Lightning Round: Dragons, Tarkanan, and More!

Hi Everyone!

The last two months have been a whirlwind of travel and deadlines, and that’s kept me largely off the internet. In addition to traveling to GenCon, DragonCon, and XOXO, I’ve been working on Exploring Eberron—The Book Formerly Known As Project Raptor—and also on the game Twogether Studios is developing with the Adventure Zone. I’m also preparing to DM at Level Eater in Portland and G.A.M.E in Springfield!

In my next post I’ll talk more about all of these things, and about Eberron: Rising From The Last War, the Eberron hardcover that is  coming out in November. Today, I want to quickly answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters!

If Aberrant Marks can’t be passed on like normal Dragonmarks, what is life typically like for the children of House Tarkanan?

For those unfamiliar with aberrant dragonmarks or House Tarkanan, this article might be a useful crash course on some of the issues associated with them.

As for this question: remember that “House Tarkanan” is nothing like a Dragonmarked House. It’s a name this organization took in mockery of the Dragonmarked Houses, sort of like a gang calling themselves “The Kings of Callestan.” Just because they call themselves “Kings” doesn’t mean they actually have any sort of sovereign power! The Dragonmarked Houses are multinational guilds formed many centuries ago through the alliances of powerful families. They are dynasties as well as businesses with a presence in multiple nations and on multiple continents. By contrast, House Tarkanan was started less than a decade ago by the survivors of a disavowed Brelish commando unit. It has expanded its operations since then, but it is still a small organization and still fundamentally a criminal organization, NOT a dynasty. You aren’t born into House Tarkanan and you don’t need to marry into it; you’re simply recruited into it. Members often use the last name Tarkanan, but that’s an affectation. The leader of the gang often calls herself Thora Tarkanan, but her actual name is Thora Tavin.

So the main point is that there are no “children of House Tarkanan.” The organization thrives by recruiting new members, not by breeding them. If you’re a Tarkanan enforcer, you could marry a Morgrave librarian and have five kids; marked or unmarked, your spouse and children aren’t considered members of House Tarkanan unless they are recruited into it.

With that said, the issue behind the question is the idea that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary. And on that point, I’m going to change MY stance slightly. We’ve always said that the most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is to cross the bloodlines of two different houses—that this is more likely to produce an aberrant mark than a person with an aberrant mark having a child. And I stand by that, in general, with one exception: I think it’s fair to say that if both parents have aberrant dragonmarks, the odds of producing an aberrant child are the same as if you mixed two house bloodlines… that two aberrants ALSO produce a “mixed mark.” Since the War of the Mark, aberrant marks have been so rare that this has rarely been an issue. But now aberrant marks are starting to appear in greater numbers, and forces like House Tarkanan are concentrating them. So this is a factor that COULD lead to House Tarkanan producing more aberrant heirs.

But the critical question is… does it want to? 

Even if you have a more reliable way to produce an aberrant mark, one of the defining factors of aberrant marks is that they are unpredictable: even if two aberrant parents produce a child with an aberrant mark, most likely that mark will have NOTHING IN COMMON with the marks of the parents. The semi-canon example we have of this is in the novel The Son of Khyber. Tarkanan lieutenant Filleon is the son of Ghallanda-Jorasco parents and has a mark that gives him a lethal touch. His daughter Zae has a mark that lets her communicate with and control vermin… nothing to do with his mark, or Jorasco, or Ghallanda. The second key element is that fact that most aberrant marks have serious physical or mental side effects. In Son of Khyber, Filleon has a withered arm that’s a result of his mark, and accidentally killed his mother when his mark manifested. While Zae can communicate with rats, it appears that she can’t actually speak; Filleon himself says that her mark is a mental burden and that he feels pity for her. Essentially, if you’re a Cannith heir with the Mark of Making, there’s no reason not to pass that on to a child. If you’re an aberrant, you have no idea if your child will develop a mark they come to see as a curse, and you also know they’ll be ostracized and persecuted.

With player characters we tend to downplay the negative side effects of aberrant marks and leave it primarily up to the player to roleplay them. But the intent is that aberrant marks are difficult and dangerous. If we look to the X-Men as a comparison, consider Cyclops—the idea that if he loses his glasses, people may die. Or Rogue, unable to touch someone without draining their life force and memories. House Tarkanan wants to protect people with aberrant marks, and to train them to use their powers. But it’s a valid question if they’d actually want to dramatically increase the number of people with aberrant marks, given how often those marks can be a burden to the people who carry them.

Do aberrant marks follow the rules of if they are removed they will manifest again elsewhere on the body? Would they manifest with the same drawback? I know the novel dwarf has essentially regeneration backlash.

Aberrant marks are dragonmarks. As such, yes, if removed they will manifest elsewhere on the body. Essentially, the power doesn’t actually come FROM the physical mark; rather, the mark is a manifestation of the power. Cut the mark off, the power remains, and eventually the mark reappears. Whether the drawback remains the same depends on the drawback. In the case of the ratspeaker Zae, the idea is that her POWER is what drives her a little crazy; she hears whispering rats in her head all the time. As long as she has that power, it will be a burden. On the other hand, if Filleon cut off his withered arm, maybe that would be that… or maybe the power of the mark would cause ANOTHER one of his limbs to wither. There’s no absolute rules, and I don’t see that as something Filleon would be inclined to put to the test.

The dwarf Brom is an unusual character who would be difficult to create as a PC—an example of a greater or Khyber-level mark. He has essentially, a dramatic form of regeneration blended with reincarnation; when he’s injured, the cells regenerate, but typically as cells of a random humanoid. And certainly, if his mark was removed, it would return.

My general understanding is that the Aurum represents an ascendant merchant class that chafes at both Nations’ and the Houses’ powers – Something which puts them at least somewhat into alignment with Tarkanan. How do you think they would align and how would they conflict?

In many ways the Aurum and House Tarkanan are opposites. The Aurum is a collection of wealthy, privileged people who want even more wealth and power. By contrast, House Tarkanan was founded by betrayed soldiers, and represents an alliance of people scorned and feared by all, people who have endured poverty and hardship. Tarkanan is a very SMALL organization – per WGtE, a “small, elite force” and only just starting to establish itself beyond Sharn – while the Aurum is spread across Khorvaire. Members of House Tarkanan are united both by their marks and the persecution they’ve endured; they feel a sense of kinship and they generally do seek to help others with aberrant marks. Meanwhile, the Aurum is largely an alliance of convenience; they aren’t driven to help other wealthy people in need.

I could see two basic points. One would be straightforward. Tarkanan is a group of mercenary criminals. The Aurum are people with money who need mercenaries to do their dirty work. It is thus entirely reasonable for an Aurum mastermind to hire House Tarkanan to assist in an operation targeting a house,  and Tarkanan would be happy to take the job. The other possibility would be for a member of the Shadow Cabinet, such as Antus Soldorak, to recognize Tarkanan as a useful tool in their goal of destabilizing houses; with this in mind, they would offer Tarkanan gold and resources, while suggesting targets. Tarkanan is a small organization and would likely be happy to have that wealthy patron. I wouldn’t make the alliance any more direct than that. Thora would likely know very little about the patron, likely not even their name; part of the point would be that the Aurum could USE Tarkanan—known to have a grudge with the houses—as a catspaw to undertake missions they don’t want traced back to them.

If a dragonmarked heir became a warlord of Droaam somehow, would anyone call them out for violating the Korth Edicts?

Galifar I established the Korth Edicts, which forbid dragonmarked heirs from holding land, noble title, or maintaining military forces. In the wake of the Last War, it’s very unclear who could actually enforce the Korth Edicts. MOST people abide by them, because they carry the weight of centuries of tradition. But there’s a number of active examples where houses are violating the Edicts and nothing is being done. Essentially, sure, someone COULD call them out… and then what? Unless that person has powerful friends who take such an interest that they are willing to try to lean on the heir’s Baron to address the situation, odds are good it would be one more case where the Edicts are been violated and nothing is being done.

With that said, it’s also a weird issue because Droaam isn’t recognized as a sovereign nation. As such, being a warlord of Droaam likely wouldn’t be recognized as a “noble title” under the terms of the Edicts.

In an episode of Manifest Zone you (I think!) mentioned that the giants of Xen’drik were more like titans rather than the several sub-races that exist now. Could you expand on that at all? If the giants were like titans did the dragons curse the race when they destroyed their empire, deliberately fragmenting the race so they could not rise to dominance again?

That’s correct. This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebooks Secrets of Xen’drik and City of Stormreach. This is from City of Stormreach. 

In dealing with the giants of Xen’drik, it’s important to bear in mind that the giants have not always been such a divergent species. Many scholars claim that all modern giants—stone and hill, fire and frost—share a common biological ancestor, beyond the mythical titans. Some adventurers speak of encounters with primordial giants or eldritch giants, and this could be the answer to these stories. In any case, evidence exists that a few of the giant subspecies—such as the fire giants of the Sul’at League—existed prior to the great cataclysm. But others, most notably the hill giants, are said to be the result of curses unleashed in that war… powers unleashed by the dragons to prevent any giant nation from rising to its prior heights.

Titans were founders and leaders of many of the giant nations, while the “common” giants were more in the mode of storm giants or eldritch giants. The dragons unleashed epic curses—the Traveler’s Curse, the Durashka Tul, and more—and the modern giants are a reflection of these curses.

Are the half-giants a result of magebreeding or some sort of result of the curses like the hill giants? Are they actually “half” anything or are they simply the smallest giants?

The canon answer is given in the Player’s Guide to Eberron:

In the distant past, giant explorers from Xen’drik visited southern Sarlona. Their descendants are the half-giants described in the Expanded Psionics Handbook. It is unclear whether half-giants actually have human ancestry or are simply degenerate descendants of the titans of Xen’drik (as most giant kinds are believed to be).

