IFAQ: September Lightning Round!

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

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

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

Who is Lady Dusk of the Crimson Covenant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: The Shulassakar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: August Lightning Round!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Sometimes these are weighty topics—like whaling or medusa reproduction—that require a full article. Others I just answer directly on Patreon. Here’s a few of those short answers from last month!

The warforged colossus Artorok is designated WX-73. Were there seventy three colossuses?

Nope! Every colossus has two names—So you have Artorok (WX-73), Arkus (WX-11), and so on. The name is the name of the BODY of the colossus. The numeric designation is actually the designation of the master docent that serves as the heart of the docent network that drives the colossus. “WX” stands for “Waylon/Xen’drik” and refers to the expedition that recovered the docent. So more than seventy-three docents were recovered from Xen’drik, but only a handful of those docents were intact and capable of maintaining a colossus. Personally, I think that Cannith had time to develop twelve colossuses; they were working on the thirteenth when the Mourning struck.

What is the difference in terms of magic advancement between the Dhakanni and the Dwarves of Sol Udar?

They’re vastly different. As called out in Exploring Eberron, “The dwarves of Sol Udar were an advanced civilization employing arcane science beyond that currently possessed by the Five Nations. The halls were shaped by elemental magic—an improved form of the move earth spell—and reinforced to be stronger than any natural stone. Barring any alien influence, the air is renewed by magic and remarkably fresh; a permanent prestidigitation effect keeps these halls clean after thousands of years and untold conflicts… Widespread magic was a part of daily life in Sol Udar.

By contrast, the Dhakaani are exceptional in many ways but DON’T have a tradition of wide magic. From Exploring Eberron: “Dhakaani daashor are the finest weaponsmiths on Khorvaire. Their traditions blend mundane skill and transmutation to create and manipulate remarkable alloys, including adamantine, mithral, and byeshk. Their skill at metallurgy outstrips even House Cannith, and Dhakaani champions often wield weapons forged from such material. Dhakaani equipment is designed for durability and efficiency, rarely gaudy or bejeweled. Likewise, armor is tough and flexible—often with the properties of mithral or adamantine armor—but not dramatic in style. Dhakaani magic items are either created by the daashor (who specialize in armor and weapons) or by gifted duur’kala. Dhakaani magic rarely focuses on evocation effects, and they have no tradition of elemental binding.”

So the Dhakaani make excellent WEAPONS AND ARMOR, but part of that is tied advances in mundane science. Beyond that, the items they have are created by duur’kala, with the key point being that the duur’kala are BARDS—primarily spiritual leaders and diplomats, NOT devoted to manufacturing. So the Dhakaani HAVE magic, but it’s NOT as widespread as magic in the Five Nations—let alone Sol Adar, which is considerably more advanced than the Five Nations. Essentially, the Dhakaani excel at things that are related to WAR… though even there, the point is that they don’t employ siege staffs, airships, or similar magical tools. The Dhakaani daashor make the finest SWORDS on Khorvaire… but they don’t have a strong tradition of WANDS. Now, the catch is that the ancient Dhakaani could create ARTIFACTS, as could the dwarves of Sol Udar. But these artifacts were extremely rare—the weapons of champions and tools of the Marhu—and they didn’t have a strong tradition of EVERYDAY magic.

The Sol Udar dwarves use air refreshing magic to sustain life in the depths… What do the Dhakaani do?

There’s three factors. The first is that the Dar as a species have adapted to thrive in a subterranean environment. Much as creatures in high altitudes adapt to the lower oxygen content, as creatures who evolved in the depths I’d expect Dar to be better suited to the challenges of a deep environment. I wouldn’t see this as having a strong game effect, but if I was running a long-term subterranean campaign and decided to develop environmental effects for bad air, I might give the Dar a ribbon similar to the Goliath’s Mountain Born—”You are acclimated to deep subterranean environments.” Note that I’m specifically saying the DAR—the Dhakaani who have remained in their deep vaults for thousands of years—as opposed to all goblinoids.

With that said, just because the Dar are more capable of surviving in such environments doesn’t mean they don’t need oxygen. I have always assumed that they engineer solutions that can bring fresh air to the depths—that just like creating aqueducts and mundane systems for channeling water, they use mundane (but remarkable) solutions to channel air to the depths. Thinking further, however, there’s a third factor: certain manifest zones and demiplane portals could well serve as oxygen sources in the deeps—and Dhakaani might build around these just as they would build around good sources of water. But the general principle is that while the Dhakaani aren’t as magically adept as some cultures, they are better at many forms of mundane science… which is also why I’ve said that if I was to add traditional firearms to Eberron, I’d start by giving them to the Dhakaani.

How does the Cazhaak Creed view the aberrant creations of the daelkyr, such as the illithid Xorchylic of Graywall? Are they considered children of the Shadow as much as any other aberration?

Through the sourcebooks, we have access to a lot of specific knowledge that people in world don’t have. WE know mind flayers are creations of Dyrrn the Corruptor. But most people—in Breland and Droaam alike—know nothing about mind flayers. For most of the people of Graywall, Xorchyllic is an entirely unique terror. Followers of the Cazhaak faith would likely say “Does it possess awesome powers? Are humans terrified of it? Check, check—seems like a child of the Shadow.”

This ties to the point that the Cazhaak traditions are about FAITH, not fact. If you presented a Cazhaak medusa with absolute proof that they were created by Orlassk, they would say “So what? This Orlassk may have sculpted our bodies, but it was surely the Shadow who guided its hands and who gave it the inspiration; thus, it is the Shadow who is our TRUE creator and who deserves our devotion.” Having said that, knowledge of the daelkyr is certainly present in Droaam. As will be called out in FRAG, the sages of Cazhaak Draal DO know of Orlassk, but they consider it a tyrant they broke free from, not a being they should worship. Again, their point is that it doesn’t matter if Orlassk physically created the first medusa; in doing so, it was merely a tool of the Shadow, and they owe nothing to Orlassk.

Back to the original question, Cazhaak sages who know of the daelkyr will generally extend the same understanding they have of themselves to others. THEY believe that they are children of the Shadow, regardless of any ties they might have to Orlassk. They embrace gargoyles as children of the Shadow, in spite of their ties to Orlassk. Mind flayers, dolgrims—they too are children of the Shadow. But if they choose to serve the daelkyr and seek to destroy other children of the Shadow, then that’s sufficient reason to consider them enemies and destroy them.

What does the release of an overlord due to the Prophecy actually look like? Does it just spontaneously happen, or does it trigger some sort of cascade of events leading up to the release?

The release of an Overlord isn’t instantaneous; it’s simply that once set in motion by the breaking of bonds, it is usually inevitable. So if we imagine the final stage of releasing Sul Khatesh is for the Broken Hero (a PC) to murder Queen Aurala at Arcanix with the Blade of Sorrows, first we’ve had a chain of events to get there. When the event finally occurs and the bonds are broken, SOMETHING will happen immediately—it’s clear that we’re in trouble. In this case, the towers of Arcanix might fall, or the region around Arcanix could be shrouded in supernatural darkness, which spreads over the next few days and weeks as Sul Khatesh regains her power. A concrete example of this comes in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide regarding Bel Shalor:

If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him. PCs are immune to this passive effect, but it might affect their ability to find allies. Within this sphere of influence, people grow pale and their shadows become clearer and more vivid even in poor lighting, often seeming to move of their own accord. It is said that the shadows conspire against their owners, telling Bel Shalor of their secret plans; you must decide if this claim is true.

The point is that it’s not just “A hole opens up and a big monster hops out!” The physical form of the overlord is just one aspect of it (which comes back to the point that destroying that physical form doesn’t permanently destroy the overlord). The first thing that will be felt is its INFLUENCE. If the bonds of Rak Tulkhesh are broken, the FIRST thing that will happen is that people in his sphere of influence will begin fighting one another. Eventually the Rage of War will physically manifest, but its PRESENCE will be felt before that happens.

Where is House Phiarlan’s Demesne of Shape? Some sources suggest it’s in Thaliost, while others say it’s in Wroat.

Even writers make mistakes, and that’s likely what happened here. However, my answer is “Both.” Thaliost is a crazy place to establish an important facility in the wake of the war. It’s deeply contested occupied territory. Wroat, on the other hand, is a very secure national capital. In my opinion, Viceroy Idal chose Thaliost specifically because they believe that a Phiarlan presence could help maintain peace and understanding in the city and because the Serpentine Table wants a strong Phiarlan enclave in this hotspot. So the Thaliost enclave is the official Demense of Shape. However, a rival within the house has also established an “understudy” Shape facility in Wroat, because they believe that the Thaliost demesne could get burnt down any day now.

How would you make the Kech Draguus distinct from the Draelaes Tairn?

The Kech Draguus is a very deep cut. They weren’t mentioned in Exploring Eberron, and I believe the only canon source for them is a Dragonshard article I wrote, which states “Long ago, a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. Now this Kech Draguus has emerged from hiding. With a corps of half-dragon goblinoids and a few full-blooded dragons at its disposal, the Kech Draguus are poised to reshape Darguun.” The Draleus Tairn, on the other hand, are dragon SLAYERS. Dragons of Eberron has this to say: “The Draleus faith holds that the warrior draws strength from victory, and passes this energy to his ancestors . . . and no victory is greater than the defeat of a dragon.” There are RUMORS that Draleus dragon slayers can gain draconic powers and could become half-dragons, dragon shamans, etc, but those are of course rumors.

