When is a Crossbow not a Crossbow?

Given the overall sophistication of Eberron, it can seem strange that people use medieval weapons. In a world of airships and warforged, why haven’t people created more effective personal weapons? Rising From The Last War highlights the spread of wandslingers, soldiers who fight using damage-dealing cantrips. But becoming a wandslinger requires specialized training; you can’t just hand a peasant a wand. So the question remains: in a world that’s this sophisticated and has an industrial base, wouldn’t people develop effective weapons that anyone can use?

Gunpowder is one possible answer. The Dungeon Master’s Guide includes rules for firearms, and I present my thoughts on this in this article. But it’s not my preferred answer. One of the basic ideas of Eberron is that it’s not a setting that mixes magic and technology, but rather a world in which magic is used instead of technology. So rather than having the people of the Five Nations use gunpowder, I’d rather find an alternative that fills the same niche but is unique to Eberron. So: we’re looking for an affordable weapon that anyone can use without training. This weapon should be better than a medieval crossbow, but it doesn’t need to match a modern firearm; in general, Eberron’s advances are closer to the late 19th century than to what we had in the 20th. This ties to the simple point that this weapon shouldn’t break the balance of the game. If you introduce a cheap weapon anyone can use that does twice the damage of an offensive cantrip, you’ve just broken the balance of the magic system. Beyond that, weapons don’t NEED to do more damage. Hit points are an abstract system. Per the PHB, “Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.” If a character has 30 hit points, that’s not supposed to mean that you could stab them in the heart four times with a dagger and they’d laugh it off; it reflects the idea that you can’t land a killing blow until they run out of hit points. If they’ve got hit points, they’re able to parry an otherwise lethal blow, or a potentially deadly arrow only grazes them. 1d8 is all the damage it takes to kill a goblin or a commoner; the fact that you can’t kill a more powerful creature with a single shot isn’t necessarily the fault of the weapon, it’s the cinematic idea that you can’t land the lethal blow.

So with all that in mind, what are we actually looking for with a superior weapon? The weapons we have will already drop a commoner with one shot, so we don’t need better damage. Two obvious factors are range and rate of fire. We want our weapons to be faster and more effective than medieval weapons. But here’s the fun fact: they already are. The crossbow defined in the Player’s Handbook IS better than a medieval crossbow. The crank method for reloading a medieval crossbow limited an archer to about two shots per minute; using a light crossbow, you can fire ten bolts per minute. A modern crossbow in the hands of a skilled shooter has a range of about 240 feet; a light crossbow has a potential range of 320 feet, provided you’re skilled enough to hit at long range. The 1861 Springfield rifle—a common weapon in the American Civil War—could fire 2-4 shots per minute. Again, the crossbow isn’t a match for modern automatic weapons… but at ten shots per minute, it’s not a medieval weapon.

You can dismiss these statistics as unrealistic, designed for ease of play; after all, who would ever USE a crossbow if it took five rounds to reload it? But the alternative is to embrace it, to say that it’s not that these statistics are inaccurate: it’s that the weapons aren’t medieval. Perhaps the soldiers of Galifar I used medieval-style crossbows, with more limited range and a slow crank to reload; the crossbows used today are the result of centuries of Cannith engineering. So if we accept the idea that the statistics of the crossbow are sufficiently effective as a common weapon—the next question is how it delivers those things. How is it that you can fire and reload a crossbow in six seconds while also moving 30 feet in that time?

One thing I’d immediately throw out is the idea that Caniith crossbows use an integrated quiver… or clip, if you will. When you are loading a crossbow, you are performing an action that resets the bow and sets the next bolt in place. This is slow enough that you can’t fire two bolts in that six-second frame. But you don’t actually have to go through a process of drawing a bolt from a quiver and setting it into place by hand in addition to resetting the bow. I’m not suggesting that this eliminates the Loading trait (though see Accessories, below); I’m fine with the idea that the process of resetting the bow and advancing the clip is slow enough that you can only loose one bolt per round. But it’s still far more effective than a medieval crossbow and helps to justify that six-second move-fire-reload cycle. A quiver can hold up to 20 arrows; I’m just suggesting that the quiver is part of the weapon. With this in mind, crossbow bolts in Eberron could be smaller than we usually think of them—aerodynamic densewood quarrels—making the idea of an integrated quiver a little more manageable.

The next question is how the Cannith crossbow delivers that increased range—meaning the bolt has greater force—while simultaneously allowing you to load the bow more swiftly than a medieval weapon. I can see two ways to explain this, though there’s certainly more!

