Dragonmarks: Gem Dragons, Gem Dragonborn, and Gith!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, a number of questions circled around the same topic—how would I integrate gem dragons and gem dragonborn into my Eberron? In adding anything new to the setting, by question is always how it makes the story more interesting. I don’t want to just drop gem dragons into Argonnessen and say they’ve always been there; I want them to change the story in an interesting way, to surprise players or give them something new to think about. So here’s what I would do.

Dragons of Sardior

Eberron as we know it isn’t the first incarnation of the prime material plane. We don’t know how many times reality has fundamentally shifted, jumping to a new rat in the maze of reality. But we know of one previous incarnation because of its survivors. When their reality was on the brink of destruction, a rag-tag fleet of Gith vessels escaped into the astral plane. These survivors split into two cultures, with the Githzerai dwelling in vast monasteries in Kythri and the Githyanki mooring their city-ships in the astral plane. The transition of realities is a difficult thing to map to time. For us, our reality has always existed, going back to the dawn of creation. For the Gith, the loss of their world is still a thing some hold in living memory. They are hardened survivors. Some crave revenge on the daelkyr, while others are solely concerned with the survival of their people. But the Githyanki aren’t the only survivors of their reality. It was an amethyst greatwyrm who helped the Gith fleet break the walls of space, and a small host of dragons accompanied the survivors into their astral exile. But the dragons aren’t like the metallic and chromatic dragons of the world that we know. They are the gem dragons.

The Progenitors are constants across all versions of the material plane. They created the planar structure of reality, and the material plane is the end result of their labors. The Eberron of the Gith—let’s call it “Githberron”—started with the same primordial struggle. In the current Eberron, the dragons are said to have formed when Siberys’s blood fell onto Eberron. In Githberron, Khyber didn’t tear apart Siberys’s body; she shattered his mind. The gem dragons believed that fragments of Siberys’s consciousness were scattered through reality, and they sought to reunite these shards; just as arcane magic is said to be the blood of Siberys in Eberron, in Githberron psionic energy is called the dream of Siberys.

Where the dragons of our Eberron are concentrated in Argonnessen, the dragons of Githberron were spread across their world. However, they were culturally connected through a telepathic construct—a vast metaconcert, which they believed was a step toward reuniting the shattered Siberys. They called this psychic nation Sardior. So rather than Sardior being another Progenitor, Sardior was their answer to Argonnessen—and they believe it is the soul of Siberys. This idea involves a small but crucial chance to the gem stat block, which is that I’d add Trance (as the elf racial trait) to all gem dragons. When trancing, gem dragons would project their consciousness into Sardior. Today the survivors yearn to recreate Sardior, and each gem dragon carries their own piece of it within their mind; however, I’m inclined to say that there just aren’t enough of them to sustain a global (let alone extraplanar) metaconcert. Two gem dragons in the same place might be able to link their minds when they trance, to dwell together in a sliver of Sardior. But to truly restore the dream of Siberys, they need more dragons. But there’s a catch to that…

Reproduction

In modern Eberron, dragons reproduce as other creatures do. My gem dragons of Sardior, on the other hand, use one of the other methods described in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons:

Enlightened non-dragons (most often Humanoids) are transformed into dragon eggs when they die, when they experience profound enlightenment… Humanoids and dragons alike understand the transformation to be a transition into a higher state of existence.

The gem dragons of Sardior weren’t born in isolation; they are the evolved, transcendent forms of other denizens of Githberron. This means that they have a fundamentally different relationship with humanoids than the dragons of Argonnessen. In the current Eberron, dragons see humanoids much like mice; useful for experiments, but don’t feel bad if you have to exterminate them, and isn’t it cute when they think they’re dragons. By contrast, in the Gith Eberron, dragons all evolved from humanoids, meaning both that they have memories of their humanoid existence and that they rely on humanoids to propagate their species. This is one of the key reasons they work with the Gith, even if they don’t especially like the Githyanki raiding. Not only are the Gith the last survivors of their world, they may be the only species capable of producing new gem dragons.

So, what is this process of reproduction and enlightenment? First, it requires a certain degree of psionic aptitude. The dragons see psionic energy as the dream of Siberys, and to become a dragon you are essentially drawing the essence of Siberys into yourself; what it means to be a dragon is to become a refined shard of the mind of Siberys. This doesn’t requires all pre-dragons to be full psions, but you need to have some degree of psionic ability, even if it’s just one of the psionic feats from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The second aspect is more ineffable, and it involves unlocking your full potential—becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. In many ways this is similar to the idea of mastering the Divinity Within in the Blood of Vol, or becoming worthy of Ascension to the Undying Court in Aerenal, and it should be just as difficult; it’s usually the work of a lifetime, not something you can rush. And I’d combine the two aspects of the Fizban’s quote—the ascension requires both enlightenment and death, that on death you become a gem dragon egg. So the point is, become enlightened, live your enlightened life, and hope that when you die you’re reborn as a dragon—you don’t want to rush the process unless you’re really sure you’re sufficiently enlightened. It’s definitely something that could happen to a player character, but it would only happen when they die.

A second key aspect of this is the idea that the type of dragon you become reflects the path you walked in life. The reason sapphire dragons are warlike is because they were warriors in their first lives. Amethyst dragons were planar scholars devoted to fighting aberrations before they became dragons; if a Gatekeeper from Eberron became a gem dragon, they’d be amethyst. I’m inclined to say that some of the character’s original memories and skills are lost in the process of draconic ascension, since it would be a significant change to say that every gem wyrmling has the skills of a mortal paragon—but the essence of that first life remains and guides the dragon moving forward. While the wyrmling may not have the full skills of the mortal seed, they have its wisdom and determination, the experience of a life well lived.

Encounters

In my campaign, there are less than a hundred dragons of Sardior in the current reality. They have a single greatwyrm—an amethyst dragon who played a crucual role in helping the Gith escape their doomed reality and who generally resides at and protects Tu’narath in the astral plane. But again, each gem dragons—even the Wyrmlings—has a rich story of a prior life. Some were Gith warriors who fought against the daelkyr. Some were sages or scholars. In building an encounter with a gem dragon, the first question for the DM should be who were they before they became a dragon?

Gem dragons work with the Gith—both Githzerai and Githyanki—for many reasons. Many of the dragons were Gith before their ascension (though there were many other humanoid species on their world) and they are the last remnant of their lost world. Beyond that, the dragons yearn to recreate Sardior, and the dragons don’t yet know if it’s possible for humanoids of this reality to undergo draconic ascension; the Gith may be the only source of new gem dragons. The dragons who join Githyanki on their raids are primarily sapphire dragons, many of whom were Gith warriors in their former lives and who want to keep their people sharp; amethyst dragons are typically found in the monasteries of the Githzerai, helping build their dream of striking at Xoriat. But not all gem dragons work with the Gith. Here’s a number of ways that adventurers could encounter a gem dragon in my Eberron.

  • The Guardian. These are the dragons who work with the Gith. Some can be encountered working openly with their Gith charges, fighting alongside Githyanki raiders or protecting a Githzerai monastery. Others could shadow their charges covertly—for example, working as a sort of guardian angel for a Gith adventurer.
  • The Draconic Observer. These gem dragons are studying the native dragons of Eberron. They seek to understand the ways of Argonnessen and to see if there’s any chance that the metallic and chromatic dragons could become part of Sardior—not unlike the Dhakaani dar and the Ghaal’dar.
  • The Mentor. These gem dragons study the humanoids of this reality. Some merely observe, while others try to guide humanoids toward draconic ascension. This could be subtle and covert, but a mentor could be found training humanoids in the psionic arts—seeing this as the first step toward the enlightenment that could produce a gem dragon egg. Alternately, a sapphire or amethyst dragon could take a direct interest in the depredations of the daelkyr in this world, and could be working with Gatekeepers or Mror dwarves—most likely secretly, but anything is possible.
  • The Hedonist. The gem dragons have escaped the utter destruction of their reality. All of the dragon types mentioned above hope to rebuild Sardior, but there are surely some who want to look to the future instead of dwelling in the past, to enjoy the life that they have and to pursue whatever it is that brings them joy. This is the option for a gem dragon who has no ties to the Gith and no grand agenda. They could be dwelling among humanoids and experiencing simple joys; perhaps an undercover gem dragon has become an Aurum concordian! Or they could be found in isolation, gathering a hoard of whatever it is they treasure and enjoying the world around them.
  • The Native. In Githberron, gem dragons are born through a process of ascension. The DM must decide—is it possible for this to occur in the current incarnation of Eberron? If so, it’s reasonable to think that at some point it has occurred even among unguided mortals—that there are people who have become gem dragons on their own. These dragons would know nothing of Githberron or Sardior, and their motives would likely be tied to their own history and culture. Beyond this, the gem dragon stat blocks could also be used with other sorts of spontaneous dragons; moonstone dragons could essentially be draconic changelings, dragons of Argonnessen who’ve spent time in Thelanis and been altered by the experience.

While most of these paths are largely benevolent, there’s certainly room for any of these dragons to go down a sinister path. A guardian may place the survival of the Gith above all else, caring nothing for the damage they do to this cracked mirror in pursuit of their goals. A mentor could eliminate students who fail to live up to expectations—or kill them believing that they will become dragon eggs, only to discover that they weren’t ready.

A key question is how Argonnessen interacts with gem dragons, and whether gem dragons are vulnerable to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber. Given that they are from an alien reality and are so different in how they are formed, I am inclined to say both that gem dragons aren’t affected by the Daughter of Khyber and also that they don’t show up in the Draconic Prophecy. With this in mind, in my campaign, Argonnessen doesn’t know much about gem dragons. Because they can and have spontaneously manifested over the course of history, Argonnessen dismisses isolated encounters with gem dragons as fluke occurrences, thinking they’re much like a draconic version of tieflings or aasimar; they haven’t yet realized that there is a civilization of gem dragons active in the world. This gives player characters the opportunity to have a front row seat for the full first and open contact between Sardior and Argonnessen. The Sardior dragons have been studying Argonnessen via their draconic observers and dealing with a few individual sympathetic dragons, but they haven’t yet dealt with the Conclave or the Chamber—and adventurers could be a part of this event when it occurs. Will the Conclave work with these alien dragons? Or will they view them as a threat that should be eliminated? A second plot thread I might explore is the idea that the gem dragons aren’t as vulnerable to the Daughter of Khyber as native dragons, but that they aren’t immune to her influence… that a gem dragon who remains on Eberron and exercises its power might slowly be corrupted by the overlord, turning a valued ally into an enemy. The main point is that I’d rather have these things occur as part of the story the player characters are involved in than to be something that occurred long ago.

Kalashtar, Adar, and the Dreaming Dark

One important question is how the dragons of Sardior interact with the psi-active forces of the current Eberron, notably Adarans, kalashtar, and the Dreaming Dark. If psionic talent is a cornerstone of the evolution into a gem dragon the kalashtar could be natural allies for Sardior; the Adaran shroud would also make Adar a compelling place to have a secure Gith creche for raising children. On the other hand, it’s possible that because kalashtar psionic talent is tied to an alien spirit that the kalashtar are a spiritual dead end or at least would have MORE trouble ascending than other humanoids. It could be that Adar is already home to one or more native gem dragons; it could be very interesting to reveal that there’s always been a gem greatwyrm hidden beneath Adar, helping to protect its people.

On the other side of things, gem dragons might be more interested in Riedra and the Inspired. Could the Hanbalani be hijacked to create a form of Sardior? On the other hand, once the gem dragons have revealed their presence, I could imagine the Dreaming Dark trying to capture and use them; this could be the source of an obsidian dragon.

The main point to me is that I’m always more interested in having interesting things happen NOW than setting them in the past. I’d rather have Adaran or Kalashtar players be actively involved when a Sardior emissary comes to Adar and asks to build a creche than to say that it happened a century ago… though I do love the idea of the revelation that there have always been a few native gem dragons in Adar who have helped to guide and protect the nation!

What About Gem Dragonborn?

In my Eberron, gem dragonborn are like gem dragons, in that they aren’t a species that reproduces with others of their kind; they must be created. For these purposes, I’d consider the half-dragon origins suggested in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. True Love’s Gift suggests that a bond of love between a dragon and another creature can produce a dragonborn, while Cradle Favor suggests that some gem dragons can transform an unborn child. How and why this could occur would depend on the nature of the dragon sharing their power. A guardian dragon could cultivate a squad of dragonborn soldiers. Likewise, a mentor could cultivate a small family of dragonborn to help with its mission. On the other hand, a secretive hedonist or mentor could produce a dragonborn through a bond of love, with the child and their mother never knowing the true nature of the draconic godparent. On the other hand, Fizban’s offers other possible paths to becoming a half-dragon… notably, the idea that “A creature that bathes in or drinks the blood of a dragon can sometimes be transformed into a half-dragon.” I wouldn’t make this reliable or easy technique… but it leaves the possibility that some of the Draleus Tairn hunt gem dragons for this reason, or that a dying gem dragon might choose to give the last power of its blood to a humanoid that finds it.

