To view this content, you must be a member of Keith's Patreon
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.
A wizard walks into a tavern with a raven on his wrist. A Cannith heir is close behind, followed by her gleaming steel defender. The Eldeen ranger is waiting for them, with his wolf curled up under the table.
All three of these are plausible player characters in an Eberron campaign. But how do these things—familiars, animal companions, homunculi—fit into the world? How do people react to them, and what do people know about them? Would any of them actually be allowed in a tavern, and would a typical person actually be able to tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion?
Familiars, homunculi, and animal companions play different roles in the game and in the world, and I want to explore each one of them. But to begin with, let’s answer the quick questions. In the Five Nations…
So key takeaways: People are familiar with the idea of familiars and homunculi. They largely see them as tools and will treat them accordingly. If a tiny animal behaves in an unusual manner, people may assume that it’s a familiar or otherwise being manipulated by magic. With those general things settled, let’s take a quick look at the differences between these three categories of companion…
Mechanically, familiars have a common foundation—the find familiar spell. Warlocks, wizards, and druids all acquire their familiars by using this spell, and this establishes the core rules that all familiars follow—shared senses, telepathic communication, can be dismissed and resummoned, and so on. But while this provides a concrete baseline for the mechanics of a familiar, from a story perspective the familiars of a wizard, a warlock, and a druid may be very different. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here’s three important categories of familiar.
The most common form of familiar—the form used by most wizards and magewrights in the Five Nations—is an externally manifested aspect of the spellcaster’s personality. A few aspects of this…
In many ways, an extension is like a character in your dreams. They have distinct personalities, you can have interesting conversations with them, they FEEL real—but ultimately they’re a manifestation of your own mind. This doesn’t stop them from being fun and interesting individuals; it could be that your rat familiar embodies your sense of humor! But they can’t be killed because they’re a part of you; and conversely, if you die, they will die with you.
Extensions are the most common form of familiar in the Five Nations. They are a product of arcane science. On some levels (especially in Aundair), a familiar is both a tool and a status symbol for an accomplished spellcaster; wizards are rare, but some magewrights and demi-wizards manifest familiars for this reason. However, the most common users of familiars in the Five Nations are falconers. This is a magewright specialty that masters a narrow form of find familiar. A falconer can only summon a single shape of familiar—so if they can summon a hawk, they can’t turn it into a cat—but they can maintain telepathic communication and a sensory link with their familiar over a far greater distance than usual. The typical range of a falconer is one mile, but an exceptional falconer can go even farther. Falconers typically served as scouts and skirmishers in the Last War, and as the name suggests, most summon birds (typically hawks or falcons, though owls and ravens are also used). There are other magewrights who use this specialized form of find familiar in different ways—ratcatchers who conjure cats, even assassins who can conjure poisonous snakes. All of this ties to the basic point that people see extensions as tools—you learn to manifest an extension because you have a use for it.
When a warlock acquires a familiar, it’s generally not an extension of the warlock—it’s an emissary of the warlock’s patron, an independent entity whose services are granted to the warlock as a gift. However, this can also be an appropriate choice for a conjurer wizard or any other character who has made bargains with a powerful supernatural being. Important details about emissary familiars…
The basic question between having an extension or an emissary is whether you want your familiar to be entirely loyal and reliable, or if you LIKE the idea that your familiar may have secrets and agendas you don’t know about. An extension may have a semblance of personality, but at the end of the day it really is a puppet; an emissary is a truly independent entity who is only working with you for now, and who could have their own significant role to play at some point in the campaign.
