IFAQ: Humans of Droaam and Breggan Blackcrown

Breggan Blackcrown by Carolina Cesario

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patrons. Recently, someone asked…

We know that Droaam is largely populated by monstrous races, but it also has a population of disenfranchised humans. What is life like for these humans? Are they treated much the same as everyone else? Are there any human chibs?

The denizens of Droaam have no love for the arrogant people of the east, who have long condemned them as monsters, claimed dominion over their lands, and occasionally sent templars or questing knights west to kill their people. When the Daughters of Sora Kell led their first attack against Brelish forces, the message was clear. From Exploring Eberron…

“Tell your rulers there’s a new power in the west,” Sora Katra told the people of Stubborn. “What you’ve called the Barrens, we now name Droaam. The land beyond the Graywall and below the Byeshk belongs to our people. Withdraw yours quickly and respect our claim; next time, there will be no survivors.” 

Katra’s message wasn’t your people are welcome to join our new society, it was vacate the premises immediately. King Boranel of Breland refused to recognize the new nation—and he still hasn’t—but in 987 YK he ordered all Brelish citizens to withdraw from the disputed region. Those that ignored his orders were driven east by force or slain. So by canon and Kanon, there are no human communities as part of Droaam. With that said, Exploring Eberron has this to say about humans in Droaam.

Most humans living in Droaam are easterners— brigands or renegades evading the law, or merchants seeking opportunities. However, a few are natives, serving Droaam as part of the Venomous Demesne. While the demesne’s nobles are tieflings, humans are a significant part of the population, and Demesne humans can be found serving as magewrights in other cities. The humans of the Venomous Demesne have little in common with the people of the East, considering them savages, and feel no kinship to the Five Nations. 

So first of all, there is a significant population of humans in Droaam: the people of the Venomous Demesne. However, the Demesne is an advanced civilization that still remains largely isolated from the other peoples of Droaam, and that is all but unknown to the Five Nations. As noted, humans of the Demesne can be found in the major cities of Droaam, providing vital magewright services that most of the Droaamite subcultures haven’t mastered; but they are relatively few in number and focused on their work. Demense humans stand out by their fashions and manners, and are largely recognized by other Droaamites and left alone; they provide useful services and are typically capable of defending themselves. If an Easterner is familiar with the customs of the Demesne, disguising themselves as a Demesne magewright would be one way to avoid trouble… until they encounter a tiefling lord who wants to know their lineage and loyalty!

Beyond the humans of the Venomous Demesne, most humans are brigands or renegades evading the law, or merchants seeking opportunities. The Graywall Backdrop in Dragon 369 had this to say about Easterners in the city: Humans, half-orcs, dwarves, and members of the other races are largely concentrated in the Calabas; those who live in Bloodstone are largely bandits or fugitives. The Calabas is a recognized foreign quarter with laws enforced by House Tharashk, and is the safest place in Graywall. What I’ve always told players entering Graywall is that if you see an easterner outside the Calabas, you can assume they’re capable of defending themselves… because eventually, they’ll have to. A merchant would be sure to travel with a bodyguard. But if you see three former Karrnathi soldiers, you can be sure that at some point, a drunken ogre will have taken offense at the presence of these expatriate easterners—and the fact that they’re still here shows that they can handle such a situation.

So in short, there are humans in Droaam, but they aren’t farmers. There’s merchants engaged in business—legitimate or otherwise—who will either be prepared to talk or buy their way out of trouble, or who will have some form of protection. And then there’s people who have chosen to abandon the Five Nations: War criminals, deserters, renegades, dissidents, mages pursuing forbidden research, followers of the Dark Six seeking to practice their faith openly. The main thing is that any human living in Droaam outside a foreign quarter has a reason to be there, and must be prepared to talk or fight their way out of any trouble that comes their way. Those who survive will earn respect and a reputation. Essentially, they’ll be remarkable people.

OK, but what about Brelish settlers? Aren’t there Brelish settlers? Yes, but not in DROAAM. Remember that Breland doesn’t recognize Droaam as a nation, which means there’s no official border. Sora Katra laid claim to “the lands beyond the Graywall and below the Byeshk” and the commonly recognized border is the Orien trade route that runs between Ardev and Sylbaran. The region around the road is contested territory. The road is patrolled by Brelish forces and Znir gnolls serving the Daughters, but the region around the road is far from any lord or chib. There are human communities and settlers who consider themselves Brelish. But there are also a few communities that have no loyalty to either nation. Much like the farming communities of the Eldeen Reaches, the inhabitants of these towns felt abandoned by Breland during the war; unlike the Eldeen, they lacked the unity or numbers to secede and form a new nation. Today these villages are havens for brigands or deserters, always at risk of being targeted by raiders from Turakbar’s Fist or soldiers from Orcbone. And there’s brigands who prey on the Border Road as pirates prey on trade routes on water. The most infamous bandit in the region is Breggan Blackcrown. Here’s an excerpt from Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold...

BREGGAN BLACKCROWN

In a region where bandits are as common as copper pieces, the Company of the Black Crown have earned their infamy. The core of the company were members of an elite unit of Brelish soldiers stationed at Orcbone. Their captain, Breggan, regularly ignored her orders and waged her own personal guerrilla war against Droaam, slaughtering goblin villages and leaving gruesome displays that could chill even a medusa’s blood. Some stories say that Breggan sought to avenge the slaughter of her own family at the hands of monstrous raiders. Others suggest that she admired the ferocity of her foes, that in seeking to match their cruelty she became a monster herself. One especially dramatic tale says that after losing an eye in a battle with a minotaur champion, she plucked out the eye of her fallen foe and pressed it into her own socket, so she could see the world as her enemies do. When she was finally called to account for her cruelty and violation of orders two years ago, she broke with Breland, and many of her soldiers followed her. Now she claims that she is a true daughter of Breggor Firstking, the founder of the ancient nation of Wroat, and that a vision from her ancestor guided her to find his black iron crown. She says that Boranel betrayed his people by failing to bring Droaam to heel, and that she is the champion of the abandoned people of the western frontier; she calls herself “the Queen of the Lost,” subject to the laws of no nation.

The Company of the Black Crown is a mobile force trained in the techniques of guerilla warfare. They have a few long rods and other military-grade weapons. They ride the very edge of Droaam and Breland, defying both nations and preying on the people of both lands. They frequently target other brigands and clash with Droaam raiders, and most believe that this is why the commander of Orcbone chooses to ignore them; others say that the commander is one of Breggan’s former lovers, or that he doesn’t want to send his soldiers to their deaths. Regardless of the reason, for now Orcbone isn’t pursuing the Black Crowns.

While the Black Crowns ruthlessly slaughter other brigands and raiders, they’re no angels. They rob small villages and caravans—never entirely, just “collecting the Crown’s share.” While they usually don’t kill villagers, they make a bloody example of anyone who challenges them.

Breggan Blackcrown is a human woman in her thirties, equally skilled with sword and wand. She’s more than just a wandslinger; stories suggest she could be some sort of warlock. She’s as charming as she is ruthless, and never underestimates a foe. Her success to date is no accident. Breggan is a brilliant leader and her soldiers are exceptionally loyal to her, willing to take any risk in her service. Her primary lieutenants are Hatchet (male halfling, an expert scout), her bodyguard Blessing (female personality warforged, a heavily armored defensive fighter) and Sigil (male human, the war mage who maintains the company’s artillery).

