Dragonmarks: Gem Dragons, Gem Dragonborn, and Gith!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month, a number of questions circled around the same topic—how would I integrate gem dragons and gem dragonborn into my Eberron? In adding anything new to the setting, by question is always how it makes the story more interesting. I don’t want to just drop gem dragons into Argonnessen and say they’ve always been there; I want them to change the story in an interesting way, to surprise players or give them something new to think about. So here’s what I would do.

Dragons of Sardior

Eberron as we know it isn’t the first incarnation of the prime material plane. We don’t know how many times reality has fundamentally shifted, jumping to a new rat in the maze of reality. But we know of one previous incarnation because of its survivors. When their reality was on the brink of destruction, a rag-tag fleet of Gith vessels escaped into the astral plane. These survivors split into two cultures, with the Githzerai dwelling in vast monasteries in Kythri and the Githyanki mooring their city-ships in the astral plane. The transition of realities is a difficult thing to map to time. For us, our reality has always existed, going back to the dawn of creation. For the Gith, the loss of their world is still a thing some hold in living memory. They are hardened survivors. Some crave revenge on the daelkyr, while others are solely concerned with the survival of their people. But the Githyanki aren’t the only survivors of their reality. It was an amethyst greatwyrm who helped the Gith fleet break the walls of space, and a small host of dragons accompanied the survivors into their astral exile. But the dragons aren’t like the metallic and chromatic dragons of the world that we know. They are the gem dragons.

The Progenitors are constants across all versions of the material plane. They created the planar structure of reality, and the material plane is the end result of their labors. The Eberron of the Gith—let’s call it “Githberron”—started with the same primordial struggle. In the current Eberron, the dragons are said to have formed when Siberys’s blood fell onto Eberron. In Githberron, Khyber didn’t tear apart Siberys’s body; she shattered his mind. The gem dragons believed that fragments of Siberys’s consciousness were scattered through reality, and they sought to reunite these shards; just as arcane magic is said to be the blood of Siberys in Eberron, in Githberron psionic energy is called the dream of Siberys.

Where the dragons of our Eberron are concentrated in Argonnessen, the dragons of Githberron were spread across their world. However, they were culturally connected through a telepathic construct—a vast metaconcert, which they believed was a step toward reuniting the shattered Siberys. They called this psychic nation Sardior. So rather than Sardior being another Progenitor, Sardior was their answer to Argonnessen—and they believe it is the soul of Siberys. This idea involves a small but crucial chance to the gem stat block, which is that I’d add Trance (as the elf racial trait) to all gem dragons. When trancing, gem dragons would project their consciousness into Sardior. Today the survivors yearn to recreate Sardior, and each gem dragon carries their own piece of it within their mind; however, I’m inclined to say that there just aren’t enough of them to sustain a global (let alone extraplanar) metaconcert. Two gem dragons in the same place might be able to link their minds when they trance, to dwell together in a sliver of Sardior. But to truly restore the dream of Siberys, they need more dragons. But there’s a catch to that…

Reproduction

In modern Eberron, dragons reproduce as other creatures do. My gem dragons of Sardior, on the other hand, use one of the other methods described in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons:

Enlightened non-dragons (most often Humanoids) are transformed into dragon eggs when they die, when they experience profound enlightenment… Humanoids and dragons alike understand the transformation to be a transition into a higher state of existence.

The gem dragons of Sardior weren’t born in isolation; they are the evolved, transcendent forms of other denizens of Githberron. This means that they have a fundamentally different relationship with humanoids than the dragons of Argonnessen. In the current Eberron, dragons see humanoids much like mice; useful for experiments, but don’t feel bad if you have to exterminate them, and isn’t it cute when they think they’re dragons. By contrast, in the Gith Eberron, dragons all evolved from humanoids, meaning both that they have memories of their humanoid existence and that they rely on humanoids to propagate their species. This is one of the key reasons they work with the Gith, even if they don’t especially like the Githyanki raiding. Not only are the Gith the last survivors of their world, they may be the only species capable of producing new gem dragons.

So, what is this process of reproduction and enlightenment? First, it requires a certain degree of psionic aptitude. The dragons see psionic energy as the dream of Siberys, and to become a dragon you are essentially drawing the essence of Siberys into yourself; what it means to be a dragon is to become a refined shard of the mind of Siberys. This doesn’t requires all pre-dragons to be full psions, but you need to have some degree of psionic ability, even if it’s just one of the psionic feats from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The second aspect is more ineffable, and it involves unlocking your full potential—becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. In many ways this is similar to the idea of mastering the Divinity Within in the Blood of Vol, or becoming worthy of Ascension to the Undying Court in Aerenal, and it should be just as difficult; it’s usually the work of a lifetime, not something you can rush. And I’d combine the two aspects of the Fizban’s quote—the ascension requires both enlightenment and death, that on death you become a gem dragon egg. So the point is, become enlightened, live your enlightened life, and hope that when you die you’re reborn as a dragon—you don’t want to rush the process unless you’re really sure you’re sufficiently enlightened. It’s definitely something that could happen to a player character, but it would only happen when they die.

A second key aspect of this is the idea that the type of dragon you become reflects the path you walked in life. The reason sapphire dragons are warlike is because they were warriors in their first lives. Amethyst dragons were planar scholars devoted to fighting aberrations before they became dragons; if a Gatekeeper from Eberron became a gem dragon, they’d be amethyst. I’m inclined to say that some of the character’s original memories and skills are lost in the process of draconic ascension, since it would be a significant change to say that every gem wyrmling has the skills of a mortal paragon—but the essence of that first life remains and guides the dragon moving forward. While the wyrmling may not have the full skills of the mortal seed, they have its wisdom and determination, the experience of a life well lived.

Encounters

In my campaign, there are less than a hundred dragons of Sardior in the current reality. They have a single greatwyrm—an amethyst dragon who played a crucual role in helping the Gith escape their doomed reality and who generally resides at and protects Tu’narath in the astral plane. But again, each gem dragons—even the Wyrmlings—has a rich story of a prior life. Some were Gith warriors who fought against the daelkyr. Some were sages or scholars. In building an encounter with a gem dragon, the first question for the DM should be who were they before they became a dragon?

Gem dragons work with the Gith—both Githzerai and Githyanki—for many reasons. Many of the dragons were Gith before their ascension (though there were many other humanoid species on their world) and they are the last remnant of their lost world. Beyond that, the dragons yearn to recreate Sardior, and the dragons don’t yet know if it’s possible for humanoids of this reality to undergo draconic ascension; the Gith may be the only source of new gem dragons. The dragons who join Githyanki on their raids are primarily sapphire dragons, many of whom were Gith warriors in their former lives and who want to keep their people sharp; amethyst dragons are typically found in the monasteries of the Githzerai, helping build their dream of striking at Xoriat. But not all gem dragons work with the Gith. Here’s a number of ways that adventurers could encounter a gem dragon in my Eberron.

  • The Guardian. These are the dragons who work with the Gith. Some can be encountered working openly with their Gith charges, fighting alongside Githyanki raiders or protecting a Githzerai monastery. Others could shadow their charges covertly—for example, working as a sort of guardian angel for a Gith adventurer.
  • The Draconic Observer. These gem dragons are studying the native dragons of Eberron. They seek to understand the ways of Argonnessen and to see if there’s any chance that the metallic and chromatic dragons could become part of Sardior—not unlike the Dhakaani dar and the Ghaal’dar.
  • The Mentor. These gem dragons study the humanoids of this reality. Some merely observe, while others try to guide humanoids toward draconic ascension. This could be subtle and covert, but a mentor could be found training humanoids in the psionic arts—seeing this as the first step toward the enlightenment that could produce a gem dragon egg. Alternately, a sapphire or amethyst dragon could take a direct interest in the depredations of the daelkyr in this world, and could be working with Gatekeepers or Mror dwarves—most likely secretly, but anything is possible.
  • The Hedonist. The gem dragons have escaped the utter destruction of their reality. All of the dragon types mentioned above hope to rebuild Sardior, but there are surely some who want to look to the future instead of dwelling in the past, to enjoy the life that they have and to pursue whatever it is that brings them joy. This is the option for a gem dragon who has no ties to the Gith and no grand agenda. They could be dwelling among humanoids and experiencing simple joys; perhaps an undercover gem dragon has become an Aurum concordian! Or they could be found in isolation, gathering a hoard of whatever it is they treasure and enjoying the world around them.
  • The Native. In Githberron, gem dragons are born through a process of ascension. The DM must decide—is it possible for this to occur in the current incarnation of Eberron? If so, it’s reasonable to think that at some point it has occurred even among unguided mortals—that there are people who have become gem dragons on their own. These dragons would know nothing of Githberron or Sardior, and their motives would likely be tied to their own history and culture. Beyond this, the gem dragon stat blocks could also be used with other sorts of spontaneous dragons; moonstone dragons could essentially be draconic changelings, dragons of Argonnessen who’ve spent time in Thelanis and been altered by the experience.

While most of these paths are largely benevolent, there’s certainly room for any of these dragons to go down a sinister path. A guardian may place the survival of the Gith above all else, caring nothing for the damage they do to this cracked mirror in pursuit of their goals. A mentor could eliminate students who fail to live up to expectations—or kill them believing that they will become dragon eggs, only to discover that they weren’t ready.

A key question is how Argonnessen interacts with gem dragons, and whether gem dragons are vulnerable to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber. Given that they are from an alien reality and are so different in how they are formed, I am inclined to say both that gem dragons aren’t affected by the Daughter of Khyber and also that they don’t show up in the Draconic Prophecy. With this in mind, in my campaign, Argonnessen doesn’t know much about gem dragons. Because they can and have spontaneously manifested over the course of history, Argonnessen dismisses isolated encounters with gem dragons as fluke occurrences, thinking they’re much like a draconic version of tieflings or aasimar; they haven’t yet realized that there is a civilization of gem dragons active in the world. This gives player characters the opportunity to have a front row seat for the full first and open contact between Sardior and Argonnessen. The Sardior dragons have been studying Argonnessen via their draconic observers and dealing with a few individual sympathetic dragons, but they haven’t yet dealt with the Conclave or the Chamber—and adventurers could be a part of this event when it occurs. Will the Conclave work with these alien dragons? Or will they view them as a threat that should be eliminated? A second plot thread I might explore is the idea that the gem dragons aren’t as vulnerable to the Daughter of Khyber as native dragons, but that they aren’t immune to her influence… that a gem dragon who remains on Eberron and exercises its power might slowly be corrupted by the overlord, turning a valued ally into an enemy. The main point is that I’d rather have these things occur as part of the story the player characters are involved in than to be something that occurred long ago.

Kalashtar, Adar, and the Dreaming Dark

One important question is how the dragons of Sardior interact with the psi-active forces of the current Eberron, notably Adarans, kalashtar, and the Dreaming Dark. If psionic talent is a cornerstone of the evolution into a gem dragon the kalashtar could be natural allies for Sardior; the Adaran shroud would also make Adar a compelling place to have a secure Gith creche for raising children. On the other hand, it’s possible that because kalashtar psionic talent is tied to an alien spirit that the kalashtar are a spiritual dead end or at least would have MORE trouble ascending than other humanoids. It could be that Adar is already home to one or more native gem dragons; it could be very interesting to reveal that there’s always been a gem greatwyrm hidden beneath Adar, helping to protect its people.

On the other side of things, gem dragons might be more interested in Riedra and the Inspired. Could the Hanbalani be hijacked to create a form of Sardior? On the other hand, once the gem dragons have revealed their presence, I could imagine the Dreaming Dark trying to capture and use them; this could be the source of an obsidian dragon.

The main point to me is that I’m always more interested in having interesting things happen NOW than setting them in the past. I’d rather have Adaran or Kalashtar players be actively involved when a Sardior emissary comes to Adar and asks to build a creche than to say that it happened a century ago… though I do love the idea of the revelation that there have always been a few native gem dragons in Adar who have helped to guide and protect the nation!

What About Gem Dragonborn?

