Dragonmarks: Lost Lands and Obscure Places

Do you want to know what’s going to happen with Eberron in D&D Next? So do I. There’s still no official answer, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see support for the setting in some form. With that in mind, I’m finally getting into a Next Eberron campaign. The gamemaster is my friend Galen Ciscell, designer of Atlantis Rising… which means I actually have a chance to PLAY in Eberron, which doesn’t happen often.

Playing DDN in Eberron means that we’re making up house rules for things as we need them. I’m playing a changeling rogue, and over the last few weeks I’ve developed changeling racial stats and a background and rogue path for Inquisitives. I want to wait until I’ve had a chance to do some playtesting before I post any of these, but if there isn’t OFFICIAL support for Eberron you may at least get my house rules. It’s also been an opportunity for me to expand on my personal take on changelings. I’ve always loved changelings and doppelgangers; one of my first D20 products was The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers by Goodman Games. I didn’t work on the Changeling chapter of Races of Eberron, and I’ve got different ideas about changeling culture… so I may post those one of these days. The first session is tomorrow – we’ll see how it goes!

My next post will be about Phoenix. But today I’m going to tackle some lingering Eberron questions.

Are there legends of mysterious lost lands underwater like Atlantis in Eberron?

There’s many “lost lands” in Eberron. The Mournland and Noldrunhold are lost lands right in Khorvaire, while Xen’drik is an entire lost continent (Hmm, that sounds like a promising title for an MMORPG…). However, in canon material, there’s no SUNKEN lands like Atlantis. In part, this is because the original design had considerably more detail on the aquatic civilizations. So the oceans were essentially other countries – nations you didn’t visit often, certainly, but places you can find on a map; you could go to Sharn and talk to ambassadors from the Sahuagin nations of the Thunder Sea.

Of course, there’s no reason at all that you can’t add a lost sunken continent. But it’s not something I’ve ever encountered in canon material.

Concerning Xen’drik, did the giants ever deal a serious blow to the dragons?

No. The giants never FOUGHT the dragons. The dragons launched a massive preemptive strike while the giants already had their back against the wall fighting the elves. And consider the nature of that strike; we’re not simply talking about a physical assault, we’re talking about epic magic on a scale that hasn’t been seen since. The Du’rashka Tul collapsed most major population centers into bloodthirsty savagery. The Curse of the Traveler crippled communication and travel. By the time the giants knew what hit them – if they EVER did – it was too late.

As a side note, this is a subject modern scholars often debate with regard to Aerenal. Given the astonishing force the dragons unleashed against Xen’drik, how is it that the Aereni have held their own in conflict with Argonnessen? There’s two standard theories on this. The first is that this speaks to the massive power of the Undying Court. Taken as a gestalt entity, the UC is essentially an incarnate deity and Aerenal is its divine domain; it can’t extend that power to make an aggressive strike against Argonnessen, but it can defend Aerenal against any threat. That’s the elf-friendly theory. The other (mentioned in Dragons of Eberron) is that the dragons have never actually tried to defeat Aerenal. The “war” has simply been the actions of a small faction of dragons who are actually trying to hone the skills of the elves for some future purpose. It’s not a war of destruction; it’s like sharpening a blade.

But did the giants ever successfully retaliate against some dragons? Or… Will they?… Could they?

Bear in mind that Xen’drik fell over THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND YEARS AGO. The rulers of Xen’drik weren’t even the giants we know today; Emperor Cul’sir was a titan. All the dragons involved in the conflict are long, long dead. The situation is somewhat like us deciding to attack Mars in retaliation for something done to the Neanderthals: beyond our capabilities and seeking vengeance for something that has absolutely no bearing on our modern life.

WITH THAT SAID… If I wanted to do such a plot, here’s what I’d do. I’d say that the Emperor Cul’sir avoided death by becoming a vestige. I’d then have HIM return. His entire purpose at this point is vengeance. I’d have him reactivate all kinds of ancient magic, enhanced by the power he’s built up as a vestige (including warlock followers of many races) and uplift many of today’s pathetic degraded giants into titans, and make a huge XEN’DRIK RISING campaign out of it.

Is the Galethspyre that gives the town its name, the “narrow sliver of blue stone jutting up over 600 feet from the bank of the Dagger River”….any idea what this is meant to be? Some kind of plinth or monolith from the Dhakaani Empire or something older? I know you didn’t work primarily on The Five Nations, but I’m wondering if you have/had any ideas about this feature. The text has nothing more than that and I know my PCs will totally want to investigate the town’s namesake, especially if it’s ancient and magical.