So, the two are VERY different. The Draguus are a Dhakaani Kech, which is to say, a tightly disciplined military force. They work WITH dragons, and essentially, they’re the Dhakaani answer to the Targaryens; they are going to employ dragons as living siege engines on the battlefield. Their champions may be half-dragons, but if so they were created with the blessing of their dragon patron, who in all likelihood counsels the leaders of the Kech. As the Dragonshard says, they have an ALLIANCE with dragons. By contrast, if there’s a half-dragon Draleus warrior, they gained that power by killing a dragon and ritually bathing in its blood. There’s no alliance between the Draleus and dragons; rather, they are bitter enemies. Beyond that, as Dragons of Eberron calls out, “The Draleus Tairn rarely socialize with outlanders, or even other elves… due to their isolation and reputation, few elves trouble the dragon slayers.” So the Draleus Tairn are at best isolated warbands, and often LONE INDIVIDUALS pursuing their personal quests… while the Kech Draguus are a militaristic, disciplined city-state.

That’s all for now! If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, you might be able to find the answer on my Patreon. Thanks to my patrons for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: Bagmon and Conqueror

As time permits, I like to address the INfrequently asked questions of Eberron—interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few you may not have heard before! As always, these are MY opinions and may contradict canon sources.

How would a trading/collectible card game (like Pokémon TCG, Magic the Gathering) manifest in Khorvaire? What Dragonmarked house (or other) would develop and manufacture these games?

Why make a TCG when you could make actual Pokemon? A Bag of Tricks is an uncommon magic item that lets you summon a random beast from a specific list. I could easily see the Twelve—specifically Vadalis, Orien, and Cannith—working together to produce a variant Bag of Tricks. Rather than summoning a beast with a random roll on a table, it starts containing only one special Vadalis-bred beast and you expand your list by finding and collecting other monsters. Aside from that limitation/advantage, it would work exactly like a Bag of Tricks—it’s an action to summon a beast, you can use it three times a day, beast disappears when reduced to 0 HP. Perhaps, with work, you can evolve your creatures into more powerful forms. BAGMON, it’s the new big thing!

When I initially answered this question, I’d forgotten that my Manifest Zone co-host Imogen Gingell has in fact already created a host of Eberron-themed Pokemon that you could use with as Bagmon creatures. Her Five Nations set is pictured above, but you can find more here! In addition, she’s actually developed a full bestiary with stats for these creatures, which is available on the DM’s guild. She ties them to Thelanis rather than my Cannith/Vadalis Bagmon idea, but the creatures can work with any of these ideas.

If I was going to make a card game like Magic, I’d want it to still be magical—to have the cards produce Prestidigitation-level sounds and illusions as you play it. With this in mind, I could see three paths. It could be Aundairian; we’ve always called out Aundair as having the most use of casual magic. It could be created as a joint product by Sivis and Phiarlan, blending Scribing with the illusory elements of Shadow, and being both a printing thing and a form of entertainment. But I could also see it as being a Fey artifact from Thelanis—something that came to Eberron through a manifest zone and is now spreading rapidly, like a weed or a predator introduced into an environment that’s not prepared to deal with it.

Did you ever think up rules, terminology, and/or a simple general description of how the game of Conqueror is played? Is there a word to announce your victory, kinda like “checkmate”?

Conqueror was introduced in Five Nations, a book I didn’t work on. It runs into a tricky question of worldbuilding. The idea is that the Karrns are a people with a deep love of competition and strategy; the game is described as “Chesslike.” The problem with creating new rules and terms for the game is that YOUR PLAYERS WON’T KNOW THESE RULES AND TERMS. The SIMPLE approach is to say that Conqueror uses the basic rules and terms of Chess. It is less deeply satisfying because why would this alien world have a game we play—but the point is that if a villain says “Checkmate” the players understand the reference whereas if a villain says “No more conquests” you’re going to have to explain to the players “That’s a term from the game Conqueror which is used when the opponent is out of moves, sort of like saying ‘checkmate.'” Essentially, is it worth the effort involved on all sides to create an entirely new game, or is it simpler to just have the Karrnathi warlord say “Checkmate”?

With this in mind, when I had people playing Thrones a recent Threshold game, I essentially said “It’s like poker, but it uses a five-suited deck with a suit for each of the Five Nations.” While it would make more sense for it to have entirely unique rules, for SPEED OF PLAY it was easier to have it use basic Poker rules, because the players KNOW those. The five suited deck changes the odds a bit and added a unique twist (and I came up with the face cards based on notable figures from each nation), but I didn’t have to make up an entirely new game and the players could make some quick decisions based on their pre-existing knowledge of Poker.

The main thing is that if I was going to make rules for Conqueror, I’d want to go all in and MAKE A SET THE PLAYERS CAN PLAY, and play it with them a bunch of times, so they KNOW the terms when I drop them into the world. And like Thrones and Poker, I’d probably use Chess as a foundation (IE, 8×8 grid board, pieces with specific movement patterns, win by capturing an opponent’s Sovereign) rather than making something completely unique, because again, ultimately I WANT THE PLAYERS TO UNDERSTAND THE GAME. Creating an entirely unique game that only I really understand is a cool thing, but the question is whether the experience at the TABLE will be satisfying for the players or if it’s going to be more fun all around if I just said “Checkmate.”

Are there Khorvaire (or Karrnath) parallels to our chess champions?

Five Nations calls out Conqueror as the national pastime of Karrnath. With that in mind you can be certain that there are competitions and champions, and I’d expect Rekkenmark to make use of a form of Kriegsspiel. And I do expect that there are players across the Five Nations, it’s just that Karrns dominate the game. So I could definitely imagine running a Queen’s Gambit style campaign in which a young warlock is a Conqueror prodigy and they go to competitions across Khorvaire—possibly being pushed by Kaius as a peace initiative and way to bring the nations back together. But I’d be fairly likely to lean heavily on Chess terms unless I had time to create something entirely new—just as I use the foundation of Poker for Thrones in Threshold.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, both for asking interesting questions and making it possible for me to spend time on these articles. If you have an infrequently asked question of your own, you can ask me on Patreon!

IFAQ: Medusas

The race of medusas was born in Khyber, but two hundred twenty years ago a clan emerged from the darkness and laid claim to the city of Cazhaak Draal in Droaam. The medusas have played an important role in Droaam’s rise as a nation. They are skilled stonemasons and architects, and their deadly gaze attack makes them dangerous warriors and valuable bodyguards.

This is what the original Eberron Campaign Setting had to say about medusas. It followed our general approach of questioning and considering previous assumptions. Traditionally, medusas were monsters, expected to hang around in statue-filled caves waiting for adventurers. But third edition didn’t present them as being created by a curse or otherwise existing in isolation—and further, the mental ability scores of the typical medusa were superior of those to the typical human. So why would these intelligent, powerful creatures hang around dank dungeons waiting to fight adventurers? Why wouldn’t they have a civilization of their own? Beyond this, it was easy to see how medusas could play an important role in Droaam. They’re smarter than humans, let alone ogres—and they have a power that even a gargoyle or minotaur has to respect. Breland might not think much of a city of ogres, but a city of medusas is a force anyone has to take seriously.

I expanded on the medusas of Eberron in this Dragonshard article, which added a few additional twists. The medusas of Cazhaak Draal use their serpent manes as secondary eyes, allowing them to see while their primary eyes are closed or covered. They’ve developed a language called Serpentine, which uses the hisses and motions of their serpents. Medusas can petrify other medusas (something that has varied by edition) though they’ve developed a ritual to negate the effects of their gaze. Within their own culture they use petrification as a tool, preserving elders or mortally wounded medusas. However, this article leaves many questions unanswered… a situation further complicated by the constantly shifting lore about medusas. Sharn: City of Towers has male medusas with the same capabilities (serpents, petrification) as females, while non-Eberron lore in some editions presents male medusas as a divergent species with entirely different abilities. Fifth edition presents medusas as isolated individuals rather than a distinct species; in 5E, medusas (male or female) are created as the result of a curse and they have no culture.

Eberron has always diverged from default lore; just look at gnolls, drow, and mind flayers. The fact that the default lore of medusas has changed in fifth edition doesn’t make any difference, because Eberron wasn’t using the lore of previous editions either; again, in S:CoT we have the male medusa Harash, who’s notably not a maedar. The medusas of Eberron are the medusas of Eberron: a unique species who emerged from Khyber to found a city-state on the surface, and who possess a distinct culture and language. In Eberron, vanity alone can’t make you a medusa. Which is fine, but it leaves many questions unanswered. Keep in mind that—like all of these articles—all of what I’m about to say is what I do in my Eberron campaign. Nothing here is canon, and it’s entirely possible I will contradict canon sources. This is how I use medusas; it’s a suggestion, not a fact.

What’s so interesting about medusas?

There’s many things I like about medusas.

  • They’re traditionally encountered as lone monsters, and I love turning that around and exploring the idea of medusas as a civilized people. Along with the Venomous Demesne, they have a sophisticated culture that predates Droaam, and they’re a power bloc the Daughters want to keep as allies.
  • Many of the creatures of Droaam—ogres, trolls—are creatures that rely on brute force. Medusas are more intelligent than humans. They’re an excellent tool for getting across the point that these things humans consider to be monsters may be alien, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.
  • At the same time, medusas ARE very alien, and I like exploring that. I like digging deeper into the serpent mane, and in playing up ways that human assumptions about them can be very off-base.
  • Medusas are POWERFUL and dangerous. The mere threat of their gaze is enough to change the dynamics of a conversation.
  • The Cazhaak medusas are a very spiritual people, and are the primary priests of the dominant religion in Droaam—a religion based on deities humanity fears. This is another source of power and potential story hooks, and something that can give a medusa goals that run counter to those of Droaam; Zerasha of Graywall places the her duty to the Shadow above the desires of the Daughters.