In my Eberron, gem dragonborn are like gem dragons, in that they aren’t a species that reproduces with others of their kind; they must be created. For these purposes, I’d consider the half-dragon origins suggested in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. True Love’s Gift suggests that a bond of love between a dragon and another creature can produce a dragonborn, while Cradle Favor suggests that some gem dragons can transform an unborn child. How and why this could occur would depend on the nature of the dragon sharing their power. A guardian dragon could cultivate a squad of dragonborn soldiers. Likewise, a mentor could cultivate a small family of dragonborn to help with its mission. On the other hand, a secretive hedonist or mentor could produce a dragonborn through a bond of love, with the child and their mother never knowing the true nature of the draconic godparent. On the other hand, Fizban’s offers other possible paths to becoming a half-dragon… notably, the idea that “A creature that bathes in or drinks the blood of a dragon can sometimes be transformed into a half-dragon.” I wouldn’t make this reliable or easy technique… but it leaves the possibility that some of the Draleus Tairn hunt gem dragons for this reason, or that a dying gem dragon might choose to give the last power of its blood to a humanoid that finds it.

This provides a range of options for a gem dragonborn player character. If you’re tied to a guardian, it means that you have an active connection to the Sardior survivors and a Gith vessel. Why have you left your ship? Have you been exiled for some crime, and seek to clear your name? Do you have a specific mission, whether diplomatic or searching for a particular artifact? If you’re tied to a mentor, you could have a relationship with your draconic benefactor not unlike that of a warlock and their patron; your dragon seeks to gather information and to help elevate humaniodity, and you are their eyes and hands. On the other hand, it could be that you were born as a gem dragonborn but don’t know why—that part of your quest is to discover the dragon who transformed you and to learn why.

Thoughts For Gith…

Given my theory of Githberron, one might ask what this means for Gith player characters. Are all Githyanki survivors of Githberron? Do all Gith have to have a connection to the Astral or to Kythri? A few thoughts…

The timeless nature of the astral plane means that you could play a Githyanki character who’s a survivor of the lost world. Part of the idea of Githberron/Sardior is that psionic energy was more abundant there, so you could justify being a low-level character by saying that you were a more powerful psion in your own world and part of the reason you’re traveling is to learn to work with the lesser energies of this one. With that said, the Githyanki do want to continue to grow their population; in this article I suggest the existence of creche ships that serve this purpose. I imagine adolescent Githyanki having a sort of rumspringa period—they have to be out of the astral until they physically mature, and some ships might encourage their youths to explore the material plane in this time, learning about the wider world, honing their skills, and making potential allies. Meanwhile, Kythri ISN’T timeless—which among other things suggests that the only Githzerai who personally remember Githberron are monks who’ve mastered some form of the Timeless Body technique (which I’d personally allow some Githzerai NPCs to do even if they don’t have all the other powers of a 15th level monk). On the other hand, because we are dealing with events that defy the concept of linear time, if it suits the story a DM could decide that from the perspective of the Gith, it’s only actually been a few decades since Githberron was lost! Either way, I could also see the Githzerai having a wandering period where their adolescents experience life in the material plane, to understand existence beyond Kythri.

In any case, I would say that all Gith have a connection to either a city-ship or a monastery. So as a Gith, why might you be an adventurer? A few ideas…

  • You’re a Gith adolescent in your wandering time, honing your skills and seeing the world; you plan to return to your people in a few years.
  • You’re a Githyanki advance scout studying the people of this world so your ship can decide whether and where to raid in it.
  • You’re the child of a Githyanki who chose not to return after the Wandering, and you know nothing of your ancestors or their customs.
  • You are working with a gem dragon mentor, who’s requested your help in their work studying or attempting to uplift the humanoids of this world.
  • You’re on a personal mission to eliminate the mind flayer Xor’chyllic, who committed horrific war crimes in your reality. Your people refused to support your quest, so you’ve gone rogue and need to cultivate a team of local allies.

That’s all for now! I don’t have time to answer many questions on this article, but feel free to discuss your ideas and ways you’ve used gem dragons or Gith in the comments. If you want to see more of these articles, to have a chance to choose future topics, or to play in my ongoing online Eberron campaign, check out my Patreon!

IFAQ Round-Up: Archfey, Astral Questions, and Saints

Every month, my Patreon supporters have an opportunity to ask a question. Some of these questions become the basis of full articles, such as my recent article on the Grim Lords of Farlnen. Others just get short answers. Here’s a roundup of a few such questions that came up in January!

Have you any thoughts on how to tie the Lady in Shadow (an archfey from Exploring Eberron) to the Emerald Claw or Lady Illmarrow? In particular, how would an Archfey warlock of the Lady in Shadow relate to Illmarrow?

From a story perspective, Illmarrow already sort of IS the Lady in Shadow. She’s an infamous mage who dwells in the inhospitable wilds, which is the basic story of the Lady in Shadow. We’ve said before that the Archfey enjoy seeing their stories played out. Of course, that WAS Illmarrow’s story… until she raised an army of extremists (the Emerald Claw). “Cult leader” is a very different story from “sinister enigmatic hermit.” So one easy option is that the Lady in Shadow is actually sympathetic to Illmarrow but wants to shut down the Emerald Claw… because she wants Illmarrow back as the mysterious witch in the wilds, not being an active cult leader.

Another option is that Illmarrow made a bargain with the Lady herself at some point in the past. Illmarrow’s been around for thousands of years, and she’s been pursuing all manner of arcane options; she easily could have tried bargaining with archfey to get her mark back, only to have it fail. If you go that way, then the Lady in Shadow has a vendetta. It could be that Illmarrow simply broke a promise and needs to be punished. Or it could be that Illmarrow stole an artifact belonging to the Lady, something that holds a significant amount of her power… and that the Lady CAN’T act against Illmarrow until that artifact is recovered or destroyed. So the LiS would help her warlock generally oppose Illmarrow, working up to the moment when the vendetta can be settled.

A final optional twist would be that the Lady in Shadow wants her warlock to BECOME Lady Illmarrow. This would be a super long-term goal, but it goes back to the idea that the LiS likes there being a Lady Illmarrow who serves as a real-world analogue of the Lady in Shadow… but that Erandis is no longer filling that role. So she wants the warlock to bring down Erandis and then keep being Illmarrow.

The Second Son (or ‘Count of the Barren Marches’) is an archfey mentioned in Exploring Eberron, but there’s little information beyond him being a jealous would-be usurper whose schemes almost always fail. What are the “Barren Marches” he rules like? Who are the “siblings” who his lands are always inferior to—other archfey, or just characters in HIS story? What real-world stories did you have in mind writing him?

Much like the Lady in Shadow, the Second Son is a nebulous figure whose details are less important than his overriding concept. His covetous nature is the key, but the exact details aren’t as important. In fact, every time you go to the Barren Marches, he could be lusting after something new. Within the Moonlit Court, HIS OLDER SIBLING MIGHT CHANGE from season to season; the point is just that he always HAS an elder sibling who’s widely beloved and has what the Second Son desires. Looking to inspiration, you could go anywhere from Claudius in Hamlet, villainous depictions of King John, all the way to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Technically that last one isn’t about INHERITANCE, but it fits the TONE of the Second Son to a T; a miserable man in a miserable cave hates his happy prosperous neighbors and schemes to end their joy through theft. In terms of his schemes failing, I think the more accurate point is that they END BADLY. Claudius does succeed at claiming his brother’s crown, but the story still ends (spoiler alert) with Claudius dead and the kingdom fallen. The Second Son never ends up with what he desires for long… and even if he does, he’ll realize it’s not enough.

As for what the Barren Marches are like, the key point is that THEY’RE NOT AS NICE AS HE’D LIKE THEM TO BE. They could be rocky moors, a desert, the Grinch’s barren peak. Again, I think it’s quite reasonable that what they border CHANGES EVERY SEASON to reflect whatever story he’s playing out in this particular moment.

If the previous instances of Eberron, like the famous Githberron, were all instances of the material plane (as Gith have survived by hiding in other planes), does that mean that inhabitants of the planes remember this previous Eberrons? Besides both Gith cultures, where would the best places be to understand/learn about this?

Does that mean that inhabitants of the planes remember this previous Eberrons?” The immortals don’t. Remember that immortals are essentially part of the machinery of reality. Think of the planes as hardware that’s running Eberron 2.0.2.1. When it gets upgraded to Eberron 2.0.2.2, the hardware remains in place, but the software gets updated… and in this analogy, immortals are software, and their memories are updated to be in line with the new reality. Last week we were at war with Eastasia and had always been at war with Eastasia. Then we upgraded to Eberron 2.0.2.2, and now we’ve always been at war with Eurasia instead.

The big question is what happens to extraplanar mortals. We know that creatures in the Astral Plane can survive updates, but the Githzerai have chosen to dwell in Kythri. The question is whether there’s been another update since Githberron—if they were able to ride out the change with the same force of will that lets them maintain order in Kythri—or if there is a real possibility that when another update occurs, the Githzerai will be “overwritten” and erased. If it hasn’t happened yet, the Githzerai themselves don’t know the answer. The main place to find out more about previous realities would be in Xoriat or the Astral Plane, both of which don’t get changed in these updates.

Given the timeless nature of the astral plane, are all the gith “leftover” from previous incarnations of Eberron? And if not, how does gith society reproduce on a “timeless” plane — if you don’t age, do they have to take their children somewhere else to grow them into adulthood?

Note the sentence from the article: “This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both ALLOW THEIR POPULATION TO GROW and to give them an anchor in time.” Children can’t be born or grow in the Astral Plane. The Githyanki population is thus largely made up of survivors. However, there’s is a faction that is working to increase the population, maintaining a few Creche ships that anchor in isolated parts of the Material plane where children can grow. An interesting question is how these newborns are treated by the veterans. Some may celebrate them as proof that the Gith will overcome all hardships and thrive; others may feel that because they never saw the “True World” they can’t truly understand what it means to be Githyanki.

Could there be remnants of Quori armies in the Astral Plane from before Dal Quor was torn from the material plane, or would being cut off from the Dreaming Dark be fatal? And in a similar vein, Quori from il Lashtavar’s prior incarnations?

If going to the Astral Plane was a safe way to avoid the Turning of the Age, I’d expect the quori to have done it en masse long ago instead of messing around with the material plane. So the question is WHY it’s not safe. Personally, I think that while immortals can travel through the Astral Plane, it’s dangerous for them to stay there for extended amounts of time. Immortals are fundamentally extensions of their planes, and the Astral is outside creation. If they spend too much time there (and I’m saying months or years, not minutes) I think their identity would degrade; they wouldn’t DIE, but they’d become something DIFFERENT. So you could have some survivors of a previous age, but they WOULDN’T BE QUORI ANYMORE and they wouldn’t have clear memories of their age.

You’ve said in the past that Thrane has more wide divine magic than the other countries – How does that look in practice? Is it more, “The bones of Belladonna Martyrs will break curses or cure diseases of worthy pilgrims” or more, “Through our understanding of the holy power of the flame, we’re able to set up a Zone of Truth courthouse”?

More the latter. Remember that the Silver Flame is a power source that empowers the worthy. As a paladin of the Flame you aren’t calling on saints, you’re just drawing on the Flame itself. With that said, even adepts need faith. The Flame is a gift that allows people to protect the innocent, and this will be called out. In the Courthouse, the truthteller would say “Let no falsehood be uttered in the light of the Flame!” as they draw the zone of truth. A healer would say “Let the power of the Flame flow through you, driving out the foul disease.” There is a REVERENCE and appreciation for this gift; but it is about drawing directly on the power of the Flame. With that said, tools that help focus and channel the power of the Flame could take the form of reliquaries or similar things. The bones of the Belladonna Martyrs don’t have inherent power, but it’s possible that they can help an adept channel the Flame more effectively; that the faith of the martyrs remains in the bones, and strengthens the faith of the adept who holds them. We’ve never talked about common channeling tools of the CotSF, and it’s an interesting question—but a larger one than I can answer right now.

I was wondering if the various faiths of Eberron have saints or Saint-like figures as common knowledge? Or are the religions too decentralized? I know the Blood of Vol has undead martyrs in a more physical sense and the Church of the Silver Flame has Keepers and cardinals of the past still sometimes revered, but is it widespread in those faiths or the Sovereign Host or even the druidic faiths?

It depends how you define “saint.” The Church of the Silver Flame most definitely has martyrs and champions who are honored. Tira Miron is the most obvious of these, but Sharn includes a shrine to Fathen the Martyr; I’d assume Fathen is just one example of many. The key point is that people don’t believe that (aside from Tira) these saints still exist and can intercede on their behalf; people HONOR Fathen and preserve his memory, but they don’t PRAY to him.