Rumors About Breggan Blackcrown…

… Breggan’s right eye is a crystal shard, and she can see people’s fears. 

… Sora Katra has offered to make Breggan a warlord of Droaam.

… In her raids, Breggan has acquired a number of mysterious artifacts—possibly Dhakaani relics, or weapons from the Age of Demons.

… Breggan Blackcrown attended a feast at Turakbar’s Fist. In some versions of this story she danced with Rhesh Turakbar; in others, she beat him in a bare-handed duel. 

Breggan and her Black Crowns have already made an appearance in my Threshold campaign, and if you’re a Threshold patron you know how that turned out. I’ll note that this section is from the player-facing gazetteer in Frontiers of Eberron; the DM section has more information, along with statistics for Breggan herself.

So are there any human chibs or warlords? None are mentioned in canon, but the Droaam is always changing; in a year, Breggan could be a warlord of Droaam, or she could be rallying the villages of the Trade Road to forge a new nation. What’s the story you want to tell?

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. As this is an IFAQ and my time is limited, I won’t be answering many questions, but feel free to discuss this topic in the comments!

IFAQ: Old Borders, Forgotten Flags, and Vvaraak’s Lair

Every month my patrons pose questions. Some of these become Dragonmark articles, like the recent articles on Hags and Session Zero. However, other topics don’t need a full article. Here’s a few from this month! As always, these answers reflect what I do in MY campaign and may contradict canon material, starting right away with this first question…

What were the borders of Thrane before the war in your Eberron?

The Forge of War presents a map of Galifar before the war, and it draws a traveling west from the Face of Tira to the Duskwood, saying everything south of this line—including Passage, Lathleer, Ghalt, and Arcanix—were all part of Thrane. I have many issues with this map. First of all, it’s very arbitrary, lacking any natural or manmade obstacle that would help people recognize that border. Second, it places Daskaran in Aundair; it’s been previously established that before Galifar, Thrane was called Daskara, with the assumption that Daskaran a vital part of the old nation. But beyond that, we’ve made a BIG DEAL about the fact that Thrane holds Thaliost. The idea that Aundair seized three major cities and Arcanix during the war and that nobody really cares much about them is hard to fathom. Beyond that, to me Passage is very well established as a traditional Aundairian city, home to the Guild of Endless Doors and the Passage Institute. I’ve accepted the idea that Arcanix was in Thrane territory based on the idea that the floating towers were moved to the current location after the territory was seized during the war. But that simply doesn’t fit my vision of Passage, and I see no reason to accept the Forge of War borders.

So, what were the pre-war borders in MY campaign? I’d start by using the Aundair River. Daskaran’s on the southern shore, Thaliost is to the north, and it’s a major natural obstacle. So I’d start with the river. When you reach Fairhaven, I’d use the TRADE ROAD as the border—running down from Fairhaven to Lathleer and then from Lathleer to Ghalt. At that point, I’d draw a line from Ghalt to Lake Galifar—so the Eldritch Groves were technically in Thrane, but no one LIVED in them. A critical point of this is that Lathleer and Ghalt were on the border. Throughout the history of Galifar, these cities lay between Aundair and Thrane; they blended the customs of both nations and had inhabitants from both sides. During the war, Aundair gains ground and establishes a series of fortresses—including Wrogar Keep, Tower Valiant, and Tower Vigiliant—to maintain that border. The reason the loss of Lathleer and Ghalt isn’t as significant as Thrane’s occupation of Thaliost is that both cities already had strong ties to Aundair and deep-rooted Aundairian traditions—while in the case of Thaliost, the city was a proud and ancient Aundairian city with no ties to Thrane. The people of Lathleer are largely happy to be Aundairian, while Thaliost is an unstable occupation.

I’ve already discussed Arcanix—that it was a small village that took on its current importance when Aundair moved the floating towers there. But beyond that, I feel that when you go beyond the Eldritch Groves you’re dealing with territory that was technically Thrane on the map but that had a very weak cultural connection to the nation. The Year of Blood and Fire is a foundational element of modern Thrane culture and a critical part to the deeply engrained cultural devotion to the Silver Flame. I think it’s reasonable to say that Bel Shalor’s influence never spread beyond the Eldritch Groves—that the people of that region didn’t suffer in the Year of Blood and Fire and largely maintained their Vassal faith through to the present, making many of them quite happy to shift their loyalties to Aundair or Breland. In particular, I think it’s logical to assume that the Eldritch Groves have strong ties to Thelanis, and that the people in that region had fey-related customs more typically associated with Aundair. Meanwhile, Xandrar is so far from Flamekeep—separated by mountains and water—that I feel it was effectively an independent culture that just happened to be assigned to Thrane on the map, much as Droaam was technically Breland but the residents of the region didn’t consider themselves to be Brelish.

So I feel that Lathleer and Ghalt were significant acquisitions by Aundair during the war, and that this acquisition was safeguarded by the establishment of the border towers—but that from a cultural perspective these were fairly easy acquisitions compared to the bitter, contested occupation of Thranes. There is still surely a minority in both Lathleer and Ghalt who consider themselves Thranes and who despise the Aundairian tyrants, and this could create intrigue for adventurers, but they aren’t powerful forces. I’d also assert that both Lathleer and Ghalt had an influx of Aundairians resettled from the west when the Eldeen Reaches seceded, further bolstering Aundair’s hold on both cities.

Does the Eternal Dominion of the Sahuagin claim any part of the Dagger River? The area around the Hilt looks much like a fjord, which can be up to a mile deep in our world.

Not in my campaign. The sahuagin of the Dominion prefer salt water and are happy to have a little distance between them and the land-dwellers; the Dagger is also far away from their Kar’lassa. However, there could easily be a different aquatic culture in the Dagger. I don’t think there would be an actively hostile culture in the middle of the Dagger; such a nation would have been dealt with during the centuries of united Galifar, whether driven away or forced to the negotiating table. So one way or another I’d think that the Dagger-dwellers would have a diplomatic relationship with the surface… though this could still lead to outlaws raiding ships in defiance of custom. Personally, rather than sahuagin, I’d be inclined to make this a locathah culture, providing a counterpoint—and potential ally—to the locathah that have been subjugated by the Dominion and the Protectorate.

Droaam and Breland were certainly in conflict during the Last War, but was Droaam fighting on any other fronts?

There were no conflicts between Droaam and either the Shadow Marches or the Eldeen Reaches. As the Eberron Campaign Setting says, “The Shadow Marches are a geographic region, not a nation“—aside from House Tharashk, the Shadow Marches aren’t an entity you can have a political relationship with. Meanwhile, the Reaches and Droaam are separated by a formidable natural barrier—the Byeshk Mountains. The Reachers have no need or desire to expand their territory, and Droaam’s primary concern is solidifying its claim on the territory of the Barrens…. land claimed by Breland. So there was a concrete reason that they had to fight Breland. But the Byeshk Mountains are a clear border that both sides have been willing to respect, and at the moment neither one has any reason to pick a fight with the other.