All of these things combined can make medusas excellent ambassadors, enigmatic priests, or Daask commanders. They can enforce order among dangerous and diverse minions, but they aren’t inherently bloodthirsty or brutish. They are a truly alien species, and for people who have never actually dealt with them before it’s fun to play with expectations and fears.

Where do the medusas of Eberron come from? Were they created by Orlassk?

The Cazhaak creed asserts that the Sovereigns created and cultivated weak creatures that they could dominate—pathetic, powerless creatures, like humans. It was the Shadow who gave the blessed creatures—those humans call “monsters”—their gifts. The oldest medusa myths maintain that their ancestors were slaves in the depths of Khyber—enslaved by a “stone tyrant,” most likely the daelkyr Orlassk—and that the Shadow gave them their powers and inspired them to break the yoke of their oppression and claim their freedom. Keep in mind that these are myths, passed down through oral tradition for centuries before they were even concretely codified. Gatekeepers and many modern scholars assert that it was most likely Orlaask who actually created the medusas, blending humans (Explorers? Some sort of colony?) with basilisks. But religion is about faith; even if they were presented with absolute concrete proof that Orlaask created the first medusa by merging a human and a basilisk, a medusa would say that Orlaask was simply a pawn guided by the Shadow, and that it was the Shadow who gave their ancestors the strength to rebel against the Stone Tyrant. The Cazhaak medusas know that they are children of the Shadow, and simple facts won’t shake this faith.

Regardless of the truth, the medusas are a relatively young species. In describing Cazhaak Draal, the Eberron Campaign Setting says that Cazhaak Draal “was abandoned after the daelkyr released a horde of basilisks, gorgons, and cockatrices from the depths of Khyber.” Note the lack of medusas in that description. Medusas generally resemble humans more than they do hobgoblins or dwarves (let alone gnolls), and their first historical appearance on the surface world is when they emerge to claim Cazhaak Draal. It seems likely that as a species, medusas are little over a thousand years old. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that there is a second culture of medusas that has yet to be encountered by humans—medusas who remained servants of the Stone Tyrant. So explorers in Khyber could discover a city of medusas still devoted to Orlaask, who know nothing of the Shadow or the Cazhaak creed.

What is the life cycle of medusas in your Eberron?

First of all, in my campaign maedar—the serpentless “male medusas”—are an entirely separate species. Fourth edition presented them as having a “venomous gaze” and I’d be more inclined to use these scaly, venomous humanoids as creations of the overlord Masvirik, the Cold Sun—an overlord noted for reptilian traits and poison. The medusas of Eberron are defined by their serpent mane and their petrifying gaze.

Cazhaak medusas can have a masculine or feminine appearance. Thus we have Queen Sheshka, but also the medusa Harash in Sharn, who is described as male. The majority of medusas—around 80%—have a feminine appearance. However, the fact is that medusa physiology is nothing like that of humanity and that this presumption of gender is misleading. “Female” medusas may have a feminine shape, but they don’t suckle their young and don’t actually have mammary glands. Medusa myths suggest that they were created (whether by Orlaask or the Shadow) from another humanoid species, and most likely their silhouette is an artifact of that forgotten past.

Medusa reproduction is nothing like human reproduction, and any two medusas can reproduce. After a period of foreplay that causes key chemicals to be released, two medusas entwine their serpent manes. They bite one another’s serpents, and those bitten in this way fall off of the head. The entwined, impregnated serpents undergo a metamorphosis, merging together into leathery “eggs,” eventually releasing a young medusa that blends the traits of both parents. A stranger aspect of this lifecycle is that there’s no absolute assurance how long it will take for a medusa’s egg to mature. It takes at least a year, but it’s not uncommon for an egg to take anywhere up to ten years to hatch… and some eggs never produce a child. Many medusas believe that a child has to want to emerge. Eggs are typically buried in warm sand, and it’s not uncommon for one parent to tend to their brood, singing to the eggs each night; it’s this caregiver who the medusas would call the “mother,” even though they don’t carry the children directly. This slow gestation is offset by a long lifespan. Medusas can live between three hundred to four hundred years before falling victim to old age; There are many medusas in Cazhaak Draal who were part of the expedition that originally claimed the city.

When interacting with other humanoids, medusas often adopt the pronouns people typically associate with their appearance; thus, Sheshka is a queen and uses she/her pronouns. However, the Serpentine language doesn’t use gendered terms. In Serpentine, Sheshka is simply leader, not queen.

Where did the medusas live before Cazhaak Draal? Do they live there still?

The medusas have never been a widespread or numerous people. Their myths speak of a long period of nomadic wandering following their escape from the Stone Tyrant, and describe periods of settlement in what seem to be different demiplanes—periods that always end in disaster, with the medusas being forced to move on. This exodus came to an end when they settled in a Dhakaani city deep below the surface, a vault whose keepers were slain long ago. The medusas call this city Niaanu Draal, the Mother City, and it was here that they wrote down their myths and established the traditions they carry on today. They remained in Niaanu Draal for over two centuries, before this, too, ended in tragedy. The forces of a daelkyr drove the medusas from Niaanu Draal. These enemies could not (or would not) follow the medusas to the surface, and so they came to Cazhaak Draal and claimed it as their home.

Which daelkyr did they fight? It’s possible that it was Orlaask, that the minions of the Stone Tyrant sought to reclaim its former subjects. It could be that Belashyrra was offended by these creatures with their deadly gaze, or that the crawling hordes of Valaara overran the Mother City. This battle took place centuries ago, and ultimately it only matters if a DM wants to run a story related to Niaanu Draal; as a DM, if you want to tell that story, it’s up to you to decide which daelkyr best suits the needs of your campaign. Note that this isn’t a mystery to the medusas themselves; there are medusa elders who took part in the battle, along with petrified elders who once lived in Niaanu Draal. It’s simply that there’s no reason for me to lock in a specific daelkyr here, when a different daelkyr might serve your story better. The medusas faced a great enemy they couldn’t defeat, but it has left them alone ever since. Given the enigmatic nature of the daelkyr, it’s entirely possible that this exodus was the daelkyr’s goal all along… that for some reason it wanted the medusas to rise up from Khyber.

Has Sheshka always been the Queen of Cazhaak Draal? If not, how did she gain the title?

It wasn’t Sheshka who led the medusas to Cazhaak Draal. In the novel The Queen of Stone, a warrior who’s been petrified for over a century recognizes Sheshka as “Lady Sheshka” and is surprised to discover that she is now queen. Sheshka inherited her title, but it is about more than just bloodline. Also from The Queen of Stone

“It’s not as simple as it seems.” Sheshka’s hand brushed against the silver collar that hung around her neck. “I am Sheshka, the Queen of Stone. To you, that may seem an arrogant title, an affectation of a woman who governs a city smaller than your Wroat or Passage. But it is not just a title of nobility: it is a statement of fact. I am the Queen of Stone. I hear the whisper of marble and granite…”

Essentially, Sheshka is the Queen of Stone because she IS the Queen of Stone. In a sense this is similar to the Keeper of the Flame. Medusas have varying degrees of natural affinity for stone. The regalia of the queen—the pendant Sheshka wears—amplifies this gift, but only one with the gift can attune to the collar. If Sheshka were to be killed, the medusas would search among their people for another with this gift—starting with Sheshka’s relatives, but continuing until a suitable medusa is found. So it’s as much a theocracy as it is a monarchy; Sheshka is considered to be blessed by the Shadow.

How do you see a medusa’s gaze working in general interactions. 5e’s gaze feature indiscriminately tries to petrify any qualifying targets in range…

Not exactly. Let’s look at the text…

When a creature that can see the medusa’s eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature…

There’s nothing indiscriminate about this. The medusa CAN force the creature to make a saving throw as long as the medusa can see the target, but it doesn’t HAVE to. My interpretation of this isn’t that a medusa can somehow make it safe for other creatures to look it in the eye, but rather that it’s a simple enough matter for a medusa to avoid meeting another creature’s gaze, using any of the methods I describe in this article. Notably, I still maintain that a medusa only petrifies with its primary eyes, and it can close them (or wear eyeblinders or a blindfold) and use its serpent mane for vision. In 3.5 I assigned a -2 penalty when a medusa uses its serpents for vision, and that’s an option here (fifth edition rarely does penalties, but disadvantage feels too severe). On the other hand, it’s also reasonable to say that the fifth edition medusa can choose not to petrify creatures, and that it does this by closing its main eyes and using its serpents—and therefore apply no penalty for doing so.

Fifth edition also says…

If the medusa sees itself reflected on a polished surface within 30 feet of it and in an area of bright light, the medusa is, due to its curse, affected by its own gaze.

I’m ambivalent about this. It seems very vague and ill-defined compared to the very specific degree of control the medusa has in dealing with enemies. A medusa can choose not to look at an adventurer (not forcing them to make a saving throw)—if that adventurer is holding a mirror, I’d assume it can avoid looking at that, too? I’m not adverse to the idea that a medusa could be affected by its own gaze—as the article suggests, medusas can petrify other medusas—but I think they’d be VERY used to the risks and good at avoiding them; and they’d be able to avoid the threat completely by closing their main eyes (or blindfold) and seeing through their serpents. I’d also hold closely to that “polished surface” and say that they don’t get petrified by, for example, looking at rhe rippling surface of a glass of water. So I’m fine with saying that if there’s a really well-executed plan it is POSSIBLE to petrify a medusa with their own gaze, but that it’s not something you can do casually by just wearing a mirror around your neck.