The Sovereign Host largely focuses on the Sovereigns, who are after all always with you. With that said, it’s called out as having LIVING saints—people who are recognized as being especially close to the Sovereigns. I’ve called out that you might have a village where people see the blacksmith as being close to Onatar and ask for his blessing, while in Sharn we have the concrete (literally!) example of Daca; on page 83 of Sharn: City of Towers she’s specifically identified as a saint in her stat block. But the main point is that these Vassal saints are largely honored for their holiness in life, but don’t continue to be venerated after death. I could imagine a particular Vassal sect that embraces the concept and creates reliquaries, but it’s not standard practice.

I feel that the druidic faiths largely accept the idea that death is death and wouldn’t be likely to ask the dead to intercede on their behalf. On the other hand, I think it could be very interesting to explore the idea of Tree Saints—great druids who have transfered their souls into trees when they were close to death, and who can continue to advise people, much like Aereni spirit idols. I WOULDN’T suggest this as an origin for Oalian, and I’d be inclined to limit the power of these saint trees to offering advice, perhaps affecting the weather in their region, etc rather than making them actual spellcasters like Oalian. But I think there could be some fun flavor with druids going to the Whispering Grove to ask the elders for advice.

That’s all I have time for now. I’m happy to clarify these answers, but I won’t be answering entirely new questions in the comments. However, I am about to launch another call for questions on Patreon, so if you have an interesting Eberron question that’s the place to ask it!

Dragonmarks: The Astral Plane

This is actually a picture of Kythri. But, y’know, close enough.

Eberron is balanced between thirteen planes, each of which represents an iconic concept. All mortal creatures are influenced by these planes. We dream in Dal Quor and cast shadows in Mabar. We feel the martial call of Shavarath balanced by the tranquility of Syrania. Where these planes extend directly into the Material Plane they create manifest zones and wild zones, Shaping Eberron in their image. Counting those that are lost, there were thirteen planes, thirteen moons, thirteen dragonmarks.

What, then, is the role of the astral plane? What concept does it represent? Does it, too, shape the world? Why isn’t associated with a moon or with manifest zones?

While the astral plane is called a “plane,” it has little in common with the thirteen planes of the orrery. It wasn’t created to embody a concept, because it wasn’t created. The Astral Plane is the ultimate foundation of reality, the realm that existed before creation. If you interpret the creation myth literally, the astral plane was the canvas upon which the Progenitors painted existence as we know it. As such, it’s not part of creation; it’s the space that lies between and beyond it. It doesn’t have a purpose; it simply is.

With that said, the fact that the astral plane is the space between spaces gives it value. With a few exceptions—such as the Immeasurable Market of Syrania—the planes of Eberron exist as independent and isolated systems. There’s no direct path from Risia to Fernia, or from Mabar to Lamannia. All of the planes touch the material plane, but manifest zones that serve as gateways aren’t easy to find. Barring manifest gateways, travel between the planes involves passing through the astral plane. Plane shift and gate expedite this process, connecting through the astral in a blink of an eye. Without such magic, travelers must enter and depart the astral plane through the color pools. So why visit the astral plane? The first reason is to go somewhere else; the astral is just the road that will take you there. The second reason is to get away; disconnected as it is from reality and the ravages of time, the astral can serve as the ultimate sanctuary. The third reason is because you need to interact with the travelers or exiles who dwell there—or wish to explore the forgotten debris of previous ages, abandoned and forgotten in the astral plane.

Universal Properties

The astral plane is an endless silvery void. Wisps of silver and gray drift between motes of light—at first glance these seem like stars, but in fact they are the countless pools of color where the other planes bleed into the astral. There is no inherent gravity or orientation; you move by thinking about moving, and if you have no desire to move you will simply be suspended in the void. Some travelers embrace the idea of flying, while others choose to walk across the void even though there’s no ground beneath their feet.

Ancient and Enigmatic. Commune, augury, divination, legend lore and similar spells are unreliable in the astral plane. Many of the ruins and relics found in the silver sea are from previous incarnations of Eberron or predate creation itself, and spells of this age can’t unlock their mysteries.

Beyond Time and Space. Creatures in the astral plane do not age, and are immune to hunger and thirst. Time moves at the same pace within the astral plane as it does on Eberron, but creatures who spend an extensive amount of time in the astral plane often lose the ability to sense the passage of time; a hermit who’s been isolated in the astral plane for thousands of years might believe it’s been a single year.

Speed of Thought. While in the astral plane, a creature has a flight speed (in feet) equal to 3 x its Intelligence score. This replaces all other forms of movement the creature possesses, and overrides any spell or effect that grants or increases movement speed.

Suspended in the Void. Movement in the astral plane only happens by intention, and a creature that isn’t actively moving or being moved will float, suspended in the void. Thrown objects or ranged attacks travel the maximum distance they would travel in the material plane—driven by the intent of the person who launched them—and then come to a stop, floating in the air.

DENIZENS OF THE ASTRAL PLANE

There’s no native life in the astral plane. Those creatures encountered here are either immigrants, travelers passing through, or things that have been created and set here—most by beings or civilizations long forgotten. I’ll be posting a table of possible astral encounters as bonus content on my Patreon, but here’s a general look at the creatures you might find.

Travelers

While plane shift allows travelers to instantly traverse the astral plane, there are always travelers who make their way across the astral step by step. These include denizens of the outer planes, but not many; the planes are independent systems that are designed to function in isolation. With this in mind, it’s never normal for beings from the planes to be traveling through the astral, and if they are you can be sure there’s a story behind it. Perhaps an efreeti pasha wishes to serve shaved Risian ice at their next gala, and has dispatched a servant to fetch some. Perhaps a condemned archfey is being escorted from Thelanis to the Inescapable Prison of Daanvi, or an angelic Virtue of Knowledge is going to consult the Infinite Archive. Any of these things could happen, but all of them are remarkable events; it’s not like there’s a constant stream of immortals passing through the astral plane.

Mortal travelers from the material plane are likewise rare, but not unknown. The mages of the Five Nations know of the Astral Plane, but have not yet developed a sustainable form of astral travel. There are currently three civilizations that make use of astral travel.

  • The Dragons of Argonnessen. Long ago, a cabal of dragons sought to build within the astral plane; this experiment came to an end with the loss of Sharokarthel (see below). Today Argonnessen sees the astral plane purely as a conduit for travel. Since powerful wyrms will make use of plane shift, most dragons encountered in the astral plane will be in their middle years—accomplished enough to have needs that can only be met in other planes, but not capable of casting plane shift. Loredrakes (dragon scholars) may wish to consult the Infinite Archives of Daanvi or to speak with a particular immortal. Masters of the Hoard (collectors and merchants) may be seeking unique commodities, while Flames of the Forge (artisans and artificers) may be looking for resources that can only be acquired beyond reality.
  • The Elves of Aerenal. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the Astral Plane, working on the grand experiment of Pylas Var-Tolai. Beyond this celestial realm, the Aereni follow in the footsteps of the dragons. The greatest Aereni sages may consult with Virtues in Syrania or browse the Infinite Archive, and Aereni artisans may seek materials that can only be found in the planes. Where dragons found traveling in the astral are usually young, elf travelers are most likely among the most accomplished of their kind still living; astral travel is an established practice, but only the most capable elves will risk its many dangers.
  • The Venomous Demesne. Hidden in western Droaam, the Venomous Demesne is less than two thousand years old—a pale shadow in comparison to Argonnessen or Aerenal. But the humans and tieflings of the Demesne are brilliant mages who are pushing the bounds of arcane science. Over the course of the last century they’ve begun to dig deeper into the mysteries of the Astral Plane, both as a corridor through which to reach the planes and as a resource in its own right. Some mages of the Demesne seek to bargain with the Githyanki, while others hope to find forgotten treasures in the ruins of Sharokarthel. So the Demesne doesn’t yet have a large-scale presence in the Astral Plane, but adventurers could encounter Demesne mages either as fellow travelers or as rival explorers competing for plunder and secret knowledge.

Immigrants and Exiles

There’s no truly native life in the astral plane, but there are creatures—both mortals and immortals—who choose to live within the silver sea. Some have been stranded by mystical accidents. Others are prisoners exiled to the astral plane, cursed so that they cannot leave it; they are trapped in the timeless void, doomed never to return to the world that has forgotten them. There are hermits who have chosen this solitary existence: philosophers who appreciate having an eternity to contemplate the higher mysteries, inventors working on forbidden research, fugitives waiting for their enemies to die of old age. With no need for food or drink, some dwell in complete isolation; explorers could find a Cul’sir giant who has been meditating for the last five thousand years. Other creatures came to the astral plane in groups, and maintain some form of society in the silver sea. The most significant of these are the Githyanki, who escaped the destruction of a previous incarnation of Eberron and now dwell in fortress-ships the size of small towns. However, there are a handful of smaller communities scattered across the infinite void. Some come from lost realities, like the Gith. Others are remnants of fallen civilizations or followers of traditions that have been wiped out on the material plane. Adventurers exploring the deep astral could discover an outpost built by the dwarves of Sol Udar, or a Dhakaani garrison that knows nothing of the chaat’oor. Part of the point of these outposts is to explore the idea of isolation. They don’t need anything from the outside world; they have no need to seek out others and trade with them. Thus they can exist as flies in amber—a Dhakaani force even more isolated than the Kech Dhakaan, goblins who don’t even realize their empire has fallen. Adventurers could find an astral workshop where giants of the Sulat League have been perfecting a doomsday weapon they can use to take vengeance on the dragons, or the labyrinth-tower of an infamous prince of Ohr Kaluun, cast into the astral plane to escape the Sundering.

The Githyanki

Most of the immigrants and exiles of the astral plane exist in isolation and timeless stagnation, content to be forgotten in the trackless expanse of the void. The Githyanki are the most notable exception to this rule. Tu’narath is a bustling city, fueled by the plunder Githyanki raiders bring in from other planes. The ships themselves are communities, from small vessels that house a dozen raiders to the fortress-ships that hold hundreds. With that said, between dwelling in the astral and pillaging immortal planes, the Githyanki themselves have lost track of time. This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both allow their population to grow and to give them an anchor in time. The naysayers argue that they don’t belong in the current creation—that they’ve been able to thrive in the astral because it is beyond reality, but that if the Githyanki stake a claim in the material it could trigger unknown metaphysical defenses. The argument continues; as a DM, if you decide to explore such an invasion, you’ll have to decide if there will be unforeseen consequences to a Githyanki incursion.

The Githyanki are warlike and proud. Their ultimate goal is to build their power until they can destroy Xoriat itself, regardless of the consequences this could have to reality. They have a deep competitive streak that could be seen as a need to prove themselves superior to the world that has replaced theirs. Whether merchant or warrior, Githyanki view all interactions through the lens of conflict; every situation has a winner and a loser, and the Githyanki will always be the victors. Note that this doesn’t mean mindless aggression; the Githyanki recognize the need to outwit their enemies, to employ careful strategies and preserve their limited resources. But they are always seeking a path to victory, and they have no compunction about taking anything they desire from the people around them; in the eyes of the Githyanki, only their people are real, and all the trappings of this age are just flawed reflections of their reality. This is one reason the Githyanki raid other planes while leaving the other denizens of the astral plane alone. Even if they are from other realities, the Githyanki recognize the other exiles as kindred in suffering—and beyond that, they prefer not to start battles on their home ground. So the Gith are constantly raiding through the color pools, but they avoid the ruins and outposts of other immigrants in the astral sea. They have limited contact with the Aereni. They feel no love for these creatures of the usurping reality, but see more value in trading with them than in starting a conflict in the void. However, if the Githyanki were to launch an attack against Eberron, it’s likely they would either negotiate a treaty with Aerenal before they begin… or that they would find a way to cripple the Undying Court and launch their conquest with a devastating first strike against the elves.

The Forgotten

Most of the denizens of the astral plane have a history that can be unraveled and explored. Some come from earlier incarnations, like the Githyanki. Others come from fallen nations—remnants of Xen’drik, Sol Udar, the Empire of Dhakaan. The ruins of Sharokarthel are almost a hundred thousand years old. But there are beings in the astral plane that predate even the age of demons, constructs built and abandoned by civilizations entirely unknown… civilizations that could even predate the Progenitors and the cosmology of Eberron itself. The terrifying Astral Dreadnoughts are one example of these forgotten entities. These gargantuan entities glide through the astral sea, destroying all that they encounter. Some believe that the dreadnoughts were created by the Progenitors to fight any beings that might come from beyond Eberron’s cosmology—that the dreadnoughts exist to fight any would-be gods that might seek a foothold in Eberron. Others believe that the dreadnoughts predate the Progenitors, that they are remnants of a world truly beyond mortal understanding. The dreadnoughts are just one example of those things that may be forgotten in the depths of the astral—powers waiting to be unleashed.