Mundane Weapon, Supernatural Methods. The Cannith crossbow isn’t a magic weapon… but it’s made using magical techniques. It may be made of wood, but Eberron has woods we don’t have access to—bronzewood, darkwood, densewood. The cord may be alchemically treated, stronger and more flexible than any mundane material. The reloading system is a clever and efficient design; there’s no strength requirement on a crossbow. This takes the idea that the crossbow looks like a traditional crossbow (aside from the possibility of an integrated clip); it’s just better than any crossbow we have.

Arcane Science. The crossbow isn’t a magical weapon… but it can still operate using magical principles. The concept of Eberron is that magic is a science. The spells of the wizard are one manifestation of that science… but that doesn’t mean they’re the only way magic can manifest. Magic can generate kinetic force, as shown by a number of spells. So, what if those principles were used to to add force to a physical bolt, as opposed to generating a bolt of pure force?

So imagine the interior of the barrel of a crossbow engraved with arcane sigils. A quarrel is likewise engraved with symbols. When the quarrel moves against the barrel, the symbols create an arcane interaction—a formula that adds kinetic energy to the bolt. With this in mind, the only force the bow has to provide is the initial push of the bolt down the barrel; it’s a spark that triggers the arcane interaction. Which means that the reason it’s so much easier to reload a Cannith crossbow—why you can thumb-load a hand crossbow—is because the bow itself is actually WEAKER than a medieval crossbow, because the true power of the weapon doesn’t depend on the tension of the bow. This also means that the crossbow doesn’t have to LOOK like a crossbow as we’re used to it. It could be closer to a rifle—the longer the barrel, the longer the arcane interaction, thus the short range of the hand crossbow, and the heavy crossbow as the largest and longest weapon. The “bow” could be a relatively small component of the weapon. Essentially, it could resemble a firearm; the point is that the force of the weapon isn’t coming from a chemical reaction, but rather an arcane one. This wouldn’t make the standard crossbow a “magic weapon” for purposes of damage resistance. There’s nothing magical about the bolt itself; It’s simply the case of an arcane reaction generating force. The game mechanics are unchanged, it’s just a different way of presenting the weapon, reflecting the fact that it is superior to a medieval crossbow.

Now, if you DO follow this idea, one could ask why this arcane reaction isn’t being used in other ways. Well, who’s to say it isn’t? It could well be that the lightning rail operates on a similar principle—that the bound elemental provides initial motive force and enhances speed, but that the arcane interaction between coach and conductor stones is the same principle that provides the kinetic force of a Cannith crossbow. Beyond this, the central concept here is that magic is a science, and science evolves. The Five Nations DID use medieval crossbows, and they’ve discovered a technique that has allowed the creation of a more efficient weapon; they could be actively exploring other applications of this kinetic formula. Arcane magic can generate heat, force, and light. It can transmute objects or teleport them. Spells are examples of what can be done with arcane science, not its absolute expression.

All of which is to say that the wandslinger represents one application of magic in war—the idea that knowledge of combat cantrips is becoming more common, and that there are people who fight their battles with fire and lightning. But there can also be a path of arcane science that focuses on enhancing physical tools… building a more efficient versions of weapons people already use, creating tools that can be used even by people with no training or magical talent. Rather than feeling like the crossbow doesn’t fit your vision of the world, consider what could make the crossbow fit.


Once we embrace the idea that the crossbow isn’t a medieval legacy, but rather a modern weapon that’s actively being improved, there’s lots of ways one could improve upon it. Consider a few ideas…

Bayonet. The light crossbow is a simple weapon that can be used without any training and that has an impressive range. Whatever form the weapon takes—whether you embrace the idea of arcane science or just keep it as a traditional crossbow built with superior techniques and materials—it makes sense that the light crossbow is the equivalent of the infantry rifle. With that in mind, it makes sense to have a form of bayonet—a fixed blade allowing a soldier to use the crossbow in close quarters even if they run out of ammunition. It wouldn’t have the reach of a long rifle, but it would still provide the archer with a melee option that doesn’t require them to drop their crossbow. Personally, I’d see this as a simple, two-handed weapon that inflicts 1d6 piercing damage—less effective than a spear (which can be thrown and inflicts 1d8 piercing when used two-handed), but still an effective weapon.

Spellbolt. Following the principle of an arcane reaction triggered as the bolt moves across the barrel, I could imagine a bolt that is designed with a specific arcane payload that’s triggered when the bolt is fired… effectively taking the place of a grenade launcher. The advantage of this would be the ability to project a spell effect farther than normally possible. A fireball normally has a range of of 150 feet; if you could attach a fireball to a heavy crossbow bolt and fire it 400 feet, it’s a dramatic improvement. The catch, of course, is that scrolls and wands require the user to be able to cast the spell (or at least require attunement by a spellcaster). That limitation could be preserved here; perhaps a spellbolt can only be used by a spellcaster, who takes a bonus action to prime the bolt before firing it. Or perhaps this is a new development, and the bolt can be used by anyone as long as it’s fired from a specially designed crossbow. If this is the case, I’d emphasize that this is a recent development; such spellbolts could be rare, and potentially volatile! Note that this is a different approach from the siege staff, which is essentially a long wand; a siege staff can only be used by a spellcaster or someone with specialized training, and projects a purely magical effect.

