IFAQ: Fizban’s Treasury and Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month there’s been a number of questions related to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. As always, my answers here reflect what I would do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon material!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: Strixhaven in Eberron?

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

How would you add Strixhaven into your Eberron campaign?

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

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

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

A School of Dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

A School of Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: Nonbinary Elves and More About Githberron

I’m getting ready for PAX Unplugged—more information on that tomorrow—but as time permits I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes includes “Blessed of Corellon”—rare elves who can change their sex in a short period of time. How would you incorporate this into Eberron, beyond changing the name to remove the reference to Corellon?

My immediate question is WHY MAKE IT RARE? Why not just make it a standard trait of elves, a reflection of their fey ancestry? Once you do that, I’d just keep in mind that for elves, sex is a form of expression as opposed to an absolute. Some settle on one path that feels natural to them, never using the gift again once they’ve made that choice… or perhaps shifting every century, taking time to explore different paths. Others might shift casually from day to day, reflecting the mood of the moment. Some elves might use it the same way some changelings use personas, developing a set of unique identities and using the one best suited to a particular scenario. A question a DM should consider if incorporating this into the world is whether an elf can only choose from two options, or if there are other forms they can take with this blessing; this might also lead to the Elvish language having a broad range of pronouns.

Personally, I’d keep the core mechanics intact: invoking the blessing requires completion of a long rest and it doesn’t dramatically change the elf’s appearance. It’s a form of personal expression, not a disguise. But with that in mind, and with the idea that people KNOW this about elves, I don’t see why it can’t just be a common trait to all elves. Given that it requires the completion of a long rest and elves trance during a long rest, I’d personally present it as a sort of meditation in which the elf reflects on their self-image and identity, with their physical form shifting to match their thoughts. If it’s something that all elves possess, I’d just call it “The Change” and add it as a trait of the base elf race…

The Change. You may change your sex when you complete a long rest.

In a previous article about obyriths, you said it was possible that “Githberron” had its own overlords and some of them might still exist.

Exploring Eberron presents the idea that the Gith may be the survivors of a previous incarnation of Eberron that was, essentially, wiped and rebooted after being transformed by the daelkyr, which has been refered to in a few places as “Githberron.” What I say in the article is that the Obyriths could be fiends from a prior incarnation of Eberron, but that this wouldn’t have to be Githberron. Here’s the relevant quote from the article:

Exploring suggests that the Gith may be refugees from a previous incarnation of Eberron. An exotic option for the obyriths would be to say that they are fiends from a previous iteration of Khyber… That somehow they escaped into Xoriat and ultimately came to the current incarnation of reality, most likely finding shelter in a shadow demiplane.

This suggests that obyriths may be from “a previous iteration of Khyber”—not necessarily the same one that spawned the Gith. This ties to the idea that the Obyriths are extremely alien—fiends altered by the destruction of their world and by their experiences in Xoriat. The article also calls out that these fiends wouldn’t have heart demiplanes in the current reality, and that while they might be physically immortal they wouldn’t have the true immortality of a native fiend, and a former overlord wouldn’t wield that full power in the current reality.

If Githberron had overlords, did it have its own version of the Silver Flame or some other sealing magic? It’s hard to imagine the Gith’s ancestors being able to build a civilization with unbound overlords running around.

Who knows? The whole point of Githberron is that it’s a previous iteration of reality, one that’s different in substantial ways. There could be a union of celestials much like the Silver Flame, sure. But perhaps in Githberron the heart planes of the Overlords were deeply buried and they never emerged to rule an Age of Demons. Perhaps in Githberron the overlords fought one another so fiercely that they crippled one another. Perhaps a few of the overlords overwhelmed the others and dominate the world in a stable, if fiendish fashion. Perhaps there was a proto-Gith Empress who holds the overlords bound with the awesome psionic power of her unmatched mind. Each one of those is possible, and each would have a very different impact on how the world would evolve.

If there was a celestial binding force in another iteration of reality, do you think this power might still be able to be tapped into by a player character?

Anything’s possible. Githberron presumably had some form of native celestial. It’s possible that some form of native celestial survived that transition. But the point is that it WOULDN’T HAVE THE SAME POWER in this reality that it did in its native reality, because it doesn’t belong here. Just as the Obyriths can be permanently destroyed, the same thing would be true of a Githberron celestial. If it draws too much attention to itself and gets targeted by the Lords of Dust, it could simply be destroyed.

So could there be some sort of lingering celestial that could provide power to a player character? Sure, why not? But it wouldn’t be remotely on the same level of power as the Silver Flame, and it would carry the risk that it could be destroyed if the actions of the player character draw attention to it. I could imagine, for example, using this as the basis for a Aasimar cleric or paladin, saying that their divine power comes from THEIR PERSONAL CELESTIAL—but that it’s a small enough well of power that it couldn’t support other clerics or paladins beyond them, and that there’s a very real risk that it could be destroyed. Frankly, I think this could be a fun story to explore—what does the paladin do when their divine power source is literally extinguished by the Lords of Dust?—but I’d want to match sure the player was prepared for that to be a possibility.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who are the only thing that makes these articles possible. I hope I’ll see some of you at PAX Unplugged!

IFAQ: Yrlag and the Direshark Prince

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Questions like…

Could you tell us an interesting detail about Yrlag in the Shadow Marches?

Yrlag is one of the largest cities in the Shadow Marches. It’s one of the few safe havens on Crescent Bay, and the most substantial port on the west coast of Khorvaire (which isn’t saying much, but still). Yrlag’s particular claim to fame is its proximity to the Demon Wastes. Due to the diligence of the Ghaash’kala, landing on the coast is far easier than crossing the Labyrinth. With this in mind, Yrlag is to the Demon Wastes as Stormreach is to Xen’drik—a jumping off point and safe haven for scholars, explorers, and opportunists keen to take their chances in the Wastes or to acquire goods recovered from it.

The city is located in a Lamannian manifest zone with The Land Provides property. The land is exceptionally fertile and the river well-stocked with fish—a notably change from Crescent Bay, which is home to many unnatural predators. This is one of the major reasons Yrlag has been able to thrive in such an isolated and inhospitable region. As such, Yrlag has a significant population of farmers, fisherfolk, and hunters who provide for the general needs of the city and travelers.

Yrlag is effectively run by House Tharashk; the Shadow Marches aren’t recognized as a Thronehold Nation, and no one in the region cares about the Korth Edicts. Ships run regularly between Yrlag and the outpost of Blood Crescent… but Blood Crescent is a small fortress that endures constant attacks, and most sages prefer the shelter of Yrlag when conducting long term research. As a result, Yrlag has an unusual number of scholars and luminaries, along with a bookstore and a shop specializing in supplies for calligraphers and cartographers. A number of the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts in Yrlag. There’s a Sivis speaking stone, a Jorasco healer, and even a Gold Dragon Inn. House Lyrandar helps maintain the harbor, but as of yet there’s no airship docking tower and no lightning rail into Yrlag.

There’s far more I could share, but the original question only asked for one detail, and I’ve already gone beyond that!

Doesn’t all travel into the Demon Wastes have to go through the Labyrinth?

The wording in Eberron: Rising From The Last War is unclear, but prior canon has established that it’s possible to travel to the Demon Wastes by sea. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says  “Built on the shores of Crescent Bay and regularly supplied by ships from Yrlag, a large town across the bay in the Shadow Marches, Blood Crescent serves as House Tharashk’s long dreamed-of foothold in the Demon Wastes”—it would be hard to regularly supply the outpost if every ship that arrived couldn’t leave. The general intent is that FIENDS can’t leave except through the Labyrinth; think of it like an invisible fiend fence with only one gap in it. With that said, it’s not supposed to be EASY to travel to the Wastes by sea; if it was, people would have done it long ago and we’ve have more and larger outposts. The coastline is extremely hostile, with a combination of foul weather, unnatural sealife, and a maze of demonglass spires that can tear a ship apart. Reaching Blood Crescent requires the vessel to follow a very specific path. Tharashk spent a great deal of resources to chart that path, and they are holding it as a secret of the house.

So it’s easy to reach the Demon Wastes by sea, but MOST of the time, those who try will end up shipwrecked… which is in fact what happened to the ancestors of the Carrion Tribes. Meanwhile, the Carrion Tribes themselves don’t have the sophistication or resources to build ships, which is why when they try to leave, they go through the Labyrinth.

In the Player’s Guide to Eberron we learned that Lhazaar Prince Kolberkon of the Direshark Principality is a changeling. Do you think Kolberkon’s changeling nature is known or something he keeps hidden behind personas?

In my campaign, Prince Kolberkin is a changeling foundling, as described in this article. He was raised by his mother and has a human persona that he considers to be his true face; he doesn’t identify as a changeling, have any familiarity with tribal changeling customs, or have any sympathy or affection for the changelings of the Gray Tide. He makes no effort to hide his ability to shapechange; he used it very effectively in his rise to power, and he uses it to keep his enemies and potential traitors on their toes, but he doesn’t feel any bond to other changelings or consider his changeling face to be his true identity.

