IFAQ: Rakshasas and Native Fiends

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today, I want to look at native fiends, with a particular focus on rakshasa.

What’s a “Native Fiend”?

A native fiend is a fiend that was spawned in a demiplane of Khyber. If it’s physically destroyed, its energy will return to its place of origin and it will reform. Powerful fiends retain their identity and memories from incarnation to incarnation, while weak fiends may not. So if you kill Hektula the Scribe, she will reform in the Tower of Shadows—the heart demiplane of Sul Khatesh—and she will remain Hektula and remember how you defeated her. On the other hand, if you kill Bob the Imp, a new imp will eventually appear to take his place, but it may be Bill the Imp, and he won’t remember you.

The key point is that native fiends are from the material plane. Hektula isn’t from Shavarath or Daanvi; she’s part of the spiritual architecture of the material plane. She belongs here.

How does this affect spells like Banishing Smite or Banishment?

While native fiends belong in the material plane, they are spawned in demiplanes. I’d say that banishing effects banish them to their demiplane of origin. The main question is whether they return at the end of the spell effect (which is normal for native creatures) or remain banished to the demiplane (following the rules for extraplanar creatures). There’s a case to be made either way—on the one hand, they are native to this plane; on the other, the balancing effects of the 5E rules don’t consider the possibility of a native fiend. Personally, I’d be inclined to base it on the power of the fiend in question: a lesser fiend would be banished to their demiplane, while a major villain would return when the spell expires; you can’t banish an overlord with a 4th level spell. And of course, rakshasas are immune to spells of 6th level or below, so you can’t banish Hektula with these spells.

Fiends from the planes reflect central ideas. Fiends from Shavarath are tied to war, while fiends from Daanvi are about tyranny and the abuse of law. What do native fiends represent?

At the most basic level, native fiends represent evil. They are all that is wrong with the world, all the things we hate and fear made manifest. Fiends from other planes generally don’t care about Eberron because they have business on other planes; the devil from Shavarath has a war to fight. The devil of Khyber is part of Eberron; their purpose is to represent evil in our world.

Beyond that, there are two basic classes of native fiend, based on their demiplanes of origin. As described in Exploring Eberron, heart demiplanes are essentially the true manifestation of an overlord. Fiends from heart demiplanes are, fundamentally, extensions of the overlord and they should be projected through the lens of that overlord. This is why Hektula is a scribe and Mordakhesh is a warrior; Hektula is an element of the Keeper of Secrets, while Mordakhesh is an element of the Rage of War. Fiends from heart demiplanes can freely leave those demiplanes, and while their personalities reflect their overlords, they have independent consciousness and personalities. It’s even possible—though quite rare, except with Eldrantulku—for fiends to scheme against the overlord they are tied to. S

The second common class of native fiend are those tied to shadow demiplanes. These demiplanes are essentially alien worlds within the world; each reflects a concept—the Ironlands, the Abyssal Forest of Khaar—but they have no overlord and no obvious purpose; they simply are. Compared to heart fiends, shadow fiends have limited self-awareness and independence; they may appear to be intelligent, but they don’t actually have long-term goals or aspirations. They’re essentially set dressing, part of the story of the demiplane; most can’t voluntarily leave their demiplanes. However, there are places in the world where these demiplanes can bleed into Eberron… most notably, the Demon Wastes. As a result, there are fiends roaming the Demon Wastes that aren’t aligned with the Lords of Dust and who have no long-term agenda; they leave other fiends alone, but anything else is fair game. So when you fight a vrock in the Demon Wastes and think “Doesn’t it have something better to do”—no, it really doesn’t.

Night hags are a notable exception to these classifications. While they’re native fiends, they are independent beings with no known ties to the overlords. They not only move freely across Eberron, but are able to move throughout the planes; the night hag Jabra can often be found at the Immeasurable Market of Syrania, and Sora Kell is well established as a planar traveler. The Aereni sage Tyraela Mendyrian claimed to have visited a demiplane called the Covenant, which she believed to be the point of origin of the night hags; she theorized that the night hags were created by Khyber for a specific purpose, and were intentionally independent of the overlords.

Why are most native fiends rakshasas?

Surprise twist: Most native fiends AREN’T rakshasa. During the Age of Demons, all manner of fiends roamed Eberron. There were goristros and mariliths in the armies of Rak Tulkhesh, and scheming ultroloths in the city of Eldrantulku. It’s not that most native fiends are rakshasas, it’s that most UNBOUND native fiends are rakshasas, and that’s because rakshasas are hard to bind.

The Age of Demons came to an end when the native celestials of Eberron fused their essence together to create the Silver Flame, which was then used to bind the fiends. This not only bound the overlords, it bound the vast majority of their fiendish minions—who, again, are in many ways extensions of the overlord. But some fiends were able to escape the binding. Some were just lucky. Others were so weak that they escaped notice; think of the tiny fish that slips through the gaps in the net made to catch larger creatures. And then you have the rakshasas. One of the defining features of the rakshasa is its complete immunity to spells of 6th level or below. Rakshasas can’t be spotted with detect good and evil. They can pass through magic circles. Forbiddance? Not a problem. Now, this effect isn’t absolute; you CAN trap a rakshasa with, say, imprisonment. But the grand binding wasn’t targeting the rakshasas, it was targeting the overlords, and catching their lesser minions in the same net. And it turns out that rakshasas are especially slippery fish, and were able to slip through in far greater numbers than other lesser fiends.

As it turns out, rakshasas are also exceptionally well suited to the long, subtle work required to free the overlords. They’re immune to the divination and abjuration magics common in the Five Nations. They can read thoughts. They can either shapeshift or disguise themselves with illusions (depending what edition you’re using). Which comes to the second point. There ARE a handful of other free fiends loose in the world. There is at least one goristro tied to Rak Tulkhesh roaming in the Demon Wastes, revered by his Carrion Tribes. But as a general rule, the Lords of Dust don’t have a need for a twenty-foot engine of destruction stomping around; Mordakhesh can actually get a lot more mileage by controlling, say, a newspaper editor.

So the short form is that rakshasas are the most common native fiends that are loose in the world, because they are difficult to detect and bind and because they are the fiends most capable of accomplishing the things that need to be done. However, there ARE other fiends in the world, and if you want to use one in a story, go ahead. The main things to consider are which overlord it’s tied to (if any) and if it’s working with the Lords of Dust.

Why do rakshasas look like tigers? Are people superstitious about tigers because of them?

What we’ve long said is that the appearance of immortals is something that can vary based on their origin. You can find a pit fiend in Shavarath, a pit fiend in Fernia, and a pit fiend in Khyber, but they don’t look the same. The pit fiend of Shavarath is a spirit of war and will wear heavy armor engraved with burning runes. The pit fiend of Fernia is a spirit of fire, a figure of shadow wreathed in flame. The form of the pit fiend of Khyber will vary based on the overlord it’s associated with. The general idea remains the same — a terrifying winged humanoid — but the cosmetic details should be adjusted to fit the defining concept of the fiend.

Take this basic idea and add to it the idea that rakshasa are innately shapeshifters. In 5E they don’t actually shift shape, but rather use disguise self. Nonetheless, the key point is that rakshasa look like what they want to look like. With this in mind, in my opinion, THE TIGER FORM ISN’T THE TRUE FACE OF A RAKSHASA. I feel that in their natural, purest form, the appearance of a rakshasa will reflect the nature of its overlord. Rakshasa servants of the Lurker in Shadow might have a sharklike appearance. Rakshasa tied to the Cold Sun could be serpentine. Hektula the Scribe may be a cloaked figure whose actual appearance can’t be seen within the shadows of her cowl, because mystery is part of her defining concept. So they’re all humanoid, but their appearance varies. Having said that, I feel that for the rakshasa shape is like clothes are for a human. Most of us don’t walk around naked; we wear clothes, and we generally take into account the common styles of our culture. Currently, the fashion in favor with the Lords of Dust is “tigers” and as we’ve described, the Lords of Dust add their personal touches to this; Mordakhesh has stripes of flame, while Hektula is a jaguar with arcane sigils in place of spots. But this is the fashion they choose to wear, and specifically you can think of it as the working uniform of the Lords of Dust. Hektula wears her jaguar-shape while she’s tending the library of Ashtakala, but when she returns to Tower of Shadows she may wear a shape closer to her true form.

So this has two aspects. First, not all rakshasa appear as tigers. I think animal-human hybrids are common, but as I suggested with Hektula I don’t think it’s absolutely required. Second, however, tigers have been in fashion with the Lords of Dust for at least the last few thousand years. So I think it is likely that there are superstitions associated with tigers, but I think that this is much like we have stories about the Big Bad Wolf. It’s not like any reasonable person thinks all tigers are inherently evil or that this stops Boranel from loving his ghost tigers; it’s just that there are surely folk tales about fiendish tigers.

What use do you see the Lords of Dust having for Shadow Demiplanes?

Part of the idea of the demiplanes is that each is an idea in the mind of Khyber. Because of this, fiends aren’t especially COMFORTABLE entering other demiplanes. This is why the Lords of Dust meet in Ashtakala rather than in the Tower of Shadows—because Mordakhesh doesn’t BELONG in the Tower of Shadows. Most likely he could enter it, but it would be uncomfortable and potentially impose exhaustion or have other negative effects. Essentially, each demiplane is a particular pure idea—the material plane is where all those ideas can come together.

From a practical, design standpoint this ties to the fact that as a DM, I don’t particularly want the Lords of Dust to make extensive use of demiplanes. I like the idea that demiplanes can fill the role of undiscovered country—rather than saying that the Lords of Dust have been harvesting the Abyssal Forest for tens of thousands of years. It also leaves room for lesser domain lords, which could include any of the existing archdevils or demon princes; it’s been a while, but IIRC in my conversion of the Savage Tide adventure path I suggested that Demogorgon was just such a lesser archfiend, below the status of an overlord but ruling over an aquatic demiplane. With that said, I’m fine with the idea that MORTALS have been messing with demiplanes—the Kech Shaarat have an outpost in the Ironlands, the Ghaash’kala gather supplies in the Abyssal Forest, Marcher cultists strive to find the Vale of the Inner Sun. But all of those things have a small impact on the region because they ARE mortal, and because they don’t truly understand what they’re dealing with.

So the funny thing is that in some ways, if you’re in the Demon Wastes and being pursued by fiendish forces, it may be that the safest haven you can find IS a shadow demiplane — because if your pursuers aren’t from that demiplane, they won’t follow you into it.

Wouldn’t adventurers face instant death if they walked into a heart demiplane? Is there an avatar of the overlord in its heart demiplane?

Exploring Eberron says this about heart demiplanes:

To defeat the overlords, the champions of the Age of Demons used the Silver Flame to bind their immortal essence, preventing them from returning to their heart demiplane to reform. This essentially severed the brain from the heart—but the heart demiplanes still exist.