Emissary familiars are rare. You can go to school to become a falconer, but there’s no common magewright paths that teach people to make bargains with overlords. As noted above, people generally assume that familiars are extensions, so having an imp as a familiar doesn’t automatically mean you’re making deals with demons, but to a common person what it means is that THE PROJECTION OF YOUR PERSONALITY IS A FIEND and people will judge you accordingly. And if people DO realize that no, this is an actual emissary of Sul Khatesh and you are getting advice from it, that’s not going to be great; so usually, you’re going to want your imp to be in an animal form.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduces the Wild Companion feature, allowing a druid to cast find familiar by using a charge of wild shape. Such a familiar has the fey creature type. It’s worth noting that beasts summoned with the conjure animals spell also have the fey creature type. This doesn’t mean that they are from Thelanis. If you’re a Greensinger, they might be; but typically, these are primal spirits. These can be seen as native fey, in the same way the Lords of Dust are native fiends. They are essentially stories made real—the idea of a beast given temporary form. A few details…
Primal spirits are typically only found in communities with strong primal roots—the Eldeen Reaches, the Qaltiar drow, the Lorghalen gnomes. In such places, you may find the equivalent of Falconer magewrights—gleaners who can conjure a specific familiar spirit, and who can maintain their bond with it over an unusually long distance. Primal communities often also involve animal companions, but people working with living beasts will generally be much more conscientious about placing their companions in dangerous situations—whereas primal spirits suffer no lasting harm from death.
Familiars are the most common class of companion, and extensions are the most common class of familiar. Falconers and similar magewrights use familiars as practical tools, while arcanists use often familiars as companions and assistants. Emissaries are rare and thus rarely recognized for what they are, but most people won’t be thrilled if you reveal that your companion is an actual fiend given to you because you made a bargain with a malefic power.
A homunculus is a construct, typically created by an artificer or wizard. They notably don’t follow the rules of find familiar; a homunculus can’t be simply dismissed and recalled at will. The most common form of homunculus player characters deal with is the homunculus servant, which is created using an artificer infusion. The servant is a tiny construct, and notably the shape of the homunculus is up to the artificer. The intention of this is that the appearance of the homunculus should reflect the techniques of the artificer. A Cannith Traditionalist may create a steel dragonfly with crystal wings—a creature similar to a warforged, perhaps with metal threads or gears instead of root-like tendrils. An artificer from Pylas Pyrial may use Thelanian logic to create a flying teapot. And an alchemist who’s experimenting with daelkyr fleshcrafting techniques could create a tiny platypus with one eye and three wings. A Battle Smith artificer gets to create a more powerful homunculus, a steel defender. Again, what’s specifically noted is that the shape and design of the defender is up to the artificer, including the choice as to whether it has two legs or four. This reflects the idea that all of these homunculi are extremely unique. The fact that the artificer can only have one of each type of homunculus at a time reflects the idea these creatures aren’t entirely stable—that the artificer has to continue to maintain their companion and to maintain the reserve of arcane energy that sustains it. As noted, homunculi can’t be dismissed and resummoned with the ease of a familiar, but if one is destroyed it can be rebuilt.
So a key point is that the homunculi of player characters aren’t supposed to be as familiar as a raven or even an imp. They’re supposed to stand out; they’re reflections of the unique genius of the artificer character. Unlike familiars and falconers, there isn’t a class of magewrights that creates homunculi; again, familiars ultimately come from a 1st level spell, while homunculi are derived from an artificer class feature. They’re more exotic than familiars. At the same time, people understand the CONCEPT of homunculi. Sentient magic items exist. Constructs exist. The Clockwork Menagerie of Eston was one of the wonders of Cyre centuries before House Cannith perfected the warforged. And with that said, the Last War involved a constant escalation in the development of constructs leading up to the Last War. Animated weapons have been developed, ranging from the tiny arbalester to the arcane ballista. Warforged titans stormed across the battlefield decades before their smaller cousins. And House Cannith does create construct beasts; the iron defenders of House Cannith can be produced as autonomous constructs (though they are typically considerably weaker than the steel defender of an accomplished Battle Smith). These creatures are still EXOTIC, but they aren’t unheard of and people generally won’t be frightened by them. They’ll draw attention, certainly, but attention isn’t always bad. With that said, the daelkyr-inspired fleshcrafted homunculus will generate the same sort of reaction as the imp familiar; people may not run you instantly out of town for having a creepy homunculus, but they will judge you by the company you keep.
I’ll be posting a table of random ideas for homunculus servants on my Patreon as an exclusive bonus for Inner Circle and Threshold patrons later in this week, so if you’re a supporter, keep an eye out for that!