This ties to the point that in Eberron, culture is often more significant than species. He’s a Lhazaar pirate who happens to be a changeling; but he doesn’t care about the Children, the Traveler, or any of that. As the Prince of the Diresharks, he takes pride in being a PREDATOR, and uses his shapeshifting as a tool to help him overcome his prey. He’s extremely skilled at shifting shape in combat in ways that may give him momentary advantage—not fooling an enemy in the long term, but throwing them off their guard.

With that said, while Kolberkon considers his first human face to be his core identity, he also will shift that to fit the situation; when negotiating with Lyrandar, for example, he may assume a half-elf version of his human form, sort of like dressing up for a meeting. So again, he doesn’t hide the fact he’s a shapechanger; he celebrates it. As such, he uses this gift in obvious ways. When he becomes a Khoravar to meet with Lyrandar, he’s not trying to FOOL them; it’s a Khoravar version of his normal appearance, just done as a “Hey, I recognize you’re Khoravar, and you know, I could be too.”

So in short, he often uses casual shapeshifting in ways that he thinks may give him a psychological advantage. It’s known that he CAN impersonate other people—potential traitors KNOW that any of their conspirators could be Kolberkin playing a game with them—but he more also uses it in obvious, social ways.

The most famous city in Khorvaire—Sharn—is built around a manifest zone. Are most cities built up around manifest zones, or is it the rarity?

Manifest zones are much like natural resources in our world. Most manifest zones provide an ongoing, reliable effect. Some are dangerous, and such regions tend to be shunned. Others are beneficial, and these areas often become hubs for civilization, just as rich deposits of natural resources often draw communities in our world. Yrlag is an example of this: if people in an inhospitable region find a manifest zone that enhances the quality of the land and of life, why wouldn’t they settle there and make use of it?

The short form is that communities that thrive usually do so for a reason. Rich natural resources. Strategic value. Fertile land. In Eberron, useful manifest zones are one more item on that checklist. Not every city is in a manifest zone; but every city will usually have SOME reason to be where it is, and in Eberron, manifest zones are an important part of that equation. Also keep in mind that manifest zones vary dramatically in size and power. The Lamannian zone that contains Yrlag is a wide zone that blankets the city, as does the Syranian manifest zone in Sharn. But you can also find manifest zones that cover the space of a single building, or even a single room. A town might spring up around a Jorasco healing house built in an Irian manifest zone… but the zone is small enough, that only those in the healing house benefit from its power.

So most major cities likely have a manifest zone SOMEWHERE in the city, though not all. In some cases this has been called out, as with Sharn or Atur. They aren’t alone, but I don’t currently have time to make a thorough list of zones that can be found in other major cities. If there’s interest on Patreon, this could be the subject of a future article.

Can Mabar consume fragments of Irian?

Mabar, also known as the Endless Night, consumes fragments of other planes. On the other end of the spectrum, Irian creates new seeds of light that fill the voids left behind by Mabar. As a general rule, Mabar doesn’t consume pieces of Irian itself. The two are two sides of a single coin, reflecting creation and destruction; they tell their story by interacting with other planes, and usually don’t target one another directly. With that said, it’s POSSIBLE that Mabar could consume a piece of Irian… and if it did, Irian would in turn regrow that missing piece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Six: The Mockery

The principles of the Sovereigns are the cornerstone of our civilization. Boldrei brings us together. Aureon’s laws allow us to coexist in peace. When peace is not an option, Dol Dorn gives us the strength to defend ourselves, and Dol Arrah teaches us to use that strength wisely and with compassion. Why should the strong protect the weak? Why spare civilians and fallen foes? Because if we all live by those principles, we all prosper. War isn’t just about victory—it’s about being able to live with the aftermath. —Phthaso Mogan, Sovereign priest of Sharn

‘Why should the strong protect the weak?’ It’s a question posed by those who wish you to believe that they are strong and you are weak, that you would be helpless without them. These are the words of people who only know one way to play the game of war, and who are desperate for you to play by the same rules. Our lord shows the truth: the strong protect the weak because they don’t want the ‘weak’ to realize how strong they can be. Imagine a hundred hounds pursuing two wolves. The hounds call out, challenging the wolves to face them in honorable combat. The brave wolf turns and fights beneath the bright sun, and they are torn into a hundred pieces. The wise wolf knows a simple truth: I cannot beat them at once, but in the shadows my teeth are as sharp as any of theirs. Every night, the wolf comes with the shadows and kills one of the hounds. The hounds may curse the wolf for his cowardly, dishonorable actions… but in a hundred days, the wolf stands triumphant. Which wolf are you? Will you fight in the sunlight, and die with honor? Or will you follow the path that leads to victory, even if it leads you through shadows?” —’RedbladeRrac, of the Deathsgate Adventurer’s Guild

In the first age of the world, three siblings challenged the Lord of Death. They rallied their forces, and swore to meet Death on the battlefield at dawn. When Death came with his army of corpses, the eldest brother was nowhere to be seen; he lacked the courage to face this dreadful foe. The mortal soldiers quaked, seeing comrades who had fallen in battle now serving in the army of the dead. But the young brother filled them with courage and inspired them with his strength, scattering the forces of the dead. And the sister called on the light of the sun, blinding Death until her soldiers could safely retreat. Though the battle was lost, the champions were able to save most of their soldiers. They learned that their elder brother had used the distraction to steal a great treasure from the Citadel of the Dead, caring more for his personal enrichment than for the lives of his siblings, their soldiers, or his own oath.

This is the story of the Mockery. It can be found in many forms across many cultures, and the details are always different. In some versions of the story, it is Aureon who orders that the Mockery be stripped of both his name and his skin, his truth laid bare for the world to see. But in the Cazhaak myth, the elder brother fools his siblings by shedding his skin and using it as a decoy; going forward, he often strips the skin off his enemies and wears it to fool their friends. Likewise, the reason for the Mockery’s betrayal also varies. In the common story, the Mockery betrays his siblings due to cowardice and envy, further using the opportunity to enrich himself. The implication is that if he had bravely stood with his siblings, Death could have been defeated. But the annals of the Three Faces of War say that Dol Azur believed the battle to be a fool’s errand from the beginning, asserting that it wasn’t possible to defeat Death; rather than fighting a battle that couldn’t be won just because he’d sworn an oath to do so, Dol Azur used the distraction to steal a mighty weapon from the enemy’s citadel. So his action was unquestionably a dishonorable betrayal; but he also accomplished a tactically significant objective, rather than fighting an “honorable” fight that couldn’t be won.

Such shifting interpretations are common with the Sovereigns and Six, reflecting the values of the cultures and individuals who worship or revile them. Within Khorvaire, there are three common approaches to the Mockery. The common Vassals blame him for the excesses of war and for cruel betrayal. Some emulate him, seeking to earn his favor through acts of cruelty. And others see him not as the Lord of Betrayal, but as the Sovereign of Victory—a deity who can always show you the way to overcome your enemies, even if it is a dark path.

Bloodshed and Betrayal

The Vassals of the Pyrinean Creed believe that the Sovereigns act through mortals, that they guide us and inspire us. Onatar doesn’t craft a sword; he guides the mortal smith, and if the smith listens she will forge a finer blade. Dol Dorn is a source of strength each soldier can find within, a whisper of courage in the darkest moments. For the Vassals, the Dark Six explains the darker impulses of mortals. The Keeper inflames our greed, whispering to us of the things that could be ours. The Fury overwhelms us with anger and passion. And the Mockery urges us to be cruel—to revel the suffering of others and our power to inflict it. The Mockery scoffs at courage and honor, telling us that all that matters is survival and victory, no matter the cost. It’s Boldrei who tells us we’re stronger as a community, Aureon who teaches that laws can benefit us all; the Mockery urges us to place our own needs above anything else, to see others solely as tools to be used. So under the Pyrinean Creed, the Mockery and others of the Dark Six inspire our base instincts; the Sovereigns show us how to be better, and how to prosper as a community.

With this in mind, the Mockery covers two distinct spheres, as called out in his title of bloodshed and betrayal. On one level he is a WAR god—specifically calling out all the darkest elements of conflict and combat. Bloodlust, unnecessary cruelty, dishonorable strategies; all of these are tied to the Mockery. But the Mockery isn’t confined to the battlefield. The assassin who kills without warning, the bully who beats smaller children—these two are guided by the Mockery. Any time blood is shed in cowardly or cruel ways, the Mockery smiles. The Fury inspires rage, the Keeper drives greed, but when the actual blade is drawn it’s the Mockery who guides the hand of the murderer. Beyond bloodshed, the Mockery also delights in betrayal. He takes the greatest pleasure when the betrayal runs deep—a sibling betraying a sibling, a lover turning on their paramour. But on the simplest level, this aspect of the Mockery is tied to deception with the intent to cause pain to others. The Traveler also delights in deception, but the Traveler is the Sovereign of chaos and change. The Mockery uses deception in the pursuit of pain. So the changeling grifter may see the Traveler as their patron, but the assassin who uses disguise self to get close to their victim is guided by the Mockery.