Cazhaak Draal is noted as being the spiritual center of Droaam. Do the medusas have an arcane tradition as well, and if so, what is that like?

The Cazhaak medusas have an arcane tradition. They are devoted to the Shadow, and the Shadow is a deity of KNOWLEDGE; according to Cazhaak myths, it was the Shadow who taught Aureon all that he knows. However, the Shadow is also about personal ambition and power, and rather than developing a shared system of arcane science that can support wizards and artificers (as seen in the Venomous Demesne), Cazhaak Draal is more a collection of individuals following their own secret paths to power.

Cazhaak Draal has both magewrights and adepts. Medusas have a natural affinity for stone, and their spellcasters often cast spells (or rituals) related to stone, earth, or poison. Cazhaak Draal thus has a strong corps of magewrights capable of casting mold earth and stone shape; working together and using arcane focuses they can cast move earth. More sophisticated spellcasters generally follow the model of bards (most often Whispers), sorcerers (typically Shadow or Storm), or warlocks (potentially any). In the case of warlocks, most Cazhaak warlocks believe their powers flow from the Shadow; they might have the powers of an Archfey of Great Old One patron, but those are the gifts the Shadow has bestowed upon them. However, medusa warlocks believe that the Shadow’s gift was connecting them TO their patron, and you could find a medusa warlock dealing with an archfey, a dao, or some other patron. The main point is that such spellcasters are remarkable individuals, each blazing their own trail—and thus, Cazhaak Draal overall doesn’t have the arcane infrastructure of the Venomous Demesne.

Does it bother you that mythologically, Medusa was a specific gorgon, while in D&D, medusas are a species and gorgons are an entirely different, unrelated creature?

Not really. D&D is full of such flawed mythological analogues. Greek Mythology is as irrelevant to the medusas of Eberron as the default lore of third or fourth edition. The medusas of Eberron are an alien species that share a name and a few cosmetic traits with medusa and the gorgons of mythology. (As a side note, I’ve always loved the name Euryale—one of Medusa’s sisters.)

In conclusion… What I enjoy about medusas is that they alien and intelligent, that they are spiritual but devoted to a tradition humanity shuns. Cazhaak Draal is a distinct faction within Droaam that has considerable power and influence, and I enjoy exploring its relationship with the Daughters. And I like the dramatic weight that comes with the medusa’s gaze, especially when dealing with a medusa in a non-combat situation.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who requested this topic and who are the only reason I can taker the time to write these articles!

IFAQ: Whaling in Eberron

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

Where and how do you see whaling playing a part in Eberron?

The immediate question is are there whales in Eberron, because there’s no particular reason to assume that any random thing that exists in our world does exist in Eberron. As it turns out, whales have been mentioned; Exploring Eberron has this to say.

When dealing with the Thunder Sea, remember that it’s just as civilized as the Five Nations. It does have wilderness regions with feral beasts roaming at will, and you might find wild plesiosaurs, a scheming sea hag, or a hungry scrag. But in the areas above and around sahuagin city-states, such beasts have been tamed or destroyed. All cultures of the Thunder Sea farm fish like the people of the land farm sheep or cattle; a pod of whales may be carefully managed and cultivated, and their farmers will be quite angry with dryskins who poach their ichthyic livestock. 

So first of all, I don’t see whaling as being a common practice in the Thunder Sea, because blundering out and killing a random whale is a great way to get your ship sunk by an angry Karakala stormcaller. We’ve called out that agreements between the Five Nations and the powers of the Thunder Sea do allow fishing in close coastal waters, so you have Brelish fishing villages on the southern coast, but I wouldn’t make them whalers.

So, where and how do I see whaling playing a part in Eberron? I see it as being focused on the Lhazaar Principalities, but the twist is that it’s not whaling. In our world, whales are the largest and most dramatic denizens of the sea, but this isn’t our world. In the Lhazaar Sea, the mighty creatures bold sailors hunt are dragon turtles. They aren’t the SAME dragon turtles described in the Monster Manual; they’re slightly smaller and weaker (commonly huge, though they can reach gargantuan size), they’re omnivorous, and they’re less intelligent, notably not speaking Draconic; we can call them drake turtles or softshell dragon turtles. But they are still built on the model of the dragon turtle. Building on this, I’d say that drake hunting is a major part of the Lhazaar economy. Drake (turtle) blood is a crucial component in industrial alchemy, part of what allows Jorasco and Cannith to produce mass quantities of healing and other potions. Drakebone could be used in everything from corsets to weaponry. In the Principalities, most medium armor makes use of drake turtle scales and heavy armor is typically made not from metal, but from drake turtle shells. Essentially, this not only creates an industry that parallels whaling, it also creates a unique flavor for Lhazaar fashion and tools and introduces the disturbing idea that many mass-produced potions use components drawn from a deeply questionable source. Because I’ve said that these are as intelligent as the standard dragon turtles of the Monster Manual… but less intelligent doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent. They don’t perform magic. They don’t speak Common or Draconic. But they sing… and anyone who knows the language (which very few land-dwellers do) will realize that they are singing in Aquan.

Part of the point of Eberron is that stories don’t always end well and that good people can do bad things. A druid adventurer may realize a drake turtle is singing in Aquan. But even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do—even if it is clear to the ADVENTURER that the turtles are intelligent, it may not be a simple matter to prove it. And there could always be the chance that while the turtles appear to sing in Aquan, they aren’t actually intelligent by the typical measures. Even if adventurers can prove it, the response of the common Lhazaar sailor will be “Who cares if drake turtles sing in Aquan? They’re MONSTERS. I need to feed my family. The healing potions Jorasco will make using that drake’s blood will save countless HUMAN lives. I chose my family and my species over the well-being of alien sea monsters.” Personally, I like the idea of placing player characters at the very forefront of this issue—making it THEIR discovery, because it’s their story—but you could also say that it’s something that’s been known for decades and is being actively debated. Druid activists could be blocking drake hunting boats. Principalities could be split, with some princes forbidding drake hunting, while other principalities are deeply dependent on the drake-hunting economy. It could be that ending dragon-hunting would be a major blow to industrial alchemy, unless Cannith and Jorasco can be pushed to find new methods of production. Ultimately, it’s a more dramatic and bloodier version of the ethical questions of elemental binding… and it could be that fighting over this issue could force people to reevaluate Zil binding as well.

So, going back to the original question, I’d place whaling in the Lhazaar Principalities and I’d make it an industry that has great impact within the region but also to the greater economy of Khorvaire, but I’d also make the creatures hunted an variant form of dragon turtles as opposed to whales. Not with that said, there’s nothing wrong with saying that there’s also traditional whaling in the northern Lhazaar Principalities. But personally, I’m more interesting in adding something that’s unique to the world—and in doing so, being able to add a unique twist to the economic impact of that creature. But if you want a story focus on traditional whaling, tell that story!

Do drake turtles have blowholes?

No, they don’t. However, they do have steam breath—though it’s weaker than that of a dragon turtle and takes longer to recharge. They need to vent this occasionally, and common drake hunter practice is to wait for such an exhalation before attacking, to strike while the breath is discharged. So you can still have a “Thar she blows!” moment.

Does Riedra have any interest in drake turtles?

Certainly! I think that drake’s blood is a useful basic alchemical component and that the shell, scales, bones, and teeth all have their uses. I definitely think fishing rights in the Lhazaar Sea is an lingering point of tension; it’s even possible there’s been an open conflict—similar to the Cod Wars—between Rhiavaar and one of the Principalities at some point in the past.

If drake turtles sing in Aquan, how can there be any doubt they’re intelligent? Why don’t people just use the Tongues spell or similar magic to talk to them?

A parrot can recite a poem in English; does that mean it possesses human intelligence? The drake hunters argue the same thing of drake turtles; it’s exotic behavior, but that doesn’t mean they’re PEOPLE. Which comes to a key point in my description: Even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do. My point is that if you know Aquan, when you hear the drake’s song you’ll recognize it as, for example, “Bluuuue sorrow delving deeeeep.” But if you row up to the drake turtle and say “Hi! My name’s Keith! What’s yours?” in Aquan (or using tongues) it will ignore you. Perhaps it doesn’t recognize the tiny non-turtle as a creature. Perhaps it doesn’t respond to simply spoken words; you need to SING your statement at a particular pitch for the drake to recognize it as an attempt at communication. Or perhaps it’s a parrot—it produces words it’s picked up from passing elementals but it doesn’t actually understand their meaning.

D&D has a tendency to treat any creature with a language as communicating exactly as humans do. I like to explore the idea that alien creatures may communicate in very different ways, something I’ve discussed in articles relating to elementals and lizardfolk. The point is that your Aquan speaker/tongues caster can understand the words the drake turtle is singing; but that doesn’t mean that you understand the meaning or how to effectively communicate back. The point of all this is because I’m interested in exploring the question of drake turtle intelligence as a STORY. Consider the movie Arrival; it wouldn’t have been much fun if the protagonist just walked in, cast tongues, and it was all over. I like the idea that people KNOW the drake turtles sing in Aquan, but because no one’s ever managed to have an effective conversation with one, the hunters can dismiss them as parrots. If the player characters get involved, their challenge is to figure out how the turtles communicate, beyond simply the words that they’re using. In OUR world there’s considerable debate about cetacean intelligence; my point is that I want it to be a possible story that adventurers can be a part of, because player characters are remarkable. If drake turtles are fully sentient, I want your character to be the protagonist of Arrival or Spock mind-melding with a whale; I want YOU to be the one who solves a mystery others have abandoned or dismissed. But if that’s not a mystery you want to explore, you can definitely resolve it one way or the other using NPCs or have it have been clearly established in the past.