What about the ranger and his wolf? Well, beasts are a part of everyday life in Eberron. From horses and tribex to the giant owls of Sharn or the Valenar hounds, there’s nothing strange about seeing someone with an animal companion. Magewright falconers conjure their companions, but Vadalis farriers can cast animal friendship, speak with animals, and beast sense, and gleaners (primal magewrights) in the Eldeen Reaches also develop these talents. Many gnomes cultivate the gift of speaking with small beasts. Exotic beasts are often rarer in major cities simply because of the difficulty of maintaining them, but people aren’t especially SURPRISED to see a ranger with a wolf companion; the fact that there are people who can befriend and speak with animals is a simple fact of life, and has been for centuries.
Animal companions aren’t exactly tools in the same way as familiars, because they’re independent living creatures. A Beast Master can replace an companion that dies, but an animal still died… while familiars and conjured beasts can be put in harm’s way with no lasting risk. Nonetheless, to the world at large they are still largely seen as tools and treated accordingly, so the same rule applies. If the ranger is allowed to bring his sword and his bow into a place of business, he’s probably allowed to bring his wolf; and if the wolf bites someone, the ranger will be held responsible, just as if he’d stabbed the victim with a sword.
Some might wonder if the existence of speak with animals would drive an overall greater wave of ethical behavior regarding the treatment of animals. Sadly, this is not the case in the Five Nations. Speak with animals exists, but MOST people can’t cast it. People will still take a tribex-drawn carriage down to a restaurant where they’ll eat a steak, without stopping to think “Was that tribex happy? Did the cow I’m eating live a good life?” The general attitude of House Vadalis is that they’ve been granted dominion over beasts, and it is their right to exploit that power. This is quite different in wide primal societies—such as the Eldeen Reaches and Lorghalen—but in the Five Nations beasts are still primarily treated as property and tools.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping to choose this topic and for making these articles possible.
I’m dealing with a deadline and don’t have time to address a topic in depth, so here’s a quick lightning round of Eberron questions submitted by my Patreon supporters.
What were some of your plans for Greykell that never made it to print or comic?
For those who don’t know, Greykell ir’Ryc is a character who first appears in my novel City of Towers. She later became the protagonist of the comic Eye of the Wolf; the easiest way to find it now is in this collection.
Eye of the Wolf left a number of hooks I’d love to explore. In the last panel you can see that Greykell has the battlefist of her warforged companion, Mace, sitting on a bench. So if I’d picked it up, the immediate story would have been finding Mace and getting the band back together. Following that, the primary plotline would be unlocking the mystery of the Key to the Kingdom of Night, the artifact revealed in Eye of the Wolf. What is its purpose? Why does the Emerald Claw want it? Beyond this, there’s certainly questions to be resolved concerning Greykell’s lineage, her sword, and other things. So: that’s what I had in mind at the time. If I were to pick her story up again, I’d consider if there were any new directions I’d rather take.
How rare are dragonmarks and dragonshards, numerically? I can’t come up with a relatable analogy or real-world example. 1) How limited of a resource are dragonshards? Equivalent to Industrial Revolution coal? Or gold?
Good question. Starting with dragonmarks, it depends on the type. Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy. In my opinion they are fairly common and are usually encountered in a refined, powdered form; you can almost think of this as Eberron’s answer to oil. What I’ve said before is that in magic item creation, it should be understood that a chunk of the “base GP cost” represents Eberron dragonshards—that pretty much any major act of creation will use them.
Siberys and Khyber shards are considerably rarer, and would be more in line with uranium. They are crucial for certain types of magic, but not generally used for trivial effects and much harder to come by.
Are dragonshards a renewable resource?
Yes and no. They are a form of crystal; it’s not implausible to say that Eberron shards form naturally over time. However, if this occurs, it’s not fast. The discover of new shard fields in Q’barra wouldn’t be as important if the existing fields were a never-ending cornucopia. Essentially, I’ve never intended there to be a storyline in which the world simply runs out of dragonshards, but it is the case that the discover of a new source of shards is supposed to be valuable and significant.
How often would you encounter someone with a dragonmark on the streets of Sharn, or in your modest village?