Among Vassals, the Mockery is primarily seen as an explanation for cruelty in the world. Virtuous Vassals never offer prayers to the Mockery; they pity the brutal people who are swayed by his whispers and drawn down cruel and criminal paths. Those who actively revere the Mockery in this aspect are people who willfully embrace a dark path and acknowledge their actions as selfish and cruel. A King’s Dark Lantern who kills for the good of their nation and their people will ask Olladra for luck, even though they are deceiving others and spilling blood. The assassin who invokes the Mockery knows that they are spilling blood solely for their personal gain, and takes pride and delight in their power to inflict pain. The monks of the Flayed Hand are an example of this: they acknowledge the Mockery as the Sovereign of Bloodshed and Betrayal, but worship him still, and believe that they commune with the divine by inflicting pain. And for this reason, the Flayed Hand is a secretive order and the monks hide their devotional scars; those who knowingly employ the Flayed Hand are comfortable with cruelty.

One aspect of the Mockery that’s not always recognized is the use of Fear. Dol Dorn inspires courage in the soldier’s heart; the Mockery shows them how to inflict terror on their enemies. This ties to the idea that the Mockery delights in causing pain—psychological as well as physical. This leads to one of the few potential paths for a player character who honors the Mockery: the hero who uses fear as a weapon, such as Batman or the Shadow (the pulp hero, not the deity!). This is a dark path to follow, as the fearmonger knows they are inflicting suffering on their enemies. This can tie to the idea that my enemies don’t deserve to be treated with honor—that it’s acceptable to engage in a brutal war on evil, to fight fire with fire. The main point is that the Mockery believes that no weapon is too vile to use in battle, and fear or other forms of psychological warfare are certainly valid. Most likely, a vigilante who embraces the Mockery in this way believes that the law is ineffective—that Aureon’s laws and Dol Arrah’s honor has failed, and that only cruelty and fear can overcome the threats the character is facing or avenge the wrong that’s been done to them.

The Lord of Victory

The Pyrinean Creed casts the Mockery as a force of pure evil—the cruel betrayal who delights in the suffering of innocents. But there are many ways to look at the world. The Cazhaak faith calls the Mockery the Lord of Victory. The Pyrinean interpretation chooses Dol Arrah over the Mockery, saying that war can and should be fought honorably. The Cazhaak interpretation says there is no honor in war. War is brutality and bloodshed. Once you see this—that someone ALWAYS suffers in war—you’ll realize that it’s better to be the one holding the blade rather than the one who bleeds. The Cazhaak Creed values cunning over brute strength; ultimately, survival is the proof of righteousness. If the goblin defeats the ogre, it doesn’t matter if they used poison or treachery; they should be celebrated for finding a path to victory.

The Cazhaak creed promotes a harsh, ruthless vision of the world: you should always be ready for betrayal. You should always be watching for weakness in those you deal with. One might think that this philosophy would undermine any form of community. But the Cazhaak creed does create communities, just in a very different way from Boldrei’s love and Aureon’s laws. The Cazhaak community is a wolf pack. Leaders must command respect with their cunning and power. If people don’t betray their leaders, it’s not because of honor or duty; it’s because they think it’s in their own self-interest to serve the leader, or believe that they couldn’t get away with the betrayal. You follow your leader because you believe you will prosper under her rule. In a society driven by the Cazhaak principles, no agreement can be based purely on trust. Words alone mean nothing; they have to be backed up by fear, by the knowledge that betrayal will carry a terrible cost. Look to Droaam as a whole; while Katra inspires with her voice, Maenya’s fist is always ready. It is a cruel way to view the world, but it makes sense to those who follow it. To the Cazhaak vassal, the ideals of Dol Arrah are childish; war isn’t a game with rules. With that said, it’s important to recognize that while the Cazhaak faith can support communities, historically it has never been tested on a wide scale. Droaam is a new nation, and in the centuries prior the Barrens were ruled by small communites and city-states. The Pyrinean scholar might argue that why Aureon’s laws and Dol Arrah’s ideals matter is because international relations rely on trust and on law. The armies of Droaam rely on guerilla warfare and small-unit tactics, where the cunning of the squad leader can turn the tide of battle. It remains to be seen if their ruthless principles can support global relationships.

Some who follow the Cazhaak path draw in the more extreme elements of the Lord of Bloodshed and Betrayal. There are those who revel in displays of cruelty; the Skinners of Graywall prey on despised foreigners and wear the tanned hides of their victims as grisly trophies. But for most who follow the Cazhaak path, the point is more that the world is cruel, and you must be strong and cunning to survive it; do whatever you must to bring down your foes.

If you’re a player character who follows the Cazhaak creed, a key point is that you expect betrayal and cruelty from others. You believe that you need to display your strength or cunning to ward off challenges; you aren’t used to kindness or pure altruism and you don’t expect people to keep their word if it becomes an inconvenience to them. You expect people to be driven by self-interest. The key to a lasting bargain isn’t a word of honor; it’s making sure that neither party dares to break the agreement.

The Three Faces of War

The Three Faces of War is a mystery cult found across the Five Nations. Exploring Eberron has this to say…

The Three Faces of War honors Dol Arrah, Dol Dorn, and Dol Azur (the Mockery). It was part of the united armies of Galifar, and cult chapters can be found in all of the armies of the Five Nations. Sect meetings provide a place for soldiers and veterans to interact as friends and equals, regardless of rank or nationality. The cult asserts that honor and courage are to be valued, but there is also a time and place for cunning and cruelty, even if it is never to be desired.

As depicted by the Three Faces of War, Dol Azur is a less intense version of the Lord of Victory. The Three Faces of War acknowledge that his actions are dishonorable and cruel, that the world is a better place if we all live in Dol Arrah’s light. But followers of the Three Faces acknowledge that the world is cruel, and that there are times when victory must come before honor. The Three Faces of War notably downplay the aspect of betrayal and focus on Dol Azur’s role on the battlefield; at the same time, followers of the Three Faces of War are definitely feel that while treaties play an important role in international relationships, a commander must always be prepared to violate a treaty when the moment is right. The Three Faces of War also recognizes the power of psychological warfare, of using fear to demoralize a foe. The key point is that followers of the Three Faces honor Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn; they do believe that honor has a place on the battlefield. But they believe that every tactic has its time and place—that we should strive to fight just wars, but be prepared for them to get ugly. Members of the Three Faces often feel that they have a particular affinity for one of the Sovereigns; those who feel they are guided by Dol Azur may still seek to using their powers for good, but they acknowledge that they have a knack for sowing terror or ruthless action when it becomes necessary. Within the sect, steel is used to represent Dol Dorn, gold to represent Dol Arrah, and leather to represent Dol Azur; if a soldier wears a leather ring, it might be a sign that they feel they are guided by the Mockery.

The Three Faces of War is a hidden sect, but its existence is a fairly open secret. It has members in all of the armies of the Five Nations. Allegiance to the Three Faces definitely doesn’t supercede national loyalty, but provided that it doesn’t violate that loyalty, it provides a foundation for friendship between soldiers of different nations. If a player character with the Soldier background chooses to be an initiate of the Three Faces of War, this can be used to explain how the benefits of the Military Rank feature apply when dealing with soldiers of other nations; even if they fought one another in the Last War, they respect the character as an initiate into the mysteries. And again, a player character could decide that they are guided by Dol Arrah and wear gold to show it; just because they accept that Dol Azur is part of war doesn’t mean that they have to embrace his path.

Using The Mockery

So how can you use the Mockery in a campaign? Well, in a world filled with shades of grey, followers of the Sovereign of Bloodshed and Betrayal are a good source of absolute villains. When you’re running a pulp campaign and you want someone who feels capital-E EVIL, a Flayed Hand monk is certainly an option. Someone who is guided by the Pyrinean creed but nonetheless chooses to embrace the Mockery is something who delights in cruelty and who believes that they gain strength by inflicting suffering on others. I could imagine a serial killer warlock who believes their power flows from the Mockery, and whose Mask of a Thousand Faces ability requires a strip of skin from the person they wish to impersonate. On the other hand, you could explore the idea of a group of ruthless vigilantes who believe that the terror tactics of the Mockery are the only way to combat rising crime… or the once-virtuous person who’s turned to the Mockery and the Fury to take vengeance for a crime Aureon’s laws failed to stop. Turning to the Lord of Victory, this can work anywhere you have a wolf pack, a group that will do whatever it takes to survive and overcome a foe. Aside from this, it can be a generally interesting way to contrast a soldier of Droaam from one of the Five Nations. Those who follow the Cazhaak path genuinely see the idea of honor in war as a childish concept. This doesn’t make them EVIL. Just because the world is cruel doesn’t mean they have to be unnecessarily cruel. but it means that they will do whatever is required to survive, that they will show mercy only if they see some clear benefit down the road. Meanwhile, the Three Faces of War is an old tradition that seeks to forge a bond between soldiers of all nations, and if one or more of the player characters is a veteran of the Last War, an influential member of the Three Faces could be a useful patron. Alternately, while the cult overall isn’t malevolent, an influential Azur-touched initiate of the Three Faces of War could use the organization to rally other Azur-touched for some sinister purpose.

Q&A

Is someone who “fights dirty” in a direct sense (leverage, gouging, cheap shots) fighting more in the vein of Dol Dorn or the Mockery? 