Silencer. Illusion can be used to create or dampen sound. It’s easy to imagine a magical device that could be attached to a crossbow to eliminate the sound produced by firing or loading the weapon. It would be up to the DM to decide how effective this would be—whether it could allow a well-hidden creature to remain hidden when firing, or whether it would simply prevent the shot from alerting anyone outside of line of sight.

Reload. While I’ve suggested an integrated quiver as part of the Cannith crossbow, my thought is that this justifies the rate of fire allowed by the Loading trait, not that it negates it. However, especially if you follow the idea of the crossbow empowered by arcane science, you could create a superior crossbow that replaces the Loading trait with the Reload trait associated with firearms in the Dungeon Master’s Guide:A limited number of shots can be made with a weapon that has the reload property. A character must then reload it using an action or a bonus action (the character’s choice).” The size of the clip would be up to the DM. Again, I wouldn’t personally make this a standard feature—but it would be interesting if, say, Cannith East had developed a new design that was being used by elite Karrnathi units. Likewise, I could see an advanced hand crossbow with Reload 6, allowing a dual-wielder to get a few shots before needing to reload.

In Conclusion…

This is probably more than anyone ever wanted to hear about Keith’s thoughts on the crossbow, especially since my primary point is the rules don’t have to be changed. But what I hope you take away is that something can be inspired by a medieval tool and still feel modern. Whether it’s a crossbow or a stagecoach, the people of Eberron use magical techniques to improve on the mundane; this can involve flashy effects like fire and lightning, but it can also simply involve something that appears to be mundane and yet is superior to what we’re used to.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support. My next major article will be on either the Znir Gnolls of Droaam or on Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead—right now, the Patreon poll is tied!

What have you done with ranged weapons in Eberron? Have you added firearms or explored other magical solutions? Post your ideas below!

Dragonmarks: Firearms in Eberron

There are a few questions I’ve been asked time and again over the years, and one of those came up again just recently: How do firearms fit into Eberron? There’s a number of different gunpowder related classes and rules out in the world; Unearthed Arcana even included a version of the artificer with a Gunsmith archetype. So, how do firearms fit into the setting?

The short and simple answer is they don’t. From the very beginning, Eberron was designed as a setting where arcane magic was the foundation of civilization. The core idea is that in Eberron people wouldn’t pursue the development of firearms and gunpowder, because they have a different tool for creating explosions and hurting people at a distance… so they’d refine that magical tool instead of pursuing something entirely different.

But… isn’t another core principle of Eberron If it exists in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron? So: there’s a gunslinger class and I’ve got a player who really wants to use it… what do I do with it?

In any situation like this, the most critical question is: WHY do you want to add this thing into Eberron? What is the story you are trying to tell, and do you need to change the world to tell it? Does your story absolutely require the existence of some form of gunpowder analogue… or could you take the same basic idea and reflavor it to work using magical principles instead of gunpowder?

The Wandslinger

The basic principle of Eberron is that people are finding ways to solve the problems we’ve solved with technology by using magic. Instead of using telegraphs or cell phones, they have speaking stones and sending. Thus, the idea that’s most in keeping with the setting is to develop a magical analogue to the firearm. Wands, staves, and rods are tools that can hold and channel mystical power. In third edition, it wasn’t feasible to use wands as personal sidearms; they were too expensive and also entirely disposable, and it was hard to imagine a unit of soldiers equipped with such a tool. But we took steps towards this by introducing the eternal wand, which had fewer restrictions on who could use it and which recharged every day. While statistics were never presented for it, in my novels I also presented the idea of the siege staff, Khorvaire’s answer to artillery. The idea’s simple: if a wand holds a little power and a staff can hold greater power, then a staff made from a tree trunk could hold greater power still, dramatically amplifying the range and radius of a spell effect to fill the same role as cannons in our world.

The later editions of D&D have made casual combat magic easier to use. In fifth edition, a wand is an arcane focus that costs a fraction of the price of a longbow. Such a wand has no inherent power of its own; it channels the power of a spellcaster. Meanwhile, the Magic Initiate feat establishes the idea that you don’t need to be a wizard or warlock to know a cantrip or two. So in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron we embrace this idea and suggest that over the course of the Last War the nations began training elite arcaneers—essentially, soldiers who gain the Magic Initiate feat and can perform simple combat magic. Because NPCs don’t need to follow exactly the same rules as player characters, I suggest that wandslingers typically only know offensive cantrips (spells that require an attack roll or saving throw), and further that the typical wandslinger needs an arcane focus to perform their magic. Essentially, for a player character a wand is an optional tool; for a wandslinger, it’s a requirement. This is intended both to emphasize that player characters are remarkable, but also to establish that in this world arcane focuses are important tools—that there’s a form of science at work here, and that the “wand technology” is significant.

