers who can perform lesser restoration—but the oracle can’t just decide to become a healer in the morning. They have been granted a divine gift, and they can’t exchange it for another one. More powerful spellcasters like Zerasha and Krozen aren’t limited like this, but they also don’t call their divinity on the phone each morning and make spell requests. Their divine power source grants them the spells they need when they need them, provided the request is justified. Krozen doesn’t prepare zone of truth ahead of time, but if he formally demands you speak the truth in the light of the Flame, zone of truth happens. Essentially, his spells are selected on the fly to match the situation he finds himself in. But the contrast is that he doesn’t have the freedom a PC has to request any spell.The Flame may empower Krozen to raise someone from the dead or to smite them with a flame strike, but in spite of his effective level it’s not going to grant him the power to create undead or to cast contagion; these aren’t the tools of a righteous servant of the Flame, and if you DO see a Flame priest using such spells, it’s a clear sign that they are actually a servant of the Whispering Flame or a warlock hacking the Flame. Krozen may take actions we consider evil, but he believes his actions are righteous in the light of the Flame; he’s not drawing on malefic powers.
Divination is another important example. With the spellcasting power of a 12th level cleric, Krozen could technically cast commune three times a day, along with a batch of auguries. And that’s how things work for PCs. But Krozen doesn’t just have some magic hotline that he can dial three times per day. He can’t just call up Tira Miron and say “Does Boranel dye his hair? Yes? I KNEW it!” It’s not some sort of abstract, scientific tool that he can just use for whatever random, trivial detail he wants to know. But the flip side is that he may simply receive information that he needs—that he can receive divine visions. Even when he doesn’t cast augury, he may suddenly KNOW that a decision he’s about to make could lead to disaster. Even without commune, he might KNOW the truth about a situation. This is especially relevant for Zerasha, because part of what defines the Shadow is dangerous secrets. Consider this description of the Shadow from this article:
As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost.
So It’s not that Zerasha sits down and says “I want to know secrets about this player character” and casts commune or some other divination spell; it’s that when the players come before her, she simply DOES know who killed the paladin’s parents and why the rogue murdered their partner, because that’s part of what it means to be the voice of the Shadow.
The short form is that when dealing with NPCs who are powerful divine spellcasters, I want them to FEEL like they are conduits to powers far greater than they are. When Krozen demands that you speak the truth, zone of truth happens. When he barks out an order, it may become a command, because that’s the power that flows through him. I want the powerful priest to feel larger then life, because at the end of the day they are the conduits for something that IS larger than life.
Now, reading all this, you might say “But I thought Eberron was the setting where we don’t know if the gods even exist.” We know that deities don’t walk the world in Eberron. You will never have a chance to punch Aureon in the face. But we know that divine power sources exist. We know that priests have been drawing on the POWER of Aureon for tens of thousands of years, and that in part because of this, most people believe divine forcesexist. They may argue about details; the Cazhaak interpretation of the Dark Six is quite different from how they’re depicted in the Pyrinean Creed. Butmost people believe in SOME form of divinity, and part of the reason for that is the fact that divine magic exists.
With all of this in mind, you might say “If that’s how you handle NPC priests, why don’t you deal with player character clerics in the same way?” I offer some suggestions in that direction in this article. But fifth edition embraces the idea that NPCs and PCs don’t have to follow the same rules. Part of being a player character is having flexibility and tactical control. It’s about having the ability to make choices. I’ve played campaigns in which divine characters CHOSE to give me more control over their spells—embracing the idea that the powers were gifts they didn’t fully control—but that was a choice they made that fit the story of that character. But one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable, and I have no problem with them having a greater degree of versatility and precision than most other servants of the divine.
Having worked through that, let’s talk about the two specific priests that people have asked about…
Who is High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane?
Our blessed child is the Keeper of the Flame and shows us all the path to the light. But I am the keeper of the nation, and if I must toil in the darkness to ensure its prosperity, so be it.
High Cardinal Krozen
People have lots of questions about Cardinal Krozen of Thrane. What’s his first name? Does he realize he’s evil? Does he believe in a greater good—or for that matter, does he even believe in the Silver Flame? What makes him more important than the other 11 High Cardinals of the Church? These are all good questions. I’ve always liked Krozen, but my vision of him is quite different from how he’s evolved in canon sources. I know what I originally planned for him when we first created the character, and that’s how I use him, so I’ll lay that out here. Keep in mind that this directly contradicts multiple canon sources (which, admittedly, contradict themselves on some points). This is MY interpretation and I am not going to reconcile it with what other authors have done with the character; it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer.
My original vision of High Cardinal Thrane was loosely inspired by Cardinal Richelieu as depicted in The Three Musketeers—a ruthless man who is engaged in sly intrigues, but who is nonetheless an extremely capable leader, perhaps moreso than the king the protagonists serve. It was always my vision that Cardinal Krozen was devoted to Thrane and that he performs his duties exceptionally well—that he is a brilliant strategist and a charismatic orator. But this is tied to the idea that he truly believes that he knows what is best for the nation. The basic dictate of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Where Jaela recognizes that this applies to ALL innocents, regardless of their faith or nationality, Krozen believes that you aren’t innocent unless you’re a Thrane and a servant of the faith, and don’t oppose him. He DOES fight to protect the innocent—but only those HE decides are innocent.
So I see Cardinal Krozen as a remarkable man—one of the player characters of his generation. He’s human and I see him as being about fifty years old. The details of his youth—and, in fact, his first name—aren’t generally known; the general story is that he lived on the Aundairian border and that the Flame granted him the power to perform great deeds, first in the defense of his village and then as a templar. He was always charismatic and intelligent, but beyond that, his divinepower was always remarkable; when he called on the Flame, he gained the power to smite his foes. In his early twenties he rose out of the templars and into the hierarchy of the church, turning his gifts to leadership behind the scenes rather than fighting on the battlefield. From there, his star rose and rose; those who opposed him were either won over by his charisma or driven from his path, one way or another.
Part of the core idea of Krozen is that he represents the danger of Thrane becoming a theocracy—that in doing so it drags the church into the management of temporal matters and political concerns. The idea of Thrane is that Jaela Daran represents the pure ideals of the faith—while Cardinal Krozen deals with political realities. Again, Jaela does believe that “protect the innocent” applies to all people—that Krozen believes that it can only be applied to the faithful and to Thranes. It’s not that he is a vile, selfish person; but he has blended his faith with his devotion to his nation and places the good of Thrane over all others. Beyond this, Krozen very much has a Chosen One mentality. He possesses immense divine power, and in his mind this proves his righteousness. He believes he was given this power to serve the interests of Thrane, and the fact that he still wields that power proves that he is right to do so. He will crush others who get in his way—even other priests or templars—because he believes, again, that those who oppose him aren’t innocent.
In considering all this, take a moment to think about the Shadow in the Flame. There are those—the Whispering Flame cultists—who knowingly choose to serve Bel Shalor. But the true power of the Shadow in the Flame is its ability to piggyback on the Voice of the Flame and to pour poison in the ears of the truly faithful. Bel Shalor loves to erode empathy and to convince people to do evil when they only seek to do good. The Shadow in the Flame reveled in the suffering caused by the Silver Crusade, and Bel Shalor undoubtedly sees Cardinal Krozen as a valuable tool. The question for the DM to decide is how much of a hold does Bel Shalor have over the Cardinal? In MY Eberron, Krozen KNOWS the dangers posed by the Shadow of the Flame; all the faithful do. And with that in mind, he does his best to resist those impulses; he knows that he does questionable things (like, you know, torture and murder…) but he truly believes that he is acting for the greater good and that he’s NOT a tool of the Shadow in the Flame. But in your campaign you could decide that he HAS fallen prey to Bel Shalor’s whispers and no longer realizes the evil he is doing… or even go further and decide that he is a priest of the Whispering Flame. Personally I prefer to follow the shades-of-grey model, to say that while Krozen does evil things, he only does them when pursuing the interests of Thrane—that he always believes his actions are justified. I like the idea that Krozenknows he walks a dark path, but that he believes it is the path the Flame has set him on, and that at the end of the day he is protecting the innocent—even if he has had to sacrifice his own innocence to do it.
Now, some people may be say “That’s all fine, but who IS he?” Krozen is one of the high cardinals of Thrane. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting…
This group of powerful church leaders administers both the workings of the church and the functions of the government. In theory, the cardinals answer to the Keeper of the Flame. In practice, they run the church and the government, only dealing with the Keeper on issues that require divine attention and interaction with the Voice of the Flame. The cardinals believe that they know best when it comes to running the government and the church, and they leave the Keeper to deal with the well-being of the spirit of the nation. This arrangement has led to problems between the Council and the Keeper in the past, but the current Keeper seems interested more in divine and spiritual matters than the intricacies of secular administration.
There may be twelve High Cardinals, but Krozen is the effective leader of the Council—and thus, of Thrane. If you have a divine problem, talk to Jaela. But if you’re looking into the deployment of Thrane troops or about getting more resources for Rellekor, it’s Krozen who can get things done. The general idea is that Krozen is in many ways the opposite of Jaela. Where the Keeper is compassionate, the Cardinal is ruthless. The Cardinal is a master of political intrigue, while Jaela prefers honest dealing. Jaela wants what’s best for all innocents; Krozen cares only for Thrane.
The final thing I’ll call about about Krozen is this: If there’s twelve high cardinals, why is he the leader? What makes him special? The short answer is that what makes him special is that he IS special. Again, not all priests are spellcasters at all, and in a world where everyday magic goes to 3rd level, a 12th level spellcaster is remarkable. He can raise the dead! Those who oppose him are struck down by flame strikes! You’ve seen him shape celestials from the pure power of the Flame! And as I said, while I don’t just let him cast commune three times a day, he hears the Voice of the Flame in ways that others do not (and, of course, potentially the Shadow in the Flame as well). There’s surely other spellcasters among the cardinals, but Krozen stands out; if you look to the 3.5 statistics, he’s notably a more powerful spellcaster than the high priest of the Host and Archierophant Ythana in Sharn: City of Towers. Power alone isn’t everything, but the whole idea is that this power is matched with passion and charisma—that just like a player character, Krozen is remarkable. With this in mind, he doesn’t command the Council of Cardinals, but he has won the loyalty of the majority of its members and thus is the EFFECTIVE leader of the council. In my opinion, there’s four cardinals who are utterly devoted to him; three who believe he’s doing what’s best for Thrane; and four who don’t support him. Of these four, all believe that the Keeper shows the proper path for the nation and that Krozen’s actions are concerning; one or two may have deeper concerns, or believe that he is serving the Shadow in the Flame. So Krozen DOESN’T have absolute control of the council, but he’s effectively the leader.
Krozen as a Villain
As I’ve just spent a lot of time insisting that Krozen believes he’s acting for the good of Thrane and that he is an effective leader, you might wonder if I actually see him as a villain. I do, generally—just a villain with many layers. He performs evil deeds in pursuit of the greater good, and more than that, he is only concerned with the greater good of THRANE. When I use Krozen, I want it to be clear why people support him. I want Thranes, in particular, to feel conflicted because Krozen IS good at his job—that if the nation was guided purely by the idealistic Jaela, it would be easy prey for the machinations of Kaius, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, and the Dark Lanterns. Krozen is effective; but is that enough to justify his methods? And IS he a tool of the Shadow in the Flame, even if he refuses to see it?
Zerasha, the Voice of the Shadow
You think you know why you’re here. You think we have to be enemies. But that’s the voice of your petty and jealous Sovereigns, who fear what you could become if you follow the paths I could show you.
Zerasha of Graywall
The medusa Zerasha is a priest of the Shadow in the city of Graywall. She’s mentioned in a Dragon article, which says…
The street ends at the Eye of the Shadow, a small windowless temple formed from black stone. The medusa priestess Zerasha holds court here. A fearsome combatant and skilled ritual caster, Zerasha is the most influential voice in Graywall after Xorchylic; the people of the town have come to trust her oracular gifts. At the moment, she is an ally of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but her first loyalty is to the Shadow and to her own warlord, the Queen of Stone. Should there ever be a civil war in Graywall, the black-scaled medusa will be a force with which to be reckoned.
Backdrop: Graywall, Dragon 368
That’s the only canon information that exists on her. Since I wrote that article, people have asked: What is the priestess Zerasha’s relationship with Xorchylic? What are her goals, and what might cause those goals to become so misaligned with Xorchylic’s as to cause open conflict?
In my mind, Zerasha is truly devoted to her faith and to her Queen, in that order. As described in this article, she believes that the Shadow is the guide and guardian of those creatures followers of the Sovereigns consider monsters. Beyond this, she is what the article describes as a mentor. Acting on behalf of the Shadow, she seeks to help the faithful achieve their ambitions—even if that means following the darkest possible paths to do so. Beyond that, the Shadow is the Sovereign of secrets. As described above, she is an oracle—not as gifted in this regard as Sora Teraza, but certainly the most powerful oracle in Graywall. She knows secrets. Having said that, as I called out above, her knowledge comes from the Shadow and she doesn’t know things until she needs to know them. When she meets a player character, the Shadow may tell her their secrets; but it’s not like she just randomly knows everyone’s secrets all the time. And again, if the Shadow shares a secret with Zerasha, it’s so she can DO something with that secret.
So in terms of her goals, I believe that Zerasha’s goals are first and foremost to offer spiritual guidance to the people of Graywall and to help them achieve their true potential. Beneath that, her goals are whatever tasks the Shadow sets before her; it’s quite common for her to feel that there is a particular individual the Shadow wishes her to focus on, someone who needs to be guided on the proper path. And beneath that, her loyalty is to her queen, the medusa Sheshka, and to the people of Cazhaak Draal.
Her relationship with Xorchyllic largely depends on what the DM decides Xorchyllic is truly up to. As long as Xorchyllic is pursuing the greater good of Graywall and Droaam, Zerasha will support him. But we’ve called out that the Flayer Guard of Droaam serve the interests of the governor first and the common folk second. If Xorchyllic is somehow oppressing or harming a portion of the city in pursuit of his personal agenda, that could bring him into conflict with Zerasha. Ultimately, the question is what is the interest of the Shadow? If the Shadow supports Xorchyllic and wants the illithid to achieve its ambitions, Zerasha could work closely with the governor. On the other hand, if the Shadow is most interested in helping a lowly kobold on the Street of Shadows achieve her ambitions of overthrowing Xorchyllic and becoming a new warlord, than Zerasha would oppose the mind flayer. The same is true for player characters. What does the Shadow think of them? It could be that it favors their enemies, in which case Zerasha will oppose them. Or it could be that the Shadow has an interest in one of the adventurers and wants to show them the path to power—in which case, Zerasha who seek to serve as their mentor. But again, a mentor of the Shadow will always lead you down dangerous paths…
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.
One year ago, my Patreon supporters requested more information about the nation of Riedra. I shared a piece of this article on the site, but kept the full article as exclusive to Patreon. It’s been a year and I’m currently dealing with a personal crisis that is limiting my time, so I decided to share the full article with all of you. So, welcome to Riedra! For more context, you might want to read this article about Using Riedra in 5E or this recent article about Quori and Dreams,
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 (evil spirits), 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.
In Dor Maleer, you might…
Use a passage to Dolurrh to rescue a lost soul.
Release an ancient champion who’s been bound in ice for thousands of years.
Battle rocs or other colossal beasts.
Help a band of duergar commandos strike a blow against the inspired.
Dor Maleer is a region of harsh plains, cold deserts, and mountains. It is a barren land, only slightly more hospitable than the Tashana Tundra that lies to the north. In the days before the Sundering, the northern mountains were the domain of the Akiak dwarves, while the plains were claimed by the Hual Maleer, a loose federation of human and shifter clans.
The plains of Dor Maleer lack the resources to support large settlements, and the Hual Maleer have always lived in small communities, splitting and forming new clans when the population began to outstrip local resources. Dor Maleer contains multiple wild zones and manifest zones tied to Lamannia, but these showcase the versatility of that plane. Most people think of Lamannia as the Twilight Forest, as a plane that enhances the fertility of plants and animals… and this is a common element of Lamannian zones. But Lamannia embodies the power of nature, and that includes deadly storms, frigid tundras, raging volcanos, and more. The plains of Dor Maleer are broken up by regions of environmental extremes at odds with the surroundings. Wild zones could cause endless hurricanes, with free-roaming air elementals howling with the winds. There are vast pools of lava in the Maleeri plains, and fire elementals occasionally emerge to scorch the soil. There are also a few wild zones where the environment is more welcoming—a stretch of dense forest, an impossibly verdant valley. Maleeri hunters forage and hunt in these regions, but attempting to settle them is unwise. These zones represent the indomitable force of the wild, and resist the intrusion of civilization. Disease, accelerated decay, and hostile wildlife will all plague any would-be settlers. And hostile wildlife in these zones is quite literally a big deal. These regions produce megafauna, massive beasts similar to rocs in size and power, though they can take many forms. These powerful beasts are sterile outside their zones, and thus haven’t spread. But there are tales of ancient hunters feeding a village for a month with the corpse of a mighty bear dragged from the deep forest. These wild zones cannot be tamed, but there are a few manifest zones with less extreme effects, and these were the sites of Dor Maleer’s largest communities.