This provides a range of options for a gem dragonborn player character. If you’re tied to a guardian, it means that you have an active connection to the Sardior survivors and a Gith vessel. Why have you left your ship? Have you been exiled for some crime, and seek to clear your name? Do you have a specific mission, whether diplomatic or searching for a particular artifact? If you’re tied to a mentor, you could have a relationship with your draconic benefactor not unlike that of a warlock and their patron; your dragon seeks to gather information and to help elevate humaniodity, and you are their eyes and hands. On the other hand, it could be that you were born as a gem dragonborn but don’t know why—that part of your quest is to discover the dragon who transformed you and to learn why.

Thoughts For Gith…

Given my theory of Githberron, one might ask what this means for Gith player characters. Are all Githyanki survivors of Githberron? Do all Gith have to have a connection to the Astral or to Kythri? A few thoughts…

The timeless nature of the astral plane means that you could play a Githyanki character who’s a survivor of the lost world. Part of the idea of Githberron/Sardior is that psionic energy was more abundant there, so you could justify being a low-level character by saying that you were a more powerful psion in your own world and part of the reason you’re traveling is to learn to work with the lesser energies of this one. With that said, the Githyanki do want to continue to grow their population; in this article I suggest the existence of creche ships that serve this purpose. I imagine adolescent Githyanki having a sort of rumspringa period—they have to be out of the astral until they physically mature, and some ships might encourage their youths to explore the material plane in this time, learning about the wider world, honing their skills, and making potential allies. Meanwhile, Kythri ISN’T timeless—which among other things suggests that the only Githzerai who personally remember Githberron are monks who’ve mastered some form of the Timeless Body technique (which I’d personally allow some Githzerai NPCs to do even if they don’t have all the other powers of a 15th level monk). On the other hand, because we are dealing with events that defy the concept of linear time, if it suits the story a DM could decide that from the perspective of the Gith, it’s only actually been a few decades since Githberron was lost! Either way, I could also see the Githzerai having a wandering period where their adolescents experience life in the material plane, to understand existence beyond Kythri.

In any case, I would say that all Gith have a connection to either a city-ship or a monastery. So as a Gith, why might you be an adventurer? A few ideas…

  • You’re a Gith adolescent in your wandering time, honing your skills and seeing the world; you plan to return to your people in a few years.
  • You’re a Githyanki advance scout studying the people of this world so your ship can decide whether and where to raid in it.
  • You’re the child of a Githyanki who chose not to return after the Wandering, and you know nothing of your ancestors or their customs.
  • You are working with a gem dragon mentor, who’s requested your help in their work studying or attempting to uplift the humanoids of this world.
  • You’re on a personal mission to eliminate the mind flayer Xor’chyllic, who committed horrific war crimes in your reality. Your people refused to support your quest, so you’ve gone rogue and need to cultivate a team of local allies.

That’s all for now! I don’t have time to answer many questions on this article, but feel free to discuss your ideas and ways you’ve used gem dragons or Gith in the comments. If you want to see more of these articles, to have a chance to choose future topics, or to play in my ongoing online Eberron campaign, check out my Patreon!

IFAQ: Fizban’s Treasury and Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month there’s been a number of questions related to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. As always, my answers here reflect what I would do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon material! Also, check out this later article on how I’d use Gem Dragons and Gem Dragonborn.

How would you incorporate either the draconic echoes or the Elegy of the First World into Eberron?

To answer this question, you first need to answer another: Do you want your Eberron to be part of the greater Multiverse? Eberron has its own cosmology and a very different approach to deities than many of the other core D&D settings. One option—as we suggest in Rising From The Last War is the idea that Eberron is part of the multiverse, but that it was sealed off; that traffic to other settings is possible, but very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t WANT to use elements of other settings in your Eberron campaign, it’s easy to just ignore the Multiverse and focus on Eberron as an entirely independent setting.

By canon, Eberron has its own creation myth that explains the origins of dragons. The funny thing is that it’s not entirely incompatible with the Elegy of the First World. The Elegy asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind (if you count Sardior). The Progenitor myth asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind. The Progenitor myth asserts that the first dragons were born from the drops of blood that fell on Eberron; nonetheless, this still matches the basic concept of the Elegy, in that the dragons were the first children of the Progenitors, but “were supplanted by the teeming peoples” that came after them.

Personally, I LIKE the story of dragons being formed from the blood of Siberys—the idea that they alone believe that they have a direct connection to both Siberys and Eberron, an idea that explains their innate arcane power. In MY Eberron campaign, I’m not likely to abandon this concept in favor of Eberron’s dragons being linked to other dragons across infinite settings.

If you want to add the First World to Eberron WITHOUT adding the Multiverse, a simple option is to just put it AFTER THE PROGENITORS. The Progenitors create reality. Bahamut (a native celestial who favors a draconic form) and Tiamat (the Daughter of Khyber) unite the dragons and create the First World on Eberron—an idyllic civilization that predates the Age of Demons, which was ultimately shattered BY the Age of Demons, presumably set in motion by the Daughter of Khyber. This aligns with Thir, saying that the “Dragon Gods” existed before the Age of Demons but left reality when the First World was broken; this ties to the idea I’ve suggested elsewhere that Eberron’s version of Bahamut would have sacrificed themselves in the Age of Demons and could be the core of the Silver Flame.

If you want to incorporate the Multiverse into your Eberron campaign, then you can just use the First World exactly as it stands in Fizban’s. In this case, the Progenitor myth is presumably FALSE, since it has a very specific story for the origin of dragons; but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that the Progenitor Myth IS ONLY A MYTH… or even that the Progenitor Myth is just a garbled version of the Elegy.

As for draconic echoes, the idea that each dragon is mirrored across realities: If I wanted to use this, what I’d do is to assert that every reality has a Draconic Prophecy, and Eberron is simply the only one where people have recognized this. Draconic Echoes reflect the fact that the dragons are prophetically significant. But if I was going to do that, I’d personally want to add OTHER echoes across settings; even if they don’t manifest dragonmarks, you might have echoes of dragonmarked heirs in other worlds, and you’d definitely have echoes of especially Prophetically significant characters—IE player characters. But I personally prefer NOT to mix peanut butter with my chocolate. I’m happy to explore alternate incarnations of Eberron, as with the Gith, but I’ve never brought the rest of the multiverse into any of my personal campaigns (though I HAVE played a “far traveler” character from Eberron—a warforged cleric searching for pieces of the Becoming God—in someone else’s non-Eberron campaign).

How would you incorporate the alternative half-dragon origins from Chapter Three of Fizban’s? Would that change how you present Dragonborn?

Keep in mind that all things that use the stat blocks and basic shapes of dragons and dragonborn don’t have to share the same origin. For the primary dragons of Argonnessen, I LIKE the fact that while they are imbued with arcane power—children of Eberron and Siberys—they are still ultimately MORTAL. They are an ancient and advanced species, but they aren’t multiversal echoes and they’re more grounded than the immortals. They live, learn, have jobs, pursue research. So for the dragons of Argonnessen, I wouldn’t say that they reproduce by divine origin or parthenogenesis or when someone steals their hoard… because they are are ancient, long-lived, and imbued with arcane power, but they are STILL MORTAL CREATURES OF EBERRON. This principle likewise applies to dragonborn who trace their roots to Argonnessen. It seems likely that the original dragonborn were magebred by the dragons from some sort of humanoid stock. But I don’t think those original dragonborn were formed from greed or true love. WITH THAT SAID…

As I said, NOT ALL DRAGONS AND DRAGONBORN HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME ORIGIN. Many of the options described in Fizban’s—from someone becoming a half-dragon after stealing from a dragon’s hoard, to eating forbidden fruit, to a tree on which dragon eggs grow like fruit—don’t sound like Argonnessen to me; they sound like THELANIS. First of all, you could have any number of dragons who appear as “supporting cast”—they would have the stats of dragons (though I’d likely make them fey as well as dragons) but the point is that they aren’t entirely REAL. They don’t have goals or desires beyond serving their role in the story. The dragon in a cave guarding a sword in a stone truly has nothing better to do. Beyond this, I could also imagine a dragon as one of the archfey of Thelanis. I can see two paths here. My personal impulse would be to have a single archfey dragon who encompasses all the legends of dragonkind—the greedy hoarder, the destroyer of cities. But I could also imagine there being two archfey dragons—the Bright Dragon and the Night Dragon, essentially filling the STORY role of Bahamut and Tiamat, even though they wouldn’t take direct action on Eberron. Still, it would be one of these entities who could potentially bestow Cradle Favor or have a tree that grows dragon eggs (because as archfey they wouldn’t reproduce like mortal dragons do). With that in mind, I feel it’s either in Thelanis or in a Thelanian manifest zone that you’ll have someone becoming a dragon or half-dragon due to greed or by bathing in dragon’s blood. And you could thus have dragonborn who have such origins—or heck, who spring up because you sow a field with dragon’s teeth. But they aren’t the most common forms.

Regardless of how I present dragonBORN, we had half-dragons in 3.5 Eberron. The most infamous of these is Erandis Vol. Her creation is described this as involving a program of magebreeding, so I think it’s a form of True Love’s Gift, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “I love you, you get to be part-dragon” (UNLESS you’re in Thelanis!); I think you’ve got to work actual magic into the picture. In the case of Vol, I think the Emerald Claw and his kind were trying to create sustainable, “true” half-dragons; I could easily see some rogue dragon using less reliable techniques to create sterile half-dragon mules.

I am fine with the idea that infusions of dragon’s blood could have a dramatic effect on other creatures, and could be a basis for sorcery; again, dragons have an innate force of arcane magic. But I am more inclined to make that essentially scientific in nature. If there’s a place where just living there causes you to become a half-dragon, I’d make that a Thelanian manifest zone, not just something that happens to anyone who hangs out in a mansion in Argonnessen.

The main thing is that many of the Fizban options present dragons as fundamentally mythic beings. The dragons of Argonnessen are legendary, but they are also VERY REAL. They have a civilization, families, politics, and so on. With all that said, the final option I’d consider if I wanted to use multiversal echoes and the like would be to have a number of dragons who are literally physical embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. These could be essentially immortals, aware of their nature and their purpose; or they could be scattered among the mortal dragons, essentially an immortal seed reincarnated many times, and that has echoes across the multiverse.

Have there been any notable half-dragons in Khorvaire’s history that weren’t Kill On Sight? Anyone that famously claimed draconic heritage or might similar to Hassalac Chaar?

There’s a few factors here. Personally, I don’t think half-dragons ARE kill on sight. In my opinion, the issue with the line of Vol wasn’t solely half-dragons; it was the attempt to create and control apex dragonmarks through the medium of half-dragons. I also think Argonnessen disapproves of the idea of dragons trying to create any entirely new true-breeding species without approval. However, if we assume that most dragons are sterile or otherwise can’t pass on their traits, I don’t think Argonnesen will care about them, and I can personally imagine individual dragons creating half-dragons for specific purposes. Beyond this, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to identify a half-dragon AS a half-dragon. I think half-dragons with different origins could have very different physical traits. Does your sorcerer who claims dragon’s blood actually have scales and claws, or is it purely an explanation for their power in spite of their mechanically using a different ancestry? Regardless, in a world with dragonborn, blackscale lizardfolk, yuan-ti, and magebreeding in general, I think a lot of times rare oddities will just be seen as curiosities.

This ties to the point that when I say that someone becoming a dragonborn or half-dragon by bathing in dragon’s blood would be tied to Thelanis, it’s because of the idea that there are stories about it happening. So yes, I am certain that there ARE an assortment of legendary heroes and villains across all of the cultures of Eberron—the fallen kingdoms of old Sarlona, Xen’drik, even Dhakaan—of rare half-dragons, whose powers were a blessing or a curse. We have one concrete example in canon, and that’s the Draleus Tairn, the dragonslayer elves; Dragons of Eberron notes “Rumors exist that the Draleus dragon slayers can take the powers of their victims; that their blood burns like dragonfire; that they can spit lightning or breathe acid; and that their blood rituals increase their life span and even imbue them with the strength of the dragon. Perhaps these stories are mere myths. The tales could also reflect the presence of half-dragons or dragon shamans among the Draleus Tairn, with these powers derived from spilled blood instead of shared blood.” At the moment I don’t have time to make up examples of such heroes or villains, but I expect there’s a few examples in almost every culture. Following the Thelanian example ofthe half-dragon created through greed, I love the idea of a half-dragon giant lingering in a vault in a Thelanian manifest zone in Xen’drik.

How do Moonstone Dragons, which as presented in Fizban’s are tied to both the fey and to dreams, fit into your Eberron?

Personally, I see no reason to tie Moonstone dragons directly to Dal Quor. Fizban says “Moonstone dragons can project themselves into the realm of dreams to communicate with the creatures that sleep near their lairs.” Thus, they are related to dreams in the same way as a night hag or any mortal wizard who can cast Dream: they are skilled at USING and manipulating dreams, but that doesn’t mean they are natives of Dal Quor. Likewise, I personally wouldn’t make them dragons of Thelanis. In my earlier suggestions regarding Thelanian dragons, the main idea that Thelanian dragons would fill iconic draconic story archetypes which don’t really make sense for mortal dragons of Eberron—IE, when you find a dragon guarding a hoard in a cave in the woods, with no logical reason to be there other than to guard that hoard, THAT might be a Thelanian dragon and the cave may be in a manifest zone, because most Argonnessen dragons have SOMETHING BETTER TO DO than to hang out in a cave in the woods. The Moonstone dragon doesn’t fit that role either; it’s more exotic and unusual than iconic.