With that said, you could Droaam was fighting on a second front… but that front was WITHIN DROAAM. The history of Droaam wasn’t a perfect, smooth rule from day one. Maenya’s Fist has crushed multiple warlords and chibs who refused to recognize the Daughters or who turned on them over time. So Droaam has definitely fought other battles, but they’ve been internal.

The Five Nations all have a heraldic animal—Thrane’s old boar, Breland’s bear, Karrnath’s wolf, and Aundair’s dragonhawk. But Cyre has always been a bell as far as anyone can tell. What animal would you assign to Cyre?

As discussed in Exploring Eberron, Cyre was a manufactured nation that consciously broke from the established customs of Metrol. They chose the crowned bell—crowned with the five-stone crown of Galifar—as a clear breaking of the old traditions; if you asked a Cyran the question, they’d raise an eyebrow and say “Please! We’re not animals.” Another way of asking the question is “What was the heraldic animal of Metrol“—the seal that was abandoned and replaced by Cyre’s crowned bell. It’s never been described, but given that we have Bear, Boar, and Wolf represented I’d be strongly tempted to choose TIGER. We know tigers exist in Khorvaire, from Dhakaan and Borrie Tigers, and it completes the set of common lycanthropes (which makes me wonder if Thaliost was a rat before they switched to the dragonhawk). But again, Cyrans made an intentional choice NOT to represent their nation with an animal, thank you.

In my Eberron campaign the party is searching for Vvaraak’s lair. What do you think the lair looks like and what sort of wards, traps or guardians would you imagine protects the lair?

The first question you need to ask is “What is Vvaraak’s Lair?” Is it the literal place that Vvaraak slept, possibly even with a hoard? Is it a a site where she conducted Druidic rituals? Is it also her tomb—or, perhaps, did she transform herself into livewood and still sleeps in the heart of the lair as a living, wooden dragon? Is or is it not literally her lair at all, but rather a passage to a verdant demiplane that is called her lair because it’s so fertile?

In looking to traps and guardians, the next question is “Why are there traps or guardians?” What are these systems protecting, and who are they protecting it from? Why is the lair hidden and guarded at all instead of being a pilgrimage site for Gatekeepers?

With that last question in mind, I see two possible answers. One is that Vvaraak foresaw a time in the future when a vital tool or piece of knowledge would be needed and set the traps and guardians herself to keep everyone out until the time was right. In this case, the theme should be PRIMAL MAGIC. The guardians would be plant creatures, treats, maybe elementals—things that don’t care about the passage of time, since they’ve been isolated for thousands of years. They would be designed to keep out Cults of the Dragon Below but also to keep out anyone else until the time was right, and likely test Druidic ability.

The completely opposite answer is that it’s not her lair—it’s her PRISON. Vvaraak was trapped and sealed away by the Lords of Dust, and turned herself to livewood to survive while waiting for a rescue. In this case the guardians would be fiends, designed to keep out Vvaraak’s allies. If these defenses are breached, it’s possible that she could be restored to flesh—or she could offer guidance as a livewood guardian, not unlike Oalian.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my patrons, who make these articles possible and come up with interesting questions!

Dragonmarks: Hags of Eberron

When Eberron was created, hags were monstrous humanoids. In fifth edition, they’re fey. What does this change mean for the hags of Eberron? Are they now tied to Thelanis?

No. Not all fey creatures share a common origin. The denizens of Thelanis are the fey we hear the most about, as they’re often encountered on Eberron in manifest zones. But there are fey that are native to Eberron, such as the Valenar beasts of Rising From The Last War. In my campaign, fiends are physical incarnations of evil, while celestials are embodiments of good. Fey are creatures of magic, neither innately good or evil. This is reflected by the current druid Wild Companion ability, which allows them to summon a fey companion in the form of a beast. This looks like an animal, but it wouldn’t exist without the druid; it is a magical embodiment of the druid’s love of nature. Likewise, the Valenar beasts presented in Rising From The Last War are fey creatures, but they aren’t from Thelanis; they are “animals are awakened to advanced intelligence and power by the touch of an ancestral spirit“—mundane creatures that BECOME fey due to an infusion of supernatural energy, the same basic concept we see in the Hexblood lineage.

Divine magic is shaped by faith. Arcane magic is shaped by science. Fey magic is often—though not always—shaped by story. Valenar beasts are part of the story of the Tairnadal ancestors. The dryad is a story we tell ourselves about an interesting tree. Even the Wild Companion is a sort of story… and then a helpful beast came to assist me and to be my friend. This ties to fact that fey often come into existence with a clear purpose the skills they need to accomplish that purpose—essentially, they appear ready to play their role in the story. When you meet a tinker sprite in a manifest zone tied to the Thelanian Assembly, that sprite never chose to be a tinker. They came into existence with a love of tinkering and the knowledge of how to do it, never considering there was any other path they could take. The Wild Companion comes into existence to help your druid, never asking Why am I here? What do I want? Its purpose in the story is to help you. Most fey creatures have a similar purity of purpose, whether they’re kind or cruel. Evil fey are storybook villains. They don’t need the same depth of motivation that mortals do; villainy is their purpose, in and of itself.

Thelanis is the primary source of fey. Within Eberron, fey are most frequently encountered around Thelanian manifest zones. Sometimes the fey in these regions are directly tied to Thelanis; the dryads of Silvermoon Grove consider themselves to be handmaidens of the Forest Queen, even though they dwell in Eberron. Other times, it’s simply that the proximity of Thelanis leaks fey energies into the world, which respond to the stories of the people in the region; such few are often tied to their manifest zones, but they know nothing about Thelanis and feel no kinship to other fey. But fey can be found anywhere in the world… and can even begin as mortals. The Valenar beast is our key example of this—a mundane creature that is touched by the story of a Tairnadal ancestor and becomes a fey embodiment of that story. The key to these creatures is to understand the story that shapes them. Is it tied to a place? Or a person? Does it require them to behave in a particular way? The more mortal a fey creature is, the less they’re bound by their story. Notably, the Eldeen Reaches has a population of centaurs who are technically fey, but who lead mortal lives—growing old and dying, giving birth and raising children. Their ancestors were shaped by the energies of Thelanis, and that power clings to them to such a degree that spells react to them as fey; but they are mostly mortal, for better or for worse.

With that in mind, let’s look to the main subjects of this discussion…

Hags

The Daughters of Sora Kell are the most infamous hags of Eberron. But the Daughters are so remarkable that they have little in common with the standard hags of the monster manual. What, then, is the role of a typical green hag or sea hag? Where do they come from and what do they want? There’s a few answers to the question. Note that night hags are an entirely different sort of creature, and have been covered in a previous article.

Story Hags

Mother Graytooth dwells in the Saddleback Bog, and she always has, just as long as long has been. She’s matched wits with dirge singers and with templars of the Silver Flame, and many’s the time she’s been killed, but she’s too evil to stay dead for long.

Saddleback Bog is a minor Thelanian manifest zone and Mother Graytooth is a green hag rooted in Thelanis. There’s no historical basis for her story, she’s just always been there. People who live in the area eventually start telling her story, even if they can’t remember where they heard it; it’s seeped into the collective unconscious of the region itself, and if you ask someone how they know it, they’ll just say “Maybe it was my old gran who first told me the tale? I couldn’t say. But everyone knows about Mother Graytooth, mister.” She gets killed occasionally and may stay dead for decades, but people remember her story even when she’s gone, and eventually she’ll come back.