It’s important to remember that Vassals see the Dark Six as part of everyday life. When your anger gets the better of you, you let the Fury take hold for a moment. The Keeper drives our greed, and the Mockery urges us to take the cheap shot. If you’re watching a fight and there’s a move that makes everyone go “Ooooh—that’s a dirty trick!” then yes, that’s guided by the Mockery. The point is that Dol Dorn gives you the strength and skill you need to win in a fair fight, and the Mockery can show you how to win when you can’t win a fair fight. But throwing one sucker punch doesn’t make you a cultist of the Mockery. Think of people saying “The Devil made me do it” in our world—that’s not the same as saying “I am now a warlock devoted to dark powers.”

The key aspect is that people use the Dark Six to explain why there is evil in the world. Atrocities happen in war, just as rage or passion can drive people to violence in everyday life. People condemn those actions and blame them on the corrupting influence of the Dark Six, but that doesn’t mean they believe everyone who takes such an action consciously chose to serve the Six. The voices of the Six are with us all the time; the virtuous Vassal should overcome them and heed Aureon’s law and Dol Arrah’s light.

Rising calls out the divine domains of the Mockery (Trickery and War), but what subclass would you suggest for a Paladin of Dol Azur or for a Warlock who sees the Mockery as their patron?

For a Paladin, my immediate choice would be Conquest. FEAR is one of the traits of the Mockery, and beyond having fear on their spell list, Conquering Presence and Aura of Conquest are both fear-related abilities. Vengeance is possible, but I’d be more inclined to give it to a paladin of the Fury. Likewise, Oathbreaker is an option, but given the association with undead I’d be more likely to use it for a paladin of the Keeper.

For a warlock, my inclination would be Hexblade. The Mockery is a Sovereign of War, after all; the Shadow is a more logical source of general malevolent magic.

Why can a Karrnathi soldier not openly declare themselves to belong to the Three Faces of War, following in the footsteps of Karrn?

The existence of the Three Faces of War isn’t a secret. It’s been around for around two thousand years. Everyone knows that it exists and that it’s part of the armies of the Five Nations, and there’s never been an inquisition to wipe it out. It’s not seen as a threat or as a cult of the Dragon Below. The reason you don’t announce it is because it’s a MYSTERY CULT. Only those who have been initiated into its mysteries understand it, and only they DESERVE to know about it. The Karrn soldier doesn’t hide the fact that they belong to the Three Faces of War because it’s a crime; they hide it because the uninitiated don’t deserve to know about it. Beyond that, it’s a known fact that the Three Faces cults involve veneration of the Dark Six. Initiates understand the context of this and WHY they accept their chosen member of the Six as worthy of veneration—but they know that those who don’t understand the mysteries will not. So, the first rule of the Three Faces is that you don’t talk about the Three Faces.

What is the relationship of the goblinoids of Darguun to the Mockery and the Three Faces of War?

The Ghaal’dar hobgoblins and the Maargul bugbears both revere the Mockery. Much like the minotaurs of Droaam and the Horned King, each tribe and clan has its own interpretation and unique traditions, but they fall on a spectrum between the Sovereign of Betrayal and Bloodshed and the Lord of Victory. Since taking power, Lhesh Haruuc has been working to promote the worship of Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah, blending this with the existing worship of the Mockery. The simple fact is that this is about optics more than faith. Haruuc recognizes that most people of the Five Nations see worship of the Mockery as evil, and shifting the conversation to say that Darguuls worship all of the Sovereigns of War makes things a little more palatable for outsiders. Having said that, Haruuc believes that there are lessons to be learned from each of the Sovereigns, and feels a particular affinity for Dol Dorn—so his efforts aren’t entirely insincere. At the moment, there has been no concerted effort by the Three Faces of War to initiate Darguuls, but it’s possible that there are mercenaries who were initiated by comrades during the war.

What’s the Orb of Dol Azur?

The Orb of Dol Azur was first mentioned in an article I wrote in 2004. Since then, it’s been my go-to MacGuffin, an easy placeholder to drop in any time people are looking for something mysterious and powerful. I’ve never actually used it in a campaign or ever said what it does, though by all accounts it’s powerful and dangerous. Dragons of Eberron establishes that the draconic champions fought the overlord known as Katashka the Gatekeeper during the Age of Demons, and it’s entirely possible that this is the actual basis of the myth of the Dols fighting Death. If you accept this, it’s an easy step to think that the Orb of Dol Azur could actually be an artifact the proto-Mockery stole from the citadel of the Overlord. Katashka the Gatekeeper embodies our fears of death and the undead. With that in mind, people on the Eberron Discord server have made a number of interesting suggestions as to what the Orb could be…

  • The Orb of Dol Azur is one of the eyes of the Overlord Katashka. By default it’s the size of a dragon’s eye—quite large—but the proper ritual could cause it to shift to a size appropriate to the bearer. In short, this would be a way to use the mechanics of the Eye of Vecna in a form that fits the lore of Eberron.
  • When you kill someone with a Keeper’s Fang—a magical weapon that prevents resurrection—their soul is bound to the Orb of Dol Azur. At this point, the Orb holds the spirits of countless mortals and lesser fiends trapped over the course of history.

I doubt I’ll ever give an official answer, because I enjoy having a vague MacGuffin… but I think both of those are interesting possibilities!

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

IFAQs: Seeker Crime, Targath, and the Dreaming Dark

October was a chaotic month for many reasons, and I’m also preparing for Pax Unplugged—my first convention in almost two years! As a result I haven’t been able to write much for the last few weeks. There’s an article on The Mockery in the works, but for now I wanted to share a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters last month.

Is there crime in Seeker towns and villages? Since the overall theme of the Blood of Vol seems to be “we only have each other/self-improvement” at it’s most altruistic, I wonder if the usual trigger for crime (lack of resources/access and a submarket growing to fill need) exists in a community that’s living very community minded.

All of the major religions of Eberron encourage strong communities. The Silver Flame encourages people to stand together in the face of supernatural threats, and to try to fight human evil with compassion and by example. The Blood of Vol teaches that we face a hostile universe and cruel gods and all we have is one another. The Sovereign Host urges us to obey Aureon’s laws, while Boldrei binds a community together. But within any community, not everyone will hold to one of these faiths, and even those who do may not live up to the ideals of their faith… or interpret them generously. There are many faiths in our world that encourage compassion and charity; but not everyone who follows those faiths shares their possessions with the poor. And this doesn’t begin to deal with crimes of passion and other unpremeditated crime. Beyond this, there’s the possibility of a Seeker criminal who emphasizes breaking the laws of the land to get the people of their community the things they need; there’s also a practice common in many grifter communities of only targeting outsiders. Everyone knows Joey is a pickpocket, but they also know he only targets tourists and adventurers passing through, so that’s fine; he may even tithe part of his take to the local church.

So I don’t think I’d say “There is no crime in Seeker communities.” Instead, I’d consider how crime might evolve in such a community—IE criminals who are acting in the best interests of the community or targeting outsiders—and also consider the likelihood that as with Karrnath in general, the forces of the law might be especially ruthless in a Seeker community; if you DO choose to prey upon your community, they’ll make a harsh example of you. This would actually be a potential contrast between Seekers and the Silver Flame. The Flame encourages us to show compassion and inspire by example—so you want to show mercy to the criminal and try to guide them to the light. I can see Seekers being considerably more pragmatic; if you prey on your community, you’ve made your choice and will suffer the consequences. The Silver Flame believes that noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, and thus tries to guide people to the light; the Blood of Vol knows this life is all we have and won’t waste time with such notions.

Targath doesn’t get much mention after being floated as a resource for periapts of health, reducing the risk of disease, and as a weapon against deathless in ECS. Since it’s a resource found in Northern Argonnessen do you have any thoughts for ways the dragons, Seren, and dragonborn could make use of targath for both benign purposes and as a weapon?

Targath is an exotic metal introduced in the 3.5 EBerron Campaign setting, along with byreshk, bronzewood, and others. Part of the point of targath is that it’s an exotic metal almost completely unknown in Khorvaire, and mined and used by a civilization that is all but unknown and dramatically more advanced than Khorvaire. in this, it is quite similar to vibranium in the Marvel Universe—a wondrous substance, but one the common people know almost nothing about, encountered in the weapons of champions. Odds are good that only a handful of sages and artificers in Khorvaire have even encountered targath, and those who have only in weapons recovered from remnants of the Dragonborn Empire or Seren champions. The Aereni are familiar with it, but for obvious reasons they would have no reason to encourage knowledge of it or spread it around. Among other things, this makes it a fun “miracle substance” for PC artificers to “discover”—WE know it just as a set of game mechanics, but for the PC artificer it’s a source of unknown potential and an obvious “power component” they could use to create items like a periapt of health. Even the Dragonborn of Q’barra have no traffic with Argonnessen, so their Targath items would be the regalia of champions, handed down over the course of thousands of years. Essentially, the point is that this is one way to concretely identify an item as belonging to the Trothlorsvek; it’s made from a metal unknown on Khorvaire.

