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 Patreonsupporters for making these articles possible!
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.
A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”
“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337
The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.
As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?
If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.
To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.
Friend or Foe?
The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.
Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.
The Battleground of Prophecy
The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.
One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.
It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to createthe Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.
Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.
Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.
The First War and You
So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.
As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.
Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.
Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.
Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.
Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.
The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.
Characters Bound to the Prophecy
The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…
So, a few examples to consider…
You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.
A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.
A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.
Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!
Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!
This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…
What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?
A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.
A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…
Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”
Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…
Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?
What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.
You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?
Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell.
If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?
There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?
That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.
It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?
There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.
Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.
But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?
One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.
The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.
How could this conflict come to an end?
Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.
You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.
I’ve collected a lot of questions from my Patreon supporters over the last few months — some related to Eberron, some to Phoenix: Dawn Command, Illimat, or other things. I’ll be working through the list as time permits. Here’s the first installment.
I’d love to see a master list of races you would include in a 5E Eberron campaign.
As a rule, I limit the number of races in my campaign. I don’t want Sharn to look like Mos Eisley; I prefer to work with fewer races and to have more room to really delve into their roles in the world and their relationships than to cram as many races into the world as possible. As a result, in my Eberron the Five Nations tend to include the standard Humans, Elves, Halflings, Dwarves, and Gnomes;Shifters, Changelings, Warforged, Kalashtar, Orcs and Goblins; and the various hybrid races, such as Half-Orcs and the Khoravar. On top of this you have the monstrous races (not all of which are available as PCs) that have a place in the world depending where you are… Ogres, Trolls, Minotaurs, Gnolls, Harpies, Medusas, Lizardfolk, Kobolds, Troglodytes, Dragonborn, Sahuagin. Eladrin are optional if I’m going to work in the Feyspires, and Drow are an option if we’re dealing with Xen’drik.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Now right there we’ve got 26 sentient races — 28 once you add in the different Goblin subspecies — and that’s not even touching the options for subcultures and subraces. For me, that’s enough; left entirely on my own I’m not going to add in Tieflings (for example), because I just don’t need more races. On the other hand, if a player comes to me and wants to play a Tiefling or an Aasimar or a Kenku and has an interesting story in mind, I’ll generally embrace that story — as I’ve discussed in this post. So I can’t give you a true master list, because I CAN include anything, and generally I WILL if there’s a compelling story to be told and not just “I want this particular special ability.” And in the case of wanting that racial ability, I’d look at whether it could be reskinned to an existing race — such as the time I played a character that was mechanically a Deva, but in the story was a human from Cyre possessed by spirits of people who died in the Mourning.
And to be clear: this is a list of what I will use, not what’s out there in canon. Canon sources add Tieflings, Skulks, Aasimar, Eneko, Xephs, Eladrin, Yuan-Ti, and goodness knows how many more… because again, Eberron is designed to have room for almost anything. But that list in the first paragraph is what *I* will generally use when I’m creating a cast of characters for an adventure.
I don’t remember Canon sources speaking of kobolds and troglodytes, may you help me?
Kobolds appear in a number of places. This Dragonshard article is the primary canon source, but they appear in asides in many sourcebooks. Kethelrax the Cunning is a kobold warlord in Darguun, while Hassalac Chaar is the most powerful spellcaster in Stormreach. Troglodytes are covered in far less detail, but are mentioned as being present in Q’barra in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide, and I worked this into the articles I wrote about Q’barra for Dragon.
It appears that in Eberron, Goblin is the name for goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears?
The Common tongue does have this semantic issue. When using it, I use Goblin to refer to the language or overall species, and goblin for the subsecies. This problem is solved if you use the Goblin language, in which the overall species are the Dar, and the subspecies are golin’dar (goblin), ghaal’dar (hobgoblin) and guul’dar (bugbear).
In 5E would those three be a subraces of goblin rather than listed separately?
If the question is whether I’d mechanically represent “Goblin” as a primary race and have bugbear, hobgoblin and goblin be subraces of that race, no I wouldn’t. There’s significant differences both physically and psychologically and I believe that each of these subspecies deserves it’s own race entry. In fact, since I tend to use 5E’s subraces as a form of individual expression and optimization as opposed to true biological divisions (an approach I discuss here) I’d conceivably include subraces FOR each of the Dar.
Does the Church of the Silver Flame have any presence in Darguun?
I don’t believe it’s ever been mentioned in canon. In my Eberron, the Dar are inherently rational and have difficulty accepting things on faith — something I call out in this article. This is stronger with the Dhakaani, which is why Dhakaan is presented as an agnostic civilization that lacks divine magic. It’s something that was likely weakened along with the eusocial bond, and thus you do have goblins pursuing religions after Dhakaan, but I still maintain that it’s not something that has either the width or depth of faith in the Five Nations. So this is why you have the Ghaash’kala among the orcs and no equivalent among the Dar: the Goblin psyche just doesn’t lend itself towards it. And personally, I think you’d need something like the Ghaash’kala. The Church of the Silver Flame as it exists in the Five Nations is based around the sacrifice of a human to save a human nation; I don’t see the concept as being especially appealing to creatures still seen as monsters by many humans, and the CotSF is a militant enough force that I don’t think people looking to establish a local church would be welcomed with open arms in Rhukaan Draal.