This is echoed in Secrets of Sarlona…

Perhaps the most baffling of all the races on the continent, the nomadic half-giants of Sarlona are descendants of ancient giant explorers from Xen’drik. Some say the half-giants are degenerate offspring of the Xen’drik titans, while others contend they have a mixed human ancestry.

Are ogres and trolls actually related to the giants in the ways they are in other settings, or are they simply parallel creatures with similar traits (size, strength, ferocity) but different origins?

In my opinion, ogres and trolls are entirely unrelated to giants, which is one reason we suggests that the ogres and trolls of Khorvaire should speak Goblin instead of Giant. Trolls are likely part of the same biological path as orcs; ogres developed on Sarlona.

I am using Sarmondelaryx as a Patron for one of my players, in my campaign she has been sealed by Harryn Stormblade a couple of centuries prior to the start of our campaign. What kind of goals would you think she would be aspiring to for when she manages to get released? 

Sarmondelaryx is a character referenced in the Thorn of Breland novel series. She is a rogue red dragon possessing a set of powerful dragonshard artifacts; these help her avoid detection (and thus the Eyes of Chronepsis) and to bind souls, which has the effect of extending her life. She is infamous for having killed the first Prince Thrane and devastating the nation in the early days of Galifar.

So: Sarmondelaryx is a powerful, virtually immortal dragon with enemies in both Argonnessen and Ashtakala. She has consumed demons and slain dragons, and personally I would double down on her desire to make both sides suffer—to be a wild card in the ancient war between the Conclave and the Lords of Dust. I’d see her trying to stir up conflicts between the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, setting situations where they end up fighting each other while Sarmondelaryx (or her agent) escapes with whatever prize they were seeking. What does she want? She always wants to increase her own power… but as much as anything, I think she enjoys the game of outsmarting both of the superpowers, making her enemies suffer and proving her superiority.

The church of the silver Flame seems to have a lot of variance in its presentation by author. Structurally, it consistently has the big three orders of ministers/Templars/friars. Are other orders subsidiaries of those? Same organizational level but smaller and less prominent?

Certainly. The templars, ministers, and friars are the core roles of the church. The templar defends; the minister guides a particular community; and the friar remains in motion, bringing the light of the Flame to dark places. But within those three broad categories there are many orders and sects, many with narrower missions. For example, the Argentum is technically tied to the Templars, but it is tasked with seeking out dangerous magical relics. Some of these lesser orders are also specific to particular nations; the Argentum is a Thrane order.

That’s all for now—stay tuned for more on Exploring Eberron!

Dragonmarks: The City of Silver and Bone

The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons introduced the concept of the Feyspires: cities that drift between the Faerie Court of Thelanis and the material world. Legends say that the giants of Xen’drik pillaged one of these mystical cities, stealing its treasures and taking its people as slaves. According to these tales, the elves of Eberron are descended from these fallen fey. And it’s said that the ruins of the citadel remain somewhere in the wilds of Xen’drik. But these events occurred many tens of thousands of years ago, and the elves themselves know nothing about their distant ancestors. All that we know is the name of the fallen feyspire: Shae Tirias Tolai, the City of Silver and Bone.

So: the ruins of an ancient mystical city are lost in Xen’drik. But what will explorers find if they discover this shattered feyspire? What WAS the City of Silver and Bone? As with anything in Eberron, the answer is ultimately up to you. But here’s one possibility… an option that sheds new light on a few of the mysteries of the elves.

Study the lore of ancient cultures, and you’ll find a recurring story of a city that stands on the edge of life and death. A shade is drawn to Dolurrh, but along the way it passes through a wondrous city of silver and bone, a city with tapestries of fine glamerweave and bone fountains filled with blood. The librarians of this final city record the tales of the ghosts, a last record before their memories are lost in Dolurrh. The artists work with creative shades, offering a last chance to complete unfinished works. And then there are the necromancers who make darker bargains, offering a chance to return to the world of the living… but at a terrible cost.

This was Shae Tirias Tolai: the city at the crossroads, the repository of final thoughts and the last chance for the fallen to find a way back to the world. And its existence answers a number of questions that have lingered for some time.

  • The Qabalrin. It’s said that the Qabalrin were an elven nation of mighty necromancers who were feared by the giants, and who pioneered many techniques of necromancy. Stories say that there are ancient Qablarin vampires hidden in deep crypts, mighty undead that have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years. But the question has always remained: where did these elves come from? How did they learn these grand secrets of necromancy, this magic that rivaled the giants? If the tales are true, the first Qabalrin were fugitive citizens of Shae Tirias Tolai, survivors who used their necromantic knowledge to found a new realm in the mortal world.
  • Elven Necromancy. Likewise, the distant tie to Tirias Tolai explains the elven penchant for necromancy, both positive and negative. The Aereni and the line of Vol know nothing about their ancient ancestors, but memories still linger in their blood… and this may explain how the elves came to form two of the most remarkable necromantic traditions in Eberron.

But… it’s said that the giants feared the Qabalrin. How could that be, if they defeated Shae Tirias Tolai? Well, the story is that the titans of old took Shae Tirias Tolai by surprise, using treachery and careful preparation to catch the people of this city unaware. Beyond that, the inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone weren’t warlike by nature. They dealt peacefully with the shades; they never expected an attack and weren’t prepared for battle. The Qabalrin, on the other hand, turned all their knowledge and power into weapons. They also rooted themselves in the mortal world. The original inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone WEREN’T arch-liches or vampires; they simply knew the secrets of creating such things. In destroying the Silver City, the giants forced the survivors down a dark path.

So what lies in the ruins of the City of Silver and Bone? The first thing to bear in mind is that it is at its heart an imaginary city. It is literally ripped out of a faerie tale, and its structures and elements don’t have to conform to any sort of natural logic. It was always a gothic citadel that blended beauty and luxury with morbid reminders of death. Its people have been taken and it has been bound to the material world, but in a strange sense the city itself is still alive. Its story has simply evolved to encompass its downfall. Envision every story of a haunted castle or mansion and project it here. It is a city that was built using bones as its base—bones of dragons, giants, and all manner of lesser creature. Bone blends with marble and silver, with pools of fresh blood (which by all logic should have coagulated tens of thousands of years ago). Imagine a place of gothic beauty, and now add the aftermath of a terrible battle. Glamerweave tapestries display the tales of forgotten heroes, but the cloth is torn and tattered. The sounds of battle can still be heard as echoes. The spirit of every giant that fell in that ancient battle remain bound here, along with the angry shades of doomed eladrin and other innocent shades who were trapped in transition. Explorers may be overwhelmed by visions of that terrible final conflict, or assaulted by spirits who seek vengeance or a final release. An important point is that these spirits don’t have consecutive memory: for the most part, they are still trapped in the moment of their demise, still fighting their final battles and yearning for revenge on a nation that’s now dust.

Within this concept, it’s up to the DM to decide what wonders remain. Perhaps the library remains intact, holding the secrets of thousands of ancient champions (including dragons, giants, orcs, eladrin, and many others). Maybe there’s a vault of demiliches of dozens of different species, dragon-skulls who still remember the battles against the Overlords. The mightiest artifacts would have been taken by the giants, but there could be many lesser treasures that were beneath their notice… or deep vaults (such as that ossuary of demiliches) where even the giants feared to tread. Ultimately, it’s still important to bear in mind that it’s NOT simply the ruins of a mortal city; explorers are stepping into the story of a haunted ruin, clinging to its tragic loss. Another question to consider is whether the archfey of the city still remains, and if so in what form.

Strangely, this could be another way to explore the Raven Queen in Eberron. Perhaps the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai still linger between Eberron, Thelanis, and Dolurrh. The Raven Queen is the archfey of the city that stands between life and death. The Shadar-Kai are all that remain of her beautiful children, and the memories she captures are what preserve her existence. If you take this route, the ruins would be revealed to be a gateway to Dolurrh. The question is whether the Raven Queen has accepted her fate and embraced her new story… or whether the player characters could undo the damage that has been done and somehow restore the City of Silver and Bone, allowing it to serve once again as a friendly waystation on the journey into oblivion.

Story Hooks

People exploring Xen’drik could simply stumble onto the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai. The Curse of the Traveler makes the geography of Xen’drik unreliable; explorerers could discover the ruins once and never find their way back to the shattered city. But they could also be drawn to the haunted city. Consider the following ideas.

  • The party discovers a trinket from Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be carried by an enemy, found in a villain’s hoard, or simply discovered in a flea market or the trash heaps of Sharn. The trinket yearns to be returned to the City of Silver and Bone, and whoever holds it will have visions of the ancient city and its final battle. The trinket serves as a compass, and the party that carries it can ignore the Traveler’s Curse. Will they follow where it leads? A table of possible trinkets is included at the end of this article.
  • The Order of the Emerald Claw is searching for Shae Tirias Tolai. There are secrets in the City of Silver and Bone that are critical to the plans of the Queen of the Dead. Perhaps she can raise an army of lingering giant ghosts and bind them to her will. Possibly a crumbling dragon demilich knows the secret of restoring her lost mark. Whatever power she seeks, the PCs must find a way to reach Tirias Tolai before the Queen of the Dead… or if they arrive too late, to turn the lingering ghosts of the city against the Emerald Claw.
  • When a previously unknown undead force (Acererak? A Qablarin arch-vampire? A sinister being directly channeling the power of Mabar and Dolurrh?) threatens the world, the key to understanding this villain may lie in Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be held in a crumbling scroll in the library, found on a tattered tapestry, or contained in the cracked skull of an ancient demilich.
  • Someone who has been raised from the dead finds that they hear whispers, and are haunted by nightmares when they sleep or trance. Even though they have returned from death, a piece of their spirit has been trapped in Shae Tirias Tolai… and unless it can be released, their soul will eventually be torn from their body and pulled down into the haunted city. Play this a horror movie: the player character returned from the dead, but they came back incomplete and that hole in their soul is growing; if they can’t find the city they see in their visions, they will either die again or become some sort of undead monster.
  • Consider a variation of the Eye of Vecna. The giants couldn’t destroy the archfey of Shae Tirias Tolai, but they took pieces of the archfey and scattered them across the world. Each of these pieces grants great power, but the pieces yearn to be reunited and to return to the fallen feyspire. The spirit may not be evil in the traditional sense, but all mortals are as dust to it, and all that it cares about is its restoration and the restoration of its citadel. One possibility is that the sentience of the archfey doesn’t communicate directly with those who bear the pieces… but that they all know that ultimate power awaits in the haunted city.