Looking to the Serens, the question is whether the metal can be found on the islands, or only on mainland Argonnessen. If it’s on the islands, the Serens may use it in many ways, likely incorporating it into unenchanted decorations and ornaments. This could imbue a general degree of health across their population, even without the full effect of a magic item. The Serens aren’t an advanced culture, so I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of exotic mystical uses, but they may also have items given to them by their draconic patrons. As for the dragons, keep in mind that Targath is like dragonshards: it’s an exotic material that doesn’t exist in our world but that channels a particular form of mystical energy in undefined ways. It’s especially tied to HEALTH, so amulets of health and periapts of wound closure are obvious. But a belt of giant strength, armor of poison resistance, or cloak of protection forged in Argonnessen could all be described as having Targath strands woven through them. Potions of healing from Argonnessen could be identified by the traces of Targath infused into the potion, and it could be this that allows Argonnessen to produce potions of supreme healing, potions of longevity, and elixirs of health.

Ultimately, it’s an exotic substance that allows an alien culture to produce wonders we can’t produce in the Five Nations; you can work it into any sort of magical effect associated with supernatural health.

How suspicious are the major nations of Riedra beyond what you’d usually expect of a nation looking at another nation whose intentions you’re not fully sure of?

Well, let’s compare Aerenal and Riedra. Both are distant nations. Both are isolationist cultures that don’t allow outsiders to freely travel through their lands. Both are older than Galifar and have rigid traditions. Both claim to have leaders who possess divine powers. Keep in mind that aside from its conflict with the Kalashtar, Riedra has never been a conquering power; it arose from the Sundering when the Inspired UNITED the common people to bring an end to the vicious conflict between the warring nations. So again, Riedra is older than Galifar, but has never engaged in any sort of obviously hostile action against Khorvaire. It’s been a reliable trade partner and has helped multiple nations over the course of the war. What reason is there to BE suspicious of it? The people of Khorvaire may find Riedran customs to be strange and oppressive, but overall the RIEDRANS are content; so again, what reason is there to be suspicious of them? And if there IS reason to be suspicious, would those same suspicions be applied to Aerenal? WE know about the Dreaming Dark and Riedran aspirations. But part of the point of the Dreaming Dark is that it can be a disruptive force in Khorvaire without directly employing Riedran agents. if anything, the main reason to BE suspicious of Riedra is that it’s TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE… it’s TOO friendly. Why were they so willing to help out Khorvaire during the war? Why aren’t they interested in spreading their culture or beliefs to Khorvaire? Why don’t they want outsiders roaming unrestricted in their lands?

So on a high level no one is particularly suspicious of either Riedra or Aerenal, because both are isolationist powers that don’t actually seem to WANT anything from Khorvaire. However, there may be INDIVIDUALS—spies, ministers, sages—who have personal suspicions and gut feelings they’re trying to justify. On the other hand, the Dreaming Dark can use dream manipulation to help improve their image. It’s amazing how many people have dreams about helpful, friendly Riedrans…

If the players found a way into Dal Quor, and took the fight to Tirashana (a powerful agent of the Dreaming Dark) in her home plane, where might they find her?

I think the main question is whether she’s expecting company. if so, I’d expect her to build her lair from the nightmares of the adventurers who are pursuing her. Dal Quor is a mutable reality, so her lair could include the childhood home of one of the adventurers, or the prisoner of war camp they were in during the Last War, or the site of a tragic loss. I’d look to the book/movie IT as a possible source of inspiration, in terms of what it means to attack a mistress of nightmares in the seat of her power. Likewise, you might want to read The Gates of Night, which has some general inspiration for adventures in Dal Quor. But the key point is that I would build her lair from the nightmares of the player characters. And to do that, I’d personally ask the players to help shape it. I’d ask THEM to tell me what’s so scary or creepy about a scene—because they know better than you what their character would find terrifying. One of the greatest strengths of RPGs is that they are COLLABORATIVE. Especially when it comes to horror, each player knows better than you what they would find terrifying and entertaining—and likewise, they know better than you the lines they don’t want to cross and the things they DON’T want to experience in a story.

Could describe your ideas for a Quori of Sloth? How would they effect dreamers? What is their position and role in hierarchy of Dreaming Dark?

“Sloth” isn’t quite the right word for a quori. The general idea is that quori specialize in developing and manipulating particular emotions or moods. So the key is that this quori—which I’ll call the Lluora—doesn’t embody sloth itself; rather, it specializes in SAPPING MOTIVATION. Consider all the tools of procrastination—creating distracting tasks or options; causing the mortal to endlessly question their decisions, paralyzing them with self-doubt; causing them to question their end goal; encouraging Whataboutism and “Why bother doing anything when nothing will ever really change?” I don’t think they’d be common. One possibility is that they’d be a sort of jailor, trapping mortals in their own mental prisons and preventing them from ever building up the motivation to escape. Another is that they’d advise kalaraq, suggesting ways to undermine mortal motivation.

So in short, the Lluora is a quori spirit that specializes in creating doubt, undermining self esteem, and similar tools. “Why bother doing anything at all?”

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: September Lightning Round!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few of the questions that came up this month!

In our world, some fairy tales heroes deal with/encounter undead: Ghosts, wraiths, skeletons, headless horsemen, etc. On the material plane, the hero would encounter them in manifest zones to Dolurrh or Mabar, but how would that story be told in Thelanis? Are there any fey in Thelanis that have to do with undead or necromancy?

First of all, you can find almost anything in Thelanis if it fits a story archetype. There’s a barony in Thelanis with a massive dragon in it, and a barony filled with ghosts. But the key point is that those ghosts were never living mortals, and that dragon likewise isn’t mortal (it’s an archfey!) and has no connection to Argonnessen or the dragons of Eberron. If a ghost story is about a ghost that lingers because of unfinished business, it’s likely tied to Dolurrh. If it’s about an aggressive undead being who consumes life or hope, it’s likely tied to Mabar. If it’s more about the abstract idea—a story that can be found repeated in many cultures, that’s more about the allegory than the specific actions of a historical undead creature—then it could be tied to Thelanis. You can have devils in Fernia, Shavarath, and Daanvi, but they’re very different from one another; likewise, you can have ghosts in Mabar, Dolurrh, or Thelanis, but they’re very different from one another. Thelanian undead aren’t actually the remnants of mortals; they’re the IDEA of remnants of mortals. It’s up to the DM to decide whether these creatures should even be considered to be undead for purposes of magical effects, or if they are in fact fey. personally, I’d probably be inclined to make Thelanian ghosts both undead AND fey; they ARE fey, but they react like you’d expect undead to react, because that’s the story.

Who is Lady Dusk of the Crimson Covenant?

The article on the Crimson Covenant notes that members of the Covenant “guide and protect other Seekers. The Crimson Covenant are the oldest and most powerful of these undead champions, some of whom were guiding the Seekers before Erandis Vol even knew the faith existed. ” It’s also long been noted that Seeker communities donate blood which is kept in barrels of preserving pine to sustain vampire champions. This practice began with Lady Dusk, believed by some to be the first human vampire in Khorvaire. Given her age and the secrecy with which she shrouds herself, few facts are known about her. The most common of these is that she was the daughter of a warlord in the first days of Karrnath; recent scholarly work suggests that she was a member of the House of the Ram, one of the warlord dynasties that would eventually merge into House Deneith. When elf refugees came west fleeing the destruction of the Line of Vol, the lady gave them shelter and fell in love with one of these refugees. When her family decided to exterminate these elves, Lady Dusk fought alongside them. She was executed by her family… but, according to the story, her lover had already shared her blood and Dusk rose as a child of the night.

Ever since then, Lady Dusk has followed the path of the undead champion—acting to guide and protect the Seekers of the Divinity Within. She’s the model of an undead champion of the faith and the reason communities began storing reserves of blood. With that said, this is dangerous work; over the centuries, most of her peers—including her lover—have been destroyed, and Dusk herself has narrowly escaped many times. As such she rarely acts openly; she disguises herself and works from the shadows. If something is threatening a Seeker community, she won’t just charge in with fangs bared; she will try to organize mortal resistance. It’s the idea of teaching someone to fish instead of fishing for them; Lady Dusk is a GUIDE, and those she assists may never know who their mentor was.

What do the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes eat to survive? Do they make use of Shadow Demiplanes for resources in the same way as the Ghaash’kala?

There’s flora and fauna in the Demon Wastes, it’s just highly aggressive and often poisonous or infused with fiendish power. Over many generations the Carrion Tribes have developed resistances to these natural and supernatural toxins, and they can eat things travelers can’t safely eat—though in part because of this diet, members of the Carrion Tribes have a very low life expectancy and their numbers remain relatively low. The Carrion Tribes aren’t as disciplined or well equipped as the Ghaash’kala and also rarely retain institutional knowledge; for all of these reasons, they don’t harness demiplanes as effectively as the Ghaash’kala. Essentially, there’s lots of things you can eat in the Demon Wastes, if you don’t mind hosting infernal parasites, shortening your lifespan and suffering hallucinations and severe mood swings; for the Carrion Tribes, that’s just a typical Tuesday.