Honestly, I’d never heard of Galethspyre until this question came up. If you haven’t heard of it either, you’ll find it on page 63 of Five Nations, where it’s described as a significant port city on the Dagger river with, you guessed it, a 600 foot blue spire. But just because I didn’t make it doesn’t mean I can’t come up with ideas. A few things came to mind.

1. Why’s the city a thriving city? It’s a port, which is a concrete practical reason. But this being Eberron, one of the major reasons to establish a city is to take advantage of some sort of natural magical resource, typically a manifest zone. Thus it could be that the spire is the result of a manifest zone, a marker placed so people can find the manifest zone, or an artifact with a useful effect on par with a manifest zone.

2. Why build a 600 foot blue spire? Nothing about it says “Dhakaani Monument” to me. That leaves a few interesting possibilities.

* It’s a natural occurrence, or a natural result of a manifest zone.

* It’s a creation of a pre-Galifar human civilization, though given that there’s no other blue spires mentioned, presumably something isolated – a Cult of the Dragon Below or a brilliant lone wizard.

* It’s an artifact of the Age of Demons, either generated by an Overlord or placed by the dragons to mark the location of an Overlord.

* It’s a creation of the Shulassakar, perhaps tapping into a natural point of power of the Silver Flame.

* Some combination of the above.

PERSONALLY, I’d go with the following:

The Galethspyre is an artifact of the Age of Demons. It serves as a lightning rod for the ambient energy of the Silver Flame – not so significant as the fountain in Flamekeep, but still noticeable. The area was originally settled by a group of Khaleshite* explorers, who were guided to it by signs; unbeknownst to the settlers, their priest was a Shulassakar halfblood, and there has been a hidden Shulassakar presence in the city ever since. The energy of the Galethspyre manifests in many subtle ways; the waters are usually well stocked with fish, weather is remarkably mild, and Flamic visions are clearer and more common than usual.

The Khaleshite faith was always at odds with the Pyrinean faith that came to dominate the region (which is to say, the Sovereign Host) and the people of the Spire maintained a low profile during pre-Galifar days. Today, Galethspyre continues to practice its own personal version of the Silver Flame, one of the few places where fragments of the Khaleshite faith has been preserved. While they acknowledge the Keeper and maintain the basic standards of the church, the rituals are older and the priests use Old Common in their rituals.

So there’s something to play with. Beacon for generally positive divine energy; secret family of Shulassakar priests; splinter sect of the Flame; possible Lord of Dust desire to destroy it.

Umm, that’s great. but what’s a “Khaleshite?”

Khalesh is one of the old human nations of Sarlona that predate human settlement in Khorvaire. You can read about it in Secrets of Sarlona, though the information is limited. Short form: the Khaleshite faith is what modern scholars call a “serpent cult.” It shared the same basic outlook and goals as the modern Church of the Silver Flame, but specifically revered the couatl as agents and symbols of the divine light. It was somewhat more aggressive that the modern church, in terms of aggressively seeking to eliminate the foul practices of, say, Ohr Kaluun. Most of the noble families had shulassakar blood, and this was used against them in the Sundering.

So looking at a modern Khaleshite sect:

* It would camouflage itself as a regular CotSF.

* It would respect the modern Church as a branch of the true faith, but feel that they’re “new money” if you will. Tira and the Keepers are all fine and well, but the Shulassakar were around long before Tira, and are directly touched by the ultimate source of the Flame.

* Nonetheless, they do believe in the same basic goals: protect the innocent from supernatural evil.

* There could be a line of Shulassakar hidden within the community.

* There would be lots of couatl imagery, and the services would be performed in Old Common.


How would you envision the architecture, look, and feel of Gatherhold?

Another obscure corner heard from! The Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about Gatherhold, the only permanent halfling settlement in the Talenta Plains: “House Ghallanda built and maintains Gatherhold, both as its headquarters and as a place where all the Talenta tribes might gather and meet as equals.” A few things that immediately come to to mind:

The town is built into a rocky outcropping on the shore of Lake Cyre. “Built into” includes a number of structures that extend into the hill, hobbit-hole style. It also includes a large natural amphitheater; nature and magic combine to provide excellent acoustics, so while you may have thousands gathered here, someone who stands on Speaker’s Rock can be heard by all.

The Ghallanda enclave is largely dug into the hill. This makes it very secure; it’s generally cozier than subterranean structures of dwarves or goblins. Outsiders aren’t generally invited into the heart of the enclave, and it’s not built to accommodate medium creatures.

Along the base of the hill, you have buildings designed for outsiders, many of which are sized for medium creatures. These include a large Gold Dragon Inn and significant Jorasco and Deneith enclaves. The Deneith enclave was built by Deneith and is a notably different architectural style. I’d envision the traditional Talentan structures as being adobe structures with rounded edges, while Deneith is a stone fortress with hard edges.