The mountains of Dor Maleer contain wild zones tied to Risia and Dolurrh. In the Risia zones, chasms are filled with ice and temperatures are far more severe than nature should allow. But the ice of Risia preserves, and time ceases to flow for creatures or objects encased in ice in such a zone. It’s possible explorers could find ancient champions from the Sundering or the days of the old kingdoms—or even a frozen dragon from the Age of Demons! The influence of Dolurrh is unpredictable. The most dramatic landmark is the Final Passage. When the moon Aryth is full, those who venture into this cavern can enter the Catacombs of Dolurrh. This offers a way to recover a soul that cannot be resurrected through normal means. But the Catacombs have guardians, and the Queen of the Dead doesn’t surrender her subjects easily.
The Frostblade (Paqaa) Mountains were the home of the Akiak dwarves, a dwarf culture that produces mountain, hill, and gray dwarves. The Akiak duergar are thought to be a mutation resulting from generations dwelling in the radius of the Dolurrh wild zones. In addition to their sensitivity to light, the Akiak duergar have an unusually strong bond to Dolurrh. This often results in a flat emotional affect; though they aren’t paralyzed by the infamous ennui of Dolurrh, the Akiak are somber by nature. Akiak duergar hear the whispers of spirits, both the voices of their own ancestors and of others who have died in the places they pass through. Largely these voices form an incomprehensible chorus. However, some Akiak duergar hone their skills and become mediums (as per the magewright specialty in Rising From The Last War). All duergar can learn to channel this babel, harnessing this choir of excess thought as pure psionic power; it’s by channeling this power that a duergar can hide itself from the perceptions of others or temporarily expand its mass. Akiak champions learn to wield this power to produce devastating effects. In the days before the Sundering, the Akiak pioneered the development of psionic tools and channeling devices; the hanbalani monoliths that ensure Inspired dominance over Riedra are based on Akiak techniques.
The Fall of Dor Maleer. Dor Maleer was never a strongly united nation. The first step for the Dreaming Dark was to build a force among the Hual Maleer—causing tensions between clans and between human and shifter. Inspired champions arose within the clans, uniting them and spreading the word of the Path of Unity. The psychic Akiak proved resistant to the manipulations of the Dreaming Dark, but the quori amplified fear and conflict between them and the people of the lowlands. As the Unity of Riedra emerged, the first true Inspired offered peace to the Akiak, and paid them handsomely for their aid in creating the hanbalani and other elements of Riedran infrastructure. But once the dwarves had served their purpose, Riedra turned on them—launching a brutal preemptive strike. Survivors were driven from their mountain home and into the Tashana Tundra.
Dor Maleer Today. This harsh frontier region can’t support the civic infrastructure that is common throughout the rest of Riedra. There is a single bastion city: Dar Vuleer, a port on Lake Kelneluun; this is in a Lamannia manifest zone that allows limited agriculture and exceptional fishing. The fortress of Kintarn Malin coordinates the defense of the northeastern border and also serves as a training center for the shifters of the Taskaan Legion. Beyond this, Maleeri villages are smaller and more loosely structured than their southern counterparts. There are relatively few hanbalani monoliths in the province and many villages don’t have the shared dreams or receive messages from the Voice. As such, while most Maleeri still support the idea of the Unity, they are not as deeply indoctrinated as the people of other provinces. Rebels from other provinces who don’t want to flee Riedra entirely might take shelter in Dor Maleer, where the Thousand Eyes aren’t watching so closely.
Because of the sparse population of Dor Maleer, the wild zones of the province don’t receive the same level of attention from the Edgewalkers as those in southern population centers. Local hunters work together to deal with rampaging megafauna, and elementals rarely stray far enough from their zones to endanger the inhabitants. The Final Passage doesn’t unleash threats into the world, and mortals who enter it almost never return; so while there are a few Edgewalker outposts monitoring the region, these zones are largely accessible to adventurers.
The Akiak were driven from the region and their towns and fortresses were destroyed; there are ruins in the mountains, though most have been picked over by Akiak rebels in the intervening centuries. As described in Secrets of Sarlona, the Akiak are currently expanding their resistance movement, even sabotaging monoliths.
Keep in Mind. The mountains are home to manifest zones and wild zones tied to Dolurrh. Unlike Mabar, Dolurrh rarely produces hostile undead. However, the mountains are certainly haunted, carrying echoes of the ancient dead. Shadows might replay powerful or emotional moments, or adventurers could stumble across battles being refought. Like speak with dead, these are typically just traces of memory—but they can certainly be eerie.
In Khalesh, you might…
Recover an artifact from a couatl tomb.
Discover a hidden enclave of shulassakar.
Channel the power of Irian to perform a crucial ritual.
Find a portal to one of the floating towers of Irian.
Khalesh is a land of temperate plains and desert—green grassland fading into sun-baked plains and mesas. While it’s more hospitable than neighboring Borunan, at a glance it’s rather barren—endless and empty. And yet, if you wander these plains, you may find yourself enveloped by a sense of well-being, a deep-rooted optimism and the knowledge that all will be well… with an underlying conviction that you’ll fight to keep it that way.
Khalesh is suffused with the energies of Irian and Shavarath. It is Irian that provides the optimism and draws people toward the light. The influence of Shavarath is slower and more subtle, but over many thousands of years it produced a culture determined not just to embrace the light, but to battle the darkness. There are a number of patches where Syrania reaches through, where the dominant mood is one of peace. But for the most part, it is a realm that breeds hope and the willingness to fight for it… two things that are very dangerous for the Inspired.
These planar influences aren’t the only supernatural force at play in Khalesh. Glance across a Khalesh plain and you may see what seems to be a giant bone projecting from the earth—a fallen column of what seems to be polished ivory. The locals call these “dragon bones”, saying they are the bones of Eberron herself. But search further and you may find patches of wall, foundations, or even small buildings formed from this dragonbone. It is virtually indestructible and seemingly immune to the passage of time. It’s not made from the bones of the earth; it is a building substance used by the ancient couatl, the most numerous of the native celestials of Eberron. Khalesh is one of the places that the couatl came into the world in the Age of Demons, one of the anchors where these immortals would reform if they were destroyed. In a sense, it’s the celestial counterpart to the Demon Wastes of Khorvaire; a place suffused with lingering celestial power.
The humans of Khalesh built their cities on couatl foundations, and Khaleshi champions had visions of the celestial serpents and their great sacrifice to protect the innocent. The couatl graced the banner of Khalesh, and its people took up their ancient battle against fiends. And so all three factors played a part. The Khaleshites drew on the power of the Silver Flame and embraced the call to fight supernatural evil. Irian inspired them with hope and the belief that they could build a better world. And Shavarath drove them to FIGHT for that world—to push beyond the purely compassionate aspects of the Silver Flame and to use the sword to battle mortal evil as well as fiends.
The Khaleshite crusaders wielded the power of the Silver Flame, but they didn’t call it by that name. They fall under what the Library of Korranberg has defined as a “Serpent Cult”—focused purely on the celestial couatl and their battle against the fiends. Precedent suggests that the Khaleshites must have had their own equivalent of the Voice of the Flame, but few details of the ancient champions remain. The people of Khalesh were constantly clashing with their neighbors. They fought supernatural threats, battling aberrations from Khyber, destroying undead, smashing extraplanar threats. But they were unduly proud of their virtue, and the pervasive influence of Shavarath drove them to fight—to look for flaws in the people around them. They fought the tyrants of Nulakhesh, clashed with the reavers of Rhiavhaar and the bandits of Sunyagir, and battled the beasts of Borunan. In periods when they were at peace with Nulakesh, they would join forces to attach Ohr Kaluun… which, to be fair, certainly deserved it.
So Khaleshite civilization was built around constant conflict, blended with a sense of moral superiority and an endless quest toward the light. Khalesh was a virtuous society, but all too quick to draw a sword when a compassionate word could better serve.
The Fall of Khalesh. Khalesh was always deeply unpopular with its neighbors, so it wasn’t hard for the quori to harness that resentment. But they had another card to play. Quori agents revealed that the noble families of Khalesh had long concealed a bizarre secret: that over the course of untold generations of devotion to the serpent cult, Khaleshite champions had become something inhuman. The Khaleshite leadership was riddled with shulassakar, a feathered form of yuan-ti tied to the couatl. While the shulassakar were devoted servants of the light, through dreams and agents the quori were able to twist this, convincing the common people that the shulassakar were monstrous alien invaders, that THEY were fiends and that the corrupted bloodlines of Khalesh had to be completely exterminated. And, to a large degree, they were. The Inspired largely depopulated the region and leveled its cities—fortified citadels built in manifest zones tied to Irian and Shavarath. All couatl relics that could be found were destroyed, and records of the virtuous victories of the Khaleshites were wiped from history.
Khalesh Today. The current inhabitants of Khalesh are descended from people resettled from the forgotten nations of the Syrkarn region. The modern people of Khalesh shun the ancient ruins and know that the ancient people were corrupted by the vile spirits in the region, and they are especially observant in their devotion to the Path of Inspiration. A few of the Kintam fortresses are built in manifest zones tied to Shavarath, but people are forbidden to enter the powerful wild zones, and these areas are patrolled by the Edgewalkers; all know that the sense of hope one feels around these areas is the lure of fiends trying to set hooks in your soul.
Khalesh has the potential to be especially interesting for any adventurers tied to the Silver Flame. The Khaleshite faith was closer to that of the Pure Flame than to the modern church of the Silver Flame; the Shavaran influence drove them toward unnecessary violence. But there are still relics that will respond to the touch of anyone who channels the power of the Flame. There is surely a holy avenger waiting in a tomb, and there could be couatl artifacts that might help a party that needs to bind demons or resist the power of the Lords of Dust. This is also an opportunity to introduce new spells, feats, or archetypes added in a new sourcebook; perhaps a connection to a couatl or wisdom shared in an ancient scroll teaches a champion of the Silver Flame a new way to wield its power.
It’s up to the DM to decide just how wild the wild zones of Khalesh are. Unlike the ogres of Borunan, the Khaleshites weren’t fighting a war in Shavarath. But it’s possible that their capital city is in a wild zone tied to an actual projection of Irian, and that Khaleshite emissaries regularly visited the Amaranthine City. It’s also a question as to whether any of the shulassakar were able to survive the Inspired purge. An unusual possibility is that in their last days, the Khaleshites developed their own form of deathless, similar to the councilors of the Undying Court. If so, there could be ascendant shulassakar, Khaleshite champions who survived the Sundering but who cannot leave the wild zone that now sustains them.
Khalesh is also known to have at least one wild zone tied to Syrania. This could simply be a region where aggressive thought is impossible, or a place of floating rubble and remnants of great towers—a warning of what could become of Sharn. But as a wild zone it could be something far stranger, or even a portal into Syrania itself. Perhaps one of the floating towers of Syrania is in Khalesh—the tower of a Dominion of Knowledge who has been recording the conflict between the overlords and the couatl since time began.
Keep in Mind. The energies that permeate Khalesh inspire and provide hope, but also urge war. The ruins of the couatl are largely VERY ruined, having endured the full force of both the overlords and the Inspired… though it’s always possible there is some hidden subterranean sanctums that were never found. The people of Khalesh had their own Voice of the Silver Flame; could that spirit reach out to a modern follower of the faith, and if so, is it a purely positive power or does the influence of Shavarath make it a dangerous threat? The current people of Khalesh are devoted to the Inspired and hard to sway, but could the touch of Irian lend hope to insurgents?
In Nulakesh, you might…
Try to convince an Edgewalker commander of the threat posed by the Dreaming Dark
Steal planar research from the arcane workshops of Dar Mun
Destroy a Riedran resurrection facility
Venture into the Iron Ward of Daanvi, a realm of tyrannical devils.
Long before anyone had dreamed of the Unity of Riedra, the Empire of Nulakesh was the most powerful force in Sarlona. Beginning as a single city-state, its legions conquered and assimilated the people of the surrounding region, incorporating them into its war machine. At its height, the Empire of Nulakesh dominated much of what is now Pyrine and Dor Maleer. The empire waxed and waned many times; its current borders reflect the lands it held when the Inspired rebellion finally wiped out the Imperial line at the end of the Sundering.
Nulakesh is strongly influenced by Daanvi and Shavarath. Where Irian and the Silver Flame channeled the Khaleshites to fight for the light, the Nulakeshi were driven by war and order. This drove deep martial instincts and an innate aptitude for martial discipline… a legacy that still lingers in Karrnath today. But the Nulakeshi genius for war was all too often wielded by tyrants, as the influence of the Iron Ward shaped the Imperial line.
Nulakhesh has a high number of manifest zones tied to Shavarath. These were the foundations of most of the ancient city-states, and still are today; Nulakhesh provides the bulk of the soldiers of the Harmonious Shield, and even Nulakeshi peasants engage in regular martial drills. However, it also has wild zones, and these have been a danger throughout the history of the region. One of the Shavaran wild zones is connected to the layer known as the Warring Cities, but unlikely the ogres of Borunan, there is no role for mortals to play in this layer. Other zones don’t serve as actual portals to Shavarath, but they recreate its deadly environs. All too often these Shavaran wild zones have been the source of bloodshed or tragedy, with razor storms or sword wraiths flowing beyond the borders of the zone to threaten the lands beyond.
Daanvian zones are less dramatic, but they are largely tied to the oppressive layers of Daanvi. The ancient capital of the Empire, the city of Nulakar, was built in a zone tied to the Iron Ward of Daanvi. While there was no direct portal between the planes, accounts suggest that more than one devil passed from Daanvi into Nulakar, and that there was a time when the Nulakeshi emperors had fiendish advisors.
The Fall of Nulakesh. Nulakesh was at a low point when the Sundering began. The Dreaming Dark began by firing up their imperial spirit, giving the emperor and warlords dreams of regaining their past glories. The Sundering lasted for generations, and the resurgent Nulakhesh was just the beginning of their plans. It became a tool they used to cripple surrounding nations—the force that fiercely battled the foul serpent-people of Khalesh and brought righteous fury to Ohr Kaluun. Along the way, the quori encouraged the emperors to indulge in ever-greater acts of cruel tyranny, and to work with their Daanvian devils (who were acting independently, with no idea of the role they were playing in the greater schemes). Even the stoic Nulakeshi had a breaking point; as they grew close to it, the first Inspired rose up, promising to overthrow the tyrants—whom they revealed to be working with devils!—and to lead the people on the true path of righteousness, cleansing ALL the foulness from Sarlona. Once the Inspired of Nulakesh convinced their forces to unite with the Inspired-led armies of Corvagura, the fate of the continent was sealed.
Nulakesh Today. Nulakhesh has always been a part of the strong foundation of Riedra. It is the base of the Edgewalkers and the primary source of the Harmonious Shield. Its people are happy to have a cause to fight for, and to the degree that the influence of Daanvi is allowed to influence them, they are more inherently comfortable with tyranny in pursuit of order. However, the city of Nulakar is a shunned ruin, and the Edgewalkers patrol all of the dangerous wild zones. The Inspired are ever alert: they don’t mind Daanvi instilling an appreciation for order in their subjects, but they will not allow other immortals to influence their people.
The Edgewalkers are based in the massive fortress-city of Dar Mun, which is poised between four wild zones (including old Nulavar, the Imperial Crypt, and two Shavaran zones). In addition to being the primary garrison and training facility for the Edgewalkers, it holds the finest arcane library and workshops in Riedra. The Edgewalkers are allowed to study arcane magic, and must be prepared to fight any sort of threat. The Inspired also conduct much of their planar research in Dar Mun, and there are surely many secrets to be discovered here and powerful eldritch machines.
There are only a few wild zones tied to Dolurrh in Nulakesh, but they are noteworthy. The Imperial Crypt was was the royal necropolis, noteworthy because of its curious powers of resurrection. When any form of magic that returns life to the dead is used here, it only requires half the usual costly material components. In some cases the dead interred here have spontaneously returned to life, though perhaps not with the same souls they began with. Close to Dar Mun, the Imperial Crypt is heavily guarded by the Edgewalkers. The Inspired have limited access to resurrection and largely don’t need it, because they simply employ new hosts; but it could be that the Inspired are working on new techniques, trying to transform this zone into a resurrection factory. The other noteworthy wild zone tied to Dolurrh is a stretch of fields known as the Gray; this region is suffused with the ennui of Dolurrh, and those who remain in it for long soon succumb to a deadly apathy.
Keep in Mind. The people of this region are both fiercely loyal to the Inspired and the most martially inclined of all Riedrans. The widespread manifest zones tied to Shavarath encourage aggression and can enhanced it in many ways, as will be detailed in Exploring Eberron. This region has the highest concentration of Edgewalkers, in part because it has some of the most dangerous wild zones.