These are just a few ideas. The point is that the City of Silver and Bone can serve many roles. It could be a haunted dungeon that adventurers stumble into once while exploring Xen’drik. It could the the ultimate capstone in the plans of the Emerald Claw. Or it could be a mystery that develops over time, a slow burn tied to the visions of a resurrected hero or the whispers of a powerful artifact.

Here’s a few ideas for trinkets tied to Shae Tirias Tolai. Even if the adventurers never go to the City of Silver and Bone, one of these trinkets could add interesting color to a story.

If you have questions or ideas tied to the City of Silver and Bone, share them below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going. I’ll be at DragonCon, and I’ll post my schedule tomorrow!

Q&A 5/18/18: Undead, Sarlona, and More!

May is a busy month. I’m swamped with writing and travel (I’m currently at Keycon 35 in Winnipeg), so I haven’t had time to write a proper article. However, I reached out to my Patreon supporters for questions for a quick Q&A, and here we are. Next week I may post some thoughts on Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and how I’d apply it to Eberron.

Before I get to the questions, I want to tell you about something else that’s going on this week: The Gauntlet. Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, Washington is hosting a massive gaming tournament that’s raising money for charity. My company Twogether Studios is competing in the Gauntlet, raising money for Wellspring Family Services, and we need your help. Any donation is appreciated—a $5 donation would be fantastic—but if you’re in Portland, Oregon or the vicinity of Seattle, Washington and have the ability to be more generous, I’m going to offer a crazy incentive: a chance to play a one-shot session of Phoenix: Dawn Command or 5E D&D (in Eberron) with me. Here’s how this works: If you’re in Portland, a game requires a donation of $400. If you’re in the Seattle area, it’s going to be $500 (all the money goes directly to charity, but since it’s more work for me, I’m setting the bar higher…). This doesn’t have to be all from one person: I will run a game for up to six people, and their combined donations have to hit the target number.

If you want to do this, you need to be part of a group that is going to hit the target number. After making your donation, email me (use the Contact Me button on this website) and let me know who your group is. I’ll work with your group to find a time to play. It may take a while—summer is an especially busy time for me—but I’ll make sure we get to play before the end of 2018. With that said, The Gauntlet takes place on May 20th, so there’s not a lot of time to donate. Again, the Twogether Studios donation link is here. Whether or not you have the ability to donate, thanks for reading!

Now, on with the Q&A…

I was wondering about bone knights and their place in Karrnath. Are they still a component of Karrnathi culture and society after the war? Were they created specifically for the Last War or did Karrnath have a longer history with these more military necromancers? Is Kaius opposed to the Blood of Vol generally or the Emerald Claw specifically, and if the former is the Bone Knight thing something he wants gone from Karrnath?

There’s a lot of topics to unravel. From a canon perspective, my take is laid out in City of Stormreach and more specifically, the Eye on Eberron article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195. Here’s the key points.

  • The core Karrnathi culture focuses on martial skill and discipline. It has nothing to do with necromancy or the use of undead.
  • The Seekers of the Divinity Within have long had a presence in Karrnath. This religion has a close association with necromancy and the practical use of the undead. The Bone Knight is specifically a Seeker tradition: an expert in commanding undead forces in combat. EoED195 calls out that Seekers of the Divinity Within served alongside Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar I. However, they were a minority faith and the army as a whole didn’t rely on or embrace their traditions.
  • When Karrnath faced plagues and famines during the Last War, the Queen of the Dead offered the assistance of the Blood of Vol. In exchange, the crown was obliged to recognized and elevate Seekers and to promote their faith. The chivalric orders of the Blood of Vol expanded. Undead were produced in greater numbers than ever before and became a critical part of Karrnath’s military strategy, resulting in a need for even more Bone Knights to command them.
  • Over time, the famines were brought under control and the balance of the war shifted. The traditionalist warlords despised both the erosion of Karrnathi military tradition and the increased political power of the Seekers. Furthermore, the use of undead disturbed the other nations. With the war closing, Kaius strengthened his position with the traditionalist warlords and the other nations by disavowing the Blood of Vol and stopping the production of undead, sealing the majority of the undead legions in the vaults below Atur. Most of the Seeker orders were disbanded, though some Seekers (and undead troops) have remained in service, most notably in Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. Kaius has continued to use the Blood of Vol as a convenient scapegoat to direct the frustration of his people, and has gone so far as to blame the Seekers for the plagues and famines that originally weakened the nation.

So, looking to the questions specifically: In my opinion, the Bone Knight is an old Seeker tradition, but one that was very uncommon before the Last War because the Seekers weren’t part of the Karrnathi military tradition; their numbers increased during the Last War in order to manage the undead forces. Kaius is publicly using the Blood of Vol as a useful scapegoat. He doesn’t NEED very many Bone Knights since he’s retired most of the undead; he’s dismissed most and allowed some to be persecuted as war criminals. However, regardless of this public image he’s not personally opposed to the Seekers. He’s maintained Fort Bones and Fort Zombie, and has a small cadre of Bone Knights and necromancers whose loyalty to the nation outweighs their anger at the treatment of their brethren.

Are Bone Knights mostly Seekers or would one devoted to the Dark Six or the Sovereign Host be capable of getting far?

There’s a number of factors. They’re mostly Seekers because it’s an ancient Seeker tradition, tied to their long-standing use of practical necromancy. Theoretically someone who follows another faith could fill that role, but it requires deep devotion to the necromantic arts. If you revere the Sovereign Host—honoring Dol Arrah and Aureon—how do you embrace this dark path? The Shadow and the Keeper are the Sovereigns who would guide you on this road, and that’s a viable path, but not exactly one that Karrnath would celebrate and encourage. So sure; I think someone devoted to the Dark Six could become an accomplished Bone Knight, but that faith won’t make them any more acceptable to the general public than the Seekers… and might even result in greater distrust and suspicion.

Is the Order of Rekkenmark’s opposition to necromancers something which would prevent a Bone Knight from excelling in their organization (as advisors to the King, movers and shakers politically)?

It’s something that would make it VERY DIFFICULT for a Bone Knight to advance in their organization, absolutely. But nothing’s impossible. It simply means that the Bone Knight in question would have to be a soldier of unparalleled accomplishment and skill, someone whose dedication to Karrnath and the king is beyond reproach. It’s possible Alinda Dorn, commander of Fort Bones, is a member of the Order of Rekkenmark. She’s an advisor to and confidante of the king in any case; it’s simply a question of whether he embraces that publicly, or prefers to keep his favor for her hidden from the traditionalist warlords.

Are the rituals for creating Mabaran undead and Irian deathless completely different, or do they look fundamentally alike except for the power source?

ALL rituals for creating undead and deathless are completely different from one another. The techniques used to create deathless are dramatically different from rituals used to create Mabaran undead. But there’s no ONE TRUE RITUAL for creating undead. Looking above, a Bone Knight who draws power from faith in the Shadow and the Keeper should use different trappings from one following the path of the Divinity Within. The techniques of a wizard will as a rule be entirely different from those employed by a cleric. One’s a form of arcane science; the other an act of extreme devotion. In my opinion, the Seeker traditions walk a line between these two sides, drawing on both devotion and a form of science. We’ve established that the Odakyr Rites used to create the sentient Karrnathi undead were a breakthrough developed during the Last War—and as such, themselves unlike the techniques used elsewhere.

Did the Dhakaani have any rites or rituals to create undead? 

Did the Dhakaani as a culture embrace the creation of undead or develop techniques for creating them? Definitely not. The Dhakaani were a culture driven by martial excellence. They were agnostic (thus lacking clerics) and had very limited interest in the arcane. So no, there were no institutionalized necromancers in the Empire. With that said, it was a vast civilization that lasted for thousands of years. During that time, could a small group have developed such techniques? Could there be a Kech Mortis that has perfected these techniques during its centuries of exile, which now claims the Imperial throne with its army of undead heroes? Sure, why not! But just like Karrnath, the traditionalist like the Kech Sharaat would like be disgusting by this strange deviation from the true path.

Did they have answers to the spawn-creating plagues like ghoul fever?

The primary arcane path the Dhakaani embraced was the path of the Duur’kala, which is to say the bard. The Duur’kala inspire heroes in battle, but they also used their abilities to heal and to enhance diplomacy. The bardic spell list includes lesser restoration and greater restoration. So, there’s your answer. Now again, if you like the idea of a Kech vault that was overrun by a zombie plague the duur’kala couldn’t contain—so PCs stumbling into an ancient Dhakaani fortress filled with undead—I’m all for it. As a culture they had a tool for it, that doesn’t mean everyone always had access to that tool.

Is it very difficult to travel across the Barren Sea? Are there ports in, say, the Shadow Marches that get trade directly from Sarlona?