Historical Hags

Old Man Cord was the nicest man you could meet, if you met him in the day. Always had a story or a toy for the children, always a smile and a crown. But at night, now, that was a different story. A tanner, he was, and a worker of leather, and he’d make himself a cord from the guts of his victims… then out into the night he’d go, waiting for someone to stray from the light. When they finally caught him, they found the remains of all his victims, hanging by their innards in his basement. They hung him, and that was their mistake; ropes are his friends, and no noose would kill Old Man Cord. He’s been out there ever since, lurking in the darkness and waiting for someone to stray from the light. So mark my words, children, and mark them well—never be out in the night without a lantern, as you value your breath.

Old Man Cord is an annis hag haunting the town of Lowpoint. His Crushing Hug takes the form of choking a victim with a leather strap, but otherwise he has all the abilities of an annis—shapeshifting, hiding in fog, inhuman strength. Unlike Mother Graytooth, his story has a concrete beginning; there was an Old Man Cord who killed dozens of people. He spread terror through the town while he lived, the revelations of his crimes shocked them even further, and when a child went missing a year later, everyone knew it was Old Man Cord. In essence, the town willed him into existence the same way a druid wills a Wild Companion into existence, and they keep him alive through their fear. Another difference is that his story can have an end. He can be killed; the key is that he’ll only stay dead if the people of Lowpoint believe he’s dead and, most critically, STOP TELLING HIS STORY.

A critical point is that the annis hag isn’t actually Old Man Cord. This is what differentiates this form of hag from a ghost or undead. The hag embodies the story of Old Man Cord. It’s both larger than life and also more shallow than the original. It doesn’t matter why Cord actually murdered people; what matters is why people THINK he murdered people. In some ways, you can think of this as a nightmare made manifest; he’s going to be more exaggeratedly EEEVIL than the mortal man ever was, because he’s embodying the story. One might ask if the hag could be changed by changing the story; if the people all came to believe that Old Man Cord was cuddly and friendly, would he become cuddly and friendly? Usually, no. This sort of hag is typically generated by fear. Cutting off the source will keep the hag from returning, but it won’t actually change it or kill it; the Cord hag will still be out there and will try to get its story back on track by killing people in terrifying ways. However, if his story becomes a joke, Cord won’t be able to return if he’s slain.

Often, historical hags are formed near Thelanian manifest zones; even if the zone doesn’t manifest traditional fey, the energy can form creatures like hags. However, in rare cases, such hags can form spontaneously if a response to a story is both widespread and visceral. Historical hags are typically bound to a region, but can move with their story. If a family travels from Lowpoint to Sharn and manages to spread the story of Old Man Cord throughout Callestan, he could potentially follow them.

Historical hags generally only manifest after a villain has died, typically after their story has been greatly exaggerated; again, they’re usually more of a caricature of the original, not an actual ghost. However, it could theoretically be possible for an infamous villain to be thought dead and for their story to generate a hag while they are secretly still alive. Perhaps the real Old Man Cord never killed anyone and is still in hiding; finding him could help put the story to rest.

Thelanian Hags

You will find no warm welcome in the Winter Court. In particular, you had best keep an eye out for the frost maidens—Linger, Livid, and Lost. Linger is as strong as a dying oak tree, and Livid as cunning as black ice. Their hearts are as cold as their hands, and they delight in smothering joy and stealing hope.

Thelanian hags are the closest to the traditional fifth edition lore: “Ancient beings with origins in the Feywild, hags represent all that is evil and cruel; there is nothing mortal about these monstrous creatures, whose forms reflect only the wickedness in their hearts.” They can play minor roles in the stories of baronies or feyspires, or be found scheming in the Moonlit Court. They are typically immortal, though like many immortals, if they die they might return in a slightly different form; the overall story remains, but the exact telling of it can change. While they are immortal embodiments of evil, part of what makes them fey instead of fiends is that drive to embody their story. Most are content to while away immortality in Thelanis, but every now and then a hag or a coven takes up residence in a manifest zone, or decides that intrigues in Eberron could somehow help their position in the Moonlit Court; a powerful Thelanian hag or coven could easily serve as the patron for an archfey warlock. Again, what makes a hag a HAG is being “evil and cruel”; while the Daughters of Sora Kell are more nuanced in their desires, Thelanian hags tend to play up their villainous roles. However, evil doesn’t mean violent; a Thelanian hag could be a merchant who sells interesting items that will ultimately cause misery (consider the classic monkey’s paw) or a cruel step-parent who keeps their child imprisoned in a tower made from thorns.

While “hags” are traditionally villainous, the stat block of a hag can be used for good or neutral fey. The green hag in particular makes an excellent fey courtier, clever and gifted with illusion. For such a fey, their claw attack could be replaced with a Humiliating Slap that deals psychic damage (a good pairing with vicious mockery), a Withering Touch that deals necrotic damage (tied to the strange passage of time in Thelanis), or something else that fits the story of the courtier; they might not look like a traditional hag, but the stat block works!

Pact Hags AND HEXBLOODS

Story hags were never real, and historical hags typically rise after the death of their source. But there are fully mortal beings with the powers of hags. They begin by making a pact with another powerful hag. In some cases, the nature of this bargain is clear from the start; in others, the connection may be forged my a seemingly innocent arrangement—a favor granted, a gift given. The beneficiary becomes a hexblood, as described in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft—and eventually, they may be transformed into a full hag. In part, this is a matter of time. But it’s also based on the actions of the individual. Hags represent all that is evil and cruel; the more the hexblood succumbs to cruelty, the more delight they find in the misfortunes of others, the more trouble they cause, the closer they get to becoming a hag. Few hexbloods every actually reach the point where transformation is actually possible; to become a hag, they must literally be larger than life, essentially becoming a living story.

Pact hags are the most human of the hags discussed here. They began as humanoid creatures, and the essence of that humanity remains. They are mortal and won’t return after death. But they are also fey, and aging has little effect on them. Unlike story and historical hags, pact hags aren’t limited to any particular area or community and can travel freely. As a result, pact hags can be found working with Daask cells or acting as ambassadors for the Daughters of Sora Kell.

Wait—Old *MAN* Cord?

Yes, Old Man Cord. There’s no reason hags have to take female forms. Even by fifth edition lore, their forms reflect the wickedness in their heart; wickedness isn’t limited by gender. While “hag” remains the common term for this class of fey, they can appear in male, female, or nonbinary forms.

What about Sea Hags?

Sea hags will fall into one of the categories presented above, and their role in the world will reflect this. Sargasso Jane is a story hag who dwells in a kelp mass and torments the crew of ships that get stuck in it. Captain Alarack is an infamous pirate who was lost in the Lhazaar Sea, but people say he will murder any captain who takes a prize in his waters without throwing tribute over. The Mother of Maelstroms is a Thelanian sea hag who occasionally makes pacts with Fathomless warlocks. And if Droaam starts a navy, perhaps Sora Katra will produce a pact hag to run it.