Think of a heart demiplane like the body of a human in a coma. It is a reflection of the overlord, but their consciousness isn’t there; everything is running on autopilot. Think of it as Barad-Dûr (the Tower of Sauron) in The Lord of the Rings; it was still a very dangerous place when Sauron was regenerating, but Sauron wasn’t there. So if you go to the Tower of Shadows you will have to deal with the lesser fiends that you find there, and you might have to deal with Hektula if she’s taking a break from the Library of Ashtakala, but you won’t find an avatar of the overlord and there’s no omnipotent, omniscient presence that will instantly find you and destroy you. A heart demiplane is still, by definition, one of the most dangerous places you could possibly go, but it’s not instant death.

Now, if an overlord is partially released, things would be different. In my opinion, the most common form of “partial release” would be that the overlord’s spirit has returned to its heart demiplane but that it is unable to fully emerge from the demiplane. So to look back to Lord of the Rings, Sauron is now back in Barad-Dûr, but he can’t leave it. At that point, yes, if your paladin of the Silver Flame enters the Tower of Shadows, Sul Khatesh would likely feel it and you definitely could encounter her avatar there. However, that’s the point. Again, this is literally THE MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU COULD EVER DO. The only way it would be feasible would be if you have some form of preparation that makes the impossible possible—“Sul Khatesh would normally detect us the instant we entered her domain, but the Cloak of the Traveler will shield us from her gaze… Just make sure it doesn’t get damaged!” This also specifically gives epic adventurers an opportunity to face an overlord in battle without having the overlord unleashed into the material world.

Since there’s native fiends, are there native celestials?

Certainly. However, you rarely see them in the present day. First of all, from a mythological standpoint celestials are children of Siberys while fiends are children of Khyber… and Khyber killed Siberys. So if you accept the creation myth as literal truth, there’s a concrete reason why the material plane has more fiends than celestials; this is also an intentional part of the design of the world, because it’s why Eberron needs heroes. Second, the vast majority of the native celestials of Eberron fused their essence together to create the Silver Flame, becoming the force that now binds the overlords. But native celestials can be encountered—either temporarily drawn out of the Silver Flame, or spirits that were never part of the binding. The couatl are the most common and preferred form of native celestial, but you could definitely have an angel of the Silver Flame. As with fiends, the point is to adjust its appearance to reflect its source. So if I had a deva of the Flame, I’d give it rainbow-feathered wings, a nimbus of silver flame, and slightly serpentine features. So native celestials are extremely rare and typically couatl (or at least couatl-ish) but Siberys could produce any sort of celestial.

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

IFAQ: Elven Miscellany

My last article discussed the impact the long lifespan of elves has on the elves of the Five Nations. This brought up a few other points I’d like to discuss.

Elves are Old for a Long Time

The elves of Aerenal devote decades or centuries to intense, focused study. In the previous article I said that the elves of the Five Nations don’t do this because the infrastructure doesn’t support it; a Brelish elf is going to the same school or university as a Brelish human, and there’s no decades-long classes in the Brelish core curriculum. This raised the question of whether that means the elves of the Five Nations are more versatile than the Aereni… and if so, if combining greater versatility with longer life meant that they dominated the study of arcane sciences in Khorvaire. The answer to this is NO. It’s not just the culture of the Aereni that’s the issue; it’s the fact that elves mentally mature at the same pace as humans and then are OLD FOR A VERY LONG TIME. Here’s a quote from a previous article…

This ties to the idea that a seven-hundred year old lifespan is both a blessing and a curse. Our fluid intelligence – which fuels our ability to adapt to entirely new things – peaks in young adulthood. You grandfather may be a brilliant doctor, a skilled mathematician, and still have trouble learning to use an iPhone that a three-year-old masters in three days. The child is running on fluid intelligence, which allows them to quickly adapt to new things. You grandfather is working off crystallized intelligence, the concrete skills he has perfected over time. For me, this is the fundamental difference between elves and humans… because in my Eberron, both elf and human peak in fluid intelligence at the same time. An elf’s mental facilities don’t deteriorate due to age as a human’s will, so the 110-year-old elf is still sharp and alert… but they’re is also just as firmly set in their ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for them to adapt to entirely new things.

Eberron Flashback: Aereni and Tairnadal

This follows the principle that older people tend to be more conservative than younger people, and the point I made earlier that Brelish elves are more likely to support the monarchy because they don’t like change. Aereni society is built with this in mind, but the general idea is that elves are more likely to specialize than to be diverse in their skills because it’s harder for them to learn entirely new things—and, just as I don’t remember much of the Latin I learned in college, if an elf doesn’t USE a skill for 50 years, it will atrophy. Focusing on a few skills ensures that they MAINTAIN those skills. So if you go to Arcanix, the 500 year old elf professor is more likely to be the one who’s been teaching the same Siberyan Principles course for 300 years—and who is AMAZING at it—than the young hotshot teaching the course that challenges all established principles. There are always exceptions; Mordain the Fleshweaver is a remarkably innovative elf, though it’s questionable as to whether you can still call him an elf. And your player character elf can certainly defy this pattern. But generally, elves are old for a long time; a 200 year old elf has the same general outlook on life that a 200 year old human would if they could live that long, and they aren’t as flexible in their outlook as a 20 year old human.

Where Did You Get Your Training?

Throughout many editions of D&D, elves, dwarves, and other races have had features that feel more cultural than genetic. All elves have “Elf Weapon Training” with longswords and longbows. All dwarves know how to use axes and they’re either brewers and smiths; in third edition, all dwarves had a bonus to fight orcs. It doesn’t matter if they’d never SEEN an orc or ever picked up a hammer: ALL DWARVES HAVE THIS.

This stems from the same monocultural impulse that says “All orcs are evil,” and from the beginning we pushed against this in Eberron. In third edition we largely just ignored it. In fifth edition we’ve more actively challenged it. The Aereni elf subrace in Wayfinder’s Guide and Exploring Eberron removes the Elf Weapon Training trait, because elves in Eberron DON’T all know how to use swords and bows. In Wayfinder’s and Rising From The Last War we suggested that assigned racial languages could be changed, because dwarves aren’t born knowing Dwarvish; if you’re a dwarf born in the slums of Sharn, you might know Goblin instead of Dwarvish. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything expanded on this with the optional Proficiency Swap system; they specifically call out the example of an elf who swaps longsword proficiency for an instrument proficiency. So Maza Thadian, the best cook in Sharn, doesn’t know how to use a longbow—because she traded that proficiency for Cook’s Utensils.

So the key point here is that Elf Weapon Training—or Dwarf Weapon Training, or similar features—don’t represent some sort of genetic talent. Which means that if you’re playing an elf and you choose to KEEP Elf Weapon Training, it’s up to you to decide how your character acquired that training. In Exploring Eberron I note that Mror dwarves can base their racial Weapon Training and Tool Proficiencies on their experiences in the War Below. This is an equally logical approach for dwarves and elves of the Five Nations. The Last War lasted for a century. Even if your background is entertainer, you can still say that you served in the last war for a decade back eighty years ago. It didn’t because the focus of your life, which is why you’re a bard instead of a fighter, but you still retain that basic training. On the other hand, if your background is ENTERTAINER, perhaps you worked archery into your act. Or, even if you don’t worship the Silver Flame NOW, perhaps you spent a decade as part of a devout Thrane militia fifty years ago and received your training then. Or you could say that your elf character never touched a bow until yesterday—but YOU have an ancestor who lives in your memories and who’s been training your while you trance. Essentially, the fact that you have skill with these weapons is part of your character’s story, and I want to know the STORY behind it. Three Brelish elves may all have Elf Weapon Training—but HOW they got those proficiencies may be completely different for each of them, and it’s certainly different from the training a Tairnadal ranger received.

Potential Lifespan is Just That

In the last article a question was raised as to whether elves would have a different outlook on the Blood of Vol, because the religion evolved as a reaction to the brutality of life and elves are less likely to see life as brutish and short. Well, the Blood of Vol evolved in the cold, harsh regions of Karrnath and the northern Lhazaar Principalities. It evolved among people who were fighting famine and plagues, and who were oppressed by tyrannical rulers. It is a reaction to the basic question what just gods would allow death and suffering… and SUFFERING is an important word to remember. Because just because an elf can POTENTIALLY live to be 700 years old doesn’t mean they WILL. Elves have no special resistance to cold or disease. They may not sleep, but they still need food and water. They can suffer from the cold, and they can suffer the agony of watching their starving children dying from diseases. The long lifespan can seem like a curse on two levels: first, when an elf child dies of a fever when they are ten years old, it seems more unjust because they COULD have had centuries of life. Second, the elf who does live for centuries while enduring starvation and disease and who has to watch their friends dying around them may well feel that another century of life is just more time to suffer.

Aerenal is in many ways a utopia. It is a peaceful, advanced nation where people DO expect to live out most of their natural life in comfort and health. And yes, the Blood of Vol won’t find much purchase there. But it won’t find much purchase ANYWHERE where people live long and comfortable lives. It takes root in those places where people are surrounded by suffering and loss, places where the cruelty of mortal life is made manifest. And just because elves can potentially live longer than humans doesn’t mean that they will—and it doesn’t protect them from starvation, poverty, plague, or any of the other tragedies that humanity endures.

My Patreon backers have posted a lot of good questions on other topics, so this is all for elves for the moment… I’ll try to get back to it in a century or so! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Elves and Pugs

In the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, elves can live to be up to 750 years old. In the past I’ve written many articles about the elves of Valenar and Aerenal and how their long lifespans have affected their culture. But what about the elves of the Five Nations, who are part of a culture driven by short-lived humans? This month, my Patreon supporters posed a number of interesting questions on this topic.

An adult elf of the Five Nations is not only older than the current monarch of their nation, they’re older than the NATION, given that Galifar only dissolved a century ago. How does their long lifespan affect their national loyalty?

First of all, we’ve always said that most demihumans of the Five Nations tend to put their national identity before their species. A third-generation Brelish halfling might support the Glidewing in the Race of Eight Winds as a nod to their Talentan heritage, but they consider themselves Brelish, not Talentan. So that’s the first point to consider: elves born in the Five Nations generally embrace that culture. Which comes to the second point: until the Last War, the Five Nations were united as Galifar. But there were still Five Nations, each of which was culturally distinct and maintained traditions that predated Galifar; Galifar united them under a single ruler and code of laws, but it didn’t erase that cultural identity. The point of this is that not only does your 300-year-old Brelish elf think of themselves as Brelish, they’ve thought of themselves as Brelish far longer than a 30-year-old human; they’ve had far longer to invest in the traditions of Breland and to have a very strong sense of what it means to be Brelish. Which ties to the second point. Because their long lifespan means they’ll outlive the humans around them—whether we’re talking about their monarch or their neighbor—the elves of the Five Nations tend to invest in institutions and customs more than in individual humans. An elf invests in the concept of Breland more deeply than in any one ruler. Likewise, they invest in families more than individuals, seeing the living members of the family as the latest incarnation of that beloved family. For an off the cuff example, consider the relationship between humans and dogs. My household is a pug household. We had a pug we loved, and when he passed away we got a new pug—who is very much his own person, but also very much a pug. And when he passes away, I expect we’ll get another pug. We love our pugs, and in the moment, we love our current pug most of all. But we also know that barring tragedy we will outlive him. So we love him in the moment, we give him the best life that we can, and when he passes we’ll honor him by bringing a new pug into our lives. What we’re NOT going to do is suddenly decide to get a St. Bernard; we’ve become pug people, and we don’t WANT a different dog.