LAYERS AND LOCATIONS

The astral plane isn’t divided into layers. It is a singular, seemingly infinite void in which color pools are scattered like stars. Measured using the concepts of the material plane, Tu’narath and Sharokarthel could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles apart. This is why it’s possible to find an astral hermitage where a giant philosopher has remained undisturbed for thousands of years… because unless you know what you’re looking for, the astral plane is so vast as to make any particular location a single grain of sand on a vast beach.

It might seem like this distance would prevent any sort of meaningful travel in the astral plane. If Tu’narath and Sharokarthel are a hundred thousand miles apart, how is an adventurer to move between them? The catch is that movement in the astral plane isn’t measured in miles or even in space; it is purely a concept. The Speed of Thought trait determines a character’s speed in combat, where people must focus on the narrow moment. Outside of combat, movement across the Astral Plane is based on knowing where you wish to go and willing yourself to get there. Travel speed is largely arbitrary; the Dungeon Master’s Guide notes that it will take about 1d4 x 10 hours to find a color pool tied to a particular plane, with the risk of psychic wind increasing travel time. But that’s just to find a random pool; think of this as searching the skies for a green star and then willing yourself in its direction. Astral color pools are tied to locations within planes; finding a specific pool, or finding a location like Sharokarthel, is a different story. If you have been to the location before, it will usually take around 1d4 x 10 hours to reach it. If you’re proficient in Arcana, you can work with a description of a location (an Aereni map, a description from a Cul’sir tomb…). In such a case, it can take 1d8 x 10 hours to reach your destination. If you have no intended destination, you can try to navigate based on the constellations formed by the scattered color pools; you’ll eventually find something, whether it’s just a pool or some more interesting outpost or ruin. Someone familiar with astral travel can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check to speed travel; this is arbitrary, but a good result can reduce travel time and help the travelers avoid the psychic wind.

The elves of Aerenal are the most notable astral cartographers in Eberron. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court have spent countless hours exploring the astral sea as thought forms, recording the paths of its constellations and noting interesting ruins and hermitages. If adventurers wish to find adventure in the astral plane, they could just dive into the sea and start swimming… but a torn page from an Aereni atlas could be what they need to get started.

Ruins and Hermitages

The astral plane may in fact be infinite, and there’s no telling what could be waiting in that void. There’s at least one active city, Tu’narath. But there are many other points of interest scattered in the void. Most of these are ruins. Some are the remnants of actual cities once built in the astral plane, like Sharokarthel. Others are simply pieces of unknown civilizations or lands. These could be from the distant past of this Eberron. They could be remnants of a lost Eberron, such as the Eberron of the Gith. Or they could even be relics of previous creations, realities older than the Progenitors themselves. A few examples…

  • A dragon’s skull, ten miles long from snout to horn-tip. The shape doesn’t precisely match any known species of dragon.
  • A single tower, seemingly broken off of a larger castle.
  • A massive ship, apparently designed for sea travel—a distinctly different design than the Githyanki vessels.
  • A mountain peak formed from some sort of smoky crystal.
  • A mass of silvery clouds, soft but solid enough to stand on. They drift and shift, but never disperse or drift apart.
  • The empty shell of an immense dragon turtle.
  • Half of an immense bridge, sheered off sharply in the middle.
  • A manor house, preserved with mending magic and tended by unseen servants. It’s impossible to tell how long it’s stood empty.
  • A grove of colossal trees, whose roots and branches are intertwined.

There are many planes in which odd structures can be found. What differentiates the ruins of the Astral Plane from the bizarre landscapes of Xoriat is the fact that ruins generally feel like they had a purpose—they may be encountered out of context, but once the ship was in water and the skull was part of an immense dragon. What makes them unlike the wonders of Thelanis is that while they may have a purpose, the ruins of the astral plane rarely have a story—at least, not one that can be easily discerned. The skull was once part of a dragon, but there are no further clues as to who that dragon was or how it died; if it was once part of a story, that story is long over.

Ruins are generally abandoned. When immigrants or exiles lay claim to a ruin, it becomes a hermitage. Given that creatures in the astral plane are immune to starvation and thirst, people can live in places that could never support life in the natural world. A massive dragon skull could be inhabited by a clan of winged kobolds, or by a trio of Seekers of the Divinity Within. Again, unlike Xoriat, the denizens of such a realm came from somewhere; if there’s kobolds in the skull, the question is whether they’re from Eberron, a previous reality, or a forgotten creation.

PYLAS VAR-TOLAI

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the astral plane—leaving their bodies behind and exploring through astral projection. In part, they are charting the near-infinite expanse; the Aereni have maps of many ruins and hermitages, even though they have left many of the hermits undisturbed. But astral cartography is a side project. Their true interest is something far grander. The astral plane is a place of beginnings. If the myths are true, it is here that the Progenitors laid the cornerstone of creation. The Undying Court seeks to follow in their footsteps—to create a new reality. They are still far from this goal, but using their gestalt power they have managed to create a region within the void—an island they call Pylas Var-Tolai.

The core of Pylas Var-Tolai is a vast, fortified monastery. This includes a scriptorium where monks draw maps of the astral sea, a vast library holding accounts of all the ruins they have explored, and a vault holding both wonders found in the astral and artifacts deemed too dangerous to be kept in the material plane. There is a council chamber at the center of it where the ascendant councilors commune with one another and exert their power. While the most important inhabitants of Var-Tolai are the astral forms of the ascendant councilors, there is a population of mortal elves—scholars, priests, and soldiers—who are physically present. While Pylas Var-Tolai is primarily a research outpost, it also serves as a waystation for Aereni who have business in the planes; as such it does have a small capacity for guests, and there are usually a handful of travelers along with the permanent staff. Whoever, the monastery is driven by research, not commerce. If adventurers come to the gates of Pylas Var-Tolai, the priests will be more interested in their stories than their gold.

The most important aspect of Pylas Var-Tolai is the gate at its center. This allows passage to the workshop of the Undying Court… the reality they are creating. This is very much a work in progress, fluid and unsustainable. But they are continuing to work at it. When adventurers visit, the realm on the other side of the gate could be a tiny island or a vast continent. It could be a perfect replica of Aerenal, or it could be a wondrous realm that defies the laws of physics. Visiting adventurers could be asked to explore the nascent realm—to test the creation of the councilors, and identify its flaws.

Sharokarthel

In the wake of the Age of Demons, the victorious dragons spread across the world. This lead to the first rise of the Daughter of Khyber, which led to a devastating war of dragons that destroyed the nations they’d created and forced them to withdraw later. Ten thousand years later, a loredrake presented a new idea. The Daughter of Khyber drew power when the dragons expanded across Eberron. But the Daughter herself was bound to Khyber. What, then, if the dragons spread not across the material plane, but across the outer planes? This impulse led to the creation of a number of outposts in the astral plane, culminating in the great city of Sharokarthel. This is a city built by dragons, for dragons—a city formed from magic and the immateria, unbound by gravity or weather. The dragons of Sharokarthel built arcane workshops and planar orreries, and amassed hoards drawn from across the planes. But ultimately the theory was proven wrong. The Daughter of Khyber couldn’t touch the dragons in Sharokarthel—but as their glory grew, she could corrupt those dragons still on Eberron, and these corrupted servants could carry the fight to the astral city. This led to the second great collapse. The Daughter was defeated once again, but the dragons were forced to abandon Sharokarthel. They didn’t destroy the glorious city, but they laid powerful wards and curses upon it, ensuring that no casual traveler could claim their abandoned glory.

There are a number of draconic ruins in the astral plane, but Sharokarthel is the grandest of them all. It surely holds untold wonders and treasures, but it’s protected by powerful curses and traps. Still, there are surely accounts of those defenses somewhere. Perhaps a human sage might stumble upon a book detailing a secret path into Sharokarthel… or perhaps a young dragon might recruit a group of adventurers to accompany them to the abandoned city, hoping to reclaim some treasure of their ancient ancestors.

Subspace

There are many effects—magnificent mansions, bags of holding, portable holes—that make use of extradimensional spaces. Typically, these are presented as tiny demiplanes, isolated and unconnected; some, such as secret chest, mention the ethereal plane. However, one possibility is that these extradimensional spaces are in fact in the astral plane. A bag of holding can be encountered as a floating force bubble containing objects… while a magnificent mansion is a mansion suspended in the void. If this is the case, someone might be able to find and penetrate those spaces from the outside. Of course, keep in mind that finding a bag of holding in the astral plane would be like finding a bottle dropped into an ocean; the astral plane is potentially infinite. But if a DM follows this route, they could decide that items created with the same technique occupy the same region of the astral plane; that there is a constellation of Cannith bags of holding, a neighborhood of Ghallanda magnificent mansions, or an island formed by the Kundarak Vault network. If this is the case and someone DOES find a way to access any of these things from the outside, it could cause chaos and force the houses to deploy additional security. But it could certainly make for an epic astral heist!

Tu’narath

In their early days in the astral plane, the Githyanki discovered an immense six-fingered hand floating in the void. This severed hand is charged with arcane power, not unlike Eberron dragonshards. The origins of the hand remain a mystery, but the Githyanki recognized it as a useful resource and a suitable foundation for an anchorage. Most Githyanki prefer to dwell in their ships, but Tu’nararath is the port where the city-ships come together, where the Githyanki unload their planar plunder and tell tales of their glorious battles. And should they plan a conquest, it is here that they will mass their forces.

The Githyanki have no love of outsiders; if you want a friendly place to conduct commerce, go to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. However, the Sixth Finger is essentially a foreign quarter where travelers can find shelter and sample some of the wonders the Gith have claimed from across reality. It’s a very rough neighborhood, where you will find exiles, astral prisoners, and worse—but if you’re looking for an astral guide or some exotic planar plunder, you could make a landing at Tu’narath.

PLANAR MANIFESTATIONS

Here are ways that the astral plane can affect the material plane.

Manifest Zones, Coterminous and Remote

The astral plane doesn’t produce manifest zones on the material plane, and it never becomes coterminous or remote. It touches all of the planes at various points. These are visible in the astral plane as color pools and allow travelers to exit the astral plane into the connected region. However, these points are generally imperceptible on the other side of the pool. Identifying the astral point and opening the gate requires magical tools that the people of the Five Nations have yet to master. The three civilizations mentioned earlier—Argonnessen, Aerenal, and the Venomous Demesne—have ways to do this. This could involve a specialized ritual, or it could use an astral key that can open color pools from either side—either linked to a particular pool or potentially able to open any pool-point the adventurers can find. Using such methods, a Chamber agent could open an astral gateway to allow adventurers to escape disaster or to quickly pass between distant points in the material plane. Lacking such magic, the only ways to enter the astral plane are to use plane shift, gate, astral projection, or similar spells. With that said, a DM could always decide that there are circumstances under which unwary travelers can fall into the astral plane. Perhaps there’s a graveyard of ships, a point in the Thunder Sea where under the right circumstances, a maelstrom can draw ships entirely out of reality.

Astral Artifacts

The astral plane produces nothing on its own, and it has no unifying theme. But it is filled with the ruins and remnants of countless civilizations and worlds. Githyanki plunder can provide treasures drawn from across the planes. Ruins and hermitages could provide relics from the past; adventurers could recover titans’ treasures from a Cul’sir outpost, Dhakaani weapons from a floating piece of an Imperial garrison, draconic wonders from the ruins of Sharokarthel. Beyond that there is the possibility for astral explorers to discover tools or resources that truly have no place in this creation. This could be anything from a new form of dragonshard or some other material that simply doesn’t exist on Eberron… to an iron flask holding an entity who comes from a previous iteration or Eberron or another creation entirely.

One uniquely astral tool is the astral key, an object that allows the bearer to open an astral color pool from either side. This allows access to the astral plane, but only from a specific point. Depending on the power of the item, the key could be tied to a single specific point or it could have the power to open any pool the bearer can find. Note that the people of the Five Nations don’t currently possess astral keys; such an item could be a relic of one of the civilizations that has mastered astral travel, or it could be a unique prototype or breakthrough. Despite the name, an astral key could be any shape; it could be a dagger that slices through the veil of reality or a paintbrush they must use to paint a doorway in the air.