There’s a few issues with arcane focuses replacing firearms. One of the obvious ones is range: a fire bolt has a range of 120 feet, while a bow can hit an enemy up to 600 feet away; don’t we need a solution that can match that? There’s also the issue that only spellcasters can use the wand, so wouldn’t we have an answer that anyone can use? Addressing the second point first, we do have a solution anyone can use: a bow or crossbow. And anyone CAN learn to use a wand… if they put in the time. Again, the core idea of Eberron is that the magic used by a magewright or a wandslinger is a form of science. Different people may have a special aptitude to different types of spells, just as in our world some people have a talent for a certain type of instrument while others just aren’t very musical. But anyone CAN learn to play an instrument… and in Eberron, anyone could learn to use a wand. On the other hand, they could also put that time and energy into mastering another skill. So Aundair’s elite infantry may be made up of wandslingers, who have the equivalent of Magic Initiate; while Thrane’s elite archers have the equivalent of the Sharpshooter feat, reflecting their specialized training.

So: a basic principle of Eberron’s widespread magic is that many magical tools do have a living component. A siege staff requires a trained person to operate it. And this is why crossbows and arbalests DO still have a place in the world. But remember that here too, these tools can be enhanced by magic. If an Aereni ship uses an arbalest, the bolts could easily be explosive; we’ve also mentioned livewood bolts bound to a dryad, allowing the dryad to manifest on the ship struck by the bolt. Rather than saying “An arbalest is inferior to a cannon, they’d have to have developed cannons,” consider the ways that you could magically enhance an arbalest to match the capabilities of a cannon… even if, like the livewood arbalest, the actual results are very different.

Still, there’s a few valid points. Range is a significant limitation for the battlefield wandslinger. And another thing that bothers me is that in fifth edition there’s no difference between the arcane focuses. Wand, staff, orb… it’s a purely cosmetic choice with no practical effect. Given the idea that these things are tools, I wanted the choice of focus to matter. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron includes one set of rules. Here’s a summary of what I’m playing with now. The staff rules are new and largely untested, which is why they aren’t in the WGtE, but you could try them out if your players and DMs agree.

  • A wand, crystal, or orb is used in one hand. This has no inherent impact unless you’re using a special focus (imbued wood, orb of shielding, etc).
  • A rod can be used with one or two hands. If it is used with two hands, the range of any offensive cantrip you cast is increased by 50%. Using a two handed arcane focus meets the somatic requirements of a spell.
  • A staff requires two hands. When casting an offensive cantrip, the standard range is the listed range for the cantrip, but the staff provides a long range equal to four times the listed range: so when using a staff, fire bolt has a standard range of 120 feet and a long range of 480 feet. When casting an offensive cantrip beyond normal range, you have disadvantage on the attack roll and the target has advantage on the saving throw. Using a two handed arcane focus meets the somatic requirements of a spell.

The goal here is to present the wand as a sidearm—short range, easily concealable—with the staff as the analogue to the rifle. A team of Aundairian arcaneers equipped with staves can’t quite match the range of Aundairian archers, but they can come close… and of course the staff doesn’t require ammunition and the damage scales with the user’s skill. Note that these rules specifically apply to “offensive cantrips”—cantrips requiring an attack roll or saving throw. The staff increases the range of fire bolt, but it doesn’t quadruple the range of message.

The basic principle here is simple: rather than say “A cantrip is inferior to a gun, so people would develop guns,” consider how magic might evolve to fill the same niche. We need to kill someone from farther away? Let’s see if we can increase the range of the spell by making a longer wand (IE, a staff). Want a silencer? Perhaps you can buy a ring that goes around the end of a wand or staff and reduces the obvious discharge. Explore magical solutions. With that said, bear in mind that part of presenting magic as a form of science is that magic has the same limitations as science, one of which is that progress comes slowly. Within current lore the idea is that the techniques of the wandslinger only developed over the last thirty years. People are actively working to improve these things and to make better focus items.

So, the first question is whether it’s possible to just reflavor whatever class or element is calling for guns to use a magical alternative. Currently I’m running a campaign in Q’barra that has the flavor of a fantasy western, and so far, I’ve been very happy with how the wandslinging rules fill the gap for firearms. The sheriff relies on sword and bow; the warlock’s a fancy wandslinger with a brace of imbued-wood wands; the innkeeper has a rod behind the bar in case of trouble.