This basic principle applies both to national identity and to an elf’s personal relationships with shorter lived races. Breland in this instances is “Pugs” while King Boranel is “The Current Pug.” The elf who has chosen to live in Breland for three centuries loves Breland more than any other nation. Most likely, they also love Boranel; they may fondly remember Wroaan or other rulers, but Boranel is alive and with them now; they will always honor Wroaan’s memory, but they support the current king. Unless, of course, they don’t like Boranel, in which case they may grumble and think “There’s always a bad one in the litter, but in another ten yeas we’ll get a new one that will be better.” That elf doesn’t want to go live in Thrane any more than I want to get a St. Bernard; they’ve become comfortable with Breland and it’s become part of their identity. With this in mind, I would also say that Brelish elves in particular likely strongly oppose the Swords of Liberty and the anti-monarchy movement, because the four hundred year old elf is far more invested in the institution of the Brelish monarchy than the human who’s only lived with it for twenty years. They’ve invested in the idea of Breland for centuries, and part of that idea of Breland is that it’s a monarchy.

As I said, I’d extend this to an elf’s personal relationships with humans. In playing an elf character, I’d consider whether I know the ancestors of one or more of the other player characters. I might ask one of the other players (it’s a collaborative story and I want to work with them, not impose my story on them ) if they’re OK with the idea that my character has had a long relationship with their family. Throughout the campaign, I might discuss my experiences and adventures with their ancestors. It might even be that the reason I’m part of the adventuring party is to look after that character—because their grandfather would never forgive me if anything happened to them. If you’re familiar with Deep Space Nine, there’s a touch of this in the way Dax refers to their previous hosts. As an elf, play up the fact that you may have known Queen Wroaan or met Kaius I. When you’re at a store in Sharn, mention how it use to be a restaurant a century ago and had the best fried spider legs in the city—they just don’t make them like that any more.

It’s suggested that some elf immigrants to Khorvaire came with a plan to marry into human families and essentially outlive their way to power, inheriting family fortunes from their short-lived spouses. Canon lore suggests that this was abandoned out of an initial revulsion for the Khoravar, but how has it played out in the present day?

The canon answer is clear: elves haven’t taken over all the noble families of Galifar, and in fact, very few elf nobles are mentioned. The question, then, is WHY. The answer is that people of Galifar are well aware of the disparate lifespans of their neighbors and that the laws of the land take it into account. Any position with a lifetime appointment will have clauses that allow for the holder to be removed, so you can’t just appoint a warforged to a lifetime position and then have no way to remove them ever. Meanwhile, nobles will always has pre-nuptial agreements to address this; I think the standard one is simply that a spouse doesn’t inherit the title. It passes to the eldest child or, failing that, to a sibling.

Looking at an example of this in play, Kaius III of Karrnath is married to Etrigani, an Aereni elf. As long as Kaius is alive, Etrigani carries the title of queen. When Kaius dies, however, the crown of Karrnath would pass to their eldest child, not to Etrigani. If they have no children (and currently they don’t), it would pass sideways along the line to Kaius’s sister Haydith. A spouse could likely serve as a regent while waiting for a child to come of age, but they can’t claim the title as their own… thus preventing an elf from marrying into a family of human nobles and holding the title for the next five centuries.

There are a few elf nobles in the Five Nations, and it’s certainly the case that if you’re an Aundairian elf with the noble background, you may be waiting a LONG TIME before the title falls to you.

This raises another question. If my elf character is two hundred years old and knew the wizard’s grandfather, how come I’m only a first level character?

The long-lived races are always a problem in this regard, and I’ve talked about this before in this article. First of all, I’ll call out the fact that in REAL LIFE, skill doesn’t progress in a continuously upward line as we grow older. I learned Latin in college, I haven’t used that skill in two decades, and at this point I can recognize some words but I couldn’t write a sentence in Latin. In another 20 years I may have forgotten it entirely, and that’s nothing like an elf living for centuries. Generally speaking, we reach plateaus with skills and have to work to maintain them. I also fenced in college. Guess what? I’m older now and while I still know some tricks, I’m not a better fencer than I was. Admittedly I multiclassed and took levels of writer instead of fighter, but the point remains: age alone doesn’t equate to skill. A second point is simple: How good is your grandfather at making TikTok videos? Now, replace “TikTok videos” with “Modern Techniques of Arcane Spellcasting.” You could absolutely say that your 1st level elf wizard was a cutting edge wizard 300 years ago, but he’s been out of the game for a while—writing novels, perhaps—and now his spellcasting techniques are incredibly out of date and he can’t figure out these fancy somatic components the kids are doing these days. “That thing! With the fingers!”

While that’s a FUNNY option, I would personally be more likely to use my elf character being 1st level to add a hook to their backstory: WHY are they 250 years old and only first level? My immediate inclination is just what I said above but without the comical agism. My elf character trained as a wizard 200 years ago, and then spent the last 200 years as a novelist or a poet—some career that essentially has no concrete bearing on the skills I use while adventuring—and I need to get back in practice. I remember the basics, and it’s all going to come back to me quickly once we get going, but come on people, I haven’t even cast a cantrip since before you were born.

A more dramatic option would be to justify my temporary low level as a form of injury. Perhaps I served in the Last War—possibly even serving with the parents or grandparents of one of the other characters—and suffered “spellshock” from an arcane attack. Or perhaps I was caught in the Mourning and was found in a coma—I’ve recovered, but my whole body feels numb and I haven’t fully recovered my spellcasting ability. OR, perhaps I was on an epic adventure (again, could be with an ancestor of one of the PCs) and was cursed by an archfey. Breaking that curse could be an ongoing story hook, or it could be something that is broken BECAUSE I’m adventuring with the descendant—allowing me to regain my skills. All three of these options would allow me to say that I WAS a fairly high level character a century ago but I’ve temporarily lost those skills. While other characters may feel like they’ve dramatically improved by the time they reach 9th level, I feel like I’ve only just gotten my sea legs back.

The main point here is that you shouldn’t look at the old dwarf or elf and say “It makes no sense that I’m 120 and still have the same skills as a 20 year old human.” First of all, remember that in Eberron ANY player character is remarkable. Second, don’t just say “it makes no sense”—figure out a way that it COULD make sense. An injury, a curse, a century away from adventuring. The fact that you’re only 1st level NOW doesn’t prevent you from having BEEN higher level at some point in the past.

Do the longer lived races like the elves and dwarves view the Blood of Vol differently (insofar as their lives are not as short, cruel and hopeless as the oppressed humans who latched onto it a couple millennia ago)?

This raises an important point: the fact that you CAN live to be seven hundred years old doesn’t mean that you WILL. Elves are just as susceptible to disease and to cold as humans are. They may not sleep, but they certainly need to eat. So if you’re an elf farmer in Karrnath surprised by a sudden frost, you can still be worried that you’re hungry, that your children are freezing and one has a fever, and that if the frost kills your crops there’s no knowing how you’ll get the money you need to survive. Even if you do somehow live through it, the fact that you get to look forward to hundreds of years of watching your friends die may not feel like a blessing. Those people who founded the Blood of Vol, who felt that life was short, cruel, and helpless, weren’t dying of old age. So no, I don’t think it has a notable effect. And also, the Blood of Vol has never been widespread in the Five Nations. The Brelish elf may not see the appeal to the Blood of Vol, but most Brelish HUMANS don’t see the appeal either.

That’s all for now! I am VERY busy with writing deadlines and family matters and I likely won’t have times to answer questions on this topic. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making this website possible!

IFAQ Lightning Round: Q’barra!

Recently my Patreon supporters posed a number of questions about Q’barra, and I wanted to share the answers where everyone could see them! These get fairly deep into the weeds of Q’barra lore, so here’s a few quick explanations for terms you might not know.

  • Masvirik is the fiendish overlord bound in Q’barra, more commonly known as “The Cold Sun.” The Poison Dusk are the servants of Masvirik, a blend of corrupted lizardfolk, kobolds, and dragonborn.
  • The Masvirik’uala are an alliance of lizardfolk sworn to protect the region from the Poison Dusk and Masvirik. To ensure that they never forgot their mission, the couatl bound the lizardfolk to a shared dream that would forever remind them of their purpose. This is discussed in more detail in this article.
  • The Trothlorsvek is the dragonborn culture in Q’barra, and are also discussed in the previously linked article. Their ancestors came to Q’barra with Rhashaak, the last dragon sent to protect the region from Masvirik.
  • Dusk shards are eberron dragonshards infused with fiendish power.

Before I dive into the questions, I wanted to call out that there’s just 24 hours left for people who want to submit an entry to play in my next Threshold session; you can find more information here.

Previously you made an off hand comparison that “Masvirik is to the lizardfolk as Katashka is to humans” – what did you mean by that?

Some servants of the Poison Dusk are undead and some aren’t, but those that are undead aren’t like Mabaran undead. Masvirik’s champions channel the overlord’s power, which can cause mutation. After death, that aspect of Masvirik can continue to animate the body, creating a form of undead. Keep in mind that when I say “aspect of Masvirik” that doesn’t mean he himself is consciously driving all these beings; like most overlords, Masvirik is essentially dreaming. Possession starts as just a general drive to serve the Poison Dusk. Physical mutation generally occurs as the spirit grows stronger and begins to edge out the mortal spirit; ultimately this can kill the vessel, leaving an undead being entirely driven by the evil within it.

What role do the Blackscale Lizardfolk play in Q’barra?

It wasn’t clearly defined in the 3.5 ECS. The approach of 4E was to say that Masvirik’s servants are vessels for its power and that this physically transforms them — and that the colonists mistakenly assumed these were distinct species, whereas in fact they are corrupted. So the classic “Poison Dusk lizardfolk” weren’t pygmy lizardfolk, but rather corrupted kobolds—with Dungeon 185 noting that the kobolds of the region are the most vulnerable to the influence of the Cold Sun, thus driving that idea that most of the time, people encountering “The Poison Dusk” encounter these small scales. It goes on to note that with Masvirik’s dusk shard champions “Many are physically transformed so that they possess serpentine or draconic traits and specifically resemble a black dragon” — so Blackscale lizardfolk aren’t a SPECIES, but rather corrupted champions of Masvirik. As such, they largely aren’t encountered outside of the Poison Dusk and don’t play a distinct role in Q’barra separate from the Poison Dusk. 