How do you imagine the curriculum at Arcanix to be? Is the goal of classes specifically to teach how to cast spells in a practical manner, in which case I’d imagine most courses don’t go beyond the Third Circle, or are there classes in which the theory of higher level magic is studied even if the spell can’t be cast by the students? Accompanying this, I’m curious if there’s a presence by Wizard Circles in Arcanix similar to companies at universities trying to recruit talent near graduation.

The Strixhaven book coming out in a month is sure to have lots of suggestions about this topic, so I’m somewhat loathe to discuss it now. But first of all, arcane magic is a form of science, so to begin with, consider how any form of science is taught. You’re going to have base entry-level classes that teach the principles of Arcana along with the basics of arcane science and history. These will advance into practical magic, from there into study of specific schools of magic, from there into specialized topics within that field. Most students of Arcanix don’t become wizards, and there are some who can cast perform ritual magic that’s beyond the Third Circle, just more limited than what a wizard can do; so yes, there are definitely classes dealing with magical THEORY that goes beyond the practical limits of 3rd level spells. Keep in mind that Arcanix is always driving students to push beyond the limits of what’s currently possible; Third Circle may be the practical limit of everyday magic TODAY, but the students of Arcanix intend to change that.

Many of the students of Arcanix will never cast spells as a wizard or sorcerer does. However, Aundair has the highest percentage of wandslingers and war wizards in the Five Nations. Thus you have the War College within Arcanix, which focuses on practical battlefield magic. It’s here that you will get direct training in combat cantrips, arcane sparring, drills to hone concentration, and so on, along with classes in tactics and strategy.

Meanwhile, wizard circles aren’t COMPANIES. The equivalent to companies would be the dragonmarked houses or the Arcane Congress, both of which do send recruiters to Arcanix. But wizard circles are essentially fraternities; they don’t simply have recruiters at Arcanix, they have CHAPTERS at Arcanix.

How do the magic tattoos from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything fit into Eberron?

Like all magic items, magical tattoos are a set of mechanics, which can be flavored very differently based on the story and cosmetic elements associated with them. There’s no single form of magic tattoo or single culture associated with them; instead, there are a number of different forms of magical tattooing. Sigilry is the field of arcane science that is used to create scrolls, and master sigilists can create magical tattoos infused with arcane power. On Khorvaire, the Mark of Scribing has given Sivis the edge in creating magical tattoos, but Thuranni and Phiarlan also have a limited tradition of arcane tattoos. But magical tattoos can also be created using divine magic—such as the couatl tattoos of the Ghaash’kala, which I mentioned in a recent article. Such tattoos are in part empowered by the faith of the bearer and can usually only be attuned by a person who shares the faith of the creator. There’s also a primal tradition of tattooing, employed by the shifters of the Towering Wood; Races of Eberron discusses these tattoos, which shift in appearance when the bearer activates their shifting trait. So it’s the same way that many different cultures use wands, but the design of the wand and the powers channeled will vary based on the culture and their magical tradition.

What do the Valaes Tairn do when they aren’t fighting? Would there be a reason for a group of warriors to be in Sharn besides looking for an artifact of some kind?

What they do when not fighting depends on their patron ancestor. Tairnadal seek to emulate their patrons at all times, not just in battle; so what was their patrons known for? Were they explorers? Entertainers? Arcane researchers? With that said, as long as it doesn’t directly oppose what their patrons would do, Tairnadal can also pursue their own interests when there’s no clearly mandated path. So a group of Tairnadal in Sharn could be looking for work; they could be tourists passing the time between mercenary assignments; they could be pursuing a rogue Tairnadal who betrayed their warband; they could be following the example of their patron. There were grand cities in Xen’drik at the time of the elven rebellion; perhaps their patron was known for protecting the innocent in the shadows of the greatest city of the age. The Tairnadal have identified Sharn as the closest equivalent and are fighting crime in Lower Dura!

That’s all for now! If you have an infrequently asked question, I’ll be taking another round soon on my Patreon!

IFAQ: The Shulassakar

Eberron often takes an unusual approach to familiar things. In Eberron, you can find gnoll demon-hunters, r gnome assassins, and dine on troll sausage. When developing the setting, we decided that couatls were the primary native celestials of Eberron. With this in mind, the 3.5 ECS has this throwaway line in the description of the Talenta Plains…

Krezent: This ancient ruin is all that remains of a couatl city from ages past. The halflings tend to avoid the site, since it is home to a tribe of benevolent yuan-ti who honor and revere the couatl and the Silver Flame.

This is the only mention of these beings in the ECS. It’s a random idea: yuan-ti are evil serpent-folk, but what if there were feathered yuan-ti devoted to the light? I loved the idea, so I expanded upon it in an early Dragonshard article, which gave these beings a name: the Shulassakar. This article also answered the seeming contradiction of the original quote: if these feathered yuan-ti were benevolent, why did the halflings of the Plains avoid them?

Over time, the shulassakar appeared in a number of places. We determined that there were shulassakar among the people of Khalesh in ancient Sarlona, and that they were targeted in the Sundering. Shulassakar were presented as an option for player characters in City of Stormreach

With that said, the shulassakar haven’t received much attention—in part because they are supposed to be rare and reclusive. They were never intended to be a central part of the setting, but rather an exotic element that could surprise players used to thinking of yuan-ti as evil.

When I have time, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters, and this month there were a few questions about the shulassakar.

Do shulassakar have similar roles in their society/culture to the anathema (big hulking multiheaded divine figures) of yuan-ti culture?

The original shulassakar article notes that the shulassakar refer to purebloods as “servants,” halfbloods as “flametouched,” and abominations as “transcendent,” adding that they believe in reincarnation and that the three different forms of shulassakar represent this spiritual growth.

The shulassakar equivalent of an anathema is a Choir. This is formed when a group of transcendent shulassakar willingly sacrifice themselves in a ritual based on the original couatl sacrifice, which fuses body and spirit to create a gestalt entity possessing great power. Choirs are physically immortal—they don’t age and are immune to the effects of hunger and thirst—though they aren’t true immortals and can be killed. The ritual that creates a choir isn’t somehow instinctively known to all shulassakar, and thus different shulassakar sects have discovered it and employed it for different reasons. There could be a shulassakar choir hidden somewhere in Khalesh, the last remnant of the ancient servants who merged together to survive the Sundering. Adventurers could find a shulassakar monastery whose anchorites chose to join together in the ultimate communion. Or a choir could be found guarding a post that required an immortal sentinel. The fusing of spirits gives a choir an unusual detachment from mortality; choirs can meditate in isolation for centuries with no sense of boredom. The main point is that joining a choir does mean sacrificing one’s individual identity. It’s not something most shulassakar aspire to and they aren’t inherently rulers of shulassakar; they are created for a purpose, whether to guard a position, to gain the power needed to survive, or in the case of the monks, the pursuit of a truly transcendental state.

What do the shulassakar do for food? Are the snake-people of Krezent engaging in agriculture?

As noted in the quote above, Krezent is a RUIN and the Shulassakar are guarding it. It’s not a Shulassakar city, it’s a job; the guardians of Krezent come from a fortress-city in a demiplane they claimed long ago. Beyond this, Krezent is a COUATL RUIN, which is to say, a place built by celestial beings at the height of their power. So the guardians don’t need to farm or hunt; Krezent has divine tools that replicate the effects of create food and water for those who know how to use them.

What is the attitude of the shulassakar to the troubles of the people around them? what would drive a shulassakar adventurer?

The canon answer can be seen in the Talenta Plains, in which the halflings AVOID Krezent. This tells us that the Shulassakar aren’t running around trying to help the halflings with basic everyday problems. They aren’t mediating tribal disputes or helping when there’s an outbreak of plague. Beyond this they are completely unknown in the Five Nations; there isn’t a council of shulassakar in Thrane. This ties to a general principle of Eberron, which is that powerful NPCs aren’t going to show up to solve your problems. Personally, I’d attribute this to three factors: there are very few shulassakar, likely speaking to a low fertility rate. Shulassakar who act too openly may well be targeted by agents of the Lords of Dust. And finally, there’s the Shavarath principle: they believe that the things they are doing are MORE IMPORTANT than whatever troubles the people around them are dealing with. Yes, it’s very sad that you’re dealing with a plague, but that plague is in fact a natural occurrence and that’s how the world works… whereas if someone releases the fiends of pestilence we’re keeping bound, THAT’S going to be a serious unnatural problem. Also consider the line from the original article: “A shulassakar always prefers to solve a problem on its own or to call in a more powerful servant to handle the problem.” They don’t work WITH other people; they’re going to solve your problems for you, and likely you’ll never know. This ties to why the halflings fear the Shulassakar; “They fight against darkness with ruthless efficiency and will make any sacrifice necessary for the greater good, including the lives of innocents.”

So looking to shulassakar PCs, the question is WHY they are getting involved in other people’s problems and working directly with non-shulassakar adventurers. The simple answer is that it’s because they have been assigned a divine mission (either by a shulassakar superior or by a divine vision) and thus they’re following the dictates of their faith and culture in doing what they’re doing; it’s their SACRED DUTY to pursue their quest. The other alternative is that they are rebelling and following a path that THEY feel is more important than their sacred duties, in which case they would likely be censured by their people.

Have you every used the Shulassakar in your camapign? If so, share the story in the comments! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, pose them on Patreon!