In Ohr Kaluun, you might…
Work with the Dream Merchants to enter Riedra unseen.
Search for a powerful artifact hidden in a constantly shifting maze.
Be hunted by a ruthless family of skulk assassins.
Fight a cabal of wizards preparing to unleash chaos on all of Sarlona.
The kingdom of Ohr Kaluun may be the most infamous nation in the history of Khorvaire. Its lords were ruthless in their pursuit of supernatural power, committing countless atrocities in their quest for mystical might. The influence of Xoriat, Mabar, and Kythri can be felt across the islands, and these powers shaped the psyche of the people. Mabar wiped away empathy, driving people to be cruel and predatory. Kythri drove constant change, a quest for innovation and endless emerging factions. And Xoriat inspired the Kaluunites to pursue strange and terrible visions, to attempt things no mundane mind would consider.
The people of Ohr Kaluun possessed advanced forms of both divine and arcane magic. Thanks to the influence of Kythri, they made countless breakthroughs in arcane science but would rarely maintain or preserve these techniques; thus Kaluunite wizards wielded astonishing powers but rarely passed their knowledge on to future generations. The most widespread and consistent advancements in Ohr Kaluun were made by their warlocks and priests; the lords of Ohr Kaluun were more than willing to make dangerous bargains in exchange for the power that they craved.
Throughout most of its history, Ohr Kaluun was ruled by an alliance of Shadow Lords. In theory these were hereditary bloodlines, but in practice the title was held by whoever could claim power and hold on to it, and feuds and uprisings were common. Ohr Kaluun is well known for its war mazes, vast labyrinths that served as both fortresses and cities. Each Shadow Lord dwelled at the heart of a great maze, pursuing their own paths to power and scheming against their rivals. Each lord generally followed a different path to power, and a maze would be devoted to a particular sinister patron, whether that was a member of the Dark Six, and overlord, or an archfiend from one of the planes. While there were a few Kaluunite lords known to have actually been loved by their people, the influences of Mabar and Xoriat drove the Kaluunites to horrific excess and cruelty. If you are ever looking for an image of a classically evil cult, for people willfully embracing the service of fiends or performing vile sacrifices, there are surely tales of Ohr Kaluun that serve that need.
The influence of Kythri, Xoriat, and Mabar permeate the islands, even beyond manifest zones and wild zones. There are also lesser manifest zones tied to other planes. Every war maze was built within a particular zone, and that colored the practices and achievements of the inhabitants. Evidence suggests that both the skulks and the changelings were created in Ohr Kaluun, using magebreeding techniques that surely drew on the power of Kythri. The influence of Xoriat led them to pursue paths of magic no rational mind would conceive of. Thus, while Ohr Kaluun was known for its warlocks, the Kaluunites dealt with many different patrons; one maze might use the Fiend patron to reflect bargains with native fiends, another would use the Great Old One to reflect dealing with Xoriat, another might use Hexblade to reflect bargains with the Dark Powers of Mabar. The priests of Ohr Kaluun revered the Dark Six, but different mazes had their own unique pairings, names, and interpretations of the Six.
A critical aspect of this chaotic history is that almost any mystical approach could be found in a Kaluunite war maze. We’ve never mentioned Ohr Kaluun as working with the daelkyr or symbionts—but there certainly COULD have been a Shadow Lord who bargained with Belashyrra. Necromancy wasn’t a widespread practice in Ohr Kaluun, but adventurers could be drawn into a war maze whose lord dealt with the Bone King of Mabar, and whose mummy still rules over the deadly tomb.
The Fall of Ohr Kaluun. The people of Sarlona always feared and hated Ohr Kaluun. Pyrine, Nulakesh, and Khalesh had clashed with the island in the past. Fear of Ohr Kaluun was a common thread the quori used in stirring up conflict across Sarlona; on the island itself, it was easy to amplifying the existing paranoia and feuds of the Shadow Lords until it reached a breaking point. The Shadow Lords crippled one another long before they were destroyed by the combined forces of Nulakesh and Corvagura, united by their Inspired champions.
Ohr Kaluun Today. As with Khalesh, the Inspired were ruthless in their cleansing of Ohr Kaluun. The vast majority of its people were simply slain. The war mazes were nearly impossible to destroy, but were blocked off and shunned.
Reidra maintains a presence on Ohr Kel, the largest island of the train. Dar Kel is the sole bastion city in Ohr Kaluun; while it serves as a port, it’s primarily there to monitor the area, seeking to stop or at least reduce the activities of smugglers and the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun (dissidents who seek to recover dangerous power from the ancient ruins). The Inspired are legitimately afraid of Ohr Kaluun; they know that they don’t know what deadly forces remain bound in the sealed mazes.
Ohr Kaluun is sparsely populated; aside from Dar Kel, its legitimate inhabitants are mainly dedicated to fishing and avoid the inland ruins. However, as an areas shunned by the Inspired, it’s a haven for smugglers (including the faction known as the Dream Merchants) and renegades.
It’s thought that the first changelings were created in Ohr Kaluun, and spread to Khorvaire in a wave of refugees. Likewise, refugees from Ohr Kaluun are believed to be the ancestors of the humans found in the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. There is only one place where the traditions of Ohr Kaluun survive: the Venomous Demesne of Droaam. The ruling families of the Demesne are tieflings, the result of magebreeding and pacts made by their ancestors. They possess the strongest warlock tradition in Eberron and have built upon the achievements of the past; however, long removed from the corrupting influences of Mabar and Xoriat, they are neither as cruel nor as inventive as their ancestors.
Keep in Mind. The powers wielded by Ohr Kaluun are supposed to be legitimately dangerous and frightening. It’s not simply that they were powerful warlocks and wizards, it’s that their techniques WERE things rational people would avoid. In some cases, their powers may have had a price in blood or suffering. But it’s also possible that they used spells or techniques that had unusual and dangerous side effects. You might consider the ideas presented in this article about the Shadow.
A secondary point is that anything is possible in Ohr Kaluun. The Venomous Demesne only preserved the traditions of a single maze, and the Shadow Lords didn’t share techniques. There’s no telling what secrets are buried in these ancient labyrinths… but whatever they are, they’ll be dangerous and disturbing.
In Pyrine, you might…
Explore one of the earliest human shrines of the Sovereign Host.
Be granted a divine vision or entrusted with a sacred artifact.
Debate religion with a priest of the Path of Inspiration.
Discover a hidden library vault filled with ancient knowledge.
Pyrine is a land of warm plains and forests, welcoming both in its aspect and its aura. Something about Pyrine inspires calm reflection. Standing in a Pyrinean meadow, it is easy to feel a sense of joy and contentment—to know that somehow, all is right in the world. This is due to Pyrine’s strong ties to Irian, Daanvi, and Syrania. The effects are strongest when people are close to a wild zone, but even beyond the zones a general sense of peace and well-being pervades the region. The people of Pyrine are naturally inclined to follow the rules, to avoid conflict; even where there are problems, surely they can be worked out.
Pyrine was never a conquering kingdom. It was a nation of scholars and sages, and it shared its knowledge freely with its neighbors; Pyrinean tutors and advisors could be found in courts across Sarlona. But there was one pillar that was even more important than knowledge: the Sovereign Host. The form of the Sovereign Host embraced by most of the vassals of Khorvaire is known as The Pyrinean Creed; this is because it was established and codified in Pyrine. According to myth, a Pyrinean shepherd stumbled into the First Library, where Aureon taught them the nature of the Host and the basis of Aureon’s laws. True or not, the Pyrineans were people of deep conviction and faith. They had deep and detailed visions of the Host, catalogued in countless scrolls; as a result, they also wielded remarkable divine power, matched only by the crusaders of Khalesh. But they never used their powers for war; instead, Pyrinean priests traveled across Sarlona, spreading the word of the Sovereigns and using their gifts to help those in need.
Largely, Pyrine was left in peace by its neighbors. The vassal faith became common across Sarlona, and many people did see Pyrine as a blessed land with a special connection to the Sovereigns. One notable exception was Nulakesh; while many Nulakeshi adopted the faith, a number of emperors used their faith as a basis for invasion—the blessed land had to be protected by the Empire, for the good of all! There were also periods where Pyrine was targeted by Rhiavhaaran raiders, and one point when a Rhiavhaaran warlord established a new kingdom in Pyrine. However, in time—often due to pressure from other nations, and apocryphally due to pressure from the Sovereigns—Pyrine was always restored.
The Fall of Pyrine. Faith was the strong foundation of Pyrine, but the Dreaming Dark was able to use this as a weapon. Dream manipulation allowed the quori to spread false visions, creating schisms and driving zealots to pursue heresy. Nulakesh was again encouraged to extend its power into Pyrine, and even some of the Shadow Lords of Ohr Kaluun were urged to attack. Across Sarlona, quori worked to undermine faith in the Sovereigns; after all, if the gods were just, why would they allow the myriad terrors of the Sundering? Ultimately people came to see the Pyrineans as servants of the altavars, peddling a faith that bound innocent dupes to the service of fiends. The temples were torn down and the Sovereigns forgotten.
Pyrine Today. Today, there are no signs of the Sovereign faith in Pyrine. The people remain thoughtful and philosophical, but that deep-rooted faith has been shifted to the Path of Inspiration. The region maintains the general deep aura that encourages its people to follow the rules and to avoid conflict, but now that has been harnessed in the service fo the Inspired. The Harmonious Shield has a reduced presence here, as any sort of violence is rare. The people of Pyrine generally remain both kind and inquisitive, and while their faith is deep, it isn’t blind. Of all the people of Riedra they are the most likely to be welcoming to foreign travelers and interested in engaging them in conversation. However, most Pyrineans truly believe in the Path of Inspiration and are prepared to rationally present its virtues. Of all the provinces in the Unity, Pyrine has the highest degree of literacy; the Guiding Path maintains schools in Pyrine, and those trained here serve as scribes across the nation.
The wild zones of Pyrine are largely benevolent in nature. Under the proper circumstances, there are places that can serve as portals to the Refuge of Irian and the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. However, these zones are carefully secured by the Edgewalkers, and the people of Pyrine believe that they are dangerous regions filled with fiends. However, the Dream Merchants—and occasionally even the Inspired themselves—make use of the market portal.
While most shrines to the Sovereigns have been destroyed, there are a fear that weren’t so easily wiped away. There’s a great arch carved of dragonbone. There’s shrines hidden in caves or wild zones. Most notably: The common belief was that the capital city of Pyrine was built around the First Library. That city was leveled in the Sundering, replaced by Dul El. However, it’s possible that the actual First Library wasn’t a building in the material plane—but rather a tower in Syrania. If this is the case, there may be other portals to the First Library in Pyrine. Did Aureon truly teach the first vassal. Or was “Aureon” a Dominion of Knowledge or a plane-traveling dragon?
Keep in Mind. The most interesting question about Pyrine is WHY the Sovereign faith was so strong there. Was it promoted by angels from Irian and Syrania? Or is there some deeper tie between the region and the faith? A vassal cleric or paladin could be drawn to Pyrine to reclaim an ancient artifact, or adventurers in Sarlona for other reasons might experience divine visions while passing through Pyrine.
In Rhiavhaar, you might…
Helped Unchained dissidents escape the Thousand Eyes.
Find an ancient artifact tied to the legendary Lhazaar.
Search for an ancient treasure trove hidden in the height of Rhiavhaar’s power.
Deal with an archfey whose defining story has been long forgotten.
Rhiavhaar has wild zones tied to Lamannia, Thelanis, and Shavarath, and the influence of all three planes can be seen in its history. The people of Rhiavhaar have always been the finest shipwrights and sailors of Sarlona. In part this is due to unusual lumber harvested from Lamannia wild zones; Rhiavhaaran ships have always been faster and more durable than their counterparts in other nations. Beyond this, Rhiavhaaran sailors have long known tricks for finding favor with wind and water. Some of these were tied to Lamannia and a limited form of primal magic. Others were tied to bargains with the fey, whether the friendship of a minor mischievous sprite or a pact made with an archfey. But the Rhiavhaarans weren’t simply merchants or fisherfolk. The influence of Shavarath has long driven them to piracy and reaving, and anyone who lived on the Sarlonan coast dreaded the sight of Rhiavhaaran sails.
Alliances with the fey were a crucial part of Rhiavhaar’s culture. It was the fey-favored families who rose to power, and feuds between archfey often played out in Rhivahaar. While many of the champions of Rhivahaar could be considered to be archfey warlocks, this tradition wasn’t as well developed or understood as it was in Ohr Kaluun; Rhiavhaaran warlocks generally stumbled into their pacts and only a few wielded significant arcane power. The Rhiavhaarans valued their connections to their “cousins”, but they placed much of their faith in strength and steel. As a result, much of the benefits Rhiavhaarans received from the fey were closely tied to location—and as such, were largely lost when Rhiavhaarans crossed the seas to Khorvaire.
In general, Rhiavhaarans were seen as wild, capricious, and dangerous. “Rhiavhaaran luck” was a curse suggesting that fortune favors a scoundrel.
The Fall of Rhiavhaar. While it was never as despised as Ohr Kaluun, Rhiavhaar was never loved by the people of Sarlona. Internally the Dreaming Dark exacerbated the feuds between clans. Externally they fanned the flames of those who desired vengeance for generations of Rhiavhaaran reaving, and further convinced people that the Rhiavhaaran “cousins” were fiends, not fey.
Rhiavhaar Today. Rhiavhaar serves as the western hub for sea traffic, and Dar Ulatesh is the legitimate port of entry for visitors and merchants. While the region is firmly under Inspired control, the people of Rhiavhaar aren’t as devoted as their counterparts in Nulakesh or Corvagura. There is, perhaps, still a touch of fey wildness in the Rhiavhaaran character. The Edgewalkers patrol the wild zones, but they can’t cover all of the manifest zones tied to Thelanis… and the various tools of the Inspired—the Voice, the dreams, the remote viewing of the Thousand Eyes—can be unreliable in these areas. Cells of the Broken Throne or the Unchained often meet in fey woods or circles of stones, trusting the ancient powers to shield them. Because of this dissident streak and the region’s role as the western gate, Rhivahaar has a high concentration of soldiers and large numbers of active agents of the Thousand Eyes. The Edgewalkers and the Thousand Eyes are always watching for fey influence, and it’s a dangerous place to be an archfey warlock
The Inspired continue to harvest lumber from a few of the Lammanian wild zones, though these zones can produce many dangers. Many of the region’s wild zones are on the coast and extend into the water. Sailors who don’t know the region can run afoul of endless storms, megafauna sharks, fey curses, and other threats.
Keep in Mind. The Inspired and the Edgewalkers have been largely successful in containing the influence of the archfey associated with the Rhiavhaaran wild zones. However, this is a point of frustration for these fey, many of who yearn to see their stories told once more and who want revenge against the Inspired who have humiliated them. This could drive an adventure—as the player characters could enter Riedra through Thelanis—or just be a source of unexpected assistance.
That’s all! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make articles like this possible!
A wizard walks into a tavern with a raven on his wrist. A Cannith heir is close behind, followed by her gleaming steel defender. The Eldeen ranger is waiting for them, with his wolf curled up under the table.
All three of these are plausible player characters in an Eberron campaign. But how do these things—familiars, animal companions, homunculi—fit into the world? How do people react to them, and what do people know about them? Would any of them actually be allowed in a tavern, and would a typical person actually be able to tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion?
Familiars, homunculi, and animal companions play different roles in the game and in the world, and I want to explore each one of them. But to begin with, let’s answer the quick questions. In the Five Nations…
Familiars are most common in Aundair and (previously) Cyre, but they have been employed throughout the Five Nations for centuries. They are also found in Zilargo and the Eldeen Reaches.
Even beyond these four areas, people are familiar with the basic idea of familiars and most people know at least some of the following facts: Familiars can communicate with their companion; their companion can see through their eyes; familiars can potentially channel touch spells; they can be easily dismissed and resummoned; they can be resummoned if killed.
People generally assume that familiars are extensions of a spellcaster (discussed in more detail later in this article) and don’t consider them fully independent beings. Along with homunculi, they are seen as tools. In the eyes of the law, a character is responsible for the actions of their familiar/companion/homunculus, and you can’t get away with murder by casting the killing spell through your familiar.
While most people can’t tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion, most know that familiars are usually limited to tiny forms. The common assumption is that a tiny animal companion is a familiar, and a small or larger animal companion is a beast.
If an establishment allows patrons to carry weapons, it will generally allow well-behaved familiars, homunculi, or animal companions, unless the creature seems especially unsanitary or aggressive. In part, this is a metagame conceit: we are still playing a game, and the Beast Master ranger or Battlesmith artificer shouldn’t be crippled every time the adventurers go indoors. But it also ties to the idea that people recognize these things as tools. So in my opinion, any place that will allow the barbarian to carry his greataxe will allow the battlesmith to bring her steel defender… And conversely, a fine restaurant like the Oaks in Sharn isn’t going to let you bring your axe or your steel defender to your table.