The Daughters of Sora Kell

So having discussed four types of hags, what are the Daughters of Sora Kell? They’re typically described as being a green hag (Sora Katra), an annis hag (Sora Maenya), and a dusk hag (Sora Teraza). But Sora Maenya is described as crushing giants with her bare hands and scattering armies—hardly the actions of a CR 6 Annis. The answer is that the Daughters are hags in the same way that Bahamut is a dragon; they have the forms of hags, but they are something far grander and more powerful than any normal hag. The simplest way to look at it is that they are native archfey. Their mother wasn’t a fey hag at all; Sora Kell is a primordial night hag and a legend in her own right, and in birthing her daughters she was bring nightmares into the world. The Daughters are both far more powerful than most hags, but also more subtle and complex. Katra and Maenya may delight in casual cruelty, but they fall into the category of alignment telling you how they’ll pursue their goals, but not whether their goals are good or bad. In Droaam they have created something new and given a voice to people once voiceless. They enjoy the terror they instill in their enemies, but they are far more complex that Mother Graytooth or Old Man Cord.

So just how powerful are the Daughters of Sora Kell? Their canon statistics have varied wildly over editions, and to some degree I think that’s appropriate. They’re native archfey, and to some degree, they’re as powerful as the story currently calls for them to be. Sora Maenya’s never had to fight an army of dragons, and by default she definitely doesn’t have that degree of power; but the Chamber can’t be certain that she wouldn’t GAIN that power if she was attacked by an army of dragons, because what a story that would be. So in my opinion, a major part of fighting the Daughters of Sora Kell is to lock down their story. If a party of adventurers just charges into a room and attacks Sora Maenya with no plan, they’ll lose, because she’s Sora Maenya; her story is driven by her being the strongest there is. But if the adventurers learn of her weakness (a weakness that might not even manifest unless her enemies know about it), if they spread stories of her growing old and infirm, if they destroy her treasured collection of soulbound skulls, THEN when they face her she will be locked down to a CR that is reasonable for them to face… because they have created a story in which she can be beaten. This ties to the question of whether or not the Daughters are immortal, like story hags or Thelanian hags. Personally, I’ve always believed that they are NOT immortal—they were born and one day they will die. But in my campaign, if you collapse a building on them or bomb the Great Crag, they will somehow survive… their death won’t stick unless it’s a good story.

Ultimately the real question with the Daughters is how powerful do you want them to be? In my campaign, I LIKE them being the most terrifying beings you could just make an appointment to meet. I’d probably put the Daughters in the same league as the archfey in Exploring Eberron, with CRs somewhere in the low 20s. But that’s the story *I* want. I want Maenya to be able to crush giants and fight armies. You may want to tell a very different story, in which the Daughters truly have to be afraid of their warlords, where Maenya could be taken down in an ambush by Rhesh Turakbar… and that might be a better story. Which again is why I’m inclined to say that their power level can literally shift to meet the needs of the story. Place them in a situation where they need to be impressive and they will become impressive. But if their enemies can control the story, perhaps Sora Maenya can be reduced to a mere annis hag.

That’s all for now! I won’t be answering questions on this article, but feel free to discuss the topic and how you’ve used hags in the comments! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for raising the questions that spawned this topic and for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Medusa Fashions and the Population of Darguun!

Tashka of Threshold, by Julio Azevedo

As time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s two from this month!

Now that Medusae have begun to leave Cazhaak Draal for various purposes, have eyeblinders become a commonplace part of their culture or are they only used in the east to make the squishier races feel at ease?

“You aren’t in your Five Nations any more,” Sheshka said. She had sheathed her sword, but her voice was deadly. “You have come to my home. Your soldier threatened me with a blindfold. A blindfold, on my soil. Would I come into your castle and strip away your sword, or demand that you wear chains?”

“We can’t kill with a glance,” Beren said.

“And that excuses your threat to pluck out my eyes? Should I cut off your hands so you cannot strangle me?” The medusa’s eyelids fluttered, but remained closed. “Hand, tooth, steel – we are all deadly.”

The Queen of Stone

Canonically, while in the cities of the Five Nations a medusa is expected to wear eyeblinders, described as a metal visor that straps around the forehead and chin and takes multiple rounds to remove; in especially high-security situations, the straps can be secured with a lock. Of course, this varies by location; in a small village in Karrnath the sheriff surely doesn’t have a set of eyeblinders lying around, and in Callestan in Sharn, who exactly is going to demand the medusa put on eyeblinders? In such situations, a medusa will often wear a veil or more comfortable blindfold, as Tashka is modeling in the image accompanying this article. Such a blindfold doesn’t offer as much security as a set of eyeblinders, since it could be removed in a single action, but it’s a compromise; you don’t have to worry unless I take it off.

With this in mind, have blindfolds become part of standard medusa fashion? Do medusas wear blindfolds in Graywall or the Great Crag, or even in Cazhaak Draal? Definitely not. Medusas are perfectly capable of controlling their deadly gaze. Let’s start with simple mechanics. Here’s the 5E interpretation of the ability in question.

Petrifying Gaze. When a creature that can see the medusa’s eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature.

I’ve bolded the key word there—they can force someone to make a saving throw, but they don’t have to. While some people may interpret this as meaning that the medusa can choose to look you straight in the eye and not petrify you, how I interpret it in my campaign is that the medusa can never turn off their power, but that they have to look you directly in the eye to make it work and they’re very good at avoiding such accidental eye contact… and if they really want to play it safe, they can just close their eyes. This is something discussed in a canonical Dragonshard article…

The gaze of a medusa can petrify even an ally, and as a result, a medusa does not meet the gaze of a person with whom it is conversing. Where she directs her eyes indicates her esteem for the person. She drops her eyes toward the ground to show respect, or looks up and over the person if she wishes to indicate disdain; when speaking to an equal, she glances to the left or right. If she wishes to show trust, she directs her gaze to the person, but closes her eyes.

While this may seem inconvenient to a human, it has little impact on a medusa. If a medusa concentrates, she can receive limited visual impressions from the serpents that make up her hair; as a result, though she seems to look elsewhere, she’s actually looking through the eyes of her serpents. She can even use her serpents to see when she is blindfolded or has her eyes closed. However, she can still “see” in only one direction in this way; her serpents may look all around her, but she can’t process the information from all of them at once.

While I like the idea of looking up or down to signal respect when dealing with an individual, things get a little trickier on a crowded city street where accidental eye contact could easily happen—but in such a situation, again, all the medusa has to do is to close their eyes. To me, this is the absolute reason a medusa can’t petrify you by accident, and why you only have to make that saving throw if they choose to force you to; if they don’t want to hurt you, they’ll close their eyes.

So, with this in mind, no, medusas don’t wearing eyeblinders when they’re at home. The power of the medusa is a gift of the Shadow and they are proud of this gift; it’s not their job to calm your fears. And as Sheshka points out, everyone is dangerous, especially in Droaam; no one expects gargoyles to file down their claws, or Xorchylic to bind his tentacles. Demanding that a medusa cover their eyes is demeaning and shows a lack of trust. They’ll put up with it when the local laws require it, though even then they may skirt it (as with Tashka wearing a blindfold instead of full eyeblinders). But they certainly aren’t going to wear a blindfold while at home just to make you more comfortable.

Can you explain the demographics of Darguun? According to the ECS, only 6% of the population is human. How did it go from being a human-dominant nation to just 6%?