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

IFAQ: Talenta Dinosaurs

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

In what clever ways do the Talenta halflings utilize their dinosaurs besides using them as beasts of burden?

The halflings of the Talenta Plains are what I call a Wide Primal society. They have never pursued the arcane science that defines the Five Nations, in part because they’ve never felt a need to do so. The Talenta have a path of magic that they use to solve their problems; they work with spirits, employing both druid magic and fey pacts. So while they don’t have arcane magewrights, they do have widespread adepts and gleaners who employ magic as part of everyday life. Like magewrights, Talenta gleaners generally know a few cantrips and can cast a few spells as rituals—typically druid spells, though those that deal with fey spirits often work with enchantment and illusion.

With this in mind, consider that the following spells are “Everyday Magic” in the Talenta Plains: animal friendship, animal messenger, beast bond, beast sense, find familiar and speak with animals. When the Talenta talk about having a bond with the spirits of their mounts, it’s because many of them literally do. Even when you’re dealing with beasts of burden, halflings will usually talk to their beasts. We’re still talking about dinosaurs, so they are limited by their intelligence; but there’s a general sense of partnership between the Talenta and their dinosaurs.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the spells and cantrips used by NPC magewrights (or adepts or gleaners) don’t always work like their PC counterparts! Often they are more limited; when Talenta gleaners use the spells mentioned above, they typically can only cast them on reptiles, which is one reason they work so closely with dinosaurs; their magical traditions have evolved to work with them over time. However, these specialized rituals can be more effective in other ways, such as having a longer duration. The spirit rider is an important form of Talenta gleaner; they employ a ritual that combines the effects of beast bond and beast sense, allowing the gleaner to enter an extended trance in which they perceive the world through the senses of their dinosaur companion and can guide it telepathically. Note that this doesn’t dominate the beast; it simply allows telepathic communication. It takes a long time for a spirit rider to establish a necessary connection to a dinosaur, and they can’t just ride a new beast on the spur of the moment. Spirit riders who work with glidewings and dartwings serve as scouts and couriers; but spirit riders often also work with larger dinosaurs—hammertails, bloodstrikers, threehorns—to guide them while traveling or performing heavy labor. As a random point: most of the everyday magic of the Plains works specifically with reptiles, and one of the reason the Talenta use tribex as livestock is because they don’t talk to the tribex.

So throwing out a few random ways dinosaurs are used…

  • Bloodstrikers are large burrowing herbivores. Many Talenta tribes have a single bloodstriker, which will use its burrowing abilities to help establish camps. In Gatherhold, bloodstrikers are used to maintain latrines, and as living mining tools. The caustic blood of the beast is also harvested.
  • Dartwings, typically just called darts, are small pterosaurs; they use the hawk stat block. Dartwings are the primary messengers of the Talenta, and they are also used by scouts—both full spirit riders who may spend hours watching the world from above, and hunters who may just use speak with animals or beast sense to get information from their companions.
  • Glidewings and soarwings are larger pterosaurs. While often used as flying mounts for hunters and warriors, spirit riders can use them to scout and they are also often used by couriers, swiftly transporting goods between tribes.
  • Many large herbivores are used as beasts of burden, but hammertails (Ankylosaurs) are often used as mobile homes; a family can make its home in howdah tent on the back of the beast. few tribes have thunderherders (diplodocus)—among other things, they require a great deal of food—but those that do often use the herder for their leader’s tent, leading to the phrase that someone important “rides the thunder.”
  • Carvers, clawfeet and swiftclaws (velociraptors) are all used for hunting and for defense. Swiftclaws are used for pest control. Along with the fastieth, clawfeet are often seen as a simple form of mobility enhancement; it’s very common for a hunter to ride their fastieth or clawfoot in situations where most people would dismount; the rider considers themselves to be a single entity with their mount.
  • Scampers or scamps are a tiny form of fastieth, and can use the weasel stat block. they have nimble foreclaws and are often used as assistant animals, fetching small things or performing simple tasks.

These are just a few examples. The main thing to keep in mind is that through spirit riders and general use of speak with animals, the Talenta can get their dinosaurs to perform precision tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. Large dinosaurs are used as beasts of burden, but also perform a wide range of heavy labor—effectively serving as living cranes and bulldozers. Within Gatherhold, you have a few high chambers that can only be reached if a thunderherder lifts you up.

So dinosaurs help with scouting, hunting, transportation, communication, and heavy labor; hammertails serve as housing! Dinosaurs are even used as instruments. Three-horn bellows can be heard across a great distance, and are often used for signaling purposes. Hammertail drums may be used in somber rituals, while dartwing choirs support other musicians. Scale singers blend the talents of spirit rider and bard, riding a dinosaur and singing with its voice. Dinosaurs are worked into sporting events as well; the Talentans play a mounted sport called Dalasci that is somewhat like aggressive polo, and scamp races are a common basis for gambling.

What kind of dinosaur would be the typical livestock of one of the nomad tribes?

Dinosaurs don’t produce milk and generally aren’t raised as food; both of these are the role of the tribex. So most tribes have a herd of tribex. Beyond that, tribes often breed a specific type of dinosaur, which they will then trade with other tribes. So most tribes only have a few hammertails, but there’s a tribe that has a breeding population of hammertails, a tribe that breeds threehorns, a few that breed clawfeet, and so on. The point is that there is no “typical” dinosaur livestock; it’s a choice that shapes the tribe, and a hammertail-breeding tribe will be quite different from the tribe with a host of clawfeet.

Do Talenta halflings eat dinosaur eggs? Would they raise dinosaurs to harvest their eggs?

There’s no taboo against eating unfertilized dinosaur eggs; these are celebrated as a gift from a friend. However, keep in mind that dinosaurs don’t lay eggs like chickens do. Some species don’t lay unfertilized eggs. Others do, but only at a specific time of year—typically Nymm to Lharvion. These are generally times of feasting, and for celebrating the dinosaurs that share these gifts. But they don’t keep dinosaurs JUST for the eggs; dinosaurs are essentially members of the tribe who perform a useful function, and the eggs are a bonus. In my opinion, the only Talenta dinosaurs that lay unfertilized eggs across the entire year would be scamps; so scamp eggs are certainly part of the Talenta diet.

Are there any Talenta tribes that use necromancy?

Certainly! The Tolashcara (“Keepers of Bones that Rustle and Moan”) tribe guard a manifest zone to Mabar in the Plains and draw on its power to animate the dead. They believe that by using its power as they do, they keep the hungry spirits from venturing further afield to prey on innocents. Some Tolashcara are drawn to pursue undead threats elsewhere in the Plains or in the world, and a small group of Tolashcara halflings patrol the edge of the Boneyard (the graveyard of dragons) hoping to keep the dead quiet. So overall, they are a peaceful and benevolent force; on the other hand, you could always have a new leader rise up among the Tolashcara with a more malevolent agenda.

That’s all I have time for today, but add any interesting ways you’ve used dinosaurs in your campaign in the comments! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

IFAQ: Kaius and Lady Illmarrow

Image by Rich Ellis and Grace Allison, from Phoenix Dawn Command

In my previous article, I answered questions my patrons posed about the Blood of Vol. In response to that, one of my patrons asked a question that had deeper roots reflected the changes to the setting over the course of three editions of D&D.

Could you please clarify the historical relationship between the vampiric Kaius, the Blood of Vol, and Erandis/Illmarrow under your current conception of their lore?

One of the most infamous “secrets” from the original Eberron Campaign Setting is that Kaius ir’Wynarn III, the King of Karrnath, is actually Kaius I—that he was transformed into a vampire by Erandis Vol and replaced his descendant. I say “secret” because this information was included in the basic description of Karrnath in the book, and because there have been images and miniatures of Kaius the Vampire… so while it was supposed to be a secret in the WORLD, most PLAYERS were aware of it. In describing this, the ECS says…

When the Last War was in full swing, Kaius I was approached by priests of the Blood of Vol. These priests promised to aid Karrnath against its enemies, provided Kaius agreed to a few minor considerations… First, the priests worked with Kaius’s own court wizards to perfect the process for creating zombie and skeleton troops to bolster Karrnath’s forces… Second, the priests provided an elite fighting force dedicated to both Vol and Kaius—the Order of the Emerald Claw.

That was in the ECS, the first Eberron book ever written. Over the course of fifteen years, the concept of the Blood of Vol, Erandis Vol, Lady Illmarrow, and the Order of the Emerald Claw all evolved. Lady Illmarrow is a spider who has agents spread among the Seekers—including priests and members of the Crimson Covenant—but the faith doesn’t serve her personally. Likewise, it has been established that the Order of the Emerald Claw was just ONE of the Seeker chivalric orders, but not the only one. So for a more detailed breakdown of the timeline as I personally run it…

  • Early in the war, plagues and famines wreak havoc in Karrnath. Priests of the Blood of Vol — possibly including Malevanor’s predecessor Askalor, or even a young and still living Malevanor — approach Kaius and propose an alliance between the Seekers and the crown, offering necromantic advancements and undead troops in exchange for elevating and celebrating the faith and developing the chivalric orders.
  • The Seekers celebrate this alliance and the common people grudgingly accept it. Over the course of decades, Seeker priests and necromancers work to find ways to enhance Karrnath’s military might through necromancy. This includes widespread use of common undead troops with their bone knight commanders, the development of the Seeker orders, and the perfection of the Odakyr Rites, creating the Karrnathi undead.
  • This continues until the Regent Moranna turns against the Blood of Vol, disbands the orders, and breaks ties between the faith and the crown. When Kaius III rises to power, he blames Karrnath’s troubles—including the plagues and famines that originally set the alliance in motion—on the Seekers, a populist strategy that salvages Karrnathi pride and seeks to solidify support behind Kaius; this is important because not all of the warlords support his desire for peace.