Beyond this cluster of buildings you have a host of tents and wagons. 80% of the population of the city is found in this area; even the permanent halfling residents prefer tents to the hard walls of the enclave. Wagons and caravans are always coming and going, and the layout changes regularly. There’s always an open market and a festival of some sort, but the location and the theme is constantly changing. Some days there’s theater with masked storytellers; some days there’s races or jousting; some days its competitions around food or drink. The key is that it’s fluid and changing. And don’t forget dinosaur herds! The stock show is a great time to get into town.

I can’t find much on the King’s Dark Lanterns nor the King’s Shadows. How does one join? What kind of adventures or missions would one go on? From what I can tell, the Dark Lanterns are kind of like professional CIA, while the Shadows are like… problem solvers of the lethal kind. A bit like SPECTRES from Mass Effect.

Funny you should mention Mass Effect, since both Lanterns and Shadows are agents of the King’s… Citadel (entirely a coincidence, I assure you!).

The primary sources for information on the Citadel are Five Nations, Sharn: City of Towers, and the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. The Dark Lanterns are the covert arm of the Citadel. Their primary job is the acquisition of intelligence, hence the name; they are the lantern that shines a light on things the King needs to know. However, as shown in the Thorn of Breland novels (which are out of print, but still available in kindle and Audible formats), Dark Lantern missions can cover anything from observation to theft to assassination. Lanterns can also duplicate the tasks of other branches (such as Thorn protecting Prince Oargev, nominally a task for a King’s Shield) when there’s something particularly sensitive about the job. The King’s Shadows aren’t really a separate division; rather, they are the most trusted and elite agents, assigned the MOST secret and sensitive missions. According the the ECG, “only the captain, commander, and king know its operatives’ identities.” You’d never introduce yourself as a King’s Shadow; you’d always have some other cover. It’s possible that Thorn herself is a Shadow as opposed to a Lantern.

How do you become a Lantern or Shadow? Well, the Citadel is an arm of the Brelish government; the Lanterns are a covert arm of the Citadel; and the Shadows are the most elite Lanterns. So first you have to earn the trust of the Brelish Crown and be willing to swear yourself to its service; then display enough skill and loyalty to earn the title. There’s no such thing as a “Freelance Lantern”; it’s a fulltime job. With that said, if you’re an amazing rogue who saves Breland or the king on multiple occasions, it’s possible you could be declared an honorary Shadow. It’s not exactly like being a Spectre in MA, in that you wouldn’t exactly have any authority and couldn’t advertise your position; but you could get cooperation from the other arms of the Citadel and be called in for special missions. If you like the idea of being a Spectre, you might be better off as a Sentinel Marshal, since their authority is recognized by multiple nations; the King’s Shadows are very specifically agents of the Brelish crown.

How would you integrate eyekin and non-evil beholders from your Complete Guide to Beholders into Eberron? Would they be enemies of the Daelkyr?

This ties to my recent post on the Daelkyr, which is to say that their actions are often inexplicable to humans. Personally, I could easily see Belashyrra as having created ALL the different types of beholders in the guide and sent them out in the world in intentional opposition to one another. Why? Does this advance his goals in any way? Maybe. Or maybe it’s like throwing paint at a wall because the patterns are beautiful. Alternately, you could get really weird and say that ONE of the types of beholder is the original, that they come from another material world, and that the Daelkyr actually destroyed their world and created all the other beholders just as they made dolgaunts from hobgoblins and mind flayers from gith. In which case THOSE beholders would be fervent enemies of the Daelkyr and dedicated to avenging their lost world. The Eyekin could easily be agents of Belashyrra, or you could align them to this “True Beholder” faction.

A few more questions about the Dragon-Giant conflict…

I must confess that I had alwayes before misinterpreted the fall of giant civilization because I thought that the giants and dragons direcly clashes at least once. Could it be that having inflicted terrible curses in Xen’drik the dragons brought upon themselves or attracted dome evil?

The giants and dragons DID directly clash once. But it’s hard to qualify it as a “war”, as that term suggests that the giants were able to respond to it, plan defensive and offensive actions, and that it lasted for a significant amount of time, much like the Giants’ conflicts with the Quori and the elves. It didn’t. Personally, I’d guess the conflict was measured in weeks. It was a sneak attack that combined epic magic on a scale beyond that known to the giants with brutal coordinated physical assaults. The giants were already crippled by their long conflict with the elves and were lucky to even put up a decent struggle in some places, let along launch a coordinated assault back at Argonnessen.