This is largely covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Riedra strictly limits contact with foreigners, and Dar Jin is the only port that accepts general commerce. Other than that, there are a few outposts in Ohr Kaluun and a harbor in Adar. So, it’s not so much that it’s difficult as it is that there’s very few places to go.

Zarash’ak is the only major port in the Shadow Marches, though you could certainly introduce a smuggler’s outpost on the coast near Slug Keep. It’s certainly reasonable to think that Zarash’ak could have traffic with Riedran ships from Dar Jin.

And does the majority of trade between, say, Karrnath and Breland go via boats through the Lhazaar Principalities, or is the faster/cheaper to use overland shipment?

I addressed this specific question in a previous Q&A, so check that out. River barges, lightning rails, and airships are all options, though the Lhazaar route is also a possibility.

Do you have any brief tips for involving the Venomous Demesne into a campaign?

The Venomous Demesne is a Tiefling city-state on the far side of Droaam. They’re isolationists and largely unknown in the Five Nations. I discuss hooks for characters from the Venomous Demesne in this article. As for ways to use it in a campaign, here’s three ideas entirely off the top of my head.

  • The Venom Lords are working on an Eldritch Machine. They’ve sent agents into the wider world acquiring the rare components required for this device. Are they working on behalf of the Daughters of Sora Kell, or does the device have a more sinister purpose?
  • The vaults of the Venomous Demesne hold secrets that date back to the ancient nation of Ohr Kaluun. The player characters could need to acquire Kaluunite lore for an unrelated plot: tied to another Eldritch machine, to a path of the Prophecy, or perhaps to understanding some sort of demonic threat. To get what they need, they’ll have to go to the Venomous Demesne and earn the trust of its lords.
  • A variation of the previous idea is needing something that can only be obtained or acquired in the Venomous Demesne: a particular magic item or artifact, learning a spell, etc.
  • The lords of Ohr Kaluun made pacts with a wide variety of extraplanar and fiendish forces. If you want to do something with some sort of archfiend (such as demon lords from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes), one of the lines of the Demesne could work as its agents (or be opposed to it, but still know its secrets). Personally I’d use such a being as a powerful force in Khyber—below the level of an Overlord, but nonetheless a powerful threat that has recently broken loose from binding and is just starting to rebuild its influence in Eberron.

Is there any possibility of getting a (rough) timeline of when the events of human/Sarlonan history occurred? Were there any trade relations between Dhakaan and Khorvaire at some point, or was Lhazaar the first human to see the shores of Khorvaire?

The ancient nations of Sarlona are left intentionally vague so that they can fill the role you want them to fill. I see no reason that Lhazaar should be the first human to have set foot on Khorvaire; in all likelihood, she set out for Khorvaire because she’d heard stories of the land from previous explorers. The idea of canon is that Lhazaar’s expedition marked the first sustained and successful contact between the two. If you want to have players stumble across the ruins of an Uorallan outpost in the Shadow Marches — evidence of a settlement completely lost to history — do it. But I don’t think we’ll be defining those pre-Lhazaar civilizations in significantly more detail in a canon source.

(The founder of the Kalashtar) Taratai is female in Races of Eberron, and male in Secrets of Sarlona. Which is it?

It’s a legitimately confusing issue. Here’s a quote from “The Legend of Taratai” in Secrets of Sarlona (page 24):

She led sixty-seven spirits that became the kalashtar to Adar, where the monk Hazgaal and his students accepted them. In Hazgaal’s body as Haztaratai (though many stories still call her Taratai), she taught and wrote the precepts of the Path of Light… 

So: both SoS and RoE agree that the kalaraq quori Taratai identified as female. However, per SoS she bonded with the human monk Hazgaal, who was male. This means that the spiritual lineage of Taratai were male kalashtar, though they were bound to a female spirit. Quite a few kalashtar lines have this sort of disconnect, which results in a great deal of gender fluidity within kalashtar culture.

Do the Kalashtar believe in reincarnation, like the Riedrans do?

Sort of, but they aren’t as concerned with it as the Riedrans are. First of all, as a kalashtar you are already part of something immortal. You are bound to the quori spirit, and your memories and experiences remain with the spirit even after your physical body dies; so the kalashtar don’t see death as an absolute end. Beyond that, SoS notes that the Path of Light maintains that “Dolurrh is a place where the ego dies, but the spirit is immortal, and it returns to the Material Plane again and again.” LIFE is eternal. The soul is part of the celestial machine of the universe. But it’s not about YOU, and they don’t believe that the form your spirit takes in its next incarnation is somehow tied to your actions in your previous life, as the Path of Inspiration states. It’s not a reward or a punishment; it’s just the nature of the universe. Your legacy remains with your lineage, and the soul that was yours continues on its journey.

Why didn’t the Inspired seize Syrkarn as well as the other ancient kingdoms, instead satisfying themselves with a shallow “protectorate” title and some behind-the-curtain schemes?

The Inspired have no interest in conquering Syrkarn. The territory is too large, the population too low, and they are still concerned about the lingering threat of the rakshasa rajah buried beneath the realm. The Inspired don’t feel a need to control every single individual; they are looking to control massive populations. There’s not enough people in Syrkarn to be worth the effort, doubly so when combined with the vast stretches of relatively barren land… not to mention the threat of the Overlord.

More generally, what makes Syrkarn interesting, according to you, as a playground?

First of all, it’s a part of Sarlona in which people can move freely. Second, I’d look to page 86 of Secrets of Sarlona. Scheming yuan-ti! An Overlord stirring! Karrak cults! The Heirs of Ohr Kaluun and the Horned Shadow! Relics from pre-Sundering Sarlona! Tribal conflicts (perhaps stirred up by the yuan-ti or the Overlord)! Possibly even surprising ties to the giants of Xen’drik, lingering through the eneko.

From a game design point of view, why define Sarlona as being a blind spot in the Draconic Prophecy? 

It’s summed up on page nine of Secrets of Sarlona: “The dragons of the Chamber shun Sarlona, but they want to know what is transpiring beyond its shores. PCs who have ties to the Chamber, the Undying Court, or even the Lords of Dust could be sent to explore mysteries related to the draconic Prophecy.” By making it a region where dragons fear to tred, we add a reason why player characters should go there; it provides a range of potential story hooks you don’t have in other lands.

Adar is wider than Aundair or Thrane (while understandably less populated). Now that the kalashtar can see the Inspired openly moving unto Khorvaire, how comes Adar didn’t make itself known too, nor officially voice some warning?

First of all, per SOS it’s population density is around one person for every two square miles of land—lower than Alaska or Tibet. Its people have been described as “insular to the point of xenophobia.” Direct travel between Adar and Khorvaire is extremely difficult, meaning that you have no regular stream of commerce or communication, nor any particular interest in such commerce. We’ve established that the Adaran kalashtar believe that the battle against il-Lashtavar will be won by their persistence and devotion: they don’t NEED to get the world on their side, they just need to hold their ground and continue what they are doing.

Many kalashtar in Khorvaire hold to the same general belief: we will triumph through perseverance. What’s important is protecting our community and continuing our devotions. Some younger kalashtar have embraced more active intervention, but even they largely believe that this is their war to fight, and that the humans wouldn’t listen to them or believe them. And they’re likely right. Riedra is a valuable trade partner, and it has come to the assistance of many nations during the Last War. There is a concrete benefit to working with Riedra. By contrast, Adar has virtually no recognition and nothing to offer. Even if I believe your story about the leaders of Riedra being aliens, the leaders of the Aereni are DEAD and we deal with them. And you may SAY that they want to conquer the world, but I’m not seeing it happening, and trust me, crazy monk, if they start any trouble, we can handle it. So: self-interest and arrogance are likely to outweigh the stories of the few kalashtar who do speak out against Riedra.

While religions are not required to comment on the truth or falsity of each other’s doctrines, are there any Adaran scholars aware of the Valenar and their apparent reality of the potential continuity of identity their (in purely mechanical terms) higher average levels indicate?

Possibly. There’s not a lot of overlap between them, geographically or culturally. But I don’t think there’s much to debate. Spirits exist; devotion creates positive energy that can sustain a spirit, as proven by the concrete example of the Undying Court; devoted Valenar display a level of skill that seems to support guidance from ancestral spirits. I could see a follower of the Blood of Vol saying “But how do you know that the spirit isn’t just a manifestation of YOU? The power comes from within you; you’re just creating this myth of your ancestor to help you interpret it.” I could see someone else saying “You’re getting guidance from a spirit, but are you sure it’s not some kind of demon or something masquerading as your ancestor?” Essentially, i don’t think there are many people saying that the Tairnadal religion has no grounding in reality; but I could imagine people arguing that some of the DETAILS might not be what the Valenar believe them to be.

How much of the ancient history of the Giant Empire is known in Khorvaire, and since when? On the one hand, it makes plenty of sense, both in-world and for game purpose, that it’s still shrouded in mystery, that only a few scholars and daring explorers start to poke at. But on the other hands, there are elves assimilated in Khorvaire since centuries, and their whole culture revolves about perpetuating tradition: why would they hide their stories from the other races?

There’s quite a few factors here.

  • The elves know THEIR history. That doesn’t mean they know the history of the giants. Consider the tale of Cardaen. “He was born in a high tower, and Cul’sir made sure his feet never touched the ground.” That’s quite different from “He was born in the city of Aulantaara in the year 14,004 RTC, where he served as an arcane adjunct to the Cul’sir College of Evocation, eventually rising to the Fourth Circle.” The Elves have preserved STORIES about the giants; that doesn’t mean they ever knew the absolute FACTS.
  • The elves are isolationist by nature. Their history and the tales of the ancestors are part of the foundation of their religion, and we’ve never suggested that they want members of other species to adopt their religion. I think they’d spread some details out of pride, but at the same time, I think there’s a certain level of “Our history is none of your business.”
  • The civilizations of the giants fell forty thousand years ago on another continent. How much does the typical westerner know about Sumerian history? If someone threw a musical version of the myth of Gilgamesh onto Broadway, do you think it would dethrone Hamilton? I’m sure SCHOLARS know as much as is known about the history of the giants, and that reflects the information you could get with a History check. But I think most humans just don’t care about the history of the giants; it’s an obscure ancient civilization that has virtually no relevance to their modern lives.