Most people know that a spellcaster can spy through the eyes of a familiar, just as they know that someone with the spell beast sense (druid, ranger, Vadalis heir) can see through the eyes of a mundane animal. People don’t assume that every rat is a spy, but they know it’s a POSSIBILITY… so tiny animals showing up in highly secured areas or behaving in a clearly unnatural manner may be dealt with as if they’re spies.
In major cities with a significant population of magewrights or arcane universities, you may find businesses that cater to characters with familiars—the bring-your-own-sassy-magical-cat cafe.
While most people assume familiars are extensions, they also recognize traditional imps and quasits as fiends. Having a quasit as a familiar isn’t ILLEGAL, but it definitely makes a statement; even if you’re not actively associating with fiends, you’re choosing one to represent you. Some people will see that as cool and edgy, some people will see it as a sign that you’re a scumbag, and some people will see it as pretentious— “LOOK AT ME! I CONSORT WITH DEEEEEMONS!” It will definitely be noticed, and it’s up to the DM to decide how people will react. But again, people see familiars as tools, so they aren’t going to burn you just for having an imp; but it’s similar to whether your fighter has a greatsword of plain steel or whether he’s carrying a rune-carved sword that moans softly. You can’t get arrested for it, but people will make judgements because of it.
So key takeaways: People are familiar with the idea of familiars and homunculi. They largely see them as tools and will treat them accordingly. If a tiny animal behaves in an unusual manner, people may assume that it’s a familiar or otherwise being manipulated by magic. With those general things settled, let’s take a quick look at the differences between these three categories of companion…
Mechanically, familiars have a common foundation—the find familiar spell. Warlocks, wizards, and druids all acquire their familiars by using this spell, and this establishes the core rules that all familiars follow—shared senses, telepathic communication, can be dismissed and resummoned, and so on. But while this provides a concrete baseline for the mechanics of a familiar, from a story perspective the familiars of a wizard, a warlock, and a druid may be very different. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here’s three important categories of familiar.
The most common form of familiar—the form used by most wizards and magewrights in the Five Nations—is an externally manifested aspect of the spellcaster’s personality. A few aspects of this…
As an extension of you, your familiar doesn’t know anything that you don’t know—but it’s drawn from your subconscious, and may know things you’ve forgotten or draw conclusions you haven’t consciously made.
All familiars must obey the spellcaster’s commands. An extension doesn’t resent this; they’re part of you. If they do have any personal goals, they’re likely things you actually want, even if you haven’t consciously realized it.
When an extension is dismissed or slain, it returns to your subconscious. This isn’t unpleasant for the familiar, and most extensions don’t resent being dismissed.
An extension is drawn from you. Most extensions have the fey creature type; in many ways, they are manifested stories. Extensions would only manifest as celestials or fiends if they are tied to remarkably virtuous or deeply vile people.
If you wish, you and your DM could decide that the familiar represents a specific aspect of your personality, which could in turn flavor its personality and demeanor. This could also be reflected by its shape, which you can change by casting the spell. It could be that as a cat it reflects your curiosity, while as a hawk it’s your courage and as a weasel it’s your cunning. A secondary question is whether each of these three would present themselves as having different names—if they essentially identify as three familiars—or whether they maintain a single identity even though their shape and personality changes.
In many ways, an extension is like a character in your dreams. They have distinct personalities, you can have interesting conversations with them, they FEEL real—but ultimately they’re a manifestation of your own mind. This doesn’t stop them from being fun and interesting individuals; it could be that your rat familiar embodies your sense of humor! But they can’t be killed because they’re a part of you; and conversely, if you die, they will die with you.
Extensions are the most common form of familiar in the Five Nations. They are a product of arcane science. On some levels (especially in Aundair), a familiar is both a tool and a status symbol for an accomplished spellcaster; wizards are rare, but some magewrights and demi-wizards manifest familiars for this reason. However, the most common users of familiars in the Five Nations are falconers. This is a magewright specialty that masters a narrow form of find familiar. A falconer can only summon a single shape of familiar—so if they can summon a hawk, they can’t turn it into a cat—but they can maintain telepathic communication and a sensory link with their familiar over a far greater distance than usual. The typical range of a falconer is one mile, but an exceptional falconer can go even farther. Falconers typically served as scouts and skirmishers in the Last War, and as the name suggests, most summon birds (typically hawks or falcons, though owls and ravens are also used). There are other magewrights who use this specialized form of find familiar in different ways—ratcatchers who conjure cats, even assassins who can conjure poisonous snakes. All of this ties to the basic point that people see extensions as tools—you learn to manifest an extension because you have a use for it.
When a warlock acquires a familiar, it’s generally not an extension of the warlock—it’s an emissary of the warlock’s patron, an independent entity whose services are granted to the warlock as a gift. However, this can also be an appropriate choice for a conjurer wizard or any other character who has made bargains with a powerful supernatural being. Important details about emissary familiars…
An emissary is an independent spirit with its own history and agenda. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what that agenda is. It may be that the emissary is entirely benevolent and has been sent solely to assist you and protect you. But it could be that the emissary is sent to watch you—to see if you’re living up to expectations, to remind you of agreements you’ve made with your patron, or to serve as an intermediary for communication; the patron might temporarily possess the familiar when they want to communicate with you.
Tied to this: an emissary familiar has to follow your orders when it comes to taking physical actions, but it doesn’t have to share all of its information with you. Unlike an extension, an emissary may have knowledge you don’t have—but it’s only going to share that information with you if it serves the interests of the patron.
The creature type of the emissary will generally reflect the creature type of the patron. If you’re working for Sul Khatesh she’ll give you a fiend, while a celestial warlock channeling the power of the Silver Flame will have a celestial familiar. A DM may choose to tweak type and details to fit a particular patron. For example, an efreeti patron could give a warlock a familiar that’s mechanically an imp, but with the elemental type and knowledge of Primordial instead of Infernal; they might even say that its sting inflicts fire damage instead of poison damage, causing the victim to burn from within. An undead patron could likewise give an “imp” that’s got the undead type and inflicts necrotic damage with its sting.
Emissary familiars CAN assume a mundane animal form, but even those that take the form of animals may have a “natural” form that reflects their origins. A raven gifted by an efreeti could choose to appear as a tiny phoenix wreathed in cold flames, or just as a mundane bird.
It’s up to the DM to decide what happens to the emissary when it is dismissed/killed. It may be that it returns to the domain of its patron; if this is the case, it may actually WANT to be dismissed occasionally to go and take care of its own business. Or it may be that as long as it’s bound to you, it is bound to your spirit and retreats into you when dismissed. If this is the case, it may still be aware of what is going on around you, even if it can’t take any actions.
The basic question between having an extension or an emissary is whether you want your familiar to be entirely loyal and reliable, or if you LIKE the idea that your familiar may have secrets and agendas you don’t know about. An extension may have a semblance of personality, but at the end of the day it really is a puppet; an emissary is a truly independent entity who is only working with you for now, and who could have their own significant role to play at some point in the campaign.
Emissary familiars are rare. You can go to school to become a falconer, but there’s no common magewright paths that teach people to make bargains with overlords. As noted above, people generally assume that familiars are extensions, so having an imp as a familiar doesn’t automatically mean you’re making deals with demons, but to a common person what it means is that THE PROJECTION OF YOUR PERSONALITY IS A FIEND and people will judge you accordingly. And if people DO realize that no, this is an actual emissary of Sul Khatesh and you are getting advice from it, that’s not going to be great; so usually, you’re going to want your imp to be in an animal form.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduces the Wild Companion feature, allowing a druid to cast find familiar by using a charge of wild shape. Such a familiar has the fey creature type. It’s worth noting that beasts summoned with the conjure animals spell also have the fey creature type. This doesn’t mean that they are from Thelanis. If you’re a Greensinger, they might be; but typically, these are primal spirits. These can be seen as native fey, in the same way the Lords of Dust are native fiends. They are essentially stories made real—the idea of a beast given temporary form. A few details…
Primal spirits don’t have individual identities in the same way as emissaries or extensions. They are more iconic beings. Your raven embodies the idea of “raven” and will behave as you expect a raven to act in a fable or folktale. A cat may be curious, a raven may be wise. But the cat embodies the idea of CAT, not of your personal curious Graymalkin.
Primal spirits generally only remain for as long as they are needed; when they die or are dismissed they simply return to the transcendent essence of Eberron.
Primal spirits generally have no desires other than to help the summoner. They don’t NEED anything and generally look forward to returning to the heart of Eberron.
Druids and rangers typically employ primal spirits to avoid placing living animals in danger. They don’t feel any compunctions about sending summoned animals or familiars to their deaths because they aren’t really alive; you can’t kill an idea, and ultimately that’s what they are.
Primal spirits are typically only found in communities with strong primal roots—the Eldeen Reaches, the Qaltiar drow, the Lorghalen gnomes. In such places, you may find the equivalent of Falconer magewrights—gleaners who can conjure a specific familiar spirit, and who can maintain their bond with it over an unusually long distance. Primal communities often also involve animal companions, but people working with living beasts will generally be much more conscientious about placing their companions in dangerous situations—whereas primal spirits suffer no lasting harm from death.
Familiars are the most common class of companion, and extensions are the most common class of familiar. Falconers and similar magewrights use familiars as practical tools, while arcanists use often familiars as companions and assistants. Emissaries are rare and thus rarely recognized for what they are, but most people won’t be thrilled if you reveal that your companion is an actual fiend given to you because you made a bargain with a malefic power.
HOMUNCULI AND CONSTRUCT BEASTS
A homunculus is a construct, typically created by an artificer or wizard. They notably don’t follow the rules of find familiar; a homunculus can’t be simply dismissed and recalled at will. The most common form of homunculus player characters deal with is the homunculus servant, which is created using an artificer infusion. The servant is a tiny construct, and notably the shape of the homunculus is up to the artificer. The intention of this is that the appearance of the homunculus should reflect the techniques of the artificer. A Cannith Traditionalist may create a steel dragonfly with crystal wings—a creature similar to a warforged, perhaps with metal threads or gears instead of root-like tendrils. An artificer from Pylas Pyrial may use Thelanian logic to create a flying teapot. And an alchemist who’s experimenting with daelkyr fleshcrafting techniques could create a tiny platypus with one eye and three wings. A Battle Smith artificer gets to create a more powerful homunculus, a steel defender. Again, what’s specifically noted is that the shape and design of the defender is up to the artificer, including the choice as to whether it has two legs or four. This reflects the idea that all of these homunculi are extremely unique. The fact that the artificer can only have one of each type of homunculus at a time reflects the idea these creatures aren’t entirely stable—that the artificer has to continue to maintain their companion and to maintain the reserve of arcane energy that sustains it. As noted, homunculi can’t be dismissed and resummoned with the ease of a familiar, but if one is destroyed it can be rebuilt.
So a key point is that the homunculi of player characters aren’t supposed to be as familiar as a raven or even an imp. They’re supposed to stand out; they’re reflections of the unique genius of the artificer character. Unlike familiars and falconers, there isn’t a class of magewrights that creates homunculi; again, familiars ultimately come from a 1st level spell, while homunculi are derived from an artificer class feature. They’re more exotic than familiars. At the same time, people understand the CONCEPT of homunculi. Sentient magic items exist. Constructs exist. The Clockwork Menagerie of Eston was one of the wonders of Cyre centuries before House Cannith perfected the warforged. And with that said, the Last War involved a constant escalation in the development of constructs leading up to the Last War. Animated weapons have been developed, ranging from the tiny arbalester to the arcane ballista. Warforged titans stormed across the battlefield decades before their smaller cousins. And House Cannith does create construct beasts; the iron defenders of House Cannith can be produced as autonomous constructs (though they are typically considerably weaker than the steel defender of an accomplished Battle Smith). These creatures are still EXOTIC, but they aren’t unheard of and people generally won’t be frightened by them. They’ll draw attention, certainly, but attention isn’t always bad. With that said, the daelkyr-inspired fleshcrafted homunculus will generate the same sort of reaction as the imp familiar; people may not run you instantly out of town for having a creepy homunculus, but they will judge you by the company you keep.
I’ll be posting a table of random ideas for homunculus servants on my Patreon as an exclusive bonus for Inner Circle and Threshold patrons later in this week, so if you’re a supporter, keep an eye out for that!
What about the ranger and his wolf? Well, beasts are a part of everyday life in Eberron. From horses and tribex to the giant owls of Sharn or the Valenar hounds, there’s nothing strange about seeing someone with an animal companion. Magewright falconers conjure their companions, but Vadalis farriers can cast animal friendship, speak with animals, and beast sense, and gleaners (primal magewrights) in the Eldeen Reaches also develop these talents. Many gnomes cultivate the gift of speaking with small beasts. Exotic beasts are often rarer in major cities simply because of the difficulty of maintaining them, but people aren’t especially SURPRISED to see a ranger with a wolf companion; the fact that there are people who can befriend and speak with animals is a simple fact of life, and has been for centuries.
Animal companions aren’t exactly tools in the same way as familiars, because they’re independent living creatures. A Beast Master can replace an companion that dies, but an animal still died… while familiars and conjured beasts can be put in harm’s way with no lasting risk. Nonetheless, to the world at large they are still largely seen as tools and treated accordingly, so the same rule applies. If the ranger is allowed to bring his sword and his bow into a place of business, he’s probably allowed to bring his wolf; and if the wolf bites someone, the ranger will be held responsible, just as if he’d stabbed the victim with a sword.
Some might wonder if the existence of speak with animals would drive an overall greater wave of ethical behavior regarding the treatment of animals. Sadly, this is not the case in the Five Nations. Speak with animals exists, but MOST people can’t cast it. People will still take a tribex-drawn carriage down to a restaurant where they’ll eat a steak, without stopping to think “Was that tribex happy? Did the cow I’m eating live a good life?” The general attitude of House Vadalis is that they’ve been granted dominion over beasts, and it is their right to exploit that power. This is quite different in wide primal societies—such as the Eldeen Reaches and Lorghalen—but in the Five Nations beasts are still primarily treated as property and tools.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping to choose this topic and for making these articles possible.
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. One question that often comes up is “What do people in the world actually know about (subject)?” As players and DMs, we have access to a tome of absolute knowledge that tells us all about the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, the Empire of Dhakaan, and so on. We know that characters may know about these things if they have appropriate proficiencies and make successful skill checks. But what do people know WITHOUT making any skill checks? What things are just common knowledge?
This article reflects the common knowledge of a citizen of the Five Nations. Common knowledge will vary by culture, and I can’t account for every possible variation. People in Stormreach are more familiar with drow than people in Fairhaven. Shadow Marchers will have heard of the Gatekeepers, while Karrns won’t have. In general, you can assume that things that have a direct impact on the lives of people living in a region will be part of common knowledge. For example, the people of the Mror Holds don’t know a lot about the daelkyr in general, but they DO know about Dyrrn the Corruptor, because they’ve been fighting him for decades and he signed his name with Dyrrn’s Promise in 943 YK. So determining what things are common knowledge will often require the use of common sense.
With that said, the people of the Five Nations can be assumed to know the following things.
Planes, Moons, and Manifest Zones. Everyone knows the names of the planes and the moons, and the basic attributes of the planes (IE, Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and is filled with celestials and fiends fighting). Think of this a little like knowledge of the planets of the solar system in our world; most people can name the planets and know that Mars is the Red Planet, but only someone who’s studied them can tell you the names of all of the moons of Jupiter. The main point is that the planes have real, concrete effects on the world through their manifest zones and coterminous/remote phases, and people understand these things. A common person may not be able to tell you the precise effects of a Shavarath manifest zone unless they actually live by one, but they know Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and could GUESS what such a manifest zone might do.
The Creation Myth. Everyone knows the basic story: Khyber, Eberron, and Siberys created the planes. Khyber killed Siberys and scattered his pieces in the sky, creating the Ring of Siberys. Eberron enfolded Khyber and became the world. Whether people believe this is literally true or a metaphor, everyone knows the myth and everyone understands that magic comes from Siberys, natural creatures come from Eberron, and fiends and other evil things come from Khyber.
The Sovereign Myth. The Sovereign Host is deeply ingrained into daily life in the Five Nations. Even if you don’t BELIEVE in the Sovereigns, you know the names and basic attributes of the Nine and Six. Likewise, everyone knows the basic story that in the dawn of time the world was ruled by demons; that the Sovereigns fought them; and that the demons were bound. The Dark Six are largely only known by their titles—The Mockery, the Keeper—and their original names are something that would only be known by someone with a tie to a relevant cult or with proficiency in History.
The Silver Flame. Tied to this, everyone knows the idea that the Silver Flame is the force that binds demons. People do NOT know where it came from. Many vassals assume the Sovereigns created the Silver Flame. Those who follow the faith assert it is a celestial force that is strengthened by noble souls.