With that said, if you WANT to explore that story, there’s nothing stopping YOU from saying some giant wizard set all his talent and skill to creating a doomsday device to take revenge on the dragons. It simply raises the question of why it’s taken 40,000 years to take effect.

As for the dragons attracting evil, certainly. That evil is called “Tiamat.” The whole point of Tiamat is that she is the embodiment of all the worst elements of dragonkind: pride, aggression, hubris. When the dragons use their powers to oppress or destroy, Tiamat grows stronger. That’s why the dragons went right back to Xen’drik after the assault instead of colonizing it, and it’s why they’ve never taken similar action since. It was an act of desperation because they believed that the giants were about to inflict irreparable damage in their war against the elves; the Dragons destroyed them before this could happen. But it surely strengthened Tiamat, and they retreated to Argonnessen to continue to contain her. If you haven’t read Dragons of Eberron, the story’s in there.

If you consider DDO to be canon in some way, there is two survivors from the Dragon/Giant war too: The Stormreaver and The Truthful One. They both died in the conclusion of the most recent game raid, but their history had been told since DDO launch.

It was careless of me to suggest that all giants and dragons from this period are dead. The point is that the natural lifespan of a giant or dragon is such that any that were around in the Age of Giants would be long dead. But there’s lots of ways they could survive past their natural lifespans. In DDO, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One are reserved by a unique enchantment that binds their lives together. Emperor Cul’sir is a Vestige. Antaegus (from City of Stormreach) was held in suspended animation. There’s many ways to create exceptions, if you want to.

However, the core point is that there never really WAS an “Dragon/Giant War”; when the dragons assaulted Xen’drik, it was a cataclysmic, one-sided attack. If my DDO lore is correct, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One both come from the Giant-Quori Conflict, which happened two thousand years before Argonnessen’s brutal assault.

This does touch on a greater question: What is canon? I’ll get to that in my next post.



Dragonmarks 5/23: Lightning Round 3!

Hey everyone! It’s been a busy week between work and preparing for Comicpalooza, and so I’ve ended up with another lightning round as opposed to taking on a larger subject. There’s been a lot of interest in the Dwarves and The Daughters of Sora Kell, and I will be giving each of these topics a full post in weeks ahead. With that said, remember that this is specifically a question and answer forum, not an outlet for general lore like you’d get from the Dragonshards or Eye on Eberron. As a result, the more questions you ask, the more answers I can provide. Just saying “Tell me more about dwarves” is too vague. Saying “Do you use any unique religious traditions in the Mror Holds in your game?” is a question I can easily answer. So think about this and post your questions here.

I’ve also added a few new answers to the previous post on the Dragonmarked Houses, notably “Why do the Zil bind elementals instead of Cannith?” and more on Dragonmark focus items.

Now on to this week’s questions!

Will there ever be a followup to Eye of the Wolf? I loved that.

I’m glad you liked it, and I certainly wrote it with a longer story in mind. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Sorry!

Are there any restricted Races/Classes in your personal games?

As a general rule, it’s all about story. I don’t like subraces (wild elves, chaos gnomes, sherbet dwarves) and in my 3E campaign, these didn’t exist in the world. I don’t like races that exist primarily for the purpose of character optimization. In 4E, the vast majority of exotic races aren’t part of my campaign; you’d never encounter a shardmind or goliath or illumian on the streets of Sharn. However, if a player came up with an excellent story for their use of such a race, I’d probably go for it. For example, I didn’t use genasi in the world overall. But if someone said “I want to be the result of a Zil experiment gone horribly wrong that tried to bind elementals to people!” – well, that sounds like fun and I can see lots of interesting stories that could spin off from that, so I’d allow it. But there wouldn’t be a Genasi nation in the world. Likewise, I once played a deva avenger with the explanation that he was a human infused with the spirits of thousands of people who died in the Mourning; his class abilities and memories of a thousand lives were the result of the thousand souls urging him on, not any personal immortality.

In Argonessen, dragons have a society. What happens when different colors mate?

The role of color in Argonnessen is discussed on pages 15-16 of Dragons of Eberron; beyond this, the flights of the Thousand are segregated by color, so it doesn’t come up often. One of the key points is that different colors of dragons are essentially different species. They have significantly different lifespans, different mental capacity, and their mystical and elemental natures are different. There’s no canon answer, but my personal hunch would be to say that only dragons of matching elemental types can produce offspring, so a red dragon and a brass dragon could successfully mate; the offspring would be a mixed litter, though I’d tend to make the chromatic dominant as the shorter-lived species.