So, COULD a modern playwright produce a play about the story of Vadallia and Cardaen? Absolutely. I’m sure that there’s multiple versions of just such a play created over the millennia by phiarlans. But is such a play going to appeal to a modern human audience, or would they rather see a tale of Lhazaar, or Karrn the Conqueror, or Aundair’s forbidden love, or the sacrifice of Tira Miron? It’s possible that it would succeed—that it would be exotic and unusual and people would latch onto it. But even so, what people would then know about the giants is the same as a human who knows about early American history because they watched Hamilton; they know Cardaen was a slave who worked magic, but that doesn’t mean they know much about the actual structure of the Cul’sir Dominion, beyond the name of its evil titan king. Personally I think it’s the same general model as what the typical Westerner knows about Sumer, or ancient Egypt: the names of a few of their rulers, sure. A few stories that have been featured in popular culture or enshrined by scholars. But if you stopped someone on the street, do you think they could tell you about the structure of the Egyptian military under the Pharaoh Snefru? How many pharoahs could they name? Could they tell you how many dynasties their were? And that’s a human culture that existed just five thousand years ago.

So: I don’t think the history of the giants is an ABSOLUTE mystery. I think the common person knows that there were multiple giant cultures; that they enslaved the elves; that there was an elvish uprising and the giants were destroyed by dragons. They might know the name Cul’sir specifically because they’ve encountered it in Elvish tales, the way many Westerners know Cleopatra because of her role in popular culture but have never heard of Menes… or they might just know him as “that evil titan king.” But I doubt the common person knows much more than that.

If you have questions on these or other topics, ask below!

Dragonmarks 3/12/15: Origins, Authors and Thrane

It’s been a busy few months for Twogether Studios. We’re continuing to work towards the Phoenix: Dawn Command Kickstarter campaign, and I’ll be writing more about Phoenix soon. But it’s been nearly three months since my last Eberron Q&A, and I figure it’s time to get to some questions!

With the recent Unearthed Arcana release of the Eberron material, do you like the 5e work up of the material? Would you change it any further from what is currently “playtesting?” Do you think the Artificer should be re-designed in 5e as a stand-alone class, or would you like to see it supported as a Wizard (or other) type of sub-class?

At the moment, I’ve held off creating my own 5E Eberron material, beyond the vague first drafts I’ve presented for the warforged and artificer. I’m keen to develop new Eberron material, but until it’s been authorized by WotC I’ve got more things to work on than I have time. I’ve been focused on playtesting Phoenix Dawn Command for the past year, and there’s always more to do there – not to mention the Gloom variations and other projects I can’t talk about yet.

Given that: I’m glad to see WotC exploring Eberron in Unearthed Arcana. Personally, I would like to explore different approaches to the material, but the UA article specifically states that it’s an exploratory first draft… and it’s always good to explore multiple directions. The 3.5 warforged went through seven drafts before the final one. In one version warforged could attach extra limbs. In another, they absorbed the energy from magic items to gain enchantments. I don’t see a version I’d want to consider final in the UA material, but if I have an opportunity to work on official Eberron material I’ll certainly consider the UA drafts and the feedback people have given about them. Which comes back to my previous request: tell ME what you think about them, and what you would keep, add or change.

If the Du’rashka Tul tale proves to be true, could it be neutralized or dispelled? And could its effects go to Khorvaire?

For those not familiar with it, the Du’rashka Tul is mentioned on page 53 of Secrets of Xen’drik. According to legend, it is a powerful curse laid on the continent of Xen’drik by the forces of Argonnessen when the dragons destroyed the civilization of the giants. The theory is that the Du’rashka Tul is triggered any time a civilization or settlement reaches a certain level of size or sophistication. The curse drives members of the civilization into a homicidal madness; they turn on each other and destroy themselves. In this way, the dragons ensured that the giants would never rebuild their ancient power. As a result, there is evidence of a number of civilizations that have risen only to suddenly disappear over the course of the last thirty thousand years.

As it stands, details about the Du’rashka Tul are far too nebulous for me to be able to answer the questions that are posed here. So the question is how do you WANT it to work for purposes of your campaign? If you don’t want it to be possible for it to be dispelled, then it’s a curse leveled on the entire continent using a form of magic human mages can’t even begin to understand. On the other hand, if you want to be able to break it, the first thing is to define it. Perhaps it’s tied to an artifact: the skull of the titan emperor Cul’sir, engraved with draconic runes and imbued with immense magical power. First you have to find it; then you have to decide what to do with it. If it’s an artifact, it may be impossible to destroy or dispel it. You don’t know how far its radius is (it’s currently affecting all of Xen’drik). Do you drop it in the ocean and potentially destroy the civilizations of the sahuagin and merfolk? Take it back to Argonnessen and see what happens? Or might someone bring it back to Khorvaire not knowing what it is and accidentally trigger an apocalypse?

If you don’t like that approach, you could decide that it’s actually tied to a living creature. Ever since the destruction of the giants, there has been a dragon stationed in Xen’drik maintaining the Du’rashka Tul. Can you find it? Do you need to kill it, or could you just convince the guardian that the time has come to end the curse?

About the Du’rashka Tul… If it could be dispelled, would it bring about an era of colonization of Xen’drik by the great powers? If so, that could bring about potential conflict not only between the great nations of Khorvaire, but also with the Riedran empire, who already have a settlement therein. Do you think more cities would be created? And could the traveler’s curse be removed as well?

The Du’rashka Tul is an unproven myth, so I don’t think THAT’S what’s stopping the colonization of Xen’drik. The Traveler’s Curse is unquestionably real and a serious hindrance to colonization; who wants to establish a colony if you might not be able to find it later? If you posit that you remove BOTH curses, then the main issue is that you’re dealing with a continent that’s still full of powerful monsters… and the fact that Khorvaire isn’t exactly overcrowded right now. The main draw to go there is untapped resources and treasure hunting. So if you took away all the curses, I certainly think you’d get an expansion of settlements there to claim and harvest resources, in a sort of Wild West gold rush development… but I don’t think you’d see a vast proliferation of permanent settlements. Heck, if you’re looking to live on a dangerous frontier because you want a chance to strike it rich with dragonshards, you can already do that in Q’barra.

As for bumping into the Riedrans over territory, Xen’drik is the same size as Khorvaire, and KHORVAIRE still isn’t overcrowded, so it seems a little hard to imagine it happening in a hurry. Personally, I’d make it more about conflict between settlers from the Five Nations and the Dragonmarked Houses. Tharashk would definitely want to harness the resources as quickly and efficiently as possible, and any number of the other houses could see this as a way to establish lands outside of the Korth Edicts. So you could certainly have conflict between would-be independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich and dragonmarked Tharashk.

If my goal was to run a campaign focused on territorial conflict between Riedra and the Five Nations, I’d actually create a new massive island in the Lhazaar Sea. Let’s say that it’s a chunk of another plane that suddenly drops in during an odd planar conjunction – so a piece of Lamannia, filled with natural and mystical resources never even seen before on Eberron. This gives a new desirable territory directly between Khorvaire and Sarlona; lets it be small enough that forces can quickly come into conflict; places it in a region where Lhazaar pirates can pose an interesting threat; and lets in be filled with unknown threats and commodities. I think that could make for a very interesting campaign… though I’d also throw the Dragonmarked Houses in as a third player in the conflict.

There are some fairly close thematic similarities between the kalashtar and the githzerai: both use psionics, both have extraplanar connections, both are at eternal war with a race of shared origin. Were these similarities intentional when the kalashtar were designed? If so, were they meant to be a playable version of the githzerai for your campaign (ie, lacking in level adjustment)?

Interesting theory, but no. The kalashtar have the distinction of being the one new race that was mentioned in the original ten-page overview of Eberron in the setting search (though the idea of a playable doppelganger was also there in the ten-pager). For me, the defining elements of the kalashtar are that they are mortal humanoids tied to immortal spirits and their unique connection to the world of dreams, something that’s been a long-time interest of mine. My first published piece of RPG material dealt with a conspiracy of people who shared dreams and affected the world through dream manipulation (more than a decade before Inception, mind you). So no, I’m afraid it’s just a coincidence.

Meanwhile, I’ve always used the Gith as a race whose world was destroyed by the Daelkyr before they came to Eberron. I consider the Illithids to be to the Gith as the Dolgaunts are to hobgoblins; they are creatures the Daelkyr created from Gith stock. Thus the Gith are a race who have lost their world, and they despise the Mind Flayers both as the instruments of their destruction and a mockery of their people.

Also, I have read elsewhere that warforged and shifters were elements introduced to Eberron only after WotC accepted it as their contest winner. In the pre-WotC conception of Eberron, did elements related to warforged and shifters exist?