Dragons. Everyone knows that dragons exist and that they are terrifying and powerful creatures. People know stories of dragons guarding hoards of treasure, and if you’re from Thrane you know of the Bane of Thrane, the dragon who slew Prince Thrane. There are also a few stories about heroes making bargains with dragons, or dragons possessing secret knowledge. People know that Argonnessen is a land of dragons, but they know almost nothing about it beyond “Here there be dragons” and the fact that people who go there don’t come back. Some people know that dragons occasionally attack Aerenal, and know that the giants of Xen’drik were destroyed in some sort of war with dragons. So everyone knows that dragons exist; that they are extremely powerful; and that they can be deadly threats or enigmatic advisors. Most people don’t ever expect to see a dragon. The idea that there are dragons secretly manipulating humanity is a conspiracy theory on par with the idea that many world leaders in our world are secretly reptilian aliens; there are certainly people who believe it, but sensible people don’t take it seriously.
Evil Exists.Everyone knows that there are fiends, undead, aberrations, and lycanthropes in the world. They know that ghouls may haunt graveyards, that the creepy stranger in town could be a vampire or a werewolf, and that dangerous things could crawl out of Khyber at any time. This is why the Silver Flame exists and why templars are generally treated with respect even by people who don’t follow the Silver Flame; people understand that evil exists and that the templars are a volunteer militia who are ready to fight it.
The Overlords and the Lords of Dust. Everyone knows that the overlords were archfiends who dominated the world at the beginning of time. Regardless of whether you believe in the Sovereigns or respect the Flame, you know that the overlords are real because one broke out and ravaged Thrane a few centuries ago. Most people have heard stories of a few of the overlords and may know their titles—the Shadow in the Flame is the one most people have heard of—but would need to make checks to know more. But critically, everyone knows that there are bound archfiends that would like to get out and wreck things.
Most people have never heard of “The Lords of Dust.” People have certainly heard stories of shapeshifting demons causing trouble and know that this is a real potential threat, but the idea that there is a massive conspiracy that has been manipulating human civilization for thousands of years is up there with the idea that dragons have been doing the same thing. If you have credible proof that someone in town is actually a fiend or is possessed by a fiend, people will take the threat seriously; people know that such threats can be real. But few people actually believe that there’s a massive conspiracy that secretly controls the course of history, because if so, why haven’t they done anything more dramatic with it?
As a side point to this, most COMMON PEOPLE don’t differentiate between devil, demon, and fiend and treat these as synonyms. People know of rakshasas as “shapeshifting demons,” even though an arcane scholar might say “Well, ACTUALLY ‘demon’ refers specifically to an incarnate entity of chaos and evil, and the rakshasa is a unique class of fiend most commonly found on the material plane.” But the Demon Wastes could be called “The Fiend Wastes;” in this context, “Demon” is a general term.
Khyber and the Daelkyr.Tied to the creation myth and to the idea that evil exists, people know that BAD THINGS COME FROM KHYBER. They don’t know about demiplanes, but they know that if you find a deep hole there might be something bad at the bottom of it. Critically, most people just know that THE DRAGON BELOW IS THE SOURCE OF BAD THINGS and don’t actually differentiate between aberrations, fiends, and monstrosities. This is why the Cults of the Dragon Below are called “The Cults of the Dragon Below” even though a cult of Dyrrn the Corruptor really has nothing in common with a cult of Sul Khatesh; as far as the common people are concerned, they are cults that worship big evil things, and big evil things come from Khyber, hence, cult of the Dragon Below.
With this in mind, most common people don’t have a clear understanding of what a “daelkyr” is. Anyone who’s proficient with Arcana or History has a general understanding of the difference between the daelkyr and the overlords without needing to make a skill check. But for the common person, they are both powerful evil things that are bound in Khyber.
Fey and Archfey. Everyone knows that the fey exist. Everyone knows about dryads and sprites, and everyone knows that they’re especially common near manifest zones to Thelanis. Beyond this, everyone know FAIRY TALES about fey and archfey, and knows that there’s some basis to these stories. So people know STORIES about the Lady in Shadow and the Forest Queen, and they know that somewhere in the planes, you might actually be able to meet the Forest Queen. But they don’t actually EXPECT to every meet one. Most people have no way to easily differentiate between an archfey and some other type of powerful immortal. Notably, you could easily have a cult of the Dragon Below that’s bargaining with Sul Khatesh but BELIEVES it is bargaining with an archfey, or a cult of Avassh that thinks it’s blessed by the Forest Queen. If a cult worships “The Still Lord” or “The Queen of Shadows”, they don’t have some kind of special key that tells them whether that power is a fiend, a fey, or a celestial; that distinction is ACADEMIC, and would require a skill check.
Specific knowledge of the fey is more prevalent in regions that are close to Thelanis manifest zones or where people have a tradition of bargaining with the fey; notably, Aundairians know more about fey than most people of the Five Nations.
The Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Everyone knows that when you dream you go to Dal Quor. Everyone accepts the idea that “There are demons that give you bad dreams!” Very few people believe that those fiends are manipulating the world. People have had bad dreams FOREVER. If bad-dream-demons were going to take over the world, why haven’t they already done it? As with the Lords of Dust, people will listen to credible threats that a specific person could be possessed, but few will believe stories of a massive dream conspiracy bent on world domination.
Looking to Sarlona and the Inspired, everyone knows that the Riedrans have a strict culture and they’re ruled by beings who they say are channeling celestial powers. Few people have ever met a Riedran, let alone one of the Inspired. Those who have met kalashtar (which for the most part only happens in major cities) know that the kalashtar have been oppressed and driven from Sarlona, but largely assume this is about political and religious differences, not a war between dream-spirits. It’s relatively common knowledge that people from Sarlona study some form of mind-magic, but most people don’t know the precise details of how psionics are different from arcane or divine magic.
The Aurum. While it’s a stretch to say that everyone’s heard of the Aurum, it’s about as well known as, say, Mensa in our world. It’s generally seen as an exclusive fraternal order of extremely wealthy people. Because it IS exclusive and because many of its members are minor local celebrities, there are certainly lots of conspiracies theories about what it’s REALLY up to… but even if there’s people who SAY that the Aurum wants to overthrow the Twelve or that it engineered the Last War, at the end of the day people know it’s that fancy members-only club on Main Street that always donates generously to the Race of Eight Winds celebrations.
Secondary Religions. Aside from the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host, most of the other religious are relatively regional. The Blood of Vol is the best known of the secondary religions because of the role it played in Karrnath during the Last War, but outside of Karrnath most people think it’s some sort of Karrnathi death cult. Everyone knows druids exist, and the Wardens of the Wood are relatively well known because of their central role in the Eldeen Reaches, but the other sects are largely unknown outside of the areas where they operate; the Ashbound are likely the second best known sect because of sensationalized reports of their violent actions. The Path of Light is largely unknown aside from people who have direct interaction with kalashtar.
Goblins and the Empire of Dhakaan. Everyone in the Five Nations knows that goblins were on Khorvaire before humanity, and that they had an empire that fell long ago. Most people don’t know the name of this empire or exactly how it fell. People generally recognize Dhakaani ruins as being goblin creations, and know that many of the largest cities of Khorvaire are built on goblin foundations, but there’s certainly a lunatic fringe that asserts that those structures are clearly too sophisticated to be goblin work and must have been built by some forgotten human civilization. However, most people understand that these “forgotten human” stories are ridiculous conspiracy theories, on par with the idea that shapeshifted dragons are secretly manipulating the world.
The History of Xen’drik. People know that Xen’drik was home to a civilization of giants. Most people believe that the giants were destroyed in a war with the dragons. Many people know that the elves were originally from Xen’drik and fled this destruction. Without History proficiency, most people do NOT know the name of any of the giant cultures or that there were more than one, and they definitely don’t know anything about giants fighting quori. The idea that arrogant giants destroyed the thirteenth moon is a common folk tale, but it has many forms and it’s something most people know as a serious fact.
Spies. When people in the Five Nations talk about spies, they’re usually thinking of The Dark Lanterns or the Royal Eyes of Aundair. Both are well known spy agencies known to operate covertly in other nations, similar to the CIA and KGB during the height of our cold war. Most people in the Five Nations have heard of the Trust and understand that it’s some sort of secret police force that maintains order in Zilargo, but don’t know much more than that and they aren’t concerned about Zil spies. House Phiarlan and House Thuranni are known as providers of ENTERTAINMENT and aren’t generally seen as spies. The assertion that Phiarlan runs a ring of spies is like the idea that Elvis worked for the CIA; not IMPOSSIBLE, but not something people see as a particularly credible threat.
Exotic Player Species. Most people know that drow come from Xen’drik. People know that lizardfolk and dragonborn come from Q’barra, but most people in Khorvaire don’t know that these are two different species. Tieflings are generally understood to be planetouched; as discussed in Exploring Eberron, aasimar are generally so rare that they won’t be recognized by the general populace. With that said, overall people are fairly accepting of species they’ve never encountered. In a world where people DO deal with humans, orcs, shifters, goblins, warforged, elves, kalashtar, ogres, medusas, and more every day, people who’ve never seen a goliath before are more likely to say “Huh, never seen that before” than to panic because it’s some sort of alien giant-man; exotic characters will generally be targets of curiosity rather than fear.
Dragonmarks and Aberrant Dragonmarks. The dragonmarks have been part of civilization for over a thousand years. The houses provide the major services that are part of everyday life. Everyone in the Five Nations knows the names of the houses and the common twelve marks. Without proficiency in History, people won’t have heard of the Mark of Death. Common knowledge is that aberrant dragonmarks are dangerous to both the bearer and the people around them, and are often seen as the “touch of Khyber.” Without proficiency in History, they won’t know much about the War of the Mark, aside from the fact that the aberrants were dangerous and destroyed the original city of Sharn.
The Draconic Prophecy. Most people have heard of “The Draconic Prophecy” but know almost nothing about it aside from the fact that it’s, y’know, a prophecy. When such people talk about the Prophecy, what they’re usually talking about is the Caldyn Fragments, a collection of pieces of the Prophecy assembled by Korranberg scholar Ohnal Caldyn (described in City of Stormreach). Most people definitely don’t understand that it’s an evolving matrix of conditional elements or that it’s the key to releasing the overlords.
Aerenal, the Undying Court, and the Tairnadal. Aerenal is an isolationist culture that has little interest in sharing its traditions with others. However, the elves do trade with the Five Nations and there’s been enough immigration over the course of history to provide a general knowledge of their culture. Most people know that Aerenal is ruled by the Undying Court, and that the Undying Court is made up of ancient undead elves. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of the difference between deathless and other undead. In Five Nations, most people have never heard of “Tairnadal” and assume any Tairnadal elf is from Valenar. They know that Valenar elves are deadly warriors who are always looking for fights and who worship their ancestors, but they don’t know any specifics about patron ancestors or the Keepers of the Past.
What do most people believe about the connection between shifters and lycanthropes?
Most people believe that there is some sort of distant connection between shifters and lycanthropes. Shifters are often called “weretouched,” and some people mistakenly believe that they get wild when many moons are full. However, few people few people believe that shifters are capable of spreading lycanthropy or are sympathetic to lycanthropes. Those negative stereotypes exist, especially in rural Aundair or places where people have never actually SEEN shifters, but they’re not common.
What do followers of the Silver Flame believe about the Sovereigns? What does the Church teach about them? Is it normal to venerate both, at least among the laity? Do they even believe the Sovereigns exist?
Nothing in the doctrine of the Church of the Silver Flame denies the existence of the Sovereigns. It’s entirely possible to follow both religions simultaneously, and templars are happy to work with paladins of the Host. However, the point is that the Church of the Silver Flame doesn’t CARE if the Sovereigns exist. Their general attitude is that if the Sovereigns exist, they are vast powers that are maintaining the world overall. Arawai makes sure there’s rain for the crops. Onatar watches over foundries. That’s all great, but SOMEONE HAS TO DEAL WITH THE GHOULS IN THE GRAVEYARD. It’s notable that the Church of the Silver Flame, for example, doesn’t have a unique creation myth because at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER where the world came from, what matters is that the people who live in it are threatened by supernatural evil and we need to work together to protect them.
I’ve said before that the Church of the the Silver Flame is more like the Jedi or the Men in Black than any religion in our world. It is EXTREMELY PRACTICAL. Evil exists, and good people should fight it. The Silver Flame is a real, concrete source of celestial energy that can empower champions to fight evil. Noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, so be virtuous. If you want to believe in some sort of higher beings beyond that, feel free. What’s important is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil, and faith in the Flame will help you to do that. So the Church doesn’t teach anything about the Sovereigns and it doesn’t encourage its followers to believe in them or incorporate them into its services in any way, but it doesn’t specifically deny that they exist or forbid followers from holding both beliefs.
That’s all for now! Feel free to ask about other general information topics in the comments, but I won’t have time to address every topic. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters who make these articles possible!
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
This month is challenging for many reasons, so rather than writing a long article I planned to write a number of smaller articles addressing questions posed by my Patreon supporters—questions like…
How do the Lords of Dust actually manipulate the people of Khorvaire, considering that their mental manipulation magics are not quite on par with, say, the Dreaming Dark? What’s the edge that allows them to compete with even mundane intelligence agencies such as the Dark Lanterns or House Phiarlan?
The problem is that sometimes questions that SEEM like simple topics turn out to have a lot of layers, and this turned out longer than planned. But let’s start with the shortest summary. How do the Lord of Dust manipulate the people of Khorvaire?
The Lords of Dust have been manipulating the people of Khorvaire since before there were people on Khorvaire. They don’t need to subvert people as the Dreaming Dark does, because they have a vast network of pawns that have been serving them for many generations.
Because of this, they already have people in influential positions in most major institutions and organizations in Khorvaire. They generally don’t directly control any of those organizations, but they are able to control the flow of information, burying reports, guiding the leaders in particular directions, and so on. And they do have Thuranni assassins, Dark Lanterns, and Trust agents (among others) who are directly loyal to them if they need them.
They have amassed vast wealth over the course of a hundred thousand years. Their top agents are mind-reading fiends. When they do need to put pressure on someone new, they can use both gold and secrets to do so.
They know possible paths of the future. They can start political movements that they don’t directly control because they know that in a century that movement will accomplish the thing they want it to. They have the Butterfly Effect on their side; they DO know that this one butterfly flapping its wings will cause a hurricane across the world in a decade. Now, that knowledge isn’t ABSOLUTE. They don’t know the impact of EVERY butterfly. But they know a few of them, and use those to their benefit.
A fun way for the Lords of Dust to manipulate people in the present is Faustian bargains: Give me your soul and I will grant you great wealth! Beat me at fiddling and I’ll give you this golden fiddle, but if you fail I take your life! The point is that FIENDS CAN LIE. Sul Khatesh can actually form warlock pacts, but a normal rakshasa CAN’T actually claim your soul. The point of this is the butterfly effect. What the fiend WANTS is for you to have this golden fiddle or to have wealth (which the Lords of Dust can easily grant through their connections and amassed resources) because somehow those things advance the prophetic path they are trying to lock in. But they want you to think that you WON the fiddle, or that they have claim to your soul… when both of these were just set dressing so people wouldn’t try to understand their REAL motives.
That’s the short answer. But as I said, there’s a lot more to this. So if you’d like to know more, read on.
An important step in planning an Eberron campaign is to decide which major villains you want to use, because you don’t have to use them all (and I personally wouldn’t). There’s nothing wrong with saying that it’s going to be a century before the Lords of Dust have an opportunity to release an overlord, that the stars aren’t right for any of the daelkyr, or that the Dreaming Dark is content in Riedra for the moment. So first of all, keep in mind that there’s no rule stating that the Lords of Dust HAVE to be actively competing with the Dreaming Dark, because it could be that the Lords of Dust aren’t trying to accomplish anything significant at the moment.
In choosing which villains you want to use, you want to consider the difference in their goals and methods, something I briefly discuss in this article. The Dreaming Dark is an alien force that seeks to conquer through subversion and infiltration, and this is why its tools are mind seed and possession. The story of the Dreaming Dark is a story of people you trust being turned against you, a story of secret invasion. The Lords of Dust tell a very different story. They have immense power in the present day. They have resources they’ve been amassing for a hundred thousand years. They have access to artifacts and eldritch machines. They have agents in place in every major house and organization. But they don’t care about the present day. Look back to the quote that opened the article. The Lords of Dust aren’t trying to conquer the world, because from their perspective they already have. They don’t want the trouble of openly ruling pathetic mortals, but through their vast network of pawns, they already have all the power they need in the present. Their goal isn’t to infiltrate existing organizations, because if they need to infiltrate an organization, they’ve already done it. Their goal is to shape events that will in turn shape the path of the future. Let’s take a quick look at the resources they have available.
The Lords of Dust are immortals who have been present since time began. They have been planning their schemes for a hundred thousand years. This has given then time to amass vast resources and to shape civilizations on both a large and small scale; the “Eternal Evil” article notes that when Lhazaar planned her expedition to Khorvaire, a rakshasa was advising her.