This all public-facing, well documented fact. What is NOT publicly known is what happened to Kaius I and the role of Lady Illmarrow. One of the intentional choices we made when writing Eberron Rising From The Last War was to leave the ultimate truth about this up to the DM. Specifically, Rising includes a newspaper article that says Maybe Kaius is a Vampire… Or maybe he isn’t! This is tied to an in-world conspiracy theory I personally subscribe to, but I’ll get back to that later. So the main point is that what I’m about to say isn’t a spoiler, because IT MAY NOT BE TRUE IN THE CAMPAIGN YOU ARE PLAYING IN, reader. But with the assumption that Kaius I is a vampire…

Long before the Last War, Lady Illmarrow worked to spread agents throughout the Seekers. She gained power over priests and even placed a number of her own loyal servants within the Crimson Covenant. While useful, this influence was limited by the fact that the Seekers had little political influence and no organized military; there was no equivalent to the Order of the Emerald Claw for her to use. As the Last War began, she used her influence with her Seeker agents to promote the idea of the alliance with the Crown. It’s worth noting that it is entirely possible that ILLMARROW is responsible for some of the plagues and famines, creating a situation where Kaius needed the alliance. Regardless of whether this is true, the priests who approached Kaius I largely did so in good faith, truly believing that their actions would benefit both their country and their faith—while Illmarrow’s loyalists made sure to include the idea of the Seeker chivalric orders. In the decades that followed, the elevation of the Seekers and their integration into the military served Illmarrow’s agenda in a number of different ways. Her agents within the Seekers gained more broad influence in the nation. She gained greater access to the Karrnathi military (remember, not all the members of the modern Emerald Claw are Seekers—many are just Karrnathi veterans and patriots!). She had access to the arcane resources of Karrnath to help her develop necromantic weapons. And with the development of the chivalric orders, she was able to build the core of a force that could serve as her personal strike force—the Order of the Emerald Claw.

Next, the ECS tells us this:

When Vol, the ancient lich at the heart of the Blood of Vol cult, appeared before Kaius to collect her “considerations” for the aid her priests provided him, he had no choice but to submit. In addition to allowing the cult to establish temples and bases throughout Karrnath, Vol demanded that Kaius partake in the Sacrament of Blood. Instead of the usual ceremony, Vol invoked an ancient incantation that turned Kaius into a vampire. Instead of becoming a compliant thrall, however, Kaius fought to keep his independence. Furious that the vampire refused to be humbled, Vol eventually forced the issue by triggering Kaius’s blood lust (something he had been struggling to control). When the crimson haze cleared, Kaius discovered that he had killed his beloved wife.

Even with the many changes over the years, in my campaign the basic idea of this is the same. As the price of the continued Seeker alliance—something Illmarrow could control through her agents—Kaius was forced to become a vampire. This should have made him a thrall forced to do Illmarrow’s bidding, but somehow he was able to resist her control… though not before killing his wife. We know that what happened next is that he went into hiding. There’s likely two reasons for this: the first being that the world wasn’t (and still isn’t) ready to put a vampire on the throne of Galifar, and the second being that whatever allowed him to resist Illmarrow’s control wasn’t reliable; he had to go into hiding until he found a way to protect himself from her influence. The ECS tells us “Now, after eighty years of hiding and secretly working to break all ties with the Blood of Vol, Kaius has returned to govern his nation. He has taken the place of his great grandson, pretending to be Kaius III.” Looking back to the public-facing facts, it is at this time that Karrnath breaks ties with the Seekers and disbands the chivalric orders. It’s up to you how far this goes; as I say above, in my campaign Kaius III is now using the faith as a straw man to build support. Regardless of whether you follow that path, Kaius III has taken an anti-Seeker stance and opposes Illmarrow, while Illmarrow has reformed the Order of the Emerald Claw as her personal army, including both original Seeker members and Karrnathi fanatics who believe she will return Karrnath to greatness (unlike peace-loving Kaius III).

The question that remains is who is Kaius III? It is possible that he’s Kaius I the vampire pretending to be Kaius III. I personally like the theory that he’s Kaius III pretending to be Kaius I pretending to be Kaius III—that the reason Illmarrow can’t control him is because he’s NOT really Kaius I, but rather Kaius I is remaining in hiding and working through K3 until they can find a way to break Illmarrow’s hold over him. This ties to the next question, which is assuming K1 is a vampire, what IS Illmarrow’s hold over him? The ECS account implies that Erandis used a ritual to turn K1 into a vampire. *I* prefer the idea that she turned him the old fashioned way—that one of her top vampire lieutenants sired Kaius, and that it is actually that lieutenant who can control Kaius, using the standard bond between sire and spawn. One of the main reasons I prefer this is because it means killing that vampire is the key to breaking Illmarrow’s hold over Kaius, and that’s a story adventurers could get involved in.

If you follow the original narrative in which Kaius I is a vampire who replaces Kaius III, what to you think he did in all the years between disappearing and becoming Kaius III? It is almost 100 years for a ex-king vampire probably with none or few allies.

First of all, I COMPLETELY disagree with the idea that Kaius I had “no or few allies.” He didn’t just run away. His disappearance would have been very carefully planned. To my knowledge the exact circumstances have never been described, but I expect that he faked his own death, used cosmetic transmutation to enact a long term disguise, and then went into hiding among a carefully established network of supporters. For the sake of absolute secrecy it’s quite likely that many of the people sheltering him didn’t know who he was, but they would know that he was a loyal servant of the former king. He would have retained contact with followers with influence in court, and in MY Eberron he was certainly continuing to manipulate events in Karrnath from hiding, offering guidance to generals and nobles who remained loyal to him and likely dealing with political rivals from the shadows. Ultimately, this culminated with his working closely with Moranna to plan the Regency and his return. Again, aside from Moranna many of the people he worked with may not have had known exactly who they were dealing with, but they certainly respected and valued his advice.

Beyond that, one of the most important things he was doing was learning everything he could about vampires. He was surely working to master his own abilities, but also to understand his weaknesses and particularly to understand the methods Illmarrow could use to control him and what he could do to block them. In this, I expect that he was working closely with Seekers. Remember that Kaius has been called out as having a loyal cabal of Seeker followers who, among other things, provide him with blood. Part of the idea is that even though Kaius PUBLICLY denounces the Seekers—because it’s politically expedient to do so—he maintains ties with a devoted sect OF Seekers. Why would they follow him? Because they recognize that Illmarrow holds a poisonous influence within their faith and that Kaius opposes her—they believe that in the long term, Kaius WILL help the Seekers. Time will tell if they are correct.

But to the short form, I believe that the vampire Kaius I was always pursuing his return, which required him to learn more about the nature of vampires and to manipulate events from the shadows. He built alliances, destroyed enemies, and studied the nature of the undead.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

All this may be fun for folks who like quibbling over inconsistencies in canon sources, but as a DM or player, why does any of this matter to you? Here’s the key breakdown.

  • The Order of the Emerald Claw is a force that is directly loyal to Lady Illmarrow. Its forces include Seekers with elite military training—bone knights, battlefield necromancers—as well as Karrnathi veterans who aren’t Seekers but who are fanatically devoted to Illmarrow.
  • While there are still necromantic forces integrated into the Karrnathi military—non-Seeker Karrns learned necromancy during the time of the alliance—a significant portion of this strength was lost when the crown broke ties with the Seekers. The bulk of the Karrnathi undead were sealed in subterranean vaults, and some of the warlords are afraid that they cannot be trusted.
  • As a Karrnathi Seeker, you may have to deal with hatred from your own people, who have been encouraged to blame the Seekers for all of Karrnath’s woes. Some Seekers are angry about this and have turned against the Crown, and it’s many of these Seekers who support the Emerald Claw. However, other Seekers are still devoted to Karrnath and trust that this time will pass.
  • Kaius III opposes Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. It may be that Kaius is a vampire who has found a way to resist her control; that he isn’t a vampire at all; or that he is actively carrying out a plan to break her power (IE destroying his sire). Illmarrow seeks to undermine Kaius; her loyalists in the Emerald Claw accuse him of being weak, of robbing Karrnath of its rightful victory by pursuing peace, and so on.
  • It also ties to the most basic question of whether Kaius is a potential ally or whether he’s a dangerous enemy. If adventurers oppose Lady Illmarrow, Kaius could be a powerful friend. On the other hand, while he may want a peaceful solution, in my opinion Kaius still wants to rule Galifar; remember that if he is the vampire Kaius I, he’s one of the five rulers who STARTED the Last War. I believe that he pursues peace because he doesn’t feel Karrnath can win and reunite Galifar through force, at least for now. But in my opinion he is a ruthless man and a brilliant strategist who has been scheming for a year. He may be the enemy of your enemy if you’re opposing Illmarrow, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have sinister plans of his own… it’s just that where Aurala is willing to restart the Last War, I think Kaius is searching for a different path to the throne of Galifar.

As a Karrnathi Seeker player character, an important question is whether you are angry at Kaius III for turning on your faith (and if so, if you actually have a positive opinion of the Order of the Emerald Claw); whether you simply have no opinion; or whether you are actually loyal to your king in spite of this betrayal. If you choose the latter approach, one option is that you are actually part of the king’s inner circle (even if only at the lowest level)—that you are sworn to help him find a way to break Lady Illmarrow’s poisonous influence within the faith.