That’s not quite true. The Warforged and Shifters weren’t present in the TEN page submission, because I made the assumption that WotC wouldn’t be interested in adding lots of new races when so many already existed. As such, the kalashtar were the only NEW race I presented. When WotC chose Eberron as a finalist, I had the opportunity to talk to the D&D R&D team and they discussed the aspects of Eberron they liked and what they wanted to see more of in the 100-page final story bible. In particular, they wanted to see more races – specifically races that addresses the magic-as-part-of-life aspect of the world. Sentient war golems and playable lycanthropes both fit that bill. So warforged, shifters and changelings were all in the 100-page story bible that was submitted in the final round of the setting search… and then after Eberron was selected, they were further defined and refined for inclusion in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

Is it conceivable for a 5e Great Old One Warlock to have a bond with a Quori? If so, how would you interpret a warlock bond with a Quori outside of the Kalashtar case?

You can certainly have a Great Old One Warlock tied to Dal Quor. Here’s a few ways I could see it working.

Higher Power. The Warlock isn’t dealing with the lesser entities of the Quori; rather, he is dealing directly with one of the greater spirits of the plane. If he tends towards evil, this would be the dominant spirit, il-Lashtavar, the Darkness that Dreams. If he’s benevolent, this would be il-Yannah, the Dawn Yet To Come.

Essentially, the Quori are the creations and servants of il-Lashtavar. If a PC warlock is directly chosen by the great spirit, he is being elevated above the Kalashtar or even the rank and file members of the Dreaming Dark; among the Quori, only the Devourer of Dreams communes directly with il-Lashtavar. This would make the PC a remarkable special person… as a PC should be. The question then becomes HOW the power communicates with him and why. Does it have specific requests, and if so why can’t those be handled by Kalashtar or Quori? Or does it simply need a mortal vessel for some other reason?

Enemy of Higher Power. Twist the concept of the Warlock. The PC isn’t a SERVANT of il-Lashtavar. Instead, the Warlock has essentially hacked into il-Lashtavar and is draining its power by casting spells. This concept works well if you don’t plan for a lot of direct warlock-patron interaction. Alternately, you could say that the power is taken from il-Lashtavar, but the patron is il-Yannah; by weakening the darkness, you speed the coming of the light.

Quori Stooge. The player’s patron is a malevolent quori, likely one of the most powerful of the Kalaraq (such as the Devourer of Dreams). It is posing as some awesome dream entity; it is only through play that the PC will realize that the missions he’s being given are pushing the world in a subtly sinister direction. At this point he’ll need to find a new patron, such as…

Lost Kalashtar. The rebel kalaraq Taratai started the Kalashtar rebellion, but all of her kalashtar hosts have been eliminated and her spirit is lost, presumed to have been reabsorbed by il-Lashtavar. But perhaps it still survives, and has managed to reach out to the warlock. While this bond wouldn’t be the same as being a Kalashtar, it would make the warlock incredibly important to the Kalashtar.

If you named a bunch of books, or films, or TV shows, or whatever, whose inspiration has been critical in creating Eberron, in a sort of multimedia Eberron Appendix N, which would they be?

I could swear there’s a two page list in one of the 3.5 sourcebooks, but a quick search isn’t turning it up. Putting together a list of every book, show or film that I think could possibly inspire people working on Eberron would take more time than I currently have. For example, I have a FEELING that some people might find China Mieville’s books to be inspiring for Eberron, but I’ve never actually read them (which is embarrassing, as all accounts suggest they are awesome – I’ve just never gotten around to it). Likewise, I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. So I’m going to list a few things, but these are simply a few things that personally inspired me – not every possible source of inspiration.

Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and almost any Film Noir movie.

The original one sentence description of Eberron was “Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon meet Lord of the Rings.” Anything in this vein will help inspire adventures tied to dirty dealings on the mean streets of Sharn… and I’ve always described Graywall in Droaam as “Casablanca with ogres.” For what it’s worth, I prefer The Maltese Falcon as a movie and The Big Sleep as a book.

Two-Fisted Tales of Adventure!

The Mummy. Any Indiana Jones movie. Any Republic serial (such as “Nyoka and the Tigermen”). Anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Jules Verne. I originally came up with the idea for Eberron because I’d spent a few years working on a pulp-flavored MMORPG that ended up being cancelled, and I’d been watching a LOT of pulp serials.

Neuromancer

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the early cyberpunk novels. It combines aspects of a dystopia future with some basic film noir tropes. There are certainly ways in which the Dragonmarked Houses are inspired by the classic cyberpunk megacorps, with the basic question of what happens when corporate power equals or exceeds the relevance of nations. Almost any cyberpunk novel can provide inspiration for a House-heavy game, but Neuromancer remains my favorite.

Steven Brust

Brust’s Taltos series are pulp stories set in a fantasy world, and deal with many of the same issues as Eberron… though Dragaera is more magically advanced than Eberron; teleportation and resurrection are basic tools available to civilization and everyone effectively has a psionic cell phone. I’ve often considered running a Taltos-style campaign in Eberron, in which the PCs are small time operators in the Boromar Clan trying to hold their turf and expand their reputation and influence. I also like Brust’s Phoenix Guards series, in part because it’s set in an earlier age and there’s an opportunity to see how the science of magic evolves. And as long as we’re mentioning The Phoenix Guards, you also can’t go wrong with anything by Alexandre Dumas.

Phillip K. Dick

I prefer PKD’s short stories to his novels, but I love the questions he raises in his work. The warforged essentially spring from my long love of Blade Runner, bringing us back to cyberpunk. What is the nature of life? What do you do if you were made to be a weapon and there is no war?

H.P. Lovecraft

If you’re going to get into the Cults of the Dragon Below or the Lords of Dust, you should delve into some Lovecraft.

I’m going to stop here because I could keep this list going for pages, and I’m out of time… but anyone reading, post your inspirational films and stories in the comments! For honorable mention, as authors I’ve read and enjoyed who may or may not have directly influenced Eberron: Jack Vance (anything to do with the Dying Earth); Tanith Lee (Night’s Master or Tales From The Flat Earth); J. R. R. Tolkien; George R. R. Martin; Michael Moorcock; Robert E. Howard; Sheri S. Tepper; Neil Gaiman; Patrick Rothfuss; William S. Burroughs (maybe not useful for Eberron, but great if you’re running Over The Edge)… I’ll stop there, but I’m sure I’ll think of a dozen more as soon as I post this.

And now, the Thrane and the Silver Flame questions…

Is there any cardinal who is seriously opposed to Krozen or is suspicious about him? Does Jaela Daran mistrust Krozen?

As with many things about Eberron, it depends on your campaign. In MY campaign, I might decide to have Jaela be a canny politician who’s quite suspicious of Krozen and seeks personal agents to help her carry out personal missions. However, more often I cast Jaela as the truly spiritual leader of the Church, who has little interest in politics and thus tends to trust Krozen and rely on him to handle that side of things. I hate to say this with so many questions, but it’s really a question of how you want the story to go; there’s no wrong answer.

In the 4e ECG it’s mentioned that Aundair refused to return lands to Thrane and that is why Thrane kept Thaliost. Why did Aurala attach more importance to those lands than to such a city? Magic, strategic importance, or other settlements?

Personally I see this as an oversimplification. It’s not that Thrane offered to return Thaliost and Aundair said “No deal,” it’s that each nation had made territorial gains and neither one was willing to give ground. Remember that Aurala in particular believes in the righteousness of her claim to the throne of Galifar and has the least interest in the peace process. What’s been said in other sourcebooks is that Aundair claimed the land that is currently home to Arcanix during the war; note that as Arcanix is a set of floating towers, it was moved to this location to help secure the claim. However, if you consider what makes specific locations strategically important in Eberron, if I were to write something about Arcanix in the future I’d propose that the current location is a powerful manifest zone that is valuable for the research conducted at Arcanix… which would explain both why Aundair attaches such importance to the location, why they moved the university there, and why they aren’t prepared to surrender it.

Wasn’t it mentioned somewhere that Overlord Sul Khatesh is imprisoned under Arcanix?

Good catch! You’d think I’d remember that, since I wrote it (it’s on page 31 of the 4E ECG). In my opinion, this isn’t something anyone KNOWS – it’s a fact for you, the DM. But it’s an excellent reason to say “Arcane magic is remarkably effective in this region and people are far more likely to make amazing breakthroughs in arcane studies.” People think it’s because of a manifest zone, but in fact it’s the influence of Sul Khatesh. So Aundair does believe it’s an ideal site for the University. If I was looking for a plot hook, I’d have some Church scholar figure it out and Thrane suddenly urgently pushing to take back the region, which threatens to escalate into open conflict.

What kind of discrimination (if any) would an aristocrat face who is a devoted follower of the Silver Flame but who holds lands in Cyre, Breland, Aundair, etc.  Having that kind of dual loyalty would strike me as fertile ground for rivals to nibble away at holdings. 

The Silver Flame was widespread across Galifar before the Last War. Ever since the Lycanthropic Purge it’s been especially strong in Aundair, which has always been the stronghold of the Pure Flame. However, devotion to the Flame DOES NOT EQUAL LOYALTY TO THRANE. Many of the Purified don’t approve of the theocratic government of Thrane, asserting that involving the Keeper and cardinals in secular politics distracts the Church from its true mission and breeds corruption.

The purpose of the church is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Mortal politics don’t enter into the equation. So a Brelish noble who is loyal to the Flame can absolutely oppose the soldiers of Thrane when they are engaged in military action on behalf of Thrane. If, say, an army of demons pops up, all of the Purified would be expected to join forces against this supernatural threat; once that’s out of the picture they could return to their secular conflict.

So: an Aristocrat who is devoted to the Flame is unlikely to suffer significant prejudice in any nation other than Karrnath. However, a noble who vocally supported his national government being dissolved in favor of Thranish theocracy would likely suffer trouble.

How prolific is the CoSF in Karnath and to what degree would the Karnathi Purified have been persecuted?