Through their studies of the Draconic Prophecy, they not only know the paths that will release their overlords, but they have a general roadmap of the paths the future can take. So that raksahsa guiding Lhazaar wasn’t acting blindly; they KNEW the consequences of pointing Lhazaar at Khorvaire and were intentionally shaping the future. The Lords of Dust are the organization who could build a vault in the wilderness because they know that THREE THOUSAND YEARS LATER it will be important. Again, think of them as time travelers; they just have to live their way forward to their desired future instead of jumping back and forth.
The central core of the Lords of Dust are rakshasa. Their leaders—Hektula, the Wyrmbreaker, etc—are exceptionally powerful rakshasa. But even the default rakshasa is a shapeshifting, mind-reading fiend with a range of enchantment and illusion abilities and potentially, the ability to return after death. But in many ways, the most powerful rakshasa ability is their spell immunity. A rakshasa cannot be “affected or detected” by spells of 6th level or below unless it allows it. That includes things like detect evil and good, see invisibility, and even true seeing. It allows them to walk through magic circles and forbiddance as if they weren’t there. They can ignore the vast majority of tools that would normally be used to detect the presence of fiends or to defend against them. It’s up to the DM to decide what it means that you “can’t be affected or detected” by, say, true seeing or zone of truth. In MY campaign I say that both spells appear to work normally even though they don’t; so a truthteller BELIEVES the rakshasa has been affected by zone of truth even though they haven’t, and true seeing shows the rakshasa’s disguise self as it it was its true appearance. So again, the point is that the rakshasa have a huge advantage because the magic we rely on for our highest security doesn’t work on them; the rakshasa CAN lie in a zone of truth and can look a top Medani agent in the eye without its true nature being exposed.
The majority of the agents of the Lords of Dust are mortal “pawns.” Some of these are what Exploring Eberron calls loyalist cultists, who know the power they serve and and proud of this allegiance. But just as many are devoted to SOMETHING or SOMEONE but don’t realize that this is a fiend or a creation of fiends. Again, the Lords of Dust have been working at this since before human civilization existed, and they are shapeshifting, mind-reading fiends with a map of the future. They have created political movements, art movements, devoted groups of friends, what have you — all to gain pawns who will do a favor at the precise moment it’s needed, likely never knowing the full significance of that favor. One of the most important functions of a pawn is to be in a useful position that allows a rakshasa to temporarily take their place at critical moments. It’s a waste to have a rakshasa working as a clerk in the royal archives of Breland for thirty years. But the Lords of Dust may have a PAWN working as a clerk, and on the three days where there’s something vitally important that the Lords of Dust need in the archives, a rakshasa can take the pawn’s place and accomplish those tasks. Again, it’s almost impossible to identify these pawns, because FOR THE REMAINING THIRTY YEARS that pawn is just a loyal clerk doing their job and they don’t even KNOW what the rakshasa did or why it did it when they let it take their place.
So the story of the Dreaming Dark is one of aliens infiltrating our world. The story of the Lords of Dust is one of discovering that aliens infiltrated our world thousands of years ago and have been secretly pulling the strings ever since. The goal in dealing with the Lords of Dust isn’t to UTTERLY DEFEAT THE LORDS OF DUST. They’re simply too deeply entrenched, not to mention immortal, and again, they are actually part of the status quo of society as we know it. You’ve lived alongside them all your life, and they NEED the world to generally be stable; if they need you assassinate Queen Aurala in order to free Sul Khatesh, they need there to be a Queen Aurala. So the goal is to disrupt their immediate plans so that they will go back to the drawing board and scheme for another two centuries while our lives go on as normal.
When dealing with the Lords of Dust, part of the question is what you’re actually dealing with. You can use them in small ways or as major villains. Here’s a quick overview.
Lone Wolves. The schemes of the Lords of Dust unfold over the course of centuries. What do they do to pass the time in the space in between? Adventurers could clash with a fiend who, while technically tied to the Lords of Dust, is pursuing an entirely personal agenda. A lone rakshasa could be playing a game with a mortal family—say, killing the second child of each family member when that child reaches their 22nd birthday—just for fun. They could start a cult of serial killers because it amuses them to do so. They could seek revenge on a dragon that annoyed them a thousand years ago. In creating lesser fiends, consider that they are likely to share some traits with the overlord they serve. Minions of Sul Khatesh may be interested in arcane experiments, minions of Rak Tulkhesh may enjoy murder and cruelty, and minions of Eldrantuklu love intrigues. So essentially, you can have a villainous fiend—even a member of the Lords of Dust—without the adventure being about THE LORDS OF DUST.
Doing What They Love. Mordakhesh and Rak Tulkhesh love to spread war and hatred. Hektula and Sul Khatesh love to have people using magic in ways that sow fear. These schemes don’t necessarily AMOUNT to anything; they are literally just a way to pass the time for a few centuries while they wait for their next release-the-overlord possibility to come around. In general, you can think of this as “feeding the overlord.” It’s not like Rak Tulkhesh can starve to death, but if Mordakhesh can feed him war he is HAPPY and that in turn pleases Mordakhesh. So he LIKES to sow hatred even when there’s no world-shattering threat involved, as long as he doesn’t cause so much chaos that it interferes with future plans. So you can fight an evil wizard who’s empowered by Sul Khatesh and do something good by defeating them, but the FATE OF THE WORLD was never at stake and Hektula herself doesn’t care too much. You did a good thing that protected the local community from that wizard, but it’s not like Hektula will vow vengeance because she has literally done THOUSANDS OF TIMES. Sometimes the seeds grow into beautiful bloody flowers, sometimes troublesome adventurers stop them. No big deal… she’ll plant more.
Butterfly Collectors. It’s possible that one or more of your characters has a critical role to play in events that will trigger the release of Sul Khatesh… two hundred years from now. The whole idea of manipulating the Prophecy is that it takes generations to play out. As such, it’s possible that a Lord of Dust needs the adventurers to do something that doesn’t threaten them or the world in the present day, and that could even be useful to them. Consider The Hobbit: Gandalf could be a disguised rakshasa, who brings the dwarves to the Shire, convinces Bilbo to join their company, and helps them defeat Smaug because he knows that if Bilbo joins them he WILL find the One Ring, and he’s just laying the groundwork for the events of The Lord of The Rings, which will occur a century later. But in the short term, Bilbo and his friends defeat a dragon, find a magic ring, have great adventures and become friends. This is exactly the sort of thing a Lord of Dust could set in motion; it not only SEEMS innocent, it IS innocent… until a century later, when the fate of the world is determined by these events. Remember that the Lords of Dust are limited by needing the correct mortals to fulfill the Prophecy, because they need things to happen in the proper way. In this example, Hektula might know EXACTLY where the Ring is the whole time, but she needs BILBO to defeat Golumn in the battle of riddles and to claim it himself.
Loyalist Cults. Many pawns work for the Lords of Dust without knowing it. But all of the overlords have cults that DO know who they work for and revel in it. The Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes are examples of this, but there can be fiend cults throughout Khorvaire. If you need a quick minor villain, great, use an overlord cult. This is in the middle of this list because it can go in either direction. The cultists could be engaged in a scheme that will lead to the release of an overlord, or they could just be in that “doing what they love” role. Rak Tulkhesh loves to have cults shedding blood, and it could be that’s all that’s going on—and you stopping that cult is just a good thing for everyone. Or it could be that the actions of that cult are part of an early stage of releasing an overlord. The question there is whether a) by the time the adventurers defeat the cult, they have already done the critical action they needed to perform to push the prophecy to the next level or b) whether the cult being defeated WAS PART OF THE PLAN ALL ALONG. Because that’s the way the Lords of Dust work; they may have pushed their cult into your path because they NEEDED you to defeat them. Exploring Eberron discusses the cults of five different overlords.
Releasing an Overlord. This is the main event: the idea that the Lords of Dust are working toward the release of an overlord, and that a release—or at least a partial release—could occur in the course of a campaign. This requires the Lords of Dust to get a particular path of the Draconic Prophecy to pass; this is discussed in this article. The critical point is that these are things that have MANY steps and you’re just coming in at the end; they have likely been working on this for centuries, and these are the last steps. So usually this is something that adventurers will discover at a critical point and then have to fight on multiple steps. The challenge is that the rakshasa have a map of the future and the adventurers don’t. As noted above, it could be that by the time the adventurers defeat a cult they’ve already accomplished what they needed to do, or it could be that defeating the cult was part of the plan.
Rebinding an Overlord. Here’s the thing: preventing the release of an overlord isn’t nearly as much fun as rebinding an overlord that has been partially released. If you successfully keep the plan from succeeding, you never actually get to see how bad things could be. History is full of moments when the plans of the Lords of Dust were blocked and NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM. But everybody knows about Tira Miron’s sacrifice to rebind Bel Shalor, because the Shadow in the Flame WAS partially released and terrorized Thrane for months before Tira figured out how he could be defeated… which meant identifying a different path of the Prophecy (she needed to be channeling a couatl; to be wielding Kloijner; to fight him at a particular place and time; to be working with specific allies). A campaign involving the partial release of an overlord gives all sorts of opportunities to battle fiends and unravel mysteries, and to ultimately fight an aspect of the overlord (which is what the stat blocks in Rising represent, though they are MUCH weaker than the overlords presented in third edition)… While a campaign in which the adventurers just block the release can feel anticlimactic.
You might well say “If the Lords of Dust are so powerful, why don’t they just kill the player characters the moment they become a threat?” Because sure, from a mechanical standpoint they easily could. They have hundreds of rakshasas—possibly thousands—epic magic and countless pawns in positions of power. The reason they don’t turn all the power against the adventurers is because they need the player characters—or at least, believe that they MIGHT need the player characters. You know how we always say that player characters are remarkable and that they’re the heroes of the age? That’s because they are PROPHETICALLY SIGNIFICANT. It may be that the Lords of Dust have specific plans that they need to use the PCs for (Hektula needs you to kill Queen Aurala to release an overlord) or it could be that they are just the first dominos in a long line (Hektula needs your wizard’s GREAT-GRANDAUGHTER to kill Aurala’s great-grandson… and your wizard doesn’t even have any children yet). They may not even KNOW what role they need you for, but they know you’re significant and they’re figuring it out. This is why pawns of the Lords of Dust tend not to be the people IN power, but rather the advisors, the scribes, the people in the background. The Lords of Dust can’t force the actions of prophetic lynchpins without derailing the prophecy. They couldn’t just replace Lhazaar with a rakshasa or use dominate person (which any raksahsa can cast) on her; they needed her to CHOOSE to go to Khorvaire. It’s the same here. They can manipulate the adventurers by manipulating the events around them, but they can’t just mind control them or replace them.
One way to think about it is rats in a scientist’s maze. Your PC is a rat and the Wyrmbreaker wants you to go down a particular path. He can try to lure you to go the way he wants—drop a piece of cheese down the right path—but he can’t just PUSH you down the path or the experiment becomes invalid. Should you at the final moment FAIL to go down the proper path, he’s not going to kill the rat; what’s the point? Instead he’s going to put you back in the cage and start figuring out the next experiment. Because that’s the thing: there will ALWAYS be a way to release the overlords. The moment Tira rebound Bel Shalor, a new path for his release began to take shape. It could take centuries for the Lords of Dust to identify that new path, and a thousand years before they have a chance to make it happen, but they WILL figure it out. Dustoran has tried and failed HUNDREDS OF TIMES. When you foil his plot, he’s going to just move on to the next one. And let’s face it, even if he was certain he has no further use for you, he doesn’t NEED to kill you. You’re mortal. If you’re human, you’ll be dead in a few decades; he’ll still be here in ten thousand years.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for posing this question and for making these articles possible!
You call her the Twister of Roots, for you cannot see the beauty in her works. Open your mind and your body to the Bloody Cornucopia. Let her plant her seeds in your thoughts and your fertile flesh and show you wonders you cannot imagine.
Avassh is the terraformer of the daelkyr. Poisonous blooms unfold at its touch, and fungus spreads in its wake. Dhaakani accounts of the wars against the daelkyr speak of blighted fields where rotting crops rise up to consume the farmers, and jungles where the screaming trees drink goblin blood through barbed roots. The Dhakaani on the western frontier had to burn their dead to ensure that the corpses didn’t rise again, overflowing with fungal blooms. Those Dhakaani facing Avassh were ordered to be extraordinarily vigilant. Terrifying as Dyrrn’s mind flayers may be, when an illithid is slain the threat is over. Avassh’s minions often scatter spores when they are destroyed; unless preventative measures are taken, a single shambling mound could give birth to a new legion. The Gatekeeper druids helped the Dhakaani to contain Avassh’s influence, but there weren’t enough druids to protect the vast empire; in many regions, fields and forests had to be razed to utterly expunge this alien threat.
Today Avassh is bound in Khyber, and mercifully, its influence is severely restricted. Avassh is most active in the Towering Woods of the Eldeen Reaches; the Wardens of the Wood watch for its general influence, while the Children of Winter contain its threats in the Gloaming. However, it’s quite possible it has a foothold in some of the other vast untamed jungles of Khorvaire—or that adventurers could discover an alien oasis beneath the surface. Beyond this, there are seeds that were scattered across Khorvaire thousands of years ago still waiting for the right moment (or cult rituals) to bear deadly fruit. Some sages believe that the Barrens of western Khorvaire—the area now known as Droaam—was brutally defoliated to counter the influence of Avassh, and if so there may be many forgotten seeds there waiting to be recovered and cultivated.
THE TWISTER OF ROOTS
Avassh doesn’t embody mortal fears of nature; rather, it transforms nature to create alien terrors. This transformation appears to be the primary motivation of the daelkyr. Many of Avassh’s creations are deadly threats. Blights will kill creatures of flesh and corrupt natural vegetation. The compelling scent of Avassh’s blooms may be poisonous, or could carry a more insidious threat—psychic spores that take root as powerful psychoses. But some of the things that Avassh has created, while certainly unnatural, are actually quite useful. Brightwort is a faintly luminescent plant that is immensely useful in the creation of potions of healing or vitality. Most casual botanists assume that brightwort is connected to Irian—like Araam’s Crown, another potent medicinal herb. But unlike Araam’s Crown, brightwort doesn’t grow in Irian manifest zones, and there’s nothing natural about the way this herb promotes flesh to knit and blood to clot. Avassh’s creations will be unlike anything that exists in OUR world, but it’s possible these alien resources can be harnessed to serve the greater good. Avassh doesn’t care if its plants help you are harm you. Avassh is reshaping the world in its image, and whether or not you thrive in this new environment is incidental.
Brightwort is a fairly minor and benevolent example of Avassh’s work. Other creations of the Twister of Roots range from dangerous to bizarre. The classic mandrake—a plant with a human-shaped root that screams when it’s dug up—could definitely be in Avassh’s garden. Carnivorous plants, flowers that smell like your most painful memories, angry trees with razor leaves—these are just a few of Avassh’s creations. Consider these possibilities…
Mourning Roses. These flowers cry in the darkness, a haunting sob designed to lure people. The thorns on its vines are charged with a powerful venom; those who search for the source of the cries will usually fall prey to the poison, and their corpses will fertilize the roses. The plant only cries when it is in bloom, and it is actually a psychic effect rather that actual sound; the voice feels familiar, even though it’s impossible to identify.
Bone Orchards. Bone orchards sprout from humanoid bones. They appear to be dead trees, with closely interlaced, leafless boughs. However, their bark has the texture of bone. The trees feed on the last vestiges of spirit that linger in the bones that spawned them. A bone tree counts as the source corpse for purposes of speak with dead, and even without the spell, the whispers of the dead can often be heard in a bone orchard. These are typically found on ancient Dhakaani battlefields or mass graves, but new orchards can be found in areas with active Avassh cults or places close to the daelkyr’s prison.
Tree of Knowledge. Each of these trees is unique—deciduous in appearance, but often strange in color and texture. A tree of knowledge might appear to be made of glass, or it could bleed if its bark is cut. As its name suggests, the fruit of a tree of knowledge imparts information, something the person who consumes the fruit knows to be absolutely true. Each tree holds a particular piece of knowledge, and it’s possible that this information could be entirely useful; a tree of knowledge could grant understanding of the Goblin language, or proficiency with woodcarver’s tools. But a tree could also grant absolute understanding of secrets mortals weren’t meant to know—secrets that might drive someone to start a cult devoted to the Twister of Roots, for example. This is often how Avassh cults spread, and NPCs may be powerless to resist such infection. However, if a player character encounters such fruit, they should be granted a Wisdom save to resist its effects (which are to be charmed by other Avassh cultists), and be able to repeat the saving throw if they are harmed by Avassh cultists and after each long rest.
These are just a few examples. The Twister of Roots also creates many plant monsters, described in the Forces section below.
THE BLOODY CORNUCOPIA
While Avassh creates new foms of plantlife, it also explores the line between animal and vegetable, often creating strange hybrids of the two. This can be reflected by its symbionts (see the Gifts section below), but it often involves an actual transformation rather than the use of a temporary symbiont. Most cultists welcome such transformations, seeing it as ascension to a higher state. Here’s a few examples of cult transformations.