So WITH THAT IN MIND… The dragons of Argonnessen are the most ancient civilization on Eberron (and have seen cultures rise and fall). They have forgotten arcane secrets other species have yet to learn. In the process of their history they have surely studied the planes, manifest zones, and wild zones. I would say that Moonstone dragons trace their roots back to a flight of dragons devoted to the study of the planes and to Thelanis and Dal Quor in particular, who were changed through their long interaction with those planes—either intentionally (magebreeding themselves to strengthen their ability to operate in those planes) or by the “background radiation.” I would say that they serve as Argonnessen’s ambassadors to Thelanis and as mediators to Fey in general; Argonnessen has manifest zones tied to Thelanis just like everywhere else, and where some cultures have fey pact warlocks, Argonnessen has Moonstone dragons. The dream aspect I’d tend to use just as described—a tool they use to communicate and inspire mortals, but not reflecting a deeper connection to Dal Quor.

I think the idea that they love creativity and like to inspire mortals is fine, and I can see this bringing a lot of Moonstone dragons to the Chamber—that they actually LIKE working with the “lesser species” and giving them inspiration in ways that don’t hurt the Prophecy or carry the risk of Aureon’s Folly. But personally, I’d largely keep them on the material plane. If there are Moonstone dragons in Thelanis, I’d make them envoys or immigrants rather than natives.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and making these articles possible. And just to be clear: I’m happy to clarify my answers to the above questions, but I do not have time to answer addtional new questions about other aspects of Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons; it’s a big book and covering it in its entirety would require a longer article.

IFAQ: Strixhaven in Eberron?

Every month, my Patreon supporters select the topics for the articles I write. I only have time for one major Dragonmark article, and in a choice between Strixhaven, Fizban’s Treasury, and the role of the Astral Plane, Astral won out. So I’ll be exploring the Astral Plane in depth later this month. But while this will be a short take on the topic, I still wanted to address the question…

How would you add Strixhaven into your Eberron campaign?

At first glance, this seems like a question with an obvious answer. Eberron already has a famous university of magic—Arcanix in Aundair. The Library of Korranberg is another option; while not explicitly a school of magic, it is a famous institute of learning that canonically has a rivalry between its aligned colleges. In the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, the Starting Point: Morgrave University discusses the idea of a campaign where the exams may be greater threats than any monster. But none of these really feel right to me. Consider the following…

  • Strixhaven is described as being very exotic in its makeup—”you’re as likely to meet a pixie, a dryad, a giant, a treant, or another fantastical creature on campus as you are a humanoid.” Beyond this, “it is unremarkable to meet someone who hails from a far-off land, since almost everyone on campus is from somewhere else.” Neither to these things especially fit Arcanix, which is primarily an Aundairian institution; and at Morgrave University, the presence of Flamewind the Sphinx is remarkable. Most students of Korranberg, Morgrave, or Arcanix are humanoids, and most are from the familiar nations of Khorvaire.
  • Strixhaven is known to be founded by five dragons, and those dragons are still around; graduates can join the Dragonsguard, “an elite group of mages who work directly with the Founder Dragons.” The Dragons of Eberron certainly have the knowledge and power to do something like this, but on Khorvaire dragons are so secretive as to be nearly mythical. And to a certain degree, asserting that Arcanix was founded by dragons would undermine the concept that it’s a seat of humanoid innovation.
  • Strixhaven is largely a self-contained setting that interacts little with the world around it. It’s driven by the tension between life and death, order and chaos—not the tension between Thrane and Aundair. Beyond this, the general level of common magic depicted is a higher than even that of Aundair. It’s an example of what the Five Nations could become, but it feels a little more wondrous than they are at the present. One of the things we’ve said about Arcanix is that player characters are remarkable, and that there are many professors at Arcanix who don’t actually have the full power of a wizard or a sorcerer, rather understanding magic in theory and working spells solely through rituals, like a magewright. Strixhaven is more of a chaotic place where powerful magic is constantly at play.

So, the Strixhaven book presents a host of rules and ideas that you can use piecemeal in a campaign set at Arcanix, Morgrave, or Korranberg. But personally, I wouldn’t just change Strixhaven’s name to “Arcanix” and use it as is. So if the question is how would I add STRIXHAVEN to my campaign—using it as it’s presented in the book—there’s two ideas that appeal to me.

A School of Dragons

The dragons of Argonnessen are the oldest surviving civilization in Eberron. Long ago they shared their arcane knowledge with other creatures. This ultimately resulted in the destruction of Xen’drik and is now known as kurash Ourelonastrix, “Aureon’s folly.” But what if a cabal of dragons wanted to try this again? What if these five Founders created a campus in the heart of Argonnessen, far from prying eyes, where hand-picked students and faculty from across Eberron and beyond it could delve into the deepest secrets of magic and philosophy? With this in mind, part of being a student at Strixhaven would be proving yourself worthy of this knowledge; your final exam would in part be an evaluation determining whether you should be allowed to take the knowledge that you’ve gained back to your homeland—whether you can be trusted to be a worthy steward of this knowledge.

One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s an easy way to add depth to the Chamber. the Colleges of Strixhaven aren’t known in the wider world, but they represent factions within the Chamber itself, and the five Founders can easily become the most influential members of the Chamber. The Dragonsguard become an elite order chosen to work directly with the Chamber as they oppose the Lords of Dust and work with the Prophecy. Whenever encountering Chamber agents, the DM can consider if they belong to any of the Colleges of Strixhaven, and reflect this in their abilities and actions. We’ve always said that the dragons of the Chambers are scholars and philosophers; the Colleges provide a quick set of philosophies to work with, though I wouldn’t say that they are the ONLY philosophies found within the Chamber.

As a school within Argonnessen, Strixhaven maintains the idea that “almost everyone on the campus is from somewhere else.” Likewise, it fits the idea that the students and faculty can include giants, awakened plants, or other exotic creatures; it’s a school for teaching members of ALL of the “lesser species,” not merely humanoids. Humanoid students could be drawn from anywhere on Eberron: you could have Qaltiar drow, Cold Sun lizardfolk, Akiak dwarves, Demesne tieflings, and similarly exotic choices. A central part of this idea is that this is an experiment—that the faculty carefully chooses students and wants to see if they’ll prove worthy of this knowledge. With this in mind, one question when creating your character is why were you chosen? Do you feel that there’s something remarkable about your character? Do you believe that you’re representing your nation, species, home town, or something else? Or are you mystified as to why you were selected? I really like the fact that this is a chance to bring together characters from very diverse cultures—a Riedran farmer, a Sulatar drow, a Carrion Tribes barbarian—and have the students learn about one another and find common ground even while mastering magic.

Faculty in Argonessen’s Strixhaven would likely include a significant number of dragons—younger than the founders and likely often seen in humanoid form, but still, dragons. On the other hand, faculty could also include former students. This could be a voluntary position, but I could easily see someone who was judged as unfit to return to their society with the knowledge they possessed and offered a choice: remain at Strixhaven and teach, or return home but with their arcane knowledge stripped from their mind. I would keep the Oracle as a humanoid, the embodiment of Strixhaven’s mission to share magic with non-dragons and tasked to ensure this power is not abused as it was following Aureon’s folly. Snarls could easily be an unusual form of manifest zone, possibly unique to Argonnessen just as wild zones are found on Sarlona. Star Arches are another question. While these could easily be draconic artifacts, part of the purpose of the arches is to be mysterious. One option would be to say that they are left over from the Age of Demons, and that even the dragons don’t know their origins—that some believe them to be creations of the Progenitors themselves, or “the bones of Siberys.” Another option is that they are relics of a fallen Draconic civilization. I’ve mentioned before that the degree to which the dragons fear the Daughter of Tiamat implies at least one devastating incident involving her release. With a hundred thousand years to work with, it’s entirely possible to imagine that draconic civilization has endured at least one massive collapse—that the Star Arches could be creations of Ourelonastrix and his peers, but that the dragons of the present day don’t understand them or know how to replicate them.

This concept of Strixhaven is somewhat similar to the city of Io’lokar, presented in Dragons of Eberron. Personally, I’ve never liked Io’lokar and don’t use it in my campaign. What I prefer about using Strixhaven in this way is the idea that it’s an experiment, constantly bringing in new students from across the world as opposed to just keeping a stable, stagnant population in isolation. With that in mind, I’d likely suggest that it’s a fairly RECENT experiment, at least as dragons measure time—no more than two or three centuries old. Among other things, this would hold to the idea that the Founders are still evaluating the experiment, and that the actions of the player characters could play an important role in this. Could the Conclave shut down Strixhaven? Could heroic characters inspire the dragons to share their knowledge more freely?

As a campus in Argonnessen, Strixhaven would be exotic and isolated, but still grounded in the material world. But there is another option I might use…

A School of Stories

Thelanis is sometimes said to embody the magic we wish was in the world. The layers of Thelanis and the Archfey embody iconic stories. So consider the story of a school of magic, a place of countless wonders that exists just around the corner from the reality we know. Everyone knows a story of a youth who didn’t fit in or didn’t meet expectations, who one day took a wrong turn and found themselves in a wondrous school where they had the chance to unlock both the secrets of magic and their own true self. With this in mind, I would place Strixhaven in Thelanis. One option would be to treat it as a Feyspire, placing it in the Moonlit Vale; however, I would be inclined to make it a distinct layer of Thelanis, because the story of Strixhaven generally stands on its own; it’s possible that students could get involved in the intrigues of the Moonlit Court, but it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Placing Strixhaven in Thelanis plays to the idea that the students and faculty can be extremely diverse and exotic—almost impossibly so. Giants, treants, sprites, sentient animals, talking statues; if you could imagine it in a story, you could find it at Strixhaven. A secondary aspect of this is the idea that many of the students aren’t, at the end of the day, REAL. Exploring Eberron talks about the idea of the “Supporting Cast” of Thelanis—lesser fey who are drafted to fill whatever purpose the story needs them to fill. Does this scene need a bully? An arrogant rival? The school can MAKE one for you. This applies to the teachers as well. Some could be greater fey with their own identities or former students who have chosen to remain, but there could definitely be teaching assistants, maintenance staff, even teachers who only exist as part of the story; you’ll never actually see Professor Greenroot except in his office or in the classroom, and he doesn’t really have any opinions on anything that’s not related to his classes. Speculating on who’s real and who’s a manifestations of the story would surely be a common pastime among students; when it comes down to it, can you be absolutely sure YOU are real?

As with Strixhaven—Argonnessen, Strixhaven—Thelanis could draw its students from across Eberron. Unlike Argonnessen, the Strix-Thel isn’t an experiment and the students aren’t being chosen to represent their people; instead they’re being chosen for their stories, and the question to think about when creating your character is What is your story? This is a fairy tale about someone stumbling onto a school of magic. Are you a luckless urchin from the streets of Sharn? A privileged Aundairian prince who needs to learn a lesson in humility? The unnatural nature of Thelanis could add a further twist—you could take a leaf from Rip Van Winkle and add students or faculty from different points in the past. Perhaps there’s a young elf at Strixhaven who, it turns out, is from the as-yet unerradicated Line of Vol—or a conniving student from one of the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun. In such a scenario, a key question would be if there’s any way for such students to return to their own time, or if they are the last remnants of civilizations long dead.

In developing Strixhaven-Thelanis, a key question is who are the archfey of the school? An obvious possibility is that the Founders are the Archfey who define Strixhaven. They may APPEAR to be dragons, but that’s a cosmetic detail. If this is the case, then the Founders might be involved in the ongoing intrigues of the Moonlit Court; perhaps four of the founders are associated with different seasons, while one remains aloof. On the other hand, it could be that the Oracle is the anchoring Archfey, and that the Founders are themselves part of the Supporting Cast—for all their supposed power and despite the many legends associated with them, they don’t actually EXIST until there’s a particular reason for them to exist. This ties to the question of whether the Dragonsguard actually exist. If the Founders are Archfey, the Dragonsguard could be their personal agents in endless, immortal intrigues and adventures within Thelanis. If the Oracle is the Archfey, the Dragonshguard themselves might not truly exist; they are also simply part of the story.

Part of the appeal of placing Strixhaven in Thelanis is to embrace the unreality of the situation, the fact that it is a story made real; you can embrace the tropes, because that’s ultimately what the school is. It’s likewise interesting to explore what it means to be real, mortal people in an environment that is only semi-real; it’s a bit of Harry Potter blended with The Truman Show. With this in mind, it’s easy to add the Snarls and Star Arches. They COULD have a deep and mysterious role. The Star Arches could be remnants of a shattered Archfey, or tied to the underling archtecture of Thelanis itself. If you want a truly epic story, the Snarls could be an early symptom of the fact that Thelanis itself is starting to unravel; perhaps the students must find a way to save the Faerie Court itself!