The ECS states that the Cold Sun are primarily found in the “north and east”. Would you then say that the Dragonborn/Trothlorsvek are actually the primary scales in Hope/New Galifar? Or is that outdated canon?

It’s outdated canon. With that said, I wouldn’t say that there ARE “primary scales” in Hope and New Galifar. The Masvirik’uala form the bulk of the population, but what Dungeon 185 notes is that “the lizardfolk proved willing to cede certain regions to the outsiders”. They don’t have a concept of owning land and they essentially moved out of the regions the colonists moved into; they largely avoid contact with the settlers when possible. I think they can still be found in Hope and New Galifar, but again, they essentially move to stay out of the way of the colonists, so you don’t FEEL their presence strongly. By contrast, the Trothlorsvek are few in number and their cities are largely in the unclaimed region, but they are more open to interacting with the settlers when they do meet; High Elder Bhisma has forged an alliance with Newthrone and forbid clans from attacking human cities, and it was likely Bhisma who participated in the Thronehold discussions. But the Dragonborn have their ancient duties to attend to and aren’t TRYING to integrate with the settlers, which again is why the settlers know so little about them.

Is the shared dreamscape of the Masvirik’uala in Dal Quor, like the Uul Dhakaan, or is it separate from the plane?

Logically, it makes more sense for it to be isolated from the plane. It was created by the couatl, who have no personal connection to Dal Quor or reason to have influence over it. Furthermore, if it’s in Dal Quor it’s easier for it to be manipulated or corrupted by outside forces, so it’s SAFER for it to be isolated. So my inclination would be to say that the lizardfolk dream is IN THE SILVER FLAME. The main thing is that this would mean that the Masvirik’uala should be IMMUNE TO THE DREAM SPELL, because like kalashtar they don’t dream in Dal Quor. On the other hand, if you want adventurers to be able to explore it or want it to be corrupted by the Quori you could place it in Dal Quor… But again, it seems illogical to me that the couatl would have the ability to permanently transform Dal Quor. Yes, on the one hand the Couatl host had more raw power than Jhazaal Dhakaan, and she created the Uul Dhakaan… but on the other hand, as a mortal, Jhazaal had a tie to Dal Quor and a deep understanding of stories, while as native celestials the couatl have no connection to Dal Quor.

Would you say that the Draconic Eidolon has existed undisturbed since the rise of draconic power toward the end of the Age of Demons? Would it have weathered the Turning of Ages, undisturbed? I assume the Draconic Eidolon might have been attacked in the past by quori, but remained impenetrable?

I’d be inclined to say that it’s more recent than the Age of Demons. It’s supposed to be an arcane artifact—something the dragons CREATED—and to me, it’s an example of the fact that even at their more advanced level of magic, dragons are capable of innovation and evolution. With that said, one possibility would be to say that it was created by Ourelonastrix and that it holds the spirits of the dragons who inspired the myths of the Sovereigns; in that case, yes, it would be that old.

What kind of magic do the lizardfolk use? Dragons of Eberron mentions that Vvaraak taught many other groups of druids, including that ” lizardfolk boast Gatekeepers in Q’barra and Xen’drik” while Rising from the Last War says that lizardfolk culture “blends druidic traditions with the beliefs of the Silver Flame”

The general principle is that where there’s contradictions, the latest source takes precedence—notably, the intentional change of the Blood of Vol over the editions when compared to the ECS. Rising intentionally contradicts prior canon on a number of points. So I would use Rising’s statement here: the Lizardfolk have a tradition that blends primal magic and the power of the Silver Flame. I see no reason that Vvaraak would have had anything to do with it, and beyond that, the Masivirik’uuala AREN’T GOOD AT LEARNING NEW THINGS. The whole reason their culture has remained as stable as it has for tens of thousands of years is that they rely on the dream for their traditions. If Vvaraak taught them something entirely new, it would be forgotten in a few generations because it’s not embedded in the dream. So I’d ignore Dragons of Eberron on this point — though it could be advanced as a crackpot theory by a Morgrave scholar.

As noted, they wield a blend of divine and primal power… so, for example, an Ancients paladin or a Nature cleric are both solid choices for the lizardfolk, though rangers and druids are also options. They do not have a Keeper or Voice of the Flame; the shared dream of the Masvirik’uala serves the role of a Voice of the Flame for them. 

Do the Shulassakar play any role in the region? The dragonshard on them says “The shulassakar devote their energy to guarding Krezent and other couatl ruins scattered across Eberron.”

No, the Shulassakar don’t play a major role in the region. The lizardfolk predate the Shulassakar and the lizardfolk dream is essentially a self-sustaining system; they don’t NEED shulassakar assistance (just as there’s no significant shulassakar presence among the Ghaash’kala). The Shulassakar guard Krezent because there’s no one else to do it. I expect that there may be some Shulassakar OBSERVERS in Q’barra, but they aren’t integrated into the Masvirik’uala.

When did Rhashaak arrive? How has he survived? Was he the first draconic guardian of Haka’torvhak?

This is a question that simply isn’t going to have a logical answer, which is why my general principle is NOT to try to pin down every scrap of history in these vast stretches. Per 5E dragonborn lifespan is equivalent to humans. Barring a supernatural force like the Uul Dhakaan or lizardfolk dreams, it’s hard to envision a dragonborn civilization enduring for *75,000* years with no significant change — and still being around to have an empire that clashed with the Dhakaani. One way to explain it would be to suggest that they have gone through multiple rises and falls, being nearly decimated by the Poison Dusk only to eventually rebuild, in which case past civilizations could be entirely different. A simpler alternative would be that Rhashaak was the LAST guardian, not the first; that with all previous guardians, Argonnessen eradicated them AND their dragonborn retinue when they became corrupted. With Rhashaak, they realized that while he was corrupted, he was both contained and containing Masvirik—that rather than replacing the cork in the bottle over and over, they could just LEAVE it. So in that case, Masvirik could have been put in place in the Age of Monsters, allowing his dragonborn to establish an empire around the same time as Dhakaan.

For story purposes, whether Rhashaak’s reign lasted one thousand years or three thousand years is largely irrelevant; it lasted for a long time, a long time ago. However, if you want to nail it down, there’s two possibilities. Either it’s artistic license — even the dragonborn likely don’t have perfect records, and who else would even know? The lizardfolk don’t record history in that way—or Rhashaak was ALWAYS SUSTAINED BY THE POWER OF HAKATORVHAK—that part of BEING the guardian of Haka’torvhak was spiritually bonding with the city, and it was always just a question of how long he could sustain it without being corrupted.

What’s the big difference between a dusk shard and a khyber shard with a demon in it? Is it just that dusk shards, being based in Eberron shards, were a more convenient storytelling mechanism for Q’barra?

The short form is that there weren’t enough Khyber shards IN Q’barra, so Eberron shards were used instead, which is why THEY DON’T WORK AS WELL. In general principle, think of a dusk shard as a sponge used to soak up Masvirik’s malefic power; it’s better than leaving the mess on the floor, but you’re going to get wet if you touch it.

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

IFAQ: Wounding Werewolves and Changeling Hair

What happens when you cut a changeling’s hair?

Good question. When a changeling is killed, their body reverts to their natural form. With that in mind, it seems like if you sever some element of a changeling’s body—like its hair—it should revert, right? And if you say no—that the changeling’s hair retains its appearance after being separated—then does mean than changelings can use their power to grow their hair, and then cut it off and sell it to wigmakers?

As with many things, the key question here is what’s the story you want to tell? I don’t want a simple, foolproof method for revealing a changeling with one snip of the scissors. I also don’t want a changeling to be able to create infinite wigs. We need a rope ladder: Kel, can you grow fifty feet of hair? With this in mind, I personally say two things.

  • When a changeling’s hair is cut, it WILL revert—becoming colorless and crumbling away. But it doesn’t happen instantly. It takes about 24 hours for changeling hair to revert. Which means that wigmakers will wait a day before they’ll pay you for your hair—but also that it’s not a useful tool for a guard to decide whether they’re letting you into a room.
  • Changeling hair is an extrusion of the character’s biomass. I will place limits on just how much they can create—six feet of hair, sure! Fifty feet, no. If a mass of hair is cut off, it won’t KILL the changeling, but I may give them one or more levels of exhaustion; they are pushing their body to its limits.

But how does this tie to the idea of a character instantly reverting on death? The key question is what that process of reversion actually looks like. From a mechanical, story perspective, what’s important is that observers immediately know the character was an imposter, and have enough information to identify them if they know them. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be an instant FULL reversion. It could be that the dead changeling’s FACE reverts within moments and that the rest of the change spreads out from there over the course of the next 24 hours. The revelation that they’re an imposter is instant; but there’s no reason the full reversion can’t take a little longer.

In 5E D&D, Lycanthropes are immune to slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing damage from non-magical, non-silver weapons. How did people mistake shifters for lycanthropes during the Silver Crusade, when all you’d have to do to test it is to poke them with a dagger?

Like the changeling haircut, this seems reasonable. A werewolf is immune to mundane weapons. Therefore, I can’t hurt the werewolf with my iron dagger. If I’m concerned that you might be a werewolf, all you have to do is to let me prick your finger. But again, is that the story we want to tell? The traditional story of the werewolf is one of suspense and horror, murderer hidden among the innocents. The Silver Crusade resulted in the deaths of countless innocents who were believed to be lycanthropes—how could that happen if it’s so easy to identify them?

If you want that suspense, the answer is simple: It’s NOT that easy to identify them. As with many of my discussions of class features, it’s important to separate the mechanical effect defined in the rules from the cosmetic manifestation of that effect, which is up to the DM. The rules state that werewolves can’t be hurt by mundane weapons. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be CUT by mundane weapons, or that they don’t bleed when injured in this way; it just means it doesn’t actually cause a loss of hit points.

Look to the movies. Typically, when a werewolf is shot with a normal gun, it’s not that the bullets bounce off of them. The mundane bullets punch holes in the werewolf, but don’t hurt it; it just keeps coming until you finally use a silver bullet. Having impenetrable skin is the domain of superheroes. Having the werewolf who’s been shot and stabbed, who may have bone exposed by ghastly injuries, and who just does not die is what makes a werewolf horrifying and unnatural.

So in my campaign, it’s not that a lycanthrope can’t be physically injured by a mundane weapon, it’s that they don’t suffer an actual DAMAGE from it. They will heal from the injury with unnatural speed, but not so fast that you can watch it happen. Which means that just cutting someone’s palm with a steel dagger won’t tell you if they’re a werewolf; the dagger will cut them and they will bleed, regardless of whether they’re a werewolf or not. Now, cutting their throat or stabbing them in the heart with that dagger will tell you something, because if they’re human they will die — while if they’re a werewolf, they’ll pull the dagger out of their heart and laugh at you. Essentially, you need to inflict ENOUGH damage that a normal person would be debilitated by it to realize that the lycanthrope isn’t being adversely affected—which in turn led to innocents dying during the Silver Crusade, victims of tests that proved they weren’t werewolves but only by inflicting so much damage that these innocents subsequently died.