As an example of this: In a campaign I ran, a player created a paladin of the Blood of Vol. His backstory was that his parents were members of a Seeker chivalric order and were killed when Moranna turned on the faith. As a child, the PC was taken in and raised by Lady Illmarrow, taught to harness his powers and led to believe that Kaius III betrayed his faith and was responsible for the death of his parents. As a PC, his initial arc was to build his power and gain allies to help him bring down Kaius III. That was the PC’s goal, but what the PLAYER knew from the start was that his character was a dupe and that Kaius III wasn’t truly guilty. His whole idea was that, assuming he succeeded in killed Kaius, it would through Karrnath into chaos and the PC would realize Illmarrow had lied—that the SECOND arc of his story would be undoing the damage he’d done and bring down Lady Illmarrow. We never actually reached that second arc in the campaign, but I appreciated the idea—that he KNEW his character’s goal was something foolish that would have disastrous consequences, but that his long-term character arc would be cleaning up that mess. And in this story you can see something I talked about in the previous article—that it may be that any number of Illmarrow’s agents serve her because they believe she has the best interests of the Seekers or of Karrnath at heart, and that if they discover absolute proof that this is not the case, they could turn against her.

You used to talk about Erandis Vol as quite a sympathetic character, murdered and robbed of her birthright while still a teenager, but your presentation of “Lady Illmarrow” is quite different; she seems more unambiguously evil.

There’s a few important elements here. From the very beginning Erandis Vol was intended to be one of the major antagonists of the setting. Eberron draws on Pulp and Noir themes, and Erandis and the Emerald Claw were always intended to weigh on the pulp side of that spectrum. They’re the Nazis in an Indiana Jones movie, Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, COBRA in GI Joe. What I’ve always said is that the Emerald Claw are the villains adventurers can always feel good about opposing: you never need to stop and say “I wonder if we should actually let the Nazis have the Ark of the Covenant” or “Maybe COBRA has some good points.” The SEEKERS have a far greater degree of moral complexity and depth of story, and SEEKERS can be allies or enemies. But Erandis and the Emerald Claw are supposed to be some of the most reliable, straightforward villains you can encounter in the world.

Having said that: I see Erandis as a TRAGIC character, and I always have. I LIKE villains to have depth and motivations we can understand. Erandis has endured horrors and carries an enormous burden. I can understand why she commits atrocities. But the key point there is that she commits atrocities. We may feel sympathy for her loss, we may understand her drive to reclaim her birthright, but the simple fact is that she will destroy nations and slaughter countless innocents in pursuit of that goal. She’s a tragic villain, but the key word there is VILLAIN.

The second important point here is that the people who work for her DON’T KNOW HER TRAGEDY. And that’s what underlies this question and WHY we introduced the identity of Lady Illmarrow. Erandis Vol is the woman murdered as an adolescent, who saw her entire bloodline unjustly eradicated because of a mark she bears on her skin but cannot use, who cannot even choose oblivion but is bound to an eternity to contemplate her failings and the stolen legacy of her line. It is Erandis who must hide her name and nature lest the forces that eradicated everyone she cares about come after her again. She CAN’T share her burden. She can’t even declare her name with pride lest she bring down ruin on all she has accomplished. And thus, she created Lady Illmarrow, a Grim Lord who has risen to power among the Bloodsails entirely on her own merits, unburdened by ancient tragedy. Lady Illmarrow is infamous not for the deeds of her family, but for her own deeds and power. She is respected and feared by her minions, even those who have no knowledge of her true past and potential.

It could well be that Erandis uses Illmarrow to channel her darkest impulses and to be the ruthless tyrant she needs to be to achieve her destiny, while Erandis remains the murdered adolescent still mourning her family. She’s been alive for thousands of years and has suffered through immense tragedy; it could well be that Illmarrow is in some ways an independent persona, that the mask Erandis created has taken on a life of its own and in this way allows the core of Erandis to retain some innocence. However, the ultimate point is that whether she’s Erandis or Illmarrow, she is a dangerous villain who will break the world if it allows her to achieve her goals.

If Erandis Vol wants to die (“she cannot choose oblivion”) why doesn’t she just reveal her presence to the Deathguard and let them destroy her?

First of all, just because Erandis may hate her existence doesn’t mean that she wants the DEATHGUARD to end it. The Undying Court destroyed her entire bloodline and she is all that’s left of their legacy. If she was to be destroyed without mastering her mark, all of that would be for nothing. And she will NOT allow the Undying Court to win this struggle.

Second: the Deathguard can’t destroy her. Since Rising From The Last War, it is canon that the elocation of Erandis’s phylactery is unknown; if her body is destroyed, she will reform in a random location hundreds of miles away. So the Deathguard can’t grant her oblivion. What it CAN do is slaughter all her allies, steal or destroy all the relics she’s gathered, and ruin all the plans she’s carefully built up over centuries. The danger they pose isn’t to her personally, but rather to everything she has managed to accomplish. Imagine you’d spent 800 years building up a plan; would you want a bunch of $&%* paladins to suddenly drop in, destroy everything, and leave you in a new body hundreds of miles away having to spend centuries to rebuild everything you’ve lost?

I’ve written a number of articles that are quite relevant to this topic, so for people who HAVEN’T been reading this blog for years, here’s a few you might want to check out.

Dragonmark: The Blood of Vol

IFAQ: The Crimson Covenant

IFAQ: Malevanor

IFAQ: Mummies and the Blood of Vol

Erandis: Hot or Not?

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

IFAQ: Blood of Vol, Malevenor, and Tairnadal Burial!

It’s been a very busy month, but as time permits I like to answer short questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few questions related to the Blood of Vol, the mummy priest Malevanor, and the burial customs of the Tairnadal elves.

Malevanor—the Blood of Vol’s high priest of Atur—seems to have genuine faith and sits between Erandis, the Crimson Covenant, and the Seeker community. What makes him tick? Is he good, bad, or in between?

In life, Hass Malevanor was a Seeker priest and student of necromancy. A Karrnathi patriot, he devoted his life to helping to develop superior combat applications of necromancy. Along with Gyrnar Shult, Malevanor played a key role in the development of the Odakyr Rites—the rituals used to create Karrnathi Undead. The basic principles of the Blood of Vol maintain that the universe is cruel and that we must stand together; Hass fought for the good of both his people and his nation. Exploring Eberron says “The former high priest of Atur was the mummy Askalor, who held the post for over four hundred years—but he was weary of his long undead existence. When Malevanor was grievously injured during the Last War, Askalor transferred his power and his undead existence to his apprentice.” This ties to the point that Seeker undead—especially the Oathbound—are expected to guide and protect the living. As both High Priest and Oathbound, this is the role Malevanor sees for himself. It is his duty to guide and protect living Seekers. As an Oathbound, he can never truly find the Divinity Within—but he can help the living Seekers and seek to find and aid those who may yet be the greatest living champions of the faith.

I personally believe that Hass is still a patriot who loves the idea of Karrnath, but it’s also the case that Karrnath has betrayed him and his people. He will always put the good of the Seekers above all else—but if he CAN help Karrnath along the way, he will.

So in Kanon, what’s his relationship with Lady Illmarrow?

I think that Malevanor believes Illmarrow is dangerous and that he questions her devotion to the faith, but he also realizes her POWER, and both a) doesn’t want to have her as an enemy and b) wants to see that power used for the good of his people. So he’s trying to maintain an alliance with Illmarrow, but it’s an uneasy relationship. Ultimately, he is OATHBOUND. I believe that his oaths are just what it says on the tin: that he is bound to protect the Seekers, help them find the Divinity Within, and to maintain and protect Atur. Which is an interesting contrast with the lich Illmarrow. I don’t think Malevanor COULD betray the faith for his own personal gain, because the oaths that sustain his undead existence are predicated on doing his duties as high priest and protecting his people.

Could Malevanor be a warlock patron (say, Undead or Undying)?

Sure, Malevanor could definitely be a warlock patron for a Seeker warlock. I’d love to do a campaign with a PC Seeker warlock who’s essentially Malevanor’s undercover agent working against Illmarrow. The main thing I’d emphasize in this case is that it’s not that Malevanor is giving the warlock powers, it’s that the warlock’s powers come from their own Divinity Within and that maelvanor is just helping them to unlock those powers. Because that is literally what he’s supposed to do: help Seekers harness the power of the Divinity Within.

In most of the Five Nations, the Blood of Vol is a series of independent covert cults without any clear connection or hierarchy between them. How does the Crimson Covenant or Lady Illmarrow find or get in contact with these cults? Or does Illmarrow mainly rely on the Order of the Emerald Claw?

Exploring Eberron has this to say:

The (Blood of Vol) isn’t as formally structured as the Church of the Silver Flame or even the Sovereign Host. For the most part, Seekers keep to themselves, living in their own villages and small towns or in isolated neighborhoods of larger communities, where they can practice their traditions without drawing the ire of their neighbors… Outside Atur, for the most part, each Seeker community relies on their abactor—the priest that oversees a temple or community—and they rarely reach out to the world beyond. The largest temple in a region serves as a hub, coordinating with the other Seeker communities around it.

With that in mind, the important thing to understand is that the Blood of Vol is a religion that Seekers follow because it helps them make sense of their lives, providing meaning and strengthening their community. Most Seekers don’t know who Lady Illmarrow is and don’t have any interest in helping her with her grand schemes. Illmarrow has agents scattered throughout the faithful who do support her—from agents in the Crimson Covenant down through hub temples or villages—and these specific agents may provide support to her schemes. But OVERALL Illmarrow doesn’t control the faith and most Seekers don’t serve her purposes; some actively despise and oppose the Order of the Emerald Claw. Meanwhile, the members of the Order are Illmarrow’s active agents; some are extremist Seekers, while others—including Illmarrow herself—aren’t Seekers at all.