A secondary question with Strixhaven—Thelanis is what happens to the students who graduate? Why haven’t they transformed Eberron with their amazing mystic knowledge? Well, one advantage of the Thelanis approach is that there don’t have to be that many actual students; you can have all the supporting cast you need, but only a handful of students truly are protagonists who COULD finish their studies and return home. Another option is the Narnia approach: students stumble into Strixhaven from all across the world and can eventually become masters of magic, wielding powers far beyond the everyday magic of the Five Nations… but when those students return home, much of that power melts away. Should they return to Strixhaven, answering the call of the Founders in their hour of need, all those powers will return; but in Eberron itself, they may be more limited. This could give the interesting option of having adventurers meet a young NPC in Khorvaire who assures them that she’s one of the greatest archmages of all time, but who can’t even cast third level spells… until they’re all drawn to Thelanis, and her true powers return to her. If you take this approach, you might say, for example, that there’s quite a few Strixhaven alumni spread across Arcanix… but that the true treasure they retained from their time at the school was self-knowledge or a deeper understanding of the philosophies of the colleges as opposed to immense practical magics.

All this only begins to scratch the surface both of ways you could use Strixhaven or of the interesting stories one can tell in an academic campaign, but I did say at the start that this was going to be a “short” article… and with that in mind, I’m not going to expand too deeply on this concept in comments. For now, the Astral Plane awaits! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who help choose these topics and who make these articles possible.

IFAQ: Owlen, Wealthy PCs, Bahamut and the Plight of the Dragonborn

When time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few that have come up this month…

With Strixhaven coming out, I have a player who wants to play an Owlen. How would you add the Owlen to Eberron?

I’ve discussed some basic principles about adding new species to Eberron in this article. The basic question is what your player is looking for in playing an Owlen. Do they just want the racial traits? Do they specifically there to be an Owlen nation with a significant role in the world? Or are they open to the idea that there could be just a handful of Owlen?

If you’re playing a Strixhaven style game at, say, Arcanix, one of the first things I’d consider would be that the PC Owlen could be ENTIRELY UNIQUE—that they could have been the owl familiar of some legendary faculty member, and when the wizard died, one of their last acts was to transform their familiar into this form. So some of the current staff might see them as a sort of mascot, and there could be an ongoing legacy tied to their late master that you could explore over the course of the campaign.

If I were to add Owlen to MY campaign, I’d personally say that there’s a community of Owlen in the Bazaar of Dura in Sharn, who assist the giant owls and support the Owl in the Race of Eight Winds. They’ve been doing this job for hundreds of years; they aren’t found anywhere else in Khorvaire; and at this point, NO ONE KNOWS where they came from. Some believe the first Owlen came from Thelanis. Others claim a crazy Vadalis race fan magebred them. It’s beyond the living memory of the current Owlen, and THEY don’t know the answer. But the key point is that they’re a small, tight-knit community based in the Bazaar, with connections to a lot of Bazaar businesses and a particular focus on the Race of Eight Winds. The owl councilor Hruitt definitely has a Owlen valet who helps him with things that require hands… and the Owlen PC could potentially have a patron in Hruitt.

For me personally, either of these options—both of which give the character an immediate tie to NPCs, plot hooks to explore, and a unique role in the world—are more interesting than just saying that there’s an Owlen nation in the Towering Woods or something similar.

PCs can often end up getting incredibly rich by the “normal” standards of the world, sometimes still wandering around as a bunch of itinerant eccentrics, hoarding incredible wealth. Avoiding the trope of punishing characters for getting rich, what suggestions would you have for interesting, “Eberonn-y” ways of encouraging them to spend or use that money if the PCs aren’t coming up with any themselves?

Personally, I tend to downgrade wealth rewards, using superior equipment, influence, and favors as rewards rather than wealth. We’re eight episodes into my Threshold campaign and I think the only monetary reward has been some old Dhakaani copper pieces! However, the question is certainly valid, and with that in mind…

What do people in OUR world spend vast sums of money on? Property is certainly one option, and owning property also gives people a stake to protect; would someone like a mansion? Consider Schitt’s Creek; perhaps they buy a Brelish title and discover that they’ve actually taken responsibility for a small town, which frankly could use a lot of work. If not through title, any way you can get the players attached to a community is an opportunity to soak up cash. The town needs a speaking stone! Wouldn’t the cleric like to fund a beautiful church? Wouldn’t the fighter like to shore up its defenses, or perhaps establish a martial academy?

Another possibilities are for the characters to be asked to fund an adventure. A Morgrave professor knows the secrets to enter a Cul’sir tomb—but he’s not going to travel with the adventurers unless the fund a fully staffed expedition. Or perhaps the players are asked to invest in mystical research; if successful, it could have a transformative effect on their nation or their world. While we’re at it, don’t forget social causes. Do they support Brelish democracy? Oppose elemental slavery? If they’re Cyran, would they like to support housing for Cyran refugees or general improvements to New Cyre? If they’re Thranes, why don’t the just donate some of that gold to the poor? If a PC picks a cause and supports it both with significant funding and with their reputation, you could decide that it actually helps drive change with in the world—that they help to make New Cyre a prosperous city, or shift public opinion (one way or the other) on the future of the Brelish monarchy.

Since the Daughter of Khyber seems to be the representative of Tiamat in the Eberron setting, is there an equivalent representative for Bahamut? And if so, would they be more affiliated with Eberron or with Siberys?

II’ve addressed this before in the context of “Is there an Angelic/Celestial equivalent to the Overlords?” Here’s that answer.

If you mean “Is there an incarnate force that’s called something like ‘The Cuteness of Kittens’?” No, there isn’t. If you mean “Is there any sort of native celestials on Eberron,” there WERE: the couatl. They were never as powerful as the Overlords, and were more on par with the rakshasa… and they sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame. On some level you could say that the Silver Flame is the good counterpart to the Overlords, which is why it can bind them; it’s simply less concrete and more abstract.

Why is this? Look to the progenitor myth. Khyber killed Siberys and was in turn imprisoned by Eberron. The Overlords are Khyber’s children, and like Khyber, are forces of evil that cannot be vanquished, only bound. Eberron doesn’t produce incarnate spirits like the Overlords: her children are mortal. So Eberron DID create a thing that embodies the cuteness of kittens: she created kittens. Meanwhile, Siberys would be the source of native celestials, and he did create some, like the couatl – but they were created from the blood of Siberys after his defeat, and thus lack the power of the victorious Khyber. From a purely practical worldbuilding standpoint, there’s a simple reason for this. Eberron is designed to be a world that needs heroes. All the powerful forces of good are limited. Jaela Daran is a child whose power is limited beyond Flamekeep. Oalian doesn’t leave the Greenheart. When evil rises, the world needs you; there is no ultimate good force that can step in and solve the problem for you. The Silver Flame can empower you to solve the problem, but it can’t solve the problem for you.

Looking to Bahamut specifically, I ‘m fine with the concept that Bahamut COULD have existed in the past. One fan theory from the Eberron Discord is that Bahamut—known in Eberron as The Last Breath of Siberys—was a powerful celestial who existed in the Age of Demons, who led the effort to create the Silver Flame and became its heart. Rakshasa are the most common fiends, but Khyber can produce others; likewise, just because couatls are the most common native celestials doesn’t mean that they were the only ones. With that said, even if the Last Breath had the same statistics as Bahamut, it could still be presented as a couatl-dragon with rainbow feathers or even as an incarnate being of silver flame. Regardless, the point is that while the Last Breath may once have walked the world, now it exists only as the Silver Flame—and as in the above quote, it affects the world by empowering mortals. The Discord theory suggests that this could be the basis for a Silver Flame path in Argonnessen, in which the Last Breath is revered in the same way that Tira Miron is honored in the church of Thrane.

What might an Argonessen-based dragon say to a Q’barra-based dragonborn character when asked “Why did you leave us to our fate? For thousands of years we have had to mop up what comes out of Hakatorvhak. We’ve been fighting this losing battle for generations. Why haven’t you come to help us?! We worshipped you, we died for you, and you left us!!!”

First comes the question of whether a dragon is going to even bother to answer such a question. It’s like a rat asking a scientist conducting cancer research “Why are you doing this?” The scientist doesn’t consider the rat an equal who’s either deserving of an answer or capable of understanding it. They are a resource and a tool, short-lived creatures incapable of experiencing or understanding the world as a dragon does. The dragon doesn’t owe the dragonborn an answer, and likely doesn’t think the dragonborn could understand the answer if they gave it. But let’s assume they choose to answer. The dragon might well say something like this…

What would you have us do, little one? We contain the greater threat. Rhashaak gave his very soul to contain Masvirik, and he continues to do his duty to this day. The Poison Dusk is the mold that grows around his grave. It can never be permanently destroyed, merely contained. We cannot do it for you; prolonged action would risk raising the Daughter of Khyber and unleashing a threat far, far greater than the Poison Dusk. This is why your ancestors pledged to fight this battle, to contain this evil.

You call this a losing battle. We have been fighting this war across the world for a hundred thousand years. It is a war that cannot BE won, little one; but by fighting you allow countless others to live their lives never knowing of the danger. This was the battle your ancestors swore to fight. It was their children who lost their way and led your people into disaster through their desire for glory. Now you have returned to your duty, but you fail to understand it. This is not a war that can be won. But it is a war that must be fought—and we cannot fight it, lest we release an even greater evil upon the world. This is your battle. Rhashaak still serves his purpose, though it cost him everything. We ask no less of you than we asked of him. Will you stand strong? Or are your needs and desires more important than the fate of the world?

I’m not saying the dragon is right or that the character’s anger is misplaced. But that’s what they’d say. The dragons can’t step in and wave a magic wand and win this battle. The Poison Dusk will always return. The dragons can’t exert force over time without risking the rise of the Daughter of Khyber; that is why they needed the Dragonborn in the first place, to fight the long term battle. The character’s ancestors agreed to fight this war KNOWING it was forever. So uphold that bargain.

Now, perhaps the character means “Give us more support! Give us magic weapons! Send MORE dragonborn!” These could be entirely reasonable requests, and if the character somehow actually managed to make this case to the Light of Siberys—to say that the dragonborn can’t continue to contain the Poison Dusk without some form of additional support (that’s not just “Send dragons to solve the problem”), perhaps the Light of Siberys WOULD send that support. This is exactly the sort of way in which the actions of a player character could have a greater impact. The dragons believe that Q’barra is stable, that it’s contained. If a PC can actually present a case that the dragonborn need some form of aid—not just “Why don’t you solve this problem for us?”—perhaps they could get that help.

The last answer is a decent way of escalating a Q’barra campaign, and bringing in Argonessen politics without risking blowing up the region. Would you say that the dragons empowering the lesser races like that; being hands-off but still powerful influences on the world; would still risk the DoK waking? To put it simply: “Would the dragons still be able to ‘rule the world’ remotely from Argonessen without causing the Daughter of Khyber to wake?”

The short answer is that if the dragons could rule the world in this way without risk they already would. The longer answer is they’ve tried it before and it didn’t end well. How do you think the dragons KNOW about the threat of the Daughter of Khyber? Notably, we know almost nothing about the history of Khorvaire before the Age of Monsters. Why is that? In my opinion, it’s because whatever civilizations flourished there in the past were destroyed by the Daughter of Khyber—that it was in Khorvaire that the dragons learned a harsh and deadly lesson. Looking to the modern world, the point is that what we see the dragons do is the extent of what they believe they can safely maintain—which is largely observing with critical nudges in the right direction. We know a dragon accompanied Lhazaar, but they didn’t command her, they advised her. The general idea is that the Daughter of Khyber amplifies the tyranny of dragons, their desire to rule over lesser creatures—that the more direct power they exert, the greater the risk of corruption. So they could send the Q’barran dragonborn a shipment of weapons without much risk. But if they began to actively direct Q’barra and to treat it like a client state, it runs the risk of those involved becoming hungry for greater power, seeking to reestablish the dragonborn as an empire (one which properly glorifies their draconic masters, of course) and eventually becoming puppets of Tiamat. The status quo—where Argonnessen trusts forces like the dragonborn and shulassakar to defend key sites with little or no draconic involvement—reflects the lessons they’ve learned over the last hundred thousand years about what they can do safely.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible!

Lightning Round: Obyriths, Dhakaani Cruelty, and the Chamber

As time permits, I like to answer questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few questions that came up last month and didn’t make it into previous articles.

Currently, the Keeper of the Flame with the longest historical reign was Saren Rellek, who lead the church for 88 years. Would you say this is because they were a non-human Keeper? Is the tiefling sanctuary of Rellekor named after them?

Yes, on both counts. While it is tempting to suggest that Rellek was a tiefling, if there was a tiefling Keeper in power for nearly a century, I feel that tieflings would have a better reputation than they do. In my Eberron, Saren was a Khoravar. Half-elves make up a tenth of the population of Thrane, so it’s not a shocking shift; nonetheless, it may be due to their Khoravar heritage that they were especially concerned with oppressed minorities and helped establish the tiefling sanctuary that bears their name.

What are one or two examples of a major Chamber dragon operation currently operating in Sharn? The 3.5 Sharn: City of Towers book is very sparse on the Chamber.