First of all, we need to address the tribex in the room, and that is that population numbers in Eberron have never been realistic. In part this is because we’ve never entirely agreed on the scale of the map; there’s also the broader question of whether population numbers should reflect medieval traditions (as was typical for D&D at the time the ECS was released) or if, given that society’s advances are more like late 19th century Earth, the population should reflect that as well. Consider that in 1900, London was home to five million people… while in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting, Breland only has a total population of 3.7 million.

For this reason, the 3.5 ECS is the only book that actually gives population numbers for the nations; neither the 4E ECG or 5E’s Rising From The Last War do. Because at the end of the day, the exact number usually isn’t important. What matters is that we know that Aundair has the lowest population of the Five Nations and that Breland has the highest. It’s good to know that Sharn is the largest city in the Five Nations, even if I’d personally magnify its listed population by a factor of five or more. So I DO use the numbers given in the Eberron Campaign Setting, but what I use are the demographics break-downs—for example, the idea that dwarves make up a significant portion of the population of Breland, but are relatively rare in Aundair—while I use the population numbers just as a way of comparing one nation to another, so I know the population of Breland is almost twice that of Aundair.

So: I use the stats of the ECS, but I use them for purposes of comparing one nation to another, not for purposes of setting an absolute number. With that in mind, let’s look back to the original question: Is it strange that humans only make up 6% of the population of Darguun? In my opinion, not at all. The key is to understand the difference between the Darguun uprising and the Last War as a whole. During the Last War, the Five Nations were fighting over who was the rightful heir to the throne of Galifar. As discussed in this article, the goal—at least at the start—was reunification, and the question was who would be in charge. It was never a total war; the Five Nations agreed on the rules of war and whenever possible, avoided targeting civilian populations or critical civic infrastructure.

None of this applied to the Darguun uprising. The ECS observes that “Over the course of the Last War, most of the towns, temples, and fortresses in the region were razed and abandoned.” Not conquered and occupied: razed and abandoned. The Darguuls didn’t have the numbers to rule as occupiers, so they DESTROYED what they couldn’t control, driving the people away or killing them. It was an intensely brutal, ugly conflict, driven both by history—in the eyes of the Darguuls, the people of Cyre were the chaat’oor who had stolen the land and brutalized their ancestors—and by the fact that it needed to be swift and brutal, to maximize the impact before the Cyrans could regroup. By the time central Cyre was truly aware of the situation in southern Cyre, there was nothing left to save.

So I think the the demographic percentages are reasonable; I think most of that human 6% have actually come to Darguun after the war to do business or as expatriates of other nations. This ties to the point that Darguun is a nation of ruins—again, as the ECS says, “most of the towns, temples, and fortresses were razed and abandoned.” In my Eberron, the population of Darguun is far lower today than it was before the uprising; again, part of the reason for the brutality was because they didn’t have the numbers to rule through occupation. Darguuls are slowly reclaiming ruined towns and cities, building their own towns on the foundations just as humanity built many of its greatest cities on Dhakaani foundations—but overall, much of Darguun is filled with abandoned ruins that have yet to be reclaimed.

This brings up another important point. I agree with the demographic percentages of the ECS, but I think the listed population of Darguun is too high. Darguun is listed as having a population of 800,000. Again, I’m not concerned with that actual number—I’m concerned with how it compares to other nations. At 800,000, Darguun is the size of the Lhazaar Principalities, Zilargo, and Valenar combined. The whole idea of Darguun is that a relatively small force laid waste to the region because they lacked the numbers to conquer it. Now, in my Eberron the goblin population has swelled since the uprising. Haruuc’s people—the Ghaal’dar—were based in the Seawall Mountains and the lands around it. The dar were scattered and living in caverns, peaks, deep woods. As word spread of a goblin nation, tribes and clans came to Darguun from elsewhere in Khorvaire—from deeper in Zilargo, from Valenar, from central Cyre. This ties to the reasons Haruuc often has difficulty exercising control. The Ghaal’dar support him and they are the largest single block; but there are many subcultures that have their own traditions and aspirations. The Marguul are one example that’s been called out in canon, but there’s many more like this—dar immigrants who have come to the region with their own traditions. Notably, in Kanon I have a goblin culture from deep in the Khraal rain forest that is quite different from the Ghaal’dar, who came from the mountains and caverns. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t result in a nation with the highest population of any nation outside of the main five. By the standards of the ECS—so again, ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF COMPARING IT TO OTHER NATIONS—I’d set the population of Darguun at around 230,000. That’s significantly higher than Valenar and on par with Q’barra or Zilargo, but less than a tenth of one of the Five Nations, and low enough to reflect the idea that most of the cities in the region are still unclaimed ruins.

That’s all for now! Because this is an IFAQ, I will not be answering further questions on these topics, but feel free to discuss your thoughts and ideas in the comments. And if you want support the site and pose questions that might be answered in future articles, join my Patreon!

Dragonmark: Priests, Krozen and Zerasha

July is quickly fading, but as time allows I want to answer a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, people asked about a pair of priests—High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane and Zerasha of Graywall.

Dealing with the Divine

Krozen and Zerasha are both powerful divine spellcasters. In third edition, Krozen was defined as a 12th level cleric of the Silver Flame, making him one of the most powerful clerics in canon Khorvaire. While never defined, Zerasha is supposed to be similar in her power—a priest respected and feared by a city of monsters and the mind flayer who governs it. Given that most priests in Khorvaire are adepts—or don’t even cast spells at all—I want players to feel how remarkable these individuals are when they encounter them. A powerful wizard is essentially a scientist, someone who uses logic and knowledge to break the laws of reality. A powerful divine caster is something else. Both Zerasha and Krozen are the chosen agents of cosmic powers. The Sovereigns and Six are omnipresent forces. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals, and Zerasha is one of its chief agents. Krozen can command the dead to return to life or call celestials from the essence of the Silver Flame. We can debate the existence of the Sovereigns, but the Silver Flame is the force that stands between Eberron and the overlords, and Krozen is a conduit for its power. These aren’t just people who have learned how to perform magic tricks. They are the chosen agents of vast cosmic forces. If you’ll pardon the phrase, they are burdened with glorious purpose.

But how do you make the powerful priest feel different from a wizard or a prince? This is something I discuss at more length in this article. One of the key points is to separate the way divine NPCs cast spells from how player characters do it. We need the structure of the classes for player characters because we need tactical precision, and I’m fine to say that in combat, Krozen casts spells as a 12th level cleric. But outside of combat I don’t feel that he needs to engage with his magic in the same way as a player character. The most common divine spellcasters—adepts—function much like magewrights; they have a specific set of cantrips and spells they can cast and that’s all they can cast. A typical spellcasting priest might be able to cast thaumaturgy, light, and ceremony. There are specialist adepts—oracles who can cast divination, healers who can perform lesser restoration—but the oracle can’t just decide to become a healer in the morning. They have been granted a divine gift, and they can’t exchange it for another one. More powerful spellcasters like Zerasha and Krozen aren’t limited like this, but they also don’t call their divinity on the phone each morning and make spell requests. Their divine power source grants them the spells they need when they need them, provided the request is justified. Krozen doesn’t prepare zone of truth ahead of time, but if he formally demands you speak the truth in the light of the Flame, zone of truth happens. Essentially, his spells are selected on the fly to match the situation he finds himself in. But the contrast is that he doesn’t have the freedom a PC has to request any spell. The Flame may empower Krozen to raise someone from the dead or to smite them with a flame strike, but in spite of his effective level it’s not going to grant him the power to create undead or to cast contagion; these aren’t the tools of a righteous servant of the Flame, and if you DO see a Flame priest using such spells, it’s a clear sign that they are actually a servant of the Whispering Flame or a warlock hacking the Flame. Krozen may take actions we consider evil, but he believes his actions are righteous in the light of the Flame; he’s not drawing on malefic powers.