Goblin Gunslingers

So: I would just reflavor a gunslinger class to use wands. But perhaps that doesn’t work. Maybe the mechanics don’t make sense with a wand, or maybe the DM or player really, really wants something that functions more like an actual gunpowder weapon.

There’s a place for everything in Eberron; you just have to find it. If I had a player who really, really wanted to be a gunslinger, I wouldn’t solve this problem by giving firearms to House Cannith or the Five Nations. The core idea is that the Five Nations solve their problems by using arcane magic, not technology. But… what about a society that DOESN’T possess arcane magic? An advanced, militaristic civilization already renowned for its metallurgy and smithing techniques—a civilization that is thus perfecting the mundane arts of war? Those of you who know the setting well may already have guessed who I’m talking about: the goblinoid Heirs of Dhakaan.

Now: I’m not suggesting that the goblins of Darguun—the Ghaal’dar—have guns. And I’m not saying that the Dhakaani had firearms when they fought the Daelkyr. The Heirs of Dhakaan have been in subterranean isolation for thousands of years, and I’m suggesting that some of their clans may have developed this technology during that time. The Kech Volaar study arcane magic, and thus they wouldn’t have firearms. The Kech Sharaat pride themselves on their mastery of melee combat. So I’d introduce the Kech Hashrach, a clan that has developed firearms and artillery. I’d want them to be as surprising and as threatening to Darguun as to the Five Nations, and present this as an entirely alien form of technology—a path of science others haven’t explored at all. Essentially, in clashing with the Kech Hashrach there would be a chance to explore the conflict between magic and technology. So going back to the player character who wants to be a gunslinger, I’d figure out a way that they could have acquired their tools from the Kech Hashrach. Could they have been a slave who learned the ways of the gun before escaping? Would the player be interested in having ties to the clan—in having somehow earned their respect and been inducted into the Kech? Or might they simply have befriended an old goblin sharpshooter who taught them her secrets? Essentially, I’m fine with a single player character having an exotic weapon, but I’d play up the idea that it IS exotic… and that the Cannith artificer doesn’t get why you’re messing around with dangerous explosives when the basic arcane formulas for pyrotechnic magic are well established and quite safe.

Elemental Weapons

If you don’t like the Dhakaani, there’s another path that we’ve mentioned but never fully explored: Elemental weapons. The gnomes of Zilargo are noted for their skill with alchemy and for elemental binding, and we specifically call out that they provided Breland with “elemental weaponry” during the Last War… but we’ve never explained exactly what this is. One possibility is to play up the alchemical side and explore explosive technology. Another is to focus more on the idea of bound elementals; but this would be a way to create a fire-based weapon that’s distinct from a wand.

I don’t have time to explore this concept in detail here, but it’s a path that would allow you to create a sidearm or form of artillery that isn’t based on direct spellcasting, while still engaging with in-world lore. And I could certainly imagine interesting ways to make it distinct from mundane firearms. Imagine a form of canon that fires globes containing small fire elementals; when the weapon strikes, it doesn’t just explode, it unleashes the fire elemental in the midst of your enemies.

Giving this to the Zil and Breland is also another way to differentiate between nations and to shift the power dynamic from the houses. Aundair might have the finest wandslingers, and House Cannith might be the primary source for arcane weapons of mass destruction. But the Zil could be providing Breland with a form of weaponry none of the other nations use… and the Kech Hashach could be emerging from the depths of Khyber with yet another form of unfamiliar weaponry.

So: I personally focus on using magic in place of firearms, but here’s a few alternatives to consider. Have you used firearms in your Eberron? Have you tried out the wandslinger? Share your thoughts below!


What class would you use as a wandslinger?

Anyone who can cast an offensive arcane cantrip COULD be a wandslinger. It’s largely a question of style. Your wizard can cast fire bolt. Does he take pride in this? Does he carry a fine wand of Fernian ash on his hip, or a battleworn rod over his shoulder? Or is he a scholar who KNOWS the words to produce fire, but prefers only to use them as a last resort? Essentially: does the character use offensive cantrips? If so, do they use an arcane focus more often than not? If so, do they take some pride in this? If so, that character’s a wandslinger. It doesn’t matter if they’re a sorcerer, wizard, warlock, bard, or just anyone who’s taken Magic Initiate. And again, with NPCs they generally aren’t any class at all; the ONLY magic a typical arcaneer knows is the battle magic they channel through their foci.

Now, there is something I always wanted to ask Keith ever since he first talked about wandslingers, how common were they in the Last War? And how common are they in post-war Khorvaire? Could you be mugged by a thug with a wand in a dark alley?