Astral Stories

For most creatures, the astral plane is simply the space that lies between the planes. It’s a path to be traveled, not a destination. But there are many ways that it can drive a story on its own. The adventurers might have to pursue a fugitive who’s slipped through a pool point and into a ruin. They could be tasked to explore a region of the astral sea, to bargain with a Githyanki smuggler, or to help a mad scholar who’s determined to reach Sharokarthel. They could acquire an iron flask holding some unknown spirit from a previous world—what will it take to open it, and would it be better left alone? Here’s a few other ideas.

An Ancestor’s Call. An Aereni adventurer is ordered to bring their adventuring companions to Shae Mordai, and from their send to Pylas Var-Tolai. An ascendant councilor—one of their distant ancestors—is conducting experiments in creation, and wants their descendant to test the lands beyond the portal. Is this just coincidence, or does the ascendant councilor know something about their descendent as yet undiscovered by the living?

Storming the Castle. An enemy of the players has built a fortress in the Astral Plane. Using a spell similar to magnificent mansion, they can retreat to their fortress from any location; this allows them to have their evil lair wherever the adventure is taking place. The adventurers could be on a desert island or in a small rustic village, but they’ll still have to pursue the necromancer Demise into her Tower of Death when things go wrong.

The Undiscovered Country. A Morgrave scholar has discovered three astral keys. One opens a pool-point in Sharn, and they want a group of adventurers to help them explore the other side. The pool-point leads to a Cul’sir outpost in the astral plane. Is it abandoned, or are their ancient giants still lingering in this place? Was it just good fortune that the scholar found the keys, or does someone want the adventurers to stumble into the forgotten outpost?

Q&A

This article presents my vision of the astral plane and how I will use it in my Eberron. It surely contradicts various canon sources—Eberron or otherwise—regarding the Astral Plane, and I’m not going to try to reconcile every contradiction; it’s up to the DM to decide how to handle such things in their campaign.

What’s the deal with silver cords and spirit forms?

There are multiple ways to enter the astral plane. It is possible to enter it physically by using plane shift, gate, or by opening a pool portal (using an item like an astral key). In this case, the traveler is physically present and can suffer lasting harm and death. On the other hand, astral projection separates the caster’s spirit from their body and allows them to enter the astral plane as a spirit form tethered to their body by a silver cord. The advantage of this form of travel is that you can’t be permanently harmed while in “astral form”; if you’re reduced to zero hit points, you return to your physical body.

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court typically travel the astral plane in spirit form, which allows them to venture into unknown regions without fear.

What about the psychic wind?

What about it? It’s a dangerous local weather condition that operates just as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

If creatures in the Astral Plane do not age, do some people travel there simply to avoid death? It seems more hospitable than Risia for such a purpose.

Absolutely! I’ve called out a few examples of this—the trio of Seekers in the dragon skull, the prince of Ohr Kaluun. You could have a Khunan archmage, another remnant of a long-forgotten society. Keep in mind that this trait isn’t unique to the astral plane of Eberron; it comes directly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide: Creatures on the Astral Plane don’t age or suffer from hunger or thirst.” So there are certainly hermits who come to the Astral Plane to experience immortality. But there’s a number of reasons why it’s not commonplace.

  • It’s actually easier to reach Risia than it is to physically enter the astral plane. Manifest zones can serve as gateways to Risia; entering the astral requires the use of powerful magic or an astral key. The people of the Five Nations don’t have access to such magic; you can’t just decide to go to the Astral Spa.
  • The Aereni don’t actually want eternal LIFE; they seek spiritual evolution and believe life and death are part of that journey. The ultimate path of the Undying Court is to become an ascendant councilor; they spend most of their time in astral form because they are no longer bound by their physical form and exist as part of the divine gestalt. There are certainly Aereni outposts; I can imagine a tower where an Aereni poet has been working on a particular poem for a century. But for most Aereni, such a retreat would be a temporary measure, not an ideal way to spend eternity. The living elves of Pylas Var-Tolai certainly cycle out every few decades or centuries.
  • The Astral Plane is essentially a vast, vast desert. If you live there you won’t age and you won’t know hunger and thirst; but you’ll also live isolated from all contact with mortal society, in a vast empty void. There are unquestionably people for whom that’s a worthwhile trade, and that’s the point of hermits; if all you want to do is to study conjuration for a thousand years, building an astral workshop is an alternative to becoming a lich. But offered the casual choice, not everyone would be interested in eternal life if it means sacrificing all contact with the world and living in an endless gray void.
  • As noted in the traits, if you spend too much time in the astral plane you actually start to lose track of time—as noted with the giant who doesn’t realize that thousands of years have passed. It’s immortality, certainly, but it does have a psychological price.

So the short form is that there definitely are hermits in the Astral Plane who dwell there because they desire immortality. There’s philosopher dragons, old Sarlonan wizards, a handful of giants. But they’re a few grains of sand in a vast desert; the odds you’ll actually encounter them when you travel in the astral plane are quite low, unless you have some hint as to where their hermitages lie.

That’s all for now! This topic was chosen by my Patreon supporters, and it’s only their support that makes articles like this possible; if you’d like to see more articles like this or have a voice in future topics, follow the link.

IFAQ: Nonbinary Elves and More About Githberron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lightning Round: Obyriths, Dhakaani Cruelty, and the Chamber

As time permits, I like to answer questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few questions that came up last month and didn’t make it into previous articles.

Currently, the Keeper of the Flame with the longest historical reign was Saren Rellek, who lead the church for 88 years. Would you say this is because they were a non-human Keeper? Is the tiefling sanctuary of Rellekor named after them?

Yes, on both counts. While it is tempting to suggest that Rellek was a tiefling, if there was a tiefling Keeper in power for nearly a century, I feel that tieflings would have a better reputation than they do. In my Eberron, Saren was a Khoravar. Half-elves make up a tenth of the population of Thrane, so it’s not a shocking shift; nonetheless, it may be due to their Khoravar heritage that they were especially concerned with oppressed minorities and helped establish the tiefling sanctuary that bears their name.

What are one or two examples of a major Chamber dragon operation currently operating in Sharn? The 3.5 Sharn: City of Towers book is very sparse on the Chamber.

The general idea of both the Chamber and the Lords of Dust is that they typically work through pawns—that any operation could be tied to the Chamber. Adventurers aren’t expected to run into a force they would recognize as the Chamber at 4th level. But they could get involved with the Boromar Clan / Daask conflict, and at a late stage discover that one of Saiden Boromar’s chief advisors is actually a shapechanged dragon. In the novella “Principles of Fire”, there’s a Chamber dragon on board the Lyrandar patriarch’s airship. What are they DOING? Likely, observing, and perhaps subtly pushing the patriarch in a particular direction. Essentially, my common approach with the Chamber isn’t that you run into a bunch of “Chamber goons” on a Chamber mission—it’s about running into people following what seems to be an entirely personal agenda (Boromar-Daask Gang War) and then discovering that it’s tied to the Chamber, because the Chamber has a Prophetic interest in a particular outcome of the war. This ties to the fact that the Chamber isn’t interested in wealth or power for their own sake; what they care about is ensuring that specific Prophetic events come to pass, which means that they can be working with ANY organization if it makes your story more interesting. A Chamber agent could be supporting the Daask/Boromar war. They could be posing as a member of the Aurum. They could be staging a terrorist attack on the Tain Gala this month and making sure the adventurers are in a position to stop an attack at the Gala the following month. The key for the adventurers is reaching a point where they have enough information to understand their motives—the Prophetic paths they are working to fulfill.

I’m running the Savage Tide adventure path, and what I’m most curious about are the obyriths. Obox-ob, Dagon, Pazuzu, Pale Night, etc. – how would you fit them into Eberron?

There’s a few ways you could go about it, depending which aspects of the STORY of the Obyriths are most important to you.

  • The simplest option would be to introduce the obyriths as the lords of shadow demiplanes, as described in this article. The main question would be what is drawing their attention to Eberron, as shadow fiends usually don’t and can’t leave their demiplanes. With that said, this is a fairly generic approach that doesn’t especially capture any of the existing lore that defines the obyriths and doesn’t give them a strong motive
  • Obyriths are described as being exceptionally ALIEN; their appearance alone could drive mortals insane. Both of these suggest that they are creatures from Xoriat. The daelkyr aren’t the only powerful entities from Xoriat. Perhaps the obyriths came to Wberron from Xoriat in the Age of Demons and fought with the overlords, and were imprisoned by the overlords long ago.
  • A third option—and the one I’d personally use—would be to combine these. Exploring Eberron presents the idea that the current incarnation of reality may not be the first one… that the meddling of the daelkyr can lead to a full reseting of reality. Exploring suggests that the Gith may be refugees from a previous incarnation of Eberron. An exotic option for the obyriths would be to say that they are fiends from a previous iteration of Khyber… That somehow they escaped into Xoriat and ultimately came to the current incarnation of reality, most likely finding shelter in a shadow demiplane. This preserves the idea that they are ALIEN—fiends from another version of reality, further altered by their time in Xoriat—and that they are ANCIENT, as they literally predate reality itself. It also means that their agenda is entirely separate from that of the overlords and the Prophecy itself. Is their goal to overthrow and replace the overlords? Is that even possible? Or are they just bitterly trying to survive? A side note is that since they don’t belong in this reality they wouldn’t have heart demiplanes, and while they are physically immortal, if they are destroyed they won’t return—which gives them a clear motive for laying low despite their vast power.

Were ancient Dhakaani really ruthless? Take torture and Grieving tree for example, how many of them were constructed? Were they seen as a horrible invention or as a useful and necessary tool? How are they seen by modern Kech Volaar, will they want to use/preserve or destroy them?

The Dhakaani were and are quite ruthless. Consider this section of Exploring Eberron:

The Dhakaani idea of ‘honor in victory’ is quite different from that of Dol Arrah and the people of the Five Nations. The Dhakaani prize victory and efficiency, both on and off the battlefield. Atcha comes from standing your ground against seemingly impossible odds and from displaying skill and discipline. There is honor in using cunning to defeat a superior foe, so guerilla warfare, ambushing a foe, and even assassination are acceptable tactics, if this is what muut requires. Dar must be ready to die for the empire—but when possible, it’s always better to kill for the empire.

What you call ruthless, Dhakaani might call efficient. A second note from Exploring Eberron:

The Dhakaani don’t practice slavery—but not because of compassion. Rather, they consider it inefficient to try to force their values and traditions on creatures who have no concept of muut and who don’t share the Uul Dhakaan. Thus, Dhakaani tradition has always been to drive enemies out of their territories, or if such exile is impossible, to kill them.

The Kech Volaar are the most flexible of the Keepers. Exploring Eberron notes:

Perhaps because of this, the Kech Volaar are also the most conciliatory of the Keeper clans. They are the most willing to interact with the gath’dar, both because they recognize the need to understand these possible enemies, and in the hopes that some form of coexistence may be possible. Like the Kech Uul, Volaar leader Tuura Dhakaan wonders if the Uul Dhakaan can expand to incorporate other creatures—if the empire can unite gath’dar as it does the dar. Despite these hopes, the Kech Volaar are devoted to the dar above all else. They are the Keepers of History, and they know the sacrifices their ancestors had to make and the bitter wars against the chaat’or and the taarn (elves). They are wise and willing to seek all paths to prosperity, but will never surrender the dream of the eternal empire.

Ultimately, the point is that the Dhakaani have no use for petty cruelty. They value EFFICIENCY above all. The Grieving Trees were a creation of a specific (albeit legendary) daashor and aren’t commonplace, but the point of the trees was to serve as a SYMBOL and as a warning. As to whether the Volaar would embrace them, I think it’s a simple calculus as to whether they feel use of the trees would strength their position among the Dar—using them is an assertion of power, as they were originally the tools of the Marhu—or whether they would horrify the chaat’oor and the gath’dar and interfere with their future plans.

The Dhakaani are a very alien culture, shaped by the Uul Dhakaan and thousands of years of martial discipline. They don’t see the world in the same way as humans of the Five Nations, and yes, their behavior will generally come across as ruthless; but ultimately, the best way to describe it is inhuman.

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

Short Take: Gith in Eberron

Thousands of years ago, a proud empire ruled the known world. This golden age was shattered when portals opened to Xoriat. Hordes of aberrations poured through the gates, and behind them came the daelkyr. The Lords of Madness twisted the land and its creatures, capturing the champions of the Empire and turning them into horrors.