The general idea of both the Chamber and the Lords of Dust is that they typically work through pawns—that any operation could be tied to the Chamber. Adventurers aren’t expected to run into a force they would recognize as the Chamber at 4th level. But they could get involved with the Boromar Clan / Daask conflict, and at a late stage discover that one of Saiden Boromar’s chief advisors is actually a shapechanged dragon. In the novella “Principles of Fire”, there’s a Chamber dragon on board the Lyrandar patriarch’s airship. What are they DOING? Likely, observing, and perhaps subtly pushing the patriarch in a particular direction. Essentially, my common approach with the Chamber isn’t that you run into a bunch of “Chamber goons” on a Chamber mission—it’s about running into people following what seems to be an entirely personal agenda (Boromar-Daask Gang War) and then discovering that it’s tied to the Chamber, because the Chamber has a Prophetic interest in a particular outcome of the war. This ties to the fact that the Chamber isn’t interested in wealth or power for their own sake; what they care about is ensuring that specific Prophetic events come to pass, which means that they can be working with ANY organization if it makes your story more interesting. A Chamber agent could be supporting the Daask/Boromar war. They could be posing as a member of the Aurum. They could be staging a terrorist attack on the Tain Gala this month and making sure the adventurers are in a position to stop an attack at the Gala the following month. The key for the adventurers is reaching a point where they have enough information to understand their motives—the Prophetic paths they are working to fulfill.

I’m running the Savage Tide adventure path, and what I’m most curious about are the obyriths. Obox-ob, Dagon, Pazuzu, Pale Night, etc. – how would you fit them into Eberron?

There’s a few ways you could go about it, depending which aspects of the STORY of the Obyriths are most important to you.

  • The simplest option would be to introduce the obyriths as the lords of shadow demiplanes, as described in this article. The main question would be what is drawing their attention to Eberron, as shadow fiends usually don’t and can’t leave their demiplanes. With that said, this is a fairly generic approach that doesn’t especially capture any of the existing lore that defines the obyriths and doesn’t give them a strong motive
  • Obyriths are described as being exceptionally ALIEN; their appearance alone could drive mortals insane. Both of these suggest that they are creatures from Xoriat. The daelkyr aren’t the only powerful entities from Xoriat. Perhaps the obyriths came to Wberron from Xoriat in the Age of Demons and fought with the overlords, and were imprisoned by the overlords long ago.
  • A third option—and the one I’d personally use—would be to combine these. Exploring Eberron presents the idea that the current incarnation of reality may not be the first one… that the meddling of the daelkyr can lead to a full reseting of reality. Exploring suggests that the Gith may be refugees from a previous incarnation of Eberron. An exotic option for the obyriths would be to say that they are fiends from a previous iteration of Khyber… That somehow they escaped into Xoriat and ultimately came to the current incarnation of reality, most likely finding shelter in a shadow demiplane. This preserves the idea that they are ALIEN—fiends from another version of reality, further altered by their time in Xoriat—and that they are ANCIENT, as they literally predate reality itself. It also means that their agenda is entirely separate from that of the overlords and the Prophecy itself. Is their goal to overthrow and replace the overlords? Is that even possible? Or are they just bitterly trying to survive? A side note is that since they don’t belong in this reality they wouldn’t have heart demiplanes, and while they are physically immortal, if they are destroyed they won’t return—which gives them a clear motive for laying low despite their vast power.

Were ancient Dhakaani really ruthless? Take torture and Grieving tree for example, how many of them were constructed? Were they seen as a horrible invention or as a useful and necessary tool? How are they seen by modern Kech Volaar, will they want to use/preserve or destroy them?

The Dhakaani were and are quite ruthless. Consider this section of Exploring Eberron:

The Dhakaani idea of ‘honor in victory’ is quite different from that of Dol Arrah and the people of the Five Nations. The Dhakaani prize victory and efficiency, both on and off the battlefield. Atcha comes from standing your ground against seemingly impossible odds and from displaying skill and discipline. There is honor in using cunning to defeat a superior foe, so guerilla warfare, ambushing a foe, and even assassination are acceptable tactics, if this is what muut requires. Dar must be ready to die for the empire—but when possible, it’s always better to kill for the empire.

What you call ruthless, Dhakaani might call efficient. A second note from Exploring Eberron:

The Dhakaani don’t practice slavery—but not because of compassion. Rather, they consider it inefficient to try to force their values and traditions on creatures who have no concept of muut and who don’t share the Uul Dhakaan. Thus, Dhakaani tradition has always been to drive enemies out of their territories, or if such exile is impossible, to kill them.

The Kech Volaar are the most flexible of the Keepers. Exploring Eberron notes:

Perhaps because of this, the Kech Volaar are also the most conciliatory of the Keeper clans. They are the most willing to interact with the gath’dar, both because they recognize the need to understand these possible enemies, and in the hopes that some form of coexistence may be possible. Like the Kech Uul, Volaar leader Tuura Dhakaan wonders if the Uul Dhakaan can expand to incorporate other creatures—if the empire can unite gath’dar as it does the dar. Despite these hopes, the Kech Volaar are devoted to the dar above all else. They are the Keepers of History, and they know the sacrifices their ancestors had to make and the bitter wars against the chaat’or and the taarn (elves). They are wise and willing to seek all paths to prosperity, but will never surrender the dream of the eternal empire.

Ultimately, the point is that the Dhakaani have no use for petty cruelty. They value EFFICIENCY above all. The Grieving Trees were a creation of a specific (albeit legendary) daashor and aren’t commonplace, but the point of the trees was to serve as a SYMBOL and as a warning. As to whether the Volaar would embrace them, I think it’s a simple calculus as to whether they feel use of the trees would strength their position among the Dar—using them is an assertion of power, as they were originally the tools of the Marhu—or whether they would horrify the chaat’oor and the gath’dar and interfere with their future plans.

The Dhakaani are a very alien culture, shaped by the Uul Dhakaan and thousands of years of martial discipline. They don’t see the world in the same way as humans of the Five Nations, and yes, their behavior will generally come across as ruthless; but ultimately, the best way to describe it is inhuman.

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

IFAQ: Ashtakala, the Demon City

The following questions came up in response to my recent article on High Level Adventures in Eberron:

Why has the Light of Siberys not been regularly staging strafing runs against the Demon Wastes? In the 3.5 Explorer’s Handbook, Ashtakala is still a viable, functioning headquarters for the Lords of Dust. It retains an array of magical facilities, some of which are very powerful. Does the Light of Siberys have nothing to gain from a targeting blasting of Ashtakala, if only to eliminate it as a resource? Or is Ashtakala actually supposed to be a genuinely blasted ruin, where the Lords of Dust meet in the… dust?

There’s a number of interesting points here. I will note that I created Ashtakala and wrote its description in the original Eberron Campaign Setting, but I was not involved in any way with the Explorer’s Handbook. My own idea of Ashtakala has evolved over the years and what I’m going to present here is how I use it today.

First of all, let’s revisit what I wrote about Ashtakala in the original Eberron Campaign Setting.

Ashtakala (Metropolis, Special): The one city of any real significance in the Demon Wastes is Ashtakala, the last citadel of the Lords of Dust. Surrounded by a permanent storm of sand and volcanic glass and shielded from all forms of divinatory magic, Ashtakala rarely reveals itself to human eyes. Explorers who manage to penetrate the eternal storm find a bizarre yet beautiful metropolis, a citadel built from basalt and brass. Compared to the shattered ruins spread throughout the rest of the Wastes, Ashtakala seems impossibly alive, filled with thousands of demons and other fiends.

While Ashtakala appears as it did a million years or more ago, it is a city of ghosts and shadows—all an illusion. In addition to the illusory inhabitants and the spirits of ancient things that still wander the decaying streets masked by powerful illusions of the city’s zenith, a handful of zakyas and rakshasas and a host of minor fiends serve the great Lords of Dust who congregate here. The Lords of Dust occasionally meet in this shadow of their ancient city, and rakshasas return to Ashtakala to scheme and to study in the vaults and libraries, reading scrolls and tomes that will crumble to dust if ever removed from the city. The power that preserves the image of Ashtakala transforms anyone who enters the city; visitors find their clothing and equipment altered to match the archaic fashions of the city, as if by a disguise self spell. The city of fiends is a dangerous place for mortals to visit—only the luckiest of intruders caught by the rakshasa lords get to die quickly.

So: Ashtakala is the last surviving city of the Lords of Dust. It has endured for a hundred thousand years. It’s immune to divination and is surrounded by a deadly storm. The entire region around it is an unnatural wasteland that has never been tamed. While Ashtakala was supposedly ruined long ago, its magic is so powerful that it creates an alternate reality within its storm—it still appears to be at its zenith, and people who enter its influence are themselves altered to fit this haunted narrative. Also, an important point: it’s used as a meeting place by all of the Lords of Dust, implying that it’s not tied to any single overlord. We know that Hektula, the Speaker of Sul Khatesh, maintains the library of Ashtakala. But Ashtakala isn’t the heart of Sul Khatesh; It’s is a neutral ground where all the Lords of Dust can find sanctuary. We also know that while Ashtakala has stood for a hundred thousand years, it has never expanded. It is immortal but largely unchanging, like the fiends themselves.

We also know that the dragons have no obvious presence in the Demon Wastes. The defenses of the Demon Wastes—both the Ghaash’kala and the Labyrinth itself—are tied to the Silver Flame; you don’t have dragonborn or dragon guardians, as we see in Q’barra. In my Eberron, this is no accident: the dragons shun the Demon Wastes because they have no choice. I say that the Light of Siberys DID attack the Demon Wastes tens of thousands of years ago. They did lay waste to it, and destroyed a humanoid civilization that predates the Carrion Tribes (who arrived in the Wastes less than two thousand years ago). And this attack was a disaster. Aside from the many fiends, many powerful magical defenses were unleashed against the attackers. Ashtakala was the worst of all. Just as it shields the city from divination magic, the storm surrounding Ashtakala repelled magical and elemental attacks… and as dragons drew close to it, their souls were ripped from their bodies and they turned on their allies. When they were wounded, dust spilled out instead of blood. The attacking force was almost entirely wiped out—and the dust-stuffed dragons claimed by Ashtakala proved to be an ongoing threat and asset to the Lords of Dust for thousands of years. And while humanoids were wiped out, the fiends that were slain simply reformed. The dragons have shunned the region ever since; while they know Ashtakala is an asset for the Lords of Dust, they don’t have the power to destroy it, and while it is a useful sanctuary for the Lords of Dust it’s been there for a hundred thousand years—it’s not like it poses a dire, imminent threat to the safety of Argonnessen.

But how is this possible? How could a fortress of raskhasa be strong enough to resist the power that leveled Xen’drik? Consider again what we know of Ashtakala. It is surrounded by a corrupted region the size of a nation. The corruption cannot be undone, and the region is filled with free-roaming fiends. It alters reality within its confines. And while it has endured for a hundred thousand years, it remains fundamentally unchanged—maintaining the shadow of its glory, but never expanding.

Corrupting a region the size of a nation? Surrounded by free-roaming fiends? Possessed of such mystical power that it can resist the might even of Argonnessen? That sounds a lot like what Bel Shalor did to Thrane when it was partially released. And therein lies the answer. Ashtakala isn’t just a city: Ashtakala is an overlord. It is an immortal embodiment of eternal evil, something that irrevocably corrupts the region around it and that is attended by a host of lesser fiends. While it is trapped in place by the wards of the Labyrinth and by the power of the Silver Flame, of all the overlords Ashtakala alone was never fully bound. The crucial concept to understand is that Ashtakala was always a city. All fiends embody malevolent ideas; Ashtakala is the Dark Citadel, the fortress of ultimate evil. It can’t move and it doesn’t have an anthropomorphic form; it is a DEMON CITY. But like any overlord, it’s immortal and it alters reality within its sphere of influence. Ashtakala is the source of the never-ending storm. It’s the power of the city itself that transforms those who enter it. The host of illusory fiends are the servants of the city. And Ashtakala is the source of the unnatural corruption of the region, the blight that cannot be lifted—for that blighted landscape is a part of its defining concept as the citadel of evil.

So what does this mean? First, Ashtakala was never constructed. It is literally the CONCEPT of a city given form. And not just a city, a city of fiends. The currency of Ashtakala is souls, for the city can rip the souls from mortals and forge them into coinage (and potentially other things). This is the concept of the Drain Works described in Explorer’s Handbook, but that’s a case of the parasite rakshasa making use of the capabilities of Ashtakala rather than the city doing it itself. Ashtakala can just rip the soul out of a dragon in an instant; the Drain Works is a slower process rakshasa can use on creatures the city considers to be insignificant. Because this is an important point. Overlords don’t think the way mortals do. They are vast, alien, and unique. Ashtakala allows the Lords of Dust to dwell within it, but it doesn’t cater to their whims or help them with their schemes. I’ve mentioned before that the weakness of the overlords is that they didn’t work together, and that is the case here. Ashtakala doesn’t CARE about the fact that the other overlords are imprisoned. It doesn’t care about the needs of the Lords of Dust. Ashtakala simply IS. It expresses itself by creating and maintaining the Demon Wastes. It is doing the thing that gives its existence meaning. This is the point of the “illusory servitors”—they are literally extensions of the city, serving no purpose other than to maintain it. They’re much like the subjects of Daanvi or the conscripts of Shavarath; they have no lasting identity, no purpose beyond playing out the story of Ashtakala. They can’t be recruited to serve the schemes of Rak Tulkhesh or Sul Khatesh because they literally don’t exist independently of Ashtakala. Beyond that comes the larger point that Ashtakala doesn’t recognize lesser humanoids as a threat. It fought dragons, titans, and celestials, and if any such creatures approach it Ashtakala will strike them with its full force. But humans? Orcs? Elves? Ashtakala doesn’t register them as having any significance. So a DRAGON that approaches the city will have its soul ripped out and replaced with dust. But a HUMAN that manages to make it through the storm will in fact be cloaked in illusion so they DO fit in the city… because the city literally can’t conceive of them as a threat. The fiends that dwell within Ashtakala may capture them, torture them, or take them to the Drain Works—but the city doesn’t care about them.