The short answer is “They’re as rare or as common as you want them to be in your story.” In my Eberron Aundair fielded the first elite arcaneer units in the last 30 years of the war, and they’ve become more common since then. Today I think wand use is common in Aundair, rare in Thrane, and uncommon everywhere else—which is to say, everyone is familiar with the concept of it, people know a wandslinger when they see one, but the city watch are still using crossbows. In my Q’barra campaign, the sheriff uses a bow, but when the slick Tharashk operatives showed up in town, two of them were wandslingers… and again, the innkeeper keeps a rod over the bar. Essentially, wandslinging is definitely new… but sure, you could be mugged by a thug with a wand. But again: in your campaign, it’s as common as you want it to be.

Dragonmarks 1/25: Codex, Cannith, and Changes I’d Make

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Eberron Q&A, largely because I’ve been spending most of my spare time working on my new setting, codenamed Codex (working title only – it’s my Blue Harvest). But I don’t want to neglect Eberron, and a few of these questions segue into my upcoming Codex post. As always, my answers are just my opinion and may contradict canon sources: it’s up to you to decide what to use!

If there were anything you’d change about as-published Eberron, what would it be? What would you add or expand?

Lots of things. I wish we’d had more space to talk about the planes and undersea nations. I’d like more information about the spells and weapons used during the Last War, and more information about what war in Eberron actually looks like (and how these things could affect a post-war story). I wish we’d been able to provide more support for goblins as PCs. I wish we’d gotten the scale right on the original map of Khorvaire. Most of these are practical things that I believe would improve the setting for other players & DMs. There’s other changes that are more about what I want in a world, but don’t necessarily serve anyone else’s needs. I’d like the history of Galifar to have been shorter and a little more dramatic. I’d like more restrictions on resurrection and more of an exploration of its impact on society. There are lots of other little details like this, but they’re more for my peace of mind than because they interfere with people’s ability to enjoy the world.

As you progress in future RPGs/settings/etc, are there themes you tried exploring in Eberron that you’ll try to explore more?

Certainly. Looking at just a few…

  • The Impact of Magic on a Society. Any time I’m working on a world or system that involves magic, I want to seriously consider its impact on the world around it, and how it could be incorporated into a culture. Codex is at a different point in the history of magic than Eberron, and there’s more of a breakdown of different cultures employing different forms/schools of magic. But the basic idea—if magic exists and is reliable, how will it change the world—is definitely there.
  • War. There are many different ways in which war can generate stories. Eberron dealt with a civil war shattering a major kingdom. Codex will do something different… but war and its impact on the people caught up in it is certainly a theme that will be present.
  • Dreams. I’ve always loved exploring dreams. The very first RPG piece I had published was essentially Inception rules for Over The Edge. I wrote Oneiromancy rules for Atlas Games’ Occult Lore. Eberron plays with the Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Codex is going in a different direction, but dreams have a role in the world.
  • Divine Mysteries and the Importance of Faith. Codex takes a very different approach to the divine than Eberron does. But it is still a world in which faith matters, where the absolute nature of the divine remains a mystery to mortals.
  • Shades of Gray. There’s always a place for the cut-and-dried pulp villain; when you fight the Emerald Claw, you generally know you’re doing the right thing. But as a noir fan, I want the world as a whole to be less black and white.

That’s just off the top of my head. I like conspiracies and intrigue, so you can be sure you’ll see a lot of schemes going on. I like to think about monsters—what are their cultures and drives? If I took another ten minutes, I’d likely come up with ten more answers, but I’ll get to those in the future.

Do the Five Nations have or seek to have colonies?

Colonization isn’t a strong theme in Eberron. By the numbers, the Five Nations aren’t even fully utilizing the land they currently claim; there’s no desperate need for new land. Beyond that, there’s not a lot of appealing land to colonize. Sarlona and Argonnessen are already taken, the Frostfell is hardly appealing, and Xen’drik is a cursed, twisted land full of dangerous things.

With that said, colonization and exploration are themes I’ll be exploring in Codex.

The Silver Flame infamously conducted a pogrom vs. lycanthropes. Has it similarly campaigned against other supernatural types?