It’s a familiar story, but there’s a twist. This isn’t the Empire of Dhakaan—and it isn’t Eberron. The people of this empire were gifted psychics, and their cities were made from crysteel and solidified emotion. They fought the daelkyr with sword and thought, the great leader Gith rallying her forces against the corrupting influence of Xoriat. But there was no victory to be won. There were no Gatekeepers in this world, no knowledge of the primal power that saved Eberron. This land was doomed. Retreat was the only option, and so Gith rallied the wisest of her kind and found a way to open portals into the realms beyond reality. The only remnant of these proud people were the heroes twisted by the Dyrrn the Corruptor, psychic champions transformed into living weapons: the Mind Flayers.

The refugees fell into the realm of Kythri, and the Churning Chaos hid them from pursuit. The greatest monks of the people—now calling themselves the Gith, after their savior—carved out a pocket of stability with their minds. They regained their strength and evaluated the situation, and here a bitter division split their people. Zerthimon the Wise maintained that the Gith should remain within Kythri, strengthening their will through the endless struggle against chaos. He believed that mental discipline was the ultimate key to victory—that in time, the Gith could impose their will on Xoriat itself, taking the daelkyr’s home just as the Lords of Madness had stolen theirs. But Gith was a warrior, and her followers yearned for battle. They knew they weren’t strong enough to face the daelkyr, but they built their fortresses in the space between spaces and began raiding different layers of reality: pillaging floating towers in Syrania and slaughtering devils on the plains of Shavarath. One day they would find a way to utterly destroy Xoriat; until then, they would hone their skills in conflicts across the planes.

Eberron wasn’t the first world visited by the daelkyr. It’s been said that the daelkyr view the destruction of worlds as a form of art; it’s an art they’ve practiced since the dawn of time. The illithids are both a relic of this conflict and a promise of what might lie ahead. Should the daelkyr rise and complete their work, there could come a time when the dolgaunts and dolgrims are all that remains of Eberron. And what of the Gith? They’re carved out a new existence beyond what we know of as reality. They’re planar hermits and plunderers, pondering mysteries we cannot imagine and gathering treasures and weapons from across the planes. Generally Gith are encountered as individuals, explorers, philosophers, or agents with a mission. But there could come a time when the Githyanki arrive in force. Will they come to destroy the daelkyr? Or will they come as conquerors?


But What About…

I remember being intrigued by the Githyanki on the cover of the Fiend Folio when I first saw it as a teenager. I was intrigued by the idea of this deeply alien society—of a civilization that had abandoned the material world and carved out a place in the planes. There’s a place for everything in Eberron, and it was obvious the Gith would be somewhere. I had thoughts on the matter, but I wasn’t the one who wrote the Gith entry in the Player’s Guide to Eberron. The PGtE suggests that the Gith were created from human or hobgoblin stock during the daelkyr invasion of Eberron, and that they escaped when the Gatekeepers bound the daelkyr. There’s a number of things I don’t like about this explanation. Essentially, it downgrades the Gith to being discarded dolgrims—which is also strange because for creatures “created by the mind flayers from hobgoblin stock” they’re not aberrations and are far less disturbing than the dolgaunts and dolgrims. More than that, I want the Gith to be the heroes of their own story—not playing second fiddle to the Gatekeepers. They may have failed to save their world, but at least they fought to the bitter end.

The other thing I like about this story is that it adds depth to the daelkyr themselves. It establishes that they’ve done this before and that if not for the Gatekeepers, Eberron would share the fate of the forgotten world of the Gith. It also provides a different approach to the enmity between the mind flayers and the Gith. It’s not simply that the illithids were slavemasters. It’s that the illithid were Gith—and remain now as the twisted reminder of the destruction of their world. And it’s not that the Gith have psychic powers because they were altered by mind flayers; it’s that the mind flayers have psionic power because they were created from the naturally psychic Gith. Given that time and space have no absolute rules in Xoriat and there’s no law about the lifespan of a mind flayer, it also leaves the possibility that some of the mind flayers on Eberron were part of that ancient war—that the mysterious grudge Xor’chyllic has against the daelkyr could tie back to its history with the Gith.

In the meantime, the Gith themselves offer hooks for planar adventures. A Githzerai player character may have come to Eberron in pursuit of a particular idea, while a Githyanki could be searching for a more practical weapon; either could be here to gather information on the daelkyr and their cults. A player Gith could be an explorer or a renegade, perhaps caryying a warning of an upcoming Githyanki incursion. Adventurers in Kythri could find shelter in a Githzerai monastery, while a Githyanki vessel could carry adventurers from plane to plane.

And what of the lost world of the Gith? What does it mean that there is a lost world? How many more are there? One possibility is that Eberron has a solar system, or that the Gith world is one of the moons. However, Xoriat defies our concepts of time and space, and I’d personally play it that from Xoriat you can enter any number of alternate versions of Eberron, the ruined Gith world is one; but what other alternate Eberrons could you reach through Xoriat?

I’m currently working on Exploring Eberron, a product for the DM’s Guild which will delve more deeply into the planes and their relationship to Eberron, along with many other subjects. I may have some previews to share soon. Thanks as always to my Patreon backers! I’ll be posting more articles once I get done with Exploring Eberron. You can also find be at Pax Unplugged, and if you’re in Portland, Oregon I’ll be doing an Eberron signing and Q&A at Guardian Games on November 23rd!

Dragonmarks: Planar Q&A

I’m working on a post about Phoenix for next week, but today I’m going to address a few more questions about the planes of Eberron. Like much about the planes, most of these topics have no answers in canon material, so what you’re dealing with are my current thoughts and opinions, and NOT canon.

Did the effects of the Mournland bleed into other planes where Cyran manifests zones existed?

In Dragon #408 I said “The devastation of the Mourning had repercussions across the planes. Perhaps the grievous wound to Eberron was felt across her creations.” That article presents Baator as a demiplane where corrupted spirits are imprisoned and asserts that on the Day of Mourning the wards holding the prisoners faltered — so in this version of Eberron, the devils have only been in control of Baator for a few years. Given this, it’s logical to think that other planes could also have felt similar impacts. We haven’t suggested major transformations, but I think it’s interesting to explore pockets of the planes that have been transformed in unpredictable ways.

Is there any connection between Siberys and the Silver Flame? The latter seems too embedded in the material plane.

The Silver Flame is embedded in the material plane, as are the fiends that it holds at bay. The Silver Flame was created by the combined spiritual energy of the couatl — Eberron’s native celestials — in order to bind Eberron’s native fiends. In a way it can be seen as a parallel to the myth of Eberron and Khyber; Eberron couldn’t destroy Khyber, but she could bind her. It’s commonly asserted that just as Khyber is the source of Eberron’s fiends, Siberys was the source of its celestials, so in that way the Silver Flame IS tied to Siberys. This is also something of an explanation for why the celestials of Eberron aren’t as powerful as the Overlords; after all, Khyber killed Siberys, so the balance between celestial and fiend started off poorly.

There’s nothing strange about having a divine power source based in the material plane. The demons it binds are based in the material and the champions it empowers are in the material. The Undying Court is another divine force based entirely in the material.

How do celestials relate to the Sovereigns? Do the celestials associated to the Sovereigns believe in them like the mortal races do? Are they formed from the faith of the mortals? Are there any celestials that don’t believe in any deities other than the Progenitors?

Looking at the last three questions, the answer is “yes.” When a cleric uses planar ally an outsider answers the call. There’s three possible reasons ways this could happen.

  • The ally is manifested on the spot from the energy of the divine power source. Once its job is done it will be absorbed back into the source. This is particularly logical for the Silver Flame, which as described above has no roots in the outer planes. Given that, if I DID have an angel respond to a Silver Flame caster’s spells, I might use angel stats but I’d likely give it couatl features — rainbow wings, feathers instead of hair, etc. Essentially, a celestial of this sort is a pure embodiment of the faith and should have whatever trappings are appropriate for that.
  • The ally is an existing immortal who is devoted to the faith. In Fourth Edition material we suggest that there are angels (which in 4E is a broader class of celestial than in previous editions) who are devoted to the Sovereigns. The account is essentially that the Sovereigns at one point were present in the planes before ascending to a higher level of existence (which lines up with the Draconic Thir view of the Sovereigns). The angels have no direct line of communication with the Sovereigns, but have absolute faith that the Sovereigns exist and are part of the machinery of reality, and that my carrying out their functions the angels are following the plans of the Sovereigns. This is also in line with the idea of Radiant Idols — who are essentially angels who have become jealous of the worship the absent Sovereigns receive and want such worship themselves.  
  • But you could just as easily say that the angel in question doesn’t believe in the faith and that this doesn’t matter. When a cleric of Dol Arrah calls for a planar ally, they might get an angel from Irian who is devoted to protecting life and inspiring hope. Or they might get an archon from Shavarath who embodies combat fought for a just cause. Neither of these celestials cares exactly what the mortal believes; they are responding to the justice of the cause. It’s clear that this is aligned with their purpose… and that’s all that matters.

If I ever get to write a sourcebook on the planes, I’ll have to decide which of those last two answers I’ll run with. But both are plausible.

Can spells call on planar allies from sources like the Path of Light or the Becoming God that haven’t become Sovereign or Planar dominating yet?

Sure: either the first or third options I share above apply to this situation. The Path of Light is divine power source. Therefore the planar ally could be manifested on the spur of the moment from that source. It doesn’t have a truly independent identity and existence; it comes into being to fulfil the needs of the caster and vanishes once it’s done. If you’ve seen Rick & Morty, it’s a Mister Meeseeks. The third option is the idea that you’re just drawing an outsider who supports what you’re trying to do, even if they don’t share your faith.

Where do the fiendish/devil/demons conjured by evil clerics come from? Can you do some examples as you did for celestial creatures?

All the premises given for divine casters summoning celestials apply to fiends as well. They’re either formed directly from the divine power source, immortals devoted to the force in question, or immortals who approve of the general principle of the call. Mabaran fiends are generally happy for an opportunity to cause loss or crush hopes. Demons of Shavarath enjoy savage bloodshed.

We know of Mabar and Irian crystals, and dusk and dawnshards have been mentioned, are there other planar shards or crystals?

Certainly. There are a host of minerals and vegetation infused with planar energies or shaped by exposure to those energies, and this is true of every plane. Such things are most typically found in manifest zones, where they are shaped by long-term exposure to planar energies. In the case of plants, they usually won’t grow outside such zones… or they’ll grow, but will lack their remarkable properties. This is why covadish leaves (ECS 91) are only found in Aerenal; they are specifically found in certain manifest zones tied to Mabar, which are most common in Aerenal.

So: there are many different forms of planetouched minerals and plants. Many of these serve as components for spells and the creation of magic items; we’ve just never called these things out. For example, in the Thorn of Breland books Thorn uses Mabaran nightwater when disarming mystical wards. In my opinion, this wasn’t a special magic item that was giving her extra bonuses; it’s that nightwater is part of a rogue’s basic toolkit when dealing with magical traps. Likewise, while the core PHB might suggest that a fireball requires sulpher or guano as a component, in Eberron wizards might instead use a pinch of Fernian firedust. This is no more difficult to acquire than sulfur would be in another setting; it’s simply that it’s a resource unique to the world.

When it becomes possible to create new Eberron material, I’d love to put together a more substantial list of such things — both those background items like nightwater and firedust and things that are rarer and have more dramatic uses.

Do dragonshards operate differently on other planes?

We’ve never suggested that they behave in unusual ways when taken to other planes, and at least in the novels we have planar travelers who don’t experience any unusual behavior with dragonshards or dragonmarks. 

Eberron has various Ages in its history, are there any planar milestones tracked on other planes?

Sure, but I can’t give you specific examples until there’s an opportunity to develop the planes in more detail. The Turning of the Age in Dal Quor is an example of this established in canon. Perhaps Fernia has a similar cycle — it’s currently mildly evil-aligned and thus dominated by the malevolent aspects of fire, but perhaps at other times it’s been mildly good-aligned and more positive. The Endless Night has cycles of absorption and assimilation. I have thoughts about how milestones might unfold in Shavarath — but it’s something that will have to wait for a longer article. 

I’d love to read about how the gith survive on Kythri. With how chaotic it is, how do permanent establishments exist?