A secondary aspect of this is that like all overlords, Ashtakala is immortal. If it was somehow burnt to the ground, it would return within days. This is what is meant by the city being an “illusion”. While you are within it, it is real. But if you steal an ancient tome from the Library of Ashtakala and it will crumble to dust when you leave the city… And it will be BACK in the library the next day. The exceptions to this are things that are brought INTO the city (or things forged from outside materials, like stolen souls). So if Hektula steals a tome from Arcanix and brings it to Ashtakala, THAT book can be stolen from the city or destroyed permanently. But the most ancient scrolls dating back to the Age of Demons aren’t truly REAL; they are memories in the mind of the Demon City.

All of this means that Ashtakala is a perfect haven for the Lords of Dust. It’s shielded from hostile magic and their greatest enemies cannot even approach it. They don’t need to maintain it—no one repairs the masonry, or fixes the sewers, or touches up the paint—because the entire city is a concept, and it maintains itself. It provides them with invaluable resources, such as the Library and the Drain Works. But again, part of the point is that while it appears to be a thriving metropolis filled with tens of thousands of fiends, less than a thousands of those are truly independent and REAL; the vast majority are just ideas in the mind of the Demon City.

With that said, there’s a few points to clarify based on questions in the comments. When I say that the denizens of Ashtakala aren’t “truly independent and real” what I mean is this: They can’t LEAVE Ashtakala, and they have no desires beyond playing out their role in the story. But they exist within the city… and that means that they can hurt you. Beyond that, the point that Ashtakala itself doesn’t target mortals means that it won’t rip their souls out the instant they enter the city. But that doesn’t mean it welcomes them or protects them. Ashtakala is an incarnate nightmare. Imagine the most horrifying hell-city you can; that’s what it is. The music of Ashtakala is the screams of tortured mortals kept in hideous painful stasis. There are furnaces filled with bones—not because Ashtakala NEEDS to burn people to keep the fires going, but because that’s what its story is about. The 4E ECG notes that mortals who remain within Ashtakala will be slowly transformed into fiends themselves. It is surely one of the most dangerous locations in Eberron—but it won’t instantly smite you with the force that can lay a titan low. It literally doesn’t NOTICE mortals—but its servants and denizens definitely will. As the ECS said: The city of fiends is a dangerous place for mortals to visit—only the luckiest of intruders caught by the rakshasa lords get to die quickly.

Why Does This Matter?

Fine: Ashtakala is an overlord. Dragons can’t come near it without being corrupted. What does this mean for you and your campaign?

  • The mind of an overlord doesn’t work like that of a human. Ashtakala isn’t working WITH the Lords of Dust; it simply allows them to dwell within it, because that suits its nature as the Citadel of Evil. But by default, it doesn’t have goals beyond the Demon Wastes. It is expressing its nature by creating and maintaining the Demon Wastes, and by destroying any dragons or similar threats that come too close. But it doesn’t actually PARTICIPATE in the schemes of the Lords of Dust or help them in their schemes to free other overlords.
  • This ties to the idea that Ashtakala will destroy and consume any dragon that comes close, but that it doesn’t recognize lesser humanoids—orcs, humans, etc—as threats. This is why a human can enter the city and simply have its appearance altered. Ashtakala essentially doesn’t even NOTICE a human, and the altering of their appearance is a background effect. This in turn means that if the Chamber has any interests tied to Ashtakala—if they want to spy on the plans of the Lords of Dust, or to steal information from the Library of Ashtakala—they need to work with capable humanoid agents, which is to say, player characters.
  • One interesting plot point would be to introduce warlocks or active fiends who DO represent the interests of Ashtakala—to say that after a hundred thousand years of largely ignoring the world, Ashtakala now has its own desires. What would these be? How would these agents interact with the fiends serving other overlords?
  • There was another mortal civilization in the Demon Wastes before the Carrion Tribes, which was destroyed when the dragons attacked. Adventurers exploring the Demon Wastes could find relics of this previously unknown civilization. This could also be used to explain the origin of some other species you want to add to the setting.
  • Ashtakala is a city that corrupts the land around it—a region as large as a nation, making it into a warped wasteland. Sound familiar? It could be that the Mourning is the result of a similar demon city being released into Cyre. If so, has it taken the place of an existing city like Metrol? Or is it still waiting to be found?
  • Ashtakala can rips souls from mortals and forge them into solid form. Among other things, this effect prevents resurrection, much like a Keeper’s Fang—and one possibility is that the Keeper’s Fang weapons are in fact tied to ASHTAKALA. Regardless, one point is that adventurers might acquire magic items of artifacts forged from the souls of ancient dragons, giants, or couatl. Could the item be somehow destroyed, and if so could the fallen champion be resurrected? Alternately, what could a modern artificer do with a handful of coins forged from dragon-soul?
  • One explanation for the dragon attacks on Aerenal is that they are “practicing fighting something with the power of an overlord.” It could be that these centuries of intermittent war have all been preparation for a NEW assault on Ashtakala. How could this involve the player characters? Might the Chamber ask powerful characters to help with the assault, perhaps sabotaging Ashtakala from within during the attack? Or might the players learn about the planned attack and realize that it will inflict devastating collateral damage on Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches?
  • Explorer’s Handbook includes the Dust Works, a facility that allows fiends to suck out a creature’s soul and replace it with dust. As I suggest above, my thought is that this is something Ashtakala can do on its own, and the Dust Works is simply a way the Lords of Dust have found to harness this power for their own purposes. A dust-stuffed dragon working with the Lords of Dust could be an interesting alternative to a rogue dragon. And if the adventurers have an ally within the dragons of the Chamber, a tragic twist would be for that dragon to be captured by the Lords of Dust and taken to Ashtakala, returning as a dust-stuffed villain.

Thats all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Dragons Bad?

I’ve been keeping busy. In addition to working on my Threshold Campaign, I’m also about to release The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance and I DID just release Eberron Confidential. And that’s just the projects I can talk about! However, when time permits I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. So…

In the canon lore of Eberron, the dragons of Argonnessen completely obliterated the civilizations of the giants of Xen’drik, and in the process all of the lesser civilizations on Xen’drik as well. This involved not simply devastating physical force, but also epic magic such as the Du’rashka Tul (a curse that causes any culture that grows too large to be gripped by homicidal rage) and the Traveler’s Curse (which warps time and space). Why would they do all of this instead of just conquering Xen’drik conventionally?

This relates to the role of dragons in the world, a topic I discussed in this Dragonmark on The First War, but let’s take another look at it. The primary sourcebook on the dragons of Eberron is, surprise, Dragons of Eberron. and what I’m about to say is largely drawn from that. First, let’s take a moment to consider dragons—as defined by the 3.5 rules on which the original lore of Eberron was based.

Dragons are suffused with magical power. This grows stronger as they age, until it suddenly gutters out. Thus, a dragon can live for up to 4,400 years, and as they age they simply become stronger, smarter, and gain more magical power. Under the 3.5 SRD, a typical gold great wyrm has the powers of a 19th level sorcerer, and as seen in Dragons of Eberron, exceptional dragons can add additional class levels on top of that. The dragons of Argonnessen believe that they are the children of Eberron and Siberys, and that they can ascend to become the Sovereigns after death—that they are the gods that lesser creatures worship. With this in mind, dragons don’t consider humanoids to be their equals. At best, they’re essentially dogs—potentially useful if domesticated, possibly dangerous when feral, and so cute when they think they’re dragons. At worst, humanoids are like cockroaches—swarming, insignificant creatures who live and die in the blink of an eye and should be wiped out if they cause trouble. Oh, don’t worry about it. The way they reproduce, in just a century there’ll be swarms of them again.

Dragons of Eberron outlines how, around sixty thousand years ago, dragons spread out from Argonnessen and interacted with the other creatures of Eberron. According to DoE…

Some merely wished to study the lesser creatures. A few came as mentors, foremost among them the descendants of Ourelonastrix. These dragons shared the secrets of magic with giants, curious to see what innovations these promising creatures might develop. But the bulk of the dragons chose the path of conquest. Flights of dragons carved out dominions across the world. For most of the dragons, it began as a game—one with a high cost in life among nondragons.

For a dragon, running a humanoid kingdom was kind of like having an ant farm. It was a source of entertainment and amusement, and if if a few thousand humanoids died when you forced them to fight with a rival dragon, what of it? However, as DoE calls out, things went downhill from there.

In time, however, the struggle turned dragon against dragon. Friendly rivalries became bitter. The blood of dragons flowed. And as the troubles spread, the Daughter of Khyber stirred in the Pit of Five Sorrows.

This is the first crucial factor in understanding the actions of the modern dragons: The Daughter of Khyber. One of the most powerful overlords of the first age, she has the ability to corrupt and control dragons. She begins by amplifying their cruelty and instinct for tyranny, the desire to rule lesser beings; and from that root she eventually consumes them completely, until they become extensions of her own immortal evil. Argonnessen itself was nearly destroyed in the escalating conflict that followed. When the battles were finally won and the Daughter of Khyber fully restored to her prison, the Conclave of Argonnessen ordered all dragons to return and forbade any further draconic imperialism. The dragons remain hidden in Argonnessen not simply because they have no interest in other civilizations, but because it is dangerous for them to meddle with lesser creatures.

But there’s a second element to this. Tens of thousands of years later, the giants of Xen’drik—using power based on the knowledge shared by dragons—destroyed the moon Crya and threatened the balance of the planes of Eberron. The dragons resisted taking action, but centuries later they threatened to unleash these powers again. According to Dragons of Eberron, “Perhaps they thought victory was possible, but many historians believe it was pure nihilism—if the titans couldn’t rule the world, they would destroy it.” As this threat became known…

Shocked and alarmed at the effect of the forces already unleashed by the giants, this time (the dragons) chose to act. A scaled army poured forth from Argonnessen, with flights of all colors led by the militant wyrms of the Light of Siberys. The conflict was brutal, and its outcome never in doubt. The dragons had no interest in holding territory. They made no effort to avoid civilian casualties; they brought fire, fang, and epic magic to bear in the most destructive ways imaginable. In the end, nothing was left of the proud nations of Xen’drik. Giant, elf, and all other cultures of the land were laid low by the dragons, and powerful curses ensured that the giants would never again threaten the world. Their mission accomplished, the dragons returned to Argonnessen to brood. All agreed that the people of Xen’drik would never have posed such a threat if the dragons had not shared the secrets of magic. The Conclave called the event kurash Ourelonastrix—Aureon’s Folly—and forbade any flight from sharing the secrets of Argonnessen with lesser beings.

So: Why didn’t the dragons wage a conventional war? They couldn’t, for multiple reasons. First of all, the giants were already preparing a doomsday ritual BECAUSE they were losing a war. A slow campaign wouldn’t solve that problem, it would simply push the giants even further up against the wall. Second, a conventional campaign of conquest is EXACTLY the sort of action that feeds the Daughter of Khyber. For both of these reasons, the draconic action had to be swift and decisive, not about ruling lesser creatures but simply about eliminating the threat. And this is where we come back to that point of humanoids are like cockroaches to dragons. The Conclave concluded that it had made a terrible mistake in sharing magic with the giants. Their response to this wasn’t Let’s teach them to use our power with greater wisdom, it was let’s completely wipe our mistake from the world and make sure we never do that again.

This is what drives Argonnessen today. Dragons must not repeat Aureon’s Folly, which is why Vvaraak is an apostate for sharing her secrets with the Gatekeeper druids. Dragons must not try to rule lesser creatures beyond the borders of Argonnessen. They can WATCH them. They can manipulate them, for purposes of the grand conflict over the Draconic Prophecy. But they cannot rule them. And should they become a serious threat to Argonnessen, destroying them all is a viable solution. One can even make the argument that both the Du’rashka Tul and the Traveler’s Curse were examples of draconic MERCY. The Dragons were determined that the giants would never again threaten the world as they once did. They COULD have utterly eradicated them from existence. Instead, they destroyed their civilizations, and put in place safeguards to ensure that they’d never rebuild a civilization that could pose a threat—but they DIDN’T just reduce Xen’drik to a plane of glass.

This goes all the way back to one of the basic principles of Eberron: The world needs heroes. If the Tarrasque appears and is going to destroy Sharn, the dragons won’t show up to help you, because they do not care what happens to Sharn. If they do, it’s only because it’s tied to the Prophecy and there’s a very specific outcome that they want — in which case, it’s likely they still can’t defeat the Tarrasque THEMSELVES, they need to help you do it, because that’s what is required for the Prophecy. At the end of the day, the main point is while the dragons of Argonnessen may not be EVIL, they are not your friends. They are not here to help you. They don’t CARE if the Dreaming Dark takes over Sarlona or Khorvaire unless there’s a clear threat to Argonnessen. They don’t care about the Mourning unless it, too, can be proven to be a threat to the entire world (as the actions of the Cul’sir were). And if they DO decide something is a problem, there is the risk that they will solve it in the same way they solved their problems with Xen’drik. We don’t think much about exterminating cockroaches when they get in our way, and to Argonnessen as a whole, your character is a cockroach.