The CoSF has never had a strong presence in Karrnath. The people of Karrnath are pragmatic and pessimistic by nature, and the Silver Flame is fed by optimism and altruism. Beyond this, the Blood of Vol was deeply rooted in Karrnath a thousand years before the modern CotSF was even formed… and the Blood of Vol is fundamentally opposed to the Silver Flame, as it embraces what the Church would call “Supernatural Evil”. So it was weak to begin with, and most SF loyalists would have risen in revolt when the state embraced the Blood of Vol as the state faith and began employing undead in the military. This is also the reason Thrane and Karrnath have the deepest emnity of any of the Five Nations. There are surely some in Karrnath who embraced the faith of the Flame… and even if most immigrated or revolted during the war, some could have chosen to hold position and endure so that they could continue to protect the innocents of Karrnath. But they would certainly be viewed with distrust and disdain by those around them, and could easily be accused of treason (true or not).

Side note: While the state no longer supports the Blood of Vol, the cultural tone of Karrnath is still a better match for the BoV – which is a bleak faith based on the concept that the universe and the gods are our enemies and ultimate dissolution is inevitable – than the Silver Flame.

After the Day of Morning, Thrane turned away Cyran refugees.  Would the Purified of Cyran birth been exempt from this prohibition?

Well, here’s the thing. In the extended aftermath of the DoM I could see Thrane refusing to admit refugees. However, in the IMMEDIATE aftermath, it’s the only nation I CAN’T imagine refusing refugees. The entire purpose of the church is to DEFEND THE INNOCENT FROM SUPERNATURAL EVIL. Not “Defend the citizens of Thrane” or “Defend the followers of the Flame”, DEFEND THE INNOCENT. The Mourning is about as “supernatural evil” as things get. It is utterly bizarre to suggest that when faced with clear evidence of supernatural attack that anyone devoted to the Flame would turn back civilians to fend for themselves.

So frankly, the first thing I’d do would be to rewrite whichever history book says that they turned away refugees in the immediate aftermath. After that, I’d have to come up with an explanation that would make sense to me as to how they would justify turning away refugees in a long-term situation. I do feel that they would accept anyone who wished to serve the church itself, because again, the purpose of the church transcends politics. I could see AUNDAIRIAN Templars aligned with the Pure Flame taking such actions (turning back any who didn’t support the Flame) because the Pure Flame is an extremist movement that frequently ignores the core principles of the faith (as shown by Archbishop Dariznu burning people)… but it’s very out of character for Thrane Templars, and personally I’d ignore it in any campaign I run.

I can see the explanation for turning away refugees to involve something along the lines of, “In our capacity as worldly rulers, we are forced to separate ourselves from our spiritual roles as leaders of the Church. So, it is with a heavy heart we are forced to look at what is good for Thrane, rather than what is good for for the suffering souls of Cyre. We are therefore closing our borders to any, and all, refugees from the event known as the Day of Mourning.”

Certainly. If I had to come up with an explanation for it, it would the the reasons that any government turns away refugees. I’m just saying that of all the Cyre-adjacent countries, Thrane seems like the strangest one to make that decision. Consider our options…

  • Karrnath. A very logical choice. Not only are they a highly pragmatic, militant culture used to making harsh decisions, they are also called out as dealing with famine and thus legitimately lacking the resources to suddenly support refugees. If I was picking one of the Five Nations to turn away refugees, it would be Karrnath.
  • Breland. On the one hand, you have Breland’s egalitarian character; on the other, Breland is often also presented as pragmatic and opportunistic. It wouldn’t surprise me to have some corrupt border patrols lining their pockets in exchange for safe haven.
  • Thrane. The odd duck. Thrane isn’t noted as suffering from a crippling lack of resources that would prevent it from accepting refugees. The fundamental principle of the Silver Flame is protecting the innocent from supernatural threats… like the Mourning. Thrane abandoned its secular government in favor of a theocracy based on this faith, and this faith is widespread throughout the nation – so even if the secular leaders gave such an order, I’d expect many border forces to ignore it and follow their faith. Bear in mind that when Aundair was threatened by a plague of lycanthropy a few centuries early, an army of Thranes threw themselves in harm’s way to protect their neighbors. They are the one nation with a proven history of altruistic behavior. Now, I have no problem with Thrane turning away immigrants under any other circumstance… but specifically turning away refugees fleeing from a horrific supernatural threat is bizarrely out of character for Thrane.

Historically, Thrane has the least consistency in its presentation by different authors. The corruption is often blown out of proportion, when a) the CotSF isn’t supposed to have MORE corruption than any other faith in Eberron, it’s simply that there IS corruption even in this altruistic institution; and b) the majority of that corruption is based in Breland. The zealotry becomes a focus, when Aundair is supposed to be the stronghold of the Pure Flame and Thrane the seat of the moderate faith. Heck, we can’t even get consistency on the fact that archery is an important cultural tradition.

So: there is a book that says that Thrane ruthlessly turned away refugees on the Day of Mourning. I could come up with an explanation for that if I had to. But in MY campaign, I’m simply going to ignore it and say it was Karrnath that turned people away… which was an unfortunate necessity due to their limited resources.

So, in your view the Cyran refugees problem presented in the books happening in Breland, it also exists in Thrane? With ghettos and maybe a big refugee camp( like a smaller New Cyre). If not, why the refugee problem exists only in Breland? They have gone there BECAUSE of New Cyre? The Thrane refugees adopted quickly the faith and culture of Thrane and are more keen to mingle and adapt than the Brelanders?

All good questions! To be clear: My issue is the concept that Thrane would turn away people fleeing from a severe supernatural threat. Once that imminent threat is over, I have no issue with them placing political reality ahead of altruism. It’s the same idea that Thrane followers of the Flame can fight Brelish followers of the Flame, but if that demons appear they should both stop fighting to deal with them. For followers of the Flame, a supernatural threat should override political concerns – but once that threat is resolved, politics are back in play.

I believe that Cyran refugees are a problem across Khorvaire (and heck, as far away as Stormreach). If there’s a nation where they aren’t a problem, I’d pick Karrnath… both as the nation legitimately most likely to reject them in the first place (famine!) and as the nation most use to draconian enforcement (Code of Kaius). However, I think that Breland is unique in embracing the refugees… specifically creating New Cyre, a place where their culture is allowed to flourish. Thrane could well be pushing its refugees to abandon their culture and assimilate into Thrane and the Church… given which, those with the means to do so would likely have made their way to New Cyre.

So if I was creating a Flamekeep sourcebook, I would certainly address the presence of Cyran refugees within it. But again, I’m happy with the idea that they are under significant pressure to assimilate, and that NEW refugees aren’t welcome. It’s not that Thrane is the kindest, gentlest nation; it’s that it is specifically altruistic when it comes to fighting supernatural threats, and the actual event of the Mourning would fall under that umbrella.

The accounts of the spread of the Mourning suggest it was very fast (it was the Day of Mourning, not the Week of Mourning or the Month of Mourning, and the Field of Ruins was certainly overrun that same day). If that is the case, how are there any significant number of refugees at all? For that matter, how was there time for any official policy on refugees to be formed? It doesn’t seem like anyone other than border guards would have had time to react before the refugees were already there.

Another excellent set of questions. You’re absolutely correct: it’s called the Day of Mourning for a reason. The first point is that the effects of the Mourning bizarrely conform to a particular set of borders. In my opinion, the bulk of the “refugees” weren’t actually in Cyre when the Mourning occurred; they were soldiers and support staff either in enemy territory or land temporarily seized. This raises one of the long-term issues of dealing with Cyran refugees: most of them were actually enemy combatants, and the war wasn’t over.

In terms of civilian refugees, start with those already out of the borders. Add to those communities on the very edge of Cyre… it was the Day of Mourning, not the Hour of Mourning, after all. The cloud could be seen from a great distance away, and you could easily have had a few places where there was communication – a Speaking Stone station sends a message out saying “Cloud approaching” and then drops off the grid. People on the edge who discover that no inner city is responding might have time to make it to the border… though given that they wouldn’t have known it would stop at the border, odds are good that you’d just have general panic and “SOMETHING IS COMING!!!” – again, the sort of supernatural threat Templars are supposed to defend the innocent from.

HOWEVER, at the same time, it was a time of war and for all border guards would know, it could be a trick. In a time of war, it’s not unreasonable for any nation to act with fear and suspicion; it’s simply that of all the nations, Thrane has the most compelling reason in the very short term to set that suspicion aside to defend those endangered by a supernatural threat.

So for refugees, this gives us Cyrans in enemy territory already; civilians on the very edge who were able to flee before the Mourning reached them; and one more category: survivors. The effects of the Mourning weren’t entirely predictable, and not everyone exposed to it died. The Storm Hammers in Stormreach (City of Stormreach, p.73) are a group of such survivors. So you could have had people in border communities who didn’t escape – but who survived and then fled in a panic.

In any case, you’re right: we’re not talking about large numbers of refugees, and it would be the border guards that would be making the initial decision.

What’s your take on the event leading to the creation of the Church of the Silver Flame?

Well, the 3.5 ECS has this to say…

In 299 YK, the event that started the religion of the Silver Flame took place. In that year, a terrible eruption split the ground and a great pillar of crimson fire emerged from the resulting chasm. No one understood the significance of the blazing column of flame, but most who dared approach it felt unrelenting malevolence in its radiating heat… Tira Miron, a paladin dedicated to Dol Arrah, received a powerful vision about this strange fire while exploring the western reaches of the realm. In her vision, a great rainbow-winged serpent warned her that a terrible evil was emerging in the east, riding crimson fire from the depths of Khyber itself. Tira rallied the forces of Thrane and defeated the dark creatures that had come to venerate the crimson fire and help free the malevolent entity trapped within its flames.