With that said, you could certainly add more colorful possibilities. One that immediately pops into mind: Just as mixing dragonmarks produces new, aberrant dragonmarks, mixing the blood of dragons produces horrifying aberrant dragons. Every aberrant dragon is unique (and like aberrant marks, their true nature might not emerge at birth) and dangerous in its own way; potentially, they are directly bound to Khyber and Tiamat. This is why the Thousand are segregated by color – but there’s always those young and foolish lovers in the Vast who refuse to believe the legends!

What kind of information would have a Seren barbarian about the dragons? And how much of this information would he willing to share with the rest of the world?

Have you read this canon Dragonshard article on the Serens? The short form is the dragons are essentially gods to the Serens; they don’t approach them in an academic fashion, and they certainly aren’t privy to the secrets of the Conclave or the Chamber. A Dragonspeaker knows more, especially about the personal lineage and history of their founder and the founders of opposing lines. But that knowledge is likewise couched in the form of stories and myths. For the most part, I think they’d be willing to share these tales with people they respect.

A key point is that the Serens aren’t allowed in the interior of Argonnessen. So again, they can’t tell you about the kingdoms of the Vast or where to find the Light of Siberys; they don’t know these things themselves. Some exceptional Serens are chosen to serve in more significant ways, but such individuals are unique and it’s up to you to decide what they know.

Are the Knights of Thrane are a secular order? (that is naturally largely made up of Flame adherents?)

You are correct on both counts. The Crown Knights of Thrane were established before the Church of the Silver Flame existed and the order has no connection to the church. However, the knights themselves are largely followers of the Flame – as are most of the people of Thrane – and the order often acts in the service of the church. However, on paper, its first duty is to Queen Diani.

Are monsters seen as unusual and mysterious outside Sharn and Droaam?

It depends on the monster. Goblins are found in most major cities; Khorvaire was their home before humanity even arrived, and many major cities are built on goblin foundations. House Tharashk also sells the services of monstrous mercenaries, but this again is something that’s only going to be a factor in large cities.

So ogres, goblins, bugbears, gnolls – these are species people are familiar with, and even if a farmer doesn’t like dealing with them, he’s probably seen them once or twice during his life.

Next you have magical beasts: basilisks, gorgons, displacer beasts, wyverns, and so on. The relationship between these creatures and a farmer is much like your relationship to, say, a grizzly bear. You know they exist. You’ve seen pictures in the heraldry of the Dragonmarked Houses. You might see one at some sort of menagerie. But you don’t expect to encounter one in daily life, and you’d be frightened if you did. From here you get to exotic creatures like gibbering mouthers and medusas. Someone born in the Shadow Marches likely knows what a gibbering mouther is; someone in Sharn would have no idea and find it horrifying. Living near Droaam, most people in Breland know what a medusa is. But they don’t expect to meet one – even in Sharn, there’s only 2 or 3, and they don’t walk the streets – and they’d be frightened if they did. The dwarves of the Mror Holds sometimes ride manticores – but to someone in Aundair, a manticore is a strange and wondrous thing. It’s all about geography – just as a hippo can be commonplace to someone who grew up in Africa and bizarre to a visitor from Europe.

Finally, you have exotics: aboleths, dracoliches, gray renders, maruts, purple worms. There’s nowhere where a dracolich is just “part of the wildlife”. Scholars may know about these things, but even in Sharn the common folk will run if a marut suddenly smashes through a Jorasco healing house; they won’t say “Oh, look, it’s an inevtiable spirit of some sort.”

So short answer: Consider the following questions:

* Does the creature occur in nature? Or is it only produced by planar convergences/mystic experiments/other unnatural action?

* Is the creature part of the local flora and fauna? Have the people who live there encountered it in the past?

* Is it possible to peacefully coexist with this creature? Can it be domesticated or is there a benefit to working with it?

* Does the creature have a civilization that interacts with the Five Nations?

If the answer to the majority of these questions is “No”, the creature likely qualifies as “mysterious.” If the answer to most of them is “yes,” then it’s simply part of the world – like an elephant, a monkey, or a wolverine, it might be rarely encountered, but it’s out there.

As much as I liked having the tieflings added as a playable race right from the start in Fourth Edition, I do miss the original “planetouched” version from Planescape, which could have any number of indicators of their fiendish heritage. I always thought that there was potential for using these sorts of ideas in combination with manifest zones in Eberron.

Back when 4E first came out, I posted a range of ideas for incorporating tieflings into the game on the WotC boards. Tracing their origin to Ohr Kaluun and placing them in the Demon Wastes and Droaam as a result of the exodus from Ohr Kaluun fits with the established history of Ohr Kaluun as a nation with a strong mystical tradition infamous for trafficking with fiends, and it allows those who wish to do so to preserve some of the “heirs of an ancient empire” aspect of the 4E tiefling flavor. With that said, being from the Venomous Demesne of Droaam is very different from growing up among the Carrion Tribes, so there’s room for variety there.