This is the path to take if you want it to be difficult to identify a werewolf, and you want it to be a source of suspense and horror. If you want a middle road, one option is to force a lycanthrope to make a Charisma (Deception) check to simulate suffering pain from an injury, perhaps with advantage or disadvantage based on the degree of the injury. It’s easy to wince when someone cuts your palm. It’s harder to convince people you’re suffering the agony of a knife through your gut when you actually aren’t.

This is a general principle to keep in mind. The rules tell us the MECHANICAL EFFECT. But three creatures with immunity to a particular damage type could manifest that immunity in very different ways.

That’s all for now! Lest it go without saying, my latest projects are Eberron Confidential on the DM’s Guild and the Threshold campaign I’m running for my Patreon supporters!

IFAQ: Swearing, Djinn, and Genasi

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters to pose interesting questions about Eberron. Here’s a few lingering questions from October!

Any swear words specific to Khorvaire?

The humans of Khorvaire excrete and reproduce much as we do – so swear words related to those functions are just as applicable on Eberron as Earth. Setting-specifice swears generally invoke things that are unique to the world, whether that’s deities or planes. Looking to my novels, a few examples…

  • Dolurrh! is much like saying Hell! With this in mind, we’ve also seen Damn you to Dolurrh!
  • Thrice-damned invokes the Progenitors, essentially Damned by Eberron, Khyber, and Siberys. So, that thrice-damned dwarf!
  • You can always invoke the Sovereigns. Sovereigns above! is a general invocation, a sort of give me strength! In The Queen of Stone, the Brelish ambassador swears by Boldrei’s bloody feet! — essentially a variant of God’s blood! Any Sovereign could be used in this way. Aureon’s eyes, Kel, what made you think you could get away with that?
  • Olladra is the Sovereign of fortune, and often invoked to acknowledge good or bad luck. Olladra smiles is a polite way to say That was lucky, while Olladra scowls is essentially that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.
  • Flame! is often used even by people who aren’t devoted to the Silver Flame. Depending on the context and the faith of the speaker, Flame! can be an earnest invocation as opposed to an expression of frustration.

These are curses of the Five Nations, and in the Common tongue. I don’t have time to comb through all the curses we’ve created in other languages, but Maabet is a Dhakaani curse that a city goblin might still use.

Do you have a vision for how Djinni and Marids fit in the planes?

Syrania embodies peace, and all that flourishes in times of peace. Knowledge, commerce, and contemplation are all elements of Syrania. Angels perform the tasks necessary to maintain the Immeasurable Market while Dominions contemplate the concept of commerce, but angels don’t enjoy the luxuries that commerce provides. This is the role of the djinn. The floating towers of the Dominions are serene and often austere; above them are the cloud-palaces of the djinn, wondrous spectacles of crystal and stone. Within, the djinn dwell amid glorious opulence, their needs tended by unseen servants. In this, they reflect the efreet of Fernia—but the efreet are defined by the hunger of the consuming flame, the endless desire for more, while the djinn are more comfortable in their luxury. A djinni may find joy in contemplating a fine work of art, while the efreeti is always concerned that their neighbor has something finer. Essentially, the djinn are more peaceful that the efreet. Rather than representing air itself, think of the djinn as embodying the wonder of the clouds, the idea that there could be castles in the sky. While they lack the fiery temper of the efreet, djinn can be as capricious as the wind; intrigue is also a thing that flourishes in times of peace, and they can take joy in matching wits with clever mortals.

So, the djinn celebrate the fruits of peace—including celebration itself. Djinn regularly hold grand galas in their floating manors; but these focus on the joy of good times with good company as opposed to the ostentatious and competitive displays of the efreet. Nonetheless, a mortal who earns a reputation as an amazing entertainer or artist could potentially be invited to a djinni’s ball. Thus, a warlock with the Genie patron can be seen as an agent for their patron in the material plane, searching for tings that will delight their benefactor. A dao patron may be eager to obtain exotic materials and rare components to use in their works. An efreeti may task their warlock to find the treasures or wonders they need to outshine their rivals. While a djinn patron may want the warlock to find beautiful things, works of art for their mansion or delightful companions for their next feast.

Marids are harder, but I’d personally place them in Thelanis, in a layer that embodies wondrous tales of the seas. This ties to the 5E lore that marids are master storytellers, and consider it a crime for a lesser being to interrupt one of their tales. I could imagine a grand marid who’s both elemental and archfey, who styles themselves as “The Ocean King” and claims dominion over all shipwrecks and things lost in the water (not that they actually ENFORCE this claim, it’s just part of their story…).

Now: having said this, I could imagine placing the djinn in Thelanis as well, in a layer of clouds that incorporates a range of stories about giants in the sky and other cloud palaces. I personally like them in Syrania because it allows them to embody the joys that commerce and peace bring in ways the angels don’t, but I could also see djinn as being primarily tied to stories of wonders in the sky.

Is there a place for genie nobles who can grant wishes?

That’s part of the point to placing djinn on Syrania; they are, on one level, spirits of commerce. Some love to bargain and have the power to grant wonders if their terms are upheld (but can be capricious about terms). Even lesser djinn who don’t have the actual power of wish could still make such bargains, granting things that are within their power. It can also fit with marids on Thelanis, with that idea that it’s fueled by the stories of mighty genies granting wishes (and the often negative consequences of foolish wishes).

How do genasi fit into Eberron? And how would a fire genasi influenced by Lamannia differ from one influenced by Fernia?

Exploring Eberron has this to say about genasi…

Genasi aren’t innately fiendish or celestial; they’re purely elemental. While quite rare, when recognized, a genasi is generally understood to be neutral in nature —a remarkable mutation, but not something to be feared or celebrated.

Following this principle, genasi aren’t true-breeding and don’t have a recognized culture in Eberron; each genasi is a unique manifestation. As for the difference between the Lamannian genasi and the Fernian genasi, it’s not dramatic; they do both represent the neutral fore of fire. However, I could see saying that the Fernian genasi is inspired by the industrial fires of Fernia, and has a natural instinct for industry and artifce, while the Lamannian genasi is more inspired by the pure elemental force.

For other ways to use genasi in a campaign, consider the options in this article. Previously we suggested that another source of genasi (water or earth) could be Lorghalen gnomes bound to elemental forces.

To which degree are people aware of planar manifest zones and their influence on daily life?

People are very aware of manifest zones and their effects. They don’t know the locations of every zone — it’s not always easy to spot a zone at a glance — but it’s common knowledge that it’s a manifest zone that allows Sharn’s towers to rise so high, and why you don’t have skycoaches everywhere. People know that a blighted region might be a Mabaran manifest zone, and that a fertile one could be tied to Lamannia or Irian. Dragonmarked houses actively search for manifest zones that are beneficial to their operations, and I’d expect that there’s an occupation not unlike feng shui consultants, who evaluate the planar balances of a particular region.

With that said, most common people can’t tell you the PRECISE effects of each type of manifest zone; that’s the sort of thing that requires an Arcana check. But the common people are very much aware of the existence of manifest zones and their importance, and if something strange happens someone can reasonable say “Could this be a manifest zone?

If a Brelish war criminal escapes to Graywall, how likely are the Daughters or Xor’chylic to agree to a Brelish request for extradition? In general, how do extradition requests function with non-Treaty nations?

Generally, not at all. Given that Breland refuses to recognize Droaam as a nation, it’s hard for them to make a request based on international law. Beyond that, what’s more interesting for story purposes—that Droaam just turns over the criminal because Breland asks, or that Breland needs to turn to Sentinel Marshals, bounty hunters, or PLAYER CHARACTERS to apprehend the war criminal? Part of the point of having non-Treaty nations is to create situations like this.

It’s been stated that dragons became expansionist and begun colonizing eberron until this expansion brought about the release (or partial release) of the overlord tiamat, and subsequent retreat to Argonessen. What was the nature of this expansion? Empire or rival fiefdoms, did it expand to the planes of the cosmos? What were the buildings, technology and treasures like? Do remnants remain would some dragons seek to restore this age?

First of all, if you haven’t read the 3.5 sourcebook Dragons of Eberron, that’s the primary source on draconic culture, architecture, and history. The Thousand, the Tapestry, and the Vast aren’t the civilizations that drove that expansion, but they are what they became, and it also discusses the impact of the Daughter of Khyber.

With that in mind, consider that you’re talking about events that occurred eighty thousand years ago. Even among the long-lived dragons, you’re talking about dozens of generations ago. It’s likely that very few remnants of that expansion have survived the passage of time—and those that did may have been repurposed and reused by multiple civilizations since then. Perhaps Stormreach or Sharn are built on ancient draconic foundations, whose origins were long forgotten even before the Cul’sir Dominion or Dhakaani Empire came to power. There may well have been competing draconic fiefdoms or even warring empires; but whatever these civilizations were, they were forgotten tens of thousands of years ago, in part because the dragons had to banish imperialistic urges from their hearts to resist the Daughter of Khyber. There could possibly be some dragons who yearn to restore draconic dominion over the world—and it would be such dragons who would fall prey to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber and become her cultists.

I wish I had time to develop some examples of long-forgotten draconic civilizations and to chart the evolution of their arcane science, but I’m afraid that’s beyond the scope of an IFAQ. But if you aren’t familiar with Dragons of Eberron, that’s the deepest canon source on this.

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

IFAQ: Exotic Races

I’d be curious how you’d use the Tabaxi and the Rakasta in Eberron to make them distinct. Also, how would you use the Shadow Elves?

This basic question—how would you add (exotic species) to Eberron—is the single most frequent question I’m asked. But for me, there’s a second question that is more important, and that’s why do you want to add this species to Eberron? While this may sound snarky, I mean it quite seriously. Let’s look at the most common answers to that question.

I want to play a character with these racial features.

As often as not, this is what the question comes down to. Why play a tabaxi instead of a shifter? Because the tabaxi has that Feline Agility feature, which is perfect for this archer I want to play. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But the point is that you don’t need to add an entirely new CULTURE into the setting—having to find territory and consider its role in both history and the current political balance—in order for someone to play a ranger with Feline Agility. Here’s a few ways to handle it.

Reskin the character as another species. The player wants the features of a tabaxi, but they don’t mind being part of shifter culture. So call the character a shifter. For purposes of the story, they’re an unusual Swiftstride shifter, and they can even describe their character as shifting when they use their Feline Agility (even though this doesn’t convey any of the other advantages or disadvantages of shifting). The player gets the abilities they want, but they are part of a species that already has an established story in the world.

Make the character unique. If the player doesn’t care about the culture of their character, then their character could be unique. They could have been mutated by the Mourning, the result of an experiment by House Vadalis, or a creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver or one of the daelkyr. Their abilities could be the result of exposure to the energies of a manifest zone, or the curse of an archfey. With all of these examples, the player gets the abilities they want, but you don’t have to add a new culture to the setting. And you can also explore the character’s relationship with their creator. WHY did Mordain the Fleshweaver crate a tabaxi? Was the character once his feline familiar? Did the character escape from Mordain, or were they released into the wild for some unknown reason?