Now, if you want to START something — to have a Dar PC (or NPC) who hears the Flame and seeks to start a movement, becoming a new Voice of the Flame — that seems like an excellent thing to drive a campaign. And you could certainly have a friar in Darguun trying to pave the way for something. The fact that it doesn’t exist in canon simply means that it’s a chance for it to be the unique story of one of your characters. But I do think it would be a challenging path to walk.
Worshipping the Silver Flame still requires faith, which the Dar find difficult, but would it be easier for them to have faith in something that can be shown to be real?
Not really, no. Channeling divine magic is about more than simply believing that the power source exists. Note that in Eberron, most priests aren’t divine spellcasters. Those priests believe in their faith, but even they can’t truly touch the divine itself. I talk about transcendental faith in this post and about the question of divine purpose in this one. The net is that it’s more than just believing in a thing. It’s not rational. It’s about having an absolute faith both in the force; in its divine purpose; and that you yourself are a part of that, that YOU have a higher purpose and role to play. The typical Dar can believe that the Silver Flame exists. As established in canon, some among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul DO worship variants of the Sovereign Host or Dark Six. And yet when it comes down to the ultimate surrender of self — the belief that there is a purpose to the universe and that you and this force are part of it — something in the subconscious of the Dar freezes up. To me, the logical explanation would be that it’s tied to the eusocial bond, which essentially defined a Dar’s place in the universe. Biologically, they weren’t designed to question their place in the universe; they fundamentally knew it. As such, their brains simply aren’t wired for the sort of abstract and transcendental faith that produces divine magic. On the other hand, they have a natural bent towards organization and discipline. Orcs on the other hand are passionate and primal and have a far easier time embracing abstract ideas… in small groups. But this also leads to an independent nature that makes it difficult for them to form large rigid hierarchies. Which is why even though the Ghaash’kala have been around far longer than the Church of the Silver Flame, they are far fewer in number and don’t have anywhere near the degree of hierarchy or ritual that the CotSF has developed.
Of course, none of this should stop YOU from having a Dar character or NPC who has found that transcendental faith. It’s simply an explanation for why the Dar as a whole have few divine casters and few prominent religious institutions.
How much is known, in general, about the demonic overlords? Is it generally accepted fact that the world was once ruled by demons and they’re imprisoned underground or is that considered a fairytale to frighten children or is it something only the most learned of scholars would know?
The Overlords are part of the core creed of the Church of the Silver Flame. The modern Church was founded because of the partial escape of an Overlord, which wreaked havoc on Thrane; so the people of Thrane, at least, take the threat quite seriously and are certain it’s based in fact. Any follower of the Silver Flame will know of the Shadow in the Flame and be aware of the fact that there are many other Overlords bound by the Flame, even if they don’t know deep details about them.
Meanwhile, I’m sure the Sovereign Host has myths about how the Sovereigns fought and defeated demons in the dawn of time. Bear in mind that there were dragons who had names and attributes similar to the Sovereigns; some believe they were the Sovereigns, but it’s just as simple to say that they were avatars for the true Sovereigns. Either way, we’ve already established that their deeds are the basis for myths, and hence you’d definitely have myths of their battles with demons (likely omitting the important role of the Silver Flame). And those myths could certainly include variations of their names and attributes. In Dragons of Eberron we present a battle between Dularahnak and Katashka the Gatekeeper, and there could easily be a related myth about a battle between Dol Arrah and the Lord of Death (though most versions of this might identify Katashka as the Keeper of the Dark Six).
So I think that followers of the Silver Flame consider the Overlords to be fact, and followers of the Sovereigns know them from myth – and the question is whether they believe the myths or just think of them as stories. Either way: common knowledge may include vague and possibly inaccurate details as you’d get from myths, but only a scholar is going to reliably know names and attributes of specific Overlords.
Did the Dreambreaker intend to betray Halas Tarkanan during the War of the Mark?
That’s a pretty deep cut. The Dreambreaker is one of the aberrant commanders from the War of the Mark. He first appeared in the module The Delirium Stone, and was further described in places like this Dragonmark.
In my opinion, the Dreambreaker was a true champion and loyal to the cause. However, he was also insane. Along with the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker represents the fact that aberrant marks often come with a terrible price. The Lady of the Plague destroyed her village before she mastered her mark, and had to exercise constant control to keep from harming the people around her. The Dreambreaker had the power to cause madness… but this also affected his mind. The Delirium Stone gives this advice to the DM playing the Dreambreaker: “He sees visions no one else can see, and he believes the true battle is with the gods, with time and space, and that the people around him are merely manifestations of patterns. When playing the Dreambreaker, always act as if you know terrible things others can’t imagine. Take care of the Aberrants in your charge – but treat them as children, because that’s what they are to you.”
So the Dreambreaker wouldn’t intentionally betray Halas… but he’s not entirely predictable.
Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters! Share your thoughts on these or other questions below!