Dragonmark: Couatls and the Silver Flame

Before I get started, here’s a quick word from our sponsor… Me! If you’d like to see me running an Eberron game, Fugue State is live Wednesdays at 7:30 PM Pacific for the next few weeks (and you can see previous sessions at that site). If you’d like a chance to play in my ongoing monthly Eberron game, check out the Threshold level of my Patreon. Likewise, the amount of time I have for this site and the subjects of the articles I write are all tied to Patreon, so if you’d like to support the site, that’s the place to do it!

Anyone who’s been to a church of the Silver Flame has seen the image of Tira and the couatl. But what are the couatls, and what do people actually know about them? How can you encounter them in the present day?

What are Couatls?

Couatls are native celestials, the last children of Siberys. They were born in the first age of the world, and they helped the mortal species of that time in their struggles against the fiendish overlords. The balance of power dramatically favored the fiends, and the children of Siberys realized that the only path to victory was through sacrifice. Working together, the native celestials abandoned their individual forms and fused their immortal essence together, creating a well of pure divine energy. As the dragons and other mortals defeated the overlords, this Silver Flame was able to bind them. Since that point, the Flame has been strengthened by the addition of millions of mortal souls, but it began with the sacrifice of the native celestials, and that immortal essence is the foundation of the Flame.

The question of the imbalance of power between fiends and celestials is one that is often discussed by sages and theologians. Why are fiends found across the world, while the celestials seemingly abandoned it… especially when planes such as Shavarath and Daanvi have a more even division between fiends and celestials? In his Codex of All Mysteries, Korran asserts that the answer is simple: Khyber slew Siberys. Through treachery, Khyber slew Siberys even before the world was formed and the native celestials are a reflection of the final spark of Siberys. In that time so long ago, the native celestials realized that as the balance of power tilted so dramatically toward the fiends that what they could accomplish as isolated individuals was trivial. But in fusing their essence into one great gestalt they could generate a power that could at least bind the overlords, and which could empower mortals to battle the fiends themselves. This ties to a crucial underlying theme of the setting: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The Silver Flame is the greatest force of light in the world, but it cannot act on its own; it depends on mortal champions to carry its light against the darkness. A small handful of independent celestials remain in the world, and this will be discussed later in this article. But the bulk of celestial power in Eberron is concentrated into the Silver Flame—a tool and a weapon for mortals to wield.

Now, couatls aren’t the only form of native celestial. But just as the rakshasa are the most common form of fiend, the couatls are the most common form of celestial on Eberron. Any other form of celestial could potentially be used as a native celestial, but most such spirits will share some cosmetic elements with couatl: prismatic coloring, feathers, serpentine characteristics. So a native deva might have rainbow-feathered wings and fine iridescent scales. Why these traits? One theory is that this is a reflection of Siberys himself; the nation of Khalesh used a banner that showed Eberron and Khyber as dragons entwined, with Siberys as a winged serpent encircling the struggling wyrms. This is purely speculative, the coloring and other traits are common among native celestials and are sometimes inherited by mortal creatures infused with celestial energy, such as the Shulassakar or aasimar tied to the Silver Flame.

One complication in dealing with couatls is their shifting power level in different editions of Dungeons&Dragons. The 3.5 couatl had a challenge rating of 10, with the note that it was possible to encounter a huge couatl with up to three times as many hit dice as that CR 10 version. However, the 5E Monster Manual presents the couatl as a fairly minor celestial, with a Challenge rating of 4. The trick is that in Eberron, “couatl” is like “rakshasa”—it’s a category, spanning spirits with a wide range of power. Looking to the rakshasa, not only are there different classes—the standard rakshasa, the ak’chazar, the naztharune, the zakya—but you also have unique individuals with far greater power than the rank and file. Just as Mordakhesh is dramatically more powerful than the typical Zakya rakshasa, the couatl Hezcalipa (the ally and mentor of the dragon Ourelonastrix, who might be the inspiration for the Sovereign Aureon) was dramatically more powerful than a typical CR 4 couatl. But what do you do with this in fifth edition, which only provides statistics for the CR 4 couatl? There’s a few options.

  • Reskin other celestials. Couatl aren’t the only native celestials. You could introduce a deva or a ki-rin as a child of Siberys. But you could also take the stat block of one of these more powerful celestials and just describe the entity as a winged serpent instead of as a winged humanoid or golden-scaled beast. A deva attacks with a mace, inflicting 1d6+4 bludgeoning damage plus 4d6 radiant damage; you can have the deva-couatl attack with a bite that deals 1d6+4 piercing damage and “floods their body with radiant venom” which deals 4d6 radiant damage. Yes, this is different from the poison effect of the CR 4 couatl, and the deva doesn’t have the ability to constrict its foe; but just as not all serpents constrict or produce venom, not all couatl do either. So make the simplest changes—swapping the bludegoning damage of the mace to piercing for fangs, because that’s obvious—but otherwise, just change the way you describe the creature and its attacks. This doesn’t have to be limited to celestials; you could easily take the guardian naga stat block, change it from monstrosity to celestial, and describe it as a wingless couatl.
  • Blend old and new. You can follow the same basic idea, but actually change a few abilities to more closely reflect the couatl. It makes sense that any form of couatl would have the Shielded Mind trait of the CR 4 couatl. For a couatl ki-rin you could describe the Horn attack as a bite attack (which just doesn’t produce venom), but replace the two hoof attacks of the ki-rin with a single Constrict attack, following the model of the CR 4 couatl—perhaps raising the DC to escape to DC 17, reflecting the Ki-rin/Couatl’s higher CR and Strength. Likewise, you could swap out spells on the Ki-Rin’s spell list to include all the spells on the CR 4 couatl’s spell list. But overall, you can still us the ki-rin stat block to reflect the more powerful creature.
  • Create something new. If you have the time, you can use the CR 4 as a blueprint to create your own unique powerful couatl. It’s not something *I* have time to do right now, but I think it makes perfect sense to create couatl with distinct abilities—a loremaster couatl (such as Hezcalipa), perhaps a warlike couatl guardian shrouded in (silver) flame.

Likewise, keep in mind that couatl don’t have to be as powerful as the CR 4 version! A Celestial warlock with the Chain pact could have a tiny couatl as a familiar. Use the statistics of a pseudo-dragon, but describe it as a couatl; this has the same relationship to a standard couatl that an imp does to a more powerful devil. Remember that as celestials, couatls are essentially divine tools and ideas given form. The tiny couatl is simply a minor spirit of light; it’s not biologically related to the more powerful couatl.

This ties to one other point, which is that immortals are tools and concepts. They exist for a reason, and they don’t choose that path as mortals can. The tiny couatl familiar exists to advise the warlock; you could play it as a minor spirit of wisdom or as a guardian angel. But every couatl has a purpose and/or embodies a concept. Where the immortals of the planes embody concepts tied to their planes (War, Hope, Law, etc) the immortals of Eberron are more broadly “good” and “evil.” In creating a specific couatl, a DM could decide that it’s a spirt of truth, or courage, or wisdom—and play its personality accordingly. Swapping out spells is another simple way to reflect this and give a particular couatl some unique flavor.

What Do People Know About Couatls?

Anyone in a nation where the Silver Flame has a presence is familiar with the basic idea of the couatls—their appearance and the fact that they’re celestial emissaries of the Silver Flame. In this, they are much like angels in OUR world; almost everyone can look at a picture of one and say “That’s an angel,” but not everyone believes they exist, and even those people who DO believe they exist don’t generally expect to meet one. Couatls are part of the mythology of the Silver Flame. Tira Miron was guided by a couatl, and the templars use rainbow fletching on their arrows to emulate the swift-flying couatl. Couatls are often also part of the manifestations of divine magic tied to the Silver Flame. When a cleric of the Flame casts spirit guardians, the guardians are often couatl-like shapes formed of silver fire. Summon celestial and planar ally typically manifest couatls or other creatures with couatl-like attributes. These spells aren’t commonplace, but the point is that people associate couatls with the Silver Flame, and if they see one they will say “That’s a couatl! Like the one that guided Tira!” as opposed to “What’s that?”

With that said, Khorvaire’s Church of the Silver Flame isn’t actually that old… and couatls have been known since the dawn of time. Anyone proficient in History or Religion may know that couatls have been revered by many cultures. As mentioned earlier, the pre-Sundering nation of Khalesh in Sarlona was devoted to the celestial serpents. The orc kala’sha paladins of Ghaash’kala often tattoo a couatl wound around one of their arms; they know the couatl as emmissaries of the Binding Flame.

So almost everyone in the Five Nations knows what a couatl is. Again, think of it as analgous to angels in our world. Anyone can recognize a picture of one, but it’s going to take a Religion check to explain the difference between a cherub or a seraph.

Silvertide and Serpent Cults

So: in kanon, everyone knows what a couatl is. Everyone’s seen that picture of Tira and the couatl. However, canon has some inconsistencies in this regard. On the one hand, page 70 of City of Stormreach says this of a priest…

He only speaks of it to his most trusted parishioners, but (the priest) practices the traditions of an ancient serpent cult, passed down to his father by a feathered yuan-ti. Although the values are similar to those of the modern church, this faith teaches that the Silver Flame was kindled by the sacrifice of the couatls in the dawn times; Tira Miron and the Keeper of the Flame are stewards who bring the light of the Flame to humans too limited to see the ancient force on their own. Guin has served as an intermediary for the shulassakar yuan-ti in the past, and this could serve as the basis for an adventure.