Small Batch. The thing about making a character unique is that they don’t have an opportunity to interact with other members of their species. If that’s important to a player, but they don’t actually want that culture to play a major role in the campaign, you can take the small batch approach. An entire village was caught in the Mourning and ALL of its inhabitants were turned into tabaxi. House Vadalis produced a unit of Goliath supersoldiers during the war: the player escaped, but most are still held in a secret Vadalis facility. There’s only a dozen Kenku: they were servants of the archfey known as the Forgotten Prince, and he stole their voices and exiled them to Eberron as punishment for a crime. What’s fun about a small batch species is that it automatically gives you a story hook to work into the game. If there’s only twelve kenku, then your kenku character knows them all. Are you working together to regain your voices, or are you rivals? Are you seeking revenge against the kenku who betrayed you and your allies to the Prince—or are you the traitor responsible for their exile? If you’re a goliath supersoldier, what do you do when another goliath asks you to help free your brothers from a Vadalis facility?

Being part of a small batch means that you don’t have a nation or a culture to fall back on. But it gives your character a certain significance. If tortles have a principality in Lhazaar, you’re just one of many tortles. But if you and your three brothers are actual turtles transformed into turtles by the Mourning, then you are the only four tortles in the world, which makes you all quite remarkable!

I’ve played this character in another setting and I want to play it in Eberron.

This is another common concept: the reason someone wants to play a tabaxi is because they ALWAYS play tabaxi and they just want to play that character again. Usually in this situation the player has a very concrete idea of what tabaxi are like, and they don’t actually WANT you to change their culture to better fit the setting: they want to play this character the same way they’ve always played it. They don’t want to play a Qaltiar drow, they want to play a drow ranger from the Forgotten Realms, because that’s the character they’ve always played.

Personally, when I encounter this, my answer is usually to say OK, your character has come to Eberron from another world. The far traveler background works well for this, as it essentially plays to the idea that no one has ever seen anything like you. This doesn’t mean that you have to make travel between settings commonplace within your world; this character could be a bizarre fluke, brought to Eberron by the Mourning, the Draconic Prophecy, a planar convergence that won’t happen again for thousands of years, or what have you. The point is that the player gets what they want—to play this character exactly the way they want to—and as DM, you don’t have to bend the setting into strange shapes trying to fit this character into.

As a side note, a few months ago I was invited to join a Rise of Tiamat campaign that was set in Faerun and already quite far along. *I* wanted to play a warforged Forge cleric. And this is the path I took: I was a priest of the Becoming God who had been sent from Eberron to seek out pieces of the Becoming God across the multiverse. I used the far traveler background, and I talked a lot about Eberron things that made no sense to anyone in the setting, and everyone had fun with it—and it was much simpler than the DM coming up with an explanation for warforged in the setting and me picking an FR god instead of getting to build the Becoming God. I got to have the story I wanted, and I didn’t need to fundamentally change the setting to get it.

I want this species to have a meaningful place in the world.

Sometimes it’s not just about a specific player wanting to play a single character of the race. Sometimes it’s the DM who loves a species and WANTS it to be a meaningful part of the setting. Or perhaps the player wants their character to have a homeland, to be an envoy or exile from their people. So what are some ways to handle this without having to rewrite the entire setting?

Replace something you aren’t using. Have you ever used the Znir Gnolls of Droaam? Do you plan to? If not, you could say that the rakasta are the founders of the Znir Pact. Or if you don’t like goblins, you could say that the Empire of Dhakaan was a GITH empire, and that the Heirs of Dhakaan are Gith clans. This allows you to make use of existing lore and relationships, just changing the focus of it. The world doesn’t become a cluttered kitchen sink, because you’ve taken something out before adding something in.

They’ve always been there… You’ve just never noticed. This is the approach we took when adding the dragonborn in Fourth Edition. The setting had already established the presence of reptilian humanoids in Q’barra and the tension between them and the colonists. We just said we only mentioned the lizardfolk, but there’s dragonborn in Q’barra as well; the humans just didn’t understand the difference between them. We added further history—the dragonborn had an empire that once covered the Talenta Plains and fought the Dhakaani, but had to retreat to their strongholds in Q’barra to fight the Poison Dusk. This allows players to play dragonborn (and I did, in a 4E Eberron campaign) and to have a homeland to return to and a place in the world—but we didn’t have to redraw the maps or change recent history. The Dragonborn have always been here, but they are an isolated culture with little contact with the Five Nations.

There’s lots of isolated places on the map that work for this. It’s entirely possible that there are tribes of tabaxi living alongside shifters in the depths of the Towering Woods, just as lizardfolk and dragonborn coexist in Q’barra; it’s up to the DM to decide if they have a unique culture that humanity simply hasn’t encountered, or if they are integrated into the Druidic sects. The Lhazaar Principalities can work for this as well. If no one’s ever met Cloudreavers in your campaign, you can declare the Cloudreavers are goliaths, and they’ve always been goliaths.They’re rare enough that people don’t know them in the Five Nations, and they didn’t have a huge impact on the Last War; but they have an island, they have ships, and they’re known across the Principalities. And obviously Xen’drik is a vast blank slate that was intentionally designed for this purpose; you could easily add a loxodon nation in Eberron that no one’s encountered. Speaking of loxodons, I’ve seen people place them in the Tashana Tundra or the Frostfell as mammoth-folk, which I think is a great way to use them and adds flavor to regions that are currently largely unknown.

We’re new in town. This is the approach we took in adding the eladrin in fourth edition. We established that the eladrin lived in feyspires that moved back and forth between Eberron and Thelanis, but that these generally only remained in Eberron for a short period of time—but that following the Mourning, the spires were trapped in Eberron and stripped of their defensive magics. The point was to say the reason eladrin haven’t played a more significant role in history is because they haven’t BEEN here until now. The general idea here is that this species has been secluded and hidden from the rest of the world but is now being thrust into contact. For example…

  • Loxodons have dwelt peacefully in the Frostfell for millennia, but they have been driven from their homes by the rising power of Dral Khatuur. Now tribes of loxodon refugees are landing across the northern coast of Khorvaire.
  • Vedalken are from a demiplane within Khyber—an inner earth filled with wonders and crystal towers. Perhaps their home has been invaded by the minions of the daelkyr Belashyrra; or perhaps the Mourning caused a chunk of their realm to materialize in the Mournland.

This allows the species to have a deep culture and potentially to have magic or techniques that SHOULD make an impact on Khorvaire, but to explain why they haven’t affected history to this point. The idea is that while people may not have encountered this species before, it’s a significant part of the story NOW.

In Conclusion…

For me, the most important thing is for the elements of the world to feel significant. While there’s a PLACE for everything in Eberron, I don’t want to force something in if it doesn’t actually add something compelling to the story I’m telling. As such, I’ve never actually used tabaxi, rakasta, or many other types of humanoids in my personal campaign. In deciding how to add them into your campaign, my advice is to first think about WHY you want them in the campaign—whether the character could be a unique mutation or an extraplanar visitor, or if you want their culture to have a significant place in the world. So looking back to that original question, I personally wouldn’t use rakasta or tabaxi in my campaign because I’d rather use shifters. If it was a design dash challenge and I had to add tabaxi in, I’d take the small batch approach: there’s a city in the Mournland where all of the inhabitants were transformed into tabaxi, and they now dwell in the ruins and are mysteriously compelled to sing and dance…

… OK, maybe not. Happy Halloween!

IFAQ: The Crimson Covenant

My last IFAQ dealt with the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol. This ties into another question that’s equally relevant to the season: How would you use the Crimson Covenant in your Eberron?

Information about the Blood of Vol is wildly inconsistent across canon material. You can find some of my thoughts on this in this article. My vision of the Blood of Vol is articulated in Exploring Eberron. In short, the Blood of Vol was created in Eberron, when exiled elves fleeing the destruction of the line of Vol settled among humans and dwarves living in a harsh land, long oppressed by tyrants who used the Sovereign Host to justify their rule. The elves shared a tale of a champion who attained divine power only to be crushed by the existing gods, and the humans recast that to fit their reality. In their story, Vol isn’t an elf with a dragonmark who fights the Undying Court, but rather is a human who finds a spark of divinity within and fights the Sovereign Host. The NAME is there and the bones of the story can be seen, but the truth that iinspired it is long forgotten. The elves shared some of their necromantic traditions with the humans, and that aspect of the faith has its roots in Aerenal. But it was only in the synthesis of the cultures and traditions that the faithful actually found the Divinity Within. The Aereni line of Vol were NECROMANCERS; they never harnessed this power.

So: the Blood of Vol was is something entirely unique to Khorvaire, something formed by the blending of Vassal heretics and exiled elves. When this religion was taking root, Erandis Vol was hiding from the Undying Court and building her strength; it was many centuries before she would stumble across the faith that carried her family’s name. She sees the Blood of Vol as a useful tool and is happy to manipulate them, and the result of this is the Order of the Emerald Claw. But she didn’t create their faith and she doesn’t share it. She aspires to be a goddess, but it is her apex dragonmark that is her path to divine power, not some universal Divinity Within.

The Blood of Vol has always been a religious of the downtrodden, of those who believe that the gods are cruel and the universe is unforgiving. Its strongholds lie in Mabaran manifest zones, shunned lands no one else could tame. As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the structure of the faith is far looser than that of the Church of the Silver Flame. Some priests are trained in one of the great temples such, such as the Crimson Monastery of Atur; others have never met a priest from beyond their village, and learned the faith from their local abactor. So, what then is the Crimson Covenant?

The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that every mortal holds a spark of divinity within their blood, and the goal is to unlock that Divinity Within. But few can accomplish that in their lifetime, and death is oblivion. Some champions of the faith become undead—typically vampires and oathbound mummies—to live beyond what their mortal span would allow. This is a form of martydom; an undead creature has no spark of life, and loses the Divinity Within. But they gain time, and can 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.

Among most of the faithful the Crimson Covenant is little more than a legend; most seekers believe that Hass Malevanor, High Priest of Atur, is the greatest spiritual leader of the faith. There is good reason for this secrecy. First and foremost, there are many—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, paladins of Dol Arrah, and other champions of the light—who would see these elders as monsters to be destroyed. But there is another aspect: all undead aren’t created equal. We think of things in terms of stat blocks and rules, under which a lich is a lich is a lich. But the necromancy of the early Seekers was adapted from Aereni techniques; it was never as sophisticated as the techniques used by the Bloodsails or the Line of Vol, and has its own quirks. The most ancient member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, was its first lich; but while his will is strong, his enchantments are unable to maintain his body and he exists now as a demilich. Most of the members of the Crimson Covenant are oathbound, and many of their oaths are quite restrictive. Beyond this, many members have had their humanity slowly worn away by the passage of time, and they know it; it is difficult for them to interact directly with the living. With this in mind, Malevanor ISN’T a member of the Crimson Covenant; he is still young, still comfortable with the world. But he and other priests protect the Covenant and rely upon it for guidance, and the Covenant does perform the most sacred rituals of the faith. The core of the Covenant resides in the catacombs below Atur, and it is their devotions that contain and channel the dreadful powers of this sunless land.