Divination is another important example. With the spellcasting power of a 12th level cleric, Krozen could technically cast commune three times a day, along with a batch of auguries. And that’s how things work for PCs. But Krozen doesn’t just have some magic hotline that he can dial three times per day. He can’t just call up Tira Miron and say “Does Boranel dye his hair? Yes? I KNEW it!” It’s not some sort of abstract, scientific tool that he can just use for whatever random, trivial detail he wants to know. But the flip side is that he may simply receive information that he needs—that he can receive divine visions. Even when he doesn’t cast augury, he may suddenly KNOW that a decision he’s about to make could lead to disaster. Even without commune, he might KNOW the truth about a situation. This is especially relevant for Zerasha, because part of what defines the Shadow is dangerous secrets. Consider this description of the Shadow from this article:

As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost.

So It’s not that Zerasha sits down and says “I want to know secrets about this player character” and casts commune or some other divination spell; it’s that when the players come before her, she simply DOES know who killed the paladin’s parents and why the rogue murdered their partner, because that’s part of what it means to be the voice of the Shadow.

The short form is that when dealing with NPCs who are powerful divine spellcasters, I want them to FEEL like they are conduits to powers far greater than they are. When Krozen demands that you speak the truth, zone of truth happens. When he barks out an order, it may become a command, because that’s the power that flows through him. I want the powerful priest to feel larger then life, because at the end of the day they are the conduits for something that IS larger than life.

Now, reading all this, you might say “But I thought Eberron was the setting where we don’t know if the gods even exist.” We know that deities don’t walk the world in Eberron. You will never have a chance to punch Aureon in the face. But we know that divine power sources exist. We know that priests have been drawing on the POWER of Aureon for tens of thousands of years, and that in part because of this, most people believe divine forces exist. They may argue about details; the Cazhaak interpretation of the Dark Six is quite different from how they’re depicted in the Pyrinean Creed. But most people believe in SOME form of divinity, and part of the reason for that is the fact that divine magic exists.

With all of this in mind, you might say “If that’s how you handle NPC priests, why don’t you deal with player character clerics in the same way?” I offer some suggestions in that direction in this article. But fifth edition embraces the idea that NPCs and PCs don’t have to follow the same rules. Part of being a player character is having flexibility and tactical control. It’s about having the ability to make choices. I’ve played campaigns in which divine characters CHOSE to give me more control over their spells—embracing the idea that the powers were gifts they didn’t fully control—but that was a choice they made that fit the story of that character. But one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable, and I have no problem with them having a greater degree of versatility and precision than most other servants of the divine.

Having worked through that, let’s talk about the two specific priests that people have asked about…

Who is High Cardinal Krozen of Thrane?

Our blessed child is the Keeper of the Flame and shows us all the path to the light. But I am the keeper of the nation, and if I must toil in the darkness to ensure its prosperity, so be it.

High Cardinal Krozen

People have lots of questions about Cardinal Krozen of Thrane. What’s his first name? Does he realize he’s evil? Does he believe in a greater good—or for that matter, does he even believe in the Silver Flame? What makes him more important than the other 11 High Cardinals of the Church? These are all good questions. I’ve always liked Krozen, but my vision of him is quite different from how he’s evolved in canon sources. I know what I originally planned for him when we first created the character, and that’s how I use him, so I’ll lay that out here. Keep in mind that this directly contradicts multiple canon sources (which, admittedly, contradict themselves on some points). This is MY interpretation and I am not going to reconcile it with what other authors have done with the character; it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer.

My original vision of High Cardinal Thrane was loosely inspired by Cardinal Richelieu as depicted in The Three Musketeers—a ruthless man who is engaged in sly intrigues, but who is nonetheless an extremely capable leader, perhaps moreso than the king the protagonists serve. It was always my vision that Cardinal Krozen was devoted to Thrane and that he performs his duties exceptionally well—that he is a brilliant strategist and a charismatic orator. But this is tied to the idea that he truly believes that he knows what is best for the nation. The basic dictate of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Where Jaela recognizes that this applies to ALL innocents, regardless of their faith or nationality, Krozen believes that you aren’t innocent unless you’re a Thrane and a servant of the faith, and don’t oppose him. He DOES fight to protect the innocent—but only those HE decides are innocent.

So I see Cardinal Krozen as a remarkable man—one of the player characters of his generation. He’s human and I see him as being about fifty years old. The details of his youth—and, in fact, his first name—aren’t generally known; the general story is that he lived on the Aundairian border and that the Flame granted him the power to perform great deeds, first in the defense of his village and then as a templar. He was always charismatic and intelligent, but beyond that, his divine power was always remarkable; when he called on the Flame, he gained the power to smite his foes. In his early twenties he rose out of the templars and into the hierarchy of the church, turning his gifts to leadership behind the scenes rather than fighting on the battlefield. From there, his star rose and rose; those who opposed him were either won over by his charisma or driven from his path, one way or another.

Part of the core idea of Krozen is that he represents the danger of Thrane becoming a theocracy—that in doing so it drags the church into the management of temporal matters and political concerns. The idea of Thrane is that Jaela Daran represents the pure ideals of the faith—while Cardinal Krozen deals with political realities. Again, Jaela does believe that “protect the innocent” applies to all people—that Krozen believes that it can only be applied to the faithful and to Thranes. It’s not that he is a vile, selfish person; but he has blended his faith with his devotion to his nation and places the good of Thrane over all others. Beyond this, Krozen very much has a Chosen One mentality. He possesses immense divine power, and in his mind this proves his righteousness. He believes he was given this power to serve the interests of Thrane, and the fact that he still wields that power proves that he is right to do so. He will crush others who get in his way—even other priests or templars—because he believes, again, that those who oppose him aren’t innocent.

In considering all this, take a moment to think about the Shadow in the Flame. There are those—the Whispering Flame cultists—who knowingly choose to serve Bel Shalor. But the true power of the Shadow in the Flame is its ability to piggyback on the Voice of the Flame and to pour poison in the ears of the truly faithful. Bel Shalor loves to erode empathy and to convince people to do evil when they only seek to do good. The Shadow in the Flame reveled in the suffering caused by the Silver Crusade, and Bel Shalor undoubtedly sees Cardinal Krozen as a valuable tool. The question for the DM to decide is how much of a hold does Bel Shalor have over the Cardinal? In MY Eberron, Krozen KNOWS the dangers posed by the Shadow of the Flame; all the faithful do. And with that in mind, he does his best to resist those impulses; he knows that he does questionable things (like, you know, torture and murder…) but he truly believes that he is acting for the greater good and that he’s NOT a tool of the Shadow in the Flame. But in your campaign you could decide that he HAS fallen prey to Bel Shalor’s whispers and no longer realizes the evil he is doing… or even go further and decide that he is a priest of the Whispering Flame. Personally I prefer to follow the shades-of-grey model, to say that while Krozen does evil things, he only does them when pursuing the interests of Thrane—that he always believes his actions are justified. I like the idea that Krozen knows he walks a dark path, but that he believes it is the path the Flame has set him on, and that at the end of the day he is protecting the innocent—even if he has had to sacrifice his own innocence to do it.