A key point here that’s sometimes missed is that Bel Shalor was never truly free; he just got VERY VERY close to being released. This caused the appearance of demons. Some were likely drawn to the region from other points (such as his followers in the Lords of Dust), but many were probably just released from the Flame itself in advance of him… imagine a fishing net pulled from the ocean with one big fish trapped in it and hundreds of smaller fish tumbling out through the gaps. So: Demons were afoot in Thrane, and their numbers were increasing over time. However, I think that the actions of mortals were more noticeable than the presence of demons. As Bel Shalor’s influence over the region grew, he brought out the worst in people. As noted in the 4E ECG, “People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” So you’d see feuds and vendettas taken to extremes, the rise of petty tyrants, widespread banditry, and far worse. It makes me think a little of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles – there ARE demons in the darkness, but the people are more concerned with increasing banditry, war, taxes and the like… not realizing the darker forces that are influencing things.

Tira becomes aware of the threat, but in my opinion she doesn’t just rush over and dive in. Personally, I feel that it took her the better part of a year to prepare – gathering mortal and immortal allies, traveling across Khorvaire and even the outer planes to learn about Bel Shalor and how he could be defeated. In my personal campaign, she went to the Demon Wastes to obtain Kloijner; the greatsword was forged by the couatl (technically it’s a couatl frozen in steel) in the Age of Demons and was previously in the possession of the Ghaash’kala orcs.

In coming back through Thrane, the first step was uniting people and helping them break free of Bel Shalor’s influence; then she led these forces and her allies to the site of the breach, where she defeated the demons and sacrificed herself to force Bel Shalor back into the Flame. Those she left behind then laid the foundation of the modern church. As a side note, in my opinion Tira was essentially one member of a party of adventurers. Dragon 417 includes an article called Miron’s Tears, which identifies an Avenger named Samyr Kes as one of these allies. Others haven’t been named – but these would be the people who established the Church.

One other point: While Bel Shalor was never fully released, it seems likely that his prakhutu, The Wyrmbreaker (described on page 30-31 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide) would have been commanding the forces defending the breach… so likely Tira and her allies had to defeat him before they could reach the Flame.

Phew! That’s all for this installment. I’ll certainly let you know as soon as I have any news about Eberron development of 5E. Next up: More about Phoenix: Dawn Command!

Dragonmarks: Lost Lands and Obscure Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Some combination of the above.

PERSONALLY, I’d go with the following:

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

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

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

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

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

So looking at a modern Khaleshite sect:

* It would camouflage itself as a regular CotSF.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more questions about the Dragon-Giant conflict…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dragonmarks 4/25: Lightning Round!

As always: my answers her are my personal opinion, are not canon in any way, and may contradict canon sources. These are my thoughts and how I run my personal campaign, nothing more.

If you have a question you’d like to ask or a topic for a post, please leave it on this thread. There’s been some great questions so far, though I’m afraid many of them will require a full post to address. However, a few only require short answers. So today I’ve put together a list of those and we’re going to zip through them, starting with a question I know has been on your mind…

In which regions are tribex found?

If you’re saying “What’s a tribex,” I’m sure you’re not alone. Here’s a picture (from Eberron concept artist Steve Prescott – check out his website here).

IIRC, canon sources have only mentioned tribex in the Talenta Plains. We’ve generally described tribex as being part of Talenta cuisine. However, I personally consider tribex to have relatives found in a range of environments, and potentially as varied as moose, elk, and deer. The Fading Dream has a fey knight wearing a helmet shaped like the “head of a woodland tribex,” found in what used to be Cyre; I’d also imagine a wooly variant of the tribex in themountains of the Mror Holds. All forms of tribex would share a few key features: triple horns, bony headplate, lion-like tail.

I know most of you are here for the tribex, but I figured I should include a few more obscure questions as well. So…

What’s going to happen to Eberron in D&D Next?

Right now, you guess is as good as mine! Eberron is the property of Wizards of the Coast, it’s up to them to decide what form future support will take. All I can say for certain is that I’m signed on to write Eye on Eberron articles until the end of the year, and that Marsheila Rockwell’s Skein of Shadows comes out in July. Will Eberron get print support in the next edition? Will Eye on Eberron be renewed for 2013? At this point, I don’t know.

If you’d like to see more support for Eberron in the future, the best thing to do is to talk about it. Given that it hasn’t had many releases recently, there’s few ways for the people at WotC to just the current level of interest in the world. If there’s a clear burst of interest, well, it can’t hurt. Ask questions here! Join the Eberron discussion group on G+! Vote for Eberron in this WotC forum poll! I can’t promise that any of these things will make a difference, but they can’t hurt.

Also, is there any way to still get a hold of the Dolurrh’s Dawn charity adventure? I missed it and would be willing to purchase it/donate if need be.

I’m afraid I’m not authorized to give it away or post it here. However, if you post on messageboards you might be able to find someone who did purchase it and get it from them. There’s no DRM, and given that it’s not for sale it’s not like you’re hurting anyone.

There’s been a ‘Group of Eleven’ mentioned several times in regards to Xen’drik and giant civilization during their golden age, but nothing besides that: a mention. So, I was wondering, who exactly were they? What were they all about?

Initially we referred to “the giants” as if they were a monolithic entity. However, Xen’drik is vast and I saw no logical reason that you wouldn’t have multiple giant cultures, so when I was working on The Shattered Land and Secrets of Xen’drik, I sketched out a few in my head. The Sulat League were experts in elemental binding, and they produced the fire giants and the drow. The giants of the Cul’sir Empire chose to unite under their titan emperor and became the single largest civilization in Xen’drik. The Group of Eleven was an alliance of eleven smaller city states, each led by a powerful mage. While their alliance made them powerful, I saw them as far more culturally diverse than the Cul’sir, with a culture that promoted internal and external competition; where the Cul’sir believed a peaceful society allowed research to foster, the Group of Eleven maintained that competition drove evolution.

With that said, the name actually came from a night when a large group of us were trying to get a table for dinner. The phrase “group of eleven” kept getting tossed around, and I liked the sound of it.

What’s the craziest explanation for the Mourning you’ve used in a campaign?

I’ve never explained the Mourning in a campaign. For me, the Mourning is the key to maintaining the cold war. Once its answer is known, people know if it can happen again and if its power can be harnessed. If it can’t happen again, there are people ready to reignite the Last War. If it can be harnessed, it will drive a massive race to do so, as unilateral control of such a weapon would make war irrelevant. If the adventurers in my campaign ever found out the cause of the Mourning, the biggest challenge facing them would be to cover it up before anyone else found out and keep it secret.

Now, it has come up in my novels. In The Gates of Night Lei’s parents suggest that they know WHO is behind it; given that the book has been around for over 5 years and it’s not a major plot point, I’ll give you the SPOILER that they are talking about the Traveler, because they are part of the Traveler’s Cannith cult. They aren’t speaking literally; rather, the point is that whoever or whatever triggered it, it’s the hand of the Traveler on Eberron, and it will drive chaos, change, and evolution. Meanwhile The Fading Dream presents a more concrete theory. I won’t spoil this one, and I’ll simply say that it’s possible it’s the real answer… or not.

Since none of that provides a crazy theory, I’ll throw one out: Clearly, the Mourning was caused by the Spellplague, which was so powerful it punched a whole through realities. Consider the similarities between spellscars and dragonmarks, the plague-lands and the Mournland. Now, this may seem unlikely because a) the Spellplague was introduced in 4E and the Mourning has been around longer than that and b) despite any similarities between spellscars and dragonmarks, dragonmarks existed long before the Mourning. But this is INTERDIMENSIONAL MAGIC. It cannot be so easily explained! THE MOURNING IS THE SPELLPLAGUE!

OK, maybe not.

If I was to encounter a spelljammer type junkyard (think Watto’s from Phantom Menace), where on Eberron would that be most likely?

The key word here is “junkyard.” If I introduced Spelljammer into Eberron, I’d probably riff off the cold war space race and the colonization of the Americas. Each nation is creating its own spelljammers, looking for an edge and competing in the spheres. And what about those rumors about Riedran spelljammers powered by the dreaming crew? Does your team of adventurers have the right stuff to explore what lies beyond?

However, if I was just dropping a spelljammer junkyard into the world as it stands, I’d put it in Xen’drik and say that some nation of giants – the Group of Eleven, for example – experiemented with spelljamming and either gave up or it was lost when the dragons laid waste to the continent. This adds the fun factor that these spelljammers would be giant-sized! Can you get the Titanic into working shape?

Another option would be to say that Cannith or the Zil explored spelljamming a century ago and gave up when the Last War began. The scrapyard holds half-finished hulls and other abandoned tools. Such a location could be anywhere in Khorvaire… though if Cannith is the source, another possibility would be to choose a Cannith forgehold in the Mournland, which would explain the program’s demise.

Do you do any special “plane-mapping” in your campaigns if you run D&D 4E? I find the Shadowfell, Feywild etc. to be mildly confusing compared to the Eberron cosmology. So I guess the question is, what’s your cosmology mapping for 4E?

Honestly? I just use the same planar set-up I always have. When something comes up that requires me to use one of the new planar concepts (IE, Feywild), I come up with something that makes sense. Covering the major ones…

I consider The Feywild to be another name for Thelanis.

The Shadowfell can be either Mabar or Dolurrh, depending on the context. Mabar is the source of negative energy and most undead; Dolurrh is where spirits linger after death.

While the idea of mapping some planes to the Elemental Chaos and others to the Astral Sea works fine, I generally don’t bother to think of it that way in my mind. I still use the orrery design, and I’m happy with it. And I’ll point out that per the recent Eye on Eberron article, Baator is more of a demiplane – so we’re back to the original planes of the orrery.

As always, please discuss your own ideas, experiences, or further questions tied to these topics below!