So for the most part the Crimson Covenant are masterminds and advisors. They can cast spells and perform rituals that are far beyond Malevanor’s powers—but only a few of them are actually capable of freely moving within the world. As such, they generally support the faith by creating magic items, raising undead (they were certainly an important part of raising the first armies for Karrnath), and casting divinations and other rituals. They teach the most promising students in the Crimson Monastery. But there are only a few—such as the Silent Knight and Lady Dusk—who often act in the outer world. There have been others—there were a few members of the Crimson Covenant who rose from their chamber to lead Seekers in the Last War—but they have been destroyed.

So, to go back to the original question, How would I use the Crimson Covenant in my Eberron? I would use it as something the adventurers hear of in whispers. Seekers may receive guidance from the Crimson Covenant; I might even choose to say that when a Seeker priest casts commune, it’s the Covenant that answers. Its possible they won’t even believe it exists until one of these ancient champions actually DOES appear to assist a group of seekers… or alternately, until one of them is discovered and destroyed, and the Mabaran manifest zone they were containing becomes a threat. Beyond that, it would depend on the relationship between the adventurers and the Seekers. If the adventurers are fighting the Emerald Claw, I’d probably start by having them believe that the mysterious Crimson Covenant is their enemy, perhaps the true leaders of the Emerald Claw. But eventually they would finally meet the Covenant, and if they walked the proper path it could be a powerful ally in the question to put an end to the threat posed by the Claw. With that said…

What’s the relationship between Lady Illmarrow and the Crimson Covenant?

Originally, none. The Crimson Covenant are elder Seekers, many of whom have served the faith for longer than Illmarrow has been aware of it. However, Lady Illmarrow is a mastermind, and over the course of centuries some of her handpicked agents have risen to join the Crimson Covenant. It is through these agents that Illmarrow knows the plans of the abactors and influences the faith to her own ends. It is Illmarrow’s agents who have prevented the Covenant from taking any action against the Emerald Claw, convincing the others that they must wait and see, and that perhaps Illmarrow is acting as a champion of the faith. Some of those councilors slain in the Last War were victims of schemes laid by their fellow councilors, because they posed a threat to Illmarrow’s plans. So the point is that Lady Illmarrow doesn’t control the Crimson Covenant… But she is influencing it, and in many ways slowly poisoning it to help with her agenda. So again, if I were running a campaign in which the adventurers were fighting Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw, an important piece of the endgame would be identifying and destroying her agents in the Crimson Covenant, at which point its surviving members could be valuable allies.

Likewise, I could certainly see a member of the Crimson Covenant who is suspicious of Illmarrow’s influence but unable to act openly serving as a patron for a group of adventurers—potentially using the Immortal Being group patron, or serving as an Undying patron for a warlock or a personal spiritual guide for a Seeker paladin or cleric. Such a patron could direct adventurers to operations of the Emerald Claw or to expose other agents of Illmarrow within the faith.

What’s the relationship between the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principality? Also, the article “Dolurrh’s Dawn” has an individual named Ashalyn Vol who’s said to have created some of the core principles of the Blood of Vol. How’s that work with this interpretation?

Well, I DID say canon was inconsistent! Having said that, let’s take a look at what the canon Bloodsail article says.

The religion known as the Blood of Vol is a bastardized version of the beliefs of the elves of Farlnen, and it has grown and changed over the centuries. Bloodsail priests are far more pragmatic than are their Karrnathi counterparts. They shape their divine spells from the raw energy of Mabar, and whereas the Seekers of Atur try to unlock the immortal potential of the Divinity Within, the priests of Port Cairn are content with the simpler immortality of undeath. Nonetheless, the two faiths share some common practices, and followers of the Blood are treated with respect in Farlnen.

The bolded element is the key. After the line of Vol was eradicated in Aerenal, the Undying Court allowed elves allied to the line but who didn’t carry its blood to either swear fealty to the Court or to accept exile. Some of these went directly north to Farlnen and became the Bloodsails. Others landed in Lhazaar and migrated west, mingling with humans and dwarves. The Blood of Vol arose from that mingling of traditions, and the Divinity Within was a discovery of this new faith. So Ashalyn Vol WAS a cleric and did set the first cornerstones of the faith. But those cornerstones were about channeling the power of Mabar, not about finding the Divinity Within. The idea of fighting against death was there, but how you do it is very different. The Seekers see undeath as a sacrifice; the Bloodsails see it as entirely satisfactory and don’t believe in a divine inner spark; they don’t believe the oathbound gives anything up by becoming undead, and their divine magic isn’t drawn from the same source as that of a Seeker priest. So as noted, the Bloodsails RESPECT the Seekers and recognize their common roots; but they also think the Seekers are, well, crazy humans with bizarre conspiracy theories. “The Sovereigns cursed people with mortality, so they couldn’t become gods themselves” — that’s just a ridiculous idea!

Part of the point of this is to challenge the concepts of Elven Exceptionalism and that Things Were Always Better In The Old Days. I like the idea that the blending of elf and human beliefs and ideas created something new—that this fusion allowed them to DISCOVER the Divinity Within, which is a real divine power source that the line of Vol never knew about or harnessed. To me this is more compelling than saying “Oh, an elf discovered it five thousand years ago – we’re just following in their footsteps and we’ve never really made any sort of improvements.” The Bloodsails ARE just following in Ashalyn’s footsteps, because that’s what elves do; they cling to the traditions of their ancestors. But the Blood of Vol did something NEW. And part of MY idea is that they are continually improving their techniques—that Duran the demilich is a demilich because their original lich technique was flawed and that they’ve gotten better at it — that the techniques used to produce Malevanor were superior to the oathbound rituals they used centuries ago.

What’s the relationship between the Crimson Covenant and Kaius III? How does the Covenant feel about Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw?

In thinking about the Crimson Covenant, it might be helpful to look at the US Supreme Court. It’s a small body of people who are experts at what they do (we hope) but who have differing opinions and who were appointed in very different times. It’s a lifetime position, and in this case, when we say lifetime, we mean eternity—or until you get taken down by a paladin of Dol Arrah. There are members of the Crimson Covenant who are older than Galifar, and at least one who’s older than Karrnath. For these people, the events of the last ten years—the Order of the Emerald Claw, Kaius III—are a tiny drop in the bucket of time. It’s only been a decade; let’s see how it plays out in another decade.

You definitely have factions in the Covenant. There are those who argue that the Covenant should be focused on teaching the living—that it’s not its place to intervene directly. There are those who say that they should be trying to find a way to destroy the Sovereigns directly, those who say they should undermine the institutions that encourage worship of the Sovereigns, and those that say that all this discussion of the Sovereigns is ridiculous, because they don’t exist. There are those who believe Lady Illmarrow poses a threat to the faith, and those who argue that she’s a champion and that the Covenant should be supporting her—along with those who say “Let’s see what happens in the next ten years.”

So there are definitely enough members on the Covenant who support Illmarrow or at least want to wait and see to keep the Covenant as a whole from acting against her. But there’s certainly members of the Covenant who ARE worried about Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. Such a member might well be secretly working with Kaius III, and might very well work as a patron for an adventurer or a party of adventurers. They can’t convince the majority of the Covenant to take action, but they do believe that something should be done.

What stops the Crimson Covenant from using some preexisting D&D 5e methods of achieving effective immortality, such as the Reincarnate and Clone spells?

Part of the idea of Eberron has always been to consider magic as a tool and a science—which means that we add limitations to it that aren’t necessarily obvious from the rules. If you’re making a character you can be a druid, just like that. But in the WORLD, druidic magic comes from ancient traditions. A random person in Sharn can’t just say “I’m going to be a druid” and start casting thorn whip; they need to LEARN these traditions from someone else. There is no established druidic tradition in Karrnath, therefore, the Crimson Covenant has no druids and no idea how to cast reincarnate. On the other side, clone is an 8th level spell, which is far outside the common power level of the Five Nations—which is normally 1st-3rd level spells are common tools, 4th-5th are attainable but rare. On that scale, clone is the stuff of legends. Even if we assume that there are a few members of the Crimson Covenant who have gained the power to cast 8th level spells, the next point of considering arcane magic as a science is that just because there’s rules for a spell doesn’t mean that every culture has developed every spell. This is something we called out in earlier editions with the idea of limiting certain rituals to character with dragonmarks. As a PLAYER CHARACTER, your wizard can learn any spell on the wizard spell list. And in my Eberron you can be sure that Mordain the Fleshweaver has discovered clone. But beyond that, it’s up to the DM to decide what spells are available to NPCs. If you want to have a member of the Covenant who uses clone as a path to immortality, tell that story! But in my campaign, no one in the Covenant has discovered how to cast that spell.

Ultimately, remember—the rules are a tool for the DM to use to tell a story. It’s always up to us to decide which elements we want to use and which we choose to ignore. I prefer to think of each wizard spell as a scientific discovery, and to consider that different traditions—the Twelve, Arcanix, Aerenal, the dragons—may know spells that the others haven’t yet mastered. Again, player characters can choose any spell—but that’s part of what makes them remarkable.

That’s all for now! My next major article (as chosen by my Patreon supporters) will deal with Ghost Stories of Eberron. And tomorrow I’ll have a few announcements about other things I’m working on!

IFAQ: Mummies and the BoV

I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. This Friday I’ll be playing my new Adventure Zone game with Justin McElroy, Hrishikesh Hirway, and Becca Scott on the Twogether Studios Twitch channel. I’m working on a secret Eberron project and I’ll be doing my first post about Threshold later this week. But as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So…

What’s the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol?

The traditions of necromancy practiced by the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principalities are known to be able to produce three forms of sentient undead: mummies, vampires, and liches. Note that I don’t include the Karrnathi undead in this list, because while they are seemingly sentient, they don’t have the personality or memories of a living person. If you want to extend your own existence, these are your three options.

Of these, liches are the rarest and most difficult to produce. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the general idea is that a necromancer can’t just make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And again, in my campaign, becoming a lich also requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction.