First of all, I think Kythri is more complex than the previous description gives it credit for. Its layers are symbols of chaos, change and uncertainty; that doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire plane is literally formless, churning chaos. The Githzerai might have drifting monastaries that ARE constantly changing and evolving — but they never stop being monastaries, and the change occurs over hours or days, not seconds. The Githzerai are comfortable with this constant change; like a zen garden, they meditate on the shifting form and how it reflects reality. It may well be that it’s the mental discipline of the Githzerai that imposes this relative stability; if the monks were to abandon their monastary (or if they were killed) it would dissolve into the greater chaos.

If you have questions or thoughts about the planes, post them below! And thanks as always to the Patreon supporters who keep the blog going.

Dragonmarks: The Daelkyr and their Cults

In days to come I’ll be talking about GenCon, Gloom, and Phoenix. But it’s been a few months since I wrote anything about Eberron. When I started the Dragonmarks I focused on specific topics, and I wanted to get back to that. So today I’m talking about the Daelkyr and the Cults of the Dragon Below. As always, everything here is just my opinion. It may contradict present or future canon sources and is not official in any way. With that said…

Eberron has its fair share of apocalyptic villains. The Lords of Dust serve fiendish Overlords who ruled the world in the dawn of time and wait to be released to rule it again. The Dreaming Dark uses our dreams as tools to enslave us. Then there are the Daelkyr. Eight thousand years ago, the Daelkyr came through from the plane of madness, and by the time they were bound in Khyber they’d brought down the Empire of Dhakaan. Unlike the Overlords, the Daelkyr are still active in Khyber. You could go down into the underworld and meet one. Their stats in the 3.5 ECG don’t even seem that impressive, really. So what’s up with the Daelkyr? Why bother with them when you have the more powerful and ancient Lords of Dust around? What do they bring to a story?

First of all, what are the Daelkyr?

The Daelkyr are powerful entities from Xoriat, the plane of Madness. They aren’t the most powerful denizens of Xoriat; they are simply the mightiest to have shown any interest in other planes. They are immortal outsiders, not creatures of flesh and blood. The slightest touch of a daelkyr can sicken or warp organic creatures, and its mere presence can cause temporary madness. Peering into the mind of a Daelkyr can cause permanent insanity. This speaks to the fundamental difference between the Daelkyr and all those other forces: we don’t understand them. The others make sense to us. The Dreaming Dark wants to control the world because that’s the only way they can secure the survival of their culture. The Lords of Dust want to free their masters and restore their primal dominion over the world. The Daelkyr… we just don’t know. At the end of the day we don’t know what they want or how they intend to achieve it. We know what’s keeping them at bay – the seals created by the Gatekeepers – but we don’t know why the Daelkyr haven’t already broken those seals or what would happen if they did. Unlike the Overlords, the Daelkyr are free to move about in Khyber. They have armies of aberrations and cults scattered across the world. Why haven’t they taken more active measures to secure their release? Are the mightiest Daelkyr working together, or are they working at cross purposes? Why is it that their cults often follow completely different creeds and are quite often entirely unaware of one another? Again, at the end of the day, we don’t know. We know they are down in Khyber. We know the power they possess. But we don’t know what they want or what they are doing.

A common theory is that the Daelkyr aren’t actually soldiers or conquerors: they are scientists and artists. They don’t actually have any interest in ruling the world or in destroying it; they are simply interested in changing it. They took the goblins of Dhakaan and created dolgaunts, dolgrims, and dolgarrs from them and then sent those creatures back against the empire. It could be that this conflict was all they wanted… they didn’t actually CARE about who won, they simply wanted to watch the goblins fight these twisted mockeries of their own kind and see what impact that had. And in the end, it wasn’t the military force of the Daelkyr that destroyed the empire; it was the seeds of madness, the rivalries created, the erosion of faith in tradition, the cults, and all the myriad other long-term effects that brought down Dhakaan. The Daelkyr wounded the empire with brute force, but it was the infection over time that killed it… which may have been their goal all along.

Meanwhile, they DIDN’T make any sort of dolgaunt equivalent from orcs; instead they just spawned a host of cults that linger to this day. Yet many of those cults don’t directly revere or serve the Daelkyr themselves. Again, it seems like change was more their goal than destruction.

Part of the point here is that the release of a Daelkyr is not likely to be anywhere near as apocalyptic as the release of an Overlord. It’s something that would have dramatic effects on a region – but it could conceivably go unnoticed by the world at large for years. Heck, there could be a free Daelkyr at large right now.

Let’s look at a few questions.

Was the daelkyr’s humanoid appearance always part of the concept?

The Daelkyr are often depicted as attractive, androgynous humanoids clad in organic armor. Some wonder “why do they look human, when they originally fought goblins?” In my opinion, this appearance doesn’t remotely reflect the true nature of the Daelkyr; it is simply something the human brain puts together to make some sort of sense of what it’s facing. As such, a goblin might see some sort of handsome goblinoid wearing the skins of its enemies, and a warforged might see an imposing construct clad in the rusting remnants of other warforged. I’m inspired by this image of Galactus from back in the day…

Bear in mind that a Daelkyr can cause confusion at will – which is to say, it can break your mind just by thinking about you. Given that, the idea that different people may see Daelkyr differently is a fairly minor thing.

With that said, I also believe that different named Daelkyr will have unique appearances. We’ve shown Kyrzin (Prince of Slime) as a vaguely humanoid slime with human limbs embedded in it. I’d expect Belashyrra (Lord of Eyes) to be associated with eyes. With that said, I WOULD be more inclined to make Belashyrra some sort of humanoid as opposed to, say, a giant beholder. Daelkyr do carry symbionts designed to be used by humanoids. They may not look HUMAN, but I think they manifest in a humanoid shape.

How high is the Daelkyr threat level compared to the overlords?

As described above, I don’t consider the Daelkyr to be as IMMEDIATE an apocalyptic threat as the Overlords. The release of the Daelkyr won’t mean instant devastation; the main thing is that once those seals are broken, you may never be able to fix them again. The conflict between the Dhakaani and the Daelkyr lasted for centuries, and I wouldn’t expect things to be different now. A released Daelkyr wouldn’t destroy the world… but it WOULD start changing the region around it, and might eventually fling an army of aberrations at the country next door, spread plagues or waves of madness, or otherwise do things that could harm tens of thousands of people or break the existing balance of power.

(The Daelkyr) are a little difficult to use in a campaign as the main villains because they are not as strong, manipulative, or great in number as the overlords…

I’ll touch on influence in a moment, but speaking to “strength”, there’s a few things. First, bear in mind that a Daelkyr should never be found alone. They create monsters, madness, and bizarre diseases as a hobby, and have had eight thousand years to indulge in this. Belashyrra has a battalion of beholders, not to mention dolgaunts, mind flayers, and anything else you care to create. And if you want to say that Belashyrra has bred an army of 100,000 beholders and has it sitting under Sharn right now… than he does.

Second: Don’t be limited by the stats that are presented. First of all, Daelkyr are like demon princes. All of the major ones – Belashyrra, Kyrzin, Dyrrn the Corruptor, Orlassk – should be unique individuals with their own powers. Second, more than any other creature in D&D, Daelkyr should break the rules. The fundamental rule of the Daelkyr is that we don’t understand them. As powerful as the Overlords are, they are part of Eberron. They are embodiments of concepts that shape our world. The Daelkyr are something else entirely. They don’t belong here. Having magic or other fundamental rules warp around them is entirely in keeping with them as a concept.

Aside from the fact that direct magical effects may not work as you expect, feel free to assign powers to Daelkyr that simply have no grounding in standard mechanics. For example, it’s said that Belashyrra can see through anyone’s eyes. Maybe that’s exaggerated; maybe it’s the literal truth. Maybe he can blind anyone he wants – anywhere, anytime – or swap your sight with someone else, so suddenly you’re seeing the world through the eyes of an orc shaman in the Shadow Marches. Meanwhile, the Marchers say that Kyrzin has influence over anyone who’s suffering from excessive mucus. Maybe a faerie tale… maybe not. Again, the key with the Daelkyr is that we DON’T KNOW. This is enhanced by their alien attitude and uncertain goals. If the Dreaming Dark could see through everyone’s eyes, they would use it to further their known agenda. Belashyrra COULD do lots of useful things with this gift, and simply chooses not to. Why?

How much day-to-day influence do the Daelkyr actually have, and why? As opposed to mere personal might?

This ties to the question above: We don’t know, because we don’t know what they want, and we don’t know what they are capable of. It’s possible that anyone who’s got a cold is an unwitting agent of Kyrzin, and that anyone who’s got eyes is an unwitting spy for Belashyrra. Beyond this, ANYONE WHO’S CRAZY MAY BE CRAZY BECAUSE OF THEM. And “crazy” is a very broad term, as I’ll discuss when we get to the cults.

Furthermore, the Daelkyr can always create new things we’ve never seen before. Someone asked if the Daelkyr could actually be responsible for Dragonmarks. Why not? The Daelkyr specialize in creating and modifying lifeforms. They get to break the rules. They could have created the dragonmarks as a weird living way of embodying the Prophecy that the dragons and fiends still can’t really understand… and the aberrant dragonmarks are a weird variant of that experiment. This could relate to the Cult project in my City of Towers novel… and could mean that they could create new dragonmarks, move them onto new races, etc.

So the short form is “How much influence do they have? Well, how much influence do you WANT them to have?” The key here is that a campaign in which the Daelkyr are the villains should feel entirely different from one dealing with the Dreaming Dark or the Lords of Dust. it doesn’t HAVE to revolve around the release of a Daelkyr; it could revolve around the emergence of a new sort of dragonmark, an attack by an army of previously unknown aberrations, the killing spree of a single bizarre serial killer, the spread of a horrible plague… or all of these things stitched together in a strange and unexpected tapestry.

I find that horror is difficult to pull off without visual aid.

This needs to be the subject of its own blog post, but the trick here is that the gooey symbionts are really the least frightening thing about the Daelkyr. What’s far more frightening is the fact that you don’t know what they are, what they want, or what they can do to you. Say you are looking in the mirror one morning, and just for a moment you see Belashyrra looking back at you. What does it mean? Perhaps a small eye-shaped dragonmark-like tattoo then appears on your hand. What does it mean? Perhaps you start having telepathic intuitions about the motives of people around you. They save you from an ambush, but… what does it mean? Then you hear about another fellow who had the same mark, and who ended up killing his friends and family and disappearing… and no one knows why. The fear here isn’t VISUAL at all; it’s the fact that you are touched by something you don’t understand, you don’t know why, you don’t know what to do about it, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Similarly, when dealing with the powers of the Daelkyr, think about what they actually are and what can make them horrifying. A Daelkyr can use confusion at will. But what does it mean to be “confused”? Does it take you back to the most horrible time in your life when you were surrounded by enemies? Does it make you watch helplessly while your body blunders around on its own? When it uses Feeblemind, it is stripping away your ability to speak, to understand language, to do anything you once could do… the idea of that, of being conscious but unable to communicate, unable to remember how to use a sword or cast a spell… that’s more horrifying to me than any gooey monster. The horror of the Daelkyr is the things you CAN’T fight with a sword… and the fear of what might be coming next.

Why don’t the Daelkyr team up and free themselves, like, right now?

I’ve answered this above, but I’ll reiterate it here… THIS IS A QUESTION DAELKYR SCHOLARS HAVE BEEN ASKING FOR CENTURIES. It may be because they don’t care about being imprisoned. Perhaps it’s because they are immortal and know that the seals will all break in 999 YK when Xoriat finally becomes coterminous again, and they don’t mind waiting. Perhaps it’s because they can do everything they want to do WHILE being imprisoned. Or perhaps it’s because they are engaged in a series of feuds so esoteric and strange that we don’t even know they are going on!

Was the Undying Court ambivalent to the daelkyr invasion of the Dhakaani empire? Or busy with some other pressing business at the time?

Short answer: The power of the Undying Court is concentrated in Aerenal. They undoubtedly took action to defend Aerenal from the incursion. The Dhakaani had already fought the Tairnadal and driven them from Khorvaire, so there was no love between elf and goblin; even if the Court had the power to help Dhakaan, it’s not much of a surprise that they chose to focus on their own defense.

Is there any evidence to support the claim that the daelkyr were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron and that the Dhakaani empire was the one to initiate hostilities, forcing the daelkyr to respond in self defense?