With that said, one of the other ideas I suggested what exactly what you mention above: Tieflings occasionally result when a child is conceived in a manifest zone during a coterminous period. In this case, there is no such thing as a tiefling culture. Physical appearance would vary based on the plane that influences them, and there’s no reason two tieflings have to have the same appearance in spite of being tied to the same plane. A tiefling tied to Fernia might have iron horns and feverish red skin, while one tied to Risia could have horns and hair formed from ice and lower the local temperature by a few degrees.

With that said, there’s no reason this same concept couldn’t be extended to include other races. I don’t want to have goliaths on Khorvaire. But if you want to say that your goliath character is someone planetouched by Shavarath, I could run with it. Rather than turning to stone, his skin becomes iron temporarily; he is filled with a thirst for battle that cannot be slaked. I’d change his appearance accordingly, but it would be a way to use the mechanics without introducing a new culture. Though if I did this, I’d certainly explore hte story further. What does it mean to be a child of war or fire? How will this affect you over time?

As always, these are just my opinions and aren’t canon unless referencing a canon source. If I didn’t get to your question this week, don’t worry – it’s on the list!

Dragonmark 4/18: The Mark of Death

My original plan was to do a lightning round of short answers this week. However, between the release of the Bloodsails Eye on Eberron article today and the fact that this question gets asked every few months, it seems like a good time to get my answer in an easily accessible place.

As always, this isn’t canon and I’d love to hear what you’ve done in YOUR Eberron. If you’ve got comments on the Bloodsails article, post those here too! If you’ve got other questions or topics for future posts, ask in this thread.

So, the subject of the day: when I was working with Bill Slaviscek, James Wyatt, and Chris Perkins on the original Eberron Campaign Setting book, we agreed that there would be certain topics that would never have a concrete answer. No sourcebook would ever say exactly what caused the Mourning or bring back the Mark of Death. These things are hooks specifically left in the hands of the DMs – so you get to decide what the answer is and what impact it will have on your game. However, people are often curious to get my opinion. So let’s talk about the Mark of Death.

But first, a little history…

Let’s take a quick step back in the past to look at the history of Aerenal and the elves. The elves who founded Aerenal were refugees from many backgrounds and cultures. One thing linked them together: the cataclysmic loss they had suffered as a race, and the determination to ensure that the greatest elves should be preserved from death. As the new nation took shape, three philosophic and religious movements took root. One group was determined to preserve the heroes of the past by becoming their avatars in the present. These were the first of the Tairnadal, and they soon split off from the others. The second group tapped the positive energy found on the island and the reverence of the elves, and used this power to sustain the wisest and most worthy members of society beyond the grave. This was the foundation of the Undying Court. The final faction shared territory with the followers of the Court, but favored a different approach. Despite the power of the Undying Court, it relies on the continued existence of living elves and outside sources of positive energy. This other faction preferred to draw on the energies of Mabar, creating undead who could sustain their own lives by consuming the blood or life-force of others. The necromancers who created these liches and vampires were the members of the line of Vol.

The members of the line of Vol held these beliefs for thousands of years before the Mark of Death manifested among them. They weren’t alone; the Bloodsail Principality is made up of the descendants of other elven lines that were allied with Vol. Over the course of generations, the Undying Court grew more powerful and influential. The priests of the Undying Court asserted that all Mabaran undead consume the life-force of Eberron to sustain themselves – that while a lich may not require blood to survive, its mere existence is a threat to living creatures. The allies of Vol called this a ridiculous political ploy—an excuse to threaten their undead elders.

This tension continued to grow. And then the Mark of Death appeared. This cemented the line of Vol’s position among the Mabaran faction. They continued to research ways to improve their techniques and to pursue true immortality for their people. This quest led them down questionable paths, notably an alliance with a faction of dragons from Argonnessen. These dragons were concerned that the dragonmarks had appeared on the lesser races, and wanted to see if a mark could be made to manifest on a dragon.

Most likely you know where this ends: the birth of the half-dragon Erandis Vol. Things you might not know…

  • Dragonmarks don’t manifest until adolescence. Thus Erandis wasn’t immediately seen as a threat. She wasn’t the first half dragon produced in this program; she was simply the only one to manifest the mark. And yes, this means that in my version of Eberron, Erandis is physically an adolescent (albeit an adolescent half-dragon).
  • Erandis’ dragonmark is not least, lesser, or greater. It’s not even a Siberys mark. It is something more amazing than all of them… the ultimate distillation of the mark. If she had time to learn to fully harness its powers, there’s no telling what she might have been able to accomplish with it. Essentially, she was a living eldritch machine. And this is what triggered the destruction of her line.