On the other end of the spectrum, vampires are the easiest sentient undead to produce, because if you have one vampire, they can produce more vampires. So an obvious question is why don’t they? Yes, the Blood of Vol generally believes that undeath is an inferior state that severs your connection to the Divinity Within. But still, it is trivially easy for a vampire to create more vampires. Why aren’t all of the leaders of the Emerald Claw vampires? We know that the Emerald Claw ISN’T flooded with vampires, so this is a simple logic problem: If you could turn an ally into a vampire, why wouldn’t you? In my campaign, the answer is that being a vampire isn’t easy. Of the lich, mummy, and vampire, the vampire is a PREDATOR. It is a conduit to Mabar, and Mabar is HUNGRY. The vampire needs to drain the blood and life force of other creatures, not simply in the practical way that a human needs food and water, but as a consuming drive that is always burning. This is a critical reason most vampires are evil: because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out, eroding their empathy and transforming them into pure predators. So, why doesn’t the Emerald Claw turn everyone into vampires? Because most people can’t take it. Just as it takes a powerful will to become a lich, to endlessly defy the draw of Dolurrh, it takes a powerful will to retain your own identity as a vampire. Most vampires degrade into inhuman creatures driven purely by their hunger—creatures with the statistics of Vampire Spawn, but without true human sentience. So you don’t want to just turn all of your friends into vampires because you don’t know if they will survive the experience. Their bodies will survive—but they may no longer be the people they were, or even people at all.

Malevanor by James Austin, from Exploring Eberron

Which brings us to the original question: what’s the role of mummies? First of all, let’s consider that word. Mummies are indeed produced by rituals that include, among many other factors, ritualized embalming and mummification. But that’s just a physical aspect and not what Seekers see as their defining principles. Thus, Seekers and Bloodsails call them oathbound, for reasons that will soon become clear. Anyone can become oathbound; it involves a conduit to Mabar, an expert necromancer, a series of rituals including the embalming process, and a number of rare and expensive components… Which are the major limiting factor on the number of mummies in existence. But there is a second, critical component to creating a mummy: its oaths. The 5E Monster Manual says that a mummy “obeys the conditions and parameters laid down by the rituals that created it.” These conditions aren’t an extra piece added onto the ritual; they are an integral part of it. A mummy is bound by a set of oaths that it must obey, and it is these oaths that bind its essence to its body and prevent it being dragged to Dolurrh. This is how you end up with a mummy bound to protect a specific tomb; even if it’s intelligent, it CAN’T just choose to leave the tomb and forget about it; that role of tomb guardian is what defines it and preserves it. Most mummies are bound by restrictive oaths; many Bloodsail mummies are bound to their ships. The looser these oaths, the more power and components are required for the ritual. So Malevanor, the High Priest of Atur, has far fewer restrictions than most oathbound; but it’s not a simple matter to create mummies with such freedom. Of liches, vampires, and mummies, the oathbound are the most common form of undead within the Blood of Vol, but many of the oathbound are never SEEN; mummies are often bound to temples or villages. There are hundreds of mummies in Atur, but most dwell in the vaults and temples of the City of Night, tirelessly performing their duties.

OK, but… The default mummy in the Monster Manual has an Intelligence of 6. That doesn’t SEEM like it’s an ideal alternative to, say, a vampire. In my Eberron, that base MM Mummy is a classic tomb guardian. As the lore suggests, it’s someone bound to be a mummy as a sort of course, forced by their oaths to battle intruders; they haven’t tried to retain their humanity. However, oathbound such as Malevanor retain their mental ability scores, their proficiencies, and some of their class abilities; Malevanor is the high priest of Atur and can perform divine magic. The Monster Manual mummy is created to be a physical powerhouse, but I think there are oathbound who aren’t as physically powerful but are sustained by the same rituals and power; I’m posting a stat block for an oathbound priest for my Patreon supporters.

Now: oathbound aren’t driven by the hunger of the vampire. They don’t need to consume to survive. However, they are sustained by and suffused with the power of Mabar. This is why the touch of the mummy causes flesh to rot and why its gaze causes dread; it is a vessel for Mabar, which embodies the death of all that lives and the end of all hope. While it’s not as dramatic as the vampire, the influence of Mabar still does erode the compassion and the empathy of the oathbound. This is why most mummies have an evil alignment. As is always the case in Eberron, they can have an evil alignment and still be driven to DO GOOD—but because of that lack of empathy, they may do good deeds in an evil way. A mummy forgets pain, and so it doesn’t care about causing pain to others. You can have a good or neutral mummy, but there’s a reason that they are rare… and why mummies tend to be crueler than the deathless of Aerenal, who are sustained by positive energy. The rotting touch of the mummy is something the Aereni point to in asserting that the oathbound do consume the life force of the world—that even though they don’t actively feed on others as vampires do, they are still slowly destroying the world merely by existing.

So within the Emerald Claw and the broader Blood of Vol, liches are rare and remarkable. Vampires aren’t very common, but they are often found as active agents in the field because they have freedom of movement and need to find new prey. Oathbound are the most common sentient undead, and if adventurers encounter an undead priest of the Blood of Vol, it’s most likely a mummy; however, it may be bound to its temple or its village (and it may be a lesser oathbound, weaker than the default mummy). In creating one of the oathbound, the critical question is what are the oaths that bind it? What are the restrictions on its actions and choices? Who was it in life, and what key skills has it retained in its undeath? Has it retained its sense of mercy and empathy, or has this been worn away?

How do wights figure into this?

I prefer not to lump all undead into a single basket. There are different sources of undead—Qabalrin traditions, Katashka the Gatekeeper, the raw power of Mabar—and to me, a story is more interesting if those different traditions produce different undead, rather than the only difference being CR. With this in mind, the basic lore of 5E notes that wights are mortals transformed by a dark power with the goal of making eternal war on the living. With this in mind, I say that wights AREN’T created by mortal necromancers; they can be created either by Katashka the Gatekeeper or by one of the Dark Powers of Mabar, and they directly serve the agenda of the force that created them (even if they don’t know what that agenda is).

What do you think happens if an oath is broken? Would the mummy just cease to function or would it be compelled magically to restore its oath?

It’s a matter of will. I think that most oathbound simply cannot violate their oaths, and if they are somehow forced to (a guardian removed from its tomb by force) it must attempt to rectify the situation immediately. If it can’t, this will weaken the bonds that sustain its undead existence, and it would ultimately disintegrate. Having said that, there can always be exceptions. A mummy with the strength of will to break its oath might become something else—finding a new way to sustain itself—potentially becoming something like a death knight or a wight, depending on the power of the spirit and its personal story.

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

IFAQ: Transportation

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few relating to transportation in Eberron.

How ubiquitous was the lighting rail before/during the last war? Going from the map, it doesn’t look like it actually connects to all that much.

The lightning rail has been in operation for almost two centuries, and in my opinion it is a widespread, common form of long distance transportation. I feel that the rail lines shown on the map are just a few of the most notable ones, but that more or less any major city in the Five Nations will have a lightning rail station, unless it was damaged in the Last War and is awaiting repair. In my first draft of the adventure Shadows From The Last War the adventurers take a lightning rail from Sharn to Rukhaan Draal, and use a lightning runner (see below) on the abandoned rails in Darguun to reach Rose Quarry. So in short, it’s as common as you want it to be, but in MY Eberron, most significant cities of the Five Nations are connected by lightning rail.

Does Eberron have an equivalent to cars or motorcycles?

Magical land vehicles are uncommon in Eberron. Aside from the lightning rail, House Orien uses horses with the equivalent of horseshoes of speed for couriers and high-speed stagecoaches, but the horse is still the motive force (note that these are a form of dragonmark focus item and require a rider or coachman with the Mark of Passage). My first draft of SotLW had a lightning runner, a stagecoach-sized vehicle that can run on the lightning rail. The Explorer’s Handbook introduced the elemental land cart, which is essentially an automobile, but notes “Most of the few elemental land carts in existence belong to nobles of one of the dragonmarked houses.” House Orien and the Twelve are surely WORKING on new forms of land transportation and you can introduce them into your campaign if you choose, but they aren’t common in canon Eberron.

How far in the future do you pitch House Orien demiplane transportation? Could it be introduced tomorrow or is it still a few years away in your mind?

To clarify: Demiplanes are small pockets of reality that connected to the material plane in Khyber. These connections defy normal space, so you could find an entrance to the daelkyr Belashyrra’s prison demiplane in the Shadow Marches, walk for a mile, and then emerge in Xen’drik — a trip that would have taken days or weeks by other methods. It’s been suggested that House Orien would love to find a way to harness this effect, creating a system of transplanar highways.

The people of the Five Nations know almost nothing about demiplanes. The idea of Orien’s interest assumes that the house has stumbled upon a demiplane, confirmed that it is a spatial shortcut, and wants to make use of it. My assumption is that they are working on creating artificial portals, because most existing portals won’t be much use; they can’t do much with a random portal out in the middle of the Shadow Marches. But they could develop an eldritch machine that uses the power of the Mark of Passage (hence, Orien) to rip a path into a demiplane.

With all that in mind, how close is that to being functional? NOT AT ALL. First consider that the whole thing is highly experimental. Consider also that they need to figure out how to get passengers safely through the demiplane. It may be a shortcut, but you still may have to travel for a mile across Belashyrra’s prison to reach the exit point; how are they doing that?. What dangers might they face? Which reaches the main point: in my Eberron, ORIEN HAS NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE MESSING WITH. This is entirely like Weyland-Yutani discovering a xenomorph and saying “I’ll bet we can use that.” They don’t KNOW that they are opening portals into, for example, daelkyr prisons or overlord’s hearts. I expect that these efforts will have DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES. So in my campaign, this isn’t a service you can actually expect to WORK any time soon; it’s something that serves to drive ADVENTURES, as adventurers are hired to explore demiplanes, or accompany Orien pathfinders, or to deal with the horrors the house accidentally released into Passage by opening portals best left closed.

What about Brooms of Flying? Exploring Eberron says Aundair used these in the war; have they been adapted for civilian use?

By the rules of Fifth Edition, a broom of flying is an extremely useful item. It’s an uncommon magic item, putting it within the range of Khorvaire’s wide magic. Unlike wings of flying, there’s no time limit on the use of the item, and critically, it doesn’t even require attunement. What’s been suggested is that Aundair used these for elite units and that other nations developed them in smaller quantities—so they aren’t commonplace in civilian life, but they are in the world.

With this in mind, the first question I’d ask is are they brooms? While the core magic item is a broom, I see no logical reason that they should be actual brooms in Eberron; remove the mythology of Earth and there’s no particular reason a broom is associated with flight. So I’d actually call them skystaffs. Keep the same essential shape—a short wooden haft—but remove the bristles, add a seat, and perhaps handles that fold out from the shaft. Essentially, make it a tool clearly designed for its function as opposed to a household item that does something unexpected. I’d then say that while anyone can use one, they require Dexterity checks for tight maneuvers or sustained balance at full speed, unless the rider has proficiency in air vehicles—so anyone CAN use one, but it requires some training to actually use one effectively. As a final element, I’d say that a skystaff is made using soarwood, which is a crucial factor in why there aren’t more of them in service at the moment. The enchantment isn’t that difficult—again, “uncommon” level in terms of its power—but the actual components required to create one are in limited supply, so there aren’t that many around. Having said that, they are most often seen in Aundair, and you’ll certainly see a few in the skies above Fairhaven or darting around Arcanix.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support and questions.