None at all. You may be thinking of the theory that the Quori were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron when they were attacked by the Giants; there’s a fair amount of evidence suggesting that, and more important, neither culture survived to the present day, so there’s no way to verify it. Meanwhile, we have the Gatekeepers, Heirs of Dhakaan, and the Daelkyr themselves as multiple living threads attesting to the hostile intent and actions of the Daelkyr. With that said, it can be argued that the Daelkyr don’t consider collapsing civilizations and warping creatures into new forms to be a hostile act.

Are there Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr?

Certainly. “Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr” is an entirely valid foundation for a Cult of the Dragon Below. Consider the link above.

The question about the Undying Court’s reaction (or absence thereof) to the Daelkyr invasion of the Dhakaani Empire reminds me of one that’s been bugging me for some time. Did the Daelkyr only target Khorvaire for their invasion – and within Khorvaire, only the south-west in and around the Shadow Marches and some of the border areas? I’ve read that the chokers may have been formed from halflings, so strikes into the Talenta Plains may have happened – but what of Xen’drik, Argonessen, or Sarlona – who, in the absence of Gatekeepers, would have been defenseless?

As far as has been mentioned in canon, the Xoriat incursion was limited to Khorvaire; notably, there’s no mention of it having targeted Sarlona at all, and even the problems of the Umbragen came after the Daelkyr were trapped in Khyber. They struck across Khorvaire; in addition to the Talenta Plains example, they also wiped out the Dwarven civilization that once existed below the Ironroot Mountains. Looking to the question of why they’d do this when there were other, easier targets… the Shadow Marches has an unusually large number of manifest zones to Xoriat, and this is part of what made the incursion possible in the first place. Bear in mind that there were no Gatekeepers in Khrovaire when the Daelkyr attacked; they were formed in response to the incursion, and if the Daelkyr had attacked Sarlona Vvaraak would have gone there. But most of all, bear in mind that the Daelkyr weren’t looking for a defenseless place. They weren’t trying to claim territory; they were (as best as we can tell) interested in transforming the world. Today, Dhakaan has fallen, and we have dolgaunts and dolgrims, derro beneath the mountains, cults of the Dragon Below, chokers in the shadows… it’s not clear that they are unsatisfied with the outcome. As noted in the other Dragonmark, they don’t seem to be working very hard to break the seals. Having dropped seeds of madness into Eberron, they may simply be watching as those seeds spread, waiting until the time is right for the next phase.

 

Now let’s move from the Daelkyr to the Cults of the Dragon Below. A few people asked variations of the same question…

“Why would anyone find the Cults attractive, given their obviously ‘wrong’ nature?”

Because if you’re in the cult, it doesn’t seem “wrong.” Imagine that you wake up one morning with the sudden realization that you are the reincarnated soul of King Arthur, and that you have to save the world from the new Modred. You have the ability to see the auras of the other Knights of the Round Table, and so you start gathering them together – and they in turn see you as their king. You even find Merlin dwelling in the sewers, and he whispers to you of your missions. This is a perfect model for a Cult of the Dragon Below. The cultists don’t see that “Merlin” is a mind flayer, or that “Excalibur” is a bizarre sword formed from muscle and bone; they see it as the most perfect sword ever formed. Because they are insane. It may be a extremely subtle madness, and “King Arthur” may be a brilliant and charismatic leader. But he’s still convinced that he IS King Arthur, when in fact he’s just some random soldier holding a gooey sword and talking with a mind flayer. To you as an outsider it seems “wrong.” For him, it is his destiny and a quest that will determine the fate of the world.

This is why Cults rarely work together. They are driven by delusions and don’t necessarily share any sort of common creed. One cult embraces the aberration and sees symbionts as a way to improve on weak flesh; another doesn’t even see symbionts AS symbionts, instead seeing them as amazing glittering treasures.

The Cults seem to be an avenue for the desperate and insane, why would a rational person of means who join the Cults?

See above. “King Arthur” could be one of the greatest generals of the Five Nations, in charge of thousands of troops. He could also be an amazing strategist and extremely rational person… except for the part where he thinks he’s King Arthur. Just because you’re insane doesn’t mean you’re desperate, and “insane” can mean MANY different things. Poor and desperate people might turn to a cult willingly because they see it as a source of power or a means of survival. But madness can strike anyone, anywhere. And that’s not even getting into the fact that Kyrzin could technically spread a cult by using the common cold.

Why do people join the Cults? It seems like their core tenet is that everyone’s going to die, but the faithful die faster.

Game mechanics sort of imply all cults are some what uniform. How much variation is there? Can they hate each other?

Blood of Vol seems like a morally-ambiguous church (at least in terms of followers) -Why was Dragon Below not written similar?

I want to address these together. I’ve already talked about the fact that a Cult can appear anywhere, anytime, and that their creeds can vary dramatically. However, we also have the established, long-term cults that you find in places like the Shadow Marches. There’s a few sources on these:

Touched By Madness” is an article in Dragon Magazine (back when it was a magazine) that discusses a variety of cults.

The Gibbering Cults are described in this article on the Daelkyr Kyrzin. Gibbering Cults cultivate gibbering beasts, and when a member of the cult grows sick or elderly, they feed them to the family beast. They believe that the soul lives on in the beast, and that they can hear its wisdom when they listen to the beast. Beyond this, they aren’t innately evil. They aren’t going to feed YOU to the family beast, because you don’t deserve it. Some gibbering families may be crazed killers; others might seem just like you and me – provided you stay out of the basement. Really, it’s not that different from the Undying Court.

The Inner Sun cults are mentioned in this Eye on Eberron article. Here’s a quote:

Collectively, the Cults of the Dragon Below are anything but monolithic. Creeds vary wildly from one group to another, and cults spring up spontaneously; sometimes a madman has a vision that infects the minds of those around him. A few common threads of thought, however, appear in similar forms across cult lines. One shared precept is that the world is an imperfect place. Khyber sought to perfect it—to eliminate pain, suffering, death and all other woes—but the other dragons turned on her, and when Eberron couldn’t defeat Khyber, she trapped her.

The second element of this credo concerns the realm of the Inner Sun. It is the belief that a paradise exists within Khyber, a place where people can escape the suffering of everyday life. Most of the cults that subscribe to this belief consider the Vale of the Inner Sun to be a place that can be reached only after death, often coupled with the requirement that one must earn passage to the vale by spilling the blood of worthy enemies. This perceived duty has been the motivation behind the acts of many murderers and vicious Marcher clans.

Many of these hereditary cults aren’t LOOKING for new members. You join one by being born into it, and it makes sense to you because that’s how life has always been. But you could certainly play a half-orc barbarian raised in an Inner Sun cult who’s joined the party looking to kill enough worthy foes to earn his way to the Vale… and he could end up being a great and noble hero, despite this belief.

How do cults operate in Sharn, and what arm of law enforcement rides herd on them?

The point of the Cults is that it’s hard to monitor them because a new one can pop up anywhere and the lack of a common creed makes it difficult to identify. So the Blackened Book is investigating the weird summonings going on in Ashblack, while the Citadel is looking into this whole King Arthur thing, and none of them have noticed the gibbering family living in Fallen.

How would you suggest using a Cult of the Dragon Below as allies to the PCs instead of antagonists?

Don’t make it obvious that they ARE a Cult of the Dragon Below. Again, that Gibbering family may be fine, decent, helpful people who just happen to be getting ready to feed grandma to the gibbering mouther in the basement. Or try this: there’s a cult that is convinced that they must steel their minds and souls to face a terrible threat. They believe that there are CREATURES LIVING IN OUR DREAMS and trying to control us. They are actually going around assassinating people because “Their minds have been consumed by dream-monsters”; they also have some awesome monk disciplines tied to this training. The leader of the cult is, in fact, a mind flayer, but he doesn’t eat anyone’s brains; instead, he “consumes their fears”, a process that does actually seem to strengthen will without harmful side effects; he also helps them operate without sleeping, to avoid the dream monsters, and it’s his training that helps them spot the “corrupted”. He tells the adventurers that he bears their kind no ill will and simply seeks to keep the dream-monsters from consuming the mind of the world. SO… is this all on the level? Is the mind flayer actually training people to oppose the Quori? Are they actually assassinating mind seeds? Or are they in fact just totally misled and crazy, assassinating entirely innocent people?

When did the cults start to take hold? Were there giants and elves/drow that venerated the Dragon Below or did worship of the horrors get footing only after the Xen’drik cataclysm?

Well, cults that literally worship KHYBER have existed long before the Xoriat Incursion. as for Xoriat-inspired cults, we haven’t mentioned any specifically, but there’s no reason some couldn’t have existed before the arrival of the Daelkyr; in fact, it would be logical for there to have been a cult in the Dhakaani era that laid the groundwork for the arrival of the Daelkyr in the first place.

If the Gatekeepers didn’t stop the Daelkyr invasion, how would it have changed Eberron as a game system? Would it have been akin to, say something like Dark Sun or Ravenloft?

Sure, or Gamma World. The ultimate goal of the Daelkyr is to reshape the world, and once they are done they’d likely move on to another world (as noted in the suggestion that the Gith are survivors from another world claimed by the Daelkyr). It would be a world filled with aberrations, madness, strange powers, and the like – both flora and fauna would definitely be affected.

Dolgrim, Dolgaunts, etc, are obviously the goblinoid aberrations – if I wanted to create other races’ aberrations, what is the guiding principle regarding a “corrupt” race? Dolgrims and Dolgaunts don’t seem much like goblins and hobgoblins except in size.

There is no “guiding principle”. It’s going to depend entirely on what daelkyr you’re dealing with. Kyrzin likes slimes and disease. Belashyrra has a fondness for eyes. Orlassk likes stone and petrification. Dyrrn just likes corruption in any form, mental or physical. As noted above, DRAGONMARKS could be the result of Daelkyr “corruption”. A Daelkyr may choose to create something designed to inspire fear or horror in others… or it may design something strange and bizarre that it simply finds pleasing or necessary for its goals. The Dols were created to serve as soldiers and unleashed on the Dhakaani. They were designed to horrify the Dhakaani and to be effective soldiers. Dragonmarked humans could have been engineered as a way to control the Prophecy (or they could have nothing to do with the Daelkyr – don’t get me wrong). Any form of manipulation is appropriate.

What part, if any, do the Lords Of Dust play in the formation of the cults?

What part do you want them to play? If it furthers the goals of their Overlord, a Lord of Dust might well set a cult in motion. The Daelkyr are weaker than the Overlords, and certain Overlords (such as the Voice in the Darkness) don’t see the Daelkyr’s actions as any sort of threat to their goals. Beyond this, of course, there are some “Cults of the Dragon Below” that are entirely dedicated to the Overlords as opposed to being influenced by the Daelkyr.

Why did Vvaraak teach the orcs to fight the daelkyr? Wasn’t Darguun militarily the more capable power? Will of the Prophecy?

It could have been driven by the Prophecy. it could be that the Daelkyr already had too much influence over the Dhakaani for Vvaraak to reach them. I’m inclined to say that the Dhakaani were simply too entrenched in their own cultural traditions to abandon them and embrace some bizarre tree-hugging dragon’s weird religion. The Dhakaani knew exactly how to handle the situation: steel, military discipline, and the magic of the Duur’kala. If some barbarian orc wants to go pray to moss or the “great earth dragon” – frankly, that sounds like the exact sort of madness our enemy is spreading.

Since the Silver Flame opposes supernatural threats, does the Church of the SF have alliances with gatekeepers against Daelkyr?

The Gatekeepers are almost entirely unknown outside of the Shadow Marches, and given some of the CotSF’s issues with Droaam aren’t entirely trusting of the Church; overzealous followers of the Pure Flame might well see orc mystics as a problem, not a solution. With that said, the Church of the Silver Flame seeks to protect the innocent from all supernatural threats, and the Daelkyr are certainly a supernatural threat. So I think that Jaela would find common ground with Maagrim’Torrn if they ever met, and I think most true followers of the Flame would help Gatekeepers if they faced aberrations together, but Thrane and the Shadow Marches are far away.

Can an exorcist of the SF repel the Daelkyr and Xoriat beings?

An exorcist’s Flame of Censure affects “outsiders with the evil subtype”. As a result, it WILL work against a Daelkyr – an evil outsider – but won’t work against a dolgaunt. Aberrations aren’t really the province of the Flame; it’s used to dealing with fiends, undead, and the like, and the point of aberrations is that they are fundamentally more alien than even a demon; aberrations are the things we don’t understand, things that don’t follow natural law.