Sure. Remember all those demon overlords trapped in Khyber? They’re the end result of the very first Silver Flame pogrom versus a supernatural threat. Of course, that predates HUMAN worship of the Silver Flame. In modern times, there’s nothing on par with the purge of lycanthropy, but in part that’s because there’s never been a threat that called for it. The Purge was a response to a massive outbreak of infectious lycanthropy; if left unchecked, this would have consumed and destroyed human civilization on Khorvaire. The forces of the Flame met this head on, and once it was broken, took steps to eliminate it completely. If there was, say, a zombie apocalypse, they’d act with the same ruthless efficiency to hunt down and destroy all vectors of zombie infection. There hasn’t been such a large-scale obvious threat, and so we haven’t seen such a thing. But on a smaller scale, the Silver Flame is CONSTANTLY campaigning against supernatural threats. That’s the purpose of the Templars: Protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Are there ghouls in the graveyard? The templars will check it out when they arrive. Is Dela possessed? Call for an exorcist of the Silver Flame! People often see the Silver Flame as intolerant or overzealous, but it’s important to remember that Eberron is a world where there ARE rakshasa, vampires, and demons abroad in the world, where you could be possessed or where evil from Khyber could burst onto the surface at any time. If it does, the Templars are charged to face it and if necessary, to lay down their lives to protect you from it.

Is there a Cannith family tree w/the prominent family member’s dates of birth/death & so on? How old was Norran when he died?

I’ve never encountered or constructed a full Cannith family tree. I don’t believe there’s a canon source as to Norran’s age, so it’s up to you to decide what best suits your story.

Also would warforged eventually expire if sealed in a vault? If Cannith seals unwanted creations up, do they last forever?

Warforged don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe. As such, a warforged could survive for a very, very long time if it was sealed in a vault. Do they last FOREVER? That depends on the environment. If you stored a suit of armor in this vault, would it still be intact and usable in a century? If the answer is “yes,” than a warforged stored in a similar way would also survive. If the environment lends itself to decay and corrosion, and if circumstances prevent the warforged from maintaining itself, it could fall pray to rot or corrosion. On the other hand, if it’s capable of moving and tending to itself, it could probably hold these things at bay. As defined, warforged have no set “expiration date,” and there are canon sources that deal with warforged created during the Age of Giants that are still operational.

Can a rakshasa truly worship the Silver Flame? If not, why don’t Silver Flame priests detect the evilness of disguised rakshasa?

This question originally dealt with the plot of a specific novel; to avoid spoilers, I’m addressing the general point. First, I don’t believe that a rakshasa can truly worship the Silver Flame… because if it does, it will cease to be a rakshasa and become something else. Immortal fiends are essentially incarnate ideas; if the idea changes substantially, I maintain that the creature will become something entirely different. A fallen angel becomes a radiant idol or a devil. A “risen” rakshasa would likewise take on a new form… perhaps that of a deva.

Given this, how do undercover rakshasa avoid detection? They have to be able to duplicate the powers of the roles they seek to fill. A rakshasa posing as a silver pyromancer has to learn some way to make his magic LOOK like that of a true silver pyromancer, even if it’s not. However, the Lords of Dust have had tens of thousands of years to work on this.  They have access to epic level spellcasters and hordes of treasure amassed since the dawn of time… so they can use magic items to help their disguises. One of the most important of these is the Mask of the Misplaced Aura, described on page 170 of Sharn: City of Towers; this is an amulet that gives the wearer a different aura for purposes of divination. So a rakshasa could have a MotMA that makes him show up as a 10th level lawful good cleric, even though he’s actually a 12th level lawful evil sorcerer/outsider.

What would change if the Twelve creates some magic equivalent firearms just for dragonmarked heirs?

It depends how effective they are compared to other weapons, from crossbows to eternal wands. Can they by any dragonmarked heir, or just one with a dragonmark? Do they require martial training, or are they mystically accurate (more like a longbow or a wand of magic missiles)? What’s the range? Do they automatically penetrate armor? How expensive are they—can every heir have them, or are they as rare as high-level sorcerers?

One of the underlying themes of Eberron is the uneasy balance of power between the nobility and the dragonmarked houses; the military power of the houses has been held in check by the Korth Edicts. If the houses acquire this new tool, there is the chance for them to be seen as a new military threat. I expect that the Five Nations would seek to ban them, just as they shut down Cannith’s creation forges. The question is if the Twelve would defy them, and what would happen if they do. Will all the houses stand together behind the Twelve, or would some break ranks? Are the nations prepared to forgo the services of the houses to enforce this point? Might they convince the Church of the Silver Flame that these firearmed dragonmarked heirs are a supernatural threat that endangers the innocent?

Ultimately, I think the answer largely depends on diplomacy and how these things are used. If they are used sparingly and in accord with the laws of the land, they might go largely unnoticed. On the other hand, if the houses flaunt them and engage in acts of aggression, it’s possible you could have an entirely different sort of Next War on your hands.

You mentioned a pulp hero named The Beholder. Would he be more like Batman or The Shadow?

The Beholder and her tagline (“No evil escapes the eyes of the Beholder!”) was inspired by the Shadow. The Beholder was a kalashtar with an assortment of agents (her “eyes”) she could communicate with telepathically to coordinate her war on the villains of Sharn.