This isn’t the heresy that has caused the Stormreach church to be severed from Flamekeep; the section specifies that it’s the opposition to the theocracy that’s the major problem, and the quote here specifies that the priest only speaks of his beliefs to those close to him. It’s not that these beliefs are heretical, but they are unusual. However, the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide introduces the concept of Silvertide, saying “This highest holy day of the faith celebrates the sacrifice of the couatls and the birth of the Silver Flame.” So Stormreach says that the idea of the couatl sacrifice is a secret the priest only shares with his most trusted friends, while the ECG says it’s the basis of the most important holy day the church has. How do we reconcile this contradiction?

The Age of Demons ended a hundred thousand years ago, the precise details of what happened then frankly aren’t as important to most of the people of Khorvaire as the things that happened a few centuries ago. In my opinion, the tales of the Age of Demons and the story of Tira’s sacrifice can be seen as similar to the Old and New Testaments. While the two are directly related, different religions place different weight on the two books. The Serpent Cults are primarily interested with the ORIGINAL story and see Tira’s sacrifice as a recent and relatively minor development. But to the people of the Five Nations, Tira’s sacrifice is the most important story, because it happened to them. Tira saved the people of Thrane from a fiendish apocalypse, and as the Voice of the Flame, she continues to guide them today. They know the general stories about how the Flame was kindled in the dawn of time to bind the overlords and they are grateful for that first sacrifice, but it’s just too long ago to have deep personal meaning; while Tira is the Voice that speaks to them today, and her sacrifice is the reason Thrane even exists.

With this in mind, you can see how I describe the festival of Silvertide on my ongoing Threshold campaign. A key point is that the priest doesn’t actually describe that original sacrifice as the COUATL sacrifice, because those details are largely irrelevant; she speaks of the battle between the forces of light and darkness and of the sacrifice of those first champions to kindle the Flame. Because the LESSON of Silvertide is the power of sacrifice—to respect the first champions whose sacrifice lit the Flame; Tira, whose sacrifice allows us all to draw upon it; and anyone whose sacrifices have made a difference in your own personal life. A key part of the festival is to call out and honor sacrifices others have made for you, and to consider what sacrifices you can make for others. So as the ECG says, it IS a festival that honors the couatl sacrifice; but it honors the SACRIFICE, not the COUATL.

This brings us to the idea of serpent cults. A number of canon sources describe serpent cults—sects found across the world and throughout history. What differentiates a serpent cult from a Silver Flame faith is the direct focus on the couatl as opposed to the Flame. A Flame sect focuses on the Silver Flame as it exists today—a conglomeration of countless noble souls of many species. Most honor the couatl as emissaries and servants of the Flame, but they are secondary to the Flame itself. A serpent cult focuses on the couatl, honoring them as the first children of Siberys and emphasizing their role in creating the Flame. Serpent cults often downplay the idea that other creatures can join the Flame and instead emphasize the Flame as the pure light of the couatl. Looking at key named sects, the Sarlonan nation of Khalesh was a serpent cult devoted to the couatl; the Ghaash’kala, on the other hand, are a Flame sect. They may call it the Binding Flame instead of the Silver Flame, but it is the FLAME that they honor above all; couatl are its tools.

So looking back to Stormreach, again, the priest’s beliefs aren’t dire heresy; they’re just unorthodox views that most followers of the modern Church don’t share or care about. To the typical Thrane parishoner, emphasizing that the first sacrifice was entirely couatl would be a slightly eccentric belief that undermines the moral of the story—that we all have the power to make a difference through our sacrifices, and that any noble soul can strengthen the Flame. This is reflected in the original statement on page 303 of the Eberron Campaign Setting

Ultimately the couatls sacrificed most of their number in order to seal the overlords within their combined souls. Scholars have theorized that this is the ultimate source of the force worshiped by the Church of the Silver Flame. The Church ministry is ambivalent about this theory, stating that regardless of how the Flame was first kindled, there is a place within the Flame for all noble souls.

Encountering Couatls

There’s three main ways to encounter a couatl in the present age.

Ancient Guardian. The quote from the ECS states that most of the couatl joined together to found the Flame. Most isn’t all; a handful remained as incarnate individuals to accomplish vital tasks that couldn’t be entrusted to mortals. Keep in mind that they use mortal agents when they can—the shulassakar, the Masivirk’uala lizardfolk, and the Ghaash’kala, even Tira Miron are all examples of this. A few reasons you might need an actual couatl are to preserve knowledge that can’t be trusted to a mortal; to oversee a project that will take many generations to unfold; do accomplish a task that requires the innate celestial powers of the couatl; or to guard an area that’s either too hostile, isolated, or corruptive to entrust to a mortal. An ancient guardian is an immortal who has existed since the Age of Demons; they don’t have heart demiplanes and typically are reborn in the location where they are destroyed, with the length of time this takes depending on the strength of the couatl and the manner in which it is destroyed. While they are incarnate spirits of light, the fact that they have usually existed in intense isolation can make these guardians more intense than their temporary counterparts; they often have tunnel vision tied to their vital task. A temporary couatl has watched humanity grow; a guardian may not have seen another living creature since before human civilization existed.

Temporary Emissary. When a priest of the Silver Flame casts summon celestial, they aren’t pulling a couatl from some other location in the world. Instead, the spirit is directly manifesting from the Silver Flame itself, and when its work is done it will return to the Flame. The Silver Flame is a mass of hundreds of thousands of souls, but within the Flame those spirits exist as a transcendent gestalt, not as individual personalities. When a temporary couatl manifests, it will employ the personality of one of the original couatl; this could allow adventurers to actually speak with Hezcalipa, for example. But Hezcalipa doesn’t exist as an individual while she’s part of the Flame, and her actions when she does appear are moderated by being part of that gestalt; she is first and foremost an emissary of the Flame, shaped by the memories of a couatl who sacrificed itself long ago.

Channeling and Visions. You don’t have to meet a couatl in the flesh. The CR 4 fifth edition couatl can cast dream, a useful tool for guiding and advising mortals. The 3.5 ECS also explored the idea of divine channeling…

A mortal who channels a celestial becomes a mortal manifestation of the celestial’s power. The celestial can draw on all the mortal’s memories, and the celestial senses what the mortal senses. The mortal and the celestial can communicate telepathically, but neither has complete access to the current thoughts of the other.

Looking to the tale of Tira Miron, the original idea was that most of the time Tira was channeling the couatl; it was guiding her, but it wasn’t just flying along next to her. In other places we’ve suggested that her guiding couatl was actually bound with her sword Kloijner. This is why in the image above, you can’t see the rainbow feathers of the couatl; it’s a spiritual presence. When it comes to a dream vision or channeling a couatl, there’s still the question of whether the spirit is an ancient guardian that has always been separate from the Flame or if it’s a temporary emissary sent out into the world to accomplish this task. In the case of emissaries, an emissary who grants dreams might never fully manifest as a physical couatl; think of it as an antenna extended from the Flame to broadcast a signal, after which it is retracted.

With any use of visions in dreams, a valid question is how this relates to Dal Quor. In my opinion, couatl visions don’t occur in Dal Quor; they effectively intercept the dreaming spirit before it reaches Dal Quor. This ties to the idea that they actually isolated the dreams of the Masvirik’uala, as described in this article. If you embrace this idea, it’s possible that they could actually give visions to mortal who sleep in some way but don’t actually dream, such as Kalashtar or elves—but that’s definitely up to the DM to decide. The general idea is that couatls have an affinity for mortal minds, something reflected in earlier editions by their psionic abilities; but they are native celestials, not creatures of Dal Quor. With that said, a scheming quori could definitely impersonating a couatl when manipulating someone with its own dream visions…

So, how can you encounter a couatl? You might find one as the guardian of an ancient vault, sworn to keep the cursed items within from falling into mortal hands… or to guide mortal champions to reclaim these deadly artifacts after the vault is breached. You could be visited by a couatl who has emerged from the Flame to assist you in overcoming a great threat, but it can only remain at your side for a brief time—or, potentially it can only assist you through dreams, or a moment of divine channeling. The main thing to keep in mind is that all of these are incredibly rare. There are only a handful of ancient guardians in existence, and they are dealing with tasks no mortal could handle. As for emissaries, the Silver Flame is a machine designed to do two things: to bind overlords and to empower mortal champions. Short term spells like summon celestial are part of that machine—tools that work through mortals and lasts briefly. For a couatl emissary to emerge from the Flame is like pulling a random gear off the machine; it’s difficult and potentially dangerous to the machine itself. It’s the sort of thing that happens to people like Tira Miron—heroes who can change the fate of the nation or the world. But overall, the Silver Flame deals with problems by empowering mortals, not by deploying celestials. This ties to that fundamental principle: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The physical appearance of an emissary is a legendary event… but player characters have the potential to be legends.

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