The key point is that generally, the people of Khorvaire have no contact with dragons. They know they exist, but no one ever goes to Argonnessen (in part because those who do don’t return). Dragons aren’t just another nation like Riedra or the Aereni. To the people of Khorvaire, Argonnessen is a legend—and it’s likely for the best that it stays that way.

Dragons as Individuals

So what’s the point of HAVING dragons in the world if you can’t use them? Well, everything I wrote is about Argonnessen. It’s based on the idea that IF dragons lived for thousands of years, IF every dragon possessed significant magical power, why WOULDN’T they have a civilization far greater than anything we know? But the follow-up is that that civilization largely ignores the lesser civilizations, following its own version of the Prime Directive (because of Aureon’s Folly and the Daughter of Khyber). However, INDIVIDUAL DRAGONS can have their own goals and interests and play many different roles in a campaign. Just to name a few…

  • The Observer. The Chamber is watching the world to make sure that things are moving according to their plans. In general, Chamber observers manipulate rather than acting directly, and you’d never know they were dragons… unless something goes wrong. My novella “Principles of Fire” involves two Chamber observers, and something going wrong.
  • The Rogue Dragon. Not all dragons obey the Conclave of Argonnessen. And while many dragons establishing empires is a problem for the Daughter of Khyber, a SINGLE dragon being a jerk isn’t a big deal. Rogue dragons might be rogues because they want to HELP humanoids—like Vvaraak, who taught the Gatekeepers—or because they want to hurt them, as with Sarmondelaryx terrorizing Thrane. Some rogue dragons just want to pursue arcane studies, though again, because dragons often see themselves as far above humanoids, a dragon scientist may well use humans as lab rats. So you can HAVE a dragon as an ally or a villain in a campaign; the point is that they don’t have the full support of Argonnessen behind them, and thus shouldn’t overshadow the player characters.
  • The Wild Dragon. Dragons are intelligent and have (at least in the 3.5 model) innate magical powers. But you can still have a dragon orphaned in the wild, who knows nothing of Argonnessen and has essentially grown up feral. Or you could have a dragon who’s been corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber and is an agent of evil, but who likewise knows nothing of Argonnessen.

So, you can HAVE a random evil dragon or a benevolent dragon ally if you choose. But Argonnessen itself was always intended to be that spot on the map that says Here There Be Dragon, the place that we DON’T know about… The place that will pose a challenge for even the mightiest characters. It’s supposed to be a mystery, something beyond our understanding or our reach. Because remember that Eberron was grounded in principles of pulp adventure, and that concept of ancient powers in an unknown realm, advanced far beyond human civilization is certainly in keeping with that. You can find a further discussion of why we chose to follow this path in the First War article.

How do you handle the changes made to dragons in the different editions?

It’s a tricky point. The whole idea of Argonnessen IS based on the vast power possessed by the 3.5 dragons. A gold great wyrm has mental abilities scores in the 30s and the spellcasting abilities of a 19th level sorcerer, and that’s an average great gold wyrm. The point of Argonnessen was if creatures with such power and intellect existed and had existed for tens of thousands of years, WOULDN’T they have a civilization far beyond what we’re depicting for the Five Nations?

The dragons of 5E are generally weaker, and that’s probably for the best. Do you really NEED an enemy dragon to be able to drop a wish on you in addition to breathing fire? So for purposes of running adventures, I’m fine with using a default 5E dragon as that wild dragon who never mastered its innate magical powers and using the Innate Spellcasting rules for a Chamber observer. But personally, I’m not changing my default vision of Argonnessen because the rules have changed, and there’s a simple way to have this cake and eat it, too. The 5E age chart for dragons only goes to Ancient. 3.5 has two further categories, Wyrm and Great Wyrm — and it’s the Great Wyrms that would be throwing wishes around. So it’s reasonable to say that great wyrms still exist and still have all the powers they wielded in 3.5… you just don’t see them outside of Argonnesen.

Ultimately, as with anything, the question is what is the story you want to tell? The idea of Argonnessen was to be the mysterious space blank on the map, to be the civilization that’s tens of thousands of years beyond humanity, to be the illuminati secretly fighting a war with fiends in the shadows. If that’s not a story you want to tell, don’t tell it. Part of the point of the dragons BEING so secretive is that if you remove the Chamber and the Lords of Dust from the game, no one would know. All canon is only a place to start; if there’s anything you don’t like about it, don’t use it.

Now: Previously I have done my best to answer every question posted on an article. However, the whole idea of IFAQs is that they are short, meaning I can write more of them. In the past, I’ve ended up answering so many questions that the article ends up being longer than a Dragonmark… and this article is ALREADY longer than I planned. So: feel free to ASK questions about this topic, but there’s a good chance I’m not going to answer them. And again: if you want to know the CANON answers about dragons, check out Dragons of Eberron, and if you want more kanon answers, check out The First War.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

IFAQ: Swearing, Djinn, and Genasi

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters to pose interesting questions about Eberron. Here’s a few lingering questions from October!

Any swear words specific to Khorvaire?

The humans of Khorvaire excrete and reproduce much as we do – so swear words related to those functions are just as applicable on Eberron as Earth. Setting-specifice swears generally invoke things that are unique to the world, whether that’s deities or planes. Looking to my novels, a few examples…

  • Dolurrh! is much like saying Hell! With this in mind, we’ve also seen Damn you to Dolurrh!
  • Thrice-damned invokes the Progenitors, essentially Damned by Eberron, Khyber, and Siberys. So, that thrice-damned dwarf!
  • You can always invoke the Sovereigns. Sovereigns above! is a general invocation, a sort of give me strength! In The Queen of Stone, the Brelish ambassador swears by Boldrei’s bloody feet! — essentially a variant of God’s blood! Any Sovereign could be used in this way. Aureon’s eyes, Kel, what made you think you could get away with that?
  • Olladra is the Sovereign of fortune, and often invoked to acknowledge good or bad luck. Olladra smiles is a polite way to say That was lucky, while Olladra scowls is essentially that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.
  • Flame! is often used even by people who aren’t devoted to the Silver Flame. Depending on the context and the faith of the speaker, Flame! can be an earnest invocation as opposed to an expression of frustration.

These are curses of the Five Nations, and in the Common tongue. I don’t have time to comb through all the curses we’ve created in other languages, but Maabet is a Dhakaani curse that a city goblin might still use.

Do you have a vision for how Djinni and Marids fit in the planes?

Syrania embodies peace, and all that flourishes in times of peace. Knowledge, commerce, and contemplation are all elements of Syrania. Angels perform the tasks necessary to maintain the Immeasurable Market while Dominions contemplate the concept of commerce, but angels don’t enjoy the luxuries that commerce provides. This is the role of the djinn. The floating towers of the Dominions are serene and often austere; above them are the cloud-palaces of the djinn, wondrous spectacles of crystal and stone. Within, the djinn dwell amid glorious opulence, their needs tended by unseen servants. In this, they reflect the efreet of Fernia—but the efreet are defined by the hunger of the consuming flame, the endless desire for more, while the djinn are more comfortable in their luxury. A djinni may find joy in contemplating a fine work of art, while the efreeti is always concerned that their neighbor has something finer. Essentially, the djinn are more peaceful that the efreet. Rather than representing air itself, think of the djinn as embodying the wonder of the clouds, the idea that there could be castles in the sky. While they lack the fiery temper of the efreet, djinn can be as capricious as the wind; intrigue is also a thing that flourishes in times of peace, and they can take joy in matching wits with clever mortals.

So, the djinn celebrate the fruits of peace—including celebration itself. Djinn regularly hold grand galas in their floating manors; but these focus on the joy of good times with good company as opposed to the ostentatious and competitive displays of the efreet. Nonetheless, a mortal who earns a reputation as an amazing entertainer or artist could potentially be invited to a djinni’s ball. Thus, a warlock with the Genie patron can be seen as an agent for their patron in the material plane, searching for tings that will delight their benefactor. A dao patron may be eager to obtain exotic materials and rare components to use in their works. An efreeti may task their warlock to find the treasures or wonders they need to outshine their rivals. While a djinn patron may want the warlock to find beautiful things, works of art for their mansion or delightful companions for their next feast.

Marids are harder, but I’d personally place them in Thelanis, in a layer that embodies wondrous tales of the seas. This ties to the 5E lore that marids are master storytellers, and consider it a crime for a lesser being to interrupt one of their tales. I could imagine a grand marid who’s both elemental and archfey, who styles themselves as “The Ocean King” and claims dominion over all shipwrecks and things lost in the water (not that they actually ENFORCE this claim, it’s just part of their story…).

Now: having said this, I could imagine placing the djinn in Thelanis as well, in a layer of clouds that incorporates a range of stories about giants in the sky and other cloud palaces. I personally like them in Syrania because it allows them to embody the joys that commerce and peace bring in ways the angels don’t, but I could also see djinn as being primarily tied to stories of wonders in the sky.

Is there a place for genie nobles who can grant wishes?

That’s part of the point to placing djinn on Syrania; they are, on one level, spirits of commerce. Some love to bargain and have the power to grant wonders if their terms are upheld (but can be capricious about terms). Even lesser djinn who don’t have the actual power of wish could still make such bargains, granting things that are within their power. It can also fit with marids on Thelanis, with that idea that it’s fueled by the stories of mighty genies granting wishes (and the often negative consequences of foolish wishes).

How do genasi fit into Eberron? And how would a fire genasi influenced by Lamannia differ from one influenced by Fernia?

Exploring Eberron has this to say about genasi…

Genasi aren’t innately fiendish or celestial; they’re purely elemental. While quite rare, when recognized, a genasi is generally understood to be neutral in nature —a remarkable mutation, but not something to be feared or celebrated.

Following this principle, genasi aren’t true-breeding and don’t have a recognized culture in Eberron; each genasi is a unique manifestation. As for the difference between the Lamannian genasi and the Fernian genasi, it’s not dramatic; they do both represent the neutral fore of fire. However, I could see saying that the Fernian genasi is inspired by the industrial fires of Fernia, and has a natural instinct for industry and artifce, while the Lamannian genasi is more inspired by the pure elemental force.

For other ways to use genasi in a campaign, consider the options in this article. Previously we suggested that another source of genasi (water or earth) could be Lorghalen gnomes bound to elemental forces.

To which degree are people aware of planar manifest zones and their influence on daily life?

People are very aware of manifest zones and their effects. They don’t know the locations of every zone — it’s not always easy to spot a zone at a glance — but it’s common knowledge that it’s a manifest zone that allows Sharn’s towers to rise so high, and why you don’t have skycoaches everywhere. People know that a blighted region might be a Mabaran manifest zone, and that a fertile one could be tied to Lamannia or Irian. Dragonmarked houses actively search for manifest zones that are beneficial to their operations, and I’d expect that there’s an occupation not unlike feng shui consultants, who evaluate the planar balances of a particular region.

With that said, most common people can’t tell you the PRECISE effects of each type of manifest zone; that’s the sort of thing that requires an Arcana check. But the common people are very much aware of the existence of manifest zones and their importance, and if something strange happens someone can reasonable say “Could this be a manifest zone?

If a Brelish war criminal escapes to Graywall, how likely are the Daughters or Xor’chylic to agree to a Brelish request for extradition? In general, how do extradition requests function with non-Treaty nations?

Generally, not at all. Given that Breland refuses to recognize Droaam as a nation, it’s hard for them to make a request based on international law. Beyond that, what’s more interesting for story purposes—that Droaam just turns over the criminal because Breland asks, or that Breland needs to turn to Sentinel Marshals, bounty hunters, or PLAYER CHARACTERS to apprehend the war criminal? Part of the point of having non-Treaty nations is to create situations like this.

It’s been stated that dragons became expansionist and begun colonizing eberron until this expansion brought about the release (or partial release) of the overlord tiamat, and subsequent retreat to Argonessen. What was the nature of this expansion? Empire or rival fiefdoms, did it expand to the planes of the cosmos? What were the buildings, technology and treasures like? Do remnants remain would some dragons seek to restore this age?

First of all, if you haven’t read the 3.5 sourcebook Dragons of Eberron, that’s the primary source on draconic culture, architecture, and history. The Thousand, the Tapestry, and the Vast aren’t the civilizations that drove that expansion, but they are what they became, and it also discusses the impact of the Daughter of Khyber.

With that in mind, consider that you’re talking about events that occurred eighty thousand years ago. Even among the long-lived dragons, you’re talking about dozens of generations ago. It’s likely that very few remnants of that expansion have survived the passage of time—and those that did may have been repurposed and reused by multiple civilizations since then. Perhaps Stormreach or Sharn are built on ancient draconic foundations, whose origins were long forgotten even before the Cul’sir Dominion or Dhakaani Empire came to power. There may well have been competing draconic fiefdoms or even warring empires; but whatever these civilizations were, they were forgotten tens of thousands of years ago, in part because the dragons had to banish imperialistic urges from their hearts to resist the Daughter of Khyber. There could possibly be some dragons who yearn to restore draconic dominion over the world—and it would be such dragons who would fall prey to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber and become her cultists.