Wooden Soldiers. While the cultist appears normal, beneath the skin their muscles become flexible roots and their organs transform into wood. These wooden soldiers use the statistics of warforged. They don’t have the ability to attach armor, but they gain the +1 AC bonus of Integrated Protection while wearing armor and when they are wearing no armor they have an AC of 13 + their Dex Modifier. They are considered to be both plants and aberrations.
Rootbound. The cultists become bound to a wooden object—typically a living tree, but there are cases where cultists have been bound to the wooden structure of a building. These cultists cannot venture more than a few miles from the object they are bound to. They use the statistics of dryads, but are considered to be plants and aberrations rather than fey, and speak both the languages they knew in their prior life and Deep Speech. Rootbound dryads can’t cast druidcraft or shillelagh, but they know the primal savagery and acid splash cantrips (spitting the acids from their mouths). The rootbound’s “Fey Charm” can target one humanoid and up to three plants or aberrations at a time; it doesn’t affect beasts.
Dolgaunts. While Avassh has servitors with the abilities of dolgaunts, they are quite different from those created by Dyrrn the Corruptor. Avassh’s dolgaunts begin with a seed being implanted in the spine of a cultist. The seed grows and spreads roots throughout the cultist’s body; two of these pierce the skin, becoming the long tentacles of the dolgaunt. The cultist’s eyes turn into dead wood, and are eventually pushed out of their sockets by roots. By this point, the original cultist is dead and what’s left is a dolgaunt servant of Avassh. These dolgaunts are both plant and aberration.
Myconids. There have been a few cases of cults that have voluntarily infected themselves with a consuming fungus and become myconids. These cults are often peaceful, interested only in their own fungal communion; however, they may decide to aggressively share this bliss with others. Avassh myconids are discussed further under Forces.
THE FORCES OF AVASSH
Avassh’s cults typically begin with a seed. Sometimes this is a relic of the Dhakaani conflict that suddenly sprouts—perhaps watered by a particular emotion or simply by contact with humanoids. In other cases a cultist might be compelled to perform rituals that create the seed without truly knowing what they are doing. The form of the cult depends on what seed they have sprouted. Cults that know Avassh as the Bloody Cornucopia are similar to Dyrrn’s Transcendent Flesh cults, yearning for an unnatural transformation. Cults that know Avassh as the Twister of Roots may cultivate deadly gardens. It could be that this is all that they do—that they cultivate a garden of mourning roses but have no sinister plans—or it could be that they are tending a blood mother (see below), caring for it until it can unleash a blight.
Transformed cultists have been described above, but here are other creations of the Twister of Roots. These forces could be found working with cults, or could be encountered on their own in regions influenced by Avassh.
Blights. Blights are a bioweapon originally unleashed against Dhakaan. Blights kill humanoids and transform the vegetation of their region, spreading poisonous brambles, slimy vines, and other disturbing vegetation. The Dhakaani called the trees that spawn blights khaar’niianu, “blood mothers.” The sphere of influence of a blood mother is based on its size and age. Most ancient blood mothers were destroyed by the Dhakaani. Occasionally a new tree sprouts—a relic of the Dhakaani conflict that never germinated, or the result of cult rituals—but such young trees have a limited range. A new blood mother might destroy Sharn, but a single young tree couldn’t engulf Breland.
Gas Spores and Dolgaunts. Avassh created the first gas spores. Some scholars believe that this is a key to understanding the relationship between daelkyr—that the gas spores are in some way a reflection of the relationship between Avassh and Belashyrra—but there is a continuing debate as to whether this reflects cooperation or if it is a form of mockery or humor. This is also reflected by Avassh’s dolgaunts; as described earlier, they resemble dolgaunts but are actually a fusion of plant and animal; they are considered to be both plants and aberrations.
Myconids. The only known account of a civilization of myconids comes from Boroman ir’Dayne, who describes a subterranean expedition that discovered an ancient Dhakaani vault inhabited by these creatures. Boroman describes the creatures existing in a state of “ecstatic union” and says that they were awaiting the coming of “The Harvester”, who had sown them long ago and would one day harvest them to serve a greater purpose. Boroman theorized that these myconids (a term coined by ir’Dayne and not used by the creatures themselves) were the remnants of a Dhakaani kech that had been targeted by Avassh—possible centuries after the downfall of the empire on the surface. While this is the only account of a myconid civilization, myconids can be encountered in Avassh’s cults—as described above—and as unique creatures spawned by the Mourning or created by Mordain.
Shambling Mounds. The shambling mounds of Avassh form around the bones of dead sentient creatures. Most are just rough shapes, but occasionally a shambler more closely recognizes its original form; there’s at least one case of an Avassh cult leader being restored as a shambling mound and retaining his memories of his mortal life. As with treants and other creatures, these are Avassh’s shambling mounds; shamblers can also be created by primal forces, and such shambling mounds aren’t associated with bones.
Shriekers. Little is known about shriekers. Most sages believe that they are nonsentient fungi that only react to the presence of light and motion. However, Boroman ir’Dayne reports hearing a “haunting choir of shriekers” that seemed to be singing to one another across great distances, though he was unable to make any sense of the song or induce individual shriekers to replicate it or to communicate in any way. There have also been a few examples of “shrieking cults”—a seeming variation of Kyrzin’s gibbering cults—who use the bodies of their dead to fertilize shriekers and claim to be able to hear the voices of their loved ones in the shrieks. It’s possible that Avassh is linked to shriekers, and can speak through any shrieker—if it ever has any reason to speak to adventurers. If this is true, Boroman’s mysterious choir could be the equivalent of Avassh humming to itself…
Treants. During the Xoriat incursion, Dhakaani fortresses in what is now Aundair were assaulted by living siege engines they called the Gaa’avassh, the “Children of Avassh.” Since then, these creatures have been encountered in the depths of the Gloaming and other jungles and forests touched by Avassh. Most gaa’avassh have the broad appearance of classic treants blended with willow trees; however, their bark has a slick texture, they have nothing resembling a human face or head, and the dangling “willow branches” are actually a mass of prehensile tendrils. Mechanically, they grapple any smaller creature they strike with their Slam attack (DC 18 to escape); they can grapple up to six creatures at a time. The only language they all know is Deep Speech; ancient gaa’avash will know Goblin, and may have learned other languages from the creatures around them. The consider animals of all types to be an infestation, and see no difference between humans and squirrels. They are reclusive creatures that largely dwell in the deepest woods. While this describes the traits of the common gaa’avassh, there are certainly more exotic examples. One Dhakaani account speaks of a massive gaa’avassh that also served as the blood mother of a blight infestation, and there is an old Aundairian folk tale that seems to describe a gaa’avassh that falls in love with a parasitical dryad.
Assassin vines, violet fungus, and similar creatures can all be attributed to Avassh, and cults of the Twister of Roots may cultivate such creatures and even have the ability to control them psychically. it’s possible that there are other plants with similar statistics that have other origins, but any dangerous and unnatural plant could be the work of Avassh.
THE GIFTS OF AVASSH
The most common gifts of Avassh are potions—elixirs brewed using the alien properties of Avassh’s creations. Typically cult herbalists are driven by unnatural intuition and don’t really understand the alchemy they are working. While Avassh’s potions are potent, they may well have side effects ranging from minor hallucinations while the potion is in effect (you hear strange music whenever you come close to a living plant) to actual physical transformations. These effects could be very minor on a single dose—so an adventurer can use the potion of giant strength they obtained from a cultist and only have green skin for a few hours—but repeated doses of the same potion will come with more serious side effects, which explains why adventurers won’t want to embrace an Avassh cult as a friendly pharmacy.
Symbionts of Avassh are made of wood or other vegetable matter. As discussed in Exploring Eberron, any existing magic item could be flavored as an Avassh symbiont. A symbiont cloak of protection might be made of interlocked leaves; it feeds off the blood of its host, which can be seen in the veins of the leaves. Avassh cultists may use hungry weapons made of wood and studded with thorns, or a tongueworm that’s a thorn-tipped vine. Nonsymbiont tools of Avassh could include enchanted prosthetics, or a dagger of venom made of an Avassh variant of livewood. If you are using Magic of Eberron, Avassh could definitely be a source of plant grafts.
Avassh cultists aren’t all destructive; some wish to pursue their own vegetative communion or evolution and have no interest in letting you in on the action. On the other hand, a character could be a former cultist who’s broken free from Avassh’s influence but retained the powers they gained in the process. Consider the following ideas…
With your DM’s permission, you could play a wooden soldier of Avassh using the statistics of a warforged. You can’t attach armor, but you can wear it normally and gain the +1 bonus of Integrated Protection when you do. To you enjoy your wooden condition, or are you searching for a way to return to your original form?
As an alchemist artificer, you could be drawing your magic from the strange herbs of Avassh. Are you a cultist who cultivates your own sacred garden, or are you a scholar who recovered plants grown by an Avassh cult and seeing what you can do with them?
As a diviner, you could draw your talent for divination from an elixir made from a tree of knowledge. Do you have ongoing access to the tree, or are you worried what will happen when you run out?
With your DM’s permission, you could play a Circle of the Moon druid who wildshapes into plant forms instead of animal forms. You gained your gifts through communion with Avassh; do you still believe that the Bloody Cornucopia is benevolent, or do you now oppose the Cults of the Twister of Roots?
Avassh isn’t hard to work into a story. If adventurers wander into a deep, untamed region—the Towering Woods, the King’s Forest—they could discover that Avassh has influence in the area. Alternately, they could have to deal with a cult or a war-seed that has sprouted in a town or city and needs to be dealt with. Here’s a few other ideas.
The adventurers find an ancient Dhakaani ruin that was destroyed long ago in conflict with Avassh. It could be occupied solely by aggressive plants, or it could have myconids or wooden soldiers based on the original inhabitants. One canon example of this is in Five Nations—Yarkuun Draal, a Dhakaani fortress in Breland. Five Nations says that the ruin is held by “the daelkyr Bhodex’av’gr” but I would personally say that Bhodex’av’gr isn’t a daelkyr, but rather an ancient, evolved cultist of Avassh—a powerful lieutenant who may not be a daelkyr, but is something very powerful and inhuman.
The adventurers find the ruins of a cult stronghold wiped out sometime during the golden age of Galifar. Texts in the ruin speak of the gifts of the Garden of Knowledge, and the adventurers find that at least one tree of knowledge remains intact. Will anyone taste its fruit?
After clashing with wooden soldiers, a PC artificer notices a disturbing similarity between the root-like musculature of the fallen soldiers and the body of a warforged. Is House Cannith drawing on Avassh’s power to create the warforged, and if so, do they know it? Could the warforged be controlled by Avassh?
Adventurers stumble upon evidence that proves that Oalian, the Great Druid of the Eldeen Reaches, is a creation of Avassh. Can they determine whether Oalian is a plant—a long, long-term mole waiting to enact an ancient scheme—or if the Great Druid is truly as noble as it seems?
What would you use as a stat block for Avassh?
I don’t have the time to develop a full stat block for her. However, you can cobble something serviceable by combining Zuggtmoy’s block from Out of the Abyss with Dyrrn from Eberron Rising From The Last War. Start with Zuggtmoy’s base block, and make the following changes:
Avassh should be a medium aberration as opposed to a large fiend.
Add the Alien Mind and Teleport traits from Dyrrn.
That will WORK. It’s not ideal; personally, I’d be inclined to give Avassh more transformation or summoning powers. Zuggtmoy is heavily infested in the fungal/spore theme, which is fine; the mind control abilities aren’t INappropriate for a daelkyr. But I’d like to see Avassh invest more strongly in the idea of CHANGING or CREATING things.
That’s all I have time for now, but I’m including a table of trinkets tied to Avassh as a bonus for the inner Circle on my Patreon! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and for making these articles possible. Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments, but I am dealing with major deadlines at the moment and most likely won’t have time to address complex questions.
She had the body of a great black cat, with the neck and head of a beautiful elf-maiden – though if that head was on a humanoid body, she’d have to be nine feet tall to match the scale. Her skin was flawless cream, her eyes glittering gold. Her long hair was midnight black, dropping down and mingling with the vast raven’s wings folded on her back. The black of her fur and hair was striped with bands of brilliant orange, and these seemed to glow in the dim light; when she shifted these stripes rippled like flames.
“Why are you doing this?” Daine said. “If you know so much about our destinies, why the riddles? Why not just tell us what you know?”
The sphinx smiled. “What answer do you wish to hear, Daine with no family name? That I am bound by divine and arcane laws, and have told you all that I can? That I have told you what you need to know to fulfill your purpose in this world? Or that I have my own plans, and I am shaping your destiny as much as any of the others who watch?”
“Which is true?”
“Which will you believe?”
City of Towers
Sphinxes are enigmatic and inscrutable. For all their cryptic insights and challenges, in some ways the greatest riddle of the sphinx is the sphinx itself. Where do they come from? What is the source of their knowledge, and most of all, what is their motivation? In most tales a sphinx is found guarding some arcane site or artifact, only sharing its treasure or its knowledge to those who can pass its test. Why does it do this?
No sphinx will answer these questions. No power on Eberron can read the mind of a sphinx, and divinations shatter against their inscrutable nature. And so the sages of Eberron are left to ponder the riddle, studying the clues that are available. The first and most popular theory about sphinxes was presented by the loremaster Dorius Alyre ir’Korran. In his Codex of All Mysteries, ir’Korran asserted that sphinxes are living embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. Their oracular abilities are tied to the fact that they are manifestations of the Prophecy and innately know the paths of the future. They are bound to their duties and found in portentous locations because they are literally instruments of destiny, positioned to guide and challenge the people who will in turn shape history. They slip through time and space because they exist beyond it. Ir’Korran suggested that although they appear to be individuals, sphinxes are in fact all part of a greater entity, fingers on a hand too vast for mortals to see.
For centuries most scholars have supported ir’Korran’s theory. Magister Mara ir’Lain observed that sphinxes often appear to be guarding tombs, temples, or treasures, but there are no reliable accounts of a sphinx being assigned such a task. An androsphinx that identified itself as Silverstorm challenged Harryn Stormblade in the ancient Dhakaani citadel below Cazhaak Draal, but the only Dhakaani account that mentions sphinxes is the story of Jhazaal Dhakaan outwitting a sphinx to obtain its secret knowledge. Ir’Lain believed that this supported the Codex: that as Silverstorm wasn’t posted by the Dhakaani, its stewardship of Cazhaak Draal must be tied to the Prophecy.
However, over the centuries, scholars have learned more about sphinxes. In his paper “The Sphinx in the Library”, Professor Cord Ennis of Morgrave University made the following observations (summarized for the terrestrial reader; Ennis doesn’t mention the Monster Manual):
Sphinxes are powerful and varied spellcasters. The androsphinx in the Monster Manual is a divine spellcaster, using Wisdom to cast cleric spells. the gynosphinx is an arcane spellcaster, using Intelligence to cast wizard spells. While it’s possible that this is tied to the species of sphinx, it’s equally plausible that these are learned skills—that an androsphinx could master arcane magic, or a gynosphinx could channel magic through faith.
While they often appear to be bound to some sort of duty, sphinxes seem to have personalities and even a desire to learn. The most well-documented sphinx of the modern age, Flamewind, resides at Morgrave University and often spends her time reading; she has been known to attend parties and theatrical events.
Sphinxes are monstrosities, not celestials, fiends, or fey. This suggests that they are creatures of flesh and blood, rather than immortal incarnations.
Ennis challenges the Codex on multiple points. If sphinxes are extensions of the Prophecy, are they monstrosities rather than some form of celestial or fiend? Why do we see what appear to be both wizards and clerics among them, rather than a single path reflecting the channeled power of the Prophecy? Why did Flamewind attend the premiere of Five Lives, and even shed a tear in the final act? There are certainly reports of Flamewind assuming the role of the imperious oracle—as she did when first encountered, and as in the account quoted at the start of the article—and yet, she also seems to be capable of more casual interactions.
Cord Ennis believed this proved that sphinxes could have a more mundane origin: that they are mortal creatures, that they can study and learn, that they have more personality than the typical celestial. But as critics were quick to point out, no one has ever discovered any evidence of a civilization of sphinxes. There’s only a single account (discovered in Cul’sir ruins) of multiple sphinxes being encountered at the same time. All of this supports the Codex. There’s no signs of a sphinx civilization because sphinxes are tools of the Prophecy.
A team of researchers in the Arcane Congress presented a new theory, seeking to bridge the two: that sphinxes are creatures of Thelanis. The premise is that sphinxes aren’t instruments of destiny, but rather that they exist to drive the plot. Thelanis is the plane of stories, and its archfey often seem to enjoy seeing echoes of their stories in the world. Under this theory, the reason sphinxes show up at such dramatic times and locations is because the story needs themto—that they are some form of servants to the archfey, helping to guide the world in ways that echo the story of their masters. This ties to the fact that Thelanian creatures often show more personality and quixotic behavior than many other creatures, and that lesser fey aren’t immortal. While a compelling theory, opponents countered with the point that sphinxes don’t share the typical traits of Thelanian entities—which is to say, they are monstrosities rather than fey.