The Undying Court had put up with the existence of the Mabarans for thousands of years, and the existence of the Mark of Death for centuries. The appearance of a dragonmark on a child of Aerenal and Argonnessen changed that. “The Sibling Kings declared that the blood of Vol was to be completely destroyed, since even a drop could destroy all living things.

So it came to pass. Forces from Argonnessen joined with the Undying Court and battle was joined. The line of Vol was completely eradicated, and its remaining allies either slain, exiled, or sworn to abandon their Mabaran practices. Yet unknown to the Undying Court, Erandis herself survived. Together, her father and mother transformed her into a lich. Even she doesn’t know where her phylactery is; she knows only that she returns in a new location every time she is destroyed. Of course, a dragonmark has no power when carried by the undead. So Erandis Vol is the ultimate scion of her house, the cause of its destruction, and yet unable to achieve her destiny.

(Some of you may say “What was that about her phylactery? I’ve never heard that before.” That’s right. This again is MY Eberron, and that’s not a detail from a canon source. I see it as unlikely that she could have evaded the Deathguard completely for all this time. However, without locating her phylactery, even the Deathguard can’t permanently destroy her. It also means that she cannot destroy herself, and I think she may have tried in the past. And, of course, it means that PCs could find the phylactery and even she wouldn’t know what it was…)

So, history lesson over: let’s get to the main points.

I have a player who wants to have the Mark of Death, and I’m thinking I’ll allow it. What sort of powers should it have?

The Mark of Death was a “true” dragonmark, as opposed to an aberrant dragonmark. There are two things that distinguish these. First, they can be passed to offspring. Second, the true dragonmarks are almost universally constructive as opposed to destructive. There are a few marks with powers that can be used in an aggressive fashion, but the point is that the pure marks are things like making, healing, hospitality – productive, positive things. Meanwhile, aberrant marks are either destructive or in some way disturbing (for examble, Brom’s regeneration in The Son of Khyber, which is a form of healing but essentially reincarnates instead of healing, which can have unpleasant results).
My point is that the Mark of Death should be about interacting with death and the undead, but I wouldn’t make it about KILLING, because that’s an aberrant path. Things like speaking with the dead; animating the dead; controlling or even laying undead to rest; these all fit. It could be that a dragonshard focus item could be created that would harness that power in a destructive fashion – but that’s not the innate power of the mark.
Again, with Erandis Vol: bear in mind that she doesn’t just have the Dragonmark of Death, she has the ultimate expression of that mark, something beyond even a Siberys mark. If she returns to life, Erandis may be able to do things with her mark that no one else could do – raise an army of undead with a wave of her hand – but that’s because she is in essence a living Eldritch Machine.

What About Skeletal Guardian as the power of the Siberys mark?

Sounds fine to me. It’s about animating the dead, which is more in line with my views than an offensive power.

Beyond this, bear in mind that any dragonmark grants powers beyond the raw spell-like abilities… provided you know how to use them. Per standard rules, a dragonmark allows you to make use of dragonmark focus items. So you’ve got the Mark of Making? It’s nice that you can repair a construct, but it’s far more important that you can use a creation forge. The Mark of Storms makes you eligible to be an airship pilot. And so on. So the question is what tools the line of Vol created to harness and channel the power of the Mark of Death.

Likewise, in 4E, dragonmarks allow you to perform certain rituals. In my house rules, I say that you don’t need a ritual book to perform these rituals… but you have to be trained in their use (generally at the same market cost as buying it). There’s only one person out there who could train you in use of the mark, and that’s Erandis. Can you come to some sort of agreement?

I realize some of you may have been hoping for a concrete “the Least Dragonmark of Death lets you use deathwatch once per day,” but the fact of the matter is that I’ve never used it in one of my campaigns. In 4E, I will say that in addition to providing access to focus items and any logical rituals, I’d probably allow someone with the mark to perceive ghosts and to use speak with dead as a skill challenge as opposed to a ritual. I’d likely put a limit on length of death, but I’d personally have the Mark of Death involve interaction with the dead… not to be confused with the Mark of Healing, which prevents people from dying.

So a player character takes the Heir of Siberys Prestige Class and manifests the Mark of Death. Is it possible to re-establish House Vol? Would other Dragonmarked Houses approve its existence or see it as a threat?