I wish I had time to develop some examples of long-forgotten draconic civilizations and to chart the evolution of their arcane science, but I’m afraid that’s beyond the scope of an IFAQ. But if you aren’t familiar with Dragons of Eberron, that’s the deepest canon source on this.

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

Dragonmarks: The First War

A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”

“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337

The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.

As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?

If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.

To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.

Friend or Foe?

The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.

Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.

The Battleground of Prophecy

The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.

One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.

It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to create the Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.

Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.

Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.

The First War and You

So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.

As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.

Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.

Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.

Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.

Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.

The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.

Characters Bound to the Prophecy

The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…

So, a few examples to consider…

  • You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
  • You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
  • You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
  • You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
  • You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.

A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.

A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.

Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!

In Conclusion…

Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!

Q&A

This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…

What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?

A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.

A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…

Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”

Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…

Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?

What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.

You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?

Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell. 

If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?

There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?

That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.

It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?

There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.

Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.

But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?

One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.

The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.

How could this conflict come to an end?

Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.

You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. And if you haven’t seen them already, check out Exploring Eberron and Magic Sword: An Eberron Adventure Seed on the DM’s Guild!

Lightning Round: Dragons, Tarkanan, and More!

Hi Everyone!

The last two months have been a whirlwind of travel and deadlines, and that’s kept me largely off the internet. In addition to traveling to GenCon, DragonCon, and XOXO, I’ve been working on Exploring Eberron—The Book Formerly Known As Project Raptor—and also on the game Twogether Studios is developing with the Adventure Zone. I’m also preparing to DM at Level Eater in Portland and G.A.M.E in Springfield!

In my next post I’ll talk more about all of these things, and about Eberron: Rising From The Last War, the Eberron hardcover that is  coming out in November. Today, I want to quickly answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters!

If Aberrant Marks can’t be passed on like normal Dragonmarks, what is life typically like for the children of House Tarkanan?

For those unfamiliar with aberrant dragonmarks or House Tarkanan, this article might be a useful crash course on some of the issues associated with them.

As for this question: remember that “House Tarkanan” is nothing like a Dragonmarked House. It’s a name this organization took in mockery of the Dragonmarked Houses, sort of like a gang calling themselves “The Kings of Callestan.” Just because they call themselves “Kings” doesn’t mean they actually have any sort of sovereign power! The Dragonmarked Houses are multinational guilds formed many centuries ago through the alliances of powerful families. They are dynasties as well as businesses with a presence in multiple nations and on multiple continents. By contrast, House Tarkanan was started less than a decade ago by the survivors of a disavowed Brelish commando unit. It has expanded its operations since then, but it is still a small organization and still fundamentally a criminal organization, NOT a dynasty. You aren’t born into House Tarkanan and you don’t need to marry into it; you’re simply recruited into it. Members often use the last name Tarkanan, but that’s an affectation. The leader of the gang often calls herself Thora Tarkanan, but her actual name is Thora Tavin.

So the main point is that there are no “children of House Tarkanan.” The organization thrives by recruiting new members, not by breeding them. If you’re a Tarkanan enforcer, you could marry a Morgrave librarian and have five kids; marked or unmarked, your spouse and children aren’t considered members of House Tarkanan unless they are recruited into it.

With that said, the issue behind the question is the idea that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary. And on that point, I’m going to change MY stance slightly. We’ve always said that the most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is to cross the bloodlines of two different houses—that this is more likely to produce an aberrant mark than a person with an aberrant mark having a child. And I stand by that, in general, with one exception: I think it’s fair to say that if both parents have aberrant dragonmarks, the odds of producing an aberrant child are the same as if you mixed two house bloodlines… that two aberrants ALSO produce a “mixed mark.” Since the War of the Mark, aberrant marks have been so rare that this has rarely been an issue. But now aberrant marks are starting to appear in greater numbers, and forces like House Tarkanan are concentrating them. So this is a factor that COULD lead to House Tarkanan producing more aberrant heirs.

But the critical question is… does it want to? 

Even if you have a more reliable way to produce an aberrant mark, one of the defining factors of aberrant marks is that they are unpredictable: even if two aberrant parents produce a child with an aberrant mark, most likely that mark will have NOTHING IN COMMON with the marks of the parents. The semi-canon example we have of this is in the novel The Son of Khyber. Tarkanan lieutenant Filleon is the son of Ghallanda-Jorasco parents and has a mark that gives him a lethal touch. His daughter Zae has a mark that lets her communicate with and control vermin… nothing to do with his mark, or Jorasco, or Ghallanda. The second key element is that fact that most aberrant marks have serious physical or mental side effects. In Son of Khyber, Filleon has a withered arm that’s a result of his mark, and accidentally killed his mother when his mark manifested. While Zae can communicate with rats, it appears that she can’t actually speak; Filleon himself says that her mark is a mental burden and that he feels pity for her. Essentially, if you’re a Cannith heir with the Mark of Making, there’s no reason not to pass that on to a child. If you’re an aberrant, you have no idea if your child will develop a mark they come to see as a curse, and you also know they’ll be ostracized and persecuted.

With player characters we tend to downplay the negative side effects of aberrant marks and leave it primarily up to the player to roleplay them. But the intent is that aberrant marks are difficult and dangerous. If we look to the X-Men as a comparison, consider Cyclops—the idea that if he loses his glasses, people may die. Or Rogue, unable to touch someone without draining their life force and memories. House Tarkanan wants to protect people with aberrant marks, and to train them to use their powers. But it’s a valid question if they’d actually want to dramatically increase the number of people with aberrant marks, given how often those marks can be a burden to the people who carry them.

Do aberrant marks follow the rules of if they are removed they will manifest again elsewhere on the body? Would they manifest with the same drawback? I know the novel dwarf has essentially regeneration backlash.

Aberrant marks are dragonmarks. As such, yes, if removed they will manifest elsewhere on the body. Essentially, the power doesn’t actually come FROM the physical mark; rather, the mark is a manifestation of the power. Cut the mark off, the power remains, and eventually the mark reappears. Whether the drawback remains the same depends on the drawback. In the case of the ratspeaker Zae, the idea is that her POWER is what drives her a little crazy; she hears whispering rats in her head all the time. As long as she has that power, it will be a burden. On the other hand, if Filleon cut off his withered arm, maybe that would be that… or maybe the power of the mark would cause ANOTHER one of his limbs to wither. There’s no absolute rules, and I don’t see that as something Filleon would be inclined to put to the test.

The dwarf Brom is an unusual character who would be difficult to create as a PC—an example of a greater or Khyber-level mark. He has essentially, a dramatic form of regeneration blended with reincarnation; when he’s injured, the cells regenerate, but typically as cells of a random humanoid. And certainly, if his mark was removed, it would return.

My general understanding is that the Aurum represents an ascendant merchant class that chafes at both Nations’ and the Houses’ powers – Something which puts them at least somewhat into alignment with Tarkanan. How do you think they would align and how would they conflict?

In many ways the Aurum and House Tarkanan are opposites. The Aurum is a collection of wealthy, privileged people who want even more wealth and power. By contrast, House Tarkanan was founded by betrayed soldiers, and represents an alliance of people scorned and feared by all, people who have endured poverty and hardship. Tarkanan is a very SMALL organization – per WGtE, a “small, elite force” and only just starting to establish itself beyond Sharn – while the Aurum is spread across Khorvaire. Members of House Tarkanan are united both by their marks and the persecution they’ve endured; they feel a sense of kinship and they generally do seek to help others with aberrant marks. Meanwhile, the Aurum is largely an alliance of convenience; they aren’t driven to help other wealthy people in need.

I could see two basic points. One would be straightforward. Tarkanan is a group of mercenary criminals. The Aurum are people with money who need mercenaries to do their dirty work. It is thus entirely reasonable for an Aurum mastermind to hire House Tarkanan to assist in an operation targeting a house,  and Tarkanan would be happy to take the job. The other possibility would be for a member of the Shadow Cabinet, such as Antus Soldorak, to recognize Tarkanan as a useful tool in their goal of destabilizing houses; with this in mind, they would offer Tarkanan gold and resources, while suggesting targets. Tarkanan is a small organization and would likely be happy to have that wealthy patron. I wouldn’t make the alliance any more direct than that. Thora would likely know very little about the patron, likely not even their name; part of the point would be that the Aurum could USE Tarkanan—known to have a grudge with the houses—as a catspaw to undertake missions they don’t want traced back to them.

If a dragonmarked heir became a warlord of Droaam somehow, would anyone call them out for violating the Korth Edicts?

Galifar I established the Korth Edicts, which forbid dragonmarked heirs from holding land, noble title, or maintaining military forces. In the wake of the Last War, it’s very unclear who could actually enforce the Korth Edicts. MOST people abide by them, because they carry the weight of centuries of tradition. But there’s a number of active examples where houses are violating the Edicts and nothing is being done. Essentially, sure, someone COULD call them out… and then what? Unless that person has powerful friends who take such an interest that they are willing to try to lean on the heir’s Baron to address the situation, odds are good it would be one more case where the Edicts are been violated and nothing is being done.

With that said, it’s also a weird issue because Droaam isn’t recognized as a sovereign nation. As such, being a warlord of Droaam likely wouldn’t be recognized as a “noble title” under the terms of the Edicts.

In an episode of Manifest Zone you (I think!) mentioned that the giants of Xen’drik were more like titans rather than the several sub-races that exist now. Could you expand on that at all? If the giants were like titans did the dragons curse the race when they destroyed their empire, deliberately fragmenting the race so they could not rise to dominance again?

That’s correct. This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebooks Secrets of Xen’drik and City of Stormreach. This is from City of Stormreach. 

In dealing with the giants of Xen’drik, it’s important to bear in mind that the giants have not always been such a divergent species. Many scholars claim that all modern giants—stone and hill, fire and frost—share a common biological ancestor, beyond the mythical titans. Some adventurers speak of encounters with primordial giants or eldritch giants, and this could be the answer to these stories. In any case, evidence exists that a few of the giant subspecies—such as the fire giants of the Sul’at League—existed prior to the great cataclysm. But others, most notably the hill giants, are said to be the result of curses unleashed in that war… powers unleashed by the dragons to prevent any giant nation from rising to its prior heights.

Titans were founders and leaders of many of the giant nations, while the “common” giants were more in the mode of storm giants or eldritch giants. The dragons unleashed epic curses—the Traveler’s Curse, the Durashka Tul, and more—and the modern giants are a reflection of these curses.

Are the half-giants a result of magebreeding or some sort of result of the curses like the hill giants? Are they actually “half” anything or are they simply the smallest giants?

The canon answer is given in the Player’s Guide to Eberron:

In the distant past, giant explorers from Xen’drik visited southern Sarlona. Their descendants are the half-giants described in the Expanded Psionics Handbook. It is unclear whether half-giants actually have human ancestry or are simply degenerate descendants of the titans of Xen’drik (as most giant kinds are believed to be).

This is echoed in Secrets of Sarlona…

Perhaps the most baffling of all the races on the continent, the nomadic half-giants of Sarlona are descendants of ancient giant explorers from Xen’drik. Some say the half-giants are degenerate offspring of the Xen’drik titans, while others contend they have a mixed human ancestry.

Are ogres and trolls actually related to the giants in the ways they are in other settings, or are they simply parallel creatures with similar traits (size, strength, ferocity) but different origins?

In my opinion, ogres and trolls are entirely unrelated to giants, which is one reason we suggests that the ogres and trolls of Khorvaire should speak Goblin instead of Giant. Trolls are likely part of the same biological path as orcs; ogres developed on Sarlona.

I am using Sarmondelaryx as a Patron for one of my players, in my campaign she has been sealed by Harryn Stormblade a couple of centuries prior to the start of our campaign. What kind of goals would you think she would be aspiring to for when she manages to get released? 

Sarmondelaryx is a character referenced in the Thorn of Breland novel series. She is a rogue red dragon possessing a set of powerful dragonshard artifacts; these help her avoid detection (and thus the Eyes of Chronepsis) and to bind souls, which has the effect of extending her life. She is infamous for having killed the first Prince Thrane and devastating the nation in the early days of Galifar.

So: Sarmondelaryx is a powerful, virtually immortal dragon with enemies in both Argonnessen and Ashtakala. She has consumed demons and slain dragons, and personally I would double down on her desire to make both sides suffer—to be a wild card in the ancient war between the Conclave and the Lords of Dust. I’d see her trying to stir up conflicts between the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, setting situations where they end up fighting each other while Sarmondelaryx (or her agent) escapes with whatever prize they were seeking. What does she want? She always wants to increase her own power… but as much as anything, I think she enjoys the game of outsmarting both of the superpowers, making her enemies suffer and proving her superiority.

The church of the silver Flame seems to have a lot of variance in its presentation by author. Structurally, it consistently has the big three orders of ministers/Templars/friars. Are other orders subsidiaries of those? Same organizational level but smaller and less prominent?

Certainly. The templars, ministers, and friars are the core roles of the church. The templar defends; the minister guides a particular community; and the friar remains in motion, bringing the light of the Flame to dark places. But within those three broad categories there are many orders and sects, many with narrower missions. For example, the Argentum is technically tied to the Templars, but it is tasked with seeking out dangerous magical relics. Some of these lesser orders are also specific to particular nations; the Argentum is a Thrane order.

That’s all for now—stay tuned for more on Exploring Eberron!