Why may Aereni be interesting villains?

Hmm. The members of the Undying Court are tens of thousands of years old. They are one of the few forces who are capable of interpreting the Draconic Prophecy. Together, they wield divine power on par with the Silver Flame, if not as far reaching. They are capable of ruthless action in pursuit of their own interests, as shown by the extermination of the Line of Vol. Their power is limited beyond Aerenal, but can still be channeled through their priests and paladins. So, here’s a few ideas.

  • Take a page from Fringe. The Undying Court has been watching humanity for thousands of years. Now it acts. Through some unknown method, the Court extends its power to (Sharn/Stormreach/wherever), allowing them to wield their full divine power in this region. This allows them to shatter any organized military force that challenges them. Aereni soldiers commanded by deathless paladins seize control of the region and place it under martial law. They are constructing eldritch machines that will extend the range of their powers and allow the Ascendant Counselors to leave Shae Mordai. First off, WHY? Are they trying to save humanity from itself? Is this really an attack on the Lords of Dust/Chamber/Erandis Vol, who were about to do something big in the area?
  • Take it on a smaller scale. Aerenal decides that it won’t put up with the people of Khorvaire providing aid and support for its enemies (Erandis and the Emerald Claw). It begins to send military strike teams into the Five Nations to attack the Emerald Claw, and to hit areas with divine strikes. Aerenal considers these actions fully justified and is unconcerned about collateral damage. As an adventurer, you can easily get caught up in conflict with these forces, especially if you have any attachments to the Blood of Vol. Do you fight them? Strike back at Aerenal? Or try to help them finish their mission as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimize collateral damage?
  • If you’re an elf, chances are your ancestors at least passed through Aerenal. That means the Court knows something about you. Perhaps you have an ancestor on the Court. Or you have an ancient enemy on the Court who has been slowly eliminating your entire line. He’s finally gotten around to you. He’s coordinating strikes from Shae Mordai. Not only do you not know who he is, you don’t know the basis for the feud. Can you find the answers to these questions before it’s too late? How do you reach him in Shae Mordai?

Our local group is trying to get a better understanding of airships, which has made us curious about some of the choices used.  In the campaign setting book  airships use fire elementals and galleons use air elementals.  It just doesn’t make sense to us.  Why not just use air elementals for both ships?

A galleon uses an air elemental to generate wind which it harnesses with sails. The fire elemental works more like a rocket. With that said, some airships do employ air elementals; Pride of the Kraken from Principles of Fire used both an air and fire elemental.
I have been doing some research on flying fortresses.  In doing so I stumbled across a forum post that was speaking about the command center.  The post mentioned that it uses three bound elementals, earth, air, and fire. How does an earth elemental aid the flying fortress?

I don’t believe it’s my post, so I can’t say what the original author intended. However, I could see it as possibly being less about the interaction with the earth and more about enhancing the structural stability of the vessel.
If an elemental vessel loses its bound shard or it becomes damaged can it be repaired? Better yet can it be replaced?

Provided that it survives the experience, sure. If someone removes it while it’s docked, it could be replaced. And a galleon could lose its shard and continue under normal windpower. However, a large airship that loses its shard while in motion is going to crash, so a new shard is the least of your repair issues.
If shards are replaceable, would it then be possible to have a vessel that could swap crystals to take on different traits?

I don’t see why not. This would be an argument for a ship with multiple bound elementals—so you could still have one active to maintain the stability of the vessel while you switch out the other.
It seems that all of the Eberron publications only intend for the core elementals (air, earth, fire, and water) to be bound?  Do you have plans for the other elementals?  I know I do.  Is it possible that they can’t be bound?

I think any elemental should be able to be bound. I have no plans for them, but I certainly encourage you to run with the idea.

Besides Q&A it would be cool if you write short Eberron stories (FR authors do it).

I don’t know what FR authors do, but there’s a few factors here.

First, Eberron is the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast. If I wrote an Eberron story, they would be within their rights to order me to take it down or change it. Would they? I don’t know. But they COULD. There’s been issues in the past as to whether I could post an Eberron adventure on my site. And there’s certainly no way I could sell an Eberron story.

This ties to point number two, which is time. I don’t have a whole lot of it, and the freelance RPG business isn’t the most lucrative job in the world. As a result, I need to focus the time that I have on projects that I feel are going somewhere. I’d LIKE to finish the stories of Thorn and Daine and Lei. But those stories belong to WotC, and I can’t afford to work on a story that not only can’t I sell, but that I might not even be able to post for free. Hence my working on Codex. I want to work on something that I know I can expand. So I’d be thrilled if WotC authorizes me to do more Eberron fiction. But it’s not something I’m comfortable investing time in without that authorization.