So: Illmarrow’s active agents are almost entirely in the Emerald Claw. Agents of the Emerald Claw may be able to get support from a local Seeker community but that is not at all a sure thing; it will depend in Illmarrow has supporters or sympathizers within that specific community.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Covenant is something that even Seekers generally know of only as a rumor. One thing I’ve suggested is that when a Seeker priest uses commune, they could actually get their answers from the Covenant. For more on the Crimson Covenant, refer to this article.

I like the idea of the Crimson Covenant being influenced by Lady Illmarrow, but not under her full control. But how could adventurers free it over her influence without having to destroy the mummies and liches that are loyal to her?

This depends entirely on how you decide to present the members of the Crimson Covenant who are loyal to Illmarrow. WHY are they loyal to her? It could be that Illmarrow is deceiving them, and that if adventurers can expose the truth these members of the Covenant will turn against her. Or it could be that these members of the Covenant are themselves merely hungry for power and not concerned with the good of the Seekers; if adventurers could prove this to the other members of the Covenant, then the truly faithful might clean house.

The Blood of Vol is a religion that values basically faith in your inner self. It seems there would not be much of value to Seeker cleric besides their own life (and maybe life of others). What would a BoV cleric refer to as “sacred”? Does this notion even apply to the Blood of Vol?

Looking up “Sacred”, I found this definition: connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration. So with this in mind, what does a Seeker priest consider to be sacred?

  • Life. First and foremost, the Blood of Vol is based on the idea that mortals possess a spark of divinity within. We ARE the gods we venerate—or at least, we have the potential to be.
  • Blood. More specifically, the Seekers consider blood to be the channel of the Divinity WIthin.
  • Survival. This one’s a little more abstract and not shared by all sects, but the general idea is that death is unnatural—that mortality is a curse invented to prevent us from unlocking the Divinity Within. With this in mind, fighting death is a sacred activity. Don’t give up, and do all you can to protect the people you love.

One of the central rituals of the Blood of Vol is the communal sharing of blood as a way of establishing the bond between a community. What we have called out is that while Seekers believe that life is sacred and death is a tragedy, they recognize that you can’t save everyone and their focus is on protecting their own communities and people. Any death is a tragedy, but if bandits attacks your village, you need to put your OWN survival ahead of those who are trying to kill you and the people you care about. But I could very well see some Seekers who actively try not to kill their enemies, believing that any death is a loss.

Though again: There are many sects in the Blood of Vol. The Thieves of Life largely care only about their OWN lives and Divinity Within, and are all too happy to sacrifice others in pursuit of their own ascension.

And now for something completely different…

How do the Tairnadal/Valenar elves bury their dead? Especially when they’re in the field or engaged in battle?

So: The Tairnadal are a nomadic culture. They are essentially always engaged in battle and on the move, and generally don’t place a lot of importance on physical monuments. Likewise, they don’t place much importance on corpses. They’re concerned with the SPIRIT, believing that the spirit can live on through devoted followers. For revenant blades of Cardaen, Cardaen’s spirit is with them at all times; it doesn’t matter where his bones are.

Having said that: we’ve talked about revenants who treasure relics of their patron ancestors. Notably, the Player’s Guide to Eberron talks about the zaelshin tu:

Every Valenar warrior reveres his ancestors and carries a zaelshin amulet bearing the sigil of his patron ancestor with him at all times. With a zaelshin tu, you do more than that: You carry a physical relic of your patron ancestor—a tooth or sliver of bone brought from Xen’drik to Aerenal and encased in your zaelshin amulet.

The two noteworthy points here are that champions carry a piece of their patron—so again, not burying them in some grand tomb—and that these are described as teeth or slivers of bone; we’ve never described them as using, say, bonecraft armor.

With this in mind, I think that the common Tairnadal practice is to burn the dead, and then to collect ashes, teeth, and slivers of bone that survive the fire, which would be carried by other members of the fallen elf’s warband and possibly passed on to the Keepers of the Past. You don’t want to leave something behind an enemy could desecrate, and all you need is a sliver that can help serve as a beacon to their spirit.

That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters for their questions and support!

IFAQ: Thrane Fashion

Art by Bad Moon for Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold

As time permits, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s another:

The Thrane fashion section is missing from Five Nations—any general ideas on how citizens of Thrane might dress distinctly differently from the other Five Nations?

In thinking of Thrane, it’s useful to contrast the forces shaping it to those that shaped its neighbors. Aundair has the widest penetration of everyday arcane magic and is also shaped by long-term interaction with the Fey. This leads to fashions that are wild and whimsical, to widespread glamerweave, cosmetic prestidigitation, and a general love of flamboyance and flair. On the other side, Karrnath has the harshest climate and the most martial culture. When it embraces fashion, it tends toward a gothic approach that is both grim and intentionally intimidating; the strong seek to SHOW their strength, and you see a definite martial element across general fashion. So with that said…

Faith is the cornerstone of Thrane. This predates both the Church of the Silver Flame and Thrane itself; before Galifar, the people of Daskara were devoted to the Sovereign Host. Divine magic is as important to Thrane as arcane magic is to Aundair, but that power comes from deep faith. I have always seen the typical Thrane as more humble and stoic than their counterparts in the other nations. A key element of the faith of the Silver Flame is the idea that we face a constant, shared threat—that people should be prepared to face supernatural evil and to protect themselves and their neighbors. We’ve called out that shared devotion—and practices like group archery—are key elements of daily life for the common Thrane. I see Thrane fashion as reflecting all of these things. They don’t seek to intimidate their rivals or to celebrate their martial prowess, as you see in Karrnath; and they don’t seek to shine the brightest or to dazzle their peers, as happens in Aundair. More than anything, Thrane fashion is SIMPLE and FUNCTIONAL.

Blue and silver are colors associated with the faith, and both of these colors are thus commonly seen throughout the populace. Now, it’s not that people don’t take pride in their appearance—but they aren’t especially driven by a desire to shine brighter than their neighbors; what is vital is to wear clothing that is PRACTICAL. More than any other nation, the people of Thrane know that dolgrims could burst out of the ground or ghouls could swarm out of the graveyard at any moment; so as a Thrane, you’re always thinking “Am I wearing something that would be practical in a zombie apocalypse?”

On a more specific level, I think that long coats and dusters are common in Thrane: simple, durable, versatile when it comes to weather. The same concept goes to boots and hats; in Thrane, a hat is designed to protect you from the sun and rain; in Aundair, a hat exists to make a STATEMENT, and its functionality is a secondary bonus.

This means that at a glance, Thranes have significant uniformity—similar colors, similar overall design of clothing. But it’s not a UNIFORM. And likewise, where an Aundairian will use Mending to repair damage and likely throw out (or recycle) clothing that is out of style, Thranes will wear their clothes to the bitter end and repair them by hand. They aren’t embarrassed to have clothing with patches or a cloak that’s clearly using a piece of another cloak. So while there’s a common overall style, there’s also a significant degree of tiny, unique details, as clothes evolve over time. I could also definitely imagine a patchwork aspect to clothing, almost like a quilt—where people specifically patch their clothes with pieces of cloth that have particular significance to them—heirlooms from family members, a strip from of the cloak of a heroic templar.

We can see some aspects of this reflected in Epitaph, the Thrane missionary pictured above. Epitaph is a priest, so there is a little flair to her outfit; I’d argue that her flowing sleeves are tied to a tendency to make sweeping gestures while preaching. But compared to Aundairian fashion, it’s a fairly SIMPLE outfit. There’s no glamerweave, no decorative embroidery, no jewelry, She’s wearing practical footwear. Her most prominent accessory is the symbol of her faith, as befits a missionary. Her clothing serves its purpose. Now, she doesn’t have the “patchwork” aspect I suggested above, but that’s not surprising for a missionary, who represents the Church; but the common templar isn’t embarrassed to wear a patched cloak, or their father’s long coat modified to fit their frame.

Is there a specific style of glamerweave that does incorporate silver, similar to how silverburn alters the colors of mundane fires?

The fashion potential of glamerweave is effectively limitless; it’s illusion imbued into cloth. The Church of the Silver Flame has a small but significant following in Aundair, and yes, I believe that Aundairian priests will often have burning lines of Sliver Flame traced on their robes. In my mind, Archbishoip Dariznu of Thaliost may take things even farther; I could imagine him in a silver cloak that appears to be trimmed in actual silver flames.

Does the sentiment of reducing waste and reusing things extend to food too, does Thrane have dishes equivalent to jok/congee, horchata or cod cakes, where the food can be prepared from leftover prepared food (examples far from exhaustive)?

Yes. Again, a good way to think of Thrane is We’re always prepared for a zombie apocalypse. So you’re definitely looking for ways to recycle waste and to get the most out of the supplies you have. In some ways, this is an interesting contrast to Karrnath, which we’ve always called out as the most martial by culture. Karrnath is proud of its martial heritage and has mandatory military service. But the people of Thrane are essentially SURVIVALISTS, always training to be prepared for the threats they know are out there. This ties to the point that local militias are a major part of Thrane’s military; it’s not as FORMAL as the armies of Karrnath, but again, most Thranes have drilled with the bow since childhood. And, of course, prior to the Last War the templars of Thrane often saw more active combat than many of the soldiers of Galifar; the Silver Crusade was certainly the most dramatic conflict in the century leading up to the Last War.

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