You can’t reestablish House Vol, because House Vol never existed. The line of Vol was a noble family as opposed to a mercantile guild, and it was wiped out before the Twelve came into existence. So could you reform the line of Vol? Sure, if you had at least one living elf from the bloodline. The reaction of the dragonmarked houses would be based on whether you were cutting into their businesses in some way. Even if you came up with a mercantile niche using the mark that clashed with one of the houses (Jorasco?), unless you had a LOT of people with the mark and set up a serious commercial endeavor, it’s unlikely the houses will really care. Unlike…

Would the Aereni seek to slay this new heir even if the heir had no interest in vengeance against Aerenal? How would the dragons react to the resurrection of the Lost Mark?

Let me give you that quote again: “The Sibling Kings declared that the blood of Vol was to be completely destroyed, since even a drop could destroy all living things.” Short form: They won’t take it well. The same goes for the dragons. To be clear, this isn’t about YOU. Again, the Mark of Death was around for 600 years before the eradication, and that includes Siberys marks. The reason it needs to be wiped out is because as long as it exists, it is possible that you could produce a new abomination like Erandis. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a nice person or an evil one. It’s a question of eradicating your bloodline.

Now, obviously the game’s no fun if dragons kill you right away. So if I was going to use a returned Mark of Death in my game, I’d do it in one of the following ways:

  • Lay low. Can you keep your mark hidden? If you have to use it, can you trust the people who see it?
  • Help from above. Perhaps there’s a dragon in the Chamber who’s actively debating with the others and promoting an interpretation of the Prophecy that shows that your Mark is vital to the future. Perhaps Erandis or a Lord of Dust is working to hide you from your potential powerful enemies… though this might not be a good thing.

Of course if your goal is to go public and announce “I HAVE THE MARK OF DEATH” in fiery letters? In MY Eberron that’s just not going to end well for you. But hey, if you want to play things differently, do that.

How would the Valenar feel about a reborn Mark of Death?

The Tairnadal (the culture of the Valenar) never gave a damn about the line of Vol or the Mark of Death. How they would react to you would vary based on the individual and their ancestor.

How would Lady Vol react? Would she try to influence a person who manifested the Mark of Death?

Oh, definitely. But here, you need to decide what Erandis’s end goal is. Let me throw out a few possibilities.

  • The Happy Ending. Erandis is just sad her family got wiped out. She wants her family back, and figures that this will require the destruction of the Undying Court and Argonnessen. This is good news for you, because it means she wants you alive. The next question is how you feel about this. If you’re all for it, great! You can team up, she can help hide your mark, and you can be sent on missions to rally all her scattered allies from the good old days. If you don’t particularly like this idea, the bad news is that the best approach is to chain you in the basement and use you in a breeding program. I don’t see a lot of reason for subtlety here, although it may take her a while to find out that you HAVE the mark; one of her minions has to find out about it, pass the info along, and then she has to find you.
  • Queen of Death. Erandis believes that her destiny is to BECOME death… to replace the Keeper and claim dominion over Dolurrh and all mortal souls. The good news is that this doesn’t necessarily require her to, say “destroy all living things.” The bad news is that your reestablishing the line of Vol doesn’t help HER achieve her destiny. More likely, she’s going to try to come up with some way to use your blood, heart, or other random organs to return to life so she can unlock her Mark and use her destiny. How she’ll manipulate you is tied to what she needs to do to achieve this. Essentially, you’re part of a recipe. “Take one living heir with the Mark of Death, add paragon tier, add the gaze of Belashyrra, add a trip to Mabar, and sacrfice.” So it’s really up to the DM to decide what she needs you to do before you’re a suitable sacrifice… and how subtle she’ll have to be to accomplish these things. With that said… Again, Erandis accomplishing her goal isn’t necessarily bad; you won’t know until she does it and you find out if she makes a good Queen of the Dead. So one possibility is that you find a way to help return her to life that DOESN’T involve sacrificing you. Heck, if she goes ahead and ascends, it may be that the dragons will come to the conclusion that they were off-base in their reading of the Prophecy and leave you alone afterwards.
  • The Unhappy Ending. Remember that “even a drop could destroy all living things” line? Unfortunately, Erandis thinks THAT’S her destiny. So this is the same as the above, but the outcome is bad for everyone; there’s no helping her do it.

So the short form is that I can’t answer this. It’s up to your DM to decide what Vol is trying to do, if there’s any room for compromise, and if her best course of action is heavy-handed or subtle. With that said, if I did it, I’d definitely go the Queen of Death route and have a big list of conditions that need to be met before you’re ready for the sacrifice. It’s basically the same as having a shaper dragon interested in you as described in The Chamber article that went up last month.

Feel free to ask additional questions about Erandis or the Mark of Death, or to share your own experiences!