Most recently, Cord Ennis returned with a refinement of his thesis. Ennis suggests that sphinxes are mortal, civilized creatures, but that the reason there’s no evidence of any sphinx civilization is because they aren’t from this time. There are a number of accounts in which people facing sphinxes in their lairs are shifted through time—the apocryphal tale that Breggor Firstking was a beggar who was given a chance to relive his life and used his knowledge to become a king, or the story of the man who sleeps in a sphinx’s lair without permission and awakes a hundred years later. According to Ennis’s theory, the idea that sphinxes can move through time helps to explain both their seemingly oracular abilities and their interest in seeming cryptic actions; that their enigmatic behavior shapes future events in ways we don’t see, but they do. The lack of any signs of sphinx civilization is because it doesn’t exist in the scope of history as we know it. And further, the fact that sphinxes only manipulate time in their lairs suggests the use of some form of eldritch machine as opposed to the innate powers one would expect in a living manifestation of the Prophecy—that they accomplish time travel using a tool, rather than personal power alone. Ennis asserted that this could explain Flamewind’s observed behavior—at times the cryptic oracle, and at other times almost more of a curious tourist.
While intriguing, Ennis admitted that there was one piece of the puzzle that still escaped him. When do these time-traveling sphinxes come from? His first thought was the distant future—that they could even be some sort of mystically evolved descendants of the modern races. Yet if that were the case, is there no risk of their meddling changing their own future? Given this, he ultimately favors the idea that the sphinxes are from the very distant past—that they could potentially be the citizens of the FIRST civilization of Eberron, a society that predates the Age of Demons and whose existence was wiped from history by the dominion of the overlords. With this as a foundation, Ennis suggests that the actions of the sphinxes might not be the absolute demands of destiny one would expect from embodiments of the Prophecy, but rather a grand game. As their time is long past, the sphinxes don’t actually care what about the ultimate outcome; whether the overlords rise again or the daelkyr are unleashed doesn’t actually hurt them. Ennis further suggests that this could reflect the different techniques seen among sphinxes. The “divine” sphinxes—those wielding clerical abilities—could see their actions as being a divine mission, potentially even one mandated by the Progenitors (because what other gods were there at the dawn of time?) while the “arcane” sphinxes could be the scientists of their time. Thus, Flamewind could be in Sharn because she knows it is a nexus of elements she wants to deal with—events or people she wants to observe or influence—but that between those key events she is simply enjoying studying this time and place, so alien to her native time.
While these are all intriguing possibilities, as long as sphinxes remain inscrutable they will remain a mystery. Servants of the Prophecy? Agents of the archfey? Travelers from the dawn of time? All three are possible, and the only way to learn the truth is through adventure. Within their lairs, sphinxes have the ability to manipulate time and travel the planes.
Why Does This Matter?
The mystery of the sphinx is an important part of the creature, and something I want to maintain rather than simply providing an absolute answer. Are sphinxes time travelers? Agents of Prophecy? Shapers of story? All three are possible—but each has a different impact on both the role a sphinx may play in a campaign and on the mechanics of the sphinxes themselves. Most critically, the rules of the sphinx’s lair action state that the sphinx can shift itself and others to “another plane of existence.” It doesn’t specify which plane of existence or that the sphinx has multiple options. This answer—along with the circumstances under which the sphinx would USE its lair actions—likely depends on its origins. Because again, always remember that just because a sphinx CAN do something doesn’t mean it WILL. A Prophecy sphinx my have the POWER to shift people through time, but it may never use it if it isn’t required. So, let’s briefly consider the theories presented above and the ways these would impact a story.
Time Travelers. One of the core elements of sphinxes as time travelers is the idea that they are a mortal civilization. They are advanced beyond any civilization that exists today, but they are individuals using magical tools to accomplish these things—they are arcane scientists and divine spellcasters, capable of observing the tapestry of time and playing a great game they are playing with it. If this is the case, Flamewind in Sharn may indeed have very specific events she wants to observe and people she wishes to drive down specific paths, but at the end of the day she is a mortal wizard. She may play the role of being enigmatic and all-knowing, but there’s a touch of the Wizard of Oz; she DOES have knowledge of the future and of the potential destiny of the characters, but she’s not in fact infallible, she is playing her own game, and she also enjoys being a little bit of a tourist between those critical events. Should you follow this path, there’s a few points I’d consider.
The spellcasting abilities of a sphinx reflect whether they are a divine or arcane spellcaster—essentially, a wizard or a cleric. Under this approach, gynosphinxes and androsphinxes are simply male and female sphinxes, and it should be possible to encounter an androsphinx wizard or a gynosphinx priestess. A key question is what divine power sphinxes serve; personally, I like the idea that they might have a different sort of relationship with the Progenitors than people of the present day.
In shifting themselves or others to another plane, I would specifically use XORIAT. We’ve established that Xoriat is the key to time travel, and I’d assert that the time travel techniques being used by the sphinxes are based in this. The sphinxes aren’t creatures OF Xoriat and have no love for the daelkyr; they are scientists who are USING Xoriat. But they can also toss you into it for kicks.
The lair abilities of a sphinx are tied to a form of eldritch machine. Most likely this is specifically linked to the sphinx and cannot be used or even understood by any other creature… But it’s POSSIBLE that someone who’s figured out the mystery of the sphinx and has access to their lair could find a way to hack their time machine. A second specific question is where Flamewind has her lair. If the lair is a machine, it’s not likely to be something she could build in Morgrave University. In the novel City of Towers, this is why she deals with the protagonists in the abandoned temple in Malleon’s Gate; she hangs out at Morgrave, but her LAIR is in Malleon’s.
The final point is that time-traveling sphinxes are manipulating events, but they don’t have the same sort of agenda as heralds of Prophecy or Archfey emissaries. They aren’t invested in the outcome in the same way as, say, the Lords of Dust or the Chamber. Ultimately, this isn’t their time and the outcome won’t actually AFFECT them; it’s more intriguing than vital. However, divine sphinxes are more likely to be driven by a divine mission, while arcane sphinxes are more likely to be scientists and researchers.
Agents of the Archfey. If Sphinxes are tied to Thelanis, they are a form of fey; it’s up to the DM to decide whether to add the fey subtype or simply to say that you don’t HAVE to be fey to be from Thelanis. Sphinxes would effectively be Greater Fey—not truly immortal, but with a loose relationship to time and reality. A few thoughts about Thelanian sphinxes…
The plane they can travel to is Thelanis. Their ability to manipulate time is something that they don’t use with great precision and essentially only use when it serves the story; they aren’t truly time travelers, but they can throw Rip Van Winkle ahead a century when it fits the story.
A sphinx will be tied to a specific archfey, and its goals and the role it plays—guarding a location, posing a riddle—are tied to the story of that archfey. A Thelanian sphinx will be bound by fey logic: if it eats anyone who fails to answer its riddle, that’s not a CHOICE, it’s what it HAS TO DO. It MUST follow its role in the story.
While they draw on wizard or cleric spell lists, sphinxes aren’t actually clerics or wizards; their spellcasting reflects innate fey powers rather than arcane science.
Incarnations of Prophecy. If they are incarnations of the Prophecy, sphinxes stand sideways to the conflicts of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber. They don’t seek to manipulate the Prophecy: they ARE the Prophecy. While they may not be celestials or fiends, neither are they mortal creatures: they appear when and where they are needed, and likely disappear back into the Prophecy once their purpose has been fulfilled. If you want to explain the curious behavior of Flamewind, one possibility is to say that while a Prophetic sphinx has a limited existence, during the time it does exist it is a conscious entity; that Flamewind has spent eons as a disembodied thread of the Prophecy and is enjoying this incarnate period while she waits for the purpose that has caused her to be made manifest comes to a point. Key points about Prophetic sphinxes…
A Prophetic sphinx has no tied to any specific plane; as such, the planes it can access are likely tied to its specific Prophetic role.
This likewise ties to its ability to time travel. Essentially, a Prophetic sphinx has no free will. It exists for an absolute purpose. It CAN manipulate time or transport people to the planes, but it won’t and can’t use this power unless it is necessary for the purpose it’s manifested to fulfill. If adventurers must travel to Shavarath, it will transport them to Shavarath. If they must go forward ten years, it will take them forward ten years. But it can’t just decide that it would be INTERESTING to take them forward ten years to see what happens, as a time-traveling sphinx might.
The spellcasting abilities of a Prophetic sphinx are an innate part of its purpose and not skills it has learned.
The sphinx only exists to fulfill a purpose, guiding or guarding a particular node of the Prophecy. It is quite possible that part of its purpose is to prevent the Lords of Dust, Dragons, or other forces from interfering with that Prophetic lynchpin. But it has no wider goals, and it will discorporate once its purpose is fulfilled.
Essentially, time traveling sphinxes are the most free-spirited and are essentially playing a game with their riddles and challenges, while Prophetic sphinxes are the least free-willed and most bound to an absolute agenda, with Thelanian sphinxes falling in between.
Don’t Time Travelers Break The Game?
The fifth edition sphinx has the ability to travel in time, and to take others with it. From a purely abstract perspective, this throws all sorts of wrenches into a campaign. If adventurers fight a sphinx, why doesn’t it just go back in time and kill their grandparents? If the daelkyr rise, why don’t the adventurers get a sphinx to take them back in time and undo everything?
First of all, that last point is an excellent argument for having that power: it IS an ultimate escape hatch. It means that you CAN put failure on the table. You CAN have have Rak Tulkhesh break its chains and drown the Five Nations in blood, and the only hope is for the adventurers to fight their way to Sharn and convince Flamewind to give them a second chance. From a narrative perspective, that option is a great thing to have. The trick is that it shouldn’t be something that trivializes every defeat… “Oh, Flamewind, I lost at cards last night. Can we redo that?” Which brings up a number of points: when they can travel in time, and when they will travel in time.
First of all: time travel is a LAIR ACTION for a sphinx. You may not meet a sphinx in its lair… and a particularly sphinx might not even HAVE a lair. In Sharn, Flamewind definitely can’t call Morgrave University “her lair.” Presumably, her lair was in the Xen’drik ruins where she was first found. I’ve suggested that she might have built a NEW lair in some abandoned part of Sharn, but it’s equally plausible to say that she just doesn’t have a lair in Sharn; if she wants to help you time travel, you’ll all have to make a trip to Xen’drik (and hope nothing else has taken over her lair!). So keep in mind that when you meet a sphinx guarding a tomb, there’s no rule saying that the tomb is actually its LAIR.
Second: Even if a sphinx COULD solve all your problems with time travel, why would it? The Thelanian sphinx is there to nudge the story in a particular direction, not to completely rewrite it; as said earlier, it’s likely doesn’t have full free access to time travel, and can only actually use the power when it fits the narrative (IE: it can toss Rip Van Winkle forward a hundred years, but it can’t take you back in time to murder King Jarot). The Prophecy sphinx is even more limited, bound by unbreakable bonds of fate to only do the things it’s supposed to do, and taking you back in time isn’t an option. The wild card is the time traveling sphinx, but here’s the catch: it doesn’t care about your problems. From the perspective of the time traveler, it sees the full scope of history, filled with uncountable deaths and tragedies. From your perspective, the release of Rak Tulkhesh is a horrible tragedy that could be stopped and hundreds of thousands of people could be saved. From the time traveler’s perspective, the rise of Rak Tulkhesh and those tragic deaths are just one page in the book of all history, one filled with countless tragedies and countless deaths; what the time traveler knows is that HISTORY GOES ON, and that in three thousand years these events will only be a memory. The time traveler’s job isn’t to defeat Bel Shalor for Tira Miron; it’s to challenge Tira Miron to realize that she has the power to do it herself. Or they might even just be here to watch! The release of Rak Tulkhesh in 998 YK is a fascinating moment in history and they’re just here to watch it unfold.
The short answer I’d give is that when dealing with a time traveling sphinx, decide EXACTLY WHY IT’S HERE. If it’s a divine sphinx it may have what it believes to be a divine mission. If it’s an arcane sphinx, it may be a tourist here to observe history or it might be playing a game, seeing if it can engineer a very specific outcome. Whatever the goal, nothing else matters to it. Everyone around it is simultaneously already dead and haven’t yet been born. You may want it to solve your problems, but your problems are no more important to it than the problems of every single other tragic person in history, and if it’s not helping them it won’t help you. It’s not here to beat Rak Tulkhesh for you—it’s here to give you the clue or the challenge, and then see if you do succeed… or take notes on exactly how things play out when you fail and then go home to the dawn of time, where that failure is just an entertaining anecdote.
Of course, there’s a third even zanier option to consider, following the model of The Magicians: How do you know that sphinxes HAVEN’T been resetting the timeline? Is it in fact possible that Flamewind is in Sharn to engineer a very specific outcome—and if it somehow fails, she will take the entire city back in time and replay the entire scenario until you dummies get it right? It could be that the adventurers somehow realize that Flamewind has prevented Rak Tulkhesh from being released thirty times already—but again, she can’t solve the problem, she can only pull everyone back a year and hope that this time you’ll figure it out. Or, on a smaller scale, you could have a Groundhog Adventure where each day ends with a second Mourning and the adventurers starting over again… Once again, Flamewind is reseting Sharn each time they fail, but she can’t actually solve the problem for them, because it’s their history. But again, it’s easy enough to say that this is the single reason she’s in Sharn… and once you to get it right, she’ll return to her own time for good.
Essentially, yes, unlimited time travel would cause all sorts of problems. So limit it. Limit what they can do (no lair, no travel; no violating the laws of the Prophecy; etc) and limit what they are willing to do. Your horrific apocalypse is just one page in a very big history book, and for the time tourist it’s a cool event to observe happen, not something they need to fix.
Looking the time travelers from the past, How do they handle and reconcile the fall of their civilization? They can go back to their home at the dawn of time, but eventually that time runs out on their civilization?
Certainly. It’s something we see in various versions of Atlantis. Imagine that they know that their civilization will end in one year. The overlords are going to rise and that is absolutely, 100% inevitable: Krypton WILL explode. They don’t have the resources to project their entire civilization beyond the Age of Demons; they can only support, say, one hundred time travelers. And it may even be that they can only support them for a certain amount of time, that they will eventually be pulled back to the doomed dawn. So those one hundred time travelers are essentially stretching that final year out for as long as possible by dwelling in other times — seeing as much as they can of a future their people will never know, cataloguing the wonders of eternity and doing what they can to be a part of legend—to create stories that WILL be remembered—before they are gone.
On the other hand, if you want a more activist story, consider this: what if the reason the sphinxes are tweaking history and shaping stories is because they are creating a point in the distant future that they CAN move their civilization to? Essentially, it’s an even longer game than the Lords of Dust. Each shift—each hero tested—is shifting the number of a combination lock. At some point they will create the future they are looking for, five thousand years from now, when Sphinx Atlantis can leap forward in time and be saved. So they could, essentially, be from both the past AND the future.
But What About Zenobaal?
Dragons of Eberron presents the idea of Zenobaal, a rogue dragon who refers to itself as “The Prophecy Incarnate”. One aspect of Zenobaal is that he has an alliance with a gynosphinx named Maris-Kossja, and that they have a brood of half-dragon gynosphinx offspring. How does that fit with this idea?
There’s a few factors: first and foremost, this article is based on the fifth edition interpretation of sphinxes, which positions them as being more rare and unique — as opposed to the default 3.5 approach, by which sphinxes are just part of the world. This article notably doesn’t address hieracosphinxes, for example. The second point is that I didn’t create Maris-Kossja or Zenobaal, and this article is based on how *I* use sphinxes — which is more reflected by Flamewind. With that said, I have no issues with Zenobaal, and I think it can work in this interpretation. The simplest approach is to use the time travel idea, because under that concept sphinxes ARE mortal and could have offspring; Maris-Kossja has come from the past or future, is fascinated with Zenobaal, and has chosen to produce offspring with him… creating that rare time when you could encounter multiple sphinxes. That’s pretty straightforward. The more exotic option is to go with the Prophetic Sphinx and say that this is evidence of Zenobaal’s deep ties to the Prophecy. Zenobaal is so bound to the Prophecy that it has literally manifested a mate for him—and that his half-dragon offspring are flesh-and-blood manifestations of the Prophecy.
In general, however, this article is based on the 5E interpretation of sphinxes and will not necessarily apply to all 3.5 uses of sphinxes. You’ll have to decide how to address other contradictions. If you go with time travel sphinxes, and interesting option is to say that criosphinxes and hieracosphinxes are MODERN sphinxes — that they are either the primitive ancestors of or devolved descendants of the time traveling sphinxes.
A warning: I am working on multiple deadlines at this point in time, and will not be answering as many questions on this topic as I often do. Feel free to post questions and thoughts below and to comment on other peoples’ questions; just keep in mind that I may not have time to answer them.
Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and the next one in the queue: Avassh, the Twister of Roots!