What we’ve said before is that about 50% of dragonmarked heirs develop the least manifestation of the mark. Someone who does develop a mark has a valuable skill and a tie to a dragonmarked house. So looking to your modest village, it’s relatively unlikely: unless they are performing a specific job in the village, why wouldn’t they take that mark to the big city and make some gold? As for Sharn, we actually did a dragonmarked breakdown when we were working on the Sharn: City of Towers book. I don’t remember the results, but there were definitely hundreds of least-marked heirs, if not thousands.
Both Shard and Mark are required to perform most of the abilities that run the Eberron economy, so how common are these “jobs,” of all jobs in the economy?
Of all jobs in the economy? Not very. An airship needs a pilot with the Mark of Storm (and maybe a co-pilot for a long flight); compare that the the number of people working maintenance or support on any flight. A Sivis message station needs an heir to operate the stone, but it’s not as those there’s a message station on every street corner. Cannith heirs run the creation forges and similar focus items, but there’s many more jobs that simply require magecraft or mundane talent.
Short form: The marked services are the things that give the houses their edge, since others simply can’t provide these services. But they are a small percentage of the actual jobs in the world.
How do you feel about the loophole in 3.5 that allows goodberry to provide healing in the Mournland? Is this something that should carry over to 5e, or other systems?
I’ve never considered it an absolute rule that healing doesn’t function in the Mournland, because I don’t think anything about the Mournland should be absolutely reliable. Given that, I’m fine with the idea of unusual resources and approaches (goodberries, healing potions brewed in the Mournland, etc) that healing possible. Essentially, what’s important to me is that the Mournland means that you can’t rely on the things you’re used to.
With that said, the goodberry effect wasn’t intentionally planned out, so I don’t care if that PARTICULAR loophole makes its way into 5E; I’m just saying that I’m amenable to DMs providing ways for PCs to heal in the Mournland, as long as it requires some effort.
Is there a holiday involving gift-giving in Eberron?
A simple option is Boldrei’s Feast (9 Rhaan), which is a celebration of community. Another possibility is Sun’s Blessing (15 Therendor) which is a day of peace and a time to set aside differences. Aureon’s Crown (26 Dravago) is a day for people to share knowledge.
Those are all in canon. Unofficially, I introduced a tradition in one of my campaigns which I just called “The Gifts of the Traveler,” which was effectively a Secret Santa exchange. In my campaign, the warforged paladin gave another character a collection of poems she’d written called Rust & Blood; given that none of us knew she was writing poems, it was kind of sweet.
Does the Blood of Vol have a “Martin Luther” character in its lore, that have experienced and rejected the machiavellian schemes of Vol and the Crimson Covenant, and seeks to create a more “pure” faith?
Not by canon, but I think ALL the religions of Eberron should have this sort of thing. Part of the point of faith in Eberron is that there’s no one absolute authority on interpretation. We’ve talked about the Time of Two Keepers with the Silver Flame, not to mention the Pure Flame. We’ve already called out that the BoV has a few divergent paths—those who believe in a war against the Sovereigns, those interested solely in personal ascension, those loyal to the Queen of Death. So: there’s no existing NPC, but it’s a great story to explore.
Given the assumption that all arcane magic can be ultimately drawn from one of the planes, which plane do you think would manipulate time (slow, haste, time stop, etc.)
That’s not my personal assumption, but GIVEN that assumption, I’d either use Thelanis or Xoriat. Thelanis because of the idea that time is unpredictable in the fey realm and because it is about the world behaving in a magical way; Xoriat because it embodies things NOT working in accordance with nature, and if you’re breaking natural laws it’s a reasonable force to use.
Does Droaam have any kind of international trade aside from byeshk and brokering monsters through House Tharashk?
Like Darguun, I see Droaam as still focusing on establishing its own infrastructure. They’re building and expanding their own cities and working on producing or acquiring the resources they need to keep the nation going. Mercenaries services and Byeshk are two known commodities that already have a market. Beyond these, they are still figuring out what surpluses they may have or what they can produce. So right now, I don’t see them as offering much more (aside from things like Dragon’s Blood, which is under the table). But if you want to INTRODUCE something as a new development, that makes perfect sense. And bear in mind that “mercenary” is a loaded term that sounds like it’s solely about soldiers. Most of the “monstrous mercenaries” Tharashk manages in Sharn are ogre laborers, gargoyle couriers, and other nonviolent services.