Now, some people may be say “That’s all fine, but who IS he?” Krozen is one of the high cardinals of Thrane. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting…

This group of powerful church leaders administers both the workings of the church and the functions of the government. In theory, the cardinals answer to the Keeper of the Flame. In practice, they run the church and the government, only dealing with the Keeper on issues that require divine attention and interaction with the Voice of the Flame. The cardinals believe that they know best when it comes to running the government and the church, and they leave the Keeper to deal with the well-being of the spirit of the nation. This arrangement has led to problems between the Council and the Keeper in the past, but the current Keeper seems interested more in divine and spiritual matters than the intricacies of secular administration.

There may be twelve High Cardinals, but Krozen is the effective leader of the Council—and thus, of Thrane. If you have a divine problem, talk to Jaela. But if you’re looking into the deployment of Thrane troops or about getting more resources for Rellekor, it’s Krozen who can get things done. The general idea is that Krozen is in many ways the opposite of Jaela. Where the Keeper is compassionate, the Cardinal is ruthless. The Cardinal is a master of political intrigue, while Jaela prefers honest dealing. Jaela wants what’s best for all innocents; Krozen cares only for Thrane.

The final thing I’ll call about about Krozen is this: If there’s twelve high cardinals, why is he the leader? What makes him special? The short answer is that what makes him special is that he IS special. Again, not all priests are spellcasters at all, and in a world where everyday magic goes to 3rd level, a 12th level spellcaster is remarkable. He can raise the dead! Those who oppose him are struck down by flame strikes! You’ve seen him shape celestials from the pure power of the Flame! And as I said, while I don’t just let him cast commune three times a day, he hears the Voice of the Flame in ways that others do not (and, of course, potentially the Shadow in the Flame as well). There’s surely other spellcasters among the cardinals, but Krozen stands out; if you look to the 3.5 statistics, he’s notably a more powerful spellcaster than the high priest of the Host and Archierophant Ythana in Sharn: City of Towers. Power alone isn’t everything, but the whole idea is that this power is matched with passion and charisma—that just like a player character, Krozen is remarkable. With this in mind, he doesn’t command the Council of Cardinals, but he has won the loyalty of the majority of its members and thus is the EFFECTIVE leader of the council. In my opinion, there’s four cardinals who are utterly devoted to him; three who believe he’s doing what’s best for Thrane; and four who don’t support him. Of these four, all believe that the Keeper shows the proper path for the nation and that Krozen’s actions are concerning; one or two may have deeper concerns, or believe that he is serving the Shadow in the Flame. So Krozen DOESN’T have absolute control of the council, but he’s effectively the leader.

Krozen as a Villain

As I’ve just spent a lot of time insisting that Krozen believes he’s acting for the good of Thrane and that he is an effective leader, you might wonder if I actually see him as a villain. I do, generally—just a villain with many layers. He performs evil deeds in pursuit of the greater good, and more than that, he is only concerned with the greater good of THRANE. When I use Krozen, I want it to be clear why people support him. I want Thranes, in particular, to feel conflicted because Krozen IS good at his job—that if the nation was guided purely by the idealistic Jaela, it would be easy prey for the machinations of Kaius, the Royal Eyes of Aundair, and the Dark Lanterns. Krozen is effective; but is that enough to justify his methods? And IS he a tool of the Shadow in the Flame, even if he refuses to see it?

Zerasha, the Voice of the Shadow

You think you know why you’re here. You think we have to be enemies. But that’s the voice of your petty and jealous Sovereigns, who fear what you could become if you follow the paths I could show you.

Zerasha of Graywall

The medusa Zerasha is a priest of the Shadow in the city of Graywall. She’s mentioned in a Dragon article, which says…

The street ends at the Eye of the Shadow, a small windowless temple formed from black stone. The medusa priestess Zerasha holds court here. A fearsome combatant and skilled ritual caster, Zerasha is the most influential voice in Graywall after Xorchylic; the people of the town have come to trust her oracular gifts. At the moment, she is an ally of the Daughters of Sora Kell, but her first loyalty is to the Shadow and to her own warlord, the Queen of Stone. Should there ever be a civil war in Graywall, the black-scaled medusa will be a force with which to be reckoned. 

Backdrop: Graywall, Dragon 368

That’s the only canon information that exists on her. Since I wrote that article, people have asked: What is the priestess Zerasha’s relationship with Xorchylic? What are her goals, and what might cause those goals to become so misaligned with Xorchylic’s as to cause open conflict?

In my mind, Zerasha is truly devoted to her faith and to her Queen, in that order. As described in this article, she believes that the Shadow is the guide and guardian of those creatures followers of the Sovereigns consider monsters. Beyond this, she is what the article describes as a mentor. Acting on behalf of the Shadow, she seeks to help the faithful achieve their ambitions—even if that means following the darkest possible paths to do so. Beyond that, the Shadow is the Sovereign of secrets. As described above, she is an oracle—not as gifted in this regard as Sora Teraza, but certainly the most powerful oracle in Graywall. She knows secrets. Having said that, as I called out above, her knowledge comes from the Shadow and she doesn’t know things until she needs to know them. When she meets a player character, the Shadow may tell her their secrets; but it’s not like she just randomly knows everyone’s secrets all the time. And again, if the Shadow shares a secret with Zerasha, it’s so she can DO something with that secret.

So in terms of her goals, I believe that Zerasha’s goals are first and foremost to offer spiritual guidance to the people of Graywall and to help them achieve their true potential. Beneath that, her goals are whatever tasks the Shadow sets before her; it’s quite common for her to feel that there is a particular individual the Shadow wishes her to focus on, someone who needs to be guided on the proper path. And beneath that, her loyalty is to her queen, the medusa Sheshka, and to the people of Cazhaak Draal.

Her relationship with Xorchyllic largely depends on what the DM decides Xorchyllic is truly up to. As long as Xorchyllic is pursuing the greater good of Graywall and Droaam, Zerasha will support him. But we’ve called out that the Flayer Guard of Droaam serve the interests of the governor first and the common folk second. If Xorchyllic is somehow oppressing or harming a portion of the city in pursuit of his personal agenda, that could bring him into conflict with Zerasha. Ultimately, the question is what is the interest of the Shadow? If the Shadow supports Xorchyllic and wants the illithid to achieve its ambitions, Zerasha could work closely with the governor. On the other hand, if the Shadow is most interested in helping a lowly kobold on the Street of Shadows achieve her ambitions of overthrowing Xorchyllic and becoming a new warlord, than Zerasha would oppose the mind flayer. The same is true for player characters. What does the Shadow think of them? It could be that it favors their enemies, in which case Zerasha will oppose them. Or it could be that the Shadow has an interest in one of the adventurers and wants to show them the path to power—in which case, Zerasha who seek to serve as their mentor. But again, a mentor of the Shadow will always lead you down dangerous paths…

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