A side note here: Many of the dragonmarked houses are interested in Droaam BECAUSE it’s largely undeveloped and it’s not yet known what resources they possess. So there’s certainly merchants in Graywall both looking to sell the things that Droaam needs and to see if they can make deals to get unique resources that haven’t yet been fully tapped.
Have you ever used Argonth or any of the floating fortresses in any of your games?
I never have! I’ve thought about it a few times—in developing games for CCD20, “Die Hard on Argonth” has been on my list—but no, I never have.
Are you going to be allowed to talk about converting Waterdeep: Dragon Heist for Eberron when the time comes?
I don’t think I’m forbidden from talking about anything. What I’m not allowed to do is to produce concrete material: adventures, race conversions, etc. So I could do an article on this site about a general conversion, as long as I had the time to do it. I just couldn’t actually convert NPC stats to Eberron or present my version of Dragonmarks as part of it.
That’s it! Feel free to post additional questions below—though as I am very busy, I can’t promise they’ll be answered.
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes for 5e shows that Mordenkainen (who in 3e was a 27th level wizard) is aware of Eberron and the Last War. What would you do with the implication that high level wizards like Elminster, Murlynd and Dalamar do visit Eberron?
Well, Mordenkainen could be aware of Eberron without actually having visited it. Setting aside epic scrying magic, he could have consulted with other travelers—plucked images of Eberron from the memories of a mind flayer.
I have two main caveats concerning any connection between Eberron and other planes. The first is that it has to be optional. The flip side of “There’s a place for everything in Eberron…” is “… but you get to decide whether you use it.” If someone WANTS to put Elminster in Eberron, more power to ’em—but *I* don’t.
But assuming you DO: one of the design principles of Eberron is that there’s no powerful good guys. If the Tarrasque attacks Sharn, there’s no 27th level wizards sitting around waiting to teleport in and solve the problem. Where there ARE powerful benevolent NPCs—The Keeper of the Flame, the Great Druid—they are limited in some way. Jaela loses her powers if she leaves Flamekeep. Oalian is a giant tree. So if I were to add Elminster into Eberron, I’d want to add a similar handicap. Two options come to mind. The first is that he can’t exercise his full powers without disrupting some sort of balance—whenever he uses his magic in Eberron, Sul Khatesh learns one of his secrets, and once she learns them all she’ll be freed (and he knows this). The second option—which can be combined with the first—is that the Chamber is aware of him and will act to eliminate him if he threatens to disrupt the balance. Even a 27th level wizard should tread lightning around a host of epic level dragons.
So I’m fine with saying that they’ve been around but tread lightly… or exploring the consequences of them NOT treading lightly. For example, I’d love to say The Daelkyr Incursion was the result of Mordenkainen coming to Eberron—whatever method he used to breach the planes drew the attention of the Daelkyr and ultimately destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan.
You may have mentioned this in a prior post, but what do you use/think for the religious views of the jhorash’tal orcs?
Personally, I see the Jhorash’tal orcs as culturally distinct from the orcs of both the Shadow Marches and Demon Wastes. I use a blend of Sovereigns and Six—similar to the Three Faces of War, but encompassing some of the others as well.
what do you think of animal familiar in Eberron? What does it say on magic the fact that every wizard and every sorcerer has one?
Two things there: whether EVERY wizard and sorcerer has one is a function of the edition you’re playing. Even if that is the case, remember that both wizards and sorcerers are rare in Eberron. Most professional spellworkers are magewrights. So familiars will be rare even if every wizard has one.
Second, there critical question is what is a familiar? The traditional familiar is a normal animal that becomes a magical beast when summoned to service. In essence, a minor spirit of some sort possesses the animal body. You could present this as being extraplanar (and in the case of a warlock, an emissary of the warlock’s patron). However, I’m more inclined to say that it’s a manifestation of the spellcaster’s subconscious mind. Especially if ALL wizards have one, I’d argue that when you unlock the part of your mind that allows you to master arcane magic—shaping reality with your thoughts and words—that it allows your subconscious to manifest through a local vessel. The familiar is literally the voice of the piece of you that understands magic.
But that’s just my idea.